Skull and Shackles

Interlude: Clothes Make the Woman

“Are you well, Lady?” Feruzi asked.

Lady Agasta seemed to give this some consideration. “Well enough, considering. I’m still alive, unlike poor Royster.”

“You were very fond of him?”

“Of course. I think his loyalty was all that kept me going, sometimes.”

Feruzi frowned. “He seemed . . . fond of you. More than fond.”

Agasta smiled sadly. “Yes. I know.”

“Then why didn’t you marry him? Why marry Chopper instead?” The frown deepened. “Why marry anyone?”

Agasta cocked an eyebrow at this series of questions. “Is something bothering you, my dear?”

“Marriage seems such a troublesome matter. Feruzi is only here because her sister Ukele ran away from it—ran away from it twice—and caused a mess of troubles. That, and no man in the village would have Feruzi for a wife, so she was available to do the chasing. Now Captain Pegsworthy is sending Feruzi gifts that make no sense. Why all this . . . this trouble.”

Agasta’s chuckle was deep, resonant, and cultured. “Exactly how old are you, dear?”

Feruz bristled. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Humor me.”

“Feruzi has nineteen summers, if it matters. Ukele has only sixteen, but every man in the village was after her like a pack of dogs after a bitch in heat.”

“Oh, how very flattering.”

“They deserved it. They made so much fuss for the war-chief that he declared a games so she could choose the best to be her husband. It lasted for ten days and kept everyone in the village from their work before she made up her mind. And then she vanished.”

“That sounds more like a cattle auction than a courtship to me. I’m glad I wasn’t born to your people.”

Feruzi shook her head, not in disagreement so much as correcting a misapprehension. “It was so unseemly. Ukele did not even have her own hut yet. Usually, when a woman is decides to marry she establishes her own hut and the man just moves in with her. They stay married until he leaves or she kicks him out. Ukele couldn’t be put to all that work, no, she has to make up to every man in the village and nearly cause a brawl.”

“Did you ever think that maybe she didn’t want to get married?”

“No? Then why was she always showing it off?” Feruzi gestured to Agasta’s dress. “You show off, you marry Chopper. That makes sense.”

Agasta’s eyes rounded in shock, then she burst out laughing. She laughed so long and so hard that Feruzi began to look mulish.

“Feruzi doesn’t see what is so funny,” she said stiffly.

“Oh, my dear, you are fantastic. I don’t ‘show off’ for Chopper. I dress this way because I like to. It’s who I am, and it makes me happy. I would dress this way even if I lived on an island by myself, or an island filled only with other women, although I admit that would be rather dull.”

“Do you like Chopper?”

“Of course, dear. He’s a sweet young man. But I wouldn’t have married him just for that. Maybe a fling, but that would have made Royster so terribly unhappy.” Agasta’s face fell and she sighed. “Poor man. I wish . . . oh, but there’s no use in wishing. Besmara does as she wills with us all.” She visibly put aside her grief and brightened again. “But you, don’t you have any fancy clothes?”

Feruzi huffed in offense. “Feruzi got new clothes in Senghor!”

“Those things! They look nice enough, but that’s a suit, dear. You wear it to work in. I mean something you wear just to wear it—because it’s beautiful. Every woman should have some thing beautiful for herself. And, yes, to show off to a man if you want to. But it’s really for you, dear.” Feruzi shook her head mutely. “Oh, well, we’ll see about that! I’m sure there’s something in my closet we can make over to suit you. Let’s go look!”

“Oh . . . Feruzi doesn’t want to take up your time . . .”

“Nonsense. It’ll be fun to play at being a girl for a while. Take my mind off things.”

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Jennifer

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