The hell? What’s the Prince’s deal? Fane threw a flat rock with all his might against the satin-smooth surface of the lake. The stone skipped a good ten or eleven spots before sinking near the other side. This was his little area. Well, he had to share it with another passerby. It was the base’s recreational lake, after all.
He had dropped by the mess hall on his way out of the building to grab a bag of stale croutons the guys kept for him. He had run a couple training missions with them and given them some pointers that improved their testings. They found out about his secret love for feeding turtles and, though it had started out as a joke, had started keeping a bag of stale croutons for Fane to use. Everyone had a way of blowing off steam. There were worse methods, after all.
He sank to the grass, still brewing. He had such a good time with the shooting test today too. He opened up the plastic bag of croutons and pulled out a couple of chunks. He proceeded to flick them into the water. Fish and turtles emerged. If he waited long enough, the ducks at the other end of the pond would show up. It wasn’t like the turtles really ate a lot of the croutons.
He sighed in a bid to calm down. He had a bit of time off which he should try to actually relax and unwind. His mind wasn’t letting him, though.
It was racing away, like too many tabs open on a browser screen. Fane knew he’d have to pack his stuff. He’d need supplies to deal with the difference in climate and culture in the New Punjab region. He’d have so much paperwork to fill out. This would be the first real-time he’d spent any significant time away from the base. Likely, he’d be going it alone. That was what the scout was there for, not an entire army after all.
Fane, having run out of croutons, and the last ones sinking in the sparkling green, laid down in the warm grass. He breathed in deep, lost in the expanse of sky above the trees. The sun hit fifteen hundred. His stomach growled. He’d been in such a rush to leave the foul taste in his mouth he had neglected to grab lunch.
A crunch of sticks and leaves alerted him to someone approaching. He opened one eye, a slit against the sun’s glare. A pair of expensive trousers and loafers stood a couple of feet away. He breathed in, put off. A headache formed at the bridge of his nose. “If you’re looking for me to give a fuck, I left the last one I had back in the locker room. Might try snooping around there again. You did so well last time.”
“Came to return it.”
“I told you I’d join you. What do you want now?” Fane refused to open his eyes. He wasn’t about to give the man more than the minimum at this point.
“Mr Abbadelli said you’d be out here feeding turtles.” The Prince mentioned with the droll pull of a posh accent that set Fane’s teeth on edge and a bolt down his back.
“Nappin’ in the wee field of fucks I no longer have, and I’mnae’ feelin’ like plantin’ new ones this season.” Two could play this game. He may not remember growing up on the other side of the border, but he could drop into his native brogue when he wanted. Push him, and he’d start into the ancient dialects.
“I’m seeing that,” the Prince responded, his upper-crust North Oxford lilt getting heavier every time Fane cursed.
“Shall Ah ‘ave me peace n’ ye’ll le’me kip?” Fane grouched.
“He also said you’d probably forget to eat,” the Prince mentioned, letting go of his high received pronunciation and going back to what was familiar to Fane, the softer received pronunciation with the lilting cadence of MidIndia around the edges. He blinked an eye open against the warm sun behind the Prince’s head. That same shot of pain ran through his side and down his leg. He was getting used to it. Fane analysed the Prince as he tried to regain his composure. In Orlov’s hands were a bag of hamburgers and a pair of drinks in a holder.
“Thinking food’ll get you back in my good graces?” Fane sat up, returning to the South New London accent he had developed to get the recruits off his back.
“Maybe?” Orlov inched closer, nervous.
“At least the fear of god has made you wary of the unknown,” Fane mumbled. The Prince set the food bag next to the soldier and eased onto the ground near him.
“I’m not a charity case, you know,” Fane grumbled. “Zephyr probably let you in on who I really am, didn’t he?” He glanced away to the end of the lake, into the darkening recesses of the tiny forest.
“A lot of people know who you are?” Orlov asked.
“Those that need to know, or those that need to be warned,” Fane snipped.
“Mr Abbadelli said you liked black bean with pickled jalapenos,” the Prince pulled out a wrapped package from the bag. He held it out to Fane.
“Well, at the very least, it is rude to refuse food when offered on equal terms.” Fane cautiously lifted the package out of the Prince’s hand. The small white item was piping hot. “Thank you.” Fane unwrapped it. It was from the local burger joint off base. Zephyr probably drove the Prince off base to show him where to get them. Fane shrugged and bit into the burger.
He looked down at the pair of drinks in the holder near him and raised an eyebrow. The Prince handed him one. “Shall I guess?” Fane swallowed the last of his burger. He sipped his drink. Zephyr knew him too well. Lemon tea. Fane sighed. This was hitting the spot, warming to the food and the view. The Prince, though emotionally repulsive, was at least nice on the eyes. Fane’s cheeks burned crimson for a second at his sudden thought.
