A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 18 Excerpt

The lizzie servant finished painting Terra’s face, half red and half black.  Terra added a yellow circle on each of her cheekbones.  Then the servant slicked back the girl’s hair, which had grown long enough to cover her scars, using fragrant plant oil. This allowed her to arrange the feathered headdress on the Terra’s head.

The young human girl arrived at the dining room and took her seat.  Though it was almost filled with lizzie nobles, the king had not yet arrived, and no one would get any food until one of his wives had fed him.  The human girl had only sat for a minute or so when her stomach let out a loud growl.  The female lizzies on either side of her tried to look without turning their heads towards her.

Terra turned to look over her left shoulder at the sound of people arriving.  In marched the queens: first Szakhandu, followed by Tokkenoht, Sirris, and finally Ssu.  The first three took their seats, while Ssu went to the food table to begin assembling the king’s meal.  Hsrandtuss at last stomped in.  He looked unusually sober.  As he walked to his seat, he looked toward Terra, and spotting her, threw a gesture toward her that the girl had never seen.  Suddenly uneasy, remembering Bessemer’s comments that the great lizzie might be looking for a new wife, she gave him a simple wave.  He took his seat just as Ssu brought him his dinner.

Now that the king had been fed, females from around the room got up to prepare meals for their males, or in a few cases just for themselves.  Terra fit into the latter category and picked up a bronze tray, filling it from the food table.

“Tsaua, Kaetarrnaya.”

Terra looked to see Hsrandtuss’s High Priestess/Queen standing next to her.

“You should try some of these fruit.  I hear humans enjoy them.”

“Yes.  We call them grapes.”  She grabbed a bunch and tossed it onto her tray next to three roasted birds that she had already acquired.

“I have something for you,” said Tokkenoht.  “I got it from the human traders.”

She handed Terra a little wooden box, about an inch wide and two inches long, with a sliding lid.

“What is it?”

“It is daksuu.  It is for your food.”

The human girl slid the box open to find it filled with what looked like fine gravel or very course sand. She held it to her face and stuck her tongue in.

“Salt!  Kafira bless you a thousand times.”

Tokkenoht nodded.

“Can I ask you something? When he came in, the Great King made a gesture toward me that I’ve never seen.  It was like this.”  She recreated the gesture.

“That is a warrior sign. It means victory.”

“Oh, good.  Then he doesn’t want to marry me.”

Tokkenoht burst into a hissing fit that was the lizzie equivalent of an uncontrollable belly laugh.

“That would never work,” she said, still struggling to get control of herself.  “It simply would not physiologically work.”  Suddenly she stopped and looked toward the king. “Then again, such an alliance would be unprecedented and very valuable, even if it was not a real marriage.”

Terra leaned on the table, as her head swam.

“Don’t worry.  Hsrandtuss knows humans better than anyone else. You’re hut… your family would never allow such a thing, would they?”

“I’m quite sure they would not.”

“It would mean war?”

“Maybe.  In any case, it would bring Hsrandtuss nothing but hatred. And I would certainly be disowned.”

“Hsrandtuss knows this. You have nothing to fear. Besides, the other wives would have to approve of you, and I would not have a human zrant as the wife of my husband.”

Terra realized that she had been insulted just as she set her plate in front of her seat.  She climbed into her chair and looked at her meal—a huge feast of roasted birds, grilled fish, grapes, and what she was fairly sure was some kind of white asparagus.

Just then, the door opened at the far end of the room and two lizzies were marched in, both wrapped in chains and escorted by a dozen warriors.  They walked morosely to stand before the king.

“What is the meaning of this?” growled Hsrandtuss, looking at one of the guards.

“We were told to bring them before you, Great King.”

Hsrandtuss deftly hopped over the table.

“Get these chains off them!”

The warriors hurried to follow his command, but it took a minute.  As they worked, the lizzie king continued speaking.

“King Oreolock of Xecheon, please excuse the rudeness of this meeting.  These fools understood the meaning of my order, but not the manner. My intention was to invite you to dine with me.  That reminds me.”  He looked over his shoulder.  “Sirris, Tokkenoht, get food for our guests.”  He looked back to see Oreolock, clearly at a loss as to what to do or say. As the last chain fell away, Hsrandtuss put his arm around the smaller king’s shoulders and led him around the table to a spot left of his own.

