I decided I would follow the boy to his class with Talnad Sot. While I was not impressed by the Grazian academic and his myopic world view, I was fascinated by the package which the boy had given him. I took the guise of a messenger boy carrying a package for the High Mage to gain access to the palace. Once there, I became a serving page, circumnavigating any questions about who I was, or what I was doing there. A quick change into a house guardsman got me through the courtyard, where I took position near a stone gameboard. Pieces had been laid out in preparation for Patient Sail’s instruction. It was some regional strategy game, mimicking the movements of various units on the battlefield.
Talnad Sot arrived in a huff, pulling at the sleeves of his robes in frustration. Some imagined slight to his honour had him in a fit of consternation. He immediately set out an hour glass and began counting how late Sail would be. The scholar puffed and paced for a quarter of an hour before his pupil arrived. He had a stringed instrument strapped to his back, and he smelt of the sea. He beamed before his teacher, “Good morning, Master Sot!” he waved.
“Good afternoon is more like it! Where were you, Sail?”
“Just taking in the sunrise from my little perch. Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Any other son in this entire empire would have long lost the privilege of my tutelage, Patient Sail. Be glad you’re a prince.”
Patient Sail shrugged and smiled at his teacher, “Shall we play, Master?”
“I’d rather you started by addressing your mysterious package for me, Patient Sail. I have waited a full season for your ruse or scheme to come to fruition. Let us be done with it first so you may focus on your lessons.” He said.
“Master, please. The package has waited this long, and I so enjoy our games.”
“You never win, Patient Sail.”
“Is that what I was supposed to do?” He flashed a toothy grin and sat down at the table. Talnad Sot gave an exasperated sigh and sat down opposite his charge. He gestured to Sail to make the first move. The boy studied the board, and set his opening move.
“Same as always, Sail. At least you’re consistent in some regards.”
“There’s something comforting about the familiar, Master.”
Talnad scanned the board and moved a piece from his back row to the fore, “Easy to anticipate, Sail. You demonstrate such imagination as you pluck that thing on your back, but none for matters of real consequence. You are fortunate Ignatius will bear the weight of the crown.” Patient Sail smiled and placed his piece in response.
They traded moves back and forth for the next ten minutes in silence. I could see that Talnad Sot was confident in his position, pushing for a swift victory. His game was a rehearsed schedule of movements, mechanical and precise. Patient Sail was much more lackadaisical, in both his body language and his movements. He yawned and stared off. It seemed a foregone conclusion, to a casual observer, that the boy was going to lose the contest. But I was no casual observer. The boy had Sot’s pieces in traps which he chose not to spring. His posture, his breath, the gaze in his eye; each a piece of a carefully constructed mask. The boy was playing the game for aesthetic goals, not strategic ones.
As the pieces cleared the board and its game neared a close, Sail spoke, “Master, when Ignatius is crowned, I wish to go on a quest.”
The scholar looked down skeptically, “A quest? Why would you do that? You have all you need here, Sail.”
“There is much I must learn, and more that I must do. I can no longer hide in these walls, Master Sot.” He placed a piece and revealed to Sot the trap he’d laid. Talnad looked quizzically at the board, taken by surprise. He maneuvered out of the first stage of Sail’s endgame. I could tell the boy was playing his teacher to a different end now.
“You have not yet mastered many things here in Grazia, Patient Sail. Your royal cousin is much more advanced in scholarship and diplomacy. These are skills you will require, should Grazia one day be your kingdom.”
The boy claimed Sot’s piece, revealing the second stage of his stratagem, “I need your consent to go. My father says I must be able to convince you of my worth. Master, if I win this game, will you tell him I can go?”
Sot harumphed at the notion. Patient Sail had left an opening for his key piece in play, a piece of bait which would deliver the game to him, should his teacher take it. I knew the academic would go for it. His victory here would be a victory over the thorn Sail’s education had been for him. “Very well.” He moved in on Sail’s final trap, and folded his arms in self-satisfaction.
The boy did not look up from the board as he made his move. He swept in to claim the threatening piece, and subsequently trap Talnad Sot’s side. The scholar blinked dumbly at the board. Sail simply stood up and bowed, “Thank you for your teachings, Master. I know it did not look like it, but I was paying attention. The package is a gift. Good bye.” He walked through the courtyard and back into the palace.
I watched Sot unwrap the package, disbelief painted in obvious strokes across his face. The package had several ledgers in them; complete estimates of supplies and materials for the entire Grazian military for three months. The ledgers were immaculately written and clearly meticulously calculated. Sot reached into a bag and produced his weekly reports. He flipped through the pages and found one to compare. The numbers must have been accurate, because Talnad Sot turned to watch the boy enter the palace. His jaw was slack in shock. I am glad that I was there to bear witness to the game. It would have been a shame if no one ever told this story.