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The Chronicles Of Sekar
Chapter One – A Chance Encounter
Antim surveyed his work with satisfaction and put down his pen. As a scribe for a spice merchant his duties were not difficult but they could be dull. So dull. His plans for today had been made far in advance and he had no intention of dallying here long enough to be given other chores such as stocktaking – he had earned this respite. The ink now dry, he closed the ledger and waved a cheery goodbye to the other scribe, still finishing his work, getting a good-natured grimace in response. Out in the street, Antim savoured the many scents and sights of the market which the merchant's building spilled onto. He caught one familiar smell wafting his way and, grin splitting his features, made his way over to a vendor of pasties. Munching enthusiastically now, he browsed a few more stalls then headed off down the narrow roads to the main city square. On the way he was harangued by a madman, lectured by a preacher and entreated by various beggars and promisers of earthly pleasures, but he knew the pleasure he was after and they could not give it.
After a few minutes pleasant walk he was at the city centre where traders were banned except for money-changers – a vital service as the city of Al-Rokh was a cosmopolitan hub that saw travellers and traders from three vast empires converge. In fact, most of this square was given over to people meeting up to go on elsewhere, as it was connected with access to all the wide range of businesses and entertainments the city could offer. Antim's eyes though were fixed on the area on the south side of the large plaza, set out for game players. Not for them the dice and card games prevalent in the seedier districts; these players were here for the highest pursuits they could find – games like Antim's speciality: chess. Boards were laid out, provided by a wealthy patron of the city who had long ago set aside a sum for these to be replaced as needed; there were seldom troubles there as city guards would frequently join them, half-watching the games and half-watching the bustling square for mischief, it being a shaded area ideal for taking everything in from.
Half a dozen boards were in use already and Antim paused to look over some of the positions, nodding occasionally to familiar acquaintances. Status was of no issue here, or as one friend would quip “The only ranks are the ranks and files.” Many different classes of citizens could indeed be found playing – merchants, rogues, pilgrims and scholars among them – but Antim was drawn to one unusual figure: someone who was probably a mercenary and certainly a barbarian. He was a huge man, rippling with muscles, tanned skin broken only by a loincloth trimmed with wolf's fur and a leather belt and scabbard, an efficient-looking sword laid beside him so he could squat in comfort. He caught Antim's eye and asked “Do you play, little man?” He winked at the scribe's offended expression and Antim relaxed – Why not? Teach this barbarian some culture. He sat cross-legged at the board and introduced himself; the giant announced he was “Sekar of the southern tribes.” Antim shuffled two contrasting pawns behind his back and the big man picked his right fist, which revealed a white piece.
Antim's first surprise was the deftness and speed with which Sekar set the board up. His second surprise was a few moves in, where he realised that there would be no rash tactics from this barbarian. As they played one of the guards sauntered over to watch this anomalous display of the warrior and the scribe. Antim had expected a pawn rush or early queen development and was met instead with a careful build up of forces. Sekar brought out his king's knight on the first move and, after Antim cautiously played a pawn to develop a bishop, shocked the scribe with a small pawn move of his own, preparing the fianchetto of a bishop. Antim decided to test this with a central advance of his own and pushed his king's pawn. The guard watching nodded approvingly. Somehow that did not fill Antim with confidence. Sekar restricted further advance with another pawn move, simultaneously setting free his other bishop. The little scribe took control of the rest of the centre with another aggressive pawn move and sat back, watching his opponent. Unfazed, the barbarian completed the fianchetto of his bishop, preparing space for castling, which he indeed did after Antim brought out his first piece, his own kingside knight and then his bishop to prepare to castle himself. Each side so far had established a fortress for their kings and despite moving second, Antim realised he had committed himself most in terms of structure. [(1) Nf3 d6 (2) g3 e5 (3) d3 f5 (4) Bg2 Nf6 (5) 0-0 Be7]
Sekar paused to think here. He had safety and development, albeit not the ready-to-charge type. He liked the imbalances chess could throw up within the constraint of equal forces and decided now was the time to set up his main battle lines. He played a pawn out on the queenside, announcing an asymmetric attack. Antim castled to complete his own fortress; on the face of it he liked his position – he had a grip on the centre and an aggressive stance. Sekar brought out his remaining knight as expected and Antim decided to brace his weaknesses in the centre and on the queenside with another pawn move. As the white rook calmly positioned for queenside assault, Antim realised he had no clear plan; his king was potentially vulnerable on the diagonal and if anything was blocking squares his other pieces could use. He decided to slip it over to the corner to defend against possible threats; a useful waiting move. No waiting for Sekar, though, who launched another pawn out on the queenside, supported by the rook. [(6) c4 0-0 (7) Nc3 c6 (8) Rb1 Kh8 (9) b4]
Antim was used to assaults against his king or clashes in the centre but for some reason found this general thrust for space and control unnerving. Under the eyes of a few watchers now, he panicked and played the first plan he came up with, using a bishop to try to restrain the queenside assault. The pawn covered by the rook came on, relentless. Antim's whole queenside was paralysed with pressure and he had no idea how he was going to get his knight and rook out of the corner. He improved the only piece he could see that could, bringing the queen over to further support the queenside defence and aiming to come out on the kingside for when his own attack got underway. As Sekar's last queenside pawn joined the attack, the scribe forlornly started to get his own pawns moving on the kingside. He could not see where the pressure the barbarian was creating was leading but he didn't like it one bit. There were half a dozen watchers now to see the regular player Antim getting rough treatment from this big stranger; he was used to occasionally losing, even with spectators, but felt now as though he was representing the city of Al-Rokh against the foreigner... [(9)...Bd7 (10) b5 Qe8 (11) a4 h6]
