The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 19 Excerpt

The long, snaking line of soldiers marched through the forest.  Incredibly tall redwood trees, large spruces, maples and bay trees, gave shade, but offered little in the way of obstacles. Though azalea and huckleberry bushes pulled at the men’s legs, their heavy canvas pants and leather boots protected them.  At the head of the group was Terrence Dechantagne, who was followed by a lizardman named Sarkkik.  Sarkkik wore a feathered headdress and his body was painted all black along the right side and red along the left.  Next in line was Augustus Dechantagne who was followed by another lizardman.  This second lizardman, Szuss, was far less ornately adorned, with just a few stripes of ochre around his neck and arms. Behind him was the wizard Dudley Labrith.  Behind Labrith were one hundred eighty well-trained soldiers in khaki.

“Blast!” shouted Augie, as a small dinosaur jumped up from the brush near his feet with a twitter and shot away through the woods.

Terrence turned back and gave his brother a look, though he didn’t say anything. They had journeyed by his calculation, more than one hundred sixty miles.  Along the way, Augie had frightened, or been frightened by, at least half a dozen dinosaurs.  To be fair, some of the beasts had been genuinely frightening.

When they had crossed a seemingly innocuous stream two days earlier, several creatures decided that some of the humans would make a pleasant lunch. Familiar with alligators along the southernmost rivers in Sumir, Terrence had read of similar creatures called crocodiles that lived in Mallon.  That’s what these animals were—crocodiles.  Neither Terrence nor anyone else had expected them to be so large. The three beasts in the meager little river were each more than fifty feet long and must have topped the scale at eight tons a piece.  It had taken the rifle fire of more than fifty men to discourage the crocodiles.

The lizardman next to Augie hissed something in his language.

“What did he say?”

“He said not to worry.  That dinosaur was harmless.”

The reptilian hissed again.

“He says it’s only a short walk to our destination.”

“Anything else?”

Augie spoke again in the lizard language.  Again came a reply.

“He says we should be ready to fight.”

“All right.  Tell the men.”

“Check magazines.  Full loads,” said Augie to the sergeant behind him, who transmitted the order back down the line.

Less than half a mile past the point at which the small dinosaur had jumped up from the brush, the forest ended and a huge savannah spread out before the soldiers.  Terrence had the men tighten up into a two by two formation and continue on.  Here on the open grassland, tremendous beasts roamed. In the distance the men could see a large herd of triceratops, which they had grown used to seeing at home, but even closer was a troupe of nine or ten beasts whose size defied all logic. Their huge bodies were more than thirty feet tall, and they possessed a long serpentine tail and an equally long serpentine neck that placed their heads more than one hundred fifty feet from their other ends.  The monsters walked along in a line toward another distant edge of the forest far to the east.

“My god!” exclaimed Augie.  “They’re magnificent.”

“Seismosaurus,” said Terrence, and when his brother gave him a look, he said. “I’ve been reading.”

“Look what’s following them,” said Labrith.

A discreet distance behind the giants, were the huge black bodies and horrendous red faces of four large tyrannosauruses.  All four turned to eye the humans making their way across the grassland.  They might have sensed a fearlessness among the humans, or they might not have been hungry. For whatever reason, they turned back around and continued to follow the seismosauruses.

Crossing the great grassland, Terrence could see a line of rolling hills on the far side.  It was only after they had marched through the waist-tall grass for more than an hour however, when the hills revealed one of the greatest sights that he or any of the soldiers had ever seen.  Framed between two closer hills and sitting atop the larger, rockier promontory behind, was a city.  Even from a distance of many miles, it was easy to see that this city was something spectacular.  Huge gleaming white pyramids rose from its center and giant walls surrounded it, as if keeping it from flowing down the sides of the hill.  Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of houses and other buildings were contained within its confines.

“I didn’t think they were capable of anything like this,” said Augie, obviously speaking of the lizardmen.

Without thinking, Terrence had stopped to stare at the magnificent sight. He didn’t say anything, but he hadn’t been aware that the reptilians were capable of anything along this line either.  The other soldiers moved up and formed a group, rather than a line.  All stared in rapt fascination and open astonishment at a city that might very well have rivaled Brech in size.

“Dechantagne,” said Wizard Labrith, pointing.

