Here is the second portion of the first scene in Vain. Last week we saw Theophilus, Lord of Ribeauville, stop by a shop searching for a tailor reported as having been scarce for the last few months, leaving his daughter alone. He has just asked Lily when her father left, and she tries to distract him by asking to see some cloth he brought.
BEGINNING OF EXCERPT
“In the morning,” she answered. He arched one thick brow, hearing the vagueness in her response. She rushed to fill the questioning silence. “Please, my lord, may I see what you have brought? You always choose such beautiful cloth for us to work.” His lips pursed within the circle of the beard he kept neatly trimmed beside clean-shaven cheeks. She knew that he knew she was playing on his vanity. “Is it linen or wool?” she prodded, desperate to avoid questions about her father.
“Wool,” he relented as he placed the bundle reverently on her father’s worktable. “I have never seen so deep a burgundy before.” He untied the twine and unfolded the flax to reveal a bolt of cloth that burned almost black in the shadows of the shop.
“Oh, my lord,” Lily breathed as she approached.
He flipped the mass to find an end then held out the corner for her inspection. The yarn had been spun impossibly fine, then woven tightly to produce a thin fabric that flowed over her fingers like a sheet of burgundy water. She lifted the material toward the window to admire the rich red in the fading dusky light.
“Not really a spring color,” her lord noted doubtfully. “I wanted a tunic for Easter, but perhaps this cloth will not do.”
“Blood of Christ,” Lily whispered without thought, then turned to see if she had offended him. He entered Ribeauville’s beautiful church on the hill as often as he should, though was not known to be a particularly pious man. Perhaps he would not like the idea of wearing holy blood.
Theophilus cocked his head to one side. The corners of his eyes crinkled with the suggestion of a smile. She’d always liked how his eyes drooped down on the outsides, implying there might be a softness to him, a sympathetic nature that only showed in the soulfulness of the shape of his eyes.
“A tunic, then,” Lily plunged on. “What did you have in mind for its structure?”
He threw his cloak back over his shoulders eagerly, keen as always to plan a new garment. “I saw a man in Thionville last autumn wearing a tunic with a squarish neckline and short sleeves, but it just flowedto his knees. Not in a feminine way,” he corrected quickly. “Even belted, it moved with him like the skin on a stallion. The weight of the fabric was similar to this, so I hoped your father could make one for me.”
Excitement pulsed in the room. Lily needed this job, yes, but the creativity, the possibility of fashioning the garment that Theophilus described immersed her in an energy she had not experienced for months. She unwound a length of redness, let it drape over her arm. “I see it,” she said simply, because she did.
He scratched his ear. “Will Willis have time to complete the garment? He appears to have much business outside the shop.” The pulse diminished. He knew. He knew her father had not been home for days and days. He wanted his burgundy fabric to be worked by the man he thought had crafted his tunics for decades. He also wanted to know where that man had gone.
So did Lily. She could not indulge in that curiosity right now. She needed this job because she needed her lord’s coin. Supplies for the shop were one thing. Food was another. This week, for the first time in her life, she’d gone to bed hungry, with nothing in the larder, no money to spend, and no goods to barter. “We have over a month until Easter, my lord,” she reassured. “I can start on the tunic in anticipation of my father’s return.”
Theophilus frowned. He did not care for that idea. Starting meant cutting and she could see he did not trust her to cut his fine wool. She did not blame him. The price on such a piece in such a color must have been extravagant.
“Did you know I helped to make the cloak you are wearing today?” she inquired. “We sewed it three years ago. I remember because we all liked how the blue brightened the worktable that January. And you brought it in last spring to mend a tiny hole on the inside,” she added. “I have worked fabric with my parents since I was a young girl. Father has allowed me to cut for nigh on ten years now.” In reality, Father had demanded she do all the cutting, which suited her just fine. She did not make mistakes, but more importantly, she had a good eye. She could see things in the fabric and the person who would wear it like no one else. Or so Mother had said before their lives unraveled.
The Lord of Ribeauville studied her. He searched her face and she imagined she saw his soulful sympathy extend to her in a softening of his handsome eyes. He examined the length of her body analytically. “Did you make that tunic?”
“Yes, of course,” she said. Did he think that merchants hired out their own work?
He critically appraised the neckline. “You have done something different over the shoulders.”
She ducked her head in pleased embarrassment. “Yes, my lord.” She had been taught by her mother to always regard the man before her as her better, careful to speak and think of him as the Lord of Ribeauville, though with that being such a mouthful she often shortened the title to thelord, or her lord, or my lord. She shied away from even thinking his given name, although her friends bandied it about as if he were one of them. Or, at least, they did when they knew he was not in residence.
Her lord scowled. “Well, what did you do?” he demanded impatiently, his eyes not so soulful any more.
“Oh,” she breathed as she lifted her fingers to the subtle pleats of the cloth. “I shaped the top to make my shoulders appear broader.” What a humiliating admission!
“Thought only noblemen padded their shoulders,” he joked. “Is it common practice among women too?”
“I do not think so, my lord. But I did not pad my tunic. I added pleats and liked the balance they gave shoulders to hips,” she explained, blushing furiously. Imagine, talking about her body parts with her lord.
He nodded, the little silk tassel rubbing across his dark hair as he reviewed her homespun gray tunic from neck to toe again. “Clever. You say you cut and sewed this very tunic with your two hands? Your father had no part in it?”
“Yes, my lord. I swear it on…on the Blood of Christ!” she finished, laying her hand on his bolt of fabric possessively.
END OF EXCERPT
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