THE LITTLE PAWN
There is a world so flat that, wherever you go, you can never glide your bicycle, never toboggan down a slope, and never, ever play king of the hill. Eight rows of eight squares comprise the boundaries of the world, and it is peopled by creatures much like you and me. There are kings and queens, knights and castles, and there are pawns. Our story is about the smallest pawn on the chessboard, Theresa.
Theresa was a thoughtful little girl. Brunette hair draped her narrow shoulders, and a tentative smile nestled between her two dimples. She liked to pretend the golden coronet creasing her brow was the crown of a queen. She would imperiously march back and forth, up and down - all the while giving orders to imaginary chessmen, and wielding her little sword as if it were a scepter.
Many of the other pawns thought Theresa ridiculous for pretending to be a queen. They said her small body was unfit even for the duties of a pawn. Pawns, you see, earned their living taking care of the chessboard in times of peace and served as foot soldiers in times of war.
Theresa had never seen a war, but her fellow pawns told stories about what a terrible thing it could be. They spoke of ferocious war cries, clanging swords, piercing lances and, most frightening of all, the possibility of capture by the enemy. However, the banter of the other pawns did not frighten Theresa; instead, it inspired her to prepare for the conflict sure to come.
Theresa meticulously studied her chess manual. Even on her free days she occupied herself by skipping among other chessmen to ask them about the mysteries of her world. Her first mentor was the tall bishop of the dark squares, made taller by the peaked cap he wore. One long white eyebrow ran the length of his forehead and cascaded over a pair of tiny spectacles.
"Why do you remain so steadily on the same color squares?" she asked him. She knew that he moved diagonally about the board. Since the squares alternated between dark and light, he would never leave his assigned color.
He smiled and waved his staff at the open squares before them. The wisdom of his years tumbled slowly from his lips. "It is the duty of a chessman to remain constant and true."
His answer prompted the favorite question of all pawns, "Why?"
He patted her kindly on top of her flowing locks, "Because, my dear, one must rule themselves before they can hope to influence the world around them."
She mulled over this advice from the bishop. It was not easy to be constant - it meant she must be loyal and not cause mischief with her sister pawns. And true? That meant no lying, and she must be faithful.
"Is it so important?" she asked.
"Indeed, it is," responded the bishop. "Imagine how bad things would be if you could not trust anyone and no one could trust you.
Next to the wise bishop stood a tall and gallant knight. Wavy black hair adorned his head, and a jutting jaw, with teeth he seldom unclenched even to speak, dominated his face. His eyes flashed when he rode his great war horse.
The mighty animal allowed the knight to jump the other pieces. The knight would move two squares and with a wrench of the horse's reins turn full to the right or to the left to land on yet another square. The knight was valued as a warrior because his swift action could cause confusion anywhere on the chessboard.
"Why do you move over other pieces?" Theresa asked the
knight as she gently stroked the mane of his faithful steed.
"Then you must trick your opponents?"
"Not trick them, Little Pawn, you should out-think them. Whatever they might do, whatever might happen, you must have a plan."
To illustrate, the handsome knight leaned over his horse. "Consider a standard problem...imagine a king here and a rook there." He pointed to various squares. "If I position myself on this square, I might capture either and still be..." He was stopped by Theresa's plaintive voice, "Wait! I don't understand!"
"Now Theresa, no move or strategy is beyond your comprehension if you study hard," the knight said encouragingly. "Here, we'll go over it again."
So Theresa studied harder than before. She studied her chess manual until her hair curled with the effort. Finally she was ready to approach the dreadful aspect of the rook. His towering frame looked cold and bitter as it guarded the far boundaries of the chessboard. His fearsome face revealed only a sense of duty.
She crept up on the crumbling sentinel and patted a hesitant hand on his stony knee.
Startled, he jumped. "Who goes there?!" he bellowed. He had been gazing into the distance, not at his feet.
Theresa shrank in fear, almost dropping her coronet onto the hard surface of the chessboard. "It's me, Theresa, the little pawn."
