The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 14 Excerpt

After dinner both women changed into khaki jungle outfits. These, though they resembled the men’s in color and sturdiness of the material, were still primarily feminine attire with long skirts cut large enough for an appropriate bustle. Iolanthe also belted on a holster with a .45 caliber revolver. Yuah had never used a firearm before and thought that if she had taken one, it would be more likely that she would discharge it into her own foot than into any threat. They didn’t need to go back topside. The external hatch on deck six opened onto the middle of the temporary staircase, which had been erected on the side of the ship. Here a launch was awaiting them, the sailors who had just come from the shore having been replaced with a fresh group of rowers. Also waiting in the boat was Wizard Suvir Kesi.

“Good afternoon, ladies.” His accented voice seemed naturally oily. “Do you mind if I accompany you today?”

“Not at all,” said Iolanthe. “In fact, this is my first trip ashore and I think Yuah would welcome the company of a magic user as much as I would. Have you been ashore already?”

“Yes,” he said. “I was with Captain Dechantagne this morning as he chased the dinosaurs off the promontory. I made a small contribution myself, and so I had to return to my cabin to replenish my spells. I am once again fully prepared now.”

The sailors pushed the launch away from the side of the ship and began rowing across the relatively calm water of the bay. Several hundred yards away, Iolanthe could see the smooth back of some enormous reptile sliding through the water as the beast cut the surface to take a breath.

“Not to worry, Miss Dechantagne,” said Kesi. “That’s not one of the big mouthed fellows. That is what Professor Calliere described to me as a plesiosaur. They have large bodies, but small heads suitable for eating only small fish.”

“I wasn’t worried,” said Iolanthe.

“I bloody was,” said Yuah.

As she said this a fish, a monstrous fish the size of a steam carriage, leapt completely out of the water and fell back with a splash thirty feet from the launch.

“On the other hand,” said Kesi. “I’m pretty sure whatever was chasing that little minnow has quite a large mouth.”

It became increasingly difficult to talk as they neared the shore because of the sound of steam engines and power saws. The boat reached the shore and two of the sailors jumped out to secure it to the land. All of the sailors were then ordered to wait as the two women and Kesi met two waiting riflemen. It felt remarkably good to walk on dry land. Dozens of men were working nearby, chopping logs into segments, pulling them to the massive power saw, and slicing them into boards. A large swath of the once beautiful forest had become a wide muddy path, and it was expanding.

“If we had arrived any later, there wouldn’t be any trees at all to save,” said Iolanthe. “Ribbon, Yuah?”

Yuah handed her a roll of inch wide red ribbon. Iolanthe started into the woods, working her way up the slope of the land and to the left of where the workmen were. The dressing maid and the wizard followed. After several dozen steps, she came to a particularly majestic redwood. It was about twelve feet in diameter, not the largest tree, but symmetrical and tall. Iolanthe handed the end of the ribbon to Yuah, and then circumnavigated the tree, letting the ribbon unroll off the spool as she went until she returned to the starting spot. Then she took the end from Yuah and tied the ribbon into a neat bow. The red band at eye level would serve as a note to the woodcutters that this tree was to be left undisturbed. The sound of the power saw continued in the background, only occasionally stopping as men adjusted the controls for the types of boards to be cut.

“That’s a nice tree,” said Kesi. “But why this one. There are plenty that are just as nice.”

“This one is going to give shade to the port office, which will be right over there,” explained Iolanthe.

“Do you have the entire city planned out in your head?”

“Of course not. I have a rough idea about the port. Of course everything can be adjusted as needs be.”

She continued up the slope followed by Yuah and Kesi, marking one tree in fifty to be saved as she went. When they reached the top of the promontory and the clearing, they could see the men working on the wall several hundred yards away. Calling the structure a wall was doing it a great disservice. It was a fortification, six feet thick, with an outer wall thirty-five feet tall and an inner wall twenty feet tall, and a walkway between them built atop the inner wall. Though they couldn’t be seen from this angle, two lines of sharpened stakes pointed outward, one at fifteen feet in height and the other at thirty. The spikes were spaced four feet apart.

“Your bother’s design is impressive,” said Kesi.

“I see now why all the trees are going to be gone,” said Yuah.

“The trees around here will be cut,” said Iolanthe. “But remember, we’re sitting on the edge of a forest a thousand miles across. There will be no shortage of lumber.”

Walking the length of the peninsula and tagging each of more than one hundred trees while doing so used the remainder of their afternoon and the remainder of their ribbon as well. Several times Iolanthe noticed Wizard Kesi speaking in low tones to Yuah. When at last she was ready to return to the ship, Iolanthe called the other two to follow her back to the shore.

“If you don’t mind ladies,” said Kesi. “I’m going to stay here and do a little bit of exploring.”

“Do be careful,” said Yuah.

“Don’t worry,” he replied. “I have no intention of becoming a meal for one of the local monstrosities.”

The two women were dutifully rowed back to the Minotaur without incident and they made their way up to the deck.

“I noticed that Suvir Kesi spoke quite a bit to you while we were over there,” said Iolanthe.

“Yes, Miss.”

“May I ask what he is plotting?”

“He was wondering if he could call on me.”

“Really? Can he?”

“I don’t know how I feel about him,” said Yuah. “Him being a foreigner, and all.”

“Yes, foreigner.” Iolanthe nodded in understanding.

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