Ververe 1, 1014
“And here,” said Kay, throwing the door open and shooing Freddy inside, “we are!”
“Oh–wow!” Freddy gasped.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” Kay said, looking around at the jade-tiled walls, the light gray floors, a fully stocked bar to the right … what was there not to like?
A voice very like Kay’s mother — or at least the mother-voice that resides in all men — whispered to Kay: The gaming tables.It couldn’t be his own mother; Alison was sensible enough to not object to gambling in moderation. Besides, she was the one who had told Kay the first rule of gaming, as her father had handed it down to her:
Always quit when you start to lose.
“I didn’t think …” Freddy looked around the gaming hall (for that was what this was). “I didn’t think Albion could afford something like this …”
“You’d be surprised,” replied Kay, which was easier than telling the truth: the gaming hall was only in Albion, and was only where it was in Albion, to take advantage of the Camford crowd without having to be under the watchful eye of the Church. After all, even though college students were poor by repute, there were always plenty of students who came with Daddy’s cash burning a hole in their purses, and how better to misspend it (and their youth) than at a gaming hall?
But the hall had been hit hard by the war and the attendant difficulties for anyone — even well-born Camford students — to get over the border. So Gilbert Rawe, the owner, had branched into Albionese high society … or what passed for high society in Albion. He found Kay first, gave Kay a free membership, and Kay was returning the implied favor by showing all his friends this place. Today it was Freddy’s turn.
“Your highness!” came a call from behind Kay. Ah — that must be Master Rawe now.
“Master Rawe!” Kay called back as the dapper little man hurried toward them. It was the middle of the afternoon, so the place was deserted except for Kay, Freddy, Master Rawe, the bartender and an errand boy. The college crowd would start to pile in as afternoon started to melt into evening, and they would have the place taken over ere sundown. That was half the reason why Kay was here in the middle of the afternoon — avoiding them.
It was sad. Here he was, a year and a half out of Camford himself, and already he felt so superior.
“I have a friend I’d like you to meet, Master Rawe,” said Kay, stepping to the side. “This is my friend, Master Ferreira. I’d like to have him here as my guest today, if that’s all right?”
“You know you may bring all the guests you please, your highness,” lied Master Rawe. He was a businessman, so Kay was certain there was a limit to his generosity. However, since every other guest or pair of guests he had brought had bought a membership, Kay figured he probably had a while to go before he hit that limit. “And Master Ferreira! It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance!”
“The same, sir,” replied Freddy, putting out his hand for Master Rawe to shake. “This is a fine place you have here.”
Ah, Freddy. He had a lot to learn about being a nobleman, and a membership to this club was meant to help him along with that. But he already had the perfect manner when it came to dealing with commoners. A bit of genuine friendliness went a long way.
“Well, I try!” laughed Master Rawe. “Now, Master Ferreira, I hope you don’t mind me asking — but are you any relation to the famous Baron Ferreira?”
“Oh … eh.” Freddy swallowed. Kay would have to work on that. “He’s my father …”
“Your father? Excellent!” replied Master Rawe, clapping his hands together. “That must make you young George Ferreira’s brother!”
Kay wished he could see Freddy’s face — he was sure it was falling. “You … know … George?”
“Indeed I do! Why, he’s been a member here since … oh, Imsdyn! Darid at the very latest!”
“Oh, no,” Freddy ran a hand over his face. “Whatever he’s done, I promise I’ll pay for it.”
“Whatever do you mean, sir?” asked Master Rawe, head tilting to one side in what seemed to be genuine puzzlement. “He’s a fine young man. Indeed, I like to think of him as a bit of a lucky charm!”
“Uh oh, Freddy,” laughed Kay, elbowing him. “Sounds like your brother is gambling away his inheritance already.”
“Oh, no, I don’t mean that! Alas, young–younger Master Ferreira does not lose nearly as much at the gaming tables as I would like!” Master Rawe laughed. But it only took a moment for his demeanor to switch, to grow a bit more serious, to speak as a man with other men and not with the half-men, half-boys that formed his main clientele. “But what I mean is — well, you understand, my lords, what young Camford men can be like sometimes. A bit too much to drink — a bit too much lost at the table … and suddenly there is … trouble. But somehow, when your brother is here, trouble never seems to last very long.” Master Rawe shrugged. “As I said — a lucky charm. But I’m sure you came here to have some fun, my lords, not to listen to me chatter. Shall I leave you to get on with it?”
