• Maira Galabard

#12 The Hat Mender

Winter is upon us and the unceasing feasts are finally over. No more Narivii coming here every week. No more people running around and making a fool of themselves. No more absurd challenges and dares.


Peace, at long last.


“All my friends are gone!”, the bard laments, drowning her sadness in the third pint that night. “No more singing! No more joy!”


I’m sitting in a corner counting how much I have left before winter hits Arnwell. It’s going to be cold, and a coat will be costly. Food and drink prices will increase in scarcity, as they always do. We’re at a tourist spot, not exactly the cheapest option for a pair of wanderers.


At least Aiga made some coin the months we’ve spent here.


“Do you have any sad, really sad tales?”, Aiga says as she brings her fourth pint to the table and slams it as she falls on the bench, shaped like a wide flat shroom, naturally formed in the inside of the tree.


“I have a lot of sad tales, Aiga”, I reply as I organise the different bits of maps, moving them away from the bard. “Are you sure you want a sad tale? I mean, look at yourself.”


Her eyes swell with tears.


“No”, she sobs. “You’re right, I don’t want a sad tale. I want a tale about…” She looks around, then up at the wing of her hat. “Hats.”


“Hats? Fine, fine”, I say as I put everything back in my backpack. I only have fifty ræ. Maybe when winter comes people will ask for seasonal tales. “Hats”, I repeat, looking at her. “How sad should it be?”


She barely takes the time to reply.


“Not sad! Just hats.”


I sigh.


“Sure. Hats. I’ll see what I can do.”


***

The Hat Mender


Rinni’s hands hurt as she mended the hundredth hat that night. It was a very particular hat: exquisite swirls all over the velvet, bright caeridis feathers wrapped around the hat with ribbons of purple silk, needles with diamond dots at the heads, perfectly angled to shine just at the right time, and a wing with embedded gems forming flowery patterns.


She had left that hat for last. Removing the wine stain had been a nightmare, not to mention the mud and the grass. What a party that must have been.


She scratched her head, covered by a delicate red net. Ah, how she wish she could afford a hat and become a hat maker one day! But alas, the red net would have to do.

The bells of Falkoria chimed as the day officially started for those who had no need to rise early. She had been working all night.


It was dark in the shop, only lit by a handful candles, far from the hats and the materials. Rinni removed the spectacles and took a deep breath. She observed the hat again, and reviewed those ready to be picked up.


There was a first set of knocks on the door, followed by a stronger one.


She sprang up and quickly turned the locks, welcoming the first customer of the day.


“Took you long enough”, the lady said, moving Rinni aside. “Well? Where’s my hat?”

Rinni knew she was not meant to answer questions, just to do her job. She ran her index through a list and found her short note on the lady’s hat. “Crow hat, mend wing. Miss Velinus. Urgent. Deadline tomorrow.”


She took the hat off the shelf and handed it over to her, and told her it was twenty ræ.


“Twenty ræ! Surely you must be joking. The coating on the faux wing makes it look obvious that, well, it is faux”, she complained. “I demand you fix it this instant.”

“It will take a while to dry. You brought it in yesterday, miss Velinus”, Rinni explained.


Miss Velinus paid, reluctantly, a total of fifteen ræ, adding “And I’m being generous”, as she left. Rinni heard her commenting someone on the street about the terrible service she had received.


That someone was the next customer to enter the small shop at the end of a somewhat busy street and the beginning of a quiet one.


“Klaus Kolnius, nest hat that needed trimming”, he announced himself. “And better be quick, I have a carriage waiting outside.”


Rinni looked for the nest hat and handed it over to him, receiving ten ræ. Every bit counted, she thought.


During the course of the morning came the other customers, never with a grateful gesture or word. Why would they? That hat mender should be thankful for having a shop there, in the capital of the world.


Rinni dared eat when the afternoon bells chimed. Ah, warm broth! With toasts coated in a thin layer of cheese. It was the first decent meal in a while, always snacking on dried fruits and almonds. She had another client coming to collect his hat any minute, so she stepped into the shop and waited behind the counter.


As she gulped down the broth, spoonful after spoonful, the door burst open. Startled, Rinni jumped with such bad luck that some of the broth splashed the velvet hat with the swirls, the gems and the needles with diamond heads.