“So, you’re vegan?” Orlov asked. Fane watched him suspiciously. “I would like to extend my apologies for…” the Prince stuttered, suddenly nervous.
“Assaulting me, humiliating me, insulting me, I can continue,” Fane supplied, ticking off his fingers.
The Prince put up a hand, hiding his face with his other shamefully. “All the above,” he admitted.
Fane nodded approvingly. “So, was that the only reason you came out here? To apologise?” He put his crumpled wrapper in the empty bag.
“I…uh…” the Prince looked at Fane, perplexed.
“You really bought me lunch and went and found where I was to apologise? No ulterior motives?” Fane pressed.
“I was out of line,” the Prince bowed his head again.
“You stand so far above the line; how’d you even know where the line was?” Fane replied flippantly. The Prince blinked, not following. “You sit in a position of power and wealth. You deal in international politics. I am an enlisted man, not even a proper one. Raised on gutter water and moulded bread. How would you even know where to start common ground with me, a line to stand at?” Fane expanded.
“You’re-” the Prince blinked. He hadn’t expected that type of response from Fane.
“I didn’t go to secondary school if that’s what you’re thinking. At least, well, they never found transcripts for me under my birth name,” Fane answered.
“Seriously?” The Prince asked. Fane nodded, mutely staring at the tiny ripples of fish darting in the water. “Can you read?” Orlov asked in a hushed tone.
Fane gave the man a sidelong glance, trying to tell if he was being made fun of. It seemed, though, that the Prince was speechless. He sighed. “I was told, at least in the case file, that a Ms Gare – a local red room woman in my neck of town, would use her downtime to teach us kids some basic schooling. I did attend primary school. Took them a long time to find all those records. My folks seemed to move around a lot. So, I had the basics.”
He brought a hand to his head, trying to stifle a firecracker of pain shooting from the back of his eye to the back of his head.
“Mr Anson?” The Prince looked at him, worried. He hadn’t expected to get such an emotional response out of the man.
“I’m all right. Just a headache I’ve been dealing with the last couple of days,” Fane waved away the Prince’s anxious eyes. “Anyway, it seems that, even with amnesia, the ability to understand language tends to stick around, as long as it’s trained early enough. They said when they tested me on something like thirty languages, I could actually respond to them in French, Spanish, and Latin, of all things. I doubt I’d have ever learned that out in the hood,” Fane laughed morosely. He didn’t remember any of it. He wasn’t aware of switching languages when it happened either. He had endured a Catholic sermon once, under Zephyr’s prompting, and only later discovered the whole thing had been conducted in Latin. He hadn’t even noticed.
“Maths, science, history?” Orlov pressed.
“My files didn’t have that much in them. I don’t have a firm grasp of some principles. Online science videos and math apps have helped me advance where I’m lacking. Taken quite a few MOOCs over the years as a hobby,” Fane responded.
The Prince looked at him, confused. “What about all the stuff you did today in the shot test? Surely you’d need to know quite a bit of maths.”
Fane snorted. “Dogs can do calculus,” he retorted. The Prince was even more perplexed. “Predictive analysis can be done by the best machine in the world, the human brain. Mathematics on paper helps us prove what our brain does. And who bloody hell has time for trig when sniping?” Fane supplied. “What about you, Prince Orlov? What Ivy U did you attend?” he smirked, knowing the privilege the man had probably been provided.
The Prince looked away, not entirely proud of it now. “North Oxford,” he mumbled.
“Sounds like. I’ve heard it’s gorgeous.” Fane watched thin clouds drift across the sky.
“The campus is meticulous, as are the professors,” Orlov was getting grouchy about the subject.
“What’d you study?” Fane asked, trying to be polite.
“Electrical engineering,” Orlov hissed.
“I hear that’s not that easy,” Fane continued with his basic conversation. Weather, education, simple things, useless filler.
“It was another thing to make my parents happy,” Orlov mused.
“Strict helicopter parents?” Fane guessed.
“Sort of. They were apathetic to most everything I did, fobbing me off on my grandmother and the servants most of the time. They were only ever on to me about my grades. I had to pass them at the top of the class.” Orlov leaned back in the grass, watching the same sky as Fane.
“Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. I’d say I’m jealous you had parents that had any interest in you. You know, I’ve worked with so many here that I really can’t say that anymore, though. Homelife can be heaven or hell. So sometimes, having no parents is better than having them. It depends on the person and the parent, I guess,” Fane ran his fingers through the grass. Orlov snorted in agreement.
“Tennis and polo, huh?” Fane asked.
“Ever played?” Orlov turned to the soldier.
“Can’t say that I have. Maybe something similar back before I can remember? I know what they are. We’ve got some courts, and I’ve watched a couple games of tennis. Polo…we don’t have any stables here, so we don’t see that too often. There’s a stadium in town that hosts a regional group, though that we’ve helped do charity events with before,” Fane explained. “Go to nationals or anything?” He asked of the Prince.
