Spoiler: OOC & WarningsShow

Chapter 10: Mrs. Feelwell



It wasn't Nakoa's first time sleeping under bridges. She didn't mind it so much, when the weather was fair and the season warm. And it turned out that Ebonhawke had some rather nice bridges. She found one where the road beneath scooped up and the road above arced down, and in the place where they met they formed a pleasant, sheltered alcove. It wasn't the most private dwelling place in the world, or the quietest, but she'd stayed in worse places. It even had storage: there was a place at the back where the brick had crumbled and been repaired with a bit of metal sheeting, and when she pried up the sheeting she found enough space behind to store some of her belongings.

"Well, I'll be damned." She chuckled to herself as she crammed her cookware into the crevice, leaning on her walking stick for support. Her leg still had not healed completely. "Got myself a nice little apartment."

"Hey! Boy!"

Nakoa rocked back on her heels and pushed the metal sheet back into place, grimacing. There were times when it was safer not to look like a woman--but she had a big sword and no patience left for that, and she was tired of being mistaken for a man. Someone stood on the road below, squinting up the slope at her. Wires of stringy gray hair straggled over his bald spot, which gleamed in the afternoon sun. "Look, sugar," Nakoa called down to him. "I ain't no boy."

"Well..." He kicked one heel at the ground, clearly taken aback. "Ma'am. You look like you could use some coin."

"You look like you like makin assumptions 'bout people," Nakoa fired back--but she got to her feet and limped down the hill towards him, because she did need coin.

Up close, he was sort of disconcerting to look at. That was a judgment she thought she could make, since lots of people seemed to find her disconcerting to look at. He had a smushed-looking nose and a receding chin. His lips were very thin, his frown something like a ripple in the puddle of his face. He tilted up his head in a way that might have been proud if it was a little less ridiculous. "I would have expected a little more respect, as a potential employer," he sniffed.

"Wish folks figgered the same about new employees." Nakoa spat on the ground--mostly for effect. "Whaddaya need?"

He looked down his mashed-in nose at her for a long minute, during which time she evaluated how far she would lower her standards to be a little less broke. There wasn't a whole lot lower left to go.

Eventually, she got tired of being stared at. "Whaddaya need?" she repeated.

He glanced behind and ahead of them to check that they were alone, and in that instant, Nakoa knew for sure that there was a reason he was looking to hire some strange bum off the street. He blinked, fidgeted, and produced a fist-sized brown-paper parcel from some pocket in his coat. "I need this delivered to someone across town."

Nakoa's face split slowly in a grin. "It's drugs."

"Drugs!" He blushed. "N-no. It's...something else."

"Uh-huh. You gonna pay me up front?"

"Of course not. You get half from me and half from Sparrowhawk--the recipient."

Nakoa eyed him. "Sparrowhawk."

"Yeah."

"And your name is?"

He glanced away. "Spidercrab."

"Right. How much money we talkin?"

Looking uncomfortable, he pulled a pouch from his pocket and opened the drawstring to let her peek in. Nakoa leaned forward and let out a low whistle.

"I see," she said. "I guess mosta that is hush money, ain't it?"

"Look." He fiddled with a button on his collar and glanced over his shoulder again. "Are you interested or not?"

Nakoa smiled, deliberately showing all the craggy teeth in her mouth. "Yeah sugar, I'm interested."


***



"My hammer doesn't look like that," Gazsi said. She was leaning over the shoulder of a printer in the Ebonhawke crafters' forum, frowning as he drafted a flier for her. Other artisans worked in wooden stalls that opened out onto the street, the noise of business spilling out over the cobbles.

"Uh-huh," he said.

"It has little spiky things on it."

"Uh-huh."

"They're just decorative, but I like them."

His teeth clacked together. He set his pen down very carefully on the workbench and turned around to face her. He had a very rigid face--rocky and thin and carved in a scowl. "Don't you have friends you could bother?"

She thought of Nakoa. "No."

"Or anywhere else to be?"

"I'm new here."

