Wagging Tongues Will - Part XX

The man who called himself Krabbe left his room that morning feeling very good. His secret smile played across his lips as the subtle fragrances of cooked eggs, meats and breads rose to him from the main room below. The sun was beginning to peek over the Eastern horizon, and he could well imagine the long shadows the city cast across the ocean waves, yearning to the sea. He knew that his time here in the city of Ellcaran was coming to its conclusion, and he pondered whether he should sail Southward or simply cross the vast countryside on his new journey.

Closing the door to his room, his eyes alighting on the clouded mirror upon the wall, that smile grew wider. Yes indeed, this would be a fine day. With a quick turn of the key, he locked the door and took several leisurely steps to the railing. Glancing out over the main room he saw that the fire was snapping brightly in the hearth, and that several other patrons had already risen to break their fast. He knew his gambling friends were still in their rooms.

After descending the staircase he selected his usual table beneath the banister. Of those sharing the main room with him, he recognised every face. They were fellow patrons who had been staying there the last few days. During his own sojourn he had made it one of his tasks to remember each person who stayed at the Inn with him. Though the others likely did not know of his voyeurism, he knew a great many details about them, even so far as to know which room they stayed in, and which whores they frequented. He had little intention of using any such information, but he never knew when it might come in handy.

When one of the serving maids approached him he told her in a pleasant voice that he would like a plate of eggs and sausages, and some fresh milk to wash it down. It was not his usual order, but his mood demanded an equally appealing meal. The maid smiled to him, and he smiled back amicably. She left to inform the cook, and he continued to survey the patrons.

None of them truly caught his eye, they were all breaking their own fasts, be it over eggs, sausages, or thick pieces of dark bread. Only a few of them shared tables with each other, and those that did share a table were already travelling together as a group. The fire was bright and warm, making the woolen cloak he kept wrapped about his shoulders rather hot. But he kept it on, and even pulled it tighter over his tunic. It was not his usual garb, but it fit him well enough.

When the door to the establishment cracked open, revealing the shadowy exteriors of the buildings across the street, as well as the hooded figure of a new patron, he felt his heart surge. He smiled, watching the new guest, even as he leaned back slightly in his seat. The figure stood in the doorway, scanning the room for a moment, before the darkened hollow of the cloak’s cowl settled upon the man. And with slow deliberateness, the figure made its way across the room, its entire body hidden by the dark cloth.

Finally, Krabbe watched as the figure took a seat opposite him on the table. “He has received the message,” the figure said, the voice obviously that of a woman’s despite the strain of a hard night’s journey.

The man nodded, leaning forward a bit. “Good. When will he be prepared for the opening?”

“For the next three nights he can wait for us. It will be well into the twilight hours before dawn where he lives,” she said, resting her gloved hands upon the table. The man noted the dark lines of the cloth around each finger, and the violet sleeve that extended out past the dark cloak’s cuff.

“Good. I will certainly be ready before those days are up. Hopefully tonight we can bring an end to our business this far North.”

The woman nodded her head slightly. “At least until the Summer Solstice.”

Krabbe waved one hand negligently at that, as if he did not wish to be reminded of some unpleasant chore. He glanced up as the serving maid returned, bearing a wooden platter in one hand, and a small goblet in the other. He smiled once more to her, his affable manner returning. “Thank you,” he said, offering her a silver coin from his money pouch. The maid’s brown eyes widened in delight at that, and she professed gratitude to him, before bustling off to her next chore.

“Milk?” the cloaked figure sitting across from him asked. Her voice nearly choked in bile. “You would be so brazen as to have the fluid of new life in your belly before tonight?”

He offered her a slight smile. “They will be willing.”

Her head tilted slightly, as if she were raising an eyebrow.

The man gestured to the table next to his. “Three merchants. They’re still in their rooms but will be coming down shortly. I’m gambling with them. Cards no less.”

The woman nodded in sudden understanding, her gloved hands tapping at the table. “I see. Is that not how du Tournemire claimed you?”

