Christmas at Castle Marsh 2021

I wrote this as the Christmas story on the Princelings site for 2021, but really it was in my head as a possible last chapter for Princelings Revolution, or even as an ‘extra’ at the end of the book.

In the end I put the short story of Mariusz’s death as a bonus in the paperback, and then discovered it had only ever been on the guinea pig blog, (or I wonder if I should copy that here, although the story here also explains the criticism someone had of the first book that Mariusz gave in too easily. I replied at the time that there were reasons for that. This story clarifies those reasons, and leaves more possible loose ends, simply because I don’t know how Willoughby’s story will end. If it ever will.

Yuletide at Castle Marsh 2021

Fred raised a glass of sparkling Wozna Cola and clinked it with Jasmine’s. “To 2022!”

“Yes, to 2022, Daddy.” She sipped, and looked at the sky through the window to the west. “I hope they land safely.”

“Mmm. Willoughby was confident the weather would hold, even across the Great Western Sea. I hope it’s just another of those magical skills he has.”

Jasmine looked down to hide her smile. Willoughby’s ninja skills did not stretch to weather forecasting. With him on board, though, there was a good chance of avoiding danger before it hit them.

These were strange times. Last Yule she and Willoughby had travelled from Castle Vexstein, now under the rule of Locksley. He was steadily refusing any title such as Lord or King, even though he was of noble birth. A cousin of hers, in fact… or was it second cousin, if he was her father’s cousin, no, brother. Well, half-brother. She shook her head. Fred’s family was so confusing. 

“Troubled, sweet?” Fred asked.

“No, just confused by Locksley’s relationship to me. We were with him just before Yule last year, before we came down to stay with you at the Inn of the Seventh Happiness.”

“Ah, yes. I was there, homeless, and a pauper. I’d just discovered I was penniless a few weeks earlier. And George was fretting about getting the Daughter of Pelican built. And now…”

“Now we are home, the people have chosen you to lead them again, and George has fulfilled the promise you made to Mariusz, who turned out to be Willoughby’s uncle.” 

It was Fred’s turn to nod. “Well, let’s hope we have a nice settled life from now on.”

“You’ll get bored if you don’t have some exciting project to work on.”

“Not as bored as George will be. Improving the flying boats won’t be as much interest for him as designing them and testing them.”

“Daddy… did you realise that technically Willoughby is the same age as me?”

“What! He’s been in the realms since before you were born. Before I met your mother even.”

“Only just. About six months. He and I were born in the same year.”

Fred frowned. “In Hattan, you mean?”

“Yes, then he came down the time tunnel and went back eleven years. So on the one hand he’s a lot older than me, and on the other, we’re the same age.”

“You can’t be both at once.”

Jasmine kept her face expressionless. Willoughby had a way of being anything he wanted to be. It was hard to know who the real Willoughby was, but she probably knew him better than anyone. In fact…

“They’ve just come over the coast south of Caerleon.”

“How do you know these things? Ninja skills, I suppose. I should have stopped him teaching you.”

“I would have had them anyway, just not known how to use them, how to trust them.”

It was Fred’s turn to look out of the window. “I suppose we’d better go out with the launch to bring them in. This wind will push them into the reeds otherwise.”

“So it’s a great honour, and indeed a great pleasure, to have Lord Mariusz with us this year, after all the troubles we’ve been through, and all the patience you’ve had, putting up with George and me and our secret project. But now you all know the truth. And perhaps Mariusz wouldn’t mind saying a few things to you all at our final feast of 2021. Mariusz?”

Fred sat down. 

The huge black and white coat that housed Mariusz, lord of Hattan, rose as its owner got to his feet.

“Ur, well, hi everybody. I was never much of one for speechifying. It’s hard to understand all the changes that have happened in the Realms since I was last here in 2010. I’d been visiting so often in the previous ten years that I thought I knew you all, that it was a settled place, full of partying and socialising. At least, thanks to Wozna,” he raised his glass to them and sipped, “I could get around among you incognito as a simple cola salesman. I enjoyed my visits, and I enjoyed meeting you, or your countrymen, at any rate. I hope everything will settle down in this new way you have of picking your leaders, which sounds pretty good to me. 

