The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 16 Excerpt

Lord Dechantagne sat across the desk from Father Galen.  The Priest was into his sixties now and was starting to look it.  His hair had long ago turned to grey, but he still had the kindly face that those of Augie’s generation had always known.  For them, it was as much a symbol of the church as the crucifix.

“Thank you very much for the donation,” said Father Galen.  “The purchase of land for a car park will allow more of our members to attend, and will probably improve safety as well.”

“Precisely why I don’t consider it a donation,” said Augie.  “It’s more of an investment in the colony.”

“I am a little bit surprised.  I know you’ve been attending church here with your family all your life, but I rather expected you to devote your attentions to the shrine.”

“I hope you won’t be insulted if I tell you I’ve given the shrine a similar donation, for a similar purpose,” said Augie.  “While it’s true that my mother is Zaeri, the Dechantagne’s have always been strong supporters of the Church of Kafira, if not always notably devout.”

“Well, you know my mind on the matter,” said Father Galen.  “Interfaith cooperation can only be good for the people of Birmisia Colony.”

“Then we are in agreement.”

There was a knock at the door, and one of the church acolytes stepped inside and presented the father with a note on a silver tray.

“It’s from Mr. Clipers, the Zaeri Imam.”

“Timely,” said Father Galen, picking up the note and reading.  A frown crossed his face.  “He asks me to come to the Tice home at Citizen Street.  He says it’s an emergency.”

“I’ll drive you,” said Augie, jumping up.  “That’s Ascan’s house.”

“Friend of yours?” asked the priest, grabbing his sick call kit and the Holy Scriptures.”

“I know him from shrine. His sister is Iolana’s best gal pal.”

Twenty minutes later, they were pulling up in front of the Tice home.  It was a small cottage less than a quarter mile from the Zaeri Shrine. Hurrying inside, they found a dozen friends and family in the parlor, all looking pale and drawn.  Ascan Tice met them and practically dragged the priest through a doorway to a back room.

“Willa, what’s going on?” the young lord asked Ascan’s sister, a beautiful twenty-eight year old woman with long flowing raven hair.

“Oh, Augie!  It’s horrible!  Noémi is so sick.”

“When did this happen? She looked fine on the Sabbath.”

“It just happened—hours ago, maybe.  We were baking bread and she started to act nervous-like.  Then suddenly, she broke out in cold shivers, and complained of a headache.  I got her to bed and thought she could rest a bit, but when I went to check on her thirty minutes later, she was sweating buckets.  And her sweat was blue.”

A frown on his face, Augie stepped back through the door the priest had gone through.  In the bedroom beyond, he found the stricken woman in her bed, and just as described, she was covered in blue perspiration.  Father Galen was bent over her, in the midst of casting a healing spell.  Ascan knelt on the other side of the bed, weeping.  Mr. Clipers looked on.  Augie stepped up next to him and whispered in his ear.

“Does this blue color have something to do with her dark skin?  I mean, because she’s Mirsannan?”

“No.  It’s the disease.  It’s called The Blue Sweat or just The Sweat.”

“How come I’ve never heard of it?”

“I don’t think anyone has seen it since the fifteenth century,” replied the Imam.

“Then how do you know about it?”

“We’re taught about it because it is the only disease known that is resistant to healing magic.  I just hope Father Galen does better than I did. He is known for his healing abilities.”

At that moment, the priest finished his prayer and stood.  He glanced at his Zaeri counterpart and shook his head ever so slightly.

Augie took the statuette from his pocket, clasped it tightly, and whispered “Senta.”

The sorceress appeared right in front of him, and right beside Mr. Clipers.  Her pink hat just matched her pink day dress, and was tied onto her head with a wide strip of lace.

“Now?” she asked.  “At tea time?”

“Mrs. Tice is sick,” said Augie.  “Neither Mr. Clipers nor Father Galen can do anything for her.”

Senta looked down at the young woman, now tossing her head in delirium, and moaning in a low voice.

“I don’t know what you expect me to do.  I buy my healing draughts from the church, just like everyone else.”

“Can’t you do something? Anything?”

“I wouldn’t even know what spell to cast.”

