The previous excerpt I published was from a false start on what would ultimately become "Another Girl, Another Planet".
Today's offering is in a similar vein - a false start from 2007 to what became in 2008, "The Witch of Waxahachie", published in Jim Baen's Universe.
The Dragon of Dallas
Football is King in Texas and every Homecoming football game has its Queen—but this particular game had something extra.
The Waxahachie Indians were the visiting team for Southlake’s Homecoming game, which was held rather late in the year--the third weekend in October. I got to sit in the press box so I had an excellent view of the half-time festivities.
The Southlake Homecoming Queen beamed as she clutched her bouquet and the hand of her escort, the captain of the football team. They held hands above the team’s mascot, who squatted rather handsomely between them.
His name was Priefert—and I got to know him a lot better shortly thereafter.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the Southlake team mascot is a dragon. That’s what Priefert was—a dragon. I mean, not some teenager in a velour and plush suit.
Priefert was a real dragon.
At the conclusion of the Homecoming ceremonies, Priefert’s handler trotted him back to the sidelines. As I mentioned, it was late October and a chill was beginning to creep into the air. The cheerleaders wore their letter jackets, leg warmers and gloves.
As Priefert went over, they gathered around him, and he breathed on them. They huddled in his “smoke” and rubbed their hands as he helped them warm up.
I leaned over to the scorekeeper. “That’s a heck of a sideline heater.”
He leaned back towards me. “We’re proud of Priefert. Do you have a dragon in your home town?”
“No, not at all,” I said.
I didn’t bother to mention that—where I come from—we don’t have magic, either.
It was the previous February when an experiment gone awry at the former Superconducting Super Collider lab south of Dallas punched a portal through to an alternate timeline where magic—instead of science—had been developed and codified since the time of the French Revolution.
I had only been there as a witness for the instigators—Brad Vavra and “Doc” Melancon—in my role as local newspaper editor. Needless to say, I never wrote up what I found.
Strangely enough—for someone in such a mundane profession as journalism—I was the only one in our group who seemed to have the innate talent to use spells, and so I was the only one who had the freedom to traverse the portal.
Mistress Pennoyer—Penny Pennoyer, the head of the Ellis County Magic Council—was my protector when I was in the other world. She had invited me to come along to the football game that night.
My doppelganger—the other Larry Anglen in her world—died years earlier of an infection that couldn’t be stopped in a world without antibiotics. My cover story on my visits to the alternate dimension was that I was his cousin.
Of course, I had to watch what I said to avoid tipping anyone as to what was really going on. The existence of the portal between the magical and scientific worlds was a Republic of Texas state secret, under the authority of President Holley himself.
Mistress Pennoyer and I took the sailroad from Waxahachie that afternoon into Trinity—as Dallas is called in their world—and to Southlake north of the city.
“You need to see some of our local culture,” she had said. “You might understand us better.”
I wasn’t sure if she was entirely serious. “You just don’t trust me to leave me behind,” I said.
“Well, one time I left you alone, you ‘borrowed’ my highest level spell book and used a Teleportation spell to bring your old high school sweetheart, or at least her doppelganger, here for a roll in the hay.”
Ouch. She wasn’t ever going let me forget that one.
“Football” as played in this world was more like rugby—which makes sense, given the common origins of the British and American games—but many of the trappings were the same.
And just as in my world, everyone turned out once a week for “Friday Night Lights—except here, the lights were powerful gas lamps.
After the game, Mistress Pennoyer and I had to cross the field to get to where our host’s wagon waited. Priefert was still on the field, and many of the students patted or petted him for good luck.
I tried to give him a good looking over without obviously gawking. He was a nice jungle green with a ferocious frill behind his head and a fat, long tail.
“No wings, “ I thought. “Probably hops Southwest when he need to fly.”
Priefert swung his head around and looked at me. “You’re not one of us!” he said telepathically.
I tripped over my feet and fell face first into the turf. Mistress Pennoyer heard the dull thud and turned around.
Some other people stopped and helped me to my knees. Pennoyer leaned down and gave me her hand.
“What happened, Larry?”
As she helped jerk me up, I leaned in real close. “The dragon’s spoke to me, mind to mind.”
She turned her heard quickly and gave Priefert a look. “You know that is forbidden!”
“Sorry, mistress,” he responded, “but I overheard him.”
I stood up. I didn’t know they had telepathy here. “OK, can you guys hear me, then?” “Yes,” both responded.
“We need to talk,” she said.
“Very well, mistress,” said the dragon telepathically. “At your convenience.” I just nodded.
Priefert then looked at me.
“Who’s Joan Rivers?”
Our original plan was to take the late-night sailroad back to Waxahachie after the game, but instead Mistress Pennoyer asked our driver to take us to a large farmhouse on the edge of town.
