'The Missing Knight' | Circle Round 133

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("The Missing Knight" by Sabina Hahn)
("The Missing Knight" by Sabina Hahn)

“If at first you don't succeed..."

Do you know how the rest of that saying goes?

...Try, try again, right?

Because after all, if you want to improve at something, you need to practice! But when a character in today’s tale tries to trick his way to success, he’s the one who gets tricked!

Our story is called  “The Missing Knight.” It’s inspired by an old legend from the Jewish tradition. Voices in this episode include Jason Mantzoukas and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.

Comedian, writer and actor Jason Mantzoukas co-hosts the very funny podcast, How Did This Get Made. His new animated series, Housebroken, premieres on FOX later this month.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is a global humanitarian, businesswoman, author, producer, historian, and wellness advocate who has written more than a dozen children’s books. You can find her daily video series, “Storytime with Fergie,” on YouTube. And grown-ups, stay tuned: this August the Duchess will release her first commercial historical-fiction novel, Her Heart for a Compass.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

("The Missing Knight" by Sabina Hahn)
("The Missing Knight" by Sabina Hahn)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

What are some ways you can be a good sport?

If you win a game, think about some positive things you can say to your opponent — things like “I could see you tried really hard! And I’m excited to see what happens next time we play!” Then think about some positive things you can say if you’re on the losing side — like “Congratulations! That was a fun challenge! And I'm so proud that I did my best!”

Find a grown-up, and practice having this conversation. Take turns pretending to be on the winning side and the losing side, then watch your good sportsmanship grow!

Musical spotlight: The Harpsichord

The harpsichord has keys like a piano, but a much simpler design dating back to the middle ages. Each harpsichord key activates a small piece of material known as a “plectrum,” which plucks a metal string to make sound. But since you can’t control how loud or soft that sound is, when the more dynamic piano came along around 1700, the more modern instrument all but replaced the harpsichord. Still, the sharp yet mellow sound of the harpsichord defines the sound of the Baroque era, and is played by many modern musicians. Some of the greatest keyboard music of all time was composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, whose mastery was especially clear in his fugues.

The Fugue:

A fugue is a piece of music written with a particular set of rules. The starting tune is repeated at different times in different keys throughout the piece, which makes for an increasingly complex composition with lots of moving parts. The composer’s skill is important in the creation of a fugue, as it takes careful construction for all of the repeating parts to unite in harmony.


NARRATOR: There once was a Queen.

Every morning the Queen woke up in her royal bed, got dressed in her royal garments, tucked into her royal breakfast, then got to work doing her royal duties.

And every evening, after a long day of ruling her kingdom honorably and honestly, the Queen relaxed... by sitting down with her chief advisor, Jeremiah… and playing chess. 

Alone in the royal chambers, sitting on opposite sides of the black-and-white-checkered board, the Queen and Jeremiah laid out their black-and-white pieces — their kings and queens, their rooks and bishops, their knights and pawns.

Then the Queen and Jeremiah took turns moving their pieces... and capturing each other’s pieces... until inevitably, the Queen would utter two fateful words:

QUEEN: (dramatic, with relish) Check mate.

NARRATOR: In chess, when your opponent says “check mate,” it’s basically “game over.” It means your king is about to be captured, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

So, upon hearing those words, Jeremiah would have no choice but to surrender… laying his coveted king down on the board, and ceding yet another victory to the Queen.

JEREMIAH: (seemingly admiring, yet actually seething with resentment deep down below) My, my, my. Yet another spectacular game, Your Majesty! Well done! May I offer my deepest congratulations.

QUEEN: Thank you, Jeremiah. (beat, playful) You know, if you keep working at it, perhaps one of these days I can offer you my congratulations!

JEREMIAH: I would like that, Your Majesty.

NARRATOR: But the truth is, Jeremiah would not “like that.”

He would love it!

Unbeknownst to the Queen, after every single game, the chief advisor would stomp around his room and wring his hands with frustration.

JEREMIAH: (frustrated) Uch! How many years have I been playing chess against Her Royal Majesty...?!? It must be ten by now, at least!! (beat) One game a day, three-hundred-sixty-five days a year... what is that? Three-thousand-six-hundred-and-fifty games?!? And not once have I won!?!?! Not once!???

NARRATOR: Finally, Jeremiah decided he couldn’t take it anymore. One evening, as he paced around his quarters, bemoaning yet another loss, he made a declaration.

JEREMIAH: Enough! I have to beat the Queen at chess, at least one time! (beat) But how…?!? When it comes to her Royal Highness, I can’t win a game of chess to save my life! (beat) Wait a minute!

NARRATOR: Jeremiah’s feet stopped pacing. But his mind started racing.

