THE GRAND TOUR

Join the royal family  as they tour the States of Consciousness where they bask in the adulation of their subjects.

Queen Pristine loves her life as it is, having fulfilled her duty of providing an heir. She and her daughter are the toast of the Tour.

Princess Princilla is spoiled by all her parents can provide and takes it as her due. She is the quintessential pampered princess… which becomes a problem when the Queen discovers she’s pregnant and Princilla learns she will have to share the spotlight.

Your 1st class stateroom is reserved aboard H.M.S. Consciousness as you embark upon the Tour with the royal family for a lesson in history you will never forget… but might wish you could.

EXCERPT

Holiday Proposal

Long ago, in a world far away yet closer than one might imagine, millions of subjects in the sixteen United States of Consciousness fought inner demons together, but separately, as well—on both sides of the Black Snake River that divided the continent in half. Subjects on the west bank had been taught, since childhood, to stay clear of Fear, and Terror—two malevolent states that had swallowed up the eastern bank, now invading Tolerance. One wrong word could launch either onto the warpath—a fate no one wanted to endure.

Pristine Goldspinner, Queen of Entitlement, regent of Abundance, did her best to oversee the stability of this delicate balance between the States. At Her Majesty’s side stood consort prince of Grace, Godwyn Bonheur, Defender of the Faith. Nothing was more important to Godwyn than the happiness of his Queen. To Her Majesty, Pristine Goldspinner, the only thing more important than tending to the affairs of State, was tending to her pursuit of style, grace, and perfection.

After an earthquake swallowed up the princess’s parents when they were seven, princess Erica, Pristine’s older twin by twelve minutes, went off to Insanity. The only person who could understand the princess, other than her twin, and even that only at times—was Buzz Runner of Discord—former chauffeur to Her Royal Highness’s late grandfather, King Poldemire. Given His Majesty’s blessing and permission to marry were withheld, the young couple eloped.

In 1911, after a rule spanning nearly eight decades, King Poldemire passed away, and princess Pristine ascended to the throne in the coronation of a lifetime. Desirous of compensating her sister, Pristine knighted Buzz Runner with the title Sir. That same year, Her Majesty bestowed upon her sister the title Princess queen of Discord, Erica Gold-Runner—and the princess and Sir Buzz Runner settled into Discord.

Ask any subject; to Entitleées, and Abundites, everything came guaranteed. However, in their defense, when called upon to mediate between Fear and Terror, Abundance was the first State to intervene—before Determination, Forgiveness, even Resolution. Fear and Terror nearly killed each other off; some say it is a shame they didn’t. After four years of slaughter, destruction, eradication, and a madness more insane than Insanity itself, the Fearlings and the Terrorists finally put down their weapons, and called a truce. Now the Solstice season is upon us. After four years of hiding, squirrel and opossum residents of the palace gardens poked their heads out of their burrows to smell the Spruce scented air. Abundance was at peace, and Entitlement lay under a freshly fallen blanket of snow.

Godwyn sat down “I hope there is good news in what you are about to tell me” he took Pristine’s hand.

“I have a feeling Froederick and Alistair are going to propose to Possessa and Gezealous tonight. I imagine they will not want us around.”

“I am staying, Pris. I want to see these girls engaged.”

“If the girls do decide to leave, things here will change.”

“Two daughters down, one to go. We may find peace yet, Godwyn.”

As Queen Pristine suspected, after singing hymnals around the twenty-foot twinkling tree in the grand hall, with family that Solstice evening, Pristine and Godwyn looked down from the gallery, as Froederick du Possessé, and Alistair de Wunder got down on knees, and proposed to sisters Possessa and Gezealous Bonheur. They were instantly engaged, Gezealous could not stop jumping up and down.

“Yes, Ali—yes, yes,” she kissed him. “I will be your wife. Yesyesyesyesyesyes.”

Alistair steadied Gezealous, so he could slip his late grandmother’s diamond ring on her jumpety finger. Finally, they shared success “Do you like it, Geeze?”

“Like it? Ali, it’s gorgeous. I can hardly contain myself” she held her hand up to the light. “Possessa, look at the size of my diamond!”

