They stopped behind Betsy in the middle of the cobblestone street. She clutched the broken astrolabe and stared at the ocean visible between the buildings. After how fast she had used the sword, DG didn't want to interrupt her thoughts. She glanced at Cain, but couldn't find any answers in his stoic expression.
Sprite didn't have any qualms of igniting Betsy's wrath. "Orders, Captain?"
She tucked the astrolabe into her black leather bodice. "Tell Jenkins to finish provisioning, then take the ship to behind the Steward's House and wait for my signal. And you stay on board and help him." Sprite saluted before running down the street. Betsy linked arms with DG and Cain. "We got a ball to get ready for." DG whined quietly. Betsy's brown eyes turned and she smirked. "Don't tell me you got ethical objections to crashing a party?"
"I don't like balls," DG admitted with a huff.
"Oh, me either. That's why Captain Betsy Bobbins doesn't go to any. However, Beth Hematite of the Archipelago always has a good time for me."
The road curved as it sloped upward, and the shops were cleaner, bigger, and freshly painted. Betsy dropped their arms, but that didn't stop the people's stares. DG heard the mutter of "sea trash" from one couple they passed.
Betsy ignored the others as she went straight into a clothing store with two windows filled with dressmaker dummies showing off dressy outfits. "Quincy! The best dressed captain in the whole Nonestic needs your personal attention!" DG swore the clothing racks swayed from Betsy's boom.
A dark-skinned man wearing a gold embroidered red silk frock coat trotted out of a back room. "Captain Bobbins! How long has it been?" He embraced her, kissing both cheeks before inspecting her attire. "And why did you come looking like that?"
"Hush." Betsy swatted his arm with a grin. "These are my working rags and you know it."
"Excuses, excuses, Sweetpea. Did you bring your dear friend Quincy any pretties?"
"Sorry, the hold is empty. I'll have to be a regular customer today."
"Sweetpea, don't you dare compare yourself to those well-dressed barnacles." Quincy straightened his back along with his dismissive gesture, and DG was surprised to see he was as tall as Cain. "You are queen of the sea, and I won't hear any claims of anything less." He surveyed his shop. "The Steward's ball?"
"The Steward's ball." Betsy nodded.
Quincy patted his coiffure that hadn't moved a millimeter despite his fluttering. "You changing Slate's height?"
"Not this trip."
"Pity, he'd look better with a close shave." He sliced a finger across his neck and both of them giggled. "Why are you here, Sweetpea? The dress I repaired for you last annual is perfect for the Big House. You didn't damage it again, did you? There's no time for repairs now!"
"Calm down. I left it with Mrs. McGrath. If anything happened to it on her watch, it's the end of the world." Betsy rolled her eyes as Quincy clutched his chest. "Mr. and Mrs. Cain are attending, and they don't have a thing to wear. But since time is limited, off the rack will suffice."
"Only because I put the best on my racks." Quincy's hazel eyes swept over Cain and DG, and DG bit her tongue to keep from apologizing for her appearance. "What class, Sweetpea?"
"Same as mine. We'll have to hide the collars."
"It's your business, Sweetpea, and you know I never interfere in your business." Quincy tapped his chin. "I recommend a silver and blue color scheme. If the collars flash accidentally, it would be assumed to be part of the garb, and both of them can wear those colors. You are attending as married, right?"
"Yes," Cain nearly growled.
"Married couples are expected to match, that's all, Sugarcane."
Betsy smirked. "You take care of Mr. Cain, while I get an outfit together for Mrs. Cain."
DG's stomach dropped as Betsy pulled her deeper into the store, leaving the two men eyeing each other. She heard Cain sigh. "What do you have in normal pants?"
"I have every possible clothing need covered, Sugarcane. Just tell Quincy what you need."
"Don't call me that." Cain growled like he would at Glitch.
Betsy stopped at a circular rack of dress bodices. "You look like I'm dragging you to an execution. Don't you want to get all dolled up for your man?"
"Not if it means killing me with a corset and high heels." DG took a deep breath to stave off panic. "Maybe I should go back to the ship."
