The Drache Girl – Amadea Jindra and the Marchonds

Though Amadea Jindra makes a small appearance in Book 0: Brechalon, her only real part of the story is here in The Drache Girl.  If however, I ever get around to writing a sequel series, she will play a part in it.

The Marchonds are just a couple that happen to fall into the story at the right point.  Both make an impression in Radley Staff’s life.

The waiter brought steaming bowls of chicken soup and a large plate with thickly sliced dark bread and thinly sliced gingerbread.  As soon as they were finished with their soup, the bowls were taken away and large bowls of salad in light vinaigrette and topped with orange slices were distributed.  The three had almost finished with the salads when a fourth diner arrived.  It was the raven haired woman who had been playing the piano in the lounge.  Both Marchond and Staff stood as she was seated.

“Miss Jindra,” said Marchond.  “I was afraid we weren’t going to see you this evening.  Allow me to introduce Mr. Staff.”

“Call me Amadea,” said Miss Jindra.

“Miss Jindra is a sorceress of some renown,” said Mrs. Marchond, smiling at the reaction she received, as the young man’s face went unaccountably blank.

Rare prime rib was served for supper with baked potato and Staff gave over talking to tuck in.  He hadn’t had a meal this fine in years.  He certainly never managed prime rib in the officer’s mess.  Dessert was trifle, and also ranked highly among all the food that Staff had eaten in some time.  It reminded him though of his days spent ferrying a group of colonists across the ocean on the battleship H.M.S. Minotaur, and of the nights he spent dining with a strangely commanding woman with almost hypnotic aquamarine eyes.  His mind wandered from there to the evenings spent strolling along a distant shore and a few stolen moments of frantic lovemaking.

With dinner over, he excused himself and walked outside.  He leaned over the railing and watched as a pod of ichthyosaurs raced along beside the ship.  They were so much like the porpoises of home waters, except for the vertical tails.  After a few moments, he felt a warm body next to him and turned to see Miss Jindra in her deep purple dress.

“Mr. Staff,” she said.

“Miss Jindra.”

“I gathered earlier that you had a rather poor opinion of practitioners of the art.”

He shrugged.

“Have you known many?”

“I’ve known a few—a few sorceresses and quite a few wizards.  You run across a lot of wizards in the service.”

“And you don’t like them?”

He shrugged again.

“Why?”

“I don’t know.  I guess I find them to be self-important.”

“Is it self-important magic wielders who bother you?  Or self-important women?”

He shrugged again.

“Birmisia is not the place to go if you don’t like powerful women.”

“Don’t I know it?”

“Is it magic you are afraid of, Mr. Staff?  You know there is a sorceress in Birmisia who may be the most powerful in the world.  She is said to have destroyed an entire city with a single spell.”

“That’s probably exaggerated,” said Staff.  “She didn’t do anything particularly amazing when I knew her.”

“You know her?”

“Knew her.”

“So you really are not afraid of magic.”

“I’m not afraid of magic.  I’m also not afraid of a steam train.  That doesn’t mean I would stand in front of one.”  He tried to change the subject.  “You have an interesting accent, Miss Jindra.”

“My father was a Brech, but my mother was from Argrathia.”

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The Drache Girl – Merchant and Shannon

Merchant and Shannon are the owners of a steam ship line and a coal company and other things in Senta and the Steel Dragon.  Hence they are at work in the background of the story, though the appear in The Drache Girl.  Their names come from Moet and Chandon Champagne (like in the Queen song).

Two men dressed in expensive evening suits entered the lounge and made their way across the room to stand next to the former naval officer.  Both were in their late fifties, the first with thinning grey hair and a thick black mustache.  The second man was clean shaven, with jowls that shook when he talked, and had a thick pile of white hair.

“Two glasses of fortified white,” the first man ordered from the bartender.  Then he turned back to his companion.  “I’m telling you now Shannon, you won’t be sorry you came and you won’t be sorry we brought our crew with us.  There’s no time to waste.”

