By: Anita Ramakrishna
This is an idea my sister and I came up with one summer day when we were outside playing chess. It is my take on the game of chess, and the story it cannot tell.
Desolate. That was the only way to describe the deserted atmosphere. The only sound I heard was my own laboured breath as I watched the sun begin to set on the horizon.
I watched as a single darkened silhouette walked towards me.
"So this is it then, old friend?" a familiar voice queried.
I looked up at the man in front of me in silence. Had it really been so long ago since we had been comrades, two young men filled with hopes and ambitions, ready to the face the world, together?
But time can change your life before you even realize it. Footsoldiers. That was all we were now. Pawns of the higher powers. Slaves to our country.
And yet though we were both one and the same, we were separated by something far deeper. A border between two lands. The edge where our allegiances stood. The line that crossed over all boundaries and gave a soldier his duties, his mission.
"Yes, good friend. This is it." I replied absent-mindedly as I watched the sun disappear once and for all.
And the call of our countries summoned us back to our respective homelands.
"My lady, you summoned me."
The queen rose from her throne and her white embroidered gown softly followed her every move. The alabaster statues looked down upon the scene in wonder, seemingly unaware of the awaiting chaos.
I watched as the queen struggled to avoid my gaze.
"Oh great knight of Niveus, the pride of our land and the embodiment of valour, your queen has one simple request of you."
"I shall do anything that my lady asks of me." I answered confidently, hoping to calm any of her uncertainty.
"Then please promise me that you will answer me in all honesty when I ask you this one question..."
I watched as our regal and serene queen strived to compose herself.
She took a step closer and looked me in the eyes.
"What are our chances of winning this war?"
Our queen, the jewel of our kingdom, the woman who always maintained her poise, was beginning to falter. She was starting to lose her faith.
"My lady, you have your assurances that I, along with the other men who fight in your name, will not surrender until the last of our blood has been shed. Every man, woman and child in Niveus will be able to live with pride knowing that their husbands, sons and fathers died fighting with honour. Your men will die fighting for their country."
I kneeled down in front of the queen. "I promise you, my lady, that I will not let the Pullean army take this kingdom. I will safeguard the nobility of this country. Or I will face my death."
The queen put her hands on my shoulders and smiled warmly.
"Valiant knight, you have proven to me that victory will surely be ours. I remember now how committed and dependent our soldiers are. Your courage and devotion have brought me back to my senses. Go forth and make your people proud."
I bowed and swiftly turned to exit, looking back only once.
"Do not fear, I will bring his highness back safely."
"The king must not return alive."
The Pullean queen looked me squarely in the eyes, letting the gravity of her demand sink in. We stood in her private quarters, as she stood bedecked in a long flowing gown, her brilliant eyes hardly concealed by a black veil.
"If it is your wish my lady, then it shall be done. I am but a simple knight sworn to fulfill your every wish."
A sly smile played on the queen's lips as she took a step closer to me.
"Only time stands in our way now, my love. Once you return victorious from battle, you will be the strongest man in the country. You will be obliged to take the throne. Our kingdom is lost without a leader, and with my husband gone, they will be forced to turn to you."
Her deep brown eyes shimmered, immersed in mine. I pulled her body closer to mine and gently kissed her, feeding her passion and her hope.
"We will finally be free; rid of these wretched secrets. We will be together at last. And I will finally be relieved of that weak, indolent man."
I saw the fire in her eyes spark with every word she spoke. Our dreams were finally going to be fulfilled.
I pulled her face towards mine, drawing one last gaze from her eyes.
"And victory will be ours."
"Will victory be ours? Bishop, my dear friend, how am I to be sure?"
Sunlight cascaded down upon the Niveun king as he stood in the cathedral, looking towards me in dismay.
"My lord, you are a good man, a great king, and you have been the most wonderful friend to me in all of these years. And because we are friends, I hope you will heed my advice."
The king looked up at me, his trust and compassion clear on his face. He was willing to listen to every word I had to say. The bond we had forged was strong, even in times of crisis.
"You can never lose faith. The hope that you carry with you onto the battlefield will push your men forward. If you begin to let any doubts creep into your mind, you will severely affect the abilities of your army. If their king is already seceding victory, how will they continue to fight with strength?"
I watched him closely, assured that he did not see the dismay behind my words. Things were not as simple as my words made it seem. I had also spent sleepless nights pondering our nation's fate.
I was certain that my brother, the banished bishop of Niveus, had poisoned the mind of the Pullean king. He was somehow instrumental in these battle designs. Anything could happen on the battlefield. My brother was capable of a great many things...
The king of Niveus sighed, letting his shoulders fall.
"My dear friend, no bishop in any kingdom would ever do as much for their king as you have done for me. You have given me your support and compassion whenever I was in need. I am forever in your debt my friend."
"I am forever in your debt my friend."
I hid the smile from my lips as I watched the King of Pullus look at me with pure admiration.
He was a fool. He truly believed he ruled his country and his people with grace and kindness. He was nothing but a figurehead. Nothing but a puppet. And I was the one holding his strings. The one who would soon cut those strings one by one and watch him crumble.
