This is the second part of Fred’s Yuletide Escape. If you missed the start, you can find it here.
Chapter 2: All Awash
“Your Majesty, how nice to see you. His Highness is with the Cabinet but will be with you in ten minutes or so, if you have time to wait. May I offer you refreshment? Tea, wine?”
Fred drew his gaze from the view from Castle Wash over the huge expanse of sea that stretched almost as far as he could see, and turned to the speaker.
“Thank you, Mike, have you something pleasantly warming? This wind is turning into a Biter, I think.”
“How about some mulled celery juice, sir?”
“That sounds excellent, thank you.” Fred watched Mike, Steward of Castle Wash, give the order to an attendant and return to join him at the window. They turned to admire the view together.
“Is it my imagination, or is the water higher than usual?” asked Fred.
“It is not your imagination, sir. We have been having trouble with excessively high tides. This is not even at its peak yet and already the causeway is under water. We have been sending out repair parties every night and day as the water level retreats.”
“Hm,” mused Fred with a frown. “Our water levels are high, but no more than usual for winter after all the rain we’ve had this year. The dunes do not seem to be troubled with high tides. Although maybe we’ve not monitored them closely. The coach had no trouble getting here.”
“That is what Prince Hunston is discussing at present, sir. The communications with Marsh are fine, but our causeway seems to be badly affected. The stage from Humber has been delayed on the other side on so many occasions these last weeks. They now stop the service there and expect us to shuttle across and wait for them.”
Fred frowned again. The idea of the stage being terminated before reaching them would be a huge blow to Wash, in prestige as much as inconvenience. “What about the new service from Seven H?” he asked.
“They were still coming across at low tide, but now they stop on the other side too.”
The conversation paused for a moment, and Fred pondered on the excellence of Mike, Steward of Wash, and other stewards he knew, such as Baden at Buckmore. Perhaps Mike might have some ideas for him.
“Tell me, Mike, if you don’t mind, how did you come to be Steward at Wash, or be under-steward to Monty, anyway,” he corrected himself, referring to Mike’s predecessor, who had passed nearly two years earlier. “Are you family?”
“Well, no, sir, I think stewards rarely are. Maybe distant family, perhaps. In fact, my parents were from Fortune; came to Wash when that foundered. My mother was in the royal line, but of course…”
“Succession rules,” stated Fred, referring to the rule that succession to the throne did not count through the female line, a rule that Fred (and others) were working hard to change.
“Indeed, sir. I think my mother spoke to Monty when I was still at school. I was brought into the household in a general role, and then became under-steward some years later, sir.”
“Hmm, I think we all thought FGP would go on forever. And then we thought we could do it ourselves.”
Mike did not respond to the remark. FGP had been steward of Marsh for so long it was easy to think of him as permanent. He was ancient when he died. Kira and Fred had relieved him of so many duties that they thought it was a post that was unnecessary in their set-up. Now they were having second thoughts.
“I don’t suppose you know of a likely candidate for us, do you?” Fred asked.
Mike was saved from answering as the door opened and a handsome person in his prime strode across and greeted Fred warmly.
“Good to see you! ‘Just dropping in’, your note said. What are you up to now?” Crown Prince Hunston released Fred, who collected his drink from the attendant who had followed his prince into the room. Hunston collected his own drink and waved them back to the window seat. “Mike, they’ve agreed the work team, can you set it up with them, please.”
Mike nodded, bowed to Fred and left the room.
Fred sipped his drink. “I just felt the need for a little aimless travel, that’s all. I thought I would check in with you. How’s your father? And from what Mike’s told me, I need to go over the causeway to find out where I’m going next. How long has the water been like this?”
“Father’s much the same, rarely comes out. I’m doing most of the work now. The water’s been like this since September. We thought it was those usual spring tides as you called them. The extra high one at the equinox full moon. But the tides have been odd ever since.”
Fred thought for a few moments, sipping his warm, spiced celery juice. “Nearly three months of higher than normal tides. Day and night? Full moon or half?”
“Yes, both, either,” Hunston replied. “The only thing my tide men can suggest is that the wind has been unusually steady from the north-east at high tide hours, and that is when the causeway is damaged.”
“Extra power driving the tide in, then, yes,” Fred nodded. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Unless you can come up with an idea for why it’s happening, or a clever solution, no, but thank you,” said Hunston. “I’ll report on it at the next Kings’ Council of course. Humber and Palatine know of the problem, and are making their own observations. Perhaps you could add some measurements from your coast?”
“I’ll set someone on it.” Fred nodded at Hunston. He liked Hunston, trusted him. He was pleased to help if he could.
“So, where are you heading, and when? And why only the drop-in – you could have let me know and stayed for a few days. Still could, of course!”
Fred chuckled. “Thank you, but I wanted to get away on a little adventure like we used to. Just start off and see what happens, you know.”
“Well, you certainly got me into an adventure or two that way.” Hunston grinned as he remembered his role in discovering that the Lost City of Arbor was not lost at all.
“I suppose I’d better get across your causeway and find out what stage is waiting for me at the other end, then.” Fred said, putting his empty cup down and half-rising.
“Well, I’ll get someone to take you across. I don’t know when the stages run, but Archi or Py have set up a nice little rest house on the other side. Enterprising as always. Took over an abandoned building and tidied it up as quickly as anything. I’ve even stopped to wait for low tide there myself.”
The pair walked across the room and down to the castle entrance. Hunston called to someone who turned out to be a stable hand, and within a minute, a pony pulled a small chaise out of the stable, driven by a young person in Wash livery.
“Excellent, smart work, young Barley,” Hunston said. “There you are, Fred. Barley will take you across the causeway safely. If there’s any problem, come back. Don’t stay there overnight, even if you are marsh-born. It’s a strange place over there at night.”
They hugged and Fred jumped up into the chaise. He found a blanket on the seat and tucked it around him. The wind was biting, and was definitely from the north-east. Barley pointed the pony’s head towards the causeway and Fred gasped at the expanse of sea that stretched out in front of them.
Why had he decided he needed an adventure, anyway?
(c) J M Pett 2013