Sunday, January 30, 2011


The alchemist seemed less than enthusiastic, but he fell in behind the lion and the painter as they made their way gingerly toward the smouldering house. They paused at the blackened door.

"Do we knock?" Maggiormente said, trying to be helpful.

Eduardo gave him a withering glance. "I don't think Monsieur Manet needs to knock to enter his own house."

"I only meant," the alchemist said, ruffling his beard with agitation, "it might be a way to determine the structural soundness before entering."

The lion and the painter paused and turned to look at him. Maggiormente cocked an eyebrow at them and they exchanged a look with one another. He had a point.

"Does the door feel warm?"

Manet leaned toward the door and put his palm up against it tentatively. "It is warm, but not hot."

"It's probably not on fire then, Eduardo concluded, nodding.

"Probably," the alchemist repeated. The lion grimaced.

The painter looked worried. "Perhaps you could take a look, first," he said to Eduardo.

"What?" The lion tipped his head back, balancing the fez precariously.

"Couldn't you fly up and take a look through the windows?" The painter gestured toward the lion's wings then toward the first floor above them.

Eduardo frowned and sat down, closing his eyes with a deep sigh. "No."

"But it would only take a moment! And we could be more certain—"


The alchemist sidled around his familiar to approach Manet. He leaned toward the man and said in a low voice, "His wings are not strong enough to bear his weight. They are merely vestigial in the lions of Venice. They were perhaps airworthy once, but now—well, you see."

Manet's eye widened. "I am so sorry!"

"It is nothing," Eduardo said with a sniff.

"I should not have been presumptive, monsieur." The agitated painter bowed awkwardly then turned back to the charred door. "Shall we simply try our luck?"

"Do let's." The cold tone of the lion carried a final air of censure, but surely it is not to be imagined that he wished ill upon the painter by encouraging a risky action.

Having made up his mind, Manet threw open the door. For a moment, there was only an inky blackness. Then all at once, heavy cottony puffs of smoke rolled out onto the pavement causing the adventurers to take hasty steps back from the onslaught.

The house belched oily clouds for some time, as if a crowd had gathered behind the door like guests eager to leave a party all at once. As if to mirror them, a small crowd gathered behind the threesome, eager to see what they might do in the smoking house. Their chatter made a susurration of sound like leaves falling.

"Can you see anything?" Maggiormente squinted into the depths of the darkness.

Manet peered into the black, unaware that his face had a light coating of schmutz from the passing clouds of smoke. "I do not see any flames." He turned back to his friends. "Shall we go in?"

Maggiormente and Eduardo exchanged a look. The alchemist shrugged. "Tutto fumo e niente arrosto!" The lion laughed and the two of them joined the painter at the door. Eduardo stuck his head through the doorway and inhaled deeply.

"There are no flames anyway."

"Don't go in!" A woman's voice carried from the street crowd.

The adventurers turned to regard her. The others around her craned their necks to see how the three would react.

The attempt to dissuade them seemed to stiffen their resolve. The three gave a curt nod to their would-be cautioner and turned back to the charcoaled-door. They had hardly drawn a breath before they ducked into the shadows and disappeared from view.

"We should have brought a torch," Eduardo grumbled.

"Shhh," the alchemist said, blinking in the dark.

"Oh no!" the painter cried. "I cannot believe it!"

Sunday, January 23, 2011


"And who is it you are?" Maggiormente inquired, examining the queer pale figure with some curiosity.

"Manet." The man shook his hand absently, his thoughts elsewhere. "What am I going to do? Berthe will be so angry!"

"Can we help in some way?" Maggiormente asked while Eduardo sniffed discreetly at the man's trousers, which seemed to be spattered with a variety of colors. "Is the fire uncontrollable?"

"Oh, everything is quite quite gone," Manet said, a sigh of unutterable sadness escaping him as he looked back down the street. "All that work, wasted!"

"Perhaps we should investigate. You never know. Things may not be as bad as they seemed at first." The alchemist smiled, trying to convey a sense of hopefulness.

"It smells like a big oil fire," Eduardo said, having finished his examination of the other gentleman.

"Linseed oil," Manet muttered. "There was a case of it. We had thought, 'Such a bargain!' but that turned out to be a false economizing, eh?"

"He's a painter," Eduardo said to Maggiormente whose brow had been wrinkling with incomprehension. Outside of his own field, the alchemist seldom had much interest in or knowledge about other people's pursuits.


