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But the word dressed stops me cold. I’m still wearing the robe from yesterday, and I don’t own a stitch of clothing. I’ve spent an entire night in bed watching the waves, and I don’t even know if I have a wardrobe.
‘Adelice.’ Enora says my name in a forceful but gentle tone. ‘Sit down and relax. Breakfast will be delivered soon. I’m here to discuss everything with you.’
I’m rooted to the spot, still embarrassed at my total ignorance.
‘Including your clothes,’ she assures me, as though she knows exactly what I’m thinking. I sit down, as instructed, on a large cushion in the middle of the room. Moments later heaped trays of food appear, wafting buttery, salty smells around us. The server lays out the food and plates on the small tables dotting the large space around the fireplace. My guest smiles and takes a seat in one of the few actual chairs the room offers while the server stokes the dying embers in my hearth and adds fresh wood.
‘You must have a million questions,’ Enora begins warmly.
I nod, painfully aware of the gnawing growl of my stomach. Nerves and hunger – not a good combination.
‘You’re hungry,’ she points out, obviously attuned to the slight shake of my hands. ‘You eat, and I’ll talk. You can ask questions when you’re done.’
There is something easy and genuine about her. I get the sense that she, unlike Maela, can be trusted. I feel comfortable enough to slowly, and as politely as possible, begin shoving food in my mouth.
‘I will be your mentor while you train to spin. I am a Guild-appointed Spinster and I assist the Creweler. I’m here to answer questions, provide advice, and offer moral support. Your first few years in the Coventry may require some . . . transition.’ I can hear how carefully she chooses this word, but unlike the other Spinster, whose saccharine speech belied venom, this woman’s intentions are clear. She’s trying not to frighten me.
‘What’s a Creweler?’ The question is out of my mouth before I swallow, and despite her kind smile I’m ashamed of my crass behaviour.
‘In a moment. We have more pressing issues to discuss.’
As if on cue the door to my apartment swings open and several plainly dressed young girls roll large racks of wildly coloured textiles into the entryway.
‘Thank you.’ Enora holds out a small card and one of the girls swiftly retrieves it with a curtsy. They are gone as quickly as they appeared.
‘Your aestheticians sent your measurements to the mill last night and this is the start of your wardrobe,’ she tells me, busily plucking through the hangers and pulling out a brilliant green dress and a charcoal suit. I hear her murmur something like ‘lovely’ to herself.
‘I know we have a dress code, but is there a reason I have to get so decked out?’ I ask as she pulls another satin evening gown from the rack.
‘Aren’t they beautiful?’ she asks with her back to me.
‘Yes.’ And it’s the truth. ‘But where am I going to wear this?’ I hold up a slinky grey dress. I’ve always understood why career women need to dress neatly for their bosses – my mother sported suits with gold buttons and pressed lapels to the office daily – but I can’t imagine weaving in an evening gown.
‘It’s one of the perks. Every girl attends her share of Guild dinner parties and then of course there’re the Bulletin reports. You’ll have occasion to wear them, but nothing this extravagant for everyday weaving,’ Enora assures me. ‘Sometimes the Guild calls girls who are very talented but lack the finesse necessary to work on the looms. It would be wasteful to put them to work in the quarters or in the kitchen, so they go to work as our seamstresses.’
‘What if I don’t want to wear things like this?’ I try to keep the challenge out of my voice, but it slips through anyway.
Enora stares at me, not blinking, before she answers, ‘Would you waste these girls’ talents?’
‘Why not send them home?’ I immediately wish I could take the question back as her eyes flash to me and then to the garment rack.
‘No one goes home,’ she responds evenly, but there’s an edge to her voice and her fingers tremble as they weed through my new wardrobe.
‘I guess I knew that.’
‘That won’t be an issue for you,’ she chirps, clearly trying to lighten the mood. ‘You should know that whatever you say to me stays between us.’
This strikes me as exactly the kind of thing you say when you’re a spy, but my gut wants to believe her, so I merely nod.
‘Good.’ Enora saunters over to sit on the cushion next to mine and lowers her voice. ‘What I saw you doing, Adelice – weaving without a loom. Have you done that before?’
It takes a moment to realise she is referring to the storm earlier. ‘Yes. Not often, though.’
‘And you don’t need any instruments?’ she presses, her voice the hint of a whisper.
‘No.’ I’m confused, but I whisper along with her. ‘I’ve always been able to do it that way. But the windows aren’t real . . .’
She nods conspiratorially.
‘Of course not. Glass is breakable, and the Guild wants the Spinsters kept secure. It’s basically a large screen created to look like a window. There’s a special programme coded to run scenic views throughout the compound. There are no real windows. Nearly every wall here is a giant screen programmed to specific images. We have seasons and everything. Most girls never notice it’s a programme.’