Another hour had gone by before Arric and Blaise appeared mumbling embarrassed apologies about being so long. Mordi swept them aside with a wave and pressed hampers into their hands to take out to the six seater touring carpet on the lawn where they found Sir Hugo and Timmy dozing in the sunshine. The carpet already had various boxes and a parasol piled on to it so Mordi lost no time in settling them and taking off. He and Sir Hugo sat in the front with Timmy, wearing his flight goggles, between them and Arric and Blaise made themselves comfortable behind the pile of essential items for a day out. The picnic treat turned out to be a trip to the seaside. Arric had never seen the sea and Blaise hadn’t been since his last trip with Mordi at the age of eight. The carpet touched down in a sandy cove. The sun was shining and the sea was a sparkling blue. Timmy shot off as the carpet settled eluding Hugo’s frantic grasp and galloped towards the water grunting excitedly.
“Quick Hugo catch him before he starts drinking sea water!” Mordi exclaimed somewhat unnecessarily since Sir Hugo had already leapt up and discarded his outer garments. He set off in pursuit of Timmy who was showing the turn of speed that earned him the furlong record. Arric and Blaise sat blinking at the sight of Sir Hugo’s dazzling orange and pink striped garment. Mordi with a wave of his hand set the parasol upright in the sand and opened it so that it shaded the carpet. Then he too stripped off. His beach wear was lime green with pink polka dots and had a little skirt over puffy bloomers with a lace edging. He picked up a bag and handed it to Blaise
“I packed you some water wear. Sea bathing is very good for one.” He added with a smile at Arric. “Now Hueey’s forgotten his hat and Timmy needs his water wings. I’ll leave you to change. Come and join us when you’re ready.” He picked up the hat, the water wings and a ball and scampered off after Hugo and Timmy who were already happily splashing about in the water.
Blaise opened the bag
“If one has frilly knickers it’s yours.” He said with a grin.
“You’re welcome to the orange and pink stripe combinations.” Arric retorted.
They needn’t have worried their costumes were relatively restrained. They were plain with short legs and vest tops, one bright red and the other bright blue. Arric grabbed the blue one. He was not wearing red with his hair. They splashed about and played ball and when Timmy went off up the beach to hunt for sand flies and Mordi and Hugo went to see about the picnic Blaise suggested a swim. When Arric confessed he couldn’t Blaise immediately declared he would teach him. Arric loved being taught to swim since this involved being held tightly by Blaise while waving his arms and legs about in the water. He decided he was never actually going to master the art of swimming because it could never be as good as being taught by Blaise. After stuffing themselves on the picnic and sleeping it off Arric had another swimming lesson. He discovered that sea bathing was not a common pastime among the nobility as he had assumed but another one of Mordi and Sir Hugo’s eccentricities. It was a splendid one and he decided then and there that he and Blaise were going to adopt it. It was healthy exercise not to mention Blaise looked absolutely delicious in his costume.
Mordi and Sir Hugo when asked agreed to another expedition to the coast. The second day at the beach was even better than the first. They returned home sunburnt and weary and more than happy with the idea of a lazy day at home tomorrow to round off the week. Arric and Blaise started ostentatiously yawning not long after supper and Sir Hugo with an admirably straight face suggested they’d better get an early night as no doubt all that sea bathing had tired them out.
Later when they were getting ready for bed Hugo said
“Your plan to take their minds off their troubles was a resounding success I’d say. The betrothal ball was today and neither of the boys gave it a thought.”
Mordi who was sitting at the dressing table brushing his hair turned round
”They both deserve some fun. I’m glad it worked so well.”
Hugo nodded “And so far so good in that Smitty has not reappeared which means he got through the ball undetected. Let’s hope it lasts.”
“I agree and Hueey we should give some serious thought to what to do about Asgreen.”
“Not now though, I do believe all this fun and excitement and the sight of you in water wear has stirred my embers up a bit.”
Mordi smiled to himself, that part of his plan had also worked.
While the inhabitants of Redfern manor slept Smitty was staring at the bars of his cell. He was every bit as miserable as the former occupant of the position of prince. The one thought in his mind when he’d fled the ball was to reach his room, retrieve his travelling carriage and press the homing button. He’d been in sight of his door when Count Asgreen had appeared in front of him in a puff of black smoke. That was the last thing he remembered until he woke up on a pile of straw. Any thought of escape vanished when he discovered he was still human sized and his leg was chained to a ring on the wall. They say misery loves company but Smitty’s ferocious scowl at the the three depressed looking frogs sitting on the bale of straw opposite him gave the lie to this. He turned away from them and stared out through the bars of the cell at the wall opposite. A tear trickled down his cheek. The torch in the sconce was the only source of light and he wondered what time it was. His head was pounding and his mouth was dry. He was hungry and he had a sense that it was morning. At Redfern manor he would be opening the door to take in his breakfast tray and then going for a little stroll round the Rodentarium to exchange the time of day with his neighbours. He bitterly regretted putting one over on Arric with the altered contract. If he’d left well alone he’d probably have reverted to his right size and been able to reach his travelling carriage safely. He sniffed as another tear threatened to spill over.
A rustling from the straw bale made Smitty open his eyes. He shut them when he saw who was on the other side of the bars.
“Ah, Your Highness is awake. How did we find the guest accommodation? Comfortable?”
Smitty reluctantly opened his eyes again. Asgreen was still there accompanied by one of his assistants who was carrying a bucket and a pair of tongs The Count waved a hand and the cell bars widened themselves enough for his assistant to scurry through and size the hapless frogs one by one with the tongs and deposit them in the bucket. Asgreen waved again and Smitty felt his shackle loosen. “Up brat and follow Danvers. Any trouble and I’ll make the rat form permanent.”
Smitty stood and shuffled meekly after the assistant. They climbed a flight of stairs and turned into Asgreen’s work room. The assistant used the tongs to point at a chair and Smitty sat in it. The assistant put the bucket down and hoisted one of the frogs up by the leg. He smacked it down on the bench where it sat staring at the ground while he repeated the process with the other two. Asgreen waved a hand and the three gentlemen in waiting returned to human form. Lord Pomfret gasped
“Thank you Sire...”
Asgreen cut him off with a snarl. “I haven’t finished with you. You reported the prince’s activities as harmless. You failed to mention the plot to injure Her Majesty and Lady Letitia.”
“Sire we didn’t know. He must have slipped them written instructions without us seeing...” Lord Pomfret’s voice quavered with a mixture of fear and indignation.
“Then you were grossly negligent. Your services as gentlemen in waiting are no longer required. Her Majesty is extremely displeased with you. You are hereby stripped of your titles and lands.” He turned “Danvers, call the guards to have these men escorted to the common prison.” He turned back to the white faced ex-lords. “Your families will be evicted and you can ponder your crimes at leisure during the next twelve months after which you will be banished from the realm.”
“Sire” Lord Gorlish trembled and his voice was full of anguish “My wife is very unwell. Please give her time...”
“No. You should have thought of the consequences before you failed in your duty to Her Majesty.”
The arrival of the guards halted further pleas and Smitty watched as the terrified gentlemen were unceremoniously hauled out of the room and marched away. He shivered at the thought of what the Count would do to him as the main culprit. He had a shrewd suspicion that the fact the whole thing had been an accident would make no difference.