Open Snow Blow No Go (Marina/Marinette)
”Dov'è Akal?”

Giovanni, or Johnny as he was often called since coming to Lawrence’s household, turned from the high, leaded glass window to look over his shoulder at the man who had accepted responsibility for him. At least for the interim – Lawrence still said he was going to look into a more proper, permanent placement for the boy. The options were quite limited though and within the last week, neither Akal nor Mrs. Settle had actually heard him repeat himself on that topic.

The boy had been with them some… three weeks or so. He’d been scrubbed clean and kept clean, and his head shaved almost to the scalp to ensure there were no lice lurking in his previously long, tangled, filthy locks. He’d been dressed in clean, warm clothes, and fed well. This last facet of his new existence was probably the one the child favored most. The bathing was defintely on his ‘do not like at all’ list. He was still skinny as a stick. But his face no longer had that pinched, starving look to it. His cheeks were beginning to fill out and have a healthy bloom to them.

The whole household, small as it was, doted on him, although each of the two westerners often tried to pretend that they didn’t – especially Mrs. Settle, who was really the worst of them all, when Akal and Lawrence weren’t looking. All in all, it had turned out quite a good thing that the two “gypsies cum witches” had stumbled upon him and brought him to the village hospital. With his father just expired from the influenza, and no other relatives or caretakers in plain view, it had seemed the only decent thing to do, to have him come stay with Lawrence, while the attorney tried to locate someone the child might better have a claim upon. He’d had no luck, and he wouldn’t send the poor mite to the foundlings’ home in York. So….

So Giovanni, as they had come to discover was the lad’s name, had become something of what looked likely to be a semi-permanent fixture in the Bayliss household. Of the three adults, it was clear that Akal, with his quiet, kind ways, had become the boy’s favorite. This was why the child looked now with such confused concern at Lawrence, as the snow piled up against the outer sill, and you could see no more than the half wall that demarked the house from the street – and that being only a couple of feet away from the window. It was coming down a blizzard, and it had come on so incredibly fast!

Lawrence had barely even noted the first few lazy flakes that had fallen past the window of the upstairs parlor. He had nodded and smiled warmly when Akal had said he’d go down to the apothecary to procure some medicine for his throat. He’d risen from the chair where he’d been reading a legal treatise, and kissed his lover, and sat back down to resume his study.

It was not more than a half hour later when the three or four year old boy, who had the run of the house, had slid into the parlor and interrupted him, with that same question. ”Dov'è Akal?” Lawrence had looked up, and his gaze had gone to the long thin window, and his eyes had widened in surprise. The snow was coming down furiously, and Akal should have been back already.

He had risen and the two, man and very small boy, had gone down to the ground floor, and then to the basement kitchen where Lawrence had ascertained from Mrs. Settle that indeed Akal was not yet back. The two had then repaired to the front room which Lawrence used as a receiving room for both guests and clients – the few that he had – and here Giovanni scramble onto the love seat set under one of the windows, to gaze out into a world gone white. In answer to his question, Lawrence had moved closer to the boy, gazing out himself with a furrowed brow. He placed a large hand on a thin shoulder and replied. ” Sta tornando a casa. Sarà qui presto,”* in a calm voice, ignoring the tiny wriggles of worry he felt in his stomach.

He heard a knock on the front door, and Giovanni was off the love seat in a flash and running, calling out, ”Akal! Akal”” Lawrence’s frown deepened. There was no need for his love to knock. It couldn’t possibly be him. But then, who would be calling in the midst of a storm such as was now building up out there? And far more importantly, where in heavens name was Akal?

He heard Giovanni wrenching open the front door and he heard voices – or a voice, which by its accent was instantly recognizable. Lawrence stepped quickly into the hall.

”Marina! What are you doing out in this terrible weather? He hazarded a guess it was not planned, at least not being out in a snow storm. ”Come in! Come right in!” He gestured with his hand for them to enter, both the silent one and the talkative one. With worry writ on his face, he asked, of both women, ”Did you see Akal? On your way here?”

Having seen what lay outside as he closed the front door, Lawrence felt his heart dropping into his shoes.

*He’s on his way home. He’ll be here soon.
"Akal? Da' servant o' yours? Nah, we no see 'im. But den, we no seen much o' anyt'ing. It comin' down so 'ard out dere, tha world become a ghost, all white. We been tryin' ta find our way back and end up in dis part o' town. So we came here, thinkin' you be one of da few ta let us in. Lucky us." She shrugged, still not speaking to him with her real accent. Marina glanced at Marinette then back.

