The Drache Girl – Chapter 13 Excerpt

There were ten members of the party that gathered in front of the office of M&S Coal, Radley Staff included.  It was, he thought, small enough to be able to move quickly through the forest, and large enough to be safe from marauding dinosaurs.  There were the Kanes, who were dressed alike in khaki shirt and pants, with pith helmets and frock coats.  Femke Kane was attractive even without make-up and with her male hairstyle, but standing next to her husband Ivo, the two looked like a pair of peculiar twins.  Beeman Glieberman had also traded his sharp suit in for khaki explorer garb with a heavy jacket, but Aakesh Mouliets wore a great coat of ferret skins over his traditional Mirsannan clothing.  Miss Jindra had exchanged her very feminine gowns for black leather pants and knee high boots, but was covered with a butterfly cape coat, the lavish black hood of which made her beautiful features look dark and mysterious.  Three lizardmen had been hired to carry equipment. Staff had made sure that he had learned their names—Cheebie, Sanjo, and Mimsie.  Then there was the local boy that had been hired as a translator, the brother of the young waitress from the bakery café.

The boy was looking down the street.  Staff followed his gaze and saw Senta standing on the corner looking back. She stood out in a beautiful new lavender dress the way the first spring flower stands out in the snow.  The boy turned his back.

“Have a fight with your girlfriend?” wondered Staff.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” said the boy angrily.

“All right.  Are the lizzies ready to go?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, then turned to the three reptilians and spat out a series of hisses.

The creatures each picked up a pack that would have bowed over a strong man, and tossed them onto their shoulders.  The human members picked up their belongings and everyone started down the street.  Each of the men had backpacks, though they were tiny compared to the burdens of the lizardmen.  Staff and Kane each carried a rifle, and all of the humans except Graham and Miss Jindra had pistols on their belts.  They made their way through town and past the train station, then continued due south.

There was very little snow on the ground now.  Though the days had not grown much warmer than those of a month previous, the skies had been clear for weeks, and the great drifts had slowly dissolved into splotchy patches of white among the trees.  Staff turned up the collar of his reefer jacket and pulled his gloves from his pocket.  As he put them on, he slowed until Miss Jindra came beside him.

“Fifty miles?”

“Approximately,” she answered.

“That’s a long way.”

“I imagine you will have to build a railway line,” she said.  “I also imagine that you could purchase the unused ties and rails left over from the track recently completed from Mallontah.  I am surprised you have not already done so.”

“I have,” said Staff.  “I meant it was a long way for you to walk.”

“I will manage.”

“I hear you are staying with Zurfina.”

“Zurfina the Magnificent,” corrected Miss Jindra.

“I was surprised, after seeing her remove you from the ship.”

“She’s not only very powerful, but she’s very wise.  She can teach me a great deal.”

Staff couldn’t put his finger on it exactly, but there was something slightly off about Miss Jindra.  Her speech and her expressions were not quite the same as the young sorceress he had met on the S.S. Arrow.  He slowed and let her go ahead.  When he did so, he was joined by Femke Kane.

“Your friend seems nice,” she said.

“She’s more of an acquaintance really.”

“Do you have many women acquaintances, Mr. Staff?”

“That does indeed seem to be my curse.”

“Perhaps you should get yourself one or two close friends,” she said. “Then acquaintances would become less important.”

He turned and looked at her face.  He had noticed before that Mrs. Kane wore no make-up.  He noticed now for the first time that she did not have the thin arched eyebrows that every other woman he knew maintained.  Hers were almost as thick as his.  If she hadn’t been naturally pretty, he could see how she might have been mistaken for a man.

They walked all day, stopping only briefly at lunch and teatime.  Late in the afternoon, they reached the edge of a small clearing, and Staff called a halt.  They quickly cleared a large space and built a fire.  Pulling assorted canned goods from their packs, they opened these and then set them on flat rocks at the edge of the fire to heat. By the time the food was ready, the party was arrayed around the flames in a circle, messaging their tired feet, or making themselves comfortable for the night.

“How far did we walk today?” asked Beeman Glieberman.

