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Zugzwang

By Allison Molnaa All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Horror

Prologue

“Enter,” came the booming voice from the other side of the door. Alexander jumped as the sound bounced off the marble floors of the grand house. He eyed the door wearily. How did he get stuck with this job? Only minutes ago he had been in the kitchens talking to Ole Sally. Ole Sally, who was more of a part of the grand house then she liked to admit, had leaned over to him, as she continued stirring the servants stew, and said in her hushed way, “Now Alexander, don’t let the lord’s fratch ya. Don’t let ‘em under ya skin. I’ve seen children older than you run screamin’ from this house like a virgin on her weddin’ night, but you’ll be just fine.”

He had smiled; he had always liked Ole Sally. Maybe it was because she reminded him of the grandparents he never had. With her hair pulled tight in a bun, her old drawl of speak, and the flour that always covered her apron she did look like a grandmother that could be seen in the pictures. She was a sweet sight, but tough as nails.

“Get me that bowl,” she had said next; as Alexander went to do her bidding Ella had come bursting into the kitchen.

Ella was only a few years older than Alexander but she never let him forget it. She had been a maid for at least three years, he only just got out of the stable yard a month ago, he still wasn’t used to the restricting coat he was required to wear at all times. She didn’t even spare him a glance as she rushed to the counter. “The lords should be told,” Ella said to Ole Sally, “Everything is ready.”

Ole Sally paused in her stirring, paling. Alexander had never seen her this uneasy, “Has it come so soon,” she whispered.

Ella nodded, rushing about the kitchen fetching various ingredients for a dish Alexander could only guess at. Suddenly Ella turned to him, “You,” she snapped as she pointed her skinny finger his way, “go up and tell them.”

Alexander shifted his gaze from Ella to Ole Sally and back again, “Everything is ready for what?”

“They’ll understand,” Ella snapped as she shooed him out of the kitchen, “they’re in the top-most sitting room, overlooking the garden. Now off you get.” Then she shut the kitchen door in his face.

Now he was in the grand hall staring at the door to the sitting room. He took a deep breath and rushed towards it before he lost his nerve.

Alexander took a deep breath then slowly pushed open the door to reveal two sitting figures amongst the shadows. The room was as large and grand as the hallway had been but the figures looked like the Victorian heroes of old. The Lord was dressed in a dark suit with golden buttons gleaming in the light. His silk tunic was freshly pressed and pristine but the kerchief sticking out o his sleeve was spotted with red stains. His long black hair was tightly held back with a plain leather thong. His wife sat across from him, her plain maroon dress sitting about her in waves and just revealed the suggestion of a slim pale neck. He black hair sat upon her hear in a bun that was loosely tied allowing ringlets of curls to frame her pale face. Her wide blue eyes didn’t even look up as he entered. Alexander had to catch his breath before kneeling as was expected. He glanced up but quickly lowered his gaze again when he saw the Lord studying him. He stared at the floor boards, waiting for consent to look up.

“Stand,” the Lord said lazily, Alexander obeyed. The room was sparsely furnished with only a couch and an arm chair to occupy the large space. Around the arm chair, in which the Lord sat, lay the littered metals of goblets, their content long ago emptied but not picked up by the other servants. That wasn’t unusual, Alexander tried to tell himself, the master had been known to drink great amounts all throughout the day. Alexander was trying to pull his gaze away from the remaining liquid in one of the goblets by the lord’s foot bitting the inside of his cheek to keep from gaging, “What news do you bring for us?” The Lord asked just as lazily as before.

“All is prepared, my Lord,” Alexander said in a meek manner, folding his hands behind his back respectfully. He felt sweat trickling down between his shoulder blades, he forced his eyes to stare at the marbled floor.

“Excellent,” the Lord said with a clap of joy, completely breaking out of his previous demeanor, “Did you hear that my dearest? Everything is prepared!”

He dared to sneak a glance up at the two figures that sat before him. The Lord was turned to his wife, his yellow eyes sparkling with excitement, but still she didn’t look up. One of her delicate hands supported her chin as she glared down at the device she led in her lap. It was thing and translucent. Clutched in her delicate fingers was a gaming pad.

She peered down at the pad as if contemplating her next move. Alexander watched her as her hand moved in a blurring motion, she gave a satisfied smile. His master laughed a throaty chuckle, “Please excuse my Lady,” Alexander’s master purred as he turned his attention back to Alexander, “Once she gets involved in a game it is almost impossible to get her to stop.”

Alexander bowed his head, “Of course, my Lord.”

His master waved him off, “Now tell me…” he paused for a name.

“Alexander.”

“Now tell me Alexander, do you like games?”

“Games, my Lord?”

His master shrugged, “People have to be entertained somehow, do you have a fancy for games?”

Alexander hesitated, not sure if the wrong answer would cost him his life. Ole Sally had said nothing about this, “I have been known to try my hand at gambling but nothing too dreadful, my Lord.”

“Come now, Victor,” said the woman in a musical voice, still looking intently at her gaming pad, “Let’s not alarm the boy.”

Victor smiled up at Alexander, yet somehow Alexander got the feeling that he was smiling down at him, “I’m sorry to have caused you any discomfort, lad,” he almost sounded like he meant it, “You simply must come and watch my dear and I play Alkadama! It’s a fabulous game, I believe you would simply find it fascinating.”

Alexander felt the blood drain from his face but forced himself to nod. “It would be an honor, my Lord,” he forced through his stiff lips, an uneasy feeling rising from the pit of his stomach.

“In fact,” Victor said rising to his feet, “We were about to start a game! Why don’t you go and see to some refreshments, then join us in the gaming room. You know where that is, I trust?”

Alexander felt his head nod. “Excellent,” Victor bellowed, clasping his hand on Alexander’s shoulder, “Then off you go! And don’t forget the wine, lad!”

Alexander felt himself scurrying out of the room before he knew what he was doing. He left the Lords hurrying back to the comfort of the kitchens, if only for a moment.

The woman slowly set the gaming pad to the side and watched the servant go with a strange gleam in her eyes.

“This game is going to be fun,” Victor purred and he snatched a random goblet from a side table and took a long drink.

The woman, Anya, smiled a slow, secretive smile as she watched the doors click shut, “Very fun indeed.”

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