They were all shapes and sizes, all different colors. Some were semiprecious, glittering crystals with their markings etched in. Others were plain stone in drab hues, sometimes with the markings only painted on the surface. But they were special, just the same. Each one a treasure, a symbol—to him, at least—of a life being rebuilt.
Rune hadn’t won many, but he had enough. Most people he played with had full sets made just for them, game pieces in uniform sizes and uniform materials. He could have had his own set made, but he liked what he had. A small mound of mismatched stones, no two alike, but each one important. He rolled them in the palm of his hand, studying the way the light glinted off some and made others appear to glow. He had more fine stones than plain, now that he looked at them, but it had more to do with who he played against than anything else.
“Playing to how many points?” his opponent asked, arranging his set of matching stones along his side of the board.
“Three.” Rune spared the man’s choices barely a glance before digging through his own stones, turning them over one at a time, selecting seven stones and laying them on the checkered tiles of the board. Were they playing to a higher score, they would have each had fourteen. But fourteen stones would have made the game too short, and they did want to enjoy it at least a little.
He still preferred chess to runestones, but chess wasn’t so common. The councilor across the table from him had a chessboard, but everyone from farmers to soldiers to the king himself played runestones. Chess pieces took up more space and couldn’t be made by peasants with a ready supply of smooth river rocks and a rainy evening at home. The grid for runestones was one square smaller, seven by seven, and the rules were more difficult to remember since each of the thirty-seven pieces had their own unique movements and uses. Sometimes he thought the people he played against took advantage of the fact he was still learning. More than once, the councilor had to correct him on his understanding of a piece. Sometimes he also thought the councilor was too honest to hold his position in politics.
Putting the rest of his stones away, Rune paused to study the last one left in his hand when the rest poured off into their bag. It was the first stone he’d gotten, a gift from Redoram, the councilor across from him now. He carried it with him, even when he didn’t carry his bag of stones. It was the marking he wore on the back of his hand, the scar that had given his name. He dumped it in with the rest and pulled the drawstrings closed. “Who chose the marks for the runestones, anyway?”
Redoram raised one thick white brow, lifting his eyes from perusal of his opponent’s pieces. “Who can say? There used to be forty-six, but there were so many redundancies and markings that looked alike that nine fell out of use. They could pare it down more, I’m sure. There are still quite a few stones that do essentially the same thing.” He slid a stone across the board with a fingertip, clearing his throat. “Not all of them have meanings, either.”
“Not meanings you know of,” Rune muttered, fitting a talon-tip to the grooved shape in the top of a stone to move it. He preferred etched stones for that reason. The smooth ones were sometimes hard for him to pick up.
Chuckling, Redoram nodded. “True enough. Some are letters from ancient languages I’ve studied, but some are symbols I’ve never encountered. I suppose each culture adds a bit of themselves to the game.” His counter-move took the first piece off the board.
Rune frowned. “Maybe that’s why I’m no good at it. There’s no part of my culture in this game. We don’t have it.”
“Don’t you?” Redoram’s gaze shifted to the scar in the back of his scaly hand.
Irritated, Rune turned it so he couldn’t see. “No.”
“Well then, I suppose you’ll have to insert a bit of yourself into how you play. Games like this are meant to evolve, after all.” The councilor paused, glancing to the board.
Rune’s eyes narrowed. “What?”
Redoram waved a hand. “Well, go ahead, my friend. After all, it’s your move.”
This week’s prompt was “A small mound of stones.” This was one I kept coming back to, since it was hard for me to think of something to use for it, but it ended up being one I really enjoyed. You can see what the lovely Megan Cutler has done with this prompt here, and what her awesome writing partner put together here.