This following is an early extract from volume one of my three part saga "Slaves of the Amethyst" . I dedicate it to a lover of games of my acquaintance on xhamster.
Whilst Jennifer and Julie were carousing together on the meadow at Woodman’s Bluff Margaret Wilkinson was sipping a fine hundred year old cognac in a comfortable lounge at Mathom Hall. Lady Mathom was reclining languidly in a chair opposite her, her long dark tresses hanging loose over her shoulders, its glossy sheen reflecting the dancing flames in the fireplace. She wore a simple black silk dressing gown tied at the waist with a broad scarlet sash. The dressing gown fell open at the knees to reveal the sheer dark pink negligee beneath that clung to her elegantly d****d legs to just above the dainty black slippers. The nails were scarlet and the facial makeup was the epitome of sultry seduction in dark shades. A single ruby pennant hung at the long pale neck.
Margaret congratulated herself that she’d had the sense to dress attractively. She wore black too with a knee length dress that fitted to her well preserved body with elegant ease over lacy black bra and pants and silk stockings, held by a black suspender belt. Her feet were clad in slim high heeled shoes. It would not have done to present herself before the mistress of Mathom Hall without looking her best but tonight she’d taken extra special care over her appearance and knew that she looked understated but alluring. It was important this confidence over her appearance for the sexual tension in the air about the two women was a palpable, intoxicating brew.
The cognac had been served by Heather, Helen’s s****r but Lady Mathom had since dismissed her. The girl for once had been glad to be excused. Lady Mathom had been in a strange brooding mood for the last two days and Heather well knew that in such humours she could be dangerously unpredictable, sometimes handing out arbitrary punishments just for her own pleasure. So she’d left the cognac bottle on the coffee table and with a last curtsey had left Her Ladyship to the company of her guest feeling that there were strange things in the air tonight around Mathom Hall.
Lady Mathom picked up the threads of conversation once more, “So all in all you were impressed by the girl Margaret?”
“Very much so milady. She’s clearly intelligent and well mannered. Obviously she’s very young and untrained but there’s a natural charm and grace about her that I think would respond well to training. She is, as I’ve said, almost a replica of her mother.”
“Do you think Katie sent her deliberately to Mathom for me to find Margaret?”
“I can’t see any other explanation my lady. Why else would she have chosen to send her here if not to come to your attention?”
“Yet why did Katie not communicate with me?”
“It’s been a long time My Lady. Who knows what was behind her motives. Katie was always a subtle one.”
“Is Jennifer Katie’s revenge on me Margaret? Has she thrown a Trojan horse into Mathom Hall?”
“I ..I don’t think so lady. There seems to be no guile whatsoever in the girl. Nor do I think that she’s the unwitting instrument of some move on Katie’s part. It’s only a conjecture I know but I believe that she might be an offering.”
“I had much the same thought but I was concerned that it might be wishful thinking on my part and that Katie was exploiting a weakness.”
“It would be a dangerous ploy to utilise with her own daughter.”
“If she is her daughter.”
“Do you doubt it?”
“It’s not the first time that a ringer has been introduced into a game. Still I concede that it is unlikely. So if she’s an offering then why introduce her so obliquely to my attention?”
“Again conjecture, but perhaps Jennifer has been placed in proximity to you but not laid formally at your feet. That way Katie leaves you the option of taking up the offering or not. She’s placed the initiative squarely with you.”
“Did the girl give any hint that she was aware of the reason she had been sent to Mathom?”
“Not specifically no ma-am. She did mention that she had been sent here to get over some “problems” but that was all.”
“What sort of problems?”
“She didn’t confide in me but it doesn’t take rocket science to work them out. The poor girl is a walking bomb of hormones looking for somewhere to go off.”
“On what grounds then do you base your conjecture that she is an offering?”
“Something Jennifer said. She told me that her mother seemed somewhat sad and lonely these days. I think perhaps that Katie is reaching out to us but because of the history she cannot come in person so she has offered her daughter. She’s sacrificed Jennifer to you. The most precious thing she possesses! She’s giving you her daughter. To do with as you will. Yet the daughter has a will too and I think it may ultimately prove to be a powerful one. Katie’s given you The Goddess in a game of Queens, the double edged sword knowing that you will be f***ed to accept the sacrifice. Jennifer Walstow is a Chinese obligation. You can choose to reject the sacrifice but once you have picked it up you’ll not be able to easily discard it. It’s a classic Katie stratagem.”