The man frowned then stuffed a bit of egg into his mouth. “I do not have his facility with cards, but it works well enough.” He took a sip of the milk, finding it quite smooth. “I already have two of them. And they were just from yesterday. The last is a better player than they, but he will be mine sooner or later.”

She leaned forward, appearing to eye his plate disdainfully. “It had better be sooner. Do not toy with them or show off. This is too important for your boorishness to ruin.”

The man set the goblet down with an annoyed whump. “I do what has to be done. And don’t start into one of your lengthy jeremiads. This is not the time or the place.”

She folded her hands before her then, and leaned back, the cowl still covering her face completely. Yet for some reason, the man thought he could see a strange reflecting light glint in her right eye. Yet he was not certain. “It is fairly safe to show yourself here. They do not know your face.”

But she shook her head firmly. “No it is not. I will explain to you later why not.”

The man pointed at himself curiously, scanning the room. What was there that she was not telling him? Had something gone awry with their plans?

“No, do not worry about yourself. It is just my face that cannot be seen. After you finish your meal we can retire to your room and I will show you what I mean.”

Krabbe sliced the sausage into pieces and stuffed one into his mouth. The morsel was plump with spicy juices, and his throat craved for more milk to cool it down. He sipped once and frowned. “What happened to you?”

“After you finish eating.”

He shook his head then. “I expect those merchants to be coming down at any moment now. They will be wanting another chance at my money before they leave for the day. They should not see me with anyone.” He pulled the key to his room from the rung along his belt. “Here, my room is the third on the right at the top of the stairs.” They both heard the closing of a door above and the small sound of voices approaching the railing. “That’s them. They should not see me with anyone until I have all of them.”

She nodded, taking the key in her glove, holding it firmly between the leather. She rose from her seat and nodded then. “Of course. I will see you once you have had your fun.” Then the woman left and started up the stairwell, without regard to the three men who began to climb down it.

The man calling himself Krabbe watched as his three merchants came into the main room and found their way to their normal table. Both Marin and Kaleas greeted him warmly, with Kaleas waving his deck of cards in one hand. “Would you like to lose some more money, Master Krabbe?”

He laughed then. “I’d certainly be willing to donate to such a worthy cause as your money pouch’s continued expansion.”

Kaleas patted the back of the fourth chair at their table and waved towards him. “Then come over and put your money on the table once more.”

Thulin eyed the half-eaten plate of eggs and sausage. “After we’ve broken our own fast?”

He nodded firmly, picking up his plate and goblet. “Of course, I would not begrudge you fine men your meals. Do you mind if I sit and sup with you?”

The thin man gestured to the seat, his eyes curious. Both Marin and Kaleas had difficulty hiding their delight at their masters’s arrival, but they kept it fairly discreet. A serving maid came to their table just as the man calling himself Krabbe manage to sit down. He sat silently while the three men made their orders, though they each preferred juice to the milk that he had selected. After the maid left, Thulin leaned forward a bit, tapping the table with one finger. “So, Krabbe, what brings you to Ellcaran?”

He was surprised at the question, but realized that he should have expected it. Both Kaleas and Marin leaned froward in interest, though mostly to satisfy their fellow merchant. “I run errands, deliver messages, items, and so forth, for my master from down South. You have never heard of the Marquis du Tournemire I suppose?”

Thulin shook his head. “No. Are you from Pyralis then?”

“Not originally, but it is where I have ended up. The Marquis owns lands on the Southern shores of Pyralis.”

Thulin smiled slightly. “So what possible errand could bring you this far North?”

He tried to look a little uncomfortable, which was not too difficult. He stuffed another morsel of sausage into is mouth, as if trying to cover that feigned expression. “Well,” he said between chewing, “I purchased a few goods from a land that my master has been interested in, though among some circles in the nobility of Pyralis, it would be uncouth to admit it.”

Thulin cocked one eyebrow. “Metamor perhaps?”

