Cornelius VonBonnk: A Story Of Steam Power And Fruit Orchards
(C) 2012 by George Heath Locke
Artwork (C) 2012 by George Heath Locke
The following is an excerpt from Juan Ivan Plotski’s unprecedented “Encyclopedia of Small Planets”, Volume CVII “Earth and Minor Kingdoms of the XV Millennium; After the Reign of ‘Emperor Poxx (“The Cockroach King”)” 2nd Edition; Published by Niggle Press with additional notes by Lexus Stoop. © 2525-201 UND
Some twenty-five million years after the “Great Error” (“GE”), which saw the reduction of human life on Earth by some eighty-five percent, this small planet once again has enjoyed a rise in population. This includes the indigenous life forms and also many which had been unknown or gathered from historical records, folk tales and other anecdotal sources.
Earth retains none of the familiarity from the pre-GE age. Global warming melted the ice caps. Oceans rose. The Earth cooled again. Nations tottered and fell. Civilizations sprang forth and faded into an aging sun.
Another ice age descended, this time gripping all but a fraction of the planet, and centuries of snow clamped all in its icy maw.
But then, a shift of the poles, ever so slightly, and jungles grew with green vitality as the winters retreated. Earthquakes rumbled through mud and wattle huts and soaring stone cities, toppling the homes of the rich and poor alike.
Technology was claimed by the cogs of time. The mighty engines of atomic power had crumbled to ash and were forgotten. At the time this edition of the encyclopedia was published, industry on earth was powered by steam and waterpower, windmills and long lasting spring wound devices. Science had also, to a certain degree, harnessed electricity and, with the help of small, extremely efficient steam devices, had succeeded in producing robots of copper, brass and iron which began the job of serving mankind.
Most important of all was the discovery of oilwood, a rare and remarkable fossilized fuel source. If even one or two ounces of the substance were ignited, oilwood would burn for hours and with enormous ferocity and efficiency.
In a small section of a land mass that once held the mighty Mississippi River and where the waves of the Atlantic washed against a densely populated eastern coast-line, the “Five Kingdoms of Aavalon” have matured; containing only a fraction of the former population, and stretch north and south along a vast impenetrable forest to the west and the deep “Emerald Sea” to the east.
In the south and blessed with nutrient rich water from the great “Plink River”, unusually dark, heavy loam that measures five to six feet deep in many places and a generous sun that produces year round growth, is the vast “Kingdom of Offwanastan”.
This country strides eight hundred miles east from “Redstain City”, home of the Von Bonnk holdings, across the “Great Steppes” to the “Emerald Sea” and the port communities of “Brong” and “Foop”. North to south another seven-hundred plus miles from a point northwest where the Kingdoms of “Maztrickle” and “Weedge” run together, terminating somewhere in the thick verdant “Rambling Forest of Phonk” to a point where the “River Plink” makes an indolent loop in its unhurried eastward journey.
Beyond the southern border of “Offwanastan” is the “Great Waste”; a flat and monstrous desert which bakes in an endless summer and had never been explored beyond a few dozen miles, and then only on a dare accepted by some young rake wishing to impress almond shaped dark eyes behind fluttering fans.
To the north, imposing Mount Snerrd rises thousands of feet in a clear, icy sky. Surrounded by brothers and sisters of almost equal size they, in turn, sweep west and embrace a somewhat smaller mountain range in a stony grip of dark gray granite buttressed by wide veins of pink, white and crystal marble. And there are other treasures buried deep within its snow-girt towers.
Within these natural borders and under a patient sun, the land is swollen with riches. The “River Passion”, “The Peterson”, the “Upper” and “Lower Swand” are deep and wide and capable of carrying barges laden with goods from the kingdom of “Weedge” from the west to the port of “East Larchconk” on the “Emerald Sea”
All rivers in Aavalon flow, more or less, west to east. There are some exceptions as for example the “Gringeloaf” which roars in white foamed splendor from the northern mountains and gushes triumphantly south through “Snerrdonia” to suddenly loose it’s way and die muttering in “The Great Bog” whose southern boundary lies against the kingdom of “Yanz” and her great “Tumble Mountains” which sprawl somewhat northwest to southeast and produce several rivers of like destinations.
It should be noted that “Yanz” holds great sway in the Five Kingdoms because of the vast veins of “oilwood” which were discovered in the aforementioned “Tumble Mountains” hundreds of years in the past. “Oilwood” [Which will be discussed in a later note] has become the only source of fuel in all of “Avalon”, aside from a few small deposits found in the “Low Hills” of “Maztrickle”, and a tiny amount northward in “Snerdonia”.