Possessa was too engaged in her own jubilation to care about the sparkle in her sister’s eye, or the sparkle of her sister’s diamond ring. She smiled contentedly, as Froederick slipped his great-grandmother’s diamond on her dainty finger. “Freddy, it’s absolutely stunning” she extended her hand, palm out “Of course I will be your wife, now that I can call you my fiancée.”

“My fiancée” Froederick smiled “Soon I will call you my wife.”

Possessa held her twinkling diamond ring to the light for Gezealous to see, and mouthed ‘Mission Accomplished.’

Gezealous winked at her sister, gave a thumb up, and mouthed back ‘We escaped spinsterdom.’

Heavy breathing down Froederick’s neck turned him shy. He mouthed to his buddy Alistair ‘It worked.’

Alistair nodded ‘Yup’ he smiled.

Pristine descended the stairs to congratulate, followed by Consort Godwyn, three steps behind. As Mr. Tibbons approached, she took the Newell post, and stepped onto the carpet.

“Madam, it is eighteen hundred hours, time we gather around the tree to sing carols with staff.”

“Yes of course, the giving of gifts to staff.”

The next day, Godwyn’s brother, Kitzio, and his wife Hubertine dropped in for a holiday visit, along with daughters Brunetta, and Blondine. Nanny Annie took the girls upstairs to the playroom, and Mr. Tibbons led the adults to the parlor, where the grown-ups shared a bit of fire tong bowl Solstice spirit. “Where are Possessa and Gezealous?” asked Hubertine.

Godwyn settled back “Possessa and Gezealous went ice skating with their fiancés.”

“Fiancés?” Kitzio was stunned.

“They got engaged last night.”

“Both?” Hubertine was near speechless.

“Yes, they both got engaged last night.”

“Isn’t that lovely. Possessa and Gezealous both got engaged last night. We must congratulate them, share a toast.”

After eating all the chocolates she could reach from the tree, Princilla invited herself into the conversation “You should see the size of Possessa’s diamond ring, Auntie Hubertine—It’s big!”

Nanny pulled Princilla back, along with her cousins “To the elevator, Brunetta and Blondine, Princilla, you lead the way.”

“Whom are they engaged to?”

“Posssessa is betrothed to a Sir Froederick of Possession, and Gezealous is engaged to a soon to be promoted Navy Admiral from Resolution.”

“How wonderful. You have two weddings to orchestrate.”

“Will it be a double-ring ceremony.”

“I imagine so.”

When?”

“Pristine would like the wedding to take place as soon as possible.”

“I imagine coming spring.”

“My, that is quick. Nothing expected… unexpected?”

DOUBLE RING CEREMONY

For months, palace staff planned the Bonheur sisters’ double ring ceremony, the social event of the decade, to be held on the palace north lawn, Valentine’s Day, 1924. Palace Security Officers Mr. Bill Boswell, Officer Guillermo Garcilaso, and Officer Tip O’Keefe, always on the lookout for any suspicious fecks, stationed guards along every route into and out of Entitlement. Security, determined to keep Press and photographers out, placed guards behind every bush, tree, and telephone pole.

Erica, Her Royal Highness, princess queen of Discord, took husband Buzz’s hand, and he helped her out of the Locomobile, and up the drive. The princess queen was a vision of spring, dressed in a colorful floral print dress, red cherry glass slippers, clutch, and hat.

Count Russell stood at the top of the drive, greeting guests. He noticed Lady Woolsey, godmother to Queen Pristine, and princess queen Erica, and approached the civil engineer. “Lady Avorah Woolsey” he bowed “I thought I saw you. How do you do?”

“Count Russell, good to see you. You look dapper, as always” she shook his hand “Where have you been hiding?”

“I accepted a position in Indifference last year.”

“So much Her Majesty has told me.”

“But it was nothing like what I expected, I fear.”

“Have you returned home, or did you come in for just the wedding?”

“Indifference does not suit me. I have returned to Entitlement, to live by the sea.”

“How wonderful to hear. We are glad you are back.”

“Thank you, Lady Woolsey. Where is Lord Woolsey?”

“George went to buy some tobacco.”

“And left you here, alone?”

