For King and Country – Chapter 11 Excerpt

The lizzie butler led the Baxter family through the halls of the palatial Dechantagne mansion.  Bryony was so preoccupied looking at the portraits and landscape paintings that lined the hallway that her husband had to pull her along by the hand.  They finally stepped into the huge dining room with the great U-shaped table.  The other diners were already seated, but Lord Dechantagne and his wife both stood up and hurried over to greet their new arrivals.

“We’re sorry for being so late,” said Baxter.

“Oh, not at all,” said Lord Dechantagne.  “We’ve only just sat down.”

“Bring your lovely family right over here,” said Lady Dechantagne, taking Mrs. Baxter by the arm and leading her along.

Thirteen-year-old Sen followed, leading five-year-old Kerry by the hand.  With a nod to the master of the house, Baxter finished up the procession, two-year-old Addy in his arms.  Five spaces had been saved just for them on the west side of the room.  There was even a highchair already in place in the middle.

The only other diner on their side of the table was a lizzie.  Baxter stopped and stared.  It wasn’t unusual seeing a lizzie.  There were probably tens of thousands of them in the city, working as laborers or servants.  This reptilian had painted its skin with yellow and blue designs, wore colorful feathers around its shoulders and waist, and had heavy necklaces and bracelets of what could only have been solid gold, all of which identified it as a wild lizzie from somewhere far beyond Birmisia Colony.  Why was it so close to his family when there was an empty chair on the other side of it?

Lord Dechantagne suddenly appeared between them.  He spoke in the lizzie dialect, only a few words of which Baxter could follow.

“This is Princess Tokkaran of Yessonarah.”

“Princess?” wondered Baxter.

“Well, they don’t really have a word for what she is, but she’s the offspring of kings, and she’s from the their most prominent house, so I took the liberty.”

“She’s awfully small.”

“Not to worry, she’s been tame for well over a year now.”

Baxter rearranged the seating, sending his wife to sit at the far end with Kerry, while he sat next to the lizzie, with Sen on his other side.  He knew enough to make a gesture of greeting, which he did, by placing his hand in front of his Adam’s apple, palm out.  The creature responded in kind.

Just around the corner of the table to Baxter’s right, and just beyond the lizzie was the aforementioned empty seat.  Beyond that, sat Yuah Dechantagne, Lord Dechantagne, and then his wife Maria, and finally Governor Dechantagne-Staff.  Mr. and Mrs. Vishmornan filled the last two seats on the south.  Baxter knew the Vishmornans well enough.  Mrs. Vishmornan was cousin to Sen’s sorceress mother.

Arrayed across the east side were Mr. and Mrs. Fitzroy Norich, and two of Mrs. Norich’s brothers—Claude and Julius Stephenson.  Both Stephenson boys had dates, pretty young women.  One, Baxter was sure he didn’t know, but he was surprised to recognize the other as DeeDee Colbshallow, Sen’s half-sister.  He looked to see if Sen had noticed and caught the two girls waving discreetly to each other.

“Sembor Uuthanum,” said Sen a moment later, touching him on shoulder.

“What was that about?”

“Now you can converse with your dinner companion.”

Baxter glanced back in the other direction to find the diminutive lizzie watching him.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he said.

The lizzie hissed out a reply, but he could hear the translation in a voice that sounded very much like a teenaged girl.

“I don’t know what you’re saying.”

“Oops,” said Sen.

She got up and stepped around Baxter to cast the same spell on the lizzie, touching it on the shoulder.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he repeated.

“A respectful hello,” said the lizzie.  “This smaller one is a witch woman?”

“I suppose so,” he said, glancing back at Sen, who grinned at him.

“I have been to the site of Suusthek and have seen the destruction.  She is not the witch woman who brought down the sky upon it?”

“Um, no.  That was her grandmother.”

A line of lizzie servants carried out salads, which they placed before each of the diners.  It was not a traditional salad of greens, or even one of diced fruits or vegetables, but instead featured whole grapes, strawberries, orange wedges, and sliced bananas, interspersed with small cakes made with sweet potatoes.