Terra realized at the last second that the seat for which the defeated king was destined was directly opposite hers.  As he sat down, Oreolock looked up and saw her—starting.

“That is Kaetarrnaya.  She is my tiny human.  You will know you are a great king when you have your own tiny human.”

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Inconsistancies

I keep a lot of background information on my many character and I make every effort to keep all the little details of their fictional lives.  Unfortunately, I’m not perfect.  Every once in a while an inconsistency creeps in, and when I write a lot of books in the series, that inconsistency can grow and take on a life of its own.

In the series Senta and the Steel Dragon, Senta has two cousins named Didrika and Ernst.    The appear as babies in book 0.  They get mentioned in book 5 and their ages had somehow grown to five years apart.  When they arrive to play a bigger part in book 8, they were still five years apart but somehow had switched places.  Didrika had been older orginally, and now she was five years younger!  Holy crap!

I had to go back through the books and correct them.  This was a small matter of changing a few dates in most place, but in book six, I had to rewrite an entire passage.  Well, now it’s all fixed and thank goodness, because they both play a larger part in Book 10, which I’ll start writing next year.

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 17 Excerpt

Kieran Baxter stood on the doorstep for at least fifteen minutes working up the courage to knock. It seemed foolish when one actually thought about it.  He had walked in and out of that very same door a thousand times at least, without knocking and usually without announcing himself.  But the heart and soul didn’t function with the logic of the mind. They were full of distractions. Finally he knocked, three times quickly, his knuckles barely touching the painted oak surface.

“That’s not loud enough for anyone to have heard,” he told himself.  “Knock again.  No. Better to wait a while, just in case. I can always knock again later.”

To his surprise, the door opened, revealing a lizzie about his height.  He immediately recognized her as Aggie, the maid.  Opening the door was not usually among her duties, or at least they hadn’t been when he had last been in the house.  That job belonged to Cheery, the butler.  Baxter suddenly realized he didn’t know if Cheery still worked here.  For that matter, he didn’t even know if the male lizzie still lived.

Aggie stepped back to allow him to enter the foyer.

“Sir,” she said.

“Is the lady of the house in?”

“Yesss.  Closing the door the lizzie started into the parlor. Baxter followed her through that room and on back to the library.  Senta, in a simple brown skirt and white blouse stood in the room, facing away.  A bookcase and a chair had been removed from the north wall, and in their place was a huge, ornately decorated oak and glass case, of the type usually displaying fine porcelain dishes.  This one however was almost completely filled with small metal boxes, about three inches square and one inch deep.  There had to be more than a hundred of them.

“You’ve messed this all up,” said Senta.  “When you took them out for me yesterday, I asked you to remember where each went. You’ve got Grand Master Wizard Cavendish and Lord Callingham on the bottom shelf.  They belong on the top, next to Master Wizard Goderick, while Dr. Sykes and Nurse Pyle definitely belong on the bottom shelf.”

She turned and jumped when she saw Baxter standing with the lizzie.

“That’s new,” said Baxter.

“Oh, yes.  I’m a collector now—um, snuff boxes.”

“It’s an odd collection. They all look alike.”

“I can tell them apart,” she said, seriously.

“I came to tell you…” he started.

“Wait.  Let’s be civilized.  It’s almost elevenses.  There should be tea.”

A tray containing a teapot, two cups, and a plate of chocolate biscuits was waiting on the occasional table in the parlor.

“Sit down,” directed the sorceress, pointing at a spot on the sofa.  “I’ll be mother.”

He watched as she prepared a cup of tea just the way he liked it—no sugar, just a twist of lemon. She handed him his cup and then prepared her own, with four lumps and cream.  She sat on the opposite end of the sofa from him, turning so that one leg was up on the spot between them.

“As I said,” he started again.  “I came to apologize for my… behavior… the other day, when you came to see me.”

“Completely understandable,” she said, pausing to sip her tea.  “You suspected I was an imposter, and you could have been right.  But you weren’t.  I’m me.”

“Of course you are. I… my behavior was inexcusable.”

