"How very odd." He murmured, almost to himself.
"Is it, now?" He looked at me, again, as though he only just remembered I was still standing but an arm's length away.
"It's most irregular. You've spent too much time with those savages."
"Which savages, sir?"
"Those bloody Tumpinabas or Topikins or whatever the devil they call themselves!" The color in his cheeks deepened several shades and spread over his face in uneven, red blotches. He turned away in a huff. He muttered something I couldn't make out.
"What was that?"
"What was what?"
"You said something I didn't quite catch, sir."
I stood still. A church bell clanged in the distance. I sighed.
"Silence, I said!" He was becoming more agitated by the second.
"Does my nakedness unnerve you?"
"Your presence unnerves me, you ungrateful cad!"
"That is unfair, I have been nothing but grateful."
"Have you? Is that what you call roaming half the city in the emperor's new clothes, all the way here, to my doorstep; Grateful?" I could almost see the steam hissing out of his ears.
"I'm afraid it couldn't be helped, my clothes were taken from me."
"Careful, boy," he seethed, "I can abide a cad, but not a liar. Account for your deeds earnestly --if you want to keep your tongue."
"I was rather hoping to keep my clothes."
I didn't flinch when his palm caught my cheek, but I felt it burn. "That'll be enough impudence out of you, boy. Out with it. You've already wasted enough time profaning." He seemed to have calmed down all at once.
"I have been earnest, but you do not believe me. What more can I say?"
"Tell me why you refused the clothes you were given."
"Those were not my clothes."
"I had them tailored for you."
"I did not need them."
"Savage!" He bawled, flecks of spittle landing on my face. "My son is a bloody savage!"
I turned away. I walked over to the pile of clothes, left in the corner of the room. I picked up a shirt and wiped my face on it. I looked at him, his chest heaving, his face still crimson, almost purple now. My gaze was even, my voice steady.
"I'll wear that label with pride, sir, if it means I will not be treating people the same way you do. If it means I share in the joys and sorrows of my brothers every day. If, when I bite into the dinner I helped bring to table, I also taste the thrill of the hunt, and, if under the stars, with nothing but my woman's bare skin for a blanket, I discover new meanings for the word 'love'."
His jaw went slack, mouth hanging half open. He looked like he wanted to say something, but didn't. I continued.
"There is much to learn in this civilized place, in this great city. How to read and write, how to speak and to negotiate. For these skills I am grateful. But this is also where I forgot to be glad in joy or to find meaning in sorrow, I forgot the taste of freedom, and couldn't understand what it meant to love." I had finished dressing, and was strapping the heavy officer's pistol to my brown leather bandolier.
"I had better leave, sir, before I forget what compassion is, too."