"Actually, I need you to make sure I grab the right parts. The Steward has a sizable collection of navigation tools." She flipped through the colorful bodices. "For the shoes, you're stuck with your boots but the skirt will cover them. And unless you're undergoing corset training, there's no reason for them to hurt."
DG held the hanger Betsy thrust into her hands. "I've suspected wearing those things is a sport I haven't been trained for."
Betsy laughed. "Not quite. It's changing your body shape by using a corset. People aren't designed to have a wasp-sized waist. If you've been forced into that, I'd fire my tailor if I were you." She looked up and snorted. "Drape it on," she gestured at the bodice on the hanger.
DG fumbled with the material. The deep blue silk bodice tied closed in the back, but it had a low neckline with attached silver gauze creating a ruffle. She couldn't figure out the ruffle and the holes to get it around her neck. Betsy stopped searching the rack, guided the silver around DG's head, and fastened the ruffle closed under her chin. She nodded and turned DG to a nearby full-length mirror.
Ignoring the clothes she wore under it, the blue silk part barely covered all of her breasts as the top wrapped from armpit to armpit. The silver gauze stretched over the rest of her breasts and neck, except for a triangular opening centering on her cleavage. Diamond shapes had been embroidered into the silver gauze in blue thread. The pattern continued down the gauze that covered the blue sleeves past the shoulder puffs with silver diamonds embroidered on them. An embroidered silver and blue band of trim stretched across the top of the bodice and two bands ran down the center of her torso. DG stared at her reflection, but didn't see the hated princess-look everyone had shoved onto her.
Betsy pushed aside her black hair. "Trust me, you're going to look fabulous. Let's find the skirt."
The skirt raised all of DG's frou-frou princess fears. The overskirt was the same deep blue silk as the bodice and missing a huge triangle in the front to show off the silver underskirt with embroidered blue diamonds. Both were attached to the waistband, but it all needed a hoop skirt to hold it up. "Scarlett O'Hara I'm not," DG muttered.
"Don't knock a hoop. You'd be surprised what you can hide under one."
"A pair of pants?"
"Precisely." Betsy rolled up a piece of white silk with boning stitched through it. "Katie makes the corsets and alterations." She led DG to a small hallway adjacent to the store floor. The hallway was broken up into dressing room cubicles and ended with a circular platform in front of the three-way mirror. A matronly woman rocked in a padded rocking chair while a crocheted blanket floated in front of her-the needles moving by themselves.
She turned as they entered, and focused on DG. "My, my, do you actually need my help with clothing? With your power?"
"Not much training." DG said as the woman stood and the blanket floated to her seat.
"Thea Cain, Katie," Betsy said. "Thea needs a corset for this dress."
Katie nodded, "And alterations, I suppose. On the stand in your shirt." DG sighed as she went through the seamstress routine yet again. At least this woman didn't expect her to get naked. And she was going to use magic instead of needles and scissors. "If you don't mind a meddlesome woman giving advice," Katie interrupted DG's thoughts, "go for more training. Why, with as much power as you have, you wouldn't need to buy material to make clothes."
"Really?" DG blinked and stared at her triplicate mirror-self. No one had ever told her how much magic she could do. Well, the Mystic Man had told the Sorceress DG was stronger, but she'd never gotten a chance to ask if he meant the witch inside or Az herself.
The white boned silk floated from Betsy's hand and wrapped around DG's torso. "Relax, dearie." Katie hummed as the material cut around DG's hips and flattened against her breasts and stomach. But it didn't squeeze in her waist at all. Straps pulled themselves over the outer edge of her shoulders. The edges of the material met in the center of her back, and she felt the laces weave into the holes and pull taut. DG stared at the creation in the mirror. The corset gave her an impressive rack, but it was shaped differently than the ones they had made her where at the Palace. She still felt sick over another ball, with everyone watching for the Other Side freak to trip up.
