From the Mouth of Jeremiah Cobbler
When we found out that we were up against the Grandparents for our next fight, the room grew quiet. Finally George turned to James and asked, “How then, are we to win this fight?”
No one objected to James’ right to answer the question. After leading us through two fights no one thought we could win, even the most grumpy old men knew that James was our leader. James responded, “Fear not, men. Tonight we have won a great victory. Tomorrow, we will plan our next.”
The men seemed to take him at his word and soon went to sleep, but I knew better. James had no idea how we were to win. If it was to happen, I knew I’d have to be the one to come up with our plan. I thought all through the night, but try as I might, I could not think of a solution. Well—at least I thought for the part of the night before I fell asleep. I was never much of a worrier.
The next day, James got us through the morning workout with more of the same sort of statements, but I could tell that if he didn’t give a real answer to the question of what we were going to do soon, he was going to have a problem on his hands. After the workout, I wandered down to the mess hall. Instead of sitting with James, like I usually did, I went over to an acquaintance that I had been avoiding.
Lionel Garsky was a thief like me. We were first introduced by our mutual business partner and fence Gruko de la Mort. When we first shook hands I could tell he was a dirty thief just like me, and I didn’t like him. Despite his personality defects, he was great at what he did, and we had pulled a very profitable job together before parting ways a few years back. I had noticed him on my first day in the barracks, but had done my best to avoid talking to him until now.
“Hello my old friend!” I said as I sat down next to him.
“What do you want?” He smiled back at me.
“So touchy! I promise I just want to talk.”
“Oh, so you want information. Well, I don’t know much about the Grandparents, but I can tell you this, they are tough.”
“Tough. Peh. Everyone in here is tough, excepting of course, your pleasant self—“
“And your disgusting personage.”
“Yes, well, as I was saying, I know they are tough, but are they smart?”
“Why? Do you have a plan? You have a plan, don’t you. Yes, you have a plan, but it won’t work if they have half a brain, which I doubt they do. Hmm, perhaps the odds are wrong, and perhaps I should bet on you. Unless of course, they do have a brain, in which case I should certainly bet against you.”
“So you’ll look into it?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? Of course I’ll look into it. I’ll make more money betting on than against you. The Grandparents are a tough matchup. Plus, after we win our next fight, I’d much rather be facing your sorry ass than a veteran group.”
“Thanks for your… help, I think.” I said as I left. I hated talking with him. He always said too many words in too short a space.
I didn’t actually have a plan, but I had a sort of idea. In order for me to have an actual plan, though, I’d need to know who we were up against.
At the evening meal, I sat with Lionel again, and he told me what he had found out. He told me that the Grandparents had that name because they were originally two recruit dorms that each lost about half their men during the last term. When the winter came about, the two dorms got “married” and due to their age, called themselves the Grandparents. Then he told me that there was something of a rivalry between the leaders of each original dorm. Apparently, both leaders were smart, and that only fueled the rivalry. I thanked Lionel, and when he asked me who he should bet on, I told him that a small bet on my dorm would not be amiss.
My plan was starting to settle in my mind, and as I explained it to James, I became more and more certain that it would work. James required a little convincing, but eventually agreed to go along with it, as we really had no other choice. When James explained it to the men, they liked it even less, but again decided to go along with it because they had no other option. The week passed with everyone worrying, which I was starting to get tired of. We had not lost yet. And I was the one who came up with the plan, so it was sure to work, but then again, I suppose they did not know that.
On the day before our fight, I went to the bookie who I had placed my previous bets with, intending to yet again bet it all on us. When I told him the figure—forty gold pieces—he just shook his head.
“I’m sorry mate, but there’s no way I can cover that bet,” he sighed.
“What? You don’t really think that I’ll be right a third time in a row?”
“I’m not in the business of thinking, I’m in the business of knowing. And I know that if I take that bet, I cannot pay you out at the listed odds.”
I thought for a moment. I was surprised that I already had one of the largest fortunes in the barracks. “How much can you cover?” I asked.
“From you? Nothing. I’m tired of handing you large sums of money.”
“Is there anyone else then that I could bet with?”
“Hmph. I’m not usually in the practice of giving away business, but you could try a personal wager with the richest man in the camp—Bryce, the fifth term.”
I paled. People who didn’t pay their debts to Bryce lost their lives. “Thanks for the tip, I suppose,” I said as I left.
