Dotty for Dúnedain
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Queen's Gambit: 1. Queen's Gambit
"I understand you play the game of chess."
It was not a question. The Steward looked politely at his Queen. Lady Arwen's face was smooth and motionless as a mask, with only her mouth changing, turning into a suggestion of a smile, wan and distant.
She had only been in the city for a short time and he had barely spoken to her. There were so many new and wonderful things now - a King had returned to Gondor and the White Tree blossomed again and the Eastern sky was a cool, cloudless blue - that somehow an Elven Queen seemed almost unexceptional. Whenever he encountered her, they exchanged polite formalities and she smiled softly, looking as though she were recollecting some ancient sadness. For some reason, he felt a wistful longing for his lady in such occasions, his mind wondering more acutely about how many days would pass until they met again.
"It is a game I enjoy playing, lady," he answered calmly. They were in the Queen's chambers, which had lain unused for long and whose mustiness was currently being dispelled by several ladies who had been made Maids of Honour to the Queen. At the moment, a young woman was painstakingly mending a faded old tapestry and another was at a cloth-swaddled side table, repainting a vase with the stern concentration of a master craftsman. Both had only muttered courteously when he had entered, answering the Queen's summons, and both had immediately returned to their work, looking somewhat annoyed at the interruption. Faramir felt, for some reason, vaguely proud of their dedication. Arwen herself was sitting at the main table, a book open in front of her, the apparatus of a scribe spread on the tabletop.
"Do sit down," she said, gesturing languidly towards the opposite chair. As the Steward sat at his appointed place, she began to calmly store her pens and inkwells in her writing box. "I hope I am not interfering with your duties, my Lord Steward?" she asked as she cleaned the nib of a goose quill before placing it neatly inside the cherry wood box.
"By no means, lady."
"That is reassuring," she said, snapping the lid of a metal inkwell. "I have been busying myself with this, as you can see, but a pastime is good on occasion, do you not agree?"
"I find them quite restful sometimes, lady."
She started gathering her papers with slow precision. "But if we are to entertain ourselves together - assuming you are of like mind, of course - I do think we should be less formal." Her translucent eyes were livelier than Faramir had ever seen them before. "I confess I am not quite used to being addressed as a Queen. In private, Arwen should suffice."
He felt some inexplicable discomfort, as though his chair had turned into cold rock. "Then we are both equally unused to our new titles. If I am to call you Arwen, then you must call me Faramir."
She smiled, a smile that did not reach her eyes. "If that is settled, will you play some chess with me?"
"It would be my pleasure, la---" He halted, his face assuming a contrite expression, before he smiled politely and carried on. "Arwen. I would be delighted."
"No more than I, I assure you." She turned to the woman - a girl no more than a score of years, Faramir could see now - who was working on the tapestry. "Turien, would you be so kind as to bring me my chess set?"
"Certainly, lady," the girl answered, though underneath the propriety, Faramir could detect a note of displeasure at being interrupted. He wondered if the Queen could feel it as well. Turien vanished into an inner chamber and Arwen turned back to him.
"I am quite fond of the game myself, and of this set, which was given to me. But of course, there were always more pressing matters..." Her voice trailed off. For a moment, their gazes were locked together and a fleeting understanding passed between them. Then the moment was
over and she averted her eyes, her face unreadable once more. Turien re-emerged from the inner chamber and slid up to her with a square box in her hands. Arwen took it adroitly and placed it nonchalantly on the table, pushing her other things aside.
When she opened it, he could not help but feel a little disappointed. Both board and pieces were plain and straightforward, made of dark and light wood. He supposed he had expected an Elven chess set to be more elaborate, somehow, more fanciful. He wondered secretly if that was what he had expected from an Elven Queen, too.
"You can have the Whites," she said evenly, placing the board in the middle of the table and beginning to arrange the black pieces on her side.
"I insist," she interrupted, cutting his protestations short. "I prefer the Blacks myself."
"Very well," he said. "Be it as you wish." He leaned forward to take
the Whites from the box and place them in the appropriate squares on
The double rows of pieces now stood facing each other, two disciplined armies ready to engage.
"Are you ready?" she asked, her fingers entwined, resting on her sliver of table.
He nodded civilly.
"Then let us have the Whites' opening."
