Summary: Wilfred Hardcastle is the proud chairman of the 'Yorkshire Tabletop Fantasy Miniature Wargaming Society'. It's largely a family affair, until a mysterious stranger appears. Modern AU, reincarnation-fic, two-shot, Merthur.
Little Men On A Table Top (Part 1: Saturday) by frostygossamer
"The Yorkshire Tabletop Fantasy Miniature Wargaming Society Annual Exhibition", proudly proclaimed the poster, in the window of the 'Richard III' pub.
Wilfred Hardcastle surveyed the Function Room approvingly. This year's exhibition looked like it would be a gradely event yet again. Wilfred prided himself on the way the society had flourished, since he had taken over management from his late brother, almost three years ago. This year looked like it would be another money spinning event for them. Tickets were sold out. And that was saying something in Yorkshire, where the canny folk liked to watch their pennies.
Wilfred's son Arthur strolled into the hall, a broad grin on his face.
"Morning, Fa'ther", he said. "Everything set for this afternoon?"
"Everything looks champion, son", his father replied, with a smug smile. "All we need now are the members and the public."
The doors were due to open at 12.30pm sharp. As Gwenda approached the venue, struggling with a huge basket of hand-cut sandwiches, she noticed the long line of chattering ticket-holders queuing outside.
"Looks like a grand turn-out this year", she said to her companion, Mildred, who was pushing a shuddering trolley, laden with a large shiny tea-urn and a pottery-load of tea-cups, just behind her.
Mildred smirked. "Just hope the rain holds up until they get inside. Nothing worse than the smell of damp raincoats on a warm day in March", she quipped.
Mildred was the sister of Gwenda's fiance Arthur, and the best strategist in the society, bar her brother. The two girls entered the hall where they found Wilfred already got up in costume.
"Afternoon, Mr. Hardcastle", Gwenda sang out.
"'Uther'", Wilfred corrected, in mock admonishment. "Always 'Uther Pendragon', or 'Your Majesty', when I'm in character, thank you lass."
Gwenda giggled. "Pardon, Your Majesty", she said. "Guinevere and Morgana Le Fay reporting for duty. Refreshments front and centre."
"Where's Arthur, Fa'ther", Mildred chipped in.
"In the gents, changing", her father replied.
"Grand", she said, charging off. "I'm going to go and psych him out before the wargames begin. Nothing like playing with your opponent's mind to get the thing off to a flying start."
Gwenda looked over the playing tables. Ever since she had started seeing Arthur Hardcastle, and had been introduced to his father's, and hence his family's, obsessive pastime, she had been fascinated. Fantasy Miniature Wargaming was involving and exciting to watch. She knew a lot of girls wouldn't think so. Warfare and strategy were usually more boys' games, but Arthur's family were all so into it, she couldn't help but catch the fever, and it meant she spent more time with Arthur.
The theme of this year's contest was Arthurian legend, a particular favourite of Wilfred's, as you could perhaps tell from the name he chose for his only son. Mildred's name was her late mother's choice. As much as Wilfred had insisted, Mrs. Hardcastle had refused to name her daughter after a legendary villainess.
Thousands of little knights and nobles had been hand-painted for this special event. Gwenda had helped with that, her nimble fingers skilful with a tiny brush. She had herself finished the little figures of King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere, her own roleplay character.
Lester appeared at noon already dressed as his character, Lancelot, under his overcoat.
"Everything ready to go, Gwenda?", he asked. "Looking forward to the fun?"
He grinned at her sunnily. Gwenda nodded, feeling her face redden slightly. Lester was Arthur's best friend, but she wasn't unaware that he fancied her, perhaps a little too much in Arthur's opinion. Just the same, she couldn't help but like him.
At 12.30 precisely, Wilfred and Lester opened the doors, and began checking tickets, as ticket-holders filed in and found themselves seats.
Wilfred addressed the crowd. "For those of you who haven't attended one of our exhibitions before, you should know that we conduct this event in the style of a simultaneous display, or 'Simul', where several games will be played at the same time. Games will be played in a 'Blitzkrieg' style. In other words, fast as a Sheffield tram."
A titter ran through the assembly.
"Any followers of chess, and I used to be one myself, will no doubt be familiar with these terms. This will allow us to quickly eliminate losers in the early rounds. At the end of play today we will draw the raffle and the ticket-holder chosen will play last year's winner, my daughter Mildred Hardcastle."
He indicated Mildred, who had returned from the ladies in costume. She curtseyed with a grin.
"Throughout the exhibition, you will be free to wander around and observe the various maps in play. But please do not disturb the players, who will be concentrating on their strategy."
The procedure was as always. The players were divided into groups and each played several game scenarios simultaneously. This sped up the competition in the early stages. It looked very impressive, and Arthur and his sister were very, very good at it.
Mr. Hardcastle had hired the room for the weekend, and the exhibition was divided into two phases, group play-offs on Saturday, elimination and final on Sunday. At the end of the first day, Wilfred liked to encourage audience participation by raffling a chance to play last year's winner. Mildred had won the competition last year, much to her brother's chagrin. So the raffle winner, whoever that might be, would play her.