“One does not expect romantic gestures after fifty years of marriage, Count Russell. Excuse me, I see princess queen Erica ascending” Lady Woolsey hastened off.

“Certainly” the Count bowed, and stepped away.

Lady Woolsey crossed the drive, and approached princess queen Erica, on the arm of her husband beefy Sir Buzz Runner, standing on the portico. “Your Highness, my dear” Lady Woolsey curtseyed “How delightful you look—like Mother Spring herself.”

“Auntie Avorah, hello.”

“How are you, my dear?”

Erica stepped onto level ground.

Lady Avorah nodded to Sir Buzz. “I am delighted to see you.”

Erica took her godmother’s hand, and greeted her with a kiss on each cheek “You are all alone? Where is Uncle George?”

“He went to buy tobacco” she held onto her godchild’s hands “He will be right back. How have you been?”

“Forgive me, Auntie, I was aloof with you last time we met.”

“Think nothing of it. How is life in Discord?”

“For a while there, Buzz and I were going through a difficult time adjusting, but things have changed for the better. Haven’t they, Buzz?”

“They have. A visit from the sun every morning, after months of darkness, keeps spirits up. I don’t believe I have ever played so much Chess.”

“Erica, my dear, you look ravishing.”

Buzz smiled, and kissed Erica on the cheek “Doesn’t she?”

Erica smiled “I think I finally got it right.”

“Got what right, my dear?”

“My outfit.”

“Your outfit is charming; colorful, spring like. You look lovely.”

“Thank you. Look at the beautiful flower displays. It reminds me of old times.”

“Happy times, I hope.”

“Before Mama and Papa were swallowed up by the earthquake.”

“Yes.”

“I still have nightmares. Usually medication can take care of that, but sometimes it doesn’t, and in my case, sometimes it doesn’t.”

“I think we found a regime we can live with—right Erica?”

“I think so” Erica posed, and made a sweet face “Selfie.”

“I don’t remember you being so tall, Erica” Lady Woolsey stepped back “You have grown.”

Erica raised a heel “It’s the shoes.”

“Well for heaven’s sake, it is the shoes. Where did you find them? Outrageous.”

“Norbertina made them.”

“Who is Norbertina?”

“My maid. She used to be a seamstress, well, she still is, she just works for me now.”

“Are they glass?”

“Celluloid. She made them match the dress.”

“She did a teriffic job. You must be six inches taller.”

“Five.”

Lady Avorah diverted her attention “Sir Buzz, how is life in Discord?”

“Pretty good, I would say” Buzz took Erica’s hand “Erica helps me through the dark times.”

“No-no-no” Erica shook her head “It is Buzz who helps me through the dark times.”

“We help each other, the basis for a good marriage.”

George Woolsey huffed up the palace drive with his jacket over his shoulder, gasping for air. “I did not realize, how far it was. Erica my dear” he took his goddaughter’s hand, and bowed “Erica, my dear, you look charming, as always. You are the Goddess of Spring herself.”

“Hello, Uncle George” Erica’s response was cold. She still had issues with her godfather. She could not put it out of her mind, the man who was assigned to protect her, second in line to the throne of Entitlement, had played a major role in sending her off to Insanity.

Buzz nodded to Lord Woolsey “How do you do, Sir?”

“Well—I am still breathing” Woolsey shook Buzz’s hand.

“That is good, Sir, considering the alternative.”

Before them on the terrace balcony, the twenty-four piece royal orchestra played, flanked by two large urns, each containing a Rose of Sharon bush in bloom. Over the lawn, past the palisade wall, beyond the green study of the Troubled Forest, the white, snow-capped peaks of Mount Zeus kept Crystal Lake fed year round.

Buzz shook his head. “It looks like Mr. Snibbles nursed every tree, bush, and flower to bloom on Valentine’s Day.”

“Buzz is interested in horticulture.”

“About all there is to do, up on the Crag. Grow things, and feed the gators.”

Lady Woolsey’s eyes lit up “Gators?”

“Aligators.”

“You feed aligators?”

“They are a Security force.”

“They live in the moat. Buzz says instilling fear makes for good security.”

“The trick with aligators is this; as long as they are well fed, and are not hungry, they will not attack.”

