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Author Topic: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three  (Read 4433 times)

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Offline Evie

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Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« on: May 09, 2011, 09:37:44 am »
   Chapter Three

   May 6, 1134
   Market Square, City of Rhemuth


   I stared, bewildered, at the sempstress as she asked me a baffling series of questions.  “Shall I make all the chemises out of linen, or will your daughter be requiring something finer like cotton for more formal occasions?  And do you want whitework or blackwork on her coifs, or shall I leave them plain?  And do you want her overgowns looser so they'll grow with her, or shall I make more fitted bliauts with adjustable lacing?  I trust you'll want to add a few linen or cotton gowns to your order, not just wool—that would be rather hot in summer....”  The woman frowned up at me as if convinced that I was an imbecile.  Or perhaps I was merely an interloper in her world of female fripperies.  Perhaps there was some unwritten law that fathers should not shop for their daughters.  If so, I'd have been all too pleased to enter into the world of law-abiding fathers, but Seisyll had made it quite clear to his wife that she was not to continue clothing my daughter for me, but that I was to get on with the job of learning how to look out for her needs myself.

   He had not, unfortunately, suggested to Sophie that I might need a translation manual.

   “I...ah....”  I looked helplessly down at Amanda, who looked as baffled as I was.  “What would you like?” I asked.

   She added her own miniature 'you're an idiot' look to the sempstress's.  “Clean clothes that fit right,” she informed me.

   “Well...all right.  I think we can manage that.”  My eyes roamed the fabric selections again, searching for something to cling to in desperation.  “What about that fabric?” I asked, pointing to something shimmery that caught my eye.  “It's pretty.”

   The sempstress looked horrified.  “Oh, not for a child, surely!  She'll get it dirty the first day, and it's very hard to get stains out of that.  Unless you meant for it to be for a very special occasion, like Twelfth Night?”

   I nodded quickly, hoping she'd think I’d meant that all along and that I was not completely hopeless.  “Yes, of course.  Something suitable for the occasional...ah...Court or something.”

   She eyed Amanda dubiously.  I could tell she was thinking it was unlikely Amanda would be presentable for a Royal Court anytime soon.  “My brother's court, that is,” I said, casually resting my hand on my belt next to my coin pouch.  Hopefully she'd assume my brother was somewhat higher in the nobility than he actually was.

   Then again, if she did, would her prices go up accordingly?  I discreetly withdrew my hand, clasping it with the other behind my back.  “If you were garbing a daughter, what would you order for her?”  

   “I suppose that would all depend on what my daughter's particular needs were that season,” she supplied unhelpfully, her chin going up just a tad.  I could see the challenge in her eyes.  Jesú, did she think this was some bizarre game of mental cardounet?  If so, I suspected I was back on the losing side again.

   A quiet chuckle came from behind me, and a low, musical voice intervened.  “Mistress Margot, for shame!   Stop acting like a cat who’s found a mouse to toy with; the poor man is clearly out of his element here.”  

   I turned to smile gratefully at the speaker.  The attempt at a smile nearly turned into a gape before I recovered my senses.  I had no idea who the woman was, but she was stunning.  Warm brown eyes framed by rich chestnut waves tucked under a neat fillet and barbette twinkled their amusement at me.  Most likely a married lady, then.  She appeared to be in her twenties, and surely such a beautiful young woman would have had several offers long before she’d left her teen years, unless she had some impediment.  A quick glance at her clothing assured me that if she did, it was not likely to be poverty.  Her garments were far from ostentatious, but they were of fine quality.

   “Sir Sextus Arilan, I believe, are you not?”

   “I…indeed I am, my lady!”  I still could not place her face, but if she knew my name, we’d surely met at least once before.  Had I…?  No, definitely not!  I would have remembered if I’d ever bedded this woman!  I’d even have asked for her name first.   

   My second quick study of her only confirmed my first impression.  She was noble-born, so unquestionably not dalliance material.  

