Salt and Iron
By Gem Isherwood
There’s a gash across her cheekbone, glass in her arm and her lower lip is twice the size it should be, but Dagna Müller is hardly a stranger to pain.
She slumps on the steps outside the tavern, feeling her nose to check if it’s broken again. Without sensation in her fingertips it’s hard to tell. She can’t bring herself to care much either way.
Her muscles ache from the weight as well as the fight: a dull hurt that courses along her shoulders and down her arms, turning to a chafing burn where the skin of her wrists meets the solid metal of her hands.
That pain never fades. At least the injuries provide some variety.
The tavern stands on the seafront, where barques and schooners are berthed like horses stabled for the night. The tide is low and the air reeks worse than an undine’s armpit; between that and the cheap gin in her belly it takes all of Dagna’s willpower not to retch.
Six months ago, she wouldn’t have lost a fight. If she hadn’t drunk herself halfway into oblivion she could have knocked all three of them out inside of a minute. Or at least noticed the bastards were cheating before they’d taken every last coin in her purse.
“Here,” a voice says from above her. “You’re a damn poor advertisement for my business.”
She looks up to see the landlord – an old mariner, face wrinkled from the sun and sea air – offering her an almost-clean rag. She takes it and dabs at her bloody face.
“I’ll pay for the damage,” she says, busted lip muffling the words.
“Oh yeah? With what?” He leans against the doorframe and folds his arms. “Them’s good hands for throwing a punch. Strong arms for throwing weight behind it too.”
“Four years on the merchant ships’ll do that.”
The glass splinters in her left bicep are leaking spots of blood like freckles. She’ll have to dig them out with a penknife later. It’s times like these she misses fingernails. (Continue Reading…)