Fiction: How to Gamble Part I (1192 words)

Jaera was where she had said she would be, under the only greenery on the South End tall enough for anyone to call a tree. She sat with her back against the trunk, smiling, face tilted up as if the moonlight was warm where it fell between the leaves. Hearing Silas and Zain approach, she raised her head, opened her eyes, pointed her thumb over her shoulder at the weaving stone street that continued behind her.

“Barelman’s,” she said, without introduction. “Has everything you need.”

Zain didn’t stop, touching Silas’ shoulder to push him on as well. “Thank you,” he told Jaera. He turned to give her a smile as he passed her. “I’ll send Terius back for you.”

She might have shaken her head a little, but it was hidden in the dark. It was a stupid thing for him to say, as Terius would find her whether Zain sent him or not. Terius might, if the situation arose, wander across an ocean face if he heard she was free for an evening on the island next door.

After another step or two, Silas ducked his head and twisted to come out from under Zain’s arm. “She’s not coming with us?”

“Nah,” Zain said. He stuffed his hands into his pockets again to keep the chill off his fingers. “The man we’re going to see doesn’t like her much.”

“Why not?” Silas asked.

Zain looked down at the kid. If he hadn’t noticed the blank piece of leather wrapped around Jaera’s wrist, or, better, if he hadn’t seen a problem with it, Zain was proud of him. And Zain wouldn’t be the one to tell him otherwise. “She insulted his parakeet once, said it looked like a midget cockatrice on a bad hair day.”

Silas looked up doubtfully, but amused, and Zain gave him a satisfied smile.

The street was lined in shops and restaurants and taprooms and inns. They stacked along the street in one level or two, with the occasional third story cutting up into the starlit sky. It was pleasantly disordered, some doors still lit from the inside, some of them dark and unwelcome to midnight guests. The breeze shifted down the street, playing at the outdoor lamps, and making the spare shadows between the paving stones tremble as Zain and Silas walked over them.

Barelman’s looked like a step stool, a single floor square that the restaurant next to it had propped a foot over and promptly fallen asleep. The restaurant was dark and empty, but Barelman’s door flicked open as they approached. A man outside turned to look, then turned his attention back to the woman he was talking with as two men stepped out and on their way.

Terius leaned unobtrusively against the wall on the other side of the door. Straightening as Zain arrived, he folded his hands into the pockets of his jacket. When Zain came close, he took a single step forward and pulled a thick purse out of his pocket.

“Right where you’d said it would be,” he said. “I think you’re supposed to do a better job of hiding this kind of money though. Something a little more imaginative than sticking it in the toes of your spare boots.”

“No one’s stolen it yet,” Zain said with a shrug.

“Good luck,” Terius said, and looked more to Silas than to Zain.

“Thanks,” Zain said. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

Terius gave him a friendly hit on the shoulder, and stuck his hands back in his pockets. He slid past them to take their place on the street and wander back the way they’d come.

He’s not staying?” Silas asked.

Zain smiled a little wider and shook his head. “This is just you and me tonight, little brother.”

“How much trouble are you getting me into?” Silas asked.

Zain grabbed his shoulder again, turning the kid toward the door before he could see the sudden grin that split Zain’s face. “None, I promise,” he said.

Silas pulled the door open and the two of them stepped into the warm room on the other side, stepping immediately to the side to keep out of the way against the wall. The floor was crowded with large rounded tables that the servers had to turn sideways to pass between. The air was smokey in a pleasant way that would be too thick before the night was over. Still, despite the crunched feeling of the space, and the ash on the air, Zain knew this place saw money. The drinks were in glasses and carefully sculpted mugs. The crowds were dressed in embroidered jackets and velvet shoes. The walls, the floors, the tables, and the chairs were carved and scrolled, all in light, orange wood. Despite the fact that Silas was pressing his shoulder blades into the wall with his hands tucked behind him, this was exactly the sort of place they belonged.

Zain let the kid hold up the wall for a minute, and stayed beside him to scan the room. Most of the tables were full, with a one or two extra chairs invitingly empty at each of them. Cards filled the centers on five of them, while the rest were content with their drinks. Zain glanced at each game, until he found the player he was looking for tucked into a table across the room. The man was within arm’s reach of the bar, and in fact extended one hand behind him for another drink. His first mate’s jacket was still around his shoulders, unbuttoned and hanging open over a clean white shirt. His dark hair laid combed back, clean and presentable from the day’s work. A woman behind him looked at his reaching hand for a moment, then shook her head, and passed him the mug he couldn’t quite reach.

Thank you, Zain thought the first mate said, watching his lips.

Zain pulled Silas in front of him, bent down, and pointed toward the table. “See him?” he asked in his little brother’s ear.

Silas sighted down his arm, then nodded without question.

“Stay in front of me, and relax,” Zain told him. “This should be fun.”

Leading the way, Silas wove his way between the tables. They both had to turn sideways to get around the chairs, and pause now and then to keep from running into someone else. Zain twisted to avoid a thoughtless elbow flung out when a man decided to stretch. Silas stopped quick to keep out of a woman’s way as she turned suddenly toward him with a full tray against her shoulder. Two minutes, and they had worked their way to the table. Silas faltered in his next step, looked back to Zain. Zain smiled at him, then swung toward the first mate.

“Hey!” he said. “Kibens!”

The woman at the bar looked over first, then the man looked up too, blinked, smiled slow.

“You?” he said.

“I heard you were in port,” Zain said. He gave him an easy, broader smile.

“Didn’t hear about you,” Kibens said. “Funny. Usually disasters get gossiped.”

Zain laughed and raised his chin a little.

“What are you doing here?” Kibens asked.

“Well…” Zain said. “I heard you were around. And you still owe me a favor.”

Part II –>


One thought on “Fiction: How to Gamble Part I (1192 words)

  1. Pingback: 20 Things You May Might Know About Me | The Little Engine that Couldn't

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