A shocked expression swiftly overcame Kez's features, with what one who knew him well might describe as practiced, effortless quality. Kez was nothing if not the consummate salesman. The quality of the wares he hawked, however, could much more easily be called into question.

Kez pulled deferentially at the curled, carefully waxed tip of his mustache. "I'm sorry, sir, but how exactly could I have caused your apparently painful wound? I am, as I'm sure you are aware, but a humble weapon outfitter. I am no swordsman, I promise you."

The armored figure redoubled its earlier scowl. "One of your salesmen sold me a faulty weapon."

Kez uttered a slight grunt, covering what might have easily been misconstrued as a chuckle. As funny as these situations often were, they could also often deviate into abrupt brawls. And they were beginning to occur far to often. He had no desire for a fight this fine morning, either.  He lifted a hand towards a sign posted above the shop counter, which read -- in no uncertain terms -- "Absolutely NO REFUNDS, Only exchanges for items of equal or greater value."

"My apologies, sir, but that may have been Rusty himself. He's not quite as knowledgeable about weaponry as he used to be. His mind is going, you know, the poor fellow."

Of course, there was no way this man could have known that there was no Rusty, only a vagrant he'd occasionally hire to man the counter some mornings when he wanted an extra few hours rest after a particularly drink-soaked evening. Rusty was nothing but a convenient figure he had concocted to easily take the blame for potential problems arising from this line of work. It also sounded considerably better than The Great Merefinge's Blade Emporium, his (distant) second choice of business name.

The injured man moved a step towards him -- with what Kez could only describe as a dancer's grace -- and leaned menacingly over the counter. He was obviously a mercenary of some sort, from his posture and equipment. The blackened leather armour looked well-maintained and recently oiled, and the lack of a visible household crest of any sort was also a telling sign.

"I want my coin back. I paid handsomely for what was promised to be an excellent rapier, but the bloody hilt fell to pieces in mid-fight."

Kez took a step back warily and put up his hands in mock dismay. From his efficiency of movement and conservative stance, he could tell that the man was likely an excellent fighter, but his salesman's training begged the question.

"Sir, with all due respect, may I note that only a poor tradesman blames his tools. Are you quite sure the weapon was at fault here, or could it be possible that you were simply bested by a superior swordsman?"

The man growled, the lines of his heavily suntanned face crinkling in displeasure. "I've been crossing swords for twenty-five years. I'll know well when I've been bested, because it hasn't happened yet."

Kez glanced down at the man's wound pointedly.

"My opponent did not fare quite so well. What's left of him hangs from my mount's saddle outside, if you'd care to inspect it."

A scoff. "Sir, the best I can do is replace the weapon. I'll need to see the original, if you please."

"The weapon is gone, the blade stayed in the man's bowels. The shattered hilt, I used to saw off his damned head, which my employer made very clear I needed to bring back. Didn't feel like carting that broken piece of shit back here with me, anyway."

Kez retreated a step, only now noticing the closing distance between his back and the weapon racks adorning the wall behind him. He glanced down at the rope beneath the counter before him, his thoughts straying to the bell it was attached to, and to the hired thug that dozed lightly in his back room. A quick tug is all that it would take.

"Then once again I'm very sorry, sir," he equivocated, "but there is really nothing I can do to be of assistance. We do require the original purchase in order to replace it. Rusty would be most displeased with me if I were to give away our wares without good reason."

A gloved fist landed heavily upon the counter, rattling the sword cases to either side. Kez stood his ground as the man spat, "I want my coin returned to me, or if need be I shall have to take it by force."

In this tense moment, Kez, wiley salesman that he was, sensed both danger and opportunity. Two options came to mind, both bearing equal potential for danger. One might save his bacon, but the other might be a chance at immense profit.

It was time to come to a decision.

The End

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