The Badb stared at the pieces that had been spread out on the table before her, her hand held to her chin. Rainald de Lasliez watched her, wondering what subtle strategies the Queen of Old Magic was considering at this moment. In many ways, he found her the most startling of their guests. Viviane du Lac was the most… human-looking of their Nightfolk guests. If one were to see her from a distance, one might think her simply a human, at least, until you got close enough to see her ears, and hands, as opposed to her husband, with his hair dark as soot, and his skin pale as milk. And even then, her eyes were the soft muted colors of humanity, not the strange, bright vivid colors of an Erl. But she was from an ancient house of high magic, one with a darker, more sinister reputation in the legends of the Free Cities than that of her husband’s. Who could know what such a person, who hid their mysterious nature behind a human face, was thinking?
Viviane nodded to herself, then glanced across the table at her husband. “Right, so… the little one shaped like a horse…”
“The Chariot,” said the Black Dragon.
She blinked. “It’s… a horse, though…”
“Yes,” said her husband with a nod. “But we call it the Chariot.” He gestured to another piece. “Just like we call the one that looks like a vase ‘the Vizier’. It’s simply… esches.”
“Okay,” said the Badb with a sigh. “The Chariot. How does it move again?”
“Straight line forward,” said Mansemat. “Until it hits the back row. Then it can move backwards, forwards, and side to side. And one diagonal.” He leaned forward. “We call it a ‘Grand Chariot’ then.”
Viviane gave a frustrated sigh. “Right. Simply esches.”
Mansemat coughed. “You know--I’m really not the best person for these sort of lessons,” he noted. “Nissy’s the family esches wizard.”
“First off, he’s not here,” she noted. “Secondly, I suspect I’ll find learning from you… more tolerable. I mean--my sister still holds a grudge over his magic lessons. And she’s been learning from me since then.”
“I have been meaning to ask about the screaming?” said Mansemat quietly.
“It’s frequently mutual,” said Viviane. “And an age-old tradition in House du Lac. We bond through shared terror.” She glanced over the board again. “Honestly--that’s one reason I’m bothering with this nonsense. Badbs used to be proud esches players. My grandmother used to be able to win games against Lord Abaddon, and King Orfiel. I don’t even know what the little… doggy pieces are…”
“The Lions,” stated Mansemat.
Viviane blinked, and then picked one up. “You’re kidding.”
Mansemat shook his head. “No, it’s supposed to be a lion.”
Viviane let loose a great sigh and buried her face in her arms. “I am never going to get this game. I’m going to wind up just like my mother--one of the Badbs who sucks at playing esches. And my witches will laugh at me behind my back, and say ‘well, she was good enough--but she couldn’t play esches worth a damn!’”
Mansemat blinked. “I thought you… admired your mother.”
“Oh, Elaine Blanchemaines was and remains the picture of my internal definition of ‘hardass’,” stated the Badb. “And that dates back before I even knew that ‘hardass’ was a word. But… well, she was kind of the family screwup before the whole thing with my aunts promoted her to Nemain. Tended to ignore lots of family traditions to do her own thing. I’m sort of hoping of being a more… stabilizing head of the house. Especially now that there’s more of a house for me to be head of.” Viviane sighed, and looked away from the board, only to blink. She turned to Rainald. “You’ve been here… a while, right?”
Rainald nodded. “Yes. I… was planning on asking you two to come… look at the enemy’s progress with its siege engines...”
Viviane nodded. “Right.” She raised an eyebrow. “You will say nothing of what you have heard here, understood?”
The Duke of Montalban gave a sweeping bow. “A son of the House of Lasliez’s word is his bond, Your Magnificence.”
“Good, good.” Viviane turned to Mansemat. “Why didn’t you mention this to me?”
“I thought you knew he was here,” answered Mansemat, rising from his chair.
“Well, I didn’t,” she answered. “You know how… intent on things I can be at times. I mean remember our wedding night…?”
“Not something I forget,” said Mansemat. He glanced at Rainald. “Though I would appreciate if you would. Or at least add it to the whole ‘say nothing’ matter…”