by Roderick D. Turner
"He says he has a particular skill with silks, my lady."
Lady Evelyn scowled at her maidservant, twisting her long unruly
curls as was her habit when irritated. "He has a skill with
persistence, that I'll allow," she said. "Where is this annoying pest?"
"I've left him in the arbors, my lady." Her maidservant curtseyed
low, shrinking from her mistress's displeasure. "He insisted on viewing
the formal gardens."
Evelyn snorted, pulled her bulky body upright, and strode from the
room. "I expect my luncheon on the table when I return," she called
over her shoulder.
The gardens of Hosmith Hall were vast and varied. It took her a
full ten minutes to find him, squatting beside the winter roses, nose
buried in a bud.
"What is the meaning of this audacity?" she bellowed. Evelyn swept
down the cobbled path, her day gown trailing like a poorly tined rake.
Dust and small leaves scattered in her wake. She stopped only feet from
him, hands firmly on ample hips, her glare fiery enough to set the bush
The object of her attention, already low to the ground, dropped
still further and hid his face in her hems. "Your pardon, my lady." The
words were muffled, almost lost in the thick material. "How may I make
it up to you?"
"Get off your knees, you irritating little man." Evelyn shook him
free of her skirts and stepped back to where he couldn't reach her
without first rising to his feet. "My maidservant has badgered me all
morning with your whinings. Have your say and be done with it!"
The man rose to one knee, but kept his gaze down at her feet. He was
indeed small, perhaps only five feet three, with close-cropped black
hair and a slight build. His hands, clasped in front of him as he
knelt, were long-fingered and delicate. "I am honored that you took the
time to see me, Lady Evelyn," he said. "I am your humble servant."
"Humble is hardly the word," Evelyn replied. She waved a chubby hand
at him. "Rise, you fool. Let me see your face." She watched as he
straightened to stand before her. He was garbed as a peasant and had a
distinctly mousey appearance, a nervous tick in his face causing his
mouth to pucker and twitch. She could almost see the whiskers. "Now,
what is it you want?" she asked.
"Begging my lady's pardon, but has she seen the blue roses?" The man
pointed to the bed he had been busy with. "They mirror my lady's beauty
and grace. A poor imitation, but nature brings forth their flower for
such a short time, it is a pity to miss it. Would you not say so, my
Evelyn snorted, not quite sure of the compliment. There was an
insult buried in the words somewhere, she was sure. She glanced at the
roses, a pale blue with darker fringing, delicate and pure.
"Has my lady smelled the roses?" He beckoned, holding a hand to her
in invitation. She took it, bent with effort to inhale the fragrance.
"Enchanting, is it not? Yet, were one able to capture the living
essence of the rose, it would be but a pale shadow of your own wondrous
Evelyn stood and looked at him, the scowl she had intended replaced
by a shy smile. Almost against her will, she nodded in gracious
appreciation. "What might your name be?" she asked.
The man bowed low. "Fessington. John. At my lady's service."
She seized him by the arm and pulled him upright, drawing him down
the path in the direction of the summer garden. "Walk with me," she
said. "Tell me of your skills."
John Fessington fell into step beside her, his short legs moving
rapidly to keep pace with her longer stride. "I have already explored
your summer garden, my lady," he said. "The waterfall shimmers and
shines blue in the sun, yet I have seen none lovelier than the sparkle
of your own eyes."
"You have a good command of your wits, Fessington," Evelyn replied.
"But I know you are after something." She glanced down at her bulging
body under its flowing gowns, then turned raised eyebrows towards him.
"I hardly think it is my body." She steered him along the path towards
the waterfalls and the pond. The path wound around the lawns, through
beds of colorful annuals and a copse of rhododendrons in full flower.
The sound of the waterfall filled the air, warm in the bright sunshine.
"Still, it is a magnificent garden."
"Indeed," Fessington replied. "Yet, like yourself, it requires
delicate care to keep it radiant." His smile was disarming, despite the
twitching at his mouth. "That is my gift, Lady Evelyn. I am skilled at
the craft of maintaining womanly beauty." He gave a tiny shrug. "In
your case, my work would be of little consequence. One can hardly
improve on perfection."
Evelyn found herself smiling again, captivated by the man's
unexpected charm. "Have you examples of your work?" she asked. "You
must know, a woman does not trust her appearance to just anyone."
