Highness, Cameron had let me have one sip of coffee. Your men have returned from San Diego and there is an emergency. When do you want to meet them. Mindful of our ability to time our arrivals and departures I was not in a hurry.
At breakfast I replied.
“This will be interesting,” Colin commented as we got out of bed.
“Vyvyan we need to get dressed right now,” and Vyvyan and Thomas left for the clothes rack moving quickly.
“You are hurried Your Royal Highness, Brigadier,” Aethnen greeted us.
“Trying not to be.” I remembered that it would probably be better if I did not seem hurried now that we were going to talk about the pregnancies, marriage, and their intentions for their children, college funds, and all those sorts of things. Their return from San Diego had been long delayed which was probably a good thing as I no longer thought of the situation as a disaster. “Show them in as soon as all your preparations are complete. They’ll be invited to eat.” Colin and I sat in our accustomed places with coffee and grapefruit juice while footmen prepared our breakfast plates. I wanted a sort of formal atmosphere so that they understood that I took the matter of children very seriously.
I was surprised when they entered; they had not changed for breakfast and were still in their school clothes that looked thoroughly rumpled, quite out of place, and rather less than reputable.
“Please your Highness,” began Paul St Marie, one of the fathers, “We’ve only just come from the scene and we need help and we gotta get back.”
This was not what I expected at all.
“Give us a report St Marie,” Colin ordered. “Sanford, Wolsey, sit down and have some breakfast.”
“Sir, thanks, you know we’ve been working on bullying at our high school. While doing that we stumbled on something lots worse.
“We thought we knew most of the bullies and even got a couple of ‘em to see Jesus. You know. So we were surprised when we seen these guys we’d never seen before and they were roughing up this kid who was too young for our school. Still, it didn’t look good, you know. So we started over there. They were across the yard on the sidewalk with the fence inna way. So Jamie went for the gate and Chris went after him while I ran toward them hoping to scare ‘em.
“So anyway, I’m yellin’ and Chris and Jamie are tearin’ up the sidewalk toward ‘em when this big, beat-up, Lincoln pulls up next to ‘em, a guy jumps out, and they push the kid in and they all take off.
“So cars can’t go too fast, you know, in San Diego traffic, so we sends Senny and Copey to follow them while we come along a few blocks behind as best as we can.”
“Senny?” I interject.
“Senacherib, is my familiar. Copenhagen is Jamie’s,” Paul responded.
“So anyway, Senny and Copey follow them to this old warehouse down by the waterfront and Baby — I mean Babieca (you gotta know that Copey and Babieca would prefer to be horses but they had to be birds for this job). Well she brings us along to the waterfront, and we watches the exits while Copey turns into a rat and goes into the building.
“So there’s this one corner of the warehouse which used to be offices, the rest is pretty much empty. The car’s inside right next to the office. The big door is closed. Copey gets into the ductwork and listens to the whole bit. The kid is locked-up in what used to be a bathroom. There are five baddies in a bigger room. They’ve been on their cell phones. Copey can hear and sense enough to know they wanna sell the kid to this guy and it doesn’t sound good for the kid.”
“Aethnen,” interrupted Colin, “Contact the Officer of the Day and have him report to me here, instantly.
“St Marie, I want you to sit down and have some breakfast. I’m thinking a busy day. Sanford, have you anything to add?”
“Sir. They told this guy on the phone that the kid is a orphan runaway from foster care. They tell him that he’s really cute. That he’s all alone. The guy who was talkin’ told the others the guy was gonna send ‘em twenty-five thousand dollars and would be there in about an hour. That’s a lotta money.”
“Wolsey,” Colin continued. “Anything more?”
“Sir, no sir.”
“Stay in touch with your familiars. As soon as you’ve finished breakfast, change into English riding clothes like His Highness here, it would be unfair to leave you out of the mission, but I don’t want anyone mistaking you for one of the bad guys. If you learn something that Cameron doesn’t know, report to me at once.”
Colin turned to me, “I know I’m wasting my breath, but you really shouldn’t come with us, my dear.”
“I know that, but I’m coming along for whatever.”
