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.
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?”
“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.
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.