Tristane looked smarmily around the room before strolling up to the bar and ordering a drink. The other merchants had a few disgruntled looks for the young man. The barkeep didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass, happily pouring the man’s drink and accepting the sizable tip he provided. Drink in hand, the Breton merchant chatted amiably with a couple of nearby patrons who didn’t seem to share the other merchants’ distaste for him.
Martine’s eyes widened and she gasped sharply, as if she’d been punched in the stomach. Adrielle looked over at the Breton, confused. She leaned over and put a hand on Martine’s arm. “I am thinking you recognize our quarry?”
The Nord’s reassurance snapped Martine back to her senses. She looked at Adrielle and nodded until she remembered how talking works, then blurted, “He’s the reason I left High Rock. He’s a guild thief there.” She looked back at the man she knew as Theo. “Or he was.”
Adrielle felt the muscles of the Breton’s arm tensing. She put her hand reassuringly on Martine’s and gave her a smile. “It will be okay.”
“You think so?”
Kang quirked an eyebrow at Martine’s reaction. “So, he’s an ex. Great.”
“What? No!” she insisted with more disgust than was necessary. “He, um…” She was determinedly avoiding eye contact now. “He did make things complicated with my ex, though.”
“So he messed with your ex, and you ended up here. And now he’s here. Do you think he came here for you? Maybe you should tell us more.”
Adrielle frowned a little at Kang. “We have your back, and I’m pretty sure that he will not want to anger us.”
Martine smiled and relaxed, a little. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. He isn’t here for me. He can’t be. Why would he be, you know, a merchant here?”
Kang shrugged and suggested, “As a front for criminal enterprises, such as fixing gladiator fights. I think I like this guy.”
“There’s no accounting for taste. But, in the end, he hurt you more’n he hurt me, Kang. So if you want to take point here, I’ll back your play.”
“Oh!” said Adrielle. “Maybe this would be a good time to discuss plans for when we get his confession? Because now this affects both of you.”
“I think both of you are starting to think the worst of me. I wonder why?’ Kang said with a toothy grin. “But in this case, you’d both be wrong. I respect people with the influence cleverness to seize power in the world. It’s the way of things. My plan was to call him on his part in framing me, and then make him cut me in on his profits.”
Martine’s smile broadened. “Oh, don’t worry. He won’t go for that at all.”
“Well, then I could rip his arms off.”
Adrielle frowned. “I don’t think I like this plan, after all. But he sounds like a terrible man, and I, for one, am much more resolute on taking him down a peg or two.” She squeezed Martine’s hand once more. “Shall we approach him together?”
Martine nodded. “I mean, he’s got a new name; maybe he’s got a new bag. I guess we’ll just have to see.” She stood and headed toward the bar, still holding onto Adrielle’s hand until she had to let go to let a serving wench pass between them. The Nord marched alongside trying to appear imposing.
In typical Kang style, the Orismer bellowed from across the room. As he moved towards Tristane “Tristie! Is that you! How the hell are you? People, I give you the man that made me what I am today. Let me buy you a round.” He took a seat next to Tristane, clasping a giant hand on his shoulder in ‘friendship’.
To his credit, the Breton took this development in stride, casually turning his head toward the giant Orsimer. He smiled disarmingly, “My old friend. It has been awhile.” Tristane tapped the bar with two fingers, and the barkeep brought a pair of ales.
“It’s a fine evening for reunions,” Martine said, appearing on the merchant’s other side. “And, it could be said, Kang made you who you are today, ‘Tristane.’”
Tristane turned his attention toward Martine, squinting a little in hazy recognition. “I do know you from somewhere, don’t I?” A moment later, he snapped his fingers. “Little Martine! As I live and breathe. My, this is turning into an interesting evening.”
“And it’s just getting started, friend,” said Kang.
Adrielle came up behind Tristane, boxing him in between the other two. “Hello, new friend!”
Tristane glanced over his shoulder and chortled. “We should get a table, it seems.”
“Fine with me,” said Kang. “But let’s get a private room. The tables in the main room of places like this are always too small.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” He gestured to the barkeep, who directed the party toward a curtained area. Martine headed in that direction, glad she got some kind of reaction from the man. In short order, they found themselves seated in a private booth with Tristane. Food and more drinks were brought, and they began to dine.
Tristane started the conversation. “Well, Martine I know. Knew,” he amended. “But I’m afraid I’ll need to be properly introduced to Old Friends and New.” He gestured to Kang and Adrielle in turn. “I’ve heard a couple of tales about you today, but….”
“Kang, former champion of the Arena. This is Adrielle. Sweet girl. But don’t piss her off. She packs a punch.”
Tristane smiled. “Noted.”
Adrielle washed down a large gulp of mead “Hello. I am also a priestess of Dibella. A pleasure I’m sure.”
“Indeed, a pleasure to make your acquaintances. I am, as you know, Tristane. Though Martine knew me as ‘Theo’ back in High Rock.” Martine nodded and sipped her wine, as the merchant turned his attention to Kang. “I have it from two reliable sources that you are not a force to be trifled with. So, tell me. Why have you been seeking me out?”
“Well, to congratulate you on your dealings this past year. My own reliable sources have told me all about the real circumstances around my arrest. And I’ve seen the evidence of your hand in the pocket of the arena as well. Takes big stones to play at that level.”
Tristane pursed his lips. “I understand half of that.” He looked over at Martine. “I assume you absconded with my ledger and some petty cash earlier?” Adrielle’s eyebrows shot upward.
