The walls of the shop flickered with light from the candles as the Ren’dorei pulled a new bolt of fabric down from the rack. Dropping it onto the cutting table with a thud, she pushed it, sending it down the length. The rippling silk shone in the dim light, reflecting it with a soft shimmer.
She slipped her glasses from her face with a tendril and rubbed her eyes. Blinking a few times, she set the frames back in place and began to smooth it out. “Do you have some chalk, big brother? Mine is…well, I need to get a new one.”
“I’ll lend you mine,” Anas responded. He pulled one out from the drawer and offered it to her with a smile.
“Oh, good. Thank you.” She moved to him and took the wafer of chalk. Resting a hand on his shoulder, she peered down at his work. “That’s going to be beautiful,” she said gently.
“It’ll be better once you’ve embroidered it.” He chuckled, continuing his stitching.
“My embroidery only looks that good because it’s on your designs,” she countered. Giving his shoulder a squeeze, she returned to the cutting table. Flipping through the order book, she found the appropriate measurements. “Is this right? Is Lady Genevieve really that long in the torso?”
Anas glanced over. “It should be right. I took those measurements myself.”
“I never would have guessed,” she replied, her expression awed. “Let me see…” she moved to the pattern wall and pulled down a few bodice options before selecting one. Carrying it to the table, she set it on the silk and topped it with a couple of weights.
Her thin fingers moved the chalk over the fabric, tracing out the shape. Once she had repeated that for the other side, she began making adjustments. She stepped back and pulled out her measuring tape, checking each section, rubbing off a few lines and reworking them.
Anas smiled at the Ren’dorei. “I’m glad we can work on these orders together.”
“Me too. I am so glad to be back,” she murmured, studying her work. “I get to make your designs and then you let me embellish them.”
He chuckled. “Your designs are lovely too, Niqi.”
Niqi beamed. She finished out the first section and put the chalk in her pocket. “Thank you, Anas.” Pulling out a pair of scissors, she started carefully cutting the first pieces. The blades moved carefully through the cloth, a soft grind, then a click as they came together repeated until she finished. Holding the first section up, she laughed. “I’m so short, the bodice for her is almost a dress on me.” She whirled around, holding the silk to her chest.
“It would make a lovely dress for you,” Anas commented. He snipped off the final bit of thread before leaning back. “I think I’m done with the collar here.”
“What’s left?” She set the front bodice sections aside and began tracing out the back.
“Just the left sleeve.” He held it up. “Then it’ll be ready for your embroidery.”
She peered over at him, smiling. “Then I better hurry and get these cut so you can start assembling while I work on that one.” She slipped her glasses off again, setting them on the table. She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed at them with her fingers. Glancing around the shop, she shook her head. “I cannot believe we finished four gowns already this week. How many more before the ball?”
“Quite a few to go. Still, I think we should be able to finish them in time for…” He trailed off, noticing her expression. “What’s wrong, Niqi?”
“I’m going cross eyed. I think I need a little break. You want some tea?” She moved towards the door to the back room. “We’ve been at it non-stop for hours.”
“Tea sounds wonderful.” He smiled at her affectionately.
Niqi stepped through and set the kettle on the stove. “White tea or green?” she called out to him. She placed a couple of tea cups on the tray along with the tea pot.
“Green for me,” he called, not lifting his eyes from his work.
She measured out the tea leaves, and returned the jar to the shelf. It didn’t take long for the kettle to start whistling away. Grasping a towel, she lifted it and filled the teapot with the steaming water. Placing the lid on top, she carried the tray out and set it on the table by the sofa. “Take a break with me, Anas. You need it too.”
He set his work down, chuckling. “Okay, little one.” Rising from his workstation, he stepped to the sofa and sat down beside her. “I think we’re coming along quite nicely,” he observed, glancing at the finished dresses.
“I am amazed, to be honest. Would be nice if we had some help, but so far, it’s moving the way it should. Light help us if someone else wants a gown though. I don’t think my fingers will hold out,” she laughed. Her tendrils curled up along her hair and pulled it back from her face.
“Maybe we could ask Dergaux for help,” Anas mused. “I daresay he might like it. It would be a nice break from spinning silk all the time.”
“Do you think he could keep his illusion in place for that long?” she asked. She began to pour the tea, carefully straining it as she filled each cup.
