He seemed more bear than man. Standing head and shoulders above the rest of his fellow guards, clad in furs and chainmail holding that axe. Nearly as tall as he was with a great crescent-shaped steel blade counterbalanced by a massive spike on the back, it was a vicious brute of a weapon.

She on the other hand was more akin to a wolf, small and lithe, clad in dark silk and wielding a pair of daggers joined by a cloth wrapped chain. The only part of her visible was a pair of amber eyes.

They were battling for their masters, reasons held no meaning to them; their lords commanded and they fought. An uneasy silence blanketed the area, some guards watching silently while others ignored the upcoming fight to guard the two seated warlords. Then on some unremarked signal the murmurs of the watchers rose as the champions surged into combat.

The giant was surprisingly fast for one of his size, swinging the great axe in a single hand, a manic grin emblazoned across his bearded face. At first look he seemed to be nothing more than a berserker from the northern wastes, lost in the blood rage. But underneath the lust for battle, there was skill and more importantly a focused mind using it.

The ground cratered around the spike of the axe as the wolf made another dodge, having chosen mobility over blocking. A wise choice given the axe alone looked to weigh more than she did, one hit from it would be all it took to end the fight. All the advantages seemed to be held by the bear as each dodge came slower and slower, missing her by less and less.

“Stop playing.” The disinterested voice of her master sliced through the air from where the warlords sat, as only the voice of command could. Neither of the warlords were even watching the battle fought in their names; instead they were concentrating on the game of chess in progress between them.

The wolf leapt from another wild swipe, however this time, instead of her dodge taking her further away from the giant, she span forward to his side. This unexpected move left the bear overextended and with a blur of movement, daggers flashed across his heels severing tendons as the wolf danced clear again.

There was a crash as the bear toppled to his knees, feet no longer able to hold him upright. He growled at the wolf baring his teeth and grasped hold of his axe with both hands for the first time. The wolf tested him for a few moments mixing dancing feints with darting probes of attack. Suddenly the bear made a mistake, his block falling a fraction too late. The dagger leapt from the wolf’s right hand embedding itself deep in the shoulder of the bear. This was followed immediately by a quick spin and jump in the opposite direction landing the wolf behind the bear, his arms temporarily restrained by the chain as the other dagger sank into his now unguarded throat.

Hushed silence reigned as she removed her weapons, cleaning them on her opponent’s furs before bowing to her lord.

“Knight takes rook,” said her master as he nodded approvingly at her before turning to his opponent and continuing, “Check.”

The other warlord cursed widely while quickly moving his king to safety before glaring at the corpse of his failed champion.

The wolf’s master studied both the board and his opponent for a few moments before grinning widely, leaning back.

“Your problem with the game, my old enemy, is much as in battle. You place your faith in brute force, rooks and bishops so to speak. You neglect the subtle elegance of movement from the knight.”

His arm waved off to indicate his winning champion and then the cooling body of the bear. He paused and then stared directly at his opponent before continuing,

“Or the usefulness of a single pawn in the right place at the right time.”

The opponent coughed into his hand, his mind spinning as he felt suddenly weak. He looked at his hand. Blood, his blood, splattered all over it! The room wavered, turning grey as he stared blankly at the wolf’s master.

‘How?’ he wondered as he slid to the floor.

“Pawn takes king,” a voice whispered in his ear as the light faded from his eyes.