The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 10 Excerpt

“What are you doing out here?” asked a voice.

Senta turned around to find Graham looking oddly at her.  They were at the edge of the roadway in front of the Dechantagne mansion.  Senta had spent most of the morning watching for any sign of Streck, but so far he hadn’t shown his Freedonian face.

“Nothing.  What are you doing?”

“Well, I was looking for you.  I thought we could go over to Hertzel’s house and have a nice low tea.”  He held up a canvas bag in one hand.  “I brought bread and butter.”

“Where did you get butter?”  Senta’s eyes narrowed.  “You didn’t steal it, did you?”

“How in the name of Kafira can you ask me that?”  Graham squared his shoulders and stood up as tall as he could. “When did you ever hear of Graham Dokkins stealing anything?”

“I’m sorry.  Where did you get it then?”

“My Ma sent it,” he replied, not at all mollified.  “We had an extra tin and she said I could share it with the Hertlings.”

“That was nice.”

“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to,” he said, starting down the road.

“I said I was sorry,” Senta said, stepping quickly to keep up.  “I could make it up to you.”

“How would you do that?”

“I could give you a kiss…”

“That magic is making you lose your mind, that’s what,” he said, not slowing down.

“Alright then, I have a secret mission that I might let you help me with.”

“What secret mission?” he asked, glancing at her but not stopping.

“I’ll tell you, Hero, and Hertzel together.”

“Why?  Did you brass them off too?”

“Say, how come you mother is sending butter over?  I thought your folks didn’t like Zaeri,” said Senta, changing the subject.

“We’re not like that Freedonian wanker.  We don’t call people dogs for no reason.”

“Oh, you heard about that, eh?”

“That’s right.  If he’d called Hertzel a dog in front of me, I would have popped him in the breadbox.” The quickest way to anger Graham was to threaten his friends.  “Besides, Ma’s grown quite fond of Honor, really.  They’re in the Ladies’ Auxiliary together.”

They arrived at the Hertling home in short order, but when they knocked on the door there was no answer.

“You don’t suppose they’re at shrine, do you?” wondered Graham, looking around.

“Only if they’re the only ones.”  Senta pointed to neighbors working on their houses or in their yards, all of whom were Zaeri.

A moment later though, the mystery was solved.  The three Hertling siblings came walking down the road from the east. Hero and Hertzel carried large baskets filled with foliage, while their older sister had something that looked like a cricket bat casually slung over her shoulder.  The twins saw their friends and waved, calling out greetings. Hero ran ahead and Senta met her at the road, giving her a great hug.  Though he waved to his friends, Graham’s eyes were fixed on the instrument that Honor carried.  When she was close enough that he could see it clearly, he found that it was not a cricket bat at all, but a lizzie sword.  The main hand to hand combat weapon of the lizardmen was a thick sword made of wood but encrusted all around the edges with flint, obsidian, or sometimes even shark’s teeth.  This one had shiny black obsidian flakes that appeared razor sharp.

“Where’d you get that?” asked Graham enviously.

“It was a gift,” Honor replied.  “The chief of Tserich gave one to each of the members of the Colonial Council. I imagine most of them are hanging on display somewhere, but I like to carry mine when I have to go away from the town.”

“So where have you all been then?” asked Senta.

“We went to gather winter berries,” replied Hero.

“Perfect, we can have them for tea.”

“Oh, you can’t eat them,” said Honor.  “They’re for decoration only.”

“We had loads of them hanging all around our house,” said Graham.  “But it’s way past Kafira Mass now.”

Senta shot him a frown.

“What?”

“As a matter of fact,” continued Honor.  “I got the idea from your mother, Graham.  I think the red and green will brighten up the house and as I understand it, according to Brech tradition, they are often kept over the winter and not just on, um… holidays.”

“Can we go inside now,” asked Hero.  “I’m just frozen.”

Honor opened the front door and they all stepped inside the home, which was only marginally warmer than the outside.  Hertzel, with Graham help, got right to work lighting a fire in the stove, while the girls went into the other room and exchanged damp clothing for dry and wrapped up in thick blankets.  Hero lent Senta one of her two housedresses, which was only slightly baggy and only slightly too short.  The boys removed only their boots and socks, which they dried by the stove once the fire was going, but Hero brought each of them a blanket, and in a few minutes they too were feeling warm and cozy.  The four ten-year-olds sat around the stove, Senta and Hero sharing a chair, while Honor placed the green branches filled with red berries festively around the small room.

“I brought bread and butter for tea,” said Graham at last.

“That’s his way of telling you that he’s hungry,” said Senta.

“No it isn’t.”

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