Mannaus of Trisk hit the earthen floor with a solid thump. His fall was accompanied by waves of laughter, the gathered crowd amused at his low capacity for ale.
His attendants, eyes lowered in shame, came forward to apologise on his behalf and drag him away.
"Well, tha's Mannaus out," Klaus mused, "I guess we'll 'ave to up the bets or go 'ome."
The dice game had gone on for several hours now. The rules were simple: roll the highest total out of two six-sided dice.
Each round was accompanied by a pint of ale supplied by the host, Klaus of Varpne. Three men remained at the table: Klaus, Ulrick and Jergen.
The mayors of three neighbouring city-states, all good friends, some drunker than others. The gambling had been subdued to begin with, but the bets were becoming more serious now.
The last round had involved three racehorses, ten tonnes of marble and a monopoly on shellfish.
"Vytautas!" Ulrick called his servant jovially. "How much silk do we have left in the storehouse?"
The attendant stepped forth and whispered in his master's ear. Ulrick thought for a moment, then broke a sad smile. "Gentlemen, it appears I have no goods left. I must leave you here.
" He went to stand up, almost knocking over the table, and staggered backwards. Vytautas steadied his master with an arm and began to guide him towards the door.
The crowd jeered, sure now that their mayor Klaus would defeat his only remaining opponent.
But it wasn't over. "Ulrick! You weak bastard!" It was thickset Jergen that called. "Get back here and gamble! We've not finished yet!"
Ulrick was almost at the door, his arm on the handle, but he turned and met Jergen's gaze, or at least tried to in his inebriated state. "What'd'ya mean? I've nought left to bet!"
Jergen smiled in a way that could perhaps be construed as 'grim'. "We've the deeds to our cities."
This was an interesting point. By law, the mayors of these particular three cities held absolute power. They could, legally, gamble with the cities themselves.
Klaus, the least sober, leaned back, laughed and applauded as he realised this.
Ulrick, ever the cautious one, shook his head. "No, I'll not stake Havwald on a dice game. Good night, gentlemen.
" He was through the door, stepping into the cold night, when he heard Klaus talking back in the tavern, loud enough for him to hear.
"'e's los' face at tha', won't get no respec' from 'is people now."
That was the last straw. Ulrick was aware he was being played like a fiddle, but he turned anyway and strode back to the table. "One more game. Come on, get on with it!"
Jergen and Klaus took their rolls quickly, playing along with Ulrick's haste: five and eight respectively. Ulrick, keen to leave, rolled a twelve.
He'd won the game, and with it, hegemony over two more cities. But it certainly didn't feel like he had.