Owin #4 — The Same Argument
Check out the start of the series.
Owin watched Elsin from where he was sitting. Despite the fresh application of ointment on her hands, he could see her pained movements as the cracks and blisters that covered her raw fingers slowly bled. He knew better than to offer to help her cut the carrots; Elsin’s sense of worth was strongly tied to her ability to perform the tasks she considered her job.
Owin glanced at the pouch of salve and wished she would apply more. While the lotion would not instantly heal her skin as a priest could when calling upon the power of the gods, the ointment did lessen the pain and the effects of the lye. I’d find you better work if I could.
“Owin,” she said, not looking up from her task, “you need to stop the thieving. It is a bad example for Gwen.”
Owin hated this argument; neither of them ever made any progress with the other. “I have to make money somehow.”
“I’ve told you before, there is other work you can do. You’re strong. You’re smart.” She looked up for a moment. “You still won’t tell me why you won’t go back to the garrison. Whatever the reason, Gavin would not want you ruining your life like this.”
Owin tried to avoid seeing Gavin bleeding out on the ground, but anytime Elsin mentioned her dead husband, the memories flooded back into his thoughts. Why couldn’t it have been me instead? The question had no point, but it always accompanied the memories. Outwardly, his face held as much emotion as frozen stone. “The only other work I could get is as a hired sword. And that involves hurting people to benefit those who have things they don’t deserve. When I steal something, at least it’s from those who don’t deserve having what they’ve stolen from others.”
“Owin,” Elsin said, putting the knife down and closing her eyes against the tears that had already started flowing. “If you’re caught, you’ll lose a hand or more likely your head. I couldn’t stand losing you as well.”
He rose to his feet and crossed over to her. Wrapping his arms around her thin frame, he cradled her head against his shoulder.
“Please, Owin. Please.”
He nodded his head and continued to hold her. “I’d take you away from this damn city if you’d let me.”
She sniffled back her tears. “We’d never afford to take Mother. And what would I become? The city at least has people who will hire me.”
“Elsin, you’re ruining your hands cleaning linens for those people. They are suckin–”
“Owin,” she said, stepping back and placing her hand on his lips. “Please, let’s not argue anymore. I really don’t want to. I just want you to stop this business with that Mark and stop the thieving.” She turned back to the carrots, wiping her eyes with her shoulders on the way.
He sighed. He could taste a mixture of blood and lanolin on his lips; something bitter, and not quite hidden by the taste of the other things, left his mouth tingling.
He looked toward Elsin, but unless he could find a way to acquire a lot of money, they would never afford to take her mother with them. And regardless of the fact that he wanted nothing more than to be away from this business, their expenses were too great for him to save enough money to think about moving even without her mother. And besides, Elsin, you and Gwen are why I agreed to do what I said I would do for Mark. A hundred times he had tried to tell her, but it would not solve anything, just make things worse. “How is your mother?”
Elsin finished the last cut and gathered the carrots onto her apron. “She’s not taking the heat well.” With a careful pouring, she slid the carrots into the cooking beans. “It’s disgraceful if you must know, but she lays in her bed or sits in her chair without a shred of clothing.” Elsin looked away. “I’m embarrassed for her, though I think she is past caring. She covers herself with stained bits of damp cloth to try and stay cool.” She let out a breath and her shoulders slumped. “At least she is still able to move from the bed to the chamber pot. When her left foot turned septic and they cut it off at the knee…” Elsin shuddered. “I was afraid Gwen or I would be stuck caring for her all day.” She finally met his eyes again. “We can’t afford that and Gwen…Gwen was raised by you and her father and she’s not fit to care for Mother.”
Owin could not say much. Gavin had influenced his daughter before he died, but Gwen’s rebellious nature was more Owin’s fault than her father’s. With Elsin widowed, Gwen had no dowry to find a decent husband and she would never settle for a man who would take her without one. Which in Owin’s mind, was for the best, even if it meant they still provided for her when others her age had begun taking vows.
“When she comes back with the water, I have a little bit of salt. We can wash your mouth with that. Gavin didn’t teach me how to care for you two for nothing.”
Owin nodded his head. “I’ll try to do better tomorrow,” he said, his mouth hurting too much to smile. Elsin nodded her head as well; they both knew he was lying.