Kessa always looked impossibly clean, her jacket and breeches all in their natural browns, but looking like they’d been blown fresh off the drying line. Her ash-blonde hair always hung straight down her back, like newly-woven cloth. Her skin stayed pale, even in the summer sun, and her blue eyes always looked like they’d just been painted on in sharp strokes, still shining wet.
Kynbessne figured it was because Kessa spent most of her hours invisible. Even dirt couldn’t find her.
That seemed to be the way Kessa liked it. Kynbessne had gotten used to the weird conversations with no eyes to meet, startling beginnings, and abrupt endings. She had almost managed to keep her heart from turning her veins into a race track whenever the other woman spoke. She could tell that it took some energy to keep hidden, but there was always a smile in Kessa’s tone when she surprised her with a statement from open air. She seemed to enjoy keeping Kynbessne on her heels, loved even more listening to her search when she needed her, and Kynbessne resigned herself to the fact that Kessa just liked playing these games.
Except when it came time to argue with Jennika.
Then Kessa stepped through the door like a normal human being – often slammed it shut behind her – and pulled up a chair to talk. Sitting across from her, always looking like she’d forgotten to scrub behind her ears that morning, Jennika made Kessa look like a freshly shined knife waiting for its first slice.
“Good mornin’,” Jennika said, as if it was not unusual to be having a conversation face-to-face with the blonde. She sat forward in her chair, leaned her forearms against the table and wrapped her hands around her mug. Her dark curly hair was haphazardly tied under a green scarf, and her mouth was tilted up in its permanent smile.
“Morning,” Kessa said.
Kynbessne leaned back against the cupboards the lined one wall of the ship’s cabin, and watched over her own steaming mug of coffee. Catching the slight movement, Jennika flicked a look at her. For just a moment, her smile sparked in her eyes, and then she was looking at Kessa again, calm and sleepy.
“How are you?” Jennika asked.
Kessa turned away, already exasperated. “We shouldn’t be here anymore.”
Kessa snapped back to look at her. “We’ve been in port for five months.”
“Yes,” Jennika said. “I’d love t’leave.”
“Liar,” Kessa hissed.
Jennika looked surprised for a full breath, then continued with what she’d planned to say. “It takes money to load the ship. Which means we need a job before we can scoot out of the harbor.”
“Please,” Kessa said. She leaned over the table, back still perfectly straight. “A little thing like money’s never stopped you before. Can’t you just pick something up the next time you take a walk?”
Blinking, eyebrows raised, Jennika shook her head. “No.”
Kynbessne laughed quietly into her mug.
“Liar,” Kessa said again. “You want to be here.”
Jennika shook her head again. “No.”
Kessa seethed. Her jaw tightened. Stubbornly refusing to take her eyes off Jennika, she seemed to pin herself to her seat, unwilling to get up and walk away and tumbling through her thoughts for something else to say. Kynbessne bit her lip. She wasn’t sure what she could say either.
“Maybe,” Kessa began quietly. “We could just collect your bounty.” Her eyes flicked back up to Jennika, waiting to see the other woman flinch.
Nodding, like she was considering it, Jennika looked at the ceiling. “The only one I have is two towns over. It’s not much. It wouldn’t even pay your way to go claim it.”
“For Jennika Hael,” Kessa pointed out. “But how many names have you had? How many towns have you smashed through? It has to be worth our while…”
“Twenty-four names,” Jennika said smoothly. “Fourteen cities willing to pay independent bounties. Forty-three thousand gold. So, yeah…” She smiled. “Worth your while.”
Kynbessne stared. Kessa leaned back, like she was stunned by the number.
“Why do you…” she breathed.
Jennika shrugged. “It’s always good to know how much cash you can scrape together on short notice.”
“And you have a plan?” Kessa asked slowly. “To get all your bounties without giving up your head?”
Jenny grinned. “Yes.”
“But not to get us out of this port?” Kessa demanded.
Jennika laughed. “Of course, I do.” Draining her mug, she pushed her chair back and stood. Kessa’s mouth dropped open, like she couldn’t believe the other woman was going to be the one to slip away and end the conversation. Jennika only gave her a lazy salute and headed for the door.
“You know,” Kessa called after her. She twisted in her chair to watch Jennika leave. “We could come up with a plan of our own for those bounties.”
“You’d need all my names,” Jennika called back and disappeared through the door.
Kessa whirled toward Kynbessne.
Kynbessne raised her hands innocently. “I only know two of them.”
And Kessa winked out of sight.