Scourge of the High Skies

Well if you’re thinking my face looks familiar – drat!

You have probably seen this very unflattering mug shot on those tiresome WANTED posters the Admiralty keeps sticking up around the public houses of Bristol.  Where’s a man supposed to go for a quiet tot of gin these days?

And as for honour among thieves – don’t you believe it!  There’s only too many as would be more than willing to turn me over to the authorities for that paltry two hundred guineas.

a steampunk-shrunk modelSo yes, I’ll admit my way of earning a living might not be honest, in the strictest sense of the word, but it is certainly not easy.  My boys and I are out in all weathers, way above the streets where you land-lubbers lurk, lightening the loads of the airships and other sky-faring vessels up there.  Out in all weathers, we are, procuring booty and capturing ships, captains and passengers for ransom.  There’s always someone willing to pay a handsome price.

Let me tell you (very quickly, now – I don’t want to spend too long in these parts with those posters a-flapping in the wind.  There must still be some I haven’t managed to tear down) about my most notorious crime.  And this one took place on low land!

There I was, keeping myself to myself in a quiet little inn beside the Floating Harbour one evening, when in he walked.  Oh, he didn’t have his fine hat or any of those weapons he’s always bragging about, but I recognised him well enough – Algernon Cholmondeley, the Admiral of the High Skies.  Now it just so happens (don’t think I’m illiterate – there are some highly educated sky pirates around, you know) that I’d read Olivia Libris’ book The Vital Chapter, which told his story, so I primed my weapon and sauntered across to his table, just as he was about to begin his meal.

“That looks a fine bird you’re planning to eat, good Sir,” I says, standing right behind him and pressing the plasma gun very lightly against his back.  “Not peacock, by any chance, is it?”

His lordship started violently at that.  (You’d have to have read the start of the book to understand.)  That was when he realised there was a firearm aimed directly at his heart.

He sighed deeply.  “Montmorency Fairweather, if I’m not mistaken,”  he said.  “So is this your revenge?  You’re going to blow me to the four winds in this pleasant little hostelry?  How very ungentlemanly.”

“Not at all, Sir,” I replied, somewhat affronted that he should expect such coarse behaviour from a refined personage such as myself.  “You are worth far more to me alive than dead.  If you would do me the honour of accompanying me to my vessel, we will do the necessary and prepare  hostage notes for your employers and that lovely wife of yours.”

Rather reluctantly, his Lordship pushed aside the roast pheasant and walked slowly with me from the inn.

We came to know one another quite well, during the time of his confinement on various vessels in my fleet.  He took a keen interest in my ships, often asking the men most specific questions about the steering and engines.

In time, the Admiralty paid up and his Lordship was released quite unharmed, to return to his adoring family.  He shook me by the hand and expressed a wish that we might meet again, but in quite different circumstances.

sky PirateI have to admit, I rather took to the chap.

I certainly find myself substantially better off, thanks to that chance encounter beside Bristol’s fine Floating Harbour.

 

 

 

Monty Fairweather can be purchased – every man has his price – at 12th scale from this link.

Further adventures of Algernon Cholmondeley (now in a private collection) can be found on this blog in the Vital Chapter series of posts and here.

 

 

 

The Vital Chapter – Missing!

In my last post, I explained how a character in a story I’d written for a library-based mystery had become a real figure in the Steampunk-Shrunk Community.  Copies of the book (minus it’s vital missing chapter, of course) are available for sale, but since they are only a couple of centimetres tall, they’re difficult to read!  That’s why I’m going to print the text of the story here.  Hope you enjoy this first chapter:

The Vital Chapter by O Libris
Chapter 1

In which our hero is severely inconvenienced by the untimely demise of a large bird

Since the beginning of the year, Algernon Cholmondeley had been feeling somewhat out of sorts.

It began when his prize peacock simply keeled over and died in the very centre of the drive on New Year’s Day.  By unfortunate circumstances, many guests were due at The Grey House for a party on that very occasion.  Carriages and steam-powered automobiles had been arriving for some time.  Each driver had been forced to swerve to avoid the bird, which was lurching around and staggering about in the most ungainly manner.  The screeching of brakes and the parping of horns and claxons provided an unwelcome accompaniment to the gentle welcome offered by Algernon and his delightful wife Josephine.

