Dobby and Gari examine an empty box of seed cakes and discover it has none of the usual information. Everything on the box is amateurish and misspelled. On his way out of town, Prince Dobalob takes Sylvia to lunch at The Fern.
If you just found this story, it might help to know that Prince Dobalob is heading home from his visit with Gari. 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: Seed Cakes, unless they aren’t available in your kingdom. Then either popcorn or any kind of cookies.
Back at the Villa, Gari and Dobby made one final make-it-or-break-it attempt at finishing the puzzle. They had filled the back seat of Dobby’s car with corn and stopped at another farm stand with apples and watermelon. They were currently in danger of finishing off the root beer.
“You never told me about Sylvia before. All the times I have visited you and ridden around on these Segways and you never mentioned her even once.” Apparently, Dobby hadn’t stopped thinking about her. “I mean, I was terrified to go up that elevator. At first, anyway. But she inspires confidence, you know? I had no problem on the way down.”
Gari raised his eyebrows. “You mean after you accidentally bumped the lever and started to go down before you fastened your seat belt? You cried like a baby! I was up there and saw the whole thing, you know.”
“I mean other than that. It was very smooth, you know? It came down like a gentle bump on the ground, no free-fall or anything like that.”
“Let’s just say that she is aware of some of the more subtle design considerations, now. The zeppelin concept needs to respond to owner personality quirks.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
They puzzled quietly for a time and then Gari stood up and left the room. He came back with a cookie box.
“Where did you get those?”
“It’s the empty box from tea. I pilfered it. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get you excited about more cookies. I wanted to look at the box. Maybe we can figure out where the cookies came from. It’s weird though. It has the nutritional label, ingredients, and a bunch of little cartoon birds all over the box, but nothing about the origin. No company name, fake barcode, no manufacturing facility information, no address or toll free number. No Best By date. Not even a weight. It just says Seed Cakes and has a bunch of typical garbage about simple ingredients, gluten-free, good source of fiber. All sorts of blatantly healthy propaganda. Stunningly lacking in fine print. Take a look.”
“This is really odd. Like it’s a box you’d make up for a theater prop. Generic cookies. If this was a murder weapon, we’d be clueless. The only thing that stands out is the spelling. It’s really bad. It’s as bad as King Schist and his family. I didn’t know that was possible.”
They were both silent for about a minute. They looked at each other, eyes wide open, and said “King Schist!” They were both silent for a couple more minutes, occasionally starting to say something, but no. Finally, Dobby stood up and started pacing at the window, pausing occasionally to gaze at the breakers splashing in the sunset.
“So, what if the Schists did have something to do with this cookie box? Could they have designed this box, but not the seed cakes? That’s a little far-fetched, but where did the seed cakes come from? Nobody around here has had seed cakes for a long time. Or bird seed. How could they have bird seed when nobody else does? They would be the last ones to have bird seed because they don’t seem to be able to grow anything. Heck, we don’t even grow bird seed. We would if we could, but it just doesn’t seem to germinate in our soil anymore. We gave up on it.”
“I don’t get it, either,” said Gari. “But someone designed that box, grew the bird seed, and made the seed cakes, and they can’t spell any better than the Schists. Or a Schist designed the box. Do you think anyone would have been wacko enough to hire one of those princesses to design it? Nobody would ever hire the Queen. What a witch! She’d happily bite your head clean off.”
“May I take the box home with me? I’ll ask around about it. Bond might be able to find something out. Where is he, anyway? And Kipling. I haven’t seen either one of them since we returned from town. Are they packing up our stuff for the ride back tomorrow?”
“I saw them in the kitchen when I grabbed the cookie box. My staff is throwing them a farewell party.”
“Now we know what happened to all the root beer.”
It was a warm, sunny morning when Dobby drove out through the gates of the old villa and headed into town for lunch with Sylvia. His car was piled high with hat boxes and packages over the trunks and suitcases he traveled with. He had a bag of donuts for the kids and a bouquet of roses for Sylvia. Kipling rode shotgun and Bond sat on his shoulder. They were examining the cookie box in silence. Finally, Bond spoke up.
