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Here's my contribution to Allaria, set after the Sundering and somewhat before the time of Malaise...

Even the more aesthetic scholars of Curillia, those who had asserted that not only was a thing of beauty a joy forever but that the said thing should be replicated such its beauty be better admired, could accept that the Obsidian Tower was possessed of said qualities. It squatted at the lip of a valley like an unpleasant morsel of food on an epicure’s tongue, with the landscape forever poised in deciding between whether to spit it out or swallow it quickly to avoid noticing the vile taste.

Still, the view from the top was decent, if only because you couldn’t see the accursed edifice. Visitors to the room at the top admired it, with its reminders of freedom. Presently Baldur One-eye was finding the vistas preferable to the sight of the chess game in the centre of the room, where the Lord of the Legion Court had set up his daily match.

“There, third pawn out two spaces. That’s two, remember. How’s the weather, Baldur?”

“I am sorry, lord.”

“You seem to find the blasted view more pleasing than my own fair face. To you dwarves and other runts it must resemble that of an owl, shortly before it catches its prey.”

“Ah, then I am deeply apologetic.”

“There’s no offence taken Baldur. New visitors always find my choices of opponents unconventional, but since there are so few elves capable of playing the game at this level, I do have to improvise.”

The board was ordinary enough, the chess pieces less so. The side of the Legion Lord was taken up by that of a normal set of Elven chess pieces, an antique from before the Sundering. The High King of the Aldar was the king and a piece of the Legion Lord, his vizier, sat beside him. Moving outwards were the mages, knights and towers, while there was a row of guards in front. The other side were crudely-carved goblins, many missing limbs.

“I have come to plead sir, regarding the tribute of true-silver. Your messenger seemed … aggrieved at our non-payment. He pleaded with us to see reason and would not accept our answer, so I thought that in your wisdom you would hear the truth from us.”

“I am listening. Ah, another pawn my friend. In that case, I will have to reply…”

“The last three tributes were taken by the elves of the woods. The bodies of the strangled guards were found not one hundred yards from the edge of the forest, while the mithril itself will have been long since recycled.”

“Yes, they have their ways. Won’t disturb a couple of trees to graft it out for themselves but would gladly murder living beings to get it, isn’t that right? People like us Baldur, are the workers. We’re the ones who will inherit this land.”

The elf moved another piece.

“My friend is always a little rusty at the start but loosens up as he gets into it.”

“We have said that-“

Another piece landed on the board with a soft tap.

“-we will continue-“

tap

“-to deliver the-“

Tap, tap.

“-tribute by sea-“

tap

“-but-“

tap

“-backdated-“

tap

“-tribute-“

tap

“-is presently unavailable-“

“And mate! Yes, you may go now. It’s not as if we’re strapped for arms at present.”

The clockwork goblin, one arm poised above the vizier, jerked to a stop. The fire in its eyes died a little, a slight hint of the hatred remaining.

“He was an early but unworthy enemy, Baldur. Some years ago, while questing for vengeance he claimed he wanted single combat with an elven swordsman. He, I quote, had no time for the popular games of duellists. I made him this frame so that I could teach him some. He loves chess now. The goblin plays it twice a day.”

The Legion Lord stood up abruptly and glided across the room, leaving a trace in the air of old sins now all but forgotten, of pleasant memories and wishes of his youth, buried under years of professional malice.

“The move just there was called Scholar’s Mate. I use it whenever I can.”

Baldur glanced at the table. Checkmate in fewer than twenty moves, courtesy of the elven vizier. Some had asked why the Legion Lord didn’t depose Malion, who's refinement and diplomacy was a candle next to the blazing sun of his father's might. To Baldur it was obvious. Kings moved short distances, in straight lines. Viziers could travel the length and breadth of the board, striking down the enemy with swift and gracile movements. While most elves claimed not to believe in god, those who did knew to call him Legion.

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