The Drache Girl – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Saba Colbshallow rapped his knuckles on the front door of the five-story structure, again, louder than he had before, but there was just as little response as there had been the first time.

“Police constable!” he called.  He waited a bit longer, and was just about to leave when he heard a distinctly sultry voice from inside.

“Who is it?”

“Police constable,” he said again.

The door opened and Zurfina stood in the doorway, her strange little leather dress displaying a good portion of her breasts with their star tattoos as well as her long legs.   Her thigh high boots had such high heels that she could almost look Saba in the eye.

“Yes?  What is it?” she said, with the air of someone who had just been interrupted in the middle of something vitally important.

“May I come in?” he asked.

With an exaggerated sigh, the sorceress turned her back and walked into the house, leaving the door wide open.  Saba followed her in and looked around the large room that formed the lower level of the structure.  It was, he thought, a surprisingly mundane looking combination of kitchen, parlor, and dining room.  The place was tidy and organized, none of the furnishings looking particularly worn or new, expensive or poor.  Zurfina waved her hand and the door slammed shut behind him, causing him to jump a little.

“Well?”

Saba swallowed.  He had known Zurfina for four years now, and found her just as wondrous, mysterious, and fascinating as he had when he was sixteen.  He had of course grown up to be a police constable, but she had grown to be a legend. She was an attractive woman: not as beautiful as Mrs. Dechantagne of course, not as charming as Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere was at least capable of being, and nowhere near as adorable as Miss Lusk. Neither did she have the curvaceous figure of Dr. Kelloran.  But as writer Geert Resnick wrote in his novelThe Pale Sun, “the painting that most draws one to it, is not the most beautiful, but the one hanging to the wall by the most tenuous thread.”  Zurfina held the same appeal as a fast horse, an unstable bomb, or a canoe in a river filled with crocodiles.  And there was power.  Power was always appealing.

Zurfina sensed his hesitation and moved to stand very close to him.

“Now, little Saba,” she said, with exaggerated slowness.  “What brings you to see Zurfina the Magnificent?”

Saba had perfected his stare: a piercing look that let those he was interviewing know that he would brook no nonsense.  He gave the sorceress one of these stares, but it didn’t seem to work as well as it was supposed to.  She stepped a little closer and he suddenly realized he could smell her breath.  It was minty.

“Little Saba.”  Her charcoaled grey eyes seemed to be looking at something just below the surface of his face.

He swallowed.

“Police Constable Colbshallow,” he corrected.

She leaned forward so that the tip of her nose was only an inch from his.

“Little Saba,” she repeated.  “There’s something you’ve been dying to tell me.”

“No there isn’t.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m here about a Miss Amadea Jindra.”

Zurfina leaned back and scrunched up her nose.  “Now what business is that of yours?”

He retrieved the notepad from his coat pocket and flipped it open.  Turning so that he had better light to read by, he took the opportunity step away from the sorceress.

“It was reported that you kidnapped, um… acquired Miss Jindra from the deck of the S.S. Arrow four days ago, and no one has seen her since.”

“I say again, what business is it of yours?”  Zurfina spoke distinctly, chopping each word as if came out of her mouth. The temperature of the room dropped several degrees.

“You cannot simply snatch people off the street…” His voice trailed off as he noticed the sorceress’s eyes flashing.

Zurfina folded her arms across her chest and raised one eyebrow.  At that moment the door swung open and Senta walked in. Her bright pink dress peaked out from beneath a heavy white overcoat, with a fur trimmed hood.  She was carrying a large bed pillow under each arm. She kicked the door shut with the heel of her shoe, and walked over to stand next to the sorceress.  She looked first at Zurfina and then at Saba.

“Okay,” said Senta.  “What’s going on?”

“Little Saba was just telling me what I can and cannot do.”

“Well, this isn’t going to end up well, and you know who will have to clean up the mess?  Me, that’s who.  Here are your pillows,” Senta shoved the pillows into Zurfina’s hands.

Once the sorceress had taken the pillows, Senta took Saba by the hand and led him toward the front door.

“Let’s talk outside.  I love the smell of pine trees and chimney smoke.”  She led him outside, closing the front door behind her.  “What exactly are you doing?”

“Conducting police business.”

“Stopping me from taking care of those wankers who shot Bessemer has gone to your head, eh?”

“This is my job.  This is what I do,” said Saba.  “I protect the public peace.”

“And do you ever think about how you would do that job if you were turned into, say, I don’t know, a pig?”

