Bea buys a new dress
Bea, cabbage fairy and soon to be godmother, sat on the narrow bed in her one room apartment, trying to decide what she should pack. She had spent the last week organizing herself for her first term at the Academy, where the Fiction Management Executives were trained, and now it was the day before she was due to leave and she still didn’t know what to take with her.
It shouldn’t have been that difficult a task – how could it be? She didn’t own anything, not really. Struggling for years as a Plot-watcher had provided her with just enough ration tokens to keep a roof above her head, food in her belly and wine in her glass. She hadn’t exactly amassed a home full of nick-nacks, nor a wardrobe full of clothes.
It was the clothes, in fact, that were causing her the problem.
The main issue she was having with them was that they were gifts from the GenAm. Brownie-made in thick cotton with small, tight stitches, they were by far the nicest things Bea had ever owned. In the past she’d had to make her own clothes from whatever cheap material she could pick up from the markets by the wall – perhaps, if she’d had any skill, she might have created something that lasted longer than a season, but probably not more than two.
But the dress, trousers and tunics given her by the GenAm looked like they would last her years, if not a life-time. They were beautiful. A gift she would never have thought herself important enough to receive.
Which was exactly why she didn’t want them.
The clothes weren’t gifts, not to Bea. To Bea they were reminders. Reminders of the screaming of the humans when the Redaction Department had attacked the castle. Reminders of King John, crumpled in a heap on the floor, a bloody smear marking the place on the wall where the white-suited ogre had thrown him. Reminders of all the genies the GenAm killed to keep the Mirrors working. Reminders of her own stupidity for not realizing sooner that she was just a pawn in a much larger game.
But what choice did she have, really? Her own dress had been ruined, and aside from her threadbare cloak, she didn’t own anything else.
“Ugh,” Bea said, more loudly than was necessary, considering there was no one in the room to impress – well, apart from herself, anyway. She screwed the clothes up and shoved them in her bag, and kicked the bag over the floor to land heavily against the far wall, by her door. She flopped back on the bed, staring up at her cracked ceiling.
None of this was what she’d imagined when she’d decided all those years ago to come to the big city and be the first fairy to become a godmother, to take the GenAm by storm and show all the fairy-haters how wrong they were. To manage her own stories and have direct involvement with the characters – and maybe, one day, to return to her clan in the Sheltering Forest and show them that she had been right to leave.
It was funny how things worked out.
Well, not exactly funny.
Bea tutted. This wasn’t helping her work out what to do with quite possibly the nicest things she’d ever owned – things that any other fae would no doubt give their eye-teeth for.
And then she had an idea.
Bea got up from the bed and walked over to her bag, pulling out the clothes that were currently causing her integrity-vs-not-being-naked issue. She bundled them up, grabbing a piece of string to tie them, and left her room, walking down the narrow staircase that led to the building’s reception.
Miraculously, she was in luck. Ivor, the building's manager, was asleep, his bullet head resting on his spindly arms, which in turn rested on the reception desk counter. Sneaking past his unconscious form, she stepped into the city.
Bea was going shopping.
Ænathlin swelled, a spot ready to bust at the slightest touch.
At its centre, one could find the white buildings of the General Administration: the Contents Department, the Plot Department and the Redaction Department and, deep below ground, the Indexical Department. The Teller’s spire rose up from the middle of it all, scratching the sky.
The inner circle of Ænathlin was the oldest part of the city, built long before the wall was ever needed, nor the pact with the Sheltering Forest agreed upon. In the inner circle of the city was The Grand Reflection Station, the old Theatre, the Library of Faces and, most tender of all, the wealthy fae families.
These were the fae who had been amongst the first to settle the city once the Rhyme War had been won, to use the Mirrors to access Thaiana and steal resources from the characters. Most of these families had, if not a Narrator in their lineage, then fae who had at least created stories. The fact that it was these same stories that had begun the slow breaking of the Mirrors was a matter they didn’t like to dwell on. Some subjects were just so terribly uncouth.
Move further out from the center, and things quickly become red and sore. The middle ring of the circular city was fast becoming smaller, squashed ever thinner as more and more tribes left the Sheltering Forest. They came to the city, as so many often do, because they thought it would be a better life. Thus the outer ring of the city, that part of it that had traditionally clung to the wall as hard and fast as its inhabitants clung to the old lie that someday, somehow, they would be given a chance, was growing ever wider.
