Bird on a branch



Chapter - 3

When we got back to San Diego, I noticed that each one of my vassals had a mockingbird perched on a shoulder.

Familiars? I thought to Cameron.

Familiars. He responded. Better than cell phones. And no contracts either.

I had discovered, quite by accident that I could talk to Cameron and Colin in this way.

We had returned to the sidewalk where our adventure had begun. So I told my three new guys - whatever do you call vassals in the 21st Century anyway? I told my ‘men’ to meet us here after school tomorrow and we’d make some plans. Colin and I started to my house. I took Colin’s hand in mine as I was feeling confident of our ability to handle any problem anyone might have with our obvious affection. “What do we do next oh general of my heart? Do we tell my Dads? Your mom? Spend a nice long weekend at my new palace? All of the above? What?”

We took the discussion home where we had sandwiches and chips and pondered the problem. At length, we decided that we would attend school in the normal manner tomorrow, then, when we met with my men after school, we’d go back to the Kingdom and spend a couple of days learning more of that world and our roles there, and we could begin making some plans.


I made a beeline for the library when we returned to the palace.

We spent the next ten days at my palace. Among other things, we decided that my three liegemen (I thought that sounded better than ‘vassals’) would be my royal posse dedicated to the elimination of bullying at their school. I thought this was very true to the Mikado’s desire to let the punishment fit the crime (Dad-o was into Gilbert and Sullivan and so, of necessity and by virtue of proximity, was I). While at the palace, they were assigned to physical and weaponless defense training with the 24th as well as some tutoring to bring them up to speed as they had not been particularly enthusiastic students. However, they joined us for meals and we got to know each other after their classes were finished.

Corporal Aberhonddu was promoted to Sergeant Major and then appointed as Garrison Sergeant Major of the depot and my palace. He was also raised to the rank style and dignity of Officer in the Ancient and Honourable Order of the Golden Dragon. I presented him with the decoration and Colin gave him his pace stick — the omnipresent distinction of the sergeant major, and a beautiful custom made one it was to boot, complete with a small gold plaque thanking him for his service to Colin and me.

One morning, shortly after another sumptuous breakfast, I told Humphrey that I wanted to go horseback riding. Colin was off puttering about with the regiment. Humphrey told me if I’d return to my suite, I could dress for riding; and shortly after I arrived there, the young elve who had always attended me in my chambers, appeared with his clothes rack laden with all manner of paraphernalia.

“Um,” I said with a certain lack of profundity. “You’ve always taken such good care of me. What’s your name, if I may?”

“I’m Vyvyan, your Royal Highness,” and he bustled me out of my robes and golden wreath.

“Well you’ve been an excellent valet and I appreciate how well you’ve cared for me.” I thought that a pretty compliment. I was a devotee of Downton Abbey which is where I had learned what little I knew about dealing with servants, as well as how to mis-pronounce ‘val-et’. I wondered if my French teacher watched Downton Abbey.

“Meaning no disrespect, your Royal Highness, but I’m just eleventh footman, I’m not your valet.”

I was standing there nude; I’d never been particularly modest, never bothered by nudity in gym or the showers, so being dressed by Vyvyan had quickly become quite normal. He had laid out underclothes for me. “Will your Royal Highness ride in English, Spanish, American Western, or military this morning?” He inquired.

This could not be right. The question of horseback riding was moved to the back burner as I strode purposefully across the room and buzzed for Humphrey. How could I not have a valet? If the Earl of Grantham had one, then I was going to have one too. After all, Vyvyan had just reminded me that I was a “Royal Highness”. Higher than an earl I think.

Humphrey entered, looked at me and at Vyvyan and leapt to the wrong conclusion. “I’m sorry you’ve been inadequately served this morning. You!” He glowered at Vyvyan, “report to the wizard’s laboratory and wait for me there.

“He probably had the wrong riding apparel for your Royal Highness,” Humphrey simpered, leaping onward to yet another incorrect conclusion. “Or was there some other mistake made?”