“Fifteen miles,” answered Ivo Kane.

“It has to be more than that,” said Aakesh Mouliets.  “I have walked this far many times back in Brechalon.”

Staff paid little attention to the conversation.  He was staring at the curious sight on the other side of the campfire.  All three of the lizardmen, having laid down their burdens, were lying on their stomachs with their chins pointed towards the fire and their tales pointed at the darkening forest.  They were pressed right up against one another.  In this position, they looked more like alligators than upright humanoids. Graham Dokkins sat beside them, using one of the creatures as a leather back support pillow.

A tremendous roar sounded somewhere to the south.  Both women made startled noises.

“Bloody hell,” said Kane.  “What kind of beast do you suppose that was, Staff?”

“I don’t know,” said Staff.

“Tyrannosaurus,” said Graham.  “I’d say it was a pretty big one too.”

The lizardman he was leaning against hissed something at him.

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The Drache Girl – Chapter 12 Excerpt

Police Constable Saba Colbshallow and Police Constable Eamon Shrubb led the three men down Seventh and One Half Avenue toward the docks.  Though they had stopped short of getting the service revolvers out of the gun case, both policemen carried their truncheons on open display.  For their part, the three men looked nervously in every direction.  Several times, one of them shrieked when he saw a little blond girl walk by.

“Kafira,” said Eamon.  “Buck up, man.  She’s not even the right little girl.”

“Keep walking,” said Saba.

Saba had come in first thing that morning to find Eamon slumped over asleep at his typewriter.  That was not particularly significant in and of itself, but when he found out that the last thing the other constable remembered was a visit by a certain young sorceress, things looked more ominous.  Lon Fonstan in cell one was asleep, and upon waking at first, claimed not to have seen anyone at all.

“Maybe we can have a little magic tell us what you’re not remembering?” Saba had said.

“Oh yeah?” Fonstan sneered.  “Who you going to get to do that?”

“Maybe Zurfina.”

“I don’t think so,” had said Fonstan.

“I’ll bet Mother Linton could do it.”

Fonstan had chewed on the possibility for a moment.

“Well, Senta came in to say hello.  She was only here for a minute.  Gave me her best.  Said goodnight.  End of story.”

“And you didn’t see or hear anything unusual in the cell next door?”

“I was busy reading the book you gave me,” said Fonstan, holding up Pilgrimage into Danger.  “I quite like the part where they have to fight off the adulterous women.”

“It’s supposed to be metaphorical,” Saba had suggested.

“Well, I didn’t see or hear nothing.”

Saba suspected that his double negative hid the truth in plain sight.

As for the three men in cell number two, they all had seemed in perfectly good health, with the exception that all three had soiled their pants sometime during the night.  The stories they had told of the demon child who had visited them with plagues, while fantastic, were not dismissed by the police constables.  All three were adamant about booking passage on the S.S. Majestic as soon as it came into port, an idea both PCs thought had merit with or without sorcery.  The men had demanded protection on their way to the ship.

The formation reached the dock area, where a fourth man met them.  He had been present for the first run-in with the lizzies, which the constables had managed to stop, but apparently was at home when the second incident involving the slapping of the lad had occurred. He had arrived in Birmisia with his three friends and had decided that if they were leaving, he would leave as well.

“Oh blooming heck!” said one of the men in custody, scrambling at once to hide behind his fellows.  “There she is.”

Sitting on a wooden crate not fifty feet away, wearing a multihued blue dress, was a twelve-year-old blond girl.  She had her hands crossed in front of her chest and her feet crossed at the ankles.  She definitely had her eye on the four men.

“You’re the law!” squealed one of the men.  “You’ve got to protect us!”

“Eamon, take them and see that they are able to purchase steerage class passage back to Brech,” said Saba.  “I’ll see about our little friend.

He walked across to stand in front of where Senta sat.

“You know you could be charged with assault, aggravated assault, assault on a police constable, interfering with a police investigation, and illegal entry into a secure facility.  I imagine I could find several more charges if I opened up the Corpus Juris.”

“I doubt you’d be able to hold me.”

