Thom watched the street from atop a roll of used up hessian cloth, chicken crates, old creels and rope. The pile leaned up against Fischer’s warehouse and smelled of the docks and was being watched over by Cranky. Since Cranky and Thom had known each other practically from the time they were old enough to fight, that was alright. Cranky could try to pick up girls with his lispy horrible pick-up lines and Thom could sit up under the eaves of the warehouse atop said bundles and not be in anyone’s way or sight.
It was a boring, bright, windy morning down by the lake shore and large thunderclouds were staggering around out over the lake. Occasionally the sun would slip behind one and the air would gloom up a bit. The docks and wharfs smelled of gull shit, fish, nets and whatever had been floating around the pilings this week. The offshore breeze kept most of the funk moving though, better yet, the Watch usually didn’t come down here too much. Mostly, which suited Thom right down to ground.
Right now Thom was watching an amazingly corpulent human merchant waddling away from him down the Gullet between the net drying racks and another warehouse. The warehouse was a pretty interesting place on Market days, since it usually had dozens of vendors selling or buying just about everything. The bloated one was being followed by his tiny son, who looked about 6 or 7. Son boy was carefully apeing the rolling gait of his pater, despite the fact that he could walk normally on his own. Trailing both of them was a pair of human escorts, Novik and Bryant also known as “that rat fucker Bryant” to most of the town hobbits. The kid was amusing though.
“It strikes me that children of any kind will call the most trying or weird surroundings normal, for want of anything better to compare them with.” Thom said, sort of to himself. He glanced down to see if Cranky was listening but Cranky was trying to con Leen into one of his hare-brained schemes.
“C’mon, it tastes just like sugar.” he wheedled. Leen had a bundle of dirty linen on one outthrust hip and looked wary. She hadn’t seen Thom. Cranky was wearing some cut down dock hand clothes with a shapeless stocking hat pulled over his listless brown hair. He looked like he had lost a fight with a trapper made of denim. Leen was talking back.
“Do you know how creepy you sound? If you didn’t whine so much when you were talking to girls, Frank, you just might-” whatever else she was going to say was cut off.
“CATH-leeeene!” cracked a sharp voice from up the stoney alleyway. Crap, it was that old bitch Crone Braidbow.
“Cathleene are you about your errands?” she shrilled. The crone had a voice that could peel the paint off of a dory. Cathleen looked surprised and a bit scared.
Leen spun away from Cranky and bobbed a quick curtsy up into the cul-de-sac. When she did that the big loose necked linen blouse did some interesting things for someone sitting four feet over her snowy white blonde head. Thom’s eyes narrowed in thought.
“YES, Mistres Braidbow, Franklin was just-” she admitted to the Crone.
“Just get it done, you can slut about on your own time come Market.” Uh oh. Crone Braidbow’s voice just stepped all over poor Leene. She was in for it and Cranky had already done a fast fade to the far side of the pile by now. Way to go, Cranky. Ah well.
MISTress Braidbow had a knack for casually laying into the little people to teach them their tiny place in the world, using a seasoned hazel cane. No wonder Leen was rooted to the ground. Braidbow saw everyone as either thieves, whores, priests or liars, and town hobbits were usually three of the four. Usually. Thom grimaced, her cane was tapping closer.
Thom stepped off the roll and dropped down to the street. He stuck his head around the chipped and battered corner of the warehouse and looked over Leen’s shoulder. Ah, Crone Braidbow, with her little wiener dog Goldie in tow was striding down the worn cobbles. She was in her usual black dyed widows weeds and she had that hazel walking stick. She looked vaguely flushed and there was a fey light in her eyes. Leen had squeaked when Thom landed next to her and he used the brief moment of confusion to lift her laundry bundle onto his shoulder.
Thom swept his little peaked leather cap off and did a very nice leg. He beamed up at the woman who despite being aged, sticklike, deeply stupid and slightly mental still managed to loom over him by a good two feet. She stopped, looking perplexed. Thom was nothing if not well dressed, why, his forest green overtunic was almost new and his smile could melt butter from ten feet. His feet shone and he smelled clean.
