Continuing our previous scene…
“You don’t want advice from me.” He turned away and walked back into the kitchen. Miska followed.
“No, I do. You know far more about it than my father does.” She stepped up to help wash the dishes. Haubert sidled away, bringing back water hot from the stove.
“I haven’t done much fighting since around the time you were born. I’m out of practice.”
“Maybe.” Miska hissed in pain as she began washing the dishes with her still-raw hands. “But at least you’ve actually done it.” She tried controlling her breathing, imagining the pain flowing out of her fingers as she scrubbed at the dishes. It didn’t work very well.
“Here, let me do that.” Haubert pushed Miska aside with an apologetic look. “You go finish up the other chores.”
Miska stepped back gratefully, drying her hands on a washcloth. “Fine, but look,” she held up the backs of her hands next to her face, bruises and broken skin on display, “I need to be able to win without looking like this every time.” She turned and went back into the common room.
When she came back with the next load, Haubert looked up from the sink. “I’m sorry, Miska, it might be good money, but are you sure you really want to be doing that?”
Miska set down the dishes with a clatter. “Do you really need to ask?” She crossed her arms, “After I told you how much my mother owes?”
Haubert looked sheepish. “Miska, your mother would kill me.” Miska opened her mouth to reply but Haubert kept talking, “She’s only put up with me for this long because I settled down and didn’t drag your father into any more trouble.”
“She didn’t kill me last night.”
“Hah.” Haubert’s laugh was unconvincing. “You’re her daughter, Miska, of course she didn’t kill you.”
Miska shifted her weight, still standing by the side of the sink. “Did you really, you know,” she said quietly, “kill people?”
Haubert kept scrubbing at the dishes.
“I think that one’s ready for drying, Haubert.” Miska stepped around and took the dish that her friend had been cleaning for the third time. She wiped it down and set it on the oversized rack. Haubert silently handed her another wet plate.
They stood in silence for a while, just them and the clinking of the dishes in the washing tub.
Finally, Haubert broke the silence. “I think we need more hot water.”
Miska refilled it.
“Fine. Yes Miska, I’ll teach you. But there are other people who can teach you better than I can.”
Miska looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “Yeah? Like who?”
“My Northmen friends.”
Miska paused. “You mean the ones that you went sailing with?”
“So you really did become a pirate, didn’t you?”
Haubert nodded again, then looked at her with a rakish smile. “And I was pretty fucking good at it if I do say so myself.” His smile crinkled the scars on his cheek. “I’ve got the marks right here to prove it.” His wink accentuated the scars. He turned back to the dishes.
“Is it true, what my mother said?” Miska asked.
Haubert huffed. “And what did she say?”
“That you and a bunch of Dad’s friends went off to sea, and only you came back?”
Haubert’s mouth tightened into a firm line. “Yes, that’s true.”
When he didn’t continue, Miska pressed on. “What happened to them?”
“Three of them died, and the fourth decided that he liked it better at sea than back here in Marseille.” Haubert shrugged. “Last I saw of him, he had come into port a few years back. I think he’s still alive, but I don’t know.”
Miska tried another tack. “What, really, do those scars mean?”
“Each dot here was done with a branding iron.” He passed Miska another plate. “Each one commemorates a successful voyage or a particularly impressive action that I took part in. I got my first for smothering the fuse some idiot had laid to the powder room in an armed merchantman we took.”
Miska stared at him, her eyes wide. “You almost blew up?”
Haubert shook his head. “Miska, I almost died so many times that nearly blowing up doesn’t even seem that exceptional.”
There was nothing but the clinking of plates for a little while.
“So.” Haubert looked at her sideways, “Do you really want to learn how to fight?”
“And you still want to go to sea, don’t you?”
A guilty expression on her face, Miska nodded again.
Haubert sighed. “One thing at a time. First, we teach you how to fight and try to get your mother out of the hole that she’s dug for herself.”