The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 4 Excerpt

Saba Colbshallow sat on a piece of log.  It was one of many which had been provided for local lizzies to sit.  His left hand was full of small pebbles and he was tossing them with his right hand at a half rusted tin that had originally held butter biscuits.  Most of the thrown missiles missed their mark and even when one did land in the tin it didn’t improve his mood.  He had been in a bad mood for an entire week now, ever since the wedding.  Could you call that a wedding?  Five minutes in the Mayor’s office?  Yuah deserved much better than that.  She deserved much better than Master Terrence too.  Saba wanted to say that she deserved him, but he knew that he wasn’t good enough for her either.  She was an angel.  He had loved her ever since he was seven.  Then she had been a burgeoning sixteen-year-old beauty, with long dark brown hair and the most incredible eyelashes.  Of course before that, he had fancied Iolanthe, now Governor Dechantagne-Calliere.  But that was before she had changed.  Not that he blamed her; he understood.  Iolanthe was married, and now Yuah was too.  And here he was, an eighteen-year-old corporal in the militia, and didn’t even have a girl.

“Colbshallow, right?”

Saba looked up to see a big man standing a few feet from him.  Saba was six foot three and this fellow was just as tall, but with broader shoulders and a thick muscular chest.  Though the man was a few years older than Saba, he was only a private.

“That’s right.”

“I’m Shrubb, Eamon Shrubb.”

“Nice to meet you, Shrubb.”  Saba slowly stood up and stretched out a hand, which Shrubb took.

“What’s your Kafirite name, if you don’t mind my asking?” asked Shrubb. “Um… you are a Kafirite, aren’t you?”

Saba nodded.

“I’ve never seen so many zeets before.”

“I don’t much care for that word,” said Saba, icily.  He was still thinking about Yuah and was predisposed to dislike anyone whom he thought might be aiming an insult even in her general direction.

“Quite right.  Quite right. As I say, I’ve never met many zee… Zaeri.  I don’t have anything against them though.  I never understood that whole ‘killed Kafira’ thing anyway.  I mean, didn’t she come back from the dead?  That’s a big part of the church.  How could she have come back from the dead if nobody killed her?  All worked out for the best, as far as I can see.”

“Do you always talk this much?” asked Saba.

“No.”  Shrubb looked pensive.  “Quite uncharacteristic really.”

“Good.  My first name is Saba.  What would you say to some fish and chips?”

“I don’t generally talk to my food.”

“Come on.”

Saba led the way across the dirty patches of snow that still covered the militia grounds, stepping over the low fencing, and out into the gravel street. Then they started down the hill on Seventh and One Half Avenue toward the docks.  The street was lined on either side with workshops and warehouses. Most of the workshops had open fronts and one could peer in as one passed to watch men working at lathes, saws, and other pieces of equipment.  Most of the warehouses on the other hand had their massive doors closed, as there was no ship in the port at the moment.

“So, you’re a new arrival, are you?” asked Saba.

“That’s right.  Arrived two weeks ago on the Jaquesville.”

“Family?”

“No.  Left home when I was just a lad.  I was working on the docks in the city and heard about opportunity.”

At the bottom of the hill the road ended at the broad expanse of the dockyard. Though there was little work to be done here, there were several gangs of lizzie dock workers who were being trained by their human foremen so that they would be ready for the arrival of the next big transport.  Saba kept up with the ship schedules from boredom as much as anything else, so he knew the next arrival was supposed to be the S.S. Windermere on or about the twenty-ninth.

“So, you’ve been here since the beginning?” asked Shrubb.

“That’s right.”

“I was told you were the one to ask about things.”

“Who told you that?” wondered Saba.

“Willy Cornish.”

“Oh, well.  As long as you don’t ask him about anything, you’ll be fine.”

In the center of the dockyard, two food carts had been set up and several patrons were queued up to purchase their lunches.  Mrs. Gopling sold some very nice smoky sausages from her stand and Mr. Kordeshack sold fish and chips from his.  Just this week, the Finkler boy had begun setting up his own cart to sell tea and biscuits, but he had not as yet arrived this morning.  When the ships came in, these three carts would be joined by another: Mr. Darwin selling locally made leather products.  Saba and his new companion stepped into the fish and chips queue and waited their turn.

