It just didn’t get any better than this, ten-year-old Lord Sweetson Thomas thought. Most royal affairs he was made to attend were plain boring. There was something about this Long Jump event that captured his young heart. He’d been watching unabated for at least the last hour and eagerly awaited this athlete’s final turn. He was most grateful to be seated so very close to the action, another perk of being the Duke’s son. He licked his lips as the young man positioned himself. He had to be working it all out in his mind and body. The right moment to go, the length and speed of his steps, the surety he would leave that board with maximum thrust. The man took off. For Lord Sweetson nothing else existed at that moment. The crowds, other events and the noise were gone, his eyes transfixed on this young man. For him, it was as though he was watching in slow motion. Each stride of the legs, the facial features of determination, then the leap! Oh, it was spectacular! This man was flying. Right now, gravity lost its grip on him. He determined when and where he would submit to it again. When he landed, the explosion of sand was plain epic.
Something caused Lord Sweetson’s attention to return to his surroundings. He looked to his left and was greeted with the all too familiar face from Master Byron. He was awaiting a response to some pointless question. The best option was to assume it was the same old line about his daydreaming. “I, I wasn’t daydreaming Master. I was watching…”
“The Long Jump event, yes, I could see that.” Master Byron smirked toothlessly, “That wasn’t what I said.” Lord Sweetson lowered his head a little sheepishly, busted! “No, I asked if you’d like to go and meet that young man?”
Lord Sweetson lept to his feet, “Yes, sir. I surely would.”
The athlete was maybe seventeen or eighteen years old. He seemed embarrassed and nervous around Lord Sweetson, Master Byron and the bodyguards. It didn’t take long to become comfortable once Lord Sweetson’s obvious passion was revealed. Young Lord Sweetson was full of questions for the athlete who was only too eager to answer. How he got into the sport, how much he practised, his goals and aspirations. Some of the answers were obvious. His primary purpose in participating in the Royal Games was to qualify for the Olympics, which he surely just did. That was a worldwide audience, influence beyond their realm. That was real competition and glory. Lord Sweetson could have kept chatting for hours but alas Master Byron politely but firmly indicated it was time to go.
The day’s events were winding up. The King and the Duke by his side waved to the crowds as they walked the red carpet to the awaiting chariot. Lord Sweetson and his Master Byron followed behind also waving to the cheering crowds. Lord Sweetson’s father, the Duke, gave him a knowing nod as the first royal carriage departed. Lord Sweetson was on cloud nine, a smile as wide as his face, it was a great day. His vacant gaze happened upon the young athlete in the crowd, the young man gave the young Lord a slow nod, then slipped in a well-hidden thumbs up. Lord Sweetson wanted to return it but knew better. He simply smiled back.
The carriage ride was rough but Lord Sweetson didn’t notice or care. “Master Byron, can I do Long Jump?” Lord Sweetson gulped, that was harder to verbalise than he thought. The answer came quickly.
“Of course, Lord Sweetson. On the condition, your studies and obligations to the monarchy are fulfilled.”
The tension just fell out of his young body, “Thank you.”
Master Byron returned his toothless grin. “There are advantages to being the son of the Duke. We will even get you a coach and your very own pit.”
“Oh, thank you, sir.”
“This is a season for you to indulge in such things.”
Lord Sweetson was unsure what that meant but dared not to ask. Every time he asked a question, he received a lecture for an answer. Moreso, he didn’t want anything to ruin this moment. This great day had just become a most excellent day, one to remember for all time.
“You’ve just turned seventeen Lord Sweetson…”
Lord Sweetson raised his teenaged hand to stop Master Byron and dismissed the help. As the door was closed he spun around, his forehead creased with a deep frown, and glared at Master Byron. He spotted the delicate glass Long Jump ornament gifted to him from his master so recently. Right now, his heart wanted to grab the thing and toss it across the room. But he knew better, such tantrums in the past did not serve him well, so he simply took a slow, deep breath. “Master Byron, you know very well what participating in The Royal Games means to me.” He nodded. “You also know I’ve been doing so since I was eleven years old. You know the people love me for it. The people you constantly tell me I’m here to serve! And that this year I may qualify for the Olympic Games!”
Master Byron paused a few seconds, “Lord Sweetson, I do know. However, you also knew this day would come. I never led you to believe otherwise.” That was true. Master Byron had carefully and consistently fed that narrative. Long Jump was a childish thing suitable when one is a child. He continued, “You are coming of age. Your responsibilities to your father and the crown will increase a hundredfold. Your participation in Long Jump served you and helped you connect with many people, but it’s not in your future. You are called to high service, higher than most. You will be one who deals in…”
“Hope, yes I know.”
“Do you not yet see? Long Jump and sport is not a hopeful thing.”
“Of course it is! I hope to win and my supporters encourage me on.”
“Yes, but what if you don’t?”
To Lord Sweetson’s surprise, he hadn’t even entertained that thought. He’d either won or came second place in every Royal Games he’d participated in. “Well, at least I would have tried. I’m showing the people you should still have a go.”
Master Byron smirked toothlessly again, “No. You’re showing them weakness. You’re teaching vulnerable people to gamble on winning for self-worth. I know you’re better than that.”
“But the people love The Royal Games, shouldn’t we embrace that?”
