The farmers check out the hidden field beyond their useless barren fields. Dobby goes with them to check out Caplin’s cottage and embarrasses himself in a botched attempt to get over the vegetable garden fence.
The plot thickens, or in this case, the ephemeral plot floats like a mist in the distance. Here’s a link if you decide to start reading at the beginning. There’s a helpful chart below to give you a chance to sort out the rodents. Recommended snack: Baguette and watermelon. Soundtrack: Going Down the Road Feeling Bad
It was a beautiful sunny morning, like all mornings in the principality. Charlie and Hamish trotted south on the farm road, stopping occasionally to bounce and tussle in a friendly brotherly fashion. Bond flitted behind as they squared down and butted heads and then landed on Hamish’s left horn when they settled back into a reasonable trot. Charlie looked at the tiny perched bird and caught his eye.
“I can’t decide whether or not to be angry. I have been trying to grow birdseed forever on our barren fields and some interloper has trespassed our land, cut down our forest, stolen our magic, and they are growing birdseed, which is hardly even available around here anymore. It seems so impossible that I’m not sure I have the story straight! That’s about it, though, isn’t it?”
“That’s what we know so far,” said Bond. “I can lead you to the field but other than that I haven’t a clue what to look for.”
“What we’ll be looking for is how they get the birdseed out. Unless they are eating it directly off the growing stalks, there has to be signs of a road or trucks or something. I’m thinking you can fly over and look for anything suspicious, something that doesn’t look natural. Hamish will check it out on the ground. He’ll look at the edges of the forest. He’s the fastest, plus he loves to run,” and at that, Hamish tossed his head and Bond went flying. “But I am the farmer. I’ll look at the crop, how mature it is, how healthy, how close to harvest time we are. So that’s the other thing, making sure we don’t run into any unsavory characters. Somebody is tending those fields. Come to think of it, if they haven’t harvested in a while, there won’t be much evidence of comings and goings. But you need to let us know if you see any workers or sentries.”
“Got it. We’re close enough that I could fly over and report back before you get there. It takes a lot longer by road.”
“Great! Do it!”
“When we get there, I’ll make a speedy reconnaissance run all around the edge of the field,” said Hamish. “Dobby said there’s a road in from this end and another at the far end. I’ll try to figure out how recently they’ve been used. I’ll be able to recognize the roadster tire tracks from a couple days ago. Nothing quite like that anywhere else around here.”
“Yeah,” said Charlie. “It’s not exactly farm equipment, is it? I brought a couple sample bags for bird seed. I’m going to gather a bunch from this end. Dobby said it looked ready to harvest. Can you take this other bag with you and grab a sample from the far end of the field when you’re down there? And don’t eat it all!”
Hamish burped up a little cud, and then Charlie copied him and they chewed cud together as they walked down the dusty farm road. When they came to the forest shade and damp section of road, they dropped to the ground and continued chewing while they waited for the return of Bond.
Drowsy Hamish sprang to his feet as tiny Bond landed on his horn and began to babble.
“ . . . And there wasn’t much detail I could see from up above, you know. It’s totally deserted right now, not a soul there, unless they were deep in the forest, and that roadside part doesn’t have any depth, it’s only a skinny bit of woods to hide the fields from the road. So let’s go check out the closer road.”
The two sheep trotted along the shady road until they came to the larger paved road. They turned left onto it and crossed to the west field entry road when Bond circled above, directing them. The sheep, like Dobby, recognized the entry path to the old picnic area but were also surprised when it widened and the expansive field of birdseed came onto view.
“Hoo boy,” said Charlie. “This is not how I remember it. At all. How did they manage to cut and clear the forest without anyone noticing? Hmmm. We have fields just beyond the forest to our left, but they are the barren ones, and I haven’t been out there much. You know, I bet they did it gradually, and what I did notice was our fields going bad. Cutting the trees sucked all the magic out of our soil, but it was gradual until our fields basically died. But the magic is strong here, this birdseed crop is good, and Dobby is right: it’s almost ready to harvest. And there is a ton of it! This is easily as big as our biggest field. Ugh, that’s right! This is our field! Should I be planning to harvest it?”
Bond was on the ground, pecking around at the seeds as Charlie gathered seed heads into his sack. Hamish had sprinted to the far end of the field and was now too far away to see. Charlie turned his back to the field and looked down the road they had come in on. It was narrow where it met the large paved road, widened as it approached the field, and then split and formed an edge at the forest line on both sides, all the way down to where Hamish had gone. Charlie walked toward the big road and stopped. So did the road, that is, it didn’t continue across the road, it simply stopped at this side. Staring down the road, sniffing at the air, and looking at the forest across the way, he stomped and snorted.