At the end of day one, only Arthur, Mildred, Lester and Gwenda remained in the competition. Wilfred and Mildred stayed to draw the winning raffle ticket, while the others repaired to the facilities to change into their street clothes.
Wilfred cranked the tumbler's handle and made a big show of rummaging inside for the winning ticket. He handed it to Mildred who read it out to the crowd.
"Number 34", she declaimed. "Now who has ticket number 34?"
At the back of the stalls, a slim, dark-haired young man rose to his feet. He held up his ticket.
"That's me", he shouted excitedly.
"Please come down to the front, lad", Wilfred cheerily shouted back.
34 joined Mildred beside the one remaining set-up game table.
"Do you know much about wargaming?", Mildred asked him.
"I used to play a little", he said, sounding almost wistful. "A very long time ago."
"Oh, junior", Mildred assumed. "Grand, we can get stuck right in then."
Mildred expected to win quickly against a mere dabbler, but 34 turned out to know his stuff. He was no easy opponent. Arthur, Lester and Gwenda reappeared to watch the game with the audience.
Morgana Le Fay, long raven hair and scarlet gown, holding a silver sceptre topped with a twinkling glass bead, stood on her vantage point at Mildred's end of the game map. The figure of Merlin, with a traditional long white beard and pointed hat that made 34 wince, stood at the opposite end of the table, commanding a view over his field of knights, knaves and cudgel-wielding peasants, and across the formidable massed ranks of sternly painted immortal soldiery, permanently at attention.
34 sighed and threw the jewel-clear 6-sided dice that dictated his first move. Eyeing the dice as they lay, he flicked his tape measure meaningfully and smirked. As she studied his movements, Mildred scowled. She could tell by 34's look of concentration, this boy knew what he was doing. As the game unfolded, she found she wasn't wrong.
Arthur was very impressed with 34's style. He was also very impressed with the way he was whooping his sister's behind.
Mildred suspected odd things were happening to the men on the table. Battalions popped up where she hadn't noticed them, and infantry turned out to be archers, or even cavalry. Mildred turned to her father and brother, who were now standing together, muttering.
"I think he's cheating", she whispered hoarsely.
"Not a chance of it", Arthur retorted. "I've been watching his every move. He hasn't touched anything improperly. He's not breaking the rules. He's just good. And you're a bad loser, sis."
"There are elephants on the table", Mildred hissed.
"There were elephants back then, eh Fa'ther?", Arthur asked Wilfred.
"Well, aye, I suppose", he replied, chuckling, "in Africa. But then this IS fantasy..."
After an hour, it looked as if 34 was going to trounce his opponent. But his eyes took on a glazed and faraway look. He deliberately knocked over a few of his men, and let Mildred advance, where he could have cut her off with a couple of simple moves. On balance the game would have been a draw, but 34 gallantly resigned, allowing Mildred to triumph.
After making the final winning move, Mildred went to shake her opponent's hand. He took her proffered hand and raised it to his lips for a quick peck. Mildred laughed, slightly embarrassed.
34 turned to Wilfred. "I really enjoyed that", he said. "Are you taking new members?"
"Aye, lad", Wilfred replied. "New members are always welcome."
"I'd love to join up, but I have just one request", 34 went on. Wilfred smiled and waited. "I'd like to play as 'Merlin'. I always used to play as 'Merlin'."
Mildred glanced at her father. "We already have a 'Merlin'", she explained. "the Reverent Oldbody."
Wilfred chuckled. "My old mate Gaius has retired from the society. He was just telling me the other day, that he wants to devote all his spare time to his herb garden, from now on. I'm sure he wouldn't mind us passing on his roleplay character to our newest member."
"So 'Merlin' it is, lad", Wilfred agreed, patting 34 heartily on the back. "Glad to have you aboard."
"A warm welcome to our little kingdom", Arthur added, with a big smile. He was delighted that this new addition to the club was going to annoy his sister even more than he could. 34 smiled at him, almost shyly.
"And tomorrow, I claim the right to play the champion after the exhibition ends", 34 said cheekily. "I think you owe me that much for not wiping the floor with 'Morgana Le Fay' tonight."
Wilfred had to stifle a laugh at his daughter's expense. "Certainly, lad", he agreed. "I'm sure that will be a right interesting game."
Mildred was still feeling disgruntled, as she changed into her day clothes, in the ladies. Her best friend Gwenda giggled.
"Oh, Milly. I think it was you that got psyched this time", she laughed.
Mildred groaned. "You don't have to wait for me", she said. "Dad's giving me a lift home."
"Oh no, Milly. I was waiting for Arthur", Gwenda replied. "But he's still setting up for tomorrow and talking tactics with Mr. Hardcastle. He seems to have forgotten about me."
Just then Lester appeared in the doorway. "Need a lift, Gwenda?", he asked hopefully.
"Oh, Lester, how did you know?", Gwenda grinned. "And we can drop off Mildred on the way."
They left together. The Hardcastle men could find their own way home.
A/N: Who is the mysterious Number 34? Yes, I know it's a bit obvious. Please read on...