“I just — I don’t know what to do, Mother! My whole professional reputation is riding on this wedding, and I’m afraid all the good work I’ve done on the brides’ dresses, and the grooms’ tunics, and new clothes for half the nobility is barely going to be noticed, all because some idiot nobleman has no taste and no style but a damn good imagination!”
“Bianca,” Maude patted her daughter’s shoulder, “take it from me, I was married to a tailor for almost twenty years — if people ever blamed the tailor for the horrific excuses for clothing that some of the nobility walked out of the house in, well, the nobility would have to walk around naked, because no tailor would ever stay in business.”
“It’s not that simple!”
Yes, it is, you just won’t let yourself see it that way. It was only through the experience of being married to a tailor for almost twenty years, and having mothered Bianca for almost forty-four, that kept Maude from rolling her eyes. Of all her daughters, Bianca was the one who took the most after her father — at least in terms of artistic vision and craftsmanship. She also had a certain hard-nosed practicality when it came to coppers and silvers that dear Alfred had lacked, which went a good distance toward explaining why Bianca and her husband were on the cusp of entering the nobility and Alfred had died with more IOUs than money in his cashbox.
The trouble only came when Bianca imagined that the coppers and silvers were dependent not on hounding every last red cent owed from her customers, but from her artistic abilities. Then, you got panic. Or you used to get panic — Maude thought that Bianca had gotten over the worst of her crises of conscience before she’d gotten halfway through her twenties.
Clearly, Maude was wrong.
“Yes, dear, it really is. Look — you’ve gone over your strategy with me a hundred times, yes? It’s all about impressing the women. Make them drool over your pretty dresses and embroidery and hats and the rest of it. And the men will follow. Hell, even if they don’t, half the time it’s the women who are in charge of selecting new clothing for the family, and as long as they patronize you, you’ll be set.”
The corners of Bianca’s mouth still pulled downward, so Maude tried again. “I’ve seen those wedding gowns you made, you know. Every woman’s eye in that cathedral is going to be drawn to those lovely gowns.” Some of the men’s, too, or so Maude thought — the new princess was going to be lovely and blushing and all that rot, but the old princess’s gown gave her future husband a couple broad hints about what he was going to get when that gown came off. Tasteful hints, of course; this was Bianca’s handiwork. So tasteful, most of the women might not even notice. But hints all the same. “They won’t even look at the men. They’ll be too busy mobbing you and asking you to design their daughters’ wedding gowns.”
“You haven’t seen this tunic, Mother.”
Maude snorted. “Bah! I saw a hundred if I saw a dozen of the monstrosities that came out of your father’s workshop. This can’t possibly be worse.”
“Oh, yes,” Bianca laughed — that dreadful little laugh that escaped when there really wasn’t anything to laugh about. Maude had laughed like that, almost thirty years ago, when she discussed the details of her husband’s estate. “It can be.”
“Nonsense. You see, my dear, your father wasn’t the premier tailor of old King Uther’s court. Far from it. He wasn’t the one dressing the fops and popinjays — but worse, he was dressing their imitators. Now, you take the mind of your average nobleman, you pack it full of bad ideas that only the fops and popinjays of the court can pull off, and you add to it your above-average tailor’s interpretation of those bad ideas — doing what little damage control he can do — and that is a fashion disaster destined to sour even the most iron of stomachs.”
“Mother, what do you think Sir Bors is, if not an average nobleman whose mind has been packed full of fops’ bad ideas?”
“Impossible. Albion hasn’t grown its own fops yet.”
“Oh, believe me, it’s possible.”
Maude frowned. “Tell you what,” she said, “how about you show me this tunic, and I’ll decide whether your professional reputation can stand it to let it see the light of day.”
“Richard should have it on by now,” was the only reply Bianca gave to that as she breezed past Maude, toward the door.
“I knew you wouldn’t believe it until you saw it,” Bianca continued.
“Oh, I wouldn’t, would I?”
“You wouldn’t. It’s not just the tunic, Mother –”
“I figured the shirt wouldn’t look all that great.”
“The shirt! The shirt’s the least of it. It’s the whole ensemble!” Bianca shook her head as she began to pound her way up the stairs. “It’s the hose, and the boots — oh, the boots!”
“Tell me about the boots.”
“I’m afraid to! You won’t believe me!”
“I’ll be seeing it in just a moment, dear.”
“True. Well, to begin, he had them died this horribly impractical periwinkle blue.”
