Bianca snorted a laugh, Leila thought it was as much at Dani’s expression as Tareya’s pronouncement. Her reply, though, was mild. “I’m afraid you won’t find any shops with pre-made clothing in Port Watch. It’s never caught on here.”
Tareya’s face fell. “Oh.”
She brightened. “Oh well. Papa said it wasn’t seemly for me to work anyway, so I suppose I’ll do whatever it is the other girls here do.”
Bianca listed a few things off. “Embroidery, small sewing projects, music, drawing, dancing. We think there may be a bit of a surge in weaving shortly.”
Tareya bounced. “Oh fun, I’ll ask Mama to talk to people about all of them straight away. Dani, darling, I’m sure I’ll see you when we need supplies for projects. Do come and visit.”
With that, she whirled out of the shop, leaving Leila feeling rather breathless.
Bianca rolled her eyes and returned to the house, Miklos clapped his hands together. “Right, so, now that’s sorted. Dani, this is Leila, she’s your new workmate and I expect you two will get along famously once you settle in.”
Dani scowled. “I work the afternoons with the Hill ladies and help close up. You can take the mornings.”
That suited Leila perfectly, she was far more comfortable with the likes of Mistress Gallo than Lady Oren, for all her humour; and her knowledge of fabric was useful to the early customers.
She smiled and nodded happily. “That sounds perfect. The Hill ladies have been missing you.”
Dani smirked, and sashayed across the shop to rearrange the heavy skirt fabrics.
Miklos leaned in. “Have they?”
Leila kept an eye on Dani as she murmured. “I’m sure they have, even if they didn’t say so.”
Her boss managed to stifle his snort of laughter and they both returned to work.
Leila was waved out of the shop’s door with two hours to enjoy before closing. She walked the route back to the inn slowly, taking the time to start learning the shops and businesses along the way. In coming days, she would explore further and get to know this delightful labyrinth.
The days settled into weeks of comfortable routine, the only excitement being Grigor’s delivery of her new hand loom. It was nearly exact, and after a few little tweaks, Leila was shuttling threads back and forth on it like she’d had it for years.
His next delivery was to Lady Oren, and Leila was given special leave one afternoon, to go up the Hill and teach the Governor’s widow to thread the loom and weave a scarf. For two weeks after that, the older woman made a point of visiting the shop while Leila was there, to get advice, direction and occasionally direct intervention on her project.
Exactly as predicted, this created a surge of interest in the skill from the other Hill families, and Timon reported with a grin that Grigor was hard-pressed to keep up with demand for his looms, and then to keep up with fixing the broken ones. Other carpenters raced to compete, but Grigor’s were always seen as the superior choice by the families who could afford him.
Leila had been talking through threading and weaving techniques with Bianca, and then a sulky Dani, ever since the first loom had arrived and they were both more than capable of teaching and assisting their wealthy clientele.
Dani had a good eye for colour and composition and a habit of saying what she thought her customers wanted to hear. It made her popular with the Hill ladies who found Bianca’s clear-eyed views uncomfortable and she was soon queen of her own little weaving circle.
It made her rather more pleasant to work with, and the shop settled into an easy flow of days as the year turned and the days slowly began to warm again.
Facing the past
Prince Andreas strode across the palace courtyard, making for the square-set building tucked into a far corner, his brother, Prince Raoul, at his side. He set his shoulders as he entered, and made his way into the front room.
A large, bright space, scattered about with chairs, stools and work tables, the men and women working there paused as they entered, then resumed their work with a quietly cheery acknowledgement of their presence.
They made him uncomfortable, these incredible people. Brave, resilient, good-natured and accepting. Every one of them had been injured in service to the Scattered Isles and this was the best they could do in return. Give them a roof, and food, and support while they worked to discover new skills to take back out to the world. They deserved to never work again.
He found the object of his visit that morning in the bright light of the central window, critically looking over a crystal-clear pane of glass.
“Petros. What’s this I hear about you leaving us?” He sounded too jovial, too forced, the older man shook his head at him.
“Getting on with my life is what I’m doing.”
“But going back to Port Watch? After what you went through there?”
Petros twisted his torso, so he could grip Andreas’s shoulder with his remaining hand. “There’s more to that place than the battle, Highness. It’s a good place, with good people and news I’m getting is that it’s thriving. A perfect spot for an old soldier to set up a new business.”
Andreas tilted his head, and twisted his lips into a sort-of smile. “I wish you the best, then. Not that you’ll need it, you’ve got the strength and skill to make what you will of your life, anywhere you want.”
The soldier released Andreas’s shoulder with a fond shake of his head. “You’re a good man, Your Highness, and deserve the same as you wish me. Now go and rescue my friends from your brother’s advice.”
Andreas looked around and stifled a sigh. Raoul meant well, but was so young, so sheltered and indulged. He was astoundingly ignorant of everything not set down between the covers of the university’s reference books, deeming it below his attention. He had a tendency to loudly blunder in and offend while believing he was helping.
He was holding forth at the head of a table full of female-only squadron soldiers, and from the set of their shoulders, was about to discover exactly why they were feared across the All-Nations alliance.
He cut his brother’s lecture off with a hearty slap on the back. “Now didn’t you tell me you’d come here to discuss some new discovery with the physicians? I’m nearly ready to leave and you’re here flirting.”
Raoul choked, then turned to him. “I am not flirting. I’m explaining to these ladies the best way to construct a barrel.”
Andreas held onto his horrified shudder. “I’m sure you’ve been most helpful and should now let them get on with their work.”
He pretended not to her the quiet snorts and mutters. Taking Raoul by the shoulders, he all but pushed him from the room, then returned to the table.
“Soldiers, I apologise for my brother.”
One of the women rolled her eyes. “He’s not going to learn with your family always making excuses for him, Highness.”
Andreas sighed. “I know, but I’ll do anything to keep my mother from looking disappointed at me.”
That made them snigger, and he finished his visit with a light-hearted lesson from them on how to actually build a barrel.