The outfits they'd pulled out of the storerooms the day before looked all the more beautiful in the light of Karela's sun-bright workroom. Stored carefully, the colours hadn't faded, and they had a sweet scent from the herbs that had been packed with them to keep away vermin and mustiness. Vixen ran a hand admiringly over a gorgeous silver-and-sapphire brocade with a design of swans, enjoying the texture—she doubted it was entirely silk, that would have cost an exorbitant amount, but it had a richer sheen than cotton or linen or wool alone could have offered. Men's clothes could be elaborate and rich, but she was sure they'd never felt so soft.
“I think, milady, with Lady Riane's clothes to alter, we'll be able to keep you dressed as suits a lady from now on,” Karela said. “And there's plenty of fabric for new ones.”
“I thought we decided yesterday, no formality,” Vixen said with a smile. “After all, it's only the four of us again.” Her gesture included Lyris, who had settled herself in a carved wooden chair in a graceful sweep of poppy-red skirts, and Tylla, who was still on her feet and watching alertly.
“As you like.”
“I'm not likely to be here long enough for it to be worth making anything entirely new for my sake, but there are certainly some beautiful things that I'm expecting to very much enjoy, if they can be altered without too much effort.”
“It will be little effort, and worth that. Would the presence of my apprentice be acceptable?”
“Of course. How else does anyone learn anything? And your skills certainly need to be passed on.”
Lyris laughed. “You've hardly seen anything yet.”
Karela opened a door, and called through it, “Perla! Bring your work and come out here!” She left it open, and turned to survey Vixen, who shifted her weight a little, suddenly a trifle uncomfortable. Tylla had brought back the green wool dress which showed no sign of the incident around rescuing Anna, and had braided and coiled her hair again; she was rather pleased with the overall result. Besides, she was a shaman, there was far more to her than appearance, so why did it matter what anyone might be thinking?
“That style works well with minimal undergarments,” Karela said critically, “and is forgiving of alterations based on guesswork, and to some degree it suits your build. It is, however, somewhat old-fashioned these days, and I think we can do better for you. The colour of that one suits you very well. If I'd seen you beforehand, I'd have questioned Lady Alys when she brought me the other to alter. A lady's underclothes need to be fitted properly, not guessed at. I got some measurements from your own clothes, and from the few I took yesterday through your dress, but they're less reliable. Which means, milady, you'll need to remove your clothes.”
Tylla stepped in swiftly to help Vixen draw the green wool dress off over her head, shaking it smooth and hanging it over the back of a chair. Nervously, Vixen smoothed the hem of her loose linen shift, hoping she hadn't been deceiving herself and that the changes she'd created in herself were sufficient to prevent being called out.
“The shift too,” Karela said gently, glancing behind her only briefly as a younger woman, still in her teen years Vixen was certain, slipped through the doorway with an armload of fabric and a basket and arranged herself under one of the bright windows. “The door is locked, the other room is accessible only though this one and there is no one there, we won't be interrupted. It's worn over your shift, but I need to be sure the fit is right without it in the way.”
With a sigh that she kept strictly internal, certain that she was shaking with apprehension that she did her best to hide, Vixen untied the drawstring neck of the shift and let it slither entirely off her body to puddle around her feet, stepping carefully out of it when Tylla retrieved it. That left her in only her underpants. Not the looser knee-length style women wore in the lowlands; she'd tried them once and found them uncomfortable for her. Shyani underpants fit closely and were much shorter, held in place over hips by the elastic give of the knit and a ribbon threaded through and tied for extra security. Male anatomy she still had, though it no longer responded sexually and it was, in fact, perceptibly smaller than before she'd begun changing herself; with everything tucked back, the shyani-style underpants held it securely out of her way and out of sight. She hoped.
“Those are different,” Lyris commented. “That's what women wear in the hills?”
“Yes,” Vixen said. “One of the things the finest of the wool we get from the goat kids is used for is underclothes.”
“Don't they get, well, uncomfortable?”
“They're partially lined with linen, and the wool's very soft, so no, they don't itch.”
“I mean, they're... very tight.” Lyris shrugged. “But I suppose it's all what you're used to.”
“I suppose so. I prefer these.”
“No reason not,” Karela said briskly. “They'll do as well under anything as the regular type. Now. There's a new fashion for more rigid and shaped undergarments in the big cities, but they can be frightfully impractical unless they're custom-made by an expert, so outside the big cities, even ladies still use the older styles for underclothes.”
“Can I ask what that is on your upper arm?” Lyris asked. “Or would that be rude? And if so, please forgive all the questions, they aren't meant to be.”
Vixen glanced down at her upper left arm, and the dark osana tattoo halfway down, where the fringe of a shyani tunic would allow it to be visible just at the edge of her sleeve. “I really don't mind honest questions at all, I promise, I won't get offended. Shyani use tattoos, dyes injected into the skin between layers so they stay permanently, to mark major events and some aspects of self-identity. Part of a shyani marriage involves tattoos for both. Both parents will get a new tattoo when they have a child, whether it's by birth or adoption.” She held up her hands so they could see the eye and willow clearly. “These, only a shaman has. Every child goes through a ritual in which a shaman calls their spirit animal, which is a sort of guardian and guide throughout life, and every shyani has a tattoo of their spirit animal.” She turned around to show the tattoo of Red Fox on her upper back. “It's a way of reflecting physically what one has experienced and who one is.”
“Doesn't that hurt?”