The main door to the dining room opened and Aethnen announced the Officer of the Day.
“Ensign Lewys reporting as ordered, sir.” He saluted punctiliously.
Colin stood, waved a salute and began. “Turn out the guard. Field dress uniform with sixty rounds of ammo, bayonets, grenades, one day’s rations and canteens. I’ll inspect in ten minutes. This is no drill. Dismissed.”
To the surprise of no one, GSM Aberhonddu had appeared. “Sar’nt Major, I’ll need four Sam Browne belts with pistols and ammo. One for His Highness and one for each of his liegemen. Have Sergeant Mulvaney of the Engineers report to me instantly.”
“No, might trip ’em up. They’re not used to it. Then stick close to the Prince.”
Fifteen minutes later, on the parade ground, we were mustered, inspected, and ready to go.
The boy watched mesmerized as something seemed to be rattling the grill that was low on the wall covering the heating duct. It seemed like it was being worked from inside the ductwork but that was impossible — or ought to be impossible. He remembered Dudley falling through the glass into the snake’s cage in Harry Potter. Maybe it was possible. Funny how things pop to mind at the oddest times. HeThat was what he thought until the cover came loose. He watched as tiny black, claw like hands, carefully lowered the grill down the few inches to the floor and quietly laid it on the floor. A huge rat emerged from the duct and sat looking at him. He might have screamed except that there was tape over his mouth. But he also might not have screamed; he was an exceptional kind of boy. The rat then turned into a German shepherd right before his eyes and the boy was so fascinated by these entirely impossible events that he actually smiled at the dog from behind the tape.
Hi. I’m Copenhagen. I’m a familiar. Sit still and don’t say anything. Help is on the way.
The tape fell away from his mouth and the ropes fell loosened from his hands and feet. ‘They found me,’ he thought. ‘And this was all magical. Way better than Harry Potter,’ and he slithered across the floor and hugged the dog.
Thanks, Copenhagen replied licking the boy’s face. And all hell broke loose.
It was hard to actually see anything from our ‘command post.’ It was located across the warehouse floor next to a fire exit behind piles of trash and junk; but with four familiars on-scene, we knew where everything was and when everything happened. Colin had stationed several soldiers on the roof of the office building and had infiltrated others into positions so the office was effectively surrounded.
We knew when the baddies’ car pulled up at the big warehouse door adjacent to the office. The door was slowly opened and then the car, actually a van, pulled into the warehouse and stopped. The big door closed.
“Open fire,” Colin said quietly.
There were a series of explosions on and around the van. Colin had arranged for artillery simulators to be rigged with grenade fuses so there was smoke, flame, and serious noise without the shrapnel. The guy who had operated the big door went down hard, just like one of those professional wrestlers; unlike the professional wrestler, however, he would not be getting up.
Under cover of the smoke, the soldiers rushed the van and the office. Crashing through the office door, the four kidnappers still in there were confronted by a wave of resolute red-coated soldiers. They had long rifles and gleaming bayonets. One of the kidnappers drew and fired a pistol and was promptly bayonetted to the floor for his trouble but one of the soldiers was down too. The three remaining surrendered hurriedly and abjectly.
Resistance continued from the van. Several shots had been fired at our people and another one of my soldiers was down. Colin had already started across the warehouse floor when the rest of us realized he was in motion and took off after him. I forgot to draw my pistol, but the GSM did not. While we were moving across the floor, Ensign Lewys had been arranging another assault on the van. Another artillery simulator was tossed through the shattered windshield, and the explosion followed. Then the side door was ripped-open by soldiers and two men were dragged out, stunned and gasping for air. There was a body in the driver’s seat that wasn’t moving.
“Good job, Ensign,” Colin praised quietly. There had been some shrapnel after all as Ensign Lewys had a gash to the side of his head that was bleeding profusely. Cameron! Colin continued. See to the wounded and arrange transport. Sennacherib! Post aerial sentries so we have plenty of warning in case this ruckus draws any attention. “Sar’nt Jones! Make sure all our folks are accounted for.”
The scene hummed.
