The Gamer

The Gamer was a bedtime story the kids asked me to write down. I forgot somethings and added others. Enjoy.

King Franz considered himself a merciful king. Yes, he was not the ruthless tyrant type not like King Ala-Mala-Bala.  Sure, Franz employed a food taster to ensure no one was trying to poison him, but after those tainted rainbow sprinkles made it to his ice cream, no one argued with his reasoning. Then again no ever argued with the King.

When the King strolled through the village, he was greeted with the widest smiles a face could muster. All the proof a King needs to know he has the love and adoration of his people. And when Franz wasn’t strolling amongst his happy public or waiting for this food tester to digest dessert, he enjoyed playing games. He favorites were dice, marbles, knucklebones, and chess.

Mental challenges through gameplay were his crucial preparation for war. A sharp mind beats a sharp sword he’d say. He also said bathing is the devil’s playground.  So, yes King Franz smelled like a swamp of rancid milk and chamber pots.

The King outlawed school so sharp minds were elusive in the kingdom. Bless their hearts, but most of the villagers had the intelligence of a moat gator. He had but one opponent living within the empire who cast himself as a worthy opponent. This poor soul’s name was Darrid; known to all as Darrid the Gamer.

The King discovered the gamer’s talent when Darrid was a boy of five. Darrid beat the king in a game of Chinese Checkers. Angry, the King’s first impulse was to feed the boy to the pigs. His second impulse was to banish him to the unfriendly forest. The King settled on his third impulse, hiring Darrid as a professional opponent. So for following thirty years Darrid and the King competed in games of chance, in physical skill and intelligence.  

The never-stated rule was simple, Darrid must not ever beat the King. Darrid observed that rule precisely. He was able to outwit the King at the age of five and still could at thirty-five, but he followed the practice and became a great loser.

Another rule, Darrid must always be available. The King could decide in the darkest hours a game of checkers might settle his insomnia and the gamer must be ready to game.

Darrid loathed chess because it took too long. Darrid could pretend to lose in a sword fight in mere minutes, but chess could take a better part of the afternoon. He detested spending time with the King. When the ruler talk his breath was so bad a puff of toxic green dust would fly out. The intense odor eroded Darrid’s sense of smell until his nose had no sense at all.

Darrid still loved games and played with others to keep his edge, but he wished for nothing more than to escape the castle. However, the Queen, the knights, and all the kingdom’s inhabitants knew if Darrid left, the King would turn against them in boredom.  They watched Darrid like a hawk. He went from being a young man who could come and go freely, to the Kingdom’s prisoner.

Darrid was determined to escape. He’d need to be patient and outsmart all the Kings horses and all the King’s men because tricking the King was a cinch. Escape required patience because he would need three things to occur at precisely the same moment to ensure success.

First, the castle gates must be open, and they opened for only 30 seconds every other day. Second, all four of the murderous gate guards must be absent from their watchtower. Darrid had yet to see that occur. Third, a single horse must be in the courtyard, saddled rested and unmanned. There were few horses, and only noblemen could bring them to court.

Darrid waited two years and spent countless hours with the increasingly deranged King before the moment happened. A lone horse, named Trusty stood in the center of the courtyard saddled and unhitched. Trusty’s owner, a wealthy knight, had a heart attack and fallen off. The gate was down to let the injured man into the castle, and the four guards had jumped down to assist. A heart attack is hard to diagnose when one is wearing armor.  

Darrid did not hesitate. He lept on to Trusty and bolted for the gate. Surprised, he made it through the iron gates and massive drawbridge unimpeded continuing into the woods before the archers could have time to prepare an arrow.

For two days and two nights, Darrid, sprinted away from the castle, stopping only briefly for food and rest. Because the King liked to keep the geography of the area a secret, Darrid had no understanding what to expect beyond the walls. Day three took him deep into the woods where he came upon a lovely stone cabin, surrounded by wildflowers and if Darrid could smell, he’d smell sweet aromas.  

Confident he was able to rest, he knocked on the door but found it vacant. He opened the unlocked door and walked in. Inside was the most charming home he could imagine. It was clear the owner was a woodworker. He had beautifully carved furniture but also large statues of animals and knights sculpted from wood.  

The hearth was cold to the touch, and Darrid surmised the woodcarver was likely on an expedition to obtain more wood. So, Darrid started a fire in the hearth, laid down on the man’s bed and fell asleep. When he awoke, it was evening.  He searched for a bite to eat. He found some jam and wafers, as well as a jug of wine.

When Darrid sat down at the kitchen table, he found the most curious wood carvings. Sat upon a handmade chessboard were highly detailed chess pieces. The board was triple in size in place of the pawns, bishops, and kings; the set modeled after actual people whom Darrid recognized. The game was composed of the kingdom’s inhabitants.

