There are two types of crafters: those who create with patterns and those who create from emotions.
— Casandra Midori Rail
Lily worried her lip as she dragged the cutting blade down the length of parchment paper. She kept one finger on each side of the paper while working the blade kept in the “V” of her digits. As she concentrated on the straight line, ripples of color radiated from her fingertips. It made it easier to concentrate though, as she cut in time with the waves of reds and blacks that ran along the paper.
After a night of twisting and rolling over, she woke up dreading work but knowing she didn’t have much time. The appointment with Juliet and Nirih was on Mumdei, a week of six days away, and she knew that Juliet would be brutally critical of the dress.
Lily wasn’t sure if she could do anything to pass the approval of the cow, but she had to try. All that mattered was that Juliet allowed Nirih to wear the dress, the response to the young girl’s debutante presentation would be the true test.
She sighed and returned her concentration to the rippling paper. As she cut along the parchment, she could picture how the fabric would lay against Nirih’s chest, shoulders, and throat. She realized she was cutting wrong and moved up to slice another thin piece before resuming her cutting.
The collar was one of the most important parts of the dress; the negative space of the girl’s skin would draw attention from everyone. Too low and it would be scandalous, too high and it would turn away potential husbands who were looking for a young beauty.
She finished the cut and picked up the piece of parchment. It was the right size for the collar and exactly as she imagined. It was also rather large, which made her worry because it looked too low. She worried for a moment and then pushed it aside while she finished cutting a mirrored piece for the other side.
It took her an hour to pin the pieces together and then fit it on a dress form that she had sized for Nirih’s measurements. The form already had the other parts of the dress hanging on it, the components that Lily felt comfortable adding after mocking up with a few stitches to hold the fabric together.
With every passing second, she knew the collar wouldn’t work. She could see it from the corner of her eye as she pinned the parchment to the fabric. It was too low, too wide, and exposed too much.
It took a masochistic determination to keep working despite knowing she had failed. The collar design was what her intuition said would work. She had to know if it looked good because she hoped the knowledge would let her work on a dress that High Society would accept.
When she finished, she closed her eyes tightly and stepped back. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to inspect her work. It took her a moment to open her eyes and look.
The dress was beautiful. Even put together with different materials including parchment, it would fit Nirih perfectly. It had curves in the right place, the lines were perfect, and it would steal the breath away from anyone looking.
It would also never work. Tears swam in her eyes as she stared at it. As much as the patterns fit together, the collar was far too low to be socially acceptable. Changing that would force her to come up with a different waist to keep the entire style cohesive.
The design would look good on Mindil. It would push up her breasts to any curious eye and tempt someone to reach in and stroke them. Lily could almost imagine herself stroking along Mindil’s body, kissing the expanse of smooth skin. A flutter of excitement raced along Lily’s skin and tickled between her legs before she could drag her thoughts back to the effort of inspecting the dress.
Nirih, on the other hand, would never wear it. There was no way Juliet would ever let her daughter go out in public with an outfit that revealing.
Sniffing, she turned away and rushed over to her wine. Her latest glass had been sitting for too long so she dumped it down the sink and poured herself a fresh one. The effort wasn’t enough to forestall the tears, so she fled for the front room of the store and sat down heavily on one of her chairs.
With tears in her eyes and a wineglass in her hand, she stared at the light traffic outside.
It was Nondei. Most of the stores across from her store were empty and she couldn’t help but feel a little bitter for the proprietors that weren’t being haunted by mental blocks, threats of their businesses, and guilty thoughts about poor decisions. She sipped at her glass and stared at the far side, waiting for her thoughts to calm down to try again.
Twenty minutes later, she still didn’t have the desire to get up and correct the collar. She didn’t think she could do it. She couldn’t figure any design that both felt right in her heart and also with her understanding of High Society.
She stared at her half-filled wineglass. The deep red liquid rippled with her heartbeat. She swirled it back and forth slowly, coating the side of the glass with the burgundy.
Lily knew she should get out of the chair and return to work. She only had a week to complete the task before her mother would destroy her business and her life with it.
She sighed and swirled the glass again. She considered pouring herself another glass. Lifting up the glass, she drained it and set it down. Getting up, she started into the back to get the bottle but stopped. No, she didn’t need to drink yet, she had a dress to make.
