Chapter 37: Penir da Kasin

Even years later, a mentor still has his knife against his student’s throat. A single word or turn of phrase can destroy more than one life. — Tears of Child

It was a bright and sunny morning. A morning breeze brought the faintest whiff of the ocean streaming between buildings and along the cobblestone streets. Not even the acrid smell of steam cars and horses could erase it completely.

Lily hummed to herself as she stepped back on the boardwalk and headed toward her store. She carried her sewing bag with both hands, spreading the strain of the heavy material on both shoulders.

In the back of her mind, she worried about not bringing a meal but Kendrick had promised he or Mindil would feed her. She wanted to disagree, but he insisted with a kiss. He even offered to get a carriage for her but that was a bit too much for her.

She waited for the traffic before crossing the next street. When she stepped back up on the walk, she noticed there was two carriages standing in front of her store. The nearest one, a black carriage with gold and silver trim, had Djulian’s personal driver standing next to the door.

The joy of the morning crumbled almost instantly.

Lily hesitated, one foot on the boardwalk and the other on the street. A sick feel twisted in her gut. She shook her head, closing her eyes and then opening them in hopes that the carriage was for another store.

A horn blared behind her.

She jumped off the street and on the boardwalk. Turning around, she saw a pair of women wearing goggles sitting in a car. The seat was almost hanging off the front with a large cage of iron dominating almost two thirds of the vehicle. Bright yellow paint covered the inner coils of the metal but the outside was painted block. She spotted a pair of Kasin crests mounted along the side.

“Sorry!” Lily said loudly and then hurried away from the street.

She made it a few yards before she realized she was heading into a trap.

Djulian’s driver was looking at her curiously, his arms held stiffly behind his back and his head cocked at an angle.

Gulping, she stopped again just long enough to take a deep breath and then headed past him and into her store.

The bell on the door ran out, filling the store with the cheerful ringing.

The first thing Lily saw was Djulian’s back. The older woman was standing with both hands on the back of the chair, rocking it back and forth with sharp strokes. The legs of the chair smacked against the ground in a steady beat. “—is she?”

Djulian spun around, her face twisting in a mask of rage. “Where, in the Couple’s Favor, have you been!? You’re late!”

Lily started to flinch but then realized she had to stand up to Djulian. Taking Mindil’s advice from earlier, she stood up straighter and faced her. “My store hours are half past the seventh hour.”

“You are still late!”

It took all of her effort not to snap back. To stall, Lily set down the bag by the door. “By a few minutes only. I apologize for the delay.”

“You should be! I’m not going to have my daughter’s dress made by an incompetent—”

From the door leading into the workshop, Mindil came in carrying a tray of fruits. “She is not… Lily.”

Djulian glared at Mindil and then turned back to Lily. “For the amount of money I’m paying you, you should be waiting in your store the second the bell rings!”

“She had someone here, you impatient—”

“Don’t you dare call—”

“That is enough, Tadame Djulian and Tadame Mindil,” came a familiar voice from one of the couches, instantly stopping both Mindil’s and Djulian’s words in their tracks. The sound of it send a cold shiver down Lily’s spine.

Penir da Kasin—Lily’s mentor—stood up smoothly from the other couch. She wore a beautiful lace dress without even a hint of a seam or stitch in it. Even the patterns were seamless in what appeared to be a single piece of fabric. The rich blue color swirled around her as she stepped forward and Djulian stepped out of the way.

She held out her hand for Lily. “Good to see you, Bedame Lily. Your store is beautiful.”

Trembling with fear and nervousness, Lily took the hand and bowed her head toward it. It was an older style of address, appropriate for a matron of the family. “T-Thank you, Tadame Penir da Kasin ne Golid, you honor me with your presence.”

Djulian muttered something under her breath.

Penir smoothly gestured to the chair and the small couches. “I see you went with the Loinier’s. She always had a gift for creating something comfortable.”

“Your wisdom is always timely, Tadame Kasin.”

Penir turned slightly with her back to both Djulian and Mindil. “Not everything. I suggested a more red theme.”

“I can change it, if you wish.”

“I know you can, dear. However, you have chosen a well-coordinated color scheme. It suits you, light and airy. A good foundation for a talented bedame.”

