“It wasn’t him,” Cooper said matter-of-factly, methodically picking up the debris and rubble surrounding him—still wholly drenched but seemingly unbothered by this fact.
“What do you mean, “It wasn’t him”?” Grendel asked dubiously. All three remained motionless, caught in a freeze-frame of mid-action, each still brandishing their weapons (or, in Connla’s case, her hands—which would still very much count as a weapon).
“Exactly that,” Cooper replied, balancing piles of broken planks in his arms. “It wasn’t him,” he furrowed his eyebrows and tossed aside one of the larger planks that wouldn’t fit.
“I was out on the pier when it happened,” he continued, “And I saw that dwelf while I was out there. He was standing at the edge of the pier, trousers at his ankles, pissing into the river. And there was someone else, too. A man—or maybe a woman, I couldn’t tell, it was dark,” he made a neat little pile of debris in one corner and sauntered off to begin collecting more.
“But this man—or maybe woman—was skulking behind the kegs. I didn’t notice until it was too late, but this one,” and he pointed a plank at Nugget, “when that wick began hissing, he leaped for it—sparing no second thought for his trousers still at his ankles.” Cooper made a second neat little pile of debris next to the first one and shrugged.
“If it wasn’t for him, I doubt any of us would be standing here,” he said. He then locked eyes with Carver, “So, as far as I’m aware, it wasn’t him,” he finished. Carver’s eyes widened in response as the realisation dawned on him.
Grendel lowered his readied plank slightly. His face burrowed into a roll of wrinkles as he greased up the gears and turned over in his mind what Cooper had just told him. Grendel was cut from an old cloth; and like many from that cloth, changing their mind wasn’t something that came easily to them. They were used to a set of rigid rules: earn coin, buy product, sell product, repeat; and any deviation outside of that was akin to giving paddles to a wagon and telling it to swim. First, you need to figure out how to communicate to a wagon—a seemingly impossible task, yet that was exactly what Cooper was attempting to do now.
After an agonisingly long few moments of grinding gears, Grendel finally came to a conclusion: He doesn’t know. Which would be an improvement over, I will kill them, one would think—but for Grendel, when the answer is unclear, the easiest thing to do is to revert to your original mindset when the answer was clear.
He looked to Connla and, with a wave of his hand, ruefully said, “Just get rid of them.”
And, with that, the paused pantomime continued. Maeve lunged for Grendel, Grendel swiftly stepped back to dodge, and Connla charged Maeve, and Nugget sipped his ale.
“WAIT!” This time it was Carver who paused the pantomime. “I hereby invoke section-three of the Articles of Agreement between Guild-Sanctioned Innkeepers and Adventuring Miners!”
“What?” Grendel spat back. He was currently holding Maeve by the wrists trying to keep her at bay, while Connla held her by the ankles, pulling her back from Grendel, and Maeve hung between the two like a stabby-meat-bridge, trying with all her strength to shove the glass shard clutched within her hand deep into Grendel’s neck.
“The Articles of Agreement between Guild-Sanction Inn—” Carver repeated.
“Yes—yes, I heard what you said!” Grendel interrupted. “But what of it?!”
“Do you know what it states?” Carver pressed.
“JUST LET ME STAB THE CUNT!” Maeve shouted, catching the very tip of her glass shard on Grendel’s throat, nicking it before being yanked back by Connla.
“SHUT UP, MAEVE!” Carver yelled back. “Do you know what it states?” He asked Grendel.
“FUCK!” Grendel yelped as a bead of blood trickled from his neck. “Aye, I do!” he continued, straining against Maeve, “If any party, single or grouped, shall cause grievous harm to either the premise or person under governing of the Guild in any regard, and the parties will not come to a reconciliation—stop growling at me, you freak—the offending party shall either be given death or suffer what punishment the Innkeeper or Guild shall see fit.” He paused to take a deep breath.
“And might I add,” he continued, “That is EXACTLY what I’m trying to do here!” With one mighty swing, Grendel tossed Maeve up into the air, sending tumbling across the tavern floor. But, as quickly as she was tossed, the ever-spry Maeve leaped up onto her feet, dodged the incoming Connla trying to bear hug her, and lunged for Grendel—but once again found herself dangling in her previous precarious position.
“Yes,” Carver added urgently, “But then it goes on to say: When a level of culpability of absolute certainty cannot be determined, absolution of the accused party may be provided by ways of remuneration to the offended party.”
“WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!” Maeve shouted.
“IT MEANS,” Carver replied, “THAT WE CAN BUY OUR INNOCENCE!”