10.8 Driver Who?

5 May, 2013 by katelaity

Airships & Alchemy CoverThe driver did not hesitate more than a moment, then once more called out, “Allons-y!” and urged the horses on. Their hooves’ tattoo and the continuing roar of the lion added to the cacophony of the crowd. If the organizers had hoped for a triumphant start to the Exposition, they were certainly getting it!

 

Eduardo continued to roar when the crowd ahead did not part quickly enough. He leapt up to make sure they were still heading in the right direction. Alain did his best to call out nautical directions, but the baker did not seem to realise that the lion did not have the same points of reference.

 

“Just point,” the alchemist said at last, worried that they would not get to the airship in time. What it was they needed to be in time for, he could not have said. But somehow rushing through the streets of Paris in a carriage, following a Venetian lion and pursuing an amazing airship gave him a sense of urgency that quite overtook any more sensible thoughts.

 

What is this Englishwoman going to be like? The alchemist had not really pondered the question much in the many months since he had agreed to work on the fuel in time for the Exposition. This may seem a bit odd—most people would be deeply consumed with curiosity about such an important connection.

 

Maggiormente was not most people and it did not take a winged lion to demonstrate that quite plainly. The alchemist was quite happy occupied with his studies and experiments most of the time. He regarded anything but a good meal and a drink with a friend as an interruption to his life work.

 

He had great reserves of curiosity but they were mostly engaged with how to create new substances or how to control the reactions of known substances so that volatile eruptions could be kept to a minimum or at least found useful.

 

His concierge, Mme. Gabor, would doubtless disparage his abilities on the controlling of eruptive substances.

 

The alchemist squinted toward the ship, which looked even more magnificent as they drew closer. The oblong elegance of the body—was it called a body? Perhaps like a ship he should call it the hull. Maggiormente tugged at his beard, lost in thought as the carriage bounced along behind the lion. Would there be a whole new vocabulary for airships as opposed to the watery ones? It seemed inefficient.

 

The gondolas of Venice were his only real experience with ships and that was not much to go on, he realised. Perhaps Eduardo would know more.

 

The lion roared again, distracting the alchemist from his thoughts about his partner in air travel. The throngs of people parted before the beast, some turning to gape at the strange creature, others only hoping to return on their pell-mell flight toward the object of curiosity.

 

As the carriage bounced along, the driver seemed to lose none of his enthusiasm. A strange light gleamed in his eye as if he had been in search of adventure all this time and had not found enough on the cobblestones of Montmartre. Maggiormente had learned not to be too surprised by the unusual people he had met in that arrondissement, but it made him curious all the same to know more about this man.

 

“Who is our driver?” he turned to ask Gustave.

 

The poet looked at him, nonplussed. “Who?”

 

“Yes.”

 

The two stared at each for a moment, equally confused. The driver turned around and called over his shoulder, “What do we do when we reach the ship, messieurs? Get a little perspective, eh?”

 

“What?” Gustave and Maggiormente said in befuddled unison.

 

“We’re meeting the airship,” Alain broke in. “Monsieur Maggiormente here is a famous alchemist. He is making a special fuel for the ship.”

 

“Is that so?” The driver grinned. “I don’t know about all this modern technology. “It may put my horses out of work.”

 

Alain clapped him on the back. “Oh surely not, monsieur!”

 

“And what about me? Will I perhaps have to learn to drive an airship?”

 

“You never know,” Gustave said with an edge of belligerence in his voice. “You might just find it exhilarating.”

 

“It would have to be a living thing. It would not be the same without my horses, I fear.” The driver laughed and reined the horses quickly over to the left to slip around a middle-aged banker who had fainted at the passage of the Venetian lion. His wife now fanned him with a copy of Le Figaro.

 

All of a sudden the crowd thinned out and there they were! The ship was coming down to earth and the people stood well back, as if they feared to get too close to the ship they had rushed to see.

 

Eduardo stood, his tail lashing around him as he gazed up at the ship, tongue lolling and eyes very bright indeed.

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