Senta and the Steel Dragon Book 0: Brechalon is the novella-length preview to The Voyage of the Minotaur, The Dark and Forbidding Land, The Drache Girl, and the other books which make up the Senta and the Steel Dragon series. Set two years before the events in The Voyage of the Minotaur, Brechalon tells the story of the Kingdom of Greater Brechalon in a world that is not quite like our own Victorian Age. The Dechantagne siblings; Iolanthe, Augie, and Terrence plan an expedition to a distant land, hoping the colony they build will restore their family to the position of wealth and power it once had. Meanwhile the powerful sorceress Zurfina rots in an anti-magic prison, guilty of not serving the interests of the kingdom, and the orphan girl Senta Bly lives her life without the knowledge that she will one day grow up to be the sorceress’s apprentice. Senta and the Steel Dragon is a tale of adventure in a world of rifles and steam power, where magic and dragons have not been forgotten.
Chapter Six: Wherein I am returned to my human self, an event you probably expected as toads seldom tell stories and most especially do not see them published in book form, and then I have a most peculiar conversation.
It is true that toads do not have much of interest in their lives. They chiefly go about their business eating bugs and other small creepy-crawlies and attempting to not get eaten themselves by cats. I honestly don’t remember too much about it, no doubt a result of my toad brain having been somewhat smaller than the average pea. It did feel like quite a long time had passed. I am not sure how long toads live, but I would guess that it is somewhere in the neighborhood of a year or two and as I was a toad for at least a week, I must have aged at least seven years. The next thing I truly remember was waking in a hard bed in a room that was obviously not in one of the better inns in town, with Ellwood Cyrene leaning over me.
“Oh varlet, villain, and false friend,” I said, and felt my lips crack as my swollen tongue moved around to form the words.
“Do not speak Eaglethorpe,” said Ellwood, pressing the brim of a glass of cold water to my lips. “You must know that I love you.”
“In a very manly way, no doubt,” I croaked.
“Yes. Very manly indeed.”
He took a clean white cloth and dipped it in the water, using it to bathe my brow.
“I only belittled you because I thought that it might make the sorceress let you go. You know I have the highest respect for you.”
“And my storytelling?”
“And your storytelling.”
“And my heroic adventuring?”
“Heavens above Eaglethorpe. If I did not love you so much, I would hate your guts.”
“What happened anyway?”
“She turned you into a toad, a quite ugly one at that. It took me all of a week to locate you and three bags of silver to get an apothecary who was willing and able turn you back into yourself.”
“What happened to you?”
“Oh I managed to escape her after a few hours.”
“A few hours?”
“A few hours?”
“Yes, a few hours.”
“A few hours?”
“Yes, a few hours. Did you damage your brain while you were a toad?”
“So you were with her for a few hours?”
“I believe we have established that.”
“So… she made you do things.”
“You spent time with her?”
“A few hours!” Ellwood rolled his eyes in exasperation.
“She… you know.”
“She quenched your fire?”
“The fire of passion.”
“What? No!” He stood up and began pacing back and forth across the room. “Well, I’m sure she would have liked to, but I got away long before that could happen.”
“Why?” I asked.
“What do you mean why?”
“Why didn’t you wait till after the quenching before you escaped?”
“Because she’s a sorceress.”
“And she’s evil.”
“Well, she’s a… She’s just not my type.”
“Why not,” I wondered.
“She’s… too pale… and too blond… and too short.”
“What complexion do you prefer for your woman?”
“A complexion about like yours.”
“That’s too dark. What hair color do you like?”
“About like yours, with little streaks of grey.”
“Then she would be too old for you,” said I. “A young man like you should have a beautiful young woman. How tall do you prefer?”
“About your height.”
“That is way too tall for a woman.”
“I know,” said Ellwood, and then turned and rushed out of the room.
Chapter Five: Wherein an old friend causes me some momentary discomfort and a most remarkable transformation.
“Ellwood Cyrene,” I cried, so glad to see my old friend that I momentarily forgot my ruse. “Um, is me, which is to say that I am Ellwood Cyrene.”
“Yes,” said Ellwood stiffly. “He is Ellwood Cyrene. And I am the… ahem… great story-teller Eaglethorpe Buxton.”
“Story-teller adventurer,” I offered.
