Sivid gave himself a few turns to size up the opposition before venturing in for his warmup round. The puffed-up rooster of a man who looked just about to take his leave was not likely to be much competition, but he thought he saw a few others who could put on a show. Others like him – small, wiry, quick, better at dodging than taking a blow and might just have something to prove because of it. They always made the best dancers, and he should know.
The rooster pranced out of the center after nearly botching a simple handspring to be replaced by a serious-faced young man – one of the ones Sivid thought would be a worthy opponent.
The boy put himself through a number of contortions in the center – more than Sivid would ordinarily consider for the first round. He watched and weighed: the boy had promise, but no joy. Well. Time to show him how to have some fun out there.
Sivid danced. He hadn’t intended to pull out all the stops in his first run out there… but the music and the cheers from the crowd and the glares from the rooster and the too-serious kid all egged him on and it was fun. If he judged right, he could have his pick of the ladies tonight if he wanted to.
Oops. Best let someone else have the stage for a bit. He pranced around the outside of the circle, offering a small bow to a few of the other competitors, before slipping in to a gap that opened for him – not coincidentally flanked by a pair of lovelies he might be willing to buy a drink later.
His choice of location earned him even harder glares from the rooster and the kid. Sivid quirked an eyebrow. Interesting.
He still wasn’t going to take it easy on them. If he didn’t make them fight for the attention of the girls they liked, the girls wouldn’t be properly appreciated.
Three more rounds this went on. Ordinarily he would remember every move that was made in the rounds, but tonight they were a blur. He knew they’d made him work for it, though, just like he knew he’d risen to the occasion. The purse for the hallingdanse was his, and the comely young blonds who had so graciously opened the circle for him fluttered their eyelashes his direction.
“That was a good dance, everyone. This round’s on me!” He wouldn’t actually do more than buy a drink and flirt with the women here: unlike Erik, he’d taken Lord Raen’s lesson to heart. On the other hand, openly flirting with those two women seemed like to provoke a duel he didn’t care to fight.
The rooster and the boy accepted their mugs with tight-lipped smiles, not mollified but not yet certain how best to challenge Sivid the interloper. For his part, Sivid bought the round and then directed his attention to a pert redhead, rather older than the two blonds and saucy in the game they played.
It was the rooster who first approached him, but the over-serious boy stood at his shoulder with his arms crossed. Had they… ah, the rooster was playing the fool to make his friend look good.
Sivid crossed his arms and shook his head, not bothering to hide his amusement. “It was a good hall dance, boys, let’s leave it at that.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. Dagny’s been trying to convince her father to call off her engagement with my friend here, and after what you pulled she won’t even look at him.”
“And why does Dagny want to end the engagement in the first place? Good-looking lad like him, surely it can’t be that he doesn’t know how to smile? How to enjoy himself?”
Based on the glowers coming from the younger men, he’d hit the nail on the head.
“It’s not my dancing that made this Dagny turn away from you, son. Learn to have a little fun. Relax. If you can’t even lose a simple hall dance without taking it so hard, what’s going to happen if, gods forbid, the flux takes your son?”
The boy’s face started to redden with anger. “She’d have come back to me tonight, if you hadn’t shown me up so badly.”
“I showed up everyone out there tonight. But if I hadn’t been there, she’d have turned to someone else instead. Someone who had a smile on his face and didn’t move like he’d just been buggered with a pole.”
Fire burned in the boy’s eyes now, and his face was redder than the saucy wench’s hair.
Sivid gave a mental sigh. He’d wanted to avoid a fight here, but if someone didn’t set him straight this kid was just going to make some unlucky wench miserable for the rest of their lives. “Oh, I know. You’re still blaming me. That a habit o’yours, blaming someone else when things don’t go your way?” He looked levelly at the boy for a long moment. “Try me again when you’ve grown up a little, let me enjoy my evening.”
Sivid turned back to his drink and the game of wits he’d been engaged in.
“Dice with me.”
Sivid sighed and looked back down at the table before turning his attention to the earnest brat. “No.”
“You have offered me a mortal insult. You have robbed me of my chance to win back my love. There may be truth in what you say about me, which is why I challenge you with dice rather than swords. But you will dice with me.”
Sivid’s fingers twitched. It would be the easiest thing in the world to trounce this brat with a roll of the bones… but when he won at dice bad things happened. Randomly, but without fail. “I will take any challenge other than dice, boy. You look like a hearty sort: why don’t we arm-wrestle. Then you can show off your strength to this Dagny you’re so intent on.”
“My strength has never been in question. My luck, on the other hand…”
Sivid shook his head. As much as he wanted to teach this brat a lesson… “That wouldn’t be a fair test of your luck, boy.”
“How could anything be a better test of luck?”
“Because I always know how the dice will fall, and the Norns always correct their weave. Either I give you a hollow victory, or I bring calamity on my own head.”
Silence fell in the hall.
“Go away, kid. Find some other way to impress your wench.”
Silver bells tinkled.