A/N: This is my first EVER short story, so itmay stink. However, any comments, suggestions, criticism, etc., would be great if you have the opportunity to provide it. Also, I wasn't exactly sure where this story should have gone. It takes place in a time in the past, but that doesn't necessarily make it a "Historical" piece of fiction either. So into the "General" category it has gone.
By the way, this is rated T for language and violence. Just a warning.
¤ Broken Face ¤
Written by: Elaine J.
Men were calling her name as she fumbled through her hastily chosen path, weaving through littered tables and dodging greedy, greasy hands with an awareness that she had developed in the endless amount of time spent there.
"Hey!" called a gruff voice from afar, his words carried lovingly by the giggled shrieks of her coquettish, bony-faced accomplices and by the echoes of newly shattered glass. "More rum, love! More rum!"
She moved on at the same pace with the same shuffled steps despite the additional address for urgency, and blindly, she picked up yet another armful of soiled, grimy dishes as she morosely visited yet another raucously entertained table.
One wild hand had pinched a part o f her skirt as she fled the suffocating whirlwind of boisterous laughter and inflated guffaws, but her drilled feet had moved too quickly for her captor's satisfaction, and she had left that man and his table behind with no memory of the drunkard's calloused, brown fingers ever touching her.
The sweet, musty odor of freshly lit pipes strewed her face in a foggy barrier of grey, and she blew the smoke away with a feeble cough, the side of an empty chair jabbing her waist as she stumbled along the airless inn balancing the quivering mugs and plates in her aching, tired arms.
Red Night was the diamond of the foul sea-town she was trapped in, attracting nearly ever sailor, pirate, or other sea-folk like a siren's silvery song, and often at times the claimed, "one night visits" turned into days, then to weeks and for some even years, and she never rejoiced at the arrival of new steady customers as did her scantly dressed, tight-waisted colleagues. The routine would never change for her, and thus, there was no honest change to celebrate.
Upon reaching her selected destination, she dumped her burden onto a wet, soapy countertop with a grumbled sigh. "There's another for ya," she said, bending down to pick up a torn cloth abandoned on the dusty stone floor of the hot, bustling kitchen and then wiping her small white hands with it.
"Busy night," replied her associate indifferently, his eyes glancing at her not once as he reached into the warm, murky water of the wooden basin located under the rusted water pump for a tankard smothered in foamy suds.
"Aye," she answered, wiping her sweaty forehead with the back of her hand as she carelessly dropped the recently brought cups and plates into the water basin.
Beads of the reeking liquid splashed on her partner's tense, tanned arms, but still his eyes remained focused on the object being cleansed in his hands. "But it's not too much for ye, is it, Tom?" asked the woman teasingly, directing her blue eyes to the shadowed and worn profile of her companion.
Her stare was returned with no hesitation, and he rested his red, raw, working hands in the puddle of muddy water as he looked at her, his green eyes uncannily bright.
"No," he said earnestly, turning away and rubbing his glistening brow on the tainted sleeve of his shirt. "It's never too much," he added, somewhat for his own assurance as his face was reverted to the dull soup of filthy water and cracked dishes and away from her painted, but genuinely cheerful visage.
"But you've been doin' this since dawn, Tommy," she arose, her thin, neat eyebrows furrowing at his unassailable obedience to duty.
Her answer was a shrug that seemed to express his disinterest in the matter, perhaps her as well; but even if she did understand what such a movement indicated, her company could not help but add, "I won't spend the night with you."
Her face contorted into an annoyed frown, her pale hands gripping the edge of the countertop with taut irritation and a whispered hiss escaping her pouting, red lips. In a split second, she whipped the dirty piece of tarp clasped between her fingers onto the dripping counter, a corner of it hitting the water in the basin and kicking droplets of turbid green onto his impassive face in sharp, stinging kisses, and then she hurried out of the kitchen without another look at him, for clear salt water had already invaded her eyes and distorted her vision.
She meant to return to the uncomforting atmosphere of Red Night, to gather more dishes and elude more of the impious grasps of feral, drunk men, but she hadn't even stepped into the familiar smoke of the inn activity before a hand swung around her corseted waist and pulled her back.
"Where ye goin', lovey?" her captor asked into her ear, his mouth aiming for her own. She turned away with a disgusted face but uttered no cry to go with it, for the man who had caught her held her firmly with his strong arm, keeping her close against him.
"Back to work," she murmured, evading his smoothly shaven face again as he made another attempt to come nearer.
"Ye must be tired," he remarked, loosening his hold on her and increasing the distance between his face and hers much to her relief. "How long 'ave ye been working? Since sunrise?"
