Dad stood there for a long few seconds. Then his eyes seemed to roll back into his head and the laundry basket slowly escaped from his grasp, spilling onto the floor as he escaped from reality and slowly folded-up and collapsed onto the floor where the laundry and the plastic basket had provided a useful cushion. Dad is a big man, yet his collapse was somehow sedate and dignified.
We stood there looking at each other.
We need time. Let's get him to the palace, I suggested.
To a spare bedroom next to the Prince's suite, Vyvyan seconded.
We're rolling, and we were off with Cameron's usual golden flash.
Dad opened his eyes. He hadn't been out long. We had just returned to a bedroom in the palace, laid him on the bed, loosened his clothing, and arranged the duvet over him in case of shock. Dad took his time. He looked at each of the three of us, and then lifted himself-up on his elbows and looked around the rather ornate furnishings of the bedroom: nothing even remotely like the style of our house. Dad was an engineer and tended to like clean and functional lines. He looked directly at me.
"This is going to be a good one, I think," Dad said. "What's going on?" He inquired with stiff precision.
Cam, I think normal would be good, you'd better get Colin here like ten minutes ago! The usual snap flash and Cameron was gone. Dad hadn't been looking at Cameron just then, but he looked around after the transit snap flash but didn't seem to notice Cameron's absence.
In response to Vyvyan's ringing, a maid appeared at the door. "Get a footman," Vyvyan ordered. "Bring coffee, tea, juice, whiskey, brandy, gin, tonic, ice and soda."
Dad sat up and tossed the duvet off. "Okay Justin Francis Henry Alisson-Fielding. What?" And he looked slowly around the room transforming all of it, and all of us, into one large question.
"It's a long," I managed to get out, but just then Aethnen came into the room at speed.
"What is it your Royal Highness?" Aethnen worried.
"Aethnen, this is my Dad. As you know, Father left me on earth and Dad adopted me and gave me a home. I love him. Dad will visit us from time to time, so assign him quarters, and ensure he has all the clothes and whatever else he might need. He's to have a regular valet, too.
"Dad, this is Aethnen. He's the butler. He knows everything."
Aethnen bowed serenely to my Dad.
Two footmen appeared with trays upon which there was a forest of decanters, silver pots, buckets, cups and saucers, an assortment of glasses and other items.
"Will you take some refreshment, sir?" Aethnen inquired with the quiet formality entirely suitable to a royal tea.
"Er. Well, coffee. And perhaps some orange juice."
"Cream and sugar sir?"
"No, thank you Aethnen."
Naturally, Aethnen didn't actually do anything. A tall glass of orange juice was provided by one footman, while the other poured Dad a cup of coffee. They placed a small table next to Dad with his refreshments to hand.
Crashing and rattling in the hall heralded GSM Aberhonddu and four troopers with muskets at the ready as they roared in.
"Thank you Major," I said holding up my palm. "Everything is under control here. Would you have your men stand-by in the hall please."
He saluted with his drawn sword, then sheathed it, rumbled something at the troopers in Welsh, and they retired into the hall.
"Dad. Please meet Garrison Sergeant Major Aberhonddu. He's pretty much in charge of security here at the palace. Among other things. I guess you'd say that."
"Major, this is my Dad. He adopted me years ago. I hope he will be a frequent visitor here."
GSM Aberhonddu crashed to attention and bowed to my Dad. Next he saluted me again and then stepped back and assumed an attentive position close to the door.
Colin and Cameron appeared with the usual snap-flash. Colin was also dressed for school and had his usual soldier in tow.
Dad picked-up his orange juice glass, looked at Colin and Cameron, and drank his juice.
"Your highness! Your highness? What's amiss?" Humphrey bustled in his robes billowing with the haste of his passage.
My Dad looked at Humphrey with a remarkably calm expression and then turned back to me. "Okay. Justin, you were about to try explaining this to me."
"Yeah, Dad, like I was saying, it's kind of a long story. This is Humphrey, by the way, he's my wizard and personal steward. Don't hesitate to ask him for anything you feel you might need.
"Are you up for a little stroll, it might help if you can see some of these things as I try to explain?"
And so what I had called a stroll, quickly became a procession. There was my Dad and me and I was talking and pointing. Cameron was on my shoulder and Colin by my side. Aethnen, Vyvyan, and Colin's man were just behind with Humphrey trying to edge in front of them. There were two attentive footmen behind their seniors, followed by the GSM and four infantrymen. Rather too conspicuous to be called a 'stroll', but not quite large enough to be a parade.