Copenhagen, who had kept himself between the door and the boy throughout the action, opened the door, stood-up, and led the boy into the main room where three of his captors stood under guard and one lay lifeless on the floor. With the usual snap flash, the three prisoners vanished.
“Rad,” the boy calmly observed.
Christian and Paul went to him and said they were glad to see that he was all right.
“Yes, I had a friend with me.” And he stroked Copenhagen affectionately. “But you guys were trying to get to me at the school. Almost didn’t recognize you in those clothes. Who dresses like that these days?” He smiled. “I’m Gary Ashmore,” and he extended his hand to shake.
I was regarding Gary as if I was the one in shock. After all, how many rescued kidnap victims pass judgment on their rescuers choice of clothes before the smoke of battle has even cleared away?
“Well,” Gary said drawing it out as he looked at me, “You’re the Prince. Thank you. I’ve been on the streets for a coupla months now; so I’ve had some hard knocks, but I’ve been chatting with Copenhagen here and he explained everything to me. Did you know that Copenhagen carried and protected the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo? I was in very capable hands. Thanks again.
“Just so’s you know, those five guys that originally grabbed me are just idiot gangbangers. But the guy they were going to sell me to, he’s a real piece of work, he was going to keep me in sex slavery for as long as he could. Then I would die unpleasantly. You need to take care of him, and bust up his world, too.”
“Your Royal Highness,” at that moment, Humphrey entered the office. “As you have probably already surmised, Master Ashmore is possessed of several gifts. I’d like to escort him to the palace now, if I may?”
“Certainly.” There was the usual snap flash. Copenhagen went with them.
“Sar’nt Jones!” Colin called, “Line up a firing squad on the other side of the van.”
“Um…Colin,” I worried. “A firing squad?”
“Yes. We know, thanks to the boy, Humphrey, and the familiars, everything that these two know. If you want a complete report of the nature and extent of their crimes, you can have it on paper. Their crimes against humanity are too sordid, too personal, and too savage to permit them to continue to breathe. Worst of all, they enjoyed themselves committing these crimes. Ensign Lewys.”
“Take charge of the firing party.”
We all stepped around to the off side of the van. The two prisoners had been tied to wooden pallets and leaned upright against the van. One of the prisoners was looking about quietly; I don’t think he was really aware; the other prisoner was trying to say something through the gag that had been very effectively applied. He thrashed against his bindings.
“By the authority vested in me as Brigadier commanding the troops of His Majesty King Henry VII Indomitable, in the field, it is my duty to advise you that you have been tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity. In that: you have forcibly addicted children to powerful drugs; you have raped children; you have beaten and tortured children in order to keep them in slavery; you have killed, and disposed of bodies when ordered to do so and some of them were children; you have lived off the proceeds of the above listed crimes; you have committed numerous other lesser crimes without the law. Have you any last words?
He did not pause.
“Right, Ensign Lewys, execute the sentence.”
The explosion reverberated through the warehouse and the victims slumped against the pallets supported only by their bonds.
“Gentlemen. We will withdraw.”
And there we were on the terrace.
“Well that was quite the morning,” Colin observed with a big smile, “who’s for lunch?”
I hadn’t thought I was hungry until mention of lunch was made. Then I was instantly ravenous. Colin and I tucked into a delightful lunch that Dafydd had provided without problem or inconvenience. Somehow, whatever was needed, Dafydd seemed to have it at hand. While we were eating, Colin ordered all the participants of the encounter above the rank of sergeant, as well as the familiars, and my liegemen, to be present in the salon for a debriefing.
“For the benefit of those who might not understand, His Royal Highness had no option but to execute the two who were guilty of crimes against humanity.”
I looked around somewhat surprised to be given credit for the execution which I’d not even been contemplating when Colin put it in motion. But I kept my peace.
“Crimes against humanity are not to be tolerated in elven operations and when we encounter them we are under a royal decree mandating their termination with extreme prejudice. Once we had all the information that the criminals had, their further life was a blot on humanity. We cannot address all of the crimes that occur on earth, as we do not have the resources for that, but we handle everything that we encounter with expedition.
“I know you soldiers and familiars know this, but there are some here that are new to our operations, and they needed to know this too.
