Omake / Sidesnippet: The Royal Game of Ur
The board was beautiful.
It was a slightly crooked "I", with the bottom half deeper than the top. It had twenty panels – shell and wood, bordered by bits of lapis lazuli. Sumerian craftsmen had painted it with flower rosettes, eyes, and eight-pointed stars, all executed in a geometric style.
The game's surface and cupboards held no inlaid jewels. No goldsmith had gilt it with gold or silver. A careful observer might have even noted the dents and chips – scars from when Gilgamesh had played with it as a boy in Uruk.
It was priceless.
"These circular pieces," Jeanne said. "They look a bit like Rin's cookies."
Gilgamesh's hand twitched under the table, though he managed to avoid a scowl.
"Throw the dice."
The girl looked up at him. Gilgamesh caught himself wondering how the bitch would look with her braids shorn. Her elfin features and light blue eyes were rather exotic. Delectable.
"Oh…" she said. "That's all right. You may go first."
…Alas, she had obedience issues.
"The game is played by throwing the dice," he said. "Do it."
The girl shrugged. She always shrugged. It was infuriating. Nevertheless, she released the four-sided dice, which clattered along the board.
Ha! Too low.
Gilgamesh grinned. He placed his first piece on the panel with the resounding clack of wood against shell. The girl didn't react much – just kept sitting with her chin resting on her hands.
More dice rolls followed. Each player's pieces crept toward the center. It drew them in like a vortex.
And then, a piece drifted too close. Gilgamesh threw the dice, and snapped it up. He slammed his own piece on top of it with another loud clack.
"You play with such relish," she said.
"How else would one play?"
A lazy smile crossed the girl's face.
"I would have thought that you'd save your energy for our other game."
Gilgamesh raised an eyebrow. Red eyes inspected the girl's face with renewed interest. And her body. He smirked.
"Ho-oh…Has the sight of my piece mounting yours given you any ideas?" he said. "Is that lust I see in those dainty little—"
She laughed. It was a young girl's laughter, high and trilled. Gilgamesh frowned.
"Do not laugh at me, woman."
Jeanne covered her mouth. It seemed more for politeness's sake than anything. Not fear. And oh, how he longed to see those eyes widen in terror. To see her face flushed. Panting. Begging…
"Oh dear," Jeanne said. "That is a game you can never play, King of Heroes. Let alone win. No, I was referring to our more recent contest – where you are proving a rather tougher opponent."
Gilgamesh's hand was still twitching under the table, seeking an invisible neck to wring. Slowly, he loosened it. Dragging the girl's captive piece back to his home tile was sparse consolation.
More moves. More cycles around the board. Pieces danced their endless reel.
It was so like a woman, he thought, to stubbornly bar one topic while revealing weakness in another. That game of high walls and lures. Like the game Shamhat had played when she'd beguiled Enkidu into the tall grass, rutting like a dog in heat. And Gilgamesh had owed her for it.
He tapped a pair of pieces that Jeanne had stacked on one tile.
"Food for thought," he said. "Take one, and you take both. Like a servant and her master."
"You'll find I can guard certain pieces rather well, King of Heroes."
"You can try. There are still two command spells left. Think for a moment about the orders that your little sadist of a master might give you…with my guidance. One to break you, I think. And another to tame you. I wonder what your cries of pleasure sound like—"
The girl pointed at the fallen dice, with that same bored expression.
"You win," she said. "You've captured my last piece, and rolled high enough to reach home."
And there it was again. That backbiting submission to strength – like trying to punch a river to death while it drowns you.
"You're terrible at this game," Gilgamesh said.
Jeanne shrugged as she stood, that same lazy smile on her lips.
"What do you expect?" she said. "That is a game for Sumerian kings. And what am I but a French peasant girl?"
Gilgamesh glared daggers at her as she glided out the door.