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

“If you mean are we plants, then no, we’re not. Although we look similar, we are quite different inside,” Claire began. “We’ve traveled all over the world, but never been to your land before, nor heard of anyone who has. We believe that the climate of your land, the way the volcanic gases cloud the sky and filter the sun, caused life here to grow differently than where we are from. ”

“Here’s something different!” Mirabelle pulled the cheese tin from her pinafore. “Try this. I don’t think you have anything like it.”

Lady Aubergine nibbled some Parmesan.

“Gracious! It’s so complex.” She tried the Gorgonzola. “You’re quite right, we don’t have anything like this. Is it a large place, where you are from?”

“Yes, many countries, many continents-” Claire fumbled from Welsh to German and looked to her sisters for help.

“You wouldn’t believe how big! Huge tracts of land,” Mirabelle chipped in.

“We don’t know how big your country is,” Annabelle said, “but if it were very big I think someone else would have discovered it by now.”

“I could travel from one end of my country to the other in only three weeks, by carriage,” Eglantine said. She walked over to the entrance of her rooms, which was an arch in the hedge with no door. Beside the archway hung a paisley cloth in white and purple and green, taller and broader than the lady herself. She pulled the cloth away, revealing a large wicker cage holding dozens of brightly colored finch-sized birds.  They began to stir in the light, chirping and ruffling their feathers. “You traveled by boat when you first came here, but how before that? How did you come here, where none other of your people have come before?”

“We came through caves,” Mirabelle said. “In a ship that flies like a bird.”

Eglantine expressed amazement, so they told her about their airship home, of the fleets of dirigibles employed by armies, merchants, and pirates. They all added to the conversation as best they could, except for Bettina, who fell asleep still clutching a cookie. They told her how about the nations of the world, about sun and snow, cities, submarines, and trains, about their parents and their inventions. She asked many questions.

“What is the boat that flies under the sea made of?” She asked.

“I told you there’s no metal here,” Adolphus said in German. “We can show her, though.” He reached into his pocket, but Gerhardt grabbed his wrist.

“They took my axe and my crossbow because they could see they were weapons. Don’t show her your pocket knife.”

Adolphus looked at Lady Aubergine, who busied herself with her teapot.

“He’s right,” Annabelle said. “Even if she’s nice, there’s a guard right outside.”

Mirabelle addressed the lady. “It’s like a very hard wood.”

“The devices you describe seem like magic to me.”

“Do you have magic here?” Gerhardt asked. “Like Merlin?”

“Her Majesty does not employ a court magician, although she has diviners, who find water, and prognosticators, who tell the future. We all use charms and herbs for healing. One always says the charm, you know, even if the herbs probably work just as well without them.”

“In a land of magic, you think like a scientist,” Claire said.

“I do not know this word, but I can tell you are complimenting me, and I thank you.”

“Will you tell us something of your land and people?”

“As you have seen we are a nation of farmers. Most people labor with their hands.” She lowered her voice. “Though some would forget what we owe those who till the sacred soil.” She crossed to the birdcage and tossed a handful of crumbs into it. The birds scrabbled for them, chirping and ruffling their feathers.

“The palace complex is the largest concentration of dwellings, although the so-called great families have estates scattered about. Many go unused these days. Our Queen prefers to have all of us where she can see us.” She glanced at the door, and back at the children. The little birds were fluttering around their cage and singing loudly.

“You are from a great family?” Gerhardt asked.

Eglantine laughed. “Oh goodness yes – the noble Aubergines, the line of the ancient queens. We once had many estates, but still my ancestors had their hands in the soil. I have not been so fortunate. I have lived at the palace since my thirteenth year. I came to serve Drysi, you see, when she was only a princess of five.”

Claire leaned towards their host and whispered. “But the queen is a tomato, not an aubergine.”

“Wait,” Adolphus interrupted, “you’re an eggplant? Why aren’t you purple?”

“Many of my cousins are purple. Perhaps you observed them in the throne room? My guardians were quite old-fashioned, and believed that color was undesirable. I was raised under a cloche, to keep me pale. A load of nonsense, of course, but it’s not something I can change now.”

“Well, your hair is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen,” Annabelle said. “Not even Ulrik’s had hair that color yet!”

“But the queen,” Claire began again, but Lady Aubergine interrupted her.

“Perhaps the queen will favor you,” Eglantine said. “But the Lycopersicum are volatile, a bit unstable. It’s all the juice in the head, you know. You must be deferential, respectful. You are alive now because you interest her – you are unexpected and different.”

“Very different,” Adolphus said. The girls looked at him, surprised.

“What? I’ve been paying attention! I understand most of it, I just don’t feel like wrapping my tongue around it.”

Eglantine gently pried the cookie from Bettina’s hand, then rested a hand on her forehead.

“There is something very different about you,” she said. “Your skin is hot, as though you were soaking in a hot spring, yet you do not appear to be unwell. You move and think quickly, and speak words in many languages. Your clothing is unusual, most complex in design and construction. I know this fabric,” she touched the hem of Bettina’s cotton bloomers, then her linen pinafore, “and this one. But I have never seen anything like your trousers.”

Mirabelle laughed. “That’s because they’re so dirty!”

“No, really it’s because they’re wool,” Claire said. Claire never thought anything was funny when she was working on an intellectual puzzle. “They have cotton and linen here, because those fibers come from plants. But they won’t have wool, because it comes from animals.”

“Animals,” Eglantine said. “We have animals – you rode here on animals.”

“Those horse-things were some sort of orchid, really,” Gerhardt said. “So were the sheep-things we saw at lunch. All your animals are monocots, and all your people are dicots.” He watched the cage of finch-like birds. “I don’t know what your birds are.”

“You are using words I don’t know,” Eglantine said. “There is much I would learn from you, but not at the expense of your health. It is getting late; you should bathe before you sleep. I share a bathing spring with Annuum family next door. They’re the queen’s spies, of course, but well mannered.”

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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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