Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 3

I pulled the boy out through the hole that I had created and into the deep snow that had formed in a drift beside the shack. He almost disappeared, as he couldn’t have been more than four foot ten.

“Grab the back of my belt,” said I. “I will guide you. The first thing we must do is find my noble steed.”

“The stable is on the other side of the Inn, just beyond the cart path.”

“Very good. Come along. I am sure that the noise of our escape was heard and any moment I may have to fight off a dozen or so angry villagers with pitchforks and such.”

“Do you have a weapon?” asked the boy.

“I have a knife in my boot, but I would be loath to stick it into a person over such a thing as this.”

“They deserve it,” said the boy, now trailing along behind me as I negotiated my way around the buildings in the gloomy night. “If my father was here, he’d lay waste to this town.”

“Quite the fierce cobbler was he?”

“Um… yes. Before he died…leaving me an orphan.”

I trudged through the snow around the large building that I now knew was the inn and crossed the cart path, distinguishable from the rest of the landscape by two parallel ruts in which the snow was not quite as deep as everywhere else. I perceived no danger from any direction and indeed could still hear the voices of men and women singing in the inn. The stable, which I would have recognized even without the orphan’s help, was dark and silent. The pleasant aroma of horse dung enveloped me as the slight breeze turned in my direction. I crept up to the large double door and pulled one side open slightly.

“Hysteria,” I called in a whisper and was answered by a gentle knicker, which is to say the sound that horses make when they are neither angry nor excited nor otherwise engaged.

Inside the stable was pitch black, and I cast around for a lantern, but the lad needed no such artifice.

“I see your horse in the last stall,” said he.

“You have very good night vision, orphan,” said I.

The little ragamuffin guided me by the hand to the far stall and by the time we arrived there I could make out the more prominent shapes including that of Hysteria, which is to say my horse, who tossed her head in greeting.

“Poor girl,” said I, running my hands over her. “They didn’t even bother to unsaddle you or remove your bit and bridle.”

“All the better for us and our escape,” said the boy.

I led Hysteria out of the stall, through the dark of the stable, and into the lesser dark of the night. It was in fact, quite a good night for traveling, at least as far as light was concerned. The moon was reflected off the white snow, and though the ghostly illumination created monsters of the many gaunt and gnarled trees, they were easily negotiated through. This put me in mind of a number of similar nights, when the moon was shining upon the snow. It seems somehow unfair that I more than most find myself sneaking in or out of town on cold, dark nights. I am not one to complain about my lot in life though. Then at that moment, as if to remind me that the lot of others was worse than my own, the boy tugged at my sleeve.

“What are you doing?” said he.

“I am pondering life,” I replied.

“Can you ponder life once we’ve made our escape from this wretched town?”

“Quite so,” said I, placing my foot in the stirrup. Once I was in the saddle, I reached down for my charge. “Come along orphan.”

“In some circles it might be considered rude to keep calling me an orphan,” he opined.

“Your parents are dead and so you are an orphan,” said I, lifting him up to sit behind me. “If I call you something else, your parents will still be dead.”

“Even so,” he agreed. “Let us get out of here.”

“Not until we make this town pay for its injustice and our indignities,” said I.

I spurred Hysteria forward, though truth be told I did not spur her precisely because I do not wear spurs. Spurs seem unnecessarily mean and pointed and Hysteria is possessed of something of a fragile ego. If one speaks harshly too her, she is likely to go into a mope for weeks on end and jabbing her haunches or belly with pointy metal objects could send her into a serious downward spiral of depression. It would be a sad thing to see. So I encouraged her forward. I urged her forward. I coaxed her forward. I asked her to go forward and she went forward, which now that I think about it, is the direction that she is usually most likely to go.

I guided her through the snow, across the cart path, and around the corner of the inn to the spot where upon I had first been laid hold of. I fully expected that the pie I had originally seen would by now be gone. As cold as the weather was, the pie would have gone from hot to warm to cool to quite cold in the time that I had spent escaping from the shack and rescuing my valiant steed, which is to say Hysteria. I was not wrong. The pie was gone. But Ho! There were now two new pies sitting on the very same window ledge.

