#NaNoWriMo Challenge: Story for the Day: The Card Game
Here in Frewyn, we're doing the NaNoWriMo mega challenge: writing 50,000 words a week for 4 weeks. So far, the word count is at 12,000 for the week. Here is one of the stories I wrote for the day. Enjoy!
The Card Game
|WIP of Teague by Twisk|
As Nerri and Merra were gone out together before the preparatory holiday visit, Teague proposed a few rounds of cards to be played in the soldier’s mess with Bilar, Mureadh, and Connors. Bilar professed a visit to Rithea for the holiday was due and therefore thankfully declined the invitation, but as Connors boasted of seeing his family on the morning after Ailineighdaeth night and Mureadh was waiting for his sister to arrive in the capital, both of them agreed to engage themselves for the game until their pockets should be lightened.
Mureadh had no inclination for betting and gambling, but he reasoned that it was in the spirit of the holiday to be charitable and therefore if he should win, he would give all of his winnings to the Church. He was certainly no card player, as Teague had already discovered, but as his intentions were correct, he must win to prove his cause. He marched into the soldier’s mess, determined to trounce his friend, but as he entered, his resolve began to slowly dissolve: he observed Teague and Connors sitting at one of the smaller tables in the far corner, laughing and talking as close friends would do. He cannot address a senior officer like that, Mureadh thought with dignified inflection, but as Connors seemed to be returning the same high spirits, good humour and familiarity, he resigned himself to the notion that such acquaintance was allowable due to the character accompanying the holidays.
He went to the table, having little idea whether he should make his salute or informal addresses, but all his worries were superseded whereupon coming to the table, Teague kicked out Mureadh’s seat for him to sit down and said, “I hope you brought enough money to lose with.”
Mureadh sighed at Teague’s shrewd grin and took his seat with a respectful nod and a pronouncement of “Captain” to Connors.
Connors honoured Mureadh with the same cordiality, but wondered at why he felt it necessary to come to the mess wearing his uniform. It was well passed sundown, all the soldiers had been officially dismissed for the holiday excepting the Royal Guards whose proclivity it was to defend the kingdom at all times, and there was no one about other than himself and Teague. Surely the Den Asaan, though a harsh master and senior officer, would not object to a less formal meeting between ranks. Teague seemed to have no difficulty wearing his tunic and soft leather leggings, and though Mureadh might not feel comfortable wearing something similar, he did not have to attend their friendly match in his full suit with his weapon at his side. He smiled to himself and recalled his early days in the Westren lines, eager to be seen as the best and brightest, and surmised that Mureadh was cherishing the very same feelings now that he had a kingdom to defend and large family to impress. His own mother had been so proud of his entering the armed forces with his cousins that everything he did from that day to this was right. He and his cousins were lauded for their bravery, admired for their talents and quick promotions, and celebrated for the defense of their home. He wondered that Mureadh should have such a desire to prove his worth to his kingdom being from Karnwyl. The small village of frigid climate had done well for Mureadh’s family, a clan of sheepshearers and woodsman, the two sort of yeomanry that such a place was always in need of, and it bemused Connors as to why a humble man from a wealthy family and protective community should suddenly feel the desire to join the forces. Westren had been ravaged by the Fires, the invasions, and the war, and therefore his own sense of patriotism require no explanation, but to see one so devout and so untried with contention made him consider whether Mureadh had come to prove that Frewyn’s religious did not merely sit and pray for the kingdom’s wellbeing. If it was so, he should be glad to see such fervency on Mureadh’s account; Westren had all but done with the Gods after having been inundated with misfortune after misfortune, and though he could never think ill of those who belonged to the Church, he was certainly glad to see one of them who might otherwise have been a Brother be the vessel of his holy conviction. His eyes wrinkled with smile lines and he glanced at Mureadh’s pauldron, hoping that one day one who would attest his valiance in battle should be named captain likewise.
“What are we playing tonight?” said Teague, his sharp eyes gleaming as he broke a pack of cards against the table.
“Not Jainsago,” said Mureadh, glaring at Teague.
|WIP of Mureadh by Twisk|
Connors laughed and began to empty his pockets of his coppers.
Mureadh seemed hesitant to do the same while Teague was lounging in his chair and shuffling the cards with his lips curled in a complacent smile.
“I thought the Good Book states: Thou must empty thy pockets for the wretched,” said Teague mockingly.
