Sorry that this took so long to get out. As a refresher, last time the Music Machine was stolen by Mr. Pimms and Stevie and Nancy took off on a quest to get it back, with only a week to do it or it's curtains for Agapeland! In their journey, they met up with Herbert the snail and were caught off-guard by an unseen captor.
Chapter X - The Army Grows
The kids and Herbert banter back and forth with the mysterious voice and another voice for about half a page about who is and who isn't under arrest, but then they finally face their captor, who turns out to be a bunny pirate, complete with eyepatch and pegleg, named Cap'n Jack, of all things. The other guy is some tall dude called (not necessarily named, though) Gentle George. There are introductions all around, and Bundle jumps on Cap'n Jack's face to prove that the rabbit is really a good guy after all. Hearing Stevie and Nancy's mission, both Jack and George join their crusade, but first they all camp out for the night.
The next day, traveling is slow because of Herbert, so Cap'n Jack complains, but George pulls out a guitar and sings "Kindness" from The Music Machine album, and when that doesn't stop Jack's grousing, he starts up "Love," as well. This goes on for two whole days before they finally end up only half a day away from Aire. Stevie and Nancy can't help but worry about their mission, but there isn't much time because they're ambushed again!
This time three boys dressed in too-large Royal Guard uniforms show up and demand to know the group's business. Stevie explains once again, then asks about the boys, who inform him that they're wannabe Royal Guards; they even have a homemade flag (Agapeland's flag, by the way, is pure white with a heart in the middle). The head kid introduces himself and his brothers as the identical sons of a miner, his exact words right there. Rather than follow in their dad's footsteps, they plan to "take the tests" to become Royal Guards when they get old enough, so for now they're just practicing, apparently. And obviously they want to join the others in rescuing the Music Machine. Cap'n Jack is loathe to add more deadweight to the troupe, until the boys reveal that they know a secret path into Aire. So the boys join the group, and George sings a marching song.
After a while they reach the secret entrance, which opens out of the ground, after someone opens it from inside (one of the boys climbs up the side of a cliff to do this), and they all head in.
Chapter XI - The Preparation
And we're back with Mr. Pimms and the Pudgians, still manually pulling the cart. As they approach the city of Dod, the two Pudgians pulling the cart give up, and since they're pretty close to the city anyway, Mr. Pimms tells them to pull over. Although his clothes are torn and dirty from the past couple of days, he's still optimistic about the fate of his master plan, and besides, he has another one to implement soon. The Pudgians do not share his optimism, but keep it to themselves. Pimms takes Growdy with him into town, and the other two grouse behind his back.
By the time they get to town, it's nighttime, and some sort of festival is going on (or will be, I'm not sure). Mr. Pimms ignores all the other things and heads straight for a back alley, proving he's been there before, and ends up at a health club. I'm not entirely sure what it's supposed to be, since I'm thinking some kind of gym, but Growdy calls it a swanky place. Maybe it's a spa or something. But it doesn't really matter, since this place is either not really a health club or just the back room, as Mr. Pimms is (kinda sorta) welcomed in by a bland fellow named Sig, who gives them some bread and cheese. Mr. Pimms tells Sig of his plans to gain importance in the Proper, and how it could be worth his while to help them. Although skeptical, Sig's looking to make some coin, but he refuses to lend Mr. Pimms anything he asks for unless he can pay for it. In lieu of actual payment, though, Mr. Pimms gives Sig his ring to be pawned. Sig's offer is less than Mr. Pimms expected, but Sig reminds him that after his "last escapade here," there's no one else in town who'll even talk to him, let alone make him a better offer. So Mr. Pimms accepts it, along with the fee for getting the things he needs, and the extra fee for getting someone to deliver a message to Prince Nakel, although inside he's writhing with rage.
The next day, Sig gets a new cart, tarse, and clothes for them all, and by the time Mr. Pimms gets up, the runner has already come and gone with his message. The prince is waiting. Later, Mr. Pimms and Growdy, decked in their snazzy new clothes (Mr. Pimms has on a lavender suit, white ruffled shirt and blue tie, and a walking stick, just in case you were wondering), pick up the other two Pudgians and they head off to the Proper. As they go, Mr. Pimms has flights of fancy about the riches and fame he'll acquire, while Growdy just hopes that the plan doesn't go awry like it usually does. And the narrator closes the chapter with yet another foreshadowy warning.
Chapter XII -Aire at Last
Meanwhile, Stevie, Nancy, and the others are traveling through a forgotten tunnel used in a war from a hundred years or so ago. There's a lot of description, but basically it's long and dark. Finally they reach the other end and everyone emerges into the drab and lifeless kingdom that is Aire. One of the boys tells them that the environment was destroyed by Prince Nakel, although I 'm not sure a. how he knows this and b. how the Prince did that, anyway. Just by being evil, I suppose.
They spend the rest of the day trekking across Aire, and they make it to a town called Wranton (take away a letter and what do you get?), where they decide to get something to eat. They head for an inn, but inside it's more like a bar. Everyone in the bar is unfriendly and filthy, apparently, but Stevie, Nancy, and the others order the special (the only thing on the menu) anyway. While they wait for their food, they watch the innkeeper bully a cleaning girl, and Stevie has to stop Cap'n Jack from extracting some justice, since that would probably derail their current mission. Once the food arrives, the only thing that compels them to eat the less than savory dish is the fact that they haven't had anything in a couple of days.
As they eat, two soldiers enter, order drinks, and one of them starts harrassing the cleaning girl. This starts to get violent, and Cap'n Jack gets involved. Once the Cap'n is in, so are the three boys, although just as they start in, a whole troop of soldiers show up, and soon everyone in the bar is involved in an all-out brawl (with the exception of Nancy and Bundle, which means even Stevie is doing something). The innkeeper is not pleased by all the damage being done to his bar. Eventually the soldiers (The Protium, Prince Nakel's personal guards) win out. They line everyone up and the commander demands to know everyone's hometown and their business in Wranton. He goes down the line, but Stevie refuses to say anything. The innkeeper tells the guard that Stevie and the others were the ones who started the brawl, and the commander, assuming they're spies, has all of them arrested. The Protium tie them up and go through their things, and find the homemade flag. Seeing this, the commander arranges for his troops to march the others to the Proper to be presented to Prince Nakel.
After a long while, the Protium stops for the night, and Stevie and Nancy and the others listen to the guards talk about Prince Nakel, how the only thing he loves more than spies are spies from Agapeland. They also make foreshadowy comments about the prince's mask and "what happens to anyone who looks into his eyes." Stevie tries to comfort Nancy by telling her maybe the prince isn't as bad as he sounds, but the narrator can't resist chiming in (in parenthesis even!) to warn us that the prince is actually even worse.
I'm just curious, are Cap'n Jack and Gentle George characters from an Agapeland album? There are plenty that I never listened to, so I really don't know. Still, it seems strange to have a pirate bunny rabbit if he wasn't already an established character. Identical miner triplets are more par the course for random characters, really.
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