The Two Dragons – Chapter 14 Excerpt

“I guess I do feel vindicated now,” said Zeah Korlann.  “Of course I didn’t realize so many people thought I was lying before.”

“They didn’t think you were lying,” replied Iolanthe Staff.  “No one would believe that of you.  They just thought you were addle pated.”

The Governor sat opposite the Mayor at a table beneath the awning at Café Etta. Between them on either side were their spouses.  Radley Staff seemed to have aged at least ten years since Zeah had seen him last.  Zeah wouldn’t have expected to see him out on the town less than forty-eight hours after having returned to Port Dechantagne, especially given some of the stories that were going around about the events on his trip, but then again Zeah knew from experience that Mrs. Staff wasn’t an easy person to dissuade when she set her mind to something. Never one for idle chatter, Staff stuffed a slice of rare beef fillet into his mouth.

“I never doubted you for a moment, Dearest,” said Egeria.

Zeah’s wife was stunning as usual.  Her burgundy evening gown, trimmed along the bodice with antique lace, was a more traditional style than the simple and daring black, shoulderless dress that the Governor wore, but Zeah didn’t think she could have looked more beautiful.  Her brilliant red hair was pulled back and draped down in ringlets behind her head, and the short fringe across her forehead forced one to focus on her emerald eyes.

“I must admit that I had my moments of doubt,” said Iolanthe.  “Not that it would be any reflection on you.  Those were trying times.”

“As are these,” said Staff after swallowing.  “How did the council meeting go yesterday?”

“The War Powers Act passed,” said Zeah.  “I myself don’t see the necessity.  There was nothing in the law that was not already in de facto effect. But now the tribal leaders will have something to complain about.  Khowass and Tuusuu will be in my office first thing, raising a stink.”

“Sometimes things need to be spelled out,” said Iolanthe.  “Now it is official that the police may search lizzie homes without a warrant.  It’s necessary in time of war, to search out any possible saboteurs or other undesirables. Kafira knows the kinds of damage that just a few lizzies with guns can do.”

“I wonder that it’s necessary to remove the need for a warrant, or to suspend the writ of habeas corpus for natives,” said Egeria, before taking a sip of water.

“Don’t forget,” offered Staff.  “We already have lizzies importing dangerous drugs and murdering each other right here in town.”

“Yes, I forgot about your lizzie,” said Zeah.  “Are there any leads in the murder investigation?”

“Inspector Colbshallow is gathering information for the case, but it seems that it is very difficult to cull any information from the lizzies.”  Iolanthe folded her arms.  “This is exactly what I’m talking about.  We need to know what’s going on in those alligator brains of theirs.”

“I’m more worried about the humans,” said Zeah, “like that boy that tried to shoot you—Yuan Weiss.”

“One lone sad individual,” said Iolanthe, “foolishly afraid that people would somehow be contaminated by working side by side with lizzies.”

“Are we sure that was the reason?” asked Staff.  “What did he say when Mother Linton cast a speak-with-dead spell?”

“He didn’t because she didn’t,” said Zeah.

“What do you mean she didn’t?  She didn’t cast the spell?  She refused?”

“She said she couldn’t do it,” said Iolanthe.  “Weiss had some kind of protective ward.”

“I didn’t believe her though,” stated Zeah.  “And now we may never know why the boy did what he did.  He was clearly troubled.”

“What about that other piece of legislation?” asked Egeria, changing the subject.

“What piece… oh, the dinosaur thing?”

“The Dokkins boy and some of his young friends gave an impassioned argument for a law to officially allow dinosaurs with riders on their back to make use of the streets,” Iolanthe explained to her husband.

“And did they succeed?  I may want to get my own iguanodon.”

“Good heavens, why?” wondered Zeah.  “The streets are crowded enough with the all the steam carriages coming over and now the rickshaw traffic.”

“You could be king of the road on a dinosaur,” replied Staff, looking sidelong at his wife.  “You could look down on the other drivers.”

Iolanthe was thoughtful for a moment, and then dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand.

“Council decided that such a law was superfluous.  Anyone may ride an animal on the street, so long as they follow the rules of the road.”

