Junapa stopped, and turned around, sitting at a strange circular table in a dark corner of the library. She gestured at the other thick chair, bidding Edmund to sit. He did, and saw the table had on it a large dusty cloth, designed with a checkerboard pattern. Junapa picked up the cloth, held it over the edge of the table, and shook it, hard. Dust flew everywhere, obscuring the dim sunlight that shone through the stacks. Replacing the cloth, she reached under the table and produced a small box filled with circular disks. They had strange symbols on them, some in red, others in blue. All of them were black on one side, and white on the other. she dumped them out onto the cloth, and began to arrange them.
“Have you ever played checkers before?” she asked, her voice suddenly stern, like Mrs. Mapleberry’s during lessons. Edmund shook his head. He had seen children playing it at the orphanage, but he had never bothered to learn. “The game is very simple, and a good place to start. You may only move one piece forward, diagonally, one space at a time. Your goal is to remove all of my pieces, and you remove them by jumping over them–again, diagonally–and you may jump as many times in one turn as you can. We will not use the whole cloth for this game, only the squares inside this large red one. You may also ignore the designs on the pieces, they are used for different games. Do you understand?”
“Why are you teaching me checkers?” Edmund asked, fingering one of the small wooden disks she had placed in front of him.
“I am not teaching you checkers,” she said, quickly, her dark eyes boring into Edmund’s. “If anyone asks, I am not teaching you anything at all. And that is not a lie. But, if you pay attention very carefully, you may be able to learn something far more useful than the rules of a simple game.”
Edmund stared at the board as Junapa extended a long thin finger and pushed one of her pieces forward, and to her left. Already Edmund could see the basic structure of the game. It seemed overly simple, but he could tell there was more to this than just checkers.
“Why are you letting me learn from you?” he asked, rephrasing the question. Junapa almost smiled.
“Because I am going to save the estate. What does it matter which body wins the war? Now enough stalling; it’s your move.”