Sunday, June 6, 2010

SteamPink: coach car - Emily

Meet: Emily Oldhall
Occupation: Lady
Location: Cairo
Main mode of transportation: magic carpetship
Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Romance

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by Sarah A. Hoyt
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Mama was in a bad mood before they ever got to the station. She hadn’t wanted to take this trip. “A shocking way of traveling,” she always said of the trains. “So very mixed.”

But papa had been firm about the family taking the Devonian express to London. “My dear, I regret to subject you to it,” he’d said. “But indeed, this is not a normal train.” As he spoke – with the whole family assembled in the drawing room of their house at Inklefield, the six girls embroidering, mama hemming handkerchiefs – he’d given his little sniff, which he always did when he was sure Mama would disapprove of what he had to say. “This is a chartered train, m’dear, and only the very best people will be allowed on board.”

He’d helped himself to brandy from the sideboard decanter, and after two swallows warmed to his theme, “You see, the thing is, the foreign office has asked me to visit the fair with my family. Not supposed to be particular or anything, but there’s all the new machines brought in run with foreign magic and... well, it is important to make sure no impious black magic is being used.”

Since it was for Papa’s work – though of course Mama never referred to his position with Foreign Affairs as a profession because though Papa had first been in the army and now worked for the government he was a gentleman and a gentleman’s son – Mama could not refuse it. But she did not have to like it. And she meant for everyone to know it.

The everyone, as almost in every case, was Emily. In the midst of Mama’s very fair daughters Emily, with her nutmeg skin, her dark, dark hair, looked as incongruous as a black swan in a flock of white ones. This was no great surprise, of course, since she was the daughter of Papa’s first wife, who had died on the carpetship on the way from India. Mama was Papa’s second wife.

However, the fact that Emily didn’t look English at all drove Mama to distraction. Almost anyone they met while on an outing, was bound to address Emily as though she were at worst the maid and at best a poor relation. “Which I’m sure,” Mama was fond of saying. “Is no fault of mine, since I always make sure she’s as well dressed as the girls, if not better.”

In fact, Mama always made sure that Emily had the prettiest dresses and the best cut. She was not unkind, Emily thought, not like the stepmothers in stories. It was just the way she casually referred to the girls as though Emily were something quite other – a strange being dropped into mama’s cozy family that made Emily want to burst into tears, or run away, or perhaps never talk to Mama again.

She lowered her head, and did her best to march steadily behind Mama – with her sisters duckling-like behind her – as they entered a crowded station, roofed over in glass. Only the magic of the large factories, run by a group of bourgeois, each of them with a little bit of magic, could produce panels of glass that large or that sturdy. Of course the same magic ran the trains. Which was probably another reason Mama hated them so. She would have preferred society to remain as it had been in the middle ages, when only kings and their relatives had magic. Unfortunately for Mama’s hopes, kings relatives were not always those conceived in holy matrimony. With the result that now, centuries later, most people in Europe had at least some degree of magic. And a few inventive men, possessed of enough magic, could run factories.

From this great things had resulted. The looms in the magic-powered factories had covered the world in the cloth of the British kingdom. Carpetships – buildings atop magical carpets, sustained and run by half breed magicians – transported Europeans everywhere in the world in the greatest degree of luxury. And within Europe herself, and in the isles, trains ran, carrying people with much greater ease and safety than horses and carriages had ever managed.

But this of course would not calm Mama’s sense that something precious had been lost when poorer people could mingle with noblemen.


Mama’s yell served notice to Emily that she’d almost walked into one the magic-powered humunculus – androids the tradesmen called them, though Emily was sure she didn’t know why – who was carrying luggage about. She checked, holding still, while the creature, made of metal and ceramic, clicked by, walking with the stiffness of magic-animated joints, carrying in its arms a pile of luggage that would crush a living a porter. Like the living porter who now approached mama and, bowing obsequiously, asked her if she needed help finding her compartment and seeing her luggage conveyed aboard.

Mama did. Though Emily, who had seen the tickets, knew very well that she and her mother, and her sisters, were in the third compartment in the second carriage and therefore Mama must know so as well, Mama would say it wasn’t proper for a lady to be too forward with her reasoning. And so she let herself be led by this short man with ginger hair. They cut through a throng of people, until he halted at the door to the carriage and doffed his cap – emblazoned with Devonian Express as he let them in. Mama paused at the door to give her last instructions on how he could find the carriage and Jennings, their man, with the bags that should be loaded into it.

