The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Zeah Korlann watched as Miss Dechantagne spoke to the policeman.  If he had come home covered in blood, and then called the policeman to tell him that he had just shot two men in an alley, he would be sitting in the deepest darkest cell in Ravendeep by now.  Miss Dechantagne on the other hand, took a careful sip of her tea, keeping her pinky straight, from a teacup that matched her dressing gown, as she told the blue-clad officer of her “adventure.”  She then told him about how she had driven herself home and taken a long hot bath, after ordering her steam carriage cleaned and her clothing disposed of.   Maybe the key was not being nervous.  Policemen were used to dealing with guilty, twitchy, little people.  Miss Dechantagne never felt guilty about anything, she never twitched, and she was most definitely not one of the little people. Then again, the policeman probably wasn’t listening to a word she said.  She sat there with her luxurious auburn hair hanging loosely about her shoulders, her skin the very picture of porcelain perfection, her lips painted luscious red, and those unusual aquamarine eyes.  And she was wearing what? Certainly not a bustle or a corset, just yard after yard of violet and silver silk dressing gown, from her neck to the floor.  Maybe the key was that, as far as the policemen knew, there were no underclothes at all under that dressing gown.

“Normally in these situations,” said the policeman, “we would bring the journeyman wizard from Mernham Yard to cast a truth spell, but I really don’t see the need. Everything seems to be straight-forward enough.”

“Thank you officer,” said Miss Dechantagne.  “You have been most considerate.”

“My pleasure, Miss.”

“Would you please leave your name and address with my man before you leave?  I would like to send you a thank-you gift for your kindness in this trying time.”

“That won’t be necessary, Miss,” said the policeman, clicking his heels and bowing before he left, but he gave his name and address to Zeah anyway, revealing the true key to living an existence free from police trouble.  The officer would receive a gift basket filled with fresh fruit, expensive jams and jellies, canned kippers, loaves of rosemary and garlic bread, some very nice cheese, a sausage, and four or five hundred one mark banknotes.

When the head butler had closed the front door behind the policeman, he turned on a heel and walked back into the parlor.  Miss Dechantagne already seemed to have forgotten that she had been dealing with police business.  She continued to sip her tea, but now she did so while reading the latest issue of Brysin’s Weekly Ladies’ Journal.  Yuah entered carrying a small plate with three carefully arranged peppermint candies upon it.  She gave Zeah a quick wink.  It was just like the girl to get cheeky on her birthday.

“Are you ready to go about your duties for the day, Zeah?” asked Miss Dechantagne.

“Yes, Miss.”

“A little birdie has reminded me that it is your daughter’s birthday,” said Miss Dechantagne, biting into one of the peppermints candies.  “I do hope you have plans to celebrate it.”

“The staff will be presenting her with a cake at dinner,” said Zeah.

“Excellent,” said Miss Dechantagne, then turning to Yuah.  “Take the rest of the evening off.  I shan’t need you.”

“Very good, Miss,” said Yuah.

“Birthdays are important,” said Miss Dechantagne.  “They come only once every three hundred seventy-five days.”

“Yes, Miss,” said Yuah, and exited the room.

“Do you have a gift for her?” the lady asked the head butler.

“I’m picking up a scarf for her today.”

“Excellent. Pick up something appropriate from my brothers and me.  Charge it to my account.”

“Yes, Miss.”

“I’m sorry to ask you to make an additional stop today, Zeah.  I had planned on stopping by the docks this afternoon to consult with Captain Gurrman on how much space still remains in the cargo hold and what other equipment that we might need.  Unfortunately, my ‘adventure’ pushed those plans completely out of my mind.  I need you, after you have completed your other duties, to stop at the docks and complete this mission in my stead.  I trust this will not make you late for your daughter’s birthday party.”

“I’m sure it will be fine, Miss,” he said.  He well knew that taking a side trip to the docks, in addition to everything else he had to do, would make him miss any birthday celebrations entirely.  What he couldn’t figure out was whether Miss Dechantagne didn’t understand the constraints of time on his schedule, or did understand and simply didn’t care.

Zeah left the house on foot.  Anyone else might have called the abode a mansion, or a manse, or possibly even a palace, but Miss Dechantagne called it a house, and so it was a house.  He walked with the brisk pace of a much younger man.  He could have taken the steam carriage if he had wanted.  Miss Dechantagne would have allowed it without a second thought.  He had her complete confidence, as his family had held the complete confidence of her family for five generations.  But he had never learned to drive, and he was too old to learn now.  It didn’t matter.  With the breadth of the horse-drawn trolley system in the great city, under normal conditions, he didn’t have to have to walk very far. Going to the docks in the evening would complicate things of course.  He had carefully planned out his journey in his mind, to minimize his travel time and allow him the efficiency that always gave him comfort.  He would follow that plan to the exact step.  The first stop had to be the bank, and so he traveled due west.

