The club at the back of the tavern was dark, lit only by chandeliers much too large for the little room. There was a separate bar, and a stage. The tables were arranged in intimate conversational areas. At the largest and central-most of these tables, a game of cards was being played. A group of spectators looked on.
Ferdinand and Konrad entered the cozy room. All heads turned in their direction. The game of cards was put momentarily on hold. Konrad tipped his hat to the players. Leopold Babic, one of the game’s organizers, spoke first.
“I don’t know what passes for manners in the City, Wittberg,” he said, looking knowingly at the Vice Chairman, “But in the country, we introduce our guests.”
“Pay no mind to Babic,” Konrad told his companion in a voice loud enough for all to hear. “He’s spent too much time on The Border; his blood’s gone Wild.” He paused. “It’s not his fault that he’s a brute.”
The crowd laughed dryly, Babic included.
Completely without fanfare, Konrad gave Ferdinand his introduction. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said, “His Excellency, Ferdinand-Kristoff of Edena, Vice Chairman of the Company Standard.”
The crowd of card players stood, and Ferdinand removed his hat. “Please,” he said, indicating that they should sit.
The players and spectators returned to the game. Ferdinand and Konrad stood close to the table and watched the remainder of the hand.
“What’s the game?” the Vice Chairman asked Mr. Wittberg.
“Storms,” Konrad told him, “No blind. Dealer chooses trump.”
“A humble game for a humble venue,” Ferdinand replied.
Across the table, Babic overheard their conversation. “The dog fight and the horse race are only as sophisticated as the money that rides on them,” he observed. “Wouldn’t you say, Your Excellency?”
Ferdinand smiled. “I’ve been known to gamble,” he replied.
“Tonight?” Babic asked, shuffling the cards.
“What is your opinion of Cannon, Mr. Babic?”
Babic smiled knowingly. “I took an oath,” he reckoned, “To serve at The Company’s pleasure. I assume that includes the dealing of cards.”