The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 12 Excerpt

The long line of suffragettes marched almost in step, north from Number 14, Crown Street, around St. Admeta Park, and then west on Avenue Royal to a final rally in front of Sinceree Palace. For the most part, they wore frilly white day dresses, almost all without a bustle, and each had a green and yellow sash slung from their right shoulders to their left hips imprinted with “Votes for Women.”

King Tybalt III of Greater Brechalon and Freedonia peeked out the window from behind the curtains. His two sons were in the room behind him, Crown Prince Tybalt leaning on the empty fireplace, a glass of wine in his hand, and Prince Clitus sitting in a chair sipping from a cup of tea.

“What do these women want?” wondered the King.

“That would be the vote, Father,” said the Crown Prince.

“Why can’t they understand that the vote is for families? A man votes not only for himself, but for his wife and children too.”

“By that logic, Father,” said Tybalt, “ widows at least, should have the vote for them and their children.”

“Here, here,” said his younger brother.

“You think women should have the vote?” the King demanded of his eldest.

“Why would I possibly care? It’s not like anyone votes for King. Let Parliament worry about who votes and who doesn’t. I was simply saying that your argument against women’s suffrage wasn’t logical.”

“Well I’m all for giving women the vote,” said Clitus. “What’s more, I’m going out there and show them my support.”

“You will not,” said the King.

“I shall.” The Prince looked to the doorway. “Bob!”

Bob leaned into the room. “Your Highness?”

“See if you can get me one of those sashes.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“I forbid you to go out among those crazed females,” said the King, sternly. “You’ve only just recovered from a very foolish escapade into a burning building.”

“That was ages ago and I’m fine. Besides, those women hardly seem like a dangerous mob. If anything, they could teach our soldiers a bit about marching in parade.”

Bob arrived in a remarkably short time with a copy of the green and yellow sash. Prince Clitus carefully draped it over his white naval uniform.

“I’m going out, Father, and I think you should both come with me.”

“I’m going to take a nap,” said Prince Tybalt, setting his wineglass on the mantle and striding out.

Clitus turned and exited the room too, marching down the long corridor to the main staircase. Bob, Stigby the police officer, and Wizard Bassington all fell into formation behind him. Skipping down the steps, he burst out the front door. Two uniformed marine guards fell in behind him. The sounds of women shouting through megaphones slowly died away as he made his way to the great gate, until it was deathly silent as he signaled for the gate to be opened. Then he stepped through.

As he waded into the crowd of women, hands reached out to touch him on his shoulder or arm. One tousled his hair and a few became familiar enough that Stigby barked “Now, now, ladies!” The silence died away as female voices called out “The Prince is with us!” and “He’s our sash on!” and finally “We knew you were all right, Your Highness!” Clitus stepped up onto a soapbox, replacing one of the speakers, who gave over her megaphone. He brought the cone-shaped speaking device to his mouth, but before he could say a word, someone in the crowd shouted.

“The King! The King!”

Several women pointed. Clitus turned and looked, as did the rest of the crowd. There upon the second floor balcony, a yellow and green sash across his chest, and what his son recognized as a forced smile on his face, waving, was the king. Shouts of “The King is with us!” and “The King is a suffragist!” gradually coalesced into several choruses of God Save the King.

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 16 Excerpt

“Are you going to kick me out again at teatime?” asked Baxter, folding his arms and looking down at Senta.

She was reclining across a Mirsannan divan. She wore a long, flowing silk gown that completely covered her charms, though on the wall directly above her was a photograph of her and her mother reclining on the same piece of furniture—both nude. She reached up to rub her long, exposed neck. Then she ran her hand over her head, her blond tresses about the same length as his own red hair.

“Of course not,” she smiled. “I want you to be here. These girls today are my oldest and dearest friends and they’ll want to see you. Afterwards you can run along so that they can all tell me how jealous they are.”

“What about yesterday?”

“That was different. It was more of an obligation. I know that Graham’s sister will see me with you sooner or later, but I didn’t want to throw it in her face the moment I got back.”

“It’s been a long time,” he said. “He’s been gone a long time.”

“Almost four years, but when I see Gaylene, it’s like it was yesterday. Not like now—now it feels like it was eons ago. It’s a kind of magic, you know.”

“So I’m invited?”

“You’re more than invited. How did they say it when you were in the navy? You’re requested and required. You can skip out tomorrow if you like. The same girls will be back again, along with some others. But you have to be here the day after. The governor and her family are coming.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. You’re living in sin with a very important mucky-muck.”

“Should I dress?” he asked.

“We always dress for tea in this house—unless we don’t.”

He stared at her for a moment, and then shrugged his shoulders and left the room. Senta knew he was going upstairs to dress. He had been given over for his own use one of the thirty rooms in the three-story mansion, but he had spent both nights in Senta’s bed. Looking up at the clock, she decided that she should dress too.

Climbing the stairs still causes a pain in her chest where she had been shot, but it was the only time now that she thought about it. At the top of the sweeping staircase, she waved her hand, magically summoning her lizzie dressing maid. The deep olive reptilian appeared from a room at the end of the hall and met her as she stepped into her boudoir.

One of only three servants in the house as of yet, Aggie was new. Cheery the butler, and Thonass the maid had worked for Senta for years and had taken care of the house while she was away. Thonass had given Aggie the recommendation. They were from the same family—or what passed for family among the lizzies.

