A little something with Fred at Yuletide for our festive season. This episode fits between the antipenultimate and penultimate chapters of Princelings Revolution! I decided you need it, because I had an idea of something to write for this time next year, so I might make a habit of it. That will be interesting, because I have no idea what will happen after next year. It’s just over 1000 words.
Fred at Yuletide
Yuletide at the Inn of the Seventh Happiness was nothing like it had been at Castle Marsh. Fred had no idea what he had expected, but somehow it wasn’t this.
At Castle Marsh, as with most castles, Yuletide started at the winter solstice, with the Solstice Speech given by the king or lord, which ended with everyone renewing their allegiance to their seigneur. Fred had discovered that word for a king or lord reigning over a given tract of lands and all that lived in it, in an old book on the shelf by the fireplace. He’d also discovered that two of the wandering stars were due to meet in the night sky this solstice, and although he saw them getting closer in the days before the festive season, it was just storm, rain and cloud on the night itself.
He’d spent a great deal of time looking in the books by Victor’s fireplace, as he was now. They were a strange assortment, left behind by travellers over the centuries. His mind drifted to Castle Marsh’s library, and he admitted to himself, their library was just such a mixture, but larger. He ached as he thought of his old home. Had the library been destroyed? Was the castle itself still standing? Was anyone still loyal to … the castle, he realised with a jolt. It wasn’t really the king they were loyal to, although some kings did gain more personal support from their people. It was the castle itself, the land that supported them, that they worked hard on to provide for themselves, their families and their friends.
Had he underestimated that in all he’d done? He sighed.
“What’s up brother?” George was drawing on a piece of paper stretched on a board, that he balanced between his knee and the arm of the sofa.
“I was just thinking of solstice speeches, and what allegiance meant at the castle. They didn’t even have a speech here, just the party.”
George smiled at him, and carried on with his scribbling.
How did George always manage to have a project on the go? He never drifted along, wondering what to do next. Although, to be fair, Fred had never had the time before to wonder what to do next.
“What are you drawing?”
“Idea for something people could use in an emergency.”
“What, when flying?”
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I jumped out of the old Pelican and escaped from Blackbird’s clutches. I hung on to the little rescue boat and it sort of glided through the air, but threatened to tip me up, because it wanted to turn over. I was playing with things turned over and a weight below them, and I think I’m on the right lines. Look.”
Fred looked. In the top corner there was a semicircle, like a D on its flat side, and two lines coming down to a point below it. At the point was a stick person, arms going up to the lines on either side. Then further over George had sketched a sort of three-dimensional picture of something like a jellyfish, with strings coming down from it all the way round, ending in a point.
“What goes here?” he asked, indicating the point where the strings joined.
“Ah, that’s the tricky bit. I don’t know. Some sort of harness, I think. I’ve scribbled these ideas out, look. It would be too difficult to climb into something with lots of straps to do up if you had an emergency. When I did it, I just grabbed the boat and jumped. It has to be that simple really. But I was doing some calculations on size, and the amount of air this thing I’m calling a canopy, because it goes overhead, will hold.”
“You see, that’s my problem. You’ve always got something to do. What do I do? I’m useless.”
“Don’t say that near Victor, He’ll find you plenty to do.”
Fred laughed. “I’m on dishwashing this week. I’ve got at least an hour before I’m needed in the kitchen.”
“There you are then. New job: kitchen dogsbody.”
They laughed, but Fred felt that George had summed it up well. Fred was no longer king of Marsh. He was a nobody, and had to work his way just like everybody else.
“By the way, I had a letter from Kurtz,” George said. “They are going ahead with the new plane just as we suggested.”
“I love the way you slide that into the conversation days after you got the letter from them. I thought it must have been bad news.”
“No. They accept our financial situation is unusual, but being partners and all, as long as we’re still going to go to see Mariusz, they’ll produce the plane as agreed.”
“That’s incredibly good of them.”
“They want to see us make it work. They’ve got at least four big customers waiting to see if it does.”
“When do we have to get to Mariusz again?”
“After May 6th.”
‘Only five months.”
“At least five months. It wouldn’t make sense to turn up on his doorstep the day after he’s agreed to close the time tunnel. I reckon late June would be fine.” George put his work aside and leaned forward to look in his brother’s eyes. “And you need to be back in Castle Marsh by then. It’s where you belong.”
“They don’t want me.”
“They will. Trust me.”
Fred thought about his words as he was washing the glasses and food dishes in the kitchen behind the bar. A few people had protested that he didn’t need to, some laughed and said it served him right. Fred just shrugged his shoulders and got on with it. Victor thanked him for helping out, every day.
To be honest, it helped his pride that he could do something that helped Victor, and at the same time gave him solitude—in the middle of a very busy place—to think things through. He could hardly gaze out of a window at a distant view at 7H; the settlement was sunken in the plain with sheer cliffs surrounding it. He thought over all the events of the past year, and the new allies he had—including Locksley, to his great surprise. And being busy helped.
Meanwhile, he was with his brother, his daughter and his steward, if Willoughby could still be called that, and his friend Victor. They were safe and warm, and well fed, when others would be wet, cold, and hungry, with no place to go.
He was grateful to his friends and family for their support. They were together. And tomorrow, Yuletide would end with Green Willow Day, the first day of a new year.
© J M Pett 2021