The test flight is cut short and they return to the workshop. The zeppelin’s noisy descent is a bit raunchy, and Sylvia is not amused. She offends her friends by accusing the neighbors of wicked acts.
The view from the zeppelin is stunning, to say the least. If you just joined us, I recommend you backtrack a bit to start nearer the beginning. Scroll down for a moderately helpful chart that lists the actors. Recommended snack: Root beer and squash fritters, or maybe apple ones. Soundtrack: Let One Go
While The Prince slowly recovered from his shock, Gari doled out snacks to the tiny, but apparently starving, squirrels. He kept them busy and away from the windows until Bianca traded places with Sylvia up front. Sylvia moved back to the snack area and found a place on the couch with Dobby. He suddenly perked up and demanded a root beer. Sali poked around in the snack cabinet and found him one.
Annabelle had made an efficient about-turn and they were now headed back to the workshop. The little vole had been on the dashboard with Annabelle during the disturbing flyover, and was now talking quietly to Bianca and Bond. He picked up the radio microphone, called up Rodney, and relayed a brief description of the discovery. He listened a moment and hung up.
“Rodney is checking the workshop landing area in preparation for our imminent landing.”
“We’ll be landing in a quarter hour,” said Annabelle. “How’s the snacking coming along? Because everyone will need to be buckled in. I’ve never landed Zeppy with so much live load. This will be fun!” Annabelle cackled nervously as the little valet looked at the flight attendants for reassurance.
“Zeppy? Don’t let The Prince hear you call his pet project Zeppy,” said Bianca. “He’s very proud of this one.” The valet moved a little farther away from Annabelle and Bianca fluffed herself up as if to say to him “don’t try to sit in this chair with me.”
Sylvia made her way forward again, but Conchita shooed her away. “We’re good up here. We’ll be landing in about ten, so just make sure everyone’s finishing up with the snacks. I’ll come back and check on you in a few.”
Sylvia made her way back, briefly talked to the little squirrels and a chorus of whining began in earnest. Gari made an announcement and they quieted down and continued annihilating their snacks.
The Prince was asleep on his couch when Conchita came through for a final cabin check. The squirrels managed to fasten a seat belt around him. Gari, Sylvia and the three squirrels barely offset the Prince’s supine bulk on the couch opposite him. Naked mole rats appeared out of nowhere and scurried to their posts adjusting fins and the rudder as the zeppelin floated to the landing area. Annabelle pushed a large lever forward and a raucous farting sound from the aft end of the airship signaled the gentle descent to a gigantic Z painted on the ground outside the workshop. Sylvia and Gari looked at each other in shock as the little squirrels burst into laughter, shouting to Annabelle, “Do it again!” Annabelle looked behind her, grinning and laughing and let another one rip. Sylvia noticed that Dobby was peeking out of one eye, was pouffy from nose to tuckis, and was trying hard not to laugh.
“What?” Dobby looked at her as he struggled to sit up. “The only thing about zeppelins is that they’re too darned quiet. I fixed it.”
The big airship farted a few more times as Annabelle finessed the landing. Newt bounced as gently as a balloon when they touched down. “We’re down! How did I do? Was it fun? I think those sound effects were the best idea The Prince has ever had!”
“I can’t believe you did that to me. The kids will be landing with fart noises every time they leap down from somewhere,” said Sylvia. “Forever. I can’t believe you didn’t warn me.”
“I tell you, I didn’t know! I was only involved with the cargo net thing. Nobody told me,” said Gari. “I’m innocent! Who all was in on it?” Gari looked around the table but Rodney was messing with the ice cream in his float. Annabelle, Bianca and Conchita had suddenly spilled a dish of birdseed to the ground. They were under the table pecking around. Kipling was just now returning from the kitchen with a platter of leftover apple fritters. Vincent looked up from his clipboard and pushed back his tiny reading glasses. Moneypenny nudged him and giggled. Dobby was looking out the window, deep in thought. Bond flew in and landed on the table as Kipling set down the fritters.
“For me? How thoughtful,” said the little budgie. “I see everyone else has root beer. Any left for me? Spill a little bit into a bottle cap?”
Dobby turned from the window and sat down on a large red velvet pillow with gold braid and tassels. “What’s the report? Have we a clear flight plan?”
“Right now we do,” said the budgie. He was a little breathless from the long flight. “it’s perfectly safe along the upper river. If we fly directly to the river and follow it south, we should be fine. Moneypenny, you were right about that raven. He’s still there, and so are the alligators on the bank beyond the outbuildings at the cottage. They seem to be playing on the same team. There is a kind of a path, a linear wallow, from the castle moat to the river. That seems to be the alligator route. It’s all fire swamp that direction. The gators seem to stay away from the forest and shady river banks. That’s why I think we’re safe following the river down to the Schist castle tomorrow.”