As we turned onto the lawn, a horde of boys rolled toward us grappling for a ball. I now knew this to be the game of rugby in full force. But as they neared us, they slowly became aware of us and slowed to a shambling halt. Three of them separated and ran up to me, coming to attention and saluting.
"Cymru am byth," I said to them, returning their salute. "What are you all doing out here at this time of day?"
Ralph looked at me as if I must be daft, "Playin' the game 'course. Wot chu costumed for? Sir."
"Yeah," echoed Terence, "Yer tryin' to scare the crows, er wot? Sir."
"Don't you have school?"
"Oh, nossir, we air to be sojers, we doan need no school."
"Major," and the GSM was at my side almost instantly. "Is there no school for the regimental children?"
"No sir. Not 'til they 'list then they gets specialist schools as they needs 'em."
"Well that won't do. Humphrey."
"Start to work at once to set-up a school system. For all the children, regimental and palace. The Brigadier will insure full cooperation from the 24th. Have an outline for me in a week."
"Vyvyan give each of these lads a half crown. They'll need it for school supplies I'm thinking. What do you think about that Master Ralph Cyffylog. Think my clothes are a 'costume' do you? 'Scare the crows' Master Terence? We'll see about that." I tried to look fierce.
Poor Harry looked terrified. "We're no gonna 'ave to dress like that?"
"That's enough of that. Let's see a good scrum and carry on with your game."
We moved on and I continued to explain the situation and answer all of Dad's questions if I could. Those I couldn't, I referred to one of my attendants.
We had learned that surprise was probably not the best way to introduce the Elven Kingdom to a parent. My Dad, after all, had a history of being calm and clear headed when the guns came out. We had managed to make him faint when he walked into my bedroom and found us simply dressing for a normal day. I certainly didn't want to panic Dad-o who was an antiquarian and scholar, and so presumably even less prepared for dramatic surprise than Dad.
"Dad?" I wondered that afternoon. "How should we tell Dad-o about all this? Will you help?"
"Justin, have you noticed your ears lately, they look a little pointy. They didn't use to be that way I think."
That's one of the reasons we have to get rolling. I told you before that this would happen with Elven puberty.
"Who the hell is that?" Dad demanded.
"That's Cameron. Remember, my familiar."
"My owl, that great grey bird that was on the bed and on my shoulder. Now do you remember?"
I think we'll introduce "Dad-o" just like we introduced you. We'll have a Familiar have a pleasant chat with him so that he won't be startled. Cameron decided.
So Dad-o was working casually in his home office. He was going through his emails and had one rather interesting email concerning some recently discovered papyrii that had not yet been authenticated in any way. Gilbert & Sullivan was playing at a moderate volume in the background. The First Lord of the Admiralty was just in the process of introducing himself as the "Monarch of the Sea." Dad-o leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as this was one of his favorite 'patter' songs.
Hi. I'm Beatrice. I'm a Familiar.
Dad-o's eyes flew open. Gilbert & Sullivan clicked-off for no discernible reason. And there on his desk top, between himself and the keyboard, and comfortably sprawled over the mouse and pad was a handsome calico cat that appeared to be completely relaxed and thoroughly in charge.
She sat-up, lashed her tail, regarded one of her front paws with interest, then regarded Dad-o with solemn majesty.
Come along then. We're for the palace.
There was the usual snap-flash, and Dad-o was standing in the entry hall of the palace. Aethnen was in attendance.
"Just this way, sir. His Royal Highness, the Brigadier, and Mr Fielding are in the library."
"Library," Dad-o said rather vaguely to no one in particular.
Must be off. Back in a flash, Beatrice smirked.
Dazed, but functioning, Dad-o followed Aethnen.
While all of this was going on, Mrs Cheryll Spurgeon was leaving her favorite supermarket with a shopping bag of the necessities for dinner. She placed the shopping bag, a heavy canvas bag that proclaimed its loyalty to the Smithsonian Institution, on the floor of the backseat and began to maneuver her car out of the parking lot on her way home. As she carefully entered traffic there was a blue-green snap flash and her car was driving itself up a nicely gravelled road toward a stately palace. Magnificent cedar trees lined the road.
Not to worry, a calming voice assured her. Everything is under control and Colin will help explain things in just a minute. She was startled to see a calico cat in the passenger seat regarding her coolly. Don't you just love the cedars? They're from Lebanon of course, where else? We planted them from seed three hundred years ago.
Cheryll relaxed as she noted that the car was proceeding but did not appear to require her assistance.
"I'm not worried. You'll remember that I'm married to an elve."
The car isn't driving. I'm driving it. Beatrice was somewhat snooty.
