Star stood amid the other upper-class passengers watching as London unrolled beneath them. The Thames was criss-crossed with elegant arching bridges, baring swift-moving trains powered by clockwork automatons to their various destinations within the city. She could see the twisting, elegant spire of Queen’s Tower peeking above Kensington gardens: the royal family’s own private launching point. She didn’t see the Skyhawk docked, but that wasn’t surprising: In the summer London festered under the heat and those who could do so often retreated to the country for their health.
The ship tilted slightly, beginning it’s descent to the crowded, cathedral-like spires of the public air dock. She leaned a heavily against her cane, whether it was the anxiety that was now always present when she was in the air or the altitude she couldn’t be sure, but her leg ached and she did her best to take most of the pressure off of the prosthetic.
“Miss?” A polite attendant was at her elbow, “May I help you to your seat? We will be preparing to tie-down soon.”
“Of course,” she tore her eyes away from the city and allowed herself to be led to the plush chair. Her novel was waiting for her there, as was a chilled glass of wine. She lifted it to her lips, hoping the cool, fruity taste of it would do something to ease the butterflies in her stomach.
She had not been home in nearly two years and even then it had only been a brief, hurried meeting with her mother. She was glad to have the distance from her mother, who viewed Star’s inability to re-marry as if it were a personal slight against her good name, but she now realized how much she missed her brother. Growing-up they had all-but stood back-to-back against the world. It was him alone who had been the voice of reason when she had been in mourning after the death of her husband and child and him alone who she had asked for when she’d thought she was going to die of the infection in her leg after the accident. Of course, he had not been able to come to her himself, but had sent Avery to see to her. Avery would have spared no detail in reporting back to them on the state of her health, but she feared the look she would see in her own brother’s eyes when he saw her as she was now: one eye missing, her right leg gone, the deep scars across her face and chest. She adjusted her voluminous skirt for the thousandth time, checking and re-checking that at least her leg didn’t show. So realized how different she was now from the fresh-faced, twenty-year-old sister he’d hugged one last time on the bridge of the Ulysses and told to go to New Babbage, where she would be safe.
He had been right of course, she HAD been safe from the threat that had hounded her since the death of her husband. But neither of them could have predicted what would happen, no one could have.
Her mind drifted to the scotch she had shared with Mr. Wexhome the evening before her departure and his congenial, if somewhat strained, conversation. She wondered if Mr. Underby had received the letter she had sent and smiled, wishing she could have seen the look on his face for herself. She hoped Ianone and Kaylee would be able to keep the pub in good shape and wished she still had Maggie or Pocket around to depend on, but, of course, she didn’t. She hoped that the faint grumblings that she’d heard amid the patrons her final evening in the city were pulsing to a fever pitch and would finally see Mrs. Underby turned out of the city.
Her anxiety reached a knee-quaking level as she made her way carefully down the gangplank, eyes searching expectantly for Avery, who she imagined would be bringing the coach to pick her up.
“Star? STAR!” An all-too-familiar, but unexpected, voice shouted across the crowd, she turned toward it and couldn’t help the big grin that spread across her face, causing her scar to twinge.
“Jacob!” She shouted even as he scooped her up and gave her a spin around, setting her gently back down at her feet and holding onto her shoulders with his big hands, peering into her face.
“Lord, Miss Priss, I thought I’d never see you alive again! You look marvelous, Avery exaggerated you into a thorough mess!” Jacob said, he gathered her close again for another hug, “I hope you don’t mind that I left everyone at home, I wanted to get you to myself before what’s left of London Society gets word that the former Mrs. Macbain is in town and starts parading you like a side-show specimen.”
Star laughed and all her worries melted away: whatever time had passed, Jacob was still the older brother she remembered, “Steal me away from you, Froggy? Say it isn’t so! Surely London Society doesn’t want the scandalous Mrs. Macbain to call on them!”
He took her small carpet bag from her and steered her toward the gates, she could see the family coat of arms on a coach just outside them. She saw the familiar shape of Avery stooping in front of it as he had, apparently, somehow spirited her luggage out of the airship and was loading it already. It was only as Jacob was helping her up the step and passing her cane up to her that she realized her face was starting to ache from the grin that had plastered itself onto it at the sight of her brother. Then of course there was the pleasant bustle at the house of servants she had grown-up with greeting her warmly outside the house. The commotion of her niece and nephew nearly bowling her off her feet when they saw her walk in the door, having not seen her since they were both only as tall as her knees. There was also the sweet comforting prattle of Jacob’s wife, Lilly, letting her in on the local gossip as they took tea in the parlor so that when they retired to the country in a few days time Star would be abreast of all the recent news.
It was a strange and forgotten luxury to discover, upon entering her old room, that a lady’s maid had already unpacked her things and drawn a bath for her. She stood staring around the room in wonder, carefully unpinning her hat from her head.
By all heaven, Star realized , her gaze falling on a window now going rosy with sunset, it is GOOD to be home.