Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Dark and Forbidding Land - Chapter 1


Chapter One: Winter


The snow was falling from the sky in great clumpy bunches. They dropped like feathers through the still, cold air to form great piles on the ground. The snow had been coming down steadily for four hours. The huckleberry and azalea bushes were covered over with a thick blanket. The little walkway of stepping stones that led to the road and the road itself were just memories, covered by billowy white. Spruces and maples dipped their bare branches forlornly and even the mighty redwoods struggled under the weight of the gathering snow. But the snow didn’t care. It continued on, relentlessly smothering the world. It completely surrounded the strange five story home nestled in the Birmisian woods. Not too far away a tremendous roar echoed through the trees.

“Monster,” said the steel dragon, peeking out the door from between Graham Dokkin’s legs.

“Tyrannosaurus,” corrected Senta Bly. “I guess he doesn’t like the snow too much.”

“Well who does?” wondered Graham, looking down at the dragon. “And get your head away from there. That’s all I need, to have my goolies bit.”

“He hasn’t bitten anyone in almost a year,” countered Senta, “has he Hero?”

Hero Hertling didn’t answer. At the mention of goolies, she had covered her face with both hands, though one could still spot the spreading blush around its edges. She and her brother Hertzal, along with Graham, were spending the day at Senta’s house. They had been delivered just before the snow started by Graham’s Da to the five story structure set well away from the rest of Port Dechantagne. Although Senta and her guardian Zurfina the Magnificent had been living here for almost a year, it had taken quite a while to convince Graham’s parents and Hero and Hertzal’s older sister to let them spend the day there. This was the first time that all three had visited together.

“Why don’t you close the door?” said Hero from between her fingers. “Who knows what might run out of the forest and into here.”

Her brother, who never said anything, nodded.

“Alright then. Move over dragon.” Graham scooted the steel beastie with his boot while shutting the door.

“Call him by his name,” said Senta.

“Bessemer,” said the dragon, and then made his way to the far wall to curl up on a single large pillow next to the cast iron stove.

Though more than eight feet from tip of whiskered snout to the barbed tip of his tail, Bessemer was not much taller at the shoulder than a medium sized dog. Scales the color of polished steel covered him from his nose all the way to the clawed tips of his fingers. Even his eyes were steel colored, so much so that it was difficult to see just where he was looking. So lithe and agile was he when he moved, it was rather like watching a river flow across the room.

“Bessemer,” said Graham, still looking at the dragon. “It just doesn’t fit. I’d have gone with Whiskers or Peetie.”

“Zurfina says that dragons are born knowing their own names,” said Senta. “It’s just another sign that they are so much smarter than people.”

“Fina,” said the dragon.

“When is Zurfina getting home,” wondered Hero, at last uncovering her face. “I can’t believe she left you all alone out here in the wilderness.”

“This isn’t the wilderness. This is our house.”

“You know what I mean.”

“It’s not any farther away from the wall than your new house is.”

“No, but there are other houses around ours.”

Hero and Hertzal lived in a small but sturdy house that was part of a new neighborhood on the east side of the growing colony. Though their house had been the first one built in that area, there were now more than a dozen similar structures, all occupied by ethnic Zaeri, who had fled persecution in Freedonia.

“Zurfina is very busy lately,” explained Senta. “With no wizards in the colony, she has to do all the magic stuff herself—at least until I get good enough to help out. Besides I’m used to taking care of myself.”

“It’s on account of her being a orphan,” offered Graham.

The three other children all stared mutely at him.

“What?” he asked, having forgotten that of the four, he was the only one who was not an orphan.

Graham, who although he had recently hit a growth spurt was still decidedly chunky, had brown hair, freckles, and very large teeth. He was dressed in a long-sleeved flannel shirt and dungarees rolled up around the leather boots that had once been his father’s. Graham always wore his dungarees rolled up at the ankles, as his mother was in the habit of buying them to fit him sometime in the distant future. Still the fact that all his clothes, save the boots, were new, spoke to the Dokkins family’s growing prosperity. Hero and Hertzal, who were twins, both with thick dark hair, though Hertzal kept his cut short around the ears, and beautiful dark eyes, wore neat and well-maintained, but obviously home-sewn clothes. Following the Freedonian Zaeri custom, which eschewed color, Hertzal wore a white shirt with brown trousers while his sister wore a brown dress with a white linen overdress.

“Hungry,” said Bessemer from the corner.

“Yes, it’s about time for tea,” agreed Senta.

