In which we meet the young Princelings and a good feast is ruined
George was suspended in mid-air, his legs dangling from the ceiling of one room while his arms scrabbled furiously for a hold on the floor of the room above. He was trying very hard to do it silently, but it was a bit difficult.
He had jumped up through the trap door in the ceiling as usual, then realised his brother Fred was gazing out of the open window. So he had stopped in mid-jump, but now gravity was taking over. They were in this top-most tiny room in the turret of the castle, their ancestral home. If Fred was gazing out of the window across the miles of marsh that surrounded them, that meant he was Thinking. Fred was apt to be grumpy if disturbed in the middle of a Think. So George had a dilemma: to hold on tight and keep quiet, or drop back again and risk making a noise landing on the accumulated junk in the room below him.
Fred was often found gazing out of the window, any window would do, but this one was his favourite. He was also much given to Thinking, and at present he was thinking about the wind in the reeds. If the wind is blowing in my face, he thought, why is it blowing the reeds in different directions around the castle? If anyone asked his occupation, Fred described himself as a Natural Philosopher, a person who thinks about the whys and wherefores of nature, trying to understand how the world works. I need to explore the nature of the wind. If only I can persuade George to devise some way of mapping what the wind is doing as it blows across the marsh and into the castle. Yes, he thought, that is the way forward, and he sighed.
An answering sigh met his and George clambered the rest of the way into the room. He looked rather relieved that he had found a way to attract Fred’s attention without interrupting him mid-Think.
“We might be in trouble, Fred,” he said. “My latest engine stopped working. The trouble is everything in the castle stopped working at the same time. Uncle Vlad is not happy.”
“Does he blame you?” Fred asked, with a frown, as he was sure it couldn’t be George’s engineering experiments causing the problem. This Energy Drain had been happening every now and then for years now, and he had Thought about it a few times. There was no relationship with any of George’s experiments. Nor with Young Boris’s either, although Young Boris had been banished for causing it over three years ago. He was one of their many cousins, all grandchildren of the present King, but there were few of them left in the castle now.
“I don’t think so,” replied George, “but Ludo keeps telling him he ought to root out the troublemakers before the King starts blaming him for the problem.”
“Ludo can’t have anything to do with it. He’s always off sailing that boat of his down at the Big Water.”
“No, of course not. He meant the King blaming Uncle Vlad.”
“Uncle Vlad is the King’s right-hand man. He does all the work round here. I’m sure he wouldn’t blame Uncle Vlad,” said Fred, but he paused and thought about it all the same.
He considered the way his cousins had left the castle; one by one they had set out for the great unknown. Sometimes they were escorted off the premises by the king’s henchman, sometimes they had slipped out in the middle of the night. He and George had been out of the castle of course; they had travelled the marsh extensively and knew all the little side tracks and alleyways well. They even knew which ones were wet at different times of day; he and George had worked out a few years ago that while the wetness didn’t coincide with the high tides at Summernot, on the coast, they did follow a similar pattern. George had engineered an ingenious measuring and timing device for this project, with a ball that floated up in a column of the rising water, and marked the height on a circular card that revolved with the clock as it did so. George was clever at that sort of thing. Fred wanted to get him to engineer something to measure the wind direction. He wondered how he could ask him. He looked out of the window for inspiration, and George joined him leaning on the windowsill.