Do you still like Miska? I have plenty more to share. But I admit that we’re getting close to the end of the material I was able to finish before classes began this semester. I’ll have to find something new to share with you soon!
Miska staggered through the next few days in a haze of fatigue. She told her fellow stevedores about being attacked, and shared the story with Haubert and even with Uhurku. But she only told Haubert and Uhurku about her sister’s suspicions. They told her to keep a weather eye for any other people who might try to rob or harm her. If one group had been hired, they reasoned, another could be just as easily.
Uhurku’s ship stayed in port for longer than Miska had expected; she ended up training with him for the entire week. He had praised her for her description of how she’d dealt with her attackers, but he warned her that she could hardly expect every such attack to be as easy. Haubert even went so far as to tell her to take the rest of the week off, so long as she spent her time training with the crew of Uhurku’s ship.
Training with the Northmen was like training with Haubert, only more so. It was intense, demanding work. She was glad that Haubert had given her the foundations that he had, because she knew that if he hadn’t she would have spent the entire week being beaten and feeling entirely inadequate. As it was, she only spent most of it feeling that way. By the end, she’d developed passing familiarity with their preferred assortment of maces, spears, punches, kicks, and grapples. She knew that she still had far more to learn, and that she’d only begun to touch on what they had to teach her. So it was that she felt agony and indecision when Uhurku’s captain offered her a spot in her crew.
“You’re a good learner, Miska.” The captain leaned up against the starboard rail, watching Miska as she moved through the opening exercises of the first form she’d been taught. “And you’re dedicated and strong. You even,” she laughed around her protruding lower canines, “taught yourself how to tie knots!” The captain stood up from the rail, standing in front of Miska as she continued the form. “It’s clear that you want to be a sailor. I’d be happy to offer you a spot on my crew.”
Miska bit her lip in concentration. She could feel her heart leap at the chance, but she didn’t want to lose her focus on the exercise. Her hands continued their arcs and she shifted position into the next stance. Even more importantly, she knew she couldn’t accept right now. Her parents would never let her go to sea, and they needed all the money that she could bring in to help pay off the loan.
She continued the form, shifting through stances and feeling the power of her strikes. The captain quirked her eyebrow. “I’m glad to see you continuing to practice. But do you have an answer?”
Miska weighed her options again in her mind. She so desperately wanted to say yes. It was exactly what she’d dreamed of. And the money that she could bring home, if she did well, would of a long way towards paying off her mother’s loan. It might even pay the entire thing. She reached the end of her current set and froze, holding the stance. She looked at the captain, who nodded her head in approval, and then let her body relax. She took a deep breath and sighed.
“I want to say yes.” Miska stopped, unsure of how to continue.
“But that sounds like a no.” The captain gave her a half smile.
Miska felt something breaking in her chest. “How long would it be before we came back to Marseille?”
The captain shook her head. “I couldn’t say. At the very least, several months.” She clasped her hands behind her back. “You have to understand, Miska, that we can’t make our sailing plans based solely on the desires of one sailor.” The big toothy smile came back, crinkling her weathered, deep green face. “Not unless that sailor pays very well.”
Miska gave the captain a weak smile. The breaking in her chest felt complete, like two whole separate halves. “Then I’m afraid I can’t accept, Captain.” She gave the salute she’d learned from the other crew. “I wish I could. But I need to help my parents.”
The captain stepped up and laid a muscular hand on Miska’s shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear that, and you have the best of reasons. Your loyalty is admirable. Perhaps, next time we meet, you’ll be able to say yes to my offer.”
Miska’s eyes felt hot. She tried to smile. “Thank you, Captain.”