Here's an extract from L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s Recluce Tales, a collection of short stories set in the Recluce universe, compliments of the folks at Tor Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
For over a thousand years, Order and Chaos have molded the island of Recluce. The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world through eighteen books, L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s most expansive and bestselling fantasy series. Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce collects seventeen new short stories and four popular reprints spanning the thousand-year history of Recluce. First-time readers will gain a glimpse of the fascinating world and its complex magic system, while longtime readers of the series will be treated to glimpses into the history of the world. Modesitt's essay “Behind the ‘Magic’ of Recluce” gives insight into his thoughts on developing the magical system that rules the Island of Recluce and its surrounding lands, while “The Vice Marshal's Trial” takes the reader back to the first colonists on Recluce. Old favorites “Black Ordermage” and “The Stranger” stand side-by-side with thrilling new stories.
"A Game of Capture"
There are games for pleasure, and then there are other games.
The lower limb of the white sun had barely touched the gray-green waters of the Gulf of Candar on that late harvest day when the two black engineers settled onto opposite sides of the Capture board in the rear corner of Houlart’s.
Aloryk set down his mug of dark lager, pulled a handful of coppers from his wallet and juggled them in his hand, then closed his fist and laid it on the wood bordering the inlaid lattices of the board, lattices with depressions for the polished black-and-white stones. “Odd or even?”
“Even,” replied Paitrek, brushing back his thinning black hair as he eased the chair in which he sat closer to the table, the top of which was effectively the Capture board. He took a swal- low of his golden ale, then set down his mug.
Aloryk turned his hand and unclenched his fist. Four cop- pers lay in his palm. “Even it is.”
“Black.” Paitrek picked up one of the black stones from its well-crafted box and placed it on the corner depression of a four-lattice.
Aloryk countered by placing a white stone on the corner of a three-lattice near the center of the board.
“You always do that,” offered a third voice from seeming emptiness.
Aloryk looked up to see Faynal appear, smiling at him. “It works. And I hate it when you sneak up like that.”
“Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. You need to be more unpredictable. Chaos is. And I need to practice concealments. It’s harder to avoid detection with people who know you.”
“That makes it hard on your friends.”
“You’re ignoring my point about the center opening,” said Faynal. “It’s still chaotic.”
“Tell that to the High Wizard of Fairhaven.” Aloryk noted that Paitrek had added another black stone, in a way that could either create another lattice or complete a four. He debated for an instant before adding a white next to his first, then added, “You fuzzy air mage.” He grinned.
“Spoken like an engineer.” Faynal shook his head, and made his way toward the front door, doubtless hurrying home to his consort.
Aloryk took another swallow from his mug. He was thirsty. As he set it down, he realized that a blond man seated alone at a table for two against the wall had turned to listen to the last few words of his exchange with Faynal. His jacket was the kind worn by Nordlan merchant officers, not that Aloryk had seen many, but merchanters were welcome ashore in Nordla, unlike the officers and crews of warships, and Houlart’s was close enough to the piers that some did eat there. On the other hand, warships weren’t even allowed in the harbor except by approval of the Council. Belatedly, he added a white stone to a four-lattice bordering one edge of the board.
Paitrek positioned a black stone away from his others, then lifted his mug and gestured to the board.
“Who’s the stranger?” Aloryk murmured as he looked up from the board after playing his next stone, convinced that the merchant officer was covertly studying them. He couldn’t tell from the sleeve markings whether he was a junior officer or more senior.
Paitrek looked up and frowned. “Never saw him before. He’s junior. Third mate of some sort. Concentrate on the game. I’ll have you blocked if you don’t. Then you won’t be able to complete any lattices on that side.” He reached for his mug.
Aloryk shifted his attention back to the board for the next several moves, until he realized the Nordlan had moved to ob- serve the game. Sometimes, other engineers came by and commented, but this was the first time Aloryk had seen an outsider do so.
“What is the game?” The officer spoke Temple without an accent, but perhaps a trace too precisely.
“Capture,” answered Paitrek.
“I have never seen its like before. What is the goal?”
“The black player has to build a connected set of lattices, comprising at least fifteen stones, that cannot be surrounded. The white’s goal is to keep the lattices from being connected while creating a single line from one side of the board to the op- posite side. The white player can go either the width or the length of the board.”
“Then it is a strategy game.” “Of sorts,” said Paitrek dryly.
The Nordlan studied the board for a short time, frowning, before saying, “Are you two engineers or mages?”
“Why do you ask?” Paitrek looked vaguely annoyed as he placed another black stone.
“I have not been to Nylan before. All I have heard is that mages wear black and engineers wear black, but there are no markings to tell one from the other.”
“That’s because, if you can’t tell, it shouldn’t matter,” replied Aloryk, returning his attention to the board.
“That is like saying one Nordlan is the same as another Nordlan.” The merchant officer sounded amused.
“I suppose so,” replied Paitrek disinterestedly. “Capture is all about balance,” offered Aloryk. “So is engineering. Is that why you play it?”
Aloryk suddenly realized what bothered him about the Nord- lan. Nordlans spoke more like Hamorians, and there weren’t any Temple speakers anywhere in Nordla, not that Aloryk had heard. So where had a Nordlan merchant officer learned to speak such good Temple? Also, an outland engineer wouldn’t usually equate balance with engineering, since they didn’t use mage- forged black iron.
Without looking up from the board, he studied the Nord- lan with his limited order senses, not that his abilities were anywhere close to those of Faynal. On the surface, the Nordlan seemed to be much like any other outlander, and even many on Recluce—a swirl of order around him, dotted with hints of chaos . . . except that Aloryk could sense nothing below that surface, nothing at all.
