Brechalon – Chapter Seven Part Two

Brechalon (New Cover)“I doubt there’s anyone left in either of those towns.” Terrence led his sister to one of the few remaining empty tables, pulled out a chair for her, and then sat down himself.

The two team captains joined the umpire on the pitch for the coin toss. It was determined that Ville Colonie would bat first and the players took their positions. The West Brumming bowler was getting his eye in as a heavyset blond batsman waited. At last the match started as the bowler sent a beautiful bouncer down the wicket, but a loud crack indicated a shot and the two batsmen, including the big chap, went running.

“Would you like something to drink?” Terrence asked.

“Is there a waiter?” wondered Iolanthe, looking around.

“No, there’s a snack kiosk over there.” He pointed to a small shed just beyond the visiting team hutch. “What would you like?”

“I don’t suppose they have any wine.”

“I doubt it.”

“A beer then.”

Terrence took his place in the queue, only occasionally looking back at the game. He wasn’t really that interested in cricket, even though he had played it at university. There was no point in telling Iolanthe though. Once she had her head set on something, it wasn’t likely to change. He purchased two bottles of beer, which came in tall brown bottles with cork stoppers.

Just as he turned around to leave, he was approached by a young woman with long red hair. She was dressed in a long brown skirt and a white blouse and looked as though she might have just come from a factory job. She was pretty, in a course sort of way, and she wore no makeup.

“Can you help me, sir?” she asked, and then turned and began to walk away before Terrence could answer.

He shrugged and followed her, a beer bottle in each hand, around the corner of the kiosk and between a pair of small sheds. As he made the second corner, Terrence came face to face with three men. Two of them were brandishing knives. For a second he didn’t recognize them. Then suddenly he did. They were three men outside Blackwood’s. The memory of the white opthalium made his eyes water slightly. What was it that Blackwood called the first fellow… Mickey, Mikey, Mika?

“Thanks luv. Hurry on your way,” said Mika to the girl, who quickly left. He then turned and smiled unpleasantly at Terrrence. “You’re so happy t’see me your eyes are waterin’ eh?”

“I’m sentimental,” Terrence replied.

The toughs had chosen their spot well. They were shielded from the street by a hedgerow and from the cricket game and the spectators by the sheds. Without conscious thought, Terrence’s mind ran through his options. He could drop one of the beers and go for the pistol in his pocket. He could simply bash the bottles into a couple of skulls. In either scenario, he’d probably take at least one knife blade. He could always yell for help. There were plenty of people within earshot, probably even a copper. Again, he’d probably get stabbed. Besides, he’d never yelled for help in his life.

“Care for a beer?” he asked.

“I’m goin’ t’enjoy lettin’ the air outa you.”

Suddenly there was a loud report followed by a wet smack and the man behind Mika, Mika’s brother Terrence suddenly remembered, dropped to the ground with a massive hole in his chest pouring out blood like a johnny pump. Before anyone had time to think or to move or to think about moving, three more shots rang out. The beer bottles in Terrence’s hands exploded and then a good portion of Mika’s jaw was ripped off his face. He dropped to the ground with a gurgled scream, while the third man in the group turned and ran. Terrence turned to his left, still holding the shattered remains of the bottles, to find Iolanthe in a cloud of gun smoke, a .45 caliber pistol pointed in his general direction. It was an exact match to the one in his pocket save only that hers had a pearl handle.

“Kafira’s tit, Iolanthe! You almost hit me!”

“You’re welcome,” she replied, closing her left eye and taking a bead on the fleeing man’s back.

“Let him go,” he said, and looked down at the sad remains of Mika, now whining pitifully.

A police constable came jogging up from behind Terrence, followed by a few cricket players, one carrying a bat, as well as a few stout fellows from the grandstand.

“These men were trying to rob my brother,” said Iolanthe, stepping forward.

“Oh, it’s you, Miss Dechantagne,” said the constable. “Are you injured?”

“No PC, thank you for asking, but I believe one or both of the men I shot may be in need of ambulance service.”

The constable knelt down and checked Mika’s brother for a pulse.

“This one doesn’t need an ambulance. He’s dead. What are these boys doing so far from the Bottom?”

“Not to belabor the point,” said Iolanthe. “But I believe they were practicing daylight robbery.”

“Even so. Will you be leaving now?”

“Of course not. The match is not over.” She flipped open the revolver and used her fingernail to pull out the spent cartridges. “Come along Terrence.”

The constable left for the police telegraph box to call for an ambulance, while a man from the grandstand rendered what aid there was to give. Everyone else, including the Dechantagne siblings wandered back toward the game. Terrence, who was still holding the spouts and necks of the broken bottles, dropped them in a dust bin as they rounded the corner to the snack kiosk.

“Where did you have that pistol?” he asked. “You don’t have a handbag.”

“I have plenty of room for it under my dress.”

He glanced at his sister’s form. While the top of her dress was very form-fitting indeed, the bottom half of her, thanks to her bustle and voluminous undergarments, blossomed out to such a degree that she could have hidden the arsenal for the good part of a rifle company within her skirts.

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Brechalon – Chapter Six Part Three

Brechalon (New Cover)It was a large spider crawling across his face that woke Nils Chapman up. It tickled his right nostril and then continued on its way down his right cheek and over his right ear. He turned his head and watched it as it went over the edge of the mattress. He didn’t want to get up. He wanted to count—one thousand nine hundred seventy-nine… No! No, he wasn’t going to do that. He felt sick to his stomach. He had felt sick to his stomach ever since he had seen the impossible undulating movement of the wall in prisoner 89’s cell. He hadn’t gone back to the cell since, but the uneasiness, the slowly creeping nausea did not go away.

He turned over and looked toward Karl Drury’s bunk. The sadistic guard was not there. On the one hand, this made Chapman happy, because he found that he was increasingly happy whenever Drury was not around. On the other hand, if he wasn’t here and he wasn’t on duty, he was probably in 89’s cell, abusing her. Chapman shuddered. He had become increasingly sickened by Drury’s treatment of women in general and this one in particular, but now he felt even more ill at the thought of the cell itself, and the wall, and the strange writing, and the undulating movement… He shuddered.

He sat up and rolled out of bed. Taney was the only other guard in the bunkroom.

“Where’s Drury?” he asked.

“The filthy bastard’s got duty at the loading dock,” came the reply. “I wouldn’t want to be one of the boys working down there.”

“Somebody should stop him.”

“Go ahead,” said Taney, “if you want a knife between your ribs.”

Chapman didn’t want a knife between his ribs, but he didn’t know what else to do, so he went down the ancient spiral stone steps to the docks. Six boys were unloading a skiff, but Chapman didn’t see any guards. But as he stepped out into the open, he noticed something strange. There was a shadow in the middle of the dock where a shadow had no right to be. As he stepped closer, he realized it wasn’t a shadow—not in the real sense of the word. It was a man-shaped blob of shadow, occupying the same area that a man would occupy had he been standing there, but with no mass and no substance and completely translucent.

“What is that?” he asked.

The boys stopped and looked at him.

“What is that?” he asked again.

“What is what?” asked one of the boys.

“Where’s Drury?” he asked, his voice rising.

“He’s standin’ right in front of you, you great tosser,” the boy replied, pointing at the shadowy blob.

“That’s not Drury! I don’t know what that is!”

Turning, Chapman ran up the stairs, oblivious to the open-mouthed stares of the boys. He ran past the bunkroom and down the corridor to the north wing. He ran into the door of prisoner 89’s cell, banging it with his fist, as if she could open it from the inside. Finally he rummaged through his pockets for the great key and unlocked the door, rushing inside.

Chapman screamed. Karl Drury was hanging, naked, upside down from the ceiling. His neck had been sliced open and his blood had been drained into the piss pot on the floor beneath him. His gut had been sliced open and long lengths of bowel and a few internal organs hung down like ghastly wind chimes.

Chapman screamed again, as he felt the feather light touch of the woman on his shoulder.

“I needed more ink.” Her sultry voice cut into his soul like a knife cutting through pudding.

She stepped past him and picked up the bucket of blood, tip-toeing like a ballerina to the north wall of the cell, where she dipped her fingers into the gore and began painting strange images onto the stone blocks. As she drew, she spoke to herself. Chapman didn’t need to hear what she was saying. It had been bouncing around in his head since he had gotten up.

“One thousand nine hundred seventy-nine days.”

“Stop it!” he shouted. “Stop it! Stop counting!”

