Dobby is stuck in the bathroom and everybody knows it. Sylvia’s middle squirrel, Sali, helps him out and they finish their tea. Sylvia is fascinated by the zeppelin project and agrees to visit The Principality of Bolabod and check out his workshop.
If you just found this story, it might help to know that Prince Dobalob is having tea with his new friend Sylvia. You’ve already missed a bunch of the story. Here’s a link if you’re one of those types who prefer to start at the beginning. There’s a big old chart below to help you sort out the cast of thousands. Recommended snack: Gelt, which is gold foil covered chocolate coins. they usually come in a little mesh bag.
Dobby didn’t believe it was possible to move in such tight quarters, let alone jump, but jump he did as something landed on his shoulder.
“Hi, Dobby. Are you really a prince? Mom is angry with Cu. He does this all the time when we have guests. Tix even saw him taking out the screws to the doorknob this time and didn’t say anything, so he’s in trouble, too. I’m going to put the doorknob back in from this side—whoa! There’s not much room! Is that all you inside that waistcoat? You sure are lumpy!”
Dobby turned his head and saw Sali perched on his shoulder. He didn’t realize it was possible to be more embarrassed than he already was, but there he was. And there she was. She must have come in the window. That meant they all knew his predicament. But then, it sounded like they had pulled this stunt before. Hmmm.
“Gari, are you out there?”
“Of course. Sorry, dude. I should have known. They did this to me the first time I babysat, but that was a long time ago. Think of it as an initiation rite. They’ll have you out in a minute. Sylvia’s working on the knob from this side. Cu and Tix have been sent to their rooms. Sali is in there, right?”
“Yes, she is.” Dobby was chagrined but realized he had been set up. Defeated by squirrels. Being bested by squirrels is an ancient tradition, as anyone who tends bird feeders is well aware of. Still, it stung. Aren’t capybaras still royalty? Don’t they still enjoy elevated status? Where is the respect? “Gari, is Sylvia still furious?”
“Yes, of course she is,” said Gari. “Furious with her kids, not with you. She’s really interested in your zeppelin project. I think she wants to get involved. Okay, she’s coming back with a screwdriver and a jar of screws.“
Dobby heard a shuffling outside the door. Inside with him, Sali was scrabbling around on the floor, shoving the doorknob to the corner where the wall met the sink cabinet. He could hear her grunting her way up the corner with it, small scraping noises once in a while.
“Dobby! It’s so heavy! Do you think you can reach it now? It’s right next to your paw, if you just move it toward the wall. If you can set it on the counter, we’ve got it.”
Dobby couldn’t see that far around behind him from this position, but he reached out with his paw. And felt a tiny furry body.
“Stop! That tickles!” Sali was giggling. He was afraid she’d drop the knob and have to climb down and push it up all over again. He fumbled around but grabbed the knob and managed to shove it up onto the counter.
“Mom’s going to push the screws through and tighten them. We just need to hold it up on our side.” Sali peered around him at the doorknob location, and then looked up at him. “I think if you can bring the knob around—I’ll be below to keep it from falling down again—I can make sure it’s lined up with the screw holes. Then I think your tummy can hold it snug while Mom gets the screws in.”
“How many times have you done this? You seem to have it all figured out,” said Dobby.
“This is the first time we’ve had a prince stuck in here. To tell you the truth, you don’t seem all that special.”
“Should I have brought you a crown instead of a Panama hat?”
Sali looked at her feet, embarrassed. “No. Thank you, the hats are very nice. You can throw them really really far! To the top of the house! Okay, that looks about right, the knob I mean. I’m going to crawl across your waistcoat to check and see if the holes are lined up. Okay, that looks pretty good. Don’t move!” Sali scrambled up to Dobby’s shoulder and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Mom! We’re ready for the screws!”
In the time it took Sylvia to find the right size screws and install the doorknob, Prince Dobalob had mustered the fortitude to restore his dignity. When at last he was able to open the door, his fluster was gone and his good humor restored. This was fortunate, because when the door opened, Sylvia was still standing there, tools in hand, searching his face for distress. She gave him a quick hug, almost tipping the jar of screws as she did, and hastily backed up. Now she was the flustered one.
