The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 1 Excerpt

The snow was falling from the sky in great clumpy bunches.  They dropped like feathers through the still, cold air to form great piles on the ground.  The snow had been coming down steadily for four hours.  The huckleberry and azalea bushes were covered over with a thick blanket.  The little walkway of stepping-stones that led to the road and the road itself were just memories, covered by billowy white.  Spruces and maples dipped their bare branches forlornly and even the mighty redwoods struggled under the weight of the gathering snow.  But the snow didn’t care.  It continued on, relentlessly smothering the world.  It completely surrounded the strange five-story home nestled in the Birmisian woods.  Not too far away a tremendous roar echoed through the trees.

“Monster,” said the steel dragon, peeking out the door from between Graham Dokkin’s legs.

“Tyrannosaurus,” corrected Senta Bly.  “I guess he doesn’t like the snow too much.”

“Well who does?” wondered Graham, looking down at the dragon.  “And get your head away from there.  That’s all I need, to have my goolies bit.”

“He hasn’t bitten anyone in almost a year,” countered Senta.  “Has he Hero?”

Hero Hertling didn’t answer.  At the mention of goolies, she had covered her face with both hands, though one could still spot the spreading blush around its edges.  She and her brother Hertzel, along with Graham, were spending the day at Senta’s house.  They had been delivered just before the snow started by Graham’s Da to the five-story structure set well away from the rest of Port Dechantagne.  Although Senta and her guardian, Zurfina the Magnificent, had been living here for almost a year, it had taken quite a while to convince Graham’s parents and Hero and Hertzel’s older sister to let them spend the day there. This was the first time that all three had visited together.

“Why don’t you close the door?” said Hero from between her fingers.  “Who knows what might run out of the forest and into here.”

Her brother, who never said anything, nodded.

“Alright then.  Move over dragon.”  Graham scooted the steel beastie with his boot while shutting the door.

“Call him by his name,” said Senta.

“Bessemer,” said the dragon, and then made his way to the far wall to curl up on a single large pillow next to the cast iron stove.

Though more than eight feet from tip of whiskered snout to the barbed tip of his tail, Bessemer was not much taller at the shoulder than a medium sized dog. Scales the color of polished steel covered him from his nose all the way to the clawed tips of his fingers.  Even his eyes were steel colored, so much so that it was difficult to see just where he was looking.  So lithe and agile was he when he moved, it was rather like watching a river flow across the room.

“Bessemer,” said Graham, still looking at the dragon.  “It just doesn’t fit.  I’d have gone with Whiskers or Peetie.”

“Zurfina says that dragons are born knowing their own names,” said Senta. “It’s just another sign that they are so much smarter than people.”

“Fina,” said the dragon.

“When is Zurfina getting home,” wondered Hero, at last uncovering her face. “I can’t believe she left you all alone out here in the wilderness.”

“This isn’t the wilderness.  This is our house.”

“You know what I mean.”

“It’s not any farther away from the wall than your new house is.”

“No, but there are other houses around ours.”

Hero and Hertzel lived in a small but sturdy house that was part of a new neighborhood on the east side of the growing colony.  Though their house had been the first one built in that area, there were now more than a dozen similar structures, all occupied by ethnic Zaeri, who had fled persecution in Freedonia.

“Zurfina is very busy lately,” explained Senta.  “With no wizards in the colony, she has to do all the magic stuff herself—at least until I get good enough to help out.  Besides I’m used to taking care of myself.”

“It’s on account of her being a orphan,” offered Graham.

The three other children all stared mutely at him.

“What?” he asked, having forgotten that of the four, he was the only one who was not an orphan.

Graham, who although he had recently hit a growth spurt was still decidedly chunky, had brown hair, freckles, and very large teeth.  He was dressed in a long-sleeved flannel shirt and dungarees rolled up around the leather boots that had once been his father’s. Graham always wore his dungarees rolled up at the ankles, as his mother was in the habit of buying them to fit him sometime in the distant future.  Still the fact that all his clothes, save the boots, were new, spoke to the Dokkins family’s growing prosperity.  Hero and Hertzel, who were twins, both with thick dark hair, though Hertzel kept his cut short around the ears, and beautiful dark eyes, wore neat and well-maintained, but obviously home-sewn clothes.  Following the Freedonian Zaeri custom, which eschewed color, Hertzel wore a white shirt with brown trousers while his sister wore a brown dress with a white linen overdress.

“Hungry,” said Bessemer from the corner.

“Yes, it’s about time for tea,” agreed Senta.

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