Story for the Day: It's Educational

Many a dalliance can be got away with by the excuse of "it's educational", and while books nearly always fall under this category, games too can be disguised as learning tools-- especially when a king says so.

Alasdair had followed what he thought was a gamesmaster, but when he realized the person was only a fried meat vendor just having stepped out of his stall with his dice bag attached to his belt, he grew embarrassed and turned toward the nearest café, thinking that a Lucentian or
Livanese establishment ought to have what he was searching for. Servers from the adjacent eateries swarmed the lanes, scouring the streets for novitiates, offering cakes and coffee for anyone who would populate their new terrace, an allowance given them by the kingdom, provided the weather was good and business warranted the extension of space. Alasdair had quite forgot the permits they applied for in the courts and only remembered them when the proprietor of one of the shoppes came to thank His Majesty for his attention and generosity: he had given him a license to lure, one he was using now by ushering the royal party toward his terrace with an open arm.
                One glance at the cakes, however, and Alasdair quietly accused him of subordination.
                “Not at all, Your Majesty,”  was the bowing salutation. “I already received what I needed from the kingdom. It was little more than a fishing license really, but we do what we can with it.”
                The proprietor gestured toward his terrace and urged the party to enter by way of prostrations and winks. There was no hardship in sitting at such terrace, however: a humble array of chairs and tables were set out, each adorned with cups and saucers, every seat cushioned and turned out toward the river, every napkin knifed and spooned, every plate garnished with creams and cakes, and as the owner was so insistent—so kind and thoughtful for the Majesty to join them and bring his whole party—Alasdair allowed himself and his family to be seated, everyone immediately taking up a cup and claiming  cake upon sitting down. Coffee was called for and brought round, the servers were asking whether anyone would need sugar for their cups, but Alasdair was not listening; he was spying the card games lying in the box beside just beside and wondering whether any of the games he was searching for were available to play.
                “Ah!” said the proprietor, noting the king’s interest. “I see His Majesty would like a game. We have plenty here to entertain you, if you wish. Jainsago or Sirs or—“
                “Do you have Escera?” Alasdair pleaded.
                “We do. I believe we have two decks. I’m sure there is at least one deck in the main room. Shall I go and fetch it for you, Your Majesty? Do you mean to play a few rounds with those in your party?”
                “I think he means to set up a formal tournament,” said Carrigh, laughing.
                The proprietor seemed amused but felt as though he had missed something.
                “Your friend the Royal Informant introduced him to Escera and Thynu this morning,” Boudicca explained. ”Alasdair was beaten several times in a row and has never got over it.”
                “Oh, yes, I’m sorry to hear of it,” said the proprietor, with mock severity. “Game affliction is a common disease back home. Our gambling halls are notorious for being filled with men who hate to lose and want revenge. Men have lost mates, partners, attendants, limbs, and even lives over our games, and Escera is not even the most popular one.”
                “I can understand why,” said Alasdair, taking up his cup and staring begrudgingly at his coffee. “Who would want to play a game that would nail them to a table for an eternity?”
                The proprietor shrugged. “Lucentians.”
                “Well,” Alasdair hemmed, “I suppose, though I should never mean to suggest anything.”            
                “You may suggest as you like, Your Majesty,” said the proprietor, laughing. “It’s our national curse, and our smoking dens the only remedy. We are a rather debauch people, I will be the first one to admit it, but we prefer to enjoy our time with our friends and neighbours rather than waste it on our knees. You will never see a Galleisian card hall, but you will also never see a Galleisian surrounded by smiling faces either.”
                “True, unless those Galleisians are in our family,” said Boudicca subrisively. “We have a tolerable collection of them, as you well know, and they have not stopped smiling since they joined us, though they haven’t fallen prey to the sting of cards.”
                “It’s a disease really. Even I cannot resist once a deck is laid out, whatever the game. Even ones I don’t know, if there is a table in the way and a drink in my hand, I have to sit and watch.” The proprietor glanced at Alasdair, who was sipping his coffee and trying very hard not to look at the game box. “Shall I put the cards out, Your Majesty, or shall I put them away?”     
                The debate was banded about in Alasdair’s mind, his conscience gaining ground over his sense, which told him that he had come out of the keep to escape the sting of card games and Teague influence, but the box was beside him, the game was within reach, and a moment might see the deck on the table, and a strategy might be learned, an advantage might be gained for his battles against Vyrdin’s impenetrable will. “Put them away, please!” said Alasdair, in a fever. “I will never leave if you bring them out!”
                “You realize, Your Majesty, that is not a problem for me,” said the proprietor, with a sagacious aspect. “Having the King of Frewyn sit at my establishment is good for my business, and the longer you stay, sire, the bigger the compliment it is, the more others are likely to come.”
