In this part, we witness the design charrette. That means we eavesdrop on Prince Dobalob, his millwright Rodney, and new friend Sylvia while they discuss the zeppelin design concept and construction. A traditional mechanical engineer, Sylvia learns that everything comes together quickly when you have unlimited materials, hundreds of skilled workers, and a little bit of magic.
You’ve missed a bit more than half of the story. Here’s a link if you’re one of those types who needs to start at the beginning. There’s a big old chart below to help you sort out the cast of thousands. Recommended snack: picnic food.
Our prince was on his way home from his mother’s castle. He was still mulling over the chaos and confusion that dominated any visit involving the three Schist princesses. Even his mother seemed at a loss to control the conversation, something he had not thought possible. He patted his waistcoat and consoled himself with the boxes of seed cakes tucked within. Why had they not told him where to buy more? He had asked several times but they talked right over him. In fact, he hadn’t been able to get a word in edgewise during the whole visit. Between his mother and the three princesses, the conversation had steamrollered along with nary a break. He chuckled to himself as he recalled the lunch buffet. He ate almost the entire lunch because they were so busy talking, arguing, and interrupting each other. They were also too distracted to respond when he had asked whether he could take home the remaining boxes, so he discreetly stuffed them into his waistcoat.
He Segwayed along the entrance drive and the butterflies increased as the songbirds flitted among the trees. He was enjoying their singing and had reached the first waterfall when his ears picked up another sound, far away in the distance. He stopped, stepped off the Segway, and turned to face the sound. His eyes twinkled and his mouth involuntarily turned up into a smile as he identified the sound as an approaching motorcycle. It was Sylvia and the kids already. They were early, and he was glad the preparations had been completed before he had left for his mother’s luncheon. He stepped back onto the Segway, turned it around and headed into the noise.
The Segway’s top speed automatically adjusted to the condition of the road, speeding along the smooth straight sections and slowing for bumps and curves. He turned a corner and saw them approaching at the far end of a straight section. He stopped and pulled over to the side to wait. Sylvia approached rapidly and pulled over to stop. The three squirrels leapt from the sidecar and climbed his legs and on up to his waistcoat, shoulder, and head, squealing and laughing about Segways.
“Egads, you guys! At least say hello!” Sylvia turned to Prince Dobalob and apologized. “They ride with Gari that way all the time. They didn’t stop to think that you might not want three squirrels riding along. On you. On your head. Just—“
“It’s fine, really it is! They are going to love it here. There’s lots to do, not many rules, but lots of supervision. They can get into mischief but it will be safe mischief. Wait until you see their bunk Room! Nice hair, by the way! Or should I say quills?”
“I did it,” said Sali. “ I wanted her to look pretty. Are you really a prince, or is that kind of like your name or something? Do we have to call you Prince Dobalob? When are we going to eat? I’m—“
Sylvia was rolling her eyes and shaking her head. “Dobby. He told me we should call him Dobby. But I think you should use your best manners, because he is a good friend, and that’s more important than whether or not he is royalty. That means giving him a chance to offer you food before you start asking for it. Do you all understand what I am saying?”
There was a lot of sheepish head nodding and all of the little squirrels shifted their weight around.
“Hey, that tickles!” said Dobby. “Hang on, let’s go!”
He spun the Segway around and Sylvia started her motorcycle. Dobby drove down the familiar driveway, careful to miss the bumps and holes, pointing out the bigger ones to Sylvia who was following close behind. He motioned to the right as a smaller path left the main drive. He turned onto the path and checked behind to verify that Sylvia was following. The path was narrow and ferns brushed the motorcycle and sidecar. They emerged suddenly into a clearing—the picnic area with the transplanted blimp and, currently, almost everyone who lived in the Principality! There were several buffet tables loaded with food, large and small wagons, benches and smaller tables. Rabbits were still fussing over the food and a vole patrolled the tables, making adjustments to the garnishes. Dobby drove the Segway over to a tiny parking lot with a little fire truck, a formula one racer, and a motorcycle with a sidecar not unlike Sylvia’s. A miniature road snaked away from the vehicles and passed through a gas station on its way to a tiny suburb with three treehouses among a half dozen miniature cottages. Across the road, a mini-strip mall with a grocery store, a toy store, and a coffee shop stood at attention.
A trio of chubby hens and a stern looking beaver approached the Segway.