“What will you have?” asked Mr. Kordeshack, a man of middle years with thin hair but bushy side whiskers.

“How about cod?” replied Shrubb.

“Um… we haven’t any.”

“How about a lovely haddock?”

Mr. Kordeshack shrugged.  “Only Birmisian fish.”

“What do you have today?” asked Saba.

The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Yuah Korlann turned away from the street and made her way up the stone walkway, through the large snow covered yard of the Dechantagne estate.  In a way it seemed odd that she wasn’t living there. She had lived in one Dechantagne house or another all her life.  She had grown up with the three Dechantagnes of this generation, gone to school with them, worked for them.  She paused to hyperventilate for a moment before starting up the steps to the portico. She had a white fur coat over a new pale pink dress and a new, extra tight corset beneath that.  Standing at attention outside of the front door was a lizardman, naked except for a yellow ribbon with a gold medallion around its neck. As she approached, the creature suddenly moved.  She flinched, but it was only reaching back to open the door for her.

“Um, thank you,” she said, stepping hesitantly through the doorway.

Inside was a maze of boxes and furniture heaped up against the walls. She navigated through them and into the parlor, surprised to find it clear of any such obstructions.  A large comfortable sofa and several stuffed chairs had been set up around a small table.  There was even a hutch against the wall with a full bottle of sherry and several glasses upon a silver tray.  A fire was burning in the fireplace.  There was no drapery in place yet, but two large trees outside kept the light from being too harsh.  Above the mantle was the only picture hanging in the room—a portrait of General Augustus Q. Dechantagne, the younger brother of Iolanthe’s and Terrence’s grandfather. “Good morning Yuah.”

Yuah turned to find Terrence standing in the doorway.  He looked good.  He had gained a bit of weight, though he was still too thin.  He was neatly groomed and dressed in a black suit. His bandaged eyes were hidden behind a pair of dark spectacles.  With his left hand, he held onto the doorframe.  Terrence had been captured, tortured, and blinded in the lizzie city of Suusthek, along with Corporal Bratihn.  Ordinarily a magic user of Zurfina’s skill could have restored their sight, but they had been cursed by a lizzie witch doctor and there was no priest in the colony powerful enough to remove the curse.

“How did you know it was me?”

“The smell.  With all those potions and lotions you use, it had to be either you or a group of a dozen other women.  And since I didn’t hear any chattering, I decided it couldn’t be the latter.”

“Very astute.  I was just admiring the portrait.”

“Great Uncle Augie, is it?”

“Yes.  Isn’t he the one that… um…”

“Lost his manhood to a musket ball.  Yes.  I think Iolanthe is trying to send me a message, but I don’t know what it is.”

“I’m not certain I would want to know.”

Terrence made his way to the hutch, stepping confidently but following along the wall with his left hand.

“Brandy?”

“It’s way too early for me to drink,” replied Yuah.

“Fortunately, it’s not too early for me.”  He poured himself a glass, his finger dipping over the lip of the glass so that he could tell when to stop pouring, and took a sip.  “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I was hoping I could get you to take me somewhere.  You really should get out.”

“Get out?  I’ve just gotten in here.”

“You know what I mean.  You’ve been cooped up inside, first in the apartment and now here, since the first snow fall.”

“Where do you propose that I take you?  Birmisia isn’t exactly known for its lively social spots and it’s too bloody cold to do anything out of doors.”

“Well, we could take a stroll to Mr. Parnorsham’s Pfennig Store.”

“More lotions?”

“Notions actually,” Yuah replied pertly.  “I need a bit of thread and a needle.”

“Of course you realize that you passed Mr. Parnorsham’s on the way over here.”

“Of course.”

He took another sip of his brandy, and then set the glass down next to the others. “I’ll have to get my greatcoat.”

While Yuah waited, she pulled a hand from her fur muff and primped her hair. Within five minutes Terrence had returned, dressed for cold weather.  Yuah took him by the hand and led him through the mazes of boxes and furniture to the front door.  The lizzie opened it just before they got there.

“What do you think about all these lizzies your sister is hiring,” she said as they made their way across the front yard.

“I prefer not to think of them at all.”

“Hmm.”