Sitting astride Hysteria as I was, the pies were now at a level between my shoulder and my waist, and I could easily look inside the window. A fat woman with red cheeks and red hair and wearing a white apron was rolling out dough with a rolling pin. She was too busy to notice me. That was not the case with the stout fellow who at that moment entered from the common room beyond. He caught sight of me and let out a yell that could have, and in fact did, summon everyone in the place. The sounds of singing stopped as others rushed to see the source of his consternation.

“Let this be a lesson to you not to waylay innocent travelers!” I shouted, scooping up the pies, one in each hand. I urged Hysteria onward, but no doubt feeling the warm air exiting the window, she was loath to move. The orphan fixed that by slapping her on the backside, her fragile ego notwithstanding. She jumped and shot around to the front of the inn just as the gang of toughs from inside came out the front door. They were just in time to watch us race off into the darkness with two warm and steamy pies.

Advertisements

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 9 Excerpt

Senta and Hero stepped through the great gate in the emergency wall just in time to see a fireball shoot across the square and crash into the second and third floors of Finkler’s Bakery. Patrons ran screaming from the ground floor as the upper floors took to flame.

“You stupid cow!” shouted Senta. “Why would you cast a fireball in the middle of town?”

“Oh my!” said Hero, when she saw who Senta was talking to.

Another Senta was standing in the square in front of them. This one was wearing a red dress. Hero thought she looked older than the Senta standing beside her, but then realized it was simply that she was a bit heavier.

“You stay out of this,” said the red-dressed Senta. “You take care of your business and I’ll take care of mine.”

“I don’t recall burning down the town as being part of anyone’s business,” replied leather-clad Senta.

She grabbed a glamour from the air next to her. It was one she had kept ever since Mayor Korlann’s house had burnt down. She pointed her hand and the air around the burning building was flooded with carbon dioxide, smothering the fire.

“I’m just sending a little message,” said the other Senta. “Look. Now you’ve let them get away.”

“Let who get away?”

“Graham and that girl he’s running around with.”

“He what now?” Senta looked at Hero, who shrugged. “Whatever’s going on, you have no business trying to kill Graham.”

“I’m not going to kill him. Only maim him a little bit.”

“Obviously the first thing I need to do is to get rid of you,” said Senta, waving her hands. “Teiius uuthanum.”

“Uuthanum,” said the other Senta, countering the spell. “You’ve got to be kidding. No copy is going to out-magic me. Uuthanum Teigor.”

“I thought she was the copy,” said Hero.

“Prestus uuthanum. She is the copy. Go stand out of the way. Ariana uuthanum sembor!”

A sticky mass of spider webs enveloped the red-dressed Senta. She struggled for a moment, falling to the ground. By the time she managed to dispel the webs, the leather-clad Senta had cast a charm spell on her. Stepping over, she looked down at the image of herself lying almost helpless on the ground.

“If you touch me, you’ll see,” said the prone sorceress, in a sing-song voice. “I’m the real Senta. You’ll just cease to exist.”

“Let’s see then,” said Senta, reaching down and touching a perfect copy of her own nose.

The red dress seemed to deflate as the Senta who had been wearing it dissolved and flowed up and into the hand of the standing sorceress.

“Nice,” said Senta, standing up. “A new dress. I was wondering how that was going to work out.”

“I should have known you were the source of the trouble,” said Saba Colbshallow.

He looked sternly at Senta from beneath his police helmet, his blue uniform, with the exception of the sergeant stripes, a match for those of the two constables that followed on his heels.

“I didn’t…” Senta started. “But she… Oh, bloody hell.”

“Come along with me to the station,” said Saba. “We’ll get all the details down in a report. But I can tell you right now that someone is going to be held responsible for the damage.”

The top floors of the bakery had been saved from the fire, but there was plenty of scorching on the outside walls and no one would be too surprised if some of the supports had to be replaced.

“Fine,” said Senta, and then turning to Hero. “See if Mrs. Bratihn can get this dress cleaned. Tell her I’ll come around for a fitting.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 2

“I am not a pie thief,” said I, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the limited light of the little room. “If anything, I am a procurer of pies to be paid for at a later time, which is to say an eater of pies on account.”

“I don’t judge you,” said the little voice from the dark corner. “After all, am I not incarcerated for the same crime? It may well have been the same pie that I attempted to steal earlier in the evening that you tried to…”

“Check for doneness,” I interrupted.

“Steal.”

“Taste test.”

“Steal.”

“Borrow.”

“Steal.”