“How interesting!” exclaimed Bryony from Baxter’s left.

The salad was certainly different.  Baxter enjoyed the sweet dressing covering the fruit but didn’t like the way it made the little cakes soggy.

He glanced over to the lizzie to see that she wasn’t eating much.

“Salad not to your liking?”

“It is delicious, but I have learned to eat sparingly at the human table, since we are fed so often.”

“Very judicious,” said Baxter.

“The Little King said that you were the chief archivist.  That is a very important position.”

“Yes, I suppose that describes what I do.”

“My mother is High Priestess as well as King, so I understand the importance of preserving knowledge.”

For King and Country – Chapter 10 Excerpt

The Duke and Duchess of Argower breakfasted on the deck of H.M.S. Sovereignty.  They had spent the past several nights aboard the docked ship, after having stayed only one at the Portnoy Hotel.  Although it was the finest such establishment in St. Ulixes, it was far below acceptable standards, according to Princess Terra.  Prince Clitus would probably have endured it had he been traveling alone, but his pregnant wife’s comfort was uppermost in his mind.

“So, what are you about today, Brownie,” he asked her, aware that for the first time since they had arrived, they had a day free of ceremonial duties.

“After breakfast, I’m going to a dress fitting,” she said.  “In the early afternoon, I have several telephone calls scheduled, so I will be stopping at the telephone station.  I may do a bit of shopping while I’m there.  I understand that it’s not far from the market square.”

“Another dress fitting?  It seems to me you’ve had at least one dress fitting every day we’ve been in Mallontah.”

“You did promise me a thousand dresses, Bully.”

“I was using hyperbole,” he said.  “I didn’t expect you to actually want one thousand new dresses.”

“Well, as it turns out, I’m not buying a thousand,” she said, picking up a slice of bacon.  “I do think I shall end up with twenty or so.”

“Well, I suppose that’s all right.  I don’t know about you going to the local market though.  That might not be safe.”

“Did you want to criticize every bit of today’s itinerary?” she asked, frowning.  “Do you have something against telephone calls too?”

“Of course not.”  He paused to search for a slice of white pudding, but the last two were on his wife’s plate.  “I’m just concerned about my wife and unborn child.  That is a man’s prerogative.  If you want to go to the market, then go.  Just make sure to take adequate security with you.”

“I’m taking Ryan with me,” she said.

“Ryan?  Ryan Stigby, do you mean?”

“Do you know any other Ryans?”

“Yes,” he replied.  “I probably know eight or nine men called Ryan.”

“Are any of them here with us?”

“Well, no,” he admitted.  “It’s just that it’s not appropriate to call him by his first name.”

“We call Bob by his first name,” she pointed out.

“I’d prefer not to be dragged into your arguments, Your Highness,” said Bob, spreading lemon curd on his toast.

“Where is Stigby anyway?” wondered Clitus.

“I believe he left the ship to visit the post office,” said Bob.  “He wanted to send a package to Mrs. Stigby.”

“Mrs. Stigby?”

“His mother.  Lovely woman.  Makes a magnificent fish pie.”

“So, what do you have planned for the day, Bully?” asked Terra.

“I’m going to stay onboard and enjoy the peace and quiet this morning, but I have a hunting date with Lord Erstwhile tonight.  We’re having dinner together first.  Depending on how late we return, I’ll either come back here or spend the night at his house.  In any case, I have to be ready for the meeting with the aborigine leaders tomorrow morning.”

“It seems that you need more security than I do,” said Terra.  “The animals in Mallon are far more dangerous than any you might encounter in Sumir.  I imagine the most dangerous thing you could run across in Brechalon is a fox, whereas we have tyrannosauruses in Birmisia.  I understand they don’t live here in Mallontah, which is the only reason I shall agree to let you go without me.”

“What will people think if they find out that I need my pregnant wife to watch over my safety?”

“If they know your wife, they’ll think you’re pretty smart,” said Bob.  “Don’t worry, Your Highness.  I’ll be with him the whole time, and we’ll have a couple of savvy, well-armed sailors with us on the hunt.”