“I’m so sorry! Cu can be so naughty and now he’s got Tix as an apprentice. Well, they are in time-out for now. Can I get you some more tea? Cookies?”
Dobby looked aloft, to where the boys sat alone in their rooms, looking over the railing. “Yes, please. More tea would be lovely.”
He sat at the table next to Gari, who was flipping pages in a book.
“Take a look,” said Gari. “Zeppelins! It’s only a picture book, though.”
“That’s the same book I have,” said Dobby. As soon as he blurted it out, he regretted it. Now they would know that his vast background on airships was based upon one slim children’s volume. He glanced over again. The photos and drawings were very detailed and precise. The beauty of early airships was in their simplicity, so these drawings were quite informative. Sali was on the table, now.
“That’s my book! Which one are you going to build? Do you want to see my favorite one?”
Sali closed the book and pointed to the cover. “That one!” She looked at Prince Dobalob. “Can you make it orange? Orange is my favorite color!”
“Orange would be the perfect color! I’ll see what I can do.”
Sylvia leaned over to pour tea. “Sali, could you please get off the table? We have guests!”
“Oops,” she said and sat in her chair. Sylvia sat, too and motioned to Sali to come over to sit on her lap.
“Do you have a little time to talk about your project? It’s my area of expertise, this kind of design work. If you haven’t done much planning, maybe I can help talk you through some of the basic concepts. For instance, most of the airships were immense: huge gigantic things. If yours doesn’t have to be that big, it’s going to be a lot easier. If everyone rides underneath, it can be fairly small, but if you want everyone riding inside, then it’s got to be a lot bigger. Then there are the basics: making it float up in the air, and making it move where you want it to go. Another consideration is the purpose of the zeppelin. Are you just going to ride around in it for fun, or is it going to take the place of your car? And then, you know, the first airships took a couple years to build. Are you working on a deadline or is it an open-ended time frame? If we can nail down some of this stuff, the rest, like the color, is details. Am I making sense to you?”
Prince Dobalob nodded. Nothing had ever made more sense to him than this. He was used to Rodney, standing in his workshop with a welding torch in one hand, and a piece of steel in the other, neither of them knowing what to do next. Then Rodney would just do something, and it would either work, or end up on the scrap heap. Planning, the way Sylvia explained it, sounded fun, though he wasn’t sure whether Rodney would agree.
“You better ask what her billing rate is before you get too far along!”
Gari was winking at him. Dobby pulled a little orange mesh bag of coins out of his waistcoat pocket and set them on the table in front of Sylvia and Sali. Sali reached for it and Prince Dobalob nodded at her. She opened the drawstring and gently emptied the bag onto the table. Her eyes opened wide at the shiny coins. Sylvia started to say something, but Dobby motioned to her that it was okay to let Sali play with them. Sali sorted them into big, medium, and small coins, stacked and unstacked them, tried standing them on edge, and did it all again.
“Well,” said Dobby, ”you won’t like this answer, but I was hoping to have a functional zeppelin for my mother’s birthday party. I’m not giving it to her, I just need to ride to the party and make a grand entrance.”
“How soon is this birthday party?”
Sylvia gasped. “Is it—late next month, I hope? Not like the first week or something.”
“It’s the fifteenth. I have a big workshop and lots of skilled workers. Of course, my millwright, Rodney is in charge of the construction. He’s fast, plus, the magic at the palace is very strong. You have no idea how helpful that is. We can do this!”
Sylvia looked skeptical. She looked down at Sali’s stack of coins and realized that they were on edge in a little tower and the smaller coins were sticking out like tiny balconies. She leaned down to examine it more closely.
“What is holding the little coins up? How did you get them to balance like that?”
“They just stick where I put them,” said Sali. She looked at Prince Dobalob. “They’re magic coins, aren’t they?”
Sylvia looked up and caught the boys sneaking down the stairs. She frowned and waved them back up. She looked down at the coins again and then at Prince Dobalob.
“These aren’t the same kind of coins I gave you at the shop. Those were genuine. These are toys. You may keep them, Sali.”
