The Tapped Barrel is just a bar, just like any other bar. The interior is a little too dark, a little too loud, and all around perfect for anyone and everyone who likes to take a pint after a long day's work. Liam is one of those happy, noisy patrons making toasts at the bar. No one really cares that he's not a regular, or that he's got a used-looking saber at his belt. He's free with his money and flirtatious with the barmaids and having a right swell time.
Pearl meandered through the tables carrying a tray of mugs to a group of men towards the back of the bar, ignoring the men who insisted upon pinching the bruises under her dress where just about every other guy who came in insisted upon pinching and giving a little spank. She'd accepted the fact that she couldn't very well fight every flirtatious pig to come in here, especially not if she wanted to keep her job and support her son. There wasn't much work for female sword-fighting blacksmiths with a child in this town. So, with the same plastered on, tired smile she gave to every slimy, sleazy glutton to wander into this place, she set the tray down and passed around the beer. "There, enjoy
," she muttered through her teeth.
"Hey there, lovely," Liam said with his thick Irish accent, snagging her around the middle as she moved back with an empty tray. He wasn't a complete sod. He'd waited until she couldn't spill ale on him for his trouble. Grinning wildly, he pulled her onto his knee happily. "You're working too hard, sweet. Take a little time and enjoy yourself!"
Struggling with the tray, she managed to balance it before dropping it and its contents to the floor. Gritting her teeth, Pearl turned to Liam with the same, forced smile she bestowed on the others. "Sir,
if you do not remove your grubby paws from me, I will do something drastic, like beat your head in with this tray," she said threateningly.
"Sweetness," he said. "These paws ain't grubby. Why, I washed them myself, three weeks ago." In a gallant gesture, he set down his half-empty mug and scooped the mugs off the tray and set them on the table beside his. "See now? No problem at all." He couldn't help but notice how round and muscular her rear was where it was sitting on his leg. Come to think of it, she was right all 'round pretty. "Yeh, know, sweetness, yeh's not all that bad lookin. Right fine missy, you seem to be."
Pearl issued a sort of cough. "You know, I promised myself that I wouldn't get involved in any fights, it's not a good example for my son. But I'm tired of this, and you asked for it," she said casually, and made good on her previous promise to knock some sense into him with her tray, with a swift blow to the side of his head. Now that the arm was removed from her waist, not that it was much of an impediment anyway, and a sufficient amount of on-lookers had gathered, she took the moment to stand and dump the contents of the beers over his head and wait for some kind of retaliation.
For a full second, Liam didn't move, his ears ringing, the wet stickiness of the beer soaking into his clothes. Then he looked up at her, at her pretty face and the tray still clutched in her hands, ready to whap him again if he decided smack her back. What an adorable, feisty little wench!
he thought, desiring her more now that he had earlier. Silence reigned for a few moments more, and then he threw back his head and laughed, a rich, warm, hearty sound that quieted the pub.
Unfortunately, in upending the mugs, she had sloshed beer on the chap sitting next to Liam, a sour faced man who looked all the sourer drenched in ale. "You stupid wench!" he howled, throwing his mug at the barmaid.
Pearl glared at Liam, tempted to smack him again. No doubt he was admiring her spunk. She hated that. She could probably take him in a fight, he didn't look so tough, and she could cut him to ribbons with her sword if it wasn't in the back of the building with her change of clothes. However, her attention was otherwise averted when the other man stood up, his chair squealing across the floor, and hummed his mug at her, splattering her with some of its contents, even as she moved quickly from it's path and it sailed right on by.
--Straight into the man behind her who had been admiring her profile and fire as well. Shocked from his staring as the cup plummeted into him, with considerable force, stood from his seat and picked up his own mug and prepared to retaliate. She cursed under her breath, and then chided herself, What did you expect, Pearl? This is how it all gets started. You might as well kiss your job goodbye!
And the knowledge that her job was already lost turned into a release for her pent-up aggrevation at being treated like toy.
"Now, now!" Liam called out, holding up his hands as he stood between the two men. "This is nothing to lose our--shikes!" He ducked, just in time to dodge a punch that would have knocked his jaw loose, this time sent from the man who had not ducked a flying mug to the other beer-soaked man, who, in turn was moving towards the pretty barmaid, murder in his eyes. "Whoa, there, big fella," he tried to sooth. "Can't we just talk this out?" Liam was a little too drunk to miss the second punch that caught him square in the chest and toppled him over. He floundered for his balance, but his feet caught up in the barstool and he went chin-first to the filthy floor, teeth clicking together as he fell. Oww....
he thought, but then started to laugh again at his new predicament as the fight continued over his head.
Pearl stood back, cursing the insanity and impediment of the dress she was wearing, and flexing her muscles in preparation. She could use a good fight, despite the further damage it would to her reputation, and how it would affect her son. It may've been a good thing that guy currently advancing on her caught Liam in the chest, or she would've delivered him a jaw-loosening punch to him herself. Instead, she ignored him and smiled prettily at the jerk in front of her, and tried to ignore the itching in her fingers to hold her sword. She made a brief tsking sound. "So I splashed you, can you really blame a girl?" She ducked his punch, surprised by the force she saw him put behind it. She braced herself and after ducking another punch, drove her shoulder under his arm and borrowed some of his momentum to pull him past her, over her shoulder. She stretched and cracked her neck, bent her knees slightly, and doubted she could do that again unless he charged her. He was heavier than he looked, and she didn't need her other shoulder to be screaming in pain and turning as purple as this one.
Liam stopped laughing with a huge shadow fell over his eyes, aiming to smash him flat. "Sweet Marie, mother of...!" he cried, springing to his feet as fast as his five (or six, maybe) beers and the blow to his head would allow. He got out of the way in time, and then spun, glaring at the pretty wench. "Were you trying to kill me?" he shouted at her. "That lubber would'a crushed me demmed head!" His gaze drifted over her shoulder, and he threw an arm out, pushing her out of the way as a chair flew through the air, bouncing less-than-harmlessly off his shoulder instead of blind-siding the wench. Okay, sure, she looked like she could handle herself, demmed well, but he was still supposed to be a man, if not a gentleman. Sometime between when he fell to the floor and when he got up, the little scuffle had devolved into an all-out brawl.
Pearl spared him a glance. What was with this guy? Wanting to act like a pig and then trying to be some kind of gentleman, although it was debatable exactly how gentlemanly it was to push her out of the way, even if it was to keep her from getting hit, and getting hit himself instead--not that she didn't appreciate not being hit with the chair, deeeeep, deeeeepp down in her cynical little heart, mind you. Shoving past him she stood a little straighter and punched the nearest guy in the head, who promptly dropped to the ground but managed to land a purpling bruise on her other arm. She was tough, she didn't even need to shake her fist out before she spun around and pounded another guy.
"Oh, yeah. I'll get hit with the furniture, you just keep on punchin' there, sweetness," Liam yelled after her, flicking something out of his eye. Blood? he groused, but then had to twist and punch his way out of another scuffle. Time for me to make an exit... he thought sneakily, moving towards the door, only to be stopped by a sudden black thing moving very quickly to his head.
The guard felled the first of the drunks with a solid knock to the head that stunned him enough that he wasn't fussing about trying to escape. "All right, men!" he yelled to the soldiers around him. "Break this fracas up!"
"Crap!" Pearl muttered, wondering if she should feign innocence. It really wasn't her style, but she couldn't really afford to spend a night in a cell, not tonight. She dropped her fist, which she had been conspicuously been holding up, and hid it behind her back nevertheless. She looked around at the other brawlers who were taking notice as well and stopping, as the guards came up and grabbed hold of them and gave them a firm shake.
"What's all this then?" boomed the head guard. "I'll have none o' this fighting on my watch." He looked at his guards. "There's not enough cells for these trouble-makers, is there? Been a lot o' fighting o' late. Who instigated this little riot here?" He looked around. "Well?"