The woman turned toward him and grinned fiercely. “Not much longer now— just a few more days. Go on back now. Don’t want to draw suspicion.”

He crept out of the chamber like a dog that had been beaten. He didn’t go back to the south wing though, instead climbing the stone stairs until he found an alcove with a small opening to the outside world. Here he dropped to the ground and curled up into a ball and wept.

 

* * * * *

 

“That’s pretty,” said Senta. “Is that a sunset or a rainbow?”

She was walking down Contico Boulevard, hand in hand with her cousin Bertice. Mrs. Gantonin, who lived next door, had told Granny about a family whose boys had died and who were now giving away their clothes. With a house full of children, free clothes were not to be overlooked lightly.

“What are you talking about, you little bint?”

“Up there.” Senta pointed off to the right.

“Didn’t you learn that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west? That way is south. How could it be sunset? Besides, it’s only half past four. I’d still be at work if they hadn’t run out of number four thread.”

“A rainbow, then?”

“There’s no rainbow. There’s not been a drop of rain for a week. How could there be a rainbow. I don’t see anything at all.”

“Well, I see something. It’s swirly with red and yellow and blue and purple, like a storm that’s coming, only made out of colors.”

“You need to get your eyes fixed, you do,” said Bertice, giving her arm a yank.

Brechalon – Chapter Six Part Two

Brechalon (New Cover)“What do you suppose this is supposed to be?” asked Arthur McTeague.

“I suppose it was a city a long time ago,” replied Augie Dechantagne, with an emphasis on the second word.

The two lieutenants and the full platoon of soldiers were standing on a smooth surface of stone slabs that had been fitted together. There were steps here and there, breaking the area up into several terraces of varying heights. In a few places there were piles of stone that might have indicated that a wall had once stood there, but there were no buildings. On the far side of the clearing were a series of seven large stones. Each stood about eight feet tall and they were roughly oval in shape. At either end of the row were the remains of other similar stones that had once stood in the line, but had long ago crumbled, either from exposure to the elements or from ancient vandalism. Though those that remained were weathered and worn, one could see that each had been carved long ago to represent a dragon.

A loud squawk announced the arrival of eight or ten creatures that burst out of the trees and ran across the ancient stones. They were only slightly larger than the average chicken and were covered in hairy feathers, though their faces looked all too reptilian and their mouths were full of needle sharp teeth.

“Now, are those birds or dinosaurs?” asked McTeague.

Augie shrugged, but pulled out a book from his tunic.

“And what’s that?”

“That my friend is called a book. People, not artillery officers mind, but other people, sometimes read them.”

McTeague gave him a withering look. “What book is it, you great tosser?”

“It’s Colonel Mormont’s journal. My brother sent it to me.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of the chap. He was here in Birmisia a few years ago, right?”

Augie didn’t reply. He was busy flipping through the pages.

“What does he say about those little buggers?”

“Hold on a minute. I’m looking.”

McTeague folded his arms and waited. Several of the men were chasing the small creatures around the edge of the clearing.

“Here it is. Here it is. I knew I recognized them.” Augie held up the open page to a drawing that did indeed bear a strong resemblance to the creatures in question.

“Buitreraptors,” McTeague read. “Why do you suppose they all have to have such strange names?

“You know how these naturalist types are. Besides, if you just went with ‘chicken-lizard’ and ‘turkey lizard’ you’d soon run out of names. Face it. That’s really what they look like.”

A much louder squawk than those heard before announced to all the soldiers that something larger and more frightening than the skittish buitreraptors had arrived. A monster burst out of the brush and ran toward the tiny creatures. It was a bird lizard too, covered with feathers ranging from a deep turquoise on the head to a light green around the legs, but it didn’t fit Augie’s earlier nomenclature, if for no other reason than size. Its body was as large as the biggest horse, its head bobbing back and forth about seven feet above the ground, but it’s long, feathered tail stretched straight out behind it to make it more than twenty feet long. Though the puny wings would have made any attempt to fly laughable, the clawed fingers and the huge sickle-shaped clawed toes prevented any such jocularity.

The monster apparently had been stalking its tiny cousins through the woods, but now that it saw the human beings, it abruptly changed its targets. Why chase after a tiny morsel when a much juicier and slower prey could be had? It needed only to shift its weight and maintain the same stride to put it on its new trajectory. With a leap into the air that amazed everyone watching, the beast flew more than forty feet to land on top of Private Holloway, clawing him and bending down to give him a killing bite before anyone could react. A second later, the beast was peppered with more than twenty shots fired from all over the clearing.

“Kafira damn-it!” Augie shouted. “Color Sergeant!

“Sir.” Color Sergeant Bourne ran toward him and came to attention.

“Set up a perimeter watch. Make sure all the men have chambered rounds. And prepare a burial detail.” The Color Sergeant hurried off to his duties. Augie turned to McTeague. “Come on.”

The two lieutenants stepped over to the giant bird and Private Holloway. It was only too obvious that he was beyond hope. His head had been bitten half through, though his extremities twitched slightly.

“Nothing to be done,” said McTeague.

“Not for Holloway,” Augie agreed.

Brechalon – Chapter Six Part One

Brechalon (New Cover)Yuah Korlann woke so suddenly that for a moment she didn’t recognize where she was. She was of course, in her own bed, in her own small room, in the servant’s quarters of Number One, Avenue Dragon—in Brech… in Greater Brechalon. She threw her legs over the side of the bed and stuck them into her house shoes. What a queer dream that had been.

She had been walking down a road. It had been winter. Patches of snow lay here and there on the ground and some of the trees were bare, although there were many evergreens. She had been bundled up in a thick fur coat, far more luxurious and expensive than anything she would ever really be able to afford. She even had a fur muff. The most extraordinary thing though, wasn’t where she was, but who or more precisely what, she was with. It was an alligator, walking upright and wearing a yellow evening gown. As they walked along, they talked about the strangest things: the state of the Kingdom, literature, and religion.

Reaching for the glass of water on her nightstand, Yuah saw the open book lying there. She had been reading Night of the Snake by Ebrahim Detsky. That was the problem. She ought not to read books like that right before bed.

Getting up and throwing the housecoat over her nightdress, she shuffled out the door, down the hallway and into the servant’s hall. It was just light enough to see and she realized it was a quarter past four when the wall clock sounded four sharp chimes.

Padding her way on into the kitchen, she thought about having a cup of tea, but that would have meant starting a fire in the oven. Instead, she opened the door of the icebox and withdrew a bottle of milk—one of six, and got a glass from the cupboard. She poured her milk, put the bottle back, and carried the glass into the servant’s hall, where she sat down at the great table. As she drank her milk, she could hear the clock tick-tocking in the other room. It seemed to get louder and louder.

“You’re up early.” At the sound of the voice Yuah jumped, dribbling milk down her chin.

“Heavenly days! What’s wrong with you?” Both the exclamation and the question were out of her mouth before she turned around to find Terrence staring wryly at her.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Don’t look at me! I’m practically naked!”

“You’re kidding, right? You’ve got more clothes on than an Argrathian virgin.” He stepped past her and made his way into the kitchen.

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” said Yuah.

“About Argrathians or about virgins? Shouldn’t there be some cheese in the icebox? Oh, here we go. Now where’s the breadbox?”

“Why didn’t you just press your buzzer?”

“What?” He poked his head back in through the doorway.

“You have a buzzer in your room next to the bed. When you press it, whoever’s on duty, I think it’s Eunice, will bring you whatever you want.”

“When did I get one of those?”

“Your sister had it put in a few months ago.”

“How much do you suppose that cost? Oh, here’s the bread.”

“You would think that you would know. After all, it is your money she’s spending.”

There was a clattering of knives and plates, but Terrence said nothing else until he emerged back from the kitchen with a cheese sandwich on a plate in one hand and what was left of Yuah’s bottle of milk in the other.

“If I’m not worried about it, you shouldn’t be,” he said, sitting down.

He took a bite of sandwich and they were both quiet for a moment.

“That’s your problem, you know,” Yuah said quietly. “You never worry about anything.”

“You’re overstepping yourself, little maid. It’s not your job to worry about what my problem is.” He drained the milk bottle and set it down, hard, on the table.

“Somebody has to. You’re hiding out somewhere poisoning yourself, aren’t you?”

“Shut the hell up,” he said, getting to his feet.

“You’re not taking care of yourself and nobody else is either. I nursed you when you were little, but who’s looking after you now?”

“And just who did you think you were, when you were nursing me? My sister or my mother?”

Yuah flushed.