It is easy to get bored, all alone on the Crag, just the two of us in that big, drafty castle. Buzz has been insulating.”

George stuffed his pipe with cherry tobacco “I imagine you are snowed in half the year.”

Erica nodded “Nothing more beautiful than to awaken to a fresh blanket of snow covering the ground.”

George puffed on his pipe “Avorah and I prefer to go to the snow, rather than have it come to us.”

“It gets dark early, and it’s cold, but we I love it.”

“Winter gives us an excuse to cuddle, right honey?”

Erica smiled “Alone time, taking care of my man.”

George puffed “Avorah and I have always wanted to see the Norhtern Lights.”

“Awesome, I would say” Buzz smiled.

Lady Avorah interjected “Erica, last we saw you, you were renovating the plumbing.”

“Do not remind me. What a mess, trying to live around a construction crew—over two years!”

“It was more like three, Erica.”

“Threeelooongyeeears, Auntie Avorah, AND, they messed up the tile work.”

“But to be fair, Erica, they did remove the tiles, and replace them.”

“So they did. Their mistake cost us an extra two weeks without privacy.”

George puffed “Not much one can do about the mistakes of others but forgive.”

“I guess” Buzz snickered.

Avorah took Erica’s hand, and stepped aside “My dear, I know it cannot be easy for you with photographers and Press stalking you every time you step out, but I must tell you how much I admire your strength. Your adjustment from Entitlement to Discord has been an example of Goldspinner dignity at its highest.”

“Thank you, Auntie Avorah. I appreciate you saying that. I know GranMarguerite would be pleased to hear the Goldspinner name still amounts to something.”

“You have anticipated, adapted, and adjusted. I admire you for that, Erica.”

“Thank you. What else can one do? We adapt, or we die.”

Lord Woolsey and Sir Buzz got into conversation “Did you see all the out-of-State motorcars?” he asked the chauffeur.

“I did. They line the drive, they are even parked outside the gates.”

“I have never seen so many makes.”

“And so many out-of-State plates.”

“Buzz likes to keep a look for out-of-State plates.”

“I collect them” he nodded.

“In his man cave Buzz has a plate from every State.”

“Every State but Fear, and Terror. They can’t get across the Black Snake Line. I would steal for a plate from Fear, or Terror” George puffed on his pipe. “I do not see them amongst us, here today.”

“There are so many people. What is your guess, Avorah—five hundred?”

“More. Six, seven. Count the rows, multiply by the columns.”

“Leave it to George to come up with the answer, and I did not think of that. Well, we should be heading to the lawn.”

“That, or we will be marching in with the brides.”

George pulled out his pocketwatch “It is only twenty till, Avorah. Don’t stress us.”

“Erica and I made a pact.”

“A pact?” Avorah turned.

“No money involved.”

“Buzz, the Woolseys do not want to hear this.”

“Why not?”

“What sort of a pact did you make?”

“Erica and I are going to get through this ceremony without incident.”

“I am praying for divine intervention” Erica smiled.

“Let us pray that for all” Avorah cuddled to George’s arm “Especially the brides.”

“And the grooms” Buzz added.

“You are absolutely right, Sir Buzz” George relit his pipe “The grooms as well, deserve divine intervention.”

“The seats are filling up, George. We should get going. Your Royal Highness” Avorah turned to Erica, and kissed her, both cheeks “My dear, you are a blossom in bloom. Sir Buzz” she kissed him as well “Good to see you, kiss kiss, perhaps we will see you later, at the reception.”

“More than likely not” Buzz tipped his cap “Lady Avorah, always good to see you—Lord Woolsey, as well.”

“Uncle George” memory still haunted Erica ‘Stay well’ were the nicest words she could think of to say.

Avorah grabbed her husband by the arm “Come, George, this is a no smoking ceremony. Put your pipe in your pocket.”

“Give me a moment, Avorah” George slipped his pipe into his jacket, took her hand, and together they descended the granite staircase leading to the north lawn.

Buzz pecked Erica on the cheek. “What do you say we go look for our seats, honey bunch?”

“Let’s go. Not too fast in these heels, okay?”

“How can I not remember? I almost look you in the forehead.” Carefully, intently, Buzz helped Erica down the steps, one at a time, and guided her across the lawn.