It was not a good enough explanation for the rook. "How dare you disturb my watch!"
Theresa took a step back. "I thought you saw me. I didn't mean any harm."
"I don't want to hear of your good intentions!" The rook's furious stare made his eyes cross like a big X.
"...But, I..." was all she had a chance to say.
"Do you know what happens to little pawns that disturb the guard?" A brick fell from the side of his head. A rook looks to all the world as a castle and is made from bricks and stone and mortar. This rook was a little crumbly.
Theresa shrunk to half her height and shook her head.
"They get thrown in the dungeon!" He leaned over her sternly. She thought he might crush her with his heavy hand, but he retrieved the lost brick and placed it above one of his ears.
"You can't throw me in a dungeon," she replied meekly. "Only the king can do that."
The rook closed one of his eyes in an effort to uncross them. "Well, then," he thought for a moment, "they get boiled in OIL!"
Theresa furrowed her brows. She knew she was not likely to get boiled in oil for asking a few questions. She put her hands on her hips. She had had enough nonsense from the rook. "Well, you big old hunk of bricks, I only came to learn what lessons you could teach. If you want to stay out here by your lonely self and be of no use, then go right ahead."
The rook pursed his lips and squinted his open eye. His huge and solid frame sagged just a little. He saw he had treated her too harshly.
Theresa's smile returned and it finally softened the grumpy rook. His skeptical glance melted into a pout and his voice became a mere rumble. "OK, ask me a question; I'll answer as best I can."
Theresa asked the one question she had prepared, "How is it you only move straight forward or sideways?" She had been trying to understand the movement of all the pieces.
"My child," the rook responded, "it is because it is the best way to bowl over whatever lies in your path."
"That is fine for you," she said. "You are big and powerful."
"One need not be physically strong to be straightforward; one must be morally strong. Such strength will earn you the respect of the other chesspieces and there is much power in that." He rubbed his eyes and they straightened. "I think perhaps you knew that already."
Perhaps she had. She sat down next to the rook and spent the remainder of the day talking of chess.
Diligent as she was, Theresa occasionally put down her studies to play hopscotch and other games with the rest of the pawns. They jumped and rolled stones and vied with one another to be the best hopscotch player on the board. One day their play was interrupted by none other than the royal presence of the queen. She waved to them, and the pawns gathered respectfully at her feet.
"She is so beautiful," one pawn whispered to Theresa.
"She can do everything the rook or the bishop can do," whispered another.
"And smart too," was Theresa's breathless response.
When the queen had finished telling them a story about a chess match of the distant past, she asked for questions from the gathered pawns.
Theresa raised a hand. "What must we do to be good chessmen?" she asked.
The queen's smile broadened. "You are such a serious little pawn, Theresa. Be smart; be brave, and never forget that, whatever else happens, within every one of you there is the power to do or become anything you wish. You might even become a queen yourself one day."
Theresa looked at her own tiny hands. How small were her feet and head! How could she one day grow up to be a queen? "Even me?" asked Theresa.
"Even you," reassured the queen. "All you have to do is reach the other side of the chessboard." The queen pointed over a sea of squares.
The eight tiny heads followed her finger. In the distance they saw a crowd of figures, a motley and imposing array. It was the opposing side. These chessmen glowered seriously, ready to attack at the slightest opportunity.
Theresa gulped in unison with her friends. It would not be as easy as all that to become a queen.
"How can we ever get through those pieces to the other side?" asked one pawn with an ashen face.
"You will have some help. Take one square at a time and do what is right, and you will succeed."
The queen finished answering questions, and the pawns watched in awe as the elegant figure took her leave. When the queen had disappeared, the silence was broken. The pawns buzzed with excitement. Someday any one of them might become a queen!
Not too many days later on a pleasant afternoon, Theresa sat at the foot of the knight, listening to old war stories. She examined his thick head of hair and strong arm; a long straggling mustache barely covered a bitter scar that traced one cheek. She wondered at all the battles he had fought and how he would fare in the one that approached.
