The four figures playing the game were rude and loud. They pushed each other and spat curses. They spilled their drinks across the floor as they leapt from their seats in outrage. They laughed and cried at misfortunes real and imagined. Yet in one matter alone they were disciplined: the game. Each took their turn and took care to move in accordance with the rules. Care too was taken not to improperly disturb the pieces or the board. And many minutes of deep contemplation were involved in the making of any move.
As is the way of dreams, she was able to move close to the board, unseen by the players. There upon space in the middle of a courtyard she saw a tiny likeness of her father. Then onto an adjacent space was moved a tall piece like a tree with three bovine heads. Its great scythe made clear its role in the game and she woke, then.
Her delight at finding her father alive the next morning was great indeed and she embraced him tightly, crying with relief. Her relief was short-lived, for two days later he fell sick and by the end of the month he had passed away.
Called variously ‘The Unseen Game’, ‘The Game of Ashes’, ‘The Board’ and variations on these, this mysterious and complex game has been documented on many occasions in both written accounts and stories passed amongst travellers. The details of these accounts vary dramatically, but they have a few elements in common.
First, the game board itself is always enormously complex to the extent that none who have seen it are able to reconstruct it from memory. Likewise, it invariably has too many pieces upon it to recall the details.
Second, the board is invariably found in a mostly dark space with only the board and the surface it stands on illuminated.
Third, if the players are present - and they are not always - there are exactly four of them. They are, however, not always the same beings. Their apparent genders vary and whilst sometimes they are human, in other accounts one or more have the heads of beasts. Some later scholars claim that the players are always present if the board is encountered in a dream, but always absent if it is found in waking life.
It would be a brave mortal who moved any of the pieces on the board, but if the players are absent then nothing prevents anyone from doing so. The changes made will reshape the world, but perhaps not in the ways that were intended.
Seeing the game in a dream offers no opportunity to make changes, but by watching the moves made the dreamer may learn something of events yet to unfold.