Goodness it's been a long time since I posted from my novel. Real life interrupted etc. You should read the last installment here to understand what's going on and the one before that is here.
There was one more mission to complete before leaving Hiron for good and good riddance. I recieved a message from Luko that several members of the palace guard were celebrating the change in command with a bit of gambling, the favorite pastime of the Hirons. The tavern wasn’t hard to find, it was the favorite haunt of the soldiers, a stone’s throw from the barracks entrance. I found the group gathered around a heavy wooden table shoved in a corner. I asked to get into the game and a man with a crooked nose noted my long grubby shirt and soft knee high leather boots.
“You ain’t a messenger are you?” he glared at me suspiciously, leaning his crooked nose in closer as if to smell me.
“Of course not.” I lied with a scoff. Two other men at the table were engrossed in the latest hand. One of them was Luko who gave no sign of recognizing me.
“Can you believe that sniveling frill of a Prestige, he was squeling like a pig when they hauled him out of the palace.” the man playing against Luko laughed gleefully.
“Back to the province for him.” Luko said shaking his head in disappointment. I sat down in a chair without introduction and waited to join in at the next hand.
“Where have you been stranger?” Luko asked darkly. I gave him a blank look.
“In the salt mines for the last month. And the name is Tivoli.” I replied brusquely. He shrugged indifferently and went back to the game. Under the table I felt his calf touch mine. Being in direct contact with the earth wasn’t the only way messengers could communicate.
“The one with the scar has the knife.” He informed me in Silent Talk. He contemplated his cards as I gazed about causually and made note of the stocky man with a scar bisecting one of his brows sitting at the othe side of the table. He must be a good player if the large pile of coins before him was any indication. He grunted happily as he won the hand.
“You been in the mines huh, good pickings?” broken nose asked me, his voice like harsh gravel. Mining was tough work but paid well.
“Fair enough.” I said non-commitedly.
“Well come and share the wealth.” he said with a greedy gesture and laughed, his breath reeked of beer as gave me a slap on the back.
I joined in and lost the next three hands. Luko did marginally better. I had a better hand than he at the next round and he scowled in frustration. We began to bet against each other and he let me take his money until I accumulated quite a pot.
I held my own against the others to my surprise as I’m not a good gambler and being a messenger normally keeps me out of most games. Being able to mentally communicate with others is seen as an unfair advantage. Cheating at cards by using Silent Talk was a major breech of ethics but I felt no guilt with such an important prize to win.
“You play pretty good for a miner.” Luko complained after he loss to me again. I shrugged, playing up the outsider come to town with money and ignorant of a hustle. Scar smiled at our banter, seeing two unskilled gamblers ripe for picking. He began to bet more and won the next three hands.
“Watch it, his face twitches when he has a good hand.” Luko advised me as fresh cards were dealt. Broken nose folded almost immediately and Luko informed me that he had a good set of cards. I had a better draw and we raised the bets between us to a ridiculous height before he folded. Our mark had a perfect blank face with no nervous tick and I decided to call his hand and I won.
“Argh, I can't get cards like that.” Luko fairly ranted, his face flushed red at the loss. It was a good act.I won again and when broken nose cleared his throat one too many times I realized we weren’t the only ones cheating.
“They’re playing against-”
“ Yes, but broken nose is a lousy second.” Luko cut into my line of thought, confident we could still win.
My winning streak faded during the next half hour of play, giving Luko the false sense of confidence for the end game. Never mind that Scar was taking his money too. Broken nose was indeed a poor second and I caught Scar giving him a cutting glare after a miscalculation that cost him a heafty sum. He lost patience with his partner but continued going after us. I was losing patience with myself and doubt crept up on me but I kept going out of sheer determination.
Then Scar did what we were waiting for, he started to make big bets determined to take all our money. I figured out a few of the cues the two passed between them. Luko saw it too and almost smiled at the transparent strategy.
We let him aim his winning attack at Luko who lost badly while I hesistated to get in on the big pot. Scar had all his money bet on the hand and I was about to fold but he encouraged me to stay in as he was sure of victory.
“Say your hand." I said at last. He lay his cards down one at a time with a self assured smirk. I restrained myself from jumping with joy as I laid down my cards too. The look of triumph on the rough soldier’s face evaporated as he lost everything. I was about to get up when he took hold of my arm.
“Give me a chance to win back my room and board.” he demanded, a thins sheen of sweat on his brow.
“What have you to wager?” I sneered. He wavered for a moment then reached into his shirt and pulled out a bundle, laying it carefully on the table. It was Toby’s knife. I examined it with feigned casual interest and agreed to another round. Scar picked up the cards but I stopped him.
“Let him deal.” I indicated Luko with a nod as I distrusted our prey. Scar reluctantly agreed seeing he didn’t have much choice. Luko dealt me a good hand and after a long consideration I put in a sizable pot. Broken nose folded and Scar gave him an evil look at the traitorous action. Luko stayed so it was up to Scar who shifted nervously in his chair.
“Say you hand.” he said when he couldn’t bear the tension any longer. Needless to say I had a better hand then he did and he looked utterly crushed.
“ I believe this is mine.” I said quietly as I hefted the weapon in my hand as I got up from the table and thanked them for a great evening. Scar’s eyes followed me in shock and Luko gave a snort of disgust as he quietly gathered up his kit and left. Half an hour later as I returend to the House Macedonia I spotted him at his regular post. I smiled and it was the first time I was happy while in Hiron.