The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 17 Excerpt

“Look at all these lousy zeets,” said Graham Dokkins, as he and Senta walked between the hundreds of makeshift tents on the southwest side of the hill from the barracks.

“What are zeets?” asked Senta.

“That’s what they’re called.  My Da says they’re evil, and they don’t even believe in Kafira.”

“Zurfina doesn’t believe in Kafira either.  I mean, not like us.  She says the Church is all bullocks.”

“Yeah, well my Da says she’s evil too.”

If Senta was offended at the idea that anyone would call Zurfina evil, she didn’t let on.  She bounced ahead, her skipping steps seeming to defy gravity.  In one hand she carried a stick and in the other her doll. Graham stomped after her.

“Why do you gotta carry that doll everywhere?” he asked.

“Cause I’m a girl, stupid.”

They reached the edge of the tent village.  Some of the women from among the Freedonian refugees had set up a series of clotheslines and were hanging up clothes.  Almost every piece was black, white, or grey.

“They don’t seem any different to me,” said Senta.  “Except they talk funny.”

Suddenly several of the women who had been hanging clothes began to scream and they all began to run toward the tents.  Looking up, the two children saw a steel colored streak flying downward from out of the sun.  The steel dragon buzzed the tops of the women’s heads and then zipped along parallel to the clothesline and with a flick of its tail, knocked every other piece of clothing from the line into the dirt.  Spreading its wings out to their full six-foot breadth, it stopped in mid-air and dropped to the ground at Senta’s feet.  It opened its mouth to the sky and a small puff of smoke shot out.

“Funneee,” said the dragon.

“It’s not either funny, you potty twonk.  You’re going to get everyone angry, and who’s going to get in trouble?  Not you.  Me, that’s who!”

Despite Senta’s declaration that the dragon’s actions were not funny, Graham was laughing heartily.  The dragon hopped over to his feet and rubbed his head against the boy’s leg as if to share in his mirth.  Graham, still laughing, slapped his knee.  The dragon suddenly bit his hand.

“Sod it!” shouted the boy, his laughter suddenly gone.

The dragon looked up in the air, with feigned innocence.

“See, now you’ve made Graham angry too,” said Senta.  Both the girl and the dragon looked at the boy, who had gone all white and sweaty.

“My Da didn’t say it, but I think dragons are evil.”

“Pet,” said the dragon, in a pleading tone.

“Yeah, all right,” Senta said, fishing a small brown bottle from the pocket of her baggy black dress.  “But if you bite anyone else, I’m going to need a new bottle of this.”

She poured the draught from the bottle onto the wound on Graham’s hand.  The liquid bubbled and fizzed on contact with the boy’s blood, but after a few moments nothing was left of the injury but a small scar.

Senta, Graham, and the dragon looked up to see they were completely surrounded by a crowd of people.  The reptile leapt to the girl’s shoulder in one swift motion and curled up around her neck. Graham stood up next to Senta and took her hand in his.  The people began to whisper amongst themselves.  Finally one of the women stepped forward.

“Sorry about your clothes,” said Senta.

“Der drache is, how you say, vunterfull,” said the woman.

“Oh yeah, he’s great,” said Graham, sarcastically.

“He is bootifull.  He is yours?”

“Yeah, sort of,” said Senta.

“You bet he’s hers,” said Graham.  “She’s a really powerful sorceress and he’s her dragon.  And they’re really scary and magical.  Just look at them.  And that’s her magic doll.”

He suddenly started laughing.  The dragon made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a smirk.

“We’ve got to go now,” said Senta.  “I’ve got to lock up my dragon and my troll here.”

“Hey!” shouted Graham, following Senta who was already hurrying through the opening in the crowd that magically parted before her.  “Who you calling a troll, monkey face?”

The two children walked up to the top of the hill and parted without saying goodbye, but with the innocent expectation that they would see each other later and continue on just as they had.  Senta made her way to a quiet place that she had found next to the protective wall. She plopped down in the grass and the steel dragon climbed off her shoulders.  She stretched out and he curled up beside her and placed his whiskered snout on her stomach.

Senta held her doll up and looked at it.  The doll had on an outfit just like hers.  She called the dress she was wearing her doll dress for that very reason. The doll had the same hairstyle that she did.  She could almost imagine that the doll was made especially for her.  But it hadn’t been.  She had seen it many times in the toy store before she had purchased it.