“We’d have to ask him,” he responded. “But still. Another pair of hands would be useful.”
“Very,” she agreed, sliding a cup over to him. She picked up her own and took a sip, allowing her eyes to close as she savored it.
“Thank you, little one.” Anas sipped from his own, smiling at the taste.
“You’re welcome,” she murmured. “Are you and Mehe going?” She glanced over at him, curious.
“To the ball?” He chuckled, shrugging. “Maybe. It depends on if he feels comfortable being out there.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” She sipped her tea again, pulling her legs up to curl beneath her.
“Mehe isn’t fully at ease with being part of the Alliance yet,” he explained. “I think it’ll take him some time to adjust.”
“Maybe if I offered to stay close?” she asked, hopeful.
“That could help.” Anas smiled at her.
“Well, I want you both there. So, we better figure it out.” Her tone left no room for debate. “Right after I figure out what I am going to wear…” she added, tapping her chin with the tip of a finger.
“Will you make something?” he asked.
Niqi shrugged. “Why? I’ve a closet full of things no one really notices me in anyway. I’ll just alter one,” she said simply. A hint of uncharacteristic bitterness colored her words, coming on suddenly. She finished her tea and set the cup down, refilling it.
“I notice you in them.” He nudged her gently, his gaze gentle, soothing. “You’ve a lovely sense of fashion, little one.”
Niqi took a deep breath. “Thanks, Anas,” she chuckled, her normal sweetness returning.
“You’re most welcome.” He smiled, taking another sip. “Perhaps we could pay Dergaux a visit after closing up today? Unless Æl wants you home at once.”
“Æl probably wants a breather,” she chuffed. “Apparently I’m…too excitable for him lately.” She shook her head.
“Excitable?” He arched an eyebrow. “Really? In a good way, I hope?”
“I get home and I just want to be with my husband. And he says I’m…what was it…” Her eyebrows knit together as she tried to recall the phrase he had used.
Anas’s cheeks darkened. “He… what?”
“Well, he says…oh… sorry…you probably don’t want to know that,” she answered, her own face coloring.
Anas chuckled, shaking his head. “Still. I’m glad to have you back, little one.”
Niqi smiled up at him. “Me too, big brother.”
He glanced over at the book. “I think we’ll finish the orders in time.”
“Not if I keep sitting here drinking tea,” she chuckled. She tipped her cup back again. “I better get back to cutting.”
“Once we’re done with tea,” Anas said firmly. “Don’t push yourself too hard, little one.”
“Me? Push myself? I never do that,” she replied, laughing.
“Just a reminder.” He drained his cup and set it aside. “Wouldn’t want Æl accusing me of working you to the bone,” he teased.
“Fair enough,” she replied. She took another sip and relaxed for a bit longer. “If I had time, what would I make myself?”
“A gown for the ball?” he suggested.
Niqi nodded, finishing her tea. “I doubt I will have time, but it’s nice to think about.”
Anas chuckled. “Who knows? If Dergaux pitched in, you might be able to.”
“But you are dodging my question. What do I wear??” She smirked at him, flipping through one of the design books.
“What about one of your designs?” he asked. “I know you have a few lovely ones.”
“Maybe?” She set his book down and picked up her own. “What about this? One shoulder, design work here and here,” she pointed out.
“That will look beautiful on you,” he said, smiling.
She smiled, tracing a fingertip over the page. “Let’s see if we can finish the orders first,” she said softly. Her voice carried hopeful tones, her expression betraying the fact that she had already started planning in her head.
“Of course.” Anas gathered the cups and moved over to the back room.
“What would you wear?” Heading back to the table, she pulled out the chalk again. She looked over his design and started to trace one of the panels.
He frowned in thought. “Maybe a set of robes?” he mused.
“You should create something as part of a set. You and Mehe fully coordinated,” she suggested.
The Kaldorei man chuckled. “That’s a good idea.”
“Either you’ll have to wear green, or convince Mehe to try something else though,” she mumbled as she worked.
“Green isn’t a bad colour,” he stated, rinsing the cups and setting them aside. “But maybe I could convince him to try blue.”
“Blue would be gorgeous with his hair and skin,” she agreed. “Why does this look…oh..” she chuckled, picking up her glasses. Setting them back on her face, she laughed at herself.
Anas dried his hands and returned to his workstation. “Forgot your glasses again?” he chuckled.