“A pig?”

“Maybe a pig.  Could be anything really.  I thought I was about to see a Police Constable shaped lawn ornament.  But then I don’t have Zurfina’s wide experience and peculiar wit.”

“Well I have to go back in and talk to her.”

“Did they have to take your brain out to make that helmet fit?”

“That’s not funny little girl.  I have to find out what she did with Miss Jindra.”

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The Drache Girl – Chapter 1 Excerpt

It was the second day of Hamonth, the first day of winter, and a chilly breeze blew across the bay and into the bustling colony of Port Dechantagne.  A ship, the S.S. Mistress of Brechbay had docked at the recently upgraded port and a row of happy immigrants were descending down the gangplank.  They stared with fascination, mixed with a small amount of fear at the dockworkers below them.  Dozens of lizardmen served at the port.  Sluggish now that the cooler weather had arrived, they used heavy winches to lift cargo from the deck of the ship and to deposit it on the gravel road beside the dock.  Other lizardmen then scooped up the crates, boxes, and barrels with hand-trucks and ferried them to the nearby warehouses.  Both groups of lizardmen were supervised by human foremen.

People all along the dock stopped and stared as Senta walked by. Hundreds of passengers leaned over the railing of the ship and others on the gangplank pointed and gaped with open mouths.  Senta carried herself with a bounce that made her long blond hair sail behind her like a proud banner in the wind.  She was dreadfully skinny, though the bustle beneath her yellow dress gave her a little bit of a figure.  She was a child soon to become a young woman, and she was brimming with confidence. She was well known in the colony and she thought that she was quite pretty too.  She had to admit though, that the people were probably not gawking at her, but at the dragon which walked along next to her.  It was the size of a small pony, covered in scales the color of polished steel.  Every step it took was a study in grace, and from the tip of its whiskered snout, past its folded wings, to the tip of its barbed tail, it seemed to just flow along.

“They look as though they’ve never seen a dragon before,” said the dragon.  Had someone heard his voice without seeing him, they would have thought it was a young gentleman speaking.  It was a rich voice, but still young.

“They probably haven’t,” replied Senta.  “Dragons are pretty rare.”

“Rare and very beautiful…”

“Oh do shut up,” said the girl, and then, “There he is. Hey Graham!”

A boy about the same age as the girl and about twice as heavy even though he was almost a head shorter, ran toward them.  He had on the dungarees and heavy shirt of a dock worker, and both were stained here and there, no doubt from just such a form of labor. His unkempt brown hair and freckled face made his smile seem all the more genuine.

“Hey Senta.  Hey Bessemer.”

“Hello Graham,” said the dragon.

“You look a mess,” said Senta.  “You did remember that we were supposed to go for lunch?”

“Sorry, I can’t go.  I gotta work.  I can’t leave my crew alone.”  He gestured over his shoulder at the group of five lizardmen awaiting his return. Looking like a cross between an upright alligator and an iguana, with skin ranging in color from a mottled olive to a deep forest green, each of the reptilians were two feet taller than the boy. They stood waiting, scarcely moving, and giving the dragon and his companion surreptitious looks.

“I don’t care for those reptiles,” said Bessemer.

Graham snorted.

“What?”

“It cracks me up every time you say that,” Graham told the dragon.  “Besides, you know they think you’re a god or something?”

“I didn’t say they didn’t have taste.”

“Come on,” said Senta.  “I’ve heard this entire conversation already twenty times.  If you can’t come with us, we’ll just go get lunch ourselves.”

One of the lizardmen hissed something, and then two others began replying in the local reptilian dialect.

“Up your trolley!” yelled Graham at them, and then he too began to hiss in the native tongue.

The lizardmen turned and walked back over to a pallet full of cargo, which they had evidently been in the process of carrying to the warehouse.  With what seemed to be a great deal of unhappiness, but not a great deal of speed, they returned to work.  One of them hissed again.

“That’s right you!  You keep your pecker on!” yelled Graham.  He looked at Senta and flushed slightly.  “Sorry.  Ma says I shouldn’t use the language from the dock around the young ladies.”  He said the words ‘young ladies’ in a strained falsetto imitation of his mother.  “I’m sorry, but I can’t go.  I didn’t know the Mistress was going to be docking today.”

“Fine,” said Senta.  “I’ll just dine with Hero and Hertzel.”

“Hertzel’s working too.  I just saw him take his crew up on the crane.  It’s probably going to be a late night and we’ll probably be working this schedule for the next four days.  Look, I’m sorry.  But I’ll make it up to you next week, Okay?”