“I wonder what Geert’s doing now?” she mused.  “He’s my cousin,” she explained to the dragon.

She heard the approach of voices and pushed the dragon’s face off of her stomach so that she could roll over and see who it was.  It was Miss Dechantagne.  She was walking along holding the arm of the blond officer from the ship. She had on a stunning yellow dress with white lace trim.  It had at least seven layers on the skirt, ruffles and fringes on the shoulders, and a magnificent bow on the bustle.  The matching hat trailed a long piece of yellow silk down her back.

“That’s the kind of dress I want,” said Senta quietly.

“No,” said the dragon.

Advertisements

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 16 Excerpt

The shouting and gunfire brought Terrence out of the white opthalium induced state.  He was sitting on the ground with his back to a massive redwood tree.  It was in fact, that first tree that Iolanthe had tagged with a ribbon to save its life.  It was completely dark all around him, and at first the lapping of the waves nearby was the only sound that registered with his befuddled mind.  When he again heard the shouts and gunfire at the far end of the compound and he recognized them for what they were, he was actually happy. It meant that he hadn’t been awakened by someone discovering him while he was seeing.

Could you call it “seeing” if you didn’t really see anything?  Terrence had used the drug from the small blue bottle several times since the arrival in Birmisia, but he had seen nothing in the other world except that endless fields of the ever-present purple flowers. Never before had he been there without meeting Pantagria.  Now he searched for her and she was nowhere to be found.

Terrence picked up his helmet, which was sitting next to him, and then stood up and began trudging up the hill at a modest pace.  When he saw a blood covered Zeah Korlann being escorted by two riflemen into Iolanthe’s headquarters tent, he ran the rest of the way.

“What’s going on?” he asked, as he burst into the tent.  He stopped short when he saw Miss Lusk, lying on her side, bloodied, on the dirt floor.  “Let’s get Father Ian in here.”

“Father Ian isn’t coming,” said Zeah shakily.

“Sister Auni, go get another acolyte to cast a cure wounds spell,” ordered Iolanthe.  Then she opened the top drawer of her desk and pulled out a brown bottle.  “Soak her bandages in this and poor the rest down her throat.”

She handed the bottle to Dr. Kelloran, who was kneeling over the red-haired woman’s prone form.  The doctor did as directed and a moment later was rewarded with Miss Lusk opening her eyes. Sister Auni arrived after a few minutes with Brother Galen, who followed the exact same procedure that she had in casting a spell.  Color returned to Miss Lusk’s face and she began to breathe freely.

“Who did this to you?” asked Iolanthe.

“I didn’t see them,” said Miss Lusk.  It was an obvious labor to speak.  “Someone was running the Result Mechanism.  I went around the corner to see who it was, but…”

“There were papers coming out of the machine,” said Zeah.

“Go find those papers,” Iolanthe ordered her brother.  “Maybe we can find out who was using it.”

Terrence nodded and left the tent.  He picked up a gas lantern nearby and stomped down the hill toward the still chugging and clanking Result Mechanism.  Just before he reached it, the machine stopped, letting out a long whistle of leftover steam.  He pulled out one of his nickel-plated .45 revolvers and circled around the huge device. Standing at the controls was his brother Augie.

“What’s going on, old man?” said Augie, when he noticed Terrence.

“What are you doing here?” Terrence asked.

“You know you really shouldn’t answer a question with a question,” Augie replied.  “The machine was running and nobody was here, so I shut it down.”

“You didn’t see anybody here?”

“No, and I waited around for a couple of minutes too.”

“Are there any papers coming out of the slot on the side of the machine?”

They both stepped around to the far side, where the printing slot was located, but there were no papers either sticking out of the slot or on the ground below.

“You don’t have anything to do with this, do you?” asked Terrence.

“Anything to do with what?  A bloody machine making a bunch of racket?”

“The stabbing.”

“Stabbing?  What stabbing?”

“Egeria Lusk has been stabbed.  Right over there, by the look of the ground.”

“Kafira!  And you think I had something to do with it?”

“No.  But you were at three of the crime scenes, at least three, so some people are going to get the idea you could be involved.”

