Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
I spent most of the day trundling through the forest, creaking like a leaky old boat out to sea. The wildlife kept their distance, which was all well and good because I wanted some space. My gloomy mood clashed with the cheery sunlight, the blasted rays brightening everything and giving the say a syrupy-sweet, happy aura. Maybe I could get old Zephyrus to send some rain, but then, that would require returning to Nebesa, and I wouldn’t do that, especially not for something as insignificant as a mood setter. But then I realized I could just swing by his temple while I was in the village and send a message through his priests. He may not believe the request was from me, but in all my years I’d never heard of a mortal pretending to be a crotchety old god so what the heck.
The journey was longer, slower, and lonelier than usual, and I felt every joint in my body before the first day had even finished. The few times I’d had to visit before, Hasda had been there, eager to see the settlement and villagers and the outside world in general. He’d been bright-eyed and full of wonder every time, even well after he had his first bit of stubble.
I frowned. Strange. I remembered him discovering that initial smattering of facial hair but not the time between then and now, when he’d grown a full beard. Not a week ago and those two events were blurred together in my mind. The increase in my memory’s definition was...unsettling, but I chalked it up to an increase of vigor in my spirits from the recent trip to Nebesa. Hopefully the heavenly realm’s influence was temporary, and I could go back to fading away in peace.
Four days after I’d left Hasda behind with Malia, I finally reached the little farming village that stood as the closest bit of civilization to my decaying temple. It wasn’t much to speak of, just a gathering of wooden huts, a few of them log cabins recessed in the hills, with rough wooden fencing surrounding the pastures and fields. Pigs and cows made up the majority of the livestock, though they’d started raising horses in the past few generations, and the equine population had grown quite a bit since my last visit. Not enough to replace beef as the staple meat, but a strong contender.
I startled a farmer who was out weeding his wheatfield. An accident, of course. I just meant to ask him if the tailor was in, but it’d been long enough since my last visit that the villagers must have forgotten of my existence. Maybe with Hasda gone, I would pay them more frequent visits, but I’d have a think about it after I got my robes taken in.
The farmer muttered something that sounded positive and gestured vaguely towards the village before ducking down again, grumbling as he snatched at the weeds that had invaded his field. Though I wasn’t sure he was paying attention, I thanked him anyways and lumbered into what passed for the village square. The houses here had been arranged in a loose circle, with symbols painted on the “shops” to indicate what was where, as if the couple dozen or so inhabitants didn’t know everyone and their mother already. They did get the occasional trader, though, and they wanted to appear fancy, but they also seemed to have forgotten that the village temple looked like little more than a repurposed outhouse. Their symbols were streaks of black paint and, when that was gone, smears of charcoal and ash, too. It was a homey atmosphere and they tried their best.
Not that I was complaining. It was certainly better maintained than my temple, which was only as clean as it was because I was...had been raising Hasda. I sighed. The old wreck would probably be proper ruins in a decade or so, now that the lad was gone. It hadn’t bothered me before, but I guess I’d grown accustomed to the slightly-above-collapsing state it’d been in for the last three decades now. Oh well. Life goes on, as they say.
I found the house with the diagonal slash of black paint that somehow represented a needle and thread and knocked on the door. The curtains were down and the inside of the cabin was dark, but the morning hadn’t quite given way to the afternoon yet, so the tailor might still be in bed. A sleepy voice inside confirmed this, shouting for patience through its owner’s grogginess. After lots of shuffling and racketing about, the wiry tailor opened the door.
He’d put on a bathrobe and quite a few wrinkles, not that he’d had a choice about the latter. If my memory wasn’t completely gone, he should be nearing his fifth decade soon, if he hadn’t reached it already, and it showed in the lines on his face and his receding hairline. He blinked up at me, jerked awake when he realized who I was, yelped an invective, and slammed the door shut in the time it took me to open my mouth.
I frowned, mouth hanging open stupidly, my raised finger curling in on itself. Well that was unusual. Surely I didn’t look that bad?
