This is a variation on an old legend as found in an old fairy tale book I had as a child. Since that book was given away years ago, I am retelling it from memory (with a little of my own embellishment). For tradition's sake, then . . .

Once upon a time. . .

. . .there was a King who had a beautiful Queen and a young son named Gav. When the King died, his brother was proclaimed the successor. The new King fell in love with the widow and came to marry her. As a result, a son named Talend was born.

When the second King died some time later, the court quickly fell to wondering which half-brother would succeed.

"It will be Gav," said some, "because he is the elder." But others said, "It will be Talend, since his father was our last King."

The Queen, who had the burden of choice, couldn't bear to let either son down since she loved both equally well. When asked to decide, she would always find away to put the moment off a little longer. Eventually, the years passed and the boys grew into men.

The brothers grew distant and began to avoid one another. Each developed a sharply divided set of friends and supporters throughout the court. As the two sides grew more prominent and aggressive, the ministers began to worry and appealed to the Queen to make up her mind. And yet she could not bring herself to it.

The kingdom gradually drifted into a civil war -- neither prince saw eye to eye, neither wanted to give up the throne, and neither would step down for the other. The provinces also began to choose sides, with battalions swearing allegiance to one or the other. If one prince ever encountered the other, there would only be cold stares and vows of war. Each swelling army built up an equally imposing store of weapons, money, horses, and elephants (which carried the archers up high on a turret). Gav's army began to march against Talend's, and the world held its breath.

The battle was a massacre for the foot soldiers, horsemen, standard bearers and elephant-bound archers. It lasted for a long time, until Gav's troops were overcome and Talend found only a few soldiers around to defend him. Quickly, he was surrounded on all sides by the turreted elephants as they advanced on him slowly. Not a single arrow was shot.

However, in the panic of searching for escape, Talend's fragile heart failed. He collapsed suddenly, and fell dead to the ground.

High in her tower, the Queen had been watching 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 both equally. When she saw that the dust had settled on the distant plain and that the cries of battle had died away, the Queen came down and rushed through the palace to meet those returning from the field. She stopped in her tracks.

Her son Gav, his clothes in tatters and splashed with blood, staggered sadly towards her

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

"Oh, mother," he said, "My brother is dead."

"Dead? Did you kill him?"

"Oh no, mother!" exclaimed Gav, "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 hand, said,

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

"I shall never believe that," wept the Queen. But Gav said,

"I shall prove it."

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 flat board. Then to mark the positions and manoeuvres 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 of the elephants and their turrets. When everything was ready, Gav called the Queen and, moving one piece at a time, acted out the various stages of the battle.

"He was surrounded," Gav explained, "But I would never have had him killed, mother. It was his heart that gave out. My brother realised he had lost, and so he died."

"I understand, son," the Queen replied achingly, "But I wonder why, in a battle, one must win and the other lose . . . "

So the poor Queen kept asking herself the same question. She would sit all day long beside the little battlefield moving the pieces, foot soldiers, standard bearers and towers, always trying to save her "Talend."

One day, they found Queen dead on the board. That is how chess originated. Nowadays it is a peaceful contest meant for amusement, but once it caused a mother sadness and grief.

The Story of Chess
by Horacio Cardo
Abbeville Press Publishers

. . .It is the story of two nations, one black and the other white, that lived on and fought over a great island that has since disappeared. . .
They say that so many people died in the war and that the sadness of the kings was so great that they decided to leave a tribute to the war so that it would not be repeated. The kings knew the task would not be an easy one, so they offered a large reward to the person who could tell the story in an original and memorable way.
From that moment on, inventors, storytellers, and jesters began to parade through the court, but none of them could devise a fitting memorial. So much time passed that the kings were losing hope of ever seeing their wishes fulfilled.

Finally, one day a man named Sissa arrived at court, bearing a wooden case. Winning an audience with the two kings, he proceeded to unpack the case and explain the game he had invented. Inside the box was a playing board he had devised, a stylized map “divided by seven parallels and seven meridians” with an equal number of light and dark squares.

“To play this game,” he said, “we must learn the moves of each and every one of your pieces. Are you ready?”

Sissa began with the kings; identical pieces, one black, one white. The kings’ presence was essential to the game, and the pieces were powerful enough to move in any direction; benefiting the cautious nature of a monarch, however, the pieces could only move one space in any direction in a given turn. The kings stand facing each other on opposite sides of the board.

A queen, the most powerful person in her court, “sparkles and shines like a star; her light permits her to move rapidly in all directions, reaching even the farthest points on the board in a single move.” The queen is not essential to the game, however, and may be captured. She begins the game standing next to her king.

The kings and queens all have their own counselors, the bishops, who stand next to them and whisper advice in their ears. The bishops move in the direction of their whispers—diagonally.

To explain the knight’s peculiar move, Sissa asked everyone to move to the jousting grounds, where a knight had volunteered to participate in a test of skill. Sissa released a fox into the arena and asked the knight to hunt the fox. The knight corralled the fox in a matter of seconds, but the wily animal, seeing himself in mortal danger, hid under the legs of the knight’s horse, where he could not be injured by the lance or sword:

”We have all seen clearly the real power of a mounted combatant. He is strong in the fight at the middle distance, but he lacks the reach to strike beyond an arm’s length. We can also see his clumsiness in fighting at close range.”


The story continues, describing and explaining the rationale behind each piece’s moves. This book was meant for children, and is illustrated with a bizarre (really, I mean that in a good way) combination of collage, diagrams, and cartoon-like images, many of which were created with the help of a computer. Text, images, lettering, and design are all the work of the author, and the end product is well worth a look. The Story of Chess serves as a good introduction to the game for those not familiar with it, and provides an interesting and amusing explanation of the moves, even for those who have been playing for years.


The Kings, so pleased were they with the cleverness of the game, offered Sissa any compensation he desired...

Ahh, but I can't tell you the whole story, now can I? You'll have to find the book and read it for yourself.

ISBN 0-7892-0250-6                                                                                          All words in italics are directly from the book.

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