7 June, 2015 by katelaity
Everyone laughed. Eduardo couldn’t tell whether to be pleased by their mirth, but he chose to think it was in his favour. “People should be grateful to me,” he added, quite certain that was always true.
The two birds took the opportunity to tease the lion, flapping over and plucking at his wings with their beaks, as if they would get him to fly as well. Eduardo soon became irritated. “Stop that.”
The birds paid him no attention, enjoying their game while the humans focused on the flying craft.
“Is everything ready?” the alchemist asked, his expression eager.
Helen thought again what a lovely smile he had, how his kindness radiated through it. Never mind, my girl, his heart is taken. “All ready. We await only the starter’s gun.”
Maggiormente frowned. “They shoot a gun to start the race? How very odd and so dangerous. What if someone were to get hurt?”
Helen smiled. “It’s an expression. In horse races in Britain we use a pistol to start the contest. There is no bullet in the gun, so it is quite safe.”
“Perhaps we need something else dramatic to start the race,” the alchemist said, stroking his beard. “My friend Myojo could probably—Oh! I know what we could do. Fireworks!” He rubbed his hands together gleefully.
“Fireworks? That sounds much more dangerous.”
“No, certainly not with Myojo’s help. She is quite amazingly magical. A magician in fact. I don’t even know how she does it,” Maggiormente confessed.
“It is a secret knowledge,” the woman said with a shy smile. “But not at all dangerous. We would keep it well away from the airships.”
Helen got the impression that she meant to reassure her. Despite the kindness, however, she felt an irrational irritation with the woman. It wasn’t entirely fair but then life seldom was. I should be concentrating on the race anyway, Helen scolded herself.
She could not stop the twinge of pain in her heart when the alchemist and the magician bent their heads together in animated conversation. She turned back to the engine, although there was nothing really to be done. Signor Romano was shining the brass panels, seemingly as a way to occupy his nervousness while waiting. His movements were too quick, too jerky.
“Here come the Lintons,” her father shouted and Helen started, looking over her shoulder where a large team of horses drew an enormous flat wagon with the Linton’s ship balanced on it and another behind it with the envelope, which struck her as very odd. To reassemble their ship just before the big race? How dramatic and foolhardy.
What potential problems might be introduced in a careless moment? But that was not her concern. They should have simply flown over to the field. Less dramatic, but surely more sensible.
With the Lintons, however, Helen had learned that sense and sensibility did not always coincide. They clearly meant to make themselves the center of attention with a lot of shouting and ordering about of their band of hired hands.
This could take some time.
“Perhaps we should have a bite to eat, as we will have to wait some time for the Lintons to be ready.” Helen frowned. She had no appetite, but it was better than staring gloomily at her competitors while they put on their show. “I think we have some cheese in the wicker basket.”
“No, even better! Now we have the fireworks. That will draw the attention away,” Maggiormente added with a laugh. Helen was surprised to see that the preparations had been made from the pouch Myojo had carried over her shoulder. It hardly seemed big enough to hold explosives. Perhaps they were very weak.
While most of the crowds had gathered around the Lintons’ hasty activity, a few began to drift over to where the alchemist and the magician were busy preparing the impromptu display. The little bird Seito had returned to her shoulder and the raven Tuppence was bursting with curiosity to see what was being done. Eduardo, however, stood well back. Having heard the word ‘explosions’ he had no apparent desire to come any closer.
“Mesdames et messieurs! My ladies and gentlemen!” Myojo may have been a tiny lass, but her voice carried almost as if she had a megaphone. Perhaps this was part of her magic. “To celebrate the great airship race, a little display of light and magic.”
She held a sort of canister in her hands and opened the lid with a flourish. From the cylinder arose a flowering of sparks and then a spray of what seemed to look like red flower petals shot up into the air. It was a gentle sort of fireworks, with very little in the way of fire and it proved a charming sight to the crowd who cheered and exclaimed their delight.
“Coriandoli!” Signor Romano said with a happy look, obviously recognizing the display. “They are little paper—paper disks from the silk worm cages. A Milan favourite. We throw them at carnival.”
“How ingenious.” Helen smiled. “I can see they would be more genteel than traditional fireworks.” And they had done the trick of bringing the audience back to their side of the field, doubtless annoying the Lintons. Myojo opened another canister, this time of blue paper disks. Helen watched more closely and saw that the sparks that preceded the coriandoli came from something up the magician’s sleeve.
Magic and sleight of hand: it was all right for the crowd, but winning the race would take more than that. Helen patted the rail of the gondola. The fuel had worked so well in the test. She had every faith that they would triumph.