“Half the seats are still vacant, Buzz. We have more time. Come say hello to Nanny with me.”

“You go. I will walk you over.”

“Pristine said she would be supervising the playground.”

“You know how I feel about greeting people” he steadied Erica, as they walked east, in the direction of the playground. “There she is” Buzz kissed her, gave her a pat on the butt, and walked away.

“Where are you going?”

“To find Crankshaft. Give Nanny my love.”

Nanny watched the children play from the playground bench. She pulled her flask out of her cloak, checked her surroundings to see if anyone was watching, swallowed a nip of medication, and slipped the flask back into her pocket. Suddenly, she overheard scolding. “This is my swing set” Princilla reprimanded a playmate. Princilla looked up, and saw Nanny on the bench. With a stern look, Nanny tossed a serious “Prin-cilla Hen-riette Mar-guer-ite A-ga-ra-pi-na.”

Princess Princilla heard, and jumped out of the swing “—but I am happy to share.”

Nanny smiled. Princilla does have a conscience. One more nip of fortitude, she reached for her flask, “I have to survive this.”

Erica approached the bench from behind, gingerly calculating every step across the gravel “There you are, Nanny, Pristine said I would find you here.”

“Erica” Nanny slipped her flask into her cloak “The palace has not been the same without you here” she turned “How are you?”

“Every day is a step forward” Erica balanced herself on the gravel, embraced the old woman, and sat down next to her on the bench. “Nanny, how are you?”

“I cannot complain, but I still do—hic. Excuse me.”

“Have you been drinking again, Nanny?”

“No” Nanny shook her head “Just a nip. When did you get in?”

“About half an hour ago. Buzz insisted on driving.”

“I would love to fly.”

“One day, you might. You are holding up well.”

“I am fast approaching a hundred.”

“I know, you’re what—ninety-six?”

“You look well. Lean back, let me take a look at you. You’ve lost weight.”

“I did. I lost eight pounds.”

“What a lovely outfit. How is Buzz?”

“Buzz is fine. He went to find Crank. You know men.”

“Not really, my dear.”

“They like to talk about cars, plates, beer drinking, field ball, you know, stuff like that. He sends his love.”

“You look fabulous. Eight pounds? Where did they go?”

“I asked Dr. Kindervater the same question. He told me that when we breathe, fat is absorbed into the atmosphere.”

“Sweat too, I imagine.”

“Any bodily function.”

“I love your hat—a perfect color match. How is life in Discord?”

“I am adjusting. What else can one do, right?”

“Are you happy with Buzz?”

“Very. It feels odd to be in Entitlement again. I cannot believe this is the place of my roots, the place I grew up.”

“You have outgrown your roots. You have become a stong woman.”

“Everything seems so strange.”

“How is your castle renovation coming along?”

“Thank Zeus, it is done.”

“What do you two do up there all alone on the crag?”

“We travel, not much, but we do. As you can imagine, life with P.T.S.O. can be a challenge.”

“Life has never been easy on you, my dear.”

“Buzz and I read. We play games, garden and work on the castle, pretty much.”

“No neighbors?”

“Not for miles. The closest are at the bottom of the hill.”

“Do you never get lonely?”

“Norbert and Norbertina entertain us.”

“Who are Norbert and Norbertina?”

“My maids; the twins. You remember them. They served the Woolseys for years.”

“Dark curly hair, I remember now.”

“You got it. Sometimes, I just listen to the wind blowing in through the cypress trees. Otherwise, it’s quiet.”

“When one gets to be my age, one appreciates quiet.”

“How can you look after so many children, Nanny?”

“I listen for screams, keep them from hurting one another. Nothing to do until one gets hurt.”

“Look at that, three, six… nine kids on the monkey bars. I had no idea Abundance was so fertile.”

“It’s springtime, Erica.”

“Not yet, Nanny. Spring doesn’t begin until March.”

“Most of these little sandrats are here on a day pass from the orphanage. Pristine thought it would be good publicity to invite orphans to the wedding, and plop me down to look after them.”

“What are those kids doing rolling wheelchairs down the drive?”

“Where?”

