“I just want to go home”
“The warriors will be silent!” the mouse shouted from its position on the side of the arena. Beside the mouse lay the Container, now open. It had been carried in, suspended on poles, by a gibbon and a oviraptor. Even now the superstition continued. They dare not touch it.
Augustus made his first move, a gecko positioned before Sapie stepped forward. This was not a surprise as every move was planned between us. I made my move and a tamarin scurried into place. We made several moves each and then I realised it was time to strike. I picked up the piece representing the female gorilla and moved it out. She shuffled forward and looked at me. I knew why.
This move left her and Servus exposed. One move from Augustus and Servus himself would be under threat. Augustus faked amusement and made his move. To everyone’s surprise he mimicked my last move and left Sapie similarly exposed. I tried to look like I was concentrating and moved one of the smaller gorillas. Augustus made his move.
Murmurs started to rise around the room as the smarter spectators began to see where this was heading. They clearly reasoned that if we continued as we were we would reach a stalemate and nobody would win.
Move came and move went. Some warriors were removed from the arena as one of the opposing faction’s warriors took their position on the arena floor. There was no bloodshed, just as Augustus has told me. Instead each warrior would yield its position to the incoming opposing warrior. have to say was amazed at the way this all worked. As each warrior was defeated it and its corresponding carved wooden piece simply disappeared. Usually this was followed by a rousing chorus of groans from that warriors faction and cheers from the opposition. This was all part of our plan too. In order to reach our conclusion we had to reduce the numbers.
Augustus and I made each move to perfection until at last we reached a point where only a handful of warriors remained on each side. The next three moves would be vital. For the reptilia there stood Sapie, a velociraptor and a triceratops. For the Simians there remained Servus and two tamarind. My forces were dangerously exposed and Servus was extremely unhappy about it. Augustus could, if he wanted, defeat me within two moves. I picked up the carved representation of Servus and moved it one place to the right. Servus himself huffed and snorted but replicated the move. Augustus moved the triceratops into line with Servus, the two creatures staring at each other across the arena. This was not permitted and I had to use my move to rectify the situation or surrender. I picked up my Servus piece and moved it back to where it had just come from. Again Servus moved on the arena floor. Again Augustus moved the triceratops to be in line with Servus. I slowly moved Servus to the place on his right again. Augustus repeated his move with the triceratops. The crowd grew raucous and the mouse had to step on the arena and raise its staff to silence them.
This was it, this next move would bring the end. Slowly I picked up the small, carved Servus and placed it back to the left of where it now stood. The crowd erupted. Some out of confusion, some out of wonder, some out of rage. This was the third time the warriors had been in this exact arrangement. Under the terms of the battle, this meant the battle was a draw.
Neither side had won.
Servus roared and glared at me. If he could he would have climbed up and attacked me, I’m sure of it. But he didn’t, he couldn’t. All the remaining warriors disappeared at once and even in the ruckus on the battle hall everybody heard the solid “thunk” as the Container closed, signalling the end of the battle. The mouse stepped forward and raised its staff again. The crowd eventually fell silent. The mouse spoke slowly and carefully.
“Never in our history has this occurred. The battle is a draw. There is no victor!” The crowd cried out as one but the mouse continued speaking anyway. “The two generals must now join me and we will decide what will happen next.”
Augustus and I walked down to the arena floor and joined the mouse, now standing beside the closed container. The mouse wrung its paws and looked at us both.
“Well?” it said, “What do you plan to do? Shall we have a rematch, call this battle void or we can start the battles all over again but I warn you the latter will leave us with no ruling faction.”
“With respect my lord Geep,” Augustus said, “there is another option. One made possible only by the presence of my esteemed opponent here.” The mouse looked concerned, “You are aware of the prophecy?” August asked.
“Yes, yes, of course I am!” the mouse spluttered, “but how do you expect us to continue without the battles? There must be battles. We will have anarchy without them!”
“That’s not true Geep!” Augustus said and then smiled at the mouse, “My friend, you know as well as I do that in the event of a draw the two generals can elect to stop the battles altogether.” The crowd murmured as they realised what this meant to their way of life.
“That law was rescinded years ago!”
