As I hurry to change clothes, my mind wander to the last time Jeck and I had a discussion in private. About one and a half month after the meal with Contessa. I had been having one of my regular chess evenings with Jeck.

We had been putting out the pieces in the starting positions in one of Jecks comfortable rooms. I had a losing game from the last time we played I planned to revenge this evening.

"So how was your trip with Alexander?" I asked with the eyes on the chessboard. They had got back to the castle the day before. These evenings were also our time to discuss the game Jeck was playing at the moment.

I remember how I with hidden delight followed how his big hands carefully handled the small pieces.

"It went well. Both Alexander and I are staring to get a grip of the country's more deserted places and the different commercial routes." He answered slowly, almost like his mind was on something else altogether.

"And the status and continuation of your game?" I asked carefully. It was not always he approved of me asking about what he had in mind.

"Yes about that, Alexander wanted to discuss a really interesting thought I think will help us a lot."

Here he had a small pause to place the first move on the board, a pretty bold opening.

He continued to speak wile I answered his move.

"He wanted to give his blessing to our future and help us plan an engagement for us.

A sharp sound came when the chessboard fell over. Standing tense I asked what exactly he meant by that. He looked directly at me and said:

"Thess please sit down, if you get to hear all info I has it will make sense. I have considered a lot of positive effect in both big and small this will lead to."

By now I paced from one side of the room to another. Unable to stand still, Contessa must have a finger in this mess; I was certain of it.

"You already know that myself and Kavelhows switching of playing fields had as a side effect that our identities as players among the others is most certain revealed. And consider on top of that all the rumours the city people is making up on our behalf. I have for a time been worried about that your place in the game will be guessed by a less than friendly player. With your special circumstances that would not be good at all… "

"But!" I tried to interfere

"But with this idea we can make an identity for you as my lover. T o have a piece close to me is considered stupid by other players but nothing they can use against us or our game. If they capture you for ransom or blackmail they can probably not guess your status in the game as you have no darts or other visibly sign on you. Then you are in a perfect position to find out info or capture them in your turn."

I could see the logic, all right. But I could still not think of doing this just because he saw some meek profit in it.

"Why don't I get a say in it?" I asked angrily. He did mot answer right away so I continued:

"It is a position that will last for several games and what about my feelings?" I blurted out before I could stop myself.

Something glinted in Jecks eyes; I caught a glimpse of it before he bended over to pick up some of the scattered chess pieces.

His head still down, he answered with controlled voice;

"It becomes what you want it to be. Like every roll we play in the life we have chosen."

I did not give him an answer on that, just rushed out of his rooms to wander aimlessly in the castle the rest of the evening. Banner my only companion. I couldn't see right away why his answer had made me run for it, but concluded there were two possible reasons why he suddenly had taken up this whole darn subject.

1. He did not think of me in any romantic, (or barely even friendly) way at all, and vas totally unaware that I did not feel the same.

2. He did actually have feelings for me and vas worried of my safety, and decided to go over my head to ensure it.

No matter if it was theory 1 or 2, I was just as angry because he seemed to think I was some kind of meek lady who waited to be swept of her feet, and he had no right to decide such a ting for me. I carefully ignored the little voice in my head that whispered that everything was probably planned out by Contessa in a miscarried concern for my private life. It was much easier to blame Jeck head on.

While I had gone thru the past in my head to prepare mentally for this test, I had got dressed walked out of the castle and brushed pitch, almost on autopilot. As I took the saddle and reined pitch I once again cursed Jeck and all his clever ideas. Pitch just pushed on my hands for a treat.

"I am so happy that you agree" I told him and fished out a handful of corn from one pocket.

After that last chess evening I had dived into my private work, avoided Jeck for all I could manage, and mostly talked with Contessa in public there we was bound of the strict social rules. Apparently had Jeck now got feed up on my cat and mouse game, probably because I was so good at it. I always have a feeling exactly where or when I have to be to make it impossible for him to talk to me or drag me away; it hadn't stopped him from trying thou.

As I sat up on my big horse Jeck came with his horse, a big grey gelding named storm. He often joked she was named after me, and stubborn as a mountain.

"Are you feeling ready to go on a nice little stroll with me princess?" He asks sarcastic

"Always ready!" I answer, determined to keep my head high and hold to my own pride no matter what he can try and come up with.

"So let's get going then." He says with a happy laughter as he hurries Storm out from the castle. I wonder why in chupitt he is in such a good mood today, as I hurried after. We were silent, watched the people around us as we go thru my city. Outside the city wall we take a fast pace for a while until we is truly alone on the countryside. Only a couple of birds watch us as we slow down and ride up side to side on the grassy path. This is a rout we use quite often.

"So now what?" I ask defensive.

"I would like to know why you have taken such an offense by my proposal." He says formally, I can't even hear any sarcasm in his voice."

I glance sideways to him. Suddenly I feel unsure of myself.

He sits with a straight back, looking out in the distance. I try to figure out a question of my own to buy some time. I had expected there'd be a lot of ordering around and remembering speeches of how he was the master player and I should obey. I was not prepared for this straight and weird honesty.

A small gust of wind is hurrying past me, whispering one of its damned truths in my ear. I sighs deep, and pushing it forward away from me.