“For someone who doesn’t judge, you seem quite judgmental to me,” I opined. “And if self control did escape me for a moment, could I be blamed? Here am I, a cold and weary traveler from a far land, cold to the bone and hungry. And there sits a pie, and not just any pie, but a pie for the ages, sitting as if waiting especially for me, on the window ledge.”

“Mistress Gaston is an excellent piesmith.”

“I shall have to take your word for that,” said I, starting to make out the form of a child. “And what is it they call you, lad?”

“I am called Galfrid.”

“Come out of the corner and let me have a look at you.”

“Promise me that you won’t hurt me,” said he.

“All the country knows the name of Eaglethorpe Buxton and it knows that he is not one to harm children or ladies, nor old people or the infirm. Rather he is a friend to those who are in need of a friend and a protector to those who are in need of a protector and a guardian to those who are in need of a guardian.”

“So long as it is not a pie that needs guarding,” said he.

“Pies are something altogether unique. Pies are special, which is to say they are wonderful, but not rare. No, indeed they are common, but that does not make them worthless. Quite the contrary. Life is quite like a pie, at least in-so-much-as a life lived well is like a pie—warm and delicious on the inside with a protective crust on the outside. There are places in the world where pies are worshiped.”

“No.”

“No what?”

“There is no place in the world where pies are worshipped.”

“That is not worshipped, but revered as one might revere the saints.”

“No.”

“Far to the east of here, in the city of Bertold, in the land of Holland, they revere pies.”

“No. There is no city of Bertold in Holland and nowhere east of here do they revere pies.”

“You are a saucy child,” said I. “And if they do not revere pies east of here, then I should not like to travel in that direction.”

“So are you implying that you are this Englethorpe Boxcar and that I therefore have nothing to fear from you?”

“Eaglethorpe, with an A instead of an N, and Buxton, with an X and a ton, and yes, I am he and you have nothing to fear. Though to be sure there are plenty who would claim the name of Eaglethorpe Buxton, with and E not an N and an X and a ton, because greatness will ever have its imitators.”

“So you might well be an imposter,” said he.

“You may rest assured that I am not,” said I.

“But if you were an imposter, would you not insist that you were not an imposter?”

“You may be sure that I would.”

“Then how can I trust that you are the real Englethorpe Boxcar?”

“Just look at me!” I exclaimed, throwing my arms out and giving him a good look.

“Swear that you will not harm me,” said he. “And furthermore, swear that you will be my protector and guardian until I can return to my home?”

“How far away do you live?”

“Not far.”

“I swear to be your protector and guardian until you reach your home, though it be on the far side of creation,” said I. “Now come closer and let me get the measure of you.”

The lad crept forward until he stepped into a beam of moonlight shining through a space between the boards of the shack wall. He was a slight little ragamuffin, with a build that suggested he had not eaten in some time. He had a dirty face and wool cap pulled down to his eyes. His clothes were dirty and torn, but I immediately noticed that his shoes while dirty, seemed too fine for a ragamuffin such as this. I asked upon them.

“You see, Sir Boxcar, my parents were, um… cobblers… but they died, leaving me a destitute and lonely orphan child. These shoes were the only things they left me.”

“May they rest in peace,” said I, whipping off my cap, which is only proper courtesy to offer, even if one is only offering it to an orphan. “But on to the situation at hand. I see that you are a sturdy boy, despite your condition. Why did you not bust out of this shack? It looks as though it would take no more than a couple of kicks.”

The lad stared at me with his mouth open, obviously chagrined that he had not thought of this means of escape himself. “Yes,” he said at last. “I am a sturdy… boy…. but I think you will find the shack is sturdier than it looks. It is hammered together with iron nails.”

I turned and leveled a kick at the side wall through which crack I had but a moment before been peering. One of the boards flew off, landing in the snow six or seven feet away and leaving an opening almost big enough for the boy to pass through. I kicked a second board off the side of the structure and I was outside in a jiffy. Turning around, I reached through to aid my companion’s escape.

“Come along orphan,” said I.

