Read Spare Online

Authors: The Duke of Sussex Prince Harry

Spare (9 page)

BOOK: Spare
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Of course, family included distance as well. No matter how much you might love someone, you could never cross that chasm between, say, monarch and child. Or Heir and Spare. Physically, but also emotionally. It wasn’t just Willy’s edict about giving him space; the older generation maintained a nearly zero-tolerance prohibition on all physical contact. No hugs, no kisses, no pats. Now and then, maybe a light touching of cheeks…on special occasions.

But in Africa none of this was true. In Africa distance dissolved. All creatures mingled freely. Only the lion walked with his head in the air, only the elephant had an emperor’s strut, and even they weren’t totally aloof. They mingled daily among their subjects. They had no choice. Yes, there was predation and prey, life could be nasty and brutish and short, but to my teenage eyes it all looked like distilled democracy. Utopia.

And that wasn’t even counting the bear hugs and high fives from all the trackers and guides.

On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t the mere closeness of living things that I liked. Maybe it was the mind-boggling number. In a matter of hours I’d gone from a place of aridity, sterility, death, to a wetland of teeming fertility. Maybe that was what I yearned for most of all—life.

Maybe that was the real miracle I found in the Okavango in April 1999.

I don’t think I blinked once that whole week. I don’t think I stopped grinning, even while asleep. Had I been transported back to the Jurassic period, I couldn’t have been more awed—and it wasn’t just
T. rex
es that had me captivated. I loved the littlest creatures too. And the birds. Thanks to Adi, clearly the savviest guide in our group, I began to recognize hooded vultures, cattle egrets, southern carmine bee-eaters, African fish eagles, in flight. Even the bugs were compelling. Adi taught me to really
see
them. Look down, he said, note the different species of beetle, admire the beauty of larvae. Also, appreciate the baroque architecture of termite mounds—the tallest structures built by any animal besides humans.

So much to know, Harry. To appreciate.

Right, Adi.

Whenever I went with him on a wander, whenever we’d come upon a fresh carcass crawling with maggots or wild dogs, whenever we’d stumble on a mountain of elephant dung sprouting mushrooms that looked like the Artful Dodger’s top hat, Adi never cringed.
Circle of life, Harry.

Of all the animals in our midst, Adi said, the most majestic was the water. The Okavango was just another living thing. He’d walked its entire length as a boy, with his father, carrying nothing but bedrolls. He knew the Okavango inside and out, and felt for it something like romantic love. Its surface was a poreless cheek, which he often lightly stroked.

But he also felt for the river a kind of sober awe. Respect. Its innards were death, he said. Hungry crocs, ill-tempered hippos, they were all down there, in the dark, waiting for you to slip up. Hippos killed five hundred people a year; Adi drummed it into my head over and over, and all these years later I can still hear him:
Never go into the dark water, Harry.

One night around the fire, all the guides and trackers discussed the river, shouting stories about riding it, swimming it, boating it, fearing it, everyone talking over each other. I heard it all that night, the mysticism of the river, the sacredness of the river, the weirdness of the river.

Speaking of weirdness…The smell of marijuana wafted on the air.

The stories grew louder, sillier.

I asked if I could try.

Everyone guffawed.
Sod off!

Willy looked at me in horror.

But I wouldn’t back off. I pleaded my case. I was
experienced,
I said.

Heads swung round.
Oh really?

Henners and I had recently pinched two six-packs of Smirnoff Ice and drunk them till we passed out, I boasted. Plus, Tiggy always let me have a nip of her flask on stalking trips. (Sloe gin, she was never without it.) I thought it best to leave out the full breadth of my experience.

The adults exchanged sly glances. One shrugged, rolled a new joint, passed it to me.

I took a puff. Coughed, retched. African weed was much harsher than Eton weed. And the high was less too.

But at least I was a man.

No. I was still a wee baby.

The “joint” was just fresh basil wrapped in a bit of filthy rolling paper.

25.

Hugh and Emilie
were old friends of Pa’s. They lived in Norfolk, and we often went to visit them for a week or two, during school holidays and summers. They had four sons with whom Willy and I were always thrown together, like pups into a bunch of pit bulls.