He tapped the face of the flier. Gazsi Csilla, it said. Armorsmith for hire. "How about a forge?"

"Right. Fine. You know what? Yes, I have a forge." At least, she was renting one. Gazsi marched backwards across the street and plopped down on top of her anvil, shouting, "Is this better?"

"Ugh. Just--stay over there," he growled. "You can come back in an hour to see what I've got."

"Fine!" Gazsi sighed and plopped her chin in her hand to wait.

Gazsi waited. She sighed, and she waited. A chicken foraged in the street in front of her, and she watched it, and sighed, and waited. She wished she had Nakoa to play cards with.

A pang of regret went through her, and she pushed the thought away. She'd been too hard on Nakoa, and now she was on her own again. Gazsi touched her rings where they hung on their chain around her neck. She'd spent a lot of time alone in recent years, and there was a reason for that. But if she was honest with herself, it had been...nice, having Nakoa around. Someone with a sense of humor. Someone to inject a little excitement into her carefully-structured life.

Of course, Nakoa was also a self-identified hitman, so it was probably for the best that they'd split up. No--definitely for the best.

Gazsi sighed again and pushed a fistful of curls out of her eyes. How did she always manage to get mixed up with terrible people? She'd had a string of them.

She had to admit, though. Out of all the terrible people she'd known, Nakoa was probably one of the least terrible. Funny, and kind, and remarkably honest, for a liar. Gazsi chuckled--Nakoa still hadn't figured out that they'd both been cheating at cards.

A voice pulled Gazsi from her reverie--a nasal voice with the Kessex twang that Gazsi had grown up with: "Hey. Hi there."

Gazsi looked up. A compact, narrow woman stood over her, tanned and bleached by the sun until her skin and hair almost matched. She was all corners--not muscular, but hard and spare, like there was not a spot on her that would give if you touched it. She studied Gazsi with startlingly intense blue eyes. "Are you Cuh-silla?" For all the softness she lacked, she had a very warm smile.

It took a minute for Gazsi to understand that the woman was trying to pronounce her last name--one, because the woman had butchered it so horribly, and two, because Gazsi had forgotten she'd changed her name again. She still hadn't gotten used to Csilla. She blinked. "Oh. Suh-seeya. Like, see ya later." She tipped two fingers against her forehead in mock-salute. "How did you know that was me?"

The woman gestured across the street to the printer, who squinted and frowned at both of them. "I saw the flier he's drawing up for you," she said. "You're an armorsmith?"

"I am."

"Great. Can I see a sample of your work?"

Gazsi spread her arms. She was wearing a sample of her work: a light, highly-detailed breastplate done up with intricate rose-gold filigree. It was more beautiful than Nakoa's armor--and less practical. Gazsi was a capable craftsperson. She could turn out functional armor in her sleep, but decorative pieces were her specialty.

The woman considered the breastplate. She nodded. "Okay. I have--" She stopped speaking and dove into the messenger bag that bobbed on her hip, tugging out a tarnished breastplate. It was old, and also outdated. Gazsi recognized the Seraph insignia on the chest, but she'd worked with enough Seraph gear to know that they no longer wore this style. There was a puncture the size of Gazsi's fist in the lower part of the plate where some terrible weapon had ripped through it.

The woman's face iced over, an expression that Gazsi recognized in an immediate and tactile way: she wore the same one when forced to confront something painful. "I want you to fix this," she said.

Gazsi took it from her very gingerly. "Do you plan to wear it?" She hated to ask, but it was the sort of important detail you had to know for sure.

"No." The woman shook her head. "It just needs to look good."

Gazsi turned the plate over. It was brutally damaged--not an easy fix. "I'll need about a week with it."

"That's fine." The woman turned to leave.

"Wait!" Gazsi faltered a half-step after her. "What's your name?"

"Daiolle Fiorello." Another flash of that bright, warm smile. "See ya, Csilla."

Gazsi snorted. "Right. Like I haven't heard that one before." But she was smiling as she turned back to the forge.


