A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 11 Excerpt

The great battleship H.M.S. Minotaur rested on the smooth waters of Crescent Bay.  Lieutenant Baxter ordered the men to lower a launch over the port side, and then he climbed down into it and supervised as it was loaded with weapons and equipment.  The rest of the sailors boarded and took their positions.  They rowed a single stroke that took them to the temporary staircase set up near the bow.  One of the men hissed and pointed as the back of a great underwater creature slid above the glasslike surface not far from them, but it didn’t return.

After about five minutes, a dozen mercenary soldiers in khaki made their way down the stairs, rifles slung over their backs.  They took their places and waited.  Then Augustus P. Dechantagne and his older brother Terrence stepped down into the boat. Baxter started to order the men to row, but Terrence Dechantagne raised his hand.

“Wait.”

A minute later, Zurfina the Magnificent descended the stairs like a goddess descending from on high. Her black dress left little to the imagination, especially to those in the boat below.  Following behind her, dressed almost identically was her nine-year-old apprentice, Senta, with the tiny steel dragon wrapped around her shoulders. Once Zurfina and Senta had stepped into the launch, the boat was pushed away from the ship, and the sailors lowered their oars into the water.

None of the men spoke as they traversed the bay and approached the shore.  The honking of the iguanodons could be heard in the distance, along with an occasional loud bellowing roar.

“Gawp,” said the dragon.

It didn’t take long for the boat to reach the shore, a twenty-foot wide band of rocks and gravel separating the water from the thick redwood forest.  The sailors raised their oars straight up and Captain Dechantagne and several of the soldiers jumped out and pulled the boat up onto the gravel.  Then everyone else climbed out onto land.

“What do you think, Baxter?” asked Augie Dechantagne.  “This looks like a good place for a dock right here.  We can use the wood growing all around, build the dock and extend it straight out into the water thirty or forty feet, and build a couple of warehouses right up here.

“We’ll have to check the depth, but it seems fine,” replied Baxter.

Leaving six of the sailors with the boat, the rest of the party moved past the shore and into the woods.  The redwoods were enormous.  Some of them were twenty feet or more in diameter at the base.  Baxter wondered just how many pieces of furniture could be cut from a single tree.  It wouldn’t take many of them to construct a dock.

Once away from the shoreline, the land rose up quickly.

“It’s hard to tell with all these trees, but it looks as though the initial survey was right on,” said Augie.  “This ridge runs right out on the peninsula.  We can build the lighthouse at the tip, and the fort on that hill to the right.”

“The peninsula is what, about four miles long and a mile wide?” asked Terrence.

“Yes, though there is a narrow spot in the middle of the peninsula, where it’s only as wide as the ridge, maybe a half a mile.”

“How far is the river?”

“About six miles east.”

“Why not build closer to the river,” wondered Baxter.

“The Manzanian isn’t like the Thiss or the Green River in Mallontah.  It’s not navigable even around the mouth.  Twelve miles upstream you find the first of a half dozen known cataracts.  In the short term at least, this little bay will be much more valuable to the colony than the river would be.  There are several small streams around here for water and we can pipe in more as needed.”

When they had walked up a few hundred feet, the land flattened out and opened into a clearing.  Here was a great group of iguanodons, with several members of another species of dinosaur meandering along with them.  This was a low, heavily built, mottled brown creature about twenty feet long, covered with thick plates of boney armor.  Its beaked head resembled a horned lizard, with short, thick horns arranged around its face. At the end of its long tail, it sported an enormous two-lobed club.

“I wonder what Mormont called this one,” wondered Captain Dechantagne. “Clubadon?”

“It’s called an ankylosaurus,” said Augie.

His brother looked at him in surprise.

“I’ve been here before, remember?  I wonder if it could be domesticated?  I’ll bet that thing could pull a pretty heavily laden wagon.”

Captain Dechantagne shrugged, then stopped and pointed.

At the far end of the clearing, the foliage parted and a massive red face pushed its way into the open.  The rest of a large blocky head followed it, twenty-five feet above the ground.  Slowly the entire creature emerged from the woods.  Two tiny forearms dangled uselessly, but two giant, clawed hind feet carried the beast, a great black body, balanced at one end by the enormous head and at the other end by a long, sweeping tail.  It gave an awful roar and rushed forward to take a horrendous bite out of the back of the closest iguanodon.  The injured creature honked balefully and ran several steps, but it was wounded so grievously that it sank to the ground from shock and blood loss.  The reptilian tyrant strode over to its victim and administered a killing bite.

