Astrid Maxxim and her Antarctic Expedition has been revised and re-edited. You can pick up an updated copy wherever you purchased your ebook. If you have not read this book, now is a great time to check it out, along with the other Astrid Maxxim books in the series.
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.”
The long, snaking line of soldiers marched through the forest. Incredibly tall redwood trees, large spruces, maples and bay trees, gave shade, but offered little in the way of obstacles. Though azalea and huckleberry bushes pulled at the men’s legs, their heavy canvas pants and leather boots protected them. At the head of the group was Terrence Dechantagne, who was followed by a lizardman named Sarkkik. Sarkkik wore a feathered headdress and his body was painted all black along the right side and red along the left. Next in line was Augustus Dechantagne who was followed by another lizardman. This second lizardman, Szuss, was far less ornately adorned, with just a few stripes of ochre around his neck and arms. Behind him was the wizard Dudley Labrith. Behind Labrith were one hundred eighty well-trained soldiers in khaki.
“Blast!” shouted Augie, as a small dinosaur jumped up from the brush near his feet with a twitter and shot away through the woods.
Terrence turned back and gave his brother a look, though he didn’t say anything. They had journeyed by his calculation, more than one hundred sixty miles. Along the way, Augie had frightened, or been frightened by, at least half a dozen dinosaurs. To be fair, some of the beasts had been genuinely frightening.
When they had crossed a seemingly innocuous stream two days earlier, several creatures decided that some of the humans would make a pleasant lunch. Familiar with alligators along the southernmost rivers in Sumir, Terrence had read of similar creatures called crocodiles that lived in Mallon. That’s what these animals were—crocodiles. Neither Terrence nor anyone else had expected them to be so large. The three beasts in the meager little river were each more than fifty feet long and must have topped the scale at eight tons a piece. It had taken the rifle fire of more than fifty men to discourage the crocodiles.
The lizardman next to Augie hissed something in his language.
“What did he say?”
“He said not to worry. That dinosaur was harmless.”
The reptilian hissed again.
“He says it’s only a short walk to our destination.”
Augie spoke again in the lizard language. Again came a reply.
“He says we should be ready to fight.”
“All right. Tell the men.”
“Check magazines. Full loads,” said Augie to the sergeant behind him, who transmitted the order back down the line.
Less than half a mile past the point at which the small dinosaur had jumped up from the brush, the forest ended and a huge savannah spread out before the soldiers. Terrence had the men tighten up into a two by two formation and continue on. Here on the open grassland, tremendous beasts roamed. In the distance the men could see a large herd of triceratops, which they had grown used to seeing at home, but even closer was a troupe of nine or ten beasts whose size defied all logic. Their huge bodies were more than thirty feet tall, and they possessed a long serpentine tail and an equally long serpentine neck that placed their heads more than one hundred fifty feet from their other ends. The monsters walked along in a line toward another distant edge of the forest far to the east.
“My god!” exclaimed Augie. “They’re magnificent.”
“Seismosaurus,” said Terrence, and when his brother gave him a look, he said. “I’ve been reading.”
“Look what’s following them,” said Labrith.
A discreet distance behind the giants, were the huge black bodies and horrendous red faces of four large tyrannosauruses. All four turned to eye the humans making their way across the grassland. They might have sensed a fearlessness among the humans, or they might not have been hungry. For whatever reason, they turned back around and continued to follow the seismosauruses.
Crossing the great grassland, Terrence could see a line of rolling hills on the far side. It was only after they had marched through the waist-tall grass for more than an hour however, when the hills revealed one of the greatest sights that he or any of the soldiers had ever seen. Framed between two closer hills and sitting atop the larger, rockier promontory behind, was a city. Even from a distance of many miles, it was easy to see that this city was something spectacular. Huge gleaming white pyramids rose from its center and giant walls surrounded it, as if keeping it from flowing down the sides of the hill. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of houses and other buildings were contained within its confines.
“I didn’t think they were capable of anything like this,” said Augie, obviously speaking of the lizardmen.
Without thinking, Terrence had stopped to stare at the magnificent sight. He didn’t say anything, but he hadn’t been aware that the reptilians were capable of anything along this line either. The other soldiers moved up and formed a group, rather than a line. All stared in rapt fascination and open astonishment at a city that might very well have rivaled Brech in size.
“Dechantagne,” said Wizard Labrith, pointing.
Terrence followed his gaze and saw spread out across the savannah, a line of lizardmen. They were so well camouflaged that they blended right into the rising landscape behind them. They stretched out to the left and the right so far that they created a half circle around the humans, and this at a distance of more than a mile. Many of the lizardmen were painted red and white and black, and most wore feathers. Most also carried the swords, made of wood and flint, that the men had seen before.