“Something pretty today,” she told the reptilian. “Bring me my yellow and white striped day dress.”

“Yess.”

The dress was a traditional one. Cut for a medium-sized bustle, the skirt was vertically lined with broad yellow and white stripes while the bodice was a solid yellow with puffy frills of lace around the high neck and at the end of each long sleeve. She topped off the ensemble with yellow emeralds dangling from her pierced ears. She slipped a ring on her right hand that featured a yellow garnet. It was practically worthless, but she had purchased it in Bangdorf because she thought it was pretty.

“Nice,” said the dressing maid.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” said Baxter, stepping into the room. He was sharp in his grey suit. He was always sharp.

“Thank you, kind sir,” she said with a curtsey. “Shall we go down?”

Suddenly the baby began fussing from her crib in the next room.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” said Baxter, following her cries.

“Hmm,” she murmured, observing him. Then she turned to the dressing maid. “I’m going down to set up. Tell Thonass to find me.”

In the dining room, Senta found the table set with the everyday china, but the food for the afternoon tea filled several wooden crates stacked nearby. Having no one to cook and no one really to serve, she had ordered the tea catered from Café Etta.

“Uuthanum,” she said and the food began flying out of the crates, soaring around the room, and landing on the appropriate plates and serving platters. A spice cake was coming into a landing in the center of the table with Thonass stepped into the room.

“Take this envelope,” said Senta, retrieving the stated item from the lamp table along the wall. “Deliver it to the employment agency at the Department of Lizzie Affairs. It is a list of the other servants I shall need.”

“Yess,” said the lizzie.

As Thonass was going out, Cheery was coming in.

“Guests,” he said.

“Bring them on into the dining room please.”

The reptilian stepped out and came back a few seconds later leading three young women.

“Senta!” squealed Hero Markham, rushing forward and wrapping her arms around the sorceress’s waist. “I’ve missed you so much! Look at your hair. You look like a boy.”

“Well it’s good to be appreciated. You look wonderful. How’s the baby?”

“Brilliant.”

“She’s beautiful too,” said Gabrielle Bassett from behind Hero. She looks just like her mother.

Taller than Hero, though still shorter than Senta, Gabrielle was radiantly beautiful with sparkling blue eyes and ash brown hair. Behind her stood the third young woman. Dutty Morris was attractive but not pretty. Though her widely spaced eyes gave her a kind of blank expression, she was witty and kind.

“Hello, Gabby,” said Senta, disentangling herself from Hero and giving the other two girls quick kisses on the cheek. “Hi Dutty. Thanks for coming yesterday.”

“It was my pleasure,” said Dutty. “And I didn’t give away any of your secrets either.”

“What secrets?” asked Gabby and Hero at the same time.

“Let’s sit down,” said Senta. “I don’t want the food to go bad. I didn’t expect the weather to be this warm.”

The four women took seats on either side of the table. Neither Gabby nor Dutty gave any sign that they had noticed them, but Hero kept looking toward a fifth place setting at the table’s head, next to which sat a high chair.

“So why did she get invited yesterday?” asked Gabby, pointing at Dutty. “Hero’s your oldest friend, and I’m a much better conversationalist than this one.”

“I will concede both those points,” said Senta. “But I had tea with Gaylene and she and Dutty are about as close as you can get.”

“I’ve think I’ve just been insulted,” said Dutty.

“You have been, twice,” said Gabby. “So you wanted her here because Gaylene hates you?”

“She doesn’t hate her,” said Dutty “It’s just a complicated relationship.”

“You see?” said Senta. “She’s like the minister of state.”

“Never mind that,” said Hero, pointing to the empty seat. “What’s this then?”

“She has a man,” said Dutty, and then slapped her hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it. I haven’t seen him though, but I did smell his aftershave on her yesterday.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 11 Excerpt

Sen stopped on the threshold and thought about whether she should knock or just go in. Such considerations were ended when the lizzie, Cheery, opened the door for her. The reptilian towered over her, no matter how he attempted to hunker down.

“Is my mother home?” she asked.

He pointed back and up. “Stairsss.”

The eleven-year-old nodded and stepped past him, walking through the parlor and up the stairs. When she reached the top, she turned down the hallway and walked to the door of her mother’s bedroom. She opened it, stepped inside, and closed the door after her.

Her mother lay sprawled naked across her bed, face down, with her head hanging over the edge. The image put one in mind of a murder scene, or it would have without the loud snoring. The girl stepped over, bent down, and looked at the top of the blond head. At first, she saw nothing, so she carefully lifted back the hair that fell around the elder Senta’s face. The snoring stopped, but she waited a moment and it resumed. Now she could see it, an ugly scar that ran laterally across her mother’s skull, about an inch and a half behind her hairline.

Letting the hair fall back, Sen walked across the room and sat in the chair against the wall. She pulled her feet up to her bottom, wrapped her arms around her legs, and rested her chin on her knees. She sat there for about fifteen minutes, until she suddenly realized the snoring had stopped.

“So you’ve decided to grace me with your presence after all.”

“Yes.”

The senior Senta rolled over and sat up.

“I think I’m going to vomit.” And then she did, all over the floor.

