Pockets flush with stolen apples, the gang finds a stone bank along a thin river that winds through the city, taking their ease upon the stones, watching the day’s traffic filter past.
“This is the life,” Fassn says, the sun warming his face.
“Yeah, this? Munching stolen apples, hoping to do a deal?” Shyan asks.
“Sure,” he replies, crunching loudly. “The apple’s so sweet. Old Ajralan, may you have your fill!” He vocalizes madly before finishing the apple, core and all.
“Will we truly give a share of our haul to Monsieur Montague?” Cang wonders aloud.
Birds above screech and tumble as the gang chews.
Cang starts, eyes wide, and turns on his heel, grabbing the belt of an elderly man and throwing him to the ground. As the fellow cries out and topples, Cang’s mark grips her coin pouch, standing on her toes to spot any nearby guards.
Sure enough, halberds rise from the bobbing heads of the crowd, which offers the guards no berth. Their helmeted heads swing about to spot the thief, but Cang crouches low as he scoots past the legs of many peasants. He’s so much shorter than average that the guards cannot see him.
He makes a lap around a large, rectangular block before rejoining the gang from behind, surprising them all as they nervously watch the befuddled guards from afar.
Breathing heavily, Cang says, “Perhaps we should try things your way.”
“We stink like ripe bodies that’ve been on the road too long,” Shyan says.
Fassn takes a whiff of his own underarm. “Oh, yeah.”
“And if our buyer’s as big a snob as those musicians say he is, we’d better get cleaned up.”
And just like that, as the mythic seas, the busy crowd of city dwellers parts to reveal a hand-painted sign featuring a wash basin and a pair of shears. The building it hangs from is relatively shabby, but so too is the gang.
“Ask and ye shall receive,” Fassn says with a grin.
“We don’t have any money, Fassn,” Shyan says. Fassn’s grin fades in an instant.
“Perhaps not,” says Cang, watching the many loose belt pouches passing by just below his eye level. “But perhaps we might earn some,” he continues, letting the sentence trail off ominously.
When morning comes to the city, a pale blue sky stretches beyond the buildings that seem to rise into the clouds. The streets are busy, with people hurrying about. Those few who take notice of our bedraggled gang give them a wide berth. One surly fellow with a glaring bald patch screws up his nose as he passes, and in a grunting voice, says, “You stink.” He departs, shaking his head.
“Yeah, but stink like what?” Fassn asks.
The tavern is full to bursting with sweaty souls, soot-streaked from climbing in chimneys and sunburnt from days in the fields. An upbeat, driving tune comes from a pair of musicians on top of a table, one with a pair of small drums, the other a slender wooden flute.
Fassn and Abia amble off to find an open table while Cang and Shyan approach the ruddy barkeeper.
He raises his hooded eyes just enough to meet theirs, then returns immediately to serving the rowdy patrons jumbled along the bar. Only when, cocking a single eyebrow, Cang surreptitiously shows the bartender the jeweled necklace that he gives them his attention.