“You see, Emily,” Mama said, always addressing herself to Emily as though Emily had disputed Mama’s words. Which Emily hadn’t, not being stupid enough to speak her thoughts. “It is always best if you can procure human help. All these newfangled magical machinery will bring you nothing but grief, you mark my words.”

Emily inclined her head and did not tell Mama that, more than likely, at this moment, a mechanical porter would be carrying the bags to the luggage train. Instead, she looked about their quarters in some pleasure. Since she’d traveled to England from her native India, she’d not left Papa’s manor house except by carriage. Their compartment looked like a little drawing room, containing even a little tea table with its own cloth. It was easy enough to overlook that the table and the overwrought chairs were bolted to the floor, to avoid a lurch in the train movements. Next to this compartment was another, equally small one, which contained beds, three on each side, stacked to the ceiling. Yet another compartment had a wash basin, already containing jars of water in stasis fields, so they would stay hot.

The inspection completed there was nothing for it, but to sit back in the compartment, where Mama was giving orders to Emily’s next older sister, Jane, to ring the bell for tea. And then it was exactly like an evening at home, save more suffocating with Mama and Emily’s sisters and Emily in close confines, embroidering and talking. Fortunately Emily could not be requested to play the piano, as there was none available. Though piano music filtered in from somewhere in the train and Emily wished she were there.

Looking out the window, at the sun setting over the Highland gorse, she thought that she would rather be anywhere at all but here. Somewhere there was high adventure. Somewhere people were discovering new things. Somewhere, other continents sprawled where she might be happy.

They went to bed at the appointed time, and Emily lay in her bed a long time, awake, listening to Mama snore from the berth above, and feeling now and then the slight shake of the train beneath her. It was too like the shake of the carpetship, where she’d been scared and alone, while her real Mama had been locked in her cabin, dying.

At last, unable to sleep, she threw back the covers and put on her dressing gown, and stepped back into the little drawing room, to look out the window.

If she had not already been awake, she would have slept through the rattle and groan that echoed through the carriage as the train came to a stop. Emily looked out. They stood in the midst of wild country, with crags all about, and pouring rain was falling, cut now and then by lightening. Emily had never heard that lightening disrupted magic on trains, but she could just imagine the scene Mama would make. She opened the door of her carriage, cautiously, conscious it was indecent to do so in her dressing gown, but wondering if someone was about who would tell her what had happened.

As it chanced, a conductor coming down the hallway, holding a magical glowing lantern smiled at her, “It’s all right miss. Just a spot of bother with the Royal Were Hunters. They say there is a wild were lose on the train and they came on flying rugs and stopped us so they could inspect. I think it is all nonsense and I bid them proceed quietly, so as not to disturb the passengers. Go back to your bed, Miss, we shall be on our way now and now.”

Emily obeyed. Except she didn’t go to bed. Instead, she sat in the little dark sitting room, wedged between the table and the chair. She didn’t turn on the magelight because the door between the sleeping quarters and the sitting room didn’t seal properly, Mama might see the light and wake up. And Emily didn’t wish to explain why she was awake, much less what was happening to stop the train. So she sat in a chair in the little room, her hands demurely folded on her lap.

Now and then a ray of lightening starkly illuminated the landscape outside, revealing snatches of unexpected action. One of those flashes allowed her to see – for just a moment – a company of gold-attired men carrying vicious looking power-sticks. Another and she saw one at the door of her carriage, seemingly standing guard.

Of course there would be a guard at the door to every carriage. And the Royal Were-Hunters were, Emily supposed, to be admired for taking on the task of keeping the kingdom free of dangerous magical creatures who could shift their shapes into animals then back again to humans.

The history books were full of examples of these creatures, unchecked, wreaking havoc on the lives of all around them. Richard the Lionhearted had in fact been more lion than man and when, returning from the crusades, he’d revealed his true form, he’d brought half the court down before he was stopped. Which was why from that day on, any were found under the rule of the English monarch, was condemned to death without a trial.

Even the small wares were of such a slippery nature – witness Anne Boleyn who was a were hare – they could hardly be trusted. And besides, their magical fields, particularly when transformed, were such that the flying ones could bring down carpetships and the others could stop entire mills. Why, only last week there was a story of a were-mouse in Sussex who had stopped manufacturing in an entire town.

She knew all this, and she tried to feel admiration of the were hunters, but she could not. Perhaps she was naturally wicked – Mama certainly had told her so – but she could all too vividly imagine what it would be like to be born with the capacity to change into another creature. Surely it was neither something you wished for nor something any sane being could relish. What special power could it give you? Oh, surely, animal strength. But what was that to losing the ability to control yourself as humans did?

