The Drache Girl – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Saba Colbshallow rapped his knuckles on the front door of the five-story structure, again, louder than he had before, but there was just as little response as there had been the first time.

“Police constable!” he called.  He waited a bit longer, and was just about to leave when he heard a distinctly sultry voice from inside.

“Who is it?”

“Police constable,” he said again.

The door opened and Zurfina stood in the doorway, her strange little leather dress displaying a good portion of her breasts with their star tattoos as well as her long legs.   Her thigh high boots had such high heels that she could almost look Saba in the eye.

“Yes?  What is it?” she said, with the air of someone who had just been interrupted in the middle of something vitally important.

“May I come in?” he asked.

With an exaggerated sigh, the sorceress turned her back and walked into the house, leaving the door wide open.  Saba followed her in and looked around the large room that formed the lower level of the structure.  It was, he thought, a surprisingly mundane looking combination of kitchen, parlor, and dining room.  The place was tidy and organized, none of the furnishings looking particularly worn or new, expensive or poor.  Zurfina waved her hand and the door slammed shut behind him, causing him to jump a little.

“Well?”

Saba swallowed.  He had known Zurfina for four years now, and found her just as wondrous, mysterious, and fascinating as he had when he was sixteen.  He had of course grown up to be a police constable, but she had grown to be a legend. She was an attractive woman: not as beautiful as Mrs. Dechantagne of course, not as charming as Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere was at least capable of being, and nowhere near as adorable as Miss Lusk. Neither did she have the curvaceous figure of Dr. Kelloran.  But as writer Geert Resnick wrote in his novelThe Pale Sun, “the painting that most draws one to it, is not the most beautiful, but the one hanging to the wall by the most tenuous thread.”  Zurfina held the same appeal as a fast horse, an unstable bomb, or a canoe in a river filled with crocodiles.  And there was power.  Power was always appealing.

Zurfina sensed his hesitation and moved to stand very close to him.

“Now, little Saba,” she said, with exaggerated slowness.  “What brings you to see Zurfina the Magnificent?”

Saba had perfected his stare: a piercing look that let those he was interviewing know that he would brook no nonsense.  He gave the sorceress one of these stares, but it didn’t seem to work as well as it was supposed to.  She stepped a little closer and he suddenly realized he could smell her breath.  It was minty.

“Little Saba.”  Her charcoaled grey eyes seemed to be looking at something just below the surface of his face.

He swallowed.

“Police Constable Colbshallow,” he corrected.

She leaned forward so that the tip of her nose was only an inch from his.

“Little Saba,” she repeated.  “There’s something you’ve been dying to tell me.”

“No there isn’t.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m here about a Miss Amadea Jindra.”

Zurfina leaned back and scrunched up her nose.  “Now what business is that of yours?”

He retrieved the notepad from his coat pocket and flipped it open.  Turning so that he had better light to read by, he took the opportunity step away from the sorceress.

“It was reported that you kidnapped, um… acquired Miss Jindra from the deck of the S.S. Arrow four days ago, and no one has seen her since.”

“I say again, what business is it of yours?”  Zurfina spoke distinctly, chopping each word as if came out of her mouth. The temperature of the room dropped several degrees.

“You cannot simply snatch people off the street…” His voice trailed off as he noticed the sorceress’s eyes flashing.

Zurfina folded her arms across her chest and raised one eyebrow.  At that moment the door swung open and Senta walked in. Her bright pink dress peaked out from beneath a heavy white overcoat, with a fur trimmed hood.  She was carrying a large bed pillow under each arm. She kicked the door shut with the heel of her shoe, and walked over to stand next to the sorceress.  She looked first at Zurfina and then at Saba.

“Okay,” said Senta.  “What’s going on?”

“Little Saba was just telling me what I can and cannot do.”

“Well, this isn’t going to end up well, and you know who will have to clean up the mess?  Me, that’s who.  Here are your pillows,” Senta shoved the pillows into Zurfina’s hands.