The knight suddenly broke off his discourse to glare across the board. He nudged her gently. "They are coming to attack," he muttered.
Theresa, excited, jumped up and grabbed the reins of the knight's horse. "We must stop them. Let's go!" she shouted.
"Be patient, Theresa." The knight mounted his steed. "We shall deal with them all in good time. I believe the king has a plan."
Small though she was, it was hard for Theresa to restrain herself. She wanted to get quickly into the fray. But she followed orders and gripped the hilt of her sword tightly to await the onslaught. It was not long in coming, and as the first wave of opposition swept toward them she was confronted by an opposing bishop. When she saw his tense face and stiff robes, she realized he had the power to remove her from the board in an instant. Facing the opposition up close was far different from seeing it from a distance. Thankfully, the bishop's advance was checked when her knight leaped forward to defend the center of the line.
"Tally ho!" the knight shouted.
No sooner had the bishop's threat been averted than the terrible figure of a great rook barreled down the chessboard. Theresa bit her lip and drew her short sword.
The rook stopped short of her by one square.
Theresa cringed involuntarily.
"Ha Ha," he boomed. "What did you think you were going to do with that stick pin?" He forcefully reached out to grab her sword.
Theresa squirmed and chopped at the rook with all her might. The sword chinked against his rough skin. Her defense only slowed his relentless attack. She thought for a moment that her career on the chessboard would end in one brief flurry of combat. Luckily, the rook's bulky arm was stopped in mid-reach by the forceful down-stroke of a delicate hand.
The queen gritting her pearly white teeth spoke softly to the rook. "Leave our little pawn alone, Rook, for you are captured."
The rook's dismay was reflected in a darkened countenance. He had no choice, but to obey the queen. "I surrender peaceably, Your Majesty," he said sarcastically. "However, I can see that my king's plan for you is coming off rather well."
The queen glanced worriedly at Theresa.
The rook snickered as he was lead to the dungeon.
The little pawn soon saw that the rook's words were not just a petty remark. Several opposing pawns and larger pieces quickly surrounded her protectress, the queen. The little pawn tried to help save the grand lady, but there was little she could do. The queen lashed out briefly. Nevertheless, she could not prevent her own capture. Before she could be dragged away, she reached out her hand to Theresa. "Little Pawn," she said evenly, "remember what we have taught you..."
The dignity of the queen took away Theresa's breath. There was nobility in her rigid carriage as she was escorted from the field.
The bishop approached Theresa from behind and whispered in her ear, "Our queen is captured. She is the most powerful piece on the board. Without a queen, the kingdom is doomed. Our only hope is to have a pawn reach the other side of the board and become a queen herself."
Theresa turned to the bishop with his long staff and cap. His eyebrows sagged sadly. She gulped. "You mean I should get past all of those opposing pieces? That I should become queen?"
"Theresa, the situation is desperate. You are our only hope."
Theresa looked at the squares she would have to cover to accomplish her task. All manner of daunting obstacles stood in her path, not the least of which was the opposing queen herself.
She felt a nudge as the bishop urged her onward. She tentatively moved forward a square.
Diagonally, to her left, she was confronted by one of the pawns who had captured the queen. Though she could not capture an opponent directly ahead of her, she could take one at an angle. One swipe of her sword would fell her opponent, but the knight, who took an active interest in the action, counselled her, "Theresa, look behind that pawn; she is protected by a bishop. If you strike, you too will be laid low."
Theresa remembered that the knight had told her to outsmart her opponent. That included thinking about the consequences of her actions.
She stepped forward another square.
Her friend, the dowdy old, moss-bitten rook bellowed from his corner of the board. "Theresa, now is the time to be bold; move ahead. You will never reach the other side of the board if you tarry. I will stand behind you."
Theresa felt the strength of the rook as if it flowed directly from his will into her own. She set a grim expression on her face and forged ahead.
