Welcome to the first chapter of the first draft of The Unwanted Wardrobe, the twelfth Ethshar novel. See About the Serial for an explanation of how this works, and the official blog for discussion and questions.
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The tunic was bright purple, with red bands at the oversized cuffs and midnight-blue embroidery around the ruffled green collar. Lady Shanelle stared at it in dismay. "That totally won't work," she said. "I mean, ick. I don't want Lord Wulran to think I have no taste at all."
Her friend Deyor grimaced. "Maybe you should have been more specific in what you told the wizard," she said.
"He needed to be told that the clothes shouldn't be hideous?" Shanelle replied. "I mean, look at that thing! No one would wear that in public."
"Maybe one of those clowns performing in the Arena would," Deyor suggested.
Shanelle glared at her. "You aren't helping."
Deyor turned up a palm. "All right, what did you tell the wizard? Maybe we can figure out what went wrong and find a way to fix it."
"I told him that I wanted an endless supply of beautiful clothes!"
"In exactly those words?"
Shanelle hesitated. "Well, no," she said. "Let me think." She ran her fingers through her hair. "I said... I said I wanted something that would provide me with new clothes every day, and that they should all be flawlessly made, and should all fit me perfectly, and should be designs that no one in Ethshar had ever seen before, so that I would stand out."
Deyor looked at the tunic. "Well, I think it's safe to say no one ever saw that design before!"
Shanelle shuddered. "I should hope not." She snatched up the tunic, wadded it into a large silken ball, and flung it into the open wardrobe. "I hope I never see it again!" She slammed the wardrobe door.
"You still need something to wear to the Fortress," Deyor said.
"I know. I'll try again." Shanelle took a deep breath, then spoke the words that would trigger the spell anew. "Timsez mekkitwerk!"
A sound came from somewhere inside the wardrobe. Hesitantly, Shanelle opened the door and reached in to pull out a gown.
It was a vivid chartreuse, an ankle-length sleeveless gown with a swooping low neckline and a single shoulder strap. The skirt was slit to mid-thigh on one side, and the slit was edged with silvery lace.
"I can't wear that!" Shanelle said, aghast.
"It's not your best color," Deyor said.
Shanelle threw her friend a dirty look, flung the dress aside, and shrieked, "Timsez mekkitwerk!"
This time she drew forth a pair of blue cotton breeches with heavily-stitched seams.
"All right, that's it," she said, glaring. "These aren't even... I mean, they're breeches! I'm a woman! And they have writing on them, on this little leather patch here -- who ever heard of such a thing?"
"They're ugly, but they look well-made," Deyor said, looking at the garment critically. "Perhaps your brother could wear them."
"My brother can get his own clothes! I paid fifteen rounds of gold for my wardrobe, not his." She slammed the wardrobe door, and snatched the chartreuse gown off the floor. "I'm going to go show that wizard what he sold me, and give him a piece of my mind," she said. "This is not what I ordered." She stamped away.
Deyor paused, watching Shanelle go; then she turned thoughtfully back to the wardrobe. She looked down at the dark blue breeches that Shanelle had left lying on the bed, then said quietly, "Timsez mekkitwerk." Then she cautiously opened the cabinet door.
Another tunic hung on one of the hooks. This one was shiny black, and actually looked quite presentable. Deyor carefully pulled it out and laid it on the bed. She did not recognize the fabric, and the cut was not quite like anything she had seen before, but it was quite striking. She left it on the bed while she closed the wardrobe again and whispered, "Timsez mekkitwerk."
Something rustled, and she pulled forth a fringed leather skirt that had been dyed a hideous shade of red. She set it on the bed beside the black tunic and blue breeches.
Shanelle, Deyor told herself, had not thought this through. There was no reason to keep throwing rejected garments back into the wardrobe, where they would vanish; the wizard had provided her with an endless supply of new clothes, and it seemed dreadfully wasteful to keep discarding them. True, most of them had been ghastly, but every so often it produced a winner, like that black tunic, and even with the ugly ones, they were free clothes. They could be sold, or dyed, or taken apart for their fabric, or simply used as rags. A person could make her living off a wardrobe like this.