“I know,” said the jowly man.  “I just hate traveling in Hamonth.  It’s bad luck, you know.”

“No.  It’s bad luck to start a journey in Hamonth.  We’re already at sea.  Did you ever hear that it was bad luck to start a journey in Kafirius?”

“No.”

“Well, there you go.  If anything, it’s good luck.  We’ve got to move quickly too, you know.  The latest report is that the railroad will reach Port Dechantagne by the end of Festuary.”

“That soon?”

“Yes.  Say,” the first man tapped Staff on the shoulder.  “Don’t I know you?”

“I don’t think so,” replied Staff, keeping his eyes on the piano player.

“But you’re a navy man, right?  An officer?”

“I was.”

“Did you serve in Birmisia?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent.  Allow me to make an introduction.  I’m Alastair Merchant, and this is my partner Wendell P. Shannon.”

“Merchant and Shannon,” said Staff, turning to shake hands.  “Like the shipping lines.”

“The very same.”

“Radley Staff, late a commander in His Majesty’s Royal Navy.”

“A pleasure to meet you.  We’re on our way to Birmisia to conduct a little business and we could use a man who knows the lay of the land.  Somebody who’s been there, knows how things are done.  Say, I’ll bet you even know the royal governor.”

“We’ve met.”

“Fantastic,” Merchant turned to Shannon.  “It looks like fortune has smiled on us again.”

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 14 Excerpt

Augie Dechantagne came running through the parlor and like a freight train.  “Mama!  Mama!  I shot a velociraptor!”  He dived toward the couch, landing not on his mother, but instead in the lap of Cissy who sat next to her.

“You did what?”

“I shot a velociraptor!”

Yuah’s eyes shot daggers at the boy’s uncle, who followed him into the room, and who was in turn followed by a lizzie burdened with at least six assorted rifles and another with several large canvas bags slung over his shoulder.  “He’s not even three years old.”

“Don’t get yourself worked up,” said Radley Staff.  “I didn’t give him the weapon.  I simply let him look through the sights and pull the trigger while I held it.”

“Quite appropriate,” said Iolanthe from her seat across the room, her eyes glued to the paper in her hand.  “”A Dechantagne man must be proficient in firearms.”

“You should have seen the blood shoot out!” continued the boy.  “How many did we get again, Uncle?”

“Only four,” said Staff, who then turned to the lizzies.  “Put the gear away in my den.”

“I hope you at least made sure the guns were unloaded in the house,” said Yuah.

“I certainly hope you didn’t.”  Iolanthe at last looked away from her paper.  “What’s the point in having rifles if they aren’t ready to be used?”

“Yuah is right,” said Staff.  “Safety first.  But the best way to be safe is to ensure the children have a good working knowledge of firearms and know when and when not to touch them.”

“Ready for a nap?” Cissy asked the boy.  “Sister is already asleep.”

“I’m hungry,” said the boy.  “Can I get a biscuit?”

“Go get one from the kitchen,” ordered his mother.  Then she stood up.  “I certainly can use a nap.  I shall see you all at tea.”

Making her way up the long sweeping staircase, Yuah snapped her fingers at Narsa, who followed her into her bedroom and helped her remove her day dress and then unfasten her corset.  Waving for the lizzie to go, she unfastened her own hip bag and draped it over the chair, before stretching out on the bed.

“What are you still doing here?” she called, seeing the lizzie out of the corner of her eye.  “Oh, it’s you again.”

It wasn’t Narsa hovering just outside Yuah’s bedroom door, but Cissy.  She seemed to be making a habit of hovering outside doors.

“What do you want?  I’m not doing anything.”

“I whatch you,” said Cissy.

“Yes, yes,” replied Yuah.  “Go ahead and ‘whatch’ me.”

