Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 7

Goblins are nasty little blighters. They remind me of my cousin Gervil’s friend called Rupert. His name was Sally, which explains why he was called Rupert. But like goblins, he was short and had a big, round head. I don’t know why goblins have such large heads for their little bodies. Of course I don’t know why Rupert did either. There doesn’t seem to be much advantage in it. On the other hand, goblins have excellent night vision, making it very easy to sneak up on people in the dark. And they have abnormally large mouths with an abnormally large number of teeth in them. This was very unlike Rupert, which is to say Sally, who as I recall had only five or six teeth, though he made up for that by having an extra toe. In addition to which I don’t believe his night vision was all that it might have been, for once he kicked me in the head when he was on his way to the outhouse. Of course that could have been on purpose. Rupert was a bit of a nasty blighter too.

“What are you doing?” asked the orphan, as Hysteria took a step back.

“Thinking about a fellow called Rupert,” said I.

“Well stop it, and get us away.”

I said that Hysteria took a step back, but I should have said that she took two steps back, one on each side. I could tell she didn’t want the foul little creatures around her feet. She’s very particular about her feet, as most horses are wont to be. As they approached still nearer, she reared up a bit—not enough to bother me, but just enough for the orphan to slip off her haunches and land with a poof on his seat in the snow. The goblins cackled grotesquely and I’m sure that they thought they had secured for themselves a snack. They stopped laughing though when I kicked my leg over Hysteria’s shoulder and dropped lightly to the ground.

With a quick motion, I pulled my knife, still stained red from crabapple pie, from my boot. It was a small enough weapon to face off six attackers and I would have much rather had a sword, but I had been forced to sell my sword in order to get a fellow out of prison. I didn’t really know him, but he was the beloved of a poor but beautiful farm girl. In retrospect it would have been better if he had not turned out to be a werewolf, but that is another story. If I ever write this down, maybe I’ll say that I sold it to get the poor but beautiful farm girl out of prison and that I slew the werewolf. Yes, that’s a much better story.

“What are you doing?” asked the orphan.

“Recalling the time I slew a werewolf,” said I.

“Finally something useful!” he exclaimed.

The two foremost goblins looked at one another. While six or seven goblins might sneak up on a man when he was asleep, or might chase down a maiden who was alone and defenseless, they would have to be extraordinary members of their species to take on a seasoned warrior with a weapon.

“That’s right potato head!” shouted the orphan, jumping to his feet. “Werewolves, vampires, giants; he’s killed them all.

“Gree yard?” said the first goblin.

“Grock tor,” said the second goblin.

“I don’t think they understand us,” said I.

The first began to skirt around me to the right and the second began to skirt around me to the left. The others were following along. I don’t know whether their intention was to surround me so that they could attack from all sides at once, or to get by me and at the boy, but I wasn’t going to let either of those things happen. I took a quick step to the right and kicked the big round head of the first goblin, which flew almost as far as the kickball I kicked as a child, and of course the rest of the goblin went right along with his head.

As a child, kickball was one of my favorite pastimes. We had our own little team and I was almost always the bowler. Sally and Gervil and several other boys made up the outfield. Tuki played first, second, and third base.

“Look out for the other one!” the orphan cried, interrupting my fond memories.

I twisted around to my left and kicked the head of the second goblin, sending it in a lovely arc off into the forest. If my first kick had scored a double, which is to say a trip to second base, then this kick must surely have been a triple. And I would dare Tuki to say that either of those goblin’s heads went out of bounds.

“Look out!” the orphan shouted again.

I turned to give him a dirty look and saw a third goblin who was attempting to use the distraction of his fellows, which is to say their current use as substitute kickballs, to slice my Achilles tendon with a rusty old razor. With a quick jab, I thrust the point of my knife into his head and he dropped to the ground—dead. When I looked back around, the other goblins had wisely run away.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 6

Hysteria clomped along slowly down the snow-covered road for some time. The orphan was so quiet that for a while I thought he must have fallen asleep. But at last he stirred and shifted a bit in his seat, which is to say upon Hysteria’s flank. I myself had been quiet as I remembered the events of that horrible night.

“What are you thinking about?” asked the orphan.

“I’m thinking about that horrible night,” I replied.

“Did you never find your family?”

“No, though I searched for weeks. My mother was to make me a blueberry pie that night, and I not only have never seen my mother since, I did not get to eat that pie either.”

“I’m sorry I brought up such a painful memory,” he said, and then paused. “Do you suppose that the purple drops on the floor could have been from your blueberry pie?”

“Fiends!” said I. “To rob a man of his mother and his pie in the same night!”

