“I’ve never been interviewed before,” he explains. “Thank you for sending me the list of questions. Do I have to answer them as they came?”
No, I reassure him, I’ll take his answers and weave an interview from them. He visibly relaxes. We start with the first one anyway, and he tells me his background.
Fred is a princeling, one of a number of descendents of King Cole, not in direct line to the throne, so not a prince. He and his twin brother George live in a castle, Castle Marsh.
“No, it’s really The Castle In The Marsh,” he corrects me, “but we let people call us Castle Marsh because otherwise it seems so pedantic.”
What’s it like, I prompt him. His gaze wanders over my shoulder as if he’s looking at a different view entirely.
“It’s in the middle of nowhere, and nobody visited until we went on our adventure. There were strict rules, which we didn’t like of course, although now I can see their purpose. We used to have a great time finding all the secret ways in the castle, and listening to things we shouldn’t listen to. But we also spent a lot of time in the library.”
“I’d look it up and find whether I agreed with the book”
George was interested in how things worked, Fred more in why things worked, or just were. “I found a number of books on a subject called ‘Natural Philosophy’ and I sort of took it from there. If I thought something was interesting, I’d think about it for a bit and try to understand it, and then I’d look it up in books and find whether I agreed with the book or not. Sometimes books gave me better ideas, but after a while I found I had to design my own methods for finding out more about a subject. My wind experiments are a good example.”
Fred’s wind-mapping experiments are a theme throughout the Princelings trilogy. He noticed that the reeds blew in different directions around the castle, and eventually managed to record those directions on a map. He found certain patterns repeated, but not exactly the same, depending on the direction of the wind. When he transferred these experiments to Castle Buckmore he found similar patterns, but at different wind directions.
“George suggested I look at whether the shape of the castles had anything to do with it, and of course he was right.”
Fred is now preparing to publish a paper on his findings in a prestigious journal. I ask him whether this natural philosophy has any practical use.
“I think it is useful to understand why the world works as it does for all sorts of reasons,” he says. “We wouldn’t understand how to heat and cool our castles like we do without natural philosophy considering the properties of stone and water. But I think my wind experiments will help George with his flying machines.”
“Nobody really rates him”
I decide to ask George that when I interview him later and tell Fred so. He nods, pleased with the link to his brother. I return to his adventures in the Princelings trilogy and ask him about the people he met on his travels. Who are the most important contacts he’s made?
“Oh, Prince Lupin of Buckmore, undoubtedly, and Lady Nimrod,” he answers without hesitation, his deep pink eyes glinting with the memory. “They are so well-connected. Knowing them, and having their support, means you can talk to anyone. And the other kings and crown princes are all important contacts.”
His gaze drifts off again.
“But you know, some of the other people are just as important. Victor, at the Inn, he’s a good person to know. He has such good contacts himself, and nobody really rates him because he’s the bar-keeper, you know, and sometimes people forget people who meet lots of different people from all situations like that. They are worth their weight in gold.”
He focuses on me again and looks like he wants to ask if he’s made himself clear. I ask him about the most exciting thing he’s done instead. He thinks about it.
“I can think of some scary things, but they weren’t really exciting. It was exciting and scary getting married but I think someone would be cross with me if I said that. Going up in George’s flying machine for the first time was amazing! Very scary but very exciting! Then there was… no. That’ll have to do.”
“It would be terrible if changes led to unrest or even wars”
What about his most embarrassing moment. He grins sheepishly. “It was actually when I was very small and I had tried to do something no-one had done for years, and stupidly I told everyone I was going to do it. A huge crowd turned out to watch and I made a complete fool of myself. George said I shouldn’t worry as at least I’d tried, but I still felt a fool for building myself up as something special, which I wasn’t.” I pressed him to describe the challenge, which was to run around the inner courtyard of the castle, but without touching the ground at any point, only using the battlements, window ledges, crevices, flagpoles and anything else to leap from point to point. “I fell off on the third corner,” he said, “straight into a crowd of people including my Uncle Vlad. George thinks there used to be another flagpole there which is why no-one’s done it for centuries.”
I think he seems to be very self-contained, not the sort of tearaway to do that sort of thing. “Well, perhaps it taught me a lesson,” he says.
I ask him the next question: what would he most like to change and why.
“This whole heredity thing,” he responds immediately and goes on to talk at length about the problems caused by a strict line of succession which completely ignores the female line. “There are so many good people whose talents are wasted,” he says, “not to mention all the murders and wars that have been caused by different factions over the years.” I ask him what he would change. Again he gazes into the distance and you can see him considering what to say and what to leave out.
“I think, ” he says slowly, “that some castles are already moving towards a different system, one where the king is a leader rather than a ruler. But it is not a good idea to be too open about this yet as castles are at different stages and it would be terrible if changes led to unrest or even wars. But I think we should ensure that the female line is recognised in succession as soon as possible, as some castles need a settled family to invigorate them. It might not be the solution but it widens the options.” He has clearly thought about this at length, I suggest and he nods.
“He’s never not been there”
Who would he most like to say sorry to and why? After a long pause he confesses he can’t think of anyone. Has he never done anything wrong? “Not anything important that requires an apology. Nothing I haven’t already sorted out, I think. I can think of a couple of apologies I think others might give me.” Anyone I might interview, I ask? He laughs and shakes his head, no.
“Who would you most like to be with in a life or death situation?” is the next question.
“George,” he replies immediately, with a grin, but then adds, “although it depends on the situation and how many people I could be with. I mean, I wouldn’t be without Kira in most situations, but I’d want her to be safe elsewhere. And if you are in a sticky situation it would be really handy to have Sundance along. But I wouldn’t want to be in deep trouble and not have George with me.” That sounds a little odd, then I remember that they are twin brothers; is there something about being a twin that helps, I ask. “I don’t know,” he says, “he’s never not been there.” There is something very touching about the way he says that, but he continues, “of course, there have been times when we’ve had separate adventures, but we’ve always been there for each other, you know. We work better together.” It sounds like they feel that together they can do anything, but I don’t ask him to expand. I wonder what George will say in his interview.
I find I am talking to a very well-balanced, thoughtful person. He has the sense to educate himself and immerse himself in a subject which benefits others. He values friendship and he seems to make friends easily. Part of it is his relaxed, unassuming approach, which seems to have been developed from a time when he was more of a tearaway. I wonder whether my last question will shed any more light on that.
“If you weren’t you,” I ask, “who would you like to be?” I half expect him to say “George.”
“There was a guy called Galileo,” he replies. “He lived in a place called Italy many years ago. He discovered wonderful things about the sun and the stars. I didn’t find out about him until recently. It would be really interesting to be him, but he met with a sticky end, I think. So if not him, maybe I’d like to be Jupiter, the lady who runs the bar in Buckmore.” And he winks at me.
I didn’t expect that! There is definitely more to this Princeling than meets the eye.