This follows on from A Few Ideas.
Something Rensa had learned on her two hundred day walk, besides not trying to hide her face, was traffic sense. Thus she did not, as Mirren had half feared, try to dash across roads without looking or otherwise generally behave like a two year old on a shopping trip. As they were intending to look without buying, they were walking. Despite her weight loss Rensa did not lack endurance and getting there on foot would help build up the future Empress’ mind map of the capital. Also, the weather was good – it helped.
It turned out that Rensa did have a general sense of the city’s layout. She just knew very few details. The things she found interesting were sometimes surprising. Mirren almost had to drag her away from the open entrance of the Central Produce Market. “This is where they should have brought us when we were children,” Rensa told her after gazing in awe at the crowded, bustling interior of the vast shed-like structure, “Not the Hall of Founders. This is what we were doing – infrastructure to grow enough food for the Empire and to distribute it all over. The water and the roads and the power that helped to do this,” she took in the stalls and stands still loaded with fruit and vegetables despite the advanced hour of the market’s day, “We did that. And it goes out from here again so everyone has enough to eat.”
The other surprise subject of Rensa’s interest was a dress. She stopped in the foot path, less than a block from the fabric merchant area, without warning. “You said I needed clothes for travelling,” she said to Mirren, “As well wedding and everyday things. Can I have one of those?” She pointed at a dark grey, full length dress in the window, the top half a firmly fitted button down the front tunic affair almost to the hips while the pleated or gathered skirt emerged from under the tunic and continued smoothly to the ground.
“But that’s-” managed one of the two guards before Mirren elbowed him in the stomach.
“Why do you want it?” Mirren surveyed the long sleeved, tiny buttoned creation critically.
“My mother had a travelling outfit like that when I was young,” Rensa explained, “She’d gone away for work and something disgusting had happened to her luggage and her skirts – her clothes had had to be burnt. She said this outfit was the only thing she could find that covered everything she wanted to cover. It was an emergency purchase and she wore it away for years.”
“Well,” said Mirren consideringly, “It does say they’ll do made to measure. Let’s go in and see how much it costs.”
The inside of the store had ambient lighting, slightly dim with down lights on merchandise racks. Leather strapping and collars hung in neatly ordered rows along the wall nearest the door and the attractive female shop assistant with the long hair was dressed in a black outfit that seemed to involve long boots, a handkerchief hem and a lot of lacing up the body. Rensa wondered briefly why the two male guards with them seemed a bit uncomfortable then she read some of the signage and the light dawned. “Oh, we covered some of this in sex education class,” she looked around with the interest of someone who’d discovered a curiosity, “It never occurred to me that there’d be entire shops that catered for this sort of thing.”
“You’d be surprised,” Mirren commented as the assistant came up to them, then to the assistant, “My friend is interested in the outfit in the window. We were wondering if you have one she could try on to see if the style suits her.”
“Certainly, if your frien-,” the assistant didn’t quite do a double take, “Her Highness could come this way,” and she led them off to a fitting room.
Maybe ten minutes later Rensa was standing in front of three mirrors looking at her own back view while Mirren was going over the fact sheet with the assistant when it occurred to her to ask, “Forgive me asking, but why does a shop in your trade stock dresses like this?”
The assistant looked up, “It’s popular for some discipline role plays.”
Rensa thought for a moment then giggled with her hand over her mouth, “My mother had one of these she wore for work travel,” the other two women looked at her blankly, “She was an auditor.” The assistant picked up on the thought faster than Mirren and began to grin, “She must have known, so it was sort of like advertising,” Mirren had caught the joke now too, “Because if she caught a fraud they would be punished. Father used to go away with her sometimes too and he liked her in that dress - he always said the veils spoilt the effect. He would have known too, he was a criminal prosecutor.” Tears began to slide down her face. “I used to think it was the most beautiful, grownup clothes you could possibly have.”