Prince Fuisal was something of a disappointment to Rowena: she had anticipated a thobe of flowing white, a ghutra and a beard. Instead she got a rather affable young man in a business suit, with very little hair at all. Nevertheless, she caught herself curtseying as he greeted her.
“Ah yes. This is – what is the expression – ‘the little woman’. Is that correct, Mr. Parfitt?”
Needless to say, Rowena did not immediately take to the young Prince; not that it mattered, since from that point onwards he scarcely acknowledged her existence.
When Julian had finished choking, he invited his guest to the house for tea.
The Prince was unenthusiastic. “Tea. Yes, of course. Tea. Lead the way, Parfitt!”
As soon as tea was served (by Rowena, naturally) the Prince seemed eager to get down to business.
“Tell me your proposition, Parfitt.”
“Well,” Said Julian; “What I suggest is this….”
The Prince’s hand restrained him. With a regal nod, he indicated Rowena. “You wish to discuss business in front of your woman? How quaint.”
“Oh, no, don’t embarrass yourself!” Said Rowena: “I’ll be in the scullery scrubbing the floor if you want me, husband.” And she left, closing the door with a violence that set the remains of her dinner service wobbling perilously on the dresser.
Rowena did not meet the Prince again. She heard his laughter as Julian unfolded his plans, then the front door closing as he departed. Within an hour of its arrival, Prince Fuisal’s launch was bearing him back out into the bay. That evening the ‘Xanadu’ gracefully and silently slipped its moorings. By the morning of the following day, it was as if the third in line to the throne of Al Flaberri had never visited.
For another week Julian’s island basked peacefully in pale Scottish sunshine. Rowena so loved this place with its moody climate and magnificent scenery that she soon forgot her ill humour, even to the point of forgiving Julian. She preferred not to know what his discussions with the Prince had entailed, and certainly Julian was not eager to tell her, so she began to revive her daily routine and pursue her own interests. She fed the hens, milked the cow and the goat Julian had insisted they buy (though neither of them had any background in animal husbandry) and worked at the well-nigh impervious garden. The wind riffled through her hair, her skin bronzed in the subtle sun, she breathed the richly oxygenated air and felt glad to be alive. For a while she almost made herself believe that the natural gas resources had sealed themselves up and the whole thing was forgotten; but of course it wasn’t. On the seventh day, insidious hell oozed in from the ocean.
Boats chugged quietly into the bay late on Saturday night: by morning they were gone. Along the shore a camouflage net covered the equipment they had left behind, and the accommodation for the workers who came with it.
These were riggers, whose intrusion was neither subtle nor brief. They were possibly most remarkable for their ability to turn a simple portacabin upon the jetty into a thriving public house, which sprang into life at seven p.m. (just after the heavy machinery which littered the island had shut down) and did not acquiesce until well into the following morning. During the day they worked under cover, with the extensive use of camouflage netting and disguised vehicle movements; a mystery to Rowena, one which Julian seemed reluctant to explain. They came, they gave their hosts six weeks of unremitting torment, and they left. Peace descended once more, but it was a gurgling, vibrant peace. It was the peace of pipes laid and lying idle, of machines which did not turn, of vehicles which squatted covertly in hollows and caves. It was a peace waiting to be breached.
Rowena slipped meekly out from beneath the ice-pack she had adopted as a permanent night-time companion. Frequently of late she had found it necessary to remind herself of the day of the week; even, in stormy interludes, whether it was day or night. This morning, she was certain, was a Wednesday. She would remember, later, that it was a Wednesday. Sun-glow bathed the little bedroom where she often slept alone now. She dressed quickly, for the advancing year brought a fresh, invigorating bite to the breeze.
It was Rowena’s habit, in the early day, to don her biggest sweater and stomp the upward mile to the summit of Ben Adderhochie, from whence it was possible to see the mainland afar off in one direction, and to imagine the Americas, half a world away, in the other. This sense of space and freedom excited her so much that she would make a little dance for herself at times, and, miles from sight of any other human, cavort around the top of the Ben like Julie Andrews on speed. The breeze was exceptionally fresh that morning – that Wednesday. Rowena had already become familiar with the long jetty Julian’s riggers had built, probing out from the north shore for nearly half a mile – but this Wednesday…..
Julian was already up and making coffee when Rowena, white-faced, threw the door open.
“Steady, old girl! You’ll have the hinges off!” He said.
“Have you – do you know what’s out there?” Rowena stammered.
“Er – no, dear?” Julian played along.
“A tanker. A big, gigantic, huge, no – not just huge – massive tanker!”
“The Al-Rasheed, I believe she’s called – this one.”
“THIS ONE! How many are there??”
“Well, we’re scheduled to accept six. Although, if the weather breaks, of course….” Julian waved his hand vaguely. “Coffee, dear?”
