The Swindler

A one-shot by Velkyn Karma

Summary: Joshua's fresh out of gold and looking to make some cash, and who better to sucker than the cool-headed, hot-betting Innes...or perhaps not?

Note: Just a funny little idea I thought up while on vacation, having largely to do with wanting to play with the hunting bows at the store I visited and some thoughts on betting. This is mostly based on the full series of supports between Joshua and Innes, with a few references to some other Joshua supports.

Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, the Fire Emblem game series or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. The only thing here that's mine is the idea for the story

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"People who say 'Don't Postpone Joy' are usually in outrageous credit card debt."

-Daniel Casey

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Joshua was bored.

This in itself was never a particularly good thing, of course. But tonight, Joshua was bored, hunting for entertainment, and only a mile or two from the bustling city, and these few conditions together spelled disaster for someone or other.

The small army under the command of the Renais twins had stopped for the night close to the small city of Nepheta, just near the border of Jehanna. They had chosen the location with the intent of restocking their supply convoy with food, weaponry and other necessities, and had halted early to do so. But the early end to the march left the members of the troop with free time for the evening, and many had migrated towards the city to look around and entertain themselves.

Not so Joshua, though dearly, he would have loved it. And he certainly still intended to visit while the night was young, for Nepheta was well known for its superb gambling houses and night life. Joshua wouldn't miss it for the world—except it required money, and the secret prince was freshly tapped out.

Not that this particularly bothered him. After all, it wasn't as if he had wasted his money. He'd bought himself a new scimitar after the last one had snapped rather unceremoniously in two (terribly bad quality apparently). And he could always come by more money if he wanted to. Any one of the members of the army would probably float him a few gold as long as he paid them back...eventually.

But a little simple borrowing wasn't that exciting—and Joshua was, of course, bored.

So it was that he found himself wandering the camp at dusk, passing several army members who had preferred to stay in the quiet of the camp rather than visit the hustle of the city. Most of the older men were there; Cormag and Duessel were sitting by the fire, and Sir Gilliam was silently off to one side. And of course, the natives of Jehanna such as himself were well familiar with Nepheta, and so its draw and appeal were lessened to them considerably.

But they weren't who Joshua was looking for. No, he was searching for a good source of entertainment, a worthwhile bet, and a large sum of money, and there were only a few places to find it all together.

Artur and Natasha had visited one of the city temples that night, so they were out. Only a small pity really. Artur was an easy one to swindle, trusting man that he was, but monks—being monks, of course—never paid very well. And Gerik's mercenaries were on guard duty tonight, so they'd probably be inaccessible for a good bet (and that Marissa didn't seem to understand the concept of a good bet anyway).

The possibilities were beginning to look slim, Joshua thought to himself, as he flipped his prized gold coin absently. The right betting opponent just wasn't presenting itself...

And then he came around the corner, and his wide smirk suddenly became profound as he found the perfect swindle.

Innes was standing by the supply convoy, coolly restocking his gold-trimmed quiver with a large cache of arrows. Everything about him was cold, efficient, and (Joshua noted the most), expensive. The material of his clothing was serviceable but pricey and finely cut, his light archer's armor was trimmed finely in gold, and even his prized hunting bow was silver-trimmed and exquisite as it hung neatly over one shoulder. Joshua was well aware from previous betting sessions with the Frelian prince that the man had no shortage of cash. He was also equally aware from the same sessions that, while cool-headed in battle, Innes was a rather hot-headed and impulsive gambler.

A perfect target, if done well, Joshua thought with a grin. The city's night-life would see the swordsman yet!

The Jehannan trotted over to the prince cheerfully, flipping his ever-present coin as he studied his new opponent. Innes looked especially annoyed today (or more so than his usual haughty arrogant self, at any rate), which was probably due to his exceptionally poor luck all day. He'd missed several targets in their mild skirmish earlier that day and probably would have taken heavy damage from a particularly vicious mercenary had Vanessa not swept in to save the day. Definitely bad luck...and even better for Joshua. He could feel the gold clinking in his hands already.

"Hello, Innes," he said as he approached, his cheerful smirk still on his face. He flipped the gold coin in his hand absently again. "Not visiting the city, I see."

Innes eyed the glinting gold as it arced into the air, and then turned his eyes to Joshua. "No. I've been to Nepheta before on business." The tone of his voice clearly indicated that this was royal, princely business, and that only the peasant folk of the army would be interested in visiting tonight, but (being a good prince and future ruler) he tactfully did not say so. Directly, anyway.

Joshua indulged him for the moment, carefully feeding just enough interest into the conversation to get results. "Aaah, of course. Nepheta's not so bad, but for a prince like you there are probably better cities out there. Right? Although I like the place myself."

"I'm sure." Innes gave him a bored look as the conversation listed away from himself and turned back to the wagon, fishing more arrows free to store in his quiver.

Joshua flipped his coin again and said absently, "Just getting ready for tomorrow then?"

