Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1) (3 page)

BOOK: Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1)
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


“Because this was given to you-specifically.”

“By some crazed racing fan. It probably means nothing.”

But both Byron and I knew it meant something, even if we were not sure what.

He took the kaleidoscope from my hands again and looked at the engraved symbols on the side. “Take it to Venice, to the clockworks in St. Mark’s Square. Someone will know what it is.”

I looked deeply at him, studying his handsome face as he examined the kaleidoscope. Every time I was with Byron, I felt a rush of excitement. While my stomach filled with girlish butterflies, my body ached for his rough embrace. I set my chin on his shoulder and inhaled deeply, breathing in his sweet scent.

He smiled wistfully at me then lifted the handkerchief and blotted my lip. “Lily,” he whispered fondly.

I reached out and stroked his cheek.

“Water,” Miss O called and handed in a serving platter.

Taking the tray, Byron uttered a distracted “Thank you.”

Miss O nodded but said nothing. God knows what she had heard or what she was thinking. With a sigh, Byron started pulling on his clothes. I handed him a glass of water which he drank greedily. Then he pulled on his boots.

“Now,” he said, and I could see that this was his goodbye, “I insist. Just go. Here,” he said, handing me his coin pouch, “take this. My secretary will meet you in the morning with another sum and my contacts, and he’ll settle with your customers.”

“George…” I began, but I was not sure what to say. I wanted to go, but I did not want to take his money.

He rose then and came to stand outside of the cot. “Oh yes, this too,” he said and handed me a bottle of amber colored laudanum. “For the trip. It takes the edge off. Trelawny found a great supplier. It’s the best I’ve had,” he said and leaned in. “Besides you,” he added and kissed me. “Write and let me know what you discover. And Lily, have fun,” he said with a sly grin then walked away.

“My lord… my lord,” Byron was greeted by others in the den as he passed. Moments later, he was gone.

I lay back on the cot. Opening the bottle, I tasted just a small drop of the laudanum. It
good. I looked at the kaleidoscope again. When I looked inside this time, however, I thought I saw, for just a moment, a strikingly beautiful woman—all in gold gazing at me.

I lowered the kaleidoscope then looked again. This time, I saw only colored glass. It was probably just the laudanum playing tricks on me. I lay back. What the hell. I would go.

Chapter 3

woke the next morning feeling like an elephant was thundering around in my head. I didn’t remember how I got there, but I had made it home to my second floor flat on Hart Street. My mouth felt sticky and tasted like the bottom of my boots. I clanged around in my small kitchen and put on a pot of tea. When I pushed open the curtains I discovered it was already late morning. The sunlight made me wince. I put on my dark glasses and sat holding my aching head until the teapot whistled.

I stumbled back into the kitchen and poured myself a cup. The tart black tea washed away the gummy sourness in my mouth but did nothing to relieve the headache. From the pantry, I pulled out a tin of tobacco. Two months earlier I had raced in the New York City leg of the Grand Prix. I’d come in second, again, but Cutter was nice enough to give me a tin of his family’s tobacco. It was good quality. I pushed a small pinch of the dried tobacco into a pipe. Despite my hopes, it did nothing to ease the headache.

I went back to the pantry to discover that, besides tea and sugar, I had nothing to eat in the flat. The days leading up to the race were always like that. I could only focus on one thing: winning.

I noticed then that the kaleidoscope was lying on the kitchen table wrapped in its cloth. I sat at the table considering it while I drank. After I finished the cup of tea, I looked down at the tea leaves. I was not a scryer, but I always impressed people with my ability to bullshit their fortune. I looked down at the pattern in the bottom of the cup. I saw, very clearly, the shape of a swan.

Forcing myself to get up, I washed my face and combed my hair. I took out the pin Byron had given me and fastened it on the side of my cap. It was already hot. I stripped off yesterday’s clothes and redressed. I pulled on some belted stockings, leather shorts with suspenders, and a scoop necked white lace top. I slid on my black leather knee-high boots and a matching shoulder shrug with a large satin red rose. Securing the kaleidoscope in my satchel, I tossed on my cap and headed out.

The second I pushed open the door leading to narrow Hart Street, I regretted getting out of bed. The smell of the fruit and flowers being sold in the street coupled with the wafting smell of horse manure filled my nose. Unable to control myself, I leaned into the alley and vomited. That wasn’t a good way to start the day.

I began the mile long trek back to the airship towers. My glasses on, I kept my head low. The sunlight burned my eyes and made my head throb. Hart Street was relatively quiet in the morning. The sound of the vendors and children and their mothers’ scolding them filled the streets. It was quite different from the raucous sounds of the night when the theaters, taverns, brothels, and opium dens were in full swing. Traveling down the cobblestone, I was happy to notice the pillory stocks were empty; apparently the constables were leaving the man-loving dandies at rest today.

I had just turned toward King Street when I heard someone call my name.

“Miss Stargazer?” someone called from behind me.

Oh lord, the last thing I needed was an adoring fan or a problem. I kept walking, pretending I had not heard.

“Begging your pardon, are you Lily Stargazer?” someone called again, and I heard feet hurriedly crossing the street behind me. “Miss?” the someone asked as he came up alongside me.

I turned to find myself looking at a very young priest with a very bruised face. I knew at once who he must be.

“Good morning,” I said.

