“Wash your boots, milord,” he mumbled, dropping to his knees as Joaquim drew closer.
“No,” Joaquim responded reflexively. Men like this were common in Apsia, offering a dozen petty services in hopes of small coin. Years of training made Joaquim speak without thinking, seeking to turn the old man away before he became too much of a nuisance.
Perhaps because he was deaf, or perhaps because he was more determined than others, the old man reached for Joaquim’s boots as Joaquim drew close, the wet rag moving forward.
“No, I said,” Joaquim said. He tried to skirt the old man’s hands, and a flicker of irritation sprang to life inside him. Joaquim was in a hurry; he had not seen his parents in months, he was cold, tired, hungry—
One weathered hand scraped the leather of Joaquim’s boot, running the rag along the side.
“Sisters help you, man,” Joaquim said, coming to a stop. He bent down and helped the old man to his feet. For a minute, the old man resisted, lunging for Joaquim’s boots, cloth at the ready. He was old and weak, though, and Joaquim eventually got the man to stand. “I don’t want my boots cleaned, and I don’t have any coin.” The last bit was true, for Joaquim had given his last silver to the woman at the waterfront, but it didn’t do anything to ease the sick feeling in his gut.
The old man wavered, his cloudy eyes moving across Joaquim’s face. Then he spat on Joaquim’s travel-stained shirt, wrenched his arms free, and hobbled back to the corner where he had been waiting.