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Gambits Part 1 - The White Pawn I

The First piece has been moved: The Game is on.

The White Pawn I

Captain William Royce woke with a drum beating in his head. He found himself sprawled out on of the benches inside the, now empty, tavern. Save for the dim light from the oil lantern on the table before him, the place was dark: it was still night. From the looks of the tavern now there was no sign of a party that led to a violent brawl earlier. As a city guard, it was his job to keep the peace. But William chuckled for he started the fight.

It was his thirty-second name day celebration, and what better place to celebrate then a friends tavern to get drunk. Neil had his handful with the patronage William brought him that night, but it was worth it to be sure. William knew Neil would be stingy and only give him "Free" drinks until he was drunk, which didn't take much. But he was also his best friend, so there was little cause to complain about the gift.

Though he didn't anticipate getting this drunk, fortunately, he had the next day off. When he picked up the oil lamp, he found a small vial with a tag attached to it carrying Niels initials. He knew what it was and after consuming it, the drums in his head quieted down.

Outside the day would be breaking soon, but he took the oil lamp anyways. He was unarmed and wanted something just in case someone was fool enough to attack him. Lately, there had been a strange increase in robberies, from sneaking into homes and taking jewels, or downright mugging in the middle of the street. Rumors, if they could be believed, were that there was a new candied treat out there that was changing people's attitudes.

William only had half a mind for those rumors, but the fact did still remain that the number of robberies in the city has increased over the last few months. Perhaps he should start carrying around his boot knife again, at least on the day's he wasn't in his armor and didn't wear his sword belt.

The city watchmen normally wore smoky-blue cloaks and armored in chain mail around their torsos, and double folded leather for their arms and legs. Fishermen would mock at them by calling them "sea whelps," as their uniform and armor had colored them in the colors of the sea. Only their half-helms and weapons were untouched by the coloring dyes, but it was no matter, the fishermen were too few to care about their mockery.

Their real name was, in fact, the Sky Cloaks, as their uniforms were supposed to resemble the sky. Perhaps on the signs of an early storm did they resemble the sky, but the fishermen were more accurate that they looked like the sea. The continent of Argolas was surrounded by a ring of smoke shooting out from the sea.

"I never understood why the city guard's uniform resembled the sea so much," Neil said when William first showed up to him wearing the Sky Cloak. "I mean the sea is miles away from the capital, and we can't even see the rings of smoke from here."

"It's supposed to resemble the sky you carrot headed drunk." William countered.

Neil was a stout man with passive green eyes, a crooked nose, freckles dotted all on his face and curly orange hair. The curly hair didn't stop at his head, though, one summer Neil had gotten drunk and removed his shirt to wrestle with a knight who boasted he could beat any man at the sport. The hair on his torso and arms was thick, and just as orange and curly as the ones on his head.

He had a rounded belly that showed muscles when he breathed and a chest and arms like a blacksmith. Neil had won the first match and even hustled the man out of a gold coin for a rematch. The second time he had locked the knight's head under his arm within a matter of seconds. Eventually, the man yielded defeat and, after getting his coin, Neil poured him a drink for which he charged full price.

"Besides, maybe they can't get the color of the dye to come out right."

"Whatever," Neil said pouring him a flagon of ale. "How about A round for the new city guard, on the house."

"I can only drink water when I'm on duty."

"Ahh piss on that!" Neil said after taking a deep gulp from the flagon. "You need more color in your life than blue!" He finished off the flagon and slammed it on the bar counter. "I know! I'll call you Blue Boy from `er on out. William Blue Boy, you like that name?"

Whether he liked it or not Neil would be calling him that for years until he became a captain of the City Watch. The captains and lord commander wore white uniforms with no signs of blue anywhere on them. It looked nicer, but as his betrothed told him it was much harder to clean out when it got dirty.

