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Riders on the Fells

It was a cold, grey morning on the Upper North Fells. A thin wispy fog hovered above the moorland’s sodden yellow grasses and slick pools of mire. A manic, organizing spirit, like  a golden rule thrust upon the unruly masses, clove its way across the tundra, leaving a message of good cheer and responsible hedonism in it’s wake. 

It was along the raised bed of the imperial rail line that the five Gangplankers wearily trudged. They had been journeying for about an hour after spending most of the morning engaged in an unsuccess search for the missing horses.

“Look on the bright side,” said Junie in a valiant effort to sow some peace between Emerson and Martin. “At least these tracks were handy to camp; that was a small piece of luck. Imagine how hellish this walk would have been on that muddy old wagon trail.”

But Junie’s noble efforts at peacemaking seemed to bounce off the bubble of recrimination that surrounded the knight and his squire. Malus glared at Emerson and pointed his finger, “You left them unattended and untied! It’s your fault!”

“Wait just a second there, hold your missing horses, who exactly is the knight and who the squire? Last time I checked the job description, tending horses, was one of the squire’s duties.”

“I don’t think the horses ran off at all,” Petra called out from her position at the back of the line, Mr. Lightninghouse resting over her shoulder. “Those big black worms ate em, I say.”

“Pah-leese!” Malus waved off the suggestion.

“I believe Petra has a valid point,” said Emerson. “We have no evidence the horses were not eaten by giant black worms. That quite clearly translates into: they might or might not have been eaten by worms. Fifty-fifty, nothing more, nothing less. Has your focus on power blinded you to simple mathematics? You don’t have enough information to categorically cast judgement.”

Malus narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Are you…?”

“No, it is just a residual effect of the smoke from that crazy birdlady’s Upper Moorland Nightshade.” Emerson appeared to be bored and was beginning to look around to see what else there might be to do.

“There are three individuals on the tracks seven hundred and twelve yards ahead.” Lottie spoke up interrupting the simmering fray.

Conversation fell to the occasional muted comment following Lottie’s announcement of people just ahead. The focus now was forward with a wary caution. The three individuals appeared to be a family preparing for an afternoon picnic on the Fells.. 

“Good day to you sir,” Emerson called out cordially enough as they came upon a balding middle-aged farmer wearing a charcoal jacket over a set of denim coveralls. In his hand he held a pitchfork. Beside the man stood a worn, serious looking woman, whom they assumed to be his wife. The woman wore a conservative black dress and brown calico apron, with an elegantly carved cameo at her throat framed by a prim white collar. She eyed the approaching New Babbagers with an air of suspicion. 

“Good day,” the man cautiously returned Emerson’s greeting as he faced the approaching travellers, while subtly moving his pitchfork in a more defensive position. 

“We’re traveling up from New Babbage on our way to the O’Reatus farm.” Emerson greeted the three, wearing a smile that masked any evidence of the fractious conversation that had occupied the walk for the past half hour. “We had a little trouble with our carriage just a little further to the south.”

“Most folk gots sense enough not ta travel in the spring.” replied the man. 

“Oh Gomer, go on!” said the woman who had gotten past her reticence. “I be Molly, Molly Ibbs.”  The woman nodded toward a mousy-looking girl of about seventeen who had barely taken note of the travellers since they arrived. “That there be our daughter Maude.” 

The girl, identified as Maude, was methodically checking over the equipment scattered about the flatbed wagon. Emerson noticed what appeared to be a half dozen mechanical hares nestled in amongst coils of rope and several large tri-pronged hooks. 

“Is your daughter an inventor, Mrs. Ibbs?” Junie asked as she watched Maude carry off one of the clockwork hares, several ot the tri-pronged hooks and coils of rope.

“She is, of a sorts,” replied Molly Ibbs. “She done made those thumpers all on her own.”

“A ‘thumper’ you said?” Emerson asked.

“Them hares of hers,” Gomer Ibbs nodded, handing one of the hares to Emerson for closer inspection. “They be a special lure fer the big black worms. It be patented now up in Bump. We calls them the Thumpin’ Hare Clockwork ™.” 

Petra’s eyes went wide for a moment before turning to Lottie with an I told you so look. She then cast a smirking glance at Malus and quickly followed up by sticking out her tongue.

“You use a clockwork to lure worms?” questioned Lottie.

“It be the thumpin’,” explained Molly Ibbs. “Tends ta attract ‘em wrigglers to the surface. They comes right up under them thumpin’ hares and eats them right down, dirt ‘n all.”

“Watch! See what Maudey be doing over there?” Gomer Ibbs drew everyone’s attention to his daughter by pointing across the field to where Maude busied herself setting out her worm trap. “Now she be placing the Thumping Hare Clockwork ™ out in the field,” he continued. The others watched as Maude took a couple of paces from the hare and lay a tri-pronged hook fastened to a coil of hempen rope on the ground. “Those be the harness hooks she be droppin’, they be placed at roughly equal intervals, each one about six foot from the thumper.” 

As soon as Maude had measured and positioned the final hook, she ran back to the mechanical hare and released the catch allowing the clockwork creature to spring into action. 

The clockwork lapine began to thump its two oversized feet in such rapid succession a low-register rumble carried across the hundred yards separating Maude from the others still standing on the tracks. Maude quickly sprinted about thirty feet to where she’d lain the ropes. The anticipation intensified as the Gangplankers looked on, wondering if her efforts were going to work.  Maude deftly tied the ends of the rope together and wrapped them securely about her forearms.

