The Jack of Diamonds Dagger

∴ A Diamond in the Rough ∴

The auburn-haired rogue sways out of the inn, a smile twisting his handsome face and a heavy velvet pouch in his hand. The game was good tonight; the players gullible. There’s still money to be made from that thick-headed sellsword, he reckons. Might be time for a new locale though. The inn keeper’s daughter is onto him.

He presses the pouch into a pocket and pulls on perfumed gloves. The jasmine scent still lingers on the kidskin, a welcome respite from the stink of the stables.

You boy,” he calls to the youth skulking in the stalls. “Bring my grey gelding.”

The surly lad glances up, and the gambler’s surprised to see it’s not a lad after all. The tousle-haired girl shrugs and unhitches the horse from its post. A fine mount, the rogue thinks to himself. He won it in the capital. Diced a guard down to his last penny, and took the horse as a mercy. 

The stable girl hands him the reins, eyes glittering as she takes in his fine clothes, the jasmine scent. She hovers until he flicks a coin from his pocket. After all, he’s feeling generous. 

I’ll be wanting more than that, I reckon.” Her tone is even, undaunted.

The rogue is surprised by her insolence. The boy who used to tend the horses here couldn’t thank him enough for a tip.

“How’s this for more?” he asks, making to cuff the urchin around the ear. “Go on, away with you.”

But the perfumed glove never connects with the dirt-rimed ear. Instead the girl slips neatly to one side, and draws a dagger from her back.

The rogue steps back, a sinking feeling in his stomach. He recognises the weapon instantly, for its sister hangs at his side. Like his own knife, it has an ovoid pommel and a copper-braided grip gleaming beneath the black bars of its sail. But where his guard takes the shape of a heart, the girl’s bears a single black diamond.

Where in seven hells did you get that?” he growls, low, dangerous.

The girl only laughs before cutting the reins of the horse and vaulting onto its back.

The auburn-haired rogue watches, dumbfounded, as his prize gelding diminishes into dark distance. Suddenly clasping at his pocket, he is ashamed but not at all surprised to find the velvet pouch missing.

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The Jack of Hearts Dagger

∴ A Jack or Better ∴

For all the bustle of the alehouse, a silence opresses the low table by the back door. There two men sit across from each other unspeaking, barely moving, cold stares trained on one another as they finger dog-eared cards.

Their tankards are long past empty, but the tavern keeper’s daughter knows better than to bring them more. She knows their kind – shrewd men, hard men, consumed by their dice and their cards. The trick is to slake their thirst early, when the game is still fun and the coin flows freely, and to steer well clear in the later rounds.

Instead she hovers behind the makeshift bar, idly rubbing a rag over copper mugs as she keeps an unassuming eye on them.

The larger man with his back to the wall; she’s seen him here before. A mercenary if there ever was one, all boiled leather and riveted rings, jaw sinking into broad shoulders with little sign of a neck. A man of few words, but liable to rage if the odds aren’t in his favour.

The smaller man, now he’s a new one. Younger than the other, with auburn hair tucked into a neat queue at the nape of his neck. He is dressed in fine clothes – not the ostentatious sort that would get him mugged here, but sombre and well-cut with slight flashes of lace at the cuffs and collar. A dandy, the tavern keeper’s daughter thinks with a smile.

Her close attention has drawn that of others, so it is with a collective intake of breath that the drinkers watch the mercenary lay his cards down. Crimson diamonds grace the gnarled wood. A strong hand.

Eyes now turn to the dandy, with all pretence of indolence gone. This next hand could be the difference between a round of drinks and an all-out brawl. Already some are sliding their hands to their belts, patting reassuringly at the knives hanging there.

With a shrug and a wry grin, the younger man slaps his cards onto the table. Four aces. And a jack of hearts.

“Cheat!” the mercenary cries, rising to his feet and pushing the table hard into his opponent. “Villain! Knave!”

The drinkers slide down from their stools, assuming a rough formation between the bar and the would-be brawlers. Tankards are emptied, all the better to be weaponised. The tavern keeper’s daughter sighs as she reaches for the rolling pin.

But quick as a wink, the auburn-haired rogue is on his feet, reaching for the dagger at his back. The tavern keeper’s daughter catches just a glimpse of a red-gloved hand encased in black heart-shaped bars before the blade is thrust point-down into the table, scattering coins and yellowed cards.

