From Chapter 1
Battle-hardened and brave
Ready for the fight
Henrietta the Dragon Slayer
Swings with all her might
—From the chorus of the Song of the Dragon Slayer
Henrietta strode away from the tavern, fists clenched so hard they hurt. At two paces from the forest edge, the ground crunched in the black night behind her. Even with her ale-fogged brain, she sensed the presence of a man, smelled on him soot, leather and metal, and knew he was armed, but wore no armor.
She didn’t have time for this.
“What do you want?” Henrietta whirled to face the thrill seeker, her long sword drawn, her long red hair whipping across her chilled cheeks. Above her head, the bitter wind keened through the forest trees.
The man hovered five feet-lengths away from her, out of sword reach, his face shadowed by the light of the tavern behind him. “I heard your story back there.” His voice, thick with a foreign accent she couldn’t place, held no compliment. “I hear you’re looking for a new quest.”
“Who gave you that idea?”
“The Song of the Dragon Slayer.” The man’s tone was flat.
So he wasn’t a fan. She didn’t care. She cared that he didn’t move any closer. Empty hands at his sides, a sheathed long sword at his belt, he was broad shouldered and taller than her by half a head.
She re-sheathed her sword reluctantly. “So? What does that have to do with anything? It’s only a song.”
“A song about you. That is why you must come with me now.” He stepped toward her, his face still hidden by darkness.
“No, I must not go with you. Leave me be!” she said annoyed and angry. There was a thrill seeker in every town. Facing him, she stepped back to have room to swing her sword if necessary, her hand waiting on her sword pommel. “There’s plenty of others in that tavern to harass.”
She didn’t want to play “who’s the best warrior” just now. The drink had touched her head more than usual, without its usual lovely numbing affect. “Who are you anyway? No, I don’t want to know. Just leave me be.”
“I am a knight, doing his duty. Assessing.” He didn’t move any closer.
Like she needed to know that. Then she opened her big mouth.
“If you’re a knight, where’s your armor?” As soon as she heard herself, she knew that was a dumb question.
“I do not need armor for this.” He said the words as if she wasn’t worth a gnat on sheep’s berries. “You will come with me now,” he repeated.
He dared to order her?
“I will do no such thing. Weren’t you listening in there?” She gestured toward the tavern where she’d just told and re-enacted her tale. A thrill seeker who ordered her? What was this nonsense? “I did my quest. Now leave me to my peace.”
He didn’t budge his bulky frame. What was he waiting for? A royal invitation to depart?
Heaviness pressed against her chest like an anvil, preventing breath from fully entering her lungs.
She’d done her dragon slaying and military campaigns. Done. Finished. Fini.
“There is much coin and glory for the one who takes the Emerald Dragon’s Dracontias,” the stranger knight said, disdainfully.
How much coin? But that didn’t come out. “The what-ias?”
“Thought you knew everything there was to know about dragons.”
Politeness wasn’t this man’s strength.
“Yah, that’s me. A walking, talking dragon-spouting slayer, at your service.”
The man snorted. Very elegant.
Her stomach churned the ale. She knew what the Dracontias was, but didn’t want to be drawn in, though her coin purse was flat.
What was wrong with her?
“Listen, uh, Can we talk in the morning? I need to—.” Henrietta gestured to the woods. Her need wasn’t that urgent, yet. She just needed an excuse to make him go away.
Great. She had to make good on her words, so she did her best to stomp through the spindly underbrush, ready to move fast if she had to. She had taken no more than two steps when the man spoke again, his deep voice booming at her back.
“You can’t do it anymore, can you? Dragon Slayer.” He drew out the word “slayer” as if it were an insult.
Fear coursed through her at his words, and that made her angry. “I don’t have to listen to this!” A cold sweat broke out under her tunic and across her forehead. She shivered but kept walking, her greatcoat and hat back in the tavern.
“You can’t do it,” he repeated louder. “You have grown soft, weak. That’s what I told my king. You are but a shadow of your former self, if you ever were that Dragon Slayer. I don’t think you killed the Fire Dragon of Britham’s Keep after all. Your story back there was all show. It was your so-called partner who did the deed, and you stole his glory.”
Henrietta froze. She brushed away what little truth he said, and focused on his lies. Anger fired through her body and gave her strength. She turned and stomped back toward the knight. “My partner was a she. But what do you know! I don’t have to listen to your insults.”
“You don’t have it in you,” he said again, holding his ground. “A fool’s errand I was sent on. But duty is duty.” He spat.
Enough. It was time to show this disrespectful knight who it was he insulted.
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