Noémi Tice suddenly opened her eyes, cried out, and slumped over.  Father Galen bent over to take her pulse.

“She’s dead,” he said, standing back up.

Ascan let out a howl and then continued weeping.

“Wait a minute,” said Senta. “This thing isn’t catchy, is it?”

Augie looked at Mr. Clipers, who shrugged.

“Kafira’s twat!” she growled.  “Rezesic idium uuthanum tortestos paj.”

Then with a pop, she disappeared.

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The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 15 Excerpt

“Curried egg?” offered Prince Clitus, leaning over to place the item on Princess Henrietta’s plate.

“Ich danke Ihnen,” she said, picking up the egg and passing it between her thick lips.  “Und danke schön for taking me here.”

She waved toward the broad grassy field that made up much of St. Admeta Park, where the two picnicked on a blanket beneath a willow. This time of year, the park was closed to the public, and so the two of them had it all to themselves, at least if one didn’t count a dozen servants and their protection details.

“You’re very welcome,” he said.

“I think I go licht im gehirn if I stay anymore inside of doors.  In Freedonia, we are aus dem haus much.”

“I understand completely, and may I say your Brech is coming along swimmingly.”  The Prince let his eyes drift over her form.  She had lost a good ten pounds since she had arrived in Brechalon, not that she still didn’t look voluptuous.

“You are so nice, Clitus,” said Henrietta.  “You are taking me to the fashion show for adel in eine woche?”

“I do what I can.  I’m sure that Tybalt would have preferred to be here with you, but he’s otherwise engaged.”

“Ja.  I don’t think he care to be here.  He is not liking me, I think.”

“I’m sure that’s not the case.”  Clitus smiled thinly.  “How could he not appreciate you?  You’re lovely.  He just hasn’t had a chance to get to know you.”

“The wedding is only einen monat.  I don’t think he care to know me.  I am being sorry he is the Prince I must marry.”

“You won’t feel that way after the wedding, and some day, you’ll be the next Queen of Greater Brechalon and Freedonia.”

“Being Queen is gut thing, I think, but not best.”

 

* * * * *

 

“So how did I get nominated to take Henrietta to the Ladies Auxiliary Fashion Show?” asked Clitus.

“You didn’t expect me to take her?” asked Tybalt.  “Did you?”

“I did rather expect that, yes.  More importantly, I think that Henrietta expected it.  You’re marrying her in twenty-five days.  The least you could do is to get to know her a bit.”

“Stay out of my business, little brother,” said Tybalt.

“It’s a little more than just your business.”

“Tybalt is right,” said the King.  “This is his marriage, and she will be his wife.”

“He’s going to be King,” said Clitus.  “She’s going to be Queen.  Wouldn’t it be better if they got along?  Or how about showing her just enough consideration that she doesn’t hate Brechalon?”

“As long as they perform their duties, the rest is their business.”  The King stood up and stretched.  “Besides, they won’t have to worry about it for many years.”

He stepped out of the room. A moment later, his eldest son started to follow him.

“Be reasonable,” said Clitus.  “At least make an effort.”

“Stay out of my business.”

The younger Prince leaned back in his chair and sighed.  After a few minutes, Bob stepped into the room and sat down near him.

“Maybe you should be more concerned about a wife of your own rather that the one for your brother, Your Highness.”

“You know, if I were in Tybalt’s spot, I’d be perfectly happy with Henrietta.  She’s a fine young woman, smart, kind.”

“She’s not hard on the eyes either,” Bob pointed out.

“No, she’s not.”

“But she’s your brother’s, Your Highness.”

“Oh, don’t get your corset in a twist.  I’ve no designs on the Princess.  I’m not Tybalt and I’m not in his place.”

“I don’t think the young lady would care,” said Bob.

Clitus shot him a sharp look.  “What are you trying to say?”

“She’s falling in love with you.”

“No,” scoffed the Prince.

“Yes.  You’re too damn charming.  You need to pull it back a bit.  Stay away from her.”

“That would be easier if my brother would simply pay a little attention to his own fiancé.”

