Chapter 3: An Engineered Solution
The three persons went into the cave without noticing Dylan outside, but they soon noticed he wasn’t inside. Uncle Heath wasn’t one of them. The two he’d seen the day before, Scarface and the other, had met the newcomer who had got out of the flying machine. He was a fashionable brindled colour with long wispy hair around his face. He looked rather exotic, thought Dylan. Now he could hear them arguing.
“If he got away, he’ll be dangerous, he’ll blow our operation wide open.”
“Heath will spot him and catch him before he does that.”
“You can’t bank on that.”
“I trust Heath even if you don’t.”
“Who’s saying I don’t?”
“You’ve never trusted him!”
“Gentlemen, pleeeze,” said the newcomer. “Eet eez simple. We load ze goods on ze machine, and I leeeve you. You make no trace of ze operashun.”
“What about the still, though?”
“I leeve zat for you to feex. Eet eez your beesiness, no?”
“Come on; let’s get this stuff stowed and away.”
“And the kid?”
“He’ll be long gone. If we’re quick they’ll never catch us.”
Dylan shrank back again as they emerged carrying crates of bottles with corks in. He watched them carry the crates down to the side of the tarn then start back up again. What should he do? Should he stop them? Why were they loading the crates? Did Uncle Heath know they were taking them away? Surely he did. That was why he’d just left Dylan.
Dylan suddenly realised, really realised, that his uncle had left him to die. What would happen once he got back to Haunn and had to face him? His uncle would catch him and… what? Make sure he never told anyone what he had seen? Dylan felt very cold. And very alone.
The persons came out carrying more crates. Dylan tried to remember how many there were and thought they would have to make another trip. He waited till they were half way to the tarn and squeezed backwards from his hiding place, making to go back over the hill.
“Ah, zis iz where you are hiding, zen?” said the stranger, who popped up from the other side of a rock. “I guessed you had not gone far. No tracks.”
Dylan stared at the metal object in his hands. He hadn’t seen one before, but he’d seen a picture in a book. It looked like a gun.
“Now, boy, move over zere, into ze cave,” The stranger waggled the gun at him and Dylan started to move in that direction. He climbed down a rock and briefly went out of sight of the stranger. He turned and ran down the hill as fast as he could.
The stranger yelled at the others, and he heard them call back.
“Head him off!”
“Corner him at that rock!”
Dylan saw the rock, and saw the three bearing down on him from different directions. They certainly ran fast, but surely he was faster. He was the fastest messenger Haunn had ever had! He ran, bounding over tussocks and boulders. A noise cracked behind him and something sang as it whizzed past his ear. No time to lose, run, run!
The persons from the tarn were getting close, almost close enough to lunge at him. Dylan realised the ground ahead was bog, and he concentrated all his might into spotting the way through. Dylan was the champion bog-trotter; he knew he could find the firm ground in it if only he allowed himself to sense it. He concentrated, calmed his fears of his pursuers and leapt for a tussock, then bounded sideways to another, then onwards dodging both quagmire and bullets, which sang over his shoulder.
There was yelling behind him. One of the persons had followed him into the bog and got stuck. He smiled with grim satisfaction. A last shot and then all was quiet, except for the low sounds of them rescuing the one who was stuck.
Dylan reached the edge of the bog, gained firm ground, and trotted on up the tussocky turf between two narrow cliff walls. As he climbed out at the top he collided with some sort of netting thrown over him. He struggled against it but it squeezed him tight as it was drawn closed.
“Now, my lad,” said Uncle Heath, as a rain squall soaked them. “It’s time you were permanently removed from this situation.”
He dragged Dylan along the rough ground and called to the others to help him. They pulled him up to the tarn, to the edge where the flying machine bobbed on the ripply waves whipped up by the wind.
“We’ll have the money now, if you don’t mind,” said Heath.
The stranger drew out a large wad of paper from the bag that had been slung about his shoulders the entire time. “Zeeze are credits from Palatinate,” he said. “I look to do more beesiness wiz you next year, yes?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Heath, taking the paper and counting it. He kept half and gave half of the remainder to each of his companions. “Load that scamp into your machine and drop him off somewhere he won’t be able to swim home, ok?”
“Consider eet done.”
Heath nodded, and nodded to his companions, who stood up. They hauled Dylan, still in his netting, into a front compartment in the nose of the machine. The flying person got them to help him move some of the crates so he could shut Dylan in. Dylan heard the others leave. He was alone with the stranger.
