Check out the start of the series.
By the time Owin had walked to the northern side of the port city of Rhyl, his face really hurt. He did not own any polished steel or silver to examine the injuries himself, but he knew his eye would be black by morning. While not ‘old’, such marks no longer represented badges of courage in his mind. At best, it meant he survived to see another day.
Turning down a narrow alley, he stopped at the third door on the left and knocked twice. After a short wait, he heard the creaking of the floorboards as someone approached the door. Based on the pattern of steps, he suspected Gwen would open the door.
“Damn,” the fifteen-year-old said with her face peeking out through the narrow opening she made. “You get run over by a horse?”
Owin tried to smile, but his cheek hurt too much. “It is nice to see you as well, Gwen.”
She stepped back, fully opening the door, her plain skirt dancing around her legs as she moved. With her free hand, she pulled back the loose strands of brown hair that fell in front of her face. “You waiting for me to pen you an invite, tough guy?”
Owin stepped through the door and tilted his head as he walked past the girl that was half a head shorter than him. With his left hand, he tapped her forehead with his index finger. Suddenly he dodged right to avoid a punch aimed for his ribs. “Hey, they could have broke something there you know.”
“Not the way you were moving,” she said with a grin. “You weren’t favoring anything that I could see other than your face. I guess it will be an improvement,” her grin taking any sting out of the comment.
Owin nodded his head. Elsin tolerated him showing her daughter how to defend herself, but only just. Her complaint about Gwen growing wild and thinking herself invincible ran too true. However, he would not leave her defenseless. “Your Mom here?”
“In the kitchen, she’s got a bean soup cooking.”
The frown on her face told Owin all he needed to know. Elsin’s cooking usually left one hungry, but neither of them complained to her. The problem now would be that the soup would stick around until it was eaten or went bad. Which meant either eating it over the next couple of days, or going hungry for four. “Let’s see if we can help her,” Owin said, as he moved toward the back of the long and narrow flat.
The dimly lit building creaked and moaned as he walked over the worn floorboards. The whitewashed walls reflected the limited light coming in through the transom windows high on the front wall, but the aged chairs, stained dark from years of use, acted to counter the effect.
In the kitchen, a small hearth radiated heat, making the room stifling warm. Even with the backdoor open to a small garden, shared in neglect by a dozen families on either side of what should be green space, the kitchen felt miserable.
“Oh, Owin, what happened to you?” Elsin wiped sweat from her brow with her forearm; the sleeve of her dress already drenched. “Please tell me you didn’t get caught doing something you shouldn’t.”
Owin stepped closer, not bothering to try and avoid Elsin examining his injuries. Though only a couple of years older, Elsin often assumed a motherly role if he showed any injuries. “I brought you some more lotion,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said, taking the pouch with her chapped and blistered hands. The pained movement of her fingers difficult for Owin to watch. As a person desperate for relief, she opened the pouch and scraped out a small amount of the thick paste. She rubbed it into her skin before turning back to Owin; he did not mind the delay.
With slightly less cautious movement of her hands, she reached up and examined Owin’s eye and then with gentle pressure, opened his mouth and looked inside. “You ever consider just losing all your teeth to keep your mouth from getting so cut up? You’d think your teeth were sharpened into knives.” She shook her head and met his eyes. “You really need to stop doing these things. Someone’s going to kill you someday.”
Owin nodded his head. “But, this wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t doing anything, then Mark’s son had a couple guys jump me from behind. I woke up to the fat mutt’s fist in my face.”
“Owin, you should never have gotten involved with that man.” Elsin shook her head and then swallowed. “Whatever you thought to gain, it wasn’t worth it. You really need to find a way to get him off your back.”
Owin caught a glance from Gwen and he silently willed her to remain quiet. Elsin has no need to know, he swore, wishing he could make the girl hear his thoughts. “I need time to figure it out.”
“But the man is cruel–”
Owin tossed his hands in the air. “Mark gave himself that name. Why everyone decided to humor him and call him that is beyond me. He’s not really that important. There are plenty of others in the city that have more influence and are by far, crueler.”
“He’s dangerous, Owin. He kills people. He ruins lives.”
Owin nodded his head; he agreed, “But he only controls crime in a small chunk of the city. Yeah, he’s got a lot of money and there are lots of people who’ll work for him–”
“It was not by choice. I…Let’s not argue. My mouth hurts and I really would like to just sit quietly for a while.”
Elsin nodded her head and went back to the table that had a few wilted carrots sitting on it. “Gwen, take the bucket out to the fountain and get us some water for the evening. If you can avoid anything too dirty, that would be good for Owin’s mouth. Your father and Owin learned too well how dirty water can turn a wound. I won’t have Owin die because we didn’t watch ourselves.”