“Keep an eye on him,” said Terra.  “You know how he is.  He can’t help being heroic in the face of danger.  Hold him down if you must.  I don’t much care if people I don’t know are eaten, but I do care about him, and you too.”

“What did I miss?” asked Stigby, climbing up from the lower deck and sitting in the only empty chair.

“Well, you missed all the food, for one thing,” said Clitus.   “You also missed my wife’s instructions to Bob, but you are just in time for mine to you.  Keep an eye on the Princess today, particularly in the marketplace.  You know how she is.  She can’t help being impetuous.  Hold her down, gently, if you must.  Other people may be trampled, shot, kidnapped, beaten, or robbed, but bring her back safely.”

Terra gave her husband a bland look.

“People shop in the marketplace every day.  I doubt there will be much excitement to tell about.”

“Good to hear,” said Clitus.

For King and Country – Chapter 9 Excerpt

“Surprise!” shouted well over a hundred people as Colonial Governor Iolanthe Staff stepped into the Dechantagne ballroom.

Purple and white streamers covered the walls and large arrangements of aster and anemone flowers were everywhere.  High up on the wall across from the entrance was a very large number 52, made of the latter.

Iolanthe looked around at almost everyone she knew.  Some were turning toward the lizzie servants who were passing out dinks, but most were watching her.  She could see Yuah and Gladys just at the left edge of her field of view.

“Thank you, everyone,” she said.  “Please drink and eat and enjoy yourselves.”  Turning and fixing a stern look at Yuah, she asked, “Whose idea was this?”

“It was Maria’s, of course,” said Gladys, nodding toward the far end of the room.  “She is the lady of the house.”

Iolanthe spotted Maria standing next to Augie, who was filling his plate from a wide variety of finger foods laid out on a long banquet table.  They were the center of a little group that included Zoantheria, the Stephenson boys, and a number of others in their age group.  Iolanthe strode quickly across the room.  She could sense Yuah and her partner in crime following.

“Maria,” Iolanthe snapped.  “What is the meaning of all this?”

“Well, it is your birthday, Auntie.  Such an event calls for a celebration.  I thought you would like it.”

“I don’t like it,” said Iolanthe.  “I love it.  Come and give me a hug.”

The two of them embraced and then kissed each other on the cheek.

“You are such a dear girl, really more of a daughter than a niece.”

“I feel the same way,” said Maria, “though I shall continue to call you Auntie.  Otherwise it would be confusing.  Isn’t that right, Mother?” she asked Yuah.

Yuah turned and started for the room exit, only to be intercepted by her father and his wife.  Gladys stared through her wire-framed glasses at Maria for a long moment before turning and following.

“The food is really excellent, Auntie,” said Augie.  “My wife will be happy to prepare a plate for you.”

“I shall eat in a bit, thank you, Augustus.  Right now, I have some people to visit with.”

“Oh, our musicians are ready!” cried Maria, hurrying to the southeast corner of the great room, where even now the members of a string quartet were taking their places.

Iolanthe turned and walked in the other direction toward a group that included her secretary Mrs. Wardlaw.

Zoantheria slid over and pressed herself against Augie’s side.  She picked up a tiny pasty from his plate and fed it to him.

“You’re Auntie seems pleased with the party.”

“I had my doubts,” he said, “but apparently Maria knew her mind on the subject after all.”

“Are you excited about your baby?”

“Yes, of course.  It’s still some months away.”

“And are you excited about seeing your sister?”

“Not in the same way.”  He smiled.  “I have to admit that I’m quite chuffed about Earthworm coming home. She’s been away too long.”

“You two were very close.”

“Closer than any brother and sister I’ve ever known.  A product, no doubt, of our being so close in age.  It will be good very to see her.”

Across the room, Iolanthe was finishing the small talk she had been engaged in with Mrs. Wardlaw and turned to see Yuah trying to disengage from her father so that she could leave the room.  She was about to follow her and force her to stay, when a hand on her shoulder stopped her.  She turned to find Senta in a green evening gown.