   The lady’s smile grew, revealing perfect teeth.  “You don’t remember me, do you?”  She laughed.  “Don’t worry about it; we only met the one time, and it was years ago.  You hadn’t even been knighted yet.”  She turned her smiling gaze downwards.  “And who is this?”

   I belatedly remembered where I was, and why.  “Ah…may I present my daughter, Amanda?”  I placed a hand on my daughter’s shoulder, nudging it downward slightly in what I hoped was a subtle enough reminder for her to curtsey.  She glared at me momentarily before remembering what that gesture was supposed to mean, and bobbed obligingly if somewhat awkwardly.

   “Well met, Amanda,” the baroness responded with a gracious nod of her head.  “I’m the Baroness of Kinlochan.  My eldest son is close to your age, I think; perhaps a little younger.”  She turned her attention back to me.  “I didn’t realize you had a daughter.”

   My cheeks warmed.  I briefly considered inventing some face-saving story about a mad wife stashed away in the family undercroft, but if that got back to Seisyll or—worse—the King, that would be even more embarrassing.  “I didn’t either until last month.”  Ah, well.  News of my baseborn daughter would be the gossip du jour among the Rhemuth Castle ladies for the next month, doubtless, but it was bound to get out sometime.

   That quiet chuckle again.  “I see.  No wonder my father warned me about you!  Well, you’re clearly a fish out of water in here; would you like a bit of help in picking out Amanda’s wardrobe?”

   I took her up on the offer most gratefully.

#

   By the end of the hour, we had put together a suitable collection of clothing sufficient to see my daughter through to the following spring at the very least, depending on how much she grew over the course of the coming year.  The Baroness suggested leaving the hems of the winter gowns only lightly basted for now, saying that the hems could be stitched up more permanently once the seasons turned, for Amanda was likely to grow another inch or two before then and might need the hems let down a bit.  I went along with her judgment, since I knew nothing about such matters.  I’d always thought basting was something one did to meat, not to hems.

   It was early afternoon by the time we had finished our shopping, and none of us had eaten since breaking our fasts at the beginning of the day.  I paid for the purchases up front, not daring to have the bill sent back to Tre-Arilan for fear Seisyll would assume I'd meant the charges to go to him.  No need to get him wound up all over again!  The Baroness invited us to join her for a meal.  I surreptitiously checked my pouch to make sure I had enough coin left over.  It was far from fat, but the feel of a few spare pence within assured me we could enjoy a meal or even two on the town before returning home.  I was glad.  Not just because I didn't want to come across as impoverished before this stunning specimen of womanhood; I also wanted to spend a bit more time drinking in the sight of her, hopefully getting to the bottom of the mystery of how she knew me.  An afternoon meal in public seemed a safe enough venue for getting better acquainted with a lovely lady so far beyond my reach, especially one chaperoned by my far too worldly seven-year-old.

   “The Gold Lion Inn usually has good fare,” I mentioned as we strolled through Market Square together.  “It’s just up ahead, across from Saint Bart’s.”

   “Oh, aye, it does; I’ve had a meal or two there before.  But if you don’t mind walking just a little further, I can provide better.”  She smiled.  “And without cost to your purse.”

   Who was I to argue?  I let her lead the way.

#

   We arrived at a modest but well appointed home just about a quarter of a mile southeast of Market Square, not too far beyond the road that led up to Rhemuth Castle.  An elderly man let us in, bowing his obeisance to his lady as we entered.  She smiled up at him.  “Piers, this is Sir Sextus Arilan and his daughter Amanda.  We’ll be dining in the courtyard, if you could please have something brought out for us?”

   “Of course, my lady.”  The old retainer bowed yet again, leaving us in the Hall.  I studied the arms above the mantel.  They looked familiar.  I tried to visualize the Baron associated with that shield device, but his face didn’t come to mind.

   “My husband was Baron Edgar Moreau,” the Baroness supplied.  I turned to face her again.  “This way.”  She smiled down at Amanda.  “My sons are probably playing outside with their nurse, as is their habit this time of day.  They’ll enjoy having a playmate.”

