Monday, January 31, 2011

Grimmer Fairy Tales-- Part the Twelfth

Two dusty thrones sat in the stale great all, untouched by human hands for over a decade. Catalena could scarcely make out their silhouettes despite the roaring fire in the enormous fireplace, flames barely illuminating a small portion of the grand room. What was unmistakable as the guards brought her in was the prince sitting at a table by the fire, the chess game before him and a rough wooden block stained ebony with time and blood several feet away.
"I was eager to finish our game until I discovered something quite disappointing," the prince announced playfully as he leaned back in his chair, fingers laced together. Catalena carefully approached the table to get a better look at the board in order to ascertain his meaning. It took but a moment to see, the onyx pieces had the ivory king cornered in checkmate. "What a pity to have come so far only to fail in the end." Prince Dragos paused for a moment, his gaze flickering around the familiar room he had not seen since his parents' funeral. "This hall had borne witness to many things, served many purposes over the centuries. Coronations, knightings, funerals...executions."
The prince gave a subtle wave of his hand and a burly guard snatched Catalena, forcing her to kneel before the wooden block. A wave of terror consumed her as she faced the place where countless others breathed their last, their lives ended under the hangman's blade. Her beleaguered brain was having difficulty focusing through the horror, hunger and fatigue, but something was not right.
"Wait! The game is not over, Prince Dragos. You cheated."
A brief glimmer passed behind the prince's eyes as he observed the filthy yet determined face confronting him, the guard who was to be her executioner standing behind her, ready to strike.
"That is a dangerous accusation to make, Catalena."
"It is the truth. I can prove it."
The prince nodded to the guard who allowed the young woman to scramble to her feet. Catalena swiftly approached the table and studied the board, returning the ebony bishop placing her king in checkmate back to the square where it had been when they halted the game nearly a week ago.
"There. That is how we left it. If I lose, then so be it, but you must give me the opportunity to defend myself. I will not allow you to win through trickery and deceit."
The prince smiles as he motioned to the seat opposite which Catalena quickly occupied. He felt little emotion towards others as time went on, but now the warm sensation of admiration rose within him. No matter the outcome, she would fight to the last.
"I truly did not believe you were wise enough to discover my little deception. You have reopened the contest, but it was I who will raise the stakes."
The door nearest them burst open and Catalena stared wide-eyed as the guards ushered her father into the room. They kept a firm hold on the muscled blacksmith to prevent him from rushing to his distressed child, making it clear there was to be no contact between them for the time being.
"Father...," she gasped.
"You play for more than your life, Catalena. Now you place for your father's as well. This is the final battle of wits between us. Fail, and your entire family will be destroyed."
Catalena wanted to run to her father and throw her around around him, but she know that was impossible. She did the only thing she could, turning to study the chess board, her heart thundering under her ribs. Their lives hung in the balance, contingent on her next move. She had no choice but to best the angry prince at his own game.

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