Even with the encouragement of the knight, the bishop and the rook, she came to a dead stop when she was confronted by the opposing queen two squares ahead of her. The queen's power was evident in her very stance. Unlike Theresa's queen, she maintained a haughty air. No chesspiece dared approach her for fear of capture.
"I am guarding you," the grizzled rook reminded.
The queen spread wide her arms and snarled menacingly. "Stay where you are, little one, or it shall be the end of you." She laughed a hideous laugh that echoed over the chessboard. All motion stopped. Every piece turned to see what the little pawn would do. For they all knew the outcome of the match might hang on her action.
Theresa held up her head and resolutely took a step forward.
"Good for you!" the knight said encouragingly. He positioned himself to capture the queen if she did not move from Theresa's path. "Do not be afraid of her. One more step and you shall be a queen yourself."
"Everything depends on you, Theresa," the bishop reminded.
One more step and she would be a queen? It seemed no more possible than it had on the day the queen had come out when the pawns played hopscotch. Though Theresa had dreamed of the prospect her entire life, now that she had nearly reached her goal, she felt unready. Perhaps it was because there were heavy responsibilities associated with a queen's crown, and simply becoming a queen did not make her a good queen. She would be required still to struggle and to fight. To save the kingdom she must face down the opposing queen, who, with her consort, had brought about the terrible struggle in which the chessboard was engaged.
While these thoughts were racing through Theresa's mind, the opposing queen chose to move. She held high her shimmering scepter as if in preparation to strike. It was a last desperate attempt to keep Theresa from her goal. If she attacked Theresa, the queen would be captured by the dowdy rook. If she continued to block Theresa's path, she would be captured by the knight. She had to do something.
She stepped aside.
Theresa moved forward to make the transformation complete. Theresa had become a queen not by reaching the other side of the board; she had become a queen through the struggle to reach that point. It had been the advice of her mentors, the rook, the bishop and the knight, and it had been in facing the opposing chessmen that she had gained her royalty.
Though long in development, Theresa's outward transformation seemed incredible to those who watched. Her golden coronet lengthened into a majestic crown. The long flowing tresses that had once bounced lightly on her shoulders became a tight and controlled bun. A flowing gown that rippled with her movements replaced her drab uniform, and the short sword became a golden scepter.
The opposing queen gasped. She shrank back in fear and alarm.
The bishop gained Theresa's side. "Your Majesty, with the help of the knight and the rook, we can hem their king behind a few pawns. But you must keep their queen at bay."
Theresa wanted to gulp. However, she knew as queen that she should show no fear. "It shall be so," she said confidently.
Theresa moved to a position that put her directly in the line of attack of the opposing queen, but retained her protection from the rook. Theresa's triumphant march across the board must have unnerved the poor queen; for she declined Theresa's challenge. In her withdrawal, the queen mistakenly left the way open for the bishop and the knight to trap the king.
Suddenly, in a clatter of arms from her fellow chessmen, the war was over. The great king of the opposition was captured. His demoralized chesspieces surrendered.
A cheer rose from every corner of the board. The rook, the bishop and the knight gathered around Queen Theresa. "Magnificent match," was all they could say.
The remaining chessmen bowed as Theresa was escorted by the knight back to her side of the chessboard to take up her new position next to the mighty king.
The king himself praised her accomplishments and proclaimed a holiday for the whole land. When the victory celebrations ended, Theresa found opportunity to survey the flat and open plain that was her domain. The rook had returned to his guard post at the far reaches of the kingdom. The bishop stood tall beside her, and the knight kept tight rein on his spirited horse. A row of eight small chesspieces assembled before her. She put her delicate hand on the shoulder of one. Her heart swelled as she realized that she was no longer one of the pawns. She had grown up. Each of the pawns had the potential to do what Theresa had done. But they had a long struggle before them. Perhaps, as the old queen had done for her, she could make their way easier. She would be the queen of all the chessmen. Yet, she decided: she would especially be a queen for the little pawns.