Chess was uncomfortable with the direction that Noah’s story was taking. Wasn’t this supposed to be some old fairy tale? he grumbled to himself. Meanwhile, the story was charging onward.
“After a few days out on the road,” Noah said, “the caravan was attacked by thieves. But the people, including Chess, managed to fight them off. Afterward, Il-sa turned to him with an expression of astonishment. ‘Those men were desperate,’ she observed, but Chess only shrugged.
“‘Many turn to thievery,’ he answered. ‘There is not enough land for everyone, and not enough food. But Il-sa demurred, crying, ‘How can this be, on this bountiful earth? I never expected such selfishness to happen among men. When I created --’ And then she stopped, looking horrified.
“But Chess already knew the truth: she was a goddess, walking in the land of mortals. He could not quite wrap his mind around the idea, but he was certain of one thing: they could never be together. But what good was it to say that aloud? He merely shrugged, as was his way, and said, ‘You can fix it.’
“She gazed at him and, once again, he had the uncomfortable feeling that she knew what he was thinking. But she only asked, ‘And what, of all the problems in the world, would you fix, if you could?’
“He shook his head, remembering the wretched bandits, and sighed, ‘Everything.’”
Suddenly, Noah coughed hoarsely. “I apologize,” he murmured, taking a sip of water. “It has been many years since an audience has allowed me to talk this long…” He grimaced. “Well, the tale goes on, recounting many adventures along the journey. Il-sa begins to make suggestions to the people: how to improve gardens by natural means, how to allocate water so that all might have a share… And Chess watched from a distance, as she grew more lovely and more out of his reach by the day.
“More attacks came, also -- so frequently that Chess began to wonder. And then, a bold attempt at kidnapping Il-sa, which he managed to stop. ‘But this is not an especially perilous area,’ he commented to her. ‘People seem to know that you are valuable… or perhaps dangerous.’ If she had been a mortal, he thought, he would demand to know what she had done in her past. But he was careful. He did not want to make reference to things that were beyond his comprehension. ‘If I had to guess,’ he said, drawing on his own experiences with authority, ‘I think someone powerful is after you.’
“‘The gods are angry with me,’ Il-sa answered cryptically. ‘And with you, for helping me.’
“Somehow, though, Chess always managed to get her away to safety. Sometimes, they ran. Other times, he confronted the attackers. As the situations grew more dangerous, his actions grew more desperate. He scrambled to do whatever was necessary: called in favors, paid bribes, fought, and fled.
“Once, Il-sa said to him, looking thoughtful, ‘Chess, you have the quality of water. Water will follow every possible channel to find its way past an obstacle, as would you. I sometimes believe that you would never stop.’ Then she looked worried. ‘I wonder, what would you not do to protect me?’
“One night, as they rested at an inn, a friend woke them to say that there was a large group of men advancing toward them. Chess rose in a panic. ‘You must go,’ he told Il-sa. ‘You will find others to help you -- better than I can.’ And she kissed him, just that once. ‘Go!’ he insisted, terrified.
“She went, secreted away by the trusted friend. Chess stayed, with the horses and their luggage. He knew that by the time the inn was searched, it would be too late to catch her. She was safely away.
“As he waited, Chess felt some comfort in knowing that he had done all that he could do, and what remained was merely destiny. He had played a part in something that he would never see concluded. But he had probably known the price, almost from the beginning. And to help her, to be part of her life, he would willingly pay,” Noah sighed. “He would give… everything.”
In the moments after the story ended, everyone was silent. Chess, grateful that the darkness hid his reddened face, was stunned at how perceptive this man was. He had not been with them very long. But, mostly, Chess was overwhelmed by the loud echoes of warning in the story.
And then, unexpectedly, Gryff broke the silence. “Yeah,” he laughed softly, “that’s for sure.”
Chess lay awake for a long time that night, white noise buzzing at low volume in his mind.
Continued next page...
In the forest, Tuvia was a powerful leader, widely admired, worshiped by some. He rose to his position of power during extraordinary times. Like most charismatic leaders, unbound by tradition, he improvised. Tuvia’s charisma, intelligence, and special talents led to his success... But as soon as his historical moment passed, the authority of this charismatic leader faltered. When he came to regular society, he did not fit in. He was apolitical and did not push, yet he had a family to support. When some leaders in Palestine inquired how they could help him, Tuvia asked for a taxi.
- Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec
In researching political revolutions and the people who were leaders, one idea is striking: leaders like Vaclav Havel and Jawarhal Nehru went on to achieve their goals and eventually became leaders of their respective countries. People like Martin Luther King Jr. And Mohandas Gandhi were also successful in getting their messages heard, but were assassinated and are now remembered as martyrs. But a revolution is usually composed of many who are considered leaders. Of course, many revolutions fail, and the leaders are imprisoned or killed or otherwise fail to achieve their goals. But some, like Tuvia Bielski, the hero of the movie Defiance, successfully led people through crisis situations -- in Tuvia’s case he helped to establish and lead a hidden community of Jewish people, who sought refuge in the Polish forest during World War II -- and then faded into obscurity afterward. As explored in A First Rate Madness, many people who have proved to be empathetic, creative, and successful leaders in crisis do not do well in non-crisis situations. They have the skills for reacting to upheaval, but not for carrying on with the norm. The parts they play are most often lost to history and known only to a handful of people. But that does not make their accomplishments any less significant.
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