“Your mind is working well this evening Margaret. You have mirrored my own thoughts on this. I think Jennifer is Katie’s key to Mathom Hall and she judges that I might be prepared to surrender it. I shall have to look the girl over most carefully before I fall into the ploy however. If she’s as good as you seem to think she may be the key to many things.”
“It’s time that there was a random factor thrown into the game. We’ve been stagnating.”
“I agree Margaret. So do you counsel that I accept the sacrifice?”
“If you judge that the girl is worthy and that you can accept her without breaking her, then yes. I certainly think that you will find her interesting.”
“It’s good to be alive isn’t it Margaret?”
“Indeed it is My Lady!”
“Very well then! If the girl has what it takes then we may see a fork in the river. It’s been long enough Goddess knows.”
“Yes My Lady.”
“Let’s conduct ourselves with patience then until I can get to see the girl. Now then how shall we pass the dark hours of this night.”
“I’m entirely at your pleasure My Lady.”
“ A game then?”
“It’s been a long time since I beat you at Queens lady.”
“But you’re strong tonight Margaret and since you’ve met Jennifer Walstow and I haven’t it may be that you’re holding the Goddess in your hand.”
“Which, as we both know, isn’t necessarily an advantage.”
“Depending on whether you want to win or not. Do you want to win tonight Margaret?”
“Am I such a fool as to tell you my strategy in advance My Lady? Let’s play then and you’ll find out!”
“Come then. Pick up that bottle and we’ll retire to the games room and see how the cards fall out.”
The games room was set in a high isolated turret of the convoluted structure of Mathom Hall. It was entirely private, Only Her Ladyship herself, a few close friends and trusted servants held a key to it. It was not specifically devoted to general gaming or leisure activities. There were other rooms within the Hall for such pursuits as card and board games. There was a large billiard room on the ground floor. There was a huge indoor swimming pool in one wing and even a fully equipped gymnasium next to it. But this room was the one known as the “Games Room” yet only one game was ever played in it. This game was “Queens”, the traditional game handed down within Lady Mathom’s house for many generations and whose rules were a closely guarded secret within an inner circle of dedicated players.
Margaret loved this room where she had fought so many battles over the Queens board, some of them epic in scale. Some of them so had been so noteworthy as to have been registered in the book recording the stratagems of notable games for it was a convention of the game that all games were recorded as they were played so that any new or extraordinary strategy could be preserved for future students of the game. Margaret noted that a large fire was burning in the old fireplace.
“You had the fire lit My Lady. Did you anticipate a game tonight then?”
“I thought it possible. It’s been a long time since we clashed over the Queens board Margaret.”
“Nearly two years Lady. You played an open Queen of spades and a hidden Queen of hearts and trapped me into picking up your discard. It was brilliant and I got murdered. The game’s in the book.”
“Ah yes I remember it. That was a shining night Margaret. I enjoyed taking the Queen of Hearts that night.”
“Let’s see in whose hand she will reside tonight.”
“Pour us a couple more brandies Margaret whilst I set up the board.”
Margaret looked around at the familiar room. It was furnished in polished mahogany and red leather. The carpet was thickly piled in dark maroon and there were four large heavy leather armchairs. At one end of the room was a matching leather bound settle and an enormous ornate mirror decorated one wall. From a high beam facing this mirror a pair of red ropes like bell pulls hung and to one side there was a curious leather bound high stool with splayed legs. The room was dimly lit apart from the lighting over the Queens table, closer to the fire, which picked out the green baize of the playing field in soothing light. The table itself was a massively heavy object the size of a snooker table and the baize was marked with various squares and matrixes. On one side of the table was an ornate chess board although it had rather more squares and pieces than a conventional chess board. There was also a complex score board of pegs and holes to keep a running tally throughout the game. Two of the huge armchairs were placed at the table. Margaret poured the deep amber coloured cognac into two goblets the size of small goldfish bowls and took in the room’s ambience.