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 12 Excerpt

A full complement of diners surrounded the Dechantagne table for the first time in a great while.  Radley Staff sat at the head of the table, his wife on his right hand and his daughter on his left.  Looking proudly from his spot directly opposite his uncle was Augie Dechantagne, a stack of books between his chair and his bottom.  His mother sat on his right hand and his sister, in her high chair, on his left.  Filling in the seats between Iolanthe and Terra were Mrs. Colbshallow and her son and daughter-in-law.  On the other side of the table were Cissy and two guests—Honor Hertling and her little sister Hero.

“How wonderful to have us all together,” said Staff, waving for one of the servants to start filling the soup bowls.

“It will make for a lovely Oddyndessen,” said Honor Hertling.

“For a what?”

“It’s a Zaeri holy day,” said Yuah, her eyes never quite moving up from the table.  “We don’t really celebrate it anymore in Brechalon.”

“Well, how lovely,” said Mrs. Colbshallow.  “It’s always wonderful to learn new things.”

“Should we…” said Staff.  “Would you… Is a prayer appropriate, considering?”

“We don’t usually do that,” said his wife, drumming her fingers on the table.

“Surely it can’t hurt… guests and all.”

“I could offer a simple prayer,” said Honor, and when Staff gave a nod that she should continue, she closed her eyes and intoned, “Great Lord, as you did with Odessah before his great journey, give us your blessings on this day.  Amen.”

“In Kafira’s name, Amen,” said Loana Colbshallow, making the sign of the cross.

She was followed about three ticks later by both her husband and mother-in-law.

The lizzies quickly served onion soup.  This was followed by a fruit and cress salad.  As soon as the salad plates had been removed, the servants began placing the main course.  Mrs. Colbshallow, though of course knowing nothing of Oddyndessen, had put together as fine a meal as she ever had.  A large pork roast was the center point, though there was also poached fish.  Pudding, peas, chips, and roasted mixed vegetables were placed on overflowing plates around the table.

“Wonderful as always mother,” said Saba Colbshallow.

“I think you’ve outdone yourself mother dear,” said his wife.

“Here, here,” agreed Staff.  “Dearest?”

“The problem is Mrs. Colbshallow,” said Iolanthe.  “Your meals are always so perfect.”

Everyone at the table sat staring, not sure if there was more to come, and not sure whether this was intended as an insult or a compliment.

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Colbshallow after a minute.  She turned to Honor Hertling.  “It’s a shame that your brother couldn’t attend.”

“Yes.  He sends his regrets, but two ships came into port today, so he was needed at the docks.  I hear that the lizzies have begun to move back in to Lizzietown, General Staff.”

“Yes, some of them have.  It’s just Mr. Staff.”

“Some are moving back into town,” said Iolanthe.  “But I have let it be known that these savage witch doctors will not be tolerated.”

She turned and stared at Yuah, but her sister-in-law never looked up from the table.  Yuah just sat and absentmindedly moved the peas around her plate with her fork.

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 11 Excerpt

“What’s your man?” asked Augie Dechantagne as he slid his wooden playing piece, marked to resemble a utahraptor forward to attack a similar wooden piece controlled by his cousin Iolana.

“Drache Girl,” she said.

“No fair!” he cried.  “That’s supposed to be your lizzie witch doctor.”

“No, he’s over here.”  She pointed to another wooden square several inches closer to her.  “I moved him when you were eating all my lizzies with your tyrannosaurus.”

“I’m not playing anymore!”

“It’s just as well,” said Iolana, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes.  “You know you can’t win when I have the Drache Girl.”

“Yuh huh.  What if I have Hoonan Matriarch?”

“What if I have Insane Witch Woman?” the girl countered, sliding her glasses back into place on her button nose.

“Tonahass Ssotook,” he snarled.

Iolana slapped him across the cheek.  Insane Witch Woman was a powerful piece that guaranteed victory for its owner, but that was no excuse for such profanity.  Augie jumped to his feet, tears escaping his already full eyes, and ran from the room, but not before kicking the little wooden squares across the rug.  The girl set about gathering the pieces all up and putting them back into their cloth bag.  She was just finishing as her aunt Yuah entered the parlor and sat down on the sofa.

