20 April, 2014 by katelaity
“I don’t know what you mean,” Maggiormente mumbled more to his wine than to Eduardo, but he was spared the need to respond to his familiar’s penetrating question by the incredulous voice of Helen’s brother.
“You can’t be seriously contemplating racing this ship with an entirely new fuel this Saturday!” He shook his head. “It’s madness.”
Helen laughed. “I find it amusing that my rakehell brother has become all solicitous of my health and safety.”
Edmund flushed. “I am no rakehell.”
“That’s not what your tutor said,” his father commented in a rather waspish tone.
“He was a low man of ill-repute himself who accused me of worse things than he’d ever done.” Edmund seldom showed the temper he had inherited from his father, but the latter had been needling him since his arrival and his patience was wearing thin.
“A likely story,” his father harrumphed.
“He wished to remain in your good graces. Because you were willing to believe everything bad of me and everything good of him, he found it easy to manage you.”
“Papa! Ned! Please.” Helen stood up, hands on her hips, eye flashing. “I have had enough out of both of you. Sit down, be polite and do not spoil the afternoon for our friends.” She sat down once more and lifted her glass. “Can someone propose a toast?”
Maggiormente found himself inexplicably tongue-tied as he sought through his brain for words sufficiently powerful to honour the lady.
Adèle beat him to the punch. “To our intrepid airship capitaine!”
Everyone cheered and drank, though Helen waved away their praise. Instead she held her glass aloft once more. “To our fine ship, Jane’s Inspiration, and the new fuel the Signore has promised me!”
“Victory shall be ours!” Signor Romano cheered on his fellow countryman.
Maggiormente could feel the sweat break out on his brow. He usually worked in isolation, meandering through problems and musing on possibilities. Suddenly here was a pressure in a way he had never experienced before.
Not only must the result of his work be public, but so very much depended upon the red wheels turning in his mind, blending substances into a fabulous fuel that would prove efficient and powerful. He thought the formula would prove sound.
What if it didn’t?
“Stop worrying so much. Your hair will fall out.”
Maggiormente looked down at his Venetian lion. ‘What?”
“It’s a well known fact: excessive worry makes the hair fall out.” Eduardo slurped more wine from the bowl on the floor and looked up expectantly. “Insufficient wine leaves a lion grumpy,” he added stretching his neck to see where the nearest wine bottle could be found.
The alchemist reached for a bottle on the table and splashed a little more into the lion’s bowl. “You ought not have much. It’s much too rich for your digestion.”
Eduardo ignored him and lapped at the red liquid. He had done his part, it seems, by ignoring little Brigitte’s attempt to tidy his hair into plaits. A more rambunctious beast might have been expected to devour the child.
Never mind that the lion found the look flattering and the attention well-deserved. “I am serious and entirely truthful, you know,” he said to the alchemist as he licked drops of wine from his whiskers.
“So don’t be so anxious. The fuel will work and all will be well.”
“I hope you are right,” Maggiormente said. “But I fear the trial tomorrow.”
“That’s why it’s a trial.” Eduardo bent his muzzle to the bowl once more, savouring the taste of the wine after all the riches of the luncheon. “If it doesn’t work, you fix it. You always do.”
The alchemist winced. “I am not certain that ‘eventually’ will be enough in this case. I must prove myself to the esteemed Miss Rochester. I must not fail her.”
Eduardo regarded him with an expression that seemed mischievously amused. “I have every faith in our success. I just hope England is not as cold as I have heard.”
“Eh?” Maggiormente stared at his lion.