Here we go again! Did you notice that this is Part Two?
I have precious few illustrations, and I used them all for part one, but I do have a Pinterest Zeppelin site where I have been stashing images as I research for my writing. Comments are welcome, and will let me know if anyone is reading along.
The little valet began to cycle back and forth from the kitchen with trays of salads, sandwiches, fruit and frittata, tea, lemonade, and assorted cakes, petits fours and pies. Subconsciously drawn to the edible array, the hens scurried in with several dozen seed cakes. The portly Prince ambled over to the buffet and waited impatiently for the valet to finish fussing over the garnishes. He turned around to face the hens. The guests collectively held their breath, but this time, the capybara’s bottom did not upset the buffet, and the valet hastily placed the last of the watercress into the punchbowl. If he left now, his work could be considered essentially complete, but a moment’s hesitation and he might be picking up, rearranging, sweeping, and mopping for the next half hour.
“Annabelle, Bianca, and Conchita! So glad you could make it!” said The Prince.
The hens looked around for signs of imminent entertainment, and seeing none resigned themselves to an afternoon of conversation and board games. The Prince noticed their slight disappointment and explained that he had just selected a new book and was eager to start reading it. The hens hid their surprise at this announcement. It was well known that the Prince only read the captions under the illustrations, in the same way that many prospective book owners will read this very book before they pledge their commitment with cash.
Annabelle approached the Prince while the others hopped up onto the buffet table and started to scratch and peck at the food. “Let me see this book of yours,” said Annabelle. “Is it mostly pictures?”
The Prince cleared his throat. “Ahem, yes, there are pictures in it. See for yourself.”
They trundled over to the table where he’d left the book. He handed it to her and watched her turn the pages, checking the title and looking at the headings.
“Oh my goodness! Aviation is one of my favorite subjects,” she said, handing it back. “Shall we all take a look at it after tea?”
Prince Dobalob was already working his way back toward the buffet, but turned and said, “Just set it down on the table. I think we’re all going to want to look at it.”
For you see, the Prince had glanced at the photos and realized that he already knew exactly what a zeppelin was. The tiny wheels and gears in his big head had started to spin and twirl, and would soon be noisy enough to attract the attention of the perceptive millwright. He nudged his little red wagon over to the buffet, helping himself to corn and potatoes, apples and yams, lettuce and some of the tiny seed cakes. He would eat them first because they had a habit of disappearing off the wagon faster than he was eating them. He peeked under the table at the little cleanup crew of guinea pigs. They were scurrying around under the table as fast as the three fussy hens kicked the discarded food off the top. Thanks to their insatiable appetites, not a morsel escaped, though the duck maid was very busy cleaning up after the cleaner-uppers. The Prince turned his attention to the littlest guinea piggy, who happened to be very near to the seed cake end of the little red wagon. She was already on her hind legs, neck stretched out but impossibly short of her goal. The Prince reached up onto the table and tossed her a seed cake. “You shouldn’t take my seed cake, but I’m always happy to get one for you if you ask politely! Shouldn’t you be eating your hay and vegetables, though?” The little guinea pig blushed and ran with the cake back to her mother, bouncing and popcorning as she told her story about getting caught by The Prince.
The tiny valet cycled over just in time to haul the heavy wagon back over to the big red pillow with the gold braid. The capybara prince methodically worked his way through the enormous pile of food, listening to the chatter of the chickens, the pitter patter of the guinea pig feet, and the relieved silence of the rabbits in the kitchen. He suddenly remembered the tiny seed cakes and glanced over at the valet just in time to see him cleaning the last seeds off his whiskers.
“My good man! Have you eaten them all?”
The embarrassed vole flinched as he realized he had finished off the entire pile. “I’m sorry, Sir! I’ll be right back with some more!”
But they were all gone. The Prince shook his head sadly. Would he ever get enough seed cakes? He was a large animal, almost 60 kgs, and bird seed is so tiny. Maybe it was silly to think there would ever be a capybara-sized stack of seed cakes available.
