The Two Dragons – Chapter 16 Excerpt

Saba led the seven uniformed police officers, each of them armed with rifles through the back door of Mayor and Mrs. Korlann’s house.  The small entryway and cloakroom led to a well-appointed den. Here amid countless books and artworks was a grisly scene.  The lizzie butler Chunny had been hacked nearly to pieces, just as Mrs. Dechantagne’s dressing maid Cissy had been.  Red blood was splattered everywhere.  A trail of dripping crimson led out the other door and toward the front of the house.

Interrogating lizzies at the station, Saba had learned that a gang was responsible for not only the murder of Cissy, but of terrorizing lizardman throughout the town, particularly those who became too close to humans, or even worse, who began to take on human affectations.  He remembered Cissy’s hat and her fondness for Billingbow’s.  There were several dozen members of the group, but the four ringleaders, four young toughs, were all employed at the Dechantagne home.  With two of them in custody, Saba had rushed out with a team of men, only to find that the other two, Skye and Starr, gone.  A hurried interrogation had uncovered their plans to make another example of the Mayor’s lizzie, Chunny.

Signaling three of his officers to cut through the kitchen, Saba and the other four followed the bloody trail through the parlor.  It was far too much to have dripped from a blade, even a wood and obsidian sword.  One of the attackers must have been injured.  He turned around and pointed his rifle at the stairway.  Two lizardmen, covered in the raiment of their gory work stood on the landing.

“Halt,” he shouted.

One lizzie turned and hissed at him, brandishing a sword, while the other sped up the steps.  All five policemen fired and the hissing reptile fell back against the wall, blood spraying all over several fine paintings behind him.  Saba ran up the steps, leaping over the reptilian body. The blood trail continued.  At the top of the stairs, it led him down the hall and through a doorway into a bedroom.  He could hear the others coming up behind him.

In the bedroom was the other lizzie.  He held Egeria Korlann in front of him like a shield.  The clawed fingers of his left hand were enmeshed in her flaming red hair. In his right hand, he held a kitchen carving knife to her throat.  Blood ran in small rivulets from several cuts on the lizzie’s arms down onto Mrs. Korlann’s light blue dressing gown.

“You have two seconds to decide,” Saba told the lizzie as he looked down the rifle sights.

“I kill.”

The bullet hit the lizardman in the right eye, knocking him backwards.  He fell into a small bookcase, which crashed to the ground on top of him.  Mrs. Korlann stood statue-like with horror written across her pretty face and a single drop of blood on her neck.  For a horrible moment, Saba thought the attacker had sliced her throat as he had fallen.  Then she burst into sobs.  The single drop of blood was the only one that escaped the veins of her long white neck.

Saba took off his jacket and wrapped it around her.  He led her down the hall to another bedroom and sat her on the bed.  He looked out into the hall just long enough to see that his men were removing the bodies. Once they had done so, he guided her downstairs, though she nearly swooned at the blood covered landing. Outside, he had PC Gorman drive her to the Dechantagne house so that her daughter-in-law could look after her.

“There was absolutely no danger to me,” Saba explained to his wife that evening. The lizzies had knives and we had rifles and we outnumbered them four to one.”

Saba and Loana Colbshallow were seated at one of the indoor tables at Finkler’s Bakery, Port Dechantagne’s original dining establishment.  Loana sat to Saba’s left.  Opposite him sat Eamon Shrubb and opposite her was his wife Dot.

“Well this certainly underscores why the War Powers Act was so important,” said Loana.

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Eamon.

Their waitress brought out crockery bowls of hearty soup to join the fresh-baked bread already there.  Unrolling their silverware from their linen napkins, they all four tucked in.  The soup was full of beef, squash, and potatoes. After having been gone from so many diets for years, beef seemed to be everywhere now.  The cattle brought to Birmisia colony directly from Brechalon had been supplemented by others brought by train from Mallontah.  Now there were cattle farms springing up all around the country, though Saba wondered if this would continue with the war on.

“You two be careful anyway,” said Dot, returning to the topic at hand.

“Dot’s right,” agreed Loana.  “The last thing I need is to find myself a widow at this time in my life.”