Her gray hair was done up in a complicated bun that highlighted two lines of clear crystals. “You have a beautiful talent. Your magic is wonderful and I’ve heard good things of your skills over the years.” Her eyes sparkled. “Of course, eight years of working your craft will make an expert, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes, Tadame.”

She glanced at Djulian who smiled broadly. “A few complaints recently, though.”

Lily’s shoulders slumped.

“Everyone has detractors, dear. There is always someone vocal, no matter what you do.”

Lily tensed. She didn’t know where Penir was leading the conversation but having her mentor didn’t bode well. She clasped her hands together. “Is… there something wrong?”

Penir tilted her head and glanced around the store. “Sometimes those complaints spread out like roots, spreading through the soil of Society. They fester in the darkness, passed along with gossip and whispers. It’s a rot, you know, a half-hidden disease that eats away at the soil of Society.”

Lily’s blood ran with ice. She gulped.

“Occasionally, that rot is brought to the light. And gardeners have to cut it out. Sometimes they cut out more they need to, digging up flowers of anything related to that rot.” Her eyes grew hard as she looked directly at Lily. “Your mother is a terrible force, young dear. A tad indiscriminate in what she’s willing to dig up.”

A sob caught in Lily’s throat.

Djulian made a pleased giggle, half muffled.

“Damn the Couple,” whispered Mindil before she turned and stormed back into the workshop.

“I… I,” Lily blinked away the bears. “I’m doing my best.”

Penir cocked her head. “Show me? I want to see this dress—”

“Hideous dress,” Djulian interjected.

“—that apparently would destroy both of our reputations.”

Lily wasn’t sure she could face her mentor’s disapproval. The urge to turn and flee the store rose up, an overwhelming urge to run to Kendrick’s and beg for forgiveness. She tensed.

Penir held out her hand. “Please?”

“Y-Yes, Tadame.”

Penir reached out and took Lily’s hand. It wasn’t the grip of a lover but one of a stern teacher. She brought it to her elbow and deftly guided Lily toward the back room.

Behind them, Djulian followed, a grin still on her face.

Except for Djulian and the wine, the workspace was exactly how Lily left it the night before. Djulian stood near the desk, her body tense as she held her own glass. She sighed and set down her glass on the desk before picking up the tray. “Tadame Penir da Kasin ne Golid?”

“Thank you, Tadame.” Penir took the offered glass but then set it down on the table away from the fabric.

Lily couldn’t help but smile. She remembered how careful Penir was to keep her drinks away. Lily tried to have the same habit but she forgot on occasion.

Penir looked around the room before centering her gaze on the dress form with Nirih’s dress.

The dress was only mostly completed, with a dizzying array of different colors to mark the different panels and cuts. The only thing that was the proper color was the glowing cream strips; her magic couldn’t easily affect cloth that was already enchanted.

Her mentor released Lily’s hand and strolled over to it.

Lily tensed as she looked at her handiwork. She should have colored the fabric by now but she still struggled with the collar. It had the original one she put on, the one that showed far too much cleavage. She sighed as she felt another strike against her.

“Look at that thing,” Djulian said. “It’s hideous.”

Penir didn’t seem to respond. Instead, she ran her finger along a seam. Lily’s neat stitches melted away, evaporating in wisps of white smoke.

“And that collar, I would die if I had to wear it.”

Lily took a deep breath. She needed a drink.

Penir finally spoke. “Your stitching still a little sloppy.”

Djulian giggled and shot a triumphant glare at Lily.

Using her fingers, Penir erased the entire seam. Then, she clamped the fabric together between her fingertips and stroked back down, tracing her hand along the two edges of the fabric. As it slipped from her finger, the material had bonded together into a perfect edge, one without stitches or discoloration.

She worked in silence, redoing almost a quarter of the outer seams in a matter of seconds. There were even a few of Lily’s best ones, but no needle could ever match the perfection and smoothness of Penir’s magic.

Djulian’s glee increased with every passing second.

Trembling, Lily looked over at Mindil.

Her lover looked furious. Her jaw was tight and her hands balled into fists. She looked back at Lily and then back to glaring at Djulian.

Ducking her head, Lily sighed.

Penir reached up for the collar. “Is this the collar you wanted?”

“It’s hideous,” repeated Djulian.

Lily considered lying but her gut feeling still said it was correct. It was daring and exotic, though far too much naked flesh. She gave a half-hearted nod and the repeated more confidently.