“Lovely party.  I admire the way you’ve embraced your years.”

“Senta.  This is perfect timing.  My sister-in-law is trying to sneak out.  Can you make her stay?”

“I could, but I like her… much more than I like you.”

“How about Gladys?” asked Iolanthe.  “How do you feel about her?”

“Oh, Miss Molly?” smirked the sorceress.  “I could definitely play with her a bit.  I suppose if Yuah gets caught in the crossfire, no real harm.”  She pointed toward the two women, who by this time had reached the exit.  “Uuthanum.”

Iolanthe watched as the two women stepped out the north entrance, only to immediately reenter the room from the east entrance, a good fifty feet away.  Yuah turned around immediately only to reappear again at the on the north side of the room.  Gladys apparently figured it out first and entered the room from where she was, to meet Yuah in the ballroom’s center.

The two consulted, casting sideways glances toward where Iolanthe still stood with Senta.  Then they stepped toward the food tables and began talking with Zoey.  The dragon in human form glanced toward the sorceress and then shook her head.

“Trying to get her to dispel my magic?” said Senta.  “I think not.  I think not.”

As the musicians began to play, Iolanthe and Senta were joined by Maria.

“Hello, Senta.  I’m so glad you were able to be here.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it.”

“How was it, Auntie?  I’m sorry about advertising your age, but she did insist on it.”

“That’s all right,” said Iolanthe.  “It’s not as if it was a state secret.  Thank you for letting me in on their little plan to humiliate me.”

“You know it was that Gladys, really,” said Maria.

“Perhaps,” said Iolanthe.  “Don’t you worry about it.  Come.  Let’s go talk with the Stephensons.”

For King and Country – Chapter 8 Excerpt

“Ladies, you will all be sorely missed,” said Mr. Barrymore, looking in turn at Lady Iolana, Lady Esther, and Willa Armice the maid, all of whom wore sturdy traveling clothes.

The entire complement of household staff was lined up to see them off.  Some of them were teary-eyed, though a few of them looked more relieved than anything.

“I know, Lady Iolana,” Barrymore continued, “that you will be a great success both as a Professor of Literature and as University President.  We trust that you will always look after Lady Esther, and we ask that you look out for our Willa as well.”

Iolana nodded.

Mr. Finley the underbutler stepped forward.

“The staff have a small goodbye gift for each of you.”  He handed each of them a decorative box, tied with a bow.  “We wish you safe journey.”

“Thank you all,” said Iolana.  “I know I haven’t been the easiest person to deal with sometimes…”

“Lady Iolana,” Barrymore started.

“No, you know it’s true.  But I trust my mother’s visit last year was enough to remind you all that I am not the most difficult either.”

Barrymore chuckled, and there were a few titters from behind him.

“I know you will all miss Esther,” Iolana continued.  “We will both miss all of you.  If ever any of you decide to move to Birmisia, I will be happy to pay your passage.  In the meantime, your employment here is secure.  When Terra gets back, she may want to use the house for guests.  Otherwise, I don’t know who might use it.  I just know that Augie has said he plans not to sell it.”

She shook hands with Barrymore and walked briskly to the door.  Esther hugged Barrymore and then Finley, before following, with Willa in her wake.  Courtney, one of the young men, was waiting outside in the steam carriage, a second vehicle was ready to follow, filled with two dozen suitcases and steamer trunks.

“Do you think the airship will be able to get off the ground with all your luggage aboard?” Esther asked Iolana.

“If it can’t,” said Willa, “then I don’t want to fly in it.”

“Well said,” commented Iolana.  “In any case, we are in good hands.  There hasn’t been a major airship accident in almost thirty years.  We’ll have two weeks of sailing through the clouds in luxury.  Then, when we get to St. Ulixes, we shall go straight to the train station and get out of that hell hole as quickly as possible.”

“Is it really that bad?” Willa asked Esther.

“I don’t know.  I’ve never been.”