The blue bodice zipped through the air to her body along with the hoop skirt and the skirts. DG watched the material tighten and mold to her body. The hoop made a bell out of her body, unlike the huge things she had seen in the movies. She'd be able to enter doors. "All done, dearie," Katie beamed as the clothes removed themselves. "Have fun at the party."
At the cash register, Quincy bagged up the items under a red-faced Wyatt Cain's glare. DG tugged him aside. "What's wrong?"
Cain pressed his lips together and shook his head. "I miss my badge," he finally said, still glaring at Quincy, who ignored it to haggle with Betsy.
"I don't follow."
"I never heard such, even when I patrolled the Sin District." His jaw spasmed.
DG fought not to smile. "It's our day to both be miserable."
Betsy and Quincy finished haggling and dividing which packages to deliver to the ship and which to take with them. Quincy ushered them to the door as Cain carried the clothes for the party. He leaned into DG. "You are a lucky, lucky woman." He glanced at Cain's reddening face before his eyes dropped down the Tin Man's body. "Very lucky."
DG felt her face heat up. "Yeah, I am." She brushed up against Cain's arm as they left the shop. He took a deep breath as he shouldered their packages.
Betsy led them down a few side streets to a two-story boarding house. The sign bolted beside the front door called the building the Royal Rest. The door under the small wooden awning opened into a white-washed living room with a check-in counter built next to the staircase. "Mrs. McGrath!"
The woman behind the counter shook her head. "I saw your ship come in, and all I could think was 'surely she's not that daft'."
"I'm a constant source of disappointment for someone. Today's your turn," Betsy grinned.
Mrs. McGrath tossed a large brass key, which the pirate caught. "Your trunk is already upstairs."
"You're a pearl, Mrs. McGrath, a pearl." Betsy bounded up the stairs. Cain shooed DG ahead of him. The Captain had opened the first door on the second floor and had vanished into an attached bathroom. DG helped Cain pile the clothing onto the quilt-covered bed as they heard water filling the tub. Betsy exited the bathroom undoing the laces of her black leather bodice. "This place always makes me feel salt-encrusted. Or barnacled maybe." She hung her hat on a bedpost, and headed to the large wooden trunk in the center of the room.
Cain caught DG's eyes with his stoic expression restored. "I'm guarding the room."
Betsy looked up from her opened trunk. "Come on. It's not like none of us haven't seen the opposite sex naked before."
"But I'm not married to you." Cain carried a chair into the hall and shut the door.
Betsy turned her disbelieving expression to DG, who shrugged. "It's best not to argue when he gets like this. Besides, maybe I don't want you to see him."
"You two are a piece of work." Betsy dropped her bodice into the trunk.
DG unwrapped the clothes after the bathroom door closed. But it didn't distract her thoughts. She turned away from the finery to stare out the window. After dealing with the height from dropping out the window, it was a straight run to the port. The You and What Navy? was still there. She had run away to stop being displayed like a porcelain doll. And here she was, right back in the middle of it. To steal part of a magical artifact. Damn. She stuck her head out the door.
Cain sat next to it. "Something wrong?"
"Are you okay with what we're going to do?"
He blinked, taken aback by her concern. "There's something else going on besides finding some payday for a bunch of pirates."
"But it sounds like political crap."
"You do realize that everything that happened in the O.Z. for the past sixteen annuals could be presented as political crap?"
"That's a low blow, Wyatt."
"You'd feel worse if you didn't help." His lips twitched. "I'm not against breaking the laws for the right reasons. 'Sides, Pyrite thought she had a valid claim on it. Go get dressed."
DG retreated back into the room. Betsy exited the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her body. "Your turn."
She headed to her trunk, and the black tattoo on her left upper arm caught DG's eye. The letters MG were enclosed in an arc of lines that made a type of Celtic knot. "Who's MG?"
Betsy froze and didn't turn around. "Don't tell anyone about that. Ever."
"I'm sorry." DG bit her lip. "Most tattoos I've seen are images, unless the person is really important." She trailed off realizing her apology was pathetic.
