George and I are back home in Castle Marsh after our five day trip to southern Gaul. It was a fascinating and, at times, scary trip. George flew us round the castle as we got lower in the sky, preparing to land, and he told me afterwards he’d been trying to work out which landing strip to use since the wind was very strong. It certainly was: I had been holding on for dear life and being bounced around in the passenger seat even though I was both strapped in and wedged in, since the seats weren’t built for my sized person. The little flying machine was rocking as we approached a wide length of water that had been cut free from the reeds, and I was scared the wings would touch the ground and tip up or something, but no, George steadied it, held the nose slightly upwards and once more I imagined a swan coming in to land on the water, its feet held forwards as its wings took the weight. We touched, there was a plume of spray on either side of us, we gradually drew to a halt and the water subsided. We turned and made our way to the landing stage at the side, where I threw a rope to the person waiting. I have become quite good at throwing this mooring rope during our trip and for once it didn’t land in the water and get all wet, and soak me as I coiled it up to throw again. We reached the shore without incident, and we strolled back to the castle, chatting as we went.
It is not until we are back in his workshop that I start the interview proper, but we have already spoken of his love of the bird life around the marsh and how he found some books in the library naming them, although the marsh-folk had their own names for them as well. I was also tempted to do the interview at our overnight stop which we left this morning, but to my surprise I found he was interviewing me! I don’t know whether he plans to publish it. When I asked him he just gave me one of his famous twinkle-eyed looks and said nothing.
“I’m just a Princeling”
I ask him to start by summarising his situation for new readers.
“Well, I’m Fred’s brother, so officially I’m a prince now rather than a princeling, and I have the honorary title Prince Engineer George, which I quite like. I live in Marsh, although I still supervise the laboratories at Castle Buckmore where work on strawberry juice power and its applications is continuing. I do most of my flying machine work here, though. It’s easier to communicate with the continent, for one, and the landing network here is softer if one of the new machines gives me trouble.”
As in crashing, I suggest. He laughs and agrees, but says it doesn’t happen often. Getting stuck in the reeds because it didn’t slow down on landing happens quite often, though. Does he do all the work himself?
“No, I have quite a big team now. There are two engineers, five journeyman and an apprentice at Buckmore and two assistants who are nearly journeymen and an apprentice here. Journeymen have done all their training and exams but need to show they can work on their own, so they have a few years of semi-supervised work before they complete their qualification as engineers,” he explains. And assistants that are nearly journeymen? “Well, I couldn’t call them apprentices at their ages, but they have gone through a sort of fast apprenticeship.”
One of your readers wants to know how you came to be such an intelligent engineer, I say.
“Oh,” he says, looking bashful, “I’m just a princeling you know, I just worked hard, did all the studying in the syllabus and tried to make things that helped life here at the castle from ideas I’d had from reading the books. And some of the syllabus suggested making models to understand principles better, and I ended up making full-size models that were then useful, since we didn’t have much in the way of machinery here. And then I got thinking of problems we had here that needed a solution, and sometimes I found the right machines in incredibly old books. You’d be surprised at the things in our library. We’re missing most of the modern things except the basics, but have a huge amount of centuries old stuff.”
“A great challenge and therefore great fun”
I ask for an example and he told me about three different types of machines for moving water from the ground level up to heights. Two were in a book about a Roman or Greek soldier called Vitruvius and the other was in one about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. I mention that Fred says in our first book that his water machines were misused in the castle.
“Well, yes, it was always a problem in King Cole’s day. Anything that helped a short-term problem was pressed into instant use, instead of waiting till the whole thing was completed and could solve the whole problem.” He sighs and shrugs. “Fred tends to keep asking whether something is finished yet, but he has always contained himself enough to wait till it is finished, and tested.”
I suggest that is because he’s worked with George and benefited from so many of his machines. He agrees. “Yes, some of his ideas and the machines to test them have been a great challenge, and therefore great fun. Sometimes I’ve found something suitable in books, but most times I’ve combined ideas or adapted something from some other idea, or just taken it from first principles. I think when your reader says ‘intelligent’ it’s just a matter of plugging away. Sometimes you get an inspiration though. I find sleeping on things helps me come up with the solution when I wake up.”
“You have to break things into small steps”
What sort of flying machines is he working on? There is a lightweight model to help single pilots manage all the ground work on their own, something that can carry more than one passenger in safety and more comfort, and something that can carry heavy goods. “Then if Buckmore can sort out the power side of things, there is the exciting idea of flying much further than we currently can.”
I think I can see a purpose in these things, I say.