“No doubt,” said Bob. “That’s not going to happen though. So you need to stop presenting yourself as a much superior alternative.”

“I’m not doing that!”

“Maybe not on purpose. Still, best to stay away.”

“I’m supposed to take her to that damn fashion show.”

“Don’t go.”

“I have to.  One of us has to be there and neither my father nor Tybalt will show up.”

“No help for it then. At least, don’t sit by her.”

“How am I supposed to manage that?” wondered the Prince.

“Take Lady Esther and sit her between you.  Or you could take Lady Terra.  That would send a message.”

“What message would that send?”

“That you’re taken.”

“Lady Terra is not interested in me,” said Clitus.

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 13 Excerpt

It was perhaps the earliest that Yuah had gotten up in a very long time.  It was only a biscuit after eight in the morning, but she was wide-awake and full of energy.  She washed up and brushed her long hair, before throwing a dressing gown over her nightdress and leaving her bedroom.  She met Gladys Highsmith at the top of the stairs.

“Good morning,” said Gladys, smiling broadly.  “You’re up early.”

“So are you,” replied Yuah. “Dressed and everything.”

“Oh, I’ve always been an early riser.”

“I used to be,” said Yuah.  “Shall we descend and see what will break our fast?”

She held out her arm and Gladys took it and they came down the sweeping staircase, side by side.  At the bottom, they found Augie, putting on his jacket.

“Good day, Mother. I’m just on my way out.  Busy day and all.”  He kissed her on the cheek.  “Good day, Miss Highsmith.”

“Good day, Your Lordship. I want to thank you again for welcoming me into your home.”

“Think nothing of it. Any friend of Mother’s is a welcome addition.  You are welcome in perpetuity.”  With that, he was out the door.

“See?” said Yuah.  “I told you he wouldn’t mind.”

“But I’ve been here close to a month.”

“And it’s been my most enjoyable month in a long time.”

They continued on their way into the dining room where Iolanthe was already seated at the head of the table.  She was engaged in eating a full breakfast while reading from a stack of correspondence. She looked up briefly, nodded, and then continued with what she had been doing.  Yuah and her friend took their seats at the far end of the table from her sister-in-law, and opposite one another.  A lizzie servant sat a plate in front of each of them containing eggs, bacon, black pudding, white pudding, beans, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, and soldiers.

“I have noticed that you don’t pray,” said Gladys.

“We don’t do that,” said Iolanthe, from the far end of the table.

“Um, I pray in the evening, when I’m by myself.  I’ve gotten out of the habit of praying at meal time.”

“I’ve never been much for religion myself,” said Gladys, “but I find the Zaeri faith very interesting. I think I would like to go with you next time you go to shrine.”

“That would be lovely,” said Yuah.  “I will sit in the back with you, so you aren’t all alone.”

“In the meantime,” continued her friend.  “You are the lady of the house.  You should be the one who decides if a prayer is given at meals.”

“You are so right,” said Yuah, glaring at Iolanthe.

She bowed her head and felt Gladys take her hand.

“Our Heavenly Father, we give thanks for the bounty placed before us.  We likewise give thanks for the health and prosperity of our family and friends.  Please forgive us our offenses, as we should forgive those who cause offense to us. Amen.”

“I thought you people prayed in Old Zurian,” said Iolanthe.

“I said the prayer in Brech for the benefit of you and Gladys.”

“If it had been for my benefit, you should have prayed for death to my enemies,” said Iolanthe, getting up.  “Or at least, for a better offer on coal from Pearce and Hallbourgh.”

“Your sister-in-law is a hard woman,” said Gladys, after Iolanthe had left.

“Let’s not talk about her,” said Yuah.  “Do you have plans for today?”

“I would imagine that you want me to get out and find a place of my own.”

“Why ever would you imagine that?  Does it look as if we’re overcrowded?  The answer to that is no.  You should plan on staying here as long as you want.  Stay until you meet a nice young man and agree to marry him.”

“I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” said Gladys.

“Too picky?”

“Maybe I am.”

“Maybe I am too,” said Yuah. “I loved Terrence from my very earliest memories.  When we finally got together, we ended up having so little time.”