“That makes sense,” said Staff.  “After all, they don’t have a law that says people may ride horses in Brech, but I’ve had to step over my fair share of horse…”

“Radley!” snapped Iolanthe.  Egeria burst into a fit of musical laughter.

After dinner Zeah and his wife walked to the trolley station.  The lamplighters had already been down the street and it was growing dark.  It was dark enough in fact that one had to listen for the bell to know that the trolley was just up the street.  At one point a genius in the transport department, who didn’t know dinosaurs nearly as well as Graham Dokkins, had come up with the idea of attaching lights to the horns of the three triceratops employed as trolley pullers.  After Harriet, in a rampage of fear and anger, had completely destroyed her trolley car, the idea was suitably disposed of.

“Did you enjoy your beef steak, Dearest?” asked Egeria.

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The Two Dragons – Chapter 13 Excerpt

Sunlight reflecting off the swift water of the river painted the ferns and wildflowers along the shore.  Colorful microraptors and a few snipes and wrens jumped from branch to branch in the tall redwoods.  Senta plopped down against the huge bole of a towering tree and gulped air into her lungs. Bratihn dropped to one side of her and Vever to the other.  The others found their own resting places, or leaned against trees, their heads hanging low. Staff remained standing, though he looked as though he could have fallen over.  They had been on the run for days and the remaining ten members of the party were completely exhausted.

They lost one when Staff ordered Manring and Werthimer to return to their guesthouse and try to bring out as much of their gear as was possible.  The two former soldiers managed to get to the guest house and retrieve the packs and rifles, but they had been ambushed by a small group of lizzie guards just outside.  Werthimer was unharmed, but Manring had taken a spear in the side. He had made it back to the group, just barely, leaving a bloody trail behind him.  Despite several healing draughts poured down his throat, he had lost too much blood or had internal injuries too great to be healed by magic.  Slipping into unconsciousness, he had died minutes later.  Senta was horrified to learn of Manring’s fate when she had regained awareness, but she wasn’t given time to think about it.  Staff led her and the others through the streets, staying as much as possible to the narrower side avenues and making for the western edge of the city. He reasoned that the lizzies would expect them to return to their boat on the riverfront and he intended not to make it easy on them.  They fought when they had to, either with their rifles or with captured lizzie weaponry.

Werthimer, having survived the mission to get the gear, was killed as they passed through the city gate.  He was pierced improbably through the head with not one but two spears.  Senta had cast a fireball that destroyed the gatehouse and any immediate pursuers.  Then she had cast an obfuscation spell on the group.  It was designed to mislead anyone who might be looking specifically for them.

For six days the group raced through forests and across plains, stopping for no more than an hour at a time, using every minute of that time for sleep. They ate on their feet.  At last they had reached the shore of the great river—the wrong shore.  By exiting the city to the west, they had found themselves on the southern side of the river, and Birmisia Colony, Port Dechantagne, and home were all on the northern side.

“What do we do now?” asked Ivo Kane.  “We don’t have time to make a boat.”

“Well, I’m not swimming across this river,” said Eden Buttermore.  “I don’t think I could even if I wanted to.  Where it’s narrow enough, it’s too swift. Where it’s slow enough, it’s too wide.”

“It’s too wide everywhere,” said Femke Kane.

“Yes it is.”  Staff looked around.  “There’s nothing for it.  We keep traveling this way until we find a way across.  Go ahead and rest for an hour.”

“We’re going to need to rest more than an hour eventually,” said Mr. Vever.

“I know it.  There are some hills just on the other side of these woods.  I’m hoping for some caves, but we’ll stop there regardless.”

“What were you thinking?” Brown asked Senta in an exasperated voice. “What was that lizzie to you?”

“I just knew her.”

“Well I hope she was worth the lives of Werthimer and Manring.”

Tears welled up in Senta’s eyes.

“It may have all worked for the best,” said Staff.  “I think they were planning to kill us there in the arena. Senta just provided us with enough distraction to get out.”

“How do you know?” wondered Brown.

“I didn’t say I knew.  I said I thought.  We were positioned for a convenient crossfire between the King’s warriors and the Freedonians.  They could have both fired at us without having to worry about hitting each other.”

“What about the lizzie civilians?” asked Mrs. Kane.