He started with a straightforward central opening, moving his King's pawn two squares forward. Then he sat back to study his opponent, his mind beginning to grow dim to his surroundings. Arwen looked at the board for a moment, then her hand moved slowly, almost tiredly, towards her King's Rider, finally placing the horse-shaped piece in front of her Captain's pawn.
Then she smiled, another wan and distant smile - yet this time it reached her piercing eyes.
He had always liked the board. There was magic of a sort in its squares, in the metamorphosis of a humble pawn into a mighty Queen. There were pits and ladders and whirlwinds, all manner of traps and alliances confined within those small borders. When he was very young, he had first taken a glimpse at the mysteries of the board and had spent countless hours absorbing its secrets, looking at the images in dog-eared books as a traveller might look at the map of a distant land, full of promise and wonder. He had played countless games in his head, sometimes finding a consolation of sorts in those unfading pieces, the comforting abstraction of a chess problem. What should the Blacks do against a Four Pawns Attack? How can the Whites pin the black Rider?
Arwen, who was at the moment his adversary, to be ruthlessly treated as such, knew the board, and he felt a vague indignation, as one might feel upon finding an intruder in some personal, private place. For years now he had gone mostly unchallenged, not only because the importance of the things outside the board vastly outstripped that of the things within, but also because his victories were quick, easy and crushing. Right now, he was neither Steward nor plain Faramir, but the defender of the White King, pondering stratagems and moves, and he realised with the clarity of experience that this game would be neither quick nor easy.
Arwen kept her smile through each of her moves, looking like a tired lady who remains at the table out of sheer politeness. On the board, however, there was neither courtesy nor fatigue and her strategy shifted with the stealth of a cutpurse. A provocation into a trap in the central squares. A discreet taking of one of his Pawns, followed by a loss of one of her own, quiet like a pair of forgotten deaths. A fierce advance of her Rider, engaging his own, drawing up a line of Pawns like heavy pikemen. His mind moved on coolly, full of the empty calm that always came when he confronted the challenges of the board. The opening is to be played as though reading from a book, but the middle must be played as though by a conjurer. The master player is a strategist, not a tactician, for the tactician threatens, but the strategist threatens to threaten.
He moved his Queen's Captain into the fray, methodically considering moves and counter-moves in his mind, assessing them with the thorough calm of a scholar going over a pile of books. He was dimly aware of a ringing sound in the distance, like a peacock's cry, and of the ruffle of fabric somewhere inside the chamber. The pieces danced, going through the pitiless motions of the board. Arwen moved a Rider fiercely forward and his own was forced to retreat. Two lines of Pawns moved on like two armies who can do nothing but advance towards their doom. She forsook the heat of battle and forwarded a Captain, an oblique move, a spider spinning a web in a dark corner. He moved his Queen like a champion into a knot of Pawns and made another capture. She looked at him as he exiled her Pawn from the board mercilessly. Her smile deepened into something that was almost predatory as she moved her Rider to threaten his Queen.
"Are you feeling comfortable?"
"I beg your pardon?"
She carried on calmly as he tore his eyes away from his endangered Queen. "We have been playing for some time now. Would you like some refreshments, perhaps? A break?"
"Oh. It is most kind of you to ask, but there is nothing I require." He felt a dryness to his throat as he spoke. "Though, now that you have mentioned it, a drink would not be amiss, if there is a pitcher of water around."
"One can be fetched," Arwen said, and turned towards the window. "Ancaliel, would you do us the courtesy of fetching a pitcher of water and two cups? The Lord Steward and I wish to keep our heads clear and I am feeling a little thirsty myself."
Faramir followed Arwen's gaze and saw the two Maids had abandoned their tasks and had dragged their chairs next to the table. One of them - the vase-painter, he noticed - was getting up silently, one hand gathering up the folds of her skirts. Behind her companion's head, a golden sun hung in the sky like a threatening sword, burnishing the window panes. He smiled politely at the sitting girl and she lowered her eyes as in embarrassment. He had not noticed them, these two spectators of their game. Had he been so absorbed in the board? So concerned with ranks and files he had not noticed anything beyond that terrain of light and dark squares? He supposed so - it was a cool realisation, one that made him neither proud nor displeased.
