Calliope and the Engine Smith

Chapter 1 Homecoming in a Strange Land

Cal stood at the rail of the Griffin and watched Lusundi slowly grow closer. The lush jungle contrasted with the misty greens of Anglia.  She’d been to Lusundi before but never came home to it before. Roger’s warm hand was the only thing keeping her knees from giving out.

“My father will be pleased to meet you.” Roger squeezed her hand.

“Pleased to meet the woman who stole the third prince?”

“As I recall the decision was mutual.”

“So what is a Congu wedding like?”

“It is a big party to celebrate what has already been decided between the couple.” Roger laughed. “Lots of food and drink, gifts are given, and we dance. It is exhausting.”

“I still wish we could stay and be part of it.” Astrid came up beside them, her short blonde hair fluttered in the breeze. “But I don’t want to bring assassins to the wedding. Gretta and I have decided to stay on until Ziyatha.”

“Wise,” Roger said, “but my father will regret missing the chance to meet you.”

“It is too early to parade about.” Gretta pushed a lock of dark hair behind her ear and poked Astrid. “We shouldn’t even be here; someone might recognize us from shore.”

“We must make our farewells here.” Astrid hugged Cal and grinned wickedly at Roger. “You treat her right.”

“We will go on a hunt after the wedding.”

“That is the kind of thing we’re talking about.” Gretta poked Astrid again. “Let’s get back to our cabin.” They turned and went inside.

“Captain.” Bundo stood still as a carving. “I may not accompany you in Congu.”

“I’d rather you guard the girls.” Calliope put a hand on his arm. “I can’t be there, so be my right arm and keep them safe.”

“I will.” Bundo followed the girls.

“Hard to believe Astrid is the Crown Princess of Kershia.” Calliope wiped at her eyes. “If anyone can turn the world on its head it will be her.”

“We will see her again, I’m sure. It is hard to believe they are still schoolgirls.” Roger smiled. “I’m not sure if you know about the Congu Right Arm, but they are warriors chosen for their loyalty and strength to guard royalty.”

“Bundo is perfect for the job.” Cal frowned. “I would rather he choose his own path, I will always be his captain, but I refuse to be his master.”

The Griffin docked smoothly. Prince Roger and Calliope were the first off the ship.

“Roger.” A tall man stepped out from a square of Congu warriors. Cal’s back shivered when she saw the rifles in their hands.

“Bhansin.” Roger embraced the man. “Good of you to meet me at the dock.”

“The princess kkitatin insisted on returning to Lusundi to greet you.”

The warriors shifted and a young girl in elegant gold robes which accentuated her black skin and fine bones walked over to Roger. Cal found it hard to judge her age, but from her height guessed at nine or ten.

“Father, welcome home.” She glanced at Cal, but dismissed her, to focus on Roger.

Roger knelt to embrace the princess. “My Queen, I am home.”

“Who is your guest?” the princess asked.

“She is not someone to be introduced on the dock.”

“Welcome to Congu.” The princess sent a calculated smile in Cal’s direction. “Come, Father, the king is waiting for you.”

The soldiers formed up around Cal, Roger and kkitatin and they walked into town and up the slope to King’s Kraal. Cal sweated in the heat and was puffing by the time they reached the top. Kkitatin chattered the whole way explaining the sights to Cal as if they walked on level ground, not a steep hill.

The city was well built, with windows open to whatever breeze came by. Few were more than one story, but Roger had told her that many had several levels of basement.

They arrived at the courtyard of looked more like a sprawl of separate buildings than one. The guards waved them through. A man, younger than Roger, stepped forward and took a place behind him. Chiza nodded at the man who nodded back.

They wound through confusing corridors to arrive at large double doors. The guards pulled them open so they could walk through without slowing.

“My king,” kkitatin announced in a clear voice very different from her chatter. “My father returns.” Cal was sure she’d heard an extra emphasis on father.

“Welcome, Son.” The king was a much bigger man than Roger and covered with scars. He stood and walked to meet Roger, causing the people in the room to buzz with conversation. “You must tell us your hunt.” He returned to his chair.

Stools appeared along with a table holding plates of fruit and water in heavy pottery.

Cal stepped back slightly to allow Roger and kkitatin to sit at the table. It would be her turn soon enough.

As Roger reported on his visit to Anglia, Cal took in the chamber. The king’s chair was draped with brightly coloured cloth. Two younger men, sons of the King by their faces flanked him, standing easily.

The people in the room laughed or gasped at the right parts of his story. The tale of their visit to the Kershian embassy produced hearty laughter, but the king frowned slightly.

“And now I come to the woman by my side.” Prince Roger took a deep breath. “I present to you Marquess Cal Shillingsworth, Admiral of the Air Navy of Anglia, and” he gulped, “my First Wife.”

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