“What do you mean three?  The murders on the ship?  I thought you pegged Murty for that, and pegged him good too, I might add.”

“Yes, I did.  And Murty was a bad sort; I don’t doubt it for a moment.”

“You know I wouldn’t stab a woman.  What’s that all about?  I was very fond of Danika.”

“Danika?”

“Miss Kilmurray.”

“Oh, Kafira.  You knew her?”

“I knew her, but I didn’t do anything to hurt her.  I certainly never killed her, and I didn’t kill Miss Lusk.”

“Miss Lusk is alive.”

“Well, thank heavens.  Now she can tell you I didn’t stab her.”

“She doesn’t need to tell me,” said Terrence.  “I know you didn’t stab her.”

“Good.  A brother should trust a brother.”

“You don’t have any blood on you.”

“Oh.”  Augie looked down at his clean clothes.  “I could have changed clothes.”

“You don’t have any blood on your shoes or your face or your hair.”

“So you trust me.”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 15 Excerpt

Ssichutuu was probably not nearly as frightening as his chief.  He did not for instance, appear to be wearing any part of a skeleton as decoration.  He also did not carry any obvious weapons, save a small stone knife with wooden handle. Nevertheless, Zeah Korlann found his new companion every bit as frightening as the tyrannosaurus that stalked the forests of the region.  Ssichutuu was a little over six feet tall and looked more than a little like an upright alligator.  His deep olive skin had few obvious scars or discolorations, marking him as a younger member of the fifty-strong group of visitors.  He kept his dewlap for the most part tucked up against his neck. The truly unnerving thing was the fact that his yellow eyes never seemed to leave Zeah for long and they almost never blinked.

Most of the natives had left the compound to go on a hunting expedition with Master Terrence, but ten had stayed to observe the lifestyles of the newcomers. Each of these temporary visitors had two colonists to look after them.  Zeah and Saba Colbshallow were both escorting this particular lizardman or lizzie around.  Saba had already nicknamed the creature Sichy.  The aborigine took a keen interest in almost everything that they were doing.  They walked along the shore and watched the finishing touches being put on the dock’s crane, which once finished began lifting the last of the heavy cargo from the battleship.  They walked up the hill, now mostly denuded of trees, which was being spread with gravel to form a roadway.  At the top of the hill, they watched the construction of the barracks. Ssichutuu seemed fascinated by the smoothness of the wood used so they walked back down the hill, just south of the dock to observe the power saw slicing logs into boards.

At lunchtime, the lizardmen were brought together along with their hosts around a large table just inside the great protective wall.  Two foot long log segments were turned on end to be used as chairs.  This was functional enough for the colonists and even better for the natives than real chairs, which interfered with their thick tails.  A kind of shish kabob, with pieces of meat, onions, and potatoes was served.  The reptiles eschewed the vegetables for the most part, but ate the meat happily enough. Zeah suspected that they would have preferred it raw, and maybe aged to the point of rotting.

Afterwards the humans watched as the lizardmen gave a demonstration of their method of creating stone blades from the local flint and obsidian.  They used large rocks to break off long slender flakes and then used pieces of bone to chip tiny bits off of these flakes and make them even sharper.  When they were done, they attached the now very sharp stone blades to handles of wood. Ssichutuu presented his completed knife to Zeah and indicated by hand signals that he should keep it as a gift. The former butler marveled at the keen edge.  He didn’t think that even the steel knives brought from Greater Brechalon could match them.  The real advantage of manufactured tools would be their durability.

Late in the afternoon, the hunting party returned carrying massive amounts of dinosaur meat.  Once again there was a great feast, with members of both races eating large amounts of the new world’s unusual meat.  The natives seemed to have the ability to pack away gargantuan portions of food. Zeah overheard Saba remarking on this to Professor Calliere.

“I believe it to be a function of their reptilian nature,” replied the professor. “They can eat great amounts of meat at one time and then go without for perhaps weeks.  I’m sure that this will be of benefit to us once they begin fulfilling their purpose as our natural servants.”

Zeah didn’t pay too much attention to the professor’s pronouncement—in truth, he seldom paid a great deal of attention to what Calliere said—but this time it was because of the presence of Egeria Lusk at Calliere’s side.   She wore a teal brocaded dinner gown with large gold buttons from the neck to below the waist, and a straw boater with a teal ribbon around it.

