The Two Dragons – Chapter 7 Excerpt

As soon as Senta and the other three members of her group had approached the far left side of the courtyard, they had seen the small passage leading down into the darkness.  It was about the same width as the typical human doorway, though only about five feet tall, which meant that all of them would have to stoop to enter.  Senta would have gone right on in, had Bratihn not stopped her with a wave of his hand.  He then stepped in the doorway first, bending down, and following the downward slope.  Senta and then Vever and then Brown followed.  They had gone no more than thirty feet from the doorway, when Bratihn stopped.

“We need a torch,” he said to Senta.

She reached into her tiny bag and pulled out an oil lantern.  As she handed it to Bratihn, the cloth wick inside ignited, bathing the corridor in light.  Bratihn took the lantern and continued on.  He slid a bit on the sand that dusted the stone floor.  Forty feet beyond, the narrow little corridor joined a much wider and higher one, which ran perpendicular to the first.

“I think our entryway here was a ventilation shaft.  It probably had some kind of grating over it long ago.” Bratihn held up the lantern and looked left and right down the larger hallway.  “This looks more like something someone would walk in.  See those holes in the wall on either side?  They’re evenly spaced.  I’ll bet there was some kind of lighting there—oil lamps or sconces for wooden torches.”

“So which way do we go?” asked Senta.

“Left should take us out toward the front, so right should take us further back.”

“Right it is then.”

No longer needing to crouch, the four explorers were free to move more quickly. Only the darkness and their unfamiliarity with the oppressive passageway kept them to a slower pace.  The air in the corridor was cool, dry, and odorless. After about one hundred twenty feet, the passage intersected another forming a tee.  Bratihn held the lantern high over his head and looked down each of the three open passageways, but there seemed to be nothing to distinguish one from the others.

“Which way now?” asked Brown, peering over Vever’s shoulder.

“Right,” replied Bratihn.

“Why?”

“Orientation.  When we leave, we can simply follow the left wall and it will take us right out.”

“Isn’t it time we headed back?” offered Brown.

Bratihn took out his pocket watch and held it in the lantern light.  “We’ve only been gone ten minutes.”

“Come on.  We’re wasting time,” said Senta.

“You heard the lady,” said Bratihn, turning to the right and stepping quickly but cautiously down the hall.

This hallway went about another hundred feet and then took a ninety-degree turn to the left.  Sixty feet beyond the turn, it ended with an open doorway into a much larger chamber. The four of them examined the sides of the door.  Here, like on the great gate in front of the fortress, were indications that there had once been hinges and some sort of lock, but whatever door had once barred the way was now long gone.  The light spilling from the lantern spread out as they entered the room beyond the doorway, but it was a tiny drop in an ocean of darkness.  The room was huge.

Twenty feet past the doorway, there was a large step downward.  Twenty feet beyond that, there was another.  Then another.  To either side, stretching out into the distance, cut into the stone floor, were benches.  Their surfaces had been worn smooth by years, maybe centuries, of use.

“This is an amphitheater,” said Bratihn.

Senta, who had never seen an amphitheater before, strained to make out what she could in the darkness.

“But why build an amphitheater underground?” wondered Vever.  “Wouldn’t it be better outside, where you can see?”

“They must have had lighting—like in the corridor,” replied Bratihn. “Maybe whatever they were watching was better underground—some kind of secret rites.”

“Or perhaps they could see in the dark,” muttered Brown.

“How big do you suppose it is?” wondered Senta, still peering around.

“We can go down to the bottom and get an idea.  We have to be careful not to get turned around though.  We need to find our way back up this particular walkway.”

“When we get near the bottom, we can scratch a mark on the floor,” suggested Vever.  “If no one else has anything, I have a pliers in my backpack that should do the trick.”

Senta put her arm over the shoulder of the little man and walked side by side with him, behind Bratihn, while Brown brought up the rear.  They walked and then stepped down and walked and stepped down. The amphitheater seemed impossibly huge, and by the time they had reached the bottom, they had passed more than four hundred rows of seats.  Vever set down his backpack and pulled out his pliers, using them to scrape an arrow, pointing back the direction in which they had come, on the floor.  Senta meanwhile jumped down the last step into a vast expanse of sand that made up the floor of what must have been a mighty coliseum.