"Maybe 'e got lost in tha snow too and found shelter. Ya best be 'opin so." Her attention turned to the boy and, while she didn't want to, a small smile came to her face. "You be keepin' dis one alive I see. Good on you ta extend yer charity. I dink I see a good future ta you for your kindness. So I would guess ya din need ta worry about yer servant. 'E be back when tha snow stops fallin so much."

The woman rubbed her shoulders a bit and shook her head, the snow flakes that had remained fell from her knotted locks. "Do ye mind we be stayin' a bit. Least til it stop fallin so 'ard?"
His face had fallen when she said they’d seen no trace of Akal, and then went on to explain how they themselves had become lost in the falling snow. He could believe it. The brief glimpse he’d had of the world beyond his front door was enough to know the storm had changed the familiar street to an alien universe where the atmosphere was white, and solid. Like the creatures that swim in the sea, moving through a liquid world, any human caught out in the blizzard would move through air that had left it vaporous state and become visible, tangible, and cruelly cold. As he pushed the door to firmly, he cast one last glimpse out into that winter wilderness, and he felt the small wriggles of unease grow exponentially.

Lawrence nodded, slowly, as the talkative woman gave a reassurance that “his servant” had probably sought refuge somewhere to escape the snow and wind and cold, and avoid being turned around and confused, just as they had been. He wanted to believe that – that his beloved was somewhere safe, and relatively warm. The poor man was already sick. But it seemed there was little he could do to ascertain his lover’s whereabouts or his state. He ushered the two women inside, managing to raise a half hearted smile despite the misgivings in his heart. ”Certainly! Certainly, come. Right this way.” He gestured politely once more, indicating that they should progress through the doorway to their left and thus to the large front room he employed as his office. To Giovanni, he stooped a bit and said softly, "Scendi in cucina e dì alla signora Settles che abbiamo ospiti, e che avremo bisogno di un po 'di tè e ... torte.*

The child, who had regarded the two women with rounded, grave eyes, and a solemn, silent expression, now nodded and ran off, happy to put distance between him and them. Their unexpected appearance did not engender reflections of gratitude in his childish breast. They had saved him from starvation, or freezing to death, when they had found him by the roadway, on the outskirts of the village. For the boy, that was their connection to him. They had found him. Maybe they were there to take him back. Without understanding English, at least nowhere near enough to have followed what the woman had been saying, he really had no idea why they had just suddenly shown up. He was missing Akal too. So a retreat to the warmth of Mrs. Settles’ kitchen was the perfect escape, where he could lay low until he had some way to determine if the women were friend or foe.

Marinette, for her part, had remained silent, and unsmiling. She stood like a stick, inside the door, snow encrusted and seemingly stoic, until Lawrence gestured for them to come further in. She moved, like an automaton, and from her expression one would never have guessed that this day was unlike any other mundane day in the village. She preceded both Marina and Lawrence by a step, and was first to enter the office-living room. Without hesitation or being invited, she went straight to the coal burning fireplace** and sensibly removed her shawl. This she draped over the large copper scuttle, pulling it close to the fancy grill work of the front of the firepit. Holding her hands out then to its warmth, she kept her back turned on her friend and their host alike.

*Go down into the kitchen and tell Mrs. Settles that we have guests, and that we shall be in need of some tea, and...cakes.

**[Image: 2fc6c8c28640486de479adb89394bee3.jpg]

[Image: Bzxy1e.jpg]
(imagine him with his hair buzzed almost off; he'll look like this when it grows back LOL)
The scottish woman watched her friend and let out a small sigh before nodding in gratitude to the lawyer. She was eager to stand nearby as well though the home was warm enough for her compared to outside. Marina's arms remained around herself and she saw the boy run off and kept from making a comment on it. The boy had no reason to like her after the way she treated him, nor did she regret it. She wasn't the a maternal woman and didn't care to change that.

Her eyes started to wander around the place, it was full of books and strange knickknacks. She turned on her heels and flashed Lawrence a broken smile, standing between him and Marinette. "You do be so kind, good sir. Given us dis safety durin' tha storm. Not many have your gen'rosity. I see you be a smart man and travel. Why don' we sit and I give you a fortune while we warm an' wait? Per'aps I can give you advice ta lead ya to success and saf'ty!"