JEREMIAH: ‘Can’t win to save my life’… save my life! (beat) Ha ha! That’s it! I know just how I’ll beat the Queen at chess!

NARRATOR: The next evening, there was a glint in Jeremiah’s eye as he and the Queen faced off on opposite sides of the black-and-white-checkered board. The advisor and monarch took turns advancing their own pieces, and capturing each other’s pieces.

Eventually, the Queen’s knight — that’s the chess piece shaped like a horse’s head — the knight was in just the right spot to advance and trap Jeremiah’s king. So, as usual, it wouldn’t be long before the Queen would utter those two dreaded words:

“Check mate.”

But not if Jeremiah could help it!

Before the Queen could make another move, the advisor clutched his hands to his throat and pretended to wheeze and cough.

JEREMIAH: (ad-lib fake wheezing/coughing, continue to cover the following:)

QUEEN: Jeremiah! Jeremiah! Are you alright?

NARRATOR: Actually, Jeremiah was alright — he was just putting on an act — but the Queen didn’t know that!

Just as the sneaky advisor had hoped, Her Royal Majesty dropped the knight she was holding, sprang from her seat, and came running to her advisor’s side.

QUEEN: Jeremiah! Speak to me! Are you okay? Shall I call the royal doctor?

NARRATOR: Jeremiah swallowed hard and shook his head.

JEREMIAH: (sounding strained/ill) No, no, Your Highness! That won’t be necessary! I’m fine — perfectly fine! Let’s just keep playing the game and — (erupts into another round of fake coughing)

QUEEN: No, Jeremiah. I’m getting the doctor! Wait here!

NARRATOR: Without missing a beat, the Queen went speeding out of the room, her royal robe billowing behind her.

This was the moment Jeremiah had been waiting for.

He let his breathing return to normal, then he peered down at the chessboard. His eyes fell on the knight the Queen had dropped.

JEREMIAH: So... this is the piece that was going to do me in, eh? To put my king in check-mate? (beat) Well… not anymore!

NARRATOR: Jeremiah snatched up the knight and placed it next to the board, in line with all the other pieces that had been captured so far.

JEREMIAH: (self-satisfied laughter)

NARRATOR: Just then, the advisor’s ears pricked up: footsteps! Echoing down the hallway! Quick as a wink, he slumped in his seat and closed his eyes. Moments later, the Queen came bursting into the room, the royal doctor in tow.

QUEEN: Here he is, doctor! My chief advisor! (beat) Oh dear. He seems to have fainted! Jeremiah?! Jeremiah! Can you hear me?

NARRATOR: As the doctor rushed over to take a pulse, Jeremiah blinked open his eyes.

JEREMIAH: (sounding much better) Oh, doctor! How kind of the Queen to summon you for me. But I’m doing much better now. The coughing fit passed just as quickly as it came, and I’m feeling fit as a fiddle! In fact, I believe we ought to finish our chess game! (beat) What do you say, Your Majesty?

NARRATOR: Delighted — and surprised — by Jeremiah’s miraculous recovery, the Queen dismissed the royal doctor, then returned to her seat and gazed down at the black-and-white-checkered board.

QUEEN: Alright… now, where were we? (beat) Ah, yes! I was about to put you in check, my friend! All I had to do was move my knight and… (noticing something is wrong) Hm. That’s funny. I’m not seeing it! The knight I was going to move — it isn’t on the board!

NARRATOR: Jeremiah flashed the Queen a smile.

JEREMIAH: (faking it) Well Your Excellency, with all due respect... the knight isn’t on the board because I captured it many moves ago. Do you not remember? Or did my coughing fit scare the memory away? (beat) I’m sorry to have startled you so, but perhaps you should try a different move…

NARRATOR: The Queen stared at the board with a furrowed brow. After a moment, she looked up and shrugged.

QUEEN: (confused, but unable to figure out what happened) I suppose you’re right, Jeremiah. My brains must be scrambled, you gave me such a fright. Plus, you and I have both captured so many pieces in this game. (beat) I’ll try a different move.

NARRATOR: But without her missing knight, the Queen found herself unable to corner Jeremiah’s king… and she struggled to come up with a new strategy. As a result, Jeremiah had no problem turning the game around to his advantage and… at last… he was finally able to utter the two words he’d been yearning ten long years to say:

JEREMIAH: (relishing this) Check. Mate.

NARRATOR: The Queen blinked her eyes. Then she laid down her king, extended her arm, and shook her chief advisor’s hand.

QUEEN: Well-done, Jeremiah. You’ve succeeded in beating me at a game of chess! (beat) May I offer my deepest congratulations.

