The Lady's Triumph
September 28, 2022 (978-1-950854-48-6, Moonshell Books)
Only one thing could be worse than Napoleon's invasion of England…
After their daring adventures behind enemy lines in France, Loveday Penhale and Celeste Blanchard cannot settle into everyday life at home. Has the Tinkering Prince forgotten them entirely? What of the prize he promised? Then, with the flourish of a royal messenger's hand, their lives are changed. Not only have they won the prize, they are to join the Prince's Own Engineers in London!
They must overcome many a stone in the path, however-leave all they love, find a suitable house, and worst of all, cope with a chaperone-before they can take their rightful places among the most intelligent and forward-thinking minds in the kingdom. Their goal? To develop an airborne fleet that will end Napoleon's dreams of conquering England forever.
But the saboteur who has been plaguing their efforts for months has not yet been caught. And along with battling for acceptance among the engineers, tiptoeing closer to falling in love, and receiving invitations to Almack's, they must discover the traitor's identity … before the Prince Regent steps forward to command the fleet and finds himself playing right into Napoleon's hands.
"Steampunk, historical fiction, and the wits of two amazing authors blend seamlessly to give readers an adventure that will long linger in their minds." Huntress Reviews on The Prince's Pilot
Truro, Cornwall, Early November 1819
"If you ask me, she's pining."
No one had asked Thomas Trevithick, owner of the now even more famous Trevithick Steam Works in Truro, Cornwall. Certainly no one would have asked him to state his opinion in such a loud voice, which carried over the lovely sound of pistons pumping and hammers on copper. Yet Celeste Blanchard could not argue with him. Ever since she and her friends had returned from France and presented their air ship as a faît accompli to the Prince Regent, it was as if her dear friend Loveday Penhale had wilted, like a silk balloon leaking lifting gas.
Celeste understood. To have invented something so marvelous as Lark Deux, their second air ship, sailed it through the skies from enemy territory to land upon the Prince's very doorstep, and then been sent home, with no further word, for nearly two months! And to have searched in vain for the person who had stolen their plans and provided them to Napoleon's underlings. Who wouldn't feel a bit despondent?
The entire countryside had welcomed them back, but now whispers were beginning to circulate in manor house and public house alike. If they had truly won the Prince's prize, as His Royal Highness had promised, why hadn't it been delivered? Emory Thorndyke and Captain Arthur Trevelyan's word aside, had Celeste and Loveday even met the Prince? Or were they merely two foolish young ladies who thought themselves better than they should be?
Celeste lifted her blue wool skirts and sidled in next to Loveday at the workbench to bump her shoulder. "We have no reason to pine. We have achieved that which none other can claim."
Loveday sent her a wan smile. "Indeed we have. Though it would be nice to have that achievement acknowledged in some concrete way." She bowed her blond head once more over the two sheets of metal she had been evaluating for weight and material properties, but her shoulders under her chambray work dress were slumped.
The doorway of the steam works opened to admit two older men. Celeste recognized the taller as Mr Thorndyke, Emory's father.
"There he is, just as I promised!" Mr Thorndyke declared with a nod into the shop.
Their friend set down the hammer he had been using and straightened from his own workbench a few feet away. He, at least, showed no ill effects of the wait. He had simply gone to work on his next invention, a boiler of appropriate size and weight to power a carriage. In that, he hoped to go the great Richard Trevithick one further. The light through the isinglass windows caught on his sandy hair as he turned toward the doorway. "Father? What brings you here?"
Mr Thorndyke had not been supportive of engineering and tinkering, until Emory had invented the steam pump that was even now emptying Cornish tin and copper mines of the seawater that had plagued them for years. The lifting gas emitted by underground thermal springs had once sickened men and put others out of work. But now, folded into the pumping process, the gas was stored in barrels and would make him and several other gentlemen of the neighborhood rich should air ships become as commonplace as she and Loveday hoped, crossing oceans and continents like so many migrating birds.
In answer to Emory's question, his father looked to the shorter man at his side.
