Part 29 of Rob Donovan’s free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth as his newly released book “Ritual of the Stones”. In this story we follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual.
Pewtory the Lesser Bard part 29 – Beat the Red Moon
Pewtory sipped the lemon flavoured cocktail as a young boy carried the spider shaped contraption towards the table that he and Madame Lowager sat at. He tried to appear indifferent as the young boy set the game up, but struggled to do so. The sweat that poured down his face gave him away. Madame Lowager smiled at his discomfort; it cracked the powder she had applied to her face causing it to flake.
He had no idea what “Beat the Red Moon” was and considering Madame Lowager had boasted she had never lost at the game, questioned the futility of carrying out the bet.
As the wooden object was placed on the table before him, Pewtory could see that it not quite spider shaped. It had six gutters that all tilted towards the centre of the device. At the height of each “leg” a wooden stick held a small polished wooden ball in place which stopped it rolling down to the middle. A seventh much larger gutter also descended away from the centre and narrowed about half way down. Along the side of the narrow part of the gutter the numbers one to six were written in green writing and where the gutter widened the same numbers were written in red.
Pewtory’s head hurt. He could not begin to fathom how the game worked and was less than pleased at the crowd that gathered around the table to witness the spectacle. A large stomach belonging to a gruff looking fellow appeared inches from his face. Pewtory tried not gag at the stench emanating from the man’s armpits. The man looked down and nodded in greeting, Pewtory responded with a weak smile.
Finally the boy retrieved a wooden funnel and attached it to the centre of the game. The boy could not have been older than seven summers but assembled the whole game in less than a minute. Pewtory guessed the gamblers had seen this situation several times before.
At some point between his entry into the Leaping Fox and sitting at the table, someone had lit several candles around the room. The dim glow that had greeted him as he entered was replaced by a vibrant atmosphere. Pewtory also noticed the bell on the door had not tinkled since he had entered.
He had placed Willow, Wisp and Beth between his legs under the table. Despite the weight of bowl against his thigh, he reached down and felt the reassuring nibble of one of the fish through the cloth.
Madame Lowager reached inside her dress between her breasts and retrieved a large red ball. Pewtory pursed his lips. He was sure when he spied the cleavage earlier there was no ball there.
“Behold the Red Moon,” Madame Lowager said as she held the ball aloft. The action was greeted by a thunderous cheer from the patrons of the Leaping Fox. Pewtory joined in the cheer for sake of it. Why not? He thought to himself. He did not have the faintest idea what was going on.
“The rules of the game are simple. The moon goes into the funnel,” with a flick of her wrist she whisked the ball into the mechanism. It whirled as it rotated round and around, creeping ever closer to the hole in the bottom. “The game is all about nerves. Your only job is to release your ball at the end of the leg.”
Madame Lowager slid the stick out from one of the legs. The ball marked with a pink spot rolled lazily down the gutter towards the centre of the device. It then filtered into the larger gutter, where it continued its journey away from the centre before coming to a stop at the tip of the seventh leg next to the number “one.”
“The longer you hold out against your opponents, the more points you gain.”
Madame Lowager then released three more balls, distinguished only by coloured spots from other legs. They all ended up in the seventh gutter accumulating different point values.
“Leave it too long however,” she waited until the “Red Moon” finally fell through the funnel before releasing the remaining balls, “and you start to lose points.”
Pewtory watched as the larger red ball rolled down to the point where the seventh gutter narrowed and then blocked all other balls that subsequently rolled behind it.
“Are you clear on the rules Pewtory the Lesser bard?”
Pewtory nodded as the young boy gathered the balls and began to reset them at the end of each leg. He had tried to study the speed in which the balls had travelled down to the centre. They had all seemed to travel at roughly the same speed so at least the game was not fixed. Pewtory’s ball had a purple spot on it. The spot stared at him like an accusing eye, probably wondering what in Frindoth it thought Pewtory was doing here.
“We usually play first to fifty points but for this special wager we will only play the one round. Assume your position,” Madame Lowager said and placed a thumb and index finger on the stick holding her pink spotted ball in place. Pewtory was surprised to see several other people take seats at the table and claim the remaining legs. Three of them were men and none of them looked at him, but stared intently at the funnel as if expecting it to come to life. Were any of these men Damone Thurrock? None of them displayed a purple string upon their arm.
He wiped his clammy hand against his cloak as he pinched the stick before him. He looked at Madame Lowager who stared back at him with a large smile plastered on her face. It was a bemused smile that challenged Pewtory to do his best.
“Release the Red Moon,” she said in a dramatic announcement that Pewtory himself would have been proud of. This time the young boy flicked the ball into the funnel.
Pewtory studied the red ball as it rotated. Its movement was quite hypnotic and after a while the whirring noise began to distract the bard. He looked up to see Madame Lowager still staring at him with the big grin on her face. She licked her lips slowly staining her tongue with pink lipstick. She did not glance down at the funnel once. Pewtory did not bother trying to match her in a battle of wits but returned his attention to the funnel.
The ball slowed in its rotation. The circle it travelled gradually grew smaller and smaller. It flirted with the hole in the funnel, bouncing off the centre as if repelled by some unseen force.
The woman to her left released her ball and was immediately joined by two other participants. All three balls rolled down the legs and then deposited safely in the scoring gutter. Pewtory fought the urge to release his ball. He sweated openly and flexed the fingers in his free hand causing the joints to crack. Inside the funnel the “Red Moon was dangerously close to the centre.
He jumped as he felt Madame Lowager’s foot touch the inside of his leg and slide towards his crutch. He looked at her in alarm but her smile only grew. The audience around them were oblivious to the exchange. Pewtory shifted in his chair as he tried to ignore the teasing.
There were just three of them who had chosen to hold on. Pewtory, Madame Lowager and a bearded man to Pewtory’s right, each striving to achieve the most points.
The “Red Moon” entered the hole and began to vibrate furiously as it struggled to break through. Pewtory released his ball with a sigh and watched it roll painfully slowly towards the centre. Too late, he had waited too long. He was sure of it. He looked at Madame Lowager and saw that she too had released her pink ball. She had not taken her eyes off him the whole time. Finally the man to his right released his own blue ball.
The three balls made their way to the centre as the “Red Moon” clanked against the neck of the funnel. The crowd of onlookers cheered the balls on as the level of excitement grew.
It was only seconds but felt like hours. Pewtory wanted to stand up but felt penned in by the sheer number of onlookers. He watched his purple ball roll under the funnel and disappear just as the “Red Moon” descended. There was a clattering as the balls collided and then emerged from the centre. The “Red Moon” fell and obscured the other balls before it. The blue ball that belonged to the bearded man on Pewtory’s right fell afterwards and remained blocked by the “Red Moon” and nestled against the negative red “one point” marking.
Pewtory leaned forward to see the exact order of his and Madame Lowager’s ball. He was satisfied to see that she too appeared to be a little nervous as she arched forward.
Pewtory’s face fell as he saw the position of the balls. His purple ball had scored four points but Madame Lowager’s pink ball lay one higher on five points. It seemed to push down on all the other balls exerting its triumph on them.
Madame Lowager leaned back in her chair as if there had never been any doubt of the outcome.
“It was nice to meet you Pewtory the Lesser Bard. But now you must leave.”
Pewtory jumped as a hand clamped down on his shoulder.