The Alarna Affair – Chapter Two – A Daring Theft and a Most Mysterious Apparition

The grand terminal at Merigvon could be seen from some distance, gleaming amid the city’s spires. The great glass roof seemed to slide arching over them like a glittering clamshell as the train pulled slowly in. Other trains passed quite close to them, alarming Jon until he remembered they were all on their own tracks and couldn’t possibly collide. Dozens of tracks led into the cathedral-like building, and trains of all kinds stood puffing and steaming under vaulted arches of steel, stone, and glass. Statues stared down grimly from the high ornamented arches and balustrades on either side of the hall. Cherubs, soldiers, and ladies in flowing robes with scrolls and baskets of fruit were everywhere upon the high walls. Stone wreaths and angels, memorials of some foreign war, stood at the east end of the hall, winding around the largest clock Jon had ever seen in his life. The Gardner boys regarded the place with wonder, faces pressed close to the window. “This is the crossroads of the continent,” Professor Sheridan informed them, straightening his hat carefully. “We will change trains here, and be able to stretch our legs.” “Do they have papers?” Jon asked, hearing his own voice rather smaller and more breathless than he wanted. “Quite a few. I telegraphed ahead to have certain titles bundled and ready for my arrival. We shall have a pile of reading for the next leg of our journey.” Jon returned the Professor’s smile readily. (more…)

The Alarna Affair – Chapter Three – An Unexpected Passenger

The Professor and his charges boarded their new train without further incident.  It was bigger than the last train, painted green, with brown upholstered bench seats in little walled compartments. A hallway beside the compartments ran the length of the passenger cars, of which there were sixteen.  The eight luggage cars and six freight cars were all off limits to passengers.  There were also three dining cars, two for the more well off passengers and one for everyone else. The boys had explored all they were allowed of the train in a very short time, found the nearest lavatory, and chosen how they wanted to sit in their own car.  The Professor remained remarkably calm about the loss of his watch and satchel.  Jon wanted to ask him about the feather, but felt it was impolite to do so.  The Professor was being so very kind to them.  Unlike other grown ups, it didn’t matter to him who read what paper first, and so both boys were invited to share freely in the wealth of words before them. (more…)

The Alarna Affair – Chapter Four – Introducing the Blackfeather Family

Jon told the Professor and Tam about seeing the pickpocket on the train but did not mention seeing the great black wing.  He didn’t want the Professor to think he was telling stories, and Jon was unsure himself of just what he thought he had seen. Tam was excited at the news about the thief.  “If I see the little sneak about, I’ll make him give up that watch right enough,” he declared. “Was your pocket watch terribly valuable?” Jon asked the Professor. “I confess I don’t really know,” the Professor replied.  “I myself treasured it.  It was a gift from a good friend.  But it was a thing only, not the friendship itself, and all things are transitory.”  The Professor touched something near his collar, and Jon noted than he wore something strung about his neck, under his shirt. (more…)

The Alarna Affair – Chapter Five – The Discovery of the Guardians’ Door

“Father’s gone on business for the moment,” Djaren said, opening the carriage door for his mother. “He’ll be home quite soon, I imagine.”  Hellin Blackfeather picked her small daughter up nimbly and set her in the carriage.  Ellea bore this with dignity and chose a window seat for herself.  Hellin took the hand Tam offered and climbed up into the carriage, revealing in that motion that her full skirts were in fact voluminous trousers.  The Professor followed her in.  Jon wavered a moment, finding his choices were to sit between Hellin Blackfeather and the Professor, or next to Ellea, who was regarding him steadily with some unreadable expression.  She edged over an inch.  Jon took the motion as an invitation and sat down carefully.  The Professor smiled across at him.  Tam and Djaren took the remaining seats.  Djaren wiped dust from his spectacles with an equally dusty handkerchief and settled them back on his nose with a smile.  “Off to the dig.  Wait till you see it!” (more…)