“Yes please, one sugar.” Rowena slumped into a chair at the big breakfast table. “I suppose it’s a silly question, but what exactly is a super-tanker doing anchored so close to our island?”
“Oh, loading with gas.” Julian replied mildly. “They – we – have equipment to condense it: that way we can send it anywhere in the world.”
“The Shahiree-Parfitt Corporation: Prince Fuisal owns the Shahiree half, of course, but he can’t admit to that, being royal – wouldn’t be ethical.”
For some while now, Rowena had been sensing a growing weight upon her shoulders.
“Julian; are you quite mad? Have you any idea what is going to happen when the mainland finds out about this?”
“Oh, they already have. I told them yesterday. They were asking about the jetty.”
“My god! We’ll have the police, customs, the bloody British Army here. Julian,” Rowena took a decision; “I’m leaving you.”
“Are you dear?” Julian responded mildly: “You’ll need a passport.”
“A passport? A boat to the mainland, that’s all I need, Julian.”
“No dear. Sorry, but they won’t let you in. You see, as of yesterday, you became a citizen of the Republic of Aga. We’ve got our own flag, and everything.”
“You’re insane. They’ll murder us!”
“No.” Said Julian. “No. they won’t. The Republic of Aga has declared itself to be under the protection of the Kingdom of Al Flaberri. Now the King of Al Flaberri (Fuisal’s dad) is a great mate of our Royals, and his country is strategically important to Britain in the Middle East. He buys lots of planes, and things. This is his son’s pet project at the moment. If the British try to interfere, Flaberri will order them out of their naval base in the Gulf. Very knotty problem, that, for the British. Oh, and by the way, we also declared an alliance with Iran.”
Rowena burst into tears and ran from the room. Ten minutes later, she returned.
“It won’t work.” She said.
“Yes, it will. Not for very long, but for long enough. After the initial enquiry, the diplomatic counterpoint, a court case, an appeal, then another to the European Court (we’ve applied for membership of the Community) and the final settlement – I’d say a year, at least. That’s a minimum of twelve tankers, even given the worst weather. After expenses that will yield about a hundred and sixty million.”
“You said ‘settlement’”
“I did. The ultimate answer will, of course, be for the British to buy the island. With mineral rights, I’d say another two hundred and fifty million or so? With a bit of skilled negotiating, we should be able to retain royalties. We need a good estate agent.”
Throughout this explanation Rowena’s mouth had been dropping slowly open. Her knees felt quite unsteady. “Then what happens to us? Poor old Aga’s going to be not much more than a slag heap.”
“I’m negotiating for a different Island; somewhere warmer. The South Pacific, actually. I think you’ll like it.”
“Come to bed!” Said Rowena.
“Oh, one thing I did forget to mention. It may be necessary to convert to Islam.”
“Come to bed, husband!”
At this point the relationship between Julian and Rowena might have turned something of a corner: there is no more effective bandage for a wounded marriage than a seven-figure bank statement, especially if the draft constitution of your newly-adopted nation makes no provision for divorce. Besides, as First Lady of the Republic of Aga, Rowena had duties to perform and an image to live up to. The reason their relationship did not, in fact, improve, we shall now relate.
The fledgling republic got off to a nervous start. Constant over-flying by Royal Air Force jet fighters was nothing more than they, as residents on a Scottish island, had come to expect. However, now the gloves were metaphorically back on the hat-stand these aircraft flew lower and with considerably more menace. Helicopters kept appearing over Ben Adderhochie, a reconnaissance plane droned constantly in the background. When, the next morning, a Royal Navy destroyer anchored off the bay, Rowena suggested that maybe Julian’s fabulous plan was not working.
“It’s OK,” Julian said. “I sent a warning against trespassing in Republic of Aga airspace. They’ll desist very soon.”
And they did.
Anthony James Poulson was staring contemplatively at his bag of golf clubs one Friday morning when his senior, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, stuck his head around the door.
“A word, AJ?”
“Certainly!” said Poulson affably. “Albatross. Will that do?”
“Not at all – that’s a very nice word: better than eagle, for example, or birdie?”
“I’m being serious, old man.” The under-secretary drew up one of A.J’s rather comfy leather chairs. “It concerns this chap Parfitt.”
“Oh god, no. What’s he done now?” Poulson’s tantalising vision of the fifteenth at sunset began to fade.
“Well, it isn’t so much what he’s done, as what we haven’t – if you’ll forgive the grammar. It’s been a month now, during which time he’s managed to turn around six tankers-full of high grade natural gas, and we don’t seem to be doing anything.”
AJ spread his hands. “What can we do? It’s a complete stand-off, as far as I can see. Faisal’s slaughtering birds on some very choice grouse moor with our beloved Prince even as we speak.”
“There must be something. Where is he selling all this gas?”
An awkward silence ensued. A.J. Poulson seemed to have something in his eye. “Well, to us, actually.”
