Suit of d’Amour

23 May, 2018

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Chapter I

HRH The Duchess of Sussex, as she was known to her close family, walked gracefully down the stairs, two small page-boys awkwardly tried to managed the long train of her dress, giggling as they tried to untangle it from the bannisters without actually falling onto her, resisting the temptation to sit on it and slide down behind her.  Harry look up from the cereal box he’d been studying and smiled as she came into the kitchen.  She’s so unique, he thought, not at all like the girls he’d dated before; he watched her serenely glide across the Amtico marble floor of Nottingham Cottage.  As a child, Meghan never imagined that all those hours practicing the moon-walk at the Widdecombe School of Dance, in Compton, would one day prove to be so valuable to her.  How wonderful it would be she thought, for portly, old Mrs Widdecombe to see her now, a Duchess.  Her mind wandered for a moment, and she daydreamed of a reunion, with her patiently waiting for old Mrs Widdecome to rise from a low curtsy and kiss her hand.   She joined Harry at the breakfast bar and perched, light as a feather, on one of the sophisticated high bar stools and leaned in next to him, almost head to head.   (The stools had been a wedding gift from the people of The Federal Republic of Germany; luxury hi-shine chrome and leather-look seats, by top German designer, Aldi von Lidl).   The page-boys arrived at the doorway, kicking the train, now a giant satiny football shaped thing, realising they had almost caught up with the Duchess, they stopped tussling, abruptly and sat down, cross legged on the floor and waited patiently; (for about three mili-seconds, then they picked pearls off the satin train and flicked them at each other).

“Hot wet?” Asked Harry.

“Harry!  Your nephews are over there.” * Whispered Meghan, blushing.

“Um, it means, do you want a cup of tea, that’s how Marines say it”, replied Harry earnestly.  “Come on Megs, I taught you all the Marines lingo on our first ever date, when we took that wonderful drive from Toronto to Ottawa to see the Canadian National War Memorial.  That particular cenotaph, “The Response” as it’s known, is one of my most favourite war memorials in the world.  It was so special for me, that we both shared a love of war memorials.  That’s when I knew, we were soulmates.

“Oh, yes, of course, I totally remember, that’s the one your Great Grandfather unveiled in 1939?”*  She blushed even redder at the thought that she had let him down, by forgetting one of his fascinating military facts.  “Yes, a cuppa hot, wet tea would be delightful.” Replied Meghan, lying.  She had learned to refuse coffee at breakfast, she was British now – another one of huge sacrifices she had made to marry into Harry’s family.  She’d sacrificed most of her own family, when she got engaged; something she was surprised to find the inner Royal family completely understood, and if anything, looked upon as a very promising quality in her.

  • The “nephews” were in fact no longer “over there”.  They’d snuck away at the first opportunity, back through the maze of corridors and courtyards to a small apartment, hidden, somewhere inconsequential, in the outermost walls of Kensington Palace.  They were, at that precise moment, tucking into a proper boys breakfast of cheap sugary cereal with (lashings of) milk.  Whilst fighting one another for the collectible toy solider in the cereal box, they also levied a joint complaint at their mother*, for making them carry long bit of girls’ dresses around for days on end. 

    * Their mother, Lady Nerissa Chelmsworthy, had at one time been a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Cornwall.  Nerissa  sought companionship in the stables with one of the queen’s footmen, Mr Darren Graves, of Southend.  The happy marriage that ensued, had led to a downgrading of her ladyship’s title, as is the custom, dropping “Lady”, to become The Hon. Mrs Nerissa Graves;  and subsequently, a downgrading of her roles within the royal household – basically from top job, to dogsbody.  She was now called upon to help out, when there was no-one else; such as when the Duchess of Sussex required a couple of twin page-boys for her long dresses.  The Hon. Mrs Nerissa Graves, was perfectly happy with her choices in life, she and Darren lived happy simple lives, in the heart of Kensington.  Being overlooked by the Royal family brought freedoms she had never known, if she kept her head down, she kept her free home, hidden somewhere within the warren of Kensington Palace.

  • **

      She may at this time have been checking her phone for messages, or even for the weather updates for London (cloudy).  She was absolutely not, in any way, looking up facts on military memorials in Canada and relaying that information to her husband, through the guise of a casual conversation.

