its about pirates. pirates are cool.
Cheaters Never Win
(Except in this case, in which they do)
The moon was pale and wrapped in cloud, which gave an eerie luminescence to the grimy street below. The cobbled path was littered with dirt and discarded fliers and paraphernalia left behind when the market running through the area had closed down for the night.
Everything was still and silent until a scruffy black cat poked it head around a corner and slunk it’s was out of an alleyway. It stopped to sniff a forgotten decaying apple core lying by the side of a mossy stone building. Its ears pricked and its head darted in the direction of a man who had just stumbled around the corner grovelling to himself.
The feline stared with its golden oval eyes as the man nearly slipped on the cobbles and had to cling to a barrel to stop himself from falling.
The cat hissed venomously as the man swayed towards it. “Clear off you mangy thing” he slurred. The cat screeched and quickly ran down another alleyway as the man drunkenly missed the kick he had aimed.
The man staggered onwards until he came to a shabby all night tavern within which he could drown his sorrows. There was a welcoming rumble of noise coming from within, and from what could be seen through the grime incrusted windows many people were inside joking and playing music. He fumbled for the old brass doorknob which when found and clasped in his hand he swung the door open with unnecessary force.
As the door crashed into the wall, tearing several more chunks out of the already splintered wood, the noise died and all eyes turned to him. “What are you all lookin’ at!” the man growled glaring at the crowds of people staring confused at him. They quickly turned back to their drinks and card games, though this time the conversations where hushed and seemed forced.
The man pulled his frayed brown coat closer around him, wobbled towards the bar and slumped across it until he regained the energy to stand properly. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts the man looked at the barman.
“A-a P-pint of beer” he said. The barman looked at him with his dark eyes. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” he asked deadpan.
The scruffy man rose to his full height, with difficulty and much swaying, and glared at the barman. He noticed that he was surprisingly young maybe only twenty-five, thirty at the very most. He was of moderate build with dark hair and pale skin. Not overly intimidating but someone you would think twice about before you picked a fight with.
“I have no idea what you are talking about” he oozed in the plumiest voice he could muster. The barman clearly saw straight through his transparent guise of being sober but served him his drink none the less, as he had already placed enough money to cover the drink on the counter. (And a little extra that he clearly hadn’t noticed, though the barman didn’t complain nor make it apparent that he had realised the mans mistake).
The already heavily intoxicated man perched uneasily on a barstool and for the first time gave a proper, though slightly out of focus, inspection of the premises. The place was clearly a worn down old wreak. The stone floor was covered with hay and straw. There were jagged cracks running up the walls. The tables were splintered and each was of different design to the last, none of which were of good craft in the first place. The windows appeared even filthier on the inside. The man also had to tilt his head slightly to avoid a drip of foul smelling water that persistently dripped from the rotten wood rafters.
“This hole could certainly do with a clean up I can tell you” he croaked to the barman.
He gave a non committal shrug and ‘Hmmed’ politely. “Can’t afford to with all these new dam taxes can I.” he said in a grainy voice. “Me and the wife can hardly keep the place running as it is.” He nodded to the other woman behind the bar.
“Tis tragic ain’t it” she said “then, the government don’t care what happens to normal men and women as long as they have money.” The man nodded in agreement, unsure why he had not noticed the lady before. She was tall and curvy with long blonde hair and fair skin, with a pretty face and a soft voice.
“I know” said the man “I’m Frank by the way” he added with a smile that was missing multiple teeth.
“I’m Hannah and my husband is called Joseph” she said kindly. He husband merely hmmed again. Frank fell quiet after this and the bar staff began serving and talking to other customers. Frank again began to look around the pub but this time focused on the people crowed in the dank dark room.
In one corner there was a group of bards singing drunkenly to themselves and laughing for no good reason. One was short with sandy hair and a round face. Another was weedy with a smug smile and wavy brown hair. The third member of the group, the one singing loudest of all, was to Frank’s distain, clearly a foreigner, or of foreign decent at the least. He was of a dark complexion with jet black curls of hair. Frank turned away in disgust of the men before he was overcome with the growing urge to shout at them to shut their mouths.
Bloody scroungers Frank thought to himself. They had no business being happy when all they did for a days work, was sing songs and badger passers-by out of their hard earned money.
At the table next along from them were two women. One was tanned and the other comparatively quite pale. Both were very pretty. The darker one too had ebony hair and her friend a honey blonde. Both we’re giggling merrily at the group of bards and whispering to one another. Frank hoped they we’re just as disgusted with the men as he was, though this seemed unlikely as they we’re apparently trying to catch the men’s attention.