Djulian stared at her, mouth opened. “You’d put my daughter in that dress? I’ll be the laughing stock of High Society? They’ll think she’s nothing more than a cheap whore! I will not have—”

“Tadame,” interrupted Penir.

“—my daughter dressed up like a cheap harlot.” Djulian dug into her pocket and grabbed a piece of paper. It was one of Lily’s receipts, the one for Nirih’s dress. “You see this? You see it!?”

Lily didn’t need to look at it closely. “Yes.”

“You said insurance. If you couldn’t make it, then you’d give me a hundred times. You aren’t going to make it, you aren’t even going to get close. Now give me my money so I can get a proper one!”

“It’s almost done,” Lily said, trying to keep her voice calm.

“It isn’t even close, you stupid, greedy incompetent!”

Mindil stepped forward. “Don’t you dare!”

“Shut up, you fat cow!”

Mindil’s lips parted. She stepped forward sharply. “Don’t you dare call me a cow, you fucking horse-fucker!”

“Mindil,” Lily rested her hand on her lover’s shoulder.

Mindil looked at her, tears in her eyes. “It isn’t fair,” she whispered. “You’ve been working on that dress for weeks. It’s beautiful, I know.”

“What would you know?” Djulian snapped. “All you do is eat and spend your husband’s money. At least I wasn’t caught fucking on some table!”

Mindil’s body tensed.

With a sudden snap, she was gone.

Lily gasped as her hand slipped down. Her eyes slipped away, moving to a room with her mentor and Djulian. She lifted her hand up to reach for Mindil but her hand seemed to slide away, dropping to the side.

Djulian stared with her mouth open. After a few seconds, she said, “You better run—”

“This is a good dress,” interrupted Penir.

Djulian jerked and did a double take. “What!?”

Penir raised an eyebrow.

Stepping back, Djulian cleared her throat. “S-Sorry, what?”

“This dress. It’s beautiful. I think the collar needs a little work but her instincts are good. It followed the new trends from the eastern and southern cities, the scoop collar.”

“She’ll be practically naked!”

“Nonsense, the collar isn’t done. Lily, do you have some Klafin Sheer?”

Klafin was an expensive sheer fabric with a delicate lace pattern. It was very expensive and usually only purchased when needed. She shook her head. Even as she did, she wondered how she could get some of it in her hands; her mentor’s question was obviously a suggestion.

“Try that. Keep the low collar but bring the sheer up to a tight scoop with a lace trim.”

Lily smiled, she could picture it. The sheer fabric would hide the scandalous exposure of Nirih’s chest but still give hints of the feminine body underneath. It would be right on the edge of shocking, but on the correct side of being properly demure. “Thank you.”

“But the colors!” Djulian sputtered.

“Lily’s talent will cover that, she has an artist touch with coloring. That is the one thing that I wasn’t worried about.”

“It looks hideous!”

“It is also not due until Mumdei, is it? Two days from now?”

“Y-Yes, but—”

“No, buts. The dress is mostly done, only the final touches are needed. I have no doubt Lily will be capable of finishing them on time. Your daughter’s dress will be beautiful.”

Djulian’s lips pressed into a thin line.

Penir reached over and took the receipt. She looked at it and then shook her head. “You will accept this dress and your daughter will be the talk of the town.”

“But…” Djulian’s voice trailed off.

“I will, of course, join you and be back here at the noon hour in two days.”

Penir strolled over to Lily. Taking her hand, she reached up and kissed Lily’s cheek. “I’ll talk to your mother. There will be no more threats. This old flower knows how to talk to gardeners.”

The older woman looked into the room and smiled. She reached over to pick up her wine glass, took a sip, and then headed toward the front door.

Djulian sputtered and then raced after her. “Tadame Penir! Tadame!”

Lily listened to them leave the front door, the door bell ringing out thrice before it settled into place. Then she staggered back to sink heavily into her chair.

Mindil was suddenly there again, holding her tightly. “Oh, Lily.”

Lily looked into her lover’s eyes and saw tears. She felt the same swimming her own eyes. She had never been so frightened or tense before. Penir’s words echoed in her head. Her mentor had liked her dress. She was given a compliment by one of the famed seamstresses of the entire family.

Days of misery and suffering and weeks of self-doubt meant nothing in that moment. She opened her mouth to say something but only a gasp came out. Trembling with relief, she sank to her knees and burst into tears.