Dressed in velvet breeches and a fine wool coat with lace at his cuffs, the fellow minced his way across the floor of the steam works as if he thought the metal filings and sawdust scattered about might leap up and attack him. He came to a halt in front of Emory, grey head high and shallow chest puffed with his own importance. From the satchel at his side, he selected an envelope.
"Emory Thorndyke," he announced in a voice surprisingly deep for one so slight, "His Royal Highness thanks you for your service."
Every tool hung suspended. Even the pistons hissed to a stop. Celeste glanced at Loveday and saw her eyes widen.
Emory accepted the envelope, turning it in his large hands as if he could determine its provenance and reasoning through the vellum.
"Well, go on, boy," his father urged, stepping closer. "Read it."
Grip visibly tightening, Emory broke the red wax seal.
Their visitor didn't wait for him to read it. He turned to Thomas, evidently rightly thinking he must be the master in charge. "Am I correct in assuming I might find Mr Rudolph Clement here as well?"
The air rang with the sound of a hammer abruptly dropped on the slate floor.
Thomas's gaze followed the racket to one of their youngest engineers. Swallowing, Rudy ventured forward, his face turning red. "Aye, sir," he said, bobbing his head. "I'm Rudy Clement."
The messenger produced another envelope. "Your Prince thanks you for your service, sir."
First Emory, now Rudy? Could there be something in that satchel for Loveday and Celeste, or had they truly been forgotten?
Frowning, Rudy broke the thick seal with trembling fingers. He read with maddening care the words contained therein. Then his head jerked up, and his gaze veered toward Loveday and Celeste. "Miss Penhale, Miss Aventure-His Royal Highness thanks me for my help with the air ship."
"As well he should," Loveday said magnanimously. "Without your help pulling that skin of silk out of the harbor last summer, there would have been no prototype."
Celeste smiled, but she was, in truth, more interested in what the Prince had written to Emory, particularly as the king's messenger did not appear inclined to offer her or Loveday an envelope.
"What does your letter say, Monsieur Thorndyke?" she asked.
Emory raised his gaze to hers, the sea-green depths swimming with possibilities … and shock. "He offers me a-a-" His voice failed. "A knighthood. For my pump."
His father whooped and clapped the messenger on the shoulder, nearly oversetting him. "Did you hear that? My son is to be knighted," he shouted to all and sundry. "Sir Emory Thorndyke of Truro, praise all the saints!"
"Sir Emory Thorndyke of London," Emory corrected him, his gaze on Celeste. "It seems I have been invited to join the Prince's Own Engineers at St James's Palace."
He was leaving? The floor seemed to open between them, widening a gap she had tried so hard to close.
But of course he must go. He had earned this. His pump not only cleared the mines of seawater and gas, but the lifting gas was vital to winning the war with Napoleon.
The messenger righted himself and tugged down his waistcoat before turning to her and Loveday, eyes narrowing. "Did I understand correctly? You are Miss Loveday Penhale and Miss Celeste Aventure?"
After six months of using a false name, Celeste was just beginning to accustom herself to it. She nodded, even as Loveday said, "We are."
Once more he dipped into his satchel to offer them a pair of envelopes thicker even than the one he had handed Emory. "You are also commended for your service to the Crown. His Royal Highness hereby awards you the Prince's prize and commands that you travel forthwith to London, to claim it and to take your places among the Prince's Own Engineers."
Loveday found the stool at her workbench by luck and memory alone and sank onto it. She didn't know where her legs were. Or her feet. The rest of the steam works and everyone in it had faded to a fog and a murmur. Her entire being was concentrated on this miracle in her hands. This dream. This lovely vellum with her name inscribed upon the front in a hand so fine it might have been written by an angel.
Her hands shook as she broke the wax seal.
Be it known to all that in consideration of and in gratitude for her contributions to the safety of the Kingdom, its Sovereigns, and their grateful Subjects, Loveday Maria Penhale of Hale House in the Duchy of Cornwall, jointly with Celeste Aventure of the same, are the recipients of the sum of five hundred gold guineas heretofore known as the Prince's Prize, with the recognition and appurtenances thereunto.
