The Drache Girl – Chapter 17 Excerpt

“Can you drive me now, Marzell?” Yuah asked the boy.

It might have been difficult to find humans in Birmisia who were willing to work as servants, but it was surprisingly simple to find young men willing to serve as drivers for one of only two steam carriages on the continent. Terrence had given out that the position was open and had faced an avalanche of applicants. He had narrowed the selection down to three boys, and had let Yuah choose her favorite. She had chosen one of the Zaeri boys from Freedonia. Marzell Lance was a serious young man of sixteen, with a shock of perpetually mussed black hair and brown eyes. He always seemed to be hungry. Though he had proven he could not only drive, but maintain the steam carriage, that was not why he had been chosen. He, like so many coming from Freedonia, had arrived alone. His sister, the only member of his family with him, had died on the ship.

Marzell jumped up and held open the outside door. Yuah walked through and he followed. The steam carriage was parked near one of the sheds. It looked as pristine as it had when it had arrived on the ship from Greater Brechalon. The minor damage caused by Yuah’s accidental diversion into a snow bank had been repaired, and from the rich black leather of the seats to the shining copper bonnet, it was clean and polished.

“I’ll have to fire up the boiler, Ma’am,” said Marzell.

“I know. That’s fine.”

Marzell held out a helping hand for Yuah, as she stepped up into the passenger seat. As she sat with folded hands in her lap, he stepped around to the back to light the boiler. He shoveled in several more scoops of coal for good measure as well. Then popping back around to the driver’s side, he climbed in.

“If I had known you were planning to go out, Ma’am, I would have fired it up earlier.”

“I know. It’s alright.”

“Where did you want to go, Ma’am?”

“Please stop saying ‘Ma’am’. I feel old enough as it is.”

“Yes, Ma’am. Where did you want to go, Ma… Mrs. Dechantagne.”

“Take me to Miss Hertling’s home, please.”

Shifting the vehicle into gear, Marzell stepped on the forward accelerator, but with a still relatively cool engine, the steam carriage rolled forward very slowly. It seemed as though it took at least five minutes to reach the gate, which was no more than fifty feet away. Once the young man had gotten out and opened the gate though, steam had built up enough that they were able to start down the road at a respectable speed. It was less than ten minutes later that Yuah was knocking on Honor’s door.

The front door of the small cottage opened and Honor stepped outside. She immediately pulled Yuah to her and enfolded her in her arms. Tears welled up in Yuah’s eyes, but she bit her lip and fought them back. By the time her friend let go of her, she had screwed her face back into order.

“Come in.”

“Just a minute. I didn’t know if you were here. I have to tell Marzell that I’ll be staying a few minutes.”

“Tell him you’ll be a couple of hours and that he should come back,” said Honor. “Don’t argue. Just do it.”

Yuah did as she was told, and as Marzell took off with a whoosh in the steam carriage, she stepped inside the Hertling house and closed the door behind her. Honor was stirring the contents of a large crockery bowl with a big wooden spoon. Her typical brown and black dress was covered by a white apron, now stained with a brown smear.

“I made Hertzal a cake last week, so now I’m making one for Hero.”

“Chocolate?”

“Yes. Cocoa isn’t as dear now that the ships are stopping at Enclep again.”

She tilted the bowl over and began scraping the contents with the spoon out into a cast iron pan. Then she carried the pan over to the stove, opened the oven door, and stuck her free hand inside. Judging that the coals were right, she slid the pan inside and shut the door.

“Come sit down,” said Honor. “We have half an hour before it’s done baking.”

She sat down on the rather worn couch that was the center piece of combination living room and kitchen. She patted the seat next to her, indicating where Yuah should sit. Yuah did so, sitting stiffly, her back several inches away from the couch’s back.

“You weren’t ready to attend shrine last Sabbath?” asked Honor.

“The dress wasn’t ready.”

“You don’t need the dress. You have plenty of clothes.”

“I have some old servant clothes. All of my new clothes, from the past year and a half, are way too ostentatious.”

“That’s one way to describe it. You could probably wear one of my dresses. Although I arrived on continent with a single shrine dress, I now have three.”

“You bought not one but two dresses?”

“Of course not. I made them.”

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