Right in the centre of Kensington Palace, in a sprawling apartment with huge windows, Prince William was sitting down to breakfast, with HRH Katherine-the-Great-Mother, and her Royal Children.  (William had been told the children’s names several times by Katherine – when he was pretending to listen to her.  Luckily, his super-spider-senses alerted him that he’d be in trouble, if he dared ask her again.  One time, he’d tried to catch onto what other people called them, but the courtiers had all laughed hard when he called his son, “Your Highness”.   His super-spider-senses immediately sensed something had gone wrong, and he joined in laughing with them, as if he’d deliberately made a joke, about something).

Katherine-The-Great-Mother, put the box of Duchy Organic buckwheat and rye cereal on the table; no one reached for it.  The butler, Stevens, stood beside her with an elaborate crystal punch bowl of chopped fruit.  “Wills, would you like fruit or cereal?”  Katherine asked.

“Neither.” He replied in his ‘unhappy voice’, deliberately putting on his ‘unhappy face’.

“Wills, we need to eat fruit as an example to the children and Duchy products because your Father checks.”  She reminded him with gentle firmness.

“I want the other box”, he said sulkily.  “Not this rubbish, I wouldn’t feed my worst polo pony this stuff, unless I wanted to put it down.”

“Yes, Daddy’s right, it even killed Grandpa’s fish.” Pipped up the small blond boy, sitting next to William.  (Unbeknownst to William, his name was Prince George) “Grandpa’s big golden carp hated it, we fed them some, just before they died, didn’t we Nanny?” ***

Katherine stared at innocent Prince George and then up at his nanny, Kitty Ashby-de-la-Zouch, standing behind him.  Kitty stared back, wide-eyed, wishing she’d drowned in the pool, alongside the carp.  For a fraction of a second, her hand twitched almost imperceptibly, as she mentally considered stuffing down some Duchy cereal, in place of a cyanid pill.

*** .

The four Golden Koi Carp had ranked amongst Prince Charles’ closest friends.  He confided in them on a daily basis, since they’d arrived in the palace pond in 1975.  The shock of finding them floating upside-down on a crisp January morning, still haunted him.  He missed them so much, there were so many things he’d wanted to tell them; they’d never know about Harry’s wedding, about the new eco plantation on the Duchy estate or how wonderful his 70th birthday party was.  The fish had been an honorary gift to the Queen, from her ceremonial trip to Japan in 1975.  The visit had been an attempt at thawing the icy relationship between the communist, People’s Republic of Japan, (who had relatively recently removed all of their own monarch’s powers with the Constitution for the People’s Republic.  This was actually extending the precedent set by the allies, at the end of the WWII, who required Prince Hirahito to admit on National Radio to the Japanese people that he was not ordained by god to lead them.  Obviously, every Japanese man, woman and infant could see through this piece of brilliant political manoeuvring and remained faithful to their Emporer in their hearts).

Prince Phillip had initially been banned from going on the trip to Japan, after he’d vowed to “finish that murdering bastard Prince Hirohito off with my own bare hands, so-help-me-god”, in one of the tour briefings.  The atrocities of the Japanese POW camps were still scarred into British collective memory; and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had left a gaping hole in Japanese esteem.  Unbeknownst to the British, the treasured carp gift had been the basis of an elaborate insult.  The number four being synonymous with “suffering” in Japanese culture and never normally used in a present.  The carp themselves, most often glorified for their properties of love and beauty, were also less well known, as a symbol of fighting.  “She’s carping-on”, was how the Japanese military translators succinctly summarised every one of the Queens speeches during her visit.  Instead of verbatim translations for their dignitries, they delivered running commentaries on the rise of the young sumo prodigy, Yokozuna Mienoumi, through the various bouts he fought, eventually winning his first successful makuuchi tournament.  The smiling faces and goodwill, the Queen’s party encountered throughout the tour, were due to the large amounts of Yen being collected by Japanese dignitaries, on black market gambling and the amount of celebratory Sake they discretely consumed in tea cups.  The British considered the trip an unprecedented success.

“Hmph.”  Someone made a discrete cough next to Katherine, Stevens said, “Would you Highness prefer Krispy Sugar Flakes for breakfast this morning?”  Katherine shot him a look that could kill, but Stevens was immune to outside influences, steady as a rock, he was able to preserve with the unshakeable hand of silver service, completely unfazed by events around him.   Stevens had served the Prince since being assigned to him as a small child.  Adept at completing tricky time consuming things for him, like tying his shoe laces, unpacking his clothes and passing his helicopter pilot’s licence.