“Maztrickle” with its capitol of “Pozerberg” has (at the time of this edition – Ed. note) the colleges of the prestigious “Pozerberg University” with its many hemlock and elm shaded campuses.
“Pozerberg” has become the major center of learning in “The Five Kingdoms” with thousands of students, their minds awash in medical, astronomical and mathematical studies, preparing to plunge into life and add brightly colored threads to the tapestry of a richly developing society. (Some have posited a “Golden Age”-Ed. note)
There is the great law college of “Whinque Preston”, producing a steady stream of dark robed solicitors and wigged judges, and the “Von Bonnk Center for Agricultural Studies”, named for the pre-eminent family of a thriving plantation and orchard empire and the University itself which is alive with the scientific hum of experimentation and new thoughts. .
That brings us to “Weedge”. Of the “Five Great Kingdoms of Aavalon”, “Weedge” was the smallest. But the rivers “Swand” and her sister “Visp” flowed together to fill a deep basin and become an immense inland body of water known as “The Great Swand Lake”. One of the most populous cities (aside from “Pozerberg”) in the “Five Kingdoms” and the capitol is “Larchconk” nestled tightly on the east coast of the lake.
Thus, back to “Offwanastan”, we complete our tour of the “Five Kingdoms.”
(Note from L. Stoop) Many have inquired as to the rise again of a human population in this area of the world. The humans were almost certainly to the point of extermination when the “Dolphin Wars” began in earnest. Then, of course, the rise of the pandas drove the human population into hiding again for many centuries.
Eventually, with the passage of eons and the gradual rise of a human population once again earth contained two great land masse; the remnants of several large continents in the east, and a smaller continent to the west, with smaller islands popping up every now and then.
On a gray, mist filled morning in late summer, a raft with several dozen rebels escaped the wrath of the “Cockroach King”, The Grand Pulbah and Holy Tsar of the Kingdom of AAropia in the eastern continent and sailed west across the “Emerald Sea”.
After an epic voyage (see E. R. Hambones “They Sailed West Across The Emerald Sea – The Saga Of Those Who Founded Aavalon” © 2025-089 Kerch Publishing & Energy Co.), floated into present day “Quaff Bay” .(So named because everyone quaffed a large quantity of cucumber brandy, the only potable left aboard, to celebrate a successful voyage.)
They rafted a few miles south to the entrance of “The Large Inlet” and established “Stoop City” (Stoop being the surname of the leader of the intrepid band of refugees. Ringwood Fishbone Stoop.)
It has been rumored, although not verified, that there was a small group of indigenous dwarf-like humanoids dwelling in caves near the spot where the Aavalonian first landed. And it has been noted that many of the people in “Yanz” still excavate large cavities in the “Tumble Mountains” where exquisite mansions are erected It was during these first major excavations that ebon veins of “Oilwood”, a remarkable source of high energy first discovered years before in Aaropia, and would provide a kick-start for the Five Kingdoms, were discovered.
Historical records trace the migration of five different family groups to the north and south. Kingdoms were established, using a form of government with no relation to the harsh, dictatorial form of rule they left. It was called a Democratic monarchy.
In the beginning, the founders put many checks and balances into place to prevent abuse of power. Those in position of authority were more egalitarian then monarchist and each kingdom pledged equality for all, although ruled by a king and a parliament.
The name “Aavalon” is derived from a children’s story of a place of green fields, bright flowers, blue skies and valiant heroes and was uttered by one of the children on board the raft as the immigrants gazed in wonder at the land before them. And so it became as a child named it.
The Fruit King Receives A Visitor
The whoosh and roar of the land-engine cut through the crisp morning air followed by the shriek of its brass whistle. VonBonnk grimaced and handed the bill of lading back to Smits.
“It looks fine to me, Yonnie.” He glanced at his orchard manager who nodded his head and produced a thin smile.
“Me thanks’ ye, Baron.” Smits chewed on a dark green cigar and folded up the paperwork before stuffing it briskly into the guen skin duty bag that hung from his left arm. He glanced at his boss and stuck out his hand.
“I be missin’ yer comp’ny this time, sir” Yon softened his voice slightly.
Cornelius gripped his hand and nodded.
“This will be the first freight trip in a while that I haven’t been with you.” He squeezed his palm slightly.
VonBonnk cleared his throat and stepped back from the land train. At the same time he pulled up a large pocket watched attached to a gold chain around his prodigious middle. Each tick of the second hand produced small clouds of steam from a protruding thin pipe. He flipped open an engraved cover and glanced at the dial.
