Sunday, October 31, 2010


There was a deep cut in his forehead, doubtless caused by the impact of the helmet with the rock. Its edge had a dent that must have bit into Romano's skin. There was a good deal of blood now that the metal hat had come off.

Fortunately Helen was untroubled by the sight of it, unlike most women or so she was told. Her mother had once bandaged up her father from a nasty wound caused by an eccentric family member, and thus thought it wise to prepare her children for such emergency duties. Attempts to get either of her parents to elaborate on that adventure had proved fruitless, though she often thought it might have been the mysterious cousin Rivers who had died in India.

Helen shook out her good handkerchief and applied it to the wound with some pressure. "Do you feel disoriented or faint?" She examined his eyes to see if his gaze wandered, but while they were slightly bloodshot, they did not seem dazed.

Romano said, "No, signorina, but it is rather painful. Here, let me hold that in place." He moved his hand up to the handkerchief and Helen leaned back to look at him more critically.

"Any other pains? Do you think you might have injured yourself elsewhere?"

Romano laughed gently, wincing a little. "No, my head softened the fall for me."

Helen smiled. While Romano might laugh in the face of danger, she was certain he could not be badly hurt. "Do you think you're ready to stand?"

He took her offered hand and staggered to his feet, the reddening handkerchief still sopping up most of the blood. "Look!" he cried, pointing at the dirigible.

Helen turned to see Tuppence perched on the rudder at the rear of the ship. The raven croaked now that it had an audience. Squinting, Helen looked closer. There was a rupture in the frame. "Looks like my bird found something." She looked at her pilot. "Perhaps that hole has something to do with our losing altitude."

Pietro peered where she was indicating. "How strange! I shall have to investigate, at least now I know where to start looking." He groaned a little, rubbing his head.

"You should sit down," Helen said in a voice that brooked no opposition. "I'll go get help."

The Italian shrugged. "It's not so bad. I can walk."

"Nonsense," Helen barked. "You will have to move too slowly. I can get back to the house and get some of the men together to carry the ship back and a horse for you. We need to have Doctor Ponsonby look at that cut on your head."

"Per favore, it's nothing. A little alcohol to clean it and voilà."

Helen chuckled at his mosaic of languages. "Nonetheless, we should have your head examined, as we say. My pilot must be in tip top shape."

Pietro sighed. "And your airship, too. We must put off the voyage until we are certain it is safe."

Helen blinked. "What? Nonsense! I intend to keep to our timetable."

"But signorina—"

"I intend to keep to our timetable, Signore Romano." Helen's voice was not loud but there was little doubt of her resolve.

Romano sighed then looked startled. "Who's that?" he cried pointing at a rider on an immense black horse who was rapidly approaching.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Helen tore at the ropes with fumbling fingers. How could they have gotten so tight so quickly! With effort she finally pried her finger into the midst of the knot and loosened the bonds. Must remember to invent a knot for quick release, she thought, or some kind of device to keep passengers safe in rough landings.

"Signore!" Helen heard no responding call. Making her way between the detritus that now filled the gondola, Helen looked around her quickly at the rough face of the moor. Romano was nowhere to be seen.

She gazed with dismay at the smashed bow of the gondola. The impact had been enough to splinter some of the wood. The control panel, however, seemed sound, though the shrieks of the motors were still indicating some difficulty. That would be easy enough to repair given Romano's facility with gears -- assuming he had survived the crash, she added grimly.

The envelope seemed to be continuing to lose loft. The guide ropes were slack. That was a much bigger problem. One problem at a time, she scolded herself. "Romano?"

A groan came off to her left. Helen crossed over the edge of the gondola, sat on the wooden frame, grabbed her voluminous skirts with one hand and maneuvered her feet over it to drop to the ground. Curse, these hideous fashions for women! Madame Sand had the right idea. If it weren't for her mother, Helen might well don breeches as well. Surely they were much more practical for this kind of endeavour.

"Romano!" she cried again, this time answered by another groan that seemed to come from beyond an outcropping of limestone. She bustled over. Her pilot and engineer lay on the ground, holding the helmet, which now had a large dent in it.

"You're alive," Helen said, stooping to take a closer look at the Italian. "Any broken bones?"

"No, no," he said at last, "but this helmet! I can't get it off. Prego, signorina."

Helen gripped the edge of the helmet and gave it a pull, but the thing wouldn't immediately budge. "Did you hit the rock?"

"Yes, I think so. It all happened so quickly." A trickle of blood ran down his forehead and he tried to blink it away.

Helen felt alarm at the sight, but redoubled her determination. Taking a better hold of the helmet, she leaned back and tugged as hard as she could and suddenly it popped off.

Blood, as she would be reminded later, proved to be a good lubricant.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Airships & Alchemy 1.1

Yes, at last -- the new serial begins! I should also mention 'Kit Marlowe's' first publication, the Jazz Age novella The Big Splash is available from Noble Romance. Try it! And now without further ado, the steampunk-themed tale of intrigue and mysteries!

Helen Rochester ripped the goggles from her eyes and gaped at the controls. "Signore Romano, why are we losing altitude?"

The Italian whirred the wheel around with haste, grabbing for a lever above it. "I am not certain, signorina. Everything appears to be in order, I cannot explain --"

"Well, do something!" Helen leaned over the side of the gondola. The moors were yet a comfortable distance away, but this would not remain so if they continued to drop as they were. It was as if some kind of weight had landed upon them. "We're going to be upon Cringle in no time."

Pietro continued to frantically check the dials and wiggle the levers, but the airship dropped inevitably lower. Helen did her best to quash the fury that began to rise in her breast and instead listened carefully to the engines. They were chugging along as usual.

Helen's scrutiny was interrupted by a flurry of black feathers as a large raven perched on the side of the gondola and began croaking at her as if issuing orders from Odin himself. "Tuppence!" Helen cried, her irritation plain, "If you can't do anything useful, do get out of my way."

The raven continued to croak at her, flapping its wings to keep its balance on the edge of the frame. Helen looked more carefully at the bird. "Did you see anything up there? Can you see anything?"

Pietro looked up from the flight controls, a look of alarm on his face. "The raven -- she is a bad omen!"

"Stuff and nonsense," Helen said, watching the great black bird rose aloft to fly over the craft. "I've had Tuppence since I was a child. My father claims the ravens have always favoured our family. He had a pair of them when he was a boy, too." She looked over at her engineer, who did not seem comforted by this family history. "They are connected with royalty in this land, Signore. We are proud of our ravens."

Pietro did not seem immediately convinced, but that may have been because he had caught sight of Cringle Moor and Round Hill looming ahead of them as they continued to sink ever lower. "Signorina! You must make yourself safe. We cannot possibly ascend quickly enough to avoid the hills. Please!"

Helen pursed her lips, but had to admit he was correct. She grabbed the goggled that hung around her neck and put them back over her eyes. With staggering steps, for the airship's downward trajectory had begun to pick up speed, she fought her way back to the seat at the back of the gondola and used the rope to tie herself into it.

Pietro strapped a metallic hat on and wrapped goggles around his head as well. In the distance, Helen could hear the raven croaking yet, but its message -- whatever it might be -- was no use to them now as the ground rose to meet their ship. They braced as well as they could for the impact with the harsh limestone of the moor, but there was no way to really prepare.

The gondola made a horrible bounce upon contact and Helen gritted her teeth as the ship continued to make its ragged progress forward until banging against a cliff, the forward motion stopped and they floated downward to finally come to rest.

But where was Romano?!