“Kafira’s maiden aunt! How much wine did you drink?”

“That is not your business, you little bint.”

“Fine,” said Sen, getting to her feet.

“Wait! I’m sorry. It’s not me talking. It’s the demons that are pounding on my brain with sledge hammers.”

“Uuthanum,” said Sen, pointing to the mess on the floor, which magically disappeared, leaving the wooden slats as though they had never been soiled. “Do you have a healing draught?”

“Here in my nightstand.”

“Take it. Then take a bath. I’ll be waiting downstairs.”

It was almost an hour before Senta finally made it to the parlor. She was dressed in black leather pants and a gauzy blouse, with a leather corset over it. She was barefoot, but a pair of black leather boots floated along in the air behind her.   She plopped down onto the sofa. Her daughter, seated in the plush chair just across, watched her with one raised brow.

“You’re drinking too much.”

“What do you know about it? You’re eight years old.”

“I’m eleven, and you know it.” The girl crossed her arms over her chest. “So how much of it is real?”

“How much of what?” asked her mother.

“You being a twat. How much is real and how much is you just acting like Zurfina because you’re now,” she made air quotes, “the sorceress?”

Senta’s lips formed a sneer for a few seconds. Then she stopped and pondered the question. “I guess about fifty percent.”

“Interesting,” said Sen. “So, I’m here.”

“Indeed you are.”

Her mother pulled on her boots, and then got up, walked over to just in front of her daughter, and looked into her eyes.

“Repeat after me: Maiius Uuthanum.”

“Maiius Uuthanum.”

“Yes, you’re a natural. Now let’s go out into the garden and see what kind of beast you can summon.”

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 15 Excerpt

Chief Inspector Saba Colbshallow sat down for breakfast. He looked first to his left at his mother and then to his right at his daughter.

“And where’s the lady of the house?” he asked.

“Mummy says she doesn’t feel good,” said DeeDee. “She’s going to stay in bed today.”

Saba clucked his teeth in annoyance as Risty scooped scrambled eggs with diced peppers and onions onto his plate next to the sausages.

“I’m sure she has a good reason,” offered his mother.

“I’m sure.”

“She’s been having a rough time lately.”

“No doubt.”

“I don’t like onions in my eggs,” said DeeDee.

“Yes you do,” said her father. “Look at me. I’m eating them. Eat some and then Risty will get you a crumpet.”

“Maybe she’s out of sorts because she’s expecting,” said Mrs. Colbshallow.

“And here I thought Kafira was the only Immaculate Conception,” he muttered. He took another bite and ignored his mother’s scandalized look.

The only other bit of breakfast conversation was when DeeDee demanded strawberry jam with her crumpet. When they were done, Saba helped his daughter fasten on her shoes and then her bonnet.

“Come along girl. Your tutor is awaiting.”

“Maybe you should go up and kiss your wife goodbye,” said his mother.

“I’m sure she’s very busy with the second coming and all,” he said, and guided DeeDee out the front door.

They walked across the street to the Dechantagne Staff estate, where the lizzie doorman let them enter. Mrs. Dechantagne was alone in the parlor.

“Hello Saba,” she said, getting to her feet.

“Please don’t get up, Mrs. D.”

“Oh please don’t call me that.” She sat the book that she had been reading down and stepped over to him. “You’ve known me all your life, we lived in the same house for years, and don’t forget you were my husband’s best man at my wedding.”

“I was just a witness, and I haven’t forgotten a single moment.”

“You’re so sweet,” she smiled. “What can I do for you today.”

“DeeDee’s going to start on with Iolana.”

“You’re early. They usually don’t start until 11:00.”

“Yes, well I was wondering if I could leave her early. Her mother’s not feeling well.”

“Of course. I’ll take her upstairs and she can play with Terra. That girl could use some human companionship.”

“If you’re sure it’s not an inconvenience…”

“None at all. But you have to do me a favor first.”

“What?” he asked.

“You must address me properly.”

“As you wish… Yuah.” He blushed furiously.

“See, that didn’t hurt,” she said as she took DeeDee’s hand.

“Be a good girl,” Saba told his daughter.

“I will.”

Back outside, he crossed over to his own yard, but didn’t go into the house. He climbed into the steam carriage that the lizzies had already rolled from the machine shed and fired up. Putting it in gear, he pulled out onto the street and headed for downtown.

He arrived at the five-story police station five minutes later than his usual time. He had parked the car and quickly made his way up the walk when he almost collided with Eamon Shrubb, who was on his way out. He was dressed not in his police uniform, but in a grey suit not too different from the one that Saba wore, with the exception that Eamon had a turquoise utahraptor feather stuck in the hatband of his bowler.

“What’s this then?” asked Saba, waving at the other man’s clothes. “Finally got canned?”

“Quite the reverse, actually,” said Eamon.

“What’s the reverse of canned? You can’t have just got hired. You already work here.”

Eamon reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a wallet, flipping it open to reveal a police inspector’s badge.

“Well, somebody has clearly cocked up,” said Saba.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Not me. It’s Mayor Luebking. He’s got it in his mind that you’ve done some decent police work, and I can’t seem to disabuse him of the notion. The man’s going to run this town into the ground, I can tell you. Well, no help for that. Come upstairs with me and we’ll run through the open investigations.”

