Story for the Day: A Game of Cards
Playing cards is a favourite pastime amongst nearly everyone on the Continents, and while there are many gambling halls dedicated to card games, the most fervent of matches is always played at the Diras castle keep.
|Young Vyrdin, wishing he had a deck of cards|
An hour was gone before Alasdair realized he had been dueling with Vyrdin at cards for that long, and though he was always eager for a new card game and glad to have so many willing opponents, he knew himself, knew he was becoming besotted with a game he had just learned, and, even worse, knew his obsession was owing to Vyrdin, who, like Alasdair, gratulated in strategy games and would never leave the table until he had won at least twice, once to prove to himself master of the rules, and the second time to prove that he was better than his adversary. Like Vyrdin with his game of Ibythearlier in the day, Alasdair would not move until he had proven to himself that he knew the game, and while Escera was a game of war, one which involved another player and therefore requiring a certain knowledge of one’s opponent, his schemes and machinations, his cards and his commanders, and involved a serious understanding of baiting and bluffing, playing with someone like Vyrdin, whose stolid countenance and ruthless tactics were well-known amongst the Forces, made losing infinitely worse. He must win against Vyrdin—he could not abandon the game without it—and after another game was begun, Alasdair determined that this time he would win, this time he would trick Vyrdin into using his commander too early, he would save his raze card and remove half of Vyrdin’s ranks from the table, he would leave his strongest cards for last, he would stake his claim as a captain and king and mark himself out as master of the game, but after the first round, Vyrdin saw through Alasdair’s artifice and used his trap against him. He played all his cards exactly how Alasdair had expected him to do, and when Vyrdin had only one card left in his hand, he smiled, placed the card amoungst Alasdair’s front lines, folded his arms, and waited for the agony of loss to begin.
“A spy card?” said Alasdair, glaring down at the insignia beside the card’s title. “Does this one give you another infantryman? Oh, no, there is another symbol here. Well, what does this one do? Is this a different type of spy? Why don’t I have this one in my deck? Oh, this one is specific to your commander. “ He took up the card and read the small text . “Jontir’s spy. When revealed, play in your opponent’s front line. Forgo taking a card to reduce the value of all other cards in the row to zero—oh, by the Gods!”
Alasdair threw down his remaining cards, flurned at his ranks, and sank back in his chair in abject despondence, disdaining the grin he felt hiding under Vyrdin’s beard.
“Of all the errant, unctuous—have you been saving that card for three rounds?” Alasdair exclaimed.
Vyrdin folded his arms and shrugged. “I knew you were going put your last few cards in the front line. You goaded me into putting my strongest cards in the front, then razed my captains. If you had put your commander in the second row, I wouldn’t have saved the spy. I would have just put it down and taken the extra card. You baited me into putting all my high cards out just so you could raze them, but you didn’t take into account that clearing out my front row made yours more vulnerable.” Vyrdin took a card from his deck and turned it over. “Had I taken the extra card, I would have ruined your rear defense and won anyway.”
Alasdair’s shoulders wilted, and he lurched over the table to read the card. “Onager. When placed in your own ranks, remove two units with the same value from your opponent’s rear line.” He perused his own ranks. “So you would have put this down and removed my two archers?” Here was a heavy sigh. “I don’t accept that as a strategy. You could very well not have pulled that card. You got lucky, that’s all, I’m convinced of it. Not every card in that commander’s deck would have been able to win on one draw. You could have drawn another infantryman or any other plain card, or even a specialized card that has nothing to do with—I’m getting up,” Alasdair conceded, pinching the bridge of his nose and looking pained, sinking all his indignation into silence. “I’m standing and I’m walking away from the table, because if I don’t, I will spend half the day playing this game.”
“You could,” said Vyrdin, collecting his cards, “but you still wouldn’t beat me with that strategy. Not against this commander.”
Alasdair stood and agonized, circled his chair, turned his back to the table and snuffed, his fists trembling at his sides. “I will beat you at this game,” sitting down again and pulling his chair toward the table. “If I can beat you at Ardi, I can beat you at this game and any other game. I only need to practice—no,” dropping the cards and standing up, “I’m not sitting down again. I am absolutely not sitting-- I’m leaving—I’m going out with the children, and I will not be thinking about games or strategies for the rest of the day.”
“Yes, you will,” Vyrdin fleered.
“Yes, I will—but I will not be playing again until I’ve seen all the decks and commanders and come up with strategies for beating each one.” He paused and glanced at the cards on the table. “Now I’m going.”
He turned and walked out of the soldier’s mess, but stopped when he heard Vyrdin say, “You might be able to beat me eventually, but you won’t be able to beat your father.”
“Have you already shown him this game?” said Alasdair, in a fever of dread, coming back into the room.
Vyrdin sat back in his chair and smiled. “Teague showed it to him first.”
“And Bryeison knows about this?”
“He showed it to Bryeison at the same time.”
Alasdair stared abysmally at the table. “You know, sometimes, I really wonder what I was thinking when I allowed Teague to join the forces in exchange for his freedom.”
“He’s our best resource.”
“He’s also our biggest instigator.”
“You are worse, but you were gone for ten years.”
Vyrdin shirked his shoulder. “Teague just held my place for me.”
“But now we have both of you.”
“Now you have both of us,” was Vyrdin’s answer, given with a subrisive smile that made Alasdair flodder. “You could just ignore his lures. He knows you love card games, and he wouldn’t be so eager to tempt you if you weren’t so interested.”
“I have to show interest,” Alasdair contended. “He knows games are a weakness. If I feign indifference, he will know. Allowing myself to be willingly baited into playing a wretchedly delightful game is not my fault-- You’re nearly as bad, if not worse. You will sit down and play until you win against the whole keep.”
“I accept that about myself. You think obsessive behaviour is one of your flaws. It’s one of my virtues.”
Alasdair stared at him. “Vyrdin, I love you immensely, but you really are horrid sometimes.”
Vyrdin laughed and held his deck out toward him. “Another round?”
“No! I’m leaving!” Alasdair cried, leaping into the hall. “Carrigh? Come, we’re going out!”
Something about their having just got back from town was called out, but Alasdair would go out, he would take the whole keep with him, and he would leave the game and anyone interested in playing it behind.