“Over there, by the carriage house.”

“They are having fun.”

“Pushing children in wheelchairs down the drive?”

“The children are not handicapped.”

“Then why are they in wheelchairs?”

“They are abandoned.”

“The children?”

“The wheelchairs.”

“Abandoned by whom?”

“You see those folks dancing over there? It is the darndest thing. They rolled up in wheelchairs, ditched them as soon as they got to the playground, and started dancing.”

“Should the orphans not be supervised?”

“That, my princess queen, is above my pay grade. I believe they are selling wheelchair rides down the drive.”

“You mean to say, they all ditched their chairs, and started dancing?”

“Chairs, walkers, and crutches” Nanny nodded “That is what I am talking about.”

“It looks like the children are taking advantage of the situation.”

“When one is born a member of the working class, such as I was, Erica, growing up without the guidance of a loving parent, one’s critical thinking skills tend to kick in fast. I could not expect you to understand that.”

“I understand the part without a parent.”

“My point is, one becomes resourceful, when one has to.”

“Why don’t you dance with them, Nanny?”

“Nah, too much effort.”

“It might do your rheumatism some good.”

Nanny shook her head “I have to supervise the playground.”

“Are you telling me those people dancing arrived in wheelchairs?”

Nanny nodded “Some came in on crutches.”

“They’re playing in the sandbox, teetering on the totter. The merry-go-round is new. I haven’t seen that.”

“Indeed, it was added last year.”

“I don’t see Princilla. Is she somewhere in the crowd?”

“There she is” Nanny whistled “Mistress Princilla, there is someone here who would like to say hello to you.”

“Auntie Erica” Princilla jumped off the merry-go-round, ran toward the bench, and curseyed “Auntie Erica, you look so skinny.”

Erica embraced Princilla tête à tête, kissed her on the cheek, and extended her arm. “What a lovely dress. How is my favorite niece?”

“MaMajesty makes me wear a bow in my hair. I think it looks silly.”

“I think your bow looks lovely.”

“I hate it” Princilla wrinkled her nose.

“Your dress is lovely.”

“I am a flower girl.”

“I see that by the flowers in your hair. You have messed them up a bit, but Nanny can help you fix them.”

“I want to go swing on my swingset now, Auntie Erica.”

“Run along then. Give me a hug” the big princess held the little princess to her chest.

“I love you, Auntie Erica.”

“I love you too, Princilla. Go play”

Princilla skipped back to her swingset, and waited in line.

“She sure has grown since I last saw her.”

“Yes, almost an inch every other month.”

“Does she make you miserable, like Pristine and I used to do?”

“She is going to be tall, tall tales and all.”

Up the path came the palace jester, turning carwheels, as he spun onto the playground gravel. A visually impaired woman from the Centenarian home in town, tapped her cane across the jester’s path, almost tripping him. The jester flipped, but recovered nicely. The woman laughed ysterically, like she had just checked out of Loco. “In all my years, I have never felt so young” she cried “Now, if I could find my spectacles.”

“Ma’am, your spectacles are on you head” Erica spoke up, and leaned to Nanny “And people say I am crazy.”

“My dear Erica, you are no more crazy than any one of these wedding guests, except for perhaps your choice in shoes” she looked down, examined them. “How can you walk in those things?”

“Not comfortably, actually. I lean on Buzz a lot. It did not occur to me, the wedding was going to be on the grass.”

Another woman popped her head into the conversation “Your Highness—Princess Erica of Discord, oh my” she bowed “God bless you.”

“Thank you, Ma’am, God bless you.”

“God bless you, and Nanny Needlepinch, you as well.”

“Thank you, Madam” Erica whispered, “Now please go away.”

The woman pointed to Erica’s shoes. “What are those red balls on your shoes?”

“What red balls?”

“The balls on your slippers.”

“They are cherries” Erica extended a leg.

“I like them.”

The woman stared into Pristine’s eyes through visual receptors glazed in haze. “Look into my face” she gestured, “I know who you are. You are me, and I am you.”

Erica looked into the old woman’s eyes “How interesting, for both of us.”

“No longer does my face tell me where I am going. Now it tells me where I have been.”

“I see, Madam” Erica leaned back “I wish you happiness.”