“Not as riveting a read as I’d hoped,” admitted Martine. “Half the cash you got back already. Would you like the rest?”
He seemed to think about it for a moment then shook his head. “Buy dinner and we’ll call it square.” Turning back to Kang, he didn’t see her look of disappointment. “As for your arrest, I assume from context that you’ve been led to believe that I am responsible. It is not so. Would I orchestrate a frame job? Sure. But murder is bad for business.
“In truth, I approached Owydon before your incarceration to see if you would be open to the prospect of a little side cash. He seemed offended by the notion.”
Kang shrugged. “I respect your resourcefulness, Theo, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to trust you. Convince me.”
Tristane smiled, bemused. “Well, I suppose I could leverage my resources to discover who really had you put away for a murder you didn’t commit. Would that satisfy you?”
“Depends on what you find out. But I’m on a timetable. Twenty-four hours.”
Tristane stroked his chin. “That is not much time, and the case is cold.”
“Maybe he could have something for us when we get back.” Martine offered. The merchant watched the Orsimer, awaiting his reaction to the suggestion.
“No deal. Someone is due for a reckoning, and now that I am out I don’t intend to let that wait for however long it takes us. I’m willing to consider that it’s not you that pulled my strings … until tomorrow evening.”
Tristane sighed, nodding. “Firm but fair. Were I in your position, I doubt I would accept any less. Tell me, who was it that put my name in your ear?”
“I’ll share that with you once I’m convinced you’ve been set in my sights. Because if you were, then someone is still pulling my strings, and we’ll all deal with it together.”
“You drive a hard bargain. Out of curiosity, would you have been open to a little side action? It feels as though I missed out on a great opportunity not having the chance to meet you face to face those months ago.”
“He’s a good boss,” Martine told Kang. “Or so the people who worked for him always said.” Tristane nodded to her in gratitude for the recommendation.
“Would I have done anything to affect the outcome of any of my fights? No. I’ve been killing in arenas too long to disrespect it. But I had influence, and I wouldn’t have had any problem using that to our mutual gain in other ways.”
Tristane tsked. “Pity. Owydon’s honor precluded what is clear to me would have been a profitable venture.”
“Owydon has always looked out for me. I owe him. But he’s a fucking goodie-goodie sometimes.” Martine couldn’t keep her eyes from flicking to Adrielle.
Tristane chuckled politely. “So, it would seem. Well, with that resolved until tomorrow evening, may we talk business?” he asks Adrielle.
“Sure!” she said, a little surprised. “That sounds good.”
The merchant nodded. “The bloody High Elves have really made things annoying. I guess I should really pay more attention to world politics. Can you truly take all of my stock for a better markup as you claimed?”
“I am confident after speaking with the priests at the temple of the Nine, that we can make good use of the cloth utilized for elven fashion in order to clothe those most afflicted and displaced by the actions of the Altmer themselves.”
Tristane smiled, pleased. “Well, then. I will have my man prepare for your offer.”
“Please do, I will be glad to negotiate this transaction for the good of the impoverished and for future good faith. Dibella teaches us kindness, faithfulness and love. It only makes sense to use such goods to aid those suffering a lack of these things.” She smiled warmly. “Praise Dibella.”
Tristane lifted his glass. “Praise Dibella,” he said before draining the cup.
Adrielle poured another tankard full from the mead provided and raised her fresh tankard before draining it. “Praise Dibella indeed!” she exclaimed as she finished it.
Tristane smiled and shook his head in amusement. “Nords.”
Martine looked on in awe. “I still don’t know how you do that?”
Adrielle smiled. “Growing up strong in Whiterun means learning to hold your mead.”
“Have we any other business to discuss?” the merchant asked pleasantly.
“I believe Adrielle and I have said our peace,” said Kang. “The two of us could head into the main room to find other amusements if you and Theo would like to discuss business yourselves, Martine.” Tristane smirked at Kang’s continued use of “Theo,” but he didn’t correct him. Adrielle offered her a reassuring smile.
“I think we’ll catch up later,” said Martine, trying not to squirm.
“For the best, really,” said Tristane. “With Kang’s deadline, I’ve little enough time for pleasantries. May I have the ledger back, or…?”
“Oh yes! I almost forgot.” Martine retrieved it from the pack and, not finding any space for it on the table, just put it in his hands.
“Appreciated. Well, I’d best get to work. It has been … an experience.”
“To say the least. Be seeing you,” said Martine.
Tristane smiled and got to his feet. With a wink told her, “Thanks for dinner.” He paused for a beat then added, ”Shadow hide you.” With that, he turned and left.
“Thank you for the opportunity,” Adrielle called after him.
“Well,” said Kang in the silence that followed Tristane’s departure. “Tomorrow night he’ll either come with evidence, or with an army. Either way it will be a wild time.”
“Both, if he’s still the man I remember,” said Martine.
“I hope we can avoid too much bloodshed,” said Adrielle.
“You should really try bloodshed more often,” said Kang. “You’re a born survivor. Make it work for you.”
“Oh, I don’t know…” said Martine.
“Survival does not necessitate killing,” said Adrielle. “But should I have to survive, I will.” She winked at him.
“You’ll come around. I rub off on people.” Kang laughed and grabbed his drink.
“Who knows, maybe I’ll rub off on the both of you.” Adrielle smiled at both of her companions.
Martine laughed, rather too loudly, then muttered, “I do need money again.”