They draw up to the Table, one they have sat at countless times over too many years to count. This is their meeting place, where they are drawn so often, a space designed for them so simply with a table and two chairs. They have no need for anything else.
One, a dark figure, who carries with him an air of weariness but also rest, stands behind the first chair. He is called many names but here he is known as Beloved.
The second figure is brighter than light, he carries freshness but also fear, he approaches the other chair and faces his companion. He too has many names but here he is known as Old Friend.
‘What are we to play today?’ says Beloved, his words an ancient caress to the soul of the other.
Old Friend waves a hand over the surface between them, a chequered board appearing upon it, the figures of white and black lined up neatly on their respective sides. Kings and queens and the dispensable pawns, a microcosm of the world and all its societies. It is a favourite of them both, simple but skilled, a challenge for them.
‘And what stakes?’ requests the dark figure.
‘The next one hundred years,’ says Old Friend.
‘So little? Not confident in your abilities?’
‘We must leave room for change, Beloved,’ says Old Friend, pressing a kiss to the back of his companion’s hand that lasts but a moment and an eternity, ‘Do you agree?’
Beloved takes a seat in lieu of answer, waving a hand over the board, his signature glittering above it. Old Friend mimics the gesture, the silvery light of their combined wills surrounding the board. The game is set, the stakes are made, now the game controls what it has always governed.
‘As is the way of things, you must move first and I shall respond,’ says Beloved, trailing a finger over the cross of his own king, ‘I wish you well.’
‘And I you,’ responds the other, fingers already moving one of his lowly pawns.
‘You start so simply?’
‘We all start in such a way. We must build from nothing to make it strong.’
‘Why, when might is already at hand?’ asks Beloved, jumping his own line with a knight bathed in velvet dark.
Somewhere, where the Table is not a table, a man is shot and many men shout. A change begins.
On the Table, pieces move and a game is played. One has the upper hand and then the other. The pawns and knights protect their king, flanked by castles and the right of a Book- though this is an interchangeable text – the queen the power behind the throne, mother to her people.
In the Somewhere, fields are churned to mud and blood. The dispensable ones litter the ground though they are loved by those that cry and mourn. The powerful ones stay behind their lines, never putting themselves at risk. The world ebbs and flows, gaining and losing ground like waves upon a shore.
At the Table, Beloved shows his might and his cunning, setting traps and lures for his companion. Old Friend counters with bravery and a skill born of many a skirmish won in hard times. He does not bend in fear at his companion’s fearsome ability.
Pieces line up slowly beside them, some rejoining the battle when a victory is won. It is a glorious dance, the movements colourful against the contrasting board. Weaknesses are learned and exploited, strengths are improved upon and pressed forward. Beloved takes the risks, throws all in and bathes in the glory when the outcome is victorious. Old Friend is patient, the risks small and calculated, gaining ground slowly but steadily.
In the Somewhere, the world is weary and the land is barren except for the detritus of war. Families grow without fathers and brothers, homecomings few and bittersweet when they arrive. The glory of ancient battles is tainted by the power of the machine.
At the Table, the board is almost as barren as the mud choked fields, only a few pieces remain in play. Beloved makes a final push, throwing all he has at the last stalwarts of Old Friend’s little wooden talismans of Man. Old Friend does not flinch or flounder, he has played his game and remains standing tall as Beloved is forced to concede. His dark king stands in checkmate, the game won though both sides bear heavy losses.
Though the stakes were set for a hundred years they will play more games at the Table, the stakes changing and altering as they always have and as they always will. They do not think of the Somewhere, that is not the Table that was made just for them. They do not think of the people who wonder for many years why such a thing happened, why so many young men had to die for a few feet of ground. The people having such thoughts are as abstract to Beloved and Old Friend as the concept of time, for many years have passed since they sat down to their game though they do not know it. They do not know that they are given different names by those below.
They rise from the Table, an Old Friend and a Beloved, words heavier than the universe. Old Friend touches a hand to Beloved, reaching across the void as the Table disappears. Fingers entwine with wills for they are the start and the end of all. The Angel of Life and the Angel of Death, forever passing from one to the other and meeting again at the Table for a game.
Elizabeth Montague is a multi-genre author from Hertfordshire, England. Her short story collection, Dust and Glitter, was released by Clarendon House Publications in May 2019. She has also featured in over a dozen short story collections from various publishers including Iron Faerie Publishing, Clarendon House Publications, Scout Media and Black Hare Press. She is currently working on her first novel alongside continuing to produce short stories in several genres.