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 6 Excerpt

Isaak Wissinger walked through the cobblestone streets of Magdafeld. He tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but that was relatively hard to do on this particular morning because very few others were on the streets. Magdafeld sat high atop a hill in the center of a long flat plain, so even though it was spring, a chilly wind whipped about. He tucked his head down and pulled up the collar of “borrowed” trench coat. When the sounds of a chugging steam carriage approached from behind, Wissinger tensed. He watched carefully as it passed, trying not to seem as if he was watching carefully. The vehicle had an enclosed cab behind the driver, though it was easy enough to see that there was a man and a woman inside. The vehicle shot past him, but came quickly to a stop half a block away. Then it slowly backed up. Wissinger looked for a side street down which to escape, but there wasn’t one.

The car finally came to a stop next to him. He tried to continue walking.

“You there!” called a voice as a man climbed out of the car.

To his horror, Wissinger saw that the man wore the uniform of a Freedonian Army colonel.

“Halt.”

With a sigh, Wissinger turned around, affixing as convincing a smile as he could possibly manage.

“Yes? Good morning.”

“Where can I find a strudel shop around here?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Wissinger. “I live on the other side of town. If you’re over there, Volker’s Bakery is the best.”

“What are you doing on this side of town then?”

“I’m visiting my cousin. She’s sick and I have to help with the kinders.”

“You have papers?” asked the Colonel.

“Of course.” Wissinger pulled out his forged papers. He had paid well for them, but didn’t really know just how good they were.

“Fritsie! Come on!” said a woman, who then poked her head out the car window. She was a gorgeous blonde in a red dress that left her shoulders bare. “I’m hungry!”

The officer looked back at her and grinned.

“Be on your way,” he told Wissinger, and then climbed back into the car and the woman’s embrace.

The writer hurried the rest of the way down the street, turning right at the first intersection he came to. This particular avenue provided a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside as it wound its way down the hill to the river dock and the adjacent train station. Even Wissinger, who was much more interested in watching for potential pursuers than sightseeing was suitably impressed. It brought a smile to him and a lightness to his step.

Any burgeoning happiness was squelched however when he reached the railroad crossing. Three Freedonian soldiers, an officer and two enlisted men carrying rifles, were checking papers of those who would cross the tracks either to reach the train station or the dock beyond. There was no way around and Wissinger needed to get on the ferryboat to go down the river. He took his place in line behind a woman in a green scarf. When he got within a dozen steps of the checkpoint, his stomach suddenly jumped up into his throat. The officer checking papers wore a four-legged fylfot on his lapel, with a matching symbol on a red armband. He was no mere soldier. He was a wizard of the Reine Zauberei.

“Papers,” said the wizard with a sigh, to the woman in the green scarf.

The woman handed the wizard her papers. He didn’t open them to read or examine them, but simply ran his hand over the outside cover. The papers glowed a sickly yellow for a moment.

“Where are you going, Mrs. Kraus?” he asked her.

“I’m taking the ferry to Rivenholz.”

“Your business in Rivenholz?” The wizard could not have seemed more bored.

“I’m having tea with my sister. I have tea with my sister every month. It’s still all right to have tea with one’s sister, is it not?”

The exchange was interrupted by the sounds of men shouting from the train a hundred feet up the track. Everyone at the checkpoint turned to see a man fall from one of the train’s doors and land flat on his back on the gravel below. There were more shouts, though what was being shouted was completely unintelligible. The wizard turned to the two soldiers.

“Go see what it is.”

The two riflemen dutifully trotted toward the parked train. A loud whistle rent the air, and the train on the other side of the station slowly started moving. It was headed toward Kasselburg and Bangdorf, the opposite direction that the ferry, and the other train, would be traveling.

“Say hello to your cousin, Mrs. Kraus,” said the wizard.

“My sister,” answered the woman, taking her papers and heading on her way.

Wissinger stepped forward and handed over his papers before being asked. As he had done before, the wizard placed his hand over them, causing them to glow sickly yellow.

“Your name?”

“Von Horst, Wilhelm Von Horst.”

“Ah, ritter?”

“My great-grandfather, on my mother’s side.”

In Freedonia a ritter was a knight, a rank which entitled a man and his descendants to add “von” to his surname, though the actual knighthood didn’t pass on through the family tree. Wissinger had reasoned that no one using forged papers would be so bold as to use the honorific and hence less suspicion would be thrown upon him. Looking at the wizard though, he now began to rethink that theory.

“And your name, Wizard?”

“Wizard Von Grieg.”

Von Grieg was just shorter than Wissinger, though much more heavily built. He wore his black hair cut short with long, close-cropped sideburns.