The man nearly choked on the bit of sausage he was eating. Clearly he had underestimated this merchant. A much cleverer mind was owned by this thin man than he had ever possibly suspected. “Yes, from Metamor. I didn’t stay there long thankfully. Now I’m just waiting for my ship to set sail. It’s going to leave port in a few more days I hope, if the weather does not turn bad.”

That appeared to satisfy the man, though Krabbe was thankful that their own meals arrived just then. And so in relative silence they broke their fast together. He could not help but feel the curious sting of Thulin’s eyes as he finished off the eggs and sausages. He wondered if perhaps this playing of cards was not too clever. There was no doubt that he would see soon enough.

Thomas tapped one thick finger upon his chin. “This is quite serious,” he said then, eyeing his two guests. The fox and hawk had wasted little time in coming to see him after meeting with Misha’s sister. And the news that they had brought the Duke of Metamor had left the stallion in disbelief. Reaching with his other hand towards an armrest, he pulled himself into the chair. “This mystery gets deeper and deeper.”

“And if we keep digging, I imagine it will only get deeper,” Misha added wryly. He looked slightly better than he’d been the previous day, though his wounds would need far more time to heal, and he would never get his ear back, or the missing finger. But few warriors would ever go through their entire life whole.

“Indeed,” Thomas agreed, nodding his head firmly, even as he leaned back in the chair. Misha was sitting across the table from him, while Jessica stood upon a small wooden perch at his side. “And there were two other items that were related to this censer?”

“A sword and a dias,” Jessica supplied. “But neither has been seen for five hundred years.”

“Nor had the censer I imagine,” Thomas pointed out.

Jessica shook her head at that. “But it’s gone now.”

“Yes. But Zagrosek, or whoever it might be is still out there,” the horse asserted, tapping one hoof-like hand against the table. “We know that he is responsible for bringing the censer to Loriod. We in our ignorance brought it here to Metamor. And then that man used it to open a tear to this Underworld.”

Misha nodded his head firmly. “That’s right.”

Thomas leaned forward. “Well, how did this man get a hold of the censer in the first place?” Both the fox and hawk had to blink at that, their faces alighting with a new concern and mystery. Misha glanced about as if trying to find some anchor to grip. His eyes finally met Jessica’s golden orbs, and they locked for a moment.

“How could he have gotten that censer?” the fox asked the hawk.

Jessica shrugged with her wings. “I don’t know. We don’t even know where it came from. All the Guild knew was that it was not truly connected to this world.”

“Explain that,” Thomas ordered, leaning back again, his face intent.

“Well, what I think they meant was that the censer, and those other two objects, the sword and the dias, they move between the various worlds that are connected to our own, like the Underworld, the Shadows, and the world of magic sight. Now we know that it does have a connection to the Underworld, so I suppose as it moves through our world, it tears at the fabric between them.”


Jessica nodded. “Think of our world and these other worlds as separated by a curtain. Normally, you cannot pass through this curtain without very powerful magic. This censer pushes at the curtain, and moves along it. And every once in a while, it tears the curtain in its passage, and the two worlds connect.”

Thomas nodded firmly. “All right. I think I see that now. So, was there anything we could have done to that censer to prevent it from causing the tear that killed your master?”

Jessica tensed at those words, her beak closing tightly. Misha caught the weakness and stepped in, shaking his head firmly. “From what my sister had to say, it did not sound as if anything we could have done would have prevented that thing from making a tear. They told us that if we wanted to know more about them we would have to speak to the elves.”

Thomas grimaced. “Did Wessex know that the censer was more than it appeared?”

“No,” Jessica stammered. “He searched for references to it in our library, but could find nothing.”

Thomas’s eyes rose at that. “I’m sure Cutter will be put out to know that there was something that could not be found in his library.”

“Not everything that happens gets written down in books,” Misha pointed out. “My sister said the elves would know more. I got the impression that this censer was made in very ancient times. Who here would know about the elves?”