“Don’t get too cocky.  Mayor Korlann and his daughter may be very fond of you…”

“That’s not what I mean,” said Senta.  “I doubt your jail would be able to hold me.  And if by some chance it did hold me, how long do you think Zurfina would allow it?”

“Zurfina has to follow the law, just like everyone else.”

“That’s why you were at our house about to experience life as a marsupial or a toad.  But you’re about the only one in Birmisia with bullocks like that.  Zurfina exterminated what… a hundred thousand lizzies?  Nobody has come to call her on that.”

“That was a time of war.”

“Yes, sort of.  Well, I’m done being afraid of anyone because they’re bigger or stronger, or because the law says I have to be.  If somebody gets in my way, I’m going to knock them down, hard.”

“These men aren’t in your way,” said Saba.  “In fact, they’re doing their damnedest to get out of your way. They’re leaving the continent. Leave them alone.”

“I’m not even here for them,” said Senta.

“Then what, pray tell, are you here for?”

“I want to see who gets off the ship.  There’s another practitioner of the arts aboard.”

“Great.  You going to kidnap them, like Zurfina did?”

“Probably not.  This one’s a great deal more powerful that Miss Jindra.  I just want to get a butchers.”

Saba sighed.

“Pick which road you walk down carefully, Senta.”

Then he turned on his heel and followed after Eamon and their charges. Once the four men had their tickets, they went aboard the ship.  It wasn’t going to leave port for another four days, but Saba doubted that the men would step back on land before then.  The two constables strolled back from the dockside to the opposite side of the street.

“That girl is going to get herself into a pack of trouble,” said Saba.

“Those tossers only got what they deserved, if you ask me,” said Eamon.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 11 Excerpt

It was ten days later, on the fifth of Festuary that the construction train, loaded with hundreds of workmen and laying track as it went, reached Port Dechantagne.  By the time the train was within eyesight of the station, there were already more than two hundred people standing by to watch history in the making, and when the last track was laid that would bring the train and all future vehicles like it, parallel to the station, there were more than twenty thousand spectators, standing on the station platform, filling the entire clearing, and lining the street in both direction as far as the eye could see.  Most of those present were unable to see much of anything because of the crowds, however many of the children and a few of the adults discovered that climbing a large pine tree offered an excellent viewing opportunity. Forty feet off the ground, in the massive pine directly across Forest Avenue from the train station, four twelve-year-old children and a large steel-colored dragon perched on branches and watched the activity below.

“I’ve never seen so many people in one place before,” said Hero.

“It’s a pretty big crowd,” agreed Graham.  “I’d rather come back when the first real train pulls in.  Trains are ace, but this one hardly moves.”

“How fast do they go?” wondered Bessemer.

“Really fast.  On a straight shot with full steam, I’ll bet you couldn’t even catch it.”

“Hey you guys, be quiet,” said Senta.  “Mrs. Government is going to speak.”

The governor was indeed standing on the station platform ready to address the crowd.  She wore a bright blue dress with a tuft of brilliant white lace over the bustle and cascades of white lace down the skirt.  She was flanked on either side by the other movers and shakers of the colony, including Mayor Korlann, Miss Lusk, Dr. Kelloran, Terrence and Yuah Dechantagne, and Hero’s sister Honor, as well as the new High Priest, Mother Linton. Even Zurfina, who usually eschewed crowded gatherings, was present.  It was she who had provided the magical megaphone that Governor Dechantagne-Calliere now brought to her mouth.  It was much smaller than similar devices Senta had seen used by ship crews and officials at cricket matches, only about eight inches long, but when she spoke into it, everyone in the area could clearly hear the governor’s voice.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” she said.  “Welcome to the dedication of the Port Dechantagne train station.  I have a few very brief remarks.”

“Oh boy, here we go,” said Graham.  “Any time they say they’re going to be brief, they’re not.”

“They who?” wondered Senta.

“Speech-makers, that’s who.”