“Don’t worry,” said Saba.  “Eamon and I both had our defining moment five years ago.  Now we’re destined to die in our beds as old men.”

“Here’s to dying in our beds,” said Eamon, raising his glass of beer.

“With your families gathered around you,” added Loana.

They all drank.

“Which brings us to another point,” said Loana.  “Both Dot and I have some news.”

Saba was surprised to see his wife reach across the table and clasp Dot’s hand in hers.  He looked from one to the other, expectantly.

“Preggers,” said Dot.

“Who?” asked Saba.

“Both of us!” Loana squealed.  “We’re going to be mothers together and you’re going to be a father.”

“It’s about time too,” said Eamon, taking another swig of beer.  “I was beginning to wonder if you didn’t have something broken somewhere.”

“Well that just goes to show you,” replied Saba, grinning happily.  “When are we expecting?”

“Early in Magnius,” said Loana.  “Dot and I think we must be very nearly the same way along.”

Advertisements

The Two Dragons – Chapter 15 Excerpt

“Come in,” called Senta in response to the loud banging on the front door.

“St. Ulixes has been invaded!” Graham shouted as he burst in.

“Go back outside and come in again properly.”

“What?”

“Go back outside and come in again properly.  This is my home.  Show some respect.”

“Come on!”

She raised her eyebrow.

“Fine.”

He went back outside and closed the door after him.

“How long are you going to make him suffer,” wondered Hero Hertling.

“Until he learns to come when he’s called,” replied Senta as Graham once again knocked.

“Maybe he was helping Gaylene with her new baby.”

“No, he was playing around down at City Hall,” replied Senta.  Then she said, “Come in.”

Graham opened the door and stepped in.  He took a deep breath and smiled.

“Good day ladies.”

“Good day sir,” said Senta.

“Hey Graham,” said Hero.

“I, um… have some news.”

“What is it?”

“St. Ulixes has been invaded!”  His self-control gave way like a dam bursting.  “The Freedonians attacked it with a full brigade of infantry and steam powered war machines.  They used their airships to drop bombs.  It’s only a matter of time till they’ve completely taken over Mallontah.  Then they have a straight shot on the train directly toward us.  The whole city is going crazy over the news.”

“That is exciting news,” said Senta, though she didn’t seem excited at all.

“What are we going to do?” asked Hero, who looked not only excited but terrified as well.

“General Staff has ordered all the Colonial Guard out to Iguanodon Heath so they can be ready.  The volunteers are going to start training at the guard base tomorrow.”

“Did you sign up?” asked Senta.  “I won’t associate with a dastard.”

“I can’t,” Graham replied, with a frown.  “I have to supervise the lizzie crews.  We’re going out tomorrow to dig trenches and build an observation tower.”

“As long as you’re doing your part.”

“Is Hertzel going with you?” asked Hero.

“Of course he is.”

“Well, enough of worldly matters,” said Senta.  “Do you have my present?”

“I do.” Graham reached into his trouser pocket.

“It’s not your birthday,” observed Hero.  Senta just smiled at her.

“Um, I have to give her a present every day for seven days,” said Graham, pulling out a tiny box.  “This is number six.”

He handed the tiny box to Senta, who opened it and withdrew a small bejeweled key on a silver chain.

“It’s a skeleton key, so it opens all kinds of locks,” said Graham.  “But the really brilliant part is that the handle is a magnifying lens.”

“Well… I don’t know…” said Senta.

“Oh come on!  It’s the best one yet.”

“What other gifts has he given you?” wondered Hero.

“I gave her a fan, a kaleidoscope, and some gloves…”

“And a silver page marker,” finished Senta.

“Ooh, nice,” approved Hero, who appreciated book-related gifts above any others.

“All right, I think I like it.”  Senta fastened the chain behind her neck, so that the key lay across her chest right next to the silver dragon that Graham had given her several years before.

“Well, I have to go,” said Hero, getting up from the comfy chair.  She opened the door and then slammed it shut again. “Graham, your dinosaur is right outside.”

