Walking away from the meeting Rush nodded to the two Hobgoblins, passing them each a silver piece from their sale. They grunted in acknowledgement and let the two pass, which was as close to a pleasant interaction with the pair as he had ever had.
As he headed to the cooking area he was cresting on a wave of contentment with the clink of coin in his pocket and a large ally at his side. “Life doesn’t get better than this,” he thought.
As they moved through the crowd several voices called out “Rush, we have an open seat come join us.” A second voice chimed in “Play a little Poker, perhaps make that pocket jingle a little more.”
Rush looked over, sitting in a rough circle around a dirty woven mat with cards on it were two familiar figures. He had no friends in the camp but these two he had played Poker with many times. Although luck had sometimes been his enemy in the past, he was sure he was their match and he felt his fingers itch as he flipped coins over in his pocket.
Crold, a short reptilian humanoid with reddish brown scaly skin, laughed a barking dog-like chuckle and told the other, “Rush isn’t going to play, he doesn’t want to look bad in front of the human.”
Rush growled in reply, “Watch it Kobold, I’ll shove those words so far down your throat they’ll be coming out of your arse”.
Jeanne blushed profusely at the crudity and Rush shrugged, “She’d have to get used to a little banter if she was going to survive, perhaps he should play if only to get her accustomed to such things. Yes, that was it, he’d play a couple of hands as a public service to Jeanne and the additional funds which he’d obviously win would come in useful anyway.”
He strolled over and took a space at the edge of the mat, a swarthy human named Hogan Kane nodded at him and then looked at Jeanne asking “You in?”
Jeanne frowned, “No I don’t agree with gambling, it is a vice to put your wealth at risk from random chance when it could go to help others.”
The entire group, Rush included laughed uproariously at this comment and he could tell she was confused by their reaction. Rush gestured at her to sit beside him and attempted to defuse the situation, “She’s not familiar with the rules so you’ll have to make do with just taking my coin.”
“If she changes her mind we could teach her”, Crold indicated as he tapped the mat to remind the others to put a coin in as their ante, then dealt each of them their two hole cards.
“Your lessons are far too expensive”, Rush said with a grin as he glanced down at his cards, a Jack and a Seven stared back at him not even suited. This was just his sort of hand, junk cards like himself. He grinned on purpose, already constructing a mental story in his mind of the hand he wanted his opponents to believe he had. Poker was a game based entirely in the minds of the players, he knew he didn’t have a great vocabulary and wasn’t charming enough to make women swoon but give him two cards and some coins and he could tell tales with the best of them.
He looked at the other players, Crold was hard to read his reptilian features making it difficult to tell his emotions. He was flipping his coins between his fingers a sign he was nervous, but was that because he was planning to bluff or because he had a big hand?
Hogan was an easier read, going by his slumped position the human had been in his cups for a while and judging by the half dozen coins in front of him his intoxication hadn’t improved his judgement or his luck. His sour face indicated that his current hand wasn’t the one he’d been hoping for.
“Let’s make it interesting”, Rush said throwing two of his silver coins into the middle.
Hogan frowned, “Dhalak Goblins” (literally “Fucking Goblins” in the common tongue) he muttered tossing his hand into the middle to indicate he was conceding the hand.
Crold had looked sharply up when Rush raised, apparently surprised at his action. He hesitated only a fraction of a second before placing matching coins in the middle of the mat.
The hand was starting to look very interesting indeed, six silver pieces glittered in the middle as Crold drew a burn card placing it aside. Then flipped the next three cards placing them into the middle. The turn showed a Jack of Clubs, Seven of Diamonds and an Ace of Hearts.
Rush smiled, he’d been watching the deal carefully and had seen Crold deal the third card, the ace from the bottom of the deck. That meant that Crold had an ace in his hand and likely had believed Rush wasn’t holding junk. It was unlikely Crold had Ace, Jack or he wouldn’t have felt the need to cheat. Assuming he was right, this meant that Rush’s two pairs was the winning hand.
“Rush, we need to leave now.”, Jeanne suddenly insisted standing up abruptly and tugging at his shoulder.
“Human, sit down.”, Rush said irritatedly, “I need to concentrate.”
Jeanne complained, but he cut her words out of his mind. He was ruffled now, and tried to get his focus back into the game.
“Listen to the lady, fold and go,” Crold said with a smile, “It might save you some money.” He pushed another four silver into the middle of the mat.
Jeanne remained standing, Rush could almost feel the anger coming off her in waves but he wasn’t going to walk away from a winning hand, especially one which now contained a healthy ten silver coins.
Trying to put the irritating human out of his mind Rush raised an eyebrow and studied Crold. He tried to get inside his mind, to think like the Kobold did, was he just trying to scare Rush off the pot, was Crold confident that his aces were golden or had he got lucky and really landed a large hand. If he’d started with pocket aces then Rush had a dead hand and was just throwing good money after bad.