Terrence followed his gaze and saw spread out across the savannah, a line of lizardmen.  They were so well camouflaged that they blended right into the rising landscape behind them.  They stretched out to the left and the right so far that they created a half circle around the humans, and this at a distance of more than a mile.  Many of the lizardmen were painted red and white and black, and most wore feathers.  Most also carried the swords, made of wood and flint, that the men had seen before.

“Kafira,” said one of the soldiers.  “There must be a thousand of them.”

“More like five thousand,” said Labrith.

“Talk to them,” said Terrence to Augie, indicating the two lizardmen with them. “Find out if these are our friends or the enemies.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 18 Excerpt

Many people on the shore were watching as the two ships steamed out of the bay and no doubt many people had many different emotions flowing around within them at the sight.  Some might have felt frightened with the realization that their last tenuous lifeline to the world of civilization was now severed.  Some might have been excited that the challenge of taming the new world was now theirs and theirs alone to pursue.  Zeah Korlann didn’t know what he felt.  He didn’t have time to dwell upon any feelings however, he had plenty to do.

By the time the sun set that evening, he had accomplished quite a bit. He had arranged for new work details for the former Freedonians.  Like the colonists who had arrived eight days before them, these individuals would be expected to provide six months of service to the colony.  After that, they could purchase land and begin whatever lives they wished.  That was the theory, anyway.  He had also overseen the clearing of the first bit of forest outside the protective wall.  The first shops and stores would be built here hopefully, when that six month period had ended.  Zeah looked forward to visiting a bakery there.  Inside the walls, they had finished constructing a large smokehouse. And finally, that afternoon, the colony’s first fishing boat had floated out into the bay.

Zeah had two stops to make after dinner and before he went back to his own apartment.  The first was to the headquarters tent of Miss Dechantagne.  He would have gone to report to her in any case, but he felt doubly obligated to stop because the Royal Colonial Governor was alone.  Her brothers had left at first light the day before with one hundred eighty soldiers and accompanied by a half dozen reptilian aborigines.  Their mission was to elevate one of the local chiefs to dominance, and at the same time show off modern Brech firepower—put the fear of God into the locals, let them know who was the boss.  Nobody expected stone spear equipped lizardmen to be able to face the power of four platoons of riflemen, and both brothers had spent their time in the army. Still, it was a combat mission, and things could happen.

Knocking on the tent pole that served as a doorjamb, he was rewarded with a “Come in.”

Miss Dechantagne was not alone.  Zeah’s daughter Yuah was in the tent.  She was sitting in one of the folding chairs in front of Miss Dechantagne’s massive desk and Miss Dechantagne herself was sitting in the heavy oak swivel chair behind it.  The two women were sipping cups of tea.

“Hello Papa,” said his daughter, standing up to kiss him on the cheek.

“Good evening.  I didn’t expect to find you here.”

“We were just having tea,” said Miss Dechantagne.  “Would you like some?”

Only Zeah’s carefully regulated composure allowed him to reply without stuttering.  Miss Dechantagne inviting him to tea?  The heat must have somehow addled her.

“No, thank you.  I just wanted to check in and let you know that everything is on schedule.”

“I’m quite excited about the smokehouse, myself,” said Yuah.  “Mrs. Colbshallow is already planning sausages.”

Zeah looked at his daughter with a raised eyebrow.  It seemed that the governor was not the only one who had lost her mind.  Yuah was sipping tea and making small talk with Miss Dechantagne.

“Thank you Zeah,” said the governor.  “I’m pleased to see that our new arrivals are proving to be more of an asset than a hindrance.”

“Indeed.”  Zeah stood for a moment

“You should go get some rest.”

“Very well.  Good night.” He nodded to the women and stepped out the tent flap.  The two women laughed.  Zeah shook his head and walked off.

His second stop was to see Egeria Lusk.  She had completely recovered from her wounds at the hands of an unknown attacker and had in fact, spent much of the day supervising work on the Result Mechanism, though she had left the actual pressing of buttons and throwing of switches to someone else.  He knocked on the door of her apartment and again was asked to “come in” and again found two women sitting and sipping tea.  This time it was Egeria and Sister Auni, the Kafirite cleric.  Sister Auni rose as he entered.

