Karai Heartfeathers looks around in awe at the luxury as she is helped by Mallory and Dive into the rec room and over to a chair. "Thank you." She sighs and reaches down to rub her ankle. Mallory had re-bandaged it with clean bandage that held her ankle stiffer than the strip of her shirt.
I tried to remember the last time I had seen such clean or fresh bandage. That told me how long it had been since I had accepted anyone's help. Why is it that I feel I can trust people I have just met...when I can't even let myself trust Naren. Couldn't not can't.
Duke said something that I didn't catch. I looked at him. "Sorry...I was thinking. What did you say?"
"I asked what your story was."
Karai's face reflects her surprise. Duke nods. Only he can detect the subtle wall that has sprung up at the question.
"There's not much to it." She says. "I was running from a cop and didn't see the portal open. I ran right through it and ended up in Dragaunus' ship. I took off running, managed to make my way out of this ship and ran into the alley. The rest you know."
"Well, you are safe here, Karai." says Wildwing. "Duke, Mal, get her situated in-"
"She can stay in my room." interjects Duke. "I'll bunk on the couch."
"No! Thank your but I'm not staying. If you will just show me how to get out of here I can take care of myself." Karai protests.
"How? You have a sprained ankle." Points out Mallory.
"I have survived with injured limbs before."
"Survived?" Wildwing's voice asks his question for him.
I blushed big time but I didn't look down. It's been a tough life but I am not ashamed of having been street trash most of my life. "That's right. Survived. I've been on my own since I was 6. I was orphaned. I lived on the streets picking pockets and I still do. The clothes I wear are the only clothes I have. I joined the Brotherhood of the Blade to learn to survive better. I was tired of living hand to mouth. So far I haven't learned enough to change my lifestyle. I only recently remembered my last name." I looked at each of their faces. Grin's, Wildwing's, everyone's faces in fact, except Duke and Mal's faces, reflected their pity for me. Mallory had an expression of admiration on it. I think she admired my will to survive. Duke's face was blank. The pity pissed me off and the admiration only made me madder. I thanked them, got up and hobbled, slowly and painfully, back the way we came.
"Well, you pissed her off. Are you happy?" Duke's voice is heavy with censure.
"What?" All look at him curiously.
"People like her don't want pity for being homeless. And she doesn't want admiration for managing to survive...I've seen types like her. Too proud." He walks out of the room.
"So now what?" Mallory asks when Duke returns, carrying a dark green shirt.
"Now I am gonna go fix things." He walks out and catches up with Karai half way through the garage. "Karai! Wait up!"
"I already thanked you for your kindness." She says not looking back. Duke darts in front of her forcing her to stop.
"Here." He hands her the shirt. She looks at it then glares at him.
"Thanks but no thanks."
"Use a little common sense Karai. Your shirt is way too short to be modest." Karai looks down at her shirt then up at him.
"You have a point." She takes the shirt from him. "Turn around." He complies and she quickly strips off her shirt and puts on the one he gave her. "Okay." He turns back around as she tucks the scrap off cloth that was her shirt into her pocket.
"Here's another bit of common sense. You have a sprained ankle. How are you gonna run from the Saurians if they find you again? And you can't tell me you aren't tired or hungry." Karai thinks this over. "The guys didn't know they were insulting you. But you can't let your pride get in the way of doing something smart, like sticking around until your ankle heals. After that if you want to take off then do so...No one will stop you, okay?"
"I don't take charity."
"How about a deal then? You hang around until your ankle is done and then we see what you can do to repay us."
"Good it's settled." He picks her up and carries her back towards the rec room.
"But, but, but-"
"No buts." The others blink in surprise as he drops her on one of the couches then takes a seat in a chair and leans it against the wall. "Karai has agreed to stick around until her ankle heals. Then find a way repay us for lettin her hang here."
"Sounds like a fair deal." says Wildwing. "Mal, 'Dive, Grin get Karai set up in the spare room."
Karai looks as if she is about to protest then she catches a look from Duke that says "Keep your beak shut."
She sighs and does so.
I didn't mind the fact that they made decisions for me...it was Duke swindling me into staying like that that made me annoyed. I would have protested everything if Duke's look hadn't made it clear that he was in control...of me at least. And who in their right minds would have argued with the leader of the Brotherhood of the Blade? Not me. I'm daring...but not that daring. I was, as Duke guessed, tired as well.
Before I knew what was happening I was ensconced in the spare room with a pair of crutches next to the bed. I didn't know what to think. I decided to do the only thing a duck could do in a situation like this. I pulled off my shorts got into bed and went to sleep.
I'm a light sleeper when I am in a new place so every little noise kept waking me up...finally I put my pillow over my head and managed to get a couple hours of sleep.
I woke up about seven the next morning. I shook out the shirt Duke had given me and put my shorts back on. When I upbraided my hair and started to finger comb it, I heard a small clink. I looked down. There on the floor was the small sapphire that Naren had given me. I wear it braided in my hair just in case. I re-braided my hair making sure that the stone was braided in and hidden. Sometimes have thick hair is a pain in the butt and sometimes it is a definite advantage.