Mureadh sighed. “You aren’t poor any longer, Teague.”
“No, but I am,” said Connors cheerfully, “and I want your coins. Place them on the table, Mureadh.”
Mureadh could not refute a captain’s order and therefore took a few silver from his pocket, making certain to keep it close to him to declare to Teague that he did not mean to lose this time. “What's the game?”
“Spades?” asked Teague, taking a pair of dice from his pocket along with his bets.
“I'm not playing dice with you, Teague.”
Teague seemed surprised. “You know that I never cheat.”
“With Mureadh’s luck, it seems you don’t need to,” said Connors laughingly.
Mureadh gave Teague a hard look. He was now become aware of what they had been discussing before his entrance: his inability to win against Teague’s dealing hand and the ritual emptying of his pockets was the subject so entertaining. His featured flushed in a glow of indignation. He was not really ashamed of being so inexperienced with betting games; he had thirteen sisters to provide and care for. Their upbringing had claimed the chief of his attention, and though he had played games with them every night before the family fire, they had never played for money, and being a Farhayden, one of the most devout families in all of Karnwyl- indeed, in all of Frewyn- he should never have thought of teaching his sisters so base a practice as gambling. He huffed to himself, gleaning a satisfied smirk from Teague, and would brood in silence until another game should be mentioned to rouse his sunken spirits.
“Assumption?” said Connors presently.
The proposal had been innocently made, but where Mureadh expressed his approval being only mildly familiar with the game, Teague was all insidious delight. He began shuffling and flipping the cards over his knuckles, dealing the cards with secret revel until Mureadh placed his hands on the three piles and pushed them toward Connors.
“The captain deals,” he demanded.
“So that your Lucentian luck doesn’t tarnish the cards,” said Connors with a good-natured smile.
Teague would let Mureadh have his way; it should only make his win more triumphant and therefore ever so much more crushing. He leaned back in his chair, letting his long legs dangle out from beneath the table, and began to contrive his strategy, not for winning the game, as that had already been determined by his superior powers at betting games, but for making certain that Mureadh should lose. He could have no scruple that Mureadh would fail in some means or other, but how he was to lose was and object of great interest. Mureadh could win against Connors if he should come into some form of fortune- the accident of a decent hand or a blunder on Connors’ side- but Teague could not concede to peace. He knew that Mureadh only lost as badly as he had done due to how easy it was to disquiet him. The secret to winning and to winning well, as his father had taught him, was equanimity: equanimity to keep a clear awareness of the hands being dealt, of the number of cards being picked up and dropped every turn, of being able to make clear and calculated decisions, and Mureadh, with all his reservations on moral conduct, was easily agitated by everything. How Teague should do it, how he should pester and vex his friend to the point of making hurried choices and of losing track of the game consumed his conscience, and his machinations began with a Lucentian smoke. He shifted in his seat, took the rolled tobacco leaf from his pocket, lit it against the sconce beside him, balanced it on his lips, closed his eyes, and drew a long inhalation. Any residual tension he may have felt from the day’s exertion in the training yard had all been done away; its particular hickory and honeyed savour rolled long his tongue, its fire gently tinged his throat, and once he had felt the pleasing sting in his lungs, he exhaled the prolonged sigh of true appeasement. Blue-white smoke billowed forth from his parted lips and wafted into Mureadh’s censorious expression.
“Forces regulation, Teague,” he coolly reminded him, waving the noxious smoke from his face.
Teague raised his brows. “We’re not on duty.”
Mureadh looked to Connors to enforce the general rule of no questionable substances while in the King’s Service, but Connors only shrugged and asked if Teague had another smoke to share. Mureadh groaned to himself, hoping that there were no more to increase the levels of smoke around the table, but there were. Teague was complying with the readiest good humour, taking a second Lucentia smoke from his pocket and lighting it on the sconce before handing it to Connors. Mureadh was offered the first taste, but he checked the invitation with a raised hand and a heated look to Teague as though it had been his responsibility for throwing an evil air over their card game. “It’s bad for your health, Teague,” Mureadh chided him, attempting to arrange his cards while doing his utmost not to inhale any of the smoke surrounding his face.
Connors observed that the smoldering scent of the dried Lucentian leaves must be a irritation to Mureadh, whether from a moral sense or a sense of duty he would not determine. He only exhaled from the side of his mouth and doused the item to keep for a later time.
