Skipping a little bit ahead…
Miska was a welter of emotions as she arrived at The First Blood that evening. Work passed in a haze, with her serving and taking orders more by reflex than by any conscious thought. She didn’t even notice that she moved through the crowded common room with the same footwork that Haubert had been drilling her on. There was too much going on inside her head for her to realize such a small detail.
Finally, as the crowd began to thin out, Haubert pulled her aside and told her to take a break on one of the bar stools.
“You’re distracted.” He pushed her dinner across the bar towards her, a hot thick stew and her favorite mulled cider. “What’s gotten into you tonight?”
Miska shook her head, mouth full of food. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was either.
“Well you’re going to have to tell me about it at some point. You’ve mixed up three of the orders so far. No messes and nothing we couldn’t fix, but really.” Haubert frowned. “Besides, there’re some people I wanted you to meet tonight. I’d hoped you’d be a little more… present.”
Miska forced herself to gulp down another mouthful. Somehow, after eating so little, she was already feeling full. But she knew that she hadn’t yet eaten enough that day. “Sorry.” She mumbled around her spoon.
Haubert stared at her, arms crossed on his chest. “Well don’t tell me everything at once.”
Miska put down the spoon and looked at the stew still in her bowl. “It’s the loan. Mom hasn’t been able to keep up.” She looked up at Haubert. “Even with everything I’ve been making added in, she still can’t make it up. I don’t get it. It’s like it’s impossible.”
Haubert’s eyes narrowed, and he nodded slowly. “Go on.”
“She should be able to pay it off, right? I don’t know much about the sail loft, but I know that Mom was running it well enough for most of my life. So there has to be something going on with that loan.” She shivered. “But the worst part is, Mistress Mariselle has started talking about collateral, and I think she means me.”
Miska could see Haubert’s hands clench on his biceps before he forced them to gradually relax.
“Do you know,” she looked up at him, worry on her face, “how much an indenture’s contract would be worth?”
Haubert scowled and shook his head. “Don’t even think about doing it to yourself, Miska. An indenture might look okay from here, but it’s only a few steps from outright slavery. And since no one has any reason to do right by you, that’s usually where it ends up.”
A loud voice interrupted them. “Haubert!” It came from the door. Miska turned around on her stool and saw what looked like the most ridiculously skinny Northman she’d ever seen. He was tall though, and as she looked at the way he moved she realized that there couldn’t be much on him except muscle. He stooped to clear the beams of the common room’s ceiling.
Haubert’s face broke into a smile. “Uhurku, you lanky monkey, it’s good to see you!” He strode out from around the bar and met the orc in the middle of the room with a big hug. They laughed and smiled and walked back to the bar each with an arm around the other. Haubert’s smile sobered a little as he looked at Miska sitting at the bar.
“Uhurku, here, let me introduce you to the girl I was talking about. This is Miska.” He waved his hand back and forth between the two of them. “Miska, this is Uhurku, my old friend. He’s saved my life more than enough times.” Miska could see scars like Haubert’s dotting Uhurku’s cheeks. There seemed to be many more of them, however.
“I take it you’re very good at being a pirate too, then.” She pointed to first Haubert’s then Uhurku’s face. Uhurku laughed.
“You could say that, Miska. Though we don’t really call ourselves pirates. We’re just out in the world as well armed free traders.” He leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “And sometimes we make a few particularly aggressive trades.”
Miska couldn’t help herself, and smirked along with him.
“Haubert,” Uhurku looked down as his shorter human friend, “she’s far more serious than you’d told me. Are you sure she’s really as young as you say?” He gave Miska a wink, as if to invite her into the joke he was having on Haubert. Miska tried to smile, but it faltered.
“Aye, well Uhurku, about that.” Haubert seemed suddenly more serious as well. “Do you mind, Miska?” He looked at her expectantly.
“No, you can tell him.” Miska said.
Uhurku looked back and forth between the two of them, his smile deflating.
“She’s in some financial trouble, you see. Well, her mother is, and so she is too.”
Uhurku pursed his lips. “What sort of trouble would that be?”
“I think,” Haubert started slowly, looking at Miska to see if he had her permission to continue, “that she ended up with a bad loan. The mistress who gave it to her has been playing pretty loose with it, it seems.”
Miska nodded grudgingly. Such behavior didn’t seem in keeping with a woman of Mistress Mariselle’s station, but she couldn’t deny that it certainly looked like that was how things were.
“So now,” Haubert and Uhurku had stepped up next to Miska and were talking under the noise of the common room, “Natalia, Miska’s mother, is stuck paying off interest that keeps piling up faster than she can do anything about it.”
Uhurku scowled. “That’s foul.”
“Truth.” Haubert nodded. “And Miska, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to suggest.” He patted Uhurku on the back. “But this is the man I wanted to introduce you to. I think with a little help from him you’ll have even less trouble in those fights.” He gave Miska a wry smile. “Who knows? Maybe if you do well enough you’ll be able to pay off that interest before Mistress Mariselle knows what happened to her.”