Prince Dobalob cleverly plans a rescue, using materials on board the zeppelin. As they begin to implement the plan, Gari notices a slight complication gathering in the castle moat directly beneath them.
The Prince is still a doofus, but he is an inventive one. If you just joined us, I highly recommend that you backtrack a bit to start at the beginning. Consider that your Spoiler Alert. Scroll down for a moderately helpful list of characters if you are going to start reading now, in spite of the warnings. Recommended snack: Pine nuts, or the economy version: peanuts. Soundtrack: Jaws
Bianca perched at the foot of The Prince’s couch and cleared her throat. “Caplin is there. He’s okay, not hurt or anything, but he is, um, not quite right. Very groggy, not entirely coherent. He is not restrained in any way but in his mental condition, there’s no need for it. He doesn’t seem to know where he is and didn’t recognize me. He is directly beneath the window with no pants on. It’s a narrow space and at the far end is a door with a teeny slot of a window. At that end of the dungeon are about a dozen roosters, including my Percy. They are also stunned and half asleep. Percy recognized me but was not surprised to see me, only mildly curious. He didn’t want me to leave. The roosters are tied together with a length of rope through some shackles on their legs. They acted like it was quite normal to be tied up there.”
Some of the passengers mumbled to each other, but most were deep in thought. Sylvia’s squirrels had crawled into her lap from the nearest cargo net. The naked mole rats were dumbfounded. Gari broke the silence.
“We’ve got to get them out of there, but that dungeon is hard to get to. Remember how we got lost a few times when we were playing down there? We finally had to mark the corridor with chalk. That chalk’s gotta be long-gone. Plus, the castle is full of party guests already, judging by the cars out front. We can’t get away with charging in there to discretely liberate their prisoners. She’s not my mother, but I don’t want to be the one to spoil her birthday party. We have to take them out the window.”
“I measured the window,” said Bond. “And using the pants waistband size, I did the math. Caplin should fit through the window, though it will be snug. I hope he’s kind of smooshy. He’s not going to be able to fly up there, though. Oh yeah, and there are those bars. Those have to go.”
Our Prince had been rather quiet, but he had been listening intently. Now he looked up at the overhead cargo nets. “Are those easy to take down?”
“They attach with grommets and toggles, so yes, easy by design,” said Rodney.
“Let’s take down the big overhead net and one of the side nets. If we float closer to the palace, I think we can sling the smaller one from the zeppelin to the window. We need to secure both ends. What a time to regret not wearing pants. A belt would be perfect.”
Gari whipped off his aviator scarf and held it aloft. “We’ve got a few of these! What’s the big net for?”
“We’re going to lower it into the dungeon with the winch. We’ll send in a volunteer to chew the rope off the rooster shackles. Bianca is going to have to convince them to follow her up the cargo net ladder and cross over to the zeppelin,” said The Prince. “I’m not sure the roosters will be up for flying out. We also need volunteers to chew the bars out of there. Stupid palace must date back before the Iron Age. They’re wood. They have to be chewed so that the outer bars are left with nubs we can fasten the cargo net to. All rodents here are qualified for these chewing jobs. Who’s up for it?”
Three tiny squirrels dashed over to him before Sylvia could object. They stood at attention for about two seconds before they collapsed onto the carpet giggling and pretending to chew each other’s legs and arms off.
“You may work on the window bars,” said Sylvia, ”but I will be the one to free the roosters. How is Caplin getting out?”
“That’s a bit trickier. After the roosters are out, we lower the big cargo net all the way to the floor of the dungeon. Someone’s got to secure him in the net, tie it up, maybe with the rooster rope. I hope he cooperates, maybe Conchita needs to drop down in there to talk him through it. Sylvia, can you tie him up? You’ll both need to ride up with him while we reel the winch up. Then we’ve got to squeeze him through the window and haul him across the small cargo net bridge. I haven’t worked that detail out yet, we’ll probably have to wing it. Speaking of which, Bond you need to be available to carry messages back and forth. I don’t think this is a good time to be texting, it’s too slow, and then there’s auto correct, and, well, we can’t take chances.”
“I’m not sure we can handle that much extra weight,” said Rodney. “I didn’t know about the roosters. I was only figuring on Caplin, and it was dicey at that. There’s a reason why the snack cupboard is empty this trip.”
