A Candle to Light Your Honour
Kitty Ryan, 2003
Chapter One: Choosing the Wax
1013, the Diamond District, Ninver, Capchen.
Two weeks before a wedding
"Ten silver astrels; not a crescent more!"
"Forgive me for saying so, Daughter Bidewell, but, considering the quality of the fabric, and the cost of importing, with taxes the way they are--"
"--Ten of silver, Fedwren, and if this is the best quality you can find, I willtake my custom elsewhere."
"Daughter Bidewell, House Rightwork offers the finest goods in Capchen, and has for over ten generations."
"And shows poorly for all that, it seems. You claim this is Janaal made? I find it hard to believe you."
"Believe what you will, Darra. I'll only sell for three gold astrels."
Haggling was a familiar practice in the Diamond District, Ninver. The streets were a blaze of colour, everything from glazed pots to game pies displayed from the most flattering angles in every shop window. It had been called a beautiful place by all who went there, as soon as they became used to living with air that was full of demands and entreaties, each voice jostling to be heard over the hundreds of others as they fought for the best prices. At each attractive shop-front there was a pitched battle, and outside Fedwren Rightwork's Fine Fabrics, the stakes were particularly high.
Darra Bidewell glared up at her fellow merchant, leaning forward, elbows on the counter-top, invading his personal space. "Nothing you might possibly have, Fedwren," she said, slowly and clearly, "could ever be worth that much."
Fedwrenwas flustered, running a hand though his thinning hair; trying to look affronted. "I am simply offering you the best for your coming wedding, Daughter Bidewell."
Darra laughed, then, and smiled thinly. "You're trying to cheat a girl because she might have her head in the clouds over her coming wedding, Mas-ter Rightwork."
"No! No, not at all--"
"--Enough of that, now. I was only making a point. Besides, I might be willing to compromise, since I am feeling rather generous, as it happens. A gold crescent and three silver astrels."
"Two gold astrels and four silver crescents!"
"Two gold astrels, Fedwren."
"Thirteen gold crescents!" Fedwren glared at his customer, banging his own fist upon the counter.
Darra laughed. "I'm not a child, to be fooled by lesser coins making the same amount."
"But you're a child for asking what you can't afford!"
The eldest daughter of House Bidewell drew herself up. "I refuse to pay an excessive amount for anyone, Fedwren Rightwork, and certainly not for a jumped-up Hataaran. I'm offering far more than should be necessary as it is!"
Fedwren turned white at the insult, while Darra calmly straightened her spectacles. " One gold astrel," she said. "Three silver astrels, and a discount of an item of your choice at the Bidewell Apothecary."
A discount. The Bidewell family never offered discounts. "Are you…willing to sign for it?"
Darra glared. "What do you take me for? A pirate? Of course I'll sign for it."
Swallowing down a retort, Fedwren nodded, face grim. "We have an agreement, Daughter Bidewell."
"An agreement accepted, Master Rightwork." The girl spoke the formal words with a mocking glint in her blue eyes. "I shall expect my purchase to be delivered to house Bidewell early tomorrow. Payment shall be made then. May your business remain successful."
With a polite smile, Darra left the shop, head held high, steps brisk, and head full of triumph over her acquisition of first class fine-weave Janaal fabric, bought at less than half of its four gold crescent price. Fedwren watched her go with a mixture of self-disgust and grudging admiration. House Chandler's got a wealth in you, girl.
"Oh, you've done your family proud!"
Ana Bidewell hugged her daughter tight as soon as she heard the news. Declan, her older brother, had spun her around the room. Her two younger sisters had looked at Darra in awe.
Darra blushed. "I wish I could do better, but the cloth is so lovely, and I just had to have it somehow. The discount was the only way I could think of clinching the deal."
Ana shrugged. "It's less than perfect, but you didn't specify how much of a discount, did you?"
"What do you take me for, Ma?"
Ana grinned, and stroked back her daughter's hair. "That's my girl."
Darra flopped down into a chair, smiling brightly. "Fedwren thought he could confuse me, just because I'm engaged, the stupid man."
Her mother snorted, rolling her eyes to the heavens. "I doubt very much could confuse you, my dear. Much less Fedwren. Now, how much of a train do you want on your wonderful dress?"
"None!" Darra stared at the plump woman, looking mildly outraged. "I don't want all Ninver to think I'm some cheap harlot!"
Ana smiled, looking at her daughter and feeling an overwhelming sense of pride. Darra was not beautiful. Her face was intense and angular; her chin was too sharp, her colour too high, her light blue eyes too narrow and too calculating behind their glasses. But she was neat, and clever, and had wonderful presence, as well as landing one of the most profitable marriages in Capchen. She couldn't ask for anything more in the girl, except, possibly, a grandchild--and Darra, barely twenty-one, had plenty of time for that. "I was just testing you, dear."
"Did I pass?"
"Of course you did," said Ana, smiling and reaching over to hug the girl again. "You've made our name a truth for us."
Residence of Uraelle Chandler, Highheld Hill, Ninver, Capchen.
Eight days before a wedding
"Stand still, Valden! If you keep squirming the measurements will be off, and it'll be a waste of fabric."
Valden Chandler submitted himself to his cousin's pinpricking and glaring. Uraelle was old; she deserved some luxuries that she didn't have to buy. Besides, he thought, blushing a little, after the ceremony, I wont be thinking about clothing. At all.
The man was brought back to life with a hard prick in the arm. "You look like a loon, staring into the distance like that. A wedding is nothing to get glazed eyes over."
Valden looked at Uraelle. Old enough to be his great aunt, pinched, gaunt and with a formidable temper, she was one of the more scary of his relatives. Brilliant, but terrifying. The idea that this woman, who had refused point blank to marry at any time in her life--"To keep the name of Chandler pure!"-- glazing over about anything was laughable. She scoured romance from everything she touched, particularly weddings. She'd arranged Murris and Emmines', and Johan's with that protege of hers--Gretchen Tanner--only last month. Now it was his turn, with Darra Bidewell. Images of penetrating, angry blue eyes and long, dark red hair forced into unwilling submission with plaits and pins flashed through his mind, and he smiled.
"Ugh! Valden!" Uraelle glared at him, her own, grey, eyes annoyed. "You've no reason to keep doing that. This is your duty, not some wasteful pleasure jaunt! Besides, Daughter Bidewell is far from ideal. Her family expects too much in return for this marriage, and you've nothing to offer the girl, being too old for her, and the youngest son." The old woman sniffed, snipping off a loose thread. "At least she and my Gretchen have been known to get along."
Valden cheerfully ignored her. He was very good at it.
The Bidewell Apothecary, Diamond District, Ninver, Capchen.
Two days before a wedding
"How can you be so calm, Darra?" Gretchen Chandler, wide-eyed and very recently married, sat in her friend's bedroom, sewing. She looked every inch the little housewife, her wavy, mouse brown hair pinned up as a respectable married woman's should be, and her hands and needle flying over the dark blue cotton of one of Darra's soon-to-be new dresses. But her voice was that of a little girl's, still, and her face was flushed and eager with an adolescent excitement she couldn't contain. Darra noticed this andfound it hard to ignore the urge to sneer.
"What else am I to be?" she asked, laughing. "It's a waste of time, fretting. I've worked hard, and deserve this, and with Uraelle in charge, the only things that could go wrong are minuscule."
Gretchen looked at her, bemused. "Aren't you…nervous?"
Darra shrugged. "A little bit, I suppose," she said, tone half-affectionate and half exasperated. "I mean, it would be a dreadful thing if I went though my wedding with a hole in my skirt, or if Val tripped on the steps, clumsy as he is, and everyone saw."
"No-o," said Gretchen, shaking out the now finished dress. "I meant, nervous about, you know, after."
"Gretchen!" Darra, flushing, glared at her friend, looking appalled. "That's not the sort of thing I think we should be talking about. Or think about, really. I'll do my duty when the time comes, and that's all anybody needs to know, thank you very much." A pin was slipping from her hair--Darra forced it back to its place, driving it into her scalp so hard it left a scratch. "Besides," she muttered, blushing. "You would know more about those…matters, than I."
Gretchen had never seen the other girl so uncomfortable. It was disturbing, though she couldn't help feeling a little bit pleased that Darra had any awkward spots at all. It would have been lovely to tease her about it, just a little, but…no. That would be cruel. "I'm sorry, Darra. Didn't mean to pry."
Darra glared ferociously at her own needlework. "Doesn't matter, really."
Gretchen sighed, trying to think of something, anything that might lighten the atmosphere. "Darra?"
"You know, I think…I just might be…don't tell anyone yet, but…"
Oh, please hurry up."You might what?"
"I might be…well…expecting!"
Darra stared, taking in the woman's tiny frame. "Already?"
Darra carefully put her sewing away before she did anything else, and then hugged her, feeling horribly out of her depth. "That's…wonderful, love."
"Isn't it just? Just imagine if you fell, too, then we'd be mothers together."
The gleeful tone in Gretchen's voice was setting Darra on edge. Mothers together, she thought, fighting another blush. And it wouldn't take a Seer to tell who would raise the better child.
"We'll just have to see what happens after the wedding", Darra said firmly, at last.
"Oh, you're so practical, Darra!"
"And that's meant to be a fault?"
The Temple of Asaia and Tuhengri Stormlord, Ninver, Capchen.
If Uraelle had been an entirely different sort of person, with fewer morals than tongue, she would be cursing. Every member of the family coming to the Temple had congratulated her on another wedding masterfully arranged, complimenting everything from the food to the bride, but she knew, in her heart, that their was little substance behind the (often shamefully painted) smiles. Valden looked so nervous it appeared as if he were preparing to wed a trollop instead of any woman, and his ludicrous brown curls just wouldn't lie flat. Ana Bidewell and the rest of her all too numerous family were looking down their long noses at everything and anything, even though they were the ones receiving more of a benefit with this match, and Gretchen was hanging on to her husband's arm, giggling in a most unseemly way. Uraelle knew she would have to take her in hand about that, later. Nothing was ever satisfactory, in this life. It was upsetting.
Grimly, she looked over the congregation, wincing at the badly cut dress here, reproving a glass too full of expensive wine there. The temple looked beautiful, all clean and neat with warm lighting and wonderful yellow drapery, the gold statues of Asaia Birdwinged and Tuhengri Stormlord glittering from their raised platform, radiating their virtues of strength, achievement and intellect, but the human element left much to be desired.
Then Darra entered the main hall.
Valden stared, the relatives muttered approvingly. Uraelle resisted the temptation of shrugging. The cream, suitably high-necked dress with its subtle blue embroidery suited the girl, with her head held high, glasses clean, and hair appropriately neat and plaited, despite its frivolous colour. She'll pass, Uraelle thought, as Darra's voiced her vows of fidelity, strength and patience, her eyes defying, just that little bit.
Things did, at that moment, seem to bide well for the Chandlers.
If only that fool cousin of mine wouldn't look so smitten
Disclaimer: Capchen, Ninver, Darra, Trisana Chandler, Uraelle, Valden, Murris, and Emmine belong to Tamora Pierce.