“I’m sure you’ve got other things to be doing this afternoon, Master Rawe,” Kay stepped in, “so I’ll thank you, and I’ll show Freddy the pool table. Come on, Freddy,” said Kay, leading the way.
Freddy said nothing as Kay led him to the pool table. “Everything all right, mate?” Kay asked.
Freddy didn’t say anything at first, not until Master Rawe left them and went to confer with the bartender. “I’m wondering what it is George is up to.”
“Oh, come on,” Kay said, rolling his eyes as he lined up his first shot. “Speaking as a younger brother myself, can I point out that most of what we do isn’t anything to get an older brother’s braises in a twist?” He made the shot and watched as the white ball sped to the triangle of multicolored balls. “In fact, most of what we do isn’t any different from what you did, and I can doubling say that since you and I were doing most of it together during our Camford years.”
“Not quite,” replied Freddy, twirling his cue in his hands and not even watching the balls spin into their opposite corners. “We didn’t have magic.”
“Oh,” replied Kay. There didn’t seem to be anything else do say. Sure, he knew about having a sibling with magic … but it was different when it was your older sister. When it was your older sister, you knew damn well to stay out of it if you didn’t want to get turned into a toad. And for all that Kay had worried both times she and Will had been sent on a diplomatic trip … well, they’d come home safe and sound both times, and if that first trip hadn’t shown that Jessie could take care of herself, nothing would.
“Well, think of it like this,” Kay said after a moment. “If he’s doing it in Albion — what have you got to worry about? It’s legal here. My father won’t give a damn that most of the students in here won’t know that, as long as they’re not hurt.”
Freddy snorted. “If George is only doing magic when he’s here in Albion, I’ll eat my best hood.”
“Aw, I wouldn’t do that, my friend. You’re likely to give yourself indigestion.”
Freddy didn’t even laugh. “Did you know that the Princess — er, your sister — contacted George as soon as she got to Camford for the coronation?”
“Er … no …” Kay replied.
“She wanted him on hand — in case there was any trouble,” Freddy muttered.
“Oh,” Kay murmured.
“She — she talked to Ravenna le Fay, too,” Freddy added. “But … I don’t know. I don’t like it.”
“Well, I’m with you on that, mate. I didn’t like the idea of my sister being in the middle of a Glasonlander mess, again.”
“It’s not just that,” Freddy murmured. “It’s …”
“I have a feeling,” Freddy sighed, “that George would have had his fingers crossed for ‘any trouble,’ just so he could have a chance to raise hell in the middle of Camford.”
Kay blinked. Well. What did you say to that?
Luckily he didn’t have to think of something, for the door opened and in came — Milo?
Milo stopped short, seeing them, then laughed. “Ha! I was hoping someone would be here!”
“And you got your wish!” Kay replied, putting his cue down. Freddy was waving a welcome, and Milo came closer. “But what brings Master Nose-to-the-Grindstone here on a weekday?” asked Kay as he pulled Milo in for a hug.
“Squire Esperaunce, if you’ll believe it!” replied Milo. “He sprained his ankle and he’ll be laid up a few days — and unfortunately, I didn’t know about that until after I got to the training ground. So …”
“And you didn’t return home to your lovely wife, who is no doubt pining in your absence? For shame, Milo!” Kay returned.
“Ha — Nicole was probably glad to get me out of the house. Poor Marian has a tooth coming in, and Nicole says she can handle one fussy baby, but not two.”
“Teething,” shuddered Freddy.
“Not looking forward to going through that again?” Kay asked. “Although Milo, I must ask — what makes you a fussy baby?”
Milo winced. “The last time Marian had a tooth come in, she was so miserable. I couldn’t stand watching her like that — and there wasn’t a bloody thing I could do to make her feel better.”
