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.

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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.”