A Game of Chess


Chapter 1

Chess was a game of hierarchy.

The queen and the king were at the back, with the most protection surrounding them. The king was the most important piece, the queen the most powerful. Then came the rooks, knights and bishops. They sacrificed themselves for the king and queen – they were only given certain moves and could only move a certain way. 

Finally – the pawns. The ones that could only move one step at a time, the ones considered the most useless, the ones people cared least about.

The chessboard in this game of chess was Khatir. 

Khatir was once a beautiful place, long meadows of apple blossoms and lavender running till the horizon, with a dense green forest stretching across the land. The gentle tepid of the streams that cut through the village and led to the palace complimented the refreshing air. It was said to be a luxury to live in Khatir.

But a chessboard was not just a single colour – it was black and white. As the moon shone down at Khatir, the streams shone, glinting white. But with the night, the shadows grew bigger too, an ominous black cast over the village.

No one dared to be out after eleven at night. The shadows in the village had gotten darker than they used to be, over time, whispering to the unfortunate ones who would wind up dead or robbed of whatever they had on them. The paths where houses were lined and children used to play merrily were a silent haunting now. No one dared to play the game in fear of the consequences. 

But at this moment, a pawn was making her move. 

I ran along the walls of the palace, making sure to keep to the darkness as much as possible to avoid being seen. It was the ugliest place in Khatir, yet the most expensive – a dominating structure standing at the foot of the village, with four towers situated at each of its sides. Each tower was connected by a path made between them. A fifth stood between the third and the forth at the back, with a bell which was made to signal the birth and the death of a royal. It would chime twice for the birth of a boy, thrice for the birth of a girl and four times for the death of a royal.

We were all waiting for the day it would chime four times. The day the Queen would finally be gone.

The death of each royal was sounded, remembered. But the rest of us in Khatir? Before, the village folk could hold proper funerals, everyone would gather around, whispering their prayers as the body wrapped in cloth would burn. But now, the villagers who died were never remembered. And at this moment, if I were to delay my move, my brother could possibly end up as one of those forgotten villagers.

As I reached the end of the wall beside the tower, I slipped my fingers through the tiny cracks that I could manage through and placed my feet on tiny parts of the stone that jutted out of the otherwise perfect wall. I pulled myself up and placed my fingers and feet in other places, continuing the motion upwards. 

The climb reminded me of my childhood days, when my brother and I would climb the fruit trees to pick out ripe mangoes to eat later in the evening. Our mother would be holding her basket, smiling up at her two growing children. Those were the good times.

But they were gone now. All because of the Queen.

The climb up the massive wall burned my biceps, but I kept going. This climb played a crucial role in my move. 

My right foot slipped and my lips curled inwards to stifle my scream. 

“I’m going to die and I’m never going to see my brother again,” I thought. 

As I repositioned my foot back to the foothold it had been placed on, I tried to slow down my heart that was beating wildly against my chest. I was any other ordinary village girl, why did I even think I could do this? No. I needed to be brave. I needed to do this to save my brother.

You can do this, Zhavia.

I continued my climb. When I began, I had expected my hands to be coated with dirt and dust, but they weren’t. They were just as pristine as the rest of the palace, an uneven obsidian black. Yet, they still looked perfect. I hated the palace, and even more, the woman residing inside. 

Whenever the Queen dragged someone to the palace, it usually meant that they were going to die. Best case scenario, they were punished brutally but were still able to survive. The Queen would execute or punish people for the littlest actions, like accidentally tearing a royal banner down. The blood stained wooden post with iron chains at the front of the village was always a reminder of what would happen if we did something that angered the Queen. The Queen always executed her victims at the post, marking each execution as a way to keep us in place. 

My brother was another victim well on his way to succumbing to an eternal rest. I did not know why he had been taken. I had fallen asleep early that night – usually, I’d wait for my brother to come back home after his hunt – and the next morning when I awoke, there was a royal guard at our door and my mother was crying before him.

I finally hauled myself up onto the bridge path. My hands were slightly shaking. 

“I did it,” I thought.

I sucked in gulps of air and let my arms hang loose at my sides. Whatever my brother had done, I knew he did not deserve to die. As soon as my arms felt better, I started crawling towards the middle of the bridge. 

As I travelled on the path, I heard a scream. I laid down flat on my stomach and attached myself to the side of the bridge. Slowly, I raised my head and looked down at the scene.

A woman, someone from my village judging by the bohemian harem pants and the loose shorts she wore, was being dragged by the wrist by a guard. The guard’s spear lay on the ground in the direction he was dragging the woman to. The woman was struggling to get out of the guard’s grip. I spotted a heap of guard vests on the floor. Perhaps the woman had not washed the guard’s clothes to his liking and, now, he was going to make her pay for it.

My lip curled in disgust. Another innocent villager captured by the Queen’s darkness. I could climb down right now, kill the guard and save the woman. There was no one around to witness it. 