The hens always brought the seed cakes. Would it be unseemly to ask them to bring a bushel of them next time? He wondered how many they had back at their treehouse. He had been invited many, many times, but he had always politely refused. They had never insisted, but had never given up inviting him. He had seen the treehouse from below, and it looked substantial enough to support him, and it certainly had a large enough door. There was just the question of ascending. Capybaras are notorious for being earth-bound. They simply do not climb trees. Squirrels climb trees, goats climb trees, capybaras do not. Capybaras are curious, though. And this one started wondering about the seed cakes– maybe hundreds of them!– stashed in the treehouse just down the path from his palace.
“Have you ever been up to the treehouse?” The Prince surprised the little valet with the sudden question.
“Certainly, Sir! It is a splendid example of early Henrietta tree-architecture. Very appropriately appointed, too, sir, if I don’t mind saying. Have you never accepted an invitation, then? Why do you ask?”
In an incredible coup de tact, he stopped himself from asking the vole, who had just, by the way, eaten quite a substantial stack of seed cakes, whether the hens had a large store of seed cakes in their treehouse. Instead, he changed the subject in his mind, and (quickly now, think of something, Prince!) asked the vole “What color is the wallpaper?”
The vole looked up sharply, examining the Prince for signs of early dementia. “The wallpaper, sir?”
“Yes. Wallpaper. The paper that gets stuck on the wall instead of paint. Does it have flowers? Stripes? Bugs? Does it have bugs? Speak up, man!”
“Bunnies and toadstools, sir! It’s little rabbits and half-eaten mushrooms, on a yellow background.” Sensing that the conversation had at some point turned sideways, the tiny valet diplomatically changed the subject. “Should we take a look at that Zeppelin book now, sir?”
They settled comfortably side by side on the enormous red pillow and opened the book. The pages suddenly flipped over by themselves as a crow shot through the open window in a flurry of feathers. The sentry straightened his cap, buttoned his jacket, and un-fluffed his feathers for he must have flown in from a great distance.
“Sir! Your royal parents are on the way, sir!”
“Criminy!” The word slipped out before the Prince could edit his response. “I mean, how delightful!” He hesitated, then quietly asked, “Is anyone coming along with them?”
The seasoned sentry responded immediately. “No princesses were observed, and the Royal Schist Coach is still in the carriage house, sir. I think we are to be spared that indignity for the time being. I shall alert Moneypenny at once.”
Moneypenny was the IT Manager, and would know who was monitoring the situation and listening in to the conversation as King Clyde and Queen Bonnie approached the Palace of Prince Dobalob. She was certain to be aware of their approach and would also have observed that the sentry had already alerted The Prince.
Queen Bonnie self-announced her arrival with a lambaste against her useless and still single son. “You don’t ever invite your neighbors! Three charming and available princesses from a lovely family, and me with no grandchildren! What is wrong with you?”
“Why hello, Mother. How are you this fine afternoon?” replied The Prince, sweetly.
“Do you have champagne chilled? I’m parched. That is a dry, hot, dusty road you have!” The Queen was going to be very unpleasant this afternoon. King Clyde stood nervously aside, as if sitting down might imply a longer visit than he was prepared to endure.
“I’m just going to step outside to examine the grapevines we passed on our way in,” said The King in retreat.
“Mother, you do realize, don’t you, that you have entered from the fields again and that the proper entrance has waterfalls, swimming pools, and is shaded? You always seem to arrive in a huff from the Kingdom of Schist, instead of from your own palace. You see my entry grotto only when you storm out of here. You might consider entering from that side. Just once. It is closer than walking the long way ‘round as you apparently did today.”
“And you are changing the subject, again, dear,” said Queen Bonnie. “You should consider growing up, taking responsibility, and raising a family!”
Prince Dobalob looked around for help and saw only the little Valet, standing near a doorway, wringing his hands nervously. Everyone else, including his own father, had left the parlor. The truth was that the three so-called princesses reminded him of his mother, and his mother was not very pleasant. His hens were pleasant. His butler and valet were pleasant. The millwright had his moments. In fact, Prince Dobalob surrounded himself with pleasantness. A princess bride and family sounded exceedingly unpleasant. She would, no doubt, eat all of the seedcakes herself.