“Perhaps it were best that we think on something else,” said he.

“Perhaps,” I agreed.

“If you are really such a great storyteller…”

“The greatest in the world.”

“And if the story of the Queen of Aerithraine is a great story…”

“Wonderful. Exciting. True. Profound.”

“Well, maybe you could tell me the story.”

“I get half a crown for that story in Illustria,” said I.

“I have a shiny penny,” said he.

“The story begins in Aerithraine, far to the west, along the coast of the great ocean sea. From storied Illustria, its capital, to Cor Cottage just outside Dewberry Hills in River County, Aerithraine has been a great and powerful country for some seven hundred years more or less. By more or less, I mean that it has been more or less seven hundred years that Aerithraine has been a country and that it has been more or less great and more or less powerful during those seven hundred years. But about fifty years ago, it was less. That was when the old king died, and as is the way of kings, a new one was crowned. He was King Julian the Rectifier.

“He was called Julian the Rectifier because he was chiefly interested in rectifying. He spent most of his time rectifying. He rectified all over the place. And he was good at it. He rectified like nobody else.”

“It means setting things to right,” said the orphan.

“Of course it does and that is just what he did. Under his reign, the kingdom was prosperous and wealthy. And, as he wasn’t so interested in warring as in rectifying, there was peace throughout the land. King Julian had only one son, and he passed to that son the strongest and wealthiest kingdom in all of Duaron, and if it had only remained so, Elleena would have become nothing more than a minor princess perhaps.”

“Which would not have made a half-crown story,” pointed out the orphan.

“That is so.”

“Carry on then.”

“King Justin was the son of Julian. I hear tell that he was once called Justin the Good and Justin the Wise, though now when storytellers refer to him, they usually call him Justin the Weak or Justin the Unready.”

“What do you call him?”

“I just call him King Justin,” said I. “Though I truly believe he may deserve the title Justin the Brave, it is not what the listeners want to hear.”

“Go on.”

“King Justin married a princess from the faraway land of Goth. The Arch-Dukes of Goth, which is to say the rulers of that land, have for generations, maintained power through a tightly woven web of treaties with its mighty neighbors. Their chief barter in this endeavor is the marriage of the many female members of the family. I hear the current Arch-Duke has but four daughters at least as of yet, but his father who was Arch-Duke before him had seventeen, and his father, which is to say the grandfather of the current Arch-Duke had nineteen.”

“That hurts just thinking about it.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Go on.”

“It must have been quite a coup of diplomacy for the Arch-Duke of Goth to make a match with the King of Aerithraine, but he did, marrying to the King his daughter Beatrix. And though I hear that the women of that country wear too much make-up, she was never the less accounted a great beauty. She had pale white skin, raven hair, smoldering eyes, and a gold ring in her nose, as is the fashion in the east.

“King Justin and Queen Beatrix had four strong sons, the eldest of whom was Prince Jared. He was particularly beloved of the people. I saw him once when I was a child of four or five, sitting on my poor old father’s shoulders as the Dragon Knights passed on their tall white steeds. That is to say, I was seated on my father’s shoulders and the Prince was not. Neither were the Dragon Knights nor their steeds. I don’t remember why the Prince and the knights were in River County. It was too long ago. He would have grown to be King upon his father’s death if it was not for…”

“Goblins!”

“Yes, that’s right. You didn’t say you had heard the story before, though I’ll warrant it wasn’t told as well…”

“No!” screamed the orphan. “Goblins! Right there!”

He pointed straight ahead, and sure enough, stepping out of the shadows and into the moonlight were a half dozen creepy little man-things. They were no more than three feet tall, their over-sized round heads, glowing eyes, and gaping maws giving away their identity. As they came closer those mouths widened into grins filled with jagged little teeth, looking far too much like the teeth on the blade of a cross-cut saw for my taste. They brandished what weapons they had, mostly things they had picked up from the ground—a stick, a length of cord with a knot in it. But a couple of them carried old, discarded straight razors.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 10 Excerpt

The room was large, though obviously not as large as the huge chamber we had visited before. The far wall was about one hundred fifty feet away, and the room was equally as wide. We had entered through a doorway in the middle of the wall, and there were no other entryways or exits visible. The room was well lit, though I could not determine the source of the light. Indeed, it seemed that the light came from everywhere, as though light were a thing that could flow around solid objects like the air. The walls, floor, and ceiling were smooth and dull grey, as were the fixtures in the room’s center—four large geometric shapes.

As the three of us slowly walked into the room, we were drawn toward the four geometric shapes in the center of the floor. They were each about the same size, perhaps twelve feet across. Closest to us was a sphere. The others were a cube, a pyramid, and a dodecahedron.

