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

Each von Hedwig rode mounted behind a soldier. Claire wanted Bettina to ride with one of the other children, but she insisted she was brave enough and big enough to be on her own.

“Not afraid of firecracker man,” she said.

“More of a pepper, I should think,” Adolphus said. He was cheerful. Being arrested was much more exciting than hoeing a field. It had taken him forever to mount; he thoroughly examined the equine plant creature, walking around it six times before the red soldier tossed him over the back.

“Cayenne, maybe,” Mirabelle said.

Adolphus tried to engage anyone in a discussion on how soldiers are always soldiers, whatever nation, even if they’re vegetables, but Gerhardt was too consumed with worry to participate, and the girls were riding too far away. He wiled the rest of the morning trying to converse with the soldier in front of him.

They followed paths leading away from the river, but still roughly south, the direction they had been traveling before. They passed many small farms like Ifan’s, then larger homesteads with more extensive fields.

They stopped at a farm for lunch. It was a larger operation than Ifan and Gwen’s, with large, barn-sized clumps of shrubbery, and herds of yellow and green creatures grazing in the fields. (“Or possibly flocks,” Claire said, “depending on if they’re more cow-like or sheep-like.” She was a stickler for that sort of detail.)

A soldier shouted outside the shrub house, and a woman came out. She had a deep red face and short frills of purple petals on her head, where hair would be if she were a mammal instead of a plant. Like Ifan, she kept her eyes down, and ran back into the house after only a moment. Soldiers and children dismounted, and formed concentric circles on the lawn, soldiers surrounding children.

“They’re called Capsicum Guards,” Adolphus told his siblings. “They each carry a baton-truncheon sort of thing and bow and arrow. No metal, no gunpowder.”

“How do you know what they’re called?” Mirabelle demanded.

“Look, if you’re going to be a renown explorer, you can’t let a little thing like language get in your way.”

Annabelle questioned the fellow closest to her and got the same answer. “Capsicum Guards,” she confirmed. “They work for the Queen.”

“There’s a queen?” Gerhardt did not appear eased by this revelation.

Two green-faced, purple-frilled girls came out of the house with cups of water. They served the soldiers first and ran back inside. Food for the guards followed, and eventually water and food for the children. The serving girls moved quickly and kept their eyes down.

“They’re dressed nicer than Gwen and Ifan,” Annabelle observed. “Do you think they’re servants, or is this their house?”

“They’re afraid,” Mirabelle said.

“So was Ifan,” Annabelle agreed.

“We would be, too,” Claire said firmly, “if we weren’t von Hedwigs.”

They remounted after lunch and rode. Soon after their break, open fields closed into forest. The forest path was wide and kept clear of seeking vines and undesirable undergrowth. The children found the woodland view monotonous, as they rode several hours though forest. At last the path opened again into another valley. A much larger river, wide and brown, carried boats and barges between docks and settlements stretching into the distance, as far as the children could see.

“Look at all the shrubberies!” Adolphus exclaimed. “I mean, buildings, of course.”

“There’s something odd about this,” Claire said.

“You mean, the way the houses are grown rather than built, and all the people are vegetables?” Annabelle asked.

“There’s something else,” Claire said. “I just can’t put my finger on it.”

Mirabelle’s captor spoke, pointing down into the valley.

“He says we’re nearly to the palace,” she said. “And we shall bow before the Queen and learn her pleasure. And he doesn’t make it sound very pleasurable.”

Photo credit by Perplexing

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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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