“It’s dreadful,” said Iolana.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Birmisia,” said Willa.  “It sounds so strange and mysterious.”

“Oh, you won’t be disappointed,” said Esther.  “I suppose I’m looking forward to it too.  It’s home, after all.  I’m going to miss Terra though.”

“We shall arrive before she does,” said Iolana.  “We can meet her at the port, and I read that she and Prince Clitus will be there for a month.  When she returns to Brechalon, you can always go visit her.  I plan on taking a trip to some part of Sumir or another every year during the break in studies.  I’m sure that will always include at least a short visit with my short cousin.”

“I’m still marveling that we’re going back,” said Esther.  “I guess I didn’t understand how great the attraction of a full professorship was.”

“That was a major draw,” admitted Iolana.  “I still wouldn’t have gone back though.  I didn’t want to ruin Ascan’s life.  He’s always had very strong feelings.  He couldn’t help but have those strong feelings for me.  Now that he assures me that we can never be more than friends, I know that the deep love and desire will stay focused on his late wife, where it should be.  We can be good friends now.”

“If he could dismiss you so easily, maybe you’re just not as appealing as you think you are,” said Esther.

“Don’t be stupid.”

For King and Country – Chapter 7 Excerpt

Lady Dechantagne climbed down from the driver’s seat of her car and called to Maxwell.  He obediently hopped out of the backseat and hurried to her side, pressing his head to her thigh.  She took several deep breaths before climbing the three steps to the front door of the three-story house.  This was not because her tight-fitting corset made it difficult to breathe.  In fact, she had chosen not to wear one at all beneath the slate grey walking dress with dark blue piping.  It was, rather, that she was very nervous.  She had seen the Grand Sorceress of Birmisia many times.  She had even had her to dinner on occasion.  However, she had never been alone with her, and had never been to her house.

She looked up, half expecting a black cloud to be hanging above the roof, but it was a clear, if somewhat chilly day.

“I suppose we should go in,” she told Maxwell.

“I think you should,” said a female voice.

Maria looked to see that the door was open and Senta stood looking down at her.  The sorceress was wearing a simple black skirt and a white shirtwaist.  She had on a black tie, but no hat, and was barefoot.

“Leave that animal outside though.  Felicity is around here somewhere.  Maybe they can be friends.”

“Stay,” said Maria, before climbing the steps to the door and stepping inside.

“Come into my parlor,” said Senta, leading her on through.  The door closed behind them of its own accord.

“You have a lovely home, Miss Bly.”

“Thank you, and please call me Senta.  Have a seat by the fire.  I just had the butler move these chairs over.  I’ve been chilled lately.”

“It’s this weather,” said Maria, taking the leftmost of two overstuffed chairs.  “I never expected to find someplace damper than Regencia, but it is.  It makes it seem all that much colder than it is.  It just kind of sinks into your bones.  It’s even worse in the summer.  The humidity makes it feel so much hotter, and you can’t get cool.  Even when you take a cool bath, you just stay wet…”

She stopped suddenly, realizing that her nerves had made her chatty.  She looked at the sorceress, who was smiling back from the other chair.  Senta pulled her feet up under her, giving Maria the impression of a cat getting ready to pounce.  This image became even more pronounced, when Senta leaned forward and spoke.

“So, what can I do for you, Lady Dechantagne?”

“Before I say, can I ask you to keep this confidential?”

“Oh, I shall be as silent as a crypt.”

“Well, I want to know… if I’m with child.”

“And you’ve been to the doctor?”

“Yes.  I went yesterday.”

“And what did he say?”

“It was a she—Dr. Maerlone.”

“I don’t know her,” Senta said.

“Well, she told me that they couldn’t tell for at least a month.”

“But you’ve been married for quite a while.”

“She said that they can’t tell until at least a month after… after…” Maria covered her face with her hands.  “You know.”

“Till at least a month after girl time?” Senta offered.

“Yes.”

“A priest could tell.  You could go see Mother Auni.”

“It wouldn’t be right to see her, I don’t think.  I converted; you see.  I’m a Zaeri now.  And I couldn’t go to Mr. Clipers.  I can’t talk to a man about this.”

