Tales from the Brothers Grimm

The Game of Chess

Once upon a time...

in faraway Persia there was a King who had a beautiful wife and a handsome son called Gavin. Life was all sunshine as far as he was concerned, but not for long. One day, as he was going hunting, he fell from his horse and was killed.

Women in Persia could not succeed to the throne and so the dead ruler's brother was proclaimed King. He was a prince called May. He fell in love with the widowed Queen and married her. She gave him a son whose name was Talend. Alas, some time later, the new King died and there only remained the Queen with the two sons, brothers of course, but with different fathers. The question was soon raised:-

"Which brother will become King of Persia?" "It will be Gavin," was one reply, "because he is the elder." But others said,

"It will be Talend, because he is the son of our last King." The Queen herself said nothing at all.

However, sooner or later, she would have to come to a decision, and she did not want to disappoint either Gavin or Talend. As long as the two boys were small, it didn't matter, but when they started to grow up and began to ask when one or the other was going to be crowned King, the problems began. The Queen couldn't make up her mind. When the ministers asked her to make a choice, she would reply,

"Yes, I will do it tomorrow..." and so the years went by.

Gavin and Talend became young men, and rivals. As children they were always together, as youths, they saw little of each other, indeed, they kept out of each other's way. Each had his own set of friends. In that way, two sides were formed, one supporting Talend, the other supporting Gavin. The ministers were very worried, and now insisted that the Queen choose the King. But she couldn't bring herself to do this, for fear of disappointing one of her dearly loved sons.

Some years later, the kingdom drifted towards what is known as civil war, for the two princes did not see eye to eye, neither wanted to give up the throne, neither wanted to step down. Some of the provinces sided with Talend, others with Gavin. Certain battalions in the army swore allegiance to Talend, others to Gavin. The two young men met, but only to stare at each other coldly and to promise war instead of peace, and war was fast approaching. Two opposing armies were built up, consisting of weapons, money, horses and elephants, very important in Persia, for they carried on their backs a wickerwork turret from which the archers fired arrows at the enemy. Gav's army began to march against Talend's. All Persia held its breath,awaiting the battle that was to decide its fate.

The battle was fought. both armies had the same number of foot soldiers, standard bearers and elephants. It was a terrible massacre. Neither of the brothers wanted the other to die. In spite of everything, the brothers felt the call of the family tie. Indeed, each had given an order that, if the soldiers found they were about to kill the enemy leader, they were to stop and warn him instead by shouting,

"Watch out, King!" The conflict lasted for a long time, until Gav's troops were overcome and Talend found himself with only a few soldiers to defend him. Then, a little later, quite alone, he found himself surrounded on all sides by Gav's turreted elephants, slowly advancing on him. No arrows were fired on the prince, he turned his way and that, searching for a way to escape, but his heart failed at that moment and he fell dead to the ground.

High in the palace tower, the Queen had watched the battle with sorrow in her heart, knowing full well that she was, at that moment, losing one of her sons. But which one? It didn't matter. She loved them both equally. When she saw that the dust had settled on the distant plain and the cries of battle had died away, the Queen came down from the tower and rushed through the palace to meet those returning from the field. She stopped in her tracks. Her son Gavin, his clothes in tatters and slashed with blood, staggered sadly towards her.

"Talend?" stammered the Queen. Gavin shook his head,

"Oh, mother," he said, "my brother Talend is dead."

"Dead! Did you kill him?"

"Oh, no, mother!" exclaimed Gavin. "I would never have done such a thing."

"But you ordered his death!" exclaimed the Queen. The young man then knelt before her and, taking the hem of her dress in his hand, said,

"Mother, I swear nobody was responsible for my brother's death. He died, but not violently."

"I shall never believe that is the truth," wept the Queen. But Gavin said,

"I shall prove that it is." He then thought of a way to show his mother how the battle had been fought. First of all, he asked a carpenter to make him a board, as flat as the plain. Then to mark the positions and maneuvers of the two armies, the board was divided into white and black squares. A wood carver made him a miniature army of foot soldiers, a king, standard bearers, knights and towers, to take the place of the elephants and their turrets. When everything was ready, Gavin called the Queen and, moving one piece at a time, acted out the various stages of battle.

"You see, mother, my foot soldiers advanced like this, so Talend maneuvered his like that. Each time my brother was about to be killed, I had the men cry out `watch out, King,' so that he could reach safety," said Gavin.

"In the end, though, my Talend was no longer safe," murmured the Queen. Gavin sadly replied,

"That's true. He was surrounded. But I would never have had him killed, mother. It was his heart that gave out. My brother realized he had lost, and so he died." The Queen then said,

"I understand, son, and I forgive you. I feel you'll be a good king for our country. But I wonder why, in a battle between two kings, one must win and the other lose..."

The poor Queen kept asking herself the same question for a very long time. She would sit all day long beside the little battlefield moving the pieces, foot soldiers, standard bearers and towers, always trying to save the King. In the end, she understood that, as in make- believe, so it is in real life, when there is a fight to the last, one of the opponents must fall, just as her son Talend had fallen.

One day, they found the poor Queen dead on what was, by then, known as the chessboard. That is how chess originated. Nowadays it is a peaceful contest that recalls a real- life battle. Today it is fun, but then it caused a poor mother who saw her sons fight against each other, sadness and suffering..

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