Here’s the following scene:
The bruises were worse the next day. She got less work hauling, and by the time that she headed for The First Blood she was quickly loosing faith that prizefighting was a good idea. The purse she’d handed her mother the night before had been heavy and full of good coin, but if she didn’t make as much money at her other jobs she’d still be worse off overall. Her mother had had a few more choice words to say, but when Miska was adamant that she hadn’t gotten into fighting through Haubert, that she’d only done it to try to pay of her mother’s loan, Natalia lost some of the wind in her sails.
But her outrage had given Miska an idea.
Haubert’s eyes widened as Miska strode in through the front door, and he peered at her in the warm, dim light of the interior.
“What poor, silly, bleating fool of a kid decided to try his luck on you?” He was behind the bar as usual, leaning forward on his elbows as Miska approached.
Miska tongued the ridges on the inside of her cheek where her cuts had swollen shut. She wasn’t sure that Haubert had the right description of her opponent, but his confidence in her left a warm feeling in her chest. She stepped up and accepted the apron he handed her.
“He was bigger than me. His name was Hector, but I don’t think you know him. He’s some Romish fighter brought to Marseille for a few bouts.”
Haubert shook his head. “I was worried that you’d gotten into gambling, and now you’re punching out prizefighters? Those bruises,” he waved a hand at her face, “might scare away good customers.” Fear flashed through Miska, unsure whether he was about to tell her to go home instead of working today. Haubert smiled as he continued slowly, “If, I suppose, this place weren’t named for a duel I won in the first place.”
Miska closed her eyes and sighed, feeling the fear ebbing from her chest. “Thank you.” She looked at Haubert, seeing his half-smile. “I was worried that you’d send me home.”
“No Miska,” Haubert’s smile turned thoughtful, “but maybe we can do something to cast those bruises in a better light.”
Miska had thought that Haubert was suggesting that she wear makeup or something to cover her face. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Haubert encouraged her to roll up her sleeves, showing off the bruises on her forearms, and as the night wore on he told patron after patron the story of how Miska had defeated a prizefighter both bigger and heavier than she was. She was the center of attention, and everyone wanted to ask her how she’d done it. The orders came in quickly, and her night was busy.
It wasn’t until they were closing up, sweeping and cleaning up spills, that Haubert came over to talk with her again.
“How did you defeat him?” He gathered up crockery in his muscular arms.
Miska shrugged, sweeping up dirt. “He underestimated me, I think.”
Haubert snorted. “Go on.”
Miska thought back over the events of the previous night. “He knew he had better reach, and could generally hit harder. He pummeled me all around the ring.” She shook her head. “I remembered the advice I’d heard from Dad and the other stevedores, and kept my head tucked and tried to take his blows on my arms. But I was definitely losing.” She ran her tongue over her teeth one more time, thankful that none of them felt loose. “And then, after he’d already been beating on me for a while, he stepped in to really work me over. He’d pushed me up against the edge of the ring. So I picked him up and threw him out of bounds.”
Haubert whistled in amazement. “I bet he didn’t see that one coming!”
Miska laughed, then winced as her ribs ached in response. “He was surprised alright. I think he thought I was just there to give him a chance to warm up on a moving target.”
There was a companionable silence as they moved around the common room, clearing the detritus of happy guests. Miska had been so busy since her arrival that she’d forgotten to follow through on her idea from that morning.
She turned to Haubert, carrying plates back to the kitchen, and asked, “Will you teach me how to fight?”