Once upon a time there was a king in Persia who had a beautiful wife and a handsome son called Gavin. Life was very happy until one day when he went hunting, the king fell from his horse and was killed. The dead ruler's brother was named the new king. His name was May. He fell in love with the widowed queen and married her, and they soon had a son named Talend.
Some time later, the new king died and only the queen and her two sons remained. They were brothers, of course, but with different fathers. The question was soon raised: “Which brother will become king of Persia?”
“It will be Gavin,” was one reply, “because he is the oldest.”
But others said, “It will be Talend, because he is the son of our last king.”
The queen said nothing at all. However, sooner or later, she would have to come to a decision, and she didn't want to disappoint either boy. As long as the two boys were small, it didn't matter. But when they grew up and began to ask when one or the other was going to be crowned king, the problems began.
The queen simply couldn't make up her mind. When the ministers asked her to make a decision, she would reply, “Yes, I will do it tomorrow.”
Years went by. Gavin and Talend grew up to be young men, and became rivals. As children they were always together; as youths, they saw little of each other. Each had his own group of friends. In that way, two opposing sides were formed: one supported Talend, the other supported Gavin.
The ministers were very worried and insisted that the queen choose the king. But she couldn't bring herself to do it, for fear of disappointing one of her dearly loved sons.
As the years passed, the kingdom drifted toward civil war. The two princes did not see eye to eye. Neither one wanted to give up the throne; neither one wanted to step down. Some of the provinces sided with Talend, others with Gavin. Certain battalions in the army swore allegiance to Talend, others to Gavin. The two young men met, but only to stare at each other coldly and to promise war instead of peace, and war was fast approaching.
Two opposing armies were built. Gavin's army began to march against Talend's. All Persia held its breath, awaiting the conflict that was to decide its fate. The battle was fought with equal forces. Both armies had the same number of foot soldiers, standard-bearers, and elephants. Elephants were very important in Persia because they carried on their backs wicker turrets from which archers fired arrows at the enemy.
Neither of the brothers wanted the other to die. In spite of everything, the brothers felt the pull of their family ties. Indeed, each had given an order that if the soldiers found they were about to kill the enemy leader, they were to stop and warn him by shouting, “Watch out, King!”
The conflict lasted for a long time, until Gavin's troops were overcome and Talend found himself with only a few soldiers to defend him. Then, a little later, quite alone, Talend found himself surrounded on all sides by Gavin's turreted elephants, slowly advancing on him. No arrows were fired on the prince; he turned this way and that, searching for a way to escape. But his heart failed at that moment, and he fell to the ground dead. High in the palace tower, the queen had watched the battle with deep sadness in her heart, knowing that she was at that moment losing one of her sons.
When she saw that the dust had settled on the distant plain and the cries of battle had faded, the queen came down from the tower and rushed through the palace to meet those returning from the field. She stopped in her tracks. Her son Gavin, his clothes in tatters and splashed with blood, staggered sadly toward her. “Talend?” stammered the queen.
Gavin shook his head, “Oh, Mother,” he said, “my brother Talend is dead.”
“Dead! Did you kill him?”
“No, Mother!” exclaimed Gavin. “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 his hand, said, “Mother, I swear nobody was responsible for my brother's death. He died, but not violently.”
“I shall never believe that is the truth,” wept the queen.
But Gavin said, “I shall prove that it is.”
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 board, as flat as the plain. Then to mark the positions and maneuvers 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 the elephants and their turrets.
When everything was ready, Gavin called the queen and, moving one piece at a time, acted out the various stages of battle. “You see, Mother, my foot soldiers advanced like this, so Talend maneuvered his like that. Each time my brother was about to be killed, I had the men cry out, ‘Watch out, King!’ so that he could reach safety,” said Gavin.
“In the end, though, my Talend was no longer safe,” murmured the queen.
Gavin sadly replied, “That's true. He was surrounded. But I would never have had him killed, Mother. It was his heart that gave out. My brother realized he had lost, and so he died.”
The queen then said, “I understand, Son, and I forgive you. I believe you'll be a good king for our country. But I wonder why, in a battle between two kings, one must win and the other lose.”
The poor queen kept asking herself the same question for a very long time. She would sit all day long beside the little battlefield moving the pieces - foot soldiers, standard-bearers, and towers - always trying to save the king. In the end, she understood that, in make-believe as in real life, when there is a fight to the last, one of the opponents must fall, just as her son Talend had fallen.
One day, they found the poor queen dead on what was, by then, known as the chessboard.
This is one of the stories about the origin of chess. Today, it is a peaceful contest that recalls a real-life battle. In the modern world it is a fun game, but then it caused a poor mother who saw her sons fight against each other, sadness and suffering. While visiting Emperor Akbar's residence at Fatherpur Sikri, we saw a giant courtyard with chess board marked out. The king and queen sat on pedestal in the middle and they played the game with slave girls dressed in various colors, instead of pawns.
Credits: Brothers Grimm