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.”