***



Nakoa had been a drug-runner before, but not since her teens, so either she was out of practice or she'd been given a really shitty map. "So if there's a squiggly road here..." She tapped a spot on the map, "and a cornfield there...then that means..." She lowered the map. "I have no idea where I'm goin."

She frowned down the avenue in front of her, which was straight as an arrow and devoid of cornfields. Old-ish looking brick buildings leaned into it from either side, laundry fluttering from lines strung between the windows. "Fuckin piece of trash map," she grumbled and ripped the map smartly down the middle. There was a gold coin just lounging in her pocket--why did she have to take drug-runner gigs from asshole strangers?

She pulled out Thayne's coin and flipped it face-up in her palm. The glamour of the ram's skull looked a little faded--but that was probably just the strength of the afternoon sun and her own wishful thinking. It glowered up at her from its empty eye sockets, the bone a little greenish in the warm light. She frowned. She couldn't spend it--not like this. Not to pay Chris back or to appease Gazsi--it would probably just get her in more trouble if she tried.

In which case, maybe her best bet was just to throw it away. She hefted it in her hand, imagining the force it would take to throw it to the end of the street. It was pretty light...

The coin made a whistling sound as it sailed down the road, winking in the daylight. There. Good. Nakoa gripped her walking stick and turned to go.

She hadn't made it three steps when she stopped, a creeping unease sliding up the back of her neck. What if some kid found it and thought it was a toy? Or what if Thayne had a way to recognize that particular coin? If he found the coin meant for Hawn here in Ebonhawke, he'd know where to look for Nakoa. Frustrated, Nakoa stumped back down the street and plucked the coin up off the ground. She'd have to be careful with how she got rid of it.

"Are you lost?"

Nakoa jumped and spun around, thrusting the coin back into her pocket. "What--huh? Lost? Nuh-uh."

A little girl stood in the street behind her, auburn hair braided in pigtails. She stared up at Nakoa with huge, innocent eyes. "You look like you're lost."

"Why would I be lost, kid? I, uh..." Nakoa slapped at the back of her neck, feeling awkward in front of a child. Who let this kid out? Shouldn't she have a parent around here somewhere? Nakoa couldn't remember the last time she'd been in a conversation with a child--most kids where scared of her.

This one wasn't. She drifted closer to Nakoa, floating like a dandelion spore on the breeze. Her cotton dress whiffled around her shins. "You'd be lost if you didn't know where you were going," she said, sensibly.

"I uh, yeah. I guess that is the definition." Nakoa fidgeted, wondering how bad it would be to just run away.

"I found this," said the little girl, holding up the two pieces of the map that Nakoa had dropped in the street. "Maybe I can help you find where you're going."

Thank the Gods I didn't leave that coin on the ground, too. "I think that map's broke."

The girl dropped to her knees on the cobblestones and carefully lined up the two halves. "I fixed it."

Nakoa hesitated--sighed. "All right, fine. So you did." She squatted on the ground beside the child, supporting herself with the stick. "Where are we on this map?"

"I think..." The girl tilted her head first one way, then the other. She propped her fist under her chin. "I think we're about here." She pointed.

"How d'ya know?"

"It says Sutton Street." The girl pointed to the word, which Nakoa couldn't read.

Well--maybe she could, if she sat there and puzzled over it for long enough, but it would take some effort. "Oh," she said. "So uh, which way do I go if I wanna be here?" She poked one blunt fingertip at the place she'd been instructed to go.

The girl waggled her head again and looked slyly up from the corners of her eyes in a way that made Nakoa think she enjoyed being able to do something an adult couldn't. Little shit, Nakoa thought, but also it was really cute. Clutching the two halves of the map, the girl scrambled to her feet and pointed down the street. "Go left, then right, then left again, around the fountain, up the hill, past the tanner and the chandler, and then Mrs. Feelwell lives at the top and she always gives me cookies, so be nice to her. Right there."

Nakoa got to her feet, too--a little less nimbly. Nothing like an eight-year-old to remind you how young you weren't. "Thanks, kid." She held out her hand for the map.