“Everybody hold it! Just wait a goddamn minute!” I knew enough from Downton Abbey that I should not be swearing at the staff, but it seemed like Humphrey was assuming way too much authority. This didn’t seem right, and I could thank Downton Abbey for knowing that too.

“First, why is Vyvyan not my valet?”

“Well. Er. I think he’s not qualified your Royal Highness, he only recently entered service here and lacks the necessary seniority.” Humphrey was caught out by this unexpected line of attack and realized, as he was talking, that he was making a big mistake, and was demeaning me at the same time. “I’m not sure. Maybe he is. Qualified, I mean.”

I allowed for a lengthy silence as I regained my calm and regarded Humphrey coolly. “Vyvyan has taken excellent care of me since my first night here. One can only wonder how so capable a young elve could possibly be considered unqualified and, further, if that were so, why was he ever assigned to serve me in the first place?”

Humphrey was flustered and flushed. It wasn’t pretty.

“We’ll discuss that in greater detail later. In the interim, Vyvyan is to be appointed my valet effective this instant. That will be all, Humphrey. I’m not happy about this. Vyvyan please ring for the butler.”

Mere moments later, the butler, Aethnen, entered. He was an older Bwca who radiated dignity. He was clean shaven, wearing a black frock coat with gray trousers, a dove gray waistcoat with a gold chain, a wing collar, and a dark blue cravat. There was a small gold seven pointed star on the lower left breast of his coat. It occurred to me that I had only a very few dealings with him when I was at the palace. Vyvyan was standing at a very creditable civilian equivalent of attention and had accomplished this with no crashing or clanking.

“Sir,” he said with quiet serenity.

“Aethnen, you are actually in charge of this household, are you not?”

“Sir. But of course I’m ably assisted by the housekeeper, Mrs Mwyar.”

“Well then why is Humphrey always running things, like breakfast and such?” It was difficult not to sound just a bit petulant.

“Steward Dyrys is striving to be helpful I’m sure, sir.”

I regarded him for a few moments as it was clear that he was not going to stoop to the level necessary to verbalize the real problem. “But shouldn’t you be overseeing meals and staff assignments and those sorts of things?”

“Of course, sir. If you wish it.”

“Well I wish it. Were you consulted in the matter of selecting my valet?”

“No sir, I was not.”

I was on the brink of demanding to know why, but thought perhaps I had a good idea of what the problem had been and there was no further point in continuing to belabor the point as Aethnen was unlikely to be blunt.

“Vyvyan, please bring my underwear over here and let’s continue getting me dressed.

“Aethnen, how would my valet normally be selected?”

“In the final analysis, sir, you would have to be the arbiter, for it is you that must be satisfied. There are any number of ways to assess an applicant for the job, but nothing had been done as the position has been vacant for a number of years now.”

“Excellent. Effective immediately, Vyvyan is my valet and he is to have all the rights and prerequisites of that office as well as the regular remuneration to which he is entitled. Additionally, I want you and Mrs Mwyar to resume running this household in the normal way and I want Humphrey to resume stewarding and wizarding, or whatever it is that he does, in the normal way and I’ll talk to him about that later. Finally, tomorrow, I want the entire staff of the household assembled so I can get to know them. Will 10:30 work?”


“Thank you. We’ll have dinner in the normal way this evening.”

While it would not be quite the thing to say that Aethnen was smiling as he left, he was clearly pleased.

Vyvyan resumed dressing me for my ride. “You never said, sir.”

“Said what?”

“What style riding apparel you wished.”

“English, I think. That’s what Arion mostly had me doing at the stable. And another thing, I don’t really like this robe thing all the time. In fact, I don’t really like it at all. So I don’t want to wear it again unless there is some reason that I must be wearing it. So start dressing me in civilian clothes that would be. Ah. Er?”

“Appropriate to your position, of course, sir.”

“And while we’re at it, tell Aethnen that I want the palace staff in proper clothes, no more of those robes and such.”