Eduardo smirked. "I suspect not."

The painter stared at the lion. "Your pet: he talks!"

Eduardo drew himself up proudly. "Pet! I am no pet. I am a familiar." He closed his eyes and looked away.

"Ah, Edo, don't be insulted." Maggiormente sighed. "He can be very touchy about that, monsieur. But how many people have seen a Venetian lion before, eh?"

Manet looked impressed. "I have certainly never seen such a remarkable creature. Perhaps I should paint him sometime."

"Oh, but I like the color he is," Maggiormente said with a frown.

"Non fare lo scemo," Eduardo snapped. "Idiota! He wants to paint my portrait, is it not so?"

"Indeed," the painter agreed, giving a small bow.

"Ah, painter. Yes, the other kind." The alchemist tugged on his beard, lost in thought.

"Well, now that we have that straightened out, perhaps we should go see about the fire," Eduardo said at last since no one seemed inclined to move at present. The two men stopped stroking their beards at once and they hurried back along the road where the painter had come from.

Most of the crowds had disappeared, but as they approached the small house, they could see the neighbours on either side up on ladders, throwing buckets of water on their roofs. Each had a small assembly of assistants: in one case, it looked like the man's family, from a young woman to a tiny little girl, in the other it looked to be a grim-faced group of bakers, clad in white and using mixing bowls to carry the water to and fro.

While smoke continued to hang in the air around the place, there did not appear to be any open flames. A stack of paintings lay on the ground before the house. Gingerly, the three approached the house.

"Do you suppose it will explode?" Eduardo asked.

The alchemist shot him a glance. "Don't say things like that. It's unnerving."

"I'm only asking. I don't want to be exploded."

"I only hope the paintings are all right," Manet said as he approached the haphazard stack.

"They look fine," the alchemist said, peering over the painter's shoulder.

"I meant the ones inside." Manet looked up at the blackened house.

"Let's go see," Eduardo urged.

"Perhaps we should wait until the fire goes out completely," Maggiormente said.

"Surely it must be out now."

"It exploded at first," the painter said. "But now it seems quiet. Shall we?"

"Adventure!" Eduardo said, adjusting his fez. "Excellent."

Monday, January 17, 2011


"But the English lady—she could be our salvation," Eduardo insisted, licking the last of the wine from his bowl.

"I don't think we should count on that. We need to focus on the work." The alchemist frowned. "Perhaps we should go to the Exposition today."

The lion had a full belly now, so he was reluctant to consider something quite so strenuous as a meandering journey through the pullulating crowds at the exhibit. "Oh, I don't know about that, mago. Focus on the work, indeed. But in our aerie, yes? Perhaps we need to revisit the structure of the process."

Maggiormente emptied the last of his glass of wine and wiped his mouth. "Non so. Perhaps I have miscalculated. Perhaps my ego has got the better of me." He put his head in his hands and groaned expansively.

"Non ti preoccupare," Eduardo said, his tone reassuringly low. "You are certainly brilliant, piccolo mago. You have been too close to the process. We need to look at the apparatus with fresh eyes." The lion belched, raising a paw hastily but too late to cover the eruption.

The alchemist, however, remained too distracted to notice this rude behaviour. "Perhaps you are right. I quite think that we have overlooked something quite simple in the assembly…" His voice trailed off as he tugged on his beard.

Eduardo stretched elaborately, elongating his body to seemingly impossible lengths. A few people at nearby table shifted their chairs uncomfortably, but did not actually move. The lion had already begun thinking about the way the afternoon sun came in through the large windows at the top of the house and how pleasant it would be to doze in that warmth while the magician dismantled the entire apparatus.

He could always wake up long enough to offer an opinion.

"Let's go," he urged Maggiormente, leaping down from the stool where he had sat and stretching even further. "No time like the present."

The alchemist waved over the restaurateur and paid him handsomely with as many compliments as francs. "We are delighted that you welcome us here, monsieur."

"The Cossack Bistro shares your delight. Let us be your kitchen, signore." He clasped the alchemist's hands in his own with a wide grin.

Eduardo stood in the doorway, his nose in the air. His nostrils widened. There was something unexpected in the wind. He couldn't quite distinguish what it was and yet there was something familiar about it. "Maggiormente, I think we need to go."