Senta stood out from the other three children like day stands out from night. Her straight, light blond hair seemed the exact opposite of Hero's thick, curly, raven waves. Senta's skin, which in the summer had taken on a bit of tan as she played around town, had gone back to its natural alabaster white. And though she was only an inch taller than the twins, she seemed far more so because she was very thin. Today she wore one more in a series of bizarre creations that Zurfina provided for her on a daily basis. Zurfina, her guardian and a powerful sorceress, was of the opinion that she and her ward should appear mysterious. To Senta's mind, the clothing that usually resulted from this idea was too often just plain weird. This particular outfit, a black dress made of luxurious Mirsannan silk, looked far too much like a dressing gown for her taste. It draped down to her ankles with no decoration or flourish while the long sleeves and neck exploded with black lace. Still, it had one great redeeming feature. It was warm.

Graham and Hertzal sat down at the table, while Senta and Hero gathered fruit and cheese, butter and jam, scones which Graham’s mother had sent along, and a pot of tea.

“Still, it is dangerous out here in the woods so far from the protective wall,” continued Hero, who seemed to relish having something of which to be frightened. “Honor said that four grown men were attacked by a large group of Deinonychus when they were cutting firewood.”

“My Da says ‘this is Birmisia and you’ve just got to keep your wits about you’,” said Graham. “It won’t be long before we’re all living outside the wall and nobody will think anything about it. Besides this tower is ace.”

Senta had already given her three friends the three pfennig tour of her new home. It wasn’t really a tower. It was just a small building, no larger in floor area than most homes, but rising to five stories. The ground floor was a kitchen, dining area, and storage rooms. The first floor up was the living room and Bessemer’s chamber. The second floor up was a bedroom and playroom for Senta. Above that was Zurfina’s bedroom and boudoir. The very top story was the sorceress’s private study, which had not been on the tour, and which in fact Senta herself had never seen.

“I do love your room,” said Hero. “All that space just for you. You’re like a princess.”

“Mind you I don’t know why the dragon needs his own room,” said Graham. “All he does is sit down here by the stove anyway. And what do you need a bathtub in your bedroom for?”

Senta’s bedroom did indeed feature, in addition to a large four poster bed, a floor chest, a pair of small nightstands, an oak wardrobe, a five shelf bookcase, and a cheval glass; a large claw-foot bathtub with fully modern plumbing, which had only just been connected.

“I bathe every single day in my tub and I love it.”

“That’s just not healthy.” Graham raised a finger as if he was tutoring philosophy. “My Da says you’ll wash off the protective layer of dirt and oil.”

Moments after this bit of philosophizing, Graham had turned quiet as he tucked into the afternoon repast. Senta let the others begin while she continued around the kitchen area, the most wonderful feature of which was a froredor. The froredor was a magical ice box. It didn’t look too different from any other ice box, most of which were simply heavily insulated cabinetry. But where ice boxes had two small doors, one for the food storage area and one in which to put the ice, the froredor had only one large door. It never needed ice. Magic kept it at thirty eight degrees. Of course one could simply have placed the food outside the door in a snow bank, but that would probably only invite more deinonychus or their smaller cousins the velociraptors, who needed precious little invitation.

Placing two large sausages on a plate, along with a crumpet, she carried it over to Bessemer and sat it down beside him before returning to the table and sitting down.

“Say thank you,” she called over her shoulder.

“Thank you,” said the dragon, his voice not too different than that of a small child.

“You keep training him to talk and pretty soon you won’t be able to shut him up,” warned Graham, a bit of masticated crumpet flying from his mouth to land beside his plate.

“Thank you for never talking with your mouth full,” Senta told Hertzal pointedly. The dark haired boy nodded happily, while Graham looked appropriately chastened.

The roar of the tyrannosaurus echoed through the forest outside once again. Hero shivered and Graham carefully swallowed before speaking.

“If I had a rifle right now, I’d go out and shoot that thing.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Senta. “How do you think we’d feel if all we had of you was one foot?”

“Father Ian didn’t have a gun and he wasn’t hunting. I’d have my wits about me.”

Father Ian, the priest who had arrived on the H.M.S. Minotaur along with Senta, Graham, and the first group of colonists, had been killed and almost completely eaten by a tyrannosaurus, though his single shoe-clad foot had been given an appropriate burial.