“What are these for, do you suppose?” I wondered aloud.

“Perhaps they are not for anything,” growled Malagor.

“Why are you so grumpy?” I asked. “Still hungry?”

He growled again in confirmation.

“This is unlike anything I have ever seen relating to the Orlons,” said Norar Remontar. “The lighting has an interesting quality.”

He reached up and laid a hand upon the surface of the sphere, and a large portion of the wall to our left suddenly became a huge picture screen. A forty-foot image of a great plain appeared, with tall grass billowing in the wind like waves on the surface of the ocean. Here and there, grazing herbivores roamed in search of a particularly interesting bit of flora. To the far right of the image, two stummada sat looking around lazily. At their feet were the remains of a large animal.

“Wow,” I said.

“This is most definitely not an Orlon site,” reiterated the Amatharian. “Their technology never reached anywhere near this level.”

“I wonder what else these shapes do.” I stepped around him to the cube.

I placed my hand on the surface, which felt warm to the touch, and marveled as another giant image appeared opposite the first. This image was of a beautiful green field, obviously cultivated. In the distance, to the right was the edge of a great forest of extremely tall coniferous evergreen trees. At about the same distance but to the left, one could see the edge of a strange and marvelous city. It was made up of ivory colored buildings with reddish roofs— each roof topped by a carved animal figure. In the foreground, as well as around the city, were the inhabitants.

The people living in the strange city, playing around it, and working in the fields looked remarkably like a child’s teddy bear. They were covered with light brown fur, had very large round ears on the top of their heads, and large expressive eyes above their small snouts. They came in a variety of sizes, probably males, females, and children. Some of the small ones seemed to be playing tag just outside the city. Larger ones were working in the field, pulling up green vegetables of some kind. Still others, of several sizes, were busy within the confines of the city, though just what they were doing was impossible to tell at the present magnification on the image. They were probably doing the same things that humans on Earth did in their own cities.

“I do not know that race of people,” said Malagor. “I wonder who they are, and where in Ecos that place is.”

“Or when,” I offered. “For all we know, that may be a stored image of the ancient Orlons, or even their ancestors.”

Norar Remontar and I were both fascinated by the images, and we began moving around the shapes, placing our hands here and there and watching the scenes produced on the three blank walls of the room. Most were of wild places with nothing but plant life and an occasional animal, though the locale of each was noticeably different. There were scenes of deserts, of forests, and of jungles. Finally I placed a hand upon the sphere at a point as yet untouched and a picture of a hillside replaced an earlier scene on the wall opposite the door. Standing on the hillside were two Amatharian men.

“Bentar Hissendar!” shouted Norar Remontar.

“You know him?” I asked the obvious.

“He is a friend and kinsman of mine,” the Amatharian replied. “He works within my uncle’s trading group.”

Astrid Maxxim and the Mystery of Dolphin Island – Chapter 10 Excerpt

The storm continued to rage outside the walls of the little house on Dolphin Island. The five young women had to make due with lighting from a single flashlight and several candles. They only ate food that could be eaten cold, and concentrated on that which was in the refrigerator, since without power the food within would eventually go bad.

“I wish I knew which direction the storm is moving,” said Penelope, as they sat around the table, eating a dinner of cheese sandwiches and cabbage and fennel salad.

“We had a hand crank radio,” said Eleanor, “but I broke the crank off of it.”

“Cranked it too hard?” wondered Penelope.

The blonde nodded.

“I can hook up the laptop directly to the internet,” said Astrid. “We’ve got enough battery power to run it for several hours.”

Unplugging the now unusable router, the girl inventor connected one MPro 5 notebook to the cable. Loading up the browser, she pulled up the satellite image of the storm.

“It’s passing to the north of us,” she told the others. “It’s not moving very fast though. I would guess we’ve got another two days of rough weather.”

“That’s what I figured,” said Adeline. “We’d better turn off the computer and conserve the battery.”

“First though,” said Penelope. “We each need to send a message to our loved ones telling them we’re okay.”

When it was her turn, Astrid sent the following message, making sure to address it to her mother, father, and to Toby. Power is out here, so no phone, but we are safe and sound. Don’t worry. Love to you all. Call you when we get the power back.

“Sending your love to Toby?” asked Penelope, looking over her shoulder.

“No, I’m just… That’s just what people say. You don’t think he…?”

“Stop worrying about it. He knows how you feel about him and he has since he was old enough to stand.”

“Well…” said Astrid, shrugging. “I guess.”

