"Of course" said the wizard.
Cindy spoke. "I hate to interrupt, but we should probably decide what we're going to do now. I mean, Prince Charlie was talking about all kinds of terrible things." She shuddered and put an arm around Pete, who frowned and tried to pull away.
Matilda answered her. "Charles won't be able to do anything to you until George comes and judges your case. And I know George. He won't hold anything against you."
Mrs. Weisgarber still looked doubtful. "I hope so."
"Look sharp. Prince is coming." Captain Herman whispered hurriedly and turned back around to mind his horse.
The prince rode up next to the cage and sneered. "Comfortable, Mother?"
The Queen Mother replied. "Oh yes, but if you could go and fetch me some pillows, that would be lovely. Thank you."
Charles frowned slightly, flicked one of the iron bars of the cage and continued with his prepared speech. "You know, things don't have to be this way. You're my mother. I don't want to see you...in this state. All I'm asking for is a little bit of cooperation. You could help me, you know."
Matilda spluttered in anger. "Charles, I wouldn't help you murder your siblings. Not if my life depended on it."
"It might." The prince spurred his horse ahead without saying more.
Cindy said. "Um. What does that mean? 'It might?'"
"I wouldn't worry about it." Matilda answered, despite her own worry. Did Charles know something she didn't?
As they neared the town Charles approached the prison cart again, but this time he didn't look at its inmates. He directed Captain Herman to take them down a side-path that would lead them around the city. Herford groaned.
"What is it?" Cindy asked.
"I thought we would have a chance if he took us through the city. The townsfolk will all be out, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Qilin the prince went out to hunt. We could have shouted the truth to them and even if Prince Charlie managed to stop us from doing that, at least they would have seen how cruel he is to his own family. Maybe they would have doubted the stories he's been telling about Maddy."
Amaranth stated the obvious. "But he's not taking us through the city."
Herford sighed. "No, he's not." The prisoners had been huddled together, whispering because the prince had opted to leave the rest of the hunting party in the hands of his steward and accompany the cage to its final destination. Now, he rode ahead a few hundred yards to make sure that the road was clear of traffic. The captives began whispering in earnest.
"What can we do?" Cindy hissed.
After a few seconds of deliberation, Herford said. "I'll go."
Captain Herman spoke over his shoulder. "No offense to you, wizard, but you left them before and it didn't work out very well."
The rabbit bared his teeth, which he had found to be an effective replacement for a scowl. "I'm not going to run away. I can slip through the bars. I'll go to Cagil and see if we can get some help."
Matilda remembered a conversation she had had with the barkeeper. "Herford, Cagil hates wizards. He won't listen to you."
The wizard frowned. "I'm not too fond of him either, but he'll listen. He'll want to help you."
Amaranth chimed in. "Ooh! What if he tries to turn you into rabbit stew? And Reginald he could make into roast pheasant."
"That's not helping." Herford said sullenly.
Pete spoke for the first time since they entered the cage. "If you get into trouble, check the barrel next to the fireplace." Then fell silent again.
The rabbit nodded to him and hopped out of the cage, followed by Reginald. They disappeared into the forest before the prince returned from scouting the road. When he did, he turned on Captin Herman. "Where's that talking pheasant!?"
The Captain feigned surprise over the missing prisoner. "What?"
"The pheasant? Where'd it go?" The prince rode back and examined the contents of the cage. "And the rabbit!" He addressed the prisoners, "Where did they go!?" The captives looked at each other and collectively shrugged. Prince Charles briefly shook the bars of the cage then said, "As soon as we're at the castle, I'll send out my best trackers to hunt them down. They'll make a nice addition to my coronation banquet." The inmates of the cage shuddered. And Matilda suddenly remembered that the wizard's shrunken staff was still in her pocket.
Matilda was happy when that journey ended. It had been a bumpy ride on a mostly unused road and she had been forced to hold onto the bars with all her might in an attempt to steady herself. It didn't work very well, but at least it kept her from breaking any bones.
They ended up coming to the same landing that Frederick had dropped Matilda off at on all those nights when she would leave the castle to visit the villagers and tell stories. They came at it from a different direction, but the Queen Mother was sure it was the same place. Two boats had been drawn up to shore and two large men stood near them. It seemed that the prince had sent a messenger ahead of them to arrange for their hidden entrance into the castle. The passengers were filed into the boats--Matilda, Charles, Herman, and one of the Prince's men in one boat and the rest in the other--and began the trip across the river. Matilda reflected that, when she had crossed the river in Styx, it had been a much pleasanter voyage.
"Of course" said the wizard.