“Good morning, Aunt Yuah.”

“Come here,” ordered her aunt, as she sat down.  “Let me see your new dress.”

Iolana sat the game on the coffee table and standing in front of the woman, twirled around.  Her shin-length red dress with a trim of yellow bows was spread out around her by the three petticoats beneath it.

“Yes, you look just darling.”  Yuah, reached out and adjusted a red bow in flowing locks of blond hair.  “What do you think of it?”

“I love it,” said the girl.  “It’s even nicer than the dresses that Mama buys for me.  Thank you.”

“Well, if you are going to grow up to be a princess, you must look the part, mustn’t you?”

“I have no desire to be a princess, Aunt Yuah.”

“You have no desire… What kind of five year old child talks that way?  What kind of little girl doesn’t want to grow up to be a princess?  What exactly do you want to be then?”

“I want to go to Brech City and attend at St. Dante University,” said Iolana.  “I’m going to read every book ever written and be a professor of literature.”

“I never heard of anything so ridiculous.  Women do not become professors of anything, let alone professors of literature.”

“Tonahass Ssotook,” muttered the girl.

The smack of her aunt’s palm meeting her cheek echoed throughout the lower floor of the mansion.

Upstairs in the nursery, Cissy sat on the wooden toy box, Augie curled up in her lap, as she rocked the cradle containing little Terra back and forth.  She looked from one to the other.  The little girl was almost too big for the cradle.  In fact she was almost too big for her baby bed.  Soon the family would have to bring in a grown up human bed and convert the nursery to a bedroom.  The boy’s tears had stopped and now he absentmindedly played with the lizzie’s dewlap as she hissed soothingly to him.  He was already too big for the nursery and his uncle was converting the room in the far back corner of the house into a suitable boy’s room.  It had already been outfitted wood paneling and a gold rug.  A dresser, a desk, and chair had been moved in, and several stuffed dinosaur heads had been mounted on the wall.

Yuah passed the doorway heading toward her bedroom.  Cissy shifted and Augie leaned back and looked up at his nurse.

“Go down and tlay with Iolana,” said Cissy.

“I don’t want to.  I don’t like her anymore.”

“Little hoonan say wrong words.  Little hoonan know it.  Tell her sorry.”

“I’m not sorry.  She wasn’t playing fair.”

“Tell her sorry.  She loves little hoonan.  He loves her.”

“No I don’t,” he said, but got up and stomped out of the nursery.

Cissy stood and stepped through the doorway, but instead of following the boy down the sweeping staircase, she turned right toward Yuah’s bedroom door.  She gently turned the doorknob, not surprised to find it locked.  Lifting the knob up with both hands, she bumped the door with her shoulder.  It opened and she stepped inside.

“Get out you…” Yuah started.  She was lying on her bed, her head propped up on two pillows, with a small glass vial of blue liquid in her hands.  “Oh, it’s you.  Don’t bother me.  I want to be alone.”

Cissy crossed the distance in the blink of an eye, snatched the tiny bottle from her hands and threw it across the room.  It dashed to pieces against the cold stones of the unused fireplace.

“You stupid bloody bitch!”  Yuah jumped to her feet on the bed.  “That was two hundred marks!”

Suddenly her eyes jumped toward the small nightstand beside the bed.  Cissy followed her eyes to see a small wooden box with several more of the tiny vials.  They both jumped for the little box, but the reptilian was quicker.  With a swift motion, it too flew into the fireplace, the box breaking apart and the bottles all smashing to pieces.

Yuah let out a cry halfway between a scream and a growl and jumped onto Cissy’s shoulders.  The lizzie easily pulled her away and tossed her on the bed.  With a quick backward kick, she shut the door.  Then she grabbed the woman by the shoulder and dragged her to her feet.

“I’ll kill you, you stupid lizzie.”

“No!” hissed Cissy.  “Kill yourself!  Kill yourself with staahstiachtio.  Yuah whant to die?  I do it for you now!”