They reached the center of the road and began walking west toward the Town Square. The road was slightly slippery from the snow, which had over the past few nights turned into ice.  There were no vehicles in Port Dechantagne, unless a wheelbarrow could be considered a vehicle, so the roads were often left to the vagaries of the weather.  Yuah tucked her hands in around Terrence’s arm as though he was guiding her rather than the other way around.

“I went to the execution the other day,” she said.

“Why would you do that?”

“I don’t know why I did it, but it was awful.  There was so much blood, and that poor creature with her tail cut off.”

“What possessed you to go?” Terrence asked again.  “I don’t understand why you would want to see that.”

“I didn’t want to see it!  I don’t know why I went.  I just wish that I hadn’t.”

“That’s one thing I don’t miss seeing.”

“Well, I can’t see how anyone or anything could have deserved that,” said Yuah.  “Having the skin scourged off your back for a few marks?”

The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Ssissiatok shuffled down the road and through the gate in the great wooden wall. On either side, groups of soft-skins watched her and the other people.  The people walked slowly as they always did in the cold.  This was not to say they could only walk slowly in the cold, but Ssterrost had reminded all of them coming from Tserich how they were to act. They were to act slow and they were to act simple and they were not to show the newcomers anything they weren’t expecting.  Most of the people in this group were from Tserich, but there were a few others. Ssissiatok recognized the tribal symbol of Tuustutu on the shoulder of one very tall male in the back of the group.

Ssissiatok herself was slightly less than six feet in height, about average for members of her sex and species.  She was young and didn’t have the mottled skin and scars of most of her elders.  Her face and the top of her head were a deep forest green, which ran down her back, punctuated with darker stripes just below her shoulders.  Beneath her long powerful jaw, on her dewlap, and extending down her front, was a lighter, pale green.  Her most attractive feature, her long powerful tail, followed her just a few inches above the ground.

The line of people filed through the wall and between the large square huts of the soft-skins.  Though she had heard elders telling stories of the great cities of Suusthek, Tsotollah, and Tsahloose, this softskin village was the largest community that Ssissiatok had ever seen.  More and more of the soft-skins lined the road to gawk and to jabber with their little mouths, as the people reached the bigger buildings that were “the base.” Ssissiatok knew “base” and many other human words.

The line stopped and a softskin ahead was shouting.  “You lizzies move on up here.”

Ssissiatok and the other people moved forward into a group.

“You will step up to the table and give the soldier your name and information. Then you will be given your identification and you will wait on the seats over there until the employers come to select you.”

Ssissiatok fell in line behind Tissonisuk, an older male she knew from the village.  Unlike most of the others, Tissonisuk was not hunkering down to make himself look smaller for the soft-skins.  He was standing up at his full six foot seven height.  The line moved forward until Tissonisuk reached the table with the softskin seated behind it.

“Name?  Oh, hey. I know you, don’t I?  Tisson.  Right?”

Tissonisuk bobbed his head up and down in the way that the soft-skins did.

“Come to sign on permanent, eh?  Good for you.  Hold out your hand.  Keep this identification bracelet on at all times.”

Tissonisuk, now just Tisson, stepped away from the table.  Ssissiatok stepped forward.

“Hey now.  You’re a short one, aren’t you?  Are you a girl?”

Ssissiatok didn’t know this word.

“Female?”

Ssissiatok hissed in the affirmative, but the softskin didn’t understand, and lowered his hand to the weapon on his belt.

“Fee nail.  Fee nail,” said Ssissiatok quickly.

“That’s better.  And you can talk too.  A little feisty.  Don’t worry. We’ll work that out of you in no time. Hold your hand out.”

Ssissiatok did as directed and the softskin tied an identification bracelet around her wrist.  She looked at the strange symbols on it.

“Want to know what it says?  That’s your number now—295.  And it says you can talk, so you can’t fool us.  Don’t even try.  What’s your name Little Miss Lizzie?”

“Ssissiatok.”

“Cissy.  Perfect.”

“Ssissiatok.”

“You’re Cissy now, got it?  And I’ve got just the place for you.  Go stand over with that lot there.”