“Good evening, Mr. Korlann,” she said.  “I was just leaving.”

“No need to leave on my account.”

“No, no.  We’ve had a lovely talk, but now I must get back to my own room.”

“Well, good night,” he said, as he held the door open for the clergywoman.

“I’m so glad you came by,” said Egeria, once Sister Auni had left.  “Please sit down.”

“Thank you.  What were you two talking about?”

“Oh, life, the universe, and everything.”

“And what was her take on it.”

“We were just chatting, really,” said Egeria.  “I was sorry that we didn’t get to have supper together.”

“I didn’t really have time for supper today,” said Zeah.  “I was hoping that you would join me tomorrow though.”

“I would be delighted,” she smiled.

Though he was quite as busy the next day as he had been the previous, Zeah had little thought for anything he was doing and much for that night’s supper.  He took a fine haddock from the first load of fish brought in on the new fishing boat.  Though Mrs. Colbshallow was not available, he found a Mrs. Finkler among the Freedonian immigrants, who by all accounts was a wonderful cook.  He paid her two marks to prepare roasted fish.  She proved to be as good as her reputation, and at the appointed time delivered not only two beautifully roasted fish fillets, but a large plate of potatoes, seasoned in a way that was completely new to former butler but was delicious, and roasted leeks covered in sweet butter.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 17 Excerpt

“Look at all these lousy zeets,” said Graham Dokkins, as he and Senta walked between the hundreds of makeshift tents on the southwest side of the hill from the barracks.

“What are zeets?” asked Senta.

“That’s what they’re called.  My Da says they’re evil, and they don’t even believe in Kafira.”

“Zurfina doesn’t believe in Kafira either.  I mean, not like us.  She says the Church is all bullocks.”

“Yeah, well my Da says she’s evil too.”

If Senta was offended at the idea that anyone would call Zurfina evil, she didn’t let on.  She bounced ahead, her skipping steps seeming to defy gravity.  In one hand she carried a stick and in the other her doll. Graham stomped after her.

“Why do you gotta carry that doll everywhere?” he asked.

“Cause I’m a girl, stupid.”

They reached the edge of the tent village.  Some of the women from among the Freedonian refugees had set up a series of clotheslines and were hanging up clothes.  Almost every piece was black, white, or grey.

“They don’t seem any different to me,” said Senta.  “Except they talk funny.”

Suddenly several of the women who had been hanging clothes began to scream and they all began to run toward the tents.  Looking up, the two children saw a steel colored streak flying downward from out of the sun.  The steel dragon buzzed the tops of the women’s heads and then zipped along parallel to the clothesline and with a flick of its tail, knocked every other piece of clothing from the line into the dirt.  Spreading its wings out to their full six-foot breadth, it stopped in mid-air and dropped to the ground at Senta’s feet.  It opened its mouth to the sky and a small puff of smoke shot out.

“Funneee,” said the dragon.

“It’s not either funny, you potty twonk.  You’re going to get everyone angry, and who’s going to get in trouble?  Not you.  Me, that’s who!”

Despite Senta’s declaration that the dragon’s actions were not funny, Graham was laughing heartily.  The dragon hopped over to his feet and rubbed his head against the boy’s leg as if to share in his mirth.  Graham, still laughing, slapped his knee.  The dragon suddenly bit his hand.

“Sod it!” shouted the boy, his laughter suddenly gone.

The dragon looked up in the air, with feigned innocence.

“See, now you’ve made Graham angry too,” said Senta.  Both the girl and the dragon looked at the boy, who had gone all white and sweaty.

“My Da didn’t say it, but I think dragons are evil.”

“Pet,” said the dragon, in a pleading tone.

“Yeah, all right,” Senta said, fishing a small brown bottle from the pocket of her baggy black dress.  “But if you bite anyone else, I’m going to need a new bottle of this.”

She poured the draught from the bottle onto the wound on Graham’s hand.  The liquid bubbled and fizzed on contact with the boy’s blood, but after a few moments nothing was left of the injury but a small scar.

Senta, Graham, and the dragon looked up to see they were completely surrounded by a crowd of people.  The reptile leapt to the girl’s shoulder in one swift motion and curled up around her neck. Graham stood up next to Senta and took her hand in his.  The people began to whisper amongst themselves.  Finally one of the women stepped forward.