“Bloody hell,” said Augie.

The steel dragon suddenly launched itself into the air.  The chain attaching it to the little girl pulled taut and jerked her off her feet.  As she fell to the ground on her knees, a weak link in the chain parted, sending the dragon flying up toward the trees in the general direction from which they had come.  The girl jumped to her feet and took off running after her wayward charge.

“Come back here!” she called.

Both the little dragon and the girl were soon lost amid the massive trees.

Zurfina looked at Baxter.

“You’re supposed to find her.”

Advertisements

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Saba slipped his jacket on, as he gazed down at Iolanthe’s naked body.  If he hadn’t known her all his life, he would never have believed that she was forty-six years old.  She didn’t have the plumpness that Loana had.  She looked lean and he could see the muscles below the smooth, tight skin in her legs and back, but it was far from unattractive.  She had not stirred as he climbed out of bed and dressed, but when he opened the door, she spoke.

“I’m glad you weren’t killed.”

“Thank you.”

“Will you be back tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

He shut the door behind him and followed the hallway to the back of the great house.  Passing through the doorway to the outside stairs, he quickly descended two flights of steps.

“Chief Colbshallow, do you have a minute?”

Saba saw Lord Dechantagne standing on the step leading into the enclosed back porch.

“I was just speaking with your aunt about…”

The sixteen-year-old waved his hand.  “I’ve really no interest in your relationship with my aunt.  It’s none of my business.  But I do need to talk to you.  Can you step over to the motor shed?”

The Dechantagne motor shed was a large building that held the family’s six vehicles and was connected to the lizzie quarters behind it.  The boy led Saba inside and turned up the gaslights illuminating the shiny vehicles.  Then he turned and addressed the chief.

“Things with these wizards are getting out of hand.”

“Oh?  What gave you that idea?” asked Saba, his voice full of sarcasm.

“All right, maybe that was the wrong way to start.  You’re the chief of police and you know what’s going on.  There have been assaults and crimes all over the colony. The destruction of the Gazette, and also the millinery shop where I had a hat on special order, I might add, was just the icing on the cake.”

“Look, Augie…”

“Lord Dechantagne.”

“Augie.  This is police business.  We have it under control.”

“It doesn’t seem that way. Anyway, I’m making some arrangements of my own.”

“Boy, I can’t have you getting in the way.  If you got yourself killed, there would be all kinds of unpleasantness.”

“Oh, believe me.  I’m not stepping out into any firefight,” said the young lord.  “On the other hand, I do have material concerns.  I have an ownership stake in most of the businesses and properties in the city.  I don’t intend to see them destroyed.  I have a party that might be of some help in eliminating some of these threats.”

“It would be better if you left the whole thing to others,” said Saba.  “That being said, I doubt we’ll be called to look too closely into the disappearance of any of these wizards.  Not that I’m condoning vigilantism.”

“No, of course not.”

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 9 Excerpt

Esther stood behind Iolana in the long line of those waiting to be presented to the king.  She was only too conscious of the fact that those behind her left a good seven or eight feet between them, and that two royal guardsmen stood nearby, keeping their eyes fixed on her.  She was sure that Iolana must have noticed too, but she feigned not to. Both Esther and Iolana had new dresses, very expensive and the height of fashion.  Iolana’s was a white flowing gown, cut for a small bustle, as was the most recent style in the capital.  Long waves of lace stretched down to the ground and down her arms to her white gloves, and technically the dress featured a high collar that went clear to her chin, but the top was a white gauzy silk which left much of her chest and all of her back exposed.  Esther’s dress was similar in that it was mostly white lace, but with short sleeves and a plunging neckline, and of course a hole cut out in back for her tail. They both wore large round hats topped with sprays of feathers and flowers.

A man in a pristine black suit with a grey waistcoat came down the line, finally reaching Iolana and Esther.  His carefully waxed mustache emphasized his thin-lipped smile.

“This is the procedure,” he said.  “When you hear your names, you will step forward and stop at the yellow dot on the floor in front of the throne.  Your name will be called, and you will curtsy.  Then you will exit through the opposite door.  If the king asks you a question, you will answer in as few words as possible, finishing with ‘Your Majesty’.  If either of the princes should address you, the same applies, but in their case, it is ‘Your Royal Highness’.”

“Of course,” replied Iolana.