“You look lovely Egeria,” Zeah thought he probably sounded as though he was gushing, but he didn’t care.

“Thank you, Zeah,” she said.  “I must say you look ruggedly handsome.”

Zeah looked down at himself.  He had been wearing the same type of khaki safari clothing that the soldiers wore. In fact, he had requested a set of the clothing from the mercenary company supplies when he found that he would be spending the day playing tour guide to an oversized lizard.  He had to admit that the color accentuated his tall, thin form.  And he thought the stone knife blade worn at his belt made him look manly.  He took her hand and led her away from the crowd.

“I haven’t seen much of you the past two days,” he said.

“Don’t expect to see much of me the next few days either,” she said.  “The Result Mechanism is being brought ashore tomorrow and the professor will need help getting it up and running.  After that I need to input the measurements from the survey.”

After watching the look on his face for a moment, she burst out laughing. “You really are medicine for the ego! If you’re going to be all that broken up about not seeing me, you might as well come by and help me with the great machine.”  She said the words “great machine” in an abnormally deep voice.

Zeah perked right up.

“I might just do that,” he said, guaranteeing himself in his own mind that he would.

The next morning, most of the colonists were amazed to find that the lizardmen had all left.  Only the sentries had seen them rise early in the morning, gather together their meager gear and the collection of food and manufactured goods that the humans had given them, and exit through the gate in the wall.  They took nothing that did not rightfully belong to them, and they left no word with anyone that they were leaving—anyone being Master Augie, who was the only one fluent in their language.

Zeah knew that Miss Dechantagne’s plans for the colony ultimately depended on the lizardmen. They would be needed extensively for manual labor.  He also knew that Miss Dechantagne had negotiated well into the night with Chief Ssithtsutsu.  He didn’t know what the outcome was.  He had better things to do that listen to Master Augie’s back and forth translation. Better things being looking at and talking to Egeria.  All the same, he was glad that the lizzies were gone.  They were so very… well, reptilian.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 14 Excerpt

Iolanthe Dechantagne had carefully chosen the dress to be worn on the day she set foot in Birmisia.  It was a lovely olive green herringbone weave, finished with a line of twenty-four filigree buttons.  The bodice was wool, with the lighter cotton overskirt gathered together into a bunch over the bustle, and the polished forest green foundation skirt peeked out from beneath it.  She would have been as fashionably in style as any woman in Brech, had she been standing in the center of Hexagon Park.  Here on the deck of a battleship, thousands of miles from civilization, amid several hundred travelers who had been locked up for fifty-five days, she was like a goddess.

She surveyed the view of the land from the prow of the ship.  The dark blue waters reflected the beautiful redwood forest like a mirror.  The rocky shore was scarcely moistened by the calm waters of the bay.  A number of small birds, brown with flashes of black on their necks, hopped along among the rocks finding insects or small crustaceans. A large tract stretching from the coastline all the way up to the promontory had already been denuded of its trees, both large and small.  The great chug of steam engines and the intermittent whine of power saws filled the air with so much sound that not even the throaty cries of the monstrous forests beasts could be heard above them.

Terrence Dechantagne stood slightly behind and to the right of his sister. His khaki clothes were stained at the knees with mud, around his waist with the chlorophyll of plant life, and upon the thighs with small streaks of blood, where he had wiped his hands.  His sleeves were rolled up and his forearms were scratched.  The perspiration that had made trails through the dirt on his face had long since dried. It was the first time he had been back aboard ship in two days.

“Report,” said Iolanthe, with every bit of the hard nose and hard shell of a hard case Field Marshall.

“I’ve increased the standing guard to three squads.  I’ve just finished taking two platoons up, around and back down the peninsula, chasing out the big animals.  We had one casualty.  One of the men, Dawson, tripped and fell down the embankment and those vicious little raptors were all over him before anyone could get down there.  I think the fall killed him though.  Augie left with two platoons first thing this morning to make contact with the natives.  The remaining few men are supervising the construction of the wall.”

“How much of the wall is completed?”

“About a fourth.”

“So three more days?”

“Maybe four.  We’re talking about a wall that’s almost three miles long.  But I think we can let people come ashore the day after tomorrow. The gap can be guarded until the rest of it is built.”