“I don’t think either group spend a great deal of time worrying about them. Now, let the girl rest.  She needs to recharge her battery or whatever.”

Senta slipped into sleep and dreamed of home.  The dream wasn’t particularly comforting.  Zurfina’s five-story tower had grown to a hundred stories, but it was leaning over precariously.  Neither Zurfina nor Bessemer was anywhere to be found.  Just as she was about to venture in the front door, she was shaken awake.

“Come on,” said Staff.

They moved away from the river and through the woodlands filled with dogwoods and maples.  There were many birds, the small flying variety, but not many other animals. They found the hills without ever leaving the forest, the trees flowing right up the sloping land.  There were no caves, but they did take refuge in a narrow ravine.  Staff, Bratihn, and Kane collected branches and piled them up to create a camoflage against possible observation from the air.  No one had forgotten the Freedonian airships.

Staff arranged rotating watches and except for those serving in the two-hour shifts, they slept.  Senta wasn’t sure how long she had been asleep, but when she woke it was dark and a shiny half moon was directly above.  A slight chill on the night air made her shiver.  As she shifted her position, she realized it was a full bladder that had awakened her.  Getting up, she stepped carefully across the rocks, past her sleeping companions.

“Mrs. Kane has designated that area behind the large rock as the ladies’ WC,” said Bratihn, who was standing guard.

“And where is Mrs. Kane?”

Bratihn pointed to a sleeping figure.  “Why?”

“No reason.”

The Two Dragons – Chapter 12 Excerpt

Accord Day was always celebrated and was always a patriotic occasion. With the announcement of war however, patriotism knew no bounds.  Saba had never seen so many banners of red, white, and blue in all of his life.  It seemed as if every home, every shop, and every street corner flew the Accord Banner of Greater Brechalon.  Some of the steam carriages driving down the street even sported small versions flapping from the edges of their windscreens. Nothing drove patriotic fervor like fear.

Was it patriotism or fear that was drawn across the faces of the fifty or so men who stood in the dockyards?  Some of them were carrying flags.  Some of them were carrying placards.  One sign said “Keep Birmisia for Brechs”.  Another sign was completely illegible.  None of them, so far as Saba could tell, said, “Welcome to our friendly shore”.  The eight hundred or so immigrants who lined the railing on the rust bucket known as the S.S. Pigeon Guillemot knew a raw reception when they saw it.  They looked as unhappy as the mob did, though they were far quieter about it.

Saba waved to Sergeant Butler, who nodded to his men.  As one, the line of blue uniformed constables stepped forward. Lifting a megaphone to his mouth, Saba shouted.  “By command of the royal governor, you are hereby ordered to disperse!”

The crowd continued to shout and wave their signs.  Then suddenly, every single sign, in unison, burst into splinters as though crushed by giant hands.  The flags were unbothered by the spectral forces at work, though a few were dropped by the startled men who carried them.  Some of those men, and quite a few others hastened away.  The police line moved forward again.  More of the men in the unruly group turned and ran. In the end, only three men were taken into custody.  Saba turned and nodded to Wizard Bassington, who smiled and disappeared around a corner.

“It’s getting worse,” said Sergeant Butler.  “Last month it was only seven or eight rowdies meeting the ships.  Now it’s fifty.”

“Be glad it’s not five hundred,” said Saba.  “People are fools.”

As if by magic, the lizzie dockworkers and their human foremen appeared to moor the ship and place the gangplank in position so that the immigrants could debark.  A few Zaeri also appeared, having been waiting nearby to welcome the new arrivals. One of them was Honor Hertling, who approached the police constables.  She wore a simple black and brown dress, and her long black hair hung loose around her shoulders.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” she said.

Butler smiled and nodded, and then went to help his men usher their three prisoners toward the police station.  Saba looked at the young woman appraisingly.  He couldn’t imagine why she wasn’t married yet.  To his knowledge, she had no suitors, not that he knew everyone’s comings and goings.  The scar that ran down her cheek, though obvious, did not completely detract from her beauty.

“Governor’s orders,” said Saba.  “If it were me, I would have let them alone unless they turned threatening.”

