The final book in the Princelings trilogy starts with some strange goings-on in an unspecifed location in the Prologue, then moves to more familiar territory as our guinea pig heroes, Princelings Fred and George, wait at Castle Buckmore for the arrival of Princess Kira from Dimerie in a flying machine. George’s absorption in his power plants is overtaken by his enthusiasm for this new form of transport, while Fred continues to woo Kira, who is here to act as bridesmaid as her sister weds Prince Lupin. After the wedding they set off on a routine visit to Castle Marsh, where Fred is now Crown Prince. Diverted by an accident on the way, they arrive at a strangely quiet castle in the middle of the forest.
From then on, Kira starts acting strangely, and Fred is deeply upset. Kira returns to Buckmore escorted by George while Fred takes a more relaxing trip back to the forest with a friend from a neighbouring castle. What is the secret of the Lost City? Are the old-wives’ tales of a civilisation ruled by females where no male dare set foot true after all? Will Fred and his friend escape with their lives? How many times can Princess Kira be kidnapped in one story?
The path of true love runs anything but smoothly in this tale of love, bravery, cruelty and loss.
Fred gazed out of the window at the wind in the reeds. Apart from Thinking, he was also watching the way the wind moved them, and he occasionally turned back to a map he had sketched out on a large piece of paper, drawing lines on it to represent the wind flow.
George looked up from a folder of papers he was working on, and stared at Fred gazing. He looked over at the wind map and made a couple of long oblong marks in blue pencil, looked at Fred again, and turned back to his own work with a sigh.
This was their third day at Castle Marsh, and he knew Fred was worried. There were lots of concerns for the Castle and its inhabitants that he had been discussing with Uncle Vlad, but he knew Fred wasn’t worried about them. No, Fred was worried about Kira.
She had pleaded a headache after their long journey and disturbed night on the way to Marsh via Arbor, and had not attended the evening meal. Fred had made her excuses but he had felt it was bad form and disrespectful to King Vlad, especially on her first attendance at a formal dinner. He had commented to George that she must be really ill, as she had always been such a stickler for doing her duty even if it didn’t please her to. Then yesterday she had gone out with them into the marsh itself, and they had gone over to Summernot, as Fred thought she might like to see the sea and the dunes, and the lovely view back to the castle from there. She had not been herself at all, George thought, and he knew Fred thought the same as they had briefly discussed it after the dinner. Instead of enjoying the trip, she had complained most of the time, about the high reeds blocking the view, the flying insects, and the sand that was too hot for her feet when they got to the beach. She wasn’t even interested in the spot where Fred had been washed ashore. George was, and he pointed out to Fred how lucky he had been. If he had landed a few yards to one side or the other he would never have been seen again: swept out to sea again on the riptide or landed in a small area of quicksand where he could have been sucked to his doom.
They had got back in good time for a bathe and rest before dinner. She had graced them with her presence, but been rather surly when anyone tried to engage her in conversation, as if she would rather be anywhere but there. Finally Fred brought the subject round to the meeting her father had called to discuss lines of succession including the female line, hoping it would encourage Kira to show her best side. He had trodden carefully in describing it, but he wanted to sound out his uncle’s views, and was pleasantly surprised to find he had no real concerns about enabling males to succeed even if descended from the female line of a family. He had seen it as a practical solution to the problem of deserted kingdoms. Then Kira had waded in with a very ill-judged (in Fred and George’s view) attack on ‘just’ allowing lines of succession. She complained about females not being allowed to rule in their own right, and asserted that they were equal to the job, if not better able to manage the complexities of running a kingdom. Fred had been astounded, then highly embarrassed, at the way she had presented this; he was used to her being much more circumspect and clever at putting her point so that she didn’t upset people’s feelings. When she said these sorts of things at Buckmore she persuaded most people to her view. Now she had simply put people’s backs up, and left a hint of worry that such a person might one day be Queen of Castle Marsh.
As a result, Fred decided to cut short their visit and leave as soon as they decently could, which would be the morrow. He and George had taken refuge in their favourite tower to plan in detail the work they had hoped to see through on this trip. They would have to rely on the common sense and manpower of the 25th to make progress on it before their next visit. Hence the need for making very specific plans on paper, that Haggis and his men could work on while they were away.
Fred turned away from the window, realising after his Think that there was not much he could do about Kira except take her home and wait to see if she returned to her usual sunny self. He looked at George and sighed. “What’s that you’re working on, brother?” he asked.
“M-I’ve b-een m-ark-ing up the b-best land-ing strips ac-cord-ing to your wind marks,” he said. “I’ve al-so b-een do-ing my pa-per and al-so drawn these f-floats for the mach-ine to land on b-oth wa-ter and l-and.” He showed Fred some sketches of a frame with a number of floats in it, fixed to the hub of the wheels of the landing gear for the machine. It was ingenious, thought Fred.
“Do you think we are ready to show the troops?” he asked.
“B-we need to g-give w-idths and le-ngths,” said George. “I’m n-ot s-ure how l-ong we n-eed it.”
“Hmm,” said Fred. “When they landed at Buckmore they must have taken at least four chains to pull up.”
“Y-es,” answered George. “H-ow a-bout a board-walk in the mid-dle and a jet-ty land-ing sta-ge?”
“Put it in the specification, and we’ll prioritise 1, strip, 2, turning places, 3, boardwalk, 4, jetty.” Fred listed them as George wrote them on a separate piece of paper, leaving gaps for details under each heading.
Fred gathered up the map. “You complete the details of the depths and widths, and meet me down at the tavern. I’ll take the map and explain in general to them, then you give the details. They can ask all the questions they need then, and we can leave them to it.”
George smiled happily and started listing measurements on his paper while Fred went down to see the 25th company, who seemed to have taken over the Mayfly Tavern as their home. He was rather glad he had something positive to do.
As Fred entered the square at the lower end of the castle, he saw Munch escorting Kira from the stables. He smiled and greeted Kira warmly.
“I’m so glad to see you! Are you feeling better?”
“A little, thank you,” she said, smiling back at him. “I apologise for last night.”
“It’s not a problem,” he said lightly. “Munch, have you settled in all right here? Are the horses well rested?”
“Yes, sir, yes to both questions,” said Munch.
“Well, I wondered whether we might be on the move tomorrow. What do you think to going back home, Kira?”
“Oh that would be nice. Although I’d quite like to go back to Buckmore first,” she replied.
Fred was puzzled, as he thought it was already arranged that she would go home from Marsh. Never mind, he thought.
“OK, we’ll see how it goes,” he said, “We’ll have to go round via Wash anyway, so you can leave it till later to decide.” He thought that was the best way at present, to be diplomatic. “I need to brief some guys on some work I need them to do before we next come. It’ll only take a few minutes, if you like to wait for me we can go and have some lunch somewhere.”
“Well, I had arranged to have lunch with one of your nieces up on the strawberry terrace,” Kira replied. “But I’m sure if you and George want to join us, she won’t mind.”
“Well, um, what are you doing this afternoon, perhaps we can take a walk together?”
“Your other three nieces are taking me out for a walk,” she smiled and gave a little giggle. “They seem fascinated by meeting a female from a different castle.”
“Oh, right.” Fred was a little stunned that she seemed so well organised, but then, she was a spunky person, and he had to get used to her acting independently. “Well, I’ll see you at dinner this evening then. I’ll advise Uncle Vlad and let him know that it’s our farewell meal for the time being. OK?”
“That’ll be fine, Fred, thank you,” she said and turned to make her way up to the strawberry terrace, leaving Fred with the uncomfortable feeling that she just didn’t need him any more.
Copyright© Jemima Pett. All rights reserved.