Long ago, before they sold the water, two dukes shared a beautiful wooded valley in the mountain kingdom of Stupi. That is to say, their lands touched the opposite sides of the stream at the bottom of the valley, for they certainly did not share their land with each other in the way that two children might share the use of a ball. Duke Valterre and Duke Gigione held nothing in common except a firm belief that the right to property was absolute. They certainly would not let the other set foot on his own land, and if it had been physically possible, each would have stopped the other from even looking at his woodlands and villa. But this was sadly not

Dukes Valterre and Gigione were deeply unhappy men, and naturally, because they were men of power, their households also were unhappy. As each villa and property supported upwards of two hundred persons, the sense of unhappiness was as pervasive as mist in the valley on a cool evening.

The manifest cause of all this unhappiness was the beauty of the villas in which they lived, both of which had been designed to please the eye. The colours were of soft natural reds and yellows which complemented the dark greens of the cypresses, the grey greens of the olives and the vibrant greens of the crops which sprung from the fertile soil. The proportions of the buildings were pleasant and harmonious, designed to balance not merely each part with the whole, but also to reflect the greater whole, the mass and textures of the twin cols on which the villas were built. At night, mist filled the valley, and in the morning, the sun rose over the one villa, putting its harmonious mass into silhouette while simultaneously illuminating the east faces of the other. At midday, both villas and were equally drenched in the intoxicating influence of the sun's power. In the evening, when one villa was bathed in the ochre of the sunset, the other would form part of the horizon, a dark hull floating on the incoming tide of the mist.

From a distance, the villas were as beautiful as the valley itself: and herein lay the problem. To one living inside the villa, the power and the glory of the architects' design was not so apparent. To be sure, the internal architecture was as pleasing as could possibly be, but a cornice or an arch or even a battlement, viewed from a few feet away, cannot be as inspiring as the view of a villa set on a neighbouring hill.

So the view of each Duke was tainted by his mood, while his mood was aggravated by his view so that as time grew longer, the Dukes Valterre and Gigione spent all their days glowering in morose jealousy at the villa on the other side of the valley. In their imaginations they saw the rival villa either in flames or in ruins.

Now as everybody knows, what is written in the imagination today is written in the history books tomorrow. In due course, Valterre, who had an air of plausibility, allied himself with the Dukes of Fornacette, Lungagnana, Ablerto and Montespertoli, while Giglone, who had no plausibility to speak of, managed to hammer out treaties with the dukes of Sperazini and Noleggio. The financieri viewed this state of affairs with equanimity, which lasted until shortly after news of the first engagement of the war between the Dukes reached them in their strong rooms. To the dismay of the flnancieri and the gambling fraternity generally, it emerged that just before the outbreak of hostilities, Ablerto was reminded by a member of the Institute of Professional Historians that one of his quarternary sinistrational ancestors been slighted in the piazza by a paracessational relative of Lungagnana. He was therefore obliged to change his allegiance at the last moment, with the result that the armies were now evenly matched.

Many learned treatises have been written about the tactics, technology and strategies which were deployed by each side, but the upshot was that after two years the valley was devoid of life and both villas were reduced to unsightly piles of rubble, interspersed with some bits of plastic, bones and broken bottles. When this state of affairs came to the attention of the financieri, whose profits had been disappointing due to the false expectations at the start, negotiations to bring the war to a successful conclusion were begun at once. After eight years of negotiations it was agreed that the war had indeed been won, and an honourable peace agreement was drawn up. Statues were erected to glorify the memory of the late Dukes Valterre and Gigione, and a local businessman was given planning permission to erect a cement factory in the valley. The factory provided work for some thirty five people, so let it not be said by cynics that war is of no benefit to humanity.


© 2001 R. Lawson This page was last updated on 20.Feb.02