Tuesday 28 May 2024

Two Brothers Have a Chat by Judith Skilleter, prosecco

There is a small country in Eastern Europe hidden among the istans and astans and ovias that is ruled by a Grand Duke. He is a good ruler, strong as well as benevolent and his people love him. He is Grand Duke Paul. He has a younger twin brother, Peter, who has refused any title offered to   him. He likes to be known as Pete and he lives on his farm, actually a large ducal estate, with his wife, Margarita, three daughters and one son. He is a grower, a farmer, a keeper of livestock. He looks after his farm (estate) in a way that we should be looking after the planet – no pesticides, no herbicides and lots of re-wilding. He loves his life.

Pete’s three daughters are Violetta, Carmen and Norma. Margarita is a great fan of opera and she visits la Scala in Milan as often as her agricultural and family duties allow. Pete had put his feet down firmly when she wanted to name their fourth child, and only son, Figaro. He is Maximilian, after Paul and Pete’s father. As for Margarita her birthday present every year from the Grand Duke is a case of Tequila, a case of Cointreau and a basket of limes. Unfortunately she hates margaritas and the Grand Duke knows it. But both the Grand Duke and his brother think this gift is a very funny joke. Margarita reluctantly puts up with it but would prefer fine wines as a gift.

Since the boys were very young as they are identical twins there have been jokes about Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask. Pete has many times been teased by bullies that if he was not careful the Grand Duke would be told and he, Pete, would be put in an iron mask and spirited away to a far distant part of the country forever. That threat itself is nonsense as their country is so small there is nowhere that is far away. But Dumas’ story and fate of the brothers who did not get on is always present and Paul and Peter consider themselves very lucky to have a good relationship that does not contain any jealousy or competition. Pete would hate to rule his country and Paul had no idea whatsoever about growing things and nature.

But every so often the threat of farmer Pete to the regal Grand Duke rears its’ ugly head and today the Grand Duke is visiting Pete to discuss the problem. He arrives in time for coffee with three security men who stay outside. Paul likes having time with his brother and sister-in-law, Margarita. Life on the farm was so different from the austere and regimented life at court. He loves the way he can sit in the kitchen and watch his coffee being made instead of it being brought on a silver tray by whoever is on duty that day. He knows that if he went to the palace kitchens to make his own coffee it would take so long, his palace is very big, that he would have gone off the idea of coffee before he got there.

Paul starts the conversation

I need to talk to you in private, Pete. The whisperers are back.

The whisperers were Paul and Pete’s name for those who tried to undermine the relationship between the twins and indeed the governing of the country. Up to now the whisperers had always failed.

Let’s take our coffee to the maze then and if we are nimble we will lose the security men.

The maze had been designed and grown by Pete and he was very proud of it. It was very complicated and only Peter, his wife and his three daughters knew the way out. Max, at four years old, Pete’s son, had been lost a few times in the maze but he was never frightened and he just waited until he was spotted by the farm drone which guided him out. Pete and Paul’s security and privacy was therefore guaranteed.

The twins set off. Once in the maze they speeded up so that the closely following security guard was left behind. The twins had escaped - again. The twins heard an anguished “Bloody hell, not again, Sir. If you can hear me, Sir, this was never part of the job description.” The guard could remember previous visits when he had to be rescued. Paul shouted back “Try your best Franz, if you can find the way out one hundred euros is yours”

"It was five hundred Euros last time, sir."

"Rising cost of living, Franz."

The twins chuckled and carried on through the maze.

Paul continued. "I am being told of rumours that you are planning to take the throne."

"Not again. Can’t these people see that I am a farmer and spring time is the worst time for me to leave the farm and start a coup? There is too much to do. Now a possible coup in winter might be a possibility but I could never ruin Christmas, Marg would never forgive me. In any case, if I had wanted your job I would have given you something I had grown that was poisonous and undetectable years ago. Nobody would have known it was me."

"It’s not funny Pete. It could mean that both of us might be in danger, me from those that want me out and you by those who don’t. And I think they see you as a safer long term bet as you have a son and heir.

"And I hate the thought that Max might one day have to take up a job he does not want. If the job had more to do with trains he might be keen but otherwise no. But I know the dangers Paul and I take them seriously too. Have you any idea who is behind this. I have got something in the greenhouse that could make them ill for a couple of days."

Paul shook his head and tried the stop the grin appearing.

"What about a reshuffle at court.? Send the prime suspects to far off places as ambassadors or court representatives. The UK is a decent job, a nice house and invitations to posh dos at Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately for them there won’t be a coronation for a few years now Cousin Charles is king."

The twins were very distant cousins of King Charles III and they enjoyed reminding people of this. They had both been invited to his coronation which they had enjoyed hugely. Pete especially enjoyed the journey home via Amsterdam and its flower marker where he bought hundreds of tulip bulbs in the colour of his country’s flag.  The bulbs were now open in one of his fields where the view from the air was amazing.

"Yes. I had thought of that and you have confirmed my thoughts. Thank you."

"I think underlying this is the fact that you are a strong and devoted ruler who gets involved and makes his own decisions. They know that if I was Grand Duke I would dither, be very weak and the place would soon be in the control of courtiers and administrators and the army, God forbid."

Paul nodded. "Yes, I think a reshuffle might be my first step after discussion with the one’s I can trust. But you do understand why I had to come personally and rule you out?"

"Of course and no offence was taken. Now there is something you can do for me. Violetta is sixteen soon and she wants money to spend in Paris.  She wants to go alone – absolutely not - and she refuses to go with her mother.  Their relationship is a bit tetchy at the moment. Mind you if you changed the constitution she would make a very good Grand Duchess, she is so bloody determined and bad-tempered everyone would run away in fear. Anyway, have you someone discreet and personable at court who could be a companion and escort and offer her security.?And perhaps Franz, if he ever gets out of the maze, might enjoy a few days in Paris as a reward as a distant but discreet security guard. I think there is a boyfriend involved, a dratted social media boyfriend, and it is possible he might a part of her plans. Might Franz be trusted with a bit of my potion to make the possible boyfriend ill for a bit? And to make sure Violetta does not visit tattoo parlours – her arms are covered with transfers. At least I hope they are transfers."

Paul laughed. "I think we can arrange something. Thank you Pete for everything. You have helped me make up my mind what to do next."

"Thank you Sir, let us talk again soon". And Pete gave his brother and ruler a deep and respectful bow.

Suddenly they were out of the maze but there was no sign of Franz.

"I’ll find the drone to spot him." Pete hurried off. "Another drink Paul?" he called as he disappeared round the corner of the greenhouse.

"Yes please but not one of your greenhouse specials."


About the author 

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire forty-five years ago and is married with four grandchildren 

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