Wagging Tongues Will - Part X
wilight was still upon them, and so the only shadows that were cast upon the ground were those made from lamplights. Standing in the small room within the Ellcaran Inn, he considered it enough. In another half-hour the sun would rise fully over the horizon, casting long shadows stretching to the Northwest. Glancing out the single window set in the firm wood, he watched as the first people of the city began to rise and go about their daily chores. Each rooftop was covered in fresh snow, though from many chimneys roiled smoke, curling upwards into the air. He watched as the thin trails invariably drew towards the Inn, pooling far in the sky above. The man could not help but wonder if any other noticed the phenomenon.
Turning back into the small room he had purchases for a few nights, he considered the mirror his companion had provided him. It was still clouded, misted over strangely. Blinking once, he stepped over towards the polished glass and waved his hand before it. The haziness cleared, but he only saw darkness. It had been too much to hope for of course. With another slight gesture, the churning grey clouds filled it once more.
Taking a moment to listen outside his door, he could hear little in the way of activity. He walked back to the bedside, the covers neatly arranged already. He pulled on the nondescript outfit he used for travelling purposes, slipped a short metal cylinder within a small pouch and hung that from his belt with thick cord. Into a second pouch he deposited several coins, and hung that too from his belt. He then slipped on the dirty riding boots he’d chosen, and stepped out from his room.
The hallway in the upper chambers of the Inn was well-swept, timbers cut from a pleasant oak and varnished. Aside from the periodic lamps casting their febrile light along the narrow corridor, there was no other decorations. Turning to the left, he came out on the landing over looking the main hall. Several other patrons had also risen early, travelling merchants by their appearance. A group of three of them had already gathered around one table in the corner and were playing a hand of cards. A few glasses of some rather innocent concoction were at their elbows. Curiously, he noted that the liquid in each was completely level.
Smirking slightly, the man took the stairs down to the main floor one at a time. One of the serving girls was sweeping around the main bar, her eyes smiling favourably toward him as he approached. “May I get you anything, master?”
The man nodded his head. “Yes. Just a drink of what those fine gentlemen are having.” He pointed over to the card players, even as he scanned the rest of the faces in the main room. Though one figure was shrouded in a tight cloak, he knew it was not the one he waited for. This figure was male after all.
The serving maid nodded and slipped off to the kitchens in the back. The man leaned against the bar, one leg resting upon the wooden stool set before it. He eyed the various patrons curiously. The three figures playing their card game did not seem to take much notice of him watching them. The fire crackling in the hearth was already roaring quite well, flames licking up into the chimney as if they were being pulled upwards by some unseen force. The front doors to the Inn were closed, although from the wet boot prints crossing the floor he could tell that somebody had already come in from the cold. The prints led to the hearth, probably one of the servants bringing in more wood.
“Here you are, master,” the girl chimed from behind him.
He turned around and could smell warm apple cider. Smiling slightly at the pleasing odour, he fished into his money pouch and deposited a small coin before her on the bar. “Thank you,” he said softly, before picking up the mazer in one hand and sipping softly upon the juice. It had been finely distilled, though he could easily taste the traces of alcohol left within.
One of the card-players laughed at some joke, drawing the man’s eye once more. Smiling ever so perceptibly to himself, he crossed the distance to their table and stood before an empty chair. “Care for another player?” he asked, voice low, but amicable.
The one who’d laughed, the larger of the three whose cheeks were flushed, and whose greasy brown hair topped a thick face, smiled right back at him. “Have you any money, stranger?” The man tapped his money pouch once, the jingle of coins clear to all. The three of them glanced at that bag, and then relaxed. “Then sit down. The game is six draw, and the deal is yours.”
Setting his mazer down upon the table, he slipped into the chair, and pulled out a few coins from his pouch and deposited them in the centre of the table. The large man grimaced as he saw that and patted the tabletop. “Keep your money where we can see it, master...” he trailed off, clearly looking for a name.
“Krabbe,” he lied quickly, lifting the pouch from his waist and tossing it before him on the table. “How many cards did you say again?” He picked up the deck, his fingers running across the tough paper. From the feel of the creases he could tell that the cards were fairly new, though they had seen some use. Glancing at the simple designs on each face he could see that they were fairly inexpensively made, for a stack of cards at least. And then, with a deft flick of his wrist, he began to pass around the cards, sliding them along the lacquered surface of the table with ease.
