Grandpa frowns when he plays chess, like he does when he prays. He's got a floppy mustache that pulls that frown right down past his chin. He used to have freckles like me, but I guess they expanded on him because his whole face is pack-mule tan, witha fan of wrinkles at the corners. Years and years of moving cattle and mending fences gives a man a fearsome look, and I bet if I work at it, I can look just like my grandpa by the time I go to board at the high school. But the fences are mended for now and the cows are up in the mountains with my older brothers, so Grandpa and me are playing chess out on the back porch.
Grandpa's chessmen are world-famous around here. They came over the Oregon Trail with Grandpa's grandfather in the covered wagon, and before that they came straight from Paris, France. They were carved by hand from ebony for the dark side and ivory for the light. The pawns all have round helmets and longbows. Everyone else has a sword, even the bishops, and their faces are dead serious, which is what you want when there's a war on.
Grandpa is the chess champ of Malheur County, Oregon. We've been playing each other for years, so I've got him pretty well sized up. He always opens by moving the middle pawn up two spaces. But after that first move, he's as wily as a badger and twice as tough. I haven't beaten him yet, but when I do, it will be worth a town parade.
Now, to my mind, pawns are a shifty-looking bunch, plus they clutter up the board, so I try to clear most of them off right away, his and mine. I like my knights to have plenty of room to ride. My queen's knight rides a paint mustang. That horse has got a temper; she's lean and fast, and brave as a lion. My king's knight rides a Clydesdale; not so much speed, but plenty of power.
Rosita's my queen, of course. She's a fifth grader up at the school, and my best friend's sister. She can birth a lamb and kill a rattlesnake with a slingshot, which is what I look for in a queen. Plus, she's as pretty as a day in spring, and she laughs when I'm the one talking.
I bet Grandpa's working on putting me in a fork. That's his favorite move, but I see it coming a mile away, so I take a sip from a sweaty glass of lemonade and talk things over with the men. My king's bishop is all for killing Grandpa's queen before she can get us, because, after all, he is an excellent swordsman. The trouble is, Grandpa's queen would have to be Grandma, and I couldn't let anything bad happen to her, now could I? It's confession for sure, for killing your grandma.
My queen's bishop and I talk the other bishop out of it, which we do a lot. The queen's bishop is the more reflective type because his hands are carved together for praying.
Grandpa leans forward in his straight-backed chair, still frowning. Dad's orders sit on the card table beside the chessboard, in a tan army envelope. I made Dad show me, because I couldn't believe what he said. They're going to send him and the entire 87th Transportation Battalion all the way to Iraq. Reserve guys are only supposed to go places for two weeks--maybe three, if there's a hurricane in Texas. Fourteen months! It says Dad will be gone fourteen months, right in print. Like this is going to sound better to me than Dad is going to miss my birthday two years in a row.
Grandma's got him in the kitchen. I can hear the buzz of the clippers through the screen door. She takes about two minutes to cut my hair, but she's been at it with Dad for half an hour. I think she just wants an excuse to rub some extra blessings into his head. I hope she keeps him in there for an hour. He's going to need all the blessings he can get in Baghdad.
Grandpa pauses so long in the game, I get to wondering if he's even playing. He's been writing letters to our senator to oppose the war ever since it started. Half the Quaker congregations west of the Mississippi have signed them. Grandpa is not an out-loudworrier like Grandma. He just spends more time in the evening praying and writing in his journal.
"He doesn't really have to go, does he?"
Grandpa looks up from the board, straight at me.
"He took a vow when he put on that uniform. A promise is a binding thing, Brother, before the law and before God, too."
"God doesn't believe in war, does he? You don't."
"Protest is my calling. Your dad's is to take care of the men in his command. He can be faithful in that."
The sun is just starting to go orange, and the wind settles down like it does this time of day. The whole ranch gets quiet, like it's waiting for the next move. Grandpa scoots his bishop up three spaces. He looks at me and smiles. A fork! I knew it. My queen's in danger! Her knight is on the other end of the fork. What'll I do?
Excerpted from Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry. Copyright © 2010 by Rosanne Parry. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.