“I excuse you,” she said with a smile.  “I should be the one to apologize to you, after all I’ve done to you… leaving you alone, without a word.”

“Why did you?” he asked, setting his still full cup on the end table, and then turning to face her.

“You know how it is. Sometimes you just need to get away, to be by yourself, to get some perspective.”

“You just left?  You just left me?  For four years?”  His voice rose higher and higher.  “You left your daughter for four years?  Four years!”

She looked like she was going to say something else, but closed her mouth and just shrugged.  “What can I say?” she said, shrugging again, an impertinent smile crossing her lips.

“You bitch!”  He slapped her hard across the face.

Her head snapped to the side, but when it turned back, other than a large red handprint, her expression had not changed.  Then she started laughing and reclined back on the arm of the sofa.

“Come, come,” she said. “Be a man about it.”

He leaned forward, for what, he didn’t know.  To punch her insolent mouth, maybe.  He reached down to balance himself and his hand found her waist.  Grabbing the waistline of her skirt with both hands, he pulled, ripping it open.  She wasn’t completely naked underneath, but she had few foundations, no petticoat—only a small pair of bloomers.  He grabbed them and ripped them off.

“That’s right,” she said, breathily.  “Yes, you know what you have to do, don’t you?”

He looked up into those beguiling grey eyes, but he saw something else.  The side of her face where he had hit her was swelling up alarmingly. He looked back down at her half-naked body, suddenly appalled by what he was doing.

“Don’t think about it,” she said.  “I need to be punished.  Do it!”

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 15 Excerpt

Hsrandtuss nodded knowingly as he surveyed the forest for miles around from the top of the hill his people had named Dhu-oooastu.  He pointed first to the south and nodded toTusskiqu.  The great lizzie hissed in reply.  Then Hsrandtuss pointed to the southeast and nodded to Slechtiss.  Slechtiss placed his hand to his throat and then hurried off. A dozen brightly painted lizzies hurried after him.  Others went with Tusskiqu.  Still more were hurrying this way and that.

“I can’t tell what’s going on?” said the single tiny human amid the army of lizzies.

Hsrandtuss reached down and picked Terra Dechantagne up, setting her on his shoulder.  Then he pointed high up into the clouds.  The girl could make out little among the great fluffy masses at first.  Then she saw something sapphire blue zipping across the sky at amazing speed.

“Is that it?”

“Yes,” replied the King. “That is Xecheon’s new god.”

“My eyes must be playing tricks.  It doesn’t look any larger than me.”

“It is bigger than you, but not so big that I couldn’t still put it on my shoulder instead of a skinny soft-skin.”  Then he gurgled loudly.

“What?”

“We’re very nearly the same size,” he said.  “Wouldn’t it be glorious to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a god?”

“It wouldn’t be a very long combat,” she said.  “Dragon armor is essentially indestructible.  They have teeth that can bit through steel, frighteningly sharp claws, and a barbed tail.  They breathe fire and usually have some other breath weapon.  They are extremely intelligent and are capable of magic.”

“Why did I bring you along with me?” wondered Hsrandtuss.  “Was it just to depress me?”

“I will be quite honest, Great King.  I have no idea why I’m here.”

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 13 Excerpt

Lady Terra held the binoculars to her eyes and examined the battlefield stretched out across the plane. It was a truly horrible sight. The bodies of more than ten thousand lizardmen were strewn across the great field.  Hundreds of dinosaurs, large and small, feasted on the remains. Along the nearer side of the war zone, a group of about one hundred lizzies made their way through the bodies, offering aid to any to whom aid would still make a difference.  They were easy enough to spot, with their bodies painted half white and half sky blue.

“What do you think, Kaetarrnaya?”

The girl looked up into the cold-blooded eyes of King Hsrandtuss.

“It is a horrible victory, Great King, but you have turned back the enemy.”

“Very little is as it seems in war, my little soft-skin,” the king hissed humorlessly.  “This was not a victory.”

“No?  But Xecheon’s dead greatly outnumber ours.”

Hsrandtuss’s dewlap flushed.

“Yes, almost three to one,” he said.  “This was not the enemy’s true aim though.  It was a feint, a distraction, and not a bad one if truth were known. This tells me that their idiot king has found someone with a strategic mind.  Where could he have gotten such a genius, Kaetarrnaya?”