"It is my pleasure to serve you, my lord."
"With your blessings, my noble bishop, I am sure that our country will be successful against any enemy. Your faith and guidance has lead our people to prosperity time and again." The king humbly insisted.
I looked through the church window at the jet-black sky. The moon faded from my sight as clouds eclipsed it from vision.
Inspite of my restraint, a smirk escaped onto my lips. I had successfully lead the King into a fruitless battle. No matter who was victorious in the end, both countries would be decimated. And that would be the moment I would seize, the time when I would finally take my stand.
Soon enough, my brother would see the mistake he had made when he abandoned me for his worthless king. Niveus would regret their dismissal of me and my many great strengths. Everyone would understand just how powerful I am.
I would have my vengeance on the land of Niveus, once and for all.
"Niveus will be victorious!" I replied confidently.
I looked around at the other soldiers. My spirits were high and I hoped to share the feeling. We needed to stay positive. This war meant so much to so many people in Niveus.
"Being victorious in war is not as wonderful a feeling as you may be lead to believe."
Another soldier. A footsoldier. The man seemed to be worn from the trails of a long life.
"But we will be the victors. If we do not have hope, what more do we have?" I retorted.
"I do not doubt that we will win this war, but no matter which side wins this battle, there will be pain and suffering. There will be widows and orphans, there will be death and devastation, and every single one of us will lose a part of our souls."
I looked up into the wise eyes of the fighter.
"You have been in battle before?"
"Many times. You are fortunate that you have the honour of being the King's personal charioteer. You will not be subjected to the cruellest elements of the battle." He replied with a warm smile.
I bristled. How dare this man believe that my position on the battlefield was not as important as his? I was willing to give my life for my country. His words seemed to be those of a coward!
"I know it will be tough, but that does not matter. I will work as hard as any other soldier. No matter what role I am playing, I will take as many lives as any other man!"
"Lives like that of my dear friend. A father, a loving husband, and a loyal friend. He will be one of those many soldiers you will attempt to slay. And once you have looked into his caring eyes and seen him take his final breath, will you be able to forgive yourself? I have already reconciled my fate. If I must kill my own friend with my own hands, then I will, and I will live with my sins. But never dismiss the enemy. Never forget that they too have a family waiting for them to return victorious."
I felt my heart begin to pound. His words rang true. I had been so wrapped up in the war that I had forgotten about the Pullean people. There was so much about this war that I did not understand. I was far too young, far too inexperienced.
I was in over my head.
"Sir, I am sorry, I did not mean any disrespect. I am so afraid. I..I just do not know what I should do..."
The man smiled reassuringly at me.
"Just make sure the King is kept safe."
"The king will not be saved. And you will assure that."
Night continued to stretch along the Pullean land. The king's knight let his words sink in.
"You are the king's personal charioteer. You will be closest to him throughout the battle. I will entrust you with the task of ridding us of the king when the time is right."
"You are asking me to commit treason! How can you expect me to jeopardize our chances in battle by killing our leader? If we lose the most powerful man we have, what hopes will we have of winning?" I was appalled. How could the king's very own knight be requesting me of such a heinous action?
"I am the most powerful man! We shall still win the war, even if the king is gone. He is superfluous to our victory. Now, will you do what I ask of you?"
My mind reeled. The king had been like a father to me. He had taken me under his wing and given me his faith. He had entrusted me to lead him out onto the battlefield. How was I going to bring myself to destroy that trust?
And yet I knew I had no choice. The knight was a strong-willed man. The king would die whether or not I had any part in it. And once it was made clear that I had not carried out my task, my own death would not be far off.
I was going to have to destroy my morals if I wanted to stay alive. I would have to choose a life filled with heart-breaking guilt.
I swallowed hard. "I will do as you say."
The knight smiled and patted me on the back. "You have made a very wise decision. Once the battle is over, you will find your new life to be a much more prosperous one. I will make sure of it."
I watched as he walked off, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
And so I sat, wading through my fears, waiting for morning...
Dawn. The night had been one filled with turmoil. A dark night for the land of Niveus. Tension was thick in the air.
I stood in front of my army, my people. Beside me stood the queen, steadfast and vigilant.
I looked to every single face. Fear, anticipation, hope, anger, every facet of emotion was reflected in the sea of warriors. Men of all ages, all walks of life, filled with hopes and dreams. Each had a story to tell. Stories that I would never hear.
These people were soldiers. My soldiers. And now they looked at me expectantly, seeking guidance. They needed a leader, and I was the one who was meant to lead them into battle. I was meant to keep them from falling astray and to insure our victory.
And yet, I was only one man. One man forced to sentence his own citizens to death. One man who had been fated to watch his own people die. One man meant to safeguard the safety of a whole country.
And still, they looked to me for help. They truly believed that my words would bring them hope. They truly believed that my actions would bring them salvation.
Reluctantly, I turned my sight towards the battlefield. The sun had just begun to rise, colouring the sky a deep orange. The Pullean army stood firm, opposing our forces. I looked to the queen, holding her gaze fiercely.
And as day broke forth, I called my forces into war...