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En Passant

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One day Link visits her unannounced, and catches her at the crux of her weekly match with Sarathul the Scholar Mage. The wizened old man is gracious enough to take the time to explain to him the basic rules, after which he nods once and watches mutely from the sidelines. The battle is fierce and uncertain and long, but in the end a deft Ezlo's Gambit succeeds in snatching the key square for her final assault. She wins her second game to Sarathul's one, and Link joins the mage in polite applause and tea.

At sundown Sarathul departs with a creak and a groan, and she prepares to stash the board away in exchange for evening activities, but she catches his eye gleaming with that playful challenge she knows all too well. "Care for a match?" she offers with a smile, knowing already that he would accept with a quirk of the eyebrow to match the quirk at the corner of his mouth. He takes the seat opposite White, and she makes the first move into a long-lived rivalry.

At first, she expects to lord over him with knowledge and experience, libraries of classic strategies and turnabout plays at her disposal. But Link has a natural mind for games of war, and his eyes are keen to unravel her well-researched traps, throw her meticulous plots into disarray, right hand sweeping his Knight deftly out of danger and leveling a Bishop at her King's throat with the left.

"You don't play by the book," she pouts at him, and he merely grins at her in that charming-maddening way, so finally she abandons the books too and trusts her guidance to blind Wisdom.

She shouldn't be surprised but she is, to find the battlefield trends suddenly falling into focus before her eyes, to discover all the intentions and ruses that she never spotted while preoccupied by the set-up of her own perfect formations. Link plays simple yet unexpected, sneaking little Pawns through unwatched gaps in the front lines and up to her doorstep, where they turn on their heels and become ferocious warriors that massacre her ranks without mercy. She makes sure to put a quick stop to that once she learns his ploy, so he starts a new dance, luring out her forces one by one to be struck down in dark corners until her defenses are laid bare. This tactic was one more difficult to counter, so she learns to be quick-footed, and sharp-minded, and wry.

And he does have weaknesses, she discovers with secret delight when she wins her first game in a long while, for he does not plan his attack as far ahead, does not utilize all his pieces as evenly, does not sacrifice as willingly as she. Gradually she pushes back the tides until their tallies approach a stalemate tug-of-war, sometimes Courageous daring triumphant over Wisdom's prudence, sometimes Wisdom's insight penetrating Courage's follies.

First-frost falls and puts a halt to their contests, for winter is Wolfos season, and the villages cry for a Hero to defend their borders. On the white morning of his departure, she sneaks a kiss to him behind the stables and makes him promise to write for once. True to his promise like every other he's made, the Postman arrives two weeks later with an envelope containing a piece of clear amber and only a smatter of text: E2 to E4.

She doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, but finally composes herself, as well as the usual lengthy letter, and punctuates it with an indignant rebuttal: D7 to D6.

Thus continued their ever-most prolonged match, and each time Link sends a token of his travels - a dried flower, a polished stone, a local charm trinket from the village market - and a set of coordinates for her to mull and pace and stomp her feet over. In return, she pours out all her thoughts sweetly over parchment for him, ending with a vicious, vengeful play that she hopes would bring him some semblance of the same frustration he's wrought.

It is nearly spring when the final letter comes, bearing a delicate gold ring and a move that puts her in Check with his Knight neatly upon her remaining Rook. He arrives at the castle two days later, and she receives him with an impassive face and exactly as much ceremony as is required, then sends him off to his quarters without further ado.

The lackluster welcome throws the Hero off guard for once, and so he doesn't anticipate the Queen sweeping from behind his door to capture her Knight.

"Mate in one," she breathes in his ear, and he laughs long and hard and concedes her victory.