Surviving on the treacherous Iron Seas requires a heart made of steel… so how will Yasmeen survive now that Archimedes Fox has stolen hers?
A TALE OF THE IRON SEAS
When a request for help from an old friend threatens everything that Archimedes Fox holds dear, Yasmeen must risk losing her new airship to a scourge of the Iron Seas… or risk losing the man she loves.
~160 PAGES / 50K WORDS
Meljean’s Note: This is an epilogue novella. The story is a full-length novella, with its own plot — but although I’ve written it to stand alone as much as possible, there are strong references to Heart of Steel, particularly in regard to Archimedes and Yasmeen’s relationship.
This novella is available in print in Heart of Steel mass-market reprint edition, ISBN 978-0425251041.
READ AN EXCERPT
The Further Adventures of Archimedes Fox and Captain Corsair
Fladstrand, Upper Peninsula, Denmark
One day, philosophers will weep as they ponder the following questions: How is it that a brother often managed to write his sister even when he was hiding from assassins hired by one of the most dangerous men in the world, yet cannot put pen to page now that the threat is annulled? How is it, after securing a fortune and a permanent residence aboard Lady Nergüi, he allows five months to pass without a single word sent?
I do not weep over these imponderables, however. Those philosophers do not know your character as I do; I know you would never have been so remiss if any possible opportunity to send a note had arisen. Quite obviously, your hands have been devoured by zombies, preventing your fingers from lifting a pencil, and your tongue must be roasting on some barbarian’s fire. Otherwise, surely, you’d have asked someone to post a message when Lady Nergüi flew into a port for provisions—as airships frequently do.
So I can only conclude that you are crippled, starved for lack of supplies, and your skyrunner is lost among the clouds, thousands of miles from any friendly port. I also assume that, in addition to all of these terrible calamities, you have been inconsolable knowing that had you been near any city with a postal drop, you could have read the recent editions of The Lamplighter, which contain my first Lady Lynx adventure. But do not despair, dearest brother! When you return to Port Fallow and collect the mountains of letters that have accumulated during your absence, you will find that I have enclosed the full manuscript of Lady Lynx and the Cutthroat of Constantinople.
My generosity overwhelms you; I know it must. No doubt you are sobbing with gratitude even as you read this letter. Stay your tears for a few more paragraphs, however, for I must also relay news that you—or Captain Corsair—might find troubling.
You need not worry that it pertains to the story itself; it is quite the ripping adventure. My concern is thus: When I broached the idea of a new serial with Captain Corsair and solicited her help in the creation of Lady Lynx, she made only two requests—that Lady Lynx would not easily soften, and that I would not reveal who provided the foundation for Lady Lynx’s character. I believe she will not be disappointed by the first; Lady Lynx is appropriately ruthless in the story. The second, however, is now completely beyond my control.
I did try, Archimedes. I took my usual liberties with your version of events, changing names, altering descriptions, and creating a fictional plot to carry the action along. At my request, The Lamplighter broadly hinted that Lady Lynx was, in fact, based on the Wentworth woman in London.
After the newssheets reported that you accompanied Captain Corsair to the Vashon shipyards, however, and that you now resided aboard her new skyrunner—and what could be more shocking and worthy of gossip than the famous Archimedes Fox taking up with a notorious mercenary?—the speculation about Lady Lynx’s true identity gained a life of its own. Perhaps it is unsurprising. Everyone has long believed that you are the author of the Archimedes Fox adventures; of course the readers assume that the Lady Lynx adventures are thinly veiled stories about the woman most closely connected to you now.
I debated for some time whether to write Captain Corsair directly, and to inform her that the dangerous reputation she so carefully cultivated is now jeopardized by Lady Lynx’s heroics. You know her better than I do, however, and can better judge her moods; so I have put this intelligence in your hands to impart as you see fit, and in the hope that I have not jeopardized something far more important to me: your happiness, which you have miraculously found with this woman.
Also, she is less likely to kill me if you deliver the message.
With no small measure of love or cowardice,
P.S. I will begin writing the next Lady Lynx tale soon. If you have any new adventures to report, your contribution will be, as always, greatly appreciated—and perhaps I will not title it Lady Lynx and the Horribly Neglectful Sibling.
Nova Lagos, Lusitania, the Americas
O! loveliest Zenobia!
I imagine you receiving this letter with a great cry of relief—and an equally great cry of guilt for all of the abuse that you have undoubtedly heaped onto my handsome head these past few months. Neglectful! Idiotic! Ridiculous! Oh, how you must have wailed these sweet words during my absence.
You may now cease your seething, dear sister, for Yasmeen and I have finally flown into a port where the express post can be depended upon to deliver my letter within a month, rather than sometime within the next five years. I have also included a packet that contains all of the unsent letters describing the particulars of our journey; I believe you will find the contents useful.
