Dobby makes a startling discovery during his casual survey of the Principality. His humiliated security team springs into action, but first, there are special guests to entertain. Square dancing, anyone?
You’ve missed most of the story already, but to be honest, it wasn’t until this point that I came up with a plot. Here’s a link if you decide to start reading at the beginning, anyway. There’s a helpful chart below to give you a chance to sort out the rodents. Recommended snack: Corn chips. Bird seed if you are a bird. Soundtrack: Old Time Square Dance Music.
“It’s funny, isn’t it, how you remember things from your childhood. I could swear this was a narrow deer path into the woods. We used to walk in and have a picnic in this nice little clearing— whoa, Nelly!”
The dirt road continued, but Dobby came to an abrupt halt. Acres of cultivated land spread out ahead of them, grasses and wildflowers danced in the breeze, butterflies a colorful cloud. flocks of songbirds flew up, circled around and landed again. The edge of the forest was a long slightly undulating wall on all sides. It was if a giant had carefully removed a gigantic piece of corn bread from the earth.
“Please don’t tell me you call this a small clearing,” said Sylvia. “Plus it’s a square, more or less, isn’t it? Dobby, are you okay?”
Dobby was staring at the spectacle before him, mouth open. Bond flew out of the car and landed on the hood, a feathered hood ornament, still and quiet as a statue. Dobby opened the car door and stepped out, testing the ground as if he was afraid of being swallowed up. He walked over to the nearest clump of grass and plucked a seed head from the top.
Sylvia got out of the car and walked to his side.
“You’re kidding me, right? Because that’s a lot of seed cake out there. I don’t know much about farming, but this much birdseed could feed an army! Whose is it?”
“This is my land. But it’s always been forest. Who cleared my forest and planted all this birdseed? This makes no sense. I haven’t been down this way in a while, and there’s no reason for anyone else to bother coming out here. If we hadn’t driven in here, if we had stayed on the road, we wouldn’t have seen these fields. There’s still enough forest along the road to hide this clearing. And on the other side, there’s plenty left to hide it from my fields. This is right next to my dead, barren fields. No one has been out to those fields in a long time because nothing grows there. But this is birdseed, growing like gangbusters, while my land is slowly turning to desert. Suddenly I’m not too hungry.”
They tentatively walked a short way into the field. Dobby plucked a few seed heads and explained the different varieties to his mechanic friend. He pointed out several large plots of sunflowers towering over the shorter tufts of grass. Sylvia stood on tiptoes to see how some of the distant fields were more recently planted and were still flowery, not yet seedy. As they walked back to the roadster, Dobby quietly clicked his annoyance. Bond was pecking at a few seeds on the ground and flew up to Dobby’s shoulder.
“Isn’t this seed almost ready to harvest? The seeds are starting to drop. There’s not much on the ground, yet, just a snack,” said the little budgie.
“If this was my field, I’d be getting ready to harvest the seeds at this end of the field. Dang it anyway, this is my field! What the heck is going on here? Let’s follow this road and see where it goes. It seems to follow along the edge of the forest, the skinny patch of it that conveniently hides the field from the road. Can you talk to some of these birds and find out anything?”
“They all high-tailed it into the forest right after we drove in. I’ll see if I can find them, but these little songbirds are not generally very knowledgeable. If I can talk to a jay, maybe. I am out of range or I’d call over some sentries from the palace. They’d be able to get some information.”
They got back into the dusty roadster and drove along the packed earth road. Bond perched on the windshield, making occasional forays into the forest. Sylvia rifled through the picnic bags and baskets, finding some corn chips and water. Dobby pulled open a small compartment on the dashboard with a tray and cup holders and they ate their way through a couple packets as they drove alongside the healthy field of bird seed.
“I’m thinking this road will pop out onto the main road, eventually. I don’t see any obvious turn around places, plus, now I’m curious about how extensive this field is. It seems to go on forever. It’s not really a big square, more like a rectangle, and the ground isn’t flat. Now that we’re driving along there are little ups and downs and more and more fields beyond every rise. That far edge of the forest is a lot farther away than I thought. I’m getting hungry, too, and my old picnic clearing is gone. We’ll have to find another spot. There was a pretty nice spot at Caplin’s. It’s way back behind us now, but up ahead I’m not sure what we’re going to find. On my property, at least. Across the road is the Schist Castle and we’re not picnicking there. You’ll see what I mean. It’s total desert just the same as we already saw. Nothing ever grows there. You can’t just log your forest and walk away, but they never cared about stuff like that. Okay, it looks like we’re getting to the end of this field. Let’s see if this dirt road leads back to the main road.”