The larger man looks down, eyes wide and mouth agape. The blade is sunk deep between his middle and index fingers. A hair to the left or right, and his days with a bow would be over. Shaking slightly, he turns his gaze back to his opponent.

“Another round,” the Jack of Hearts says. “I’m feeling generous.”

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The Darkheart Dagger

∴ A Dalliance with the Dark∴

You don’t know why you keep coming here – though the Lord knows it’s not for the food. You glance down at the greying globules, more fat than meat, suspended in a dishwater broth, and grimace. No, it’s certainly not the food. Nor the warm, flat ale, nor the sticky floorboards, nor the company of bandits and thieves.

It is – if you are honest – a woman. The Woman, as you’ve come to think of her, for you do not know her name. And not even her, but merely the hope of her. Hope that the heavy door will fly open as it did that first night, admitting a figure swathed in black skirts, black curls spilling from a black wool hood, red lips carving a cruel smile across a swarthy face. You recall how she stalked, catlike across the room, undaunted by the sudden silence or the brigands’ eyes boring into her. How amidst the rustle of skirts cold steel flashed: a dagger, dark and lovely, the great curling bars of its basket kissing in the semblance of a heart.

“Danger,” the dagger whispered.

You don’t know what she said to the brute in the back-most booth, or what he hissed in reply, but you saw his great ham of a hand sweep outward to grasp her wrist and, faster, her own hand slip into that black sweetheart basket and bring it up, hard and blunt, against the blaggard’s face. As he slumped to the bench with a groan she turned to take in the room, the dagger’s blade extended, issuing a silent dare.

And just like that she was gone, a flurry of skirts and steel, leaving the dank hall in disarming quiet – and you well and truly stricken.

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The Rosanglica Sword and Dagger

∴ An Ill-Starred Beauty ∴

“I used to have a ship, you know,” the old man says. He sighs heavily and stares across the water to the brightly-painted war vessel. “Nothing fancy like this ‘un mind, but she knew what she was doing out there. Aye, that she did.”

You grunt an indifferent response, eyes fixed on the approaching craft. You pat the left breast of your doublet, satisfied by the slight scrunch of parchment – the papers that will grant you a new start, another chance at glory.

“You’ll be off after the French then, will you?” the old man tried again. “Light some powder under their arses and show ’em what’s what, eh?” He chuckled to himself. “Well that’s a fine thing, I suppose.”

You wish the old sot would find some other seafarer to bother and leave you to your thoughts, but he persists.

“It won’t be a long life, mind. Never is. They all find their way to the bottom in the end. Boats, that is. An’ if you’re lucky, they’ll take you down with them.”

At this you tear your glance away from the incoming ship, irked. “If you’re unlucky, you mean,”

The old seadog grins showing stubs of brown teeth, and holds his palms out to either side as if to present himself.

“Look at me, lad,” he cackled. “Do I look like one of the lucky ones to you?”

You shift awkwardly, taking in the man’s haggard physique and straggly hair, a shirt that’s seen better days and battered leather boots. At his side hangs a sword, incongruous with his shabby appearance. An elegant basket of crossed black bars encloses a gold-patterned  lining, crested by a large segmented pommel.

He sees you staring, and his hand flies to the hilt. Slowly, so as not to cause alarm, he draws the weapon and holds it out to you.

“You looking at this? Ah, she was never mine to keep either. May as well send her back to the sea. Go on, go on, take her! And may she bring you better fortune!”

Wide-eyed you reach for the brown leather grip, barely daring to believe your luck.

“They all find their way to the bottom, you know,” the old man repeated. And then he was gone, lost in the burgeoning crowd, leaving you dumbfounded, a sword in your hand, and a ship on your horizon.

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The Bedlam Dagger (Discordian Suite)

∴ A Twisted Path ∴

The door is no different in appearance to any of the other portals you’ve passed on your way through this labyrinth. Studded and suspended from sturdy iron hinges, it bears a brass latch and a star of four iron bars lacing a circular aperture. Beyond is only darkness.

And yet… 

Brushing the wood with your palm your mind is filled with a sudden susurrus of torment. A multitude of mutterings from every side, set to a symphony of rattling chains.

Much as every fibre wills you to step back from the door, you’re struck with an unsettling certainty that the artefact you seek lies amidst this madness. You can almost see it: a blade, sweet and slender, steel stark against the blackened star that beckons to your grasp.

A hand upon your wrist. A start and a stifled scream. Your guide shakes his cowled head.

“No,” he intones. “That way lies only madness.”

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