The fire was merely a visual luxury since the room was not cold. This was, however, a room seen best in firelight, with the polished panelling reflecting the flickering flames around the room. The entire function of the room and its lighting was to focus attention on the great games board that held a place of hypnotic dominance within it. No music was ever allowed in this room and the only sounds were the crackling of flame in the hearth and the steady subdued ticking of an enormous wall clock. No other distractions were allowed to deviate one’s attention from the tense competition on the board.
“Whose turn is it to set up opening parameters tonight Margaret.”
“Yours My Lady as you know very well!”
Lady Mathom chuckled softly “Very well then We’ll start with an opening pick up of ten cards and I shall start white on the chess board. I suggest we commence with an open diamond matrix of discards. Do you agree?”
Margaret thought furiously. To open a diamond so early in the game was highly unusual and it bespoke of some diabolical strategy already forming in Lady Mathom’s mind. She knew she was up against a master player and one generally far her superior and to concede such an initiative at such an early stage could spell a ruinous disadvantage. Very well then negotiate and introduce your own randominity.
“Only if we also commence a closed circle of discards simultaneously.”
Lady Mathom’s eyebrows lifted slightly. “I see that this promises to be a most interesting game. Shall I be recorder?
“As you wish lady. And the stakes?”
“Ah yes the stakes.” Lady Mathom reached into a drawer set into the table and removed an object from within and laid it on one side of the table. Margaret required all her training to regard the object impassively for it was long single plaited whip. “To the Queen of Spades then.” Her Ladyship purred sullenly.
The whip was formed into a leather handle and narrowed from there into a lash some six feet long tapering away into a thin point. There were readily identifiable patterns bound into the leather of the handle and a characteristic knotted loop of leather attached to it. Margaret recognised it immediately.
“I haven’t seen that whip for twenty two years My Lady” she whispered.
“Since the last time you played Katie in fact.”
“Yes. I lost.”
“I thought it appropriate to air it once again since Katie has been so much on our minds. Do you agree to the stakes?”
Margaret trembled slightly. Against a player of Lady Mathom’s ability there was a high chance bordering on certainty that the end result of the game would see that whip caressing her body as it had done so agonisingly twenty two years ago. Alfred would see the lash marks on her skin and know that she had attended Her Ladyship’s pleasure. Thank heavens he understood. How typical of Lady Mathom to introduce such a factor, playing mind games before even a card was laid. Very well then, so be it. But she determined to play to win, to fight however futilely for the Queen of Spades for her honour’s sake. Committing her soul to the Goddess she agreed.
“As Your Ladyship pleases. Let the Queen of Hearts dance to the tune of Katie’s whip.” And so with the coiled whip lying on the table like a curse the game began.
It is a shame that the rules of Queens were so little known and are now all but forgotten, but for a very few people, because it has to be said that Queens was possibly the most fiendishly complicated and devilishly subtle card game ever invented. Its history is obscure but it was played in at least some form as early as the eighteenth century. Most of its rules seem to have been codified around the early decades of the nineteenth century and its conventions and minor regulations had been tinkered with ever since. It started with a basic set of four packs of cards although in certain convolutions extra packs could be added to the playing field. These were generally speaking quite conventional packs except that there was only a single Queen of Hearts and a single Queen of spades however many packs lay on the table. It was more than just a card game however for it was also a chess game played on the curiously unconventional board that accompanied it. The two games ran simultaneously and were inter active with each other with one’s fortunes on the chess board being determined by the configuration of the cards in your hand as well as those on the on the table and with setbacks and successes on the chess board similarly altering the play of cards. There was also a score board although the object of the game was not to outpoint your opponent. The scores were simply another interactive factor. A high score standing on the board could frequently allow the player to configure the moves on the board to their advantage but this was not always the case for there were certain scores which convened a powerful advantage. An example of this would be to match the numerical value of the cards in your hand or in some open pile laid on the table that was under your control to that of your current score.
