The King


It is forbidden for me to visit my father's resting place. It was forbidden for me to follow him, that year, when he heard the trumpet call and answered it.

He seemed to know where he was going; along un-familiar paths to a clearing with a huge tree-stump in the middle of it. The tree must have been huge. The top of the stump had been smoothed out, and squares had been carved onto the flat surface.

Two men dressed in green surcoats stood by the tree-stump, each with a trumpet in his hands.

There was a knight, standing on one side of the clearing. He had heard the trumpet call. Perhaps he had been sitting in his castle, about to eat dinner, surrounded by servants, a fire blazing in the hearth. But when the two heralds had blown their trumpets, he had left his great hall, and mounted his horse, and ridden along obscure paths, alone, with no squire or man at arms, until, at a place he somehow knew, he left the path and rode into the wild woods and reached a clearing with a tree-stump in it.

One of the heralds directed him to a rough wooden chair near the tree-stump.

There was a rustic man, standing on the other side of the clearing. He had also come in answer to the trumpet call. The leaves still in his hair, the grease from the kings venison still on his beard. He would not normally come this close to a knight, unless he had stationed men with bows and arrows in all the trees.

He came alone, and crouched down by the old tree-stump.

The two heralds began to place chess pieces onto the old tree-stump.

The pawns were beetles, the rooks were spiders, the knights were frogs, the bishops were toads, the kings were mice, the queens were moles. They had come from every part of the forest, in answer to the trumpet call. They sat on the board, croaking and squeaking, crawling and hopping. The heralds stroked them and whispered to them, and eventually they stayed still.

The knight moved a beetle forward. It woke up, and began to crawl, confused, across the board. The herald picked it up and put it back where it had come from.

One of the spiders tried to eat one of the flies.

The game continued. Each time a piece was taken, a herald removed it from the board, very gently, and put it on the ground, and it ran off into the forest.

The knight studied each move for minutes before committing himself. His strategy and planning entrapped the green man

The green man made his moves suddenly, without thinking about them: yet despite this he was cunning; his confidence and recklessness confused the knight.

The green man moved his frog. Too late, the knight saw his mistake. The green man smiled: the game was his.

He leaned across the board, and picked up the knight's mouse. He stroked it, gently. Then, with a single, swift movement, he twisted its head and, snapped its neck.

The knight left; the heralds left; the rest of the chess pieces ran off into the forest.

The green man was weeping as he cupped my fathers body in his hands, and laid it gently, ceremoniously, on to the middle of the tree-stump.

I am waiting, now, for the next trumpet call.