“I’ve requested reinforcements so that a full guard will be maintained here at the palace; however, the 3rd of the 24th will complete the operation having started it so well.
“When our plans are complete, and we’re in complete readiness, we will return to earth shortly after our last exit and we will eradicate this slavery ring.
“In the meantime, please remain close. No tropical vacations. Ensign Lewys!”
“Get to infirmary and have that wound properly looked after. Dismissed.”
“Dear, I want to give the men who were wounded the Purple Heart.”
“Well it’s not called the Purple Heart here,” Colin responded. “It’s the Coeur du Lion, commonly called the Lionheart.”
“Fine, fine. Whatever. I’ve been to hospital and visited those two troopers that were shot in the attack, they’ll be okay. And what about some kind of campaign medal for everyone.”
“I’m sure that would be much appreciated. But it would be a small issue. We didn’t even have a full company involved. Why don’t you add a degree to your personal order? You could call it ‘with swords’ to signify they’ve been in combat with you. That would really mean a lot to them. Also, wait until we’ve finished this operation so we can give out as many as possible. They’re very good for morale.”
“Great. You’ll make a soldier of me yet.”
“You’re already a King to me, my love.”
Humphrey had asked to be present at dinner with Master Ashmore. I thought that was a great idea, but wanted to jangle Humphrey just a bit. “Humphrey old friend, this has all been something of a shock to young Ashmore, so I think you should wear white tie and tails at dinner tonight, rather than those robes of yours. Want him to feel everything is normal. Business as usual sort of thing, don’t you know?”
Dinner was great fun. Humphrey kept trying to bring up the subject of young Gary’s gifts and I kept diverting him. I finally told him that we never talk “shop” at the dinner table. He looked suitably miffed. I don’t think people in the palace tell him very much. Anyone could have told him that; but then would he even have asked? He seemed to have a rather inflated view of himself and probably thought asking a question beneath him.
After we left the table I drew Gary and Humphrey aside.
“Tell me, Gary, how are you and Copenhagen settling in?”
“Wonderfully well, Your Highness. Copenhagen wants to stay with me and wants to keep the appearance of a dog if it’s okay with you.
“And thank you for the rescue. I could feel that rescue was coming as I could feel those pimps approaching. You should have seen Copey coming through the heating duct. It was great.”
“It’s true, Your Highness,” Humphrey had been bouncing lightly on the sofa in an effort to get into the conversation. “There are some very important things you need to know about Master Ashmore, too.”
“Cee told me you’re interested in trains. Is that so?” Gary asked.
“Why yes, I am. I’ve an engineer coming to discuss connecting the palace with the capital by train. Nobody here seems to know anything about them.
“Copenhagen, sorry. He’s my pal. Anyway, steam locomotives are the best, you should use those,” Gary offered. “Back before my world changed, I had two wonderful model locomotives and they were awesome. They were my favorites. They were steamers.”
“Please, Highness, Master Ashmore, we need to discuss accommodations and training for Master Ashmore. Surely these locomotive things can wait.”
I caught Aethnen’s eye and signaled with a raised eyebrow. He was next to me virtually instantly and absolutely silently. “Highness?”
“As you have probably already concluded, Master Ashmore here will be a resident in the palace for the immediate future and perhaps permanently. He’ll need a valet. You might check with Vyvyan for a suitable candidate. In any event, let him have more say in his casual clothes than Vyvyan has allowed me.
“There,” I smiled at Humphrey, “Accommodations handled.
“You know, Gary, I’m going to need help with the railroad. Do you suppose you might be interested in that?”
“Certainly, sir,” Gary jumped ahead of Humphrey the diligent. “But I think we need to talk about the Old Guy. Before we get too far into railroading.”
I waved Colin over with a meaningful look and a keep-quiet-for-now glance at Humphrey.
“The Old Guy?”
“Yeah. He’s a trick. Well a special kinda trick.”
 Ensign is an old army rank for a subaltern of the most junior sort. Long out of use in modern armies, but perfectly proper in Ellendale where whimsical change comes slowly. While an equivalent rank, it is not to be confused with the most junior officer of the US Navy.