“Six,” the man reiterated, while his companions watched the cards come towards them quietly. Each had already placed their bets in the centre of the table as well, coins clinking next to his own. He watched each of them as they put various bits of small denomination there, noting the way they landed and bounced off one another.
And then, he’d dealt six cards to each of them in turn. The thinner of the two others at the table was quick to lift his own hand, scanning each card. The man who would call himself Krabbe casually set the rest of the deck aside, and sipped from his apple cider. Then, while the other two at the table glanced over their own hands, he picked his up, and surveyed the cards. He saw the Knave of Swords first, and immediately stopped. The fire was still burning brightly, and fairly quickly. Even in that moment when he glanced at it, one of the servants had opened the sluice and tossed a few more logs in to a chorus of sparkles and snaps.
Back to his hand he saw that the next card beneath that was the Five of Spades, followed by the Three and Four of Coins. He tapped the Four thoughtfully for one moment, and then slid them against each other to see the last two cards. The next was a Seven of Swords, and the last a Priest of Spades. Perhaps a Run he could make, although the laughing visage of the Knave, sword placed within his own head, caused him a bit of unease. Looking up to the man with ruddy cheeks who sat to his left, he said, “It is your bid...”
“Kaleas,” the man said softly, inclining his head.
“Master Kaleas,” he said softly, his voice firm, fixing the name within his mind. “We are well met. Your bid.”
Kaleas tossed another coin upon the pile before him, small copper piece that bounced off of one his initial coins, sailed across Krabbe’s own bet, and then landed upon the lacquer. “I will take one card,” he slid one of his own face down towards the deck. The man slid the top card from the deck towards Kaleas, and took the other, placing it back under the deck.
The next man, younger than the other two, though he sported the beginnings of a blonde beard, folded, setting his hand face down upon the table. The last, the thin man wearing a tunic of a nice shade of green, set two copper coins within the pile, and then also set down one card. “I will also take one card.” His voice was shallow and light.
Krabbe slid him the top card as well, and then asked, “And you are?”
“Thulin, and we are well met indeed, Krabbe.”
He smiled then, and then folded his own hand before him. “I will fold as well.” He glanced over to the youngest of them seated directly across from him. “Seems we are in good company...”
“Marin,” he said, still a bit of youth in his voice.
“Then we are all acquainted,” he said, his voice soft. These would do.
He watched in disinterest as Kaleas and Thulin continued to gamble, trading in only a few more cards before they laid out their hands. He was only dimly aware as Thulin swept the coins to his side of the table. He took one more sip from his cider, and set it back down, the brew tilting slightly in his mazer as he did so. Wisps of smoke curled up from the hearth and into the room, faint black whispers that twirled upwards towards the ceiling.
Kaleas took the deck from him and began to slowly shuffle them together, mixing them once more. However, he could not help but lean forward and smile rather conspiratorially to the three merchants. “Perhaps you would be willing to make a small modification of the rules? Just to make the game even more interesting.”
Thulin, who had been arranging the coins he had just won, glanced at him with curiosity writ large upon his features. “Modify them how?”
“A player who folds may buy another player’s hand by bidding as many coins as the man whose hand he wishes to buy. They then play that hand as if it were their own, but if they win the round, then he and the player he bought the hand from must each draw a card. If the buyer draws the high card, then they split the winnings evenly. If the seller draws the high card, he keeps all the winnings.”
The three of them looked at each other, confused, but clearly intrigued. “All right,” murmured Kaleas softly. “I’m willing to play with that. Anything else?”
“Yes,” he went on. “You must turn your top three cards over. Else how will anyone else know which hands may be good to buy? Also, when you sell your hand say ‘I offer you my hand,’ and the buyer should respond, ‘I take this hand and make it mine.’”
Thulin glanced at him suspiciously. “That is a strange rule.” He appeared to think for a moment. “But I’ll play.” He tossed a few coins into the centre of the table. Marin did likewise, his face eager. He held his hands before him, rubbing his fingers together as if he needed to feel cards between them. Kaleas tossed his coins with that simple flick of the wrist. He glanced down at his pouch and fished out the proper currency, tossing it as well onto the small pile. His coin bounced off the side of Marin’s, and landed a short distance from the rest. He nodded slightly as if he’d expected that.