“That’s Caplin’s cottage over there,” said Charlie. “The driveway is down the road a ways, and past our farm road, obviously, but that’s his land over there. That’s why it’s forest and not desert like the Schist land next to it. I think I’d want a forest buffer, too, if it was mine.”
Bond flew over to investigate and then flew up and over the road. He circled over the cottage and came back just as Hamish returned.
“it’s been a while since I checked out Caplin’s cottage,” said Bond, “ but it looks about the same. Neat and tidy, driveway in good condition, little vegetable garden out back.”
“Little vegetable garden out back?” Said Charlie and Hamish, in unison. They looked at each other and frowned.
“Caplin wouldn’t know a potato from a peach. Plus, of course, he hasn’t been there in years, to hear him tell it. That’s just weird,” said Charlie. “How did the other end of the field look?”
“Not anywhere near as ready to harvest as this here. You’ll see when you look in my bag,” said Hamish. “The road at the other end is more like a foot path. It stops at the road like this one. It’s across from the Schist property driveway though, that’s kind of ominous. They have that bridge over the river there, but the land is so toxic that nothing grows, so you can see all the way in to their castle. I didn’t cross the street to look back at the path but the way it angles to the road, you probably can’t see it from the Schist entry or the road. The road dead ends just beyond, anyway, at one of Dobby’s little picnic areas. Nobody drives down there anyway.”
“How do King Clyde and Queen Bonnie get there, then? That’s the closest entrance to the Schist castle and they go there a lot, don’t they? That’s why they always come to Dobby’s palace the back way, up the farm road. She complains about that dust every time,” said Charlie. “Wouldn’t they have seen that little road across from the entry as they left?”
Hamish looked thoughtful. “I don’t think so. They aren’t terribly observant. She leaves the driving to the King, because she is too busy talking to drive. And he’s too busy driving, staring straight ahead and ignoring her with all his might. Unless that little road has flashing lights I didn’t notice, they are too oblivious to notice that kind of thing. Path in the woods, you know, nothing to see. They aren’t the type to get their shoes dirty.”
The two sheep took one last look around, pawed the ground a bit, butted horns and trotted back to report to Dobby. Bond flitted about overhead, muttering something about teatime and they kicked their hooves into high gear and raced each other all the way home.
It was another sunny day in the principality. The overnight rain had cleaned the foliage and damped down the dust on the farm road. Even the barren fields looked promising with soil darkened to a rich, chocolatey brown by the sprinkling. Charlie and Hamish trotted ahead, eager to re-examine the fields and the paths leading into it. Dobby’s Segway barely kept up, loaded down as it was with supplies, or maybe it was his lunch. Moneypenny sat atop a baguette and looked thoughtful as Bond pecked at the crust between questions.
“I don’t really understand why we need to install surveillance out here if Caplin never uses the cottage anymore,” said Bond. “Can’t we wait until there is a reason to suspect something going on out there? Shouldn’t we wait to ask Caplin?”
“Caplin has been trying to unload the cottage onto the Prince for a long time, but Dobby insists that he keep at least one connection to the kingdom. Dobby feels obligated to look it over from time to time, or else Caplin might really sell it to someone out of the family. He’s perfectly justified in placing surveillance out there. We should have done it a long time ago, but a quick flyover was all that seemed necessary. A vegetable garden suddenly appearing is not particularly menacing, but it’s definitely weird.”
“Don’t disagree with that. I think the Prince wants to check on the fields again, figure out how the paths and roads tie together, but mostly look at Caplin’s cottage. He feels kind of bad about neglecting it, I don’t know why. Caplin doesn’t care. Maybe he just wants to raid the garden!”
The little flying squirrel and the budgie started giggling at the thought, puffing up their bellies and pretending to stuff their faces. Dobby turned his head in time to see Bond trying to eat a particularly large piece of crust and frowned.
“Are you eating my baguette?”
A few minutes later they were all staring at the distant roof of Caplin’s cottage from the illegal field. Bond flew that direction while the rest of them unpacked some of the lunch parcels from the little trailer Rodney had built for the Segway. The baguette had lost a fair amount of crust on the end that stuck out of the top, but the salad and fritters came out of the bottom of the picnic basket in good shape. Charlie and Hamish found a patch of grass to graze on and Moneypenny busied herself gleaning seeds from the field. The lunch in the basket was all intended for the Prince. Bond returned and joined Moneypenny, pecking at the seeds on the ground.
