The day of the birthday party arrived. The flight of the zeppelin has gained a purpose beyond simple party transportation. The passengers investigate the mysterious trousers flapping outside a small window high up on the Schist Castle wall.
The Prince is in control, or is he? If you just joined us, I highly recommend that you backtrack a bit to start at the beginning. Scroll down for a moderately helpful list of characters. Recommended snack: Squash fritters, or maybe just go for a dozen donuts. Soundtrack: Fly Me to the Moon
“Quite ridiculous,” said Moneypenny. “There has to be another explanation. You bring up a good point, Bianca, about the roosters. Everyone else has watched the video of the roosters, why haven’t you hens asked to see it?”
Bianca stared at the ground and pecked at an imaginary bug. She looked at The Prince when she answered. “I was afraid I would see Percy in the video, not fifteen minutes away all this time and he never visited. Or wrote. Or worse, that he wasn’t there because something happened to him. I was scared of what I might learn. I’m still scared, everything is so confusing.”
Annabelle and Conchita moved closer to her in comfort. Dobby pulled a small packet of seeds from his waistcoat and poured them into a dish in front of Bianca, giving Annabelle and Conchita the stink-eye as if to say back off and let Bianca eat first. Moneypenny scurried over and snatched a sunflower seed that had spilled onto the table.
“Why don’t the three of you come with me and we’ll watch that video together,” she said. “Maybe you’ll see something we missed.”
As they walked away, The Prince called out to them. “Someone has been dropping packets of birdseed around your tree house since the roosters left. I don’t think that is an accident.”
The three hens nervously arranged and rearranged themselves around the video monitor in Moneypenny’s office. She cued up the video and the hens rearranged themselves within pecking distance of the monitor. The three hens silently watched the black and white roosters on the surveillance video emerge from the path. A few walked alongside, but most had teamed up to pull the wagons. The mysterious capybara walked among them. The roosters advanced quickly into closer view and suddenly Bianca let out a little sigh and fainted right onto the floor. Moneypenny paused the video as Annabelle and Conchita tended to their sister. Moneypenny cued up the video to a few seconds before Bianca fainted. The faces of the roosters were clear enough to be recognizable and Moneypenny gasped as she, too, recognized the proud and handsome Percy, teamed up to pull a wagon. She backed up the video to the first good view of the roosters.
“You okay to watch that again,” said Moneypenny, “or do you want more time?”
“Let’s get it over with,” said Annabelle. “We’ve got her, now.”
“Okay, I’ll run it in slow motion this time. Can we get someone over here to take notes?”
A naked mole rat rushed over with a clipboard and pencil and Moneypenny switched on another monitor for him to watch on.
“Okay, do you know this first team,” said Moneypenny, ”or the guys walking alongside?”
There was some discussion among the hens and Conchita reported in. “That’s Vinny and Salvatore pulling the wagon. They’re brothers. And Anthony walking, but the other guy is looking away, don’t know for sure, but it could be Scooter. Oh, here we go, that’s Percy for sure, pulling the second wagon but he’s teamed up with Dewey. That’s so weird, he hates Dewey. They used to fight all the time. And Percy wouldn’t do manual labor. Ever. That can’t be right.”
There was more discussion among the hens and Bianca spoke up. “My Percy does not pull wagons. But there he is. Meek as a mouse, and hitched to his arch-enemy Dewey. Why doesn’t he peck at him or walk away? Or just come home!”
“Do you know any of these other guys,” said Conchita. “Could that be Oscar? Look at that tail. He was one that lived over there with Queen Bonnie. Bond, where’s Bond? He brought back reports when, well, when—.”
“Yeah, there was Oscar and that other cute guy, what was his name? Rastaman, that’s it,” said Annabelle. “Do you see him? He played guitar in the band.”
“That’s right,” said Conchita. “They’ve been gone so long. Imagine if they were at Caplin’s cottage all this time. Working the fields.”
“Percy does not work in the fields!”
Annabelle and Conchita turned to look at Bianca behind them and startled when they saw Gari, standing behind her. He was grinning and had quite obviously been listening to them discussing the roosters. Conchita cleared her throat and tapped the naked mole rat on the shoulder.
“Read me back that list of names.”
“Percy, Dewey, Vinny, Salvatore, Anthony, Scooter, Oscar, and Rastaman.”
“That’s eight,” said Conchita, all business now. “There’s at least a dozen, so maybe four we don’t know?”
“I see at least a dozen roosters, maybe more,” said Moneypenny. “They were moving around a lot. Let’s count when they move the wagons out.”
“There they go,” said Gari. “I see three wagons, two roosters pulling, two behind pushing, so, yeah, a dozen. You don’t know the last four?”
“No,” said Annabelle. “That was the crew for the far wagon, and they were too far away. So, Garibaldi, what are you doing here?”
“I just thought I’d check in. Dobby and Sylvia went for a walk. The kidlets have a babysitter. The kitchen is closed. All we have is popcorn. Anyone want to watch a movie? I brought The Princess Bride.”
