The Duck King – Part I: Death of a Queen
The Duck King is a short story in seven parts written in 2013. It takes place in the world of Dyne and follows the unlikely duck King Ackerack.
Death of a Queen
The disliked Queen Marie Salée of Midus lied before death. Her physical state had deteriorated rapidly over the past few days and was now on par with her already feeble frame of mind. The medically accomplished blamed a very aggressive fever and insisted there was nothing anyone could do. They also pleaded no one even bothered to try — did anyone really want her to survive after all?
Princess Avunda and the queen’s council of Rule Ensignees had gathered around her bed to record final instructions. The Rule Ensignees—Ramos the Wise, Cromhart the Firm and Eugelius the Bold—were a group of knowledgeable statesmen helping the passing queen rule in detail and practice. You see, even when she was well, she wasn’t much of a leader or particularly skilled in running a kingdom. Midus had accumulated a significant debt to the Lords of Krow under her rule. The lords were reasonable loan-givers, but to the agitation of local populace the capital was at this point teeming with impatient Krowian collectors.
“The animals must be cared for,” the queen said.
“They will be, your majesty,” Ramos answered.
“I cannot stress how important this is.”
“I trust we have it all down,” Cromhart said. “The cats and dogs will be washed monthly, the rabbits will be given plenty of vitamins, and the deer, the ducks and the geese will be left in their own space.”
“Their space being defined as”—Ramos cleared his throat—”pretty much anywhere they please.”
“I wish you cared as much for yourself as the stupid animals,” Princess Avunda said.
“It is not the animals’ fault that I have become ill,” the queen answered.
“How can you be so sure? It’s a circus! Horses are grazing in the ballroom, rats and hares fight for supremacy over the hallways, defecating and spreading disease! And the poor naked dog you keep prodding with your cane definitely shouldn’t chew froth the way it does!”
“You bore me as always, Avunda,” the queen said. “Go help the maids in the kitchen or something; help them with the dishes and then study the books of lore. Ramos will test you tomorrow.”
The princess frowned and rushed out the door, mumbling angrily in disownment of her mother.
“Children,” the queen said. “They always exaggerate.”
“She will grow up to be a strong woman,” Cromhart said.
“Only God knows”—the queen muttered—”Now, will you please bring to me my dear Ackerack?”
The three Rule Ensignees looked to each other for a suitable answer until eventually Eugelius, the one of action, took to the word and sharpened his eyes at a lady-in-waiting, ”So do as she says!”
Ackerack was a proud platyrhynchos domestica with shining feathers. He was proud, not because he was the queen’s favourite, but because such was his nature. The servant soon carried him into the chamber and to her side. He settled onto a pillow, rubbing his head lovingly against her pale and sickly neck.
“What more will you have us do, your majesty?” Ramos asked.
“Make sure my daughter is thoroughly tested on the books of lore tomorrow. The history of our people must be as prominent in her mind as her predisposition for rebellion. She can never forget where she came from,” the queen said. “In addition, she shall be granted no further leisure activity this month.”
The queen then asked the Rule Ensignees to leave her be for the night. She would have more instructions by morning.
The sun settled beyond the hilltops and the stars shone exceptionally strong that night. But in the morning, when the three came to continue their discussion with the queen, they found she had passed away. Her chest was still and her old eyes were closed. Ackerack, arrogantly supine in a manner that would become only of a duck, still remained by her side along with a folded letter.
Eugelius collected the letter and read it aloud to the others. By way of symbolism more than emotion, he shed a single tear of sorrow. The letter was scribed by the queen herself; her poor, erratic handwriting was unmistakable. It was a testament dated the very night before. When Eugelius had finished reading, and Ramos and Cromhart had considered its meaning to end, they all sat down from disbelief and shock.
“Should I read it again, just to be sure?” Eugelius asked.
Ackerack had escaped his previous dwelling on the queen’s bed and was waddling towards the open chamber door.
“Don’t let him leave!” Eugelius demanded upon which Ramos and Cromhart both climbed over each other to first seal the door and then seize the duck.
Ackerack didn’t resist Cromhart’s groping arms. When held up he instead quacked in friendly resonance.
“I never thought I’d see the day,” Ramos began.
“Alas here it is,” Eugelius continued.
“Well,” Cromhart concluded and stared Ackerack in his eyes. “He’ll have to struggle to be any worse of a ruler than the queen.”
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