No he had analysed things, he was confident that he had the better hand. He placed four coins onto the mat, calling Crolds raise. Aware as he did so that seven of his nine Silver pieces were now at stake on this hand.
Crold, grinner a mirthless smile and burnt one card then flipped another card. The three of diamonds, a nothing card unlikely to change the hands outcome.
“Check”, Rush muttered tapping the mat with his hand. He knew he probably should have raised and shown strength, but he only had two silver in his pocket and he doubted that would have scared the Kobold away from the pot.
Crold nodded and rapped the mat muttering check himself. He burnt another card and then dealt the final river card. The seven of clubs. Rush felt faint, a full house and better still Crold had swapped one of his cards for the ace so it was highly unlikely the Kobold had one himself. Surely Crold too was feeling the pressure? Looking up from his cards the Kobold grinned calmly back at him.
Rush placed his remaining two silvers onto the mat, gulping slightly out of nervousness as he stated “All In”. Crold covered the bet grinning contentedly looking Rush straight in the eye as he did so, looking supremely confident.
As the betting player Rush flipped his cards, showing his full house, Jacks over 7’s. Crold eyes widened “Dhalar Kul” (Literal translation is “Fuck you” in the feral tongue), he swore.
Rush shrugged, scooping up the coins quickly, then rising and turning to Jeanne, “I think you mentioned we had somewhere to go?”
He started walking away as a chime sounded, glancing at the prompt he realised his improved intelligence had to improve his gambling ability. He had been more focussed and analytical in this bout than in any previous one.
“Congratulations you have unlocked Gambling (Level 2). You understand the basic psychology of gambling and are able to detect basic reads and strategies in your opponents.
Warning - So far your opponents have been intellectually challenged and/or drunk and despite this you’ve lost as many hands in your short gambling career as you’ve won, don’t start thinking you’re good at this just because you lucked out today.”
The human woman gaped for a full second before running to catch up with him, “I saw that creature cheating, how did you win?”
Rush laughed an honest belly laugh, “Silly lass, I knew he was cheating, that is part of the game.
“But, but,” Jeanne stutterd as she struggled to understand his perspective, “cheating is immoral if you knew they were cheating why do you play with them?”
Rush shrugged, “Life itself is a gamble, don’t expect others to play a fair hand and you won’t be surprised by anything. Most people gamble expecting to be the hero of a story, raising on long odds and hoping against hope to have a happy ending, that is why they lose. I on the other hand watch their actions and it tells me more about them than they might realise.”
He explained the logic behind his play as they walked and Jeanne’s eyes grew wide in surprise as she realised how Rush had turned his opponents cheating against themselves.
They arrived at the cooking area and intended to join the queue of people waiting for their meat, but to their surprise it parted to allow them to the front immediately. As they passed people nodded respectfully at Rush as if to thank him for the improvement to their menu options.
As they walked the line Rush felt pride swell within him and instantly felt nervous, glancing around as he remembered his mother saying “Pride must die in you or you will die from it. The proud got over confident and cocky Goblins stopped watching their backs and died. Stay nervous, stay scared and stay alive. It is the Goblin way.”
At the front of the line they each picked up a battered tin plate and a grizzled human cook slopped a heap of pulped mushroom stalk onto their plate along with a small portion of mystery meat. It smelled wonderful to Rush who gave a toothy grin and nodded his thanks to the cook.
The pair took a seat amongst the refuse of other slaves sprawled on the camp floor around the area and Rush quickly scooped large helpings of the goo into his mouth. He looked up to see Jeanne watching him, having hardly touched her own.
“Not hungry?” he asked, looking hopefully at her goo. It was always best to eat while you can just in case you had to go without in future.
Jeanne shoved her plate towards Rush and he thrust a hand into it greedily as she started talking.
“It just hurts me how pointless life is, I always used to think that everything happens for a reason. When my parents died I was taken in by the convent I was distraught, but as I learnt I believed I heard Selunes voice and believed in her will. I thought that she would guide and protect me, now look where that belief has brought me.” She gestured forlornly around the cooking area.
Rush barked a laugh, “It seems you thought a lot about yourself, perhaps this is Selunes way of giving you a view wider than from the windows at your convent?” He paused, nervously, “Selune is real, I met her when you healed me she spoke to me.” Jeanne looked strangely at him as he warmed to his topic, “She showed me you praying over me and told me that you believed in me. Your actions not only saved my life but you’ve changed me. I was a loner now I find your company tolerable and reassuring.”
“You spoke to Selune?” Jeanne snorted, “That is such canine scatology! Seriously you expect me to believe that. I can handle you gambling and you’re a Goblin so I don’t expect a lot in terms of manners or conversion, but don’t treat me like an idiot.”
She rose and stomped off, leaving a confused Rush to rise and tag along behind her as she stomped towards a more secluded area. As they settled their bags down and made their camp for the night Jeanne only looked occasionally in his direction and then only to glare.