Phobos ran her hand through a bolt of silken fabric, the soft and smooth texture feeling almost incorporeal to her touch. It was an imported silk from beyond the Hindukush Mountain range that lay along the Empire's south-western border.
The silk was handwoven from the materials obtained from the mulberry fields surrounding Mysore. Named after the foremost centre of sericulture in the continent, the Mysore silk was fine enough that a six-metre square piece of it could be folded into a matchbox and sturdy enough to be worn directly on the body without having to be reinforced with other fabrics.
In fact, the females of the ruling class in that area often wore just the undyed pieces of cloth, folding them in a special manner to form the traditional attire known as the saree.
The translucent fabric highlighted the ornate petticoats and blouses they wore underneath and displayed their bare midriffs, a perfect blend of titillation and tradition that ensured that the women had an incentive to maintain their figures.
Phobos imagined how she would look in one before shaking her head and replacing the fabric back on the rack.
The fineness of the material came with the drawback of being unable to be dyed. While the golden-yellow natural tone of the fabric was quite pleasant, it didn't suit her. Light tones didn't seem to like her very much.
Walking up to the counter of the store with her few purchases, she waited for the owner and her Husband to return from the back room.
She couldn't help but let a smile adorn her lips. Early this morning, he had proposed to take her out on a date. She had been counting the days till her First Moon, eagerly anticipating what he had planned for her.
Once or twice, losing to her curiosity, she had even tried out her investigative skills on him but regretfully, she had come up with a blank. She kept having the feeling that someone was obstructing her efforts. Probably Demi but she couldn't find any incriminating evidence of that either.
Everyone was so sneaky. Even then, she was enjoying her time with Husband immensely. They had started off their day with a trip to the petting zoo.
Yeah, she knew it was for children but she couldn't help it. Ever since she was a child, she had always wanted a pet but her responsibilities took up too much of her time. Keeping up with geniuses like Demi and her Husband took hard work and that meant any pet she kept would pine away from lack of attention.
She never wanted to visit that upon an innocent animal, so, she had never asked for one. Except once… during pillow talk with Mars.
When he had brought her to the entrance of the petting zoo filled with the adorable little creatures she had to fight down her desire to just kiss him right then and there. After all, there were little kids there.
Of course, she had been sure to amply reward him in the alley behind the zoo after leaving. She ran a thumb over her lips, feeling the slight ache from where they were still swollen from their intense make-out session.
The couturier's shop they were in now was their second destination for the day. Mars had left her with his purse, giving her free rein to choose from the array of fabrics and pre-made garments on display while he had disappeared with the owner into the back room, presumably to receive some order he had placed prior.
Having heard of Demi's experience during her First Moon, Phobos couldn't help but anticipate what Husband would come out of that room with.
She didn't have to wait too long as he soon appeared with a wrapped parcel under his arm along with the shop owner whose face was adorned with a beatific smile only businessmen who had recently made a large transaction could pull off without looking sleazy.
She had tried to be moderate in her spending but like any girl her age, she liked to look good and the dazzling array of haute couture in the shop had her hooked, lined and sinkered. After all, except for a few spare dresses reserved for formal events, all she had ever had the chance to wear was exercise clothing.
Looks became a bit more important when you had to vie for the attention of your man with two other women, none of whom dropped the wind compared to you.
After the tally was taken, the bill came to quite a hefty amount making her squirm guiltily. Mars only smiled and paid up without complaint only for the shopkeeper to discount a large portion of the bill.
Now she was even more curious about the item in the package. For it to make even the money-grubbing merchant loosen his purse, it must have made him quite a profit.
As they exited the shop after putting the package together with the dresses she had purchased into his backpack, an unpleasant thought struck her. What if Husband hadn't bought the package for her?
Once the thought appeared, it could hardly be removed. He had left her with his purse in the shop. What if that was her gift? After all, he still had Ceres to think of and after his extravagant spending on Demi's Specialization, his pockets must have grown lighter. What with the Duchess' extravagant dowry for her, Husband's new wife had to receive a commensurate treatment on her First Moon.
The more she thought, the more likely it seemed that the package was for Ceres. A sharp pang of envy hit her.
She sighed as she lagged behind Husband slightly as they made their way away from the commercial centre towards the industrial area. From this angle she could study his face without him noticing.
The defined jawline, the sculpted nose and the perfect eyebrows, it was the same face that had carved itself into her heart at the moment of her greatest vulnerability.
Her negative emotions magnified by Vita's divine will, she had had her fears and insecurities magnified manifold. It was then as she was wallowing in the morass of her suppressed darkness that he had appeared as the only beacon.
Under the moonlight, as he scolded her for her foolhardiness, informed her that if she had only asked, his support would be hers for the taking, his countenance had been seared into her heart.
She always had a problem with being possessive in her relations. She had always resented Mars for taking away such a large chunk of Deimos' attention from her. It was only after the night of their bonding that something fundamental within her emotional makeup began to change.
It wasn't until she was left alone with Deimos on the night of his first intercourse with Ceres that she had to face up to her emotions.
She no longer enjoyed Demi's touch as much as Husband's. That night had been a disaster despite Demi's enthusiasm. It was her lack of initiative that spoiled the mood.