“Aye, I know how that feels,” Freddy agreed. Milo smiled — probably relieved that somebody here understood and wasn’t about to tease him for it.
But now that Milo was here, they had to find a game that involved more than two people — and luckily for them, Master Rawe came to the rescue. “Can I interest you gentlemen in a game of basset?” he asked, tossing a deck of cards into the air so that they arched neatly into his other hand.
“Sure,” Kay answered for them all — not wanting to look at Milo’s face as he wondered how much this would cost him — and led the way to Master Rawe’s table.
Master Rawe started to deal. “This game comes originally from Reme,” he said as he began to deal. “It’s more a game of luck than skill. I shall deal thirteen cards to each of you, face-up, and you can place bets on them.”
“How — how much?” asked Milo.
“I think, when playing among friends, for pleasure, it is better to keep to modest stakes,” Master Rawe said smoothly. Kay did his best to hide his grin. He knew that Master Rawe took a cut of all winnings … but he also knew that the young men who came here from Camford were heavy-enough betters to probably put all of Master and Mistress Rawe’s children (assuming that there was a Mistress Rawe — and children, for that matter) through Camford. Plus there was the matter of all the overpriced drinks he sold, which would have been profitable in and of themselves even if they didn’t help fuel the betting. “Heavy stakes … well, they’re for men with something to prove. Now. Allow me to explain the rest of the rules …”
He did so. As he had promised, it was a simple game. The betting and the points could get a little complicated, and the sums involved might have been challenging if they didn’t have a mercer’s son with them, but the gameplay itself was easy enough that a child could master it. Master Rawe walked them through one hand, then he passed the deck to Freddy and politely took his leave of them.
As soon as he was gone, Milo sighed and looked at his pile of betting money. “We’re not playing for much, friend,” Kay pointed out.
“I know …” Milo glared at Kay — a glare that was only half in jest. “I don’t know how I let you convince me to join this place …”
“You joined for the excellent company,” Kay replied.
Milo raised an eyebrow and made a show of looking around the nearly-empty gaming hall.
“Such as your favorite cousin, who happens to be sitting directly to your right,” Kay pointed out.
“Oh, that company,” Milo replied.
“Not to mention your excellent friend Frederick,” Kay added.
“Damn. That’s not fair, Kay. I can insult you all I like, but poor Freddy didn’t do anything to deserve that.” Milo cocked his head to one side and glanced at Freddy. “Let me guess — you’re this one’s next victim?”
“I wouldn’t say victim. This seems like a fun place,” Freddy answered.
“It is. That’s the problem,” replied Milo.
Freddy looked up, tilting his head to one side. He glanced around, then asked, “Is … is everything all right with you, Milo? I mean …” He swallowed. “Look, I know this could be considered rude, but … but if you need any help …”
Kay watched with raised eyebrows — then he turned to Milo.
Milo flushed and swallowed, staring down at his cards. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything,” Freddy hurried to say, “but–but if you need anything … any help, or … anything …”
Milo shook his head. “It’s not — a need. Don’t–don’t worry about that. If you were worrying,” he added, though, considering they were talking about Freddy, it was better to assume worry than the opposite. “It’s just … well,” Milo shrugged, “it’s harder when you don’t have lands of your own.”
“It is,” Kay agreed before Freddy could say anything to the contrary. Freddy wouldn’t understand — from some things he had let fall, Kay guessed that Baron Ferreira saw the lands attached to his barony as more of an encumbrance than an asset.
“And I want some, someday,” Milo went on. “And–well, I doubt I’ll have a chance to ride into battle and win them that way. So that means there’s a lot of saving up in my future.” He laughed. “A lot.”
Kay nodded sagely, even though he rated Milo’s chances of being awarded lands higher than Milo himself did, apparently. His father had plenty of lands on hand that could use more development, and once Milo had truly earned it, he might find himself in possession of them.
But Freddy was staring at Milo with his head cocked to one side. “So you’re just … saving your pennies?”
“Aye,” Milo laughed. “Like I said — I’ll have to save up quite a few.”
“And … that’s all you’re doing? Just … saving them?”
