Sunday, December 26, 2010


The alchemist and his Venetian lion squeezed down the narrow corridor together. They had rented the top floor of this Montmartre rooming house because it had good light and seemed relatively inexpensive (for Paris anyway). The workspace helped them overlook the other drawbacks, like this narrow passage, which was not really suited to a six-foot tall alchemist and a full-grown predator of Eduardo's size.

Another drawback appeared when they had descended to the ground floor.

"Monsieur Maggiormente!" The ebullient voice of their concierge, Mme. Gabore, struck the alchemist between his shoulders like a sharp knife. He stifled the impulse to sigh.

"Get rid of her," Eduardo whispered, "for I shall be very tempted to bite her."

"Don't be impossible," Maggiormente hissed back. "We need this flat." In a louder voice, he answered, "Signora Gabora, how delightful to see you."

"Oh, charmant!" The woman clasped her hands together while grinning at the lion. Eduardo did not return her look, but a low rumble echoed in his chest. "The little hat! So charming, monsieur!"

"Ah, merci, signora. I'm afraid we’re in a bit of a hurry—"

"Now now, what have I told you about Parisian life, Monsieur Maggiormente?" She batted her eyes at him coquettishly, the heavily kohled rims emphasizing the bloodshot red spiderwebbing the white around her brown irises. Paired with the heavy rouge on her cheeks, it gave her a seedy look at odds with her well-maintained figure and chic clothes.

She was a mystery, but one that the alchemist experienced very little curiosity to investigate. "Ah, yes, that was, erm—"

Her laughter was like a peal of bells—large bells, like those in a sturdy cathedral. The sound could frighten a less well-prepared man, but having heard her laughter before, Maggiormente had already braced himself.

"Oh monsieur! There is always time, always time. Enjoy every step, embrace every moment." She leaned close to the alchemist, bringing to him a whiff of tobacco and cherries that always seemed to linger near her. Mme. Gabore squeezed his large arm with a familiarity he did not share. "You must savour life in Paris!"

"Indeed, Signora, indeed." Maggiormente edged away from her toward the freedom of the door where Eduardo waited, tail lashing. "Well, au revoir!" He pried her fingers from his arm. He could not help thinking that the glossy varnish of her nails looked as if she had drawn blood.

Safely out in the bustling streets, Eduardo grumbled, "This would not have happened if you had not made me wear this ridiculous hat."

"Don’t be foolish. She would have found some other reason to speak to us."

"To you." Eduardo sniffed. "Why does she smell like cherries?"

"It is probably some kind of liqueur," Maggiormente said, stroking his beard absently, wondering the same thing. "What kind of liqueur does one make from cherries?"

"Something horrid," Eduardo said, spitting his contempt at the pavement and inadvertently frightening a young woman who leapt backwards, knocking down a grocer with a box full of turnips, which rolled into the street frightening a pair of carriage horses who reared up, whinnying loudly, then charged away down the street, loosing the barrels of wine that had been their cargo, which then rolled away down the street in the direction of the Seine as people leapt out of the way, shouting in alarm.

Eduardo watched the scene unfold with a look of pleasure, but turning to his master, he found the alchemist continued lost in thought.

"You missed it," Eduardo said, pacing along beside him.

"Hmmm, yes," Maggiormente said, nodding and ruffling his beard.

Eduardo rolled his eyes. There was no talking to him at times like this, so he amused himself glowering at passersby who, unlike Mme. Gabore, were not charmed into complacency by the fez.

I am a wild beast after all, Eduardo thought with admirable satisfaction. People should fear me and respect me. I am the king of the beasts!

"Can we get cakes?" he asked Maggiormente, who muttered to himself indistinctly.


"Cakes. I want cakes."

"Where are we going to get cakes?" The alchemist frowned.

Eduardo sighed. "The café, remember? We are going to the café." He lifted a paw to point and flapped his wings for emphasis.

"Ah." Maggiormente recalled their errand as he looked up at the familiar façade of the Cossack Bistro. "Shall we stop for some food?"

Eduardo blinked. "Yes, why not. Let us savour Paris cakes." He laughed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Alessandro Maggiormente frowned. There was something wrong with the formula but he could not locate where he had gone astray. He looked up at the array of beakers and frowned more.

"You've missed an important ingredient," Eduardo said, the languor of his voice conveying a sense of unutterable boredom.

"That is apparent," Maggiormente muttered without looking over his shoulder at his familiar. "If you could actually pinpoint the missing element, that would actually prove useful."

"I suppose," Eduardo said, raising his face to the warming rays of the sun, "but I have not been able to pay attention today. This is the first sun we've had since we came to this wretched land."

Maggiormente looked up. "Is that so? I had not noticed."

"You never do."

