Dozens of square wooden playing pieces were arrayed across the oak surface, only half of which faced her. The other pieces belonged to her opponent. Esther hissed softly and moved the piece back to its original spot.
The gaming table sat along the west wall of Iolana’s bedroom, the largest bedroom in the house. Just behind Iolana’s seat was a stone fireplace, and beyond that was a writing desk with chair, and in the corner a cheval glass. Across the room from the fireplace was a beautiful canopy bed, the cover and the drapes of which matched the Thiss green area rug beneath it. Rich oak nightstands, hand-crafted here in Birmisia, matched the oak chest of drawers and the six tall bookcases. At the other end of the room, a comfortable sofa, striped green and gold, sat facing two comfy armchairs. Beside them was a hutch filled with dolls and toys and a mechanical music box, which even now was playing a Freedonian waltz.
The lizzie placed her chin on the table and hissed again.
“You see I’ve got you beat, don’t you?” said Iolana. “Unless you have Insane Witch Woman, there is no way you can win.”
“Cheat,” said Esther quietly.
“How dare you!” growled Iolana, jumping to her feet.
“Ssiss zat techiss szessit suuwasuu dakkuk wasuu wasuu eesousztekhau.”
“Well of course I do. Who’s going to make the pieces for the game if I don’t? Answer me that.” The human girl put her hands on her hips. “All the other players in town copy my pieces and nobody has complained that they weren’t fair, ssisthusso very much.”
The lizzie slid her chin off the table and climbed beneath it.
“Oh, do get up. Maybe I should let you win sometimes. Perhaps that would be good for your self-esteem, but it just sends the wrong message, doesn’t it? How would you ever know if you truly were good enough to beat me?”
The door suddenly burst open and Iolana’s cousin Terra came shooting in. Though dressed in a frilly little outfit of burgundy and silver, the seven-year-old was barefoot and both her hands and feet were extremely grimy. Her thick brown hair was a mess. Iolana held up her hand like a traffic cop.
“You know you’re supposed to knock before you come in that door.”
“I only want to play with your lizzie,” said Terra’s scratchy little voice.
“How in Kafira’s name did you get so dirty? Your mother is going to have a dinosaur when she sees you.”
“I want to play with your lizzie,” Terra repeated. “Can I take her out to the swings?”
Iolana tilted her head to look under the table. “Do you want to go outside with Terra?”
Esther bobbed her head up and down.
“Say the word.”
“All right then,” she told her cousin, “but don’t bring her back all dirty.”
“Come on, lizzie,” called Terra, as Esther scrambled out from under the table and followed the girl out the door.
After carefully washing her hands in the basin on her nightstand, Iolana checked her dress in the cheval that stood in the corner. Then she retrieved a straw boater from her closet and added a small red achillobator feather that just matched her red dress. Leaving her room, she ran into her mother’s dressing maid at the top of the stairs.
“Narsa, have one of the males go watch Terra and Esther. They’re playing out in the garden. And when they’re done, have them cleaned up, preferably before Auntie Yuah sees them.”
At the bottom of the stairs, Iolana passed through the dining room where several servants were cleaning up after luncheon and getting the room ready for tea. In the kitchen, others were already preparing finger sandwiches. Here she found Walworth Partridge, sitting on a stool, stuffing his face with them. Walworth, a somewhat gangly youth of seventeen, was the latest of a string of young men who had worked for the Dechantagne and Staff families as drivers.
“Fancy driving me to the pfennig store, Wally?”
“That’s what they pay me for,” he said, shoving the last little sandwich into his mouth whole and hopping to his feet.
He started for the back door and Iolana followed.
“I lit the boiler while ago,” he said over his shoulder, his mouth still full. “Should be nice and ready.”
The shiny red steam carriage, one of seven cars in the family’s possession, poured out black smoke from its chimney and steam from the pressure relief. As Iolana climbed into the passenger seat, Walworth made the necessary checks and adjustments to the engine before climbing into the driver’s side.
“Which store did you want?”
“Let’s go to the new one at Clark and Forest.”
“By the Gazette?”
“Um, yes. I suppose so.”
Though traffic was sparse around her home, once they had passed Town Square the streets became crowded with steam carriages, pedestrians, and lizzies pulling rickshaws. At Clark and First, they came upon the scene of a traffic accident. Though it was hard to tell exactly what had happened, it had obviously involved a car and two or more rickshaws. There seemed to be no one seriously injured, but it took more than fifteen minutes to get past the intersection. Finally Walworth brought the vehicle to a stop at the curb in front of one of the newer business buildings.
J.D. Kinney’s 5 and 10 Pfennig Dry Goods and Sundries occupied the largest part of the building. The remainder held Doreen’s Millinery and Friese and Son’s Imported Foods and Beverages. Separated only by an alleyway was another business building just to the left, containing Buttermore’s Photography, Mademoiselle Joliet’s Dress Shop, Tint’s Haberdashery, and McCoort & McCoort Print Shop and Publishing. Just beyond that was a third building, just as large as the first two, which was devoted entirely to the Birmisia Gazette.