“You should reach Plink Side before night-fall.” He tapped the clear rock-crystal face, and snapped the warm cover shut with a snick.
“I imagine Mayor Osco will be standing at the town line waiting for you.” The baron smiled and lowered the clock.
“He loves mangoes. Mangoes and canary fruit.”
Yonkling Smits nodded and turned to signal the land-engineer all was ready. “Oscer’ be lovin’ them fruits fer a powerful long time.”
Smits stepped up on the office-car running board and touched his leathery brown fingers to his forehead in a farewell gesture. “They be his favorites when yer’ pappy was the Fruit King.” He spoke louder as the land-engine began its work.
One blast from the whistle and Engine Four of the VBF Nickel and Copper Land Train Company jerked and shuddered and the big, wide ten foot driving wheels slowly began to turn.
Seeing the look on the baron’s face, he winked and said. “Don’t ye be warri’n’ none. I gots me carbine and the twin steam cannons up above.” He pointed to the top of the office car where a pair of fifty caliber “Copper Zookas” poked out of an armored swivel ring.
“There’ll be no beasties botherin’ us but if’n it’ll makes ye feel better, I’ll send ‘e a message by gryflette when we be reachin’ Great Honks.” Smits glanced at a silver mesh cage on the floor next to a large canvas bag which he had loaded onto the land engine several hours earlier that morning.
The cage contained several restless creatures. Their tiny falcon-like heads weaved slowly back and forth on leathery necks. They flapped their bright-red wings, blinked jewel like eyes and squawked with annoyance. On their legs were fastened argent tubes in which notes and letters were placed. Messages carried by gryflettes arrived in hours rather then days by land dispatch.
The land-engine groaned and the ten freight cars laden with crates of fresh picked fruit, chests full of tangy sweet jellies and jams packed in sugar encrusted blocks and wrapped tightly with strips of muslin. The train also carried boxes holding dozens of completely assembled and intricate steam powered clocks and watches, similar to the Doctors, and built by the skilled steam-jewelers Redstain City was noted for, plus mail and other assorted items, began to grind and lumber slowly forward. Soon, the train would be a speck on the horizon as it followed the caravan road that wound next to the swift Plink River.
The Plink ran clear and fast but its bed was shallow at this point and studded with knobby boulders and rocks that made it impossible to navigate by barge or boat until it passed near Great Honks and then swung lazily north to join the Swand River near the border of the Kingdom of Weedge. At that point, the land-train would puff in a great circle and discharge its contents onto flat bottom barges for the final trip to the seaside port of Wibbleforth and the Iron Road.
Smits would supervise the loading of the barges, and accompany the cargo to Wibbleforth, after first arranging for produce and supplies to be laden on “Number Four”, including the careful transfer of oilwood fuel for its return run west to Redstain City.
Baron Cornelius VonBonnk gave a final wave and began to pace back to the warehouses next to his plantation.
After a few steps, he turned and as an afterthought hollered through cupped hands,”Be careful, Yonnie!”
Smits waved and answered back, but the words were swallowed by another whistle scream.
VonBonnk returned the wave and slowly turned back.
Chullullu Fud had sent the baron a message by gryflette the day before. He and several outriders had encountered and killed a small clutch of the shambling cannibals at the edge of the Westwood. Later, as they rode east to their barracks, some fifty or so miles north west of Redstain city, a flock of vampyres plus more gunes had fallen upon them.
In the battle that followed, Fud had barely escaped with his life.
Creatures from the wood were becoming bolder and things were seen emerging from the wet darkness of the great forest that had only been reported in old books and manuals stored up in the great library of Pozerberg.
The baron approached his warbling steam-o-pede which quivered and dripped condensed water near the last of a string of brown weather-beaten warehouses in the Number 2 South Orchard.
Redstain City glowed in the morning sun, its red brick and scarlet sandstone structures which gave the city its name stood out from the surrounding lush green hills and a visitor upon viewing them for the first time would often blink at the brightness, wondering if it were some sort of painting produced by an artist of consummate skill upon a monstrous canvas.
VonBonnk weighed close to three hundred pounds and stood a little less than six feet; and as he settled into the bison skin seat of his ‘pede, the springs groaned in protest.
He checked the water reservoir and the oilwood bin and in one smooth motion dropped the handbrake and pulled gently on the throttle handle..
