Laying Odds

September 24, 2007

Marek Aelin, bladesworn, was clearly the most dangerous man in the tavern – but that wasn’t what his apprentice, Jared, had to figure out.

They were seated at a quiet table in the back, where they could easily observe all the others that had gathered in the tavern – sellswords and knights, travelers and bounty hunters, all passing through Crossroads Town on their way to bigger and better things. And Marek, as he often did, had set a little test for his apprentice – if he was to pick a fight with any man in the tavern, who would it be?

Jared continued to sit and consider the question, even as their meal arrived – warm stew and clean water, which was a princely meal by any standards, and one of the reasons this little place managed to stay packed throughout the night.

After a few more moments of hesitation, Jared gestured at a likely target, a balding warrior sitting alone save for a tarnished sword, who paid far more attention to the food before him than to the dangerous sellswords sitting nearby.

Jared’s mentor nodded. It was a good choice. The man was clearly out of shape, and the condition of his gear indicated he didn’t take his profession seriously. No friends to come to his aid. And he looked lazy enough that, if bested, he was more likely to slink away than to seek out revenge.

But still… Marek pointed out another solitary figure with a youthful look about him. “What of him? His weapon seems unused, and his skin doesn’t show the mark of a single battle. Do you think age and sloth easier to best than youth and inexperience?”

The youth in question was seated at the bar, his gaze unfocused as he stared at the wooden countertop before him and poked at his food. Beside him, resting against the wall, was a massive oversized axe… one that looked too big for the lad to easily wield, and whose axe-head was smooth and bore not a single dent or scuff from battle. The lad himself had smooth and unscarred skin, something rare for even the best of warriors.

But Jared simply shook his head. “I know all too well that youth can be overcome… but I also know that things are not always as they seem. His weapon could be enchanted, explaining its condition and its shine. He could be a master of the craft, having never let a foe past his guard to strike him.”

“The odds of that are rather slim.”

“True… but it is safer to take a sure shot at a mediocre foe, than to risk even the slimmest chance of going up against certain defeat, is it not?”

His master smiled, and took out his coinpouch to pay for the meal, covering his apprentice’s share as prize for winning the game, and for coming one more step closer to joining the ranks of the bladesworn.

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