“Sorry about your clothes,” said Senta.

“Der drache is, how you say, vunterfull,” said the woman.

“Oh yeah, he’s great,” said Graham, sarcastically.

“He is bootifull.  He is yours?”

“Yeah, sort of,” said Senta.

“You bet he’s hers,” said Graham.  “She’s a really powerful sorceress and he’s her dragon.  And they’re really scary and magical.  Just look at them.  And that’s her magic doll.”

He suddenly started laughing.  The dragon made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a smirk.

“We’ve got to go now,” said Senta.  “I’ve got to lock up my dragon and my troll here.”

“Hey!” shouted Graham, following Senta who was already hurrying through the opening in the crowd that magically parted before her.  “Who you calling a troll, monkey face?”

The two children walked up to the top of the hill and parted without saying goodbye, but with the innocent expectation that they would see each other later and continue on just as they had.  Senta made her way to a quiet place that she had found next to the protective wall. She plopped down in the grass and the steel dragon climbed off her shoulders.  She stretched out and he curled up beside her and placed his whiskered snout on her stomach.

Senta held her doll up and looked at it.  The doll had on an outfit just like hers.  She called the dress she was wearing her doll dress for that very reason. The doll had the same hairstyle that she did.  She could almost imagine that the doll was made especially for her.  But it hadn’t been.  She had seen it many times in the toy store before she had purchased it.

“I wonder what Geert’s doing now?” she mused.  “He’s my cousin,” she explained to the dragon.

She heard the approach of voices and pushed the dragon’s face off of her stomach so that she could roll over and see who it was.  It was Miss Dechantagne.  She was walking along holding the arm of the blond officer from the ship. She had on a stunning yellow dress with white lace trim.  It had at least seven layers on the skirt, ruffles and fringes on the shoulders, and a magnificent bow on the bustle.  The matching hat trailed a long piece of yellow silk down her back.

“That’s the kind of dress I want,” said Senta quietly.

“No,” said the dragon.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 16 Excerpt

The shouting and gunfire brought Terrence out of the white opthalium induced state.  He was sitting on the ground with his back to a massive redwood tree.  It was in fact, that first tree that Iolanthe had tagged with a ribbon to save its life.  It was completely dark all around him, and at first the lapping of the waves nearby was the only sound that registered with his befuddled mind.  When he again heard the shouts and gunfire at the far end of the compound and he recognized them for what they were, he was actually happy. It meant that he hadn’t been awakened by someone discovering him while he was seeing.

Could you call it “seeing” if you didn’t really see anything?  Terrence had used the drug from the small blue bottle several times since the arrival in Birmisia, but he had seen nothing in the other world except that endless fields of the ever-present purple flowers. Never before had he been there without meeting Pantagria.  Now he searched for her and she was nowhere to be found.

Terrence picked up his helmet, which was sitting next to him, and then stood up and began trudging up the hill at a modest pace.  When he saw a blood covered Zeah Korlann being escorted by two riflemen into Iolanthe’s headquarters tent, he ran the rest of the way.

“What’s going on?” he asked, as he burst into the tent.  He stopped short when he saw Miss Lusk, lying on her side, bloodied, on the dirt floor.  “Let’s get Father Ian in here.”

“Father Ian isn’t coming,” said Zeah shakily.

“Sister Auni, go get another acolyte to cast a cure wounds spell,” ordered Iolanthe.  Then she opened the top drawer of her desk and pulled out a brown bottle.  “Soak her bandages in this and poor the rest down her throat.”

She handed the bottle to Dr. Kelloran, who was kneeling over the red-haired woman’s prone form.  The doctor did as directed and a moment later was rewarded with Miss Lusk opening her eyes. Sister Auni arrived after a few minutes with Brother Galen, who followed the exact same procedure that she had in casting a spell.  Color returned to Miss Lusk’s face and she began to breathe freely.

“Who did this to you?” asked Iolanthe.

“I didn’t see them,” said Miss Lusk.  It was an obvious labor to speak.  “Someone was running the Result Mechanism.  I went around the corner to see who it was, but…”

“There were papers coming out of the machine,” said Zeah.

“Go find those papers,” Iolanthe ordered her brother.  “Maybe we can find out who was using it.”