That night, the wind rattling loose boards and shingles on the outside of the house, made sleep difficult for Astrid. When she finally dozed off, it was late, and she was awakened at least three times during the night. It was a surprise therefor to find that she had slept late into the morning. All of the other young women were up and dresses and sitting around the table eating bread and jam.

“Why did you let me sleep so late?” asked Astrid, as she wiped the sleep from her eyes.

“There wasn’t much point in waking you,” said Penelope. “We can’t do anything but sit around staring at one another.”

“I thought now that it’s light outside, I might take a look at the generator,” returned Astrid.

“It’s light out,” said Eleanor, “but it’s still too windy to go outside. You would be blown off your feet. I’m a little surprised that we haven’t lost the roof.”

“The house is sturdy,” said Adeline. “We are also protected somewhat by the trees.”

“I hope the dolphins are okay,” said Astrid.

“They will be fine,” assured Océane. “They will swim out to the deep water. The storm won’t bother them at all.”

There was just enough light coming in through the boarded up windows that they were able to play a French version of Monopoly during mid-day. In the afternoon, the wind seemed to die down a bit, giving Astrid some hope that maybe the storm would soon be over. Then it grew suddenly dark, and minutes later, the island and the little house were deluged by waves of rain. The girls immediately had to scramble to lay out pots and dishes under the sixteen leaks in the ceiling that ranged from a steady drip to a constant stream.

“I feel like we need to look for two of every animal,” said Penelope.

It was so dark by five o’clock that it could have been midnight. Astrid peaked out a crack in the boards covering the window. All she could see were bushes being bent by the wind and pelted by the rain.

“Astrid,” said Océane, at her elbow. “Will you come help me make dinner?”

The girl inventor followed her to the part of the room that made up the kitchen.

“You seem very nervous,” said the French girl.

“Do I? I guess I am. This is the first hurricane that I’ve ever been in. We don’t get a lot of stormy weather in the southwest U.S.”

“Everything will be fine.”

“Oh, I know it will be,” said Astrid. “At least I know that in my head. I guess some other part of me isn’t so sure.”

“You will feel better after you eat. I’m making sandwiches with the last of the bread and hazel nut spread. I want you to chop of this bag of pistachios and whatever fruit we have left to go on them.”

Astrid found a handful of strawberries and two bananas in the no-longer-cold refrigerator, and diced them up fine, along with the pistachios. Océane sprinkled them on the hazel nut spread before placing the two pieces of bread together.

“I have a secret treat,” said Océane. “We’re all going to have hot cocoa.”

“How are we going to do that?” wondered Astrid. “We don’t have any heat.”

Astrid Maxxim and the Mystery of Dolphin Island – Chapter 9 Excerpt

Astrid kicked her legs as hard as she could, shooting through the water over Swen’s Atoll. The grey monster shot up from behind and passed her like a bullet, only to roll over and propel itself directly toward her. At the last moment, it rose just enough to pass above her without touching. Seeing him from the surface, it was difficult to tell just how big Alister was, but seen from here beneath the waves, he was huge—over ten feet long and weighing about a thousand pounds.

“Alister play. Alister play,” the device in Astrid’s hands translated the dolphin’s signals.

From twenty feet to Astrid’s left, came another sound. Alister’s partner called out to him.

“Alister. Alister”

Astrid didn’t know for sure, but she suspected that John was trying to get Alister to pay him some attention, rather than lavishing it on the surface-dweller. Five consecutive days of swimming with him had certainly given Astrid the impression that Alister enjoyed her company. She couldn’t say the same about his companion.

She dove down and flipped over, swimming in the reverse of the direction she had been going. As she approached where the boat was anchored, she saw Penelope and two female dolphins playing with the scarf. Then she saw Adeline, who was signaling to return to the surface. Astrid followed her until both their heads popped above the waves. The girl inventor was surprised to find it darker than it had been when she had submerged.

“We’ve got to go in,” said Adeline. “The clouds have rolled in and the wind is picking up.”

“Okay,” Astrid replied. “Let me get Penelope.”

Pushing the regulator back in her mouth, Astrid dove down to where her aunt was floating, tapping her on the shoulder. When Penelope looked, she signaled to head for the surface. When their heads reached the air, they could see that the ocean was already becoming choppy. They quickly climbed into the boat.

“Were we expecting weather?” asked Penelope.

“It’s Hurricane Diego,” said Eleanor. “It was supposed to be far north of us, but it’s turned our way.”

She pulled up the anchor and then took her place behind the wheel, starting up the engine and steering toward Dolphin Island. The dolphins swam along behind them for a while, riding the wake, but then disappeared.

“That was great fun,” said Astrid. “I can’t believe that Alister is saying whole sentences—well, at least a two word sentence.”