William was elevated to captain when he saved a noble lady, whose name he couldn't remember now, from a gang of rapists in the alley. They pulled her in there when she was fool enough to wander on her own at dusk, and gagged her with part of her own dress they tore off. Will had left his lance at the barracks, for his day was over, and he was going home; but he did have his short sword.

Fortunately for the lady, the alley she was pulled into was en route for William on his way home. He heard a muffled cry as he passed by and turned to see her distress. There were four of them, and he was alone, but only one was armed with a small knife. He killed the one with the knife, though not out of malice, the second and third he had beat bloody and bruised after sheathing his sword, and the fourth ran. It took him a while to find that fourth man, but it was off to the dungeons with him until it was time for their execution to be sentenced.

William knew that they would all be hanged for their crimes, but he didn't want to be the one to kill them. Taking another man’s life had never been easy for him, but he learned young that it was the way of the world sometimes.

After getting rid of the would-be-rapists, William escorted the lady back to her caravan. Lord Commander Albert Hathen raised him to the status of captain within a fortnight after his heroic rescue. It was mostly in part to the young woman’s lord father who felt William deserved a promotion for saving his maiden daughter.

Neil’s Tavern lay near the south end of Bulwark Street, just by the city center. Neil crafted a back entrance to allow the guards on patrol to pop in for a quick drink. The Sky Cloaks were among Neil’s largest patrons, the tavern was on prime location for this business, second only to the brothels hidden around Bulwark Street.

Sometimes the whores from these brothels would come into the tavern, walking around half naked, and steal away a few of the customers. Perhaps this was the reason William's betrothed, Katrina Danmur, disliked him going to Niels tavern. Or maybe it was because after he had become a captain they moved to a quieter part of Bulwark Street much further in the North West, and the tavern was a long walk away.

Katrina didn't like that he would go there, but Neil was one of his oldest and only friends, and since being engaged to her he only went there once a week. Another part of him liked walking down Bulwark Street, the fellow guards were almost like a family to him, and he felt safe walking down that street, strong and confident too.

But this night he didn't feel that way, he felt strangely uneasy as he made his way home down the street of the City Watch. Perhaps it was the dark sky that should be light by now, or the eerie silence, as his footsteps echoed down the street, the only sound around.

Something wasn't right, he knew right away. Bulwark Street shouldn't be this quiet, even so early as now. But it wasn't just the silence that was off... After walking for several more minutes, he finally realized what was right in front of him: darkness. The dawn may have been strangely late, but it was too dark tonight for this street.

The street lanterns should be lit, but they were all doused. He stopped to listen for footsteps or any other noises. After a long while of nothing, he continued ahead at a faster pace. There were no patrol guards around either, something was definitely going on.

As the first light of dawn finally came up over the horizon, to start lighting things up, William relaxed a little further and slowed his pace to a normal walk. He still needed the lamp to help guide him, but the morning light should drive away his unusual fears and any potential dangers.

Even as the dawn approached, William couldn't shake the uneasy feeling he had. Coming to the corner of the street at Buckler Avenue his lantern lit up a figure sprawled out on the ground. William stumbled back in surprise, almost tripping over himself.

Lord Commander Albert Hathen lay dead in a pool of his own blood. He took a closer examination of the commander’s corpse; his body was pale, cold to the touch, and stiff. He's been dead for a while now. As dawn finally broke William saw something glitter in Albert’s pool of blood. It was a piece to that game the sage's seemed to enjoy so much: Chess.

He picked it up and inspected it. It was a tiny castle tower made of bronze that fit in his palm. What'd they call this piece, a Rook? It wasn't dropped by accident; it was placed here, probably by the killer.

Looking up at the barracks just ahead William shouted, "Guards!"

No response, he shouted again. "Guards come quick!"

Once more all was silent. William set his lantern down and pulled out Albert's falchion style sword, and approached the barracks with caution.

The door swung open slowly, the morning light starting to pour into the barracks through the shutters. All around were Sky Cloaks unmoving, either slumped over the rows of tables or sprawled out on the floor. From the strong smell of ale and the loud snoring of some of the men, William gathered they were all passed out drunk.

