Part Six chronicles Prince Dobalob’s trepidation regarding flight, in general. And more specifically, the value of having loyal friends.
Why is this called Part Six? If you are asking this question, that probably means you missed the beginning of this story. And some of the middle, too.
“Is Gari here?” Prince Dobalob glanced around the room. “He thought he might be here for tea today.”
“He texted me earlier to say he couldn’t make it. Didn’t you check your messages?” Bianca often heard from Gari before anyone else did.
Prince Dobalob pulled his phone out of his waistcoat and read aloud.
“Delayed by personal obligations. Friend needed a babysitter at the last minute”
He shook his big fuzzy head. Gari was in such demand that he never seemed able to visit any more. Oh well, he had worked up quite an appetite and this would mean more seed cakes for him. There was a limit to the sharing one must endure, after all.
“Dare I ask how the blimp assembly is coming along?” The millwright addressed the naked mole rat platoon leader directly. There was never any point asking The Prince. He was unrealistically optimistic and put a ridiculously positive spin on progress reports for any of his pet projects.
“Actually, with the exception of some minor repairs to the basket, we will be ready to launch right after tea. Why don’t you follow me down to the workshop and check it out?” said the platoon leader. He glanced around the table and continued issuing his invitation. “The rest of you might want to bring cameras and video equipment. Be prompt, though. I predict a brief but spectacular maiden voyage.”
“It isn’t going to explode, is it? That might photograph better at night!” Conchita was always a bit too eager for disasters, but she could be counted upon to document them properly.
The little platoon leader sat up straight and looked Conchita in the eye. “Certainly not! At least we hope not! There is only a small chance of an explosion, very small. Unless anyone has tampered with the–” but everyone had turned to look at the Prince, now stuffing seed cakes into his mouth as fast as he could.
“Mmph, what?” said The Prince. “Why is mmph everyone looking mmph at me?”
“The Prince was jumping into the basket. He wasn’t anywhere near the important mechanisms when I found him.” Annabelle was quick to defend the Prince. He was innocent this time and should not be blamed for any explosions, not this time. “Did you have a destination in mind for this maiden voyage?”
It was Prince Dobalob’s turn to look Conchita in the eye. “I am going to pay a visit to the treehouse. Do you expect to be at home this afternoon?”
There was a collective gasp around the table, and then Bianca and Conchita started giggling. Everyone knew why the Prince had not yet visited the hens. Capybaras do not climb trees, and they most certainly do not fly. Prince Dobalob had been waiting for flood waters to rise high enough for him to swim to the entrance, but that was likely to be a very long wait, indeed. Because the possibility of a visit was so very slim, no one had bothered to point out the small size of the treehouse, with its teeny tiny doors and windows to match. The Prince was clumsy enough on solid ground, but sitting on a roosting perch would be out of the question. Now that the Prince had made this declaration, it was too late to counter with logic. Stubborn is not vulnerable to realism. Besides, nobody liked to disappoint the royal capybara. There is nothing in this world sadder than a sad capybara.
Just then Bond, the parakeet, blasted through the open window and dropped a postcard onto the table in front of the Prince.
“From your brother, Caplin?” Conchita looked around to see if there was a second postcard for her. But there never was. She had a rooster friend who had been recruited to join the Guardia Principale, and should now be working with Caplin. But he had never written.
Prince Dobalob studied the photograph on the front of the card. He squinted and lied. “It’s from Rio de Janeiro!”
April 20, Guardia Principale, Southern Division
Dear brother Dobby-
I just heard from Mother. I was received her message, but not sure this card will get out. I’ll try to make it home for the party, but I won’t be able to stay long. The situation is heating up again, and some key personnel have defected. I may not be able to write again before I see you.
Your elder brother,
Conchita abruptly excused herself and ran from the table. Bianca, always practical, said across her wing, “Spruce up the treehouse, a bit dear? We’re expecting guests this afternoon!”
The Prince pulled out his cell phone and sent a text to Gari.
Caplin is coming home for Mom’s party!
The little Valet motioned to the Messenger. Bond flew over to confer. “Can you zip over to the treehouse and then the workshop and report back? Have you seen the blimp yet?”
Bond replied “I haven’t seen the blimp since it was assembled. I’ll do a fly by first so I’ll know what our challenges are.” And off he flew.
Back at the workshop, the blimp had been assembled. The efficient workers had partially inflated the balloon to make certain it was correctly assembled, but had deflated it again so that the Prince could witness this final dramatic step. They were now gathered around the basket. To be more specific, they were contemplating the raggedly chewed uneven hole that now threatened the integrity of the basket itself. At least the Prince had left the top rail undamaged. The jagged hole was in the lower portion of the side of the basket.
“Any ideas? Any ideas at all? He will be here soon. It will be important to save face, so it better be good.” The wrinkly platoon leader looked at his squads, pleading for input. There was murmuring and muttering and the word “duct tape” was repeated many times.
Out of the literal blue, Bond the budgie landed on the shoulder of the platoon leader. He whispered into the pink wrinkled ear, or where the ear should be, and the platoon leader’s eyes sparkled.