Terrence nodded and left the tent.  He picked up a gas lantern nearby and stomped down the hill toward the still chugging and clanking Result Mechanism.  Just before he reached it, the machine stopped, letting out a long whistle of leftover steam.  He pulled out one of his nickel-plated .45 revolvers and circled around the huge device. Standing at the controls was his brother Augie.

“What’s going on, old man?” said Augie, when he noticed Terrence.

“What are you doing here?” Terrence asked.

“You know you really shouldn’t answer a question with a question,” Augie replied.  “The machine was running and nobody was here, so I shut it down.”

“You didn’t see anybody here?”

“No, and I waited around for a couple of minutes too.”

“Are there any papers coming out of the slot on the side of the machine?”

They both stepped around to the far side, where the printing slot was located, but there were no papers either sticking out of the slot or on the ground below.

“You don’t have anything to do with this, do you?” asked Terrence.

“Anything to do with what?  A bloody machine making a bunch of racket?”

“The stabbing.”

“Stabbing?  What stabbing?”

“Egeria Lusk has been stabbed.  Right over there, by the look of the ground.”

“Kafira!  And you think I had something to do with it?”

“No.  But you were at three of the crime scenes, at least three, so some people are going to get the idea you could be involved.”

“What do you mean three?  The murders on the ship?  I thought you pegged Murty for that, and pegged him good too, I might add.”

“Yes, I did.  And Murty was a bad sort; I don’t doubt it for a moment.”

“You know I wouldn’t stab a woman.  What’s that all about?  I was very fond of Danika.”

“Danika?”

“Miss Kilmurray.”

“Oh, Kafira.  You knew her?”

“I knew her, but I didn’t do anything to hurt her.  I certainly never killed her, and I didn’t kill Miss Lusk.”

“Miss Lusk is alive.”

“Well, thank heavens.  Now she can tell you I didn’t stab her.”

“She doesn’t need to tell me,” said Terrence.  “I know you didn’t stab her.”

“Good.  A brother should trust a brother.”

“You don’t have any blood on you.”

“Oh.”  Augie looked down at his clean clothes.  “I could have changed clothes.”

“You don’t have any blood on your shoes or your face or your hair.”

“So you trust me.”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 15 Excerpt

Ssichutuu was probably not nearly as frightening as his chief.  He did not for instance, appear to be wearing any part of a skeleton as decoration.  He also did not carry any obvious weapons, save a small stone knife with wooden handle. Nevertheless, Zeah Korlann found his new companion every bit as frightening as the tyrannosaurus that stalked the forests of the region.  Ssichutuu was a little over six feet tall and looked more than a little like an upright alligator.  His deep olive skin had few obvious scars or discolorations, marking him as a younger member of the fifty-strong group of visitors.  He kept his dewlap for the most part tucked up against his neck. The truly unnerving thing was the fact that his yellow eyes never seemed to leave Zeah for long and they almost never blinked.

Most of the natives had left the compound to go on a hunting expedition with Master Terrence, but ten had stayed to observe the lifestyles of the newcomers. Each of these temporary visitors had two colonists to look after them.  Zeah and Saba Colbshallow were both escorting this particular lizardman or lizzie around.  Saba had already nicknamed the creature Sichy.  The aborigine took a keen interest in almost everything that they were doing.  They walked along the shore and watched the finishing touches being put on the dock’s crane, which once finished began lifting the last of the heavy cargo from the battleship.  They walked up the hill, now mostly denuded of trees, which was being spread with gravel to form a roadway.  At the top of the hill, they watched the construction of the barracks. Ssichutuu seemed fascinated by the smoothness of the wood used so they walked back down the hill, just south of the dock to observe the power saw slicing logs into boards.

At lunchtime, the lizardmen were brought together along with their hosts around a large table just inside the great protective wall.  Two foot long log segments were turned on end to be used as chairs.  This was functional enough for the colonists and even better for the natives than real chairs, which interfered with their thick tails.  A kind of shish kabob, with pieces of meat, onions, and potatoes was served.  The reptiles eschewed the vegetables for the most part, but ate the meat happily enough. Zeah suspected that they would have preferred it raw, and maybe aged to the point of rotting.