“Zeah?” asked Iolanthe.

Zeah Korlann stood behind and to the left of her.  His grey suit enhanced his stiff, tall form.  He was every inch dignified, though lately his demeanor was less the dignity of a head butler than that of a skilled diplomat and administrator.  He wore a white flower, native of the new continent, on his lapel.

“We have nearly one hundred men cutting timber and sawing it into lumber. Almost all of the rest are building the wall.  Those women who are available are loading cargo into the launches.  Captain Gurrman’s men are then unloading it.

“Radley?”

Lieutenant Staff shifted uncomfortably in his starched white naval uniform upon hearing his first name used so casually, but he gave his report as though nothing was amiss.

“We should be completely unloaded in the next eight days.  Professor Calliere is supervising the assembly of one of the steam tractors at the top of the promontory.  It can then be used to haul everything else up the hill on a wagon or a sledge.  Quite ingenious really.  My concern is more with the construction of the dock.  There is just some cargo that can’t come over on the boats.  We have to have a dock built that can accommodate a crane that reaches out into the bay far enough for the Minotaur to come abreast.”

“We start construction on that as soon as the wall is completed,” said Terrence. “Zeah and I will split the men from the wall into two groups.  He’ll supervise the construction of the barracks, and I will take care of the dock. The big danger here is the marine reptiles, the sharks, and those quite frankly scary as hell fish.  You can’t chase them off the way we did with the land animals.  We start working near the water, and we’re going to lose men.”

“I think this is a job for Zurfina the Magnificent,” said Iolanthe, “if she didn’t go with Augie.”

“She didn’t,” reported Terrence.  “I sent Wizard Labrith with him.”

“Good,” she said.  “I will speak to her today.  We will need a solution ready before we start work.  Will we have enough lumber?”

“Yes,” said Zeah.  “Lumber production is just ahead of usage.  If we keep working at the same pace, we should have a plentiful supply. By the time we finish phase one though, there won’t be any trees left inside the wall.”

“That’s fine,” said Iolanthe.  “The promontory is going to be the dock, the fort and the industrial area.  We won’t need many trees.  We will need a few though.  I’ll go ashore later and mark those to be spared.  It sounds as though everything is in order.  What are you gentlemen doing now?”

“I have the bridge,” said Staff.

“I’m going to take a bath and a nap,” said Terrence.

“I have to speak to Father Ian about arranging a wedding,” said Zeah.

Iolanthe looked at him and cocked her eyebrow.

“Corporal Bratihn has asked Mrs. Kittredge to marry him.  It will be the first wedding in the new colony.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 13 Excerpt

It was chilly and wisps of mist hung in the air.  On the distant shore, beyond the wall formed by impossibly tall redwood trees, large spruces, massive maple and bay trees, filled in between by thick huckleberry and azalea bushes and wave upon wave of rhododendron, some giant and no doubt frightening monster roared out a challenge.  From its tiny animal carrier on deck, the little dragon answered.

“Gawp!”

Senta stepped onto the deck and knelt down by the box.  Zurfina had dressed her in another weird outfit, this one a floor length black dress with a white collar.  A black ceramic rose right in the front of her neck that made it difficult to look down at the high-heeled black sandals on her feet.  Of course Zurfina had on a matching dress, and cut a striking figure standing along the railing of the forward deck with the Captain, Miss Dechantagne, the Dechantagne brothers, and other notables, all of whom were dressed in light summer clothing, as they surveyed the coastline.

“Pet!” said the dragon.

“Yes, I hear you,” said Senta.  “I’m going to take you out, but you have to have your leash on.”

The dragon hissed.  She opened the door of the carrier and the dragon climbed out onto the top.  He turned his head and pointedly looked the other direction as she snapped the little chain onto the ring around his ankle. Once the little clip had snapped shut, Senta attached the other end of the chain to a bracelet on her right wrist.

“See there.  We’re both chained by the wrist.  Nobody’s the boss.”

“Gawp,” said the dragon, and then spreading its wings to balance, it climbed up her arm and onto her shoulder.  It slithered down to lie across her shoulders, one hand and one foot holding onto her dress and one hand and one foot holding onto her hair. Senta stood up.  The little dragon was now over four feet long from nose to tip of tail, but he was only about six inches thick across the belly and he was surprisingly light.