She pressed a claw-tipped finger against the skin right between the woman’s eyes.

“Yuah whant to die?”

Yuah whimpered and then sobbed.  “Go ahead.  Do it.”

“Is it what you whant?  Whant Augie to be orphan?  Terra?  Grow with no…”

Yuah broke down into uncontrollable weeping.  Cissy let her go and she wilted down onto the bed, where she lay crying.

Someone pounded on the door.

“What’s going on in there?” called Mrs. Colbshallow.

“You whant Augie and Terra to live like lizzies with no family?  You have to not staahstiachtio.  None.  None.”

“I can’t do it!” wailed Yuah.  “I want to do it, but it’s too hard.  It’s too hard.  Just kill me.  Just kill me.”

“No,” said Cissy.  “Yuah whill do it.  Yuah whill do it for Augie and Terra.  There whill be no more staahstiachtio.  None.”

Yuah looked up at her through bloodshot eyes.

“None,” said Cissy.  “Yuah say it.  None.”

 

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Isaak Wissinger leaned over the ship’s railing and stared down into the dark blue water.  He wasn’t the only one.  Dozens of other passengers on the S.S. Waif des Vaterlands were lined up to watch as half a dozen giant turtles, each larger than a kitchen table swam along apparently oblivious to the steel vessel chugging past them.  They were large, but not nearly as amazing as the writer had expected, having heard for years legends of the monsters to be found in Mallon.

After leaving his employment with Herr Fuhrmann, Wissinger had taken the train from Butzbach to Friedaport, where he had worked on the docks until he had enough accumulated wealth to book passage, steerage class, to Mallontah.  This had taken him several months, but at last he had set sail.  Now, he had been on the ship for forty five days.  His daily meals consisted of porridge in the morning, a piece dried tack for lunch, and for supper a soup made of beans and rancid pork.  It was infinitely better that his diet in the ghetto had been.

“Herr Holdern?”

It took Wissinger a moment to remember that he was Herr Holdern.

“Yes?”

He turned to find a greasy looking little man standing behind him.  He didn’t recall seeing him before, and after a month and a half at sea, that was remarkable in and of itself.

“Do I know you?”

“I do not think so, but I know some Holderns.  Do you come from Boxstein?”

“No,” replied Wissinger.

“Do you have relatives there perhaps?”

“Not that I know of.  You know how it is.  People move all around and lose touch.  You meet someone with the same last name and they may or may not be related.  My people come from Bad Syke, but who knows?”

“What is it you did in Bad Syke?”

“Oh, I’m not from Bad Syke.  I still have cousins living there, I think.  I grew up in Wahlstedt.”

“And what did you do there then?”

“Teamster.”

“A teamster?” said the greasy fellow.  “I took you for a scholar.”

“I doubt you get calluses like this reading books,” said Wissinger, holding up his palms.  “Why, I try to stay as far away from schools and books as possible.”

“I see.”

“But it is pleasant to meet you, Mister…”

“Spinne.  Adolf Spinne.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Herr Spinne.  Maybe we can talk again before we make port.”

“Perhaps,” said Spinne with an oily smile.

Wissinger turned and made his way through the portal and down several sets of stairs to his berth.  His was one of twenty-five bunks stacked five high in the relatively small cabin.  Most of his roommates slept at night, so he tried to spend as much time as possible outside at night, instead taking in a long morning and afternoon nap.  He climbed into his bed, second from the top and pulled the sleeping curtains closed around him.  He could hear the sounds of a woman moaning in passion close by.  She was in the same room, but in one of the other bunk stacks.  This wasn’t all that unusual.  People grabbed what comfort and satisfaction they could, and there were very few places to find any real privacy on a ship as crammed as this one.

“Sweet music isn’t it?” said a husky voice near his head.

Before he could respond, the curtain surrounding him was pulled aside to reveal Zurfina’s face, framed in a shock of blond hair.  She climbed up into the bed on top of him.  There was no room to lie side by side even had that been her intention.  He was surprised though not unhappy to find that she was completely naked, and let out a deep sigh as she rubbed herself up and down his entire length.