As far as the children were concerned, Graham’s suspicions were well founded.  Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere spoke for more than twenty minutes, recounting the history of the colony from the arrival of the battleship Minotaur, followed by the refugee ship Acorn, through the great battles with lizardmen and the destruction of the lizardman city-state to the southeast.  She went on to the recent expansion of the town, and continued with a list of the businesses that would soon be opening in the colony and the benefits that each would receive from the arrival of the railroad line from St. Ulixes. By the time she was done, all four of the children were completely bored.  They were certainly in no mood to listen to additional speeches, but more speeches seemed to be on the agenda, because no sooner had the governor stopped, than she passed the megaphone to Mother Linton.

“This is bloody awful,” said Graham.  “Let’s go do something else.”

Hertzel nodded his agreement, though whether he was agreeing that it was awful, or that he wanted to do something else, or both, was unclear.

“What do you want to do?” wondered Senta.

“Let’s go ride the dinosaurs,” suggested Graham.

Hertzel nodded again.

“I don’t think that’s safe,” said Hero.

“Of course it’s not safe,” replied Graham.  “It wouldn’t be any fun if it was safe.”

“All right,” said Senta.  “But you boys have to help us down.”

The two boys helped Senta and Hero, both of whom were prevented from being truly arboreal by their large dresses, from branch to branch, finally lowering them to the ground, by their hands.  A moment later the boys dropped down beside them.

“Are you coming?”  Senta called up to the steel dragon.

“No, I’m going to listen to the speeches.”

Shaking their heads at the inscrutability of dragons, the four children tromped through the snow, walking between the trees of the forest lot so that they could come out on the street beyond the massive throng of people. They stepped out onto Bay Street about a mile north of the station and they followed it another mile till they reached the Town Square, which was as empty of human life as they had ever seen it. A single lizardman was crossing from east to west, carrying a little package.

“I wonder if anyone is at Mrs. Finkler’s this afternoon,” said Hero.  “I wouldn’t say no to some hot tea before walking all the way to the dinosaur pens.”

Graham stopped to think and Senta laughed aloud at the expression he managed to screw his face into.  It was obvious that he wanted to get out and ride the dinosaurs before any responsible adult had a chance to get there and stop him.  On the other hand, he was as cold as the rest of them, from sitting in the brisk air high in a tree for a good long time, and then walking miles through the snowy streets.

“If you only had a steam carriage,” said Senta, in a teasing voice.

“Yes!”  He grabbed hold of the fantasy with both hands.  “Do you know how quick we could get from the train station to the dinosaur pens in a steam carriage like the ones Captain Dechantagne brought for his wife and his sister?”

“How quick?” asked Senta, who despite growing up in the great city of Brech with hundreds, perhaps thousands of steam carriages roaming the streets, had never actually ridden in one.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Saba Colbshallow rapped his knuckles on the front door of the five-story structure, again, louder than he had before, but there was just as little response as there had been the first time.

“Police constable!” he called.  He waited a bit longer, and was just about to leave when he heard a distinctly sultry voice from inside.

“Who is it?”

“Police constable,” he said again.

The door opened and Zurfina stood in the doorway, her strange little leather dress displaying a good portion of her breasts with their star tattoos as well as her long legs.   Her thigh high boots had such high heels that she could almost look Saba in the eye.

“Yes?  What is it?” she said, with the air of someone who had just been interrupted in the middle of something vitally important.

“May I come in?” he asked.

With an exaggerated sigh, the sorceress turned her back and walked into the house, leaving the door wide open.  Saba followed her in and looked around the large room that formed the lower level of the structure.  It was, he thought, a surprisingly mundane looking combination of kitchen, parlor, and dining room.  The place was tidy and organized, none of the furnishings looking particularly worn or new, expensive or poor.  Zurfina waved her hand and the door slammed shut behind him, causing him to jump a little.

“Well?”

Saba swallowed.  He had known Zurfina for four years now, and found her just as wondrous, mysterious, and fascinating as he had when he was sixteen.  He had of course grown up to be a police constable, but she had grown to be a legend. She was an attractive woman: not as beautiful as Mrs. Dechantagne of course, not as charming as Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere was at least capable of being, and nowhere near as adorable as Miss Lusk. Neither did she have the curvaceous figure of Dr. Kelloran.  But as writer Geert Resnick wrote in his novelThe Pale Sun, “the painting that most draws one to it, is not the most beautiful, but the one hanging to the wall by the most tenuous thread.”  Zurfina held the same appeal as a fast horse, an unstable bomb, or a canoe in a river filled with crocodiles.  And there was power.  Power was always appealing.