Once the sorceress had taken the pillows, Senta took Saba by the hand and led him toward the front door.

“Let’s talk outside.  I love the smell of pine trees and chimney smoke.”  She led him outside, closing the front door behind her.  “What exactly are you doing?”

“Conducting police business.”

“Stopping me from taking care of those wankers who shot Bessemer has gone to your head, eh?”

“This is my job.  This is what I do,” said Saba.  “I protect the public peace.”

“And do you ever think about how you would do that job if you were turned into, say, I don’t know, a pig?”

“A pig?”

“Maybe a pig.  Could be anything really.  I thought I was about to see a Police Constable shaped lawn ornament.  But then I don’t have Zurfina’s wide experience and peculiar wit.”

“Well I have to go back in and talk to her.”

“Did they have to take your brain out to make that helmet fit?”

“That’s not funny little girl.  I have to find out what she did with Miss Jindra.”

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The Drache Girl – Chapter 9 Excerpt

The S.S. Queen of Expy was the largest ship yet to dock at Port Dechantagne, almost twice as large, in terms of tonnage, as the H.M.S. Minotaur, the battleship that had brought the first colonists to this shore.  Her four massive smokestacks were no longer pouring out giant black clouds as they had done all the way from Greater Brechalon. The great ship was now, ever so slowly, turning without the aid of any tugs, so that she could connect to a dock that was so much more primitive than she was used to.  It all put Saba Colbshallow in mind of a very fat lady trying to maneuver herself around in a bathtub.

“How long do you suppose before they can get the gangplank up?” wondered Eamon Shrubb, who like Saba stood in his heavy blue reefer jacket and blue constable’s helmet.

Saba consulted his pocket watch.  The ornate little hands showed 10:30.  A snowflake settled upon its glass face, just above the six.  He turned his face skyward and saw a few more large white flakes falling toward him.

“A while,” he said.  “Tea?”

Eamon nodded, and the entire police force walked across the gravel road to the cart that Aalwijn Finkler had set up to sell hot drinks and cakes.

There were exactly five vending carts in Port Dechantagne, and all five were within fifty yards of the dock. In addition to Finkler’s, there was Mr. Kordeshack selling fish and chips, Mrs. Gopling selling smoky sausages, Mrs. Luebking, selling scarves, mittens, and knit caps for those who had either not brought warm clothing or were unable to find it in their luggage, and Mr. Darwin, who sold purses, wallets, belts, and hat bands, all made of dinosaur skin.

“Two teas,” said Saba, setting a ten-pfennig coin on the cart.

“Sugars?” asked Aalwijn.

“One.”

“Three,” said Eamon.

“Milk?” asked Aalwijn.

“No.”  With no cattle in the colony and few goats, the only milk available was in tins. While this was fine for cooking, most people had given up milk in their tea because of the metallic taste.

The snow started coming down more heavily as the two constables sipped the steaming tea from the small, plain porcelain cups.  When they had finished, they set the cups in the bin on the side of the vending cart reserved for dirty dishes.  Saba turned around and looked at the S.S. Queen of Expy.

“I don’t think it’s moved,” said Saba.

“What’s Expy?” asked Eamon.

“It’s an island.”

“Does it have a queen?”

“I don’t think so.”

“How come they named a ship Queen of Expy then?”

“That’s just something they do.”

“I don’t think it’s moved,” said Eamon.

“Come on,” said Saba.  “Let’s do a tour.”

“Together?”

“Sure.”

The two constables started off to the north, walking past the warehouses, and reaching the end of Bainbridge Clark Street, and the edge of Augustus P. Dechantagne Park.  The park occupied ten acres just past the narrowest part of the peninsula, and was mostly composed of a large grassy area where during the summer, people had picnics, and played football or cricket.  On its western edge was a copse of several dozen large trees and rose garden with a gazebo, a reflecting pool, and the base for a statue that had not yet been completed.  The base was four foot square and two feet high, and would eventually hold a life-sized statue of the man for whom the park was named.  It already had his name embossed upon it, along with the phrase “Stand Fast, Men”.  Trailing through the park and the rose garden within it was a winding cobblestone path, which Saba and Eamon took.  They stopped between the statue base and the reflecting pool, which was completely frozen over.