“Yesssss” the woman curtseyed, twirled, and danced away.

“Thank God she’s gone.”

Nanny took Erica’s hand “Half the people from the Home suffer from dimentia.”

“What is dimentia?”

“Old Timers disease.”

“Poor dears, how terrible for them.”

“It’s worse for their families.”

“Well, they seem to be enjoying themselves.”

“They are dancing, but they don’t know why they are dancing.”

“Does it really matter?”

“I guess not, as long as their health improves.”

“I have a secret to tell you.”

“You are pregnant.”

“Not that I know of, I will tell you after the ceremony.”

“I like secrets, as long as they are not kept secret.”

Erica rose from the bench. “I need to get back to Buzz. He will be wondering where I am.”

Nanny surveyed the horizon “I was told Mistress Sitwell would relieve me right about now. I do not see her.”

“Shall I walk you to your seat, Nanny?”

“Does that not strike you as the blind leading the blind?”

“Oh look—here come Mistress Sitwell, and Miss Kiss” Erica pulled on Nanny’s arm “Come on, I will walk you to your seat.”

“Your Royal Highness, Princess Erica” Mistress Sitwell and Miss Kiss both curtseyed “Miss Needlepinch, I am so sorry to be late. You remember my colleague—Flaviola Kiss.”

“I do, hello, Miss Kiss.”

“How do you do, Your Royal Highness, I am delighted to see you again.”

“I guess I will go now” Nanny nodded “Mistress Sitwell, Miss Kiss—”

Arm in arm, Erica walked Nanny across the gravel; every step a calculation. She looked up for a split second, and smiled. “There he is, Nanny, the love of my life.”

Buzz stood on the cement path, arms extended, as the two women inched their way down the gravel path, toward him. To his right stood Earnest Crankshaft, Her Majesty’s chauffeur. “Your Royal Highness, Crankshaft bowed “What an honor it is to see you, and Miss Needlepinch.”

“Hello, Mr. Crankshaft.”

“Mr. Crankshaft, you never age, do you? Don’t let go, Buzz.”

“I’ve got you, Erica.”

“Were you and my husband able to find a plate from every State?”

“Almost, Your Highness. I am still on the lookout for a plate from Indifference.”

“And I am still looking for plates from Fear and Terror. I am surprised to see so many Tolerite plates.”

“The brides are from Tolerance, Buzz.”

“Oh yes, yes of course. I forgot.”

Erica grabbed Buzz’s shoulders. “Do not move” she pushed him aside, and hid behind him.

“What are you hiding from, Erica?”

“It’s Lady Thornedyke. Take a baby step to your left, Buzz.”

Buzz indulged “Who is Lady Thornedyke?”

“I said to your left, Buzz—not mine.”

“Oops, sorry” Buzz obliged Erica’s wish “Who is Lady Thornedyke?”

Nanny interjected “She is one of the Parliamentarians’ wives, gentlemen.”

Erica ducked “The woman can talk the leg off a chair.”

“A Parliamentarian’s wife, eh?” Buzz scratched his ear.

“I said don’t move.”

“I only scratched my ear.”

“You moved your arm. Stand tall, Buzz, I do not want her to see me.”

“Why not just say hello and get it over with?”

“Once Lady Thornedyke gets started, she will not stop.”

“She won’t. If you try to get away, she will grab you, and reel you back in. Okay, she is leaving, to the right. Buzz, take my hand. Walk to the left.”

Buzz linked onto Erica’s hand “We should take our seats.”

“Before the orchestra starts playing the Wedding March.” Erica reached for Nanny’s hand “Come, let us show you to your seat.”

Nanny took her stick in the other hand, grabbed the hand of the princess, and stepped to it. “Everyone is dressed so nicely, and all the flowers are in bloom. We must commend Mr. Snibbles and his team for magnificent presentation.”

“It’s lovely” Erica held on tight “This is a big crowd. I did not expect we would see so many people.”

Nanny pointed “My seat is over there.”

“There is going to be a traffic jam when the ceremony is over. I am glad we arrived late enough to not get locked in on the drive.”

“You see, Buzz, sometimes it is faster to not take the short cut.”

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