“Yes.  I understand your point of view.  Freedom of speech is important.  These poor people have come a long way though, and endured great hardships to reach our shores.”

“It’s not freedom of speech that concerns me most.  If they want to speak, let them write a letter to the editor of the Birmisia Gazette—after all, he’ll print anything.  My concern is that one of my PCs could have been injured.”

“I understand.  And I want you to know that I plan to vote in your favor on the question of police expansion.”

“Thank you.”

“I fear though,” said Miss Hertling brushing back a stray strand of hair blown by the breeze from offshore.  “You may have difficulty locating a wizard now that Brechalon is at war.”

“They’re not too easy to locate at any time.”

She smiled.  He chuckled.

“Will I see you at the Dechantagne Estate later?” he asked.

“I’m not a guest at the party,” she replied.  “But I will be stopping by later to check on Mrs. Dechantagne. She’s feeling dicky.”

“I hope she’s all right.”  The real concern in Saba’s voice made Miss Hertling smile.

“I’m sure she will be.”

The Two Dragons – Chapter 11 Excerpt

“So what can I do for you today, Inspector?” asked Iolanthe, looking across the great expanse of her desk.

“I would like your help, Ma’am,” replied Saba Colbshallow.  “We need to expand the police force.  We need half a dozen more men, and we need our own wizard.”

“A—wouldn’t this be more properly a matter put to the city council, and B—we have Zurfina at our service, do we not?”

“To answer your last point first, I would prefer to have an official police wizard, not only because he would then see to police needs first, but also because he would have no other agenda.  And Birmisia Colony is more than just Port Dechantagne now.  There are half a dozen little settlements going up along the coast. Soon there will be more.  It’s not just a city matter anymore.”

Iolanthe burst into a large and uncharacteristic smile.

“What is it?” asked Saba.

“I was just remembering you as a boy.”

“That’s the problem with you women.  It’s hard to be a man around you lot when you all knew me as a child.”

“You women?  You lot?” asked Iolanthe.  Her lips lost their smile and instead took on the round, contracted shape that so many feared.

“Um,” Saba paused like a hunter who has realized that he has activated his own trap.  “Anyway, I didn’t know you ever noticed me.”

“Don’t make it more than it is,” she said.  “You were one of my household, that’s all.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“I will take your thoughts on this matter under serious consideration.  Your points are valid.  Go down to my carriage please, and inform Ursal that you and I are dining out together, so I won’t need him.  When you come back up, you may suggest which of our city’s fine establishments we should visit.”

“Yes Ma’am.”  Saba stood up and marched out of the office.

Less than five seconds later Mrs. Wardlaw poked her head in the door.

“Governor, there is a man here to see you.  I told him you were busy, but he says that he is an old friend.”

“That’s fine, Mrs. Wardlaw.  Send him in.”

A lean swarthy man with close-cropped hair entered and walked briskly towards Iolanthe.  She held out her hand.

“Good morning.  I don’t think I know… you!”

“Yes, it is I,” said the man, grasping her hand in his.  She tried to pull it away, but he held on.

“Jolon Bendrin.  I told you that if I ever saw you again, I would shoot you.”

“Your mouth says shoot shoot, but your eyes say yes yes.”

She tried to jerk her hand away but to no avail.  He grasped her right elbow in his left hand and pulled her to him. Then he wrapped his right arm around her, pinning her left arm against her, and pressed his mouth onto hers. She jerked her right hand free and slapped him across the face.  He laughed and fondled her through her dress with his left hand.

“You can’t pretend to be the sweet little virgin this time,” he said. “You’re an old married woman now, but I just had to see you while I was here, for old time’s sake.”

“I was a girl and you took advantage of me.”

“You wanted it and you still…”

There was a loud smack and Bendrin’s face contorted in pain.  He bent to the side, revealing an enraged Saba Colbshallow standing just behind him.  Saba wrapped his left arm around Bendrin’s neck and hit him again and again in the side, several loud pops indicating cracked ribs.  The man crumpled to the floor.  Kneeling down over him, Saba planted punch after punch on the upturned face.  As he pulled his fist back, a splash of blood flew across the air spattering the bottom of Iolanthe’s dress.  Saba stopped, his fist in the air, and looked at her.

