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

Lady Aubergine did not return until late. Servants came with dinner and left with trays barely touched. Eventually all the children fell asleep except for Claire, who waited, groggy but determined. When the kind eggplant finally returned, Claire jumped up and embraced her. Eglantine seemed quite surprised, but returned the embrace.

“I was afraid we’d gotten you in trouble!”

“I was born in trouble, my dear. Your company is a pleasant diversion from my usual trouble.”

She picked up her teapot and measured spoons full of what looked very much like loam into it, then added steaming water from an elaborately carved pumpkin.

“That was quite a bold move, Claire.”

“What?”

“The way you threatened Queen Drysi.”

“I –”

“Or promised her great wealth and magical powers. She doesn’t know what to expect, whether to be afraid or excited.”

“I did all that?”

“I’m not sure you could have made yourself and your family safe any other way. I certainly could not have.”

“I thought of offering to work off our debt, the way we worked at the farm,” Claire said.

“Why didn’t you?”

“I don’t-” Claire lowered her voice. “She already has servants to do everything, except… except things we should probably keep to ourselves.”

“Your parents’ magic?”

“It isn’t really magic, it’s science. But I don’t think she needs to have it; she doesn’t need more power, does she?”

Lady Aubergine only raised a delicate purple eyebrow.

“I can’t trust her,” Claire whispered. “Not like Ifan. Not like you.”

“I hope I am worthy of your trust.”

Claire blushed. “You shouldn’t have to be. We’re only going to get you in more trouble.”

Lady Aubergine waved a dismissive hand. “You usually let your sisters speak for you, but today you did not.”

“They’re only eleven. Clever, brilliant even, but still.”

“When the circumstances are most difficult, you take charge. That is leadership.”

“Oh no,” Claire protested. “Philomena’s the leader.”

“Who is Philomena?”

“Our older sister. She’s at the Academy – away at school.”

“But not here. Here you lead. It is never easy, even when you don’t realize you’re leading.” She smoothed Claire’s hair from her face and her worry lines from her brow. “You have bought us days, if not weeks of safety, and I am very proud of you. Now you should sleep. This is my country and my queen. Let me do some of the worrying.steampunk girl

Claire went to her couch and shook out her covers, (Bettina had hidden cookies under Claire’s pillow) but had too many questions. Before Eglantine reached her chamber she spoke.

“Lady Aubergine?”

“Yes?”

“I, I don’t think the queen likes you.”

The lady laughed aloud, quickly smothering her outburst with an elegant hand.

“No, dear, she does not like me at all.”

“Then why does she have you so close? Why not send you away?”

Lady Aubergine sat down on Claire’s couch, patting it so Claire would join her.

“She sees me as a threat, a rival. She fears that if I were out of sight I might threaten her power.”

“A rival?” Claire remembered their first night. “The Aubergines – you said you’re descended from ancient queens.”

“And not so ancient.” Eglantine whispered. “My grandparents, the Queen and her consort, died in mysterious circumstances. The Council appointed Drysi’s grandfather as regent. The regency was not long. He anointed his own daughter as Queen, the surviving Council agreed. Anyone who might not have agreed also died under mysterious circumstances. My mother lived with cousins in the countryside – quiet, non-political cousins, as did I. I was summoned to serve the young princess, I believe, to take me away from my mother – my father was already dead – and to make me love her.”

“It didn’t work,” Claire said.

“No,” Eglantine admitted, “it did not. And now I have returned your trust with my own. Please be careful with it. I’m afraid what I’ve just told you is enough to get us both killed.”

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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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