5j (Argentum’s Song – PG)

Both of the youth started talking at same time.

“Please Ladin, you can’t separate me from my parents.”

“Don’t do this. Father will pay a bonus if you don’t, you know he will.”

Ignoring Martha’s pleas, Ladin nodded at Franklin.

“He’s probably right you know … it would be bad business to sell his contract here.”

“A full weight bonus? We’ll pay nine weight for him. If this boy can rescue one shipment from ambush to weirs he’ll make it up. And boy quit yammerin’. Unlike the gal, you ain’t going to be any use without motivation. We’ll give a weight bonus for every weir that you take down. Nine weirs and you’re free without your pappy having to pay a thing and with a job waiting for you if you decide to stay on.”

Ladin smiled broadly and pulled two contracts out of the inner pocket of his jacket while Walter sent one of the serving girls to deliver a message. Martha considered making a break for it, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. There were too many witnesses here, she’d never be able to deny it. A proven escape attempt, successful or not, would only add to her family’s term of indenture. By the time the contracts had been adjusted a short, stocky man walked into the Inn with a sack over his shoulder.

“Walt this had better be good. I had to drop a big hand and I don’t like carryin’ over half a score of weight this far after sundown. Even if the thieves guild has lost as much power as the rumours say.”

“Earl, Shaddup. You’ll be happy enough ye did it come next meal time.”

Earl clearly wasn’t impressed by the two youth but he kept his peace and stood by the door after handing over his burden.

Martha cringed as Ladin patted her shoulder then made her face emotionless. She wasn’t going to shed a tear in front of her tormentor.

“Don’t worry Martha. With the price I was able to get for you, your parents’ debt has been knocked down enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if they worked themselves free in thirty years or less. And Walter’s a good law abiding man, he’ll register your whereabouts so they can find you after that.”

Walter put a loop of rope around Martha’s wrists and tugged her to her feet and out the door. Franklin was still ashen faced but allowed to walk without that humiliating treatment. Earl looked them over one last time and finally spoke.

“I sure hope ya know what yer doing Walter, they don’t seem worth thirteen weight to me.

“You’d rather we risked our kin up on those mountains? Or maybe yours?”

That seemed to silence Earl and Martha shuddered. It just wasn’t fair! Even when his schemes failed, Ladin not only managed to break even but to pull a weight’s worth of profit out of it as well.

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