Ania did not see the other woman in the kitchen until she had walked to the middle of it, fished a cookie out of the cupboard, stuck the cookie in her mouth, lifted the lamp down from the shelf, struck a match, lit the lamp and turned around. Ania bit through the cookie in surprise, had to fumble to catch half of it as it fell and nearly dropped the lamp. The woman looked back at her, calmly sipping on a spoonful of the soup Ania had made that day.
She did not look like she belonged there, sitting at the clean wooden table, with the dried herbs hanging over her head and the tabby cat rubbing domestically against her calves. She had a hard look to her, as if she was a fresh-cut stone set into a time-worn wall. Her dark hair, was tightly braided over one shoulder, neat, but it might have been done days ago. Her breeches were were rough, with wide, sturdy stitches. She wore a leather vest that was more armor than clothing. She wore it like a second skin, but it was stiff, shifting around her not with her. A long knife rested against her hip.
And then there was the way her dark eyes settled on Ania. Steady to the point of laziness, and sharp enough to make Ania look away.
But it wasn’t like Ania belonged here either. This wasn’t her house and some mornings it was hard to believe that she was the one hanging the herbs from the rafters and combing out the cat’s fur.
“Hello,” Ania said. She took a deep breath in, hoping it would steady her voice. “Are you here for Jasen?”
The woman didn’t answer for a moment, deliberately rolling another spoonful of soup over her tongue. “Who are you?” she asked. There was a lilt to her tone that Ania hadn’t expected. A polite, distanced undertone.
Ania glanced at her again. She had a rough jacket under the jacket, but there was a line of blue cloth visible at her collarbone, and caught into the rolled cloth at her elbows. It gleamed a little in the lamplight, vibrant and rich. She had a ring on her right hand, gold, flat on top, sedate. There was more gold sparking in a thin line at her throat and her boots were heavy, creased, but pretty. Whoever she was, she had money and she’d had it for a long time.
Ania glanced at the armor, the lean muscles in her forearms and shifted on her feet.
“I’m…” she started. “I take care of the house while he’s gone.”
“So, he’s not here?” the woman asked. She took another bite, and the weight of the movement seemed wrong. Ania took a slow step back, resting her hands on the shelves behind her back.
“He’s… out,” Ania said.
The woman shifted to follow her movement. Her hair slid just to one side. There was a brand under her ear, half-hidden the way her hair had been pulled to the side. She had a small tattoo beneath that: two snakes wrapped around a rod, facing each other. The sign of the trickster, the thief, and the wanderer. The angle of the narrow blade at her hip suddenly seemed like a threat.
“He’ll be back soon,” Ania said quickly.
“Okay,” the woman said. She didn’t sound like she believed her.
“I think you should go,” Ania said.
The woman just took another mouthful of soup.
Ania stared at her. She swallowed hard, halfway to shouting again, and not sure what else to say.
“Jennika, stop messing with her,” Jasen said, stepping into the room. He dropped his coat on a chair by the door, one hand already undoing the buttons on the black jacket of his uniform.
The woman looked up and smiled, every line of her relaxing. She had a suddenly restless feel to her, every movement quick and instinctive.
“You didn’t tell her I was coming?” she asked.
Ania glanced between the two of them and stayed exactly where she was. Jasen offered her an assuring smile and stepped farther into the room.
“I just got back into town,” he told Jennika. “I didn’t think you would beat me here, or else I would have warned her that about a mercenary thief princess…” He picked up Jennika’s hand, glanced at the face of the ring. “… master carpenter?”
Jennika shrugged. “It was the best I could do on short notice.”
“And did she pass your test?” Jasen asked.
Jennika looked at Ania, and gave her a smile that was half an apology and half amused. “Yes,” she said. “Although, I really hoped that she’d remember to actually call for the guard. Especially since she’s a Captain’s housekeeper.” She whipped back to look at Jasen. “Is she coming with us on our adventure?”
“No,” Jasen said, in that quiet tone that Ania knew all too well was supposed to end a line of conversation. He started back toward the door, turning up the stairs.
Jennika followed him out of the room, oblivious. “What? You think we can pull off a heist of the King’s Jewels and return them to him to earn you that promotion with just two people? Think again, buddy.”
“We are not stealing any jewels,” Jasen said dully.
“Fine. We can kidnap his daughter. Not my forte. We’ll definitely need more cohorts.”
“We are not committing any crimes,” Jasen said.
“Actually,” Jennika began. He shushed her and there was a brief, quiet conversation that Ania couldn’t make out. Jennika laughed somewhere in the middle of it and Jasen came back down the stairs, smiling.
“I’m going to be gone for about a week,” he told Ania. “Take care of yourself, kid.”
“You too,” Ania murmured.
Jasen had an afterthought at the door and turned back. “If you ever see Jennika again, call the guard.”
Ania hesitated. “She’s not your friend?”
“She is,” Jasen promised. “Call the guard.”
This piece was written as an exploration of detail, inspired by this week’s writing challenge:
Your challenge this week is to practice your powers of observation. Take any person, place, or event, and write three paragraphs describing your subject in great detail.