The Secrets of the Shadow-Men
Magic? It's for the rich, the powerful...the Archmage and his elite wizards and cloud-masters.
Livak is not among them. She haunts the back taverns of the realm, careful to appear neither rich nor poor, neither tall nor short . . . neither man nor woman. Obscurity is her protection, thievery her livelihood, and gambling her weakness.
Alas, some bets are hard to resist. Particularly when they offer a chance to board a ship for Hadrumal, the fabled city of the Archmage. So Livak follows a minor wizard, Shiv, in an attempt to turn a rune or two, never dreaming that the stolen tankard she wants to sell contains the secrets of an ancient magic far more powerful, and infinitely darker, than any mortal mage's spells.
About the Author
Juliet McKenna has been interested in fantasy stories since childhood, from Winnie the Pooh to The Iliad. An abiding fascination with other worlds and their peoples played its part in her subsequently reading Classics at St. Hilda's College, Oxford. After combining bookselling and motherhood for a couple of years, she now fits in her writing around her family and visa versa.She lives with her husband and children in West Oxfordshire, England. The Gambler's Fortune is Juliet Mckenna's third novel, following The Swordsman's Oath and The Thief's Gamble.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter OneTaken from: Wealth and Wisdom
A Gentleman's Guide to
Their Acquisition and Keeping
By TORI SAMED
Most gambling revolves around the runes of the ancient races, their use for divination and other such superstitions having long been discarded in civilized countries. Some games are based purely on randomly drawing a predetermined number of runes; others rely on casting combinations that earn greater or lesser scores. In either instance, cultivating a memory for what has gone before is recommended.
The best place to gamble is with friends, in convivial surroundings accompanied by a good vintage, provided that the stakes and means of redeeming debts have been agreed beforehand. When traveling, many of the better inns in the cities and on the major coach routes will have a permanent gaming table with a resident host. Such games are generally played fair and can run to very high stakes. If you have sufficient skill, you may rise from the table, your purse heavy with coin. However, any debts incurred in such company must be honored instantly if you wish to avoid having your goods and luggage seized in payment.
Do not be beguiled into a casual contest in a city thronged at festival time. Beware the amiable stranger who offers you a friendly game to while away a dull evening in a back-roads tavern. Such men prey on the unwary, turning the game mercilessly to their advantage with weighted runes and sleight of hand. Turned away from hearth and home, disgraced or fugitive, they arelittle better than mercenaries and thieves.
south of Ambafost, Ensaimin,
12th of For-Autumn
SOME OPPORTUNITIES OUGHT TO COME LABELED "TOO GOOD To be true." Of course, ten years of living by my wits should have taught me how to spot them. You would have thought so anyway; so would I.
The night this particular opportunity came to wreak havoc in my life, I was sitting comfortably full of good dinner in front of a roaring fire, and listening to the wind tearing at the snug inn. I was wearing my usual nondescript traveling clothes and, with any luck, the other patrons in the tap-room would have been hard put to decide my age, sex or business. Being unremarkable is a talent I cultivate: middling height, middling build, nothing special -- unless I choose differently. Feet up on a stool and hat over my eyes, I may have looked half-asleep, but mentally I was pacing the room and kicking the furniture. Where was Halice? We had been due to meet here four days ago and this unplanned stay was eating into my funds. It was unlike her to be late for a meet. On the few occasions it had happened before, she had always got a message through. What should I do?
I counted my money again; not that anyone else in the room noticed as I slipped my fingers into the pouch under my shirt and sorted the coin. I carry noble coin on me night and day; I've had to abandon my belongings a few times and being caught out with no money leads to bad experiences. I had thirty Caladhrian Stars, ten Tormalin Crowns and, reassuringly bulky, three Empire Crowns. They were more than enough to give me a stake for the Autumn Fair at Col and I had a heavy pouch of common coin upstairs which would cover my traveling expenses as long as I left in the morning. If I waited any longer, I'd have to pay carriers' coach fare and that would seriously eat into my reserves.
The problem was that I did not want to work the Autumn Fair on my own. Lucrative as it is, it can be a dangerous place and while I can take care of myself nowadays, Halice is still a lot handier than me with her sword and her knives. Working as a pair has other advantages too; when someone feels their luck with the runes is going bad, it's much harder to see why when there are two people adjusting the odds. As an added bonus, people never expect two women to be working the gambling together, even in a big city. I could hook up with other people but Halice is better than most as well as more honest than some.
Of course, the most likely explanation was that Halice was stuck in some lord's lock-up awaiting the local version ofjustice. I cursed out laud, forgetting myself for a moment, but luckily no one seemed to have noticed. There were only three other people in the tap-room and they were deep in conversation with the innkeeper. They were merchants by their dress, this was a well-traveled business route and the chances were they were heading for Col. The filthy weather seemed to be keeping the locals by their own firesides, which was fine by me.
If Halice was in trouble, there was no way I could help her. Identifying myself as her friend would simply land me in shackles too. I frowned. It was hard to believe that Halice would get herself into trouble she could not get clear of. That was one of the main reasons we worked Ensaimin for the most part. Competition for trade guarantees a reassuring lack of inconveniences such as circulating reward notices or cooperative Watch commanders, which make prosy places like Caladhria so inhospitable. Here trouble is seldom so bad it cannot be left behind once you cross a local boundary, and we take care never to outstay our welcome.
So there I was, sitting and fretting and sipping rather good wine, when a very wet horseman strode into the bar and beckoned to mine host.