Be it further known that said Loveday Maria Penhale is granted forthwith a seat among those known as the Prince's Own Engineers. She is commanded to appear at St James's Palace on the first day of December in the year of Our Lord 1819 to take her place and join His Royal Highness, George Augustus Frederick of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Prince Regent, in augmenting the body of knowledge and instruments of war in this Nation's fight against the tyranny of the usurper Napoleon Bonaparte.
By my hand and seal this second day of November, 1819.
The Prince Regent's elegant George P, with its graceful loops on the g's, and his personal seal in red wax, ended the letter.
Loveday came to herself with a gasp when her lungs demanded air. Beside her, on her own stool, Celeste lifted her head, her face as pale as the stiff folds of the letter in her own shaking hands.
"Can it really be true?" Loveday whispered.
"We are among the Prince's Own." Celeste's musical voice had become a croak. "We, so far away and unknown."
"Not so unknown," Emory said, his own letter with its seal and ribbon dangling from fingers that must be as numb as Loveday's own. "Not since you landed Lark Deux upon the Prince's front lawn at Portsmouth. No one will ever forget that moment, His Royal Highness least of all."
"May I be the first to offer you congratulations and all good wishes, Miss Penhale," Rudy said shyly. "Tez honored I am to know ye. My mum will be beside herself to see this letter of mine, signed by the Prince himself, and it's all because of you and Miss Aventure."
"Blanchard," she thought she heard Celeste whisper, though it did not carry past her own ear. "Blanchard."
Only a very few knew that Celeste still lived under an alias, lest someone discover that her mother had been Napoleon's Chief Air Minister and therefore one of England's sworn enemies. The fact that Celeste herself had worn that title for a few short weeks was known to even fewer in England-Loveday herself, Emory, and Arthur Trevelyan. And that secret should never pass their lips to put their friend's life at risk. Even with this new and stunning recognition of her efforts, how galling it must be to enjoy her newfound fame while being obliged to sail under false colors!
Belatedly, she realized the royal messenger was straightening his back again. Was there still more in that satchel of his?
"I offer my humble congratulations to all of you," he said, clicking his heels as he bowed. "I must be off to perform yet one more commission."
One more? Loveday's eyes met Celeste's as certainty filled her. "Arthur!" For who else could it be? "He will be a member of the Prince's Own, too! Oh, how thrilling for them all at Gwynn Place."
"Where is the logic in that?" Emory asked, obviously puzzled at the speed of their conclusions. "Our friend is not an engineer. He is a soldier."
"The messenger's commission could be to Lord St Aubyn," his father said with, to Loveday's mind, utterly unreasonable prudence. "To do with the aeronautical outpost they're planning on St Michael's Mount, perhaps."
Loveday bit back a highly unladylike bosh! as the sound of the royal messenger's carriage departing the yard came through the doors. Both were perfectly possible, but did they have to stick a pin in her hopes that all four of those who had endured the fear and hardships of France might be similarly rewarded?
"We must go home at once." She laid an urgent hand on Celeste's arm. "I am bursting to tell Papa and Mama. And I cannot wait to see Gwen's face when she sees the Prince's own hand on this letter to me, her hobbledehoy of a sister."
"To think that His Royal Highness has written to us personally," Celeste agreed, though she must still be in shock, for her voice sounded a little flat even yet. "And perhaps we will hear news from Gwynn Place before long."
There would be no more work done at the Trevithick Steam Works today. Thomas clapped Emory on the back and invited him, his father, and Rudy Clement to the local public house to celebrate. Poor Emory tried to demur, but he was no match for Thomas-to say nothing of Mr Thorndyke, who carried everyone before him.
"The news of Emory's elevation to the knighthood will be all over the county by dinnertime," Loveday predicted with a smile as she and Celeste climbed into the cane whiskey. With a glance at the lowering November sky, she lost no time in shaking the reins over Rhea's back and setting off on the familiar road home.
