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

“Hey! Wait for me!”

It was Rhodri. It was always Rhodri. No matter how early the children slipped out of the Palace into the gardens, no matter they crept out one by one, or scattered through the labyrinthine halls to store rooms, weaving hall or kitchen, Rhodri was there.

Her Lycopersic Majesty Queen Drysi had ignored the von Hedwig children for three days. They spent most of their time in the gardens, where the teenage pepper inevitably discovered them no matter where they hid. Adolphus declared him a weasel.

“I bet the queen told him to keep an eye on us,” he said. “His parents are always ‘popping by for a chat’ whenever we’re alone.”

Claire could not disagree, but pointed out that he and his parents lived their lives in fear.

“He doesn’t know how to be brave, he’s never had a chance to. People who don’t do what She wants disappear, you know.” Claire didn’t have to say whom she meant by ‘She’.

“Who’s disappeared?” Annabelle asked.

“I’ve heard rumors,” Claire said. “We need to be careful not to get anyone in trouble.”

Now Rhodri hulloed and ran after Adolphus, Claire and Bettina. They had spent the morning testing the boundaries of the Court and the guarding of the perimeter, seeking a path to escape. As with every other exploration they had managed away from prying eyes, they were frustrated. There were no thin spots in the hedges, no unwatched door. They were never far from a Capsicum Guard.

He arrived, puffing. “Why do we always have to play hide and seek? Why don’t we play the ball game?”

Bettina carried one of the netted sticks from the ball game wherever she went now. She was small and frightened, and it made her feel safer. She swung it and cracked Rhodri hard on the shin.

“Ow!” Yelping, he grabbed the injured shin and hopped out of range. “Stop that you wretched-!”

“Rhodri!” Claire interrupted sharply. “She’s just a baby.”

“Then how does she always manage to hit the same place?”

“Not a baby,” Bettina said. “Big girl.”

“We don’t have enough for the ball game,” Adolphus said. “Haven’t seen the others for an hour or more.”

“Let’s go look for them,” Rhodri suggested.

“No, let’s find some shade. It’s getting hot!” Adolphus pale skin was reddened by weeks in the hothouse conditions of Antafrican sunlight.  Poor, freckled Gerhardt was positively sunburned, and had caused a scandal at court by weaving from reeds and then wearing the first hat seen in that country.

“How can you keep saying that?” Rhodri whined. “It’s unhealthy to be out of the light!”

“Let’s go get a drink of water,” Claire said.

Rhodri led them to the nearest fountain. The Palace grounds were riddled with springs, hot and cold, and they were tapped to provide easy water sources. No Antafrican could go long without a drink or a soak.

The fountain they found was near the kitchen gardens. There stood a thick wooden column three feet tall, carved in pictures. Cold water bubbled from a spout in the column and fell into a shallow pool surrounded by benches. Runoff from the pool chased down a rock-lined trench towards the gardens, for irrigation.

The benches were crowded with servants with their feet in the pool. At sight of the approaching children they gathered their things and hurried off. Everyone, courtiers and servants alike, was polite to the children, but no one wanted to be too close to them should the tide of the Queen’s favor turn against them. The servants’ flight was as much self-preservation as deference.

.

Sketch of Rhodri Annuum from the observation book of Adolphus von Hedwig.

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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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