Chapter Seven

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I had, of course, foreseen that Tallera might be difficult when it came to her wedding day. The peaceful, luxurious bath, the simple process of braiding back her long hair and her own pleasant good mood had fooled me, though.

She was proving to be quite fidgety every time I tried to adjust her skirt.

I smacked her sharply on the hip. "Quit moving about."

She sighed and slumped, deflating like sails without wind.

"Posture," I reminded her sternly.

She straightened. I knew her back ached, as mine often had when I'd had to stand still for a long time in order to be dressed, but this was her wedding.

I tried to reassure her. "Almost there."

Her skirt was a lovely, multicolored thing that swayed and rippled with her movements. It was not traditional, but I found it fitting for a pirate wedding. She wore a loose, comfortable blouse, fitted to her by a corset and some decorative ribbons. I had braided and pinned her hair to the best of my ability, complementing its fiery color with black ribbons.

When I finally allowed her to step down, she twisted to and fro, stretching and complaining.

"I don't know how you high-born ladies do that," she told me, casting me a look of mixed awe and sympathy.

I titled my head. "Patience and resilience," I replied.

"Indeed," she grunted, making for the nearest chair and trying unsuccessfully to sit comfortably in the clothes.

I laughed. "Your discomfort is at least a small thing. You should be happy."

Tallera sighed. "True." She glanced at me. "I have the fortune of loving my soon-to-be husband."

"Unlike we high-born ladies?" I asked teasingly.

She bit her lip, but couldn't stop a smile from forming. "I don't envy you that, Zaina."

I shook my head. "As long as Sykes makes you happy. Your happiness is all I want from today."

My words seemed to trigger something in her. Tallera's playful grin peeled back to reveal cautious hope, maybe even disbelief.

"I think I am happy," she told me, as if not believing her own feelings. She laughed. "I'm surprised," she added, introspective.

Her odd mood caught me unawares. While a certain amount of pleasant surprise at a happy situation was normal, I wondered why it seemed that Tallera had never expected to be happy.

She'd turned her eyes away. I had the impression that she was thinking of a time more distant than this one.

"Do you know what it's like, Zaina, to be unwanted by the world?" she asked me, her dark fathomless eyes becoming glassy.

I wanted to nod, but I didn't answer. I felt I had no right, considering I had always been valued for being wealthy and pretty.

Tallera glanced at me with a lopsided smile. "You know," she answered for me. "The world doesn't want to see the people we really are. Sometimes they don't even want to see us."

She had drifted away, completely lost, like a small ship in a hurricane.

"My mother used to tell me that we were just on another adventure," Tallera mused. "When we had to move on, she'd tell me how much she missed traveling or that she'd grown tired of the place we'd settled, instead of..."

She rarely spoke of her mother, even to me. I sat still, transfixed and wary.

"With a good adventuring partner, you can face anything, she said," Tallera added after a heavy pause. She blinked and looked at me again, her eyes shiny.

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