Sekar studied the board. He had pressure and something had to give but his pieces needed to improve. He still had not found a role for one of his bishops – sure, there were possibilities but till now he had been keeping his options open. Also, his kingside knight was not doing a lot and would soon be a target for the little man's pawn onslaught. He stroked his chin thoughtfully. With a flash he realised where he wanted the knight: just on the edge of the centre, coordinating the attack he was launching. He advanced the pawn that was currently on that square to attack Antim's central pawn – black could not capture or advance the target without losing another key pawn so would be forced to accept the capture on Sekar's terms. The scribe scowled a little at this and carried on with his kingside advance, forcing Sekar to carry on with his plan immediately or face the knight being attacked and the scheme falling apart. He was happy to capture, letting black's bishop retake, then moved the knight back so he could reroute the piece where he wanted it. There was appreciative murmuring from the small group watching. Antim glanced up irritably, not so much bothered by them as by the position but perversely welcoming the opportunity to be annoyed by something other than his own play. He looked back at the board and could see nothing useful so moved a rook to defend his own second rank and allow the square it was on to be used, for want of anything better. [(12) c5 g5 (13) cd Bxd6 (14) Nd2 Rf7]
Sekar carried on with his maneuver, bringing the knight to its planned outpost, attacking a bishop at the same time, which moved to a more aggressive square in return. They both moved their queens to slightly better positions to coordinate the fight. The guard present signalled to his captain who ambled over to his side to watch. Sekar noticed this slightly uneasily – the authorities rarely had good things to impart to barbarians in their cities. He realised that although he liked his position he had no idea how to proceed. He had the little man caged, certainly, but could see no way to apply more pressure. He finally saw one plan, although it meant allowing the tension to be released on black's position; he was not sure it was great but something had to be tried. He advanced a queenside pawn again. Antim delightedly moved the knight that had been pinned down against the edge of the board in response, hope starting to come to him. Sekar offered a bishop exchange, finally moving his last uncommitted minor piece from the back rank himself; the scribe considered it but having finally freed up his own game was feeling over-confident about his chances and swung his other knight into the centre, glorying in threats he could finally make. [(15) Nc4 Bc5 (16) Qc2 Qe6 (17) b6 Na6 (18) Ba3 Nd5]
Sekar pounced. The dance had been fun but now it was time for the kill. He exchanged first a bishop each and then a pair of knights. After Antim's second recapture the barbarian chopped off the key king's pawn with his remaining knight. The little scribe looked at it in dismay – he could take the piece but his own knight was now exposed and his position was in tatters as the other white bishop which had lurked in the fianchetto for so long was poised to be rampant. It was so lost as to be worthless to even try to accept this continuation so he gambled one last time, taking a pawn with his own bishop to attack the white queen. Sekar was not fooled though and ignored this, taking a rook with check. Antim smiled and toppled his king, extending his hand. [(19) Bxc5 Nxc5 (20) Nxd5 cd (21) Nxe5 Bxa4 (22) Nxf7+ 1-0]
The spectators gave a polite round of applause and a couple of them looked at the large warrior oddly, surprised to see him overcome a regular player of theirs. Antim, though, felt he had come to know the large barbarian a little better through playing him and eagerly started to discuss the game they had played. Sekar, for his part, conceded they had both made mistakes and they attempted to find better plans for each of them. The guard captain walked away, looking thoughtful. They played a series of more casual games, splitting the wins, chatting as they did so. Antim discovered that he really liked the warrior, who had tales of far-off lands and adventures; Sekar warmed also to the scribe who was prone to funny little observations and seemed hungry for more than his current life of penmanship and spices. Finally, when Antim wistfully stated that he wished he could travel the realms with him, Sekar tilted his head and said “Well, why not? There is more to adventuring than swinging a sword – people need problems solved and most of what I do does not rely on steel of blade but steel of mind.” Antim's face lit up as he realised it was not just a pipe dream and he found himself nodding, speechless. He had seldom left Al-Rokh except in flights of fancy and yearned to be on the road more than he had realised.
They decided to set out the next day – Antim would gather his few belongings from the merchant's quarters and Sekar would fetch his supplies from the inn he was staying at. Temples frequently needed messages taken to remote places and merchants always needed packages delivered to other towns so there would be no shortage of small jobs to pay their way till larger things arose. As fate would have it though, no such intermediate work would be required. As they were about to part ways, the guard captain stepped out of the shadows, approaching them.
“I couldn't help overhearing your conversation – how would you like a small assignment?”
If anyone is interested, this is chapter 1/8, working on chapter 2 at moment. Only one of the other chapters (I think) will include a game, the rest will just be chess stories. I felt it was important to have a game between the two main characters to start. The actual game is from the Glasgow League and black was a 1738. Oh and each chapter will end with the first line of the next chapter.
Nice writing! Very interesting & entertaining!
Thanks, tin cup. Still struggling with chapter four at moment, I have the ideas, just how to do it on paper is the problem.