"After all," the Queen went on, her tone almost melancholic, "we have been playing for nearly two hours now." One white hand fingered the sleeve of her dark blue gown.
"They say time is a fleeting commodity. Do you wish us to adjourn this match?"
She looked at him, her eyes still and unblinking. "Adjourn?" She repeated the word as though she were trying to remember its meaning. "I do apologise - it was inconsiderate of me to presume you would have the entire afternoon free. If you have other matters to attend to...."
Suddenly, he yearned to return to the game. It was not simply a matter of taking it to the end - now he felt he would be somehow cheated if they stopped. He did not understand why, only that the feeling was there, inescapable as a pebble inside a shoe.
"No, I apologise," he said, collected. "I did not wish to imply that I would like to stop."
Behind him there was a rustle of skirts and Ancaliel approached with a tray in her hands. In the summer light, the pewter and glass shone like polished silver.
"Place that on the table, please," Arwen said to the Maid, "and we'll help ourselves." She took one of the cups, filled it with water from the pitcher and slid it alongside the board. "There you go." She filled her own cup leisurely while he found himself wondering if it was customary for either Queens or high-born Elves to tip their own pitchers, and realising he knew the habits of neither.
"I seem to have misunderstood you," she said, before taking a sip from her cup. The water in his own cup was as cool and sharp as melted ice. "It appears neither of us wishes to stop," she added, placing her cup near the board; it towered over the forest of pieces.
"Then let us resume." She entwined her fingers once more, blankly awaiting his move.
He looked at the board, forgetting the eager eyes of their unexpected spectators, the oceanic glint of the sun on the water. In the board, his Queen was awaiting deliverance from the Black Rider that would move through his pawns and Captain like a ghost. He took his threatened piece and made it retreat, allowing the Blacks to push forward a Pawn.
There was much to be said about Pawns. They are the soul of the game, long-forgotten players said in the books. Each of them a Queen in potency. Each of them increasing in strength as the number of pieces diminishes. They moved ever forward, almost as though they were drowning men and the opposite side of the board were a shoreline in the middle distance. The humble Pawn could mate a King. Now one of Arwen's Pawns threatened not a King but a White Rider and he moved it back, retreating once again. He awaited her next move, considering her strategy; she was threatening to threaten, her vanguard hinting at an army amassing behind. She was making the Whites react rather than act, forcing him to cede rank after rank. Had she not opened with a provocation, attempting to push his Pawns forward? He had been too cautious, backing from a trap only to almost fall into another.
She pushed another Pawn forward and he felt a certain satisfaction in having deciphered part of her strategy. Or maybe was that part of it too - another Black deception hiding the truth behind the faceless soldiers of the board. He looked at her with the brevity of politeness and saw her face was still withdrawn, her chin resting pensively on one hand, her expression that of someone who is listening to a monotonous conversation and imagining herself someplace else. He wondered if that was another part of it - a chess face, another of the veils of the game, shimmering deceitful like thin ice.
Chess was a game of chance as much as of skill, his mind considered, somewhere in the distance, a chance taken on the blinking of an adversary, the trembling of a hand upon a piece. He was good at it not only because of skill in reading and considering and dissecting positions and moves, but also because the chances he took upon his opponent rarely went amiss. He was seldom wrong about the players behind the pieces, not because he read their minds, but because gestures, habits, sighs, were as tell-tale as lines of fire branded upon the board. He looked at hands holding Pawns and fingers drumming on the sides of tables and he knew that this one dreaded the loss of the Queen, and that one played Castles and Captains, and that other one enjoyed castling and decoys. He did not think of his father, for the only thing he wished to do with that bright bauble of pain was to keep it locked and unseen, but even his father's game yielded its clues through its overloading, intricate layers.
Arwen's game and manner, however, were no more readable than a blank page, a winter sky barren of colour. He had a feeling, quickly dismissed, that he was not playing against a flesh-and-blood adversary at all, but that the Queen was only a painted statue, looking at the board with wistful glazed eyes while the Black pieces moved forward by some mysterious clockwork, betraying nothing of their shifting strategies but their single-mindedness, moving forward, ever forward, into whatever breach.
