Time of the Dragon Slayers (part 1)
Or “The Sentinels of Basham Heights.” I haven’t really decided yet. I think Time of the Dragon Slayers is better though.
Anyway, this is the first part of my Dragon Slayers book. As promised, I have finished it and I am going to post it. Comments from fellow writers are great to be quite honest. And for anyone who is keeping track, this is goal one of my March goals completed.
Now, the story:
Natlie slammed herself against the tree and caught her breath. The birds still sang softly above her, like they always did on lazy, late summer days. Besides that, only the trees’ whispers could be heard. Still, she knew when she recognized something abnormal in the woods, even if she couldn’t name it.
Silently, ever so silently, she pulled an arrow from her quiver and fitted it into the bow. Then, she just waited, her ears straining for the sound of something moving again. One slight movement and she could hit it. Living her whole life in the Dragon’s Nest helped her become an excellent marksman.
For perhaps three minutes, nothing moved. Natlie began to relax. Perhaps, just perhaps, nothing threatened her. Just as she relaxed her grip on the arrow, the bushes rustled again. In an instantly, Natlie spun around the tree, pulled her bow tight, and shot. The arrow disappeared into the bush with a clink.
Natlie froze at the call and blinked. The bush she fired into moved back and out stepped a man. His dark hair reached to just above his shoulders and his beard looked more hacked off than trimmed. The face reminded her of her brother’s, deeply tan and worn from the heat and wind. He wore only black, except for a shimmering green tunic that reached to his thighs. In that tunic lodged her arrow, right in the middle of his chest.
“I mean you no harm,” he said, as he remove the arrow and handed it to her. “As I hope you mean me.”
Natlie paused before she took the arrow, her eyes drawn to the shimmering green material. “Is it real dragon skin?” she asked softly.
The man glanced down and smiled faintly. “Indeed. Killed with my very own hands. Though I am thinking I am not the only one who has killed dragons here.”
Natlie shook her head and slipped the arrow back into her quiver. “This bow is merely a pest, just enough to drive them away. Certainly not enough to kill an adult.”
“I see.” He smiled faintly, almost like he found her amusing. Perhaps she was. It wasn’t often that one found oneself shot by a female archer who just happened to be tramping through the woods instead of taking the normal paths.
“May I ask where are you heading?” Natlie said.
Natlie nodded and glanced around the woods, looking for her landmarks. She took this path there often enough, even if no one else could see her path. “You’re about a mile out from there.”
The man followed her gaze. “That close?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I have not seen any signs of civilization yet. I would have guessed I am a good ten miles away still.”
Natlie shook her head. “The dragons cause us to keep our property close to us. You won’t see many sprawling towns like I’ve heard there are the further east you go, towards the capital. The fires can destroy things rather quickly if we can’t reach it fast enough and the dragons know how to use them to their advantage.”
He nodded, like he had seen it happen many times.
“I’m heading towards town, if you care to walk with me.”
“I would be honored.”
Natlie nodded slightly and began to walk again, her bare feet dancing over dirt and grass.
He fell in step next to her. “Oh, pardon me. I am Justin. Justin Kale.”
Natlie glanced back at him. “Natalie Paulson. But everyone calls me Natlie.”
“A pleasure to meet you.” He glanced at her bow again. “Though I must admit I have never met anyone after they shot me.”
She noticed his gaze on her bow and shifted it a little. “Ever since my parents died, I’ve carried it around. Just in case of… anything. It’s not that safe here, even if it looks it.”
“Because of the dragons?”
Justin looked around him thoughtfully. The woods looked so calm and peaceful that one would have difficulty imagining the constant threat of the dragons actually existed. “Why is it–out of all the places in Hadlyme–the dragons come here?”
“I imagine that you know the dragons live normally in the mountains. Well, whenever the weather becomes disagreeable in the mountains, the mountain animals flee to our lands and the dragons merely follow the food. Though, in all honesty, I think there is enough fear of us among them or else they would be here constantly after our livestock.”
“And how is it this year?”