She was already taking a seat and watched him carefully as she held up her hand for him to take so she could look at his palm.
Lawrence had watched as Giovanni had scurried away, and then he turned back to his guests, following them into the study. The silent one had moved straight to the fireplace, and made no attempt to turn and be sociable. Lawrence hadn’t had much interaction with her. He only knew her by having seen her once or twice, in the village. He met her odd behavior with a glance, not knowing what to make of it but quickly turning his attention to the one who was far more chatty. She thanked him for providing them with refuge, and he only shook his head, dismissing the need to do so, and replied, ”Of course. Of course. No-one should be caught out in a storm like this. I’m sure there’s not a door in the village that wouldn’t open to any and all today.”

Of course, he thought no such thing. He knew there were many who would have turned away the two women, for being dark skinned alone, not to mention their reputation for practicing black magic. Personally, he didn’t have any reason to think these odd ducks who chose to live out in the bog posed any danger to the inhabitants of the area. He’d met his fair share of practitioners of magic and spell craft, witches, healers, medicine men, and women, snake oil salesmen, during his years of travel in the East. To his mind, most were completely ineffective and put on a good show and nothing more. Not that he thought they were all charlatans. He was sure many of them truly believed in what they were doing, whatever kind of results they achieved. At the worst, he was equally sure some were down right swindlers. But the most damage they could do was to a person’s wallet. In almost every instance, he did not believe in magic or witchcraft.

On the other hand, he’d seen some very odd things in the past. Occurrences which could not so easily be explained away, and laid at the feet of powerful spiritualists or occultists. These phenomena, however, he attributed to the power of the mind over the body. Those who feel susceptible to the doings of such practitioners did so because they themselves believed so strongly in powers that surely did not really exist. Even unto the point of death, some people brought themselves, simply through fear and dread. The mind, not magic, was the culprit though.

Where the handful of women who lived in the bog fell on that spectrum, well, he didn’t know. Nor did he really care, except for two of them – these same two – had found Giovanni on the morning his father passed away, and rescued the boy, as it were. For that, he could only be grateful that they had taken the time to do so. Not all would have.

The only other dealings he’d had with them, and that was not really with them directly, was a consultation he’d had with the local constable, who sought him out for his advice, as a solicitor (though Lawrence was not, of course,  a QC). Apparently some girl had been knocked up by a local man and there were rumors that one of the “witches” – the silent one standing this very moment before his hearth – had given the girl an aborticide. Subsequently the girl had miscarried and very nearly died. The good constable had wanted to know if Lawrence thought any charges would lie, against the strange young woman, or the young man. Lawrence had appreciated the constable at least being thorough and checking before rushing off to string up one of the oddball women – which the villagers would have relished, no doubt. The man didn’t seem the sharpest tool in the shed. But he seemed to be coming from the place of wanting to do the right thing. In some sort of unstated repayment for having looked to see that the little boy didn’t freeze or starve in the hedges beside the road, Lawrence had opined that, no, if there was no evidence to connect anyone to what was in essence a miscarriage, then it would not be practical to bring any charges. The constable had seemed to accept his advice. At least, Lawrence had not heard any more about it, besides the ongoing gossip.

So, as the one woman who would deign to talk to him sat and offered a palm reading, Lawrence smiled indulgently. He sat as well, and offered up his hand for inspection. He was sure she’d find nothing other than a clean, slightly callused palm and fingers with equally clean, trim nails. No, he didn’t put any store in the creases put there by a lifetime of bending his hand telling tales of what fate held in store for him. He tended to believe men made their own destinies, within the constraints they found themselves, given their race, class, status, religion, and so forth. But he was willing to accept the offer for what it was – a gift, of sorts. Payment for letting them in and letting them stay, for being a decent human being.

”Success and safety! That sounds like exactly what I need!” He chuckled. Then he added with feigned good humor, trying to ignore his current worry, ”Although if you happen to see where my, uh, man Akal is, I wouldn’t mind to hear about that as well.”
The woman gave him a huge smile, an impish light to her eyes as she delicately held his hand. Her senses were open, not to the spirits or the energies of the universe. Her touch noticed how he didn't freeze or pull slightly when she touched him, he was far more open and kind than most of the village. He was a good man, at least with people outside of his work.