Zurfina sensed his hesitation and moved to stand very close to him.

“Now, little Saba,” she said, with exaggerated slowness.  “What brings you to see Zurfina the Magnificent?”

Saba had perfected his stare: a piercing look that let those he was interviewing know that he would brook no nonsense.  He gave the sorceress one of these stares, but it didn’t seem to work as well as it was supposed to.  She stepped a little closer and he suddenly realized he could smell her breath.  It was minty.

“Little Saba.”  Her charcoaled grey eyes seemed to be looking at something just below the surface of his face.

He swallowed.

“Police Constable Colbshallow,” he corrected.

She leaned forward so that the tip of her nose was only an inch from his.

“Little Saba,” she repeated.  “There’s something you’ve been dying to tell me.”

“No there isn’t.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m here about a Miss Amadea Jindra.”

Zurfina leaned back and scrunched up her nose.  “Now what business is that of yours?”

He retrieved the notepad from his coat pocket and flipped it open.  Turning so that he had better light to read by, he took the opportunity step away from the sorceress.

“It was reported that you kidnapped, um… acquired Miss Jindra from the deck of the S.S. Arrow four days ago, and no one has seen her since.”

“I say again, what business is it of yours?”  Zurfina spoke distinctly, chopping each word as if came out of her mouth. The temperature of the room dropped several degrees.

“You cannot simply snatch people off the street…” His voice trailed off as he noticed the sorceress’s eyes flashing.

Zurfina folded her arms across her chest and raised one eyebrow.  At that moment the door swung open and Senta walked in. Her bright pink dress peaked out from beneath a heavy white overcoat, with a fur trimmed hood.  She was carrying a large bed pillow under each arm. She kicked the door shut with the heel of her shoe, and walked over to stand next to the sorceress.  She looked first at Zurfina and then at Saba.

“Okay,” said Senta.  “What’s going on?”

“Little Saba was just telling me what I can and cannot do.”

“Well, this isn’t going to end up well, and you know who will have to clean up the mess?  Me, that’s who.  Here are your pillows,” Senta shoved the pillows into Zurfina’s hands.

Once the sorceress had taken the pillows, Senta took Saba by the hand and led him toward the front door.

“Let’s talk outside.  I love the smell of pine trees and chimney smoke.”  She led him outside, closing the front door behind her.  “What exactly are you doing?”

“Conducting police business.”

“Stopping me from taking care of those wankers who shot Bessemer has gone to your head, eh?”

“This is my job.  This is what I do,” said Saba.  “I protect the public peace.”

“And do you ever think about how you would do that job if you were turned into, say, I don’t know, a pig?”

“A pig?”

“Maybe a pig.  Could be anything really.  I thought I was about to see a Police Constable shaped lawn ornament.  But then I don’t have Zurfina’s wide experience and peculiar wit.”

“Well I have to go back in and talk to her.”

“Did they have to take your brain out to make that helmet fit?”

“That’s not funny little girl.  I have to find out what she did with Miss Jindra.”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 9 Excerpt

The S.S. Queen of Expy was the largest ship yet to dock at Port Dechantagne, almost twice as large, in terms of tonnage, as the H.M.S. Minotaur, the battleship that had brought the first colonists to this shore.  Her four massive smokestacks were no longer pouring out giant black clouds as they had done all the way from Greater Brechalon. The great ship was now, ever so slowly, turning without the aid of any tugs, so that she could connect to a dock that was so much more primitive than she was used to.  It all put Saba Colbshallow in mind of a very fat lady trying to maneuver herself around in a bathtub.

“How long do you suppose before they can get the gangplank up?” wondered Eamon Shrubb, who like Saba stood in his heavy blue reefer jacket and blue constable’s helmet.