Most of the patrons pointed to the man, Liam, whom the guards already held; and the big man who had a habit of throwing things pointed at Pearl with a snarl and curse.
Pearl frowned. She cleared her throat as a guard grabbed her by the elbow, and fought back her first impulse, which was to yank it away. "You don't think I have anything to do with this do you? I'm just a barmaid--I wouldn't do a thing like that, would I?" she suggested to the guard. "At least not without a reason," she added almost inaudibly.
The guard reached down quickly, pulling up her hand. She might not feel the pain, but whacking a fist into things always made the knuckles a bit red. "Your fist says otherwise," he sneered at her. He was cranky, having been torn away from a game of cards and he really didn't care who was guilty of what. If he had two instigators, he could throw them in the stocks and be back to his cards before the whole night was ruined. "Put these two in the stocks for the night, see if the crisp, evening air will clear their heads. The rest of you, go home. This establishment is closed." With that, he spun on his heel, hoping no one had disturbed the cards.
Pearl scowled and allowed herself to be dragged out of the pub. Judging from the look on her boss's face, she shouldn't bother coming to work tomorrow, although she would have to to retrieve her sword. She'd kill him if he touched it--he'd better not touch it! She glared at the guard who was pulling her, wondering if she should pull away. The stocks, lovely... But they wouldn't keep her there forever, maybe she shouldn't risk trying to escape.... At least her son was with a trustworthy friend, and would never see her like this.
Liam was no stranger to waking up with a pounding head, but this time, it was pounding far more fiercely than normal. And he was cold. Sleeping in the gutter again? he chided himself, groaning as he pulled at his arms. They didn't move. Come to think of it, his feet wouldn't move either. Groaning louder, he opened his eyes to find himself locked in the stocks. "Aw, shit," he grumbled to himself, his mouth like cotton.
Pearl looked over. By now she had come to terms with her predicament, including the fact that she was in a much more uncomfortable situation. Whereas he was sitting with his hands and feet stuck in the stocks, she was standing, bent over with her wrists and head stuck. WHY were there two types of stocks here, and WHY did he get the good one? At least the stocks were large enough to block the compromising view of her breasts in her low-cut barmaid's dress, and at least her feet were free, although they were hurting as much as the rest of her from this position.
He felt more than heard her, and twisted his head around to glance back at her. "Why, hallo there, sweetness," he said, forcing his bruised face into a smile that made him look positively hideous. "What's a nice girl..." he trailed off, noticing her expression... "like yeh doing in a place like this," he finished, refusing to be daunted by a woman, even if her eyes looked hot enough to melt glass.
Pearl scowled at him, the only expression her face was capable of making at this point. "WHY did it have to be you? I'd have even taken that nice man who threw the cup at me, but you," she said sarcastically, with a shake of her head. She tried to turn her head to get a better look at him than she had, and experimentally moved the leg nearest him, to see if she could effectively kick him. She couldn't.
"Hey, now," he replied, undaunted by the futilely swinging leg. "I ain't the one what started this, sweetness," he reminded her.
"Like hell you're not!" she retorted, but she was letting her anger seep away. She wished she could sleep... He could sleep. But she couldn't, and she could just imagine the pain her back was going to be in, even once they let them go. She didn't even want to think of the damage it would to to her sword fighting abilities. "Next time, pick a woman with a lot of makeup, to pull into your lap, and leave me out of it," was her only advice. She muttered to herself about something.
"Yeh's the one what overreacted. Did I try ta pinch yeh or fondle yeh? Nep. Man puts an arm around yer middle, and yeh rip a bar apart." He twisted his face. There was dried blood that had dripped over his eyebrow and stuck all about his face. He couldn't get his face to his hand, and blinking and winking wasn't helping "Yeh think yeh's mad enough and got good enough aim ta spit in me eye?" he asked casually, noting her exhausted expression.
Pearl paused a minute and then managed a laugh, but it seemed half-hearted, if only from exhaustion. "No," she replied shortly. "And has it ever occurred to you that after a day of being pinched and fondled by everyone else I'd prefer not to be pulled into your lap like that?" she asked, not that it mattered.
"Yeh looked a bit upset, an'... well, I ain't been accused of thinking overmuch when I've been drinking," he admitted, twisting his face around. "Though I was serious about spittin' in me eye. See, there's blood all caked around it, like, and it burns a might bit..."
Pearl shifted on her feet a bit and shook her head slightly, impatiently. "No," she said again, "I haven't had anything to drink for hours. I wasn't even drinking beer before we got put here." She cleared her throat. "Sorry," she said, fighting the urge to yell at him for being such a baby, too tired and annoyed to seriously consider the pain he was in. She'd been in much worse situations, if you consider having your backside split open by the queen you held responsible for your parents' deaths and almost dying from the wound, and birthing a child, and being bent over with your head and wrists bound by huge, bulky, wooden handcuffs decorated with bruises of her own, particularly the one on her shoulder, more painful than being in the more comfortable type of stocks where he could actually sleep, even if he had a bit of blood burning in his eye.
He opened his mouth for some sort of snippy reply, but seeing her expression, he closed it and rested his head against the wood, feeling a thousand aches and pains singing all over his body. He banged his head against it once or twice, and then looked back up at her. Her feet were hurting, he guessed, and her back. "How old's yer little man, miss?" he asked softly after a moment, all the playfulness gone from his voice for once. "Is he going to be okay alone for the night?"
She looked over at him, and her face developed a conflicting expression of hardness and softness, and finally became just sad. "I don't recall saying anything to you about my kid," she said, wondering where he might've heard about Jade. She cleared her throat, a habit she was beginning to develop, and nodded slightly. "He's fine," she said, but her voice lacked conviction, her friend was supposed to go to work today, she wondered where that would leave Jade. She blinked back tears. She must be exhausted, even to cry over her son, he would be fine, she knew it. Artemis would bring Jade with her if she had to.
"Good," the man replied, a hint of sadness in his own voice. He banged his head against the wood a few more times, though his poor skull was already aching. "Look, miss... I... Well, Irish fellers ain't the most articulate when it comes to apologizing for acting like fools, but I am sorry 'bout all this, sweetness." He scoffed, twisting his sore wrists. "Listen ta me. I ain't even asked yer name."
Pearl smiled a bit, and coughed, realizing finally how much her lungs were aching--a sensation that was easily overpowered by the pain along her spine, and the purpling of bruises in various places, including the relatively massive, throbbing bruise on her shoulder. "It's Pearl. Loose the sweetness, I ain't sweet," she said.
"Shore enough," he muttered under his breath, flexing his numb toes. He tried to do an inventory of physical damage, but it was difficult with both his arms and legs numb and his posterior chilled clean through. She had to be feeling worse, though, so he didn't say a thing about. "An' I don't want no final jig in the belly of a squid," he said softly, smiling faintly to himself through a fat lip.
Pearl gave him a weird look and shook her head, she wasn't even going to begin to try to figure that one out. She looked over at him, he looked a lot worse than she did. Or better than she assumed she looked like anyway... "So... when do you think they'll let us out?" she asked anxiously.
He shrugged, or would have, if his hands hadn't been bound. "Most times for just a brawl in the evenin', they let yeh out in the mornin'." He coughed, tasted blood, and twisted around so when he spat it didn't land on himself. "I've... it's been as long as three or four days sometimes." He felt a little awkward, talking about all the other bar brawls he'd been in... this was not by any stretch his first, nor his first time getting caught and punished. "I will say time goes faster if there's somebody to talk to." Some passerby paused to look at the pair in the stocks, an expression on his face that said he thought the pair were caught in some indiscretion, and were up there for that. He leered at Pearl, seeming to note her helpless position, and Liam growled at him. "Yeh can try it, mista, but I ain't gonna be locked up forever, and I don't forget faces." The drunk teetered for a moment, and then ambled on home, the murderous expression in the Irishman’s eyes enough to discourage the fool. "Twit," he grumped.