“Well, leetle one. You are going on your first flight wiz me, eh?” There was a jolt and a noise on one side of the machine and everything started vibrating; then another jolt and noise, then some scratchings like the stranger was climbing up above him, then the machine started to move.
Dylan tried to find some way of shifting the netting from his body. His legs and arms were tightly tied. He really couldn’t move. He gave up and closed his eyes tight as the machine started to go faster and he was pressed backwards against some crates. “I wonder what Dougall would do?” he thought as he was lifted into the air, and felt the little machine bounce on the wind as it turned across it heading he knew not where.
Dougall slipped down to the Solstice party as soon as he finished, but stopped at the doorway. Lady Carolyn was lamenting the loss of her silver necklace very loudly, and it wasn’t long before Eiris and Mhairi told of their lost anklets. Other trinkets appeared to have disappeared too. Dougall returned to the power plant room. He felt safer getting back to work on his experiment. Maybe he’d better return the items that weren’t of any use before he got found out. In a tiny workroom next to the power plant room he had two trays of raspberry juice, each with four trinkets made of different metals in them. Each trinket was wired to two lightbulbs in a rack above the trays, and Dougall was trying to work out which combination of trinkets produced any energy, and which produced enough to light up the bulb. He had a little pile of trinkets that he’d tried on one side, and a couple he hadn’t on the other. It was a slow job working through all the combinations, but he was sure he would get there. He picked out two items that were no use with any of the others and slipped them back to their owner’s rooms before they woke up. He didn’t think uncles Heath and Hamish had noticed they were missing, which was a relief.
He hoped Dylan would be back soon. He missed him.
George circled his flying machine round the impressive Castle Palatine, poised on its rock on the bend of the river, and sank towards the flat broad stretch of water ahead of him. He’d been surprised to see another flying machine heading east towards the open sea as he arrived. As far as he could tell it had an F registration mark, but it wasn’t a machine he recognised.
He pulled up at the landing stage at the foot of the cliff. It was for visiting boats, really, but it was good for his flying machine too. He threw a rope over a useful post and pulled himself to the side, jumped out and secured it, then climbed back in to get a bottle of strawberry juice to fill up the fuel cell before the next leg of his journey. He knew he didn’t really need to, but he was so unsure of how far he had to go to find Haunn, he thought he’d better be prepared for a very long flight.
The bottle filled the cell with a little left over. George grabbed some lunch and sat on a convenient bundle of rags to eat it and drink the rest of the strawberry juice.
The bundle of rags made a muffled, but obviously objecting noise and twisted violently.
George put his lunch down and explored further. It was hair rather than rags, and it was tied up tight in some sort of netting. He found an eye and a mouth and freed them enough to speak to them.
“Hallo, I’m George, do you need help?”
“Yes, please. I’m Dylan and I’ve been kidnapped then left here.”
“How did you get here?” asked George, untying the rope and finding the drawstring of the netting.
“I got put in the front of this flying machine thing and when he stopped here he just pushed me out and left me.”
“Who put you in there?”
“My uncle and some persons. He told the flying person to throw me in the sea.”
“That would be difficult if he’s flying the machine. Just your luck I came along, really. Where are you from?”
“Oh, nowhere important. Where am I now?”
“Castle Palatine. It’s a very important place in the north.”
“I come from the west. A place called Haunn.”
George couldn’t believe his ears. “But that’s where I’m going! You can show me the way!”
Dylan wasn’t sure that he could but he said yes anyway. He shared George’s lunch and then climbed into a little space behind the pilot’s area, perching himself on some boxes and bags in there.
“You’ll need to hunker well down,” George said, “or you’ll get very cold in the wind. I’m afraid I didn’t expect a passenger so I didn’t bring any blankets or anything.”
Dylan did as he was told, but was so fascinated by the experience of flying that he kept poking his head up and looking over side at the ground beneath them after they’d taken off. George headed northwest, on and on for a couple of hours before he saw a castle on the edge of the sea, with lots of islands in the distance.
“I’m going to stop there and check where we are,” he called. George set the flying machine down in the harbour and pulled over to the side. Dylan staggered out of his place onto the quayside, stretched and got his limbs moving again.
“You must be frozen,” George said, looking at him. “Let’s get a hot drink while we work out where we are.”
“This is Kerrera,” said Dylan. “This is where I send messages from.”
George was astonished, but led the way into the harbour inn and got them some hot drinks anyway.
“So, who sent the message to George Marsh of Buckmore?”
“Well, I sent it, but it was from my brother Dougall.”
