Fyskar: Ch 3

NSFW: prostitution

Fearchar led Eoin to the croft entrance as the first sprinkling of rain descended on the hillside. Swept and well kept, the sill stone gleamed beneath small autumn flowers, absorbing the leftover warmth of the sun. He noted a few simple medicinal herbs and cold-weather vegetables tucked under rambling grass heads and shrubs. A hook in the granite lintel held a hung stack of meat drying nets that Fearchar pulled off and handed to Eoin.

“She’s a green thumb.” Fearchar made off to the side of the croft in the direction of the byre. Eoin stood at the door, shifting from one foot to the other, unsure if he should let himself in or wait. His hired hand emerged from around back with a sling of peat. “Easier tae bring it in now, rather ‘an get a’ settled and be sent fur more later.” The hunter set the bundle down at the door and knocked.

Eoin turned from the man to the door and back. Why was he knocking? The door wasn’t capable of being locked.

A scattering of footsteps. A man came to the door, his face flush. He pulled on his greatcoat in a hurry. Fearchar picked up his bundle of turf before the man could tumble over them. “Nice tae see ye, Cormic.”

“Efternuin, Fear.” The man ducked, burying his pudgy face further under his hood. Watery eyes above a squished nose flicked to Eoin before focusing on the seed heads in the garden, his face going red into his receding hairline. Working up a bit of courage, the man stepped between Fearchar and Eoin and skittered down the path, pulling his hood further down around his ears.

Eoin shivered at the dragging chill of winter threatening in the autumn breeze. The rain descended quicker, turning to massive orbs that dripped from kilt and cloak. Fearchar flicked rain out of his braids. “He’s not much of one for talking, but he’s a gift with a block of wood and a chisel. Made the missal stand up at the kirk.”

The doctor brushed at the green glass lenses of his mask to deter water build up, trying to understand why the man rushing down the path had come from the handyman’s house. Fearchar whistled merrily, shoved the door open with his elbow, and took in the sling of peat with Eoin’s duffel. The doctor, ducking the torrential downpour that opened above him, followed the man inside.

A warm hearth and stone chimney in the ben end of the croft greeted them. Eoin stared at the area in confusion. It was filled with what he would expect of the butt end of the building. Near the door sat a large work table on top of cupboards. Pegs in the chink and rock held nets and baskets in the process of being mended. Fishing rods and thatcher’s needles clumped together with shovels and hoes in a corner. From the rafter drifted pots, cooking utensils, and drying vegetation. Baskets near the dwindling fire overflowed with embroidery and knitting. A rough door to the far side of the chimney promised more space, whether that be storage or where the residence of the house slept. There was no box bed or frame in the room the doctor stood in to indicate that this was the main living quarters rather than the receiving quarters.

Swept stone floor instead of packed clay raised Eoin’s suspicion. A single window sat prominently in the south wall, a casement of imported wood and a pane of warbled glass strew light across the cupboard table. A thick grey wool curtain hung by hooks above the window and a shutter sat beneath it, ready to be put up in case of cold weather. For a small croft and a handyman willing to take strange jobs, there were a number of architectural choices that told the doctor the people of the house had a good income.

His hired hand took the drying fish from Eoin and set them on a hook near the smoking fire to finish. “Seonaid! Brought yer sausage.” The handyman sidled to the door on the other side of the fireplace. Eoin followed him, not entirely sure where to set his box. “Got a guest.” His handyman strolled into the room. Eoin did a quick one-eighty and swallowed hard. Fearchar leaned down to kiss his naked wife.

The woman, sitting on the edge of a handsome box bed built into the chimney-wall side of the room, glanced at the cloaked figure and stifled an amused snort. “You didn’t tell him what I do for a living?” She had a distinguished accent Eoin had difficulty putting his finger on. There was a lilt to her vowels but a long drawl and a soft finish to her words. Memories of a different place, marble walls in a desert sun, scuttled behind his eyes.

Fearchar’s chuckle pitched low in the bedroom, a shared expression between lovers. “Was worth it.”

“Poor kitten, still wet behind the ears.” Seonaid put a finger to her chin, her lips coming together in a cherub smile. She didn’t make a move for her clothing.

“How’s yer mornin’?” Her husband left the room to stoke the fire.

“Good! Emerson and Cormic came over. You saw Cormic on his way out, I guess. Angus and Ethan are supposed to arrive later this afternoon.” She watched the man in the beak mask intently, a small foot swinging idly over a rag wool rug.

“Sounds tae be a busy day, Luv. E’eryone actin’ gentlemanly tae ye?” Fearchar stacked flats of peat into a bricked niche in the wall and tossed a turf under the large cauldron gently simmering with fish broth.