“You knew him pretty well, eh?” asked Eamon, indicating the spot where the statue would someday be.

“Yep.  He was a great guy.  He used to tell me dirty stories when I was a kid, and he usually gave me a couple of pfennigs when he saw me.  That was big money for me then.”

“Sure,” said Eamon, who had grown up in a poorer family than Saba’s.  “Do you know what it’s going to look like?”

“Nope.  Nobody but Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere knows.  Knowing her, he’s going to be standing like he has a stick up his ass, and he’ll probably be pointing forward or waving heroically.”

“How do you wave heroically?”

“You know.  Like ‘Come on, Men!’”  Saba waved invisible soldiers behind him to move forward.

“Okay.”

“You know they should have named this park after Zurfina.  She’s the one who saved our cake.”

“I’ve heard you say that before.  It’s just because you fancy her.”

“No.  I’m serious. I was there.  I know.”

“She really put it on the lizzies?”

“Oh, it was bloody awesome.”

“But you do fancy her?”

“She’s too old for me,” said Saba.  “Not that I haven’t had the odd fantasy about her.”

“She’s not that old is she?  I’ve only seen her a few times, but she doesn’t look… forty do you suppose?”

The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 8 Excerpt

The S. S. Windemere didn’t arrive until Festuary eighth.  It had been waylaid in the Mulliens with a damaged boiler. Still, Saba Colbshallow had been at the docks to meet it and one passenger in particular.  Mr. Brockton didn’t look like a secret agent, not that Saba knew what a secret agent looked like.  He was a short, slight man in his mid-forties with a brown handlebar mustache and thinning hair beneath a brown bowler hat.  He looked over Saba for a moment then shook hands.

“Governor Dechantagne-Calliere asked me to meet you and see that you have a place to stay,” said Saba.

“Very good,” said Brockton in a thin nasal voice.  “She indicated in her correspondence that she would send a representative that had her complete trust.”

Saba tried not to let his surprise show.

“I’ve got you an apartment on the militia base.”

“Won’t that be suspicious?”

“Probably less than rooming anywhere else, unless you want to spend the next week in a tent,” said Saba.  “Those are basically the two options for new arrivals.  We don’t have a hotel or rooming house yet, though there are a few people who let rooms.  The apartments and rental houses have quite a long waiting list.”

“The militia base it is then,” said Brockton with a thin smile.

Saba led the way up the hill from the dockyards.

“I’m going to need a day to get my land legs back,” said Brockton.  “Why don’t we plan on meeting tomorrow and I’ll go over what the governor needs to know with you then.”

Saba nodded.  “Fine. I’ll have some supper sent over if you like?”

“Good.”

The following afternoon just before tea, Saba met Brockton outside the building that had been designed to eventually be part of the base’s barracks but which, since its construction, had been divided into ten small apartments.

“The best place to eat is back at the dockyard,” he said.

Brockton raised an eyebrow.

“They have food carts.”

Making their way down the hill, they took their place in the queue for sausages.  Then they sat down on a bench at the northern edge of the gravel yard and ate the thick sausages, which were served on a stick.

“Not much in the way of dining in Birmisia, eh?” said Brockton, then waved off Saba’s reply.  “I expected as much really.  I ate so much on the voyage that I probably gained ten pounds anyway.  This is fine, and so were the fish and chips you sent up last evening.”

“Good.  So what is the information you want me to relay to Governor Dechantagne-Calliere?”

“She is aware, though you might not be, that I am with His Majesty’s Secret Service.  We have people working around the world, but right now our focus is in Freedonia.”

“Aren’t we at peace?”

“Ostensibly.  But a great many things can happen.  And I don’t mean war, at least I don’t mean just war.”