“Well, you know all about the schedule for getting Vex over to Castle Hattan, and bringing Wozna back,” he says. “I’m just working on the challenge that you’ve set me. You just have to break things into small steps to get things working well one at a time.”
A flying machine that can carry heavy loads and fly for a very long distance, I summarise. I add that I thought the drinks might need to be cooled as well.
“Were you warm enough when we were flying?” he asks. I admit I was on the cold side even with all the extra rugs and things he’d given me. Then I see his point, as he keeps smiling at me. It’s cold up there, the drinks won’t need extra cooling.
“They’ll need cooling when they transfer onto land transport,” he says, “but that’ll be the same as their current transport. Actually, I have a puzzle for you.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“Sundance found me someone that was really good at tracking to look at the marks around Hugo’s Wozna store, which we found in the forest. We have no idea how he got them from the tunnel to the store and then to his distribution point. Sometimes there are wagon tracks, but not deep ones. Not carrying heavy goods. And of course there’s no-one here to ask now.”
I know the answer, of course. It’s future technology. I have no idea whether it originated in the realms, like strawberry juice power, or somewhere else. “Interesting,” I say, “but I don’t know the answer, and I couldn’t say if I did.”
“Time anomalies, I suppose,” George sighs. “Ah, well. I must keep my contacts looking out for anything that makes heavy things really easy to carry.”
“I have become a little centre for engineering”
That leads me nicely back to my question list and I ask about his most important contacts in the realms. He agrees that people like Prince Lupin and the technology chaps at Vexstein are important, but it’s mainly the other engineers who have emerged from obscurity in the realms, and the people he’s now in contact with on the continent that are most important.
“I find I have become a little centre for engineering all of my own. People gravitate here from other parts of the realms, for inventive solutions to old problems. We don’t compete with the other established Centres of Learning of course, and they are important contacts, but the people Fred is meeting through the Natural Philosophy network, and my contacts through flying, they are all really important to me. We are going to host a special meeting next June so that everyone can get together and exchange ideas and tell each other about progress on exciting projects. We’re calling it a Summer Study.”
I mention that Princess Kira said something about it.
“Yes, she’s vital to the organisation, although she’s training other organisers too. She’s wonderful,” he adds. Not for the first time I wonder if he has a little crush on her, and say so. “Well, she’s my sister now, but I’m so glad Fred found her and rescued her that time. She’s such a perfect addition to our team.” I hadn’t thought of that, but he’s right: brains and vision, brains and practicality and superb organisation (and people) skills. What a team!
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done so far, I ask? Flying, of course. I knew this would be the case, since it was flying that stimulated George’s injured brain to recover so quickly after his accident fighting the pirates. And his most embarrassing moment?
“Well, I get embarrassed quite easily, especially by people making me out to be more than I am. But I was very embarrassed when I didn’t realise for a while that Kira had been kidnapped when we were with her. I should have spotted that sooner.” I think he spotted her soon enough, though. He shrugs at that.
What would he most like to change? He gives this some thought. “Did you know that some castles restrict education to those of higher birth? I would like to make sure everyone had a chance to develop their talents. I’m sure we would get lots more intelligent engineers out there if we did that. People with a close view of other pressing problems that need solutions. Things that would improve the lives of everyone.” It’s an interesting thought.
“We’d be back where we started”
Who would he like to say sorry to? “Well, I do say sorry quite often, for little things. I don’t know that there’s anything big I’ve ever done that I need to say sorry about.”
I can quite believe that. He returns to this subject at the end of the interview, wanting to apologise for not being able to think of someone to apologise to. I don’t think George needs to say sorry to anyone. Who would he like to be with in a life or death situation, though?
“Fred,” is the unsurprising response. “And maybe that Sundance chap,” he adds after a little further thought. “And you,” he adds with a twinkly grin, but I can see he means it under the shyness.
I reach the final question on the list: if you weren’t you, who would you like to be?
“Well, there are some people doing some really interesting things on the continent, Bleriot, for example, or the engineers at a company called Kurtz. I read about some inventors in the past who never really got their ideas off the ground, like a guy in the north who made what he called a steam engine. It might be fun to be him, but then, I think now is the best time to be an engineer or inventor, there’s so much going on. So Bleriot or one of them.”
I check that he wouldn’t want to be a King or a person of leisure somewhere. “Oh, no, that would be awful. And if I was a person of leisure I’d have time to be inventing things, so we’d be back where we started, wouldn’t we?”
We would indeed, George. We leave his workshop deep down on the east side of the castle and go up to one of the turrets to join Fred drinking afternoon tea and gazing out of the window at the marsh below and the dunes in the distance. Which, of course, really is back where we started.