By Justine Alley Dowsett
Red in the face, Renaud Laurent stood and slammed his cup down, splashing ale on the table’s checkered cloth. “I’ll bet any one of you here,” he slurred in his thick French accent, “that I’m the luckiest man ever to have crossed the Ismeran Channel!”
“Aww, sit down and put your money where your mouth is, Renaud!” His dicing companion, a red-headed Haldoram man, nudged the dicing cup toward him, taking a swig from his own ale cup and wiping his scruffy chin with the back of his hand. “All you do is talk.”
“Ginny, another round please,” Renaud called out after dribbling ale all over his thick curly beard, “I’m about to win all of Dagan’s coin.”
“If you lose this hand, I’ll buy the round,” Dagan countered.
Renaud grinned, scooping the dice up into his calloused hands. “As you say.”
He blew on the dice in his hands for emphasis, his blue eyes twinkling with more than just drink under his thick brown brows, before he let them fly onto the checkered cloth below and waited, holding his breath.
“Ha!” Dagan jeered. “That’s a win for me.”
Renaud studied the results of the dice closely, feigning shock. “Why, I believe you’re right, Dagan.” He lifted his head. “Ginny, I’ll have that ale now.”
“You’ve had more than your share,” Ginny called back, but that didn’t stop her from delivering another cup at Dagan’s expense, sashaying her ample bottom as she did so.
Dagan scowled, seeming to realize he’d been played, but wisely kept his thoughts to himself. Seeing that he’d possible overstayed his welcome, Renaud downed his first cup and started in on his second as he looked about for another dicing partner.
“Ah, well, I guess I better call it a night,” he said loudly, wobbling slightly as he reached for his winnings from the night. Not bad, he noted, mentally tallying them, though I should’ve bet less on that last round.
He turned about, ready to depart, only to find a lithe, dark-haired man staring intently at him. Renaud squinted at the newcomer. By his appearance, he was not a sailor like most of the patrons at The Crow’s Nest. His hair was greasy and pulled back into a loose tail at the nape of his neck, and his clothes were well-tailored and expensive looking, though they had clearly seen better days.
“Excuse me,” Renaud belched. “I was just leaving.”
“Luckiest man ever to have sailed across the Ismeran Channel, huh?” the man questioned, eyeing the dice on the table. “Ever thought of playing a game with a bit more skill involved? Poker, by chance?”
Renaud looked down into his mostly full cup. “Well, it seems I’ve still got some left in me after all,” he drawled. “Why not?” (more…)