“I did. I think I’d forget my head some days,” she murmured.
He laughed. “Not to worry. You know why I keep my pencil here?” He gestured at the one behind his ear.
“I’m guessing so it doesn’t end up like your measuring tape,” she teased.
He blinked before letting out a guffaw. “Well, there’s that, and also because I used to lose them all the time.” He grinned at her.
“I have no idea what to do so I stop forgetting them,” she chuckled.
“It’s okay. I’m sure it happens a lot to people who wear them.” He smiled.
“Probably,” she agreed, as they both resumed their work. She slid the scissors through the fabric again, cutting the back panels carefully. “What did you want to line this gown with?”
“The linen should be good.” Anas returned his attention to his work.
Niqi nodded and rolled up the first bolt. Heading back to the rack, she lifted away a linen in a similar hue. Adjusting it in her grip, she got both arms under the bolt to cross the room.
“What do you think of this sleeve, little one?” Anas peered at his work with a frown. “I feel it looks a little too tight on this side.”
“Let me see.” She crossed to his worktable, setting the bolt down for a moment. Taking the sleeve up in her hands, she tipped her head to the side as she examined it. “It is. It will pinch the fabric up when she moves.”
He nodded. “Thanks, Niqi. I’ve been looking so long at it, I couldn’t tell exactly what was off.” He carefully began to remove the stitches.
“Maybe we should call it a night. It’s late and we are going to make more mistakes as we go,” she suggested, picking up the bolt again.
He smiled. “Okay then. I do think it’s time for some rest.”
Dropping the bolt on the table with a thump, she picked up the broom to start cleaning.
He laughed. “Eager to tidy up?” He rose as well, setting the gown on the table.
“Honestly? I want to go lay down. I’m tired,” she chuckled. Sweeping everything around their workstations, she created a tidy pile. “I still have my evening exercises to do as well. As much as I’d like to avoid them.”
He nodded. “Well, I won’t keep you. Go on, I’ll tidy up.”
“I wouldn’t dream of leaving all this for you,” she replied. Picking up the pan, she gathered the mess up and dumped it into a bin. “It never takes us long. We don’t work like slobs.”
“That’s true.” He chuckled, picking up a tiny brush and sweeping the bits of cloth and thread from their workstations into a small pan.
Setting the pan aside, she went into the back room and started to rinse out the teapot. “Is Mehe meeting you up here tonight, or will you be heading home alone,” she called out to him.
“Home alone for me today,” he responded. “Mehe said he’d cook something good.”
She returned to the main room, smiling. “That sounds nice,” she murmured. Gathering up their books, she arranged them neatly on the counter.
“It does! I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.” He smiled gently.
Niqi sat down on the sofa and leaned her head against the wall. “I bet it will be wonderful.” She closed her eyes, relaxing. “I can’t believe we finished two gowns today. If I could do magic, we could have even more done.”
“You’re doing wonderfully as is.” Anas sat down beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“I suppose I am. Else, we wouldn’t be doing so well,” she admitted, sliding over to lean on him.
He chuckled, hugging her close. “People know we do good work.”
Niqi smiled. “And that you are actually capable of adapting designs depending on the person. They really love how each piece feels like theirs.”
“Well, it sort of is.” He smiled.
“Very true,” she grinned. “Æl should be here any moment. I’ll start dousing the lights,” she said quietly, pushing herself upright.
Anas nodded. He stood as well, closing the windows and keeping Mehe’s pressed flowers in a small box. He watched as Niqi extinguished the flames in the lamps one by one until only the one by the door remained. He picked up the key. “Make sure you have your things with you,” he reminded her.
“You mean like my glasses,” she chuckled. Removing her apron, she hung it by her workstation and picked up her bag.
“Quite right.” He laughed. “Okay, let’s lock it up.”
Niqi nodded and opened the door. She stepped outside, taking a deep breath of the fresh air. “Oh, there’s Æl coming up the path. I’ll see you first thing tomorrow? We can go see Dergaux sometime after lunch.”
Anas nodded. “Take care, little one.” He stepped out as well and bent to lock the door.
“You too, big brother. Be careful going home.” She stepped out to the street and reached for her husband’s hand. Æl took it and pulled her to him, hugging her tightly before guiding her away.
Anas smiled after them. Pocketing the key, he turned to make his way back to his home under the glittering lights of the Winter Veil decorations.