“Missed me?”

“Yes indeed.”

She kissed him deeply, letting her tongue explore every part of his mouth.

“Have you been true to me?” she asked as she kissed his neck and reached down to unfasten his pants.

“Yes,” he said, then sighed again as she freed him from his trousers.  “Um, have you been true to me?”

She stopped and looked guiltily up at him, then shrugged.

“When you get to Birmisia, if you want, I’ll be true to you then,” she said, “for a while.”

“Oh, Lord help me, at this moment I really don’t care.”

There was almost no room for him to maneuver, so he simply lay back and let her do all the work.  It was a work for which she once again proved her skill, though she was somewhat louder than the woman who had been in the nearby bunk.  Wissinger didn’t realize it at the time, but he was none too discrete himself.  Afterwards he fell asleep with her still wrapped around him, and when he woke she gave him a repeat performance.

“The day after tomorrow you dock in Mallontah,” she said when they were done.

“That’s good.”

“Yes, but you still have a problem.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s that Spinne fellow you just spoke to.  He’s a Zaeri catcher.”

“I don’t think he suspects me.”

“But you’re not sure, are you?”  Zurfina licked his lips.  “I have to admit, I admire how good a liar you’ve become.  I wouldn’t have expected it.”

“It’s a writer’s skill,” he replied.  “What do you think I should do?”

“Just make it to Birmisia the best you can.”  She kissed him deeply.  “I have to leave and you won’t see me again until after you leave Mallontah.”

She slid off of him and out of the bed.  Wissinger pulled back the curtain to look at her one last time before she left, but she had already gone.

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 9 Excerpt

Hsrandtuss was startled awake when whatever he was lying on bounced.

“Girls, leave me alone.  My head hurts.”

Cautiously opening one eye, he saw that the thing he was lying on was the hard ground and it had bounced because the dragon had fallen out of the sky to land less than a score feet away from him.  He slowly rose to his feet, his tail dragging the ground as he staggered toward the little god.

“Hail mighty Yesse… nnar!” he said, stopping midway through the dragon’s name to hiccup.

The dragon waved him off, having eyes only for the young soft skin.  He spoke to her in the hoonan language.

“Sszaxxanna, blast it!  Where in name of Setemenothiss are you?”

“Here,” she called, sliding up next to him.

“What is he saying?”

The dragon had continued to talk to the sleeping priestess.

“He says ‘wake up’ and ‘time to go to hoonan city-state’.”

“You can’t leave yet,” said Hsrandtuss.  “We will have an even bigger feast for you tonight.”

The dragon’s tone changed to an urgent, beseeching sound.

“He says ‘get up, please’ and he calls her ‘favorite domestic animal’,” Sszaxxanna translated.

Hsrandtuss paused for a moment in thought.  Well, not what he expected, but it made a certain amount of sense, considering the place on the food chain of dragons and soft skins.  He stepped up beside the dragon’s massive head.

“Is there something wrong?”

The dragon’s face hovered above prone hoonan, its long forked tale running over her from head to feet.

“Yes, there is something wrong!” boomed the dragon, waking the last of the sleeping lizzies.  “I can smell something foul.”

His tongue flicked around her head again.

“There’s a sickening smell around her ear.  I think she’s been stung or bitten by something.”  His great head swung toward Hsrandtuss.  “Is there some kind of creature that attacks the ears of mammals?”

The king thought hard.  There were plenty of mammals around—small ones like opossums and weasels, but he didn’t know much about them, especially not what kind of parasites fed on them.

“It was Hkhanu!” shouted Sszaxxanna.  “He came in the night and poured poison in the youngling’s ear.  I wasn’t sure that I truly saw it, because I was half asleep, but now I remember.”

“What?” wondered the king.

“Ssu!  Come here!”  Sszaxxanna called another female over to her, a small one, only recently caught and civilized.  “You saw the witch doctor too, didn’t you?  You saw him pour poison into the poor soft skin’s ear.”

