04-2: A Little Too Much Salt [continued]

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"Evening, Tally," came the greeting from behind the bar.

"Good evening to you, Deklow," she replied, her eyes already scanning the drinks behind the bar.

There was only one tavern in Rhytheport. The Evergreen Stream. It wasn't green, nor was there a stream within a hundred leagues. Often enough, it didn't have anything to drink either, but that evening there was a stock of the local brew, and a fresh shipment from Helen's Bay.

"I'll try one of those fancy drinks," she said, pointing at the cask. "Jollo offered to buy me one."

Deklow, being an experienced barman, didn't say anything, but he gave Jollo a pitiful look as he began to pour the drink. She supposed she would at least need to talk to Jollo while she drank it. That much she could afford him.

But before long she was wandering around the tavern searching for better company. A man soon stopped her, offering to buy her a drink. She didn't recognise him. Could be a trader, she guessed. It didn't matter to her, she was soon sitting down with a fresh cup of ale.

"You work in the pans, right?" he said.

"Only because I need to."

"I need to get out of this town," he said. "That's why I wanted to talk to you."

She had heard that before, many times. But she had almost a full cup.

"Me?"

"Yes. I have a plan. But I need someone on the inside. Someone, er... not entirely... dedicated."

That described her perfectly. Give or take.

"On the inside?"

"You understand the concept of supply and demand, right?"

"More or less. I supply the boot, you supply the pebbles, and you curl up on the floor crying for your mother while I demand you shut up. Get to the point, what do you want from me?"

The man laughed, cheerful, unthreatened. Brave, or slimy. She still didn't know his name.

"Water," he said. "More valuable than anything else around here. High demand, low supply, you see."

"That's not news, it's just the way it is."

"True. But what if we were to tinker with that, to our benefit. Reduce the supply, increase the demand."

"Go on."

"We work together, siphoning off extra water, stockpiling it in my warehouse. You work in the pans, so you can make sure that enough of the water comes our way, preferably without it costing us anything. Then, when we're ready, we poison all the workers, disrupting the supply. That would leave only us to meet the demand, at extortionate pricesof course. We could earn enough to get out of Rhytheport."

There were three flaws in his plan. One, she would need to poison herself too, otherwise they would all know it was her. Two, the entire town would see straight through their plan and hang them up for a week in sun.

"How do I know I can trust you?" she asked. "How do I know you wouldn't betray me and take all the money for yourself?"

And finally, three: the way she saw it, she didn't need him. She would definitely screw him out of his share.

"We both want the same thing," he said. "We're both stuck in this town, and we both want to get out of it. We can help each other here."

He had a point.

"How did you end up stuck here?"

"Storm blew us around the island, and my boat sank off the peninsula three days ago. Lost my crew, and I have no money and nothing to sell. I need to get back to Helen's Bay."

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