The Duchy

There’s an old tree out behind the fortress walls that nobody ever talks about, but everybody is aware of. I know it. One time I was caught climbing it by my grand aunt (that would be my father’s father’s sister, you know) who could hardly catch her breath to chastise me, she was so frightened. So later I tried to ask my Da, but of course he’s too busy with the running of the duchy to pay me any heed. At least that’s what Ma (she would be the duchess in this tale) told me, though if you ask me, the lines around my Da’s eyes got a little more pronounced when I asked him.

But she didn’t have anything to say when I asked her, either. Simply told me that I had no business climbing trees like that. No business? I was eleven! That’s what we do! And besides, my grand aunt wasn’t apoplectic with fear for me falling – it was the tree she so frightened of.

Naturally, my interest was piqued in it, but no one was going to answer my questions. I asked all the guards, especially those tasked with patrolling the territory to the south, around where the tree is. I could tell that all the guards knew exactly which tree I meant, but they all clammed up real quick. I suppose the tree is a little unnatural looking. It’s all black and gnarled with huge, low limbs. I like it because the limbs are so low to the ground that I can get up on them with not even a jump. There aren’t any leaves or new shoots when spring comes, but the tree isn’t dead. It isn’t withered, it isn’t black with rot or age, that’s just the tree. Nobody likes it, and I guess I can see why, but it never bothered me. I still climb it when I can.

Neither of my two sisters knows anything about it, but that’s not surprising because they almost never leave the keep. Too busy with dresses and dolls and hairbrushes. (I really wish I had a brother). The stablemaster doesn’t know, or won’t tell; same with the cook, the scullions, the maids, the keeper of house, the visiting nobility, any of my uncles and aunts and cousins, or anyone else.
The only one I think who really knows (and especially won’t tell), is the resident sorcerer. But then, he likes to pretend that he knows everything there is to know, especially when it’s something like a weird tree behind the fortress that is foreign. Alien? Who knows? He would say, and he would cackle. I like him well enough, for a sorcerer, but his reply rubbed me wrong.

So what’s it like being the only son of a Duke? Well, let me tell you, at eleven, there’s a lot of time to climb trees. In this duchy, anyway. My cousin Torwill is in line for the regency of his da’s lands and he doesn’t have time to sleep, or so he tells it. But Torwill was born a worrier, or so says my ma, and I happen to agree. Torwill is likeable enough, but we’re all afraid his brain will worry a hole in his head before long.

I get time to ride, to hunt (as much as my da allows, anyway – fox and birds mostly), and read, though I get a lot more time to do chores and get instruction on this or that system of regency and how exactly does one address a clerk opposed to a captain? and so forth. It is a life. And like other boys, we envy what we don’t have, despising at times the roles we have inherited, not understanding until it’s all too late that we have choices. Small choices, for some. And for others, destiny knocks, and the burden falls on your shoulders to open the door or close the shutters and pray it goes away. I wonder which I will be? Will it depend on the day of the week I receive the knock? Will I hear it at all?

~ jf