“Great story-teller adventurer,” I added.
“I said great,” said Ellwood.
“You said great the first time, but you didn’t say great the second time.”
“I am the great, the marvelous, the wonderful adventurer and story-teller Eaglethorpe…”
“And hero,” said I.
“Never mind,” said Ellwood. “He is Eaglethorpe Buxton. Go ahead and kill him. I no longer care.”
“Foolish children you are,” said Myolaena, her face taking on a snarl which quite detracted from the, well, if not beauty, then certainly the attractiveness that I had felt for her before. “Do you think for one moment that I could not tell who this idiot was?”
“Idiot is not quite the word you are looking for,” said I. “Perhaps bard or wordsmith might be a better fit.”
“Silence! I know who the true Eagle-brained Buffoon is.” She turned to Ellwood Cyrene. “Just as I know who you are. You have your father’s eyes.”
“I met his father once and I don’t think he looked anything like him,” I opined. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was adopted.”
“That is because you are an idiot,” hissed the sorceress. “What do you know of it? What do you know of anything? You write a play about the royal family of Aerithraine and you wouldn’t know the Queen if she fell on you!”
“That is not so,” said I. “The Queen and I are quite close. I once spent a fortnight in her company.”
A smirking noise came from my friend, which he, somewhat less than valiantly, tried to suppress.
“You find this funny?” asked Myolaena.
“Well, yes,” said Ellwood. “You see, he actually did spend a fortnight in the company of the Queen. It was her infantry company, and he served in it for a whole two weeks before he was drummed out for failure to carry out his duty.”
“Oh varlet, villain, and false friend!” said I.
“I did not hear “liar” amongst those names,” quoth he.
“Enough of this,” snarled Myolaena.
“Yes, enough of this,” said Ellwood. “Let this foolish hack go on his way and you and I will find some quiet place to quench your fire.”
“Campfire?” I asked.
“The fires of passion!” hissed the sorceress.
She did not have the passionate look on her face that I had expected. In fact her expression was nothing like it had been when we had spoken before, when she thought I was Ellwood Cyrene. But at last she gave a curt nod.
“We shall go,” she said. “But Eaglethorpe Buxton shall not go his way unscathed.”
And before either Ellwood or I could do anything, she aimed her wand at me and I was engulfed in a purple light. I felt myself shrinking and had just enough awareness left to realize that I had been turned into a toad.
“I grow weary,” said Myolaena Maetar with a sigh, after we had left the fourth or fifth tavern. “I suppose I shall just kill you and blow up the playhouse.”
“Blow up the playhouse!” I cried. “You can’t do that!”
“I can do that.”
“Well, you shouldn’t…”
“Eaglethorpe Buxton, which is to say me… I mean my friend, put his life into that play. Kill him if you must, but the play must continue. The play is the thing.”
“Just the thing.” I suddenly spotted the sign above the door of the Fairy Font. “And this is just the place.”
“What kind of place is it?” she asked.
“It’s just the kind of place that I… that Eaglethorpe Buxton would visit.
Jumping ahead of the sorceress, I opened the tavern door and allowed her to enter, then followed. Despite the hour, now closer to morning than night, the Font was full of customers—mostly sailors. As I believe I mentioned before, the Fairy Font is known for its nightlife, especially among the rougher crowd. Pipe smoke hung in the air like fragrant fog and drinks were flowing freely.
“Six crowns cover charge,” said the heavily-muscled man just inside the door.
“I’m with her,” said I.
Myolaena threw a small pouch of coins at him. We waded through the sea of humanity and dwarfanity and elfanity and I think one or two trollanity and found an unoccupied table with two stools, where we sat down. The patrons of the establishment, already loud and raucous, began chanting something and pounding their fists on the table.
“This is most odd,” said the sorceress. “They have their drinks. What else do they want?”
“Entertainment,” said I.
“We are not going to have to sit through another play, are we?” She rolled her eyes.
As if in answer, directly above our heads and directly above each of the tables in The Fairy Font, which is to say all over the taproom, small doors opened in the ceiling and little platforms were lowered on chains. When the platforms had reached the tabletops, knocking over quite a few tankards of ale is they did, we could see that upon each was a small basin filled with dark, rich, mud. Sitting on either side of the basin of mud was the tiny form of a fairy, wearing a teeny little robe cut open in the back to allow her wings to stick out.