Pearl glared at the man and then turned her gaze on Liam. "Stop that," she said in aggravation. "I can protect myself, if he came to close I could've at least kicked him. Besides, you've more bruises than me!" she said.
Liam looked at her, shook his head, and turned the other way. Sure enough he had more bruises, half of which he'd gotten trying to protect her high and mighty backside. But if she didn't want his help, fine. Let some randy devil sneak up behind her for a good bugger, see if he'd care! He rested his head against the wood holding his hands and coughed again. Could he have broken a rib too? Stupid wench, stupid guard, stupid Liam... he scolded himself, wishing his head would stop throbbing. Maybe he could pass out again... that would be nice...
Pearl looked over at him again, uncomfortably. She hadn't known very many "sensitive" men in her lifetime, even her father didn't really fit into that category, although he loved his wife, his child, and his country (although he didn't love the Queen). Liam had gotten quiet, usually that was a sign that the other person was insulted. She remembered the days when she wouldn't of cared, when she didn't need anyone but herself. It was easier then--not better, but easier. What was it with nice people, always trying to help when no one asked them to butt in? And then expecting a thank you, like they did something great. He seemed to be one of those people. He did, after all, not react like the mug-thrower that was sitting behind him, and he could've--he got the brunt of the mug's contents. She paced on her feet again, which shifted her weight uncomfortably to other places and sighed. "Sorry," she muttered.
"Yeh ain't," Liam replied quietly, still not looking at her. "But then, yeh ain't needin' to be." His stomach was churning, and he had to admit, it probably wasn't just from the drinks he'd had. His head was pounding so hard his teeth ached. "That there's a peeve of mine, folk 'pologizin' and sayin' they's sorry when they ain't. That's why we Irish say 'sorry' like we say 'I love you.' Only when we really do mean it, an' only to folk what are important to us." He looked up at her, wondering if she recalled that he had apologized to her, admittedly not very elegantly, but he had meant every word of it. Did he care about her that much already? The only thing she'd done to endear herself was cracking his head open, for which, at the moment, he wasn't too appreciative. It wasn't really her so much, was it though? Miss Pearl there reminded him of another pretty wench that was mighty feisty, if somewhat more applicable to the 'sweetness' name he had called her by. Was it Sweetness that his drunken mind thought he was protecting? Well, it was time to put that thought away. There was nothing he could do for his Sweetness anymore... Tears started to leak from his rapidly blinking eyes, though he never made a sound or shuddered from a sob.
Pearl felt heat rise in her face in irritation. Just who was he to say whether or not she meant what she said? She sighed through her nose but couldn't let it go, she said, "Yeah, well, it's a "peeve" of mine when people try to tell me what I mean!" She said hotly, not noticing his tears. She sighed again. "Besides, I don't use that word lightly either," she muttered.
She was sorry. She'd developed a bad reputation the moment she stepped foot in this gossipy town, for every reason that made her hard to get along with, and it hadn't shown any signs of improving. She knew that her temper was a problem, and controlling it would set her on the road for improving her reputation--so she'd been working on it, but taking that job was obviously a bad idea, especially since she'd stayed with it for two days before this.
"But to clarify, I am NOT sorry that I hit you with my tray. But I am sorry that it opened that cut on your head, started a riot, caused me to loose my job, and that neither of us can tend to our wounds because we're stuck here," she said.
Liam just stared at her, wishing he could reach up and rub his face to free it of the humiliating tear streaks. He thought to mention the fact that it wasn't her blow that split his scalp, or the fact that blood was nasty acidic and could potentially blind him. He'd seen men loose their sight from a little cut on the forehead. He didn't mention either that he'd walked ten miles with half a dozen broken ribs and a knife wound in the shoulder and stitched his own flesh closed when he could, and burned it shut with the flat of a knife when he couldn't. He wasn't a stranger to pain. And sure it wasn't like he was comfortable or anything, but at least he wasn't taking it out on her. Nothing like Sweetness, he thought, though it just made him feel sad. The sadness quickly took another form, though. "Tell me honest," he said conversationally, knowing there was really no point in antagonizing her, but feeling the need to just the same, "Is it that yeh hate me this much, or are yeh so... warm an' outgoin'... with everyone?"
Pearl cleared her throat, and forced down a laugh at her own expense. "I'd have to say, I'm this "warm an' outgoin'" with everyone," she said blandly, face and voice devoid of emotion on the subject. Are you this annoying to everyone? she thought, but didn't say it.
"Oh," he replied, grinning a little. "Well, I reckon it's nice to know it's not just me." He coughed again, shifting about to try to find a more comfortable position. "Yeh think yeh might not get into quite so many fights if yeh was a bit more friendly-like? Whatever possessed yeh ta work in a pub anyhow if yeh's so not fond of attention?"
Pearl laughed bitterly. "I don't know either. I needed a job and I was having a hard time finding anything else. Today was my third day, I should've just quit when I had the chance. I hated it anyway," she said.
"Because of me," he mused, his head filling with foolish--demmed foolish--ideas. Don't even consider it! a little voice in his head warned. Yeh don't owe her nothing! Yeh don't even know this broad. Yeh can't risk muckin' about with some barwench! Another voice argued, But she's a good hand in a fight, and she knows the area. The first voice wasn't convinced. Too dangerous, Liam. Remember what happened to Sweetness... Liam shook his head, silencing the voices. "Tell me, Miss Pearl, yeh ever hear of a man they call the Highwayman?" he asked, naming a ruffian that was rather famous in the northern regions, if not so well known in these parts. He was hated by the royals and regarded as a nuisance by the lower classes. Oh, he never stole from anyone that didn't have plenty to spare, but the king (or duke or earl) that he would harass would have to send soldiers to find him, not that they could. Those soldiers had to be paid, and that made taxes rise. Sometimes copper and silver coins would appear in the flowerboxes, or on the window sills, or slid under the doors of the poor, but a few coppers wasn't enough to offset the tax increases. Children saw him as a hero, but most adults knew that he was just a thief, and a dangerous person to have around.
"Because of... everything," she ammended. Pearl watched his face as he battled with himself, and raised her brow when he asked his question. She nodded after a moment, "Yeah, I heard of him," she scoffed. "He's nothing but a petty thief. Although, he's pretty good at hiding," she said. "What about him? Just making conversation?" she asked.
"Mm, sort of," he replied. "I've been sent to find him and bring him back to Eltheridge. Trouble is, about the only part of the town I know is the tavern, though my familiarity with this corner is improving..." He twisted out a crick in his neck. "If you need a very short job to tie you over, you could lead me around town in the next few days, so I'll be able to figure out which places the Highwayman might try to steal from, if he's actually here."
"Who sent you to find him?" she asked quickly, in a bored tone of voice. "I don't know how I feel about helping you search for a fellow lawbreaker," she added, although she didn't really care so much.
"Heh. The Duke of Eltheridge. Would you believe I used to be one of his guards?" He looked a little sheepish. "Duke let me out of prison so I could chase this Highwayman down. I bring him back, I'm a free man. I don't... I can't go home, or I'm a dead man." His smile never slipped while he said this. "And don't waste yer sympathy on the Highwayman, he ain't worth it. 'Petty thief' is too nice a descriptor. He's a fool an' a brigand. Not the sort you'd wanna meet. I don't rightly know if he's in this town at all, but I had a fella point me this way, so this a-ways I came."
Pearl looked at him carefully, from the blood caked on his face to the multiple bruises covering him, to the sheepish look buried under it all, and couldn't find anything suspicious in any of what he said. "How much?" was the one suspicious comment she was able to make.
He laughed at that. "Depends on how much is still in me pocket," he joked, but then his face turned serious. "Five silvers a day. Seven if yeh've got a patch of floor big enough for me to sleep on. Seven an' two bits if yeh throw in a blanket an' a pilla."