“That’s quite all right, Inspector,” she said, stepping toward her desk. “Don’t stop on my account.”

Saba beat Bendrin until he had to sit back and take a breath, and until Bendrin’s face looked like raw meat.  Then the police inspector stood up, and as Iolanthe watched from her chair behind her desk, he kicked the moaning man several times, and then grabbed his almost lifeless body by the jacket collar and dragged him from the room.

Iolanthe’s mind drifted away from the present as she remembered that summer. She had been a happy seventeen year old, enjoying life in the country near Shopton.  She had been out on horseback twenty miles from the Dechantagne Estate.  There, beside a small flowing brook, she had been met by Bendrin.  He had seemed nice at first.  They discussed their future plans and their unhappy situations.  His parents had died in a train wreck.  Her father had killed her mother and was now wasting away in a permanent drunken stupor.  She had enjoyed his company.  Then one day that had changed.

They had both attended Dorit Banner’s coming out party.  Afterwards they had walked in the garden.  They had talked.  Everything seemed wonderful.  He had kissed her.  She even let him.  But then he had pushed her down onto a stone bench and reached under her dress.  He put his hand over her mouth so that she wouldn’t scream, though it hadn’t occurred to her.  He forced himself on her.  He raped her.  And he did it again.  Though she tried to avoid him, he found her alone several more times over the course of that year.  Each time she tried to fight him off, but there seemed to be no more that she could do. He was from a prominent family. Who could she tell—the constable? She would be disgraced.  Her father?  He was a shell of a man.  Terrence was away in the military and Augie was just a boy.  When she had turned eighteen, she had gone back to Brech without her father’s permission.

The Two Dragons – Chapter 10 Excerpt

“What did he do then?”

“He didn’t do anything.  He just sat there and watched me.  After a while, all the lizzies got up and they began carrying offerings up to him—big pieces of meat mostly.”

“What a remarkable experience that must have been,” marveled Mrs. Kane.

“It’s disturbing, that’s what it is,” said Staff.  “Who is in charge here?  Is it the dragon?  Is it the Great King?  Is it the Freedonians?”

“Does it really matter?” asked Mr. Vever.  “It doesn’t seem as if any of them want to do business with us.  If the King isn’t the problem, then it’s the power behind the throne.  Whether the power behind the throne is this dragon, or the Freedonians, or someone else, it’s clear they are not on our side.  What difference does it make?”

“You’re right of course,” said Staff.  “It may not make any difference for the possibility of trade.  On the other hand, it might make a great deal of difference for our survival and the long term survival of Port Dechantagne.”

“I was with Zeah Korlann just after he spoke to this dragon,” said Bratihn. “I’ll admit that I didn’t fully believe him about it, but it’s obvious now he was telling the truth.  The dragon questioned him and was concerned about humans invading his territory.  If he’s the real power, he might not be any more keen on having the Freedonians here than us.  Perhaps there’s room for negotiations there.”

“The King may feel the same way.  The Freedonians might have seemed like a good idea to him when Zurfina destroyed Suusthek, but now that they’re here, he might not feel the same.”

“On the other hand, he might like them,” said Manring.  “He seemed to enjoy his machine gun.  I know I would.”

“And we know what Klaus II wants,” said Wissinger.  “We’ve watched him going after it for the last twenty years.  He and the Reine Zaubereiwant to rule the world.”

“We need a new strategy.  Brown and the Kanes will join Bratihn and Vever in trade negotiations.  I know they won’t bear fruit, but it’s the only real contact we have with the government of Tsahloose.  Wissinger you’ll join too.  I know you’re not a lawyer, but you can try to keep us out of any diplomatic gaffs. Croffet and Werthimer, you two stay on them like paste.  If there’s trouble, you take charge.

“Senta and I are going to take Buttermore with us, along with Manring. We’ll visit the Freedonians.”

The discussion ended as the troop of lizzie servants delivered food once again. This time they brought small birds, cleaned and dressed, and no bigger than Senta’s fist.  Manring once again proved his culinary prowess by roasting the little creatures using his bag of seasoning.  There were also sweet potatoes, which had been cooked prior to delivery, grapes, pears, small green apples, blackberries, carrots, and radishes. Everyone felt quite satisfied long before the quantity of food provided had been exhausted.  Then they once again retired to their sleeping chambers for the night.