“Of course he is.  How did you think I got here so quick.”

“Can you clear him out of the way?  He might step on me.”

“Stinky wouldn’t do that.  He’s very gentle.”  But he went outside anyway and guided the iguanodon out of the yard and onto the street. “Come on Stinky.  Let the nice girl pass.”

“You’re going to block traffic there,” said Senta, following the other two out the front door.  “Why don’t you take him around to the side of the house?”

“He’s afraid of Bessemer.  I’m going to take him home.  I’ll come back later.”

Out on the brick street, Graham tapped the great beast’s front knee.  The dinosaur stuck its foot out, and Graham stepped onto it, propelling himself up onto its back.  There was no saddle as such, but there was a kind of strap that wrapped around the iguanodon’s neck, to keep its rider from slipping forward. Senta placed her hand on Stinky’s flank. The flesh beneath that pebbled skin wasn’t cold to the touch like a lizzie.  It was warm.

Grasping a pair of reigns attached to the iguanodon’s head with a harness, Graham urged the animal down the street.

“See ya,” he waved.

“He could have given you a ride,” said Senta.

“Oh no, he couldn’t have.”  Hero took her own route away from the tower.

Senta walked around to the side of the house and entered Bessemer’s barn.  There atop the great pile of pillows was the steel dragon, sprawled out and asleep.  He had been asleep now for a full week.  Climbing over several pillows, Senta placed her hand upon his scaly skin.  She already knew that he was so much warmer than the iguanodon.  He was warmer than human skin.

The Two Dragons – Chapter 14 Excerpt

“I guess I do feel vindicated now,” said Zeah Korlann.  “Of course I didn’t realize so many people thought I was lying before.”

“They didn’t think you were lying,” replied Iolanthe Staff.  “No one would believe that of you.  They just thought you were addle pated.”

The Governor sat opposite the Mayor at a table beneath the awning at Café Etta. Between them on either side were their spouses.  Radley Staff seemed to have aged at least ten years since Zeah had seen him last.  Zeah wouldn’t have expected to see him out on the town less than forty-eight hours after having returned to Port Dechantagne, especially given some of the stories that were going around about the events on his trip, but then again Zeah knew from experience that Mrs. Staff wasn’t an easy person to dissuade when she set her mind to something. Never one for idle chatter, Staff stuffed a slice of rare beef fillet into his mouth.

“I never doubted you for a moment, Dearest,” said Egeria.

Zeah’s wife was stunning as usual.  Her burgundy evening gown, trimmed along the bodice with antique lace, was a more traditional style than the simple and daring black, shoulderless dress that the Governor wore, but Zeah didn’t think she could have looked more beautiful.  Her brilliant red hair was pulled back and draped down in ringlets behind her head, and the short fringe across her forehead forced one to focus on her emerald eyes.

“I must admit that I had my moments of doubt,” said Iolanthe.  “Not that it would be any reflection on you.  Those were trying times.”

“As are these,” said Staff after swallowing.  “How did the council meeting go yesterday?”

“The War Powers Act passed,” said Zeah.  “I myself don’t see the necessity.  There was nothing in the law that was not already in de facto effect. But now the tribal leaders will have something to complain about.  Khowass and Tuusuu will be in my office first thing, raising a stink.”

“Sometimes things need to be spelled out,” said Iolanthe.  “Now it is official that the police may search lizzie homes without a warrant.  It’s necessary in time of war, to search out any possible saboteurs or other undesirables. Kafira knows the kinds of damage that just a few lizzies with guns can do.”

“I wonder that it’s necessary to remove the need for a warrant, or to suspend the writ of habeas corpus for natives,” said Egeria, before taking a sip of water.

“Don’t forget,” offered Staff.  “We already have lizzies importing dangerous drugs and murdering each other right here in town.”

“Yes, I forgot about your lizzie,” said Zeah.  “Are there any leads in the murder investigation?”

“Inspector Colbshallow is gathering information for the case, but it seems that it is very difficult to cull any information from the lizzies.”  Iolanthe folded her arms.  “This is exactly what I’m talking about.  We need to know what’s going on in those alligator brains of theirs.”