Pearl frowned. That would be enough to pay the rent, which was a very good thing, especially since even if she did get her paycheck (unlikely) there wasn't going to be much for the short time she worked there. "I guess I could show you around," she said reluctantly, "but as fun as it sounds to turn my house into an Inn, you'll have to find somewhere else to sleep," she replied.
"Fair enough," he agreed, expecting something to that effect. "We'll start first thing this evening. I'm afraid I won't be too terribly excited about walking around before that." He sighed again, head pounding. "Rude as it is for me to sleep when yeh can't, would yeh hate me terribly if I rested me eyes for a wink or two?" he asked, fuzzy black dots swimming across his vision.
Pearl paused a moment and looked kinda angry. "No, go to sleep," she said irritably and turned her face away.
"Thank yeh kindly," he muttered back, and it was hard to tell if he was serious or not. His head fell forward against the stocks and he passed out within moments.
Pearl blew through her nose in irritation, and out of lack of any other possible response. She was irritated at herself for caring that she now had no one to talk to.
An hour later Pearl yawned and shuffled her feet, and forced down another yawn. She'd stayed awake much longer than this, it was unacceptable that she was so sleepy now, considering the uncomfortableness of her situation.
Another hour or so later Pearl looked over at Liam and scowled her most unpleasant scowl, hoping he had splinters deep under his skin and that the skin was raw and red by morning. She wanted to sleep... Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to try... She experimentally, gently, relaxed her legs, and immediately felt an unbearable amount of yanking pressure on her neck and wrists--that wasn't going to work, only a sleep-deprived mind would even consider such a thing...
Finally, it was early morning. People had come out of their houses and where walking around, off to work or where ever they had to go. There weren't so many people in the square at the moment, but it was filling up, and the presence of Pearl and Liam in the stocks was becoming more and more known. Pearl awoke slowly, to the sounds of the bustle, and schooled her face into the bored expression she'd been working on during the late hours, specially for when this happened. In somewhat of a panic, she hoped her friend wouldn't bring Jade into the square today... And wouldn't leave him at home, or with an unsuitable babysitter, she would be going to work about now... hopefully Pearl's temper wasn't causing her to be late. With a glare, Pearl attempted to kick Liam, to make him suffer this humiliation with her, but her legs wouldn't even move. "Hey, you--" she said loudly, realizing she didn't know his name, "whatever you name is. Wake up and suffer this too!"
Liam didn't stir, but a few moments later, a trio of guards walked up, stepping up to the stocks. "Shouldn't we leave them in a bit longer?" one asked.
"You want to have to come back in a few hours?" the other replied. "Or have a ruckus again? Might as well let them go."
The first just grunted, walking over to Pearl's stocks and knocking loose the pin. He was nice enough to lift it off of her and then offer her a hand to help her straighten up.
Liam wasn't quite so lucky. The guard opened his restraint, but the Irishman still didn't stir. "Eh, looks like the drunk's comfortable, Mick," he laughed, and then reared his foot back and kicked Liam in the ribs, hard.
Morning came to Liam fast and furious, and a burst of obscene and creative profanity bubbled out from between his lips, punctuated by a lighthearted "Top o' the mornin' Sirs." His face was clenched in pain, and he pulled himself out of the opened stocks, trying to work his way to his feet with some difficulty, holding his newly broken rib.
Pearl didn't move at first, but she slowly got her stiff legs to work and accepted the hand, much as it injured her pride, but she didn't even express some kind of thank you in her face. She held back a moan and looked over her shoulder at Liam, just in time to see him kicked. She visibly flinched, and for once in her life, briefly, she considered the idea that being a girl in a low-cut dress wasn't always such a bad thing, it had it's advantages. She quickly removed her hand from the guard's and stretched her legs, too tired, too anxious, and in too much pain to either be impressed by his language or to care sufficiently for his health right this second.
Liam felt quite the same way; if asked, he probably wouldn't have remembered that Pearl existed at the moment. He wobbled off a few steps, the crowd tossing things at him because they knew he could do nothing, and found a shady spot between two buildings. Cursing fluently in five languages, he lowered himself down, laying on his back in the cool, damp dirt. He tried not to cough--or breathe--holding his hand over the stabbing pain in his chest.
Pearl didn't have to shoo the guards away, they took off. Pearl hesitated, thinking of her son, before she wandered over to Liam and stood in front of him, wishing he hadn't gone so far. She bent over him and looked at his face. "How's your chest? Looked like he kicked you hard..." she said. She would've just picked him up and towed him wherever, but she was worried about his ribs...
"Oh, just dandy," he muttered back at her, a somewhat annoyed expression on his face. How did she think it felt? "Go on home to your kid," he told her. "I'll meet you here at sundown." He closed his eyes, wishing she would go away.
What she was really asking is if his rib had actually broken in the kick. "My crankiness is rubbing off on you," she said. "I will, I could probably catch Arty before she dumps Jade in a ditch. But, see, I'm kinda worried about you if he broke a rib... Although, I don't know what I could do about it..."
His eyes opened, and he glared at her with something nearing pure hatred. "What you can do is leave me the hell alone," he snapped, snarling like a wounded fox that has been cornered. He gritted his teeth, sagging back into the dirt. Each breath was an agonized gasp that he sucked through his teeth, and the softest moan escaped him. This is the last time I help a lady in a bar, he swore. Last time. Last bloody time...
Pearl nodded and turned and strode away. Her pace quickened, she was very worried about her son. She wasn't able to get into a run, but she developed a pretty quick pace by the time she got to Artemis's house and burst in to find that she wasn't there. Fuming, she left and went to her house, hoping Artemis was looking for her there...
An hour or two later she returned with her four year old son, Jade, following behind her with some kind of toy. She had changed out of her barmaid's dress into a blouse and pants, both of which fit her well, but not tightly, the outfit enabled her to carry the sword which hung at her hip. She was also carrying a big bag. She walked up to him and kicked him lightly in the leg. "Wake up, you, you slept more than I did. Stop being a baby," she accused. She sat down next to him. She pulled out a cask of water and a cloth and dabbed at the blood on his face, which was sure to get him up.
Normally, Liam would have thought of some cute remark about being nursed by an angel, but he wasn't in the mood. "Yeh know, I do have a name," he muttered at her, wincing away from her scrubbing cloth. "Not that you're polite enough to ask, or sensitive enough to care."
"Actually, I was going to ask at one point, never got a chance. So what is it?" she asked. "Jade, stop playing with that stupid toy and get the bandages, he looks like he's going to need them," she said, sighing slightly at her son. She rewetted the cloth and cleaned away the blood, revealing the cut on his head. "Now, when you're all fixed up, I brought you some food. But for only five silvers a day, it's not a real meal," she said casually.
"Liam," he replied, a hint of his old humor flickering across his expression. "And I offered you seven and two bits, remember?" He started to laugh, but stopped with a pained grimace. "Faa... ah, that hurts," he moaned, tears falling back from his eyes to wet the prematurely gray hair at his temples.
"Yes, and I said you'd have to find somewhere else to sleep. So I'm only getting five out of the deal," she said, sticking to her decision. Pearl patched up the wound on his head and then considered what to do about his ribs. Considering how they'd met earlier on, she looked him square in the eye and said, "Now, don't take this the wrong way, but we're going to have to get this shirt off of you so I can bandage your ribs."
Liam bit his lip to keep from laughing again. "I knew it... just couldn't wait to get my clothes off." He smirked, but there really wasn't much mirth behind the expression, and he held a hand up for her help in sitting up.
Pearl shook her head at him. "Not in front of the kid, and I'd elbow you for that comment but I can't exactly do that can I?" she said lightly. and beckoned Jade over to help. "Gently, Jade," she warned, as they both helped him into a sitting position and worked off his shirt. She reached over into the bag and pulled out some bandages and began bounding his chest expertly.
"I... ah... I thank yeh for not," he managed, looking over at Jade to distract himself. "Well hello there, little man," he said, a muscle in his face twitching every time Pearl reached a certain point in her wrapping. "Yeh know yer mommy is the lady what beat me up?"
