No flash fiction this week, since Chuck invited us to post our first 1,667 words from our NaNoWriMo project. November is National Novel Writing Month (in the USA, but extended globally) and a lot of people have signed up to complete a writing challenge – like writing a novel. You’ll remember I did Camp NaNoWriMo in July. I thought I’d enter into the spirit of things by giving you the second chapter of what I did then. This is the first bit of new writing since the first chapter is an adapted short story.
This book has had a number of titles already – but it’s currently called Bravo Victor. Possibly with an exclamation mark!
Chapter 2: New-fangled transport
In which Victor goes exploring and loses his wheels
Cars, velocipedes, flying machines and lost vacuum post operatives all combine in my brain to give me many sleepless nights over the next few weeks.
I have this job for Chateau Dimerie to work out ways to improve their wine distribution operation. Word has filtered back to them, from their suppliers across the water, that there is a new way of moving heavy loads around. I talk to them about what they currently do, and suggest they use one of these new floaters to make a double stack on their usual delivery wagons; they can take twice the load for the same journey without any other disruption to their schedules. Really they don’t need any more from me than the report I send them, but they invite me down to Dimerie Les Landes to witness the first load departing.
Despite it being an awfully long way, I decide to go on my velocipede. I’m starting to think it needs a snappier name, now that stage coaches and carriages are becoming just ‘cars’. I’m thinking of ‘velo’, perhaps. Or just ‘wheels’. I’ve only been places on stage coaches or post buses so I’m not sure whether I can do anything except go down the tunnels. After a day of that, I’m covered in dust raised by the other wagons and so on, and choking as well. I get to the Bridge Inn, which is my stop for the night, and ask the landlord about overland routes.
“Oh yes,” he says. “There are loads of those. Just not in very good nick. You’d be ok on foot, and that contraption of yours looks like it might handle them. Can get a bit rough for fancy carriages though.”
“Have you seen many of these new cars?” I ask him.
“One or two. Prince Lupin’s lot have been through in them, and it looks like King Miles has one already – mind you, he’s always one for new toys, that one. We had a party stay last week that rented one at the Prancing Pony. Says it was so much easier than having to find someone with experience of horses.”
That worries me, that does. The Prancing Pony renting out cars! We are still renting out carriages, and I realise that if we don’t move quickly we won’t have a business in that for much longer. Although there is bound to be a call for horse-drawn carriages from the traditionalists. Maybe I should make some velos and rent those out too. I have no idea how to make a velo. It isn’t my thing. I have to find a person that can.
With the landlord’s help I work out a route for the next day. It goes overland to avoid the last tunnel, one that would bring me out near Castle Fortune, where King Miles reigns.
“It’s pretty country, the north side of the chalk downs country, quite hilly,” he says, “but you can take shortcuts off the path on the short grass. Just make sure to keep the track in sight, and don’t go near any stone circles if you see any.” He looks sternly at me as he says that. I think of asking why, but decide just to nod.
“I reckon you should get to Fortune around mid-afternoon, and if you’re not in a real hurry to go on that evening, stay the night there and go on to Dimerie on the usual roads the next morning. It’s downhill all the way from Fortune to Dimerie, which you’ll probably enjoy.”
It sounds good to me, all this exploring.
One thing I discover very quickly the next day: it isn’t easy pedalling a velocipede uphill. It isn’t so bad when I can angle it across a grassy hill, but when I have to stick to the track, well, I often get off and push. Going down is great though, especially on smooth bits. I learn the knack of getting the gears to disengage and re-engage. I’m a real velocipedist! I see a huge stone circle at one point, but it is some way off, so I ignore it as I’d been told, and head down the hills, into more wooded land, where I have to watch for tree roots on the track as well as stones and what-not.
I am just resting in a little glade at the side of the track, sipping some water and having my lunch, when it strikes me that I haven’t met anyone on this track. The newspapers always say that the lands are peopled with outcasts, brigands and rebels, and I haven’t seen anyone at all. I suppose I should be glad I haven’t met anyone dangerous, but it makes me wonder whether the newspapers exaggerate things a little.
I wake up to find it has clouded over, and is probably much later than I’d intended. I pack up and race down the hills, and up slight inclines, but generally going downhill more than up, until I see the welcome sight of Castle Fortune in the valley below. Just to emphasise it, a stage coach bursts out of a tunnel to my right and dashes off along the road in front of me, which my track joins as it passes behind a derelict place called La Boucherie. It’s a shame it is derelict. I think it’s got great potential.
