Excerpt of Henrietta The Dragon Slayer

Henrietta The Dragon Slayer by Beth Barany
Henrietta The Dragon Slayer by Beth Barany
Henrietta The Dragon Slayer by Beth Barany, on Amazon and the Nook
Henrietta The Dragon Slayer by Beth Barany, on Amazon and the Nook

Henrietta The Dragon Slayer by Beth Barany, on Amazon and the Nook

Enjoy the first ten pages! If you like what you read, you can buy the book on the Kindle — US or UK — or the Nook. More information and to sign up for the Author Newsletter for upcoming contests and other goodies, go here.

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Henrietta, the Dragon Slayer

By Beth Barany

Steel demands subtle discernment

Of shadow and light

Hidden amidst vapor

And smoke.

The Fire Annals, Book V

From Rafania, a valley town born

The Dragon Slayer walks

In strong, determined, steady strides.

As the crow flies west down the river ways

The Dragon Slayer walks

In strong, determined, steady strides.

Tempered at the castle mount

Tested on battlefield and cave

The Dragon Slayer walks

In strong, determined, steady strides.

The Dragon Slayer walks

—From Ode One of the Song of the Dragon Slayer


Chapter One—Invitation

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.

“I’ll wait.”

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.

She didn’t have the advantage of the light, but she was fast. As she feinted toward the trees as if to walk away again, she grabbed the daggers from her belt and slammed them into the frozen ground at the man’s feet, neatly slicing boot leather, hopefully hitting a toe.

He didn’t say a word, but clapped slowly, mocking her, probably smirking. She couldn’t tell. The night shadows still covered his face.

“Fine. Show’s over,” Henrietta said, leaning down for her blades. As soon as she did so, she knew she’d made a stupid mistake. For once she really had had too much ale.

He dug his huge hands into her shoulders, trying to knock her down. The fire of rage washed over her. She ignored the pain and stepped backwards, slipping out of his grasp to head-butt him in the stomach. He fell to the ground with an “oomph.” She had a dagger at his throat before he could open his eyes. She pressed hard, but not enough to draw blood. He got the point. No pun intended.

He glared back from his position flat on his posterior.

She glared back. “Did I pass your test?” She let up the pressure on his neck, but didn’t remove the dagger.

At least he wasn’t sneering anymore. For the briefest of moments, the knight scrunched his face in pain. The tavern’s meager light showed her a warrior’s beat up face, full of picturesque scars, browned from sun, and the angled, dark eyes of an islander, glaring at her. Even with his scars, the knight looked younger than he sounded, perhaps only five or six suns older than her seventeen. He was from the Rocks, or the Oro islands, as the islands called it, far across the Western sea, the second one she’d meet that evening. The first one being the jester who’d paid for her ale and dinner in the tavern.

Satisfied for the moment that he wouldn’t test her again, she stood and sheathed the dagger.

“Not bad. For a woman,” he said. Then he stood and stepped back, barely hiding a limp from the knife wound to his foot.

He didn’t bother to brush off his fur cloak. “Your partner just got lucky. I still don’t think you’re capable. No woman is.” But the fight didn’t sound so strong in his voice now.

“Well, you’re obviously wrong,” she said and turned to leave.

Just then the back door of the tavern opened. The light blinded her momentarily, and a familiar voice called out her name. It was Jaxter, the jester. He walked toward her like a colt unsure on its legs, but he didn’t fall over and moved quite fast. In the frigid wind his satiny purple and yellow cape flapped against his skinny body.

“Henri, I was just coming to see if you were alright. When you didn’t come back right away, I was worried. You forgot your coins, and your coat and hat.” He paused for breath and handed her her beaver fur-lined coat and elegant forest hat.

“Thanks.” She slipped them on casual-like. Her long thick gloves were right where she’d left them in the coat pockets.

“We liked your tale! Very much!” Jaxter said. “Will you come back in and tell us another? How about the one about the Blue Cave dragon?”

She didn’t respond. She hated to disappoint Jaxter, he’d been nothing but kind to her, but she had no intention of telling more tales this night. She needed solitude and the oblivion of sleep.

He didn’t seem to notice and galloped on with his words. “You left so suddenly. I didn’t get a chance to thank you.”

Henrietta took the silver he handed over and tucked it inside her cloak without counting it.

Jaxter glanced from Henrietta to the big man. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything. I can just go back inside, where it’s warm.” He smiled at Henrietta and turned back to the knight. “Do I know you? You look familiar. But then again many people do in my line of work.” He chuckled.

“You do know who I am, Jaxter Renaldo,” the knight said, softly.

Henrietta strained her ears to hear. His accent had thickened and his tone was different, more gentle. Was he the same man who had insulted her and attacked her moments ago?

“I do?” Jaxter stepped closer to the bulky fighter with no fear. “How do you know my family name?” His voice trailed off as he focused on the big man’s face. “By the Phoenix’s Brightest Feathers! Frankie! I haven’t seen you in so many seasons! You were in the tavern all night and didn’t come over to say ‘Hallo’?”

“I am Sir Franc de Plumare de’Oro now, old friend,” the knight said gruffly, but gently.

“Oh.” After a moment of uncertainty, Jaxter grinned and held out his hand. “Congratulations, Sir Franc de Plumare de’Oro!”

“Wonderful. A reunion.” Henrietta snorted in disgust and turned to leave. She had no more friends. They were either dead or lost.

“Dragon Slayer,” the knight boomed. “I’m not finished with you. We have two days less than one moon.”

“So?” She didn’t turn around.

“So? In less than one moon, you must face the emerald Dragon for my king. You are to come back with me. King’s orders. We leave at false dawn. I have wasted enough time tracking you down.”

^*^

I hope you enjoyed the first ten pages! If you like what you read, you can buy the book on the Kindle — US or UK — or the Nook. More information and to sign up for the Author Newsletter for upcoming contests and other goodies, go here.

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