“Fine,” said Senta, unhappily, and Graham set off back toward his cold-blooded staff members.

“Don’t be so sad,” said the dragon.  “You can have a ladies’ luncheon.  You can be all hoity-toity and proper.  You know how much you love that.”

“What about you?”

“I’m going hunting for my own lunch.”

“Just be careful.  Watch out for predators that are bigger and scarier than you.”

“There may be bigger, but there are none scarier!”  He emphasized his last four words for the crowd of immigrants fresh off the ship who were forming around for their first look at a living dragon.  Bessemer took a deep breath and blew three small smoke rings in their direction. The crowd, moving as one, took a step backwards, even though none of them had approached within a twenty foot radius of him anyway.  Then, with one swift motion, the steel dragon shot into the sky like an artillery shell and disappeared.

Senta walked up the hill, following the white gravel streets through the warehouses and workshops that filled the area near the dock. She passed along the fence that separated the militia barracks and parade ground from the commercial storage facilities.  Finally she passed through the gate in the Emergency Wall that had once separated the colony from the terrors of the primeval forest, but now separated the older part of the colony from the newer.

Just beyond the gate was the town square. This was the only portion of town that was paved with cobblestone, and it had only been completed the previous summer. In the very center of the square was a small area of grass, lined with flower beds and set aside with small ornamental wrought-iron fencing.  In the middle of the grass was a large flagpole, flying now, as it always did the red, white, and blue Accord Banner of Greater Brechalon.  Around the edge of the square were about twenty buildings that comprised almost all of the community’s shops and stores.  Senta had been in every single one of them.  She had been in most of them many times. Today her stop was on the corner of the square at Mrs. Finkler’s Bakery.

The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 11 Excerpt

Cissy returned to the Dechantagne estate after delivering the message to Saba Colbshallow.  Cissy couldn’t read the scrawling script of the message like she could the printed words in books, but she knew what it said.  It informed the young corporal that Mr. Streck was off the premises and that he should be watched.  It was amazing what could be discovered by standing and listening.  The humans usually treated the lizzies as though they were furniture.

Tisson was at his usual place by the front door and Cissy stopped for a moment to speak to him.  She placed the back of her hand on her dewlap in greeting and the gesture was returned.

“You were not gone long,” said Tisson.

“It was a simple errand.”

“Did you receive any extra copper bits?”

“Not this time.”

It had taken a while for the lizardmen to realize that the humans would often give them additional copper bits as a bonus when some tasks were completed. The humans called these “tips.” Now the lizzies looked for them.

“Kheesie was looking for you earlier.”

“Why?”

“She wants you to take your turn caring for the young one.”

Cissy bobbed her head up and down in the human fashion and started for the door.

“Ssissiatok?”

“Yes?” asked Cissy, turning around, slightly surprised by the use of her lizzie name.

“Some of the others are talking.  They say Ssterrost will not let you return to Tserich.”

“I thought you didn’t want to go back either.”

“I don’t.  But I am old. You are still young.  You could have returned with all your wealth and had a good life.  But now they are saying that you are ‘khikheto tonahass hoonan’.”

“Maybe I am human on the inside.”

Inside the house, Cissy found Kheesie.

“Thank Hissussisthiss you are back.  I haven’t had a chance to sleep since yesterday.”

“The god of forests had nothing to do with it.  Where is the child?”

“The thin white and brown one has it.”

“Her,” corrected Cissy.  “Where are they?”

“They are in the great room, but don’t go there.  The matriarch is there and so are the blind warrior and the old frightened one.”

“It is fine.  You may go rest.  I will watch the child.”  Cissy squinted, amused.

Cissy made her way into the parlor and took a place quietly in the corner. She was not afraid of the humans in question.  In fact, she found them fascinating.  All of the individuals described were present—Mr. and Mrs. Dechantagne, Governor Dechantagne-Calliere, Mrs. Godwin, and of course Iolana.  The lizzies had their own descriptive names for all of them; the names Kheesie had used.  Professor Calliere, whom they called “the tall one who makes no sense”, was not present. Mrs. Colbshallow, whom they simply called by the human word “lady”, was in the kitchen as usual.

“I think I should have something to say about it,” Mrs. Dechantagne was saying, “because of my unique situation in this house.”

“I am well aware that you are the lady of the house now,” replied Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere sharply.  “Are you trying to rub my nose in it?”

“No!  I don’t… that’s not the position to which I was referring.”

