Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Slight Relocation

The big news is that the serial has shifted over to the website. A slight change of address that will consolidate everything in one place, simplifying things I hope. If you read the serial via Facebook or Twitter anyway, you won't even feel the difference. But if you've got it bookmarked, change to the new address. A new episode this Sunday. Thank you!

Sunday, June 17, 2012


I have some behind the scenes changes to make that will delay this week's episode. Nothing drastic: all will be revealed soon. But in the meantime, enjoy these lovely photos of Rome! Fingers crossed, we'll be back next week with more from our heroine, her father, the alchemist and his Venetian lion.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

7.9 Belgian Dishes

Helen's father barked with laughter. "A dangerous weather development occurs and your only thought is, 'I must write this in my journal'? You are your mother's daughter indeed."

"I find that a great compliment, Papa."

"As you should." He continued to gaze at the water spout, but Helen thought his face looked much softer now, as if the dark clouds that sat upon his brow had like the son of York's been in the deep bosom of the ocean buried for now.

The water spout, which had growing bigger and darker, suddenly seemed to be growing whiter and more transparent. As it curled down from the clouds the middle part grew whispy and the two halves parted. For some reason, Helen's mind jumped to the image of Michaelangelo's fresco of the creation, the hand of Adam and his creator meeting in the middle, though here the two limbs drew apart.

"And there it goes," Romano said, his comments punctuated by a squawk from Tuppence. The tail of the spout appeared to be absorbed into the grey clouds above it.

Helen sighed, unwilling to admit that she had found the phenomenon worrisome, more for her father's sake than her own. She could swim after all. And while the channel was very wide, it might be possible for a human to swim it. Or at least half of it, which is about how much they would have to do.

"Flotation devices," she muttered under her breath, and went at once to her journal of the journey. Over-water travel, consider having some kind of Kisby Ring or cork device aboard. She had heard of a lifeboat captain who had designed some kind of cork vest that could be worn, but Helen had neither seen one or a drawing of one so found herself imagining a waistcoat covered with bottle stoppers, which was surely wrong.

There were so many new inventions. It was truly an age of discovery! Helen burned to be part of the age, to make her mark and be part of history.

Surely this journey was a step in the right direction. Her face flushed with excitement. If the alchemist came through for her on that new miracle fuel—the art of air travel would be revolutionized!


Helen broke away from her thoughts of the future. "What is it, Romano?"

The pilot pointed toward the dark clouds gathered on the southern horizon. Helen found herself somewhat alarmed to see a sudden explosion of lighting strikes from their increasingly black depths.

"Perhaps we should steer a bit further north," she counseled Romano.

"Are we going to end up in Belgium?" her father asked as Tuppence began to croak somewhat urgently.

"Don't go on about Belgium, Papa," Helen scolded, consulting the map on the stand. "It's a lovely country."

"You've never had their stew," he muttered mysteriously.

"How can a stew be bad?"

"It's made with ale instead of wine," her father said as if the point could not be argued. "And they serve a most wretched dish made of eel with some kind of green sauce."

Helen blanched. "That does sound revolting, but I have had Belgian waffles with chocolate and they are sublime, so I can't imagine that all their food is like the eel dish. After all, there's not much of British cooking you could put in competition with it, is there?"

"Your mother's stew is superb."

"Indeed," Helen said, "but I understood her to use a Belgian recipe."

Her father stared at her in dismay.

"Signorina," Romano broke in again, "the storm, she gets stronger."

"From which direction come the prevailing winds?"

Romano consulted his dials and meters. "South southeast."

"Let's chart a course another 15 degrees northward."

"Can we outrun the storm?" Her father asked, his face beginning to show a little shade of green like the Flemish dish.

"We shall endeavour," Helen said as Tuppence hopped over to land on her shoulder. "The storm looks fierce, but the winds don't seem too bad. The lighting is a little tricky but we ought to be fine." Tuppence, help me keep watch, she telegraphed to the bird.

Her father sat himself down once more, looking a little gloomy. "I bet it's sunny in Yorkshire."

"Doubtless," Helen agreed cheerfully. Across the channel to the south the lighting strikes flashed, their electric dance growing bolder.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Stolen by the Muse

Alas, no episode this week; distracted by the sea, the sea, the beautiful sea :-) back soon!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

7.8 Mysteries from the Past

Helen looked up into the clouds where the Italian pilot pointed. Her eyes grew large. "I've not seen one of those before."

Romano shook his head. "I have not seen one so large."

"What the blasted flatch are you two on about!" Helen's father demanded. He seemed determined to look everywhere but in the direction they stared.

