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Bone-Ace by Charlotte C

Bone-Ace by Charlotte C

A chill wind blew gusty breaths across the vast courtyard of Arundel Castle. The huntsmen were shouldering their bows, and securing their lances in preparation for the victorious return from that day’s successful hunt. The herdsman was gathering up the sheep from their leisurely grazing in time for the storm, his faithful sheepdog loping obediently by his side, enjoying the last run of the day before he settled down beside the fire, nose tucked under tail, hunkering down for the long night’s sleep.

All however, was not well inside the castle walls. Shrieks of despair resounded down the halls from those who had heard the terrible news that originated from the Duke’s bedroom…The Duke himself was dead.

“The Duke? It just cannot be! Oh, the poor family! The entire estate will meet its doom!” Were the words uttered from many a mouth.

One room, on the other hand, remained silent as the young messenger boy delivered news of the Duke’s death. His four offspring, twin boys and two daughters, exchanged meaningful glances, their eyes glistening as lightning flashed outside the window. The eldest, a tall, fair-faced girl wearing a scarlet, velvet gown, nodded to the messenger boy, and shot him a look of silent dismissal. Once he had removed himself from the room, the silence was shattered by a clash of four voices at once.

“This can only mean that one of us will inherit Father’s title and dukedom,” exclaimed one of the twin boys.

“A girl cannot do the job; one of you boys must take on the responsibility,” shouted the youngest daughter.

“This is jolly good news!” reported the eldest girl.

“Poor Father!” sighed Sir Samuel Collin, the other twin, who was renowned for being a studious and sentimental soul.

A look of shock appeared on the face of each. “You decline the dukedom?” laughed his brother, Sir William Collin, a gallant and streetwise gentleman who spent most of his time playing card games at the local tavern.

One of the two daughters, the younger Miss May Collin, spoke up. “Well it all depends on the will, does it not?”

Sir Samuel shook his head sadly. “Father was only thirty-nine when he had his heart attack; he told the court that the will would be written at age forty. There is no will. That leaves it up to us to decide who inherits Father’s dukedom.”

Sir William smiled. “Well, I refuse to fight with a brother. No, we shall play it out fairly. Who’s up for a game of cards, eh?”

Both girls nodded enthusiastically, before the eldest, Miss Mary Collin, clarified a few points.

“That is all well and good, however it was agreed upon that if a will is not written by the time the Duke is dead, the sons must discuss the matter, and only by agreement decide who inherits the dukedom.”

Sir William already had a solution to that one. “My dear sister, a game of cards is a fair win. I do understand that the word of court is law, but how can they question what they do not know? We will play our game, and the winner will present to the court a very well prepared speech on how brotherly debates led us to a just decision.”

Miss May spoke next, this time to Sir Samuel. “Well, we need cards. If you don’t mind running and telling the Jester to bring some, that would be most helpful.”

Sir Samuel begrudgingly left the room. As soon as he did so, the three siblings began to plan. “Alright,” said Sir William in a rush, “Samuel cannot win this card game! My future depends on it!”

“Worry not, brother,” soothed Mary, “William cannot win; none of us want a weakling in authority, so we can confirm his loss. It is all quite simple. William always was a fan of wine in small doses, but his dosage can be increased, given a wine of fine enough quality.”

“Ha-ha, crafty is my sister, but my brother is more so,” interjected May, “William can use his wits in such a way as Samuel misinterprets the scoring, and makes a faulty move. If the game is Bone Ace, the cheat is simple enough. My sister will deal the cards, but while doing so, she will be sure to flip through the deck, in search of the winning Ace of Diamonds, the card that wins the dukedom.”

Sir William took over the conversation, “And then, when she has found it, she will slip it, along with two other cards to make a better deck, under the table to me. When I receive it, I will drop my present hand, so that it appears I have only the three I was originally assigned. I will hope to have the Ace quickly. I will then lay my Ace of Diamonds on the table, and claim my dukedom.”

Just then, Sir Samuel bounded into the room flanked by a beaming jester. “My lords and ladies wish to play a game of cards then, eh? No better way to pass the evening,” then, catching himself he added, “oh, and I’m terribly sorry for your loss.” With that, he handed the card deck to Sir Samuel, and departed.

“We were thinking that a nice game of Bone-Ace would be an entertaining way to settle this conflict,” offered Sir William, indicating the card deck in his brother’s hand.

Sir Samuel nodded suspiciously. His twin spent his days in the tavern, gambling money from the innocent citizens to the point where they were practically penniless. Sir William’s specialty was Bone-Ace, so poor Samuel stood no chance. The young man racked his brain for a loophole to escape the trap his crafty sibling had set, and then he remembered reading something in the castle library…

“Very well,” said he, “I accept. The Bone is one hundred pounds. The Ace of Diamonds is the dukedom.” (The bone is an agreed upon wager determined at the start of the game, that is given to the player with the highest card in the two hands if the ace is not dealt.)

Miss Mary slid the cards toward her, and began to flip through them under the table, stating that it was she who should shuffle the deck to ‘keep the competitive boys from cheating’. She ordered May to go fetch the best wine in the cellar from the guard who stood there. Then, she slid three cards to Sir Samuel, and three cards to Sir William. Samuel got a five, a six, and a seven. William received two fours and a queen. As Bone-Ace goes, the player with the highest card gets Bone, so William gladly accepted one hundred pounds from Mary who was distributing Samuel’s money.

