Stone the Crows

by Todd McCaffrey

Nerius Stimpton Poddlemore bore his name with all the grace that a youngster could manage. When his parents took over the ancestral home of Poddlemore, they enrolled him in the local primary school — but that didn't last.

In fact, it took a mere six months before Nerius was no longer in school.

When he had healed and the snows had lifted, Nerius would take walks in the garden or sit in his room reading. His parents informed the school that he was being home-schooled which, if leaving a child alone all day from breakfast to dinner was schooling, was perfectly accurate.

Freed from the bullies of school, one would imagine that Nerius would have found in nature much peace and enjoyment. Instead, he used nature to vent his anger on the world that had bred bullies and parents who could possibly believe that Nerius was a decent first name.

One day, he noticed a murder of crows gathered in the nearby field, picking at wheat and such-like. He gathered himself a handful of good-sized stones and proceeded to rain them upon the crows.

The crows dodged his ballistics and cawed and crowed their dismay, flying away from their food with obvious irritation.

This so delighted Nerius that it became his daily exercise for weeks on end until, finally, the murder of crows was enlarged with the presence of one particularly stout bird. Nerius spotted him — it was an instant challenge. He knelt, scooped a handful of stones and fired them off in rapid succession at the large crow.

What Nerius didn't know was that this was the King of crows. Of all the crows. The King dodged the missiles easily and, with a low "caw!" urged his minions to retaliate, being the first to dive from on high down upon Nerius' uncovered head.

Thud! Nerius cried in pain as his scalp was scraped.

Whack! Another crow caught his arm and tore through jacket and shirt both, leaving a bloody streak.

Caw! A third crow circled, with talons extended and tore his cheek.

Bawling in agony and terror, Nerius raced into the safety of his home.

When he tried to venture forth the next day, the crows stooped upon him. Defeated, Nerius took to staying indoors.

One day, thoroughly depressed, Nerius happened upon a chess set. He slowly taught himself the game, playing in the big bay window that looked out onto the back garden.

As the days turned to weeks and then into months, Nerius got good. As his fear of the crows turned into absorption in the magic of chess, Nerius grew braver and, instead of playing with his back to the window, turned to let the light fall upon his board.

It was a full fortnight before Nerius noticed that he had watchers. The crows watched as he played. At first he was startled but then felt triumphant, raising each piece and moving it carefully, as though battling the very crows with his brilliance.

A year passed. It got to be a new game, playing with the crows watching. He particularly liked the way the King crow watched his every move.

Spring came and one day, as Nerius was working through a particularly difficult chess problem, there was a clatter on the window. He looked up. The King crow pecked on the window, nodded at him, fluttered off. Nerius stared with growing surprise as the King of crows repeated the move.

The next day, greatly daring, Nerius took his chessboard and the pieces outside into the garden. He set them up and waited, scanning the skies anxiously.

Crows arrived, settled nearby and cawed. Nerius took a deep breath but remained where he was.

A loud "Caw!" announced the arrival of the king crow. It took position opposite him.

"Do you know the rules?" Nerius said. The king crow nodded. Nerius wasn't convinced and carefully explained and demonstrated the movements of all the pieces from pawn to king. And then, as he'd read, his picked up a white pawn and a black pawn, shuffled them behind his back and held his hands out to the King of crows.

"You pick," Nerius said. The King crow tapped Nerius' left hand lightly and Nerius exposed the black pawn. "I go first."

And the game proceeded. Nerius won. He was worried until the King of crows seemed to nod at him and the whole murder of crows flew off.

The next day, Nerius ventured forth once more. And the king came and they played.

They played and played as Nerius grew older, as his parents died one by one, and were buried in the family plot. They played through winter, through spring, through summer as Nerius got older and older.

And Nerius Stimpton Poddlemore became the world's greatest human chess player.

One day, though, the King of crows came for his daily match but Nerius did not come forth. Days passed and other humans came and took a body from the old Poddlemore house and the place was only surrounded by crows as Nerius' body was buried up on the hill with his parents.

On his grave, strangely to all the villagers, he had ordered a chess board made of marble.


Years passed. 

One day the Poddlemore house was full again. There was another little boy with an equally unfortunate name.

And one day he came out into the back garden and heard a loud "Caw!" from above. He looked up and a murder of crows were winging their way toward him with a heavy burden. Awestruck, he stood rooted to the spot until the birds landed and laid a marble chess board on the grass in front of him.

He looked at the crows and saw how the largest of them, the king of crows, hopped on the board and off again.

"Do you want to play?" the boy asked.

The King of crows cawed loudly. The boy turned and ran inside. In moments, he was back again — with a set of ancient marble chessmen.

He set them up, took two pawns, black and white, and put them behind his back, then put his hands out again and said to the king of crows, "You pick."