   I was glad her back was turned to us as we followed her to the courtyard.  While the baronial arms had sparked no memories, Baron Edgar’s name did.  I remembered him—vaguely—as an older gentleman, balding and somewhat portly, with a keen enough intellect but few of the other attributes likely to stir the heart of a young maiden to thoughts of love.  Had she been given to him in an arranged match, then?  Surely she must have been; that was the norm, after all, but it was doubtful that fond affection had played much of a role in her betrothal to the man.  Had she learned to love him after the match had been made?

   It was none of my business, I knew, but still, the late Baron of Kinlochan had been at least thrice his wife’s age, at best guess.  The baroness’s parents must have considered the match a quite brilliant one, to have considered it for her.  Wealth and title could certainly buy youth and beauty in a wife, it would seem.

   The Baroness opened a door, ushering us into a courtyard garden.  Lush blooms surrounded the periphery, the fragrance of climbing roses wafting through the air.  On the other side of a small courtyard, two boys looked up from their play.  They beamed at their mother, who waved them over with a laugh, hugging both somewhat gingerly, since they were quite dirt-stained from their outdoor play.  Their nurse followed close behind, admonishing them quietly not to be too exuberant in their welcome until both had had a chance to wash up.

   “Aldwyn, Taggert, this young lady is Amanda.  Please make her feel welcome.  Moira, have they dined yet?”  I glanced at my daughter as the Baroness spoke.  She looked startled, momentarily looking around for the young lady in question before realizing it was herself.

   “Not yet, m’lady; I was about to bring them in, though.”

   “No need; just have them freshen up and ask Piers if he can set up a separate table for the children, if you please.  I have an offer of business I wish to discuss with Sir Sextus.”  I was surprised to hear this; it was the first hint she’d made of such an offer.  “If you'd like to have a rest from the boys while they eat, you may.  I'll bring them back to the nursery once we're done here.”

   “Aye, m’lady.”

#

   We watched the children at their meal as we sat across the courtyard from them.  To my profound relief, Amanda didn’t disgrace herself too badly; apparently a month in my sister-in-law’s influence was beginning to have some effect on her deportment.  My heart leaped into my throat for a brief moment as she began to lift the edge of the tablecloth to wipe her mouth once, but she remembered in time and dropped it to reach for a napkin instead.  I began breathing again and turned my attention back to what the Baroness was saying.

   “Have you remembered our first meeting yet?” she asked, a slight smile tugging at her lips.

   I brought my wine cup to my lips, stalling for time.  It was a fine vintage, not a Fianna, but close enough in quality.  I sipped at it appreciatively.  “I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t, my lady.  I rarely forget a face, so I confess myself quite baffled.”

   She laughed.  “It would have been a little over ten years ago.  You were still a squire, as I recall.”  She grinned as I continued trying to dredge up the memory.  “Do you recall the King asking you to give a knight’s family a tour of Rhemuth Castle?  It would have been in late November.  We had just arrived for Christmas Court, and it was my first visit to Rhemuth.  I was just fourteen at the time, barely come into womanhood, and Father thought it was time I should be presented at Court to make the acquaintance of suitable men in hopes of finding a husband for me.”

   A visit to Rhemuth ten years ago?  I suppressed a chuckle.  Probably in hopes of her catching Kelson’s eye, I thought.  Fathers and their daughters had turned out in droves in those days, each fond father hoping his own lovely maiden would turn the young King’s head enough to be chosen as the future Queen of Gwynedd, despite the long odds against most such potential matches.  Kelson had been hard pressed to play the gracious host to them all while ignoring them equally as politely as he could.  I had taken several such families on castle tours, as had Seisyll and doubtless every other squire and knight in service to the Haldane Court who happened to be at hand when lords and ladies with unwed daughters first arrived at Rhemuth Castle.

   “I gave several such tours, I’m afraid, my lady.”

   The Baroness simply smiled and took another dainty bite of her meat pie, chewing it slowly as she studied me.  After a short while, she added, “My name was Avisa Taggert back then.  Try to recall a tall, gangly, mostly silent chit who towered above her mother by a head and was making doe eyes at you the entire tour, probably not nearly as discreetly as I’d hoped.”  The brown eyes facing me danced with laughter.

