Chapter Eight

Chapter 8

On the day of the wedding it was sunny but cold, a sharp and clear cold that turned the cheeks of everyone red. After a long debate, Jacques had been selected to oversee the ceremony, supposedly because of his power as Council Head. In reality they had wanted a Kenazian priest-in-training and a Usomian reader to split the vows, but there were only a handful left in the colony and none of them would do it.

Fawn and Timnere made an odd couple, him in traditional clothing and her in bright Usomian garb, but they were both grinning at the start of the ceremony so it barely mattered what they looked like. They stood on the wooden platform left from the election. There were no chairs for the audience, so everyone had to stand, including the “thugs” Jacques and Sheen had handpicked from their respective neighborhoods. Most of them were nothing more than burly teenagers who had been promised extra food. The council members were supposed to stand at the front of the crowd, but Nora slipped away and patrolled the perimeter, trying to spot troublemakers. To her surprise she couldn’t see any. The only thing that bothered her was the Cragg was nowhere to be seen.

As the ceremony was wrapping up and Nora had returned to her post, Sheen nudged her. “I saw a group go into the trade a while ago, and they haven’t come out.”

“Rabble?”

“I don’t know, but it seemed suspicious.” She frowned and couldn’t help adding, “You used the word rabble in a sentence?” Both of them giggled until they realized Jacques was trying to glare at them discretly. It wasn’t working, so they shut up to put him out of misery.

Just after Jacques had pronounced them married, the trade door opened and a large group of angry teenagers poured out, many carrying signs. “Oh, no.” Nora sighed, “here we go.”

“Look! It’s two different groups,” Sheen realized. She was right. There were the sign-bearing, dull-colored, cloth and cardboard-shod Kenazians, who had apparently come to protest quietly, and their opposites, the loud and glowing Usomians, who held, not signs, but empty flasks and bottles. The sign-bearers lined up on one side of the crowd, chanting “Keep it pure!” Nora was shocked to see that Cragg was one of them, and started to stride toward him, but Sheen caught her arm, motioning at the Usomians. “I think they’re the problem,” she muttered.

The drunken group had first clumped together, shouting incoherently, but then they spread out and formed a ring around the whole wedding spectator crowd and the protestors on one side of it. On the platform, Jacques was calling for them to stand aside, but nobody paid him any mind except to hurl insults. Meanwhile, Sheen told the hired thugs to cluster around Fawn and Timnere, which they did, looking more frightened than brutish. The drunks started harassing the edge of the crowd, pushing and shoving the protestors especially. They didn’t retaliate but chanted even louder.

Zena muscled her way to the loudest group of Usomians and started to yell at them, but they just laughed. “We don’t understand your poli-talk,” one girl jeered, shoving Zena’s shoulder, “your words can’t save you now.”

“You don’t deserve those clothes,” the biggest guy said. He moved to rip her cape off her shoulders, but Fawn, who had silently followed her, blocked his hand. She smiled and looked at Zena, expecting a smile or look of thanks, but the council member turned away. The group then turned their fire on Fawn, laughing and whistling. Someone knocked the thin wedding band off her head. Another rubbed mud into her dress. She shook each person off but did nothing else except hold her head high and cast her eyes skyward.

Then Jacques and TImnere were at her side. “Come on, Fawn, let’s go,” her husband said softly, “just walk away.” He took her hand, leading her backward. She went with him, but before she turned around, she looked straight at the face of her tormenters—the drunk group and Zena both—and spit on the ground.

The biggest guy stepped forward. “You know where you can put your pride, you bitch? You pie-whore?”

“I do,” said Jacques as Fawn and Timnere faded into the crowd. The guy walked up to him menacingly, standing over him with only inches between their faces. “Where’s that, you motherless bastard?”

“Right up your ass.” Jacques sent his knee into the guy’s stomach. Even short on breath, the thug could still knock him down with a single punch, and he did.

The thug turned to his friends, who were all cheering, and Sheen’s fist smashed into his face.

***

As the ring formed, Nora shook Sheen off and headed for the protestors. “What are you doing here?” she demanded of Cragg.

“Protesting.”

“I can see that, I mean why?”

“Why should someone choose to marry outside the faith and then use our symbols and ceremony?”

“What? Why not?”

“Because they’re sacred. Meant for pure ceremonies.”

“Let them get married if they want to!”

“You don’t get it. If you agree to follow rules, you follow them. Or you leave.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. What if you wanted to marry me? You’d bend the rules.”

His mouth twisted a little bit toward a smile and then firmed up again. “If I wanted to marry someone outside the faith, I wouldn’t dilute our ceremony with Usomian jabber.”

“You would not. You love your lords and your rituals. You’re such a hypocrite.”  She stalked into the crowd again, just as a spectator screamed out of shock. She followed the sound.

***

Sheen didn’t wait to taste the satisfaction of a well-thrown and well-deserved punch but jumped on the thug, pushing him to the ground, using one hand to fend off his flailing arms and the other to continue the beating, swearing in between hits.

Their fight inspired other Usomians in the ring to push the spectators and the protestors around, and soon other fights were breaking out in all areas of the crowd. The friends of Sheen’s victim pulled her off of him and dropped her on the ground. She scrambled up but they blocked her path back to the original thug. She stood like a ferocious cat, hackles raised. Nora sidled up behind her and started uselessly tugging on her clothes, urging her to move to no effect. Sheen started to relax, as the Usomians were focused on supporting their injured friend, with occasional words and curses thrown her way, when Jacques’ arms wrapped around her waist and lifted her several inches off the ground. She kicked his legs hard several times before she saw his face. “Put me down!”

“No.”

“PUT ME DOWN!”

“NO.”

Resigned to his refusal, Sheen started struggling again, but Nora, following behind as they fought through the crowd caught her hands so all she could do was kick. Eventually she stopped as they entered the Slope. “Ok, I give up. Can I get down now?”

“Nope. Not until you’re behind a door.”

“Uhhh,” she moaned.

He held her firmly until they were inside his hut, at which point he dropped her unceremoniously in the corner. Nora stood near the doorway. Sheen folded her arms. “Well? Do I get a lecture?”

“After you apologize,” he said, showing her the bruises blooming on his shins.

“I’m sorry.” There was a pause. Jacques sat down on his bedroll. “Do I get a lecture now?”

“Why? You wouldn’t listen to me anyway.”

She glared at him and then turned to Nora. “Will you give me one, queen angry speech?”

“No. Because I would have done the same thing anyway.”

Sheen snorted. “Yeah, right.”

“If it was someone else, maybe…”Nora glanced at Jacques, and added, louder, “I’ll go supervise the clean-up. It’s gotta be winding down by now.” She left.

“I thought you were bred to be a scout, not a hoodlum,” Jacques said, knowing it would irk her and that it was incorrect and racist. He didn’t care. She said nothing except to ask when she could go.

“When I let you.”

“Hmmph.”

 

 

 

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