Chapter 23 - Bookworms

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A day had passed since explanation of the next trial. Unlike the first trial, Eirek felt as though he could contribute something to this one. He still could not figure out Angal's last riddle, but not just anyone could solve the others he had posed. Not just anyone could manage to learn to play the flute or strum a lyre—and teach others to do the same. Not just anyone read for fun when time allowed; even here on the Core, he found that most of his time was spent in the library, preferring to only practice his sword training in the grave of night, so no one else could observe him.

If he was to win this trial, he needed to do research. And he would do that after the chess match he had started with Cadmar. It was their third match, and Eirek was used to Cadmar's tactics. It wouldn't be much longer now; Eirek was already getting himself in position to win. Whether Cadmar knew it or not, he had four moves left.

Eirek typed his move into the electronic stand attached to the desk in the lounge. "Are your shoulders healed yet?" Eirek watched his bishop advance three spaces diagonally, then withdraw his sword and plunge it through the top of the rook. The violence still shocked him, and sometimes he found himself clutching the table to steady his hand.

Cadmar scanned the field. "They be better. I be able to lift my axe again."

Eirek looked at the man's shoulders and then his whole figure, never truly seeing how stocky the man was. He lowered his gaze to the field and saw a knight trample one of his pawns.

Without too much deliberation, Eirek typed in his next move. "How was the interview?" Eirek watched his rook slide down the board. "Check."

"Horrible. That one is a caffler through and through. Now that he won the first trial for us, he be even more entitled." Cadmar typed his move into the keypad.

"Invalid move. Try again."

"Damn that bishop." Cadmar scanned the field and reentered another number. "There we be. . . . How you be feeling? How be the other prince during the trial?"

Eirek scanned the field. "Better . . . but I . . . I sometimes have dreams that . . . that people die because of me. . . ." Entering in the coordinates, he watched the other rook slide down the other side, ramming a pawn out of the way. One move left.  "Check. . . . And Cain was no caffler, I think . . . but he didn't refer to me by name until I saved him from one of those tar creatures. I've tried to make contact with him since . . . but he . . . he is always short with me."

"I haven't met royalty that not be a caffler. Well, that not be true. Lady Aprah not be a caffler; neither are a lot of Garians. . . . We learned that everything not be just given to us; we have to fight for it, even if that be a rebellion." Cadmar scanned the field, and after only a few seconds of scanning, his shoulders slunk. "How be your lady always alive at the end?"

"Because I prefer to save her until she is needed."

"But she can do anything. Why you not bring her out earlier?"

"She can do anything only because of the other pieces on the board."

Cadmar entered his coordinates. "This be the only move I can make." The lord moved one space up and to the left, avoiding the pawn.

Quickly Eirek entered his coordinates. "Checkmate." The final scene played out, where the two rooks, the bishop, and the lady all approached the loan lord and killed him.

"You be too good at this game. You know, there is a saying by my people for chess. . . ."

"What isn't there a saying for?" Eirek teased.

Cadmar looked at Eirek and smiled faintly. "Those who are good at chess lead the best. Lady Aprah could certainly give you a dash for your coin though."

"Well, perhaps I will need to challenge her if I ever make it to Gar." Eirek doubted that would happen though; this was his first time off of Agrost. He didn't have enough coin to take an interplanetary shuttle, nor did he have the means of getting to the port even if he did have the coin. Eirek got up from his chair and stretched. "I am going to get some reading done in the library before supper yet."

"I'll be training in the habitat arena. Take care."

Eirek nodded and left the lounge area that he had found during one of his first days in Eska's estate. It was located to the right of the staircase and featured bookshelves, desks, and couches for relaxation. When needing to pass the time, he would do so here.

In the lobby, he had started to climb the staircase when he saw Prince Paen coming from the second floor. There was a book in his hand. When they passed with only a glance at each other, Eirek was rather surprised. No snappy dialogue from the prince? Is he feeling all right?

He didn't know what he was particularly looking for in the library, but he figured he would try to find something on navigating the Core. Since the trial would take place on the Core, he thought it might give him an advantage. He wondered if others were doing the same.

While browsing through the stacks and columns of books, he noticed Prince Evber reading in a red longchair. The window overlooked the sparring court outside and the dirt that eventually tapered into sand.

"Hey, Cain."

The prince turned in his chair and picked up his glasses, which he had set down on the small wooden table next to him. "Eirek, how interesting seeing you here." He turned back around and flipped a page in his book.

"Are the arms feeling better?"

"They have regained functionality."

Eirek maneuvered to another column, but he took a quick peek over Cain's shoulders before doing so. "Researching for the next trial?"

"No. Not much I can research before I receive the riddle. Instead I prefer to keep my mind sharp with books and stories."

"Like what kind of stories?"

"Ones of Knight Barristan Corbello and his feats before the Great War. Or Lukas Kaplurn and the group of riders he led all over the Myoli."

"I like reading about lore and the Ancients."

Cain turned back to look at him. "Yes . . . I am sure." He gave a weak smile and continued reading.

Eirek picked up a book and looked through it with feigned interest. He put it back and went over and sat at the longchair next to Cain. "Cain, that man, in the labyrinth, you knew him. How?"

"It is nothing complex, Eirek. I am a prince of Epoch; because of it, I know many things about the royalty who ruled before me. Their tale is rather tragic; however that prize changed their lives."

"Hydro picked up some sort of necklace in the labyrinth."

"He did?"

Eirek nodded. "Right before the big explosion."

Cain's gaze wandered. "I . . . I need to go." Cain shut his book and left it on the table. "I pray you find whatever you are searching for."

When Cain left, Eirek slumped and tilted back onto the longchair, wondering why Cain left so abruptly. He had been doing that ever since the first trial. Eirek wondered if Cain was still dealing with the fact that he had lost due to Eirek's unhelpfulness or if it was because Eirek saved him twice. He crossed his arms and blew air up into the tresses of his brown hair. His gaze left the mountains in the distance and went to the book that Cain had left on the table. Eirek picked it up and read the title: Living in History. It didn't interest him. Eirek put it back on the table and continued his search for something that could be of relevance during the second trial.

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