Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

Kebbi, closely accompanying his new employer, was also inevitably reminded of his recent narrow escape from the Twisted Temple, and of the differences and similarities between that Temple and this one.

Murat, on seeing Adrian and the others leave their inn again, had followed them. The Crown Prince kept well in the background, patiently observing.

Marland at last had plenty of faces around him that he could recognize, faces whose presence would have made him indeed uneasy if he had not possessed the security of the Sword. These familiar countenances were those of Red Temple priests and other employees who had been intimately involved in his downfall only a few months previously.

One gaze in particular, tonight, caused Marland to hold his breath briefly. But the functionary, who Marland supposed might be somewhat nearsighted, looked right through him, and gave no sign of recognizing either him or Amelia.

Moments later the gambler was smiling at his own foolishness. If the Sword could extract him unharmed-as it had-from a condemned cell, a mere casino would pose no problem. With the Sword on his back now, he might have known that he was safe.

But Amelia, infinitely less sanguine, tugged urgently at his sleeve as soon as they entered the next room, and whispered that she was afraid they had been spotted.

“What makes you think so?” He hardly bothered to lower his voice.

“The croupier in the room we just left. The way he looked at us. I remember him from last time.”

Marland had seen the same glance pass over them, and he was ready to assure her categorically that no recognition had occurred. On the contrary, they were practically home free already. Luck was his. He patted his woman’s hand reassuringly. “I remember him too. But it’s nothing. Forget it. Keep walking.”

It was only natural that a good many of the dealers, clerks, croupiers, lookouts, and house magicians who had been working in Sha’s then were still here now. Marland and Amelia could have called a number of them by name. But none of them were going to recognize the pair now. Marland could just feel it.

The Red Temple of Bihari, justly famous for its size and complexity, seemed to go on forever. Adrian had ceased having to play the country yokel and was beginning to gawk in earnest.

There was a strong taste of magic in the air as well. The Prince, to his own surprise, began to sense that he was no longer very far from the City of Wizards.

Marland himself had never really paid that much attention to where he was, in any physical, geographical sense. Ordinarily it made very little difference to him. The tables and games, the dice and cards, winning and losing, the risk-taking, were all he really cared about.

He, like many another gambler, had heard stories about the fabulous big game room in Sha’s. Until now he had never been able to afford to enter that room, but he had determined that it would be there-though he might have been able to accomplish his goal elsewhere-that he would make his all-out effort to break the bank.

As the opulent rooms, filled with gaming tables, entertainers, customers, and food and drink, flowed by them one after another, Adrian could feel a growing sense of impending danger. There was nothing rational or logical about the apprehension, but he could not help considering, one last time, his option of abandoning the gambler and his scheme and getting away. After all, the Emperor hadn’t really ordered him to stay with the gambler, or to try to take control of the Sword of Chance. That had been all his own idea.

The Prince now had a small supply of money in his pocket. He knew where he was-at least in a general way-in relation to his home, though Tasavalta was far away. And, as always, he was equipped with his own magical abilities.

But a sense of adventure held him here, and a sense that the Emperor though advising caution had somehow approved of what Adrian was doing, or what he was trying to do. Well, he still had time to decide. The sense of impending danger was not so immediate as all that.

Kebbi, meanwhile, was not having much success in formulating a plan to get his hands on Coinspinner. About all he had decided was that he had better grab the Sword as soon as he got a chance. Once he had that blade in hand, kidnapping Adrian-or anything else he decided to do- ought to be easy.

Marland, on actually arriving at the big game room, and being admitted with his party, promptly established himself in the box he had reserved. This was one of eight luxurious balconies in the rear of the huge room. All were about three meters above the floor, and Marland’s was near the center, fourth from the left.

A turbaned attendant, bowing, escorted Sir Marland and his party to their box by way of a passage that ran behind all eight balconies, and was set off from them by doors and curtains. Elgar the bodyguard, at a word from his employer, assumed his station in this passage, just outside the sole entrance to Marland’s box.

The enclosure in which Adrian, Amelia, and Marland found themselves was as big as a small room, containing a couch, a few small tables, and several chairs. Rich tapestries decorated the three closed walls, and a couple of candles on side tables shed a creamy light. Marland, with a sigh, pulled the most comfortable-looking chair forward to the rail and settled himself. From this position he could overlook almost the entire huge room of games, but his face and form were largely concealed by the draperies that partially covered the front of the box.

Safe from the observation of most of the room at least, and feeling ever more confident in his tremendous luck, the gambler drew his Sword. He held Coinspinner point down on the floor, its whitened hilt clutched tight in both his hands.

Amelia had gone to one of the side tables. Several varieties of wine were provided there, courtesy of the house.

“Let’s have a toast,” said Marland.

Looking at him, then at Adrian, she righted three of the sparkling glasses. Opening a bottle seemingly at random, she poured the glasses full, and handed two of them to her companions.

“To victory,” said Marland solemnly.

Adrian sipped from his glass. He thought he had tasted better, once or twice, in the palace at Sarykam. Marland sipped at his. Amelia hesitated briefly, then gulped her wine down.

A few moments later she was on her way to the gaming table, where Marland and Adrian silently watched her vanish into the crowd.

The great vertical wheel on the front wall spun twice, after her disappearance, before Marland dispatched Adrian with his first bet of the night: a single chip upon the category black.

The wizard Karel was at that moment entering the Red Temple of Bihari with Rostov at his side. The four troopers had been left outside, watching hired animals, including a mount for Adrian, ready to move out on a moment’s notice. On entering the Temple, Karel paused for a moment. It took an effort to make himself move forward once again. His magical sense had just warned him that Wood was somewhere in the vicinity.

“Heavy magic ahead,” he commented in a whisper to Rostov, who walked at his side, bearing Sightblinder muffled in a sheath but ready.

“And the Prince?” asked the General.

“He’s somewhere ahead also. Ah, this way for Adrian. To our right, toward the casino.”

“That way too for the heavy magic?”

“That’s to our left.” Karel allowed himself a brief and mirthless smile. “Not needed to augment the thrills of Sha’s Casino. Gambling provides its own magic, my friend. Trimbak Rao tells me that it’s an especially abominable vice.”

Marland had not been alone in his box for long when Elgar put his red head in through the curtains. His eyes, as they often did, focused on the Sword in Marland’s hands before rising to his employer’s face.

“There’s someone here says he knows you, sir.”

“Really? Well, send him in. It’s all right, you can stay out in the corridor.”

The bodyguard stepped out again. And Marland recognized the face that appeared next, though out of habit he was careful to keep his own countenance from displaying any recognition. The newcomer was Thurso, a small man with slicked-back black hair and an artificial-looking mustache; a hanger-on in Sha’s and sometimes in less opulent casinos, a sometime gambler, a doer of difficult or unpleasant tasks-for hefty fees, of course-and from time to time a blackmailer.

The heavy curtain sagged shut behind Thurso. Marland supposed that enigmatic Elgar would be doing his best to eavesdrop outside. Well, let him. It was Marland who had the Sword of Luck.

“Hello, Buvrai,” said Thurso, making no effort to pitch his voice particularly low.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred