This poem came out of the April 2, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by Dreamwidth user Finch and wyld_dandelyon. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to The Steamsmith series. It will make more sense if you have read "An Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade" and "One Man's Renaissance."
It was the beginning of November,
the "little season" that was more intimate
and given to small social gatherings
than the grand "London season"
that would begin in February.
People connected with the government,
the diplomatic corps, the lawyers,
the art and literary crowds,
and those of the gentry with no large estates
stayed in town and did their business.
Sometimes Maryam Smith stayed,
and other times she went home;
this year she stayed, busy with alchemy
and the complicated politics
of taking up the mantle as Baron Carrington.
When the Queen announced a small parade
through the streets around the palace,
Maryam called on some of her father's friends
and managed to get herself a decent place
from which to enjoy the pageantry.
Her Majesty appeared in the
Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade
which Maryam had given her,
an exquisite contraption of alchemy
and really the Queen seemed quite fond of it.
The crowd cheered and shuffled,
smelling strongly of fish and chips
where the servants had accompanied their charges
and more sweetly of expensive cologne
from the lords and ladies in front of them,
and faintly of raw onions.
Maryam froze as the scent curled past her
riding on a wayward breeze between the buildings.
Onions? she thought in alarm.
There's no call for raw onions about here!
She twisted and turned in place,
searching urgently for more information,
but the crowd was close and the day cloudy,
leaving little to see or to smell
beyond what she'd already gathered.
She caught a whiff of horse manure,
but there were horses in the parade
flanking the Queen's carriage as it approached.
It might be nothing, Maryam thought,
or it might be traitors and assassins
and no end of trouble.
A sweep of motion snagged her attention then,
something tossed high in the autumn air
so it would hit the street with a smash.
Maryam dove forward under the shying horses
and the Amazing Carriage that rolled on unconcerned --
and wasn't that a bugger of a design flaw
to recognize now that it was too late to amend it? --
so that she caught the white sphere in her hands
and curled her whole body around it.
"Onion bomb!" she shouted once she was certain,
because there could be more of them.
Sure enough there came a wet bang!
and the stink of low-grade lei fen,
the thunder flour made by filling a hollowed onion
with charcoal, stable sweepings, ash, and metal scraps.
When thrown, the onion would burst open
and the Dry fuel would explode on contact with air,
flinging shrapnel and a mess of alchemical energy
in all directions with great force.
The Amazing Carriage held steady
but some of the guard horses spooked,
rearing and dancing in place.
One of them stepped square on Maryam,
but she held herself tight around the onion bomb.
Her Majesty was, thank God,
apparently on the floor of the carriage
under a goodly pile of bodyguards
and not gaping out the window like a lunatic
as some of the other lords and ladies
in the procession were determined to do.
Minutes later, the street was cleared
of panicky horses and rubbernecking crowd,
and one of the palace guards helped Maryam to her feet.
"Here," she said as she handed him the onion bomb,
"you may want this for evidence."
"Thank you," said the guard,
"though I fear there's no one left to charge."
He tipped his head toward a spatter of red
on the sidewalk, all that remained
of whatever mad alchemist had brought the bombs.
"Well that's bloody inconvenient," Maryam grumbled,
prodding at her insulted ribs. Her best shirt was a loss,
its crisp linen ripped by the horseshoe nails,
and under that lay the clear imprint of a hoof
already turning black and blue under her brown skin.
"Now we'll never find out who's behind this,
and it's bound to cause a ruckus in politics,
and the better half of the Lords are out to their lodges
so it's likely to be Christmas before the dust settles."
The guard nodded solemnly and took her statement
about what she'd seen and heard and smelled,
noting the moon-and-sun pin of the Steamsmith guild
that Maryam wore on her now-tattered lapel.
A footman brought her a chunk of ice in a towel,
procured from who-knew-where, and Maryam
pressed it gratefully against her bruised ribs.
A cabbie was fetched to take her home and
deliver her into the rather alarmed hands of her servants.
Maryam spent the next day in bed,
aching from head to toe, even with more ice.
She spent the two days after that in her laboratory
trying to figure out such safety features
as a proximity sensor for self-mobile vehicles
or an alchemical detector for onion bombs,
and getting all kinds of nowhere.
That weekend a package arrived
with a handwritten card that read:
|Dear Alchemist Smith,
We thank you for your most timely intervention on behalf of Our safety.
Within the box lay a shirt tailored to her measurements
and made of pure white silk, the front placket
stiff with seed pearls and thread-of-silver in intricate scrolls.
Maryam smiled. It never hurt
to have the regard of the Crown,
though that wasn't why
she had done what she did --
she simply couldn't abide anyone
abusing the pure potential of alchemy
for something as base as assassination.
* * *
According to the Victorian calendar of the London season, the "little season" runs from November-February.
lei fen -- the Dry fuel, commonly called thunder flour, consisting of one atom of ge (Earth) and two atoms of pyra (Fire). Unlike most alchemical materials, which are named in Greek, this was first discovered in China and thus retains its original name among alchemists.