“Look at all these lousy zeets,” said Graham Dokkins, as he and Senta walked between the hundreds of makeshift tents on the southwest side of the hill from the barracks.
“What are zeets?” asked Senta.
“That’s what they’re called. My Da says they’re evil, and they don’t even believe in Kafira.”
“Zurfina doesn’t believe in Kafira either. I mean, not like us. She says the Church is all bullocks.”
“Yeah, well my Da says she’s evil too.”
If Senta was offended at the idea that anyone would call Zurfina evil, she didn’t let on. She bounced ahead, her skipping steps seeming to defy gravity. In one hand she carried a stick and in the other her doll. Graham stomped after her.
“Why do you gotta carry that doll everywhere?” he asked.
“Cause I’m a girl, stupid.”
They reached the edge of the tent village. Some of the women from among the Freedonian refugees had set up a series of clotheslines and were hanging up clothes. Almost every piece was black, white, or grey.
“They don’t seem any different to me,” said Senta. “Except they talk funny.”
Suddenly several of the women who had been hanging clothes began to scream and they all began to run toward the tents. Looking up, the two children saw a steel colored streak flying downward from out of the sun. The steel dragon buzzed the tops of the women’s heads and then zipped along parallel to the clothesline and with a flick of its tail, knocked every other piece of clothing from the line into the dirt. Spreading its wings out to their full six-foot breadth, it stopped in mid-air and dropped to the ground at Senta’s feet. It opened its mouth to the sky and a small puff of smoke shot out.
“Funneee,” said the dragon.
“It’s not either funny, you potty twonk. You’re going to get everyone angry, and who’s going to get in trouble? Not you. Me, that’s who!”
Despite Senta’s declaration that the dragon’s actions were not funny, Graham was laughing heartily. The dragon hopped over to his feet and rubbed his head against the boy’s leg as if to share in his mirth. Graham, still laughing, slapped his knee. The dragon suddenly bit his hand.
“Sod it!” shouted the boy, his laughter suddenly gone.
The dragon looked up in the air, with feigned innocence.
“See, now you’ve made Graham angry too,” said Senta. Both the girl and the dragon looked at the boy, who had gone all white and sweaty.
“My Da didn’t say it, but I think dragons are evil.”
“Pet,” said the dragon, in a pleading tone.
“Yeah, all right,” Senta said, fishing a small brown bottle from the pocket of her baggy black dress. “But if you bite anyone else, I’m going to need a new bottle of this.”
She poured the draught from the bottle onto the wound on Graham’s hand. The liquid bubbled and fizzed on contact with the boy’s blood, but after a few moments nothing was left of the injury but a small scar.
Senta, Graham, and the dragon looked up to see they were completely surrounded by a crowd of people. The reptile leapt to the girl’s shoulder in one swift motion and curled up around her neck. Graham stood up next to Senta and took her hand in his. The people began to whisper amongst themselves. Finally one of the women stepped forward.
“Sorry about your clothes,” said Senta.
“Der drache is, how you say, vunterfull,” said the woman.
“Oh yeah, he’s great,” said Graham, sarcastically.
“He is bootifull. He is yours?”
“Yeah, sort of,” said Senta.
“You bet he’s hers,” said Graham. “She’s a really powerful sorceress and he’s her dragon. And they’re really scary and magical. Just look at them. And that’s her magic doll.”
He suddenly started laughing. The dragon made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a smirk.
“We’ve got to go now,” said Senta. “I’ve got to lock up my dragon and my troll here.”
“Hey!” shouted Graham, following Senta who was already hurrying through the opening in the crowd that magically parted before her. “Who you calling a troll, monkey face?”
The two children walked up to the top of the hill and parted without saying goodbye, but with the innocent expectation that they would see each other later and continue on just as they had. Senta made her way to a quiet place that she had found next to the protective wall. She plopped down in the grass and the steel dragon climbed off her shoulders. She stretched out and he curled up beside her and placed his whiskered snout on her stomach.
Senta held her doll up and looked at it. The doll had on an outfit just like hers. She called the dress she was wearing her doll dress for that very reason. The doll had the same hairstyle that she did. She could almost imagine that the doll was made especially for her. But it hadn’t been. She had seen it many times in the toy store before she had purchased it.
“I wonder what Geert’s doing now?” she mused. “He’s my cousin,” she explained to the dragon.
She heard the approach of voices and pushed the dragon’s face off of her stomach so that she could roll over and see who it was. It was Miss Dechantagne. She was walking along holding the arm of the blond officer from the ship. She had on a stunning yellow dress with white lace trim. It had at least seven layers on the skirt, ruffles and fringes on the shoulders, and a magnificent bow on the bustle. The matching hat trailed a long piece of yellow silk down her back.
“That’s the kind of dress I want,” said Senta quietly.
“No,” said the dragon.