25. Gambler’s Den (3)
Halsem sat by the bar and lifted a huge mug of beer to his lips. The refreshing sensation of the liquid flowing down his throat calmed his shaking body, though, his excited heart continued thumping rapidly.
“Haha! Never expected I’d lose! But it’s not that bad a feeling though.”
The barkeeper, who was wiping a plate behind the counter, called out to Halsem.
“Ahh, no need to console me. In the end, it just means I have my times when I lose. Heheh, but anyway, that Holy Knight, he may really be loved by God! Getting such a result with the help of a single prayer! It’s amazing, even if I did lose everything because of it. Still, since it was a clean victory with no tricks, I can’t help but acknowledge that I lost completely; I’ve got no uncomfortable feelings this time around!”
“I told you, I need no consoling!”
“No, not that—don’t sit your piss-wet ass down on my chair!” The barkeeper yelled out abruptly. “Don’t know about you but looking at you is making me feel uncomfortable as hell! Get lost already! What’s a fella with no money even doing here!”
He had rented this space in the Golden Casino to sell alcohol, but the gamblers nearby could not bring themselves to sit at the bar one they caught sight of Halsem wearing his still-dripping pants.
Halsem coughed dryly and stood up. He had no further reason to be here, and more importantly, if he didn’t escape now he would be branded with a nickname like ‘Leaky Halsem’ since he had pissed himself while gambling. Just the thought of that happening made him reluctant to return here again.
“Ahh, I’ll come see you next time.”
But, before he could leave, Tom walked up to the bar.
“… What is it?” Halsem asked.
“Ah, if you’ll give me a moment to talk…”
Tom pulled out 2 gold coins and held them in his hand. Seeing this, Halsem’s eyes went wide.
“Oi! Go elsewhere if you’re gonna to talk! I can’t do business like this…” The barkeeper fell silent once Tom offered him a pair of gold coins as well. “Please have a peaceful time.”
Tom smiled and gazed at Halsem, who frowned, seemingly displeased by the gentle curve of the young Holy Knight’s lips.
“What’s with that fake smile of yours?”
“Is it fake?”
“It is, looks like a mask and seems forced. The fact that it feels so natural gives me goosebumps. Were you an actor before or something?”
“… Must be that you have a sharp eye being a gambler.”
Halsem put away the gold coins he received and furtively stared at Tom.
“So, what is it you want?”
“I want information.”
Halsem sounded surprised, but realized what Tom must have wanted after a moment of thinking.
‘He must want information about this casino.’
About what kind of gamblers there were, what methods of cheating were used, and so on. Such information was important in order to obtain big money after all.
But, against Halsem’s expectation, Tom’s question was of a different nature.
“I want to know about the man called ‘Kelvin’ who runs this Golden Casino.”
Halsem crossed his arms and tilted his head, putting on a cunning smile.
“Sir Holy Knight, looks like you want to make money awfully bad, eh? It’s possible to earn a fortune by meeting Lord Kelvin after all.”
“No. I just want to know about him.”
“… That so? Information you say… what are you asking for exactly?”
“About what kind of person he is, and how to meet him.”
Halsem knitted his brows at Tom’s questions.
“Fief Golden used to be a shabby, lordless land on the edge of the Holy Kingdom. An impoverished and destitute city that nobody visited save for a scant few travelers and merchants. And it was to such a land that he came — Kelvin, a feeble old man who first stepped into Fief Golden 30 years ago. He used his fortune to carry out good deeds for the people.”
“That old man, don’t know how but he had quite a lot of money on him, you see. He claimed to be a former pharmacist, but… he had far too much coin for one. He used that money to provide food to abandoned children and started looking after them, or lent money some to the unfortunate people that came looking for aid.”
“… Is he a good person?”
Halsem scoffed. “Pretends to be.” He eyed the surroundings cautiously before whispering in Tom’s ear. “Lord Kelvin, no, that damned trash Kelvin, I tell you…”
It was not long before Kelvin showed his true colors to the residents of the city. He would sell orphans to slave traders, and force repayment for what he’d lent to people at unbelievable interest rates. In the worst cases, he would even hire men to kidnap his victims and sell them.
“Drained the blood out of everyone he did. It’s not just one or two fellows who lost their homes and property because of him. He made an enormous amount off this fief that wouldn’t even have produced several pennies when wrung dry, and that’s how he started up this Golden Casino. It’s an underground gambling den with branches set up across the land.”
Kelvin built places to gamble, and the properly began to make money. The countless slaves he sold attracted large numbers of slave traders to Fief Golden, which became his main source of income. Not only did Kelvin draw in slave traders, but he also ensnared travelers and merchants as well. He then built a friendship with the local nobles by using the funds earned, and used their influence to raise his income again. So continued this cycle of corruption and abuse.
