Emmelina left Lalia’s Market hugging herself as if that would do something to protect her from the cold she felt inside that had nothing to do with the rain. Her mousy hair quickly plastered itself to her thick skull and she cursed herself and the elements that made her shiver.
Her feet traveled automatically; she had no sense of time or place until she found herself at the steps of the boarding house where she met Anya. It was funny, she thought, how much she hated that grave-digger fellow and she didn’t even really know him. Anya did seem happy yesterday when she stopped in for tea before her evening shift. She even brushed of Lina’s relentless teasing about her hair like it was nothing. It was very un-self-conscious-wimpy-doormat Anya. Though she seemed happy, and that was the most important thing.
Staring up at the boarding house, she thought about things she tried desperately to forget. That’s why being a Lady’s Mantle girl was so easy. Always work to do or the other girls to chat with so there was never a dull moment where memories could sneak in and make you hurt. Or anger.
Damn Hallem Kemp for getting beneath her skin.
Maybe it was because he had been the first for her there at the Mantle and lying with him was the final good-bye to what she used to be. Not a laundry girl or a tarnished girl or a disgrace or grieving mother. When she shut the door to the little room at the far end of the hall, she had shut the door on her past.
Hallem was safe. He was honorable, considering. He was the better option over that ratty man who seemed so interested in the new meat offered up as auction. And Hallem hadn’t even pushed the issue of sex; only under her assurances that it was just her job and she might as well get used to it did he drop his pants and go for a tumble. In a way, perhaps she had underestimated the power of naked flesh over a man. Hadn’t she come to learn men’s purse strings were always looser the more her bodice slid down over her breast?
She did not want to go back, not tonight. Not when every face she’d see would be Jameson Sicklefoose and every jerking climax would only remind her that the men needn’t worry about bastard children with her. The healers had been very clear on that two years ago as they gave her parents the prognosis. They left no reason to doubt that the baby was lost because she wasn’t shaped right to carry a child. She was lucky that it aborted when it did; another month and it would have been much more dangerous.
Standing before the boarding house, she closed her eyes tightly and her tears flowed indiscernible from the rain.
Frustrated with herself, she pushed the heels of her palms into her eyes to stopper the tears. She scowled as she stomped away from the boarding house. Thick Beggar’s Alley mud sucked at her boots and she was thankful she wore her leather breeches and a man’s tunic instead of one of her fine Mantle dresses. Madam Lark would not find the ruining of a gown amusing, she was sure.
She needed to find a place to get in out of the rain.
She thought of her options. The Pony was sure to be crowded and she really did not want to run into the type of folk she found there. The training hall would be emptier, but that also meant the barkeep would be free to question why a sopping gutter rat dripped on his bar. She had been hungry before her conversation with Hallem in the market, but the revelations of that had put a lump in her throat and a knot in her belly.
Now she knew and he knew and she didn’t understand why it mattered so much.
Lina found herself at the gates of Durrow. If she couldn’t go stumble into Hallem, she could always find a warm hearth at Anya’s. Maybe Abiorn would tell lots of jokes and help her forget again. Maybe Anya would have another painting finished she could hawk to another john who felt it beneath him to lie with a girl that looked like a boy but who he couldn’t ignore. Maybe Eirikr would be feeling well enough that she could tease him mercilessly and not feel bad doing so. The Tenorbekks didn’t know her accent was fake and her past was full of bad choices and she already missed the boy who made her forget the most.