“I’m more worried about the humans,” said Zeah, “like that boy that tried to shoot you—Yuan Weiss.”

“One lone sad individual,” said Iolanthe, “foolishly afraid that people would somehow be contaminated by working side by side with lizzies.”

“Are we sure that was the reason?” asked Staff.  “What did he say when Mother Linton cast a speak-with-dead spell?”

“He didn’t because she didn’t,” said Zeah.

“What do you mean she didn’t?  She didn’t cast the spell?  She refused?”

“She said she couldn’t do it,” said Iolanthe.  “Weiss had some kind of protective ward.”

“I didn’t believe her though,” stated Zeah.  “And now we may never know why the boy did what he did.  He was clearly troubled.”

“What about that other piece of legislation?” asked Egeria, changing the subject.

“What piece… oh, the dinosaur thing?”

“The Dokkins boy and some of his young friends gave an impassioned argument for a law to officially allow dinosaurs with riders on their back to make use of the streets,” Iolanthe explained to her husband.

“And did they succeed?  I may want to get my own iguanodon.”

“Good heavens, why?” wondered Zeah.  “The streets are crowded enough with the all the steam carriages coming over and now the rickshaw traffic.”

“You could be king of the road on a dinosaur,” replied Staff, looking sidelong at his wife.  “You could look down on the other drivers.”

Iolanthe was thoughtful for a moment, and then dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand.

“Council decided that such a law was superfluous.  Anyone may ride an animal on the street, so long as they follow the rules of the road.”

“That makes sense,” said Staff.  “After all, they don’t have a law that says people may ride horses in Brech, but I’ve had to step over my fair share of horse…”

“Radley!” snapped Iolanthe.  Egeria burst into a fit of musical laughter.

After dinner Zeah and his wife walked to the trolley station.  The lamplighters had already been down the street and it was growing dark.  It was dark enough in fact that one had to listen for the bell to know that the trolley was just up the street.  At one point a genius in the transport department, who didn’t know dinosaurs nearly as well as Graham Dokkins, had come up with the idea of attaching lights to the horns of the three triceratops employed as trolley pullers.  After Harriet, in a rampage of fear and anger, had completely destroyed her trolley car, the idea was suitably disposed of.

“Did you enjoy your beef steak, Dearest?” asked Egeria.

The Two Dragons – Chapter 13 Excerpt

Sunlight reflecting off the swift water of the river painted the ferns and wildflowers along the shore.  Colorful microraptors and a few snipes and wrens jumped from branch to branch in the tall redwoods.  Senta plopped down against the huge bole of a towering tree and gulped air into her lungs. Bratihn dropped to one side of her and Vever to the other.  The others found their own resting places, or leaned against trees, their heads hanging low. Staff remained standing, though he looked as though he could have fallen over.  They had been on the run for days and the remaining ten members of the party were completely exhausted.

They lost one when Staff ordered Manring and Werthimer to return to their guesthouse and try to bring out as much of their gear as was possible.  The two former soldiers managed to get to the guest house and retrieve the packs and rifles, but they had been ambushed by a small group of lizzie guards just outside.  Werthimer was unharmed, but Manring had taken a spear in the side. He had made it back to the group, just barely, leaving a bloody trail behind him.  Despite several healing draughts poured down his throat, he had lost too much blood or had internal injuries too great to be healed by magic.  Slipping into unconsciousness, he had died minutes later.  Senta was horrified to learn of Manring’s fate when she had regained awareness, but she wasn’t given time to think about it.  Staff led her and the others through the streets, staying as much as possible to the narrower side avenues and making for the western edge of the city. He reasoned that the lizzies would expect them to return to their boat on the riverfront and he intended not to make it easy on them.  They fought when they had to, either with their rifles or with captured lizzie weaponry.

Werthimer, having survived the mission to get the gear, was killed as they passed through the city gate.  He was pierced improbably through the head with not one but two spears.  Senta had cast a fireball that destroyed the gatehouse and any immediate pursuers.  Then she had cast an obfuscation spell on the group.  It was designed to mislead anyone who might be looking specifically for them.