“Thank you, Bond, for your reconnaissance and timely suggestion! Troops, listen up! The Prince intends to visit the treehouse, as you know, and Bond has measured the porch, which, for our purposes, constitutes a landing strip. We need only stabilize and reinforce the chewed edges and then install a drawbridge-styled door in the opening. Safety Squad: review the situation and get back to me on the need for a portcullis. We’ll need to know that right away. We have had varying success with retrofitting portcullises before.”
All but one squad member scurried off to begin work. “Sir,” he said, timidly. “Should we be considering other types of landing strips, and whether this design is flexible enough for multiple uses?”
The dispersing workers hung back, turning to hear the answer.
“You are new here, aren’t you? The fact is, this blimp will be lucky to successfully complete this maiden flight without mishap. The blimp itself seems sturdy enough, and we are confident of our assembly, but our Prince is–” he thought for a moment, looking up at the blue sky as if he expected to receive a message from outer space, “unpredictable.” Everyone knew he meant accident prone. “It is only necessary to plan ahead for this one voyage.”
Prince Dobalob, who mere moments before had been ready to launch the blimp, was now basking in the shallows of the smaller pool and waterfall. He was actually terrified of flying. Because he had never before faced the possibility of flight, it had not occurred to him that he would be afraid. But here he was, owner of a blimp, and he had never climbed higher than the straw bale steps leading up to the basket. So, he had returned to his comfort zone in the water. The fish and the ducks understood exactly how he felt.
He opened his waterproof laptop and composed an email to his friend, Gari.
Do you want a blimp, Gari? I heard of this fabulous deal, a brand new blimp, never used! It has a bit of damage to the basket, shipping accident, but it’s in Like New condition! The owner’s going to let it go real cheap! Let me know if you’re interested!
He didn’t hit send, but just stared at the screen. Gari would see right through that. He could imagine Gari saying in response, “if it is such a good deal, why don’t you buy it?” No, That’s not what he would say. It would go more like “Ha ha ha, you bought a blimp, didn’t you? Like New, my big butt! You wrecked it, didn’t you? Or were you too scared to use it? Ha ha ha, no thanks!”
No, Prince Dobalob was going to have to use it at least once, or Gari would tease him about it for the rest of his life. He deleted the email, set aside the laptop, and rolled onto his side in the warm water of the shallow pool. It was much too late to go blimping today, anyway.
The following morning was sunny but cool, there was an ever-so-gentle breeze, and not a single viable excuse to postpone the blimping. Prince Dobalob hung his head and loped down to the pasture nearest the workshop where the blimp had been assembled. As he grazed, he noticed that he could see nothing of the blimp, as they hadn’t yet inflated the balloon. Before long, Bond, the little parakeet, flew over and landed on his head.
“Must you land on my head? It seems somehow disrespectful,” said the Prince.
As usual, the budgie bird completely ignored him. “When you have finished grazing, come over to the workshop! They’re ready to inflate the balloon, and it is all loaded up with seedcakes and apples!”
The Prince looked up at him, but only succeeded in bending his neck up at an awkward angle. Capybara’s eyes are cleverly located so that they can see nearly 360 degrees, almost all the way around, but they don’t always see what is directly underneath their chin, or in this case, on top of their head. He grinned at the elusiveness of the other half of this conversation, and at the prospect of apples and seedcakes. Things were looking up, even if he wasn’t. Or maybe not. There was a flurry of activity in the distance, but it seemed to be flouncing in his direction. Annabelle and who-knows-who-else were headed his direction. Because he could see all the way around, he knew there was nobody else out in this pasture, head-sitters aside, so he took a deep breath and started ambling off toward her. Might as well get it over with, whatever it was.
“Oh, Prince,” she called out, “Prince Dob-a-lob!” When she stretched his name out like that, he knew he wasn’t in trouble, but it didn’t necessarily mean she didn’t have big plans or ulterior motives. He kept ambling her direction and did a little doofus dance when she was close enough to appreciate it (and still be out of danger). By then he could see that all three hens were working their way toward him. They were on a mission, he could tell, because none of them were stopping to scratch for bugs, eye the butterflies, or pick at the tender greens that magically appeared along their path. Their excited clucking quieted as they approached until they stood quite silently before him. Bianca spoke first.
“We’ve come to invite you to tea at our treehouse!” Her flock-mates nodded, and in response to a nudge from Annabelle, Conchita announced, “The seedcakes are fresh today!”
Annabelle rubbed up next to the Prince and said, “The naked mole rats are ready to inflate the balloon part of the blimp. That is the very last step of assembly, and we will be able to fly it to the treehouse for tea!”
The Prince’s ears wiggled and he looked down at the little hen. “We?”
“Yes,” she replied. “We would like to join you for your maiden voyage in the blimp! I hope that is all right with you, we do have quite a bit of combined flight experience. Come on, let’s do it!”
The Prince had never figured out how to say no to the little hen. In fact, he had never successfully uttered maybe, or tomorrow, or even been able to pretend he hadn’t heard her. And now he realized he was going to get into that blimp with three hens and fly with them to their treehouse for a tea party. He might as well make the best of it and go cheerfully.
“Okay! We’re on!”
To be continued . . .
The indispensable Cast of Characters:
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