11.1 The State of the Beard

26 May, 2013 by katelaity

Airships & Alchemy Cover“Signorina!” The alchemist took the proffered hand and clasped it with enthusiasm. “Yes, yes, I am he. Maggiormente, at your service!” He seemed mesmerized by her face and forgot to let go of her hand until she pulled it very gently from his grip.

 

“How wonderful to meet at last,” Helen said, untying the scarf which held the bonnet on her head. “We shall have so many things to talk about. But first we must bring the ship down safely.”

 

“We have done our best to help,” Maggiormente said, gesturing to his friends who waved to the ship’s captain. “I hope we did all right.”

 

“Indeed! It helped a great deal. Many hands make light work. It’s usually very tricky landing with just the three of us.”

 

“Three?”

 

“Signor Romano, my father and I. Four, I suppose, if you count Tuppence,” Helen added as the raven flew down to perch on her shoulder.

 

The alchemist threw a glance over at his lion, but Eduardo continued to focus on intimidating the crowd, most of whom seemed quite willing to watch the little drama from a distance. “That’s a lovely bird.”

 

“She’s a wonder and so helpful to have along on the journey. All kinds of uses for a raven.”

 

“No writing desk,” the alchemist joked and then wished he hadn’t. He stumbled over his words trying to introduce his friends as well. “Gustave, he is a poet and getting married this weekend. You must come! And this is Alain, the baker. His wife and he make the most excellent pies. Eduardo loves them especially.”

 

Helen waved at the two men as they managed to pull the ship to its rest. “I must thank them properly when the ship is safely anchored. I will also ask you for recommendations for a hotel for my father and I. We were lucky enough to be accommodated last night by a new friend, a journalist. I don’t think we will be staying at the places my father used to frequent.”

 

“Why ever not?” said the man in question as he eased himself over the rail of the gondola. “I’m sure I could look up my old companions who would be ready to show us a proper tour.”

 

“I’m not sure I want that kind of tour,” Helen said with a sharp little smile.

 

Maggiormente had the feeling there was a lot he was missing in the conversation, but decided it would be best to leave it that way. “Signor Rochester, I presume?”

 

“Good heavens,” the gentleman said, “Is all that beard on just one man?”

 

The alchemist’s mouth fell open but he had no words. He patted his beard somewhat protectively. It had never occurred to him to consider the state of his beard, or its abundance—if anything, he had thought himself proud to have achieved a prodigious growth.

 

Perhaps they regarded beards differently in England.

 

“Papa!” Helen scolded. “Don’t be so rude. My father is a terror, Signor, and you have a most admirable beard.”

 

Somewhat mollified, the alchemist stuck out his hand again to the other gentleman, whose impressive frame and odd scarring seemed to fit the barking voice a little too well, but the Italian was not one to refuse a challenge.

 

After a long hard look at the alchemist, Rochester deigned to take his hand and offered a grip every bit as firm as his own. “I still think your beard more befitting a wild man of the forest, but if my daughter is content, I won’t grumble.”

 

“I am pleased to meet you, sir,” Maggiormente said with gravity and not a little trepidation. Yet seeing him eye to eye now, he noticed the twinkle akin to his daughter’s gaze. Perhaps the bluster was just a front after all.

 

“Is that your lion over there?” Rochester said gruffly, squinting over at Eduardo.

 

“Oh yes, that is Eduardo. I should call him over—”

 

“Good heavens, he is a wild man! Look at that animal.”

 

“Papa!”

 

“Eduardo, per favore,” he called, hoping that the lion would not frighten the poor lady. While before he had thought only about the fuel and its success, the alchemist now had a very lovely face that he wanted to please also.

 

The lion walked over slowly, stretching his wings out to their full size as he did so. Undoubtedly Eduardo would wish to have his fez as well when meeting someone for the first time, but alas, it could not always be so.

 

“This is Eduardo,” he said with a mixture of pride and consternation.

 

“What a magnificent beast,” Helen Rochester said, clapping her hands together.

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