"Sì, sì, I am ready." The alchemist indulged in an elaborate stretch himself and patted his happy stomach afterward. "A presto!" he called to the chef, saluting as he walked out of the bistro. "There is something supremely satisfying about a well-cooked meal," he confided to his familiar.

Eduardo snorted. "Particularly so when one does not have to cook the meal."

"Indeed." The alchemist smiled. "You are pleased not to have my spaghetti Bolognese today, are you not?"

Eduardo grimaced. "I did not enjoy living with your mother, but at least her food was edible. Do you smell that?"

"Smell what?" Maggiormente looked about him as if the eyes might aid the search.

Eduardo looked suddenly to the north. It came from that direction. "Fire."


Before the lion could respond, a huge crowd of people came rushing along the street, down the narrow road, which they rent with screams and shouts of alarm. Behind them, in the distance, it was possible to see a huge cloud of black smoke.

"What on earth?" The alchemist stepped back as the crowd of people surged by, hands in the air, mouths open in non-stop exclamations of alarm.

"I think there's a fire," the lion said, sitting on his haunches on the pavement.

"Of course there's a fire," the alchemist huffed. "Where is there a fire? Why is there a fire? And what is to be done about it?"

"Shall we investigate?" Eduardo stretched elaborately once more, but curiosity had got the better of him for the moment. His afternoon nap would have to wait. He had a moment's worry about his fez, but that was the sort of risk one had to take if one were to indulge in adventure.

"Yes, do let's. Perhaps we will discover something useful."

The two of them began to swim against the tide of fleeing pedestrians, fighting their way upstream with deliberation. The crowd began to thin but not before they encountered a thin white figure.

"Run! Save yourselves! It is a disaster!"

"How can you be sure?" Maggiormente said, waving him aside.

"Because I caused the conflagration!"

Sunday, January 09, 2011


"Mince pies for Eduardo!" The restaurateur beamed with happiness as he placed the pies in front of the Venetian lion, who bared his teeth happily as a greeting. This proved too alarming a sight for another table of people, who hastily left their money on the table and skittered off into the street.

"Ma cherie Sophie has your soup, Monsieur Maggiormente. She won't be a moment." He bowed and backed away. Even as he turned, his young daughter came out of the kitchen balancing the tray with the soup and brioche on it, her expression very serious as she stalked across the dining room, endeavouring not to spill a drop.

"Merci, merci, mademoiselle Sophie," the alchemist said, patting the young girl lightly on the shoulder. "Well done, brava."

The child looked up shyly then grinned broadly. "May I pat Eduardo?"

The lion had been about to begin gobbling up his pies, something he did without much daintiness at all. He grumbled slightly, but it turned to a whine as Maggiormente lowered his eyebrows at him and frowned. "Yes, of course you may."

Eduardo dutifully bent his head toward the child's outstretched hand. Her small fingers tapped his forehead with tentativeness, then with greater force. The big cat ground his teeth impatiently, but under the glowering gaze of his alchemist he did not make any other sound.

"Pretty," the girl said at last and skipped away.

"May I eat now?' Eduardo's sour question made Maggiormente grin.

"Yes, of course. Buon appetito!"

Eduardo bit into the first pie and growled his delight as his tongue worked busily. "Apri il vino."

"I knew I forgot something. Monsieur!" The alchemist turned to find the restaurateur already bringing a bottle of his good red, a glass and a bowl for the lion in the other hand. "You are a wonder, monsieur!" He clapped the man on the shoulder.

"Only the finest for our friends!"

While the more timid folks had been frightened off by the hungry lion's growls, the Cossack Bistro was filling quickly with a midday crowd. More than a few of them cast no so surreptitious glances at the winged lion in the fez, the hat now askew as he bent over the mince pies, chewing with vigour.

Maggiormente dipped a piece of the brioche in his soup and popped it in his mouth. The leeks were pungent and the broth rich and buttery. Not like Mama makes, the alchemist thought, but it will do. He tried to ignore the stares. They were merely curious. It's not every day they saw a Viennese lion.

Of course he did, but some of the wonder never went away completely.

Noticing that Eduardo was now licking the pie plates clean, he decided to broach the other subject that had been on his mind. "So, what shall we do about the English lady?"

Eduardo licked all the way around his mouth, as if fearful he might have missed a tiny crumb somewhere. "You told her to come to the Exposition, yes?"

Maggiormente nodded. "Yes, but English women -- who knows? She may never come. Like the one in that story, you know."

"What story?" Eduardo began to lap wine from his bowl.

