Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The Voyage of the Minotaur - Chapter 14 Excerpt
“The child’s presence is not required,” said Lieutenant Staff. “We haven’t scouted the area yet. We don’t know how safe it is.”
“She is going.” Zurfina stood up and walked toward the passageway that led to the other side of the ship. Senta followed at her heels with the steel dragon around her shoulders.
On the port side of the vessel a launch was already in the water. Captain Dechantagne, Lieutenant Dechantagne, or Augie as Senta thought of him, and Lieutenant Baxter sat waiting along with a dozen soldiers in khaki uniforms with rifles slung over their back, and a dozen sailors dressed in white to man the oars. A temporary staircase had been erected on the side of the ship, which led from the upper deck, down six flights, with landings at the four lower hatchways, and terminating just above the waves. Once Zurfina and Senta had descended the stairs and stepped into the launch, the boat was pushed away from the ship, and the sailors lowered their oars into the water. The sorceress and her apprentice were the only females in the party.
The bay was calm and the water was still, reflecting the many clouds in the sky like a picture. Even the oar strokes of the sailors did not disturb the smooth surface for long. None of the men spoke, and the honking of the iguanodons could be heard in the distance, along with an occasional loud bellowing roar.
“Gawp,” said the dragon.
It didn’t take long for the boat to reach the shore, a twenty foot wide band of rocks and gravel separating the water from the thick redwood forest. The sailors raised their oars straight up and Captain Dechantagne and several of the soldiers jumped out and pulled the boat up onto the gravel. Then everyone else climbed onto the land.
“What do you think Baxter?” asked Augie. “This looks like a good place for a dock right here. We can use the wood growing all around, build the dock and extend it straight out into the water thirty or forty feet, and build a couple of warehouses right up here.
“We’ll have to check the depth, but it seems fine,” replied Baxter.
Leaving six of the sailors with the boat, the rest of the party moved past the shore and into the woods. The redwoods were enormous. Some of them were twenty feet or more in diameter at the base. Senta thought it would be ace if one could be hollowed out and made into a house. There were plenty of small plants growing beneath the massive trees, but not so many that it was impossible to tramp through. Once away from the shoreline, the land rose up quickly.
“It’s hard to tell with all these trees, but it looks as though the initial survey was right on,” said Augie. “This ridge runs right out on the peninsula. We can build the lighthouse at the tip, and the fort on that hill to the right.”
“The peninsula is what, about four miles long and a mile wide?” asked Terrence.
“Yes, though there is a narrow spot in the middle of the peninsula, where it’s only as wide as the ridge, maybe a half a mile.”
“How far is the river?”
“About six miles east.”
“Why not build closer to the river,” wondered Lieutenant Baxter.
“The Manzanian isn’t like the Tiss or the Green River in Mallontah. It’s not navigable even around the mouth. Twelve miles upstream you find the first of a half dozen known cataracts. In the short term at least, this little bay will be much more valuable to the colony than the river would be. There are several small streams around here for water and we can pipe in more as needed.”
When they had walked up a few hundred feet, the land flattened out and opened into a clearing. Here was another great group of iguanodons, with several members of another species of dinosaur meandering along with them. This was a low, heavily built, mottled brown creature about twenty feet long, covered with thick plates of boney armor. Its beaked head resembled a horned lizard, with short, thick horns arranged around its face. At the end of its long tail, it sported an enormous two-lobed club.
“I wonder what the Mormont called this one,” wondered Captain Dechantagne. “Clubadon?”
“It’s called an ankylosaurus,” said Augie.
His brother looked at him in surprise.
“I’ve been here before, remember? I wonder if it could be domesticated? I’ll bet that thing could pull a pretty heavily laden wagon.”
Captain Dechantagne shrugged, then stopped and pointed.