“I see,” Terrence stepped close and leaned down to look her in the face. “You thought you were my woman. Well, you’re not.”

Yuah felt tears flooding unbidden down her cheeks. She wanted to scream that she wouldn’t marry an idiot like him in a million years, but all that came out was “I hate you!”

“Yeah, welcome to the club.” He stood up and tossed the sandwich onto the table, where it fell apart and scattered.

Yuah jumped to her feet and rushed toward the doorway, pausing just long enough to yell once more at Terrence. She wanted to tell him that he hated himself so much that he would never be able to love anyone else, but all that came out was “You can’t have me.”

“Why would I want a skinny little bint like you?” shouted Terrence after her.

Brechalon – Chapter Five Part Three

Brechalon (New Cover)Avenue Boar ran west from the Great Plaza of Magnus to St. Admeta Park, which was a lovely square expanse of fruit trees and green swards open to the public only on holidays or special occasions. To the north of St. Admeta park was Palace Eidenia, home of the Princess Royal, though since the death of Princess Aarya some ten years prior it had been unoccupied by any member of the royal family. To the west of the park was Avenue Royal which led to Sinceree Palace, where King Tybalt III spent his days while in the city, and to the south was Crown Street which led to the Palace of Ansegdniss where the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon met. Along either side of Crown Street were the official homes of the King’s ministers.   Number 3 was the home of the First Lord of the Treasury while number 4 was the home of the Second Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer.   The Foreign Minister lived in number 7 and the Judge Advocate General lived in number 8, but the largest of the homes on Crown Street was number14: that of the Prime Minister.

Stepping out of her steam carriage, Iolanthe Dechantagne retrieved her parasol from behind the seat and opened it, even though it was a walk of only thirty feet to the door. She tucked a small envelope of papers under her arm. The parasol matched Iolanthe’s outfit, a grey pin-striped day dress framed with waves of antique lace. The single police constable stationed at the Prime Minister’s door nodded affably and made no mention of the fact that Iolanthe’s parking skills had resulted in both tires on the right side of her car being well up onto the sidewalk. He opened the door for her, and she stepped into the vast foyer of the official residence. A maid was waiting to take the parasol and lead her into the offices of the Prime Minister.

Iolanthe had not expected to be kept waiting and indeed she was not. The PM, The Right Honourable Ewart Primula stood up from behind a massive oak desk that had been fashioned from the timbers of the ancient battleship H.M.S.Wyvern. He was a tall, balding man with a thick middle and rather loose jowls that tightened up when he smiled.

“Lady Dechantagne,” he said, hurrying around, but waiting for her to shake his hand.

Iolanthe pursed her lips. “Prime Minister, you know that title is not appropriate.”

“Well, it should be,” the PM replied. “It is most unfair that you should suffer because of… well, because of your father. If it were up to me, your title would be restored and your brother would be viscount.”

“We both know it’s not up to you, and the one man that it is up to is not likely to share your inclination.”

“Let’s not speak of it then,” said Primula, gesturing toward a comfortable antique chair. As Iolanthe took it, he walked back around the desk and sat down. “What can I do for you today?”

“As you already alluded to, my once historic and distinguished family is not quite what it was.” Iolanthe licked her lips. “No viscounts in the house at present, I’m afraid. My two brothers and I could of course live comfortably for the rest of our lives on our household income, but we have bigger plans. We are going to bring the greatness back to our name.”

The Prime Minister nodded.

“Our plan is not just to help ourselves though,” she continued. “Freedonia and Mirsanna are building colonies in distant lands and are becoming wealthy as a result. Greater Brechalon must do the same thing. We propose to build a Brech colony, assuming a royal charter is available”

“In Birmisia,” the PM said, nodding.

“We have as yet not decided. Birmisia is one possibility. Cartonia is another.”

“I think you have settled on Birmisia. You went to a great deal of trouble to have your brother stationed there.”

“Why Prime Minister,” said Iolanthe, with a thin smile. “I didn’t know that we warranted such attention.”

“If anything, I believe I have not been paying enough attention. You are quite a remarkable person, particularly for a woman.”

“And you are quite a perceptive person, Prime Minister, for a man.”

Primula chuckled. “So what is it that I can do to facilitate this expansion of our empire?”

“First of all,” said Iolanthe. “There is the question of the aforementioned charter.”

