She entered the rose garden, and found a man sitting at a stone gaming table. His agile hands manipulated the pieces into precise alignment. With a gracious ease, he swiftly offered her a chair, and then he took his seat. The board and its marble pieces shone. The gentleman addressed her. “Have you played this game before?”
“I am somewhat familiar. Do you play this game, often? She spoke softly, but with an unmistakable curiosity.
“I have played all my life.” His words fell casually and with a sultry boredom upon her ears, while the intensity of his eyes struck her anew. There was something predatory in them, like the eyes of a hawk. The dichotomy was visceral. Her heart began to pound, even while blood flushed her cheeks. He smiled slowly, almost sarcastically.
“Do you still enjoy the game, then?” She asked. Still speaking quietly, he was taken by her bold question. He seemed to hesitate, tasting the air – as if searching for the proper words.
“I am fond of playing. Most especially, when I have such lovely company.” He fixed her with those eyes. Like a butterfly pinned to velvet, she struggled to comprehend her plight. The game had already begun.
She had never been one for games of strategy, but she liked to try her mind at it. This man was obviously a worthy adversary. At the very least, she might learn something.
“Shall we begin then?” He raised a smug eyebrow, enticing her.
“It is customary that white make the first move.” She only just realized, he was waiting on her. Her blush deepened.
“Of course.” She moved a center pawn two spaces forward. He mirrored her with one of his own. She watched his expression all the while. Still and beneficent, neither encouraging nor discouraging her. She moved another pawn, and he moved the opposing piece the same. His face revealed nothing, but those eyes watched her with great attention. The next few moves, and it seemed the tension grew heavier, as he continued to match her. She bit her lower lip. His mouth fell open slightly, and shut abruptly, as he stared intently at her. He played his knight.
It appeared off-hand, but she knew that particular piece was rather wily and unpredictable. The knight never seems to strike directly. She hummed unconsciously and paused for a moment. He raised a questioning brow.
“You think me bold now?”
“Hmmm?” She responded, fixing her eyes upon the game.
“We were just getting somewhere, and you hesitate so soon…” He finished. her brow furrowed gently.
“Curiouser, and curiouser…I find your choices of characters peculiar.” She finally gave him her eyes. His were like sunlight through amber.
“I puzzle you.” He stated simply.
“You intrigue me.” Her response was slow and deliberate. She tore her eyes away, and focused them on the board again. She chose a bishop. He took her from behind a few moves later. He took a few of her pawns as well. She began to lose heart. He was steadily marching his army upon her side of the field. Where he had mostly played in defense, now he began an offensive assault. He played his rooks, and then ushered out his queen.
No words were spoken, but as he took her army hostage one by one, a chase ensued. No matter where she thought her queen was safe, he followed. Two moves away from capture, the girl was forced to move her queen again. He wasn’t targeting her king at all. He was playing with her. She sighed, and stilled the game.
“I’m afraid you’re just teasing me now.”
“Oh, no. What would make you think that?” He smiled at her now, bearing his incisors. The sarcastic cascade and dryness of it, caught her. Perhaps, this was all very boring to him. She had the impression of what it was to be a small bird stalked by a large house-cat.
Some part of her understood that at any time, she could just tip her king, and that would be the end of it. Her intuition told her, she had finally realized, this mere gentleman was a master. She knew herself in that moment, and understood something very clearly. She began to smile.
She decided to let him have her queen. He ravished her. But it wasn’t her king after all. Then she began to offer him all her pieces, one by one in order of rank. Deliberately, she feigned a strategy of meager assault, followed by a hasty retreat. He miscalculated, to her advantage. It began when he mistook her for a novice.
She was down to two knights and a single pawn. The knights guarded her king, while her pawn snuck stealthily behind enemy ranks. The gentleman retained most of his army, minus a handful of sacrificial pawns, and a bishop for good measure. He was sure he had her. He was dancing circles around her king, when he let her pawn touch his end of the board. He started. She smiled still.
“I’ll have my queen back, if you would be so kind.” The gentleman acquiesced, still pondering how he’d let that one slip by his attention. “Thank you, and thank you for the game.” The girl in a wide brim sun hat and white lace shawl gazed up at the sun. For a moment she seemed to drink in the rays, then she tipped her king. “It has been a pleasure.”
“Somewhat anticlimactic, really.” The man said.
“It’s all in how you perceive it.” The Lady smiled at him, got up, and began to wander among the roses.