Cran Palto | Books | Raheem
The Chess Board




Chapter 26
The Chess Board

Even blurry work is work, and can be done well
if one is guided by love.

—The Bookbinder, a play by Carla Agnes

With the stones, Trion built a chess board. It was crude at first, and he promised himself he would make a better one as soon as he could. No one else knew that he had built it, as he kept everything in his workshop.

Agra alternated between going outside camp to forage and confining herself to the research desk, writing and learning, updating her maps.

Ipsena knew stones and produced a prodigious amount of blocks, slabs, and tiles. She crushed the leftovers into gravel and made cement, which she kept in small stone jars with wooden lids.

Trion noted how Yigars was thrilled to have Ipsena at the camp, and how he was eager to hunt to bring back fresh meat, and to help her carrying the stones. He decided to check on Vaega.

He found her in the kitchen storage room, organizing the shelves, moving things around.

“How are you?”

She stopped working and came to stand close to him. She looked at his eyes, then let her gaze travel down his body. She smiled and returned her eyes to his, a smile on her lips, more pronounced to the right. “I am suddenly much better.”

She took a small step forward and brought her hand to rest on his waist. Her mouth was level with his chest and she gave him a little peck right on the sternum. She looked up.

“Are you blushing?”

“I… I was not expecting that, is all.”

“You don’t mind?”

Trion smiled and brought his hands to cup her face, pinkies on her neck behind her ears. “I do not mind at all.”

She leaned forward to press her body against his, and arched her face up.

They kissed.

Trion’s mind forgot about everything, and time seemed to burn away in the moment as their mouths danced like flames. The fur wrapped around his waist and thighs could not stop his bulge. He knew Vaega felt it because she pressed against him insistently.

He closed the door.

When Yigars opened the door, Vaega was under Trion, eyes wild, mouth a rictus of ecstasy or pain. In an instant his face reddened and his features hardened. “Get off her!” He pulled Trion by the arms and shoulder and flung him aside.

“Yigars!” Vaega was on her feet. “What are you doing?”

She stood looking up at him, her fists at her sides.

Trion was picking himself up.

Yigars’ face turned pale, and he stood silently, then turned and left the kitchen.

Vaega followed him, walking just behind him. “Wait for me.”

As he walked, somewhat aimlessly toward the garden, he wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Vaega caught up with him and turned him around. “Why did you do that?”

“I thought he was hurting you. I thought, in that moment—”

She hugged him and held the hug, resting her head against his shoulder. “You tried to protect me.”

“I misunderstood.”

She stoked his back with her hands.

“I had a flashback, of Agra and the donkey.”

Vaega looked up at him. “You don’t have to say. I understand.”

Yigars’ tears fell on both of them. “I have to tell someone.”

Vaega held him close. “Please don’t tell me. I carry my own burdens.”

Yigars held her close until his breathing calmed and his eyes cleared.

“You should apologize to Trion,” Vaega said. “Here he comes.”

Trion was coming from his shed, holding some large thing in his arms, like a folding table. Yigars ran to him to help him.

“Let’s set this up by the fire,” Trion said.

“What is it?” Yigars asked.

“A chess board.”

Vaega was walking alongside them. “So that’s what you were working on in your shed.”

Trion smiled. “Yes, I thought it would be fun.”

They set up the table, legs in the dirt, as horizontal as they could. From a pouch at his waist, Trion brought out the pieces, and set them on the board. Emperor and empress in the middle, then a prophet on each side, and an assassin after that. In each corner, a commander. In front of them, eight fleet pieces. One player moved the red, the other the whites.

Trion pointed to the red empress. “In the imperial rule set, the king cannot be checked as long as the empress is still standing.”

Agra had come and Ipsena was on her way.

“Who wants to play first?” Trion asked.

“I want to learn,” Yigars said.

They sat on log ends facing one another and began to play. At first Trion showed him each piece and how they moved, how they could attack. Trion looked up at Trion with a confident smile and announced: “We have this game on Raheem! We call it by a different name.”

“Really? What do you call it?”

“The King of The Jungle.”

Yigars pointed at the emperor. “This is the cobra, deadly at a short range.” He moved his finger to the empress. “His mate is the panther. She hunts the whole jungle easily.”

Trion pointed at the prophet next to the empress. “What is this one called?”

Trion moved his finger across the remaining capital figures. “The bear, quick, strike without warning. Then the fox, who is cunning and jumps over others to bite.” He glanced at Agra, who was wincing. Yigars’ face acknowledged her before he returned his attention to the board. “The timber wolf, greatest of the wolves, guardian of the northern forests.”

He paused, as if some memory had been stirred.

“In front, these are the chinchillas, who can fight if pressed but are there to block the larger predators.”

With Ipsena, Agra, and Vaega as an audience, Trion and Yigars began moving pieces. Trion made no sound as he played, but Yigars commented on his moves as someone describing the animals. “The fox leaps, the chinchilla burrows forward, the timberwolf devours your chinchilla.”

Trion won.

Vaega was the first to notice that when Trion’s empress knocked down Yigars’ cobra, ending the game, Yigars’ attitude changed.

“It wasn’t fair.” Yigars’ voice was hard.

“What do you mean?” Trion asked, not having noticed the change. He began putting the pieces away.

Yigars glanced at Ipsena, who was looking at Trion. Yigars’ face was flushed, as though anger was growing out of embarrassment. “You were teaching me. You should have let me win.”

“I think you already knew how to play,” Trion replied.

He was collecting the pieces in a small leather pouch and didn’t notice Yigars’ fist until it was too late.

With a great cry, Yigars punched Trion between the eyes, his fist connecting at the top of Trion’s nose with a crunch and a splatter of blood.

Trion fell backward, both surprised and stunned, and then brought his hands to his nose, from which blood dripped into his hands and down his forearms.

Ipsena rushed forward and tackled Yigars to the ground, where she held him.

Agra stepped up to help her but there was no need. Yigars had gone still.

Vaega rushed to Trion and helped him sit up, then stand. She led him to the infirmary, holding him up and guiding him.

The chess pieces and board were scattered on the ground.

Yigars opened his eyes. Ipsena’s face was just in front of his, staring down at him. “Stay,” she said sternly. His cheeks were red and his eyes darted this way and that. “Stay and be good.” Ipsena continued, still holding him. He strained to get up, but she held him firm. She whispered. “Stay, stay. Be good. Be good.”

At last, Yigars relaxed, and Ipsena hugged him.

Still standing next to them, Agra saw how Ipsena had calmed Yigars. She turned and walked to the infirmary. On the way, she pondered whether she would have been able to calm Yigars, and realized she would not. This soured her mood and saddened her heart. She helped Vaega tend to Trion’s nose.

“Thankfully, it’s not broken,” Vaega said, “but you will have some bruising. I recommend you rest while it heals. We don’t want it to get infected.”

Trion grunted and laid back on the bed.

Vaega turned to Agra. “How is Yigars?”

Agra let her disappointment show on her face. “He’s calm again, thanks to Ipsena.”

In the cabin that night, no one spoke, and they all slept in their own beds.

Next chapter: The Love Affair

Subscribe to the mailing list to get alerts when new episodes are added.