At the opposite end of the bar to him was a man who Frank vaguely recognised as the town barber. He was a good barber so people said, though he was also known to be a bit of an eccentric. Frank thanked god that he himself was bald (which was odd as Frank generally referred to his baldness as a curse).
Frank thought he looked as though he could do with going to a barber himself as his dark hair coiled almost over his eyes. He was talking to a very tall very thin man with a long face and red hair. Both were mumbling about something that Frank couldn’t quite pick up on. Shame, he did always want to know what went through the head of a man who spent his life hacking at peoples hair. Probably wasn’t all there, thought Frank smirking to himself.
At the other end of the room was a man who Frank realised was the new town blacksmith. Too scrawny in Frank’s opinion. Didn’t look strong enough to lift a cushion let alone a hammer. And he was too soft faced, only twenty years of age, and had twisted dirty blonde hair. Sitting at the table with him was a young girl with silky black hair that draped over her shoulders. They were both gazing lovingly at one another. “She’ll turn on you” Frank mused bitterly, just as both his wife and mistress had on him. They both said he was ‘rude’ and ‘obnoxious’. He never understood that he thought, rubbing his nose with his sleeve and spitting on the floor.
Sitting in the darkest corner of the place were two men Frank had never previously laid eyes on. “Who are they?” he asked Hannah when she had finished serving someone. “Who do you mean?” she asked back.
Frank pointed in the direction of the men “Oh. I dunno, only started coming in here a couple of days ago I think. Isn’t that right?” she looked at her husband for confirmation.
“Yes I believe so” he said, sounding less bored than when he spoke to Frank, “still they pay their way and don’t give me any trouble so I don’t mind um… even if they are a bit funny”
“How do you mean funny?” Frank questioned curiously turning his head to the barman so fast that his head swam.
“Well, how they’re dressed for one, and they don’t talk much, keep themselves to themselves.”
“We’ll see about that” Frank said arrogantly, walking over to the two men and sitting at their table. The man and woman behind the bar exchanged nervous glances and continued with their work.
The two men had of course noticed when the scruffy drunken moron had walked in. They too noticed him pointing and looking in their direction. It was only a matter of time they realised before he would be sat at their table. Predictable as the tides they thought, trying their best to ignore the unnecessary pun.
The two men had purposely chosen to sit here, it was the perfect vantage point to see all that was going on in such a small room, and if anything seemed suspicious it was only a few quick strides to the door. Also the fact that the lantern hanging overhead the table had gave an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue that few people could avoid. Aesthetics were everything…well maybe not everything but they certainly helped situations such as these.
The men pretended to ignore him at first, play up to the aloof mysterious act; it was always more fun that way. He glared at them but they averted his gaze still chatting amongst themselves. (Of course their previous conversation was on how best they were going to deal with the man, but they changed the topic so quickly and seamlessly that nobody trying to overhear them would notice. They had gotten good at that act of trickery.)
The man coughed pointedly to alert them of his presence and the two men decided to give up the ghost and ‘realise’ he was there.
Frank thought it bloody rude that somebody would ignore him. Not even so much as a glance of acknowledgment. Its not as if they were wrapped up in an important conversation, they were only talking about trivial happenings in and around the town over the past few days.
Frank coughed loudly as if to announce his presence. The men both turned to face him. It was the first time he had properly inspected what they looked like, realising the barman’s choice of description was a little short of correct. Funny was not quite extreme enough a word to describe the men.
The first had a long scarlet coat with ornate golden buttons running down it. Beneath which was a white high collared shirt and black waistcoat with intricate crimson patterns wove into it. His fingers were encrusted with many rings with jewels of every colour. Frank wondered if any of the gemstones were real but judging by the mans appearance they probably were. He was a gangly stick of a man with pallid white skin and dark eyes. So dark in fact that if they were any deeper shade of blue they would be black. His facial features gave Frank the feeling that they were not quite positioned properly, and that his nose was a bit too out of sync with the rest of his face. Having that said he was not overly bad looking but far from good looking either. Interesting looking would certainly fit his description. He was quite young Frank noticed, about in his early twenties. The top of his head was covered with long ringlets of brown hair that looked slightly red when the light from the other parts of the room caught it. Perched on top and looking as though it were about to fly off due to his flyaway mop of hair was a hat with three points. A tricorne? That’s what they’re called Frank thought; the children around town wear them playing games pretending they were pirates. Frank smiled at the thought but dismissed it.