We played games. One day Hide and Seek, the next Capture the Flag. But whatever the game it was always an excuse for a massive scrap, and whatever the scrap, there were no winners because there were no rules. Hair-pulling, eye-gouging, arm-twisting, sleeper holds, all was fair in love and war and at Hugh and Emilie’s country house.

As the youngest and smallest I always took the brunt. But I also did the most escalating, the most asking for it, so I deserved everything I got. Black eye, violet welt, puffed lip, I didn’t mind. On the contrary. Maybe I wanted to look tough. Maybe I just wanted to feel
something
. Whatever my motivation, my simple philosophy when it came to scrapping was: More, please.

The six of us cloaked our pretend battles in historic names. Hugh and Emilie’s house would often be converted into Waterloo, the Somme, Rorke’s Drift. I can see us charging each other, screaming:
Zulu!

Battle lines were often blood lines, though not always. It wasn’t always Windsor versus Others. We’d mix and match. Sometimes I was fighting alongside Willy, sometimes against. No matter the alliances, though, it often happened that one or two of Hugh and Emilie’s boys would turn and set upon Willy. I’d hear him crying out for help and down would come the red mist, like a blood vessel bursting behind my eyes. I’d lose all control, all ability to focus on anything but family, country, tribe, and hurl myself at someone, everyone. Kicking, punching, strangling, taking out legs.

Hugh and Emilie’s boys couldn’t deal with that. There
was
no dealing with it.

Get him off, he’s mad!

I don’t know how effective or skilled a fighter I was. But I always succeeded in providing enough diversion for Willy to get away. He’d check his injuries, wipe his nose, then jump straight back in. When the scrap finally ended for good, when we hobbled away together, I always felt such love for him, and I sensed love in return, but also some embarrassment. I was half Willy’s size, half his weight. I was the younger brother: he was supposed to save me, not the other way around.

Over time the scraps became more pitched. Small-arms fire was introduced. We’d hurl Roman candles at each other, make rocket launchers from golf-ball tubes, stage night battles with two of us defending a stone pillbox in the middle of an open field. I can still smell the smoke and hear the hiss as a projectile rocketed towards a victim, whose only armor would be a puffer jacket, some wool mittens, maybe some ski goggles, though often not.

Our arms race accelerated. As they do. We began to use BB guns. At close range. How was no one maimed? How did no one lose an eye?

One day all six of us were walking in the woods near their house, looking for squirrels and pigeons to cull. There was an old army Land Rover. Willy and the boys smiled.

Harold, jump in, drive away, and we’ll shoot you.

With what?

Shotgun.

No, thanks.

We’re loading. Either get in and drive or we shoot you right here.

I jumped in, drove away.

Moments later,
bang.
Buckshot rattling off the back.

I cackled and hit the accelerator.

Somewhere on their estate was a construction site. (Hugh and Emilie were
building a new house.) This became the setting for possibly our fiercest battle. It was around dusk. One brother was in the shell of the new house, taking heavy fire. When he retreated we bombarded him with rockets.

And then…he was gone.

Where’s Nick?

We shone a torch. No Nick.

We marched forward, steadily, came upon a giant hole in the ground, almost like a square well, alongside the construction site. We peered over the edge and shone the torch down. Far below, lying on his back, Nick was moaning. Damned lucky to be alive, we all agreed.

What a great opportunity, we said.

We lit some firecrackers, big ones, and dropped them down into the pit.

26.

When there were no
other boys around, no other common enemies, Willy and I would turn on each other.

It happened most often in the back seat while Pa drove us somewhere. A country house, say. Or a salmon stream. Once, in Scotland, on the way to the River Spey, we started scuffling, and soon were in a full scrap, rolling back and forth, trading blows.

Pa swerved to the side of the road, shouted at Willy to get out.

Me? Why me?

Pa didn’t feel the need to explain.
Out.

Willy turned to me, furious. He felt I got away with everything. He stepped out of the car, stomped to the backup car with all the bodyguards, strapped himself in. (We always wore seatbelts after Mummy’s disappearance.) The convoy resumed.

Now and then I peered out the back window.

Behind us, I could just make out the future King of England, plotting his revenge.

27.

The first time I killed
anything, Tiggy said:
Well done, darling!

