Palette had arrived in the Hamlet a mere three hours ago before the Heiress had spoken to her. Led into a simple, chilled room, the Heiress smiles in delight.
"An Arbalest," she says.
"Sign this," she says abruptly, pushing forth a quill and well of ink.
Palette had expected more, questions, doubts, not this... easy acceptance. It rubs her the wrong way and although her face has become hard, her youth gives her honest thoughts away.
"What am I signin', exactly?"
"My contract. We will be bonded, according to this parchment. You will adventure into my late ancestor's estate. Bring back gold and antiques, lost deeds to rebuild this hamlet. For the time you are gone, I will pay you upon your return. You are free to use any and all services in the hamlet. If you steal from me, or endanger this Hamlet, I will terminate our contract immediately."
Palette meets her expect look and pushes the paper away.
"You aren't gonna mention the body farm out back?"
A warmth leaves the Heiress' face.
"You are not naive like a child, surely you had heard the rumors of this estate. The Unholy. The Beast. The Eldritch. I guarantee treasures and coin. Not your life."
"And I go out when you say? How many you worked to the death?"
A hollow sigh comes from the robed woman. Long red nails tap out an erratic rhythm on her desk. Palette can't tell if this is a conversation she's rehearsed, or if she's not used to being questioned. At the stillness of her face, she guesses she's agitated, and nothing more.
"What did you come here for?"
Palette takes to silence like a righteous oath.
"You have nothing, I know. Everyone does. So. Fame. Blood lust. Coin. A pit to hide away from the war and outside world." She snorts. "I haven't a hell to give which one it is. Here's how it works, Arbalest."
"Hoh, Palette. I send you out. If you show enough resolve, I sponsor all of your purchases at the Blacksmith. The Guild. I gift accessories that benefit your class."
"It's called investing, sweetheart. Investing in your prolonged life. And the life of this Hamlet."
"I get it." Palette looks down at her gloved hands sitting on her knees. "And you want to invest in me?"
"You're the first Arbalest to come forward. I'd lost hope, to tell the truth. It's not an easy journey for a gal like you. Used to the back ranks, need a good group to service, while sniping the shadows they can't reach. Always wanted a marking party. Finally able to smoke that Siren out of her cave in the Cove."
A chill runs up Palette's spine. She still feels queasy from sitting in that coach, strangers all around her, nothing like her companions who refused to get into the coach with her.
Mariam had shook her head, too afraid, too fragile and devoted to the lord to leave their settlement. Justine was too betrayed, unable to understand, cursing Palette for her wanderlust. Gerald had wished her well, petting his old hound quietly, nance's nose won't forget ya, don't you worry, lettie.
Gerald had known the truth of her, the old smoke that never left her sinuses, the fear of not moving, not knowing who needed someone when there was no one.
She pulls the contract to her, signs in a mess of loops that have become distinct to her but hold no real letters. Before the Heiress can take the sheet back, Palette halts her, takes a moment to prick her thumb and press the blood onto her name.
"Can't write," Palette says companionably. "My signature."
The Heiress takes great care in not touching the dried blood.
"Very good, Palette. Very good."