Greetings Gentle Readers,
I fear my last missive was woefully short on details concerning Owen. Indeed, as I read over the lines of text I wrote to you, I realized that my beloved Myra took over the pages and shone out like a star.
She tended to do that in life as well.
But let us continue with a more even handed approach now that we have moved beyond her story for indeed Owen’s story is still being told.
After Myra’s death, Owen took a leave of absence from the University. No one blamed him really. They had seen the love for her in his eyes from the beginning. Losing her devastated him, and losing her so quickly nearly broke his mind.
I spent the next several months floating him around Europe. He barely left his quarters for many of those days. After two months I became concerned for his health and asked him if he wanted something more to eat than the meager scraps we had left in the galley.
“She’s gone, Eudora.” His voice was rough, pain ridden. It nearly killed me to hear him so raw.
“Yes. She is.”
The silence stretched out, I could hear him breathing as he lay in the bed.
“What am I going to do now?” he whispers, “She…was my everything. My world.”
It hurt. Listening to his pain, feeling the emptiness of my halls, knowing her voice will no longer echo in laughter though my rooms. It honestly hurt. She had taken care of him when she was alive. It was my turn now.
“Owen, you have not eaten in 3 days. Come down to the kitchens and I will make you something, some…” I quickly checked my databanks on the last grocery trip. We were woefully low on supplies. “…well…we’ve got a bit of ham left. The cheese should still be good as well.” I began to plot the course for the nearest town to refill supplies, “That will hold you over for a few hours while I get some supplies.”
He said nothing for several minutes and then lets out a deep sigh and pushes himself up out of the bed. It takes just a few minutes to dock at the airport. The staff there secured my ropes to the metal frameworks that made up each port tower. They stood tall above the city, far enough apart to accommodate an Airship much larger than myself.
Once I made sure that I was secured properly, I downloaded myself into Toki. The clockwork doll came to life sluggishly, and one of the Aracnobots remained on her shoulder as I lurched from the recess where she was stored. I ran my finger down it’s rubber back and smiled as it clicked softly in time with my own mechanical pings. I made my way to the galley, where Owen had begun to cut himself a few slices of ham. He was already chewing a piece when I grabbed the basket and made my way to the door. We had rarely spoken on our mourning voyage, so his silence was nothing new to me. He was eating, and that was what mattered.
As the door slid open I was buffeted by the winds, it curled my hair around my face, the small spider curled in on itself and crouched near my neck. I stepped out onto the small platform that we were tied to and looked out over the city. The sun was coloring the smoke and fog red and orange from this height. The wind was cool, but the last of winter’s chill was being driven away by the steady gaze of the sun upon the building speckled ground below.
I had found out that this was Exmouth in East Devon when I requested docking permissions, and knew that this town, while not as large as London, was quite well stocked. Exmouth was just beginning to come into its own as a well known holiday resort for the wealthy, something about the healing properties of its salt waters.
“I wonder if we could convince Sir to partake of these baths.” I murmured softly to the Arachnobot. It clicked once and seemed to shrug. I mimicked its shrug and stepped to the elevator that led to the ground. It took a full ten minutes to lower us slowly to the ground and I spent the time watching the city rise to meet us.
It wasn’t like London at all really, not nearly as filthy with coal dust, as if the wind from the ocean swept it all clean.
“I’d hate to be the town upwind.” I murmured to the spider. I nearly fell as the elevator came to a sudden halt at the bottom of the spire. I quickly made my way off the platform and looked up…waaaaaay up to my airship above. Hardly discernable through the fog of the early morning.
I tucked the basket in the crook of my arm, and smoothed my hair as the spider darted down my arm and found a tea towel I had placed in the basket. I smiled down at it and began the trek down into the heart of the city proper, hoping that the market was clearly marked so I could find it.
The buildings here were no taller than three stories, indeed, the tallest building seemed to be the churches, their towers rising high above the rest of the buildings. The orangy glow of the sunrise dappled across the cream stones of the buildings themselves, the fog running across the roads between them, swirling around my skirts like a playful kitten.
It didn’t take me long to find the market, few people were up at this time of the morning, servants mostly, going about the household chores before their masters and mistresses rose for the day. I followed one such woman, dressed in a maid’s uniform, all starched linen and intent purpose. She paused at a street crossing, frowning as a carriage flies down the street, causing her to step back into me.
I probably should have been paying more attention. Her delicate weight hardly seemed to move me at all. She eeped and spun to face me, her eyes going wide as she took me in. I quickly held up my hands showing her I had no weapons upon me.
“Greetings Madame.” I said, keeping my voice low, and eyes downcast, “I beg your pardon. But I am new in town, in search of the market. Would you perchance know where I might find it?”
The woman covers her mouth to stifle a cry, then blinks quickly. “Yer…yer one of them clockwork things, aintcha?” She leans over and sees the key slowly turning in my back and laughs loudly, “Oi! You are! You are!” she claps her hand over her mouth once more as if just realizing how rude she was being. “Oh…ah…yes. The market.” She tsks softly, shaking her head, “I was just headn’ that way, why…um…why don’t cha come with me? It ain’t far.” She narrows her eyes at me and hmms, “You ain’t no buttoner are ya? Not gonna try and play the crooked cross are ya?”
I blinked and raised my eyes to the woman, confused at her use of words. “I shall not harm you Madame.” I said slowly, “I only wish to acquire some food for my Master’s repast.
