The far corner radiated with the heat of competition as gold collateral piled in the center of the table. Grimy hands that by day sold goods, leather, and food to travelers gave away thirds of their days earnings in a tempestuous game of gambling. Each man held many cards made of fine oil paper. Unreadable expressions were on each mans face. Intenseness hinted in their brows, not as much as one soul, however.
Sharp, saturated blue eyes surveyed his hand as he read the printed suit on each card. His black lox was pulled out of his face, only a few straggling strands in his vision. His black trench coat had seen better days. Held down by gravity, the corners of his mouth gave him a serious demeanor, in contrast with his laid back posture.
”Five in, ” he spoke, holding his hand closer to his chest as he rearranged his cards in search of a pattern he may have been missing. His fingers stroked the short, groomed beard lining his strong broad jaw. A brass ring encased with jade carved in the shape of a tiger shone in the torch light.
”Ill raise you five, ” the man to his left called, his voice gruff as he tossed another shilling in the pot. Some had never seen the huge amount played in the middle, for it was similar to a kings share of loot. The man stared with intense eyes towards the player on his right. ”You raise me one more time, Im gonna be seein you out back, Nimer. ”
Nimer was unphased with the words. Several stacks of gold, gems, and riches surrounded him in abundance. He knew what he was doing. He tossed in more shillings to the middle letting them clink together with the existing pot.
”Raise you five, ” he said and met the fuming eyes of the other men. He forced them to fold, much to his internal delight. He seemed to enjoy picking their brains-and their money bags.
The robust man to his left slammed his fist on the wooden table with raging anger, each coin on the table jumping a few inches from the surface. ”I told you no, boi! ”
”I don take no for an answer, ” Nimer replied staying cool and collected, ”Do you fold? ”
The man slammed his cards on the table. ”FOLD! You dirty scoundrel! ”
”No need for name calling. You sat your arse down to play, didn you?, ” Nimer mumbled.
”I should have you arrested, ” the man barked.
”Then what good would that do your money bags? A lot better than spending it here, ” Nimer answered with confidence and stared the man in the eyes.
The man stood, the rest following suit. He pointed a grimy finger in Nimers face talking over labored breaths, ”I will find you, boi, and Ill rob you clean, you filthy cheat. ”
”I didn cheat, ” Nimer said, his voice mild and low. He lay his cards on the table, revealing his hand, a perfect straight. ”I won. You don know what to hold and what to drop. Your loss, not mine. ” he smirked.
The man spat at him before turning for the door, the rest following, curses streaming from their breath. Nimers look of confidence dissolved as he retrieved money bags from his satchel next to him and filled them with his won riches.
Jex and Ray watched from afar. Jexs face twisted in confusion. ”Thats him? ” he questioned.
Ray folded her arms across her chest. ”Yes, the infamous Nimer in person. Everything you expected? ”
Jex thought about it. ”Yes, ” he answered with a smile. ”A man gathering riches for the poor. Thats gotta be him… though I imagined him taller. ”
Ray shook her head. ”Hes taking from the poor… wait, Jex! ”
Her fingers just brushed against the fabric of his cloak as he slipped away, weaving through the tables of tavern and customers busy jawing away and enjoying their drinks. Jex waltzed right up to Nimer as he tied the last string on his money bag and slipped it away in his pack.
”Excuse me, ” Jex interrupted.
Nimer didn find a reason to turn to him and answered, ”Sorry, gamblings over. You must come back later. ”
”But Im not here to gamble, ” Jex insisted.
”Oh? Then what do you want? ” Nimer asked, looking at Jex with disinterest.
” Jex motioned to Ray as she walked up beside him.
”We are looking for a guide. We
e on a quest and ask for your services. ”
Nimer sat back in his chair placing his dusty boots up on the table, ”Oh a quest? ” he commented in a sarcastic manner and reached for his stein of ale on the table. ”A quest to where? ” he asked taking a long drink.
Jex looked to Ray for guidance but her eyes had a stern glare towards the man. She glanced to Jex with the corner of her eye shaking her head.
He huffed then glanced around before answering Nimers false look of anticipation,
e searching for the Kingdom of Zaniah. ”
Nimers eyes snapped wide, and he choked on his drink. He removed his feet from the table and set his mug down. ”Excuse me? ”
”Zaniah, you of all people know the way there I was told, ” Jex insisted.
Nimer grew bitter, ”Ive heard of it, but why in hells blazes would you want to go there. It doesn exist. ”
”It does too, ” Jex insisted. ”For someone whos been there- ”
”You don want to go to Zaniah! ” Nimer snapped, breathing harshly. His eyes darted about the room as he glared people down who now had their eyes turned to the table. ”Thats that. Its dangerous, you wouldn be able to afford it and theres nothing there for a boy and his girlfriend. ”
”I am not his girlfriend,
” she insisted, ignoring Jexs need to make excuses,
e rude and inconsiderate! I wouldn let you guide us, anyway! ”
”Oh my apologies for offending you miss. Where are my manners? ” Nimers voice was sarcastic as he rolled his eyes.