“You an engineer?” Aloryk asked as he placed a white stone on the opposite side of the Capture board from where he’d placed the last one, except the position was “lower.” He ignored Paitrek’s quizzical glance.
“I am not. I am a junior navigator.”
Junior navigator? Just what merchant vessel could afford that kind of extra officer? “On what ship?” Aloryk forced his eyes back to the board and Paitrek’s next move.
“The Pride of Brysta.”
“Must be more profitable than most merchanters to carry two navigators.” Aloryk didn’t look at the Nordlan who likely wasn’t anything of the sort, but concentrated on the board for several moments before adding another white stone at an angle to the one he had previously played. “Of course, I’m just a ju- nior engineer.” Those words were the opening to another game. “You work on building the black ships?” The Nordlan’s tone was idle, as if he had asked about the weather.
“That’s no secret. Any engineer who wears blacks does, in some way or another.” After Paitrek placed his next stone, Alo- ryk could see the possible multiple linkages that Paitrek was setting up, and he placed a white stone to block the easiest linkage.
“There are no other engineers in Nylan?” The not-Nordlan sounded honestly surprised.
“Shipwrights, but not engineers,” replied Aloryk. “Their yards are on the south side of the harbor.”
Paitrek placed a black stone, and Aloryk placed his white next to the one he had just positioned.
“But . . . they do not use engineers?”
“All low-powered steam engines operate the same way. So do all sails.” Aloryk shrugged. “Generally speaking, anyone looking for an engineer around here either doesn’t understand, or is the sort of person that the black mages will take an interest in.”
“Are black engineers not working ordermages?”
“Oh, we can tell when there are others around who can handle chaos or order, sometimes even when they’re so good that they can shield what lies beneath the surface. But we work with engineers’ tools on very hard metal.” Aloryk placed an- other white stone, linking the three in the middle. “We leave containing chaos—except in games like Capture—to the true order-masters.”
“But your black iron confines chaos, does it not?”
“Let’s just say that it does what it’s supposed to.” Aloryk looked to Paitrek, who had just placed another black stone.
“Doesn’t Maitre Thurmin come in before he heads out to brief the patrollers?” Aloryk knew Thurmin often did, so that even if the not-Nordlan could sense his order-chaos flows, he wasn’t lying and the fact that it was a question as well should keep his personal chaos level low.
“Sometimes, he does. Sometimes not. He doesn’t like to follow a routine. That’s what I’ve heard.”
Aloryk added to his center line, blocking Paitrek from linking a three- and a four-lattice, then looked up at the merchant officer who was far more than that. “You know, don’t you, that we exile our own children if they’re chaos-wielders, or even if they’re natural ordermages who can’t gain complete control of their abilities.”
“I have heard that. I do find that hard to believe, that Recluce would waste such abilities.”
“We don’t waste them,” said Aloryk, watching as Paitrek placed another black stone. “We just let other lands benefit. Just a couple of years ago, maybe fifteen or twenty, we sent a natural ordermage to Hamor. He ended up saving the Emperor or some such. And then there was my cousin’s great-uncle. He liked gaming too much, and he ended up borrowing from a Suthyan trader. He used his access to the engineering halls to copy black ship plans so that he could give them to the Suthyan to pay off what he owed. He was found dead in the halls with the copies of the plans, frozen solid. Suthyan traders were prohibited from landing anywhere on Recluce for more than ten years. Destroyed the factor’s business, I heard.” Those two examples Aloryk knew well. He’d heard of the first for years, and he’d gotten more than a little tired of hearing about the trials experienced by Dynacia’s widowed aunt Almyra.
“Frozen solid? I do not understand.”
“Put him in a state of perfect order. Removed all the chaos from his body.” Aloryk added a white stone to the one on the left side of the board. “The maitres have such perfect control that even we can’t sense where they are.”
“Nope,” added Paitrek, “tends to keep one a bit honest.” He looked to Aloryk. “Your play.”
“You really think you can get all three of those lattices together?” Aloryk was just talking. He’d been concentrating more on the not-Nordlan than on the game, and there was only a slim chance he could even salvage a draw.
“You’ll have to see.”
“I find that hard to believe, that they are so skilled,” the not-Nordlan finally said.
While Aloryk had never been able to master a full conceal- ment, he could, for a short time, shield himself from all chaos— as could most successful engineers, those who survived. He did so, while playing another white stone, and saying, “We’re just engineers, nothing to compare to the great mages. They can do so much more. Of course, they probably wouldn’t bother some- one returning to his ship. They could certainly tell if he were telling the truth.” He looked to Paitrek. “Your turn.”
Paitrek immediately placed a white stone. “That’s a double-lattice.”
Aloryk placed a white stone to block Paitrek from immediately linking the double to a three-stone lattice, knowing he was only delaying the inevitable.
Paitrek countered by completing a three-lattice positioned either to link to the other side of the existing double or to com- plete a double on the far side.
Aloryk blocked that, but Paitrek completed the double.
In turn, Aloryk extended his center, but he could see that he was going to lose. He glanced up, but the Nordlan had left. Only a faint lingering sense of chaos remained, a sense that Aloryk hadn’t detected before.
He managed a faint smile, then lifted his mug and took a deeper swallow, before returning his full concentration to the game.
Five moves later, Paitrek linked his two groups of lattices. “You see. I won.”
Aloryk smiled. “I think we all won.” But his words were barely loud enough for Paitrek to hear.
“I think not. I’ve enough games for tonight.”
Paitrek grinned. “You played that other game pretty well.” “I thought so. We’ll have to stop and tell the guards. He might be smart enough to go back to his ship. If not . . .” He’ll experience perfect order.
The two engineers replaced the stones in their respective boxes, then stood and walked toward the door.