“I must have misheard you,” the under-secretary said slowly: “For a moment I thought you said ‘to us’.
A.J. coughed. “Auchterwootie Refinery is just eighty miles south of Aga. He gets an excellent price, and the trip for the tankers is so short they can run a shuttle service. It works very well.”
The under-secretary looked as though he was about to explode.
“Well, it’s not our refinery;” A.J. defended. “It belongs to Swell PB. We can’t stop them.”
There was a considerable interval while the under-secretary recovered from this piece of information. At last he said: “Do you have any idea – any idea – how ridiculous this makes us look?”
“Absolutely, under-secretary. The King of Flaberri is having a bit of joke, I think, at our expense. Whenever I put in a call to suggest a solution I get the distinct impression he’s laughing at me. Usually he limits himself to one-sentence answers, and the sentence almost always includes the words ‘British Aerospace’.”
“You know the PM’s all for taking the gloves off and sending in a couple of battalions? This Parfitt fellow wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on, now would he?”
“Oh, come on!”
“Parfitt claims he has documentary evidence that Aga was not included in the Act of Union. He says the last people to take up residence there were the Danes, in about 740 AD. The island’s not part of any of the recognised groups, it’s never been named anywhere; and, at thirty miles, it’s outside British territorial waters.”
“That would stand up? I mean, legally?”
“Parfitt is ready to test it in the courts. The problem is, there’s just an outside chance that the European Court might uphold it. Then we really would be in the soup. Parfitt did come up with one solution.”
“A pipeline. It would get us over the natural gas issue. The trouble there being, Parfitt wants a lot of dosh for it, and he has no intention of relinquishing his sovereignty claim. He’s a curious chap,” A.J. mused; “He has friends in The City who are doing very well out of this, but I would like to know what he’s after. I don’t think it’s just the money.”
“And a pipeline’s the best we can offer? The PM is absolutely hopping about this, A.J., and your entire department is bankrupt of ideas?”
Poulson thought for a moment, acutely aware that his apparent lack of a solution was endangering his booking for the first tee at 3pm. “Well, maybe there is a sort of a possibility: it depends rather on just how underhanded you’re prepared to be.”
“Underhanded? Dear boy, this is the Home Office – since when were we anything else?”
“Well then,” A.J. picked up the telephone; “Let’s see what we can do.”
Some days elapsed before this interview at the Home Office could bear fruit. The fruit concerned, in the person of one Willoughby Lightfoot, had required transport from inaccessible foreign parts where he was found deep in some allegedly impenetrable jungle, half-way across an uncrossable swamp. Willoughby was not too upset by the call to his mobile phone – after all, the crocodile he was wrestling at the time was, as crocodiles go, too small for his purposes.
In London, Lightfoot needed a day or two – to be briefed by A.J; to restore his hair, which was long and flaxen, and to manicure his nails. A further twenty-four hours later he reached Scotland, where he made a few enquiries, looked up a few contacts. Now he stood on the foredeck of a local trawler, looking across the one remaining mile of choppy sea which separated him from the Republic of Aga.
“Is he expecting you – the Parfitt man?” a deckhand asked.
“He’s expecting someone.” Willoughby shouted back against the wind. “He’s not expecting me.”
Willoughby Lightfoot entered Aga’s small harbour poised atop the trawler’s bow like a figurehead, his hair flying about his face, his startlingly blue eyes focussed upon the little welcoming committee gathered on the quay. A long leather coat streamed behind him in the evening breeze.
His reception, six strong, fell way below his own exacting standards. In declaring Aga a Republic, Julian had needed security guards for just such purposes as these, recruited from those places on the mainland with the highest unemployment. Even unemployed men with any self-worth had proved hard to procure – the working conditions were less than desirable, the pay wasn’t desirable at all. Finally, Julian had approached a hostel for the homeless in Glasgow, discovering those who would consider anything if it included a roof to sleep under, regular meals and an unlimited source of booze.
Amongst such as these, Willoughby was Gulliver before the Lilliputians.
“Right, chappies – which way to the boss?” He enquired, assuming Julian would not be one of the ravaged creatures who accosted him.
“I need ye’re paasspoort!” said a slightly bent man with a hawk nose and a drip.
“Fine.” Willoughby produced it from his shoulder bag. “Now,” he said, watching the document disappear into the folds of the bent man’s uniform; “which way?”
“No’ so fast.” A stout Glaswegian with an astonishing lack of neck chided him. “There’s procedures.”
“Right-ho. Proceed away! What shall we do next?”
“The strip search.”
If, at this point, Willoughby began to regret that he had made this appointment with Parfitt as a diplomat from the Home Office, he did not show it. Instead, he regarded the little group of security guards with a look of amusement.
“Oh, you silly boys!” He chided them gently. “Why didn’t you just ask? Now – who wants to be first?”
© Frederick Anderson 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.