Vineyard – a picture that came into my inbox hot on the heels of KL Caley’s #writephoto notification. And I was so taken with it that I emailed the senders asking for permission to use it. So I have. Sorry, KL.

Winbirri wines is an award winning English winery. You didn’t expect that combination of words, I’m sure. But it’s true, and I am completely hooked on their lovely wines. My favourite is the Solaris white, although the Bacchus is also delicious. The Signature red is delicious, and I had it with my Christmas dinner. And I’ve even had the sparkling wine in previous years (my brother approved, so that’s great), and the rosé, which I enjoy in summer. If you’re in Norfolk, you might be able to fit in a wine tour (and possibly a tasting, too!) And I’m grateful for their permission to use the photo, which came with their newsletter.

My story features my heroes Fred (a former king of Castle Marsh) and his twin, George (an inventor), who are visiting King Hunston, who has the castle up the coast at Wash. My Norfolk writing roots are showing! This story is just over 1000 words.

lines of low vine plants, strung together with retaining wire, on a frosty winters day (c) Winbirri, Surlingham, Norfolk

Vineyard

“This is a very strange forest,” Fred remarked as he and George walked down between the lines.

“It’s definitely planted,” George said, eyeing the straight lines. 

He stopped to look more closely at the trees. Some were quite old. He wondered how King Hunston had managed to have such an interesting plantation, yet he’d never seen it before. It obviously had been growing for many years.

“This row has younger trees. Look, they are half the girth of the row we’ve just come down.” Fred looked around.

George paused, thinking about rows and files, and wondering whether it would irritate Fred if he pointed out the difference. 

“Of course, I should call them files.” Fred added. “The ones across should be rows.” 

George smirked. “Have you counted them yet?”

“I was just starting—oh bother, I’ve forgotten where I was.” Fred stopped and looked back, counting from the top of the line towards where they stood, then continuing on along towards the hedge at the far end. 

George stretched up and examined the wires attaching each tree in the file to its neighbours. Every so often there appeared to be another wire crossing over to the next line. “I wonder…”

“One hundred and sixty,” Fred announced. “And fifty rows.”

“I think that might be one hundred and sixty rows and fifty files.” George hurried on before Fred could be miffed: “Do you think it’s some sort of radio mast?”

“Why would Hunston want a radio mast this big?”

“I have no idea, but we had to have a very tall radio mast to get the communications with Hattan to work. Reliably, at any rate.”

“Where would it be sending signals to?”

“Or receiving them from. You only need the point source to send them.”

“True.” Fred turned down the next file, and ducked under one of the wires crossing the lines. “They aren’t dead, though, look, there’s the start of a bud here.”

“Well, I hope it doesn’t get frosted off. Must be hardy enough for the eastern winds.”

“It’s been here long enough to have got through several winters. Why haven’t we seen it before? I don’t understand. Ah, there’s Hunston.”

The owner of the forest had entered through the same gate they had. It was just a respite for Fred and Hunston, since he was hosting the Realms Council the next day, and his guests were arriving by every means of transport possible. Given the icy weather, Fred and George had opted to come by carriage rather than fly. Fred had refused to read George’s report on his newest invention to the council members, so George would do it himself, to answer the inevitable questions.

They met Hunston halfway up the line.

Hunston sighed. “Well, that’s the northern contingent settled in. Dylan wanted to come out and meet you but I persuaded him to have afternoon tea with the rest. They’d missed lunch, of course.”

“I’m impressed you got them all to come. Dylan’s been to Castle Marsh, of course, but none of the rest.” Fred smiled, thinking of Dylan’s visits.

“Well, he’s keen to see you, and I think Percy would love to visit. What do you think of it?” Hunston waved his hand around the forest, just brushing over the top of the wires.

“It’s very impressive,” Fred said.

“And must have been growing for some time, although I’ve not noticed it when flying in,” George added.

“You probably swing around the woods over there if you’re coming in to land on the water,” Hunston said. He looked around proudly. “Of course, it’s just neat and tidy now. But you should see it in summer. Even better, come and see it in October when we do the harvest.”

“Harvest?” Fred and George chorused.

“Of course. It’s great fun. I’m surprised I didn’t involve you in previous years. Takes a lot of people-power.”

“I wondered where the power came from. So It grows like this all year, and then it all gets collected in October?” George confirmed.

“Yes, that’s right. Well, I suppose we’d better start back. Coming?”

Fred and George followed their host, looking carefully at the trees and the wires as they left. They frowned at each other as they reached the gate.

They spoke no more of the strange forest until later that evening, when they retired for the night after the first session with all the leaders of the castles around the Realms. It used to be the Kings Council, with kings and lords attending, but now there were mostly elected leaders in charge. Some of the former kings were elected leaders, like Fred and Percy. Dylan’s hereditary title of Laird of the Isles had continued, with the support of all the Scottish lairds, who had been elected for centuries.

Dylan popped his head around the door as they started chatting. “Hello, can I come in?”

“Of course. Want a nightcap?” A jug of hot espressimenta steamed on the bedside table.

“No, I’m fine. I just wanted to know, what did you think of the vineyard?”

“The what?”

“The vineyard. Hunston said you went to inspect it. I’m not sure I’m going to have time tomorrow to see it. Early dark and all that.”

Fred felt his cheeks start to warm. George’s eyebrows had risen into his hairline.

“The vineyard, of course.” Fred poured a cup of espressimenta for George and handed it to him. “Well, it was very impressive. Row upon row of carefully tended, er, vines. They look just like small trees at this time of year, but I think it must be amazing in October when all the fruit is harvested.”

“Do you think we could grow them in the Isles?”

“Well, the season might be too short up north.” Fred pondered aloud.

“Then again, it’s warmer on the west coast than it would be here,” George added. “Why not ask Hunston for half a dozen plants to see if you can find a good place to grow them, and take it from there if they survive.”

Fred nodded. “Good idea.”

“Great idea, thanks, George. I’ll see you tomorrow then.” He bounced off, clicking the door shut behind him.

“Such a bright spark.” Fred smiled at his characteristic departure.

“Bright spark. Yes. And if the vines don’t grow, maybe he could just use them as a radio mast.”

George said it with a straight face. But then they both dissolved into giggles, like they did when they were youngsters.

© J M Pett 2023

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Vineyard | not #writephoto Flash Fiction
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