Blackie's Gambling Ring
"Come, come, come! Make your bets now!"
Blackie held a colored cylindrical container in his left hand and five colorful dice in his right. The practiced manner with which he toyed with the dice showed how experienced a gambler he was.
The people around betted non-stop. The ongoing war seemed far and distant to them. After being subjected to such constant, grueling grinds, recruiting new soldiers to fill the ranks was inevitable. As such, quite a few mercenaries, bandits, thugs, and so on were being recruited. They were trained for half a year before being dragged to the battlefield. It went without saying that the mere half a year of training wouldn't be enough to wipe away the unkempt habits of such people. Quite a few problem-children cropped up as a result. By now, there was enough to fill a whole brigade.
They caused quite a bit of trouble usually, but they were actually quite restrained compared to some of the others. But when they were all put into the same brigade, they suddenly became uncontrollable. A crowd easily turned a man into a beast, after all. The townsfolk had even started lodging complaints about night-howling.
Kurdak's group's eyes nearly fell out of their skulls when they entered the so-called camp. There was something for everyone: gambling, brawling, drinking, singing, and more. Kurdak even suspected that, apart from the lack of better facilities and women, it was comparable to Second Heaven, Melindor's biggest entertainment district.
The most eye-catching was Blackie's gambling ring. He was surrounded by three rings of soldiers. Many were waving silver coins in their hands and a few made bets even though they couldn't see the ring at all.
"Let's go take a look," Kurdak decided.
He'd been warned by Alissanda, but he still felt a deep migraine settling just behind his forehead when he saw it with his own eyes. Nobody had so much as looked at him once he was inside the camp; even militias were better at maintaining security than this!
"Sorry, please make way," Kurdak said as he tried to push by a soldier, but the man just ignored him.
"Make way!" Kurdak repeated, raising his voice, but nothing happened.
"Make--" Kurdak started again, but gave up mid-sentence, "--Forget it."
A moment later the outer ring started crying as Kurdak grabbed one after the other by the collar and flung them aside like little kittens. He got to his destination a few seconds later, and the soldier's gazes finally caught onto him.
"I knew this would work best with these louts," Kurdak muttered to himself scoldingly.
"Want to play a game or two?" Blackie asked, apparently not surprised by Kurdak's arrival at all.
His gambling ring had become the most famous little establishment in the camp in the two weeks since the camp had been pitched. He was surprised, however, by the woman who'd followed in his destructive wake.
"Passing mercenaries," Kurdak offered curtly, "We heard the commotion from outside and decided to join in. I'm itching for a good game, mind if I join?" Kurdak smiled.
"Not at all!" Blackie shouted above the slowly regrowing buzz of the crowd, "Everyone with a silver is welcome! Will these ladies join as well?"
"Not interested," Vera said, a sweet smile on her face that made even Leguna's spine tingle; and it was a world away from a good tingle. He knew from personal experience what death awaited anyone unfortunate enough to solicit that smile from the woman.
"A shame," Blackie lamented.
The woman had an incredible figure. If he could strip her down, the entire camp would be eternally grateful to him, and he'd enjoy it just as much. He was rather prim and proper despite his deep involvement with gambling, so he wasn't going to bug her after she refused.
His mind had been clouded by Annelotte, however, so he didn't notice how beautiful she was. She was just another female presence in his mind. Annelotte knew what kind of trouble would come her way when she walked into a camp full of women-deprived men, even more so since these men were barbaric mercenaries, and double again because of her beauty. So she'd surreptitiously cast a clouding spell on herself. It clouded the minds of those around her so they didn't notice her beauty. She could have made it so they wouldn't notice her presence at all, but she didn't go that far.
"What are we playing?" Kurdak diligently brought the man's attention back on him.
He sat down confidently, shoving a bunch of men off the nearest bench to make space for his companions.
"Not to brag, but I've worked at a casino before. There are no games I can't play, so feel free to propose any."
Blackie took all sorts of gambling implements out of hidden pockets in his overcoat. There were dice, cards, gambling tiles, and several other obscure things.