“I have seen Dobby’s work crew in action,” said Gari. “They are amazing and can probably build a zeppelin overnight. Of course, the instructions must be very clear or Rodney will “wing it” and create a zappelina or a zippalong or something.”
Sali and the boys laughed, but Sylvia looked horrified. “Seriously? Overnight?”
“Well, sure. We build stuff that fast all the time. Gari’s right, though. The zeppelin is a bit more complicated. Still, it can all be constructed in phases, and some major parts can be assembled in advance.”
“There’s one more thing, Sylvia. Our Prince Dobalob is, ahem, a trifle accident prone—”
“No, I’m not!” said Dobby.
Gari looked at him and rolled his eyes. A tiny Panama hat drifted down to the table from above and landed on the table. Sali snatched it up and put it on top of her own Panama hat. Now she was wearing two. Sylvia sighed.
“Safety is always a consideration. We have to keep riders, operators, and construction workers safe. Safety regulations are fairly stringent so following rules gets you most of the way there, but if you don’t consider consequences, you’ll create another Hindenburg. When it comes to zeppelins, that was the ultimate fail, and nobody wants to revisit that disaster.”
“I have another important goal for this project. I don’t want this to be some extravagant gas guzzling waste of materials. Maybe solar and wind power, both of those could work. And can we use recycled materials everywhere? I have tons of cool stuff stockpiled for projects. I think you should come look at it so we can use as much of it as possible.”
“Tons,” said Sylvia, “is probably not the word you were looking for. It has to be somewhat lightweight, doesn’t it?”
Gari and Dobby looked at each other and laughed.
“You have a lot to learn about magic,” said Gari. “I don’t know how it works, but that is the kind of detail you don’t need to fret about. Dobby can fix that.”
“Right,” said Dobby. “So, you know, I have thousands of old license plates, all kinds. They’re really cool, but right now they’re all bent, they have holes in inconvenient places, and even the size varies. I can adjust all that and we can use them for cladding. My midden piles are full of bamboo poles. You can build anything out of bamboo, and if the poles aren’t uniform enough, I can fix that. You really do need to come take a look. I guess I just invited you out to the palace. When can you come?”
“Well, you’re still here, so when are you going home?”
“I’m leaving tomorrow, but I was hoping to take you to lunch on my way out of town. Can you do that?”
“Sure, that’s the easy part. Finding time to get up your way to the palace is tricky. The kids have school, and I would have to find them a sitter for while I’m gone. Can I do it in one day, out and back, with enough time to look at your workshop and meet everybody?”
“Can you come on a weekend and bring the kids?”
A third Panama hat drifted down to the table from above. Sylvia looked up to see the boys hopping up and down, two landings below where they had been last time she had looked up. Sali was fidgeting on her lap and she pushed her off. Sali ran upstairs to join her brothers. Dobby noted the enthusiasm and continued.
“Why don’t you come up Friday after school and stay until Sunday tea and then head back home. I’ll have a couple days to get your guest suite ready. My palace is a gigantic topiary maze that keeps growing, so there are always new branches to be customized. Your kids will love it, and there are lots of other kids and babysitters everywhere.”
“They’ll never want to go home,” said Gari. “I’m serious, that will be a problem. But you guys deserve a vacation.”
“Mom, please!” all three kids shouted in unison.
“I’ll think about it. Go outside and play. Not too close to the water, okay?”
The little squirrels disappeared through windows and doors and could be heard squealing as they circled the tree trunk on the way down. Sylvia shook her head.
“I do need a break, I guess. What do you think, Gari? Can you come into the shop once a while to handle the Segway rentals? It can get busy on the weekends.”
“No problem. It would be a nice break for you. Dobby has a bunch of hens that love to babysit, and your kids won’t be the only squirrels there. Let me help clean up the tea things and we’ll get out of your hair.”
Dobby piped up. “We’re on for lunch tomorrow, right? I’ll text you when I leave the villa.”
“Sounds good,” said Sylvia. She was already looking out the window to check on the kids.
To be continued . . .
The vast Cast of Characters:
This story desperately needs illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a stack of gold coins or bathroom shelves with stuff on them?), 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.