Natlie glanced at him. Only the wealthy and the dragon slayers could afford to wear the beautiful dragon skin and Natlie doubted this man tromping through the woods was rich. “I have a feeling you are asking because of your occupation.”
“Why else would I ask?”
She shrugged and flipped back her hair. “We haven’t had any real problem with dragons for two years now. The floods out west gave us what looks to be a good harvest but I’ve heard talk that it hurt much in the mountains. Already, we’re seeing an increase in wild animal activity down here. Many of us are just waiting for the dragons to follow, although we haven’t see any yet. It’s been rather unnerving, I’ll admit.”
“You’ve had no dragons for two years?”
“If only we could be so lucky.” Natlie shook her head. “We’ve had dragons. But nothing serious as far as they go. Mostly just little babies checking us out that we send back to the mountains rather quickly. When it’s serious, there’s four or five dragons and they’re usually the strong adults that few people can hit with our crossbows. We haven’t had that in a while.”
“Interesting.” Justin nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s been quiet like that in most the country. That’s pretty much why I came here. The dragons are just not as commonly seen anymore. Many of the slayers I meet up with are talking about going into the mountains but I’m not insane enough to do that.”
“I don’t believe those stories about what happens in the mountains.”
Justin glanced at her, his eyebrows disappearing into his hair. “I would imagine someone who lives so close to the mountains would have more trust in those stories.”
“All dragon slayers seem to know someone who went up there and didn’t come back. And that the dragons can influence how a man thinks? Impossible!” Natlie leapt onto the rock and looked around again. No one could tell right now, but this rock, which overlooked the main road, was Natlie’s hiding place for when she wanted to daydream.
Justin stopped and looked up at her. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that, Miss Natlie. All stories contain some truth.”
“Some doesn’t mean the majority of them are the truth.”
“True. Very true.”
Natlie jumped off the rock and slid down the steep, but short, hill. At the bottom rested the well-worn dirt road. Just a stone’s throw to her right the woods disappeared suddenly and the town of Basham Heights sprawled before them. She turned to Justin and motioned broadly. “Basham Heights, dear sir.”
He nodded slightly. “I see what you mean.”
Natlie started walking, kicking one of the black walnuts like a ball down the road.
“How large is it?”
She shrugged and glanced at him, missing her kick. The green ball rolled into the side of the road. “It’s small enough, but not too small, I suppose. Just your basic, small town.” She thought about about it before shrugging again. “I’ve only been as far as Yantic, twenty miles away. I don’t have much to compare it to.”
“I almost find that surprising You seem to be ready for traveling almost anywhere.”
Natlie blushed slightly and glanced away. On the very edge of town rested one of the crossbows. Technically, they were called a dragon’s crossbow, since their sole purpose was to protect the town from dragons, but everyone called them the crossbows for short. These sentinels against the dragons had guarded them for as long as Natlie remembered, with one on each side of town and others scattered randomly along the road to protect the farms. The huge wooden structure stood nearly ten feet tall and required two men to load and fire. It always waited there, loaded for the time when the dragons came.
“Does anywhere else have one of the crossbows?” Natlie motioned to it.
Justin stopped to look it up and down before shaking his head. “Can’t say that I’ve seen one like that. It looks good.”
Natlie grinned. Most outsiders said they looked ugly.
“How accurate is it?”
“Not as accurate as a bow,” Natlie admitted. “It takes some work to aim it up and usually we can’t hit one until it’s eaten.”
Justin nodded. “It looks like most anyone could use it though.”
“Oh yes! I know how to. But I’m more effective with my bow, though, so I stick with that.”
“Bows are the best weapon against them I find, if you have one large enough and know enough.”
“But you carry a sword as well.”
Justin nodded. “It’s more of a backup weapon. Usually, I’m not a good enough shot to hit it where I must. They fall and it’s easier to stab them in the back.”
“Why the back?”
“You live here and you don’t know?”
Natlie shook her head. “I only know that the armpits are the weak spots. That’s where I always aim.”
