Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Holidays

The Saturnalia is our cue for a little holiday break: we'll be back after the first of the year with new adventures as we return to Paris and the alchemist Maggiormente and his Venetian lion Eduardo, as well as some new and potentially explosive adventures with propellants. We're happy to announce that the previous serial The Mangrove Legacy is now available at Amazon. Join Lizzie and Alice for their adventures with kidnappers, cheese, improving books, pirates, disguises and at least one improving book. Enjoy your holidays whether they include Hogmanay or the Epiphany or something else entirely.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


"I bet the damn bird wants some brandy," Helen's father said with something approaching friendliness in his voice.

Helen rubbed the raven's chest feathers to reassure it, but Tuppence remained agitated. Her clicks and croaks demonstrated her displeasure as she ruffled her feathers repeatedly.

"What the devil is the matter with the bird?" Her father's words sounded more harsh than his voice. The brandy had certainly mellowed his mood.

"Papa, that's medicinal. I think you should save some of the brandy for an emergency."

He gaped at her. "If being consumed by a cloud of starlings isn't an emergency, I'd like to know what does qualify."

"Certainly fire or an explosion," Helen retorted.

"As long as we're clear on the issue." Her father harrumphed. "Here, give some brandy to that damned bird and calm her down."

"She doesn't need or want spirits, Papa. She's distressed about the starlings."

"As am I." He took another swig and stared down Helen's disapproval. "Wait, she's distressed in what way? She's not pitying those little blighters, is she?"

"No, Papa. She was in even more danger than we were."

"How so?"

Helen smoothed the shiny black feathers on Tuppence's head. "Have you never seen a flock of starlings go after a crow? They might well have turned on her, had they not been flummoxed by the unexpected meeting with the ship."

"So she pulled up sticks and legged it—or should I say, took wing—for her own safety. Pity she couldn't have warned us sooner."

"She tried, Papa." The raven croaked more quietly now.

"Well, what disaster shall we face next?" Helen's father at last put the brand away, but he seemed to have retained its cheery effects well enough.

"It depends upon the weather along the coast," Helen admitted. "However, I suspect that the rest of our journey may prove free of disasters and even drama.

"I see nothing but blue skies ahead," Romano added from his seat at the controls.

"I don't know that I would trust such an assessment," Helen's father said, but he lounged idly in his chair, seemingly unconcerned for the moment.

As predicted however, the remainder of the flight proved to be without incident. The day continued fine, clouding over once or twice but there was never so much as a drop of rain discernable. Even the winds were gentle and mostly helping to ease the ship's passage rather than fighting against it.

"I think I'd rather have a disaster," Rochester grumbled after awaking from an unexpected nap.

"Papa, don’t say that." Helen scribbled in her log book, trying to recall the important details of the murmuration, searching vainly for clues to its formation in hopes that they could avoid such an experience next time.

This is what it meant to be a pioneer, Helen reflected, paving the way and recording history as it unfolded. A sense of awe filled her. It was an awesome responsibility.

Her father interrupted her thoughts. "I am finding air travel to be rather tedious."

"Papa, can't you enjoy the landscape?"

He folded his arms. "When I look over the side of the gondola I start to feel dizzy."

"Well, don't look directly down, as that will happen. Look out across the way."

"There ought to be some kind of entertainment to while away the hours."

"We could try fitting a quartet into the gondola next time," Helen said, closing her log with a sigh.  "But I suspect we would find things a trifle crowded if we did so."

"I have a better plan."

His smile had a devious turn to it, so Helen assumed the worst. "Dare I ask?"

"I think sheep's or pig's bladders, filled with something noxious—"

"Aren't the original items already noxious enough?"

"You've never had haggis. Then we wait until we're passing over a small village and go low enough that we can bung them at the people passing below."

"Papa, I am doing my best to make air travel respectable."

"You’re no fun anymore," he said, laughing heartily.

Sunday, December 04, 2011


 Helen looked quickly around the gondola but could see no sign of her raven. A pain stabbed her heart. She had had the bird since childhood, ever since she had found the fledgling had tumbled beneath the towers of the old house.

With Thompson, the head groom, they had been able to return the small heap of feathers to the nest high in the blackened ruins, but the bird had remembered the girl's kindness and often flew down near her as she gamboled among the fallen stones and timbers.

Over time, the friendship grew apace and Tuppence began to follow her around and finally all the way home. While she would often fly away for days at a time in her younger years, the raven always returned. Eventually, she would not part from Helen for more than an few hours. The two had an unusual bond.

Helen's father had named the creature whose croaking often seemed aimed at his grumbles. He didn't see why the bird should offer its two pennies to every conversation, but after the outburst, the name stuck and Helen became more curious about the bird's language.

The mood of her speech she found simple enough to parse. The raven's animated body language also contributed to her understanding. Helen learned to appreciate the different croaks and click, whistles and whatnot. Amusingly the bird had learned to make a noise uncannily like her father clearing his throat, which irked him more than anything.

Gradually she had discovered that Tuppence understood her better than she imagined, responding to questions and performing small tasks like finding her horse in the meadow and a good shelter for them both when they were caught out on the moors in a sudden gale.

"A hundred years ago," Helen's father found it amusing to claim, "They would have hanged you for a witch."

There were some in the town who regarded the pair of them with something approaching suspicion. It irked Helen who knew the close friendship between the two of them relied on careful observation and repetition of patterns.

All very scientific!

But this ought to have been an indication of the further path she followed. There were those who continued to think flying machines were unnatural, who considered the very idea of human flight to be some horrifying kind of hubris.

Encountering these reactions, Helen had often been inclined—uncharacteristically—to agree with her father that the world had more than its required share of ignorant and small-minded people.
Unlike her father, however, she generally thought that they could be won over. Helen's hope was that pioneers of flight like herself (and, grudgingly she thought, also the Lintons) would make the idea not only acceptable but popular and one day flying in a dirigible would be no more unusual than riding a horse.

In fact, it would be far superior as ships could carry a much greater number of passengers than any horse-drawn vehicle. The whole of the future could open up before them with new opportunities for travel around the world!

Of course they would have to sort out little things like flocks of birds sharing the airways, too. Surely that was the nature of exploration.

But where was Tuppence?

Signor Romano occupied himself with brushing the little bodies and feathers away from the console. "Everything seems to be in perfect working order, signorina."

"Excellent, excellent," Helen said teetering across the gondola as a gust of colder air jostled the ship. "Have you seen Tuppence?"

"No, signorina."

"Papa, I don't suppose—"

"One of the damn things is in my pocket!" Her father threw the offending creature out of his hand. They were all surprised to see the little black shape unfurl its wings and swoop out from under the curves of the ship and disappear in the wake of its colleagues.

"I hope to never see another starling." Her father harrumphed as if to put an end to the issue. He looked a bit shaken however, and Helen thought something bracing might help.

"There's some brandy in the medicine kit," she said and her father flung the cover back immediately and grabbed the bottle by the neck. "Papa!"

He ignored her protest and drank a swig from the bottle's neck. "Best thing."

"Papa, that's enough."

"You want some?"

"No, Papa. Signore?" Romano shook his head and continued to clean feathers from the dials. "Well, I can't imagine what has happened—"

A familiar croak reached the gondola and Helen turned with a smile. "Tuppence!" The raven sailed in and perched on Helen's chair, shaking itself and clicking loudly.