The Sandsman sank into the remaining seat, gesturing for Aoife to perch on the arm of the chair, as she had seen many women doing throughout the chance house. Up close, the table resembled a wooden prison more than anything. The velvet jacketed attendant, quite clearly not of Eastern origin, was housed in a hollowed out rectangle at the table’s heart. To his left was a small brass carousel, laden with twelve glass vials each filled with a suspicious green liquid. He too held a key, and the brass edged keyhole could be seen just in front of him in the dark wood of the table.
“All bets in,” the attendant said as a few wooden chips were left on the island in front of each participant.
As with the roulette table, he slid the key into the wood, turned it three times in place of one, and removed the key. The eight of them—all six participants, Aoife, and the attendant—watched in both anticipation and trepidation as the carousel began to spin. Aoife couldn’t tell where one rotation stopped and another began, and soon enough she began to lose count. Not that her count was particularly accurate in the first place.
The carousel ground to a halt, the ticking of the clockwork mechanism beneath the wood silencing with it. The attendant unhooked the vial directly in front of him and passed it to the battle scarred woman. She uncorked the vial, a delicate piece of glass no longer than Aoife’s index finger, and drank back the liquid with little care. All those gathered held their breath until a satisfied smirk broke out on the woman’s face, slamming the vial down on the table with a nerve shattering crunch.
“Sakinolma, Elia,” Gunnar said quietly, and the woman cast him a playful scowl.
The game continued in this manner, one vial per person going clockwise around the circle until it reached Gunnar. The attendant was reluctant to hand Gunnar his chosen vial, even going so far as to offer to drink it himself. But the Sandsman would have none of it. Were he not willing to risk his life, he would never have sat down. The attendant, a Western man by the name of Cian, warily handed Gunnar his vial, shaking hands threatening to drop it.
Gunnar’s own hands were steady as a surgeon’s. He pulled out the cork with a satisfying pop and tipped the vial back against his lips, swallowing down half its contents. After a few moments, he too cracked a smile and offered the vial to Aoife.
“Is it…?” she asked hesitantly, taking the vial.
“Athosi Emerald Wine. It tingles a little when it goes down.”
The game continued as Aoife warily drank the green liquid. The scarred woman had already unstoppered and consumed another vial by the time Aoife finished her own. The tingling sensation Gunnar had mentioned started at her tongue and snaked its way down her throat like the yeşi viper behind it. Too scared to approach the table and set the vial down, she clutched the delicate glass in equally delicate hands.
With only five vials left, some of the participants upped their bets. Unlike other games, Yeşi Tehli had no odds; it was double or nothing, life or death. Those that upped their bets were either arrogant or believed themselves lucky enough to evade death. In the final round of Yeşi Tehli, bets were no longer on who would survive, but who had the greatest odds of dying.
The carousel span again and again until there were only two vials left. The tension in the air was palpable. In one of those vials was enough yeşi venom to kill a bull elephant. The carousel span. The vial was passed to the man at Gunnar’s right. Sweat beaded on his brow. His hands shook as he pulled free the cork stopper.
Everyone around the table held their breath. They all knew what it meant if his vial was filled with wine, and none of them were eager to see Gunnar die. Least of all was Cian, who had no desire to have Gunnar's blood on his hands. The man drank the vial. The room was silent. He sat perfectly still for a few seconds, then flexed his fingers in front of his face. Slowly, as if he were checking whether they were real or not.
"Gods damn it," he muttered, the movements of his fingers grinding to a halt as the yeşi's trademark paralysis began to set in.
Had the vial only contained the venom from one bite, he would have had enough time to contemplate the life choices that led him to the Yeşi Tehli table, but inside the vial had been the venom of not one, but five bites. Those gathered around the table watched as his sluggish movements gradually wound to a halt. Over the sounds of the festivities and disappointments in the chance house they could just make out the sound of his death rattle as he heaved out his last breath, his eyes glazing over as the last touches of life fled him.
To regular players of Yeşi Tehli—on this particular occasion the only recurring gambler was the scarred woman, Elia—the sight was a common one. Those gathered were silent in respect. Those that worshipped the Maker said a silent prayer for him, and those that worshipped the Ramelan gods gave silent requests for Bahman to ease the passing of his soul back to the bosom of Shaliya, the mother. From under the lip of the table, the attendant pulled a small bell, ringing it twice to signify a casualty to those who dealt with such situations.
As the body was hauled off, Aoife felt a weight begin to grow in the pit of her stomach that had her dry heaving into a nearby floral display. She had seen death before. She had seen more dead bodies that night in the Cathedral than she ever wanted to see again in her life, but she had never seen someone die in front of her. Gunnar stood at her side, a hand rubbing her back the way a mother soothes her child, but he could not truly understand her revulsion.
The Sands were a dangerous place, and he had seen people die even before he had invented Yeşi Tehli. He had seen maids and manservants die of consumption and wasting diseases. He had seen children in his mother’s branch of the Ramela die from lacking medical treatment. He had seen his infant brother die from unknown causes while he slept. The Sands were not kind to her people, but her mistreatment only made those that survived stronger. Meeting a Sandsman easily flustered by death was like finding a needle in a needle factory.
The orphan forced herself up onto her feet, retches still shuddering through her. Gunnar’s arm was ready and waiting should she need to steady herself, but she was determined to be independent once more and keep her distance from him. Now that she’d seen the effects of the yeşi viper’s venom firsthand, she suddenly didn’t doubt Sylaise’s threat at all. She had looked after herself for eighteen years; it was only since Shay’s arrival that she’d constantly needed someone to look after her.
“Gunnar, we need to talk.” Her voice was steady, but the fear in it could not be ignored.