The child shook her head, braids flapping madly around her cheeks. "I found it. Fair and square."

"Sure, but it's--" got a drug delivery marked on it--"um, mine."

The girl hugged the map against her chest. "No."

"Oh, c'mon." Nakoa reached for it, and the child took off running down the street. Nakoa watched her go. Cupping a hand to her lips, she called, "Just don't give it to anyone, okay? I mean like, eat it or burn it or sommin."

Yeah, it was a really good thing she hadn't dropped Thayne's coin on the ground.

It turned out that the drop point was a cottage on the far end of the crafters' forum. It had a neat little fenced-in yard with whirly-gigs dancing on the lawn, and when Nakoa knocked on the door a fist-sized poodle hurled itself at the front window with enough force to make her flinch. The door cracked open, and the sweet, heady cloud of weed-smell that wafted out was so thick it was almost visible. A very tiny old lady peered up at her through very thick spectacles. She had an enormous, lopsided fluff of hair, threaded through with knickknacks and doodads. A banana leaned crazily out of one side. She creaked, "Y-es?"

"I'm lookin for..." Nakoa fidgeted, feeling silly, and stooped to speak close to the old woman's ear. The banana hit her on the side of the face. "Sparrowhawk."

The woman's cloudy gaze drifted over Nakoa's face and juddered to a stop somewhere above her left shoulder. A smile dawned slowly on her fragile lips. "Well that's me, kiddo. Come on in, come in. Sit down a minute. Tell me what I can do for you."

"Uh," said Nakoa, but then the old lady--Sparrowhawk?--grabbed her wrist in surprisingly strong, bony fingers and tugged her into the house.

The inside of the cottage was as cluttered with particolored gewgaws as the outside. Children's art papered the walls. A cutesy undergrowth of animal statuettes--bunnies and choyas and dolyaks with latch-hooked coats--cluttered every horizontal surface. Beads and bits of ribbon festooned the rafters, twisting and glittering in a way that must be absolutely mesmerizing when combined with the weed.

The dog attacked Nakoa's ankles as soon as she got inside, and the old lady leant down to scoop it up with the clumsy fluidity of the very high. "Now now, Trapjaw," she cooed to it. "This is our guest, and we're nice to our guests, aren't we?"

"Trap...jaw?" Nakoa echoed, glancing back at the exit as they went deeper into the dim of the cottage's interior.

"Oh, don't mind the name, kiddo." The old lady petted the top of the dog's head. "It's just an old joke. He's really a little darling."

Trapjaw, imprisoned in the old lady's arms, continued to writhe and shriek. "Oh." Nakoa frowned. "Good."

The entry hall opened on a den, which reeked of cannabis even more than the rest of the house. Too many sofas crowded the room, each one littered with a debris of pillows and stuffed animals. The old woman cleared one with a swipe of her Trapjaw-free arm and smacked the cushion. "Have a seat, won't you? Make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything?"

"N-no, I'm...fine." Nakoa sat, glad to be off her hurt leg, and sank into the stuffing nearly to the level of the floor. The afternoon sun painted hazy streaks in the smoke, and she was already starting to feel warm and dizzy. They had reached the epicenter of the hotbox.

"So you came to see Sparrowhawk?" The old woman chuckled, sitting down in an armchair opposite Nakoa. The little room was so cramped that their feet almost touched. She planted Trapjaw on her lap with enough force to pin the dog to her knees, and he huddled there, quivering and glaring at Nakoa. "Silly name, isn't it? Sparrowhawk. Old Denton--excuse me, I mean Spidercrab--told me I needed a code name. I swear half this town knows he sells to me."

Privately, Nakoa wondered if they knew because she'd told them.

"You can call me Mrs. Feelwell," said the old lady.

"Is that your real name?"

Mrs. Feelwell gave her a wobbly smile and said, "As far as you know. Now--since you came looking for Sparrowhawk, I guess you have something for me?"

"Oh. Yeah." Nakoa dug into her pocket for the package.

