“Another letter from Lord Dechantagne,” she said. “Shall I burn it, like the others.”
“Yes,” sighed Zoey, sprawled across the sofa, still in her nightgown though it was well past 1:00 PM. “Wait. No, yes, maybe. I don’t know. No, I want to read it.”
The letter exploded in a bright flash, leaving only a single ember, which drifted down to the floor.
“Oops. Too late.”
“Fine. I really didn’t want to read it.” The dragon in human form leaned back and moaned pitifully. “How could he treat me so terribly?”
“You really must snap out of it, Pet.”
“But he broke my heart!”
“Your dragon heart will not be broken by anything as unimpressive as a human boy.” Senta sat down next to Zoey and ran her hand over her hair. “Augustus is just a boy, and boy’s are even worse than men. They are capricious, self-involved, immature little creatures. Forget him. You’ll be better off, I assure you.”
“But I love him.”
“You need to get away for a while. Next week, I’m leaving to spend a fortnight at Dragon Fortress. You must come with me. We’ll do nothing but relax and indulge ourselves. Those lizzies will faun all over you, you know. They’ll treat you like the goddess you are.”
“You just want to push me at Bessemer.”
“I don’t. I don’t even know that he’ll be there. He spends most of his time these days visiting the lizzie cities. And if he is there, you don’t have to see him if you don’t want to. I promise.”
“Last time I went there with you, I was kidnapped.”
“Well obviously, that won’t happen again,” said Senta. “Between the two of us, there’s nothing in the world to threaten us. Now, I’m going to Bryony’s for tea. Why don’t you get dressed up and come with me?”
“I don’t feel like eating and I don’t feel like watching you torture Bryony.”
“Suit yourself,” said the sorceress, standing up. “Rezesic idium uuthanum tortestos paj.”
With a pop, Senta disappeared from her parlor, only to reappear on the front step of the Baxter’s lovely little cottage. She rapped her knuckles on the door. There was no answer. She repeated the procedure, but still nothing. She turned the doorknob, but the lock was engaged. With a snap of her fingers, she magically unlocked it. Then turning the knob, she let herself in.
The house appeared empty. She walked slowly through the parlor, into the dining room, where she noted the table was set with place settings, but no food was in evidence. She turned and walked down the hallway until she came to a door. She opened it and looked in. Three-and-a-half-year-old Kerry Baxter sat in the center of his bedroom floor, playing with tin soldiers. He looked up.
“Hello little Baxter,” said Senta. “How are you today?”
She reached into the air and a chocolate biscuit appeared in her hand. She bent down and handed it to him.
“Where is your mommy?”
“And where is Sen?”
“She’s not here.”
Turning, Senta continued down the hall, opening another door to see Sen’s empty room. The next door opened into the bathroom. That left only one more door at the very end of the hallway. Senta stopped and knocked quietly. She heard something on the other side, but couldn’t tell if it was words or something else. She opened the door and found Bryony lying across her bed, fully clothed.
“Why Bryony Byenthal,” said the sorceress, stepping to her side. “Why ever are you just lying around when you could be up fixing my tea?”
“I had just finished cleaning up breakfast, when I got the most dreadful headache.” The woman’s voice was barely audible and she began shivering as soon as she stopped speaking.
“Teigor tachthna uuthanum Senta,” said Senta.
“What are you doing? Are you casting a spell on me?”
“Not on you. Rather on my errant offspring. She should be along soon.”
“You don’t need to bother her. I’ll get up and make tea in just a moment.”
“Oh, I’m afraid you won’t,” said Senta.
She reached down and wiped two fingers across Bryony’s fevered brow, bringing them up to examine the blue perspiration. The stricken woman watched, her eyes growing even larger and rounder than usual.
“I have the sweat. I’m dying. Senta, you must promise to take care of Kerry for me. I know you’ll lure Kieran back to you. Just promise me to take care of my little boy too.”
“I promise I will take care of your family,” said Senta, as she reached up into the air and plucked out a large brown vial.
She pulled the cork from the bottle with her teeth and then bent down and poured the contents into Bryony’s mouth. Standing back up, the sorceress tossed the bottle onto the floor in the corner.
At that moment, Senta’s daughter came bursting into the room.
“What have you done to her, you cow?”
“Don’t talk to me like that, you little bint! I’ve done nothing to her, except save her life of course. Bryony Baxter has…”
“Baxter,” said the girl. “Wait a minute. What did you say?”