“Um, I’ll be back in a bit. I have to go show Dot my new badge.”

“Oh leave the poor girl alone. You’re going to knock her up again.”

“Too late,” said Eamon with a grin.

“Bloody Kafira. You’re like some kind of animal.” Saba shook his head. “All right. Go show her your badge, if that’s what you’re calling it these days. Be back in an hour. We really do have work to do.”

Taking the elevator up to his office, Saba pulled all the relevant files from the cabinet and began reading over them. There were quite a few unsolved cases, though that was not uncommon anywhere in the Brech Empire. The purpose of the police department was to keep order. Solving crimes was secondary. Besides, Birmisia Colony only had three police inspectors, himself included—four now that Eamon was on board. There were four unsolved murders, as well as the killing of a lizzie, which was considered a lesser crime. There were several dozen burglaries, a few robberies, an arson, and of course the bombing of the shipyard. Saba was so involved, that he hardly noticed when Eamon stepped into his office.

“That didn’t take long.”

“Dot’s sister was there—lucky for me. You know how she gets when she’s preggers.”

“Hmm.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Yuah didn’t eat at the family dining table on any of the following four days either. It wasn’t because the dragon was there. In fact she wasn’t. Neither was Augie, and Yuah didn’t know if Iolanthe was or not. In any case, she certainly had no desire to eat alone or to eat alone with her sister-in-law. She took her meals in her room. She hadn’t gone anywhere during the day either, spending the mornings in the garden and the afternoons in the parlor or the library. She wasn’t brooding, she told herself. At last though, she could take the solitude no more.

Waking up early, Yuah decided that today would be a fine day to order a new dress. Opening up her closet however revealed that there was not an inch of room for such an addition. She immediately began pulling dresses out and tossing them into a big pile. Once she had taken out all the clothing that she would no longer have worn, she had a mountain some three feet tall in the center of her room. From the remaining collection, she chose a black dress with a red satin mock coat and a frilly bodice. It was far more traditional than she usually wore, but she remembered having appreciated how it had looked the one time she had worn it. Narsa, the lizzie dressing maid, helped her get into it, after she had donned the numerous undergarments required by Brech fashion.

“Get one of the males to take this out to the car,” Yuah told her, indicating the pile of dresses.

“Yesss.”

She went downstairs and notified the cook that she would not be home for luncheon. The lizzie did convince her to have a crumpet and a cup of tea before going out. She took them with her to sit in the enclosed back porch, where she found Walworth Partridge cleaning his pistol. Walworth, a tall and handsome man of twenty-eight, had been working for the Dechantagnes since he was a teenager, employed as a driver, bodyguard, and general problem solver.

“Good morning, Mrs. D. Going out?”

“Yes, and I would appreciate it if you could drive me. The lizzies are filling the car with some old clothing that I’m taking over to the McCoort house.”

“Right-oh.” He finished cleaning the weapon, reassembled it and loaded it, and then put it in his jacket pocket. “I’ll go get it warmed up. Enjoy your tea. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Thank you, Walworth.”

When she had finished her tea and crumpet, she dropped off her cup, saucer, and plate in the kitchen on her way through, eventually going out the front door and down the steps of the portico where Walworth was waiting in the steaming carriage. He hopped down and helped her into the passenger seat, and then started off.

Though she might have meant either one of the two well-known McCoort couples, her handsome young driver knew Yuah well enough to know that it was her best friend Honor that she intended to see. It took less than fifteen minutes to reach her destination.

“Do you mind waiting a moment?” Yuah asked.

“Of course not. Let me know. I can unload this.”

“You are a dear,” she said, climbing down and walking up the path to the stone-faced cottage.

She knocked on the door, which was opened by a lizzie servant. Silently, the reptilian ushered her in and led her to the parlor, and then turned and left. Yuah found her best friend Honor reclining on a sofa. Honor looked up and opened her mouth in surprise, and for a minute Yuah didn’t realize why. Then she saw that her friend had only one leg sticking out from beneath her dress. Yuah’s hand went to her mouth and she quickly turned around.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” said Honor.

Yuah said nothing.

“You’re going to have to turn around and help me, unless you want me to hop across the room.”

Turning slowly back around, Yuah saw that a shapely wooden leg was sitting on an end table. Hurrying over, she picked it up and brought it to her friend.

“Why was it over there.”

“I had Ziggy polishing it with furniture wax. Then he left it there when he was called away to help in the garden. I was going to wait until the lizzies came through and could hand it to me.”

She pulled up her dress and fitted the prosthesis onto her leg stump, strapping it to her thigh. Then she smoothed her dress back down, pushed herself to her feet, and gave Yuah a hug.

“Can I ask you…?”

“What?”

“Do you keep your leg on in bed? With your husband?”

“Of course not. So what are you doing here? I thought you had sequestered yourself away to prevent any unwanted male attention.”

“Well, I had,” said Yuah, looking around as if she expected a clandestine observer to have his face pressed against one of the windows. “I’ve cleaned out my closet and I thought you might like one or two of my old dresses. Plus, you could tell me to whom I might give the rest.”

“Are they back at your house?”

“No. Walworth has them out in the car.”

“Ziggy!” called Honor, and when the lizzie stepped in the room. “Go out and get the clothing that is in Mrs. Dechantagne’s car.”