“So weird,” said Sylvia. “The dust on the car has almost all fallen off. It’s as if we went through a car wash or something. Even on the interior, and the outside is getting shinier as we go along!”
“Magic,” said Dobby, “the magic is strong here. And that’s why the birdseed is growing so well.”
Sylvia opened another packet of chips and started munching. Bond tore himself from her mirrored dangles and hopped onto Dobby’s far shoulder, out of earshot. He whispered discreetly into Dobby’s ear.
“But that is totally strange, considering that on the other side of this forest, toward the palace, is where the barren land is. Why is the seed growing here, but not there? Shall I bring Charlie and Hamish out here to check it out?”
“Heck, I should send them out to harvest it. It’s mine, isn’t it? It’s on my land but who planted it? Birdseed isn’t the kind of crop that needs lots of tending. You plant it and then it grows, but it doesn’t harvest itself. Hmm. Maybe I don’t want them to be here when our rogue farmer comes back to harvest. I want them to investigate but they’ll have to be sneaky.”
“I’ll brief the sentries, we can all come out here together,” said Bond. “It’s a little bit creepy, don’t you think? Look at all the forest they cleared without anyone noticing. The native forest buffer that’s been here forever. It’s way out here, and we’ve never had any reason to check on it. Somebody took advantage of that.”
“Okay, here we are, coming back out to the main road again. That’s Schist’s pathetic desert on the other side. And one of their access roads. We’re pretty far to the east right now, about where the road turns north again, and dead ends. The river is the east edge of my land up there before it flows south through the Schist property. There’s no bridge so the road just stops. I used to have a little picnic table up there. Let’s check it out. There used to be a tire swing, it’s probably gone, but the berry bushes I planted ought to be there.”
Cu, Sali, and Tix stampeded their mother in a sparkling rush as she exited the roadster.
“Wow! Where did you get those jeweled crowns?” said Sylvia. “I don’t remember packing anything like that!”
“We made ‘em in the workshop,” said little Tix. “Cu stepped on mine and Rodney fixed it.”
Sali extended her arm to show off a bracelet and several rings. Cu’s crown had several skull shaped gems and an assortment of nuts and bolts randomly scattered between blast holes and jagged tears. Annabelle, Bianca, and Conchita staggered up behind the bouncing squirrels.
“They’re all yours, now,” Bianca said. “We’re going to take a nap before dinner.”
The hens wandered off, not enough energy left to cackle or look for bugs along the way.
“Mom, come see our pirate ship!”
Sali tugged at Sylvia and she dutifully followed her brood out to the playground without shutting the car door. The blimp in the distance was festooned with fluttering black crepe paper and a pirate flag. Wooden crates and barrels formed steps up to the basket where dozens of tiny voles and naked mole rats were playing a game that might be called “Lemmings.” Hollowed out coconuts littered the ground like ersatz cannonballs. Sylvia turned back to wave to Dobby but he was already deep in conversation with Charlie and Hamish, sentry crows circling and landing near the roadster. Rabbits unloaded the picnic debris as Kipling climbed into the driver’s seat. Sylvia turned back to follow her kids out to the maelstrom kicking up in the playground.
“I don’t even know where to start,” said Prince Dobalob. “I feel like a fool for not knowing what has been going on under my nose. It never occurred to me to have you patrol that far out. It’s just forest, very old forest. Someone figured out I wasn’t monitoring it and they cleared it for crops. It’s an insult that they’re growing bird seed when we can’t even get it to germinate. I’m absolutely furious. On the other hand I have important guests on site, and they are my top priority this weekend. So for now, don’t let on that anything’s wrong. I don’t want those kids upset. Kipling, stick around for a few minutes. After you take my car around, can you go brief Annabelle, Bianca, and Conchita?