He could see the life of his adversary, however, in the blinking of her eyes, the blue of a vein beating underneath white skin. He took a chance, because chances had to be taken, and moved a Pawn forward to capture one of hers. She looked at him serenely as he took the piece from the board and placed it alongside its brethren in their captivity. Then she resumed her study of the board, her face uncaring, unconcerned, the sun casting an eerie silver sheen upon her black hair. He awaited her next move with a player's subdued eagerness, wanting to know if his subtle gambit would pay off, if his reading of her came near the mark. She would, he supposed, move another piece to threaten his, battering at the defences on his King's side. The Castle would leave her vulnerable to his Rider, a Pawn provide weak weaponry against a few of his own. She would, his bet went, move her Rider to force the retreat of his Captain, driving his pieces further down the board. He suppressed a bitter smile when her hand moved forward to the Black piece, the Rider pushed forward. He let time trickle away a little before he moved his Captain out of harm's way, thinking as he awaited her move of what he should do to deflect her next attack, to push up the board towards the distant, unmoving Black King. She had let her Queen's side open even as she forced him to move his pieces to defend his battered King's side.
Her hand left its place upon the table once more and instead of another suggestion of threat, she moved her untouched Queen in a slash across the board, placing it in front of his own. She was proposing an exchange of Queens; and, almost as an afterthought, she had taken another of his Pawns.
He was going to lose. There was a moment in chess when you realised that; for him, that moment had never come often. For a single, solitary second, it was like an icy pit in his stomach. Then he took it and refined it, like a craftsman, voiding it of its holy terror. He was going to lose if he carried on like this. Now his realisation was pigeonholed, powerless like a painting inside a frame. He could consider it coolly.
Arwen's face hovered above the board like a slender moon. He tried once more to read it, to detect some hint, some clue, in the white above the Black Queen. He suspected he saw a deepening in her smile, a gleam buried in her pale eyes. He studied her expression furtively for as long as politeness allowed. There was something of an edge to her aloofness, like the glint of steel seen through a veil. He could discern her ruthlessness, her willingness to sacrifice whatever pieces to get his King. It was a necessary trait in chess. Those who compared the game to war were mistaken, the denizens of peace. In chess, only victory mattered. No price was too great, no sacrifice was too unbearable for the destruction of your adversary. It was a genteel and bloodless battle, but one fought without mercy or humanity.
And he enjoyed it. In those sixty-four squares, there was an almost secretive delight to the utter ruin of an adversary, like the predatory satisfaction of a cat playing with a mouse. Ignoring her Queen, he moved a Rider forward. He had to play not to uncover her strategy, but to vanquish it. As he looked up from the board, his eyes caught Arwen's for a moment, and her smile seemed to deepen fractionally, as though in anticipation.
In the next few moves, their Riders engaged in a whirlwind duel, facing each other across the board, playing hide and seek amidst forests of pawns. She was trying to make a double threat to his Queen, risking her Rider in front of his Captain. There was to be an inevitable sacrifice there. White Queen, Black Rider, White Captain, Black Queen, locked together in a mortal embrace in the depths of the board. It was Arwen's turn. She would strike at him with one of her pieces and doing so, she would lose it. She had no other path, and neither did he, as though every move upon the board had been written in some hidden book, long ago.
"It is rather hot in here, is it not?" the Queen said, facing the Steward from the other side of the table.
"Yes, quite," Faramir answered. He had undone his surcoat's top buttons, he noticed with some surprise. In the sweltering summers of Minas Tirith, he had rarely found heat unpleasant.
"Turien, would you kindly open a window for us?" Arwen refilled her cup as she spoke. The two Maids had continued watching the game and Ancaliel sat sheepishly on her chair, as though embarrassed for having abandoned her task so thoroughly. Beyond her the afternoon was the colour of fire. When Turien opened the window, the air remained as still as water forgotten in a basin.
"If you want to take your surcoat off," Arwen said offhandedly as she finished drinking, "feel free to do so."
Faramir felt a surge of embarrassment.
"Forgive me, I was distracted," he said hurriedly, "I did not wish to---"
"Appear impolite? By no means. I was sincere."
"Truthfully? Then I am glad for your offer." He slipped the black surcoat off carefully. He had never expected to be in his shirtsleeves in front of a Queen, as he had never expected to play a game of chess with one.