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 14 Excerpt

Hsrandtuss looked around. Yessonarah didn’t look appreciatively different than it had yesterday, or the day before, or for that matter, ten days ago. The dam was still under construction. The roadway down to the river was still being lined with gravel from the riverbed. There were more wooden houses situated around the hill—over a hundred, but the great buildings that he had envisioned were nothing but foundations, at the most. The lizzie population had grown though. He shook his head.

“What is the matter, my husband?” asked Szakhandu.

“Things are not moving fast enough.”

“We are making great progress.”

“It’s not fast enough. We don’t even have enough houses for all our people yet.” He pointed toward the hill. “I’m supposed to be looking at Yessonarah there. Does that look like a city worthy of the one remaining god to you?”

“Tsahloose was not built in a day.”

“Was it built in ten days?” he asked. “We’ve been here ten days now.”

She hissed mirthfully. “No, Great King. I don’t think it was built in ten days either.”

“I’m glad you find things so amusing.”

“My husband, you have to look at the positive side of things. We have made contact with seven of the nearby villages and we’re already trading with three of them. Game is plentiful. We’re feeding all our people. Workers are quarrying stone. In another ten days, it will begin to look like a real city.”

“I don’t want to wait,” he said petulantly.

“Why don’t you take a walk? That will make you feel better and it’s good for your health.”

Hsrandtuss grunted, but started down the path toward the river. It was a hot, humid day. Insects filled the air—more and more so as he approached the water. He hadn’t even reached the edge of the trees before he spotted half a dozen feathered runners scavenging the refuse piles. His people were dumping their garbage too close to the settlement. The six velociraptors, as the humans called them, lifted their heads to watch him pass. They didn’t approach, but they didn’t flee either.

When he reached the river bend, he stopped. About a hundred lizzies were moving large stones into place. The dam, having been started on this side, about halfway spanned the riverbed. On the far side of the river, several channels detoured the water around the work area. He didn’t see any crocodiles. The hunters had killed one two days earlier and the others might have moved down river. Then again, maybe they were just hiding under the surface. The gigantic beasts were known for their swift and savage attacks, but not their intelligence.

Turning southwest, Hsrandtuss followed the bank upstream. As the forest grew a bit thicker, the patches of dappled sunlight grew less frequent. Here he stopped to examine some blackberry bushes, but they had been denuded of fruit.

He heard the rustling of brush behind him and turned, expecting to find more of the raptors, but it was instead four lizzie males. He didn’t recognize any of them.

“If it isn’t the great Hsrandtuss,” said one of the males, “out for a walk in the woods with no weapon.”

Without looking down, the king ran his hand along his belt. It wasn’t completely true that he was weaponless. After all, he had his knife. But he had gone and left his sword and spear at home. He rested his hand on the knife handle, but didn’t pull the blade from its sheath. One of the males moved to the left, while two others moved to the right, so that they quickly had him surrounded.

“I think it’s time somebody showed you that you’re not so tough. You can’t just move in wherever you want and take over the country. People have already claimed this land. It isn’t yours.”

Hsrandtuss hissed with annoyance. He hated when they wanted to talk. If he had his sword, he would have used the opportunity to attack, but since he didn’t, he had to wait for them to make the first move, and this warrior apparently thought he should give a speech first.

“I’m not sure I understand,” he said. “You have weapons, but it seems you’ve decided to bore me to death.”

“Die invader!” hissed the warrior to Hsrandtuss’s right, thrusting his spear at the king.

Hsrandtuss sidestepped and grabbed the spear with his right hand, jerking the now off-balance warrior forward. Spinning around, he unsheathed his knife and jabbed it into his attacker’s neck. The talkative male jumped toward them with his sword raised above his head. Hsrandtuss shoved the wounded lizzie, a fountain of blood now spraying from his carotid artery, into the other’s path. Then he launched the spear he had taken at the male originally on his left. It skewered him through the middle of the chest. The lizzie with the sword tried to swing, but only managed to hit his already bloody companion. As the poor wretch dropped to the ground, Hsrandtuss reached over him and stabbed the first warrior in the eye with his knife.

At that moment the king felt an impact on his back and a suddenly excruciating pain. He knew the fourth lizzie had hit him with a sword. Stabbing the first male again, he left his knife stuck in the warrior’s face and reaching up, took the hapless male’s sword. Swinging it around, he decapitated the male who had hit him in the back. Then spinning back around, he did the same to the warrior with the knife still stuck in his face. A quick look at the other two told him they were in no shape to fight, though still alive. He retrieved his knife from the severed head.

Sitting down on a log, he felt his back. There was a pretty deep slice, at least a foot long, which was bleeding freely. It was a recoverable wound, assuming he made it back home safely. The smell of blood would attract predators. After catching his breath, he stood up and stepped over to the warrior with the spear stuck through him.

“Where are you from?”

The warrior said nothing, just looked up with his yellow eyes.

“I can find out from your war paint, assuming the feathered runners leave enough of you for my people to find.”

“We are from Achocktah.”

“Did your chief send you?”

“No, it was Stohla.” He looked at the body of the talkative lizzie. “He wanted to be king. Killing you would have given him much suuwasuu.”

Kneeling down, Hsrandtuss rolled the warrior on his side. Then he used his knife to cut the bindings holding the spear point to the shaft. Once the stone tip had been removed, he rolled the male back over and pulled the spear out. The warrior cried out in pain.