“What do you think?  Gladiator fights, like in the time of Magnus the Great?”

“Could be,” said Bratihn.  “I’m sure it wasn’t dinner theater.”

Suddenly a horrible cry rent the subterranean air.  It echoed through the great chamber from somewhere across the darkness.  It was impossible to tell from which direction, but it seemed clear that it was at their level and not along the top.

“Kafira Kristos!” said Vever.  “What is that?”

The cry rang out again.

“I don’t know, but it can see us,” said Bratihn.  “Get over here, girl.”

Advertisements

The Two Dragons – Chapter 6 Excerpt

The landscape had changed as the altitude increased.  Thick forests of redwood, maple, and aspens had given way to stunted cedar trees and large bushes sticking out from between massive and strangely square boulders stacked in odd piles here and there as though a giant had set them up like blocks and then kicked them over.  The twelve members of the expedition moved easily enough on foot through the uneven terrain.  Unlike the plains they had passed through the day before, which had been filled with great herds of horned triceratops, giant sauropods, and packs of vicious dinosaur predators, here there seemed to be little animal life.  A single telmatosaurus, full grown but only fifteen feet long, wandered between bushes munching on conifer needles. Several long-nosed white-furred opossums were startled from their hiding places as the column of men and women passed by.  A squat-bodied furry creature halfway between a bear and a dog barked at them from the top of a rock and then ran over the hill and out of site.

Radley Staff stopped to look back at the line of people following him and make sure that there were no stragglers.  The formation remained tight, which was a miracle considering the diversity of the party members.  Behind Staff was Amoz Croffut, a veteran soldier only recently retired from the militia, or the Colonial Guard as it was now officially known.  He had already proven more than once on this trip that he could spot danger.  Third was Senta, the tall, thin, blond, seventeen year old sorceress.  Next came Taddeus Vever, sweating and puffing as he marched along on his short legs.  Vever was a jeweler by trade, a sedentary job that gave him little time to exercise, so he was horribly out of shape.  He didn’t complain though.  Unlike Paxton Brown, who followed closely behind Vever and whose constant protests had long since worn thin.  The man was supposed to be a scholar of lizzie behavior, and Staff had chosen him over several other naturalists for that reason.  Now he was beginning to regret his decision.  Behind him was the husband and wife duo of engineers, Ivo and Femke Kane. They looked at each other and smiled, apparently enjoying Brown’s discomfort.  They were followed by Isaak Wissinger, the writer.  Arriving from Freedonia two years before to join relatives, Wissinger had already published several well-known works of fiction and non-fiction.  He was on this journey for his keen ear and understanding of language, though he spoke the hissing tongue of the lizzies less well than some of the others.  He was followed by Lawrence Bratihn, the head of trade for Birmisia Colony, as well as the only person in Port Dechantagne besides Senta who had been in a lizzie city before.  Occupying the tenth spot in line was Edin Buttermore.  Buttermore was in much better shape than he had been when he arrived in Mallon.  Now though, he was struggling under a pack filled with a good seventy pounds of photographic equipment.  Pulling up the rear were Bertrand Werthimer and Woodrow Manring.  Both were accomplished soldiers, though they like Croffut and Bratihn for that matter, no longer wore uniforms.  All members of the party, excepting only Senta, wore khaki shirt and khaki trousers tucked into high boots.  Senta wore black leather pants and a black and red leather corset that left her shoulders covered only by her long blond hair.

Staff let Croffut pass him and took up a spot beside the girl.

“I should have had you change into your khakis.”

“I didn’t bring any.  Zurfina packed for me.”

“Black is too hot for a journey.”

“Do I look hot?”

“No.  You look remarkably comfortable.  But there is the question of camouflage.  You stand out.”

“I’m supposed to stand out.”

“All right.  Are your spells ready?”

She grinned at him.  “You’ve worked with wizards in the navy, eh?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not a wizard.  My spells are always ready.”

“Potent too, from what I understand.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve actually seen you do magic.”