“Haven’t had any trouble with anyone. Not since you tossed Harold out on his ear. Seems you chased away anyone else who’d think of crossing me. Three others have skipped out on their schedule. It’s either that or the cough coming on this winter’s put them all to bed. We’ll see. Em left a bag of smoked haddock as payment. I already stored it in the cupboard for later. Cormic paid in coin. You wanna pocket it for lunch tomorrow, or should I toss it in our box?”

“Throw it in the box. Hepsibah told me thae Sarah, ye know Sarah? Seamus’s wife?”

“Yeah?”

“Sarah brought in a cone a’ sugar frae her brother’s travels tae England last month. Donnae ken how they afford thae, but word is she’s shavin’ aff chunks fur coin. Brought sausage if ye want it.” Fearchar handed the duffel to Eoin, who glanced at him and then to the man’s wife.

Cropped, tawny hair framed her heart-shaped face. Doe-like brown eyes stared up at him from under fine brows. Short and filled with curves, her presence added a glimmering bubble of laughter to the rough hovel. The woman wasn’t what a person would initially mark as gorgeous. She was what could be considered cute, though. They were an odd couple by Eoin’s considering.

“That sounds wonderful, dear,” she called after her husband. “Well.” She drew Eoin’s attention with a flick of shined nails. He shifted uncomfortably, not sure where to look now that her focus was back on him, what to do with his bags, and unable to communicate with his full hands. “So, a doctor?” She traced stitching marks on the homespun quilt under her. He nodded, trying to divert his eyes. “Nice to meet you, doc. Name’s Seonaid.”

“He’s mute, Luv. Name’s Eoin!” Fearchar called back to her from the fireplace where he had a pan and the sausages sizzling at a secondary fire next to the big cauldron. Eoin’s stomach growled. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and turned from husband to wife.

“A mute doctor? That’s different.” Seonaid rose, tucking a strand behind her ear, heavy lashes working seduction. She paced closer to better understand his costume and his height.

He stood stock-still, flicking glances through his lenses to his hired hand at the fireplace. The plague doctor could not fathom this attention much longer. He had made a bad decision in taking on Widow Magaidh’s proposition to house with the man. Eoin swallowed, his attention drawn to the soft undulation of flesh at the edge of his mask. He turned his gaze to the rafters, waiting for the woman to grow tired of her game and leave him in peace.

“Hard to tell what you’re thinking with that mask on.” She tapped the metal tip of the beak, drawing his focus away from the chasteness of the soot-laden thatching. He backed up a step and found himself pressed against the doorway. She pursued him, trying to see in through the glass of his mask. Soft breasts pressed against his leather cloak. He dry-swallowed. She glanced down his shoulders and chest she pressed up against, red cupid-bow lips lifting in an amused smirk. “Could be an interesting client?” she mused.

A shaft of sparks drove through his spine. Eoin blinked. He hoped she couldn’t see his face under the mask but feared she would feel his body’s reactions through the leather. He shifted, trying to escape the press of her skin against his cloak.

“He’s the high heidyin Aunty wanted me tae help. He paid upfront fur the services.” Fearchar tossed her the sack of coins. She eased away from the doc, gently rubbing her hip against him as she walked to her husband. Eoin breathed in a deep gulp of air and stilled the electric shock stampeding through his extremities. It was her house, and she could wear or not wear whatever she wanted. He dearly wished for salvation.

How she could walk around naked in the chill of the house was his guess. True, the fire created a palpable warmth, but he had not been able to warm up thoroughly enough to call himself comfortable since arriving in the isles. The short woman pulled the coin purse open and counted the gold inside. “Better than my month of work.”

“There’s enough in there thae we’d ne’er huf tae work again.” Fearchar sat back to admire his wife. “To not have to stack old Aiodh’s fence again because he can’t decide if it should cut across his pasture or leave it open. Or get up into the rafters to fix the thatch jobs Barclay leaves in his wake.”

“I like my work, and I know you’d get bored of doing nothing all day.” Handing the bag back to her husband, she leaned over and kissed the tip of his nose. He moved quicker than she expected, sliding his hand behind her head and pulled her down a fraction to kiss her more deeply. Eoin found himself entranced with the entire view before returning to the reality that he was in the couple’s house watching them.

Fearchar released her reluctantly. He flashed her a sly smile. “Too true, Ah’d get right tired a’ sitting about the hoose.”

She leaned in once more and kissed him on the cheek. “I don’t know. Could find some fun?” She stole one of the sausages off the pan and made off to the bedroom, not before he could pinch her butt.