There was a piece for the king, the queen, a set of knights and a crate full with more people. The collection embodied his village in its entirety, including a piece that resembled Darrid himself. The woodcarver accuracy was astounding. He carved Darrid’s correct beard and hair length.

Darrid finished off the jug of wine and was feeling topsy-turvy.  He did not like the way the King’s wood carving was watching him, so he threw the piece into the fire. Then he tossed the guards’ pieces, followed by Kings family. Eventually, he tossed them all into the fire; that is all but his own.  His piece he placed in his saddlebag to keep.

At sunrise the following morning Darrid left the cottage and began his journey anew. Later in the day, he came to the sea, which was closer than he expected. He zig-zagged for days seeking another soul to talk to since his horse was poor company, but found only woods and a narrow shoreline.  

Darrid tried to make a map, but almost none of the journey made much sense. There were no people, and after munching on some delicious poisonberries, Darrid was wholly disoriented and accidentally blundered upon the castle.  

He watched from afar, but the guards in the tower were absent. More surprisingly the gate was wide open. Were they inviting Darrid back in only to a lay a trap? Because his mind was not right and his belly barren, he entered on horseback. Inside, there were no guards to greet him. He was not welcomed by anything except a couple of clucking chickens.  The castle was abandoned.

Darrid considered the possibilities for a moment and determined a warring party had attacked the castle and taken them, prisoner. However, the weapons were all present and properly stored. No battle had taken place. Perhaps they had absconded to an updated fortress nearer to the sea. No matter how hard he tried, there was no making sense of this situation.  

For a month, Darrid had the castle to himself. The first couple days were beautiful. The King’s stench replaced by the sweet odors of the castle’s farm animals. Darrid dined on all the bread and cheese he could eat and drank the King’s wine. Soon though, the food spoiled, and while Darrid was a masterful gamer, he was not a competent butcher or cook.

It was clear he would starve without help, so he made the strange decision to set out to find the King. He went back into the woods and after a third day, stumbled upon the same cottage he had before although, the setting seemed different as if the house moved. Also, this time smoke curled out of the chimney. The woodcarver was home.  

Darrid peered into the window. Next to fire he saw a little old man with curly white hair, pointy face and a small felt hat worn high on his head. He was rocking on his chair widdling wood with a knife. Darrid knocked on the door, and the woodcarver kindly invited him in. He escorted Darrid to the kitchen table and provided tea and a cake.

“I must confess,” Darrid said soon after his arrival. “I was here before and drank all your wine and ate all your jam.”

“Oh yes,” the woodcarver said. “I knew I had a visitor, but fortunately I have replenished my wine and jam.”

“I must also confess, I burned all of your carvings of the villagers,” Darrid said. “I had escaped the village, and their images displeased me so.”

“Well, you must not have burned all,” The woodcarver said kind and curious.

“No,” Darrid reached into a pocket and set down the wood carving of own his image.

“Ah, yes,” the man said inspecting the piece. “This piece I call the gamer.”

“That’s me,” Darrid said. “I’m the gamer. I’ve spent my whole life losing to the King when I knew I could beat him.”

“King’s don’t like to lose,” the woodcarver said.

“When I returned to the castle they were gone, and now I’m bored and hungry,” Darrid said.

The woodcarver chuckled and sipped his tea. “You’d like me to make some company for you?”  

“Oh yes. That would be wonderful,” Darrid replied eagerly. “But no King. Please give me a challenge. My mind and body will erode without a challenge.”

The man nods with a wry smile. “Master of games, I will end your boredom.”

“That pleases me greatly,” Darrid says. “You are a forgiving soul.”

“Please give me time,” The woodcarver says. “In one week the castle will again be filled with life.”

“Thank you kind woodcarver,” Darrid says leaving the woodcarver to his work. “I look forward to playing again soon.”

Darrid returned to the barren castle and raised the gate. For the next six days he feasted upon the remaining chickens, and for the six nights, Darrid slept peacefully. On the seventh night, the woodcarver’s players arrived.  

Darrid slept in his room when the sound of thunder waked him. Followed by more noise.  The sound grew louder and what Darrid believed to be thunder from the heavens was actually thunder from earth.

Darrid quickly changed and secured his sword. He was surprised to find the courtyard empty, but the booming grew louder. It felt like an earthquake. He shuddered when he considered what it might be. Darrid clambered up to the tower and saw the source.

Lit by only the moon, Darrid saw a one-eyed beast walking towards the castle as big as a mountain. On the grounds outside, Lions roamed roaring impatiently. A snake wider than the moat-encircled the entire castle. Above him, menacing birds with fire for wings circled above.

The woodcarver made good on his promise. His foes were monsters. The beasts were here to play. The great beast carried a staff made of a tree trunk with its branches torn off and it raced the snake to be the first to occupy the fortress. A big gr

The woodcarver created players with one objective – to vanquish Darrid. Darrid raised his sword with a smile – ready to play.

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