The small group finished their meal and then gathered around the stove, wrapping up in large fluffy blankets as Hero read The Pale Sun by Geert Resnick. The twin's older sister Honor, who served as their tutor and guardian, required the book for their lessons. Zurfina had taken on Senta’s instruction and could not possibly care less whether she read any novels at all. And Graham had only been induced to listen by the revelation that the book had been banned in Freedonia, however as he would later discover much to his unhappiness, this was because of an indictment of Freedonian politics and not for any lurid sexual content. They had just gotten comfortably settled when they realized that the light coming in through the shuttered windows from outside had become too dim for reading. Without getting up, Senta pointed her finger and said “Uuthanum,” magicing some candles to life.

Hero had read the first two chapters when the door opened and a figure clad from head to toe in black furs stepped inside. The figure brushed the snow off its shoulders and then pulled back its hood to reveal Zurfina the Magnificent. Unbuttoning her heavy fur coat, she let it drop to the floor, stepping out of it to reveal an outfit that exactly matched Senta’s. The outfit was not the only thing about Zurfina which resembled Senta. She had the same color of blond hair, though she had a small bald spot over her right ear, and the same pale complexion. Zurfina was slightly on the tall side, a trait almost always enhanced by high heels, and though slender, possessed an appropriate amount of female curves-- something Senta found herself envying more each day.

“Why is my house infested with children?” the sorceress demanded, though exactly to whom she was speaking was unclear. “Why aren’t you all out playing in the snow? It was my understanding that children adore it.”

“The tyrannosaurus is out there,” said Senta.

“Well if it attacks, you simply run in four different directions. That way you have at least a seventy five percent chance of getting away.”

“Unless he can hop from one to the other of us,” said Senta. “I doubt he would be as hindered by the snow as we would be.”

“Then perhaps you’ve made a good decision,” said Zurfina and headed up the staircase in the center of the room. “Wake me for dinner, Pet.”

“Is she serious?” wondered Graham.

“About dinner?”

“No. About us playing when the tyrannosaurus is about.”

Senta shrugged. “You know she almost let me get eaten by velociraptors once.”

Any further consideration of her mistress's peculiarities was cut short by a knock at the door. Picking up Zurfina’s discarded coat and throwing it onto the coat rack, Senta opened the door to find Honor Hertling and three armed militiamen, one of whom was carrying a lantern.

“Did you have fun?” she asked the four children. “It’s time to go home now.”

“I thought my Da was coming to get us,” said Graham.

“He was needed at the saw mill, so I said that I would come and fetch you. Of course Mayor Korlann wouldn’t let me out of the gate without an armed escort.” She indicated the three men who were glancing cautiously into the dark spaces between the trees. She waited at the door while Graham, Hertzal, and Hero gathered their things.

Honor Hertling was in many ways an older version of Hero, with a thick mane of raven hair and large, expressive, dark eyes. Her lips were as enchanting as her eyes, but her nose, that feature that so often goes unnoticed in even the most beautiful, was the most striking thing about her. It was perfect; neither too long nor too short; perfectly symmetrical and correctly sized for her face. That nose brought together those lips and those eyes in a symphony of beauty on a face that had once been flawless. But the flawless days had ended in Freedonia, when a soldier’s rifle butt had smashed down on that beautiful face and now a scar ran from her cheekbone to her chin. It was not so horrible a scar that people looked away. It was not so bad that their eyes were constantly drawn to it when they spoke to her. It was noticeable though, and just as though a scratch is more noticeable on a steam carriage that is brand new rather than one that has seen some years of service, it was all the more noticeable and all the more tragic because of the otherwise perfect face which it marred. And in Honor’s eyes, it ruined her.

After watching her friends start off through the snow, Senta closed the door and sat back down to read. She didn’t continue with The Pale Sun, which Hero had taken anyway. She read from the big book of Argrathian mythology that she had found in one of Zurfina’s unpacked boxes. It was filled with fantastic stories of ancient gods and goddesses, as well as quite a few of the type of lurid details that Graham would have appreciated, had she chosen to share it with him. After a bit more than an hour, she got up and began seeing to dinner. There wasn’t much left in the froredor quite frankly, but she did find the large ocean fish that Graham had brought the day before and she had potatoes. She could make fish and chips. She peeled and sliced the potatoes. Then she cleaned the fish and cut it into large rectangular pieces, after which she had to stoke up the fire in the stove and add several logs. As she mixed the flour, salt, egg, and beer to form the batter, she called to the steel dragon, still sitting on his cushion by the stove.

“Bessemer, why don’t you go wake Zurfina?”

“Fina,” responded the dragon, and hopped from his warm spot to the base of the stairs in one bounce and shot up the steps.