“And where are you off to today, Von Horst?”

“I have business in Tideburg.”

“So you are taking the train?”

“No. I’m taking the ferry. I’m not in a hurry.”

“I’ve never met a business man who wasn’t in a hurry.” Von Grieg handed him his papers. “Have a pleasant day, Mr. Wissinger.”

“Who?” asked the writer, but he knew it was no use.

He threw his papers as hard as he could into the wizards face and when the man ducked, he kicked him, knocking him down. Then he turned and ran. He heard the wizard speaking in Zurian. He dived and rolled across the ground just as half a dozen magical bolts shot over his head. Back on his feet, he turned and ran toward the train, the last car of which was just moving past the station platform. Wissinger ran up the steps to the platform and dived, just catching hold of the train car’s railing. He heard rifle fire behind him, but didn’t look back. He opened the door and entered the rear of the train, sat down in the rearmost seat, and closed his eyes.

It was ironic. In order to perform magic, the wizards had to speak the ancient language of the Zaeri, the same language he spoke in shrine. And yet, because Wissinger was an ethnic Zaeri, they wanted him locked away in a ghetto, or worse. It was at that moment that Wissinger decided he hated irony.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 1

There was a pie. There was a pie cooling on the window ledge. Steam was rising up into the frosty air, illuminated by the flickering candlelight coming from within the building. Is there a more welcoming sight? Is there a more welcoming sight for a traveler from a far land, trudging through the cold, dark forest on a cold, dark night, waist deep in snow, frozen to the bone, than the sight of a pie cooling on the window ledge with steam rising up into the frosty air? You don’t have to wonder. I can tell you. There is no more welcoming sight than such a pie. On this night there were sights and sounds and smells, all nearly as welcoming, and they were arrayed around this particular pie like the elements of a fine meal might be arrayed around a very nicely roasted chicken breast. Candlelight flickering through the shutters casting shadows on the snow, smoke rising from the chimneys in a quaint small town, the smell of burning wood and the smell horses just overpowering the smell of pine, the sounds of men and women singing; all welcoming but not as welcoming as pie. I was as happy to see that pie as I was to see the little town in which it cooled on the window ledge.

I should stop and introduce myself. I am Eaglethorpe Buxton, famed world traveler and storyteller. Of course you have heard of me, for my tales of the great heroes and their adventures have been repeated far and wide across the land. Yes, I am sad to say that many of my stories have been told without the benefit of my name being attached to them. This is unfortunate as my appellation, which is to say the name of Buxton and of Eaglethorpe would add a certain something to the verisimilitude of a story, which is to say the truthfulness or the believability of the story. But such is the jealousy of other storytellers that they cannot bear to have my name overshadow theirs. In truth I am probably better known in any case, as an adventurer in my own right than as a teller of the adventures of others. But in any case, there was a pie.

I had been traveling for days through the snowy forests of Brest, which of course one might associate with a nicely roasted breast of chicken, but that is not necessarily the case. To be sure I have had one or two nicely roasted chickens during my travels in this dark, cold country, as I traveled from one little hamlet to the next. I would say though that I’ve eaten far more mutton and beef stew than roasted chicken breast. I suppose this has to do with the fact that eggs are dear, though I’ve seldom found an inn that didn’t offer a scrambled egg on porridge of morning. In fact, in distant Aerithraine, where I was once privileged to spend a fortnight with the Queen, I have had some of the finest breast of chicken dinners than any man has ever enjoyed. But notwithstanding this, there was a pie.

I had trudged through the snow for days, forced to lead my poor horse Hysteria who had taken lame with a stone, through drifts as high as my belt. So I was cold and I was tired. More than this though, I was hungry. And above the smell of pine and frost and people and horses and smoke, there was the smell of that pie. It smelled so very good. It smelled of warmth and happiness and home and my dear old mother. It was a pie for the ages.

I would not steal a pie. I did not steal this pie. Though I have been most unfairly accused of being a thief on one or two or sixteen occasions, I have never been convicted of such a heinous crime, except in Theen where the courts are most unfairly in control of the guilds, and in Breeria which is ruled by a tyrant, and one time in Aerithraine when the witnesses were all liars. So as you can see, I am not one to steal a pie. But being concerned that the pie might be getting too cold, I reached up to check the temperature. It was at this moment that I was laid upon by at least two pairs of rough hands.

