Allegro 42: Overtime

We can't always choose the fields our battles. The enemy comes when we least want it and never when we are prepared. Always be ready, even in the moment of your greatest weakness. Damn it, where are my fighting flowers?

The King of All Moles and Other Insignificant Accomplishments (Act 3, Scene 7)

Linsan limped as they walked back up the road toward the public house. She had twisted her ankle one too many times and the dull throb rose up; hopefully there wouldn't be a fight in a couple of days until she recovered. She wiped her face, scraping off dirt, sweat, and grass from her cheeks and brow.

Next to her, Brook staggered next to her. She had refused to take off her heels even in the grass. When Linsan had offered to help her, she claimed that they were both too hot but she remained within arm's reach.

It was late evening but Linsan didn't remember the day passing until she was tripping over roots she couldn't see. She groaned and took a deep breath to speak. “That was a good practice. I think we've mastered the first six songs, three of yours and three of mine. And we've almost got the seventh done.”

Brook perked up. Her hair was a mess, the black curls cascading down her face despite her effort to push them back. She arched her back.

One button snapped off.

She lurched forward, a blush coloring her cheeks. One hand smacked against her chest to keep the dress from bursting open.

Linsan stopped and turned to shield her from the public house.

Blushing hotly, Brook looked down and gingerly pulled her hand away. The opening gaped slightly but the other buttons held. She let out a sigh of relief.

“Going to be okay?” whispered Linsan.

“Nothing I can't fix in the room.” Brook smiled at her. “Might have to strip down first.”

“You mean, take a bath?”

Brook's nose crinkled. “I stink of sweat.”

“You're wearing a dress in the field.”

Her eyes widened as she looked up. Before Linsan could say something, she tightened her grip on her dress as if Linsan would insist she change.

Seeing the look of fear, Linsan realized there was something more than just wearing pretty dresses to Brook. It was important to her friend. She smiled as sweetly as she could and then ran her thumb through the dirt smeared on Brook's cheek. “I'm never going to tell you to take off any dress.”

“Y-You aren't? My sisters always said I was being childish.”

“No. I won't.”

“Even though I shouldn't be wearing it in that field?”

Linsan chuckled. “You already know that, don't you? But we can't choose the fields of your battles. As long as you are careful, and we stop before someone gets hurt, we should be okay.”

Brook gave her a pointed look. “Is ‘choose the fields of your battles’ a line from a play I don't know?”

Linsan had to stop and think. After a moment, she shook her head slowly. “I-I don't think so.”

“You mean, you have words of wisdom that didn't come from someone else.”

Rolling her eyes, Linsan laughed. “Maybe?”

Brook reached up and pulled Linsan to her side. She leaned into her. “Good. I like it when you're leading.”

Linsan blushed. She slipped her arm around Brook's waist and led her toward the public house and a hot bath.

There were a few villagers coming in and out of the building, mostly for the communal dinner that Har provided for those who worked all day. A couple waved to them as they approach.

Then they heard the pounding of metal coming from Miska's smithy.

Brook's arm tightened around Lin. She looked longingly at the warm light spilling out from Miska's door. “Lin?”

“Come on, let's see how your Coaster is doing.”

Heat rolled out of the opening as they approached, the hot air sending swirls of nearly invisible eddies across the ground. The beat was steady and powerful, not unlike Brook's clapping during the fight. With every slam, the ground shook underneath their feet.

Brook broke away from Linsan and hurried forward. But as soon as she looked inside, she came to a stumbling halt. Her jaw dropped as she peered inside.

Linsan approached a few moments later and peeked inside.

Miska stood near the center of the room. She had a long piece of metal braced against a heavy-looking stone as she pounded it with her fist. The place where she struck glowed a reddish-orange and wisps of smoke rose around her, only to be pushed away each time Miska's fist struck the metal.

Linsan glanced around the room, seeing dozens of metal pipes and gears scattered on every flat surface. Some of them were steaming while others looked like they were scorched black.