Dobby made a small choking noise, and Gari glared at him. ”What do we do if Caplin and the roosters are too heavy? What does that mean? Do we just motor back home, I guess?”
Dobby was looking out the window, but answered Gari’s questions. “We just throw out some ballast. You’re about the right size to offset Caplin.”
The little squirrels giggled as Gari leaned back into his couch and crossed his arms over his chest, frowning.
“Sounds like a plan,” said Rodney. “If nobody has any questions, let’s get started.”
“How do we get to the window to start chewing?” said Cu.
“You will have to jump,” said Sylvia. “I know you can do it. Annabelle will get us as close as she can, right? And then I suppose she’ll have to rise up a bit so we can dangle the small cargo net to you. You will need to hook it over the window bars. Don’t forget and accidentally chew them all the way down! You have to leave nubs! I’ll be the first one across and I don’t feel like dropping into the moat!”
While Annabelle maneuvered the zeppelin toward the window, Gari took down the cargo nets and fastened aviator scarves to one end of the smaller net. Rodney examined the forward and aft winches. It was an awkward angle to the window from either end, but access to the winch was easiest from the rear. He let out some cable and fastened the large cargo net to the hook. Then he rolled the net into a tight sausage that would fit through the dungeon window.
Three squirrels jumped across with ease, hollering “alley oop!” As they left. Annabelle floated the zeppelin up as Gari tied the small cargo net to Newt’s window frame. The squirrels expertly chewed the wood bars and set them down on the window frame.
“What do we do with these?” Asked Sali. She was gingerly holding up the trousers.
“Bring them across to Gari,” said Dobby. “He forgot to wear pants this morning!”
From above, Gari swung the cargo net until they could snag it end set it onto the nubs of the bars. Annabelle lowered the zeppelin and positioned it so that the small cargo net made an ersatz bridge from the zeppelin to the dungeon window. Sylvia scrambled across to her squirrels. Rodney maneuvered the large cargo net sausage around to the bridge. Sylvia and the squirrels dragged it across and dangled it through the dungeon window as Rodney let out cable. Sylvia unfurled the large net sausage and disappeared down into the dungeon as Conchita traded places with the squirrels and dropped down into the dungeon after her. Bianca paced nervously at the zeppelin window and Bond flew over to the dungeon window. Seeing that Dobby had a box of seed cakes open, the squirrels snuggled down on the couch with him while their mother worked in the dungeon.
Bond flew over to Bianca as the first of the roosters emerged from the dungeon. They hesitated at the window before tentatively crossing the makeshift bridge to Newt’s cozy salon. They looked tattered and confused but Bianca found Percy and they all settled down on the carpet and fell promptly asleep. Bond flew back to the window and then down into the dungeon. Rodney let out cable until Bond signaled that the net was laying on the floor of the dungeon. Bond came back up to discuss the situation with Dobby. He went to the snack cupboard and brought out a piece of corn on the cob. Two naked mole rats wrestled it across the ramp and dropped it down into the dungeon.
A very long time later, Conchita appeared at the dungeon window and motioned to Rodney to reel in the winch.
Gari had been staring out the window for quite some time and now he signaled to Bond. Bond flew over, looked out the window and chirped. Everyone turned to stare at him as Gari quieted him down. Bianca stood up and hopped over to the window and looked down. A kind of a mangled cluck escaped her before Gari could warn her. Bond flew to the prince’s shoulder and whispered in his ear. The squirrels stretched up to listen but Dobby reached into his waistcoat and pulled out a bag of pine nuts and set it on the couch a small distance away. They dashed over to it and mutilated the bag as they fought over the tiny nuts inside.
“There are alligators below us,” said Bond. “Gari saw some in the distance, approaching from Caplin’s cottage, probably the ones we saw before. But then he looked directly down and there are already half a dozen big ones directly below us and there are more approaching from both ends of the moat. Plus the ones coming from the cottage.”
“It doesn’t bode well for motoring away if we can’t stay aloft once we get fat Caplin aboard. And I guess throwing Gari overboard is no longer an option,” said Dobby. Bond stared at him, realizing that Dobby might not have been joking about that earlier. “My plan can still work, because we don’t have to touch down. Of course, we’re still waiting to see if Caplin fits through the window and all.”
“But the math,” said Bond.
“One test is worth one hundred expert opinions,” said Dobby. “How is Sylvia doing? Is Caplin cooperating at all?”