"Papa, look there. It's descending from the cloud." Helen nodded toward the heaven's, captivated by the sight.

"We call it 'getto d'acqua'," Romano said. "You see them from time to time on the Mediterranean. Quite extraordinary."

"Are they dangerous?" Helen asked, sneaking a look at her father who had yet to turn and take in the strange formation snaking down from the clouds.

Romano shrugged. "Not usually. They form, they dissipate, poof."

"I suppose they're usually far from land," Helen suggested, thinking about the possibilities of evasive movements. One disadvantage with an airship is that it took a while to change directions. You couldn't wheel and turn as on a horse.

Something to think about later; Helen made a mental note to consider speeding the process of turning.

"They are more plentiful at the warmest times of the year," Romano noted. "I have only seen them from a distance. Or so small they appeared to be dissolving almost as quickly as they formed."

"What's the longest you've seen one last?"

The pilot considered this for a moment. "Minutes, surely no more."

Helen's father appeared vastly comforted by this news. "What's all this nonsense?" he blustered like his usual self. He even turned his head ever so slowly to take a look at the phenomenon.

"Bloody hell!" He goggled at the long cylindrical sweep from the clouds. The funnel had lengthened, nearly touching the dark waters below where the disk-like shape whirled darkly.

"Have you ever seen a water spout, Papa?" Helen asked, though she suspected his surprise was indication he had not.

"Not for many a long year," he said with a weariness that seemed to have nothing to do with the sight before them.

His words surprised Helen. "Where did you see a water spout?"

He remained silent for a time and Helen had begun to think he would not answer, but he sighed as he watched the snaking shape in the distance. It swayed like a dancer held between sea and sky.

"When I was in the West Indies," her father said at last, "I saw a few of them. They were generally larger and formed much more quickly."

"I have heard they are plentiful there," Romano said. "And hurricanes, too."

"You were in the West Indies, Papa?"

"Hurricanes were much worse," Helen's father said, his eyes upon the water spout, but his thoughts seemed very far away. "They cause real devastation across the land, ripping trees out at their roots and knocking down houses. Tropical regions are full of all kinds of horrible pestilences."

"When were you in the West Indies?"

Her father laughed but the sound lacked mirth. "Long before you were born, child. Long before I met your mother even." His face took on a darkness much more menacing than the dark clouds overhead.

"How exciting!" Helen said. "I would love to visit the West Indies."

"No, you wouldn't," her father said a little too sharply. "Horrid place. Hot, humid—it does terrible things to your brain. Saps your will. Makes you stupid. Drives you mad." He rubbed his eyes as if the view fatigued him. "Excessive heat was not mean to be borne."

Helen wondered, not for the first time, what tragedies lay in the distant days of her father's life. They all knew the story of the fire that scarred him so and how it had called their mother back to his side by some almost mystic power, but mysteries abounded. There was such a Byronic air about his distant past that she often took to be more jaunty than terrible, but the haggard look on his face now spoke of horror and tumult.

"See how the water dances," the pilot remarked, his voice full of wonder.

"I'm just glad it's dancing a good distance away," Helen's father murmured. Sure enough, it seemed to be moving away from the airship.

"I must write of this in my journal," Helen said firmly.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

7.7 A Swirling Disk

Helen and Signor Romano both leaned over the side of the gondola to concentrate on the water below them. Helen's father, however, reluctant to move so close to the edge—and even more reluctant to lean over it and look down—made noises of annoyance.

"Well, what is it? What are you looking at?"

Helen looked up. "We're not at all sure, Papa."

"Is it more whales?"

"They weren't whales, Papa." Helen frowned down at the waters, which made her father bristle with curiosity though he stubbornly stayed put.

"I know, I know," he blustered ineffectively. "Dolphins or porpoises or some such. Well, what are they now? Lobsters doing a quadrille?"

"It's the water, signor," Romano interjected. He appeared to be as puzzled as Helen. "There's a large dark spot that seems to be growing."

Rochester heaved himself to his feet. He leaned on his stick a little and tried to see over the edge without approaching it in any way. This maneuver proved to be less successful than required. Tuppence croaked at him as if in admonishment.

"I'll be damned if I'm hectored by a raven," he muttered to no one in particular and make his way stiffly to the edge of the gondola. While he may have gripped the rail with rather white knuckles, he did lean over and peer down into the darkening sea.

Below the airship, almost like a shadow, a dark pool formed within the turbulent waters of the channel. It seemed rather wide, but it was impossible to tell immediately if it were changing.

"I think it's getting larger," Helen suggested.

"I do not think so," Romano said, but he frowned as if unsure. "Perhaps."

