Bish! A purple blob thing splatters over the screen. Bash! A green blob thing splotters. Bosh! A black blob splooters. It’s designed to make me want to wipe the screen clean but I’ve learned to resist it. “You could just ground me?” I'm sat on the sofa in Dad's office with my feet up. Using my foot I play with the threadbare bit on the arm. Bosh. “Yes, a black one! It's what normal parents do, ground their children.” I grin and shoot at another green one. “You could even confine me to my bedroom for a few days.” Gorse readjusts his position on my shoulder and goes back to snoring.
“No chance.” Dad looks up. He's working at his desk. “You're not getting out of tonight's banquet. Your duty as a prince requires you to be there.” He goes back to signing his name over and over again in a desperate and futile attempt to reduce the paper mountain in his in box. It's a daily chore for a king.
“Whatever. Don't see why you need me there. It will all go as planned without me. Fantastic – I squished the lot.” I send it off in a cask to ferment in the cellar. “I'm just the spare to your other heirs… fifth, I think.” There's a break between levels so I count on my fingers. “Socrates, the boy wonder; Evelyn, the witch troll and the sprogs Qing, Daisy then the screw up… yep fifth. It's official I'm surplus to requirements.”
“Don't be rude about your sister and my grandchildren.” Pulling his tie out from the collar of his shirt, Dad stands up and walks round his vast desk. Although the furniture in his office is polished wood, it's a long time since anyone gave it a good polish. He rolls up his tie and shoves it in his pocket. “Angus, put that thing away. You're in trouble.” With a swift move that would have seen me flat on my backside, he unbuttons his soft leather belt and removes his trousers. "Big trouble."
I ignore him and start on the next level. Nut cracking. The sound of the nuts cracking makes me wince, it reminds me of when I broke my arm last year.
“Angus...” His voice has an edge to it. He unbuttons his bright white shirt. “Put that away. I... I mean we have to talk about your behaviour today.”
“I just needed to escape you know. Have a piss without the world watching.”
He grabs my PC POCKET out of my hand before I have time to protest. For all his mild mannered appearance he is an accomplished soldier and stronger than he looks. “Sit up.” In just his boxers with his shirt hanging open to reveal his hairy chest he sits on the coffee table. “You can't keep escaping your warriors. It's not safe especially at the moment.” He slaps my legs. It stings.
Gorse growls at him.
“It just gets... claustrophobic... you know.”
“I understand that. I told you to sit up. You need to stop defying me, young man.”
“Or what?” I swing my legs round and sit looking down at my hands which are in my lap. “You'll have me beaten?”
“Don't be ridiculous. Although the nation seems to think a bit of corporal punishment is what you need, I know we all suffered enough of that at the hands of your grandfather. There's nothing I can, in all conscience, dish out that you haven't experienced far worse of.” He grabs my knee in what is meant to be an affectionate move. “Angus, son, with the delegates here for the trade talks you're in danger. You'd make a valuable hostage. Don't have me in a position where I have to choose between you and twenty million other people.”
“If I go into hospital who will care for Gorse?” Ursula asks.
Gorse growls and bares his teeth at me.
I swallow, a lot. “He hates me.”
“He doesn't hate you. You'd be missing an eye and bleeding by now if he hated you.” She laughs at me.
“He's certainly a much better guard than the warriors Dad assigns me.” I check my watch. I’ve not got long until my GPS chip will go back to telling those warriors exactly where I am.
Her laughter kicks off another round of coughing, even worse than the ones before.
The fact is she needs hospital and the creature needs taking care of. “I'll take him. I'd better go.”
“Thanks. Why do they call you the Royal Oaf?” She's counting the notes I’ve given her. “You seem nice and not overly oafish.”
“Cos I killed my mother when I was born.” It's the only explanation I have. The media have hated me all my life and it feels like they’ve never run a positive story on me.
“Go with Angus,” she addresses Gorse.
I stand up. My backpack gets strapped on my back and I tuck my skateboard under my arm. “Come on Gorse. I have to be back at the palace before the block I put on my GPS chip fails.”
“Go with Angus.” Ursula gives Gorse a small push in my direction.
I balance on the board and push off.
Gorse follows me as I head for the smells, sights and sounds of the bustling Seatown market. Hot dust, barbecuing meat and ginger tea fill the air. The smell of cooking meat turns my stomach. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was a small boy and refused to eat meat. I count out enough Nacls to buy Gorse some raw chicken and myself a seaberry and nut chocolate bar. Gorse slurps the chicken in my ear.