Teague, however, would not be so generous. He knew how to plague his friend, and now that his unquietness was apparent, he thought it advisable to expatiate Mureadh’s discomfort. “I haven’t been able to afford one of these since my father was alive,” he said in a tone of rueful reverie. He tapped his smoke to release the ash and inhaled again. “He and I used to smoke in the evenings after working all day and play cards and tapia together.” He exhaled, and it was an exhale of deep sadness that such pleasures should now be gone, his father and mother taken by the war, their family business and house ruined forever. He did cherish these feelings, but not as much as his dejected countenance expressed. With half a sigh, he moved to douse his smoke until Mureadh’s moan of resignation provided him with the permission to smoke as many of the Lucentian delicacies as he liked.
He should not have begun the remonstrance with his friend: Mureadh suffered from too much inexperience and guardedness to know of half the poverty and dejectedness from which Teague was made to endure. He felt all the pain and agony of having been reminded of how much Teague lost during the war, and yet he could not forgive his thievery, for it was common understanding that stealing was an inexcusable wrong, but protecting one’s family was in every way right. He felt the guilt of being so fortunate while his friend had been so unfortunate rush upon him. He admitted that the compunction of having asked Teague to diminish this one small pleasure was much more agonizing than having smoke being continuously blown in his face ever was, and with a look of submission, Mureadh said, “You go first,” in a quiet tone and turned his focus to his hand.
“Dealer goes first,” Teague reminded him, all the woe in his countenance completely gone. He had defeated Mureadh’s conscience, and now he had only to lean back in his chair, enjoy his smoke, and wait for Mureadh to lose.
Connors had watched the small interchange with immense interest from over the top of his hand. He liked their odd sense of camaraderie, the one overly concerned with right and wrong and the other ever brooking and checking his sometimes unreasonable ideals. He deemed that they should be good for one another: in time, Mureadh might learn that not every situation can be righted with a simple solution, and Teague, clever as he was, might learn to accept that not everyone beholden to pious notions would judge him unfavourably. He was intrigued to see one of Lucentian decent and one of Karnwyl principles find friendship despite their differences, and though everyone in his own family had held similar views with regard to the Church, he could not help but be reminded of the larking camaraderie between him and his cousins. He would be pleased to see them during the holiday to discover how well they had done under Commander Dobhin’s infamous tutelage, and as he took the highest diamond card from his hand and placed it into the centre of the table, he began to consider whether he should venture to ask Nerri to join their family celebration. She would be attending the celebration in the great hall the following evening to be sure, and perhaps then he might make his application. She might be feeling alone for the holiday after so obvious an exclusion, and by the time Mureadh had placed his beginning diamond on the table and Teague had swept them away with his high queen, he was resolved to engage her for the day of the holiday.
They played for two hours together, Teague winning most hands with expedient nonchalance and celebrating with another smoke with which to disconcert Mureadh. Connors won a few rounds and lowered his bets accordingly as not to lose everything he had gained, but Mureadh, who was so certain of winning, had made the highest bet every hand and lost. Silver after silver was taken from him, bringing with it new rounds of renewed zeal and even more demoralizing defeat. This was a blow to his providential claims, and when the last copper had been plucked from his pile, the game was declared over and Mureadh was left with only his disbelief and indignation to furnish his sensibility.
“How do you win every time?” Mureadh grumbled, pounding his fist against the table.
Teague happily swept his heap of winnings toward him. “I simply don't think about winning,” he said, beginning to separate the copper and silver coins.
Mureadh held his head in his hand. “We are never playing for money again.”
“Be thee not self-interested and give from thy hand freely,” said Teague in an ingratiating tone, waving his finger in the air.
Connors laughed and shook his head. “You've read the Good Book a few times, I see.”
“Only once, and that was more than enough.” Teague made a quick count of his total winnings and with a wide grin said, “I think I'll reclaim my family’s fortune on yours alone, Mureadh.”
There was nothing to be done for his loss, and Mureadh must surrender to his own incapability. Gambling was an art he should never wish to perfect, and he would leave this pastime to those who made it their sport. He was about to retire for the evening and make the final preparations for his sisters’ visit when Teague asked if he would join him for supper at the Wayward Traveler. He would not return his winnings, but he would share them, and as Mureadh seemed as though he could use a large meal and a few drinks, it was as readily offered as was it accepted.