The mood was light in Iolanthe Dechantagne’s tent. It was a bright, sunny day outside, though not too hot. A cool breeze was blowing in off the ocean. The colony had enjoyed a huge mid-day feast, and if eating the last of the fresh vegetables taken on at Enclep was not exactly a cause for celebration, at least everyone knew that they were safe from starvation. The canned food stored at the colony would last a long time, and there was still the promise of trade with the natives.
Yuah Korlann, Merced Calliere, and Phillida Marjoram sat around the desk counting ballots for the election of the Colonial Council. The paper slips upon which all adult members of the colony had written the name of their choice were divided up into piles. Though there were more than two dozen piles, one for each candidate, it was soon obvious which four piles would end up being the tallest. Calliere’s final pronouncement was a mere formality. The winners of the election and the chosen members of the Colonial Council were, in order of votes received: Zeah Korlann, Padgett Kelloran, Dudley Labrith, and in a surprise, a young Freedonian woman named Honor Hertling.
“Lovely,” said Iolanthe. “I was sure that Zeah and Dr. Kelloran would be elected, but I’m surprised at the wizard. Does anyone know this Hertling person?”
Yuah and Calliere both shook their heads.
“I believe I know of her,” said Mrs. Marjoram. “A dark-haired young woman, if I’m not mistaken. Pretty, in that Zaeri sort of way. I believe she’s known for her work helping the sick on that ship of theirs. No doubt that’s why she was chosen.”
“So she’s from the Acorn?” asked Iolanthe, ignoring Yuah’s look of shock at Mrs. Marjoram.
“Yes, if she’s whom I’m thinking of.” The woman seemed oblivious of the effect of her words.
“Excellent. One more chance to get the Freedonians integrated into our society. Before long, nobody will know they weren’t born Brechs.”
“Hmph,” said Mrs. Marjoram, but didn’t openly correct her.
“So it will be myself, Terrence and Augie, whoever replaces Father Ian, Zurfina, and these four. I think we can work with that.
“Yuah, why don’t you go bring your father in here? Mrs. Marjoram, would you be so kind to see if you can locate this Miss Hertling? And Mercy, perhaps I can persuade you to bring Dr. Kelloran.”
Twenty minutes later the three of them had returned with the three newly elected leaders of the colony, Wizard Labrith, of course being on the military mission with the Iolanthe’s two brothers, was not present. Zeah looked every bit the senior statesman, tall and straight in his charcoal suit. Dr. Kelloran on the other hand looked tired and drawn. Though still nicely dressed and stylishly coifed, she had lost weight since arriving in Birmisia and had dark circles under her eyes.
The young woman who arrived with them was, if not beautiful, certainly striking in appearance. She was so thin that Iolanthe thought her figure might have been mistaken for that of a boy without a corset and bustle. Her wavy black hair reached well past her shoulders, and framed a cute face with a small nose and extremely large, sad eyes. Her olive skin was far more tanned than was considered fashionable, no doubt due to the lengthy journey from Freedonia, and she had a deep scar across her left cheek down to her chin.
“Miss Hertling, I presume,” said Iolanthe, stepping forward to shake hands.
No sooner had she taken the young woman’s hand than a dozen gunshots rang out in the distance. It was obvious that they came from beyond the protective wall. Iolanthe broke into a broad smile.
“Wonderful,” she said. “Zeah, it looks as though we will be having a celebration tonight.”
“Yes, Miss. A welcome one.”
A young soldier burst into the tent, running into the back of Miss Hertling, and knocking her forward. She would have fallen completely to the floor had not Professor Calliere caught her.
“Kafira’s eyes!” snapped Iolanthe. “Don’t you know how to knock?”
“Sorry ma’am,” said the soldier, nervously. “Sergeant Clark’s compliments, ma’am. There is a large force of lizardmen approaching from the southeast. The sergeant has already called for all troops to man the ramparts. And the lizardmen have rifles, ma’am.”
“Where the hell did they get rifles?” wondered Calliere.
“From our troops,” said Iolanthe, gravely. “How many lizardmen are there?”
“We don’t know, at least a thousand.”
“Tell the sergeant to hold the wall,” she ordered. The soldier then ran out of the tent. Turning to the women, she said, “Thirty-five men aren’t going to hold the wall for long. Get everyone moving. We’re evacuating out to the end of the peninsula.”
“What are we going to do there?” asked Dr. Kelloran.
“We’re going to make our stand. Zeah, get some of the men and distribute as many guns and as much ammunition as we have. Go. Mercy, come with me.”
Iolanthe stepped out of the tent and marched purposefully toward the wall. Professor Calliere followed along behind her. When she reached the wall, she gathered up her dress and extensive petticoats into her left arm and used her right to climb up the ladder to the walkway that served as a firing platform twenty feet off the ground. Sergeant Clark was there.
“Where are they?” she asked, panting for breath and peering out of a firing port.
“Still mostly in the trees, but they’re out there.”
“And your men?”
“I’ve got them spread out fifty feet apart, but that means we’ve only got a fifth of the wall covered.”