Duke Junior – Very Short Story

My father was a very kind man. Every year in midsummer, instead of going to the King’s annual banquet, he made sure to arrange a huge party for his subjects at his own expense. I lived in another noble house at the time, such as all young noblemen do to acquire knighthood, and had never experienced one of my father’s celebrations – not one that I could remember anyway. As a result of being away from my family, I had been taught to despise my father’s practices. But I had also heard great things about my father and I was determined to give it an open mind once I returned a man and a knight.

Despite the ridicule my father suffered because of the celebration, he kept doing it year after year and in the end, I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take the contempt the other highborn showed us, things that didn’t even seem to face my father, which made me all the more angry. Why doesn’t he care?

Finally, after years of keeping my mind to myself, I asked my father why he submitted himself to the ridicule for mere peasants, who’s surely too dull to appreciate what he does for them?

He jerked his head towards me from his seat at the table, but instead of looking at me, he looked past me and said. “If you have to ask, then you won’t understand.”

It was the distant look that really got to me, as if he thought to be my better. I didn’t inquire about this again and I let my contempt grow within me. It became an act, from my part, all of these celebrations to come. With a joyless smile and a brooding heart I never said a word. It was only some time before the 20th anniversary of the celebration that my father called me to discuss things again. My father had come down with a fever and had laid in bed for weeks before he summoned me. And upon entering his room and meeting his glossy eyes I knew what he was going to say.  I said to him. “If it will make you happy, I will continue the tradition, father.”

My father grinned weakly at my words and said. “Whatever makes me happy after I die is of no concern to you. I will be dead and I would no longer have any say in this world. Nonetheless, I want you to do this for your own happiness.”

I stared at him for few moments, pondering whether I should lie or not. But I knew he could see through such deception and I told him the truth. “What result does this yearly celebration even have other than emptying our coffers needlessly? We could be asked to go to war at any moment. Isn’t it better to spend money to prepare for it? For worse times?

Still not looking directly at me, he said. “Things will get worse before they get better, in the same way, things will get worse once they are good, I’m fully aware. But preparing for war doesn’t prevent it. We’ve always had adequate readiness for times of war. Nothing more, nothing less. Such is the duty to our King.”

I leaned my head slightly and considered this. But I had nothing to add to his argument and told him simply. “You are too kind, father.”

Upon hearing those words, he raised his head, with his eyes finally fixated on me, eyes wide with eyebrows raised, he said. “Is there such a thing?” As if it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard

I didn’t want to argue with him, not like this, but with the very real danger that he might die the next day, I had to inquire further.

I told him. “Say that a man killed mother, for whatever reason, would you forgive such a man? Surely, kindness has its limits?”

My father laid his head down on the pillow again and looked at the ceiling with half open eyes and said. “Whether I would forgive such a man is irrelevant. The law would take its course despite my feelings, and I would accept their verdict.”

I felt greatly unsatisfied with this answer and I asked. “So the very reason you prepare these celebrations is because it makes you happy and you want me to do the same? Is that it? What if I found happiness somewhere else? Why should I act in the way you did when you yourself say that your wishes have no meaning once you die?”

My father opened his mouth but was interrupted by a cough that dragged on, making a sound that no healthy man, nor adequately sick one, should be able to make. It was clear that his time was nigh.

Still coughing, he pointed at a ledger on the cupboard next to the bed and I handed it to him.

My father asked without looking at it. “Have you read this?”

I told him I had. And then he asked in turn. “What do you make of this?”

Confused, I answered sincerely. “It means that the year has been good to us, and the years before it.”

My father slumped back on the pillow and put away the ledger, as if nothing else needed to be said, but he said it anyway. “Exactly! Why do you think this is? Why do you think we, such a small county, continues to get good yield that even a Baron would be jealous of?”

My father paused to let his word sink in before continuing. “It is the people, my son. A happy people is a strong people – a productive people. See it as an investment, happiness or no, the choice is yours.”

He died a few days later, refusing to discuss the matter further.

I didn’t understand it then, but I held the celebration, as I promised. I figured I should hold at least once, one last time, in his memory. But what I found that day was more than I ever expected. In all of my life, the sun had always shone on my father – the commoners happiness always centred around him. And why shouldn’t they have revered him? He was their benefactor, and I was just his son, his gloomy son.

But once I stood at the centre of the podium, staring down at my subjects, their eyes teary and their gazes fully on me, I felt it. It was gratification of the most sincere kind, the one you could only find with simplest of peoples that knew nothing of the luxury of life.

Continuing their stares, I felt my legs waver at their gazes for they had heard that I would end my father’s tradition and the relief the people showed me would be with me all my life; because finally, I understood, the joy of bringing happiness to others.

I have endured the ridicule as my father before me and I continue his legacy to this day, becoming known as the rich, the kind, and the most stupid of Duke of the king’s land.

© Christopher Stamfors

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