In the eastern part of Dunlunn, where the slums meet the stinking river, there’s a pub; The Toll. The Toll is a shitty place, but it belongs to the people of the river’s end and while they haven’t got two pennies to rub together they’re proud of the one penny they do have. The beer is piss, but it’s safer than the water and, more importantly, it’s a place where the gangs and the mobs, the brawlers the dealers, the pimps and whores can meet without slitting each other’s throats.
There’s three likely lads at the coveted corner table, slurping the pissy beer because they don’t know any better and shooting the shit as boys are wont to do.
Dinn’s a geezer, born into the river’s end and the descendent of thieves, liars, cheats, killers and bastards as far back as anyone cares to check. He’s ambitious. He’s dangerous. He’s gotten about as far as someone of his age and prospects can go and he wants more.
Jape’s a spiv, greasier than a frying pan, slick as oil. Nothing sticks to him. He deals drugs, he scams, he cheats. He’d pimp his own sister for a thrupenny bit and two pence of that would go to him. In fact, it has.
Bel is what might charitably be called a fucking disaster and less charitably called a ‘silly bollocks’. His dad made a bad bet with the wrong people and had to move down to river’s end after he paid his debts and lost his job. Bel tries to fit in, but he can’t hide the schooling he’s had or his soft nature, no matter how hard he tries. If it wasn’t for Dinn and Jape, he’d be dead ten times over.
“I need more,” that’s what Dinn’s saying, swirling his beer more than he’s drinking it. “Prospects is what I’m talking about. I want to move up in the world.”
“We’ve got prospects!” Jape’s trying to reassure him, he’s got his life all mapped out. “Couple of years and you’ll be a big man. Those streets’ll be your manor. You know it and I know it. As for me? I’m going to get myself a nice little brothel and live out the rest of my life surrounded by fine women and other people’s money.”
“You guys wouldn’t get anywhere north of the river,” this is probably the only thing that Bel has any seniority on. The only thing he can talk about that the others don’t know better than he does.
Jape’s not convinced. “I can act sophistimacated. Rich people have got to fuck and snort as much as anyone else, right?”
“Yeah, but you think anyone who lives near The White Tower is going to pay out for your sister’s minge when they can rent a succubus from the Collegiate?”
“My sister’s minge,” sniffs Jape, straightening his back, “is choice mate. Choice. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”
“Shut up you two. I’m fucking serious.”
“So am I.” Says Jape. “We’ve got it as good as we can hope to get it here. Why risk it?”
“There’s got to be more. Someone’s got to get out of this shithole from time to time. What about Drek Stonekiller?”
“You’re not serious, you’re mad,” Bel’s got an opinion about everything. “Drek got lucky, that’s all. You know how many people never come back from the wilderlands?”
“Ah, but those who do come back,” Dinn’s nothing if not persistent, “are rich as hell.”
“Rich alone won’t do it,” Bel knows, he’s been there. “Money can’t make your blood blue or make up for where you come from. They’re stuck up cunts up there. Only way to win ’em over is to be a hero.”
“A hero?” Dinn’s eyes have a faraway look as he tastes the word. It’s not one you hear often in river’s end.
“A hero,” Jape echoes. “Bitches love heroes.”