Rodger Conroy, his brother Monty, and their dog Turbo were attempting to get some sleep. They were in the alcove of a storefront that had once been a doorway, but hadn’t been used for that purpose in years. It got them a little bit out of the wind, but it was still miserably uncomfortable. The sidewalk, after all, was never meant to sleep on. Plus it was never exactly warm in the City; the cold seemed to seep upward through the workout pad and old sleeping bag they used for a mattress. Snuggled next to Monty with Turbo between his legs, he was warm enough on three sides of his body, but that just meant that the bottom side woke him up periodically to complain about the cold. So then he had to roll onto his side and get readjusted with Monty and Turbo. A bed would be so nice.
They’d had a bed in the little apartment that had been their home. The three of them had shared that bed too. At least the three of them were used to that; that the three of them were able to stay together provided the very small but very important comfort of familiarity. All else was gone now. Their mother was gone and so was their home. She had sent them out to play and was gone when they returned to find the door to the apartment locked. Their mother, although easily distracted, genuinely cared for them when she thought about it; if she wasn’t drunk or high, she had tried to provide a loving home. The brothers had rescued Turbo from the streets. They recognized a kindred soul. Their mom had not been happy about it; but she let them keep the dog. Rodger and Monty had perfected a series of minor misdemeanors that they used to supplement Turbo’s diet.
Rodger and Monty spent the next few days searching for their mother. She had done this before, after all, but this was the first time she’d locked them out of the apartment. Rodger had a very bad feeling about all this. They went to her usual hangouts; Rodger would park Monty and Turbo in a safe nook outside while he would quickly search through the crowd of stoned and drunken patrons at the several clubs she preferred. He had no luck.
They gave up on checking the apartment when they discovered that it had been rented to new tenants.
The boys enlarged their repertoire of minor misdemeanors to include food for themselves as well as Turbo. They begged on the sidewalk. Somewhere along the line, Rodger had learned the first verses to the hymn ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ which brought in more money, but no offers of help.
So they were again asleep in their favorite alcove.
Slowly, Rodger began to come awake. There was a strange pressure on his chest and what seemed like a gentle vibration coming from the same source. He could feel the comforting bulk of Turbo to one side of him, and Monty on the other. He couldn’t be in any danger; at least not from any of the usual dangers to be expected on the streets.
He opened his eyes the barest slits and looked through his eyelashes. He was nose to nose with a black and white cat that was purring ferociously, kneading him with its paws, and looking like it expected something from him. His eyes flew open and his initial surprise was confirmed.
“’Lo mate,” came a voice from the darkness just beyond the doorway. “There’s some arse hole chavs lookin’ fer trouble comin’ up the street. Jest relax. We gotcher covered.”
“Drop them clubs, you lot!” Someone ordered.
“Fuck you!” Was the response.
“The King!” Someone called.
There followed the sounds of scuffling, some grunts, muffled shouts, one sharp scream, thuds and more swearing in various accents. Then there was silence.
A young man appeared at the alcove. “’Ere Simon, they’re ready for jankers.”
The cat jumped off and disappeared around the corner and down the sidewalk. There was a flash of light and a sharp snap. Rodger sat up and looked at the young man who looked somehow crisp and serious. There was something odd about his ears, but the light was scanty and he was somewhat distracted.
“What the fuck?” was as profound as Rodger could be.
“’Ere Tolly. Come an ‘splain it will yer?” The crisp young man called down the sidewalk, then walked off in the same direction the cat had gone.
A second young man appeared in the doorway. One who appeared to be taking the weather much more seriously. He was wearing a fashionable replica of a navy pea coat with a red tartan scarf and a gray watch cap pulled down over his ears. His trousers were serious and looked warm. His hands were deep in the pockets of his pea coat.
“Hi. I’m Tolly,” he offered.
By now, Monty was awake and looking around bemusedly as he tried to sort out the unusual events surrounding an unusual awakening. Turbo, too, was sitting up but seemed unconcerned. He was known to bristle and posture when he suspected danger to his pack so his behavior, which was relaxed, was comforting.
