He came like the wind.
I was crying when he came. Come to think of it, I had always been a crybaby. ‘The world hates me,’ I thought, and perhaps they did.
“Go away, beggar!” I remember them say.
“Filthy kid!” The nobles used to glare at me.
And I did not understand at the time. All I knew was… survive.
I was always hungry, so stealing had become a norm. On greater days I would find scraps of food in the trash or on the street. On worse days, however, there was absolutely nothing.
It was on one of those days that he came. I was crying because I was so hungry – starvation can hurt more than a knife wound – and then a shadow blocked the scorching sun from my view. I couldn’t help looking up.
Yes, he came like the wind.
There he was, standing like a god. His blonde hair was glistening like the sun and his carefully trimmed beard was as white as snow. Ah, let’s not forget his eyes. Beautiful, scarlet red orbs that reminded me of a ferocious beast. I didn’t feel scared, though. I don’t know why.
I still remember what I thought that day. ‘How beautiful,’ I had wondered at his face.
I did not know what he wanted to do with me. Was he a noble looking for trouble? Or perhaps he wanted me to be his slave? I did not know what to think. When I look back at that moment, I wished I hadn’t thought so badly of him.
“Child,” his voice was warm, “are you in pain?”
In pain? Which part hurt? I don’t know anymore.
Was he talking about my heart that throbbed as people glared at me?
Was he talking about my stomach that growled as I dreamed of food?
Or was he talking about my legs that bled when the stray dogs came and bit me?
Which part hurt? Was I in pain? No, there was not pain. I’m used to it.
I didn’t answer the man. Somehow a lump had formed in my throat and I found it hard to speak.
The man bent his knee so that I could see him better. “Child,” his voice was enticingly low.
“Come with me, I’ll make you happy.”
Happy…? Was this something I could grasp? Is this real? I had wondered. I wanted to believe him, and so I did. I took his outstretched hand and held it firmly. And he smiled oh so sweetly.
Oh, what a perfect thing it was!
Everything that went after that seemed like a blur – he took me to his mansion and gave me warm clothes and delicious food. It was like heaven. I found out that he was a Duke Vermont, one of the richest men in the empire. He had no children and had never married. So now, he wanted to train me as his successor.
“I’ll name you Kennard,” the man smiled at me. My heart grows warm when I think of that moment.
A name. I, who had nothing, was given a name of my own.
I wasn’t “beggar” or “rascal” anymore. I was a person, with dignity, with an identity.
“Kennard, you’ll be my successor,” the duke told me.
Successor? How old was I at that time? I had lived most of my life in the slums, and suddenly I was to become someone’s successor? A new world was being opened to me. But the other nobles did not like it. Duke Vermont called in several aristocrats to teach me etiquette, history, and finance.
It was hard, at first. As it is when someone learns something new for the first time, it was difficult and I struggled for a while. My tutors belittled me at first, but I got better. Slowly, I began to shine.
I got enrolled to a prestigious academy and I learned alongside other children. And then there was a test – or, an examination, if you would call it.
You wouldn’t guess what happened.
I placed first in the examination ranks. I worked hard to get there. I was grateful that the duke adopted someone like me, so I wanted to be acknowledged. I wished he would be proud of me. I really wanted to hear him say, “You did a good job, son. Thank you for your hard work.”
Yes, I wanted to hear him say that with his warm voice. Just once. Please tell me I’m worth it. Please…
“What, you only got an A+?” The dean said. I had been called to his office.
“Tch, as expected of a commoner, don’t you know that the least you can do is get A+++? You’re embarrassing the name of Vermont.”
My heart dropped at that moment, and I’m ashamed to say that my tears began to fall.
A+++? Suddenly the joy of getting A+ was gone. All I could hear was one word, ringing constantly in my head.
I’m not good enough. All my effort, all the hours of studying and research… It was useless.
When I returned home that day, the duke was gone on a business trip. I was glad, though. I couldn’t bear to face him. The next month was spent with sword practice – and more learning. I wanted to be better. Yes, that was why.
One night, as rain splattered on the glass panes in the library, I sat down on the cold floor and shut my eyes for a while. I hadn’t slept well for several days. My head was spinning and my eyes stung – I’m sure they were red. Even as I closed my eyes, I reviewed the lessons of the day.