They're alive at least, but they should be out on duty, patrolling the streets, protecting the people, protecting their commander. He walked around the slumps of drunken men to open all the shutters of the first floor to let in more light, a few men stirred in their sleep when the glare of light covered their eyes but little more.

William then gathered several empty buckets and filled them up from the water pump outside in the back. He put as many of them as he could carry on a pole and took them back to the front room, the dining hall, not the smartest area to place a dining area for guards but that wasn't William's call, though Albert was looking into moving the dining hall to the back after he requested a change.

After a couple of trips, he had several buckets filled with icy cold water. He went around the room tossing the buckets contents over as many men as he could. Most of them woke up after that, groggy but awake. The rest were not waking up for some time, he made a note of who they were, they'd have to be punished more severely than the others.

William looked around to all the men still waking up from the splash of water, and dealing with the inevitable hangover. What do I tell them?

After pacing around for a few moments, he lingered in his spot before the door and looked to all the men who were waiting for him to speak. "Lord Commander Albert Hathen is dead, laying in a pool of his own blood just steps outside from these barracks."

The men started whispering amongst themselves at this news. Half of them didn't believe it while the others were too hungover to interpret what he had just said.

"He was counting on us, and all of us failed him;" just like they failed my father. Was it like this with him too; were all the guards on patrol gone as well? "Do you not believe me? Does this all sound like some jest? Well then, get your asses outside and look for yourselves. Now!" He shouted the last command, leading the way after.

They followed not long behind him, to their surprise he was telling the truth. Questions went up among them like, "Who could have done this?" Or, "Why did they kill him, Albert was beloved by all." None was answered, and more followed that William hardly noticed, but they too went unanswered.

Another of the captains, Derren Atwood, came to stand next to William and said, "Albert was a good man, liked by so many, I can't think why any would do such a thing to him."

"He was a good man, and well liked" William agreed. "But now he's a dead man. His family and friends will weep, and we will bring his killer to justice."

Captain Derren said a quiet prayer to the Outlander for Albert. Derren stood at six foot even, with a clean-shaven face, ivory skin, and yellow hair that were now disarrayed out of its normal tight pulled back tail. His sea-green eyes had made men mistake him for a sailor a good number of times. He would smile it off and move on fast as he could, but William saw his smile turn sour the moment the men turned away, something about the notion of him being a sailor seemed to annoy him at the least.

William stood a couple inches shorter than Derren, with wavy coal black hair reaching his ears. His brown eyes were hard most the time, but he was friendly to most. His large muscles were well outlined in his captain uniform, and many of the older Sky Cloaks had mistaken him for his father the day he first wore it.

"Put a white blanket over the body," he said to Captain Derren.

As he went to fetch the blanket from the barracks William addressed the other men around.

"I want three of you around the captain's body at all times until I get back. The rest of you block off this junction of Bulwark Street and let no one through, detour them elsewhere, no matter how much they argue."

As the men left to do their duty, William shouted, "And no one speak a word about this to anyone, not even your fellow guard near you, whispers echo through these streets when all is quiet. I don't want anyone else knowing about this until I have figured out what is to be done about it. For now, I'll be seeing the king to tell him of this tragedy."

When Derren returned with the white blanket and covered Albert with it, William noticed he was the only other captain awake. "Captain Derren you have charge of this while I'm away. And don't let the senior captains try to state their position of command just because they're older. I'm in charge at times of such crisis."

"Of course captain Royce," Derren said dutifully. Before William could walk away though he continued, "Ser given the circumstances you should take a few men with you."

William thought about it but then said, "That won't be necessary." He was then reminded he was holding Albert's sword, he handed it to Derren, "This belongs to our Lord Commander."

Derren took it reluctantly, seeing William had no armor, nor weapon now. He was still concerned for his safety but said nothing more as William moved on.

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Copyright © © Jake Pendragon all rights reserved 2015

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