Stephens’ unfazability was an innate skill, very much sought after in children of the lower classes, by the inhabitants of the “Great Houses”.  The “gift”, had come down the generations, it was in his DNA.  Notably, his great, great grandfather had been butler to General, Sir George Pomeroy Colley, throughout his illustrious career.  During the Battle of Ingogo (1881, KwaZulu-Natal) in the First Boer War, he had held an umbrella over Gen. Colley during the rainstorm that change the outcome in favour of the British.  The commemorative painting “British Victory over the Afrikaners at Ingogo.  Her Majesty’s soldiers advance in a retrograde direction from Boers, under cover of a violent rainstorm sent to save them from imminent slaughter, by the direct hand of intervention, of the Lord Christ”; was only completed by the General during the battle, because of the steady hand-on-brolly of his butler, Stevens, protecting the wet canvas from the beating rain.  The original picture still hangs in the National Gallery, celebrating the only victory during the entire war, attributed to the British.  A faded print of said oil on canvas, hangs in a wonky clip-frame, in the corridors beneath stairs, of every stately home in the country.  An important reminder staff that there are no limits to selfless service (or time off, should the Masters or Mistresses, need something).

“Yes please, I love Krispy Sugary Flakes” Will looked up at Stevens with new found enthusiasm,  “How did you know, they were my favourites?” Stevens didn’t reply with words, he was already holding a silver tray with a brand new box of Krispy Sugar Flakes on it.  “Would Your Highness like to find the embedded toy solider, or should I locate it?”

“I want to find it”, exclaimed the blond boy next to William, “Can I?  Can I please?”  William immediately dropped his head and went back to his unhappy face.  Stevens popped a little green figurine in the middle of a white bowl edged with silver, he moved his silver tray forward towards the table, the little boy reach to take the bowl with his short pudgy arms.  Bypassing the child’s outstretched arms, Stevens placed the bowl silently on the crisp, white tablecloth in front of William.  The blond boy’s face crumpled, William however brightened up immediately.  Picking up the toy solider, he marched him around the breakfast table, pretending it was trying to shoot little Prince George from the top of the spoon, then from behind the milk jug etc. The boy’s bottom lip started quivering and his eyes filled with tears.  Katherine waved her arm, indicating the rest of the staff should swoop in and serve fruit and cereal to the children.  Then she retired to her private dressing room, saying she could feel “one-of-her-heads-coming-on”.  She lay on the chaise lounge and called her sister, Pippa, and sobbed heavy tears on the phone about how exhausted she was doing-it-all alone, with no help from Wills.  Two of her ladies-in-waiting removed her shoes and massaged the reflexology points for headaches.

Harry dropped a hexane fuel block into the base of the Crusader cooker on the kitchen worktop.   Using his pocket fire-steel, he deftly lit the block, then fitted the cup of water to the base.

“I could just turn on the water-boiling-kettley-thing, if it’s easier, Harry?” said Meghan.

“No way, Megs,” he replied.  “You’ll never make a hoofing cup of char, using one of those gopping kettles.”

“Yes. You’re. So. Right” Replied Meghan, convincingly.  It was a line she’d been taught to use when she had no idea what was being said.  Her coach, through the complex minefield of royal decorum, etiquette and protocols befitting a Duchess, was the highly regarded Madame Cholet; founder of the famous Swiss Finishing School For Feminists, in San Morizt.  (Formerly known as, “L’Institut Attraper Un Gars Riche”).  Harry pottered about making the tea, still wearing the army fatigues and headband he loved to sleep in, Meghan unconsciously twiddled a small green plastic figure between her fingers, dropping it onto the worktop.  He turned to her, holding a Royal Wedding souvenir mug of tea with both their smiling faces emblazened on it; (there’d been a few left over),  she smiled lovingly up at him, he wasn’t smiling any more.  There was a darkness in his expression she’d never seen before, “Harry, is everything ok?” She asked.  He made no reply, his eyes fixed on the toy solider, lying on it’s back on the counter.  “Harry?  Harry can you hear me?” She asked again, concern now rising in her voice.  But Harry couldn’t hear her, the small toy solider had transported him to another place.  Suddenly, he sprung to life, throwing the mug violently at the wall, Meghan screamed as a fountain of hot tea rose up into the air, landing predominantly over the “Tejn”, faux sheepskin rug (a wedding gift from King Carl XVI Gustaf, of Sweden, chosen by the Trade Ambassador for Ikea).  Then Harry ran, he leapt over the back of the sofa, through the hall and  disappeared out, across the courtyard.  Meghan stared through the now open, front door; which slowly began to swing back towards the house, screaming with centuries of rust.

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