“If I remember correctly, noblemen and women have their shoes died impractical colors all the time. It sort of goes with the territory, doesn’t it?”
“Shoes, yes. Not boots! Boots are — are –”
“Made for walking?”
“Yes!” Bianca replied as she reached the top of the stairs. “Not for dancing and loafing aroud, like shoes are. Shoes can stand to be impractical colors. Whereas if Sir Bors steps in one mud puddle, those boots will be ruined! And they’ll show every speck of road dust, even if he manages to avoid puddles!”
“Wouldn’t that be his problem, not yours?”
“It’ll be my problem because I let him wear those boots — in public, no less!”
“Bianca, nobody who knows Sir Bors is going to blame you for letting me walk out of your shop looking like an idiot. Besides, like I told you, nobody blames the tailor for the client’s folly. If I’d had a copper for every time a nobleman –”
“That’s just it, Mother — a nobleman. Not a woman. You had a point when you said that my strategy centered on the women — but don’t you see, it’s part of the contract a dressmaker makes with her client — she won’t let them walk out of her shop looking like fools!”
“I don’t suppose any of your clients took the precaution of getting that in writing?”
“Mother! You know what I mean — anyway, I’ll just show you this abomination, then you’ll understand.” Bianca knocked at the door. “Richard! Are you ready?”
Bianca knocked again. “Richard!” She tried the doorknob.
She barely jiggled it once before Richard called out, “Don’t open that door!” It was the tone of voice, Maude imagined, that he would normally reserve for reacting to the news that all of his ships had sunk.”
Bianca took a step back. “You’re not ready yet?”
“Oh, as if it matters, Richard!” Maude scoffed. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before — and besides, I changed both your sons’ diapers, yours can’t be that much bigger –”
“I’d rather you saw me naked than in this!”
Well, that was unexpected.
“You see?” Bianca hissed.
“No, dear. There’s a door in the way.”
Bianca knocked again. “Richard! Please, open up. She won’t believe this until she’s seen it!”
“I won’t –”
Maude pushed Bianca out of the way. “Never mind that,” she said, taking a hairpin and applying it to the keyhole.”
Bianca’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know you knew how to pick a lock …”
“Show me one woman who raised three teenage girls and doesn’t.” She heard a familiar click and called, “You’d better be decent, Richard — we’re coming in!”
Maude and Bianca sailed through the door.
Maude burst out laughing.
“You see?” Bianca wailed. “You see?”
“Oh, I see! I see! Oh, Wright!” She held her stomach and bent over double. “Oh, Alfred! I hope, wherever you are, you’re seeing this! Your daughter has finally topped your worst!”
“I fail to see,” Richard growled, “what’s so funny about this.”
“How? Have you gotten a load of yourself in a full-length mirror? Oh, wait, there doesn’t seem to be … Bianca, what kind of dressmaker doesn’t have a full-length mirror in her own bedroom?”
Bianca merely mewed and looked away, as if the sight of the monstrosity was too much for her.
“Step back,” Maude told Richard, “Let’s see the full effect!”
Richard narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms, but he did as she requested.
Maude burst out laughing again.
“Look at that hosen! I know you weren’t responsible for that horror –”
“I gave Sir Bors’s instructions to the chausser,” Bianca murmured, sounding sick.
“What did he say?”
“He said he’s seen worse.”
“Just off the boat from Glasonland,” Richard put in helpfully.
“And the hosen wouldn’t be so bad,” Bianca’s voice faltered. “If not … if not for …”
“The rest of it.” Richard said that as other Sims would say words like “roaches” or “rats” or “fleas.”
“You see?” Bianca asked, stepping up to Richard. “You see why I can’t possibly let Sir Bors show up to the wedding in this?”
“Do I see? Bianca, if you want to burn it, I’ll light the fire!” Richard replied.
“You can’t do that!” Maude gasped.
“Indeed.” Bianca fingered the tunic. “The silk’s still good, perhaps we could re-dye it and …”
“Bianca! We can afford new silk! I say we burn this thing!” So might other men, Maude thought, spoken of repelling invaders or killing dangerous wolves.
“But would we say to Sir Bors?”
“Nothing!” Maude interjected. “Nothing, because you can’t possibly burn this thing! Richard, imagine the possibilities!” Maude grabbed his sleeve. “Everybody says that Lady Guinevere and Queen Alison can’t stand Sir Bors. If we let them know that Bianca let Sir Bors make a fool of himself in front of the whole kingdom, they’ll order whole new wardrobes in gratitude! Think about it, Richard! A Queen’s wardrobe! Imagine the silver flowing into our coffers from that!”