“How is married life?” she asked, changing the subject.  “I would think it would be hard being married to the governor.”

“It’s good.  It’s a bit like being in the navy.  If you don’t mind taking orders, it’s a good life.”

“Say there, Senta,” said Vever catching up to the other two.  “Is it magic that you’re not exhausted like I am?”

“Yes, it’s magic,” replied Staff.  “It’s the magic of youth.  She has twice the energy that either of us has and half as much idea what to do with it.”

“It’s a shame,” said Vever, though he didn’t complete the proverb.  “That youth is wasted on the young.”

“Would you like me to carry your pack for a while, Mr. Vever?” asked Senta.

“I would never allow a young lady…”

She patted Vever, who was a foot shorter than she was, twice on the top of his head and then grabbed the pack by one of the loops on the back and lifted it off his shoulders.  Pointing downward and swirling around her index finger, she said “Uuthanum izesic.”  She tossed the backpack into the air just above where she had pointed, and it plopped onto an invisible surface, three feet above the ground.  Senta smiled and continued on, following Croffut who was none the wiser.  The backpack and whatever transparent thing supported it followed five feet behind her.

Staff and Vever stopped walking and wondered at the hovering object.  As they stood thus amazed, Paxton Brown rushed past them.  Catching up with the invisible transport, he flung his own pack on top of Vever’s. Now both haversacks followed along in the air behind the girl.

“Do you think I could..?” asked Buttermore, puffing up beside them.

The Two Dragons – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Governor Staff’s office was huge.  The ceiling was more than twenty feet high and the entire south wall was made up of large windows that looked out over the burgeoning city.  The opposite wall was filled with two large world maps.  One featured Sumir and the western hemisphere, while the other featured Mallon and the rest of the east.  More than a few citizens of Port Dechantagne who had never seen it, referred to it as “the throne room”.  It did not however have a throne.  It had an oak desk the size of a small battleship, and next to that a globe so large that it took two people to turn it on its axis.  Those who had been there knew better than to refer to it as a throne room.  This was not the domain of a queen.  This was the room of an empress.

The black leather clad wingback chair behind the desk was not just a nod to comfort.  It was designed with comfort, the comfort of a woman wearing a fashionably large bustle, in mind.  Iolanthe Staff seldom sat in it however, and almost never when she was interviewing anyone in her office, as she was now.  She paced back and forth behind her desk, with her arms folded across her chest. The two men, seated in equally black, equally leather, and equally comfortable chairs across the desk from her, watched her uncomfortably.  One wore the uniform of a merchant seaman.

“There is no doubt about it, Lieutenant Burke?” Iolanthe asked.

“None what-so-ever, I’m afraid.  The Mistress of Brechbay was hit by a torpedo.”

“It looks as though you were correct, Wizard Bassington,” she said to the second man.

Smedley Bassington was dressed in a stiffly starched black suit.  His froglike mouth smiled without any pleasure and his beady eyes stared back.

“The torpedo was launched from a submersible boat.”

“Whose?”

“You know whose.  Freedonia has more than a hundred of them, and I would be surprised if a tenth of that number wasn’t prowling the shipping lanes between Mallontah and Birmisia.”

“Then what are we to do about it?”

“We must utilize the great equalizer—magic.  Ships making the voyage from Greater Brechalon must have a protective ward to hide them from the Freedonians, and anyone else seeking to do them harm.”  He paused and licked his wide lips.  “Fortunately we have the world’s foremost expert at concealment magic.”

“Zurfina?”

He nodded.

“Shall I leave it to you to arrange it with her?”

He nodded again.

“Lieutenant Burke,” said Iolanthe, finally stopping her pacing.  “Do you have a place to stay until your company’s next ship arrives?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Then I’ll bid you good day.”

The officer stood up, bowed, and then exited the room.  Bassington stood up as well.  Iolanthe walked around the desk to stand face to face with him.

“Wizard Bassington, do you still feel that the Freedonians have a hold in Tsahloose?”

“I know they do.”

“Is my trade expedition in any serious danger?”

