Getting Back on Track

Well, the disruption in our house is mostly over.  We’ve just got new carpet– something my wife has wanted for twenty years.  Now we’ve got to put everything back.  One of the casualties of the move was my computer desk.  I’ve ordered a new one, but it won’t be here for a week.  In the meantime, I’m working with my little Macbook.

Over the next two weeks, I plan to finish editing the new Senta and the Steel Dragon book– The Dragon’s Choice.  As soon as I can figure out how long it will take me, the book will get an official release date.  After that, I can get to writing something new.

I’ve been a bit negligent over the past few weeks in keeping up with this blog.  I’ll do better.


The Young Sorceress – Chapter 4 Excerpt

Isaak Wissinger bent down and picked up a paper from the street. At least he was still able to do that. Many of the people he saw passing him on the street seemed barely able to lift their own feet. He was still in the ghetto of Zurelendsviertel. He had been unable to get out. During the past eleven months, Wissinger had been forced to use the money that his guardian angel had given him to buy scraps of food. She had been right. When push had come to shove, the other Zaeri had helped themselves and their families, and not the famous writer they knew of, but didn’t really know.

The angel had not come back since that night. If Wissinger had not had the money to spend on moldy bread and mysterious meat, he would have thought that he had dreamed the whole thing. Of course there were also the stories. Stories had come into the ghetto from the outside world—stories about a mysterious woman. A blond woman had attacked Neuschlindenmacht Castle, burning it to the ground, though nobody knew exactly how. A powerful witch had fought and killed a dozen wizards of the Reine Zauberei on the streets of Kasselburg. A blond sorceress had freed hundreds of Zaeri prisoners held in a work camp and had killed or frightened off a company of soldiers guarding them. Wissinger carefully listened to the stories without adding his own experiences. There was nothing to indicate that these stories were about the same woman, or that they were even true. But Wissinger believed them.

“You’re thinking about me right now, aren’t you?” asked a sultry voice right by his ear.

Wissinger jumped. The woman was back. He looked up and down the street and realized that there was no one else to be seen. This was unusual. It was almost mid-day. He looked back at her. Yes, it was the same woman. She was dressed at least this time. Sort of. He tried to think where her black corset and leather pants would be everyday dress, but could imagine no such place in the world. She tossed her hair back and then took a pose with her chin held high, like a statue.

“Um, you’re back,” he said.

“Oh my. Here I was told that you were the greatest writer in Freedonia, and this is your introductory line?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Well now you’re just being thick,” she said. “I came back for you. You were supposed to be gone, out of the ghetto and to the coast at least.”

“I couldn’t get out. The Kafirite, Kiesinger, the one who smuggled some Zaeri out for money. The day after you were here, I mean in my room, he was arrested. He wasn’t arrested in my room, he was arrested… wherever they arrested him, but no one else took his place. There was no one else who would help, to smuggle me out.” Wissinger stopped speaking and realized he was out of breath.

“Relax lover. We’re leaving now.”



“Wait. We have to go back to my room.”

She smiled seductively. “What a wonderful idea. I thought you might be more welcoming this time.”

“No, it’s just… it’s the middle of the day.”


“Well, um… I… Aren’t we in a hurry?”

“You’re the one who wants to go back to your room.”

“I have to get my book.”

“What book is that?”

“My book. It doesn’t have a title yet. It’s about life here. It’s hidden in the wall.”

“Then let’s go get it.”

Wissinger led the woman down the cobblestone street to his apartment building and upstairs to his room. His building had been a fine middle class apartment twenty years earlier. Now it was rapidly falling apart from neglect. Holes had appeared in the walls and the floor. In one spot just outside his apartment door, he could see completely through to the floor below. In a way this was all fortunate. The crack in the wall next to the loose board, behind which he hid the tools of his trade, didn’t look out of place. Removing the board, he pulled out the tablet and pencil.

The tablet was the type children used in school. He had started at the beginning and had used every page. Then he had turned it over and had written on the backs of each sheet, in ever smaller script as the pages had become scarce. The pencil was the last of a package of twelve. Oh, how he had wasted his pencils at first, insisting on a sharp point, whittling each one back with his knife. When he had gotten to the sixth one, he had stopped such foolishness. He let the lead become as dull and round as a turtle’s head and had only cut back the wood around it, when it, like the turtle’s head, had become hidden inside. That was all over now.

