This is the seventh of ten parts of Fred’s Yuletide Escape.  Chapters average 1000 words. If you missed the start, you can find it here.

King Fred of Marsh has decided to take off for a little adventure before his Yuletide duties start. After visiting his neighbours at Castle Wash, he planned to spend the night at the Inn of the Seventh Happiness. However, after a pleasant conversation with Willoughby the Narrator, he was kidnapped and driven off to a pirate encampment, where he has been for a couple of days.   The pirate captain wants amnesty and a home of their own, but Fred has taken advantage of a storm to run off.  Elsewhere…

Chapter 7: Ransom

The ransom demand had arrived at Castle Marsh and Castle Buckmore at the same instant, thanks to the extension of the vacuum tube message system to outlying areas.  Rapid discussions took place between Kira (Queen of Marsh), George (Fred’s brother, visiting Castle Buckmore)  and Lupin (Prince of Buckmore) using the same method.  Five minutes was not a long time to wait between bursts of conversation when it would take a whole day to travel between the two castles.

The demand read: “We have King Fred.  We want our own castle. And plenty of money to support us. Make sure we get it by Solstice or he walks the plank. From Cap’n Bones on behalf of all exiled pirates not otherwise settled.”

In his office at Castle Buckmore, Lupin toyed with the original message while he waited for a reply to his enquiry of Argon, proprietor of the Inn of the Seventh Happiness. “He must have gone to Seventh Happiness from Wash.  He wouldn’t have gone to Humber.”

“Well,” George replied, “If there was a choice he’d have gone to Seven H.  Humber’s all right, but…”

“Ah,” said Lupin as his steward, Baden, entered with another message.

“Argon reports he booked a room, but didn’t use it,” Lupin told George.

“Didn’t he think that was suspicious?” asked George.

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you,” Lupin replied.  “But who knows what goes on at a busy place like that.  Maybe he thought he’d changed his mind.”

“I’d better go down and talk to him, find out if he saw anything, if anyone else saw anything.”  George flew everywhere in a fraction of the time it took the best of coaches.

“Yes, although if we know who’s got him, and what they want, what do we have to gain?”

“We need to find him and rescue him, surely,” said George, somewhat surprised at Lupin’s reaction.

“That’s a good plan, George,” said Baden.  “If we can get him out of their clutches we can tackle the problem of rehoming them without undue pressure.”

“Ah, yes, of course,” said Lupin.  “Sorry George, not thinking straight.  What do they mean by ‘plenty of money to support us’ anyway?”

“It sounds to me like they want their own castle, with full access to the credit system,” said Baden.

“Not just rehomed wherever we can fit them in, then?”

“No.”

“But that’s… what’s the word… anarchy?”

“Well, either anarchy in that they don’t recognise any of the existing kings, or an attempt to join the system as a fully fledged entity,” Baden replied.

“I’ll get going, then,” said George.  “I wonder if they’ve discussed this with Fred?  It’s more his thing than mine.”

“Do you think he’s suggested it to them?”  Lupin was shocked.

“No,” said George and Baden together.  “He’d have developed a better plan if he had,” added George.  “I’ll update you when I’ve talked to Argon.”

“Good, good,” said Lupin as George left.

“Are there any castles we could give them?”  Lupin asked Baden.

“None in habitable condition, I don’t think.  Roc is nicely out of the way, and on the coast, but it’s a shell.  Forest was blown up, and anyway, Lord Duffield maintains it’s still his.  There are a couple up north, one not far from Palatine and the other further north, again on the coast.  I don’t know what condition they’re in.”

“Well, that’s a start, in terms of negotiation.”

~~~

“So he booked the cubbyhole, had supper with the narrator, and you didn’t see him afterwards?”

“Exactly so, Prince George,” said Argon.  “It was a busy night, we were practically full, a couple of minor royals from Cabot on their way up to Humber staying in the best suite, everyone piling in after the narrator had done his stuff…”

“It’s ok, Argon, I don’t expect you to mollycoddle every wandering princeling that comes through your bar.”  George grinned at him.  In fact, it was Victor who had mollycoddled him and Fred on their adventures when they were princelings, since Argon had been abducted himself, but he didn’t need to say so.  “I don’t suppose the narrator’s still around?”

“No, sir, he went off on his travels.  To Wash, I think.”

“I don’t suppose Victor saw anything?”

“I didn’t think to ask him.  Hold on.”

Argon disappeared into the kitchen area and George could hear him call to Victor.

“I don’t know where he is,” he admitted as he returned.  “He’s got some new idea he’s working on.”

“Here, Dad!” said Victor, coming in through the main door.  “Hi, George! Thought I saw the machine land.”

“Hi Victor.  I’m looking for Fred.”

“Oh. He didn’t stay the night.  Night before last…?”

“That’s right.”

“Yeah, he went off with Rum’s mates.”

“Who?”

“Rum.  He runs the Wash stagecoach.  Works very hard.  There, back, there, back. Goes to Forest sometimes too.”

“OK.  So he brought Fred in from Wash when he arrived?”

“Probably.  Didn’t see him arrive.  Think he said Wash though.  Where’s Fred?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.”  George wondered if Lupin had told Argon that Fred had been kidnapped.  Best not to say anything, in case, he told himself.  “You said he might have gone off with Rum’s mates.  Do you know who they are?”

Victor thought for a moment.  “I’ve seen them before.  On the Mare Swine.  Not seen them round here before, though.”

“They’re pirates, then.  Is Rum a pirate?”

“Used to be.  Same as Pippin.”

George took Victor’s point.  Many pirates had taken up the offer of mending their ways and taken on new roles in society.  Pippin had been on the same pirate ship as George when he had been captured, and had asked if he could work for him when he was granted a pardon.  He now ran the Flying School at Buckmore.  This Rum person had been on the Mare Swine, on which Fred and Victor had been captive, but now ran a viable stagecoach business.

“When will Rum be back here?”  George asked.

“Dinner time tonight,” Victor answered.  “He’ll be near Wash now.”

“Well, the wind’s dropped a bit, although it looks like it might be stormy later, so I might as well take the machine up for a little look around and see if I can spot anything odd,” said George, eyeing the sky from the main door.  “I don’t think there’s much else I can do.”  And after sending off a message to Lupin, and another, longer one to Kira, he took the flying machine up into the freshly washed blue sky, and headed towards the ruined Castle Forest, to the southwest, on a hunch.

(c) J M Pett 2013

Continued on Wednesday…

Fred’s Yuletide Escape 7 – Ransom
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