Rolling the Dice
The game of rulla was an old game, so old that no one could claim the invention of it. Like the bowl cuts or the ritualistic washing before the Journey Room, the practice of rulla was now an unquestioned custom, firmly entrenched in the ranks of the Skylls and acolytes alike.
Upon arrival, each acolyte was given a robe without a cowl to designate his station. Within the left pocket of this robe was a small drawstring pouch containing two fourteen-sided dice, ordinary dice flattened at each corner.
The dice were special in another way; the King had blessed them. As each acolyte stood before the King, he dug in his pocket and handed over the pouch to a courier who handed the pouch to the king. Then, the King made the sign of the tree over each pouch and handed it back.
Once in their possession, the acolytes competed against themselves and each other every free minute of the day and continually thoughout the evening, trying to reach the high roll of twenty-eight.
Like all trivial pursuits before a big event, the significance of these rolls became tantamount in importance; the higher scores thought to foreshadow how the acolyte could fare in the Deep.
A peculiar twist of the wrist, a certain cup of the hand, a tilt of the head were all tried in an attempt to reach the perfect roll. And when the twenty-eight would happen, most often in the evenings in the dormitory room, all would become perfectly still. The others would consider the one who threw with new eyes, shrug or laugh accordingly, and then the dice would roll again.
The game itself meant everything and nothing. While it was true the majority of those lucky at rulla had proved unlucky in the Journey Room, it was rumored with complete belief that both Vue and A’Sing had rolled twenty-eights on the eve of their entry into the Deep.
Whatever they’d rolled, Vue or A’Sing or thousand other acolytes who’d vanished from memory, no one had ever out-rolled Elymas face to face.
But Quellen had.
It was known that the Earth Skyll would roll against them, for that was part of the custom, but custom didn’t permit them to know when. The acolytes only knew that, at some point before their testing, Elymas would take out the pouch he, too, carried in the pocket of his robe and roll against each one.
They’d been seated on the ground of the inner bailey, listening to one of Durrin’s disjointed lectures, when Elymas strolled up, dressed not in scarlet but in the somber green of a few years before. He wore the expression of a man whose plans were going well.
“Continue,” said Elymas, waving a hand.
Durrin finished the sentence to which no one was listening and looked at the Earth Skyll again. Elymas walked over to a small table on which some apples were drying and brushed them to the ground. He jiggled the pouch in his pocket and nodded his head.
He was looking directly at an acolyte named Arshad, a dark-skinned boy from one of the numberless villages scattered across the plains. Elymas meant he should come forward, but despite the directive, the boy stood still. Then the Earth Skill cast a rare smile, displaying his rulla pouch in the air. Arshad jumped up and stepped forward simultaneously, victim of surprise and fear.
They rolled against each other three times. Arshad lost consecutively, but then he’d expected to, as did all the rest now lined up before the table. There was joking, nervous laughter, the clatter of dice.
Then, it was Quellen’s turn.
He hadn’t wanted to roll at all, had hung back and was just shy of making a clean escape to the stables when Durrin spotted him and pushed him forward, telling him not to waste any more of the Master’s time.
The two had studied each other, then Elymas lifted an eyebrow as if to say, “Well?” and Quellen threw the dice. He’d rolled an eleven. Elymas threw an eight.
Behind him all movement ceased. Elymas told him to roll again.
Four. He rolled a mere four. His heart had been one beat away from bursting, but now Quellen felt himself begin to calm. The first roll had been a fluke, an accident, something everyone would forget in a couple of hundred years.
Elymas relaxed as well. He calmly picked up the dice and rolled a two.
“Ha, ha! Ha!” Nervous laughter, as on that day in the throne room, only this time it was cut short by a whack to someone’s head, no doubt administered by Strout, who’d since come to the scene.
Quellen winced, then looked at the Earth Skyll. Elymas’s face reflected no surprise or discomfort, but the hate emitting from his body made Quellen’s skin crawl.
“I will roll first,” Elymas said.
“As you will,” replied Quellen and immediately felt like a fool. His permission hadn’t been needed.
Muttering under his breath, the earth wizard rolled a sixteen.
Quellen prayed for a two and rolled a twenty-eight. The perfect roll lay before him in plain view of all.
“Congratulations.” Elymas’s voice was smooth, even bland. “You’ve achieved what no other acolyte has managed since the game began.”
Quellen said nothing, knowing he was on dangerous ground.
“Luck,” said Strout and spat on the ground.
“Luck? My faithful Strout, no one is that lucky.” His voice was gentle, as if relieving a child of a naive belief. “May I examine the dice?”
Quellen handed them over. What else could he do? The Earth Skyll picked up his dice, weighed each, weighed them together, then weighed them against his own. Separating two from the four in his hand, he held them on his flattened palm.
“These dice are weighted,” he said.