In my world, Southlake is a city of 20,000 located north of Dallas. Much of its economy is driven by the proximity of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Needless to say, it’s a lot smaller in a world with no flying machines—perhaps 200 people. And Mistress Jordan’s home was outside the town.
Mistress Jordan was the head of the local Magic Council, said Penny. That’s all she told me as we rode through some very dark countryside on the way to her home.
Mistress Jordan greeted us at the door holding a tall whale oil lamp aloft. She was as round and short as Mistress Penny was tall and willowy. She genially waved us inside as she sent the driver away.
“I understand you have a subject of some discretion to discuss,” she said.
“I hope my Commune spell didn’t seem abrupt,” said Penny. “This is my friend, Larry Anglen.”
Mistress Jordan shook my hand warmly. “I detect without much prodding that you’re a great wizard,” she said. “But you use none of the language and carry none of the trappings.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m not a wizard,” I said. “I’m a journalist.”
She obviously didn’t know what the word meant.
Penny interjected. “Larry is a writer for a newspaper, but more importantly, he’s not a wizard because where he comes from, there are no wizards.”
Mistress Jordan’s jaw dropped. “My god, you’re not from Comstock, are you?”
“No, nothing quite so bad,” said Penny. “He’s from much further away.”
Penny then—after making Mistress Jordan swear on a Reversed Reveal spell—told her of the portal, and of our world where science and the Industrial Revolution had happened instead of their Magical Revelation.
Mistress Jordan was equal parts fascinated and aghast. “It sounds like a dead world,” she said. “With more machines moving about than living creatures.”
“Well, for better or worse, it’s home, “ I said, “and it does have its advantages—like penicillin.”
Jordan ignored the unfamiliar word. “But what does this have to do with us here in Southlake?”
“Larry met Priefert at the football game,” said Penny. “The dragon was caught unawares by Larry’s, uhh, different mind, and violated his oath by speaking to him.”
“Priefert must have been startled.”
“Nevertheless, if Priefert read enough of his mind to learn who Larry is…”
Jordan went to stop here, but I jumped in instead.
“He said to me, “you’re not from this world.”’
Jordan stood up quickly. “I’ll summon Andy Griffin. He’ll bring Priefert.
Griffin was Priefert’s handler. While we waited for him to arrive, the two sorceresses filled me in on the history of these real dragons in their world As in our world, their 19th century was an era of sea trade and great clipper ships. Early in that century, an enterprising captain captured—while visiting a tiny island in the Sundra Straits of Indonesia—a very large lizard.
Now in our world, the Komodo dragon was a curiousity at best—to be stared at in zoos, perhaps—but in a world where magic users knew the value of a good sidekick, they became a valuable commodity.
After over 150 years of selective breeding, they had also grown especially large and ferocious-appearing. Early cross breeding with much-smaller frilled lizards from New Guinea produced that impressive fringe.
The breeding had been improved by the judicious use of magic—getting the frilled lizards to fertilize Komodo eggs was a good example—but all attempts to introduce wings had been unsuccessful.
The breeding of these especially intelligent lizards created some who had excellent language and communications skills—except they used telepathy.
Over a century earlier, a handful of magic users had their latent telepathy stimulated by the dragons’ contact. A dialogue ensued.
As it happened, only people with excellent magic skills also occasionally possessed telepathy. Both humans and dragons agreed that, because of the inherent dangers of mind reading, the telepathy had to be kept secret.
“When someone becomes a master magic user, they are screened for this power,” said Penny. “We’ve never found anyone except a Mistress or Wizard who possesses the skill.”
“All our dragons possess this ability,” said Jordan. “But they have agreed never to speak to a human unless spoken to first. “
“That explains why he talked to me,” I said. “When I gave him a good looking over, I thought of a wisecrack because he doesn’t have wings.”
“Our telepathy, as you call it,” said Jordan, “call it seelesprechen, only works with dragons, or when a dragon is present.”
She looked at me a little askance. “For someone who isn’t a wizard, you seem to have some skill.”
“He has a great deal of innate talent,” said Penny. “One time, when my back was turned, he ‘borrowed’ a spell book and used a 13th level Teleportation spell to summon an old lover.”
I didn’t think it would be smart to offer my side of the story, so I just shrugged.
We heard the clatter of a wheel and wagon. Mistress Jordan went to the window with a lamp.
“Griffin is here, with Priefert. “Let’s go to the barn.”
Priefert clambered head first down a ramp Griffin leaned into the back. Mistress Jordan said something to the young man, and he stayed behind at the wagon.
When the barn door was closed and the three of us were inside, Mistress Penny spoke to Priefert. The entire conversation was carried on telepathically.
“You can speak freely, friend.”
“Thank you, my Mistresses. I can sense some concern on your part.”
“Our friend, Mr. Anglen, is a visitor and not familiar with our ways,” said Penny. “He is unfamiliar with our Compact.”
“I understand now,” said Priefert. “He actually did not intend to address me, at the football field.”