The Price of Magic – Chapter 21 Excerpt

Lady Iolana Staff opened her aquamarine eyes and glanced around the interior of the tent, startled. She knew exactly where she was, but for the life of her she couldn’t remember falling asleep or even laying down.  Colonel Bentford looked down at her from just inside the tent flap.

“I’ve had them bring you a bit of breakfast,” he said, gesturing toward the folding table and chair. “Needless to say, you’re to remain here until the battle’s conclusion.”

With a click of his heels, he slipped outside.

Iolana could hear the sound of marching boots all around.  She stood up to peer outside, but her eye caught the plate on the table. It wasn’t a feast worthy of the Dechantagne Staff house, but it was a finer meal than she could remember having seen in what seemed like a year—a large fried egg, two pieces of black pudding, a slice of bacon, and an honest-to-Kafira scone.  She slid into the chair and tucked in, finishing her scone and bacon before even thinking to look for the silver fork.

Her mind no longer on her stomach, Iolana thought about what to do next.  Then she heard a horrible chugging sound, accompanied by a pounding on the ground that almost lifted her off her feet.  She stepped out the tent flap and looked around.

“Nuffin’ to worry ’bout, y’ladyship,” said the sentry, throwing out a restraining arm.  “It’s just ’at crawler war machine.”

The crawler was indeed making its way past, not fifty feet away.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, ducking back inside.

Without stopping, she crossed to the back of the tent, pulling her knife from her belt.  For a moment, she mourned the loss of her pistol, but then it wouldn’t have been nearly as handy at that exact moment. With a single cut, she opened a Iolana-sized slice in the canvas and stepped out, to find herself in a space between two rows of tents, both pointing away from her.  She followed the little alleyway to the end, and then stepped out.  Soldiers were hurrying this way and that, though most in the same general direction that the crawler had been moving.

“Which way to the prisoners?” she asked, grabbing the arm of a passing soldier.

He looked her up and down, then pointed, and hurried off.  Iolana went the general direction indicated and soon found a circular wire pen holding six or seven lizzies, most of them lying prone.  The single guard watching them, rifle in hand, had little to do. The lizzies, in addition to being inside the pen, were all shackled hand and foot.  The girl quickly stepped up in front of the soldier.

“Oh, I’m feeling faint!” she cried, throwing her arm up over her eyes and falling backwards.

“Careful, Miss,” said the man, catching her in one arm, holding onto his rifle with the other.

“Oh, I’ve just lost my air, I’m afraid.”  She leaned back into him, fanning herself with one hand and feeling his muscular arm with the other.  “My, you’re so strong, Sergeant.”

“Whatever are you doing out here, Miss?”

“Oh, I’m such a silly girl. I was so excited that I ran all the way from the Colonel’s tent.”

“The colonel?”  The soldier tried to straighten both of them up at the same time.  “What about the colonel?”

“He wants you to bring one of the lizzies to his tent… for questioning, I expect.”

“Did he say which one?”

“I don’t think it matters. Maybe one of those that was captured early on.”

“All right then.”

Fishing the keys off his belt, the sergeant opened a padlock on a makeshift gate, nothing more than slice in the wire really.  Stepping inside, he kicked one of the prone lizzies with the toe of his boot.

“Come on, scaly.  It’s time to go meet your betters.”

It was doubtful that the lizzie understood a single word, but he seemed to understand the gestures that went along with them, climbing to his feet and followed the man out of the enclosure.  After replacing the padlock, the soldier took the reptilian by the arm and began to lead him away.

“Sergeant,” said Iolana, throwing her body in his way.  “I’ll stay here and guard your charges for you.”

“Not really necessary. They’re chained up anyway.”

“Well, thank you for your chivalry,” she said, giving him a quick hug.

No sooner had the man and his charge started away, than Iolana turned to the enclosure.  Examining the key ring she had just taken from the soldier’s belt, she unlocked the gate and slipped inside.  It was easy enough to identify the lizzie priestess, even for one not nearly so familiar with the reptilians as was Iolana.  Tokkenoht, the only lizzie that didn’t seem half asleep, stepped right up to her.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” said the girl, bending down to unlock her leg shackles.  “I’ll leave your hands cuffed until we get beyond the camp.”

“Unlock the others,” said Tokkenoht.

“We can’t,” said Iolana, trying without success to pull her along.  “Soldiers might not think twice about one prisoner being moved.  Besides, it would probably only get these lizzies shot.”

“She is right,” said one of the lizzies on the ground.  “Hurry and go, Your Eminence.”

Tokkenoht allowed the human girl to pull her out of the gate and then through the military camp. There were far fewer soldiers moving about than there had been even just a few minutes before.  The last battle units had formed up and moved toward the field. All that remained behind were sentries and support personnel.  A few gave the lizzie and the human girl in a military uniform a strange looks, but no one accosted them.  Within five minutes, they had reached the southwestern edge of the camp.  Fifty feet beyond the last tent, they ducked down into a large bush.

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