She found her opportunity to leave and quickly slipped out of his unwelcome embrace with a subtle nod of her head hoping that he wouldn't catch it, but her visitor watched her far more keenly than she had expected and followed her closely as she fled, almost leaving no space between them as he trailed her.
"Come now; don't be like that," he said, hooking a finger through some of her exposed corset strings and yanking her backwards with a fast little tug. She jerked back with an aggravated breath, and spun around to slap him, but he had encountered her many times before and snatched her frail arm before she even had a chance to swat his sleek, chiseled face.
"I'm in no mood," she replied, pulling her arm out of his tight grasp.
"That's 'cause ye jus' came out of the kitchen arguin' with Tom," he smirked, relishing the look of surprise on her face. "Yes, I heard it all. He's a bastard, ain't he? To tell you off like that."
"I wasn't angry about that, Liam. I was—"
"Listen, sweet. You meet me in the next ten minutes and I'll pay you well for your service." His piercing grey eyes bore into hers, tempting her to agree, and she bit her painted lip until it throbbed as she tried to find a fitting response.
With her mouth still silent, he raised his offer and added, "Two guineas, love. Two guineas. For one night. Just for you." And the grin that followed taunted her with a look saying, "You can't pass that up, missy."
Two guineas. The words bounced back and forth around her, getting tossed between the actions of accept and ignore furiously, and her head ached from the heavy weight of decision, and she didn't want any more burdens loaded onto her shoulders. She had had enough, but the amount of money pulled at her hair and gnawed on her nails. Two guineas. One night. Just one for that sum. Just one.
She closed her eyes and struggled to clear her foggy mind from the smoke of Red Night that she had inhaled so freely since the first day she worked for the condemned alehouse. But her sense of judgment was flawed, for her eyes and ears had seen and come to know but one answer to such a question asked: yes.
As her eyelids fluttered back open, she found Liam's face impeccably close to hers, his straight, defined nose gliding over her cheek and his forehead unknowingly bumping onto her brow. When his eyes rested on her fearful gaze, he already knew her answer and the smirk on his face widened.
"Yes," she said meekly, her blue eyes shifting downwards and away from his tantalizing expression.
"That's a good lass," he applauded with a snicker, placing his large hand on the small of her back and pushing her towards him. His free hand took hold of her face, catching her jaw and drawing her trembling, tinted lips to his. He kissed her quickly and then left, wanting one more drink in his gut before he had her in his hands again.
She stood dumb and still for a moment, her mouth feeling hot and her eyes drying out from the zephyrs of smog that lingered in the still air. She inspected the hallway around her and noticed the clear, open path to the kitchen, and she could distinctly see Tom's tall, lean figure at the sink, still washing dishes, with his head bowed and his red hair veiling his exhausted face from her view. And when she had chided herself for looking at him, she turned away and went to cull another set of dirty utensils for him, wondering if he had seen or heard what she had just done with Liam.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw her leave, a glimpse of her tattered blue hem becoming the last thing he saw of her as she vanished back into the rowdy throng of bawds and licentious inebriates. His hands stiffened and he shoved a pile of unwashed dishes away from him, trying to separate himself from what had to be done, but he knew he'd return to them later, washing and rinsing and thinking until his hands were chafed and dry and his head overflowed with pain.
He leaned against the slippery countertop, his stubbly jaw growing rigid at the encounter he had witnessed between the two. But then he reconsidered his anger, finding himself foolish for sending her away in a perfunctory manner and then getting bothered by her interaction with another man. Even if he had known her for ages now and had grown to always keep an eye free for her well-being, he found her disagreeable and ugly at the same time. Her profession beleaguered him, but was he much better washing dishes and doing what was normally women's work while she ran off to play with the boys? He understood that he wasn't in much of a pleasing occupation either, but what could one expect when one went to Red Night looking for a way to earn money? He'd never partake in the other side of the profitable chain—the side that Liam enjoyed so liberally and the side that his associate suffered with on countless occasions. The mere thought of disgracing any woman in such a way made his blood flow hot with anger, and so he did his best to distance himself from any temptation, even if that meant shoving his innocent companion aside with bitter apathy, for as much as he knew, he loved her like no other. That was why he could not do what she had secretly desired of him.
And now he knew she'd be going into a room with that man, and she'd come out of it in the morning as if nothing had changed, and he'd return to the peace and loneliness of his insouciance with a listless face and hands that would never enjoy life without work.
Minutes later he caught them out of the corner of his eye again, Liam's arm around her and her head unwillingly leaning against his shoulder with some apparent caution. Liam made a flourish with his hand, accompanied by a joke that must have gotten her to laugh a bit, for he heard her voice giggle and saw her cheeks grow red, despite the fake blush already pasted on her skin. For a moment, he thought he saw her vivid blue eyes dart towards his direction, but the movement was gone in a flash and soon she and her rich, enchanting lover disappeared from his senses with the soft 'click' of a door behind a distant wall.
