General Fiction posted May 22, 2022

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
An strategic games with an unexpected twist

A Game of Strategy and Brutes

by jp88

Dust dispersed under the sandal-clad feet as the young priest dashed past ancient statues carved of marble that smirked benevolently down at him. His footsteps reverberated loudly through the vast hall and domed ceiling, stirring nesting pigeons into flocking out of the half-finished balustrade renovations.
"Monseigneur," he panted and skidded to a halt as the massive oak double doors opened unexpectedly. He clutched his side with one hand and a stack of papers with the other. "Monseigneur, you must see. You will never believe it."
"What is it, son?" asked the old cardinal. He smiled at the young secretary whose dishevelled blond hair stuck in all directions, and was that building dust on his shoulder?
"His Holiness, he is... he is... and the patriarch... they are," the young man gestured wildly behind him, toward the dark interior of the old cathedral. The afternoon sun was sinking and the last rays falling through the mosaic glass windows barely illuminated more than the first few rows of the checkered marble floor. It was closed to the public for renovation, but some of the clergy, including the old cardinal, enjoyed the peace and quiet it offered.
"It is a long-standing tradition," said the cardinal and placed his hand on the secretary's shoulder. "A game of chess is hardly something to get so excited about." Anxiety vibrated off the secretary like waves during high tide and he shook his head.
"No Monseigneur, it's not that. I mean it is, but it's more. They are... it's out of control. You must do something."
The cardinal sighed and raked a hand through his thick white hair. Why did everyone operate under the misconception that he could do anything once His Holiness had made his mind up? He had been with him for decades, as a secretary first and now as a loyal servant, and he knew better than most that there was no stopping him. Ever. "An out-of-control chess game?"
The young secretary kept nodding so hard that the cardinal feared his head might come loose. "Come please!" He was seconds away from grabbing the cardinal's purple robe and dragging him along, and that would not do.
"Shall we ask the Swiss Guard to come with us then?" The chuckle died in the cardinal's throat. His secretary's eyes expanded, and the round orbs held too much sincere agreement. "Show me what has you so upset."
The cardinal followed his secretary through the vast hall. Angry voices articulating sharp, short orders drifted to them, but the distance and echo distorted them enough to be unintelligible. Torches flickered further up where the high altar stood and illuminated the rectangular area in front of it. The freestanding altar had been removed for renovation and the cardinal stopped dead in his tracks as he realized the marble floor's new purpose.
"Pawn to B5," commanded His Holiness, Pope Francis. The leader of the catholic world paced slowly up and down, followed by two members of the clergy with black robes and serious looks of concern. His immaculate white robe was rolled up on the sleeves and beads of perspiration pearled on his forehead.
The cardinal watched with mounting horror as a young priest wrapped in a traditional Jesuit cassock stepped forward and to the left and glared at an orthodox Stavrophore who occupied the white marble square. The cross-bearer walked off, grumbling something in a language the cardinal could not translate, but the glare and spit indicated enough about the content. He joined a group of angry-looking men and women who clustered at the other side of the room, in various states of disarray. One of the men cradled an arm to his chest, one had a cut at his eyebrow, and one had a bleeding nose.
Patriarch Kirill stood near them, so still, the difference between him and the chiselled statues was minuscule. Only his right hand moved to stroke his white beard. "Knight to B5," he announced with heavy accentuation. The man who stepped forward was built like a mountain, with biceps that threatened to break free from the confinements of his novice robe at a moment's notice. A wicked grin spread over his lips, and he raised his arm but was stopped by a cry ringing out.
"Halt!" yelled a red-clad bishop.
One of two, the cardinal noted, and based on their positioning, their real-life occupation might have spilt over into the game. He shook his head and instead fired a rapid prayer off to heaven â?" thank God someone stopped the mayhem before someone else got hurt.
"Illegal move," declared the bishop. "That's three marble tiles. He's at C8. He can't do that."
