This follows on from Exposition.
Mirren had made a list of clothing stores to visit. Really, it was not so much a list as a folder. There were notes, swatches of material purchased in the previous day’s visits to the fabric shops, and the torn out pages from the catalogues. The store where Rensa already had two dresses being made up and the shoemaker they had recommended had their own sections.
“You,” Mirren explained to Rensa, “Are going to be Yannic’s public relations account. All the things you said in the audience are true, but you’re how he demonstrates that he can be gracious in victory. Trado had charisma in spades,” she grimaced, “And he both knew it and knew how to use it. Yannic’s really just my cousin with the nice skin and the funny hair – he sort of needs a nice, well-looked after wife to show everyone that he’s responsible and they can trust him to look after them. And we want to show him that he’s got a gorgeous wife too,” Mirren grinned wickedly then sobered up, “It’s probably a good thing you don’t look at all like Kiriel.”
They started in the shops that sold ready to wear and bought every day clothes, “For hanging around the palace when nothing’s going on,” said Mirren, “Now that’s something I never thought I’d say.” Sleep wear, clothes for exercise, slippers and a little more underwear. “Anything else will depend on the big purchases,” Mirren announced when they loaded everything into the vehicle. “Let’s go hit the made to measure places.”
It turned out that Mirren had only a little more experience with this sort of clothes establishment than Rensa did. It had never occurred to her that if you arrived with money to spend and an Imperial security detail you would still be turned away because you had no appointment. They were allowed in the door at the third establishment on Mirren’s list but then they were unable to see the clothes Mirren had identified because, “The collection is in a private showing with a valued client at the moment. Perhaps if madam had an appointment?”
While Mirren tried to make an appointment, Rensa occupied herself flicking through a rack of clothes off to one side of the show room. It looked as if the display was being changed and these were being moved. Something in close to one of the colours they’d identified the previous day caught her eye and she pulled it out for a better look. Then she approached one of the assistants scattered around the shop doing, well, she wasn’t quite sure what. Perhaps showing off their clothes, because what they were wearing looked like the garments Mirren had shown her in the pictures. “Do you have one of these I can try on?” she asked holding up the garment for the girl’s inspection.
Like a startled animal the girl looked over at the counter for direction but her supervisor was still in conversation with Mirren. She swallowed. “Of course, madam. These are the season before last’s range. Would you like something more current? Perhaps in a less difficult colour?”
“No, this one in this colour please,” Rensa smiled. This was not so different to dealing with a very junior clerk feeling out of their depth in her old field.
Mirren was still trying to set up an appointment within a reasonable timeframe and beginning to believe that the woman didn’t want to make an appointment when Rensa said from behind her, “Excuse me,” Mirren looked around and the floor supervisor looked up. Rensa was wearing a pair of borrowed black court shoes and a knee length suit dress that buttoned down both sides of the bodice, had an asymmetrical stand-up collar and was the colour of her cheek bones with a tinge of green. “You said I needed some business-like clothes for functions. What about this? It’s perhaps a little bit big, but you are trying to get me to put on weight. Silden,” she looked over her shoulder at the assistant behind her, “Lent me these shoes, apparently the dress needs them?” Rensa finished on an uncertain note.
More irritation flashed through the supervisor’s mind. What had that stupid floor model been thinking? There were far too many flippitty brains trying to reproduce the princess’ look at the betrothal, in her opinion, and she certainly didn’t need them wasting time and space in this shop. At least this one had done a decent job of her hair. And why on earth was that brain dead model making those hand gestures at her behind the backs of these women? “Very nice,” she said icily to Rensa, “The colour and cut do look good on you, although it is a most difficult garment, if I may say so. You’ve done a good job of copying her, but if you’ve gotten any of that body paint or makeup on our clothes you will pay for the cleaning, of course.”
“Reasonable,” Rensa could be cool too, “But unnecessary. I am the original.” She turned to Mirren, “Will we take it?”
The floor model was mouthing at her supervisor, “I tried to tell you.”
“Yes,” Mirren circled Rensa critically, “And Silden was right about the shoes. Definitely court, not flat or stiletto. It will need stockings.”
“We may still have some in stock from last year,” volunteered Silden bravely, she wasn’t employed to sell, well not like this. “Her Highness and I also thought that for trips into the mountain regions, perhaps the number six coat from last season in the black?”
The supervisor’s mind was rapidly rearranging itself to face this reality – this really was the Princess and Silden had saved them from embarrassment, at the very least.
“We will have this dress,” decided Mirren, “And the stockings, if you have them. Can I see this coat?”
“Silden, fetch the coat, please,” she actually smiled at the girl. “As it’s an old season, we’re no longer making this model,” the supervisor smiled bravely, thinking as she did so of the substantial supply of unsold stockings in that colour, “Perhaps if Her Highness wouldn’t mind having this garment? I don’t believe it’s even been tried on before. Unfortunately the design was not as well received as we hoped.”
Mirren raised her eyebrows. “That was actually what I had in mind. Her Highness needs a few things immediately. Ah, is that the coat?” She looked at it critically, “This can be made to measure though?”
“Oh, yes,” the supervisor pulled out her appointment book, the one she had stubbornly refused to produce during her conversation with Mirren. “If you’re happy to have Her Highness’s measurements taken without Sir, we could see you now.”
“Silden has been very helpful,” that was Rensa, “Perhaps she could continue to look after us?”
The supervisor hovered on the brink of indecision, but the Princess was right, Silden had been very helpful, to both this new client and the house.
“I was thinking, Miss Clemen,” that was Silden speaking up, “If there was any more of the material from this dress, perhaps Her Highness would be interested in number three from this collection.”
“Take the smaller try on size into Fitting Room One with Her Highness,” the supervisor had already pressed the button under the counter that had sent a fitter and senior dressmaker to the room in question, “Ask them if there’s any more of that fabric left, and ask them to get the blood rust roll out, it may suit too and Her Highness probably doesn’t want all her clothes the same colour. Now, madam,” she addressed Mirren as the apparent holder of the purse, “How will Her Highness be paying?”
“Are there really people trying to look like me?” Rensa was asking Silden as she was led to the fitting room.
Fifteen minutes later the head of the house ushered his valued client out of the showing room and escorted her to the door as she said, “I really can’t make up my mind now. Perhaps the first and second, maybe the fifth? I’ll get back to you tomorrow, I promise.” She shook hands, waved, exclaimed, “Oh, who’s this parked in the taxi rank?” and was gone.
Miss Clemen hurried over to her employer, pen and pad for him in hand. “That was a waste of an hour,” he said bitterly, “I expect she’ll order two and get four or five more made up by a dress maker. What do you want, Clemen?”
“Get into Fitting Room One,” she hissed, thrusting the pad and pen at him, “Her Highness is in there being measured. Seldin’s already sold her a coat and two dresses, if you agree to a different fabric for number three.” She looked at his expression, “They’ve paid cash for the off the rack dress and to have the coat made up, and for half those umber green stockings we didn’t know what to do with. Go!”