Mrs. Feelwell leaned across the space between them to take the parcel, her delicate hands trembling with anticipation (or maybe just age). Her movement dislodged a stuffed skale from the couch, and Trapjaw barked in surprise or fury. Mrs. Feelwell stroked his head while she fumbled open the package against her knee, crooning, "Oh, Denton, you are too good to me."

Nakoa craned forward to peek into the wrapping, though she could smell the contents from where she sat. There was enough bud in that box to fill her cupped hand. She let out a low whistle. "You gonna smoke all of that?"

"Oh no, not all of it." Mrs. Feelwell smirked. "I'm going to make cookies!"

"For yourself, right?" Nakoa looked at the children's art on the walls and thought of the little girl she'd met on the road.

"And for my friends." Mrs. Feelwell shrugged and picked a joint out of an ashtray on the table at her elbow. A fresh bloom of weed smell filled the room as she lit it.

"I should go." Nakoa started to struggle out of the couch, but Mrs. Feelwell stopped her with a pleading look and a wave of the joint.

"No, please, stay a little longer? I so rarely get to meet new people."

Nakoa looked down at her bulky, road-dusty self. "You...really want me to stay?"

"Just for a bit. Look." Mrs. Feelwell picked up a framed watercolor painting of a rather pretty family--a mother and father crowded close on either side of a little girl with two auburn pigtails spilling over her shoulders. The old woman stroked a finger lovingly over the glass. "My daughter and her husband with my granddaughter."

Looking at it, Nakoa thought she recognized the little girl she'd met in the street. "Well ain't that sweet."

"My son lives in Rurikton." Mrs. Feelwell sighed as though this was much too far away, though Rurikton couldn't be more than a forty-five minute walk and a gate-jump from here. "Do you have family around here?"

Nakoa squirmed, her thoughts pulled unwillingly back to her Da. "No. I uh, no."

Mrs. Feelwell passed her the joint and sympathetically patted her arm. "Chosen family counts, too, you know." She gestured to the painting again. "My daughter became my daughter at twenty-two."

Nakoa took a grateful drag off the joint and said, "I ain't got no chosen family, neither."

"No friends?"

She winced. "We got in a fight." She handed the joint back to Mrs. Feelwell, who gave her another lackadaisical smile and passed over a second joint that she'd lit when Nakoa wasn't looking. Nakoa felt a little flicker of admiration for that.

"You should un-get in a fight, then."

"That ain't really my uh, forte." Nakoa poked the joint between her lips, feeling the heaviness of the smoke sliding over her tongue. She touched her thigh where her pants hid the long scar--thought of Shareth and the many other burned bridges that had come before her. "Just don't have the knack for it."

Mrs. Feelwell leveled her with a hazy squint. "How old are you?"

"Comin on thirty."

"Well then, you're damn well old enough to learn." Mrs. Feelwell smacked Nakoa's knee hard enough to sting.

"Ouch." Nakoa rubbed her knee. "Things is pretty messed up between us. I dunno how to fix it."

Mrs. Feelwell got to her feet, swaying as she dug in the pockets of her many-layered skirts. "You start by not giving up," she said, and pressed the coins she owed into Nakoa's hand. "Here. Come back and visit me sometime. I want to know how you fix things with your friend."

"Wait, really?" Nakoa had been struggling to escape the couch, but now she looked at Mrs. Feelwell in surprise. "You want me to come back?"

"Well, why not?"

"I toldja I ain't got no friends."

Mrs. Feelwell smiled and patted her on the cheek. "It doesn't have to be hard, honey. You go on, now. Be good."

It had been a long time since anyone had called Nakoa honey or told her to be good. She blushed, stuttered, "Y-yes Ma'am," and blundered out of the cottage and straight into Gazsi.



Credits:
Nakoa Morin ... Me
Gazsi Csilla ... TotallySnail

All characters who are not mine are used with permission of their creator, and their actions/dialogue are represented as they appeared in the original roleplay.


NEXT CHAPTER TO BE RELEASED SATURDAY, 1/26/19