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

The twins fed Claire words as fast as she could speak them.

“Your Majesty, we are humans.” The Queen shook her head, perplexed. “Animals. Mammals,” Claire tried.

“We are not like the people here. We grew up differently.” None of them knew the Welsh for ‘evolve’. Mr. Evans was a miner and poet, not a scientist. “We don’t have stems or leaves or seeds.”

The crowd around her gasped and made stifled noises of outrage. The Queen was very still for a long moment, then laughed, the first genuine laugh they had heard from her.

“Well, well,” she said, “you are indeed different. Your manners are both excellent and shocking. You are filthy and roaming wild, yet you are clearly of high caste, of a noble, if somewhat old-fashioned family.” She looked pointedly at the pale lady over her shoulder. “I shall enjoy discovering all there is to know about you.”

She waved her hand at the pale lady, without looking at her. “Take them away, clean them and feed them. I will play with them again when it amuses me.”

The pale lady bowed and came down to the children. She bent to look Bettina in the eye. “Would you please come with me?” She offered her hand and Bettina took it. The others fell in behind her as they gratefully exited the royal presence.

They followed the pale lady down a long corridor with hedge on their left and hanging grass mats to their right, which opened occasionally onto chambers. The corridor ended into a comfortable triangular room, which must have been the tip of one of the petal-shaped wings of the palace. A guard followed at a discreet distance, stationing himself outside the entrance.

“These are my chambers,” she said. “You are most welcome and I hope you will be comfortable. I am Eglantine Aubergine, lady in waiting to her royal highness Queen Drysi. Now, please make yourselves at home. Shall I arrange for something to eat and drink?”

The room was scattered with low couches  plumped with luxuriant piles of pillows. The children fell into them, murmuring versions of ‘anything, thank you’, except for Bettina, who still held Eglantine’s hand. The lady looked down at her.

“Perhaps you might help me?”

Bettina nodded.

“First of all, give my your honest opinion.” She removed the lid from a gourd teapot and waved it under Bettina’s nose. “Does that smell delicious to you?”

Bettina wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “Smells like dirt.”

“Thank you for your honesty.” Eglantine walked her to a small table and handed her a reed pipe, showing her how to blow into it to make a sound. A moment later, a serving potato arrived, and Lady Aubergine made a lengthy order.

While they waited, Eglantine made polite conversation, and the children told her of Ifan and Gwen, of the strangling vine and their mushroom boat. Then several potatoes arrived with laden trays, and the children tucked in. There was hot peppermint tea, marinated mushrooms like little steaks, piles of tiny fruits, and plates of cookies like macaroons. Eglantine sipped the tea Bettina said smelled of dirt and held conference with additional servants who entered during the meal.

When they had finished the servants took away all the empty plates but left fresh tea and more cookies.

“If you are tired you must tell me and I’ll tuck you in,” Eglantine said. “But I am most curious to hear more of your journey, and where you began. Can it be true, as you assert, that you are not children of the soil?”

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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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