The Depth of silver
Chanting rose up in a macabre crescendo around him. The crowd shouted in unison and Jack looked up at the stage. It was made from re-purposed stone that once held the castle's inner bailey safe from the throngs of rioters in the streets. It surprised Jack how easy the wall fell in the end. He pictured the memory of the iron hooks hammered into the great slabs and dozens of men straining to bring them down.
By the time the wall fell, he had known the battle would be a short one; it scarred the conviction of the commoner onto the souls of the ruling class. The soldiers on the inside of the castle were little more than well-equipped farmers and, even though they were facing an opponent without weapons, they didn't defend themselves. They refused to fight their brothers, sisters, and neighbors.
The chants turned to jeers of laughter as the procession strode up onto the stage. The eleventh man knew his doom just as the tenth one did before him; his purple silken robe showed wear and dirt from his months imprisoned in his own dungeon. Jack shook his head. Dayron Viari surely deserved his sentence and would soon meet his goddess upon the platform.
Dayron worked in the king's house as the taxman. No one liked the taxman before the war. After the king provoked the wrath of Soton to the west and then promptly began losing battles, the ones who paid for it were, of course, the citizens of Glenfather. It didn't matter that all the drafted soldiers came from the very fields and families he was now oppressing. The taxman, Dayron, ordered the people into starvation to pay for his army of mercenaries.
Dayron didn't cry out or beg for mercy. He only uttered a soft request for forgiveness. The headsman finished the job and the stones once again felt the stain seep into their cracks. Cheers erupted from the crowd. The general brought justice to the masses.
Jack pushed his dark hair out of his face and moved away from the stage. He fought to get away from the press of the people. Their anger soaked deeper into their souls than the blood on the stones. He adjusted the leather strap on his sheath held across his back and grimaced. He didn't want to watch the rest of this and he knew how it would end. Once the starving townsfolk sated their blood lust, the Soton general would approach Kiran Orsini with their list of demands who would be crowned soon into a state of servitude. The new government of Glenfather would become a footnote in history unless he could repay their rescuers. The only winner in this conflict would be the Soton king.
Of all the kingdoms in the world, Soton was one of the older ones and it's king stretched his dynasty back thirty generations. It had the time to develop it's military and it's economy. Why King Callum Rayn decided to snatch up some of the villages on the very edge of Soton appeared to have bordered on insanity, but Jack knew better. King Rayn was just an inbred greedy bastard and his lust for the wealth of others led him to the stone stage. He knew the stone would weep with his blood soon enough. There was clearly no love lost between them. Jack grew up as the stable boy for the pompous bully and he was never allowed to forget his station. However, he still didn't want to see the king's life ended, and so Jack walked away.
It didn't take long to clear the edge of the crowded square. He turned off the main road and spotted the tell-tale smell of the poor. The air stank of mold and sweat; Jack felt like he swam through it. This war had been only one of a multitude in recent history and, as with every other one, the people sank further and further into poverty. The knowledge and wealth of the ancient civilizations sat locked away and forgotten in the secret places of the world. The power to seize this wealth had gone. The only ones with the answers locked themselves in their towers of learning and abandoned the starving people. For over three hundred years, these scholars summoned Djinni and traded their mortality to become magi. They sat on their gilded thrones in the towers speckling the world and watched the people scurry through their lives like ants. Jack spat into the gutter thinking about it.
Rounding a bend in the street, Jack saw his destination. A dreary worn sign hung from the porch of a tavern. The sign showed no words, but depicted a rusting anchor breaking along it's neck. He stepped up onto the porch just as the mist turned into a cold rain; autumn was almost over. A tanned man stood leaning against the rough-hewn beam of the porch. He took a long draw on his stubby pipe. "Well Jack, did you see what you wanted? Did you get your… Fill?"
"Shut it, Khalil," Jack answered glowering. He walked right past the man and into the warm light of the tavern without looking him. Khalil tapped his pipe on the post and the ashes drifted to the ground. He smirked and followed Jack inside.
Jack stepped up to a large table and flipped a chair around backwards. He sat down and the barmaid, Alicia, brought him a mug of Bad Blugeon Ale. He slipped a small copper piece into her hand and turned back to his drink. It was still early in the afternoon and the Rusted Anchor tavern sat mostly empty. A trio of goblins sat off in the corner drinking and arguing. Another pair of men laughed heartily at the bar as Jack took a deep drink of his ale.
Khalil pulled his curved sword off his hip and hung it on the back of the chair next to Jack. "How did he look?" he asked.
"I didn't stick around to see him," Jack answered after taking another large swig.
"Do you think he begged?"
"You're twisted, Khalil," Jack said. He pulled a small leather pouch off his belt and emptied it on the table. The wooden dice tumbled out in a small pile. He handed Khalil two of them, took two for himself, and left three in the center.
