Melbourne gripped the hot glass between his hands, watched her lips. “You needn’t continue, Nettie. ‘Tis a personal matter, I understand, as do I comprehend your reasons for relieving Kut.”
She gave a slight nod accompanied by a shy smile. Her shoulders sank, evidently relieved from having to divulge her presumed assorted history.
“So other than the tank, what other toys have you got?” Melbourne asked with a kind of enthusiasm that could erase any damper.
“You like her, aye? Ophelia was a hard one to build out here, but I finally traded enough gowns and English silver for the pieces I needed. I based her on the Hornsby & Sons tractor design—though more advanced, of course.” A proud smile pulled the corners of her lips, as if she were referring to her child.
“You built her?”
“Well, Kanishka would have you think otherwise since he insists on driving it most of the time.” Her jaw muscles flexed, her knuckles turned a shade lighter as she gripped the glass. “But as far as other toys go, we have acquired several machines of destruction from our travels.”
Nettie stood unceremoniously and headed for the wardrobe. She opened the door, rummaged around for a moment, and then returned with a thick, dog-eared ledger. Nettie placed the tome on the lace tablecloth and pulled thin wire-framed spectacles from her breast pocket. “Kanishka requires me to keep record of all our machinery.” She flipped through the ledger quickly, presumably looking for a page in particular.
“Ah, here it is. These may be of interest to you. We have ten Spiders, an armory full of flame pistols and rifles, a mini-zeppelin (out on loan as of March, unfortunately), eight turret guns, and an self-driven armored steam-carriage.”
“My god. Did you make the carriage too?” Melbourne leaned forward on his elbow to get a better look at the list accompanied by pencil illustrations.
“Dear no. It was a gift from a Russian engineer.”
“You seem to have a lot of gifts.” Melbourne sat back, took another sip of bitter tea.
“I make a lot of friends.” She said shortly before slamming the ledger shut. A puff of dust escaped the pages, mingled with the steam from the samovar—tarnished the air.
Melbourne eyed her curiously as she quickly returned the book to its place. Rosy patches now tinted her cheekbones. Her sudden frenzied motions gave him the impression that she had said too much. He continued sipping the tea nonchalantly, not wanting her to notice his piqued interest at her behavior.
She returned and stood at the table, spectacles clamped between her thin hands. Taking it as a sign for him to rise, Melbourne nodded and did so.
“Thank you for your assistance, Queen—Nettie. I will tell my men to be ready by morning.”
“Very well. Goodnight, Captain Melbourne.” She gave a shallow courtesy. He bowed and disappeared behind the damask curtain.
- - - Nichole Beard is in the process of earning her MFA in Creative Writing at Rosemont College. She is a little too obsessed with Star Wars and most other things deemed nerdy. She is working on her first novel, a historical fiction piece.