Of course Conan played Texas Hold ‘Em.

It seemed several cultures in the Well had playing cards. Virava had been one, not to mention a number of kingdoms and city-states the Warlord had conquered in his effort to bring all of the Plains under his thumb. So when Conan wasn’t busy with marathon sessions of sexual intercourse with his harem or working up new strategies on the sand tables he kept over in the meeting pavilion, he could often be found killing time in the evenings playing poker with his generals. Calvin, once he learned of this, knew he had to get into a game.

Getting a stake was easy. The game had spread among the general troops like wildfire and many of them thought themselves gamblers. Which may have been true, but they weren’t able to replay their hands over, and over, and over, until they got a winning combination. Thus, Calvin managed to accumulate quite a collection of silver coins in no time at all, as well as a serious reputation as a cardsharp. Word had traveled up the chain of command until it reached Conan’s ears and the Warlord, always interested in what his fellow castaways were up to, invited him to a game.

And thus part one of Calvin’s plan came to fruition. In truth, this was no idle gambit, but something Calvin had cooked up with the aid of the girls in the tent. He was determined to free them, all of them if he could, but was was forced to admit he might only be able get some of them out. Creehan and Jayanith, for example, were both hostages, kept to ensure their families toed the line and would never be released (at least until Conan tired of them or their families’ rule); Sanura, due to her rather unique appearance, was never getting out either. Kateena had out-and-out told him that Conan valued her for her brain as much as her body—she was out of the question as well. And Nahrin didn’t mind Conan at all (she actually seemed to like it in the harem.)

That still left a dozen of so slave girls that (for the most part) wanted out. The only question was who. He already knew Sanura was a no-go, but that still left four or five he really wanted to see free. The only problem was the choice wasn’t his. Kateena had told him she’d take care of that issue. If she wasn’t so damn smart he’d have given the plan up for lost right then and there.

So now he found himself sitting outside of the Warlord’s tent, playing Texas Hold ‘Em against Conan himself, two of his generals, and Kateena (who was there because Conan was sure he’d finally found a game he could beat her at.) About five minutes into the game Calvin was nearly overcome by a fit of the giggles as he realized he’d just sat down for a fantastical version of Poker Night at the Inventory. Conan, of course, was the Heavy Weapons Guy, Kateena was Tycho, and the two generals (for the life of him, he couldn’t remember their names) were Max and Strong-Bad. The only difference was he doubted Conan listened to Huey Lewis or drank Peach Bellinis.

The really funny thing was that Kateena actually was losing. Calvin didn’t think that was possible. He figured she was something like Vilgerther, constant exposure to Conan’s war-games had altered her, making her into some sort of tactical genius (His one chess match versus her ended in a draw. It also lasted so long they decided next time to do something more fun instead.) Then it dawned on him, she was doing it on purpose.

Calvin made sure to lose a few rounds here or there, himself. The best way to cheat the house is never win too much. Still, he also made sure never to lose too much and made every attempt to bleed the two generals dry. Hell, if he played his cards right, they'd be out in another hand or two. Time to start making his move.

He looked at his hand and shuffled his cards around a bit. Casting a quick glance to the Max and Strong-Bad and donning his trademark smirk, he offered a raise. He didn't have anything, but the occasional bluff worked well. As the general to his left sweated his next move, Calvin caught Conan's eye. "So Conan," he said as casual as any Vegas shark, "I hear you have a harem amongst all your war trophies. Is that true? I gotta know. What's that like?"

“Hmmm…” the massive warrior rumbled as his eyes flicked from his cards to Calvin’s face and back. He matched Calvin’s raise then tossed in a few more coins of is own. “It’s one of the best parts of carving out my own kingdom like this. I get first pick when ever we take a place. And I don’t know if it’s something in the water around here, but damn! I’ve yet to see a really ugly one, you know?”

Kateena cooly surveyed the table, her cards laying on the table in front of her. She’d looked at them once, when they had been dealt, and had barely glanced at the flop. Calvin was still willing to bet she knew exactly what she had. Dressed in a kaftan that covered her from elbow to ankle she seemed quite relaxed and Calvin thought she looked even hotter in clothes than out. “Master, I will see your bet.” She tossed a share of coins out into the center of the table.

Calvin shuffled his hand again. He counted out a number of coins equal to what the first general had in his stash and tossed it on the pile. He'd have to go all in, or fold. That'd be one taken care of. "Raise. Oh yeah, let me tell you." He patted his 'Little Black Book', a leather bound tome in which he had drawn all of his conquests. He had given the warlord a peek before the game. Conan seemed particularly interested in a certain elf from the fair city of Virava. Even more so upon hearing that, yes, she's real, and yes, so are they.