NARRATOR: For once, Jeremiah did not spend the evening stomping around his chambers and wringing his hands. Instead, he spent the night snuggled up in his bed, dreaming sweet dreams of victory.

The Queen, on the other hand, spent the night hunched over the chessboard, replaying that evening’s game.

QUEEN: (looking at the board, replaying the game) ...Alright… so after Jeremiah captured my king’s bishop, I advanced my queen’s pawn past the center of the board… But then he moved his rook to threaten my knight... So it was only natural for me to advance that knight and threaten his king! (beat) And yet, somehow the knight had already been captured…?

NARRATOR: The Queen went over the game again and again. At last, she picked up the knight and stared at it.

QUEEN: What happened to you, brave knight? Why weren’t you on the board? Why weren’t you --

NARRATOR: The Queen stopped short. For all of a sudden, she heard Jeremiah’s words echoing in her head.

JEREMIAH: Well Your Excellency, with all due respect... the knight isn’t on the board because I captured it many moves ago. Don’t you remember? Or did my coughing fit scare the memory away?

NARRATOR: And that’s when the Queen understood.

Her chief advisor… her most trusted advisor... had deceived her.

The Queen knew the obvious thing to do was march right into Jeremiah's chambers and confront him about his dishonesty.

But as an expert chess player, the Queen knew that the obvious moves weren’t always the best ones. In this case, she wanted to do something far more unexpected. The wheels in her mind began to turn.

QUEEN: So. My dear chief advisor cooked up a ruse so he could beat me, did he...? (beat) Well, two can play at that game. (slowly, dramatically) Because I’m going to cook up a ruse that will get the knave to confess!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think the Queen will do next?

What would you do if you were the Queen?

We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Missing Knight.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, the Queen realized that her chief advisor — Jeremiah — had cheated in their nightly game of chess.

He faked a coughing fit, and while the Queen ran to get the royal doctor, Jeremiah removed her knight from the board… and went on to win the game.

It took the Queen hours to discover Jeremiah’s trick. So by the time she got ready for bed, everyone in the palace was fast asleep.

And yet, as she stepped onto her balcony for one last look at the stars, she spied something moving in the garden below — people! Two people, creeping among the lilies and rose bushes and azaleas.

Squinting through the shadows, the Queen noticed that each figure was shabbily-dressed, with an empty sack slung over their shoulder.

Immediately, the wise ruler knew exactly who these shadowy figures were.

QUEEN: Thieves!

NARRATOR: Now... if you were the Queen, and you discovered two thieves skulking around your palace, what would you do? Would you call out in distress? Would you summon the royal guards and have them capture the robbers straight away?

Well, that’s not what this Queen did!

Because, remember: the Queen was determined to teach Jeremiah a lesson. And in that moment, she knew exactly how she’d do it.

Hurrying to the royal kitchen, the Queen found an extra set of servant’s clothes and put them on. Then she raced out to the garden, where the thieves were hiding.

QUEEN: (friendly, disguising her voice) Ho there, friends!

NARRATOR: The thieves froze. Slowly, they turned their heads toward the stranger dressed in servant’s clothing, their hands raised in surrender.

QUEEN: (disguising her voice) Please, put down your hands! And don’t be scared! I’m actually one of you! (beat) You are thieves, I presume…?

NARRATOR: The thieves nodded.

QUEEN: (disguising her voice) Well, listen. As you can tell by my clothing, I spend my days working in the Queen’s palace... but I’ve long been plotting a way to rob the joint. After all, I have keys to every single room — including the treasury where Her Royal Majesty stores her jewels and riches!

NARRATOR: Even in the dark, the Queen could see the thieves’ eyes light up.

QUEEN: (disguising her voice) Thing is, there’s just one problem with me robbing the palace all by myself… The moment the theft is discovered, the royal guards will search every single room — including mine — and I’ll be caught! Red-handed! (beat) However... now that you’re here…

NARRATOR: A smile spread across the disguised queen’s face.

QUEEN: (disguising her voice) ...Now that you’re here, the three of us can join forces and work together! You can take the stolen treasure past the palace walls and hide it somewhere safe. Then we’ll all meet up, split the booty three ways, and make off like — how shall I say…? --  like bandits!!!!

NARRATOR: The thieves liked the sound of that. So, walking on tiptoe, they followed the disguised Queen into the palace and down a steep set of stairs. At the bottom was a big, locked door, so tall it reached all the way to the ceiling.

QUEEN: (disguising her voice) Behind this door lies the Queen’s treasury. A massive room filled with gold, silver, emeralds, diamonds and rubies. (beat) I’ll use one of my keys to unlock the door and let you in. Then you fill up your sacks while I keep watch outside!

