A Strange Kindness; A Tale of Kindness

A Strange Kindness; A Tale of Kindness

I’ve done two rounds of Seven Deadly Sins prompts, mostly because I have such a large pool of characters to draw from. While flipping through other prompt suggestions, I happened to find a list of the Seven Heavenly Virtues (which seem to get a lot less press). In case you’ve never heard of them, they are: Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness and Humility. So now that we’ve seen the darker sides of my characters, why don’t we take a peek at their virtues? Next up is Rose, whose virtue is kindness.
. . .

Kindness; the state or quality of being kind; of a good or benevolent nature or disposition; indulgent, considerate, or helpful.
. . .

When Silverbell was little, she spent hours sitting in the chair at her mother’s vanity, testing the various makeup available and surveying her handiwork in the triple mirrors. Now she made a face at her reflection, as if displeased by the person she saw staring back.

“We haven’t had much time for girl chat, of late.” Her mother’s voice drifted over her shoulder. “You children are all too busy for your mother, these days.”

Silverbell hoped her mother hadn’t noticed her making faces, but then it was hard to slip anything past her mother’s notice. She slid to her feet in one smooth motion and flopped onto a nearby couch. She half-slouched and half-sprawled, looking as little like a lady as possible. “It’s not as if you don’t have a full schedule of your own,” she retorted.

Her mother’s smile was as patient as it had ever been, but Silverbell swore there was a smug tinge to it today. “I’ve always made time for the three of you, haven’t I? So why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to?” Rose Drathmore looked every inch a regal queen even in a simple denim skirt and t-shirt. The careless act of flipping through a book haphazardly resting on one of her side tables seemed somehow profound. Perhaps it was that which made so many people hang on her mother’s every word. Silverbell envied her that endless poise which seemed to be part of her natural demeanor.

“That’s true,” Silverbell admitted, though she frowned. It would be a lie to say she hadn’t come here seeking her mother’s sage advice, but she had also hoped to avoid her issues all together. Somehow, the woman always seemed to know when something was bothering one of her children, though Silverbell had long suspected her of cheating. But if the queen did use her telepathic abilities ascertain her children’s dilemmas, she was never going to admit it.

With a soft sigh, Silverbell drew herself into a more reasonable position, folding one leg beneath her. “I don’t have anything exciting to impart, honestly. Val is off on exciting adventures. Dormal is beating the council into submission so that they get used to listening to him. I just kind of drift aimlessly throughout the court.” She lifted one hand and wriggled her fingers as if to indicate the flight of a butterfly.

Her mother snorted. “Don’t sell yourself short, dearheart, we both know that you only pretend to drift. You enjoy the court games. There’s no shame in it. Just because I never took to it… Well, your father has always loved it, so it’s not hard to see where you get it from.”

That did draw a smile to Silverbell’s lips. Crescent had been her inspiration ever since she was young. She had always admired the way he could make the court nobles talk in circles or tie their tongues with a witty retort. And she was good at verbal sparring, no one could deny that anymore.

“It’s just…” She sighed again, her eyes momentarily drifting toward the window and the brilliant blue sky outside. “I want to be remembered for something other than navigating society’s upper echelons. Val recovers all these lost artifacts and Dormal is going to make laws and rule people someday, and stuff. What about me? What am I going to do that will even make people bat an eyelash?”

Her mother didn’t answer, merely giving her an expectant look instead.

Silverbell tapped the fingers of one hand against the side of her folded leg. “So, I thought about what I could do that aligns with my primary interests. And I think the only way you can really be unique among the court is if you have something no one else does. And since they’re all concerned with how you look, logically the key to grabbing everyone’s attention is with what you wear.” Which wasn’t exactly an astounding revelation. Court ladies, in particular, had invented fashion trends in ancient days for exactly that reason. But bucking the trends grew harder with each passing years as noble ladies poured exorbitant amounts of money into their appearance. “Rather than hire a personal designer I thought I could make some clothing for myself.”

Silverbell didn’t know exactly what response she expected to receive, but she certainly hadn’t expected her mother’s eyes to light up as though Silverbell had just given her a spectacular gift. “Why, dearheart, that’s a fantastic idea! Are you going to turn this into your own clothing line?”

