Ballyshannon, Ireland, April 1745
Éamonn Doherty loved the sound of the dice.
The soft clatter of the bone cubes as they rattled in the cup was music to his ears. As he tossed them onto the dirt clearing, he prayed to Saint Cajetan for luck. A trader from Venice had told him about the Italian saint of gamblers. He didn’t know if an Italian saint would listen to prayers from an Irish Traveler, but prayers could never hurt.
Éamonn rolled a nine. A good start for the game of Hazard.
Taking a deep swig of his small ale, Éamonn waited while the other player rolled the dice, to determine their own point.
It wasn’t easy to see the faded pips on the carved dice by flickering firelight. The spring sunset died, closing the first day of the annual horse fair.
The second player didn’t cast well. Éamonn smiled. This would be grand fun.
He jabbed his brother in the ribs.
“What?” Ruari hissed.
“I’m more interested in the scenery.” Éamonn’s brother gestured at a gaggle of young women in bright-colored skirts, giggling and glancing in the direction of the gambling men. One with dark hair flashed him an inviting smile.
“Hmph.” At the ripe old age of eighteen, Éamonn had fantastic luck with lovely ladies. But he got great pleasure from gambling, and he was on a good run. He could always pursue the fillies later. He ran a hand through his hair, making it stick up. The dice clicked again.
Ruari tried his chances with gambling occasionally. He wasn’t quick enough to make a great winner but did enjoy the game. Éamonn liked him nearby in case things got ugly. A bad losing streak turned the gentlest of men into an angry lout intent on beating their money from fair winners.
Éamonn glanced to his other side at his cousin, Ciaran Kilbane. A better gambler than Ruari, but not as reliable. Éamonn sighed and got on with his work. He rolled the dice again, hoping to beat the last roll.
Ciaran got up without a word an hour later. Glancing up, Éamonn saw his cousin’s slim, dark form disappear behind one of the shadowy wagon shapes. He glanced at Ruari, who shrugged in confusion. They grinned when Ciaran returned with a squat stone bottle. He had brought out the poitín.
Since the law passed almost a hundred years ago required that a tax be paid on all spirits, many people distilled their own in secret.
Ciaran handed the harsh spirit around. Éamonn took a long swig, which made him splutter and cough. This batch tasted rough and raw. That was all to the good, though. It would make his opponents sloppy.
Ruari didn’t take a sip. Stolid and steady, Éamonn’s brother rarely let himself get out of control. The Rock of Gibraltar, that one.
Staring at the dice, he saw his opponent had beaten him in the latest round. How had that happened? He glared at the poitín bottle. Surely he wasn’t so drunk already?
He picked the dice up and rattled his cup, with another silent prayer. He closed his eyes, cast, and then opened them. Ah, there, he was on top again.
Éamonn loved winning. It thrilled him more than tumbling a lovely young lady or riding a spirited horse. Better than dancing or drinking. But he’d never stop when on top. Always one more roll, one more chance to be even better.
He threw again.