When the laundry’s complete and the gang’s looking more or less sparkling new — Fassn the obvious exception, having refused to let Montague touch his patchwork garments —fatigue washes across them like a tidal wave.
“Montague,” Shyan asks, still half-drunk and eyes half-closed. “Where’s a good inn, hm? We’ve got coins to spend, tell us.”
“Ah but of course, my friends, the Sleepy Gendarme, just across the street! Mattresses of straw or down, patron’s choice!” He grins seedily. “Be sure to tell them Montague sent you.”
Cang’s reluctant to give up his vest for laundering, lest its many secret pockets be discovered with their dozens of hidden coins. Still, Cang’s wedged them in there so effectively that even as Montague and his assistants scrub on the washboard, no telltale trebly clink of metal alerts them to the coins’ presence.
That is, until the glowing sphere, still trailing the gang like a curious bird, swirls around the sodden vest, dipping in and out of the bubbles and confusing Montague’s assistants. The sphere performs tight little corkscrews around the secret pockets while Cang glares from afar. As one of the assistants begins prodding a pocket, Cang barks a warning from across the room.
The gang reluctantly shells out a handful of coins each to Montague, with the exception of Fassn. “This dirt, these smells, they’re a part of me! They’re, like, part of the experience.”
Cang sniffs. “Typical.”
Fassn lays himself out on the floor with a cloth over his face, breathing deeply, slowly, contented, while his companions strip down.
“It’s been an age since I’ve had these clothes laundered,” Shyan says. “We should’ve just bitten the bullet in the first place.”
Cang squints at her. “Bitten the what?”
“Wow,” Montague says, despite himself. “You really came through.” He makes a show of weighing the sack of coins in his hand. “Pretty good tip for a bath and a haircut,” he adds.
“Can you do our clothes now too? We realize we’re kinda, well,” Shyan trails off.
“Stinky,” Fassn says, taking a deep whiff of his own underarm.
“We’ll pay you like normal this time.”
A great big grin spreads across the barber’s face. “Laundry, but of course! Coins up front, please.”
The grumpy barman runs them off and the gang stumbles, bleary, into the streets, the dry heat already picking up. Sweat-stained peasants saunter by and the reek of alcohol rises from the gang.
“Maybe now we can get our clothes cleaned too,” Shyan says, poking at a handful of coins cupped in her palm. “Hm,” she says, squinting at them. “Seems to be less than I thought.”
“Alcohol has that sort of inebr—” Cang begins, before a fit of hiccups interrupts him.
Eyebrows furrowed against the traitorous sun, the gang makes for Montague’s barbership.
“There appear to be no obvious discrepancies,” Cang announces, after tallying their takings according to several nations’ standard accountancy procedures. The coins are now gathered into four equal piles, one for each member of the gang. The little glowing sphere races around and between the neat stacks, turning and twirling.
“What about the barber?” asks Shyan.
“His mistake,” Cang says, “was rendering his services before accepting payment.” With a subtle gesture, he moves his palm over his stack of coins, and they vanish.
Fassn’s finished with Cang’s drink and is busy licking the empty eggshells sprayed across the table. Abia looks wistfully past the red-nosed drunks, laughing into their cups, through the grimy tavern windows, and out beyond the alleys to the dragon on its throne.