Kissla wins a negotiation?
|A slight, black haired, pretty man in graying out black leather faded in from the shadow behind the tavern."You know, Kissla, I could teach you to be a winner, and I will, in one night." |
Sixteen-year-old Kissla stifled a laugh. Her father and grandfather knew more about victory than a hundred of this man. She herself courted a man who might one day be king. "Oh, I am truly impressed." Kissla's brown leather matched the stranger's in design, though every inch of hers came straight from the tanner and she waved it about like a flag. Kissla didn't fade anywhere--not by choice. She kept walking.
"I'll even pay you to take that class."
That stopped her in her tracks. She turned to look at the stranger over her shoulder.
"Then, when you see what's wrong, come back with a hundred gold."
Kissla rolled her eyes but turned to look straight at the stranger. "For the real lesson?"
The stranger smiled. "Should I tell you? You might puzzle it out for yourself."
"Then it's not worth 100 gold."
"If you get it, it's worth a lot more." He kicked at a mouse scurrying out of the alleyway, a clean creature, well-fed and treated. "But it's not gonna sound like it's worth the empty purse."
Kissla held him back from the mouse: not every thief deserved to be squashed. His terrible, easy pitch could have come from a child. "You're a loser."
The stranger nodded, and bowed. "A very, very good one. It's my most treacherous skill."
"I warn you, I come from a long line of vicious winners." Her father would never miss a few coin. Kissla pulled out a purse and slapped it into his hand. "If I don't like what you're teaching me, I'll get my money back. Preferably without permission."
He weighed the bag in his hand, letting it shift over his fingers. "Can't be more than twenty here."
Kissla blocked the sun from her eyes. "If you don't want it…"
The man pouted and slouched his shoulders. "Like that, is it?" With a shrug he he slipped the bag, uncounted, into a secret pocket.
"What's the lesson?"
"First bit, you won that negotiation, by eighty. Feeling good about that?"
She nodded. "You let me win?"
"Why would I do that? I want that money."
"You're never going to get the hundred for easy promises. A handful of copper, maybe."
"Quod Erat Demonstratum," the young man said.
"You set people up to feel like they're winning when they give you what you want." Kissla shrugged. "Clever, but is it really that valuable an insight?"
"Well, it's only useful against opponents who want to win." He matched her shrug, and offered her the bag of coin. "That may be an everyday experience. I don't know; consider this an offering."
Either way he gets something good. "Wily." Kissla shook her finger at him.
The pretty boy's smiling eyes shone as he waited.
"If I take it back, I owe you--I don't, I've bought in."
"They were right about you," the stranger flattered, still holding up the purse. "So what's it going to be?"
"When Father is away, I may need your counsel." She pushed his hand down. "Consider it a very small retainer."
"Compared to the value you will be providing." Kissla traced her fingernail over his jugular. "In the business, the great rewards always pale against the cost of failure."
The man held still, befitting her rank as guildmaster's daughter, until she withdrew her finger from the vulnerable place on his neck. He made a show of slowly swallowing, then put the coin away. "Thank the shadows."
She turned from the alley and gestured for him to join her on a wooden bench. "What's your name?"
Already Kissla's stranger had faded into the shadows, what little the Duke and his family allowed.