For six days the group raced through forests and across plains, stopping for no more than an hour at a time, using every minute of that time for sleep. They ate on their feet.  At last they had reached the shore of the great river—the wrong shore.  By exiting the city to the west, they had found themselves on the southern side of the river, and Birmisia Colony, Port Dechantagne, and home were all on the northern side.

“What do we do now?” asked Ivo Kane.  “We don’t have time to make a boat.”

“Well, I’m not swimming across this river,” said Eden Buttermore.  “I don’t think I could even if I wanted to.  Where it’s narrow enough, it’s too swift. Where it’s slow enough, it’s too wide.”

“It’s too wide everywhere,” said Femke Kane.

“Yes it is.”  Staff looked around.  “There’s nothing for it.  We keep traveling this way until we find a way across.  Go ahead and rest for an hour.”

“We’re going to need to rest more than an hour eventually,” said Mr. Vever.

“I know it.  There are some hills just on the other side of these woods.  I’m hoping for some caves, but we’ll stop there regardless.”

“What were you thinking?” Brown asked Senta in an exasperated voice. “What was that lizzie to you?”

“I just knew her.”

“Well I hope she was worth the lives of Werthimer and Manring.”

Tears welled up in Senta’s eyes.

“It may have all worked for the best,” said Staff.  “I think they were planning to kill us there in the arena. Senta just provided us with enough distraction to get out.”

“How do you know?” wondered Brown.

“I didn’t say I knew.  I said I thought.  We were positioned for a convenient crossfire between the King’s warriors and the Freedonians.  They could have both fired at us without having to worry about hitting each other.”

“What about the lizzie civilians?” asked Mrs. Kane.

“I don’t think either group spend a great deal of time worrying about them. Now, let the girl rest.  She needs to recharge her battery or whatever.”

Senta slipped into sleep and dreamed of home.  The dream wasn’t particularly comforting.  Zurfina’s five-story tower had grown to a hundred stories, but it was leaning over precariously.  Neither Zurfina nor Bessemer was anywhere to be found.  Just as she was about to venture in the front door, she was shaken awake.

“Come on,” said Staff.

They moved away from the river and through the woodlands filled with dogwoods and maples.  There were many birds, the small flying variety, but not many other animals. They found the hills without ever leaving the forest, the trees flowing right up the sloping land.  There were no caves, but they did take refuge in a narrow ravine.  Staff, Bratihn, and Kane collected branches and piled them up to create a camoflage against possible observation from the air.  No one had forgotten the Freedonian airships.

Staff arranged rotating watches and except for those serving in the two-hour shifts, they slept.  Senta wasn’t sure how long she had been asleep, but when she woke it was dark and a shiny half moon was directly above.  A slight chill on the night air made her shiver.  As she shifted her position, she realized it was a full bladder that had awakened her.  Getting up, she stepped carefully across the rocks, past her sleeping companions.

“Mrs. Kane has designated that area behind the large rock as the ladies’ WC,” said Bratihn, who was standing guard.

“And where is Mrs. Kane?”

Bratihn pointed to a sleeping figure.  “Why?”

“No reason.”

The Two Dragons – Chapter 12 Excerpt

Accord Day was always celebrated and was always a patriotic occasion. With the announcement of war however, patriotism knew no bounds.  Saba had never seen so many banners of red, white, and blue in all of his life.  It seemed as if every home, every shop, and every street corner flew the Accord Banner of Greater Brechalon.  Some of the steam carriages driving down the street even sported small versions flapping from the edges of their windscreens. Nothing drove patriotic fervor like fear.

Was it patriotism or fear that was drawn across the faces of the fifty or so men who stood in the dockyards?  Some of them were carrying flags.  Some of them were carrying placards.  One sign said “Keep Birmisia for Brechs”.  Another sign was completely illegible.  None of them, so far as Saba could tell, said, “Welcome to our friendly shore”.  The eight hundred or so immigrants who lined the railing on the rust bucket known as the S.S. Pigeon Guillemot knew a raw reception when they saw it.  They looked as unhappy as the mob did, though they were far quieter about it.