He felt the woman press against his back. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and licked the back of his neck. He turned around and kissed her deeply. She pulled him toward the cot, and he let her. He spent the last hour that he would ever spend on that horrible, worn, bug-ridden mattress making love to a beautiful woman.

“I don’t even know your name,” he said, as they dressed.

“It’s Zurfina.”

“Like the daughter of Magnus the Great?”

“Yes, exactly like that.”

“You’re not her, are you?”

“Yes. Yes I am.”

She slipped back into her boots and headed out the door. Wissinger stuffed his pencil in the pocket where he kept his penknife and tucked his tablet under his arm. A quick look around reminded him that he had nothing else of value. Quickly catching up with Zurfina, he followed her downstairs and out into the street. Even though the sun was still high, there was nobody to be seen. It was as if they were the only two people in the world. Down the street and around the corner, then down the main thoroughfare, they finally reached the twenty-foot tall wooden gate to the outside world. It was standing open and the guards who had always been there were gone.

“What’s going on?” Wissinger asked.

“It’s just magic.”

Once outside the gate, they wound their way through the city streets of Gartow. It was much nicer here. The buildings were in repair. The shops were open. But here the world was just as devoid of life and humanity as it had been inside the ghetto.   In no time at all they were past the edge of town. They stepped off the road and crossed the first field of many that filled the space between the city and the distant edge of the forest.

“Zurfina, how is it… oh… um.”

“What is it?”

“I just remembered that according the Holy Scriptures, Zurfina… that is the daughter of King Magnus, was burned at the stake.”

“Fine, I’m not her then.”

“But your name is Zurfina, isn’t it?”

“I’m tired of all your questions,” she said, stopping and glaring at him. “It’s been nothing but questions with you since I got here. What’s going on? Who are you? Can I be on top?”

“I’m sorry.”

“One more question and I’m leaving.”

“No. I’m sorry. No more questions, I promise,” said Wissinger. “Just tell me which way I am supposed to go.”

“That’s it!” she snapped, and with a flourish of her hands, she disappeared with a pop.

“I didn’t… that wasn’t a question… I phrased it…”

A sound drew Wissinger’s gaze to the sky. A flock of small birds flew overhead, twittering as they went. Then he heard the sounds of voices, and looking toward town, he could see people. A steam carriage chugged down the now distant road. It was as if the world had suddenly come alive. Dropping to a crouch, he looked around to see if there was anyone close. He could detect no one. Staying hunched over, he made for the forest as fast as he could.

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Senta watched as the last pallet of copper was placed inside her rented warehouse by a lizzie crew working steam jacks. The copper was made up of oval ingots about a quarter inch thick, dozens of which were packed together in crates and then the crates had been stacked together on wooden pallets. The copper barely filled one corner of the warehouse, but occupying the rest was an enormous pile of pillows. Not all of the pillows were new. In fact most weren’t. But it looked a comfy enough pile to take a run at and jump into.

A loud whomp on the pavement next to the Drache Girl signaled the arrival of Bessemer, the Steel Dragon. The lizzies in the area reacted immediately, though not all in the same way. Some scurried away, some placed their hands in front of their dewlaps in a respectful greeting, and a few dropped to their knees in genuflection.

“I hate when they do that,” said Bessemer.

“Kisses,” said Senta, and the steel dragon bent his neck toward her, air kissing first on one side of her face and then the other.

“Oh, good. My copper is here,” said the dragon.

“Your copper? What are you going to do with copper?”

“Make pots of course. You put the copper ingot in a steam press and turn it into a pot or a skillet or even a kettle.”

“What do you know about making pots?”

“I read. Some people could do a bit more of that.”

“I’ve been busy, but I’m planning on reading a bit today.”

“Do tell,” said the dragon. “Anyway, why did you call me down here?”

“You need a place to sleep. Well, here it is. I’ve brought all your pillows down and got you a few more besides.” She saw Bessemer’s dubious look. “It’s just till we find something else.”