Fessington smiled again. "Your maidservant Sally has graciously
agreed to act as a model, my lady. Of course, I would be pleased to
demonstrate my skill with any other subject you should select."
Sally was a plain young woman given a little to fat, with plump
fingers and dry, wispy brown hair. "You have my leave to exercise your
charms on Sally. She can provide you with whatever cosmetic items you
require, and you may tell her I have assented to the treatment." She
shot him a sly look. "Use anything from my wardrobe that you wish. If
you can make that girl any less homely, I will hire you on the spot."
Three hours later there was a timid knock at the door of Evelyn's
sun room. She was sprawled across a day bed, gazing out at the gardens
and dreaming of how she would stun the court with her new look. "Yes,
what is it?" she called.
"If it please you, my lady. Fessington would have you see how I look."
Sally's voice was soft to begin with, but this was as frightened a
whisper as Evelyn had ever heard. Lord only knew what the girl must
look like. She pulled herself upright, grumbling at the way her body
heaved and rolled. If only this little man could actually do something,
and wasn't just full of bluster like all the rest. "Come in," she said.
The door swung open slowly, and Evelyn gasped. Sally stood in the
doorway, cowering as though she expected to be struck. Yet the girl
"God's above," Evelyn breathed.
Fessington appeared from behind Sally, tugging her forward by one satin-draped arm. "My lady likes what she sees?"
The girl was the very embodiment of loveliness. Every curve, every
color, every scent awoke desperate feelings of awe, envy, enchantment.
Her hair was a cascade of gentle brown curls, flowing down across her
bare right shoulder. Pale yellow silks swirled about her, draping her
body just so, emphasizing here and smoothing out there. Why, the man
had transformed her from a rumpled lump to a radiant princess.
"It's--a miracle," Evelyn said at last.
Sally was suddenly all smiles and airs, curtseying and twirling,
floating across the room as though her feet did not touch the floor.
"Isn't it wonderful, my lady?" she said. "I've never felt so beautiful.
John--I mean, Fessington has the touch, Lady Evelyn. If he can do this
for me, just imagine--" she paused, a stricken expression on her face,
"I mean, I'm sure he could--"
Evelyn smiled, a dreamy smile full of hopes and visions. "I know
what you mean, Sally." She got to her feet, walked over and touched her
gently on the shoulder. "You look fit for a prince." The girl looked up
at her with huge, fearful eyes. "Take the rest of the day off, for
yourself. Show everyone." Evelyn traced the shape of her arm, running
her hand down across the silk to rest on her hand. "You may keep the
Sally's eyes filled with tears and she curtseyed so low Evelyn
thought she would collapse on the floor. Then she backed out of the
room, her gaze ever downwards, while Evelyn shook her head and smiled.
When the door had closed behind her, Evelyn turned to Fessington.
"How did you do it?" She could not keep the wonder from her words.
"It is a gift, my lady," he said. "I have practiced and honed my
skills in a dozen different lands, so that I may draw upon the
techniques of the masters in the performance of my art." He bowed. "I
would be pleased to assist you in discovering your own hidden charms."
"You can start by getting me ready for tonight. My husband is away
on a hunt, and I am expected at court. There is to be a royal feast."
She paused, a quizzical expression on her jowly face. "Why me,
Fessington? Of all the ladies in the land, why did you choose me?"
Fessington straightened. "My lady?"
"Your skill, your art as you call it, must work equally well on all women. Yet you came here, to my estate."
"I follow my feet, my lady. They lead me where they will. It was
fate, nothing more, that led me to your door this day. I pray that you
will be satisfied with the service I can provide for you."
"Then serve away, Fessington. Perform on me anything like the
miracle you achieved with Sally, and you can name your price at court.
Of that, you can be sure."
It took John Fessington the remainder of the afternoon to transform
Lady Evelyn. When he had finished, her eyes truly did sparkle like the
sun off the waterfall, and the pale blue silk enfolded her as the
petals of the rose, delicate and smooth, wrapping her unshapely body in
a cascade of blissful deceit. Evelyn stared into the glass, no longer
fighting the unbidden smile that illuminated her features and shone
back from her own tear-filled eyes. Her golden curls lay draped across
her shoulders, towered in an inspirational crown atop her head, fell in
delicate wisps over her forehead and down her cheeks. "Gods, you are a
magician," she said, the words catching in her throat.