"Drinks or coins?" Khalil asked.
"Coins," Jack replied. "We won't be here long. The rest should arrive soon."
Khalil pulled his soft hat off his head and sat it on the table next to his dice. He then slapped a small bag of money onto the table. "I think you're too invested in this crap," he said.
"And I think you're a heartless greedy thief."
Khalil grinned and stroked his beard. "Two to start things off?"
Jack pulled out two copper pieces and placed them in a stack in the middle. Khalil matched it and then put a die on top of each stack. He slid the third in front of the seat across from Jack just as Alicia sat down with a sigh. She pulled the copper piece Jack had just given her out of her bosom and another from her own money pouch. She put both under the third die. "Wild," she said and leaned back in the chair kicking her feet up on the table.
Jack picked one of his dice up and threw it. It landed on a checkered side. Khalil waved his own dice around before throwing it. A symbol of a paw print sat on top. He grinned and grabbed his second one. It too landed on a paw print. "Looks like the goddess is on my side tonight." Jack grabbed his second die and threw it. A small circle stared up at him. He grimaced and took another sip of his drink.
"Alright boys, lets see if we get a winner," Alicia said. She dropped her feet, grabbed the die off her own coin stack and dropped it gently. An 'X' stared back up at the three of them. "Too bad," she said and feigned a pout. She knocked the dice off both the men's stacks and picked up the six copper.
The rain picked up outside and seemed to laugh at them. Jack thought back to the stone stage. The rain would clean it so that Kiran would not have to have his workers scrubbing it before he became King Orsini. Alicia rubbed her hands on her leather pants and wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
Jack took out another pair of copper and placed them under his third die. Khalil did the same, but Alicia jumped out of her seat to offer another round of drinks to the men at the bar. The place smelled of deep rich wood and cooking food. Jack looked around briefly taking in the atmosphere. The rusted anchor always helped him feel better, even if he was terrible at dice.
"You gonna toss'em or what?" Khalil prodded. Jack didn't reply and threw one of his dice onto the table. A paw print lay on the top. He tapped the second one on his forehead for good luck and gently rolled it too across the table; it bounced and bobbled as it went. Eventually it came to rest with the image of an axe on it's face.
"One third chance. Not bad," he said more to himself than Khalil.
"Not doubles though," Khalil added from his side before rolling the first of his dice. It landed on a symbol for a longbow. Khalil wasted no time throwing his second; It was an "X".
"You throw the third," Jack told him and finished his drink. He motioned for another Bad Bludgeon from Alicia by holding it upside-down in the air. She saw it and moved to pour him another. Khalil tossed the die. It rolled onto a circle.
"Well, no splits either," Khalil said.
"I'm still going to take your coin," Jack replied and took the die off his stack and placed another copper underneath it. Then, taking his time, he rolled it onto the table. A paw gleamed up from the wooden die, polished from use. Jack grinned and scooped up the money from the table. Alicia dropped by to bring him the fresh mug and he intentionally paid her with one of Khalil's copper pieces.
"Have I ever told you you're an ass?" he asked. Jack shrugged and smiled again. The Ale in his hand foamed heavily. The keg must have been freshly opened. He took a sip and felt music in his soul. The Glenfatheri were exceptionally good at making ale.
The breeze coming in from the open front of the bar abruptly stopped before Khalil could pull more coins from his bag. Jack's eyes narrowed and he scooped up the dice and put them in his own bag before standing. A pair of men the size of a small cart and just as thick stepped into the warm light of the tavern. They wore oddly-shaped colored glass over their eyes and gauntlets with strange cogs whirling just under the plate covering. Various silver chains and pendants hung from their thick necks. Jack placed himself between the bar and the two; Gremlins were never a good thing.
"Who are you?" Jack asked. He could sense Khalil drift to his side.
"We are looking for Jack," the left one said. His voice was high-pitched and scratchy like he spent too long breathing in soot from a mine.
"I am Jack. What do you want?" he asked and rested a finger on his slender axe sitting in the leather loop on his belt. It was a warning; not a threat. Jack didn't carry a large axe. It was easier to work with the smaller and more mobile one he used. Its shaft was solid iron to keep it heavy and strong, but he wrapped the bottom in a tough leather for grip. The head of the axe was also small and had a slight curve on it's sharpened edge. A nasty spike on the back made the weapon more versatile in circumstances where he didn't need to cleave; but puncture. The gremlins nodded slightly. They acknowledged his warning.
"We mean no harm here," the left one said. "We merely wanted to convey something to you; something from Dalron."
"He was supposed to meet me here. What is it?" Jack asked. His hand still resting on his axe.
"Something better conveyed in private," the one on the right spoke this time. Jack nodded and Khalil moved off his side and pointed out the door and back into the rain. The gremlins turned and stepped out onto the porch. Jack flashed Alicia a wary look and followed.