The Alarna Affair – Chapter Six – The Return of Doctor Blackfeather

“My word, Jon, I think you are correct,” the Professor said.  “It’s a sealed tomb passage, if I am not mistaken.”  The Professor pointed to a line of carved symbols.  “What do you think of this?” Jon peered up at the line the Professor indicated.  “That looks almost like the writing of the Ancients, in Shandor!” (more…)

The Alarna Affair – Chapter Seven – Thieves in the Night

Translation Stone by Ruth LampiHellin looked in on Jon later after he and Tam had washed up and dressed.  She insisted on re-applying wet towels to Jon’s head and neck, and giving them both a salve for sunburn.  “You’ll soon be healthy and brown as Alarnans, but Shandorian skin takes a while to acclimate.”  She smiled.  “Put this cream on every morning and every night, and any time it starts to sting.  And wear your hats.  How are you feeling, Jon?” “Quite better now,” Jon said, truthfully. “Good,” Hellin said.  “Then let us see about dinner.” Dinner proved to be a splendid and crowded affair, and not nearly so formal as Jon had imagined it would be.  Mama Darvin was nearly as good a cook as Jon’s own mother.  Mrs. Darvin, Anna, and Anna’s father Harl the quartermaster shared the same long table as the Blackfeathers and their guests.  There was a great deal of excited discussion about translations, and digging, and the best way to move a large door.  Harl, a big man with a heavy northern accent whose idea of dressing for dinner was wearing a clean shirt rolled up to the elbows, offered the help of his work teams that very evening. (more…)

The Alarna Affair – Chapter Eight – What Amazing Events Can Transpire in Half an Hour

The next day nearly all the children had excuses for why they wanted to go into town.  Hellin regarded them at breakfast with an amused but cynical eye.  “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were all plotting something.” Jon reddened, and looked down at his plate. (more…)

The Alarna Affair – Chapter Nine – A Rooftop Chase and a Grim Revelation

Kara dashed around one corner and another, mentally cursing her terrible luck.  The boy behind her was not losing ground.  His nice clothes were quite dust covered and his hair was coming loose, but he was not giving up.  Kara was beginning to suspect he knew these alleyways.  She didn’t, not yet.  This place was still new.  But no bespectacled little pretty-boy was going to catch or find her when she wanted to disappear.  She found a set of uneven steps around another corner, and dashed up them to the roof tops.  The boy followed.  Kara ran along above the narrow streets, upsetting birds, and hopping up and down levels as they changed.  The boy stayed right behind her.Kara Rooftop by Ruth Lampi (more…)

The Alarna Affair – Chapter Ten – A Marvelous Secret Revealed

Jon was having trouble sleeping again.  There was a lantern lit in the sitting room, where Hellin’s shadow was visible as she sat waiting up for Doctor Blackfeather to return.  Jon could see her silhouette clearly though his tent wall as she picked up a book, set it down again, poured a cup of tea and then let it sit, ignored.  She was worried.  That worried Jon, too. The children had spent all afternoon getting into Anna’s way as she tried to get the dark room set up and the photographs developed.  The pictures were drying now in a little line, carefully left alone to work their magic now that Anna had done with them.  The children had spent another part of the evening in a fruitless search for the missing pick pocket girl.  When the Professor had come back in the late afternoon they had all told him breathlessly about their day.  And then Doctor Blackfeather had not returned, and continued not to return.  Hellin had insisted they all get some sleep, and now she waited alone in the sitting room, sometimes sitting, sometimes pacing.  Jon watched her, sleepless.  The whinny of a horse came from outside, and Jon saw Hellin’s face turn to the tent’s entrance.  She put a hand to her lips as a strangely shaped shadow lurched into view.  The shadowy mass unfolded into several more unrecognizable silhouettes before falling into her outstretched arms, in more recognizable dimensions.  Jon held his breath.  He could just barely hear their whispers. Silhouttes by Ruth Lampi (more…)