Chapter 31 – House of Greed (1)

It was finally time. After spending the day with Mosel, Hamelin was glad for the coming of night. His older brother had attempted to map out what kind of skills Hamelin might excel at, by giving him different tasks to complete.

The actual work had not been difficult, but having to bungle them convincingly was exhausting. Though he appreciated the helpful gesture, he hoped that Mosel would find something else to occupy him with in the future.

Thinking this, he stopped himself when he was halfway through the open window. I appreciate it? When had he fallen so low as to appreciate the help of a human?

Sneering, he resumed his exit, jumping onto the ground and skipping across it with smooth movements. A tug from inside his tunic made him turn his attention on Wither, who hid there. Through their mental link, the rat expressed concern about Hamelin’s confusing mental state.

I must be growing soft, Hamelin thought to himself, and focused on controlling himself. Getting close to these humans had not been a part of his plans, and it frustrated him that he could not shake the emotional bonds that linked them.

Skipping across the ground, he arrived at Tremon only an hour after nightfall, leaving him with plenty of time to complete his objectives. Entering the apothecary, he found the old man and Asten waiting for him.

“Master, we are ready,” said the old man, head bowed.

“And Asten? Are you ready?” Hamelin said, putting on a silvery grin for effect.

“I-I am, M-Master,” the boy stammered. Over the past week, he had become somewhat of a local celebrity, ever since Hamelin had provided the apothecary with the recipe for the purifier. He had spent his days in negotiations with the mayor, as well as the local tradesmen, in order to bring the product to a wider market.

“You should be used to this kind of thing by now,” Hamelin said, sighing at the sight of the young man’s nervousness, “If you don’t think you can do it, then say so now.”

“I can do it, master Halifax, please trust me!” Asten’s eyes suddenly turned fiery, and his jaw clenched tight. Hamelin raised an eyebrow, acknowledging the young man’s determination with a nod.

“Good. Do you have all the funds ready?”

“We do, Master, but, may I ask… Do you really want to risk so much coin on this plan? It seems…”

“Irresponsible? Is that the word you’re looking for, Old Man?” Hamelin grinned, seeing the apothecary whiten in the face.

“No, never! It’s just a lot of coin, I mean. It could do a lot of good if we spent it on something more… solid.”

“The risk is equal to the reward,” Hamelin said, dismissing the objection, “If there is nothing else, I believe we must be going. We haven’t got all night.”

“As you wish, Master,” the old man said, bowing his head. They walked together out on the street, where the apothecary handed Asten a heavy bag. “Keep it safe, Son. No matter what.”

Asten nodded, nervously, and received the bag with a slight grunt.

“We will be going separately; I trust you know the way?” The young man nodded in response.

“Good, then I’ll see you there. If all goes well tonight, I promise you wealth beyond your wildest dreams.”

With those words, Hamelin disappeared into the shadows, leaving Asten alone in the dark street with an ungodly amount of coin held within the bag in his hands.

“Good luck, Son,” the old man said, patting him on the shoulder.

“I think I’m going to need it,” Asten said, then hefted the bag and began his long walk to the riverside.

——

Asten was not sure what to think of their new master and his strange plans. Having been wined and dined over the past week was an exciting experience, but knowing he was taking the credit for another’s work felt wrong.

Nonetheless, master Halifax had insisted, and he was not about to question his orders. He just wished he understood the entirety of the plan that had been laid out. To Asten, it seemed there were several holes that had not been fully fleshed out as of yet, or which he was simply not privy to.

He walked through the streets of Tremon with as much purpose as his feet could carry him with, trying to hold onto the the bag slung across his shoulder with a tight grip, without alerting any passers by to the rich content within.

It was a rather cold evening, as autumn was beginning to assert itself with more force. Asten quickened his steps, trying to get to his destination faster, fulfill his task as soon as possible, and hopefully get back home in time to catch some sleep.

Thinking about what master Halifax might do to him if he screwed up this job, though, was enough for him to keep his pace steady. If he made a mistake because of haste, he had no doubt that he would not live to see the morning light.

When he finally reached the river, Asten was cold, and tired, his hand hurt from the tight grip with which he held his bag, and his legs had begun to shake. The house he was approaching was not a place he had thought to visit any time soon, and not at all with so much coin at his disposal.

At the door, he was challenged by a rather wide man with a heavy beard and a set of dark eyes. “What are you doing here, kid?”

“I’m here to p-play,” Asten said, grabbing the bag tighter, despite his hurting hand.

“There’s no room for kids here,” the man said, waving him away, “Get lost.”

With a slow movement, Asten reached into the bag and retrieved one of the three bars of pure gold that his old man had acquired on behalf of master Halifax. “What a-about this? Is there room for this?”

The man raised an eyebrow and studied Asten closer. “Now… why would you go and show me that, lad? I could just take that from you.”

“You won’t,” Asten said, with more conviction in his voice than he felt.

“No? Why not?”

“Because the Basons would skin you alive for taking coin away from their guests.”

For a while, the man said nothing. In the end, he shrugged and stepped aside, knocking three times on the door behind him. “I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into, lad,” he said, as the door swung open into a dimly-lit parlor.

“As do I,” Asten admitted, taking his first, tentative step into the darkness.