“I was told you understood Brech?” said the man to Esther.

“She does,” said Iolana.

“Then, there will be no surprises?”

“No sssurprises,” said Esther.

The line moved slowly onward.  They were afforded a view of the royals long before it was their turn to stand before them. His Majesty King Tybalt III was a tall, thin man who, though his red uniform seemed to hang on him, was still quite spry for his sixty-four years.  His thinning hair and mutton chops were still more blond than grey.  Behind the throne, on either side, stood the two princes, dressed, like their father, in red uniforms filled with medals. Twenty-four-year-old Crown Prince Tybalt was on the left, looking completely bored.  His fifteen-year-old half-brother, Prince Clitus, looked more nervous than anything else.

When she was close enough to actually hear the king’s conversation, Esther paid close attention to the exchanges.

“Lord Winsdall and his daughter Lady Ewa Windsdall,” droned the announcer.

“Good day, Lord Winsdall,” said the king.  “This can’t be your daughter.  There has to be some kind of mistake.  Why, your daughter was only this big,” he held his thumb and forefinger about two inches apart, “when last I saw her.”

“They do grow up fast, Your Majesty.”

“Tell me, young lady, do you shoot?  My son is a great shot.”  He waved toward Prince Tybalt.”

“I don’t, Your Majesty, but I’d love to see him shoot.”

Prince Tybalt glanced down at the young woman the way a street sweeper looks at a pile of horse dung, sniffed, and turned away.

“Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Van Josen,” called the announcer, signaling that Lord Winsdall’s time was over.

“You’re the fellow that laid the trans-ocean telegraph line, aren’t you?” asked the king.

Prince Clitus looked interested.  His older brother still looked bored.

“I was the chief engineer, Your Majesty.  It was a team effort.”

“Quite, quite.  You should all be congratulated, and you will be. We are sure to see your name on the list for the Order of St. Ulixes.”

Mr. Van Josen bowed.  Prince Clitus looked as though he wanted to say something, but held his tongue.

“And how are you finding Brech City, Mrs. Van Josen?”

“Ser gute, Majesty.”

“Sir Redry Moorn, Lady Honoria Moorn, and Lady Hortence Moorn,” called the announcer, as the Van Josens stepped away.

Prince Tybalt was suddenly interested, particularly in Lady Honoria, who was a lovely young woman in a lavender gown.  Both young women batted their eyelashes at him, but he was oblivious to Lady Hortence who was pretty enough, though not in her sister’s class.  He leaned over and whispered something in his father’s ear.

“Sir Redry.  These are your daughters?”

“Step-daughters, Your Majesty, though they are as dear to me as if they were my own.”

“You are in the city for a few days?”

“A fortnight, Your Majesty.”

“Very good.  We shall see that they are invited to the Crown Prince’s tea.”

Sir Redry bowed curtly.

“Lady Iolana Dechantagne Staff and Esther… Ssaharranah of Birmisia.”

Iolana shot Esther an annoyed glance before turning her attention to the royal family.

“Lady Iolana,” said the king.  “We were sorry to hear of the death of your father Sir Radley.  We found him to be a fine man.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty.”

“And we express our admiration for your mother.  A most remarkable woman.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”  Iolana suddenly looked as if she had bitten down on a lemon.

“So.” King Tybalt rose to his feet and stepped down to stop directly in front of Esther.  “This is a lizzie.  We are told you understand Brech.”

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 8 Excerpt

Kieran Baxter smiled across the table at his wife.  Between them, arrayed across Café Idella’s yellow springtime tablecloth were two sets of fine silverware and two white porcelain teacups with saucers and a matching teapot.  In the center of the table was a yellow rose in a crystal budvase.  When he noticed that she didn’t return his smile, his face began to fall.

“What’s the matter? Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong exactly.  It’s just that this is such an expense.  I could make you tea at home.”

“But I wanted to treat you.” He frowned.  “And you should take it easy in your condition.”

“Did you see the prices on the menu by the door?”

“We can afford it.”

“You must think me terribly ungrateful,” she said, looking down.

“Yes I do, but I’ll forgive you this once.”

“Well, if it isn’t the Baxters?” said Aalwijn Finkler, stopping beside their table, picking up the teapot, and filling their cups.  “I don’t often see you in my establishments.  I was beginning to think that you had something against me.”

“No, of course not,” said Bryony.  “It’s just that, well, the price…”

“The lady is frugal,” said Baxter, with a wave.