Saba consulted his pocket watch.  The ornate little hands showed 10:30.  A snowflake settled upon its glass face, just above the six.  He turned his face skyward and saw a few more large white flakes falling toward him.

“A while,” he said.  “Tea?”

Eamon nodded, and the entire police force walked across the gravel road to the cart that Aalwijn Finkler had set up to sell hot drinks and cakes.

There were exactly five vending carts in Port Dechantagne, and all five were within fifty yards of the dock. In addition to Finkler’s, there was Mr. Kordeshack selling fish and chips, Mrs. Gopling selling smoky sausages, Mrs. Luebking, selling scarves, mittens, and knit caps for those who had either not brought warm clothing or were unable to find it in their luggage, and Mr. Darwin, who sold purses, wallets, belts, and hat bands, all made of dinosaur skin.

“Two teas,” said Saba, setting a ten-pfennig coin on the cart.

“Sugars?” asked Aalwijn.

“One.”

“Three,” said Eamon.

“Milk?” asked Aalwijn.

“No.”  With no cattle in the colony and few goats, the only milk available was in tins. While this was fine for cooking, most people had given up milk in their tea because of the metallic taste.

The snow started coming down more heavily as the two constables sipped the steaming tea from the small, plain porcelain cups.  When they had finished, they set the cups in the bin on the side of the vending cart reserved for dirty dishes.  Saba turned around and looked at the S.S. Queen of Expy.

“I don’t think it’s moved,” said Saba.

“What’s Expy?” asked Eamon.

“It’s an island.”

“Does it have a queen?”

“I don’t think so.”

“How come they named a ship Queen of Expy then?”

“That’s just something they do.”

“I don’t think it’s moved,” said Eamon.

“Come on,” said Saba.  “Let’s do a tour.”

“Together?”

“Sure.”

The two constables started off to the north, walking past the warehouses, and reaching the end of Bainbridge Clark Street, and the edge of Augustus P. Dechantagne Park.  The park occupied ten acres just past the narrowest part of the peninsula, and was mostly composed of a large grassy area where during the summer, people had picnics, and played football or cricket.  On its western edge was a copse of several dozen large trees and rose garden with a gazebo, a reflecting pool, and the base for a statue that had not yet been completed.  The base was four foot square and two feet high, and would eventually hold a life-sized statue of the man for whom the park was named.  It already had his name embossed upon it, along with the phrase “Stand Fast, Men”.  Trailing through the park and the rose garden within it was a winding cobblestone path, which Saba and Eamon took.  They stopped between the statue base and the reflecting pool, which was completely frozen over.

“You knew him pretty well, eh?” asked Eamon, indicating the spot where the statue would someday be.

“Yep.  He was a great guy.  He used to tell me dirty stories when I was a kid, and he usually gave me a couple of pfennigs when he saw me.  That was big money for me then.”

“Sure,” said Eamon, who had grown up in a poorer family than Saba’s.  “Do you know what it’s going to look like?”

“Nope.  Nobody but Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere knows.  Knowing her, he’s going to be standing like he has a stick up his ass, and he’ll probably be pointing forward or waving heroically.”

“How do you wave heroically?”

“You know.  Like ‘Come on, Men!’”  Saba waved invisible soldiers behind him to move forward.

“Okay.”

“You know they should have named this park after Zurfina.  She’s the one who saved our cake.”

“I’ve heard you say that before.  It’s just because you fancy her.”

“No.  I’m serious. I was there.  I know.”

“She really put it on the lizzies?”

“Oh, it was bloody awesome.”

“But you do fancy her?”

“She’s too old for me,” said Saba.  “Not that I haven’t had the odd fantasy about her.”

“She’s not that old is she?  I’ve only seen her a few times, but she doesn’t look… forty do you suppose?”

The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 8 Excerpt

The S. S. Windemere didn’t arrive until Festuary eighth.  It had been waylaid in the Mulliens with a damaged boiler. Still, Saba Colbshallow had been at the docks to meet it and one passenger in particular.  Mr. Brockton didn’t look like a secret agent, not that Saba knew what a secret agent looked like.  He was a short, slight man in his mid-forties with a brown handlebar mustache and thinning hair beneath a brown bowler hat.  He looked over Saba for a moment then shook hands.

