Wednesday, December 26 , 2018
I hope everyone who celebrated any sort of holiday this week had a joyous and relaxing time. I’m always hearing people say “Christmas is all about families.” Well, I don’t have a family, but I enjoy the holiday in my own way. Festivities were perhaps a little restrained this year for 2 million (USAGov figure) of us who work for the federal government, due to the government shutdown (pay withheld). Fortunately this has not effected my particular agency… yet. Onward.
The #SteamPunk train has arrived at the platform and we’re ready for another chapter of Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers! You’d better buckle up.
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
The movement of the water became intense. Something was rising to the surface. Involuntarily I took a step backward. Victoria took Copper’s hand and pulled her several feet away from the shore.
For a moment I thought a whale was breaching. Then I realized it was no living thing. When the entire large shape was in full view, I still didn’t know what it could be. “Cornelis…” I began, but found I was at a loss for words. “Wha—”
Cornelis Drebbel clasped his hands and a gleeful expression lit his face, as if he beheld something he had long missed.
“It’s my submarine!” he crowed.
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
23 — Feather, Yorkshire Pudding, Absinthe
Awed silence blanketed us as we looked toward the water. A highly refined version of the submarine Cornelis Drebbel invented in 1620 breached the surface of the water. I don’t know what I expected it would do after surfacing, but I thought it would at least do something. However, the vessel bobbed on the gentle currents and other wise did not move.
Alastair Wong spoke excitedly to Cornelis, marveling about the machine. Our host clearly hoped for a tour of the submarine.
“This surely was a feather in your cap. It’s amazing that you invented such a futuristic vehicle so very long ago!” Alastair exclaimed and Victoria nodded her agreement.
Cornelis looked unexpectedly worried. That puzzled me, because he loved to show off his inventions.
“You must have a look at it. But I’d best go aboard first to err… to make sure things are in order,” the alchemist said with a distracted smile. “The hatch should have opened by now,” Cornelis murmured as he turned from Wong back toward the submarine.
As the Dutchman approached the shoreline the vessel’s hatch slowly lifted. Green vapors emanated from the opening. The breeze carried an aroma like licorice to me. Victoria smelled it too.
“Is that scent anise?” she asked no one in particular.
“Your king must have been thrilled,” Wong continued, not noticing the tiny woman’s softly spoken question. “Just to think—” his words abruptly cut off.
Though it was far away, it was easy to hear the distant boom of the huge gong at the Wong estate. Alastair turned back in the direction from which we came. His face remained passive at the unexpected sound.
A second vibrant hollow tone crashed immediately after the first. Wong and Victoria exchanged a quick concerned glance. For the space of two heartbeats there was silence. Victoria took a relieved breath, but Alastair had not moved a muscle. Then a third beat rang across the countryside.
Victoria gasped. Alastair sprang to life.
“I humbly beg your pardon Cornelis. There is trouble at the pavilion. I must return with all due haste,” he said.
Cornelis motioned for Wong to wait. He unrolled the map with the alchemically inscribed word “Daddy.” The alchemist produced his harmonic tuner out of thin air and rang it three times. Then he took a crystal salt shaker from the basket that Victoria was hurriedly packing. He sprinkled a pinch of the salt over the map.
The salt began to swirl into a tiny cloud. It moved to the golden dot that indicated the Wong family’s estate. As the salt settled onto the map it made little moving specks. A dozen of them moved steadily toward the pavilion.
“What does it mean?” Victoria gasped.
“A group of people are moving toward your estate,” Cornelis explained.
“For the great gong to be sounded, they are strangers. Not only strangers, but somehow they have aroused the distrust of the guards even at that distance,” Alastair told us. “Will the road locomotive get me back there before they reach the pavilion?” he asked the alchemist.
“I’ll see that it does,” Cornelis assured him.
“Umm,” Alastair began. “Will you teach me to pilot it?”
Cornelis grinned at Wong’s sheepish tone.
“You needn’t worry,” he told Alastair. “Just rest your hands on the controls. The locomotive will remember the way home. I entrust it to your safe keeping.”
As Wong turned to go, Cornelis took his arm to detain him.
“It is almost certain that those are our foes, not any that you may have, who approach your home. I should come back with you,” the Dutchman said.
I knew Cornelis was sincere, but he gave a worried look at Copper. The “foes” that converged on Wong’s estate were most likely from one of the groups that meant to abduct Copper. We all knew that. I only hoped Copper didn’t realize and feel responsible.
Alastair Wong caught our glances at the girl and he looked down at her with a warm smile, as if nothing whatever was wrong. Victoria put her arm around Copper’s shoulders with a reassuring squeeze.
“My grandfather was once the guardian of your skull, Cornelis Drebbel. It is my honor and privilege to defend you however I may,” Alastair said with an abrupt soldier’s bow, and he and Victoria were quickly gone.
I watched the steam engine in concern as it disappeared into the trees. When I glanced down, I realized Copper was at my side. She turned worried blue eyes up at me.
“Will they be alright?” she asked.