They had lain on the same bed together, listening to the sounds seeping from the adjacent room, strangers under the sheets.
It had made her feel so guilty. She was the one who had initiated the relationship between her and Deimos and now, she suddenly couldn't invest her heart into it anymore. Demi hadn't spoken to rebuke her but the silence had cut deeper than a thousand words.
The next morning, it wasn't that she was unwilling to get up from the bed, to her laziness was anathema. She was just trying her best to alleviate her guilt by making some time for Demi to spend alone with Husband.
The arrival of Ceres had shaken the basis of their relationship, bringing a lot of unwanted emotions into the light.
When the three of them had shared a bed, Mars had been the glue holding them together, preventing her from realising the shift in her orientation. Yet, with how unfamiliar they were with Ceres, proposing that they share a bed, especially when she had shown strong heterosexuality was going too far too fast.
Thus, the nights since her arrival had been spent two to a bed, with Husband in the dark about the utter awkwardness that permeated the room in his absence.
Deimos for some reason always had her hackles raised around Ceres though she herself found the girl extremely sweet and docile, albeit highly intelligent. She had shown a strong desire to learn and adapt to Husband's tastes, going so far as to request cooking lessons from her.
A fast learner, she rarely made the same mistake twice, her clumsiness, clearly a result of her missing glasses. With them on, she wasn't any worse than the average person, though she fell far short of martial warriors like Deimos who had perfect control of every muscle of their body.
Her swiftly darkening mark was a sign of the payoffs of her efforts.
Ceres and Husband did share the love of books and they could often be found discussing some erudite topic or the other.
Deimos, always having focused on the martial path, more often than not felt left out. Unlike Husband, whose upbringing had left him viewing martial arts as chores forced upon him by duty, Demi truly found beauty in them, in her hands, violence was truly an art.
It was different from her own Heavenly Demon Dance where the art was explicit. Demi brought out beauty through her efficiency, every step and every movement a force that propelled her opponent towards the edge of the cliff of defeat.
She truly enjoyed the process of growing stronger and despite Mars love for her, they shared no common ground, except, maybe his love of cooking and her love of consuming his craftsmanship.
Thus, in her opinion, Demi's antagonism was a result of jealousy. Given her own recent bout of envy, criticising her would be like the pot calling the kettle black.
A tap on her shoulder brought her out of her reverie and she noticed Husband peering into her face curiously. He reached out and smoothed out the furrow in her brow with his two thumbs.
"Why the frown, dear? What bothers you so?"
Phobos composed herself and gave him her best smile. "Nothing." Looking behind him, she found that they had stopped at the entrance to a blacksmith's shop. Grabbing his hand, she pulled him towards the door. "Husband, I grow impatient to see why you've brought me here. Hurry up."
Distracted by her eagerness, he brightened up as he took the lead, pushing the unlatched gate aside as they entered the workshop.
A blast of heat blew out and Phobos had to leverage her mana to protect herself from the blazing temperatures of the forge.
At the opposite end of the room, working his bellows was the most muscular man she had ever seen. While Marquis Ursa was large, this man was wide and all his width was muscle.
Biceps the thickness of thighs bulged with corded fibres, sticking out from beneath his skin which glistened with sweat. His veins bulged as he worked the bellows, causing the fire in the forge to flare and the temperatures to soar.
From the lack of mana turbulence, the entire process was purely mundane.
After ten minutes of their silent vigil, the man finally stopped, using his tongs to pull out a red-hot piece of metal, dunking it into a quenching vat near at hand.
The acrid stench of boiling oil reached them as the metal cooled, causing the oil to steam. When he finally pulled it out, looking down the edge of the blade, for that was what it was, searching for imperfections, the superior craftsmanship became apparent.
Among the two of them, she was the expert on weapons and even from a distance, she could tell how perfectly balanced the blade was. After a few raps on the blade with a small mallet to straighten it out, the man was satisfied with his work and finally had time for them.
He sized the both of them up before turning to Mars. "They're for her?" the man asked in his gravelly voice. When Husband nodded, he walked over to a weapon rack and brought out a wooden box.
Placing it on an anvil, he uncovered the lid, revealing a glimmering set of metallic ribs for paired fans.
Phobos' eyes widened as she realized the material they were made of: Mithril. That was why the smith wasn't using mana as he didn't want to contaminate the material before it was bound to its first owner.
The blade he was making was probably an alloy but from the rainbow sheen on the fan ribs, they were pure Mithril. There was only one way Mars could have obtained enough to commission them… by melting his prize from the tournament.
She was moved. So what if he had bought an expensive gift for Ceres on her First Moon, with this, all could be forgiven. She didn't want much. As long as her component in his heart was no less that that of his other wives, she could be satisfied.
So, when he brought out the package and unwrapped it, revealing two semi-circular arcs of cloth woven from Heavenly Silksnail thread in alternating strands of dark and light, which formed the same psychedelic patterns as her fans and attached them to the Mithril ribs, completing the weapons, she was dumbstruck.
Looking down at the pair of fans in her hands, she couldn't help the lines of tears that slid down her cheeks even as her lips stretched in one of the widest smiles in her life.
She was happy.
Very much so.
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