Chess by Tim Rowe

As the train from Aberystwyth lurched sideways, Kate grabbed the door frame to steady herself. On the other side of the rain blotched glass, the ground fell away down the mountainside towards a stream that traced a path between clusters of trees - stripped to their bones and barely clinging to their earthy leaves - along the bottom of the valley. She wondered whether it was the beginnings of the River Severn.
Chess
Chess by Tim Rowe
Steadying herself, she psyched herself up to carry on down the corridor, running along the side of the first class passenger compartments. She told herself that she shouldn't have worn high heels, but she'd wanted to look nice for the new term, when she arrived at Cambridge. Absentmindedly, she tapped out a text message and sent it to John, letting him know what time she was due to arrive. After only a few steps, she noticed something, through the open door of one of the first class cabins, that piked her curiosity. On a small table, with carved statuesque black and white pieces arranged mid-play, was a chess set. She smiled to herself, thinking that the movement of the train could have arranged the pieces, but somehow their positioning didn't seem chaotic enough to have been put there by chance: each piece had been specifically placed within a square. Despite a faint scent of musk, the cabin seemed to be empty, so she peered through the doorway to try and make sense of the game: the white queen was protected by her rook and bishop, while the black knight pressed in for an attack. She inched forwards to have a closer look. "Are you interested in chess, Miss Andrews?" A resonant voice almost purred from behind her. Startled, Kate turned around, "Oh, I'm sorry," she flustered. "I thought the cabin was empty." A man was sitting on the red velvet bench, in a corner that seemed impossibly shadowed for the time of day. He was wearing a silk patterned waistcoat, and although thick grey hair curled down the sides of his head, his face looked young, as if he was still in his twenties. "Not a problem," he answered in a static manner that made it difficult to tell whether or not he was annoyed. His coldly analytical eyes were blue, almost grey, and Kate felt as if he could tell things about her just by looking, which made her uncomfortable. "How do you know my name?" her voice wavered, so she coughed to clear her throat. "I didn't tell you my name." "Very impolite, I thought." A smile emerged from the side of his mouth. "Well?" "Why would a young lady come into my cabin?" he reasoned. "I could assume that she either intends to steal my chess set, or that she is seeking my company." Looking up with a raised eyebrow, he questioned, "So, should I call the guard?" "No." Her reply was defensive. "Don't call the guard. I was just looking… I was just asking…." "It's written on your baggage." He pointed to the label on the handle of her suitcase. "So, if you're looking for a seat, perhaps you should sit down." Taking the bench opposite, she thanked him curtly. "So you've come all the way from Aberystwyth, and still haven't managed to find a cabin?" he asked, observing her. "I was in another carriage, but a family got on with noisy kids, so I decided to move." "What are you studying?" "I didn't say I was… how did you know?" "You're about twenty years old, travelling to Cambridge at the end of September with a suitcase full of clothes and books... above average intelligence... it doesn't take a genius." "But how did you know I've got books in my bag?" "I can see, by the strain on the leather and the way you're carrying it. It's too heavy to only contain clothes - and you obviously wanted quiet so you could study." "I could have been reading, not studying." "Reading is a pleasure, not a necessity. The fact that you made an effort to move implies that you're doing something more important than just reading for pleasure." "Pleasure can be a necessity too." Kate bit her bottom lip, wishing she could retrieve her words, but it was too late. The man smiled, "Touché." "So what's your name?" she challenged. "I'm not as good at presuming things as you are, so I know nothing about you… except that you seem to have more money than manners."

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