“My wife is alluding to the fact that she is the only Zaeri in the house,” said Mr. Dechantagne.

“Really?  I suppose I just assumed that she was going to convert.”

“Leave that alone, Iolanthe.  You know she has no desire to convert and you know that I wouldn’t have asked it of her.”

“I will leave this alone.  And she must leave that alone.  Mercy and his… solicitor are my concern, and I am more than capable of dealing with it.”

Mr. Dechantagne turned back to his wife, though of course he could not see her. “She’s right Yuah.  You should stay out of this.  You get too worked up over it.  You’re too emotional.”

“I’m emotional?” cried Mrs. Dechantagne, jumping to her feet.  “I’m the least emotional person in this house!

She stomped her foot twice, and marched out of the room.

“Oh, well done sister,” said Mr. Dechantagne.  “Now I have absolutely no chance of a decent night’s sleep.”

“That’s your own fault.  I didn’t tell you to marry her.”

“Yes, well I occasionally do things other than what you specifically tell me to do.”

“As long as you don’t forget to do those things.”

The child, who until that moment had been playing quietly on the floor with a stuffed animal, began to fuss.  Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere scooped her up and carried her from the room. The room was quiet for just a moment, and then Mrs. Godwin let out a large snore.

“Mrs. Godwin?  Mrs. Godwin?”

“Yes?  What? Yes?”

“Do you want to go upstairs to your room and take a nap?”

“Yes, that’s a lovely idea.”  She got to her feet so slowly that Cissy took it on herself to step forward and help her. The elderly woman accepted the clawed hand and made it to her feet.  She looked at the man sitting across from her.  “Which one are you again?”

“Terrence.”

“Yes, of course.  You were always my favorite.  Have you finished your studies?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“That’s very good.  You keep it up and you’ll go far in this life.”

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.”

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 1 Excerpt

She had to wait several minutes for Carlo to notice her.  He was busy delivering sandwiches to the two soldiers who sat with the woman in the white pinstriped dress.  Not cucumber sandwiches on white bread.  Their sandwiches were thick slices of dark bread, piled high with slab after slab of ham. This was no surprise to Senta. Soldiers were always hungry.  She had seen them eating many times: the officers here at Café Carlo, and the common soldiers purchasing food from vendors near the park, or at the beanery in her own neighborhood.  At last, Carlo noticed her and held out his hand to her, dropping her fourteen copper pfennigs for the week into her callused palm. They were small coins, with the profile of the King on the obverse side, and the front of a stately building, Senta didn’t know which building, on the reverse side.  She stuffed the coins, a few fairly bright, but most well worn, into her pocket.

“See Gyula,” said Carlo.

A surprised Senta nodded and scurried back to the kitchen.  This was an unexpected boon.  Gyula was the junior of the two line cooks, which meant that he was the lowest ranked of the four people who prepared the food in the café.  An order to see him was an indication that she was being rewarded with foodstuffs of some kind.  When she entered the kitchen, Gyula looked up from his chopping and smiled. He was a young man, in his mid twenties, with a friendly round face, blond hair, and laughing eyes.  He was chopping a very large pile of onions, and the fact that he had only his left hand to do it, seemed to hinder him not at all. When Gyula was a child, about the same age as Senta was now, he had worked in a textile mill, where his job was to stick his tiny arm into the gaps in the great machines and remove wads of lint that had gummed up the works.  In his case, as in many others, the restarting machine proved quicker than his reflexes, and snipped off his arm just below the elbow.

“Hey Senta!” said Gyula, setting down his knife and wiping his left hand on his white apron.

“Carlo sent me back.”

“Excellent,” said Gyula.

He became a one-handed whirlwind, as he carved several pieces of dark bread from a big loaf, and piled an inch of sliced ham, slathered with dark brown mustard between them. He wrapped the great sandwich, which Senta happily noted was even bigger than those the soldiers had received, in wax paper.  He likewise wrapped a monstrous dill pickle, and placed both in the center of a large clean red plaid cloth; folding in the four corners, and tying them in a bow, to make a bindle.  Gyula handed the package to Senta, smiling.  When he had the opportunity, the young line cook favored Senta with great, heaping bounties of food, but he dared not do it without Carlo’s permission. It wouldn’t be easy for a one-armed man to find a job this good, and no one in his right mind, however kind-hearted and happy-go-lucky he was, would endanger it for a child he didn’t really even know.

“Thank you, Gyula,” said Senta, and grabbing the red plaid bundle, scurried out the door and down the sidewalk.

