Twenty-Three

Sometimes, Garridan would receive visitors at the Wayward Inn. His clients. But he had never shown up with somebody in tow. Whenever he returned, he returned alone. This new development sent a ripple of unease among the regulars.

“Think it’s another client?”

“Or a mark?”

“Nah. Wouldn’t make sense for him to be a mark,” Potz reckoned. “He woulda already offed him. You don’t wine and dine ‘em before you kill ‘em.”

“You really think?” Hugh desperately wanted assurance, or else he might feel morally obligated to warn the poor kid.

“Think he’s one like Garridan?” Berta wondered.

“Looks pretty soft to me,” Wayland said.

Potz took a swig of his ale and nodded agreement. “Yeah, don’t look like no duster I ever saw.

“But, not lookin’ like a duster would be a pretty good quality in a duster, no?” Berta wiped a tankard, thought carefully.

She had a point. A good point. But Potz shook his head again to convince himself. He preferred it his way. “No. Not a chance.” One was enough.

Garridan approached ad they all fumbled over themselves trying to sound like they’d been talking about anything else.

He either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “Two ales,” he said, tossing a few coins onto the bar.

“Friend of yours?” Wayland asked.

Garridan shrugged. “Acquaintance.” He returned to the table and sat across from Isaac.

“They seem pretty interested in us,” the bard said.

Garridan leaned back in his chair and stared dead at the pack around the bar. They quickly and oh-so-casually began to mind their own business. “They’re like that anytime somebody is here to talk to me.”

“They know what you are?”

“You can say it.”

“They know you’re,” but Isaac trailed off. “Can I ask something?”

Garridan raised his brow expectantly.

“Who…why were you in Fort Blakely?”

“What’s it matter? You were there for everything that happened. Nothin’ new I can tell ya.”

Berta interrupted and placed their drinks on the table. She smiled and cocked her head, trying to suss the new guy out.

“Thank you,” Isaac said, holding up the drink. He nodded politely, trying to dismiss her.

“It’s always nice to see a new face round here. Don’t get a lot of ‘em. Bein’ a bit out of the way and all.”

“Hence the name.”

“What?” A pause. “Oh. Yeah. Yeah. Of course. Gotta say, you’re a bit more put-together than mosta the folk that come through here.”

“Oh, yes, well–” he was reluctant.

Garridan took a long drink and then answered for him. “Kid spends a lot of time at Highspire. Member of the court.”

“What?” Berta nearly stumbled back. “I–I had no idea,” she stammered. “Really?”

Isaac smiled and shrugged and just wished she would go away.

“I woulda cleaned up a bit more. Spruced it up, you know?” She turned and mouthed he’s from Highspire at the others. They looked back and forth at each other in disbelief, trying to let this new wrinkle settle in.

“You can spot a duster, but not a member of the court?” Wayland groused at Potz.

“Shut up,” the goblin snapped back.

“In his defense,” Hugh said, “ain’t nobody would let Potz near a royal court.”

Berta apologized again for the mess.

“No need to be sorry,” Isaac said. “It’s…quaint.”

Berta gave them an awkward smile and her arm jerked–something between a wave and a shrug–and she went back to the bar to begin whispering with the others.

“I wish you hadn’t told her that,” Isaac said. 

Garridan was running a coin between his fingers. His hand moved with such precision and confidence he didn’t even have to look at it. The coin moved effortlessly back and forth, glinting in the firelight. Instead, Garridan looked at Isaac with bored, unrepentant eyes. “Oh yeah?” he said and made no effort to carry the conversation further.

“I’m sorry,” Isaac said after a brief silence. “I shouldn’t be ungrateful. You saved my life.”

“I returned a favor. Listen, I know someone like you shouldn’t be buddying around with someone like me. Don’t bother me none. I work alone anyway.” He let the coin fall to the table and trapped it under a finger. “What you’re gonna do is this: you’re gonna rent a room for the night, you’re gonna get up early, you’re gonna head back to Ebontarn, and you’re not gonna speak my name ever again. You can go back to writing love poems or whatever it is you do.”

Isaac’s eyes narrowed. “They serve a very important–”

“Kid, I don’t give a shit. That’s the point.”

“So I go back to Highspire and that means what? I just let you go back to…”

“Starting to sound like your friend. You gonna try and take me in?”

Isaac slumped his shoulders. “I don’t mean…but how can I just leave knowing what you do?”

“I’ve been doin’ it for a while now. You were none the wiser before.” He slid the coin over. “Go tell Hugh and Berta you want a room.”

“I don’t need it. I have gold.”

“Yours or the King’s? They gonna ask questions ‘bout where you spent it? I ain’t worried for you. I don’t wanna be the answer to any questions you’re asked.”

“You don’t want Gerard to know.”

“I don’t want anyone to know,” he said in a low, feral tone. “I’m getting bored. That’s a step before angry.”

Isaac still refused the coin, but hesitantly approached the bar.

Potz hopped off his stool and bowed. “Your Excellence.”

“Oh, uh,” Isaac gently lifted the goblin’s shoulder. “I have no such title. You don’t need to do that.”

“You’ll have to excuse ol’ Potz here,” Wayland said matter-of-factly. “He’s a massive kiss-ass.”

“I’ll need a room for the evening,” Isaac said.

Hugh nodded enthusiastically. “We’ll get one done up real nice for you.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“Course it is,” Berta insisted.

Isaac nodded silently and returned to Garridan. “Before I retire…one last question.”

The assassin grunted his cooperation.

“Will you please, plainly, tell me what happened between you and Gerard. How you know him.”

Garridan took a swig. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said from behind his tankard. “I’ll tell you what happened between us when you can say, plainly, what it is I do.”

Isaac stared at the assassin for a moment before turning and walking toward the stairs. Garridan laughed as he went.

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