I must not have smelled as good as I thought. I saw him take a sharp breath. I guess I’d grown used to the lingering smell of alcohol and opium. Regardless, he smiled tolerantly at me. He was quite young. His sandy brown hair was cut short, and he had alluringly blue eyes. He was not half bad. “Are you Miss Stargazer?”

“Obviously,” I replied. Not many London women were in the habit of dressing like an air jockey.

“I’m sorry. I was just trying to be polite. I heard about the harlequin yesterday. He confronted me as well. I was hoping I could speak with you for a moment?” he said and looked suspiciously around him. Clearly, he was not comfortable being in an area of town with such ill repute. Even though I was in a hurry, I felt bad for him.

“Sure, why not,” I said sympathetically. “There is a teahouse across the way.” I turned and headed in the direction of Mrs. Mulligan’s.

“Thank you,” he said, relieved. “I am sure you are very busy. Thank you for your time,” he said as he tried to keep pace with me. His long black skirts swished above the stone streets as he walked.

The bell on the door of Mrs. Mulligan’s teahouse jingled when we entered. We took a seat close to the window. I pulled off my glasses and hat. I noticed that several of the patrons looked up to inspect us when we entered. An air jockey and a busted up priest, we must have made an odd pair. Someone said my name in a whisper.

The teahouse was quaint. The walls were papered with a blue and yellow floral pattern. Each table had a white lace tablecloth and a small bouquet of irises at the center.

“Mornin’, Lily,” Mrs. Mulligan said. She was a stout woman who wore a blue cotton gown and a stiff white apron. She set a chipped teapot on the table, clattered down two old cups and saucers, and poured the priest and me tea into mismatched cups: mine bore a yellow daffodil; the priest’s had a dark blue stripe.

“Want anything?” she asked me.

My stomach still had not decided if I was hungry or sick. “Let’s have two lemon scones,” I told her. I could not remember the last time I’d actually eaten something.

I lifted two cubes of sugar and dropped them into the tea, splashing drops onto the white tablecloth. I stirred the tea and looked up at the priest.

He looked around, taking everything in, then slid a slice of lemon into his tea. “I’m Father Magill,” he introduced. “I heard the harlequin attacked you at the race yesterday.”

“Well, ‘attacked’ is a bit strong. You look attacked. I was just rattled,” I paused. “You’re a bit young to be a priest, aren’t you?” I lifted the teacup and saucer. My hands were trembling terribly; the china clattered. I set the saucer down, took a quick sip of tea, and returned the cup.

The priest’s watchful eyes took in my shaking hands.

“I haven’t eaten,” I explained in something of a lie.

He looked carefully at me. “You’re a bit young to be an airship racer, aren’t you?” he said with a grin. His face dimpled at the corners when he smiled. He was far too handsome to be a priest, black eye aside. Or, perhaps, included.

I decided then that I liked him. I smiled. “Yeah, I see what you did there. Now, what do you want from me?” I asked.

Mrs. Mulligan returned with the scones. They were baked to a golden yellow. I could smell the thin lemon glaze on the top and just a hint of the sweet scent of vanilla. My stomach growled.

Right away, Father Magill lifted his scone and took a bite. He sighed, savoring the flavors.

It was my turn to look carefully at him.

“The church pantries are somewhat limited,” he said in what I suspected was something of a lie. “The harlequin stole an artifact from the church and left me with this little gift,” he said pointing to his eye. “I’m trying to track down the item, and the constables have been no help. My superiors asked me to see if you knew anything. They are put out that it’s missing, and ultimately, it is my fault it got away.”

“Is it? What kind of artifact?” I asked and took a bite. The scone was good, and my stomach decided to cooperate.

“Well, I’m not really able to say,” he replied, looking rather embarrassed.

I laughed. It figured. I then told Father Magill the same lie I had told the constables.

The priest looked disappointed. He took another bite of the scone and stared down at his plate. His forehead wrinkled with stressed distraction. I suspected that his superiors were more than a little put out.

“What’s your name?” I asked, sipping my tea.

He raised his blue eyes and looked at me. “Arthur,” he replied.

“Arthur. Savior from the Saxons. Wielder of Excalibur.”

Arthur smiled. “And how did you end up with the name Lily?” he asked.

“When my mother dumped me at the orphanage before they hauled her off to debtors’ prison, she left me with a bouquet of lilies. She hoped it would make the nuns like me. From then on, they called me Lily.”

Arthur looked surprised. “How old were you?”

“About five.”

“You said they called you Lily. Did you have another name?”

I grinned at him. “Guinevere,” I lied.

“Really?” Arthur asked with a heavy laugh. He rubbed his knuckles across his lips while he looked me over. A moment later, he seemed to come to himself. He lowered his hand, and his eyes, and took a deep breath. “Your mother, what happened to her?” he asked, taking a sip of tea.

“Died in prison six months later.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It happens,” I said and suddenly felt a strong urge to get going. “Well, I need to get to the ship,” I said. I polished off my tea as I rose. Fishing a couple of coins out of my pocket, I set them on the table. My eyes caught sight of the tea leaves in the bottom of my cup. Again, I spotted a swan. I pushed the plate with my unfinished scone across the table to Arthur. “Enjoy mine too. Sorry I can’t help,” I told him.

“Lily,” he said, rising. It seemed he did not know what to say. “Thanks anyway. Congratulations, by the way, on second place yesterday.”

“Thanks,” I said, tossing on my cap. “Good luck, Arthur,” I said and exited the teahouse.

BOOK: Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1)
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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