"I do what His Holiness commands," said the mountainous novice and cracked his knuckles.
"Back to your square," hissed a nun and whacked him with her white cincture.
The Knight glared at her. "You cheat. Pawn took Queen straight. Illegal. Typical!"
"What do you mean typical?" asked the nun and stepped forward. The gigantic novice raised his hands, and the cardinal watched in terror as every single player on the board turned towards them.
"Don't you dare!" yelled an altar boy in a white robe, who carried a standard depicting the holy Mother Mary. "Get your hands away!" He jerked the ancient relic towards the novice, but the long ebony pole was too heavy, tilted downwards and took the surprised altar boy down with it as it crashed towards the floor. Perceiving an attack, two orthodox monks stepped forward, and the skin of their shaved heads shone bright red in anger.
"Not the standard," yelled a nun and dived to protect the ancient priceless garment from being stepped on. She succeeded, but the bishop must have only seen her fall. He blindly pushed the closest standing player to keep her safe, but unfortunately, he was one of their own.
The cardinal scratched his head as the human chess game in front of him dissolved into a bar brawl. Skull caps, hats, belts and other ornate items flew out of the whirlwind of many differently coloured robes and habits and were strewn all over the room. Curses in many languages followed suit, and the cardinal wished that he could not unhear the ones he did understand. The secretary to his side watched the unfolding chaos with open eyes, half-hidden behind the cardinal, willing to let the higher-ups deal with the insanity. He would make it far in the Vatican. The cardinal shot a quick glance to both Holinesses â?" neither appeared inclined to end the scuffle, or overly concerned by the un-sportsmanlike behaviour.
"Enough!" yelled the cardinal. "Have you gone insane? All of you?"
Nobody listened. They possible couldn't even hear him. With all the curtains taken down and carpets away for cleaning, echoes raged rampantly.
The cardinal stepped forward and grabbed the two most muscly bystanders by their arms, without regard for their confession. "Help me separate them," he ordered. "This is a house of God, and I will not see it defiled."
The tumult must have reached the ears of the Swiss Guard stationed outside the cathedral. The double oak doors slammed open and three men in their traditional blue and yellow uniforms stormed inside. It took them less than a second to assess the situation and they came forward, serious expressions etched on their faces. The cardinal only saw them for a second before they deftly waved into the melee and separated the two warring groups. They might have had a little smile tugging at the edge of their lips, but it was hard to say for sure.
The two groups stood panting, red colour climbing up their cheeks to the ears, and it was not from anger. Not anymore. Robes were righted and hairs combed, and a lot of eyes nervously cast to the floor, the ceiling or in a rare attempt at bravery, at the respective Holiness.
The cardinal looked back and forth between the two leaders of massive congregations. The look on their faces reminded him of his twin nieces' birthday party. Anna had broken her sister's horse and Claire threw her birthday cake into the swimming pool in retaliation. Neither backed down, and the cardinal was not going to allow those two men to enter months of not speaking to each other. They still had to come to a consensus on the ecumenical mass, and he would be sent to purgatory if they didn't figure this out. "I think, this might have gotten out of hand", said the cardinal.
For five long seconds, all he could hear was the heavy breathing of the holy warriors. Then, finally, Patriarch Kirill spoke: "The next time we draw â?" I will not say you cheat."
Pope Francis smiled. "And I will not suggest this â?"" he gestured at the men and women still busy inspecting everything but their superiors "â?" human game."
The cardinal heard his own heartbeat loudly in the ensuing silence. It sped up and he couldn't resist the temptation to count. Twenty beats passed until a small, growing giggle erupted and bounced through the hall. He turned his head to see his aide laughing uncontrollable.
"What-" he began, but then others joined in and the cathedral shook under the combined merriment.
Pope Francis wiped a tear out of his eye and stepped forward to clasp the Patriarch's shoulder. "I think," he said and squeezed "I would like a small drink. Would you join me?"

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