Chapter 6.3 Eli Hears Another Important Conversation
Once again Eli hid behind the tapestry in the conference room and watched his father pace back and forth.
“Why didn’t the dragon get an invitation?” asked the King.
Master Burgess, the royal Correspondence Minister, pushed his glasses up on his long nose. Then he unrolled a very long scroll and scanned it. “Sire, an invitation was drafted. See, his name is right here — Jay B. R. Wokky, and a checkmark by his name. It was sent all right. I just don’t know what happened to it.”
“Arrest the postman. I want to interrogate him.”
Two of the royal guards bowed and went out.
The king ordered refreshments while they waited. When the servants brought in a tray with hot fragrant tea, warm rolls, butter, new strawberry jam, and cakes, Eli’s mouth watered. Oh, he was so hungry. But Eli didn’t dare make a sound.
Soon the guards were back, dragging the unfortunate postman between them. They threw him on the ground before the throne. The poor man still wore his brown uniform, and a large pouch stamped with the words “Nelsonia Mail” was slung across one shoulder.
“Dumfries, isn’t it?” said the king.
“Yes, your Majesty,” gasped the postman. “Josiah T. Dumfries the Thirteenth.”
“You were supposed to deliver invitations for the name day celebration to everyone in the kingdom,” said the King.
“I did, your Majesty. I really did.”
“The dragon, Jay. B. R. Wokky, did not get his invitation.”
The postman, who was already trembling and white-faced, looked even more terrified.
“Your Majesty, thousands of invitations had to go out and get to their destinations in a short amount of time, so I asked everyone in my family to help me. My grandfather delivered the invitations to the inhabitants of the East Mountains.”
“Josiah T. Dumfries the Eleventh. He was the head postman for fifty years, but he retired three years ago. He’s been very bored ever since. Grandpa was glad to help me out, even if he is a trifle slow. But he says he put an invitation in the dragon’s mail box, just the same as everyone else’s.”
The king glared at the postman. “If that is the case, then what happened? Why does the dragon say that he didn’t get an invitation?”
“I can’t imagine what happened. I’ll ask my grandfather.”
“No, I’ll ask him.” The king motioned to the guards. “Find Josiah T. Dumfries the Eleventh and bring him here. Immediately.”
Eli wondered if his father would let Josiah have some of those delicious-smelling rolls, but the king just paced the floor. The postman continued to kneel on the floor, with his head down.
Soon the guards were back, carrying a large tin washtub that sloshed when they walked and frothed over with soap suds. Sitting in the water was a man so old that his snow-white beard hung down to his belly button. His ribs stuck out, and his arms were scrawny. He squinted around the room and spoke in a high, scratchy voice.
“Here now, what’s the idea of interrupting a man during his bath time?”
“Grandpa,” Josiah Dumfries the Thirteenth hissed from the floor. “That’s no way to talk to the King.”
Josiah peered outward. “Oh, beg pardon. Can’t see very well nowadays. Still, your Majesty, you could have waited till I was dressed in more than bubbles.”
“Josiah Dumfries the Eleventh, did you or did you not deliver an invitation for Prince Ezra’s name day celebration to the dragon, Jay B.R. Wokky?
The old man scratched his head. “Hmmm. Let me see now. I went up and down all those little roads in the mountains. I’m sure I delivered an invitation to all of them.”
He held up a hand. “Wait, I remember now. There was a big gust of wind that day. Foul smelling. Scattered the letters from my bag all over. Peter, my donkey tried to bolt on me. Terrified, he was. Don’t know what got into him. I had to scramble to get the mail all picked up, but I did. Took me a bit of time, but I got them all.”
He nodded. “Yes sir, the dragon’s servant was real glad to get the letter. Fritter, his name was. He kept hopping up and down and smiling.”
The king scowled at him. “Wind, rain, snow, or storm, the mail must be delivered on time. Your tardiness cost us dearly. Guards, take the old man to the dungeon.”
Josiah lifted his head and stared in horror at the king.
“The dungeon, Sire?” asked one of the guards.
“Do you have a hearing problem?”
“Twelve months.” The king sat down in his chair. “Be grateful I do not sentence you to death.”
Josiah the Thirteenth bowed again until his face touched the floor. “Please, your Majesty, don’t put my grandfather in prison. He gets the chills at night. He’ll die in there. I’ll go in his place.”
The king drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair and frowned. “Very well. Guards, take the old man back to his home. Josiah Dumfries the Thirteenth will serve his father’s time. Duncan, send someone out to the dragon’s cave and talk to his servant. Get his side of the story.”
Duncan bowed to the king. “But Sire, who will deliver the mail?”
“That is not my concern. The Dumfries family caused this problem. They can solve it.”
The king rubbed his forehead. “There are times when I think my grandfather was a fool for insisting that everyone in the kingdom learn how to read. If he hadn’t started the postal system in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
The old man grinned a mostly toothless grin and sat up straight in the tub. “I guess this means I get to put on my uniform again. Thank you so much, your Majesty. Josiah, I won’t let you down.”
One set of guards picked up the bathtub and carried the old man out the door.
Another set of guards grabbed the younger Josiah Dumfries and dragged him away. Eli took the hidden stairs and followed behind them to the dungeon.