“This is my tentative plan— where’s Moneypenny?— Come on up front. I need your ideas on this. Sentries, you need to patrol out to the very perimeter of the Principality, in pairs. All the way out, not just to the illegal clearing I discovered— it’s beyond the lower forty— but everywhere. I need to know if I have missed anything else. Start in the morning, it’s almost dinner time, and then we have musicians setting up for the dance tonight and I want everything to be normal. Special, even. Moneypenny, can you get them cameras or something? REDTASQ can’t pick up normal signals that far out, but can we get some repeaters out there to boost the signal? It’s got to be encrypted because we don’t know who we’re up against.”
“You got it,” said the little flying squirrel who was on a low branch, furiously texting. ”I don’t feel much better than you do about this. I should have had the entire principality covered ages ago. No sense lamenting what can’t be fixed, but it will be covered from now on out. I had some cousins out that way, haven’t heard from them in a while, should have been suspicious. I’ll see if they know anything, if I can even locate them.”
“Charlie and Hamish, stick around tomorrow, while the crows do their reconnaissance run. I don’t want you prancing into a hornets nest. Then on Monday have Bond take you out— if it looks safe— and take some soil samples, steal some of our own bird seed— it’s on our land, it’s ours— but be quick and sneaky. No dawdling. I want you to collect a good representative sample of what’s growing there.
“Sylvia and the kids go home tomorrow— they have school next week, of course— but they’ll be here for brunch and we should be ready to test drive Newt. Sylvia needs to finish her specifications, right, Rodney? So let’s give them a good time, let Sylvia work without distraction, then we need to figure this out. All questions and decisions through me or Moneypenny, right?
“Okay, see you all at dinner. And at the dance afterward, band should be setting up by now. Have a good time, or else.”
“That was a fabulous meal! I can’t get enough of those squash fritters! You shouldn’t have let the kids eat in the pirate ship, though. I’ll never get them to eat at a table again!”
Dobby chuckled. “But I did get them to use napkins. I’ll send some bandannas— I mean pirate napkins— home with you. So you never answered— have they ever square danced? Have you? Conchita will teach each dance before it starts, and most of us are familiar with the steps. You can’t make a mistake worse than me, I’m such a klutz. You just have to remember to laugh. The band will be starting up soon. We don’t usually serve dessert until after a few dances, in case anybody asks. We don’t have many rules, but that one keeps the stickiness factor under control.”
“Good idea. And honestly, no, we have never square danced. It looks so complicated.”
“It’s even more complicated from the inside, but it’s a great way to get acquainted and burn off some energy. Are the kids always this, um, busy?”
Sylvia glanced in the general direction of her kids and sighed. “Yes.”
One end of the dining room had sprouted loudspeakers, chairs, and a bustling clutter of musicians. Tuning up noises, mic squawks, and sounds of chairs being dragged into place competed with the rumble of the large buffet table being rolled to the side of the room to create a dance floor. Guinea pigs roamed strategically, inhaling bits of stray lettuce and garnishes as they fell from the table. Rabbits cleared and consolidated dinner platters to make room for the desserts. Finally, the stage area din coalesced into something resembling music, and then stopped. A goose stepped up to the microphone and made an announcement that was largely ignored by the untidy crowd until the very end.
“ . . . The band is going to warm up with a couple of tunes before the dancing starts. How about a favorite around here, Nail that Catfish to a Tree!”
Lively dance music started right up and some of the smaller animals started to spin and dance in pairs, trios, circles, and abandon. Sylvia raised her eyebrows and looked at Dobby but he simply smiled in return.
“The square dancing is a lot like this, but the idea is that everyone does it in an orderly fashion so we don’t crash into each other. Except that we still crash into each other because there are always a few mixed up folks. This crowd that’s dancing already are enthusiastic nincompoops who don’t care enough to pay attention when the dances are taught. They probably think they are square dancing now. Even these guys learn the steps eventually, but as long as there are no injuries, we call it a successful evening.”
Sylvia was starting to look somewhat horrified, and Dobby realized it was a good time to stop talking. He excused himself and went looking for Annabelle.
To be continued . . .
The righteous Cast of Characters:
This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a crown?), 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. Do know the difference between desert and dessert?