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Checkmate

Writers: AmajoS, Estelle
Date Posted: 14th November 2018

Characters: Rothen, Kedran
Description: Rothen and a fellow guard play a game of chess and discuss miscreants, past and present.
Location: Amber Hills Hold
Date: month 7, day 8 of Turn 9
Notes: Mentioned: Corofel


Kedran let out a long sigh of relief, stamped his feet and rolled his
shoulders to work out the stiffness after a long shift on guard at the
entrance to the Hold. Standing still and doing nothing ought to be one
of the easiest duties, but as he approached retirement age, he found it
harder than patrolling, especially in the colder months. At least if you
were moving, you kept warm!

"Time for a hot mug of klah, I think," he said to the younger man who'd
been his partner on duty. He grinned. "And you can fail to beat me at
chess again, if you'd like."

Rothen grinned back, "Not this time, I have a strategy." He too
stretched himself out of the stiff pose he'd held. This particular
duty was not his favorite either, he much preferred patrolling, or
door duty in front of the Lord Holder's chambers. It was as much
standing around as this was, but at least you didn't have to put up
with the weather too. But, one thing he did enjoy about this duty was
that he was usually partnered with Kedran. The older man was one of
the first friends he'd made when he and his mother had moved to the
Hold.

"Ha! Can't wait to see it. And defeat it." Kedran replied with
good-natured sarcasm. He shrugged out of his heavy coat and headgear as
they entered the guard barracks, where they could leave their weapons
and outdoor clothing before heading for the warmth of the kitchens.
There was a box there with games for the guards to use when they were
off duty - packs of cards, dice, board games and the like. Kedran found
the battered chess set and shook it to check that all of the pieces were
there. "Ready?"

"We'll see who's defeating who this time, Old Man," Rothen grinned as
he dropped his gear off. "This thing you're doing, underestimating me,
it's part of my plan," he added, nodding to the question and moving to
follow Kedran to the waiting klah. And hopefully some snacks as well.

"So, when I wiped the floor with you last sevenday, was that part of
your plan as well?" the older guard teased. In truth, he knew Rothen was
getting to be a match for him, but he'd managed to keep ahead recently
by trying a few new strategies he'd picked up from one of the Hold's old
aunties, who was a deceptively ruthless player. "Trying to get me
overconfident, so I'll make mistakes?"

"Now you're just mocking me," Rothen shook his head in feigned dismay.
Then he grinned, "I almost had you that time."

"You just keep telling yourself that," Kedran said cheerfully as he
pushed open the door to the kitchens. "Maybe it'll turn out to be true
one day. Grab a jug of klah, lad, and I'll set up the board."

Rothen's grin widened in amusement as he headed toward the long table
where hot klah and mugs were set up, along with - he was pleased to
see - a variety of rolls, both sweet and savory. It was well after
regular meal times, but there was almost always a table like this set
out for people who worked late shifts or were working odd hours, or
who simply couldn't sleep and wanted a bite. He took a tray and set
one of the jugs on it, along with a couple of mugs, some sweetener and
a selection of snacks. By the time he'd returned, Kedran had the board
ready.

"Ah, sweet rolls. You read my mind!" Kedran reached for one of the
snacks. It was surprising how hungry you could get, just standing on
guard at a door. "Do you want to play white or black this time? Or
choose a hand and let chance decide," he suggested, taking a pawn of
each colour from the board and concealing them in his fists.

Rothen considered each closed fist carefully, making a show of
choosing. He didn't actually have a preference, he usually lost either
way, but this was part of the fun of the game, just like the ribbing
and boasting on the way. He reached out and tapped Kedran's right
fist.

The guard opened his fist slowly, revealing the white pawn. "That's a
stroke of luck for you; you get to start." He replaced the pieces on
the board and spun it around so the white pieces were closest to
Rothen, with a sly grin on his face. "So, when I win, it'll be all the
more honour to me."

"Ha," Rothen scoffed, taking his seat and cracking his knuckles in an
exaggerated gesture. "You'll see. I've a plan and you won't know what
hit you." He reached out and selected a pawn to make the first move,
grinning up at his friend.

Kedran moved out his own pawn to the centre of the board. "Hmm, a plan.
Does it involve making me laugh so hard at your vain hopes of winning
that I forget the rules?"

"Well, I could tell you my plan, but then I'd have to kill you and
that would probably make a huge mess. You'll find out by the end of
the game anyway," Rothen moved another pawn.

"Now I'm intrigued. Besides, I'd hate to make a mess in the kitchens.
The Headwoman would never forgive me," the older man said solemnly,
moving his dragon to threaten the first white pawn.

"Oh, she is terrifying when the kitchens are a mess, that's for
certain." Rothen replied. He ignored the pawn in peril and moved a
third pawn forward instead. "Though, I imagine it'd be me she'd be
angry at."

"Most likely." Kedran eyed the three white pawns, wondering if he was
seeing the early stages of a trap, or merely a cautious opening.
Deciding to play boldly, he moved his dragon to capture the pawn.
"Speaking of messes, didn't you catch one of the fosterlings making one
in the dining hall?"