She felt the dread clawing on her throat as the customer entered. After she had promptly given them their layered mirror hat, Rinni hung a sign indicating “Open for Pick-Ups Only”, and took care of the damage.


It was bad. Very bad. The broth had soaked into the hat in the time it had taken her to attend to the customer, and it smelled like vegetables and chicken.


She had a look at her notes, which read “Velvet hat, feathers, needles, gems; remove stains; miss Rosnaus. Urgent. In-hand delivery at the second afternoon bell”, the address and the price.


A hundred ræ. She could afford to lose a hundred ræ or her reputation.


Feeling the beat of her heart against her ears, Rinni began cleaning the hat with care. She had less than an hour to clean it and deliver it, and each of the different parts had to be treated differently.


Soaking the hat in a cleaning substance was out of the question, for there would be no time to dry. Instead, she spread absorbent powder over the stains, grabbed a bristle brush, and began to scrub them very carefully.


There were several interruptions while she cleaned the hat, one of them causing her to pinch her finger while placing one of the needles.


“Oh no”, she thought. She was sure she had stained it with some blood. How she wished she could afford to hire an apprentice.


She sent the client on his way with his mended hat, and returned to the other. No blood. That had been too close, even though she had covered her finger with the thimble.


Although she had indeed managed to quickly remove the stain, the hat still smelled like broth. There was no time for a complete cleaning.


“I can’t tell miss Rosnaus about this. She’ll have my head. And my shop”, Rinni worried as she pulled a smell-nullifier and a perfume from the shelf.


The smell-nullifier caused the gems to lose their luster. She grabbed a polishing cloth and rubbed the precious stones with it.


At that moment, the second afternoon bell chimed.


As quick as lightning, Rinni gave the hat a thorough final look, sprayed it with a fresh apple and cherry blossom perfume, wrapped it in beautiful wax paper, and placed it inside a round box. She sealed the lid with golden wax, held onto the package, and headed to the address miss Rosnaus had indicated.


It was a very elegant bathhouse. She felt more and more out of place as she entered there, her humble brown clothes against the vibrant colours and hats of those around her, her hair tied with the usual hat mender’s hairnet instead of wearing a proper hat.


“I have a hat to deliver in person to miss Rosnaus”, she told the Osvari at the desk.

“Ah yes, miss Rosnaus. She’s expecting you.”


Rinni was made take her shoes off, was given soft slippers, and was made to walk through a spectrum of different half-naked Falkorii. Half-naked because they were all still wearing hats.


They arrived at one of the many private baths in the building. It was full of Falkorii who were enthusiastically exchanging stories and delving into the intricacies of politics.


“Miss Rosnaus. A delivery”, they announced, and let Rinni through.


Rinni carefully walked to the lady who had turned her head to the door, trying not to collide with anyone. She left the box beside her and waited for her payment.


Miss Rosnaus opened the box without looking at her, and unwrapped the hat. She looked at it from every angle. Every needle, every gem, every wrinkle in the silk. Rinni waited, nervous, as she finished examining the hat.


“I no longer want it”, the lady said.


“I’m sorry?”


“Are you deaf? I. No. Longer. Want. It.”


And she tossed the hat into the water.


Rinni watched as the hat slowly sank. The velvet. The silk. The feathers. The needles with the diamond heads. The gems. She felt her hands go numb with rage.


“What are you standing there for?”, miss Rosnaus asked, and shooed her away with a gesture.


“The payment for my work”, Rinni replied as calmly as she could.


“Payment?”, the woman scoffed. She then turned around to the other Falkorii in the bath. “Would any of you pay for a hat that can no longer be mended?”


The people shook their heads and resumed their conversations.


“Please leave before you embarrass yourself further.”


But Rinni didn’t move.


Her eyes were observing the lady’s back, then her hair, then the hat atop of her head. It was a colourful hat with wind chimes dangling from it.


With a quick gesture, she pulled the hat off miss Rosnaus’ head and tore it apart.


“Feel free to bring your hat in for mending”, she said. “The shop’s open.”


***


“You said it wouldn’t have a sad ending!”, Aiga sobs.


“It didn’t have a sad ending. It’s funny”, I digress. “And it had hats, just like you asked.”


“But did Rinni go to jail?”, the bard asks.


“She did.”


“Now you’ve made me even sadder!”


She leaves the table and the pint behind, now empty. Maybe I, too, need a pint myself.