“He didn’t do anything. He just sat there and watched me. After a while, all the lizzies got up and they began carrying offerings up to him—big pieces of meat mostly.”
“What a remarkable experience that must have been,” marveled Mrs. Kane.
“It’s disturbing, that’s what it is,” said Staff. “Who is in charge here? Is it the dragon? Is it the Great King? Is it the Freedonians?”
“Does it really matter?” asked Mr. Vever. “It doesn’t seem as if any of them want to do business with us. If the King isn’t the problem, then it’s the power behind the throne. Whether the power behind the throne is this dragon, or the Freedonians, or someone else, it’s clear they are not on our side. What difference does it make?”
“You’re right of course,” said Staff. “It may not make any difference for the possibility of trade. On the other hand, it might make a great deal of difference for our survival and the long term survival of Port Dechantagne.”
“I was with Zeah Korlann just after he spoke to this dragon,” said Bratihn. “I’ll admit that I didn’t fully believe him about it, but it’s obvious now he was telling the truth. The dragon questioned him and was concerned about humans invading his territory. If he’s the real power, he might not be any more keen on having the Freedonians here than us. Perhaps there’s room for negotiations there.”
“The King may feel the same way. The Freedonians might have seemed like a good idea to him when Zurfina destroyed Suusthek, but now that they’re here, he might not feel the same.”
“On the other hand, he might like them,” said Manring. “He seemed to enjoy his machine gun. I know I would.”
“And we know what Klaus II wants,” said Wissinger. “We’ve watched him going after it for the last twenty years. He and the Reine Zauberei want to rule the world.”
“We need a new strategy. Brown and the Kanes will join Bratihn and Vever in trade negotiations. I know they won’t bear fruit, but it’s the only real contact we have with the government of Tsahloose. Wissinger you’ll join too. I know you’re not a lawyer, but you can try to keep us out of any diplomatic gaffs. Croffet and Werthimer, you two stay on them like paste. If there’s trouble, you take charge.
“Senta and I are going to take Buttermore with us, along with Manring. We’ll visit the Freedonians.”
The discussion ended as the troop of lizzie servants delivered food once again. This time they brought small birds, cleaned and dressed, and no bigger than Senta’s fist. Manring once again proved his culinary prowess by roasting the little creatures using his bag of seasoning. There were also sweet potatoes, which had been cooked prior to delivery, grapes, pears, small green apples, blackberries, carrots, and radishes. Everyone felt quite satisfied long before the quantity of food provided had been exhausted. Then they once again retired to their sleeping chambers for the night.
Senta, who had taken a bath upon her return from the great plaza earlier in the day, took another. The rectangular tub was just over seven feet long and five feet wide, which by human standards made it quite spacious. Its depth however was what made it remarkable. Though she was an even six feet tall, Senta could not touch the bottom even on her tip-toes, without dunking her head. Four square stone spouts provided a continuous flow of water into the tub, which spilled over the top and ran down to a drain cut with four long grooves from a one foot square piece of stone.
After the bath, Senta returned to her room dressed in her large fluffy housecoat. She sat down on her sleeping mat and thought about opening Matter and the Elements once more, but just couldn’t face it. Instead she reached into her bag and pulled out a well-worn copy of Intruder by Anarosa Freedman. It was a relatively easy matter to find the racy parts, as the corners of the pages had become dog-eared with rereading.
“Well, what are we priming ourselves up for?” asked Mrs. Kane, when she entered a few minutes later.
“Just reading a bit.”
“So I see. You’ve had an exciting day.” Mrs. Kane sat down cross-legged next to Senta. “You know I’ve always thought that you were a remarkable young woman,” she said, placing her hand on Senta’s shoulder.
“I’ve thought that you might be someone I would like to get to know better.”
“My husband and I have an agreement. He’s free to pursue other women, as am I.”
“As you are what?”
“Free to pursue other women.”
Senta stared uncomprehending for a moment. Then recognition kicked her in the side of the head just above the ear.
“Now don’t be that way,” said Mrs. Kane. “The love between two women can be a beautiful thing.”
“I’ve got all the loving women that I need,” said Senta. “What’s more, I have a loving man.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, dear. You don’t really need one of those.”
“There we must agree to disagree.” Senta lifted the woman’s hand from her shoulder and set it aside.
“Pity,” said Mrs. Kane, moving to her own sleeping mat. “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
“Yes, I’m sure I could navigate thirty-three inches if needed.”