“What do you want to do?”

“Gawp.”

“Me too.  This is sooo boring.”

The ship had been sailing parallel to the coast for the past four days and Senta was getting tired of it.  What was the point of sailing all the way to Mallon, if you didn’t get out and walk around on it?  Twenty days was more than enough time to explore every square inch of the largest battleship and Senta had spent more than three times that length of time on the Minotaur. Not even murders, gunfights, and drinking wine until you threw up could take away the boredom forever.

“Fina,” said the dragon.

“All right.”

Senta walked toward the front of the ship.  She had gone only about halfway to where Zurfina and the others stood watching the coastline roll past, when a figure stepped out of the shadows. A freckled face and striped shirt quickly identified the shady figure.

“Hey Graham,” said Senta.

“Hi Senta.  What’ya doing?”

“Nothing.  He wants to go up by the grown-ups.”  She indicated the dragon with her thumb.

“Can I come?”

“Sure.  Just don’t get too close, ‘cause he’ll bite you.”

“I thought he was tame.”

“You can’t tame a dragon.  Zurfina says you can’t tame anything that’s smarter than you are.”

“Who says he’s smarter than me?”  Graham was indignant.

“Not just you, stupid.  Dragons are super smart.  When he gets big, he’ll be able to talk and do magic and all kinds of cool stuff.”

“Brill,” said the boy.

Senta and Graham walked forward, the boy keeping several paces behind her at all times, until they reached the group of adults.  Miss Dechantage was wearing a yellow dress with lots of lace and a matching hat, tied below her chin with a lace ribbon.  Her dress was almost the same color as the suit Professor Calliere was wearing.  It made him look like a very large banana.  Mr. Korlann was much more dignified.  His grey suit was so light that it would have seemed white, had he not been standing next to Miss Lusk in her white day dress.  Senta saw Miss Lusk reach over discretely and touch Mr. Korlann’s hand. Wizard Labrith was wearing a light brown suit and Wizard Kesi, for once not in colorful silks, was dressed the same. They both stood near the back of the group, all four of their eyes boring holes into the back of Zurfina’s black dress.  The two Dechantagne brothers were both wearing khaki safari clothes and pith helmets. The older brother looked like he was sick.  Finally Father Ian had eschewed his traditional robes for a more modern suit with a clerical collar.

“This is it just ahead,” said Lieutenant Dechantagne, pointing.  “You see the bay just here, and this land just beyond is the peninsula.”

“Children are limited to the aft deck of the ship,” said Miss Dechantagne, noticing Senta and Graham for the first time and looking down her nose at them.

“Children with dragons may go wherever they wish,” said Zurfina, without turning around.

Miss Dechantagne made a clicking sound with her tongue.  Miss Lusk gave Senta a wink.  Senta and Graham walked to the side, out of the way of the adults and looked at the forest moving past.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 12 Excerpt

Lying on his stomach on the small single bed, Terrence Dechantagne breathed a heavy sigh as Pantagria rubbed his back.  Her powerful fingertips found every sore muscle, every angry nerve ending, every spot filled with fatigue or stored unease, and kneaded it out of existence. He could feel her naked buttocks sitting on his and her naked legs on either side of his stomach.  Both were warm, far warmer than a human body should be, as if she was running a fever, but then she wasn’t human.  She wasn’t even real.

She finished massaging him and got up, walking across the small room.

“How was that?” she asked.

“Good.  Very good.”

He closed his eyes and savored being here, where he felt so good.  This was only the second time in a fortnight that he had been able to find a place for his real world body to lie undisturbed while he “saw” the world in which he truly felt he belonged.  He drifted off into a slumber and wondered in his half-awake state, if he fell asleep here and began to dream, what world would he find himself in then?  Would he dream himself back into the real world?  He didn’t want that to happen, so he forced himself awake again, and sat up on the bed.

Across the room, Pantagria stood in front of a wall-mounted mirror.  Her graceful, tanned body was the very picture of perfection.  Her snow white feathered wings were outstretched, almost touching the walls to her left and right.  Their broad expanse shielded her head from his view for a moment.  He stood up so that he could see her perfect, beautiful face. Only then did he see what she was doing. She had a straight razor in her right hand, and with her left hand, she was gathering great bunches of her golden hair and slicing through it.  Half of her head was already denuded.  In some places the hair that was left was an inch or two long, while in other places she was left nearly bald.