“Oye! Don’t gae stealing’ me sausage, lassie!”

“Your sausage? I thought there was a clause somewhere in those marriage vows, good sir.” She wagged the sausage in his direction, chortling, before closing the door.

Eoin set down his bag and box. What…what is going on here? He demanded, making sure his signs were slow and precise. His head was spinning, and he needed clarification.

Fearchar watched him, steadily trying to follow his hands. “Ye cursing me out?” Fearchar pointed his cooking spoon at the doctor.

Eoin sat down on the floor, unsure what to make of the situation. May I find peace from this questionable situation by Walking into the Forest soon, he prayed to himself.

“I’m a hoor, doc. I take customers here. Simple enough? I bought the house on me own and tied the knot with Fearchar when he kept pursuing me.” Seonaid’s footsteps on the slate floor echoed through the bedroom door.

“Chased her around an’ around ’til she up’n caught me.” Fearchar clapped the wooden spoon against the side of his pan to displace grease.

“Best catch of my life, followed up shortly by that salmon last summer.” Seonaid, her chemise and wool stockings in place, opened the door, and tugged her stays into shape.

“Thae wis a pure barry catch.” Fearchar turned to Eoin, drawing his arms wide to indicate the fish’s length. “Swear’s thae creature ‘s a monster. Smoked it an’ ate on it fur the next three months. Have nae been able tae eat salmon since then.” He leaned back to stare up at the rafters, a smirk brushing his lips.

The fire snapped, returning his attention to a quickly diminishing flame. Taking up a stick from the basket of kindling, Fearchar broke it across his knee and tossed it in the fire. “Say, Seonaid, ye’re learned.” She popped her head out of the door, her eyebrow raised in a question. “Mind givin’ this a look-see?” He pulled the scroll from inside his kilt and handed it to her.

“Aye, let me pull on my apron.” The curvy woman came out the door and tied the cream linen bow at her back. Washing her hands in a bowl of lukewarm water, she dried them with a thin towel before taking the scroll from her husband. Skirts brushing the swept slate, she slipped into a chair at the dining table and pulled a shaded candle over.

Eoin picked himself off the floor, joints cracking in the silence. He slid onto a milking stool, now commandeered as extra seating for the worn table. Seonaid took her time with the scroll. After Fearchar added another turf flat to the fire, Seonaid set the scroll down to glare at the masked man and over to her husband. “Thae’s quite a commitment you signed up for, Fear, love.” She handed the scroll back to him.

“So wha’s it say? Ah ‘aven’t sold me soul tae the de’il, have Ah?” He opened the scroll to stare at the scribbles.

“Just about.” She set her head in her hand to regard Eoin. Fearchar glanced up at her, his cheeks pale.

“Uh…” He wanted more information.

“So, Mr Niloofar, you want my husband to help you murder Daleroch by ingratiating you into the community, bein’ a medical practitioner in the area, helpin’ you become guid with them, and killing them all? Then he’s tae help you find a missing chest buried on Daleroch’s estate?” Thin fingers traced worn wood as she laid out the basics for her husband. Eoin shrugged and nodded, his beak mask casting an oblong rectangle of orange light across the brick of the fireplace wall.

“Crivens! Get tae feck oot!” Fearchar set the scroll down, horrified. Eoin shook his head. “Fur why the Daleroch? Ah mean, Ah don’nae care fur him or his laddies, but tha’s a wee clatty if ye ask me.” Fearchar launched himself from his chair to pace the length of the tiny room. Twice up and twice down the distance saw him return to his seat to poke at the scroll once more.

If you don’t want in on this, give me my money back. Eoin tapped the purse on the table.

“Haud up there, Waerd. Gol’s got a shine tae it.” Seonaid waved him down. Eoin’s hand fluttered. He watched the woman warily.

“Have taken a wee bit a fancy tae it.” Fearchar nodded to his wife with a wobbly smile. A knock at the door sent Eoin’s heart racing. 

“Oh!” Seonaid huffed at the interruption. She drew in a frustrated breath and shook out her skirts as she went to the door. Eoin grabbed hurriedly for the scroll and rolled it up, stuffing it back under his cloak.

Another man, shorter than the last one, peeked in around Seonaid’s short frame and nodded to Fearchar, embarrassed. His ruddy features were marred by red patches of flaking skin on his cheeks and cracked lips. The cold could really dig in. Fear waved at the man before turning back to Eoin. The doc flinched as the door to the bedroom clicked shut.

