From her spectacular view of the front line encampment, Inès couldn’t afford a spare uniform. Even the replacements others had received in the train just prior to Amone she had seemed to have missed out on; The result of her rushed redeployment, she had always begrudged. In a rainwater washbin, she scraped and scrubbed her fatigues to the stitch, the residual water becoming a thorough tint of bubbly red. Some stains remained incredibly stubborn, and even as well-toned a woman as she - her sinuous upper body tirelessly motioning back and forth as she scrubbed every last inch of her bloodstained jacket - were so sternly adorned with Thomas’ essence that, like the memory to just transpire...it refused to escape from her current state of mind.
Naturally, such expenditures required that she secluded herself to some manner of privacy, gad only in her equally worn smallclothes whilst the Darcsen toiled away in a race to utilize the last minutes of sunlight the best she could.
Earlier that day
Just as Reyna was getting her composure back was when Victoria, the woman who was carrying Thomas, moved by her. There was a heavy feeling of sadness in her heart as she gazed on the man who was just this morning was alive and well. Her effort in keeping her composure soon became in vain as she felt Marathon’s arm brush her. Victoria’s words reached her, but Reyna didn’t know how to react at first. Then, after figuring it out she moved herself slowly to Thomas, standing next to Victoria quietly for a moment before her lips moved, a quiet, solemn whisper following. “May you rest in peace, Thomas. Thank you for all you have done for us all.” After that, she nodded to Victoria and slowly spoke one line. “I-If you need something….don’t be afraid to ask.” Reyna noted the hat on Victoria, but she did not recognize it right off the bat in the midst of her own conflict. It’d only be later when she would recognize what it meant….
This dirt on her uniform irked her. Normally out on this battlefield Reyna gave her uniform a little leeway but with the death of Thomas still fresh on her mind and Luke’s glory-seeking attempt, Reyna had to do something to get her mind off of both what she was going to do the next day and the recent events. But first, a spot needed to be found. Reyna did find such a spot earlier while she stayed at this camp, but what she’d find there currently was a bit of a surprise to her. For two girls to meet like this would normally not be too big of a deal, but when she walked in on Inès, stepping loudly into the secluded spot, she found herself frozen as she saw that it was occupied: Apparently, privacy was much harder to acquire than she thought…
Thoroughly fixated upon her action at hand, Inès only barely looks up from her task to exchange eye contact with Reyna. Only a cursory gaze strayed upon her, then just as quickly, Inès returned to her task, particularly nonplussed at the sight of Reyna before her. Logically, she hadn’t much to fear, for the encampments were still largely segregated by gender for some modicum of privacy and such sights weren’t entirely uncommon.
The intense brushing came to a halt, Inès lifting her jacket from the water as steady beads of crimson-bubbled water poured from the article. She frowned, pursing her lips in a corner of her mouth, giving way to a short sigh. Small, faint blotches stained her jacket still, yet for now it seems she’d give it a bit of a rest. A curiousness etched upon her face - if still rather painted by her signature grim sternness - now looking at Reyna more firmly paralyzed in the doorway.
“Are you...okay?” she queried, an eyebrow steadily raising through the course of the question.
The question brought Reyna back to reality..and caught her off-guard. She barely formulated a response to the question “Y-Yeah, it’s just I haven’t seen anyone here before.” Her eyes gazed upon the scene and noted the water’s color. This red colored water caused Reyna to bite her lip. ”At least..around this time. I just came here to wash my clothes...” There was no telling how this was going to go. She heard of Inès’s yelling at Luke at least, and if Diana was any indication all of the other girls were crazy in some way. The fact she didn’t know Inès as well as some only contributed to the mystery.
Inès had made a few theories about Reyna, judging from both the scrawls as well as the limited observations she had of the young woman; If her writing were to be believed, she was rather...inexperienced, if curious. A definite shy type. An ambient soul with a desire to see the world around her...if she would prefer to do so in the soles of a life less frightening. With the struggles come experience - Inès knew - and there exist few who wish their wisdom had come at less of a price. But Inès joined those ranks as those with few truthful regrets in obtaining their fables.