“The Steward too, highness?”

“Well, no, I guess. He can wear whatever wizards are supposed to wear.”


Vyvyan was done with me in an instant and there I was in gleaming boots, gray britches, a white pullover and a dark blue jacket. I was enchanted with my appearance, and even more enchanted when I arrived at the stable to find Arion and Kameyn waiting for me. I made much of Kameyn and was rewarded with a smear of alfalfa drool on my jacket. I noticed, for the first time, that Arion was an elve and it dawned on me that every time I had seen him at the stable, some combination of headgear and hair had concealed his rather elegant ears. I commended him and asked him to ride along with me. I learned that he was my head groom and that there had been no problems with his appointment. He brought me up to date on all the latest palace doings. He also took me for a tour of the stable and introduced me to all of my horses. I had twenty-three. I also had an assortment of carriages for all uses including, a dog cart, a phaeton, a coach, a small pumper with hoses in case of fire, and a heavy wagon all in immaculate condition with my crest displayed appropriately.

During this lengthy stay in the palace, I was beginning to notice that I seemed to know my way around, to know where things were, and it seemed a little strange. But then, that was just a little strange and I was becoming almost blasé when it came to the unusual.

The matter of the globe was one example of this. I had wanted to get some idea of the geography of this world and I instantly remembered the presence of a large globe in the library next to a lovely brass telescope. I walked directly there, just as if I knew where I was going. The globe was, in itself, a thing of beauty, a work of art; and it gave me a great deal of information quickly and pleasurably. For example, at home, England and Ireland were two islands; however here, it was all one island known as Ellendale: the Mediterranean Sea did not join the Atlantic at Gibraltar, but did join the Red Sea and there was a city there, just as at home, named Alexandria; otherwise, this world looked roughly similar to home geographically. I was interrupted by the dinner bell. I had asked Aethnen to restore my household to “normal” so now I had to dress for dinner. Which, actually, was rather fun.


I had a librarian. I almost literally stumbled over him in the library. He was on his hands and knees by some floor level shelves with several books on the floor around him and he was consulting a thick ledger. He was wearing robes which annoyed me.

“Who are you?”

My library

My Library

“I can’t find it and I know we have it. It was right here not twenty years ago.”

“What was here?”

“The Latin Ptolemy, of course, the volume I’m looking for.”

Pay attention you blockhead. You’re talking to his Royal Highness.

I’m Artemis, I’m a familiar but I’m on vacation. I’m doing holiday as a library cat.

And I noticed a sleek black cat relaxing against the opposite wall of the library.

Artemis supervising the librarian

Artemis supervising the librarian

He’s easily distracted, but quite an excellent librarian.

The object of our discussion looked-up, removed some serious glasses and hoisted himself up to look at me.

“You don’t have to wear those robes anymore,” I thought that might be a quiet sort of way to start a conversation.

“Oh,” he commented blankly.

“You should talk to my valet, Vyvyan; he’ll help you select a ‘suitable’ wardrobe. What book are you looking for?”

“The Latin translation of Ptolemy’s biography of Alexander the Great. The original’s in Greek of course. But Jefferson wants the Latin version for some reason.”

“But Mary Renault said that manuscript didn’t survive.”

And she was quite correct. It didn’t survive on Earth, but we didn’t let them destroy the contents of the library. Artemis was helping explain. We took every volume, over time, even the tax records. Hypatia, one of the greatest of all wizards, ensured the survival of the library. Her death is a fictional account. She died quietly in bed when it was her time.

“I think my librarian needs a minder.”

Well I’m on vacation for a few more years, but I’ll insure he’s looked after.

“Thanks, I’m going to go ahead and sic Vyvyan on him so that we can get him dressed correctly. What’s his name, anyway?”

He’s Carlisle, Librarian General to the Crown.

“Carlisle, is there any English translation of Ptolemy’s biography?”

“Of course.”

“Would you set it out for me please?”

“Eh, who should I…”

It will be done Your Highness. Artemis interrupted the poor man rather imperiously.