“No it wasn’t. It was altered so that it may only be used if one of the generals was a human. I presume everybody thought that would be so unlikely that the battles would never be stopped.”
The mouse turned to me. “What of you, human? What do you think about all of this.”
I took a deep breath and said the lines I had rehearsed. “I see no interest in the continuance of the battles. If my opponent is in agreement I propose we herewith halt all battles.”
“I am in agreement.” Augustus said.
Try to imagine a large room full of many kinds of animal and bird, totalling hundreds of thousands of creatures. Now imagine that each creature yelling, shrieking or roaring at the top of their lungs. This is what happened when August finished speaking. I can’t blame them really, what we had just done would change their lives forever. There would be no more battles, which meant no more victors, which meant no more rulers. This meant either an end to tyranny for the oppressed or an end to luxury for the oppressors so the noise was either one of joy or anger. Eventually Geep held his staff aloft and quietened them all.
“This ruling is permitted but there must be a proposal for how conflict will be settled in place of the battles.” the mouse turned to me.
Photo by andybutkaj CC:By on Flickr
“I propose that copies be made of the replica arenas used by the generals. These copies should be made without the capability to move warriors - this is no longer needed. The copies will be distributed among the factions and when the leader of the faction cannot or will not settle a disagreement, a replica battle - a game - will be played out on these smaller versions. No warriors need be lost. When a conflict arises between two factions then the same type of game will take place between the champions of each faction.”
“And the winner of each game is entitled only to what was agreed before the game began!” Augustus added.
“Yes.” I concurred. “Those who refuse to abide by this - whether individuals or entire factions - must leave the confines of this world and find solace in their own company elsewhere.”
The mouse looked stunned. The room was in silence for what seemed to be ages. Finally the mouse spoke. “This is just.” he said. “What of the rules of these games?”
“They will be the same as the battles, each piece will be positioned in the same place at the start of the game. The white player must go first and each piece is restricted to the same movement patterns as in the battles.”
“What do we call this - since they are no longer battles?” a voice came from the crowd.
“Where I am from we play this game. We call it chess. I suggest you use that name.”
And that was that. The battles had ended and I had indeed brought about the end of tyranny and oppressive rule in that world. The battle had in the end been a huge game of chess. Each warrior being one of the pieces on a chessboard. Eventually the crowd left and only myself, Geep and Augustus remained.
“What will you do now?” Geep asked me.
“I want to go home.” I said.
He nodded, as did my friend Augustus.“You know how.” Said the greying chimp “and thank you.” He picked up the Container and handed it to me. I took it without thinking and suddenly everything went black.
I opened my eyes and cried “No, not yet!” I had not had a chance to reply. The Container had acted as soon as I touched it.
“Shh, it’s okay.” a familiar voice said while a hand stroked my head. I looked up into the eyes of my mother. I was laying on a bed of sorts in a white room with one small window and a couple of chairs.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“You’re in the recovery room of the medical centre at the zoo.” My Dad replied from behind her. “You passed out. They think it might have been the heat.”
“We’re just glad you’re okay.” Mum added.
“I feel okay now just a bit tired. When can we go home?” I asked.
“Soon as you like.” Dad said, “We’ll have to take you to the Doctor in the morning, just to make sure.”
“What about the zoo trip?”
“We’ll come another day.” Mum smiled. “Which reminds me. The zoo were concerned about you and have given you a gift. They didn’t need to really. It wasn’t their fault you fainted. They’re just being nice.”
“What is it?”
“Here.” Dad said and handed me a wooden box which looked very familiar. It looked just like the Container. I opened it and saw an array of carved wooden chess pieces. The white pieces were of various reptiles and the black pieces were all apes or monkeys. I smiled. The top of the box lid had an illustrated title page stuck to it. The title said “Animal chess” and below that it said “Let battle commence!” The photo was of a grumpy but very familiar looking old chimpanzee.
“If you don’t like it, we can give it to your cousin,” Dad said, “he likes chess.”
“No, I’ll keep hold of it.” I said.
“Great. Well if you like I’ll give you a game when we get home.”
“That would be good Dad.” I said and stared at the gorilla-shaped King piece nestled in the box.