Conchita looked at him gratefully and smiled. “That would be perfect. This has been so distressing. That sound okay to you girls, too?”
They all looked quite relieved. They followed Gari to the media room, emptying the IT office except for two disappointed naked mole rats who reluctantly took up seats at the bank of live monitors.
Light overnight rain freshened the air and the scent of roses and lilacs drifted through the breakfast room at Prince Dobalob’s palace. Sylvia and the kids messed up a table by the kitchen and had the rabbits hopping with their constant order changes. Tables full of workmen in clean overalls spilled coffee and fought over pastries. Dobby, Gari, Rodney, and Annabelle grilled Moneypenny and Bond regarding the latest reconnaissance.
“The, um, reptiles haven’t moved,” said Dobby. “They’ve been there for days, now. Are we certain they’re real?”
“Oh, yes,” said Bond. “The chickadees are watching, and they do move around, but not much. the ga— um, reptiles definitely came over from the Schist Castle moat. The sentries have been watching them, too. So unfortunately they are alive and well.” He flew to the open window and then flew out.
“Still no sign of Caplin. I casually phoned my mother and she didn’t mention him, so he’s not there,” said Dobby. “She’s not expecting him for the party, so if he had showed up at the ROUS Palace it would’ve been a big deal.”
“No more roosters or rogue capybaras,” said Moneypenny. “Pretty boring over at the cottage and fields. All the same, I’d avoid flying over there.”
“I’ll never fly over the cottage again,” said Annabelle. “I nearly had a heart attack last time.”
“I’ve adjusted the ballast to accommodate additional passengers,” said Rodney. “I feel obliged to ride along, and we could use extra crew. We don’t need to stock up on snacks, because there will be plenty of food at the party.”
Prince Dobalob stood up rather suddenly at that last bit, but sat down again as he realized Rodney was correct. Bond flew back onto the windowsill with a sentry, a shiny black crow who hopped to the nearest table and gobbled down half a dozen fritters before speaking.
“It’s the Schist Castle. There’s something odd going on over there,” said the sentry.
“Well there is a major event there today. My mother’s birthday party, but surely you knew that, right?”
“Yes, sir,” said the crow. “This oddity seems incongruous with birthday festivities. There are balloons and banners, of course, by the entrance, but this is around the west side. There is a window with a pair of trousers hanging out.”
“That’s it,” said Gari? “Trousers? Well, I guess that is kind of odd. Nobody wears trousers anymore.”
Everyone looked around the room. Waistcoats, utility vests, a few overalls, some Hawaiian shirts. Nothing resembling trousers. No one was dressed for the party yet, but even then there would be no trousers in this crowd. The trend started years ago by Donald Duck had taken hold.
“What window are you talking about,” said The Prince. “There are no windows on that side of Schist’s castle.”
“It’s only a wee tiny window, way up high above the ground,” said the sentry. “The pants are sticking out, flapping a bit like a flag. They weren’t there yesterday.”
“That’s the dungeon,” said Dobby. He looked at Gari. “Remember when we used to play in there as kids? It was dark and gloomy but there was a teeny window way up high. It barely let in any light or air, but it made everything look so wonderfully creepy.”
“That’s not much of a window, as I remember,” said Gari . “So how did pants get up there? What did these trousers look like?”
“They were ordinary khaki trousers, but they looked broad in the beam and short in the leg. We did a couple discrete flybys, we were so surprised. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” said the sentry.
Gari sat up straight in his chair as The Prince stood up.
“What’s up?” Said Rodney.
“Those are Caplin’s pants,” said Dobby. Gari was already moving toward Sylvia and the kids at the far table. “How soon can we be ready to launch the zeppelin?”
Rodney and the naked mole rats were now standing at attention. “It’s ready to rumble right now. We’ll meet you over there. I’ll have the rabbits send over some lightweight snacks. We might not be spending much time at the party. You might want to reconsider taking your mother’s gift with us. Leave it behind. The potential for damage is somewhat higher than I anticipated.”
Dobby nodded and moved toward Sylvia’s table. Gari was explaining the situation but Sylvia insisted that she and the children be allowed to go.
“Now you two are jumping to conclusions,” she said. “It’s only a pair of pants. We’ve hung crazier things than that from the tree house for no reason at all. We’ll be fine, and it seems to me that Sali was quite indispensable last time. They really want to go.”
“Let me talk to them,” said Dobby. Looking around. “I thought they were here with you. Where did they go?”
Sylvia just smiled.
By the time Dobby changed into party clothes and made his way to the launchpad, the rabbits were already hopping out of the zeppelin with empty baskets. Naked mole rats swarmed over the airship. Rodney and Sylvia performed a visual check of Newt’s engine and underbelly. Three bouncing squirrels used the passenger seat as a trampoline. Annabelle adjusted mirrors and crossed off items on her clipboard. Bianca handed the royally attired capybara an aviators scarf and headgear at the door. Prince Dobalob carefully wrapped the silk scarf so that the purple sash and insignia showed on the red velvet waistcoat. He removed his crown, allowed Conchita to place the helmet on his head so that his ears popped out the strategically located and dramatically studded holes. He replaced the crown over the helmet. Conchita cocked her head, smiled at him, then winked at Bianca.