Pearl hissed at him and looked at Jade guiltily. "I am not responsible for most of this damage," she said haughtily. "Maybe the blow to the head, maybe. But Jade, fighting doesn't solve anything, you know that right?" she looked anxious and gave Liam a dark look.
Liam caught the dark look, and turned his laugh into an equally painful cough. "Listen to yer mum, little man," Liam agreed. "Gettin' inta fights just get yeh in the stocks and mighty hurtin' too." He smiled at the boy, an honest smile that was more than tinged with sadness. Tears leaked out of his eyes again, and noticing them, he flinched under Pearl's gentle hands. "Ow," he complained, reaching up to wipe the trails of wetness away.
Pearl tied the bandages. "So, are we bothering to put the shirt back on?" she inquired, most of the people in the square'd already had the chance to see him with his shirt off anyhow. "Thank you, Jade, I suppose you can play with your toy," she said under her breath. The toy was something of his father's, and she loathed that he played with it, but she was anxious to divert attention from this conversation.
Liam sniffed, happy that she hadn't noticed his emotional weakness. "Naw, it's not that cold. Besides which, I don't really want ta lift me arms over me head at the moment." Liam couldn't stop watching Jade, but then blinked and returned his gaze to Pearl. "Well, I'm back to sleep," he said, rolling his shirt into a pillow and placing it on the ground where his head would go.
Pearl looked at him strangly, why was he watching Jade like that? and then caught herself yawning, she was the one who'd been up all night and finally managed to fall asleep on her feet. Blinkly rapidly she shook her head and set the bag next to him. "There's food in there," she said, and stood up, wiping her hands on her pants. "Hey, come on, Jade, doesn't a nap sound good?" she asked, hopefully.
"I want to go to the baker's shop. Arty said he was making dessert today," Jade replied happily. Pearl glared at the ground, I am going to kill that woman she thought, She did this on purpose!
"Oh, well, if there's dessert involved..." He smiled, swinging his feet around to a kneeling position before carefully standing. "I'll go with him," he offered, pulling his shirt on without undue difficulty or grimacing. "Yeh need ta rest. I was the one what got ta be unconscious part o' the night, remember?" He shook his head, blinking away the fuzzy black dots from his vision.
Pearl turned slightly. So that's how you get a man with broken ribs to get up she thought to herself. She sighed in mock exasperation. "What does it take to get rid of you?" she asked. She smiled a little, but her smile faded at his suggestion. She looked him over and shook her head. "I don't know you well enough, besides, I haven't seen my son in hours, I need to make it up to him," Pearl said.
She'd sleep... eventually. She turned and started walking, "Think you can keep up, or are you going to have to meet us there?" she asked innocently. Pearl turned to her son, "Looks like we're going to the Baker's Shop," she said, breathing a sigh. But in the next moment she smiled at his exuberant response. "Come on!" she said with a jerk of her head in the direction.
Liam stumbled along as best he could, a bit hard pressed to keep up withthe kid's rapid pace. Their path led them past the tavern/inn that they'd torn apart the night before, and, checking to see that he wouldn't be run over by a wagon, he crossed the road, seeing a very familiar weathered napsack sitting beside the trash. "Well, lookit, lookit," he said loudly to let the mother and chid know that he was no longer following them. "Someone was kind enough ta pack up me things an' leave them by the curb for me." His battered, cheap-looking sword was lying beside the sack, and he slipped his toe beneath the sheath, close to the gaudily decorated bell. Flecked with rust and the finish pealing off, the barkeep had aparently figured the sword wasn't worth trying to sell off. Liam didn't give a lick what other people thought of his sword. It was his and it served him well. With a sort of casual grace that belied his injuries and his lack of prowess in fighting the night before, he flipped the sword into the air with his toe and foot, and then caught it at waist level. The weapon twirled in his fingers and he snagged the stap of his napsack with the rusty pommel and lifted it up. It was a bit lighter than he remembered. Wincing sightly, he put the bag over his shoulder and rummaged about inside to find his purse. Empty, but that wasn't really a surprise.
Pearl lead the way with her son, turning around to see him detour, and then turning and changing her path. She winced at his sword. "God, how long have you had that thing?" she asked in digust, fingering the sword on her own hip. She didn't appear impressed by his little trick--just put-off by his "sword."
"Hey now," he protested good-naturedly. "Don't go insultin' a man's weapon. She's got her sellin' points." Grinning at them both, he drew out the weapon to reveal a blade that was dented, scarred, and rather ugly, though the edge gleamed at its sharpened side. Affectionatly, he stabbed it into the ground, and then up-ended the metal sheath. Nothing happened. "Well, now..." he said theatrically. "Hold out you hands there, little man." He waited until Jade had obeyed, and the flipped a little switch near the base of the sheath. He tapped the end, and a little copper coin fell out into the amazed boy's hands. Liam smiled, then moved the sheath to his purse, flicking the switch again and giving the metal tube a good shake. A dozen silver and gold coins tumbled out and into his little leather bag. "See?" he said, smiling.
Pearl raised a brow. "Interesting," she said with a nod. But her face resumed its previous disgust. "It's still ugly as hell," she said stubbornly. There was nothing she appreciated more than good craftsmanship (and good fighting). She was a pretty good blacksmith after all, having learned from her father, and then taken up the trade again a few months ago, and even if she couldn't make the best swords--hers were still good, and she knew how to identify the best ones.
"Not unlike m'self," he agreed, his smile never slipping. "Would yeh really think it right for an ignoble drunkard like m'self ta wear a noble blade like yer own? I'd shame the steel." He clipped the sheath to his belt and picked his sword out of the dirt, twisting his sleeve to find a cleanish spot. He wiped the blade clean as affectionately as a doting father might to his child, his touch as tender as a lover's. He noted with a little irritation that the dross he had dipped the bell into was flaking away again, and some of the silver filigree was showing where it wrapped around the onyx hilt. He'd have to dip it again if he intended to keep the blade looking like it should belong to him. "'Sides, folk always have an affection ta the craft o' their hands," he told her, sliding the sword back into the sheath with a bell-like ring. He felt better all ready, having that back where it was supposed to be.
Pearl stared at him for a second. "Are you saying... you made that thing?" she asked. "I--" She stopped and looked down at her son, who was pulling on her tunic. "What is it, honey?" she asked. He pointed toward the baker's shop. "Oh yeah," she said. "Okay, come on," she looked up at Liam, "you too," she said, straightening and heading off again. As they got closer Jade ran ahead.
"Cookies!" he squealed, eyeing them excitedly. Pearl caught up to him with a smile and pulled out her purse. "Hm, four cookies should be enough," she said, counting out the money. "And I want I half a loaf of that bread that smells so good," she said, resisting the urge to sniff the air.
The baker's wife turned to Liam, who produced a silver coin out of thin air it seemed, and handed it to the woman. "Make that five cookies an' a loaf an' a half," he told her, and then turned to Pearl. "An' yeh can put yer money away. My treat."
Pearl fought the irritation out of her face, before much of it showed, but it came out as an involuntary twitch. She turned to the wife and smiled a bit, "I'll pay for the five cookies, he can pay for the bread," she compromised, giving her the money quickly, and putting the rest back.
The baker's wife nodded slightly and gave Liam his change, and a look that said--she's a stubburn one, ain't she? And left to get what they asked for. She came back and gave Pearl the cookies and Liam the bread. "Have a nice day, hon," she said to both, and turned to Liam, "He looks like you," she said with a smile and turned away.
Pearl's face froze, and her mouth dropped, and she looked more surprised than few people had ever seen her. It was a good thing she wasn't the easily-embarrassed type, or she'd never come here again. As it was, she still might never come here again out of irritation. "He does not!" she said finally, a little louder than necessary, grabbing Jade's hand protectively.