Afterwards the humans watched as the lizardmen gave a demonstration of their method of creating stone blades from the local flint and obsidian.  They used large rocks to break off long slender flakes and then used pieces of bone to chip tiny bits off of these flakes and make them even sharper.  When they were done, they attached the now very sharp stone blades to handles of wood. Ssichutuu presented his completed knife to Zeah and indicated by hand signals that he should keep it as a gift. The former butler marveled at the keen edge.  He didn’t think that even the steel knives brought from Greater Brechalon could match them.  The real advantage of manufactured tools would be their durability.

Late in the afternoon, the hunting party returned carrying massive amounts of dinosaur meat.  Once again there was a great feast, with members of both races eating large amounts of the new world’s unusual meat.  The natives seemed to have the ability to pack away gargantuan portions of food. Zeah overheard Saba remarking on this to Professor Calliere.

“I believe it to be a function of their reptilian nature,” replied the professor. “They can eat great amounts of meat at one time and then go without for perhaps weeks.  I’m sure that this will be of benefit to us once they begin fulfilling their purpose as our natural servants.”

Zeah didn’t pay too much attention to the professor’s pronouncement—in truth, he seldom paid a great deal of attention to what Calliere said—but this time it was because of the presence of Egeria Lusk at Calliere’s side.   She wore a teal brocaded dinner gown with large gold buttons from the neck to below the waist, and a straw boater with a teal ribbon around it.

“You look lovely Egeria,” Zeah thought he probably sounded as though he was gushing, but he didn’t care.

“Thank you, Zeah,” she said.  “I must say you look ruggedly handsome.”

Zeah looked down at himself.  He had been wearing the same type of khaki safari clothing that the soldiers wore. In fact, he had requested a set of the clothing from the mercenary company supplies when he found that he would be spending the day playing tour guide to an oversized lizard.  He had to admit that the color accentuated his tall, thin form.  And he thought the stone knife blade worn at his belt made him look manly.  He took her hand and led her away from the crowd.

“I haven’t seen much of you the past two days,” he said.

“Don’t expect to see much of me the next few days either,” she said.  “The Result Mechanism is being brought ashore tomorrow and the professor will need help getting it up and running.  After that I need to input the measurements from the survey.”

After watching the look on his face for a moment, she burst out laughing. “You really are medicine for the ego! If you’re going to be all that broken up about not seeing me, you might as well come by and help me with the great machine.”  She said the words “great machine” in an abnormally deep voice.

Zeah perked right up.

“I might just do that,” he said, guaranteeing himself in his own mind that he would.

The next morning, most of the colonists were amazed to find that the lizardmen had all left.  Only the sentries had seen them rise early in the morning, gather together their meager gear and the collection of food and manufactured goods that the humans had given them, and exit through the gate in the wall.  They took nothing that did not rightfully belong to them, and they left no word with anyone that they were leaving—anyone being Master Augie, who was the only one fluent in their language.

Zeah knew that Miss Dechantagne’s plans for the colony ultimately depended on the lizardmen. They would be needed extensively for manual labor.  He also knew that Miss Dechantagne had negotiated well into the night with Chief Ssithtsutsu.  He didn’t know what the outcome was.  He had better things to do that listen to Master Augie’s back and forth translation. Better things being looking at and talking to Egeria.  All the same, he was glad that the lizzies were gone.  They were so very… well, reptilian.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 14 Excerpt

Iolanthe Dechantagne had carefully chosen the dress to be worn on the day she set foot in Birmisia.  It was a lovely olive green herringbone weave, finished with a line of twenty-four filigree buttons.  The bodice was wool, with the lighter cotton overskirt gathered together into a bunch over the bustle, and the polished forest green foundation skirt peeked out from beneath it.  She would have been as fashionably in style as any woman in Brech, had she been standing in the center of Hexagon Park.  Here on the deck of a battleship, thousands of miles from civilization, amid several hundred travelers who had been locked up for fifty-five days, she was like a goddess.

She surveyed the view of the land from the prow of the ship.  The dark blue waters reflected the beautiful redwood forest like a mirror.  The rocky shore was scarcely moistened by the calm waters of the bay.  A number of small birds, brown with flashes of black on their necks, hopped along among the rocks finding insects or small crustaceans. A large tract stretching from the coastline all the way up to the promontory had already been denuded of its trees, both large and small.  The great chug of steam engines and the intermittent whine of power saws filled the air with so much sound that not even the throaty cries of the monstrous forests beasts could be heard above them.