The card game itself was a combination of an intricate version of bridge, poker and an enormously convoluted form of rummy. A player could pick cards according to the strength they possessed or discard them. There would normally be several piles of discards on the table. Some of these were open and their contents observable whilst others would be closed and you were obliged to attempt to remember or discover the cards within them before attempting to capture them or f***e your opponent into picking them up. Some of these piles were formed into mathematical matrixes at the decision of the player whose move it was. The commonest of these were the diamond, the square and the circle. These matrixes once formed were frequently difficult to break and could assert a powerful influence over the game.
At its basic the game revolved around the attempt to capture and hold the Queen of Spades. This was the most powerful conventional card in the pack but only slightly more powerful than the Queen of Hearts. It was not just the point however to hold the Queen of Spades. To win you had to hold the Queen of Spades at the moment that your opponent held the Queen of Hearts. Nor was this all since you also had to have the advantage on the chess board. The equivalent to the Queen of Spades on the chess board was the black queen and that of the Queen of Hearts the white queen. The white queen had to be taken on the board before the Queen of Spades could assert dominance over the Queen of Hearts in the card game. If the black queen was taken then this dominance was impossible but it was no ordinary chess game since pieces taken could be replaced on the board if you were able to form the correct combination of cards into order to do so. Moreover gaining ascendancy on the chess board was a dangerous ploy because combinations of cards could enable a player to reverse roles on it so whereas one minute you might be playing black, the next you would be moving the white pieces. It was not at all uncommon in fact for one player to subtly and deliberately lose ground on the chess board whilst hiding in their hand the cards that would enable them to reverse pieces and turn the disadvantage into a strong position.
On top of all this was the fact that in order to win you also had to strip the Queen of Hearts of her protection. Various combinations of the numbered cards could afford such protection and the close proximity either in the hand or in an open or closed pile on the table of certain powerful allies, such as Kings or Jacks of Hearts or Queens of Diamonds could render her invulnerable to the attack of the Queen of Spades. The Queen of Spades had her own allies namely the Queens of Clubs or the black Jacks and Kings that could be used to strip the Queen of Hearts and leave her naked. Once she was vulnerable then the Queen of Spades could be played or declared and the game was over.
The combination of the cards in your hand or in piles that you had won control over determined your possible moves. Of course it was easy to cheat in this regard and in fact such cheating was an integral part of the game. You could play combinations made possible only by a card or cards you did not in fact possess. If your opponent uncovered such a ruse they could challenge you to open your hand. If they were right you could lose a great deal of ground but if they were wrong then you could gain an advantage and so bluff was common too as you attempted to convince a player that you were lying about your holdings and try to make them call a false challenge. A more subtle ploy involved hiding a card in your hand and pretending you didn’t possess it until you could use it with devastating effect. Once again it was dangerous since this too was open to challenge.
As if all this complexity were not enough then there was an additional random factor built into the game. This was represented by a single ornate card depicting a naked woman that was known as the Goddess. The Goddess was the most powerful card in the pack but she was a dangerous one to use since whereas she could give you a massive advantage in the run of play, whilst other, often uncontrollable factors, could suddenly mean that she became a dreadful liability. It was a card deliberately designed to introduce an element of fate into the game and even the best players could sometimes flounder on the chance occurrence of the Goddess in the pattern of the play.
This it must be said is only the most basic outline of this extraordinary game and a full description of its myriad intricacies and subtleties would be beyond the scope of this narrative. It took a very intelligent mind merely to grasp the basic rules, brilliance to be able to play it and something approaching genius to master it. Few games took less than two hours and there were instances where a game had lasted several days before the Queen of Spades finally had the Queen of Hearts at her mercy. Those people that played the game loved it and studied it avidly using its Byzantine intricacies almost as an analogy of life. It had another subtle factor to it because it was also a game you could play to lose. Losing a game and becoming the Queen of Hearts was sometimes quite as difficult as winning. It was not unknown for two players to be both playing to lose since they desired to be the Queen of Hearts. Margaret’s last game with Katie Carmillion had been just such a game and was regarded as a classic. It had lasted fully thirty six hours. It was not safe for an player to assume that their opponent was playing to lose however because it was a frequent tactic to appear to be playing for the Queen of Hearts in order to lure the other player into indiscreet moves whilst covertly building up a devastating response and launching a counter attack to gain the Queen of Spades. There was one comforting predictability in playing Lady Mathom, Margaret was aware. Lady Mathom had never been known to play to lose.
