The Jackdaw, a figure of oak and brass, sailed through the air on colossal, bat-like wings, steam billowing from rusty pipes at its bow, many iron propellers whirring madly from all around the ship: behind it, a dusky sunrise, illuminating the clouds in shades of pink; above it, endless blue sky; far beneath it, the rolling green fields and towns, and dignified order of the West; before it, impressive docks filled with other airships, and beyond - the immensity of sandstone spires and ramshackle slums that was the capital city of Galabria.
Its captain had long left the musky confines of his quarters. Leopold Briar, hooked-nose facing forwards, greying sideburns and whiskers waving in the wind, dressed in once well-groomed tailcoat and breeches that now appeared dusty and well-worn, looked his old crowlike self. As he turned round, however, the glint in his mahogany eyes was evident.
Immediately, he left the barrier at the stern (where a finely painted figurehead of a jackdaw jutted out into the sky) and moved quickly across the decking. Maze, the demon that filled the position of ship's first mate, was standing to attention towards his smiling captain.
"Maze," said Leopold, "to the ship's wheel, Swift and Hobwood may need some assistance gauging the distance."
"Aye-aye" the demon rumbled and disappeared.
Leopold made his way to the iron railings that led down into the ship's interior, following the winding stairway down some distance, before turning off and following the contours of a corridor, followed by another stairway. On his journey, long corridors shot off in many directions, leading to doctors' quarters, cooks' quarters, cannon-stations, and other recesses. Only Leopold, the captain, would know the nooks and crannies of the entire ship.
Eventually, the smell of steam met his nostrils. Stone steps led down into a room so great it filled the entire base of the ship, packed to the brim with blazing fires and roaring machinery, a few blackened men rushing about with wheelbarrows bearing coal. At present, most of the fires had been quenched, but there had been times, when the Jackdaw had reason to give chase, that a good portion of the room would be bristling with workers, occasionally including the captain.
“Fenlock!” Leopold bellowed over the noise. “You there”, he signalled a passing engine-worker, “find... Oh there you are!”
Fenlock had appeared from behind a steel furnace.
“Captain!” the grizzled old man shouted in return.
“Ease away now! We're approaching the docks!”
“Aye-aye!” Fenlock returned with a big grin, and began signalling his men to stop. Leopold dashed up the stairs again.
Galabria, heart of the West, constructed over what was once an immense plateau, once known as Skytor, to represent the dominance of Western technology. With natural unbreachable walls at each side, the city had been shielded against invaders for centuries, refusing to divulge airship technology with any of the other quarters of the globe. From far away, townsfolk admired its construction, but as Leopold, stood at the stern again as the metal rails at the base of the ship aligned itself with the clockwork rails of the docks, he enjoyed the details; the smell of engine-grease, the sight of Galabrian men hard at work, and, above all, the thought that culture and commerce was still flourishing under the hands of the royal family and king Donyarth XII.
Maze and two other officers came to stand by him as the final gears turned.
“Your orders, captain?” Maze inquired.
“Moldark and his men are to guard the ship, everyone else to go into the city to find what they require: for Fenlock, fuel for the next seven months and any repair work for the engines; Meinhart and Woodgrave are in charge of new medical supplies; Bollis, if he can manage to stand up, anything he needs for cooking – that means well-salted meats, anything in ice, and biscuits - we're never repeating last May and that Takashian chile...”
The men all shuddered.
“... as well as a crate of something to celebrate. Remaining fighters are to sharpen or replace weapons. God knows we'll need any advantage we can find after losing Brilstock and Finn. Let's give ourselves a week to get prepared properly. I myself will be heading into the city.”
“Where will we find you if we need you, sir?” inquired the youngest officer.
“The Galabrian council.” Leopold replied. “I'll be finding us some work, and, if we're lucky, one or two worthy crewmen. Alright, disperse those orders amongst yourselves.”
Leopold walked past the 'Aye-aye sirs', until he reached one of the ladders leading down to the cobbled stone of the city. He went down slowly, touching every rung, before placing his leather boot on the floor and breathing in happily through his nose. It was good to be back.
The journey into the city filled him with fond remembrance. First of all, he made it through the rambling dockyards; about a mile of men shouting beneath a canopied roof – occasionally opening up to let in another ship – and puffing machinery, before reaching the final mahogany staircase that led down into one of the outer districts.
As the city council had done everything they feasibly could, with the interest of encouraging the airship industry, to prevent the stretch of the city from the centre to the docks becoming alike to the slums that filled the fringes of the rest of the city, Leopold Briar had the pleasure of walking through a place of tall-ivyclad wall courtyards, copper-plated windows and elegant clocks, before he recognised the smell of steam again, and entered a small building with a terracotta roof and rows of hanging exotic plants from Southern places. This was the station, and before him a sleek, black steam train had just pulled in.
“Is this one headed to the centre?” he enquired of the station-guard.
“That it is, sir, that it is” the man replied.
“Excellent” declared Leopold and made his way inside.
As the train trundled onwards, Leopold admired all he saw out the window. Beneath a bold, blue sky dotted with drifting clouds and distant airships, the train travelled through tunnel and over viaduct, passing tumbling horizons of orderly houses with streets of light-brown rowan trees and cast-iron gas-lamps, as well as hulking factories alive with smoke and transport (Leopold even thought he saw several automatons – the latest and most impressive Galabrian inventions - in amongst the workers in several of the factories) and the lush estates of the elite with impressive mazes, fountains, and balconies looking over the houses below.
He knew that even those comfortable houses would, at their edges, be on high walls overlooking the the higgledy-piggledy homes of the working class, and they at their edges would be overlooking the slums. Such was the hierarchy of height that formed the layout of Galabria, with Donyarth in the centre sitting in his castle that rose well above the clouds. It was very calming, after months spent roughing storms and untold dangers, to be in a place of luxury. He chose not to consider the slums right now, where he knew people would never know such a word, despite living so close to it.
Eventually, the track began to rise on a viaduct that lifted him high above the houses below, and Leopold knew he was approaching the centre. Eagerly, he opened the window next to him and faced the wind to admire the breathtaking view . Many, many miles wide, and just as many miles from bottom to top, the Galabrian city-centre was the very heart of all steam technology. It was not until the train pulled closer that Leopold could make out some of the individual spires, bridges and tracks that never ceased with human or machine movement.
The station itself constituted several magnificently sized rooms on different layers; pillars and metal beams stretching off across intertwining tracks of trains and trams. He immediately followed one of the staircases upwards, and paid for passaged on a tram to take him to the Galabrian Council.
More spires. More people bustling through. Eventually, Leopold found himself the remaining passenger on the tram, and departed from it to be in a gentler place of little gardens, winding sandstone streets, and the occasional passing-by of a couple of men in expensive robes, deep in conversation. Up above, only a few miles away, the outer-walls of Donyarth's castle could be seen, steadily rising in layers of white and gold to the central spire that seemed to prick the dome of the sky, and on an overcast day would pierce the very clouds.
Suddenly realising how shabby his own coat was compared to the robes of the men who just passed by, Leopold dusted himself down and set off towards the council.