“Governor Dechantagne-Calliere asked me to meet you and see that you have a place to stay,” said Saba.

“Very good,” said Brockton in a thin nasal voice.  “She indicated in her correspondence that she would send a representative that had her complete trust.”

Saba tried not to let his surprise show.

“I’ve got you an apartment on the militia base.”

“Won’t that be suspicious?”

“Probably less than rooming anywhere else, unless you want to spend the next week in a tent,” said Saba.  “Those are basically the two options for new arrivals.  We don’t have a hotel or rooming house yet, though there are a few people who let rooms.  The apartments and rental houses have quite a long waiting list.”

“The militia base it is then,” said Brockton with a thin smile.

Saba led the way up the hill from the dockyards.

“I’m going to need a day to get my land legs back,” said Brockton.  “Why don’t we plan on meeting tomorrow and I’ll go over what the governor needs to know with you then.”

Saba nodded.  “Fine. I’ll have some supper sent over if you like?”

“Good.”

The following afternoon just before tea, Saba met Brockton outside the building that had been designed to eventually be part of the base’s barracks but which, since its construction, had been divided into ten small apartments.

“The best place to eat is back at the dockyard,” he said.

Brockton raised an eyebrow.

“They have food carts.”

Making their way down the hill, they took their place in the queue for sausages.  Then they sat down on a bench at the northern edge of the gravel yard and ate the thick sausages, which were served on a stick.

“Not much in the way of dining in Birmisia, eh?” said Brockton, then waved off Saba’s reply.  “I expected as much really.  I ate so much on the voyage that I probably gained ten pounds anyway.  This is fine, and so were the fish and chips you sent up last evening.”

“Good.  So what is the information you want me to relay to Governor Dechantagne-Calliere?”

“She is aware, though you might not be, that I am with His Majesty’s Secret Service.  We have people working around the world, but right now our focus is in Freedonia.”

“Aren’t we at peace?”

“Ostensibly.  But a great many things can happen.  And I don’t mean war, at least I don’t mean just war.”

“What else?” asked Saba.

“Klaus II fancies himself a wizard and he’s immersed himself in the wahre kunst von zauberei.  As a result, the wizards of the Reine Zauberei have replaced most of the non-wizards in key positions in the Freedonian government.”

“Don’t we have quite a few wizards of our own?” asked Saba.  “Yourself for instance?”

Brockton smiled a thin smile.

“Well spotted young Corporal.  I’m a first level journeyman from Académie Argei.  But you have to understand, these Reine Zauberei are not just wizards. They have their own peculiar ideas.”

“Their magic is different?”

“No, as a matter of fact their magic is almost identical to my own.  It is their belief system that is different. They believe that the Freedonians are the master race and that they are destined to rule the world.”

“Isn’t that sort of jingoism pretty common?” asked Saba.  “After all, patriotism is a great thing, as long as the fellow who has it is from the same country that you are.  I know quite a few Brechs who think that if you’re not Brech, you’re nothing.”

“Do they want to kill everyone else in the world?”

“Um, no.”

“There you see the difference.  These Reine Zauberei believe that everyone else must serve the Freedonians or be eliminated.  Completely.”

“But that’s just insane.”

“Yes it is.”

“And it’s not possible.”

“There you may be mistaken.  They’ve already started their plan.  The first victims are the Zaeri.”

“I know they’ve been treating the Zaeri badly—forcing them out of their homes and such.  The Zaeri have been treated horribly for centuries though—in Brech and Mirsanna too, not just in Freedonia.”

“There is more to it than that.  In fact the Freedonians have stopped chasing the Zaeri out of the country and are now rounding them up and putting them in forced labor camps.  And there are rumors of other camps—camps where the Zaeri and others are being murdered by the hundreds.”

“That can’t be true,” said Saba.

“We don’t know for sure whether it is or not.” Brockton took the last bite of his sausage and tossed the stick at the dustbin next to the bench.

The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 7 Excerpt

“You think I’m an idiot?” demanded Senta.