“Well, I’m Rodger and this is my brother Monty. That’s Turbo,” he pointed. “What the fuck’s goin’ on?”
“Well,” Tolly paused considering. “The good news is you ain’t gonna be robbed and beat-up by some street punks. The even better news is you’ve been rescued so you’ll have to come with us for a while.”
The first young man returned. He took his forage cap off and ran his fingers through his thick hair. Rodger noted that his ears were long and sharply pointed. The young man smiled engagingly, “I’m Axel an’ I’m in-charge of this ‘ere motley crew. Simon’ll be right back and we’ll take ya to the King’s House.”
“Well we ain’t goin’ nowhere!” Rodger blustered, glaring at the two men in the doorway.
“Not to worry,” Axel smiled. “We’re King’s Men of the Rescue Commando.”
Rodger did an anxious sort of gulping before he replied, “King’s men? What the fuck does that even mean?”
Axel stood to attention, “Means I’m Lance Corporal Ackroyd of the Ninety and Ninth Mounted Infantry, non-commissioned officer in charge here, and you’ll bloody well do what I sez. That’s what that means.”
The cat suddenly bounded back into the alcove. Seemed to smile at Turbo, then there was a flash of light and Rodger, Monty, Turbo, and the cat were standing in a spacious living room. There were three large windows arranged in a bay on one wall, an ornate brass hanging lamp illuminated the room from the high ceiling, and tasteful old furniture combined to give the room an appearance that combined style with comfort.
The cat seemed to smile, and then vanished with a flash and a snap.
“Welcome,” a smiling older lady with silver hair and a serious apron greeted them. “It’s so nice to have some new friends. Come along, Tolly will be back soon and you can fire your questions at him,” and she led them across the hall to a spacious bathroom.
“So, the three of you have had a hard time of it. So first, you need to get clean the three of you. Really clean. There’s all the supplies you could possibly need in the rack in the shower. Remove your clothes and take anything you don’t want washed out of the pockets. When you’re done in the shower, there are robes and pajamas here.” She gestured to a closet. “Shampoo your hair and shampoo Turbo. When you’re clean, we’ll have a nice meal. Okay. Get cracking.” She had been cheerful and smiling throughout.
“But, excuse me, ma’am.” Monty spoke for the first time since being wakened on the street. “How do you know Turbo’s name?”
“Well,” she smiled airily. “This is a King’s house and I work for the King. And there you have it.” She bustled out leaving the three to their ablutions. And they had many questions, too. Monty and Rodger looked at one another for a long moment. They began undressing. Turbo helped himself to a drink.
Lieutenant Winn was on the train; he was in a first class compartment. He had initially recoiled at the cost of a first class ticket; it would never do to waste that amount of money on a plush compartment. But he really had no choice. His turn at the ticket agent’s window had come while he was still struggling over the cost and he mentioned that he wanted to go to Vesontio. The ticket agent had immediately produced a first class ticket. That a Kings Officer could possibly want anything less never occurred to the ticket agent and he patiently waited for payment. The decision made, apparently by higher authority, Lieutenant Winn handed over his money and took his ticket. A porter appeared and seized his luggage. He was whisked away to the first class lounge to wait. He tipped the porter.
He reminded himself that he was now a King’s Officer. He would have to face these situations from now on. He resolved to play his role but warned himself against arrogance. Because of his exemplary performance at the academy, and his past service record, he had jumped a rank and was now a full Lieutenant of the 24th Regiment of Foot. He had started his military life as a Boy in the 24th and he was now wealthy by way of comparison. He was going to spend a week in Vesontio doing nothing but relaxing and seeing what was to be seen. He’d never been to Vesontio before and knew no one there. It was an adventure. Then he would return to the 3rd battalion of his regiment for regular duty. He was looking forward to that as much as to his holiday in Vesontio. He relaxed and dozed to the rhythm of the rails.