The dread returned but she pushed through it. She could do it, she just had to keep the theme of the design she liked and find a way of making it socially acceptable.
A knock on the front door stopped her. Her heart jumped in her chest as she pictured a furious Mindil pounding on her door or Kendrick fleeing the Martins again. Slowly, she looked over her shoulder.
There was a familiar old man standing in the door with a top hat in his hand and a cane in the other. It was Relik da Martin. He gave a little wave with his hat and nodded his head.
The muscles in her chest and back tightened, squeezing down on her ribs and making it hard to breathe. Sweat prickled her brow as she stared at Relik for a long moment. She considered continuing into the work area and pretending she didn’t see it, but their gazes had met and there was no way she could do it without snubbing him.
Lily didn’t want to answer the door. Nothing good happened when Relik showed up at her door.
It would be rude to ignore him though. She took a deep breath and turned to answer the door.
Relik stepped back as she opened the door. As soon as it was opened, he bowed deeply. “My deepest apologies, Bedame Lily dea Kasin, I would not dare to interrupt you on Nondei without a serious and pressing concern.”
Lily started. “W-What? What’s wrong? Is Kendrick safe?”
Relik’s eyes shimmered as he spoke in a low, serious voice, “May I come in?”
She stepped back to let him inside. When he entered, she closed the door. “Is there something wrong?”
He turned and bowed his head. He switched his hat to the same hand as his cane. “I’m afraid that I need your assistance. As you know, we’ve been watching Kendrick closely as he struggles with his decision.”
“Y-Yes…?” The tightness in her chest increased, crushing her ribs. The world spun around her as she stared at the older man.
“I’m afraid he has taken a turn for the worse.”
Lily gasped. She pressed two fingers against her lips to quiet her.
“For his safety, I have to break the common courtesy that we have afforded him during this time to ask for your assistance. I’m aware that you are struggling with your own difficulties, but in this case, our mutual friend may need your help.”
Relik sighed and looked up. “As you may recall, Kendrick has taken to watching your house at night. It is somewhat of an obsession but he is aware of your activities at night.”
A burning taste rose in the back of her throat. She knew where Relik was going, Kendrick had seen her spend the night with Hasan. He didn’t even have to see it, she was sure her screams of pleasure could be heard by most of the neighborhood.
She blushed hotly and it was her turn to look away. “I can guess.”
“For two nights now, he has remained in the bar room below his temporary quarters.” Relik sighed. “When my men attempted to question him about his decision, he responded with more violence and less control than before. Three of them were put into the hospital and one required magical healing otherwise he may not have made it.”
Lily’s jaw dropped in shock. She stared at Relik as she tried to comprehend his words.
Relik sighed. “While the aggression between our two families in Kendrick’s matter has been less than courteous, I’m aware that he is struggling with a decision that has far-reaching consequences in his life. I have attempted to give him as much space to make that choice but there are others in my family who want their due. They have felt that Kendrick’s reluctance would result in him reneging on his word and have attempted to aggressively bring him into compliance.”
“So you aren’t sending the men after him?”
Relik shook his head. “I am not. I rather work through negotiations. I also feel that he would benefit my family more if he is to agree willingly to honor his terms.”
“And if he isn’t?”
Relik didn’t answer for a moment. Instead, he toyed with his hat for a few seconds. Finally, he said, “Every business experiences a loss of a failed investment. If I felt that his decision against us was made with both his heart and intellect, that I would regretfully write off our expenses and walk away.”
The world continued to spin around Lily. She could too easily see Kendrick lost in a bottle as he drank himself to images of her fucking Hasan. The tears were already in her eyes, now they were threatening to spill out.
“Would you please assist us?”
“What is your deal?”
Relik pulled back. “It is not honorable—”
“He needs both of us, right?”
Relik stopped and bowed with a slight tilt to his head. “A well-made point.”
He looked around and then gestured to the chair Lily had just vacated. “This would be easier…”
They sat. Lily offered wine but Relik waved her off. As soon as they were settled, the older man continued.
“As you know, Kendrick has a very useful magical ability with water. He’s a mage, capable of doing many things, which makes him valuable in any regard. He is also a competent weather mage, capable of bringing or sending away rain.”