"Oh, you know the story, the one where the English woman is traveling but never arrives at her destination…"

Eduardo looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "English woman traveling?"

"Oh, you know the story I mean!"

"I do not." Eduardo lapped some more wine.

"Well, I just don't know whether she is some crackpot or a real inventor. It is so difficult to tell with women."

"Why is that? She was quite specific about the fuel, was she not?"

Maggiormente shrugged. "Ah, but women… what can I say?"

"Something definite would be a nice change." Eduardo narrowed his eyes. "Are you nervous about meeting a woman?"

The alchemist flushed. "What a ridiculous thing to suggest! I will not countenance such foolishness."

"Ha! You are." The lion leaned back his head and roared with laughter. "Oh, she's probably just some crackpot old biddy with more money than sense. Which could be very useful," he added.

"Idiot," Maggiormente muttered. "I don't want to talk about it."

Sunday, January 02, 2011


"Monsieur, a delight to see you again!" The restaurateur greeted the alchemist like an old friend, which he seemed to have become in the short length of their stay in the City of Lights. The Cossack Bistro had first been a convenient place to eat due to its location, but they had not wandered far abroad because the atmosphere was so welcoming.

When you are traveling with a Viennese lion, welcomes can be a challenge to locate.

"And Eduardo, mon cher! How is your appetite today?"

"Excellent, of course," the lion said, perching himself on a stool near the small table in the back. Experience demonstrated that the two were less likely to draw unwonted attention when they were seated there. The day the tall bearded alchemist and his familiar had taken advantage of the sunshine to sit on the sidewalk like most Parisians had been an inadvertently eventful one.

"I must say, Eduardo, that hat suits you right down to the ground."

Maggiormente laughed, but the lion raised himself proudly. "Thank you, monsieur. What have you in the way of cakes today?"

The restaurateur rubbed his hands together with enthusiasm. "Better today than cake—mince pie! An imported tradition, but one I am certain you will enjoy."

"There aren't any leeks in them, are there? I can't abide leeks."

"No leeks at all."

"I'll have three." Eduardo stretched his wings with pleasure, knocking a painting askew on the wall but otherwise harming nothing.

"And monsieur le alchimiste?"

Maggiormente pulled his beard in thought. "Potato and leek soup, I think."

"In a trice," the restaurateur said, bowing and spinning away to fetch the viands.

"Must you do that?" Eduardo said, his voice taking on a cold wind of annoyance.

"Do what?"

"Eat leeks. You know I hate leeks."

"I'm not making you eat them," Maggiormente said, absently drawing on the menu, sketching out a new plan for the procedure. Surely it was in the order and not the ingredients that I have erred.

"Yes, but your breath will smell like leeks and I will be miserable all day," Eduardo said, raising a paw for emphasis. "It's quite uncharitable of you."

"I think we should connect the siphon directly to the beaker here," he said, ignoring the lion's complaint. "Look, this is what's throwing the process off, don't you think?"

Eduardo looked at the sketch. "Hmmm, possibly. But if you add it there won't there be a greater chance of explosion?"

Maggiormente frowned. "What else can I be missing? Should we aspirate the coelestino more?"

"Where is my pie?" Eduardo looked in the direction of the kitchen as his stomach rumbled loudly.

"Can you never think of anything but your stomach?" The alchemist scowled. "Our boot at the Exposition becomes available in a matter of days. It would be helpful if we actually had something to show for it."

"I'm sure everything will come out fine…eventually." The lion rubbed his face with his paw to distract his thoughts from hunger. The couple at the table next to them paid hastily and left even more so. Eduardo watched them go.

"You don't care about this project!" Maggiormente said, crashing a fist down onto the table and rattling the cutlery. Other people in the café were beginning to eat faster.

"I think you just worry too much about insignificant details," Eduardo said, concealing a smile. He could smell the pies now. It would not be long.

"My reputation and a good deal of money are at stake. You do not want us to have to return to live with my mother, do you?"

Eduardo shuddered. "No. I shan't have my choice of hats then."

"Well, either you help me get this process to work or we will have to resort to you telling fortunes and juggling in the kiosk."

For a moment, Eduardo forgot his pies and stared at his alchemist between narrowed eyes. "You wouldn't."

"It is a very expensive undertaking to have a booth at the Exposition Universelle," Maggiormente said, staring back at the lion. Neither made a sound for some time.