Thomas grimaced. “Raven hin’Elric. We will have to ask her of this later. This all must be handled very discreetly. If this man could get a hold of the censer, would it not be possible for him to obtain the sword or the dias?”

“My sister did not seem to think it was possible.”

“I hope she is right. But this is a matter that we cannot bring to a resolution now. Is it possible that Charles could be right about Zagrosek?”

“Elizabeth said it was,” Misha nodded firmly, his voice revealing his convictions. “But that it would take a great deal of magical power. A person able to use the censer must already have great power, so what is to stop them from disguising themselves to boot?”

Thomas shook his head. “Nothing that I am aware of. But we must see the evidence as it is. I need somebody to represent Charles before the court. Will you do that Misha?”

The fox’s single ear rose in surprise, but he nodded firmly. “Of course. I will gladly represent him. At least now that I know all that is going on here.”

Thomas smiled. “Good. The trial is a noon. You’ll need to contact those that you wish to have speak on Charles’s behalf. I know Lord Avery wishes to, and I imagine there are many others that would like to testify as well.”

The horse lord then rose from his seat, and so did Misha, while Jessica climbed down from her perch. “I shall attend to it immediately, my liege.” He then turned around, and followed by the hawk, they left the Duke’s chambers.

Marin dealt the cards out that hand. The first few hands had been uneventful, he’d lost a few coins the first time, won the second hand, and folded the next two. As the younger man slid the cards quickly over the table, the man who called himself Krabbe glanced at the level of the juice in each of their goblets. It was tilting ever so slightly. He smiled to himself at that, and glanced down at the cards before him, seeing the Priest and Queen of Coins, as well as the Seven of Hearts. Lifting the three that were face down he saw the Seven of Spades, as well as the Knave of Coins and the Four of Swords. A pair of Sevens and a potential straight.

Glancing to his right he saw that Thulin was showing the King of Spades, Five of Coins, and Ten of Hearts. There did not appear to be much to the hand, though perhaps he was better spoken for in the cards that were turned down. Thulin slid one face down card back though, and even Marin’s eyes rose at that. Thulin glanced at his new card, and appeared to be satisfied with it.

Krabbe took a moment to glance at his servant’s hands. Kaleas was displaying the Priest of Hearts, Seven of Coins, and Five of Swords, while Marin bore the Knave of Swords, Ten of Coins, and Four of Hearts. None of their hands appeared exemplary. Since Kaleas bore one of the other two Sevens, Krabbe considered it unlikely he could get the last Seven, but he could see what could be gained from this hand. After all, the water was tilting still.

He took the Four of Swords and slid it face down towards Marin. The younger merchant took the top card from the deck and passed it to him, face down as well. Krabbe lifted the card to peer at, and saw that he’d been passed the Knight of Coins. He nearly had a Straight Flush, perhaps even a Royal Flush. With a sudden tremble, he cast his eyes to the level of the juice in their goblets. It had continued to tilt, small rivulets of fluid rising upwards along the sides. The snapping of the fire in the hearth made his flesh crawl, even as he saw the smoke trailing from one corner.

Kaleas placed his next bid upon the pile and then handed Marin his Priest of Hearts. Krabbe noticed Thulin’s eyes rise slightly at that. Kaleas must have some hope to form a straight perhaps with the Five of Swords and Seven of Coins. Marin slid back another card, this one face up as well, and revealed itself to be a Two of Hearts. The man kept his face quite calm despite the probable blow to his hopes.

The focus then came to Marin, who also tossed a few more coins upon the growing pile. This was the first time they had all bid through a second time. Marin dumped the Four of Hearts from his face up stack and turned over the Queen of Swords. Perhaps he had a straight as well? Krabbe was not sure of anything quite yet, but he knew that he was going to fold as soon as his turn to bid came up again.

Thulin glanced at his pile of cards, and then he glanced up once to Krabbe, eyes strangely calculating. “I fold,” he said, turning all of his cards face down. He then took a small stack of coins and added it to the pile. “I would like to buy your hand,” he said then, his voice level, and directly at Krabbe.

