Prince Dobalob’s power crown fails him and Rodney fine tunes the winch setup. Sylvia is stuck inside the dungeon, blocked by Caplin’s great girth. Cu chews the window frame but Caplin doesn’t budge. Nobody looks down.
The Prince needs to get his act together. 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 here now, in spite of the warnings. Recommended snack: Anything but vodka. How about tap water? Soundtrack: Alligator
“This isn’t going to be as easy as I thought, but we can do it,” said Cu. “Bond’s talking to mom about it, isn’t he?”
“That’s right. We need permission. You understand why, don’t you?” said Gari.
“Yeah, but I also understand that our mom is stuck behind Dobby’s brother and we have to get her out of there,” said Cu. “You get that, too, right?” Cu stuck out his tiny chest, arms akimbo, and continued to glare at Gari. Sali and Tix copied him without any idea what he was talking about, and the sight of the three of them was so funny that Gari burst out laughing. Cu rolled his eyes as the littler ones started laughing, too.
“Let’s see what Bond says.” said Gari. “Maybe we can work something out. Here he is now.”
Bond perched on Gari’s shoulder and whispered. Cu tried to listen, but the smaller squirrels were still laughing and strutting around.
“Sylvia’s at kind of a loss,” said Bond. “That last zeppelin lurch really jammed Caplin into the window, and she’s totally stuck behind him. She suggested going around, because she’s not much of a jumper and that window is way up high. There’s only a short length of cargo net dangling, most of it’s all wrapped around Caplin.”
“I’ve been to that dungeon many times as a kid, but I couldn’t possibly find my way out, now. Plus the house is full of guests and it would be awkward for her to meet up with any on the way out. They might not be happy about a stranger emerging from the dungeon. It’s probably locked from the outside, and it would take her forever to chew through that door. Cu has seen the moat, and has volunteered to go across and chew out the window frame. He’s very determined. Did Sylvia say anything about the moat situation?”
“She said to keep her children in the zeppelin,” said Bond.
“I’ll talk to Annabelle about moving closer to the window,” said Gari. “Maybe we can figure out something. Wait, where’s Cu?”
Conchita was playing games with two little squirrels. Dobby was out like a light. Rodney and Annabelle were staring at the dungeon window where Squirrel Number One was already chewing out the window frame below the enormous bulk that was stuck tight above him. Cu was working quietly and methodically, under and around the wooden frame.
“Oh, well,” said Gari. “Let’s make sure the others don’t get interested in Cu’s, um, project. Can you sneak over and rouse our lazy Prince? We need everyone to be alert, and to tell you the truth, he’s our best original thinker. We’re going to run out of ideas soon if Cu fails.”
Bond flew across to the opposite couch where Dobby snoozed. He landed on the pillow by his ear and sang quietly until the big rodent snorted awake. Bond whispered an update as Dobby slowly raised himself up to where he could discreetly view the dungeon window. He sat up with a start as he took in the impossible sight of the nether end of his brother, wrapped in cargo nets, and the tiny squirrel working beneath him at the remaining shards of wooden window frame. Dobby looked across at Gari who was by now helping Conchita entertain the two little squirrels.
“Thanks,” said The Prince. “I’m feeling better now. The magic here is so funky this crown can only cure some of the airsickness. Now that I know, I’ll manage it better. Cut back on the dancing, maybe. So, Sylvia’s trapped behind at the obnoxious end of Caplin. Let’s hope he isn’t boring her to death with strategies he is too tied up to implement. It might be better if he’s still groggy, but it would be best if he could come across the bridge on his own power. Any sign he can do that?”
Bond rolled his eyes. “When I talked to her she said all he could do was giggle and he wasn’t making any sense at all. She didn’t recommend we loosen the net she wrapped around him, especially after I told her about the moat problem. She says he’s not going to be walking across the cargo net.”
