“Good morning, Father,” replied Iolana, turning to the next page of The Girl from Beneath the Earth.
“Still working your way through Inspector Colbshallow’s books?”
“Yes, Father,” she said, turning the page.
“I wouldn’t think you would find them all that interesting. They’re written for young men.”
“They just speak to me,” she said, turning the page.
“Are you actually reading that?”
“Yes, Father,” she said, turning the page.
“How can you read that fast? Do you skim through the words?”
Iolana stopped and took the sterling silver bookmark embossed with the Dechantagne family crest from the lamp table, placing it between pages 44-45 of the tattered paperback, which she set next to the unlit lamp.
“No, I don’t skim. It’s all about training one’s mind to recognize an entire sentence at a time instead of only a single word. People do it occasionally without even realizing it. It comes naturally. For instance, you may read the letters B A S S, but how do you know if that word rhymes with ace or ass? Your brain tells you because it sees ahead to the rest of the sentence. So you read ‘the bass is the largest instrument in the orchestra,” or “the bass fishing is best in the lakes of Booth.”
“I see.” He sat down in the other chair. “So what is this book about?”
“They’re all essentially the same. A plucky Brech hero must make his way through dangerous terrain, fight hordes of frightening monsters, and defeat evil masterminds in order to rescue an exotic princess. This particular princess comes from a hidden world beneath the surface where humans are enslaved by a race of intelligent but evil burrowing insects.”
Mr. Staff laughed. “And this speaks to you? Do you identify with the princess or the hero?”
Iolana shrugged. “All I can say is that I don’t see myself as a burrowing insect.”
“Glad to hear it. Remember, we are going hunting tomorrow.”
“I don’t think I will go this time. I have too much to do.”
“You have to go. I planned this trip weeks ago, and besides, it was your idea. What exactly is monopolizing your time lately? I feel like I hardly ever see you anymore.”
“I’ve been spending time with my friends.”
“It’s not a boy, is it? Do I have to start sending a chaperone with you everywhere you go?”
“I assure you Father, there is no boy interested in me. I’m either too young, or too smart, or too famous, or too stuck-up, or too ugly to be bothered with.”
“You aren’t ugly, Iolana,” he said. “But the rest of those are all true. So you will be ready to go tomorrow at 7:00 AM.”
“As you say, Father,” she said, taking up her book again.
“You must help me see to Terra. I’m still not sure about taking her with us. I had the devil’s own time convincing her mother that she should be let out, so you will need to help me.” He stood up. “Still, she seemed more worried about Augie. I think she’s had a premonition that he will die young.”
“Of course it is.”
“It’s far more likely that Augie will outlive Terra or me.”
“Why do you say that? Women usually live longer.”
“I wasn’t speaking of men and women, but of Dechantagnes,” Iolana explained. “Mother was the middle child and she outlived Uncle Terrence and Uncle Augie. Our grandfather was a middle child, the second of four. His older brother was killed in the Bordonian War, while his younger sister died of a fever and his younger brother was shot in a disagreement over a gambling debt. If one were to extrapolate from history, one would have to assume that Augie was destined to survive both his sister and me.”
“Don’t forget, you’re a Staff,” said her father, before he exited the room.
“At least according to my mother and Zurfina,” said Iolana quietly. “Two women, neither noted for their adherence to the truth.”
Sixteen minutes later, Iolana closed The Girl from Beneath the Earthand returned it to the crate sitting along the south wall. She skimmed through the container for the book she would read tomorrow, finally picking up Slave Girl Captive of the Piratesbefore tossing it back into the box with the realization that she wouldn’t have time for it the following day. The rest of her morning reading was cut short too.
“Kayden!” she shouted out the library door. “Where in Kafira’s name is my Gazette?”
The lizzie major-domo stepped close to her. “Khikhiino tacktotott.”
“No one is to get that paper before me. Khikhiino Iolana.”
“Not even my mother.”
“You whant I get?”
“No, there’s no sense you getting fired over my newspaper. If you see her set it aside, grab it and save it for me. I’ll read it tonight.”
“Yess Stahwasuwasu Zrant.”
“My name is Iolana. I know you can say it.”
“Lizzie name is Stahwasuwasu Zrant.”
“While I admit that ‘Child of the Sunrise’ has a certain ring to it, I’m only too aware that the same words also mean ‘Pest of the Sunrise.”
Avoiding both the dining room and the family at breakfast, Iolana cut through the kitchen from the back hallway, grabbing a crumpet on the way though. Once out the back door, she ordered a pair of lizzies to wheel the steam cabriolet out of the machine shed. Much smaller than the other cars, the cabriolet had come all the way from Mirsanna. With two large wheels just behind the driver, just in front of the engine, it had two very tiny wheels out in front and was steered not with a steering wheel but with a tiller. Though it officially belonged to her mother, Iolana was the only one who used it, and it was the only vehicle she was allowed to drive herself. The lizzies topped off the water, but Iolana started the coal fire.