The Two Dragons – Chapter 1 Excerpt

The Church of the Apostles was a stately stone structure—no less imposing for the fact that it wasn’t yet complete.  On the first day of Septurary 1907, the church was filled to overflowing as the citizens of Port Dechantagne, dressed in their finest, celebrated a wedding that was the social event of the season.  Mother Linton, the High Priest of Kafira in Birmisia stood at the pulpit, unwilling to relinquish her position to anyone.  Behind her and to her right however, owing to the era of tolerance now in full flower, was the Zaeri Imam Mr. Francis Clipers.  The wedding party members were arrayed across the chancel. The matron of honor, Mrs. Yuah Dechantagne, and the four bridesmaids Miss Hero Hertling, Miss Gabrielle Bassett, Miss Dutty Speel, and Miss Laila Melroy wore shimmering gowns of teal trimmed with white lace.  The groomsmen, Mr. Paxton Brown, Mr. Leopold Ghent, Mr. Isaak Wissinger, and Mr. Efrain Rochambeau were all dressed in black tails, though the Best Man Inspector Saba Colbshallow wore his blue police uniform.  In the center of the group was the groom.  Zeah Korlann unlike the building around him, could not be described as stately, though even in his days as a household servant, he had been dignified. After nine years as mayor of Port Dechantagne, he had gained a kind of gravitas.  As the string quartet struck the first chords of Kafira’s Marriagehe, like everyone else in the church, turned his attention to the back of the aisle where the bride appeared.

No cloud could have aspired to the whiteness of Egeria Lusk’s wedding gown. The bodice was tight but simple and it blossomed out at the waist to a truly remarkable expanse at the hemline, the train following twenty feet behind her.  Though the dress was strapless and shoulderless, it had long, gauzy sleeves, split on the outside and held together by a series of small white bows.  She defied convention by not wearing a veil, but had a mass of tiny white flowers arranged within her brilliant red hair, which was swept up into a complex Mirsannan twist.  She slowly walked up the center aisle, unattended, in time to the music, arriving before the alter to join her beaming bridegroom.  Mother Linton began the litany.

Senta Bly sat in the third row on the groom’s side.  She wore a dress of deep purple silk, gathered together in bunches so that if fell in pleats.  With thin straps over bare shoulders and no sleeves, it showed off her tall, lithe body to best advantage.  It was completely unadorned with brocade, beading, or fringe and didn’t even have a bow over the bustle, though none could tell that with her seated.  No one else sat on the pew with her despite the fact that every other seat in the building was taken, and more than sixty people stood across the narthex.  It might have been that her disappointment at not being invited as part of the wedding party caused an unpleasant expression to sit upon her countenance, or it might have been something else entirely.

As Mother Linton approached the portion of the service in which she explained the duties of a husband and wife, Hero turned around and waved two gloved fingers discreetly to Senta, who returned the gesture.  She smiled, but her hurt feelings didn’t go away.  They had hung on for six weeks now.  She had known Egeria Lusk for more than eight years. They got on well too.  She was closer to her than Gabrielle Bassett or that Speel girl, or even Hero.  Senta was a good friend of Mayor Korlann too.  It had to be the mayor’s daughter Mrs. Dechantagne.  The woman had hardly spoken to Senta in five years, and then only a few terse words.   This was all the more strange since they had been quite friendly before.  Senta didn’t know precisely what the problem was; only that it had something to do with Mrs. Dechantagne’s husband Terrence, who had been killed in a lizzie attack.  Occupied with such thoughts, Senta realized that she had lost track of the ceremony, when the priest began asking the bride and groom if they would each take the other.

The entire congregation seemed to hold their breath when Mayor Korlann was asked if he took “this woman”.  It was not as if he had bolted from the alter on some previous occasion, but the wedding had been postponed at least twice, and at more than eight years, this was one of the longer engagements.  The tall grey-haired gentleman pulled through however with a hearty “I will,” and as the string quartet began the Ode to Celebration, the couple moved quickly down the aisle and out of the church. Forty or fifty pairs of old shoes were tossed into the aisle as they passed for good luck. The congregation all stood, cheering and applauding.

Senta stood too, though she didn’t rush to follow the newlyweds out, as did much of the congregation.  She gazed around at the splendor of the new religious center of the colony.  It was her first time visiting.  It was even larger than the Great Church of the Holy Savior in Brech.  Others were looking at the ornately carved trim, the stained-glass windows, and the marble statuary too, but far more were observing Senta.  At six feet tall, she was literally head and shoulders above every other woman there and many of the men.  Her long blond hair framed an oval face with distinctive cheekbones, large expressive eyes, a broad mouth with voluptuous lips, and a strong chin.  She would never have been called pretty; rather she was beautiful in the classical sense of the word, like the women that artists created to portray personifications of freedom or grace or nobility.

Hero bounced toward her.  Though the two of them had been nearly the same height when they were twelve years old, Hero had stopped growing six inches before Senta had.  With incredibly thick, naturally curly, long black hair and doe eyes, Hero had more than her fair share of admirers.  She was so popular in fact that several young men sidled up to her even here.  As Senta noticed them, they took a step back in unison.

“Wasn’t that a lovely ceremony?” asked Hero.

“It seemed very nice from down here.”

“Don’t be cross.  Benny and Shemar both invited us to ride in their steam carriages to the reception. Who do you want to go with?”

Senta rolled her eyes.  “Quite frankly I’d rather take the trolley.”

“Are you sure?  Benny’s car is brand new and candy apple red.”

Senta looked over Hero’s shoulder at Benny Markham, who was puffing himself up with pride.  She liked Benny, Shemar too for that matter, but she wasn’t too fond of steam carriages.

“Do as you wish. I’m taking the trolley.”

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