There is a story told in our village about the role of honour in the lives of men. It starts simply enough, as most stories do. Our local aristocrat, the Prince of Philip Upon Kessel, was out for a walk through the market one day with his jester Bozak when he came upon a visiting dignitary, Sir Steven of Ott. Our dignified Prince attempted to meet the visitor with a warm smile and a friendly greeting, but Sir Steven ignored him, indeed, did not even deign to look upon him. Instead, as Prince Kessel approached, Sir Steven continued to look the other way, crashing into Prince Kessel and causing him to fall into some mud nearby.
"Good sir!" Prince Kessel cried.
"My dear Prince Kessel," Sir Steven replied, "I did not even notice you walking so near to me just now. I am terribly sorry for the fracas that has resulted."
"Nothing of the sort, nothing of the sort!" said our beloved Prince. "You would not have dared to cross me if the Captain of the Guard had been here!"
"Prince, you are mistaken, for I did not cross you. It was merely an unfortunate accident between two gentlemen distracted by their own daily business."
"Nonsense! You have offended my honour and this can only be settled in a duel!"
"Very well then," Sir Steven sighed.
"We will meet upon Maple Leaf Plains on the outskirts of town tomorrow at dawn."
It was agreed upon and all left the scene. I was not present for this initial altercation, though it was communicated to me by a close friend who was in the market at the time. I was, however, at the duel that took place the next morning, as much of the town was. When I arrived at 7 am Sir Steven was already there. His companions from the previous day were with him. A few minutes later, Prince Kessel arrived. This time his jester was nowhere to be seen, but the Prince was flanked by Mr. Orr, the Captain of the Guard. A man who I did not recognise stepped forward to describe for the crowd the forthcoming proceedings.
"It has been alleged by the Prince of Philip Upon Kessel that his honour was unduly besmirched by Sir Steven of Ott. Understanding as all true gentlemen do that this situation can be resolved only by a duel, we are all gathered today to ensure that this duel is fought in accordance with The Code. The Code, while unwritten, is understood by both the aggrieved and aggrieving parties and both are bound to honour it. Now, let the duelists step forward to solve this dispute."
The Captain of the Guard walked into the dueling area, followed by Sir Steven's bodyguard, Mr. Scott. The two stood the required number of paces apart and fired their pistols as required. Mr. Scott was struck by a bullet on the left shoulder and crumpled to the ground. Prince Kessel announced that his honour had been satisfied and that he was sure that Sir Steven would not offend him again.
Unknown to the duellists, a member of the local constabulary had appeared on the scene just before the pistols were fired. Having seen what happened, he placed Mr. Orr and Mr. Scott under arrest. While dueling was a widely accepted practice among our genteel class, it was still technically against the rules. Though the Queen could not have been overly eager to be rid of the practice, as the punishment for such an offence was a mere 5 days in prison (with an additional 2 days tacked on if it was determined that one party had attempted to start the dispute).
The damage being done, the duel being over, and Mr. Scott being in need of medical attention, I decided to fetch the local physician, one Dr. A. Glikepull, a most peculiarly named fellow even stranger in temperament than title. He was a foreigner and was not familiar with our local culture and as we travelled to the prison he asked me the most unusual question.
"If it was the Prince who was aggrieved and Sir Steven was the offending party, why did the two of them not duel?"
"But of course they could not duel! Our principality surely could not suffer the loss of a man of such stature."
"But," the doctor pressed me, "how does this prevent Sir Steven from offending the Prince in the future? After all, he was able to walk away today without a scratch on his body."
This doctor had some strange ideas indeed! "Mr. Glikepull, this is how The Code operates. One noble offends another and then his second steps in to fight on his behalf."
"I must confess, I do not see how this is a deterrent to Sir Steven in the least."
I attempted to answer the doctor, but I was unable to figure out how to describe the situation to him. How does one explain what one simply knows to be true? Alas, I was at a loss.
"I suppose you just have to be one of the locals to understand our customs," was the most I could offer by way of explanation.
"Hmm, just so," said the doctor. We walked in silence the rest of the way and parted soon after.