“With everything that went on, I’m amazed that Fred and George managed to keep the agreement we made; stop the time tunnel that brought Wozna to you and you wait until the technology George invents catches up with me. Thank you for having me back, and I’m glad to say, sales of Wozna are nearly back to what they were six months ago.” He grinned at them, hoping they understood his joke. “Well, that’s in my time, of course. It’s often hard to keep promises. What you guys have gone through to keep that promise, well, I admire you even more for it. You’re the genuine article, you guys. I’m glad you made it safely through these years.

“And now, can I suggest a toast? To Fred and George!”

The Marshfolk were very happy to toast Fred and George, especially with the Wozna that most of them had never tried in the past, but had decided was a great party drink.

“Thanks, Jasmine.” Mariusz helped himself to the espressimenta she offered him, as they settled cosily around the fire in Fred’s study. “Yeah, things are changing at Hattan, too. The five families met up last month, after the last grandfather had passed on, and decided to end the war between us. So we’re working on new commercial ties, agreements over trades, sharing apprenticeships, all sorts.”

“Is Saku okay?” George asked. 

“Yeah, he’s well, playing with new ideas. But he naps in the middle of talking about them sometimes. He’s not so young as he used to be.”

“He’s outlived Argon, though. He must be very old.”

Mariusz sighed. “Sad, that. I must get up and visit Victor while I’m here. Will that be okay? Do you have a stage up the tunnel now or anything? I reckon I could never run up and down it like I did in May. Almost the death of me, that was!”

“I can fly you up any time,” George said. “Unless Jasmine and Willoughby want to take you?”

“Willoughby, fly me? I don’t think so!”

“Jasmine’s the pilot, uncle. I’ll just come for the ride. Fred likes her to have supervision still.”

Jasmine smiled. Fred frowned, but checked Jasmine’s face and relaxed.

“You must be very fit, though,” Fred said to Mariusz. “I could never have done all that, even with the time tunnel.”

Mariusz paused. “To be truthful, young Fred, I don’t reckon it did me any good at all. Ever since then I’ve had a bit of an ache in my side, and I don’t think it’s a stitch from exercising.”

“What do your medics say?”

“Oh the usual. ‘Take it easy, don’t work so hard.’ It’s not as if I’m travelling any more.”

Willoughby regarded his uncle, then looked away, a haunted expression in his eyes, which only Jasmine caught. The pair exchanged glances that seemed to contain a whole conversation.

The next morning Fred took Mariusz for a tour of the Marsh, since it was a beautiful mid-winter day with no frost and almost summer-like winds. George took them in the old flying machine so they could go to places like Summernot beach and the old forest. He even flew within sight of Arbor to give Mariusz at least a view of his old holiday spot. 

“Elinor,” Mariusz sighed. “She was quite something.”

Fred had a long thought about time and its effects. Maybe he wouldn’t tell Mariusz about the Huguenots. “We’re good friends with the Arborites now. Things have changed a lot there. You probably never met Queen Rosebud.”

“I thought Jess would have been in charge by now.”

Should he tell Mariusz the whole story? He stared at the trees giving way to the marsh again and decided not. “If we go back now, you can have a light lunch before going up to see Victor. I’d love it if you came back tonight, but I understand if you want to stay over, with all this travelling.”

“I want to make the most of it, Fred. I didn’t want to say in company, but this pain in my side is pretty bad. I doubt I’ll be visiting again. I don’t know what will happen at Hattan when I go, but it needs a good, steady organiser. I know he’s wanted here, but you’ve taught him everything he needs to know about running a complex organisation. I spoke with Willoughby last night about maybe him taking over from me. He’s thinking about it. And he’s family, and that’s important at Hattan.”

Fred nodded. It wasn’t that his guest just wanted to stay home in Hattan. He was preparing to hand over. What would Willoughby say?

Mariusz came back from Victor’s the next morning, looking happy but tired. He talked about Victor and his family for a couple of hours, obviously pleased that the young person he’d known since he was a baby had grown into a fine family man with plenty of business ventures running at once. 

“He told me all about your funding crisis for the Daughter of Pelican, too. I totally approve of your solution. Very ingenious.”

“Thank goodness for that.” Fred had completely forgotten that he had used Mariusz’s Wozna account to pay for the flying boat development, and apologised for not raising it himself. Mariusz waved a hand. 