VonBonnk’s vehicle, a “Winston Model XX Runabout” was a shimmering copper boiler on chromium wheels, decorated with bright green enamel on the hood, doors and fenders and etched with thin ruby, sable and gold trim. It hissed slightly and moved forward.
Normally, had the baron not gone with Yonnie, he would have walked back to town and stopped at the “Partridge and Hatchet” for a mug of mid morning coffee and several warm flaky cheese pastries, but today he was tussling with the news from the west plus another rumor of an impending oilwood shortage, and, almost as difficult to deal with, receiving Withers Sansebastian at the family manse a bit north of Redstain.
It had been a year since Sansebastian had dropped from sight after the “oilwood substitute” scheme, which had bilked several members of King Absinthe’s parliament of many thousands of silver gelt. Warrants had been issued for his apprehension.
A message had whirled into VonBonnks “in” cage late last evening, tripping an alarm. The note attached to the gryflette was scrawled with florid violet ink and stated:
“Huzzah! ‘S’ has returned and grants you an audience tomorrow morning.” And was simply signed “SanS. Esq”.
The baron also knew his friend to be an inveterate kleptomaniac, and would sometimes come a bit early if he knew VonBonnk wouldn’t be home and wander from room to room, plucking and pocketing many of the barons small land priceless objects d’art.
Withers was especially fond of his valued collection of jeweled fruit from the mountain kingdom of Snerdonia
When confronted with his thievery, he would simply sniff and return them; acting injured and saying he was just doing his friend a favor by relieving him of “prideful items of the bourgeois” or, at other times claim he was just taking them home to be cleaned.
The baron had purchased a housebot some time ago to handle the cleaning chores and such, and watch over his home, which he had hoped would solve the problem of his “borrowing” friend. He shook his head slowly, recalling the many run-ins between his ‘bot and L. Withers since.
L. Withers SanSebastian. He never revealed what the “L” stood for, stating that “A man of my thrust must always exude some mystery.” VonBonnk was one of several people who believed the letter stood for nothing. It was just a letter.
SanSebastian was an inventor, a scholar, a newspaper publisher and author, having written several books on Aavalon legends, such as “Westwood Monsters: Fact or Fancy” and “Legends from the Steppes”, both of which were among the manuscripts stored at the library in Pozerberg. They had sold a few hundred copies, enough to barely cover the cost of publishing.
Baron VonBonnk, looking bemused, bounced towards town and pulled the tinkling copper chain unleashing a hoot from the brass whistle.
VonBonnk always wore a look of bemusement and was quick to laugh, particularly if it was he who brought about the laughter. He took life seriously, but never himself.
He waved to several of the town’s people as he cut down a side lane off to the left and up towards his home. He passed a pede or two and one bot-rickshaw rumbled by.
Everyone returned his greeting, some taking off their hats and bowing slightly. A steambot, clanking about on some errand, whistled a greeting.
The Fruit King, as he was known to all in Redstain City and many in the Five Kingdoms of Aavalon, was well liked, and, some might say, even revered by the inhabitants about the area.
Baron VonBonnk inherited the orchard plantation from his father, Senator Ricardo VonBonnk, who, in turn inherited it from his father, Boynton VonBonnk.
The record books before Grandfather VonBonnk are a little unclear, although the orchards had produced fruit in the Plink River valley for decades upon decades. There was some whisperings of a gambling debt and a volley of steam-pistol shots in the night. Some time ago, Cornelius decided not to open the books any further and let matters lay.
The orchards encompassed several hundred acres of the fertile Plink Valley, plus there were thousands of grape vines that, in season, swelled with rich purple fruit or tangy orange colored orbs that produced several unique, full bodied wines whose labels bore the image of a bearded full bodied gentleman carrying a cane and smiling below the words “VonBonnk Vintage Wine”
The current Baron VonBonnk had invested much in improving the family business, including new roads and installing a massive irrigation system that not only watered the orchards in times of dry weather but stored up thousands of gallons for Redstain City with the use of massive red brick aqueducts and several gigantic cisterns.
Redstain City (pronounced by the locals as Red-stun) was originally a small collection of neat farm cottages, and, with the laying of the Kings Caravan along the banks of the Plink and in time, had grown to it’s present size of close to a thousand buildings, ranging from the original cottages, now a tourist attraction, to several large granite and red sandstone local government buildings (offices for the mayor and council and The Royal Oilwood Bureau/Constabulary, The Redstain Infirmary plus the local police and fire station) a winery, breweries, jam and jelly factory, clock and watch manufactures, dress shops, pubs (at last count, about a dozen) and other assorted businesses.