“When we were kids, he used to sneak a jug of dad’s potato juice and end up all giggly. Look at those roosters. I bet Caplin is about like them, they’re probably all full of potato juice,” said The Prince. The roosters, in fact, were in a sleeping pile, not any of them vertical. It was hard to tell for sure, but there were too many legs and wings and not nearly enough heads to make up a dozen proper roosters. They weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Bianca, in fact, had abandoned them and was in conference with Rodney. He put her at the controls of the forward winch, motioned to a couple of the closest naked mole rats and moved to the aft winch. He let out some cable and the naked mole rats moved the hook end around to the cargo net bridge. He let out some slack and joined them at the bridge. Without telling anyone what he was doing, he grabbed the hook and trundled across the bridge, conspicuously not looking down. He now had the attention of all of the passengers except Conchita, still playing with the two tiny squirrels. Gari pretended not to see the beaver crossing as he played games with Conchita and the little rodents.
Cu spotted the lumbering beaver and started an argument, then suddenly Cu slipped into the net with Caplin. He took the hook and awkwardly wove it into the lumpy package of capybara and handed it back out to Rodney. The beaver took a couple tools out of his belt, secured the hook, and scrambled back across the bridge to the zeppelin. There were now two winch cables securing Caplin’s net to the zeppelin: one forward, and one aft. Prince Dobalob gave the thumbs up and they watched Cu go back to work.
“Sorry,” said Rodney. “It suddenly occurred to me that if Caplin became dislodged, he could swing down and it would be too much dead weight at that end of the zeppelin. This way, he’s balanced. I’m still concerned about the weight, but we didn’t need a pendulum swinging from the aft.”
“Good thinking,” said The Prince. “How does it look over there?”
“Cu is making progress, and I could hear Sylvia working from the inside. She managed to jump up to a dangling corner of the cargo net. She knows Cu is over there, by his own choice. We won’t tug at Caplin until Cu comes back over. I want him out of the way. I’m hoping we can reel in both cables and ease your brother across the bridge until we can get him through the window and into the zeppelin. All of this will take time. Have you thought about what we do if anyone sees us? We’re fairly conspicuous.”
“Personally, I plan to wave,” said The Prince. “I wanted a spectacular entrance, and we can certainly check that box off my list. What can they do to us, anyway? They could call the Guardiã Principale, but that might be the best thing that could happen. They aren’t likely to run over to get a closer look with the, um, moat problem intact. As long as we stay off the ground, I think we’ll be okay.”
Gari was listening in and commented. “What happens if the black glittery capybara shows up? We’ve got her roosters and who knows what she wanted with Caplin. Seems like she had them all juiced up to subdue them, but sooner or later she’ll come back to check on them.”
“I can’t imagine her showing up with all these guests around. I don’t know how she’s getting in and out even when there isn’t a party. What can she do anyway? She’s not going to come at us from below, and if she tries to send up any potato juice, we’ll just say no thank you.”
“What about if she goes into the dungeon and sees the activity at the window?”
“Capybaras don’t fly,” said Dobby. “She can’t do much from below. It’s getting close to party time, though and I’m not there yet. Mom is going to be looking for me, or texting at least. Good thing I’m usually late. Maybe she won’t notice for a while.”
“Here comes Cu,” said Rodney. “Hey, do you think we’re ready to reel in the big guy?”
“Well,” said Cu, “I think he’s hung up on those little window bar nubs we left. The ones the bridge is hanging from. We can try, but if they break off, the whole thing is coming down: bridge, capybara, and all. Plus, mom’s back there and if the bridge comes down, how will she get back here? She’s not a squirrel and I’ve never seen her jump anywhere near that far.”
Dobby was listening carefully and looking more and more concerned. “Do you think we can drag him out far enough so that Sylvia can squeeze out past and come across the bridge?”
“It’s really stuck bad and even with all my chewing I’m still not sure we can yank him out. I think I need to go back, chew off the nubs and more of the bottom frame, and hope for the best. Mom’s going to have to hang on and she’s at the bitey end of Caplin if he wakes up. He’s slept through all of this, but Mom doesn’t think he’s dead or anything.”