Karai had just stood up when there was a knock on her door. She called for them to enter. It was Grin. "Would you like to join us for breakfast?" Karai picks up her crutches.
"Umm...sure." Karai follows Grin into the kitchen, easily managing the crutches.
"You used crutches before Karai?" Asked Mallory.
Karai nods. "I'm forever twisting my ankles or pulling muscles in my feet. Naren keeps a pair of crutches around for me to use when I hurt my foot or leg bed enough so I can't walk on it. "
"How do you keep hurting your feet?"
"Running. I do a lot of it."
"Why?" Asks Tanya.
"Um...let's see...The fact that I am a pickpocket could have something to do with it."
"Oh." She says.
Then Mallory asks, "Do you play hockey?"
"Not really." She says sitting down in the chair Wildwing pulled out for her. "I know how but I'm not very good at it nor am I really interested."
Karai is saved as Dive comes out bearing a plate of something that gives off steam. "Breakfast is served he said, placing it on the table. Only then did she notice that a place had been set for her. she smiles faintly at their kindness. Nosedive places two pancakes on everyone's plates. The pancakes look chunky and are a slightly odd color.
"Uh...What kind of pancakes are these little bro?" Asks Wildwing, cutting his first bite. Karai looks around the table at those who had placed a bite in their beaks. She tried to stifle her laughter at the expressions on their faces.
"Sardine and pineapple!" is Dive's reply.
I was severely pressed to hold my laughter in as they all froze and looked at their plates. Almost in unison they spit out their mouthfuls. I started to laugh. I know it was rude but I couldn't help it! I laughed harder than I had since...I couldn't remember when the last time was...tells you how little fun there was in my life. I earned several glares but no one made a comment. After a few minutes I got control of myself and stopped laughing. "I'm sorry. It's just...I haven't had anything to laugh about in so long..." I apologized.
Mal said not to worry about it then grinning, said something about laughing helping one to live longer. Then they started badgering Nosedive. After a few minutes of listening to them argue with him about the validity of that recipe, I stood up and said, "How about I cook something edible?"
That got their attention. "You can cook Karai?" Asked Duke.
"Yep. Naren's friend, Aylaia taught me in return for my help." Karai manages to make her way into the kitchen carrying her plate. She puts it into the sink. "nosedive, since you made this mess would you please clean it up? Do the pans and the bowls first."
"Why?" He asked me. It made perfect sense to me...so I explained it.
"I can cook while you finish the dishes if you do the bowls and pan first." That's what happened. I made my special waffles a la Karai. Waffles with whipped cream and sprinkles and cocoa powder. They liked it and by the end of the week I had found a way to begin repaying them. I cook and do a little light cleaning. I could also walk better by the end of the week and occasionally needed to rest my ankle. Particularly after doing a chore that required standing.
Things were looking up. Mallory had loaned me a hair brush and it was nice to be able to have a hot shower every night before bed. It is odd. I felt so safe there that I started to relax and wasn't as on my guard as I usually am. Which is probably why it startled me when Duke caught me alone in the rec room straightening up.
Duke leans against the doorway silently watching her. He notes with approval that the dark green of his shirt seems to make her feathers turn silvery. He can hear her singing softly to herself. Her singing voice is more like the belling of hounds than her normal voice. He doesn't disturb her, just waits until she notices him.
She does when she turns around to get a different rag. Karai jumps and bites back a scream. "You scared the feathers off me Duke!"
"Sorry." He shrugs and sits down on a couch. "Take a seat...we need to chat."
Karai look wary and takes a seat across from him. "Did I do something wrong?"
"Nope...Wildwing wanted me talk to you about living here with us for as long as you want. In return for continuing as you have and helping a little with Dragaunus."
"Help? I can't fight?"
"You will be able to when I finish with you."
"Huh?" She looks confused and surprised.
"You are a member of the Brotherhood right?"
"So am I. Do you know of anyone else who can teach you what you need to know?"
"Then you gotta be taught by me. You got a problem with that?"
"No...I just didn't think you would want to waste your time teaching a junior."
"Well there ain't no one else to teach you.."
Duke stands up. "Good. then it's settled...we'll get started once your ankle is healed." he walks out before she can protest.
"I hate it when he does that." She says before getting up and returning to work.
I had a lot to think about that night. A more permanent position, the decision of Duke to train me...It was unnerving. But at the same time it was nice. For the first time in years I didn't worry about my future. Naren and Alyaia were present in my dreams...along with Whuur. I couldn't believe how much I missed people who I didn't even trust. It bothered me...
I pulled the stone out of my hair and clutched it. For the first time since I was six I cried myself to sleep over the past.
I wished that Naren was here to wrap me in his wings...or Alyaia was handing me one of her herb teas...They were the only ones who ever cared what happened to me...and there I was crying my eyes out about them. How they would have laughed at me...
By the end of the next week my ankle was healed as if I had never hurt it.