“I see.”

“Do you think you could help me?”

“Oh, I can help you.  It’s not a hard spell, but it is somewhat advanced.  I gather that you suspect you are pregnant?”

“I guess I just about have to be.  Augie has um, visited me almost every night for the past two weeks.”

“Mmm.  Are you ready for me to begin then?”

“Yes.”

Senta leaned forward and reached out to touch Maria’s hand.

“Sembor uuthanum edios nit.”

The sorceress smiled.

“Well?” wondered Maria.

“You are pregnant.  You will give birth next Sexuary thirteenth, at 8:04 PM, after six hours and fifteen minutes of labor.  There will be no notable complications.  Do you want to know what it will be?”

“No.  Don’t tell me.”  Maria sat wide-eyed for a moment, and then spontaneously burst into squeals and clapping.  “I’m going to have a baby!”

“Indeed, you are.”

After another ten seconds of giggles, Maria looked at the sorceress with wide eyes.

“I can’t believe that you could tell me so much.  Is all of that true?  Sexuary?  Eight of an evening?”

“Four minutes after.  Divination is not my specialty, but it’s easily enough done.  Now, mind you, that’s not set in stone.  If you do something silly, like get yourself eaten by a utahraptor or run over by the trolley, then all of that goes out the window.”

“I’ll be very careful.  Oh, I can’t wait to tell Augie.”

“Are you going to tell him right away?”

“Of course.  Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, Zoantheria will be asleep for a few more days, at least.  If you tell him, he might stop, mightn’t he?”

“Well of course.  Why would I want him to continue, if I’m already with child?”

“You don’t like it?” asked Senta, honestly shocked.

“Well, I don’t hate it.  It won’t hurt anything, will it?  To let him do it when I’m already… you know.”

“No, it won’t hurt anything.  I did it all the time when I was pregnant.  Sometimes a lot.”

“Well, I shall have to think on it,” said Maria, rising to her feet.  “Do I owe you anything?”

“Just your first-born child,” said Senta, and then laughed at Maria’s shocked face.  “I’m kidding.  Children are tedious.  Besides, I already have an arrangement with your husband.  I am available for all your family’s magical needs.  Feel free to call on me anytime.”

For King and Country – Chapter 6 Excerpt

A hissing sound woke Senta up.  She was still on the sofa.  She must have fallen back asleep.  She looked up into the scaly face of her lizzie maid Thonass.

“What are you hissing about?”

The lizzie pointed toward the foyer.  Two men were standing there, their mouths hanging open.  The sorceress looked down at herself.  Her dressing gown had ridden up almost to her armpits, and with nothing on beneath it, it left almost everything below exposed.  She stood up and pushed down the layers of Mirsannan silk.  Then she snapped her fingers and she was once again attired in what so many referred to as her “scary sorceress clothes”—black leather bustier, with nothing over it, and a black pleated skirt short enough to leave quite a bit of exposed thigh between it and the tops of her leather knee-high boots.

“Get a good look, perverts?” she snarled.  “Why are you here in my house?”

“We were invited for tea,” said one of the two, a bald man with a goatee.

“You were?  Oh, you’re that sorcerer and his brother, the podiatrist.”

“Archaeologist,” corrected the man with a full head of hair and a mustache.

“Almost the same thing.”

“Not even remotely related,” he said.

“Thonass,” she said, turning to the lizzie.  “Tell Cook three for tea.”

The lizzie hissed in reply and turned toward the dining room.

“Come in and have a seat,” said Senta, waving toward the furniture.

The two men approached cautiously.  The man with the mustache took the chair that had earlier held Senta’s daughter, forcing his brother, the bald man with a goatee, to sit on the sofa with the sorceress.  She sat at the other end, leaving an empty cushion between them.

“It’s Vern and Percy, right?  Which one of you is the sorcerer?”

“It’s Karl and Willie,” said the man with the mustache: Karl, pointing to himself and his brother.  “He’s the sorcerer.”

