A Chess Parable

The Firebird - Susanna Kearsley

Ten year old Anna is beginning a chess game with Captain Jamieson who has been wounded in a battle and is recovering from surgery.

 

"She chose the black, because the black king was her favorite still, and this king was more beautiful and detailed than the one she'd learned to play with . . . His beard was curled, his crown made gold with gilt, and she could see the ermine cuffs upon his robe.  The other pieces were as finely made, with one exception. 'Why, she asked, did no one paint the pawns?'

 

'They are small men.' That made her rise to their defense. 'But they are brave. They are the first to march to battle.'

 

'And the first to fall.' His glance was difficult to read.  'I only meant the pieces here are small in size and would be difficult to paint. 'Tis likely why they were left plain.'

 

'Oh.'

 

'What mark would you give them, then?'

 

She frowned and thought, and was not sure.

The captain said, 'Perhaps it is their brave hearts that would mark them, like the Bruce.'

 

She knew the story of King Robert, called the Bruce, that ancient Scottish king who after his own death had sent his heart upon Crusade to keep his promise made to God and to his men, and so had earned the name of Braveheart.

 

'But our hearts,' said Captain Jamieson, 'we carry close inside us, as do these wee soldiers here, and none will ever know our worth but by our actions.'

 

Anna watched him move his first pawn out into the wooden field of inlaid squares, and without knowing why, she said, 'I've always liked the pawns the best.'

 

The captain paused, and looked at her, and seemed about to make reply when suddenly she realized, 'But the Abbess Butler says that games are idle pastimes that do not please God.'

 

 He took this in without a word, the corners of his mouth turned slightly upward in a smile that held no humor. Then he said, 'The Abbess Butler is a very wise and loving woman and I do not doubt she would allow this one transgression, though I'd argue God is more accomplished in the game of chess than either of us, having played so long with living pieces. And, like you He seems to like his pawns.'

 

She heard the bitterness, but did not understand it, so she simply said, 'Is that because he sees into their hearts, and sees their braveness?

 

Capt. Jamieson glanced up at that, and when he spoke the edge had left his voice. 'Aye, let us hope he does.'

 

And satisfied, she moved her own pawn forward then, a small courageous soldier on that field of dark and light."

 

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