Appendix A: Chapter 7

[Editor's note: Chapter 7 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

“This’ll work best if you don’t follow me around the room while I’m working the crowd,” Anna said. “I’m going to head up to my room once I’m through here. We can meet back down here first thing in the morning. Does that work for you?” As she asked, Anna started unbuttoning the first several buttons of her blouse.

Roland grabbed her by the wrist and asked, “What in the Lady’s name are you doing?”

Anna pulled her hand free. “I couldn’t find the right kind of outfit on such short notice, so this’ll have to do.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Anna looked at him. “This line of work is all about making sure they aren’t looking too closely at these,” she said as though explaining something obvious to a child and holding her hands out in front of her. “And believe me, the easiest way to do that in a place like this is to keep them distracted by these.” She unfastened a few more buttons and tugged the two sides apart a little to widen the neckline. “There, that ought to work.”

“Aren’t you worried about…” Roland paused, trying to word things delicately. He lowered his voice. “About what kinds of ideas some of the types of people who come to places like this might get when they see a young woman walking around unescorted dressed like that.”

Anna rolled her yes. “You say that like I’ve never done this before. Besides,” she continued, taking on an artificially airy and whimsical voice, “if anything happens, I have my knight in shining armor to come to my rescue, right?” Roland remained unmoved. “If you’re really worried, you can stay back and watch. Just stay out of the way, OK?”

With that, Anna stood up, eyed a nearby table with four tankards of something separating two men, and sauntered up to them. “Hey there,” Roland heard her say, just loudly enough for her voice to be heard at the surrounding tables over their conversations, “you fellas play poker, right? How much do you want to bet I can deal a hand so that everyone gets a royal flush?”

Her back blocked Roland’s view of what was happening, but he saw thw two men look at each other, say something, and then put a couple coins on the table. Anna did something with the cards, and a little bit later gathered them back up, along with the coins, bowed, and sauntered over to the next table.

Roland continued to study his map, but he increasingly looked up for it to see what Anna was up do. She had quickly drawn the attention of most of the patrons, and many of them watched from their tables as she moved through the room, doing some kind of trick or another. Once or twice Roland noticed she left some of her own coins behind after working a table. Roland wasn’t sure if that was because one of her tricks had failed, or if she deliberately threw one or two so as to not scare off all her other potential victims.

She eventually worked her way around the room and back to the table next to Roland’s, where a particularly gruff-looking man was seated. This time, Roland had a clear view of the proceedings.

“Well, sir,” she introduced herself to him, loudly enough to be heard by everyone, “I’m sure by now you’ve seen I’ve taken a nice little sum from the rest of these of the gentlemen here, and I think it’s only fair that I give you an opportunity to win it all back for them. For but a modest wager on your part, I will identify, sight unseen, which card from this perfectly ordinary deck you have selected. And if I fail,” she continued, turning around to face the rest of the room, “there shall be a round of the bartender’s finest for everyone on me! What do you say?”

The man looked suspicious. And wisely so, Roland thought. He at least knew how this trick worked, and knew the man at the table didn’t stand a chance if he accepted.

“And just to make things even more challenging for myself,” Anna continued, “I shall not touch these cards in the slightest until our little wager is complete.” She held up the deck, placed it and a small leather pouch on the table in front of the man with a flourish, and took a step back, hands outstretched at her sides. “Surely such a feat seems impossible, and you may well me right. But with so little to lose and so much to be gained, don’t you think it to be worth a try?”

The cheer from the crowd showed which side they were on. The man capitulated and placed a few coins on the table.

“Excellent, good sir. Now, you have the deck before you. Take all the time you need and pick any card you like from it. Make sure everyone else gets a good look at it too. We don’t want anyone here to think you might be trying to cheat a poor young lady out of her money, now,” she winked. She ceremoniously spun around and walked to the bar, standing there with her back to the rest of the room. “Just give a little shout when you are ready.”

Well, Roland had thought he knew how this was going to play out. He was hardly an expert in this sort of thing, but he couldn’t see how Anna could possibly be manipulating the outcome of the trick without even touching the cards. Roland doubted that she had scammed enough money from everyone else to afford to lose and still walk away with a profit, but he didn’t know how else she was going to pull this off.

The man rummaged through Anna’s deck, scrutinizing the cards until he settled, for whatever reason, upon the three of clubs. He looked towards Anna, but she was standing at the far corner of the bar, back to everyone, slowly rocking back and forth on her feet as she waited. Keeping his gaze on her, he showed everyone the card, then laid it face down on the table.

“Ready,” he grunted.

“Excellent,” Anna called in reply, still facing the corner. “Now, just to make sure I won’t be able to see the card at all, could you please place it in the empty pouch on the table and make sure it’s closed shut? Ready? OK.”

Anna turned back around and strode confidently back to the man’s table. “Now,” she continued, “I want you to concentrate on the card you chose. Maybe it has some kind of significance for you, maybe you picked it at random, I don’t know. But focus on it. See it in your mind. Don’t let it go.”

The room fell silent, everyone watching to see what happened. As she had done in the marketplace the day before, Anna leaned over across the table and placed her hands on either side of the man’s head.

“Good,” she cooed, “just like that. Push everything else out of your mind and think only of the card. Yes. It’s coming to me. I can almost see it. Just a little more.” She appeared to be concentrating hard on something. “Almost… almost… there,” she finished, letting go of the man’s head and straightening herself back up.

Anna looked around the room. Roland saw that all eyes were on her, waiting.

“Three of clubs, right?”

The man looked stunned. She lifted the pouch off the table, opened it, peeked inside as though she didn’t already know what she would find, removed the three of clubs, and held it up for all to see.

“Well done, good sir,” she said to the man, scooping up the rest of the deck, and the coins, and shoving them into her pocket with a single motion. She addressed the crowd, “I bet a lot of you are wondering how I knew that. I admit, it wasn’t easy. You should’ve seen some of the other things he was thinking about.” She leaned in conspiratorially towards the man, but kept talking loudly enough to be heard by everyone. “And while that does sound like fun, I’m afraid I already have my own room for the night. Maybe some other time,” she winked.

The crowd roared. Before anyone but Roland could notice, Anna had bounded up the stairs to her room. Roland waited a few minutes and watched the crowd settle back down, then went up to his own room for the night.

—-

Roland and Anna set back out on the road to Derinham early the next morning. They again passed the journey in silence, but now thoughts of Helioth and Anna’s brother were pushed out of his mind by the events of that evening.

“How did you do it?” he asked.

“Do what?”

“The trick at the end. It wasn’t at all the way you said it was done.”

Anna shrugged. “There’s lots of different ways to do that trick. I needed to finish with something big, and besides, I’m sure you didn’t want to see it done a third time.”

“So how did you do it this time?”

“A magician never reveals her secrets.”

“Yes you do; you did it back in town.”

“That was different.”

“Look, I watched you last night. You didn’t even touch the cards until the trick was over. You let that guy do whatever he wanted with the deck. There’s no possible way it could have been a trick. How did you do it.”

Anna stopped. Roland turned, and saw her staring at the ground in front of her. She swallowed nervously. “I suppose I knew we were going to have this conversation. And I suppose it’s something you were going to have to know eventually. It’s just, I was hoping there’d be some way around it.”

“Around what?”

Anna remained silent for a few moments.

Roland waited.

“It’s like this. Remember, back in the marketplace, how I said how the magic I do is all just tricks and lies?”

“Yes.”

“I lied.”

Chapter word count: 1,692 (according to wc)
Total word count: 12,970 / 50,000 (25.94% complete)

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