The Second Trial

The weekend was quiet, empty, and gave her far too much time to miss Eros. No one had heard a thing about how he was, or where he might be. It was almost a relief to walk past the silent desks to Aphrodite’s office door on Monday.

She knocked, there was no response. Should she knock again? As she lifted a hand, a voice, soft as wind through river reeds said. “She knows you’re there; she wants you to wait.”

When Psyche looked around, all the people near her were absorbed in their computer screens, she had no idea who’d spoken. All the same, she stepped to the side of the door and waited.

Aphrodite left her standing there for half an hour, it felt longer.

It was Harmonia who opened the door. “Come in.” Her voice was as calm as ever, but her lips were pinched.

Aphrodite, dressed today in a pearl pink suit with a pencil skirt and deadly heels, tapped her foot pointedly at three people gathered around a large table. The table’s surface was scattered with photos of beautiful people and beautiful places.

Two of the three seemed ready to cry, the third lounged back in his chair and looked amused.

Aphrodite jabbed a finger at him. “This isn’t a laughing matter, Dionysus. If we don’t book now, we’ll be gazumped by the competition and end up with has-been models and tacky venues, but we can’t know what or who to book until we have the season’s colours.”

One of the nervous ones squeaked. “But you were at the strategy meetings, and Arachne sent photos…”

They withered under the PR Director’s icy glare. “Photos need the right lighting to show colours accurately. With my poor Eros still recovering from his horrible injuries, I have no one who knows how to set them up.”

She looked over her shoulder at Psyche. “It’s a good thing we have my new little helper. Your project for today is to get samples of the fabric prototypes Arachne is working on before she ships them to the factories for mass production. They’re due to be packed for collection tonight.”

Psyche bit her tongue on questions about Eros and asked. “Where is her studio?”

Harmonia pointed to the ceiling. “Top floor.”

Aphrodite made a shooing motion with her hand. “Off you go then, and if you don’t come back with samples, don’t bother coming back.”

Psyche turned and left, closing the office door behind her. A soft voice murmured as she passed a bank of desks. “Don’t cut the fabric, the weavers will tear you to pieces.”

She kept walking.

Another group, another quiet voice. “Gather the threads left over from their work as they take it from the looms.”

Psyche entered the lift and pressed the top button. She emerged into a wonderland of fabric.

Arachne’s section of the top floor was a huge, open workroom with a wall of windows and skylights across half the ceiling. The darker half of the space held an array of spotlights, backlights, downlights, halo lights, and reflectors, clustered around a small, empty space, perfect for a single photographic model.

A tall, spare woman picked her way across the room towards her, Arachne. Her lecture on the properties of fibres and the science of creating fabric in the Design Thinking series had been one of Psyche’s favourites.

She frowned as she approached. “If you’re from Aphrodite, tell her to keep her greedy hands and scissors to herself. If she wants to see what the fabric looks like, she can come up and have a look for herself.”

Psyche gulped. “I am from PR, but I don’t want to cut up anything.”

She looked around at the twenty-or-so people working at the looms set around the room. Some frames held little more than the warp threads, running from the top to the bottom of the loom, others held near-complete bolts of cloth, all but ready to be cut from the loom and sent off.

Arachne watched her suspiciously, Psyche pointed at the nearly finished fabrics. “Are those the ones she wants information on?”

The chief weaver nodded, still watching Psyche, who pulled out her sketch pad. “May I draw the patterns?”

“If you wish. That’s not what the harpy wants though, is it?”

Psyche gripped the pad tightly. “She wants samples, but if I can attach samples of the threads from your leftovers, and note where and how they feature in the overall pattern, I’m doing as she’s asking, aren’t I?”

Arachne’s laugh was dry, but genuine. “You’re splitting threads finer than I’d like to stitch, but it keeps my work intact and that woman away from my weavers. Very well.”

Psyche spent the following hours perched behind the looms, scribbling, and noting everything she could about the interplay of the colours; soft pastels in this range, with the occasional peek of something more vivid where it was most unexpected.

As the morning wound into the afternoon, the completed works were carefully removed from the frames, one by one. As each one was taken to be packed, Psyche scrambled forward and carefully plucked the long tail threads scattered about the immediate work area until she had a sample of every colour in that work.

She fixed them to the page with the relevant pattern and description, then moved on to the next. As she was pinning the final set of yarns to her last image, Arachne appeared beside her, scanning the sheets scattered across an out-of-the way table. “A clever solution, I’ll be interested to hear how the harpy receives it.”

Psyche took a deep breath and gathered the pages together. “I need to deliver them to her now, so I’m sure you’ll find out soon.”

Arachne looked briefly amused, then turned away, and Psyche headed for the lifts.

Harmonia looked up from her computer when Psyche entered the PR office area. “She’s been caught up in a meeting. Did you get the samples?”

Psyche pulled on a confident smile she didn’t feel and laid the pages on Harmonia’s desk. “All the colours, with a full view of the patterns as they were on the looms. I took some photos as well but Aphrodite is right about the lighting.”

Harmonia looked over the sketches and threads, then looked at Psyche, her smile was genuine. “This is wonderful, let me show the social media team, and some of the photography assistants. I’m sure they’re going to love it.”

She clattered at her keyboard, then scooped up the pile of papers and headed for a large table in the middle of the office. “Come on, I’m sure they’ll have questions.”

Aphrodite swept in ten minutes later, took one look at the pages and turned icy. Before she could send Psyche packing, one of the image specialists at the table exclaimed. “I’m SO glad your team finally listened. This is so much better than those tiny scraps of selvedge we got last time. The sketch of the whole cloth is so much better for context.”

Someone else chimed in. “And the threads you got are so long, I think we’ve got more fabric than we usually get, it’s just deconstructed.”

The group laughed and another person said. “And we can see the individual colours now, it makes it so much easier to set up backdrops and coordinating font colours for the social media posts. This is simply brilliant”

Aphrodite preened under the praise, then glanced down her nose at Psyche. “You’ve certainly been busy. Might I suggest a good night’s sleep? Your next project will be quite taxing.”

Psyche smiled sweetly and left the office.

She finally had time to think about Aphrodite’s reference to Eros that morning and she wasn’t sure she wanted to. How bad were the burns? Were there complications? Could she send him a card or something by way of Harmonia?

She shook her head at the last thought, Harmonia had risked enough by bringing in the group to praise the samples that afternoon, there was no way she’d court Aphrodite’s ire by delivering a message to Eros from the person who’d injured him.

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