“Hannah, is Docia really serious about wanting to do this?”
My bleary-eyed sister, the mother of unexpected twins, looked at me and asked, “Would I be here if she wasn’t? I was up all night with the babies and Nel is going to bounce more than dance though this.”
I snickered because it was true; Nel did look rather like a contest-sized pumpkin. “Is that one of Carter’s leather shirts or did you borrow someone’s tent to dress her in?”
Hannah snickered quietly but said, “You better not let her hear you. She’s … uh … a little sensitive at the moment and might decide to scalp you.”
Having already been singed a couple of times by the normally quiet young woman I decided the better part of valor was just to let the subject drop … but that meant we were back to discussing what we were all there for. I looked around and asked, “Has anyone tried talking her out of this?”
Nel pierced me with her light blue eyes and I took that for an affirmative. I sighed. Docia had her heart set on this and I didn’t want to disappoint her at all but wearing the ceremonial dress and moccasins that she had given me made me feel like I was playing dress up. “Docia, why could I not have just worn my old leathers. They are mine and …”
Docia looked at me sternly and wrinkled her nose. “Because they stink. You work in them all day and there aren’t any decorations on any of the parts.”
“They don’t stink … they’re just a little musky is all.”
Daphne said, “Musky in the same way a hound is musky after it has had a run in with a skunk. Stop fussing Fel and let me finish your hair. It’s even longer and thicker than Hannah’s and I want the braids and beads to look just right.”
“Ouch! Comb my hair not my ears!”
“Then sit still and stop wiggling!”
I groaned. “Docia …”
“Fel … you are going to be in this circle dance with us if I have to tie you to a pole and plant you in the middle. Wait … maybe that’s a good idea. We’ll tie ribbons to you and …”
“Don’t … you … dare!”
All of my sisters were there and laughed … even poor, uncomfortable Nel. They know I hate ribbons. It’s not anything against anyone that does like them but for me they are always catching on things or leaving bits and pieces of themselves for my enemies to track me with.
Docia’s brilliant idea was going to be the death of me. Somehow my sisters had turned being an Outlander into an asset. Or maybe it was just the way the families they married into treated them. On the other hand, while I wasn’t treated bad for being an Outlander I always felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Or maybe it wasn’t being an Outlander at all, maybe it was just being me. Either way this blasted circle dance was just going to make people stare even more than they already did.
“Docia, explain again why we are doing this?” I asked.
Docia gave me an exasperated glance before turning back to work on another sister’s braids. “I’ve already explained it Fel. Some of the wome from the different estates have shown off their sewing talents, some have shown off their singing or other musical talents. Some paint, some do other artsy crafts. Then there are the things that the families show off … like pottery or jewelry or ironwork. Each of us sisters have done things with the ones we married but it has been so long since we’ve all been together I wanted us to do something too … as a family. You know it’s right, so stop fussing.”
I rolled my eyes. “Says you. The whole lot of you are as pretty as spring roses … big bellied and blooming or blushing from being a new mother. I’m gonna look like a stick … or a brick … and I’ll wind up embarrassing myself, you, and … and the family I live with.”
Strangely enough it was Daphne of all people that put her hand on me in comfort. “Fel there isn’t a thing wrong with the way you look. You’re just built like a warrior and not soft and rounded like we are. And I can’t imagine you looking any other way. It is part of who you are and if people can’t accept that then that is their problem not yours. Now turn here and let me color your eyes.”
I squawked, “What?! Now I said I would play dress up with you lot but I’m not putting war paint on my face.”
Daphne snatched my ear and kept me from leaving the stool I had been sitting on. “It isn’t war paint and you know it. You think I want to ruin the effect by painting your face so you can hide in the bushes? Or is that what you really want because you are trying to slip away unseen?”
Nel snickered and said, “What you get for calling me a pumpkin earlier.”
“Humph.” I have to admit I was having fun for all the fuss and bother of it. What I wasn’t looking forward to was going out and getting stared at.
Docia started lining us up as we had practiced for years. “You go in front Fel.”
“Why do I have to go in front?!”
Docia stamped her foot. “Because you start us off just like always and that means you either go in front or last and since I can’t seem to trust that you’ll actually make it to the stage if I let you go last then in front it is and that’s that.”
I groused, “You weren’t so bossy when we were just girls.”
She snorted, “But you were so you can imagine who I learned it from. Now stop being such a scaredy-cat and dance for Cor if you can’t do it for us.”
I found some steel for my spine at her words and knew that if I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself I needed to start acting with a little more grace. I mumbled, “I’ll just pretend we are playing by the stream like we used to. No one is around, just us.”
Docia smiled and I realized she really was beautiful now that she was taken care of the way she was always supposed to be and not always having to look over her shoulder, worrying which monster was going to try and get her next.
In some clans there are instruments and words that go along with their dances but in our town the women only used their hands and feet to mark the beat they danced by. The music came as the claps and stomps and steps wove together like the ribbons wove together as we circled around the pole that stood in the center. The only other sound was made by the dance leader to call the sudden changes in steps that came faster and faster and faster as the dance reached its finale.