“What are you doing?” he asked, more shocked by this unusual behavior than he would have been if Iolanthe or Yuah or some other real woman had done it.

“Do you remember when you came to me last time?  It was the night of the dance.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“We didn’t dance,” she said, as she continued to hack away at her hair.

“I didn’t want to dance,” he said.  “I wanted to make love to you.”

“Do you remember what you called me?”

“What I called you?  No.  I don’t remember.”

“You should.  You call me the same thing every time you visit me.”

“What did I… what do I call you?”

“You called me ‘perfect’.”

“You are perfect.”

“I’m tired of being perfect,” her voice became a growl.  “I want to be real.  I want to be in the real world.”

“You can’t be,” he said.  “I don’t want you to be.  This is all just a dream.  This is my dream.  This is my haven.  This is where I come, because I can’t stand life in the real world.”

She folded her wings and turned around.  Only a few stray bits of long hair remained on her head.  She placed the palm of her hand on his chest and shoved him back onto the bed.

“If I can’t be real because I’m perfect, then I’ll make myself real by making myself imperfect.”  She turned back around and began to use the razor for its original purpose by shaving her head, starting on one side and moving across.  Terrence watched her in stunned silence.  She scraped the razor again and again across her head, leaving numerous small red scratches and a few cuts from which tiny red rivulets of blood flowed.  She shaved her entire head bald.

“Pantagria,” he finally said.  “I don’t think this is going to help you or me.”

She turned around once again, stepped toward him, and placed her left palm on his cheek.

“How do you know?” she asked, and then kissed him on the lips.

“This world isn’t the real world.  It’s all in my mind.  There’s no way to go from here to there.”

She hissed.  “You do! You do it all the time!”  She swung her right hand across his face. The blade of the straight razor sliced through both his nostrils.

He cried out in pain and was suddenly sitting in the corner of the supply closet where he had been when he had rubbed the white visio on his eyeballs. His eyes were tired but that was not why they were watering so profusely.  His nose hurt like hell, and he looked down to see a huge amount of blood running down onto the front of his shirt.

Getting up, he grabbed a white towel from a stack on a shelf nearby and pressed it to his face.  It was quickly turning red.  It was the only bit of color in the room of white and grey.  Still holding the towel to his bleeding nose, he opened the supply closet door and peered out into the hall in both directions.  There wasn’t a person in sight.  He stepped out into the hallway and closed the door behind him. He moved quickly away from his hiding place.  He had to take the towel away from his nose in order to climb a ladder up to the next deck. The blood began to drip quickly again as he climbed.

On the next deck, he pinched his nose with the towel to try and slow the blood flow, but winced in pain.  He looked around for a moment and then realized where he had to go.  He stepped quickly along forward, but had to stop after a moment and lean against the wall because he was feeling lightheaded.  He took a few deep breaths and continued on. At last he came to the cabin door he needed, and knocked.  The door popped wide open and the broad body, big stomach, and round rosy face of Father Ian appeared.

“Good to see you, Captain Dechantagne!” boomed Father Ian’s voice. “Don’t stand out in the hallway. Come in.  Come in.  Good gracious, what has happened to you?”

“I cut myself shaving,” said Terrence, pulling the towel away from his face.  “I was hoping that you could help.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 11 Excerpt

“Uuthanum,” said the girl, and the teapot rose slowly up into the air and floated across to the other side of the table, coming to rest in front of Egeria Lusk.

“Brilliant!” said the short, fire-haired woman.  “I see you will soon be as great a sorceress as your guardian.”

Zeah Korlann sat back in amazement.  When he was Senta’s age, he had barely been able to write his own name. This child was some kind of magical prodigy.  Zeah had often heard of secret wizard colleges where young men and sometimes women, young adults really, at the age of majority, went to study magic. Afterwards they would presumably apprentice with a master wizard somewhere.  But he had never heard of a child casting magic spells.

“Where is your dragon today?” asked Miss Lusk

“He’s sleeping today.”

“All day?”