                Alasdair groaned into his palms, but when he looked up, he had even more reason to grieve: a gamesmaster, with his tall hat, patched vest, and display box, appeared at the edge of the terrace, to Alasdair’s great horror and the delight of everyone else. His blithesomeness  and general air of assurance offended Alasdair’s ideas of abstinence, Alasdair having decided that he was only going to play with the decks at the café and leave off buying his own set, but some subliminal cogitation transmitted from their side of the street to the other, whereupon the gamesmaster, who was sat at his stall, caught it up and came to give the royal party a perusal of his collection, a collection which Alasdair was already disdaining him for.
                “Did I hear His Majesty say he was looking for Escera?” said the gamesmaster.
                “You have excellent hearing,” said Boudicca. “He did ask, but something tells me that His Majesty is going to have you ordered at the bottom of a well in a moment.”
                A glimpse from the corner of her eye betrayed Alasdair’s disdain, and she simpered at his flurns, remarking that the more he tried to escape from learning Escera, the more the game seemed determined to find him out.
                “My hearing is tuned to the sound of demand,” said the gamesmaster, with a gallant bow, “and I have just the supply for His Majesty. I have a deck right here, along with a companion deck and a few extra cards that might be thrown in to a round,” taking the cards out of his display box. “I also have Thynu, if you would like to play with the commander cards, and I even have a copy of Yenvizher. “
                Alasdair’s ears perked. “What is that?” he asked, giving the box a thorough inspection. “It’s a card game, I see. Is it Livanese?” and then, in a more mournful hue, “I already regret having asked.”
                “You’ve never seen Yenvizher, Your Majesty?” asked the proprietor.
                “No, though something tells me you’re going to show me.”
                “I can, if you wish, Your Majesty, but the game is nothing to be afraid of. Yenvizher an old Livanese card game—the name means trader in their old language—but some say the game originally came from the Bizarmin. It’s a very simple game, played with forty cards over three rounds, and the only thing you can do on your turn is trade cards in your hand for ones on the table.”
                “That’s all?”
                “That’s all.”
                “Well, the premise sounds simple enough,” was Alasdair’s hesitant reply, feeling the first ardours of curiosity begin to surmount him.
                “All the cards represent different goods, and all you have to do is exchange them for goods in your hand, as though you were playing a real trade market, but you can only exchange a certain amount of cards at one time. Whoever has the most goods with the highest value at the end of a round wins. Should I show you, Your Majesty?”
                Should he? was the question that plagued Alasdair as the games were laid out. The games were out on the table beside him. Three decks, two belonging to Escera and one to the Livanese trading game, lay before him, and the agony of which to play or not play, which to buy and which to sample, besieged him into silence. Something would be played, something else would be purchased, that something which would claim his time and the semblance of integrity he had been frittering away for the last hour. One glance at the children, however, who were waiting anxiously for him to reach a conclusion, and Alasdair’s mind was made.
                “We’ll take all of it,” he said, resigning himself to vice, “all three of them. The children can learn the trading game. It seems harmless enough and might have some educational value to it.”
                “I daresay Lucentian card games are just as innocuous,” said Boudicca. “How readily you can excuse a game as being educational when the children are in the way, but when you want to learn a game, the whole keep must be overturned to keep you from the cards.”
                “Because we can easily tell the children to learn something else,” Alasdair contended. “I know myself, and know I won’t stop playing game until I’ve mastered at least some part of it.”
                “Astonishing how we kept from losing you to the gambling halls while we were in Lucentia.”      
                Alasdair’s face lengthened. “We were there for diplomatic purposes.”
                “Games are as diplomatic as they are educational. They are a lesson in both, surely, in getting to know your opponent well enough to conquer them.”
                “They are, but we don’t need northern card games to learn about adversaries or how to defeat them.”
                “We don’t, but that does not stop you from plunging yourself into them with the same fervour as you would a debate at court.”
                Here was a flat look. “I did grow up playing Ardri and Brandubh, you know, which now that I consider it, probably fostered an early like for strategy games.”
                “Then perhaps, Your Majesty,” said the proprietor, sitting down, “if you are such a professed gamester, you would do me the honour of a few rounds?”
                He gestured toward one of the Escera decks on the table, and Alasdair cringed made a strangled “…Hrrnn.”
                “As well you might, Alasdair,” Boudicca laughed. “You have already committed yourself, and perhaps you’ll learn a few strategies that you might take back to the keep.”
                The private recesses of Alasdair’s mind, where he secreted away his vices-- his affection for games, his amourous inclination for a handsome jerkin, his passion for rhubarb pies-- had been breached, and he allowed himself the extenuation of a few rounds, provided they could teach him enough about the game that might satisfy his shameful curiosity and quell the unquietness of the last hour. Anything might always be reasoned away with education, and learning how to beat Vyrdin at a game of cards at present was the most informative thing in the world. “All right,” he sighed, thinking his surrender a weakness never to be got over. The cards were shuffled and doled, and he watched and listened and learned, humming and humphing over the proprietor’s hints with contracted brows and folded arms, while the gamesmaster went to the other table, to demonstrate how the Livanese trading game was to be played and set them off going, that he might skulk back to his stall and advertise himself as the man who satisfied the king’s desire for cards and introduced a new game to the keep.