Terrence Dechantagne stood slightly behind and to the right of his sister. His khaki clothes were stained at the knees with mud, around his waist with the chlorophyll of plant life, and upon the thighs with small streaks of blood, where he had wiped his hands.  His sleeves were rolled up and his forearms were scratched.  The perspiration that had made trails through the dirt on his face had long since dried. It was the first time he had been back aboard ship in two days.

“Report,” said Iolanthe, with every bit of the hard nose and hard shell of a hard case Field Marshall.

“I’ve increased the standing guard to three squads.  I’ve just finished taking two platoons up, around and back down the peninsula, chasing out the big animals.  We had one casualty.  One of the men, Dawson, tripped and fell down the embankment and those vicious little raptors were all over him before anyone could get down there.  I think the fall killed him though.  Augie left with two platoons first thing this morning to make contact with the natives.  The remaining few men are supervising the construction of the wall.”

“How much of the wall is completed?”

“About a fourth.”

“So three more days?”

“Maybe four.  We’re talking about a wall that’s almost three miles long.  But I think we can let people come ashore the day after tomorrow. The gap can be guarded until the rest of it is built.”

“Zeah?” asked Iolanthe.

Zeah Korlann stood behind and to the left of her.  His grey suit enhanced his stiff, tall form.  He was every inch dignified, though lately his demeanor was less the dignity of a head butler than that of a skilled diplomat and administrator.  He wore a white flower, native of the new continent, on his lapel.

“We have nearly one hundred men cutting timber and sawing it into lumber. Almost all of the rest are building the wall.  Those women who are available are loading cargo into the launches.  Captain Gurrman’s men are then unloading it.

“Radley?”

Lieutenant Staff shifted uncomfortably in his starched white naval uniform upon hearing his first name used so casually, but he gave his report as though nothing was amiss.

“We should be completely unloaded in the next eight days.  Professor Calliere is supervising the assembly of one of the steam tractors at the top of the promontory.  It can then be used to haul everything else up the hill on a wagon or a sledge.  Quite ingenious really.  My concern is more with the construction of the dock.  There is just some cargo that can’t come over on the boats.  We have to have a dock built that can accommodate a crane that reaches out into the bay far enough for the Minotaur to come abreast.”

“We start construction on that as soon as the wall is completed,” said Terrence. “Zeah and I will split the men from the wall into two groups.  He’ll supervise the construction of the barracks, and I will take care of the dock. The big danger here is the marine reptiles, the sharks, and those quite frankly scary as hell fish.  You can’t chase them off the way we did with the land animals.  We start working near the water, and we’re going to lose men.”

“I think this is a job for Zurfina the Magnificent,” said Iolanthe, “if she didn’t go with Augie.”

“She didn’t,” reported Terrence.  “I sent Wizard Labrith with him.”

“Good,” she said.  “I will speak to her today.  We will need a solution ready before we start work.  Will we have enough lumber?”

“Yes,” said Zeah.  “Lumber production is just ahead of usage.  If we keep working at the same pace, we should have a plentiful supply. By the time we finish phase one though, there won’t be any trees left inside the wall.”

“That’s fine,” said Iolanthe.  “The promontory is going to be the dock, the fort and the industrial area.  We won’t need many trees.  We will need a few though.  I’ll go ashore later and mark those to be spared.  It sounds as though everything is in order.  What are you gentlemen doing now?”

“I have the bridge,” said Staff.

“I’m going to take a bath and a nap,” said Terrence.

“I have to speak to Father Ian about arranging a wedding,” said Zeah.

Iolanthe looked at him and cocked her eyebrow.

“Corporal Bratihn has asked Mrs. Kittredge to marry him.  It will be the first wedding in the new colony.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 13 Excerpt

It was chilly and wisps of mist hung in the air.  On the distant shore, beyond the wall formed by impossibly tall redwood trees, large spruces, massive maple and bay trees, filled in between by thick huckleberry and azalea bushes and wave upon wave of rhododendron, some giant and no doubt frightening monster roared out a challenge.  From its tiny animal carrier on deck, the little dragon answered.