In the year 245 the Emperor Kazukah defeated the Larimbia army in the gulf of Bernix.
In the year 243 Leo rose to the throne and united with Armice.
In the year 240 –
“Kennard, it’s me.”
My eyes flew open and saw the familiar golden hair and red eyes. The duke!
Again, he came like the wind.
I was speechless, really. What could I say? But I didn’t need to speak. He spoke first.
“Kennard,” his voice was low, “I heard that you ranked first in the examinations. Good job.”
He ruffled my hair.
“I know it was hard, but you did great. I see you were struggling with mathematics and finance, but you did great. It was smart of you to recheck your answer for the Math part – good thing you found that silly mistake, right?”
A small nod from me was enough to make him continue.
“But you had fun with history, right? Especially that question on analyzing the life of King Jude. You’re really similar to me in many ways, heheh… It was exciting to take different parts of his life into account and dissect it one by one, right? Oh and – “
The duke was starting to ramble on and on, but my heart was sinking deeper and deeper. The duke was only nice to me because he didn’t know, right? He didn’t know that I only got A+. But he deserves to know, I thought. So, I blurted it out.
“Duke. I- I’m sorry. I only got A+.” My voice grew softer at the end. I couldn’t look up. My hands were trembling. Would he kick me out and find someone else to be his successor? Would he be disappointed?
“Kennard,” the duke’s voice was stern.
“You did great.”
I looked up at him.
“I’m proud of you.”
And just like that, the dam was broken and my tears flooded out.
Several years later I found out that A+++ did not exist – not in the academy and nowhere else. A+ was the highest score possible. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The years passed and I grew to be an intelligent young man. I was a knight, too.
But as I grew older, I saw the duke less and less. When things started falling apart, however, he would appear.
That’s right. He came like the wind.
He would drop by and gently guide me. He helped me with things I was unsure of. He gave me advice and patiently listened to my problems. He was my father, my friend, my confidante.
I got married, too. It was a joyous event. Stella was the daughter of a count and we were deeply in love. Soon I saw the duke less and less. He was going on “business trips”, as he would call them. I was more mature at that time, and I had a steady flow of income, so I did not question his absence.
I recruited men to work for the Vermont household and my fame as a knight grew as I participated in the Lezula Wars. I was happy, and it seemed like my days of youth were long forgotten.
One day the duke appeared in front of me. As usual, he came like the wind. “Kennard,” he said, “You’ll take care of the Vermont Dukedom for me, right?”
I did not sense anything wrong and told him that I would definitely take good care of the duchy. Naively I asked him to stay, telling him that his business trips could wait.
“I’m going to be a father!” I told him, my face beaming like the sun. He smiled and nodded.
I failed to see that his eyes were darker, and that his hair was whiter too. He looked old and tired – why didn’t I notice?
We had dinner together – the three of us. Stella, the duke, and me; it was one of the best meals of my life. And I went to bed thinking nothing was wrong. But the next day, he was gone. I asked the butler where he went, but his reply was strange.
“The Duke of Vermont? Isn’t that you, sir?” The butler looked confused.
“No, I’m talking about my father. You know, the duke. With golden hair and red eyes… He’s going on another ‘business trip’, right? Did he stay for breakfast?” I asked.
“But sir, there is no man with golden hair and red eyes… If you’re talking about your father, didn’t he die when you were three years old?” The butler seemed perplexed.
Three years old? At that time, I was still roaming in the streets! What was the butler talking about? I was incredibly flustered. Stella came and asked me what was the matter. When I told her about my inquiries, she, too did not recognize the duke.
And then it struck me. The duke – my adoptive father, friend and counselor – he was gone!
And no one remembered him.
His presence was just like a dream. One moment he was there, and next, he was gone. Did I simply imagine his existence? How can one vanish like so? My head was dizzy with questions. But no one answered them.
It took me a while to fully accept the situation, and I stopped talking about him or trying to find his whereabouts.
Now, I am grey and old. My sons and daughters have grown well. Stella passed away last month and I am down in the dumps. Perhaps that is the reason I keep thinking about him.
Will he appear before me again? Will he… come like the wind? Most likely not.
But I am tired, and soon I will rest. My memory is getting blurry, too. Sometimes… I forget his face entirely.
But I know one thing for sure.
He came like the wind.
And I guess it makes sense that he left like one too.