Prince Dobalob has a minor car accident on the way to visit Gari at his villa.
How can this already be Part Eight? If you are asking this question, that probably means you missed the beginning of this story. And some of the middle, too.
Kipling was relieved when Prince Dobalob pulled into a rest stop and turned off the ignition. An excellent driver, if top speed is your primary criteria, the Prince had managed to thickly dust the car, the towering pile of luggage so carefully secured to the rack, and the two occupants. Make that three, because Bond, in search of clean air, had given up flying beside the dust devil created by the convertible and had settled onto the roll bar.
“I think the luggage interferes with the aerodynamics. We don’t usually end up this sandblasted with the top down,” said the butler.
“I can’t disagree with you less on that! What a mess! I hope Gari’s Villa is within the magic zone, or I will have to get this car cleaned while we are there!”
“You can say that again,” said the Butler and number-one-car-cleaner. He had just noticed the small stream to the side of the road. Mountain Beavers aren’t usually very interested in water, but this one was experienced. As The Prince rose from the driver’s seat, Kipling cringed at the now mud-caked cream-colored leather. They had already stopped at several ponds, another stream, and even an irrigation ditch. Watery diversions were plentiful, but unlike at the palace, the mud here was persistent. Clearly, there was nothing magical about this road.
As the portly capybara descended to the roadside stream, Bond took the opportunity to fly ahead to Gari’s villa. Kipling took the opportunity to recline his seat, cover himself with the Prince’s white silk aviator’s scarf, and take a nap. The Prince’s sudden departure had required a nocturnal flurry of packing, coordination with the transportation coordinator, and responses to countless requests from the staff representing a multitude of departments around the Principality. He hadn’t slept much overnight.
“Kipling!” The butler awoke to a princely request. “Kipling, can you look out your side and tell me how close I am?”
As the butler opened his eyes and began to lean forward, the Prince turned the key in the ignition, gunned the engine, and the roadster suddenly lurched backward. The wheels spun, kicking up sand and river rock. Eyes wide open now, the butler observed the unstable sandy bank rapidly eroding beneath the spinning wheels.
“Too close would be an understatement, sir.”
Raising his eyebrows, the prince slammed on the brakes, threw the car into forward, and the car lurched– nowhere. A rooster-tail of sand and weathered river rock spewed out over the little stream as a lazy gust of wind directed the finer particles back toward the vehicle, adding another stratified layer of material to the tower of luggage behind them.
“Kipling, could you jump out and give a little push?”
The groggy butler fought the urge to close his eyes and play dead. He was regretting the hasty departure and his rebuffs to Rodney’s urgent messages regarding an alternative drive train. Dang, there were a variety of them available for the roadster, and the half hour delay to exchange the quasi-magical drive for an off-road monster train would have been worth waiting for. Played again for a fool, he had believed the prince when he declared they were simply driving to Gari’s villa. Every other journey had been exactly like this: sudden stops at any visible water feature from puddles to rivers. At least there were no fire swamps.
The Prince had never lived beyond magical borders, and though the magic at the Principality was decidedly dodgy, it was adequate for most purposes. Kipling had also grown up within magical borders, and was often caught off-guard by simple mechanical predicaments. The millwright, Rodney, had grown up outside the magical land and his skills reflected a lifetime of innovation and work-arounds common to ordinary folk. The diversity of background among the staff was no accident. The majority of voles and mole rats lived in burrows far from the palace and tended to substitute dogged determination for magic, even when it was available to them. The mountain beaver burrows were closer to the palace with its abundant and delicious landscaping. Kipling had grown up in a salad bowl.
“Perhaps it is a good time to check the picnic hamper,” said the butler. “I recommend edible fortification before we exert ourselves.”
Gari paced erratically at the picture window that framed the view of the villa’s north entry road. He had seen Prince Dobalob’s roadster in the far distance, but it had not yet turned the corner past the last of the liquid diversions along the road. The Prince would stop at every one, exactly the way a capybara should. Still, Gari was anxious enough to greet his friend that he kept glancing over at the small fleet of Segways, trying to decide whether to jump on one now, and intercept him at one of the puddles that still lay between them.
Gari refused to gussy up the old villa and the skeleton crew that maintained it left the two-wheeled vehicles strewn throughout the entry portico, though they were all tuned up, charged, and in perfect working condition. Likewise, the trucks and motorcycles were clean and ready to roll, but not garaged. Sparsely distributed furniture was functional and sturdy but not heirloom quality. Bedding was clean and plentiful, but not edged with lace. There were no ancestral paintings, but the Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley posters were signed and framed. The refrigerators were full of picnic food. Hampers, growlers, and coolers lined the pantry shelves, but there was no serving staff to be seen. Garibaldi’s Villa was a typical ersatz magical bachelor pad.
The Prince’s advance guard, James Bond the Budgie, had appeared earlier and joined the villa’s flock of mini-sentries at the primary seed dispensary. They had since retired to the video parlor and their excited chatter was at odds with his current mood. Gari disliked having to wait. He was not royalty, he had not grown up with reliable magic, but he had clever hard-working parents who taught him how to provide for himself. The Prince disliked waiting because he was spoiled, but Gari disliked waiting because pacing at the window was far less productive than any of the activities he was currently contemplating.