“Did you bring Mr. Turtlekins?” Bessemer refused to sleep without his well-worn stuffed turtle.

“Yes, he’s in there somewhere.”

“Still, I don’t know. It’s awfully noisy down here so close to the docks.”

“It’s very quiet at night.”

“I don’t just sleep at night.”

“You could sleep through an explosion. I’ll tell you what though. I’ll come down and sleep here with you for a few nights, until you get settled in.”

“That’s nice. I miss crawling into bed with you when it gets cold at night.”

“Yes well, that’s why I had to get a new bed. Anyway, it’s a bit too crowded at home.”

“What do you mean crowded? You’re the only one there, aren’t you?”

“Never mind.”

“Well, I’ll try it out,” said the dragon, stepping inside the warehouse and sliding the large rolling door almost closed. He poked his head out the small remaining opening. “You’ll be back tonight?”


Bessemer pulled his head in and shut the door. Senta turned around and was almost immediately confronted by Graham. He had a big grin on his face.

“I’ve got it.”

“Got what?” she wondered.

“Your token.”

“Token of what?”

“Token of my affection… you know, like you said.”

“I did? Oh, sure I did. Okay. What is it?”

Graham held out a small box. Senta took it and carefully opened it to find the interior lined with velvet. Right in the middle was a silver pendant in the shape of a dragon on a thin chain.

“It’s real silver… mostly,” boasted Graham. “It’s a real silver chain and the dragon is covered with silver, but it’s made out of… and this is the best part… a tyrannosaurus tooth! Do you get it? Dinosaur for me and dragon for you—it’s like the perfect symbol for us.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty ace all right.” Senta was quite sincere in her appreciation for her boyfriend having come up with an acceptable gift, especially considering his lack of romantic proclivity up to this point. “Help me put it on.”

Pulling the necklace from the box and promptly dropping the box on the ground, Graham draped the necklace around Senta’s neck as she turned around. He fumbled with the latch for a minute, but at last the silver form of the dragon pendant rested comfortably on her blue dress over her heart.

“Thanks,” she said, turning around.

“When do I get mine?”

“Am I supposed to buy you a necklace too?”

“No. When do I get my, you know…” his voice grew quiet. “My kiss.”

“How about right now?”

The boy turned around to see if they were unobserved, but as was so often the case anywhere the young sorceress went, quite a crowd of people were encircled about them, too afraid to get too close, but too curious not to stay and watch.

“Maybe tomorrow. You’re still cooking dinner for me at your house, aren’t you?”

“Am I? I mean of course I am. But you don’t want to wait all the way until then, do you?”

“I think it might be better.”

“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind them.

Graham and Senta turned to look into the freckled face of a young woman. She had evidently just come off one of the ships in port. She wore a long traveling coat over a white blouse and brown dress. A brown bonnet held back bright red hair, a few strands of which escaped to hang down on the side of their face. In her right hand she grasped the handle of a small carpetbag.

“Do either of you know your way around town,” asked the girl.

“Sure,” replied Graham. “What are you looking for?”

“I don’t really know. I’m new here. I don’t have a place to stay yet and I’m not sure where I should go to find one.”

“I’ll help you. I’m Graham Dokkins.”

“I’m Nellie Swenson, girl reporter.”

“Are you supposed to be famous or something?” asked Senta.

“I’m pretty well known back in Brech. The Herald Sun is the most widely read news broadsheet, and I have a weekly column.”

“Who’s writing it now then?”

“Oh, I wrote enough extra columns to fill out a whole year, though I’m kind of sorry I’m not going to get to see the reaction to my story on orphanage abuses or the one detailing the stunt of my jumping from a dirigible. I’m here to see Birmisia Colony and I’m keeping a journal of my adventure. It should provide at least a year of new columns.”

“Come on, I’ll take you to the new arrivals bureau,” offered Graham.

“That would be lovely, but aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”

“Oh, that’s just Senta.” Then to Senta he said, “I’m going to help Nellie get situated. I’ll see you later.”

The boy offered the new arrival his arm, which she took, and the two of them started up Seventh and One Half Avenue. Senta’s eyes bored holes in their backs, and she absentmindedly punched her left palm with her right fist.

