A Candid Talk
with Hassan Aziz

I’m sitting in Hasan Aziz’s cabin, emphasis on the word, sitting. (The sea is very rough today and sitting down is the only way to prevent me from falling on my face!) I have no idea where Sarah is. I shift in my seat just as Hassan enters the room. He walks as if he were on solid ground. Then again he’s had years to develop his sea legs. I’ve only walked on decks of cruise ships, and I‘m sure he wouldn’t count a cruise liner as a real ship.  

Dressed in tan Ottoman trousers that tie at his waist and gather around the ankles, a cream tunic, a long brown coat, and matching leather slippers, Hassan enters the room with stiff shoulders and a scowl on his lips. I wonder if I came at a bad time.

“You asked to see me?” Hassan asks in a pleasant voice, with an undertone of annoyance. 

I shift in my seat again and consider offering to come back at a better time.

Josanna: “Forgive me for not getting up, but I need to work on strengthening my sea legs.” I’m hoping that my attempt at humor will soften the impatience that I’m feeling from him.

The tension on Hassan’s face drains slightly as he gets closer to the dining table. He takes a seat beside me.

Hassan: There is no need for you to get up. What can I do for you, Miss Thompson?

Josanna: As you know, I’m getting ready to launch A Maiden’s Honor. I wanted to introduce readers to the characters outside of the story.

Hassan: Very well, but understand that I cannot stay long.

Josanna: I have two questions for you: What is your favorite scene, and why?

Hassan props his elbow on the armchair and rests his chin in his hand. He looks at me with narrow eyes and sighs.
Hassan: I thought you were going to ask me easy questions.

My face is burning. I giggle and hope that my face isn’t as red as it feels. 
Josanna: You don’t have to answer my questions if you don’t want to.

Hassan straightens himself and folds his hands in his lap.
Hassan: I would like to answer your question.  (He says in a stern voice. Then the unexpected happens, a blissful smile forms on his lips. He sighs again.)  I would have to say, that I like all the scenes that Sarah and I share.

I raise a brow.
Josanna: All of them?

Hassan chuckles.
Hassan: The pleasant ones.

Josanna: Is there one scene that you like more than the others?

Hassan: Hmmm
Hassan rests his chin on his fist and bobs his head from side to side. He looks me in the eyes and says: “I think I like the scene when I first brought Sarah to my quarters. Do you know the scene to which I am referring?”

Josanna: I do. Why that scene?

Hassan’s smile widens.
Hassan: I don’t know specifically. I suppose I like seeing Sarah’s childlike curiosity as she made new discoveries in my cabin.  

Josanna: Seeing Sarah in her native dress for the first time had nothing to do with your choice.

Hassan laughs.
Hassan: None whatsoever. (He says in the most serious tone he could muster, and then he winks.)

Josanna: Uh huh. Thank you, Captain Aziz. I will let you get back to your work.

Hassan smiles and offers me a nod. “Come back at any time, Miss Thompson,” he said before getting up from the table.

Hassan’s personal bodyguards, Tristan Thatcher and Luke Finch, stood at attention on either side of the door to Hassan’s quarters. Though Hassan was a half a head taller than most men, his bodyguards were even taller and larger. The two giants saluted their captain and then froze when their gaze fell on Sarah.

Hassan rolled his eyes and proceeded into his quarters with Sarah following behind him. Unlike the rest of his crew, he lived in a spacious suite behind the quarterdeck. His quarters took up nearly an eighth of the length of the ship and spanned the entire width. While most captain’s quarters on man-o’-war ships used canvas curtains to divide the living space, Hassan’s dividers were made of wood. To the untrained eye, his private chamber looked like a small four-room apartment. The walls separating his quarters from the quarterdeck, the dividers, and the furniture were configured in a way that made it easy to store them in case his chamber was needed for fighting. Battles rarely took place aboard his ship. That was fine with Hassan. His quarters were his sanctuary from his otherwise perilous life. 

His crew had already delivered Sarah’s trunk. She was too busy looking at the room’s furnishings to notice her possessions. Hassan laughed to himself as she ran her hand over the polished table. While Sarah continued inspecting his belongings, Hassan gave into his curiosity and reached for her pouch that was now sitting on the table. “May I see what’s inside?” he asked.