Several compartments down from Lieutenant Winn there were two gleaming new Sub Lieutenants of HM Navy. Sub Lieutenants Theodore DeLucca, SSM, and St George Kilverstone Davids, SSM, they were basking in the glow of the single golden ring of their new rank. They were going to Lieutenant DeLucca’s home on the Riviera for a nice leave. It would be called the Riviera on Earth, but here on Earth Prime, it was just a glorious Mediterranean beach with only a few homes and villages scattered along the shoreline. They had decided, after much research and discussion that they wanted to be in the Naval Air Force. The sad part of this was that for the first time in their naval careers, they would not be serving together. Of course, they would share an apartment on the Naval Station. One only lived aboard the zeppelin while in flight. The accommodations on a zeppelin were Spartan in the extreme as weight was a consideration in all things at all times. Then too, there probably wouldn’t be that much time when their respective zeppelins were on the base at the same time. Still, they were boundlessly confident that they would not be separated for long.
In the next coach down, a second class coach, Mr George Aberhonddu, GS, OGD (Sergeant-Major, retired), was glancing through the ‘Army Times’ while his wife, Bonnie, was involved in a complex culinary discussion with Ms Regina Varela who was a restauranteur.
It had developed that they had a community of interest. The Aberhonddu’s were going to Vesontio to check on one of Prince Ashmore’s farms. George was the Prince’s estate manager. Regina was going there in an effort to locate a source of proper maize that could be converted to corn flour which could then become tortillas. She thought a local supplier would be superior to importing the corn from Earth. Regina and Bonnie had discovered a shared love of cooking. Bonnie, of course, had been trained in a palace kitchen, so her approach was rather different than Regina’s: but then, the food being produced was rather different too. Bonnie thought that the farm they were going to look at could be easily converted to some maize and so it was decided. It was in just such a similar manner that many important decisions were made. The Prince Ashmore was barely aware of the farm in question and his only real interest would be that it was managed organically and environmentally. The Prince wanted animals back on the land, in direct contrast to much of the farming back on Earth. So he didn’t really care what the crop was so long as it was rotated properly and animals cleaned-up and fertilized the field. The Prince had recently become enamored of donkeys so they would be a handy rationale for the changes should a rationale even be necessary. And that was pretty much that. George Aberhonddu would not object to Bonnie and Regina’s plan and the farm manager would do what George said. So were decisions made as their train climbed the flowery mountains, its whistle sounding mournful even in the sunny bright of the day.
Further back was a third class coach. Seated in state therein were two privates. They were proud privates of the 24th Regiment of Foot. Both were in line for promotion and were going on leave. Dusty Jordan and Taffy Owen knew each other well and had been on several missions with the Restoration and Rescue Commandos together. They were considering the space patrol. No one had heard anything official, but the word was going around that there was going to be a new regiment formed that would be the space patrol. Now both Dusty and Taffy had spent the largest part of their lives in the 24th Regiment of Foot. That regiment, complete with its peculiarities and traditions would always be a part of who they were. They were very proud of their regiment; but their recent experiences in the commandos had opened their eyes to a military life outside of the regiment; where promotion and distinction might come faster.
They had spent the first part of the trip talking about their various romances and attempts at romance. There followed logically a discussion of the eccentricities of their officers. Another favored topic was the Regimental Sergeant Major who could be a tiger one minute and a pushover the next.
“With ‘im, it’s all about the Regiment,” Dusty theorized.
“Yeah,” Taffy concurred. “If yer can make somethin’ Regimental then there ain’t no limits to what yer can get outta the RSM.”
However, they’d been speculating mostly about service in space. After all, the foibles of the Sergeant Major were well known, and certainly there was nothing new about the peculiarities of officers. So the space patrol was an exciting new topic with endless avenues for speculation. Dusty smiled and passed the paper bag that held the bottle.
Charles St Clare was at the controls of this streamlined new express engine. He was an ace engineer on a crack express train; but he was a little worried. Cal, his other half, and a wizard of note, was going to be transferred somewhere in the King’s Service. They’d received official notification, but the exact details, as well as the location of the transfer were as yet undecided. He would go with Cal, of course, but he would miss his calling. He gloried in this wonderful machine; she purred beneath his hands; he played her whistle mournfully. She was mighty tall and handsome and she was his.