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Isaak Wissinger sprang suddenly from his cot, motivated by a particularly enthusiastic bedbug. He was immediately sorry, as the pain in his back was exacerbated by the sudden movement. He looked back down at the vermin filled, inch thick mattress, a few pieces of straw sticking out of a hole in the side, sitting on an ancient metal frame. It was a sleeping place not fit for a dog. Then he laughed ruefully. That was exactly how he and every other Zaeri was thought of here—as dogs.

The Kingdom of Freedonia, like the rest of the civilized world was divided in two. There were the Kafirites, who ruled the world. And there were the Zaeri, who had long ago ruled it. Two thousand years ago, Zur had been a great kingdom, one that along with Argrathia, Ballar, and Donnata ruled the classical world. Then a single dynasty of kings, culminating in Magnus the Great, had conquered the rest of the known world, and made Zur civilization the dominant culture.   Zaeri, the Zur religion, with its belief in one god, had replaced the pagan religions of the civilizations that Magnus and his forebears had conquered. Even when Magnus’s empire had splintered into many successor kingdoms, the Zaeri religion had remained dominant.

Then a generation later, a Zaeri imam named Kafira had begun teaching a strange variation of the religion in Xygia. Kafira had taught the importance of the afterlife, an adherence to a code of conduct that would lead one to this afterlife, and a general disregard for the affairs of the world. Her enemies had destroyed her, but in so doing they had made her a martyr. From martyr, she rose swiftly to savior and then to godhead of a new religion, one that had spread quickly to engulf all that had been the Zur civilization. In the following millennia, the Kafirites had converted the remaining pagans to the creed of their holy savior, thereby making it the only religion in the world of man—the only religion in the world of man save those who held onto the ancient Zaeri belief.

Now here in Freedonia it was no longer safe to be a Zaeri. First it had become illegal for Zaeri to be doctors or lawyers, and then actors or publishers. Then laws had been passed which made it illegal for Zaeri to own businesses or property. Finally entire neighborhoods became forbidden to Wissinger’s people and they had been pushed into ghettos, segregated from the other Freedonians.

Wissinger spent the day picking up garbage on the street. That was his job here in the ghetto. He had been an award-winning writer when he had lived in Kasselburg, but here in Zurelendsviertel he walked the street, a silver zed pinned to his jacket, picking up refuse. At least people didn’t treat him like a garbage man. The other Zaeri knew him and respected him. They asked his opinion about things. They called him “professor” when they spoke to him. It was not like that at all with the Freedonian soldiers who occasionally made a sweep through the ghetto. They would as soon kick an award-winning writer to the side of the road as they would a street sweeper.

Back once again in his room, he pulled his tablet and pencil from its hiding place behind a loose board and continued writing where he had left off the day before. He could not live without writing. He wrote down what had happened that day, what he had seen, what he had heard. He wrote about the death of Mrs. Finaman, brought on no doubt by lack of nutrition, and he wrote about her husband’s grief at the loss of his wife and his unborn child. He wrote about the sudden disappearance of Mr. and Mrs. Kortoon, and the speculation that they paid their way out of the ghetto. And he wrote about the disappearance of the Macabeus family, and the speculation that something sinister had happened to them.

That night on his uncomfortable cot, Wissinger had a wonderful dream. He dreamed that a beautiful woman was making love to him. She licked his neck as she rubbed her naked body against his. She whispered to him in some foreign language—he thought it was Brech. When he managed to pull himself out of the fog of sleep, and he realized that it wasn’t a dream, that the woman was really here with him, he tried to push her off of him.

“Don’t stop now lover,” she said, a noticeably Brech accent to her Freedonian. “I’m just starting to really enjoy myself.”

Wissinger pushed again, and slid his body out from under her, falling to the floor in the process. She stretched out, lying on her stomach. He stared at her open-mouthed. Her long blond hair didn’t quite cover a fourteen-inch crescent moon tattoo at the top of her back. Another tattoo, an eight-inch flaming sun sat just above her voluptuous bottom.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“I would have thought that was obvious,” she replied in a sultry voice. “I’m here to warn you.”

“You… uh, what?”

“I’m here to warn you.”

She rolled over and stood up, revealing six star tattoos all over her front.

