Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Duke's Revenge (rewritten)

The Duke was inadvertently buried alive. It was at the height of moonshine - so there was no real excuse. The shadows represented men leaning on their shovels; a job worth doing was worth doing well, but they needed to do it quickly before the moonshine faded from the night sky, and thus not even one of them noticed the barely perceptible breathing of the corpse as they dropped it into the bespoke trench.
One would have thought that a Duke worth his salt ought to have warranted a costly coffin with all the requisite knobs and knockers. But this Duke was perhaps 'persona non grata', an ingredient of a conspiracy that few of the land's commoners could forgive - and these few loyal men, silhouetted by the moon, were the only ones willing to put themselves out in order to give him an honest burial, if not a rich one. Or such was the speculation abroad at the time.
A pity none of them bothered to check the pulse.
Or were they communally wise in their shortcomings? A death by mass misunderstanding is not a death by mass murder, after all. And should the revolution fail, there would be no connection of evidence to incriminate them. It is said that every group of loyalists has at least one of them marginally disloyal enough to betray the others. Light from the moon often casts queer shadows.

The Duke eventually stirred beneath the newly undug ground. He had been poisoned temporarily, he realised. This event had been writ in the stars, even if this was seen from the hindsight of the darkest grave. Everything fitted the predicted pattern, but there was nobody who could actually have predicted it. Someone must have predicted it by planning it - and that would have been the one who was at the centre of this whole conspiracy.
The Duke had been brought up in a privileged nursery, within a palace that, in more socialist times, had been made ugly outside to conceal the riches within. Spoon-fed by calf-gloves, then tutored by voices as silky as their throat-ruffs, the Duke was at first shocked to leave such a palace to see exactly how ugly it looked from the outside, with its grey and chipped buttresses, its bedraggled flags failing to fly from leaning turrets, the drawbridge that creaked and groaned every time it was lifted or lowered, and that only happened once according to the undependable official records. But no doubt the drawbridge had worked a second time, to reverse whatever the first had been.
Now close on suffocating, the Duke woke with his tongue cleaving to the roof of his mouth. In a flash, like someone drowning, he remembered the conspiracies that had surrounded his life, and the odd occasion he had left the palace, disguised as a commoner, turning a blind eye to the state of the palace's ugly exterior, hoping that any illuminating moonlight would be dowsed by clouds, to avoid locking eyes with any passing strangers.
He recalled one particular night when, leaving the palace, the moonshine was so utterly strong, he mistook it for sunshine. He was not accustomed to leaving the palace during daylight and the building's viewpoints were permanently curtained under with thick drab curtains so as not to conflict, when viewed outside, with the image of the rest of the building's uncared-for look ... or these viewpoints were completely defenestrated with new but deliberately-worn brickwork. He had rarely ventured out during daylight hours and, in this way, he had very little experience of sunshine as opposed to moonshine. Tonight, the full moon was so bright with reflected sunlight, it was as if it had become a circular mirror rather than a huge rock careering through space above the earth. Something with a new-found ambition to wield an astrological power.
For the first time, the Duke could clearly see the grains of the earth that loosely formed the ground upon which he walked and these were incredibly as separate as Patna rice grains.
But was this caused by a previous dream of waking up in a grave as a premature burial - with his face covered in earth, the individual components of its dirt crowding into his eyes like coarse grains themselves?

He suddenly remembered his childhood. The many different nursery toys, some hard and clockwork, others soft and malleable, together with the rich comestibles, sweet or spiced, the valuable books, some with pop-up pictures, some with just dreary text, and the people who looked after him. He averted his face so that he could not look directly into their eyes, these people who looked after him. He didn't know how spoilt he was. He just took it all for granted. But if he had known he was a mere Duke rather than a King or even a Prince, he may have wondered how a King or Prince could possibly have been treated better than him.
One of the activities - taught to him by the figure of a man in a hood, or the voice indicated that it was a man - involved the planting of seeds in indoor beds of earth. The Duke could remember relishing the growth of those seeds - with their often flourishing into orchids ... sometimes, though, with their otiosely unfurling into weeds instead. Part of the game was to guess what organism each seed would produce, following months of daily watering which somehow, as a child, he found exciting, too.
Little things please little minds, he was once told by an officious piping-voiced retainer without a face, so such an individual had no need of a hood at all. Or was this figure just a figment of the young Duke's nightmares?
These growing seedbeds were in one vast chamber in the palace, double-ranked along each long wall of blind windows - making it seem like a hostel dormitory of filthy futons. His favourite plant - the one with the biggest surprise for him when it suddenly grew with a spurt - was a variety of sunflower that had a moonface as its bloom instead of a sun. It glowed in the dark, like real moonshine, an effulgence unhindered by the blindcast windows. Meanwhile the indoor lighting was kept dim on purpose, so dim, the Duke could hardly see a hand in front of his face. In fact the only illumination was often the plant's fragile moonlight itself.
As he dreamed like someone suddenly drowning in the pit of earth with which he himself had been smothered like some huge seed, the Duke hatched his own revenge upon the whole world for not planting him dead, but alive. However, revenge would have been harder for him to wreak if he was, like the drawbridge, only either lowered or lifted, rather than both lowered and lifted.
During the later unpredictable phases of the moon's dark side, some grains of the grave often shifted and separated. This creating of gaps would reveal -- to those idly passing by, not realising this was a burial plot -- a dim yellow glow seeping from lower in the ground. But hardly anyone passed that way again to see it shining.
Meanwhile, the Duke's palace became a backstreet hostel, one with a dormitory, ranked darkly along each inner wall with mounds of over-used mattresses, these sleeping berths for a new breed of downandouts, ex-civil servants, B-list Royals and other hanger-ons. A sort of revenge. Whether it was the Duke's revenge or the Moon's, the results were the same. A creak and a groan, each time someone came or someone left.

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