It was a beautiful day—though Senta didn’t know it, it was the first day of spring.  She made her way along, dodging between the many other pedestrians.  It was warm enough that she felt quite comfortable in her brown linen dress, worn over her full-length bloomers, and her brown wool sweater.  The weather was very predictable here in the Brech.  The early spring was always like this.  Late in the afternoon, the sky would become overcast, and light showers would sprinkle here and there around the city. Most days, they were so light that a person would scarcely realize that he had been made wet before he was dried off by the kindly rays of the sun.  Still, the ladies would raise their parasols to protect their carefully crafted coiffures from the rain, just as they now used them to protect their ivory complexions from the sun.

Summers here were warm and dry, but not so hot that people wouldn’t still want to eat in the outdoor portion of Café Carlo.  Not so in the fall or winter, however.  The fall was the rainy season.   It would become overcast, and stay that way for months, and it would rain buckets every day.  The streets would stay slick and shiny.  Then winter would come and dump several feet of snow across the city.  The River Thiss would freeze over and they would hold the winter carnival on the ice.  And the smoke from all of the coal-fired and gas-fired stoves, and the smoke from all of the wood-filled fireplaces would hang low to the ground, and it would seem like some smoky frozen hell.  The steam carriages would be scarcer, as the price of coal became dearer, but the horse-drawn trolley would still make its way through the grey snow and make its stops every three minutes.

Senta skipped and walked and skipped again east from the plaza down the Avenue Phoenix, which was just as busy as the plaza itself.  Travelers hurried up and down the street, making their way on foot, or reaching to grab hold of the trolley and hoist themselves into the standing-room-only cab.  Quite a number of couples could be seen strolling along together, arm in arm; the men usually walking on the side closest to the street, in case a steam carriage should splash up some sooty water.  Others on the street were shopping, because both sides of the Avenue Phoenix were lined with shops.  There were quite a few stores which sold women’s clothing and a few that sold men’s, a millinery shop, a haberdasher, a bookseller, a store which sold fine glassware, a clockmaker, a tobacconist, a jeweler, a store which sold lamps, a florist, and at the very end of the avenue, where it reached Prince Tybalt Boulevard, just across the street from the edge of the park, on the right hand side, a toy store.

Stopping to press her face against the glass, right below the printed sign that said “Humboldt’s Fine Toys”, Senta stared at the wonders in the store.  She had never been inside, but had stopped to look in the window many times.  The centerpiece of the store display was a mechanical bird.  It worked with gears and sprockets and springs and was made of metal, but it was covered in real bird feathers in a rainbow of hues, and would sit and peck and chirp and sing as though it were alive, until it finally wound down, and the toy maker would walk to the window and say the word to reactivate the bird’s magic spell.  Senta knew that the bird would remain in the window for a long, long time, until some young prince or princess needed a new birthday gift, because that bird would have cost as much as the entire Café Carlo.  Arranged around it were various mechanical toy vehicles—ships, trains, and steam carriages.  Some were magical and some worked with a wind-up key, but they all imitated the real life conveyances from which they were patterned.

None of these wonderful toys held as much fascination for Senta though, as the doll that sat in the corner of the window.  It wasn’t magical.  It wasn’t even animated by a wind-up mechanism.  It was a simple doll with a rag body and porcelain hands, feet, and face.  It wore a simple black dress.  Its blond hair had been cut in a short little bob, and looked like real human hair.  It had a painted face with grey eyes and pink lips.  It may well have been one of the lesser-priced toys in the shop.  It was definitely the least expensive item in the window, but Senta would never be able to purchase it.  Had she been able to save every pfennig she earned, it still would have taken her more than thirty weeks to purchase the doll.  And she could not save every pfennig she earned. Most weeks, she could not even save one.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess

Chapter Eleven: Wherein we start to get down to the truth of things.

We rode in silence for most of the morning.  I don’t know precisely what the orphan was thinking, but I was thinking on him, or rather her.  I am well aware that one is just as likely to come upon a female orphan as a male one, but the more I thought on it, the more I realized that if my young friend had lied about being a boy, then it was just as likely that she had lied about being an orphan.

It was just about time for elevenses when I spied two snowshoe hares sitting beside the road munching on a few sprigs of green which poked out of the snow.

“Hop down,” I told the orphan.

“Why?”

“I want you to get a rock and bean one of those hares,” said I.  “If you can kill it, we can eat.”

“I don’t know that I can hit it.”