“She’s raised in London. Da’s French, mum’s Scottish. ‘ad schule ‘n e’erythin’. Supposed ta marry some uppity prick ‘n bear him lo’s a’ bairns. She ran ‘way the day ‘fore her weddin’. Could’na stand ‘im, could’na stand ‘is family, could’na stand the idea a bein’ some broodmare. Din’nae ‘elp that she figured out she was barren later. Broke her heart when she realized. The guy would’a divorced ‘er and publicly ‘umiliated ‘er.

“She ended up near Edinburgh. She could’a been a governess, or a laundress, or a seamstress. Reputable work by the parish’s figurin’s. She figured out whorin’ paid better money, though. Found ‘er when Ah came through Edinburgh on my way out ta’ battle and found her on my way back. Took quite a few months. Convinced ‘er ta come along with me back to Skye. She followed along, not without more than a couple suitors after us ta keep her back in Edinburgh.

Not sure what Ah was thinking. Ah ‘ad been paid fur my services, but it was barely ‘nough ta convince a minster ta tie us. Ah didnae ‘ave na ‘ouse ta my name. She bought it. This is all ‘ers.” He leaned back in his chair to smile up at the roughhewn rafters and thick thatch overhead.

“She found she rather likes her chosen…profession, guess’n ye’d call it. She likes ‘aving independent money that she can bring in on her own, and she values ‘erself enough fur it. Not right. She was taught ta’ read ‘n write, even learned some signs for her deaf grandpap. Quick as a whip and knows too much. Would be better than the council in the village. None a’ them’ll listen though fur what she is and does, not what she’s actually good at. Learned as she is, she’d shame a king. ‘opefully she can ‘elp ye a bit more ‘an I can.” Fearchar stretched out on the table, laying his head down. A sense of relief washed over Eoin listening to Fearchar’s protective nature come out in his opinions.

Fearchar glanced over at the forgotten duffel and box. “So’s doc, what’d ye pack in that tube a yer’s?” 

Eoin rose and stalked over to the box and duffel. He took them to the one large prep table in the kitchen area of the main room. Fearchar got up eagerly and followed him. The box held a portable apothecary with many tiny drawers containing various unidentifiable ingredients. The smell from them permeated the room, washing the house with a heady, spicy scent.

Eoin extracted a second change of his Englishmen’s clothing from the duffel, this set in a smooth cream. Following the suit: a folded pair of finely woven white silk clothing and a wide, red, striped wool belt. A rug of deep red had been used to protect several wrapped glass vials filled with oil. A small waxed canvas wrapped package followed suit.

At the bottom of the bag were preparation tools and glass bottles of varying styles. With quick work, Eoin had his apothecary set erected and ready for use. He glanced back at the bedroom door, amazed that Fearchar was ignoring the sounds from within. “Don’nae bother me none long as she’s happy. Day she says she’s done’s the day we find something else that makes us happy. Money tightens the belt, but happiness feeds the soul, and without the soul, ye’re no more ‘an a wisp. Kind a’ comes with the territory.” Fearchar shrugged. Eoin looked up at him and tilted his head. He still wasn’t sure about the man he had hired for a goon.

“Well, i’s look’n like ye ‘ave the tools fur the job ye ‘ired me fur. Wha’s next?” Fearchar picked up a vial of green leaves and seeds in oil to swirl it in the light of the fire. 

Eoin thought for a minute before rummaging in his boxes. He levelled off a spoon of finely powdered dry leaves and another of what appeared to be splintered bark. A large pot containing refined tallow emerged from the duffel. He followed the tallow pot with a small, empty jar. Studiously he mixed the ingredients with a white powder, and pressed it into thumbprint sized container. He held it up for Fearchar’s inspection. The hired hand smelled the thick substance. It had a bit of a tang, yet sweetness to the aroma. “So…wha’s it?” Fearchar returned the ceramic and compounded tallow to the doctor.

A click at the bedroom door signalled the man leaving Seonaid’s room. The client peeked out, his cheeks washing a mottled red. He stalled, spotting Fearchar and Eoin around a strange set of equipment.

Eoin tossed the small pot to the man, who fumbled it before popping the tight lid off it to look inside. He looked at the plague doctor, unsure why he was now holding the whisp of ceramic.

“Doc says ta’ use that.” Fearchar pointed at it. Eoin motioned to where his cheeks would be over his mask.

“Uh…thanks?” The man dabbed his finger into the goo. He spread a thin layer of the medicated tallow on one of his cheeks and looked down at the pot in surprise. ” ‘s strong. Oye, d’ye ‘ave more a’ that? Me mate doon’a the dock needs this more ‘n Ah do,” he asked, walking over to Eoin. Within a minute, Eoin had compounded a second repeat batch of the tallow and offered it to the man. The man took a copper and silver from his pouch and glanced between Eoin and Fearchar, a bit confused.

