In the tunnels, the muted glow of candles is enhanced in this room, with mirrors so the worker can quietly make tidy stitches. Strands of slightly frazzled strawberry blonde hair float on the soft breeze created by the candles. Pale hands work on delicate fabric. She sews with long practiced hands, creating a beautiful black work pattern on the cuffs, making sure that the cuffs will last longer with the hard work necessary for the tunnels to continue. There are calluses on her finger tips and along the forefingers that keeps the thread flat and straight. On her middle finger she’s forgotten about the laying tool that could do the same job, and leave less damage to her hand. He can see the hood she normally pulls up about her face to conceal the still healing bruises. She’s new to the tunnels, an emergency relocation that Catherine brought down. She is taking time to learn to feel safe, to meet people without hiding. The community had agreed to take more time before Vincent meets her. But he is curious, and had taken to checking on her from afar. Now he is just dropping by a little food. She isn’t quite ready for the walk to William’s kitchen, not with healing ribs.
She did not like being in the hospital chamber, feeling out of place, and not enjoying the attention focused on her.
And as soon, as they had moved a bed and a dresser into the chamber, she had settled in. Mary arranged a kettle and some firewood for her, and from all reports Mariah had begun sewing to help out the tunnels. Her stitches her always neat and even, and her embroidery had been quite the wonder. The meager belongings she had brought had been an embroidery frame, threads, mostly embroidery goods, and a few books. She had made no complaint, not for the health care, but simply began working. Others had begun leaving her baskets of mending and she quietly churned out the repairs.
Quickly he checks to make sure his hood is pulled over his features and his gloves are one. “Excuse me.” His soft raspy voice drifts and he is amazed that she doesn’t look up to see who is addressing her but yanks her hood far over her features, hiding herself.
“Yes?” Her voice is soft and nervous, even as she keeps her face averted. Ironic that they should both be afraid to be seen, Vincent muses gently.
“I brought you some food.” He waits quietly be the door, and after a moment, he can hear her moving slightly, a minor sound of discomfort as she shifts her body to get up.
“Please come in. Your voice isn’t familiar to me. I’m Mariah. “ She clears a space on the small worktable for the basket. Her sleeve slips a little as she lifts her sewing basket, showing the green bruises of a handprint on her wrist.
“I am Vincent. I have been away.” He sets the basket down on the table, and gives her a quick glance, her head is bowed. One shaky slender hand reaches out to his offering to shake it politely. His gloved hand dwarfs hers. He cautiously grasps her hand and shakes it carefully. “I am pleased to meet you Mariah.”
“Pleased to meet you as well. “ Her voice is wryly amused. “I.. I am sure that you don’t want to join me. You must have folks that want to see you, if you have been away. I do not wish to be a bother. Um, do you have sewing? I can repair clothes. I ‘ve almost caught up with today’s delivery.”
“You are very kind Mariah, but for the moment I am all right. “ He steps off to the side sensing her discomfort. “I do not mean to make you uncomfortable Mariah.”
She shuffles away. “It is not your doing Vincent. I’m not particularly comfortable around people. Not yet. The man, Father, he says it will take time. “
“Of course, have a good evening Mariah. “
“You, as well. “
Vincent turns and heads out. He can hear the soft shuffle of her feet and her chair as she settles in to hopefully eat some food and then the soft whump of a body toppling to the ground. He can hear the soft sound as she struggles to get back up. He turns back and hurries into the room, seeing that she was unable to move the chair and had fallen trying to get it so she could eat her meal at the table. Now she was huddled on the ground hugging her ribs.
“Mariah, try not to move, I will call Father.” He hurries over to the pipe and begins rapping out a quick message for Father to hurry to Mariah’s chamber. He toke care to move and gently scoop up the little red head, wincing as she swore as her battered ribs jostled. Then he heard the dreaded intake of breath as she saw his features. But while there was shock, and surprise, there was no horror, perhaps a little uncertainty.
“Damn, I knew it that son of a bitch killed me and I’m hallucinating.” She peers at him curiously and nervously he turns to look at her, and both blink at what they see. Her face is battered, her eyes still circled by huge green circles. Her lower lip is still healing from being split, her nose slightly crooked, and bandaged where Father had set her nose. The stitches at her hairline marring the Celtic pale skin sprinkled with freckles. She looked like a broken abandoned doll, and was staring at him with fascination and discomfort in stormy grey green eyes. “So Charon, do I get dumped in Nyx or Styx?”
Well that was a surprise, getting a laugh from him. Her eyes widen seeing his long sharp canines. He can see her studying his features. Her eyes are traveling down his furred nose to the catlike cleft upper lip, and the sharp teeth. “I do not intend on leading you to the realm of the dead. Instead I called Father to help you and check your ribs.”
Vincent carefully settles her on her bed and quickly props up her back with the pillows. “Slow breaths. “ Another colorful oath hits the tunnel air, and he hastily swallows a smile. “Your language is not typical of the tunnels. “ A very unladylike snort is the only response he gets for his little chiding.
It doesn’t take Father terribly long to reach Mariah’s tunnel, and she gets a scolding for trying to move her chair and he chases Vincent out while he treats the skittish patient. Still chiding Mariah for the foolishness in trying to move such a heavy and solid chair on her own, but in a softer voice, one intended to keep her from bolting. Vincent pacing and waiting to see if the woman will be alright.
“How is she Father?” The old man eyes his son looking a bit tired after hurrying with his bad leg through the tunnels. The tired eyes are amused at his son.
P“She is alright, and lucky still. Her ribs didn’t puncture anything and I have them re wrapped so they should not shift. And I told her that she’s not to move the furniture around. I’ll have one of the children get a tray so she can eat more easily. She said you can come in, if you stop looking at her. “
“She isn’t afraid of me?”
The dark head shakes slightly. “No, she said you didn’t seem the kind to beat a girl just because she’s is “mouthy.” Although she’s uncomfortable having people look at her. So do not stare at her. “
Curious, Vincent nods and walks back into her room. Mariah still propped up on her bed with her meal settled next to her. And she indicates the dastardly chair, even as she tugs her hood over her face so he can’t see the bruising and damage. “Feel free to move that piece of lead.” He chuffs softly amused and pulls the chair closer and she holds out half of her sandwich. “William always sends me more than I can eat right now. Even if my ribs weren’t tenderized, I don’t think I could manage all he sends. “
“Thank you. “He stakes the sandwich and carefully chews keeping his eyes averted and his head down slightly so she isn’t frightened by his teeth. She chews on her sandwich.
“Father tells me you are real, and not a hallucination. I’m reserving judgement though. I could still be dead and hallucinating. This place is definitely magical. So you could be too. Maybe you are a fae, like in a book. Or I lost my marbles. Odds are pretty even at the moment. “
“Why do you think I am not real?” He takes another bite of the sandwich and offers her a cup of tea.
“Because my new friend, fairytales aren’t real. Not in this world. This world has all too much ugliness, and cruelty. And you haven’t acted like either. “ She sips the tea after that her voice losing the pained edge and sounding a bit more musing.
“Well if you aren’t a delusion. And everyone down here is real, and not a figment, and it’s true I’m safe; well then you are a friend too right?”
Another soft laugh from him, bring her eyes up to briefly meet his before they skitter away unnerved at meeting his eyes. “I am honored you consider me so Mariah.”
And that draws a soft laugh from her.