We will remain at least a few more days in the New World. Some of the aviators in Lady Nergüi’s new crew have not worked out to Yasmeen’s satisfaction, and she must find their replacements. If all goes according to plan, we shall return to Port Fallow not long after you have received this letter. Do not worry, however, if you don’t hear from me directly after that. Very little has gone ‘according to plan’ in the few months we’ve been aboard Lady Nergüi, beginning when a band of idiotic pirates tried to board our lady without knowing who her captain was (if ever you write about it, let free your pen; their expressions of horror upon recognizing Yasmeen could not be overstated—or more comical) and ending but two days ago, when we scouted the Castilian border to assist a group of rebelling laborers.
Going off course is exhilarating—but although the events narrated within that packet have thrilled me, they might cause some concern to you.
I’m sorry to tell you that the secret of Lady Lynx is out. I know you spoke with Yasmeen about how you intended to conceal the truth, but I suppose that became impossible after I married her. You may heap invectives upon my head for that, dear sister, without fear of injuring me. I can never regret it.
In any case, it seems that little harm has been done. Though there have been some who assumed that our marriage meant Yasmeen had gone soft and attempted to take advantage of her, they quickly discovered how mistaken that assumption was.
Ah, and here is my love now, stalking into our cabin with her incomparable scowl riding her divine lips. As you close this letter, pray for our quartermaster. I believe he will need it.
P.S. Please forgive my hasty adieu; every moment spent writing is a moment I cannot worship Yasmeen. In my rush, however, I forgot to mention that I have also included the preliminary research for a salvaging run in Cordoba. I found a reference to a statue of Marcus Aurelius that had been carried from Rome to that city ahead of the zombie menace, then abandoned as the population fled to the New World. If all goes according to plan, we will fly to Cordoba shortly after reaching Port Fallow. I have already thought of a title for that adventure—or any other: Lady Lynx and the Absolutely Besotted Husband.
Fladstrand, Upper Peninsula, Denmark
My absolutely besotted brother,
You are as ridiculous in love as I always knew you would be; thankfully, however, you are not as foolish in love as I feared. I cannot express the depth of my relief upon receiving your letters yesterday, and knowing that Captain Corsair weathered this first patch of rough air with you. No doubt, you will say that I am too cynical, but not without reason. Remember, I have seen a man who claimed to be your friend abandon you at the first sign of trouble. A man who ran even as you thrashed in your bed, delirious and still vulnerable from an assassin’s poison.
That man is also the reason I am sending this letter now, rather than waiting until I have had an opportunity to read through your packet. Only this morning, I received a visit from Miles Bilson. He claimed he’d heard that Temür Agha’s assassins had been called off, and wanted to know whether the rumors were accurate. I assured him that indeed, it was true, and that he was free to roam about the world again. He then asked me how to contact you, for he would like to hear the details of Temür Agha’s change of heart in person.
I am certain Mr. Bilson’s sudden desire to speak with you has nothing to do with the enormous fortune you received after auctioning off da Vinci’s sketch—an amount which was reported in every newssheet on either side of the Atlantic.
Do not laugh at my cynicism, Archimedes. His timing is rather suspect, don’t you agree?
At any rate, I could not think of a good reason to conceal that you collect your post in Port Fallow; he would simply discover the boardinghouse directions from another of your acquaintances. And knowing Mr. Bilson, you will not find a letter waiting for you, but the man himself. You will easily recognize him; he is as handsome and as charming as ever, and likely just as inconstant.
Forgive me. I know he was your friend. Perhaps my bitterness is disproportionate to his sin—but I once held him in such high regard, and cannot forget my disappointment upon learning how quickly he abandoned you. But do not fret, brother. If there is but one aspect of his sudden reappearance for which I am grateful, it is learning that he no longer poses a danger to my emotions.
Perhaps this means my heart has grown as steely as Captain Corsair’s—not that it did her much good.
With all the love that my icy, hardened heart can manage,
P.S. I have had opportunity to read through a few of the letters in your packet, and I beg you, Archimedes, and I beg Captain Corsair, too—please take a little more time before killing the people who threaten you. Aside from descriptions of their clothing and their death throes, you leave me with absolutely no impression of their characters. Can you not chat with them a bit before shooting? If not, soon I shall be forced to title every adventure Lady Lynx and the Hair-Triggered Buffoon.
Chat with them a bit? Grinning, Archimedes folded Zenobia’s note. Of course his sister knew that taking time for a chat also gave someone the opportunity to carry out their threat—just as she knew that making Archimedes laugh was the easiest way to reassure him that the disappointed feelings she’d revealed weren’t a source of any suffering now.
He didn’t doubt her resilience. Still, a visit wouldn’t be amiss. Fladstrand was only half a day’s flight from Port Fallow aboard most airships—and faster aboard a skyrunner.
Automatically, his gaze went to the opposite side of the boardinghouse’s tiny attic room, where the afternoon sun streamed into the garret through a small window. Beyond the cracked pane lay a view of Port Fallow’s docks. Boats crowded the harbor, their tall masts and branching spars resembling a bare, wintry forest rolling gently over the water. Two dozen airships floated in the brilliant blue sky above them, their wooden cruisers suspended beneath white balloons, as if dangling from dense clouds.