They had been riding all morning. Now they were relaxing. They’d loosened the girths on Kameyn and Zephyr, removed their bridles, and were now letting their horses browse in the meadow on long lead ropes. Their escort of lancers managed to be comfortably out of earshot, yet were still between the King and any danger that might appear.
“You know,” Justin began, “On Earth, the Arabs who are superb horsemen, say that when you’ve been riding as we have, that in fact you’ve ‘been drinking the wind’. What a wonderful notion.”
“Well, I suspect that’s quite true,” Cecilie nodded. “But there’s way more to it than some airy notion that’s romantic. Horses are part of who we are; they are a major part of our civilization. We reconnect with our soul’s generations when we are with them. They are a part of us at the most basic level. Every one of us can see majesty in the horse. This is so on Earth. And it is so on Earth Prime. They are an elemental part of us.”
“Oh?” Justin prompted.
“Yes.” Cecilie continued, “Ten thousand some years ago, we began to bring the horse into our lives. We became friends and they started doing certain jobs for us, and in return, and most importantly, they made it easy for us to fall in love. To love an important piece of our world other than ourselves. We shared our lives at the most intimate level. There were chariots. We have Tutankhamen’s. Then, somewhere along the line someone climbed on a horse and learned to ride. Before long, their conquest was complete; they were with us everywhere, in the forests, on the farms, and providing transportation everywhere. Every day. Even today, the very sight of a horse rings an atavistic chord in our souls.”
“And in the army, too, it wasn’t always pleasant, but it was the spread of civilization.” Justin looked off into the sky. “It was for better or for worse, as they say, the good and the bad. Our horses made it faster and easier. The Mongols wouldn’t have gotten very far without the horse. None of the rest of the conquerors either.
“But I think more so, in the spiritual manner, than just as a part of the labor force or the army. They are doing less work now, yet they remain very close to our hearts, and very much a part of our lives. Just think.” Justin paused considering, “Why everyone knows of Secretariat. He won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. That’s incredible, and his record still stands, too. And then there are all of our heroes. Robert E Lee and Traveller come to mind as does Napoleon and Marengo, Pilsudski and Kasztanka.
“And here we are, courting, considering our lives and our futures, and we are doing it with horses.”
“Justin, my dear, what a complicated series of notions, all coming from a horseback ride?”
“Where better? And we’ve got a lot to discuss. I’m hoping that ‘drinking the wind’ will help us settle some very real questions.”
“Marriage?” Cecilie went to the heart of the matter.
“That would be one. It won’t be simple for us.”
“Well, I don’t really think that it’s necessarily ‘simple’ for anyone, I look around and see a lot of unhappiness. Particularly in our class. It’s not fair. A dustman and his wife can separate and go about their lives in a normal way; but that doesn’t always work for the duke and the duchess, does it?” Cecilie pondered. “I think, for us, and particularly for you and me, there are so many other factors.”
“There is the country,” Justin said, looking fondly at Cecilie. “There are all the demands that it will make on all of us. You know that Colin and I are destined to be lovers. Probably a good thing since we are born to our jobs and have them for life. I hope that you and Nancy will also be happy. But we have to have children. And I will not want to do to anyone, what was done to me. I think a loving home is important. I know that the loss of one is terrifying.”
“I know, Justin that the powers have considered all these matters and have introduced us with intent. But I think we can make it work. I know why we’re here; and I know the question you are poised to ask.
“So I’ll just go ahead and answer it: yes, I’ll marry you; yes, I’ll be your queen; yes, I’ll have children with you. But: no, I’ll not let those children be confined in gilded cages with nannies, and tutors, and grooms to attend to everything for them. I believe they must live life if we, and they, are to be of genuine service to our country. They need to learn by doing as well as reading. It cannot all be done for them. They must know which fork to use, certainly; but they must also know what it is to muck out a horse stall.”
“God bless you. I agree.” Justin reached into his pocket and removed a small plush box which he handed to Cecilie.
She opened it to reveal a magnificent emerald ring. She smiled, “You know, they also say that ‘The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horses ears.’ We must drink of it often and teach it to the children. I accept.”