“There is nothing wrong with that.  Mind your pfennigs and your marks will follow.  Still, there’s also nothing wrong with treating oneself now and again. You spend your days catering to your husbands needs.  Let someone cater to yours, just for today.”  The restaurateur turned to Baxter.  “Will you leave yourselves in my hands.”

“Of course.”

“Oh, nothing too much!” Bryony called after him, as he turned and stepped quickly toward the back.

“I think you’ll find Mr. Finkler knows his business,” said her husband.

“Does he know our pocketbook?”

“Our pocketbook is just fine.  In fact, I think we can afford that new furniture you wanted.”

“Oh, I don’t really want that at all.  I was just daydreaming.”

Two waiters arrived with a tray and began setting out small plates, each with its own little pile of sandwiches.  The taller of the two described them.

“We have ham with Freedonian mustard on whole grain bread, sharp cheese with mango chutney on tomato bread, cucumber and parsley cream with dill on white bread, and egg mayonnaise with chopped shallots and cress on sourdough bread.”

“Oh my,” said Bryony.

“And here we have freshly baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves.”  He stopped and topped off their teacups.  “Can I bring you anything else?”

“That’s all for now, I think,” said Baxter.

“Well, I suppose I must try something of everything, mustn’t I?”  Bryony carefully took the topmost sandwich quarter from each pile.”

“I think you must.”  He carefully cut a scone and dressed it before reaching over to place it on her plate.

“This is quite good,” she said, holding a sandwich in one hand and using the other to cover her mouth. “Mind, I think that with Mrs. Finkler’s bread, any such creation would be well-received.”

“It’s no better than your tea.  The whole point isn’t that it would be.  The point is that you don’t have to make it.”

“I do like the clotted cream.  Do you suppose we could find out where they get theirs?”

“I imagine they make it. Maybe they sell it.”

She nodded, stuffing more scone into her mouth.

Baxter leaned back and smiled as he watched her eat.  He took a sip of his tea.  “So, you said you had something you wanted to talk about?”

She nodded and then swallowed what was in her mouth.  “We simply must decide upon a name for our forthcoming addition, but…”

“We have plenty of time. You’re barely showing.”

Bryony’s face flushed and she looked around.  “But, I certainly wasn’t planning on having such a conversation in public.”

“Nobody is paying any attention to us, but as I said, we don’t have to worry about that yet.”

“It’s a decision that should ideally have been made before matrimony,” she said.  “Certainly before the um… fait accompli.”

“My father was called Rory,” he said.  “I was thinking that was a good name for a boy.”

“No.  He must be Kieran Junior for a boy.”

“I was never that fond of my Kafiran name.”

“Well it is more dear to me than any other name,” she said fiercely.  “I’ll have no other for a boy.”

“Well, hopefully then, it will be a girl.”

“And what name would you pick for our daughter?”

“Bryony Junior?”

“Oh, pooh!” she said. “You’re not at all approaching this with the appropriate gravity.”

“I think I have precisely the right amount of gravity.  I manage to keep my feet firmly on the ground.  Have you tried one of these yet?”  He picked up a sourdough wedge and pushed it toward her face.

She took a bite right from his hand and then took what was left and put it on her plate.  “What about your mother’s name?”

“What about it?”

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 7 Excerpt

Knowing that she had lived a privileged and easy life, Terra expected that the lizzies would get up earlier than she would, so that upon rising, she would find herself alone in the hearth room.  That wasn’t the case.  She was the first one up.  She stood and stretched, surprised also that, even with no pillow and practically no mattress, her back was not sore.  As she stood wondering where her clothes might be, she heard her stomach growl. She didn’t remember seeing a laundry, but she did recall seeing where the food was prepared, and she thought she could find it.  So, wrapping the sheet around her, she started off in search of something to break her fast.

It didn’t take her long to find the kitchen, where there was no one about.  Looking through several large pots along the wall, she discovered a cache of dragon fruit.  She had eaten the red and green pokey orbs before, but found them bland and not very filling.  Continuing with her search, she soon discovered a kiwi, a green melon, and thank Kafira, some strawberries.  With a bronze knife that had been left sitting on the counter nearby, she cleaned and cut all the fruit, making herself a little salad.  She used the hollowed out melon rind as a bowl.

