Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

He announced to his two confederates that, before attacking the big casino, he wanted to test his gambling plan in one of the many smaller establishments within this city.

When they reached the chosen place, early in the evening, neither the Sword nor the proprietors put up any obstacles to the entrance of Sir Marland and his entourage.

All the rooms were crowded, as Marland had wanted and expected them to be. He and his two companions would attract no particular attention.

In these crowded conditions, the knight found it necessary to hand out a small bribe at the door to obtain for himself a table toward the rear of the room. In this relatively modest establishment, there were no private boxes, booths, or balconies such as those the main rooms of the big casino boasted.

Marland entered limping, presenting this as a silent explanation for his preference in seating. He also adopted the look of a man who had slightly too much to drink.

Adrian considered that this was putting things on too thick, and liable to draw more attention than it diverted. But the ploy seemed to work, and it was hard to argue with success.

Once the master was established at his table, where he sat growling for more drink, Adrian and the bodyguard who called himself Elgar stood by him awaiting orders, while Amelia made her way into the throng at the far end of the room, close to the big wheel.

For this evening’s practice session, Adrian had garbed himself in what he considered the least embarrassing of the several page liveries that had by now been purchased for him.

Play at the table beneath the wheel was of course already in progress, with players joining in or dropping out continually. Amelia, who was no stranger to casinos, took an empty spot, and placed a modest bet or two, without having any particular luck.

Leaning his head back as if in thought, Marland made direct contact between his body and Coinspinner’s hilt. Then he decided on his bet, and, beckoning Adrian to lean close, whispered it in his ear.

The boy worked his way forward through the throng until he reached Amelia’s side. So far there had been but little change in the modest stack of chips before her, but she looked uncomfortable. And worried. And glad to see Adrian arrive.

Elgar, their newly hired bodyguard, had in accordance with good professional practice taken his stand toward the rear of the room where he could supposedly keep an eye on everything. Since being hired, the man had purchased a good sword, but he still did not impress the Prince as being especially formidable. Still, as experienced fighters kept warning him, appearances could be very deceptive in such matters.

Looking around when he had the chance, the Prince, following Marland’s teaching, thought that he could pick out one or two of the ubiquitous house magicians. These people looked somewhat bored, but still faithfully on duty to make sure that no would-be cheaters had any success against the house.

Marland, in sending Amelia his first chosen category- odd-of this practice run, also ordered Adrian to remind her to keep on mixing up her bets-that is, not always to use the winning, Sword-guaranteed number or category immediately, but to save it for later, so that no careful observer of the process could immediately be sure that the bets sent in by the man were invariably winners.

Adrian faithfully passed on the bets he was given. But it occurred to him how easy it ought to be for him to cross up Marland, by simply passing the wrong information to Amy. By the time the man found out, it would be too late for him to do anything about it-not too late for the Sword to do something, of course.

Murat, having followed his quarry to this casino, kept himself in the background and continued to observe. But what he saw only left him more puzzled than ever. Some kind of gambling scheme, evidently; but why should the heir apparent of Tasavalta choose to take part in it?

The Crown Prince still refrained from any effort to contact Adrian or anyone else in the party, to which Kebbi, of all people, had now somehow managed to attach himself.

Marland played for less than an hour, staking only small amounts, and then signaled his people he was ready to quit for the night. His theory of how to beat the house had been, as he considered, gloriously vindicated.

When he broke off the game he was a few thousand pieces ahead-not winnings enough to draw very much attention in a place like this. But he now had enough in his purse to stake himself solidly in the big game, day after tomorrow.

That night, in the inn, Marland was quietly jubilant. Once Elgar was safely out of earshot he announced to his two confederates that he had decided to make only a few minor changes in technique as a result of this preliminary study.

Amelia told him that was good. But she still looked as worried as ever.


TALKING to Marland and Amelia, Adrian learned that the big casino in the Red Temple of Bihari was widely known as Sha’s, after its legendary founder, not surprisingly a Red Temple priest. Sha’s, or at least the inner rooms of that establishment, where the biggest games took place, had an expensive membership requirement, meant to keep out the riffraff.

The gambler had not been surprised by the requirement. As far as the Prince with his lack of experience could judge, he possessed a good familiarity with all important phases of the gambling business.

Not that he explained everything to his associates. On the day before he planned to break the bank, Marland, with Sword and scabbard strapped to his back, visited the Red Temple alone. When he rejoined his confederates he had little to say. The Prince wondered whether Marland, as an expert in the bottom line, might have been able to bypass some of the more expensive membership requirements by means of a little judicious bribery.

In any case, Marland in this environment hardly seemed like the same man who in other circumstances had often seemed clumsy and unable to cope very well.

Amy, who according to her own testimony had been in a great many gambling establishments, including this one, also seemed at home here, though she continued to worry.

She did a fairly good job of concealing her anxiety. But the Prince could tell that it was still growing.

Meanwhile Kebbi was keeping his eye on Marland’s Sword, waiting for the man to get careless. The more he watched Marland, the more he realized that he might be in for a long wait. Also Kebbi continued to puzzle over why Adrian, a prince in his own land, was content to act as a servant to this gambler, who obviously had no idea of his page’s true identity. Prince Adrian, as far as Kebbi could tell, was in full possession of his faculties, though he was calling himself Cham. Simply taking the opportunity to run away from home? That wouldn’t be unheard of, even among royalty.

The Culmian defector bided his time, waiting to learn more.

Murat, from his room in the same inn, also maintained his observation. He also wondered about Adrian’s purpose in remaining here.

When the Crown Prince of Culm, who had recently used the Sword of Chance himself, was able to identify it as the odd-looking weapon now carried by the gambler on his back, he considered that he had made real progress.

Murat remained obstinately determined to restore the young Prince to his mother, as an important means of making amends to the Princess Kristin. But, if he were later able to hand Coinspinner back to his own Queen, what a coup that would be!

Rostov, Karel, and the four surviving troopers eventually arrived in Bihari, a full day after the Culmian fugitives. The Tasavaltans’ arrival in the resort city had been delayed by their difficulty with demons.

Early on the evening of the day he had chosen to consummate his revenge, Sir Marland and his two helpers, accompanied by their sturdy bodyguard Elgar, took a short walk through the streets of the resort city, made their approach to the great Red Temple of Bihari, and entered, heading directly though unhurriedly for Sha’s.

Marland, as on the day of his preliminary effort, had chosen this hour deliberately, knowing that the gambling tables would be already busy, but with their busiest time still a few hours in the future.

On approaching the Red Temple complex, the young Prince was impressed. This was by far the biggest such edifice that he had ever seen; indeed he wasn’t sure that any building in Sarykam was quite this large.

On entering it, Adrian was inevitably reminded of the Twisted Temple of the City of Wizards, though his visit there seemed much further in the past than the two weeks or so that it actually was. Still, there were great differences between that Red Temple and this one, besides the circumstance that this one was crowded with mundane humans and that one had long been deserted by such creatures. For one thing, there was music, live and real and mundane, almost everywhere inside this Temple, whereas that one had been haunted with ghostly sounds.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred