Chapter 1: The Castle on the IslandIn which we meet the young Princelings and a good feast is ruined
George was suspended in mid-air, his legs dangling from the ceiling of one room while his arms scrabbled furiously for a hold on the floor of the room above. He was trying very hard to do it silently, but it was a bit difficult.
He had jumped up through the trap door in the ceiling as usual, but realised that his brother Fred was gazing out of the open window in this top-most tiny room in the turret of the castle, their ancestral home. So he had stopped in mid-jump, and then realised that gravity would take over if he didn’t find a better hold. If Fred was gazing out of the window across the miles of marsh that surrounded them, that meant he was Thinking. Fred was apt to be grumpy if disturbed in the middle of a Think. So George had a dilemma: hold on tight and keep quiet, or drop back again and risk making a noise landing on the accumulated junk in the room below him.
Fred was much given to gazing out of the window, any window would do, but this one was his favourite. He was also much given to Thinking, and at present he was thinking about the wind in the reeds, and why, if the wind was blowing in his face, was it blowing the reeds in different directions around the castle? If he were to be asked his occupation, Fred would describe himself as a Natural Philosopher, one who thought about the whys and wherefores of nature, trying to understand how the world worked. His exploration of the nature of the wind could, he thought, be furthered if he could only persuade his brilliant brother George to devise some way of mapping what the wind was doing as it blew across the marsh and into the castle. Yes, he thought, that is the way forward, and he sighed.
An answering sigh met his and George gratefully clambered the rest of the way into the room. He looked rather relieved that he had found a way to attract Fred’s attention without interrupting him mid-Think.
“We might be in trouble, Fred,” he said. “My latest engine stopped working. The trouble is everything in the castle stopped working at the same time. Uncle Vlad is not happy.”
“Does he blame you?” Fred asked, with a frown, as he was sure it couldn’t be George’s engineering experiments causing the problem. This Energy Drain had been happening every now and then for years now, and he had Thought about it a few times. There was no relationship with any of George’s experiments. Nor with Young Boris’s either, although Young Boris had been banished for causing it over three years ago. He was one of their many cousins, all grandchildren of the present King, but there were few of them left in the castle now.
“I don’t think so,” replied George, “but Ludo keeps telling him he ought to root out the troublemakers before the King starts blaming him for the problem.”
“Ludo can’t have anything to do with it. He’s always off sailing that boat of his down at the Big Water.”
“No, of course not. He meant the King blaming Uncle Vlad.”
“Uncle Vlad is the King’s right-hand man. He does all the work round here. I’m sure he wouldn’t blame Uncle Vlad,” said Fred, but he paused and thought about it all the same.
He considered the way that one by one his cousins had left the castle, setting out for the great unknown, sometimes escorted off the premises by the king’s henchman, and sometimes they had slipped out in the middle of the night. He and George had been out of the castle of course; they had travelled the marsh extensively and knew all the little side tracks and alleyways well. They even knew which ones were wet at different times of day, and he and George had worked out a few years ago that while the wetness didn’t coincide with the high tides at Summernot, on the coast, they did follow a similar pattern. George had engineered an ingenious measuring and timing device for this project, with a ball that floated up in a column of the rising water, and marked the height on a circular card that revolved with the clock as it did so. George was clever at that sort of thing. Fred wanted to get him to engineer something to measure the wind direction. He wondered how he could ask him. He looked out of the window for inspiration, and George joined him leaning on the windowsill.
“What do you make of the wind, brother?” Fred asked.
“Well, I was making an engine to use the wind to make some more energy for the castle,” said George testily. “But it’s a bit difficult to test it when I have to do it inside, with no wind, and the energy runs out any time I try to use it to make some wind.”
“Why don’t you do it outside?”
George sighed, and didn’t reply.
Fred looked sideways at him. “What’s wrong, brother?”
“I’m getting worried about drawing attention to ourselves. I’m sure this engine would be really useful for the castle, but with the disappearances and so on, I just think we should keep ourselves hidden from view.”
“Do you mean we should stay clear of all the castle gatherings as well?”
“Yes, I do. I mean, most people don’t know who we are anyway and, apart from the food, the gatherings are a waste of time. I could be working on one of my projects and you could be Thinking. What I don’t want is for people to interfere with my engines or take them over to make them useful for some other purpose.”
Fred nodded. That had happened a couple of times when George had been making something with a Grand Plan in mind, and bits had been taken by other people for makeshift solutions, like the water-lifter that George had designed as an integral part of an irrigation system for the castle gardens. It had been commandeered and was now used at the castle entrance to move water from one side of the gate into buckets on the other. It was a complete waste of time. Then someone had wanted to put their names onto the rota to move the buckets! They had got out of that straight away. Fred wondered whether this was how it had happened with the other princelings before them. Either they left of their own accord once they had been tied in to menial tasks, or they had kicked up a fuss and been kicked out.
“We keep ourselves pretty well hidden these days, though,” he mused, his thoughts going full circle to the problem of being seen about the castle.
“It’s very comfortable living in the castle but it is getting far more difficult to keep hidden. And I can’t make my engines and test them without going outside. People see me, and they push into my little cellar and want to use it for other things,” George was in complaining mode now.
“Yes,” Fred said soothingly, to stop George getting the Grumps. “The longer King Cole reigns, the more people seem to live here. Someone asked me who I was the other day.”
“What did you say?” George smiled.
“I looked very snooty and said ‘Don’t you know?’ and walked off quickly,” Fred replied. “Then I got behind the tapestry in the next corridor very fast and scampered up here, I think, making sure no-one was following.”
Fred and George knew how to take care of themselves: they had plenty of hidey-holes, had a fair knowledge of the labyrinthine secret passages of the castle, and best of all, were extremely quick at thinking of good answers to difficult questions.
“So you think we should avoid the next gathering completely?” he continued.
“Yes, we should,” said George. Then he hesitated. “Although…”
“…it’s the King’s birthday gathering,” completed Fred and it was his turn to sigh.
The King’s birthday was the highlight of the castle’s social calendar. Apart from the best feast, the best entertainment, and the best of the castle’s wine cellar, it was also where the king gave out favours to anyone that presented themselves in the proper form, and where favours were sometimes bestowed on persons who had no idea they were going to receive them. Fred and George wanted no favours, but it was usually fun to watch people receive them. Especially as some favours were appropriate gifts to the receiver, and ones they might not actually like. Like the new anvil that was given to the blacksmith one year, that took away his excuse for not getting things done in time. The blacksmith was a lazy person, and Fred chuckled to himself at the memory of his face.
“Could we watch from the gallery?” asked Fred, hoping they could at least see some of the persons he and George least liked getting something they didn’t want.
“The musicians will be in the gallery,” George responded, “and we wouldn’t be able to get to the food, so we’d be frustrated.”
“And Uncle Vlad would probably spot us,” Fred agreed gloomily. “When is it, anyway?”
“Two days time.”
The music was good, the Great Hall was crowded, and their grandfather, King Cole XIV, was circulating among his subjects followed by a retinue of persons carrying packages of varying shapes and sizes. Fred and George had solved their problem by hiding in a sizeable alcove that was covered by a tapestry. The alcove was usually solely occupied by a marble statue of King Rudolph II. The tapestry was usually found hanging in the second corridor to the west of the upper circle of the main castle. It had a fair size patch that was extremely threadbare as it hung in an awkward position where countless bottoms had rubbed against it as they turned a tight corner to go down to the dining hall three or more times a day. Fred had spotted the patch and George had confirmed it was not only the right height for them but it was also as easy to see through as a fine veil. Moving it the night before had been an interesting task, but they had made it without being seen by anyone that mattered. They had to share the space with King Rudolph, but they had taken the precaution of slipping into the kitchens before the event started and stocking up with a selection of the cold foods already prepared. The smell of the hot food in the ovens had been mouth-watering, and they regretted missing out on the main feast, but most of the plates they’d brought with them were strewn with garnishes and bits of sandwiches and half-eaten vegetable sticks. Some of the empty ones were stacked on top of King Rudolph’s crown and the rest cradled pretty safely between the top of his shield and his right arm. They were still hoping to sneak out to sample the cooked food though. It seemed to them to be rather late arriving.
They watched as the King did the rounds. Prince Vladimir, the Princelings’ uncle and the King’s deputy, looked straight at them, or rather the tapestry, a couple of times and Fred was getting the idea that he just might have decided the tapestry didn’t belong there.
“I don’t like the looks Vlad keeps giving us,” he whispered to George.
“He can’t see us,” said George. “Stop feeling guilty!”
“He knows this shouldn’t be here.”
“So what’s he going to do about it right now?”
What Prince Vladimir was going to do was walk right over to them. He stood there eyeing the tapestry, lips pursed. He reached out to the side of the tapestry. Fred and George held their breath, looking at each other with wide eyes.
“Your highness,” said a servant, scurrying up behind the prince and whispering urgently in his ear so loudly that Vlad flinched and Fred and George could hear him. “We have a problem in the kitchen.”
Vlad turned. “What?” he said sternly.
“The ovens, they stopped working some time ago, we don’t know when. The cook…”
“Why didn’t you notice?” Vlad barked.
“Well, they were all working flat out, things were cooking, smelling of cooking, sizzling, and then they stopped sizzling, but the noise around was so loud we didn’t notice,” stammered the servant.
“Well, serve what you can; it should have been served half an hour ago!”
“That’s the problem, sire,” said the servant. “The cook is in tears, it’s all ruined!”
“Surely something can be served?”
“Some accompanying sauces, sire, but the pies and pastries ruined, the soufflé sunk, the vegetables are rock hard and the puddings a glutinous mess.”
Just then the music stopped.
“Wait here! No, get the cook to put the sweetmeats out.”
They both hurried away, Vlad to the minstrels gallery where he could be heard remonstrating with the bandleader and the servant, presumably, to the kitchen.
George looked at Fred wide-eyed.
“The Energy Drain again! Oh, my… at such a time.”
Fred nodded. “Everything on full blast, and the special lighting and everything. Just too much load, I suppose.”
“The castle’s power plant should have no problem coping with this load. Something is draining the energy, Fred. And it certainly isn’t us!”
Chapter 2: ConsequencesIn which George loses his Engine, the castle reveals a Secret, and Fred has an Idea
The next two days were ones where the princelings kept well hidden but used every secret passage they knew of to listen to everything that was going on in the castle. Recriminations were everywhere. Everyone was accusing everyone else of ruining the King’s birthday gathering. Their best source of information was from their favourite hidey-hole, a little space behind the chimney in their uncle’s apartment. They could hear what he said to anyone when he was there. They couldn’t hear his thoughts though.
“I don’t like it, Fred, it seems that anything that uses energy is being examined and destroyed unless it’s vital. I’d better go and hide my wind engine. But where should I put it?”
“We could move it up to the tower. No-one knows how to get into it.”
“How on earth will we get the machine in there though?”
Fred paused, imagining the wind engine, the entrance to the tower and how they might lift it through the gap.
“Let’s get it there now, and then take it through piece by piece if necessary.”
They slipped out of the little room and along the corridor, then into the room beyond the entrance to Uncle Vlad’s apartments. They closed the door quietly behind them, went to the third wooden panel and leaned against it. The panel slid aside, the brothers slid through and were off down some narrow stairs with the panel shutting with a gentle hiss behind them. They emerged in the basement, just along from the kitchen, and crept along to the door down to the cellars. After a couple of twists and turns, George turned into the alcove where he did his work. And stopped dead with an anguished cry which he stifled immediately.
Fred looked over his shoulder. The wind machine lay in pieces on the floor in front of them, wooden struts broken, cloth sails ripped, cogs torn from their spindles, the casing smashed in. He put his hand on George’s shoulder.
“Can you rescue anything from this?” he asked solicitously.
George nodded, tears welling in his eyes. He always kept everything, never knowing when he might just need a piece of wood such a length, or a cog sized just so. They gathered it all together, putting it in a bag that had somehow escaped the wreckers attention, and hauled it up with them, back up stairs, along corridors, and up to their favourite tower.
George stood looking out of the window and Fred busied himself with the making of a soothing drink. He couldn’t understand how anyone would smash George’s work up, only an amazingly ignorant person would imagine that George would do anything other than something that would contribute to the comfort and benefit of the castle. He wondered whether it would also mean an end to any hope he had of getting George to help him with mapping the wind as it blew the reeds this way and that around the castle. He did so much want to understand them.
At length George turned back from the view and came to sit beside Fred.
“Well, we did say we’d bring it through piece by piece if necessary,” he said with a weak grin and a sniff. “They are just smaller pieces than I’d anticipated.”
Fred smiled at him and gave him a hug. “That’s the spirit, George, chin up and all that. I’ll help.”
That brought a slightly firmer smile to George’s lips. Fred’s help when building things was not usually of great value, but he didn’t want to hurt his feelings so he said nothing.
“The only trouble with staying up here out of sight,” said Fred, “ is that we might actually miss something important.”
“I got the impression that Vlad is building up to some sort of announcement,” George said.
“Yes, although I don’t understand what as he really doesn’t know what’s causing it.”
“Have you had any ideas about it?”
“No, although I don’t think it’s anything we’re doing in the castle somehow, there’s no reason for it.”
“I wonder if it’s happening everywhere then, and what other people do about it?”
George and Fred both sat and thought on that. ‘Other people’ as in persons from other castles, did not usually figure much in their thoughts.
“When did we last see a messenger here?” Fred asked.
“Last winter there was the person who came from Castle Wash. He was a good chap.”
They grinned as they remembered an entertaining evening they had with the messenger that had brought greetings from the nearest castle to their own king. He had been waylaid by the brothers on his departure, and persuaded to stay the night after a few ales, a lot of gossip, and by the thought of a nice bed in front of a warm fire rather than a dark journey in the freezing marshes.
“He didn’t tell us much about the outside world though.” Fred sighed. “There was that stranger who came by coach a year or two ago, the one we never actually saw, only spoke to Vlad and the King.”
“The lady, you mean?”
“Well, you thought she was a lady.”
“I bet she was.”
“Well, given we don’t even know whether she was a lady, let alone where she (if it was a she) came from, or what she spoke to uncle and grandfather about all alone, no servants or anything, I don’t know that we can count her as a messenger.”
Fred stood up. “I’m going back downstairs. It’s good to look at the marshes and Think, but we’re not getting anywhere. I want to know what’s going on, and I won’t find out sitting here. And you aren’t in the mood to build more engines. Let’s go back down and do some more listening.”
“Uncle Vladimir has ordered everyone to attend in the Great Hall at sunset for an Announcement,” Fred said, with a grimace. “So I think we’d better slide in at the back to hear what’s going on.”
George nodded. They had returned to the cubby-hole behind Vlad’s apartments where, after a few minutes of fidgeting, Fred had said he was going out to find out what was going on. George was feeling miserable, so he said he’d stay there. He’d spent a little time scribbling notes, setting down what he’d learned from the ruined wind engine, and then found himself sketching something that might just help Fred map the wind around the castle. As grief over one machine turned to excitement over a new project, George bucked up and started itching to do something to keep himself busy. Fred had returned from his investigations just in time to stop him building something new on the spot.
As sunset drew near, the boys made their way down to the Great Hall. George had explained to Fred his sketches for a wind mapping machine, and Fred had spent a little time getting excited and imagining all sorts of grand designs that could follow on, but this was obviously not going to be work to start one late afternoon. They sidled into the Great Hall just as Vlad walked up to the front and onto a low raised platform, turned and cleared his throat.