“Aye,” she replied before crouching onto his burgundy, black, and cream Persian rug covering the rough deck boards.

Hassan chuckled as she brushed her hand across the silk fibers seeming to inspect each color individually. While Sarah examined his Persian rug, Hassan peeked inside the pouch. His lips parted when he discovered black pearls almost filling the bag to the brim. There were at least two hundred of them, a small treasure.

Sarah stood up after completing her inspection. She picked up a pea-size pearl and said, “It poe’.”

“They are called pearls in my country.” Hassan returned the jewel to the pouch and wrapped the string around the edges to draw it close. "I will keep these safe for you.” Sarah had already moved on to inspecting the silver candlesticks. She seemed not to care that he hid her treasure in a secret compartment in his desk. Hassan glanced over at Sarah again and couldn’t help smiling at her curiosity. He could have spent the entire day watching her make new discoveries of things that were commonplace to him. Remembering the urgency, Hassan ducked into his dressing room to find something appropriate for her to wear. She followed him into the room like a curious puppy.

Hassan opened a trunk and pulled out a dress. “I have been told that this is the latest Parisian fashion. I would like you to wear it.” Hassan proudly held the dress up only to discover that Sarah wasn’t paying attention.

She couldn’t take her eyes off his gold pocket watch, which was suddenly in the palm of her hand. Her fingers traced the etched flower engraved on the cover. She opened the lid; the corners of her lips widened into a smile when the second hand moved.

“How the devil did you do that?” Hassan marveled how she could pick his pocket without him noticing. “I’ll take that.” He laid the dress on the trunk and snatched the watch from her just as she attempted to pull the hands off. “We must talk about stealing.” Hassan grabbed her wrist and led her over to the table. “I know you are curious about everything,” he said calmly. “You must not take things that do not belong to you without seeking the owner’s permission first. People will take great offense if you do. That is doubly true if you steal from the people from this part of the world.” Hassan knew by her vacant expression that Sarah had no idea that she had done anything wrong. “I hate to do this, but you need to understand the penalties for stealing.” Hassan removed his saber from his belt and pinned Sarah’s hand against the table. “This is what happens to people who are caught stealing in this part of the world.”  

Sarah cried out when Hassan pressed his saber against her wrist. After he had released her hand, Sarah stepped back and held her arm against her chest.

Hassan returned his saber to his belt. “You need not fear me. However, it is vital that you understand the penalty for stealing. The people in this part of the world are unforgiving towards those who break their laws. The penalties for committing such acts are severe. I would hate for you to lose your hand for a crime you did not understand that you committed. Come.” Hassan held his hand out to Sarah. “Let’s find you something to wear.”

Sarah slowly backed away without taking her eyes off Hassan’s saber; her hand was still pressed against her chest.

Hassan winked and returned to his dressing room. “This is a very beautiful gown,” he said, holding up the dress. It was a confection of white silk with intricate lace adorning the scoop neckline and skirt. Its short puffy sleeves were designed to be worn with long white gloves. The gown would have made any well-bred lady look like a princess.

Sarah mustered the courage to take a closer look. As she touched the garment with tentative fingers, her eyes glanced beyond the dress to a royal blue and gold silk cloth laid folded on top of the clothes in the trunk. Her hand dropped away from the dress. To Hassan, the two by three foot cloth was a useless gift from Naa’il Dhar, yet she stared at the cloth with twinkling eyes as though it were the latest fashion. Still, she dared not touch or take it, but held her hands close to her sides as if she were afraid of what would happen if she reached for it. Curious what Sarah would do next, Hassan gave the cloth to her.

Sarah looked at him as though he gave her a precious gift. Turning away from him, she removed her wrap and tied the fabric around her waist. She then surprised Hassan when she looked to him for his approval.

All he could do was interlace his fingers behind his back and nod. Hassan wanted to tell Sarah that he had never seen anything so beautiful. Her style of dress suited her better than the one he offered her. The blue cloth made the colors of her face, her eyes, and even her hair look more vibrant. If he had his way, Sarah would wear nothing else. “You are a temptress,” Hassan mumbled. He glanced down at the white dress that was now draped over his arm. He already knew how Sarah would look in it – as ordinary as it would be possible to look with burgundy hair and blue eyes.

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