They embraced with affection. Then gathered their horses and prepared to return. “You know,” Justin observed, “I’m going to take the horses off the battlefield. We’ll keep some squadrons for parades and ceremony, but they’ll no longer wage war.”
“Good,” she smiled. “There are other, better, ways for them to contribute to our better natures; they can be beautiful, and they can work; they can be with us, comfort and teach us as they have in the past; but they will no longer provide the muscles of war.”
Captain-Lieutenant Byng stood in the wheelhouse waiting. It was almost time for the rendezvous. The rendezvous would complete the first leg of this voyage; his ship, and two others, were to provide navigation checks, and rescue availability for the first long range flight of a zeppelin over ocean.
His new command enjoyed his complete affection if, perhaps, not quite to the same extent as his first command. There could only ever be one first command. Still, she was larger and she was on the first leg of a major voyage; but she wore no handsome rifle on her foredeck. She was unarmed in that sense. After the rendezvous, she would continue across the Atlantic, shift to Earth, and deliver a nondescript cargo of clothing to New Orleans. Then there was her real cargo which was equipment and supplies and funding for the North American Theatre. The Acting Permanent Under Secretary of State for North American Affairs, Hyacinthe des Rivières was a passenger. He had declined the assistance of a Familiar ride on the grounds that the voyage would be an adventure. And it developed that he was a very good sailor. Never ill, always interested, he was never in the way. He enjoyed standing bridge watches in the regular schedule and could keep HMS Moonraker on course when he had his turn at the wheel. He was tanned now, frequently windblown, but never vaguely rumpled.
Everything about Her Mooney was designed to look old, well used, and decrepit. In fact, everything was either new, or thoroughly reconditioned. She was meant to seem inconspicuous and she dressed the part. The boatswain existed in a permanent crisis of conscience as rust, for years his mortal foe, was now permitted to parade as part of the disguise. In his heart of hearts he yearned for bare metal, covered by regulation primer, followed by a nice coat of gleaming white enamel. This would permit him to exercise the time-honored right of his office by shouting: “Mind the paintwork!” at the unwary passerby or a small boat approaching. But he was a long service regular, used to adversity; he rolled with the Navy and dreamed of what should be.
The Chief Engineer, in contrast, was ecstatic. Everything was new, he had all the spares and supplies he could possibly need and, for him, there was nothing quite so wonderful as an engine room smoothly working; smelling of oil and lubricants, polished, humming and, well, just plain happily in motion: warm and cheery and mechanical.
The Chief was on the bridge enjoying a cup of coffee with the Captain in the chartroom. They were discussing the trip in generalities. They’d gone over all the details of the operation and were as confident as it is possible to be under the circumstances.
The door opened and the bridge messenger stuck his head in and said, “Zeppelin right astern sir!”
“Ship dead ahead, sir!” The lookout on the zeppelins upper bridge reported to the control car.
“Very well, thank you. Messenger, notify the captain that we believe we have the rendezvous ship in sight.”
Moments later Captain-Lieutenant Cascone appeared on the bridge. He pondered the smokey smudge increasingly visible on the horizon. “Bring her down to 1500 feet if you please Mister Flemming.”
“Aye, aye, sir. Elevator!”
“Two degrees down inclination, reduce altitude to fifteen-hundred feet.”
“Aye, aye, sir. Two degrees of down inclination on, sir.”
The elevatorman counted down the reduction, one hundred feet at a time, levelled her off and jockeyed her gently onto an altitude of 1400 feet. With no further ado he eased her up another few feet and then announced. “Elevator is neutral, trim level, altitude one-five-hundred feet, sir.”
“Very well. Messenger, please extend my compliments to Captain-Lieutenant Cooper and ask him to join me. Bunts, send the recognition signal, please.”
The appropriate codes were exchanged by signal lamp followed by navigational information. They were right where they were supposed to be and right when they were supposed to be there. The zeppelin was safe and their navigation was spot on.
“Thank you and good luck in America,” the Prince Eugene flashed.
“And to you, enjoy Oporto,” acknowledged the Moonraker.
