“‘Course we have,” Shyan says. “Not like we’d trade this for a bath and a haircut,” she adds, showing off a glimpse of the precious metal.
The musicians take in the gang’s collective appearance. They do appear groomed, with scrubbed faces and short, trimmed hair. “You actually don’t clean up so badly,” says the flutist, who wears a stylish doublet and feathered cap.
“Too true, now can we meet your client already?” Shyan asks. “We’d like to get paid, and, you know, eat something.”
“Something besides apples,” Fassn says, one finger in his mouth. He flicks a seed from his teeth.
The drummer abruptly slams his fist on the table. “None of that,” he says in a growling voice, holding Fassn’s startled gaze. “Not in front of the dragon.”
The gang scrubs up nice under the noonday sun, its power mostly obscured by the city’s rising buildings.
Shyan’s hair is combed and all the dirt’s gone from under her nails. Cang’s bald head is shiny and smooth. Abia’s dreadlocks gleam with fresh beeswax, and Fassn’s beard has actual shape — it no longer looks like he’s wearing a tumbleweed upon his chin.
“I love this stone,” Fassn says, stamping his foot appreciatively.
“We’ll we’ve half a day before the buy,” Shyan says. “I’m awfully hungry.”
“Thinking of turning over another share of our haul for a hot meal?” Cang asks with a sneer.
Just then, the glowing sphere zooms away, coming to a bobbing rest over an apple cart, whose owner is engaged in the other direction.
Montague snips away at Fassn’s hair until the bushy mass has something of a shaped and styled look to it. He even puts a few braids into Fassn’s beard, conditioning the dry, wiry hair until it has a sheen like the twinkle in Fassn’s eye.
He luxuriates in a tub while the others, one by one, move through the barbery chair. Cang is quickest, but he’s never felt his bald head so smooth and supple as now. Shyan has her mess of hair trimmed to clean lines, and Abia’s dreadlocks are renewed with sweet-smelling beeswax.
When all is complete, Monsier Montague says, “It is customary to tip, yes? But I know you are penniless, despite your noble appearance. Thus I eagerly anticipate your return!” And with that, he turns to sweeping as the sun crests its zenith outside.
“Please, sir, I am not trying to remove your digits,” Montague says, his voice chiding, as he angles his scissors are Fassn’s filthy, probing fingers.
“Can I keep the parts that fall off?” Fassn asks, watching the grey curls flutter to the floor.
“Er, but of course,” says Montague, thinking hard about the money this fiasco will bring in. “You may have to act fast, though, lest your hair be mixed with that of your friends.”
“More’s merrier, says Old Ajralan,” Fassn says.
Meanwhile, across the room, Abia, Cang and Shyan relax in the tubs. Fassn pipes up to continue speaking, but Cang raises a hand from the water, and, eyes closed, quite in repose, says, “Quiet, please.”
The little glowing sphere, heretofore hiding its presence from Montague, suddenly lobs into the water, splashing like a stone. It pops back up as though to beckon the gang along.
“Your tiny friend enjoys the water, hm?” says Montague, spritzing Fassn’s bushy hair with something foul smelling from a bottle. “For glowing ball? No extra charge.”
“Well I have not come here for nothing,” says Cang. He gets undressed and chooses the same tub the sphere’s playing in. “Move aside,” he grumbles.
“Don’t make me bald as Cang,” Fassn says as Montague begins snipping. “I like the feel too much,” he continues, running his fingers through his hair even as Montague attempts to cut it.
“Er, right,” Montague says delicately, still tugging at the comb in Fassn’s hair. “Perhaps I get you all started,” he says, moving to a handful of bath tubs along one wall. He approaches each in turn, and adjusts a metal mechanism, shaped like an iron nose. After each squeaks its protest, it begins issuing forth water that spills into the tubs.
Shyan starts at this, peers into the water-spewing thing. “Magic?” she asks Abia.
Abia just smiles enigmatically, says, “Maybe.” She touches the water and cannot hide her surprise when she finds that it’s hot.