A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Twelve thousand miles away from Birmisia Colony and the rest of Mallon, was the continent of Sumir. It was the smallest of the world’s twelve continents, but it dominated the others, because Sumir was the ancestral home of all humans.  Many people said the continent was shaped like an upside down teardrop.  Others said it more resembled an upside down candle flame.  At least they agreed that whatever it was, it was upside down.  On the northern end was the land of Freedonia, and just off the coast from it, was the island nation of Brechalon, for the past twelve years, forged into a single political unit—The United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon and Freedonia.  Roughly in the center of Brechalon, the largest of the three islands that made up Greater Brechalon was Brech City, the capitol of the Kingdom, as well as the vast and still growing Brech Empire.

Birmisia Colony was thick with lizzies.  Outside of the colony, there were even more, as most of Mallon was dotted with villages and city-states of lizardmen.  In Sumir however, the lizzie population was limited to one.  Esther was that one lone lizzie on the continent, and had been for more than four years.  If she hadn’t been aware of that fact before, she was constantly reminded as she made her way though the halls of the vast four-story mansion of the Dechantagne-Staff family.

Esther had risen early. She had a suite of rooms in the rear of the third floor that overlooked the courtyard.  It was quite nice.  She had been raised to sleep in a human bed, but still sometimes took to the floor, sleeping on the rug, with her nose pointed toward the fireplace.  Having taken a bath in the wholly inadequate human bathtub, she had dressed in a new pink morning dress.  It had been made from a design for typical Brech women, but the seamstress had radically altered it to fit her body, and not the least for her long tail.

As she walked through the hallway, toward the stairs, she encountered five of the household staff. It seemed quite odd to her, but here in Brech City, the servants were as human as the masters.  In each case, save one, the staff members had gone to great pains to avoid her, either taking a sudden turn down another hall, or ducking quickly into a room.

Willa Armice was an upstairs maid who took care of Esther’s room among others.  The two had become friendly over the previous months.

“Good morning, Lady Esther,” said Willa.

“Don’t be sssilly. There’s only one lady in this house and it certainly isn’t me.  What are you about then?”

“I’m off to clean your rooms.  I hope you didn’t leave a big mess for me.”

“I tried not to. Would you mind leaving me more towels?”

“Of course, My Lady,” she said with a curtsey and a wink.

Esther continued down the hallway, hissing happily, which might not have been such a good thing on the balance.  She turned to start down the sweeping staircase and came face to face with Finley, the underbutler.  Almost running into her hissing snout apparently startled him so badly that he dropped the silver tray loaded with the morning post, and leaned precariously backwards.  He made an “eeep” sound when she grabbed him by the collar, but at least he didn’t topple down the stairs.

“Kafira!  That was close,” said Esther, as she steadied him on the step below her.  “Are you all right?”

“Nothing a couple of liver pills won’t fix,” he said, bending down to pick up the dropped letters.

“If you’re sure then,” said Esther continuing down the stairs.  At the foot of the staircase, she turned back around to see him still watching her. Esther gave him a little wave and, turning right and then right again, entered the dining room.

Two women, both in their early twenties, sat at the immense table, enjoying a breakfast feast. Esther sat down across from them. Fodora Epps and Regina Elipton were guests in the house rather than residents, at least nominally.  Both had been staying there for almost a month.  Besides being members of the aristocracy, and obnoxious twits, they were acquaintances of Lady Iolana’s from University.

“Good morning,” said Esther, taking a serving spoon and adding two slices of bacon, two large pieces of black pudding, and one basted egg to her plate.  “Would you pass the ssscones, please?”

“Imagine letting that thing eat at the table,” said Fodora, looking from between the brunette ringlets that framed her face and down her long nose.

“Where is your owner?” asked Regina, a blonde with big eyes but no appreciable chin.

“I don’t know where Lady Iolana is,” said Esther, taking a bite of black pudding.  “Ssso no ssscones then?”

Fodora pushed the plate of scones three inches toward the lizzie.  Esther had to stand up to reach them.  Taking a scone in one hand, she picked up the dish of lemon curd in the other and sat back down.

“I am ssso happy that you two are staying,” she said.  “It would pain me if your families’ current financial sssituations forced you to live on the ssstreets.”

“My family is richer than yours,” snarled Regina, forgetting for a moment to whom she was speaking.

She had either forgotten or never bothered to commit to memory the fact that Esther had been adopted by Iolana Staff at a very early age.  She had no proper lizzie family, and among the lizzies, even village chieftains would have been poor compared to the Eliptons of Brech.  On the other hand, if one considered her part of the Dechantagne-Staff family, as Iolana did, there was no question that the Eliptons would have suffered in any comparison of wealth.

Lady Iolana Staff swept into the room.  At nineteen years of age, she had reached her full five foot seven inches height, and developed what among Brech women was considered the perfect figure.  She was not particularly buxom, nor was her bottom, without a bustle, particularly large, but her waist was quite thin even without a corset.  She was stunning, with waves of golden hair falling well past her shoulders and the same aquamarine eyes as her mother.  She was already dressed to go out, in a rose and pink velvet day dress with a matching hat.

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