“I’ve given you my opinion on this matter before,” said the wizard. “Sending a dozen Brech citizens, however accomplished and resourceful they may be, hundreds of miles across uncharted territory and into the capital of a primitive, inhuman, and bloodthirsty empire was always, how did you put it—speculative.  I call it bloody unsafe.”

“So you think I should call them back?”

“Absolutely not.  There is a great deal of intelligence to be learned from such a trip.  We both have high confidences in who we have sent into harm’s way, don’t we?”  A smirk crossed his face from left to right.  “You do have the fullest confidence in your latest bedmate, do you not?”

“Neither my husband’s abilities, nor his acumen are in question.  I likewise have faith that those he has chosen for his team will all dutifully fill the roles to which they have been assigned. Can you say the same?”

“You mean my sorceress?”

“I mean your little girl.”

“Senta is practically a grown woman.  She had already proven herself a steady soul when she helped rescue your brother years ago. She showed her power on her last trip to Mallontah.  She can handle anything that should turn up.  Besides, General Staff has indicated that he would take no other practitioners of the arts with him besides Senta, or possibly the steel dragon.

Iolanthe pinched the top of her nose.

“I ask a great deal of those I delegate any of my authority to,” she said. “I shall be asking the same of you. I need you to get that infernal machine running again.”

“As a matter of fact, I have a man coming in on the train from St. Ulixes who may be just whom I need to set the great machine to rights.”

“Can’t you just use your magic?”

“The Result Mechanism isn’t a magical device.  It’s not all that different from a large clock or a steam engine. Its results are all mathematical and therefore magical, but its functions are like that of any other gear-driven, spring-powered device.  And my man is an expert on just that.  Once he has it working again, we can have your young woman help me with the… what’s the word?”

“Programming.”

“Exactly.  Miss Lusk will be needed there.”

“It’s Mrs. Korlann now.  But, it looks as though you know what you’re doing.”  She turned to look at the bookcase behind her.  Her back was an invitation to leave.  He took it.

The Two Dragons – Chapter 4 Excerpt

The S.S. Arrow left port only hours after the captain learned of the wrecked ship. The Ebon Forest unloaded its passengers and the shipwreck survivors that it had rescued, then refilled its coal hoppers and set out again the following morning to aid in the search.  On board was an emergency team consisting of a doctor, several clerics, and two dozen volunteers.  Mr. Radley Staff, who had planned and organized the team for just such an emergency, was in overall command of the rescue efforts.  As the massive black ship slid across the calm waters of the bay, he could be seen standing on the deck.  Next to him, dwarfing him, was the steel dragon, with gleaming scales reflecting the early summer morning sun.

Senta unhappily watched the ship going.  Bessemer had only arrived home the day before and now he was already leaving. Though they had stayed up the entire night talking, the dragon had not had time enough to relay all of his adventures. The girl had certainly not had time enough to tell him about hers.  It had been an unhappy few months, as it always was when she was separated from her steel-colored friend.  She would have been on the ship with him if not for the fact that Zurfina, who seldom seemed to care what she did, had expressly forbidden her from doing so. Senta wondered about this as she idly rubbed her lower back where the dragon tattoo had appeared.  Bessemer had agreed that it looked like him, though not as he was now.  It was an image of him when he was not much bigger than a cat.

Senta heard her name called and turned to see Hero and her twin brother Hertzel running toward her.

“What are you guys doing here?”

“We’re with Honor, helping out at the governor’s warehouse,” said Hero. “We saw you over here and Hertzel wanted to say hello.”

Hertzel, who had never spoken a word as long as Senta had known him, raised his hand in a friendly wave.

“Hey Hertzel.  You’re not working today?”

Hertzel shrugged, which Senta translated in her head to, “I was going to, but the ship I was to work on went back out to sea.”

“So what’s going on in the governor’s warehouse then?”

“That’s where they have the people from the shipwreck.  They’re getting everyone identified and finding places for them.  That’s not easy when they arrived at the same time as four thousand people from Freedonia.”

“I suspect they’re getting special treatment because they’re Kafirites, don’t you?” Senta said, voicing an opinion that would never have come out of the mouths of the twins, regardless of whether it had residence in their heads.

“They’ve been through an awful hardship,” said Hero.  “Honor brought tea and cakes for them.”

“Your sister is pretty special,” said Senta.  “You would think that Aalwijn Finkler would have brought some tea and cakes.  He owns three cafes.”

The twins turned to look behind them and watched as Aalwijn Finkler in a fine new grey suit walked into the warehouse.  He carried nothing with him.  The three young people looked at each other and then walked down the short block to enter the building after the restaurateur.  The large warehouse was filled with cots, though none were at present occupied by people.  Rather, people wandered around the room in groups and pairs, those obviously from the ship making connection with those obviously from the colony.  Aalwijn was speaking to a handsome man of middle height with a slight paunch in his stomach not quite covered up by a nice black pinstriped suit, now that it was wrinkled from long exposure to seawater.  He had thinning blond hair and a happy though tired face.

“Here come some of your future diners now,” said Aalwijn.  “This is my new chef come all the way from Greater Brechalon.”

“How do you do?”  The man held out his left hand to Hertzel, and both girls could see that this was because he had no right arm below the elbow.

“Kafira’s tit!” shouted Senta, causing dozens of people around her to stare, open-mouthed.  “I know you! You used to work at Café Carlo.”

“Yes.  I did.”

“You’re Gyula.  You were a line cook.”

“That’s right, Gyula Kearn.  Do I know you?”

“I’m Senta.”

Gyula looked no more enlightened than he had been a moment before.

“I used to sweep the sidewalk and polish the brass dragon.”

“Oh yes, Carlo always had the local children doing odd jobs.  It was his way of helping out, Kafira bless him.  We had quite a few kids in and out of the café over the course of the years.  I’m afraid I don’t remember any of them very well.  They just sort of blend together in my memory.”

“You used to make me a sandwich, when Carlo said it was okay.”  Senta’s voice sounded abnormally high in her own ears.

“That I did.  Carlo had a soft spot for children, though he didn’t let it show.  He would always have me load them up with food.  I suppose that’s why he had me working there too.  Who else would have hired a one-handed line cook?”

“Well, I hired a one-handed chef, and I expect great things from him,” said Aalwijn.  “And I dare say if you don’t remember Senta now, you will soon not be able to forget her.”

Senta was feeling something she hadn’t felt in a long time.  What was it exactly?  Chagrin?  Few people whom Senta saw didn’t already know who she was, and those that did, like Oswald Delks had heard of her.  That someone she had met would not remember her—that just didn’t happen.  It was inconceivable.  Whatever the feeling was that Senta felt, it was about to be turned on its end.

“Senta?”

The Two Dragons – Chapter 3 Excerpt

It certainly didn’t feel like his house.  Technically it was, even though it didn’t feel like it.  Under Brech law, all of a woman’s possessions belonged to her husband.  And Egeria had a great many possessions.  The table that Zeah was sitting at, made of sturdy cherry wood brought all the way from Mirsanna and inlayed with jade and mother of pearl probably cost more than he earned in a year—than he had ever earned, in his best year.  The teacup in his hand probably cost more than the table—at least the set that the teacup had come from.  Another man might have been bothered by this feeling that he was living in someone else’s house, or felt a certain unease at owning so many things that didn’t feel like his own.  Not Zeah. He had spent his entire life living in a home that didn’t belong to him, and even when he eventually had his own home, he had only lived there a week or two before he moved back out and began living out of a small room behind his office.

“What are you thinking about, Dearest?”  Egeria had worked very hard to come up with just the right endearment to use after their marriage and “dearest” was apparently her choice.  It seemed as though she used it every third sentence.

“I was just admiring this cup.”

“It’s from the Daliath Islands.  They came overland to Brech, and then I had them shipped here.”

“Is that so?” said Zeah, taking a little more interest in the cup than he originally had.  He only had a vague notion of where the Daliath Islands were—somewhere in southeast Sumir.

“It’s iron glaze over a colorless pigment.  Tenth century.”

Zeah started and almost dropped the cup.  He had to revise his estimate.  The single cup cost more than he had made in his entire life.  He looked around the table.  There were one, two, three, four cups here, a saucer for each cup and a teapot. No wonder the teapot was so oddly shaped.  That must have been the style nine hundred years ago.