“I think our translation is problematic,” said Adeline. “The dolphins use gestures and other signals, but I think they should be saying more. I think we are only getting a little slice of what they could say to us.”

By the time the boat was cruising into the lagoon, the waves of the open ocean were five feet or more.

They pulled the boat as far onto the sand as they could and tied it to not one, but three trees. Then they hurried inside the little house.

Eleanor turned on the radio and dialed into the weather.

“I’m going to pull up the storm on the Internet,” said Astrid.

“I’m going to puke,” said Penelope.

She staggered to the front door and stepped outside. The others could hear a retching sound. Astrid stepped out to make sure that she was all right and found the sky so dark she could have been forgiven for thinking it was night. The wind was so strong that it pushed her two steps to the left. Steadying herself, she stepped over to where Penelope knelt in the sand and bent down over her.

“Are you okay, Aunt Penelope?”

Her aunt arched her back and heaved again in reply. Astrid pulled her aunt’s black hair back to keep it out of the pool of vomit in the sand.

“I think I’m going to be turned inside out,” gasped Penelope at last.   “I haven’t felt this bad since the after party at the Grammy’s.”

“What were you doing at the Grammy’s?”

“Getting sick. That’s really all you need to know. Well, I think I’m done.”

She began struggling to her feet. Astrid helped pull her up and then threw her shoulder under the elder Maxxim’s. She led the way back inside and into the office, where Penelope crawled into her sleeping bag.

“Here, Penelope, drink this,” said Océane, stepping into the room with a glass of amber liquid.

“What is it?” came the croaked reply.

“It’s ginger ale. It will settle your stomach. We keep it on hand because Eleanor gets seasick too.”

“Is she sick now too?” wondered Astrid.

Océane nodded. “You should drink some too, Astrid.”

“I’m not seasick.”

“Not yet.”

“I need something stronger,” said Penelope. “I think I need to be put in a medically-induced coma.”

“I’m sorry,” said Océane. “I’m afraid we don’t even have motion sickness pills.”

Astrid Maxxim and the Antarctic Expedition – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and the Antarctic ExpeditionThe next morning, the girl inventor headed out the door, luggage in hand. She climbed into the car with her parents and then they all drove into the Maxxim Campus to the dedicated airfield. A Maxxim Starcraft 170 waited on the Tarmac. Toby, Austen, Denise, and the two Valeries were all waiting to say goodbye. Christopher, who would be making the trip to Antarctica with Astrid, was there with his parents, as was Denise’s brother Dennis, who would be piloting their flight to Los Angeles.

“Hello Nerd,” said a familiar voice from behind Astrid. The girl inventor turned around to come face to face with her cousin Gloria and Gloria’s parents.

“Be nice to your little cousin, now,” said Aunt Lauren.

“Indeed,” said Uncle Carl. “She’s going to be an important part of the new company.”

“What company is that?” wondered Astrid.

“The new Maxxim.”

“Hello Carl,” said Dr. Maxxim, smiling.

“Roger,” responded Uncle Carl, tersely. “Kate.”

Aunt Lauren turned her head, ignoring her in-laws.

“So, did you guys come to see me off?” Astrid asked her cousin.

“Oh no. I’m going to Cali to spend a week with Aunt Penny,” said Gloria. “It seemed a shame to charter another plane, when you’re already headed that way anyway.”

“Gloria’s very cost conscious,” added Aunt Lauren.

“I’ve always thought that about her,” said Astrid with a straight face.

Once everyone had said their goodbyes, the travelers stepped across the tarmac and up the steps to the plane’s hatch. Astrid had hoped for a moment alone with Toby before she left, but she didn’t get it. She shot a quick look back to see him watching her through the glass wall of the terminal building. They gave each other a quick wave. Dennis Brown and Marty Crockett, one of the Maxxim pilots, took their places in the cockpit, while Astrid and Christopher sat down together near the front. Gloria walked all the way to the back of the cabin and staked a claim to the seat directly in front of the small restroom.

“The view is better up here,” Astrid called back, thinking that Gloria’s window view would be obstructed by the rear canard wing.

“Survivability in case of a crash is greater in the rear of an airplane,” said Gloria. “I would think a nerd like you would know that.”

“The joke’s on her,” Astrid said to Christopher. “If this plane crashes we’re all going to die.”

“That’s it, Astrid,” he replied. “Always look on the bright side.”

For King and Country – Chapter 22 Excerpt

Saba entered his home through the front door.

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.”

“I’m fine.”

“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.

“Surprisingly few.”

“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.

For King and Country – Chapter 21 Excerpt

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.”

“You what?”

“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 where?”

“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.