“Maybe one of his people have a gift.  Or it could be that a new group of lizzies have joined Xecheon.  Hundreds arrive at Yessonarah each month.  I wouldn’t think they would have as many immigrants, but they could have some.  Perhaps one of them is a skilled warrior.”

“That is well-thought-out and very possible,” said Hsrandtuss.  He waved and a male brought over two folding chairs, setting them up. The king took one and indicated with a wave that the girl should take the other.  “Is there another possibility?”

“Xecheon could have advisors from the humans,” she said.  “The Bordonians or the Mirsannans are both looking to expand their power in Birmisia, and there are a dozen other countries that might send weapons and advisors. For that matter, they could be human soldiers of fortune, beyond the control of any country.”

“Could it be the Brechs?”

“That wouldn’t make any sense,” said Terra.  “We’re allies.”

“I am your king,” said Hsrandtuss, touching the tip of her nose with a clawed finger.  “You must not lie to me.  Might they not want revenge on me for defeating them on the battlefield?”

“I will not lie, Great King. I do not think it is the Brechs. Greater Brechalon seldom breaks treaties, though this would not be the first time.  Also it might be more likely we would break our treaty with you than with other human countries, since many among my people consider the lizzies inferior.”

Hsrandtuss gurgled in anger.

“But the cost and the danger of destabilization is very great compared to the possible return. My people will often prefer a less than ideal situation to an uncertain one, even when there is a possibility of improvement.  There is a much greater possibility that it is a lone Brech who is aiding Xecheon, but I find this unlikely too.  You are known to be fair with humans and you have much greater wealth.  A single treasure-seeker would be much more inclined to offer aid to you.”

“I am pleased with you, Kaetarrnaya.  You have spoken true with me, even when it might not make your own people appear their best.”

“I am a noble female of Yessonarah.”

“Yes, you are,” said the king.  “Now I want you to remember that.  Who else could be helping our enemies?”

“I don’t know… other lizzie states?”

“No.  What is it that makes us so great?”

“Yessonarah is great because it is the chosen city of the God of the Sky, and its people are his chosen people.  But there are no other drag…”

Hsrandtuss leaned in close to her face and stared into her eyes.

“There can’t be… there can’t be another dragon leading them,” she said.  “There can’t be.  Can there?”

Hsrandtuss sat back and reached into his mouth to scratch around one of his back teeth.  Then he spat on the ground.  A male appeared and handed him a water skin.  After pouring a long stream of water into his mouth and swallowing, he handed the container to the girl.

“You know the answer already,” said the girl.  “Don’t you?”

He climbed to his feet and stretched himself up to his full height.

“Who do you think you are talking to?  Of course I know.”

“Which is it then?”

“It is all three, little soft-skin.  Xecheon has chosen as their general an old enemy of mine—a warrior of some skill. His name is Tokkenttot.”

“The one from the story!” gasped Terra.  “You stole Tokkenoht from him.  You stole his sister!”

The king hissed.  “Yes, and he wants his revenge.  He has taken twenty great war machines from the humans, the ones whose name sounds like salamander mating calls.  They are designed to destroy to city walls and fortifications.  They have also sent two hundred human warriors to help operate them.”

“Salamander mating… the Bordonians?”

“Yes. They are the ones.”  Hsrandtuss stretched his right shoulder, still scarred from the dryptosaurus bite.  “Of course, none of this is as troubling as the fact that they have themselves a new god leading them—a small blue female dragon.  They are calling her the Goddess of War.”

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 12 Excerpt

Lady Terra held the binoculars to her eyes and examined the battlefield stretched out across the plane. It was a truly horrible sight. The bodies of more than ten thousand lizardmen were strewn across the great field. Hundreds of dinosaurs, large and small, feasted on the remains. Along the nearer side of the war zone, a group of about one hundred lizzies made their way through the bodies, offering aid to any to whom aid would still make a difference. They were easy enough to spot, with their bodies painted half white and half sky blue.

“What do you think, Kaetarrnaya?”

The girl looked up into the cold-blooded eyes of King Hsrandtuss.

“It is a horrible victory, Great King, but you have turned back the enemy.”