“Thank you all for coming,” he said politely. “You are all aware that the King has been losing Energy recently. The shambles of the Birthday Gathering were shameful and everyone who contributed to our disgrace has been exiled. We have decided that the Energy Drain has to stop and therefore everyone here must conserve Energy. Anyone found using Energy without a permit will be severely dealt with.”
A buzz went round the Hall as various people asked their neighbours what the nature of ‘severely dealt with’ might mean. Vladimir paused and looked at them sternly, and the noise subsided.
“You are also to be watchful. Energy Eaters have been seen in the neighbourhood! Drive them out! Kill them on sight! Do not rest until we have driven them from our midst! That is all.” And he strode from the platform and disappeared through a narrow doorway.
Fred and George made an equally quick exit. Through mutual understanding, they returned to their warm and comfortable cubby-hole. They rested on some tapestry cushions they had acquired after the disastrous birthday gathering and discussed the meaning of the pronouncement.
“Energy eaters – that’s daft,” said Fred. “Those little wormy things are around again, they always are at this time of year.”
“Exactly so,” said George, “and I am sure they make the little lights they carry from the food they eat. They hardly ever come in the castle anyway.”
“Is it a bluff, do you think? Uncle Vlad can’t possible think the wormy things are really Energy eaters, can he?”
“I don’t think so, but grandfather might. He is rather superstitious.”
“There must be other castles affected by this Energy drain,” mused Fred. “We don’t even know how many castles there are in this land.” They had heard of one or two, but they hadn’t even travelled to Castle Wash.
“I don’t know,” replied George. “We need to get messages to other castles ourselves, to gather information from them. If only we knew some people there whom we could trust.”
“What we need,” said Fred, “is a secret passage that connects with the other castles – a tube network.”
There was a sudden groaning noise and a dreadful shaking of the floor, and a hole appeared in the corner of the room. George went over to look at it.
“It appears to be a tunnel of some sort,” he said. “There are stairs leading down into it coming out of the rock.”
“It’s never been there before…” said Fred, with a stunned look on his face.
“I think you asked for it, and the castle provided you with one,” George replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “Have you ever specifically said that you needed something before and it turned up?”
“Well,” said Fred slowly,” I think I have said I need a drink of water before now … and there was usually a jug or a tap round the next corner, come to think of it. But I don’t often say I need something – because I don’t, not often, anyway.”
George nodded. They tended to make do with what they had, and use their wits for most other things. And Fred wouldn’t say he needed something, he would discuss possibilities, not come out with a concrete request.
“Well,” George said, “Are we going to see whether this tunnel connects with other castles, or shall we just sit and look at it?”
Fred sat staring at the tunnel, lost in thought. George waited. This might take A While. He could hear softly the crackling of flames in the fire on the other side of the wall, and in the distance the occasional pitter-patter of footsteps echoing down the corridors. He wondered what would happen if they ventured out of this castle into the tunnels. When he had been out in the marshes, he’d never gone a long way from home, the castle was always visible in the distance, light glinting on its spires. He’d never been out overnight, either. He felt a momentary pang. They might be on the edge of a Great Adventure, and he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t rather be safely tucked up in bed.
Fred stirred. “We need to go and investigate this Great Energy Drain.” he said. “We must find out whether it is a widespread phenomenon, and whether the causes are known.”
George nodded; this was elementary procedure for an investigation. “And then?” he asked.
“And then,” answered Fred, “we shall come up with some ideas for how to solve it.”
“Good idea!” said George, knowing that you can never know exactly how you are going to do something until you have made the preliminary investigation and tested out a few theories. But the aim was set, and all they had to do now was decide… to go or not to go?
So they looked at each other, then jumped down the hole onto the steps and down into the tunnel, not knowing where it would all end.
