Chapter Twenty-eight

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Rinnet found an indoor shop. It wasn't busy. Even so, she waited for the last customers to dribble out, biting her tongue as they lingered to chat with the shopkeeper. The last — a lesser noble by the looks of it, though most everyone at the capital looked wealthy to Rinnet — tried to sweet-talk the shopkeeper. He asked just what was in the elixirs he was buying made them so potent. And expensive. When the shopkeeper said nothing, the noble gave him a gracious smile. "If you can't say," he said, "perhaps a lower price is in order?"

It didn't work. The shopkeeper's mouth twitched under his mustache, and he put both thick arms up on the counter, leaned across. "Get out," he grumbled, "before I getcha out myself."

The customer went pink in the face but said nothing. He scrambled to scoop his array of jars off the counter and bustled past Rinnet. "These phony chemists," he muttered to her as he marched past. "Save your money—" he gave her a quick once-over, "—if you've got any to begin with."

Rinnet bristled, but he was right. She had little money, most of it Tevarian coin. Yurovin had given her some Coretian money to use in Hatawa, but she'd spent most of it during her one stop on the way here.

She thought about leaving. She didn't need anything here, anyway. It was just a thought. A precaution. She headed toward the door.

"You best not be leavin'," the shopkeeper said from the counter. "I seen you lurkin' around the past half hour or so. That noble say somethin' to ya?"

Rinnet mimicked the noble's gracious smile. "Nothing much."

The shopkeeper, in turn, mimicked the noble's once-over. "He was right about one thing. You got no business being here, and I'll have no business with you." He gave a dismissive wave. "Get on."

"Actually." The smile froze, and Rinnet turned back from the door. "I do have business here."

"That so?"

"I have orders from a noble." Rinnet browsed the nearest shelf, squinting at the labels. She didn't recognize most of the words. "You must like all the nobles around here. Good for business."

"Oh, sure." The shopkeeper laughed, a sound as sour as rotten milk. He spit into a bucket on the floor, shifted something around in his mouth. Rolled his shoulders so they both popped. "Those nobles ain't nothin' but fools and cheapskates. Half 'em ain't got a single coin to their names."

"You're not fond?"

"Of a bunch of fops who somehow lost all their free money? They're just names now, names and fancy parties and arrogance." He spit again. "No, I ain't fond, and by the looks of it, you shouldn't be, either."

"Oh, I'm not." Rinnet weaved her way to the counter. It was tall, but she managed to prop one arm up and lean against it. She tilted her head up, looked straight into the shopkeeper's glower. "Maybe you can help me. This errand of mine is ... special. The noble who sent me doesn't know what he's getting himself into."

The shopkeeper maintained his silent, level glare.

But he didn't throw her out. That seemed enough encouragement to keep talking. "He needs another noble killed, but doesn't want his name attached to it. That's where I come in."

If she'd thought it possible, Rinnet would have sworn the shopkeeper smiled. His mustache at least appeared to twitch. "Oh?" he said. "And who's the victim?"

"Can't say," she replied. "Sworn to secrecy."

"Not even a hint? A name's worth a lot to someone like me."

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