One of Conan’s eyebrows went up. “I’m still not seeing how a little guy like you managed to score with that many women.” He tilted his head over at Kateena, who calmly ignored him. “She can tell you, once they get a taste of me, no one else can even come close to satisfying.”

Calvin merely shrugged. "Timing, I guess."

With a guffaw, Conan slapped the table, making everything—cards, coins, cups, and even Calvin—jump. He might be an utterly self-centered dick, but he was also huge. Edward may have dismissively stated “I can take him” once it became apparent he wasn’t a Space Marine Primarch, but Calvin wasn’t so sure. Sure, Mihrimah had fought him to a draw, but she could twirl a twelve foot spear around like it was a toothpick. A pair of schmucks they may be, but they were also strong, fast, and tough. On the other hand, hubris might as well have been Conan’s middle name. “‘Timing,’ that’s a good one.”

Max and Strong-Bad both folded (the pot was far beyond their current means) as Conan surveyed his cards. “I gotta know, what’s the most…” He waved on massive hand in the air as he searched for the right word. “...unusual chick you’ve banged?” he finished as he dropped a pile of coins onto the growing pile in the center of the table.

"Most unusual?" Calvin thought for a second before flipping through his Black Book. He stopped on a page near the beginning. Depicted was a female Hunting Person situated in a pose that seemed most uncomfortable. "This one. She could bend backwards and grab her ankles."

“Jesus,” the Warlord’s eyes went wide. “I thought that shit only showed up on cable. How’s that even physically possible? Does she have rubber for a spine?”

“All-in,” Kateena interrupted, pushing everything she had into the pot. “And I raise.”

“You can’t raise, Kateena, you went All-in,” Conan objected.

“I can if I put myself into the pot.,” she replied with a smile. “Winner gets me for the night to do with as you wish.” She laid her cards down on the table, showing a king and a ten. Calvin glanced at the flop, five, six, ten, six, and king. That gave her two pair, tens and kings. Not bad, and usually a winning hand in Poker Night at the Inventory. Max and Strong-Bad looked a bit annoyed at having folded until Strong-Bad looked at his cards and then shrugged. Apparently he never had a chance anyway.

“Your bet,” Kateena smiled sweetly as she looked over at Calvin.

Calvin's eyes went wide. He shoved his stack of coins into the pile. "Well, you know what they say, 'Faint hearts never won fair maiden'. I see your All-In, and..." He tossed his Black Book onto the stack of coins. "I see your raise. Sooo... What'll it be, Warlord?"

There was a moment where the normally implacable warrior gaped like a stuck fish. “All-in,” he gasped, then looked around the camp clearing. “But I don’t have anything handy to add to the pot like you two did.”

"You could always bet that harem of yours." Calvin said, still smirking.

“This hand is going to wipe that smile off your face,” Conan stated, then shook his head. “And I’m not betting my harem. Those women are mine. You’re lucky I’m in a good mood and am still willing to go along with her.” He jerked a thumb at Kateena. “So you’re not getting a shot at any more women, Mister Timing.”

“How about just one or two?” Kateena asked. “That way, if Calvin wins you can offload some of the troublemakers on him. Make them his problem and not ours.”

“Wait, what?” Conan seemed a trifle confused, which was okay, as Calvin was a little off-balance himself. Kateena was one of the last people you wanted to try playing headgames with. “What troublemakers?”

Crossing her arms over her breasts, Kateena sat back, adopting an almost aristocratic air (I bet she learned that from Jayanith, Calvin thought.) “I can think of a number of tent-mates I’d like to see gone,” she said, sounding simultaneously haughty and put out. “But the two that annoy me the most are Ayna and Cenanna. Ayna won’t stop crying and whining about missing her home and complains about nearly everything. And Cenanna so stuck up and haughty she won’t let anyone near her and never lays with the rest of us when we have an orgy.”

The silence that followed that statement was deafening. Calvin, having spent time in Conan’s harem tent, found himself wondering if they really engaged in mass orgies to pass the time, then quickly realized everyone else at the table was thinking the exact same thing. “In addition, getting rid of those two would mean I’d be able to enjoy your attentions more often (Okay, now I now she’s lying) and would mean you’d have room for new girls.”

Calvin wasn't too happy about the idea of Conan enslaving more women. Slavery never sat right with him, but he'd have to go with the gambit for now. As soon as he regained his composure he coughed into his fist. "Uh... ahem.. ah well. If your hand is so good, then you've got nothing to lose, am I right? Go for it! Bet like a real man," he said in a joking tone, trying to goad the larger man. "So, what'cha gonna do?"