“Did you enjoy being with him?  The physical act of love?”

“It wasn’t like you read in the books.  I wasn’t swept away with love and mad with desire.  In some ways, the whole thing is quite odd.” Yuah’s mouth curled into a secret smile. “Terrence wasn’t caring or sensitive. Not really.  He was very… um, skilled, I suppose.  He knew what to do to make me feel however he wanted me to feel. In some ways I felt like an instrument that he was playing—masterfully playing.”

“Will you marry again, do you think?”

“No,” said Yuah.  “The thought of any other man pawing me or climbing on me, just has no appeal.  The long and the short of it then is that you may stay here forever, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Well then,” said Gladys. “What are your plans today?  Maybe I could tag along with you.”

“Of course.  I thought I would shop for some new fall clothes this morning.  Later, I’m having tea with Egeria.  I could use your help in both of those situations.  I always feel like an imbecile whenever I talk to Egeria, and of course, shopping is always more fun with friends.

An hour later, Walworth was driving the two women to Mademoiselle Deneuve’s.  The Mirsannan woman brought them each a glass of wine and had them sit while she finished with several other women.  Yuah saw the three customers, none of whom she knew, cast furtive glances in her direction as they passed behind the curtain to change.

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 12 Excerpt

The long line of suffragettes marched almost in step, north from Number 14, Crown Street, around St. Admeta Park, and then west on Avenue Royal to a final rally in front of Sinceree Palace.  For the most part, they wore frilly white day dresses, almost all without a bustle, and each had a green and yellow sash slung from their right shoulders to their left hips imprinted with “Votes for Women.”

King Tybalt III of Greater Brechalon and Freedonia peeked out the window from behind the curtains. His two sons were in the room behind him, Crown Prince Tybalt leaning on the empty fireplace, a glass of wine in his hand, and Prince Clitus sitting in a chair sipping from a cup of tea.

“What do these women want?” wondered the King.

“That would be the vote, Father,” said the Crown Prince.

“Why can’t they understand that the vote is for families?  A man votes not only for himself, but for his wife and children too.”

“By that logic, Father,” said Tybalt, “ widows at least, should have the vote for them and their children.”

“Here, here,” said his younger brother.

“You think women should have the vote?” the King demanded of his eldest.

“Why would I possibly care? It’s not like anyone votes for King. Let Parliament worry about who votes and who doesn’t.  I was simply saying that your argument against women’s suffrage wasn’t logical.”

“Well I’m all for giving women the vote,” said Clitus.  “What’s more, I’m going out there and show them my support.”

“You will not,” said the King.

“I shall.”  The Prince looked to the doorway.  “Bob!”

Bob leaned into the room. “Your Highness?”

“See if you can get me one of those sashes.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“I forbid you to go out among those crazed females,” said the King, sternly.  “You’ve only just recovered from a very foolish escapade into a burning building.”

“That was ages ago and I’m fine.  Besides, those women hardly seem like a dangerous mob.  If anything, they could teach our soldiers a bit about marching in parade.”

Bob arrived in a remarkably short time with a copy of the green and yellow sash.  Prince Clitus carefully draped it over his white naval uniform.

“I’m going out, Father, and I think you should both come with me.”

“I’m going to take a nap,” said Prince Tybalt, setting his wineglass on the mantle and striding out.

Clitus turned and exited the room too, marching down the long corridor to the main staircase. Bob, Stigby the police officer, and Wizard Bassington all fell into formation behind him.  Skipping down the steps, he burst out the front door.  Two uniformed marine guards fell in behind him. The sounds of women shouting through megaphones slowly died away as he made his way to the great gate, until it was deathly silent as he signaled for the gate to be opened.  Then he stepped through.

As he waded into the crowd of women, hands reached out to touch him on his shoulder or arm.  One tousled his hair and a few became familiar enough that Stigby barked “Now, now, ladies!”  The silence died away as female voices called out “The Prince is with us!” and “He’s our sash on!” and finally “We knew you were all right, Your Highness!” Clitus stepped up onto a soapbox, replacing one of the speakers, who gave over her megaphone.  He brought the cone-shaped speaking device to his mouth, but before he could say a word, someone in the crowd shouted.