“She knows,” said Willie.

“I did, though I confess to having forgotten your names.  So, what’s your story, gentlemen?  Karl, you sound like a right proper Brech fellow, but your bother has a bit of an accent.”

“We were born in West Brumming, just north of Brech City,” said Karl.  “I lived there until I went to university.  When we were young, Willie was taken away.”

“My father took me to Bordonia,” said Willie, “for my safety.  He took me to a woman there who taught me magic.”

“A sorceress?”

“An enchantress.  She practiced both sorcery and wizardry.”

“Interesting.  What was her name?”

“I would prefer not to say,” said the sorcerer.

“Oh, come come,” said Senta.  “It’s not like I go around killing other magic users, reducing them to a fine powder, and keeping their remains in snuff boxes in my library.”

“That sound like an awfully specific denial,” said Karl.

“I think tea is ready,” said Senta, noticing the lizzie in the doorway.

She stood up and led the two men past the foyer and into the dining room.  The table was set, and the lizzie cook was delivering platters of food.  Tiny egg salad sandwiches, fruit cake, berry scones, and gypsy tarts were all arrayed across the table.

“You’d better not be telling me there’s no chips,” Senta told the back of the lizzie.  “How can you have tea with no chips?”

The reptilian returned with two platters of golden chips.

“That’s better,” said Senta, as she took her place at the head of the table.

She waved toward chairs on either side that had place settings in front of them.  Both men sat, Willie to her left and Karl walking around the table and taking the chair on her right.

“They’re fascinating,” he said.

“What is?” wondered the sorceress warily.

“The lizardmen.”

“Oh, yeah.  I suppose.  You said you wanted to get a look at them, right?  You can stare at the ones here, I guess.”

“I was hoping to learn about their culture—maybe take a trip out to one of their cities.  I hear they’re spectacular.”

“Mm-hmm,” said Senta, scooping chips onto her plate.  “You really should take your brother along with you.  Some of the wild ones can be dangerous.  Don’t stand on ceremony.  Help yourselves.”

The men nodded and began picking items from the platters.

“So, Willy,” said Senta.  “You’re quite a surprise to me.  You’re very powerful, aren’t you?”

“I think I could hold my own against just about any wizard,” he said, pausing to stroke his close-cropped beard.  “I’m obviously not in your league.”

“Willie was shocked when you met us on the boat,” said his brother.  “Something about you not saying your magic words.  I have some understanding of how magic works, but I don’t really understand the details.”

“A thousand years ago,” said Willie, “and for thousands of years before that, magic users needed three things to cast a spell.  They needed a gesture, a word, and an item to focus their power.  Ancient wizards carried around pockets of holly berries, ground mummy, lotus petals, and the like.  Then, like I said, a thousand years ago, some spellcasters realized that they didn’t need these items.  They could focus all their magic with just a gesture and a word.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Senta.

“It’s in Matter and the Elements.”

“Yes, well I skimmed most of that.”

“I guess you didn’t need it.  You can cast your spells with only a gesture.”

“I still usually say the words though,” smiled the sorceress.  “Otherwise it’s too much concentration.  Do you want to know a secret?  No, I shouldn’t tell you.  But it’s just too juicy not to tell someone who can appreciate it like you can.  So, I’ll tell you.  But, just be aware, if you tell anyone, and I’m not joking when I say anyone, I will kill you both.”

The two men looked across the table at one another.

“Okay,” said Karl.

Senta looked at him and suddenly he and his chair rose up from the ground and floated toward the ceiling.  He grasped the chair arms frantically, and kicked out his feet for balance, as he teetered first one way and then the other.

“You don’t need a gesture or a word?” gasped Willie.

“I know,” she grinned.  “Isn’t it fun?”

For King and Country – Chapter 5 Excerpt

The newest addition to the growing public library system in Birmisia Colony was in Port Dechantagne’s southeastern most neighborhood.  It was known to the residents as Woodstead and was made up of rows of three-story brownstones, with businesses on the ground floor or the basement, and apartments above.  The library building was a modest structure, two stories, but overlooking a long sloping hill, recently denuded of trees but otherwise undeveloped.  The wide panoramic window offered a beautiful view from the lower level, but it paled in comparison to the view from the Library Director’s office above.

