The King's Pawn
A Final Fantasy IV fanfic by Matthew Liam Smith
It saddened me somewhat that of the three fics I have previously submitted to RPGamer, the one I considered the most well-written, "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder", received the least reader response - in fact, apart from my pre-readers and a few friends, I did not receive a single morsel of feedback. I would imagine that this was largely due to its being based on a little-played early PSX RPG that, more importantly, was not made by Square. Hopefully, by presenting a fanfic based on a Square RPG, namely Final Fantasy 4, I can generate more feedback.
This fourth work is, like "The Dragoon's Farewell" last year, based on an excerpt from my epic-length magnum opus, "The Tale of Kain Aron Highwind." This particular piece is adapted from the end of Chapter 18, in which the raid on Mysidia and its aftermath are described. "The King's Pawn" marks the first RPG shortfic I have written that does not borrow a single scene from the game on which it is based, and that does not take place either during or after the epilogue. As readers of my previous work will note, it is also something of a stylistic departure. I'd like to think this piece can be read on many levels, with the images and symbols depicted on the canvas all serving multiple purposes while still creating an aesthetically pleasing whole.
I am not a chess expert, far from it (I typically win only if my opponent plays particularly badly), but I am very fascinated by the symbolism and imagery the game contains for those who look closely enough (or perhaps too closely?) The opening in Cecil's scene is not, as far as I know, listed in the latest version of "Modern Chess Openings", but is probably some seldom-used variant on the time-honoured Ruy Lopez opening. Because I know a lot of people who cannot play chess because they cannot remember how the pieces move, I have tried not to rely too heavily on the reader's knowledge of chess in writing this fic. I hope I have succeeded.
On the subject of TTOKAH, I realise I owe many people copies of the full text as it now stands (at eight hundred pages and over two megabytes), and I apologise to those of you still awaiting copies - they WILL be sent, I promise. Anyone who has not yet requested a copy of the full text but is interested in reading, as RPG Vortex has disappeared into the vortex it is now only available on e-mail request.
Thanks as ever to the two voluntary editors of TTOKAH, James Anderson and Andrew Vant. I might add that they are both among the most talented authors I have had the pleasure to know. Thanks again to Andrew for also pre-reading this shortfic.
Thanks, of course, to Square for making the game, and I hope the upcoming FFC translation is a step up from the SNES version. Thanks also to the ancient Persians or whoever was ultimately responsible for the invention of chess.
Thanks to Georges Huë for writing the "Fantaisie in G minor for flute and piano" to which I listened while adapting this fic. I highly recommend this little-known gem to classical music enthusiasts, it's one of the most moving pieces I have ever heard.
And finally, thanks to Margaret Anne Matthews for pre-reading, and for general support.
Matthew Liam Smith, aka Kain Aron Highwind I
email@example.com (no spam please!)
10 May, 2001
The King's Pawn
a Final Fantasy IV fanfic
As his fiancée's footsteps faded away until only the soft ticking of his clock penetrated the silence of his bedchamber, Cecil Lunaxis sighed dejectedly. His thoughts no less tumultuous than they had been when he had first entered the room in the hopes of getting a full night's sleep before his mission to Mist, he began pacing the floor, trying to sort through the psychological mayhem.
He had done wrong, and he knew it. Try as he might, he could not shake the image of three wizards lying bleeding on the floor of the crystal room. Elder Ellac Tendaron, his face overwritten with horror and outrage at the senseless act he had just witnessed. He could not block out the echo of the archsage's plea as he departed with the treasure: "Why did you have to do this?"
He could only think of one answer: "Because it was the will of the king."
This was far from the satisfactory answer he had hoped to find. Perhaps, he admitted ruefully, there was no satisfactory answer to the elder's question. He wanted to believe there was method to the madness of the ordered attack on Mysidia, that it was more than a ploy to deprive the gentle wizards' city of their crystal "to preserve the glory and prosperity of our land", as King Ander had described it. But even as he recalled the king's speech, and the manner in which he had given it, he could not help wondering at the true motives behind his command.
He trudged over to his north-facing window, his pale blue dressing gown billowing gently behind him, his indigo nightshirt flapping slightly in the breeze from the open panes. He stood gazing out of the window for a few moments, noting the position of the planet's two moons, Luna and Mona, in the April night sky. The combined light of the spheres bathed the room and its occupant in a soft glow.
Cecil turned his attention to the desk immediately to his left. On the right edge, his chessboard remained undisturbed from the game he had played against Kain two days previously. The sole captured pieces, two black pawns and a white pawn, lay just to the left of the board, the white pawn lying on its side between the other two.
As his eyes fell on the white king, which was also lying on its side, Cecil smiled slightly as his memory drifted back to the game. Kain had stumbled into a trap very early in the game, carelessly allowing Cecil to use a knight to threaten his king and rook simultaneously. Realising the hopelessness of the position that would have resulted from the fall of his castle, merely the first in a series of unavoidable catastrophic events that would have included the fall of his queen, Kain had taken the quick way out and resigned.