“Careful Dearest, you don’t want hot tea spilled in your lap.”

“Yes, I mean no.”

Putting his teacup down, Zeah took a bite of toast.  It was at least possible to get one’s mind around toast.  A loaf of bread was 20P, an exorbitant amount if one were buying bread in Brech, but here in Birmisia, it was about half of what people had paid for bread only two years ago.  Toast with a bit of honey; that was all a man really needed.  What did a man need with thousand year old teacups? He ate the last bit of toast and washed it down with tea from his immoderate teacup.

Egeria stood up from the table and gathered the used dishes together.  She had only just collected them, when Chunny, her lizzie servant, appeared at her side to take them from her.  She swept back around the table and sat down opposite her new husband.  Zeah could have forgotten all about cups and toast and spent the entire day looking at her. She was still in her dressing gown, layer upon layer of pink Mirsannan silk, which only hinted at the petite form beneath.  Egeria’s long red hair hung loosely over her shoulders, framing her pretty face. Sparkling green eyes looked back at him.

“Seeing you like that makes me want to stay home.”

“You don’t have to go to the office.  You could stay home with me.  We could eat cake in bed and make love all day.”

Zeah felt the heat rise up into his face.  “We could eat cake all day, but I don’t…”

“Grandpa!  Grandpa!”

Shouts and the sounds of stampeding shoes on the fine wood flooring announced the arrival of Zeah’s grandchildren, and they piled on top of him before he had a chance to even turn around.  Augie, a rough and tumble boy, who was proud to say he was “over four and a half”, grabbed Zeah around the neck, while his little sister Terra, a thin and rather pale three and a half year-old in a yellow dress, was satisfied with wrestling her grandfather’s knee into submission.  When Zeah did manage to turn his head, he saw his grandchildren’s cousin Iolana standing demurely by the door.  He held out an arm and she raced forward, giving him a big hug.  Though her dress matched that of her young cousin, the tall and thin eight year old stood out, with her long, golden hair.

He expected to see his daughter with the children, but instead Chunny ushered Governor Iolanthe Staff into the room.  She looked as striking as ever in a grey pin-striped dress, a very masculine-looking tie, and black boater.  She smiled at the Korlanns.  She seemed to be smiling a great deal lately, but to Zeah’s mind, it just never looked quite right on her.  It was like painting a rainbow on the prow of a battleship.

“Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Korlann,” she said, reminding them that it was the first time she had seen them since the wedding.

“Good morning Iolanthe,” said Egeria, getting up and giving Mrs. Staff a hug.

This allowed Zeah to simply say “Good morning,” and not have to say “Good morning Iolanthe” which he found excruciatingly painful to do.

Zeah stood up, Augie still wrapped around his neck, Iolana wrapped around his waist, and Terra wrapped around his knee.  He reached down and scooped the smallest child up under his left arm and he guided the oldest with his right hand behind her head.  He took two steps forward and doubled over, letting the middle child’s feet hit the floor.

“You must let go of Grandpa, children,” he said.  “He’s way too old for this.”

“Come with me and I’ll get you a biscuit,” said Egeria.

Only Terra yelled “Yay!” but all three followed her into the kitchen.

“My daughter’s not with you?” he asked.

“Obviously,” replied Iolanthe.  “I don’t know where she is actually.  Cissy had the children dressed, so I thought I would bring them along to my office. They can play in the garden.”

“I’m sure Egeria wouldn’t mind letting them stay here.”

“It didn’t take you long to start making her decisions for her.”

The Two Dragons – Chapter 2 Excerpt

The train station, originally a wooden structure smaller than most homes, had been partially rebuilt of stone and marble.  It was in fact, well into a program of construction that would require the better part of a decade.  That was not to say that the station was not in service.  Trains rolled in from distant St. Ulixes in Mallontah on an average, three times a day.  Every other day, a coal train arrived from the south.  Two trains were in station at the present time.  One was sitting idle and would leave for Mallontah later that day. The other, the B-412, had arrived from St. Ulixes within the last half hour and its engine was still emitting steam from its boiler.