“What else?” asked Saba.

“Klaus II fancies himself a wizard and he’s immersed himself in the wahre kunst von zauberei.  As a result, the wizards of the Reine Zauberei have replaced most of the non-wizards in key positions in the Freedonian government.”

“Don’t we have quite a few wizards of our own?” asked Saba.  “Yourself for instance?”

Brockton smiled a thin smile.

“Well spotted young Corporal.  I’m a first level journeyman from Académie Argei.  But you have to understand, these Reine Zauberei are not just wizards. They have their own peculiar ideas.”

“Their magic is different?”

“No, as a matter of fact their magic is almost identical to my own.  It is their belief system that is different. They believe that the Freedonians are the master race and that they are destined to rule the world.”

“Isn’t that sort of jingoism pretty common?” asked Saba.  “After all, patriotism is a great thing, as long as the fellow who has it is from the same country that you are.  I know quite a few Brechs who think that if you’re not Brech, you’re nothing.”

“Do they want to kill everyone else in the world?”

“Um, no.”

“There you see the difference.  These Reine Zauberei believe that everyone else must serve the Freedonians or be eliminated.  Completely.”

“But that’s just insane.”

“Yes it is.”

“And it’s not possible.”

“There you may be mistaken.  They’ve already started their plan.  The first victims are the Zaeri.”

“I know they’ve been treating the Zaeri badly—forcing them out of their homes and such.  The Zaeri have been treated horribly for centuries though—in Brech and Mirsanna too, not just in Freedonia.”

“There is more to it than that.  In fact the Freedonians have stopped chasing the Zaeri out of the country and are now rounding them up and putting them in forced labor camps.  And there are rumors of other camps—camps where the Zaeri and others are being murdered by the hundreds.”

“That can’t be true,” said Saba.

“We don’t know for sure whether it is or not.” Brockton took the last bite of his sausage and tossed the stick at the dustbin next to the bench.

The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 7 Excerpt

“You think I’m an idiot?” demanded Senta.

“I didn’t say anything of the kind,” replied Zurfina calmly.

“I know a fylfot when I see one!”

“Don’t be so defensive, Pet.  I didn’t say I didn’t believe you.  I merely pointed out that I have been all over this town in the past few weeks and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of this wizard of yours.”

“Well I saw him.  I’ve been keeping tabs on him since he got here and I even talked to him.”

“I don’t doubt you,” said Zurfina, in a remarkably soothing voice, “but the level of residual magic around town is no more than I would expect from you and your everyday antics.”

“Are you sure you didn’t miss some?”

“Now who’s being insulting?”  The sorceress’s voice suddenly flared louder.  “If I didn’t detect it, it wasn’t there.”

“Hmph!” said Senta, and crossing her arms, turned to face the door.

Zurfina sighed.  “Children are so difficult.  Is it any wonder that I never wanted one of my own?”

“Maybe you should just get rid of me like everybody else does,” said Senta quietly.

Zurfina crossed from the kitchen to the other side of the stairs and put an arm around Senta’s shoulders.

“You’re far too interesting for me to get rid of now.  Look, this wizard of yours is obviously far too insignificant for me to concern myself with.  You’ll have to take care of him.”

“Me?  I’m just a little kid.”

“You know something?” said Zurfina, taking her arm from around Senta and grasping her by the shoulders.  “Nobody believes that—least of all me.  There’s not a journeyman wizard this side of Xygia who can do what you can do with magic.”

“Really?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Of course you would.”

“Well…” Zurfina shrugged.  “Keep an eye on your wizard, and if he turns out to be a threat to us, neutralize him.”

“What if you’re wrong and he magics the crap out of me?” wondered Senta.

“Then I’ll know better with my next apprentice,” replied Zurfina.  “Do you want a sandwich?”

“Yes.”

Zurfina waved her finger in the air and, as the contents of the froredor began to fly out to the table and assemble themselves into sandwiches, she started up the stairs.

