Owin #2 — The Cost of a Good Shirt

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Photo ©Depositphotos.com / Oleksandr Minyaylo
Photo ©Depositphotos.com / Oleksandr Minyaylo

Noticing an inquisitive stare, Owin turned his face away. He knew the blood drying into his shirtsleeve and the cuts and swelling on his face would eventually draw the wrong attention.

Turning off the lane filled with afternoon traffic, Owin headed down a narrow alley. This one was cleaner than the one outside the workshop and a bit busier. He passed a couple of people coming out of a sweetmeat shop, but did not meet their eyes. Continuing passed the people, he took a couple of turns and eventually found himself alone between the two and three-story buildings packed into this borough of the city.

Wincing a little, he paused to take stock of his facial injuries. The earlier blow to his cheek hurt and bits of skin hung loose in his mouth. The shallow cut on his temple hurt, but there was only a small amount of blood. That one’s gonna bruise. Probably even give me a black eye; won’t Gwen be excited about that.

He shook his head. He was more concerned about Elsin’s opinion than Gwen’s almost certain glee at another one of his ‘adventures’. “Well, my shirt is ruined,” he said as he turned his arm over to check the underside. The blood would certainly stain the light-colored linen.

Glancing overhead, he noted a bit of laundry drying on ropes between the upper floors of the buildings. Checking both directions down the alley and glancing to the open shutters, Owin confirmed he was alone.

Not seeing an easy way to reach the shirt directly above him, he moved a dozen feet further down the alley. That wattle and daub building had thicker wooden timbers just above his hands’ reach. While not a great handhold, it looked to offer a few fingers width to grab.

Stripping off his sword-belt, he set the weapons on the ground that still showed a few cobbles under the accumulated layer of dirt. Reaching up, he leaped and caught the edge of the rough timber. With only the tips of his fingers, Owin strained to lift himself upward, grateful once more that he was normally too poor to overeat.

When his face was at the level of his hands, he took a deep breath, and then pushed up and backwards with his arms and feet. Twisting like a cat, he snagged the bottom of a linen shirt as he fell.

The cloths-pins resisted for a moment, then released their hold as Owin’s weight overpowered them. The rope snapped back with a twang, shaking the rest of the laundry that had dried earlier in the breeze.

Owin landed in a crouch, but quickly regained his feet. He stepped back to his weapons and snatched them from the ground as he continued quickly down the alley.  The shirt he balled up and stuffed it under his arm to hide it from the view of anyone who might come to the window to investigate the noise.

He turned two more corners and then slipped open a latch on a gate that blocked his way into someone’s back garden. Closing the gate quietly behind him, Owin checked to make sure he was alone. Once that was confirmed, he stripped out of his favorite shirt and put on the stolen one. “Damn,” he said, scratch at the rough material. The new one was nowhere near as soft as his old one. “I’ll have to find a way to make Simon pay for this.” Even though the words escaped his lips, he knew it was unlikely. No one was daring enough to attack Simon, the son of Mark. Simon was nothing, but Mark, or Matorick the Cruel, never earned the title of lord, but he ruled his personal empire as if he were a king. No one touched his brat because the risk was not worth the reward.

Taking a moment to actually look at the garden, Owin noticed a rain barrel beside him. Quietly removing the lid, he used his left hand to scoop out some water to wash his right hand. While these people looked wealthy enough by having a garden filled with ornamental flowers as well as peppers and fruit, he could not see dirtying their water for no cause.

Eventually, he got his old shirt wet and used it to scrub the blood that had dried into his pores. Once his hand was as clean as he could get it, he turned his ruined shirt to his face. Careful not to make things worse, he more daubed than scrubbed the blood that was there. When frustrated enough with the pain, he took a few drinks of water to wash down what was still leaking into his mouth. I wish I could afford a priest to take care of that. I’d rather have a dagger wound in the side than my mouth torn up.

Resolved to living with the injuries, he put the lid back on the barrel and left the garden. From the alley, he made his way across the city, passing many other people who now paid him no more attention than anyone else. The people in this section of town were mostly laborers with a few skilled tradesmen mixed into the flow. It was still too early for most people to be done with the day’s work, so everyone he encountered moved with a purpose.

Slowing, he watched the breeze blowing a faded sign with the caving of a needle and thread. The old wood squeaked as it rocked back and forth on the iron rings holding it over the door. Patting the empty space on his hip left by his missing pouch, he went up the steps and knocked on the door. A short time later, a silver-haired woman opened the door. Her wrinkled face lit up at seeing his.

“Whatever have you done to yourself?” she asked, her voice as strong as someone half her age.

“I decided to hurt someone’s fist with my face.”  Touching his temple, he added, “I can say I was generally successful.”

The woman shook her head, but stepped back to let Owin inside. “You are earlier than I expected. Normally you don’t show up until well into the evening when I am trying to enjoy a bowl of spiced stew.”

Owin winced. “I’m afraid I won’t be enjoying much beyond wet bread at this point.” He cleared his throat. “Gina, I’m afraid I’m going to be short this time. The guy with the meaty fist appears to have kept what I had on me.”

Moving pasted a cutting table covered with scraps of material, Gina walked to a basket in the corner of the small room. She slid the basket aside and then worked a board out of the floor. Putting one hand on her back, she bent down further and pulled out a large waxed pouch. “Owin, if it was someone else, I might fear never getting paid, but I will give this to you on credit. You can pay the last four marks when you get them.”

She bent down again, replaced the floorboard, and slid the basket back into place. “Besides, I know you’ll bring it soon, since you’ll want more ointment before long.”

Owin took the pouch into his hands and hefted the weight. “I’d say I own you more than four more marks for this. You’ve filled this fuller than normal.”

Gina smiled again and then sat down. “I know who you give it to. You’re a good man. You should make her an offer.”

Owin snorted. “No. I think you mistake me for someone else. I stole this shirt on the way over here,” he said, pulling the itchy material from his skin and then reaching underneath the shirt to scratch. “I just hate you having to make this stuff. If the priests found out, you’d be in a lot of trouble.”

Gina shrugged. “They can’t accuse me of being a witch. It’s their formula. So what if I make a little money selling it to people they wouldn’t for less than they would?”

Owin wanted to disagree. He’d seen too many people accused of being a witch burn for their crimes. Some of them deserved it, but he knew there were others who were not likely witches.  But no one is going to question that. “Thank you, Gina. I promise to get you the rest before the week is out.”

“I’d let you forget it, if you’d quite that nasty business and take Elsin out of this dirty city.”

Owin smiled. He had no intention of having that discussion yet again.

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