“Well, I’m George Marsh, although I’m really Prince Engineer George of Marsh, and Buckmore sent the message on to me,” George explained, and he got Dylan to explain more about the problems they’d had at Haunn while they sipped their drinks. Then he got Dylan to tell him an easy way to find Haunn, and they set off again on their journey.
They were chasing the setting sun through the broken cloud as they turned past Sandy Bay and rounded the headland towards Haunn. George set the flying machine down on the gentle waves of low tide and made the machine motor right into the rocky port. Dylan helped him make the flying machine secure and got the boat people to make sure it wouldn’t be harmed by the rocks and would float safely on the rising tide.
Most of the inhabitants had come down from the castle to meet the new arrivals, but mainly to look at the flying machine, the first ever seen at Haunn. Dylan introduced George to the Laird using his proper title, and to Uncle Hamish as well, since he was in charge of the power plant.
“So, have ye brought a new one for us?” Hamish asked.
“Er, no, I’ve brought some samples of the components that might make yours run on raspberry juice. It sounded like that was what your engineer wanted help with,” George explained.
“Um, yes,” said George, fishing the original message out and reading it. “Engineer Dougall.”
“The rascal,” said Hamish. “DOUGALL!”
Dougall crept forward pushing his way through the others gathered on the shore.
“Should we go up to your power plant and he can explain up there?” intervened George, who fancied getting indoors out of the cold. “And perhaps someone can bring these boxes up to us?”
Hamish directed people to bring the boxes and Dougall led the way to his experiments.
“So what’s this?” asked George, extracting Lady Carolyn’s silver necklace from the tray of raspberry juice. He’d looked at Dougall’s notes and made approving sounds, praising his inventiveness and method. Dougall was extremely relieved that George had seen fit to say this in front of Uncle Hamish and the Laird, who had insisted on accompanying them to see what was going on.
“Um, the silver seems to be one of the best things to use,” Dougall explained. “I just can’t find anything to go with it that keeps the light on.”
“That’s…” started Donal, realising the source of the silver.
“Yes,” interrupted Hamish, “and very noble of your Lady to lend it to solve our power problem, don’t you think?”
Donal turned a funny colour but said nothing.
“Have you any copper?” asked George. Dougall handed him Mhairi’s anklet from the unused pile. George fixed up the connection and the lamp above shone bright and steady, to the appreciation of the crowd squeezed in around them.
“It works!” Dougall grinned, then looked mournful again as he realised he wouldn’t be able to use Lady Carolyn’s necklace forever.
“My team and I spent a few hours on this last night when we got out of our Solstice dinner,” George explained. “It was really clever of you to think of using raspberry juice. I think it may need to be a different strength to suit your power needs, but you should be able to use either silver and copper, or, even better, nickel and copper, to get your power up to the same level as the strawberry juice cells that I use. Have you got any nickel?”
Dougall looked at Hamish, who shook his head.
“Well, keep this,” George said, handing Dougall a small bar of shiny metal, “and these,” pulling four more thin bars of copper out. “I think these will work if you connect them in place of the ones in your fuel cell.”
“You’ve got a really fine engineer there,” George said to Hamish as he turned away and left Dougall busily making new connections with these precious components. “Very talented. Now if it would be possible to stay the night, I’ll be on my way back in the morning. I have a treasure hunt to run at my own castle tomorrow night.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” said Donal, stepping in to take charge of his important guest. “We’ll find you a room. And perhaps you’ll be our guest tonight as we’ll be able to practice our ceilidh for Green Willow eve after all.”
“What’s a ceilidh?” asked George.
“I’ll show you!” said Dylan, wanting to retain some connection with his rescuer. He led George out of the power plant, only to come face to face with Heath.
They stood looking at each other, Dylan not daring to breathe, and Heath trying to control his rage at Dylan’s escape. Hamish came up behind them.
“Come on, Dylan, stop blocking the way, lad,” said Hamish.
“Yes,” said Heath. “You enjoy yourself, young Dylan, and we’ll say no more about your unauthorised absence from the castle, shall we?”
Dylan shot him a look. His absence was hardly unauthorised. But maybe it would be best to say nothing, as long as Heath said nothing either. After all, yuletide was back in full swing and he would hate to miss the party.
Jemima and all the characters in her stories send you seasons greetings and hope you enjoy peace and friendship in 2013.
Dylan’s Yuletide Journey is (c) Jemima Pett 2012. All rights reserved.
Read more about the Princelings of the North in 2014!