The softskin pointed to where Tissonisuk sat.  Ssissiatok walked over to them.  She recognized Hekheesiatu, another female just older than she, but from a house with slightly less status.  The third person she didn’t recognize.  He was an average looking male with mottled yellow skin and brown stripes on his back.

“Tissonisuk,” she said, raising the back of her hand to her dewlap.

“No,” he replied in the human language.  “Not Tissonisuk.  Tisson. Only the hoonan name.  Kheesie,” he said, pointing at Hekheesiatu, and then pointing at the person Ssissiatok didn’t know, he said, “Sirruk.”

“The soft-skins are still angry,” he said, dropping back into the language of the people.  “They are still angry because Ssithtsutsu attacked them.  They already destroyed Suusthek and killed many, many people, but they might kill more.  We are here because they need us, but don’t think they are not dangerous.”

“They are so small and soft,” said Ssissiatok, now just Cissy.

“You see that one over there?”  Tisson indicated a softskin leaning against one of the big buildings.  He was watching the other humans and the people. “That one is called Clark.  He is smaller than you are and he is soft in their way, but he is one of their strongest warriors.  He killed hundreds of the people.  I tell you these humans are like the blue frog that lives in the tallest trees.  You could easily crush it with your foot, but one touch would kill you.”

Cissy nodded.

Now another softskin was talking to the one that Tisson had pointed out as Clark. Both were looking in the direction of Cissy and the others.

“What is it?” asked Cissy.

“She is a female,” said Tisson, standing up.  “The females have very wide bottoms.  And you can see she is older because the tuft of hair on her head is grey.”

The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 1 Excerpt

The snow was falling from the sky in great clumpy bunches.  They dropped like feathers through the still, cold air to form great piles on the ground.  The snow had been coming down steadily for four hours.  The huckleberry and azalea bushes were covered over with a thick blanket.  The little walkway of stepping-stones that led to the road and the road itself were just memories, covered by billowy white.  Spruces and maples dipped their bare branches forlornly and even the mighty redwoods struggled under the weight of the gathering snow.  But the snow didn’t care.  It continued on, relentlessly smothering the world.  It completely surrounded the strange five-story home nestled in the Birmisian woods.  Not too far away a tremendous roar echoed through the trees.

“Monster,” said the steel dragon, peeking out the door from between Graham Dokkin’s legs.

“Tyrannosaurus,” corrected Senta Bly.  “I guess he doesn’t like the snow too much.”

“Well who does?” wondered Graham, looking down at the dragon.  “And get your head away from there.  That’s all I need, to have my goolies bit.”

“He hasn’t bitten anyone in almost a year,” countered Senta.  “Has he Hero?”

Hero Hertling didn’t answer.  At the mention of goolies, she had covered her face with both hands, though one could still spot the spreading blush around its edges.  She and her brother Hertzel, along with Graham, were spending the day at Senta’s house.  They had been delivered just before the snow started by Graham’s Da to the five-story structure set well away from the rest of Port Dechantagne.  Although Senta and her guardian, Zurfina the Magnificent, had been living here for almost a year, it had taken quite a while to convince Graham’s parents and Hero and Hertzel’s older sister to let them spend the day there. This was the first time that all three had visited together.

“Why don’t you close the door?” said Hero from between her fingers.  “Who knows what might run out of the forest and into here.”

Her brother, who never said anything, nodded.

“Alright then.  Move over dragon.”  Graham scooted the steel beastie with his boot while shutting the door.

“Call him by his name,” said Senta.

“Bessemer,” said the dragon, and then made his way to the far wall to curl up on a single large pillow next to the cast iron stove.

Though more than eight feet from tip of whiskered snout to the barbed tip of his tail, Bessemer was not much taller at the shoulder than a medium sized dog. Scales the color of polished steel covered him from his nose all the way to the clawed tips of his fingers.  Even his eyes were steel colored, so much so that it was difficult to see just where he was looking.  So lithe and agile was he when he moved, it was rather like watching a river flow across the room.

“Bessemer,” said Graham, still looking at the dragon.  “It just doesn’t fit.  I’d have gone with Whiskers or Peetie.”

“Zurfina says that dragons are born knowing their own names,” said Senta. “It’s just another sign that they are so much smarter than people.”

“Fina,” said the dragon.

