The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 20 Excerpt

Senta walked slowly across the parlor, leafing through the letters from the morning post.  She stopped and held one up in her fingers.

“Another letter from Lord Dechantagne,” she said.  “Shall I burn it, like the others.”

“Yes,” sighed Zoey, sprawled across the sofa, still in her nightgown though it was well past 1:00 PM. “Wait.  No, yes, maybe.  I don’t know. No, I want to read it.”

The letter exploded in a bright flash, leaving only a single ember, which drifted down to the floor.

“Oops.  Too late.”

“Fine.  I really didn’t want to read it.”  The dragon in human form leaned back and moaned pitifully. “How could he treat me so terribly?”

“You really must snap out of it, Pet.”

“But he broke my heart!”

“Your dragon heart will not be broken by anything as unimpressive as a human boy.”  Senta sat down next to Zoey and ran her hand over her hair.  “Augustus is just a boy, and boy’s are even worse than men.  They are capricious, self-involved, immature little creatures. Forget him.  You’ll be better off, I assure you.”

“But I love him.”

“You need to get away for a while.  Next week, I’m leaving to spend a fortnight at Dragon Fortress.  You must come with me.  We’ll do nothing but relax and indulge ourselves.  Those lizzies will faun all over you, you know.  They’ll treat you like the goddess you are.”

“You just want to push me at Bessemer.”

“I don’t.  I don’t even know that he’ll be there.  He spends most of his time these days visiting the lizzie cities.  And if he is there, you don’t have to see him if you don’t want to.  I promise.”

“Last time I went there with you, I was kidnapped.”

“Well obviously, that won’t happen again,” said Senta.  “Between the two of us, there’s nothing in the world to threaten us.  Now, I’m going to Bryony’s for tea.  Why don’t you get dressed up and come with me?”

“I don’t feel like eating and I don’t feel like watching you torture Bryony.”

“Suit yourself,” said the sorceress, standing up.  “Rezesic idium uuthanum tortestos paj.”

With a pop, Senta disappeared from her parlor, only to reappear on the front step of the Baxter’s lovely little cottage.  She rapped her knuckles on the door.  There was no answer.  She repeated the procedure, but still nothing.  She turned the doorknob, but the lock was engaged.  With a snap of her fingers, she magically unlocked it.  Then turning the knob, she let herself in.

The house appeared empty. She walked slowly through the parlor, into the dining room, where she noted the table was set with place settings, but no food was in evidence.  She turned and walked down the hallway until she came to a door.  She opened it and looked in.  Three-and-a-half-year-old Kerry Baxter sat in the center of his bedroom floor, playing with tin soldiers.  He looked up.

“Hello little Baxter,” said Senta.  “How are you today?”

“I’m hungry.”

She reached into the air and a chocolate biscuit appeared in her hand.  She bent down and handed it to him.

“Where is your mommy?”

“Mommy’s sleeping.”

“And where is Sen?”

“She’s not here.”

Turning, Senta continued down the hall, opening another door to see Sen’s empty room.  The next door opened into the bathroom.  That left only one more door at the very end of the hallway. Senta stopped and knocked quietly. She heard something on the other side, but couldn’t tell if it was words or something else.  She opened the door and found Bryony lying across her bed, fully clothed.

“Why Bryony Byenthal,” said the sorceress, stepping to her side.  “Why ever are you just lying around when you could be up fixing my tea?”

“I had just finished cleaning up breakfast, when I got the most dreadful headache.”  The woman’s voice was barely audible and she began shivering as soon as she stopped speaking.

“Teigor tachthna uuthanum Senta,” said Senta.

“What are you doing? Are you casting a spell on me?”

“Not on you.  Rather on my errant offspring.  She should be along soon.”

“You don’t need to bother her.  I’ll get up and make tea in just a moment.”

“Oh, I’m afraid you won’t,” said Senta.

She reached down and wiped two fingers across Bryony’s fevered brow, bringing them up to examine the blue perspiration.  The stricken woman watched, her eyes growing even larger and rounder than usual.

“I have the sweat. I’m dying.  Senta, you must promise to take care of Kerry for me.  I know you’ll lure Kieran back to you. Just promise me to take care of my little boy too.”

“I promise I will take care of your family,” said Senta, as she reached up into the air and plucked out a large brown vial.

She pulled the cork from the bottle with her teeth and then bent down and poured the contents into Bryony’s mouth.  Standing back up, the sorceress tossed the bottle onto the floor in the corner.

At that moment, Senta’s daughter came bursting into the room.

“What have you done to her, you cow?”