The game was played normally with two to four people and very occasionally by teams. Single one on one matches were most common however and they were always, by common consent played to a conclusion. The rules were designed to eliminate the possibility of a draw. Once committed to the table a player was obliged to see the game to the end and their fate as Queen of Hearts or Spades. There was no compromise in this ruling. The stakes always placed the Queen of Hearts at the mercy of the Queen of Spades and if you were not prepared to accept this you did not sit at the table. It gave the game its curious intensity. There was one other strange convention. The game was only ever played by women. No man was taught the rules of Queens.
Margaret started the game cautiously trying to fathom the deep ploy of Lady Mathom’s early deployment of the diamond matrix. After twenty minutes she believed that she saw the point and was able to slowly gain control over the matrix although Lady Mathom was developing an ominous advantage on the scoreboard. Suddenly she realised that Lady Mathom had deliberately challenged her into control of the matrix and the score was mounting to a position where she would be f***ed into losing a double move on the chess board. The matrix was a subtle lure. The real attack was coming elsewhere. “Think Margaret! Think!” she told herself. It took a pair of desperate discards to evade the coming attack and she was left weakened having been f***ed to drop a King that she had been relying on.
Slowly, with mounting menace she saw Lady Mathom press her advantage laying patterns in the cards like a spider’s web of deceit and entrapment. It was warm in the room and Margaret felt beads of perspiration on her forehead as she berated her mind into formulating counter measures. After losing some more ground she was in great trouble and the whip seemed like an evil black snake waiting to pounce, coiled on the table beside her. Lady Mathom played a combination declaring she had matching Jacks in her hand. Margaret was almost sure that two of the other matching Jacks were in a closed discard pile. How likely was it then that her opponent possessed the other two. The trouble was that the Queen of Hearts was visible on an open pile. If she challenged Lady Mathom and she was wrong then she might be obliged to pick it up and she didn’t currently have strength enough to defend it. “Wait!” she told herself. She knew one of the Jacks was played ten moves ago. And ended in a closed pile since reshuffled. Had Lady Mathom picked up from that pile since then. Yes she’d taken two cards. That left three in the pile. If Margaret laid down her Ace, two, three combination she could win the right to pick up those three cards. Then she’d know if Lady Mathom truly held the Jack. If she did of course then Margaret was in dire straits having just sacrificed her combination to learn that her opponent really did have the advantage and without gaining any benefit. Taking a deep breath she laid down the three cards and picked up the pile. There, glory be, was the Jack of Hearts in the middle of them. She challenged Lady Mathom and recovered her position sufficiently to fight off having to take the Queen of Hearts and having gained the Jack to her advantage as an ally should that possibility yet come to pass.
In fact as the game progressed Margaret saw distinct advantages in picking up the Queen of Hearts. She was currently playing black on the chess board but a possible combination of pick ups from the open piles plus an addition to the matrix could allow her to reverse the pieces. With the Queen of Hearts in her hand protected by the Jack she could use the white queen incisively to gain position enabling her to gain control of the matrix.. The possibilities of that were far reaching. The possession of control over the matrix gave her the chance to make a numerical match with her score by discarding a five and a ten and gaining s*******n points from the matrix. Such a combination could f***e the Queen of Hearts into Lady Mathom’s hands as an obligatory pick up from her discard. All she needed to do was to eliminate that Jack of Diamonds from Lady Mathom’s hand and she’d have isolated the vulnerable Queen in it, open to attack, if she could win the Queen of Spades now residing face down in the circle.