The alchemist ran his finger down the page, mentally ticking off each herb and tincture. Perhaps it was something in the order of elements—oh, if he had to start over again! How tiresome. He rubbed his eyes. Perhaps he had been at this for too long today.

"Yesterday," Eduardo said, stretching.

Maggiormente looked up at that. "What?"

"You've been at this particular round since yesterday. You're too tired to think straight. I bet you're hungry, too. I know I am." His big green eyes blinked. "Very."

"You're always hungry," Maggiormente said absently, but rubbing his eyes he realised he was famished. "Do we have something left to eat?"

"No, we need to go out." Eduardo became mobile instantly, shrugging off the sunlight-induced indolence with shocking ease. "Let's go out!"

Maggiormente looked down at him. "Remember what happened last time we went out."

"That was not my fault."

"You frightened that woman very badly."

"Some people frighten easily."

"She had every reason to be alarmed. You roared at her most inexcusably!"

Eduardo snorted. "You'd think the woman had never seen a lion before."

Maggiormente put his hands on his hips and glowered at the cat. "You are the last of your kind, Eduardo. No one has seen a Venetian lion if they have not seen you."

"I'm sure there must be some others around," Eduardo said, flexing his wings a little with a shake. "They just have better things to do."

The alchemist sighed. "I hope your presence does not overshadow my own experiments at the Exposition."

"I can't help it if I am beautiful," Eduardo said.

"Not to mention insufferable," Maggiormente muttered.

The cat pretended not to hear him. "I smell duck. Wouldn't duck be just the thing? And maybe some chicken afterward. And a cow."

"Maybe you should wait here while I go get some victuals."

"I promise to be on my best behaviour," Eduardo said, raising a paw as if to swear.

"Why don't I believe that?" the alchemist said with a snort.

"I will, you'll see. I shall be genteel and nod politely and say 'please'."

"Perhaps you ought not to speak at all."

Eduardo looked affronted by that. "Next you'll make me wear a hat."

"Not a bad idea."

"I am not a monkey."

Maggiormente sighed. "You would be easier to manage if you were."

"Monkeys are no help at all when it comes to alchemical workings. And they smell."

"True enough. But they look very smart in hats."

Eduardo narrowed his eyes at the alchemist. "If you absolutely insist, I will wear the fez. But I will not be pleased."


Sunday, December 12, 2010


"I forbid it," Rochester announced with finality.

"You cannot forbid it," his daughter said with equal fervor.

"I am your father!"

"And I am an adult. Don't be ridiculous, papa."

"Adult? Who's being ridiculous now? Why, you can't be more than—than—" Rochester turned to his wife. "How old is she anyway? Fifteen?"

His wife smiled gently at him. "She is nineteen. I was on my own at a younger age."

Rochester looked at his wife with disbelief. "Surely not." She nodded. "Well, those were…extraordinary times. I am not about to let my only daughter go gallivanting about in the sky with an Italian on the way to France to meet another Italian whom none of us know."

"Father," Helen said, "You can't be serious. This is the modern world! You have to move with the times."

"I realise I may seem utterly ancient to you, daughter, but I assure you I have not lost all my faculties."

It was that moment Tuppence chose to appear outside the window, resting on the rhododendrons and making her hoarse croaking that sounded very much like laughter. Rochester scowled. His wife, however, hid a smile.

Helen regarded him with folded arms. "I am flying to France next week, papa. There is no use arguing. I have a career to build and a new technology to demonstrate. I can make this scheme a successful one if I can collaborate with Signore Maggiormente. You can't stand in the way of progress!"

Rochester got up to stalk before the fire, hands clasped behind his back, muttering words that his wife knew she did not wish to hear aloud. At last he stopped to address his recalcitrant offspring once more. "I am not standing in the way of progress: I am merely voicing the necessary concerns of propriety. It's not as if he were English, after all," he added, gesturing toward the injured Italian.

"Signore," Romano said. "I am an honorable man." He winced with the effort but went on. "Your daughter is safe with me. Further, I am engaged to a beautiful woman in my hometown. I have no designs upon your daughter."

"Not good enough for you?" Rochester barked at the young man.

"Papa, leave him alone. First you think he's going to compromise me, then you're afraid he won't. It's irrelevant. I am quite capable of handling myself. You taught me to shoot, you should know. I'm a better shot than you."

"I don't think your father is only worried about fisticuffs," her mother said, walking over to lay a gentle hand on his arm. "It's only natural that we should be concerned for your safety. I realise you have ambitions and we do wish to support them, but we must be have certain safeguards in place to be sure that you will come home to us in one piece."

"But mother—!"

Mrs. Rochester continued, "Which is why I have suggestion that will suit both your scheme to travel and your father's concerns about your safety. Quite simply: your father shall accompany you."