"Ah, I see 'ere dat you may be ah livin' a long life, if ya be goin' down da path you takin'." She traced over one of the many lines on his palm. She saw the roughness in his hand. For a lawyer, that was a bit strange. He had to have been raised with some connection to fortune to get the education needed.

"You travel, yes? I see dat too. Dat where ya pick up yer servant. Would ya tell me about 'im? An' ave ya ever been married? I see some strange signs in yer palm. Ah'm curious. If it be uncomfort'ble. Den you can keep ta yerself. Ah don' like upsettin' da man who 'elp us in this freeze,eh?"

She gave him a reassuring nod as she kept checking his palm, though her eyes moved over the place. His concern for his servant made her wonder, but he could truly just care about the man who helped him in his business. Having a servant you can trust your life and fortune with was perhaps worth their weight in gold.

"You spend any time not lawyerin'? Maybe a few years in a prison or working da fields? I see hardship in yer past. But it is dis line dat ah'm most curious about. Yer love line. You say yer a bachelor? Ya seem to 'ave a big heart an' not seekin' ta fill it.If ya don' mind ma sayin'."
Lawrence smiled indulgently, looking down at his palm, ready to hear whatever mumbo jumbo the woman cared to tell him. Her first words were predictable. Of course, people wanted to hear they’d live long and become rich. A happy customer was a paying customer. He assumed that how this kind of act worked. Tell people what they wanted to hear and they’d be more inclined to cross the palm of the reader with silver, or pennies, as the case may be. He didn’t say anything, content to keep listening.

The next, the question about traveling, was nothing shocking or surprising either. One only had to look around the room and see that there were quite a few foreign knick knacks and memorabilia. Akal too was more than sufficiently exotic looking to create assumptions that Lawrence had found him and engaged him somewhere in the east. But then it seemed the tables were being turned, and the dark skinned woman was asking him questions, instead of providing answers, found ostensibly in his palm. His eyes came up to her face in mild surprise, but hers were still fixated on his hand.

Still, the questions were innocuous enough. It was only the answers, the true answers, that might have been problematic, for him. He was used to dissembling about Akal, and about his uninterrupted state of remaining single. The answers rolled easily from a tongue practiced at lying about it all, sad as that was.

”Akal? He is my dearest friend. We have been together for a decade now. We met in Kashmir. I helped him out with a spot of trouble. He, in turn, saved my life. That’s a debt I can never repay, I fear.” All of this was true. Much was left out, of course, the most important part of their relationship being the most glaring omission. Lawrence felt quite secure in believing that Marina could not see that truth in the lines of his hand.

”I was married once, long ago,” he went on. His face held a genuine sadness, when he thought back to that time, and how it had ended. ”My wife died in childbirth, as did the child. A son. I’ve never desired to marry again.” Once more, the truth as stated, yet missing crucial elements, one he would not supply. Not verbally anyway – perhaps his hand would play traitor to him after all.

She seemed satisfied by his answers so far. When she asked about having possibly been in prison, he’d been about to quip that only for the purpose of seeing clients. Men and women like Akal, and Mrs. Settle, he thought, musing. But she had already moved on with another question that did give him pause, as far as how to deflect it with an answer that would satisfy what seemed to be a marked curiosity on her part.

He hesitated, not really fearing that the woman could discern the truth of what lay in his heart. Surely his palm could not be so eloquent as to articulate the love that he held there. And as if on cue, his eyes flew to the door at the sound of small boots clattering in the hall, and the chatter of high pitched Italian. Giovanni and Mrs. Settle appeared in the doorway, the boy sticking close to her side, his voice falling silent at the sight of the two strange women. Mrs. Settle carried a tray, set with tea things. Giovanni carried the tin that held the biscuits.

Lawrence smiled at Marina. ”The world is a strange place. I cannot claim to put much faith in any of the religions I have encountered, in my travels. But…perhaps…things do happen for a reason, and in that there may be some greater power at work.” He nodded at the boy, and his nod included the strange looking little woman as well.

”A helpmate and a child were lost to me. Now I have two without whom I would find myself completely at a loss, and a child, new come into my life. I have not sought to fill my heart, to be so greedy. But I find it to be full anyway.”

He smiled at the little boy who set the tin down carefully on the low table, and the at the woman who followed suit with the tea tray.