The Darcsen motioned her eyes back to her washbin in a motion some might call dismissive, yet one the well-versed would correct to be, “acknowledging”. It was rarely on purpose that Inès averted only her gaze as a means to show antipathy; She was far more accustomed to a more direct means of assailment to get her point across.
“Get a bin.” she responded - if such a reply in so blunt a tone came across as more of a command than a suggestion.
Just as quickly...her eyes dived. A heavy, weary sigh came as her shoulders dropped, lowering in tandem with her jacket. Her posture remained straight, if considerably more closed, etching inwards like a contracting breath.
“Sorry. It’s that…”
She exhaled sharply.
“...a lot has happened today.”
Reyna could already tell that Inès was not in a good mood the moment she looked away from her. Then again, she should have known so even before speaking to Inès. The events today were not going to be gone from anyone’s mind anytime soon, if ever. Still, she awaited the consent of Inès before nodding and grabbing her own bin and sat down to prepare and tend her own clothing. A few moments of silence passed as Reyna did this before she heard Inès’s words.
Taking a moment to process what Inès said, she nodded to the Francian woman as she started taking off her uniform shirt. “I know. I heard what happened and...saw the result up close.” Reyna spoke softly, trying to select her words carefully. “If you want to talk about it, I don’t mind. Anything, really. I know I wasn’t there and that you might think I won’t understand, but it’s better to speak what’s on your mind than to hold it all inside…” How many times did her own mother tell her this? It worked each time, so hopefully it will help Inès too...if she chooses to talk.
Inès raised her hand, synchronized with the lowering of her eyes, waving away Reyna’s prerogative. Her head hung just slightly, the heaviness even visually imprinting into her sunken, sullen eyes, baggy from the transpiration of the day. Slowly, it rose once more to meet Reyna, just out of what Inès could scrape along to - almost jokingly, or even insultingly - call etiquette.
The Darcsen shook her head, her loose hairs obfuscating her equally-toned eyes.
“...that imbecile just doesn’t understand.”
“You mean Luke?” Reyna asked, recalling what happened earlier that day. It was an obvious guess, but the only other one that Reyna could guess was Jean, and she had no idea what Jean’s involvement was in the entire situation. Reyna slowly washed her shirt, but kept steady eye contact with Inès as she listened.
“Yeah…” Inès responded, rather fatigued at the mere mention of the man. A clear ire broke into expression as her brow furrowed into a deep, dismayed grimace.
“He acts like he doesn’t know what to do, or like he can’t do anything, but when he wants to be the big man? Oh, then he knows just what to do!” Inès mocks, shaking her head as she most venomously recalled her exchange earlier that day, “He must think i’m an idiot...i’ve been in this goddamn war longer than he’s even considered going…”
“I don’t know much about Luke, but honestly he always struck me as some kind of idiot the moment he made racist comments in front of Jean, an NCO. I’m sure he has his own reasons and he’s not that bad in some way or another, but he’s definitely not the smartest.” Reyna answered honestly, remembering the moment that Luke insulted Jean for being a Darcsen in front of, well, a group of darcsens, a NCO darcsen at that, and his bad decisions he has made. She wasn’t going to judge too harshly, but there could have definitely been better times to be brutally honest.
Perhaps not if Reyna was going to be the one to redact her words on the subject, Inès had no such qualms. They were…as Inès would put it, frankly demeaning, and only did well to show that Luke had much more to learn in his lengthy journey. For a man with such horrid esteem as he had just hours (as well as days) ago, Luke was certain to always fill the premises with some manner of bravado.
The likes of which Inès saw bring the haughty to…
...she would finish with “their knees”, but the woman stammered on that thought; It was an exceptionally fortunate soul who combined arrogance with ignorance and finished with functional legs.