“I didn’t say anything of the kind,” replied Zurfina calmly.

“I know a fylfot when I see one!”

“Don’t be so defensive, Pet.  I didn’t say I didn’t believe you.  I merely pointed out that I have been all over this town in the past few weeks and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of this wizard of yours.”

“Well I saw him.  I’ve been keeping tabs on him since he got here and I even talked to him.”

“I don’t doubt you,” said Zurfina, in a remarkably soothing voice, “but the level of residual magic around town is no more than I would expect from you and your everyday antics.”

“Are you sure you didn’t miss some?”

“Now who’s being insulting?”  The sorceress’s voice suddenly flared louder.  “If I didn’t detect it, it wasn’t there.”

“Hmph!” said Senta, and crossing her arms, turned to face the door.

Zurfina sighed.  “Children are so difficult.  Is it any wonder that I never wanted one of my own?”

“Maybe you should just get rid of me like everybody else does,” said Senta quietly.

Zurfina crossed from the kitchen to the other side of the stairs and put an arm around Senta’s shoulders.

“You’re far too interesting for me to get rid of now.  Look, this wizard of yours is obviously far too insignificant for me to concern myself with.  You’ll have to take care of him.”

“Me?  I’m just a little kid.”

“You know something?” said Zurfina, taking her arm from around Senta and grasping her by the shoulders.  “Nobody believes that—least of all me.  There’s not a journeyman wizard this side of Xygia who can do what you can do with magic.”

“Really?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Of course you would.”

“Well…” Zurfina shrugged.  “Keep an eye on your wizard, and if he turns out to be a threat to us, neutralize him.”

“What if you’re wrong and he magics the crap out of me?” wondered Senta.

“Then I’ll know better with my next apprentice,” replied Zurfina.  “Do you want a sandwich?”

“Yes.”

Zurfina waved her finger in the air and, as the contents of the froredor began to fly out to the table and assemble themselves into sandwiches, she started up the stairs.

“Bring my meal up to the top floor.  Leave it on the step outside the door.  Don’t come in.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” said Senta, watching mayonnaise being spread across a freshly cut piece of bread.

When the sandwiches had been completed, Senta delivered Zurfina’s to the appropriate location.  Then she put away the ingredients by hand and sat down at the table to enjoy hers.  She was only on her second bite when there was a knock at the door.    As she opened it, the cold air from outside blew across her bare shins and feet.  It had stopped snowing a couple of days before, but it was still cold out and the world was still covered with a thick blanket of white.  Standing outside and shivering was Hertzel Hertling.

“Hertzel!” squealed Senta, giving him a great hug.  “Where is your sister?  Didn’t she come with you?”

Hertzel remained as quiet as he always did, but shook his head.  Two years before, when he and his two sisters had escaped their former homeland of Freedonia, soldiers had killed both their parents.  Hertzel, who up until that time has seemed a perfectly normal boy, had lost his voice. And there seemed to be no reason to expect its return any time soon.

“Come in and get warm.”  Senta pulled the boy into the house and closed the door after him.  “Are you hungry?”

Hertzel shrugged.

Taking this as an affirmative, Senta cut her sandwich in half and gave him the portion with no bite taken out of it.

“I’ll put on some tea.”

Hertzel took a bite of the sandwich and smiled with his blue lips closed.

Senta put the pot on the cast iron stove.

“Nothing’s wrong, is it?” she asked.

Hertzel shook his head.

“It’s only that I don’t see you very often by yourself.”

She crossed back to the stove and sat down.

“What’s Hero doing?”

He shrugged.

“Do you know where Graham is?”

He shook his head.

“So… kind of hard to have a conversation with you.”

Hertzel looked down at the table, took a bite of his sandwich and nodded sadly.

“That’s okay.  Really. I don’t mind.”

The kettle on the stove started to whistle, and Senta went and got it.  She transferred the water to a teapot, put loose leaves of tea into an infuser and dropped the infuser into the teapot as well. Then she brought the pot and two cups to the table.

“You know, I bet I can be as quiet as you.”

Hertzel shook his head.