And then, he watched idly as Kaleas began to slide the cards across the table. His eyes strayed upwards towards the candelabra swinging from the rafters far above. They swayed back and forth as if they were upon a ship, angling in strange manners. The other patrons did not appear to notice the discrepancy, and so he returned his attention to the game before him. Kalaes had dealt the first three cards face up, and he saw before him the Queen of Coins, Three of Swords, and Knight of Swords. He did not need to see the other cards in his hand to know he would win this round.
Garigan stared out the window in the Sondeckis Shrine across the sprawling town of Metamor. The shutters were lost amid the snow drifts in the courtyard below, but that was hardly on his mind at the moment. Instead, he watched as the shadows along the towers and homes slowly grew shorter as the sun continued to rise in the Eastern sky. It had only a few minutes ago finally risen beyond the topmost peaks of the Barrier Range, and thus with it came the late dawn. In the far distance he suspected that Misha’s band would be climbing up the long road to the Keep’s main gates, exhausted from their terrible foray into the North.
And when they finally returned, he would be allowed to speak with his master. The rabbit’s words still stung him, and he could not bring himself to see Phil again. Instead he stood leaning out the window, gazing upon the varied landscape before him. The forests to the North were bereft of their leaves, except for the pines that hugged the mountain sides. Yet fresh snow littered each and every one, covering the valley in billowing white wings. Though the ring of metal against metal could be heard from the Keep grounds below, there was still a silence that lay upon the land, a hushed quality that kept even his heart from sounding.
Yet, he continued to think about what Phil had told him of why Charles was in the dungeon. One of his master’s friends, Krenek Zagrosek, the man who had also possessed a Sondeshike, was supposed to be the Patriarch’s murderer. He simply could not envision it, though he knew that the rabbit would not accuse anyone without some merit. Somehow, there was a terrible degree of deception involved in all of this. Yet he did not have any idea what it might possibly be.
With a bit of a grimace, he realised that there was one who might know. In fact, the night he met Zagrosek, they had spoken of him. His master of course had no desire to have any involvement with the object of their discussion, but if he was to come to any understanding of these events, there was likely no better way to do it. Turning about, he walked through the silence of the Shrine, and down the stairs to his joint quarters with Charles. Once there he slipped from his Sondeckis robe and donned another green jerkin to combat the chill. He then stepped out into the Keep proper, his intent clear.
And soon, he stood before another doorway that bore no special sigil. Knocking several times, he waited while there was a muffled scuffling from beyond. A moment later, a surprised kangaroo opened the door, peering at the ferret with curious eyes. “Oh, hello, Garigan,” Habakkuk said, his voice rather sticky as if he had just woken up a few moments ago. “What can I do for you?”
Garigan glanced into the room, but could not see much past the macropod. “I need to talk to you for a bit. May I come in?”
Habakkuk nodded, stepping back out of the way, opening the door wide to admit him. “Of course. I am afraid I have nothing to offer to break fast with you.”
Garigan waved one paw at that. “That is fine. I just wish to talk to you.”
The kangaroo took several wide steps into his room, draping his tail across the lounge he used to entertain guests, whenever he had them. He indicated the other chair he set in the parlour. “Please, sit. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
He did as instructed, his body still tense. Taking a moment to search for his Calm, he found it rather elusive, but grasped it and clung it to himself as quickly as he could. His muscles eased, and his whole body sunk deeper into the soft cushions of the chair. Resting his elbows on the finely decorated arms of the chair, he leaned forward slightly. “Habakkuk, you knew my master while he was still a human? Before he came to Metamor, that is.”
Zhypar was surprised by the tenor of the question, but did not reveal as much. “Yes, I knew him. More knew of him. We met only briefly in the city of Makor. Why do you ask?”
Garigan leaned back, satisfied that what he’d heard had been true. “He told me of that meeting. And he told me a great many other things that have begun to disturb me. Much has been revealed to me, some of which I do not know whether to believe or not. Have you also met a man by the name of Krenek Zagrosek?”