All three stared at her. Tuppence croaked again from the window, flapping her wings against the window panes to punctuate the silence.

"Madness!" Rochester sputtered.

"You can't mean it!" Helen said, but she was already recalculating the fuel resources that would require.

"Darling, listen: you want to watch over our daughter? Do it yourself. You've been kept too close to home for too long. You haven't been as far as York in months. When's the last time you were in London?"

"Well, I haven't had much to do, what with Fairfax handling all the business dealings…"

"Exactly. You're beginning to wear on my nerves somewhat, so I can only imagine that you are feeling fractious as well." She tapped her husband's arm. "Admit it."


She looked up at her daughter. "And wouldn't your father make an excellent addition to your crew?"

"What's he going to do? Shout at poor Signore Romano? Curse at my airship?" Helen smiled as she said this and her mother knew that she had won. "Well, as long as he is part of my crew."

"Meaning?" her father demanded.

"You must obey me."

"I'll do no such thing." His wife elbowed him gently. "What? You don't really mean I should obey this chit?"

"My ship, my rules, papa."

"Infernal nonsense!" He stomped over to poke the fire.

"That means he agrees," Helen's mother translated for her.

"I know." Helen threw her arms around her mother. "Thank you!"

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Helen's father stared at her. "Don't be ridiculous. Look what happened today."

"That's exactly my point. Look what this kind of penny-wise pound-foolish economizing has led to." Helen warmed to her topic, pacing in front of the fire. "If I weren't trying to make do with less than optimum equipment, we wouldn't have had this accident today."

"What do you propose to do?" her mother asked.

"I will beg, borrow or steal enough money to patch the tear near rudder and make the renovations to the engine assembly that we have been discussing for some time. I shall see the ironmonger in the morning."

Rochester made as if to wave her words away. "None of this is relevant. You are certainly not going to fly to France in that contraption."

"You needn't worry, papa," Helen said with a smile at her father's frown. "We shall be safe as houses."

"Houses! If an infernal house took a notion to fly, it would end up just as disastrously. I will not countenance such a journey." He threw himself into the large armchair and glowered from its depths.

"Father," Helen said, her voice taking on a tone distinctively similar to his and a look of determined stubbornness, "I will be flying to France next week as soon as I can get the ship repaired. Signore, you will doubtless be able to pilot again by then, too, I expect."

Romano nodded, but groaned a little as he did so.

"Helen, perhaps you should take a little more time to assess the damage," her mother said, her tone as placating as the words. Her eyes were on her husband who still mumbled from the depths of his chair. "Surely a short delay will lend you the opportunity to go over all the mechanicals thoroughly."

Helen shook her head. "We don't know how much longer the good weather will last. We cannot wait more than a week or we risk that being a factor."

"Fine, then you can put off the journey until spring and use the winter to tinker away at that contraption," her father announced with satisfaction. "Or find other interests," he added in a low voice.

Helen folded her arms and regarded him. "This is not a whim, father, this is my passion and I will not retreat one iota from this goal. Air travel is the future! I plan to be one of the trailblazers."

There was a commotion in the hall and Mrs. Hitchcock's voice could be heard distantly.

"I expect that's the doctor at last," Helen's mother said, patting Romano on the shoulder gently.

However, when the housekeeper appeared at the door to the library, she appeared alone. "Miss Helen, I have a letter for you."

Helen walked over to take the letter and tore it open to devour the contents. Her parents exchanged a puzzled glance. When she finished reading, Helen let out a cheer and said to Romano, "He is in Paris and will be glad to work with us!"

"Wonderful news, signorina!" Romano said, wincing a little with the pain of exertion.

"He is attending the Exposition Universelle, he says," Helen continued, rereading the missive. "I wonder if he is exhibiting? He does not say."

"Who are you talking about, my dear?" Helen's mother prompted her gently.

"Alessandro Maggiormente," Helen said grandly, a broad smile across her face.

"Of course," her father grumbled. "Him."

Helen looked at him with amusement. "The premiere alchemist in Europe, papa. Signore Maggiormente has been responsible for some of the most exciting developments in alchemy for this century."

"What the devil do you need an alchemist for?"

"Edward," his wife tutted. "Do be more temperate in your language indoors. You are not addressing your dog."

"Alchemists are little more than hucksters and mountebanks," Rochester insisted. "There's not one whose work holds up under scrutiny."

"You confuse the sensational trials with the quiet accomplishments. Maggiormente has been responsible for some exciting developments in fuel sources."

"And what is it you propose to do with this charlatan?"

"I will be consulting with him in the hopes of securing his assistance with a new undertaking that will revolutionise the flying experience!"

"You don't mean to say—"

"Yes," Helen said with satisfaction as she took in her father's dismay. "I will be flying to France to collaborate with Signore Maggiormente."