The close-fitting darkness of the room swallowed her as she walked in, and a great fear and uneasiness jerked up her spine as she lost touch with herself. She suddenly didn't know where she was, and her only sense of direction came from the clammy hands that held her greedily.
"I don't want this," she said, thinking that she had kept the words in her head instead of speaking them aloud.
"What?" started Liam, infuriation suppressed in his throat. "What did you say?" She whimpered under him, feeling hot tears trickle out of her eyes and she covered her face with her hands, not quite understanding why she did it. He couldn't see her face anyway in the dense dim.
"I don't want this," she wept, finding room beneath him and rolling out, falling hard onto the wooden floor in the process. And again, she thought she had kept the words inside.
He cursed at her, getting up from the bed and getting drawn directly to her location from his ire, seizing her head and shaking her. "I paid you, God dammit!" he yelled, his screams hitting her face harder than any future punch and forcing her to curl and cower from him. "Two fuckin' guineas, you bitch!" he spat. "And I'm getting what I paid for!"
She shrieked as something hard hit her face and she fell back, being released from his iron grasp and tumbling to the floor. The fear pumped through her and she recovered from her fall and got up onto her feet, scurrying desperately for the door as she cried. And her wails pounded her ears so powerfully that she didn't even know that she was crying out Tom's name.
A hand hooked the strings of her corset and wrenched her back, making her crash into Liam as he held her securely with one arm and swiped the tip of a glinting metal blade straight across her face, with blood gushing out of the newly ripped seam.
A bloodcurdling scream reverberated all through the Red Night, becoming mingled with the omnipresent laughter, jeers, cheers, and shattering glass trademark to the sinking edifice. Tom heard it, his head looking up from his work but the sound of rushing water and the bangs and clangs of fussed-over pots and pans disrupted the anguish of the wail, and he returned to his dirty basin without as much as a wrinkled brow over the shriek. In fact, no other soul in the Red Night seemed to care at all.
The morning dawned crimson, with vermilion streaks of cloud and newborn sky painting the changing mantle that hovered above the seaside town. Liam was walking to his ship, wiping a crusted dagger with some ripped blue cloth as the hungry seagulls cried overhead. His grey eyes were red and his dark hair was matted with sweat as he walked towards his vessel in leisurely steps.
When his weapon was clean, he crumpled up the torn blue cloth and shoved the dagger back into his belt, smirking at the red sun.
Tom entered the waking inn with a tired face and a pulsing head. He had not gotten much sleep that night because his dreams had kept him awake. He'd hear screaming, endless screaming, and then walk into darkness, with a pungent smell in the air which he recognized too familiarly as the smell of human blood.
Without the slightest clue, he started to walk faster, and his feet led him past the kitchen and towards the rented rooms of the inn, and he stopped specifically in front of one whose door was left ajar, and a red light leaking through the narrow spaces exposed.
He knocked on the door gently, expecting her to come to it and greet him with a false, fatigued smile, but he received no response at all. He called her name and achieved the same response, and his concern moved him to nudge the door open, and the light that flooded the room as he reunited night with morning revealed her thin frame dumped on the floor, her brown hair drowning her face and her bare arms and ankles bruised and scratched.
He yelled her name again, running towards her and dropping to his knees as he lifted her up. He could feel her still breathing, although slightly, and turned her face towards him, and his eyes stung when he looked at her.
There, on her plain, pretty face, was a long, deep gash that ran from her right eyebrow down to the lower end of her left jaw, and the blade had cut in so deeply that spots of bone around the bridge of her nose and cheekbone were present, and she could barely keep her eyes open to see him crying.
She could feel herself shaking as he held her, jittering with a cold sensation of excitement, as she timorously reached for his aggrieved countenance. But her fingers never touched his skin, for her arm collapsed crippled, and the chance to be harmonized was given to him and he did not dither for one second and touched her plain, pretty face with his grazed, sore fingers.
Her painted lips were a pale dead pink, and the blush on her cheeks was wiped away with dried brush strokes of her own blood. The dark circles under her eyes were more apparent in the morning sunlight, but her blue eyes continued to convey an unstoppable amount of indisputable brilliance, and there he continued to see the same spirit he had grown to love so tenderly.
She seemed to see the relief on his face, despite the creases on his forehead and the grimace he held, and for some odd, hidden reason, she smiled at him, a bead of crimson leaking out of her black, bleeding eye and a startled yelp coming from the gilded face of a newly arrived moll.
¤ Fin ¤