”Perhaps there is a reason, underlying the madness, hm?” He slowly and gently withdrew his hand from Marina’s, with a smile for her as well.

But as the cook began to pour out tea, Lawrence’s eyes went again to the window. Absently, he rubbed Giovanni’s near bald head as the child leaned against him, and in his heart, he felt fear.
Marina knew she saw nothing in his palm other than the signs of hardship and she had the knowledge to recognize when something seemed unusual. This man Lawrence was unusual to her. She glanced towards her sister but Marinette was still focused on warming herself, which she could not blame.

Her attention resumed on his hand as she heard him answer her questions. It was fun to surprise people as they were so quick to dismiss who they thought were merely crazy women. Giving a nod, she spoke sympathetically, "When two people love each od'r dey can nev'r be replaced. Ah'm sorry for yer troubles as there 'as been many. "

She continued on and listened to him but something about the way he referred to his servant struck her. Perhaps it was just the way the man spoke, but she put it away in her mind to consider for another day. Marina released his hand when he slipped back as they were met with the others who brought tea. It would be good to get something to warm her from the inside.

"Dere is always a reason, sir. Ev'n if we don' und'rstand it." She nodded and was all too eager to accept a cup of tea with just a touch of sugar, it was such a luxury for her. Her eyes watched him stare out the window and comfort the child.

"You worry about yer friend? It will be some time before da weath'r let him come 'ome."
Marinette at last turned from the coal burning fireplace and crossed the few steps to stand beside Lawrence, where he still sat beside Marina on the couch. ”The one you love will wait out the storm in safety,” she said in her peculiar monotone, looking down at him, as he had turned his head and tilted his face to look up at her in mild surprise.  He had almost forgotten that she was among them. ”You have no need for concern, for his sake,” she added, in the same matter of fact voice. Then she moved further to sit beside her sister and took the cup of hot tea handed to her by the oddly proportioned cook.
Lawrence gaped a bit at the pronouncement, not knowing what to say. He did not wish to contradict her assumption that there was a "he" that was the object of his love. He didn't wish to draw attention to it, and seem to give it more import than it was worth. So, in the end, he only made a sound of something like...acknowledgment...a clearing of the throat...without agreeing, or disagreeing. He felt it best to change the subject and he directed his attention to the cook.

"Thank you for this, Mrs. Settle." He nodded at the tea and took his own cup from her tiny hands. "Very good of you to bring it up. Just what we needed. Our guests most of all," He said with a polite, yet slightly nervous looking, smile at the two women.

"And thank you Giovanni for bringing the biscuits." He smiled at the boy. "Grazie. Vai avanti," he encouraged softly. "Puoi avere un biscotto se vuoi."*

The little boy eagerly opened the tin and took out a scallop shaped Aberffraw biscuit, taking a huge bite of it greedily. Lawrence chuckled and said, "We're, um, still working on good manners," as he nodded at the ladies to signal to the boy to offer them the tin.

Once all were settled with a beverage and a sweet, Lawrence asked, simply to make conversation, "I understand you ladies came from elsewhere? Have you traveled much yourself, Miss Johnson?"

He only knew her name from the dealings he had with the paperwork, where it was recorded as a witness to how the boy came to be a ward of the parish.

*Go ahead. You can have a biscuit if you want.
Marina clapped her hands together. "You see? If mah sistah say 'e be safe, than 'e be safe! She is aware o' many d'ings!" She smiled and noticed how he didn't correct her when her sister called the assistant his love. It was strange, and had her keep watch for anymore signs, no matter how small if it was as she started to wonder.

"Oh d'ank you v'ry much , mah lady and sir. D'is looks delicious." She sipped the tea and smirked seeing the boy dig in for a biscuit. She listened to the lawyer and nodded. "De fact 'e didn't take da tin and wolf 'em all down is an improv'ment. Kids who are 'ungry can be a stubborn bunch."

As she nibbled on a biscuit she watched Lawrence with a relaxed expression, though she certainly wasn't going to lower any guards before him as she wouldn't to anyone outside the sisterhood. He was different than most but that didn't give him any free pass, so she kept up her usual story.

"Only once, sir. Ah come from da islands all the way across da sea. I was brought 'ere as a young girl and foun' my 'ome here. Have you been d'ere sir? Ta Barbados?"

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