“Hey Not Prince Angus.” A filthy young boy, a bag of bones, winks. He accosts me every time he sees me. “That looks delish.”
It doesn’t take much of his blackmailing eyes for me to hand over the bar to him.. “Like I told you before...”
“Yeah I know, I know he's shorter and his hair is not as curly. Wouldn't want me telling the blue foot over there though would ya.” He indicates the police officer going into the building across the road.
“That's all I got. Now git or I'll call the blue foot myself.” The kid runs when I step towards him, making out I’m going to slap him. I wouldn’t but he doesn’t know that.
He runs off. I sigh. Time is running out and I have to be back at the palace shortly so I strap my board to my rucksack and stand in line for the bus. There's only two or three people in the queue outside the cinema. A young girl in a summer dress, light blue with flowers, sits on the steps. She keeps checking her watch and looking around. I'm bored and I hate being so I take out my PC POCKET to pay Bish-Bash-Bosh.
Bish, I hit a black berry and Bosh a green berry now I need a purple… the blobby things splashes on the screen. The bus arrives and I get on. Seatown did away with real bus drivers years ago; the system is completely automated. I drop my remaining Nacls into the machine and take the ticket it dispenses. The bus is empty and I sit by myself next to the window. The girl who was sitting on the steps has gone. I wonder if she has gone inside or if she got fed up of waiting and left.
As much as I want to escape my life, a soft mattress, sufficient food and servants tending to my every need are more effective at keeping me prisoner than steel and concrete. One rumble of the stomach or a second lying on a pavement and I'd go running home. I focus on squishing berries on the PC POCKET and try to forget I still have to face my dad when I get back to the palace.
“I'm Angus.” I dump my school bag on the ground opposite her. With my back against the black granite wall of the Jing-Ore Towers, I sink into a sitting position on the damp ground and lay my skateboard across my knees. I've managed to avoid the suspicious and smelly puddles either side of me.
Cough. Cough. Cough. Her body is wracked and the wolf-squirrel is sent airborne. Bright green phlegm comes from her mouth and I give her my handkerchief. She eventually stops.
“You need to see a doctor.”
She examines the insignia on my handkerchief. “Can't afford one.”
“We can help each other. I'll give you the contents of my wallet if you give me the change in your purse so I can get the bus home? I've enough for a reasonable hospital stay.” I lean to the side and take my wallet out of my jeans pocket. Thoughtless as always, I brandish it but then remember her situation and try to be more discreet.
“They'd think I'd stole it, Your Highness.”
“Angus, please, I'll write you a letter.”
“You're the 'Royal Oaf' the selfish one nobody likes. Why would you help me?” On her shoulder, Gorse sneers, bares his teeth and growls at me. The woman's eyes are suspicious and she glares at me. “They say you killed your mother and love nobody but yourself and trample on all of us.”
I shrug. “Not everything in the media is true.” In an attempt to win her confidence I remove my hood and lower the pollution mask. From my bag I take a pad, a pen, a lighter and sealing wax. My skateboard makes a useful table. “Look my dad gives me these massive denomination notes, because he thinks it'll stop me escaping because the shopkeepers outside of the Royal Quarter don't carry enough money to change them. If I can use your change instead it'll help me out. Dad doesn't know what a bus is but someone told him I need coins to use one so he won't give me any. This is entirely selfish.”
“Your dad's plan is working well.” Her voice drips with sarcasm. She coughs a little and spits up phlegm into her… I mean my handkerchief. Her chest heaves and she makes a funny wheezing noise but she doesn't cough again. Gorse glares at me. “I really can't take your money.”
“Yes you can.” I write on the pad:
To Whomever it May Concern
I have given …
“What's your full name?”
“I don't tell anyone my name.” She moves the blanket and tucks herself in.
“Look, you're about to find out mine and nothing can be that embarrassing… I need it for the letter.”
So she can see me she pushes the blanket down further. “Huh?”
“I've got enough names to populate an entire boys school. Yours can't be that bad”
She sits up and laughs a little. The laughing kicks off another epic coughing fit. The phlegm stinks. Smells like the rubbish bins either side of her. I wait for her to finish and to settle.
With my pen poised, I say, “Name?”
“Ursula. Ursula Phinn.”
“That's the surname of my father's valet. Any relation?”
“Don't think so.” She looks suspicious. Although she doesn't look like a foreigner if she isn't from round here then she will be deported. Foreign people have to have my father's special permission to live in the city.
“I won't tell anyone. Right...”