So, she would have to settle with “His grave.”
“No. I’ve met a lot of Luke’s. All of them finished their first year of their careers with retirement.”
“It’s likely to happen if he doesn’t change his act. I won’t say it will but it’s likely. It seems to me he’s trying to act like a hero, but father always told me that the real heroes don’t truly seek such fame out. And acting like one for the sake of it gets you killed is what the instructor said.” Reyna called the lessons she learned. Of course, experience was the best teacher but Reyna didn’t have the experience to consider herself an expert, so instead she relied on those older and wiser than her to speak for her.
She shook her head. Strands of errant hairs split their way well along her already moody expression, and the sight of such obfuscants soured her expression to the point of palpability. In her off-hand, she grasped her jacket to her right and scrubbed against the washboard in a coarse manner more appropriate for smashing one’s being against a hard surface than for the gentle removal of a few missed stains.
“His act is going to get him killed.” Inès angrily vented as she scathed the words between her clenched teeth, “He’s afraid. And stupid. Like everyone else who came here and got told they would have a chance to see the world.”
Frustrated grunts escaped her maw, a grittled woman furrowing in disappointment. Surprised wasn’t how Inès would describe this particular quagmire. If anything...she had, in a sense, expected such from him, and was only waiting for the inevitable to transpire. And like everything else, this was another little horror that had perhaps spawned because Inès stood too firm: Too firm in the belief that there was nary a chance of Luke heeding her advice, no matter whether it was a sobering tale from her ex-lovers or from the battlefield.
“I wish he’d shoot himself in the foot and get it over with. Go home to the sisters he says he loves so much.”
“But if he gave a damn, he wouldn’t have gone.” Inès scoffed.
“Better to be a coward than a hypocrite.”
“If you say so. At least the former is more honest.” Reyna said carefully as she hefted her shirt up to inspect it. Already the shirt was cleanish, but not clean enough for the rich daughter of a captain of industry. Thus, Reyna got right back to cleaning the shirt again. “I think we’re all scared of what could come, just some know how to deal with it and others don’t. I don’t know about Luke and if he simply does not know how to deal with it, but I guess we’ll see what happens. Anything can happen, after all.” She bit her lip, recalling the task she’ll have to do tomorrow. What the sappers were going to be sent doing was no small task with those tunnels, and she had the night to think on what she would do, not knowing if it’d be her last moments or not.
Finally satisfied that she got the grime off of her shirt, Reyna moved on to the next bit of clothing: her pants. “You sound inherently distrusting of people like him, and as my father would put it: ‘know hardship like the back of your hand.’”
Though a series of particularly non-rattled gazes gave passes to Reyna, Inès made her intent of listening clear. Her jacket would slowly rink and grind away what remained of the bloodstains, until a deep-soaked olive color was all that transpired upon her Francian uniform. The constitution bore the uniform a distinct heaviness upon submergence, yet Inès herself was, perhaps, tempted not to bother with washing. If her command could be bothered to remember to give her her new uniform.
Her head turned again to Reyna. “It’s what I do for a living.” She responded, in a tone that might be called “risible”...if not marred by the harshness of which the Darcsen presented her statement.
“People love to go and ask what makes you go through it. How you can keep going when you’re surrounded, or when everything around you just tells you to give up. And the answer is that I have to.”
“People like Luke are always trying to look for some easy way out of being poor, or being a farmer, or working in a factory. Darcsens are also used to being poor. And the difference between Darcsens and people like Luke is that poor earthheads act like they’re not supposed to be there in the ghetto.”