It was a lot of ifs but Margaret put the scheme into action by first luring the Jack out to defeat a declared ten of diamonds in open play before picking up the Queen. Lady Mathom was surprised. She was aware of course of Margaret’s Jack of Hearts but it wasn’t that much protection and she wondered if for a moment that Margaret, by picking up the Queen was playing a losing game. Her eyes narrowed and the tip of her cigarette burned slightly hotter. Formidably she calculated the figures, running through an entire synopsis of the state of the game. She glanced at the scoreboard and in sudden shock saw the numerical combination possible in the matrix assuming Margaret could discard the correct value of cards. Then her eyes flew to the chess board. So that was Margaret’s game plan. She could gain the white pieces and then with the Queen of Hearts giving her the initiative she could run amok with the white Queen before sacrificing her, re-reversing the board with the advantage gained and leaving herself with the black chess queen after discarding the Queen of Hearts to Lady Mathom’s hand and every possibility of recovering the Queen of Spades from the circle. She was impressed. It was a classic flanking move and brilliantly conceived.
Despairingly Margaret watched Lady Mathom evade her trap with effortless ease. With any lesser player she thought she’d have had them by the short and curlies. As it was she’d only gained a temporary advantage and was left dangerously with an ill protected Queen of Hearts. Still Margaret played her small advantage to good measure and for the first time in the game enjoyed some degree of mobility and the strength to hold her opponent on the defensive. It couldn’t last of course. With a series of moves of breath taking audacity Lady Mathom regained the upper hand. Margaret knew she had been bluffed into an error and should have challenged Lady Mathom’s declared hidden ace which didn’t exist. It was too late now and she was fighting for survival.
Just when the whip coiled on the table seemed to Margaret’s imagination to be slowly uncurling itself in preparation to receive her, Margaret gained a reprieve. An unused pile in the middle of the table had its top card uncovered and it was the Goddess. This situation meant that a random state was declared and the two women had to roll the dice to determine who gained from the Goddesses’ intervention. To her great good fortune the dice rolled kindly for Margaret and she was able to recover once more and able moreover to discard the Queen of Hearts to an open pile. Margaret was perspiring freely now and her head ached trying to keep track of all the nuances in the developing game. Lady Mathom seemed as detachedly cool as ever as once more she began to weave her plots. The centre pile that had revealed the Goddess was once again shuffled and the card concealed. There were something like thirty five cards in the pile and the Goddess was unlikely to re-emerge for some time.
In the meantime Lady Mathom had gained the black pieces on the chess board and was using them to great effect. A combination of two black Kings and a black Jack enabled her to utilise a double move and remove the white queen from the board. The high protection she was employing meant that it was unlikely in the near future for Margaret to regain the black pieces so now one of the requirements for defeat was in place once again and the Queen of Hearts lay visible on the open table inviting an attack which would f***e it into Margaret’s hand. But the Lady wasn’t finished with Margaret yet. A highly subtle move f***ed Margaret to discard her last remaining reserve of protection and insidiously Lady Mathom started to build the combinations that would drive Margaret into picking up the Queen.
Three times Margaret was f***ed into a random pick up from closed piles. The first card she took was useless, the second had some value but she was starting to be buried under a mounting assault. The third card was from the central pack and it was the Goddess. Margaret froze her face into a mask. It was incredible that the first card off the top of the reshuffled pile was the Goddess but there it was almost glowing in her hand. It was a frightfully dangerous card to possess but difficult to discard. If Lady Mathom detected the card she could use its influence to bring utter ruin on Margaret in her weakened position but the card could yet help her if she could be very clever about it. Certainly its immediate use could gain some advantage but that use was fraught with peril. She decided on one of the most dangerous and seldom used tactics of all. She would hide the Goddess. Refuse to declare it in her hand or use it until such a time as she could deploy it to the best effect. It was perilous indeed since if challenged whilst hiding the Goddess her hand could be stripped clean and she would be f***ed to pick up any open card on the table whilst her opponent had the choice of any card they wished. Lady Mathom next uncovered the Queen of Spades from where it had lain long in the circle. She could not achieve this without some sacrifice however and Margaret was able to replace the white queen on the chess board. It was highly vulnerable but it gained Margaret some time since Now Lady Mathom would have to eliminate it again before capturing the Queen of Spades and forcing the Queen of Hearts onto her.