“The man’s extremely sensitive to money, you see. He don’t got what you call a conscience. Most of the people around here have become his slaves. Even if they send a petition to the authorities, the one managing this whole place is a Holy Knight, who’s also been bought by him and now acts as Kelvin’s personal guard at this point. He’s arrested the fellows who tried to call for help instead, branding them as heretics. No pride at all despite being a Holy Knight. Though, he doesn’t seem like one for something like honor, being from a ruined household and all.”
“I see. Then… is there a way to meet with this Kelvin?”
“Hey! I want to hear about that as well!”
Tom turned his head, finding a lone girl standing there with a naive look on her face. Seeing her, he immediately stood up to leave.
“Well then, I’ll listen to the rest later, Halsem. Some other time…”
“Wa-wait! Mister! Why are you running away?!”
Ellin hastily grabbed Tom’s shoulder.
“Because you’re annoying.”
“That’s being too mean!” she pouted. “Don’t say it outright!”
Tom corrected his previous statement with a grin.
“Ahh, I have business to attend to, you see.”
“It’s already too late to change your words!”
Ellin wore a look of discontent, at which Tom sighed and asked. “Why are you looking for Kelvin?”
“That’s a secret,” she said slyly, before looking at Halsem. “Mr. Pissy-pants, how do you meet him, that blasted fellow called Kelvin?”
Halsem jumped up and looked around frightfully before grabbing Ellin’s head and hunching down.
“Oi! Speak quietly will you! There’ll be big trouble if you don’t speak of that damned old fogey with some respect around here!”
Ellin forced Halsem’s hand off her head, then grimaced, looking at Halsem’s pants and feeling her hair.
“Don’t say that! I didn’t touch my pants! And you, I see you’re being rather aggressive towards me. You still holding a grudge? If you lose at a game then accept the outcome!”
Ellin clicked her tongue, while Tom sighed looking at the two bicker.
“Stop fighting now and let’s hear what you’ve got to say.”
Halsem turned back to Thoma while letting out a dry cough.
“Don’t know why you’re trying to meet him, but it isn’t like there’s no way at all. He’s real sensitive to the smell of money. So… you just have to be someone with deep pockets.”
Ellin tilted her head at his explanation.
“What’s that mean?”
“Take my words literally…” Halsem smiled and pointed a finger at the gambling tables, before plopping himself back down onto the barstool. “Go on a red-hot streak.”
“Huuh~ I see. Then…” Ellin grabbed Tom’s hand with a playful face. “That means if I stay with mister here, I could earn money and meet the man?”
“Who are you calling mister? And why have you been acting so close to me for a while now?”
“Me? Well, I don’t really know why either.”
Ellin felt inwardly perplexed even as she replied. She did not know why she approached this man. She continued to think about it but only came to one conclusion.
‘Because he’s fun?’
“Anyway, I’ll be in your care until I meet that fellow Kelvin! Now then, let’s be off quick! I’ll help you out a little, mister.”
Ellin held Tom’s hand and dragged him toward the gambling tables, causing Halsem to laugh hollowly and rise to his feet.
“Well, wonder how much luck that Holy Knight fellow has. Shall I watch a little as well?”
The barkeeper merely gnashed his teeth. “… No, I’m telling you to scram for the love of God. Or at least change your pants!”
The gambling began once again, and cheers rang throughout the establishment as people watched the newcomer with surprised gazes. The young man with golden hair and mysterious golden eyes won himself an enormous amount of money. In every single game that was played, victory was always the apprentice Holy Knight’s to claim. As time passed, an increasing number of gamblers finished their games and went to spectate. Even skilled players with deft fingers could not attempt foul moves in front of him, but could only take the challenge head on and suffer defeat. Every time, the chips were pushed before the apprentice Holy Knight.
“Ohhh! Awesome! It’s your lucky day, mister!”
“… It’s beyond what I imagined. I was up against a monster like that? Is it pure skill? Or does he really have good luck?! Or is it because he’s cheating?”
Ellin received the bags of gold with sparkling, joy-filled eyes while Halsem handled the chips on the table while explaining the rules of the game to Tom and giving him advice.
It was said that hundreds of gold coins changed hands in that one night.
Halsem stretched his limbs with a joyful expression. He had entered the Golden Casino in the morning, but right now it was late in the evening.
“Whoo! I lost everything today, but even so I feel incredible! I’m happy that I could meet such a big shot! Oi, brother Holy Knight. When are you going again? The casino! Let me join as well when you go!”
Halsem seemed in a good mood and had even changed the way he addressed Tom, which drew out a smile from the young man.
“It’s only until I meet that Kelvin.”
“Then that means you’re going tomorrow too? Haha! That’s too much for me. I’ve become too worn out today.”
Ellin was at the back, carrying a bundle of bags containing the gold Tom had won today, following along unsteadily.
“Eh? Mister! Is it fine for me to be carrying the money? I might take it and run off you know?” she grumbled with a dissatisfied face, seemingly tired.
Tom had asked Ellin to carry his winnings in exchange for letting her tag along.