Lovely ladies, all of them. Archimedes only had eyes for one.
Sleek and swift, Lady Nergüi had been tethered along the south dock—directly over the spot where her predecessor had fallen earlier that year. That skyrunner’s charred bones lay at the bottom of the harbor now, and though it was impossible to see them, he knew that Yasmeen felt their presence as keenly as she would a harpoon through her gut. He couldn’t imagine what it had cost her to tether Lady Nergüi in the same location, where the newly rebuilt dock’s clean boards served as a constant reminder of her airship’s demise. But he also understood that Yasmeen would never allow her lady to be tethered anywhere else, not while the loss of that airship and crew was still so sharp.
Archimedes had hated leaving her there alone, even for a short run to the boardinghouse. After they’d docked that morning, he’d delayed his departure as long as possible. He couldn’t prevent her from feeling any pain, but he could stand beside her through it.
Of course, as soon as Yasmeen had realized why he was waiting to disembark, she’d laughed and told him to go. And he’d gone, because although their fights were always entertaining and would serve as a distraction for her, an argument wasn’t the sort of support that he wanted to provide now. He’d use this jaunt into Port Fallow as an opportunity to find something to help her ease the ache. Zenobia’s manuscript was the perfect start. A visit to the silversmith’s would hopefully offer more.
He added his sister’s note to the pile of envelopes on the desk, then grabbed up the whole lot and began stuffing them into his shoulder pack. Zenobia had marked the most recent letter as an express, and so he had immediately read it, but he would have to spend the better part of a week to make his way through the rest of the correspondence.
“Oh, it is you!” The exclamation came from behind him. “Is everything as it should be, Mr. Fox?”
He looked toward the open door. The house matron stood on the landing, her stern face softened by the two brown curls that framed her broad forehead. Pink tinged her cheeks and chin—not a blush, but the kiss of the brisk autumn air. She hadn’t even taken the time to remove her sturdy walking jacket, but had come directly up the three flights of stairs with a folded parasol clutched in her hand, as if sensing that danger had entered her home.
Archimedes adored her for coming to confront that danger herself. But then, he’d always had a soft spot for bold and self-reliant women. “It’s all in order, Mrs. Kohen. You have my gratitude.”
The matron harrumphed lightly, her keen gaze settling on his canvas pack. “You won’t be staying in the room?”
“I’ll be aboard Lady Nergüi,” he said. “But I’d like to continue our arrangement, if possible. I’ll pay the full year’s rate now if you hold the room for me and receive my correspondence.”
No fool, Mrs. Kohen immediately nodded. “That’s acceptable.”
Of course it was. An absent boarder who paid in advance had to be the best sort. “More acceptable than watching me stumble up the stairs every night, reeking of liquor—and not wearing a stitch?”
“Go on, you scoundrel.” Lips pursed, she pointed down the stairs with the tip of her parasol. “I’ll be happy to see the back side of you again.”
Archimedes laughed. A hint of a smile lifted her mouth. Then her brows shot up, and she patted the side of her skirts, clearly searching for something.
“I nearly forgot.” She produced a pale card from beneath her jacket. “This gentleman called on you as I was going out.”
Miles Bilson. Archimedes wasn’t surprised when he read the name. “Thank you.”
Nodding, Mrs. Kohen started down the stairs. “If you leave any valuable sketches in your room, Mr. Fox, please remember to lock up this time.”
He would, even though the lock wouldn’t stop anyone determined to get in. Thoughtfully, he glanced down at Bilson’s card. A direction had been scrawled on the back. Archimedes recognized the hotel in Port Fallow’s second ring of residences—Bilson and he had stayed there several times in their smuggling days, more than a decade before.
Unlike his sister, Archimedes felt no ill will toward the man. Given his tendency to mine every emotion to its furthermost depths, if he had felt the least bit betrayed by Bilson’s abandonment, Archimedes would have hunted down his friend and taken his revenge.
There was no need for vengeance, however. He’d often thought that if anyone had been betrayed, it was Bilson. Archimedes had been the one to destroy a shipment of war machines. Archimedes had been the reason Temür Agha sent assassins after them. Bilson’s life had been threatened and a fortune lost, and it was all due to Archimedes’ impulsive action.
But Archimedes didn’t suffer any guilt for that, either—and that was another emotion he’d have wallowed in, given half a chance. Instead, he only felt a faint curiosity, wondering why the man sought him now.
Strange, that. Archimedes rarely felt anything ‘faintly.’ Yet even with Bilson’s card in his hand, he had no real desire to visit his old friend. As far as he was concerned, his accounts with Bilson had been settled long ago. It was possible that Bilson didn’t feel the same, and Zenobia had reason to be worried—but if that was the case, there was no reason to go looking for the man.
Shaking his head, Archimedes tucked the card into his sack and locked the door behind him. If trouble was coming, it would find him soon enough. It always did.
And he always enjoyed the hell out of it.