The young female nodded emphatically.

“I can’t believe it,” said Hsrandtuss.

Sszaxxanna grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a shake.

“The guilty must be punished,” she said.

“Yes.  Yes.  The guilty must be punished.”  He raised his voice and shouted.  “Warriors, to me!  Warriors, attend your king!”

Within seconds a group more than twenty large males surrounded him.

“To the temple!  Bring everyone inside down to the fire pit!  Justice must be seen to!  Do it now!”

The warriors, bolstered by even more of their ranks who had arrived as the king was talking, moved up the path to the top of the hill, and into the great and ancient stone temple.

“What can we do?” wailed the dragon.  “Is there a medicine for her?”

“We will force the perpetrator to tell us,” said Sszaxxanna.

“Yes, of course,” said the king.  “In the meantime Sszaxxanna, get the healing women to have a look at the human and see if there is anything they can do.”

With a nod, the female left, pulling young Ssu along with her.  She returned several minutes later with two old females who began to prod and probe the soft skin’s ear.  The dragon sat back, wringing his hands like an egg keeper in cold weather.  The women were still examining their patient, when the warriors returned dragging along Hkhanu’s six acolytes and four females.  Hkhanu himself was with them too, but apparently none of the warriors was brave enough to actually lay hands upon the old witch doctor.

“You are in trouble now, Hkhanu,” said Hsrandtuss.  “You must answer for your crimes.”

“How dare you send your warriors into the temple!”  The old lizzie was so angry he was literally spitting.  “How dare you treat me like a common zsrant!”

“What did you do to her?” roared the dragon, and with a single bound, he landed amid the warriors and priests and snatched up Hkhanu in his scaly hand.  “What did you poison her with?”

For a second, old Hkhanu looked frightened, then he looked confused, but then he puffed himself up.  “You are a false god,” he said.

Something shot through the witch doctor’s chest so quickly that it was as if he had been struck by lightning.  It was the barb on the dragon’s whip-like tail.  Lifting up his tail, the body still impaled upon it, the great steel beast slashed twice with the claws of his left hand, and Hkhanu fell to the ground in a dozen pieces.

“Line them up!” called Hsrandtuss, taking a spear from a nearby warrior.  “Line up these so-called wise elders.”

The prisoners from the temple were put in a line and pushed down onto their knees.

“What did Hkhanu do to the soft skin priestess?” he asked the first acolyte.

“I don’t know anything about…”  The answer was cut short as the king drove his spear down into the captive’s chest.

He received a similar answer from the second in line, and gave him just as quick a death as the first.  The third in line, clearly seeing where this was going, started talking before the king had even come close to him.

“He did it!  Hkhanu poisoned the hoonan.  He used a secret poison.  No one knows the cure.”

Hsrandtuss turned toward the dragon.  “Great Yessennar, I place my people completely at your command.  We will do anything to help your little one.  But I do not know what that could be.”

“Take her to the human city-state,” said Sszaxxanna.  “The soft skins have powerful magic.  Maybe they can help her.”

“Yes, I’ll do that,” said the dragon, taking the girl’s limp body gingerly in his hands.  “My thanks, Mighty King.”

Hsrandtuss watched as the dragon shot into the sky faster than anything he could imagine.  Then with one wave of his wings, he zoomed northward.  Hsrandtuss truly hoped the young soft skin would recover.  He didn’t know if Hkhanu had anything to do with her mysterious illness or not.  It all worked out well though.  He would have no trouble with the temple.  He would in fact, rededicate it to Yessennar and choose a new priest, one that would cause him no trouble.  He glanced sidelong at Sszaxxanna.  She was a wily one.  She smiled back at him.  Yes, he might well have found a new matriarch.

“Come, get the other females,” he said to her.  “I need oil rubbed on my back.”

“Yes, Mighty King.”

Mighty King.  Hsrandtuss definitely liked the sound of that.