“Kafira,” said one of the soldiers. “There must be a thousand of them.”
“More like five thousand,” said Labrith.
“Talk to them,” said Terrence to Augie, indicating the two lizardmen with them. “Find out if these are our friends or the enemies.”
Many people on the shore were watching as the two ships steamed out of the bay and no doubt many people had many different emotions flowing around within them at the sight. Some might have felt frightened with the realization that their last tenuous lifeline to the world of civilization was now severed. Some might have been excited that the challenge of taming the new world was now theirs and theirs alone to pursue. Zeah Korlann didn’t know what he felt. He didn’t have time to dwell upon any feelings however, he had plenty to do.
By the time the sun set that evening, he had accomplished quite a bit. He had arranged for new work details for the former Freedonians. Like the colonists who had arrived eight days before them, these individuals would be expected to provide six months of service to the colony. After that, they could purchase land and begin whatever lives they wished. That was the theory, anyway. He had also overseen the clearing of the first bit of forest outside the protective wall. The first shops and stores would be built here hopefully, when that six month period had ended. Zeah looked forward to visiting a bakery there. Inside the walls, they had finished constructing a large smokehouse. And finally, that afternoon, the colony’s first fishing boat had floated out into the bay.
Zeah had two stops to make after dinner and before he went back to his own apartment. The first was to the headquarters tent of Miss Dechantagne. He would have gone to report to her in any case, but he felt doubly obligated to stop because the Royal Colonial Governor was alone. Her brothers had left at first light the day before with one hundred eighty soldiers and accompanied by a half dozen reptilian aborigines. Their mission was to elevate one of the local chiefs to dominance, and at the same time show off modern Brech firepower—put the fear of God into the locals, let them know who was the boss. Nobody expected stone spear equipped lizardmen to be able to face the power of four platoons of riflemen, and both brothers had spent their time in the army. Still, it was a combat mission, and things could happen.
Knocking on the tent pole that served as a doorjamb, he was rewarded with a “Come in.”
Miss Dechantagne was not alone. Zeah’s daughter Yuah was in the tent. She was sitting in one of the folding chairs in front of Miss Dechantagne’s massive desk and Miss Dechantagne herself was sitting in the heavy oak swivel chair behind it. The two women were sipping cups of tea.
“Hello Papa,” said his daughter, standing up to kiss him on the cheek.
“Good evening. I didn’t expect to find you here.”
“We were just having tea,” said Miss Dechantagne. “Would you like some?”
Only Zeah’s carefully regulated composure allowed him to reply without stuttering. Miss Dechantagne inviting him to tea? The heat must have somehow addled her.
“No, thank you. I just wanted to check in and let you know that everything is on schedule.”
“I’m quite excited about the smokehouse, myself,” said Yuah. “Mrs. Colbshallow is already planning sausages.”
Zeah looked at his daughter with a raised eyebrow. It seemed that the governor was not the only one who had lost her mind. Yuah was sipping tea and making small talk with Miss Dechantagne.
“Thank you Zeah,” said the governor. “I’m pleased to see that our new arrivals are proving to be more of an asset than a hindrance.”
“Indeed.” Zeah stood for a moment
“You should go get some rest.”
“Very well. Good night.” He nodded to the women and stepped out the tent flap. The two women laughed. Zeah shook his head and walked off.
His second stop was to see Egeria Lusk. She had completely recovered from her wounds at the hands of an unknown attacker and had in fact, spent much of the day supervising work on the Result Mechanism, though she had left the actual pressing of buttons and throwing of switches to someone else. He knocked on the door of her apartment and again was asked to “come in” and again found two women sitting and sipping tea. This time it was Egeria and Sister Auni, the Kafirite cleric. Sister Auni rose as he entered.
“Good evening, Mr. Korlann,” she said. “I was just leaving.”
“No need to leave on my account.”
“No, no. We’ve had a lovely talk, but now I must get back to my own room.”
“Well, good night,” he said, as he held the door open for the clergywoman.
“I’m so glad you came by,” said Egeria, once Sister Auni had left. “Please sit down.”
“Thank you. What were you two talking about?”
“Oh, life, the universe, and everything.”
“And what was her take on it.”
“We were just chatting, really,” said Egeria. “I was sorry that we didn’t get to have supper together.”
“I didn’t really have time for supper today,” said Zeah. “I was hoping that you would join me tomorrow though.”
“I would be delighted,” she smiled.
