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Captain of the Guard: Thimblerig

September 11, 2019

Some of the men were already among the Travelers. Cedric could hear music and laughter.

Vul came sauntering back. His pace was slow and easy. He was scratching his left hand and face. Cedric wasn’t sure with the evening light, but the left side of Vul’s face was looking ruddier.

He glanced over at Al and for the briefest moment and thought he saw a crooked smile on the Charlatan’s face as he watched Vul.

“Did I miss anything, My Captain?” Vul asked.

“Fortunately, not.” Cedric replied.

“We were about to check out the rest of the camp.” Al said. There was a strange note of satisfaction in the man’s voice.

“We were?” Despite the protest, Cedric headed out of the two of them out into the camp. Women in gaudy dresses were dancing by a large fire, flirting with a couple of the men.

“There, Captain.”

Cedric looked at where Al was pointing. “There, what?”

Al pointed, “The game. That is how you will free the beast.”

Cedric looked at where Al was pointing. One of the Travelers had a small table set up and was moving a pea between three silver thimbles, while having people bet on where the pea was hidden.

“The shell game? Are you joking? The game is rigged, it’s a cheat.”

“Nevertheless, you will win the dog’s freedom playing the game.” Al said with pompous certainty.

“I am not playing a game you can’t win.” Cedric said.

“My Captain, you will succeed where other men have failed.” Vul enthused.

“You play the game then” Cedric snapped.

“I’m not a hero,” Vul pointed out, “You are.”

“If you call me a hero one more time, I will show you in a very direct and personal way that I am not. Do you understand?”

Vul waved it away, “If that is your wish, my Captain.”

“Go play the game, Cedric, you will win.” Al stated with certainty.

“I’m not throwing my money away on a con game.”

“Here. I have faith in you, I will give you the money for the game.” Vul pulled out a pouch heavy with silver. Cedric noted that Vul’s face was definitely ruddy on the left side.

Al smiled agreeably. “Excellent.”

“I don’t want to be responsible for your money, Vul”

“It is freely given, when you win, just return the money.”

“If I win.” Cedric took the money and scowled.

The three of them walked over to the game table. The Traveler looked up and smiled, care to try your luck?” He lifted a thimble and showed the pea before capping it again, then he moved the thimbles in rapid succession among his hands.

It bears noting at this point that one of Cedric’s men, by the name of Reg, had already been spirited off by one of the ladies with the hope of engaging in a very private form of entertainment.

Reg was a decent enough chap, if not particularly bright. If he’d been paying attention to the children of the Travelers he would have noted that they all had dark hair, blues eyes, and fairly sharp features, that on a woman could, if she was lucky, look haughty and beautiful, but on a man looked weasel like.

The children all looked like Travelers.

Had Reg noted that detail and considered it’s meaning, he would have realized that he was not going to be successful in gaining access to the woman’s favors. Women that engage in the world’s oldest profession tend to have a brood of children that varied in appearance depending on the looks of the male parentage of the children.

The second thing that Reg did that was a mistake, although one that might not have saved him anyway, was he did not follow Cedric’s proscription against drinking.

The wagon the wanton wench had led him to was filled with beautiful cloth hanging in enticing patterns. There was a bed he could see behind velvety curtains that was piled with pillows. It was hot in the small enclosure and he was excited.

The woman poured wine into a golden goblet and appeared to sip from it before offering it to Reg. Their hands brushed slightly as he took the cup, exciting him. Reg took a healthy swallow.

The Traveler smiled at him and proceeded to dance around him, Reg felt the occasional featherlike touch of her hands as she moved around him. The room was getting hotter. He felt flushed and took another drink from the goblet.

She smiled at him her face seemed to hover within inches of him. He could feel her breath on his face. Warm and inviting.

He passed out.

Under normal circumstances Reg would have woken up the next morning with a headache, no recollection of the prior evening and a purse that was empty.

Tonight was not going to be normal – for while this was going on, Cedric was winning at thimblerig. Oh he lost occasionally, but he was winning more than he was losing and winning enough that his men were taking notice.

The Traveler that was running the game was shaking his head ruefully, but secretly feeling very smug. The Captain was as much of a rube as the rest of his men, he was thinking. Soon he would have them all betting on the Captain and then he would clean them out of all their coin when the Captain’s luck “failed.”

Cedric was deeply unhappy.  He watched as the men started placing their money with his, cheering him on with each correct guess, and accepting each loss because they were still coming out ahead.

“Now Captain,” Al whispered in his ear. “Bet everything.”

Cedric looked sharply at the wizard. He had an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach. He wondered how he had let himself get into this situation. He blamed himself for being a fool. He had expected to lose just Vul’s money, which he didn’t care about, but now he was going to lose the money of all his men.

“Bet everything.” Al breathed in his ear. “Trust me.”

That was one thing that Cedric had learned at a very young age. Whenever someone said: “Trust me” it was that very moment when you knew you couldn’t trust him or for that matter her.

He could walk away, but the damage had already been done, by playing the game, he had indirectly vouched for it. Even if he left it, the rest of the men, without a doubt would keep playing and lose their money.

He pushed all the money in front of him, including his winnings forward on the table. “This is my last bet, I’m betting everything.” Then he turned to his men crowded around him, “I don’t want you betting on this one. This is just me this time.” He figured if he lost everything, perhaps the rest of the men would recognize their folly and leave the game.

“Oh no Captain.” A young man with an Adam’s apple the size of a small grapefruit that went by Fin, because his mama gave him a name that no self-respecting man would go by: Chrysanthemum; the name was bad enough that even the abbreviated Chrys was too painful to bear, protested. “If you’re betting, I’m in with you.”

The rest of the men murmured assent. “You’ve been good luck for us so far.” They all threw their money down. It was a pile that made Cedric queasy to look at. It wasn’t enough that when they left tomorrow there was no way Vul and Al were accompanying him. He was going to have to kill Al and Vul. Possibly slowly.

The traveler’s hands didn’t shake with excitement as he first showed the pea and then spun the three thimbles around on the table, making sure that he palmed the pea. He was going to make a fortune tonight.

He stopped the thimbles. “Pick one, good sir. Where is the pea?”

Cedric pointed at the middle thimble. “That one.” He said with resignation. It didn’t matter which he picked – He would get it wrong.

The traveler lifted the thimble up, “I’m sorry, sir . . .” he stopped in mid sentence. A pea rolled out from under the thimble. He could feel the pea he had palmed. He had been the only person to handle the thimbles. This was impossible.

Cedric looked at the pea in amazement. “I won.” The men cheered their good fortune.
“Y-y-y-es. You did.” The traveler no longer looked confident. He looked scared. “I don’t have enough money.”

Vul’s blade was out in a blur near the man’s neck. “You made a wager, now you are going to cover it.”

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