The round basin of mud reminded me of the mud pies that we used to make as children. My sister Celia and my cousins Gervil, Tuki, and Geneva used to play on the front step of our house, which is to say Cor Cottage just outside Dewberry Hills. Celia was a master piesmith, at least of the mud variety. Interestingly enough, when she grew up, her pies at best could be considered mediocre. Tuki could make quite a fine pie as an adult—all the more strange as her childhood mud pies were the antithesis of Celias, which is to say that they were no good at all. Geneva’s mud pies were better than Tuki’s but not as good as Celia’s, and since she died as a child, no one can tell if she would have grown to be a decent piesmith or not. Gervil didn’t make pies, though he did force me to eat more than a few.
“What are you thinking about?” asked Myolaena Maetar.
“Well stop it. We’re here to find Buxton.”
“And now the moment you’ve been awaitin’” said an unseen announcer. “Fairy mud-wrestling!”
A great cheer filled the room, but then all grew quiet as the audience watched the pair of fairies on each table disrobe.
“I’m Taffy,” said the six inch tall red-head, as she carefully pulled the robe over her gossamer wings.
“I’m Mustard Seed,” said the other fairy.
“I’m enchanted,” said I.
“I’m going to vomit,” said Myolaena.
The two fairies waded out into the mud, which to them was about knee-high, where they wasted no time. Mustard Seed jumped on Taffy, knocking her down and coating them both in the ooze. Taffy grabbed Mustard Seed’s hair and they both rolled across the bowl, squealing in their tiny little voices.
“Come along. We’re leaving,” said the sorceress.
“You don’t like the show?” I was frankly incredulous.
“You hussy!” shouted Mustard Seed, though I don’t know if she was speaking to Myolaena or to Taffy.
“But they’re so cute and wee.”
“I must visit the little warrior’s room first,” said I.
“Fine,” she said. “I will be waiting outside.”
I was loath to leave, but what was I to do. I stepped out back to, um… wash my hands. Then I headed back through the taproom for the front door, stopping just a moment to help Taffy, who was floating face down in the mud, while Mustard Seed was biting her on the foot. When I exited the tavern, I found the sorceress standing with a man. I didn’t recognize him until I got close—it was Ellwood Cyrene.
We stepped outside of the Singing Siren and headed up the winding stone street, the breaking waves of the ocean far below down the hill to our left. I was at something of a loss as to where to search for the famous story-teller and adventurer Eaglethorpe Buxton, not the least of which was because he was me, though I didn’t say as much. I did know where I didn’t want to go.
“Why don’t we go back to that sorry excuse for a theater and look for him there,” said Myolaena Maetar.
“No, I don’t want to go there,” said I. “What I mean is that I don’t think we would find him there.”
“There are a lot of people who know me at the theater… and they know that no good Buxton, and they might see that we are after him and give him a warning. He might skip town and we would have to search the entire country of Lyrria for him.”
“That’s a good point,” she agreed. “Where shall we look for him?”
“I have a few spots in mind,” I lied. “Why don’t you tell me what he has done to anger you so?”
“Have you not seen the travesty he calls a play?”
“I thought it quite a fine play,” I said, truthfully.
“He maligned my character.”
“Perhaps the author was misguided by some incorrect information,” I suggested. “It is no doubt misinformation that you once tried to usurp the throne of the King of Aerithraine.”
“No,” she admitted. “That part was true.”
“Well, surely you did not attempt to ensorcel the King.”
“That part was true as well,” she said.
“Mayhaps you did not really consort with a dragon?”
“No. That is not the part that was wrong.”
“Then perhaps you could enlighten me as to exactly what element of the play brought forth your ire, which is to say, made you unhappy.”
“You might note that the playwright’s deus ex machina involves me accidentally falling victim to my own magic.”
“God in the machine?”
“The machination of the gods—it is how poor story tellers fix holes in their plotlines.”
“I thought that bit where you ensorcelled yourself was rather funny.”
“Funny at my expense. That would never happen.”
“And I would hardly call it a deus ex machinegun…”
“Deus ex machina.”