In those last moves Margaret poured everything she had into her strategy. It was necessary to allow the mounting attack to develop against her, accepting losses whilst manoeuvring into a position to deploy the Goddess and effectively reversing the position and making Lady Mathom pick the fatal Queen of Hearts and going for its black nemesis herself. Did she have time? Could she stave off the inevitable slashing final assault until the cards were in place. For ten long moves she kept the card concealed in her hand whilst she desperately attacked the black queen on the chess board distracting Lady Mathom’s attention from the looming peril. Both the two Queens were face up on the board. The Queen of Hearts looking forlorn and vulnerable on the green baize whilst the Queen of Spades sat two feet away like a sword of Damocles. If she was challenged now the game was effectively over. She’d have to lay down her hand and pick up whatever cards she was instructed to. That would be the vulnerable Queen and Lady Mathom would be at liberty to take the winning card. If she were not challenged then the combination of cards would enable her to unleash the card at the very moment of Lady Mathom’s triumph.
She gained a move as Lady Mathom was f***ed to turn to the chess board to remove the white queen and then she knew that she must play her most desperate gamble yet. She must play from a lie. A hidden card she did not possess. She had to gamble that Lady Mathom would regard challenging her as immaterial at this stage and merely a delaying tactic for the inevitable. Lady Mathom would see the advantage gained by the challenge as nothing more than a trivial aside for within two moves Margaret was her’s anyway. Yet the tiny advantage gained by the lie was crucial to laying the last card into the matrix that, in combination with her own cards, would bring all of Lady Mathom’s plans crashing in ruin about her head. She almost held her breath as she played the lie and used every last iota of her control as the chance of a challenge was passed. Lady Mathom had ignored the distraction. She had bl**d in her nostrils now. Margaret’s bl**d. She played her final move setting the board for the exchange of Queens and watched Margaret play a last defensive move.
Margaret watched in triumph as Lady Mathom began to settle for the kill. Lady Mathom knew that she had won but a small nagging doubt began to itch in her mind even as she prepared her final cut. Why had Margaret accepted the final run into defeat so stoically? Why hadn’t she fought more desperately to defend herself other than a foolish lie to gain a minor advantage and a mere delay to her fate. Had she already, in herself, accepted the Queen of Hearts. Had her whole game been one of losing but done so subtlety as to gain honour from her defeat. If so it was totally brilliant. Lady Mathom had never seen Margaret play like she had tonight. She was inspired and that thought brought the seeds of doubt closer to her consciousness. Why was Margaret even now so seemingly calm and resigned yet with a quiver of discernible agitation? Was the source of that agitation curled up on the table, three feet from her elbow, with its promise of exquisite pain? Or was there some other reason? The woman before her seemed to glow in the firelight full of promise and beauty. In some ways Lady Mathom regretted her victory. This was a worthy opponent this night and she could well have been the Queen of Hearts to her. Margaret seemed possessed by the Goddess herself, her old friend transformed by the game into some vision of fundamental power, elevated into the highest realms of her womanhood.
The Goddess! With a thrill of horror Lady Mathom saw with blinding clarity another possibility. She was hiding the Goddess! But it was impossible! She had picked up from the pile just once and that had been what? Twenty moves ago? How could she have concealed the Goddess for so long? Desperately Lady Mathom tried to run over those moves. Looking at the record was forbidden. Each move was recorded on a different side of the pad and turned over. She must rack her brains through the past moves to see if she could detect any anomaly knowing that if she were wrong she was doomed. If she played her move for the Queen of Spades now and Margaret revealed the Goddess she was lost. Then again if she challenged her and was wrong she was equally lost. Was this a final bluff to make Lady Mathom think that she had the Goddess and call a false challenge? She must have passed up at least five chances to use the Goddess effectively to bring this situation into play now. She thought that Margaret had made a tiny error around ten moves back when the effect of her cards didn’t quite add up, as if she’d miscalculated the value of them and had not compensated for the presence of the Goddess sufficiently. But she wasn’t sure. For the first time in a long time at the Queen’s board Lady Mathom wasn’t sure and defeat rested on her uncertainty.
She sat back and composed herself. She lit a cigarette with deliberate calmness trying to still her fluttering heart.