Ray beat the ground with her foot and grabbed Jex by the arm. ”Come-on, Jex. Lets leave this mule to drown in his riches. ”
Jex pulled against her, ”No, wait, ” he insisted and approached Nimer once more. He fished into the small case attached to his belt. He pulled out the blood stained shard and placed it on the table. ”Here. ”
Nimer froze, blue eyes narrowing on the broken shard. He picked it up and handled it, stroking it with care. ”Where did you get this? ” he asked.
”An old man, he came through our village just this week. He told me he slew a dragon to get it, ” Jex insisted.
Nimer sat back down in his chair and mulled over the shard. Power surged from it, a power that longed for Jexs touch. He handed the shard back to Jex with a long, lingering sigh, memories flooding him like water. ”I can believe he held onto it so long… he must- ” he paused tapping his chin, ”On that thought, Ill take you. ”
Jexs eyes gleamed as he stuffed the shard away, ”Excellent! ” he turned to Ray, ”Hes gonna take us! ”
Ray bunched her lips. ”Jex, may I speak with you a moment, ” she asked, pulling him aside. ”Are you insane? Jex, we can go with him. We don know him. He could be the wrong person. ”
Jex knitted his eyebrows, ”Ray he knows the way. Hes our only hope on this. ”
”A week Jex, I said a week. ”
Jex sighed, defeated. ”All right hold on. ” He turned back to Nimer, ”Um we have a time limit. Can we do this in a week? ”
Nimer gave him a long stare that dulled the longer his eyes were on the farm boy. ”A week? You might as well turn around and go home. This trip is nowhere near as short as a week. Who came up with that bright idea? ”
Jex bit his lip holding Ray back whose face had turned vibrant red with rage, ”Well do it, as long as it takes, ” Jex said in Rays defense.
”Hm, change of mind? ” Nimer said and slung his bag over his left shoulder and walked past them with his last words, ”Meet me tomorrow at the city gates by day break. Don be late, ” he said opening the tavern door and grinned as he slammed the door on the way out.
Billows of frozen particles drifted in clouds from Ray and Jexs breath as they rode towards the gates of the city. The sun began to rise, deep reds and oranges blending with the deep blue of the fading night. A vast shadow hung over the city, dropping the temperature several degrees. The morning was still. Torches still bore diminished flames for the early morning travelers. All was quiet, almost dead.
Jex turned to Ray meeting her stubborn expression of displeasure. He had received an ear full the night before. No matter how many times he apologized, Ray would not listen.
”Come on, Ray. It will not be that bad…
” he urged.
”Look on the bright side. We
e going on an adventure. Is that not enough? ”
Ray refused to say a word. Jex sighed and pushed onward. The sun peeked over the foothills ahead of them casting morning shadows on the rocks of the mountains before slipping behind grey clouds still hanging in the sky. Jex feared a storm.
As they approached the gate Nimer was there waiting for them. He leaned against the outer wall, low lit embers burning in the chamber of his pipe. A stench of exotic herbs hung in the air, ones Jex had never smelt before. Two curved, brass handled cutlass hung sheathed at his sides. Next to him stood a profound stallion, black as the voids of sleep. A feral glint hid deep in the placidity of its eyes though appeared docile for the moment.
Nimer glanced up from the ground and pulled from his thoughts as Jex and Ray dismounted. ”I thought you would never show, ” he said then knocked the rest of the loose ash from the chamber, slipping his pipe away in his coat.
Jex glanced to Ray then to Nimer, ”Sorry, we had a late night. Hope you weren waiting too long. ”
”Not at all, ” Nimer answered. ”Well be heading towards the next town. Its about three days north of here. Well stop for camp along the way. Where I am not liable for your safety, I ask of you to follow me as close as you can to prevent anything I can assist you in. Well spend days traveling and evenings hunting and preparing camp, ” Nimer informed, ”Oh yes, what weapons do either of you have? ”
Jexs head was in a whirl from the information, but answered, ”Ray is excellent with a bow but I find myself to be quite an expert with a hunting knife. ”
Nimer sighed, ”So useless. Oh gods… ” he added and turned to his horse.
”If you don like it, then don lead us, ” Ray spat, a little loud for the time of morning.
Nimer turned to her with a gleam of danger in his eyes. ”If I wanted to lead you I would, but that would distract to my intensions. ”
”What intentions? ” Ray growled.
”Time brings answers, not man. ” Nimer mounted his steed and pulled back on the reigns as it snorted smoke from its flared nostrils. ”If it were up Id leave you to find the kingdom yourself. I am a guide, not a book, not a leader. I know the way and I will guide you there. End of discussion. ”
Jex mounted his steed and Ray mounted hers in reluctance. She rode behind Jex as they followed Nimer out of the city and climbed the hill to the main road headed, north bound. At the top of the hill, Jex turned and looked back at the blue tinted city. He wished he could stay longer, but returning would have to wait for another date.
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