"Easy there," Liam said softly. "No need ta cause a fuss, sweet." He looked down at the kid, cocking his head sideways. The kid's hair was quite a bit darker that Liam's, but the cut was similar and their eyes were just about the same hue. And, for better or worse, they seemed to have the same playful smile. The kid actually reminded Liam of an entirely different young person, but he wasn't about to mention Connor. "She's right, yeh know." He tore a heel off one of the loaves and bit into it, realizing in that instant that he was really rather hungry. "We do look a bit similar. Yeh want some of this now? It's really good."
Pearl bent down and gave Jade the cookie he'd waited SO patiently for and then turned to Liam with that familar fierce look in her eye. "He does not," she said stubbornly, and took the half a loaf from him, and shoved a cookie at him in it's place, without so much as a thank you. And then she took to chewing on the bread thoughtfully. Why would she said that? He does not look like him! He doesn't even really look like his father!
Liam forced himself not to laugh, though his lips curled up as he said, "Whate'er you say," he replied lightly before looking down at Jade. "How's the cookie, little man?" he asked, that sad look filling his eyes again. He tucked the rest of the loaf into his napsack with his own cookie, focusing his efforts on the bread.
Pearl was too busy to notice the look, but Jade was confused by it. "Why he look at me like that?" he asked his mother curiously, stuffing most of the cookie into his mouth.
"Huh? Like what, Jade?" she asked, looking over at him. She shook her head. "I don't know..." she said, looking at him again.
Liam forced a smile, scratching the back of his head sheepishly. "Whaddya mean, little man?" he asked too. "Do I look funny?" as he asked this, his lips twisted around in a goofy grin and he crossed his eyes, sticking out his tounge.
Jade laughed. Pearl shook her head. She looked up at the sky and frowned. "We've got to go. If I'm going to show you around, I have to sleep. Meet here at sundown you said, sounds good to me," she said speedily, turning and taking Jade's hand. "Come on, let's go home, mommy didn't sleep last night," she said and started walking down the street, with a slight wave over her shoulder at Liam.
“See yeh then.” Liam watched them go, and sighed, though that hurt his ribs quite a bit. He started walking the other way, north. He wandered out of the town rather quickly, and then half a mile down the road. He knew where to branch off without any specific marker, and from there wandered a few hundred yards through the trees. The right tree was just where he left it (as if it wouldn’t be), and he set down his knapsack and sword at the base. Just barely, he could make out the black bundle where he had tied it up the afternoon before, but he didn’t remember the tree being quite so tall. With another sigh, he reached up, pulling himself into the branches. He had to stop often, and his arms were shaking by the time he reached the securely tied bundle. Liam cut the leather thongs with the knife at his belt and threw the bundle to the ground, where it hit with a satisfying tinkle of coin. It was just as hard to get down again, but finally the Irishman was sitting beside his booty. Hundreds of coins of many kingdoms filled the plain sack. and Liam picked through them, sorting some out. There was something else in the bundle too, a small, very carefully cloth-wrapped bundle. Liam looked down at it, feeling a pang as sharp as the agony from his ribs. His shaking fingers undid the wraps to reveal a wooden horse about half the size of his hand. One leg was missing at the knee, and there were toothmarks about the head, but to Liam, it was more precious than all the shining metal beside him. He rested his head against the tree and closed his eyes, still holding the little hand-carved horse.
Pearl showed up at sundown to meet him, with Jade in tow. She didn’t have much of an expression on her face, but it was obvious she would’ve rather left him at home, and just couldn’t. She hadn’t changed clothes so her blouse was wrinkly from sleeping in it. Jade was looking unpromisingly tired. In an hour or so he’d barely be able to keep his eyes open. Pearl sighed and looked around, wondering where Liam was. If he thought she was going to wait for him, he was crazy. At least if he thought she’d wait long… Going home to bed was a tempting option at the moment.
Liam peered out through mostly closed eyes, spotting Pearl and the boy. “Yo,” he said once they’d gotten within earshot. He was slumped against a building--a leatherworker's shop, with a new triangular cap low over his face. He had raised one hand in greeting, and used the thumb of it to push the cap up a bit. He'd changed as well, and bathed in the river so he no longer smelled like cheap beer. He'd even swiped a broken bit of mirror and shaved. On the whole, he looked much more presentable and only slightly like a drunken scoundrel who'd spent the night in the stocks. "Have a nice nap, did yeh?" he asked, using his ugly sword to push himself to his feet.
Pearl nodded at him slightly. "Hi," she replied as he came over. She bit back the reponse that he cleans up nice, because he might take it the wrong way. Jade smiled at him a little. "So, where are we going?" Pearl asked.
Liam smiled back, and handed the kid a wonderful-smelling golden pear. "For dessert," he said. But then he turned to Pearl. "Richest folk first," he told her. "And then maybe dinner? My treat..." he offered again.
Pearl's face softened at the pear, she loved pears, so did Jade. "Yummy," he squealed. "Messy," Pearl muttered, taking it away from him gently. She glared at Liam slightly, "We ate before we left," she said matter-of-factly, "there's no need."
She changed the subject, "So, we're touring the city... What do you want to see? And why does it have to be so late when we do it?" she asked, frowning. She pulled out a dagger in such a swift movement it was hard to tell exactly where it had come from, and turned toward Jade. She peeled away some of the skin of the pear and cut Jade a piece, and then one for herself.
"Because the Highwayman moves about at night," he replied just as casually. "I need ta see what weakness he'll try ta exploit." He felt a growl in his own stomach, but that was easy enough to ignore. "Besides which, we both needed the sleep, and it's more romantic anyhow." He smirked at her when he said this so she'd know he was joking. He was joking, wasn't he?
Pearl nodded at his reasoning blankly, but stopped and rolled her eyes at the rest. "What ever," she said, turning around. "Here we go." She continued to cut up the pear, occasionally giving Jade a piece, or eating a piece herself. "This is good," she said quietly, licking her lips.
"You're welcome," he replied, laughing softly at her expression. "It came from a wild tree not far from here. Right at the edge of the river... lovely place." He pulled another from his pack and bit right into it, juice dribbling into his goatee as he smiled. "Wild fruit is always the best," he said, taking out a handkerchief--albeit used and a little tattered--to wipe the juice from his chin. He wasn't a complete savage after all.
Pearl looked over at him from the corner of her eye. She didn't know what to make of him. He didn't fit into a neat little sterotype. He wasn't really a pig, like most of the men she encountered at pubs, he had just been drunk. He was kind of nice, but he obviously knew how to use that hideous sword of his. She wondered how well he would do in a swordfight, and her eye's developed an excited spark.
He glanced over at her, and lifted an eyebrow before returning his attention to the pear in his hand. What exactly was that expression all about? For a few moments there, it almost looked as if she didn't despise him. He almost thought of reaching over and slapping her rear, and he probably would have if the kid hadn't been walking just in front of them. Thinking about it again, he was glad the kid was present. Sure, he liked to antagonize the ladies, but Pearl wasn't like his other conquests. Hell, she wasn't even a conquest, and maybe that was what was throwing him off. He liked her, and moreover, he wanted her to like him. It was something of a new experience for him, and it put him a little off balance. "Where to first?" he asked, tossing his core to one side.
Pearl gave Jade the last piece of the pear, and tossed hers aside as well. She wiped the dagger on her pants and slipped it back into it's sheath. She paused and pulled her sleeve lower on her hand and bent toward Jade, cleaning his mouth off with the end of her sleeve. He'd already wiped his hands on his clothes. She smiled a little and ruffled his hair, "That was good, huh?" she said.
The rich part of town wasn't very far away, they were in view of it, almost there. Pearl looked around her. She'd never been much of a catburglar, although she'd pilfered other things. She was stealthy enough in the woods, but sneaking through houses and stealing pricey stuff wasn't her forte. This highwayman seemed to be good at it though. She still couldn't help being annoyed by his popularity and silly nickname.
"Well, this is it," she said after a moment. "But if we stay too long they might give us some trouble," she warned.