“Not a problem, young Fred.” He looked around, taking in all his surroundings. “You’ve got a fine place here. I know you’ve been through a lot to get here, and I appreciate it. I never came to Castle Marsh before. I don’t think I missed much then, but I’m real glad I didn’t miss it now.”

“I’m sorry you can’t stay longer, but… well, you have a castle to run.”

“Yes, we never get a vacation, do we? Can I just wander around alone for a few minutes? Want to take it all in, you know.”

“Of course. George says to leave no later than three. You’ll be flying into the sunset all the way.”

“That sounds pretty. I’ll see you down at the boardwalk.”

Fred watched him stroll off, taking the stairs to the battlements, and then wander along, stopping to lean out every now and then. 

An arm crept through his as Jasmine leant against him.


“Hi yourself.”

“I’m not sure I should tell you, but Willoughby says he won’t be coming back.”

Fred stiffened. “Willoughby said… him or Mariusz?”

“Mariusz, of course! Why wouldn’t Willoughby come back?”

The certainty in Jasmine’s voice made Fred wonder…

No, Willoughby would come back. At least to say a proper goodbye.

© J M Pett 2021

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Christmas Deer at the Castle #writephoto

Deer at the Castle is the prompt for this week’s #writephoto flash fiction from KL Caley at The Christmas lights are going up all around me, and although some are tasteful, and possibly LED on rechargeable batteries, most are just so much tat. I got an email from my garden centre featuring all the plastic rubbish you can buy to enchant your darlings. It’s enough to send me into a rant.

Instead, I saw the lovely photo of deer at the castle that KL had saved for this event, and spotted the start of an opportunity. I suppose it might have turned into a rant, but a practical one, I hope. The story is around 950 words. 

deer at the castle #writephoto
the image shows a red male deer light and white female deer light in front of a lit castle, surrounded by darkness (c) KL Caley

If you’d like to know more about rewilding, check out the Knepp Estate story. I’d like to thank BTO for the presentation by the Knepp project manager [links to YouTube] at their annual conference last week.

Christmas Deer at the Castle

“Well,” the Duke said. “It’s the best we can do, m’dear.”

The Duchess sighed. “I suppose we could suggest it’s the new normal. We’re leading the way on low carbon Christmas decorations.”

“Indeed. Perfect soundbite. And the floodlights are now LED, so that’s all to the good.”

“Surprisingly good, in fact. I doubt anyone can tell the difference.”

“They don’t illuminate the turrets, but that’s a good excuse. Light pollution and all that.”

“What will the guests say, though?”

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Princelings Revolution blog tour

Ten Years of Jemima’s Drivel – a WEP+IWSG Grave Mistake

Grave mistake is today’s WEP prompt, but first…


Ten years pass in flash—

plus reviews, news and info…

Jemima Pett blogs!

Ten years of my drivel or wittering or, if you’re kind, stories

The trouble with blog anniversaries is that the story of how I got started is boring.  You’ve heard it before, on the five year post. Or maybe you’ve arrived since then?

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Flash Fiction Friday: Orichalcum Slinger

This week we are invited to invent our own cocktail (and give the recipe), then write a short story tied to the cocktail in some way.  Any genre, 2000 words.  So this story contains alcohol and mild abuse of it. Thanks, Chuck, I will kill two birds with one stone and make my chapter 3 of the Viridian System book so much better for the addition of:

  • 1 part Talian brandy
  • 1 part pomegranate juice
  • 2 parts sparkling white wine
  • a shot of O liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier will do nicely)
  • stir the above together and add…
  • a few leaves of mint (any variety except ginger or eau de cologne)
  • a tiny sprinkling of orichalcum fines

to make…

An Orichalcum Slinger

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Flash Fiction Friday: Willoughby does The Princess and the Pea

Our challenge from Chuck Wendig this week was to rewrite a fairy tale in a genre drawn at random.  I got 6 – Satire – and I also wanted to make it part of my Norfolk week.  I’ve always wanted to rewrite the Princess and the Pea which has been mentioned on both occasions we’ve heard about Willoughby the Narrator so far (in Book 5 The Talent Seekers and also Fred’s Yuletide Escape).  So although I’m over the wordcount at 1360, and I don’t think I’ve done satire, here is…

Willoughby the Narrator does The Princess and the Pea

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Friday Flash Fiction: Willow’s Day Off

Ten words – use all of them in your story.  That was the challenge from Chuck Wendig in this week’s flash fiction challenge.  I went blank to start with, then was tempted to do a little backstory since one of the words was Willow, and Willow is Hugo’s number two in his original journey down the time tunnel in The Traveler in Black and White.  There was one word that gave me trouble, since it is really too modern for the Princelings world.  I ended up deciding they have good enough scientists to have discovered molecular structure!  This is 995 words – amazing how much you can edit to get within the 1000 word guideline.