“Okay, you guys,” said Dobby. “These hens are your nannies for the weekend.”
The little squirrels had already scrambled off the portly prince and claimed their vehicles when Sylvia pulled up.
“Wow! This is very cool! They’re never going to want to come home!”
“Sylvia, this is Rodney. He’s the one I told you about who will be building the zeppelin. Right now, he’s going to take my Segway back and we’re going to check out this picnic. We’ll meet up with him later to talk about the zeppelin construction.
Rodney nodded, and hopped on the Segway and wheeled away. Sylvia was watching her kidlets drive off into the sunset, a flurry of hens scampering behind them. Cu pulled his race car up to the gas station where a couple naked mole rats checked under the hood and a couple more cleaned the windshield. Sali’s motorcycle pulled into a drive-through coffee shop where a couple voles served up a coffee and donut. Tix roared around in the fire truck, too busy to stop anywhere but he was already halfway to the buffet table. Sylvia was shaking her head, chuckling.
“Okay, then. Now that the kids are taken care of, let’s eat. I’m hungry!”
“I can’t believe how tired they are! They were so excited about their bunk room that I thought they would never settle down, but one minute they were jumping on the beds, the next they were sound asleep. All I had to do was tuck them in. I really appreciate the REDTASQ monitor, too. We’ll be able to get a lot done tonight.”
Dobby walked Sylvia out to the workshop where Rodney was setting up for a design charrette. He had moved Newt, the amphibious vehicle, into the workshop and had started to disassemble the obvious parts that needed work. There was a pile of license plates, a bunch of gears, and dozens of umbrellas leaning in one corner. The large central workbench had been cleared and was covered with a roll of paper. Boxes of markers were stacked at the corners.
“Hey, Sylvia,” said Rodney, “Nice to meet you. I guess you are in charge of the design work, so where do we start?”
Rodney’s abrupt manner was offset by several rabbits who wheeled in kitchen carts piled high with snacks and drinks. Dobby grinned at the chefs as Sylvia’s eyes grew wider and wider.
“I can’t believe the variety of food you grow in the principality. You don’t seem to import anything— except those boxes of seed cakes! Where on earth did you get those? They’re the same kind as the ones I had, aren’t they? So weird that they’re completely anonymous. And is it a coincidence that after having none available for so long, all of a sudden they’re popping up all over?”
Rodney cleared his throat and caught Dobby’s eye, motioning toward the workbench. Dobby grabbed a box of seed cakes and moved over to the workbench. Sylvia followed. He picked out a couple colored markers and started to draw while he talked.
“I was at my mother’s this morning to discuss the menu for her party. The three Schist princesses were there, matching gowns, tiaras, the whole ridiculous getup. But they had brought a case of seed cakes— so I pilfered as many as I could get away with. I took a look at the case, the big box they came in, thinking for sure it would have some information but it was worse than these boxes. Plain brown wrapper.”
“Did you ask where they came from? What did they say?” said Sylvia.
“I can tell you have never met the princesses Schist. They don’t really speak coherently, they just start giggling and change the subject. I don’t know how they got through school. The horrific spelling is only part of it, or maybe the spelling is just the most identifiable of their limitations. They are a trio of ninnies. So I asked my mother to find out, but she is so focused on her party right now that I don’t think she cares about anything else. If she wants seed cakes for the party, and the princesses deliver, she won’t ask questions.”
“What about your dad?” said Sylvia.
“Hah! I rarely see my dad in the same room as my mother, let alone the princesses. He was polite enough when we were all in school together, but now he keeps a safe distance away. I have seen him walk out the back as they walked in the front, and suddenly he was driving away. It isn’t exactly subtle.”
“Wow,” said Sylvia. She was walking around the table to take a closer look at Dobby’s sketch. “That’s— interesting. Not at all how I had pictured it. This is not your classic zeppelin, is it? The flying fish is a bit much, though. Your amphibious truck—are you sure? It seems a bit ponderous.” She looked up at Dobby and saw Rodney behind him, shaking his head no and frantically trying to get her attention. “What do you think, Rodney?”
“Classic Dobalob,” said Rodney, stepping forward to stand near the table. “A beautiful concept, but no nuts and bolts. He said you would be able to bridge that gap between concept and construction. Are you up for this?”
