Same deal as before. Very first draft material, following more or less from the previous posts. Enjoy!
“Miska, what happened to you?” Natalia’s question ended on a shrill note. She rushed to her daughter, still standing by the door and removing her jacket.
“Nothing, Mom.” Miska turned away to hide her bruised face. She felt stiff. Her ribs ached, and her right shoulder was sore. Her knuckles felt raw and even her hips and thighs felt well-used. She was grateful that the cuts in her mouth had closed before she got home. It wouldn’t do to spit blood in front of her mother. She didn’t want to taste any more blood for as long as she lived.
She felt for the wallet of coin she’d won, comforted by its hardness behind her belt. That alone made the whole thing worth it. Now she just had to find some way to give her mother the money without telling her what she’d been up to.
“Miska!” Her mother had circled around, and was looking at her bruised cheeks and black eye. “This is not ‘nothing!’” She leaned in and hugged her daughter.
“It’s fine, Mother. I’m fine.” Miska tried to return her mother’s hug but couldn’t hide her wince. Her mother had squeezed her ribs.
“You’re not fine, Miska,” Natalia hissed, “you’ve been beaten up. Who was it? Who would have done this to you?” She pulled back to arm’s length, looking Miska up and down. “Is there any more that you’re not telling me?”
“You don’t know them, Dad doesn’t know them, I don’t know them. They won’t be trying it again any time soon.” Miska felt proud of managing to tell the truth. She felt especially proud that the last one was definitely true. “It’s nothing to worry about.”
Natalia squeezed her daughter’s hands in frustration, then stopped as soon as she saw Miska’s wince. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Here, come over here.” She dragged Miska to the kitchen table and set about boiling water. “Sit! Stay right there.”
It was strange, Miska thought, for anyone to still be awake at this hour. She’d hoped that she would be able to sneak back into the house without being noticed, since everyone was usually abed at this point. It looked like her mother had decided to wait up for her instead. She watched her mother boil water, laying on strips of thick cloth to float on top.
Natalia lifted the strips on a wooden spoon with a practiced air, carrying them, steaming and dripping, across to the table. She glanced up at her daughter’s face, setting her lips in a firm line as she laid the cloth on Miska’s bruised and battered knuckles. Miska hissed in pain, then forced herself to relax as the heat soaked into her aching hands.
“I used to do this for your father, you know.” Natalia spoke while she worked, her fingers deftly wrapping Miska’s hands. “He got into a lot of fights before you three came along.”
Miska looked at her mother, confused. She’d never heard any of her father’s stories about this before.
“Don’t look so surprised!” Natalia shook her head. “I know that you were in a fight. I see the signs. And,” she looked at her daughter’s face again for a little longer, her hands clasped gently around her daughter’s, “it looks like it was a fistfight.” She rolled up Miska’s sleeves, checking her arms and then her shoulders. “Yes. Just a fistfight, wasn’t it? Which means it probably wasn’t in a bar, and wasn’t some random person attacking you on the street. Did you get any money for winning?”
Miska stared at her mother. “How do you know?”
“You just told me.”
Miska closed her eyes and sighed.
“But if you were mugged they would have tried to use some weapon. And if it were in a bar, I’d expect them to have picked up something to hit you with.” Natalia waved one hand at Miska’s face and arms, “And you’re not cut, that I can see, which is what I’d expect from pottery or glass. So it’s even less likely to have been a bar fight.” She ticked off points on her fingers. “None of us know them, they won’t be doing ‘it’ again any time soon, you’re still standing, and it was a fistfight that wasn’t a mugging or a bar fight.” She’d been so on the mark that her next comment threw Miska completely. “Did that weasel Haubert set you up for this?”
“What? No!” Miska pulled her hands back from her mother’s grip, holding them against her chest. “Weasel? You call him a weasel? Who do you think has been paying me extra wages and feeding me every day so that I can make you a little extra money?”
Natalia leveled a finger at her daughter. “Quiet. I know Haubert has been helping you, but you don’t truly know that man.”
“What do you mean I don’t know him?” Miska said. “I’ve known him since I could barely walk!”
Natalia stared at her daughter then set her finger over her lips, glancing back at the wall between them and the house’s bedrooms. When she spoke again her voice was hushed. “Haubert may have changed since he was younger, but back before he left to be a pirate he had a mean streak wider than a barge. He left with four other good friends of your father’s. Your father was the only one who stayed here. Haubert was the only one who came back. You may like him because he’s been nice to you since you were little,” she shook an admonishing finger as Miska opened her mouth to interrupt, “but never ever forget that he left Marseille to kill people for profit.”