Read The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1) Online

Authors: Ava Morgan

Tags: #Curiosity Chronicles, #Book One

The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1) (2 page)

BOOK: The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1)
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Lord Abeiron leaned her way. “I can hand him the weapon if you prefer.”

Lydia carried the gun past him and the guards. She reached Rhys in four paces. The gun stood between them, but at least this time she had the courtesy to point the barrel off to the side.

Rhys took it from her. “I’ll see you tonight, then.” He put on a smile even as a line formed around her lips.

“Soldiers, to me.”

Rhys translated her Greek communication to the automatons. The eleven iron soldiers did an about face and followed her up the path from the beach.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Lord Abeiron folded his arms within the sleeves of his robe and waited for Lydia and the automatons to depart. “Pardon Lady Dimosthenis for her conduct, Ambassador. Our previous encounter with foreigners did not bode well.”

Rhys hefted the blunderbuss over his shoulder. “I understand her suspicion. Pirates still flourish, despite the navy’s eradication efforts.”

“They landed here twice before the automatons were operational. Our neighbors reported seeing pirates in waters near France, Italy, and northern Africa. The pirates hail from many nations.”

Rhys recognized the adviser’s tact, how he blamed everyone and no one for the world’s piracy problem. “Credit that to the times. More production of goods, more things to steal.”

“Undoubtedly.” Lord Abeiron rubbed his black beard. “I will wait while you gather your belongings.”

“I need to return to the ship for them.” Rhys dug his heel in the sand and pivoted towards the shallow. His crew remained behind. Finley followed.

“Captain, I didn’t intend to shoot anyone in that guild hall.”

“I told you to leave your firearm strapped on your back
in case
you needed it, Finley. Why didn’t you follow orders?”

“The building—temple, or another—was in the woods.” Finley eyed his gun being carted away on Rhys’ shoulder. “I couldn’t chance someone jumping out at me.”

“I briefed you on the protocol.”

“I beg your pardon, sir, but I was following my navy training.” The tone of his apology sounded anything but repentant. “It’s kept me out of danger thus far.”

“But not out of discipline.”

Finley was a sailor tried and true, but his days as a naval officer were over when the COIC chose him to sail with Rhys’ crew. Too bad he often had to be reminded of that the hard way.

Rhys doled out a punishment. “You’ll stay onboard the ship and perform all chores the bosun sets out for you.”

“But Captain—”

“Do not interrupt me.”

“Yes, sir.” Finley conceded to his temporary lot with a poor show of acceptance. His hands half-curled in fists.

Upon reaching a longboat situated on shore, Rhys laid the blunderbuss on the boat floor and pushed the small craft out to the water. “You’d best hope the Aspasians don’t remain put off by your intrusion. What else did you see in that Guild?”

“Just the wench and the machinists.”

Rhys climbed in the longboat and grabbed the oars. “She is Lady Dimosthenis, not ‘the wench’. Remember that.”

“Aye.” Finley grudgingly stepped out of the knee-deep shallows into the boat.

“Malcolm likely will want you to scrub the decks first.” Rhys referred to the bosun, his business partner and trusted friend. As strict as a schoolmaster and just as fussy as one, Malcolm was sure to find a slew of unenviable chores to keep Finley busy.

But time was fleeting for them all. With France a short sail away and pirates patrolling the waters, Rhys needed to get what he came for and sail back to New Britannia as soon as possible.

Rhys rowed to the ship, where Malcolm stood alone on deck. The bosun tossed a rope and ladder over the side. Finley went up first. After securing the boat, Rhys clambered up the ship’s side and over the rail with the blunderbuss strapped to his back.

“Ahoy, captain,” the broad-shouldered Scot rumbled in his terse brogue. “What news on shore?”

After Rhys told of what transpired, Malcolm sent Finley off to fetch a swab and water bucket. “Arrogant navy whelp.” The bosun shook his head. “He thinks serving with this crew is beneath him. A stay in the brig would remind him who his superiors are.”

Rhys propped the blunderbuss against the rail. “I’ll reserve that for the next time he disobeys orders. Did you see how that automaton pitched him in the sand?”

“Aye. The sight was one to behold.” Malcolm didn’t hide his amusement. “But I thought I’d have to let the cannons loose on that metal army led by that wee boy.”