Gari checked his cell phone once again. The most recent text from Dobby had been over an hour ago.
Stopped at the last rest stop for a quick swim
Maybe he should have mentioned the alligators. He took one last look out the picture window and shook his head. He grabbed a helmet from a chair by the door and unplugged the nearest Segway.
“Bond! Let’s go!”
The magic was sketchy here and the road into town was a patchwork of construction debris and shimmering mud puddles. Gari Segwayed through town, passing grocers and coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques. The shops gave way to City Hall, the library, a school and finally appliance stores, gas stations, maintenance yards, and then farms. Gari had grown up in this town and his arm grew weary from waving at friends and acquaintances. The last rest stop was around the bend, and he slowed as he pulled into the parking lot.
Nothing. He saw nothing. He Segwayed to the edge of the lot and looked over the edge into the babbling brook below. There was Prince Dobalob, snoozing in the waterway. Halfway up the bank, a single pair of elderly turtles grunted and snorted as they hauled up the vehicle that may have once been called “collectible.” It didn’t appear to be damaged or dented or engulfed in flames, but it was going to take a hella long time for those turtles to haul it back up to the parking lot. The upper carcass of the roadster was in good repair, but the mud below might conceal a multitude of disappointments. Gari shook his head and shouted to his friend below. “Dobby! Wake up! What happened here?”
Dobby shuddered and rolled aside. “Say what? Oh, hello, Gari.”
The geriatric turtles inched their way up the bank of the small stream, the roadster tugging at the reinforced satin ribbons attached to the rear bumper in elaborate floppy bows. Butterflies bobbed and flitted around the gasping turtles, lending a surreal psychic strength to the operation.
Gari turned to the budgie on his shoulder and whispered to him in disbelief. “This is why I decided to come look for him. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world!”
Gari stepped off the Segway and trotted to the nearby picnic table where Kipling was mesmerized by the images on his laptop screen, oblivious to the groaning turtles below.
“Kipling, my man, whatcha got there?”
Startled, Kipling looked up. “Whoa there, Gari! Good to see you, the web is nearly nonexistent here! Know a good mechanic? We have a– situation.”
“I can see that. Leave it to me. Are you guys hungry?”
Gari called over to Bond who was scratching and pecking at some breadcrumbs on the table.
“Go fetch us some extra rides from the villa. Be sure to grab sport Segways. Use the tandem hitch and talk them in. They’ll do whatever you tell them to.”
He turned back around to face The Prince, who had returned to his napping, now with his back to the understated ruckus of the turtle towing extravaganza. Heaving a sigh, he sat down at the table with the weary butler.
“It’ll take Bond a while to get back here with those Segways. Do you want to go eat some ferns? There is some willow over there, too.” He glanced at the snoring Prince. “We can bring back a tote full of ferns to you-know-who. You haven’t seen any alligators today, have you?”
The fern bar was nearby and the two vegetarians slowly filled the tote with frilly foliage while nipping down willow leaves, neatly stripping clean the yellow stems from below. They each grabbed a handle of the tote and heaved their load back down the woodland path and plopped it onto the picnic table. Two Segways turned into the parking lot, the tiny budgie astride the first of them. They walked toward him, greeting and thanking Bond for his swift return. The rear bumper of the car was now peeking up over the edge of the river bank. The beribboned turtles were well into the parking lot, the butterflies dipping and dodging all the way from turtle snout to the roadster hood ornament. A blocky fuzzy snout now appeared over the edge of the river bank, followed by the remainder of the portly Prince. His nostrils flared as he sniffed the air.
“Yo, Gari! You got here just in time! We’ve got ferns!”
Muttering quietly to himself, something about long weekends, Gari turned to the mountain beaver and rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, perfect timing! Let’s have a quick snack before we head into town. We have plenty of time, it looks like.”
The turtle tow team was inching its way into the parking lot while the butterflies rearranged themselves at the rear end of the effort, near the front of the car. The front bumper had missed the plunge and was splashed but not sopping. The undercarriage was dripping and unsavory water greenery was festooned over the front wheels. The river rock below was rutted and dislodged. Every once in a while, a screech escaped a jutting rock as the roadster gradually backed up the bank. The Prince was now focusing his blurry naptime eyes on the spectacle of his beautiful roadster emerging from the near disastrous soft shoulder at the edge of the rest area parking lot.
Gari turned to the picnic table and offered a frond to The Prince.
“I have a mechanic who can look her over for you. It’s going to take a while for those old turtles to tow her there. Let’s hop onto the Segways and get a proper lunch. We can toss the ferns into the roadster and finish them off later.”
To be continued . . .
The indispensable Cast of Characters:
This story needs illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about the turtles?), draw a picture of it, and send me an email. I’ll reply so that you can attach a digital copy of your masterpiece to it. I’ll add it to the story!
Or, if you’d rather help with the glossary, send me the list of words you had to look up (or should have looked up, but didn’t!). When I finish writing the ending, I will start putting together the glossary.