My Kingdom for a Finger
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Empire"
Originally featured on 10-17-2007
As part of our series "A Funny Thing Happened To Me on the Way to the Fall"

Kirsty recently lost one of her fingers on the way to acquiring an empire. It was plucked from her unscarred hand during a recent duel. The man who had loosed it, a Scot by the name of Ian, had vowed to her a year earlier that an eye would be the cost if ever she was unfaithful to him. Ian had come up short, as usual, and taken only a finger.

The duel went something like this:

It was just before dawn. Ian, dressed in a tuxedo with tails from the night before, stood eye to eye with Kirsty on the roof of the castle they had lived in during the previous year. Kirsty, dressed in a yellow satin gown from the night before, said, “Sabers.”

Ian nodded and turned to his assistant and cousin, also named Ian, and gestured dramatically using only his bushy right eyebrow to the array of weapons meticulously laid out at the castle roofs edge. Ian, the assistant — who for the sake of clarity we’ll call by his middle name, “George,” from here on, trotted off to gather the weapons. Kirsty and Ian remained at arms length. Kirsty looked over Ian’s pallid face. Ian was still getting over being drunk.

“I’m not much for apologies, so don’t bother,” Ian said.

“I’ve nothing to apologize for,” Kirsty said.

“My mother was right about you. My friends all told me. ‘She’ll never bear your children. She’s usin’ ya. She’s nothing but a tart.’ But I didn’t listen.”

“I didn’t do anything to apologize for,” she said.

“I saw you with him. Dancin’ and touchin’ each other,” Ian said.

“He was trying to touch me. If you were a man, you’d be dueling him.”

The ubiquitous ‘he’ that Ian and Kirsty were referring to is Ian George MacStair. For the sake of clarity we’ll refer to him as “Reuben,” the name of his favorite sandwich from here on.

“I’m sure that in your mind it was all perfectly one-sided. That (Reuben) was just drunk and would’ve done the same to any other girl he danced with. But you chose to dance with (Reuben), even though moments earlier, I had asked you to dance-“

“You asked me if I knew where your shoes were,” Kirsty said. Kirsty’s hands were now fists creasing the satin over her hips.

“Well how could I dance with you without my shoes? And then I said that you should dance with (George). So why on earth did I turn around and see you dancing with that scoundrel (Reuben), when you could’ve just as easily danced with my best mate (George)? After all (George)’s family!” Ian said.

To be clear about Kirsty’s confusion, what Ian just said was literally,

“And then I said you should dance with Ian, So why on earth did I turn around and see you dancing with that scoundrel Ian, when you could’ve just as easily danced with my best mate Ian? After all, Ian’s family!”

“I thought that you wanted me to dance with (Reuben), because you said ‘Do you know where my shoes are?’ Then, before you fell, you said ‘In the meantime, go dance with my friend (Reuben).’”

“I know, but then after I found my shoes, I came out from under the table and you’re dancing with (Reuben) and he’s got his hands all over you.”

They both turned to see George bear-hugging a dozen or so sheathed sabers. During the past two hours, George had gathered them from the walls of the castle. The sabers clanged against one another and sounded like a waiter carrying five or more inverted wine glasses in one hand. George was still a bit drunk as well. A second after they turned their mutual attention to George, he tripped and landed on the pile of ancient weapons.

“(George)! Are you alright, lad!?” Ian yelled. He ran over to help George up.

“Achh! I’m alright, Ian,” said George taking Ian’s assistance getting up.

Kirsty rolled her eyes. Kirsty had encountered George’s clumsiness on many occasions in the past couple of months. George clumsily giving Kirsty a hickey on her left breast. George clumsily attempting to put on a condom. George spilling red wine on Ian’s bedspread when Ian was away at a rugby tournament.

Ian and George gathered the weapons together and carried them the remaining ten feet to Kirsty.

Ian crouched next to the arsenal and began laying out the sabers in a row. He said, “I’d hate for you to get hurt in this whole mess she’s created.” George nodded and then grinned over at Kirsty. An unrequited grin.

Once the swords were laid out to Ian’s satisfaction, he stood taking a deep breath and said “Choose.”

“If you’re really intending to go through with this silly duel, then I choose that one there.” Kirsty pointed to the newest looking of the sheathed swords.

“I do intend to. I’m a modern Scot. And if any man humiliated me the way you did, it would result in a duel.” Ian turned to George after saying with raised eyebrows. George nodded back in reassurance. Then George turned to Kirsty.

“Would it really have been so bad to dance with me?” George said with a wink.

Kirsty scowled at him and bent to pick up the sheathed saber. She drew the blade. She ran her finger along the edge of it and confirmed her suspicion that it was quite dull. She touched her finger to the end and discovered no strong point.

Ian had bent to look over the remaining weapons. He picked one and drew it from its sheath. The action created a small cloud of dust. Then he got into his fighting stance. It was the same stance he got into when excited watching Rugby on television. It was somewhere between a squat and standing up straight.

Kirsty took a step back and slowly swung her saber around in the air, getting the feel of it.

They circled each other.

Ian’s squatty stance when in motion reminded Kirsty of a modified Humpty Dance. But momentarily, she put the thought aside.

She swung first. It was an overhead smash which sent half of Ian’s saber sailing through the air. As it hit the stone roof with a clang, Ian’s mouth opened.

“(George)! Throw me another saber!” Ian cried still circling.

“I shall not!” George replied. “It’s not proper dueling etiquette and besides…I hope she kills you Ian.”

“He does,” Kirsty said aiming the tip towards Ian’s heart. “Your clumsy cousin is my lover. It was (George) that ruined your duvet!”

The rest of the duel went something like this:

Ian charged George and after some grappling they ended up at the edge of the roof. It looked like they’d both fall and Kirsty ran over to pull them back. Ian thought she was trying to push him over the edge and grabbed her hand. After some three-way grappling Ian ended up biting off Kirsty’s pinky finger and both George and Ian ended up falling to their deaths.

Sitting on a small wooden throne with a throw pillow for cushioning, she fingered the bandages. She looked out over a marble railing at splayed green hills and meadows surrounding her fortress. Her gown was silk and purple and draped like a tent over her legs. She didn’t associate purple with royalty and simply knew that it was her favorite. She grabbed a small toadstool and placed it in front of her throne and put up her feet.

The emerald hills reached the horizon blending into one another and in Kirsty’s tired state looked like one big gradual hill.

It was noon.

Kirsty associated noon with shadows. Up until that day, she had lived in the shadow of Ian’s first wife and sole benefactor of his outdated will—also named Kirsty.

Read More By Doug Dean

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Portland Fiction Project

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