"And then watch every young lady of marriageable age for twenty miles set her cap for him," Celeste said, tying the blue ribbons of her bonnet as they bowled along the streets of Truro. Her hair, which had been nothing but a cap of dark curls when she'd been washed ashore on Hale Head this summer, was long enough now that it barely fit within the bonnet, with a few curls escaping to frame her face. "He will lose sight of the little French girl he once called friend in the crowd clamoring for introduction at every ball and assembly."
"What a poor opinion you have of him," Loveday exclaimed as Rhea made the turn on to the road that cut across country toward the sea. "Little French girl! Rather, the only woman to fly the Channel from east to west-twice-and outwit Napoleon at his own game." She snorted. "Little French girl. Pffft!"
This outburst brought a smile to Celeste's lips at last. "I am glad to see you in better spirits now than when we drove into town," she said. "I did not want to intrude by inquiring what was wrong. I thought you might tell me on your own."
Loveday shook her head. "Just a case of the blue devils. The waiting. The not knowing if the Prince meant to stand by his word or not. You know how he is … he gets caught up in some new mechanical project and loses track of all else. We saw it, even during our brief sojourn in Portsmouth."
"Not this," Celeste said with confidence. "Our air ship design is too important to victory. He would no more forget the ones who had built it than he would forget his own-" She stopped.
"Not the comparison I had hoped to make," Celeste confessed. "I was going to say family, but then I remembered."
A father who was mad more often than not. A mother who loved the man he had been yet was obliged to be separated from him, presiding over the court. A daughter who had died. A wife who lived apart in her silly palace in Brighton with another man.
"You are quite right. I am sure the Prince would rather think about us and our flight than any of his personal troubles," Loveday assured her. "And I am thankful for it. Even the fact that you must put up the umbrella now, or risk both of us being soaked to the skin, cannot dampen my soaring spirits."
"Our dreams have come true," Celeste said, as she opened the umbrella just in time. The wind was rising, and the first heavy drops spattered the road. "Though I wish the proof of them had been addressed to the right person."
"I felt your distress," Loveday said. "But it is not safe for you to be known just yet."
"I know." Celeste moved closer so that the umbrella would shelter them both. Their bonnet ribbons snapped in the wind, and Loveday clucked to Rhea to pick up her pace. "When we prove ourselves among the Prince's Own Engineers, I swear that any success I enjoy will be in my own name. Blanchard will no longer signify an enemy of the English Crown, but someone to be celebrated for her service to it."
"Until you give up that celebrated name for that of a certain handsome knight," Loveday said slyly.
A wave of color rose in Celeste's face. "If we have learned anything since that day I washed up on the beach, Loveday, it is that you and I must never tempt fate."
With a rueful nod of acknowledgement of this truth, Loveday focused her attention on getting them home before the fringes of the storm passed overhead and the part that meant business overtook them.
The Prince's Own Engineers! She had seen the words with her own eyes, and she still could hardly believe them. Perhaps now Mama would resign herself to what Papa already knew-that Loveday was destined for the workshop, not the ballroom. Although, my goodness-there must be any number of ballrooms in London. Imagine-she and Celeste might be invited to York House! Or Spencer House, or Apsley.
The thought of these vast, glittering ballrooms would be terrifying were it not for her friends' company. Why, Celeste and Emory, she and Arthur would- Arthur. Did he have an envelope addressed to him in the royal messenger's satchel, as they hoped? Or was he at this moment planning nothing more than giving gentle exercise to his leg after all its exertions in France? Had the carriage from London bowled along this very road, or had it taken the other route for St Michael's Mount?
Suddenly, without the possibility of Arthur's welcoming smile and steady, intelligent eyes to be found in the company, the bright visions of York House dimmed, leaving its gilded expanses empty and hollow. They had suffered so much together. Surely they were not to be separated in their moment of triumph? Surely fate, which they had tempted too many times and yet come out unscathed, would not choose today to insist upon a reckoning?
"A gentleman from London wishes to speak to you, Captain." Mrs Polgarth, the housekeeper, stepped into the drawing room, her eyes as wide as though she had seen an apparition in the front hall.