...I have gifted four hundred Brine in four one hundred Brine notes to Ursula Phinn to do with as she…
“That's too much.” She moves forward so she can see what I am writing. Clearly, she can read upside down.
“I won't miss it.” The sentence is crass but it's true. I get that much every few weeks and most of the time I don't know how to spend it. A present for my girlfriend, t-shirts with my favourite band, The Skuas, on them and electronic bits and pieces don't come close to what my father gives me.
...to do with as she please. If she requires more medical care please contact Dr Falmouth at Seatown General and request he contact myself.
His Royal Highness, Prince Angus Athen Thomas Frederick Lukas Marine Lorenzo of Covesea Island and Associated Territories.
“See I told you. My name is way worse than yours.”
She laughs and her body braces. I pause to see if she's going to cough again but she doesn't. Her body and expression relaxes and she lets out a big breath.
I watch the lighter flame melt the wax; it drops into a puddle on the paper. My falcon ring provides the official seal.
I'm a great big geek in a great big glass jar. Twenty million or more people spend their days staring at me through the lens of the media. There are days the lid is on so tight I am suffocating but the only way to escape permanently is to shatter my entire world.
The wheels of my skateboard grind on the pavement. Dad's subjects, the commuters on the way to work and school are skittles and I'm the ball, according to the newspapers all of them hate me anyway. Nothing I do will ever ingratiate me with them so why try? A man in a pinstripe suit gets out of my way, sticking a finger up as he goes. I return the gesture.
"Read all about it. The end of the world is nigh!" a fellow redhead, a religious type in black, yells. I aim for him and laugh as he ducks behind a street food stand. The frying doughnuts smell so good. Kind of wish I'd had breakfast now. Like an automatic weapon stuck on fire the religious type aims a string of curse words that would make a lesser man than myself blush. His sky god damns me to eternal torment -- apparently.
"He's not real you know," I shout back at him.
The doughnut flipper in his candy striped hat grins at me and waves his spatula. He's not much older than me and his acne has me thinking pizza might be good. Really should have had breakfast.
At the corner is a couple, displaying a disgusting amount of public affection. Seriously, the odd kiss is fine but get your hands out her skirt. I rumble past and the women spring apart, muttering and glaring.
"Get a room!"
They raise a fist at my helpful suggestion.
If I remove my pollution mask and black hood they'd all fall to the ground and declare undying fealty to His Royal Highness Prince Angus of Covesea Island and associated territories. Embarrassing for me especially as I know what they really think of me. Satirists don't call me "The Royal Oaf" for nothing.
“Oy!” a security guard starched, suited and booted yells at me from his position in front of the automated revolving doors of Jing-Ore Electrical Company Towers. Crap! He's making chase. I'm not ready to be caught and returned to the prison of the palace, so I put on a spurt and pray to the Universal Father, in whom I do not believe, that I don't fall off. Dad'll be volcanic enough when he discovers I've slipped my guards. He'll fully erupt if I end up in hospital – again.
Between the Jing-Ore Towers and the glass-and-steel skyscraper of the Vesta Automated Mining Company is a narrow alleyway and I manoeuvre down it. I halt the board and get off. I've always wanted to be able to kick it up and catch it but last time I knocked myself out trying. There's evidence of unwashed bodies sleeping here on a regular basis, its seeped into the walls and the discarded cardboard boxes; stale urine; beer soaked vomit and another smell I can't identify which is making my eyes water. Two large bins filled with empty metal canisters will give me a hiding place until the security guard has given up. A body wrapped in a filthy thick plaid blanket already occupies the space in spite of the hot weather it's shivering. Next to it is a cup of Nacl coins which would make getting home easier.
Beneath the folds of the cloth is movement and before I can take my wallet out to exchange the coins for a substantial note I'm assaulted by a tiny wolf-squirrel barking and flapping its leathery wings in my face. The tiny thing is eyeing up my entire six-feet-five frame as though it would make a nice hors d'oeuvres and I'm forced to shield my eyes from its attack before I lose one.
“Gorse, stop that.” A grimy, but attractive face appears from beneath the blanket. “Come here.” The creature retreats to her shoulder and glares at me. She wipes her face with a filthy, shaking arm and squints at me. “Who are you?”
CHAPTER ONE - PART TWO
A night of blood, mayhem and magic thrust Prince Angus, the youngest son of the king, onto the throne of Covesea Island. He's never wanted to be king. Social media calls King Angus a clown. His subjects don't rate his ability to lead them in the trade negotiations with one of the planet's superpowers.