“I’m not doing anything that will affect the outcome of the game!” he whined.
“Doesn’t matter. No spells at all,” I told him.
“Fine, fine,” he mumbled. He drew another card, and skipped five spaces ahead, next to the goal.
The magistrate drew the Pickle, which called for him to move back to the middle of the board. “Curse that to Garchune.”
“That’s how the cards fall,” I said. “Nobody’s been cheating.”
“Trying to, I’d say,” said the magistrate. Tarcuna drew the top card for Ythac, which was “Move four”. The magistrate shook his head, “So much for that. So much for my life.”
Ythac proclaimed in a harsh voice, “The first of you has fallen to my unconquerable powers of playing Pickle-or-Pie. The chances of continuing the dracharchy have doubled. Who is next?”
While the hovens fumbled with ten leaden and one steel bullet, Nrararn giggled privately to me. «Doubled, yes, from one in four thousand to one in two thousand.»
«He’s not trying to win, remember? Just look impressive while he’s giving up his empire.»
Quarri looked at the steel bullet in his hand, and fell to his knees whimpering. I poked him with my tailtip. “You have talked bravely. Now you must act brave.” He got up and walked to Tarcuna, shaking, his fur flat, and picked his pawn (square) and first card (red). Ythac’s first draw was the Pie, the symbol closest to the goal, and the game only went for four more draws.
“Hovens are not doing very well recovering their country,” said Ythac. “Who is next?”
Next, by the bullets, was one of the other RARU leaders. “I think Tarcuna is cheating,” he said. “She’s not an honest Trestean.”
Tarcuna threw the deck at him. “I’m not cheating, and I’m as loyal a Trestean as possible at this point. Sporthen, nobody’s questioning your loyalty to Trest. You shuffle. I’ll just move Ythac’s pawn.”
The RARUvite played fiercely. Or, rather, the cards fell in his favor several times. Once Ythac was two spaces from the goal, but drew the Pie and had to move back. Then the hoven was ahead for several turns. At the end, both players were near the goal. They each needed to draw a number card — any number — to get to it. They got a run of color cards, but Ythac drew a Move 3, and won. The hoven fell into tears, protesting his innocence. “That’s fine, you are innocent,” I told him. “I’m not going to kill you as a punishment.”
Sporthen shuffled the cards again, and held them as he drew a lead bullet. One of Ythac’s gendarmes drew the steel one.
“Is it too late for me to back out?” he asked.
“Yes, too late by far,” said Ythac. “Play.”
Ythac was ahead for most of that game too. But then the gendarme drew the Pie, and on his next turn Move 7, and Ythac was still meandering around the Sundae two coils of path below. Ythac grinned, and had Tarcuna take his next card: green, moving him a couple spaces forward. The gendarme drew Move 2, and won.
“Gendarme Niremme!” roared Ythac, after a quick glance at the guard’s nametag. “You have wagered your life, and you have defeated me at my game! From this defeat, I cede the greater part of my dominion and my husband’s to you and your conspecifics!”
Sporthen and the others stared at Ythac suspiciously. So I hissed at them, “No tricks. We pay our gambling debts.”
“You’re just going to let me live?” he asked.
“For now. Feel free to challenge any other time, and I will happily kill you,” I said, because I was (and am) still rather upset with him. “Be glad he is staying on as a figurehead. You are still nominally his, enough so that draconic law keeps me from killing you without his permission. Or would you rather be entirely free?” I might not have killed him in any case — I have some manners — but I didn’t much want him to feel entirely happy over defeating some dragons.
The other hovens eventually realized that we weren’t tricking them, and weren’t going to massacre them. Llredh darted off to kill Shuvanne, which was either a relief or a final indignity to him, I don’t much care which. Ythac, Sporthen, Versley, Csirnis, and a courtier or two started working on the wording of decree of mostly-abdication.
Nrararn tugged my forepaw. “Let’s leave. I’m not sure I want to be around Ythac and Llredh when they realize we’ve just mostly removed their territory. Even if they were helping out, they might be a bit upset.”
I dragged Tarcuna away from the growing celebration of her country’s freedom, and we fled our victory.