“I have just concluded a meeting with Thomas the Illusionist. It went,” he paused, smiled, and this time it seemed genuine if ironic, “poorly. You had already worked out that you were spying for Thomas, I expect.”
“Of course, it was hardly subtle. It should have been, there was no reason for Thomas to move so dramatically so quickly. What had that mage you’re watching actually taken in? Something close to twenty thousand, as I recall.”
“Nothing!” Dwennon waved his glass. It was almost empty but the liquid still nearly sloshed over the edge. Jessie thought his voice might have gotten stronger. “This club makes that in a single good night, and it’s only one of my businesses. We could have subtly undermined the illusion firm. We had you in place. If he didn’t like that, Thomas could have made a good offer to buy it out, or he could have taken the young mage as an apprentice and brought him in house. That’s what I would have done. You use talent when you can find it.”
Jessie opened her mouth to suggest he do just that, but he continued again too quickly for her to speak without talking over him. She didn’t want to risk that.
“But the fool has been holding on to the same tiny patch of ground for far too long and now he sees any threat as the end of his world. He set out to stomp on the boy.” Dwennon sipped the last of his scotch then leaned forward to put the empty glass down. The movement must have stretched his wound because he winced and was careful about rearranging himself in his chair when he had finished. “I suppose that’s his affair and not mine. I had no objection when he was just sending bounty hunters, they could be expected to stay on their lease. But the manticore was another matter. He sent that beast because he knew they’re all dangerously insane. The spell twists them somehow. It was always going to try to kill someone and that could have been you just as easily as the young mage. I demanded that if he was going to pursue such a risky strategy we set a weregild for you. I had proposed 10 times your debt to me.”
Dwennon stopped talking again, and as always Jessie felt like they were speaking different languages. She knew the word ‘weregild’ from fantasy novels she’d read as a girl. Were meant man, and gild was gold, so “man gold” or “man price”. It was money you had to pay if you killed someone under the pre-catholic feudal code. In those novels it had also expressed the callous disregard for life too common during the period by suggesting any death could be patched over with a little bit of money. Jessie didn’t realize she was scowling until she felt it on her lips and had to consciously smooth them. At least ten times what she owed Dwennon was a lot of blood money.
The ælf saw her scowl but he didn’t get offended like she might have expected. Instead he looked slightly hurt. He started to say something but was interrupted by a cough. All she caught was, “Too modern…understand…” The cough hadn’t been strong, and Dwennon had covered his mouth, but blood still got around his hand to speckle the table and the inside of the empty tumbler. When he pulled his hand away from his mouth it was surprisingly slick and red. He wiped it on a clean patch of his already ruined shirt. “I am digressing, and there is a point I’m working toward. Thomas just sneered at me and said if my agents were too weak then we could break off our agreement. I felt that was fine, he was unstable anyway, but I required payment for services already rendered. He refused.”
“So you don’t need any more information?” Jessie thought, that wouldn’t be a bad outcome for this meeting. It would let her out before she’d done any real harm. Maybe she could go to Kyle with her “work for the mobster” plan.
“If he had paid me, I suppose I might, but he refused. He said I hadn’t done anything for him so he didn’t owe me any money. I was angered.” He paused and seemed to think before continuing, “To a foolish degree, I suspect, but such is the pride of men. I made a threat I knew would hurt. I told him that if the lad was so dangerous I would contact him on my own and make use of his talents. He did react,” Dwennon sort of gestured at his bloody shirt, “Servant came to my aid, and Thomas and his guards retreated. No doubt they thought me finished, as a normal man would have been.”
That was basically the plan Jessie had come up with. She thought that meant she’d scored an A on her imaginary business case. It was a shame she’d had to leave college; she’d had a professor who’d have really enjoyed the whole situation. “So you’d like me to recruit him, sir?”
Annoyance flickered across Dwennon’s face, rapidly suppressed like every other emotion that got a hold. Perhaps, Jessie thought, she hadn’t been intended to speak at that point. “Again, no. I am injured, and worse still I am insulted. This will be seen as an opportunity to move in on my territory. I will be preoccupied with fending off those advances and possibly turning them to my profit. I would need to oversee the addition of the young mage’s skills to my business directly, so that chance must pass.” He turned, coughed up more blood, though not as much as the first time, and addressed the door, “We are all but concluded. I would appreciate a hand.”
Servant appeared almost immediately. Silently, he circled behind the desk, then he helped Dwennon to his feet. It was the only time Jessie had ever seen him move gently. “Simply put, I want you to destroy Thomas. I told you the story for three reasons. First, as a warning, you will take no little risk in the attempt. Second, as encouragement, he is a churlish and small man. He is without honor and does not deserve what he has. Finally, by way of explanation. If you make the attempt, succeed or fail, your debt will be canceled. You will be free to work for me if you wish, but you will keep all your own earnings. You may also quit with my blessing, though I won’t be happy to lose you. But I must avenge myself upon Thomas and you are the knife set closest to his throat. Will you make the attempt?”
Jessie was shocked. She hadn’t expected an offer like that. “I don’t see how I can, sir. He’s an archmage. Rich, powerful, famous. Surely you don’t want me to just shoot him or something. I don’t think I could do that. Not that he doesn’t deserve it.”
“No. I have other agents for that. It is also less revenge than I want. I want to bring him down. Hurt him.” He slapped the edge of the desk he’d been sitting at. It would have been a more impressive gesture if he could have raised his voice and if the movement hadn’t made him stagger slightly. “He is the mage I have long employed for the magical treatments I sell. If you can record evidence of this, he will be ruined. I have little information on his operations, or I would simply release it. But I will send you what I have and you will gather more. If you attempt that, you will be free of your debt.”
“I’ll do it!”
“I felt you might. The information will be sent to you. Come.” The last word was directed to Servant. The strange enchanted didn’t really come anywhere, rather he helped Dwennon walk slowly out of the room. Neither of the men said anything more to her.
Jessie didn’t follow. She couldn’t have done so without overtaking the slow moving pair, and she was happy to be out of their company. Instead she sat on the desk and thought. After a while she she picked up the bottle of Scotch and had a few drinks directly out of it to help her thinking. It was sort of spicy, she thought she might have preferred Tequila, but why turn down the good stuff when she had cause to celebrate?