She dipped her long, slender fingers into the rabbit’s body, under the
flap of smashed fur, scooped out a dollop of blood and smeared it tenderly across my forehead, down my cheeks and nose.
Now
, she said, in her throaty voice,
you are blooded
.

Blooding—a tradition from the ages. A show of respect for the slain, an act of communion by the slayer. Also, a way to mark the crossing from boyhood into…not manhood. No, not that. But something close.

And so, notwithstanding my hairless torso and chirpy voice, I considered myself, post-blooding, to be a full-fledged stalker. But around my fifteenth birthday I was informed that I’d be undertaking the true stalker initiation.

Red deer.

It happened at Balmoral. Early morning, fog on the hills, mist in the hollows. My guide, Sandy, was a thousand years old. He looked as if he’d stalked mastodons. Proper old-school, that was how Willy and I described him and other such gents. Sandy talked old-school, smelt old-school, and definitely dressed old-school. Faded camo jacket over ragged green sweaters, Balmoral tweed plus fours, socks covered with burrs, Gore-Tex walking boots. On his head was a classic tweed flat cap, thrice my age, browned by eons of sweat.

I crept beside him through the heather, through the bog, all morning long. My stag appeared ahead. Inching closer, ever closer, we finally stopped and watched the stag munch some dry grass. Sandy made sure we were still downwind.

Now he pointed at me, pointed at my rifle. Time.

He rolled away, giving me space.

He raised his binoculars. I could hear his rattly breath as I took slow aim, squeezed the trigger. One sharp, thunderous crack. Then, silence.

We stood, walked forward. When we reached the stag I was relieved. Its eyes were already cloudy. The worry was always that you’d merely cause a flesh wound and send the poor animal dashing into the woods to suffer alone for hours. As its eyes turned more and more opaque, Sandy knelt before it, took out his gleaming knife, bled it from the neck and slit open the belly. He motioned for me to kneel. I knelt.

I thought we were going to pray.

Sandy snapped at me:
Closer!

I knelt closer, close enough to smell Sandy’s armpits. He placed a hand gently behind my neck, and now I thought he was going to hug me, congratulate me.
Atta boy.
Instead he pushed my head inside the carcass.

I tried to pull away, but Sandy pushed me deeper. I was shocked by his insane strength. And by the infernal smell. My breakfast jumped up from my
stomach.
Oh please oh please do not let me vomit inside a stag carcass.
After a minute I couldn’t smell anything, because I couldn’t breathe. My nose and mouth were full of blood, guts, and a deep, upsetting warmth.

Well, I thought, so this is death. The ultimate blooding.

Not what I’d imagined.

I went limp. Bye, all.

Sandy pulled me out.

I filled my lungs with fresh morning air. I started to wipe my face, which was dripping, but Sandy grabbed my hand.
Nae, lad, nae.

What?

Let it dry, lad! Let it dry!

We radioed back to the soldiers in the valley. Horses were sent. While waiting, we got down to work, gave the stag a full gralloching, the Old Scottish word for disemboweling. We removed the stomach, scattered the junky bits on the hillside for hawks and buzzards, carved out the liver and heart, snipped the penis, careful not to pop the cord, which would douse you with urine, a stench that ten Highland baths wouldn’t cleanse.

The horses arrived. We slung our gralloched stag across a white drum stallion, sent it off to the larder, then walked shoulder to shoulder back to the castle.

As my face dried, as my stomach settled, I felt swelling pride. I’d been good to that stag, as I’d been taught. One shot, clean through the heart. Besides being painless, the instant kill had preserved the meat. Had I merely wounded him, or let him get a glimpse of us, his heart would’ve raced, his blood would’ve filled with adrenaline, his steaks and fillets would’ve been inedible. This blood on my face contained no adrenaline, a credit to my marksmanship.

I’d also been good to Nature. Managing their numbers meant saving the deer population as a whole, ensuring they’d have enough food for winter.

Finally, I’d been good to the community. A big stag in the larder meant plenty of good meat for those living around Balmoral.

BOOK: Spare
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Llamada para el muerto by John Le Carré
Redeeming by Gabrielle Demonico
Siren's Storm by Lisa Papademetriou
Breve historia de la Argentina by José Luis Romero
Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer
My Secret to Tell by Natalie D. Richards