Conan blinked and shook his head. Calvin was willing to bet he was having a much harder time getting Kateena’s words out of his head. “Do? I’m going All-In.” He reached down under the table and fumbled around for a moment, his hand reappearing with three large gold coins. Looking over at Kateena, he let each one drop. “Ayna,” *clink* “Cenanna,” *clank* “and you.” *clunk*

Sitting back, Conan grinned. “Well I hate to say it Kateena, but it looks like Texas Hold ‘em is the one thing you can’t win at.” He flipped his cards over. “Full house, kings and sixes.”

Calvin looked a bit disappointed. He looked at Conan's cards, and then he looked at the two sixes in the middle of the table. He took a deep breath and dropped one of his cards, revealing a matching 6. "Shame really. All I have is three '6's." Then he dropped the other one. "Six high. Looks like I win." He rested his chin on his hand, elbow propped up on the table. "Good game, Warlord. We'll have to play again sometime."

* * * * *

Holy crap, it worked. The plan went off without a hitch. Calvin took a moment to reflect on his victory while he waited in a small private pavilion not far from Conan's own. It wasn't the total victory he wanted, but it was a victory nonetheless. He paced the room a few times before settling down on a pile of very soft pillows.

He doubted Conan would show up in person. The warlord was too haughty to want to admit defeat. Just as well. Any more time in that man's presence and Calvin might just lose his cool. That guy was a dick. There was just no other way to describe him. Calvin didn't care how well he managed his resources, the sheer number of people who died to get this man to where he was now was sickening. Calvin shuddered to think what would happen when Conan turned his attention to all the places he himself had been. He'd steamroll right over all the friends Calvin had made in his time in the Well. That wouldn't do.

The sound of footsteps and the rattle of chains snapped him out of his reverie. “Lord Calvin?” a guard called.

Calvin stepped out from the tent's front flap, and doffed his hat. "The one and only." he said with a dramatic bow.

A squad of troopers in close order encircled Ayna, Cenanna, and Kateena. All were dressed in simple kaftans, which covered them from neck to elbow to ankle. Ayna and Cenanna, however, were in chains. Manacles fastened at wrist and ankle linked up to a collar around the neck. Calvin felt a little ill at the sight.

“The Great General Conan, Warlord of Ar, Master of the Plains, has seen fit to present you with this gift.” The squad sergeant indicated Ayna and Cenanna with a nod of his head. “He also has graciously allowed you the honor of the slave Kateena from now until the sun rises.” The sergeant made an ‘after you’ gesture to the three woman, when turned away once they started towards Calvin. “We will be back when the sun clears the horizon.” And with that, the troopers left.

With an equally dramatic bow as before, Calvin held the tent flap open and ushered the women inside. He made sure the guards had departed and were well out of sight before heading inside, himself. Once inside, he gave Kateena a warm embrace and kissed both of her cheeks. He then held her at arm’s length by the shoulders. "Masterfully played! I couldn't have done that without you!" He motioned at the other girls’ necks with a finger. "Any chance you have a key or something? I mean, I don't want to sound like a prude or what not, but that's just not my kink."

“Here,” Kateena held up a thin bar of metal with a few squared off teeth. “So, Master Calvin, what next?”

"First," he took the key and started removing the shackles, "we do away with this unnecessary garbage. Second? Please, just call me Cal."

“Cal?” Cenanna sounded hesitant as she spoke. “What do you intend to do with me?”

“And me,” Ayna added. “Are we truly free?”

He looked at the two women and smiled. "As far as I'm concerned, yeah. We're going to wage war in the Center of the ocean. If you want to stick around, I'm not about to turn down a pretty face."

"However if you want to leave, that's on you. Soon as we can makearrangements, we'll get you out of here. I'm not in the habit of keeping a captive audience. Not much fun if you ask me."

“I would like to return to my homelands,” Cenanna stated. “I was a harper in a fine hall and want to see if it still stands and if its people are well.” She paused and sighed. “Those the Warlord’s army’s left alive anyway.”

“Dananthand was sacked and burned,” Ayna said with a shrug. “Even if I could get back, I doubt they’d have need of my skills right now. And… uh…” she spared Kateena a quick glance, “I think I’d like to stay, in case you manage to free everyone else.”

Calvin sighed."I did what I could. I'll think of something though. I'm not about to abandon them, but things are gonna get pretty dicey soon." And as much as he hated to admit it, they needed Conan and his army. For now at least. God help that jerk if he really pissed Calvin off though.

"So that's settled then. We'll see about a horse for Cenanna in the morning. In the meantime..." he pulled out a bottle of wine he 'found' among some of the other soldier's things, "I think this calls for some celebrating."

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