“That ‘wee boy’ is a she. Lady Lydia Dimosthenis designed the automatons that ran the pirates off.”

Malcolm raised a bushy gray eyebrow. “A female machinist? From this distance, I saw a pair of knickers. Is that how women dress on this humid isle? Ach, I’m ready to return to Scotland.”

Rhys wiped sweat from his face. The wind blowing off the Mediterranean did little to fan the mugginess that hung over the island heavier than a wet canvas tarp. “I’m to dine with her and King Sabba tonight to discuss the automatons.”

“He’s willing to sell?”

“He’s willing to hear the proposal. That’s more than I can say for Lady Dimosthenis. If it were up to her, we’d be sailing home now empty-handed.”

Malcolm cast his gaze towards the island. “What of that red-robed fellow?”

“Lord Abeiron seems agreeable, but that’s not for certain. I have to get those documents.” Rhys strode from the forward hull to the door leading below deck. The ship’s engine hissed softly as its steam valves cooled beneath the metal casing housed within the center of the top deck.

He descended the steps into the cool darkness. In his cabin, he gathered his suitcase and the envelope containing the proposal. He hauled them back to the topside door, where Malcolm rested his stocky form against the frame.

“I canna picture a woman tinkerin’ with machinery.” His brogue deepened the more perplexed he became.

“Lydia is a peculiar sort,” Rhys agreed. But her peculiarity made her all the more interesting. He’d seen many things in his voyages in the Mediterranean and East Asia, but never a woman so unorthodox, as evidenced in her clothing and bold approach when confronting men. Rhys certainly was not used to being challenged by a female. The experience was aggravating and yet oddly intriguing.

Malcolm griped again. “Eve’s daughters should swaddle babes, not blunderbusses.”

“If you feel that strongly about it, quit sailing and become headmaster of a finishing school,” Rhys gibed.

Malcolm scoffed. “No headmaster could sail upon
The
Neptune
and live to tell about it.”

“Keep that to yourself.” Rhys’ humor waned at the mention of the horrific experience. He scanned the deck to determine if Finley overheard. The navigator was occupied wringing water from the swab.

Malcolm pushed off the doorframe. “Be at ease, Rhys.” He lowered his voice to a murmur. “Our unwitting stint as pirates is long past. You talk as though it were only this morn when we walked away from it all.”

“You mean led away in cuffs.” Rhys spoke low as well. Guilt hit him heavy and cold as the iron shackles placed on his wrists when he and Malcolm were tossed into prison two years ago. “Eleven months, Malcolm. We served less than a year in Coldbath Fields for piracy and destruction of the
Donna Dulce
merchant ship. I can’t decide what more to be ashamed of, the charges or the light sentence.”

The bosun puffed his jowls. “
The Neptune
’s captain seemed a legitimate importer to do business with. I didn’t know he was a scalawag when I came aboard. Neither did you.”

“And that alone keeps you from feeling guilty?”

“When I feel guilt, I count my blessings. We were pardoned in exchange for service with the COIC. You were given this ship and crew. Isn’t that enough?”

Rhys knew it could never be enough, or that easy for him to put aside the reality of being unable to stop a senseless tragedy. It haunted him ever since that ill-fated day.

When he didn’t respond, Malcolm changed the subject. “What of this lady machinist you’re to dine with? She should know that you mean to get what you want.”

“Given my introduction to Lady Dimosthenis earlier, I suspect she’s not one to be easily scared into cooperation.”

“There are other ways to charm the fairer sex.” Malcolm wagged his brows.

Rhys wondered if Lydia would be susceptible to any charm he could muster, given her earlier imperviousness. Still, it was worth another try. “I’ll send the crew back to the ship. Keep an eye on them until I return tomorrow. And don’t let Finley ashore.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Before Rhys climbed down the rope ladder to the longboat, he noticed Malcolm was more watchful of the king’s chief adviser than he was of Finley or the ship.

 

#

 

Lydia hurried after the king. Her clockwork assistant’s gears clicked steadily as it followed at her heels. “King Sabba, I entreat you to reconsider inviting the ambassador to the palace. We know nothing about him.”

The king slowed his progression, as did the guards flanking him. He waited until she reached his side. “You should not have sought to engage the British sailors in combat, Lydia,” he scolded her in the Aspasian dialect. “You could have been killed.”