NARRATOR: The thieves trembled with anticipation as the Queen put the key in the lock.

[SOT: key, door open]

NARRATOR: The moment the door swung open, the thieves bustled into the treasury, loading their sacks with sparkling gemstones. Then they tipped their caps at the disguised Queen and scurried out of the palace.

Without wasting a second, the Queen woke up her guards and ordered them to follow the thieves. The robbers hadn’t gotten very far, so the guards had no problem catching the crooks and taking them into custody.

The Queen, meanwhile, went back to sleep. After a few hours, she woke up in her royal bed, got dressed in her royal garments and tucked into her royal breakfast.

Then she summoned Jeremiah to come see her.

As the chief advisor strode into the throne room, the Queen noticed he had a spritely spring in his step, and a smug grin on his face.

JEREMIAH: (super smug) Good morning, Your Highness! That was quite a chess game last night — quite a chess game, indeed! Thanks to my wizardly mastery of the sport, you did lose… but you lost with dignity and grace, Your Majesty. I commend you on your sportsmanship. (beat) Now, why have you called me here, Your Excellency? (playfully) You’re not asking for a rematch, are you…?

NARRATOR: The Queen shook her head.

QUEEN: No, Jeremiah. No, I’m afraid I called you here to share some bad news. You see, just last night, someone... stole from me!

NARRATOR: The advisor’s eyes grew wide.

JEREMIAH: Are you saying you’ve been robbed?

QUEEN: That’s precisely what I’m saying, Jeremiah! Somebody robbed me... right in my very own palace! (beat) Can you believe it?

NARRATOR: Now, it was still early in the day and word of the thieves’ foiled heist hadn’t yet spread through the palace. Thus, Jeremiah knew nothing about it.

So as the Queen spoke, the advisor felt a shiver course through his body. Could the Queen be talking… about him? After all, hadn’t he stolen her victory last night? Hadn’t he used deception to rob her of another win at chess?

Jeremiah began to tremble. The Queen noticed.

QUEEN: (playing dumb) Jeremiah! You look distressed! Clearly you’re just as enraged as I am! (beat) (laying it on thick) So I ask you… as my chief advisor… my trusted, beloved, wise chief advisor... what should be done to someone who dares steal from the Queen? What consequence should they face?

NARRATOR: Jeremiah felt his mouth go dry. Was the Queen really asking him to decide his own punishment?

JEREMIAH: Well, uh, Your Highness - I - um, I - (gets interrupted)

QUEEN: (cutting him off) Look at you! You’re practically speechless! Which is exactly how I felt when this theft, this robbery, was discovered last night. (beat) But please - tell me, Jeremiah. How should we punish the guilty party?

NARRATOR: Jeremiah felt his heart pound. As a flush crept up his face and a bead of sweat trickled down his back, the guilty advisor knew there were only two words he could possibly utter.

JEREMIAH: (dramatic, slow) I CONFESS!

NARRATOR: Then he flung himself down on one knee and clasped his hands together.

JEREMIAH: Your Majesty! I am the thief of whom you speak! When we were playing chess last evening I distracted you and stole one of your pieces — your knight — so that I might finally win a game! (beat) I deceived you, Your Excellency, and I humbly beg your forgiveness.

NARRATOR: Jeremiah hung his head in shame. When he looked back up again, he was surprised to see the Queen… was smiling!

QUEEN: (smiling) Oh... but Jeremiah... this case of which I speak — this theft — it isn’t about you!

NARRATOR: Jeremiah raised an eyebrow.

JEREMIAH: It isn’t…?!?

QUEEN: No! It’s about the two thieves who stole from my royal treasury!

JEREMIAH: It is…?!?

QUEEN: Yes! (beat) But... as for this other case you mention… (pause) I appreciate you confessing how you removed my knight from the board and won the game by cheating.

JEREMIAH: You do…?!?

QUEEN: I do! (beat) And I harbor you no ill will.

JEREMIAH: You don’t…?!?

QUEEN: No, Jeremiah, I don’t. I forgive you… provided that from now on, you play honestly and fairly. Put forth good, strong effort and sportsmanship, and perhaps you’ll even learn a thing or two. (beat) Can you do that?

NARRATOR: Jeremiah leaped to his feet and kissed the Queen’s hand.

JEREMIAH: That I can do, Your Majesty!

NARRATOR: And… sure enough... he did!

Now that the clever, cunning Queen had beaten Jeremiah at his own game, never again did the advisor try playing the monarch for a fool. Instead, he played honestly and fairly, and over time, his game improved. In fact, Jeremiah eventually won a few games!

But now he knew something that we all should know:

It isn’t about winning or losing.

It’s about being a good sport, and giving it your best shot, fair and square.

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Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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