"Can't you even agree on that?" Helen's father asked irritably. "Is it any larger than when you first noticed it?"

"It's hard to tell, Papa."

"Is it our shadow maybe?" He grimaced. "All right, that was a fairly stupid suggestion, wasn't it?"

"Not one of your better ideas, Papa." Helen smiled but her face showed strain.

"Look, it's changing," Romano said, drawing their attention back to the water.

Helen and her father leaned back over the side of the ship. The dark patch of water had definitely begun to move, keeping pace with their flight.

Another shape formed on top of it. This one was lighter, floating like a disc on top of the water.

And twirling.

"I should be taking notes," Helen said at last as they watched, mesmerized by the swirling shapes on the water.

"What can you possibly say?"

"Well," she said, gesturing out toward the water. "I can describe what I see. The circles in the water, moving."

"Moving faster."

They all stared.

"Look, it's rising up." Helen's father pointed. Sure enough the white-capped waves on the turning white disk began to lift up like peaks of whipped icing on a cream cake. The hypnotic swirl surely had sped up as they watched it as well as rising.

"Certainly a remarkable occurrence," Helen said, feeling an unaccustomed sense of awe. "Should we be thinking of evasive moves if necessary?"

Romano looked up. "Evasive? Do you think so?"

"I'm just saying perhaps we should be prepared. This is not a phenomenon we have experienced before. It may remain solely on the surface of the water. It may be an indication of something else."

"It could be a whale," her father suggested, then flushing at her quick exasperation, "A school of whales maybe." He coughed and steadied himself against the rail. All at once he looked very tired.

"I don't think it is, Papa, but I have no idea what it is. Surely we can come up with a likely candidate from our memory of novels or newspapers…"

"Look!" Romano pointed up to the clouds.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

7.6 Pressure Dropping

"Pressure dropping, signorina Captain!" Romano called out from the front of the ship.

"What the devil does that mean?" Helen's father asked, trying vainly to look nonchalant. "Is the airship deflating?"

"No, the weather, Papa." Helen stepped across the gondola to look over Romano's shoulders at the instruments.

"Not quickly," Romano added, "But steadily."

"Perhaps we are in for some rain."

"Nothing worse, though?" her father asked casually.

"We shall see," Helen said, looking about for Tuppence. She whistled and heard an answering croak from the raven. The bird flew down to the edge of the gondola and flapped her wings briskly as water flew off.

Her father wiped his sleeve with exaggerated motions. "I take it things are looking wet out there."

Helen smiled and reached out to pat the raven's head. "It could just be condensation, but I suspect we may be in for a bit of a wet time."

Her father squinted out across the horizon. The white cliffs were impossible to see in the greyness; indeed it was increasingly difficult to see the division between sea and sky as they merged in the darkening day.

"It looks more cloudy."

"Clouds don't always mean rain."

"But certainly it's more likely."

"I'm really more concerned about the wind, Papa. It could make for a more interesting journey. A little dampness won't have much effect."

"It will on my joints," he father muttered.

"Tuppence, how does it look up there?"

The raven croaked and then emitted a serious of clicks and other sounds that Helen alone could interpret. She looked concerned, her father noted, but did not speak until the bird had delivered her message.

"So," he asked with a note of impatience, doubtless to mask his concern about the perilousness of the weather. "Are we in for some dirty weather or will it be all right."

"Not to worry, signor," Romano reassured him. "Should the weather become more turgid we will still be all right."


Romano paused. "Ah, the word escapes me. Perhaps another."

"According to Tuppence, the rain will definitely pick up, but the wind ought not be too strong," Helen said, "which will be a mercy for our stomachs if nothing else."

The waters below them already exhibited signs of the impending swirl. Helen could see the white caps on the waves. Funny that the wind seems to be coming from the south as well as the west, she thought.

The day darkened as they spoke. The clouds appeared to be thickening, too.

"What's that line from Shakespeare," her father muttered.

"You're going to have to give me more than that," Helen laughed.

"Oh, it's one of the history plays, I think," he continued, staring out into the gloom. "All the clouds that lowered upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

Helen smiled. Her father surprised her in so many ways. "Richard III: Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York, and then all the clouds. Well spotted, Papa. Your tutor would be proud."

"Tutor," he grumbled, but she could tell he was pleased. "I might better have studied nautical lore so I would know as much as your bird."

"Tuppence has not only her own knowledge but the inherited wisdom of her entire species."

"Has she?" Her father looked at the bird with something like respect. "Can we tap into such a thing?"

"There are some who say so, in fact—"

"Signorina, I think we need to take a closer look at this."

"What is it, Romano?" Helen said following where he pointed. "Oh my! I've never seen that before!"