Kieran Baxter stared out from his office.  He had started out watching the conchoraptors hunting among the leaves at the forest’s edge.  It was too early for pinecones, but it was a good spot for mice or lizards.  Before long though, he had stopped looking at anything at all, as his mind wandered.  A knock at the door returned him suddenly to the present.  His secretary poked her head into the room.

“Someone to see you, Mr. Baxter.”

She then opened the door wide and a thirteen-year-old girl walked in past her.

“Thank you, Miss Kulp,” said Baxter, as she closed the door.

“Hi, Daddy,” said the girl, bouncing up to him and wrapping her arms around him.

She was tall for her age, lanky, just like her mother.  Her medium length blond hair had been curled.  She wore a grey shirtwaist over a white skirt, a straw boater was balanced on her head, and she carried a small grey and white striped handbag.

“You’re old enough to call me Dad now, or Father.”

“I have a father,” she said squeezing him, “but you will always be my Daddy.  Dad’s not too bad though.”

“What can I do for you today, my dear?  I could count on one hand how many times you’ve visited me in my office.”

“I wanted to talk to you about money.”  She looked toward the chair.  “Can we sit down?”

“Oh, is this an official meeting then?” he laughed and stepped around behind the large pine desk to take his seat.  “I thought your mother had you on an allowance.”

“Oh, she does.  In fact, it’s really starting to pile up.  I can’t seem to spend it fast enough.”

“Would that were a problem we all had.”

“I know.  That’s why I wanted to talk to you about it.  I want to give you some money.”

“You don’t have to do that, Sweetheart.”

“I know I don’t have to, but I want to.  You and Bryony have treated me like I was your own child, and I’m not.  You’ve known me since I was a baby, but I’m not your flesh and blood.  You just had the bad luck of meeting my mother when she was pregnant with me.”

“I consider that very good luck,” he said, sincerely, “if for no other reason than I get to be your dad.”

“But poor Bryony.  She marries you and she gets me foisted upon her—the child of your old chatelaine.”

“That’s not how I would characterize your mother.”

“In any case,” she continued.  “I’ve lived with the two of you for five years now.”

“It can’t be that long.  Can it?”

“It’s well over five years.  And here I have all this money that I can’t use.  I want to give it to you.  You can pay off the loan on your house.”

“I thought you had a better grasp of money than that,” he said with a frown.  “Why, we must still owe five thousand to the Bank of Birmisia.”

“Bryony says it’s more than six thousand, and I have almost ten thousand marks right here.”  She held up her handbag.

“Ten thousand… You’re carrying around ten thousand marks?”

“Yes.  Mother is giving me five hundred a month, and I just don’t have that many expenses.  I take my friends out sometimes, and I go out to lunch.  I buy a dress every now and then.  I want to give you and Bryony the rest.”

“Good grief,” he sighed.  “Does your mother have to do everything so ham–handed?  She can’t… Oh never mind.  In any case, I’m not taking your money.  I will, however, take you to the bank after I’m done here for the day, and we will open a bank account for you.  You can save your money for the future.  You can use it to attend University, and maybe buy your own house someday.”

“Mother says I don’t need any university.  She says that all that education is a waste.  I’m going to be a great sorceress, like her.”

“Is that what you want?  To be like her?”

“Well, I do think I’ll be a sorceress.  It’s in me whether I want it or not.  But I don’t want to be a twat like her.”

“Senta!  You will not use language like that.”

She grinned back at him.  “I’ve heard you call her that same thing.”

“Well,” he said through gritted teeth.  “Do as I say, not as I do.  Now go down and look through the book stacks, and I’ll wrap up my business.  Then we’ll go to the bank.”

She hopped up and skipped around the great desk to his side, kissing him on the cheek.

“I love you more than anything, you know, Dad,” she said.

“I love you too.”