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Library: The Song

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Author: merja
Date:May 13 2005

"Nice ring, Sam, What's the sparkly stuff-glass, or something less expensive?"
Buttermere Warble, known to his friends as Sam, looked up with a start. On the
other side of his table was a small figure with a grinning face and a thatch
of brown hair. "Oh. Tarquin. It's you. Your boat's in, then. Oh, good."
Now more halflings came crowding into the tavern after Tarquin, Jasper, the
barman of Esmeralda's APron, pot-belly wobbling, growled at them to shut the
damn door. Even here, deep in Marienburg on the murky rim of the Elven
Quarter, the winds off the Sea of Claws had power.
The halflings pulled up stools and began settling around Sam's table. Soon he
was ringed by a jostling rabble. "Join me, why don't yu," Sam said drily. In
his line of work it was useful to have contacts at all levels of society=but
you could have too much of a good thing...
"Aw, Sam, aren't you glad to see us?" A skinny young halfiling called
Maximilian dug a worn pack of cards out of his woollen coat and began
shuffling them.
"Oh, sure. I was getting so sick of calm, peace and quiet."
Tarquin sat opposite of Sam. "So what's the story with the ring?"
Sam's ring was a fat band f gold, shards of crystal caught the light. Another
young sailor bent over to see. "Broken glass myst be in this year."
Sam covered the ring with the palm of his hand. "It's personal."
Tarquin shook his head in mock disapproval. "Oh, come on," he said. "We're
just off the boat. Tell us while we're still sober."
"I told you, it's personal."
"How personal?"
"A tankard of ale."
Maximilian laughed. "Ah, keep it." He slapped cards on the rough tabletop.
"Three Card Pegasus. That's what I want to spend my sober time on..."
But Sam pushed back the hand he'd been dealt. "Sorry,  lads. Deal me out."
Tarquin sat back, mouth wide. "You're kidding. Dragon High Sam refusing a
game?"
Sam shook his head. "No. I'm sworn off Pegasus, that's what."
"Why?"
"Well, it's kind of connected to the ring. But it's basically because of what
happened last time I played..."
The circle of faces were fixed on him now. "Come on, Sam, tell us."
Sam looked significantly at his tankard.
Tarquin picked it up. "Don't tell me. That's personal too, right? Well, you
win, Sam. I'll get your ale. But it had better be worth it..."
Sam leaned forward and folded his arms theatrically. "Right, picture the
scene," he began..."
    
"It was in the Apron, in this very bar. This table, I think. I can't remember
too clearly." Briefly the halfling's face grew dark, belying his jocular tone.
"I'd... had a bad day. I'd taken it out on one or two tankards-"
"So tell us something new."
"I was playing Pegasus. And losing. I couldn't even cover the pot. But there
were only two of us left in the hand." He paused.
"And?"
"And I held three Dragons."
"A collective sigh rippled around the table."
     
MY only opponent was called Eladriel (Sam went on). An elf. Tall, with a
streak of gold in the silver of his hair, quite distinguished looking, like a
lord almost, even with his knees crammed under the halfling-sized tables.
Slumming it a bit down here in the Apron, obviously.
(Jasper growled in warning.)
I remember his eyes. Black as a bird's, they were  they pinned me as I tried
to decide what to do.
"Well, Sam?" Eladriel said. "Do you fold?"
I took another pull at my tankard and tried to think straight. Only three
Unicorns can beat three Dragons, we all know that. But I'd lost too much.
"No," I said. "I don't fold."
"Then cover the pot."
"You know I can't," I said a little bitteryly.
Eladriel smiled, showing even teeth. "Fold or cover," he said.
I stared at my three-Dragon hand. "I'll use a marker."
Eladriel ran a delicate finger over the edge of his three cards.
"Now, come," He said slily. "Markers in a place like this? I think not. You
don't have anything of value?"
I knew without looking. "Nothing."
Eladriel tutted. "Everyone own something, no matter how low they sink."
"Thanks a lot."
I stared at those black eyes.
"Fold or cover," he snapped.
"Name it," I said thickly. "Name the stake you want."
His voice was low, "Are you serious?"
"Name it."
"Your mind," he said rapidly. "Your very being. Your last asset. Gamble your
mind, my friend."


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