"Ancaliel, put his Lordship's surcoat on that chair over there," Arwen said, taking her cup once more. The girl rose silently to obey her mistress. As Faramir gave her the garment, the embroidered White Tree flared briefly in the light.
"Ready to continue, my friend?" Arwen was looking at him over the board once more, a hint of genteel eagerness on her face.
"I await your move," he said, allowing himself a brief smile.
When it came, the blow was swift and fell upon his Queen. Arwen moved her own Queen forward without the faintest trace of emotion or interest, as though she were merely adjusting her piece. Black toppled White coolly and the captive Queen joined her now-useless subjects in the exile outside the board. A Queen for a Queen; it seemed to be fair somehow, even if it was a brutal sort of fairness. He could afford to draw out the moment a little, to let Arwen wonder about who would avenge the fallen White Queen, who would smite down the Black Queen now that her mission was finished. It was said chess was like life, and it was true - the brief, bitter life of insects, born to breed and die in a day. He moved his Rider and the Black Queen was vanquished.
The other pieces engaged in battle again, the lines redrawn, refined. The more pieces one lost, the more powerful the remainder grew. All over the board, there were skirmishes, power plays sending ripples over the black and white squares. Their Riders duelled again, challenging each other from opposite sides of the board. Her other Rider remained still, guarding one of his Pawns like a merciless jailer.
"Check," she said smoothly after moving her Rider to hang over his King like a naked sword, while at the same time threatening his Castle.
Faramir was curiously unworried, looking blankly at his opponent. Anxiety was the reason behind many defeats, though that was a lesson not easily learned. In the past, his King had not often been put in check; but a check meant very little if it were not mate, the difference between a spark and a fire. He steered his King out of harm's way and made it threaten her Rider, the attacker now under siege. Away from that fight, his own Rider had been nearing the Black King, motionless and inscrutable behind his Pawns and his Captain. An unpleasant memory, still fresh and malevolent like poison, stirred in his mind; he suppressed it, for he did not wish to think of such things. Lying on his lap, his right hand twitched very briefly and then lay still again; he never noticed it.
It was a game of inevitable moves again. He could not protect his Castle, she could not halt the advance of his Rider. She took the White piece and he moved forward, towards her King.
"Check." As always when he played chess, his voice was devoid of satisfaction. When he had first learned the rules of chess, knowing of its surface but not of its essence, reading that one must always seek the moves that smote, he had assumed checking would be akin to other golden accomplishments of childhood, a feeling of fulfilment whose uncluttered delight he was yet to learn the adult world lacked. But when he had, eventually, first managed to put his opponent in check, he had realised not only its true importance, but also the lack of pride it offered. It was only a particular move upon the board. It might smite, but did not kill.
Arwen showed no emotion. She had seen it coming, no doubt, had prepared nets and whirlwinds of stratagems anticipating it. She looked at the board for a while, unblinking, then pushed her King forward in a mirror of his own move. The fates of the board, as always, had a sense of irony.
Time trickled by as Faramir contemplated the pieces. Time always slowed down as the number of pieces upon the board diminished, minutes swelling as dewdrops fattening on a twig. The world became limp, bled of colour, reduced to the implacable logic of Black and White. It was the land of the endgame, that kingdom of the cuckoo where Paws became Queens, a captured piece tipped a hard-fought balance, battles that were thought irrevocably lost were suddenly won.
He decided against saving his Rider and instead got rid of the affront of a passed Pawn aspiring at Queendom. The battle intensified, each ritual, polite move the unflinching blow of a subtle blade. Rider to Pawn. King to Rider. Rider to Rider. Captain to Rider. The board was a floating world, the eyot of advantage buffeted by its rocking waters. Strategies were conceived and used and discarded.
He saw Arwen's victory loom in the distance like one of her motionless Castles. She was trying to carve it upon the board with her Captain and her Castles and her monstrous regiment of Pawns and he was opposing her, resisting, seeking out her King, the two of them locked in the eternal and ruthless duel of the board. With each captured piece the end drew nearer. Quaint names from old books flashed through his mind, moves called things as curious and poetic as The Humble Servant Who Slays the King, Captain's Sacrifice, The Wind and the Fire.