After groaning inwardly for hours, I finally decided to bet thirty gold pieces with Bryce. I came to his quarters with the money in hand. When I was finally allowed in, Bryce grunted at me, “What is it you want from me?”
“I’d like to place a bet on the fight tomorrow,” I said.
“And why is it that you can’t do this with one of the many bookies in the rest of the prison? What makes you think that your credit is good here?” he snarled.
“I’ve no problems with my credit, sir. It’s just that the sum I wish to bet is a tad larger than what any bookie will cover.”
“What’s your bet, then?”
“Thirty gold pieces on Dormitory Number 9 to win.”
“Betting on the underdog eh? I’ll take the bet on evens, and I’ll have my money now, or get out of my sight.”
I blanched. Evens? What a rip-off. Even the lowest odds from the bookies were 1:2. Still, if I won, and if he paid me, I’d be up to seventy gold pieces—a veritable fortune. “I’ll take it, sir, and here is the money.”
I tossed the pouch to him, and left quickly.
On the day of the fight, we assembled on the grounds as per usual. I surveyed our group. We were down three men who were too hurt to fight, and five of our others were sporting various splints and bandages. Compared to the Grandparents, operating at full complement, we looked pretty pitiful. James turned to me and asked for the millionth time if I was “certain they would agree to it?” I rolled my eyes and looked for Bryce to give the signal to begin.
About a minute later, he stood, and roared they signal to fight. Immediately after that, James stepped forward and cried, “Hold there!”
The rushing Grandparents confusedly stopped. James continued, “I propose a challenge to the leader of the Grandparents!”
Almost simultaneously, two men stepped forward and said, “I accept!” and “I do not accept!” The two leaders looked at each other with fury in their eyes. They began speaking in whispers. Finally one of them stepped forward and said, “As I said before, I accept your challenge.” I ignored him, though, and looked at the face of the dissenter. It was perfect.
Almost subconsciously, our two groups formed a circle with James and the leader in the center. As they began circling each other, I began edging around to the part of the circle nearest the dissenting leader. I whispered to George, who was standing there as was his job in my plan. Fortunately I whispered loudly enough that the leader overheard me saying “…take them by surprise after…” I glanced at the dissenter’s face to make sure he had heard. The plainly wrought anger told me he had.
I turned my attention to the fight, where James was doing his best to not get beaten to a pulp by the leader. I signaled George, and together we cried, “Jaaaames!”
This was the signal for James to stop getting beaten on, and win. And that’s exactly what he did. He did it so fast that I almost did not notice it happening. One moment the leader was on the offensive, and the next he was lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood. The crowd was suddenly hushed.
“Do you cede the feild?” charged James.
“Never, liars!” yelled the other leader as he and his men began to charge our lines. Fortunately for us, I had predicted right, in assuming that should they not accept our victory, the other leader would only rally his half the troops.
Our men had already fallen into our wedge, with James at the point. We hardly even had to move to meet and divide the oncoming attack. A frontal assault like that might have served them well if they had had a whole dorm to attack with, but when it was just half, the battle was over before the second half could even respond. We proceeded to surround the remaining half of the Grandparents, and again James asked, “Do you cede the field?”
They each just dropped their sticks in response.
Finally, in the aftermath of the battle our dorm was content to celebrate. Personally, I thought they had taken far longer to get into a good mood than was acceptable, but no one seems to pay much attention to my opinions. I actually was the worried one, because now I was faced with the unpleasant task of retrieving my winnings from Bryce.
When I arrived at his quarters, he said, “You again. What do you want this time?”
I hoped he was trying to make a joke or something. “Uh, sir, I have come for my winnings.”
“I thought that might be it, then. Here they are. Forty-five gold pieces.”
I blanched. “I thought we had agreed upon sixty, sir?”
“Perhaps your memory is not what it used to be,” he snarled.
“Perhaps, sir,” I said as I left with my measly fifteen gold pieces in winnings.
When James saw me coming back with such a sad face, he asked what the problem was. When I told him that I had only won fifteen gold pieces, instead of the full thirty, he just started laughing, because fifteen gold pieces was more than his whole farm was worth. He thought I was joking. Then I realized that perhaps I had been luckier than I thought—I mean, I did get some money out of Bryce, right? I bet that not many men have done that and lived to talk about it.