By Eoin Colfer
Conor Broekhart used to be born to fly.
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Well, Captain,’ said Vigny, sweeping back his arm dramatically to introduce his balloon. ‘I give you Le Soleil, the Sun. ’ The dirigible was undeniably magnificent. An elongated golden envelope swaying gently over its leather-bound basket. But Declan Broekhart was not interested in decoration, he was interested in specification. ‘A bit more pointed than others l’ve seen,’ he noted. ‘Aérodynamiqué,’ corrected Vigny. ’ Catherine unhooked herself from her husband’s arm. ‘A cotton-silk blend,’ she said, craning her head back to squint at the balloon.
On the hundred previous occasions he and Isabella had ambushed King Nicholas, every door in the palace had been locked, and they had been warned by stern-faced parents never to venture on to the roof alone. It was a long way down. Conor thought about it. Parents? Flag? Parents? Flag? ‘Some pirate you are,’ sniffed Isabella. ’ Flag, then. ‘Arrr. ’ And then in his own voice, ‘Don’t touch any of the experiments, Isabella. ’Specially the bottles. ’ Conor went up the stairs fast, before his nerve could fail him.
Nevertheless change was afoot. Now, there was a new king on the Saltee throne, an American, King Nicholas the First, or Good King Nick as he was known in an increasing number of households. Barely six months in power and already King Nicholas had drastically improved the quality of life for his 3,000 subjects, abolishing taxes and building a modern drainage system, that ran through the town of Promontory Fort on Great Saltee’s northern tip. When the royal yacht, Razorbill, pulled into Saltee Harbour at dawn after a three-day voyage from France, King Nicholas himself was there to meet her.