Chapter Fifty Three
BY AL BRUNO III
The library was crowded with the sounds of conversation. The fireplace was glowing embers and pale smoke. A pair of half emptied wine bottles were on the mantlepiece. Zeth did his best to ignore it all and keep his attention on the grid of squares and the slowly dwindling army of pieces before him.
It had just been a chess game, one of the several he and Bodivar had shared over the last few weeks but today they had drawn a crowd. First it had been just Hao and Warren. She had been promising to show him a certain book only to find herself distracted by the contest taking place. She had been surprised to see someone doing so well against Bodivar.
Then Bodivar had told her that his last four games with Zeth had ended in a draw and all Hell had broken loose. Hao had run out to get Jack and Roxanne, and Jack and Roxanne had run to the cellar to get a variety of cheeses and wines. Apparently Bodivar was the reigning chess champion at Laurel House.
Zeth stared at the patterns on the board, at the way the trajectories of the bishops and rooks intersected and- more importantly- how they might intersect. He moved a pawn, placing it certain peril but wasn't that what pawns were for?
That sounds like something Magwier would say... Zeth mused; but in truth Jason Magwier had never understood the value of a pawn. It was one of the reasons why he could be a lousy chess player and a worse friend.
After his latest game of chess with Bodivar had ended in another draw someone else had volunteered to match their skill against Zeth. This wasn't really the way Zeth had wanted to spend his evening but he saw it as a good enough way to try and gauge who the traitor in the house might be.
Someone in this room was going to betray Galen to the enemy, Magwier was sure of it but the question was who? There were no obvious suspects, after all each an every person in this room had blood on their hands.
Except for Warren of course... Warren was so harmless it was almost pitiful. It was the same situation with his sister and Angie- the three of them were little more than refugees. Sig worried Zeth but Magwier insisted the old man no longer mattered.
Zeth's first opponent after Bodivar was Jack Waterford, aka Henry de la Poer Beresford; he played an aggressive game of chess but his foolish blunders made quick work of him in the end. He ate and drank heavily as he played, paying more attention to palate than his strategy. Zeth had to wonder what could have driven this once-legendary man to go into hiding. There had been a time when Jack had terrorized the citizens of London and Liverpool, painting the town red in more ways than one.
Once he realized he was checkmated Jack laughed and gave Zeth a handshake. "Who's next?" Zeth had asked jokingly.
"Oh him definitely," Jack pushed Warren down into the chair.
"Do you know who to play chess?" Zeth asked as he reset the pieces.
The question left Warren sounding miffed, "I know how."
"All right then."
Their game was mercifully brief and Zeth realized that while Warren might know the rules of chess he didn't have the slightest idea of how to actually play or more importantly, win a game. By the time it was over Zeth almost felt guilty. "I haven't played in a while." Warren shrugged.
"I can tell."
After that Warren had refilled his wineglass and headed out to the solarium. It was Hao's turn at the board now. As she made her first move Roxanne began passing out expensive cigars.
Her game was more deft, her moves showed real forethought and anticipation but she was too cautious, afraid to sacrifice any of her pieces. Zeth knew her story of course, but he wasn't sure he believed it.
A half-breed Vlodek kept as a slave? That happened all the time.
But a half breed Vlodek taught the ways and mysteries of magic? That was preposterous. You didn't give the prisoners the floorplans to the jail and you certainly didn't give the damned the slightest scrap of hope.
There were stories told among the High Born Vlodek told of a woman called Oeil De Lune. A half-breed escapee that had stolen magic and bargained with the darkest powers so that she might have revenge on the ruling families. The stories say that Oeil De Lune used the dead as her assassins; filling their empty shells with the spirits of demons and Dread Lords.
An interesting story, but it was most likely just that, a story. And the woman playing chess with him couldn't be such a creature because she would have to be far older than she was admitting and covered with the most terrible scars.
Zeth didn't think that Warren would have the stomach to play house with a woman like that; he doubted Warren could work his way past the Missionary Position without a diagram or two.
Once Hao lost her queen she was checkmated in a matter of five moves. She was grinning at her defeat, "You're an amazing player."
"I've had lots of practice," Zeth said. He had to admit that he was starting to enjoy himself, "I think I'll take one of those cigars."
His last opponent of the night was Roxanne Lunt- former oracle and courtesan. Her moves were fast and brutal, Zeth lost two pawns and a knight before he knew what was happening. As he scrambled to mount his defenses he had to wonder if she still might be a bit of an oracle after all.
Roxanne had a beautiful face, skin like cream, eyes that glittered and a smile that could made a thousand propositions. Her beauty was all the more impressive because she was a large woman in a world that prized shallow features and painfully thin physiques. Her beauty and the Lunt fortune did her no good here and Zeth had to wonder if she had taken Jack as a lover out of attraction or the need for security.
A cry from the solarium interrupted Zeth's contemplations.
"You were a virgin?"
The room went quiet, then Hao started giggling. Jack swirled his wine in his glass, "My my my..."
Zeth moved his rook into place, readying another attack.
Roxanne grinned and shifted her bishop across the board, "Check."
Disbelief left him gaping. He had been expertly maneuvered - she had backed him into a corner without even breaking a sweat.
"Do you concede?"
Zeth studied the board for a few more moments before nodding. He offered her a hand to shake, her grip was warm, almost feverish. "How is it you're not the house champion?" he asked.
"You're easy to read," she jerked a thumb at Bodivar, "but not him. You never know what he's going to do."
Bodivar raised his glass in a toast, "I'm going to bed, that's what I'm going to do."
"I've got a nice hot bath with my name on it," Roxanne grabbed her lover's arm. "Come on, I need you to make some bubbles."
Jack stubbed out his cigar, "Duty calls."
Smiling after them, Hao wished Zeth a goodnight and made her way to the solarium. Alone in the library with the half empty board and the sounds of the fire Zeth pondered his next move. Would Galen join the Cause before everything came crashing down?
I'll kill him if I have to, Zeth thought. No matter what he is, no matter who he is. If we want to keep the Monarchs from using the Torweigs we should just make sure the information dies with him.