Chapter 3: The Tunnel NetworkIn which Fred meets a Mysterious Stranger and George finds a Sky Courtyard
The drip drip drip from the ceiling of the tunnel and the patter patter patter of their feet on the tunnel floor seemed to have been going on for hours. Or days. Or even weeks, thought George. It was still damp underfoot, and it still smelled of, well, marsh – which was not surprising since the castle was surrounded by it. But surely they should have passed beyond the marsh by now? Was the tunnel actually leading them in a huge circle?
“I could really do with a rest,” he called softly forward to Fred, who was leading the way as usual.
“I was hoping to find somewhere dry,” was the response.
George said nothing, just put his head down and carried on doggedly. ‘Dry’ would be nice too.
He was thinking about nice things like dry, warm and food when he bumped into Fred’s behind, mainly because it was suddenly stationary. Fred grumbled softly but otherwise was remarkably civilised about it.
“The tunnel makes a sharp turn ahead,” he explained. “I just thought we ought to be cautious.”
George made a grunt of agreement and they crept forward.
On reaching the bend, they looked round the corner to see a faint glimmer of light, and they found as they went slowly forward that the tunnel bent once again to make a zigzag. Far in the distance some light cut into the tunnel at an angle.
“Well, something looks interesting up there,” said Fred.
“More importantly,” said George, “it is nice and dry under our feet, and we could just have a short rest and plan our next move.” And he sat down with a good stretch of his limbs to make a nice resting position on the now dry sandy floor of the tunnel.
“Well, I think it’s fairly obvious that we go and find where that light is coming from,” said Fred, likewise finding a nice comfortable position to rest. He muttered quietly to himself as he pondered on the nature of the light.
“It doesn’t look like daylight, but it’s steady, so it isn’t firelight. There’s not much air movement in the tunnel so I don’t think it’s an opening onto the outside world. It’s too bright to be artificial. We’re just going to have to go and investigate.” And so saying, he got up and went along the tunnel to have a look, not realising that George was fast asleep and had heard nothing of his musings.
As Fred drew closer, the light seemed to take on a translucent quality. He was only about twenty steps from where it shone into the tunnel when it was suddenly blocked by a shadow, a shadow which moved across the tunnel and must belong to something huge. Fred stood stock still, not daring to breathe, although he did consider turning round and running, but didn’t want George to think he was a coward. Something large, black and pointed protruded into the tunnel from the place where the light had been. It was attached to a face with black beady eyes, that followed the nose out then looked each way up and down the tunnel. On its second look in Fred’s direction, it stopped and fixed its gaze on him.
“Urr, well, hi.” it said.
Fred was somewhat relieved that it spoke, which was a good sign, but somewhat bemused by the strange way in which it spoke. He decided that it was a greeting of sorts and so should be responded to.
“Greetings and good health to you and your family.” he replied formally.
“Mighty kind of you I’m sure.” The owner of the beady eyes stepped out into the tunnel, dressed in a very snazzy black and white suit, with a crest just like Fred’s, but white. Fred had never seen such an outlandish get-up but decided he was travelling, and maybe there were lots of outlandish things in the outlands. He turned to make a comment to George and was stunned to find George wasn’t there. Oops, no back-up, just when you really need it, he thought. He turned back to the stranger.
“My name is Fred, and I’ve travelled from the Castle in the Marsh,” he introduced himself, expecting the stranger to do the same.
“Are you now? Well, that is interesting. Have you been travelling long?” asked the stranger, but instead of waiting for an answer, he carried on talking as if to himself, and replying to his own question. “Has he been travelling long, what does that mean? Well, I suppose it could be useful knowing whether to check that way out or whether to carry on as usual.”
“Um, well, I’m going to one of the other castles to see if they have any problems like the Energy Drain.” Fred offered, to see if that would get more information from the stranger.
“Yeah, well, there’re lots of castles in that direction and I don’t reckon I’ve ever seen a castle in that direction before,” the stranger said, nodding first at the way Fred was going and then at the way they’d come. “If you’ve got an Energy Drain down there, there’s no reason for going that way.”