Liam's eyes flicked over the place, noting a tree that was too near a window for starters. "Hmm," he replied absentmindedly, stepping away from her and checking out the next house. Those shutters will be a pain, he thought, walking forward again. No gate... big stones... easy to climb... He made a mental list of all the weaknesses he saw, forgetting Pearl and Jade's presence for the moment.
Pearl looked around as well. "I don't suppose he's dumb enough, or smart enough to use the door?" she inquired. "This may be the richer part of town, but," she stepped a little closer to the nearest door. "These locks really wouldn't be hard to pick, or break for that matter," she said in a low voice. "How does he usually do things? Break in at night and steal then? What if they wake up?" she asked.
He looked back at her, his brow twisting. "And how would you know what locks are easy to pick?" he asked, but then glanced up the road. "No one place for very long," he recommended, walking forward again, though his blue eyes never rested for more than a moment. "Hey Jade, look at that one," he said as a guard neared them. "Wouldn't it be fun to live in a great big house like that?" he asked, squatting down beside him, and then glancing up at the soldier. "Sir," he greeted, smiling happily. The guards suspected nothing, and kept right on walking, after warning them that it was a little late to be house-shopping, and not to stay out too late.
Jade nodded solemnly. Pearl glared at Liam slightly, knowing the guards would assume he was the father again. Maybe it was better than the scandalous truth, but it rubbed her the wrong way. She nodded at the guards, "Yes, sir, we'll be headed home soon," she said. When they passed by she turned to Liam, "I'm quite a good lock-picker, actually, and I've got journeyman status as a blacksmith, so I know they'd be easy to break," she informed him.
"Hmm," he replied, wincing as he straigtened. "Down the rest of the street, then, before we get arrested again?" he said lightly, though he hadn't answered her question about the Highwayman's methods. He returned to casually looking at the houses, his keen eyes having to problem picking out their weaknesses in the fading light.
Pearl looked over and noticed Jade, smiling faintly. He had sunk to the ground sleepily. She walked over to him and touched him gently. "Here, Jade, wanna piggyback ride?" she asked. "You can sleep on my back."
Liam turned, smiling. "Hey, I can carry him," he offered, walking over to the kid. "Poor little fella. I should'a thought about how tired he'd be. Sorry," he said, meaning every word.
Pearl looked up at him as Jade reached for her, and turned toward him so Jade could get on her back. She shook her head. "Thanks... anyway," she said with a polite nod. "I can carry him, this wouldn't be the first time. Besides, it's not your fault, Artemis wasn't home and I... don't have many other friends," she said, and after a second, "that is--who are willing to babysit," she finished, starting down the street slowly. "It's good that he came, maybe he will prevent us from getting arrested this time," she said.
Liam smiled again. "He's beautiful," he said softly, but then blinked, looking around. "Uh, I see several potentials on this street. How about the folks just a bit poorer, and we call it a night?" he suggested, resisting the urge to reach over and ruffle the kid's hair.
Pearl looked at him searchingly. His behavior toward Jade was odd, as she had been noticing, and he was finally looking really sad. Had he ever had a kid? He acted like he wanted to get off the subject, and she didn't press him on it. "'Kay," she said softly with a nod, and shifted Jade slightly on her back. She'd managed to forget about her bruise, and one of Jade's arms was pressing on it slightly.
He wandered down another street, pegging another four easy marks. This town would be a pushover--he could hit all of these in a single night, once his ribs were better. There would be no scaling walls with his side the way it was. The tree from earlier was bad enough. It was fully dark by the time they reached the end of the street, and Liam looked back at her. "Good enough for the night. You sure you don't want to let me carry him for a bit? I really wouldn't mind."
"Well... switching him to you might wake him up," she said. "But he is getting heavy. You sure your ribs take it?" she asked. If he thought it wouldn't hurt him, she'd be willing to give Jade over for a while.
"I wouldn't've suggested it if they couldn't," he replied, and then let Pearl set the kid on his back. Liam reached up with one calloused hand, holding onto the kid's arm just in case he slipped. He was clinging on fairly tightly, so it wouldn't be a problem. The smile was back, and he looked over at Pearl. "To your place then?" he suggested.
Pearl rolled her head around on her neck to stretch it out, and then rolled her shoulders back a few times, fighting back a wince from her bruise. "So, you're willing to pay for dinner for us all, but not a night at an Inn?" she asked, smiling slightly.
But she moved on, "Seven, you said?," still not waiting for an answer, "I don't suppose it'd put me out too much," she said, and looked away from him with a shrug. However, she hadn't really wanted to be so open to the idea, and if the baker's wife's comment bothered her, well, what would people say about Jade riding on his back and him staying over? That was a bit too fatherly for comfort.
He smiled at her. "Don't really think they'd let me back into the last place," he noted, keeping his voice soft so the kid wouldn't wake. "Thanks, Pearl," he said quietly. "For everything. I was an..." he glanced up at the sleeping Jade. "Well, let's just say "the southern end of a north-bound horse" last night. You didn't have to do any of this for me. Thank you."
Pearl nodded slightly at him and looked uncomfortable. She wasn't the kind to say 'Your welcome' and he wasn't all that welcome actually. "Hey, you're payin' me," she said with a slight shrug. "And it's late," she added quietly.
He noticed her discomfort and decided to back off a bit. "Both true." He felt a stabbing pain from his side, though he didn't let it show on his face. Holding the beautiful boy was well worth a little discomfort. He walked along the poorly-lit road until they reached Pearl's home, where he waited patiently for her to unlock the door.
Pearl looked over at Jade on his back and smiled slightly. She moved in front of the door and unlocked it. Then she ushered him in and locked the door behind them. She went to light a few candles and then showed him where to put Jade and went to get a blanket and a pillow for him.
Liam very carefully put him down on the bed, trying hard not to wake him as he pulled off the boy's shoes, setting them beside the bed. The boy stirred, but Liam just tucked the blankets up around is chin and started to sing quietly:
"Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are callin'
From glen ta glen, an' down the mountain side.
The summer's gone, an' all the roses fallin'
Tis yeh, tis yeh, must go, an' I must bide.
But come yeh back, when summer's in the meadow,
Or when the the valley's hushed, an' white with snow.
Yes, I'll be here, in sunshine or in shadow.
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love yeh so."
His voice was soft and faintly husky, warm and soothing. Jade yawned and his eyelids started to droop again. Liam glanced up, seeing Pearl watching him, and he smiled faintly before looking back at the sleepy boy and picking up the second verse.
"An' when yeh come, an' all the flow'rs are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be.
Yeh'll come an' find the place where I am lyin'
And kneel and say an Ave there for me.
And I will hear yeh softly tread above me,
And, ah, grave will warmer, sweeter be.
For yeh shall bend, and tell me that yeh love me
An' I will sleep in peace until yeh come ta me. "
Liam smiled at the boy, but then moved over to the other side of the room where Pearl was standing. His eyes had a distant, sad look in them again, and he sat wearily at her table. After a moment of silence staring at the table, he simply said, "His name was Connor."
Pearl set the blankets and pillow on the table and sat down next to him. She wasn't much for comforting people, but she would try. She nodded solemnly. "Wh-Ahem, what happened to him?" she asked, her face showing that she was afraid of his answer. She hoped it was as simple as the boys mother taking him away, but knew it couldn't be.
He nodded at her, knowing she had assumed the truth. "Four years ago this winter," he confirmed. "Sickness. Fever of some sort." He scoffed sadly. "I wasn't there. I was off killin' someone because my leige-lord said they needed killin'. He needed me, my boy needed me, and I wasn't there."
Four years... Four years after my parents died I was still having the occasional nightmare... If I lost Jade like that... she thought to herself, her throat closing up, to prevent her from speaking any of it. She felt her eyes start to burn at his story, but she didn't look away, and she didn't cry. "...His mother?" she asked slowly.