A Major Owen ap R Evans joined us for dinner. He was the commanding officer of the 24th Foot that was billeted near my palace. Colin, in the Mess Dress of a Brigadier, far outshone the Major who had only two medals on his uniform. I had wanted to ask the Major a question about military transport. I was particularly interested in railroads, but Colin quickly interjected a comment about horse racing, which absorbed the Major. Colin then whispered to me that it was not done to talk “shop” at dinner.

I thought that my liegemen were cleaning-up nicely. They looked very nice in their white tie and tails; they had rooms in the palace and footmen assigned to help them dress. I remained unsure as to what to do with them here, but had a suspicion that I would know when the time was right. Vyvyan reported that none of them seemed in the least interested in any of the footmen, but did appear to be paying close attention to the maids. That did not seem to me to be cause for concern.

Aethnen intercepted me after breakfast. “May I have a word, sir?”

I nodded.

“It’s about your household order.”

I tried not to look at him blankly.

He touched the golden star on his coat. “This is the Prince Royals Own Order and every member of your household should be wearing the appropriate degree of the order. The order has not been updated for seventy some years.”

“Excellent, would you take a moment to see who needs the award and what degree they deserve, let me know, and we’ll correct the situation at once.” I felt that I was learning something about being the lord of the manor: give the job to someone who was trusted and capable and be done with it.


Yes, my prince.

I have some questions.

I have some answers, I hope.

Well for starters, how come Colin remembers that he was here before and was in a battle and all that stuff? I have a vague sense of déjà vu a lot of the time, but no clear recollection of a battle or anything like that.

Colin was doing his apprenticeship. I guess that’s what you call it. He couldn’t be effective as your Earl Martial if he was completely inexperienced, now could he? Your rebirth was pending at the time, but your father had not yet taken the necessary action.

So we do the re-incarnation thing here?

Well, yes, but not exactly in the manner you may be thinking of; you don’t start out as insects or anything like that.

So was I here before too?

Certainly. That’s why the monarchy is so important. It has learned over the millennia how to do the job, and how to do it well. Do you remember how Merlin had Arthur experience a number of different realities before he became king? Well it’s sort of the same thing here. The king is expected to be born with great experience and knowledge that will come to him as he needs it. It’s far too important to be a mere accident of birth.

While having this discussion, I had been strolling about my grounds. Chatting with Cameron helped me feel inconspicuous as Vyvyan had outfitted me in ‘knickers’ which I had sought to avoid; he had tried for some multi-colored knee socks which I managed to prevent only by whining in a most un-princely manner while conceding completely on the knickerbockers. Vyvyan was masterful when it came to assuring me that my dress was “appropriate to your position, sir.” I had a nice Norfolk jacket and a dashing fedora to complete the ensemble, while I was feeling highly conspicuous in my knickers, I also felt rather smart. Yes, I had won the right to wear plain socks. But it was clear that Vyvyan had won the battle and should probably be permitted to decide in the future without me carrying-on. Which of course, meant that Vyvyan had permitted me a minor victory in the skirmish of the socks, and then went on to quickly and easily win the war.

For the casual prince

For the Casual Prince

Interestingly, the footmen, gardeners, and occasional soldier I passed greeted me cordially or formally and did not seem to find my knickers at all conspicuous. Cameron didn’t mention them either. I practiced swaggering with my walking stick and only dropped it once.

I had been admiring my fowl. I had squadrons of them. Chickens, geese, ducks, a number of birds I didn’t recognize at all, and several pea fowl. The cock was beautiful, and I retreated before his display and left him to his hens. I walked around the building onto a field where I was shocked to see one of my liegemen involved in a brawl with several young Bwca. They were all tangled on the ground with much yelling, pushing and shoving.

“Goddamnit!” I yelled, not very originally, and ran forward with some notion of breaking up a serious fight before someone got hurt. The four of them stood up at once, muddy and bedraggled; I recognized James Wolsey as my liegeman and instantly assumed that he had resumed the practice of bullying, this time of the Bwca youths. The three Bwca lads lined-up alongside each other and were clearly standing at attention. They looked very similar, indeed, two of them were the same height, the same look, and I thought they must be twins.

“What’s this then?” I demanded. I noticed that James had a lovely black eye developing but he did not seem in the least angry though he was breathing hard. The four of them were the personification of disrepute.

“Rugby, Your Royal Highness,” he assured me as if this explained everything.

I stifled my initial response which was to ask what the hell that might mean. I mean I knew it was a game and all that; but I had no idea how it was played. So I just glowered at the Bwca lads instead. “Who are you?” I asked the taller of the three.

“Sir. Ralph Cyffylog. These are me brothers, Harry and Terence: twins. Our Tad is Colour Sergeant in C Company of the 1st Battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot which we will all join in time. Cymru am byth!” All three saluted with precision. The GSM would have been proud. They held the salute until I returned it with nothing like their precision.

“Well, what were you doing?”

Nodding to James, Ralph replied, “Teaching yon Saesneg palace-wallah to play the great game, Sir.” One of the cheekiest smiles I’d ever seen broke through the mud and his now only approximate position of attention.

“James, give them each a half crown when you’re finished playing today. Vyvyan will repay you later.

“Ralph, James is my liegeman and I hope you and your brothers won’t be too hard on him today. Enjoy,” and I made my way off the field into the formal garden.

I was rather proud of my ability to quickly learn and use the monetary system that was in use in the Kingdom. A half crown was a rather handsome tip as it amounted to two shillings and six pence. A crown was also five shillings although the coin itself was not in circulation. There was a florin which was two shillings. To add interest, there was an old crown, used in accounting in past centuries that was three shillings and six pence. You could write that as 3/6. What a wonderful system. In any event, this amounted to considerable purchase power for the youths who’d been doing what they would probably have been doing anyway. But I think a prince is expected to tip, and I actually felt good about it as I had probably made their day.

In any event, I had learned earlier, in consultation with my “man of business”, that I was quite incredibly wealthy. Wealthy to a degree that I could scarcely comprehend.


I gave myself over to the problem of how to inform my Dads, and Colin’s Mom, of our situation. My Dads were pretty straightforward, serious men. Dad was a civil engineer and partner in a consulting firm. He’d been all over the world on various projects including several, in Africa and Latin America, where men with guns sometimes interfered in the progress of his project. Dad-o was a dealer in antiquarian books and manuscripts; his credentials were respected and well established. It was not unusual for him to receive a call from Christie’s or Sotheby’s, to appraise or authenticate some item. He’d been flown to London and New York a number of times on their behalf. It was just such a call that earned him the sobriquet ‘Dad-o’; I had answered the phone and the caller, while asking for my Father, called me “man” while lacing his talk with several other remarks one might expect from jazz musicians. So of course I had to yell, “Dad-o! Phone!” And it stuck.

Colin’s Mom was a serious professional too. Partner in a large accounting firm, she was not likely to be impressed by elves and familiars, distant palaces and military commands. In fact, now that I thought about it, I didn’t think she’d much care for Colin being a soldier at all. She’d worry about Colin and me first, then she’d worry about what we had for lunch, and once she had warmed-up, with these concerns, the fight, if there were to be one, would be on.

I could think of no one who had a problem comparable to this one. I mean, all Eragon had to do was trip over a blue rock, that turned out to be a dragon egg, which then hatched and he became a dragon rider and hero.

Then it was absolutely as easy as pie for Mr Havisham who appeared at a small apartment, in New York City, with a silk hat, a carriage, and a satchel full of gold sovereigns and the next thing you know, Cedric is off to England to become Lord Fauntleroy. Where he will almost casually win over the Earl of Dorincourt and begin a new life.

And how about Harry Potter? He’s in a tiny hut on a barren island in the middle of a storm when Hagrid knocks the door down, tells Harry he’s a “wizard”, browbeats the Dursleys with a pink parasol, and the next thing you know, Harry is off to Hogwarts: off to a new life, off to serious challenges, off to a battle between good and evil.