“In a short while, maybe a few weeks, the food supply to the ghetto will be reduced. It will be reduced a lot.”

“They barely give us enough to survive on as it is. They can’t cut it back anymore.”

“They can, and they will.” She stepped closer to him. “They are going to try and starve the Zaeri to extinction.”

“They won’t be able to.”

“No, it’s true, in the end they won’t. But they will try and many will die. Even worse things will follow. Do you know how to get out of the ghetto?”

“I can’t leave. People need me here.”

“No they don’t. People like you, but they don’t need you and they won’t help you when things get very bad. You have no family and when it comes to eat or starve, you won’t have any friends either—no one will. I ask you again; do you know how to get out of the ghetto?”

“They say a Kafirite named Kiesinger will get you out if you can pay, but I don’t have any money. I didn’t have any before I came here.”


The woman handed him a small leather pouch, though he had no idea where she could have had it hidden. He looked inside. There was a small roll of banknotes and twenty or so gold coins.

“Brech marks?”

“Gold is gold. I don’t know if the banknotes are worth much, but they’ve got to be better than Freedonian groschen.”

“No doubt,” said Wissinger. “Why? Why are you helping me? I mean, me in particular.”

“You need to survive. You need to leave Freedonia and make your way to Birmisia.”

“Birmisia? That’s on the other side of the world. How could I get there? What would I do there?”

“Live. As for the how, we’ll deal with that later. Now you’ve wasted all my time talking when we could have been doing something far more satisfying.”

“You’ve only been here a few minutes.”

“Yes, but I have much to do. Go see this man and get out of the ghetto. I’ll find you again at a later date, hopefully, in a more hospitable mood.”

“Who are you? What are you? Are you my guardian angel?”

The woman smiled. “That is exactly what I am.”

Then with a wave of her hand, she disappeared with a pop.

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 1 Excerpt

Birmisia was full of life in the spring. Wildflowers seemed to suddenly appear just about everywhere. The days were warm and wet, with frequent fog and almost daily rain showers. The giant maples grew new leaves, adding their lustrous green to the ever-present deep emerald of the tremendous pines. Ferns opened up their fronds in the dappled light beneath the mighty trees and in those places with no light, large and varied mushrooms showed their rounded heads. Plants were not the only life forms present though. The land was alive with both birds and beasts. One could easily spot cormorants, snipes, rails, and wrens hopping through the trees along with the strange four-winged microraptors. A few godwits, grebes, puffins, and pelicans occasionally strayed inland from the shore.   On the ground caudipteryx, buitreraptors, bambiraptors, meilong, and mahakala ran among the ferns looking for small lizards and snakes and large insects, which were everywhere. They didn’t bother the opossums or the mice, which stayed snug in their dens until nightfall. In the open areas huge iguanodons grazed, sometimes accompanied by triceratops and ankylosaurs. Most of the large predators like the tyrannosaurs and utahraptors had become scarce due to the presence of man, though the velociraptors and deinonychus were still thick, as happy to scavenge human trash as to hunt the other Birmisian creatures.

A flock of seven velociraptors made their way down the road. They went in fits and starts, pausing to snatch a lizard or small rodent from among the ferns and squawking at each other. They were, like all of their species, covered with hairy feathers, yellow near their small arms, and green everywhere else. Most of this particular group had a black band around the base of their necks. They were only about two and a half feet tall, but their long tails stretched straight out almost five feet. The most famous features of the velociraptors were their feet, each of which had a three-inch claw curving upward, and their long many-toothed snouts, more like something one would expect to see on a crocodile than on a bird. The leader of the flock raised its head as it spotted a human walking toward them from down the lane.

Velociraptors seldom hunted human beings unless one was wandering alone and injured. It had little to do with size. Some of the animals that fell to the feathered runners were much larger than man-size. Though velociraptors were not known for their intelligence, they possessed a cunning that matched most aerial birds of prey and this allowed them to determine which potential targets were more likely to become their supper than the other way around. Simply put, most humans didn’t act like prey. A few did. They started, and jumped with fear. But most didn’t. They didn’t quite act like predators either. They blundered around the forest without regard to what they might run into. To the velociraptors, they were simply too confusing to be bothered with unless there was nothing else to eat. And in spring, here in Birmisia, there was plenty to eat.