“It can’t be more than thirty feet away.  Any boy could hit it with a rock from this distance.”

“I don’t know…”

“Come on boy.”

The child slid to the ground and then picked up a likely looking stone from a small pile not too far from her feet and hefting it back, launched it in the general direction of the hares.  She didn’t have much heft, and with the lob she put on the rock, if it had hit the hare, it would have done nothing more than make it angry.  Of course there was no chance of that, since the course of the missile was off to the right by a good thirty degrees.  The hares started and took off over the snow, disappearing among the trees.

I dropped down to the ground and pointed my finger accusingly.  With my finger pointed and my back stiff, I cut an intimidating figure.  One can often get what one wants simply by being intimidating.  I know of a few warriors, warriors of great renown mind you, who in truth had never done much warrioring at all.  They simply struck an intimidating pose when the time was ripe and their reputations were made.  Now that I think about it, I quite possibly could have avoided fighting the goblins the previous night, by just striking my intimidating pose, finger out and back straight.  I mean of course, the first goblins, the ones on the road, as the second group of goblins, the ones in the cabin, were in quite a rush to get out the door and had I simply stood in an intimidating pose, they quite probably would have run me over.

“What are you doing now?” asked the orphan.

“I am thinking about intimidating poses.”

“Well, you certainly have managed an intimidating pose there.”

“Thank you.  I put a lot of work into it.”

“Well it shows.”

“Thank you.  It’s nice to have one’s work appreciated.”

“You’re welcome.”

“And don’t change the subject,” said I.

“And just what subject was that?”

“You are a girl.”

“Um, no.”

“Um yes.  And not only that, you are an elfish girl.”

“An elven girl.”

“So you admit it.”

“Um, no.”

“Um yes.  I saw you without your cap.”

“Oh.”

“Besides,” said I.  “You throw like a girl.”

“Well what do you expect?” the girl asked.  “I’ve never thrown a rock before.”

“Oh-ho!”

“Oh-ho yourself,” said she.  “All right I’m a girl.  That doesn’t change anything.  I still need your help to get home.”

“It changes quite a bit,” I said accusingly.  “For one thing, you are a liar.  You told me that you were a boy.  If you lied about that, what else have you lied about?”

“I never actually said I was a boy.”

“You most certainly did.  I said ‘I see that you are a sturdy boy, despite your condition…’ and you said ‘Yes, I am a sturdy boy…”

“Who would have guessed that you had such a perfect memory?” grumbled the child, folding her arms over her chest.

“So,” I said, again striking my intimidating pose.  “What else have you lied about?  I will wager your name is not really Orphan.”

“I never said my name was Orphan, you bloody great buffoon!  I said my name was Galfrid.  You just keep calling me orphan.”

“Is your name Galfrid?”

“No.”

“You see?  Liar!”

“It wasn’t a lie.  It was a disguise.”

“You were disguised as an orphan named Galfrid?”

“Yes.”

“Are you an orphan then?”

“Not really.”

“Liar!”

“I’m more of an orphan that you are,” she said sullenly.

“How can you be more of an orphan than I am?” I asked.

“Why couldn’t I be,” said she.  “If anyone could be, I could be.”

“I mean, what makes you more of an orphan than me.”

“My mother died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”  I was taken aback.  “My condolences on your loss.”

“That’s all right.  It happened a long time ago.”

“How long ago?” I wondered.

The girl looked up into the sky as she counted the years in her head.

“Sixty-five years ago.”

“Sixty-five years!  How old are you?”

“Seventy-nine.”

“An old woman and only half an orphan,” said I.

“Hold on now,” said she.  “The natural life of an elf is close enough to a thousand years as not to matter. I’m only seventy-nine.  I’m scarce out of puberty.”

“So not-Galfrid, what is your story?”

“I don’t think I want to tell you,” said she.  “You won’t believe me anyway.  You think I’m a liar, so why bother explaining.”

“I don’t think you are a liar,” I replied.  “I know you are one.  And now that I think about it, maybe I don’t care to hear your story.  Maybe you’re more trouble than you’re worth.”

“Really?  What about Eaglethump Boxcrate, friend to those who are need of a friend and a protector to those who are in need of a protector and a guardian to those who are in need of a guardian?”

She had me there.  It is well known that Eaglethump… Eaglethorpe Buxton is a friend to the friendless and all those other things.  So I had little choice but to help the old lady out.

“Well,” I took a deep breath.  “What is your name?”

“Princess Jholeira.”