“I see no undue complications there.”

“Then there is the question of transportation.”

The Prime Minister looked puzzled. “You will charter ships, yes?”

“I will arrange for a number of ships to deliver both settlers, and equipment and supplies. But in order to assure the safe transit of the first settlers and to guarantee the establishment of the colony, I would like the use of a Royal Navy ship, preferably a battleship, along with its crew, of course.”

“Of course,” Primula laughed. “You know you just can’t charter a battleship like it was a yacht for the Thiss Regatta.”

“Talking of which, congratulations on your victory yesterday.”

“Thank you. The regatta is one of the few pleasures I still allow myself.”

Iolanthe leaned forward, her hand reaching out with a heretofore unnoticed small envelope, which she gave to the Prime Minister. He accepted it, opened it, and unfolded the document inside.

“Sweet mother of Kafira,” he gasped, his face turning white. “Where did you get this? No. I don’t want to know. Does anyone else know about this?”

“No.”

“But they will if I don’t accede to your demands?”

“Don’t be silly, Prime Minister.” Iolanthe leaned back, folding her hands in her lap and smiled. “This is the original. There are no facsimiles. This is a gift.”

Ewart Primula jumped up from his seat and pulled aside a large portrait of His Majesty on the wall behind him. He quickly turned the combination on the safe, which was revealed, and in a moment he had placed the paper and the envelope inside, closed and locked the safe, and replaced the stern portrait of the King. Turning around, his face took on a wary look, as if he only just realized that there was a tiger seated across the desk from him.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said slowly.

“Don’t mention it, Prime Minister,” Iolanthe smiled. This did nothing to drive the image of a tiger from his mind. Neither did her next words. “I consider it my duty, one I can perform again. There are a great many similar documents drifting about, you know.”

The PM dropped heavily into his chair.

“As I understand it,” he said with a sigh. “There are two battleships coming in for extensive refit in the next few months—the Minotaur and the Indefatigable, if I’m not mistaken. One of them could be held until you are ready. It is of course, in the best interest of the empire to establish this colony.”

“Oh, indeed it is,” replied Iolanthe.

“Is there anything else?”

“Oh, export papers and manifest waivers, and things of that sort; nothing we need to discuss face to face.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to give you a government wizard?” More than a hint of sarcasm was present in these words, but Miss Dechantagne appeared not to notice.

“No. When the time comes, we will hire our own spellcasters—ones we can trust.”

She stood up and the Prime Minister walked around the desk to take her hand, though he seemed far less enthusiastic about it than he had on her arrival.

“You can’t trust any of them,” he said.

“It is not a question of whom one may trust, Prime Minister,” said Iolanthe. “It is a question of how far. I will trust them precisely as much as I trust anyone else.”

Brechalon – Chapter Five Part Two

Brechalon (New Cover)It was the first time that Nils Chapman had seen prisoner 89 doing anything other than lying curled up in a fetal position. Today she was sitting, cross-legged in the center of the room. It was hot and muggy and he had to wipe the perspiration from his eyes in order to see her clearly. She was muttering something, but he had to listen for a minute to make out just what it was.

“…nine hundred seventy-four days. One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days. One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days.”

“Why are you counting the days?” he called to her through the small window in the armored door.

She locked eyes with him, but didn’t stop repeating her words.

“Are you hungry?” he asked.

She stopped. “Yes.”

“Alright. I’ll get you something.”

Chapman made his way down the stone corridor toward the south wing and the kitchen. He hadn’t quite reached it, when he ran into Karl Drury going the other direction. The other man wore his usual scowl and his shirt was soaked through with sweat. He didn’t need to ask what the other man wanted.

“Why don’t you leave her alone?” said Chapman.

“Why don’t you piss off?” Drury replied and shoved him into the wall.

Chapman immediately leaned back toward Drury.

“I’m not afraid of you,” he growled, which was in fact not true at all.

“You’d better be,” the other man hissed, producing a knife from somewhere. “I could gut you right now… or maybe I’ll do it tonight, while you’re asleep.”

“Tosser,” said Chapman, but he hurried away toward the kitchen.