As Cecil studied the board, an idea formed in his head. Sleep not proving as forthcoming as he had hoped, he decided to pass the time with a midnight game of chess. He gradually restored the board to its original position, the white pieces on the north-east side of the board (the board having been turned at an angle to allow Cecil to sit in front of the desk while Kain sat to one side), and the black pieces on the south-west side.
"No-one else here, so I'll just have to wage war against myself," Cecil remarked wryly as he finished setting the board up in the starting position. He stood in front of the board with the black pieces on his left and the white pieces on his right, pondered for a few minutes, then placed his fingertip on the white king's pawn and slid it forward two squares.
"And if I were black.... I would reply thus," he murmured to himself, placing his finger behind the black king's pawn and sliding it forward to meet its white counterpart. However, the ill-balanced piece tipped over as Cecil took his finger away, causing the young warrior to chuckle slightly. "Pawn resigns!" he jested as he set the piece upright.
"Let's see.... attack or defend? Defend.... and develop," Cecil murmured as he lifted the white queen's knight into play. As black, he responded by developing the king's knight. He then slid the white king's bishop forward four squares, and proceeded to attack it with the black rook pawn, forcing the bishop to retreat to the edge of the board. "And when black brings his other knight into play," the Dark Knight declared, advancing the black queen's knight, "how does white respond?"
But as he began studying the board, he felt his eyelids begin to grow heavy at last. Glancing at the chessboard as he removed his dressing gown and plodded back across the room to his bed, he muttered, "Well, maybe white just wants to regroup and think about his strategy for a while. Think of how to get back at his opponent."
He yawned as he climbed into bed, the soft silver moonlight streaming through the curtains of his west-facing window as he drifted off to sleep.
Kain Highwind was finding sleep no more forthcoming. He tossed and turned, finding the mattress unusually lumpy, the blankets unusually coarse, and the ticking of his clock unusually loud. Finally, when the bedclothes tumbled onto the floor in a tangled heap, he groaned and sat up, planting his feet firmly on the floor, squinting in the pale moonlight.
He shuffled over to his west-facing window, grabbing his dark red dressing gown and tugging it on over his off-white nightshirt, and peered out at the night sky. The golden moon, Mona, had already disappeared below the horizon, leaving only the silver moon, Luna, to illuminate the sleeping world. As his eyes adjusted to the low light, Kain was able to focus on the silver sphere. He spent several minutes absently gazing at the waxing gibbous, wondering whether the legends he had heard about the moon and its people were true or not.
As his eyes fell on the north-west tower at the top of which his best friend resided, the dragoon's thoughts drifted to Cecil's dismissal. He shook his head slightly at the injustice to which the Dark Knight had been subject. As the son of a Baronian father and a Mysidian mother, Kain felt allegiance to both nations, but he could not bring himself to accept the need to use force to further the prosperity of Baron, especially not at the expense of the peaceful Mysidians.
He could only wonder what was going through the mind of the disgraced warrior in the north-west tower. Forced against his will by the man he had come to regard as a father to cast the first stone in a battle of which the "opponent" was not even aware and would never have wanted. Returning home with a burden of shame and regret far heavier and far more difficult to unload than the crystal after which he had been sent. Barely able to feel worthy of being in the presence of his two closest friends - in a conversation they had had earlier that evening, Kain and Rosa both remarked that Cecil seemed unable to make eye contact with either of them following his return. Kain could only hope that these were feelings he would never have to experience.
Well, Kain thought to himself, perhaps the mission to Mist would take Cecil's mind off the events in Mysidia and his dismissal. The new mission seemed far more innocuous; indeed, rather than taking something from the sleepy village rich in the heritage of Summoners, they had been asked to deliver a package. With any luck, the successful completion of the mission would lead to the restoration of Cecil as the leader Kain believed his friend should be.
Eventually, he turned away from the window and plodded over to the table in the middle of his room. He had left his chessboard set up, having planned to play a game with Cecil but having abandoned the plans in wake of the fallout of his friend's quest in Mysidia. He stood at the side of the table with his back to his north-facing window, the white pieces on his left and the black pieces on his right, the shadows of the pieces growing longer as Luna sank into the western sky behind the black pieces.
Kain reached across the chessboard, placed the tip of his left index finger on the white king's pawn, and slid it forward two spaces. But as he did so, the sleeve of his dressing gown dragged across the board, knocking over the white queen, king, and the king's side bishop, knight, rook, and pawns. The pieces rolled in small arcs across the surface of the board for a few moments.
Kain smiled slightly at the fallen chess pieces. "Well, black, it's your move now," he murmured to himself as he trudged back to his bed, disentangling the blankets from each other and spreading them out carefully before removing his dressing gown and climbing back under the covers, hoping that sleep would be more forthcoming.
As Kain's clock ticked away the seconds, Luna sank closer to the horizon, and the chess pieces cast longer and longer shadows, until the lone pawn in the centre of the board was covered by shadows just as the moon disappeared.