When she stepped inside, it was like stepping into a different world. The room was warm from the fire burning in the cast-iron stove and the glow from three oil lamps made the recently tidied up room feel almost festive. A pot of tea on the stove was just beginning to whistle, and three white porcelain cups, painted with pink roses and green stems, sat on the table.
“Get that, would you, Pet?” said Bessemer, sitting on his pile of fluffy pillows with a large open book in front of him.
Senta sat her magazines down and picked up the teapot off of the stove. She poured the steaming water into the three cups. Zurfina’s sterling silver tea diffuser had already been filled with tea leaves, so she dipped it first into one cup and then another.
“What are you reading?”
“Night of the Snake.”
“Is it good?”
“It’s supposed to be. I haven’t got very far, but I’m already pretty sure that the snake did it.”
Zurfina stepped down into the room just as Senta was finished brewing the tea. She wore a robe that covered her from neck to ankles, but was composed of completely sheer black lace. The girl dropped three lumps of sugar into one of the cups and handed it to the sorceress. She put three more lumps in a second cup and carried it over to the steel dragon, who reached up and took it from her hands without looking away from his book. She took a sip of her own tea, and then decided to add one lump.
“And what are you about today?” asked Zurfina.
“We had a picnic at Battle Creek.”
“Which one is Battle Creek again?”
“It’s where you fought Wizard Kesi,” said Senta. “Don’t pretend you don’t remember.”
“I have some vague recollection,” said the sorceress, absentmindedly rubbing the bald spot above her ear. “You weren’t up there this whole time? You’re so late that I had to have Bessemer light the stove.”
“I was getting fitted for a new dress.”
“You have plenty of dresses right here. I went to the trouble to lay one out for you this morning.”
“It was black and it was made out of rubber.”
“It would have looked very pinnaped-like.”
“Aren’t I old enough to pick out my own clothes?”
“You’re only ten.’
Zurfina looked toward the steel dragon, who nodded in confirmation.
She sighed. “Do you think she is old enough to make these decisions?”
“The technological intricacies of stove lighting, I have mastered. I offer no expertise when it comes to fashion or adolescent human female development.”
“Alright. But you don’t have an unlimited budget. I’m not made of money.”
“She should have an allowance,” suggested Bessemer.
“She shall have a stipend,” corrected Zurfina. “As befits a student of sorcery. How about one hundred marks per month?”
“Too much,” said Bessemer.
“Oh, so you are an expert. Fifty then.”
“Fifty is fine,” said Senta.
“And since you have fifty marks left just floating around, I think I should have a stipend too,” said the dragon.
“You’re not even four years old yet.” Senta sputtered.
“Four dragon years.”
“Dragons live almost forever, which means you’re like what, a baby? A premature baby.”
“Have you ever heard of a dragon who wasn’t sitting on a hoard of riches?” he asked. “I feel so incomplete.”
“Do you want a pretty dress too?” wondered Zurfina.
“I want to buy Detsky’s other book, “Rabbits Under the Fence”. This one’s pretty good. And I want another pillow—a green one shaped like a turtle, so that I can cuddle it.”
“Alright,” said the sorceress in a pose that brooked no further arguing or demanding. “A twenty five mark stipend for the dragon. You can both get your money each month from the lower layer of the silver box.”
Senta went to the silver box and pulled out the tray with knives, forks, and spoons in it, setting it aside. The lower level was stuffed with money—coins from copper pfennigs to large silver marks to gold decimarks. In between there were bills of all denominations from single mark notes to five hundred mark Tybalts.
“Don’t take more than you are supposed to. Bad things will happen,” said Zurfina.
Senta picked out two gold decimarks and thirty marks in various bills.
“Toss me my twenty five,” said Bessemer.
“You heard what she said,” said Senta. “You get your own.”
“Good girl,” said Zurfina. “Now, what shall we have for dinner?”