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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Dark · #2313000
A whipping boy's revenge. Co-winner, The Midnight Traveler's Contest, Jan 2024.

Hubert parried his friend’s blow with expert skill, bringing his quarterstaff instantly to protect his apparently open stance. The two wooden sticks met with a loud crack and, for an instant, were held in trembling stasis as each tried to overpower the other.

“Break!” came the voice of Bolingbroke, the tutor, and Hubert allowed his staff to drop as he turned away in obedience. The prince, too, seemed about to retreat from the fight but then, suddenly, he raised his staff and caught his retreating opponent with a blow to the back. Hubert staggered and nearly fell with the force of it.

“Sucker!” yelled the prince, waving his staff in victory. “I win again.”

“Not so, my lord,” said Bolingbroke, as he stepped between the pair. “‘Twas a foul blow made after the fight was ended.”

Prince Hal pouted. “He shouldn’t give up so easily,” he argued. “And I was going to win anyway. I’m older than him.”

“And he learns quickly, my lord. You are well matched already. If you’re not careful, he will outdo you.”

“Huh. I’d like to see him try.” Hal folded his arms in petulance, his lower lip sticking out in defiance.

“Well, we shall see.” Bolingbroke turned to speak to Hubert. “You know the drill, Hubert. Go fetch my whip.”

After the beating that followed, with the continuing training thereafter, Bolingbroke sat with Hubert in a corner of the courtyard. “You know it saddens me, lad, but I have to do it. The prince needs to be taught that he, of all men, must abide by the rules and so must be punished when he transgresses. But no man may strike those of royal blood, so you must bear the punishment. That way the prince will feel the shame of his deed, that another pays the price of his wrongdoing.”

Hubert nodded. “I know, Boley. And ‘tis true that I have your teaching in payment for my service. It is an honour for an orphan like me to be taken under the wing of the king and his family.”

But his eyes were dark pits in which the fire of his resentment of the injustice burned slowly. He had seen the gloating look on Hal’s face as he watched Hubert’s beating. And that night, when he and the prince played their usual game of chess, Hubert kept his gaze on the board, that the prince not see the hatred growing in his eyes. Thrown together so that their only company was each other, they had a friendship of sorts. Yet it was not equality and one of them had always to address the other as “My lord.”


Many years later, when both boys were grown and Hubert no longer needed in the function of scapegoat, the orphan whipping boy was an impressive man, with aristocratic status as a member of the court, a powerful frame much taller than the common run, and an easy life of dalliance with the daughters of the nobility in the gardens of the palace.

Yet still he spent his evenings in the town below the heights of the royal spires and pinnacles. There, he walked in the streets with his true peers, the labourers and craftsmen that provided the prosperity of the town, and he found companionship in the rowdy taverns and inns that were the only centres of entertainment in the place.

He was a man with a foot in both camps, both rulers and ruled, accepted by one group thanks to his fine and colourful clothes and manner, by the other because of his willingness to participate in common talk and easy banter. But his heart was with those he knew to be his true friends, those whose ancestry was the same as his, a matter of lowly birth and obscure existence. In his eyes there still burned that ember of resentment and hatred first kindled by his unjust upbringing.

Thus it was that his conversations in the taverns seemed to turn always to his feelings about the common servitude under the rule of the highborn. And this evening that concerns us now, that moment when Hubert first heard a rumour of the gathering storm in the affairs of the kingdom, when his closest friend, Alun the blacksmith, should speak the name of the Red Hand, the moment of choosing was upon the former whipping boy.

He held up a hand to halt the flow of the blacksmith’s whispering. “The Red Hand?” he said. “And what might that be?”

“‘Tis the name of the plan,” replied Alun, lowering his voice even further, so that Hubert had to strain to hear. “The plan that there will come a day when we shall rise up and rid ourselves of the yoke upon our shoulders. Men of like mind are gathering now to form bands that will fight for our right to be free. We must prepare for that day.”

He grabbed Hubert’s collar then and brought his face closer so that they stared into each other’s eyes. “And that is why I tell you of this thing. That you decide now on whose side you be. You speak always of your hatred for these upstarts and their strutting ways, their titles and their fancy clothes, and now you must make your choice. Will you take the oath with us and be forever loyal to the cause? Or do you prefer your soft life in the palace with your lords and ladies? Make up your mind because, if you are not one of us, I can no longer speak to you of these matters and when the time comes…”

Alun paused and his eyes narrowed with the import of the words he was about to say. “If you are not with us, you are against us and subject to the same fate as your betters.”

Hubert’s face showed not a flicker of indecision. “You ask this of me when you know how I have suffered under their whips? I am with you without any need of threat or force. When the time comes, I will be ready to march with you. When do we go?”