Regardless of their intent on hunting this particular human, the flock fanned out, following their instinctual behavior for both hunting and defense. Three took positions on either side of the road, moving in and among the shelter of the trees, while the leader moved into direct confrontation. This way they formed a triangular trap around the animal, in this case a human, directing it forward and keeping its attention away from potential attackers on the side. What happened next cemented in the tiny minds of the velociraptors as much as anything could, that this human was a poor choice for prey.

This human being was a teenaged female, and though biologists still debate whether velociraptors can distinguish between the sexes of mammals, others of her kind could immediately recognize her gender by the long flowing deep violet velvet dress, made more expansive by an extensive bustle over her rear end, and the long flowing blond hair held back by the deep violet velvet ribbon fastened on the side. Tens of thousands of other human beings could in fact identify this particular human female, because this particular human female was the young sorceress Senta Bly. She was hurrying home from the Hertling house where she had enjoyed afternoon tea. When she noticed the brightly feathered creature standing directly in her path, she flipped her hand toward it and muttered a single word under her breath. A bright blue ball of energy flew from her fingers to the velociraptor, which exploded into a puff of yellow, green, and black feathers. Its comrades disappeared into the forest.

Senta had scarcely passed the spot in which the velociraptor had stood when she was brought to a stop by a honking coming from behind. She turned around to see a shiny steam carriage chugging down the road toward her. As she waited, the vehicle slowed and came to a stop. A tall man in the uniform of a police sergeant looked down at her. His thick blond hair, flashing moss green eyes, and confidant air made him handsome in a way that the recently acquired bend in his nose couldn’t detract from.

“You shouldn’t walk on this side of town alone,” said Police Sergeant Saba Colbshallow. “Velociraptors have been thick lately.”

Senta nodded.

“Nice car. I didn’t know you were so rich,” she said.

“It’s police property, as you well know little girl.”

“I’m not a little girl,” replied Senta. “I’ll be fifteen in six days.”

“Don’t I know it? I’ve got it marked on my calendar. Climb in. I’ll give you a ride home.”

“It’s only about a hundred yards.”

“Sure, but how often do you get to ride in a steam carriage?”

“I don’t think they’re safe. They used to blow up all the time back in Brech.”

“You’ve never ridden in a steam carriage have you?” Saba grinned. “The Drache Girl is too frightened to ride in a car?”

Senta stuck out her lip. “I’m not frightened.”

Saba reached across the passenger seat and offered her his hand. She stared at it for just a moment, then accepted it, and climbed up onto the empty seat, reaching behind to ensure she didn’t flatten her bustle. A quick press on the forward accelerator sent the car shooting down the gravel road.

“You’ve passed my house,” said Senta.

“I thought we could take a turn around the block.”

Tragic Events in Las Vegas

As many of you know, I am a citizen of Southern Nevada.  I live in Henderson, which once upon a time, was quite a ways from Vegas.  The two have since grown together so much that you don’t know when you’re leaving one and entering another.

We in Southern Nevada experienced what is rapidly becoming a common occurrence in our country.  I refer of course to the mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip.  My family and I are all safe, but we teachers at Brown Academy of International Studies were deeply saddened to find that one of our former students, Quinton Robbins, was killed.  I am attaching a link to his family’s Go Fund Me page here.  They have surpassed their goal, but I am sure they could put any excess to good use.  And here is a link to the Las Vegas Victim’s Fund.

Thanks for any contributions to either of these causes, as well as for your prayers and kind thoughts for the people and visitors of Las Vegas.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 17 Excerpt

“Of course I gave him the rope,” said Iolanthe.

Yuah shuddered. No matter how close she had come to Iolanthe as a compeer, she had never forgotten that her sister-in-law and former employer could be merciless. It still seemed like being given a cold slap, to be forced to come face-to-face with that realization.

“Why did you give him the rope,” asked Saba.

“I thought about giving him a pistol. It would have been a much more appropriate way to do it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t count on Mercy not to shoot me instead of himself.”

“He means, why did you help him kill himself,” said Yuah.

“She knows what I meant.”