“It’s on the ‘ouse.” Fearchar waved the coins away with an amiable smile.

“I couldnae. Stuff’s gotta be worth a bit a money if’n works this good.” The man pressed the coins into Eoin’s gloved hand. Eoin nodded, happy to help.

“Doc’s mute, dinna worry ’bout it.” Fearchar clapped the man on the shoulder, subtly shifting him toward the door.

“Ye’re actin’ as ‘is mouthpiece, Fear?” The man shoved the jar away into a pouch.

” ‘e ‘ired me ta’ ‘elp ‘im while ‘e got established. Seonaid and Ah’re ‘ostin’ ‘im ‘ere, ken?” The handyman’s grin widened, recognizing a deal when he saw one.

“Good ta’ know where ‘e’ll be. May ‘ave ta send captain up ‘ere fur ‘is goitre.” The man headed out the door, not before pulling out his new treasure to look at once more.

Sounds good, Eoin motioned after the man.

” ‘ll look forward ta seein’ ‘im!” Fearchar called after the man as the door closed. Eoin looked up at Fearchar. “Quick ‘s a whip, ain’t ya doc?” Fearchar smiled down at the mask. Eoin nodded happily.

Seonaid opened the bedroom door and dusted off her skirts. “So, I take it ye’re taking the job, Fear?”

“Think Ah can manage some a’ it, though ye might ‘ave ta’ step in fur translatin’ e’ery once in a while, Luv.” He settled back into his seat. Pulling out a knife and a chunk of wood from a small lidded basket on the shelf near to the table, he peeled away ringlets of bark.

“Long as ye don’t get yourself into trouble and need me while I’m working, ‘don’t mind helping.” She straightened her stays and put on her little over jacket again. “You’ve taken the one good seat in the house.” She stuck the tip of her tongue out at her husband.

Setting away the knife, he scooted back and patted his knee. “Even comes with a bit of padding?”

“Last time you said that, we broke a chair.” She scooted a set of nested baskets out from inside one of the cupboards and settled on the robust reeds.

Husband says you can read signs? Eoin asked her, pulling the two away from getting into a teasing match.

Seonaid furrowed her brows to watch his hands before carefully signing back much more slowly, struggling to remember simple shapes. She spoke for the benefit of Fearchar, “I learned to as a little girl, but I don’t find many people here who need it.”

Everyone know you? He matched his signs to her speed of translation.

“I go out about as much as Fear here does. I have to shop for things too. I make nice with the ladies and the men. Most everyone knows what I do. I tend to keep the younger unmarried men out of trouble and relieve the older women who can’t quite accommodate their husbands anymore. If a woman thinks her husband’s been sleepin’ ’round, she usually comes to me first, and I tell her honestly what’s going on. Honesty seems to work best with the village. Bless the little old ladies down at the market; they’ve somehow kept the preacher from storming up here though and pouring fire and brimstone on me.” She sat down at the dining table, finishing off one of the cold sausages.

Eoin nodded. It still felt like a strange situation to be in. Would the people trust you and your husband if you said I was working up here as a doctor, or do you think I need to rent a shop down in the village?

“Can you say that again, a bit slower?” Seonaid brushed the hair out of her eyes. Plucking up a blue silk ribbon from a peg on the mantel, she quickly bound away the brown strays. “You have a queer dialect to your signs. I can understand most of what you say, but some of it is beyond my knowledge. Let’s see. Yes. You can probably set up here for a little while. Gain some customers. If it starts getting too crowded, you might open up a shop then. It’s a bit of a walk for the villagers to come all the way out here, but enough men do it in a day that I think the only ones that won’t come out are the little old arthritic ladies.”

He pulled the scroll he had lifted off of Fearchar and motioned to it. What about the clan?

“We’ll have tae see. Ye’ve already made a good impression on Grannd’s youngest son.” She poured water from a storage pot to fill her hearth kettle. He dropped the coins like they had burned him. “Really don’t like ’em, do you?” She raised an eyebrow at the glinting, spinning metal.

He shook his head vigorously. Vendetta.

“I don’t recognize that one.” She nodded at his hands. He looked down at them, opening and closing his fingertips, trying to formulate a different sign. With a scowl, he shrugged. He had paid them well enough. All he needed to do was take out Grannd and his sons. He needed Fearchar there, and it appeared Seonaid, to get him close enough to the man so he could do his work.

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Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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