Prince Dobalob Builds a Zeppelin (Part Twenty-One)

The Prince is remodeling the palace guest suites in preparation for Sylvia’s visit. He and the hens discuss the mysterious bird seed packets. Then they all Segway out to the fields to talk to Charlie & Hamish about the bird seed test plots.

You’ve already missed out on about half 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, or if you don’t have those, either, popcorn will do.

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Can you find the Principality of Dobalob fields on this map? They’re the bigger stripey areas.

“There’s no getting out of this,” said Conchita. “I told you to reply to that last note. This one is going to be tricky.”

“It doesn’t say you’re expected there for lunch, exactly. It just says you will be there to review plans,” said Bianca. “Drop by, review plans, get out.”

“Yes, but it says noon sharp. I guess that could be interpreted as plan review at noon, lunch whenever. I’m guessing she is hoping for a long leisurely lunch, lots of pushy female manipulation, a bit of plan review. Good luck.” Annabelle was never particularly optimistic.

“I think I’ll show up at noon, see what they’ve got, and leave. I’m not staying for lunch. I have to be here when Sylvia and the kids get here. If Mother needs me to stick around longer, too bad. She should have asked.”

Conchita drew in her breath. “She did ask. This note has been here for a couple of days, but I didn’t look inside the envelope. Oh well, she’s not going to be happy! You had better wear a suit of armor—pots and pans are going to be flying! You probably shouldn’t mention Sylvia and the kids, either. They sound like lots of fun, and you know your mother frowns on any kind of fun.”

Here’s the note, ICYMI.

Afternoon tea was in full swing, and everyone wanted to hear about The Prince’s trip to see Gari. The note from his mother had put quite a damper on the event, and they were ready to move along. They all knew Gari, who visited often, but Sylvia and the kids were a brand new topic. Dobby had been talking about her non-stop, and the very idea of her had generated changes they approved of.

First, there was the popcorn machine. The chef had been shocked, maybe even insulted at first. But the enthusiasm of the staff had won him over, and they were busy finding a central location for it. They discussed acquiring several machines, but the chef was not willing to go along with multiple popcorn machines. The duck maid had also put her foot down at that suggestion.

Second, there were to be extensive renovations to the palace guest suites, and all of them had to be planned and executed right away. Fortunately, the guest wing of the maze had seen remarkable growth this season, and needed renovation, anyway. There would be plenty of space for a large room with an adjoining bunk room. Charlie and Hamish gathered the landscape crew and immediately began preliminary deconstruction. Moneypenny the flying squirrel would be consulting on bunk room accommodations in addition to security arrangements.

The third surprising change was the activity schedule for the kids. Not only were the guests going to have their own suite of rooms, but there was to be a variety of supervised activities available at any given time. The Prince had specifically requested that he and Sylvia were to have time alone together—without the kids—whenever possible. The hens were still discussing the significance of this request. The Prince had explained that he and Sylvia were going to be involved in design charrettes, but they had no idea what this meant.

Fourth, they were surprised and relieved that he had not said anything about the zeppelin. New projects were always approached with trepidation, and this was to be a major project. It was certain to involve (and annoy) everyone, eventually. If Sylvia was enough of a distraction to postpone the zeppelin project, they were all willing to do their part to encourage her.

The hens stuck around while the little guinea pigs cleaned up after tea, and the duck maid cleaned up after the guinea pigs.

“I almost forgot to tell you that I saw Caplin down there!”

Conchita looked up sharply. “Get out!”

“I was surprised, too, but apparently he swings through there on occasion. He says he won’t be able to make it to Mother’s birthday party. I was furious, of course, but what could I say?”

“Were there any roosters with him?”

“That’s the weirdest part,” said Dobby. “He said no roosters ever showed up down there. He had heard they had been recruited, which is what we heard. But they never checked in, and he said until they are signed in and report for duty on the base, as far as he’s concerned, they don’t exist. He didn’t seem at all interested in looking into the situation, either.”

“So, all of the roosters are missing? Is that true? So there is an Area 51, or a Bermuda Triangle, or maybe a black hole between here and there? That’s just plain weird. And he didn’t think that was a bit off?”

