He peeled off his fall coat and looked at it. It was pretty scorched. It probably wasn’t worth keeping. As he hung it on the coat hook, DeeDee stepped into the foyer from the parlor. She had a worried look on her face.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked.
“Are you all right?”
“Well enough. Do we have a healing draft?”
“I think there is one in the parlor hutch,” she said.
“Get it. I’m going to need you to pour some on my back. Give me about ten minutes to clean up and then bring it upstairs.”
He climbed up the stairs and entered his room. It was cold and empty, though the maid had straightened up and made his bed. Stepping into the closet, he quickly changed into fresh underwear and a clean set of trousers, though he stayed shirtless. DeeDee hadn’t arrived, so he washed up and brushed his teeth. He was just finishing as she timidly entered.
“Pour some of that on anyplace that looks burned or red,” he said turning around.
“That’s your whole back.”
He grabbed the hand towel that he had used to dry his face.
“Pour it on this and then rub it all over.”
She did as he directed.
“Where is your Gran?” he asked.
“She’s gone visiting. I think she just wanted to get out of the house.”
“And what have you been up to?”
“No much, honestly.” Her eyes began to fill with tears. “It feels like our family is falling apart.”
“Families are like any other living thing,” said Saba, stepping across the room to retrieve a clean shirt. “They’re born with the combining of male and female. They grow. They reproduce. Then they die.”
He put on his shirt, buttoned it, and tucked it in.
“You’re our little seed. You’ll be off to start your own family soon enough, but sixteen is too young to be married.”
“I know,” she said. “I told Julius I wouldn’t marry until I was eighteen. He’s fine with that. Our engagement will be just a little over a year long. We could get married in Restuary or Festuary of 1926.”
“Hmm. That actually sounds sensible.”
“Will you talk to Julius, please? I can send a lizzie to fetch him here.”
“All right DeeDee. As I’ve noted many times, you do eventually always get what you want.”
* * * * *
Senta opened her eyes and looked at the daylight streaming into the window. She found a quick glance at the clock, which read 10:00, confusing.
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“You’ve been asleep for almost seventeen hours,” said Karl’s voice from across the room. He was sitting in a hardbacked chair across the room from her. “I would have called for a doctor, but you seemed fine.”
“I was just very tired.” She rolled out of bed and looked at him. “How are you.”
“Get undressed,” she said, noting that he was wearing only his underwear. “We’ll take a bath, and both feel much better.”
By the time he entered the bathroom, she already had the water flowing and scented bath salts in the tub. With a wave, she encouraged him to climb in, and once he had done so, she joined him. She leaned back on him and gently tickled his thighs with her fingers.
“How many men have you had in this tub with you?” he asked.
“I was planning on asking you something—taking you to dinner, and… Well, I don’t know if you care for all the ceremony…”
“Oh, I do. We will have dinner this evening at Café Idella, and you can ask me then… whatever it is.”
“I think I love you,” he said, kissing her neck.
“That is good to know,” she said.
Saba signed the letter, dated it the tenth of Magnius, and then placed it, unfolded, in the large official-looking envelope. And so officially ended his term as chief of police. Twenty-two years with the Port Dechantagne Police Department. That was a lifetime. Maybe it was time to let that lifetime go. He had time for another one.
Hearing footsteps, he looked to see his daughter enter from the kitchen. She was wearing a white day dress trimmed with black that made her look older than her sixteen years. Almost seventeen years, he thought.
“Where have you been, DeeDee?”
“I’ve been staying with the Stephensons.”
“It’s all fine. Gran has been my chaperone the whole time.” She crossed her arms and gave him a look that he had seen from her mother on many occasions. “You know, you haven’t even asked where Mummy is.”
“I know she’s not where she’s supposed to be,” he said. “She’s not right here supporting me.”
“You know how she is, Dad. You have to be the strong one. I know you’re having a terrible time. I do. But you’re able to see yourself through. Mummy’s never been strong, but she is your wife. It’s your duty to take care of her.”
“When did you get so bloody inciteful, little girl?” he growled. “Is this wisdom a product of your vast sixteen year’s experience in life?”
He licked the envelope, placed it on the table, and then sealed it shut by slamming his fist down on it with only slightly less force than it would have taken to splinter the sturdy pine.
“I’m going to my room,” said DeeDee, turning and starting up the stairs. “Julius will be by to speak to you later. He wants to ask you something.”
“Perhaps he should come another day,” said Saba, pointedly. “I’m not in a very agreeable frame of mind.”
She didn’t answer or look back, just continued up the stairs.
* * * * *
“What else can I get you?” Bryony Baxter asked her husband, as she hovered around the breakfast table.
“More beans would be ace,” he said.
She hurried into the kitchen and returned with the pot, hot off the stove, ladling more of the sweet, smoky beans onto his plate.
“I could do with a few more beans,” said Sen.
“Of course, dear. How about my big boy?”
Kerry shook his head, though his attention was on a tiny wooden replica of a battleship, parked just to the left of his plate.
“I believe the future navy man is full,” said Baxter.
Bryony returned the beans to the kitchen and then took her seat next to her husband. Just as he was reaching out for his teacup, she snatched his hand in hers, and pulled it to her breast.