More than one hundred passengers had arrived on the B-412 and most of them were still at the station, collecting their luggage and waiting for friends and relatives to meet them, or hugging and kissing those friends and relatives who had already arrived.  Graham Dokkins was just swinging off the steps of the passenger car, with a duffle bag over his shoulder.   A stocky young man of seventeen, a late growth spurt had brought him up to his full five foot eleven.  He wore a grey wool suit straight from Greater Brechalon, but his bowler hat was all Birmisia, with its hatband made of velociraptor skin.  Not what most would call handsome, he had a thick shock of brown hair and laughing eyes.

“You look quite dapper in that suit,” said Senta.

Graham smiled, tossed his bag on the cement platform, and stepped over to embrace her.   As she pressed her cheek to his, Senta closed her eyes and felt the warmth of his skin.  After a moment, he took her by the shoulders and held her back at arm’s length, looking questioningly into her face.

“You’ve been gone too long.”  She answered his unasked question.

“It’s nice to be missed.”

“I was at the docks.  I thought you’d come by ship.”

“I could have, but I would have been another three days getting home. The new cranes are coming on the Gabrielle.”

“It’s good that you had the option.  I suppose that comes from being an important muckey-muck.”

“Assistant Port Manager, at your service.”  Graham doffed his hat and bowed at the waist.

“Do you want to go to the Café for tea?”

“Ma will kill me if I don’t go straight home.  Walk with me?”

Senta nodded.

Graham picked his duffle back up and threw it over his shoulder.  He held out his elbow and Senta took it as they walked through the half constructed station, down the stone steps in front, and down the brick-lined street to the trolley stop.  The southbound trolley arrived only seconds after they did.  It was pulled by a triceratops, but not Harriet. Senta didn’t recognize the animal, but Graham did.  He knew all the city’s dinosaurs.

“Hello Meg,” he said, slapping the beast on its right hind leg before climbing into the trolley cab.

“Hey Graham,” said the driver.

“Hey Gideon.”

Gideon gave Senta a sidelong glance but didn’t meet her eyes.  Graham pulled two pfennigs from his pocket and dropped them into the glass box next to the driver’s station before leading Senta by the hand to the middle seats and sitting down.  After Meg had been fed, and with a clang of the bell, the vehicle began rolling down the grass pathway in the center of Terrence Dechantagne Boulevard.  The triceratops let loose of five or six gallons of dung, which dropped onto the tracks beneath her tail, and which the trolley subsequently ran over.

“They have steam-powered trolleys in St. Ulixes now,” said Graham.

“Were they nice?”

“Oh, heck no.  Too much smoke and soot everywhere.”

“Not as many dung pies though?”

“That’s good fertilizer.  I always said it was a shame to let the lizzies have all of that.  We should keep some of it for our own gardens.”

“Don’t you have enough fertilizer already?”

“I meant all of us—all the soft-skins.”

“How did you find the lizzies in Mallontah?” she asked, remembering her own visit years before.

“They’re not really lizzies at all, are they?  Different animal altogether.  They call them trogs.”

“That’s right,” remembered Senta.

The trolley stopped four times on the main boulevard before it turned east onto Whipple Avenue.  The second stop after the turn was Graham’s, and both he and Senta stepped out.  Two years before, the Dokkins family, reveling in new wealth, had purchased a family estate in what seemed at the time, a remote location.  The city had quickly expanded though to gobble it up.  Had it been in Greater Brechalon, the two-story house would have been the home of some gentry, and indeed though from common enough stock, here in Birmisia, that was just how the Dokkins family was thought of.  An unusually high wrought iron fence surrounded the estate, which encompassed some twenty acres.  Graham opened the gate and allowed Senta to enter before him, then closed it after them.  Almost immediately the ground began to tremble.

The rumbling grew stronger and stronger and bursting from behind a stand of bushes, a monster raced toward them.  The creature was an iguanodon, almost thirty feet long and weighing more than three tons.  Roughly the same size as Harriet and Meg, it was much sleeker than a triceratops and ran on its hind feet, though it remained bent over like a quadruped.  It trumpeted loudly as it ran at the two humans.

“Whoa, Stinky!” shouted Graham.  “Whoa!”

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.”