Inside, the room was surprisingly well lit. A counter ran the length of the back wall, broken only by a curtain covered doorway. Cabinets below and shelving above the counter offered a myriad of nooks and crannies filled with any number of bottles and small sealed urns. One set of cubby holes that Ciraire was certain should have held wine was instead filled to near bursting with scraps of rolled parchment, their contents hidden save for where the parchment was thinner, allowing ink to bleed through in small colored blotches.
Tharnor indicated towards the table at the center of the room, around which was any number of odd shaped structures that in some ways resembled chairs. There were two stools pushed under the table, as well, but she would have to stoop down to drag one of them out. Ciraire hugged herself as her eyes ran over each of her options in turn.
“I’ll stand,” she murmured, her eyes darting towards him as she heard the waiver in her voice. Tharnor did little more than arch a brow at her before he began opening drawers, pulling out certain select items, considering and discarding others.
“Even if we could do this standing, you are not going to want to.”
Ciraire eyed the seats again before trying to hook one of the stool legs with her toe. “How long will this take?”
“That is completely dependent on what you are looking for. For my usual customers, I would say a few hours, but you are far from usual and I have the feeling a few hours is not going to suffice. Do you even know what it is you are looking for?”
“Something visible.” Her voice deepened as she scowled at the evasive stool, finally bracing herself with one hand on the edge of the table as she knelt down to fish it out with the other. Tharnor tilted his head to the side as he watched her, barely holding back his amusement as her eyes reappeared from under table’s edge to meet his. “But not disfiguring.”
“Wouldn’t anything I did be considered disfiguring?” He set a rolled bundle of soft leather down on the table.
Ciraire nodded reluctantly as she settled on the retrieved stool, watching as he untied the strap and unrolled the leather, revealing the individual pockets and tools that were just one of the many of his trade. Green eyes traced his every move as small bowls were added to the table, liquids mixing. Her skin tingled as he worked, a breath of magic so casual it was likely habitual. He moved through the room, a master at work, eventually producing a rich brown liquid that somehow reminded her of home. It was the shade of the trees in spring, before the branches took to leaf; deep and rich and alive while all else around them were still deciding what to be.
“How do you expect me to disfigure you while not disfiguring you?” Tharnor looked to her, hands now flat on the table. “If it is your belief that this change is disfiguring, then why do it at all?” The question would have been casual if not for his undivided focus on her.
“Why does anyone do anything?” Her eyes didn’t meet his, focused instead on the leather roll, the small knives, intricate carved bone pieces, and the small hammers, all so carefully tended and individually set to rest. “Why do expectations exist? Why must we be what everyone else says we are intended to be? Who gives anyone the right to dictate our future or say what we may or may not do with our bodies and our minds? What gives anyone the right to decide what is and is not perfect and proper?”
Tharnor took a deep breath, believing that perhaps he was starting to understand. With practiced ease, he dragged the second stool out from beneath the table and brought it to the same side she sat on.
“I refuse to be made into anything other than myself,” she whispered.
“And what are you?”
“I am Ciraire.”
“Is that who you are or what you are?”
“Both? Neither… I am not sure.”
“You have no intention of making my job easy, do you?” Shaking his head he looked her over carefully, starting on her eyes and moving outward. “Not your face,” he murmured before dropping his eyes lower. “Take your shirt off. I need to see you.”
Her hesitation was brief but filled another piece of the puzzle for him. He disappeared beyond the draped doorway for a moment, returning with a length of fabric in one hand.
“I cannot do this, if you are unwilling to be seen.”
Refusing to meet his eyes, she reached down, drawing the fabric of her tunic up and over her head, one arm artfully hiding herself until she was able to draw her hair free of the fabric and clutch it to her, maintaining at least a hint of modesty. This was why he had not turned her away. He would not have trusted another in the position he was now in.
Those two words held her in place as he approached her, opening the fabric to reveal a garment akin to a soft apron. She flinched as he reached out but did not pull away, allowing him to carefully tie it about her neck, draping it over her arms and the crumpled shirt she covered herself with. It took him a moment, but he pulled the waist length fall of her hair through the ties, before stepping back. Ciraire caught on quickly enough, dropping her tunic and quickly tying the fabric about her, covering herself while leaving her back, shoulders and arms completely bare.
“Anything else?” she demanded, meeting his gaze with a glare of green eyes. The tone confirmed that the flush on her cheeks was a mix of anger and embarrassment, which was better than fear, he supposed.
“I think we can safely say that all that is currently covered will remain covered.” He met her gaze rather pointedly before he clarified: “Covered, and untouched.”
She studied him for a moment before rolling her shoulders, forcing herself to stay still under his gaze. “Agreed.”
Tharnor’s eyes watched the motion, following the subtle roll of muscle from shoulder to upper arm, across what little was visible of her collar and back. “That will do. Your hair will be in the way. Can you,” he flicked his fingers abstractly, “do something with it?”
“Do something with it?” She blinked, the apparent change in subject catching her by surprise before a slow grin spread across her lips, an almost mischievous look that set her eyes dancing and nearly completely transformed her features. “With pleasure.”
Her fingers deftly drew the thick waves over one shoulder, baring most of the length of her back to sight as she twisted it into a tail at the base of her neck. Tharnor was about to tell her that wasn’t enough when she reached out and took one of his own knives from the tool kit and without testing the sharpness, began to simply saw at the mahogany strands. He would have stopped her had it not been so fascinating to watch the delight in her eyes with each small ripping sound. He did reach out and catch her arm as the last bit broke beneath the pressure of the blade, the force she put behind it enough that she might have cut herself if he had not stilled her.
“I meant put it up,” he half laughed taking the knife from her. He would have to clean and sharpen it later. No sooner had he put it down, out of her reach, than she was pressing the thick tail of her hair, a good two feet in length, into his hand, her longer fingers clenching about his, closing it into a fist.
“You asked me what I am. I am Ciraire and I refuse to disappear,” her voice rang with vehemence. “I will not be molded to fit. I will not quietly agree. I will not cease to be… and I will not be tempted to return.” Her fingers tightened further, pulling him a breath closer as a whisper of panic seeped into her voice. “No magic, no rouging will cover these marks. Promise me that you can make this permanent.”
His touch was soft as his free hand closed over her fingers, that momentary glimpse of panic taking him by surprise. He knew, now. The image was in his head, the pattern at his fingertips. “As permanent as the wind. As forever as the tides. Calm yourself, Ciraire. This will not be pleasant, but it will be beautiful. My word as a craftsman.”