But it was either this woman or my brother. It was an easy choice.

I continued my crawl, the desperate cries of the helpless woman getting louder and louder. After a shrill scream – a chilling silence.

I peered over the path. I was now directly above the main doors of the palace. The safest way in was through the single hung window beside the front doors. After studying the guard patrols and the layout of the palace from the outside, I found that the single hung window beside the doors was the only part of the palace that was the least guarded from the inside and the outside.  My only obstacles were the two guards standing in front of the golden front doors. They stood at the end of each door, holding their spears, just as I had expected, wearing metal armour with a symbol of the palace — an aconite, with its stem of thorns forming a circle around it — carved at the top right of their chest plates. 

Fear began to settle into me. Fear of failure. If my plan went wrong here, I would not be able to rescue my brother. If my plan failed, the main gold doors would turn a gruesome shade of blood mahogany, and the Queen would probably have my head on a spike as an ornament.

I can do this.

I took out the stone I had picked up on the way from my pocket. I steadied my hand and aimed towards the stream in the forest. There was a thud, followed by a splash. I lowered myself. The guards angled their heads towards the sound. I heard hushed voices, before one of them took off running towards the forest.

My heart was thudding in my chest. Hopefully, the guard would reach where the stone had landed and see the deer that I had killed. Hopefully the bear near that area of the forest would sniff out the deer just as the guard reached to investigate the area. The bear would have quite a filling meal if it did sniff out the deer at the time I was hoping it to.

Now, the next obstacle. I had to act before the guard called another one of his friends to guard the doors with him. There were always two guards protecting the front doors. If one guard were to leave, the other would call in another from the other side of the doors, where a dozen guards stood. No other guards could be alerted. Otherwise, I would have to come up with another plan, and I did not have the time.

I watched as the guard below me turned towards the ornate doors. He reached out to push the door.

I jumped. 

Landing on the guard’s shoulders, I quickly covered his mouth. I gave a hard kick to his hand, expecting him to drop his spear, but he kept a tight hold on it. The guard jerked and threw his head back to get me off of him, but I had practice holding onto things. The years of climbing tall trees with thin branches have given me this ability. I attempted to hit the guard at the point on his neck adjacent to his Adam’s apple to knock him out.

Just then, the guard fell back.

I fell down with him, still on his shoulders. The guard twisted his body and shoved his elbow into my ribs, hard. There was a sharp pain, and I bit my lip from crying out. The guard stood up and pointed his spear at my chest.

This was it. I was going to die. My plan had failed. I had failed my brother. I had failed myself. I was stupid to even think that I could pull this off. I could try and dodge the guard’s attacks but he had a spear and I had nothing. The end sharp end of the spear-


The guard’s spear came down. I rolled out of the way and the spear hit the floor. The guard snarled. Before he could even swing his spear, I threw the dagger in my pocket at his neck.

The guard’s eyes widened as my dagger hit its target. Red seeped down and the guard fell to his knees. I watched as he choked on his own blood to death. His eyes remained open.

He probably had a family of his own. A family who loved him and was waiting for him to come home after his shift. They would mourn him now. He had died as another chess piece in this game, perhaps not as forgotten as the pawns, but not as remembered as the two main pieces either. I felt no guilt, no shame in killing the guard. He may not have deserved to die, but taking his life was necessary if it meant the possibility of saving my brother’s. 

I opened the single hung window just enough for me to slip in and closed it back. The room I was in was dark, with only some moonlight seeping in through the window. I scanned the room before walking to the door on the right of the room. I placed my ear against the door and listened to make sure there was no ruckus among the guards inside. When I heard nothing, I let out a quiet sigh of relief. The guards had not been made aware of what had happened outside.

As I exited into the corridor left of the room, I caught sight of a portrait. Luscious, ebony hair cascading down the shoulders of a woman with a slim face, sharp cheekbones, thin lips and emotionless grey eyes. The Queen looked cruel in every way. I shuddered, hoping to never have to come across the Queen.

The corridor had barely any light, but I could still see the line of portraits that were hung on the corridor. Each was of the Queen, until finally, I came across one of the King and Queen. The Queen still looked the same in this portrait. The King was much different than the Queen. He had a smile on his face, and he had golden skin with rosy cheeks, a stark contrast to the Queen’s sombre, pale face.

Years ago, the bell had chimed four times. The King was said to be murdered, then. We were not told who had murdered him, just that the murderer had been dealt with. There had been no public execution either. In a normal chess game, when the King’s piece was taken away, the game would end. But in our world, the game was still going on.

I had been too busy staring at the portrait, that when the spear was swung at me, I didn’t even notice. I just fell into a dark pit, with only one thought in mind,

I failed.

Fareeha Rajiwate (Class of 2024) prefers to read than write, and even her procrastination consists of delving into magical worlds. This might have had an influence in her desire to travel to and explore different parts of the world.