This is still the unvarnished, needs-to-be-revised material that I was showing you last time. This time around, I’ve got the second half of chapter 1 for you (the first half is right here). It comes complete with the bits that make me reach for the delete key, subsumed by the frantic urge to improve my own work. But it’s better than the first two times I wrote it!
Haubert snorted, mouth set. He silently accepted her offered hand, levering himself up and stabilizing the cane under his left hand before letting go. He strode out quickly, as best he could with his limp, anger and frustration leaking from him. Miska followed along close behind, shrugging into her coat that hung in the entryway.
“Send for some of our servers when you finish the food,” Haubert paused for a moment outside the front doors to do up his jacket, not looking at Miska. “I’d like the dishes and such back.” His sour tone hurt.
“I’m sorry about that.” Miska said it quietly, not sure how else to put the ache she felt in her chest.
Haubert stared down the street, away from the loft. You could just see the tops of masts peeking over the roof line from there, clustered together like trees in leafless copses. The wind from the north blew any scent of the sea far from them.
Haubert sighed. “I wish I could duel your mother and be done with it. First blood, let it out—why won’t she simply let it go?!” Miska saw his jaw clench again, before he looked at her. More softly, “I’m sorry that you’re caught in the middle of this. None of this was what I expected.” He waved his hand at the sail loft, at himself.
Miska looked at him, puzzled. “This?” She glanced back at her home behind her, “The fire, or her reaction? You know how she sticks to her beliefs. She’s not just going to give up a grudge. I’ve been trying for years, and…”
Haubert’s eyes turned sad. “Aye, and I’m sorry about that too.” He squeezed her shoulder, head rocking towards the building behind her. “I know it’s not the way you’d have it be when you leave.” He shook his head. “No, I thought things would be different when I came back to Marseille. When I left in the first place. Your father and I…” He trailed off, and shook his head again. He started down the street, cane clicking along beside his feet. “But you should see to your family,” he spoke over his shoulder. “You’ll come by The First Blood?”
“Soon.” Miska promised. She waved goodbye. He disappeared down the street, around the bend where her street, d’Alaroux, fed into the broader Avenue Liakeni that ran towards the center of the city.
Stomach churning with uncomfortable anticipation, she turned around and went back inside.
The meal continued in silence, the only sounds those of people eating. Her mother’s plate still sat on the bench where she’d left it, and Natalia herself was gone. Looking around, Miska picked up her mother’s food and set about finishing it. No sense letting it go to waste.
She walked slowly down the hallway towards the remains of the sail loft, plate in hand, looking for her sisters and wondering what had happened to her home since she’d last seen it lit by flames. There was a cool breeze coming down the hall in fits and starts, and she could see a somewhat charred piece of canvas stretched across the hall, wall to wall and floor to ceiling. It was considerably closer than the end of the hall had been before.
As she neared it, she saw that the canvas had been doubled over, with runs of line stitched into it around the edges. Not especially good work, some apprentice presumably. Good enough to hold for the moment though. On one side of the hallway, the line was wound around a set of nails that had been hammered into the walls. The other side had bowline knots which just hooked in place and let the whole canvas be hooked or unhooked as necessary. Ugly, but it would keep the worst wind and rain out. Still chewing, plate in one hand, Miska unhooked the lines and stepped through, hooking them back up behind her.
The hall on the far side looked right enough, for a few feet. But after that, it was indescribable. Char everywhere, water puddled on every surface, a strange and nested jumble of ash and broken beams and less identifiable things that made what had once been a house look like a huge fire pit. The look and the smell quashed her appetite. Miska methodically finished chewing and swallowed before calling out for her sister.
“Leonora?” She took another few steps forward, until she could see work crews still shuffling through the wreck of the fire, trying to find whatever hot spots still remained. “Leonora?”
“Miska!” Her sister’s voice came from somewhere over the ruin in front of her. “Miska, what are you doing there?” Miska started trying to step through the ashes and dead coals, shuddering as she felt the wood crackle and snap under her feet. “Stop, you ninny!” Leonora’s voice was clear and loud certainly audible to everyone still working, and Miska held still and blushed. “You’re not supposed to come through that hallway! Just,” there was some slightly quieter cursing and shuffling, “stay right there, I’ll help you get through.” Miska could hear her sister berating someone else as she approached, “No, don’t you stop too, I was talking to my sister. Yes! Of course you should keep going!”
Leonora appeared around the side of one of the heaps. She frowned, looking at her sister. “Why are you carrying a plate?”
Miska looked down at the now empty plate. “Haubert brought food. You should eat some. And—“
“Was that supposed to be mine?” Leonora interrupted, pointing at the plate.
