“No, dear, you have to give the stag four of the biscuits for his lunch,” Prince Philip says. “Look: dig up a few more.” He pushes his trowel into the ground and unearths a couple more of the biscuits which appear to be a cross between rice cakes and weetabix. They are orange and flat and you can see the rice grains. We are in the woods at Balmoral: I recognise it from The Queen.
Pushing my trowel into the earth, I dig up a couple more biscuits and place them in a food bowl.
“Now take them to him, girl,” the prince says. “He’s waiting for his lunch.”
“Here you go,” I say, handing the bowl to the stag. “Lunch. Special biscuits.”
The stag does not look impressed with his lunch. He stares at the bowl, shakes his head and then puts his nose in the bowl, sniffing the biscuits. Presumably they smell of earth. He must eat them, I think. Or why else would Prince Philip make me feed them to him.
After what seems a very long time, he starts to eat, and I can breathe again. He has got very big antlers. Twelve points, I count.
“Now the next one,” Prince Philip says. “Hurry up, girl.”
Digging up two more biscuits, I place them in a bowl.
“The fawn is waiting,” he says.
“Why do you bury the biscuits in the earth in the first place though?” I say. “If you’re going to dig them up and…”
“That’s the way that Victoria used to do it, of course,” he says. “The biscuits have to mature in the ground and…what a ridiculous question. I preferred that Cressida – she was much better at this. Lovely young lady. I don’t know what Harry was thinking, taking up with you. Oh well, we’d better be getting back to the house. Where did you meet my grandson, anyway?”
My mind is blank. That is a good question. Where on earth did I meet Prince Harry and what am I doing at Balmoral and there are many questions.
“Oh, around,” I say, and turn to look at the fawn. He’s so sweet: all long-limbed and big-eyed and adorable.
“Here you go, sweetie,” I say, handing the fawn his biscuits. He throws his face into the bowl and there is the sound of chomping. Phew, I’ve done something right.
“I don’t know,” Prince Philip says, leaning on his gun. “It would be jolly good for Harry to settle down, but I don’t think now is the right time. He needs to focus on his career.”
“Yes, I’m sure you’re right,” I say.
There is a crashing sound and then, all of sudden, Prince Harry is here.
“Darling, there you are, I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he says, putting his arm round me. “Grandfather, you haven’t been annoying Tanya, have you? I bet he’s been making you dig up those silly orange biscuits, hasn’t he?” He says, turning to me.
He looks so dreamy in his army uniform, I think. And yet I just can’t remember how we met or where and it is all very strange. I don’t know what has happened to Seb either. I hope he’s OK. It must be horrible for him seeing me on the television with Harry, I think.
“Your grandfather has been showing me how to feed the deer,” I say. “It’s very kind of him.”
“Come on darling,” Harry says. “Let’s get back. We’d better change for dinner. I’ve got the Land Rover over there.”
“Jolly good, you young scamp,” Philip says. “Let’s get going then.”
Walking back to the Land Rover, I feel troubled. This is very exciting of course, I think, picking my way over tree roots and bracken. And yet I can’t remember anything about anything – I’m just here, dumped in Balmoral, and have I got anything to change into for dinner. I’m wearing my grey dress with the sparkly parrot and wellies and …
…waking up with a start, drenched in sweat, I look at my watch. Four o’clock in the morning. As happens every night. So I’m not at Balmoral, I realise, looking around my bedroom, my usual bedroom at the flat. It’s a shame, in some ways. And yet I can’t help but feel relieved. Prince Harry would be a difficult chap to hang on to, I think, switching on my meditation CD. I’m glad I’ve got my darling Seb instead.
“Sorry I’m not there with you,” the message comes through from Seb just now at 6.29pm.
“Me too,” I say.
Happy Sunday everyone!
*2009. By Rhys Bowen. Period detective novel.