Of course, Shanelle was above such petty concerns as earning a living; she had her father's money to play with. Guchi the Merchant owned almost half the ships sailing out of Ethshar of the Rocks. Deyor's family, though, was not so fortunate -- their pedigree went back to the Great War, when her seven-times-great grandfather had served as General Gor's quartermaster, but their wealth had dwindled over the centuries.
This piece of magical furniture might change all that, though.
"Timsez mekkitwerk," Deyor murmured. "Timsez mekkitwerk, Timsez mekkitwerk, Timsez mekkitwerk."
She had built a fair-sized pile on the bed when she was startled by Shanelle's voice calling, "Deyor! Aren't you coming?"
Deyor started. "Just a moment!" she answered. She looked around, but saw no alternative; she gathered up her various acquisitions and stuffed them back into the wardrobe, then turned and hurried down the stairs.
A moment later the two young women were trotting down the hill, crossing the East Road from Highside into Center City and making their way to Manolo the Blank's shop on Wizard Street.
Shanelle babbled as they walked, waving the hideous gown around, telling Deyor again how unacceptable the spell was, and how much she wanted to impress the still-unmarried Lord Wulran, because after all, the overlord wasn't actually required to marry a princess or another overlord's daughter, and wasn't Shanelle's own family suitably noble? Deyor said very little; she was trying to think how she might convince her wealthy friend to let her have the defective magical wardrobe. She certainly couldn't afford to pay fifteen gold rounds, but if Shanelle could somehow be made to discard it...
Then they were at Manolo's door, and Shanelle was ringing the bell, and Deyor had not thought of any way to get her hands on the wardrobe.
Manolo's apprentice Armani opened the door. "Yes?" she asked.
"We want to see the wizard," Shanelle told her.
"The wizard? But nobody can see the wizard just now."
"I have to see him!" Shanelle insisted.
"My orders are, nobody can see the great Manolo, not nobody, not no how."
Armani's shoulders sank. "He didn't tell me that."
"Where is he? In his workshop?"
"No, he's... I don't think I should tell you."
"He's out in the garden, isn't he?" Shanelle said. "Trying to animate that statue?"
"He... he might be," Armani admitted.
"Does he really think it's a woman someone petrified?"
"He says he does," Armani said, somewhat defensively.
"That statue is stark naked," Shanelle said. "Who would petrify someone when she was naked?"
Armani blinked. "I... I never thought about that. Maybe whoever petrified her did it from a distance and didn't know she was naked?"
"I think that statue was carved by someone from ordinary stone. Someone with a dirty mind."
"Or maybe smooth skin is easier to carve than clothing," Deyor suggested.
"Maybe," Shanelle said, clearly unconvinced. "He went into plenty of detail, though."
"My master thinks it's a real woman who got petrified," Armani said. "Turning her back would be a great kindness!"
"You think he's doing it out of kindness?" Shanelle asked.
"Yes, of course!" Armani replied.
"Does he have any clothes ready for her, if he succeeds?"
"Just show us to the garden," Shanelle said. "We won't interrupt his spell."
"He told me -- "
"We aren't leaving until I see him," Shanelle interrupted.
Armani gave in. "This way," she said. She swung the door wide to let the two visitors into the wizard's home, and led them through the passage from the front parlor to the back gate.
They emerged into the sunny garden behind the house, where a tall iron fence separated the property from the neighbors' courtyard, and a line of statuary stood in front of the fence. There were two life-sized marble statues of handsome young men and one of a bearded patriarch dressed in the styles of a century earlier; one of a full-grown dragon was nowhere near life-sized, or it wouldn't have fit in the rather small yard. A rather overpowering wooden carving appeared to represent the goddess Piskor somewhat larger than life -- or perhaps, for all Shanelle and Deyor knew, she really was nine feet tall.
At the far end of the row, beyond these and a handful of others, the wizard Manolo knelt before the next-to-last statue, a beautiful white marble female nude posed with one hand raised to her breast, fingers spread. The statue's expression was one of mild startlement, and the figure was, excluding its granite pedestal, an inch or two shorter than Shanelle.
The very last statue was of some mythological beast Shanelle and Deyor could not identify; it was vaguely catlike, but with exaggeratedly-muscular chest and forelegs, and narrow, underdeveloped hips. It had a mane of almost human-appearing hair around its face, intricately carved.