Arthur Trevelyan looked up in surprise from the Truro newspaper. His parents laid down their books, and his sisters Cecily and Jenifer paused, their embroidery needles suspended over the fine fabric in their hoops. Outside, a catspaw of wind flung raindrops against the window, harbingers of the storm that had been boiling for some time out in the Channel.
"For me?" Surely it was not a messenger from the Walsingham Office. Representatives of His Majesty's fledgling intelligence service tended not to go about announcing themselves. And a letter would come disguised in a more banal wrapping, such as a book from a subscription library.
"Well, show him in," his father said, "now that our curiosity is piqued."
In a moment, the apparition himself appeared with a bow, making the entire family stare in much the same way as Mrs Polgarth. The breeches-the lace! Was this what they were wearing in London these days?
"Which of you gentlemen have I the pleasure of addressing as Captain Arthur Trevelyan?"
Arthur schooled his face into dignity and rose with only the slightest wince as he put his weight upon his bad leg. "I am he, sir."
The man reached into his satchel and produced a lidded box of shaped leather, long and flat and closed with a brass buckle. "For you, sir, with His Royal Highness's compliments. If it please you, I shall read aloud the topmost document. When you have apprehended all, I shall be pleased to answer any questions."
The Prince Regent. Not the Walsingham Office, then.
Mystified, Arthur took the box from him and set it on the table. Cecily whisked her workbasket out of the way but did not stir from her chair, which gave her a good view of the mysterious delivery. He did not sport with his sisters, for his own curiosity burned like a flame.
The buckle was undone and the lid flung back to reveal several documents written in an elaborate and flawless hand on vellum. He picked up the topmost, hoping it would explain the rest, and handed it to the messenger. That personage flung back his shoulders, unfolded it, and in a voice that might be more appropriate for the town square, began to read.
George Augustus Frederick, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Prince Regent, to all Archbishops, Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts, Bishops, Barons, Baronets, Knights, Justices, Provosts, Ministers, and all other Our Faithful Subjects, greeting. Know ye that We have made and created and by these Our Letters Patent do make and create Our right trusty and well beloved servant, Arthur Gerran Trevelyan, Captain of the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot, Viscount St. Ives-
Jenifer and Cecily shrieked, leaped up, and seized each other to jump up and down like a pair of lunatics.
"What?" Papa said as his book fell off his knee to the floor. "What did it say? I can't hear in all this racket!"
Mrs Polgarth and both the upstairs and downstairs maids, who were clustered in the doorway, promptly clapped their hands over their mouths.
The messenger waited until order was restored.
-and to the same, Our right trusty and well beloved servant, Arthur Gerran Trevelyan, have given and granted the Viscountcy in recognition of his bravery and actions above and beyond the call of duty behind enemy lines in despite of the usurper Napoleon. And by this our present Charter We do give, grant, and confirm the name, style, title, dignity and honour of the same Viscountcy, and Him Our said right trusty and well beloved servant, Arthur Gerran Trevelyan as has been accustomed We do ennoble and invest with the said Viscountcy by girding Him with a sword, and by putting a coronet on His head, that he may preside there and may direct and defend those parts to hold to him and his heirs Viscounts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for ever.
"Bless me," his mother said, fumbling for her husband's hand. "There must be some mistake. Our Arthur? Can it be true?"
Wherefore We will and strictly command for Us, our heirs and successors, that Our said right trusty and well beloved Arthur Gerran Trevelyan may have the name, style, title, dignity, and honour of the Viscountcy of St Ives aforesaid unto him and his heirs male of his body lawfully begotten, by his name, style and title of Viscount St Ives in the Duchy of Cornwall in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as is above mentioned.
In witness whereof We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent. Witness Ourself at Westminster the first day of November in the eighth year of our Regency and the fifth-ninth year of the Reign of Our right Royal Father, George the Third.
Arthur stared at the royal messenger, stricken utterly speechless.
Perhaps the man was used to such a reaction, for he set the letter aside and carefully unfolded a document so beautifully inked and colored, and bearing a seal of such gilded splendor that the first inklings of what was happening to him finally began to sink into Arthur's comprehension.