“This is a fine welcome for a stranger to your town,” said I.

They called me varlet and scoundrel and dastard and pie thief and tossed me bodily into the confines of a small shack just out behind the structure in which the pie had rested on the window ledge. I looked around in the darkness. It was not true darkness to be sure, because the shack was poorly put together, with wide gaps through which the cold and frosty air entered with impunity. It struck me immediately that it would not be too hard work to bust out of this prison, but I waited and put my eye to one of the cracks to see if my attackers had left and to see if I could spot what they intended for Hysteria my valiant steed, which is to say my horse.

The two ruffians who had attacked me were making their way back to the front of the nearest building and just beyond them I could see one short fellow attempting to lead Hysteria away, though she tossed her head unhappily and pulled at the reigns. I sighed, and could see the steam from my breath forming a little cloud just beyond the confines of the little shack.

“So,” said a small voice, and I turned to peer into the darkened corner of the shack. “They have caught another pie thief.”

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 4 Excerpt

Isaak Wissinger bent down and picked up a paper from the street. At least he was still able to do that. Many of the people he saw passing him on the street seemed barely able to lift their own feet. He was still in the ghetto of Zurelendsviertel. He had been unable to get out. During the past eleven months, Wissinger had been forced to use the money that his guardian angel had given him to buy scraps of food. She had been right. When push had come to shove, the other Zaeri had helped themselves and their families, and not the famous writer they knew of, but didn’t really know.

The angel had not come back since that night. If Wissinger had not had the money to spend on moldy bread and mysterious meat, he would have thought that he had dreamed the whole thing. Of course there were also the stories. Stories had come into the ghetto from the outside world—stories about a mysterious woman. A blond woman had attacked Neuschlindenmacht Castle, burning it to the ground, though nobody knew exactly how. A powerful witch had fought and killed a dozen wizards of the Reine Zauberei on the streets of Kasselburg. A blond sorceress had freed hundreds of Zaeri prisoners held in a work camp and had killed or frightened off a company of soldiers guarding them. Wissinger carefully listened to the stories without adding his own experiences. There was nothing to indicate that these stories were about the same woman, or that they were even true. But Wissinger believed them.

“You’re thinking about me right now, aren’t you?” asked a sultry voice right by his ear.

Wissinger jumped. The woman was back. He looked up and down the street and realized that there was no one else to be seen. This was unusual. It was almost mid-day. He looked back at her. Yes, it was the same woman. She was dressed at least this time. Sort of. He tried to think where her black corset and leather pants would be everyday dress, but could imagine no such place in the world. She tossed her hair back and then took a pose with her chin held high, like a statue.

“Um, you’re back,” he said.

“Oh my. Here I was told that you were the greatest writer in Freedonia, and this is your introductory line?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Well now you’re just being thick,” she said. “I came back for you. You were supposed to be gone, out of the ghetto and to the coast at least.”

“I couldn’t get out. The Kafirite, Kiesinger, the one who smuggled some Zaeri out for money. The day after you were here, I mean in my room, he was arrested. He wasn’t arrested in my room, he was arrested… wherever they arrested him, but no one else took his place. There was no one else who would help, to smuggle me out.” Wissinger stopped speaking and realized he was out of breath.

“Relax lover. We’re leaving now.”

“Now?”

“Yes.”

“Wait. We have to go back to my room.”

She smiled seductively. “What a wonderful idea. I thought you might be more welcoming this time.”

“No, it’s just… it’s the middle of the day.”

“Yes?”

“Well, um… I… Aren’t we in a hurry?”

“You’re the one who wants to go back to your room.”

“I have to get my book.”

“What book is that?”

“My book. It doesn’t have a title yet. It’s about life here. It’s hidden in the wall.”

“Then let’s go get it.”

Wissinger led the woman down the cobblestone street to his apartment building and upstairs to his room. His building had been a fine middle class apartment twenty years earlier. Now it was rapidly falling apart from neglect. Holes had appeared in the walls and the floor. In one spot just outside his apartment door, he could see completely through to the floor below. In a way this was all fortunate. The crack in the wall next to the loose board, behind which he hid the tools of his trade, didn’t look out of place. Removing the board, he pulled out the tablet and pencil.

