Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 5:51 PM

“I heard a rumor,” said Kelvic, and then took a long pull of his beer.

Chas, huge hands busy with sorting bottles and mugs, glanced at Kelvic for a moment and then at Shar and Gimble, sitting off to one side. The long stretch of bar counter was dominated at the far end by a raucous crowd of well-wishers, pickpockets, unemployed bards and a trio who had emerged from the Tower of Folly with some actual treasure for a change.

“Go on then,” said Chas.

“I heard,” said Kelvic, his thin face furtive as he paused for dramatic effect. “I heard that Lady Angharad and her people... went into HELL.”

This completely failed to impress his three listeners. Chas didn't even change expression. Shar looked skeptically at Kelvic, and downed another swallow of his liquor. Gimble looked as if he were trying to understand what Kelvic just said.

“Hell,” said Gimble slowly. “Hell like... Tower of Folly hell? Hellbore hell?”

“No, you damned stonebrains, I mean HELL. Pit of. Godprison. The Great Hall of Perdition. Dominion of the Iron Crown.”

“What in the world would they go there for?” drawled Shar, pouring himself another glass. “At least you can come back from the Tower with something. Sounds like mule crap to me.”

“Fine, call it mule crap. But I'll tell you what I think.”

“I don't want to hear it, but you're going to tell me anyway.”

Kelvic gave them all a smug look. “I think they are going there to find Martel's soul, and kill him for good.”

Despite the astonishingly unlikely nature of the scenario, Kelvic's listeners had to admit this sounded very impressive.

“Where'd you hear this?” asked Chas, folding his arms and leaning back against the shelves.

“Word's just floating around, I tell you. Ashan, the City-Maker, he knows how to open a door to Hell. Aren't his people friends to the underworld? It's true.”

Gimble, thinking very hard indeed, sipped at his wine and started to speak. At this point, one of the unemployed bards lost a lot of clothing to the applause of the large party, and Gimble was distracted into silence. Shar, on the other hand, snorted.

“I've been to the Hellbore, out with the Gold-and-Stone Company, and I've even been to Meerashandalai's island. Hell's worse than that? Yeah, I'll say Angharad knows her business; she took Martel, didn't she. And Hope. And she's run the Tower. But Hell? Nah, she would have run Meerashandalai's first. That's as close to Hell as I ever want to get.”

“True words,” rumbled Chas.

“Lady Angharad's still redeeming the honor of her family,” said Gimble, half-distracted now. “Everybody knows that. And didn't you see the play? The priest WOULD follow her into Hell. And her friends, too. They're loyal to her.”

“See? Even Gimble 'All Rationality' Mariikson agrees,” said Kelvic. “I'll say it again, Lady Angharad's company will outstrip even the Avabrondan, or the Throttled Cat!”

“You never said any such thing before,” muttered Shar.

Slapping the counter, Kelvic half stood. “I'm tired of your mouth, Shar! You just don't want to admit her group's better than yours!”

“That'll do,” interrupted Chas, and leaned forward. “I'll make you a wager, Kelvic, and this is it... I'll wager you room and board here, all the beer you can drink, for a month if she's actually gone into Hell and come back again. And if she hasn't, well, you'll be my scullery maid for a month instead with no pay.”

Shar started laughing, but Kelvic stood up and offered his hand. “Done!”

Taking the offered hand, Chas shook it briskly. “Oh, and Kelvic... she has to come back from Hell too for you to win the bet.” He grinned mirthlessly. “Anybody can get in, after all.”


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