“Don’t talk to me like that, you little bint!  I’ve done nothing to her, except save her life of course.  Bryony Baxter has…”

“Baxter,” said the girl.  “Wait a minute.  What did you say?”

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The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 19 Excerpt

Yuah opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling for just a moment.  She couldn’t wait for the new wallpaper to arrive.  It had been ordered all the way from Brech City. Turning to the side, she found Gladys looking back.

“How did you sleep?” asked Yuah.

“Wonderfully.”

“Good.  So did I.”

“Last night was wonderful,” said Gladys.  “Are you sure you’ve never been with a woman before.”

“I’ve never been, but I’m familiar enough with the terrain.”

“You’re not bothered?”

“Of course not.”

“You don’t find women attractive though,” Gladys observed.

“Attraction is a funny thing, when you stop to think about it.  I remember being caught up in it when I was young.  Every time I looked at Terrence, I felt all squishy.  Now that I’m older, everything seems so tame.  I see the men chasing after women and the women chasing after men.  It seems we want what we don’t understand.  A fanny seems like such an uninteresting thing.  All things considered, there are many more pleasant parts of a woman—the curve of her chin, the long line of her leg, a thick mane of hair.  Yet to a man, it must seem as alien as walking on the moon.  And yet he wants it.”

“He just wants it, because it’s convenient to stick his thing in,” said Gladys, disgust written on her face.  “Without it, he’ll stick it anywhere it fits.”

“I confess to a certain amount of repulsion regarding the form of a man,” smiled Yuah, “until the event was upon me.  You’ve never been married, so you’ve never known the feeling.”

“One doesn’t necessarily follow the other.”

“So you have been with a man?”

“When I was a girl, my parents died—cholera, you know.  My brother was older, and already had a family in Mallontah, so it was too far to go to join him.  My uncle took me in, but it was not a charitable act, as he was not a good man. He forced himself on me.  I thought it was just something I had to endure, and I did, until he wanted to pass me around to his friends.  I left, and even though I was only fifteen, the opportunities for work after the Freedonian War allowed me to support myself.

“The Freedonian War?” wondered Yuah.  “How old are you?”

“I was born during the Feast of Kafira Mass, 1893.”

“Why, you’re just a girl! I thought you were older than twenty-nine.”

“I’m twenty-eight, actually,” said Gladys.

“Well, I never was very good at arithmetic,” replied Yuah, leaning over and kissing her on the lips. She slid out of bed.  “Let’s go down to breakfast.  You’ve certainly been good for my appetite.”

At the dining room table, the two women were surprised to find no one else there.  There was, however, plenty of food—toast, fried potatoes, tomatoes, white pudding, and something new.  Cook had prepared an egg dish filled with peppers and onions and covered with sharp melted cheese.

“This is something like an omelet,” observed Gladys, taking a bite, “but it’s much fluffier.”

Yuah waved for Kayden to step over.

“How was this prepared?”

“It isss lizzie dish,” he said.  “In oven.”

“Baked eggs?  Who would have thought?  Do you know what it’s called?”

“Frittata.”

“Their language is so strange,” remarked Gladys.  “You must tell Cook that this is wonderful though.”

“Yes.  Give her our complements,” Yuah told the lizzie major domo. “Tell her that she may prepare this as often as she likes.”

“What are we about today?” asked Gladys.

“I’m going visiting, though you are not required to accompany me.”

“I want to come.”

“Very well then.”

An hour later, the two women stepped off the trolley and into the street in front of Egeria’s house. Brech custom and law gave the husband control over all of a woman’s possessions upon marriage, so technically, the home belonged to Yuah’s father.  However, Egeria had owned it before their marriage and, more importantly, it so reflected her style and taste that Yuah found it impossible to think of it in any other way than as Egeria’s house.  Her father felt the same way about it.

They were greeted at the door by Egeria’s lizzie, who led them to an empty parlor.

“Where is the lady of the house?”

“I tell her you here,” said the lizzie.

“Shall we sit while we wait?” Yuah asked Gladys.

The both sat on the sofa, golden with a pattern of pink tea roses.

“I feel so out of place here,” said Gladys.  “It’s like sitting in a museum.”

“I imagine one gets used to it,” said Yuah.

“Indeed one does,” said Egeria, coming down the stairs.  “I wasn’t expecting visitors, so you must excuse me if I’m unprepared.”

Dot Shrubb and Olivia followed in line behind her. The three of them made a striking appearance, all with red hair—though Dot’s was more coppery—pale skin, and brilliant white dresses.  Olivia carried a bright green young troodon, slightly larger than a chicken, in the crook of her arm.

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 18 Excerpt

“That was a lovely lunch,” said Gladys, as she and Yuah passed through the foyer and into the parlor, both loaded down with shopping packages.

“It’s the most I’ve eaten in a while, I can tell you,” said Yuah.

She stopped abruptly when she found Zoantheria sitting on the sofa reading a newspaper.  She was, of course, in her human guise, wearing a black and white day dress, her long blond hair cascading halfway down her back.

“What are you doing in my house, monster?” snapped Yuah.

“Have you seen this?” asked Zoey, ignoring the question and holding the paper so that the banner headline was visible.  “HRH CONSORTS WITH BIRMISIAN WILD WOMAN!”

“That’s not the Gazette,” observed Gladys.

“No, it’s a Brech City paper.”

“Answer my question,” Yuah ordered.

“I just thought you might want to read it, as the Birmisian wild woman in question would appear to be your daughter.”

“What?”

“Terra Posthuma Korlann Dechantagne.  That’s nice. They got all four names.  That is your youngest, isn’t it?”

Yuah stomped forward, snatching the paper from Zoey’s hands.

“We’re not done,” she hissed, and then started reading.  “Dressed like a man!  Face paint? What is wrong with that girl? Augie should never have sent her to that lizzie city.  It’s made her mind weak.  Still, you would think she would have mentioned something in her last letter about going to the opera with a prince—or sent a telegram.”

“Children,” said Zoey. “What can you do?”

“If Augustus wants to consort with you, I can’t do anything about it.  He’s a grown man.  But until he returns, I want you out of my house.”

“Must we have all this discord?” said Augie, suddenly stepping into the room.

Zoey jumped up and ran three steps into his arms, nearly knocking him over.  In a fierce embrace, they pressed their mouths together.

“Really?” said Yuah. “In the parlor?”

“Mother,” said Augie, disengaging his lips, if not the rest of his body.  “Zoey is welcome in this house at any time and will be treated with the same courtesy that all guests receive.”

Zoantheria smirked at Yuah, whose eyes and mouth went very thin.  A moment later, it was Zoey’s face with a very similar look as Dr. Megistus followed the young lord into the room.

“What are you doing here!” she hissed.

“Do you know one another?” asked Augie.  “He’s not a relative, is he?”

“He’s another dragon?” wondered Yuah.  “In my house?”

“Everyone settle down!” ordered Augie.  “Gladys, take my mother upstairs.  She’s overwrought.”

“I’m not overwrought and I’m not going anywhere!”

“And you,” continued Lord Dechantagne, looking at Zoey.  “Yes, he is a dragon, but he’s one of the good ones, like you.”

“What makes you think he’s good?” she snarled.

“This,” said Augie, holding up a brown vial.

“What is it?” asked Gladys.

“It’s an advanced healing draught.  Not only is it more powerful in every respect than the regular potion, Dr. Megistus assures me that it will cure the Blue Sweat.”

“I made no such assurance, Lord Dechantagne,” said Dr. Megistus.  “I merely said that I believe it will cure the dreaded disease.”

“I have faith in you, Doctor.”

“What the hell is the Blue Sweat?” wondered Zoey.

“Just a deadly disease that affects us soft-skins,” said Yuah.  “Nothing for you to concern your spiky head about, I’m sure.”  She turned to her son.  “How much does it cost?  Will average people be able to afford it?”

“It’s expensive,” said Augie.  “Four hundred marks per bottle.”

“Golly,” said Gladys.

“That’s why I’m paying for the first one hundred bottles, to be kept by Mother Aunie for anyone stricken. And we shall keep a couple of bottles here too.”

“You can’t spend 4,000 marks on healing draughts,” said Yuah.

“First of all, it’s 40,000 marks, and secondly, yes I can.”  He turned to Dr. Megistus.  “We must go celebrate.  I’ll buy you the finest steak in the colony.  Or maybe a whole cow, eh?”  Then looking at Zoey.  “You’ll come too, dearest?”

“I don’t think so.”

“All right.  I’ll see you later then.”

He ushered the Doctor out of the room and back toward the foyer from which both had emerged.

The three women stood for a moment staring back and forth between one another.  Then Zoey stomped off toward the foyer.  Gladys and Yuah both sat down, the former in the chair and the latter on the sofa.  Yuah looked at the paper, still in her hand.

“My family,” she sighed.

