Rafe tested the left side of her mouth where it pulled upward. The jaw worked fine, but she could feel the corner of her mouth starting to ooze around the stitches. She pressed her back against the heat soaked wall of her sister’s house, closed her eyes and started knitting. Her shoulders felt the strain of holding the needles and trying to draw breath against the binding that kept her ribs together. She felt a shadow cross her face.
“Good to see you home.”
The voice was deep and came from somewhere a foot and a bit above her head. Rafe opened her eyes and, tilting her head as far back as she could, was just able to see a bit of hair poking out over the shirt lacing. The waist and knees started to collapse and there was a good looking man, about forty, in front of her, one knee in the dust and the other propping his elbow. He had a wide easy smile, a gap between his top front teeth, and no mustache.
“Marlon!” Rafe said. Her croaking voice barely carried the excitement she felt. “I’d know that gap anywhere. You’ve aged.”
“I daresay I’ve kept in better shape than you. Jenna said this was your first day out. I’d thought I come over and check out the damage. Which appears considerable.” He scrutinized her face, turning her jaw, with one finger, to the right. “All in all I’d say you were lucky. You kept your hearing and sight both.”
“It’s not the first time.”
“It looks like they were trying to slit your throat.”
“Not the first time for that either.”
“Singing not to their liking?”
“You might say.”
“I’ve got to wonder, though,” Marlon continued, “if you’ll put the same fear of the gods into those recruits now that you’ve got a permanent smile.”
Rafe’s eyebrow raised and her eyes squinted. “I suspect I will manage.”
“Whoa! It’ll be worse for them, if anything. Who stitched you? They did a nice job.”
“Boyl did it.”
“I didn’t think that was Jenna’s work. She doesn’t like doing fiddly things on short notice. And I don’t suspect you gave her much notice from what I heard.”
“So how are you, Marlon? Married? Family? How are your parents?”
“Okay. We’ll change the subject, then. I married Joan, you might remember her. She was a bit younger than us, but didn’t quite run with Jenna’s mob, or Ducky’s.”
Rafe laughed, then shook her head. “It’s funny to hear you call a group of kids a ‘mob’ as if all it took to make a mob was three of four with a single purpose. Where I’ve been a mob is upwards of a hundred people all packed into a space the size of the commons. And they’re angry.”
“I’ve been away, as well you know,” Marlon smiled. “I know what a mob is, out in the world. But local rules apply. I speak like a common man, a child of the town, Miss High and Mighty, never come for a visit until you were dumped in your sister’s dooryard.”
“No, you’re right. Home is a place I’ve never been before. So, you married Joan. And is she nice, good to you?”
Marlon nodded and smiled.
“Three. The oldest is away for the moment, gone to apprentice in Calmer’s Reach, to learn fine metal work. He’ll be back, before too long, to set up shop. The second one is apprenticed with Barton Stubbs, the one who married your Auntie Finn. He’ll come and go and manage the family’s trade goods.”
“And the last?”
“The last … she is something of a minx.” Marlon paused. Then he slid himself onto the bench next to Rafe. “Ahhh. There’s nothing like a good warm wall in the early spring, is there.”
“She’s something of a minx, and …Your daughter. The light of your life.”
“Well, the light of somebody’s life at any rate. She’s not talented the way you were.” Marlon rubbed his neck suggestively. “But there is a certain kindred spirit there. A certain expediency. Not that Jenna and Joan both aren’t expedient. Get the job done and damn the fallout. But they still keep an eye on what might need to be patched up later. They know they’ll be the ones to do the patching, so they take a little care.” He looked at her new scar, and the others.
“You saying I’m reckless?” Rafe might have smiled at that thought, if her mouth had worked.
“No. But I’m thinking you expect others to handle the patching up. You always fixed the big things, but not the details. I remember when you brought down that tree between me and the bear. I was grateful, but I was picking out splinters for days.”
“From what I hear, you’re a fixer, too, Marlon.”
“I am. And I fashion new things. Thing people never thought of before.”
“You may be interested in these, then. Jenna just made them for me after a design I saw, campaigning in the west.” She passed him her knitting needles. The business end looked like normal needles, pointed and smooth, burnished to a shine, but through the stout end, there was a tiny hole fashioned.. A silk thread had been strung through this, looped and knotted. The knot fit into a little dent at the stout end.
“This would certainly keep you from losing one of your needles. Handy.” Marlon looked up and saw Rafe smiling at him. At least her eyes were smiling. “That’s not all, is it?”
Marlon tugged at the silk thread. It stayed put. He slid the stitches back and forth along the thread, to the ends of the needles and back. There was no snagging. He could see that it would make a tidy package in a knitter’s lap. He saw you could make things round, more easily, knitting one continuous row all the way to the top. He stretched the needles as far apart as they could go. The silk held, but that was the nature of silk. He looked at Rafe again. “I give. What is it?”
“I want you to fix it.”
“What do you mean? It looks fine. And deadly.”
“I need to be able to detach the thread quickly. And I don’t want to cut it. I want to be able to leave it intact. I don’t want to have to build it again each time I use it for its … alternate purpose. But I can’t be found with something so clearly garrote-like when someone’s ended up strangled.”
Marlon was clearly intrigued. “Hmmm. A channel cut into the metal here. Loop around.” He started drawing in the dirt. “I can fit a bezel on the end so it would look like a normal needle, but locked in place with a little switch. Does it have to be metal, or can I use wood? A hard wood, like ironbore.”
“Metal. It cleans easier.”
“Can I take these? Did Jenna make you another set? I’d like to go talk with Boyl. This is more like his line of work than Jenna’s If my son were here, I’d work with him, because this is really the sort of thing he does.”
“Be my guest. She made more for trade at the market. I’ll use one of those. Just leave the knitting.” She pulled the needles from of the stitches and laid the half finished scarf carefully in the basket with the wool.
Marlon looked at what she had done. “If the thread were removable, you could just use the same points to mend, or even start something new, without having to drag a half finished sweater along with you. These would be great!”
“Well, there is that, too.” Rafe brought the other corner of her mouth up. “Let’s just say that’s why you’re doing this. Being frugal is always good. Strangling people, not so much.”
Marlon pocketed the needles and silk. “It’s just like you were never gone, suggesting mayhem and me buying into it. I’m glad you’re back, Rafe.”
“You’re one of the few that called me that back then.”
“All our mob called you Rafe. There just weren’t that many of us.”
Marlon saluted her and headed off for the forge where Boyl would be working along side Jenna. Rafe pulled another set of needles out of her pocket and stared to thread on the dropped stitches from the scarf. Marlon would never tell their real purpose, but he could describe to Boyl what was wanted and Boyl would guess. She had always liked that about Marlon, that he could solve a problem without being to tender about what someone intended to do with what he fashioned. His daughter hadn’t really fallen far from the tree.