Damn! He somehow knew that this merchant was going to try something like this. Whether he knew what had happened to his fellow merchants or not was hard to tell. Almost certainly he did not. But clearly he suspected that something was amiss. But Krabbe could not betray what he knew lest he lose any hope of claiming the thin man. So, he smiled slightly and pushed his cards towards Thulin. “I offer you my hand.”

Thulin set his hand upon the cards. “I take this hand and make it mine.” He did not seem to notice just then the way that Kaleas’s and Marin’s eyes rose in fright. Instead, he took that second to glance at the three hidden cards. He paused thoughtfully for a moment, and then placed one more coin upon the pile. “I call.”

Both Kaleas and Marin placed the requisite coin upon the pile, each eager to stay in this game, for their master’s sake. “Well, you reveal first,” Marin said, pointing at Thulin’s hand. Thulin turned over the last three cards, revealing the Knight and Knave of Coins, as well as the Seven of Spades. “A pair and Four Straight, not bad.”

Thulin smiled at that, turning his focus to Kaleas. “And what have you?”

Kaleas smiled slightly. “I think you bought the wrong hand.” He then turned over the Three of Coins, the Four of Spades, and the Six of Hearts. “Six straight, with no consecutive suits.”

Marin shook his head and then turned over the Queen and Ten of Spades, as well as the Ten of Swords, “Full House, Tens over Queens. But Kaleas wins the hand.”

Thulin nodded at that, and pushed the cards inwards. Kaleas took the winnings, delightedly stacking the coins upon his side. Marin passed the deck to Thulin who began to shuffle the cards silently. Krabbe however kept the heavy sigh of relief that wished to escape to himself.

Garigan sat before the altar with his legs tucked up against his chest, long musteline muzzle resting upon those slight knees. His eyes met the angel’s face, noting the curve of the ivory, and the glinting torchlight reflecting in the curves of her cheeks. Though it was nearly eleven, only the faintest of daylight seeped through the permanently opened windows. Thick clouds broiled to the South, as if drawn there by some arcane powers.

He ran his paws across the green fabric of his Sondeckis robe. Aside from his brief excursion to see Charles, and then to visit the donkey friend of his masters at the Shoeshine Inn, he had spent the entire portion of his days within the Shrine going over his many practices. In another week, once the rat had recovered completely, he’d been planning to teach his ferret pupil some of the basic combat techniques of the Sondeckis, and the proper way to unleash force amongst them. Given the laudatory comments following his stand against the Shrieker he gathered that he would have little difficulty mastering them, but he schooled himself to remember that a quick leaner did not mean a great power.

Charles being in prison did not help his studies though. While he continued to go over and concentrate on his practices, they did not come as easily or as naturally to him as they had before. It was as if some great barrier had been placed before him, stunting his access to the Sondeck. He had unleashed his great rage with the angel’s help only two days before, but it felt as if he’d expended any will to use it in that moment as well. He wondered how long it would take before Charles was finally freed and this ridiculous matter put behind them. Habakkuk had been of little help of course, simply trying to obfuscate matters even worse. There had to be a way to pin the kangaroo down, but he did not see how it was possible.

A hard rapping at the door of the Shrine made him look away from the angel’s face, his thoughts settling within the back of his mind for later perusal. Rising to his foot paws, he felt the green robe billow around his legs. “Who is it?” he called out in a temperate voice.

“Misha Brightleaf,” came the reply.

Garigan’s ears turned up at that, and he pulled his cloak tighter. “Come in.”

Misha stepped through the single door that led out into the Long Hall. The fox regarded the altar with a respectful glance, and then walked crossways about the room to aovid going near it. His eyes settled upon the ferret who stood in the torchlight, still wearing his robe. “You know,” Misha started, face curious, “I have never seen the robes of your clan.”

Garigan shrugged. “Now is as good a time as any. Charles wears one just like this, only cut for his size and black in colour. What may I do for you?”

Misha held firm his position, near to the window. “How are you doing, Garigan?”

