''The Good Duke''

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  • Published: 2 Dec 2016
  • Updated: 2 Dec 2016
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It's a supernatural Christmas story. King Wenceslas was the Duke of Bohemia in the years 921-935. He is now patron Saint of the Czech Republic. He rose every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

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5. chapter five

The Duke and the boy walked out through the gates of the castle, their arms filled with gifts. The servants shook their heads, convinced that not only had their Duke gone mad, but that he would catch his death of cold.

The peasant was heading for the village, and the Duke and the boy hurried after him. The Duke’s almost bare feet sank deep into the snow, but he did not seem to notice the cold. He strode on, propelled by some sort of super-human strength. The poor page boy felt the chill coming up through the soles of his boot and through his whole body. The wind cut into his face and he rubbed his nose to stave off frostbite.

“Sire, sire,” he called out. “My strength is failing me.”

At first the Duke did not hear him. Only when the boy called out, “I cannot go on,” did he halt his progress across the snow. He turned round and saw the boy had fallen to his knees.

Duke Wenceslas looked back to the castle. Although the night had grown darker, he could clearly see his footsteps all the way back. They were luminous like the moon.

“Good boy,” he said. “Stand up and place your feet in my footsteps.

The page, who was used to obeying his Duke’s every command, gathered his strength and rose to his feet.

“Here, here,” said the Duke. “This is my step. Place your foot on top of it.”

The boy, seeing the pale blue glowing footsteps, placed his foot on the spot where the Duke’s foot had sank into the snow. Then he lifted his other foot and placed it in the footstep behind. Instead of cold, he felt warmth and energy rising through his body. The Duke carried on ahead, and the boy followed behind, now feeling as as full of life and energy as if he was striding across a meadow full of lambs, one day in spring.

The Duke and the page caught up with the man just before he reached his village. They gave him their gifts, for which he thanked and blessed them. On his return to the castle, the Duke set the pagan priestess free from the gaol.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude winds wild lament
And the bitter weather

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

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