Saba waved to Sergeant Butler, who nodded to his men.  As one, the line of blue uniformed constables stepped forward. Lifting a megaphone to his mouth, Saba shouted.  “By command of the royal governor, you are hereby ordered to disperse!”

The crowd continued to shout and wave their signs.  Then suddenly, every single sign, in unison, burst into splinters as though crushed by giant hands.  The flags were unbothered by the spectral forces at work, though a few were dropped by the startled men who carried them.  Some of those men, and quite a few others hastened away.  The police line moved forward again.  More of the men in the unruly group turned and ran. In the end, only three men were taken into custody.  Saba turned and nodded to Wizard Bassington, who smiled and disappeared around a corner.

“It’s getting worse,” said Sergeant Butler.  “Last month it was only seven or eight rowdies meeting the ships.  Now it’s fifty.”

“Be glad it’s not five hundred,” said Saba.  “People are fools.”

As if by magic, the lizzie dockworkers and their human foremen appeared to moor the ship and place the gangplank in position so that the immigrants could debark.  A few Zaeri also appeared, having been waiting nearby to welcome the new arrivals. One of them was Honor Hertling, who approached the police constables.  She wore a simple black and brown dress, and her long black hair hung loose around her shoulders.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” she said.

Butler smiled and nodded, and then went to help his men usher their three prisoners toward the police station.  Saba looked at the young woman appraisingly.  He couldn’t imagine why she wasn’t married yet.  To his knowledge, she had no suitors, not that he knew everyone’s comings and goings.  The scar that ran down her cheek, though obvious, did not completely detract from her beauty.

“Governor’s orders,” said Saba.  “If it were me, I would have let them alone unless they turned threatening.”

“Yes.  I understand your point of view.  Freedom of speech is important.  These poor people have come a long way though, and endured great hardships to reach our shores.”

“It’s not freedom of speech that concerns me most.  If they want to speak, let them write a letter to the editor of the Birmisia Gazette—after all, he’ll print anything.  My concern is that one of my PCs could have been injured.”

“I understand.  And I want you to know that I plan to vote in your favor on the question of police expansion.”

“Thank you.”

“I fear though,” said Miss Hertling brushing back a stray strand of hair blown by the breeze from offshore.  “You may have difficulty locating a wizard now that Brechalon is at war.”

“They’re not too easy to locate at any time.”

She smiled.  He chuckled.

“Will I see you at the Dechantagne Estate later?” he asked.

“I’m not a guest at the party,” she replied.  “But I will be stopping by later to check on Mrs. Dechantagne. She’s feeling dicky.”

“I hope she’s all right.”  The real concern in Saba’s voice made Miss Hertling smile.

“I’m sure she will be.”

The Two Dragons – Chapter 11 Excerpt

“So what can I do for you today, Inspector?” asked Iolanthe, looking across the great expanse of her desk.

“I would like your help, Ma’am,” replied Saba Colbshallow.  “We need to expand the police force.  We need half a dozen more men, and we need our own wizard.”

“A—wouldn’t this be more properly a matter put to the city council, and B—we have Zurfina at our service, do we not?”

“To answer your last point first, I would prefer to have an official police wizard, not only because he would then see to police needs first, but also because he would have no other agenda.  And Birmisia Colony is more than just Port Dechantagne now.  There are half a dozen little settlements going up along the coast. Soon there will be more.  It’s not just a city matter anymore.”

Iolanthe burst into a large and uncharacteristic smile.

“What is it?” asked Saba.

“I was just remembering you as a boy.”

“That’s the problem with you women.  It’s hard to be a man around you lot when you all knew me as a child.”

“You women?  You lot?” asked Iolanthe.  Her lips lost their smile and instead took on the round, contracted shape that so many feared.

“Um,” Saba paused like a hunter who has realized that he has activated his own trap.  “Anyway, I didn’t know you ever noticed me.”

“Don’t make it more than it is,” she said.  “You were one of my household, that’s all.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“I will take your thoughts on this matter under serious consideration.  Your points are valid.  Go down to my carriage please, and inform Ursal that you and I are dining out together, so I won’t need him.  When you come back up, you may suggest which of our city’s fine establishments we should visit.”