Habakkuk leaned back slightly, his face unreadable. He reached up with one paw and scratched at his long muzzle, as if digging at a bit of dirt that would not go away. “Krenek Zagrosek? The name is familiar certainly. I believe I met him at the same time as I met Charles. He is a Sondeckis as well, at the time the same rank as Charles. They were friends. How did you know of him?”
“He was here during the siege. He helped us in the battle from Glen Avery.” Garigan knew very well that Prince Phil wished him to keep this information secret. But he also knew that Habakkuk would not dare repeat this to another living being.
“Interesting,” Habakkuk murmured thoughtfully.
“There were some other things that Charles said that you ought to know. Although he may berate me for telling you these things, I can think of no other course of action. You were a merchant of rare books during your time in the South?”
“Is that what he told you?” Habakkuk asked. The ferret nodded once at that, leaning back into the chair. He laughed a moment and then smiled favourably. “Yes, I was a merchant of rare books. Even when I came to the Northern continent I continued in that fine profession, selling and buying where I could. There is not a great deal of money in that trade, but I had never been interested simply in the money.”
“He also said something else about you.”
Habakkuk let his eyes slide across the musteline face before him. There was a grim determination in the way his jaw was set, something that would be clearly visible. “And just what was it that he told you that has given you such difficulty?”
Garigan shrugged then. “That you are a Felikaush.”
Zhypar stopped then, sitting silently for a moment, regarding the young Sondeckis before him with measured glances. Finally, he stood from his seat and crossed to the cupboard next to the bookcase. “Would you care for something to drink? I have some wine, and I’m sure I can scrounge up some bread to eat with it.”
“I thought you said you could offer me nothing to break fast with?”
The kangaroo looked over his shoulder and cast him a reproachful glance. “This is the last of my bread, I was saving it for myself.” He then looked at the window on the other side of the room for a moment, noting the way the shadows fell. “I imagine that we have much to talk about, so I see nothing wrong with sharing it now.”
Garigan nodded. “Thank you, I will have some bread and wine then.”
Habakkuk returned to digging through his cupboard, producing ere long a short bottle with what appeared to be a recent label and two small cups. He poured out a small measure of the wine, and then handed the cups to the ferret. Setting the bottle between them on the narrow table, he went back to the cupboard. In moment he had produced the mostly-eaten loaf of bread he’d mentioned. Tearing the loaf into two halves, he handed one to his guest, and then returned to his seat.
He sipped at the wine for a moment, smiled and then pointed one thick claw at Garigan’s cup. “Please drink, it will only go flat if you do not.”
Garigan did as instructed, and could not help but smile slightly as the pungent flavour hit his tongue. He then nibbled on a small bit of the hard bread, eyeing the kangaroo curiously. “I take it from your lack of an answer that you are a Felikaush?”
“Perhaps,” Habakkuk said as he sipped once more from his cup. “Or,” he added, tearing off a small chunk of the bread and popping it between his molars, “perhaps I merely wish to keep my identity secret for now.” He swallowed that bit of bread, and then tapped the side of his cup, running his short claws along its rim. “Just what did Charles tell you of the Felikaush, and why does he believe that I am one of them?”
Narrowing his gaze at the slippery kangaroo, Garigan spoke softly. “They are the descendants of Felix of Lee. All of them have some prophetic ability to one degree or another. That is to a certain extent their history. He also told me that sixteen years ago that they were all killed when Fellos, the city of their origin was destroyed. He says that you are likely the only one left alive.”
Habakkuk tapped his chin thoughtfully with one finger. “His history is correct. Being a merchant of rare books, I have had occasion in my life to visit Fellos. The Felikaush prided themselves on their ancestory. Though when I knew them they were more scholars than prophets. It was rare for any of them to be born with the ability to clearly glimpse future events. Most that I had spoken with only had vague images come to them from time to time, and even then, only infrequently.” He sipped from his drink, his face lost within the past, remembering a time many years gone. After a moment of silence, he glanced back up at his guest. “And why is it that Charles feels I am a Felikaush?”
The ferret finished the last of the wine in his goblet and set it down next to the bottle. “He says you have been manipulating him and everyone around him over the last year. He mentioned how while Rickkter was recovering last Summer you told him that if he should kill Rickkter he would no longer be a Sondeckis, but a monster.”
