The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Senta looked through the glass of the small clear bottle at the milky green liquid inside. She swirled it around. It was just thick enough that the potion coated the inside of the glass.

“So if I drink this, I’ll be beautiful?” she wondered.

“I would be most surprised,” said Zurfina the Magnificent, who was lying naked across the divan. “You haven’t done it properly. It’s supposed to be a lovely forest green—not a putrid olive.”

“I used all the right ingredients and I put them in, in the right order.”

“But you didn’t maintain the necessary aura.”

“Aura? Kafira’s fanny! I didn’t need to worry about the aura when I was making happiness potion.”

“Trained lizzies could mix blessudine. It’s the easiest potion to make. Hermosatin is twice as difficult, amorazine more difficult than that, and dionoserin more difficult still.”

“Alright,” huffed Senta. “In exactly which part did I let my aura drop?”

“The rose petals.”

“Well, I can’t do it again. I don’t have any more rose petals. Why do you need rose petals anyway? I can understand cucumbers. Cucumbers are vegetables and vegetables are supposed to be good for you. I’ve never heard roses were good for you. I don’t even think you’re supposed to eat them.”

“Do you want to be a sorceress or a chemist?” said Zurfina, sitting up. “Do you think this is a science experiment? Cucumber is essential, but not because it’s good for you. It represents a man.”

“A man?”

“A specific part of a man anyway.”

“His todger?” asked Senta, incredulously.

“Yes, of course. And the rose petals represent the woman.”

“Her fanny? His todger and her fanny? And I’m supposed to drink this?”

“Relax,” said Zurfina, rising to her feet. “It’s not like it has the real bits in it. They are just representatives. That’s what magic is about. Dionoserin doesn’t have walnuts because they have any real connection to your brain. They just sort of look like a brain when you take them out of their shell.”

“I’ve had enough for today.”

“Yes, so have I,” said Zurfina, heading for the staircase. “Your ineptitude has completely worn me out. I’m going to take my beauty sleep. You should read your primer. You’ve been neglecting your studies.”

“What will happen if I drink this?” asked Senta, holding up the small bottle.

“It might be interesting to find out,” said her mistress, stopping on the first step to watch. “Go ahead and drink it.”

The girl tilted the bottle to her lips and swallowed the contents down. She licked her lips and waited, but nothing seemed to happen.

“It tastes alright,” she said.

“That’s the spearmint.”

“What does it represent?”

“It doesn’t represent anything,” said Zurfina, ascending the stairs. “It just makes it taste good.”

Senta followed Zurfina up the stairs, but stopped at her own room as the sorceress continued on. Going to the bookcase, she pulled out primer number six. She plopped herself onto her bed and began reading about the classification of animals. The people who had put the book together had obviously never been to Birmisia. They had the animals of the world divided into nice neat categories— invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The deinonychus and velociraptors that wandered around the edges of Port Dechantagne had feathers, so they must be birds. Yet they seemed to have much more in common with the iguanodons that had moved south into the forest. They were reptiles, weren’t they? Senta decided to think more on the topic at a later time. She was running around in her unders and right now she was starting to feel the cold creep in around her. She went to the cast iron stove and tossed a few more logs in. The firebox on this floor was almost empty and it was her job to keep it full. One of these days Zurfina would teach her a spell for filling the firebox, or at least for carrying big piles of wood easily up the stairs.

She went to the window and peered out. The sun was going down and it was all grey and white amid the trees. The wind whistled on the other side of the thin pane of glass. Five days earlier the storm had rolled in from the north and it hadn’t let up since. She hadn’t been outside in that whole time and no one had come to visit her either. Senta resolved to go visiting on the morrow regardless of the weather. She opened the primer again, but ten minutes passed without her reading another word.

She heard the front door a level below open and slam shut. It never occurred to her that someone would enter who had no business being there. This was Zurfina the Magnificent’s home and such an action would have been more than reckless– it would have been suicidal. She turned her head toward the stairway and watched until the graceful form of the steel dragon danced over the top step.

“Pet,” said Bessemer.

“Come here and warm me up,” Senta commanded.

The dragon’s long, lithe body crossed the room in two quick steps and hopped onto the bed with her. A moment later his body was on top of hers, his neck was wrapped around hers, with his head resting on her chest, and his long tail was wrapped around her right leg. His scaly skin felt hard and smooth, but he was exceptionally warm. It was like having a big scaly hot water bottle.

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