KING v KNIGHT
A castle of great fortifications stood in a land that had been ravaged by war. The war long over but the land still scarred by war. Its people artisans and labourers worked willingly for a great and wise King. But the King grows old and weary and vultures wait to claim the throne. A great hall inside the castle held the seat of power from which all decisions about the kingdom were made. A man stood before the great throne. He was haunted by the years of war and his body showed the signs of both age and a life of struggle. Before him stood the table where many a feast had celebrated battles and the cycle of life. Behind the table stood another who had not experienced the heat of battle but who nonetheless sought the throne to the kingdom. His ambition to the throne burned within. Perhaps it was his heritage.
Days before his advisors had warned of an impending challenge to his rule by a young knight. A knight of great prowess, both with the sword and dagger. The king’s advisors begged him to prepare himself for the challenge or to choose a champion. But the king knew that all of his best knights had been killed in battle. They begged him but to no avail. He would not choose a champion and leave the fate of his kingdom to another. He knew the young knight had a following amongst the young. He did not want his kingdom to deteriorate into civil war. He and his people had been ravaged by war for far too many years and the peace they had come to know was precious to him and his subjects. He could not, would not, subject them to more suffering.
The old king begged the young knight not to inflict war on his kingdom, but to live in peace.
‘Well then’ said the young knight. ‘I challenge you to do battle with me’.
So there it was; the young knight that stood before him challenged the old king to battle to settle who would rule the kingdom. The young knight threw down his gauntlet. The old man responded that he was no match for the strength of youth. He told the young man that to defeat an old man would be no victory and would bring him a throne without glory.
‘Then how should I defeat you old man? The throne is mine.’
The old king replied that to rule a kingdom a leader must possess not only strength and courage in battle but wisdom too. By sparing me, my life by not doing battle you will begin to possess that which is also necessary for a great ruler.
‘Then what is that old man?’ He raged.
‘Compassion, but not only compassion.’
‘You try my patience old man. What else do you speak of?’
‘Why strategy and tactics young knight’
The young knight saw before him on the table a chess set. His eyes widened at the thought. In this land he was known as not only a knight of great skill but a master of chess. He could not believe his fortune. To win a kingdom in this way without shedding a drop of blood would make him a hero amongst his people. He would go down in the annals as a great leader who won a kingdom with his prowess as a great master of chess.
‘Then we’ll settle this some other way old man. I challenge you to a game of chess.’
‘The old king protested.’
‘It is either this or battle.’
Reluctantly the old king accepted. The rules being that if he lost he would forfeit his kingdom. If the young knight lost then he would leave this land and go into exile never to return.
They sat down to play. The young knight was full of energy. He was fleet of foot and mind. The young knight’s armoury was full as one would expect of the young. Life had taught him the value of youthfulness and the promise of all that lay before him.
The old king looked into the young man’s eyes and saw only his reflection. His body withered with the passing of time, but the old king accepted his shortcomings as one does when one is in the twilight of life. His days of youth had passed and he had seen more seasons change than were ahead of him. He was no longer fleet of foot or quick of mind. The old king’s armoury was empty all but for a life time’s memories and experience. Life had taught him that patience was a virtue and that youth was short of this virtue.
On the board before them both armies lined up. Each piece placed geometrically in the centre of each square. The first battle was to decide who would use the white pieces. The old king knew he needed every advantage and so craved the white pieces. The young knight stood up and drew his dagger and threw it a great distance to hit an oak door. The dagger struck the door with great force close to a knot in the oak.
‘Draw your dagger old man and if you can place your dagger closer to the centre of the knot in the oak door you can play with white.’
The young knight’s face drew a smug grin. He knew full well that the old king could not possibly throw the dagger that far with any accuracy.
‘Well old man, stand and draw your dagger.’
‘I am still your king. Do you hold me in such contempt that you cannot address me as such?’
The king stood and drew his dagger. He looked at the distance from where he stood to the knot in the great oak door. He squinted to see the mark where his dagger should be placed. He bent forward but it became no clearer. He walked nearer the oak door.
‘Do you cheat old man?’ said the young knight.