Bianca and Annabelle were now listening intently. Dobby felt their eyes on him, as they leaned toward him, staring.

Conchita looked at Bianca, who looked at Annabelle, and soon they were all looking back and forth at each other.

“I promise you that I will look into it,” said Dobby. “I’ll see if Mother has heard anything—her social network is not at all like mine—and after this weekend, I will make it my priority. You’re right, this is very strange. If nobody else is looking into it, then I will. I’ll take Bond with me to see Mother tomorrow and he’ll ask around, too. But this weekend is important to me, and I want to make sure that Sylvia and the kids feel welcome and have a good time here. I don’t think being embroiled in a major mystery is going to work in my favor. I have another question, though, and that’s regarding the bird seed and the seed cakes. Where do you get yours?”

The three hens straightened up and looked around, nobody catching the eye of The Prince. Conchita stood up and pushed back her chair, as if to leave.

“Whoa,” said Dobby. “I didn’t expect that reaction! I had some seed cakes while I was visiting Gari. Well, Sylvia, actually. She had a couple boxes that a friend brought to her from abroad. The box didn’t have any hint of who made them or where they came from. So that’s another mystery, while we’re discussing them.”

Conchita sat back down and all three hens looked down at the table. Finally, they looked back and forth at each other and Bianca spoke up.

“We just, kind of, find them.”

“The bird seed. We find little packets of bird seed. Sometimes in a little paper bag, sometimes a plastic cup, or maybe a cupcake paper or an envelope,” said Annabelle. “Sometimes it’s broken open, or spilled.”

“We make the seed cakes ourselves, of course. But we never know when we’ll find more, so we’re careful to save it up for special occasions—like tea at your palace. We eat very little of it ourselves.” Conchita nodded at her friends and soon they were all nodding at each other.

“This is all very odd, don’t you think? How often do you find it? And where? Where do you find it?” Dobby was starting to see that they had been secretive about the source of their birdseed because they really had no clue where it came from. The hens weren’t keeping secrets from him, someone else was keeping secrets from the hens.

“That’s one of the oddest things, where we find the seed. It doesn’t magically appear in our cupboard or anything like that, but one day we’ll find a packet on the windowsill, and another on the back porch,” said Conchita. “Then we won’t find any for a week. Then we’ll find a broken packet in the tree, and seeds on the ground below. It’s always close to the tree-house, though.”

Bianca piped up again. “I have found a bag on our front walk, and remember that big batch we found in the vegetable garden? It had been there a long time and it was strewn all about, very sad. But it didn’t germinate and grow, either. Because of that, we gave up trying to grow our own.”

“Nobody’s been able to grow it here in a very long time,” said Dobby. “It won’t germinate any more. We used to grow lots of it, enough to export some, but that was a long time ago. We can’t grow it, we can’t buy it, and yet someone is leaving you little gifts of it. And now I have discovered that there are boxes of it, here and there, but we can’t figure out how to buy those, either.”

“So, how were they?” said Conchita.

“Say what?” said Dobby. “The boxes? I brought one home, empty, sorry to say. You can look at it once it’s unpacked.”

“No, silly. The seed cakes. How did they taste? Were they as good as ours?” Conchita was getting her feathers ruffled, now.

“They were a lot like yours, actually. Not as fresh, not quite as crunchy. Similar flavor, though, and the same proportion of seeds. Maybe not quite as many sunflower seeds.”

“Maybe tomorrow Bond should pop into town while you visit The Queen and see if any stores have them. Nobody here goes into town much, so we are pretty clueless about what’s on the shelves. Everything we need is grown on the palace grounds. Everything except the bird seed. We keep giving Charlie some of the packets, like you asked us to, but he never tells us what he does with it.”

The Prince looked thoughtful. “He’s had several test plots going, but he hasn’t gotten any to grow yet. I have a little time this afternoon. Maybe I’ll follow up on that. If he gets good germination our first problem will be solved. Then all we have to do is find more seed to grow. It’s painful to think of having enough seed to grow when the temptation would be to make it into cakes and eat it all up.”