The door swung open again, but this time the man had fully dressed and slapped his spectacles on his face. His white shirt and tan pants were baggy, a faded measuring tape draped around his neck like a scarf. His collar held an array of needles, shoved in like rounds of ammunition. He bowed low, his long hair falling into his face in thin strands. Someone was compensating for the hair loss, all right.
“Apologies, Lord Charax,” the tailor muttered. “I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”
“So soon?” I echoed, stepping into the dim interior.
“Ah, yes.” He laughed nervously and pulled the door shut behind me before scooting over to the table to light some candles. “I expected to be a very old man before you came needing my services, what with you making all the lad’s clothes yourself and you being a god and all.”
I frowned. “I’m not sure I follow.”
His fingers danced together and he wouldn’t meet my eyes. “The lad is gone, yes?”
How did he know that? “Yes.”
The tailor nodded thoughtfully. “I don’t mean to make your sorrow worse, this is merely to prepare myself for the work, but how did he go?”
“Through a portal.”
“I see.” He blinked. “Well, that would make measuring the lad difficult, then. Would you rather an effigy, or just a shroud?”
Oh. So that’s what he meant. I laughed. “No, no, it’s not for Hasda.”
“It’s not?” Confusion washed over his face.
“No.” I shook my head, smiling. “The lad is fine. Well, as fine as he can be, being tugged about by the whims of the gods. No, I need your help.”
The man straightened with a relieved sigh. “I’m glad. Mourning gods can be touchy customers.”
I raised an eyebrow. “But I am grieving. Very grumpy. Grrr.” I wiggled my fingers at him. Of course, my emotions were rather turbulent at the moment, but I hadn’t admitted that to myself yet, so I certainly wasn’t going to say that to him.
Fingers fluttering, he chuckled nervously. “As you say, Lord Charax. So what work could my humble personage offer to you today?”
“I need my robes taken in,” I said, lifting my sleeves. “My hem has been dragging for...I’m not sure, I’ve lost track of how long it’s been going on now. Far longer than is good for the material, that’s for sure.”
“Indeed.” He knelt down and examined the damaged edge. Fingering the material, he said, “Would you like me to sew a buffer over it, or just raise the hem?”
“Raising the hem should suffice.”
“Very well.” He straightened and pulled the measuring tape off his neck. “If you would be so kind, Lord Charax.”
Being measured felt silly. My arms and legs were lifted every which way, the tape whizzing between the tailor’s fingers as he took my marks. His tongue peeked between his lips as he concentrated. The robes fluttered as he pushed them this way and that, the folds giving and bending and reforming. Frowning, he let go of my robes and went back at my limbs, stringing me out like a scarecrow. The lines on his forehead deepened and he measured my legs a third time.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
More nervous chuckles. “Well, you see, Lord Charax…” He held the tape up and pinched it. “This is how long your robes are. And this,” he slid his fingers not even a centimeter down the tape, “is where your legs end. Now, I could take the edge up that little bit if you’d like, but I’d have to make the robe too short in order to get any kind of hem in at all.”
What? I grabbed my robes, lifted them, and stared as they fell to roughly where they belonged. A few experimental steps showed that they weren’t, in fact, dragging on the ground anymore either.
I shook my head. “I don’t know what happened. I’ve been tripping over them for months.”
“I’m sorry, Lord Charax,” the tailor said, wringing his hands. “I wish I could be of more help.”
“You’ve done me a great service.” I patted the man awkwardly on the shoulder.
“No judgmental fire and brimstone?”
“None.” I frowned. “I’ve been a god of peace for a long time now, er,...”
“Juniper,” the man said.
I nodded. “Yes, well, Juniper, I’ll leave you to your work now.”
As I opened the door, he said, “If you do need funeral garb for the lad, please, ah, give me some advance warning?”
“Will do.” I shut the door behind me and glared at the burning sun. It wasn’t the star’s fault that my robes had magically shrunk on the journey over here, but they had all the same and I didn’t want to take out my annoyance on the tailor. Grumbling, I pulled up my robes out of habit and then released them. The stupid things weren’t going to be tripping me up anymore, if they didn’t suddenly grow on the way back.
I sighed. It was going to be a long walk.