Here’s Your Sneak Peek at Chapter 1 of Army of Brass, a Collaborative Steampunk Novel

Army of Brass

Chapter 1

The atmosphere in the meeting room of Brasshaven was uncharacteristically tense for a weekend in the House of Lords. The assembly of men in their fine garments and powdered wigs made an admirable show of maintaining a sense of stability and dignity, but beneath it, every one of them trembled.

The Lord Speaker, Tullius von Buren, rerolled the parchment he had just finished reading to his group of peers. He sat down and used a fine lace handkerchief to covertly dab away the beads of sweat that had plagued him throughout his recitation.

“If Fairport is under attack by the Hunter Baron and his Marksmen, what are we to do?” gasped Lord Androcles von Kemp before taking a sip from the delicate porcelain teacup in front of him. The question was on all the minds in the garishly decorated hall.

After some disorganized chatter among the rest of the aristocracy, Lord von Buren reclaimed order in the hall with a few raps of his cane against the polished wood of his pulpit. “Undoubtedly, the capital has been made aware of the Hunter Baron’s attack, but I will see an envoy is dispatched as well. Naturally, Brasshaven will offer any requested assistance to the crown and our neighbors in Fairport.” A chorus of affirming voices swept over the room as the congregation of local noblemen endorsed the Lord Speaker’s directive. “The cannons of Fairport have protected our southern border for ages, and not once has a threat of any foreign power, even the Hunter Baron, set foot on our shores. The crown is sure to dispatch the Capital Guard to Fairport, and I imagine this matter will be laid to rest swiftly.”

After several more bouts of men speaking over each other, a woman stood from her seat in the rows of benches spreading out behind the comfortable, overstuffed chairs of the noblemen. Elaina Gable fussed with her hairpins the way she always did when thinking about what she wanted to say. The twirling of her hairpins, combined with the look of dire vexation marked on Elaina’s face, finally caught the ever-watchful eye of the Lord Speaker.

“Mrs. Gable, are you quite well? Is there some matter that the Tinkerer’s Guild needs to bring before the House of Lords?” Lord von Buren asked, hushing the murmuring that filled the lavish meeting hall.

The Lord Speaker’s powerful yet soothing tone served as the spark Elaina needed. “Thank you, Lord Speaker. I wish I could say I am as hopeful as the rest of you about this… this dangerous situation, but I have a fear.”

“Please, Madam, unburden yourself. You are always welcome to speak in this hall. If you have a fear, then I would certainly like to hear it,” he said and beckoned her to come forward.

Elaina pressed her sweaty palms flush against her legs to stop her fidgeting. Her full black dress helped conceal her wobbly ankles as she opened the carved mahogany gate and stepped through the divide separating the commoners from the nobility. She presented herself before the Lord Speaker with the requisite formalities, then took a moment with her eyes closed to find her sense of clarity and poise. When she opened her eyes, she was just in time to see Lord von Buren’s silent nod indicating she should commence.

“My lords and fellows, I am speaking now, not as the head of Brasshaven’s Tinkerer’s Guild, but as former Southerner. It is no great secret that I was born and raised on the southern continent where the Hunter Baron rules. Even with the formidable arms of Fairport, I think it is unwise to so readily assume this threat will be defeated with little cost.”

As soon as she finished her statement, Lord Himmil Rotterdam’s brash voice rose to refute her warning. “Mrs. Gable, I think you are being entirely too delicate. Fairport’s walls and cannons can handle any foe that comes. I can appreciate the perspective you might have gained living among those unrefined savages, but they are clearly no match for sophisticated men of intellect. Best you busy your mind with the gears and cogs in which you are versed. Leave the soldiering to those suited for it,” said the fat, greasy man, a patronizing smirk plastered beneath his finely waxed and curled mustache.

It took all Elaina’s restraint not to jump into the haughty swine’s pulpit, rip the powdered wig from his head, and beat Lord Rotterdam senseless with the accessory. It was not his sexism that cut her the deepest—that was an undeniable reality about the majority lords—but the arrogance the man displayed when it came to talk of war.

Her voice remained steady. “My lord, with all kindness, and once again speaking as someone who has survived life in the south, I would beseech the House to please consider taking greater initiative in the matter at hand,” the Master Tinkerer replied through clenched teeth.

