“You’re missing the point.” I stared at him, awe and disbelief battling for supremacy. 

“Explain it to me then?” A question and a challenge. He spoke in tones equally soft and commanding, every word both somehow dominant and subservient. A dichotomy of a seemingly futile request for help and a half-hearted assault on the mannerism and intellect of the supposed great man.

“The king is a figurehead. The others do the work that he needs. They protect him, guide him, fight his battles and build his defenses. He’s the most important piece on the board and he’s essentially useless. What good is he?” I feel we’ve been having this discussion for hours. He regards me as though seeing me for the first time.

“So, who’s the most important piece on the board?” I’m learning his face. The contours on his forehead and the crinkle in his eyes. The folds around the corner of his mouth. Laughter lines, my mum used to call them, but he’s not laughing now. I’ve still yet to see him smile. That’s not to say he’s frowning, just not quite smiling. A certain stillness, a calmness that betrays nothing. A break in the clouds on a sunless day. I stare at him, attempting to break through what I can only assume is a façade when I realise he’s still waiting for an answer. I panic, struggling to formulate a semi-intelligent response. I look at the board. It’s in the late stages of the game, and we’ve taken several of each other's pieces.

“The queen can move in any direction.”


“The knight then, it’s potentially the most versatile piece on the board.”


“There’s an argument to be made for the rook-”

“No. Which piece is most important?” It no longer seems to be a simple request for information, and for the first time I can see the ghost of a smile teasing the edges of his mouth. He wants me to think. I think I can see the point he’s trying to make, but why must he extract such visceral enjoyment from making me squirm? 

“Why are we playing chess?” If I expected him to be thrown by the sudden subject change I could only find myself disappointed. 

“Do you know how long the longest game of chess lasted?” I’m thrown. I’m sure I have the information tucked away somewhere. 

“Yes I do.” I’m fighting for time. He merely looks at me. There’s a spark dancing in his eye, a joyous twinkle mesmerizing me and reducing my ability to think. 

“269 moves. 1989. Lasted over 20 hours.” Blimey. Where on earth I managed to pull that from I’ll never know. 

“My dear boy. My friend, how long do you think we’ve been playing?” A moment of haze and my eyes glaze over for the briefest of moments.

“None of them.” 

“What?” For the first time he’s startled. The glint in his eye has faded for only the briefest of instants. 

“It’s none of them. There is no piece more important than any other piece in chess. People say it’s the king, but they’re wrong. Those who think it’s the queen are wrong as well. To imagine that any piece derives their power from another is fallacy. To believe that any piece has any power without the others is sin.” I’m fighting the urge to smile. I’ve got it this time, I’m sure of it.

“So which piece is most important.” My smile dies as quickly as it was born.

“Enlighten me.” 

“We’re playing chess because you like it. Had you preferred another game we could’ve done that, but I owe you a favour.”

“Why do you owe me a favour?” He finally smiles. A kind smile, tinged with sadness. The spark in his eyes is growing. It’s almost a glow now. I change tack.

“Okay, which piece is the most important?” He’s ready to enlighten me. He raised a wrinkled hand and presses his index finger to my chest.

“It’s you. The pieces can only go as you direct them. Chess has great parallels. A true battle of wills. One mind can beat twenty, one person can make a stand against overwhelming odds. The kind of people I respect.” I look at the board feebly, almost ashamed.

“It’s only chess.” I’m barely audible, only a hint over a whisper. 

“The game is circumstantial. It’s incidental to the greater narrative.” He explains patiently, as though helping a young child, putting together a jigsaw.

“I’m lost.” I can barely think. A great fog swaddling my head in cotton.

“It can be as long as you want, a moment or an eternity.”

“What can?” My head is so heavy. I can barely hold it up. I can feel myself on a precipice before the kind of sleep that takes over.

“How long do you think we’ve been playing?” His eyes are alive, dancing with a radiant luminescence.

“I’m so tired.” I can barely string the words together.

“I know. You know it’s incredibly depressing. Everybody thinks I’m the bad guy. I’ve watched over all of you, all your lives. I want to help you, guide you. I have so much advice to give you and the only time I can ever see you is at the end. Are you religious?” 

“Huh?” I can’t take it in.

“I hope you have some idea of what’s coming next. I hope you get to come back. If you do remember this, because there’s nothing worse than only being able to help you at the end. Remember what I said. Remember. One person making a stand for what they believe in is the most important thing. One person takes the stand so the others can stand with them.” The words mean nothing now. Light overwhelms me. I press my eyes together against the brilliance in his eyes. 

“Can I sleep now?” I feel a gentle hand on my back.

“As long as you need. I’ll be here when you wake up.” He comforts me.

“Do you promise?” I need the reassurance.

“I promise.” It’s the first time his voice has wavered.

“Thanks dad.” My final words.

“Oh my, is that how you see me?” He’s speaking pleasantly but I no longer hear him. I’m ready.

He watches me fade away.

He wipes a tear.

He looks down.

The board’s reset.

He pulls out a fob watch and checks the time. The glow from his eyes has faded now.

A short break to compose himself.

The next will be along any moment.

Written by FireUpTheDuck

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