Reyna listened closely, maintaining eye contact with Inès and processing the words she said. “Earthhead” was not something Reyna heard before, but considering that darcsens were called “darkhairs” and Reyna herself was a brunette, she could guess what it meant. Noting this new vocabulary, Reyna spoke softly. “It’s unfortunate people have to live in a ghetto in the first place, but I understand why it happens. Some spiral themselves out of control into them while others were simply forced or born into them. The latter is mostly what many darcsens fall under. Some non-darcsens, of course, but still equally bad.” Careful words were difficult to craft as she said “I’m only as wary of darcsens as the places they tend to learn resentment from, but that applies to any poor and desperate area. I’ve had darcsen and non-darcsen alike belittle me for my wealthier status, but few of them were willing to put in the work to dig themselves out of the hole through opportunities that required hard work. Some even opportunities my father gave them, at that.”
Memories of belittlement for her wealth and how she “never earned anything” flooded Reyna’s mind for a moment, a frown appearing momentarily before returning to normal. “I don’t like people who act like that, then don’t do anything to better themselves. Or those that give up so easily and then take their anger out on those who didn’t.”
The notion of The Vinlandic Dream, told by the most Vinlandic Vinlander to cross the seas, was it? Perhaps the obvious need not be reiterated. Inès didn’t smirk, nor give nary a smidgin of sarcasm to her cold-faced expression. Like she had just so boldly pronounced; Reyna was acting like they weren’t supposed to be there.
“Everyone wants to leave the ghetto. But what happens when everyone leaves?” she queried, shaking her head once again.
“When you come from the community, it’s more than just a giant slum. You know, people have asked me, “Inès, why do you bother staying in Ostend if it’s so shit? All you do is complain!””
Inès cracked a smile.
“Of course I complain. I’m Francian! I sit, I complain! I bitch and moan and say how everyone doesn’t care! And you know what? It’s my home. Everyone I love lives there, and everyone there deserves better.” She laughed.
“But!” Inès interjected, lowering her gaze with a cynical smirk, “Nothing fucking comes easy to a Darcsen. You learn very early on that there are no easy ways out. There’s nothing waiting for you if you leave the ghetto except a lot of earthheads who wonder what a darkhead is doing in their neighborhood. And anytime anyone tries giving us something? Sure. We take it. We’ll have fun for a bit, drink, and try to forget we were ever enemies. Because we know the only time we seem to get along is when they’re either drunk, or when they want something from us.”
“Besides, if you leave the ghetto as a Darcsen to make it big, you become a Hotza.”
An unfamiliar term.
“Cold.” Inès translated.
Reyna listened, and then had to think for a bit about what Inès just said to her. It was...a unique perspective that she never thought she’d get. It was foreign to her to say the least, far from the merely academic perspective she experienced in the safety of her home. Concern was the first thing that popped up, followed by curiosity. Finally, Reyna thought of a reply to Inès.
“That’s...something I never heard before. I didn’t realize the racism was so bad. Still, I believe things should at least get better, even if they don’t want to leave their community behind.” Reyna answered. “In the country, even the poorest of us don’t live in horrid conditions. Most of those in Darport go hunting or poaching when they can’t get food on the table or receive meals distributed for those in need of them. Both the churches and the workers’ barracks do that.” She stopped cleaning her pants for a moment to think about what to say next.
“That all must seem strange to you, and you must see as privileged. You would be correct. I’m blessed, but that don’t mean those who aren’t shouldn’t be able to even surpass me especially if I help them… sorry, this must sound so stupid to you.” Reyna gave Inès a sheepish, nervous smile. If anything, she didn’t want to make Inès mad. Just speak what she thought and at least try to understand her perspective on things. It’s the least she could do.
“It’s different in the city.” Inès explained, “In our apartment-”
Inès reached her hand, generally pointing to the corner of the tent situated at Reyna’s heel.
“It’s about that big.”
Her hand waved over to a tent opposite of her. Barely the size of a large tent occupied by a superior officer. And this residence was intended to be permanent.
“My mother and I live there, and a lot of times, we have one or two more families living together with us.”