"I know, it's funny, you can't even see over the dash." Cheryll declined to be overawed. "Don't be such a show-off. And you know, I don't think I asked you anything."
Well perhaps you should ask. I'm really quite well informed. Beatrice was not accustomed to being taken for granted and was positively sharp.
" The cedars are rather nice." Cheryll riposted. You know, I can do the mental talk too. Just so's you know. Cheryll could be snooty too.
Cheryll's blue Buick continued up the drive without any assistance from Cheryll and turned into a circular parking area next to a grand entrance. The Buick circled the drive and stopped next to Dafydd. Dafydd was now attired in gray slacks and a blue blazer with a medal gleaming on his left breast. He opened the door for Cheryll, and provided an arm to help her step out.
"Colin and Justin are waiting in the library, if I may be permitted to escort you." They started toward the entrance, where another footman awaited them by the open door.
Cheryll had not been greatly surprised by Dafydd's mention of her son and his boyfriend. Additionally, the calm courtliness of the situation went a long way toward allaying any suspicion. Whatever was happening, it was not your basic mugging. It was just elves and magic. "Please see to my groceries, won't you?" She requested as if to the manor born.
She was escorted into the main hall and then into the library where Colin, grinning widely, hugged and kissed her, Justin waved cheerily, Michael Alisson nodded, and David Fielding observed, "You are not going to believe this."
Aethnen appeared with laden footmen in tow, and a sumptious tea was served.
We spent the best part of half a year with everyone coming and going and becoming acclimiatized to Ellendale and the Palace. It was a relaxing and comfortable time.
We had not yet met my father or Colin's. They were off to the north with a war or revolution of some sort; the war was hovering ominously in the background but reports from the front tended to be, to borrow a line, "all quiet". But the King and his Earl Martial were kept busy.
The morning was glorious. Sunny with birdsong and the promise of a lovely day. Colin started prodding me with his toes. "Are you awake?"
"No, sound asleep of course, thanks very much." It was a little morning thing we did.
We did not sleep with the curtains drawn, but liked to waken with the day. It occurred to me that this was rather different from our normal pattern in San Diego. But our ears were becoming more pronounced and it seemed that elves liked to waken with the sun.
"I love you," Colin whispered and cuddled close.
"I love you too," I replied. Something would probably have happened if we were not who and where we were. It had happened last night, but there were the faintest rattlings from the corridor and I knew that Vyvyan and Thomas, Colin's soldier servant who I'd learned was called a "batman", were preparing their morning ritual. I had attempted to joke with Thomas by commenting about "bat signals" and trips to "Gotham" but he had only looked attentive and had yes-your-royal-highnessed me politely. I wasn't sure if I was being humoured or if he did not know about Batman; no, on further consideration, I was surely being humoured. "Are you a Joker?" I demanded of Thomas one morning. "No, your Royal Highness," he responded deadpan. "I'm batman."
The door opened quietly and they entered with their cart and clothes rack to begin our morning. A few days ago I had cornered Aethnen and asked him if it was really necessary for the two of them to attend us every morning. I hastened to assure him that they were doing an excellent job, but I thought maybe the two of them were a bit much.
Aethnen regarded me for a long moment courteously attentive. "The two of them are absolutely essential." He informed me with grave certainty.
"But surely they basically do the same thing every morning; each brings us a tray with coffee and juice and by now they know us well enough to know exactly what we want and how we want it. Wouldn't one tray do? After all, it only takes one clothes rack for them to provide for us now."
I had recently had a lengthy meeting with my "man of business". I had thought to call him my Chief Financial Officer, but "man of business" seemed more appropriate to the palace and it would take a considerable effort for the staff to refer to him as anything other than "man of business". He had made it clear to me that I was wealthy beyond any dream of avarice; but he was also a cautious and conservative man and had told me of several huge fortunes that had wasted away because of profligacy and lack of attention. I had a notion that small economies might lead to large savings over time.
"But your Highness, that is scarcely the point." Aethnen casually dismissed my concerns for the dismal science. "Either Vyvyan or Thomas could do the job as you envision it. But you are too modest, Sir."
"Modest?" I was completely taken aback. I thought I was being fiscally responsible. I thought that very responsible and I was only just fifteen.
"Brigadier Spurgeon is Colonel-in-Chief of the Ancient and Honourable Company of Artillerists and Infernal Device Artificers. As such, he is second in command of the King's Army. In due course, he will command your armies. The Army would never permit his care and maintenance to be the purview of anyone not of the Army; they would feel that they'd somehow surrendered him.