“That clockwork hare be a brilliant invention,” Gomer Ibbs bragged on behalf of his daughter. “No more need for live bait see – With just a small investment ya gits ya an obedient lure and nothin’ gits killed.”

“Except the lure,” Lottie pointed out.

“The lure?” Gomer started to laugh. “It’s just a dumb machine. You can’t kill no dumb machine – it ain’t alive ta kill.”

“You watch your mouth, Mister!” Petra shouted. “My friend’s a clockwork. You insult my friend and and you insult me and Mr. Lightninghouse too.”

Gomer’s jaw dropped. “Missus!” the farmer called out, displaying more animation than he had all morning. He pointed at Lottie. “Did ya hear what that little feller with the bat said? That china-doll-face be one a them clockwork people.”


Emerson still held Thumping Hare Clockwork ™ device Gomer had handed him, turning the breadbox sized machine this way and that. It was remarkably intricate in design, far too complex for Emerson to build himself but simple enough to both understand and elicit a sense of curious fascination.

As Emerson was absorbed in his study of the clockwork thumping device, he became aware of the ground beneath his feet beginning to vibrate. Steadily, the low rumble increased in intensity until it had became impossible to ignore.

“Here come one of them buggers now!” shouted out Molly Ibbs, pointing to the Thumpin’ Hare Clockwork ™. They all looked in time to see the earth beneath Maude’s thumping bunny dissolve, as if a sinkhole were forming beneath it’s energetic dance. 

A fearsome black form, with a diameter of about twelve feet, rose from the earth beneath the tiny thumper, swallowing it down along with all the soggy peat around it. The worm’s head tapered in such a way that it had a somewhat tuliplike shape, that opened to expose rows upon rows of teeth.

As the creature continued to rise up out of the earth the four harnessing hooks caught around the edges of it’s mouth. Maude wasted not a second yanking them tight to secure them in place to form a crude bridle.

“See how she done that?” beamed Gomer Ibbs. “Right on Maude! Ain’t no way that bugger be goin’ back under now with them hooks in him,” said Gomer. 

“S’all set Pa.” Maude called over as she stood atop the great worm. She looked formidable in her riding stance twelve feet above the ground, harness ropes now acting like reins which Maude held securely in hand. “Now we can takes her for a ride anywhere we want to go.”

“Great bullocks!” exclaimed Petra in utter awe. “She can ride that bugger?”

“Maudey rides them all the time.” Molly Ibbs beamed.

“Can I try it?” Petra asked. Moments later, Maude threw a rope over the side of the worm and Petra wasted no time scrambling up the side.

“Perhaps we might impose upon you, good sir, to provide aid to strangers on a rather tight timeline..” said Emerson. “Of course we would remediate you for your time. Just name whatever you feel is a fair price.”

“Could do,” replied Gomer Ibbs thoughtfully, “could do.”

“What about the wagon?” said Malus.

“Could have Maude swing round and pick it up,” suggested Gomer Ibbs. “We done hooked up all manner of wagon to the black worms. These buggers be right some strong… though they seems ta run outta steam after about a coupla hours. More n enough time ta git yer wagon and make it to the O’Reatus farm. Perhaps yer squire can help me rework your horse harnessings. We’ll hook ‘er up as soon as Maude wears that thing down a little. Some of you will have to ride in the wagon to help balance it through the turns, the rest of you can ride up with Maude.”

Malus turned his attention away from the spectacle of the two girls whooping and hollering from the top of their worm and set to work on the harnessings with Gomer before Emerson could have a chance to order him around. 

“Miss Ginsburg?” Emerson started, seeing there was nothing left for him to do. 

“Yes, Mr. Lighthouse?”

“I am feeling a little adventurous today. Would you care to ride the worm with me?”

“I thought you would never ask,” Junie replied, taking Emerson’s hand.

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  1. Beryl Strifeclaw Beryl Strifeclaw April 8, 2013

    Dairy’s farmers are very secluded, they thought I was a lynx, so I’m surprised they own or fix clockwork.

    • Brother Lapis Brother Lapis April 8, 2013

      I have seen a mechanical cow attached to the Babbitt’s milk cart. 

      • Beryl Strifeclaw Beryl Strifeclaw April 8, 2013

        Hmm…its still a little surprising, but I suppose clockwork machines really will be everywhere one day. 

        • Cleetus O'Reatus Cleetus O'Reatus April 8, 2013

          You really is completely ignerint ‘bout the farmin’ way of life, Mr. Fancy Pants City-Dwellin’ Lynx. How ya think I done dug me my moat ‘round the farmhouse last winter – by hand? Every barn from Babbagetown to the foothills of the mountains be chalk full of farmin’ steamworks and clockwork. In the past year I alone I done disassembled and reassembled a steam carriage, mechanical snow sled, and a half dozen killer clockwork bears. Jeesh!

          • Beryl Strifeclaw Beryl Strifeclaw April 8, 2013

            You have a moat? That’s new since my last visit, well only visit…to any farm ever…more familiar with forests and cities.

            I really should stop by again and see beyond just the sick bed.

            • Mr Underby Mr Underby April 8, 2013

              I would imagine your recollection is currently worth about as much as His Majesty’s pledge to sobriety, considering the rather extensive brain trauma you recently suffered.  The fact that you believe your memory to be reliable only proves how extensive the damage must have been.  

              Poor thing.



              • Beryl Strifeclaw Beryl Strifeclaw April 8, 2013

                I was about to say that my memory is doing much better, but then someone reminded me that I still haven’t done my taxes.

                Speaking of; Dr. Maddox could you help me with those?

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