“I’m baffled. There isn’t any birdseed for miles around here. These can’t be a local product, but if they were imported, we’d have seen them on grocery shelves. They would be a very popular item here, with the shortage. But by far the most mysterious part of this is the box itself. Even without the atrocious spelling, there is hardly any information on the box. And these little birds decorating the box look like they are drawn with crayon. Very unprofessional. Did you eat any? Did you get sick or anything?”
“The seed cakes were delicious and almost identical to the ones the hens make. So, nothing wrong inside the box. It’s just the box that’s strange.”
“And you can’t get any more of them?” Mr. Bond was fascinated. “Ask Sylvia anyway. Maybe we can talk to the guy who brought them back from his travels. Meanwhile, I can ask the staff at your Mom’s palace. Unless you’d like to stop by and ask her yourself.” Bond registered the look of horror on The Prince’s face. “Okay, I’ll just go ahead and do that myself.”
Prince Dobalob was getting to know The Fern pretty well. He pulled over in front of the little restaurant and stepped out of the car. A waiter hurried over to him.
“Will it be a table for–,” the waiter evaluated the occupants of the convertible, “three, today, sir?”
“No, let’s do it this way: my sidekicks can have their own table, I’ll cover them. I would like a table for two, a nice table in back with a view of the river, if you can. Your deluxe lunch for two, with both appetizers. And for dessert, the fresh fruit medley, a plate of cookies and another with petits fours. I’ll be back in about ten minutes. Thanks!”
Prince Dobalob sauntered across the street toward Sylvia’s shop while the waiter escorted Bond and Kipling to a small street side table. His stomach flip-flopped as he considered the possibility that Sylvia might be too busy for lunch today, after all. He took a deep breath and suddenly remembered his bouquet of roses. They were still in the car. He spun around mid-street and a passing truck nearly knocked him over. One more deep breath. He very carefully looked both directions before continuing to the car.
The roses had been carefully arranged by Gari’s staff. Gari had contributed an antique carnival glass vase that had belonged to his mother. The arrangement had been carefully packed into a box with a shimmering tissue paper cushion. He gently lifted the package out of the car. A wiser capybara, he very carefully looked both directions before crossing the street to the auto shop. Sylvia was nowhere to be seen when he entered the shop, so he set the box down on the counter and turned to the popcorn machine by the door. He helped himself to a red-and-white striped bag and filled it. As he munched, he examined the machine for manufacturing information. He was definitely going to get one for his palace, even if his chef balked. He found a small brass name plate on the side and took a photo of it with his cell phone. Then he backed up to take some photos of the machine itself.
Dobby spun around, and for the second time that day was almost struck by a passing—well this time it was Sylvia, not a truck.
“Oh, hi,” Dobby said, “I was just—”
“I still have the invoice for my popcorn machine. I can make a copy for you. I assume you were thinking of buying one for yourself, not plotting how to fit mine into the back of your car.”
Dobby tried to smile, but his mouth would only make a crooked smirk. Was he ever going to stop embarrassing himself in front of her? She smiled at him and gestured toward the flowers on the counter.
“Thank you for the spectacular bouquet! They are gorgeous!”
Dobby almost said “and so are you” but stopped himself just in time. Sheesh, was he going to make it through this lunch date? They weren’t even at the restaurant yet. He had better get this over with. Then he took another look at her. She was gorgeous. He now noticed that she wasn’t wearing welding coveralls. She seemed to have some kind of dress on, and a scarf with little beads hanging off the ends. He realized what a challenge it was for a porcupine to wear anything at all without shredding it with their quills.
“Shall we go?” Dobby managed a full sentence. Maybe if he stuck to three word sentences for the duration.
“Do I need to add water to the flowers or anything?”
“No, they’re good to go. I don’t know how long they’ll last, here. At the principality, flowers last for months. The magic, you know.”
She squinted and wrinkled her nose. “Okay, then, let’s go.”
The waiter seated them at the farthest riverfront table, where the arbor and fencing wrapped the table into a secluded windbreak. Tubs of flowering plants mingled with the hanging fern baskets. As they sat down, hummingbirds chittered at them and the mint crushed beneath their chairs and scented the air. Prince Dobalob began to relax. Lunch was going to be okay.
