The fragrant smell of Minkan tobacco filled the room as Theibar studied his hand. Sandru sat across the table. His moustache – one of the finest Varisian masterpieces seen this side of the Crown – poorly veiled his confident smile. Casting out a useless spade, Theibar called for a replacement card. Sandru smiled again.

“And what will happen to you after all this, Elf?” Sandru teased. Theibar glanced up from his hand. This trip had not been kind on Sandru. The loss Koya and the abandonment of his caravan sometimes seemed to defeat him, but not today. Not while he was winning yet another hand at poker.

“I’m planning to stay in Minkai. Ameiko will need help after she takes the throne.” With a sigh, he threw in his hand. Sandru smiled and claimed his bounty. If there is one thing a Varisian loves, Theibar thought, it was bounty.

“Your game has not improved, Theibar!”

Theibar gathered up the cards, shuffled and dealt another hand. Sandru lit a pipe. Theibar enjoyed the smell in preference over the Varisian cigars Sandru usually insisted on smoking. It was near on impossible to leave a game with Sandru without smelling of old boot leather and sawdust. Instead, the fine Minkai leaf smelled exotic, yet familiar.

“Let’s make this a little more interesting, Sandru. How about we go all in?” Theibar announced.A wide grin peaked through Sandru’s moustache.

“You may need your pants for tomorrow!” Sandru joked. “But I’m game.”

Respectfully, Theibar gave Sandru a slight bow.

“I never understood your fascination with this game.” Theibar said, dealing out two new cards to Sandru.

“It’s about strategy, and wit.” Sandru replied, taking a sip of sake.

“I disagree.” Theibar said, putting his cards face down on the table. Sandru raised an eyebrow. For a moment, Theibar swore he saw the corner of his moustache match the elevation. “I believe it is a game of perception, and cunning.”

“How so?” Sandru was intrigued.

“Well you see, I know that you have a full house. Judging from the slight lift of your right eye brow, and the pattern in which you’ve order your cards, I’d hazard a guess that your hand contains nothing lower than a seven.”

Sandru eye’s widened as he studied his three eights and two Jacks full house.

“How is that possible?”

“I make it my business to know my enemy. Over the past few months, I’ve observed you. I know the patterns you like to keep your hand in. I know each tick, movement, and expression you make.” Sandru leaned back into his chair. He was impressed. He glanced at the pile of gold and small keep sakes that lay in the middle of the table.

“Well…” Sandru threw his cards face up onto the table. “I guess that ends this game then. And any future games.” Theibar laughed, and took another sip of sake. He savoured the sensation as it radiated throughout his body.

“Though I must be honest, my friend. I’ve become rather impaired by this delectable rice wine.” Theibar’s balanced shifted awkwardly, and his overcompensation was slow and clumsy. “It made reading you rather difficult.” Sandru sat forward, intrigued again.

“Oh?” Sandru’s smile was lazy.

“I’ve been forced to change tactics.” Theibar produced a small quill and ink pot. Alerted by Theibar’s strategy, Sandru seized his cards and turned to study the back. Several tiny marks, barely visible, betrayed the card’s face value.

“You cheated!” Sandru snorted a laugh.

“I consider it cunning.” The two laughed.

Silence fell between them, and the they seemed to gaze off into the distance.

“What will you do after?” Sandru broke the silence.

“I will likely stay here in Minkai. Watch over Ameiko. Maybe take up residence outside Kasai.”

“With Shalelu?” Sandru asked.

“I’m yet to discuss it with her.” He paused and considered Shay’s response to such a plan. “And how about you? What will you do?”

“I’m not sure. I suppose nothing is urging me to return to Sandpoint. But I guess I will make up my mind after tomorrow.” Sandru signed.

“Well then,” Theibar sat up to attention, taking hold of his small ceramic sake cup and raising it towards Sandru. “May your strategies and wit see you through this revolution.” Sandru smiled and raised his cup in kind.

“And may your perception and cunning keep you safe and see you through to the other end.” In unison, the two threw back their drink. With that, Theibar stood. Placing his right hand over his heart, he bowed low.

“It has been my pleasure to call you friend over this journey.” Theibar said with a smile.

“And you, Theibar.” With that, they parted company.


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