The heat caused more sweat to prickle along Linsan's brow, but she was fascinating how Miska was somehow heating up the metal as she worked the metal back into shape. The blacksmith had a rhythm, more simplistic the songs Brook and Linsan had been practicing, but they were steadier than Brook's clapping; almost as if Miska had a metronome in her head.

Miska turned and smiled. “Like what you see, Princess?”

Brook made a gasping noise and then turned away. She was blushing.

Linsan frowned and then she noticed that Miska appeared to be wearing a pair of canvas shorts and an apron, nothing else. Sweat and soot covered her entire body, causing it shimmer in the light glowing from the metal she worked. Her tattoos covered more than Linsan guessed, from just below her knees up to the nape of her neck. Swirls of patterns and shapes were dark against her glistening skin and covered every visible inch. With so much exposed, Linsan could see that they originated from her navel and spread out. The designs marked the four seasons in cycle as they stretched across her body.

Miska grinned as she set it down and walked closer. As she did, she fanned the apron to move the air underneath. “Working metal is hotter than you'd think and I'll be damned if I'm going to do it in a pretty dress to ruin. Besides, the embers don't burn for long in sweat.”

Brook's lips parted as she started to say something, then she stepped back to stand next to Linsan.

Linsan took in the sight and then gestured to the car. “How is the Coaster?”

“Fighting me like a bull in spring.” Miska tested her hair which had been pulled back into a pony tail and then let it go. Her hair, like her skin, was blackened by sooth. “I should have the frame finished in about an hour and start working on the smaller pieces.”


Miska sighed. “Sorry, but that won't happen.”

Brook whimpered and Linsan felt a tightness in her chest.

“But, I'll have you on the road by first light, come the winter winds. Even if I have to get out and push you all the way.”

Brook turned back. “How much to get us out by midnight?”

Miska laughed, a surprisingly deep sound from the blonde. It was also a bitter tone. “Money? You think money is going to make me faster?”

Brook tensed.

“I'm going as fast as I can, Princess.” Miska gave Brook a hard look and then shook her head.

“What about someone to help you?”

“The nearest smith is over in Tabin-Over-Bridges, that's twenty miles away and the bastard hates me. You have to go at least thirty north or west to find someone who would work for me, as a woman or Feil. And without your car, you're looking at twenty or thirty hours walk to find out.”

“I could get a horse.”

“Still, you'd be riding all night with a horse you don't know to a place you've never been. Think about it, you really want to risk that much money instead of waiting a few more hours.” Miska sighed. “No, Princess, your money isn't going to help you now.”

Brook's lips tightened into a thin line.

“And offering to bribe me isn't going to make me any faster. You'd have better lucky paying to get into my shorts and I'm too busy for a roll on a mattress, I don't whore myself out, and you are way too uptight to get between my thighs.”

Brook inhaled sharply.

Linsan caught her hand and squeezed it. Then she addressed Miska. “Thank you. Is there anything we do to help? Buy you dinner or something to drink?”

Miska's shoulders relaxed perceptibly. “No, smithing and drinking are a good way to lose a finger. After, maybe.” She stepped back. “I need to get back to work, Dancer, but I appreciate the offer.”

Then she looked at Brook. “Good night, Princess.”

Brook growled at the back of her throat, but Miska turned and strode back into the smithy.

Linsan tugged Brook away. “Come on, let's get dinner and a bath.”

“She's… she's…”

“She is helping us, Brook, and we need to let her work.”

Brook flounced back toward public house, muttering under her breath, “… ungrateful cow, what does she think…!”

Linsan trailed behind, enjoying the moment of silence except for the steady beat of fist against metal. She swayed to it, it was definitely something she could dance too.

Her ankle twinged and she stumbled.

With a hiss, she stopped and mounted the stairs. “Too bad we can't ask her to join us.”

But that wasn't a question she could bring up with Brook nor one she could ask of Miska.

Then a thought rose up. The “choose the fields of your battles” line was from a play that her father had written about, The King of All Moles and Other Insignificant Accomplishments.

“Damn the gods, I thought I was being wise for once.” She sighed ruefully and headed inside. She had to tell Brook.