Peacock, Iridescent, LookAt four minutes past five precisely, the peacock stood still, made a feeble attempt to confound death by opening its once-splendid tail, fell to the ground and flopped untidily on the lawn which lay at the centre of the gravelled driveway.

“Did you know there’s a dead peacock in the middle of the drive, Algernon, old chap?” asked one guest after another as they arrived at the front door.

No seasonal felicitations.  No extended hand offering a friendly shake.  Not even enquiries into the health of the host and hostess.

Some delivered the line with concern, others with wry amusement, a few with puzzlement and still more with unconcealed hilarity.

Nor did it stop there.  Once inside the ballroom, the guests continued to discuss the deceased creature with gusto.  Ladies were heard to express wistful desires for a feather or two to adorn their hats, since the unfortunate possessor of these trimmings would no longer be in any need of them.

“A few of those exquisite breast feathers would set off my new gown quite wonderfully,” one lady was heard to say.  “Just the shade of turquoise I have been searching for.  I wonder whether it would be indelicate to ask.”

The gentlemen seemed more interested in how the bird would taste roasted with an apple and cranberry stuffing, but felt it unlikely that the cook would have time to prepare it for that evening’s banquet.
“Just drawing and plucking a bird that size would take a number of hours, I would imagine,” sighed a gentleman who looked to have consumed more than enough delicacies during the festive season, given the strain placed upon his waistcoat buttons.

Next the conversation turned to possible reasons for the creature’s demise.  The early arrivals were able to give those who had appeared more recently a fascinating account of the peacock’s final hours.  With many sound effects and gesticulations, they re-enacted the problems they had encountered during their attempts to negotiate the drive and park safely.
“Staggering about like a drunk, it was!”  announced Charlie Stammers-Bottington.  “Quite thought I was going to hit the beast.  First it veered one way, then the other, with never a glance towards my vehicle.  And you fellows must admit, it’s not an easy thing to miss.”

Others agreed readily that Charlie’s traction engine was indeed a very powerful presence on any driveway, and would be hard to ignore.

A man in a brown suit, whose brother-in-law was a veterinarian, said he’d heard the aforesaid brother-in-law speak of an outbreak of avian influenza, which had swept across the country from Prussia.  There was a general consensus that this was the most probable cause of death.
“It’ll probably spread to any other birds on the estate,” someone warned.

“Do you keep any other birds, Algy?” Henry Stuffingham called across the room.  “Probably best to have them shot and burn the carcasses.  Can’t be too careful with something like this, y’know.”

Algernon poured himself another glass of brandy and shook his head.  The conversation showed no sign of abating.  His attempts to instigate some lively parlour games fell – if not on deaf ears – on ears that were deaf to any subject beyond the accursed peacock.

Even at dinner, the subject refused – unlike its physical counterpart – to die.
“That roast bird’s a good size,” one wag remarked.  “Not a peacock by any chance?”

The raucous laughter which followed this rather weak joke was the final straw for poor Algernon.
He rose unsteadily to his feet and roared, “If anyone else raises the subject of that confounded bird this evening, they may consider themselves unwelcome in this house, both now and in the future!  Kindly do not allude to it in any way whassover – what sever – oh!  Just drat the thing, that’s all!”

He sank back into his chair, covered his face with his hand and began to weep.

There was the most awkward silence, which seemed to last for an eternity.  It was as if, deprived of their sole topic of conversation, the guests had been rendered quite mute.

Dinner was finished silently, apart from the clanking of silver on fine bone china, which sound now seemed extraordinarily loud.

As soon as was deemed prudent, first one couple then another made lame and hurried excuses for their early departure and left.  There was a veritable stampede for the door, so much so, that quite a queue of vehicles formed, waiting to leave.  All eyes within them stared balefully at the corpse of the peacock, but no lips moved.

It was unlikely that any of these people – his once dearest friends and acquaintances – would ever return, Algernon mused, glumly.  His name would, for all time, be inexorably linked to this bird.

“Oh Algernon?” people would say, “the chap with the dead peacock?”

Sniggers would follow.  He would be a laughing stock from that day forth.

Peacock Feather, Spring, Drip, Macro

To be continued…