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The Duck Boy

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Once upon a time there lived an old king, Joel of Sverige. His queen had been dead for some years, leaving behind a beautiful son. When this son grew, he was betrothed to a king’s son who lived far away, with whom he exchanged only letters; so, when the time arrived that he should be married, and would have to travel to a strange country to do so, the old man caused treasures upon treasures to be packed for a dowry, for he loved his child dearly. He sent, also, a servant to attend the prince on his travels, and two horses; and the horse of Prince Hampus, who was called Kesler, could speak.

As soon as the hour of their departure arrived, King Joel wept, but brought his son one last time into his chamber. He pricked his finger, and let three drops fall into a handkerchief, alongside a chip of ice from the royal rink, and entreated his son, “Please, preserve this well, for it will keep you out of trouble.”

The prince was confused by this, but took the handkerchief and tucked it safely into his shirt. Afterwards, the two took their final sorrowful leave of each other, and Prince Hampus mounted his horse to ride to the country of Anaheim.

After he had ridden for several hours, he became thirsty, and said to the servant, “It’s surprisingly hot out here, Gary. I beg you, please dismount, and bring us each a cup of water from yonder stream.”

“If you’re thirsty,” the servant replied, “you’d better dismount yourself, and stoop to drink, for I refuse to be your drudge.”

As he was so thirsty, the prince did so, and the drops of blood and chip of ice sighed from his breast, “If thy father knew thy fate, his heart would break.”

A few hours later, after they had ridden on, the prince again grew thirsty, and the servant again replied that he should help himself. This time, however, his handkerchief fell into the river. The prince did not notice, for he was heartsore over his servant’s unkindness. But Gary himself did, and knew that Prince Hampus would now be powerless against him.

Thus it was that, when the prince returned from the riverbank, the servant did say, “Now you listen here. Kesler is now my horse, and your clothes and gear are now mine, as is your very name. And you must swear, by the sun and the moon and the sky, that you will tell no-one of this, or I will kill you then and there.” And the prince swore, rather than die. But Kesler followed every word with great attention.

And so they rode until they arrived at last in Anaheim, and the young Prince Rickard hastened to help Gary from Kesler’s back, presuming him to be the true groom, while the real groom had to wait. But the old and jolly King Ryan the Bald looked out the window, observing him, and asked who it was that the apparent groom had brought.

“Only a servant whom I brought for company on the trip,” said Gary. “Give the boy some work to do, lest he grow idle.”

The king thought long and hard, for he had no real job openings, but at last he thought of the flock of ducks that kept the castle so well-fed. John had just been complaining that he needed help, after all. And so the true groom was set to the ducks.

Then it happened that the false groom begged Prince Rickard for a favour, which he was happy to grant: the killing of the horse Kesler. But Prince Hampus begged the knacker man to stuff the head, and mount it above the gate the ducks were driven through, so he could see it every day.

The knacker did so, and, as the price the lad paid seemed a little high, gave him also an old pair of skates, which he no longer used. The youth wept, and the knacker was glad to see that his gifts would be treasured.

Because it was winter, the prince’s main job was to bring the ducks to their pond, where they spent much of the day roosting in their heated coop. He therefore had plenty of time to spend skating, when the pond had frozen, and shooting at John who was a surprisingly good goalie.

Each morning he passed through that gate with his skates around his neck and the ducks around his feet. Each morning he sighed, “Ah, Kesler, that your head should hang there!”

Each morning, Kesler replied, “Ah, prince, that you should pass here! If thy father knew thy fate, then his heart should surely break!”

This went on for several days, Prince Hampus finding simple joy in his kingdom’s favourite game, in beating John, and even in the presence of the ducks, who were charming when they weren’t trying to bite people.

But at last, it grew to be too much for John, who went to lodge another complaint with the king.

“He’s way too good at hockey,” John told him, at wit’s end, “and he talks to a horse head every morning.”

“Well, there are weirder-” the king began.

“It talks back,” John said, flatly, and relayed the conversation in full.

The king found all of this understandably unlikely, so arranged to follow the two in disguise the next day, and found that all was exactly as John had reported. So, when they returned in the evening, the King Ryan the Bald called the duck boy aside, and asked him to explain the meaning of all of it.

“I cannot,” Prince Hampus replied, “for I have sworn by the sun and the moon and my own life not to tell any living soul of this.”

“Then tell this fireplace,” said the king, and waited outside the door, to eavesdrop.

The prince spilled his entire sad story to the fireplace, weeping as he did so, and when he had finished King Ryan called in his staff and ordered that Prince Hampus should be regally arrayed. Then he called in his son, and told him the news, and Prince Rickard was glad, for the false groom had seemed to him so mean of spirit that he could not possibly be the prince from their correspondence.

A feast was announced, in celebration, and the false prince was there; but he no longer recognised his old master, arrayed in such finery, and was therefore unsuspecting when the king relayed his tale and asked what punishment should befall the servant.

Gary replied, “Such a one deserves nothing better than to have his feet placed in red hot skates, to skate until he dies.”

“And so thou hast declared thine own punishment!” roared the king, and it was done.

And Prince Rickard and Prince Hampus eventually came to the throne, and ruled their kingdom a long time, in peace and happiness.