Betsy's bare shoulders rolled under her wavy brown hair. "Look, you don't ask about anyone's past, ever. I could ask so much about you and Mr. Cain, hell, just on how you're used to fashion that doesn't match your lover's station." DG felt the blood drain from her face. "And how he's suffering from serious trauma. But I don't. And asking questions like that, letting things slip that you really don't know about, will get you killed." Betsy faced DG now, her face twisted with furious concern. "Don't do it."
"I'm sorry," DG whispered. "I won't tell anyone, not even Wyatt." She snatched up her chemise and retreated into the bathroom. She didn't even wait for the tub to fill halfway before jumping in and scrubbing with a bar of soap.
The anger wasn't aimed at her. Like Cain, Betsy could radiate anger outward when pissed the most at herself. But recognizing that didn't make the anger less scary. DG knew how to defuse Cain's anger; she didn't know Betsy as well. And they did owe her for getting them out of the slave market.
This bath would go down as the fastest she ever took. She dried off and decided to use her magic for clothes. Katie at Quincy's store thought she could. Clean panties shouldn't be too taxing. She closed her eyes and pictured what she wanted before pushing on her inner light. Fabric filled her hand, so she opened her eyes with a happy grin. She pulled on the new undies and the short, sleeveless chemise.
Betsy sat on the bed, pulling her boots on over skin-tight black pants. Her chemise had long sleeves and she had already tied on her front-laced, red silk corset. She gestured at the second pair of pants lying on the bed. "In case we need to drop the skirts and run."
"Are you a pirate or a boy scout?" DG pulled on the knit pants before reaching for her shoes. They clung tighter than any of the trousers she had been scolded for wearing.
"I've had training in both, but pirates don't care about the boobs." Betsy smiled. "Let's get you laced up so we're both modest enough for Mr. Cain."
Not that Cain thought they were all that modest and tried to leave again. Betsy looked up from her struggle to pull her hoop skirt out of the trunk and unfold it into its proper shape. "Oh, don't start," she snapped. "We're wearing as much as you are right now." Cain snatched up his new clothes and slammed the bathroom door shut.
Betsy's gown was red and silver. The bodice fit together with hooks and eyes down the front, and silver band of trim wrapped around the standing collar without a ruffle. The bodice and sleeves fitted smoothly over her body, and the skirts also gave her a bell-shape. Silver trim ran down the skirt front and along the hemline. Once she was satisfied with the outfit, Betsy pulled out a bulky, holstered gun and strapped it around her thigh. The skirt and hoop fell back in place, and you couldn't see the weapon. Betsy winked at DG's scrutiny. "The advantages of a hoop."
Cain exited the bathroom, freshly shaven, and militarily-erect. His dark blue jacket hugged his torso as tightly as the bodice did DG's. A small silver ruffle peeked out of the top of the high collar. Silver threads had been woven into the silk like a pinstripe, and a row of tiny buttons ran down the center of his chest. Except for the form-fitting dark blue pants, Cain looked like he stepped out of a history movie. DG took a second glance at herself and Betsy; they did too.
"Lesson time." Betsy swept their personal items into her trunk. "The Archipelago refers to all the islands scattered between Kingsport and the mainland, not counting Rinkitink. Most have their own governments, but swear allegiance to the Steward and help pay for the Island Navy." She set her sword on the bed and continued packing. "The Hematites have gobs of money and gobs of family members scattered all over the Archipelago. The Steward's people won't risk pissing off the ones paying the taxes. And since they're so large, you never have to worry about running into anyone who actually knows you're not a Hematite. So act like you're deigning to visit the mere mortals and everything should go smoothly."
DG felt her stomach sink. She wasn't a goddess with a crown; why did she keep getting swept into these situations? But Cain nodded, "So mingle and avoid this guy Slate and the Steward until we can get to the pieces and get out."
"Fairly simple plan." Betsy passed her sword to him. "You can wear this as an accessory." She locked the trunk. "Ready?"
DG's lurching heart remembered what happened at the last ball she had attended. She breathed deeply. "No, but we better go and get this over with."