“On the way back this time, I noticed a small path nearer to where we are now. I don’t think we have to go all the way down to the driveway to check out the cottage. And if this path is new, it might be the best place to set out some surveillance cameras. We should put some at the driveway too, but that’s not an entrance anyone is going to try to sneak in on. Hey, Hamish! There seems to be a new path to check out. You should go through first and use your super tracking sense on it before anyone drives a Segway or something through there.” Bond looked around at the team. Charlie and Hamish had crumpled to the ground and were chewing cud. Moneypenny was stuffing a tiny bag with seeds and Prince Dobalob was through the fritters and halfway through a watermelon. Bond sighed and flew over to the picnic basket, landed on the handle, closed his eyes and enjoyed the sun.
As the team sauntered down the road, Bond flitted ahead, looking for the path he had seen from above. Charlie engaged the Prince in idle chitchat regarding vegetable gardening as a distraction allowing Hamish to get a head start on reconnaissance. Suddenly, Bond the budgie hovered excitedly at the edge of the road and Hamish made an abrupt turn and disappeared. Dobby maneuvered the Segway toward them and Moneypenny, sitting on Dobby’s shoulder, stood tall to see ahead. Bond flew back to the Prince and sat on his opposite shoulder.
“Let’s wait here for them to check it out and call the all clear.”
“Hamish will be examining the edges of the path,” said Charlie. “From here I can’t see much. The path curves right away so I can’t see very far down it. Let’s wait for him to get back before we follow.” Charlie looked at the Prince, who was also straining to see around the curve. “Do you remember seeing this path before? It’s been ages since I came out here, but I don’t remember it. It’s kinda subtle, though, mostly just a trailhead and then it disappears. The understory is dense in this part of the forest. Probably some nice berry picking, though.”
There was a miniature galloping sound and Hamish sprinted back to them. He snorted and scratched the ground before he started to talk. “The path is narrow but well used. It meanders through the forest and then opens up at a clearing near the cottage and a couple out-buildings, a garage or something. The interesting thing is that there is a bit of birdseed here and there along the edge. Charlie would have to back me up on this, but there also seems to be some grass- sprouted bird seed- along the edges. There’s enough stray birdseed around here that it’s had time to grow. It’s not as mature as the fields, though. And not surprisingly there are a lot of bird footprints, great big ones, so the birdseed bonanza has been discovered.”
At this, the little budgie looked down at his own tiny toes and grinned. “Innocent!”
The prince was listening carefully and look confused. “Out-buildings? I don’t remember this path, at all. Shall we check it out? You ready for us to come through, Hamish?” And without waiting for an answer, he Segwayed forward and turned down the path as the team scattered out of the way. Dust flew, obliterating any footprints or extraneous clues, and he switch backed through the woods as Moneypenny hung on for dear life. Charlie and Hamish turned their back to the dust and muttered to each other while Bond pulled a tiny dust mask out of somewhere and adjusted it around his beak and nose. Soon they heard a voice in the distance, calling to Bond.
“You’re not kidding! This is a nifty vegetable garden!” The Prince had Segwayed across the yard and was halfway across a white picket fence that encircled a fairytale vegetable garden. Furrowed rows with greenery of every size and shape, corn stalks, beans growing up bamboo teepees, peas growing up trellises, it was the prettiest vegetable garden you could possibly imagine. Except for the now flailing capybara, probably not exactly impaled on the pickets, but struggling mightily to go forward, or maybe backwards, it was hard to tell. Charlie and Hamish casually strolled to the gate just a bit beyond the portly Prince, released the latch, and walked in. Bond landed on the princely tuchis and spun a little circle. “What are you doing, Dobs?”
Charlie went straight down each row, admiring the little dream garden, afraid to touch any of the perfect plants. Meanwhile, Hamish walked over to the wriggling and sputtering Prince, positioned his head under Dobby’s chest, and gently lifted him off the fence onto the ground outside the garden. Hamish deftly hopped over the fence, possibly exaggerating the jump for demonstration purposes, and waited for the Prince to gather his composure. Silently, they walked along the fence until they came to the fancy little arbored gate. Hamish opened it with a little kick of his hoof and then with a flourish, swung the gate open. The Prince lumbered in, went right past the kale, and started munching his way down a row of romaine lettuce.
To be continued . . .
The usual Cast of Characters:
This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a parakeet on a baguette?), 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!
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