“Which way were you planning to go?” asked Fred.
“Oh, my usual, I s’pose” said the stranger, “No point in changing for the sake of changing.” He gave Fred a piercing look. “You gonna tag along with me till we get there?”
Fred swallowed. He was tempted, but suddenly realised that he might lose touch with George. They had never been apart before. Well, apart from when one was Thinking and the other was, well, whatever it was George did when Fred was Thinking.
The stranger moved off, and Fred found himself following. Well, he thought, George is hardly going to do anything other than follow along this tunnel, is he? And because the light had gone out from where the stranger had emerged, Fred never thought about the tunnel forking off to the left as he hurried to run alongside the stranger, and the main tunnel widened as if to allow two way traffic.
* * *
George awoke, feeling quite cold. Usually when he and Fred were asleep they kept each other warm. He realised instantly that Fred was no longer there, and probably hadn’t been there for some time. How long have I been asleep, he thought, and why did Fred go off?
He fought down a growing sense of panic inside him and told himself to be sensible. Fred wouldn’t have gone far without him. The trouble is, which way had he gone? And having turned around in his sleep, which way was which? The feeling of panic grew stronger, but his head took over and worked out that the way home would feel damp, and the way forward would hopefully be dry. “I wonder what became of that light?” he said out loud.
He dithered a few moments longer as the attraction of going home called. But if Fred wasn’t there, how attractive would it be? No, the only way was onward, so he put his nose towards the dry side and headed off round the corner and along the tunnel where earlier the light had shone in.
Soon he came upon the place where the tunnel widened and he saw that it forked. Oh, no, he thought, which way now? He could smell Fred’s lingering scent but it was overlain with the scent of another, so that it was almost masked completely. The other scent was in both tunnels. There was a very slight glow a little way along the left hand tunnel, as if a ring of faint glow-worms was crawling right around the sides, ceiling and floor of the tunnel.
“Fred must have gone to investigate this light” he muttered to himself. “This must be the one he chose.” And he strode forward confidently.
As he passed the glowing ring it burst into light and George felt as if he was lifted off his feet and whooshed along a slide made of sparkling, swirling light. “Oo-er” he said, clenching his tummy to stop both panic and travel sickness. It was over in a matter of seconds, however, and George emerged blinking from the end of a tunnel onto a grassy square bathed in sunshine.
“Stay where you are, you are completely surrounded.” ordered a voice behind him. George stood stock still. A small black and tan person came up beside him. “Sorry about that, but you are!” he said. “Welcome to the castle of Hattan – you are completely surrounded, because you’re in our sky courtyard!” and the little one laughed, watching George’s discomfiture.
“Greetings and good health to you and your family,” he said politely. “My name is George. Would you mind telling me slightly more about where I am?”
“Hi, George, my name is Raisin. Come over here and look at the view!”
George accompanied his new, apparently young friend across to one side of the courtyard and looked out through great stone arches, over low walls planted up with strawberries, to the view beyond. Like his own home, Castle Hattan was on an island, but this island was full of towers festooned with greenery, mostly square towers, some with pointed tops, some with nice pyramids, some with cones. They disappeared far down into the depths of the island, from where there came a distant hum of people and machines that George didn’t recognise. Beyond the towers was water, long strings of it that came together in a bay to the south where the sun reflected on it. It all seemed rather futuristic, he thought.
“Isn’t it great?” asked Raisin. George nodded, astounded. “You can look at it any time you’re here,” continued Raisin, “But now I think I’d better take you to the Boss.”
George followed Raisin to the corner of the courtyard where they went through an arch and down a few steps to the entrance of a comfortable apartment.
Raisin stopped at the door and coughed. “Come in” came a voice from inside. Raisin stepped aside and waved George through. “This is George, Uncle Mariusz,” he said, and he turned and left.
George went forward and saw a large person in a black and white coat examining him with black beady eyes.
“Urr, well, hi, George.” he said. “I’ve kinda been expecting you.”
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