The hens nodded in concurrence. It was agonizing to give any of the precious and spurious seed packet surprises to Charlie. The fact was that they had been kind of stingy and hadn’t been giving much at all to him lately. That wasn’t a good long-term solution to the bird seed situation. They decided to find Charlie and ask him to show them his test plots. A few minutes later, The Prince had hopped onto a Segway, and with a hen on each shoulder and another on the handle, they headed off toward the strawberry fields where most of the farm help had been working.

The landscape crew had long ago finished their work on the new guest suite and would be out in the fields, weeding and pruning, and distributing fertilizer. Dobby steered the Segway out to a perimeter road where he could efficiently survey the area. He found the sheep a bit beyond the strawberry fields and segwayed right up to Charlie. Hamish came over and they all did a silly doofus dance in greeting. The hens scooted out of the way of the bounding hooves.

“Yo, Prince! Haven’t seen you this far out in a long time. You making a tour?” Hamish was incredulous, but was eager to show off his work.

“Not really, but that’s a great idea,” said Dobby. “You know, the guest rooms you were working on? The guests will be here all weekend, and I hadn’t really thought about what we would do.” He looked around at the hens. “You girls will be entertaining the kids, but I hadn’t really thought about what Sylvia might like to do. I’ll take her on a whirlwind tour of the Principality.”

“So what are you doing way out here?” said Charlie.

“I want to talk to you about growing bird seed. Look at your test plots, see if we can figure anything out. Bird seed is getting more and more rare, and it just doesn’t make sense that it won’t grow. But if we can get it to grow here, we can show other kingdoms how we did it. We all used to grow it, long ago, and we ought to be able to grow it again. We know that somebody out there is growing it and making it into seed cakes—I ate some and saw the box. But there was nothing that said where the seed was grown or even where the box came from. How in heck do you hide a field of bird seed? It must be coming from far away.”

“That’s really weird,” said Charlie. “It doesn’t make any sense at all. Well, follow me and let’s look at my test plots. In fact, you just passed them, but there’s nothing much to see.”

Charlie & Hamish, Dobby, and the three hens worked their way back to a large plot of bare ground. Upon closer examination, the ground was criss-crossed with furrows. Small stakes were evenly distributed throughout. The Prince leaned over to read the tidy label: 3/12 millet pre-soaked no fert waxing gibbous. Charlie pulled out a notebook and opened to a specific page.

“See, I keep track of everything here. At first, I kept track of the time of year, soil temperature, fertilizer, watering schedule, regular stuff. I tried every combination I could think of, but the seed never germinated, it just rotted in the soil. Now I’m trying to soak the seed in various solutions and I’m planting during different moon phases. It’s very frustrating. The corn down here started to have problems but I moved it to a different field and it’s okay now. Strawberries are doing okay, but we’re watching them closely.”

The Prince’s thinking cap hovered over his head. He glanced up at it and waved it away. He motioned toward the fields.

“This was all birdseed, wasn’t it? I remember the sunflowers. Remind me, what happened to it, again?”

Charlie took a deep breath. “Well, we used to plant it sequentially, every few weeks planting a new crop so we would always have some maturing. Around here it grows all year long. Before that, of course, it grew wild, but the harvest was sparse and hard to gather. Anyway, we had a great system and then one crop refused to germinate. At the same time, the older plants stopped growing and didn’t form seed heads. And the crop that should have been ready for harvest shriveled and browned out. Totally pathetic crop, that last one. And it would never grow again. We started to have some trouble germinating the corn, too, so we planted it nearer the house and moved the strawberries down here. But these plots here are barren. Nothing shows up in soil tests, the water is good, rains every night, as usual. If you have any ideas I haven’t already thought of, I’d sure like to hear them.”

“Where is Rudy when we need him?” said Bianca. “He was pretty sharp when it came to bugs. He could identify anything.”

“Yeah, that’s true, but the roosters weren’t very disciplined workers, and once we changed over to our intensive system, their constant cultivating was a problem. Rudy was the best of them, though, and he was a good field hand.” Charlie looked at the Prince. “Do you know when they’re coming back?”

Dobalob looked at Conchita, who looked at Bianca, who looked at Annabelle and soon they were all looking back and forth at each other.

 

To be continued . . .

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The dubious Cast of Characters:

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This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a rooster?), 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!). Someday, I will start putting together the glossary.

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