“But you’re not sure,” said the Prince. “We need to be absolutely certain. If you can’t be more convincing than that, I’ll leave everyone behind and drive down on my own. We’re all excited about the zeppelin, and I would love to surprise Mother with a couple dozen hungry guests, but there will be other opportunities. If nobody goes with me, I won’t stay long, anyway. So, was there any sign of Caplin?”
“No, but there were no signs that the alligators come up to the cottage, so that’s good. They stay on the sunny fire swamp side. They make a huge mess of it when they go in and out of the water, and there’s no sign of that kind of activity on the cottage side. I know that because there are some chickadees that hang out there, and they watch the gators carefully, as you might imagine. I was going to send our sentries to check it out but that raven is a problem. I don’t want him seeing me, either, but the chickadees are with us. Not like the useless sparrows.”
“Good to know,” said Moneypenny. “There’s only so much I can see on the cameras, and we don’t dare send Charlie and Hamish down there again. We don’t want to give any alligators an incentive to check out the cottage grounds. How do we get supplemental reports from the chickadees?”
“Well, there’s that picnic area at the end of the road. We posted a couple sentries there. That area seems safe, though at some point the roosters will come back to harvest the bird seed from those fields. Our sentries are setting up a relay team so I don’t have to fly back and forth so much,” said Bond.
“Did they have anything to say about Caplin? He’s my top concern,” said the Prince. “The Jeep is still there, right? Could we have missed something? I was sure surprised that he was able to get in that back door. We don’t have a good view of that area at all.”
“I asked specifically about him,” said Bond. “The chickadees hang out there a lot because of the birdseed, and they were familiar with the roosters and that weird capybara. They saw the forest get cleared, watched the construction of the outbuildings, saw the whole operation. Caplin wasn’t part of it. They were surprised when he drove up and went in. He hadn’t been there in ages, and they didn’t think it even belonged to him anymore. The roosters have been sleeping there for quite a while. They thought Caplin was breaking into the cottage but then he fiddled with the doorknob and that back door popped right open. If he had broken a window or something they would have known he didn’t belong there. As it is they weren’t alarmed. They’re watching now, though.”
“They didn’t see him walk off, then? Do they think he’s hiding in the cottage now? We’ve only got surveillance on the main room, but it seems like he’d have to walk through there eventually,” said the Prince. He thought for a minute, absorbing this new information. It wasn’t terribly helpful.
Gari had been quietly listening and looked at Moneypenny. “I’m curious about the capybara that seemed to be in charge of the roosters. You never saw the roosters or the capybara after they harvested the garden, did you?” Moneypenny shook her head. “Was there anything about the strange capybara that convinced you it wasn’t Caplin? Could it have been Caplin, disguised?”
Bond piped up. “That wouldn’t really jibe with the sequence of events. And anyway, the chickadees were familiar with the odd capybara. It was always there, kind of supervising the roosters. The capybara never went into the cottage. The roosters always went in the front door. And they kept referring to the capybara as she.”
The Prince looked over at Bond sharply. “She?”
“Yes, or her. They were kind of joking about her dramatic black outfit, swishy and with sparkles, sequins or something, black patent slippers, and a ridiculous hat.”
The Prince reached up and removed his ten gallon hat, setting it on the floor beside him. Sylvia stifled a giggle.
“So, if this capybara didn’t go into the cottage, where did she go? It doesn’t sound like she’d be camping out in the forest, not in that getup,” said Sylvia. “Did she prance past the alligators to her condo in the fire swamp? Did they see her coming or going? Ride out on a broom?”
“They seemed to be in the dark about that. I forgot to tell you that she locked the roosters in the cottage at night, opened it in the morning,” said Bond. “It sounds like she showed up from dawn to dusk. I asked the chickadees how she could magically appear like that, and all they could tell me was that she didn’t come down the road from the west. They thought she might come from the south or east but they didn’t seem to have a clue, really. Otherwise they were pretty observant.”
“This isn’t helping much,” said the Prince. “I’m more convinced than ever that something terrible has happened to Caplin. Let’s try this again: Caplin went into the tent. Roosters plus capybara showed up with wagons. Harvested the garden. Took away wagons and the tent was gone. Did they harvest Caplin? Could they have captured him, just rolled up the tent with him in it, and taken him away? Was there space on the wagon at the far end? As far-fetched as that is, it’s the only explanation. Anyone else have any ideas?”