“The King!  The King!”

Several women pointed.  Clitus turned and looked, as did the rest of the crowd.  There upon the second floor balcony, a yellow and green sash across his chest, and what his son recognized as a forced smile on his face, waving, was the king.  Shouts of “The King is with us!” and “The King is a suffragist!” gradually coalesced into several choruses of God Save the King.

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 11 Excerpt

Sen stopped on the threshold and thought about whether she should knock or just go in.  Such considerations were ended when the lizzie, Cheery, opened the door for her.  The reptilian towered over her, no matter how he attempted to hunker down.

“Is my mother home?” she asked.

He pointed back and up. “Stairsss.”

The eleven-year-old nodded and stepped past him, walking through the parlor and up the stairs. When she reached the top, she turned down the hallway and walked to the door of her mother’s bedroom.  She opened it, stepped inside, and closed the door after her.

Her mother lay sprawled naked across her bed, face down, with her head hanging over the edge.  The image put one in mind of a murder scene, or it would have without the loud snoring.  The girl stepped over, bent down, and looked at the top of the blond head. At first, she saw nothing, so she carefully lifted back the hair that fell around the elder Senta’s face.  The snoring stopped, but she waited a moment and it resumed.  Now she could see it, an ugly scar that ran laterally across her mother’s skull, about an inch and a half behind her hairline.

Letting the hair fall back, Sen walked across the room and sat in the chair against the wall.  She pulled her feet up to her bottom, wrapped her arms around her legs, and rested her chin on her knees.  She sat there for about fifteen minutes, until she suddenly realized the snoring had stopped.

“So you’ve decided to grace me with your presence after all.”

“Yes.”

The senior Senta rolled over and sat up.

“I think I’m going to vomit.”  And then she did, all over the floor.

“Kafira’s maiden aunt! How much wine did you drink?”

“That is not your business, you little bint.”

“Fine,” said Sen, getting to her feet.

“Wait!  I’m sorry.  It’s not me talking.  It’s the demons that are pounding on my brain with sledge hammers.”

“Uuthanum,” said Sen, pointing to the mess on the floor, which magically disappeared, leaving the wooden slats as though they had never been soiled.  “Do you have a healing draught?”

“Here in my nightstand.”

“Take it.  Then take a bath.  I’ll be waiting downstairs.”

It was almost an hour before Senta finally made it to the parlor.  She was dressed in black leather pants and a gauzy blouse, with a leather corset over it.  She was barefoot, but a pair of black leather boots floated along in the air behind her.  She plopped down onto the sofa. Her daughter, seated in the plush chair just across, watched her with one raised brow.

“You’re drinking too much.”

“What do you know about it? You’re eight years old.”

“I’m eleven, and you know it.”  The girl crossed her arms over her chest.  “So how much of it is real?”

“How much of what?” asked her mother.

“You being a twat. How much is real and how much is you just acting like Zurfina because you’re now,” she made air quotes, “the sorceress?”

Senta’s lips formed a sneer for a few seconds.  Then she stopped and pondered the question.  “I guess about fifty percent.”

“Interesting,” said Sen. “So, I’m here.”

“Indeed you are.”

Her mother pulled on her boots, and then got up, walked over to just in front of her daughter, and looked into her eyes.

“Repeat after me: Maiius Uuthanum.”

“Maiius Uuthanum.”

“Yes, you’re a natural.  Now let’s go out into the garden and see what kind of beast you can summon.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Yuah didn’t eat at the family dining table on any of the following four days either.  It wasn’t because the dragon was there.  In fact she wasn’t.  Neither was Augie, and Yuah didn’t know if Iolanthe was or not.  In any case, she certainly had no desire to eat alone or to eat alone with her sister-in-law.  She took her meals in her room.  She hadn’t gone anywhere during the day either, spending the mornings in the garden and the afternoons in the parlor or the library.  She wasn’t brooding, she told herself.  At last though, she could take the solitude no more.

