The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 11 Excerpt

“Uuthanum,” said the girl, and the teapot rose slowly up into the air and floated across to the other side of the table, coming to rest in front of Egeria Lusk.

“Brilliant!” said the short, fire-haired woman. “I see you will soon be as great a sorceress as your guardian.”

Zeah Korlann sat back in amazement. When he was Senta’s age, he had barely been able to write his own name. This child was some kind of magical prodigy. Zeah had often heard of secret wizard colleges where young men and sometimes women, young adults really, at the age of majority, went to study magic. Afterwards they would presumably apprentice with a master wizard somewhere. But he had never heard of a child casting magic spells.

“Where is your dragon today?” asked Miss Lusk

“He’s sleeping today.”

“All day?”

“Yup. He stays awake for two days at a time, and then he likes to sleep for four or five.”

“He sleeps four or five days straight through?” wondered Zeah.

“Yup. Zurfina says dragons sleep a lot. The older they get, the longer they sleep.”

Miss Lusk picked up the tea pot and poured more tea into Zeah’s cup, then Senta’s, and finally her own. She passed the plate around to each in turn, allowing them to take their share of the tiny sandwiches, made with meatless sausage and cheese between two crisps. They had biscuits for dessert. Miss Lusk had catered the whole tea herself. Zeah marveled that a woman who could master complex mathematical equations and create what she called “programs” for the most advanced machine in the world, could also provide a fine repast, seemingly at the drop of a hat. She had only learned that he would be available for tea the day before. She had also invited the sorceress’s ward. Had the two of them dined alone, people would have talked.

Tea with Miss Lusk presented a welcomed change for Zeah. Each day seemed to be just like the day before it. Almost all of his time was spent organizing activities for the passengers, which would provide the necessities of life or a change of pace to prevent boredom or depression caused by long confinement on the ship. The first two days after their departure from the island of Enclep, he had been occupied seeing to the inventorying and storage of the supplies purchased there. The following day, he had to arrange for the priests onboard and Dr. Kelloran to deal with a fungus infection that had broken out among many passengers and crew. The day after that had been washing day, which always kept him busy. It had ended with the death of Miss Kilmurray and the summary execution of Mr. Murty by Master Terrence. Zeah would have liked to have seen Murty tried for his crimes, but he was as loud in his laudation for Master Terrence as anyone else on the ship. His daughter could have easily have been Murty’s next target, or Miss Lusk. The following day, Zeah had organized a memorial service for Miss Kilmurray. Two days after that, when Lieutenant Staff had completed his investigation, Murty’s body, which had been kept on ice, was dumped unceremoniously over the side.

It was surprising to Zeah, who had expected that there would be a somber mood among the passengers following the memorial, but the atmosphere on the Minotaur actually seemed to lighten. There had been a cloud hanging over the lives of everyone onboard since the murder of Miss Astley, though most had not realized at the time that the murder was one of a series. Now with the murderer dead, people were much freer with their smiles, their attitudes, and their actions. Zeah had originally planned a series of games and activities to slowly raise people’s spirits, but had changed his plans and instead scheduled a dance. It took place the evening of Pentuary ninth, ten days after leaving Enclep.

The danced proved to be a great success and everyone who was there seemed to have a wonderful time. Miss Dechantagne surprised everyone by attending. She wore a beautiful royal blue evening gown with large balloon sleeves and a white satin belt with embroidered blue and silver silk flowers. She had a bouquet of fresh flowers at her waist and atop her curled auburn hair. And the bare expanse of her shoulders and the choker of pearls she wore made her long, thin neck look even more so.

Everyone admired Miss Dechantagne’s beauty, but Zeah found Miss Lusk’s charms even richer. She had arrived in a buttercup yellow gown with butterfly sleeves. The skirt had little pleated waves of fabric falling straight on the sides, and was trimmed with vines of embroidery in gold and beads extending down each side of the front. It was ornamented on one side with a velvet panel, and on the other with two large velvet bows.

Zeah had not yet spoken to either of the two women when Master Augie arrived with Dr. Kelloran. Lieutenant Dechantagne was dressed in a fine cutaway coat, which exposed a red waistcoat embroidered with a dragon motif. He had a new grey felt derby, which he must have purchased just before leaving Brech, with a red carnation in the band. Dr. Kelloran’s Thiss-green silk gown might not have stood out as much as those of yellow or royal blue, but it was equally fine in an understated way. Decorated with beads of jade and tiger-eye, it was wonderfully offset by her long white suede gloves.

Every passenger attending, especially the women, came in their finest clothes. It seemed less like a simple dance staged rather quickly aboard a crowded naval ship than the social event of the season. More than a few officers and sailors attended as well, and all of them wore their dress-whites. Notably absent was Lieutenant Staff, who was on duty that evening. Master Terrence was not in attendance either. Zeah thought that this was a shame, as seventy-four unmarried women, and more than a few who were married, all seemed to be looking for him.