“You’re lying Margaret. You’re hiding the Goddess.”
“Is this a formal challenge My Lady.”
Lady Mathom let out a plume of smoke, thought to herself “Very well let the Goddess decide.” and breathlessly said “Yes it is. I challenge you.”
Margaret slumped forward the tension exploding out of her in a rush and the bitter, sweet taste of defeat on her tongue. “You’re correct My Lady I’m hiding the Goddess.” Then she slapped her hand on the table saying “Damn! I nearly had you! One last bl**dy move! Oh God! I’m sorry forgive me.” Margaret was exhausted. She leant heavily over the table her hands trembling uncontrollably from the pent up tension. She glanced at the clock. They’d been playing for nearly five hours. “I’m sorry. Dammit I’m sorry! That was one hell of a game. God I feel destroyed!” Lady Mathom looked at her compassionately.
“Take your time Margaret compose yourself.”
“Can I have one of those bl**dy cigarettes of yours Jennifer?”
“Of course Margaret here.”
Margaret took the proffered cigarette and tried to keep her hand steady as she lit it from the brass lighter on the table. The nicotine soothed her and she began to steady herself.
“Let me pour you another brandy Margaret.”
“Oh God! Thank you.” Margaret sipped the liquid feeling the warmth of it glowing down her gullet calming her. She allowed herself to look at the whip on the table. So it would happen after all. She would dance to her Ladyship’s tune with the lash curling around her body high up in this garret where the song of her screams would not disturb the rest of the household. Where? Maybe tied against the vertical whipping post in the corner or suspended by the wrists from the ropes from the overhead beam in front of the mirror. It was all the same. The Lady was the Queen of Spades. Her mistress and it was entirely Her choice where and how the whipping would be administered. And that was how it should be. How it nearly always was.
“I should have known better than to take you on Lady!”
“You were brilliant tonight Margaret.”
“Not brilliant enough!”
“No really. I’ve never seen you play so well. Meeting Katie Carmillion’s daughter must have inspired you.”
“I came so close My Lady.”
“True! Look at the record. You must have hidden the Goddess for twenty two moves. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before and you were within a move of defeating me.”
“Katie would have been proud of me.”
“Is Katie hiding the Goddess Margaret?”
“Katie’s a better player than me.”
“Not tonight she isn’t. Only I could beat you tonight and it would take all my ability to do so.”
Margaret smiled gratefully and her eyes wandered back to the whip. “Talking of Katie, now that the game is over Lady shall we proceed to the next formality.”
“But the game isn’t over Margaret. Convention decrees that we must pick up the Queens.”
“It was so close My Lady. Dammit I haven’t beaten you in over fifteen years.”
“I know Margaret.”
“And even that was a fluke!”
“Shall we end the game by convention then Margaret and proceed to settle the stakes.”
“Of course My Lady.” Margaret’s hand reached out for the Queen of Hearts. Before her fingertips could touch the card however Lady Mathom’s hand snaked across the table and covered the card. Surprised Margaret glanced up into Lady Mathom’s face. The extraordinary amethyst eyes had lost their penetrating glint. They seemed soft, almost wistful now and lowered demurely. When she spoke the voice was softened too, carrying tones of resignation and sadness.
“You were truly wonderful tonight Margaret. The Goddess rode with you tonight and I think she’s chosen. Convention declares that the challenger picks up first Margaret and I’ll not deny the Goddess.” Lady Mathom slid the Queen of Hearts across the green baize towards herself and picked it up. “Pick up the other queen Margaret.” Margaret obeyed although it was as if some will other than her own lifted the Black Queen from the table. She watched transfixed as Lady Mathom rose from her chair and undid the sash on her gown and slipped the garment from her shoulders. She watched hypnotised as Lady Mathom slid her negligee from her arms and let it whisper down her nakedness to the ground with her ruby pennant glinting in the firelight.
“I believe I lose Margaret.” she said, letting the Queen of Hearts fall from her hand.
Margaret dropped the Queen of Spades and lifted up the whip in a trance, uncoiling it and letting it slide sinuously through her fingers.
“Yes My Lady Mathom. I believe you do.”