   Wait…something about those eyes sparked a memory.  I stared at her in disbelief.  “Wait a moment…. I might remember….”  No, it couldn’t be!  For a brief moment, I had a flash of recollection of a gawky, hopelessly awkward young innocent being led to the slaughter—or so one might have imagined as she was presented to the young King in Court that November afternoon—and the strained but mercifully brief exchange of words between gracious King and nervous maiden before duty was satisfied and Kelson handed mother and daughter off to me with a barely masked look of relief on his face.  But this couldn’t be the same woman, for that maiden I had escorted around Rhemuth Castle ten years ago had been….  “Um…were you somewhat tall for a young maiden and rather on the…ah...slender side?”

   The Baroness laughed again.  “If by that you mean was I scrawny and gangly, with a figure like a freshly-planed board, an unfortunate complexion, and hopelessly shy and awkward, yes, that would have been me.”

   “Um.  Well.  You’ve…changed a bit.”

   The eyes danced over her goblet.  “So have you…though not quite as much, I’ll admit.”

   I felt my cheeks warm slightly.  “So.  You did manage to land a husband after all, I take it?”

   She took a sip of her wine.  “Eventually.  Once I reached my full growth and stopped looking like a homely lad with long braids.  Edgar offered for me at Twelfth Night of 1126.  We married the following June.”

   Ah yes, January of 1126, a fateful month.  While the young Baroness-to-be was still admiring her new betrothal ring, I’d been getting soused and swived in Nyford.  I glanced across at the children’s table.  Amanda was just polishing off her meal and, from the looks of it, half of little Taggert’s as well.  I hoped the extra portion had been voluntarily offered.

   “Well, you seem to have done quite well for yourself,” I said, glancing around at her comfortable surroundings.  

   She shrugged.  “I can't complain.  Edgar was kind, indulgent even, and at least I was able to give him the heir and spare he so dearly wanted for Kinlochan.”  The light in her eyes dimmed slightly as she looked across the garden at the children.  “We had a daughter as well—our firstborn—but she died before she drew breath.  I'd hoped for another chance at one, but unfortunately my husband died on me.”  She returned her attention to me with a wry smile.  “Ah, well.  The fortunes of life.”

   “I'm sorry.  Was your husband ill for very long?”

   A corner of her lips twitched slightly.  She dropped her gaze demurely, her cheeks turning slightly rosy.  “Well, no, we were literally trying for a daughter when he died on me.  A heart seizure, his physician said.  I'm told he felt no pain.”

   If she'd meant what I thought she did, doubtless he hadn't.  What a way to go; the man had probably died smiling!  I looked away from the Baron's fetching young widow, trying to banish the image that had just flitted through my head.  What the hell could I say in response to that revelation?

   “You're young yet, my lady.  You could still remarry.  I can't imagine you not receiving other offers.”  Even as a Dowager Baroness holding her late husband's land in her son's stead until he could gain the age of majority, she'd have no lack of suitors for her hand, I was certain.  If her Rhemuth home was anything to go by, Baron Edgar had left his widow well provided for.  And even if he hadn't, she certainly had no lack of other attractions.

   She laughed again, the merry light returning to her eyes.  “Now, why would I want to do that?  I quite like my independence, thank you!  Though that does bring me around to my reason for inviting you here.”  The baroness grinned.  “I didn't ask you over just so I could gawk at you again, delightful as that is, or to feed your skinny little offspring.  Mercy, Sir Sextus, she's like a plucked squab!  Where did all that food go; does she have a hollow leg?”
  
   I turned to glance at Amanda.  To my horror, she was finishing off the rest of Aldwyn's meal.  I opened my mouth to call out a reprimand, but the Baroness touched my arm, catching my eye and shaking her head.  “No, it's quite all right, let it go.”  Her eyes softened as she watched Amanda lick the last crumbs of pastry off her fingers.  “Where was she living before she came to live with you?”