Sylvia looked thoughtful. She looked at the amphibious vehicle, stripped down, parts arranged neatly on the floor and on the bench next to it. Bins full of license plates were stashed under another work bench. The huge workshop held a dizzying array of materials, all neatly arranged. Sylvia left the drawing and wandered around, stopping to look at this, or picking through a pile of that.
“We’ve got this. At least I think so. When is this party, again? Next month?”
Dobby was still drawing and Sylvia walked back over to the big table. Dobby backed away from the table and helped himself to a head of romaine.
“Next Saturday. We have a whole week,” he said, between munches. “Can you come back on Friday afternoon again for a test flight? Then I’m thinking you can ride over with us on Saturday, but I don’t think you will want to come to the party. It will be really boring. Excruciating, actually. You guys can fly around, stop somewhere for a nice picnic. Pick me up after about an hour so I’ll have an excuse to leave.”
Sylvia was staring at him, mouthing the words one week. She looked at Rodney, expecting him to be as astounded as she was. But the millwright was fussing with his clipboard, straightening the paper and untangling the string holding the pencil to it. He looked up at her and smiled.
“Not a problem. We can do this. You haven’t got magic at your shop, right? You’ve seen the naked mole rats? No? Yes? Well, you haven’t seen them working yet. And there are hundreds of them. Our biggest delays are when, ahem, Dobalob changes his mind, or we misinterpret his design intent. I’m hoping we can work through some of those details with you this weekend. We can even put together some mock-ups tomorrow and you can tweak them Sunday. We’ll be ready for a test flight Friday so if you can come Friday afternoon again you will be here for it. This is a big project, but it isn’t as crazy as the walking palace. This seems pretty straightforward.”
Sylvia was still looking rather stunned. She turned back to the drawing table. Dobby was finishing the second sketch. This one was of a parlor with plush purple velvet couches, ivory damask curtains, a few Chippendale chairs and tiny side tables. A small galley kitchen was in the background, visible beyond an understated crystal chandelier. Sylvia was looking from the drawing to Dobby.
“What is this?”
“This is Newt’s interior. I told you about it already. We can’t have it looking like a school bus inside. Zeppelins were always fancy. We don’t have space for staterooms but we can make the main space look like a parlor, like the old trains. Right?”
Sylvia rolled her eyes. “Of course. Sometimes I forget you are a prince, but then, this. Well, as long as everything is fastened down. The pilot has to have a more traditional seating arrangement, and good visibility throughout. Do you have a decorator in mind? I don’t do interiors.”
Dobby was coloring in some swirly carpet and looked up sharply at Sylvia. Was she mocking him? Because of course he had a decorator. Had she not seen the peacocks?
“It’s covered. They’ll have everything ready to install as soon as Newt is tuned up and ready to roll. Have you seen the solar panels? We made a couple of them out of my license plate collection. They’re all different colors, but when we apply the solar silicon layer, they turn iridescent. I want them installed so that the colors create a rainbow gradient. What I need you to do is work with Rodney to design a framework to fasten them to. The balloon part that holds the air— we’re not using rare helium or, ahem, hydrogen. Just air: the solar panels will heat the air. Anyway we’ll knit the balloon out of wool, felt the exterior, and suspend it in the framework. We’ll capture wind, supercharge it for speed, the fish fins and tail will steer it. You can make that work, right? I don’t want any flammable fuel of any kind aboard. That means Newt has to be electric, recharged by solar or wind.”
Sylvia was dumbstruck. Rodney grabbed a stool for her and motioned to a rabbit to wheel the refreshment cart over. Dobby was still sketching chandeliers as he talked. He finished sketching the matching sconces and noticed the ominous silence across the table. He looked up in time to see Rodney pour Sylvia a large cup of juice.
“So, why don’t you think it over, and we’ll meet up again after breakfast and see what you’ve got. Then I thought I’d take you on a tour of the principality, have a picnic. You can leave the kids behind. The hens have been cooking up some fun activities for them. That sound okay?”
Sylvia was still looking somewhat stunned, though she did appear to be contemplating the cup of juice.
“Do you have something stronger?” she said.
“Absolutely,” said the Prince. He turned to the retreating rabbits. “Can you please bring us two root beer floats?” He looked at Rodney and turned back to the rabbits. “Three, make that three root beer floats.”
To be continued . . .
The dubious Cast of Characters:
This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a little town?), 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.