“I’m well enough. As good as can be expected I suppose. You came here for a reason.” It was a simple statement of purpose, no malice or other anger within it.

The fox nodded softly then, as if expecting this level of distance. “The trial is set for today. Noon. I want you to speak on Charles’s behalf. You were there with him throughout most of it, you can back his story.”

“I will. Thank you for telling me,” Garigan said, his heart softening. “Where will you need me?”

“The Chambers of Justice. Just go there as you would any other place in the Keep. Be sure that you are there by noon though. I think the doors will be closed shortly thereafter to any newcomers.”

“I imagine you may be right.” Garigan cocked his head to one side. “Who else are you going to be asking?”

“Anybody that might know anything about this. Lord Avery will be there as well, as will all the Long Scouts that can be there.”

“Talk to Habakkuk.”

Misha’s single ear turned towards him unexpectedly. “Habakkuk?”

“Yes. He met both Charles and Zagrosek before the curse even existed.”

The fox was genuinely surprised at this. “How?”

“It was while all three were still in the Southlands. Habakkuk was masquerading as a merchant of rare books, and he ran into them in some Southlands city, I forget the name. Be sure to ask him about the shadow without a shadow.”

“Shadow without a shadow?” Misha said in bewilderment. “What’s this all about?”

“I believe that Habakkuk knew about the summoning of the Shrieker as early as last Summer.”

Misha leaned against the window sill, his paws about the only thing holding him up. “How? How would a scribe know about that? He’s just the Head of the Writer’s Guild. He didn’t even have much contact with anyone involved.”

“Charles thinks he’s a prophet hiding his prophecies in his stories so that none will recognize them.”

“Has Habakkuk confirmed any of that?”

Garigan snorted and shook his head in disgust. “Hardly. Getting him to say anything definitively is a challenge not even the gods could rise to.” The ferret paused a moment. “He did seem genuinely surprised when I told him that Charles had been arrested though. I’m not sure if that means anything.”

Misha grimaced firmly, his grey eyes lost in thought. “Well, I suppose I will have to speak with the scribe, and see if I cannot get him to testify. Pardon me Garigan. I will see you at the Chambers of Justice by noon then?”

“By noon,” Garigan repeated, and then watched the fox’s tail wagging back and forth in distraction as his guest practically fled the Sondeckis Shrine in haste.

Krabbe was growing steadily impatient. It had been nine more hands already, and Thulin had folded every one that had appeared even remotely promising. And given that Thulin sat directly to his right, there was no way that the man could fold his own hand and purchase Thulin’s before that blasted merchant had already had a chance to bid, except when Thulin himself dealt the cards. And it was that insufferable thin man’s turn to deal.

Thulin took the cards gracefully, eyeing them back and forth, even as he shuffled them several times. Marin had won the previous hand and was stacking his new found wealth before him upon the table. Kaleas had given one of his own to the barmaid for another goblet of cider. For a time the man had been left with nothing to watch, as his own drink had long since been drunk, and both Thulin and Marin had finished theirs a few hands ago.

In fact, as the man considered it, Thulin had taken some great deliberateness in finishing his off. Had the merchant noticed the way he studied the cider within it? If he’d known the reason the man studied the glass, he surely would not have continued to play with them. But play on he did, and so Krabbe returned his focus upon the cards as they were dealt. His top three were the Queen and Knave of Coins, as well as the Seven of Spades. He thought they looked familiar to him somehow, and then blanched as he realized they were three of the cards that had been in the hand Thulin had bought from him. He grimaced nervously as he glanced about the table. The barmaid had yet to return with Kaleas’s drink, and so he had nothing to measure against.

Glancing over at the hearth, he saw that the fire was continuing to burn at a measured rate. Perhaps this particular combination of cards meant nothing. Yet he had little real desire to find out. But find out he must. If the cards face down were precisely the same ones he’d held before, he would have no choice but to fold and stop for the day, the risk to himself would be far too great to continue. He’d have to find some other person who would fall to his needs than this far too clever merchant Thulin.

