Just back from several idle days at his aunt's in the north of Stollen, we eavesdrop on a snippet of conversation between Grand Duke Irwin-Amadeus II and his trusty English manservant hives. . .
Hives: (Enters the drawing room, carrying a tray with a pot of hot tea, toast, and a large helping of thick slice Scottish orange marmalade atop it) Your breakfast, Sir.
Irwin-Amadeus: (Gazing wistfully through picture window onto frosty palace topiary in the garden beyond). Ah, there you are, Hives. Were you able to scare up some of that delicious marmalade you brought back with you from your last journey home?
H: Yes, Sir. Shall I place your breakfast on the table here, Sir, or on the harpsichord over by the window, Sir?
IA: There on the table is fine, Hives. Thank you (Continues ruminating through window).
H: Will there be anything else, Sir?
IA: No, Hives, no. Thank you (pauses). Oh, dash it all! If things weren't troubling enough already with Princess Antonia of Zichenau, those vile Stagonians, and all of that Sawmill business, now there has been a baby left in a hamper on the doorstep of the palace this morning.
H: Yes, Sir. I had heard something to that effect early today, Sir.
IA: (Sits down to table and tucks into tea and toast. Speaks after a pregnant pause) Blast it, Hives! What's it all mean? I mean, what in the world am I supposed to do with a baby, when I have a grand duchy to defend? I've spent all my time trying to avoid marriage and children after all. That's what all the feigned madness in the lobster costume was about two summers ago.
H: It does seem to pose a most interesting question, Sir.
IA: (Wipes crumbs from mouth with monogramed grand ducal napkin and turns to address Hives directly) Oh, come now, Hives. Stollen is threatened not only by the Electorate of Zichenau and the Kingdom of Stagonia, but now there is the possibility that Prussia might be persuaded to enter the "discussion" on their side. And that wouldn't exactly be good for us, now would it? Not with what I've heard about old Fritz and those oblique attacks of his at any rate.
H: No, Sir. A similar thought had indeed crossed my mind. More tea, Sir?
IA: Thank you, Hives (Crunches through another mouthful of toast and marmalade). This toast is especially good today, Hives. Damn fine texture, what?
H: I'll inform the kitchen, Sir.
IA: Yes, Hives. Do that. No one knows how to do toast like those young women from up east, along the Russian frontier.
H: (Stifling a resigned yawn) Indeed, Sir.
IA: And the cuirassiers. What about the cuirassiers? They are only just now receiving their uniforms and mounts. I mean, what in the world will we do if Zichenau, Stagonia, and Prussia attempt any funny business this winter before we're ready to march again in the spring? No, Hives. Things do not look good for us right now (Takes another large bite of toast and marmalade).
H: (Clears throat gently) Might I make a small suggestion, Sir?
IA: No, thank you Hives. You know I don't take sugar in my morning tea.
H: No, Sir. My suggestion has to do with the Stollenian situation.
IA: (Somewhat nonplussed) Oh. Why, yes, Hives. Fire away.
H: Well, Sir, it is well known in certain culinary circles that the current Prussian ambassador to Stollen, one Freiherr Heinz von dem Salat, is, what you might call a breakfast connoisseur, Sir.
IA: Now, come, come Hives. What's your point?
H: Well, Sir, I have it on good authority that the ambassador likes his toast well done and. . .
IA: (Interrupts) Yes, Hives. Yes. Many of us like our toast dark brown or black. . .
H: (Interrupts) And he likes it with copious amounts of unsalted butter and thick slice Scottish orange marmalade, Sir.
IA: (Stops. Takes a sip of tea, scalds upper lip, makes a face, and continues) I'm afraid I don't see your point, Hives.
H: As you are no doubt aware, Sir, thick slice Scottish orange marmalade is not found easily here in the Grand Duchy of Stollen, except. . .
IA: (Putting two and two together) Except. . . if it's brought back by those who travel to Great Britain occasionally and return with a crate of the stuff (snaps fingers). Hives! You've done it again! What a brilliant stroke!
IA: (Stands up excitedly) That's it, Hives! Let's invite Freiherr von dem Salat to breakfast tomorrow morning and see if we can't ply him with a few slices of blackened toast slathered with some of that thick slice Scottish orange marmalade that we have in the pantry thanks to you. Send out an invitation to ol' Freiherr Heinz von Funfundfunfzig this morning!
H: As you wish, Sir.
IA: (Bugs eyes out and rubs hands together in a conspiratorial way) Then we can find out what's really going on between all of them. (Lowers voice) You don't think it's anything to do with arranging a marriage between me and one of those dreadful Prussian princesses though, do you Hives? They're such. . . stern girls!
H: I wouldn't hazard a guess, Sir.
IA: (Pacing distractedly back and forth before the picture window) Hives, fetch my walking stick and Alpine hat at once. I have a million things to see to before the Prussian ambassador joins us for breakfast tomorrow morning.
H: (Visibly pales at the mention of the hat). Yes, Sir. And Sir?
IA: Yes, Hives?
H: What shall we do with the baby, Sir?
IA: Oh. Um. Tell Cook to fix it some blackened toast with thick slice orange marmalade and milky tea, and I'll be along directly to sort things out there. Imagine! Leaving a baby on the doorstep of Krankenstadt Palace at the end of October.
H: Perhaps, you could have a tiny Alpine hat custom made for him, Sir.
IA: Oh, don't be silly, Hives! Everyone knows that babies don't wear Alpine hats.
H: Indeed, Sir. . .