“No. You won’t do that.”
“… On what rationale?”
“Because I believe in you.”
Ellin was stunned by Tom saying something like that so easily, causing the young Holy Knight to chuckle at her reaction.
“Well, not like you’d get far even if you wanted to with such a heavy load.”
Coming to realize the dumbfounded look she was currently wearing, Ellin yelled as her face reddened.
“You’re too much! Carry some for me! It’s heavy!”
“Yes, I shall do that.”
Tom took a share of the gold bags, after which Halsem waved his hand at the two.
“Then I’ll be off now! Let’s meet again at the casino!”
“Yes, let’s do that.” Tom replied and nodded, then suddenly spoke up. “Halsem.”
“Do you have any thoughts of trying out a different occupation?”
“Ha? Me? What could a gambler like me do? Even if I wanted to, I don’t know how to do anything else. Is there something you can recommend?”
Tom answered immediately.
“How about giving up gambling and trying merchanting?”
“Ha, you think an idiot like me could earn money doing that?”
“Yes. It’s very much possible. Didn’t you draw 5 merchant cards during our showdown?”
Realizing he was serious, Halsem looked at him incredulously. “You’re kidding right?”
“I’m being serious.”
Halsem stared at Tom, taken aback by his sudden suggestion. He found himself nodding involuntarily upon meeting Tom’s mysterious golden eyes. Besides, he saw that Tom was speaking out of sincerity.
“Well, I’ll do that. Haha! I can’t continue gambling anyway, after all. Well then…”
Halsem waved once more and headed off. After he’d gone, Tom looked up to the sky and licked his lips nervously.
“It’s already night. I have to find an inn…”
Hearing this, Ellin thought her moment had come and spoke up.
“Then come to where I’m staying. All the other inns are closed anyway. Moving this bundle of money is tiring too…”
Tom looked at Ellin as he considered her suggestion. Truth be told he was reluctant to close the distance between them, but the problem was that this area was part of the fief where Kelvin resided. According to Halsem, Kevlin had bought out the Holy Knight who was acting as the lord here, so this land itself more or less belonged to Kelvin. Tom could roughly guess that there were over hundreds of soldiers under Kelvin’s influence, and he felt uncomfortable leaving a girl incapable of protecting herself alone in this sort of place.
‘… I should try contacting Karakul later.’
“Yes, let’s do that.”
Ellin walked right by Tom’s side, all smiles for some reason.
“By the way. You’ve got good luck don’t you, mister?”
Tom glanced at Ellin.
“Luck… you say?”
“Mhm, you won heaps at the casino!”
“Ah, if it’s about that…” Tom gazed at her with a refreshing smile. “I used the easy way out.”
“… Eh? Ehhhh? You used tricks? You cheated? How?”
“Well, it’s not quite right to call it a trick. I know how to read the future, you see. It’s not at the level of a prophecy that foretells the days ahead, but at the level of ‘Ah, I’m getting a good feeling!’. It’s based on the same principles as tarot cards. Divining destiny.”
“What’s all that about? Holy Knights know stuff like that?”
“Mmm, I can’t explain it clearly myself. Better to call it ‘Divine Prophecy’, I think. I merely read my past, and my future. First it was the life of a slave; second, a hero; third, a priest; and fourth… All-father Artarrk.”
“I can’t believe it! What do you mean by prophecy in a card game? No, before that. From slave, hero, priest to Artarrk… What is your destiny?”
Tom did not answer but gave a different reply instead. “But didn’t I win?”
“And what was that about Halesem become a merchant earlier?”
“Because I feel that he’ll make it big as a merchant.”
Ellin put some distance between her and Tom as they walked, apparently fed up with him.
“… Are all Holy Knights touched in the head like you? You’re really off your rocker!”
“Haha! Can’t say. I’m sure everybody’s different. Yes, there are truly strange people in the world…” Tom’s eyes turned cold. “… And there are people with minds broken to peculiar extents too.”
Ellin gazed at Tom dubiously for a moment before opening her mouth to speak.
“It can’t be that you did that prophecy or whatnot during all the gambling, did you? But not all the games you played involved cards right? There were dice games… and things like that.”
“No, no. It’s uncertain to use it for everything. I merely prevented my opponents from using improper methods to win, and the rest of the games were pretty much based on luck. In fact, Halsem’s help played a rather large part. Yes, that bottom dealing technique of his was surprisingly easy to use. Apparently I have talent in this aspect myself. No one seemed to notice.”
“… You cheated?!”
“I wouldn’t have won this much otherwise.”
Tom lifted up a bag of gold and rattled it unashamed.
“Are you really a churchman? You’re way too evil!”
“I can’t be sitting still when my opponent tries to cheat first. Though, well, I ended up doing the cheating since they gave up trying first. Fufu!”
The sight of Tom laughing struck Ellin as sinister.
‘This guy, is he really a churchman?’
— Ω —