Aces

Amelie was leaning back in her chair, eyes fixed on the fellow human across from her. She was smiling confidently, her posture relaxed. All around them the tavern had come to a standstill. Faint music could be heard from the other such establishments nearby, but here, all was quiet. The man Amelie eyed, a thin foppish-looking fellow named Samson, sweated under the gaze of so many; humans, elves, sauren, – all seemed to have a contingent in Carcosa, and all were represented here. He checked his cards. Checked them again. Amelie directed her gaze down to her own, already laid face up on the table. Two aces to add to the one in the river. A powerful hand. The other players sitting around the table had already folded, having given up a large portion of their wealth to the pot and were not willing to risk any more. They were relegated to the role of witness, like the rest of the cutthroats and scallywags present. The onlookers were so invested for two reasons: the unusually large amount of money on offer, and the fact that both Amelie and Samson had quickly become very well-regarded by their tavern brethren. All night, Amelie had been a powerhouse of story and song, regaling all with tales from across the seas. Many raised a glass and cheered for the victories and defeats, both on the battlefield and in the bedroom, that she described. Samson had won his friends by saying very little; his craft was prestidigitation – magical tricks and slight of hand. He’d made a frog appear in a old Albor’s satchel, and emptied a flagon of ale without pouring any out. The patrons had been amazed and rewarded him with cheers and adulation. When the pair had sat down at the poker table a few hours ago, a few took notice; but now that they were the only two left and the stakes were so high, everyone was rapt.

Samson leaned forward (those watching seemed to mirror him). He studied the river, examined Amelie’s hand, then pondered his own. Amelie, arms relaxed and stretched across the back of her chair opened her hands, the well-known symbol of, “Well?”. Samson sighed and lay down his cards, one, two, three. Half the crowd erupted with a cheer, the other groaned disappointment; then they collectively puzzled. They counted aces; two in Amelie’s hand, one in the river, and now two in Samson’s hand? That didn’t make sense. Someone was cheating. Skaldrig was the first to react,  a yazik with a scarred face and long spindly fingers – he leaned in and pointed them at Amelie, “Cheat! Liar!” Alter, a broad-shouldered human put his hand on Skaldrig’s shoulder, “Now wait a minute – if there’s anyone what been cheating, it’s the magical bloke.” A few cheers went up in support. Skaldrig’s face twisted with revulsion at the Alter’s hand. Another human spoke up, this time the bardmaid Ilsa, “No! She’s been spinning tales all night – she’s a crafty Efrit, they’re always looking to swindle honest folk!” The babble that had begun to rise suddenly subsided, and all looked at Ilsa, “Oh, and dishonest folk as well,” she clarified, and the outrage began again. Amelie and Samson sat there quietly as the voices around them rose. They began to be jostled as patrons made to grab them and haul them away, only to be stopped by other patrons who came to their defence. It was Skaldrig who took to blows first. Alter put his hand on him yet again after the two had settled into their argument, and a moment later Skaldrig’s dagger flicked from its hidden scabbard and was poking through both sides of Alter’s hand. A moment of silence followed, giving space for Alter’s cry, and then an all out brawl erupted. Chairs smashed, bottles shattered, tables destroyed. It quickly spilled out onto the streets with many patrons unsure of what or who they were fighting for any more. It was a chance to air old grievances, get some exercise and, for some, to have fun.

The brawl lasted six hours spreading to nearby establishments before, finally, the last punch was thrown four streets away when Dina Mifflen socked Har Leibler in the jaw, knocking him out cold. By that time the sun was already creeping above the horizon, and most of Carcosa had found a place to sleep. It was also when, kilometers away, Amelie and Samson sat together on an isolated hilltop to watch the sunrise. Beside them were two of the finest bottles of wine the tavern had behind the bar and some filched food. Packed on their horse was the takings for the night – it was rather profitable, snatched during the fray, and they each reflected that they didn’t realise the grimy denizens of Carcosa would have been such ripe fruits. Something to consider when planning a future heist. Might have to leave the island for a while though, see what’s to be had on the mainland. Samson looked down at Amelie who was snuggled up against him, “You’re already planning again, aren’t you?” Amelie smiled in response, which Samson returned, shaking his head. They each drained their wine and sat contentedly with one another for another hour, before breaking camp and heading to their hidden ship.

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