“I don’t think it qualifies at all,” said I. “It’s not as though that couldn’t happen…”
“It couldn’t happen.”
“It’s within the realm of possibility…”
“It is impossible.”
“I don’t think we have the same definition of ‘impossible’.”
“Not possible; unable to exist, happen, or be,” she said. “Unable to be done, performed, effected, etc.”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “That is the definition I usually use.”
“Not to be done or endured with any degree of reason or propriety.”
“Well, not quite to the point, but…”
“Utterly impracticable, totally unsuitable, difficult, or objectionable.”
“I suppose that last part fits your point of view better than mine,” said I. “I still would not go so far as to refer to the plot’s resolution as a deus ex machina…”
She glared at me.
“If that is not what happened, then what was it that alerted the King to your plan to usurp him?”
“I had my spies, but the church had its spies as well, and they preferred Justin’s imperfect rule to mine.”
“I suppose there is just no pleasing some people,” said I.
Chapter Two: Wherein I follow through with my deception, saving my life and causing quite a bit of additional complication.
“So why are you so intent on killing me… my friend, which is to say Eaglethorpe Buxton?” I asked.
“I did not say I was going to kill him,” she replied. “I said I was going to skin him alive.”
“Wouldn’t that kill him?”
“Not right away.”
“But you said you were going to kill me, that is to say Ellwood Cyrene, which is me.”
“No. I implied that I might kill you.”
“Well thank you for straitening that out,” said I. “A hearty goodnight to you.”
I stepped past her and headed for the door, leaving I might add an almost full tankard of ale sitting on the table, and that is something I almost never do.
“Hold,” she said, and I felt an invisible set of hands grasp me roughly by the shoulders and drag me back to my seat. As I plopped down into sitting position, I could see the glowing wand sweeping down to her side. “I’m not quite finished with you.”
“Um, why not?”
“I need you to lead me to Eaglethorpe Buxton.” She poured herself into my lap and placed her arms around my shoulders. “I may have use for you as well, Ellwood Cyrene.”
“What could Ellwood Cyrene, which is to say me, do for you?”
“You mean besides leading me to Eaglethorpe Buxton?”
“Yes, besides that.”
“As I mentioned before, you are known to me.”
“Not surprising,” said I. “Just as it is not surprising that you have heard to my very good friend, which is to say my former friend Eaglethorpe Buxton, who is probably way more famous than Ellwood Cyrene… which is to say me.”
“Ellwood Cyrene,” she said, putting her ripe mouth very close to my ear. “Warrior.”
“It is true,” said I. “I am a warrior.”
“Of course… what?”
“Always in the company of great men, but eschewing the company of women.”
“Chewing a company of women?”
“Eschewing. It means to abstain or to keep away from– to shun or avoid.”
“Yes of course it does.”
“Not one single queen, noblewoman, courtesan, tavern wench, or milkmaid has been heard to boast of having quenched the fires of Ellwood Cyrene.”
“Fires of passion.”
“Well that can’t be right,” said I. “I have seen countless women throwing flirtations toward Ellwood Cyrene… which is to say me.”
“Flirtations have been thrown, no doubt,” she whispered. “After all, you are handsome, though not so much as I had been led to expect. Flirtations have been thrown but none have been caught.”
“That’s pretty hard to believe,” said I, truly puzzled.
“Indeed,” she purred into my ear. “It presents something of a challenge to me.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” said I.
“I’m going to be the one to quench that fire.”
“The fire of passion.”
“Okay,” said I. “Yes, that would be fine. Sounds good.”
“You’re surprisingly acquiescent,” said she.
“If you have your mind made up on something,” I replied, “who am I to stand in your way?”
“First though, you are going to lead me to Eaglethorpe Buxton.”
“Couldn’t you quench my fire first and then I could lead you to Eaglehorn Humpton? I would be ever so much more relaxed that way.”
“Eaglethorpe Buxton,” she corrected. “And no. I don’t want you relaxed. I want you focused. We find him first. Only then will you receive your reward.”
