This one has chess
Ok, this story has chess, sort of. Hope you like it. If you have a favorite gendre, si-fi, romance, adventure, let me know, I'll see if I can do something for you.
Shivering with the cold and fear, the young man huddled by his small fire. These woods were full of thieves and cutthroats, as well as things much worse. He did not want to be here, but the alternative was worse. A death sentence for stealing a loaf of bread? That was a bit harsh, even by the standards of these lands.
He’d broken free and fled for his life. Ten days later here he was, huddled by a small fire, cold, frightened, hungry, and alone, far from any form of civilization. He was miserable and thought … what was that? A branch cracking under a stealthy footfall?
Spinning around he leaped to his feet and faced the stranger who had come up behind him. There before him stood a tall woman dressed in well worn leather armor. A huge war horse stood quietly behind her and a massive moorhound was beside the horse. The woman’s face was scarred and her long golden hair was streaked with gray.
With a cry of mixed fear and rage he whipped out his sword and leaped at the invader who had only a small dagger in her hand. His mind tried vainly to absorb what happened next, but it was painfully slow to process the information his eyes were delivering.
With a move her age would seem to deny, she ducked beneath his blow and stepped past him. As she passed, her dagger flashed, his belt parted, his breeks dropped about his ankles, and her boot to his bare backside sent him sprawling face first in the dirt, the sword flying from his hand. He rolled swiftly onto his back, sputtering and grasping at his breeks, trying in vain to pull them higher. He froze as he saw his own sword hovering near his throat.
“Ek heiti Ga-Wynifarr se Karundell en Dunidine.”
“Wha, wha, wha???” he stammered.
“I named myself, my home, and my tribe,” she said softly. “You dropped this.” She let the sword fall onto his chest as she stepped away from him, never taking those cold eyes off his prone form. “You may call me Ga-Wyn. Name yourself and your people.”
“My name is Rond,” he replied sullenly as he regained his feet and clumsily retied his belt. “I have no people.”
“Fair enough,” she replied, a dagger leaping magically to each hand as she took a few dancing steps to give herself room. “Now Rond, you have a few questions to answer and perhaps a decision to make.”
“What decision?” he was eyeing her fearfully now. He was now faced with a childhood nightmare, one of the warrior women from the northern tribes.
“Whether to live or die.” There was a hint of a smile playing about her lips.
“I choose to live,” he replied swiftly.
“Not so fast, Rond, first the questions. Why did you attack me?”
“These woods are full of thieves and cutthroats, I was afraid.”
“An honest man, I like that. Now for the crucial question, Rond the Fearful, is that your pack I see by the fire?”
“It is,” he replied, somewhat perplexed. “There’s nothing of value in it.”
“I’m not a thief, boy. Be careful of that tongue. Now, is there a board and pieces in yonder pack?”
“A board and pieces? Yes, but…”
“So, now to the choice for you, Rond,” she grinned. “We can continue our dispute with blades, in which case I will surely shorten you life, or we can dispute over the board. Choose now.”
Dumbfounded, he just stared at her for a moment before he found his voice. “I choose the board and pieces.”
“A wise man as well. Then put away your sword, and put wood to the fire. I have some iron rations I will share.” She grinned as her daggers magically vanished as swiftly as they had appeared. She rummaged through her saddlebag while he stoked up the fire.
“Too big a fire will draw the thieves,” he said softly as he began to set up the board. He was trying to decide if he dared to play for a win or should he just lose to be safe.
“Horse and hound will keep watch,” she replied softly as she sat on the ground facing him. She offered the food and he ate greedily. “Easy now, take your time to chew it well, or tomorrow you will learn why it is called iron rations.”
She saw that he had given her the advantage of the first move. With a small grin she turned the board to give him the advantage. “If I think you are trying to let me win I will be deeply offended, young sir. I would far rather lose fairly than to win poorly. You, as the aggrieved party, shall have the first move.”
“The aggrieved party?”
“Your breeks,” she grinned.
“Ah, yes, that was indeed aggravating.” He made his move and she swiftly responded. A few quick moves followed then they settled down to ponder the situation. The twilight slipped into night as the game wore on. They were well into the thick of it when she spoke again. “Tell me, Rond, do you know how to defeat a swordsman with just a dagger?”
“What? A dagger, what?” she had completely broken his concentration. “No I do not.” He returned his gaze to the board. A moment later she spoke again.
“I thought not.”
Once again she had broken his concentration and he suddenly suspected she was doing it with a purpose. He looked closer and there it was, the flaw in her tactics, a small flaw, but it would grant him a much needed advantage. Carefully he moved his piece.
Now it was her turn to ponder. They played on for a while and she seemed to overcome the disadvantage. As she reached for a piece he spoke. “So, Ga-Wyn, how do you defeat a swordsman with just a dagger?”
Her head snapped up and he was gazing into icy blue eyes that were hard as flint. Suddenly she burst out laughing, her mirth rising from deep within her like a song of pure joy. “So, didn’t have you fooled at all, did I?” Still chuckling, she made her move.
A few moves later she arose and stretched the kinks from her back. “Twas well done, Rond, you have your revenge. I am defeated. Tis time to rest, for the night grows old even as I do. Thank you for the game. You may sleep, horse and hound will keep watch.”
“What about the winner’s prize?”
“Prize? What prize would you have, Rond?” she asked warily.
“The answer to a question,” he grinned in reply.
“How do you defeat a swordsman with just a dagger?” Again came that rich laughter.
“Alright Rond, you shall have your prize. Four long paces.”
“Four paces? I don’t understand.”
“Four paces is your mark. If you are inside that mark you can put a dagger in a man’s heart before he can draw his sword and wield it. Outside that mark it is best to run the other way. Four paces, Rond. Four paces.”
“Four paces.” He was repeating that as he lay beside the fire to sleep. She settled down with the hound under a tree and was instantly asleep.
When Rond awakened in the morning he found her hunched over the fire cooking a rabbit. They ate together then went their separate ways. As he walked away she called out to him. “Rond, four paces, mark me now.”
“Four paces, Ga-Wyn, I will not forget.”
Jennifer Leigh Crandall
Copyright June 24/2010