“A couple tournaments with the school teams. I was never ambitious enough to add titles to my name. I had enough; I didn’t feel like adding more,” the Prince added.
“I don’t get you.” Fane rolled to his side, looking at the Prince in full.
“We’ve sort of just met,” expressed the Prince, not sure what to make of Fane’s comment.
“That might be it. If you won’t throw a complete fit, I’m going to be blatantly honest here,” Fane cautioned.
“You seem to be honest and casual with me regardless of my opinion on the matter,” Orlov hedged.
“You’re arrogant and presumptive. Yet, you aren’t arrogant about the things most people are arrogant about. People in your position are usually all over sports and colleges. They flaunt their accomplishments like jewellery. That’s what I keep expecting from you. A frat boy.” Fane’s arrow hit home.
Orlov groaned under the direct hit. “I was going for confidence. Do you see me as arrogant?”
“Of course. Anyone with a title is automatically considered an arrogant prick by us enlisted types,” Fane responded, unblinking.
“Doesn’t that make you presumptive too?” Orlov countered, feeling like he might get some traction.
“Touché.” Fane nodded.
“If we’re being honest, you aren’t like what I thought,” Orlov pondered.
“What were you expecting?” Fane was curious.
“As we both remember from the party, a woman.” The Prince ducked.
“You were expecting Annie Oakley?” Fane wiped the grin off his face before Orlov caught on; he was laughing at him.
“Well. I mean. She was a legend from way back. I liked the stories from the Old U.S. about the West. Grandmother would read me crumbling children’s textbooks she kept in her private archive. So, yeah. I got it in my head you were this trope, I guess.”
“And when you figured out I was a guy?” Fane pulled at grass ends.
“I was surprised you weren’t exactly a presumptive bastard,” Orlov muttered.
“Thought I’d be the staunch, drill sergeant type who takes the military seriously and acts like a wall?” Fane supplied.
“Yeah, that’s about right.” The Prince pulled a blade of grass to twist in his fingers.
The quiet of the park drifted through their conversation. The ducks had taken umbrage with Fane about a lack of bread, quaking at the men on shore. Another jogger ran past, her shoes crunching on the gravel path.
“What do you normally do?” The Prince glanced at Fane.
“Special Forces Weapons. I clean, maintain, and have familiarity with various weapons and explosives and how to use them. I also teach evening classes in mixed martial arts. I’m a certified dive instructor on top of that. For the most part around here, I end up working in the armoury or certing new guys at the dive pool,” Fane replied.
“But you’ve never been field-tested?” The Prince asked.
“Somehow, there are always more recruits who have to pass their swim or shot test,” Fane sighed.
“So, what’ll happen if I take you away from here?” questioned Orlov.
“Meh, I don’t know. Maybe Robson and Mills’ll actually get off their duff and do their jobs?” mused Fane.
“Robson and Mills?” The Prince glanced at Fane, confused.
“They’re the ones who’re supposed to be in charge of training the recruits for that. Seeing as I’m sort of a take in by this base, and I don’t have a degree, I’m sort of…special,” Fane eluded.
“Are you actual military personnel?” Orlov guessed.
“Yes and no. I haven’t done my time in either camp or college. So, I don’t have that qualifying background. However, with every physical test they had on this base, I’ve been able to pass without problem. Some of the academic shit…yeah, that’s where my amnesia and crap background don’t play to my advantage.” Fane rubbed at the back of his neck. “So, yeah, I’m in the military by way of contracts and tests. They own me. I haven’t done what most everyone else has to get in.”
“Will it be a problem for you to come with me?” Orlov asked.
“For me? I…” Fane paused. There were plenty of people to take his place. It probably would relieve Zephyr for him to not be causing problems. Not like anyone would miss him here too much. “It’ll probably be all right,” he finally gave in.
“What do you need?” Orlov offered.
“I have no clue. I’ve never been to…to…I know you come from New Punjab, but where will I be working?” Fane looked up at the Prince, perplexed.
“My parents’ have their throne in Tri-Amritsar. It’s dry out that way. Doesn’t rain too much. Doesn’t get overbearingly hot, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the heat you can get down in the south.” Orlov meandered through the information. “You’ll be working with the royal guard to train their marksmanship. We have a compound near the palace that houses our men. You’ll work with them there. Maybe a temporary bodyguard. Father has some ideas with my nieces getting older needing their own school chaperone.” Orlov stood up, collecting the empty cups and bag of wrappers. “I’ll see to your flight ticket and readied provisions. I’ll let your command know when the arrangements have been made, and I’ll see you at the airport.” He extended a hand to his soldier.
“Sounds like a plan.” Fane allowed the Prince to help him up.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
If you would like to tip the author, check out the following buttons: