Monday, April 4, 2011
How the Game is Played
Vernon stared at the board. “How the dog-damned hell – oh, scat.” He knocked his king over, acknowledging defeat. “That’s three in a row for you. How the hell do you do it?”
“Is easy.” Sergei spoke as one stating a fact, without any ego or smugness. He was a graceful winner; Vernon had to hand it to him there. “You play like wolf.”
“I should hope so.”
“No. In your strategy. Look here.” He indicated the board. “Your attacks are all the same. Clump all the pieces in flank attack, like wolf pack, to bring down the prey.” He indicated the mass of Vernon’s chess pieces still on the board, arranged in a circle closing in on Sergei’s king. His own king lay where it had fallen in battle, right at the forefront. “You don’t protect your king. You use king to lead the charge, like alpha wolf. You persist in putting your key piece in danger.”
“You’re right,” Vernon admitted with a rueful shake of his gray-maned head. “I know the rules, I know the intent, but instincts die hard in us old mutts.”
Sergei nodded. “This leaves you vulnerable to sneak attack. The tiger hunts alone. He prowls the perimeter, slips through defenses, stalks his prey for quick, telling strike. Or her prey.” He tapped his queen, which had slipped up on Vernon’s king while Vernon concentrated on his frontal assault. Vernon’s own pack of pieces had blocked any hope of his king’s escape. “You need to use queen more. The queen is most powerful piece, and deadliest. Like tigress.”
Vernon chuckled. “Married, are you?”
Sergei lost his hint of a smile. “Not for many years. She passed long ago.”
“Yeah. Mine too. You have cubs?”
The tiger didn’t answer right away. That in itself was answer enough. “My sister has kits,” he said at last. “They bring me joy.”
“You’re lucky. My son was and is a stone pain in the tail. At least the grandkids turned out all right. I’m here in town to see them. What about the cat over there? He with you?”
Sergei glanced over his shoulder to where Vernon nodded, and spotted Guri on a park bench, chatting up a young she-cougar. His faint smile returned. “That one is employee. I take him on as favor to his sire. He – how do the humans put it? He keeps me on my paw-pads.”
“He keeps you on your toes, you mean.”
Vernon cleared the board. “I won’t be seeing the kids until tonight. You have time for another game?”
Sergei shrugged. “The sun is warm, and Guri will appreciate the opportunity. We can play again, if you promise to learn from your mistakes.”
“You’re on. You don’t get to be my age in a wolf pack without learning a few tricks.”
Vernon had learned a lot of tricks since his back-biter son had driven him off and taken over the pack. He’d had a good second life in exile, but he hadn’t forgotten Talbot’s Peak. When word reached him of Shere Khan’s machinations, he knew he couldn’t simply curl up with his tail over his nose and ignore it. This was Hancock territory. If Damien couldn’t hang onto it, it was up to Vernon to see it didn’t fall into some tiger’s stripy claws.
Fortunately Dante had kept him up to speed all these years. No one, not Damien, not Shere Khan, knew Vernon Hancock had come home. They were about to learn the old gray wolf still had sharp teeth in his muzzle.
And you, he thought, smiling across the chess board at the white tiger, I know about you too, Sergei Andreovich. I know who you are and what you do. And now – he glanced at the chess board – I know how you fight and how you think.
Vernon set the last pawn in place. He grinned up at Sergei. “Your move.”
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Thanks to Savanna for posting yesterday and inspiring my take on the Old Gray Guy. I've also posted a fresh excerpt from BELONGING on the Title Magic blog, with a tasty photo I'm sure Serena will enjoy. Check it out at www.titlemagic.blogspot.com.
Posted by Pat C.