Antriador is quite a beautiful city. Sitting on the coast of South Lyrria, which is to say the southern coast of that land that used to be the Kingdom of Lyrria but is now a collection of highly competitive city-states, beside azure ocean waves, surrounded by olive trees and vineyards, it is one of the most delightful spots in the world. More important to me was its reputation as a center of the arts, for I am famed adventurer and story-teller Eaglethorpe Buxton. After having held-up all winter at an Inn in Brest, which is to say the country up north, writing a play– a most wonderful play, if I do say so myself, I had come south to Lyrria to produce it. Antriador boasts some sixty playhouses, so I was able to find one that was appropriate, which is to say tasteful enough and yet inexpensive enough for me to lease.
Opening night was wonderful. The playhouse was packed, the upper levels with nobles and wealthy merchants along with their richly dressed wives or their scantily clad mistresses, or sometimes both, and the lower house thronging with commoners who paid two pennies for standing room. My play was a success. Of course, there was never any doubt about that. The actors all did their jobs well. The audience laughed in the right places, sighed in the right places, and wept for joy in the right place for it was after all, a comedy. “The Ideal Magic” was going to secure the fame of Eaglethorpe Buxton, which is to say myself, and make me rich at the same time.
When the stage lights had gone out, and the audience had left the theater, and the stage hands were putting away the sets, I walked down the street to the Singing Siren for a pint. It was very late and most of the patrons had retired, which is to say gone home if they were locals or gone to their rooms on the second or third floor if they had taken rooms, but the Siren stays open all night. That is not to say that it is a noted hot spot. The Fairy Font, or the Reclining Dog, or even the Wicked Wench are much livelier in the late hours. But the Siren does stay open all night. This particular night, there were one or two people lurking in the shadows– doxies and cutpurses who had finished their evening’s employment mostly. I didn’t know the barkeep, which is not surprising, considering the turnover at such establishments. I ordered a tankard of ale and took a seat in the center of the room.
Suddenly the door burst open and a woman strode into the tavern. She was striking. Tall. Blonde. Flashing blue eyes. They were flashing– literally flashing, which is really not normal at all. Of course if her eyes hadn’t been flashing, I wouldn’t have noticed them. There was all that bare skin to distract me. She wore a leather outfit that was more of a harness that an article of clothing. The lower portion was a sort of loose leather skirt made of strips of material which, though hanging down almost to her ankles, exposed most of her legs when she moved. The upper portion was little more than pair of suspenders and two small leather cups.
“Which of you low-lives is Eaglethorpe Buxton?” she snarled.
I stood up and stepped toward her, at this point still more aware of all the bare skin than either the flashing eyes or the glowing wand in her hand.
“What would you have with him, my lovely lady?” I asked.
“I am Myolaena Maetar, and I’m going to skin him alive!” she hissed through clenched teeth.
“I, um, oh. Well, he was here a minute ago,” said I. “You just missed him.”
“You are not him?” She pointed the wand at me, its violet halo hanging just below my nose.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” said I. “I am Ellwood Cyrene, hero and adventurer.”
I had been forced by the situation to think on my feet. When I thought that a sorceress was going to kill me I had, as you have no doubt surmised, substituted my own name, which is to say Eaglethorpe Buxton with another name, which is to say Ellwood Cyrene. I suppose that it is not surprising that this name would pop into my head first, for Ellwood Cyrene is my greatest friend and has traveled much of the world with me. He was in fact, the inspiration for the first dozen or so of my stories. We have faced countless dangers together and I have saved his life more than once. Truth be told, he has saved mine more than once too… or twice. Maybe thirty times.
“What are you thinking about,” asked the sorceress.
“I’m thinking about Eaglethorpe Buxton…”
“… and I’m not thinking about Ellwood Cyrene, because that is me, and I don’t sit around thinking about myself, who is Ellwood Cyrene.”
“Ellwood the Queen?”
“No. Ellwood Cyrene.”
“No,” she said. “Ellwood the queen. That’s what it means. Cyrene is an old elvish world for queen.”
“No, no, no,” said I. “Cyrene is a very manly name, and so is Ellwood, which is good because Ellwood Cyrene is a very manly man. He has done many great… um, which is to say, I have had…um.”
“Yes, I have heard of you.” She lowered the wand and stepped closer. “But you are acquainted with this Eaglethorpe Buxton?”
“Oh, we are the best of friends. He has saved my life on countless occasions and…”
“So if I killed you, it would cause him pain?”
“We’ve had a bit of a falling out. No, we’re not really that close anymore.”