Lydia stared at the sand on the toe of her boot. “I thought to hold them off before they could reach the inhabited part of the island.”

“You should have waited for help. You are not a guard, but a machinist, and the only woman in Aspasia able to call herself such.”

Lydia inclined her head as he reminded her yet again of her privileged place in the Guild. “You disobeyed me.” Sabba’s stern eyes glared a hole through her skin. He commanded his guards to continue without him. Once the men outdistanced him by ten paces, he resumed speaking in the presence of Lydia and the automatons that moved along behind her. “State your case, before I consider taking your title and position in the Guild away.”

Lydia’s blood stilled. “Your Majesty, I meant no disrespect. I only wanted to drive the sailors away.”

“There is another reason. Your deceased husband.”

A tiny ache pricked her heart. Lydia spoke in a soft voice. “Yes.”

King Sabba’s countenance softened. “Lydia, there was no proof that pirates were involved in Galen’s accident. The ship my nephew was on sank due to a gunpowder explosion.”

She heard that report so many times in the past two years, but still retained her doubts. “There was no proof that pirates were not involved, either.”

“Your resolve to eradicate piracy has made you suspicious of every visitor to Aspasia. I demand you be present tonight to hear Ambassador Cartret’s proposal.” Sabba resumed walking to the palace.

Lydia picked up step beside him. “But Your Majesty, you told the ambassador that you wouldn’t give him the automatons. Why hear the proposal?”

“I said I would not give away the automatons. I never said I would not sell them. Aspasia is struggling. Only a few officials know, but the coffers will be depleted in less than a year.”

Shock turned Lydia’s muscles to ice. She knew about the country’s economic troubles, but not the extent of their severity.

“My attempts to develop modern commerce with the Guild proved insufficient to compete with the industry of larger nations.” The king’s plight made his shoulders hang heavy beneath his mantle. “And with pirates in the region, merchants do not come as they used to. Your father can attest to slowing sales of his clocks.”

Lydia heard her father speak often of his trade’s recent lack of progress. Most shopkeepers were short on business. “If the problem is with pirates, how will New Britannia help us?”

“We need a powerful ally. Their funds can help us create more automatons to defend ourselves, even if Ambassador Cartret purchases the ones you have now.”

Lydia looked out to sea, where the ambassador’s ship lay anchored in the shallows. “What if New Britannia seeks to lord over us? Their young Queen Victoria has an empire extending from the Caribbean isles to India.”

“Her empire is vast, but she has extended a peaceful invitation to participate in commerce. If I do nothing, Aspasia will be subject to the next ship that comes, be it from New Britannia, France, or even pirate lords.” Sabba’s expression was dismal.

A flutter of anxiety rose in Lydia’s chest. The clashes between New Britannia and France, as well as the opportunistic rogues that sought to profit from their skirmishes, were forcing all countries to take sides whether they wanted to or not. ”Is there no other way to retain our independence and neutrality?”

“Independence, perhaps, but there is no such thing as neutrality in these times. I will do what is best for Aspasia.” Sabba continued on to the palace.

Lydia took her automatons down another path towards the Guild. She bit down hard on her tongue as her apprehension rose. King Sabba had no guarantee that the automatons would be enough to save Aspasia from financial ruin. Why should Rhys Cartret be trusted?

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Lydia left the Guild, cut through the marketplace, and went to her family’s residence close to the palace. Her mother Iris and father Hector were at the door.

Hector hurried to her. “We just heard about the Guild intrusion. The guards ordered everyone to leave the marketplace and return home. Have you been harmed?”

“No,
baba
, and neither were the other machinists. The automaton stopped the sailor in time.”

Iris drew her into the house. “I was afraid something like this would happen after that last raid. Are these sailors also pirates?”

“No, but they’ve come to bargain for the automatons. Their captain is a diplomat from New Britannia.” Lydia explained the encounter to her parents once her father closed the door to the house. “King Sabba will negotiate with him tonight at dinner, but the last thing Aspasia needs is to get in that conflict between New Britannia and France.”

Hector agreed. “I remember when we helped Greece break away from the Turks years ago. I thought that would be the last of our involvement in war for a long time, but it seems to be coming to us again.”

BOOK: The Lady Machinist (Curiosity Chronicles Book 1)
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