The Old School

Archaeologists were thrilled last year when they discovered a Persian library, which had lain in a remote ditch for the past fourteen centuries. Buried almost wholly intact underneath a canopy of vines, the library was nameless except for a set of mysterious symbols carved onto the walls; it turned out later that the words were,…

Archaeologists were thrilled last year when they discovered a Persian library, which had lain in a remote ditch for the past fourteen centuries. Buried almost wholly intact underneath a canopy of vines, the library was nameless except for a set of mysterious symbols carved onto the walls; it turned out later that the words were, strangely enough, hieroglyphs that gave this library its name: "The City of Stars."

The scientists wondered what could possibly lay inside, since libraries were rare and forbidden items back in the sixth century – objects only for the rich or the religious or, usually, both. Imaging their surprise when they carefully opened the doors after months of tedious labor to ensure that the outside weather would not ruin the contents… and discovered hundreds of papyrus scrolls.

Although the total contents would take years to be analyzed properly, translators quickly discovered that every scroll out of the three hundred and seventy-two there were rapidly-written documents devoted to strategies for the recently-invented game of Chess. The lead translator, one Elaine Deadzee, is currently in the process of painstakingly interpreting said scrolls, which is why the City of Star’s wisdom are collectively referred to as "The Deadzee Scrolls."

So far, only one scroll has been properly converted to English – a brief discussion on Chess by the Persian poet Karnamak. It is with great pride that this great site allows you access to a historic document from all the way back to 612 AD:

Alas, my sons and brethren,

How can you stand to play Chess with the pieces nowadays? It used to be that each piece represented a roaring warrior, sent by Allah to slaughter the evil infidels across the board from you; there stood a mighty King, standing tall behind his brave men, unwilling to flee from the battle until the last man was lost. Now, with the new emphasis on "rules," the Knight simply hops minicingly from corner to corner and the King is but another piece.

I fear, my friends, that the essence of chess – that of a great battle between Emperors – has truly been lost, and now it is but a game with pretty statues.

This saddens me.

And alas, the rules have changed muchly in the six decades since we first heard of the game. When I was but a lad, I myself had a chess board which no one could beat, it being composed of nothing but queens and a single king. The fun we had then, moving our pieces this way at that! My blood brother Themistokles bargained himself a proud board that was naught but pawns – forty of them. A mighty swarm of warriors we saw then, ay? Once had but one chance to move before all the pawns took all the pieces. ‘Twas most hellafun.

Of course, the fledgling players, who could not afford the lavishly-carved pieces that sat glinting in the morning sun like fine jewels in the marketplace, began to complain that our chess games were "unfair." UNFAIR? Is it fair that my second wife was blinded by disease, that fourteen of my sixteen children died before they were three? These players were mostly dark-skinned Nubians who were recently settled in our area, and so we have tagged them with the scornful-sounding "Nubies."

But alas, the mystics that created the game of chess on the far-away shores of China – those strange and mysterious wizards of the coast – laid down their edict: From thence, only one queen was allowed on any board. A paltry ten pawns. With that in mind, we were forced to wrack our brain to use clearly inferior pieces like the rook and the bishop. (What in the heavens IS a bishop, anyway? I know not of it. It sounds like a heathen Saxon invention.)

(And incidentally, dear Mardonius, the way the news arrived was surpassing strange; almost at once, notices appeared in every city ON THE SAME DAY. Some suspected that the coastal mages labored in secrecy for many days to strike a bargain with demons in order to transmit their message so – but that is the talk of fools. Everyone knows that the wizards have banned extended dark rituals like that.)

But still, the edict was given. The next day, queens were seen selling for many rare and exotic herbs in the market, many times above their previous price. Some desperate citizen was even seen trading three Black Lotuses for a queen made of nothing but wood scraps! Oh, but it surely is a fool who trades three Black Lotuses for a Sliver Queen.

And the greatest loss of all – the bowman. With a stroke of their quills, the Chinese mystics removed the bowman piece altogether from the game…

The bowman was a fine piece, who admittedly stood superior to every other piece on the chessboard. I admit that even a Queen stood no chance against the bowman’s wily moves, and pawns were removed from play by the score whene’er I moved my bowman first. I was once privileged to watch the great player, Kahm, play a game with the bowman, and he won on his first move! Such a thing has never been before…

…or will be since. It was clearly a broken piece. (I say this because my opponent would invariably break it whenever I took it out of the case, crying, "I smite this piece harshly!") But still, I miss its loss. Never again will I witness the Kahm Bow in action.

The game is now slowed to a crawl, all fun and energy stripped from it as I strip the hide off of thieves in the town square. (A man must have his hobbies, my friend.) The only good thing about the whole thing is how the theory of Chess has been fleshed out recently. Recently we have discovered, among other things, a rough establishment of priorities; for example, it is worth it to "sacrifice" a rook if one may take a Queen on the next move.

We laugh at ourselves now, remembering how silly we must have looked, refusing to trade a pawn for a Queen! "Lose a piece?" we said, "The point of the game is to have as many pieces on the board, to keep maximum flexibility! Surely none would be such a fool as to trade ANY pieces unless one had no choice! What a fool!" Then we would throw stones at him until he left the town.

But it was those selfsame Nubians – the dark-skinned ones who we scorned – who showed us the way two years ago, Mardonius. One hot growing season, they acted as one and began to show us their talent, the hierarchy of pieces. Trade a pawn for a rook, a rook for a knight, a knight for a Queen, and eventually your advantage becomes overwhelming. For thirteen long weeks, they won every game we played with them.*

But despite this challenge, the game is now insipid. It is not nearly as potent as it used to be; the complex strategies have been removed. There is nothing left. Get not me started on the way Chess has been watered down like cheap wine for children by that fat pig across the marketplace. Some may find the small, wide-eyed figures on a velvet board appealing, but I have but to see one and my gorge begins to rise. It is a stinging insult to the great game of Chess that these mewling infants play this warped bastardry of its rules. The collectibility of the pieces, carved by the bloated, fleshy, son of a goat, also irks me. If I hear my child ask for another gods-bedamned "porky man" piece, I may have to have him executed – as is my due right. I am fertile and fecund as the flowing rivers. I can make more.

Ah, but the nubies have won. The game of chess has been stripped of its meaning and depth of strategy, and has been reduced to but two underpowered armies clashing against each other. Who would play such a game?

Mark my words, Mardonius; within but a decade, no one will be playing this game called Chess.

– Karnamak

There. Isn’t it nice to read something that has nothing to do with Magic?

NEXT WEEK: Seduction of the Innocent Rizzo (Not that it has anything to do with Rizzo – I just felt left out not mentioning his name like everyone else is this week)

Signing off,
The Ferrett
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Visit The Ferrett Domain if you’re not easily offended. Matter of fact, stay away if you’re offended at all. Probably it’s best if you leave now, really….

* – The first person who can provide the punchline I wrote for this gag, and then removed in the interests of taste, will receive their very own copy of Reya, Dawnbringer. All the clues are there for an obscure Magic in-joke; I simply left it out before it might offend some people. Which is kind of ridiculous, but you folks are so damned touchy about cheating and foreign houseboys and whatnot (especially whatnot) that I figured, as editor and theoretical authority figure hereabouts, that I’d better play it safe.