Queen Bonnie suddenly straightened her skirts and hat and applied a charming smile to her reluctantly cheerful face. The butler had entered.
“Kipling! Look who’s here! It’s Mother!” exclaimed the Prince, with a sigh of relief. His father would re-enter the room, cocktails would be served, and pleasantness would again reign.
“Shall we enjoy our cocktails by the pool this afternoon?” the Butler bluntly suggested. He turned and carried the hastily assembled tray of refreshments out to the first pool, where the turtles and goldfish were already warming up for their synchronized swimming exhibition.
The charming butler worked his conversational magic with the finicky Queen and she was soon lulled into a drowsy state of contentment on a particularly enormous red velvet cushion with gold braid. It was a gloriously sunny spot by the larger waterfall. Kipling sat down beside her and The Prince walked back to the parlor with his father, the King.
“She just wants you to be happy, like I am,” said the older capybara. “King Schist is anxious to be rid of, oh, I meant, um, he is concerned about finding suitors for his princesses. Are you certain that none of them would make you happy?”
“Dad, are you nuts? Seriously, those princesses have made me miserable for years! Their taunting and teasing, their bad manners and hideous dresses, and their pathetic spelling! You do know that their inability to spell is hereditary, don’t you? I can’t believe that you would wish that deficiency for your own grandchildren! The kindest thing you could do would be to find them some nice foreign princes, maybe from a country very, very far away, and have them sent there. And tell your wife the same thing.”
The old King sighed. “No one tells the Queen anything, but you know that. Except for Kipling, of course. I don’t know how he gets away with it.”
Father and son watched as Moneypenny made a dramatic but silent entrance, gliding down from her treetop vantage point in a lazy spiral. The butler Kipling timed his entrance so that the little flying squirrel landed on the shoulder of his jacket rather than on the cocktail tray itself, as the IT manager often did when the parents were not present. A tiny budgerigar was already perched on the other shoulder, and was engaged in a lively conversation with the busy butler.
“If the Queen is completely out of sorts today, maybe I should go back to her palace and pay a visit to her staff parakeets,” said the little budgie.
“Excellent idea, Bond. When the Queen gets fussy, it makes me suspicious. If you don’t mind sitting with her a bit, I’m certain she’ll invite you back. Her staff will know what’s up. I’ll put the sentries on alert so they can arrange for your return. Shush now, we don’t want the King to hear. He still thinks we are trying to recruit his staff.”
The King brightened at the sight of the flying squirrel, now perched on the cocktail tray. “Now we’re talking!” He settled onto another red velvet cushion with gold braid that appeared magically under his kingly bottom. The little vole cycled up beside him with a wagon of dandelion greens, corn, apples, and most of a large watermelon. The guinea pig cleanup crew hopped down from the sidecar and took up advantageous positions around the wagon.
Kipling, anticipating King Clyde’s question, responded to the furrowed royal brow “Queen Bonnie has been served at the waterfall, and seems content to remain there. I shouldn’t bother to join her, if I were you, sir.”
Unsurprised, The King replied “You are very kind. I’m sure she’ll be fine out there with the turtles.” He turned to Prince Dobalob and winked. “Will your charming little hens be joining us, then?”
Right on cue, as if they had been alerted by a Remote Ectoplasmic Digital Tracking and Summoning Queuer (REDTASQ), Annabelle, Bianca, and Conchita waltzed into the palace parlor of Prince Dobalob. Cackling with sympathy, they enveloped The King with courtesy and attention until his gracious charm had been restored. Kipling quickly set to work righting the overturned wagon which The Prince had predictably knocked over as he spun to greet the hens. The guinea pigs happily tidied up the scattered refreshments. Eventually, The King having nearly depleted Prince Dobalob’s stockpile of distilled potato juice, the royal coach was summoned to deliver the now very relaxed royal couple to their own palace. Bond, the little budgie, settled into the Queen’s floral crown for the journey. She’ll never miss these flowers, he thought, as he nibbled his way across the back of the elaborate headpiece.
There are way too many characters in this story. You’re going to need these:
Stay tuned for Part Three!