“Caplin keeps giggling and falling over. He’s not quite himself. She’s spent all this time getting him into position so she can tie him up in the net. He’ll never make it across the cargo net bridge on his own power,” said Bond. “Any ideas yet on how to get him across to the zeppelin?”
“We just reel him in, like a big fat fish,” said Dobby. “Rodney’s installed the biggest winches made. Oh, look! He’s at the window now. I think. Something is there, and it’s not Sylvia. Ah, it’s Conchita.”
Conchita made her way across the bridge, wobbling as she noticed the alligators below. She held her gaze up the rest of the way and hopped down into the zeppelin.
“Dobby! Did you—,” she said.
Dobby interrupted her and nodded toward the little squirrels. “How is Caplin? We hear he is giggling. Did Sylvia get him secured?”
Conchita regained her composure. “Caplin isn’t acting as dignified as he usually does but he did allow Sylvia to tie him into the cargo net. It wasn’t easy and the net is kind of bulky. I don’t know how we’ll get him through that little window. He should be up there by now.”
All hands turned to look at the small dungeon window. Rodney kept reeling in the cable and finally the cargo net stuffed with corpulent capybara appeared at the window. The winch gave a little squeal, the zeppelin jerked, and Rodney stopped reeling. Everyone stared at the window.
“Is that it? Is he stuck? Where’s Sylvia?” The Prince motioned to Bond. “Can you fly over and check it out? Conchita, you willing to walk back over there to look?”
“Why don’t we see what Bond says,” said Conchita. “I’ll go across if I have to, but I’d like a minute or two to get used to the idea.”
“Fair enough,” said The Prince. “I get woozy just looking out the window, myself.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong, but I can’t reel any more cable in,” said Rodney. “Stuck, I think, but I don’t want to force it.”
“The, um, large end of Caplin is at the window,” said Bond. “The cable is visible, not stuck on anything. thankfully it’s still firmly attached to the cargo net and it’s snug around him, not as bulky as I expected.”
“And Sylvia,” said Dobby?
“I could hear someone back behind him. I’ll have to squeeze through at a corner to talk to her,” said Bond. “I’ll be right back.” And he flew across the bridge.
Gari had some binoculars trained on the window. “it’s a tight fit, but that’s a wood window frame, like the bars. I bet some strategic chewing would give us enough slack to pop him through. Let’s hope Sylvia has started on that project already.”
Bond returned in time to hear Gari’s last comment. “Sylvia’s stuck behind Caplin until we can get him out. She’s started chewing the frame at the top from inside, bit he’s kind of flopped over inside so she can’t reach the bottom at all. She might be able to get part of the sides, but only at the top. She said to send her kids over. I didn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know what’s in the moat.”
Cu, Sali, and Tix had dashed over when they heard their mom’s name.
“Where’s mom?” said Tix.
“We can go over, again,” said Sali. ”Now there’s even a bridge. We don’t have to jump.”
“What’s in the moat?” said Cu. He moved toward the window.
Dobby jumped up to grab the little squirrel to keep him from looking out. The zeppelin lurched with the sudden redistribution of weight and Conchita fell from the window where she had perched. She landed with a bounce and a squeal on the cargo net bridge, clucking at Dobby who abruptly sat back down. Again the zeppelin swung, less wildly this time, and everyone held on tight. Dobby grew pale and slowly reclined. Conchita gathered up the little squirrels and sat down next to Gari. Bond took a look at the woozy prince and flew over to Gari.
“I’ll go back and explain the situation to Sylvia while you have a few more snacks. Anybody else have an alternative plan?” Bond looked at Rodney, Annabelle, Bianca with her flock of roosters on the carpet, and finally at the seasick prince. “Okay I’ll be right back.”
The passengers watched as the little parakeet flew back to the dungeon window. He picked his way carefully up the backside of the capybara until he reached a tiny open corner at the top of the window. He stuck his head in and then there were two fannies sticking out the window. The little squirrels could see them from their couch and started giggling. Cu stood up and started wagging his tail around, mimicking the parakeet tail, dipping and bobbing. Suddenly, he leapt across to the window for a closer look. He started laughing and then looked down at the moat and abruptly stopped. He leapt back across to his squirrel siblings and looked Gari in the eye.
To be continued . . .
The all-important 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 a grommet is? How about a toggle?