A smile crossed his face then, a smile that had no humor in it. "She... We never married. Con was just Jade's age, maybe a might bit younger. But..." He swallowed painfully. "She didn't want a baby, but I said he'd be my son. I'd pay her ta take care of him, pay for his food, his clothes. It was fine, for a while. But... I came home and Con... He was lyin' in his bed, froze stiff. She hadn't been home in days... spendin' her nights at the bar." His voice was very cool, detatched. But his eyes were tight, and his lip twitched a bit. He sighed painfully. "God, I miss him."
Pearl's face twisted into a very sour look, which she tried to smooth out. She looked away from him at Jade and wondered how anyone could be so careless. When she found out she was pregnant she had, admittedly, considered ways not to have to take care of her baby, but when the time came, and she saw that tiny little face, and those tough little fists, she loved him right away, in spite of his screaming and crying. And even while she was pregnant she'd been thinking of names, catching herself judging other people's names... She looked at Liam sadly and didn't know what to say. But she figured she should say or do something. She thought for a moment. "Would you like some apple cider or something?" she asked hopefully.
He blinked, and looked up at her with a smile. "That sounds wonderful," he told her, rubbing his face with the back of his hand.
She stood up and went into the kitchen, which was connected to the room they were in, and rummaged around quietly for it. She poured him a glass, and some for herself as well, and came back over to the table. "Here," she said. She smiled suddenly, lightly, "Enjoy," she added, as she would have at her ex-job, but with less malice, and sat down next to him again.
He laughed softly, holding up his right hand. "I won't try to make yeh sit on me lap, word o' honor," he vowed, and then took a sip. The juice was sweet, but it needed something. "Hmm," he said, frowning slightly. I don't suppose yeh have anything that might give this a bit o' kick, do yeh?" he suggested, swirling the liquid in the cup.
Pearl smiled bitterly, she'd sure hate to tear up her own house. She sipped on the cider and agreed about its needing a kick. She stood up again and rummaged around in a near by cabinet this time, pulling out a bottle of liquor. "This is about all I've got," she said, sloshing it around. "I'm not... not a big drinker, unless I've had my back split open or just given birth," she said casually, setting it down in front of him with the slightest shrug. "But there's always some around here," she said quietly, and thought of another bottle that was stashed in her room, and another that might be around somewhere. Her house was not very organized, although it didn't look messy--everything was stuffed away who-knows where.
Liam took the bottle, and emptied a fairly respectable amount into his cup, though nothing too extravagant. "Always been a heavy drinker. Hell, Irish." His eyes twinkled. "Yeh drink a lot on the battle field. Keeps yeh warm at night and not thinkin' too clearly 'bout the folk yeh killed durin' the day." He took a sip of his spiked cider. It was wonderful. "Though I don't drink so much anymore."
Pearl nodded at the bit about the people he killed. But laughed at his last statement. "Is that so? Well, then, how do you explain getting locked up in the stocks? Chocking it up to yer short temper?" she inquired, throwing out her excuse.
"Chockin' it up ta yers," he replied instantly, grinning at her over the mug before taking another sip. "But what yeh mean 'bout gettin' yer back split open? How'd this happen?" he asked, putting a hand over his rib.
Pearl smiled at that. "Fair enough," she said. Then she reached up and rubbed the scar on her left shoulder, absently. "I was young and foolish. There was a rebellion in my country, I decided to be a part of it to get revenge on the person who ordered my parents killed. I was at the first big battle between the two sides and she was there... It was... one of the shortest battles I've ever been in--one of the first too. She sliced me open from my left shoulder all the way down to my right hip," she said, leaving out the details, such as the fact that it was the queen of her country who did it to her. Maybe she'd tell him the rest of the story one day.
Liam nodded. "Sounds pretty." He pushed back from the table, pulling up his pantleg to reveal the scar of a nasty wound at the thick part of his calf on the inside and outside of his leg. "Took a pike through the leg," he explained, flicking the brownish-pink scar tissue with a finger. "Surgeon said it had to come off, that I wouldn't survive. An' if I did, it'd rot off an' kill me anyway. Spat in his face, ran a hot iron through the wound, wrapped it for a month, an' fit as a fiddle. Course, don't run too good no more, an' half a day ridin' is like misery, but..." he shrugged. "Makes for good stories at the pub."
Pearl nodded at the scar admirably. And frowned at the thought of the hot iron, she'd heated up a dagger and used it on a wound before, on someone else; and her healer had partially caterized some of her own wound, as well, but she was on the brink of death at that point--it was all a blur. She smiled slightly. "What do surgeons know?" she scoffed. She would've told him to go to hell and done the same thing, if it meant keeping her leg. Can't sword-fight without your leg!
"Yeah," Liam agreed with a scoff as he took another long swallow of his drink. He didn't like thinking about the war, though, and pulled his pantleg back down. "The Highwayman doesn't have a specific pattern, aside from hit half a dozen ta ten houses in one night, then vanish before dawn. Sometimes he scales up the sides of the buildings, sometimes drops in from the roof, sometimes walks right through the front door." He reached into his pocket, pulling something out. "His callin' card." He put the chunk of stone onto the table for her to see. "Fools gold. He'll leave it somewhere where the folks'll find it, an' off he go. No one ever see him, no one ever hear him. I've been chasin' him better than two months, and ain't done nothin' but look at his boot tracks."
Pearl raised a brow. "That's a lot of houses," she said. "What does he usually steal? Just money or things he could sell? Because that's got to get heavy," she observed. She picked up the fool's gold and looked at it. She must be a fool, because she couldn't really tell the difference--but she hadn't seen much gold in her lifetime so it wasn't much of a surprise. "Everyone gets caught eventually," she said shortly. "Everyone," and there was something bitter in her tone. "Your past just catches up to you, no matter what." She sighed and stood. "There's your blanket, you can sleep... wherever," she yawned and stretched a little.
"Right. I'm keepin' yeh up. G'night," he said, taking the blanket and moving over to an empty spot of floor. "Ta answer yer question, he'll take money or jewelry, but he's quirky. Sometimes, he'll only steal the silverwear, other times, the candles. Demmed showboater. Likes to prove he's invincible. But, yer right. He'll get caught soon enough. But only if I'm back ta meself." He tossed the blanket down. "So I'll say g'night, then."
Pearl stopped by Jade to stroke his hair and kiss his forehead. "Night, baby boy," she whispered. She straightened and went to her room, waving over her shoulder at Liam. "Night," she said. She sank into her bed gratefully, but didn't sleep right away.
Liam didn't sleep either, though he was tired. He just laid there, staring at the ceiling. He didn't want to knock over those houses. He actually didn't want to move on at all. He wanted to stay right where he was. It'd been a long time since the gaping wound in his heart left by Connor's death hadn't ached like the one in his leg. He'd just met little Jade, and he already loved the boy nearly as much as he had Connor. This Highwayman, who was he, after all? Some vagrant, wandering around, stealing and show-boating and biting his thumb at the law? Sure, it was satisfying to know that the wealthy would wake up being not so wealthy as before, but was it enough to live for? And Pearl was right, he couldn't keep this up forever. Sooner or later, probably sooner, he'd be caught and hanged, and then what? Who would remember him when he'd gone? No one, no one at all... He sighed, and pushed himself back to his feet. His footfalls were softened by his stockings, and he picked up a chair, moving it to Jade's beside, watching him sleep so peacefully. It made his heart ache, but it was a good ache. He just didn't want to leave. After a bit, his head bobbed, and he dozed, dreaming of running and playing in grassy meadows with a little boy. It was Connor, of course, but this time, his hair was black instead of auburn red like his mother's.
Pearl finally decided she was going to need help sleeping. So she quietly snuck out of her room, and found Liam sleeping in front of Jade. She paused, and wondered how she felt about the attachment he was forming with her Jade, and moved on. She picked up her glass and found something to help her sleep and went back to bed. She fell asleep thinking about how she could've avoided the stocks, and the look on her neighboor's face when she'd see Liam tomorrow, coming out of her house.
continued at pearl and liam 2.