It was the second day of Hamonth, the first day of winter, and a chilly breeze blew across the bay and into the bustling colony of Port Dechantagne. A ship, the S.S. Mistress of Brechbay had docked at the recently upgraded port and a row of happy immigrants were descending down the gangplank. They stared with fascination, mixed with a small amount of fear at the dockworkers below them. Dozens of lizardmen served at the port. Sluggish now that the cooler weather had arrived, they used heavy winches to lift cargo from the deck of the ship and to deposit it on the gravel road beside the dock. Other lizardmen then scooped up the crates, boxes, and barrels with hand-trucks and ferried them to the nearby warehouses. Both groups of lizardmen were supervised by human foremen.
People all along the dock stopped and stared as Senta walked by. Hundreds of passengers leaned over the railing of the ship and others on the gangplank pointed and gaped with open mouths. Senta carried herself with a bounce that made her long blond hair sail behind her like a proud banner in the wind. She was dreadfully skinny, though the bustle beneath her yellow dress gave her a little bit of a figure. She was a child soon to become a young woman, and she was brimming with confidence. She was well known in the colony and she thought that she was quite pretty too. She had to admit though, that the people were probably not gawking at her, but at the dragon which walked along next to her. It was the size of a small pony, covered in scales the color of polished steel. Every step it took was a study in grace, and from the tip of its whiskered snout, past its folded wings, to the tip of its barbed tail, it seemed to just flow along.
“They look as though they’ve never seen a dragon before,” said the dragon. Had someone heard his voice without seeing him, they would have thought it was a young gentleman speaking. It was a rich voice, but still young.
“They probably haven’t,” replied Senta. “Dragons are pretty rare.”
“Rare and very beautiful…”
“Oh do shut up,” said the girl, and then, “There he is. Hey Graham!”
A boy about the same age as the girl and about twice as heavy even though he was almost a head shorter, ran toward them. He had on the dungarees and heavy shirt of a dock worker, and both were stained here and there, no doubt from just such a form of labor. His unkempt brown hair and freckled face made his smile seem all the more genuine.
“Hey Senta. Hey Bessemer.”
“Hello Graham,” said the dragon.
“You look a mess,” said Senta. “You did remember that we were supposed to go for lunch?”
“Sorry, I can’t go. I gotta work. I can’t leave my crew alone.” He gestured over his shoulder at the group of five lizardmen awaiting his return. Looking like a cross between an upright alligator and an iguana, with skin ranging in color from a mottled olive to a deep forest green, each of the reptilians were two feet taller than the boy. They stood waiting, scarcely moving, and giving the dragon and his companion surreptitious looks.
“I don’t care for those reptiles,” said Bessemer.
“It cracks me up every time you say that,” Graham told the dragon. “Besides, you know they think you’re a god or something?”
“I didn’t say they didn’t have taste.”
“Come on,” said Senta. “I’ve heard this entire conversation already twenty times. If you can’t come with us, we’ll just go get lunch ourselves.”
One of the lizardmen hissed something, and then two others began replying in the local reptilian dialect.
“Up your trolley!” yelled Graham at them, and then he too began to hiss in the native tongue.
The lizardmen turned and walked back over to a pallet full of cargo, which they had evidently been in the process of carrying to the warehouse. With what seemed to be a great deal of unhappiness, but not a great deal of speed, they returned to work. One of them hissed again.
“That’s right you! You keep your pecker on!” yelled Graham. He looked at Senta and flushed slightly. “Sorry. Ma says I shouldn’t use the language from the dock around the young ladies.” He said the words ‘young ladies’ in a strained falsetto imitation of his mother. “I’m sorry, but I can’t go. I didn’t know the Mistress was going to be docking today.”
“Fine,” said Senta. “I’ll just dine with Hero and Hertzel.”
“Hertzel’s working too. I just saw him take his crew up on the crane. It’s probably going to be a late night and we’ll probably be working this schedule for the next four days. Look, I’m sorry. But I’ll make it up to you next week, Okay?”
“Fine,” said Senta, unhappily, and Graham set off back toward his cold-blooded staff members.
“Don’t be so sad,” said the dragon. “You can have a ladies’ luncheon. You can be all hoity-toity and proper. You know how much you love that.”
“What about you?”
“I’m going hunting for my own lunch.”
“Just be careful. Watch out for predators that are bigger and scarier than you.”
“There may be bigger, but there are none scarier!” He emphasized his last four words for the crowd of immigrants fresh off the ship who were forming around for their first look at a living dragon. Bessemer took a deep breath and blew three small smoke rings in their direction. The crowd, moving as one, took a step backwards, even though none of them had approached within a twenty foot radius of him anyway. Then, with one swift motion, the steel dragon shot into the sky like an artillery shell and disappeared.
Senta walked up the hill, following the white gravel streets through the warehouses and workshops that filled the area near the dock. She passed along the fence that separated the militia barracks and parade ground from the commercial storage facilities. Finally she passed through the gate in the Emergency Wall that had once separated the colony from the terrors of the primeval forest, but now separated the older part of the colony from the newer.
Just beyond the gate was the town square. This was the only portion of town that was paved with cobblestone, and it had only been completed the previous summer. In the very center of the square was a small area of grass, lined with flower beds and set aside with small ornamental wrought-iron fencing. In the middle of the grass was a large flagpole, flying now, as it always did the red, white, and blue Accord Banner of Greater Brechalon. Around the edge of the square were about twenty buildings that comprised almost all of the community’s shops and stores. Senta had been in every single one of them. She had been in most of them many times. Today her stop was on the corner of the square at Mrs. Finkler’s Bakery.