Sunday, June 12, 2011


The Mech-Maiden of Mesopotamia
Part 4
By Nichole Beard

           Melbourne jumped when he saw Kanishka appear in the mirror behind him. “The Queen is ready to see you now.” He extended his hand down the cave hall that had been funneling the sweet harp music to him earlier. He could still hear it now, faint.

            “Thank you.” Melbourne nodded and set out down the narrow passage.
            Melodious harp strings plucked with his steps. He became aware of the thin copper pipes running along the ceiling. Small Phonograph speakers extended from the ends of the pipe.
            At the end of the hall, the Captain was met with a deep purple damask curtain. “Captain Melbourne…reporting.” He gulped, not knowing exactly how to present himself. The lyrical harp plucking abruptly stopped. He heard some rustling within followed by a composed “come in.”
            She sat in a Moroccan-style bed, fit comfortably between two large silk-cased pillows. Two hand carved bookcases flanked the bed. A chestnut wardrobe towered on the adjacent wall. The Queen was braiding her dark auburn hair over her right shoulder, studying the plait rather than the door. 
            “Captain Melbourne, I would like to apologize for the actions of my men earlier.” She looked up, meeting his gaze for the first time. Gray-blue eyes burned back at him, contrasted against the light brown skin kissed with freckles. She tied her hair with a strap of leather and paused before approaching him, suddenly rigid.
            Shapely hips accentuated beneath a cream and black striped tailored suit stopped before him. She extended a thin hand and looked at him expectantly beneath the brim of her tiny, off-center toque.

Quickly, almost fumbling, Melbourne took her hand and brought it to his lips. It was soft, smelled of Rosewater. He thought her palm might have made a finer cup than the porcelain.
            “Apology accepted, Queen.” He stumbled over the words, unsure of what to call her.
            She smiled at him knowingly. “Please, call me Nettie. ‘The Queen’ is just something my brother made up so that the men respect me.” Melbourne marveled at her impeccable English and suspected that it was indeed her native tongue.
            “My brother tells me you are on your way to relieve Major-General Townshend at Kut.” Before he could respond, she continued and turned to sit on the bed. “Are you not aware that Ottoman forces commanded by General Goltz wait to intercept you at Sheikh Sa'ad?” She stared up at him, gray-blue eyes piercing, challenging.
“My scouts would surely have told me of this.” He stood just inside the door, uncomfortable with intruding on her private quarters.
            “Well, Captain, I have scouts too—who know this land by heart. As do I have mech-pigeons, which one can always count on because they can’t get gassed like a scout can.” She paused, motioned to the silver Russian samovar sitting on the table at the corner of the room. “Would you mind?”
            “My pleasure.” Melbourne took a plain glass cup from a nearby tray and studied the floral-ingrained contraption. The fact that he had only seen a picture of a samovar was irrelevant when proving attentiveness to a Queen.

            “Here.” She appeared beside him, noticeably fighting a smile. She placed the cup beneath the spout that had been in front of him the entire time and released the dark steaming liquid. “It was a gift from the Cossacks.” She took another glass and poured him one.
            Nettie took a sip and licked her licks. “It’s quite bitter. Too bad our mech-goat doesn’t produce milk.” She said thoughtfully. So there had been a mech-goat involved after all.
            He sat stiffly in a nearby chair. She sat down across from him, thinking. His eye caught the lace collar complete with a bone-carved cameo. The chunk of green amber dangling between her collarbones strangely complimented it.
            “You will need our help tomorrow. I see you have guns and Spiders, but not enough.”
            “I couldn’t ask—Kanishka gave me the impression that The Court did not get involved in these matters.”
            “Normally, no. Unless there’s money or loot involved, quite frankly. But this is different. Those are not British soldiers besieged at Kut, but Indian—6th Division.” She carefully placed the half-empty cup on the table, visibly troubled.
            “Kanishka and I acquired The Court, you see, throughout our travels. I’m sure by now he has told you enough for you to understand that it was hard for us to find a home. We were born in India, schooled in England, and returned to our father’s land upon our mother’s death. Her family didn’t want us.”

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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.


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