“Very little is as it seems in war, my little soft-skin,” the king hissed humorlessly. “This was not a victory.”

“No? But Xecheon’s dead greatly outnumber ours.”

Hsrandtuss’s dewlap flushed.

“Yes, almost three to one,” he said. “This was not the enemy’s true aim though. It was a feint, a distraction, and not a bad one if truth were known. This tells me that their idiot king has found someone with a strategic mind. Where could he have gotten such a genius, Kaetarrnaya?”

“Maybe one of his people have a gift. Or it could be that a new group of lizzies have joined Xecheon. Hundreds arrive at Yessonarah each month. I wouldn’t think they would have as many immigrants, but they could have some. Perhaps one of them is a skilled warrior.”

“That is well-thought-out and very possible,” said Hsrandtuss. He waved and a male brought over two folding chairs, setting them up. The king took one and indicated with a wave that the girl should take the other. “Is there another possibility?”

“Xecheon could have advisors from the humans,” she said. “The Bordonians or the Mirsannans are both looking to expand their power in Birmisia, and there are a dozen other countries that might send weapons and advisors. For that matter, they could be human soldiers of fortune, beyond the control of any country.”

“Could it be the Brechs?”

“That wouldn’t make any sense,” said Terra. “We’re allies.”

“I am your king,” said Hsrandtuss, touching the tip of her nose with a clawed finger. “You must not lie to me. Might they not want revenge on me for defeating them on the battlefield?”

“I will not lie, Great King. I do not think it is the Brechs. Greater Brechalon seldom breaks treaties, though this would not be the first time. Also it might be more likely we would break our treaty with you than with other human countries, since many among my people consider the lizzies inferior.”

Hsrandtuss gurgled in anger.

“But the cost and the danger of destabilization is very great compared to the possible return. My people will often prefer a less than ideal situation to an uncertain one, even when there is a possibility of improvement. There is a much greater possibility that it is a lone Brech who is aiding Xecheon, but I find this unlikely too. You are known to be fair with humans and you have much greater wealth. A single treasure-seeker would be much more inclined to offer aid to you.”

“I am pleased with you, Kaetarrnaya. You have spoken true with me, even when it might not make your own people appear their best.”

“I am a noble female of Yessonarah.”

“Yes, you are,” said the king. “Now I want you to remember that. Who else could be helping our enemies?”

“I don’t know… other lizzie states?”

“No. What is it that makes us so great?”

“Yessonarah is great because it is the chosen city of the God of the Sky, and its people are his chosen people. But there are no other drag…”

Hsrandtuss leaned in close to her face and stared into her eyes.

“There can’t be… there can’t be another dragon leading them,” she said. “There can’t be. Can there?”

Hsrandtuss sat back and reached into his mouth to scratch around one of his back teeth. Then he spat on the ground. A male appeared and handed him a water skin. After pouring a long stream of water into his mouth and swallowing, he handed the container to the girl.

“You know the answer already,” said the girl. “Don’t you?”

He climbed to his feet and stretched himself up to his full height.

“Who do you think you are talking to? Of course I know.”

“Which is it then?”

“It is all three, little soft-skin. Xecheon has chosen as their general an old enemy of mine—a warrior of some skill. His name is Tokkenttot.”

“The one from the story!” gasped Terra. “You stole Tokkenoht from him. You stole his sister!”

The king hissed. “Yes, and he wants his revenge. He has taken twenty great war machines from the humans, the ones whose name sounds like salamander mating calls. They are designed to destroy to city walls and fortifications. They have also sent two hundred human warriors to help operate them.”

“Salamander mating… the Bordonians?”

“Yes. They are the ones.” Hsrandtuss stretched his right shoulder, still scarred from the dryptosaurus bite. “Of course, none of this is as troubling as the fact that they have themselves a new god leading them—a small blue female dragon. They are calling her the Goddess of War.”

