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.”

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