During the next hour, after consultation with Captain-Lieutenant Cooper about the weather facing them, the Prince Eugene climbed back to 5000 feet altitude and then turned east on a course to the capital of Lusitania where she would stop tomorrow. This was the first flight over the proposed first passenger route of Royal Air. From there she would proceed to Alexandria, and then back to Vesontio and then a return to Kingstown.
It only took Captain-Lieutenant Byng a moment to set course for America. They weren’t going nearly as fast, after all. Then he and the Chief adjourned to the wardroom where they poured themselves a whisky and started a game of cribbage. Nothing left to do but cross the Atlantic, enter the Caribbean and meet the familiar Carlos before New Orleans.
Beatrice, a handsome calico tabby with magnificent whiskers, was a Journeyman Familiar on sabbatical and she had assigned herself to watch out for Cheryll Spurgeon. Cheryll had the title ‘Mrs’ on Earth. But on Earth Prime she was Her Serene Highness, the Princess Martial, Knight Commander of the Golden Dragon, Personal Councilor to the King, and Proctor of the Exchequer. She was Colin’s Mom and she was rather proud of it. She was proud of Colin, proud of Colin’s father, and proud of her success as a serious professional both on Earth and on Earth Prime. On Earth she’d been a senior partner in a successful firm of accountants. But she had always known who her husband was and who her son would be. She was a modest lady whose mother had told her stories of the Great Depression that had been caused by President Hoover. So a great deal of her success was measured by her bank accounts, and her various market holdings and other tangible assets. She kept a close eye on all of these investments as she didn’t trust the Wall Street rowdies and routinely contributed to Elizabeth Warren’s political campaigns. She knew that poor President Hoover had not deliberately led his country into depression. By the same token, he hadn’t done much, and what he had done, he hadn’t done quickly enough, to lead his country out of depression. These sorts of things had led to her choice of profession.
It was this aspect of her nature that led to Beatrice’s problem. The Princess’ household was in a state of murmuring mutiny. All brought about because of her modesty and taste for economy.
Cook muttered darkly about everything. Vaguely aware that her position with the Princess offered her no real challenges, she was deliberately cavalier about supplies. She would run out of the Princesses favorite jam; the toast might be glacial, the eggs would be too runny or too hard and if anchovies were required in a recipe, there would be too many or none at all. Worst of all, she had no opportunity whatever to complain of overwork, or of unreasonable demands placed upon her good nature and expertise by a tyrannical authority.
The butler had given notice and his position had not been filled. So the footmen were occasionally wrinkled, frequently late, sometimes misplaced a caller’s hat and gloves, and would have been occasionally tipsy except the Princess kept hardly any spirituous beverage in the house. Why sometimes, a caller might have to ring the bell two or three times before one of them would bestir themselves to answer the bell.
And then, there was the chauffeur. Oliver Morgan was affronted by the situation. It was simply not right. The Lady Cheryll was the ranking lady of the kingdom. There was this beautiful Daimler at the coach builders that had just come available and she needed that car; but she didn’t know it nor understand the elemental necessity of her need. She was the Earl Martial’s mother. Her grandeur reflected directly on him, and just now it was mighty dim. This would have been all right for a number of people who would merely view the job as a sinecure that required very little of them. But that didn’t work for Oliver Morgan. His uncle was ‘The’Aethnen, CHO, OGD, First Butler to HM the King. Oliver was proud of his family, proud of his work, and needed to be proud of his employer. He was on the brink of giving notice when Beatrice stopped by his garage and asked him to stay.
Beatrice immediately contacted Cameron. Cameron contacted Surus. The three of them then called on Colin.
My Prince, began Surus. We have a problem.
Yes, continued Beatrice, and if we wait for Surus to actually state the problem. Well, we’ll be here a week on.
That is not true. Precision in language is essential to insure clarity of communication. My Prince needs to understand the question fully.
You are quite correct honored distinguished senior emeritus sir. Beatrice gave Surus a look, brought her tail around to cover her feet with a snap. If only the words needed to indict her existed, then the action would have been disrespectful. But those words did not exist. So it wasn’t disrespectful, at least not technically; but it wasn’t in the least deferential either. Then she looked up at the elephant, down her nose. Basically, your mother’s household is shambling along in a state of muttering mutiny. She had a fine butler who gave notice and has not been replaced. She has some very capable people in her household, but she also has some that need, well, they need firm direction, is what they need. She’s running a pinch penny operation for no reason. Her best people are embarrassed and her lesser people are taking advantage of her.