The tablet was the type children used in school. He had started at the beginning and had used every page. Then he had turned it over and had written on the backs of each sheet, in ever smaller script as the pages had become scarce. The pencil was the last of a package of twelve. Oh, how he had wasted his pencils at first, insisting on a sharp point, whittling each one back with his knife. When he had gotten to the sixth one, he had stopped such foolishness. He let the lead become as dull and round as a turtle’s head and had only cut back the wood around it, when it, like the turtle’s head, had become hidden inside. That was all over now.

He felt the woman press against his back. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and licked the back of his neck. He turned around and kissed her deeply. She pulled him toward the cot, and he let her. He spent the last hour that he would ever spend on that horrible, worn, bug-ridden mattress making love to a beautiful woman.

“I don’t even know your name,” he said, as they dressed.

“It’s Zurfina.”

“Like the daughter of Magnus the Great?”

“Yes, exactly like that.”

“You’re not her, are you?”

“Yes. Yes I am.”

She slipped back into her boots and headed out the door. Wissinger stuffed his pencil in the pocket where he kept his penknife and tucked his tablet under his arm. A quick look around reminded him that he had nothing else of value. Quickly catching up with Zurfina, he followed her downstairs and out into the street. Even though the sun was still high, there was nobody to be seen. It was as if they were the only two people in the world. Down the street and around the corner, then down the main thoroughfare, they finally reached the twenty-foot tall wooden gate to the outside world. It was standing open and the guards who had always been there were gone.

“What’s going on?” Wissinger asked.

“It’s just magic.”

Once outside the gate, they wound their way through the city streets of Gartow. It was much nicer here. The buildings were in repair. The shops were open. But here the world was just as devoid of life and humanity as it had been inside the ghetto.   In no time at all they were past the edge of town. They stepped off the road and crossed the first field of many that filled the space between the city and the distant edge of the forest.

“Zurfina, how is it… oh… um.”

“What is it?”

“I just remembered that according the Holy Scriptures, Zurfina… that is the daughter of King Magnus, was burned at the stake.”

“Fine, I’m not her then.”

“But your name is Zurfina, isn’t it?”

“I’m tired of all your questions,” she said, stopping and glaring at him. “It’s been nothing but questions with you since I got here. What’s going on? Who are you? Can I be on top?”

“I’m sorry.”

“One more question and I’m leaving.”

“No. I’m sorry. No more questions, I promise,” said Wissinger. “Just tell me which way I am supposed to go.”

“That’s it!” she snapped, and with a flourish of her hands, she disappeared with a pop.

“I didn’t… that wasn’t a question… I phrased it…”

A sound drew Wissinger’s gaze to the sky. A flock of small birds flew overhead, twittering as they went. Then he heard the sounds of voices, and looking toward town, he could see people. A steam carriage chugged down the now distant road. It was as if the world had suddenly come alive. Dropping to a crouch, he looked around to see if there was anyone close. He could detect no one. Staying hunched over, he made for the forest as fast as he could.

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Senta watched as the last pallet of copper was placed inside her rented warehouse by a lizzie crew working steam jacks. The copper was made up of oval ingots about a quarter inch thick, dozens of which were packed together in crates and then the crates had been stacked together on wooden pallets. The copper barely filled one corner of the warehouse, but occupying the rest was an enormous pile of pillows. Not all of the pillows were new. In fact most weren’t. But it looked a comfy enough pile to take a run at and jump into.

A loud whomp on the pavement next to the Drache Girl signaled the arrival of Bessemer, the Steel Dragon. The lizzies in the area reacted immediately, though not all in the same way. Some scurried away, some placed their hands in front of their dewlaps in a respectful greeting, and a few dropped to their knees in genuflection.

“I hate when they do that,” said Bessemer.

“Kisses,” said Senta, and the steel dragon bent his neck toward her, air kissing first on one side of her face and then the other.

“Oh, good. My copper is here,” said the dragon.

“Your copper? What are you going to do with copper?”

“Make pots of course. You put the copper ingot in a steam press and turn it into a pot or a skillet or even a kettle.”

“What do you know about making pots?”

“I read. Some people could do a bit more of that.”

“I’ve been busy, but I’m planning on reading a bit today.”

“Do tell,” said the dragon. “Anyway, why did you call me down here?”

