Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

When the flask came back to Marland, he generously extended it to Adrian. The boy accepted, but scarcely wet his lips with the fiery stuff. Suddenly a new hope had been born. The man might now drink himself insensible, or at least into a mood where he might let his guide and servant borrow the Sword for some good reason.

But that was not to be.

Marland doubtless had his obsessions and his weaknesses, but drink did not appear to be among them. After taking a second nip himself he put the flask casually away under a thwart. When, a moment later, Amy wanted more, he watched her drink, and sternly ordered her not to take enough to make her balance in the canoe uncertain.

The ransacking of the chest went on, and Adrian was not, after all, denied all benefit from its discovery. The chest also contained some candy, some cakes-not quite as good, the Prince thought while he sampled, as those given him by Talgai-and other useful preserved food. There was even a packet of tea, and a few small pots and dishes. A small amount of money would be less immediately useful.

Marland decreed a small feast of celebration.

At the bottom of the chest they found a large cloth bag, tightly folded, in which most of the useful stuff could be carried aboard the canoe.

As for the chest itself, it was too large and awkward to come along. In the process of converting it to kindling for a fire, Coinspinner ripped open a hitherto unsuspected secret compartment, from which a couple of modestly valuable jewels came tumbling out into the light of day.

Marland grabbed them up, demonstrating more satisfaction than surprise. Now money would be available, at the next sizable town to which they came.

There was one more discovery, either in the secret compartment or a small but unhidden drawer nearby-a pair of dice. They came complete with a little cup of horn, decorated with carvings of a couple of Red Temple deities, in which to shake them before casting.

The bottom of the chest, still intact, was flat and fairly sizable. Marland set it on a flat place on the ground, and sat down suddenly in front of it, with his new dice cup in hand. The sheathed Sword was in his left hand, but the expression on his face was such that Adrian wondered suddenly whether even Coinspinner might have been temporarily forgotten.

That was not the case just yet-the man was careful to keep the Sword and scabbard in contact with his body as he sat.

“Hey,” Amelia prodded. “You were in such a hurry to get on downstream?”

“Never mind. We can camp here tonight.”

“Camp? In what?” She looked up at the open, partly cloudy sky.

She got no answer. Not the jewels, not the drink, not even his woman in her new dress had aroused quite the same interest in Marland’s eyes as was evoked by the two little ivory cubes. While Amelia quietly retrieved the flask from the canoe and helped herself to another swig of brandy, he picked up the two dice and nursed them tenderly for a while in his fist. Then with a minor flourish he cast them out on his improvised tabletop. He scooped them up and threw them again and again, sometimes using the cup and sometimes not. His whole attention was concentrated on the results.

The Sword was now lying at Marland’s feet, just barely out of contact with his body. Adrian watched both Sword and man with an almost equally concentrated attention.

He jumped when the man said suddenly: “C’mere, Mudrat. Forget about whatever it is you’re doing. I want to teach you something about shooting dice.”

Amelia, vaguely disapproving, and at the same time somewhat amused and interested, had settled herself on a nearby log, and was nibbling candy and looking on.

Digging into his newly acquired small hoard of petty cash, carried in one of his new pockets, the man dealt out ten small coins in front of Adrian, and set out an equal number before himself.

“Here’s ten for you, boy, ten for me. Whoever loses all his coins first has to clean up the camp. Ever play dice?”

“No, sir.” That wasn’t exactly true, but true enough; certainly the Prince had never played in the way that this man seemed to mean.

Marland proceeded to teach the boy the rules. Actually the Prince already knew, in a hazy fashion, the game or a very similar version; but he allowed himself to be taught.

“Wait. Before we start, let me fix something.” Among the men’s clothes in the bountiful chest had been a couple of thin leather belts. Doing a little crude leatherwork with Coinspinner, Marland soon had these worked into a kind of harness. Presently Coinspinner’s hilt, with the symbolic white dice barely visible, was peeking over the man’s shoulder. Adrian glanced at it in private despair as he picked up the dice for his first turn.

It was going to be hopelessly difficult for anyone but the wearer to grab at the Sword while it rode in that position.

The Princeling threw the dice. Then Marland picked them up and threw them. Naturally enough, Adrian lost.

During the first few turns of the entirely one-sided game, the man’s eyes gleamed, as if with the commencement of fever, each time he won a coin. But long before ten turns had passed, well before Adrian’s row of coins was entirely gone, Marland’s expression had changed. He was beginning to frown.

Adrian still had three coins in front of him when the man broke off the game in a surly fashion, and swept up all the money indiscriminately to stuff it back into his pocket.

Noting Marland’s expression-anger, though fortunately not directed at him-Adrian got up without comment and busied himself with some make-work tasks around the fire.

Amelia meanwhile went to her man, putting her hands on his shoulders, studying his face, trying to discover what his problem was.

She hadn’t long to wait. Standing now, he smiled ruefully and reached back over his left shoulder to pat the black hilt. “As long as I wear this, I win. I can feel it now, I’m sure of it. As long as I have this with me, I’m going to win. On every turn.”

“Is that so bad?”

He gave her a look that said she didn’t understand. “Bad? It’s-” But at that point he broke off, frowning, as if unable to explain his own feelings or even understand them. At last he said: “It isn’t gambling anymore. It’s like-picking up money in the street. It’s good to have, but there’s no kick. You ought to know what I mean.”

Amelia said nothing. Watching her face, Adrian thought she was tired of listening to this man, but she kept at it.

“Of course, if I were to take this thing into a real casino . . . one of the big ones …” Marland brightened as this thought occurred to him, but again fell silent.

“What are you thinking of doing, Buve?” Amelia sounded worried.

If he noticed the name by which she’d called him, he disregarded it. “What am I thinking? I’m thinking that this Sword is big magic. Really big. If it could get me out of that jail the way it did . . . I’m thinking that it’s bigger than anything the Red Temple can put up against it. Any Red Temple.”

Now his lady friend was really growing alarmed. “Buve, what are you planning now? What are you going to get us mixed up in? Remember what happened the last time.”

“That’s what I remember. I remember it all too well. I want to see that those bastards remember it too.” He showed his teeth in a kind of smile, and patted her arm. “Last time we didn’t have the gods on our side.”

But the plan, whatever it was, was put aside for the time being, withdrawn from discussion, while Marland apparently tried to perfect it in his own mind.

For sheer compulsive amusement, to have some simple fun gambling with Adrian, the man now disarmed himself temporarily. He trusted Amelia to sit close beside him, her weight on the sheathed Sword, while he and Adrian played at dice.

This time, after fickle fortune had reversed herself several times, Adrian eventually won all the small coins. The boy had not tried to cheat with magic. Used fairly, the dice had finally favored the Prince, while Marland went through several stages of emotion.

Whatever force drove Marland into this game was not satisfied until he’d lost his whole allotment of ten coins, and was tempted to dig into his pocket for more.

He drew on his capital for ten more, and ten more after those. At that point his luck finally turned and he won all of the coins back. Before that happened, Adrian was beginning to consider magical manipulation of the dice to force a win for Marland and restore him to a good temper.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred