A knock sounded on my bedroom door as I nervously

A knock sounded on my bedroom door as I nervously smoothed my hands over the skirt. Only Father knocked, so I called for him to enter.

“You look lovely, Bini,” he said with a caring smile. “I know you would prefer to stay inside, but would you walk with Bryn to the candle maker? I need another candle.”

Father read by the light of the fire in his study most nights, but needed the candle for any writing he might do at his desk.

I nodded my assent and accepted the copper he handed me.

“Get the best you can with that.” We both knew it wouldn’t be much, but neither of us spoke it, just as I didn’t question why Bryn couldn’t go alone.

The candle maker had taken a dislike to Bryn a few years before. She’d gone to purchase candles from him, and the encounter had gone badly. He’d set his price and wouldn’t come down from it. She’d called him a miserly old man, which he was, but he was also nice and didn’t like being called names. Regardless, she’d only gotten angry because she was a miserly young woman trying to pinch a copper whenever she could for her own selfish purpose. I didn’t see how she could fault the candle maker for doing the same.

At least, by having Bryn accompany me, Father had given me the safety I needed to go about in my confounded dress. If I met up with Tennen and Splane alone while wearing it, I’d never stand a chance at outrunning them.

After lacing up my sturdy boots hidden beneath my skirts, I straightened my shoulders and headed to the kitchen. Bryn waited by the door and wore her best dress. She’d been blessed with Father’s fair hair and pale eyes and our mother’s curvy figure. Seeing her, I shored my resolve to ignore the stares the pair of us would receive. I knew everyone would compare us and didn’t want to contemplate who would come ahead in the comparison.

“I think you’ve grown, Benella,” Bryn commented, eyeing me dispassionately.

I quickly looked down at my skirts, which still hovered an inch above the floor.

“Not in height,” she laughed as she turned away to open the door.

Refusing to think on her comment, I followed her out into the sunlight, feeling awkward as the skirts brushed against my bare legs. I didn’t own any stockings, just socks and boots fit for a young boy.

“I hope Father gave you coin. I have none to spare for the candle maker,” she said as I closed the door and rushed to catch up with her.

“Not enough, but the candle maker is nice, so I’m sure we can come to an agreement.”

Bryn had no reply.

We walked the rest of the way to town, each lost in our own thoughts, mine mostly fervent wishes not to run into Tennen with Bryn at my side. My wishes didn’t go unheard. The anvil laid quiet and the billows lax when we left the path for the main road. Relieved, I crossed the street and entered the candle maker’s home. The soft chime of the bell attached to the door greeted me.

“Benella!” the candle maker exclaimed, welcoming me with a smile.

Sitting at a table near his hearth, he removed a line of strings from a pot of melted wax and set it on the holder to the side. He had once explained that his candles were the best around because he took care to ensure the candles stood straight the entire time, thus burned their wax evenly.

“What brings you in today?” he asked, standing. His bones creaked and cracked with the effort, but I didn’t try to insist that he sit for our discussion. He held a firm belief that he honored his customers by standing to wait on them. His gnarled hand patted down his wispy white hair as he slowly straightened his frame.

I held out the copper.

“Father sent me for a candle. I know you offer nothing but the finest, but he’d like something modest if possible.”

“Benella, your honeyed words are a trap for an unwary man, to be sure.” He grinned at me, laughing and mumbling “nothing but the finest” under his breath. He didn’t take the proffered coin, rather he walked to the shelves and rummaged through the pale candles for a moment before pulling out a thick one with a satisfied sigh. A blackened wick poked from one melted end.

“This is one I made for myself,” he said, handing it to me. “A gift for the flowers, until I can pay you properly. Tell your father it will burn at least ten hours if he trims it.”