Senta, who had taken a bath upon her return from the great plaza earlier in the day, took another.  The rectangular tub was just over seven feet long and five feet wide, which by human standards made it quite spacious.  Its depth however was what made it remarkable.  Though she was an even six feet tall, Senta could not touch the bottom even on her tip-toes, without dunking her head.  Four square stone spouts provided a continuous flow of water into the tub, which spilled over the top and ran down to a drain cut with four long grooves from a one foot square piece of stone.

After the bath, Senta returned to her room dressed in her large fluffy housecoat. She sat down on her sleeping mat and thought about opening Matter and the Elementsonce more, but just couldn’t face it.  Instead she reached into her bag and pulled out a well-worn copy of Intruderby Anarosa Freedman. It was a relatively easy matter to find the racy parts, as the corners of the pages had become dog-eared with rereading.

“Well, what are we priming ourselves up for?” asked Mrs. Kane, when she entered a few minutes later.

“Just reading a bit.”

“So I see.  You’ve had an exciting day.”  Mrs. Kane sat down cross-legged next to Senta.  “You know I’ve always thought that you were a remarkable young woman,” she said, placing her hand on Senta’s shoulder.

“Thanks…”

“I’ve thought that you might be someone I would like to get to know better.”

“Okay…”

“My husband and I have an agreement.  He’s free to pursue other women, as am I.”

“As you are what?”

“Free to pursue other women.”

Senta stared uncomprehending for a moment.  Then recognition kicked her in the side of the head just above the ear.

“Eww!”

“Now don’t be that way,” said Mrs. Kane.  “The love between two women can be a beautiful thing.”

“I’ve got all the loving women that I need,” said Senta.  “What’s more, I have a loving man.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, dear.  You don’t really need one of those.”

“There we must agree to disagree.”  Senta lifted the woman’s hand from her shoulder and set it aside.

“Pity,” said Mrs. Kane, moving to her own sleeping mat.  “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

“Yes, I’m sure I could navigate thirty-three inches if needed.”

The Two Dragons – chapter 9 Excerpt

As the boat rounded the bend, the river spread wider and slowed, giving a view of the city beyond that was nothing less than spectacular.  Dark brooding pyramids, frighteningly high spiral shaped towers, and rose and peach colored palaces all peered out over ivory walls.  Giant constructions with overhanging plants and artificial waterfalls sat amid great domed aviaries filled with colorful birds and hairy winged reptiles.  Though there were obvious similarities between Tsahloose and Suusthek (they had after all been built by members of the same race of beings), there were differences as well—in color, in shape, and in design scheme.  Neither was anything like any city of Sumir—any human city.

The party had walked down from the highlands where they had found the Dragon Fortress.  They made good time, and Mr. Brown had mostly recovered from his spider bite.  The little stream that they had followed had veered sharply away to the west, but three days later, they reconnected with it and followed it down to the forests at the base of the hills.  The stream combined with others, becoming a fair sized river.  At the fork where their river met an even larger one, they spotted a lizzie village. The village was not unlike those seen closer to home, about two hundred square wooden houses, half of them built on stilts in the shallows of the river and the other half on solid ground just above the high water mark.  The lizardmen here painted their bodies just as those near Port Dechantagne did, though with different colors and designs.  The lizzies had seemed far more curious than hostile of the strange warm-blooded travelers who had so suddenly interrupted the course of their lives. Still, they had seemed wary.  They also knew what firearms were.

Through a combination of the lizard language and hand signals, the party had negotiated the purchase of a boat.  It was a great canoe, made of a single gigantic pine tree trunk more than fifty feet long, cut and shaped, and then fitted with outriggers on either side. Ten large leaf-shaped paddles were included.  Staff had paid two and a half marks for it—in copper pfennigs.  Then they had all climbed aboard and sailed smoothly down the river.  In some places it had been wide and slow and in others narrow and swift, but all along its length, it had been navigable.

“Tsahloose must be larger than Brech,” said Mr. Vever from his seat just behind Senta.

