“The best way to learn is to listen and watch,” Melonius said. “I will explain, but you will not understand until you see a few rounds.”
“Shoot,” Harris said.
Elypticus pressed a button and the board elevated slightly from the table. It was an attractive playing surface — round and richly carved. There were blue slots for the yedalas, the bets no doubt,and a track with holes circumnavigating a bright-green slab. In the holes, or at least in what Harris assumed was the starting position, were ivory pegs — a cribbage arrangement. Then Melonius pressed another button and seven dice materialized centerboard. Harris grinned at the pretty things — three pyramids, three tetrahedrons and an octahedron — pearl white with blue and red markings, which Harris had come to recognize as Farn numbers.
“First we shake these,” Elypticus said, passing the dice to Parnasus, who gave them a good rattle, barely able to contain them in his hands. “And let them fall onto the gorettle.”
Parnasus dropped the stones in the center of the board — in an area which lit with a flash of green, and then with a warm, cozy blue. Elypticus scanned the dice with his index finger, calculating.
“Two yedalas,” Melonius said.
“Is it two?” Parnasus replied, cocking his head, looking for himself.
“Trust me.” He glanced at Harris. “We calculate the bet based on the arrangement of the stones, and then divide their position by the numbers appearing on the face-ups. The side stones, turned inward, are discounted — we subtract that amount, and then look to the mother rock.” He pointed to the octahedron. “If it has an even number, we deduct one. If odd, we add one, and if it is blank, it is a wash.”
“I think it is only one,” Parnasus said,
“Two,” Melonius quibbled.
“It is two, Parnasus,” Elypticus said. “See, this one with the five, faces this one with the three.”
Parnasus squinted, and then took two yedalas and slipped them into the slots. He moved a peg forward. Harris was befuddled. Never strong at math, he would stink at the Farn variety. He hoped he’d fare better in the marketplace. Elypticus took his turn at tossing.
“Oh, bogger,” he said. “Three. That is much.”
He frowned, but placed his wager in a separate slot and moved a peg forward two spaces. Melonius grinned, took up the stones in two hands, gave them a stylized rattle as if he could control luck’s vagary. Down they went.
“Free ride,” he exclaimed.
“I think they are rigged somehow,” Elypticus said.
“You know they are not,” Melonius exclaimed, and then clasped his fingers together in greed. He turned to Harris.
“Now that the bidding is set, the play begins.” He pressed a button and a stack of tiles levitated above the board. Swiftly, they were dealt to each player, who caught them and quickly hid them behind the low boundary of the table’s edge. Harris peeked at Melonius’ set. There were tiles in four colors — red, yellow, green and blue, and only on the face. The backs were golden. Each had a Farn number, but Harris could see script sigils on some.
“Watch,” Melonius said. “We shall play this first rubber slowly.”
Another stack appeared centerboard — in the gorettle. Melonius turned over a tile.
“This is a blue four,” he said. He pointed at Parnasus to his right, counter-clockwise. “Now Parnasus will attempt to match either color or number. Do so, Parnasus.”
Parnasus placed a tile.
“A green four,” Parnasus said.
Elypticus placed a tile atop this one.
“A green seven,” he said.
“The play comes to me,” Melonius explained. “You can see, I can play one of several tiles. If I want the play to continue to Parnasus, I will play another number. But if I wish the play to return to Elypticus, I will place a sigil.” He pointed to one. “There are four sigils to each color — a sun, a moon, a star and a comet. This turns the play.”
He played a comet.
“Blue comet,” Elypticus said, playing a blue number. “Blue seven.”
“Green seven,” Parnasus declared, playing his tile.
“Yellow seven,” Melonius said, and suddenly their hands went to the stack, slapping it hard.
“Grusoker,” Elypticus and Parnasus both shouted.
“I got it,” Elypticus snapped.
“I think I did,” Parnasus complained.
“It does not matter,” Melonius said. “I announced the three in a row to demonstrate.”
“Oh,” Elypticus said. “Take it, brother,”
“No, brother,” Parnasus replied.
Melonius snapped his hand over it.
“Grusoker, then.” He grinned and gathered the entire stack. “Do not pout. You know the rules.”
“But who gets the yedalas?”
“They accumulate, my lord,” Melonius said. “Whoever gets the full stack gets the ransom.”
“It seems easy,” Harris said.
Melonius grinned, and then nodded to his fellow players. Parnasus’ hand went to the stack, revealing the next tile. Elypticus played a number, Melonius a sigil, reversing play, quickly, and so it went. Harris could hardly see their hands flying as the play went about and about, punctuated by slapping hands and cries of grusoker. There were several debates over false starts with the slaps, but the game was vigorous — stopping briefly for a toss of the dice, new bets and peg advancement. He wanted to ask about the pegs, but could barely keep track of the flying tiles, the slaps and the shouts. Finally, the last slap came crashing down in the gorettle, and Melonius declared himself the victor. Harris roared and clapped.
Elypticus and Parnasus appeared crestfallen, but shook their brother Danuwa’s hand.
“It looks like I’ll need to pay you lads more often to keep you in grusoker money,” Harris announced. “But I might not need to pay Melonius anything if this is an example of his gambling skills.”
Melonius nodded to Harris. It wasn’t kinship, but ground had been established. However, Harris might need to win some yedalas before Melonius would consider the playing ground level, but at least there was a playing ground now.
“Ah, grusoker!” came a hearty hail over the threshold.
“Lord Agrimentikos,” Harris said. “Are you a player?”
“I might have invented the game back when we called it Egyptian Ratscrew, but I have not played at it in years.”