The Golden Duke, a Flash Fairy Tale
There once was a noble who lived within a grand palace. Known as the Golden Duke, he was the sort of lord wise enough to avoid pointless wars with neighbors, and to engender the sort of prosperity that would allow him earn much in the way of taxes. And yet he was foolish enough that he became obsessed with having the finest of everything, so that his palace would be the most famed in all the realm.
He was constantly adding new wings and towers to his palace, fine halls and ballrooms wherever he could tuck them. His guards were the best armed, wearing the finest armor, while his servants were dressed nearly as fine as some lords. Most famed of all though were the grand feasts he would throw.
It was common for each feast to have a dozen or more courses, each more succulent than the last. He would send off far and wide for the wildest ingredients, which were then prepared by the finest chefs in the land. And while people dined they would be entertained by the most skilled bards and minstrels that could be found, all drawn to the fame that performing for the Golden Duke provided.
And though lustful acquisition ruled the man’s life, he was known to be generous. Any who showed up at his door would be welcomed in and given a meal and a place to sleep that night. Those of lordly rank would be taken in most graciously and entertained most fabulously.
One stormy night there came a thin man of lordly bearing to the great gates of the palace. He was not known to the chamberlain, but his exceedingly fine clothing and expensive stallion marked him as someone worthy of sharing his lords table. So a small feast was called for, and soon the man was seated at the right hand of the Golden Duke.
“Do you like my table?” asked the Golden Duke, gesturing to the massive table that ran the length of the hall. “Carved from a single ironwood tree, it can seat a hundred people at once. Took four months and five hundred men to get it here.”
“I have better at my palace,” replied the man quietly.
The Duke’s face scrunched up tightly. “Well take a look at the tapestries. Each is woven from the finest Illyrian wool. Not a single imperfection on any of them, as I had the best weavers in Sampater craft them. Gold thread and pearl shards are woven right in, giving them that sheen you see.”
“I have better at my palace,” replied the man, his voice sounding tired.
A shadow fell across the Golden Duke’s face. “Well then. Have a look at these plates. Made from the rarest white gold, and each has a thousand marks worth of fine gems studded into them. The goblets are each made from a single diamond, with not a single scratch or chip.”
“I dine on better at my palace,” yawned the man.
A rage overtook the Duke. “Well then,” spat the Duke. “I find it all hard to believe. How a palace more fine than my own could exist, and me not hear a word of it, well it defies belief! Why not entertain me some time, if such is the case!”
The guest met the Duke’s eyes. “I fear you would not enjoy it as much as you might think. Jealousy does not suit you lord, just let the matter be.”
The Duke leapt to his feet. “Craven fool, either quit your boasting, or host me and prove the truth of your words!”
The gaunt man took a sip of wine from his diamond glass. Setting it down he rose to his feet. “Fair enough. In one week I shall return, and we shall go to my palace.”
Before the Duke could say another word, the man strode from the room, leaving him to dine alone.
For a week the Duke bent the ear of every traveler that came near to his palace, seeking word of the strange man’s palace. He questioned every wandering bard, each merchant, even the Seeking Folk. But none knew of the place of which he spoke.
“Yours lord, is the finest palace of all, finer even than your lord the King’s,” was all the word he got.
He began to calm himself, convinced now that the man would not return, for he could not back up his boastful ways. And such it was that when the seventh day arrived, he ordered a feast to be held at his Palace, so sure was he that he would not be going anywhere that night.
As the first plate was set before him however, the great doors to the feasting hall flew open wide. In rode the gaunt man on his horse, a jet black charger of fearsome visage. The Duke’s eyes opened wide, but around him the feast carried on as normal, as though no one had seen the strange nobleman enter. He turned to his left to frantically mention this to his guest of honor, a young count from a neighboring county, when all disappeared.
“Aberforth, called the Golden Duke, I have come as promised.”
The Duke looked around. He was now standing in a hall so magnificent that it brought him to tears. His own hall was but a pale, faded shadow compared to the stateliness of the place he now stood. His heart felt it might break as he stared, taking in every sight.
Looking up to the high table he saw the strange noble seated at its head. “Welcome Aberforth, to Death’s hall. Tis a shame you had to die to be able to visit.”