One leathery finger hovered over the piece for a moment, then in a surprise move, changed direction, seizing a pawn with the bishop. A menacing sneer drew his gray lips back from yellowed fangs and from some deep recess he pulled a dry, mocking cackle, as arid and humorless as a desert plain.
“Now let’s see how long he clings to his cross!” the player snarled. “Fear and betrayal, each a powerful weapon in its own right, together are unbeatable.”
“What?” William barked, startled by the loud pounding at the door. He flung it open, ready to let loose a stream of well articulated anger, but was immediately brought up short by the terror in Anne’s eyes. “What is it?” He repeated, this time in a much softer tone.
“Bishop Cranmer has declared Tom a heretic!” The words tumbled out, wrapped in horror and confusion . “Bishop Cranmer has declared Tom a heretic!” she repeated, as if through simple repetition the phrase would slough away the sting of its awful truth.
William paced rapidly. Bishop Cranmer was a man with a small intellect and a dull, pedantic air. Nuanced and careful reasoning left him glassy-eyed, his mouth gaping like a fish. Still, he seemed congenial to the reforms William had been pressing on him. Something or somebody must have frightened him. “Let me talk to him,” William reassured Anne, squeezing her arm in passing.
“Sir William!” The voice was as peremptory as it was melodious.
“Milady, the Queen,” William greeted her with a courteous bow.
“I understand our good bishop is in an uproar over something. What might have gotten into him, do you suppose, cousin?”
“I was just on my way to investigate.”
“Please do, Sir William. You have our support of course.”
Michael’s hand abandoned the queen in favor of the knight and moved it two pieces forward and one to the left.
“Curious response,” his opponent snarled, a red gleam dancing on the yellow surface of his eyes, like roiling lava in subterranean depths.
The bishop slid diagonally three squares, imperiling the knight.
“Brother Tom, welcome to my court,” smiled King William. “You are safe here.”
The knight remained exposed, as the rook and king traded places in the back row.
“You sacrifice your knight while castling the king?” The cackling laughter carried undertones of creaking bones and the rustling of rodents in dry grass.
As William neared the door to the rectory, he was surprised by a troop of armed soldiers, wearing the red and orange colors of the House of Cranmer.
“The King has no business directing the affairs of the church,” smirked Earl Cranmer, not known before for his piety. “The King himself must yield or the whole country will be under Interdict.
“Earl Cranmer, yield yourself!” Cardinal Huntingdon, whose voice filled many a cathedral with sweet Gospel pleadings, this day thundered like Elijah of old.
“So you have me in check,” snarled the evil one. I can take your bishop with mine!”
“Look again!” came the measured response. “Move your bishop and your King is exposed to my rook. Not check, but checkmate.”
With a shriek, the reptilian hand dashed the chessboard and pieces to the floor, a drop of sputum flung from the furious grimace struck the fallen chessboard, immediately boring an acidic hole through one of the white squares.
“You cheated! He told you all my moves and gave you the counters!”
“No,” answered the archangel. “I am often amazed myself at the moves His players choose. He puts some of His life in each piece, and they move themselves. It’s not clever gambits or brilliant strategy that defeats you. It is His own life in each of His players that wins the game.
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