Bea ducked around and through the crowded city, trying to make her way to the markets. She hadn’t left her flat since her inauguration into the Academy a week before, and was unprepared for the masses of fae that filled the narrow streets. It took her over an hour to finally reach a broker's to exchange the clothes for GenAm rations. She got a bad deal, but ration tokens were easier to barter with, and wouldn’t raise any unwanted questions about why she was giving up brownie-made clothes.
Next, she returned to the wall and the haberdashers where she usually bought material. It was cheap, but the cloth it sold was, generally, of reasonable quality, often only having been worn by the humans a few times. Like most things only the poor could afford, in the long run the material cost more than its expensive equivalent; but while poverty may well be the parent of revolution, nakedness frequently causes revolt.
Inside, Bea rummaged through the off-cuts of material. She pulled out a length of thick cotton, in a light shade of grey.
The hobgoblin who ran the store appeared by Bea’s side. “That’ll suit you. Matches your hair.”
“Where’s it from?” Bea asked.
“What do you mean, ‘where’s it from’? From Thaiana, where else? You think I’ve got a cotton field out back?”
“I mean, who did you steal it from?” Bea clarified, trying not to sound annoyed. It wasn't his fault; she'd asked a stupid question. None of the fae cared about the people they stole from. Why should they? The person eating steak rarely bothers to think about the cow.
Proving her point, the hobgoblin looked at her like she’d just asked him to do advanced calculus. “How in the five hells should I know? It’s probably off of some character’s washing line. Mortal gods, no wonder no-one likes you fairies, wasting everyone’s time with stupid questions. ‘Where’s it from’? ‘Where’s it from’? You should be grateful I’m even serving you. There’s plenty as won’t have a fairy in their shop.”
“I just wanted to make sure you didn’t get it from someone who can’t afford to lose it, that’s all.”
“I tell you someone who can’t afford to lose it, and that’s me. Look, characters make stuff, we take stuff. That’s the natural order of things. If you think there's something wrong with that, go explain it the white suits.”
“Alright, alright,” Bea sighed, admitting defeat. The material seemed to be in good condition; she’d just have to hope that meant that it had come from someone wealthy enough to afford losing it.
“What you got to trade?” demanded the hobgoblin, taking the material over to his work desk.
“Mm. Two, then.”
Bea blinked. “Two?”
“You wanna pay more?”
“No, no. But how come…?”
The hobgoblin started to measure the material. “Where’ve you been, under a rock? The Mirrors are open again. Loads of stuff coming in. Driving prices down.”
“Oh. Well, that’s good,” Bea said.
He glared at her, and began wrapping the material. “Not for me, it ain’t. They say some fairy did it. Seems rich. When was the last time a fairy ever did anything worth the doing? I’m not a fairy-hater – like I said, I’m serving you, aren’t I – but even you’ve got to admit the idea of a fairy completing a Rags To Riches is a bit far-fetched. No offence.”
“None taken,” Bea said sourly.
“Exactly,” the hobgoblin continued, missing her tone of voice. “No reason to get upset, is there? I speak as I find, me. The only thing this crap about a fairy finishing the Plot has done is get your lot up in arms. Thinking a fairy could become an FME? Pfft. No chance. They wouldn’t allow it.”
“Oh well, now that ‘they’ are involved I dare say you’re right,” Bea replied. “They don’t like it when them do stuff, that’s for sure. Good thing them isn’t me or you, because you never know when they might start asking questions about who’s the them that they don’t allow.”
The hobgolbin’s face creased in confusion. “Best keep out of it, if I were you. Know your place, and be grateful for it, that’s what I say. Y’know, I could make you a dress,” he offered, eyeing the tokens in her hand. “How about it? I can have it run up in a couple of hours. Hobgoblins got quick fingers, ain’t we?” and then he added, seemingly without irony, “Better’n them brownies, don’t care what anyone says.”
Bea thought about it. Probably she should save the tokens and make the dress herself. The problem with ‘probably’, however, was that there was almost always a ‘definitely’ somewhere around the corner. In this case the definitely was the fact that she was a horrendous seamstress, and would no doubt make a dress that would fall to pieces before the year was out. Besides, she had the tokens, didn't she?
“Alright then,” she said.
It didn’t occur to her until much later that having a dress made for her had been one the things she had dreamed about, all the years she had been Plot-watching.