Waking up early, Yuah decided that today would be a fine day to order a new dress.  Opening up her closet however revealed that there was not an inch of room for such an addition.  She immediately began pulling dresses out and tossing them into a big pile. Once she had taken out all the clothing that she would no longer have worn, she had a mountain some three feet tall in the center of her room.  From the remaining collection, she chose a black dress with a red satin mock coat and a frilly bodice.  It was far more traditional than she usually wore, but she remembered having appreciated how it had looked the one time she had worn it.  Narsa, the lizzie dressing maid, helped her get into it, after she had donned the numerous undergarments required by Brech fashion.

“Get one of the males to take this out to the car,” Yuah told her, indicating the pile of dresses.

“Yesss.”

She went downstairs and notified the cook that she would not be home for luncheon.  The lizzie did convince her to have a crumpet and a cup of tea before going out.  She took them with her to sit in the enclosed back porch, where she found Walworth Partridge cleaning his pistol.  Walworth, a tall and handsome man of twenty-eight, had been working for the Dechantagnes since he was a teenager, employed as a driver, bodyguard, and general problem solver.

“Good morning, Mrs. D. Going out?”

“Yes, and I would appreciate it if you could drive me.  The lizzies are filling the car with some old clothing that I’m taking over to the McCoort house.”

“Right-oh.”  He finished cleaning the weapon, reassembled it and loaded it, and then put it in his jacket pocket.  “I’ll go get it warmed up.  Enjoy your tea.  Whenever you’re ready.”

“Thank you, Walworth.”

When she had finished her tea and crumpet, she dropped off her cup, saucer, and plate in the kitchen on her way through, eventually going out the front door and down the steps of the portico where Walworth was waiting in the steaming carriage.  He hopped down and helped her into the passenger seat, and then started off.

Though she might have meant either one of the two well-known McCoort couples, her handsome young driver knew Yuah well enough to know that it was her best friend Honor that she intended to see.  It took less than fifteen minutes to reach her destination.

“Do you mind waiting a moment?” Yuah asked.

“Of course not.  Let me know.  I can unload this.”

“You are a dear,” she said, climbing down and walking up the path to the stone-faced cottage.

She knocked on the door, which was opened by a lizzie servant.  Silently, the reptilian ushered her in and led her to the parlor, and then turned and left. Yuah found her best friend Honor reclining on a sofa.  Honor looked up and opened her mouth in surprise, and for a minute Yuah didn’t realize why.  Then she saw that her friend had only one leg sticking out from beneath her dress.  Yuah’s hand went to her mouth and she quickly turned around.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” said Honor.

Yuah said nothing.

“You’re going to have to turn around and help me, unless you want me to hop across the room.”

Turning slowly back around, Yuah saw that a shapely wooden leg was sitting on an end table. Hurrying over, she picked it up and brought it to her friend.

“Why was it over there.”

“I had Ziggy polishing it with furniture wax.  Then he left it there when he was called away to help in the garden.  I was going to wait until the lizzies came through and could hand it to me.”

She pulled up her dress and fitted the prosthesis onto her leg stump, strapping it to her thigh. Then she smoothed her dress back down, pushed herself to her feet, and gave Yuah a hug.

“Can I ask you…?”

“What?”

“Do you keep your leg on in bed?  With your husband?”

“Of course not.  So what are you doing here?  I thought you had sequestered yourself away to prevent any unwanted male attention.”

“Well, I had,” said Yuah, looking around as if she expected a clandestine observer to have his face pressed against one of the windows.  “I’ve cleaned out my closet and I thought you might like one or two of my old dresses.  Plus, you could tell me to whom I might give the rest.”

“Are they back at your house?”

“No.  Walworth has them out in the car.”

“Ziggy!” called Honor, and when the lizzie stepped in the room.  “Go out and get the clothing that is in Mrs. Dechantagne’s car.”

The lizzie had to make several trips before all of the dresses where transferred to the couch in the McCoort living room.  Yuah stepped outside to tell Walworth that he wasn’t needed anymore, and he drove off, presumably back to the Dechantagne Estate.

“You say these are just the dressed you don’t want?” asked Honor, holding a blue and white walking dress up to her.  “This isn’t too bad.”

