To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter 7 – The Wager
When he had finished speaking the room was noticeably subdued. A man in the corner began to clap politely which was joined by others. Soon the whole room applauded and there were even a few whistles and cheers. Pewtory acknowledged this with a smile.
The performance had been successful but the story of Jacquard and the impending Ritual had reminded the men and women of their current reality and not the escapism of his earlier songs and stories.
Pewtory was unperturbed. He knew his finale would bring the house down. Finding Melvin in the crowd he indicated that now was the time. The innkeeper grunted and pushed himself off the counter where he had resting his enormous belly and disappeared into the kitchen.
Earlier in the day, he had discussed what he had intended to do with innkeeper who had snorted in disbelief. The owner of the Falconer’s Stump clearly did not think the trick Pewtory was about to perform was possible.
Indeed as he emerged from the kitchen carrying too large glass bowls of water he was shaking his head, a look of scorn on his face. Sheila followed behind him holding another two bowls as effortlessly as she had held the plates earlier. If possible she wore even less than earlier, her skirt was so short it would have fit a child. As the two of them placed the bowls next to Pewtory on the stage, he caught the vague essence of her perfume. The scent was alluring and he imagined what it would be like to be alone with her.
Once again the atmosphere in the room shifted. There was now an excited air of expectation as the crowd speculated what was going on.
Pewtory placed the four bowls roughly half a foot apart around the bowl containing Willow and Wisp to form a pentagon. When he finished he stepped back and looked at the bowls in puzzlement. The anticipation amongst the congregation increased. It was part of the show of course, he knew exactly what he was doing and his heart soared as the pretence elicited the desired response from his audience.
He bent down and moved the bowl with the fish in it further away from the two nearest to it, so that the gap was nearly a foot. The crowd gasped. Pewtory nodded to himself as if he had been performing some complicated calculation and had solved the answer to his satisfaction.
He positioned himself in front of the bowls and raised his hands to signal he wanted the room to be quiet. He opened his mouth to speak but then hesitated. He turned and went to the bowl with the fish and moved it back another few inches. The crowd laughed with delight. The bard resumed his position and went to address the audience, this time when he again teased them and didn’t speak they hooted with laughter as he began to feed the fish a few crumbs.
Finally he spoke to the inn, who were now feverish with expectation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, before me and my companions retire for the evening who would like to win a silver coin?”
Immediately every hand in the room shot up in the air. Pewtory reached into his pocket and pulled out three balls; one red, one green and one blue to represent the three moons of Frindoth. He began juggling them, dancing and spinning as he did so.
“Whoever catches the red and blue balls will be able to take part in a little wager. Are you all ready?”
The crowd responded in unison. He tossed the balls into the eager throng of people. There was a mad scramble but many of the audience were content just to witness the spectacle.
A bearded man emerged from the bundle of people a look of triumph on his face as he held the blue ball aloft. The red ball was claimed by a surly looking youth who displayed a look of determination that was almost comical.
Pewtory welcomed them onto the stage and ascertained their names. The bearded man was called Merk and dwarfed Pewtory. He smelled of rotten food and sweat that was so pungent the Bard had to force himself not to gag. The youth was named Vince and that is all that Pewtory got out of him. Vince bounced on the balls of his feet as if he were preparing for an intense activity.
“Gentlemen, for the final time, can you show these good people that balls in your hand? Merk raised the red ball whilst Vince begrudgingly showed everyone the blue. You are all about to witness something truly remarkable. You may have noticed I travel with two small companions. I do not think I have formally introduced them to you yet. My red friend here is called Willow,” the fish responded by jumping out of the water and plopping back down, the crowd let out a collective “ooh” of appreciation, “the blue beauty is Wisp,” Wisp flicked her long tail and sent a splash over the side of the bowl. Men and women tittered in delight.
“Now Willow and Wisp are quite the competitive pair and as you can imagine being stuck in a bowl all day is hardly fun. So every now and then, they like to have a race. The course is simple, they must complete one lap around the bowls and the first back will win.”
The crowd were silent. At this point in the performance Pewtory usually noticed one or two members wander off believing he was crazy. In the Falconer’s Stump no one moved. The Inn was deftly silent.
“The colour of the ball in your hand matches the colour of the fish you are backing. If you want to change, now is the time to discuss it.”
Merk did not move but Vince held out his blue to swap. Evidently he did not consider the elegant blue fish as much as a swimmer. Merk happily swapped, he did not seem bothered either way. In the audience, frantic betting took place amongst the men.
Pewtory retrieved a vial of pink liquid from his pocket. He undid the lid and inserted a pipette into the bottle. He then held the instrument over the bowl.
“Is everyone ready?” he waited for the last of the urgent wagers to exchange hands and then squeezed a few drops into the fishes bowl. “May the best fish win.”
The fish reacted the moment the first drop hit the water. They swam like crazy, completing circles in the bowl as if an invisible spoon stirred them. Wisp was the first to make the leap, he jumped out of the bowl and flew in the air. Pewtory was very much accustomed to the sight but still marvelled as the fish seemed to move in slow motion, its large globe like eyes glistening in the night.
The audience seemed to have held their breath and it wasn’t until Wisp landed dead centre in the adjacent bowl that the room erupted into thunderous applause. Willow was only seconds behind, her elegant fins seemed to flap in the air, water falling from their tips. She landed in the bowl as well and the two began their rapid circuits again.
“Have you ever seen anything like it?” one onlooker muttered in wonderment. No one bothered to respond.
The next time the fish left the bowl, Willow had taken the lead. Soon the room was filled with shouts of encouragement as the residents of Gandara urged on their favourite to victory.
Pewtory stepped back and admired the looks of sheer joy on the faces of his audience. This is why he became a bard. This frisson he experienced at thrilling a crowd like no other. The expression of happiness captured on the faces was one he wished he could remember forever. He never got tired of it and he doubted he ever would.
The crowd gasped as first the two fish collided in the air and then Willow landed on the rim of the fourth bowl. She flapped there for a second before flopping into the water.
Vince smirked certain this meant his red fish would be victorious. It was Willow that landed back in the original bowl first though, causing the youth to scowl. The bard tossed a silver coin to Merk who grabbed it out of the air and pocketed it before anyone could object.
Pewtory took a brief moment to savour the expressions of pure joy on the people’s faces before he collected the fish and left the stage to tumultuous applause.