"She's quite a woman," Cathari said, leaning casually against the doorjamb of Lucretia's room.
"She is," the strategist replied serenely, not even looking up from the map she was studying.
"Cute, young, impressionable," Cathari continued. "At least, impressionable by the right person."
"Indeed," murmured Lucretia.
"Sweet," Cathari said. "Amenable. Worshipful."
Lucretia finally looked up. "Are you making a point?" she said with a touch of a smile.
"Your tastes sure have changed." Cathari grinned.
"Really?" Lucretia raised an eyebrow. "I don't think so."
"Oooh," Cathari said, mock-staggering and clutching her chest. "I am wounded."
"Why?" Lucretia inquired. "Is it so odd to think you might have once been cute, young, impressionable, sweet, amenable, and worshipful?"
"She's got nice shoulders," Cathari deflected, examining the ceiling with care.
"So do you," Lucretia said, returning her gaze to the map.
"How did you manage it?" Cathari inquired, a wry twist to her mouth.
"Manage what?" the strategist asked.
"What game was it this time?" Cathari said.
Lucretia leaned back in her chair and picked up her white-feathered fan, the better to consider Cathari over its edge. "It was...--" she paused, and the corners of her eyes crinkled with amusement -- "strategy, of course."
"Ah, Lelei, good evening. Has Cius retired, then?"
"Yes, my lady. Is there anything I can get for you?"
"No, thank you. Shall we play this evening?"
"As you wish, my lady."
"Do you enjoy playing chess?"
"It gives me an opportunity to learn from you, Lady Lucretia. How could I not?
"I see. Would you set up the board? I'll pour out the wine."
"Of course, my lady."
"This evening, I thought that since you've been doing so well with chess, we might try a variant game, using a few alternate pieces."
"Alternate pieces, my lady?"
"Yes. After all, you never know what resources you might have on a battlefield. You need to learn to think beyond pawn, rook, knight, bishop, queen, and extend your ability to predict possible outcomes into more unusual actions."
"I see, my lady. How should we indicate the alternate pieces?"
"I think we can start by just replacing extant pieces. Will that be all right with you?"
"Of course, my lady. Whatever you think best."
"Now, I considered using the grasshopper, but I think that the hopping pieces may be too odd. So let us use the nightrider in place of the knights, and the amazon in place of the queen."
"How do these pieces vary, then, my lady?"
"They are, theoretically, less limited in their movement. The amazon is very simple: she is a queen who not only moves like a bishop and a rook, but also a knight."
"I see, my lady. She is indeed more powerful than a mere queen."
"Which makes her less predictable, of course. The nightrider is a little more complex. I will come over to your side of the board, it will be easier to explain. No, no, remain in your seat, this will only take a moment."
"Yes, my lady."
"The nightrider is a piece that is capable of unlimited knight moves, but all in the same direction. So, as you see, you could move here, like a knight, or you could move like so."
"Y-yes, I see, my lady."
"On a given move, your nightrider can move here, or here, or here... you see the pattern, of course. Are you all right?"
"Yes, my lady. I... j-just... your fan is, ah, distracting."
"I suppose I should be careful with it. I expect that tickles."
"Y-yes, my lady."
"You see the pattern then?"
"Pattern? Oh, yes, my lady."
"Remember that you cannot hop a piece with the nightrider. With a knight, you have the freedom to pass around either this way or this way when you move. However, if you are moving the nightrider, you must continue to move in the same direction on your multiple moves, and if there is a piece in the way, you cannot proceed."
"Ah, I perceive the challenge, my lady. I am not used to thinking of the knight move as being one that can be blocked. This will be... be... um, my lady?"
"I become distracted and forget the fan. The nightrider looks subtle, but is primarily a frontal attack piece."
"The amazon, however, really does add to the queen's power by expanding her possi... possibil... my lady. My ear..."
"And takes advantage of the element of surprise."
"Once you learn these pieces, we can move on to other alternate pieces. I'm fond of the locust, for instance, which captures by hopping over another piece."
"I... I see..."
"Am I distracting you?"
"Ah... yes, my lady."
"I suppose that someday I should work with you on your focus, Lelei."
"Yes, my lady. I'm sorry, my lady. I... I... I..."