But as he lifted the bottom three cards, a surge of relief flowed through him. He saw that he held the Nine of Hearts, Three of Swords, and Two of Spades, none of which he’d had in the hand that Thulin had purchased from him. Glancing to his left, he saw that Kaleas held the Priest of Coins, Knave of Hearts, and Three of Spades. Across from him Marin displayed the Knight and Six of Swords, as well as the Two of Hearts. And on his Right was Thulin bearing the King of Hearts and of Coins, as well as the Eight of Swords.

He thumbed his own cards for a moment as he glanced back and forth, trying to appear deep in thought. The other three watched him, waiting to see how he would bid. If he wished to purchase Thulin’s hand though, this might be his only opportunity. He seriously doubted that Thulin would try and purchase his hand this round, as Kaleas held the Priest of his dominant suit, making a winning hand all the harder to come by. But he needed to know if buying Thulin’s hand would be wise, and he was not nearly the expert as du Tournemire was at reading the message in the cards themselves to know.

And then, the barmaid returned with Kaleas’s cider, and he felt a wave of relief. Kaleas took a sip and smiled his thanks to the barmaid, before setting it down upon the table. He furtively glanced at the juice, and noted its tilt. He made a show of glancing once more at his own cards for a few moments before he turned his entire hand over, face down, and placed several more coins on the pile in the centre. “I’d like to buy your hand,” he said at last to Thulin.

Thulin grimaced slightly as if he’d expected this. “I’d rather not sell my hand if you don’t mind.”

Krabbe’s face went slack at that. “But, I’ve put down the required coin. The rules state that you must sell it to me if I wish to purchase.”

The thin man shrugged then and slid his six cards towards the dark clad man. “I offer you my hand.”

“I take this hand and make it mine,” the man who called himself Krabbe said with great relief. It was about time that he had finally been able to purchase this man as well. Now he simply needed to win the hand and draw the low card, and Thulin would also be his. Glancing at the other three cards in his new hand, he had to repress a smile as he saw the King of Spades, in addition to the Five of Coins and of Spades. A Full House, Kings over Fives.

Kaleas tossed on a bit more coin, and passed back one of his down-turned cards. Thulin slid him another from the top of the deck, seemingly unperturbed at having to sell his hand. In fact, his face appeared completely passive, as if this were all part of his own plan. Yet Krabbe remained confidant that he would win the hand. Kaleas would not have stayed in the game if he could not have insured his hand would lose to at least a pair of Kings. Kaleas wanted Thulin to be Krabbe’s slave as much as the man did himself.

Marin folded his hand then, and leaned back, satisfied with himself. The man who called himself Krabbe was about to speak when Thulin interjected suddenly. “I’d like to buy your hand.”

All three of them spun on the merchant suddenly. “What?” Kaleas asked in blustered surprise and slight indignation. “He’s already bought your hand. You cannot buy it back.”

“It’s his hand now. And I would like to buy it,” Thulin stated firmly, setting out quite a few coins, equal to everything that the dark clad man had already bid on the hand. “I have folded after all, haven’t I?”

Krabbe shrugged then and passed the hand back to Thulin. It was clear that if he was to take this man, he’d have to be far cleverer than this. Thulin was buying his own hand, and no harm could come from this. “I offer you this hand,” he said then.

“I take this hand and make it my own,” Thulin finished the required formula, apparently not noticing the man’s slight alteration to it. Krabbe lost interest in the hand after that. Thulin won with the Full House as he had expected, though Kaleas had nothing in his own hand to merit further betting. When Thulin turned the deck towards Krabbe for the draw of the card, the dark clad man shook his head.

“The winner draws the card against the man whose hand it originally was. It was originally your hand, so you obviously win the card draw as well,” he explained, even as he flexed his fingers, prepared to take the deck to deal the next hand, one that he doubted he would have any better luck in.

Thulin grimaced once at that, but swept the money to his side of the table just the same.

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