“So what if I move this… here?” asked Jean, placing the game piece on a red square.
Alecto shook her head. “You cannot do that. It is an illegal move. A Dragon may never end its move on a square of the same color as it started on.”
“Ah,” said Jean with a nod. “So I can move it here?” She placed the Dragon on the black square to the left of her original choice.
“Yes, but it would be unwise,” said Alecto calmly.
Jean looked the board over, intrigued. “Why exactly?”
Alecto took the Dragon with her left Elephant. “That’s why. Check.” She regarded the apprentice. “I am now one move from checkmate.”
“Shit! Shit!” cawed Hoppedance.
“Ah. I see,” declared Jean sagaciously.
“Esches is a difficult game to master,” declared Alecto sympathetically. “I myself have been studying under Madame for many years.”
Jean nodded. “Well, it certainly shows.” She glanced at Justinian. “Doesn’t it, Sigma?”
Sigma remained ramrod stiff, eyes closed, while Ate massaged his feet and Ops massaged his shoulders. His lips moved quietly. Ate shook her head. “He’s so--tense! This cannot be healthy.”
“He must need more assistance,” Jean declared cheerfully. “Rhea! Why don’t you apply a cool compress to his overheated brow!”
Ops leaned over him, frowning. “He seems to be muttering something under his breath.”
“He’s praising his good luck,” said Jean, moving her right Lion before the Elephant.
Tisiphone stopped playing her lute. “Actually--it sounds rather like the Canticle In Praise of Chastity…”
Alecto took the Lion with her left Gryphon. “Checkmate.” She glanced at the two girls caressing Justinian. “Please leave off. It appears the client doesn’t desire to be treated this way.”
“Hey, I desire it!” said Jean.
“Bugger the bastard!” cried Hoppedance.
Alecto leaned back in her chair. “Miss Crow, this is a social house. It is a point of pride with us that our clients enjoy their time here.”
Jean crossed her arms. “Spoilsports.”
“I am sorry for this, Master Sigma,” Alecto said, glancing at the young Sacristan. “Believe me, sir, if I had known earlier, it would have ended.” She frowned. “Why didn’t you mention something?”
“Didn’t--want--to be… rude,” muttered Justinian. He shook his head. “A Sacristan must always show courtesy to a lady.”
Alecto gave a bow. “Your manners do you credit.”
Jean frowned. “What--I don’t count somehow?”
“That is correct,” said Justinian.
Jean looked away. “I’d be careful if I were you,” she said with a scowl. “I’m getting up to curses.”
“If your aptitude for sorcery in any way resembles your skill at that game, I shall take my chances.” A sound of doorway opening made Justinian turn around hopefully. Sure enough, Nisrioch Cthonique and Madame Armida emerged into the house’s common room.
“…of course, House Ashurana is out, and House Utgardi is headed by an exceptionally strait-laced woman,” said the Dark Lord cheerfully. “Which would make your choices House Regni, and House Maganza.”
“House Regni it is then,” declared Armida. “I had my share of Lord Asterot four years ago.”
“We all had our share of him four years ago. And yet the man persists.” Nisrioch took out his watch, and sighed. “Well, I really must be heading out.” He grinned. “I’ll send some carriages to pick you up in a few hours.”
Armida nodded. “I’ll go prepare.”
Nisrioch watched her leave, then turned to Jean and Justinian. “Well, you’ve both been very patient. Kudos!”
Justinian bowed. “Your Excellency, I have a request.”
“Yes?” asked Nisrioch with a nod.
“When we return to Castle Terribel, may I be free to take a lengthy cold bath?”
Nisrioch frowned. “How lengthy?”
“Several hours,” replied Justinian promptly.
The Dark Lord considered things for a moment. “I find the request highly amusing, so consider it granted.”
“Thank you, Your Excellency,” said Justinian. “It’s nice to know that I can trust in your--unique sense of humor to grant me the occasional favor.”
Nisrioch nodded. “Yes. I’m quite fantastic like that.”