Habakkuk nodded slightly. “That is hardly an indication of prophetic ability. I will confess, I had known Charles was a Sondeckis by then. It was not difficult to discern. Did you know that before you came to the Keep, he was replacing his furnishings frequently?” At Garigan’s surprised look, the kangaroo nodded firmly. “Oh yes. Whenever he lost his temper he would end up breaking something, and he is clearly not strong enough to do that on his own. Also, I had read a good number of his own stories, and the themes he promoted were clearly influenced by a Sondeckis training. Last Winter I challenged him to a boxing match to test my theory, and he refused, breaking the table in the Writer’s Guild in the progress.
“And it was not difficult to discern that Rickkter was a Kankoran given the way he and Charles had fought bitterly upon their first meeting. Charles was a friend, I still consider him as such, despite what he did to me, and so I had to speak to him, and tell him not to kill Rickkter. Killing a man while he is recovering from terrible injuries in bed is a monstrous act, would you not agree?”
Garigan frowned a bit at that. “That was not the only reason my master gave that you are a Felikaush.”
“Yes, he also told me about a story you have been writing for the last few years. In it, there was a man in white who had alienated all others around him before dying of a terrible brain sickness.”
Habakkuk poured himself a little more wine then. “Yes, that man in white was a terrible antagonist, he could not be killed by any other man, attained power beyond reckoning, but had it all taken away from him by something he could not fight. How does that imply that I am a Felikaush?”
“Well, the former White of the Sondeckis did just as your man in white. He alienated all those around him and gained great power in his time. But he too died of a brain sickness. Just like the character in your story. Charles said that the symptoms were exactly the same as well.”
“While certainly more indicative of prophetic talent, could it not also just be mere coincidence?” Habakkuk asked pointedly.
“Perhaps it was.” Garigan poured himself some more wine then, and ate another chunk of the hard bread. “But I think it is just one more reason to believe you to be who my master claims you are. There is one other thing that I now recall. Who was it that would die from a shadow without a shadow?”
Habakkuk’s eyes grew wider then. “What did you say?”
“You heard me very clearly,” Garigan said, knowing that he was correct. “You told me during the Summer Festival that before the year was over, somebody would die from a shadow without a shadow. Who was it?”
The kangaroo leaned back a moment, his face becoming a mix of curiosity. “What exactly did you come here for?”
“I’m seeking answers. Who died from a shadow without a shadow? And just what does a shadow without a shadow mean?” Garigan paused a moment as he began to recall events that he witnessed near the end of the year. “And why did you tell me that?”
Habakkuk stood from his lounge then, his long feet slapping the rug upon the floor, claws nearly digging at the threads. “I told you this during the Summer Festival? I do not remember that.”
“You were rather drunk at the time.” Garigan tapped the edge of his goblet with one claw. “And when you said that you were staring off into space, as if in a trance. You did not sound drunk then. It sounded as if you were giving prophecy.”
He laughed slightly then. “I was drunk? That must be why I do not remember it.” He then turned on his guest, eyes very intent. “I think you already know of whom you speak.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know who the man it was that died from a shadow without a shadow. And you know what that means.”
“So you admit to saying it?” Garigan pried.
Habakkuk snorted then. “I was drunk and cannot remember. You could say I said anything you want to.”
“But why would you worry about that unless you were afraid you would be forced to admit that you were a Felikaush?” Garigan pressed harder, nearly rising from the seat. In fact, he was so tense he was nearly whistling his words through his missing teeth. He finally could see why Charles had found him so irritating.
The kangaroo stood behind his lounge then, resting his arms upon the back, leaning forward much like the animal form he bore wished. His face appeared conflicted for a moment, and then, there was resignation. “All things have their time. Each Season its place. And so too will I announce my identity when it is truly needed. This however is not the time. Think what you will of me, but I shall never say.”
“You know that only makes it sound to me that you are a Felikaush.”
“I am not surprised by this,” Habakkuk said dryly.
“I doubt if you are surprised by anything.”
Habakkuk eyed him once more intently. He took the last of his bread, dipped it within the wine and swallowed it down his gullet. “Surprise me then. Who is it that has died from a shadow without a shadow?”