“Well, what else am I supposed to do?” asked Milo.
“You could always invest,” Freddy shrugged.
“But …” Milo tilted his head to one side. “I haven’t got enough for any land.”
“Er …” Freddy glanced at Kay, the appeal simple and clear: Help me out here, buddy. Unfortunately, Milo was giving Kay that exact look.
Kay took a deep breath, folded his hands, and started to whistle as innocently as he knew how.
Freddy was the first to realize that no help was forthcoming or maybe just the first to get his thoughts in order. “You can invest in more than just land, you know. Talk to my father sometime. I’m sure he’d be willing to sell you a share of a voyage.”
“A … share?” asked Milo, looking at Kay. Kay could only shrug.
“Sure. You put up a, oh, five, ten, twenty percent stake in the costs of the voyage — and you get a cut of the profits when the ship comes in,” Freddy replied.
“I — would?” asked Milo. “But what if the ship sinks?”
Freddy shrugged. “Well, then you would lose your investment … but that’s rather the point. Of selling shares, I mean. If you spread out the risk, then nobody gets ruined if the ship doesn’t make it to port.”
“But that’s … an awful lot of money to lose,” Milo replied, shuddering.
“Dad would hardly ask for enough to ruin you!” Freddy laughed. “Investing — well, I guess it’s almost like gambling, in a way. Not too much, because I don’t think it’s quite as chancy if you know what you’re doing. But the first rule still holds.”
“When you start to lose, stop playing?” asked Kay.
“No,” replied Freddy. “Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.”
Well, that was good advice if Kay had ever heard any. He might have to share it with his mother. It made a better first rule of gambling than hers did.
Then again, knowing his mother, she’d probably reply that anyone who was dumb enough to bet more than he could safely lose wouldn’t be swayed from it by silly rules — and any son of hers who needed to be told that was, in fact, no son of hers.
“And you really ought to look into Josh’s — Joshua Wesleyan’s,” Freddy corrected, “bank. He could help you with investments, if you think a share in a ship would be too risky.”
“A bank?” Milo repeated, eyebrow going up. “That seems even riskier, to me — putting all the gold in one place, where thieves know just where to get to it.”
Freddy just stared at Milo, and Kay couldn’t tell whether it was because Milo had just delivered the most trenchant criticism of banks known to Sims — or whether it was because Milo had just said something so appallingly dumb that Freddy didn’t know how to reply.
Freddy finally swallowed. “Well, you ought to talk to Josh anyway. You know he pays interest on larger accounts, don’t you?”
“He pays interest?”
“If you keep enough money in his bank, aye.”
“What?” Milo gasped. “Why? How? What’s the –”
He never got a chance to finish up that question. The door opened, and all the young men turned to look.
Who it was shut them up — and got them to stop looking — in a hurry.
Mordred. Kay felt the familiar twinge of guilt that came with the twinge of dread whenever he saw Mordred. Wright damn it. The man was his own cousin, same as Milo or Ravenna — hell, the same as Garnet! — wasn’t he? But all Kay wanted to do was keep a wide berth from him. He found himself even wondering how it was that Mordred had found this place.
That was stupid. Kay had shown the gaming hall to Aglovale — and Tom too, and Will besides. One of them must have brought Lamorak. And Lamorak would bring Mordred. It was all Kay could do to avoid shaking his head.
Instead he glanced at his compatriots. Milo seemed relatively unconcerned — a little nervous, but no more. But Freddy … Freddy was eying Mordred the way a songbird might eye a snake.
That did it. “You know what, gents?” he asked, pushing his chair back. “What do you say we hit the bar? I know I’m parched.”
“Not a bad idea!” replied Milo. Freddy didn’t even bother to reply, simply collecting the cards at record speed and practically jumping out of his chair.
They couldn’t just go to the bar, though — they had to pay their respects first to Mordred. No matter what they thought, to be rude would be … well, rude. And if there was one thing worse than having to be polite to Mordred, it was the probable — well, possible — consequences of rudeness. But that duty done, they were able to head up to the bar.
And then? They were home free. Talking and laughing and joking again, almost as if nothing had happened.