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 12 Excerpt

If anyone had looked at Ravendeep from the outside, and if that person knew nothing of the history of Ravendeep, they might think that it was a modern correctional facility, a proud part of His Majesty’s penal system. The building, a massive five-story edifice with high, gabled roofs and a great tower with a gigantic clock that called back to Freedonian architecture of a century before, was only possible on such a scale because of the construction materials and techniques made possible by the Industrial Revolution. On Avenue Fox, the structure, which had replaced a twelve hundred year old stone fortress some fifty years earlier, was bordered on one side by Swift Lane and on the other by a street officially named Lord Oxenbourse Lane, but which most everyone called Cutpurse Lane. Of course, if anyone had made such an observation and such a supposition, they would have been very wrong indeed, because the majority of Ravendeep was not in the modern and architecturally renowned building, but in the twenty levels, carved out of the solid bedrock below.

Esther stretched out on her belly on the metal cot, which was the only piece of furniture in the room. Her mind had wondered to the subject of her name. She had thought herself quite clever when she had come up with Esther Ssaharranah. Perhaps she had been too clever. Finding oneself in prison was just the type of situation in which being Esther Staff might have proven beneficial. Iolana had committed any number of crimes from reckless driving to something that at least bordered on treason, and she had yet to see the inside of a jail cell. If that stupid girl at the King’s audience was to be believed, then Iolana’s mother was pretty much a serial killer and she certainly wasn’t incarcerated.

The lizzie looked around. The cell had been hewn out of solid rock, so the room wasn’t quite square at any corner and no wall was completely smooth. Only a door made of rusted iron bars, that somewhat matched the metal cot, broke up the monotony of dull grey stone. A small amount of flickering light, from the gas fixture in the corridor, illuminated the room. Not that one could see anything. Had she been in possession of one, Esther thought that she might be able to read a book, though humans, with their less acute night vision, would have found that impossible. No, this was not a fit place for Esther Staff. Not even Esther Ssaharrahah. No, this place was fit only for the name they had given her—Prisoner 563621A.

“Miss Esther. Are you awake?”

Esther glanced to the doorway. Police Constable Bean was peering between the bars. She climbed to her feet and stepped over to him.

“If ever I’m not awake, you have permission to wake me. Having a visitor is well worth missing a bit of sleep.”

“Now I feel bad that I can’t stay,” he said. “I just came by to check on you and make sure you weren’t being mistreated.”

“Not mistreated exactly. More ignored than anything.”

“That’s sadly the case, most often. Better than being given the third degree though.”

“The third degree? What’s that?”

“It’s all about interrogation,” explained the constable. “The first degree is questioning. The second degree is intimidation.”

“Never mind. I don’t want to know.”

“Well, I don’t think you have to worry about that. Anyway…” He fumbled in his jacket pocket for a moment, before producing a small tin. “I brought you some kippers… I mean… well, it seemed like something you would eat.”

“Thank you, PC. That was very kind.” She reached through the bars and took the tin. “In truth, they’ve been feeding me better than I expected. But I will enjoy thessse.”

“Is there something that you want that I could bring you?”

“I was just thinking that I might like something to read.”

“I’ll have a look around upstairs,” he said. “People leave all kinds of things behind. I happen to know there’s a copy of Odyssey.”

“Anything but that. Please!”

“I thought, what with her being your friend and all…”

“Who do you think had to proofread it over and over and over?”

“Well, I’ll find something,” he said, with a kind smile. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” said Esther. “Thank you for remembering me.”

A little while later, a jailer brought her evening meal, and slid it under the door. The evening meal was always the same—beans with a bit of some indeterminate meat, probably pork. Along with it was piece of bread, one that was fairly heavy and probably had sawdust as a major ingredient. Esther actually preferred it to the light, airy bread that Iolana insisted upon. Finally, there was a quart of water.

After eating, Esther lay back down on the cot. She dozed off thinking about the breakfast that would arrive consisting of exactly what had made up yesterday’s morning meal—one boiled egg, one piece of bruised and probably moldy fruit, and a quart of water. This would be followed by lunch, which would be four savory biscuits, a hunk of yellow cheese and a piece of dried cod, and a quart of water, just as it had the day before and the day before that.

She had just finished her lunch the next day, which had been much more palatable with kippers on the biscuits, when Iolana appeared outside the bars of her door.

“You look well,” she said, her voice full of sunshine, fresh air, and freedom. “The rest must be doing you good.”

“I’m not well, I’m not resting, and if you think I look good, it’s only because there is very little light in which to sssee me.”

“Well, someone is in a bad mood.”