“Bring my meal up to the top floor.  Leave it on the step outside the door.  Don’t come in.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” said Senta, watching mayonnaise being spread across a freshly cut piece of bread.

When the sandwiches had been completed, Senta delivered Zurfina’s to the appropriate location.  Then she put away the ingredients by hand and sat down at the table to enjoy hers.  She was only on her second bite when there was a knock at the door.    As she opened it, the cold air from outside blew across her bare shins and feet.  It had stopped snowing a couple of days before, but it was still cold out and the world was still covered with a thick blanket of white.  Standing outside and shivering was Hertzel Hertling.

“Hertzel!” squealed Senta, giving him a great hug.  “Where is your sister?  Didn’t she come with you?”

Hertzel remained as quiet as he always did, but shook his head.  Two years before, when he and his two sisters had escaped their former homeland of Freedonia, soldiers had killed both their parents.  Hertzel, who up until that time has seemed a perfectly normal boy, had lost his voice. And there seemed to be no reason to expect its return any time soon.

“Come in and get warm.”  Senta pulled the boy into the house and closed the door after him.  “Are you hungry?”

Hertzel shrugged.

Taking this as an affirmative, Senta cut her sandwich in half and gave him the portion with no bite taken out of it.

“I’ll put on some tea.”

Hertzel took a bite of the sandwich and smiled with his blue lips closed.

Senta put the pot on the cast iron stove.

“Nothing’s wrong, is it?” she asked.

Hertzel shook his head.

“It’s only that I don’t see you very often by yourself.”

She crossed back to the stove and sat down.

“What’s Hero doing?”

He shrugged.

“Do you know where Graham is?”

He shook his head.

“So… kind of hard to have a conversation with you.”

Hertzel looked down at the table, took a bite of his sandwich and nodded sadly.

“That’s okay.  Really. I don’t mind.”

The kettle on the stove started to whistle, and Senta went and got it.  She transferred the water to a teapot, put loose leaves of tea into an infuser and dropped the infuser into the teapot as well. Then she brought the pot and two cups to the table.

“You know, I bet I can be as quiet as you.”

Hertzel shook his head.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 6 Excerpt

“I did everything I could,” said Terrence Dechantagne.  “I called for a doctor and a priest.  A doctor and a priest came.  It was just bad luck that he died anyway.”

“As he was trying to shoot me at the time,” Radley Staff paused to bring the whiskey glass to his lips.  “I consider it rather good luck.”

“Bad luck for him, I meant.”

Staff nodded.

“Sometimes bad things just happen,” said Mr. Merchant.

“Quite,” agreed Mr. Shannon.

The four men sat at a small table in the first class lounge, sipping their drinks and smoking cigars.  Outside, the railings had formed a thick decoration of long, pointy icicles, and the deck was rapidly becoming obscured by a white blanket of snow.  The grey day was well on its way to becoming night in spite of the fact that it was only four in the afternoon.

“Well, I do believe here comes your priest now, Dechantagne,” said Merchant.

All four men stood up as the severe looking woman approached in a black dress. Her graying hair was pulled tightly back into a long pony tail and her lips were so thin, it seemed as though the pony tail was pulling most of the skin of her face with it.  Her black dress was not a robe, not quite, and as was almost all feminine attire, it was endowed with a prominent bustle, but had no brocade or lace, just a priestly collar at her neck, and a thin strip of white running from each shoulder to the floor.  She had a large and ornate golden cross on a chain around her neck.

“Mother Linton,” said Dechantagne.  “May I introduce Misters Staff, Merchant, and Shannon?”

Mother Linton nodded to each.  “May I speak to you, Mr. Dechantagne?”

He shrugged and stepped away with the priest.

“So what do you say about this weather, Staff?” marveled Shannon. “Whenever I think of Mallon, I think of the jungle.  I never expected snow.”

“I suppose there is a great deal of Mallon that’s tropical,” replied Staff, “but Birmisia is cool, dry, lots of pine trees.  Even the summers are not too bad.  That’s good from a business perspective, too.  Nobody wants to muck around in swamps.  That’s probably why Enclep isn’t better developed.”