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The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Iolanthe Dechantagne held onto the bedpost with both hands while her dressing maid Yuah pulled with all her might on the lacings of Iolanthe’s new Prudence Plus fairy bust form corset.  When the two sets of lacing holes reached as close a proximity as they were likely to, Yuah jerked the lacings down, pulling them into the crimping holes so that they would stay tight until she managed to tie them into one of her patented infallible knots.  Only when this knot, immotile as any which anchored a battleship to a dock, was tied, did Iolanthe let out her breath.  Though still able to fasten her own bustle around her waist, the beautiful young woman was now helpless to bend over and pull on her own stockings, so Yuah carefully rolled each of the expensive silk garments up a leg, fastening it at the top to the several suspenders hanging down from the corset. Then Iolanthe stepped into her shoes, which were alligator skin high-tops with four-inch heels.  The maid kneeled down once again, this time to fasten each shoe’s twenty-four buttons using a buttonhook.

“The white pinstriped dress today?” asked Yuah.

“No.  I wore that just last week.”

“The chantilly dress?”

“Yes I think.”

Yuah brought over the dress.  Yards of sheer black lace overlaid a pink silk base that was as smooth as lotion. The dressing maid helped Iolanthe put her arms through the sleeveless shoulders and then fastened the dress up behind her.  Then she helped her on with the matching jacket.  Though the dress was sleeveless and had a fairly low neckline, the jacket had long sleeves with puffs of black lace at the end, and fastened all the way up and around Iolanthe’s long thin neck.  The hat that went with this ensemble was a black straw boater, which like so much of Iolanthe’s hat collection, imitated a man’s style.  But in addition to the black lace veil hanging down to below her neck all the way around, the top of this boater was decorated with a dozen pink and black flowers and a small stuffed bird.  She wore no rings on her fingers or ears, but draped a cameo necklace carefully across her bosom.

Iolanthe turned and looked at herself in the floor-length cheval glass.  The cameo necklace, the hat, jacket, dress, shoes and stockings, and the Prudence Plus fairy bust form corset were only the finishing touches of a process that had taken the first two hours of the morning. A hot bath and shampoo had come first, followed by shaving her body (with straight razor), and then applying four different types of body lotion and body powder.  Next was a careful facial, culminating in the retouching of her very thin, carefully arched brows.  Styling her long auburn hair into a bun and constructing small ringlets with a curling iron to frame her face, had next occupied her.  Then she had donned her panties, her bloomers, her underbrassier, her brassier, and her camisole.  Yuah had carefully manicured her fingernails and pedicured her toes. Finally came rouge, eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick—just enough to look as though she didn’t need any and thus had worn none—painted on with the care and attention to detail of the finest portrait artist.

“You look beautiful, Miss.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Will there be anything else, Miss?”

“No.”

Yuah left and Iolanthe continued to stare at herself for several moments in the mirror. Once she had decided that everything was perfect, she hyperventilated for a minute before leaving.  Doing so allowed her to make it all the way down to the steam carriage without having to gasp for breath, despite the small inhalations allowed by the Prudence Plus fairy bust form corset, though doing so exacerbated the possibility of her fainting.  Women frequently fainted in Brech.  It was just part of the cost of fashion.

The house that the Dechantagne family owned in the Old City was a large square four-story building occupying most of a city block.  It was so large in fact that two thirds of the rooms were unused, the furniture covered by white linen drop cloths and the doors kept locked.  Iolanthe had been tempted to sell the house, as she had much of the family’s other city properties, but then finding a new place to live would have occupied far too much of her time, and she doubted that any place she found would have been appropriate for entertaining the class of people that she had needed to entertain during the past year.  Since she had been essentially forced to keep it, she had spent considerable money modernizing the portions that she used.  Houses built three hundred years before did not have the benefits of indoor plumbing and there was no way that she would go without her bathtub, or for that matter a modern flushing toilet.  Stairs were fine as well for making a grand entrance, but for the everyday up and down of three flights, an elevator was a must.  Then there were the dumbwaiters, the gaslights, and the upgraded kitchen.  The only things that hadn’t needed to be improved were the servants’ quarters, which were more than adequate.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 1 Excerpt

She had to wait several minutes for Carlo to notice her.  He was busy delivering sandwiches to the two soldiers who sat with the woman in the white pinstriped dress.  Not cucumber sandwiches on white bread.  Their sandwiches were thick slices of dark bread, piled high with slab after slab of ham. This was no surprise to Senta. Soldiers were always hungry.  She had seen them eating many times: the officers here at Café Carlo, and the common soldiers purchasing food from vendors near the park, or at the beanery in her own neighborhood.  At last, Carlo noticed her and held out his hand to her, dropping her fourteen copper pfennigs for the week into her callused palm. They were small coins, with the profile of the King on the obverse side, and the front of a stately building, Senta didn’t know which building, on the reverse side.  She stuffed the coins, a few fairly bright, but most well worn, into her pocket.

