Morgana and her aunt talked quietly over a breakfast of smoked salmon, quail eggs and fresh bread dipped in wine. They spoke of daily life on the Estates. The rising cost of dry goods. The difficulty of finding good servants and the upcoming festivities. Margaret was planning a small dinner party towards the end of the festival for about a dozen close friends, and she insisted Morgana attend. For the first time since her husband’s death Morgana was actually looking forward to the upcoming week. It had been far too long since she had attended any public functions and the jousts were always a particular favorite of hers. The pageantry. Grand parades with colorful banners. Knights in armor. Mighty horses thundering along the pitch. The clash of metal on metal and the roar of the crowd. Now that her uncle had taken an active role in securing her interests she felt she could relax and enjoy herself. Margaret too, was looking forward to the events. The thrill of ritual combat must run in the blood of the Isilian women as Margaret became animated describing past events. Rising from her chair she mimicked a knight in armor fighting an opponent on foot. Holding the hem of her gown and exposing a bit more leg than was proper, Margaret swung her imaginary sword cutting and slashing the air and forcing her opponent back. Morgana laughed aloud at her aunt’s antics but quickly cupped her had over her mouth.
“You are permitted to laugh my dear,” her aunt scolded. Sitting down next to her niece she took a more serious tone.
“Your time of mourning is over my dear.” Reaching out she placed an aging hand atop Morgana’s. “You have done your duty and now it is time for you to rejoin the living. No one questions your love for Robert, but you must consider what he would ask of you. Would he want you to hide yourself away from the world? You are still young, beautiful, charming and witty. There are many lords who would vie for your attentions.” She leaned closer, her green eyes focused intently on Morgana’s.
“Robert is dead,” she stated. “He is not coming back and he is not judging you. I believe he would want you to celebrate his memory and his love of life by living yours as he would have lived his, do you not agree?”
Morgana nodded. Her aunt was right; Robert was dead and she would carry his memory in her heart for as long as she lived and no one or no thing could take that from her.
“Your words are wise Aunt Margaret and I will endeavor to live as Robert would have wished me to.”
“Excellent,” Margaret whispered. “Excellent. Now let us away to my shop and I will give you your surprise.”
Morgana called for Bernadette and Isabella who were waiting nearby just off the kitchen. The four women set off for Margaret’s tailor shop which was only a few city streets away. The day was warming and there was a palatable excitement in the air as they walked through the growing crowds. The narrow, cobbled streets were lined on both sides with two and three story buildings of wood, plaster and stone. Some had balconies from which hung colorful banners. Some had open windows where the residents leaned out watching the crowd or calling to friends on the street below. The Eastern quarter was vibrant with color, sound and smells. Street performers, jugglers and musicians vied with vendors shouting for the attention of the populace. Children ran among the crowd laughing and shoving. More than once did Margaret remind the girls to hold tight to their purses for many of the children were in the employ of the thieves’ guilds. The aroma of spiced food and cook fires mingled with the smell of horses and farm animals as carts and wagons, ladened with goods and supplies for the upcoming festival, struggled toward the city center
At one point the crowd parted to allow a knight in full armor, astride a magnificent black stallion, to pass. Behind him came his squire leading a donkey-cart loaded with weapons, armor and jousting lances. Bernadette and Isabella stood transfixed as the knight passed slowly by, seemingly unaware of the crowds around him. The two girls gawked until he vanished around a bend and then broke into a fit of giggles. They passed an open-door tavern from which spilled the sound of music and the laughter of women. The two young handmaidens attempted to peer inside the darkened entrance until Morgana took them by the ear and guided them away. A short time later they arrived at Margaret’s shop. A plain but well kept storefront with large leaded windows, a single recessed door over which hung a hand painted shingle depicting a sewing kit, needle, and cloth and the word “TAILOR” in red script printed above. Several body-forms stood in the window. One wore a plain maiden’s gown and the other a man’s tunic and doublet. Bolts of cloth of various colors spilled out around the base of the forms and samples of embroidery lay neatly arranged to the side. Margaret removed a key from her pouch and opened the door. Inside, the shop was spacious and quiet. Bins of cloth ran along one wall from floor to ceiling. Two worktables stood in the center of the room and at the rear were several dressing rooms. Another, smaller room held a large comfortable chair and small table with bits of unfinished embroidery strewn across it.
Margaret set about lighting candles and soon the shop took on a warm, comfortable air. The noise from the street was barely noticeable as Margaret unlocked a set of double doors at the rear of the shop. Opening the doors she invited them into a brightly lit room flooded with natural light from two large widows near the ceiling at the rear of the building. This was the fitting room. The room was tastefully decorated with ornate rugs, dark wood tea tables and richly upholstered chairs and, something rarely seen outside a nobleman’s house; two full length standing mirrors. A silver tea service sat on a sideboard next to a large vase of fresh cut flowers. A single, barred door of solid oak led to a back alley. The door was for discrete customers who could come and go as they pleased thus avoiding the busy main thoroughfare. In the center of this room stood a body-form that was completely covered in a clean white linen sheet and looking for all the world like a tall headless ghost. Margaret stood next to the body-form and invited Morgana to come stand before it. The girls settled into the plush chairs and watched intently.
“This, my dear,” Margaret began, “is my gift to you for the Festival of Light. But,” she added, “this is only part of your surprise. The second part I will show you when we return home. Now, if you are ready?”
Morgana smiled broadly and glanced at the girls who were leaning forward, sitting on the edge of their chairs, their faces rapt with curiosity. With a flourish Margaret lifted the sheet and grinned as both the girls and Morgana let out audible gasps. The girls left their chairs to join Morgana who was examining the gown in stunned silence.
The floor-length gown was unlike anything they had ever seen. Exquisite in its quality of craftsmanship, style and detail and constructed from the finest fabric available the gown was dyed a deep, rich wine color. A rounded neckline, edged in gold, swept low, allowing the slightest hint of cleavage. Narrowing at the waist the gown was held in place by a heavy cloth girdle that hung loosely about the hips. The front of the girdle, embroidered with threads of gold, yellow, blue and green, depicted horses from the Renwald Coat of Arms, and hung down the front to well below the knees. The gowns long sleeves were separate and slipped over the arms like gloves. They were then attached at the shoulder with small ribbons. Each sleeve ended in a point at the knuckles and was held in place by a loop over the middle finger. The hem was also embroidered in gold thread with a three foot train trailing behind. Matching slippers completed the ensemble. Morgana stared dumbstruck and worried aloud that the gown might be seen as competing with the queen’s own wardrobe.
“That may be,” Margaret laughed. “But if the Queen wishes such a gown I will be happy to make it and be even happier to charge her exorbitantly for it.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent trying on the gown and making minor adjustments. Bernadette made tea and Isabella served it with helpful hints from Margaret, who, like her sister, Morgana’s mother, was well versed in proper etiquette. As the sun dipped behind the buildings and the light in the room faded, Margaret carefully wrapped the gown in fine linen. And, after extinguishing the candles and locking up, the party started for home and an early supper.