"Green?" he asked. "No, no... perhaps blue. Blue with a touch of... pink? White? Or perhaps a spot of charteuse..."
He posed before the full-length mirror in his chambers, inspecting the robes draped against his chest. "Perhaps green after all," he said, chuckling softly to himself. "Sea-green and rose, with a delicate pattern..."
He wondered if Giselle was already awake. Then again, it wasn't as though she was likely to help him with his color choices. Whatever, he thought. Whatever whatever whatever.
Maquin pulled the cloth over his chemise, giving the combination a critical glance in the mirror again.
"Then again," he whispered, "maybe the blue would work better..."
* * *
Maquin Dreamweaver ran one arm across the fabric, and wrinkled his nose. "It won't do," he said impatiently. "It just won't do!"
The wagonmaster clutched his cap against his chest. "Is my lord displeased?" he asked carefully.
"Oh, yes," Maquin said in a downcast tone. "But not at you. This is excellent material."
The peasant's expression brightened. "I am glad to hear that, my lord."
"I only regret that I only have a single roll of it to work with," Maquin sighed.
The peasant raised an eyebrow. "I can obtain more of it, my lord. I have a contact in the Northlands who practically has a full supply."
Maquin glanced at him. "How much of it?"
"Bales, my lord. Bales."
Maquin gave him a wide smile. "Twenty, perhaps?"
The wagonmaster nearly fell over at the mere mention of the number. "Tw...twenty?" he asked, incredulously.
"You can provide the material, can you?" Maquin asked.
"Y-yes," the peasant said. "It will run a heavy cost, though. Thirty crowns at least."
"Thirty crowns will be quite all right. How soon will it take you?"
"I can deliver the material within three weeks, my lord."
"Two weeks," Maquin interjected.
"Within one week I can have a single ensemble made from this roll. For the week after that, the courts of Lorendheim will be whispering about the new creation," Maquin said, running his hands along the smooth cloth. "But in the week after that, the trend will have passed and the courtiers gone for other diversions. The advantage is in the timing, dear one. The advantage is always in the timing."
The peasant scratched his head, not understanding a single word.
"It is vastly important that you return from Hadrian in two weeks," Maquin concluded. "It is very, very important for the both of us."
"Ah... er... yes, my lord."
"Now," Maquin said, "how much did you say it was, again?"
The peasant thought for a while.
"Twenty crowns, was it?" Maquin interjected. "I remember you mentioning twenty crowns."
"I did?" the wagonmaster asked.
"Yes, you did," Maquin said without skipping a beat, "although that feels a little high for me. Ten crowns would be a far better price, dear one. Ten crowns."
The peasant frowned. "I couldn't do it for less than eighteen crowns, my lord."
"Fourteen crowns, and not a silver more," Maquin cautioned.
"Done," the peasant said. "Fifteen crowns."
"Excellent," Maquin acceded, bowing in deference. "Twenty rolls of the new cloth, and in two weeks' time. I shall be expecting you."
As he crossed back into his palatial home, Maquin laughed into his sleeve. With skills like that, he thought, he could be working for the Tempestite merchants. Or perhaps not.
* * *
Maquin inspected himself in the mirror. The blue wasn't turning out so well after all.
"What do you think, Giselle?" he asked.
Giselle glanced, once at the mirror and once at Maquin. She looked thoughtful for a moment, and then shrugged.
Maquin rolled his eyes. "I guess that's why I'm the maven and you're the model," he said resignedly.
He stared at the mirror for a few more seconds.
"Green," he said, simply. His robes shimmered slightly, and then turned the color of emeralds. Giselle gave him a thoughtful expression once more.
"Yes, it's a little... much, isn't it?" Maquin said. "Lighter, then."
Giselle shook her head.
"Darker, you mean?" The robes shimmered into deeper green.
Giselle nodded. Maquin continued to inspect his reflection in the mirror.
"I guess... that this will do," he finally said. "For now."
* * *
Maquin glanced up from the parchment in his hand. "That is all, Lord Gallos," he said.
"Nothing more," Maquin said.
The Lord of Masks was dressed in blue and black silk for the day, accentuated by velvet cloth. Maquin personally approved of the combination; it was one of the reasons why he admired Gallos so much. Whenever the man didn't follow the conventions of fashion, he made them up from scratch.
Maquin didn't like the mask, though. Gallos always wore a different mask each day; this one concealed his face in shadow and darkness. Although it certainly went well with the grandmaster's robes, it had a strange unnerving effect on its own. Maquin was certain that that was precisely what Gallos had intended.
"Do you have the secondary report?" Gallos asked.
Maquin nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, my lord," he said. "But perhaps it would be best to wait for a more private audience..."
Gallos waved one hand. "Every Masquer knows that I watch their moves as surely as I watch the others," he said.
"Very well, my lord," Maquin said. He turned the parchment over and cast a few whispered words upon it, causing the scribblings of ink to appear on the back. He knew as well as any other man that all this was merely confirmation -- the Masquer lord could certainly afford to acquire any bit of information on his own skills.
Still, it was good to feel useful. "Lord Nyris has not moved at all," Maquin began, "although the Council demands his attention. There have been more than a few petitions for you to remind him of his duties to the sects."
"Indeed," Gallos said, although he only appeared to feign interest in the matter.
"Lord Bane continues to hold the Allandrian court together," Maquin continued. "While he has certain members of the nobility contributing large sums of money to the deployment of forces to the southern border, he has prevented others from doing the same. We suspect that he is attempting to shift the balance of power in Queen Sasha's court to a more balanced setup."
As Maquin read out the contents of the report, his eyes wandered about the grandmaster's chambers. Unlike what most people expected, the Lord of the Masquers led a spartan lifestyle punctuated by the illusion of opulence. It was, Maquin had to admit, a very Masquer thing to do.
And then, of course, there was the matter of the man's bodyguard. Maquin didn't know her very well -- none of the Masquers did, save for the fact that Gallos seemed to trust her implicitly. She was a strange person, always dressed in the same light robes without thought as to how she looked. Maquin could easily tell a person's character based on their fashion alone, but even he had trouble reading her.
Now that he thought about it, however, she was probably like Giselle: A loyal retainer completely devoted to her master's whims. What made Maquin unconfortable was that she seemed otherwise at times -- especially when Gallos asked for her advice on matters. He asked few people for advice on anything, short of wanting to see how their thought processes went.
She caught his passing glance, and returned it with a suspicious glare. Maquin smiled back, taking pride in the resulting derisive snort.
"Maquin," Gallos suddenly said, interrupting him.
"My lord?" Maquin asked.
"Don't play with her," Gallos said.
Maquin gave him a fascinated smile. "Yes, my lord."
* * *
Maquin critically inspected his right sleeve. There was something about dark green, yes, but Maquin felt that it had overstayed its welcome. He considered giving the blue another try, but he didn't want to end up flip-flopping between the two choices for the rest of the day.
Finally he gave in and watched his robes change to match the soft tones of the earth. He wasn't sure at all about brown; it made him look like a peasant, no matter how good it tended to look on Giselle. But on the other hand, Giselle looked good in anything. He knew the type.
Maquin glanced at her. "That," he concluded out loud, "is why you can't give very good advice when it comes to color coordination."
Giselle gazed back at him, unable to give a proper answer.
* * *
The young woman stared at her reflection in the mirror. "I don't like it," she said.
Maquin all but threw his hands up in despair. Kharandon Greybane had ordered a dozen new wearables for his sister, newly-returned from the Northlands, and she was already down to the last two sets of robes. While Maquin had expected her to be non-materialistic, he didn't expect her to be practically an ascetic.
"Don't you have anything more... practical, Lord Dreamweaver?" she asked.
"Lady Octavia," Maquin said in his most patient tone, "these are the fashions that are currently in vogue across the courts of Lorendheim. While a few of the designs do reflect only recent trends, I am sure that some of them are more than passing fancy."
Octavia adjusted the bodice of her current ensemble. "In the Northlands," she said, "we wore far more clothes than these... rags."
Maquin chose to ignore the remark. "I must remind you, Lady Octavia, that the denizens of the Northlands don't have much of a choice when winter cloaks their land all year round."
She disappeared behind a paper-and-cloth screen in order to try the last of Maquin's fashions. "Most of these show altogether too much skin, Lord Dreamweaver. I'll have you know that I am not that sort of woman."
"They don't show that much," Maquin replied, picking up a jacket from where she had discarded it. "They show just enough to merit attention. Your esteemed brother could tell you himself that attention is important in many of the nobles' gatherings around here."
"I'm not looking for attention," Octavia insisted. "I'm just... here."
Maquin rolled his eyes skeptically. "Everybody looks for attention, Lady Octavia. Some don't even find it at all."
"Oh?" Octavia said in the same skeptical tone. "What about you, then, Lord Dreamweaver? Why do you seek attention? Is it for your talents? Your status? Your self-esteem?"
Maquin thought for a moment, and had to admit that despite her asceticism, she had asked an excellent question. "It is the fashion, Lady Octavia," he said. "It is always the fashion."
"Fashion," Octavia repeated.
"Yes, fashion," Maquin said. "Surely you would be familiar with the saying that clothes make the man... or woman, in this case?"
"Yes," Octavia said, dismissively. "Merely another lesson that we only see what lies on the surface of things."
"That may not be entirely correct," Maquin mused. "Fashion is a conscious choice. Style is a deliberate bearing. We present a part of ourselves to the rest of the world, but simply choosing which part to show already tells us exactly what sort of people we are."
"Mm," Octavia said, pulling something over her head.
Maquin waited patiently for the young woman to emerge. When she finally did, it was in a lovely white dress with green trimmings, exactly the sort that anyone would be delighted to wear to a royal celebration. Maquin was quite proud of it; he had chosen the colors himself.
Octavia picked at the high collar. "It's itchy," she said. "How can anyone possibly find it comfortable to wear this?"
Maquin sighed. This was going to take far longer than he expected.
* * *
Maquin Dreamweaver lay sprawled across his four-posted bed, visions of blue and green and earth tones dancing in his mind.
It had not been a good day. In fact, it had been as far from a perfect day as possible.
Maquin shuddered, and noted his schedule for the rest of the week. Here was a meeting with the Metrian Guild, which was possibly the stingiest of all the sects, according to Maquin's experience. There was a fitting with the Lady Saville, and doubtless she would try to seduce him out of his nominal fees again. Here was another dreadful meeting with the Lady Ophelia, who could wear even the finest clothes and make people wonder which unfortunate animals she had recently skinned.
Sleep did not come easily to him nowadays, and for good reason.
"Blue," he said, and his clothes shifted to the color of sapphires. Maquin went through the general spectrum from sky-blue to azure blue, then dropped the idea and went for green instead.
Then again, a quick glance in the mirror convinced him that the green looked terrible. He regretted using it for most of the day, but not as much as he regretted playing around with the earth tones. Perhaps he should have asked for Giselle's opinion, after all.
In the end, Maquin Dreamweaver resolved to sleep on it. He needed the sleep; it calmed his mind and allowed him to take on a jumble of different worries all over again.
He discarded his robes carefully, draping them over the gilded screen in the corner of his chambers near the full-length mirror. He was glad to be rid of the vestments; despite all the praise and glamor, he had to admit that they chafed from time to time.
In the end, Maquin fell asleep as he usually did -- naked, under the thick covers of three sets of blankets.
He slept quite soundly for a man who was always in a constant state of activity.
He never felt as free otherwise.