Holding the makeshift container in one hand, she used the other to pass the pieces of fruit to her mouth. She ate as she walked back to the hearth room.  Along the way she passed several servants going here and there.  The palace was beginning to come to life.  In fact, when she arrived back in the hearth room, all of those who had been asleep, were now awake.  Ssu and Sirris were up and gone.  A servant was helping old Tsollot out of the room.  Both Szakhandu and Tokkenoht were in close consultation with Hsrandtuss.

“There you are,” said the King when he saw Terra.  “Some were afraid you had run away or gotten lost.”

“No,” said the girl.

“What do you have there?” He waved for her to approach.

She held out her fruit salad for his inspection.

“Look at this,” the king said to the two queens.  “She made a bowl out of this melon.  This is why humans are so dangerous.  They are always coming up with something new.”

“I don’t think this is a good example,” said Tokkenoht.

“No,” agreed Szakhandu. “I have seen fruit served this way before.  Surely you have too.”

“Who looks at fruit bowls?” growled Hsrandtuss, ignoring the fact that he had just been doing that very thing.  “Both of you, go away.”

Both females left the room, leaving Terra alone with the king.  He lay back down on his mat.

“Sit beside me.”

Terra sat cross-legged beside the great lizzie.

“Feed me some of that fruit.”  He opened his mouth and she tossed several pieces in.  “I used to like fruit, but I don’t eat as much as I used to.  I probably don’t eat as much of it as I should, but don’t repeat that to any of my wives.”

“It’s odd, isn’t it, that nature would provide such a thing just hanging from the trees?” said Terra. “It’s a kind of magic.”

“You are an odd little thing,” he said, opening his mouth and allowing her to throw in a few more pieces. “Why exactly have you come here?”

“My brother sent me.”

“Yes, I know that. But why?  What are you here to do?”

“I am here to see with fresh eyes.”

“What does that mean, little female?”

“I think it means to see without fear.”

“And you aren’t afraid?”

“I’m afraid of many things, I think.”

“Then we shall go see with fresh eyes together, eh?”  The king shot to his feet much faster than the girl would have expected based on her previous observations.  He pointed to her sleeping mat, where her clothes, her helmet, and her pistol, were stacked.  “Get your paint and feathers on and then come to the dining hall.”

Terra ate the last few bites of her fruit, licked her fingers clean, and then got dressed. Though she had worn her clothes only a few hours, women in Brech society routinely changed several times a day, so she was happy that her khakis had been laundered while she had slept.  She managed easily to roll up the cuffs of her pants, and tried to do so with the sleeves of her shirt.  Eventually she had to take it off to perform the modification. At last she was completely decked out and started off toward the morning meal.

The dining hall was far less crowded than it had been the evening before.  Though the palace served a morning and evening meal, most lizzies ate only once a day.  Hsrandtuss was already in his seat while Ssu gathered food for him.  Terra went to the food tables and put together her own meal. When she sat down in the same chair she had used the previous night, she had a plate half filled with kippers. The remainder was mostly roasted vegetables, including parsnips, potatoes, and green peppers, along with some small but meaty tomatoes.

Terra surprised herself by eating so much.  When she looked up she noticed that the rest of the diners were watching her.  At first she thought that this was simply because she was a human, but then she noticed that most of their plates had less than half the food of hers.  She shrugged. It wasn’t her fault that she was warm blooded.

“We shall go hunting this morning, Earthworm!” called the king.  He looked at another male who sat across the room from the girl.  “What do you think, Slechtiss?  Can you find weapons small enough for this little soft-skin to use?”

“I will see to it, Great King,” the male replied, staring at Terra.

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 6 Excerpt

Lady Terra leaned over to one side, so that she would have a better view of Yessonarah around Nichol Borrin’s shoulder.  The lizzie city-state was quite impressive.  It rivaled Port Dechantagne in overall size, and was much more dense. Surrounded by a great stone wall, it stretched up the side of a mountain on the right and touched the shores of a large lake on the left.  Within, were a multitude of wooden and stone buildings.  Poking up from among them, were six large pyramids and five other enormous buildings.

“Let’s move along,” she told Nichol.

The iguanodon upon which they sat started forward at his command, but with a pronounced limp due to a horrible gash on its right flank.  This uneven movement caused the two men squeezed into the howdah behind Terra to bump into her with its every step.  It took the better part of the morning for the poor creature to make it from the hilltop to one of the large gates in the city wall.

As they approached, hundreds of lizzies stopped what they were doing to stare and point and the strangers.  It was perhaps not the event that it might have once been.  Human visitors were no longer completely unheard of.  Still it was an unusual sight, even without the severely wounded mount.