"These, my lord, are your Letters Patent creating the viscountcy. You are ennobled and hereafter to be styled Viscount St Ives, as the proclamation has said, with lands and a small manor outside the town of St Ives, the deeds pertaining to which are here, in this box."
"I-I am a viscount?" This could not really be happening. Things like this didn't happen to ordinary soldiers invalided out of the army.
"Indeed, your lordship. Perhaps it will seem more real to you when I read your Writ of Summons to Parliament. For following your investiture, you must take up your seat without delay."
"Yes, my lord. Allow me."
Another official-looking square of vellum was shaken out, and once more the messenger straightened with the consciousness of whom he represented.
George Augustus Frederick, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Prince Regent, to our right trusty and well beloved servant, Arthur Gerran Trevelyan, Viscount St Ives, in the Duchy of Cornwall, greeting.
Whereas by the advice and assent of Our Council for certain arduous and urgent affairs concerning Us, the State, and defence of Our Kingdom and the Church from the usurper Napoleon, styled Emperor, and his airborne armada, we have ordered a certain Parliament to be holden at Our City of Westminster on the fifteenth day of November next ensuing and there to treat and have conference with the Prelates, Great Men, and Peers of Our Realm.
We command you upon the faith and allegiance by which you are bound to Us that the weightiness of the said affairs and imminent perils considered (waiving all excuses), you be at the said day and place personally present with Us and with the said Prelates, Great Men, and Peers to treat and give your counsel upon the affairs aforesaid. And this, as you regard Us and Our honour and the safety and defence of the said Kingdom and Church and dispatch of the said affairs, in no wise do you omit. Witness Ourself at Westminster the first day of November in the eighth year of our Regency and the fifth-ninth year of the Reign of Our right Royal Father, George the Third.
Well, that, at any rate, was straightforward and not quite so flowery as to render its information unintelligible.
"I am to go to London," he repeated. The messenger inclined his head. "Be … invested. Take up my seat in the House of Lords on the fifteenth. And thereafter, to advise His Royal Highness on how we may defeat Napoleon's air ships."
"Yes, my lord. You have apprehended it perfectly."
Oh, would he stop calling him that! But Arthur supposed he had better become accustomed to it. For there could be no declining or even arguing with the gold leaf and elegant calligraphy of the Letters Patent. Or with Prinny, who had inflicted this life-changing event upon him without so much as a by-your-leave or a whisper of warning.
What would Loveday say when she heard? Would their comradeship, the warmth of feeling that might become something more in time, be entirely doused by the weight of this news?
How long was a man expected to stay in London once he had taken his seat in the House, pray tell? Good heavens, people stayed there for months-from Easter to August. How on earth could he inspect his new property and understand his responsibilities-to say nothing of helping his father oversee the Gwynn Place farms and the planting-if he were cooped up in London from planting to harvest?
The months of being obliged to live so far away seemed to stretch into impossibility. And what of the aeronauts on the point of arriving for training-aeronauts who must be billeted and entertained and wouldn't they be just the sort of men to suit a woman like Loveday? Providing, of course, she did not decide to become an aeronaut herself and join their number.
Oh, this was a disaster. What had possessed the Prince to take away his life and foist upon him a-
"A viscount!" his mother warbled, on the point of tears. "Oh Arthur, I am so proud I can hardly breathe. May I see?"
He reined in his galloping emotions with an effort of will. "Of course, Mama."
She fell into his arms and sobbed with joy, and it was only after some minutes and the application of two handkerchiefs that she could take in the documents, though she refused to touch them lest she spoil them.
"Please tell me we do not have to call you my lord," Cecily said, hunting for a dry spot on her own handkerchief and completely missing the shocked expression on the royal messenger's face.
"Certainly not," Arthur said, appalled.
"Only in public," Papa told her. He beamed at Arthur. "His lordship, by Saint Pirran's holy robe! Well, well, don't look as though you've had a dunking in the sea, my boy. Cheer up-we'll have no trouble finding a wife for you now, will we?"
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