“When we helped his departure from the jail that he had spent years at, he agreed to serve the Martin family in that capacity for our fleet. He would shape water to ensure favorable travel rates, halt inclement weather, and effectively give us a significant boost in our shipping capabilities.”
“That sounds serious.”
Relik favored her with a smile. “It is, which is why this is an investment. His obligations would only be for ten years. If he is useful, the Martin family would not hesitate to heap rewards to ensure a more… long-term relationship.”
She frowned. “Why would he be running then?”
“To put a fine point, you.”
Lily stared in shock. “Me?”
“Yes, through his poor self-control, Kendrick has demonstrated that he still retains a heart-flame for you. You were the first thing he looked for when he came to shore and it continues to be a driving force. He wants you. I also have…” Relik’s voice trailed off.
“Even in this circumstance, there are some things that I shouldn’t speak of. Every man should have his secrets.”
It was frustrating. Everything about Kendrick was wrapped in shifting obligations and words. Lily sighed. “Please? I need to know.”
Relik toyed with his hat. “As part of a renegotiation, he has requested a sizable sum of jems to be set aside for a large purchase.”
The muscles in her neck twitched. “W-What reason?”
Relik stared into her eyes. “I presume your bride price. He intended to purchase your hand.”
The air in her throat froze. Lily stared in shock, her body utterly still as she tried to comprehend the words. Kendrick wanted to marry her? He still loved her that much?
Her heart beat faster, pounding in her chest.
“The amount was for your original debutante price, as noted on Suterbay’s from nine years ago. It was a fair and generous amount but one that many of my family balked at. I agreed to it unaware that it would cause a rift with the more accounting-based forces within the Martins.”
“H-He… he wants to marry me?” The tears were returning.
Relik nodded. “Yes, but I’m afraid he is drinking it away now and destroying his chances to request your hand. I know that both of you have resisted you becoming a kudame which is why I am here and violating the sanctity of our gentleman’s agreement.”
“M-Me?” She couldn’t get over it.
Relik smiled. “As you know, you are still a desirable woman. The two men who have fallen for you nine years ago are not deterred by your reputation of bad luck.”
She smiled to herself. Kendrick wanted her.
Then, confusion. “Why wouldn’t he take the deal?”
Relik set down his hat on the table. “There is a price to his employment. In specific, the employment.”
“Working for the Martins?”
“Yes, in part. A weather mage is not… a position that has high regard in our Society. Since we are not his family fleet, it would be considered a subservient role and therefore not worth of keeping his Kasin titles.”
It took a moment to realize what Relik said. “You mean, he won’t be a Society man if he works for you?”
“Yes, and by his position, you would also cease to be a lady of High Society.”
It was another blow that stole her breath away. Her ears began to ring as she stared at him, watching his lips move but not hearing the words. Her heart slammed into her chest and the sick feeling rose.
”… with your current reputation as a seamstress, it would mean that you would also be shunned by the rest of High Society and would lose a significant portion of your income in the process,” he finished.
“Kendrick knows this?”
“Yes, it was one of the many questions he asked me.”
She panted for breath.
Relik waited, watching her carefully with a look of compassion on his face.
“If he agrees to you,” she said with an aching heart, “then either he leaves me alone or asks me to marry him and we lose our titles together?”
She stared down at her hand. She wasn’t entirely sure what to do, but her heart and mind were warring with each other just like they were on the dress. Her intuition said to rush to Kendrick to help him, even if he felt she betrayed him, she couldn’t let him drink away his future because of her choices. On the other hand, her mother was adamant about her not doing anything besides work on Nirih’s dress.
“As I said, I apologize for interrupting you. I know that you are struggling with many things in the last week. I have have not interrupted your work but I’m truly afraid of the consequences of his current choices.”
She glanced up at him. “How much do you know?”
Relik looked embarrassed. “More than appropriate, I’m afraid.”
“What do you think I should do?”
He sighed. “I can’t tell you, it isn’t my place.”
“What do you think?”
He shook his head. Standing up, he bowed. “I’m sorry, Bedame. There are some things an old man should never reveal.”
It was a good idea. She stood up with him. “How do I find him?”
“You will help us?”
“I will send for a Kasin carriage. It wouldn’t do well to arrive in a Martin.”
Lily glanced back at her work room. The dress will have to wait, there were some things more important than a store or her mother’s reputation.