Yes, Surus appended. Just so.
So here’s what we’ll do. You appoint Aethnen as her short term chef de maison. Tell your mom to give him a reasonable budget. Let him decide what that will be, and then let it go. There’ll be no further problems.
“Good evening, Your Highness,” Aethnen commented as the Lady Cheryll sat for dinner.
“What a delight,” Cheryll enthused. “The entrée is hot.”
“But of course, Madam. How not?”
An immaculately attired footman attended to her course by course.
“I’ve prepared your budgets, as His Highness requested.”
“You know, Aethnen, I’m thinking a little economy might be appropriate. Do we have to have all these lights burning. Electricity isn’t exactly cheap, you know.”
“This is the residence of the First Lady of the Land, the Mother of the Prince Martial, the confidant of the King,” countered Aethnen in his usual courtly manner. He turned to his nephew Oliver, who was serving as Second Butler. “Oliver, please make sure that every light in the residence is turned-on. Insure that the grounds are adequately lighted too, if you please. We cannot expect Her Highness to be searching about for light switches, now can we?”
The Lady Cheryll looked surprised.
“Here, as I was saying are the budgets. We’ll need £96,344 for residential necessities. This includes a suitable limousine, kitchen upgrades, additional silver and china so that you can entertain appropriately and a first order for your cellars. I’m rounding all these sums up for ease of discussion. I am also employing every reasonable economy.”
“But wait! The Buick…”
“Is not a limousine. As I said, this is the residence of the First Lady of the Land. There is a certain air. A certain grace. That goes with that position.
“We shall require £4500 per month for the basic operating costs of your establishment. You will need a butler, housekeeper, cook, chauffeur, three footmen, one kitchen maid, two house maids, gardener and assistant, and two hall boys. £3700 per month.
“I recommend Oliver be made your Butler and the budget turned over to him. He knows how things need to be done in a palace. He was raised in one.”
“But what will Colin say of the expense?”
“But Your Highness, His Highness dispatched me to insure that your budgets were appropriate to your position and competently administered. I know you won’t want to cause him anxiety.”
“No. No, of course you’re right,” Her Highness quietly agreed.
The Daimler gleamed; one could see ones reflection in the beautifully waxed finish. Harry Cyffylog was the Chauffeur and he was proud of his Lady, his household, his Daimler, and himself.
Oliver admired the Daimler. He would have loved to have driven it. But he dare not. It wouldn’t be proper without the chauffeur’s approval and that was hardly fair to ask for. Who knew, after all, what insects might connive to immolate themselves in the silvery grandeur of her grill. He was the butler now, not the chauffeur. He got into the Buick to drive to town to attend to business. The Buick was immaculate too.
The table was groaning with food when the boys appeared in the kitchen. The boys stood transfixed in clean pajamas, terry cloth bathrobes, and thick white socks and slippers. Their hair was neatly combed and still damp. Turbo did not have time to be transfixed. He went directly to two large bowls on the floor by the wall and began to eat.
“Sit, my boys, eat,” the smiling lady urged, pointing them to places set around the table. “Let me know if you need anything. Save a spot for dessert. I’ve fresh cherry pie.” There was some of just about everything good to eat on the table: fried chicken, pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, fresh green beans, roast Brussels sprouts with bacon bits, fresh rolls and butter to mention just a few of them. The boys received tall glasses of icy cold milk. The boys sparkled happily and ate with éclat.
As they neared time for dessert, the boy they knew as Tolly came into the kitchen and gave a nice large bone to Turbo. He petted Turbo affectionately and spoke to the dog by name. He came around the table and sat down as a piece of cherry pie and a large scoop of ice cream appeared.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he smiled at the lady.
The three of them ate companionably in the glow. The kitchen was a happy one; it seemed to radiate the sense of home and safety as well as the cheery odors of good food and warmth. It was a loving kitchen.