Purposefully waiting a good half hour before returning to the north wing, Chapman unlocked the door after he was sure that his sadistic fellow guard had gone. Prisoner 89 was sprawled across the stone floor like a ragdoll. It was no surprise that she had been raped, but the guard was shocked at how badly she had been beaten. Apparently she was not nearly as acquiescent as she had been before. Her eyes were open, but they stared at the ceiling, unmoving.

“I brought you a Roger’s Pie.”

He sat the wooden bowl containing the bun filled with meat and turnips next to her. Her eyes rolled around in her head and then looked at him. She sat up and snatched the pie from the bowl, stuffing it into her mouth.

“Have to keep my strength up,” she muttered with her mouth full. “One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days.”

“Why are you counting?”

She finished the pie, but didn’t reply to his question.

“Is your name Zurfina?”

Suddenly her eyes came alive, full of fire, of danger, and of power.

“Zurfina the Magnificent,” she said.

“Can I get you something else?”

“Why?” she asked, the now dangerous grey eyes narrowing.

“Um, I don’t know.”

“Bring me a knife!” she hissed.

“I can’t do that,” he said. “Even if it wouldn’t get me sacked, you’d hurt yourself.”

He now saw that the woman had a series of slash marks up the length of both arms and on both thighs.

“You’re trying to kill yourself.”

“I promise I’m not going to kill myself,” she said.

Chapman turned to leave and stopped in his tracks. Covering the entire wall of the cell all around the door were strange symbols, black against the grey of the stone. Though they weren’t really letters and certainly weren’t from any language that he knew, there was something nevertheless familiar about them. They seemed to swirl and move unnaturally, as if the wall was made not of stone but of rubber or something similarly malleable, and it was being manipulated from behind, creating waves and bulges.

“Kafira,” he swore, and then he jumped as he heard the woman stir behind him. When he looked at her though, she was only getting to her feet, slowly.

“What is that?” he asked, afraid to look back at the wall and afraid to keep his back to it as well.

“That is Omris and Siris,” she replied cryptically. “That is Juton and Treffia. It is Worron and Tommulon.”

“I don’t know any of those words.”

She moved so close to him that her smell gagged him. She stank of years of sweat and urine and filth, and something else.

“That’s your blood!”

“Tell no one about this,” she ordered. “Tell no one. Tell no one.”

He stepped quickly away and slammed the door shut, locking it behind him. He ran down the corridor toward the south wing, and he didn’t look back. Still, he could hear her voice behind him.

“One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days. One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days.”

Brechalon – Chapter Five Part One

Brechalon (New Cover)Yuah knelt down and used the buttonhook to fasten the twenty-eight buttons on each of Iolanthe’s shoes. As she fastened the last button, Yuah had to smile appreciatively. These shoes cost more than she made in a year, but unlike most wealthy aristocratic women, Iolanthe paid a premium not because the shoes were encrusted with jewels, but because they were exceptionally well made, and they were very comfortable.

“What are you smiling at?” demanded Iolanthe.

“Nothing, Miss. I would never smile in your presence.”

Iolanthe pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes.

“What do you think about moving to some faraway land, Yuah… say for instance Mallon?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Yuah feigned.

“Oh please. I know you’re all a bunch of spies. There is nothing that goes on in the house that you and your father and the cook don’t know about.”

“I’m just the servant, Miss. You’re the mistress.”

“You’re cheeky too. I would fire you in a minute if it weren’t that Augie is under the impression that you are his sister instead of me.” Iolanthe stood up and brushed out her dress. “Have you heard from him, by the way?”

“Yes, Miss.” Yuah had gotten at least three letters from Augie since Iolanthe had last asked her. He did indeed think of her as a sister, and she thought of him as a brother. She sent him a letter for every one she received. They were the same age, two years younger than Iolanthe, and six years younger than Terrence, and had spent an enormous amount of time together as children.

“And?”

“Hmm?”

“And what did he say?” asked Iolanthe, pointedly.

“Oh. He wrote mostly about the native…people. Can you call them people? They aren’t really people are they?”

“It matters little what you call them,” said Iolanthe as she crossed the room to the cheval glass.

“Well, he’s been talking to them and learning their language. Isn’t that marvelous? Imagine talking to reptiles. And he writes about the creatures that live where he is. It’s all quite amazing.”

“Amazing that he hasn’t managed to mess it all up.”

“Not at all,” replied Yuah, raising her chin defiantly. “I think Master Augie is doing the family proud.”

