Thursday, February 16, 2012

Twenty-ninth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

As he reached down, Gwilym stepped on his hand.
Gwilym collected Fred and they went into the tavern and settled in the dark corner. They drank but little and Gwilym laid out his plan. “Whoever comes to get you, go with them around to the back door and don’t let Tarrant out. I’ll keep him from leaving the front way. I’m sure that Sir Kay will be happy to talk with Tarrant again. But first, I want to ask him about Tirion’s daughter, Lowri. I’m pretty sure he had something to do with her disappearance. I gave that brooch we found in Brycgstow to Tirion and she recognized it as Lowri’s. Tarrant matches the description of the man who sold it to the trader. And he was just before us on the way to Caerleon. He said that I’d regret him being fired and if he was the one who stopped Lowri from getting to Avalon, he killed my Kaitlyn. And I’m afraid he killed Lowri also.”
The two men drank slowly to keep their wits about them. In addition to the ale, Gwilym had asked for a pitcher of water that he was not drinking. Fred asked about it but Gwilym just told him to be patient, all would become clear.
Finally George came out of the back room and whispered to them that they were all placing their bets for one big throw to win back all their money. Fred took George out the back and Gwilym slipped into the room. All the men were standing around one side of the room, looking down at the floor to where all the wagers were laid and the dice were to be thrown. Tarrant didn’t look up because he was focused on shaking the dice, but a couple of other men that Gwilym didn’t recognize watched him enter. They didn’t seem to have a bet on this roll.
Gwilym forced his way through his men and reached the edge of the throwing pit just as the dice were rolled. They bounced off the wall and spun a little, then turned up as a 6 and a 5. All the men groaned and Tarrant cheered to himself, “Lucky in dice, unlucky in love!” and moved to pick up the dice. As he reached down, Gwilym stepped on his hand.
“Let’s have a look at these lucky dice shall we?”
Tarrant’s face grew pale as he looked at Gwilym. He was bent over, his hand pinned to the ground, totally at the man’s mercy. “Let me go! It was a fair roll!”
“Indeed? So why not pick up your winnings first? Or are the dice more valuable than the money?”
Suddenly Gwilym felt himself being pulled over backwards. He didn’t want to let go of Tarrant so he didn’t shift his weight and, as a result, he fell over towards the dice. Tarrant made a grab for them but Gwilym snatched them up first. Tarrant pulled his hand out from under Gwilym’s foot and ran for the back door. “Stop him!” shouted Gwilym.
There was a large tumult as men were being pushed around. The back door slammed open; there was an unearthly shriek and then the sounds of running feet. Gwilym got up and ran outside. He saw Fred kneeling over George who was holding the hilt of a dagger that was sunk deep into his chest. “Hold those two!” yelled Gwilym at his men, pointing to the two strangers who had knocked him over helping Tarrant escape and were now trying to flee through the front door of the room.
“George! Stay calm man, we’ll get you help.” Gwilym lifted the man into the light of the room, seeing then that it was hopeless. Blood poured out of the wound and George’s face was turning grey from the lack of it. “How…how…was he cheating?” were his final words. Gwilym pulled out the dagger, a nasty looking one with a three pointed blade, designed to open a wound and keep it open.
Meanwhile, the tavern-keeper was arguing with Gwilym’s men. “It’s not your money. Ranta won it in my sight. You can’t come in here with your goons and scare him away and keep the money. I saw the dice throw and Ranta wins.”
“Hold those two until later, boys,” Gwilym said to his men who were holding the two strangers. Then he approached the tavern-keeper and introduced himself. “Well Nick, I see you run a fair gambling establishment that can’t be taken over by force. That’s commendable. Do you allow cheating?”
“Never!” protested Nick.
“Then let’s have a look at these dice that Tarrant, I mean Ranta, was so lucky with. Would you give them a few rolls please?”
Nick obliged him and the murmurs grew to roars of disbelief as Nick rolled a series made up entirely of 11s and 12s. He turned the dice over in his hands to ascertain that there were other numbers on the faces and looked at Gwilym in astonishment. “How did he do it?”
Gwilym brought the dice over to the pitcher of water he had taken from the other room. “Watch carefully as I
first drop a normal die in here.” Nick gave him one and they took turns seeing how, when dropped into the water, the die spun and landed at the bottom on one face or another, seemingly at random. Then Gwilym dropped in one of Tarrant’s dice and the watchers grew immediately agitated. The die did not spin as it fell, it fell facing up at the six or the five. As more and more of the men saw what was happening the outcry grew louder. “It’s weighted to fall that way!” shouted the men at Nick.
“Would it be fair to assume that Tarrant had been cheating these men for while?”
“If he was using these dice, yes,” admitted the tavern-keeper.
“Did Tarrant always throw the dice that won that final time?”
“Yes!” insisted the men. “’E said they were ’is lucky doice.”
“Then I suggest that these men won today’s roll and that Tarrant lost, wouldn’t you agree, Nick?”
“Fair enough, men. Have your winnings!” The men cheered and collected their money. “And how about a couple of rounds on the house to forget all this?” Another cheer.
“We’re not done here,” insisted Gwilym. He turned to the two strangers who were being held fast by four of Gwilym’s men. “Who are you and why did you help that man escape?”
The men were scared. “We never met ’im until yesterday. ’E paid us to be ’is bodyguard for tonoight. ’E said that ’e was afraid someone would try to cheat ’im tonoight. ’E never even told us ’is name.”
Gwilym looked closely at the men and declared, “A man is dead tonight who would be alive if you had not taken this job.”
“If we ’adn’t, someone else would ’ave,” they pleaded.
“True enough. And it would have been them going to the gallows instead of you. Take them to the bailiff,” he ordered his men. “I’ll talk to George’s wife. Where are his winnings?” Charlie gave them to him.

Tarrant disappeared that night and hadn’t been seen in Londinium again, even with the bailiff and his men looking for him. Gwilym had even posted a generous reward, but to no avail. The two accomplices were hung by the bailiff.
The men were all somber at George’s funeral. After the funeral the men got together and talked privately, then Charlie came forward and told Gwilym, “We’ve decided to split George’s work between us so you don’t have to hire another man. Give his wages to wife as usual.”
Gwilym nodded and was at a loss for words. Mixed emotions flooded through him. Sorrow at seeing the devastated wife and children, anger at losing Tarrant, awe at his men’s generosity, and pride at their jelling as a team.

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