The Sleepwar Saga
A teaser for Book 2 of the YA series.
The woman stared at the series of chess boards in front of her. Her slender hand perched delicately at the edge of the table, twitching in the direction of the board at the least advanced stage of play.
It was a game just begun, pregnant with possibilities, and it made the woman tingle inside as the various futures stretched out in front of her inside her mind. Branching out like an Alabama family tree, full of intertwining connections and a few gnarled outcroppings that led to nothing but disaster.
But that was not to say that she ignored the other boards. Oh no. Each was vital to her interests, the focus of all of her attention, and had been for far longer than she cared to admit.
In this time and place, the woman generally went by the nondescript pseudonym of ‘Ms White’. She hadn’t bothered to think of a forename, because no one she conversed with had any need to call her by anything other than the respectful nomenclature she gave out to them.
Only one person used her given name. Only one knew it. And that is because the two of them had the kind of shared history that was quite literally legendary.
A topic for another time, however. The woman fingered the intricately carved white queen piece on the board in front of her, licking her lips as she contemplated her next move. It was not her turn, that’s true, but at this early stage she had a good sense as to what her opponent was likely to choose as his opening gambit. That part of his behavior always had been predictable.
It was everything after that which gave her stomach ulcers.
Over to her right lay a string of boards in various states of play. Some she was winning; some she was losing. The latter always hurt, of course, but after such a very lengthy period playing chess with her opponent, losing was just one of those things that would happen.
It was simply up to her to make that be as infrequent an occurrence as she could.
Squinting, her brilliant blue crystal eyes narrowing to slits, she examined one piece in particular. There, at the opposite end of the board in front of her, was the target. The play piece that all of her efforts must be targeted to overcoming.
The red king. Tall, but not as tall as the queen. A crimson cross atop its wooden form, representing a royal crown. It made the woman almost want to laugh. Royal? He wished.
Red, though. Appropriate. Representative of all the blood shed between the two of them over the years. Somehow, the two players always had preferred the white-and-red configuration over what had come to be the chess standard of white vs black. She wasn’t sure why; it had always just seemed right.
The red knight twitched of its own accord, and the woman leaned eagerly in, eyes sparkling in anticipation of her opponent’s move. The movement ceased however, the man masterminding the red chess pieces apparently having a change of heart.
Like he had a heart.
Of course, many through the years had accused her of exactly the same thing. At times, it appeared that she threw her own pieces away in disregard, thoughtlessly wasting them in pursuit of some goal other than winning the match.
And you know what? That just might be true in the end. It was not about winning an individual game, after all. No, not for her at least. Once she had accepted that losses were simply a part of playing (an all-too-frequent part, she grumbled) a new strategy had emerged in a brilliant flash of inspiration.
A bigger goal was at stake. Had been for the longest time now. And on occasion, it was necessary to sacrifice not only some pieces but entire boards in pursuit of that grander prize.
Such might be the case with the board in front of her now, but she hoped not. The game was in its beginning stages, and there was so much that could happen there that she was almost wet with anticipation of the delights in store up ahead.
Out of the corner of her eye, though, the woman could not help but see some of the abandoned games that lay to her left. She had shoved several small tables up against the wall, the pieces toppled over from the repositioning. They were games that had finished, many of which she had lost.
But not all. One in particular caught her eye at that moment. Amid a cluster of boards with her own white queen captured by the red enemy, she saw a glorious example of victory.
It was only a few weeks old by now, but the woman still felt the glow of success suffusing her slender frame. That had been one of her best efforts of late, and the surviving pieces on her side – the white side – had been moved over to one of the active boards in the middle of the room here. She forgot which one, honestly – did it matter, after all? – but those particular pawns had been well-chosen and the woman did not want to waste a single one.
They had to stay together, of course. The success of that particular game had been in the grouping of those six pawns specifically. It was vital to the bigger picture she was painting that they remain on the same board every time they were involved in one of her chess games.
Naturally it was far too early to say that this grouping was ‘unbeatable’. A casual observer might easily come to the conclusion that those six pawns had only scraped their way to the other side of the board through luck and by the skin of their teeth.
To someone who could see the bigger picture, however (as both she and her slippery opponent could) a different conclusion was inescapable. That the woman had stumbled onto something special here, and if her luck held she might be able to score a few more wins by including the pieces among her retinue.
Unfortunately, a few of the discarded game boards taunted her with their display of defeat. Some of what she had been trying to accomplish with those games had been vital to her ultimate goal, and it rankled that she must now find an alternative (and necessarily lesser) means to accomplish it.
The game in front of her, though, may just be key to that ultimate success. If it played out the way that she hoped, a powerful tool would be in her grasp. An important (if physically small) chess piece she was escorting, was nurturing, could have the ability to turn the tide during the battle on a much grander game board not too far in the future.
She tapped the white queen’s base against the chess board restlessly, waiting for the enemy’s move. What was he waiting for? He didn’t usually take this long to respond during the opening moves. Was there something she didn’t know about? Something that had happened that would alter the way this game would play out?
Almost as if she had caused it by her sudden worry, the door to her large drawing room opened and a footman barged in unannounced.
“What is it?” Her tone was harsh despite her buttery voice, as she feared the worst from this unexpected intrusion.
“My apologies, My Lady,” the young man groveled, his head bowed nearly to the floor. She was surprised to see droplets of sweat fall from his forehead to touch the creamy carpet before he straightened back up.
She frowned. She’d have to get that cleaned now.
In exasperation, the woman finally blurted out after several seconds of awkward silence: “Your news?”
As though his collar were too tight, the footman tugged at it subconsciously, searching for the right words (or the right tone) to use with his mistress. “It’s about the boy, ma’am.”
She scowled, on the verge of asking what boy the man was referring to, when all of a sudden she straightened in shock.
He couldn’t mean…
Anxious, the woman stared intently at the board in front of her. No, there the piece was: exactly where she had left it.
And yet, something about it looked off. Reaching out gingerly, she tested a theory. Sure enough, she was unable to touch the piece now. Unable to affect it.
True, it was not yet her turn to move, but she ought to be able to at least grasp the piece, to examine it. To weigh it. To contemplate her move with it.
But it was too late. Somehow it had gotten out of her control. Not taken by the enemy – not yet, at any rate – but it was out there in the middle of the board, open to attack.
And utterly useless.
“How?” Her words were sharp and chilling, and the footman trembled under their force.
“I… It is unclear at the moment, My Lady. We are, er, looking into it however.”
The icy stare she shot the man would have slain most. “Look harder.”
Bowing again, the man made a rapid retreat.
In her high-backed chair, the woman flared her nostrils as she examined the game board anew. This was an unexpected and highly unwelcome development. The red king, sitting there on his white square safe and secure at the end of the board, somehow managed to look intolerably smug at the recent events.
Almost as soon as the footman had left her presence, the woman saw one of the red pieces finally make its move. A knight, skipping over several other pieces to make its advance. Closing in on the little white piece unsecured in the center of the board.
He thought he could take the piece, didn’t he? Thought things had played right into his hands? Well, that’s where he was wrong.
As though they lit up from within, the six white pawns on the right side of the woman’s game board shone in her sight. The pieces she had saved from the other board, she realized. Her latest weapons, fresh but full of potential.
And quite possibly her only hope to defeat the red king on this particular board. True, there were other games in play, other chances to defeat her opponent. But this one was vital right now, was the woman’s only chance to recapture the ability to win at her long game.
Nervous, but with a confident smile, she lay her delicate fingers on one of the pawns. Her hero for this particular match.
Andy. That was this one’s name. Andy Flashman.
The game was afoot.