“Gari,” said Bianca, “can you please join us at the door? Prince Dobalob is here!”
Gari emerged from underneath Newt’s belly. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned to show off his Uruguayan medallion. Bianca scowled and handed him a scarf and aviators helmet. Conchita helped him arrange his scarf until it met Bianca’s approval. Rodney and Gari positioned themselves behind the portly prince and got ready to heave him up into Newt, but Dobby pranced up the steps like a spring chicken. He reached the top, turned to look at them, tapped his bejeweled crown, and winked at them. He turned to walk back to his couch and noted the stunned faces, the motionless squirrels, the naked mole rats staring from the rafters. Suddenly pouffy, he danced his way through Newt’s extravagant salon. Three giggling squirrels followed close behind, copying his dance steps. When he opened the snack cupboard, they swarmed over him.
“It’s empty!” they said. They turned and squealed, running forward to Bianca. Dobby shut the cupboard briefly and opened it again. Seed cakes, ice cream and popsicles, juice, corn on the cob, and a great big birthday cake filled the cupboard. He shut the door and moseyed back to the couch. He watched Gari and Sylvia climb the stairs, then Rodney, Vincent the valet, and finally Kipling the butler. Bond flew in and stationed himself at a small, newly installed monitor on the dashboard. A scratchy noise announced Moneypenny at the broadcast end of the display.
“Everyone sit tight and fasten your seat belts,” said Bianca. “Please remain seated unless you are specifically designated by name to attend elsewhere.” She glanced up at the naked mole rats in their tiny safety harnesses and nodded to Annabelle. “We’re good to go!”
Conchita watched the prince nervously but he looked very calm and relaxed this time. Sylvia and Sali exchanged surprised looks and Bianca leaned over to whisper.
“He is so concerned about his brother that he’s totally on task for whatever happens. He’s dressed for the party, but that’s his Power Crown, and that waistcoat has magical threads. There’s something about the sash, too, I can’t remember what, but I’ve never seen him so decked out with magic before. I think we all underestimate how easily he runs his principality using minimal amounts of magic. Things aren’t perfect, but we always have fun, nobody is hungry, and no one gets hurt. This is not our everyday Prince Dobalob,. He means business.”
Sylvia turned to look back discreetly at The Prince who was talking quietly while Rodney pointed at this and that in response to questions. Annabelle drove Newt to the launch area where they paused and waited for the signal from Rodney. And up they went. Annabelle took a large swooping turn to the east, giving a spectacular view of Dobalob’s Palace below. Sylvia and the squirrels were busily spotting the picnic area and retired blimp, fish ponds, and the massive oak that was the focus of the palace. Annabelle guided the zeppelin over the River Dobby and they floated south along the eastern border of the principality.
As they approached the Schist Palace, Prince Dobalob stood up as if to make his way forward, and abruptly sat down again as the zeppelin shifted in response to his weight. He motioned to the smaller beaver, Rodney, and sent him forward with instructions for Annabelle. Our prince was no longer looking as perky as he had at the beginning of the flight. Annabelle stayed east of the massive Schist Castle and slowly circled it as Dobby stared out the window, looking for the dungeon window and the incongruous trousers.
“No alligators,” reported Gari. “Plenty of party balloons and pennants.“
“We have trousers on this side,” said the Prince. “They could be Caplin’s but it’s hard to say from here.”
Bianca leaned out the zeppelin window. She had her head cocked toward the high, barred window. She suddenly hopped to the window sill and flew the short distance to the dungeon window, landing awkwardly on the trousers. As the zeppelin passengers stared in shock, she made her way to the window and stood between the bars.
“Percy!” Bianca peered down into the darkness.
“I don’t think those are Percy’s trousers,” said Conchita, over her shoulder to anyone who might be listening.
Bianca flew down into the dungeon as the passengers held their collective breaths. Bond took off after her, perching on the trousers, not daring to fly down into the dank dungeon with her. He looked at the waistband of the flapping pants, side stepping all around until he located a tag.
“39/22,” said Bond. “Fat with short legs. This is the same manufacturer that makes uniforms for the Guardiã Principale. Fair chance they’re Caplin’s. They’re hung up on a suspender. I’m surprised they didn’t fall back down. I think he must’ve tossed them up here.” He waited for Bianca to return, staring into the abyss. You could have heard a goldfish sneeze, it was so quiet in the zeppelin as they waited with him. Finally Bianca returned, spoke briefly to Bond, and they flew back to the zeppelin together.
To be continued . . .
The marvelous Cast of Characters:
This story needs so many more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about the squirrels jumping around?), 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 trousers are? A waistcoat?