“My family,” Iolanthe reminded her.

“Yes, Miss.”

“Still, he’s not the brother you would prefer to hear from, is he?”

Yuah’s face turned red. “I don’t know what you’re talking about… Miss.”

“Returning to my previous topic.” Iolanthe carefully placed her new hat atop her carefully coifed hair. “Life would be different for you outside of Brechalon… in a colony, I mean. Colonial life is different. You wouldn’t be a servant any more. In fact, you could probably afford servants of your own. You might be quite an important part of the community.”

“Are you trying to tell me that in the colonies I might marry Terrence?”

“God no!” Iolanthe laughed musically. “Perhaps we could marry you off to a tradesman.”

 

* * * * *

 

Zeah sat on the step in the courtyard and sipped his tea. It was hot and muggy and many might have preferred a cold beverage but the butler found tea soothing. The courtyard sat towards the side rear of the house, separated from the street on the east side only by an eight-foot tall stone wall. Though windows looked down onto it from all three stories on the other three sides, most of those rooms were not in use, so it was relatively private. Nevertheless, the door behind him opened and young Saba stepped out. Hopping down the steps, he sat down next to Zeah.

“Good morning, Mr. Korlann.”

“Good morning.”

The boy had a large brown glass bottle with a rubber stopper, which he pulled out with his teeth and spat onto the step. Then he tilted the bottle back and took a great swig.

“You’ll pick that up in a minute, I trust,” said Zeah, indicating the stopper with a nod.

“Oh, yeah. Sure.”

“What are you drinking?”

Saba held up the bottle and Zeah read the label. Billingbow’s Sarsaparilla and Wintergreen Soda Water.

“Is it any good?”

“I love it. Would you like a taste?” The boy pointed the open mouth of the bottle at the man.

“Um, no, thank you.”

“Is Miss Dechantagne really going to move to Mallon?”

“Where did you hear that?” asked Zeah, looking at the boy.

“I overheard my mother talking to Yuah about it.”

“I think it best not to speculate what Miss Dechantagne might or might not do.”

“You’re afraid of her, huh?”

“Ah… afraid? No, I’m not afraid of Miss Duh… Dechantagne.”

“Sure you are. Don’t feel bad. Everyone’s afraid of her. I’m afraid of her. I think Master Terrence is afraid of her.”

“I, um…”

“You know how you can tell that you’re afraid?”

“I’m not… um, how?”

“You only stutter when you’re nervous.”

“I duh… don’t stutter… and nuh… nervous is not the same thing as afraid.”

Saba took another swig of soda. “Sure it is. It’s just another word for it, like hart is just another word for horse.”

“They’re not the same thing at all. A hart is a deer.”

“You know you shouldn’t be nervous. It’s not like Miss Dechantagne is going fire you.”

“It’s not?”

“No. She always says she’s going to fire somebody, but when was the last time you saw her really do it?”

“About five minutes ago,” said Zeah.

“Really? Who’d she fire?”

“She dismissed Nora.”

“I don’t know anybody named Nora.”

“She was the girl I hired the other day.”

“Well, you see there,” said Saba, knowingly. “She was new. When was the last time Miss Dechantagne fired anyone that had been with the house for a while?”

“She dismissed Tilda yesterday.”

“Yeah, I miss her,” said Saba wistfully. “So is Miss Dechantagne really going to move to Mallon?”

“Um, I think it’s best not to discuss this. Why do you want to know?”

“Well, I was just thinking. If she goes, then I imagine that we would get to go with her.”

“Do you want to move to Mallon?” asked Zeah.

“Sure. Who wouldn’t?”

“Um, I wouldn’t.”

“Sure you would. It would be great. It would be just like living in a Rikkard Banks Tatum novel.”

“Don’t all of his books involve monsters, chases, and narrow escapes from danger?”

“You bet,” the boy grinned. “It’ll be the dog’s bullocks.”

Saba drained his bottle of Billingbow’s and stood up. “Well, I guess I’d better get busy. I’m supposed to wash the steam carriage. Do you think I could drive it out of the motor shed?”

“No,” Zeah replied. “You had best push it out.”

The boy’s grin disappeared. He sighed and then walked across the courtyard to the motor shed. Zeah reached down and picked up the rubber stopper that Saba had left, then stood up, stretched his back, and went up the steps and back into the house.