The once mighty and magnificent steam-powered carriage hissed in mortal pain. It lay crushed and broken, unable to comprehend the reality of the approaching darkness that one day descends upon us all. Its very life-breath, the black carbon-heavy smoke and clouds of billowing steam, filled the tomb in which it now lay, spilling through the opening above as it reached for a darkening sky.
Upon the brass and polished steel, now little more than a shell, our two heroes lay like rag dolls dropped from a child’s sleepy fingers. Malus was the first to interrupt the sombre scene. “I see a light.” he said, “coming from above.”
“I am so sorry, Malus.” Emerson said. “It has been an honour having you serve me. I couldn’t have asked for a more loyal squire. Embrace it son, embrace the light.”
“You misunderstand Mr. Lighthouse.” Malus said dryly. “I believe someone is shining a lantern’s light into this pit.”
“Look at here Cleetus,” the two adventurers heard from above. “I do believe we done caught us some fancy townies from that stuck-up walled city down south. This bear trap we done dug yesterday works.”
“But they done busted it up good, Pa.” a second voice said with a note of disappointment. “where we gonna gits us our bear meat now?”
“Watch your manners Cleetus, I think I see me someone movin’ down there. I be thinkin’ we gots ourselfs some guests.” The first voice, identified as ‘Pa’, said. “Run and fetch me some rope and tell yer ma t’put the kettle on the stove.”
“Thank you for the tea ma’am.” said Emerson taking a long, deep, audible slurp. If Malus wasn’t mistaken, Emerson almost sounded as if he were starting to speak with the country drawl of the locals. “This is the best darn dandelion tea I’ve had since I don’t remember when.” Malus doubted Emerson Lighthouse had ever had dandelion tea in his life.
“You’re very welcome Sir Emerson.” the Lady Zebadiah beamed with pride. “It’s filled up with all the good vitermins. That’s so importin’ this time a year, what with the cold and flu season a comin’ upon us. You don’t want to git yerself sick with such an importin’ quest ahead a yer.”
“How very considerate of you.” said Emerson taking another sip before returning the cup to its saucer. “And what you said about the sicknesses and such, well, that may be true about the city, with its dirty air and crowded streets, but I reckon out here in this fresh air, one might live to be 100 or more, ‘specially with tea as fine as this.” Malus was about to roll his eyes in disgust when he caught a smile from young Miss Daisy across the room. Despite himself he smiled back. “Now, if you don’t mind Mr. Zebadiah,” Emerson continued, “mighten we discuss the terms of our deal.” Emerson was bargaining for transport to Bump. “You mentioned something of an ‘ass-cart’.”
“Two of my strongest asses.” he said. “I’ll have Cleetus drive ‘em fer yer. Won’t be takin’ more’n a coupla hours te git yerselfs ta Bump… if ‘n you cuts across the farms instead a takin’ the long way along the road.”
“Of course I’d be happy to offer whatever compensation you think fair.” Emerson said.
“Well, sir.” The farmer began, we be shearin’ some sheep in the morn an’ we needs us a roustabout.”
“Excuse me?” Emerson asked.
“A roustabout,” The farmer repeated. “When we be shearin’ round the nether regions of the sheep, we be in need of someone to pick the dirty bits off the wool and put the wool in one pile fer Ma ta knit sweaters an’ ta put the dirty bits inna the fertilisin’ pile fer me ‘n the sons ta throw over the tater field.”
“You understand, my good sir, that I am under a rather tight timeline.”
“Shouldn’ take more ‘n a few hours.” Zebadiah said. “That airship you be meanin’ ta catch leaves every evenin’ at 8:00; that should be plenty a time ta shear the sheep in the morn, then gits yerselfs over ta Bump.”
“Very good sir.” Emerson nodded. “Malus here happens to be an excellent ‘dirty-bits’ picker. He’d be happy to help.”
Farmer Zebadiah regarded Malus for a moment, as if he were appraising a head of cattle. “His hands look a little soft ta make a good day laborour, but the lanolin in the wool might be agreeable to him.” Farmer Zebadiah nodded assent before spitting in his hand and reaching across the table for a shake. “You done got yerself a deal Sir Emerson.” He grinned.
“Wonderful,” Emerson beamed, “now, if you would be so gracious as to excuse us, we are both in need of some sleep.”
“Couldn’t you have managed to negotiate dinner into your bargaining?” Malus said once he and Emerson were secured in the hastily made up bunk-room (which typically housed the fourteen brothers who had been relegated to bunking down with the chickens out in the barn). “Considering it was my services you were bargaining with?”
“You worry too much Malus, I’m sure the farmhands get fed a wonderfully suitable breakfast to fortify their labour.” Emerson assured the less than convinced young man. “Now blow out that lantern and let’s get some well-deserved rest.”
As quiet as a thief in the night, Malus stole into the Kitchen, and carefully raised the lid on the ice-box. With his mouth already watering he reached in and removed a fresh cooked leg of lamb. He turned, prepared to make his way back to the bedroom when he suddenly found himself face to face with the young Miss Daisy.
“You might find my leg a bit more to your liking Mr. Malus.” said Daisy, stepping from the shadows to block the startled young squire’s escape.
“Miss Daisy, I hope you don’t mind,” Malus said nervously, as he rapidly shifted his focus between the leg he held in his hand to the conspicuously bare legs revealed by the very short nightgown worn by Miss Daisy. “I have quite an appetite.”
“I hope so, Mr. Malus.” said Farmer Zebadiah’s pride and joy. Malus gripped the leg of lamb a bit tighter. “Mr. Malus,” Daisy continued, “I was wondering if you would be so kind as to help a poor girl in distress. I seem to have something caught in my eye. Would you take a look for me.” She took a step closer, tipping her head up.
“I don’t, um… I don’t see anything in your eye Miss Daisy.” Malus said. His mouth (watering just a moment ago) suddenly seemed unnaturally dry.
Daisy took the leg of lamb from his hand and placed it on the table. “Perhaps I just need to stand a little closer Mr. Malus.” Daisy put a hand on the squire’s shoulder and stood on the tips of her toes, somehow losing her balance in the process and falling into Malus’ arms.
“Why thank you Mr. Malus, how very clumsy of me… and how very fortunate to have such a gentleman on hand to save me.” Daisy said, placing a hand on her chest to emphasize her sincerity. “Now, be honest with me Mr. Malus,” she began, “do you think my gown reveals too much décolletage ?” Malus didn’t know what that word meant but thought the appropriate response was, “Why no not at all, Miss Daisy, your décolletage looks fine.”
“Kiss me Mr. Malus.”
Malus was about to respond in the appropriate manner when he heard the unmistakable click of a pump action shot gun.
“What do we have a goin’ on in here now?” Came the stern, and decidedly less friendly voice of Farmer Zebadiah. Standing in the hallway behind him, Malus saw the farmer’s wife, his fourteen sons and… at the very back… jumping up and down in an effort to see what was going on, Emerson Lighthouse.
“Ma,” Farmer Zebadiah called without taking his eyes (or the shotgun) off Malus, “git the fancy china out of the cupboard. Cleetus, hook up the asses and git yerself up to Bump ta fetch the rev’rund. We is gonna have us a weddin’.”