Our major preoccupation at that time was Beldaran’s wedding gown, and that brought Arell into our lives.
I’m certain that common Rivan name’s familiar to Ce’Nedra.
Arell was a dressmaker. Most of the ladies who follow that profession are thin, wispy girls of a retiring nature. Arell wasn’t like that at all. In some ways she was like a drill sergeant, issuing commands in a crisp, businesslike tone of voice that brooked no nonsense. She was, as they say, generously proportioned. Though she was only in her mid-thirties, she had what is called a matronly bosom. She was also a somewhat earthy lady. Since her alternate profession involved midwifery, there was very little in the functions of the human body that surprised her. In many ways she was much the same kind of person Queen Lay la of Sendaria came to be.
There was a great deal of blushing going on as she spoke of the physical side of marriage while her flickering needle dipped in and out of the gleaming white fabric that was to become my sister’s wedding gown. ‘Men worry too much about that kind of thing,’ she said on one occasion, biting off the thread on the hem of Beldaran’s gown. ‘No matter how big and important they seem in the outside world, they all turn into little boys in the bedroom. Be gentle with them, and don’t ever laugh. You can laugh later, when you’re alone.’
My sister and I didn’t really need Arell’s instruction. Mother had carefully explained the entire procedure to us. But how was Arell to know that?
‘Does it hurt?’ one of Beldaran’s blonde companions asked apprehensively. That question always seems to come up in these discussions among young women.
Arell shrugged. ‘Not too much, if you relax. Just don’t tense up, and everything will be all right.’
I don’t really need to go into much greater detail on that subject, do I?
Although our attention to the business of dressmaking kept our fingers busy, and Arell’s clinical descriptions of intimacy occupied our minds, our little frenzy of dressmaking was actually a kind of farewell for my sister and me. We spoke to each other almost exclusively in ‘twin’, and we were seldom very far from each other. The apartment we shared was a bright, sun-filled set of rooms that overlooked a garden. The windows of our apartment were not on the seaward side of the Citadel, so they were not the defensively narrow embrasures that pierced the thick wall on the far side. Beldaran and I were probably not going to spend our time shooting arrows at the roses in the garden below, so our windows were broad and quite tall. When the prevailing clouds permitted, the sun shone very brightly into the rooms cluttered with scraps of fabric, bolts of cloth and those necessary wooden stands upon which our various gowns were to be hung. Without those stands, each of us would have been obliged to stand for days on end during the tedious business of fitting.
The walls of the Citadel are uniformly grey, both inside and out, and grey’s a depressing color. Evidently some considerate Rivan lady had noticed that fact, so those apartments customarily used by ladies were softened by stout fabric hangings in various hues. The hangings in our apartment were alternately deep blue and rich gold, and the rough stone floor was softened here and there with golden lambskin rugs, a real blessing for those women who tend to go about barefooted when they’re not in public. Ladies’ shoes may look very nice, but they’re not made for comfort. There was a balcony outside the main room in our apartment, and it had a stone bench built out from the balustrade at its outer edge. When the weather was fine, Beldaran and I spent most of our time out there, sitting very close.
We didn’t speak often, since words aren’t really necessary between twins. We did, however, remain in almost constant physical contact with each other. That’s one of the characteristics of twinhood. If you have occasion to observe a set of twins, you’ll probably notice that they touch each other far more often than is the case with untwinned brothers and sisters.
There was a deep sadness in our communion. Beldaran’s marriage would inevitably draw us apart, and we both knew it. We’d always been one. Now we’d be two, and I think we both hated the concept of twoness.
When Beldaran’s gown was finished to Arell’s satisfaction, our mentor turned her attention to the rest of us. Since I was the sister of the bride, I came next.
‘Strip,’ Arell commanded me.
‘What?’ I exclaimed. I didn’t really think I could be shocked, but I was wrong.
Take off your clothes, Polgara,’ she said quite firmly. ‘I need to see what I’m working with.’
I actually blushed, but I did as she told me to.
She studied my near naked body with pursed lips and a speculative eye. ‘Not too bad,’ she observed.
That was hardly complimentary.
‘You’re lucky, Polgara,’ she told me. ‘Most girls your age are quite flat-chested. I think we might want to take advantage of that to draw attention away from the fact that you’re just a little hippy.’
‘I’m what?’ I exclaimed.
‘You were built to bear children, Polgara. It’s useful, but it makes your clothes hang all wrong.’
‘Is she telling me the truth?’ I asked Beldaran, speaking in ‘twin’ so that Arell couldn’t understand me.
‘You are sort of round down there, Pol,’ Beldaran replied. Then she grinned a naughty little grin at me. ‘If we cut your gown low enough in the back, we could show off the dimples on your bottom.’
‘I’ll get you for that, Beldaran,’ I threatened.
‘No you won’t, Pol,’ she said, stealing a favorite joke from uncle Beldin and our father. ‘You’re just saying that to make me feel better.’
My gown was blue, and Arell’s design left my shoulders and a significant part of my upper torso bare. It was trimmed with snowy lace, and it was really a very nice gown. I almost choked when I first tried it on and looked at myself in the mirror, however. ‘I can’t wear this in public!’ I exclaimed. ‘I’m half naked!’
‘Don’t be such a goose, Polgara,’ Arell told me. ‘A well-designed gown’s supposed to highlight a woman’s best features. You’ve got a shapely bosom. I’m not going to let you hide it in a canvas bag.’
‘It really looks very nice, Pol,’ Beldaran assured me. ‘Nobody’s going to be looking at your hips if you wear that.’
‘I’m getting just a little tired of all this talk about hips, Beldaran,’ I said acidly. ‘You’re not exactly scrawny yourself, you know.’