“You need a place to sleep. Well, here it is. I’ve brought all your pillows down and got you a few more besides.” She saw Bessemer’s dubious look. “It’s just till we find something else.”

“Did you bring Mr. Turtlekins?” Bessemer refused to sleep without his well-worn stuffed turtle.

“Yes, he’s in there somewhere.”

“Still, I don’t know. It’s awfully noisy down here so close to the docks.”

“It’s very quiet at night.”

“I don’t just sleep at night.”

“You could sleep through an explosion. I’ll tell you what though. I’ll come down and sleep here with you for a few nights, until you get settled in.”

“That’s nice. I miss crawling into bed with you when it gets cold at night.”

“Yes well, that’s why I had to get a new bed. Anyway, it’s a bit too crowded at home.”

“What do you mean crowded? You’re the only one there, aren’t you?”

“Never mind.”

“Well, I’ll try it out,” said the dragon, stepping inside the warehouse and sliding the large rolling door almost closed. He poked his head out the small remaining opening. “You’ll be back tonight?”

“Yes.”

Bessemer pulled his head in and shut the door. Senta turned around and was almost immediately confronted by Graham. He had a big grin on his face.

“I’ve got it.”

“Got what?” she wondered.

“Your token.”

“Token of what?”

“Token of my affection… you know, like you said.”

“I did? Oh, sure I did. Okay. What is it?”

Graham held out a small box. Senta took it and carefully opened it to find the interior lined with velvet. Right in the middle was a silver pendant in the shape of a dragon on a thin chain.

“It’s real silver… mostly,” boasted Graham. “It’s a real silver chain and the dragon is covered with silver, but it’s made out of… and this is the best part… a tyrannosaurus tooth! Do you get it? Dinosaur for me and dragon for you—it’s like the perfect symbol for us.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty ace all right.” Senta was quite sincere in her appreciation for her boyfriend having come up with an acceptable gift, especially considering his lack of romantic proclivity up to this point. “Help me put it on.”

Pulling the necklace from the box and promptly dropping the box on the ground, Graham draped the necklace around Senta’s neck as she turned around. He fumbled with the latch for a minute, but at last the silver form of the dragon pendant rested comfortably on her blue dress over her heart.

“Thanks,” she said, turning around.

“When do I get mine?”

“Am I supposed to buy you a necklace too?”

“No. When do I get my, you know…” his voice grew quiet. “My kiss.”

“How about right now?”

The boy turned around to see if they were unobserved, but as was so often the case anywhere the young sorceress went, quite a crowd of people were encircled about them, too afraid to get too close, but too curious not to stay and watch.

“Maybe tomorrow. You’re still cooking dinner for me at your house, aren’t you?”

“Am I? I mean of course I am. But you don’t want to wait all the way until then, do you?”

“I think it might be better.”

“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind them.

Graham and Senta turned to look into the freckled face of a young woman. She had evidently just come off one of the ships in port. She wore a long traveling coat over a white blouse and brown dress. A brown bonnet held back bright red hair, a few strands of which escaped to hang down on the side of their face. In her right hand she grasped the handle of a small carpetbag.

“Do either of you know your way around town,” asked the girl.

“Sure,” replied Graham. “What are you looking for?”

“I don’t really know. I’m new here. I don’t have a place to stay yet and I’m not sure where I should go to find one.”

“I’ll help you. I’m Graham Dokkins.”

“I’m Nellie Swenson, girl reporter.”

“Are you supposed to be famous or something?” asked Senta.

“I’m pretty well known back in Brech. The Herald Sun is the most widely read news broadsheet, and I have a weekly column.”

“Who’s writing it now then?”

“Oh, I wrote enough extra columns to fill out a whole year, though I’m kind of sorry I’m not going to get to see the reaction to my story on orphanage abuses or the one detailing the stunt of my jumping from a dirigible. I’m here to see Birmisia Colony and I’m keeping a journal of my adventure. It should provide at least a year of new columns.”

“Come on, I’ll take you to the new arrivals bureau,” offered Graham.

“That would be lovely, but aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”

“Oh, that’s just Senta.” Then to Senta he said, “I’m going to help Nellie get situated. I’ll see you later.”

The boy offered the new arrival his arm, which she took, and the two of them started up Seventh and One Half Avenue. Senta’s eyes bored holes in their backs, and she absentmindedly punched her left palm with her right fist.