"The ability to focus to the exclusion of all else can save you in a pitched battle. However, the ability to focus on multiple actions and viewpoints simultaneously is also a virtue."
"I... am beginning... to see, my lady."
"Could you get those lower buttons? I cannot quite reach them, and those brass buttons are difficult to manage one-handed."
"Perhaps I should put down the fan."
"Ah. Perhaps not."
"This is an... awkward position. I can't... *do* anything except..."
"Except play chess?"
"Yes, my lady. While you..."
"Let me take your jacket."
"Yes, my lady."
"You have admirable musculature, Lelei."
"Ah, thank you, my lady."
"It's the sword, I wager. Swordplay always brings out these muscles... and these... and especially these."
"Please, my lady."
"May I... stop playing chess now?"
"Hm. Do you think you've learned the important points of each piece?"
"I assure you, my lady, that I will never forget."
"Then I suppose we can take this evening's chess lesson as complete."
"Can we... continue the other lessons, my lady?"
"Take the fan. I prefer robes, but they are awkwardly voluminous at times."
"Yes, my lady. May I be of assistance?"
"Help me with this."
"Of course. Where should I put it?"
"Could you just put it over that chair? Stop fussing with it -- I don't care about wrinkles -- and come here. Ow!"
"Ah, I'm sorry, my lady. Let me remove these boots."
"The pitfalls of decorative slippers. Shall we try that again?"
"Most assuredly, my la--"
"Much more satisfactory."
"I concur, my lady."
"Yes, my lady?"
"When one is in this sort of proximity with another person, it is usually advisable to use their name, rather than an honorific."
"I'm sorry, my la... I mean, Lucretia."
"Have you ever... played someone who managed something surprising with a nightrider piece?"
"Frontal attacks can be surprising at times, yes."
"As I suspected."
"Lelei! Put me down! You're showing off!"
"You admired my musculature just a few minutes ago."
"Yes, I did, and I suspect I will again soon."
"I thought your feet might be getting tired."
"Well, no, not really."
"Since I'm here, you might as well join me. But first..."
"Ah! My la... Lucretia! Let me... hold on... I need to put my sword over here..."
"Take the rest of it off."
"The... the... the rest?"
"Yes. Yes, that's better."
"You still have two robes on!"
"They're a new sort of challenge for you."
"I'm tempted by another frontal attack."
"A full frontal attack must be carefully considered, especially given your resources and your opponent's resources."
"Well, my opponent is familiar with the terrain, I suppose."
"Indeed, that is one consideration."
"However, I think that my resources are not... inconsiderable. As you may perceive."
"Oh! I do perceive, yes, but I had... expected... that... given careful study... of your..."
"Can you get whatever that fastening is? I can't quite reach it, and it's difficult to manage one-handed."
"And now I'm... considering my... options."
"You're being very... distracting..."
"Should I remind you of your focus lesson, sensei?"
"It would be... inappropriate... right now... Lelei..."
"Oh! My... Lucretia... I... but I can't quite reach now..."
"Just shift a bit, like this and..."
"Now *you're* being distracting."
"I'm good at that."
"Shift more this way. There, now I can..."
"I'm glad to see that you... have the endurance to... carry through your frontal assaults..."
"Even... though... I'm being harried and... outflanked?"
"I think it is a... mutually assured victory."
Cathari cocked an eyebrow at Lucretia. "Of course it was. It's always strategic with you. Don't you remember our Go games?"
Lucretia gave her a warm summer smile that showed more than adequately that she did remember.
Cathari chuckled, then sobered. "Lucretia, my old dear, you may be a strategic genius, but you have trouble seeing trees for the forest sometimes."
Lucretia regarded her unsmilingly over the fan.
"I don't want to pry... oh, hell, yes, I *do* want to pry. You've gotten sucked into your great strategies again, Lucretia."
Lucretia looked to one side, as if out a nonexistent window. "Strategy is what I do."
"Yes." Cathari pushed upright from the doorjamb. "She's a sweet kid, Lucretia. Tomorrow's the big battle. Don't forget her in all the preparations. Some things are more important than all the strategies in the world." Cathari strolled away.
"You said that then, too," Lucretia said to the air. She rolled the map, dropped it into its case, and sat in her chair, contemplating the world beyond her fan. And waiting.