"I do what I can, my lady," Fessington replied. "There was so little to improve upon."
"You are modest beyond words. I will take the Queen's breath away."
Fessington smiled. "You are indeed a breathtaking sight, my lady. I
am sure you will draw the attention of all at court, as never before."
"Quickly, Fessington. Before I melt or something, help me out to my
carriage. I must not keep them waiting. My grand entrance cannot be
clouded by a small thing like tardiness."
Five minutes later Fessington assisted her into her carriage and
stood aside while she settled herself in place. Lady Evelyn patted the
leather beside her. "With me, Fessington. You're coming with me. I must
show you off as well, or the coup will not be complete."
Fessington bowed, but made no move to climb on board. "My lady, I am
flattered, but--I am no lord, Lady Evelyn. I should ride with the
"Very well, just as long as you come. You shall serve me at the feast."
The court was crowded and noisy, everyone talking about the King's
newest enemies, about the most recently cowed lords, and the latest
court fragrance. As Lady Evelyn entered, stepping gracefully through
from the foyer, the room went silent. All heads turned to see her, and
the smile she wore was more radiant than any the court had ever seen.
She swept through the hall, nodding greeting to the other lords and
ladies, reveling in the awe-stricken gaze of the latter, and in the
admiring grins of the former. The Queen herself, draped in a gown of
ruffled gold brocade, stood agape as she approached.
"Good evening, Your Grace," Evelyn said. Silence reigned. The room
waited on her words. "Might I introduce my newest servant, John
Fessington bowed low, a deep sweeping gesture that took in the entire room. He kissed the Royal hand, and dropped to his knees.
"Is he--my Lady Evelyn, is he responsible for your--" the Queen smiled, "for your transformation?"
"Indeed, your Grace. He is a master of the splendid. A magician of
beauty." Evelyn smiled down at him where he knelt at the Queen's feet.
"My new dresser, Your Grace."
The Queen reached down and pulled Fessington to his feet. "An
amazing art you must have, Fessington." She beckoned to a servant. "You
will make a place at my right hand for this man. He shall entertain me
with his stories while we feast."
Evelyn dared not contradict. "Your Grace. He is a common servant. Should he not serve you, rather than sit with you?"
"A servant, perhaps," the Queen replied. "But hardly common. He will sit with me."
The guests were asked to take their places, and the feast began.
Fessington suffered the glares of the Lords with what humility he
could. The Queen treated him like a noble.
"Tell me how you came to learn your--art, Fessington," she said.
"I have a gift, Your Grace. I know what a woman needs." He raised
his long fingers, flexed them. "It is in the hands. They sense, feel."
"Perhaps, then, you can tell me what I am in need of?"
Fessington took her hand in his, smiled knowingly into her eyes, his
nose twitching bewitchingly. "I know you and the King are at odds over
a kitchen wench he has been dabbling with. I know you have need of
advice on how to deal with the taxation issues in the south. I know you
are lonely in spite of all the courtiers and servants that attend you.
"Enough!" The Queen's eyes were wide with shock. Her mouth worked as
she searched for words, but none came. Silence stole across the hall
once again, as the Queen's stricken look was noticed. Slowly, she
composed herself, smiled round at the assemblage. "Please, my Lords and
Ladies. Continue with your feast. Fessington has been testing me with
some harmless jests. All is well."
The feasting underway once more, she turned to him again. This time,
however, her expression was softer, her eyes filled with wonder. "How
do you know all this?" she whispered.
Fessington gave her a reassuring smile, patted her hand. "I know. And there is one other thing I know."
The Queen gazed into his eyes. "Yes?"
"I know you have need of a new dresser, Your Grace."
© 2013 Roderick D. Turner
Bio: In the author's words, "I like writing stories, and am
particularly pleased when I find I enjoy what I have written. That is
the best part of writing - you are after all most often your only
audience. Second best is when you start writing about a character and
they take over, almost literally writing the story themselves. Then you
read it through and the characters surprise even you. Several of my
stories have appeared in Aphelion, most recently Causal Effect in May 2013. For more of my material, both prose and other media, visit www.rodentraft.com."
E-mail: Roderick D. Turner
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