And it can happen in real life too. Cameron chimed in. There was Jeromin, living in a small village, with nothing to do but play with the village boys. Then one day a carriage rolls up, a pretty big deal in a small village in Spain in 1554, and Jeromin was whisked away to school and before long he was Don Juan d’Austria, son of the emperor on the off side, brother of the king, admiral of the king’s fleet, and the victor in a great naval battle that is remembered to this day.[1]

Thanks, Cameron. Piece of cake for the lot of them, but how do I do it?

The silence was deafening.

I, somehow, had to convince three serious professionals that their two fourteen-year-old sons were: the first, a Royal Prince, with a palace, a genuine familiar of the magical sort, and very real responsibilities to a nation they’d never heard of; and the second, a serving Brigadier, in a very real army, Colonel-in-Chief of the Ancient and Honourable Company of Artillerists and Infernal Device Artificers, among other things. Not only that but these roles and responsibilities

Don Juan d'Austria by Coello

Don Juan d’Austria by Coello

were on another planet in an adjacent universe.

Not the easiest transfer of information ever contemplated.

I searched my head for any superheroes that might have had this problem but had no luck: Superman’s folks knew all about it; Batman and Robin didn’t have to explain anything to anyone except perhaps the butler; Percy Jackson’s parents were the problem; no, it seemed as if having to explain your sudden royalty to your Dads was an unusual problem that would require great care and attention to detail if it were to be successfully completed.

When we returned to Earth that afternoon we did not have a clue as to how to proceed. I had been worried about how to explain James’ black eye to his parents, but the three of them explained that they resided in a group foster home and no one would care, and James probably wouldn’t even be asked. This caught me flat footed, but I was now sure that if they wanted, then I’d take the three of them with us when we made the permanent move to Ellendale.

As it happened, in a manner of speaking, the problem took care of itself the next morning. No, that’s not right. It didn’t actually take care of itself; that would imply that the problem was solved. What happened was that the problem was no longer secret and was right out in the open for all to see: to deny, to refute and argue about, to accept, and then to deny again. What happened was this.

Vyvyan had arrived in my bedroom in San Diego, in the normal way, with a silver tray with coffee and pomegranate juice. Once Vyvyan felt he was in charge of me, he had decided that I would need help in San Diego as well. I was a prince now, and so no longer capable of dressing myself in either universe.

Cameron had accompanied him and they were gossiping about Humphrey’s latest travails. While I showered, Vyvyan laid out several possible choices for clothes I might want to wear to school. Returning to the room, Vyvyan began to dress me just as he would at the palace; everything was going along in the normal way. I had selected my boxers and a tangerine t-shirt, then the sport shirt for the day was buttoned-on, and he was helping me on with my Levis. He was just buttoning my fly when there was a bump at my bedroom door. It swung open and there was Dad holding a basket of clean and neatly folded laundry. Time seemed to stand still as he looked at me. And then there was Cameron, sitting on the bed, as completely and ostentatiously out of place as it was possible for an owl to be. Adding to the surprise factor was the fact that the bed was already neatly made. A large silver tray with crystal, china, and silver service stood on a butler’s cart that was not of our house. Then there was Vyvyan; Vyvyan’s ears were apparent; he was neatly attired in a dark gray suit with a blue tie. Vyvyan’s hands were in my pants. Vyvyan looked up at my dad, smiled and said, with Olympian aplomb, “Good morning Justin’s Dad.”

[1] He was the son of the Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire when that entity was at the zenith of its power. His mother was German the daughter of an influential merchant. He commanded the allied fleet at the Battle of Lepanto which defeated the Turkish fleet effectively halting the maritime advance of the Ottoman Empire. He was a capable and charismatic leader who was carried off by a fever while still young. He died before the Spanish King, his half-brother, could organize the Spanish Armada. Probably a good thing for England.