“There is much to be done yet,” said the blacksmith as he released his hold on Hubert’s collar. “I spoke of the plan and the timing has to be agreed. If the groups are not working to the same timetable, we will be beaten the moment we start. But it is coming, be sure of that.”

“And I will be there,” responded Hubert. That night he did not return to the palace and not for many a year thereafter. Instead, he accompanied the blacksmith as he travelled the dusty roads between town and village, spreading the word of the Red Hand and linking the groups in their common endeavour.


Years passed before they were ready. Hubert discovered that his privileged education came in useful now in the matter of military training and strategy. He set up nightly classes for the training of their recruits in the use of weapons more deadly than their pitchforks and hunting bows. When plans for how the campaign was to be carried out in each area, it was Hubert who sat with the leaders in consultation.

At the same time the land was changed and not for the better. The old king died in one of his endless wars that brought ever-increasing taxation on the peasants and townsfolk. Hubert’s colleague of his boyhood years, Prince Hal, became King Harry, but proved no easier a monarch than his father had been. He no longer disappeared on foreign wars but spent the wealth of the kingdom on lavish parties for his friends and pointless building projects to his own glory. The people groaned in their servitude and longed for the day of retribution to come.

When it happened, it was not as expected. A sudden dispute between the king and a faction of the barons led to open conflict and then war between the supporters of royalty and the nobles. The opportunity to affect the outcome was apparent and, on Hubert’s urging, the Red Hand chose to cast its lot in with the Duke of Montague’s rebels.

So began the civil war that lasted three years with first one side then the other gaining the ascendancy. In the end, the two sides met in a great battle outside the capital and the Duke’s forces, including the combined forces of the Red Hand, triumphed.

Hubert was the general in command at the battle and he was celebrating the victory with his officers when the news was brought to him. King Harry had been captured.

“Bring him to me,” ordered Hubert. “Let me see how the years have treated my old master.”

The king was dragged in, bedraggled, dirty and bloody from a wound in his shoulder, but still with a haughty disregard on his face for his captors. The youth of Hubert’s memory was gone, Hal’s face now being marred by the puffiness of luxurious living and the first streaks of grey showing in his matted hair. But he stood bravely and uncowed before the general who had bested his best troops. There appeared to be no recognition in his eyes of the person who stood before him.

“Enjoy your moment,” sneered the king. “But your next king will be worse indeed. The Duke is a mean man at heart and will grind you down as never before.”

“Actually, I don’t think we’re going to have a king,” said Hubert. “We’ve had enough of that ilk.”

Harry laughed, a short, strained sound in the tension of that moment. “And who will lead you then? I suppose you’ll have a go at it yourself, now your rabble have won the victory for you. And I will laugh when they come crawling back to me, begging to be saved from your incompetence. What can you know of governing a country?”

“Oh, quite a lot,” replied Hubert. “I studied with the best. But none of that, anyway. We’ll have a council of good men elected by the people and we’ll learn from your mistakes. Far be it from me to desire to be king. I’ve seen how that works.”

Harry gave a start as recognition began to dawn on him. “Hubert? Is that you, Hubert?”

“That is my name,” admitted Hubert.

The king’s demeanour changed instantly. “Hubert, the friend of my boyhood, can it really be you? Your face is much different now.”

Hubert allowed him to see the hatred in his eyes. “Don’t think that we were ever friends,” he said in a voice of ice. “My back still bears the scars of your..” He paused before spitting out the word. “Friendship.”

Harry was spluttering now in a pleading voice. “But, Hubert, that was how things had to be in those days. We were together to learn and encourage one another. It was the custom, after all, and nothing I could do about it. I’m sure you see that..”

His voice tailed off into silence as he realised that nothing he said was having an effect on the hard stare of the man before him. The moment lasted a minute before Harry spoke again.

“You…” The voice came now as a dry squeak and he had to gather himself for a renewed attempt. “You aren’t thinking of some sort of squalid revenge, are you, Hubert?”

“It had crossed my mind,” answered Hubert. “In fact, it’s what I’ve worked for all these years.”

“But… But you can’t! It’s horrible, you can’t kill me, I’m the king. It’s regicide, Hubert, treason, and the worst crime of all.”

Hubert continued to regard him, expression still hard but clearly considering his options. Then he turned away and pronounced his decision.

“You are right, Hal. You are the king and none shall touch you. But you need to be punished for your harsh treatment of the people. I think the dungeon will be the best solution.”

Word count: 1,998
For The Midnight Traveler’s Contest
Write about a dark character:
What's their story?
What draws them toward the dark side?
Do they get better or worse?
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