Steampunk Family
This entry is part of a series, Voyage to Antafrica»

The red man helped the children from the mushroom boat on to his dock. He smiled and touched their faces and hair lightly. He was not much taller than the twins, nearly a head shorter than Claire and Adolphus, and stubby of limb. When they were all assembled, he bowed again. They bowed and curtseyed back. He seemed overcome, and shook his head, speaking to Annabelle.

“He likes our manners,” she translated.

“Gracious, he says” added Mirabelle.

“Good,” Claire said. “Mother would be proud.” She bowed again for good measure. “Lead on, sir, lead on.”

“He could be leading us into a trap,” Gerhardt muttered, but no one was listening.

The stranger led them up a path that followed the river to the end of the planted field, then between fields up a hill. The path wound around a third field and crossed a grassy patch, ending in a sprawling hedge. The children followed the man until he disappeared into the hedge! They stood in the field, staring at the spot where their guide had been.

Claire took a cautious step towards it, searching for an opening, when the man reappeared with a woman behind him. She too was red-skinned and pock-marked, but wore a simple tunic of a dress and had a tangle of coarse brown hair on her head. He gestured broadly at the line of von Hedwigs, then indicated the lady. Claire took over the introductions, clearly stating the name of each child in turn. The woman bowed and waved them inside.

On approach the hedge was not the solid wall it seemed. The children passed through a narrow passage of brambly twigs above and on either side of them. This opened into a large round room furnished with benches and tables. The floor was covered with mats woven of grass. The hedge walls continued seven or eight feet above the floor, curving towards each other and the center of the room, but did not meet. The room was open to the violet sky.

The woman gestured to a table, so the children sat down on the benches surrounding it. The man stood, beaming at them while the woman busied herself at a large barrel. The barrel seemed to be carved from a tree stump. Another just like it stood at the opposite side of the room. The man spoke, still smiling at them. Mirabelle translated in a whisper.

“He’s telling her where he found us. He’s telling her about the mushroom. She says to send an arm.”

“What?” mouthed Adolphus.

“We’re doing the best we can!” Annabelle defended her sister.

The woman came to the table with a tray and cups. The tray was a large, stiffened leaf, and the cups were tiny hollowed pumpkins.

“What is it?” Adolphus murmured.

“Don’t drink it!” Gerhardt whispered. “It could be poison.”

steampunk teen

“Who keeps a barrel of poison in their kitchen?” Claire asked. She looked at her hosts, who watched the children with great attention, he smiling, his wife with narrowed eyes.  Claire stood and raised her pumpkin. “Thank you for your hospitality,” she said. “Your kindness is the first we have seen in your country. I hope we are not a burden to you, and we’ll do our best not to be. Thank you.”

“I’m not translating that,” Annabelle whispered to Mirabelle.

The children raised their glasses as Mirabelle spoke a much shorter toast. Claire sniffed at her drink furtively, then drained it and sat.

“It’s water,” she said. Her siblings sighed in relief, and drank.
Entries in this series:
  1. On Grandmothers
  2. With A Bang!
  3. In Search of Ancient Angiosperms
  4. Assault on the Galley
  5. The Sorrows of Chef
  6. Faeries, Helpful Siblings, and other Mythological Creatures
  7. Meanwhile, Back in the Lab
  8. A Day of Discovery
  9. The Children’s Hypothesis
  10. A Research Date
  11. Aboard the Schmetterling
  12. The Cave
  13. The Cage
  14. Knee of the Yeti
  15. Kidnapped!
  16. A Clue
  17. The Yeti and the Comb
  18. Fighting the Count
  19. Fighting the Yeti
  20. Falling
  21. Breadcrumbs
  22. The Search is On
  23. Flight to Saigon
  24. On the Streets of Saigon
  25. The Sad Man
  26. At the Grandiere Club Aeronautique
  27. If you Give a Count a Cookie
  28. Out of Cookies
  29. Stuck!
  30. Airships Float?
  31. Where is Claire?
  32. Drowning
  33. Into the Drink!
  34. Boat!
  35. Mushroom Trip
  36. Ambush
  37. The Variegated Strangler
  38. In a Strange Land
  39. Hand over Hand
  40. The Last of the Gouda
  41. An Unusual Breakfast
  42. Downstream
  43. What's for Dinner?
  44. Axe and Fire
  45. Meanwhile, Back at the Airship
  46. Over the Gobi
  47. Return of the Grandmothers
  48. Warning from Huang
  49. Anxious Hours
  50. Ulrik Prepares
  51. Destruction by Dawn
  52. Finding Philomena
  53. No Luck in Pekin
  54. The Children Rescue...Something
  55. Corndog Liberation
  56. The Fate of Corndogs
  57. Have you Tea?
  58. Antafrican Hosptitality
  59. Onion Porridge
  60. Homesick
  61. On the Hunt
  62. Farm Living
  63. Singing for Supper
  64. You Say Potato...
  65. Curiosity is the Foundation of Discovery
  66. An Awkward Position
  67. Trouble Comes Riding
  68. Capsicum Capture
  69. To the Palace
  70. The Death of the Lincoln
  71. War Wings
  72. A Long Way Down
  73. Enter the Lightning
  74. Before the Queen
  75. You are a Tomato!
  76. A Sunken Ship
  77. Eglantine Aubergine
  78. Children of the Soil
  79. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  80. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  81. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  82. The Price of Popcorn
  83. Ulrik and Chef
  84. Fire!
  85. Claire's Bluff
  86. Tomato Queen and Aubergine
  87. It's Going to Blow!
  88. Rhodri in the Gardens
  89. The Servant's Fountain
  90. History Revealed
  91. Fight at the Fountain
  92. Repercussions
  93. Father Discovers the Yeti
  94. Aboard the Lucy Stone
  95. Summoned
  96. The Queen's Accusation
  97. The Queen's Rage
  98. The Khan
  99. The Last War Wing
  100. Eglantine Departs
  101. Thumping Rhodri
  102. Bad News from the Boys
  103. Where's the Count?
  104. In Search of the Count
  105. Spying on the Queen
  106. Confronting the Count
  107. Orphaned?
  108. Orphaned?
  109. Montesanto's Experiments
  110. Montesanto's Experiments
  111. The Queen's Tantrum
  112. Bettina's Tantrum
  113. The Flaming Queen
  114. Uprising!
  115. Uprising!
  116. Escape
  117. On the Run
  118. The Mysterious Coach
  119. Red Racer!
  120. Revolution Reset
  121. By the Acid Sea
  122. Farewell Antafrica
  123. Home Again!
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1 Comment for this entry

  • Sharyn says:

    It is good to have someone like Gerhardt about in situations like this, simply so the others in the party might think twice about blithely accepting food and drink. My favorite part was definitely Claire’s question of “Who keeps a barrel of poison in their kitchen?” I look forward to seeing what else happens.

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