“Nonsense,” said Buttermore, just behind him.  “Brech is the largest city in the world.”

“This may not be as large as Brech,” said Manring, just in front of Senta. “But I would match it against Natine or Bangdorf.

Senta just nodded.  She had lived in Brech, but she didn’t remember it that well.  The size and scope of such a city had made little impression on a child of less than nine years of age.  She had read about Natine and Bangdorf, and though they were alive in her imagination with style and mystery and majesty in a way that her home city could not match, she knew that they were younger and smaller than the capital of the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon.  None of those Sumerian cities could match up to inhuman, frightening, shining Tsahloose though, because Tsahloose was here and now.

The river flowed right into the middle of the city and the party of explorers followed it in.  They sailed among dozens of lizardman watercraft, most much more elaborate than their canoe, but a few were simple one man fishing vessels.  The city wall formed an impressive arch over the water and scores of lizzies lined it to watch the approaching humans.  Brightly painted reptilians, wearing large feathered headdresses peered from behind gauzy curtains on large square floating barges. Other less ornately adorned lizzies watched from the bank.  Floating under the arch, Senta, Staff and the others were swallowed up by Tsahloose. The towers and buildings and pyramids seemed to grow toward the sun all around them, reminding them of how insignificant they were.

They sailed about a half-mile into the city and into a large bay with docks on all three sides.  It was only then that they saw floating in the skies above the lizard city, the airship. Huge, sleek, and modern, it was bright silver in the summer sunlight, except for the yellow tail with the large black eagle emblem of Freedonia.  They let the canoe coast to the dock, and then slowly swing around to come parallel with it.  As they climbed out, a column of lizardmen carrying spears approached.  Senta readied herself, but when they reached the humans, they came to a stop and a lizzie wearing a bright red cape of feathers stepped forward.

“Greetings you of the north,” he said, loudly.  “You have arrived in Tsahloose.”

His voice was impressive, as was his command of the Brech language.  If but for a very slight accent, he might have been a human.  Only after hearing him talk for a while, did Senta notice that he was avoiding those labial phonemes that traditionally gave lizzies such a problem with her language.

“I greet you for the great leader, Khassna, of the line of leaders of Tsahloose for a dozen generations, chosen of Hissussisthiss, and august in his citizen’s eyes.”  The envoy bowed deeply at the waist, placed his hand on his dewlap palm out, and then bowed again.  “I take you now to great Khassna as his guests.”

Senta, Staff, and the others gathered together their packs and were led away from the docks. The two lines of spear-carrying lizardmen flanked them as they walked.  The streets of the strange city were made of large square stones fitted together and worn smooth by the countless feet of pedestrians who walked over them, for there were neither wheeled vehicles nor domesticated animals in evidence.  The buildings on either side of the thoroughfare had smooth facades, free of ornamentation, painted with pastel colors.  Seemingly every available balcony and window box was lined with flowerbeds filled with cascading plants and multihued blossoms.  Where there was no flat surface available, pots were hung by chains or ropes to serve as planters.  And there were the lizzies, thousands of them, tens of thousands, on the balconies, in the doorways, and lining the street, all of them staring in rapt and silent attention.

The Two Dragons – Chapter 8 Excerpt

Café Etta was shaded by the tall pines, which grew majestically in most of the city’s vacant land.  The summer sun was still well above the horizon.  White clad waiters with red checked aprons ran everywhere: lighting lanterns hanging around the edge of the awning, showing guests to their tables, cleaning up after guests who had left, and bringing great trays of food out to those who had already ordered.  One waiter, a tall thin young man with black hair and the beginnings of a mustache carried a dessert tray to a table in the back of the café.  Carefully balancing it in one hand, he lowered plates of cheese, sliced apples, butter biscuits, grapes, and thickly sliced gingerbread onto the cloth-covered surface.  Replacing these on the tray with the last of the dirty dinner dishes, he nodded to the four seated patrons and headed for the kitchen.

“I don’t think I have room for another bite,” said Saba Colbshallow, leaning back from the table.  He patted the waistcoat of his charcoal grey suit to show how full he was.

“It was a lovely meal,” said his wife, reaching over and popping a pair of large grapes into her mouth.  “This new chef really can do wonders with a pork roast.”