“When is Zurfina getting home,” wondered Hero, at last uncovering her face. “I can’t believe she left you all alone out here in the wilderness.”

“This isn’t the wilderness.  This is our house.”

“You know what I mean.”

“It’s not any farther away from the wall than your new house is.”

“No, but there are other houses around ours.”

Hero and Hertzel lived in a small but sturdy house that was part of a new neighborhood on the east side of the growing colony.  Though their house had been the first one built in that area, there were now more than a dozen similar structures, all occupied by ethnic Zaeri, who had fled persecution in Freedonia.

“Zurfina is very busy lately,” explained Senta.  “With no wizards in the colony, she has to do all the magic stuff herself—at least until I get good enough to help out.  Besides I’m used to taking care of myself.”

“It’s on account of her being a orphan,” offered Graham.

The three other children all stared mutely at him.

“What?” he asked, having forgotten that of the four, he was the only one who was not an orphan.

Graham, who although he had recently hit a growth spurt was still decidedly chunky, had brown hair, freckles, and very large teeth.  He was dressed in a long-sleeved flannel shirt and dungarees rolled up around the leather boots that had once been his father’s. Graham always wore his dungarees rolled up at the ankles, as his mother was in the habit of buying them to fit him sometime in the distant future.  Still the fact that all his clothes, save the boots, were new, spoke to the Dokkins family’s growing prosperity.  Hero and Hertzel, who were twins, both with thick dark hair, though Hertzel kept his cut short around the ears, and beautiful dark eyes, wore neat and well-maintained, but obviously home-sewn clothes.  Following the Freedonian Zaeri custom, which eschewed color, Hertzel wore a white shirt with brown trousers while his sister wore a brown dress with a white linen overdress.

“Hungry,” said Bessemer from the corner.

“Yes, it’s about time for tea,” agreed Senta.

The Dark and Forbidding Land – $2.99 at iBooks

Two years have passed since Senta, the sorceress Zurfina, and Bessemer the steel dragon, and hundreds of colonists arrived in the strange land of Birmisia. Their new home, Port Dechantagne is under construction in this dark and forbidding land, ruled by terrifying dinosaurs and strange lizardmen. Ten year old Senta must discover which is the greater threat, a would-be wizard or the ever-increasing presence of the tyrannosaurus. Meanwhile, former maid Yuah Korlann must negotiate living among the aristocratic Dechantagne family and deal with their new servants, the aboriginal “lizzies.” And young militiaman Saba Colbshallow finds himself in the middle of espionage intrigue.

The Dark and Forbidding Land is available for just $2.99 at iBooks.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 20 Excerpt

The mood was light in Iolanthe Dechantagne’s tent.  It was a bright, sunny day outside, though not too hot.  A cool breeze was blowing in off the ocean. The colony had enjoyed a huge mid-day feast, and if eating the last of the fresh vegetables taken on at Enclep was not exactly a cause for celebration, at least everyone knew that they were safe from starvation.  The canned food stored at the colony would last a long time, and there was still the promise of trade with the natives.

Yuah Korlann, Merced Calliere, and Phillida Marjoram sat around the desk counting ballots for the election of the Colonial Council.  The paper slips upon which all adult members of the colony had written the name of their choice were divided up into piles.  Though there were more than two dozen piles, one for each candidate, it was soon obvious which four piles would end up being the tallest. Calliere’s final pronouncement was a mere formality.  The winners of the election and the chosen members of the Colonial Council were, in order of votes received: Zeah Korlann, Padgett Kelloran, Dudley Labrith, and in a surprise, a young Freedonian woman named Honor Hertling.

“Lovely,” said Iolanthe.  “I was sure that Zeah and Dr. Kelloran would be elected, but I’m surprised at the wizard. Does anyone know this Hertling person?”

Yuah and Calliere both shook their heads.

“I believe I know of her,” said Mrs. Marjoram.  “A dark-haired young woman, if I’m not mistaken.  Pretty, in that Zaeri sort of way.  I believe she’s known for her work helping the sick on that ship of theirs.  No doubt that’s why she was chosen.”

“So she’s from the Acorn?” asked Iolanthe, ignoring Yuah’s look of shock at Mrs. Marjoram.