“I don’t really need to explain it to you, do I Saba? You have lived with us since you were born. This family has been knocked down again and again, and I have done everything to build it back up. After three generations of incompetence and stupidity, I have made the Dechantagnes a great family name again. I will not let it be linked forever with treason. Can you imagine a public trial and then an execution? No, I will never allow something like that to happen.”

“He was your husband, though.”

“Yes. He was. And at least he had the decency to take the honorable way out.”

Yuah couldn’t take any more. She stood up and walked out of the parlor, down the hallway, and into the library. She stopped inside the door and took a deep breath. Terrence was sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs with a book in his lap. A pair of reading glasses was perched on the end of his nose, but he wasn’t really reading. She stepped over to him and placed her hand lightly on his shoulder.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

Jerking her hand away from his shoulder as though it had been burned, Yuah turned and rushed back out of the room. She leaned against the wall and placed both hands over her stomach. She could feel the cane strips in her corset but couldn’t feel the life growing inside of her. Continuing down the hallway, she stepped into the kitchen. One of the lizardmen was sweeping the floor and a black-haired teenaged boy sat eating a sandwich in the corner.

“Can you drive me now, Marzell?” Yuah asked the boy.

It might have been difficult to find humans in Birmisia who were willing to work as servants, but it was surprisingly simple to find young men willing to serve as drivers for one of only two steam carriages on the continent. Terrence had given out that the position was open and had faced an avalanche of applicants. He had narrowed the selection down to three boys, and had let Yuah choose her favorite. She had chosen one of the Zaeri boys from Freedonia. Marzell Lance was a serious young man of sixteen, with a shock of perpetually mussed black hair and brown eyes. He always seemed to be hungry. Though he had proven he could not only drive, but maintain the steam carriage, that was not why he had been chosen. He, like so many coming from Freedonia, had arrived alone. His sister, the only member of his family with him, had died on the ship.

Marzell jumped up and held open the outside door. Yuah walked through and he followed. The steam carriage was parked near one of the sheds. It looked as pristine as it had when it had arrived on the ship from Greater Brechalon. The minor damage caused by Yuah’s accidental diversion into a snow bank had been repaired, and from the rich black leather of the seats to the shining copper bonnet, it was clean and polished.

“I’ll have to fire up the boiler, Ma’am,” said Marzell.

“I know. That’s fine.”

Marzell held out a helping hand for Yuah, as she stepped up into the passenger seat. As she sat with folded hands in her lap, he stepped around to the back to light the boiler. He shoveled in several more scoops of coal for good measure as well. Then, popping back around to the driver’s side, he climbed in.

“If I had known you were planning to go out, Ma’am, I would have fired it up earlier.”

“I know. It’s all right.”

“Where did you want to go, Ma’am?”

“Please stop saying ‘Ma’am’. I feel old enough as it is.”

“Yes, Ma’am. Where did you want to go, Ma… Mrs. Dechantagne.”

“Take me to Miss Hertling’s home, please.”

Shifting the vehicle into gear, Marzell stepped on the forward accelerator, but with a still relatively cool engine, the steam carriage rolled forward very slowly. It seemed as though it took at least five minutes to reach the gate, which was no more than fifty feet away. Once the young man had gotten out and opened the gate though, steam had built up enough that they were able to start down the road at a respectable speed. It was less than ten minutes later that Yuah was knocking on Honor’s door.

The front door of the small cottage opened and Honor stepped outside. She immediately pulled Yuah to her and enfolded her in her arms. Tears welled up in Yuah’s eyes, but she bit her lip and fought them back. By the time her friend let go of her, she had screwed her face back into order.

“Come in.”

“Just a minute. I didn’t know if you were here. I have to tell Marzell that I’ll be staying a few minutes.”

“Tell him you’ll be a couple of hours and that he should come back,” said Honor. “Don’t argue. Just do it.”

Yuah did as she was told, and as Marzell took off with a whoosh in the steam carriage, she stepped inside the Hertling house and closed the door behind her. Honor was stirring the contents of a large crockery bowl with a big wooden spoon. Her typical brown and black dress was covered by a white apron, now stained with a brown smear.

“I made Hertzel a cake last week, so now I’m making one for Hero.”