This was it, he realised dully. This was the end. In the almost deserted board, the remainder of the Blacks faced the remainder of the Whites, locked in a mortal embrace. The Black King hid behind a pair of unmovable Pawns. And the White King had only a Captain for its defence, a Black Pawn and a Castle approaching fast. He knew what would happen next, as accurately as though he had just witnessed the moves. She could not checkmate his King. He could not reach hers, or put his own out of danger. She pushed forward her Castle, and the game was over, his King surrounded, undefeated but unable to move.
"Ah. We appeared to have reached a deadlock," Arwen said, looking uncurious at the board. She steepled her fingers underneath her chin and looked at the Steward. "I believe it is time to declare a draw."
"It appears to be the only possible course of action," he answered, taking one last look at the stalemated King, as though he were hoping against hope that the knot would disentangle itself. He raised his eyes towards his Queen. "I must thank you for a most excellent match. It was a great pleasure." His manner was solemn and polite.
"No, I am the one in your indebtedness," Arwen said courteously. "You were most kind for taking the time from your duties."
"There was no time taken, merely a welcome break. But now I must resume them." He rose from his chair and glanced towards the window, where the afternoon sun hung, the light dizzying him. He felt curiously weightless. Turien and Ancaliel were still sitting on their chairs, beginning to stir, seemingly reeling from the match. They both avoided his eyes and stood up, discreetly retreating to their initial places and abandoned tasks. For one glorious moment that afternoon they had seen a glimpse of all the board could be; Faramir did not begrudge them that wonder, even if it came at the momentary expense of their duties.
"Certainly. We all must." She cast an eye towards her Maids. "Turien, bring his Lordship his surcoat." Turien, walking back towards her corner of the room, halted and obeyed silently. Faramir took the proffered garment and slipped it on, feeling it heavy in the day's heat. Arwen had pulled the chess box towards her and was diligently returning the pieces to their places, King and Pawns lying side by side.
"And I must take my leave," Faramir said, fastening his buttons hurriedly. His mind was spinning beneath his collected demeanour, replaying the match as always, bitterly complaining about mistakes and lost chances.
Rider to Rider. His fingers halted over a button. No, he was not imagining it. He replayed the moves in his mind, seeing it all with a renewed clarity.
"I must insist that you call me Arwen," she said evenly.
"Very well. Arwen." He paused. "Rider to Rider."
She continued putting the pieces in the box. When she spoke, her voice was emotionless. "Yes?"
He hesitated for a moment, then decided it was impossible to go back. "You held my Pawn with your Rider for a long time. When you moved it, you took my Rider."
Her hands stopped and she looked at him, smiling. "The taking of pieces is hardly uncommon in chess, my friend."
"Not when it gives oneself the disadvantage," he said smoothly.
She raised one eyebrow fractionally. Her hand was holding one of her former Riders. "Indeed?"
The Steward felt a blush threatening to creep over his face. He struggled to maintain his confident demeanour and ploughed on. "When you took my Rider, you placed your Rider in reach of my Captain."
"Sacrifices are sometimes inevitable." There was the faintest hint of bitterness to her voice.
"That is true, but this sacrifice was hardly of the kind."
She looked back at the pieces again, resuming her task.
"I am not certain I understand your accusation," she said.
He was not certain he understood it himself. What was he saying? That she had cheated to give herself a disadvantage? No, what she had done had not been deceitful, merely strange. He knew not why she had done it, only that she had let the game drag into a stalemate when she could have made him resign. A subtle motion, but one he was quite certain of.
"It is no accusation," he said hurriedly. "It is merely..." His voice trailed off.
She looked back at him, her face blank once more, her eyes inquisitive.
"The King has been in the city today," she said. "Seeing how the rebuilding of what the Enemy destroyed is proceeding."
"Yes, he informed me."
She nodded slightly and her hands snapped the box shut.
"The world is... different now." Her voice sounded like a melancholic sigh. "There is much to do. So very much."
"There is, indeed," he said gravely.
One of her fingers was tracing patterns on the box’s lid.
"And we need loyal friends in this new world. We all need loyal friends."
Her pale gaze focused on him again, the flare of a lighthouse signalling to a ship. Full of an unspoken explanation.
"I see," he said softly.
"Do we understand each other, then?" she asked with a thin smile.
"Yes. Yes, I believe we do."