Rodney looked over at Gari to confirm that he had heard Cu’s report. Dobby took a deep breath and looked Cu in the eye.
“Could you go sit down for a minute with Conchita– don’t say anything to your siblings right now– but I need to talk to Gari and Rodney. I’m not happy about putting you and your mom in danger, but this is serious. No do-overs if we mess up, know what I mean?”
Cu nodded and walked forward to where Conchita, Sali, and Tix were playing games. Rodney walked slowly to the back, while Dobby and Gari gradually adjusted themselves toward the rear of the zeppelin where they could discuss the situation discreetly. Sudden movements still caused the zeppelin to list, but slow movements were tolerable.
“I don’t like it,” said Dobby. “I’m ready to sacrifice Caplin, but Sylvia and Cu are too precious. I wish she wasn’t stuck behind Caplin, but that’s my fault for not thinking that part through.”
“Sylvia’s a big girl,” said Gari. “Not as big as Caplin of course, but she’s the one that put herself into that position. She’s no dummy, and I’m sure she considered the consequences of what she’s doing. Cu, on the other hand, is a little too smart and over-confident. He’s going to dash back out there no matter what we say. In fact, we ought to be watching him, now.”
“I can see him, said Rodney. “He’s behaving himself with Conchita, who keeps giving him the stink-eye. I hope he waits until we sort this out before he runs over there again. So, I’ve got two guy cables on Caplin, now, but if that window lets loose, Caplin can still swing under the zeppelin. Not quite as dramatic as swinging from either end, but a tad more stability and control. It’ll make it hard to land with him down there, but maybe we can reel him slowly to one end or the other while we shift ballast in here.” He was looking directly at Gari.
“I’m not jumping out of here to save Caplin. Sylvia maybe.”
“I was thinking of putting you at the aft winch,” said Rodney. “I’ll work the forward winch and signal you so we can try to reel him over nice and steady. If we do it right, we’ll pull the zeppelin close enough to the window to send Cu back over to chew the final bits and coax the capy-package into Newt, here. Somehow.”
“You got a Plan B,” said Dobby? “What am I supposed to do? Play games with the kids?”
“Well, how are you feeling? You’re all over the place, sometimes okay, sometimes sick,” said Rodney. “I’ve never known you to stick to a plan. Are you going to be deadweight or a team player this time?”
Dobby looked indignant and Gari chuckled. He addressed Rodney.
“Prince Dobalob is at his best when he is a free agent. He needs to stand back and assess the situation so he can act quickly when his talents are required. When he taps into his repertoire of speedy responses, we’ll be the ones standing back.” Gari looked at his friend. “Is that crown recharged yet?”
“Yes. 100% as of a couple minutes ago,” said The Prince. “Thank you for your vote of confidence. I still think you are the most expendable ballast we have.”
“I’ll talk to Cu and tell him our plan on my way forward, then,” said Rodney. “You understand how to operate this winch back here?”
“Got it,” said Gari. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
Gari tried out the controls on his winch, causing the zeppelin to lurch slightly. Dobby and Rodney turned to glare at him and he tried again, nice and smooth. Rodney paused briefly and brought Squirrel Number One forward and briefed him with Annabelle. They saw Cu stomp his feet and swing his tiny arm like a pendulum. Rodney shook his head, Annabelle clucked, and Cu shrugged. Then he came back to talk to Gari.
“What do you think of this plan? When I finish chewing, either nothing happens because he is so stuck,” said Cu. “Or something is going to happen so fast all I will be able to do is hang on for dear life.”
“Sounds like a plan,” said Gari. “You up for this?”
Gari’s confidence in the little squirrel was obvious. Cu puffed out his tiny chest and grinned. Dobby and Gari pouffed up a little and they all laughed at the silly salute. Gari caught the full speed ahead sign from Rodney and they started reeling in their cables.
To be continued . . .
The alligator-deficient 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 winch is? What does aft mean? Where is the aft winch?