Duke Forecastle - Part 19
Carrack did not, in fact, have a deck of cards handy. But he produced three bone-colored dice from a suede coin purse in the pocket of his frock coat.
Forecastle took the dice from his first mate’s hand and dropped down to his knees on the bare wooden deck. “Your coins, too,” he said, seeing that Carrack was putting his purse away. The captain slapped the planks with an open palm. “Come on. Get down here, we’re playing bunco.” He put it in the form of an order, to avoid an argument.
Carrack made a quick, skeptical glance in the direction of the Anchorbar man-o’-war, now looming into beam range. “Aye, sir,” he said.
He knelt beside Forecastle at the corner of the command post platform, emptied the purse into his hand, and showed his silver and bronze coins. “I’ve got sixty.”
Forecastle shook his head. “I don’t have any,” he said.
Coins, a fabricated nonmagical currency, were collected and spent as a mark of status among enlisted units. They were not generally an item that warlords used, but most of Her Majesty’s officers carried a pouch of them to disburse to underlings as rewards for exceptional performance or behavior. (Not every side controlled their coinage this way; some rulers didn’t even allow coins at all.) Forecastle had carried a pouch with him when he’d boarded Unsinkable II, but they’d gone to the bottom of the ocean still secured in his desk drawer.
“Here,” said Carrack, offering his fistful of coins to Forecastle.
The captain shook his head, and waved the hand away. “On second thought, it should be real stakes, I think. Something we care about.”
Carrack stared at him blankly.
“I mean...all right, if you lose, then you have to feed and groom my eagle for ten turns.” He pointed upward. “And be kind to it.”
The first mate glanced up at the bird on the cross-jack yard, and made a sour face. “Aye, n’ what if I win?”
Forecastle was at a loss. He looked around for something he could offer as compensation. A lot of the crew were standing around and staring at the two of them on their knees. He didn’t care to think about the picture they must be painting.
What could he bet...? It was utterly stupid to let such a trivial detail stop this experiment—which was itself fairly stupid and desperate—but he really could not think of a thing to offer.
At that point, though, Carrack got a sudden, mean glint in his eye. “If you lose, Cap’n...” he said, leaning forward, “if you lose, then you have to climb the main mast and sing, ‘Titans Save the Queen!’ Standin’ up, on the topgallant yard! With no hands!”
Forecastle’s eyes went wide and he blanched, as he tried (but failed) not to picture it. “Fine. It’s a bet,” he said, before he could change his mind.
He shot a glance up at the eagle and silently ordered it to curse his luck. Curse my luck. Make me lose, he silently ordered. Then he bent forward and rolled the dice.
They tumbled on the command platform, and came up 3-4-2.
“Nothing,” said Forecastle. He passed the dice.
Carrack cautiously picked them up and rolled them in front of him. 1-1-1 was the result.
“Ha! Bunco!” he laughed nervously.
The captain nodded. “Right. Twenty-one to nothing.”
He picked up the dice and rolled: 4-1-3. “Nm-nm.” Shaking his head, he passed the dice to the first officer.
Carrack rolled a 2-2-2. “Bunco,” he said again. But this time he didn’t laugh.
“Forty-two to zero,” said Forecastle, as he swept up the dice. He threw: 1-2-4.
Carrack now looked him in the eye with an expression of vague dread, as he took up the dice and shook them in his hand for an extra moment, before rolling a 3-3-3. “Bunco,” he said, without a trace of joy in it.
Captain Forecastle retrieved the dice again, and glanced back at the bird. Its points said:
Special: Luckamancy Reserve - capacity: 4/30
It had gained no new Luckamancy, despite clear evidence that the curse on his luck was in effect.
He shook the dice in his hand, still looking at the unit. He had a guess as to what was going on.
“Bird,” he said to it, “I said curse me; don’t bless him. Take all my good rolls for yourself. Don’t spend them on bettering his luck, okay?”
One of the double eagle’s heads put its beak in the air haughtily, while the other one squawked at him with a tilt-headed expression that he would have taken for condescension in any human unit.
“Fours,” said Forecastle to Carrack. He rolled, and got: 1-3-1.
Carrack, having watched the exchange, looked at the Captain quizzically as he picked up the dice and took his turn. This time, he did not roll a bunco. His roll was: 6-4-2.
“Four points,” said the captain. “So, what...forty-two...sixty-three, plus four. It’s sixty-seven to nothing.” Forecastle took up the dice and checked the eagle’s points again. Stubbornly, it said:
Special: Luckamancy Reserve - capacity: 4/30
He shook his head. “Maybe we have to finish the game, or it doesn’t count,” he wondered aloud.
“Nay, Cap’n. Even if you bunco out, you can’t win,” said Carrack. “The game’s over.” Forecastle could see the whites of his eyes; he looked almost terror-struck. This kind of playing around with luck must have been quite disturbing for a superstitious seafarer to watch, he supposed.
“That’s true,” the captain said, thinking it over. “You’ve already won. So why didn’t it—”
Someone up above may have yelled out a warning, a sliver of a second before the blast, but it was no matter. HMS Double Eagle all but blew apart.