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The Puzzle Box

The Puzzle Box is the first adventure about the two imaginary characters. It tells the story of the unexplained arrival of a small wooden box which does not open from the Queen of Spain to Prospero and Platty’s oak tree. The two friends then embark on a journey to find out why the box has been sent to them and what purpose it serves.

Read the first chapter, Surprise Package, here. If you enjoy it and want to find out how the adventure ends, you can purchase the book by following the link at the bottom of this page.

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1 Surprise Package

It was a fine spring morning in the Surrey woods. Prospero and Platty Patelopipe, or Prospero and Platty for short, were sitting around their breakfast table with some cereals, toast and piping hot coffee, awaiting the thud of their morning post on the doorstep, when on the dot of seven o’clock it arrived.

“More bills, I suspect” said Platty to Prospero as she scampered off to see if the milkman had beaten the post today.

“And a parcel” she added returning with the milk in one hand, the parcel in the other and the rest of the post tucked under her arm.

“Interesting” whispered Prospero to himself whilst raising one eyebrow to scan the package that Platty was now placing on the table. “Any postmark?” he added to Platty, placing his coffee mug back on the table.

“Yes, this has been sent by the Spanish court, and it carries the Queen’s own seal!” said Platty excitedly.

“Most interesting, a package from the Queen of Spain indeed”, Prospero said drawing the parcel in front of him.

Platty moved to stand behind Prospero as he took his penknife out of a small drawer under the table and began to cut away the paper and string covering the object in front of him, revealing a dark mahogany box the size of a small teapot, with a golden plate riveted to its top bearing the name Isabella.

“Any more coffee in the percolator?” Prospero asked Platty in an attempt to avert the glare he felt peering over his shoulder at the box from the Queen of Spain.

“Oh, come on P,” said Platty temporarily removed from her trance, “It’s another adventure, I know it is. Besides it’s addressed to both of us,” she paused, looking at Prospero, “you have the honour, go on, open it”.

“That may be harder than you think,” said Prospero showing his friend a small hole on the bottom of the box. “Why don’t you have a go, there wasn’t a letter with the parcel was there? I’m going to fill up my coffee and sit in the library for a while,” he said on his way to the coffee machine.

“If I’m not mistaken, this is one of a handful of boxes made by the 16th century craftsman, Don Francisco of Avila, during the reign of King Carlos I of Spain. Don Francisco’s lockwork is renowned for its intricacy. I shall check my reference volumes; call me if you have any success,” he added, making his way from the coffee machine to the kitchen door.

Platty folded her arms and stared at the box. A full two hours had passed since Prospero had retired to his precious bookshelves and she was no closer to opening the box from Spain. She had already determined to call this adventure the mystery of the puzzle box.

There were no sliding compartments on the outside of the box, which might have a hidden key behind them. There was no discernible joinery on the box or signs of it ever having been opened at all. This, however, only added to the mystery, if there were no signs of it ever having been opened, then what on earth could the box contain?

Platty picked the box up again and shook it. It certainly seemed lighter than its visible appearance, and she knew that mahogany was not a particularly light type of wood.

She was, of course, relying on Prospero’s instant deduction that the wood was mahogany, but then he did know a lot about wood. It could be hollow, she thought, and what intricate craftsman would put what seemed to be a lock on it if it was not she mused, examining the hole on the bottom.

She listened carefully. Not the slightest sound to suggest the box contained the smallest fragment of anything, which was either not packed well or lighter than the box itself. With a deep sigh, Platty began to look at the newspaper that was lying on the table neglected this morning due to the arrival of the package. Although she was usually very particular about reading the sports pages first, her gaze was drawn immediately to one of the medium sized headlines halfway down the front page. “Princess Isabel of Spain misses appointment” it read. She scanned the text rapidly:

“The Spanish Monarchy issued an official apology today for their daughter, who was due to open a new tourist attraction on the Costa del Sol at 11am yesterday but reportedly, whilst on her way to Malaga, had disappeared from the royal entourage without trace.”

Included in the press release from the Royal Palace a statement revealed that Isabel ‘had telephoned her family later in the day to apologise for having a previous personal engagement which had not been reflected in her official agenda’. In the princess’s absence, Costa Attracciones, the £600mn resort, known as EuroVegas, was officially opened by the Mayor of Malaga, Fernando Mura.”

It was amazing, thought Platty, never in the many previous adventures she and Prospero had been on before, had interesting information followed so hard on the heels of stone cold facts in the shape of the puzzle box now in front of her.

Although she often refrained from disturbing Prospero in the library, especially since the Bloomfield affair, she now felt armed with questions that would definitely be of interest to her friend. After all, it was after nine and they had an appointment with Dr. Wellington of the Royal Academy at 11.30. So, she hurriedly left the kitchen to deliver the morning paper to Prospero.

Prospero was leaning back in his leather desk chair staring fixedly out of the window at no particular point in the distance. It was a scene Platty knew only too well. Her friend was in one of his ‘ponderations’ as he liked to call them. While he was like this the only way to get his attention was to walk up to him.

“If my deductive qualities have not failed me, the name Isabel was printed somewhere on the front of today’s newspaper, correct?” mused Prospero.

Platty stared at her friend in astonishment. “It’s another adventure!” she said gaping.

“Not just another one. The box we received today was, if authentic, the very box that Queen Isabella had by her side at the time of her death in 1539”.

Platty staggered backwards into an armchair and instinctively sat down. “What does it mean?” she said, “and how on earth did you know about the missing princess?”

“Isabel is not missing is she?” asked Prospero, his face now drawn into a concerned frown.

 “Well, no, not anymore” replied Platty, “but she did disappear for several hours without telling anybody. Most strange if you ask me.”

