“DO YOU KNOW THIS LADY?”
That was the sign I made. I thought it looked pretty good, for Common Tongue not being the language I was brought up to write in, anyway. I borrowed some ink from Drust – I was surprised to learn that he always carries a little on him, but I guess a bard might need it – and sat there real Daurdamned careful-like, making the letters as big as I could on the piece of scrap wood. Then I drew an arrow over to the side, presuming she’d be to my left as we walked.
Meanwhile, the lady in question didn’t take much notice – not that I blamed her. There was no telling whose culty motherfuckers had already done to her by the time we busted her out.
She’d stopped talking when we got to the town – just sat there and stared down at the floor. The robe we put her in pretty much swallowed her up, a big black whale of thick, heavy cotton. All you could see was her head poking out, her face motionless, her hair caked in grease and ashes, like she was in the process of being eaten alive and didn’t really give a shit.
After no one at Molay’s temple knew anything about her, they’d formulated a plan to take her back to the inn with us, but it didn’t sit well with me to leave town without trying one more time to find this girl’s family. You don’t even know if she had a family, least of all a family here, they reminded me. She could have just been some sloot off the street.
Fuck that guy. I don’t even know who that guy was. Some town official. I thought about punching him and started to go through the old motions to clock him, in my mind – don’t think about your knuckles hurting, keep looking right where you want to hit him, aim small miss small – but Drust saw the telltale rage signs and gently pulled me away into some bullshit conversation about this new incredible variety of mead he’d found.
It was for the best. I knew that, even at the time, but my brain hadn’t sent that knowledge to my fist. And I thought it was fucking stupid to add to her shitty life by insulting her.
I looked at the girl as I stood to approach her, slowly, like she was some kind of rabbit.
If she’d been a sloot, she was awful fucking little for that.
And even sloots deserve to find their way back home.
As I held out my hand to her, she looked up at me, still static in the eyes, and I saw one of my brothers on the day they were cutting off his arms, given up, in shock, blood pouring out in gushes onto the ship’s floor, hard to tell when he went from living to dying.
If she had family there, I was going to to try to fucking find them.
If I could have talked, I’d say, “Let’s go for a walk around town.” As it was, all I could do was keep my hand held out and bend my head towards the door, looking awkward as shit.
She went with me, though. (I mean, what the fuck else she got to do?) We wandered through streets and thoroughfares and alleys, into banks and apothecaries and temples, through meetings and dances and everything else we could find. I held up the sign and gestured to her, sometimes gently, sometimes emphatically; people looked and some even legitimately wanted to help, I could tell, but not one person knew that exhausted face of hers.
The whole time she didn’t say much. Maybe she knew I couldn’t reply, or maybe she had forgotten a lot of how to talk, in addition to forgetting her own past. I only got a reaction out of her one time, which was when I almost lost her, actually; I looked to my left as we were going through the bazaar and realized she wasn’t there anymore. I knew she couldn’t have gone far, and, sure enough, she’d gotten entranced by a fabric booth. The black of the robe sort of popped against the ramshackle wall of bright colors, eye-catching waterfalls of linens, silks, and chiffons. I could see the shopkeeper eyeing her warily – the second time in one day I wouldn’t have blamed someone for a reaction, due to her vacant expression and dirty locks – and when I got closer to her I could see that she was holding a bolt of lace.
She looked…I’m not good at reading girl-face, but “upset” would be my closest guess. She then stared up at me and pointed to it repeatedly as I took it out of her hands to please the shopkeeper, putting it back in the row where she’d pulled it from. He nodded, relieved.
Her voice was high but scratchy, the type of voice that’s put a lot of screams through it.
I had no way to sign to her, at least not in a way that she’d understand, but the man running the booth actually came to my rescue, standing from his stool and pointing.
“That is lace. It’s 5 per yard,” he added, hopefully.
She glanced at him, then back at me. “Lace?”
I nodded. For the first time, she smiled. She liked that, for whatever reason. Maybe because it was delicate, like she’d been. Maybe she’d been a rich girl who’d had it sewn on to the hems of her dresses. Maybe she just liked the color, the pristine white like Blasric snow.
That was when I decided to call her Lacey. So she could have one happy thing.
I forked over a couple of measly coins for a small cut of it – there was no use for people like us to have a whole yard, but she could carry around a little piece if it cheered her up – and motioned for her to put it in the pocket of the big black robe. At first she didn’t understand, so I put it, not as slowly as I should have, into the pocket for her. She twitched when my hand first grabbed the pocket, but then she started to understand what I was doing.
Again, I nodded.
“…thank? Thank? Yes? Thank?”
She couldn’t seem to remember the rest of it, but I had a feeling that the pronouns would come back in time, and that maybe her story would, too.
I tried to smile back at her, but on my face it looks more like a rictus of pain, so I just waved her towards the exit of the bazaar and we kept walking. (We weren’t made to grin in the far north; it uses precious facial energy that’s better spent on other activities, like eating.)
Anyway, at the end of the day, she didn’t return to the rest of the party with any information about her family, but she at least returned to them with a name – and something of her own.