"Yes. I lost a few arrows today." One never would have guessed he had lost said arrows due to horrendous luck and a series of poor shots, the way he said it. Innes was obviously taking no chances with his already wounded pride today.

"That's too bad," the swordsman said, his voice still cheerful. "The good thing about being trained in the sword arts is your weapon never leaves you. But if you're using a bow, you'd have to be a pretty decent shot." He gave Innes an appraising look, rather as if he knew every last thing about bowmanship, which was a lie since he probably knew just as much about bows as Artur knew about getting duped. "You are a pretty good shot, aren't you?"

"There is no archer better than myself," the prince answered, rather stiffly.

"You didn't seem to be doing so well earlier today, though," Joshua added conversationally.

"Simply inconvenience!"

"Don't be so stubborn about it," Joshua said cheerily. "We all have our off days. You can't be lucky all the time...I should know. Mistakes happen."

"Not to me," Innes said flatly. "I do not make mistakes."

"Oh?"

"I've told you. There is no marksman better than myself!"

Bingo. The conversation could not have gone better for Joshua if the deities had blessed him with divine luck. Somehow or other...however deities did that sort of thing.

"Care to make a wager on that?" the hidden prince asked lazily, flicking his coin high into the air again.

"I will wager anything you like on my prowess. I cannot lose."

"Is that so? Then a starter bet of, say, one thousand gold against your skills seems reasonable?"

"Absolutely." Innes looked determined.

"Let's see it then."

The Frelian prince removed a small pouch of gold from his belt. He held it up before his opponent, allowing Joshua to judge its worth accordingly, and then dropped it on the ground between the two.

Piece of proverbial cake. "Alright then, Prince Innes! Let's discuss the stakes." The silver-haired man nodded, and with a smirk Joshua continued. "You'll take three shots. I'll decide your targets. I'll be generous...if you hit two out of three at least, you win the bet. If you miss, I get your gold."

Innes unslung the large hunting bow from his shoulder and tested its pull quickly and skillfully. "I hope you're ready to pay, Joshua. I'm certainly not going to lose. Let's begin." His fiery, hot-blooded gambling temperament was already beginning to show itself. He seemed to have conveniently forgotten his horrendous luck and extraordinarily bad aim from the day already.

Joshua certainly hadn't, and was already quite certain his win was in the bag. "Have a little patience!" he said with a chuckle, as he looked around for the first target. It was dark, but the torches and fires around the encampment lit their location enough to see.

"That flag," he finally ordered after a moment, indicating the blank red banner flying above one of the farthest supply wagons. It was quite some distance away, but still (from what Joshua had judged) was in bow range.

Innes snorted. "That's it?" he asked dryly, his voice plainly saying 'I pity you for your lack of understanding in my complete and utter skill.' He selected an arrow from his quiver, carefully fitted it to the string, drew it back to its full capacity, sighted, and fired.

The silver-fletched arrow sailed past the flag some ten feet to its left, nearly impaling a passing hawk. Said large bird shrieked in anger and winged away as fast as it could, throwing dirty looks over its feathered shoulder in Innes' general direction.

"Tough luck," Joshua commented, keeping his face carefully neutral but laughing uproariously on the inside. When Innes hit a bad streak, he really hit a bad streak!

The Frelian prince growled low under his breath, looking irritated and flustered. Not only did he now look like an idiot, but he had severely wounded his already-pained pride in front of another person. And Innes did not like an injured pride. Not at all.

"Next target," he snapped, withdrawing another arrow from his gold-trimmed quiver.

"Maybe you want to--"

"Next. Target."

You could slice a revenant in two with a voice as sharp as that, so Joshua did as ordered. "Let's see here...ah! That apple, sitting on top of the barrel of salted meats there."

"Of course. Simple." Innes' eyes narrowed in concentration as he drew the next arrow and sighted. His gambling blood was boiling now, and he was definitely not going to stop until his losing streak had broken. He let fly the silver arrow.

The second flew with nearly untraceable speed straight towards the apple, glanced off the metal rim of the barrel, sparked, spun flying into the air, and thudded with an unceremonious lack of grace into the ground not three yards from a passing Cormag's foot. The wyvern knight gave the two a curious look, wondered briefly if Innes had found a particularly strong source of ale somewhere, and walked away, already proceeding to ignore them.

Too easy. Joshua could not help but grin. Like taking candy from that proverbial baby. Hah! He scooped up the bag of gold on the ground, saying calmly, "Too bad. Better luck next time."

"Once more," Innes said sharply. "I have three shots after all."

"Ah," the gambling swordsman responded with a smirk as he flipped his gold coin once more, "but the bet was that you had to hit at least two out of three. You've missed two out of three, so even with another shot you still have nothing." He shrugged. "You can't be lucky every time." And, still with an amused smirk on his face, he turned to go.

"Double or nothing."