Lord Rotterdam gave a dismissive roll of his eyes and turned his attention to the Lord Speaker. “Lord von Buren, perhaps it would be in order to post an escort of city guard with Mrs. Gable. Clearly, this news has shaken the fragile thing.”

Elaina felt as if she’d been struck in the jaw by the odious man’s superior attitude. She was about to launch a civil retort to his statement, but her hand subconsciously fell to her wrist and felt the absence of her wedding clasp around her forearm. The skin where it used to lay had darkened to nearly the same color as the rest of her healthy tan complexion. She thought of her husband, and the memory of that magnificent man ignited a deep and explosive passion within her. “Sir, you are grossly overconfident. Even a novice Marksman will shoot out your eye at three hundred yards in any weather. The Hunter Baron is a man of conquest, and he will kill the weak and leave them to rot in the sun. Any prisoners he takes are for sport… like… he will…” Elaina sputtered, eyes welling at the memories of her husband in his final moments.

Lord Rotterdam flushed red with outrage, but before the he could reprimand the Tinkerer, a cavalier voice emanated from the rear of the meeting room.

“She’s right. Southern Marksmen are not to be trifled with,” said a young man in a neatly pressed red and tan uniform, wearing expertly polished black boots. He walked into the meeting room through the open double doors without any care of formality or propriety, giving only the most cursory of bows to the assembly of lords once he was halfway up the room’s main aisle. Then his steely eyes softened and warmed as he looked upon Elaina. “Mrs. Gable, the voice of reason as usual, I see.”

The Herald of the Lord Speaker scrambled into the room behind the man who had just disturbed the proceedings. Sheepishly, the boy stood at attention and announced the man in an attempt to salvage some measure of decorum. “My lords and fellows, I present Mr. Jack Davenport of the Capital Cartographers Society.”

After some murmuring among the assembly, Lord von Buren addressed the journeyman mapmaker. “Mr. Davenport, a man of the Cartographers Society is always welcome in Brasshaven, but I would thank you to let us tend to matters of government.”

“My apologies, Your Lordship, but you will want to hear what I have to say,” retorted Jack.

“Go on,” said Lord von Buren warily.

Jack cleared his throat, standing as tall as he could before delivering the news. “The Hunter Baron has taken Fairport.”

A moment of silence ensued, then threatened to turn into panic, but the Lord Speaker spoke before the mood could degrade into anarchy. “I think you must be mistaken. I hold in my hand a letter from the Duke of Fairport, penned barely a week ago. He states that the city is repelling the Hunter Baron and his Marksmen.” He held the parchment correspondence aloft.

“That was quite true at the time the note was written. My dirigible left Fairport once the city was overrun. That was three days after the duke sent that dispatch.”

Realization washed over the House of Lords and the common folk; Lord von Buren was the one to give voice to the thought. “That is unfathomable. You say the Hunter Baron took control of Fairport in only three days?”

The Cartographer leveled a steady gaze at the nobleman, his voice heavy. “The Hunter Baron and some twenty-thousand Marksmen. They are already cutting timber and brought along machines for laying rail. They will be in Brasshaven before the harvest season.”

The booming voice of the Lord Speaker rose above the alarm in the assembly as the news sent the room into total discord. “Twenty-thousand? Are you quite sure of that?”

“Yes indeed, your Lordship. In fact, that figure may be a conservative estimate.”

Men shouted and women screamed, while some people ran for the door and others fainted. The lords fervently bickered with each other over the best course of action, and several long minutes passed before Lord von Buren regained control of the room. “We must sue for peace. There is no single army—or two armies, for that matter—in all the kingdom that can compare to a force of that size.”

“There is such an army,” said Elaina with confidence, cutting through all the bravado of the lords and the fear of the common folk. “The automatons. They could—I know they are currently derelict, but—”

The obnoxious laughter of Lord Rotterdam and a number of other lords broke into her pause. “Ha! You hear this? Her plan is to resurrect some overgrown pocket watches and use them to stave off the Hunter Baron,” said the portly lord mid-guffaw.

Elaina did her best to maintain her aplomb. “My lords, I say we have an army right in our very midst that can withstand any blade or shot. It knows nothing of fear—”

The Lord Speaker silenced her with a gesture. “Mrs. Gable, I can appreciate the sentiment, but… the automatons… they have never moved in living memory. The things are relics of an older world, nothing else. They are little more than a collection of rust and broken clockwork.” His words and tone were courteous but clearly no more sympathetic to the Tinkerer’s idea than his colleague.

“Your Lordship, I know it requires some faith, but my research into the automatons with the Tinkerer’s Guild shows great promise and—”

“You hear this? Faith and promise placed in those gargantuan shambles standing in our valley?” Lord Rotterdam bellowed. “These are the hysterical ravings of an overly emotional woman and have no place being entertained in the House of Lords.”

Jack took several passionate steps forward. “Sir, I care nothing for our difference in rank and station. Should you ever speak to Mrs. Gable like that again, on my honor, it will be your choice of pistols or sabers at dawn.”

At the Cartographer’s outburst, the lord sat and hid an embarrassed face behind his handkerchief.

“Pay him no mind, Mr. Davenport,” Elaina said. “I can see that nobody sitting on this side of the room cares for anything I have to say. I will no longer waste my time or theirs. Good day, my lords,” she added in mock courtesy. “Before I go, just realize that any talk of diplomacy with the Hunter Baron is equally wasteful. That man only knows violence, sport, and bloodshed.”

She stormed out of the meeting room and rushed through the cobblestone streets of Brasshaven, grateful her cold anger stopped her from breaking into tears over the revolting treatment she had just received. Whether the constant disrespect she suffered under Brasshaven’s nobility was due in greater part to the fact that she was a woman or born in Malines, she did not know.

People scurried out of her way when they saw the Tinkerer barreling down the street. Elaina stifled the unending stream of colorful words she’d chosen for the Brasshaven nobility in general and her opinions of Lord Rotterdam in particular. Her pace never slowed as she passed the bustling shopfronts of the merchant district and the steaming smokestacks of the industrial quarter. Finally, she reached the observatory platform on the boundary of Brasshaven at the crescendo of her anger.

“Those feebleminded, patriarchal, misogynistic orangutans in waistcoats! They can all get stuffed and mounted in the Hunter Baron’s trophy room for their idiocy,” she shouted, her voice echoing into the valley that sprawling to the south of Brasshaven.

“So, you plan on giving up, then?”

Elaina spun around to see the Cartographer approaching and felt a pulse of embarrassment wash over her. “Mr. Davenport, my apologies. I know it was not very ladylike.”

“No, not ladylike at all. That happens to be one of the things I find most intriguing about you,” Jack replied with a flashy smile. “Still, I never envisioned you as the sort to surrender.”

“I may be the only one who believes in the automatons, but there’s no quit in me, sir. I’ll go to Antikythera and plead my case before King Radcliffe himself if I must.”

“I have no question you would, but you won’t have to. I admit, I may not believe in them—” Jack gestured towards the south “—but only a fool would doubt you, Mrs. Gable.”

He handed her a letter, and as she read the note, her eyes filled with astonishment. “This is direct from the Forgemaster of Brand.”

“He will be in Brasshaven by week’s end with two-score of smiths and forgemen. The Forgemaster’s pedigree will be sufficient to bring around the House of Lords. Between your intellect and their industriousness, you will ready an army that can stand against the Hunter Baron.”

“How did you manage this?”

“You know me. I’m very good at anticipating needs before they arise. And I’m just so painfully likable and persuasive,” Jack said with mock bravado. “Besides, in spite of his time served, the Forgemaster has never actually seen the army. And they are a sight to see.”

“They are a sight indeed,” Elaina sighed, her words laden with reverence.

They stood on the platform and looked down at the fog coiling around the feet of the colossal assembly of constructs below. Even with the heavy tarnish of centuries and the gathering clouds, their metallic bodies glinted as far as the eye could see. Each of the automatons stood as a titanic, ever-vigilant sentry with clockwork eyes, massive blades, and shields at the ready. The fleet of watchmen, hundreds strong, filled the valley on the edge of Brasshaven with an air of mystery and majesty.

They stood ready for battle to call on them, the Army of Brass.

***

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This chapter was written by Jason Pere, but 20 writers contributed to the book. Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!

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