What Inès just explained to Reyna was even more foreign to her than the ghetto conditions and community. “You mean...you don’t even have a room to sleep in for yourself?” Reyna looked at the size Inès emphasized with her hand and imagined it, shivering slightly. “That’s really weird to me, and a little scary. At least here everyone is at least somewhat disciplined, but I am not sure if I would be comfortable with sharing such a small size of a place with people I don’t know very well and wouldn’t trust my safety to.” After hearing this, she was glad she was born in the country and in a relatively safe community. The most she had to worry about was someone trying to make her give them money and never return it.
Inès had suspected she would need to provide a more detailed narrative to...elucidate...Reyna’s comprehension. Not that she imagined the woman to be unintelligent, mind; Only rather ignorant of the true conditions of inner city living. Truth be told, Inès was a tad surprised.
“When I was twelve, we shared our apartment with two families; The Roux, and The Paget-Mullers.” she began, “The Roux Family had Madame et Monsiuer Roux, their youngest son, their daughter, and their oldest son, as well as Monsieur Roux’s father and mother. There was also Monsieur Paget and Madame Muller, who had their two children.
Inès gave but brief pause to allow Reyna to comprehend the absurdity of cramming thirteen people into the space of what was approximately a kitchen.
“...Oh my….” And it did take a pause for Reyna to digest that information, to put into perspective thirteen people in a single small room. The entire concept was absurd, but considering how much detail Inès told her about who was there this was not an exaggeration. Therefore, it was a reality that Reyna never knew. The first thought, however, was the hygiene.
“That has to be really dirty and unsanitary! I can understand living like that for a short time in bad times, but for years?” The thought made Reyna look at her pants again. As squeaky clean as they were going to get it seemed, so next was undergarments. “How did you clean yourselves and not get sick?”
“The yard.” Inès answered. Subconsciously...Inès was going to be more than a little amused telling the tale of the tenement yard.
“We have a central yard in the tenement where we the water pump is. Everyone uses the water pump there to do their laundry and bathe out in the yard.” she explained, “You take water from the pump and use the furnace in the basement to get it hot, then you use that hot water to wash your clothes in the yard. Sort of like we’re doing.
“It’s the same if you want to take a bath. You have to get someone else to help you carry the hot water to one of the bathtubs in the yard, then you bathe until the water either gets too cold or too dirty.”
“So...outside with little to no privacy.” Reyna concluded. “I’m no stranger to others in the bath or wash area, but that’s a little much. At least you had a way to be clean...”
“Yeah.” she nodded.
Truth be told...Inès had very little left to say on the subject. She could go off on some manner of pitiful tangent on how difficult it was, or how it was to be a Darcsen in the cramped city...yet, such pitiances would be both nonsensical and rather errant; Inès was never of the opinion that she was necessarily entitled to anything greater. She would spare Reyna the moaning and groaning of that conversation...if also because she had little use to complain, herself.
“Geez, I’m sorry you had to live in such horrid conditions….” Reyna responded with a frown. “You should definitely see the country when we’re not in a big war. I think you’d like it. Fresh air, lots of privacy, and small peaceful communities. Quiet aside from sometimes hearing dumb tractors.”
“With what money?”
“Hmm, maybe from what you get in the army? Or...well I don’t know what you exactly want to do but maybe that letter father wanted me to hand out to everyone in the squad could have something?” Reyna thought. “Father has been known to give opportunities to those with talent, no matter who they are. He’s...one with older views than I but he doesn’t let that affect his business.”
She couldn’t help it; Inès was a bit of a cynic, even by her own admission. And in such earnest self-admission, doubt arose at the mention of some manner of opportunity, for she knew well that with opportunity also came cost. If anything...it resonated, such that she felt as though her words went through one ear and out the other. Yet, Inès knew - as Reyna made ever clear - she wasn’t one to spread malice. And certainly, with opportunity came cost, but also came profit...and enticement.
Well..she couldn’t help but be curious. And a slight questioning would do nothing to harm her, if Reyna were to offer. Yet, miracles she did not expect.