“I don’t know if either of you will survive or not. I think your friend will bleed to death, but you might make it, if that spear didn’t hit anything too important. Maybe you can help each other. You can try to get back to Achocktah or you can go half a mile to Yessonarah. If you make it, my people will give you aid. Just don’t expect me to help you up the hill.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 9 Excerpt

The wind whipped at Zoey’s hair. She laughed. This was almost as much fun as flying. She pressed her feet down on the clutch and the brake as she zoomed around the corner of Forest and Ivy. Then pressing the forward accelerator again, she zipped in and out of traffic as the candy apple red Bromfeld X shot past other steam carriages and riders upon the backs of iguanodons. Zoey was at the corner of Newlands Street before she knew it, and brought the car to a screeching halt.

Pulling the brake into place, she grabbed her purse, hopped out, and danced around to the back, where she opened the release cock. A whistling scream of hot gas shot into the air.

“Oops, too much heat,” she said, opening the firebox with her bare hand and sticking her face into it.

Reveling in the warmth for just a moment, she then closed the door and walked up the cobblestone path to Martin & Shinde Men’s Emporium. The bell rang as she stepped inside. As she breathed in the smell of leather and wool, her mouth watered. The store, some twenty feet wide but at least four times that deep, was packed with suits, shoes, belts, hats, and sundries for men. A stack of round tins filled with mustache cream drew her attention. She picked one up and opened it, taking a sniff.

“Mmm.”

“May I help you, young miss?”

Turning to her left, Zoey found a thin bespectacled man in a very crisp pinstriped suit. He had a large nose, but a narrow mustache. He gave her a close-mouthed smile and a slight bow.

“I would be very grateful if you could. You see, my young man has recently given me a wonderful present and I thought I would get him something nice too. Can you help me, Mister..?”

“Shinde, Mattius Shinde.”

“Oh. Like the name of the store.”

“Exactly.”

“Do you think you can help me, Mr. Shinde?”

“Of course. I assume, since you are here, that you have narrowed it down to something in menswear. Is your young man a snappy dresser?”

“Indeed. He always looks his best, and he enjoys quality in his things.”

“And you say he bought you a present?”

“Yes. He’s very thoughtful.”

“May I ask what he gave you? Perhaps that will help us judge just what sort of present you should get him.”

“A car!” she said, her eyes lighting up. “It’s brilliant, and red, and extremely fast for something limited to the ground.”

“Well…” Mr. Shinde looked around. “We have some of the finest new suits from Brechalon.”

“No. I don’t want to get anything he has to get fitted for. I want to give it to him today.”

“We have some of the very finest hats.”

“He has a lot of hats already.”

“How about some aftershave lotion?”

Zoey sighed. “Maybe I’ve come to the wrong place. Aftershave lotion? I mean really! He bought me a car!”

“How about shoes?”

“He does like shoes,” she said.

“Excellent. We have the very finest walking boots and pumps, as well as very nice dress shoes.” He led her across the room to a section of the wall filled with footwear.

“I like these,” said Zoey.

“Excellent choice,” said Shinde, picking up one and handing it to her. “Cap toe oxfords of high quality cow hide.”

She held the shoe to her nose. “Why do cows smell so yummy?”

He shrugged.

“These are just the thing. I want a pair in brown and a pair in black, and of course I want spats to go with them. Laces too.”

“Excellent.” said the proprietor. “Now about the size.”

“Augie’s foot is exactly this big,” she said, pointing to her chin with one index finger and her hairline with the other.

Shinde looked like a man who very much wanted to ask a question, but wasn’t going to do so. At last, he picked up a shoe sizer and held it awkwardly to her face.

“Size nine,” he reported. “I’ll get those ready for you.”

A few minutes later, he had the purchases secured in boxes wrapped with twine.

“That will be fifty-four marks, twenty p.”

Zoey opened her purse and withdrew a huge wad of banknotes. She stopped and narrowed her eyes, and looked at Shinde like might at any moment pounce on her money. Turning away, she counted out fifty-two marks, and then fished out four two-toned five-pfennig coins. After putting the rest of her money away, she turned around and held it out. Shinde had to pull the notes out of her tightly clamped fingers, but at last he had the payment and handed her the merchandise.

“Thank you so much!” she called, as she slipped out the doorway.

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 8 Excerpt

The clouds were low over Brech City, turning everything to a dull monochrome. A wave of drizzling rain dropped without cease—tiny drops that a person scarcely noticed until he was wet through. Smoke from fireplaces, steam carriages, and factories barely rose above the tops of houses and lingered there just below the proper clouds, making everything that the rain touched dirty, greasy, and grimy.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Prince Clitus from beneath his umbrella. His usual uniform had been replaced by a formal black suit, making him as monochrome as his surroundings.

“Do what?” asked his older half-brother Prince Tybalt. “Stand out in this Kafira-wretched rain?” He too was dressed in black formal.

The two of them stood surrounded by a massive crowd at the dockside, staring at a great black steam liner: S. S. Lied des Vaterlandes.

“No. Are you sure you want to marry Princess Henrietta?”

“It’s time for me to marry.”

“You love her at least, don’t you?”