   I sighed.  “At a tavern in Nyford.  Her mother was...neglectful.  I apologize for her lack of manners; I've only had her a few weeks....”

   “So I gathered.”  Her eyes were warm with sympathy.  “A bit difficult for you, I would imagine, having to adjust to fatherhood all at once?  Most men get a few months to warm up to the idea, after all.  How much warning did you have?”

   “Hm.”  I pondered the question.  “You mean between 'She's your daughter' and 'Get out and take her with you, you sorry git?'  About that long.”

   “I'm sorry.  How did your brother react to you bringing home an unexpected niece?”

   I stared at her, startled.  “How do you know so much about me, my lady?”

   The amused light gleamed in her eyes once again.  “Forgive me, Sir Sextus, but you were my one and only raging case of calf love as a young maiden.  I...may have made a few inquiries, back in the day.”

   My face grew hot.  I gave a self-conscious laugh.  “I'm flattered, my lady.”  I glanced back at the playing children, regathering my composure.  “So.  Seisyll.  He was...um...less than amused.  He thinks me a bit of a wastrel anyway, and...well....”  I flipped my hand palm-upwards towards my daughter.  

   “So prove him wrong.”  The baroness gave me a faintly challenging smile.  “I have a proposition for you, Sir Sextus.”

   I stared back at her.  “What...sort of proposition, my lady?”

   Her eyes danced up at me.  “Don't worry, your virtue—such as it is—is quite safe.”

   Damn.

   “It's a business offer, Sir Sextus.  I'm in need of a steward, someone who can manage my properties.  I currently have three stewards—one in charge of my son's Kinlochan estate management, one in charge of the domestic household there, and Piers, whom you met earlier.  He manages my Rhemuth holdings.  He's aging, though, and would like to retire to Kinlochan soon to spend his remaining years with his family.  I would prefer to hire a man who would also be able to act as my amanuensis when I'm in residence—do you write with a neat hand?”

   I blinked at the unexpected question.  “It's neat enough.  I'm no professional scribe, but I write with a clear hand.  But if I may ask, my lady, why me?”

   She shrugged.  “Why not you?  I'll confess I didn't have anyone specifically in mind to ask until I happened to see you this morning.  I'd planned to ask the King if he could provide a recommendation, since Kinlochan is in his duchy after all.  But the King's quite a busy man—it might be days before I could secure a private audience—and I'll wager you've had some practice in managing your brother's lands in his absences, haven't you?”

   “Well...yes.”

   “If you were to accept my offer, I'd want for you to train both here and at Kinlochan.  My barony isn't very far out from Rhemuth.  It's about half a day's ride for me, but that's by coach, traveling with young children.  Faster, if one rides unencumbered.”

   I glanced at my daughter, who was making her new playmates giggle, though I couldn't quite tell how at this distance.  I had to admit, the job offer was tempting.  A steward's position would surely pay more than I was receiving from Seisyll.

   There was, however, one possible impediment.  “I have the occasional mission in the King's service that might call me away for periods of time, my lady.  Generally not long absences, but I might not always be able to guarantee that.  Would that be a problem?”

   “Of course not.”  She smiled.  “I'm in fealty to His Majesty as well for my son's lands.  He's my overlord as the Duke of Haldane as well as, obviously, the King of Gwynedd.  I quite understand that your oath to him comes first.”  She paused, studying me.  “How does seven and a half sovereigns per quarter sound?  The office would also come with two changes of clothing in household colors, and obviously room and board for you and Amanda.”

   I stared at her, slightly dazed.  It sounded like a bloody fortune!  Well, perhaps not technically so, though it was quite a generous wage nonetheless.  She'd just offered me eight sovereigns more per annum than Seisyll ever had.  I could support a daughter quite well on those wages, with enough left over to provide a decent dowry for her in a few years.  I could even, were I so inclined, hope to afford a wife.  Not that I was so inclined; like the Dowager Baroness of Kinlochan, I greatly valued my freedom.

   “It...sounds very much like me accepting, my lady!  Might I have a fortnight to get my other affairs in order first?”  

   “Of course.”


