Kings and Queens and Pawns

I wrote a short story after having an idea after midnight last night. Hope you enjoy.

~Kate

~~~~~~~

The chessboard was set. The two advisers, wizards both, called their kings.

The kings were young. Too young to be wearing their crowns. And yet, they were at war. A war they had inherited from their fathers.

“All we have to do is play this game and whoever wins, wins the war?” King James asked. He was so young, his adviser mused. Early teens. His crown was lopsided.

“That is indeed correct, your Highness,” the adviser said. A sense of dread settled in his stomach. “This is how wars have been fought for many, many years. Consider it tradition.”

“Whose tradition?” the other young king asked. He was called Fred, short for Fredrich or something complicated. He was maybe a year or two older than James and though his crown was on straight, he had pimples and his voice had broken twice in the war meeting earlier that day. He was young too.

“The whole of this continent fights their wars in this way,” the other adviser said. He sounded like he was looking forward to this. Like he lived on bloodshed. “However, there is one thing Lord Claudius has wrong. You do not play the game. Your queens play it.”

“Oh!” King James said. “That’s even better!”

“It is rather,” King Fred said. “We don’t even have to do anything.”

“Indeed!” King Fred’s adviser said. It was a lie. Before Claudius could open his mouth and say that, the adviser shooed the young kings away, then set to work enchanting the chessboard.

“Are we doing the right thing, Malco?” Claudius asked. “I feel like we should tell them what they are really doing when they do this.”

“No,” the adviser said, purple tendrils of magic coming from his fingers. “The war must end. They must not know that they are putting their kingdoms to death. Aren’t you going to help me with this?”

Claudius rolled up his sleeves and let loose his magic, which appeared as sand-colored tendrils. “But cannot we not come to a peace agreement? Must blood be shed?”

“Yes. Yes, it must. If only to win the war. We are long past peace agreements.”

~~~~~~~~~~

Lucy was a young queen. She was barely fourteen. She and James had been married for only a few weeks.

She didn’t want to be queen. Or at least not so soon. She hadn’t expected to be queen until she was at least 17.

Then James’ father had died in battle and he had to become king. And he needed a queen.

He also needed the war to be over and his crown adjusted to fit him. He needed to be able to finish being a child before he was forced to be an adult. He needed a pair of fuzzy socks so he could keep his feet warm and slide across the ball room floor.

Only two of those things were possible now, though she supposed he could still have a pair of fuzzy socks. Lucy sat in the chair that had been set for her at the chessboard. The chessboard looked strange. Too shiny, somehow. Too sparkly. It was just a wooden chess set.

Perhaps it had been polished.

Her opponent entered the room. Queen Anna was older than Fred—nineteen, from what Lucy had heard. They had also been married for almost half a year.

Unlike Lucy, Anna had been not married into the royal lineage, she was the royal lineage. Fred became king just for marrying her. Anna also had confidence right now, something Lucy very much wished she had. But Anna was also pregnant and it showed and Lucy did not envy her in that.

Anna sat down at the chessboard in the chair opposite Lucy. She smiled a little then looked at the chessboard. “Have you ever seen this done before, Lucy?”

“Not a war won with a chessboard, no. I have played chess before, though.”

“Are you good at it?” Anna asked.

Lucy realized that Anna was trying to make her nervous. “I’m good enough,” Lucy said, sitting up a little straighter.

At that moment, James’ adviser Claudius and Fred’s adviser came into the room.

Claudius smiled at Lucy, though his smile was not a happy one.

Fred’s adviser cleared his throat. “Your Highnesses, we need not tell you how to play chess. You know. This war will end today and it will be thanks to you two. Queen Anna, you have the first move. Now… you may begin.”

Anna moved a knight first, making him leap over the pawns. Lucy moved a pawn.

Just then there was a loud shout and the sound of thunder. Lucy jumped and looked toward the window. She started to stand up to investigate the sound, but Claudius made her sit back down.

“I’ll look into it,” he said kindly. “Don’t trouble yourself.” He walked to the window.