Manolo had set up a brazier between the beast and the woman, and a small cauldron hung above it, spewing forth a thick cloud of steam. Cones of incense were burning at the nude statue's feet, and an assortment of herbs and astonishingly-large feathers were elaborately arranged there, as well. The wizard's entire attention was focused on these items as he chanted something incomprehensible and waved a silver dagger through the air in intricate patterns.
Deyor held back, knowing it could be dangerous to interrupt a wizard at his work, but Shanelle strode across the garden, greenish gown in hand. "Hai!" she called. "Wizard!"
Manolo paid no attention as he plunged the blade of his knife into the pot of boiling water, then brought it up and flung several drops on the statue. "Pyrzqxgl!" he shouted.
There was a shimmer, and the air seemed to change color for an instant; then the statue's white surface began to melt away, revealing black hair and light brown skin.
"Ha!" Manolo exclaimed. "I told them it was too accurate for a mere carving!"
Deyor stared in amazement as the woman who had been a statue a moment before gradually returned to life, blinking in surprise and turning to look at her surroundings.
Shanelle, however, paid no attention as she stamped up to the wizard. "Hai!" she said, waving the gown. "I'm talking to you! Unhappy customer here!"
"What?" Manolo turned, startled, as he finally realized he was not alone in the garden -- or rather, that he and the former statue were not alone.
"That wardrobe you sold me!" Shanelle shouted. "Do you have any idea how hideous the stuff it's making is?"
The former statue turned to stare at the wizard and his angry customer. "Where am I?" she asked. "Who are you people?"
Manolo smiled at her, and bowed. "I am Manolo the Blank, master wizard," he said. "I have just reversed a petrifaction spell someone cast on you long ago."
"Wizard!" Shanelle demanded.
Annoyed, Manolo turned to her. "Could you wait for just a moment, please? I have just rescued this lovely woman from a fate worse than death, by means of a very dangerous eighth-order spell, and I would like to have a few words with her. I will attend to your complaint shortly."
"You'd better," Shanelle said. She glared at the naked woman. "Who are you, anyway, and who turned you to stone?"
"My name is Vweeton," she said. "I assume it was the wizard Ballensyagga who petrified me -- he objected to having to compete with a witch for business."
Shanelle looked dubious. "What kind of a name is Vweeton?" she demanded. She turned to Manolo. "You know, I don't think she was petrified at all; I think your magic brought a real statue to life."
"Oh, no," Manolo said. "Javan's Restorative won't do that. Here, look." He dipped the dagger in the pot again and flung a few drops at the beast statue. "Pyrzqxgl," he said.
The air flickered, and the white surface began to dissolve, revealing tawny fur; Manolo's mouth fell open in astonishment. "But it can't!" he said. "That's an imaginary monster!"
"What, the lion?" Vweeton said, stepping down from her pedestal. "No, it's not imaginary; why would you think that?" She walked toward the emerging beast and reached out a calming hand. "You might want to find some way to restrain him, though. I can keep him happy with my witchcraft for awhile, but I'm eventually going to get tired, and he's going to get hungry, and yes, he'll happily eat people."
"Augh!" Manolo said, backing away.
"You might also find me some clothes," the witch said, as she petted the lion's head. "I suppose Ballensyagga caught me in my bath -- at least, the last thing I remember is hearing a noise as I got out of the tub."
Manolo looked around and saw the gown draped on Shanelle's arm. "What's that?" he asked.
"That," Shanelle said, "is why I'm here. It's hideous! Your magic wardrobe is turning out the ugliest clothes I've ever seen!"
"It's still better than nothing," Vweeton said. "Toss it here."
Shanelle obeyed. "Go ahead and put it on, if you want," she said, "but don't blame me if you look like a clown."
Vweeton stepped away from the lion and untangled the dress, then pulled it over her head, tugged it down, and settled it on her hips. She looked down at it critically.
Shanelle, Deyor, Armani, and Manolo stared. The chartreuse that had looked so ghastly in Shanelle's bedroom went surprisingly well with the witch's brown skin, and the absurd single shoulder was oddly fetching.
"You know," Deyor said, after a long moment of silence, "on you, it looks good."
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