At the far end of the clearing, the foliage parted and a massive red face pushed its way into the open. It was followed by the rest of a large blocky head, twenty five feet above the ground. Slowly the entire creature emerged from the woods. Two tiny forearms dangled uselessly, but two giant, clawed hind feet carried the beast, a great black body, balanced at one end by the enormous head and at the other end by a long, sweeping tail. It gave an awful roar and rushed forward to take a horrendous bite out of the back of the closest iguanodon. The iguanodon honked balefully and ran several steps, but it was wounded so grievously that it sank to the ground from shock and blood loss. The reptilian tyrant strode over to its victim and administered a killing bite.
“Bloody hell,” said Augie.
The steel dragon suddenly launched itself into the air. The chain attaching it to Senta pulled taut and jerked her off her feet. As she fell to the ground on her knees, a weak link in the chain parted, sending the dragon flying up toward the trees in the general direction from which they had come. Senta jumped to her feet and took off running after her wayward charge.
“Come back here!” she called.
The little dragon paid no attention to her as it flapped its way through the redwood branches. Senta ran as fast as she could, but was soon outpaced. She ran down the embankment which they had walked up earlier, but then turned as the dragon flew parallel to the shore. With a flash of steel, he shot up into the canopy and she lost sight of him. Stopping, she looked around.
“Come here boy!” she called.
She waited but there was no reply. She called again.
“Squawk!” The noise came from her left and she turned to view its source, but it wasn’t the dragon. It was some kind of bird, just a little bit too short to look Senta in the eye. It was covered with hairy feathers, yellow near its small arms, green everywhere else. Its tail stretched straight out almost five feet behind it. Each of its two feet had a five inch claw, curving upward, totally useless for locomotion, but frightening. Its long, flat, very unbirdlike snout was filled with large, widely spaced teeth. Senta had never seen a bird with teeth before. It looked rather like a killer turkey. The beast cocked its head to one side and regarded her with a large black eye.
“Squawk!” it cried again.
“Squawk!” came an answer. Senta turned and saw another bird to her right. Then she heard rustling behind her and turned and saw a third and fourth bird. The second bird hopped toward her and snapped its jaws. The first bird hopped closer too. It perched on a large rock and the big claws on either foot clicked against the stone as if it were testing them or sharpening them. She didn’t hear them, but Senta thought that the other two were probably moving closer as well.
“Uuthanum!” she shouted, pointing her finger at the first bird.
At the same moment she cast her spell, the creature and its closest companion both launched themselves at her. A cone of frost spread from Senta’s fingertip spraying the first small creature, covering it with ice and knocking it to the ground near her feet. The second beast was knocked out of mid-air by a metallic streak shooting from the sky. The steel dragon latched onto the bird’s neck with its needle sharp teeth, sending them both tumbling across the ground.
Senta looked down at the half-frozen bird by her feet and the one struggling to free itself from the grasp of the dragon, now holding onto it with all four feet in addition to its jaws. She completely forgot about the other two behind her until she felt a weight on her shoulders and sharp claws digging into her skin. She expected at any moment to feel the mouthful of teeth or the big upward curving claw. Instead, a flurry of gunshots rang out through the redwoods.
The bird let go of her shoulders and fell to the ground dead. Senta turned to see the Dechantagne brothers and two riflemen. They had shot the bird off her shoulders. They had also shot the other bird behind her and the half frozen bird that had just been able to stand up before it was killed. They hadn’t needed to shoot the beast fighting with the dragon. It was already dead
“Gawp!” said the dragon, licking the blood from its whiskers with a long forked tongue.
Captain Dechantagne rushed forward and scooped Senta up into his arms. He looked at the tears in her dress and the tears in her skin beneath.
“These don’t seem too bad,” he said. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
Senta shook her head.
“Looks like we got here just in time,” said one of the riflemen.
“Velociraptors,” said Augie.
Zurfina stepped out from behind a tree, walked over and picked up the dragon, which wrapped itself around her shoulders just as it had Senta’s before. Captain Dechantagne sat Senta down and faced the sorceress.
“You’re this little girl’s guardian,” he said angrily. “She shouldn’t have been brought ashore.”
Zurfina stepped toward him and placed her forefinger on his chin.
“Guardian,” she said derisively. “My dear Terrence, we’re going to be living here. Children are going to be eaten.”