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This is the last part of Chapter 2, still in need of edits. But it’s here for you to read. Enjoy.
Here’re the other pieces thus far: prologue, chapter 1 (pt.1, pt.2), chapter 2 (pt.1, pt.2)
Miska stalked home in the dark. She didn’t pay a link boy to light her way; she knew the neighborhood like the back of her hand, the occasional street lamps were more than enough for her, and she’d no fear of footpads. She still wore her Association of Stevedores’ gray sash, with its distinctive knot by her hip, and though no one really spoke about it there was a clear understanding between the Association and the local thieves. They didn’t bother each other, and every so often a stevedore might help out with some less questionable work. It wasn’t something her father was proud of, and her mother never spoke of it, but Miska liked the freedom it gave her to roam the city.
This night it was unlikely anyone would have attacked her anyway. It was clear from the way she walked that Miska was steeped in frustration and anger. Her fists were tight by her side, her stride harsh and controlled. The night had gotten worse after she’d had to declined Captain Gartarken’s offer. Haubert had finally told her to go home and cool her head, when all she wanted was to punch one of Gartarken’s crew.
It wasn’t, she knew, truly their fault. They had made port after a long voyage, fat with stories and a good cargo. They’d made more money betting on their captain in the dueling ring. And they’d been increasingly loud about it, happy members of a happy crew relaxing in good company.
They were, in short, everything that Miska had promised herself she’d be. Everything she’d had to set aside, because of the fire.
It burned to see what she yearned for and couldn’t have. It didn’t feel any better to realize that Haubert had been right to tell her to leave.
Her mother was still sitting at the trestle table in the kitchen when Miska returned home, puzzling over a creamy pale letter beside the massive ledger that held the sail loft’s accounts. She tried to greet Miska and ask where she’d been, but Miska only shook her head, tossed the leather purse of her day’s wages on the table, and said good night.
The new bedroom she shared with her sisters was smaller than their last one had been. There was only one bed, and though it was slightly larger than their old ones had been fitting all three of them was still tight. Mirabelle and Leonora were already in it, and the candle by the bed flickered as Miska opened and closed the door.
“Where have you been?” Mirabelle sounded curious.
“At The First Blood,” Miska muttered.
“The First Blood?” Leonora hissed. “After Mother’s fight with Haubert? You’re mad.” She sat up enough to rest on her elbows. “You didn’t spend money there, did you?”
Miska shook her head. “Haubert wouldn’t let me. But I had to go.” She shrugged out of her work clothes and into the old threadbare shirt and trousers she wore as pajamas. “Fancy Dancer made port today, a little after noon.”
“Oh,” said Leonora.
Mirabelle smiled and prodded their eldest sister in the ribs. “Go on, sister dearest. Ask the question!”
Miska struggled to hold onto her frustration and anger, but the wishful expression on Leonora’s face sucked some of the venom from her. She hid her smile by hanging up her work clothes.
“Did…” Miska stole a glance back, to see Leonora sucking on her lip in indecision. “Did Captain Gartarken ask after me?” Leonora’s hopeful tone was too much. Miska smiled.
“She said, in fact,” Miska spoke as she climbed into bed beside Mirabelle, “that she’d be at The First Blood for two nights.”
Leonora glared over Mirabelle at her. “But did she ask after me!” Mirabelle grinned between the two of them.
“Yes,” Miska relented. “And if you head out quietly,” she murmured, “out the back? You might be able to get there without Mother knowing you’ve left.”
“Through the rubble piles? In the dark?” Leonora’s brows knit together.
Miska shrugged. “Or you could wait for Mother to stop burning that lamp oil and go to sleep.”
Mirabelle winced. “Is she still staring at the accounts?”
Miska snuggled in beside Mirabelle, lying on her side to fit into the bed. “Yeah,” she whispered.
Leonora still rested on her elbows, chewing her lip. Mirabelle watched her. “Go on, sissie. You won’t have a chance to see her again soon.” Mirabelle poked Leonora again, chin lifting towards Leonora’s dress that hung against the wall. “You know she wants to see you too.”
“But I ought—ow!” Mirabelle had poked her harder this time. Grumbling, smiling, Leonora clambered out from her preferred spot up against the wall.
“Just be back before the morning.” Mirabelle’s grin was audible.
“Wear my sash!” Miska hissed as Leonora straightened out her dress. Leonora nodded and took it, disappearing quietly out the door. Mirabelle and Miska were silent for a little while after Leonora had disappeared. They didn’t hear their mother yell, nor did they hear anything from where the loft had once been. Eventually, Miska rolled over and blew out the candle.
In the darkness, Mirabelle spoke again. “Did you tell the captain that you couldn’t sail with her?”
Miska’s brief joy in her sister’s excitement flickered and died. “Yes.”
Mirabelle hugged Miska close. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
Miska tried to relax, but her anger crashed back over her time and again in waves. She swallowed it under. “It’s okay,” she lied, “I’m not the only one giving up her dreams here.” She squeezed Mirabelle.
“Yes,” Miska almost felt as though saying it made it more true. “And maybe Mother will get a loan to cover rebuilding soon. Maybe I can even convince her that I’d be able to make more money for the family on a ship than here at home. I might be able to go tell Captain Gartarken that I’m free to join her crew tomorrow evening.”
“Right.” Miska could tell that Mirabelle was trying to humor her. It was okay. She was trying to humor herself, and her sister was helping. “And then I can go find Luis, wherever he’s gotten himself off to, and we can open up the dress shop after Leonora pays me back. When the loft is running again.”
Miska turned her face into the pillow to hide her tears. It hurt to have the journeymen and apprentices gone, almost like losing her sisters. But there was no way for their mother to pay for their food, and nowhere for her to house them.
Losing Luis, though, was even worse. He and Mirabelle had been close for years, and everyone liked him. He’d laugh and sing and oversee the cooking after a long day’s work, sharing the precious spices his aunt brought him from her trading voyages across the Middle Sea. Eating his food, you’d swear you’d tasted the most succulent fire, and you’d smile while you cried and snot dripped from your nose.
But he’d left, just like everyone else, when it was clear that the sail loft wouldn’t reopen soon.
“What did Leonora say, after she looked at the books today?” Miska didn’t want to know. But she needed to. Mirabelle’s silence worried her.
“She said it could be worse,” Mirabelle whispered at last, “we weren’t doing poorly. But rebuilding is going to be too much.” She was quiet a moment longer. “There are a few ways to do it. Selling shares in the loft, maybe, but then we’d likely end up with almost none of it ourselves. Perhaps a loan. But it would have to be a big one, and that seems risky. Mother’s been hunting all over Marseille for an offer, and she hasn’t found one yet.”
Miska rolled over, facing away from her sister. “So Haubert really was the best choice.”
“Yes.” Mirabelle whispered.
Miska scrubbed her face with her rough hands. Why, she thought, must you make the worst choices Mother?
“Goodnight sissie.” Mirabelle kissed the back of Miska’s head.
Miska reached back to hold Mirabelle’s hand for a moment. “Goodnight sissie.”