"Quite a complete collection," Kurdak said, a hint of awe in his voice, "Let's start with the simplest. We'll bet on dice rolls. Ley, come with me!"
"Okay!" Leguna was itching to join as well. He was far from addicted, but he was not blind to the allure.
He only considered the current little game a warm-up for what his boss was going to do later, anyway.
Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned. The two men were pale barely ten minutes later. Blackie was a consummate professional. He got whatever roll he wanted from his dice no matter how he tossed them and the two men's pockets were already much lighter than it had been when they started.
"Another game, perhaps?" Blackie asked with a broad smile as he saw their ashen faces.
"Works for me," Kurdak nodded, trying to hide his apprehension.
The outcome was the same no matter what game they played. Blackie slaughtered them every time. The two dazed greenhorns were down five gold coins just half an hour into the session. They certainly didn't do themselves any favors with their reckless bets. It surprised even Blackie. He'd seen very few people indeed willing to make bets of the size they were making.
"Looks like we're having quite the rough start," Leguna said, nudging the old man.
They'd planned to make a scene in the gambling ring and shock everyone else to catch their attention. Once they had everyone's attention, Kurdak would reveal who he really was and beat them all up. It was a simple plan, but it had taken poor Kurdak half the night to come up with it. It was actually a good thing that it was such a crude plan. Crude things usually had the best effect on crude people.
They didn't expect this man would shoot their plans in the heart before it had even truly taken flight. He would ruin his reputation if he beat the gamblers up as planned now. Rather than the awe-inspiring commander beating sense into his men, he'd look like a vindictive loser beating up his poor subordinates for daring to beat him.
"What do we do?" Kurdak's current subordinate asked him.
"Ask Annie. She's a magus, she might have a few tricks up her sleeves."
[What am I supposed to know about gambling? I'm a magus, not a gambler. I don't even know half the games you've played,] Annelotte simply splashed right into their heads.
Damnit. We can't just leave with our tail between our legs! Kurdak shouted at no one in particular.
"It's been a lot of fun, but maybe we should call it a day?" Blackie smiled, noticing the slight tart edge to the two's faces.
"Hmm--" Kurdak started.
"--Let me play a game or two!" Alaine said from behind him.
She must have figured out what he and his little boy was planning and knew it couldn't be good for his command if things started off this way. She wasn't keen on Kurdak and his group, but whatever else they may be, they were Annelotte's friends -- after a fashion, she reminded herself -- and Annelotte would not be happy if things went badly for them. Not to mention that the whole lot of them would have to stay here longer getting this stinking pile in order if things went badly. It was thus very much in her interest to get things started of in the best way possible so they'd leave sooner.
"Oh?" Blackie half gusted, staring at the girl, "Know how?"
Alaine took a deck of cards from the table and shuffled smoothly for a few moments, then she dished them out like a rapid fire arbalest.
Blackie's interest was piqued instantly. The move she'd just demonstrate took many months' worth of practise, and not just anyone had the interest, or the perseverance, to practice it to the extent she clearly had. Had he finally met his equal?
"I'm afraid not. I don't have any on me today."
"We could always play on stripping." Blackie suggested before Kurdak could offer her any.
"What do you want to play?" Blackie asked just a moment too slow to hide his surprise at her agreement.
"Why don't we play the same order they just did?" Alaine asked provocatively.
Blackie didn't know how strong his new opponent was, but he lacked no confidence in his own abilities. Kurdak and Leguna had been huge gamblers back on Lance, but it appeared that when it game to gambling, as with most things, Lance was far behind Chino. Not to mention that Alaine was just a young maid, so nobody held high hopes for her. They didn't stop her, though. Her losses would do no more damage to them than they had already done to themselves twice over.
The two young men's faces were pale again just a few minutes later, however, and Blackie's had joined them this time, though for a slightly different reason. Alaine still wore all her warm clothes, but Blackie stood naked, fighting the overpowering urge to cup his dignity and run for cover.
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