Disclaimer: Iroh, Merlyn, Dumbledore, the Doctor, and Gandalf do not belong to me. They belong, respectively, to Nickelodean, TH White, JK Rowling, BBC Broadcasting, and JRR Tolkien. Wow, that's a lot of initials.
A/N: Oh, come on. I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking this. All-knowing old men for the EPIC WIN!
Concrit is loved.
Picture a room, clustered with wooden chairs and round tables. Imagine the scent of tea and the sound of idle chatter, filling the building. Picture the polished wooden floor, meticulously swept, the carefully neutral colours, the light edging of steam to the air. Picture a room that forms the centre of a new teashop in a rejuvenated city.
In just such a room, the kettle was steaming.
"I prefer chess, myself." Looking over his half-moon glasses, the elderly man sitting in the corner frowned momentarily, then went back to his knitting.
"Pai-sho teaches many lessons," the Dragon of the West informed him mildly, moving a tile across the board. "It teaches the player to seek many paths, to keep a step ahead of his opponent, never to allow an opening." Scratching his beard thoughtfully, he looked up at his opponent, a white-haired, balding man in a neat suit. "Your move."
"Hm, well, I do believe the General is right, Merlyn," the Doctor replied thoughtfully, putting down one of his own tiles with a sharp, defined click. "Although, mm, chess does share many of the same lessons. Many of the same methods of teaching them, I might rather say, hm?"
"Chess," Merlyn replied sharply, putting down his knitting needles for a moment, "is the king of all such games."
"Nobody said otherwise," the man on the other side of the room said, blue eyes sparkling. "But I think chess is a little messy around tea, don't you? At least, wizard's chess is."
"Don't talk to me about what wizard's chess is, my good Professor." Merlyn picked up his knitting again, returning his attention to it with rather pointed intensity. "I know very well what wizard's chess is. It is precisely like any other chess, but with wizards playing it. What you call wizard's chess is pure externalisation of mankind's basest violent instincts. Wizard's chess? You might as well call it knight's chess, since it certainly seems to share the same ideals. Chess pieces bashing each other with sticks sounds terribly like the sort of pastime that those bone-headed numpties seem to enjoy."
"You seem terribly quick to judge, these days." The fifth and final man in the room, a tall man with a flowing white beard and dazzlingly white robes, regarded Merlyn thoughtfully, leaning on the twisted wooden staff he carried. "The kettle has boiled, by the way, General Iroh."
"Ex-general," Iroh corrected him, absently and without rancour, and laid another circular tile on the pai-sho board. Standing up, he reached for a teapot and the five cups stacked next to the kettle. "Tea?"
"Hm, yes. Earl Grey, if you please, General. A splash of milk, and no sugar."
"Black, if you would. With a slice of lemon, and no sugar. Sugar in tea is a frank abomination."
"Milk and sugar, please, Iroh."
"Tea? No, thank you. Do you have a little red wine?"
There was a dead silence for a moment, broken only by the sound of chairs shuffling unobtrusively away from Gandalf. Then there was a solid clunk as Iroh replaced the teapot heavily on the counter.
"Red wine?" he blazed, incensed. "This is a teashop, Gandalf! This is where we come for tea!"
The old wizard regarded the general thoughtfully, then tilted his head briefly to one side.
"Then I suppose I shall have to share your ginseng, General Iroh. Strong, with no milk or sugar."
Mollified, Iroh nodded, and reached for the kettle.
"With the usual obscene amounts of sugar, I presume, Professor?" Merlyn enquired acidly.
"Oh, certainly." Dumbledore took his teacup out of Iroh's hand with a polite smile, stirring it lightly. The sugar bowl next to Merlyn stood up suddenly, on rather wobbly-looking little legs, and jumped off the table, trotting over to him. Bending down, the professor picked it up carefully on the palm of his free hand, lifted it onto the table in front of him, and began to lift sugar lumps into his tea.
"You'll, mm, you'll use up all the sugar," the Doctor told him, taking his own teacup with one hand and moving a pai-sho tile with the other.
"Well, nobody else will have it," Merlyn pointed out, his irritation apparently reduced somewhat by the application of tea. Tapping idly at the lemon slice with his fingertip, he sipped the steaming liquid, leaning back thoughtfully with his knitting in his lap. "If he wants to rot away all his teeth, I'm sure he's quite welcome to."
"They're my teeth," Dumbledore agreed benevolently, dropping another sugar lump into his tea. The sugar bowl squirmed and giggled slightly as he reached for another lump.
"So..." Merlyn said after a long moment, taking another mouthful of tea and setting his cup down carefully on the table.
"So," the Doctor agreed, shifting one of his tiles to counter Iroh's move.
"Anything world-shatteringly important that we should move to avoid?" Dumbledore asked, absently dropping yet another sugar lump into his already overflowing cup, and giving the sluggish tea a cautious stir before lifting it to his lips.
"Or to fight?" Gandalf put in, pushing aside his untouched ginseng.
"Or, mm, to investigate?"
The five men looked at one another, exchanging glances.
"Not a blasted thing."
"Mm, I think not."
"On the whole, no."
"So," Iroh said, pouring himself another cup of tea and clicking a tile down on the Doctor's side of the board, "that's that, then?"
"Nothing to report," Dumbledore agreed.
"Nobody calling out for help?"
"Well, hm, if you could get me another Earl Grey, I would be very grateful."