“Would it truly be a surprise for you?” Garigan challenged. Seeing the impassive face of his host however, the ferret went on. “I think it may have been Wessex. He died a most horrible death during the Solstice. Someone had slashed his throat and raised him as undead. He cast this strange spell upon one of the walls in the Keep, and it opened a portal. A Shrieker came through the portal and tore him in two. I believe it is that Shrieker which is the shadow without a shadow.”
Habakkuk’s face had remained completely steady. “I have heard of those creatures in my studies. Ghastly Underworld beasts, nearly impossible to kill. They have been referred to in some texts as shadows without shadows for the way they extinguish all light around them.” He paused a moment, staring towards his bookshelves, as if scanning the titles to find the very ones he mentioned. His face then came back to regard his guest. “They are extremely difficult to kill from all accounts I have read. How did you manage it?”
“I did not do it myself. Charles and a friend of his killed it.”
Habakkuk smiled slightly then. “Would this have been an old Sondeckis friend of his? Perhaps the Krenek Zagrosek you asked me about earlier?”
Garigan nodded, having almost completely lost track of where the conversation had begun. “Yes, that is the one. You do not seem disturbed that he was here?”
“Should I be?”
“Some folks are.” Garigan decided that he could no longer hold back what he’d heard from the rabbit. “According to some, he is the very man who killed the Patriarch.”
“Charles’s friend? That is highly unlikely. How do you know this?’
“Prince Phil told me this. It is why he’s imprisoned Charles in the dungeon. He won’t even allow any to see him without his permission.”
Habakkuk leaned forward, his face suddenly very intense. “Charles has been imprisoned? When did this happen?”
“Yesterday, I was ordered not to speak of it, but I trust your discretion in this matter.” Garigan paused as he saw the look on the kangaroo’s face. There was a distance, one filled with melancholy that could not quite be explained. “What’s wrong?”
Habakkuk’s eyes returned to the ferret. “I need to be alone now. I have some things I need to do. You may trust my discretion on this matter. But I need some time to myself.”
Garigan stood up then, uncertain what could possibly be going through the kangaroo’s mind. He finished off the last of the wine, and balled up the last piece to the bread in his fist. “Thank you for breaking fast with me.” He then rose and strode to the door. “Will you come to Charles’s defence?”
“I will do what I must. Fare thee well, Garigan of the Green.” Habakkuk then waved him towards the door. The ferret nodded one last time, face mixed with curious apprehension, and then he left, closing the door quietly behind him.
Zhypar Habakkuk set his own goblet down then and quickly marched to the backroom of his quarters, a place none were ever permitted in. His bed was unmade, though the desk was neatly arranged. A small cage with a solitary pigeon inside was nestled in one corner near the closed window pane. Sitting down at his desk he took a small strip of paper, and began to scribe a message in very neat handwriting. He waited several minutes, blowing occasionally to make sure that the ink was dried.
Satisfied that the ink would not run and ruin his message, he began to wrap it into a small circle, tightening the parchment until it was barely as wide as his smallest finger. He then opened the door to the birdcage and grabbed the pigeon’s leg. It looked at him with curious eyes, but made no protest, long since used to such treatment. The metallic band about his leg was easy to unclasp, and soon he had fed the entire paper within its confines. Resealing the metal band, he knew that his message was secure.
Finally, the kangaroo turned to the window and opened one of the panes. Still holding the bird upon the wrist of one arm, he gently set it upon the pane, and watched it as it stared out at the snowy world beyond. It then jumped into the air, wings taking flight, as it quickly ascended up into the sky above. It would circle higher and higher Habakkuk knew, until it could see the entire valley, and then it would head Southeast for quite some time.
He shut the pane only seconds after it made its jump. And then, he quietly closed the cage door, it would be empty for many weeks to come. Glancing over at his bed, he set himself to arranging it neatly. All the while his thoughts churned feverishly, avoiding the one thought that had struck him the moment that Garigan had told him the rat had been imprisoned. He did not wish to dwell on that, not one bit.
It was clearly dawn, and several other patrons had risen from their sleep and descended the stairs down to the main room of the Inn in Ellcaran. Some of those that had been there when he’d arrived left to go about their business for the day. Others had come in from the cold to warm themselves by the fire and find a good hot meal. Yet he and the three gamblers continued their game, the various piles of coins shifting back and forth over the course of the last hour.