The woman seems to take this well, and she turns, glancing around to see the street is clear and steps out, “Well ya don’t look like no nobbler, so I suppose I can take ya there. It’s just around the bit.”
It took me a few to understand what she was speaking of, and the spider was hardly any help, but she said she would take me where I needed to go, so I followed her. Smiling softly as she would jump from my various clicks and pings.
The woman, true to her word showed me to the central courtyard, where the market vendors had set up their wares. I had hoped to find something that would store well, seeing as how I didn’t know how much longer Owen would need to mourn. Most of the vendors were selling fish, though there was the general offerings, a Baker and his bread, the farmer and is produce, oh, and fresh milk. Owen loved fresh milk. We had been out of milk for several weeks now.
I stepped up to the first vendor, a man selling salted fish and was greeted with a blank stare and silence.
“I would like to purchase two pounds of your fish, sir.” I said, eyes down as always, “I have coin.”
At this point, I was quite aware that I was drawing a crowd. Their shocked murmurings reached my ears, and I turned to look at them. Several of the women gasped and backed away, as if I had lurched at them with some sort of weapon. I quickly dropped my gaze once more, wrapping my arms around my basket. This was so much easier with Myra around to defray their looks and speculations.
I turned quickly back to the vendor, quickly pulling out several coins and setting them on the counter, “Two pounds of your salted fish please.” I murmured hoping to get this done with quickly.
The man looked down at the coins, his gruff unshaved face slack, as if he didn’t understand my request. I was readying myself to repeat yet a third time when I jerked as my basket suddenly became much heavier. My gears whirred as I turned to see a young boy, smaller than even I, grinning up at me. “That’s enough coin for three pounds.” He laughs, then tugs on my basket, “What else ya need? These crazy louts just wanna stand around a stare, but it’s obvious ya got stuffs ta do, so I’ll help ya git it done.” He leans in and winks whispering conspiratorially, “And I knows what it’s like ta be stared at.”
He blinks down as the Aracnobot pops out of the basket, scampering up my arm to nestle against my neck. I wince as the women around me scream and shuffle back. I was afraid I would lose my little friend but he just laughed and tugged me on, “Come on. The baker always saves me a slice or two of bread and I’m hungry, are ya hungry?” he cocks his head, nothing but curiosity on his face, “Do ya eat even? I don’t s’pect ya would need ta, would ja?” he continues to babble as he pulls me through the crowd and down to the baker’s stall.
I can do nothing but smile and shake my head at the fearlessness of the boy. He pulls me this way and that, helping me shop by acting as a sort of buffer between the merchants and myself. He tells me how much to leave on the counters, and puts the food in my basket, all the while I try to avoid the stares of everyone around us.
Finally, the shopping is done and he seems to run out of things to say. He and I were sitting on a bench in front of a fountain, the market having returned to business as usual as they saw I was no threat…or very interesting. The boy’s claim over me seems to have made me…more acceptable in their eyes, less of an oddity, and more something that just…was.
The boy, Charlie he had told me at one point, was out of breath and leaning against the back of the bench, head rolled back, hands crossed over his stomach. He had just eaten his way through the market, the baker not the only one who saved him some food. He seemed to be the darling of the city, everyone seemed to adore him. Even the Arachnobot liked him, and had climbed down off my shoulder to sit on his thigh.
“OOooh, I shoudn’a eaten that last meatpie…oooh that’s what did me in.” he groans.
“Charlie?” I murmured, the voice sliding quietly from the voicebox in my chest.
“Where are your parents?”
He shifted on the bench, suddenly uncomfortable with the conversation. He places his hands on his overstuffed belly.
I cocked my head, curious as to why he suddenly didn’t feel like talking.
“You don’t know?” I repeated slowly.
“Yup. Dunno. They…ah…tend ta leave me on me own for weeks at a time.” He shrugged his tiny shoulders poking at the arachnobot as it sits in his lap, “But they always come back. I’m not an orphan or nothing.” He finishes quickly, sniffing and wiping his nose on the back of his shirtsleeve.
I don’t really know what to say to this, so I simply say, “Thank you Charlie for helping me today.”
The boy grins up at me and kicks his feet, “You wanna come back to the house and meet Lorelei? She would get a real kick outta ya! She’s the lady who lets me sleep at her place when Ma and Pa are gone.” He leans back and tucks his thumbs under his suspenders, “She’s got a real nice place, just over up on the hill over there.”
I smile and shake my head, “I need to get the food back to the airship.” It was early in the day still, nearly lunch. “Perhaps another time?”
Charlie sagged in disappointment, “Oh…well yah, sure. You gonna be here long?” he rubbed the back of his neck and squinted up at me as if he were sure I would leave him alone as his parents did.
I looked back to the hill where my airship was floating, high above the city. Owen needed food to eat, and he had yet to give me any directives since we had left after Myra’s funeral. I saw no need to leave immediately if there was something we could do.
“A few days perhaps.”
Charlie’s face beamed with the radiance of his smile, “Great! Can I help ya back home then? That’s a lot of food for someone as small as you to carry!”
I couldn’t help but chuckle and hand him a bottle of milk for him to carry, I was by far stronger than he, and tireless so long as my springs were wound but if it made him feel better, I would accept his assistance.
“Let’s go!” he cried as he jumped up off the bench, the spider leaping in fright, back onto my basket. He laughed and hurried off down the street towards the airport.