“That’s probably enough for me, anyway,” Fassn says. He makes a great effort to still the chattering of his teeth: it fails. “I think Old Ajralan’s had his fill, anyway.”
“Concurred,” says Cang, who’s got the lip of his crowbar at the tile’s grout. He heaves and heaves and suddenly, with a crack, the tile gives way and comes loose. He hefts it, leaning far back to accommodate its weight. The tile’s nearly the size of his own torso, if not its density. “I believe I am ready to depart,” he says, a greedy glint in his eye that’s matched by the sparkling aspect of the tile.
The hands Cang’s dry-washing are extraordinarily clean. No deep brown dirt sleeps beneath the nails, which are trimmed and softly rounded. The leather of his wristguards gleam where Montague’s assistants polished them. The brocade of his vest has been closely cleaned and even repaired where some of the looped stitches had come out. As Cang daydreams about what he’ll steal from the dragon, he feels somehow ready, like the cleanliness of his appearance makes him a fitting guest at the dragon’s side.
A server brings another round of tankards brimming with spicy amber liquid. Fassn drinks from his without lifting it, just glues his lips to the rim on the table and makes loud slurping noises as he vacuums the booze to his mouth.
“At this rate,” Shyan says, enjoying a swig herself, her eyes beginning to glaze, “at this rate a pittance is all we’re gonna have.”
“Then I suppose the barber Montague will have to make do,” Cang says. “For certainly we could never skip town with wealth in our pockets, no. That would surely be unethical.”
“Yes, the barber,” says Cang, expertly rolling a coin between his fingers. “I suppose we owe the old fool a debt.”
“But we’re already spending the money,” Fassn says, as a server brings him a fresh platter of honeyed duck.
“This is undeniable,” replies Cang. In a single mighty swallow he empties his flagon and signals for another. “He knows not our price. We can offer a pittance and he shall be none the wiser.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Shyan says, her brow furrowed. “That’d be unethical, wouldn’t it?”
“Stealing,” says Abia.
“Exactly,” Shyan says. She spots a platter of oiled eggs and flags another server to bring them over. Her mouth full of egg, she mumbles, “On the other hand…”
Shyan lowers her voice to a whisper. “Okay, assume we’re gonna steal from a dragon. Which we’d never do because it’s totally suicidal and Abia’s already made it out of there in one piece not once but twice. The rest of us are one-for-one. That’s a pretty good record that’s gonna be hard to beat. I don’t wanna blow it on some baubles. The dragon and its creepy butler will know something’s up.”
She takes a long swig of her ale, turns the empty tankard over on the table. “Also, we have to pay Montague before we go a-stealin’.”
“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.