“That would look lovely on you,” said Yuah, “but it is somewhat colorful.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 9 Excerpt

The wind whipped at Zoey’s hair.  She laughed. This was almost as much fun as flying. She pressed her feet down on the clutch and the brake as she zoomed around the corner of Forest and Ivy. Then pressing the forward accelerator again, she zipped in and out of traffic as the candy apple red Bromfeld X shot past other steam carriages and riders upon the backs of iguanodons. Zoey was at the corner of Newlands Street before she knew it, and brought the car to a screeching halt.

Pulling the brake into place, she grabbed her purse, hopped out, and danced around to the back, where she opened the release cock.  A whistling scream of hot gas shot into the air.

“Oops, too much heat,” she said, opening the firebox with her bare hand and sticking her face into it.

Reveling in the warmth for just a moment, she then closed the door and walked up the cobblestone path to Martin & Shinde Men’s Emporium.  The bell rang as she stepped inside.  As she breathed in the smell of leather and wool, her mouth watered.  The store, some twenty feet wide but at least four times that deep, was packed with suits, shoes, belts, hats, and sundries for men.  A stack of round tins filled with mustache cream drew her attention.  She picked one up and opened it, taking a sniff.

“Mmm.”

“May I help you, young miss?”

Turning to her left, Zoey found a thin bespectacled man in a very crisp pinstriped suit.  He had a large nose, but a narrow mustache.  He gave her a close-mouthed smile and a slight bow.

“I would be very grateful if you could.  You see, my young man has recently given me a wonderful present and I thought I would get him something nice too.  Can you help me, Mister..?”

“Shinde, Mattius Shinde.”

“Oh.  Like the name of the store.”

“Exactly.”

“Do you think you can help me, Mr. Shinde?”

“Of course.  I assume, since you are here, that you have narrowed it down to something in menswear.  Is your young man a snappy dresser?”

“Indeed.  He always looks his best, and he enjoys quality in his things.”

“And you say he bought you a present?”

“Yes.  He’s very thoughtful.”

“May I ask what he gave you? Perhaps that will help us judge just what sort of present you should get him.”

“A car!” she said, her eyes lighting up.  “It’s brilliant, and red, and extremely fast for something limited to the ground.”

“Well…” Mr. Shinde looked around.  “We have some of the finest new suits from Brechalon.”

“No.  I don’t want to get anything he has to get fitted for.  I want to give it to him today.”

“We have some of the very finest hats.”

“He has a lot of hats already.”

“How about some aftershave lotion?”

Zoey sighed.  “Maybe I’ve come to the wrong place.  Aftershave lotion?  I mean really!  He bought me a car!”

“How about shoes?”

“He does like shoes,” she said.

“Excellent.  We have the very finest walking boots and pumps, as well as very nice dress shoes.”  He led her across the room to a section of the wall filled with footwear.

“I like these,” said Zoey.

“Excellent choice,” said Shinde, picking up one and handing it to her.  “Cap toe oxfords of high quality cow hide.”

She held the shoe to her nose.  “Why do cows smell so yummy?”

He shrugged.

“These are just the thing. I want a pair in brown and a pair in black, and of course I want spats to go with them.  Laces too.”

“Excellent.” said the proprietor.  “Now about the size.”

“Augie’s foot is exactly this big,” she said, pointing to her chin with one index finger and her hairline with the other.

Shinde looked like a man who very much wanted to ask a question, but wasn’t going to do so.  At last, he picked up a shoe sizer and held it awkwardly to her face.

“Size nine,” he reported. “I’ll get those ready for you.”

A few minutes later, he had the purchases secured in boxes wrapped with twine.

“That will be fifty-four marks, twenty p.”

Zoey opened her purse and withdrew a huge wad of banknotes.  She stopped and narrowed her eyes, and looked at Shinde like might at any moment pounce on her money.  Turning away, she counted out fifty-two marks, and then fished out four two-toned five-pfennig coins.  After putting the rest of her money away, she turned around and held it out.  Shinde had to pull the notes out of her tightly clamped fingers, but at last he had the payment and handed her the merchandise.

“Thank you so much!” she called, as she slipped out the doorway.