Twenty-Six

Isaac secured his rucksack and patted his horse’s neck.

“We’re leaving soon,” he reassured her.

He wandered back into the tavern, hoping to fill his stomach with a heavy breakfast before he set out. And hoping to finish before Garridan came down for the day.

But opening the door, he was already foiled. Garridan sat at his usual table, perfectly still, save for his mobile eyes, which were locked onto Isaac’s every move. Isaac could barely stand to look at him. His mere presence felt poisonous.

Berta put a plate of steak and eggs down on a table and smiled warmly at him. “Figured you’d need a full belly for the trip,” she said.

“You thought right.” He sat, his back to Garridan, and began eagerly consuming the food. He heard the assassin’s chair scoot across the floor and he looked up at the bar in reflex, searching for a reason not to talk to him. Only the goblin was here yet. He would have to do. “You,” Isaac said. “At the bar.”

Potz turned, his face painted with confusion. “Yeah?”

“Why don’t you join me?”

“Me? Why?”

“Good for us to know the King’s subjects better. Come, talk to me.”

Hugh and Berta shrugged, but then shooed the nervous goblin away. He tottered over and bowed again.

“My friend, again, that’s not necessary.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.” Potz righted himself and hopped up into a chair.

“Tell me, what brings you here everyday?”

“The booze,” Potz said matter-of-factly. “Boredom.”

Isaac could feel Garridan’s eyes on him. Or maybe it was just the heat from the fire. He tried to ignore it. “What about…about…being a goblin?”

Potz cocked his head. “That’s a weird question.” He turned it around–“What about being a human?”

Isaac shrugged, admitting it was a stupid question. “Sorry. I just mean, are you treated well? Are you–” He was flailing desperately.

“Potz, beat it,” Garridan said. “Isaac and I need to talk. In private.”

The goblin looked back and forth between them, not sure who to listen to. Isaac’s eyes were pleading, Garridan’s predatory.

“You understand,” Garridan said, pulling the chair across from Potz out and sitting, “that I’m capable of killing without the promise of gold, right?”

“Sorry,” Potz said to Isaac, and he scampered quickly back to the bar, glad to be free of whatever twisted game they were playing.

“That was incredibly unnecessary. Is violence all you know?”

Isaac’s tone was lacerating, but Garridan was numb to it. “That’s rich coming from someone paid to glorify it. Anyway, Potz responds to two things: flattery and threats.”

Isaac slid his plate away, sapped of his appetite. “What do you want? Are you just here to torment me more? Is it sport for you?”

“Actually,” Garridan said, pulling the plate over and beginning to eat, “I wanted to apologize. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Really?”

“Mhmm.” He quit with the utensils and picked the steak up, tearing a chunk of the flesh away like a scavenging mongrel. “What good does it do you to know the truth? It’s all in the past now. What can you do with it?”

“Nothing,” Isaac hissed, lunging forward, stabbing his finger angrily on the table. “Because it’s not the truth. You think I can’t see through your lies?”

Garridan only leaned in closer, licking his lips. “Think what you want. I know what happened.”

“Why would I ever believe a common criminal over Gerard? Over Aldis?”

“Probably better you don’t believe me. The truth is messy. Makes things complicated. Might as well forget you ever heard it. It would only get in the way, and you have a job to do.”

“And you?”

Wiping his mouth on his wrist–“And me?”

“You have a job, too.” Now low and simmering–“And that puts us at cross-purposes.”

Garridan leaned back, a sly grin slithering across his face. He liked seeing a bit of spark in Isaac. A spine. “I suppose it does. What do you think we should do about that?”

Isaac said nothing, just searched Garridan’s face, trying to read it. It was no use. When the assassin wanted it, his features became a desert–remote and arid. His eyes might glisten, wet with promise, but it was always a mirage.

Garridan pulled a small knife out from a sheath attached to his belt. He laid it gently upon the table and pushed it toward Isaac. “You could take that. Turn it on me. It’s your duty. I’m an enemy of the kingdom, after all.”

“Take it back,” Isaac said, the small blade pushing his eyes away. “You know I won’t do that.”

“If you did–it would be all over. Nobody would mourn. Nobody would blame you.”

“Put it away.”

“Pick it up, and this whole problem goes away right now. I won’t fight back. I swear”

Put it away.”

“Or is that not why you hesitate?”

“Damn it. Would you put it away?” Isaac begged.

A look of regret flashed across Garridan’s face–but maybe that was just a mirage, too. It was gone so fast, replaced with a repellant satisfaction as he put the knife in its sheath and leaned back in his chair, triumphant. “Well…if not that, then what?”

Isaac leaned in, whispering. “Just…promise me. Promise me you won’t go through with it. That’s all I ask.”

Garridan was silent.

“Just…let me leave here knowing that. And I won’t take anything else I learned with me.”

“I’m sorry,” Garridan said. “I can’t do that. Even if I did: would you believe me? Could you? You already don’t.”

Isaac nodded. “You’re right. I probably couldn’t.”

“Just tell them, kid. Go ahead and warn them. Maybe it coulda been different if last night didn’t happen but…let’s just let our purposes cross, and we’ll see what happens.”

“No. There’s another way.”

“Oh?”

“I’ll pay you not to. Whatever your employer is offering, I’ll double it.”

The soft crackle of the fire filled the silence left between them. Garridan finally nodded. “Guess I can’t argue with that.”

Isaac retrieved a great deal of gold from his belongings. He paid Berta and Hugh and thanked them. He nodded a goodbye to Potz. And then he returned to Garridan, and tossed the whole remaining sack of coin on the table. “Is that enough?”

Garridan hefted it and nodded. “But why? Could be so much easier for you.”

Isaac shook his head. “No. This is the best way.” He walked to the door but turned back just before he left. “I hope I never see you again.”

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