The other three at the table were very focussed upon the cards themselves, failing to notice so many other aspects to the game. He had just finished dealing out the hand. Kaleas showed the Two and Three of Coins, as well as the Seven of Spades. Marin had before him the Knight of Swords and of Hearts, as well as the Priest of Swords. Before Thulin lay the Four of Swords, Two of Spades, and King of Hearts. He considered his own hand and hid the smile he possessed. Laying face up were the Eight of Swords, Nine of Coins, and Three of Hearts, while only he could see the remaining three Priest cards.
Kaleas had the first bid, and he appeared to contemplate his decision for a moment. Finally he tossed another coin within the pile, bouncing off its side to land heads up. “One card, please.” He slid the Seven of Spades to the man. Smiling, the man turned the top card face up, the Five of Coins, and passed it across the table. Both Marin and Thulin sucked in their breath, for it was clear that their friend could hold a run within his hand.
Yet Marin also placed a bid upon the table, sliding one of his face down cards towards the dealer. He nodded, having expected that, and passed him another card face down. Thulin however, turned all of his cards face down and leaned back in the chair. “I fold,” he declared, eyeing the man curiously.
He smiled then, and took a sip from his apple cider. He’d had it refilled not to long ago. As he set it back down he watched it froth about, tilting inwards ever so slightly. This was the hand. Glancing at them each in turn, he said, “I fold.” And then he placed several more coins upon the pile. “Marin, I would like to buy your hand.”
Marin appeared quite surprised by this, as did the others. After all, buying another’s hand was a losing bet, none of them had tried it before. The young man almost tripped over the words that he was required to say as he slid all six of his cards across the table to the man. “I offer you my hand.”
He smiled, resting his own upon the cards, his skin touching Marin’s for a brief moment. “I take this hand and make it mine.” A sharp pop came from the fireplace just then, and a long wisp of smoke trailed upwards until it pooled at the ceiling directly over their table. The three merchants turned their head to see what it was, and failed to see the way the man’s cider tilted in his glass as if the table had been given a shake. It then subsided as the man drew the cards to his side of the table. Glancing at them, he saw the last two Knight cards, and the Queen of Swords. He now had all four Knights, and a Run of three Swords.
He placed a silver piece upon the table and smiled to Kaleas. Kaleas tapped his cards for a moment, and then placed a bit of silver on the table as well. “I call.”
Smiling still, the man turned his cards over, at which Kaleas sighed. He had managed a Run of Four in Coins, but his other two cards had not helped him. The man then collected the cards left out on the table, and placed them underneath the deck. He then set the deck in the centre of the table and nodded to Marin. “We each now draw a single card. I bought the hand, so you draw first.”
Marin nodded uncertainly, eyeing the pile in the centre of the table greedily. He turned over the top card and beheld the Knave of Swords. His eyes were uncertain though as he looked up at the man opposite him. “It is your turn, Krabbe.”
He smiled knowingly, and gingerly lifted the next card, revealing the Five of Spades. He shrugged then, leaning back into his chair. “It seems I truly did buy your hand. Is the price worth it?”
“I think so!” Marin laughed greedily as he slid the entire pile over to his side of the table. Lifting his eyes to peer across the table he met the buyer’s eyes, and shuddered slightly. His companions did not notice the gesture, and he ignored it himself, attributing it merely to the Winter season.
“Oh well, it is your deal, Kaleas,” the man gestured at the deck, even as he sipped at his cider.
Kaleas nodded picking up the deck and shuffling it with practised ease. “It has been a pleasure playing with you, Krabbe. But I have affairs to attend to this day.”
“I was rather enjoying the game. Perhaps we can continue sometime later?”
“Of course, we shall be here for several days yet. Let this be our last hand for the day, and I assure you that we will play once again tomorrow morning. You will still be here then?”
He smiled warmly and nodded. “Of course. I look forward to it. Who knows, perhaps I shall win back my money then.”
“Perhaps,” Kaleas agreed, and then laughed. “I shall do my best to see to it that you don’t.”
“Of course you will,” the man agreed, smiling to himself. It would be plenty enough time.
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