Chapter Four: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=716.0
« Last Edit: May 16, 2011, 09:12:26 am by Evie »
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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Offline Elkhound

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2011, 10:31:00 am »
Nicely done!

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2011, 10:42:03 am »
That was an unexpected turn of events, with all kinds of intriguing possibilities!  I'm curious to see how Seisyll reacts to his brother's change in fortune.  The new situation will also provide a more neutral environment for Amanda to grow up in.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

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Offline AnnieUK

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2011, 12:50:19 pm »
...but since this is an Evie fic, I can't see this entirely going according to plan...

Offline Evie

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2011, 01:00:40 pm »
ROFL!  It's not even going according to my original plan; why would it go according to anyone else's?   :D
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Offline Alkari

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2011, 04:12:14 pm »
Quote
  Her eyes danced up at me.  “Don't worry, your virtue—such as it is—is quite safe.”

   Damn.

ROFL.   An unexpected daughter, but our dear Sextus still hasn't managed to relocate his brain  :D   Ah, silly me - the man's still breathing, so we can't expect miracles ;)

Offline derynifanatic64

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2011, 06:11:32 pm »
I'm sure that all Sextus heard while talking to the seamstress was "Blah, blah, blah, blah...blah, blah."  At least he got rescued.  I have a feeling that Amanda is probably teaching her new friends some naughty words that she has learned before she met her father.
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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2011, 06:59:43 pm »
I doubt Sextus is about to become the Christian Dior of Gwynedd, somehow.  :) The only time he'd notice a woman's clothes would be when she was shedding them.  And that seamstress might as well have been talking to him in Sanskrit. Loved the 'I thought basting was for roast meat, not gowns' observation.

Sextus may not be thinking of marriage-yet--but I'm bettting the Baroness has other ideas. Since she's dealing with Sextus, it's a good thing she  has a sense of humor about both herself and him.  And she can certainly afford a  husband, even if Sextus can't afford a wife. Somehow, I doubt it was an accident that she turned up at the Sempstress's shop just then.  Poor guy was trying soo hard to place her. After Nyford it's understandable. He doesn't want to be landed with a whole brood, I'll bet.  ;D

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #8 on: May 09, 2011, 09:53:43 pm »
This gets better with each chapter! poor Sextus, trying to shop for a girl -child, I could "see" the confusion on his face. LOL
Can't wait for the next chapter.

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #9 on: May 09, 2011, 10:49:39 pm »
How can one expect a mere man--especially as undomesticated one as Sextus--to understand how to dress a little girl?  In our day of ready-to-wear you can say, "One on, one off, one in the wash" for everything, with one or two Sunday-Go-to-Mass outfits, but back when everything was bespoke?

Offline Evie

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #10 on: May 10, 2011, 08:55:53 am »
Heh.  You just won serious points with me for even knowing the word "bespoke."   :D  (I know it's still in common, or at least fairly regular, use on the other side of the ocean, but in my neck of the woods I grew up hearing such clothing referred to as "tailor-made" or "custom-made," if people spoke of made-to-order clothing at all.  It wasn't until I joined a steampunk forum a few years ago that I ran into the word being used as part of the regular vocabulary of that online community and gleefully added it to my word-hoard.)
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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #11 on: May 10, 2011, 09:49:29 am »
Major in Classical & Romance Languages; minor in Linguistics; Librarian---I'm a word nerd!

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #12 on: May 11, 2011, 02:24:30 am »
Heh.  You just won serious points with me for even knowing the word "bespoke."   :D  (I know it's still in common, or at least fairly regular, use on the other side of the ocean, but in my neck of the woods I grew up hearing such clothing referred to as "tailor-made" or "custom-made," if people spoke of made-to-order clothing at all.  It wasn't until I joined a steampunk forum a few years ago that I ran into the word being used as part of the regular vocabulary of that online community and gleefully added it to my word-hoard.)

Yup, we still refer to "bespoke tailors" over this side of the puddle.

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Re: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Three
« Reply #13 on: May 11, 2011, 05:06:46 am »
And the term is even known Down Under :D


 

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