Anna moved a pawn. Lucy moved another pawn. Again there was a shout and the sound of thunder.

Lucy looked at Claudius. He smiled and said, “Just some rogues outside the castle walls, my Queen. And it looks as if it is beginning to rain.”

Lucy turned back to the board. Anna’s knight captured one of Lucy’s pawns. Lucy’s bishop captured Anna’s knight.

Blood-curdling screams were heard and there was more thunder.

Lucy got up from her chair before Claudius could stop her and marched to the window.

The fields outside her castle walls were covered in squares, with soldiers and knights and holy guards inside the squares. Most of the people were in neat two neat rows on opposite sides, except for a group of soldiers and a holy guard in between them.

The fields were red underneath the groups. Red with blood.

Lucy glanced at the chessboard then back out the window. Everything was the same. Everything in the squares outside and on the squares of the chessboard lined up exactly.

She was playing chess. It was not just a game.

Anger boiled up inside her. “Why didn’t you tell me, Claudius?” she demanded.

“Malco told me not to,” Claudius replied. “And we needed this war to end, you Highness.”

“The knight I captured… that was a group of men who are now dead?”

“Yes, your Highness,” Claudius said. He sounded absolutely ashamed of himself.

Lucy took a deep shuddering breath. Her hands clenched into fists. “What happens when one of us captures a queen?”

“The captured queens will be dying but will live to the end of the game,” Malco said. He spoke like this made everything okay.

“You didn’t know this is what we were doing?” Anna asked.

Lucy looked at Anna and the bump where a baby was growing. Lucy could not capture Anna. That would put Anna and the baby to death.

But could Anna trust Lucy to show her the same courtesy?

Probably not. Was it worth it to possibly die for one’s kingdom?

“Do James and Fred know?” Lucy asked.

Claudius hesitated a moment too long. That confirmed it in Lucy’s mind.

She sighed. Would she really be willing to possibly die so that a war could end?

“Come finish the game, Lucy,” Anna said. “Let us get it over with.”

Lucy walked back to the chessboard. She sat down. Anna moved a pawn. Lucy looked at the game. It was too shiny because it was magic, of course.

Lucy swallowed and reached out hand to move her bishop and capture a pawn. But she stopped before she touched the piece.

“What happens at checkmate?”

She looked at Claudius and Malco. Neither of them said anything.

A lump rose in Lucy’s throat. “The losing king dies, doesn’t he?”

Claudius and Malco looked at each other. Claudius looked back at Lucy and nodded.

No. No she couldn’t do this. She couldn’t risk putting James to death. She couldn’t kill Fred and leave Anna and her child, if they survived, without a husband and father.

Lucy looked at the board. What choice did she have? What could she do? The game could not be ended without a checkmate.

Or could it?

Lucy swiped the board off the table.

Anna, Malco, and Claudius all screamed at once. “NO!”

There was a great flash of light. An explosion.

~~~~~~~~~~

Claudius pulled himself out of the wreckage. He was alive but only because he was a cursed wizard.

He rubbed his sore shoulder—a chair had landed on top of him– and looked around him.

The room was a mess. The queens lay dead on the floor, still too pretty and young to have this to be their fate.

Malco also lay dead, not far from where Claudius himself had been. The man had been no real wizard and he had been a traitor besides. His goal had been to get rid of Fred and Anna so that he may take the throne. Malco had died a quite appropriate death, killed by the game he had made unfair.

The game had been rigged in Lucy’s favor. Claudius had known that. If only Lucy had known, too.

Claudius picked Lucy up; the poor child was definitely dead. He carried her to the throne room. On his throne, James sat somewhat flopped over. He too was dead.

Claudius set Lucy in her throne and sat James upright. With his magic, he covered them and their thrones in stone, giving them a memorial.

“Here lie a young King and Queen, taken long before their time,” he muttered to himself as tears escaped his eyes. “Rest in peace, James and Lucy. I hope there are fuzzy socks and wood floors to slide on in your afterlife.”

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