“Good man,” said Merchant.  “Always keeping business in mind.”

Dechantagne returned to the table and sat down.

“What was that all about?” asked Staff.

“It seems Mother Linton has been pegged by the Bishop of Brech as the High Priest of Birmisia.”

“And?”

“And priests are no different than anyone else.  They all want something.”  He waved to the waiter for another drink.

“And what does she want?”

“Oh, it’s all Mother Church this and Mother Church that.”  Dechantagne picked up the cigar that he had left smoldering in the ashtray when he had stepped outside with Mother Linton, and he stubbed it out.  Then he got up and walked out the door, intercepting the waiter for his drink along the way.

“So, you don’t think he’s a major player?” wondered Shannon.

“Oh, he may prove a friend to our business,” said Staff.  “But make no mistake, Mrs.… his sister is the one who’s in charge.”

“Excellent.  I’m glad to see you know your way around,” said Merchant.  “Have you had a chance to talk to Buttermore?”

“The office man?  I did. I didn’t have a chance to meet all of his staff, or the engineers.  Shame they couldn’t be in first class.”

“My boy, do you know how expensive that would be?” asked Shannon.  “There are ten of them, and ten more family members besides.”

“Don’t you own the ship?”

“Yes, but that would be twenty first class passages that wouldn’t be available for sale.  It’s not like we put them in steerage.  Second class is very nice.”  Shannon’s face was becoming pink.

“I know it is.  I myself am in second class.”

“Indeed.”

“We would have had you bumped up to a first class cabin if we had known,” said Merchant.

“I don’t have enough baggage to need a first class cabin.  I’m fine where I am.”

“Very sensible,” said Shannon, his face returning to its normal rather jaundiced hue.

“Well, Buttermore seems like a good man.  He knows exactly what we need to do.  I’ll handle the connections with the government and then we can get started. Of course, there’s plentiful unskilled labor.”

“Excellent,” said Merchant.  “If this all goes as well as I’m expecting it to, we’ll have to send over our short accountant to count all our money.

The dinner bell rang and Staff said goodbye to his two employers and went to his table.  The broken glass had been repaired and the dining room looked none the worse for wear. As usual, the darkly beautiful Amadea Jindra was already seated; her heavily laced white dress was a study in contrast with her dark olive skin.  As Staff sat down, he noticed the plunging back left both her shoulder blades sensuously exposed.

“Miss Jindra,” he said.

“Good Evening, Mr. Staff.”

The waiter brought a salad of leaf lettuce and thinly sliced fruit.  It was garnished with a peach cut into the shape of a rose.  A moment later, he returned with glasses of sparkling wine.

“You must come from a wealthy family, Miss Jindra,” he said.  “To be able to travel first class passage alone to Birmisia.”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 5 Excerpt

“Eat more,” said Mrs. Colbshallow.  “You’re skin and bones.”

“I’m full up, Mother,” said her son.

Saba Colbshallow was full up, too.  He had eaten a full breakfast this morning at the Dechantagne family home, and sat back to enjoy his morning tea.  Around the large pine table sat his mother, Mrs. Dechantagne, Mrs. Godwin, little Iolana Calliere and at the head of the table Professor Merced Calliere. Mrs. Dechantagne’s baby was in the next room, being rocked in a cradle by one of the reptilian servants, and Governor Dechantagne-Calliere, who normally sat at the other end of the table from her husband, was not present at breakfast this morning.

“I’m sorry that I missed Mrs. C,” said Saba, though he wasn’t sure if that was entirely true.  He had known her all his life, and had been in love with her from the time he was five and she was a striking, sixteen year old beauty, until he was seven and she was a very bossy eighteen-year-old.  Then his affections had been switched to Mrs. Dechantagne, who back then had just been Yuah Korlann, and who had grown up to be a bit prettier and much nicer.

