“Wow, what’s he like?” Fassn asks, bouncing slightly in his chair. “Gimme this, gimme that?”
Abia appears uncomfortable at the question, and the flutist steps in. “Sure, he makes demands, but he pays well for the privilege,” she says, flashing a bejeweled finger.
“Then why are you playing the flute in a grungy tavern?” Shyan asks.
“Hey, this is my brother’s tavern,” says Rufus, scowling. “And anyway, it’s fun,” he adds, with a defensive note in his voice.
“Look, it doesn’t matter,” says the flutist. “We have an appointment with your old boss.” She stands. “You coming?”
Abia is first to rise behind her. The others follow out into the city night.
Shyan’s eyebrows go up. “You recognize the name?” she asks.
Glumly, Abia nods, a single inclination of her head. “A pitiless beast,” she says.
“Hey, watch it,” says Rufus. “That’s our boss you’re talking about.”
“Yes,” Abia says sadly. “He was once my boss, too.”
“‘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 tavern is already bustling by the time the gang arrives. Low, golden sunlight filters through the grimy windows and gives the assembled commoners a burnt, fiery look. The gang steps inside, standing two abreast, and seeks out the musicians.
They’re at a small, rude table in the back: the stage is empty for now. When he spots them, Fassn gives a wide grin and expansive wave. The drummer, his beard even more wild than the night before, gives his partner, the slender flutist, a look of dissatisfaction. Cang gives Fassn the very same look.
Shyan leads the way over, conspicuously scanning the room, ignoring any free tables she sees, until the gang arrives at the musicians’ table.
“Got the gold?” asks the drummer.
The flutist leads the way out of the tavern with the drummer close behind. The gang ponders their words for a moment before the barkeeper catches Shyan’s eye. “Aye, what’re you lot still doin’ here? The drink’s not flowin’ so you’d best be goin’!”
“I like this guy,” Fassn says, as the barkeeper ushers them from his tavern.
Standing in the dark street, the gang plans its next move.
“Well if we’re going to do this, we’d best get cleaned up,” Shyan says.
As dawn breaks over the city’s hidden horizon, the gang makes its way to a barbershop.
“Where?” Shyan asks. “We’re ready to get this deal done, but doesn’t seem like that’ll be happening here.”
“No,” says the flutist. She shakes her head as though to clear the cobwebs from within it, sending her mass of curly hair fluttering. “Our client favours a particular tea room in the Quiet Quarter. Of course, you can’t go dressed like that.”
“Huh?” Fassn asks. He jerks his head up from his fingers, sending the chimes woven into his beard tinkling. “Why not? Hey, can I have some of your hair? I just wanna touch it.” He begins reaching for the curly mass with his bitten-down fingers, but the flutist slaps him away.
“Ridiculous boor,” she snaps.
“Well said,” adds Cang.
The musicians stand, staring down their noses at the gang. “Clean yourselves up and present yourselves on the morrow. We shall go together once you’ve been properly groomed.”