Before long, May returned with a bottle of red wine, and two glasses.

“I’ll not have much,” stated Sir William matter-of-factly.

“Nor will I,” added Sir Samuel. Two glasses were poured, and Samuel drank thirstily while Mary located the Ace of diamonds, and two good cards to go with it. She made encouraging remarks to the players, and told May to refill Sir Samuel’s empty glass; Sir William hadn’t touched his.

“You must have more,” coaxed May to Samuel, “it is such a fine night, and the wine is of the highest quality.”

Sir Samuel begrudgingly allowed his glass to be refilled. Whilst all this was happening, Mary slipped the new hand of cards, (ace of spades, seven of clubs, and ace of diamonds), under the table, and into the hand of a beaming Sir William. She then handed two fours and a three to Samuel.

William slammed his fist down on the table, seemingly in triumph, but in actual fact to mask the sounds of his original hand clattering to the floor, and laughed in delight. “The dukedom is mine! Not only do I get bone for this hand, but I have Bone-Ace!” bellowed William in false amazement. He spread his cards out in a flourish upon the table, and held his hand out for the bone.

By now, Samuel had drained his third glass of wine, and his eyes spun around the table without focus.

“Here’s your bone, brother,” slurred he, demanding of Mary to distribute another hundred pounds to an exasperated William, who had not expected his plan to work out quite so wonderfully.

He accepted, and offered that they all retire to bed in order to present to the court the decision the next morning. Samuel knew what had happened. He knew that he had been tricked, and despite his drunkenness, he had a plan. He staggered into the library, and with difficulty located the Official Documents section. He took from the shelf a document labeled Terms and Agreements, and let his eyes jerk across the page. Then he found what he was looking for. His eyes stopped momentarily on the word Devonshire then again on the words Norfolk and Debt. He replaced the document, and led himself to bed.

Now Sir Samuel had fallen deeply in love with Miss Ella Charles, the daughter of the deceased Duke of Devonshire, and was to marry her within one month, and because the Duke had no male heirs, the marriage of Sir Samuel to Ella would declare him Duke of Devonshire. The document had just confirmed exactly what Sir Samuel wanted to hear… The Duke of Norfolk was in terrible debt to the Duke of Devonshire, therefore, all that Duke William was to inherit would soon belong to Sir Samuel and his lovely wife. With those jolly thoughts, Sir Samuel retired to bed.

The next morning, breakfast was a dull affair, the Duke and his sisters eating steaming porridge, and poor Sir Samuel was sucking on his second raw egg. (a famous cure for a hangover)

“Well,” began Duke William,” I suppose we are to tell the court of our ‘decision’ this morning, shall we?”

Sir Samuel kept back a smile. “Yes brother, I suppose we should. First however, I would be most obliged if you would come take a stroll with me through your castle, you know, the wine cellars, the dining room, the ballroom, the library…”

Duke William consented, and after breakfast, the two proceeded with their promenade through the castle.

“So, you seem to be enjoying your first day of dukedom,” introduced Sir Samuel casually.

“And everything that goes with it. Oh, it is a terrible shame for you not to have claimed what could have been yours,” agreed Duke William, deciding to rub it in just a little.

Sir Samuel smiled. “No, no, brother, you won fairly. The dukedom is yours along with everything that goes with it.”

“Well I suppose not all is grim with you either, with your marriage and all. The daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, wasn’t it?” William tried to make conversation.

Samuel sighed, “Yes, that brings me to my next point. You may recall the many hours I spent in the library, studying documents. Yes, well I just happened to stumble across something that you may be interested to know. Follow me to the library.”

Duke William looked cautiously at his brother, but all the same, walked with him to the library.

“Yes, here it is,” said Sir Samuel upon finding the document and handing it to the Duke, “Read it.”

Duke William took the document, and skimmed it, his eyes widening in horror as he neared the end of the page. Sir Samuel stood back modestly, and said as if nothing much had occurred, “I just thought you might want to know the exact definition of ‘and everything that goes with it’”

Duke William went white as a sheet, “Alright, I cheated. You take the dukedom.”

Samuel just shook his head, “I will be the Duke of Devonshire soon enough, and if you try to stop the wedding, you are perfectly aware, I’m sure, of the consequences. Let’s not lose our head, right? Alright, Duke, let’s call it quits.” With that, Sir Samuel left the room.

Later that day, a message arrived by carriage from Devonshire, saying that the Duke of Devonshire had had a stroke, and died on the spot, and as in need of someone to take over the estate, it was required that the marriage happen at shortest notice, preferably within the next week. Sir Samuel ordered the messagenger carriage to wait for him to gather his things, and without hesitation, mounted the carriage, and departed for Devonshire to find his love, and claim his dukedom.

And so our tale ends. Duke Samuel and Duchess Ella have three beautiful children, one to someday claim his father’s position as Duke of Devonshire. Duke William, well, he married the Duchess of Kent, and had two sons. Realizing that, due to his brother, he had lost everything, he resigned his position to his eldest son, who ruled justly and wisely, and paid off every bit of debt he owed to his uncle. The moral of the tale of Bone-Ace is that often we get what we want, through fair of foul play (as with the Ace of Diamonds), but rarely does it come without a price.

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