"I didn't even hear a proposal" I finally say

"Because you didn't exactly give me a chance, running away and all that." He says carefully

After a pause, when I look at a rabbit washing itself under a bush before it hears our horses and ran away, I continued.

"…well, I don't like people around me trying to plan my life for me. I have had more than enough of that in my life as it is."

"What if I say I have put a lot of thoughts into this matter and cant se any other way that let us keep our positions both in the game and outside it." He says and looks at me.

My stomach does a little joyous flip without my agreement at his word. I am careful to hold my face blank as I say:

"I just don't know if I will be able to keep apart one more roll with all the other different rolls that has been built up around me over the years. Soon I will not find a *me* in them anymore."

He lets Storm find the most suitable way by herself as he continues to look at me. My body feel warm, the treacherous thing! I can't even count on my own body to behave I thinks as I feel I am beginning to blush of the intensiveness.

"I can't promise you a normal life. I can't even promise you the kind of attachment you are dreaming of." He says voice low in the sound from the wind and horses.

"But I truly care for you, and this is the only way I know how to live. To play my life is to live my life for me. Can you accept a played engagement to ensure a good life and a good play as far as I can see?"

I got a lump in my throat and don't know how to behave. I want to hug him, kick him and run away, all at the same time. So much for my resolve earlier…

I scrap up some bravery from an unknown source in myself and catch his eyes:

"I can accept what you have offered, but never think I am less of myself for it. If I think something is wrong, let it be game or personal you will hear of it either directly or in the same way as we played it out in the beginning."

He does a grimace in reminiscent, and then give me a big smile.

"You just made everything a lot easier for me Thess. I had feared that I had to argue with you till the day the earth ended. Maybe even knock you silly to drag you to safety." He says with sparkling eyes.

I could only grin back at him as I said:

"Like I would let you! You know, Contessa is probably going to have you knighted for this at the least. Silly girl to mess with my life almost as much as I have messed up in hers. I have to admit your play is top notch at the moment." While I was continuing the joking a strange feeling started to creep all over me. What had I agreed on? What would happen now? Unwanted images were inside my head no matter how desperate I tried to kick them out.

"The best played game is when no fake feelings are needed." He said

It took several moments for me to connect his sentence to my compliment of his game earlier.

We were now at the top of a hill and looked out over the farmland around us, with the city and sea farther away. We usually sit of here; Jeck did so even this time. I follow of my horse uncertain, the silence hanging heavy on us. I and Jeck stand close to each other; I can feel his special smell and linger in it as I often do in secret.

"Please Thess don't try to kill me! I hear Jeck say with something that sounds almost like fear in his voice.

And before I have time to think of the meaning of the words he just said, he turn towards me and give me a strong kiss on the lips. The sensation is amazing; it went thru my whole body like a lightning. It is shortly over, so before I have a chance to collect my scattered thoughts he step back with his hands up; a mix of apology and mischief written on his face now.

"Why?" I stammer eyes big with surprise.

"Two reasons." He answers. Firstly we are at this moment seen of the very eyes that we need to convince, and second … Well I don't know, maybe the goods has punished me by whacking my brain; but I have had such an wish to try to do that for awhile now; Death or no death."

He quickly take me around the hip and drag me close, my head does a spin. In my ear he whispers:

"We still have those evil eyes watching us at this moment. I'm afraid we have to go fast forward. Please be gentle and don't destroy the picture of a lovely couple out to get some private time. I will explain everything when we are back in the palace again."

"Is this not some crazy play you are entertaining yourself with of whatever reason, because I can't see even one human?" I have to ask him in a low voice. If he is so wacked he kisses me out of the blue, he can sure be wacked enough to come up with something as unlikely as this story.

"Se that rabbit there, with the strange green eyes?" He answers equally low.

He led my eye towards the creature with his own and did not so much as bend another muscle to give away he had seen it.

When I saw the little creature the hair on my neck rise, it felt wrong in more than one way.

"Alright I believe you," I say to Jeck.

"But what do you think we should do now, what is it even? It feels so unnatural." My throat feels dry of al the whispering in the wind, trying to look all lovely was exhausting for me.

"My suggestion is that we should try one more kiss, one that says: (We do this often but always feels we have not enough time alone, we must part for this time but don't want to!). Then get up on the horses and race back."

I feel lightheaded, but at least I manage to whisper back:

If you don't have a really good explanation on this and the rest you seem to has been up to you will not… I trailed of, leaving the sentence without a proper end.

So with an unreal feeling, I bend forward and kiss him. I have to do it before I have tome to change my mind. His fast response surprises me. I can't feel any nervousness or insecurity from him. None of us want to let go directly this time. It feels like I fall into myself. He takes a better grip around my arms to get closer and the spell is broken. I wake up from the feelings and part quickly. Just so I with a loud shout can jump up on pitch pack and let him run as fast he can. Jeck is a little later in the start but will eventually catch up with me when the hill plans out.

The wind and the fast pace don't seem to be able to drown all of the different feelings I have just experienced, but the rhythmic sound of Pitch hooves when he trust them in the ground ease some of my confusion. I decide that from here on I have no choice other than to jump on this crazy confusing game we have started, and just se where it ends; with no regrets whatsoever, I am a player.