“See Gyula,” said Carlo.

A surprised Senta nodded and scurried back to the kitchen.  This was an unexpected boon.  Gyula was the junior of the two line cooks, which meant that he was the lowest ranked of the four people who prepared the food in the café.  An order to see him was an indication that she was being rewarded with foodstuffs of some kind.  When she entered the kitchen, Gyula looked up from his chopping and smiled. He was a young man, in his mid twenties, with a friendly round face, blond hair, and laughing eyes.  He was chopping a very large pile of onions, and the fact that he had only his left hand to do it, seemed to hinder him not at all. When Gyula was a child, about the same age as Senta was now, he had worked in a textile mill, where his job was to stick his tiny arm into the gaps in the great machines and remove wads of lint that had gummed up the works.  In his case, as in many others, the restarting machine proved quicker than his reflexes, and snipped off his arm just below the elbow.

“Hey Senta!” said Gyula, setting down his knife and wiping his left hand on his white apron.

“Carlo sent me back.”

“Excellent,” said Gyula.

He became a one-handed whirlwind, as he carved several pieces of dark bread from a big loaf, and piled an inch of sliced ham, slathered with dark brown mustard between them. He wrapped the great sandwich, which Senta happily noted was even bigger than those the soldiers had received, in wax paper.  He likewise wrapped a monstrous dill pickle, and placed both in the center of a large clean red plaid cloth; folding in the four corners, and tying them in a bow, to make a bindle.  Gyula handed the package to Senta, smiling.  When he had the opportunity, the young line cook favored Senta with great, heaping bounties of food, but he dared not do it without Carlo’s permission. It wouldn’t be easy for a one-armed man to find a job this good, and no one in his right mind, however kind-hearted and happy-go-lucky he was, would endanger it for a child he didn’t really even know.

“Thank you, Gyula,” said Senta, and grabbing the red plaid bundle, scurried out the door and down the sidewalk.

It was a beautiful day—though Senta didn’t know it, it was the first day of spring.  She made her way along, dodging between the many other pedestrians.  It was warm enough that she felt quite comfortable in her brown linen dress, worn over her full-length bloomers, and her brown wool sweater.  The weather was very predictable here in the Brech.  The early spring was always like this.  Late in the afternoon, the sky would become overcast, and light showers would sprinkle here and there around the city. Most days, they were so light that a person would scarcely realize that he had been made wet before he was dried off by the kindly rays of the sun.  Still, the ladies would raise their parasols to protect their carefully crafted coiffures from the rain, just as they now used them to protect their ivory complexions from the sun.

Summers here were warm and dry, but not so hot that people wouldn’t still want to eat in the outdoor portion of Café Carlo.  Not so in the fall or winter, however.  The fall was the rainy season.   It would become overcast, and stay that way for months, and it would rain buckets every day.  The streets would stay slick and shiny.  Then winter would come and dump several feet of snow across the city.  The River Thiss would freeze over and they would hold the winter carnival on the ice.  And the smoke from all of the coal-fired and gas-fired stoves, and the smoke from all of the wood-filled fireplaces would hang low to the ground, and it would seem like some smoky frozen hell.  The steam carriages would be scarcer, as the price of coal became dearer, but the horse-drawn trolley would still make its way through the grey snow and make its stops every three minutes.

Senta skipped and walked and skipped again east from the plaza down the Avenue Phoenix, which was just as busy as the plaza itself.  Travelers hurried up and down the street, making their way on foot, or reaching to grab hold of the trolley and hoist themselves into the standing-room-only cab.  Quite a number of couples could be seen strolling along together, arm in arm; the men usually walking on the side closest to the street, in case a steam carriage should splash up some sooty water.  Others on the street were shopping, because both sides of the Avenue Phoenix were lined with shops.  There were quite a few stores which sold women’s clothing and a few that sold men’s, a millinery shop, a haberdasher, a bookseller, a store which sold fine glassware, a clockmaker, a tobacconist, a jeweler, a store which sold lamps, a florist, and at the very end of the avenue, where it reached Prince Tybalt Boulevard, just across the street from the edge of the park, on the right hand side, a toy store.

