The sun was low in the sky over Bangdorf, igniting gold fire on the spires of the Kaiserlicher Palast and the tall, thin, single tower of the Kirche Unserer Heiligen Mutter. The red and white roofs of the many other buildings were less striking but no less beautiful. Senta Bly pulled a wayward blond curl back behind her ear as she stared out the large window on the twelfth floor of the Kanalgeschäfts Hotel, as she often did at this time of day. She had been in Bangdorf for a fortnight after six months of touring much of Sumir. She thought Bangdorf was the most beautiful city that she had ever seen. Smaller than Brech and much newer, it was laid out with wide streets and broad, lush parks. If it had been anywhere else in the world, she could have seen herself staying there.
She swiftly turned and walked down the hallway to the door of the Imperial suite and opening it, stepped inside. The large parlor was empty, so she continued on into the master bedroom. Reclining on the bed, wearing nothing but his slacks and a white undershirt, was her companion Kieran Baxter. Retrieving a lit cigarette from the ashtray on the nightstand, he took a long drag and blew out a thick stream of smoke.
“Dress shopping again?” he asked.
“Yes.” She spun around. “Does this dress make my bottom look big?”
“Good. This is the latest thing in lady’s undergarments. It’s called a table-top bustle.”
“I can see why.” He took a last puff from the cigarette, before mashing it into the ashtray. “I could lay out a seven course meal on your ass.”
“Don’t say ‘ass’,” Senta hissed. “It’s uncouth.”
Baxter shrugged, then spun his legs off the bed and sat up. He cared little for ladies’ fashions. Senta on the other hand, spent a great deal of time shopping. This particular dress, newly in from Mirsanna, had a high collar in front, though it was cut low in the back. Gold, trimmed with black brocade, it had puffs of black lace at the wrists.
“Are we going out tonight?” asked Baxter.
“Of course. We only have four more days.”
“I’d better get dressed then, hadn’t I?”
A sudden loud “gawp” could be heard through the side door. Senta quickly crossed the room and opened the door to reveal a large closet. Curled up into a neat circle, just inside the door, was a dragon. No bigger than a medium sized dog, the beast was covered with coral tinted metallic scales. Its long thin snout was resting on its forearms. Its long whip-like tail, tipped with a spade-shaped barb, was wrapped around its body.
“Poor baby,” said Senta, leaning down and reaching out a hand to the little coral dragon. “Did the bad man lock you up in the closet all day?”
A thin forked tongue quickly licked the woman’s fingers, and then suddenly the mouth full of needle sharp teeth bit down upon the fleshy part of her hand.
“Ouch! You horrible little twonk!”
“You shouldn’t say ‘twonk’,” said Baxter dryly. “It’s uncouth. And that’s why she’s been locked up all day.”
“She hasn’t been out in forever,” said Senta, pausing to lick the blood off her hand. “She has so much pent up energy.”
“Come along, Pet,” she said, scooping up the dragon into her arms.
The little beast allowed itself to be cuddled for just a moment before slithering up her sleeve and taking a spot on her shoulder. The sorceress crossed the room and opened the doors to the balcony.
“Go on,” said Senta. “Fly, but be back by morning.”
The little dragon shot into the sky with so much force, it sent her staggering backwards several steps. Once inside again, she shut the doors. Baxter was now in the closet putting on a newly starched white shirt. Senta walked up behind him and snaked her arms around his waist.
“You do look handsome when you get dressed up.”
“Thank you.” He unfastened his pants and tucked in the shirttail. “I worry about letting her out. We’ve already had two shooting attempts. It seems careless to chance a third.”
“Yes, but both of those times they were trying to shoot me,” Senta pointed out. “I doubt anyone will even notice her and I don’t think a bullet would permanently harm her anyway. I’m much more concerned about her growth. By this age, Bessemer was nearly the size of a pony.”
“Maybe the females are just smaller, or maybe her kind of dragon doesn’t grow as big.”
“Maybe, maybe. That’s why I’ve decided to spend tomorrow at the library.”
“I thought we were taking the river cruise tomorrow.” He turned around so that she could tie the bowtie he had just wrapped around his neck.
“You can still go.”
“I doubt you’ll suffer from a lack of female companionship.”
“You wouldn’t mind?” he asked. “If I were to take the cruise with a lovely Freedonian girl?”
“As long as I don’t see you, you’ll both probably survive,” said Senta. “Just remember, the women here are desperate for you lot.”
“And whose fault is that?”
“It’s not mine,” said Senta. “Everybody seems to forget that. I had nothing to do with that bit. Now put your jacket on and let’s go.”
“Don’t you want to see the baby?” he asked.
“Yes, of course.”
Baxter put on his jacket as he crossed room, stepped out into the parlor, and opened the nursery door. Senta followed.
“Bringen sie das kind ins wohnzimmer, bitte fraulein.”
Two women stepped out into the parlor. Both were quite young. The first was a dark-haired beauty with flashing eyes, dressed in a simple black and brown dress. The other, who carried a sleeping baby wrapped in pink blankets, was blond and blue-eyed, with a colorful floral-patterned dress.
“She looks just precious when she’s asleep, doesn’t she?” said Senta, as she took the child from the other blonde.
“She is precious,” said Baxter. “You should spend more time with her.”