Though he was quite as busy the next day as he had been the previous, Zeah had little thought for anything he was doing and much for that night’s supper. He took a fine haddock from the first load of fish brought in on the new fishing boat. Though Mrs. Colbshallow was not available, he found a Mrs. Finkler among the Freedonian immigrants, who by all accounts was a wonderful cook. He paid her two marks to prepare roasted fish. She proved to be as good as her reputation, and at the appointed time delivered not only two beautifully roasted fish fillets, but a large plate of potatoes, seasoned in a way that was completely new to former butler but was delicious, and roasted leeks covered in sweet butter.
“What are zeets?” asked Senta.
“That’s what they’re called. My Da says they’re evil, and they don’t even believe in Kafira.”
“Zurfina doesn’t believe in Kafira either. I mean, not like us. She says the Church is all bullocks.”
“Yeah, well my Da says she’s evil too.”
If Senta was offended at the idea that anyone would call Zurfina evil, she didn’t let on. She bounced ahead, her skipping steps seeming to defy gravity. In one hand she carried a stick and in the other her doll. Graham stomped after her.
“Why do you gotta carry that doll everywhere?” he asked.
“Cause I’m a girl, stupid.”
They reached the edge of the tent village. Some of the women from among the Freedonian refugees had set up a series of clotheslines and were hanging up clothes. Almost every piece was black, white, or grey.
“They don’t seem any different to me,” said Senta. “Except they talk funny.”
Suddenly several of the women who had been hanging clothes began to scream and they all began to run toward the tents. Looking up, the two children saw a steel colored streak flying downward from out of the sun. The steel dragon buzzed the tops of the women’s heads and then zipped along parallel to the clothesline and with a flick of its tail, knocked every other piece of clothing from the line into the dirt. Spreading its wings out to their full six-foot breadth, it stopped in mid-air and dropped to the ground at Senta’s feet. It opened its mouth to the sky and a small puff of smoke shot out.
“Funneee,” said the dragon.
“It’s not either funny, you potty twonk. You’re going to get everyone angry, and who’s going to get in trouble? Not you. Me, that’s who!”
Despite Senta’s declaration that the dragon’s actions were not funny, Graham was laughing heartily. The dragon hopped over to his feet and rubbed his head against the boy’s leg as if to share in his mirth. Graham, still laughing, slapped his knee. The dragon suddenly bit his hand.
“Sod it!” shouted the boy, his laughter suddenly gone.
The dragon looked up in the air, with feigned innocence.
“See, now you’ve made Graham angry too,” said Senta. Both the girl and the dragon looked at the boy, who had gone all white and sweaty.
“My Da didn’t say it, but I think dragons are evil.”
“Pet,” said the dragon, in a pleading tone.
“Yeah, all right,” Senta said, fishing a small brown bottle from the pocket of her baggy black dress. “But if you bite anyone else, I’m going to need a new bottle of this.”
She poured the draught from the bottle onto the wound on Graham’s hand. The liquid bubbled and fizzed on contact with the boy’s blood, but after a few moments nothing was left of the injury but a small scar.
Senta, Graham, and the dragon looked up to see they were completely surrounded by a crowd of people. The reptile leapt to the girl’s shoulder in one swift motion and curled up around her neck. Graham stood up next to Senta and took her hand in his. The people began to whisper amongst themselves. Finally one of the women stepped forward.
“Sorry about your clothes,” said Senta.
“Der drache is, how you say, vunterfull,” said the woman.
“Oh yeah, he’s great,” said Graham, sarcastically.
“He is bootifull. He is yours?”
“Yeah, sort of,” said Senta.
“You bet he’s hers,” said Graham. “She’s a really powerful sorceress and he’s her dragon. And they’re really scary and magical. Just look at them. And that’s her magic doll.”
He suddenly started laughing. The dragon made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a smirk.
“We’ve got to go now,” said Senta. “I’ve got to lock up my dragon and my troll here.”
“Hey!” shouted Graham, following Senta who was already hurrying through the opening in the crowd that magically parted before her. “Who you calling a troll, monkey face?”
The two children walked up to the top of the hill and parted without saying goodbye, but with the innocent expectation that they would see each other later and continue on just as they had. Senta made her way to a quiet place that she had found next to the protective wall. She plopped down in the grass and the steel dragon climbed off her shoulders. She stretched out and he curled up beside her and placed his whiskered snout on her stomach.
Senta held her doll up and looked at it. The doll had on an outfit just like hers. She called the dress she was wearing her doll dress for that very reason. The doll had the same hairstyle that she did. She could almost imagine that the doll was made especially for her. But it hadn’t been. She had seen it many times in the toy store before she had purchased it.
“I wonder what Geert’s doing now?” she mused. “He’s my cousin,” she explained to the dragon.