“She’s quite busy this morning,” said the professor, setting aside the book that he had been reading.  “You’ll be quite busy too, I dare say.  Another ship came in last night.”

“So I heard.  Mirsannan freighter.  Mostly cargo, but I bet there’ll be a couple of poofs out causing trouble.”

“Quite,” said the professor, saluting with his teacup.  “Don’t let us keep you from your duty then, officer.”

“Right.”  Saba drained his teacup and stood up, pushing in the chair as he left the table.  He picked up his constabulary helmet from the small table in front of the window.  It had gold braid around its base, a large gold star on the front, and a gold spike on the very top.  Of course it was navy blue, just like his uniform.

“Look at my boy,” said his mother.  “He looks like a right man, doesn’t he?  An officer of the peace.”

“You look just dashing,” said Mrs. Dechantagne, which made Saba blush a bit. He bowed low to her, saluted everyone else, and then headed out the front door, which one of the lizardmen servants held open for him.

Saba was quite proud of his position as one of the first two constables on the police force in Port Dechantagne.  In fact, he could well say that he was the first constable, since he had badge number one, and Eamon Shrubb had badge number two.  Even though he was only twenty, Saba had worked hard for this position. He had signed on to the Colonial Militia when he was only sixteen, eventually becoming the youngest sergeant at any time before or since.  He had served his two years with what he thought was distinction and had volunteered for an extra year.  Now he was a copper.  Anyone who knew Saba recognized that few deserved a spot in the new police department more than he did.  Anyone who knew the royal governor knew that she would not have sponsored him for the position just because she had known him all his life.

“Good morning, constable,” called a woman in a plain brown dress with a brown shawl thrown across her shoulders and a brown bonnet on her head, pushing a wheelbarrow down the gravel road.

“Good morning to you, Mrs. Eamsham.  Do you need a hand with that?”

“Heavens no.  I was just taking the slop from the neighborhood out to the pigs and dinosaurs.”

“That’s a good five miles pushing that thing.  You be sure and take several rest stops along the way.”

Mrs. Eamsham nodded and turned the corner heading for Town Square.  Saba continued walking into the southwestern part of the town, where the homes sat on larger lots, but were not necessarily larger themselves.  The leaves had long gone from the maples and the other deciduous trees, but the pines and cedars were still glorious green.  A chill wind whipped here and there, but did nothing to Saba but turn his cheeks a little redder.  His wool uniform was exceedingly warm.

Suddenly he heard gunfire erupting from directly in front of him.  One, two shots.  Then a pause.  Then one, two, three, four, five, six, pause.  He looked up above the trees and saw a flash of steel shoot across the sky.

“Oh, bloody hell!” he shouted and ran at top speed in the direction of the gunfire.  That he carried no other weapon than a heavy truncheon worried him not a bit.  Two men with military issue service rifles, but wearing expensive hunting clothes, stood in the middle of the gravel road.

“Guns down!” yelled Saba, as he skidded to a stop in front of them. “Drop your guns now!”

“See here chap,” said the first man, his accent labeling him as plainly as if he had worn a placard that he was from Old Town Brech.  He must have been very new to the colony, because Saba made it a custom to get to know everyone, and neither of these men he recognized.

“We’re doing nothing illegal,” said the second man.  “Just shooting some pests.”

“What exactly were you shooting?”

“We heard from some of the neighbors that these velocipedes….”

“Velociraptors,” Saba corrected.

“Yes, them.  They’ve been a menace lately, to the point of endangering the local children.”

“Quite,” said the first man.  “We went out to put a few down and found a small group digging right into those garbage bins.  We shot a few and killed two, I think, but one took off and flew into the trees.”

“If you listen to me very, and I do mean very, carefully,” said Saba.  “I just might be able to save your lives. Lay your rifles down on the ground.”

“But I don’t under….”

“Do it!”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 4 Excerpt

“Do you have a last name?” wondered Graham.