And for this to be hunted down and persecuted – for something you had no control over...

Emily got her luggage down from the top rack, the only thing that gave away this was not in fact a small sitting room, and from within her work trunk – where she brought the embroidery and such that Mama thought proper for a lady of quality to engage in – she pulled out a shawl. It had been her mother’s and was vividly embroidered in silk, with the exuberant flowers that, Emily imagined, must be common in India.

She barely remembered India, not having seen it since she was six. Her real Mama had been a half-Indian beauty, the daughter of a British officer and his Indian mistress. The shawl was all that Emily had from her, and wrapping herself in it made her feel what she imagined other people felt from a maternal embrace. How many times, since coming to Great Britain, had Emily felt as though everyone stared at her because she didn’t look like any proper English Miss? And her magical power was odd too – much larger than the amount of it she could use. Her teachers at the boarding school she’d briefly attended had told her that it was alien power and they could not work with it. And all the while, they’d treated it as though it were al her fault. Just like weres. Perhaps that was why she felt such sympathy for the were being mercilessly hunted down.

Emily heard feet in the hallway, disciplined feet, walking as if they were on parade. The Royal were hunters were in the train. She cowered nearer the window and wrapped the shawl tighter around her.

There was silence for a while, and then she heard a snuffling, like a large dog at her compartment door. She started up, with fear, ready to sink into the seat, or perhaps to run into the sleeping compartment and wake mama and demand protection.

But before she could move, the door to the compartment moved. Through the narrow opening, she saw a paw, claws, and, above it, a large, golden-yellow eye.

For a moment in the glare of that baneful eye, she thought her heart would stop. And then she realized that the eye looked... frightened and pleading. And her heart resumed beating. An overwhelming surge of pity overrode her fear and carried her to the door, led her to open it.

The large cat on the other side was massive and black and – as a flash of lightening illuminated it – cowered against the floor for all the world like Tabby, back home, when she was afraid of being punished for stealing the dinner fish.

Emily reached forward and, tentatively, touched the great head of the creature that looked like a black panther. The animal let her touch him – there was no doubt in her mind it was a him. There was something very masculine in the set of that large head, in the muscled hunch of those massive shoulders – but he did not look less scared. Instead his eyes went one way, then another.

“They’re after you, of course,” Emily said, and as she said it, heard the stomp of the feet from the other side of the carriage again. It was more than she could bear. She would not have this magnificent creature slain in front of her. Quite sure she was sinking herself below reproach, as well as courting the worst penalties of law, she stepped aside. “Quick,” she said. If you understand me. If you curl up beneath the tea table, I shall lay my shawl on it, and it will hide you most completely.”

The beast hesitated only a moment then darted in, curled tightly under the tea table. Emily lay her shawl on it. The shawl was long enough it dragged on the floor, hiding the animal from view. Just as quickly, Emily pulled her current embroidery out of her work box, and the smallest of magelights out of Mama’s own work basket. Mama often used it to read or work by. Of course, even touching Mama’s work basket was sacrilege. Taking her light... But Emily was in much worse trouble now. She must save this person there, under the table. His very actions showed him to be human. She must save him.

When the scratching at the door – in lieu of knocking so as not to startle the passengers – came, she was prepared. She left the little magelight on the table and her work on it, and she opened the door with every appearance of fear and reluctance.

The men on the other side wore gold uniform. There were five of them. Beside them was the fatherly conductor she’d seen before.

“If you pardon me, Miss, these men would like to assure themselves the Were is not hiding in your cabin.”

“But... I’m the only one awake and mama and my sisters...”

“Did you see a panther, madam?” the leader of the Were Hunters asked. “A large, blackish cat?”

“Oh, no, never.” Emily answered. “I would have screamed.” It seemed to her she could hear the breathing of her visitor, beneath the tea table.

The man frowned. He lifted a gadget that looked like a golden compass wheel and that, when held in front of the compartment, gave off a glowing golden light. “And yet, my indicator says there’s were energy from there.”

Emily was never quite sure how her magic worked, but now she wished very hard that the little compass wheel would malfunction. She concentrated on it pointing the members of the were hunters, themselves. Normal magic would be detected, but she had always been told hers was not normal magic. She wished and wished with all her might, as she said aloud, “I see. I would not for the world stand in the way of your completing your duty. You’re ever so brave and I–” She blushed and looked away, all the while throwing all the magic she could use at that cursed instrument. “And I will not dare... But is it possible it’s malfunctioning?”