“Yes, if she’s whom I’m thinking of.”  The woman seemed oblivious of the effect of her words.

“Excellent.  One more chance to get the Freedonians integrated into our society.  Before long, nobody will know they weren’t born Brechs.”

“Hmph,” said Mrs. Marjoram, but didn’t openly correct her.

“So it will be myself, Terrence and Augie, whoever replaces Father Ian, Zurfina, and these four.  I think we can work with that.

“Yuah, why don’t you go bring your father in here?  Mrs. Marjoram, would you be so kind to see if you can locate this Miss Hertling?  And Mercy, perhaps I can persuade you to bring Dr. Kelloran.”

Twenty minutes later the three of them had returned with the three newly elected leaders of the colony, Wizard Labrith, of course being on the military mission with the Iolanthe’s two brothers, was not present.  Zeah looked every bit the senior statesman, tall and straight in his charcoal suit.  Dr. Kelloran on the other hand looked tired and drawn.  Though still nicely dressed and stylishly coifed, she had lost weight since arriving in Birmisia and had dark circles under her eyes.

The young woman who arrived with them was, if not beautiful, certainly striking in appearance.  She was so thin that Iolanthe thought her figure might have been mistaken for that of a boy without a corset and bustle.  Her wavy black hair reached well past her shoulders, and framed a cute face with a small nose and extremely large, sad eyes.  Her olive skin was far more tanned than was considered fashionable, no doubt due to the lengthy journey from Freedonia, and she had a deep scar across her left cheek down to her chin.

“Miss Hertling, I presume,” said Iolanthe, stepping forward to shake hands.

No sooner had she taken the young woman’s hand than a dozen gunshots rang out in the distance.  It was obvious that they came from beyond the protective wall.  Iolanthe broke into a broad smile.

“Wonderful,” she said.  “Zeah, it looks as though we will be having a celebration tonight.”

“Yes, Miss.  A welcome one.”

A young soldier burst into the tent, running into the back of Miss Hertling, and knocking her forward.  She would have fallen completely to the floor had not Professor Calliere caught her.

“Kafira’s eyes!” snapped Iolanthe.  “Don’t you know how to knock?”

“Sorry ma’am,” said the soldier, nervously.  “Sergeant Clark’s compliments, ma’am.  There is a large force of lizardmen approaching from the southeast.  The sergeant has already called for all troops to man the ramparts.  And the lizardmen have rifles, ma’am.”

“Where the hell did they get rifles?” wondered Calliere.

“From our troops,” said Iolanthe, gravely.  “How many lizardmen are there?”

“We don’t know, at least a thousand.”

“Tell the sergeant to hold the wall,” she ordered.  The soldier then ran out of the tent.  Turning to the women, she said, “Thirty-five men aren’t going to hold the wall for long.  Get everyone moving.  We’re evacuating out to the end of the peninsula.”

“What are we going to do there?” asked Dr. Kelloran.

“We’re going to make our stand.  Zeah, get some of the men and distribute as many guns and as much ammunition as we have.  Go. Mercy, come with me.”

Iolanthe stepped out of the tent and marched purposefully toward the wall. Professor Calliere followed along behind her.  When she reached the wall, she gathered up her dress and extensive petticoats into her left arm and used her right to climb up the ladder to the walkway that served as a firing platform twenty feet off the ground.  Sergeant Clark was there.

“Where are they?” she asked, panting for breath and peering out of a firing port.

“Still mostly in the trees, but they’re out there.”

“And your men?”

“I’ve got them spread out fifty feet apart, but that means we’ve only got a fifth of the wall covered.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 19 Excerpt

The long, snaking line of soldiers marched through the forest.  Incredibly tall redwood trees, large spruces, maples and bay trees, gave shade, but offered little in the way of obstacles. Though azalea and huckleberry bushes pulled at the men’s legs, their heavy canvas pants and leather boots protected them.  At the head of the group was Terrence Dechantagne, who was followed by a lizardman named Sarkkik.  Sarkkik wore a feathered headdress and his body was painted all black along the right side and red along the left.  Next in line was Augustus Dechantagne who was followed by another lizardman.  This second lizardman, Szuss, was far less ornately adorned, with just a few stripes of ochre around his neck and arms. Behind him was the wizard Dudley Labrith.  Behind Labrith were one hundred eighty well-trained soldiers in khaki.