Just inside the gates, the dinosaur stopped in front of a wooden building.  Two human men and three lizzies came running out, joining the hundreds of lizzies who were watching from both sides of the broad street.

“Nichol, what happened?” asked a grey bearded man, looking up.  “Where are the others?  Where is Uncle Phoebus?”

“Dead,” came the reply. “All dead.”

The driver slid down from his mount’s shoulder and tapped the beast on his front leg until he sank as close to the ground as possible.  The two men on the back hopped down and then the three of them held their arms up for Terra.  The girl climbed out of the howdah, turned, and dropped backwards into their waiting arms.

“Seven men lost on one trip,” said the older man in a barely audible voice.

“Only six,” said Nichol. “Claude broke his arm playing rugby and stayed home.”

“What happened?” asked the other man from the building.

“Gorgosaurus—seven or eight. They hit us all at once.  We didn’t stand a chance.  I would be dead too, if it wasn’t for Lady Terra.  The beast hit Choco on the haunch and knocked us ass over teakettle.  She just stood up and shot it in the face.”

“Thank you, My Lady,” said the older man.

“I expected a .45 would only make him angry,” said Terra.  “Still it’s better to do something than nothing in those situations. Surprisingly, it hurt him enough to send him on his way.”

“I’ve never heard of the gorgoes working in a team like that.”

“Mating season,” said the old lizzie just behind him in spit-n-gag, as humans frequently called the lizzie tongue. “Unattached males will hunt in groups until mid-summer.

“I’m Garl Borrin,” said the man, taking Terra’s hand and pumping it so hard her entire body shook.  “Come inside where we can offer you some hospitality.”

“We haven’t eaten in two days,” said Nichol.  “We used the last of our water yesterday.”

“Sweet Kafira!  Come, come.  Kellerick will take care of your mount.  We’ll get you fed and get some water into you.  You must be ready to collapse, My Lady.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say no to a cup of tea and a biscuit, but what I really need is to clean up and change clothes.  I may end up naked, as we’ve lost my entire collection of luggage.  I shall be very cross if I find a gorgosaurus wearing my best new evening dress.”

Some two hours later, Terra left the building, which turned out to be the offices of The Borrin & Tate Trading Company.  Guided by one of the lizzie employees, she trudged up street, among the great throngs of reptilians going about business of their own.  The Borrins had supplied her with a fresh khaki shirt and trousers. Though both were size small, they were huge on her.  The sleeves of the shirt were rolled up four times, giving her huge cuffs at her wrists. They matched the huge cuffs at her ankles.  Her own belt now struggled to hold up those pants and to support her holster and the heavy pistol.   She was able to wear her own boots and helmet too, but while she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, she had simply forgone any attempt at underwear.

As they walked along, the lizzies avoided her even more than they did in Port Dechantagne.

“They have never seen an adolescent human,” explained her guide.  He might have meant wild human, as the lizzie word for adolescent and wild were the same.

“Is the god at home?” she asked, looking skyward as they passed the base of a massive pyramid.

“No, but he is expected for the Spring Festival.

Terra was exhausted by the time they reached the palace gate.  She couldn’t remember ever having walked that far.  By the gate stood a massive lizardman whose body was painted completely red.

“This human is here to see the king,” said her guide to the guard, and then to her, “I will bid you goodbye.”

Terra watched him walk back the way they had come.  She took off her helmet and wiped the perspiration from her brow with her sleeve. Then she looked up at the frightening red creature towering over her.

“If they chopped you up, they could make four of me and still have something left over.

The lizzie took a step back and hissed.

“Take me to your leader, please.

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Twelve thousand miles away from Birmisia Colony and the rest of Mallon, was the continent of Sumir. It was the smallest of the world’s twelve continents, but it dominated the others, because Sumir was the ancestral home of all humans.  Many people said the continent was shaped like an upside down teardrop.  Others said it more resembled an upside down candle flame.  At least they agreed that whatever it was, it was upside down.  On the northern end was the land of Freedonia, and just off the coast from it, was the island nation of Brechalon, for the past twelve years, forged into a single political unit—The United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon and Freedonia.  Roughly in the center of Brechalon, the largest of the three islands that made up Greater Brechalon was Brech City, the capitol of the Kingdom, as well as the vast and still growing Brech Empire.