I swallowed, just as worried as Copper. The Dutchman crouched down next to Copper and there was a small glint of mischief in his eyes. He shook his head in mock regret.
“It’s really the people sneaking up on the pavilion that we should worry about,” he told her in an exaggeratedly grave voice.
Copper gave the alchemist a sidelong look that matched my own.
“What do you mean by that, Cornelis?” I asked.
“Didn’t you know?” he returned a question. “Why the Wong family business — or at any rate it’s practically their family business. Has been for hundreds of years.”
“What?” I demanded, losing patience.
“Martial arts of course,” Cornelis said with a wave of his hand. “That tiny Victoria is downright lethal. I tell you, she and Alastair alone could take on the dozen people headed toward the pavilion,” he added.
I looked at the Dutchman closely. Such a claim had to be an embellishment meant to amuse Copper. My eyes widened when I realized that he was perfectly serious.
Copper still looked worried so I tried to change the subject.
“After that delicious Italian feast, we might not be able to fit into the submarine,” I commented, joking. “You enjoyed the food, didn’t you Copper?”
“It was strange food, but it was good,” she answered. “But there wasn’t a sweet,” she added sadly.
Cornelis began describing a strange but elaborate meal he had been served in the sixteen hundreds.
“I was in service to the King of England then,” he supplied. “But now a traditional meal one might serve company for dinner would be much different. Have you ever had a Yorkshire pudding?” he asked Copper and went on to describe such a meal.
I looked at the submarine apprehensively.
“Are we going to have to swim out to the thing?” I asked then had a worried thought. “Copper, can you swim?” I asked.
The child wore a doubtful expression but nodded affirmatively. I didn’t believe her.
“Not to worry,” Cornelis said cheerily. “I can levitate us that miniscule distance. I’m thoroughly rested and refreshed.”
We placed Copper between us. Cornelis and I each held one of her hands. I was amazed to not feel any sensation at all. It was as if I suddenly realized that I no longer felt the ground beneath my feet. We floated on a green nimbus over the water to the submarine.
As we drew close I could hear an odd sound that was like a combination of chirping and lip-smacking with an occasional snuffle. Then I detected the licorice-like scent again.
“Cornelis,” I began doubtfully as a green tendril wafted up from the open hatch. “What powers this submarine? I could swear that I smell absinthe.”
“Oh no, no. Of course not,” he sputtered. “Well, not exactly.”
“Cornelis Drebbel! Need I remind you that we have a child with us?” I threatened.
“No, it’s not like that at all,” Cornelis hastily tried to explain. “The submarine is powered by the Green Fairy.”
“Absinthe!” I accused.
“No and yes,” he answered exacerbating my exasperation. “The fairy sometimes goes by the name Absinthe. But it is not the liquor, I assure you. The Green Fairy’s magic, along with my alchemy, powers the submarine,” he said. “But do be careful not to startle it.”
“Why?” I spoke the question with raised eyebrows.
“Well,” the Dutchman hesitated. “If the Green Fairy is startled, he can emit a strong vapor.”
“Like a fart?” Copper giggled.
“Exactly,” Cornelis said. “But not at all. It’s not a vile odor. However, it will cause…” he paused and looked at me sheepishly. “Intoxication. It’s quite strong,” he finished and wouldn’t look at me.
I looked at the green vaporous tendril and inhaled the anise, licorice scent. I took a steadying breath and tried to gather my quickly escaping temper.
“Cornelis Drebbel, are you trying to tell me that this submarine is powered by a magical creature that farts a highly concentrated vaporous form of absinthe?” I asked and I couldn’t prevent my voice going up a full octave on the last word.
Cornelis twisted his lips over to one side and raised one bushy blonde eyebrow in a cringing expression.
“Well, yes. That’s pretty much exactly what I meant. But he only does that if you frighten him,” Cornelis said, nodding encouragingly.
Real World Notes
The First Christmas Card. Sir Henry Cole was a British inventor who facilitated several innovations in commerce and education. He came up with the idea of of sending greetings cards at Christmas time, and introduced the first commercial Christmas card in 1843.
Absinthe. It’s an anise-flavored, alcoholic drink. Some horrible crimes were associated with the drink back in the day. However, modern investigation indicated that absinthe got a bad rap. It is no more dangerous than any other properly prepared liquor. Although it is quite a potent potable, so be careful that you don’t get arfarfan’arf.
Serving the drink can be a courtly, can be an afternoonified ritual because of all the particular accoutrements. Fill an absinthe fountain with ice water. Pour the absinthe into distinctly shaped absinthe glass. Then place a slotted silver spoon across the top of the glass. Place a sugar cube on the spoon. Position the glass, spoon, and sugar cube under a spigot of the fountain. Let the icy water slowly drip over the sugar cube until the sugar dissolves and the absinthe turns completely opaque.
Here’s a good informative video and article about it.
This video demonstrates the beguiling way in which absinthe is properly prepared.
This serial continues on Straightlaced Saturday. See what I did with Coyote, La Llorona, and Chupacabra.
I’ll be looking for you at the station on Saturday.
Now some shameless self-promotion.
Universal link to my Amazon Author Page
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This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
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