Tolly took a great drink of milk. Setting down the glass, he said, “You guys got a bunch of questions I guess. Simon’ll be here in a minute, but you can start asking me if you wanna.”
“Where are we,” began Rodger.
“In a safe house in the City. Not to worry.”
“Can we go?’ Rodger continued.
“Whaddaya mean, ‘nope’?”
“Means you can go anywhere ya want in the house and yard, but you can’t leave. Simon’ll be here in a minute and he’ll be able to answer lots of questions that you wouldn’t believe if I tried to answer them.”
“Like it or not, the Rescue Commando has stumbled into you and you’ve been officially rescued. Just like I was.”
“Army commandos?” Monty wondered.
“Well, yes, but they’re kinda undercover. They’re not usually in helmets or uniforms or guns and stuff. And they don’t go around blowing stuff up. They rescue kids and stuff like that.”
With a snap and a flash, a small black and white cat appeared on the table and hooked a piece of fried chicken. Hi. I’m Simon and I’m a familiar. That means I help wizards and other important folks when needed. He paused and delicately worked his piece of chicken until he had a small piece which he chewed thoroughly and swallowed. I’m going to give you a kind of overview and then my pal Tolly will answer your questions. I’ll see you again tomorrow.
So here’s the deal. We’ve rescued you so we’re responsible for you. If we let you go back on the streets, it’s only a matter of time before the cops got you. And that’s assuming somebody worse didn’t get you first. Then, almost assuredly you’d be separated. Turbo for sure would be sent to an animal shelter. If you got a sympathetic case worker, they might try and keep you together, but there’s no guarantee of that. So you’re stuck with us. With us, you’ll not be separated; you’ll be given a lot of choices. You’ll be fed; you’ll have a bed to sleep in. For now, I’m going to finish my chicken, drink some milk, and then I’ve got to get back to work. Ask Tolly anything.
The lady appeared, as if on cue, with a cup of milk which she placed next to Simon as he worked on his chicken. “Did you like the pie?” She wondered.
“Yes. Is there any left,” Monty smiled beguilingly. “Yes indeedy. Ice cream?” She went to the sink looking for the ice cream scoop as Monty nodded with enthusiasm.
“We’ll go to my house tomorrow,” Tolly said. “You can meet my foster dads. One of them’s a wizard. He’s great. Well, they’re both great now I think about it. And I got other friends too. We got a great spot for skinny dipping.”
Could a full moon be said to be thunderous? If it could, this would be one. Certainly it was enough to keep two loving young men faintly awake in their moon-washed bedroom.
“So when are you going to ask that nice Lady Nancy the big question.” Justin smiled at Colin.
They were in bed relaxing; they were fresh from the bath; they were squeaky clean and also sated.
Colin yawned and tickled Justin’s ribcage just under the arm. There was some squirming and laughter.
“I’m thinking next week. She loves the zeppelins so we’re going to take a ride on the Shenandoah on a training flight. We’ll have lunch on the upper bridge and I’ll ask her then. I’m looking at a ruby ring. I was thinking maybe a sapphire, but then I thought of Princess Diana and I didn’t want to go there.
“I’m thinking I might want to get her a job in the zeppelin service, down the line a bit.”
“That’s a great idea, dear. It’ll give her some truly serious work to do in addition to motherhood. Maybe she can be a captain. That would be neat.”
“Well,” Colin mused, “I’ll bet she could do that. If she wants to do something like that there’s no reason she oughtn’t. So, since you’re not ready for sleep, what do you want to do with Nurse Claude? Promote? Or what?”
“Well, I was thinking we should expand his current position. He will still be directly involved at the hospital, only not in the rotation at the emergency room. That’s very important to him, but I think we’ll have him take an active role in placing the children we’re rescuing. I think he’d like that. Plus he’s due to be a Knight of Hermes Wand I think.”
There was a sort of muffled noise from Colin. Justin chose to interpret that as agreement. Shortly there began gentle, even breathing, and Justin continued, “And Oliver will continue to run your Mom’s household. I’m going to decorate him so that she knows how highly we regard him. Good night my darling.”