A woman—no, scarcely more than a girl—white as a corpse, with scarlet curls reaching her shoulders and upturned eyes the green of corroded copper. It was her lips, though, that were truly a sight: blue as ice, a shock truly alien on that soft pale face. It was a frost of disuse.

“Your friend shall not walk free, so long as Mab, or any fey, is queen of this realm.”

“Then,” said Alice, her voice nearly quaking as she realized her terrible boast, “I shall become queen of this realm.”

“Good luck to ya, lass. No one has drawn a word from the queen in a thousand years!” He laughed, and the procession laughed with him. The scent of woodsmoke was choking.

“Then, I have—” Alice tried to speak, but her voice was lost in the din of the laughter. She tried again, louder. “I have a wager!” The fey went quiet, waiting for the next hilarious mortal folly. “A game. If I win, my friend goes free.”

“And should you lose?” he said, lips quirked in amusement.

Alice quickly scanned the sea of alien faces. Heart pounding, head spinning, she said, “I bet myself.” She paused. The silence was deafening. She forced herself on through a closing throat. “Chess. We play till ‘checkmate.’ I wager my freedom; you wager my friend’s. Do you accept?”

All eyes were on the queen. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Mab nodded.

Said her attendant, louder than the growing murmur of the crowd, “Then, let the game begin.”

Two guards ushered Alice to a large tree stump. The flat surface had been intricately painted with black and white squares and heavy porcelain pieces lined up. Alice glanced up at the guards, then tentatively took her seat at the decorated but low stool on the black side. The setup was obviously to designate the lower status of the challenger, an effect severely enhanced when four more guards came carrying the queen, throne and all, and set it down on the white side. A page cleared his throat and said, “Begin.”

On its own accord a white pawn magically slid forward. So, the queen needn’t lift a finger. Feeling weak and conspicuously mundane, Alice reached out her hand and made her first move.

At its start, the match seemed even, then one-sided increasingly—the queen’s. Sweating bullets, Alice made one more move. The queen moved her queen into place, and Alice’s king was pinned. Laughter, hooting, and cheers rose from the crowd. Said the high guard, in the good spirits of laughter at Alice’s expense, “The game is over, lass. You’ve lost.”

Alice, shaking but clear-eyed, said, “No, it’s not!” The cheers stopped. Every eye and ear was on her and her new outrage. “You agreed to play until ‘checkmate.’ The game isn’t over until you say it.” Confusion, comprehension, disbelief—the emotions passed through the crowd and guard and queen alike. But while the surrounding fey ended in anger and terror, the queen’s expression displayed a curious calm. Bemusement, and then . . . amusement. And for once today, it was amusement not at Alice’s expense, but at the queen’s own. With the magic she had used to move her pieces throughout the game, Mab tipped her king.

Dizzy with adrenaline rushing from her system, Alice, smile undisguised, said, “Checkmate, your majesty.”

 

Rachel Heller is a senior in the Animation Department at SVA who is about to graduate into the big scary world.