"I am glad to hear it." Her smile deepened. "I hope you will join me in a game again."
"It would be my pleasure."
"The next time you can have the Whites again, and the advantage of a Pawn."
As she looked at him, he was acutely aware of her authority, as evident as a single tree in an empty field. It was as though he could almost touch the weight of her wisdom and years, look through a keyhole at the glimmer of something ancient, a bright and remote eidolon. Then he spoke, and the moment was over.
"As you wish," he said.
"But Black will win in twenty moves," she added causally.
"I'm afraid that that is a wish I will have to avoid granting," he answered with undisguised good-humour.
When they next played it was, as Arwen had promised, with Faramir having the advantage of a Pawn; Black did win, but in twenty-eight moves.
Well, I told you Faramir would take his clothes off, and he did. Mind… please say your goodbyes to the gutter. And it seems our Queen has a trick or two up her sleeves, does it not? The rationale behind Arwen’s actions is right there in the text, but I wanted to - deliberately - keep it somewhat mysterious. In case anyone cares, the Alekhine Defence I mentioned in the summary is Arwen’s first move. The chess moves in this fic are loosely based in various Judith Polgar matches, particularly her match against Alexei Shirov in 1994; the chess problems Faramir considers are also real - minus the notation, that is, because Forsyth and Middle-Earth don’t mix. And I know that the Queen’s Gambit is never used in the board itself, but I think it is an appropriate title, considering what takes place outside the board.
A Note on the word Rider: My choice not to use the designation "Knight" is entirely due to chess-related reasons rather than the absence of such a word in the canon. I am well aware that there are knights in Middle-Earth (the first example that springs to my mind is the Knights of Dol Amroth). However, I think there are very
good reasons for this word not to be used in ME chess.
Historically (and I know the history of chess is controversial, but this is accurate as far as I am aware), what we call a Knight began life as a depiction of a war animal, period (eg, an elephant). It is generally thought that the Arabs introduced chess to Europe, and at that time the piece was called a war horse (in fact in my birth country the piece is called simply a Horse).
Therefore, historically, the name of the piece has been focused on the animal ridden rather than the position of the putative rider. The reasons why it's called a Knight in the English-speaking world could not be transferred easily to ME (for instance, in our world the printing press precedes the standardisation of chess rules in Europe, in 1475).
As such, I felt I could not call the piece in question a Knight, because for the vast majority of its history, the piece was not to be understood as representing a man-at-arms (which is the essential meaning of the word "knight"), but rather as a mount, such as an elephant or a horse.
Why then, did I choose Rider rather than Horse, given that there are a lot more real-life precedents for the former? Because, quite frankly, it would sound silly ("so, tell me again, how does the horse-shaped piece moves?") and because I felt Rider would be less confusing for Anglosphere readers.
Disclaimer: This fic contains the following paraphrases or direct citations of chess-related quotes:
"The opening is to be played as though reading from a book, but the middle must be played as though by a conjurer." - adapted from Spielmann
"The master player is a strategist, not a tactician, for the tactician threatens, but the strategist threatens to threaten." - adapted from Salman Rushdie's short story Courter, used to describe his character former GM Mecir. I don't know if Rushdie is in turn using someone else's words; if he is and someone knows the original author, please inform me and I will correct the attribution immediately
"They [the Pawns] are the soul of the game." - an almost direct quote from Philidor
"Each of them [each Pawn] a Queen in potency." - paraphrased from Mason
"Each of them [each Pawn] increasing in strength as the number of pieces diminishes." - paraphrased from Capablanca
“chess was like life” - an almost direct quote from Boris Spassky
“one must always seek the moves that smote” - evidently Faramir has been following Purdy’s advice
This fic also contains paraphrases or citations taken from the following books:
"that kindgom of the cuckoo" - from Clive Barker's Weaveworld
"The board was a floating world" - taken from the title of Kazuo Ishiguro's book An Artist of the Floating World
"The Humble Servant Who Slays The King" - title of a chess move in Amy Tan's book The Joy-Luck Club
“monstrous regiment of Pawns” comes from the title of Knox’s book, recently appropriated (and subverted) by Terry Pratchett in Monstrous Regiment.
I believe that is all. If someone can find another quote in the story, please inform me and I will add it to the disclaimer.
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