“Yes Ma’am.”  Saba stood up and marched out of the office.

Less than five seconds later Mrs. Wardlaw poked her head in the door.

“Governor, there is a man here to see you.  I told him you were busy, but he says that he is an old friend.”

“That’s fine, Mrs. Wardlaw.  Send him in.”

A lean swarthy man with close-cropped hair entered and walked briskly towards Iolanthe.  She held out her hand.

“Good morning.  I don’t think I know… you!”

“Yes, it is I,” said the man, grasping her hand in his.  She tried to pull it away, but he held on.

“Jolon Bendrin.  I told you that if I ever saw you again, I would shoot you.”

“Your mouth says shoot shoot, but your eyes say yes yes.”

She tried to jerk her hand away but to no avail.  He grasped her right elbow in his left hand and pulled her to him. Then he wrapped his right arm around her, pinning her left arm against her, and pressed his mouth onto hers. She jerked her right hand free and slapped him across the face.  He laughed and fondled her through her dress with his left hand.

“You can’t pretend to be the sweet little virgin this time,” he said. “You’re an old married woman now, but I just had to see you while I was here, for old time’s sake.”

“I was a girl and you took advantage of me.”

“You wanted it and you still…”

There was a loud smack and Bendrin’s face contorted in pain.  He bent to the side, revealing an enraged Saba Colbshallow standing just behind him.  Saba wrapped his left arm around Bendrin’s neck and hit him again and again in the side, several loud pops indicating cracked ribs.  The man crumpled to the floor.  Kneeling down over him, Saba planted punch after punch on the upturned face.  As he pulled his fist back, a splash of blood flew across the air spattering the bottom of Iolanthe’s dress.  Saba stopped, his fist in the air, and looked at her.

“That’s quite all right, Inspector,” she said, stepping toward her desk. “Don’t stop on my account.”

Saba beat Bendrin until he had to sit back and take a breath, and until Bendrin’s face looked like raw meat.  Then the police inspector stood up, and as Iolanthe watched from her chair behind her desk, he kicked the moaning man several times, and then grabbed his almost lifeless body by the jacket collar and dragged him from the room.

Iolanthe’s mind drifted away from the present as she remembered that summer. She had been a happy seventeen year old, enjoying life in the country near Shopton.  She had been out on horseback twenty miles from the Dechantagne Estate.  There, beside a small flowing brook, she had been met by Bendrin.  He had seemed nice at first.  They discussed their future plans and their unhappy situations.  His parents had died in a train wreck.  Her father had killed her mother and was now wasting away in a permanent drunken stupor.  She had enjoyed his company.  Then one day that had changed.

They had both attended Dorit Banner’s coming out party.  Afterwards they had walked in the garden.  They had talked.  Everything seemed wonderful.  He had kissed her.  She even let him.  But then he had pushed her down onto a stone bench and reached under her dress.  He put his hand over her mouth so that she wouldn’t scream, though it hadn’t occurred to her.  He forced himself on her.  He raped her.  And he did it again.  Though she tried to avoid him, he found her alone several more times over the course of that year.  Each time she tried to fight him off, but there seemed to be no more that she could do. He was from a prominent family. Who could she tell—the constable? She would be disgraced.  Her father?  He was a shell of a man.  Terrence was away in the military and Augie was just a boy.  When she had turned eighteen, she had gone back to Brech without her father’s permission.

The Two Dragons – Chapter 10 Excerpt

“What did he do then?”

“He didn’t do anything.  He just sat there and watched me.  After a while, all the lizzies got up and they began carrying offerings up to him—big pieces of meat mostly.”

“What a remarkable experience that must have been,” marveled Mrs. Kane.

“It’s disturbing, that’s what it is,” said Staff.  “Who is in charge here?  Is it the dragon?  Is it the Great King?  Is it the Freedonians?”