“Love her?” Tybalt frowned. “I don’t even know her.”

“But you’ve corresponded.”

“She wrote me some stupid letters. I didn’t read them.”

“Why then did you agree to marry her?”

“I have to marry someone. With Henrietta, we will cement our rule over Freedonia.”

“You could have picked anyone you wanted,” said Clitus. “You had a choice.”

Tybalt rolled his eyes.

“What choice? That fat Bordonian pig Lady Enid? I don’t think so. Princess Ophelia of Mirsanna? She’s a whore. Maybe you think I should have chosen the idiot Hortence Moorn, or the egghead Iolana Staff?”

“Lady Iolana is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” said Clitus, exasperated.

“She talks all the time. Have you noticed? Henrietta doesn’t even speak Brech. I’ll never have to listen to her. All I have to do is mount her a couple of times and pop some heirs into her. Then I can send her back to Freedonia to her family, and I can spend my time doing something more exciting with someone more exciting. That’s the beauty of it all. As King, I can have any woman I want, any time.”

Clitus sighed and shook his head.

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 13 Excerpt

Baxter leaned out as far as he could, looking at the beast swimming in the ocean two hundred feet below him. Though a modern naval vessel, or for that matter the dirigible in which he now found himself would have dwarfed the marine reptile, it was still quite a monster. It had to be at least thirty feet long and it shot along the surface of the ocean like a dolphin. It blew up water from its blowhole like one too.

“How soon before we reach Mallontah?” asked Senta, snaking her arm over his shoulder.

“Just after dinner this evening. It will still be light out. I understand it doesn’t get dark until after 9:00 this time of year.”

“That’s fine.”

“Where’s the baby?”

“She’s asleep.”

“I don’t like to leave her in the cabin alone.” He turned and started toward the promenade door.

“She’s fine. She has her babysitter.”

“And I don’t feel comfortable leaving her with that beast either.”

“It’s hard to believe you’re not her father.” The words caused him to stop in his tracks.

“I’m very fond of her,” he said, turning.

“Oh, I know you are,” said the sorceress, sliding toward him. “I think it’s very nice. You’re a very good man, you know.”

“What’s your point?”

“Oh, I don’t think I have one.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and licked from his chin to his nose.

He pulled her arms from around him and left the promenade, hurrying down the hallway to their cabin. Opening the door, he found the baby asleep in the middle of the bed. Perched on the corner of the bedstead was the coral dragon.

“Good baby,” it said.

Hurrying over to the bedside, Baxter quickly examined the sleeping child. Nothing seemed amiss. He tucked her blanket around her and scowled at the little reptile.

“You see? Nothing to worry about.”

He turned around to find the sorceress stepping out of the dress that was now in a pile around her feet. She was still clad in her undergarments, though she wore fewer than most Brech women.

“You really are a horrible woman, you know.”

“I have my moments,” she smiled.

They spent most of the next hour making love, after which Senta curled up on the bed next to her daughter and went to sleep. Baxter lit a cigarette and sat down in a chair, less comfortable than it looked, against the wall. His eyes went from the woman to the child to the dragon, though he wasn’t conscious of any particular thoughts about them. Just after he finished the cigarette, baby Senta fussed in her sleep. He stepped over to the bed and picked her up, taking her back to the chair and holding her against his chest. She stopped fussing and went back to sleep. He smelled the baby’s blond hair. She needed a bath.

His attention was drawn back to the dragon as it slithered down from the bedpost to the mattress. Its little forked tongue played across the sorceress short hair for just a moment and then it bit her on the ear.

“Ow! Kafira! You bloody twat!” She backhanded the little dragon across the snout with her right hand, while cupping her ear with the left. A thin trickle of blood dripped between her fingers.

“You horrible, vicious…” She rolled off the bed and bent down in front of the cheval glass to examine herself. “Sweet Kafira Kristos, look at my ear! It’s full of holes!”

“Shh,” soothed Baxter as the baby, disturbed by the noise wriggled. He kept his voice low as he spoke to her mother. “Maybe you could just put earrings in the holes.”

“I don’t have that many earrings,” growled the sorceress. “My ear looks like a Mirsannan cheese.”

“Get your healing draught,” said Baxter, getting up and setting the baby in the chair.

When Senta had retrieved the brown bottle from her luggage in the other room, he had her bend her head over while he poured the clear liquid over the wounds. It fizzed a bit and then ran clear. When he wiped the remains away with a handkerchief, her ear was as cute and unblemished as it had been before.

“You!” said Senta, looking at the dragon, which withered under her gaze.

“Mirsannan cheese,” it said.

“Get in your carrier!” She pointed to the still open connecting door.

The coral reptile flew off the bed and through the door, opened the animal carrier door itself and climbed inside, shutting the door behind it.

“I told you I didn’t trust that creature,” said Baxter.

Senta waved a hand dismissively. “It’s just one of those things when you’re dealing with dragons. Bessemer must have bitten me a hundred times when I was a kid.”

“You’ll still have that attitude when it eats your baby, will you?”

“She couldn’t eat all of her. Still, I suppose it’s better if we don’t leave them alone together… for now.”

“Goo.” They turned to see the baby, awake and sitting up in the chair, watching them with her large grey eyes.

“At least the dragon can speak,” said the sorceress.