“Blast!” shouted Augie, as a small dinosaur jumped up from the brush near his feet with a twitter and shot away through the woods.

Terrence turned back and gave his brother a look, though he didn’t say anything. They had journeyed by his calculation, more than one hundred sixty miles.  Along the way, Augie had frightened, or been frightened by, at least half a dozen dinosaurs.  To be fair, some of the beasts had been genuinely frightening.

When they had crossed a seemingly innocuous stream two days earlier, several creatures decided that some of the humans would make a pleasant lunch. Familiar with alligators along the southernmost rivers in Sumir, Terrence had read of similar creatures called crocodiles that lived in Mallon.  That’s what these animals were—crocodiles.  Neither Terrence nor anyone else had expected them to be so large. The three beasts in the meager little river were each more than fifty feet long and must have topped the scale at eight tons a piece.  It had taken the rifle fire of more than fifty men to discourage the crocodiles.

The lizardman next to Augie hissed something in his language.

“What did he say?”

“He said not to worry.  That dinosaur was harmless.”

The reptilian hissed again.

“He says it’s only a short walk to our destination.”

“Anything else?”

Augie spoke again in the lizard language.  Again came a reply.

“He says we should be ready to fight.”

“All right.  Tell the men.”

“Check magazines.  Full loads,” said Augie to the sergeant behind him, who transmitted the order back down the line.

Less than half a mile past the point at which the small dinosaur had jumped up from the brush, the forest ended and a huge savannah spread out before the soldiers.  Terrence had the men tighten up into a two by two formation and continue on.  Here on the open grassland, tremendous beasts roamed. In the distance the men could see a large herd of triceratops, which they had grown used to seeing at home, but even closer was a troupe of nine or ten beasts whose size defied all logic. Their huge bodies were more than thirty feet tall, and they possessed a long serpentine tail and an equally long serpentine neck that placed their heads more than one hundred fifty feet from their other ends.  The monsters walked along in a line toward another distant edge of the forest far to the east.

“My god!” exclaimed Augie.  “They’re magnificent.”

“Seismosaurus,” said Terrence, and when his brother gave him a look, he said. “I’ve been reading.”

“Look what’s following them,” said Labrith.

A discreet distance behind the giants, were the huge black bodies and horrendous red faces of four large tyrannosauruses.  All four turned to eye the humans making their way across the grassland.  They might have sensed a fearlessness among the humans, or they might not have been hungry. For whatever reason, they turned back around and continued to follow the seismosauruses.

Crossing the great grassland, Terrence could see a line of rolling hills on the far side.  It was only after they had marched through the waist-tall grass for more than an hour however, when the hills revealed one of the greatest sights that he or any of the soldiers had ever seen.  Framed between two closer hills and sitting atop the larger, rockier promontory behind, was a city.  Even from a distance of many miles, it was easy to see that this city was something spectacular.  Huge gleaming white pyramids rose from its center and giant walls surrounded it, as if keeping it from flowing down the sides of the hill.  Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of houses and other buildings were contained within its confines.

“I didn’t think they were capable of anything like this,” said Augie, obviously speaking of the lizardmen.

Without thinking, Terrence had stopped to stare at the magnificent sight. He didn’t say anything, but he hadn’t been aware that the reptilians were capable of anything along this line either.  The other soldiers moved up and formed a group, rather than a line.  All stared in rapt fascination and open astonishment at a city that might very well have rivaled Brech in size.

“Dechantagne,” said Wizard Labrith, pointing.

Terrence followed his gaze and saw spread out across the savannah, a line of lizardmen.  They were so well camouflaged that they blended right into the rising landscape behind them.  They stretched out to the left and the right so far that they created a half circle around the humans, and this at a distance of more than a mile.  Many of the lizardmen were painted red and white and black, and most wore feathers.  Most also carried the swords, made of wood and flint, that the men had seen before.

“Kafira,” said one of the soldiers.  “There must be a thousand of them.”

“More like five thousand,” said Labrith.

“Talk to them,” said Terrence to Augie, indicating the two lizardmen with them. “Find out if these are our friends or the enemies.”