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Friday Flash Fiction: The Orichalcum Library

“Easy. All you have to do is randomize a title from the two columns,” said Chuck Wendig. Then he gave us two numbered lists, I got my random number generator working, and drew 7 & 3 to give me “Orichalcum Library”.

Wikipedia: Orichalcum is a metal mentioned in several ancient writings, including the story of Atlantis as recounted in the Critias dialogue, recorded by Plato. According to Critias, orichalcum was considered second only to gold in value, and was found and mined in many parts of Atlantis in ancient times. By the time of Critias, however, it was known only by name. In numismatics, orichalcum is the golden-colored bronze alloy used for the sestertius and dupondius coins. In many sources of pop culture, such as novels and video games, orichalcum is presented as a valuable ore that can be mined and crafted into powerful armor and weapons.

Hmmmm.  So, I give you 1078 words making up a largely inoffensive tale…

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Postcard from Camp 1

2013-Participant-Campfire-Vertical-BannerWell, here I am at Camp NaNoWriMo, beavering away at my new story.  I hope it will turn into the sixth book.  Some of my original ‘Victor’s Story’, written three or more years ago, may survive and be included, but most is going to be consigned to the great snippet scrapbook in the sky.  It’s hard to say goodbye to it, and even harder when I’m struggling to find a new home for an inn called the Cheeky Parrot.  I may yet relocate it, so fans of the cheeky parrots – any cheeky parrots, but I particularly think of Peepers and Tweek – shouldn’t lose hope yet.

I’ll probably give you some excerpts later in the month, but the bad news is that I’m not doing Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction in July.  Just to save your disappointment a little, here is an even shorter flash challenge I did for Indie Book of the Day at the end of June.  It’s in the class of the Empress and the Peanut or Sir Woebegone and the Dragon, entered in the Fantasy class with a maximum 45 words including the title!


“3,000,001, 3,000,002…”

The dragon stopped counting.

“I have come at the behest of the empress!” the knight announced.

“Bah, empress,” the dragon said, and sneezed.

A smell of roast beef filled the air.

“Where was I?” asked the dragon. “Oh, no! 1, 2, 3…”

IBD Flash Writing Honourable Nominee!

Did I mention I’d entered the Indie Book of the Day Flash Writing Competition last week?  It really was flash – short notice, short entry time, and very short stories!  And a short wait for results!  Well done to all the people involved in setting it up, judging and getting the results out.

And the winners are….

Well, not me, although I did get an Honourable Mention for my poem in the 40 word Adventures of Max Little, Children’s Poem, category!  You can see all the winners here:

This was my poem…

Max Little, Superhero

IBD Flash writing nomineeI once knew a hero,
His name it was Max.
He liked jumping puddles
And stepping on cracks.
He rescued a kitten
He found up a tree,
And brought it safe home
To Mummy and me.


This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig is a mashup of two films out of a list of twenty.  I think it’s pretty obvious which two films I drew.  It’s a bit long; but last week’s was short – so they average about right!

I give you…  Paradisio

I was just clearing the bar for the night when Nova Kimtrych, the head of what passes for the police on this godforsaken dirtball of a planet, came in the door.

“We’re closed,” I called, making sure he knew I knew which side of the law I was on today.

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The Professor and the Portrait Cat

The professor and the portrait cat is my first contribution to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Friday at My stories are child friendly, but terribleminds has an adult content warning. There is a key phrase included which is the prompt for this week’s flash fiction.

Professor SakuProfessor Saku lay on his bed in his den at the back of the cola brewery, ignoring the people around him.  Aurora was concerned about his continuing indigestion, but he’d had it before and it always passed.  He shouldn’t have had that extra helping of fresh herbs at breakfast, he thought. He couldn’t take rich food these days. Continue reading