Birmisia Colony was thick with lizzies.  Outside of the colony, there were even more, as most of Mallon was dotted with villages and city-states of lizardmen.  In Sumir however, the lizzie population was limited to one.  Esther was that one lone lizzie on the continent, and had been for more than four years.  If she hadn’t been aware of that fact before, she was constantly reminded as she made her way though the halls of the vast four-story mansion of the Dechantagne-Staff family.

Esther had risen early. She had a suite of rooms in the rear of the third floor that overlooked the courtyard.  It was quite nice.  She had been raised to sleep in a human bed, but still sometimes took to the floor, sleeping on the rug, with her nose pointed toward the fireplace.  Having taken a bath in the wholly inadequate human bathtub, she had dressed in a new pink morning dress.  It had been made from a design for typical Brech women, but the seamstress had radically altered it to fit her body, and not the least for her long tail.

As she walked through the hallway, toward the stairs, she encountered five of the household staff. It seemed quite odd to her, but here in Brech City, the servants were as human as the masters.  In each case, save one, the staff members had gone to great pains to avoid her, either taking a sudden turn down another hall, or ducking quickly into a room.

Willa Armice was an upstairs maid who took care of Esther’s room among others.  The two had become friendly over the previous months.

“Good morning, Lady Esther,” said Willa.

“Don’t be sssilly. There’s only one lady in this house and it certainly isn’t me.  What are you about then?”

“I’m off to clean your rooms.  I hope you didn’t leave a big mess for me.”

“I tried not to. Would you mind leaving me more towels?”

“Of course, My Lady,” she said with a curtsey and a wink.

Esther continued down the hallway, hissing happily, which might not have been such a good thing on the balance.  She turned to start down the sweeping staircase and came face to face with Finley, the underbutler.  Almost running into her hissing snout apparently startled him so badly that he dropped the silver tray loaded with the morning post, and leaned precariously backwards.  He made an “eeep” sound when she grabbed him by the collar, but at least he didn’t topple down the stairs.

“Kafira!  That was close,” said Esther, as she steadied him on the step below her.  “Are you all right?”

“Nothing a couple of liver pills won’t fix,” he said, bending down to pick up the dropped letters.

“If you’re sure then,” said Esther continuing down the stairs.  At the foot of the staircase, she turned back around to see him still watching her. Esther gave him a little wave and, turning right and then right again, entered the dining room.

Two women, both in their early twenties, sat at the immense table, enjoying a breakfast feast. Esther sat down across from them. Fodora Epps and Regina Elipton were guests in the house rather than residents, at least nominally.  Both had been staying there for almost a month.  Besides being members of the aristocracy, and obnoxious twits, they were acquaintances of Lady Iolana’s from University.

“Good morning,” said Esther, taking a serving spoon and adding two slices of bacon, two large pieces of black pudding, and one basted egg to her plate.  “Would you pass the ssscones, please?”

“Imagine letting that thing eat at the table,” said Fodora, looking from between the brunette ringlets that framed her face and down her long nose.

“Where is your owner?” asked Regina, a blonde with big eyes but no appreciable chin.

“I don’t know where Lady Iolana is,” said Esther, taking a bite of black pudding.  “Ssso no ssscones then?”

Fodora pushed the plate of scones three inches toward the lizzie.  Esther had to stand up to reach them.  Taking a scone in one hand, she picked up the dish of lemon curd in the other and sat back down.

“I am ssso happy that you two are staying,” she said.  “It would pain me if your families’ current financial sssituations forced you to live on the ssstreets.”

“My family is richer than yours,” snarled Regina, forgetting for a moment to whom she was speaking.

She had either forgotten or never bothered to commit to memory the fact that Esther had been adopted by Iolana Staff at a very early age.  She had no proper lizzie family, and among the lizzies, even village chieftains would have been poor compared to the Eliptons of Brech.  On the other hand, if one considered her part of the Dechantagne-Staff family, as Iolana did, there was no question that the Eliptons would have suffered in any comparison of wealth.

Lady Iolana Staff swept into the room.  At nineteen years of age, she had reached her full five foot seven inches height, and developed what among Brech women was considered the perfect figure.  She was not particularly buxom, nor was her bottom, without a bustle, particularly large, but her waist was quite thin even without a corset.  She was stunning, with waves of golden hair falling well past her shoulders and the same aquamarine eyes as her mother.  She was already dressed to go out, in a rose and pink velvet day dress with a matching hat.