“So, are you going to make it up to the principality this weekend? I need to know right now, because if you say no, I will have to spend this entire lunchtime convincing you to come. Say yes, and we can talk about zeppelins.”
Sylvia’s eyes were wide open, now. “Well, that’s interesting, because I had a similar ultimatum from my kids. All three of them, and they rarely agree on anything. They refused to go to school this morning until I promised I’d take them to visit you this weekend. I said yes, just to get them out the door. They were all wearing your hats, by the way.”
A waiter stopped by and covered the table with appetizer platters and little plates.
“Anything to drink?”
Sylvia met his eye. “Pumpkin juice, please. Large.”
“Can you make it a pitcher and two glasses? Thanks.” The Prince was relaxed and in command.
“So you’re coming this weekend, then? We can move along to zeppelins?”
“I guess so. Did you have anything in particular you wanted to talk about?”
“No, you’re the planner. You start.”
“Okay. Wow, this is a lot of appetizers! Well, I’d like to talk about your purpose, first. I think you said you want to fly it to your mom’s birthday party. Does she live nearby or far away?”
“It isn’t at her house. It’s at a nearby kingdom where my least favorite capybaras live. They are the worst spellers in the world.”
“They can’t spell? And that’s where the party is? So sorry to hear that. Is it far?”
“Not as far as from here to the Principality. Not too far as the crow flies.”
“Do you have an airport? A hanger? Is there a place to land at the party end of the ride?”
“Are you always this picky? Uh, no, no, and no. I guess those are fair questions, though.”
Sylvia finished a squash fritter and took another one. “How many riders will you have? And I guess, how big are they? Mr. Bond, for instance, doesn’t really count for weight, but he’ll need a safe perch. And we won’t know how many crew members you’ll have until we know a bit more. Some of the zeppelins in Sali’s book have staterooms and restaurants.”
“Whoa, Nelly! Now that you mention it, though, I guess we need at least a snack bar. A bathroom—a great big one.” Sylvia nearly choked. “Are you all right? Okay, and maybe a dozen riders, though for the party I guess it’s just me and my pilot, Annabelle.”
Sylvia looked at Dobby sideways. “Annabelle?”
“She’s one of the hens. They’ll be babysitting this weekend. They live in a treehouse! Your kids will love them.”
“Oh, okay. So a dozen, maybe, for future excursions?”
“Yeah, but not like bus seats. More like an old railroad club car with plush couches and coffee tables. Chandeliers, flowers on the tables. Nice, like that.”
“Hoo boy.” Sylvia raised her eyebrows. She shoveled the rest of the squash fritters onto a tiny plate and set it in front of herself. “You didn’t seem to be eating any of these—.”
Dobby raised his eyebrows back at her. “I didn’t even get any!” Sylvia looked horrified and tried to dump them back onto the platter. “Don’t be silly. I was joking. We can get more. In fact, I’ll send Bond in to the kitchen and get the recipe so we can have them this weekend. My chef has never made them like this.”
“Your chef?” Sylvia looked thoughtful. “You really are a prince, aren’t you? How does that work, anyway? Are your parents a king and queen? Is there a princess?”
“Yes, a king and queen. No sisters, so no princess. But I have an older brother, Caplin, who is also a prince. He is a Captain in the Guardia Principale. In fact, I saw him a couple days ago, right here at this restaurant. I don’t see him much. He’s a lot older than me and left home—never to return, apparently—when I was a baby. In theory, he stands to inherit mom and dad’s palace. I’m the second son, but they set me up with a principality. It’s a huge estate, and when I took it over I discovered that lots of creatures already lived there. They thought I was going to kick them out, but lots of them were my childhood friends. They were already there, taking care of the land, and I knew nothing about farming or building things. I was pretty useless. We all work together, now, and I support and educate everyone who wants to learn more. And they support me in the knowledge that they bring home. It’s the only place in the kingdom where the magic gets stronger all the time. You’ll see this weekend.”
To be continued . . .
The vast Cast of Characters:
This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a popcorn machine?), 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.