 ”Right” said Prospero jumping up and making for the oak door, “we’ve not a moment to lose. Call Dr. Wellington and ask him if we can rearrange our appointment. Tell him something urgent has come up that requires our immediate attention. Then go and prepare Nutmeg. I’ll go and pack, we may be away for as long as two weeks. Draw up a flight plan for Madrid and I’ll meet you at the bridleway within the hour.”

Platty listened attentively, but still carried a quizzical look on her face. “Don’t worry” said Prospero, “I’ll fill you in on the way”. The door closed behind him. Platty looked at the rows of books on the shelves and sighed. Sometimes I wish I had the patience to read all these, she thought to herself. At that moment, the morning sun burst in from the window and filled the room with its rays. She smiled. Then again there’s too much going on out there for me to be stuck inside all day. She picked up the phone and dialled the Royal Academy.

“Platty P, my dear, I thought I was due to see you and Prospero later this morning, has something happened?”

“Hello HW, well yes, it has actually. We have some urgent business. Can you hold onto the files until we get back?”

“Yes, no problem, is there anything with which I can help?”

“Not at the moment, thanks, we’ll keep you posted though”

“Very well, you know where I am if you need me”

Platty thanked the doctor and hung up the phone. She picked up her jacket from the peg by the door and strode out into the morning sun. She loved being outside and today was a particularly good day for appreciating the fresh blooms that abounded in the woods.  Bluebells carpeted the floor and the morning breeze set the sun’s rays dancing through the leafy glades.

She made her way towards the willow copse, a few hundred yards due east from the old oak that Prospero and she called home. Pulling back the low hanging willow branches from the tallest tree that surrounded the copse, Platty strode into the clearing specifically designed to house the aircraft, which she and Prospero had christened Nutmeg, after the hue of its fuselage, which of a dark grey-green colour resembled that of the nutmeg tree.

Platty removed the chocks holding Nutmeg stationary and wheeled the vehicle round and out of the side of the clearing towards the bridleway which stretched away towards the edge of the wood. She then ran through the list of pre-flight checks before returning home to make a phone call.

“Hola Victor, ¿como estas?”

“Plahtee, amiga mia, muy bien, muy bien”

“Are you ready for a visit? I’m hoping to take off at 1100hrs and, taking the Pyrenees route, should be with you by 1600hrs, depending on what sort of tailwind I get and how many stops we make.”

“Magnifico, another visit after 15 months. So much has been happening. Did you see the papers this morning?”

“Yes, Prospero’s on the case. He’s going to fill you in when we get there. Hasta pronto this time, Victor, hasta pronto.” With that Platty hung up the phone and went to the fridge. Prospero and she were clearly going to have to eat something on the journey. She took out some cheese, ham and salad, and arranged them in the picnic hamper, added some apples from the fruit bowl and several of the crusty bread rolls she had freshly made yesterday.

The door from the hallway sprung open and Prospero placed down a small trunk to keep it so. “That should do it,” he said catching his breath and wondering why Platty was not already waiting with Nutmeg. “Are we ready to fly?” he continued. “I’ve got a letter here for Michael; I’m just going to drop it round so he knows what to do while we’re away and how to contact us in an emergency.”

“Ready for off,” answered Platty calmly, “I’ve called Victor and have thrown something together to eat on the way,” she said as he swept the picnic basket into her hands and headed for the door. “You go straight on after Michael’s, I’ll come back for the trunk and lock up here,” she added, striding outside.

Twenty five minutes later Platty had stored their trunk behind Nutmeg’s passenger seat and, as she spied Prospero strolling up the bridleway towards her, jumped into the cockpit and ignited the engine, which purred into life immediately. She stretched herself and put on her headgear, by which time Prospero had arrived at the side of Nutmeg, zipped up his flight jacket and climbed into position in the rear passenger seat.

“All clear on coms, Po” said Platty into her mouthpiece, “I’m still looking forward to you filling me in on why we’re going.” It was the tentative questioning tone in her voice that hung on the air for a few seconds before Prospero spoke: “Loud and clear my friend. Let’s make a first stop in Brittany and I’ll begin my story over a glass of Jean-Pierre’s fine calvados.”

With that, Platty released the brake and Nutmeg rolled forward. The plane gathered speed as Platty opened the throttle and then pulled back to lift the craft off the ground. It was 10.48 and they both felt exhilarated, not only by the clean morning air filling their lungs and streaming over their faces as Nutmeg reached a cruising altitude, but also by the way that the day, which initially promised to be rather humdrum, had taken a much more interesting turn.

What neither of the two had yet understood, was the meaning of the puzzle box which now lay stowed away in the belly of Nutmeg. It was surely a precious object to have reached their door from the court of Spain. Yet it didn’t seem to reveal much else, other than it was the possession of someone named Isabella and that Princess Isabel of Spain had missed an appointment with Fernando Mura, Mayor of Malaga, the day before Prospero had opened the puzzle box parcel.

Prospero mused about the brief history of Spain’s renowned locksmith in his archives. Don Francisco’s work was often commissioned for the Spanish court and became quite fashionable in the first half of the 16th century, particularly his innovative designs for securing precious items. He became famous almost instantly when news broke in Spain of the discovery of Peru and the wealth of the Incas.

Platty, meanwhile, wondered whether there was any link between the two Isabels: The one whose name was riveted to the top of the puzzle box, which if authentic, would most likely be that of Queen Isabella of Portugal, wife of King Carlos I; the other, the current princess of Spain, Isabel Sofia de Borbón.

Platty was in fact hoping that, after hearing what Prospero was to impart on their journey, they would both decide to seek an audience with Queen Sofia at the earliest opportunity.

© David Wilson 2012. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

To purchase The Puzzle Box, click here.

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