The other man in contrast was incredibly intimidating. A broad goliath of a man who looked as though he took up so much space he shouldn’t physically exist. Frank knew instantly which man he should never attempt to cross. Under any circumstances. He too had a long coat but his was black and less fancy than his companions. He too had a white shirt, though he lacked a waistcoat like his friend. His massive bulk however was juxtaposed with his boyish face. He too was young, and his face was almost childlike when he smiled. Though Frank had to come to the conclusion that he was most likely the older of the two men, even if it was only so that he didn’t offend the man. The giant had oddly clear blue eyes which added to his baby-faced head. He too had a tricorne hat though his was placed on the table so that his head was only covered by his scruffy mess of blonde hair. His fingers were bare in contrast to his associates though on the middle finger of his right hand he had a large bronze ring in the shape of a skull. Frank preferred not to ask what it was supposed to mean.
Frank then realised suddenly that he had been silent for several minutes and thought it best to introduce himself “how are you both?” he asked with more confidence than he felt “I’m Franklin Hughes, but my friends call me Frank”.
Frank (though the two men already knew his name but pretended they didn’t) held out his hand for the two men to shake in turn and introduce themselves.
“Nice to meet you” the red coated man said in a surprisingly deep cultured voice. “I am Iain Malfattore” and this is my friend and companion Shou (though he pronounced it with a silent ‘u’) Faustino.” Frank couldn’t help but let out a little wheeze of a laugh at the giant mans name.
Shou clenched his fist on the table and scornfully glared at Frank, who tried unsuccessfully to shrink into his seat. “Is their something funny about my name?” the man growled in a deep voice, far more common sounding than his friend.
Iain gave his companion a withering look and turned back to Frank “His father was a fisherman, who had an Asian friend on his ship with the name” he explained “He was named from him, then shortly after both men were carried away by the sea.” He added solemnly, and then grinned “His mother didn’t seem to mind much though. Then again I mean after all everyone already intimately knew his mother”.
Shou glared at his friend but it was quickly replaced with a smile that again made him look childlike “Not nearly as intimately as I know your mother” he laughed. Iain laughed too and Frank felt it polite to laugh at the joke, no matter how crude it was, simply to save face.
“So um…do you two want another drink?” he asked the men after the laughter and insults about the promiscuity of the two men’s mothers had died down. The men nodded in agreement. “Two rums?” Frank guessed.
“He’ll have one” Iain said nodding at Shou “I can’t stand the stuff, beer will be sufficient”
“What sort of a …” Shou began snidely but was quickly silenced before he could say the next word. Frank quickly hurried off to get the drinks, thankfully all the time spent talking had sobered him so he could get away from the argument that could well break out between the men.
“Oi, you were right about them two” Frank said to the barman whilst scratching his shaggy greying beard. “Both a bit barmy if you ask me”
The blacksmith was now at the bar waiting for his drink “I think they’re new in town.” He said in a surprisingly educated voice “defiantly not from around here, that’s for certain.”
“What makes you say that Tristan?” the barman asked the blacksmith. (“What a pathetic thing to call yourself” thought Frank, “they let anyone do any job nowadays”)
“Well they came to me the other day wanting me to fix their swords”
“What’s so unusual in that you are a blacksmith, aren’t you?” said Frank sarcastically.
“Yes.” Tristan replied irritated “but the thing is those swords were unlike any I’ve ever seen around here. Looked like cutlasses to me.”
“Hmm” said Joseph awkwardly “but like I said they pay their way, and I’m not here to judge”
“And besides” said Hannah, who had now stepped up next to her husband, blushing “the blonde ones not bad on the eyes is he. His friend not so much, but still.” She noticed the disapproving, and slightly sad, look on her husbands face “love you bunny” she smiled sweetly. There was a tense second before Joseph smiled back and pulled her into a one armed hug. Frank snatched the drinks off the counter and walked back to the strange men before the sentimentality made him vomit, and he’d already done that enough for one night.
As Frank was at the bar Iain and Shou returned to their original conversation. “So then how is this gunna work?” the blonde man asked.
“Well” said the curly haired man “you are going to ask him if he wants to play poker. While your doing that I am going to be rigging the deck.” he said craftily. His friend returned his wolfish grin. “Hold on a minute” he asked “how come I have to ask him?”
“Because he’s less likely to refuse to you” Iain said simply.