“Does it really matter?” asked Mr. Vever.  “It doesn’t seem as if any of them want to do business with us.  If the King isn’t the problem, then it’s the power behind the throne.  Whether the power behind the throne is this dragon, or the Freedonians, or someone else, it’s clear they are not on our side.  What difference does it make?”

“You’re right of course,” said Staff.  “It may not make any difference for the possibility of trade.  On the other hand, it might make a great deal of difference for our survival and the long term survival of Port Dechantagne.”

“I was with Zeah Korlann just after he spoke to this dragon,” said Bratihn. “I’ll admit that I didn’t fully believe him about it, but it’s obvious now he was telling the truth.  The dragon questioned him and was concerned about humans invading his territory.  If he’s the real power, he might not be any more keen on having the Freedonians here than us.  Perhaps there’s room for negotiations there.”

“The King may feel the same way.  The Freedonians might have seemed like a good idea to him when Zurfina destroyed Suusthek, but now that they’re here, he might not feel the same.”

“On the other hand, he might like them,” said Manring.  “He seemed to enjoy his machine gun.  I know I would.”

“And we know what Klaus II wants,” said Wissinger.  “We’ve watched him going after it for the last twenty years.  He and the Reine Zaubereiwant to rule the world.”

“We need a new strategy.  Brown and the Kanes will join Bratihn and Vever in trade negotiations.  I know they won’t bear fruit, but it’s the only real contact we have with the government of Tsahloose.  Wissinger you’ll join too.  I know you’re not a lawyer, but you can try to keep us out of any diplomatic gaffs. Croffet and Werthimer, you two stay on them like paste.  If there’s trouble, you take charge.

“Senta and I are going to take Buttermore with us, along with Manring. We’ll visit the Freedonians.”

The discussion ended as the troop of lizzie servants delivered food once again. This time they brought small birds, cleaned and dressed, and no bigger than Senta’s fist.  Manring once again proved his culinary prowess by roasting the little creatures using his bag of seasoning.  There were also sweet potatoes, which had been cooked prior to delivery, grapes, pears, small green apples, blackberries, carrots, and radishes. Everyone felt quite satisfied long before the quantity of food provided had been exhausted.  Then they once again retired to their sleeping chambers for the night.

Senta, who had taken a bath upon her return from the great plaza earlier in the day, took another.  The rectangular tub was just over seven feet long and five feet wide, which by human standards made it quite spacious.  Its depth however was what made it remarkable.  Though she was an even six feet tall, Senta could not touch the bottom even on her tip-toes, without dunking her head.  Four square stone spouts provided a continuous flow of water into the tub, which spilled over the top and ran down to a drain cut with four long grooves from a one foot square piece of stone.

After the bath, Senta returned to her room dressed in her large fluffy housecoat. She sat down on her sleeping mat and thought about opening Matter and the Elementsonce more, but just couldn’t face it.  Instead she reached into her bag and pulled out a well-worn copy of Intruderby Anarosa Freedman. It was a relatively easy matter to find the racy parts, as the corners of the pages had become dog-eared with rereading.

“Well, what are we priming ourselves up for?” asked Mrs. Kane, when she entered a few minutes later.

“Just reading a bit.”

“So I see.  You’ve had an exciting day.”  Mrs. Kane sat down cross-legged next to Senta.  “You know I’ve always thought that you were a remarkable young woman,” she said, placing her hand on Senta’s shoulder.

“Thanks…”

“I’ve thought that you might be someone I would like to get to know better.”

“Okay…”

“My husband and I have an agreement.  He’s free to pursue other women, as am I.”

“As you are what?”

“Free to pursue other women.”

Senta stared uncomprehending for a moment.  Then recognition kicked her in the side of the head just above the ear.

“Eww!”

“Now don’t be that way,” said Mrs. Kane.  “The love between two women can be a beautiful thing.”

“I’ve got all the loving women that I need,” said Senta.  “What’s more, I have a loving man.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, dear.  You don’t really need one of those.”

“There we must agree to disagree.”  Senta lifted the woman’s hand from her shoulder and set it aside.

“Pity,” said Mrs. Kane, moving to her own sleeping mat.  “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

“Yes, I’m sure I could navigate thirty-three inches if needed.”