For my readers, as I plan my next moves with Rafe: Are there any particular questions you would like answered next?
“I’ll have a pint of Smutty Nose,” Rafe told Maud who was waiting on tables at the Pig and Toad.
“Anything to eat, Auntie?”
“Later, maybe. Is your ma around?” Rafe had not seen her at any of the tables, or hanging out at the looms.
“No, she’s still topside.” Maud nodded toward the depths of the public house. “She’s bringing down a kettle she just mended for Bors Pubmaster.” She took a mug from the rack and moved to the tap in the corner. “Still wearing your battle harness, Auntie?”
Rafe nodded and took a long pull at the lager. She reached behind her head and felt for the two thin metal spikes she kept skewered crosswise through the top of the harness mirroring the crossed scabbards that held her battle swords. They were fastened through their blunt ends with an arms-length of fine silk cord. “Fetch me a ball of that yarn, will you.” She gestured with her chin toward the basket of balls Fiona had discarded as too short to use but too long to toss.
Maud laughed. “Those look like the knitting pins Mam makes, but a bit different.”
Rafe nodded. “She made them for me the last time I was home. I asked for some modifications,” she said, taking a ball of wool from her niece. “That red will stand out a mile in this snow.” Rafe started to cast on.
“No more than all that dark brown leather you wear.” Maud watched her aunt for a minute and continued, “That would have been, what, twenty years ago, at least.”
Rafe finished her cast on and began to knit, looking at Maud. “Don’t you have tables to tend?”
Molly stomped up as Maud headed toward another table. The apprentice weaver sat in the opposite chair, with her back to the open public area. The girl, arms crossed, fists clenched, scowled at Rafe.
It appeared that the girl’s sour attitude was genuine, not just that of a child whose face had frozen when the wind changed. Rafe figured an afternoon swinging a maul at the wood pile would make at least one of them feel better about it. “Is there a ‘good day’ behind all that grouchiness? I would have thought you’d seen a woman knitting before.”
“I have. But you’re a soldier.”
“No law against knitting.”
“But you’re a soldier.”
“Look, girl. There is only so much weapon honing, tack mending, brass polishing, training time a person can spend, especially during the winter.” Rafe’s fingers kept rhythm with her words as she wound and stitched the yarn. “Story telling around the fire is only a participant sport for the one speaking. You’ve sung a song eighty times, you don’t really need to pay attention. And it’s drafty, even in the guild hall. A good sweater, woolly socks on the floor flags, a colorful blanket or two — we all have stuff we do to swap around at holiday time.”
“But I’ve never seen them attached together.”
“The things you haven’t seen in this world are legion.” Stitch, stitch, turn. “How about a question? One to stretch your knowledge rather than display your ignorance.”
Molly gaped and looked around to see who her audience was. The Old Soldiers were lined up against the wall, just as they had been above ground. She took a breath. “How are they attached? Is that, silk?”
“Not a truly excellent question,” Rafe said, “but at least a question where you’ll know more after the answer than before. Yes, that is silk.” Rafe turned the knitting and started on the third row, her hands working automatically. Not once had she taken her eyes off Molly.
“Why are they attached?”
“A better question. First, it stinks to lose one. I can’t drop one accidentally.” She demonstrated, dropping and retrieving the needle with a flick of her little finger. “Can you think of any other uses?”
Molly grinned. “I’ve seen my auntie use her needle to twist out a cork from a bottle or one of the thinner ones to truss a goose.”
Rafe nodded and turned her knitting. “You’re getting closer. They make an excellent shiv, and the silk cord and second needle are useful if the prick goes in too far. They also make a fine garrote.”