“Yeah nobody can resist my charm and good looks” he winked. Iain rolled his eyes “I didn’t mean it that way but close enough.” With that Frank returned from the bar struggling to carry the men’s drinks along with two for himself. This is going to be easier than even I thought Iain mused.
“So…Frank” Shou asked smoothly “you any good at poker?”
Several drinks and games of cards later Frank was happier than he’d ever imagined. He’d won the majority of the two men’s money as well as all of their rings and Shou’s hat, which was now placed lopsided on Franks head.
Frank had never realised he was this good at poker before it was as if every card her needed was coming up just as he needed it. Laughing in ecstasy at his poker buddies continued defeat he hopped up to get more drinks and said to the men:
“Another round? I’m buying” and grinned his almost toothless smile.
“I thought you said you’d rigged the deck” Shou snapped quietly.
“I have you fool its part of the plan! Get him to think he’s winning, make him drunk and over confident then beat him on the last hand” Iain snapped back.
“Oh. You’ve never done it that way before”
“Thought it would be fun to risk it for a change”
“Don’t worry it’ll be fine” Iain grinned.
“Hey who’s in charge here?” Iain said matter-of-factly. With that Frank returned, slopping such a volume of drink over himself that there was little left in the glasses.
The final game started and Frank was feeling confident, he bet everything he’d already won and had before even looking at his cards. The two men’s eyes glinted with excitement but it went unnoticed.
“Oh no” Frank muttered at the sight of his terrible hand. It was all going so well up till now. He began to panic and hope his adversaries had been dealt worse cards. There was an unnerving sound like a whip crack from across the table. He dared to look up to see the giant man picking a jagged piece of glass out of his mouth which he’d clearly just snapped off of his drink. Iain tutted and looked back at his cards as the other man smiled apologetically.
“One pair” Frank winced nervously as he showed his cards.
“Royal flush” Shou grinned.
“Full house” Iain giggled coldly. Frank slammed his head on the table as the two men’s greedy hands clawed at the riches Frank had won and lost so quickly we’re returned to them. Suddenly something clicked in his head. “You cheated” he said not quite as loudly as he would have liked.
“Excuse me?” Iain said in his snooty voice, now standing as if to leave.
“You cheated!” Frank snapped loudly all sorrow at his loss forgotten. He made a lunge for the tall skinny man but his companion was too quick. Frank was promptly lifted off his feet and smashed through the table behind him.
“Wanna try that again?” Shou asked malevolently. Everyone was now staring at the three men and the smashed table. Franks tricorne was lying beside him. “You bastards cheated” he muttered pain and confusion washing over him.
“What a terrible shame” Iain said clearly without any real guilt “but that’s how we work you see” he added patronisingly, fiddling with his waistcoat.
Frank rose shakily to his feet, still riddled with pain, but stood his own in front of the men. They laughed. Frank roared and aimed a punch at the curly haired man who quickly dodged, and unnecessarily, leapt up onto a table revealing dark trousers and a pair of fancy golden boots on his feet.
“Really?” his friend said.
“What I like these boots. What’s wrong with them?” he asked innocently in a voice that sounded almost like a child who didn’t understand what he’d done wrong. Shou shook his head and returned his attention to Frank who had lunged at him. The giant man intercepted his attack with a forceful punch in the face which caused Frank to stagger and fall backwards.
Frank got to his feet again, his lip split open by the force of the blow. Blood trickling down his chin he threw himself at the man on the table. Iain was too fast and leapt elegantly to another table closer to the door, then spun and drew a long gleaming sword, which had previously been concealed in a sheath under his coat, and pointed it at Frank threateningly. There was a unanimous sharp intake of breath as the weapon was drawn that made the man holding it smirk. “I’m afraid this is where we make our leave” he said in his sultry tones.
“Over my dead body!” Frank shouted and ran towards him. Shou again intercepted him this time grabbing the furious mans head and slamming it into his knee with such a force a great crunch echoed around the room. Franks nose exploded in an eruption of blood which caused all the women in the vicinity to shriek. Shou merely grinned at his handiwork as Frank crumpled to the floor unconscious, the blood spilling from what was left of his nose pooling underneath him. “And that’s my hat by the way” Shou said plucking the tricorne from next to Franks unconscious body and placing it back on his head where it belonged. With that Iain re-sheathed his sword leapt from his table, acrobatically swinging on the door frame as he made his escape. His friend quickly followed, darting through the exit and slamming it so hard behind him the hinges metal hinges snapped and the wooden door fell to the floor with a reverberating crash.