“The people love entertainment. The people love the dream the games represent but it’s not the reality for most. The Royal Games is for the people, they’ve chosen such a thing to pin much of their hopes. Your job, as part of the Royal Court, is to show them a more certain way. Real hope, real stability.”
“Why can’t I just finish after this year? I know I could win, I’ve trained so hard.”
“The cut needs to be now and the public made aware.”
A long sigh, “You deal in false hope.”
“You encouraged me to pursue Long Jump. You allowed me to fall in love with it, to become good, no, exceptional at it, just to take it all away.” Tears filled Lord Sweetson’s eyes, “It’s cruel.” He sunk into the chair and wept.
Master Byron sat down beside Lord Sweetson, gently placed a hand on his shoulder. “I know your pain is real and I’ve no joy in it.”
“What good was any of it?”
“For you, Long Jump lives here,” Master Byron touched his forehead and then his chest, “and in here.”
“All the more reason to let me do it.”
“I allowed you to use your passion to feed the virtues and character you will need. Your desire for greatness motivated you to; learn, listen to wisdom, practise, fall down and fail, yet keep going. It taught you to overcome and not give up.” Master Byron sat back deep in the chair and paused a moment. “You live a life of privilege and are called into high service to the King and the people. You will lack nothing. How can you be of service to the people if you know not their pain?”
“What do you mean?”
“The people have things that matter a great deal to them. What of the farmer who loses his entire crop? Or the widow who is suffering?” Lord Sweetson shrugged not making the connection. “These are the people to whom you will minister. You need more than a shrug of pity. You need to give them hope by reminding them of the truth.”
“Like you, they are part of something much bigger than themselves, their pain or problems. The hope they need is found in service to the King and the people of the kingdom.”
“So this loss I’m feeling is supposed to teach me to feel empathy for others?”
“I’ll consider that a rhetorical question.”
Lord Sweetson wondered how this arrogant man could use his wickedness to make him feel ashamed. He hadn’t finished! “Tell me, what has your father said about me?”
“He said you are tough but wise and I would do well to heed your words. But he doesn’t know what this is like, to give up my dream.”
“Yes, he does.” Lord Sweetson spun around, curiosity in his eyes. Master Byron took a breath, “You remember I mentored him into his role too?” Lord Sweetson nodded. “Your father was an aspiring author. He wanted to write fiction stories.”
Lord Sweetson frowned, “I didn’t know that. I thought he always wanted to serve in the court and nothing else.”
“No. He was a gifted writer and loved it more than anything in his youth. He had to give that up to serve the King and the people.”
“He never told me.”
“Of course not, why would he? He knows as you will, childish things are for children.”
“You stopped him from continuing?”
“On the contrary. I redirected his gifts to be used for the good of the King and his people.” Lord Sweetson turned away in thought. “You know your father is highly regarded in the Royal Courts. Do you think that just happens? He is a skilled communicator and writes for the King himself.” Master Byron used his finger under the chin to direct Lord Sweetson’s gaze back to him. “Your father bestowed the honour of training you to me. I have done so faithfully to the best of my ability. As I am now aged, I suspect you will be my last subject, my legacy in fact. I intend for you to exceed even the high success of your father.” Master Byron turned his gaze to the view out the window and continued, “That is my hope, my dream. A legacy that outlasts me in service to the crown and the people.”
The applause quietened down a Duke Sweetson Thomas stood to make his address, “The King has graciously allowed me to share a few words to open this year’s Royal Games.” He briefly looked down at his notes then looked out to the crowd and all the athletes below. “I once had a very wise man who was my mentor, my friend. He taught me a great deal growing up. Some of the lessons were tough. He was right about many things. He was an honourable man. He acknowledged the hopes and dreams of the people. He taught that we should all use our gifts, talents and passions in service to our King and the people of our kingdom. I agree.
“However, he advocated the abandonment of said dreams after childhood, believing they could not be of benefit in our adult lives. I disagree. When we dictate how people should use their gifts,” he paused, “something special is lost. Our kingdom is deprived of what might be. I encourage all of us to be who we are, embrace the good things within us. When we do this, we shine, we’re full of life and can then be of good service to our King, the kingdom and even the world beyond our borders. Failure and disappointment will come. The pursuit is the dream, it makes us better people. Better people will make a better kingdom. While we still breathe, it’s not too late.” The crowd jeered and applauded as he stepped down.
Duke Sweetson Thomas wearing his athletic gear jogged on the spot and took deep breaths. It was his turn. He carefully positioned his feet behind the line and studied the track in front of him. The pure white sand dotting his horizon. Olympic Games, here I come. He charged forth with purpose, speed and focus. With stunning power, his right foot hit the board precisely as rehearsed a thousand times before and he launched. Everything in slow motion. His destination, the far end of the pit. He was flying now, he was free, his face was tense but full of joy. Gravity began its tug. No, not yet, a little more! A mini sand storm announced his textbook landing. He couldn’t help it, he cheered and raised his arms in victory. Walking out of the pit was Sweetson Thomas, Olympic hopeful Long Jumper!
This short story was inspired by a prompt provided by Reedsy.com. If you're interested in participating or would like to read other short stories, you can find the Reedsy Weekly Writing Prompts by clicking here.
Prompt Used: Write about a young nobleman whose greatest wish is to become an Olympic long jumper.