Cards and Girls
Chapter 2: The Map says 'Go Here'
Location: Steamhawke Mess
Timeline: Day 4, Evening
Salazar, Master Gunner of the Steamhawke, took a seat at the small table int he corner yet again; another long day of having nothing to gun at. Wasn't necessarily the job he'd signed on for, but he couldn't complain; decent food, relatively 'ok' company and some coin in his pocket. What more would a retiring military deserter want? Well... a few things, he thought, but that'd all have to wait.
"C'mon then, shuffle up." He grumbled at the two members of the crew already seated, a pair he knew as Winters and Erm, if his memory wasn't deceiving him. Names weren't to important just yet, anyway. It was day four. Old man like him, he figured, wasn't expected to get fully acquainted with the crew for another week or so. Ahhh, he thought, the conveniences of going bald.
Winters sighed, always seemingly nervous when the Master Gunner sat down to play, and swayingly started to shuffle the old, holding cards in his hands, then dealt them out. Julian smiled, not even looking at his cards, his eyes locked firmly on Nate Winters as he dropped a few copper coins into the middle of the table.
"Yer need a drink, sailor?" He mocked, smiling at Nates' shaking hands. No response.
The mess was getting quiet by now; the main meal of the evening was over and a lot of the crewmen and women had retired to their quarters or night duty. A few sat scattered around, talking and drinking quietly amongst themselves, leaving the small poker game isolated in the corner.
If she'd known leaving the mess would mean getting straight back to work, Laudine would have spent a lot more time there once she was done eating. As soon as she was done with the most recent order, Laudine had run back to its safety. She was pretty sure no one in the mess would have anything they needed her to do. No one there was doing their own jobs anyway.
She looked around the room, trying to figure out a way to look like she wasn't just avoiding something. Laudine spotted a group of sailors over in a corner playing some game, and it looked like the perfect cover for her. Quickly, she made her way over to the group and stood to the side to watch their game for a bit.
After a minute or so she turned to the oldest looking pirate at the table and asked, "What are you playing?" It looked a little familiar to her. Whenever she'd taken a peek in the tavern back home there always seemed to be some group of people playing some game just like this, but Laudine had never learned what it was or how to play it herself. Nate and Erm looked up from their cards a little nervously after she'd ask her question, wondering why she could want to bother one of the grumpiest old men on board with a question that was so trivial.
Julian stopped playing, a hand full of coins hovering over the small pile in the center of the table, and looked up at the small girl who'd come to watch. She was tiny and while Salazar hadn't spoken to her before (or, come to think of it, heard her speak before) he had seen her small frame running up and down the deck for the last few days, running messages and errands. He stared at her for a minute, his one good eye looking her up and down as he felt her own gaze nervously rest on his eye patch for just a split second.
"It's poker, little one. Yer don't play?" The other two sailors at the table seemed to assume it was a bit of a patronising remark, given the old man's demeanour, and both exchanged glances and shared a brief smile. Julian, however, shot his gaze across at the two and they immediately stopped smiling, looking a little shocked. It was one thing, out of character, that the Master Gunner would respond to such an unnecessary question. After all, when it came to the crew he was all business. But for him to actively engage in conversation was something new, unless he had the aim of insulting his target.
Laudine shook her head in response to the question. "I've never heard of it," She told him, and then quickly added, "I've seen it before, though," to make herself sound more knowledgeable and less like some clueless kid. "How do you play?" she asked next, "No one's ever told me."
Without even waiting for an invitation, Laudine grabbed a chair and moved it over to the table where the sailors were. She sat down in it, only meaning to give herself a more comfortable spot to watch the game from. Her actions surprised the other players at the table, who hadn't expected her to stick around for much longer.
"Ain't there something you should be doin', girl?" Nate asked her, not looking forward to having a little girl bugging them for the night.
Julian seemed a little amused, if not just surprised, with the new development. The thinnest, most awkward signs of a smile started to spread on his lips as he dropped the handful of coins into the middle of the table, eye on the girl. When Nate dared to speak he shot a dark look across the table.
"What? Scared to losing your cut to a youngin'?" There was no response to the attack, sounding like a low grumble, and Nate just focussed on the cards lain down across the table. Salazar gave an approving kind of 'hmph' sound, then turned back to the new comer.
"The aim of the game, see, is to take the other poor sod's money. Like this." He threw down the cards in his hand - two roughly drawn A's on them - and smiled at the young girl.
"The higher yer cards, the more money you rake in when the others realise they're beat." The two sailors groaned at this point, in unison, and reluctantly pushed the small piles of coins in front of them towards the old Master Gunner. He gave a stern look of satisfaction - not to be confused with a smile - and nodded as the coins came rushing across the wooden tabletop.
"Each player gets a coupl'a cards, then a few more are laid down on top. See?" He gestured across the table as Nate started collecting the cards to re-shuffle.
"Then yer use your two cards and the ones on the table to make a nice pretty hand." He held his hand, old and rough and wrinkled, in front of her, then muffled a chuckle. Nate dropped the deck of cards to the floor, mouth slightly open, staring at the old man. He only took a few seconds to compose himself, realising what he'd done, and stared at the sailor.
"Problem, Nate?" The younger man shook his head, daring a look of utter confusion and fear to his companion. Had the old man just laughed? Salazar ignored it, however, turning his attention back to the girl.
"If yer hand is better than the others, ye get the coins." He shot her an awkward wink - hard to identify due to the eye patch - and flicked a coin up in the air in her direction.
As soon as Laudine saw the coin, her hand shot out to grab it. There was a huge smile on her face as she took a look at the coin. It was just an ordinary coin and there wasn't anything special about it, but Laudine had learned long ago while living at port that when you didn't have much you took every opportunity you got to get even a little but of money. That was what made this game so much more interesting to her now: the chance to get some money from other people.
"How do you know if you have a good hand?" she asked, looking up at Julian. Laudine was still holding tightly onto the coin. She'd assumed it had been meant for her to keep, although she wasn't entirely sure. Either way, it was clear she wasn't going to give it up any time soon.
Julian just gave a brief chuckled, muffled as well as he could, and began explaining the game in more detail to the young one, his eye carefully prodding at her small hands that grasped the single coin tightly. It amused him and, as he sat there playing the game, explaining it to the young girl, and upsetting his fellow crewmen by taking a whole lot of their money, the night wore on quickly as Salazar began to wonder about this girl.
He couldn't tell just then, but their story was just beginning.