Mrs. Loana Colbshallow was without a doubt the most beautiful woman in the café. Her multihued hair was swept back beneath a broad-brimmed, bright red hat with white flowers that matched her bright red dress.  The plunging neckline showed a bit more skin than was current fashion, but neither her husband nor any other man in the establishment seemed to object.  Directly across from Mrs. Colbshallow in a quite fetching sky blue gown, Mrs. Dot Shrubb clearly was bothered both by the lack of cloth which covered her dinner partner’s breasts and by the amount of breast which threatened to jump out at her.  All through dinner she had stared at the prodigious amount of cleavage and scrunched her nose.  Her husband seated to her right had been oblivious to this, and fortunately for him, seemed oblivious to the cleavage as well.

“I’ll say this,” he said.  “If we had dined on this meal in Brech City, we would have had to pay a pretty pfennig for it.”

“I think we may very well pay a pretty pfennig tonight,” replied Saba. “Dining out is one of the few things that isn’t dirt cheap in Birmisia.”

“I hear the new café, Bonny Nurraty, is only half the price, because they employ a lizzie wait staff.”

“It’s Bonne Nourriture,” said Saba.  “I also hear the food’s not half as good, though I’m sure that has nothing to do with the lizzies.”

“Unless my mother-in-law decides to open her own restaurant,” said Loana.  “I don’t see anyone taking the fine dining crown away from Aalwijn Finkler.”

“And you can be bloody positive he won’t ever have a lizzie wait staff either,” added Eamon.  “Actually it’s nice to have a place to come where there aren’t any.”

“What do you think about it, Dot?” asked Saba.

Dot just shrugged.

“Dot’s getting to be a lizzie-lover,” said Eamon, stroking his wife’s long coppery hair.

“You like her too,” said Dot, in the nasal voice that was the result of her deafness.

“Well, our lizzie is all right.  She dotes on the boys—takes them for walks and plays her little block game with them.”

“That’s just it, isn’t it,” said Loana.  “Everyone seems to like their own lizzie.  They just don’t trust the rest of them.  I have several to take care of things and one that comes in twice a week to clean and have never had any problem with any of them.”

“How are the boys, anyway?” said Saba, intentionally changing the subject.

“They’re fine.  Young Saba showed me this week that he can do addition, and little Al isn’t far behind.”

“Alasdair,” corrected Dot, punching her husband on his meaty shoulder.

“And how is Darsham?”

“Wonderful.  He follows Saba and Alasdair everywhere they go.  Best dog I’ve ever seen.”

“You know he was going to name one of the boys Darsham,” Saba told his wife.

“That’s right,” said Eamon.  “But I was overruled on account of my wife fancying your husband.”

Dot hit him again.  “You named Saba.  I named Alasdair.”

Saba, Eamon, and Loana all laughed.  Dot scrunched up her nose.  Aalwijn Finkler stepped up to the table between Saba and his wife.

“Inspector, Sergeant, ladies.  How was your dinner this evening?”

“Dinner was lovely,” replied Loana.

“Wonderful,” said Aalwijn.  “And what are we celebrating?”

“We’re celebrating being able to afford to go out for dinner,” replied Saba.

“I’ve always said the police were underpaid.  I’m having a very nice sparkling wine brought out.  It’s on the house.”

“I hope this isn’t a bribe,” said Eamon, grinning.

“Nonsense,” replied Aalwijn.  “Everyone says that Inspector Colbshallow is above such things, and I don’t expect that you could be bought for less than three bottles.”

Saba burst out laughing.  Eamon’s grin dropped to a rather uncomfortable smile.  As Aalwijn walked away, he said, “What do you suppose he meant by that?”

“He was just joking,” said Saba.  “Everyone knows you’re honest to a fault.”

“It’s just that you accept quite a few gifts,” said Loana.

The smiles on both men’s faces were wiped away.  Dot, noticing a sudden change in the mood though she had not followed all the conversation, looked from one to another of her fellow diners.

“Well, you do accept gifts,” repeated Loana.

“There’s nothing wrong with a police constable receiving a gratuity now and then,” said Saba.

“But you never do it.”