Running Miss Dechantagne’s errands around the city was not something that Zeah Korlann minded. It was his chance to get out of the house and get some fresh air. It was his chance to be away from the ever-present expectations of others. It was his chance to be anonymous. Today he was headed to the millinery shop for his mistress and then to the employment office for the house.
Just down the street from the house was the trolley stop. The massive brown mare, which pulled the trolley, turned one large brown eye toward him as he passed her and stepped up onto the running board and then into the car. As he dug a pfennig out of his pocket to drop in the glass money container, the driver looked at him and gave him a friendly nod. He took a seat near the middle of the carriage and folded his hands in his lap as he waited for the horse to start on its way. There were only four other people on the trolley—two older women that Zeah vaguely recognized as servants from a house down the street, a young soldier with red hair, and an odd looking man in a brown bowler with a long nose and thick whiskers.
Zeah’s attention was immediately drawn to the newspaper being read by the soldier. The young man was reading page two, leaving the headline staring the butler in the face. The two inch high block letters proclaimed “Dragon Over Brechalon.”
“I didn’t think there were any dragons left in the world,” Zeah said to himself. “At least not in Sumir.”
“There are a few,” said the odd looking man.
“They say it’s old Voindrazius,” said the soldier, peering over his paper. “They used to see him all the time in Freedonia… in the old days. A hundred years or so ago.”
“It’s not Voindrazius,” said the odd looking man. “It says very clearly that the dragon seen over Brechalon had metallic scales—some said golden scales. Voindrazius was a red dragon.”
Zeah didn’t see how the man could have read the soldier’s paper from his seat, and he didn’t have his own. He must have read it earlier in the day.
“I hope it doesn’t cause any damage,” said Zeah.
“I’m sure it won’t. Dragons once ruled this continent, but those few who are left just want to be left alone. You’re Zaeri, are you not?”
Zeah shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Yes.”
“Then you should know from the scriptures—The Old Prophets chapter twenty-six, verse three.”
“Fear neither dragon nor storm,” quoted Zeah. “Well, I still fear storms too.”
“How about eclipses?”
“Yes, there’s an eclipse the fourth of next month.”
“No, I guess I’m fine with eclipses.”
When Zeah stepped off the trolley, he found himself on Avenue Peacock. Like Avenue Phoenix, both sides of the street were lined with stores. But unlike Avenue Phoenix, here none of the stores looked like stores. There were no large windows showing off the wares that each establishment sold. They looked more like banks or discreet gentlemen’s clubs. That made sense, because like those places, these stores were for people with a great deal of money. The stores were labeled, but they were labeled with small letters just to the right of the doorways, rather than large signs above them. Zeah headed for one of the closer buildings, one marked Admeta March, milliner.
There was no bell above the door, like any store that Zeah would have shopped in. Inside, it didn’t look like a store at all. There was a couch and there were several chairs, a coffee table and two end tables with lamps—all made of very dark wood and a material of the most horrendous shade of pink. Zeah had been here before and knew just what to do. He sat down. After a few minutes, a thin pinch-faced woman wearing a dress the same horrendous shade of pink came in through a closed door of the same very dark wood.
“May I help you?”
“I’m here to pick up a hat for Miss Dechantagne.”
The woman nodded and left. Zeah sat back down and waited for what seemed an inordinate amount of time to get a hat, but at last she returned. She had a box, a hatbox naturally, but it had not yet been tied shut with the usual bow.
“Would you care to see it?” the woman asked, opening the lid.
“Um, no.” Zeah turned and stared at the horrendous pink wallpaper.
The woman shrugged and went back out through the door. Zeah had never looked at any article of clothing that he had picked up for Miss Dechantagne, and he wasn’t about to start looking now. It wasn’t that there would be any impropriety. It was simply that, as Zeah’s luck ran, there would be something wrong with the hat. Not having much in the way of fashion sense of course, Zeah would have no idea that there was anything wrong, and even if he did, he wouldn’t know what that something was. When Miss Dechantagne found the flaw in the apparel, she would ask Zeah if he knew anything about it, and he wouldn’t be able to say that there was no way that he could know anything about it because he had never seen the article in question before. He had seen it. All in all, it was better if he didn’t.
Taking another trolley, one that had many passengers though none of them soldiers and none of them odd looking men in brown bowlers, Zeah arrived at Avenue Boar near the banking district. The Prescott Agency was here, occupying the same columned, white building that they had occupied for more than fifty years. It was the job of the Prescott Agency to place top quality servants in the wealthiest and most important of Greater Brechalon’s homes. Zeah was at least as well versed in the protocol here as he was in the millinery shop. He walked up to the second floor to Mrs. Villers’ desk and told her what he needed.
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” said Mrs. Villers.
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”
“Wha…why not? You don’t have anyone to place?”
“Oh, no. It’s not that. We have people to place, but you want someone with experience.”
“Well, how can I put this? None of the experienced people want to work for her. They’ve all heard the stories.”
“The stories are, um… well, not exaggerated exactly… but still.”
“I understand,” said Mrs. Villers. “You are the head butler and I would be shocked if you spoke ill of your house. I certainly wouldn’t want you to. But you see my dilemma. I have several very promising looking newcomers.”
“Um.” Zeah stopped and examined the ceiling for a moment. “Yes. Send them around.”
He looked back at Mrs. Villers.
“Was there anything else?”
“Um… no.” Zeah turned and headed for the stairs that led him down to the first floor and out onto Avenue Boar. All in all, he thought it might have been better if there had been a flaw in the hat.