“No, I finished Mother’s. Because Haubert offered to help, and she…” Miska shrugged.
Leonora squeezed her eyes shut, and stopped herself from rubbing her face with a sooty hand just in time. She took a few seconds that way, then looked up again, glaring. “Wonderful.” She pointed to the ground in front of her, and made a trail in the air. “Take that route, there, no, further to your left,” she guided her sister through the rubble towards her. “We haven’t gotten to the point of salvaging any of this material yet, so it’s still stacked every which way. Don’t go through here again. Something might break underneath you and snap your ankle, and wouldn’t that be exactly what we need right now.” She turned around and strode back towards her work crews. Miska followed.
“After you’re all set again, I’d like you to start shifting these beams,” Leonora nodded to a pile where the roof had fallen in and not everything had burned down to cinders. “Anything that’s still the right size, and still strong enough, can be used for rebuilding. Don’t worry,” she added at Miska’s look of alarm, “Yves is checking the wood. You don’t have to pretend you’re a carpenter today.” Leonora walked the two of them to a spot atop a small pile of compacted ash, a little further from all the other workers, where Leonora could have a good view of the proceedings. It was, unless Miska was totally confused, roughly where some of their storage bins had been. There might be a melted mound of nails beneath them.
“How did Haubert want to help?” Leonora spoke softly enough not to be overheard, but she looked straight at Miska. Her sister’s concentrated attention was enough to make Miska freeze for a moment.
She fumbled to recover her thoughts. “He, um,” she looked at the destruction all around them, “wanted to lend us money. From him and maybe some of his business partners or friends. He wasn’t totally clear on who.” Miska looked back to her sister. There was a sour taste in the back of her mouth, and she wasn’t sure whether it was disappointment or ashy mucus. Possibly both. She hawked and spat. “Mother said no, and then she started in on him for being a pirate, and…”
“It went downhill from there.” Leonora finished for her. Miska nodded. Leonora narrowed her eyes, looking at one of the groups carefully pouring water into an ash heap still filled with lumber. “I how you feel, but don’t you think you could try to be like someone who doesn’t give Mother fits?” She shook her head. “Never mind.” Her mouth tightened. She crossed her arms over her sooty shirt. “How much money did he want to offer us?”
Miska blinked. “It sounded like he wanted to put together enough to fund everything. Rebuilding entirely. He was being really nice about it. But without Mother accepting that,” Miska didn’t bother to finish the sentence.
Leonora nodded, stricken. Of the three daughters, she was the one who helped their mother track the accounts. She might have been able to hide a little more income, some money here or there. But disguising the entire loan and still making good use of it was a tall order. Too tall of one. And with the way their mother had replied to Haubert, he might not be willing to help out anymore.
Leonora tucked her hands deeper into her armpits and sniffled. “Shit.” Miska put an arm around her. Leonora had made it clear years earlier that she really wanted the sail loft. Neither Miska nor Mirabelle had fought over it.
Mirabelle wanted to open her own clothing shop, though she was still happy to help with the loft. Miska, of course, just wanted to go to sea. She’d been preparing for it for years, unbeknownst to their mother. She had a space waiting for her with Captain Gartarken when Fancy Dancer made port again, soon.
Unfortunately, their mother wanted the three of them to share the business and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It hardly mattered that the sisters were happy to help each other chase their dreams. Mirabelle’s plans seemed attainable; she’d already been doing seamstress work on the side, and had been setting aside a nest egg to start her own shop with Luis, the sisters’ favorite among the journeymen.
But Miska was in a worse spot. The three of them had spent so many evenings talking through how they might convince their mother to let Miska sail. But they always came back to one problem; once she had made up her mind on something, Natalia was famously hard to shift. And their mother, for whatever reason, wanted nothing to do with the sea, or sailors, or pirates. Several years of trying to convince her otherwise had made barely any impact so far.
“Are we really in that much trouble, money-wise?” Miska still held her sister tightly to her side.
“Oh yes. Ruined. We had plenty, but,” she made a little flicker of her fingers, indicating the loft. “We’ll never be able to cover all this on our own. Not with no income to make up for it. How far back do you think Haubert’s confrontation set you? Us?”
Miska took a moment to catch up with her sister’s thoughts. She shook her head wordlessly. She’d been planning to finally convince her mother to let her go in the next few days. Or fail to convince her and leave anyway. It all felt futile when she thought about it now. She couldn’t leave her family like this.
Leonora looked at Miska, raising an eyebrow. “A month? A year of convincing her to let you sail?”
Miska looked out at the ruined sail loft, gray and black under the gray winter sky. “I can’t tell. She seemed just as set as ever. The way she reacted, maybe we never made any progress at all.”