I don’t really know King Miles. I’ve met him a few times, him being brother to Queen Nerys and Queen Kira, of course. But I send a message of greeting to him, as one should, if one visits a strange castle. Well, most people don’t, but I’m doing work for his dad and know his sisters so I think I should. The guard shows me the way to the hostel, which is very civil of him.
I hardly have time to brush myself off when, to my surprise, King Miles appears at the doorway.
“Victor!” he says. “You’re late!”
“Um,” I say, as you do, when you don’t know what you’re late for and don’t want to argue with a king.
“Father expected you today; the launch is this evening!”
“Oh. Oh dear!” I stammer. This is embarrassing.
“Don’t worry, I’m late too, but I’m going now – do you want to join me?”
So of course I say yes, and follow him out, expecting to get into his carriage, and instead find myself climbing into his flying machine!
I’m still not entirely sure of flying, but I hold on tight, shut my eyes and wait till we are airborne to open them again. Ahead there is a lovely view of Chateau Dimerie on its island surrounded by twinkling sea, and almost as soon as we are up, we are coming down again, landing on a smooth strip of land between some vines at Dimerie Les Landes.
“And here they are at last!” says King Helier’s steward, who is standing on a platform in front of an audience of locals, newspaper people and others. I don’t know most of them, although all the newspaper people stay at my inn every now and then.
We join the rest of the people admiring the new double-stacked wagons. King Helier makes a speech, with King Miles and Crown Prince Albert standing on either side of him. I find I am holding a glass of Dimerie sparkling wine, and we toast the success of the new venture as we watch the first wagon set off on its long journey.
We do the normal things you do at that sort of event, mooching around and making small talk to people you don’t know, but it doesn’t last long, and King Helier finds me and says some nice words about my report, which makes me blush, but then he goes off, and Miles tells me if I want a lift back, it is time for us to go too.
I fly with Miles back to my velocipede, and show it to him, asking if he knows of anyone who might be interested in getting involved in a business venture with me.
“I suppose you mean would I be interested?” he asks directly. But he shakes his head. “Sorry, Victor, I’m really more interested in planes. I’m waiting for George to show me his latest design. You might like to try Castle Deeping, though.”
I find the guard who’d shown me to the hostel having a quiet drink in the inn, since he is off duty, and we have a chat about things. He is interested in my velo, too, and has kept it safe for me while I was away. I tell him I’d been advised to try Castle Deeping. He rolls his eyes a bit.
“I suppose so,” he says. “They’re modern types.”
“What’s the best way to get there?”
He tells me about a coastal track that mostly keeps to the cliffs, but make sure I follow it inland when there are marshes and lagoons and waterways that get in the way.
“Takes about a full day with a short sleep, walking,” he says, which I reckon means it will take me most of a daylight day at this time of year.
We are both right – it is a lovely ride over fabulous sea cliffs with views of more headlands and cliffs and bays and lagoons ahead, then looping round to find somewhere to ford a few rivers. I leave straight after breakfast and arrive at Castle Deeping just before night falls, parking the velocipede at the back of the inn, and going in to book a room for the night. The landlord suggests I put the velo in his apple store, which is empty, it being August. I go back for it, and it isn’t there!
“It’s gone!” I tell the landlord.
“Ah, strange things ’appen ’ere,” he says, pulling a pint of cider for me.
“But I need it!”
“Sorry ’bout that,” he says, “but t’ain’t nothing you can do ’bout it.”
I splutter a bit and bluster about finding the culprit and reporting it to the Lord of Deeping, or his steward, but all the landlord says is “nothing you can do about it,” so I give up. I search all round, of course, and ask anyone if they’ve seen it, but no one has, and there aren’t too many people about anyway. It seems that Deeping has a sunset curfew.
There isn’t much point in trying to see someone there to try to sell them something I no longer have, so in spite of my fury at losing my velo, I book myself on the morning stage back home. And while I am waiting for it I notice a row of distinctively patterned knives in a market stall.
“Those are interesting knives,” I say to the stallholder.
“Good at cuttin’ and slicin’,” he says. “Ten credits each, no hagglin’.”
“Are they made locally?”
“Make ’em m’self, family business. Over there,” he says, pointing at a hole in the wall. “Ten years guarantee.”
I buy one.
On the stage back I ponder why a knife made in Castle Deeping has been used to stick all our message receipts to the board in the vacuum post office.
from Bravo Victor, expected spring 2014 (c) J M Pett