Ch 1: Enchantress
“More tea,” I ordered, narrowing my eyes at the board. “And make it strong.”
“Yes, Miss Valentine.”
Setting the saucer aside on the table, I brushed a long strand of hair out of my face and furrowed my brows in deep concentration. Among the white and black carrom men lay a single rose colored coin nestled in the center of the board. My eyes fixated on the coveted piece.
The Queen was as good as mine.
How easy it would’ve been to pocket her majesty along with all her men without even lifting a finger. But I had no interest in resorting to underhanded spells for so elementary a game. I’d have to do this the old fashioned way.
Angling my forefinger to the striker, I flicked my finger and watched the striker glide with the grace of a lynx across the board. It missed the Queen by millimeters and instead, sent a white coin sailing to my opponent’s side of the board.
My cousin wasted no time in making her move. With a lopsided grin, Josephine snatched the striker off the board, eager to add the white coin to her collection. In seconds, she thumbed the piece into a corner pocket, making the score 25 to 5-with her in the lead.
“I must say, Daphne, your game is quite off today,” said Josephine. She jangled a heap of thick wooden coins in front of my face, an amusing attempt to taunt me.
“I suppose you’re right,” I said, suppressing a Cheshire smile as she handed me the striker.
My cousin was too occupied with her apparent victory that she still hadn’t noticed what had been going on during the course of our game. As usual, the girl didn’t see what was staring her right in the face, but I suppose I couldn’t blame her entirely. Like most people, she was blind to the unconcealed. I sighed.
The rules of our game were simple enough: use the striker to knock the wooden coins into the corner pockets of the board. The first to reach 30 points was the winner. There were three different colored coins, each worth 5 and 10 a piece, with the prized Queen, worth a boasting 25 points.
I lazily traced a finger across the carrom board. Intricate Indian designs resembling flowers and vines crawled over the edges of the elegant surface. Each twist in a vine bore a magnificent flower of gold. The board we played on was handcrafted mahogany, a gift given to my Uncle Holmes when he had solved a case for the Maharaja of Trivandrum. I had first noticed it when my family went to visit him at his flat on Baker Street last Christmas but my fascination with the board hadn’t gone unnoticed by my Uncle.
“I’ve only used that once,” he said with a shrewd twinkle in his eyes.”It was a truly unforgettable game…though Watson refused to play me again.”
“I wouldn’t blame him,” I said with a smile.
“Well, I suppose not,” he said, slightly amused.”Tis a pity…it’s simply been collecting dust in my room now, but we can’t let such a valuable thing go to waste now, can we?” His steely eyes glistened at me with mirth. “Perhaps you’ll find better use for it…”
I smirked inwardly. My uncle hadn’t been wrong. Then again, he rarely ever was.
I made a show of pretending to study the board, keeping my cousin waiting in flushed anticipation when my charade was interrupted by Sebastian.
“Your tea, Miss Valentine,” said Sebastian. The young man re-entered the parlor balancing a silver tray in his gloved hands. He strode under the crystal fixtures, passing by a palatial assortment of glass sculptures and Swarovski figurines positioned artfully on the mantelshelf.
Once he had laid the tray down on the mirrored table, he attended to his satin clad fingers. Although vaguely aware of the board in front of me, my eyes never left his hands. I watched him pull off a glove, revealing a hand of pure milky white. It matched the alabaster walls perfectly, though this wasn’t the first time I had noticed that.
Sebastian wrapped his long, graceful fingers around the handle of the teapot and expertly poured out two cups. He held out a cup to my slightly flustered cousin and then turned to me. Upon noticing the lone coin on my side of the board and the stacks of coins on Josephine’s side, he paused, the cup hovering above me. A trace of amusement flickered across his dark, green eyes. I blushed.
“Shall I hold onto this until you finish your game?” he asked discretely. A knowing smile crept along the edge of his pale lips.
“No need,” I murmured, quickly regaining my composure. I had already allowed the game to last too long. Sebastian’s demeanor told me it was time to finish it.
With all the lesser value coins unwittingly cleared by my cousin, I positioned the striker in the unobstructed path of the Queen and struck hard. The impish grin I’d been holding in slowly broke out across my face, while Josephine’s own broad smile began to fade. We watched together as the striker skimmed across the board, ricocheted off an edge, and hit the rose coin straight into a pocket. In one swift move, our little game was finished. The Queen was mine.
Josephine’s eyes widened as I reached out to collect the Queen. She gaped at me, the board, and then back at me again. I could almost see the cogs in her head at work, puzzling over the last few turns. She wouldn’t understand. I knew the outcome of the game from the beginning, of course, but that’s what made the game so delightful. Her fall would not have been nearly so satisfying had I not allowed her to rise, but atleast my cousin had gotten to experience the feeling of victory this time-even if it was for a short while.