She could almost see coins flashing in Richard’s eyes.
“And the new Crown Princess? What about her? And Princess Jessica! It’s their wedding we’ll be ruining!” Bianca wailed. “Do you think they –”
“Don’t listen to her!” Maude leaned closer to Richard. “She said she wanted to hand off the younger womens’ dressmaking to Dannie! Dannie can plead ignorance of the whole thing. It doesn’t matter!”
Richard stroked his beard. “I don’t know … Bianca knows the market, if she thinks this will hurt her reputation more than help it …”
“A Queen’s wardrobe, Richard! Just keep imagining that!”
“… Do you think the Queen would order a new wardrobe because of this, Bianca?” Richard asked, tapping his fingers together as the last syllable rose in a note of hope.
“Oh.” He slumped in defeat.
“Lady Guinevere would, though!”
“As if it matters!” Bianca snapped.
“Of course it matters, Sir Lancelot is one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom — and he knows better than to refuse Lady Guinevere anything she really wants!”
“It matters because of Lady Gwendolyn!” Bianca interjected. She turned to Richard. “Think about it, dear — Dannie writes of her as such a sweet, caring girl — imagine her … mortification if her father showed up to her wedding in … that!”
Richard looked down. He shuddered.
“You see! You see what I mean?”
Maude opened her mouth. Bianca was quicker. “And that girl’s poor mother! She’s half-mad from putting up with Sir Bors already! Do we really want to take responsibility for driving her the rest of the way around the bend?” Bianca leaned in. “Do you, Richard? Did you?”
“When you put it like that …”
Maude sighed. “Damn it, Bianca. You’ve spent your whole life being cuthroat and callous. Why did you have to be nice now?”
And Richard sighed. “But deciding we don’t want to embarrass the Crown-Princess-to-be and her mother doesn’t tell us what we’re going to do with … this!” He fingered the tunic between two fingers and dropped it as if it burned him.
That was the problem …
“I got it!” Maude gasped.
“You do?” Bianca smiled.
“Tell us, for the love of the Lord, tell us!”
Maude grinned. “You tell Sir Bors that there was an accident at the dyers’, and the tunic and shirt is ruined. Irretrievably ruined. And owing to the complexity of getting new materials, brocading, replacing seamstresses blinded by the horror of that,” she poked Richard’s shoulder, “etc., there’s no way to remake it in time for the wedding. So you’ll make him something more reasonable as a consolation prize.”
Bianca frowned. “He won’t be pleased.”
“But he won’t wear it and embarrass his wife and his daughter and us in front of half the kingdom,” Richard pointed out. “And we can safely burn this thing and forget we ever saw it. I’ll gather the firewood!”
“Not so fast, Dickie,” Maude grabbed his shoulder. “I didn’t say we’d burn this thing.”
“We’ll bury it? Drop in the sea? Oh — dip it into a vat of acid?” His eyes actually lit up at that last prospect.
“No, we’ll save it.”
“For the material?” Bianca asked.
“No.” Maude turned to Richard. “Sir Bors has driven you halfway ’round the bend since you started the negotations for Lady Clarice’s hand, hasn’t he?”
Richard did not answer, but he didn’t need to. The vein throbbing on his temple told Maude everything she needed to know.
“Excellent,” Maude chortled. “And Sir Bors has a son, hasn’t he? How old is he?”
Richard glanced at Bianca. “Between George and Freddy … but just where between …”
“So he’s unlikely to get married before Freddy and Lady Clarice?”
“Highly unlikely,” Richard replied.
The smile at Maude’s lips curled like a cat around its creambowl. “Perfect. So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to take that tunic, and you’re going to save it.”
“Save it?” Richard squeaked.
“And when his son is getting ready to get married, and you’re safely a Baron and he can’t do anything to you, Bianca is going to ‘find the notes and drawings’ and ‘remake’ it for him … as a congratulatory gift, of course, because his son and heir is getting married. And then …” Maude chuckled. “You get to embarrass Sir Bors when it can’t possibly come back to bite either of you …”
Richard turned to Bianca. “Can we do it? Can we?”
“I … I don’t know …”
“Oh, come on, Bianca, live a little! You’ll be a grand lady and Sir Bors will finally look like the ass he is!”
Bianca bit her lip. “Well — I guess — all right.”
“And I can take this off? And never have to wear it again?”
“Of course you can, dear,” Maude patted Richard’s shoulder.