“What do you mean?” she asked, a pique of curiosity coming over her.
“My father wants me to hand out a bunch of letters to those near me, namely squadmates. I have the feeling it contains more than just him asking to keep me safe or something, as corny as it is.” Reyna only guessed that was what it contained, but none-the-less she was going to do what her father asked. “If he thinks someone has the talent to make his company better and bring in more money, he will at least give an offer and even pay for travel expenses. I’m not sure what those contain exactly, but it wouldn’t hurt to read it.” Reyna tried to explain, though she felt her explanation was lackluster as she reached into her bag that was nearby and plucked out one of the letters and offered it to Inès. It was very obvious from the look on Reyna’s face that she thought the letters were dumb enough as it is, but to hand them to the rest of the squad made her feel like a spoiled brat.
“If someone has the talent”...? If Inès had imagined that to be just what she presumed, then she was rather...cynical of the fact. Though...it did not go without that same curiosity. Savate was generally ill-known outside of a more dedicated crowd, and Reyna herself likely knew little about the intrigue that was Inès’ career. That was, unless-...
“Wait, have-...” Inès raised an eyebrow, dashing her eyes over the letter, then back to Reyna.
“Have you…heard of me??”
“Hmm, I’ve vaguely heard your name before, but I don’t know if you’re of the same circumstances. Only in passing.” Reyna thought hard. “I don’t really keep up with those martial art things myself so I know next to nothing, but that’s how your last name is vaguely familiar.”
(“Shit...i’ll need to find out just who she is…”)
Inès nodded, wiping her hands on her camisole to rid themselves of water once and for all. She rose, appreciation coming about her otherwise stoic demeanor.
“Well. Thanks.” she responded, briefly walking over to her bag. As she knelt down and undid its buckles and belts, Inès was sure to open a second, thinner compartment within her satchel, stuffed there with an assortment of other varied letters, snippets, drawings, and other documents.
And among them, a little something...familiar.
Inès retrieved it, plucking its leather-bound cover from its confines...and smiled. She then walked over to Reyna, a light smile clear upon her face. She gave an awkward half-chuckle, then presented Reyna’s little book back to her.
“You…forgot this at the Inn… She laughed.
At first, Reyna didn’t know what Inès was doing. Curiosity kept her watching until Inès pulled out that little book that she wrote in. It may have been a plain blue book, but to Reyna, especially seeing it in another’s hands, it was the most embarrassing little book in her life. A great red tint came across Reyna’s face as she hurriedly grabbed the book, now feeling like she was about to die of embarrassment. It was clear: at least Inès knew what dirty secrets that book contained.
“Uhhh…...thanks. But uh...this is a little embarrassing…” Reyna stuttered. “....Did…..someone else….see?” She was almost afraid of the answer.
Inès giggled at her reaction to the reunion of her and her glorious collection of questionably-written pornographic content, starring the cast and crew of Squad 1 itself. And fear not, Inès knew full well that, perhaps inadvertently, Reyna had scored Inès a most pleasurable night with the ever-so-lovely Freya Baines. Of course, that meant that the contents of her book were kept with the most outwardly sociable - as well as possessive of the thinnest content filter - member of their lively band.
“You’ll be fine.”
There were some things that Reyna was better off not knowing.
She didn’t like that answer at all, but there was little that could be done with it. Quietly tucking away the book back into her bag, Reyna contemplated her decisions now. Was those nights she felt...unladylike all going to destroy her in the future?! She didn’t know the answer of that, but nothing could be done about it now. She goofed, and at least this explained why the book was missing when she improvised a dance with Jean.
“ Uhh, if they don’t know...I guess I will be fine. Uhh, I hope it’s not too awkward. I...just kinda have needs too, no thanks to those nights at the inn….”
“Maybe i’ll tell you about it the next time we get leave.” Inès laughed, holding off on any additional comment on, “Giving her new writing material.”