As we walked onto the dais that was being used as a stage people didn’t quiet down like they did for other performers and I knew from a few covert looks they were trying to put us in our place. That more than anything gave me the courage to go on. I chirped the first moves and in no time, despite my intent to rub the faces of the crowd into the dust, I had forgotten all about them as my sisters and I relived one of the few pleasures that had been allowed to us.
Round and round then reverse and round. Stomp and clap. Bob and weave. I whistled, chirped, and called. Twist, snap, stomp. Round and reverse. As we moved the ribbons began to weave and unweave. The steps sped up and it was a game to see how fast we could move in time and not cause a knot.
Now we were all smiling and laughing … stomping, clapping, bobbing, round and round, revers and round again. We’d gone faster as girls but I don’t think we’d ever moved as sure footed. Then in one quick flash of feet moving so fast they were nothing but a blur, hands flying this way and that with our partners, the dance came to an crashing end and the ribbon was perfectly woven and tied in bows all along the poles length.
There was utter silence then Carter jumped over the table he’d been sitting on and swooped Hannah up into a huge boyish hug and said, “Gosh all mighty Wife, I sure gotta prize in you!”
Carter’s brother wasn’t so far behind but he stopped short when Nel said, “You’re not dumping me on my head. I’m so heavy I’ll snap your back … a kiss’ll do just fine thankee.”
Soon there was laughing and clapping all around and other husbands came forward to claim their wives. I saw Lem bending and kissing Daphne’s hand like she was royalty out of some storybook before placing her hand in the crook of his arm and leading her off. Others were drawing their wives away for a cool drink … we were all hot and sweating from the dance. Robbie claimed Docia and I hugged her and then turned and wove my way to go off stage. I hadn’t seen Cor and I was bound and determined that no one was going to see how alone I was.
I was all changed out of the leathers and back into my own clothes when Winnie found me. “Here you are. I had wondered where you had gotten to.”
Her voice was over bright which told me she’d noticed that I was the only one to walk off stage alone. I refused to be an object of pity. I told her, “I wanted to take this off and air them out. They belong to Docia. Besides these ornaments clinking and clanking drive me mad; I can barely hear myself think with them on. Give me a moment to finish packing these in her bag. Was there anything you needed?”
“Fel … he meant to be here …”
“Hmmm?” I asked like I hadn’t really been listening to the question the first time around.
“Fel … please, let me explain. The divorce papers came in and the council wanted them signed right away.”
I stopped dead still. “Of course they would. They couldn’t leave the man alone for just one night could they? No, they want to sweep things under the rug as fast as possible regardless of how they do it.”
“Don’t be mad at him.”
I shook my head. “I’m not. I wasn’t mad at him to begin with.”
“Then who are you mad at? The Council? They are just trying to do their job.”
I snorted. “That’s your opinion. But no, not the council either. Myself. For being a foolish maid.” She put her hand on my arm and I jerked away. “Just leave it be Winnie. It is what it is.”
I walked away. I think she would have followed me but some woman or other called her and then hugged her in some boisterous greeting. I made my way to the room I’d been sleeping in. I was in no mood for any more celebrations and just wanted to escape in sleep. I gave serious consideration to drinking a mug of tea to help me sleep but that only brought more thoughts of Francine and why Cor had been there to see me dance. I looked at the open window and the roof beyond and developed a need to sleep out in the open like I used to.
I found the wooden shakes too uncomfortable once I was out there so I knew my idea of sleeping on them was too foolish to try; but I did decide that I was going to sleep there for a while. I leaned against the wall, hidden in a shadow so no one below would see me, and then let my mind wander in the stars above.
Hours later I heard the latch on the door lift and the door pushed open.
“Hush Cor or do you wish to wake the whole building? I’m surprised Fel hasn’t already come in search of you.” I only heard a loud bit of mumbling and then the bed make a loud squeak. “Wait here. I’ll see if she’s in the sitting area.”
“She’s gone I tell you … gone. For good.”
I heard the Captain mutter something that sounded suspiciously like, “Idiot boy.”
I clambered back in the window and smelled it right away. “How much has he drunk?” I asked making the Captain jump.
“Where … ?” He looked out the window then back at me and said, “You may feel the need to go out there for a bit again.”
I shook my head. “No. I’ll sit in the chair to make sure he doesn’t fall out of the bed.”
The Captain and I removed Cor’s boots and then as he made to leave he said, “You don’t seem surprised.”
“Winnie told me.”
“Oh.” After a moment he tried to say, “Fel, he’ll …”
“Stop,” I said holding up my hand for emphasis. “No more. No more meddling or excuses or anything else. I’m tired of it all; it’s like ashes on my tonge. I’ll live with the way things are so stop worrying. But if you want to make it easier for me just … just stop with the fairy stories. I don’t need ‘em. Don’t want ‘em. Life is what it is. The sooner we all come to accept it the easier we’ll all sleep.”
Quietly he said, “Very well.” He turned to leave then turned back and add, “You’re a good girl Fel … a good Mistress for the estate. If that is all Cor can see you as then he’s still a dem sight luckier than he was before.”
I latched the door behind him and then moved the chair so I could prop my feet on the bed. I needed some rest, after all tomorrow would be just another day.