Raster stood over Gwennet and shook his head in disgust. "You could at least act like you want to do this."
Donning a meek smile, Gwennet, apprentice footpad to Raster, said, "Sorry, boss." She was lying flat upon her back. A guard lay atop her, where Raster had delivered him to slumber land with a well-placed little sack of lead pellets. She grunted as she levered the deadweight off of herself, he was still breathing, for which she was glad. Had he been dead, she would have pushed the body off with more speed, no doubt, but then Gwennet would have run until she found open water.
Raster was leaning on a nearby wall as she stood. "Look, girl, you're too damn skinny to be a whore, and too nice to kill people for money." He smoothed his oiled black hair with one hand. "I don't know if this will work out, you know?"
The young girl's eyes brimmed with tears. "Please, Raster, give me another chance," she pleaded, "I'll do better." She touched his forearm with her slender hand.
The old thief snorted. "You said that yesterday, Gwen. I just don't think you've got what it takes to be a second-storey man." He looked at her levelly, fixing her gray eyes with his own blue eyes. "Why don't you find a nice, hard-working lad and settle down? You know, have a few babies, and live a long, healthy, safe life?"
The tears began to fall, and Raster felt his heart twist, as if in a vice. He had raised Gwennet, or Gwen, as he called her, since her mom died from a crazy who had hired her for one night's tumble. He had avenged her mother, stabbing the freak in an alley three nights later. It had not made the little girl's life any easier, but at least Raster could look her in the eye afterward.
Raster had provided for her well enough; she had always eaten at least one meal a day, and had a roof that only leaked a little over her head at night. She was a bright girl, he knew that by the fact that she had managed to stay alive in the Swarm, the worst part of Vilders. Gwen was quick, too. He had seen that several times when colleagues of his, who had a penchant for younger flesh, had failed to catch her. So far as Raster knew, she was a virgin.
He knew she had taken a couple of suitors. Other than catching one of them in her room one night with her mouth on his pole, he'd not seen anything to show she was otherwise active. He approved of that; an unwanted pregnancy would doom her quick. She could not even opt for the nice, hard-working lad escape.
The memory of chasing that young suitor friend of hers out of the house and down a few streets of the Swarm brought back pleasant memories of Gwen. How she had smiled at his bad jokes and how she covered him when he came home and passed out, even taking off his boots in those instances. She was a good girl.
"Perhaps it's my own fault, Gwen," said Raster. "I shouldn't have pushed you into this trade. You're too blasted nice."
"What am I to do then?" asked the young woman whom he loved like his own get. Not that he would ever have any of his own, not since that brawl where his eggs got smashed by a drunken Coghlander. His stick still worked, but he was as sterile as a healer's privy.
He put his long, slender arm over her narrow shoulders. "I'm serious about finding a good young man. You're pretty enough, if a touch on the skinny side. Some young apprentice smith or tanner or maybe jeweler would be happy to take you home to meet his momma."
She giggled at him. "Yeah, I can see it now: 'Hello mother, this is my new fiancee from the Swarm, Gwennet'." Gwen made a sour face and wiped her tear-streaked cheeks.
"Now dearie, you don't have to go and tell them you're from there," said Raster, waving in the direction of their home, even as they started making their way toward it.
They were crossing a street several blocks away when a guardsman of the watch walked up to them, swinging his baton by its thong. "You two, what're you up to at this hour?" he asked, his expression already accusing, convicting, and sentencing them.
Without the slightest pause or hesitancy, Gwennet turned to him, her voice slurred and her eyes unfocused. "Well, constable, I've just had a good fucking from my good man here, and we're going to go home and he's going to fuck me a bit more." She grabbed Raster's groin. "He's hung like a damn mule, and I can't get enough of his great, whopping cock."
The guard chuckled. "I see," he said, looking at the two of them. "Be careful, miss, else someone else may take a liking to you."
She turned up her lips in a brilliant smile. "Like I'd be bothered by that, either, especially a big, stud of a man in uniform," she slurred. Then to be sure he would not try to take her up on that offer she burped and covered her mouth. She turned away and fell into the corner of a nearby house, heaving her shoulders and making extremely disgusting sounds.