Vixen smiled, turning back around. “Some. Not as much as you think. If you're prepared for it, and in the right state of mind, which you should be since they're always done as part of a ritual, then it really isn't so bad. And once they heal, it's easy to forget them.”
Not the ones on her palms, though, a constant reminder with every action that she was a shaman and had to act accordingly.
“Thank you for being patient,” Lyris said, smiling.
“Believe me, I understand being curious, and at one point, my adopted family and their community had to explain everything to me. What seems strange at first comes to seem ordinary very quickly when it's around you every day.”
Karela produced a ribbon that had regular markings on it, and Perla set aside her task to write down numbers as the seamstress said them.
After which, they got into trying things on.
There was more to female underclothes than she'd ever had the opportunity to discover in her previous life, Vixen discovered—but the main item in question currently was a bodice that went under clothes rather than outside. The correct term, she discovered, was 'stays.'
What an educational day this is turning out to be.
And what an enormous relief that they're not questioning! Maybe the distraction of the tattoos helped. At least no one asked what the osana one means, specifically...
The first set of stays were relatively flexible, multiple layers of tightly woven linen stiffened with glue and by many narrow channels with cord threaded through them. They extended down to her hips, with wide straps over her shoulders. Vixen winced a little as Karela worked her way up and down the back, tightening it. The compression of her abdomen wasn't all that much more than her leather bodice, though the pressure seemed to be angled differently. She decided she could get used to it if necessary, but she was unsure how she felt about it otherwise. Karela's deft hands adjusting the set of her breasts made her twitch, mostly in surprise, though shyani girls and women spent enough time helping each other with grooming that it didn't go past that.
“There,” Karela said finally. “That'll enhance your shape a bit more. There's a mirror there.”
Another sign of household extravagance, that even the seamstress had a large mirror of real silvered glass, when even one was a highly expensive purchase.
Warily, Vixen moved over to where she could see, and felt her eyes widen. The stays were quilted—especially at the top, where they added more than just support to her breasts. The tension below drew in her waist in a longer and smoother curve than her leather bodice.
“Very nice,” Lyris said. “Men complain about women using artifice, but I hardly think a bit of enhancement to bring out the best even really counts as artifice, hm?”
“Men are quick enough to appreciate the results,” Karela said. “And rant about women who no longer take any care for their appearance otherwise. They have their own forms of it. Everyone wants to look as good as possible. Everyone has a vain streak. That one fits, let's try the others.”
The second had cording again, and was much like the first, though the bottom was shaped differently—Karela said this set was meant to wear while riding. The third was stiffened not only with more glue but also with thin flexible lengths of layered horn, and once Karela had laced and tightened it, it had noticeably less give to it than the first two. The style forced her shoulders back and her chest out, compressing her waist more but still not enough to make it difficult to breathe, and creating the kind of erect and rather regal posture she remembered—and had secretly envied. It wouldn't be easy to do much activity in, she suspected, though it might actually provide some back and abdominal support in what activity it did allow.
On that one, Karela wanted to do a little more work, which was fine since it was more formal anyway, and the nearest to a formal occasion most days was dinner. But the other two she declared to fit properly, and she laced Vixen back into the first one before starting on fittings for the dresses they'd chosen as potentially flattering and amenable to change.
These dresses, one didn't simply pull on over one's head and straighten; these ones involved laces or buttons or both, usually down the back or along the sides where she was going to have no choice but to ask Tylla for help. In some cases they were separate pieces that were then laced or buttoned together to look like one, allowing the same skirt to have multiple styles of bodices or a bodice to have variable types of sleeves.
She felt more than a little guilty over how much she was beginning to enjoy herself—after all, she was a shaman, and something as superficial as clothing shouldn't matter to her.
But she'd grown up seeing highborn women with their fine clothes and jewellery and styled hair, and trying to pretend to herself that she wasn't desperately jealous, that she wouldn't have gladly given anything to be like them. What she was seeing appear in Karela's mirror was what could have been, if she'd been born female in body as well as spirit, and it enchanted her.
Lyris and Tylla spoke quietly together for a moment, while Karela was helping Vixen change to a different dress to see how it fit; Tylla left, but returned with another woman, each carrying a well-filled tray. At Vixen's insistence Tylla and the quiet but attentive apprentice Perla shared in the light pleasant lunch.
“Milord Dayr and milord Mirain asked me to pass on an invitation to go riding this afternoon,” Tylla added.
“It would be wonderful to get outside and get a little exercise,” Vixen said. “Lyris?”
Lyris laughed and shook her head. “You'll be fine with Mirain. Yesterday and today have been fun, but I do have work to do that I should get back to. At least now you have some appropriate clothes for riding.”
“Thank you,” Vixen told her gratefully, and turned to be sure she included Karela and Tylla as well. “I genuinely appreciate it. It's not as though having a woman appear out of the hills with very little that's proper to wear is something you can plan for, and it can't be easy.”
“Well worth it, milady,” Karela said. “It's good to keep busy. Everyday clothes are little challenge, His Grace and milord Mirain prefer simple styles when they're at home, and I can only make so much for miladies Lyris and Alys. Perla and I will work on the rest of these, and we'll see to it from here on you can dress as befits a lady.”
- Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Scribble Hub: https://www.scribblehub.com/profile/57217/prysmcat/
Heads up: I do not plan to release any new fictions on RR, since it seems to be a poor fit - but I do plan to finish Transposition here. I'm not abandoning anything in mid-story! For other work (lots of it, ongoing), try Scribble Hub or my website.