Bertie advanced on his brother impatiently foils clanging shrilly. His heart pounding, Bertie was always forward and on the offensive. Affie adeptly dodged and countered him stepping back and to the side surefootedly. Bertie may have a longer reach being the taller of the two (not to mention the more handsome) but he lacked maturity and patience. Affie's possession of the two sufficiently compensated for his stockier build. They slowly circled one another and Arthur watched unblinkingly, Leopold sketched the scene in charcoal and laughed at his foolish eldest brother. He had sloppily charged Affie who struck Bertie's foil from his hand. He had been waiting vigilantly for Bertie's foil from his hand. He had been waiting vigilantly for Bertie to make such a mistake. He lifted the capped tip of his foil to Bertie's undulating Adam's apple as he tried to catch his breath and said, "Can we call it a day now Albert? That makes four in a row."
"Alfred I'll thank you not to call me Albert. You're not my mother although you are condescending. I think I've had quite enough of all of you for one day," he said as he strolled away.
Ignoring him Affie went to sit beside Leopold at what he had drawn. When he saw the sketch he said "Leo it's good to see someone in this family has a sense of humor." The image was a series of frames each depicting Bertie's mistakes, the final image of which showed Affie's foil at Bertie's throat. "Don't you think it's little harsh though?" he asked.
" No." said Leopold firmly, "Harsh would be saying that Bertie was the most handsome, charming and foolish of swine and that we should send him to the countryside where he can't disgrace us all because it's only a matter of time." Affie's jaw dropped and Arthur scowled at his disrespect toward their eldest brother (and future king).
When Affie regained his composure he put his arm around Leopold's shoulders and said "Dear little brother, you can't choose your family we are the only one you get so you may as well make it work. There are plenty of people ready and waiting across the globe to criticize each of us for every mistake or failure. Our only chance at success is to support each other. None of us can do it alone because we're being judged as a whole. How can we demand respect from our countrymen or the world if we cannot respect one another."
"I can't condone his flagrance for propriety or anything decent or is recklessness. He will run Britain into ruin," added Leopold obstinately.
"We must work as a team to preserve and promote Britain's primacy as a world power. We and our sisters will all marry to further our great nation's connections and form alliances to protect our peace. We males will serve in our military and government. Bertie in particular bears the largest burden which he can manage if we stand behind him. But without your or any of our support Leo, he is doomed to fail," Affie continued.
"Isn't there something to be done to prevent Bertie from assuming the throne? There are plenty of better alternatives among us even a couple of our sisters would make better monarchs than he," protested Leopold.
"Fear not Leo there is plenty of time before any such thing will come to pass and Bertie will mellow. He's not even of age yet. You'll see," stated Affie.
"A leopard doesn't change its spots Affie," said Leopold smugly.
"Leo why don't you worry about making the most of your childhood while it lasts?" asked Affie
Unable to contain himself any longer, Arthur exploded "Affie why can't Leo just understand that's just what Bertie is doing? In two years he'll be eighteen and his life will change forever. They'll surely marry him off and he'll be placed in the Naval Academy only to begin lifelong service to the country never to have privacy of leisure again! He'll bid his time waiting to assume the throne or risk life and limb in war! I'm grateful not to be the heir! You're too young to be so opinionated toward him Leo, you're far from perfect too you know?" Arthur loved his brothers and looked up to Bertie most of all. He was always presentable and he was passionate, charismatic and above all Bertie was cool. "Just because you're a child genius and art prodigy doesn't mean you know everything or that you're always right Leo." He added for good measure.
Trying to ease the tension, Affie interjected, "it seems to me that the two of you are having your own dueling match but I don't think there will be a winner in this kind of fight. How would you both like to go for a ride?"
Affie walked to the stables with a brother under each arm. He realized how long it had been since he had ridden his russet steed Charlemagne. He had seen him as a foal, born from his father's mare. Affie tried to remember how many times his parents had scolded him as a child for spoiling his horse with apples and carrots. He thought about his brothers' horses. Cornelius belonged to Arthur but he was intended to be a gift to Mother from Melbourn's own esteemed stables. Her Royal Highness couldn't accept him without offending Father so Arthur was to benefit as her favorite. Cornelius was jet black including his mane and tail but for his boots and a tiny star on his forehead. Leopold's horse Apollo was a radiant white horse as bright as his master and therefore aptly named. However he generally hated all other men. Leopold and Father were the only men who could approach him.
When they reached the stables Dean and his little brother Jasper greeted the young princes. They were good friends. They may be the stable hands but they were also good friends. Their father Mr. Oliver had been the Stable Master since before Her Majesty had children. They had grown up perhaps not with but certainly around each other. In fact Affie confided more in Dean than he ever could in Bertie. Around Bertie he felt like a handler or chaperone. Jasper was between Arthur and Leopold in age and they were also very close. In fact Affie wondered if Arthur and Leo would ever get along without Jasper or himself. Helena, Arthur and Jasper were close friends too.
While it was not considered proper to associate so closely with "the help", even Mother turned a blind eye where the Oliver boys were concerned. Sometimes when the young princes didn't have lessons or engagements and the Oliver brothers had finished all of their work with the horses, they could go for rides together. Sadly just the three princes were able to go today. They thanked Dean for saddling their horses and Jasper for bringing them out.
They rode to the top of the hill which bore the large, white marble gazebo. They dismounted and sat in the grass. Leo sketched his beloved Apollo while Affie and Arthur debated whether the Odyssey or the Iliad is superior while they stared up at the clouds. The horses nibbled the emerald grass until the boys raced them down the hill and around the palace before dropping them back off at the stables. With a wave goodbye to their friends, they hurried back up to the palace for dinner.
As they hurried up the steps Affie wondered if Leopold was right about Bertie to an extent. He asked himself if he would have to assume the role of the level-headed, responsible brother (as if he were in fact the eldest) for the rest of his life. Knowing his luck he mused, he probably would. Although, there were much worse things to be than prudent, such as a philanderer like Bertie. He deeply hoped his older brother would outgrow his wild streak.