“Maybe,” Silverbell said, but it was a half-hearted response. It had started as a desire to make something unique, something no one else could copy. And the drawings had been so easy in the beginning, the designs dancing through her head vividly and with such speed it was difficult to jot them all down. Hiring someone to make the dresses would mean allowing them to be copied from the start, even if she ultimately got credit for them. But having ten other people wearing the dress designed by the princess for the very occasion she had commissioned it for was counter to the point. And besides, she wanted her clothing to be breathtaking because it was good, not because she had penned the initial pattern.

The trouble was that simple sketches were a far cry from actual designs. While she loved the whimsical flairs that flashed through her mind, they didn’t actually work so well as clothing, usually failing to provide warmth or making it extremely difficult to move when they were applied to something physical. Even spelled cloth had its limitations. Then there was the fact that knowing how to sew a pattern together and making it turn out the way she wanted it to were two completely different things. She had more crooked gowns and wrecked fabric shoved in her closet than she ever would have cared to admit.

She still hadn’t gotten the hang of what stitches to use in which situations. And forgetting to iron between steps had been disastrous more than once. Thus far, she could barely craft even the simplest of dresses, and she was ashamed to let anyone else see them. Even her attempts to boost her designs with illusions were too exhausting to maintain for longer than a few hours. And she could never quite replicate the look a second time.

Besides, even if she could clothe herself entirely in magic, it wouldn’t hide the sting of failure. She wanted something physical she could put on display, proof that she had given shape to something which didn’t exist before her hands touched it. Fashion shows had become a unique form of torture; hundreds of designers developed dozens of beautiful dresses every season, but she couldn’t even manage to make one!

Her mother must not have been reading her mind at the moment because her smile remained broad. “And when will I get my first preview of these fine creations of yours?”

Silverbell bit her bottom lip. “At my current pace? Never.” She hung her head. Admitting defeat was so much worse than she had imagined. It was like a lead weight had finally settled in her gut, forever blocking her access to happiness.

“I don’t understand,” her mother replied. “Are you giving up?”

“No!” It was an automatic response. Silverbell did not like to lose. She never had. For her entire life she had insisted on keeping up with her brothers during combat training and sparring. She could still beat them both, though maybe not at the same time. Even Domerin had complimented her on her skill and drive. But how could she possibly continue to murder fabric in her spare time? It wasn’t exactly a cheap hobby. Maybe she just wasn’t as suited to traditionally girly things – though she could already hear her mother’s stern lecture on gender roles.

“Then what’s the trouble?” her mother pressed.

“I don’t know.” Things would be so much easier if she did. “I just can’t seem to do it, Mom. I’ve tried my absolute hardest. I really have. But I always do something wrong. The design isn’t the right size or I pick the wrong fabric. Or I stitch things upside down and backwards. I think I’ve invented mistakes that no other seamstress has ever made. I’ve watched tutorials. I even thought of attending classes, but it was too embarrassing! If it takes all this effort just to make something simple, how am I ever going to make anything grand enough to wear to a court ball?”

“You’ll get there eventually,” her mother insisted. “Though, perhaps it was a mistake to think you could start with something fancy without mastering the basics first.”

Silverbell swallowed hard. She had already come to that realization. “Even knowing the basics hasn’t seemed to help. I seem to make the same mistake twenty times before I learn, and then I’m just on to the next one. There are too many things to keep track of, even if I make myself a list! It would be so much easier if I could just hand my notebook to someone who could make it happen for me. It isn’t what I wanted, but it would be better than nothing.”

To Silverbell’s shock, her mother shrugged. “Maybe you should, dearheart, if you don’t think you’re cut out for it.”

Silverbell’s jaw fell open. “That isn’t very encouraging.” She had expected the usual cadre of advice from her mother, something along the lines of keep trying until you get it. And even though she had already prepared a list of arguments to counter them, she had been relying on hearing someone say she might eventually be good at something. What was she supposed to do now?

“No, but it’s a kindness,” her mother replied with a shrug. “Why should I encourage you to do something that clearly makes you miserable? It sounds like you’ve tried absolutely everything, and I know nothing about dressmaking. Much as I’d like to help you, it sounds as if you’d be happier if you just set it aside and forgot about it.”

Before this conversation started, Silverbell had been thinking the same. It didn’t seem worth the tears, the endless frustration, and the pricked fingers if she couldn’t wear the end results. All her fabulous designs were simply gathering dust, so she may as well release them into the wild where someone could do something with them.

But the idea of letting it go, of dropping all those pages in the waste bin and pushing it all out of her mind was almost physically painful. It would be like trying to hold her breath for the rest of her life. And of all people, she had expected her mother to understand.

Yet her mother didn’t even blink when Silverbell shot to her feet. “Kindness? This is a strange kind of kindness, Mother. Not your usual brand. Maybe you don’t get it, but I’m not just going to give up and admit defeat. That just simply wouldn’t be me.” And she stalked from the room before her mother had a chance to protest.

*  *  *  *  *  *

“Can I come in now?” Rose had been standing outside her daughter’s door for nearly half an hour by now. Though she wasn’t used to waiting, it didn’t exactly bother her. But she had expected to wait inside her daughter’s quarters rather than in the hallway.

“Just a minute!” came the muffled response, though it took five more minutes for Silverbell to open the door. When she did, she allowed only her head to show, the rest of her body hidden by the door.

Rose arched an eyebrow as she stepped through the small gap, but she would not question what her daughter was up to. She knew that Silverbell liked dramatic reveals and she was more than happy to play along. When she turned to face her, however, her mouth fell open. Already, Silverbell had her hands extended and Rose grasped them, squeezing excitedly.

“You look fantastic!”

Not only had the dress Silverbell wore been designed to hug the contours of her body, with the skirt short on one side but curving into a long, flowing train on the other, it shimmered like the aurora borealis, now green, now blue, sometimes even purple, moving in waves that never seemed to replicate the same shape twice. Gauzy shoulders, like a mist of fog, hung over her shoulders and there were tiny dew-drop gems woven into her hair.

“So you like it?” Silverbell sounded as if she were about to burst.

“Of course I do! I’ve never seen anything like it! And I’ve seen a lot of court gowns, dearheart. You have to tell me where you got it. I might just want to peruse the stock myself.”

“Well, you can’t.” Silverbell was practically vibrating with excitement now, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she made her announcement. “Because I made it myself!”

For a moment, they wore matching expressions of excitement, mouths open, eyes wide, fingers tightly entwined. They were like two teenagers who had just managed to slip booze from their parents’ secret stash.

It had been some five years since Silverbell first mentioned dressmaking to her mother. And in all that time, Rose had bitten her tongue on asking for news. It had been difficult. She wanted to encourage her daughter to succeed, wanted to know if she had made any progress, but had known better. Silverbell had a combative personality. If she was determined to prove her mother wrong, letting her in on the secret would rather ruin her drive. But she was thrilled to see it had all been worthwhile.

“Silverbell, that’s fantastic! Is this your first fully finished piece?”

Silverbell shook her head, still grinning. “The first one that’s good enough to wear to the court, sure. But I learned to make tons of simpler things before this. Lots of sundresses, actually. And plain gowns. Learning how to weave the magic into the pattern was the hardest part. I swore I didn’t have the patience, but Dormal sat me down and drove me through it like our old drills.”

Rose squeezed Silverbell’s hands again. “I knew you could do it. I just knew it.”

She expected Silverbell to get angry, to gape or at least to argue, but she didn’t. “Did you really?” she asked, a hint of amusement in her tone. “Even after you told me to quit?”

“Of course, dearheart. I knew that if it was important to you, you’d make it a priority.”

Silverbell barked a laugh, but it was a happy laugh. “You know, it took me three years to realize you really had done me a kindness.”

“Oh?” Rose finally dropped all pretense, allowing her smug amusement to show through. “How so?”

“You knew if you gave me all the usual comforts, I would have an endless list of excuses why none of the usual tricks would ever work for me. I was wallowing in self-pity. I wanted to justify my failures, maybe even get permission to give the hard part of the work to someone else. But you were right. You did me a kindness by opening my eyes to my own bad attitude.”

“I’m glad you took the lesson to heart,” Rose replied, gratified that she hadn’t had to explain the nuances. Of course, Silverbell was clever enough to have realized the reversal; it wasn’t the kind of tactic that would work with everyone.  “And you can thank me by allowing me to make your first commission.”

“How do you feel about moon phases?” Silverbell laughed. “I’ve already started. The first one’s on me, for the inspiration.”

Rose chuckled and drew her daughter into her embrace. “If you insist. Moon phases sounds fabulous! You know me far too well.”

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