Joshua froze in place as time hit the wall in a furious and probably extraordinarily painful headlong collision. When it proceeded to step back, recover, and start untangling itself, the Jehannan prince slowly turned on his heel just in time to see his gambling opponent produce a second pouch of gold.

The cooler the head, the hotter the bet. Way too easy.

Feigning disinterest, the swordsman said lazily, "Let's hear the stakes then! I hope it's enticing...I've already won after all."

Innes gave him a determined look; it was plain to see he wasn't going to take a double attack on his pride and his gambling ability without a fight. "You choose any target. Anything at all, within bow range. If I miss, you take two thousand gold instead of the one you have now. If I hit it, you owe me the same amount."

"I see." Joshua pretended to consider, flicking his gold coin into the air once again.

"Well?"

"Anything?"

"Absolutely."

Joshua smirked. "Then hit that." He pointed.

In the coming dark of the night, the insects had begun to come out of hiding to get straight to their task of being a general nuisance, and they were performing with a devotion to be desired of most human employees. Gray moths were especially popular in this particular region, attracted to the torchlights and the fabrics of the army members, and even as they spoke one such creature was fluttering past on its way to put a few holes in the nearest tent flap or cloak. It was at this moth that Joshua pointed, and it could not have been much larger than the palm of a small child's hand.

Innes gave him an incredulous, almost horrified look. "That insect?"

"You did say anything," Joshua commented. Another win in the bag, easy as pie. He tossed his collected pouch of gold on the ground between them.

The marksman prince still looked horrified at the object of choice and was watching the moth flutter past absently; the creature was entirely unaware that it had just been made the object of high-risk target practice. He turned his head to give Joshua an unbelieving look, just in time to see the gold pouch clink to the ground, sealing the bet.

And gave an arrogant smirk.

Joshua found this foreboding. He didn't like it at all; in fact, he was pretty sure his luck had just taken a very, very bad turn for the worse (he was pretty good at judging such a thing as a rule). Another fact, he was pretty sure he had just been condemned to search though his belongings for an extra gold coin or two, if that look was any indication...

Yup. It was.

Swift as a gazelle, Innes drew yet another silver-fletched arrow from his quiver, setting, drawing and firing it almost too fast to see. It did not appear that he had even sighted before releasing the arrow, yet there it was quivering in the side of one of the convoy wagons, and the moth was nowhere to be seen.

The Frelian prince calmly slid the bow over his shoulder again and turned to face Joshua. "I believe the wager was...two thousand gold?"

The swordsman now had an incredulous look on his face. He trotted over to the convoy to investigate...perhaps it was a trick. He really, really hoped it was a trick...perhaps bowmen could do that sort of thing. What did he know about bows? But no, there was the moth—or what was left of it anyway—a few gray wings and twitching legs on the end of a still-quivering shaft.

Damn. He definitely hadn't seen this coming.

But then...what about those other two shots? Innes definitely hadn't nailed those two...certainly far from it. There was no way for him to suddenly recover his skill like that...unless...

"You swindled me!" Joshua said suddenly, still disbelieving, as he walked back towards the Frelian.

Innes was looking very smug. "Of course. It really wasn't that hard."

Joshua couldn't help but laugh good-naturedly, even if he was now down a thousand. "Of all people! I never would have expected--"

"Did you think, after losing to that coin of yours so often, that I had learned nothing?" The prince looked decidedly miffed.

"Oh, no," Joshua shook his head, still looking deeply amused at the turn of events. "I just never expected, in this way...how did you even know it would work? I could have left with the thousand you know. I almost did!"

"I doubt it," Innes answered, arrogant look on his face. "All I had to do was raise the stakes, and make everything appear to be in your favor. I know you well enough to know that's all it takes. A little bait, and any fish bites." He fixed a firm look on the swordsman. "And now," he repeated, "I believe the wager was two thousand."

"Of course," Joshua answered, sly smirk back on his face even as he slapped Innes' first pouch of one thousand gold back into the prince's hand. He flipped his ever-present coin. "But you know, if you want to raise the wager further, to prove how much you've really learned in high-stakes gambling..."

"Not on your life, Joshua."

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And there we have it. Just an amusing little one-shot that I thought up a while ago. Thought it should be posted...seeing as the only Innes fics I've seen out there so far seem to be romances related to InnesXEirika or InnesXVanessa, and really, he deserves more than that. Even if he is an arrogant princely brat some days. :)

For the record, I love Joshua. He's probably my favorite myrmidon/swordmaster in any of the games, just because he is sheer awesome. But he swindles people so much I figured he'd be hit by karmic retaliation eventually. Heh heh.

And no worries; I'm still working on Somewhere Around Nothing, but this was clawing at my brain to escape from my skull and I figured I'd better obey before it ripped my head off. I tend to like my head y'see.

If you review, leave some substance in it. Not just a 'like' or 'don't like,' tell me why you liked it or didn't like it, what you would have changed, what you thought was done well...etc etc. I like reviews with some meat to them doncha know.

--Velkyn Karma