“Gawp!”

Senta stepped onto the deck and knelt down by the box.  Zurfina had dressed her in another weird outfit, this one a floor length black dress with a white collar.  A black ceramic rose right in the front of her neck that made it difficult to look down at the high-heeled black sandals on her feet.  Of course Zurfina had on a matching dress, and cut a striking figure standing along the railing of the forward deck with the Captain, Miss Dechantagne, the Dechantagne brothers, and other notables, all of whom were dressed in light summer clothing, as they surveyed the coastline.

“Pet!” said the dragon.

“Yes, I hear you,” said Senta.  “I’m going to take you out, but you have to have your leash on.”

The dragon hissed.  She opened the door of the carrier and the dragon climbed out onto the top.  He turned his head and pointedly looked the other direction as she snapped the little chain onto the ring around his ankle. Once the little clip had snapped shut, Senta attached the other end of the chain to a bracelet on her right wrist.

“See there.  We’re both chained by the wrist.  Nobody’s the boss.”

“Gawp,” said the dragon, and then spreading its wings to balance, it climbed up her arm and onto her shoulder.  It slithered down to lie across her shoulders, one hand and one foot holding onto her dress and one hand and one foot holding onto her hair. Senta stood up.  The little dragon was now over four feet long from nose to tip of tail, but he was only about six inches thick across the belly and he was surprisingly light.

“What do you want to do?”

“Gawp.”

“Me too.  This is sooo boring.”

The ship had been sailing parallel to the coast for the past four days and Senta was getting tired of it.  What was the point of sailing all the way to Mallon, if you didn’t get out and walk around on it?  Twenty days was more than enough time to explore every square inch of the largest battleship and Senta had spent more than three times that length of time on the Minotaur. Not even murders, gunfights, and drinking wine until you threw up could take away the boredom forever.

“Fina,” said the dragon.

“All right.”

Senta walked toward the front of the ship.  She had gone only about halfway to where Zurfina and the others stood watching the coastline roll past, when a figure stepped out of the shadows. A freckled face and striped shirt quickly identified the shady figure.

“Hey Graham,” said Senta.

“Hi Senta.  What’ya doing?”

“Nothing.  He wants to go up by the grown-ups.”  She indicated the dragon with her thumb.

“Can I come?”

“Sure.  Just don’t get too close, ‘cause he’ll bite you.”

“I thought he was tame.”

“You can’t tame a dragon.  Zurfina says you can’t tame anything that’s smarter than you are.”

“Who says he’s smarter than me?”  Graham was indignant.

“Not just you, stupid.  Dragons are super smart.  When he gets big, he’ll be able to talk and do magic and all kinds of cool stuff.”

“Brill,” said the boy.

Senta and Graham walked forward, the boy keeping several paces behind her at all times, until they reached the group of adults.  Miss Dechantage was wearing a yellow dress with lots of lace and a matching hat, tied below her chin with a lace ribbon.  Her dress was almost the same color as the suit Professor Calliere was wearing.  It made him look like a very large banana.  Mr. Korlann was much more dignified.  His grey suit was so light that it would have seemed white, had he not been standing next to Miss Lusk in her white day dress.  Senta saw Miss Lusk reach over discretely and touch Mr. Korlann’s hand. Wizard Labrith was wearing a light brown suit and Wizard Kesi, for once not in colorful silks, was dressed the same. They both stood near the back of the group, all four of their eyes boring holes into the back of Zurfina’s black dress.  The two Dechantagne brothers were both wearing khaki safari clothes and pith helmets. The older brother looked like he was sick.  Finally Father Ian had eschewed his traditional robes for a more modern suit with a clerical collar.

“This is it just ahead,” said Lieutenant Dechantagne, pointing.  “You see the bay just here, and this land just beyond is the peninsula.”

“Children are limited to the aft deck of the ship,” said Miss Dechantagne, noticing Senta and Graham for the first time and looking down her nose at them.

“Children with dragons may go wherever they wish,” said Zurfina, without turning around.

Miss Dechantagne made a clicking sound with her tongue.  Miss Lusk gave Senta a wink.  Senta and Graham walked to the side, out of the way of the adults and looked at the forest moving past.