“The big casino.” Amy stopped for a moment in the middle of the road. “Did you say the big casino?”
“Yes, my lady. Yes, my dearest. That’s just what I said.”
“O gods, I was afraid that’s what you had in mind. What are they going to do when they see you come back?”
He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her forward, set her walking down the road again. “They’re not going to see me come back, my love. Because I don’t want them to see me, and I’m very lucky now-haven’t you noticed? Or if they do see me, they won’t know me. I’ve lost weight since they’ve seen me last-a lot of weight. Plus, I have this new beard.” He stroked it. Adrian thought it was looking somehow thicker and healthier in just the few days since Marland had started to become prosperous.
“They won’t let you carry a weapon up to the gaming tables-will they?”
“You know something, Amy? I’m not going to ask their permission-now will you let me finish? They’re not idiots, as I was starting to say, and if they find themselves up against a gambler who never loses, they’re just going to close down the game, if necessary, until they find out what’s wrong. And they’re going to do that long before their bank is broken.”
Amelia looked helpless. It was Adrian who had to ask the question: “So what are we going to do?”
The man flashed him a keen look, welcoming his eagerness. “I,” said Marland, “am going to stay in the background, with the Sword. In the gaming room I’m thinking of-it’s a very big room-there are little balconies, like box seats in a fancy theater, with curtains and all. I’m going to be holed up in one of those. You”-he pointed at Amelia-“are going to be bellied up to the table, a wealthy, bored lady, placing bets. And you, Mudrat”-the finger swung to Adrian-“are going to carry numbers from me to Amy. Carry them quickly and remember them carefully, without any mistakes. The numbers that I want her to bet on.”
Marland paused, frowning at Adrian as they walked side by side. “We’re going to have to find you a new name, Mudrat.” He scowled at the boy critically, as if Adrian should have known better than to adopt a stupid name like that, or should at least stop clinging to it so stubbornly now that times were better.
“Yes, sir,” said Adrian. “My name is really Cham. I think I mentioned that once before.”
“All right, that’ll do. Cham. Obviously we’re going to have to get you some clothes, even fancy clothes, because you’re going to be a page. Know what a page does? Never mind, you learn fast. We’re going into the big time, kid. Maybe you’ll need more than one outfit, because I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do all this winning in one session at the table … it would be better if we could.”
“How much,” asked Adrian, newly emboldened by being made a formal member of the enterprise, “are we going to gamble?”
Again Marland looked at him, welcoming an eager conspirator. “As much as it takes. We’re going to beat them, gambling. Walk out of that place with a ton of their money-and make it look like the fairest and most honest game you ever saw. Cheating? Not us. No way. We’re just lucky today.” He dropped his voice, now sounding almost reverent. “It could happen that way, you know. It could happen that way, for someone, without any magic at all. All it would take would be a run of luck.”
Amelia challenged him. “A run of luck like the world has never seen before!”
Marland turned to regard her, assessing the point judiciously. “No, not quite. Maybe once every hundred years, or every thousand, in the course of nature, a run of luck like this will come along. And we’re going to make our run look as natural as can be.”
Adrian, listening carefully, was becoming ever more intrigued with the challenge of doing such a thing and getting away with it.
The gambler was now explaining eagerly. “But we won’t need a straight run. See, Amy, I’m only going to call about half the bets. The rest will be your choices, made at the table. Some will be good and some bad, just the way it works for every other player. Some of your own bets you’ll win, and some you’ll lose. But all the numbers that I pick, with the Sword, are going to be winners. Overall, our winnings are going to build up and up-and then fall back, sometimes, when you pick a loser. Sometimes we’ll even lose huge amounts. So it’s going to look like nothing but pure dumb, honest luck. We’ll lead the house on and on, into a final wager-I don’t know yet how much that’ll be, I’ll have to do some calculating. Think that out some more before we start. But it’ll be enough to break their bank.”
There was a pause of several heartbeats before Amy’s voice asked, on a rising intonation: “Break the bank at the big casino?” The idea was finally getting through to her.
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“Won’t they have their own magicians working?” Adrian, for the sake of credibility, thought he had better voice more skepticism than he felt; he had more acquaintance with the power of the Swords than Marland did.
Marland said: “Oh, they have wizards on their payroll, all right. They have some of the best in the world in their own specialty, which is anything to do with cheating at a game. But the Sword will handle them. I’ll bet my life on it.
Coinspinner’ll slice them up like so much paper, and leave
’em standing there with their pockets empty.” Amelia, struck by a sudden thought, was fingering her new dress. It was certainly a long step up from prison garb, but still-She demanded: “They’re going to let me stand there in the big casino, at this high-powered table, and play, looking like this?” Marland laughed. “You’re not going to be looking like that, baby. Not at all. Not by the time we get to the big casino.”
THE Crown Prince Murat, physically unbound but still manacled by leaden magic in both feet, was following Karel, as the old Tasavaltan wizard led the entire party in a lengthy inspection of the exterior of the twisted Red Temple. By reason of sortilege Karel was convinced that the most likely way to finding Prince Adrian lay here. At one point the wizard paused in his examination, to point out to the General some ceramic tiles on the side of the building, tiles Karel said were similar to those the apprentices had been sent here to obtain.
Murat was willing enough to follow the two Tasavaltan leaders, meanwhile exchanging a few desultory snarls with Cousin Kebbi. Both Culmians could not help being distracted from their feud by the sight of a multiplex sunrise/ sunset. This, as Karel informed them, and Murat could well believe, was a phenomenon that could be seen only in the City of Wizards. Perhaps a dozen sun images were visible at the same time. About half of these, red and only mildly warm, were arcing slowly down toward the rim of the sky, even as the other half threatened to rise above it. All finally blended into one red glow that spread its way entirely around the horizon.
There was a mutter of satisfaction at last from Karel. But it was not caused by the celestial phenomenon, to which he had been paying little attention. “This is the way we must go in,” he announced decisively, indicating one of the many dark entrances to the Red Temple.
Rostov accepted the decision, and issued the necessary orders to his handful of armed men. The General was now wearing Sightblinder once again, its hilt coming frequently in contact with his hand or arm, and his identity tended to shimmer in the eyes of his companions.
The wizard led the way. Two troopers were left outside to hold the animals. Soon all other members of the party had filed inside the Temple, and the sky and its wonders had been shut out.
But hardly had they got themselves out of sight of the entrance when the wizard called a halt.
Beside him he beheld the General’s figure, going through the kaleidoscope of changes customary for one who held Sightblinder. Karel, for all his own powers, was as much subject as anyone else to the spell of images cast by the Sword of Stealth. The figures now appearing in his perception, one after another, included some from his far-distant childhood, as well as the eidolons of Ardneh and of Draffut. The latter appeared crawling through the dark passage, under a ceiling much too low for the god’s full six-meter height, displaying Draffut’s unmistakable mighty fangs, great manlike hands, and look of serene intelligence.