By the time that Zurfina arrived at the foot of the stairs, Bessemer at her heels, Senta had set the table and fried the chips and fish, which she scooped into heaping piles on each of three plates. This time Bessemer climbed up on one of the chairs and picked up a piece of fish with his clawed fingers, examining it before tossing it into his mouth.

“I hope you didn’t use all of my beer,” said the sorceress.

“No, of course not,” Senta replied, retrieving a dark beer from the froredor as well as a Billingbow’s Soda Water for herself. “So where have you been all day, anyway?”

“I’ve been gathering potion ingredients.”

“Are we going to make more happiness potion?”

“We have enough Blessudine to last us for months. You must learn to make other potions.”

“Well I want to, but they’re hard.”

“Tomorrow we’ll make some Amorazine and you can use it on that chubby boy that you like.”

“His name is Graham and when he grows up he’s going to love me for me, not because of any love potion.”

“As you say,” said Zurfina, picking up a chip and biting into it.

The next day when Senta got up though, Zurfina was nowhere to be found. She might have been on the top floor of the tower, but as she had expressed on more than one occasion that the girl was never to enter that level, Senta didn't go to see. It was just as likely that she was not there. Senta had long grown accustomed to Zurfina’s random comings and goings, made most of the time without any notification to her ward.

Senta indulged in a nice long bath, the water provided by the new plumbing system but magically heated. Then she had the last bit of bread in the house with a spoon of jam for a breakfast. Bessemer was fast asleep next to the stove and didn’t even wake up to ask for something to eat.

Outside the snow was more than two feet deep in the middle of the yard and in the road, while next to the house and among the trees in the forest, the drifts were taller than a grown man. The flakes had stopped falling for now, but the skies looked as though they could open up and drop much more at any time. Senta threw on her heavy coat over the short black dress with black and white stockings that she had found waiting for her that morning, and slipped on a large pair of oiled boots that Graham had grown out of. Then she headed out the door.

The clouds hung low, touching the tops of the massive pines. The world seemed very small. Sounds echoed between the trees. Senta walked into the center of the yard and looked around into the surrounding forest for any sign of the tyrannosaurus, but its massive black body and great red face were pleasantly absent. A couple of microraptors chased each other from a huge pine to a maple and back, while a pair of buitreraptors and a lone mahakala dug around in the snow near the edge of the road. Most of the proper birds had flown south for the winter, but these strange Birmisian birds were ever present.

Senta dropped onto her back in the center of the yard, with her arms outstretched and made a snow angel. Getting back up, she walked across the yard, managing to stay on the path despite the fact that she had to guess at its location. Then she started east down the road, startling the two buitreraptors into the woods, though the mahakala stubbornly refused to leave on account of one small human.

It was a walk of only about three hundrerd yards from the new home Zurfina the sorceress and her ward to the large gate in the protective wall that divided the now completely subdued pinnensula from the large and still untamed forest. When Senta reached the gate she found a great deal of activity. A town square had been built just outside the gate some months before, and it would eventually be the center point of the colony. A new flagpole had been delivered on the last ship and it was being erected by two men while a small crowd of men and women watched. That was not all that was going on though. No less than three good-sized buildings were under construction around the square despite the frigid and damp weather. The two new buildings on the east side of the square already had walls, doors, and windows and now men walked around upon their roofs hammering down shingles. The building on the southwest corner was still being framed in when Senta had last seen it-- little more than a wooden and iron skeleton of a building. Now its walls were done and it too was getting a roof. The three were joining the two buildings that had sat along the east side of the square since its construction-- the dress shop and Mr. Parnorsham's Pfennig Store. Senta saw a face she knew and walked over to its owner.

“Hello Mr. Darwin.”

“Oh hello, Senta,” said the bespectacled older man, who was only slightly taller than the ten year old girl. “How are you this cold morning?”

“I’m okay. Which of these buildings is going to be yours?”

“This one right here,” he replied, pointing to the left most of the two having their roofs put on. “I’m right next to Mr. Parnorsham’s Pfennig Store. I think that’s the best spot in the square. Don’t you?”

“I kind of thought you would have moved in there when Mrs. Wachtel died,” said Senta, indicating the shop just to the left of the Pfennig Store.

“Yes, well… to be honest, when Mrs. Wachtel… a… passed away,” Mr. Darwin crossed himself. “I had already signed the paperwork.”

“So what are they going to do with her place?”

“It’s my understanding that Mrs. Bratihn is going to take over the business.”