“Why, Mistress Braidbow, what a surprise!” He gave her one of his third best smiles, “I was going to meet Miss Minnie here and walk her to the sluice this day, I do apologize for being late.” Second best grin for Cathleen who had clammed up and was probably still wondering if the caning was coming.
“I was just thinking about Cleric Brand’s last homily of a week ago when he mentioned that the wealth of years afforded the fruits of guidance and the passing on of such wisdoms to the young. I would ask or beg some of those of you, but from where I am standing, you could not be old enough to be so wise, or even half able for worthy guidance, for you look too close to your youth for that.” Thom’s voice was pure honey now.
The Crone had stopped and now she colored slightly. “Cleric Brand? Oh, what a.. thing to say to poor little me.” She practically giggled and the wattles on her neck twitched. The dog was sniffing at Thom’s feet. Ugh. He could smell something sour and it wasn’t the laundry.
“Master Thomas the Rhymer, beg your pardon, dear Lady Braidgood, I have remarked upon your fine posture and taste in pets on several market occasions to my peers. Now I have finally met you in person!” Thom sighed as if he had just achieved one of his life’s desires. He watched her face carefully. She had patted one hip and straightened slightly at the posture remark. The bitch was swallowing every word. Great.
“Missy Cathleen will return directly once the linens are washed and dried, Mistress Braidbow, my word on it, an it please you.” He smiled and blinked his guileless brown eyes up at the bitch. She grounded her metal headed cane and waved one liver spotted hand vaguely.
“Go on then young – erm, Thomas, but next time Cathleen, you can tell me that you have someone to coming to help you.” The witch ran a hairy eye over Thom one last time and turned back up the close. The dog pissed on Thom’s right foot.
Leen blew a big relieved sigh and then had to smother a laugh as Thom carefully spit a gob of phlegm on the back of Goldie’s head. The Crone doddered up to her garden gate and went in with the dog grumbling behind her. Ah. Did humans know how bad they smelled?
Thom settled the bundle and turned to the very fair and very rounded Cathleen aka Leen, who was doubtless relieved that she had not gotten a few bruises from the old piece of jerky. She was looking at him with the same expression he had seen her give Cranky just a little while ago.
“We gonna go down to sluice and wash this stuff or what?” He asked. Her mouth snapped shut.
“I thought that was just a bunch of sweet talk to get me off the hook?” She said back, her gaze was.. slightly bemused? They knew each other peripherally, in that most of the town hobbits were one friend or one sibling away from most of the others. Nothing closer, or friendlier but they weren’t strangers.
They were headed up the street now, past Cranky and his pile of slightly valuable smelly goods. Cranky’s face was a mixture of envy, resignation and pretended disdain as they passed him. Fuck him, he blew it. Thom turned his head and gave him a shit eating grin as the two of them walked by. Cranky had to suck it up since Leen was watching.
Thom gave Leen a more careful look out of the corner of his eye, even the hair on her feet was white blonde. She was pulling her hair back and putting in a few small sticks to hold it up. The sun was making some interesting shadows through her linen blouse while her arms were raised. She gave him an innocent look.
“Thom, thank you for that. She was going to strike me for sure.” She spoke in a low tone as they stood to one side and let a few dockworkers with loading hooks and some full lunchpails walk by. They were discussing the weather, one of them looked hungover.
“Leen why don’t you lead the way and I’ll just shut up while I’m ahead and carry this bundle, we can talk more down by the sluice where it is.. quieter.” He watched her think a bit then nod. She turned, rucked her dress up a bit to clear the muddy streets, and tucked the excess into her belt. She had nice calves and little downy white hairs on her lower legs. She led off up towards the Cloth Hall and damned if she didn’t put some sway into that little frame of hers. This day might get pretty interesting after all.
Thom followed, and wondered what the going rate for a laundress was. If he could haggle a reasonable deal, the Leen would have an hour or so free, and who knows what could happen then?