Altair's Gambit (Part One)
Altair was bored. And slightly seasick. He had made some progress after nearly a week at sea, but the days of constant heavy seas and strong winds had forced the captain to require all passengers to remain below deck for most of the trip, which made the occasional bouts of seasickness all the worse. If there was any consolation it was that Altair had been assigned his own cabin, which meant that he was afforded a certain level of privacy that was not normally afforded to the rest of the travelers on the voyage. It also meant that instead of sleeping in a hammock in the common area with the rest of the crew, he was able to sleep on a more-or-less comfortable cot, with a burlap sack stuffed with foul-smelling hay for a pillow. The consolation was the heavy wool blanket, which despite smelling of rum and mildew, kept out the cold during the overly long nights. While most of his fellow travelers were forced to eat meals with the crew, Altair took his regular meals with the Captain and his Officers. It was yet another perk of the being a traveling dignitary. Not that it really mattered very much, though. The food at the Captain's table was pretty much the same thing that was being served to the other crew and passengers down in the galley, only no one swatted his hands with a wooden spoon when he went to help himself to a double portion, as he was wont to do. Somehow he had booked passage on the one boat on the whole of the watery deep whose captain was engaged in some form of solidarity exercise with his crew. Altair believed that this captain must have come up through the ranks as a sailor first, instead of being landed in his position. What was the world coming to? Altair wasn’t sure, but anything that weakened the aristocracy in his eyes was surely a bad thing. A thing to be defeated. A thing to be suppressed. He looked forward to being back on dry land where his fabricated bona fides would at least ensure him a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed; a cheery fire in a stone fireplace; a warm glass of brandy; and his smoking pipe in his hand.
The ship lurched suddenly and Altair had to gulp twice to prevent being revisited by that evening's meal in a most embarrassing manner. He quickly shot a glance around the table at his companions and was relieved that they didn’t appear to notice his momentary distress. They were instead staring intently at their hands of cards. Altair stole a peek at the cards he had on the table in front of him as he reminded himself of the dangers of getting distracted when there was money on the table. For the last week, the same four individuals had chosen to pass the time at sea at the gambling table: the Captain, the Bosun, and the First Mate. Altair couldn’t resist an opportunity to make money, though it also saved him from evenings of solitary confinement in his cabin. During the first few days, Altair had been feeling out the trio and trying to determine how well they played without overplaying his own hand. He also wanted to feel out how rich the players were and what they could afford to wager. For four straight days, he dumped games continuously to feel out his opponents. By his own reckoning, he was down exactly 53 coins, but his sandbagging efforts were starting to pay dividends.