“Yup.  He stays awake for two days at a time, and then he likes to sleep for four or five.”

“He sleeps four or five days straight through?” wondered Zeah.

“Yup.  Zurfina says dragons sleep a lot.  The older they get, the longer they sleep.”

Miss Lusk picked up the tea pot and poured more tea into Zeah’s cup, then Senta’s, and finally her own.  She passed the plate around to each in turn, allowing them to take their share of the tiny sandwiches, made with meatless sausage and cheese between two crisps. They had biscuits for dessert. Miss Lusk had catered the whole tea herself.  Zeah marveled that a woman who could master complex mathematical equations and create what she called “programs” for the most advanced machine in the world, could also provide a fine repast, seemingly at the drop of a hat.  She had only learned that he would be available for tea the day before.  She had also invited the sorceress’s ward.  Had the two of them dined alone, people would have talked.

Tea with Miss Lusk presented a welcomed change for Zeah.  Each day seemed to be just like the day before it. Almost all of his time was spent organizing activities for the passengers, which would provide the necessities of life or a change of pace to prevent boredom or depression caused by long confinement on the ship.  The first two days after their departure from the island of Enclep, he had been occupied seeing to the inventorying and storage of the supplies purchased there. The following day, he had to arrange for the priests onboard and Dr. Kelloran to deal with a fungus infection that had broken out among many passengers and crew.  The day after that had been washing day, which always kept him busy.  It had ended with the death of Miss Kilmurray and the summary execution of Mr. Murty by Master Terrence.  Zeah would have liked to have seen Murty tried for his crimes, but he was as loud in his laudation for Master Terrence as anyone else on the ship.  His daughter could have easily have been Murty’s next target, or Miss Lusk.  The following day, Zeah had organized a memorial service for Miss Kilmurray.  Two days after that, when Lieutenant Staff had completed his investigation, Murty’s body, which had been kept on ice, was dumped unceremoniously over the side.

It was surprising to Zeah, who had expected that there would be a somber mood among the passengers following the memorial, but the atmosphere on the Minotaur actually seemed to lighten.  There had been a cloud hanging over the lives of everyone onboard since the murder of Miss Astley, though most had not realized at the time that the murder was one of a series.  Now with the murderer dead, people were much freer with their smiles, their attitudes, and their actions.  Zeah had originally planned a series of games and activities to slowly raise people’s spirits, but had changed his plans and instead scheduled a dance.  It took place the evening of Pentuary ninth, ten days after leaving Enclep.

The danced proved to be a great success and everyone who was there seemed to have a wonderful time.  Miss Dechantagne surprised everyone by attending.  She wore a beautiful royal blue evening gown with large balloon sleeves and a white satin belt with embroidered blue and silver silk flowers. She had a bouquet of fresh flowers at her waist and atop her curled auburn hair.  And the bare expanse of her shoulders and the choker of pearls she wore made her long, thin neck look even more so.

Everyone admired Miss Dechantagne’s beauty, but Zeah found Miss Lusk’s charms even richer.  She had arrived in a buttercup yellow gown with butterfly sleeves.  The skirt had little pleated waves of fabric falling straight on the sides, and was trimmed with vines of embroidery in gold and beads extending down each side of the front.  It was ornamented on one side with a velvet panel, and on the other with two large velvet bows.

Zeah had not yet spoken to either of the two women when Master Augie arrived with Dr. Kelloran.  Lieutenant Dechantagne was dressed in a fine cutaway coat, which exposed a red waistcoat embroidered with a dragon motif.  He had a new grey felt derby, which he must have purchased just before leaving Brech, with a red carnation in the band.  Dr. Kelloran’s Thiss-green silk gown might not have stood out as much as those of yellow or royal blue, but it was equally fine in an understated way. Decorated with beads of jade and tiger-eye, it was wonderfully offset by her long white suede gloves.

Every passenger attending, especially the women, came in their finest clothes.  It seemed less like a simple dance staged rather quickly aboard a crowded naval ship than the social event of the season.  More than a few officers and sailors attended as well, and all of them wore their dress-whites.  Notably absent was Lieutenant Staff, who was on duty that evening.  Master Terrence was not in attendance either.  Zeah thought that this was a shame, as seventy-four unmarried women, and more than a few who were married, all seemed to be looking for him.