Stopping to press her face against the glass, right below the printed sign that said “Humboldt’s Fine Toys”, Senta stared at the wonders in the store.  She had never been inside, but had stopped to look in the window many times.  The centerpiece of the store display was a mechanical bird.  It worked with gears and sprockets and springs and was made of metal, but it was covered in real bird feathers in a rainbow of hues, and would sit and peck and chirp and sing as though it were alive, until it finally wound down, and the toy maker would walk to the window and say the word to reactivate the bird’s magic spell.  Senta knew that the bird would remain in the window for a long, long time, until some young prince or princess needed a new birthday gift, because that bird would have cost as much as the entire Café Carlo.  Arranged around it were various mechanical toy vehicles—ships, trains, and steam carriages.  Some were magical and some worked with a wind-up key, but they all imitated the real life conveyances from which they were patterned.

None of these wonderful toys held as much fascination for Senta though, as the doll that sat in the corner of the window.  It wasn’t magical.  It wasn’t even animated by a wind-up mechanism.  It was a simple doll with a rag body and porcelain hands, feet, and face.  It wore a simple black dress.  Its blond hair had been cut in a short little bob, and looked like real human hair.  It had a painted face with grey eyes and pink lips.  It may well have been one of the lesser-priced toys in the shop.  It was definitely the least expensive item in the window, but Senta would never be able to purchase it.  Had she been able to save every pfennig she earned, it still would have taken her more than thirty weeks to purchase the doll.  And she could not save every pfennig she earned. Most weeks, she could not even save one.

The Voyage of the Minotaur

The Voyage of the Minotaur tells the story of colonists from the Kingdom of Greater Brechalon as they travel to the distant land of Birmisia in a world that is not quite like our own Victorian Age. The Dechantagne siblings; Iolanthe, Terrence, and Augie lead an expedition aboard the battleship Minotaur, hoping that the colony they build will restore their family to the position of wealth and power it once had. Along with them is the mysterious sorceress Zurfina, an orphan girl turned sorceress’s apprentice Senta Bly, and the newly hatched steel dragon. Waiting in dark and mysterious forests of Birmisia is the promise of a new life, along with hosts of dangerous beasts—from velociraptors and tyrannosaurs to the inscrutable reptilian aborigines. 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; a world of bustles and corsets, steam-powered computers, hot air balloons and dinosaurs, machine guns and wizards.

The Voyage of the Minotaur is available free this month at Smashwords.

The Dragon’s Choice – Half off for July

The dragons seemingly have returned to the world and are once again in vying for power. Bessemer the steel dragon is worshipped by the reptilian lizzies, while the evil Voindrazius tries to put together a pantheon that he will control. Zoantheria, the coral dragon, feels pulled in all directions. Wanted both by Bessemer and Voindrazius, she is called to a world she has never known, her mistress, the sorceress Senta Bly encouraging her to take up the mantle of goddess. Her heart, however, is pulling her in a different direction, toward the young viscount Augustus Dechantagne. Which will prove stronger– love or destiny? Both Senta and Augie have their own problems, hers with teaching her wayward eponymous daughter the ways of magic, and him dealing with the yoke of leadership and a headstrong mother. Meanwhile, far across the ocean, the Dechantagne girls are taking Brech City by storm. Will one of them land a prince?

The Dragon’s Choice is half off at Smashwords for the month of July.

A Plague of Wizards – Half off at Smashwords

In this, book 8 of Senta and the Steel Dragon: Senta Bly, the most powerful sorceress in the world has disappeared and no one knows where or why. What happens to Port Dechantagne and Birmisia without her protection for four years? Wizards with all sorts of their own agendas descend on the colony, and the citizens must cope the best they can. Nineteen-year-old Iolana Staff lives the life of a famous author, far away in the capital city, but how does her friend Esther, the only Birmisian lizzie on the continent deal with human society? Meanwhile Iolana’s cousin Terra has made the journey to the lizzie city of Yessonarah, to learn what living in the palace of a reptilian king is really like.

A Plague of Wizards is half off at Smashwords for the month of July.

The Price of Magic – Half off for July

New powers are rising in Birmisia. Far to the south, the strange lizardmen of Xiatooq are making themselves known. Closer to home, the new lizzie city Yessonarah finds itself rich in gold—gold the humans covet. As tensions rise, many in Port Dechantagne seem eager to teach the lizzies a lesson in humility. Fourteen year old Iolana Staff finds herself in the center of it all, as she is pulled between her conscience and the conventions of society. Unconcerned with the conflict between human and lizzie, sorceress Senta Bly prepares for her own war, unaware that events will pull her into a life and death confrontation with an old enemy.

The Price of Magic is the latest in a series that chronicles a world of steam power and rifles, where magic has not yet been forgotten. A new colony in a distant lost world has grown from a tiny outpost to a center of civilization in a vast wilderness. The Price of Magic continues a story of adventure and magic, religion and prejudice, steam engines and dinosaurs, angels and lizardmen, machine guns and wizards, sorceresses, bustles and corsets, steam-powered computers, hot air balloons, and dragons.

The Price of Magic is Half off for the month of July at Smashwords.