“When do you think you’ll be leaving?” she asked.
“Leaving here… for Yessonarah.”
“Oh, not for weeks.”
He looked at Sen, who swirled her finger next to her head, forming a crazy gesture.
“You need to stop fixating on my trip,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. I won’t be leaving until the princess goes home, and by then, the train line will have covered a great deal of the distance. It will be no more exciting than taking the train from Brech City to Booth.”
“Then you won’t mind if Kerry, Addy, and I come along?”
“Don’t be silly. Being safe enough for a man and safe enough for a little girl are two very different things.”
“Well, at least you’re taking Sen with you.”
“That hasn’t been decided,” said Baxter.
“Oh, it has,” said Sen, taking a bite of bacon. “We all voted, and you lost, so you have to take me.”
“Getting to spend time with you is not something that I consider a loss, but I do think I should be informed ahead of time when these so-called votes are taken.”
“We’ll be sure to let you know in the future,” said the thirteen-year-old with a smirk.
“Pfennig for your thoughts,” he said.
“I was just thinking what a horrible hypocrite I am.”
“Oh, I’m not arguing,” he said. “What brought on this amazing realization?”
“My mother became pregnant with me before she was married, and over the years, I’ve called her so many horrible names because of that fact. Now here I am, like a pampered animal that rages in savage sensuality. I am as intemperate in my blood as she was in hers.”
“Iolana, things look different when you have a different perspective.”
“Kafira,” she said. “My father said almost those exact words to me. Have I always been such a fool?”
“You’re not a fool,” he said. “You were naïve. There are worse things to be.”
She lifted her head up and looked into his eyes.
“I should forgive my mother?”
“Yes,” he said, “right after you forgive yourself.”
“How did you become so wise?” she smiled. “Perhaps you should become the professor and I’ll be the merchant.”
“I’m a banker, and a successful one at that. Now get up and fix your fiancé something delicious to eat.”
Iolana’s large eyes grew even larger and her cheeks blushed.
“I can make eggs and toast, but… I’m… not a very accomplished cook.”
“The marriage is off then,” he said, grabbing her and pulling her up to him.
She struggled for just a minute before surrendering and letting him kiss her mouth.
* * * * *
Governor Iolanthe Dechantagne Staff carefully examined herself in the mirror. She had long ago faced the fact that her days of great beauty were behind her, but she still looked strong. She looked ready to face down any threat to her family or her colony, be it man, dragon, or act of God. The day she looked in the mirror and saw a feeble old woman, she decided, she would eat the barrel of her revolver.
Leaving her rooms, she walked past the elevator and briskly navigated the stairs to the first floor. It was still before seven and Maria scheduled breakfast for eight each morning, so Iolanthe marched to the kitchen for a crumpet and tea. It was with some surprise that she saw Yuah and Gladys sitting in the south sunroom as she passed by. She stopped and stepped through the doorway.
“You two are up unusually early,” she observed.
“We have a great deal to do today,” said Yuah.
“Well, you don’t have on your swimming costumes, so I take it you don’t intend to spend the entire day pearl diving.”
“You’re disgusting,” growled Gladys.
“You shut up or I’ll slap you into next Festuary, you little deviant!” Iolanthe turned to Yuah. “Keep a muzzle on your pet. You, I have to put up with. Her, I don’t.”
“What’s going on here?” demanded Augustus, appearing in the hallway behind Iolanthe. “Mother. Gladys. Auntie.”
“Just Iolanthe being her usual cow of a self,” said Yuah.
“I built this house as large as it is primarily so that the two of you would not randomly run into one another.”
“You’re up early too,” Iolanthe observed.
“I wanted to catch a ride with you to the office,” he replied, still frowning.
“Then let us be on our way.”
* * * * *
“I really wish you and mother could get along,” said Augustus, as he steered his aunt’s car down First Avenue.
He was the only one she suffered to drive her. He was the only one she had ever suffered to drive her—he or his father.
“I take full responsibility for the kerfuffle this morning,” she said. “I said something that hurt her feelings.”
“What did you say?”
“I made a comment about what she was wearing.”
“Well, it seems innocuous enough,” he said, “but you know how sensitive Mother is. You should know it if anyone does. The two of you have been together longer than most married couples.”
“That is true,” she said, tapping her chin thoughtfully with a fingertip.
“We certainly don’t need any blowups at the wedding,” he said.
“Oh, there won’t be. In any case, I’m glad you’ve come in early. I want you to consult with Colonel Mortimer. You will be commanding the Colonial Guard in the upcoming action against the dragons.”
“Auntie, I’ve never commanded men in battle. I’ve never even been in a battle myself.”
“You’ve studied military science.”
“It’s not the same thing,” he said. “I’ve read about military strategy and tactics, but you can’t learn everything you need to know from a book.”
“That’s not what my daughter says.”
“I’m surprised to be the one to tell you this, Auntie, but Iolana does not know everything.”
“Don’t let her hear you say that.”
“The two of you are exactly alike.”
“She’s nothing like me,” said Iolanthe, sticking her chin into the air.