Rothen snorted in amusement, "Corofel? More like caught the lad trying
to escape an angry mob after him for making a mess in the dining
hall." He moved one of his Hold pieces forward one spot, into the gap
left by his pawns.

"That young rascal." Kedran shook his head and moved another pawn
forward, clearing the way for his craftmaster. "You wouldn't think he
was going to be a Lord Holder one day. Makes me glad I live here and not
in Emerald Falls!"

"He'll settle down some day, I hope." Rothen moved his hold sideways,
stopping directly in front of the dragon that had taken his pawn. "Of
course, that's if he survives that long without the Headwoman or one
of the staff killing him," he added with a chuckle.

"At least he seems to be smart enough not to play a prank like that in
the barracks." Kedran moved his dragon to safety. "There aren't many
fosterlings foolhardy enough to mess with the guards. Not since that boy
with the trundlebugs...do you remember him? Or was that before your time?"

"Doesn't sound familiar, what happened?" Rothen moved another pawn forward.

"He was from one of the minor Holds - can't remember which one - and one
day he took it into his head to sneak into the barracks and put
trundlebugs into all the pairs of boots he could find." Kedran continued
with the game as he told the story, making a move to counter the pawn
with his other dragon. "Well, we came in to get ready for drills as
usual, and then this young guard - Mergil, I think his name was - put
his foot in his boot, screamed like a little girl, and went hopping
around the room in a frenzy trying to shake it off." He couldn't help
snickering at the memory. "He was always full of himself, too, never
stopped boasting about his bravery, so it was pretty funny until we
found out our boots had all had the same treatment. Anyway, in the midst
of the chaos, we heard giggling coming from one of the cupboards."

"You caught the culprit, then?" Rothen grinned his amusement as he
moved his castle again, straight up through the gap and capturing one
of Kedran's pawns. "And whatever happened to Mergil?" He didn't recall
anyone by that name.

"He took up a post at another Hold, not long after. I think he knew he'd
never live it down." Kedran smirked and moved his craftmaster up to
threaten the hold piece. "As for the boy, one of the old sergeants
dragged him out and set up a mock trial there and then, for disorderly
conduct and obstructing the Hold Guard in the course of their duties.
Poor kid was shaking like a leaf throughout the proceedings, but it was
kinder than leaving him to Mergil."

"Probably did the lad some good," Rothen moved the hold piece over one
spot, moving it out of the path of the craftmaster, but directly into
the path of the other man's dragon. "A little fear at the right moment
can work wonders."

"That, and a sevenday of cleaning all our boots and gear after outdoor
drills. We'd had a lot of rain, so everything was caked in mud, and it
was a treat not having to do it ourselves." He sighed. "Almost makes me
wish young Corofel would try that trick. But if he does, I hope he waits
until the spring rains."

Rothen huffed an amused laugh. "We should start a pool on that."

"Good idea, as long as neither the Lord Holder nor his father finds out.
I doubt they'd approve." Kedran surveyed the board for possible traps,
then moved his dragon across to take Rothen's hold. "So, how's this plan
of yours progressing? Looks like it's working out well for me so far."
He grinned and moved the white hold piece off the board.

Rothen just grinned back and moved another pawn, this one on the other
side of the board. He did have a plan, but having a plan and having a
plan succeed were two different things.

The guards exchanged a few more moves, and Kedran's frown deepened as he
surveyed the board. He was ahead in terms of pieces captured, but he was
sure there was something he was missing. Did his opponent really have a
plan, or was he just bluffing?

He moved his craftmaster up to threaten the younger man's Lord, deciding
that bold, confident play had served him well so far. "You know, when I
was a lad your age, my old sergeant used to say that no plan survives
contact with the enemy."

Rothen tried very hard to contain the excitement he was feeling. He'd
actually pulled it off. He'd honestly never really thought that he
would be able to, that the older guard would catch on and avoid the
trap as usual. This would be the first time the younger man had
actually won a game against Kedran. He almost gave in to the urge to
bounce in his seat as if he were a lad of ten instead of a grown man
of thirty-one turns when he reached over and moved his Lady to take
Kedran's craftmaster. This also completed the net he'd been building
around the other man's Lord. "Checkmate."

Kedran stared at the board for a long moment, as if he couldn't quite
believe his eyes. But it was true; there was nowhere he could move his
Lord that would be safe from the white pieces. He reached out and tipped
over the black Lord, then burst out laughing. "You won! Congratulations,
young Rothen. I think you're finally learning how to play this game."

He was too pleased with himself, and too used to the older man's
teasing, to take offense. "I told you. It was all part of the plan."
He was going to savor this victory. Who knew when he'd win another
one? Rothen was under no illusion that the next game was going to go
the same way, Kedran was too good to fall for the same tricks twice.
He'd have to figure out a whole new strategy. Not that he minded, that
was part of the fun.

Last updated on the December 5th 2018


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