“It was about two months before my service was up. They’d kept me far from anything that resembled action—it was like a garden party. You know how it is.”
Nicholas explained this to me. “High-profile target”—that’s what he and his brother were. Although their training was the same as the other soldiers’, when they deployed they received special assignments, because they were under a special threat. Because the princes would make a very shiny trophy.
“And then one day, the Dark Suits said they had a morale mission—a publicity opportunity. They wanted me to visit an outpost, still in the safe zone, but outside the main installation. There was a group of men who’d been there for a while—and they needed a boost. A visit from their prince. A reward for service well done.”
Henry scrapes his teeth across his lip—almost biting.
“We drove out and I met them, about fifteen in all. They were good blokes. One was like a crusty old bulldog—he wanted to set me up with his granddaughter. Another…he was only eighteen…”
Tears swell in Henry’s eyes and his voice bends, then breaks.
“He’d never kissed a girl. And he was looking forward to getting back home, to change that.”
He scrubs at his face, rubbing the tears into his skin.
“So I told some jokes, made them laugh. We took a bunch of photographs and then we headed back out. We were on the road maybe…seven minutes…when the first rockets came in. I told the driver to turn around, to go back, but he wouldn’t listen to me. What’s the point of all this if they don’t listen?” he asks in a tortured voice.
“I punched the lad next to me, crawled over his lap and rolled out of the Humvee. And I ran…” Henry chokes on a sob. “I swear, Nicholas, I ran as hard as I could. But when I got there—there was nothing left. It was just…pieces.”
I cover my mouth with my hand and I’m crying with him.
Henry gives a long, sniffling inhale, wiping at his face again.
“And I can’t get past it. Maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe it should eat at me bit by bit.” He looks at Nicholas and his voice turns bitter. “Those men died because of me. They died for a photo op.”
At first, Nicholas doesn’t say anything. He gazes at his brother with a cauldron of feelings swirling across his face. And then he stands.
And his voice—that voice—is comforting, but firm. Demanding to be heeded.
“There are two men outside this door who would die for you. A hundred at the palace, thousands across the city—they would all die for you or me. For what we represent. That’s our burden, the payment for the lives we get to lead. You can’t change it. All you can do is honor those men, Henry. Try to—”
“Don’t tell me to live for them!” Henry lashes out. “It’s stupid—they’re dead! I’ll go mad if you say it.”
“I’m not going to say it,” Nicholas tells him softly. “We can’t live for them. All we can do is try to be men worth dying for. We are who we are—when you die, your headstone will read ‘Henry, Prince of Wessco.’ And if you had gotten yourself killed tonight it would’ve said, ‘Henry, Prince of Wessco—he fell off a fucking boat.’ And it all would’ve been for nothing.”
Nicholas moves closer, crouching down to look into his brother’s eyes.
“There are so few people in the world who have the chance and the power to change it. But we can, Henry. So if you pick yourself up and do something amazing with your life, then those men will have died for something amazing. That’s all we can do.”
They both fall silent. Henry seems calmer, mulling over Nicholas’s words.
“Have you contacted the families?” I ask gently. “Maybe…maybe it would help you to help them. Give them support, see how they are financially—”
“I’m not going to throw money at them. That’s crass.” Henry shakes his head.
“You only say that because you have money,” I tell him. “When you’re struggling—it’s not crass at all, but a blessing. And I don’t just mean the money. You could talk to them…become a friend…maybe start to fill the space they left behind. Not because you’re a prince, but because you’re a pretty cool guy.”
Henry thinks about that a moment. Sniffling and drying his cheeks.
“I am pretty cool.”
And I laugh. My eyes are still wet, but I laugh. Nicholas and Henry do, too.
Then Nicholas sits on the bed and leans forward—pulling his little brother tight into his arms. Just like that moment in the video, on the awful day of their parents’ funeral.
Just like that day, Nicholas tells him that it’s all going to be all right.
THE NEXT WEEK, there’s a polo match Henry and I are expected to play in. He begs off, on physician’s orders—because of his recent concussion. My grandmother doesn’t give him a hint of shit about the “ship incident” even though it’s been reported in the press as “Wild, Drunk Prince Henry At It Again.” I think she senses he’s struggling with something and that, playing or not, he’s not up to a public appearance at a polo match.
I, on the other hand, have no reason to get out of it. And I don’t mind so much. Polo is a challenging game—a busy game—strangely relaxing since you don’t have time to think about anything else. Though it’s sometimes called the game of kings, way back in the day it was used to train cavalry, because in order to play well, controlling the horse has to be automatic, second nature.