“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.”
If Abia takes any offense at the barber’s casual derision of the dragon, her former boss, she doesn’t show it. Her face still has the vague glaze of a daydream.
“Well the dragon wasn’t the nicest, uh, fellow,” Shyan says. “But he did pay us.” She lobs a small sack of coins and Montague fumbles in catching it. His fatigued face suddenly lights up.
Montague himself looks tired when the gang stumbles into his shop. They catch him mid-yawn and all he can do is continue it.
Once he recovers, the stunned look persists. “I didn’t expect you were coming back,” he says.
“No? Didn’t trust us?” asks Shyan.
“Didn’t trust your buyer, in fact,” says Montague.
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.
“He’s never gonna know who we are,” Fassn says, holding aloft a chunk of apple in his palm. The flowing sphere buzzes by, nearly alighting upon it as a honeybee, but it keeps circling.
“This is true, Shyan,” says Cang. “We could walk right out of this city with our pockets full and nails trimmed, with Montague none the wiser.”
“You expect to just wander out of town once we get paid? Your purse full of coin, and you’ll pass a tavern by without spending a penny?”
Fassn looks quite nervous at the prospect.
Cang shrugs, caught. “It is no wonder you are our fearless leader, brave and true,” he says. “I shall indeed enjoy a tipple once all this business is concluded.”
With that, the sun dips below the horizon. The river’s now just a black streak through the city. The gang packs their meagre belongings and heads for the tavern to meet the musicians.
“It’d be wrong to lie, Cang,” Shyan says, her expression not entirely serious. “After all, he gave us these fine haircuts.” She tosses her head so her shiny black hair lifts for a moment.
“But are four baths worth a thousand coins?” Cang asks. “We could easily just depart our evening meeting and forget all about the barber.”
“More coin for the tavern,” Fassn muses through mouthfuls of apple.
“A deal was struck,” Abia says simply.
Several more moments of chewing pass as the river flows.
“Well we don’t know what this thing’s worth, really,” Shyan says. “Maybe once we’re paid we can—” she breaks off, searching for the word.
“Renegotiate,” Cang says with an evil smile.