There was silence around the table. Rodney was the first to speak. “I watched that video a hundred times. I think we all did. It’s hard to see the tent once the wagons pulled up, but the rooster activity is a bit more exaggerated back there, and the kooky capybara was back there, not close to the cameras where all the garden harvest was going on. She wasn’t interested in that at all. They could easily have bundled him up inside the tent and covered him with cornstalks or something.”
“I gotta agree,” said Moneypenny. “I’m beating myself up pretty bad for setting so few surveillance cameras, both in the house, and on the grounds. I could have missed him going back to the house, but there’s no sign anyone’s been in there since he left to set up the tent, grab some seed cakes, and hunker down in the tent. There’s no one in or around the outbuildings either. And his Jeep is still on the front path where he parked it.”
“Let’s go with abduction by roosters, rolled into his own tent, spirited away via wagon by a she-capybara,” said the Prince. “So where is he now? Where did she take him?”
“Me, me,” said Sylvia. “I want to guess first. She’s got on fancy party shoes, and they’ve got a fat capybara in a tent on their wagon. They’ll stick to roads, or at least serious pathways, kind of wide. The chickadees said she goes south-ish. Y’all are very kind, but you know I’ve never heard any of you say anything nice about those Schist capybaras. The daughters sound perfectly useless, but my money’s on that queen. She sounds positively evil. I think she’s kidnapped Caplin, just to keep him from putting the kibosh on her bird seed cookie operation. He’s in that castle somewhere.”
Everyone stared at Sylvia in stunned silence. You could have heard a toilet flush in the next county. Dobby was aghast and Vincent quickly poured him another root beer. Moneypenny clutched her pearls. Rodney abruptly left the table to go sharpen a pencil.
“Now Sylvia,” said the Prince. “That is quite an accusation. Caplin and I grew up with the Schists. My mother and the queen are best friends. I mean, my mother is having her birthday party there tomorrow! I hardly think she has my brother stashed in the dungeon. That’s ridiculous.”
“So they have a dungeon over there?” Sylvia looked both smug and insulted. “I don’t see anyone else coming up with any ideas. I think you’re all too close to the problem. Who else could it be? Where else could Caplin be? Okay, fine. Why don’t you just send him another text and see what happens?”
Dobby looked down at his phone. Forlorn, he texted his tenth message today as they all watched.
“He doesn’t answer, does he,” said Sylvia. “That’s because he’s locked in a dungeon.”
“Dobby doesn’t always answer my texts right away, but it’s never been because he’s locked up in a dungeon,” said Gari. “Dobby and I went to school with those dummies, and their mother was unpleasant but she was not a witch. We all grew up together, went to the same school. There’s been a lifetime of birthday parties, until we were old enough to say no. They were awful now that I think of it, but not malicious.”
“I gotta agree with you guys. Sorry Sylvia,” said Rodney. “If Queen Schist was a witch, we’d surely know about that. Their castle is practically right next door! We’re not that oblivious.”
Sylvia sat silently as that comment sank in. Dobby was thinking about the cleared forest and the stolen fields. Gari was thinking about the Schist dungeon they used to play in when they were kids. Queen Bonnie had turned hers into a wine cellar long ago, but what if the Schists still had a functional dungeon? Moneypenny thought about where she failed to install lights and cameras. Rodney was calculating the capacity of the zeppelin, now that tomorrow’s ride was all-hands-on-deck. Bianca was thinking about the special rooster who left so long ago.
“What about the roosters,” she said. “I miss Percy so much! I thought we were going to get married. It never made sense that they all disappeared so suddenly. I never got even a postcard from him. And they’ve been next door all this time.” She looked down at her lap, embarrassed at this confession.
Sylvia sat forward and looked at the group. “You’re not going to like this, but I think that capybara witch had the roosters under a spell!”
Everyone looked around and then they all burst out laughing. Dobby had a little coughing fit and Gari rolled around on the ground laughing. The hens were dancing and cackling. Rodney was snickering and blew his nose a couple times. Moneypenny and Bond did a little jig on the empty fritter platter. Even the butler and valet were grinning and slapping each other on the back.
“Boy was I wrong,” said Sylvia. “what was so funny, then?” Sylvia was not laughing.
Dobby tried to answer, but he was laughing so hard he was all pouffy.
“The Schists can’t spell!” said Gari. “There’s no way that queen could put a spell on someone!”
To be continued . . .
The inevitable Cast of Characters:
This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about the alligators?), 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 what a tuckis is?