He’s learning a card game.

From his place in the tent, under the canvas, lay on a roughspun sheet, he is learning a card game.

From his place at the foot of his master’s bed, to the tune of his master’s breathing, lay on a roughspun sheet, staring skywards at canvas, he is learning a card game.

He has never played cards.

He remembers when he was younger, the street tricksters with their decks of cards, soft from years of use. He remembers watching them move like water between their hands. Jacks turned into queens into diamonds into spades into red black red black red black the perfect fluidity of each trick. Like water.

He wonders if the tricksters are still alive.

He is learning a card game. From his place on the floor, ever lowly, he listens to the soldiers playing cards. He tries to understand their accents, reminding him of his parents, how they warned him of the vices of gambling, how they wanted to make something of him, of their only child, but they’re dead now, and all he knows is his master. But he wants to learn a card game. And so he turns the cards in his head. Jack queen, king, ace, deuce.

He smiles to himself. He thinks he’s getting the hang of it, although he has no idea what the game is, knows he will probably never play it. He just knows that the soldiers play it every night, betting coins or drink or both on the luck of the deal. He can see them in his mind’s eye. Sat beside the fire, mugs of hot wine in hand. A couple would be smoking long pipes. They talk to each other in gruff voices, a gentle camaraderie in their speech. They’re as close to friends, to brothers, as they’ll ever be. This campaign has been going on for god knows how long. Living, eating, shitting, fighting alongside each other for god knows how long.

He has no such brothers. No-one to teach him card games or how to deal with drink or women. His master is fair, but quiet and bookish and his master, his master. No brother. Not to him.

He wants to be a soldier.

The need to relieve himself suddenly arises, and he creeps to the opening in the canvas. He is outside. It’s not quite dark yet, the stars only just peering out of the sky. He edges around his master’s tent, ignoring the soldiers and the brief burst of laughter he is sure is at his expense. He stares up at the mountain as he pisses. It seems to fall towards him, the clouds static. The sheer enormity of the natural object scares him. Transfixes him. Overwhelms him.

He hastens back inside.


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