“You said the dragon’s four years old. Senta’s only nine months,” said Baxter. “Besides, she can speak. She just said ‘goo’.”

“Good Kafira,” said Peter, when the three of them sat down to tea at his table in the dining room. “If this voyage goes on much longer I’m going to go out of my mind. I’m so incredibly bored.”

“You were at sea longer than this when you came to Birmisia before,” said Senta.

“Yes, but I had the other guys with me. We played games and practiced our magic… chased a few girls… all right, we talked about chasing a few girls. All I’ve done this trip is eat and sit in my stateroom.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 7 Excerpt

On the small street of Ghiosa Way, right next where it came to a dead end, was a small yellow cottage, with a white railing and posts on the front porch, a white-framed window just left of the white front door, and a similar window looking down from the attic between the eaves. The cobblestone pathway leading up to the front steps was lined with large ferns of the type commonly found in the area, and the yard was filled with pines and a maple that had been there far longer than the house.

Near the back right corner of the little cottage’s yard, about halfway between the house and the nearest trees, was a large barrel in which trash was burned once or twice a week. The smell of fire wasn’t quite enough to cover the smell of paper that had once held wrapped food. It was these smells that sometimes drew velociraptors to the yard. They were two and a half feet tall and five feet from the tip of their many-toothed snouts to the ends of their tails. Hairy feathers covered their bodies—yellow near their small arms and green everywhere else, but for a black band around their necks and a black tuft at the ends of their tails. Easily mistaken for a more benign bird from a distance, those familiar with them were wary because of the teeth and clawed hands, but mostly because of their feet, each of which had a three-inch claw curving upward, used to disembowel prey. On this day, half a dozen of the creatures invaded the carefully cultivated yard, sniffing and searching.

“Get out of here, you horrid beasts!”

A woman came running out the door of the house, waving a broom. She made every effort to swat the velociraptors, but they easily evaded her, running around in circles until she tripped over one and went sprawling. Then they were no longer mere birds, but feathered monsters. They snapped at her, one biting her ankle and tearing the skin. Another leapt on her, preparing to use its toe claw to best effect.

Suddenly the velociraptor on the woman exploded. The others jumped away as five colorful balls of magic, just like that which all had failed to see flying at their leader, flew toward them. These little missiles, blue, green, red, yellow, and orange, didn’t fly straight, but soared around in a swirling pattern. But each eventually reached its target and one after another the remaining velociraptors were hit, and they exploded into a bursts of feathers.

“Why, Bryony Byenthal, you were almost eaten by velociraptors,” observed Senta, coolly. “Has no one told you not to chase after them?”

“You saved my life!” cried Bryony, still lying upon her lawn, bleeding from the ankle.

“Yes, I did. Didn’t I? Come along. Let’s get you inside and see to your injury.”

Helping the woman up from the ground, Senta put her shoulder under Bryony’s and led her in through the side door.

“Mommy! You’re hurt!” cried a small child, barreling from the parlor and colliding with his mother’s knees.

“Mommy is fine, Kerry,” said Bryony.

“Well hello, Little Baxter,” said Senta. “Not to worry. Auntie Senta is here to take care of everything.”

She reached into her purse, pulling out a brown bottle of healing draught. Biting off the cork and spitting it on the floor, she handed the bottle to the little boy.

“Pour this on Mommy’s boo-boo.”

The boy dumped out the bottle, some of which landed on Bryony’s injury, fizzing, but most going on the floor.

“Now, about tea,” said the sorceress, sitting down at the table.

“I honestly wasn’t expecting you,” said Bryony, removing her shoe and wiping away the blood and excess healing liquid from her leg and the floor with a tea towel, before slipping the shoe back on.

“I can see that, obviously, or else Little Baxter would have been hidden away with some friend or another.”

At that moment the front door opened and in walked a blond girl of eleven. Her straight hair was parted in the middle, but a fringe covered her forehead. But for the bright yellow day dress she wore, she looked very much like Senta. In fact, she looked exactly like Senta had looked at the same age. Seeing the sorceress, her eyes and lips became very thin.

“What are you doing here, Mother?”

“I’m here for tea, and to save Bryony Byenthal’s life, apparently.”

“Bryony Baxter,” said both Bryony and the girl at the same time.

“Quite so. Quite so. But you are still Senta Bly, the bastard child of a much more accomplished and altogether more impressive Senta Bly.”

“Why don’t you go away and leave us alone?” said the younger Senta.

“Why don’t you make me?”

“Uuthanum eetarri,” hissed the girl, waving her hand.

“So disappointing,” said the woman, unaffected. “All that natural talent and you refuse to learn anything. You’re not hurting me, you know. You’re the one who will be sorry in the end.”

“I’m going to my room,” said the girl to Bryony. “I have no appetite.”

“When I was your age, I was casting all kinds of crazy spells and raining destruction all over the place!” the sorceress called after her, as she retreated down the hallway.

“Can I go play with Sen?” asked the little boy.

“Yes, but take a biscuit,” said his mother, retrieving said biscuit from the kitchen, along with another. “Give one to Sen, too.”

“Goodbye, Little Baxter,” said the sorceress. “Now about tea.” She raised her finger and made a circle in the air. “I could just whip something up.”

“No, no,” said Bryony. “I’m sure I can put out an adequate high tea.”