She heard the approach of voices and pushed the dragon’s face off of her stomach so that she could roll over and see who it was. It was Miss Dechantagne. She was walking along holding the arm of the blond officer from the ship. She had on a stunning yellow dress with white lace trim. It had at least seven layers on the skirt, ruffles and fringes on the shoulders, and a magnificent bow on the bustle. The matching hat trailed a long piece of yellow silk down her back.
“That’s the kind of dress I want,” said Senta quietly.
“No,” said the dragon.
The shouting and gunfire brought Terrence out of the white opthalium induced state. He was sitting on the ground with his back to a massive redwood tree. It was in fact, that first tree that Iolanthe had tagged with a ribbon to save its life. It was completely dark all around him, and at first the lapping of the waves nearby was the only sound that registered with his befuddled mind. When he again heard the shouts and gunfire at the far end of the compound and he recognized them for what they were, he was actually happy. It meant that he hadn’t been awakened by someone discovering him while he was seeing.
Could you call it “seeing” if you didn’t really see anything? Terrence had used the drug from the small blue bottle several times since the arrival in Birmisia, but he had seen nothing in the other world except that endless fields of the ever-present purple flowers. Never before had he been there without meeting Pantagria. Now he searched for her and she was nowhere to be found.
Terrence picked up his helmet, which was sitting next to him, and then stood up and began trudging up the hill at a modest pace. When he saw a blood covered Zeah Korlann being escorted by two riflemen into Iolanthe’s headquarters tent, he ran the rest of the way.
“What’s going on?” he asked, as he burst into the tent. He stopped short when he saw Miss Lusk, lying on her side, bloodied, on the dirt floor. “Let’s get Father Ian in here.”
“Father Ian isn’t coming,” said Zeah shakily.
“Sister Auni, go get another acolyte to cast a cure wounds spell,” ordered Iolanthe. Then she opened the top drawer of her desk and pulled out a brown bottle. “Soak her bandages in this and poor the rest down her throat.”
She handed the bottle to Dr. Kelloran, who was kneeling over the red-haired woman’s prone form. The doctor did as directed and a moment later was rewarded with Miss Lusk opening her eyes. Sister Auni arrived after a few minutes with Brother Galen, who followed the exact same procedure that she had in casting a spell. Color returned to Miss Lusk’s face and she began to breathe freely.
“Who did this to you?” asked Iolanthe.
“I didn’t see them,” said Miss Lusk. It was an obvious labor to speak. “Someone was running the Result Mechanism. I went around the corner to see who it was, but…”
“There were papers coming out of the machine,” said Zeah.
“Go find those papers,” Iolanthe ordered her brother. “Maybe we can find out who was using it.”
Terrence nodded and left the tent. He picked up a gas lantern nearby and stomped down the hill toward the still chugging and clanking Result Mechanism. Just before he reached it, the machine stopped, letting out a long whistle of leftover steam. He pulled out one of his nickel-plated .45 revolvers and circled around the huge device. Standing at the controls was his brother Augie.
“What’s going on, old man?” said Augie, when he noticed Terrence.
“What are you doing here?” Terrence asked.
“You know you really shouldn’t answer a question with a question,” Augie replied. “The machine was running and nobody was here, so I shut it down.”
“You didn’t see anybody here?”
“No, and I waited around for a couple of minutes too.”
“Are there any papers coming out of the slot on the side of the machine?”
They both stepped around to the far side, where the printing slot was located, but there were no papers either sticking out of the slot or on the ground below.
“You don’t have anything to do with this, do you?” asked Terrence.
“Anything to do with what? A bloody machine making a bunch of racket?”
“Stabbing? What stabbing?”
“Egeria Lusk has been stabbed. Right over there, by the look of the ground.”
“Kafira! And you think I had something to do with it?”
“No. But you were at three of the crime scenes, at least three, so some people are going to get the idea you could be involved.”
“What do you mean three? The murders on the ship? I thought you pegged Murty for that, and pegged him good too, I might add.”
“Yes, I did. And Murty was a bad sort; I don’t doubt it for a moment.”
“You know I wouldn’t stab a woman. What’s that all about? I was very fond of Danika.”
“Oh, Kafira. You knew her?”
“I knew her, but I didn’t do anything to hurt her. I certainly never killed her, and I didn’t kill Miss Lusk.”
“Miss Lusk is alive.”
“Well, thank heavens. Now she can tell you I didn’t stab her.”
“She doesn’t need to tell me,” said Terrence. “I know you didn’t stab her.”
“Good. A brother should trust a brother.”
“You don’t have any blood on you.”
“Oh.” Augie looked down at his clean clothes. “I could have changed clothes.”
“You don’t have any blood on your shoes or your face or your hair.”
“So you trust me.”