Fen gave Pan’s shoulder a final pat, ever mindful of the garment, and then stepped aside, letting the tailors return to work. Straight away they swarmed around the shoulder Fen had touched, investigating the stiff structure closely and ensuring he hadn’t knocked it off-kilter.
‘Jacyntha shouldn’t be much of a challenge, according to her previous Masters,’ Fen got on with describing their first assignment. ‘A lovely girl, undemanding and quick to smile. They say she likes to be treated as a friend, so accommodate for that without dropping protocol, please. As you know, she’s participating in the sporting fiesta this week; athletes from most of the major sports will be taken off the Shelves tomorrow morning – badminton, gymnastics, archery, fencing, equestrian, and athletics. There are so many, I’m surprised Master Grange and Darien haven’t been given an assignment. But I suppose they have been busy, lately. Merrick is escorting the equestrian champion from last year, and Mal a preeminent fencer – she’s expected to make the finals. What about your friend Jarred, he has an assignment, doesn’t he?’
Though it took as long as ever to say, Pan barely hesitated in beginning. Better, he barely choked. ‘A-A-Archer … J-J-J-Jenna … H-Holmes.’
‘Ah yes, Jenna. She’s a very fine archer, it will be lovely to see her again. Jacyntha is quite a good archer as well, though not the favourite to win. You’ll be helping her practice on Monday and Tuesday mornings for the tournament on Tuesday afternoon. She may wish to leave the party early and practice on Monday night, as well. Jacyntha is far more serious about preparation than many of her competitors, that may give her edge she needs to lift her rank this year. Make sure she’s in bed by ten thirty on Monday night – I’ll come down to the archery range if you’re not back by ten twenty. Retrieve her arrows promptly, and please keep her gear in good condition. Ah, here it is,’ Fen’s voice rose in anticipation at a ringing rap on the door. He flung it open to reveal the stunning pair of complimentary red and gold costumes borne by the beaming team that had stitched them.
‘Perfect. Absolutely perfect, one of your best,’ Fen complimented them, a look of intense satisfaction on his face. ‘These are for Tuesday night, after the tournament. Are you almost done?’ Fen asked the still madly pinning team, hurrying them along so he could see Pan in the finished suit. ‘I’ll definitely have to bring this ensemble out again. It’s good so many of our women are of similar size and shape to Jacyntha – an hour of careful alterations, and it could be ready for six or seven others.’
Why do we spend so long in fittings? Pan wrote as Fen hung up the luscious gown with a sigh of contentment. His light annoyance with the other tailors (both teams promised him completed ensembles by no later than ten that night) had totally evaporated on admiring Pan in the scarlet suit. The women’s gowns are far more important, yet they have no time for fittings at all.
‘Yet the fit is always perfect,’ Fen replied. ‘Beron never told you? We use models, exact replicas of their bodies right down to colouring – the artisans charge Heaven and earth for them. That’s why we design our women’s diets so precisely – they can’t deviate from their models. So, back to the schedule: after breakfast, dressing, and practice, there’s a lunch social that all the women are to attend with their escorts – make sure Jacyntha enjoys herself. I may come by at one point to see how you are.
‘She’s not overly popular – only one appointment booked – but if she does well in the tournament no doubt her popularity will rise. The appointment is tomorrow afternoon from two forty-five to three thirty. Afterwards she may wish to practice some more. If not, let her relax in the gardens or spend time with some other women until dinner. We’ll discuss the tournament further after she goes to sleep tomorrow.
‘Now, about Amy,’ Fen went on as Pan hung up his new suit and again donned his uniform. ‘I used to escort her myself. She is a painfully shy girl. Highly self-conscious, she doesn’t enjoy being around other women, and certainly doesn’t enjoy being around men. But she will begin a pregnancy in a few months, and the Directors wish her to grow accustomed to you. I’ve organised a few private exhibitions of her poetry in the smallest parlour rooms. We’ll try to convince her to attend the banquet on Saturday evening, but she has the Director’s permission not to attend, and may ask to be excused from the women’s events during the day, as well. She is quite popular with some of the older men, so she’ll need your moral support throughout her appointments – there’s seven of them.’
Pan stored all this information carefully away, already feeling quite sorry for Amy.
‘Could you write a message and pass it to Master Grange for me?’
Pan hurried to the writing desk and pulled an snowy sheet of paper from the drawer, taking a pen with peacock coloured ink. Uncapping it, he poised to write.
‘I’d like to meet with him on Wednesday morning, if possible. Perhaps while Darien is making up Georgiana.’
Pan’s hand slipped, smearing ink. Flushing, he quickly scrambled for a fresh sheet. Fen noticed the slip. ‘What is it?’
I though Georgiana was coming off her Shelf at the same time as Claire, not on Wednesday, Pan wrote in his own notebook, holding it up for his master to see.
‘She is, but she is in such high demand she’s been given another period. Please write that I’d like to discuss the possibility of Georgiana and Amy spending some time together. I know she will be busy, but Georgiana has a calming presence, and would be very kind to Amy, I’m sure. And as they are scheduled to have pregnancies together, I think it would be beneficial if the two became friends.’
Were women supposed to make friends? They were urged to be social, but Pan thought close friendships like that Fen was suggesting might be discouraged. But he didn’t question his master. Georgiana made friends with everyone in her vicinity without even a word. It wasn’t something she could help.
He would be seeing Georgiana on Wednesday! And then on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday!
‘Are you finished?’
Pan neatly scripted the letter, sealed it, and trotted off to Master Grange’s chambers. Why didn’t you tell me you had Georgiana from Wednesday? Pan demanded as Grange read Fen’s message. You said it was Olivia Henderson!
‘Sorry,’ Darien grinned, in the process of being pinned inside a light afternoon suit, ‘I thought you could do with a pleasant surprise. It’s a shame Fen ruined my cunning plan.’
There’s nothing cunning about it, Pan signed, though he was laughing. You’re a liar, nothing more.
‘But you were surprised, weren’t you?’
Pan couldn’t deaden his smile. The prospect of seeing his sister even dampened his disarming thoughts of men’s attitudes towards women, and their true purpose. He might still have asked Darien about it – he thought it might be a good time, while he was calm and smiling. But such questions required complicated words Pan couldn’t articulate with his hands. And he was still apprehensive of broaching such a subject, even with Darien, one whom would never judge him.
Pan was in the midst of an internal debate, whether to sign Darien the very basics then and there, when Master Grange tapped him on the shoulder. He only jumped a few centimetres – his startle reflex might have decreased slightly. Was that due to Fen as well? ‘My apprentice’s hands are pinned, I need yours. Write a reply for me, the letter paper is in the third drawer of the desk in my work room. Go on, go get it.’
Pan scurried to obey Darien’s master, fetching the paper and flattening it on a side table. A small statue stood there too, an ivory, jade and amethyst tree captured in full spring splendor. His mind again turned to Georgiana as Master Grange dictated, wondering whether she would treat him any differently now that he was no longer her escort. He hoped not. Last time, she had even kissed him.
He really was lucky, Pan decided, sealing the letter. He had wonderful friends. A kind master. He had a mother and sister he knew and who cared for him. And he had Claire.
For all of this, he knew he would never stop thanking the Heavens.