Miska is a character who’s shown up in several of my drafts of various stories in the Elven Progenitors universe for a while now. She started off as a secondary character in the backstory of another secondary character, but quickly took on a life of her own in my imagination. I always wanted to find out how she’d come to be where she was, and I tried, again and again, to write it. But every time I tried, I lost interest within a few pages. I was just dead *bored* with what I was writing, which I took to be a bad sign. I tried, and tried, and eventually I gave up and put the story on the backburner, but yesterday I had an epiphany and started writing down notes like mad. My first scene based on those notes follows. It turns out, I wasn’t going back far enough; I needed to see how it was that Miska, the Pirate Queen, went to sea in the first place…
Miska strode down the street, feet firm on the dusty cobbles, her load of heavy canvas rubbing her shoulders raw through the shirt her mother had made for her. Ahead, the stripped spars of ships clustered like a dead forest in the harbor, while the Mistral whipped the waves into whitecaps. Every so often a gust would stagger her from behind, catching on the heavy, densely wrapped bales of fabric she bore towards the docks. She’d done this so many times by now, she’d come to expect them. The wind was cool, almost chilling, but carrying so much fabric still left her sweating.
She slowed as she neared the quays, where the ships she loved so much had tied up to unload their goods and take on new stores. She easily navigated the crowds, pushing her way through the merchants, the stevedores, the sailors and those who hawked their wares. Warehouses mingled with dockside housing and taverns, some good, some cheap, some a debatable mix of the two. Marseille’s famous leisure houses were there too, though the better ones were a little further inland from the harbor. She could spot the sailors by the way they moved, their drunken steps and sober faces, and she wished, as she hitched her load a bit further up on her back to re-balance it, that she could be one of them too. She moved through the bustle, unconscious of the crowd around her as she stared at the ships in port. So many of them came to Marseille, so many of them brought the news and goods of the wider world and left once more, bound for other places, other things; they left for adventure, where all Miska could see ahead of her was more of the same, drudgery, carrying her mother’s sewing and cloth wherever it had to go. Today’s delivery was no different from last week’s, no different from the week before that or the week to come, and Miska was tired of it. She didn’t even realize that she’d almost made it until she heard her father’s voice calling to her from the crowd ahead.
“Miska! There’s my strong girl!” He smiled as he strode through the crowd ahead of her, yelling for folk to make way. Two of his fellows followed behind, smiling at Miska as she came. Bernice had always been friendly to her, like a favorite aunt, but Renard was about her age, and had just started paying more attention to her. She wasn’t sure if she liked that or not. She definitely didn’t like—
“Hey there my girl, you’ve got a load for four on your back! Let us help you, hey?” Her father had a big beaming grin. Miska couldn’t stand having him call her his girl in public. She grit her teeth as she slowed to a stop, stance strong against the weight of her load. Her legs felt like a dwarf’s pump, all that power packed into them. Her father took the first piece from her load, grunting as he shifted it. Bernice and Renard followed suit.
“Alonso,” Bernice’s voice was low enough to be hidden in the bustle of the wharves, “give her a break, she’s a young woman and doesn’t need you calling her ‘girl’ in front of all and everyone now.” She shifted her load and straightened up, leading the group back the way she’d just come.
“But Bernice,” her father began, “she is my daughter. She’s my girl! I’m proud of her! How many others do you think could have taken that load all the way from Natalia’s works down to here all on her own?” He looked almost confused. Miska kept her eyes on the ground ahead of her, not making eye contact as her father looked back. At least Renard hadn’t joined in the conversation.
“Even so Alonso,” Bernice left it at that, mercifully. Miska’s chagrin was sour in her mouth. She was glad that Bernice had spoken up for her, but she wished she’d done it herself. It didn’t matter so much that her father still called her his girl, she supposed. It was that he was just so… embarrassing about it. She liked being told that she was strong, because she knew that she was. Her father was right that no one else she knew would have moved that load in one trip all on their own. But it was like he took all of that away from her every time he said something about it, because he always, always, called her his ‘little girl.’
The rest of the trip was easy by comparison, and the conversation was good. They usually didn’t waste breath on talking when they were carrying a load, but the work was light enough with all four of them there. Miska learned that Reaver’s Love was due in soon, a Northman ship all the way from the New Sea, and Daughter-To-Be had come in with a heavy load of silks and spice from its run to the eastern coast of the Middle Sea. There was word of fighting north of Bospor, as the coasts of the Inner Sea were burned by slavers, and the fighting tribes from just north of there had started gathering for their traditional wars earlier than usual. Some of the sailors had claimed that all the cities of the Inner Sea would soon be at war, and said that there was even word that the Good Masters’ forces had been seen marshaling near the few Trade Ports of Elfhome. With every new story, Miska thought back to the one thing she knew for certain; she wanted, desperately, to be a sailor some day.