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 17 Excerpt

Yuah opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling for just a moment.  It was the same gold pattern fresco that it had been for years, matching the intricate pattern of pink roses between gold bars on the wallpaper and the gold floral carpeting on the floor.  It was high time for a change.  Turning to the side, she came nose to nose with Gladys Highsmith, who was looking back.  Without her glasses, her eyes looked larger and sadder than normal.

“How did you sleep?” asked Yuah.

“Not very well, I’m afraid.”

“Why not?  I slept wonderfully.”

“What will you do now?

“What do you mean?” wondered Yuah.

“Are you going to throw me out or have me arrested?”

“Why would I do that?”

“That’s what they usually do,” said Gladys, sadly.

“Do you think I’m some little girl that you took advantage of?” asked Yuah with a laugh.  “Maybe you think I was so overwhelmed with passion that I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“People do things in the heat of passion that they wouldn’t otherwise do.”

“No they don’t. That’s just an excuse.  Or maybe it’s true for stupid people or those who are not particularly self-aware… my God, I sound just like Iolanthe.”  She kissed Gladys on the forehead and then sat up. “You should go back to your room.”

“You don’t want anyone to see us together.”

“You have to get ready. We’re going to shrine.  You do still want to go, don’t you?”

Twenty minutes later, Yuah entered the dining room and took her place.  The others were present, though as yet, no one had been served.  A line of lizzies arrived from the kitchen carrying enough food for twelve people, and began serving the four at the table.  Yuah watched as her plate was filled with white pudding, sausages, bacon, fried potatoes, grilled tomatoes, beans, scrambled eggs topped with cheese, and toast.

“I am so hungry this morning,” she said.

“We can see that,” said Iolanthe, raising a brow.

“That’s good, Mother,” said Augie.  “I think you’ve gotten a bit too thin of late.  Better to keep up your strength.  And how are you this morning, Miss Highsmith?”

“Very well, Your Lordship.”

“We’re friends now,” he said.  “Please call me Augie.  After all, you’re dining at my table and living in my house.”

“Yes,” said Iolanthe. “How long is that to be, exactly?”

“I have asked Gladys to live here permanently,” said Yuah.  “She is my good friend and will be my companion.”

“Indeed,” said Iolanthe, with a smirk.

“Well, I think that’s wonderful,” said Augie, spearing a piece of sausage with his fork.  “Mother can arrange an allowance for you.  I sure you know by now that if you spend much time with mother it will include copious shopping.”

“Thank you, Your… Augie.”

Yuah had Walworth drive them to shrine.  She wore her new dress—the black one with a small bustle and the high neck, along with her black top hat.  Gladys wore a black over dress with white skirts.  It was nice, but not the type of thing usually worn to shrine—a bit on the fancy side.

As Walworth helped them down from the car, Yuah stopped to take a look at the majestic building and the beauty that surrounded it.  The sun was shining through the trees.  The grounds around the shrine were newly mowed and the shrubs had been trimmed. Yuah didn’t even mind that the street sign had Iolanthe’s name on it.

Just outside of the entrance, they ran into Yuah’s father and his wife and young daughter.

“Good day, Papa.  May I introduce my friend, Gladys Highsmith? Gladys, this is my father Zeah Korlann, his lovely wife Egeria, and my little sister, Olivia.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Gladys,” said Zeah.  “Someone told me that you were staying at the Dechantagne home.  Who was it now?  I don’t remember.”

“It was Augie,” said Egeria. “He told you at tea the other day.”

“Oh yes.  You know, he loves to visit his Grandpa.  Some other people could stand to visit a bit more often.”

“If you’ll have us,” said Yuah, “we will come to tea today.”

“You are always welcome, Yuah,” said Egeria.  “You know that.”

“Since you have your friend with you, are you going to sit in back with us today?” asked Olivia.

“Yes.”

“Lovely,” said the girl, clearly excited.  “I’ve so wanted you to sit with us.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” asked Yuah.  “For that matter, you could sit up front with me anytime.  You are a kindeschrein.”

“Mother says I must sit in the back until I’m sixteen.”

“Then she can decide for herself whether she is a Kafirite or a Zaeri,” said Egeria.

Though Zeah was Zaeri, his second wife was a devout Kafirite.  They and their daughter attended both shrine and church.  This was possible because the two religions had Sabbaths that were two days apart.

In shrine, though visitors were always welcome, they were required to sit in the back.  Children whose fathers were Zaeri, like Yuah and Olivia, were known as kindeschrein and were automatically members of the faith.  Children born to a Zaeri mother and a Kafirite father, as was the case with Yuah’s children, had to convert like anyone else who wanted to embrace the Magnificent teachings.  As a group, they entered the building and took seats near the back on the right.

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.

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.