"And then there is yourself. You are the Prince Royal of Ellendale and the Elven Dominions Beyond the Stars. You are a Second Magister of the Heavens. The Heir Apparent who will one day reign. And I. I would never surrender you. Sir?" He bowed deeply and went about his business effectively crushing my proposed economies.
So much for economy. I decided to visit Arion. I loved the stables, the horses, the equipage, the smells, the entire atmosphere was one of peace and good order. I had daydreamed, back when I was a high school student in San Diego, that if one were a prince, had won the lottery, or was wealthy enough to build a zeppelin, then one might be able to have some control over one's life. Now here I was, a royal prince, rich as Croesus, a zeppelin as affordable as dining out, and yet I couldn't even control the number of servants that would wake Colin and me every morning. It seemed I had even less control than before.
"Arion, why do we not have any cars?"
"Cars Your Highness?"
"Yeah, you know, motor cars, Fords, Cadillacs, that sort of thing."
"Well, no one has ever ordered one. We do have a garage with a number of stalls. Is that where you park them? Stalls? We built it some time ago when they first appeared. There's been no interest. It's not like they're alive or anything."
"Good. Will you contact a salesman, or whatever, and have them come up. Aethnen insists on two valets in the morning, so I might as well have a car."
Arion gave me 'that' look. The one you give to someone who is usually coherent but has skipped wildly off the tracks with their last remark. "Come look at the Clydesdales, they're having a rollicking time in the pasture today," he said changing the subject smoothly to one he knew I'd enjoy.
Two days later, a salesman arrived on what appeared to be an antique car that looked as if it wanted to be a race car. A car that would be a handsome contemporary for RMS Titanic. I, for some obscure and occult reason, was expecting something along the lines of a Porsche or a GTO. It was something of a mystery that I could even entertain such a notion; I was surrounded by soldiers in red coats with single shot rifles, horses and carriages, horse cavalry, footmen and telepathic animals; additionally my long time boyfriend, now my lover, was Colonel-in-Chief of the Ancient and Honourable Order of Artillerists and Infernal Device Artificers, an archaic title if ever there was one; why the very notion of a GTO or a Porsche was absurd once you actually thought about it. In any event, this car was a lovely machine.
The salesman was nicely turned-out and had appeared rather dashing in hat, goggles, and the duster he'd been wearing when he first drove up. I'd observed this from the library and remained there while I permitted the household to sort out this new situation. A footman was detailed to take hat, goggles and duster and they were disappeared in that manner known only to footmen. Aethnen then summoned Arion since the machine seemed to have something to do with transport; it was, of course, Arion who had summoned the salesman, so the household had managed to get itself on the right track with no assistance from me. Arion requested the presence of Humphrey and Albert (my man of business), and when all were assembled, Aethnen came and requested my presence in the circular drive.
I greeted the salesman with cordial distance. I inquired of Aethnen if Colin had returned from the range where he and some of his artificers had been amusing themselves making explosions.
"No your Royal Highness, he is still engaged."
"Ah, well, we must all find some enjoyment where we can. Perhaps coffee and Danish?" Turning to the salesman, "So tell me about this car."
"Let me begin with a demonstration, Your Royal Highness," and he conjured a duster, cap and goggles from the primal trunk on the rear of the car for me. His own accessories appeared as if by magic with the footman who had originally disappeared them. He assisted me into the passengers seat, gave the engine a crank, it rumbled satisfactorily to life, and then he jumped into the drivers seat and we were off.
It was exhilarating. Quite as much fun as riding Kameyn, though certainly not Kameyn's equal for conversation. The salesman provided me with a running commentry on the controls and the machine's intricacies. He then gave me the drivers seat and I cautiously began to drive. I decided I should have one.
When we returned, we adjourned to the library. The coffee and Danish I had earlier thought to order caught up with us here, and as it was appearing, the salesman provided Albert a sheaf of paperwork on the subject of the car. He also provided Arion with a volume that contained all the information on the care and maintenance of the car.
Albert had gone a bit pale, he came over to me and whispered the cost of the machine. "10000! He wants 10000 guineas i ." He seemed disordered by the amount. He urgently recommended that I not buy the car. He was whispering. I did not know why as I'm sure the salesman was aware of the cost. Humphrey was in full agreement with Albert. The car was too expensive.
I looked at Albert. Took a sip of grapefruit juice. Looked at Humphrey. Then I told the salesman, "And I'll have a second one in green, too."
i A guinea is twenty-one shillings, a price format used for luxury items and still in use for racehorses. The cost of the car would have been about $120,000 in 2017US dollars.
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