‘No,’ he exclaimed. ‘Cheating is for the incompetent and for those without morals and wisdom.’
He continued his walk to the oak door and placed his dagger in the centre of the knot.
‘What is this old man?’ The young knight raged.
‘I did as you said I placed my dagger closer to the centre of the knot than you placed yours. Are you going to go back on your word now young knight? I claim the white pieces.'
‘Then it is yours’ the young knight grunted ‘it makes no difference to the outcome of this battle’
The young knight and the old king sat opposite each other. He picked up each piece in turn to feel them.’ What metal is this?’ demanded the young knight.
‘It is of a rare and precious metal and worth a king’s ransom.’
‘I shall enjoy using them or melting them down. The Queen is especially gifted old man.’
‘She was my queen and I had the piece made in her image.’
The Queen was the heaviest piece on the board and the female shape was self evident as the old king watched the young knight fondle the curves. On the head of the Queen she wore a tall pointed hat. Each piece was weighted and filled a man’s hand.
‘Let the battle commence!’ bellowed the young knight.
It was the old king to move first and he planned to seek every possible advantage against this champion of chess. He bode his time.
‘Make your move old man it has already been an age. Do your hands tremble so much that you cannot make your first move? Is your mind so withered that you cannot think?’
The old king leant forward and picked up the kings pawn and made his first move. The young knight responded quickly with a move of his bishop’s pawn. The old king pondered this move. Again he sat there thinking for some time. He would make his move when he saw in the face of his opponent that the time was right. The young knight fidgeted in his chair. He adjusted his position first one way and then the other.
The king leaned forward and moved his knight. Immediately the young knight moved forward and moved his queen’s pawn.
The old king sat their patiently once again for an age. He could see the young knight’s rage growing by the second. And so it went on in this fashion until many moves had been made and the light began to fade. When it was the old kings turn to move again he stood up.
‘Where are you going old man? We have a battle to finish.’
‘I must correct you my young knight. This is not a battle. This is a war and a war is made of many battles and you have lost three battles here today and you do not even know it.'
‘What are you jabbering on about old man? I haven’t lost any battles here today.’
‘You could have slain me where I stood today but you chose a game instead. You also lost the battle for the white pieces when my dagger proved to be true and yours not. Another battle you lost was agreeing the rules by which we play.’
The old king continued ‘The hour is late and you are winning. Come back at first light and we will continue then. We will conclude by sundown tomorrow.’
The young knight’s rage grew and the old king left him to it and departed from the great hall with his attendants.
The old king knew that the young knight would leave with his entourage and retire to the local tavern. He knew that in the early morning light the advantage would once again be his. Overnight it was his move to ponder and the young knight’s belly would still be full with ale and fare when the morning light lit the great hall.
At first light the young knight, bleary eyed, sat facing the chess board with the old king’s attendants standing patiently by but the king was nowhere to be seen.
‘Where is he?’ demanded the young knight.
‘On king’s business’ the attendants replied.
The old king observed from a walkway high above the great hall. He saw the rage growing in the young knight as he paced first one way then the other. One hour passed before the old king saw that the young knight was riled enough. He entered quietly and once again sat at the board for a further hour before he made his next move. All the while the young knight’s impatience continued to boil in his blood.
And so the game went on. The old king taking his time and the young knight’s blood boiling in his veins, tired and full of belly. It was in this condition that the young knight blundered away his winning position. The old king sat patiently waiting for the reality of the situation to sink into the young knights addled brain. One move of the Queen piece was all it would take to remove the black knight and mate the young knight’s King.
The young knight with the game lost saw only one move to make. His sword lay on the table next to him. The old king carefully calculated the distance the queen would need to travel to take the knight out of the game.
The experienced hand of the king, honed by years of battle, picked up the Queen and leaned across the board. At the same time the young knight’s hand grasped the hilt of his sword and as he did he felt the point of the beautiful Queen cut deep into his neck. The young knight was dead before he hit the hard wooden floor of the great hall. The knight removed, the bloodied Queen was placed on the board and the king declared ‘I believe that’s mate!’