At the same moment, she heard an exclamation of dismay. “But... it must be!” the man said. “It’s now pointing at my squad. Useless implement. Miss, are you quite sure–”

“Quite,” she said. “Oh, quite.”

“Well, we’ll take our leave, then.”

Emily closed the door and resumed her embroidery. Her visitor did not move or make a sound. Emily was cheered it was smart enough not to do anything of the kind. It could be a trap.

But after a while she heard the sentinel outside the carriage called off and heard a conversation as they passed the window, “It appears some magical disturbance made our instruments indicate a were here, but there really wasn’t. I grant you, we thought Lord Ilsidor was a were panther, but those anonymous letters must be wrong.”

“Yes, but shouldn’t we have found Ilsidor, if he’s not a panther and is a passenger?”

“Ah, well, old man, if he’s not a panther, the instruments wouldn’t find him, and you know what goes on in these trains. All the sleeping compartments. I’d say other than a panther Ilsidor is a knowing dog.”

They passed out of her hearing still laughing. She saw a large black paw come from under the table and touch her foot gently.

After a while the train started moving and after another while something like a long, low groan emerged from under the table, and the paw became a human hand, well shaped, with long, sensitive fingers. After a while more, a hand tugged at the little white table cloth beneath the shawl. Emily, understanding his purpose, lifted the shawl and allowed him to pull out the cloth.

When he got out from under the table, he held it in front of him for modesty’s sake, which did not hide the broad, muscular chest. She looked away, her cheek’s glowing.

“Thank you,” he said. “I beg you to believe I’m not guilty of more than being born a were. Thank you. You have the compassion of angels.”

“Not... not at all. But how are you...”

He smiled. He was a dark man in his middle years, with an aquiline nose and crisply curling dark hair. “I will be fine now,” he said. “I am quite used to...” he sighed. “Finding myself in this sort of situation. And my sleeping compartment is not too far off. Thank you again. I can never thank you enough.”

He opened the compartment door, quietly, and was gone.

She closed the door, put away mama’s magelight, her own work and the shawl. The train must be moving away from the storm or the storm from the train, because the thunder had diminished. And the excitement of the last few moments made Emily very tired indeed. She crept into her bed and was sound asleep when she woke in the morning to the sound of Mama berating one of the maid who waited on passengers for stupidly losing the white tea cloth that had been on the table the night before.

By the time she reached London, she was much inclined to think the whole thing a dream. And she put it all behind her when Papa told her he wanted her to meet a young man called Nigel Oldhall with whom he hoped she would contract an alliance.

But one night, returning to her lodgings, she found a small parcel and a note on her dressing table. The note read, “To the brave Miss who was an angel in my time of need.” The parcel contained a small gold pin in the shape of a panther led by an angel.

Emily blushed at the impropriety of it, but from now on, no matter how Mama raged, she could not dismay Emily. For Emily had found that no matter how strange her magic, how odd her appearance, both her heritage and her odd power had allowed her to save a life when no one else could.


The Beast And the Angel by Sarah A. Hoyt
Based on characters from Magical British Empire series © 2010. All rights reserved.

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by Sarah A. Hoyt
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Heart of Light
by Sarah A. Hoyt
Published: 2008

Romance steam gauge: light

Description from the amazon:
Set in a magical Victorian British Empire that never was, this unique fantasy blends adventure, intrigue, and romance, as a newlywed couple embark on a dangerous quest—and, in the process, discover their own heart’s desires.

On a luxury magic carpetship in 1889, an English couple travel to Cairo for their honeymoon. Except for a brush with a dragon, the voyage is uneventful. But for Nigel Oldhall and his beautiful Indian-born bride, Emily, the holiday hides another purpose. Within hours of arriving in the teeming city, they are plunged into an extraordinary struggle among demons, murderers, and magic.

In Cairo, Nigel can no longer hide his secret from his wife: he is on a mission to rescue a ruby that will ensure Queen Victoria’s hold on Africa forever. But the search has already swallowed up Nigel’s older brother—and now it has put his own Emily in mortal danger. But is she the innocent Nigel imagines? Soon, separately and apart, the two will set off for the heart of the continent among conspirators and traitors, all seeking the ruby and the gifts and curses it offers them—and all of humankind.…


Soul of Fire
by Sarah A. Hoyt

Heart and Soul
by Sarah A. Hoyt

*** steampunk book giveaway - courtesy of author ***

Sign up on one of the SteamPink giveaways to own this set. Yup - 3 books ;-D


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