The guard patted Raster's shoulder, "Hope she don't hurl on you in bed, friend," said the guard, chuckling, and then moving on down the street.
"Good work, lass," said Raster when the guard had turned a corner a ways off.
Gwen stood from the corner and smiled at him. "See? I am a good thief."
They started toward their home again. "That crotch grab was a good touch," said Raster. "Surprised even me with that."
She giggled at him. "You getting stiff surprised me, old man, I thought you said your days of that were past."
He shrugged. "If someone plays with my piece like that, it's liable to rise up to see what's about, you know? And don't get no ideas, you're still a skinny little waif."
"I know," said Gwen, "I can't even interest an old pervert." Her face turned down toward the drizzle-slicked cobbles.
Raster sighed. "Gwen, that's not what I meant. Had I not raised you, I'd probably be laying my stick to you right now, if you'd have me." His surprisingly honest eyes turned to her. "It'd be like pounding my own daughter."
She giggled, and then turned a sidelong glance at him. "I know a few girls who've bedded their own dads. Or, at least, their own dads bedded them."
Raster grunted. "Yeah, and those men deserve a dagger between their ribs if it gets found out." He took her hand and kissed her knuckles. "I'll never touch you like that, I'll cut the damn thing off first. You're too precious to me as a daughter to be my woman."
The smile she gave him made his heart swell with pride. When she smiled like that, all teeth and generous lips, she was lovely, and it honored him to have raised a woman who could make her face so lovely with a simple smile.
They were entering the Swarm now, and both began watching warily about them. Interestingly, those who have the least to steal are often the first picked off in the Swarm, like Raster and Gwen.
However, Raster had enough local reputation that most folk left him be, and by association, Gwennet.
They were passing the House of the Blue Door, a brothel. One of the girls who worked there hung her head out and called to Gwennet. "Gwen, when are you going to come work here, dearie? I've made two marks tonight, already."
Raster turned to the whore and said, "And how many men have shoved their pricks into you for those two big marks?"
The whore, a girl named Amerisa, grinned at him. "Only seven, unless you're wanting to pay for a ride?"
Gwennet bowed up, which was singularly unimpressive given her rather minuscule bustline, and said, "If he wants a piece of tail. I'll give him my virgin hole before I let him pay some whore a plug tenthmark for a tumble. He has to but ask me."
Amerisa laughed at her. "And do you wonder why he's not taken you to bed yet?" she said. "All these years with you right there in the same little shack, and he's yet to poke you even once?"
The younger woman clenched her fists, making her knuckles glow in the flickering lamplight of the street.
The whore was having fun now. "You're so damn ugly, even though you'd give him a tight, unused cunt to poke, he'd rather pay me a quarter mark to let me mouth him." She flipped her long brown hair teasingly. "Ask him, he knows." Amerisa turned and went back into the brothel.
Gwennet was crying again. "Is that true?" she asked through her tears. "You've paid her, knowing you could have me?"
"Dammit, Gwen, I've explained that, just five minutes ago," said Raster. "I only don't touch you because it's not natural to want your own daughter."
Her eyes grew cold. "Probably helps a bit that I'm uglier than a homemade bar of soap."
Raster had this fight with her before. "What, you want me to fuck you?" he asked. "Right, then, hike your skirt and grab your ankles."
Gwennet grinned broadly and turned her backside toward him, beginning to lift her skirt.
"Stop that dammit," he said, "I can't even scare you anymore." He grabbed her elbow and dragged her, still giggling at him, down the street, mumbling as he went.
Gwennet was alone in the little house come morning. He had probably gone off to fence his loot from last night, a couple of silver candleholders and three balanced throwing blades.
She looked through the pantry and found only a half a loaf of bread and a wheel of cheese so moldy she had to cut almost a third of it away to eat it. Washing that down with cheap wine, as if anyone with half a brain would drink water in the Swarm, she got ready to face the day.
Today would be low tide, and she might be able to find some salvage in the mud flats of the bay. She would have to compete with other scroungers, but she might get lucky today and find something worth a half mark. Usually, eight hours of slogging in the mud only netted one mud, but she was pretty lucky so far.
.... There is more of this story ...