On The Conscience of Kings by Kelly Grotke

The matching pair of bronze statues, each of a son transfixed in the act of hurling a blade toward the neck of his father, disappeared sometime during the French Revolution.

They had adorned opposite sides of a bridge in Ghent, a bridge that no longer exists, but must have once since it left so many names behind. We know Albrecht Dürer walked upon it, in early April 1521. It was a place of execution then, a place where some lives remained forever halted in midstream, but if Dürer reflected on this all too human coincidence between the natural and metaphysical worlds, he left no trace of it; in his diary, he simply notes having seen the twin patricides in passing.

There are two stories about the events commemorated by these absent statues. In both, a father and son are condemned to die, though we know nothing of their crime; in both, the king decides that one may be absolved, if only he agrees to serve as executioner of the other.

In one version, the father immediately rejects this diabolical bargain, which the son then quickly accepts. As the son heaves the axe toward his father’s neck, the blade turns suddenly upon his own, killing him outright.

In the other, the father demands to be sacrificed so that his son might live, but as the son swings the axe to perform the horrible deed, the blade breaks in two. After this miraculous event, both are pardoned.

The king’s motivations remain unknown.


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8 responses to “On The Conscience of Kings by Kelly Grotke

  1. Really like how you did this, Kelly, getting into the wonderment of the past.

    • Kelly

      thanks for reading, Susan! I appreciate that, and your comments too (as I did last week as well, though I failed to mention it at the time)

  2. guy

    The images you present are quite persistent. They’ve been in my head since i read this a couple days ago.

    This is what kings and gods do.

  3. giuseppecaruso

    though “loved it” sounds quite lame, please do take it as token of true appreciation from someone swamped by work… It does really “work” (and this does not sound less lame, does it :).

  4. stephen

    i like this piece. the father/son story and multiple versions echoes a bit fear & trembling but told at a really interesting remove. and it has a kind of sebald feel to it—which is hard to pull off i think, particularly since the voice is entirely yours and not at all like his—the feel lay in the narrator’s detachment and the layering of echoes and pasts.

    well played.

  5. Pingback: Week #43 – To the core | 52|250 A Year of Flash

  6. Morgan

    Kudos. Wisely & well done.
    And read out loud, simply exceptional. Reader & listener alike suspended in the tension, the recognition, of a most human dilemma….Sacrifice? Or survival?
    And always, always, hoping for that 11th hour reprieve.

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