He sat beneath a willow on a large rock ten feet from the frigid water of Battle Creek.  Hamonth was almost over and the chilly winds had, for now, stopped.  It was still cold enough for a steady cloud of steam to make its way up from the cups of tea, Senta had poured from the pot she carried in her picnic basket.

“You know I do,” replied Senta.  “You’ve heard it a hundred times.”

“I guess I wasn’t paying attention.  What is it?”

“Zurfina says that if you are famous and powerful enough, you don’t need more than one name.  It’s like kings and queens, and Magnus the Great.”

“My Da says everything deserves a name, and people deserve a last name.”

“He does not.”

“Huh?”

“I bet he never said any such thing.”

Graham shrugged.

“Did he say it or not?”

“No.”

“You just said that he said it?”

“Yes.”

“I knew it,” said Senta.  “You just go around saying ‘My Da says this’ and ‘My Da says that’ and he never said any such thing.”

“No!”

“No?”

“I only say that he said things that he really would say, but he just might not have.”

“I always knew you were dodgy.”

Graham shrugged again and took a sip of his tea.  Then his brow twisted in thought.

“I bet you do the same thing,” he said.

“What?”

“You’re always going on about how ‘Zurfina says this’.  I bet you make it up too.”

“No.”

“No?”

“Never.”

“She actually said that bit about not needing a last name?”

“Word for word.”

“Oh.”  He sipped his tea again.  “So do you figure you’re famous and powerful enough, then?”

“Hmm?”

“Are you famous and powerful enough that you don’t need a last name?”

“No, I guess not,” said Senta.  “I don’t think I like it though.  I never knew anyone else with it.  It’s Bly.”

“Oh, right.  It’s not that bad.”

“It’s better than Dokkins.”

“No.  My Da says Dokkins is one of the finest names in Greater Brechalon.” Then he added. “And he does say that too.”

Senta stood up; balancing on the large rock, then bent down at the waist and sat her teacup where she had been sitting.  She stretched her arms out to either side and balanced herself, as she stepped in her bare feet from one rock to another.  She made a circuitous route back to the picnic basket and opened it up. She pulled out a warm potpie in a small ceramic bowl.  She held the pie out in her left hand and a fork in her right and balanced her way across five more rocks to where the brown haired, freckled boy sat and handed both to him.

“You know you’ve got a hole in that dress?”

“Yes,” said Senta, sadly.

She looked down at the yellow dress.  Though the upper portion was shapeless and tube-like, matching her still shapeless body, the bodice was brilliantly decorated with yellow brocade and beadwork.  The skirt portion draped out appropriately, especially in the back, where with the aid of a bustle, it spread back almost three feet.  Unfortunately all around the hem, it was worn from trailing along the ground, and a small hole had been burned into the material about five inches to the right of Senta’s right knee, when she had been warming herself by a wood stove.

She made her way back to the picnic basket and took out her own potpie, and then stepped back over to her rock.  Holding her potpie in one hand and picking up her teacup in the other, she crossed her legs and sat down, allowing her dress to cover the rock, so that she seemed to either be hovering above the ground or to be standing but very short.

“This is pretty good,” said Graham, indicating the potpie.  “What’s in it?”

“Pork and stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?” he demanded.

“Nothing weird.  Potatoes and beets and carrots.”

“Okay.”

They had been having a lot of picnic lunches lately, though the weather would soon be too cold.  Graham had held to his promise to take her to lunch the other day, but one trip to Mrs. Finkler’s was about the limit of his budget.  Senta liked making things for Graham, anyway. They spent almost all their free time together, especially when, like now, there were no ships in port. Something was beginning to be different though.  Graham was just, well he was just Graham.  The only time he seemed to notice that Senta was a girl, was when he was pointing out that she had a hole in her dress.  She thought that he must notice Hero was a girl, with her dark eyes and her long, long, long dark hair.  Senta ran a hand through her own hair.  It had grown long, but it wasn’t wavy and it wasn’t thick.  It was thin and pale looking.  And she had a hole in her dress.