“I guess that will be good since her husband can’t work on account of being blind.”

“Mmm,” nodded Mr. Darwin, noncommittally while he took off his glasses to wipe them with a clean handkerchief.

“I didn’t expect Mrs. Government to let us go too long without a dress shop.”

Mr. Darwin bit his lower lip. “Senta, you are irrepressible. You are going to have to learn to watch what you say.”

“I think Senta will always say what she means,” said a voice from behind them.

They turned around to see Egeria Lusk in a beautiful dress that was only slightly less white than the surrounding snow and a bright colored coat that was only slightly more red than her fiery hair, which just now was pulled up into a bun and tucked behind the straw boater she wore. Miss Lusk was a very small woman with very large green eyes, and though strikingly beautiful, she was known more for her keen mind.

“Good day to you, sir,” she said, curtseying to Mr. Darwin, who bowed at the waist in return. “Where are you off to, Senta?”

Senta shrugged.

“I’m going to the Pfennig Store for some lace. Why don’t you come along with me?”

“Okay. Good day Mr. Darwin.”

“Good day beautiful ladies,” said Mr. Darwin, once again bowing at the waist.

Miss Lusk glided across the snowy square and Senta followed, watching the swaying motion of the woman’s fashionably large bustle. It was just about large enough that Senta and another ten year old could have hidden themselves under it. Miss Lusk’s bright red coat was cut wide at the bottom to expand and encompass her very large lower half.

“That’s a great dress,” remarked Senta. “You must have a huge hip bag under there.”

Miss Lusk glanced over her shoulder and winked. “All part of the price of fashion. I’m afraid that without the proper foundation I just don’t have the necessary shape.”

“I don’t think anybody has a bottom that big,” said Senta.

“No. Nobody does.” Miss Lusk stopped to pull open the door of the Pfennig Store. “And nobody walks around on their toes either, but we wear high-heels to look like we do.”

Senta stepped inside the door as the bell hanging above it jingled. Miss Lusk followed and the bell jingled again as the door closed. Mr. Parnorsham looked up from behind the counter where he was rearranging costume jewelry in the glass case. He squinted through his bifocals and wiped his hands on his white apron.

“Good day ladies.”

“Good day Mr. Parnorsham.” Miss Lusk politely feigned interest in the costume jewelry. “I’m in need of some two inch lace today.”

“Let me show you what I have.”

Senta wandered over to look at the toy counter. It was a small twenty four inch square counter divided into six inch square compartments, each with a different type of toy. There were rubber bouncing balls, toy guns, tin soldiers, doll sized tea cups with saucers, and wooden ponies with yarn tails. Senta picked one up and made a horse noise by blowing air between her lips.

“That’s just the one I need,” said Miss Lusk from the other aisle.

“How much is the toy horse, Mr. Parnorsham?” called Senta.

“It’s a toy pony and it’s five pfennigs. Oh, by the way Miss Lusk, I just got in some more tins of butter biscuits. I know how much you like them.”

“Yes I’ll take one of those too.”

“Just one?”

“Just one,” she peered around the aisle at Senta and whispered loudly. “I won’t need that bustle if I keep eating these. Aren’t you a bit old for a toy pony?”

“It’s for Bessemer. He’s been playing with my doll lately and I’m afraid he’s going to bite her head off.”

“Do you have five pfennigs?”

“Yeah. I just don’t know if I want to spend them. I guess I will though.” She picked up the wooden pony and brought it to the counter.

“That will be seventy five P, Miss Lusk.”

“We’ll have two of those as well,” said Miss Lusk, pointing at a large framed picture of a brown bottle emblazoned with the words “Billingbow’s Original Sarsaparilla and Wintergreen Soda Water.” Then she winked again at Senta.

“Well that will bring you total to ninety seven P.”

Miss Lusk reached daintily into her bosom and withdrew a small roll of paper banknotes of which she peeled off a single one mark note and held it out. Mr. Parnorsham looked at it for a long moment as if not sure whether it was appropriate for him to touch something that had just come from within a young woman’s garments. Finally he took it by the very corner and carrying it carefully, as though he thought it might spontaneously combust, he placed it in the cash box, and withdrew three copper pfennigs change, which, now overwhelmed by the idea of more intimate physical contact, he placed on the counter instead of in Miss Lusk’s hand.

He turned around and pulled two Billingbow’s from the ice box and set them next to the other purchases and then turned his attention to Senta.

“Five P.”

Senta slapped down a two-tone five pfennig piece, with its copper center and nickle outer ring. She watched unhappily as Mr. Parnorsham picked it up and added it to his till. She had been saving that coin for quite a while, not because of any sentimental attachment, but because she thought that the coin was much prettier than even more valuable coins. Unlike most every other Brech coin, it didn’t feature the face of one of the royal family on the obverse, just a big number five surrounded by some kind of leaves. On the reverse side, it had the image of an owl.

“So what is your feeling about Mr. Darwin opening his store next to yours?” Miss Lusk asked the proprietor.

“I’m actually looking forward to it. Now I’ll have someone to visit with during the afternoon lull.”

“Do you know what’s going to go in the other two new buildings?”

“On the other side of Darwin will be Mr. Vever’s jewelry shop.”

“Oh indeed,” said Miss Lusk, holding up her left hand. “He made my engagement ring you know.”

Mr. Parnorsham dutifully squinted at the ring and nodded in appreciation.

“What about the building across the way?”

“That’s going to be the new bakery. A Zaeri woman named Mrs. Finkler will be running it.”

“Yes. Ada Finkler. She’s very nice.”

“She seems nice,” said Mr. Parnorsham. “Not that I’ve known many Zaeri.”

“Good day Mr. Parnorsham,” said Miss Lusk, handing one bottle of Billingbow’s to Senta, and picking up the rest of her purchases. Senta took the soda bottle in one hand and picked up the toy horse with the other, and the two of them stepped outside, the bell above the door ringing once again.

“You know Mr. Parnorsham, Mr. Darwin, and Mr. Vever are all going to be in a row,” said Senta.

“Yes… Is there some significance to that?”

“Only that they’re all little old bald men.”

Miss Lusk covered her mouth with her hand, trying to be discreet as she giggled. “Mr. Vever isn’t that old…. And Mr. Parnorsham isn’t… completely bald.”

“Sure he is,” said Senta. “I wouldn’t say it in front of him, because he’s pretty nice.”

“I appreciate your discretion.” Tears were forming in Miss Lusk’s eyes. “Excuse me just a moment.”

She turned and went back into the store. Senta took a swig of her Billingbow’s and looked across at the construction of the bakery. A boy only a few years older than her was directing several grown men working on the project.

“Do you know that boy?” asked Miss Lusk, coming back outside.

“That’s Aalwijn Finkler. I guess he wants to make sure that his mom’s bakery is put together right.”

Miss Lusk had apparently gone back in the store for a straw, which she now stuck into the top of her soda bottle and daintily sipped from. Noticing the girl looking at her, she said, “I never learned to swig.”

They both heard a commotion across the square at the same time and turned back to the bakery. Aalwijn Finkler and the men working with, or for him had stopped what they were doing and were speaking loudly, though Senta could only catch a few of their words. The subject of their discussions soon became apparent though as a line of some forty lizzies came walking into the square from the south. A sole militiaman, armed with a rifle slung haphazardly over his shoulder accompanied them.

The workmen went back to their hammering, but Aalwijn Finkler hopped down from the construction site and skipped across the square just in front of the line of lizardmen, who were moving so slowly in the cold weather that it looked to Senta as though they were suffering the effects of a slow spell. The young man walked up to the woman and the girl.

“Hey Senta,” he said.

“Hey.” Senta took another swig of soda.

“Um… Hello Miss Lusk.”

“I’m flattered that you know me, Mr. Finkler,” said Miss Lusk smiling.

“Oh, everyone knows you, Miss Lusk,” Aalwijn said, not registering the fact that she knew his name. “I suppose you’ll be heading over to the base after this lot.”

“Why would you suppose that?” wondered Senta.

“These are the lizzies that are going to be the household servants,” explained Aalwijn. “I expect you’ll need quite a few for that fine house of yours.”

“My home won’t be ready for a few weeks yet,” said Miss Lusk.

“Someday I’m going to have a house like yours. Then my mother and I can take it easy and we’ll have dozens of lizzies to wait on us.”

“I’m sure you will. I’ll tell you what. When my home is completed, I’ll have both of you over to tea.” She smiled at the two young people. “In the meantime, I’m on my way back to my apartment, so I must say adieu.”

“Good day Miss,” said Aalwijn.

“Bye,” said Senta.

Miss Lusk started toward the gate, rapidly overtaking the long line of lizzies, who had only now reached the opening in the great wall. The two children stood looking on, though whether either was watching the lizzies or Miss Lusk’s swaying bustle was a matter of interpretation.

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