Black and White
by C. La Shure
The prince blinked hard and the parchment disappeared. He looked up again and his advisors and messengers were gone, and the canvas tent of his field quarters melted away to reveal the familiar surroundings of his kitchen. He sat at one end of the oval table, and at the other end, across the chessboard, his father waited patiently.
The boy blinked again. “Sorry. I was concentrating on my next move. What did you say?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to disturb you,” his father said. “I was just wondering how your day went.”
“Same as always, I suppose,” he mumbled, and settled back down to staring at the board. He knew he had already lost, and continuing the game was as meaningful as putting together a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. But they had a rule: no resignations. It was always a fight to the bitter and, for the young boy, shameful end. He had never understood what was wrong with resigning in the face of certain humiliation, and he finally decided to say so.
“Resigning is the same as quitting,” his father answered calmly.
“But the outcome is the same whether I resign or whether you wipe me out!” he protested.
His father paused for a moment. When he spoke his voice was quiet. “That’s the way my father played with me.”
The boy realized in that moment that his father didn’t really understand either. It was just the way it was done, and there was no use arguing. He watched as his pieces disappeared from the board one by one until his king, stripped of all protection except for a few pawns, was left running for his life. A few moves later he was trapped, and that was it. Checkmate.
“Good game, son,” his father said, then added, “I’m sure you’ll do better next time.”
>The boy nodded in silence, not really hearing his father’s words. He was already going over the game in his mind, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Perhaps he had been impatient. Maybe he should have forced his father to make the first move. No. He shook his head in frustration. How many times had he played defensively, only to be steamrolled by his father’s aggressive style of play? He folded up the chess set and left the kitchen.
Once in the safety of his room, he unfolded the chess set on his desk and began setting up the pieces. He pulled a book off his bookshelf and opened it to the table of contents. The book was old and worn—he had gotten it at a used bookstore—but there was not a speck of dust on it.
He ran his finger down the page. “Fischer... Spassky... World Championship, 1972.”
He moved the pieces around the board as he read the notation, yet even as he did so he knew he would never understand. The masters played on a different level from the average hobbyist, which was all he was ever going to be, if he was lucky. He didn’t need to be a master, though. He just needed to beat his father.
He closed the book and lay down on his bed. With a sigh, he closed his eyes. Then he opened them again. It was the castling, of course. That was where he could win. He needed to get to his father’s king while it was still trapped behind that row of pawns. His mind raced, and his heart began to beat faster. He had never kept his cool long enough to mount that sort of attack, and his father might overlook such a simple strategy. All he needed was his queen and a major piece—a bishop would do fine, and be less obvious than a rook.
New hope welled within him, and he could barely contain himself. It was the hope that kept him going, the hope that maybe this time, just maybe, he would win. No matter how humiliating a defeat he suffered, a new game meant hope. In those straight, beautiful rows of black and white pieces were all the possibilities in the world, and at least one of those possibilities would lead to the victory he was chasing.
Dinner was quiet that evening. His father and mother tried to ask him a few questions, but his noncommittal grunts and one-syllable answers were enough to discourage them. In truth, though, his mind was alive with ideas. Pieces flashed across the board, a dance of light and dark, and always his queen sweeping across the open spaces to that victorious square. The boy could not help smiling.
His mother and father were talking about something or other, and the boy cleared his throat slightly to soften the interruption. “Dad?”
His father looked up. “Yes?”
“Do you think we can play again tonight, after dinner?”
His mother looked at him, her brows furrowed. “Oh, I don’t know, dear,” she said, glancing back at his father. “You seem to get so worked up about those games. Maybe you should wait until tomorrow.”
The boy kept calm and sat silently for a moment. Beneath the surface, though, he was boiling with anticipation. He took a deep breath and then spoke slowly, enunciating his words. “I would like to play one more time today, if that’s OK.” He avoided his mother’s eyes and looked at his father.
His father thought for a moment, then smiled. “If you really want to, I suppose we could.”
The boy nodded quickly. “I do.”
When the meal was finished the boy jumped up and began clearing the table. His mother looked on in surprise.
“Maybe you guys should play every night after dinner,” she said, jabbing his father with an elbow.
When the table was cleared and wiped down, the boy ran to his room to get the chess set. He set it up on the table, and he and his father began to place the pieces...
...and the prince was back on the high bluff once again, watching as his troops formed lines. There was no bitter sting to the wind—indeed, spring was showing in the fields, and the sunshine was warm and pleasant. He smiled, took one final look at the field, and walked into his field headquarters.
“Today is a good day,” he said to his advisors. “I feel victory in the air.”
“Yes, my lord.” His advisors smiled with him, their moods lightened by the change in their master’s spirits.
“Tell the troops to move out. I want an attack on the left flank. I want to draw the enemy’s attention away from the right flank for the moment.”
“As you command, my lord.” His chief advisor relayed the commands to a page who then went out from the tent to issue orders to the signal corps. After examining the map for a few moments, the prince followed him to watch his plan take shape.
It was as he expected. His troops had seemingly over-extended themselves on the left flank, and the enemy struck quickly. The prince gave more instructions to the signal corps, and the wheels were set in motion.
“Almost there,” the prince whispered. “Just a little more time.”
Time, however, proved to be a scarce commodity. The enemy’s counter-attack on his left flank came with rage and fury, and he watched as his troops crumpled beneath the powerful blow. The enemy hordes crawled like maggots over the corpses of his soldiers. His heart pounded as they advanced, and then a single word ripped through the sky, tore him off the bluff, and flung him back into his chair at the kitchen table.