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Prologue
Chapter 1
Interlude 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

 

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“Yeah, he can’t be beat unless you don’t watch what you’re doing and make a dumb move.”

“No.  What piece is more valuable than the wolf?”

“Ah, the palace, but it can't move.  It can only capture a piece right in front of it.”

“Leave your palace where it belongs and place your wolf right here.”  Endvar placed the red wolf diagonally in front of the red palace.

“Now I take my ambassador...”

“I don’t like those, Papa.”

“Why not?”  He sounded slightly hurt.

“You can’t do much with them.  I mean they can only make that funny move.”

Endvar frowned.  “Well, it all depends on how you use it.  Watch.”  He took the ambassador -- an image of a skinny bald man dressed in a dignitary’s robe -- and placed to the right of Talon’s palace and wolf.

At first Talon didn’t understand the importance of this.  Then he saw it in a flash.  “Oh,” he said almost laughing himself off his seat.  “The ambassador can get both the wolf and the palace.  OK, OK, I have to save my palace or loose the game, right?  So I have to sacrifice my wolf?”

Endvar smiled, which was a rare sight for him since he was beginning to loose his teeth and felt ashamed.  “You learn quickly, young Talon, maybe you’ll be a ambassador like me yet.”

“Uh ... yeah.  Sorry, Papa.  I think you’re great and all, but I don’t really like ambassadors.”  He looked up at the kind old man before him and corrected himself, “... eh ... ambassadors other than you, I mean.”

“Well, we ambassadors might teach you something yet, young man.  That move I just showed you is called the Shú-mún move, named after a famous ambassador that became king by using a move like this in real life.  I knew Shú-mún, you know.”

“Uh huh.”  Talon busied himself with setting up the pieces for a game.  He wanted to see if he could get his papa in a Shú-mún.

“Shumun came from the Huanan Kingdom and...”

“Uh huh.”  Endvar looked up and saw that Talon, who had already set up the pieces for a new game, was more interested in playing the game than learning the history of ambassadors, however much it interested the old man.

So the game began.  Endvar played easy at first allowing the novice to get the upper hand, but had to quickly reverse his tactics because, although Talon still tended to think one move ahead, he was fairly good.  In the end Talon won with only a couple of pieces left.  Gathering up the pieces, Talon asked, “Papa, how did you and grandma meet?”

The old man stopped collecting pieces and looked blankly towards Berea.  He said nothing for a long time but just watched the last rays slide behind the mountains.  Talon began wondering if his papa was getting too old and couldn’t hear.

Then with a voice that made him sound very far away, the old man replied, “Well,” and then said nothing for a very long time again.  Talon looked down at the pieces left on the board.  No, he still wasn’t able to make the Shú-mún move in this game, maybe the next.

Finally, the old man spoke.  “It was here in Selma.  I was settling a dispute with the desert people...” turning to his grandson to make sure he understood the geography, “the plains on the southern border of the Andril Region...”

Talon nodded.  “Papa, everybody knows about the desert.”  Then with eyebrows knitted and in the best grown-up voice he could muster he continued, “That’s where the Salmonil live, the horse people.”  He wanted to show his grandpa he knew a lot about the Salmonil.  In fact, he knew very little.

Endvar nodded and continued his narrative.  “Over the last twenty generations or so, they’ve developed a reputation as ruthless hunters and marksmen archers.  In the old days, they were content to live lives as herders.  Their lives centered around the hay-hochi.  But when I was a young man, they started raiding the border and slaughtered whole villages.” 

Grandpa looked very hard at him.  “Do you know why,” he asked.

“Well, they’re just ... just born that way.  They’re evil.  They burn their faces with hot coals, and eat their prisoners.” 

 

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