Miska, Chapter 4 (4/22/2017)

Here you go, the beginning of Chapter 4!

 

***

Leaving the manor with heavy bags of coin was more comfortable than being there had been, so long as Miska didn’t think about what had just happened. Her mother seemed unaware of the way her new business partner had looked at her. Miska wasn’t sure how to mention it in conversation.

The day was still beautiful, the route home mostly clear. Miska thought up and swallowed back too many different openings to count. It wasn’t until they’d paused to let a coffle of prisoners of war from the Inner Sea pass that Miska realized she could kill two birds with one stone.

“We’ll have to repay this loan, won’t we?” The question sounded stupid as soon as she asked it, but she’d committed herself.

“Of course,” her mother looked at her, disappointed perhaps. “That’s how loans work.”

“But it buys us some time to rebuild, to make the money we need to pay it back, does it not?” Miska pressed on, her mother nodding in response. Good. At least she might not think she was an idiot. Now if only she could make this suggestion sound like an intelligent idea… “So this would be the perfect time for me to look for a job that would pay me more over the long term than working the docks does.”

Natalia smiled at her. “Yes, exactly.” They started walking again, passing a crier advertising a fight that evening. Natalia huffed in distaste.

“Well,” the speed and force of Miska’s heart had nothing to do with the heavy bags of coin. Her mouth was dry. All she had to do was make the suggestion, make it sound reasonable. And not sound like she’d pinned all of her hopes on dreams on her mother accepting. “What if I joined a crew? There are some good, honest merchanters in port, and I heard,” yes, that was the way to put it, don’t mention the negotiations she made a year earlier, “that there was a position available, more shares in a cargo’s profit than usual. I could make a good deal of coin sailing with them, and we could repay the loan with it when I return!” She looked up at her mother’s face and her heart faltered, then stopped.

“When you return.” Natalia’s face was frozen. She’d stopped in the street. Miska slowed to a halt.

Was that pain that Miska saw?

“But Miska,” Natalia fumbled for words, and Miska could feel the force of her mother’s gaze on her, “you’d leave just as you’ve truly taken an interest in the family business?” Miska swallowed, unwilling to tell her mother the truth. Her mother smiled, “I’m sure there’s no need for something so drastic. It’s dangerous at sea, and,” she stepped closer to her daughter, catching Miska’s broad shoulders in her long fingers, “I’d much rather have you safe here with me. With your family. Yes, making money to repay this loan is important—and we’ve hard work ahead of us to make that happen,” she nodded, “and I’m glad to hear that you’re thinking about that—but I’m sure there’s more you can do to help here in Marseille.”

Miska felt her dreams flickering, that quiet emptiness opening in her chest again. “But, I just thought—cousin Gregor brings home enough from most voyages to help his family…” she faltered as Natalia shook her head.

“And how often do you see your cousin, Miska?” Natalia asked. Miska shrugged. A few times a year, perhaps, but she didn’t see how that mattered at the moment. Her mother continued, “How long would you have to wait to know that he was never coming back again? Do you have any idea how many of your father’s friends left Marseille when they were your age? How many people I loved went too?”

Miska opened her mouth, shut it. This wasn’t what she’d expected. Where was the anger, the diatribe against pirates? She’d been so mad, years ago, when she’d learned about Miska sparring by the docks with her friends. Where was that now?

Natalia cradled the side of Miska’s head in one hand, tilting her face up to look her in the eyes. Miska wondered with a sudden but familiar pang why she couldn’t be as tall and elegant as her mother, why she had to be short like her father.

“Do you have any idea how many of them came home, Miska?” Her mother spoke again, voice growing sadder, “I know you’re eager to help. But please don’t think of going to sea. I couldn’t stand to lose you too,” she smiled and brushed hair back over Miska’s ear from where it had escaped her queue, “not my baby girl.” She sniffed, her eyes wet, and hugged Miska’s head to her chest.

Miska felt the flickering fade to nothing, felt her chest go cold. Her mother’s opposition wasn’t something she could just overcome. She’d never convince her. Miska suffered through the hug, fighting the comfort of her mother’s smell, doing her best to ignore all the people who flowed around them on the street. She closed her eyes. She wasn’t going to cry. Not here, not now.

“Sorry Miska,” her mother pushed back a small step, looking down towards Miska again. Miska stared at the ground. “I don’t mean to dismiss your suggestions. I’m glad that you’re trying to find ways to help the family. It’s the right thing to do. I simply…” she smiled and shook her head, slowly starting to walk again and looking for Miska to follow, “Let us find ways to recover from this that won’t pull us all apart, yes?”

Miska sighed, heavy bags clinking as she hitched them up higher on her back once more. She nodded, dutifully, and followed her mother, listening to her discuss details of running the sail loft the entire way home.

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