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The director stared at the bride-to-be. "The beard has got to go!" He waved his pudgy hands in expansive gestures; he had been a stage performer when he was younger, and still expressed himself in ways that could be seen in the very last row.

The stage manager walked around them, his movements more reserved. He was used to moving quietly behind the scenery. "He's so tall! Dini, couldn't you have chosen someone of a more suitable height?"

The director rubbed his chin. "With the facial hair gone, the bride will be stunning, if a bit unusual. Brogov, do you think putting Dini in heels would help?"

The stage manager considered, his eyebrows drawing together. "If Dini was wearing a dress, certainly. But Dini is to be the groom, Jirvei, and his bride is very tall."

The director nodded. "I know he's the groom."

The two were talking at a rapid pace, much like they had when they brought Dini and Lalya in to discuss the timing of the engagement party and the wedding. Just like before, they didn't ask for Dini or Lalya's preferences in the matter. They also totally ignored Ashegoi, who had been introduced only as one of Lalya's attendants. But they had ignored the retired male role actor from the first, and so far she had let them assume she was just there to discuss dresses with the tailor.

Lalya cleared her throat. "Gentl--"

"The hair could be longer, too." Jirvei said.

Lalya lowered her voice, letting the rich baritone fill the room. "Longer hair is fine, but I'm not shaving off the beard."

"What?" They looked at Lalya, jaws dropping as if the furniture had spoken.

"But you have to!" Vloruu, the tailor, objected. "You can't play a woman with a beard. It's simply not done!"

Lalya glanced at Ashegoi, who nodded encouragingly. Lalya smiled broadly down at the short man. "I'm not playing a woman. I am a woman. I can show you my license, if you don't believe me." Now that she had their attention, she felt a little more comfortable. It helped that she'd had this conversation before with all sorts of people.

Jirvei waved that fact aside with a gesture like swatting an irritating insect. "But a beard and a dress! It's just--just--"

"Authentic." Ashegoi spoke up, pitching her voice an octave higher than she usually spoke. "Dini's fans want to see him as himself, for once. They also want to see the man who got relicensed as a woman for love. Dress Lalya up like a female role actor and they'll feel cheated."

The three men started, and stared.

"Who are--?" Brogov stared at the slim form in masculine garb as if she was a puzzle.

The director looked at her, actually paying attention this time, and his eyes widened. "Esteemed Ashegoi, welcome to our theatre." Jirvei gave Dini a brief glare.

Dini smiled at him. He expected to hear their opinions about bringing a woman to their meeting, probably at great length. He was pretty sure that none of them really took Lalya's gender change seriously.

"You are here as a wedding attendant?" Jirvei sounded suspicious.

Ashegoi smiled. "What, you don't think a retired actress has friends? Of course I'm here as a wedding attendant. However, being a friend of the bride and groom doesn't make me suddenly stupid. I know audiences, and I've been talking to other women in the city. Dini's fans are excited to see the love of his life, and the bride's masculine good looks are a big part of the interest you want to take advantage of."

"She does have a point," Brogov nodded. "Lalya has worn a beard for quite a long time--and a lot of people know that. Half of Dini's fans were hot for him, before it came out they're getting married."

"All right, all right." The director sighed deeply. "The beard can stay." His whole body drooped as if the idea depressed him. "What color do you propose the bride should wear, Vloruu?"

The tailor bustled around Lalya and Dini, muttering something about the foolishness of casting the taller man as the leading lady.

Lalya looked at Dini and raised an eyebrow. "Doesn't anyone here realize this isn't a theatrical production?"

Dini laughed. "Vloruu believes everything is a theatrical production, even a simple banquet. But he's very good at what he does."

"This is a theatrical production, young--" the tailor measured Lalya's waist, looking below with his eyes. "Woman?" He said the word slowly, somehow expressing disapproval and doubt, but morphing those into admiration. "The whole city will be watching. You have to be a credit to the company."

"I'm not a part of the company."

The director gestured, making it clear that he, at least, was glad of that fact.

Brogov smiled. "You're marrying in, young man."

Lalya started to open her license pouch, and Dini set his hand over it. "Gentlemen, I insist you treat my bride with the respect due a woman of her stature." With a twinkle in his eye, he added, "We can cancel the public wedding, if you want."

They all looked at him in horror. Jirvei, as usual, found his voice first. "You wouldn't get married in private! That would be--"

"That would be perfectly acceptable to me." Dini folded his arms over his chest. His leading role in the new play had been announced, and their audience had responded with enthusiasm; the theatre would lose face and revenue if they changed the cast now.

"But the premier! The publicity!"

"I suspect the leading lady eloping with his new wife could be exploited by the theatre just as effectively as a big wedding." Dini took Lalya's hand in a classic romantic pose.

Behind them, Ashegoi nodded her agreement. "Your fans would think it was romantic."

Jirvei frowned at him. "You wouldn't!"

"Lalya, my dear, would you like to take a trip somewhere that we'd be a little less--public? Perhaps Affanumuur?"

"But--But--" Jirvei gestured unhappily.

"Affanumuur, Dini? Really?" Lalya tried to put a hopeful look on her face, though she doubted she could fool trained actors. She would have preferred a trip into the Breida mountains, or out to one of the exotic beaches. Just about anywhere that she and Dini could be alone, without all this fuss, was sounding better every day.

The tailor's assistant looked up. "My brother and his boyfriend went to Affanumuur to have a wedding ceremony. Then they hired five carnal guild workers to help them celebrate--two men, two no-gender, and one woman. The bed was round, and eleven feet wide, and--"

Dini rolled his eyes and Lalya was glad her skin was too dark for a blush to show.

The tailor turned and glowered. "Boy!"

"Oh, um, sorry gentlemen." He took a step back as six people glared at him. "And--er--gentlewomen--er--citizens."

"We'll need the largest armatures. Boy--"

"Yes, Master Vloruu. I'll get them."

Dini held his hand up. "No armatures. I like Lalya just as she is."

The assistant's jaw dropped, but Vloruu smiled. "Flat chested? Are you certain?"

"I am." Dini declared it with all the sincerity of a lead actor.

Lalya nodded firmly.

Jirvei frowned, but Vloruu's smile deepened into a foolish grin. "It will have to be something totally different than we've ever done before."

"I can recommend a women's tailor, one who's used to working with male role actors, if you like." Ashegoi offered softly, her voice back down to its usual tenor.

Vloruu managed to ignore her thoroughly without responding to her offer, just looking at Lalya and Dini, waiting eagerly for their response.

Dini and Lalya smiled sweetly at each other. Dini said, nodding, "Different would be just fine."

The director and stage manager nodded too. Different got attention, which was exactly what they wanted.

Lalya thought of Olarali taking her to visit her tailor. "I want to see and approve your drawings--I won't wear it unless I'm convinced I'll look lovely in it."

"Wonderful! It will be--I promise--the perfect dress for you, and," Vloruu glanced at the director, "the wedding will be a production no one will ever forget." He smiled up at Lalya, as eager as a boy being asked to his first dance. "I assure you, you will be the most beautiful bride ever. You will see!"

Author's Notes

I wrote this for the January 2012 Muse Fusion. It was inspired by a prompt about clothing from Vaerys and a title prompt from Elizabeth. Elizabeth's new poem, Ribbons For Her Beard, reminded me of it.

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Characters Featured:
Lalya, Ashegoi,

Story collections:
Autumn, Apparel, and Acorn Day
Lalya and Dini
Ribbons for Her Beard
Swept Away
All Empire Stories and Art

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Mourning Dancer

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