“Well, that is true. And the stomach is the hard area. That’s what the armor is made out of.” He tapped his tunic, sending little rainbows of light dancing over the whole thing. “But the back is weak just like the armpits.”
Natlie watched the beautiful rainbows until they disappeared. “If you can believe this, we don’t actually have a lot of dragon skin around here. And I’ve never seen green.”
“It’s rare. I’ve only seen two green dragons in my whole life. Makes it rather valuable actually.”
Natlie smiled faintly. The green would be beautiful as any garment of clothing, and caught the light better than any other colors. She glanced away, embarrassed for staring for so long, and motioned towards the inn. “That’s probably where you’re looking for.”
Justin looked at it. The small building had only three rooms for guests, but rarely were they all full. Most of the income for the inn came from serving food and it being a warm place for the men of the town to meet. Attached to the side was the even smaller shop where Lita sold yarn. Technically, both the inn and the yarn shop were Lita’s, since she inherited the in from her father, but her husband, Albin, ran the inn while she worked in the yarn shop.
“It will be nice to have a bed for a few nights,” Justin said.
Natlie walked up the few front steps. “How long do you plan on staying here?”
“It depends on how many dragons I see.”
She pushed open the door and blinked against the darkness of the inn. The smokey haze of wood smoke and pipe mixed with the tangy smell of Albin’s stew, giving this place a very distinct smell. In the center table, men of the town discussed something earnestly, like always
“I’m telling you the truth. There were no dragons up there. They’re all dead.” Natlie looked at the man to find a stranger, his hair disheveled and himself not armed but still quiet obviously another dragon slayer.
“They’re not all dead,” Lexander, the butcher said. “Why, I heard of one in Tripp just last week.”
“And they killed it, didn’t they?” the stranger said.
“Why wouldn’t you kill a dragon? They harm the crops. They hurt the cattle. They kill people. It probably did before they killed it.”
The stranger swore softly. “They only do all those things when they don’t have enough to eat. If they had enough food, they won’t go after yours. Why do you think you haven’t been attacked in so long?”
“I don’t know about that, Lexander,” Albin said. “I’ve been listening to Jorn here all morning and he’s making sense.”
“What sense is he making?” Otto, the blacksmith said. “Far as I’ve heard, it’s all just gibberish coming from a crazy man’s mouth.”
Natlie slipped next to Lita, who stood in the doorway between her shop and the inn. “What is this?” she whispered.
Lita licked her lips. “Jorn’s just come from by the mountains. He’s been talking all morning about how there aren’t any dragons left. I….” She paused and rubbed her stomach. At seven months pregnant with her first child, she often confided in Natlie about how pregnancy was more misery than joy now and how the baby often distracted her from doing more important things. “I don’t care much for the dragons. The discussion’s interesting though and Albin’s very focused on it.” She smiled faintly.
Natlie glanced back at him just as he began explaining the logic to Lexander.
“The dragon’s a symbol of Hadlyme’s strength and valor. Just like a dragon, we face everything with courage and determination. True? So, without the dragons, what will become of our country? What will Pauni say of us?
“Moreover, we have had no serious dragon attacks in almost two years. Two years, men! That is the longest I have ever heard of the dragons not coming down here. We haven’t even had a baby wander down here in two months. They should be here. The woods are alive with animals dislocated from the floods. But where are the dragons? Has anyone here seen one recently?”
His eyes flashed with excitement, reminding Natlie that this innkeeper had come from near to the capital only two years before and was trained in how to give speeches as a boy. He always gave such passionate speech when it was something he cared about.
“That is why we can’t kill them anymore. We just can’t. They’re too valuable to our culture, to our heritage and to ourselves as a people to completely destroy them.”
“Foolishness. Mere foolishness is all what that talk is,” Justin said suddenly. “The dragons are hardly as predictable as you claim.”
Natlie glanced at him, having almost forgotten he followed her inside. So did every man other man. They all turned and stared at him. Justin pulled out his purse and looked at Albin. “I presume you are the innkeeper?”
“Yes, sir. What can I do for you?”
Justin pulled out some money and handed it to him. “A room, for a few days.”
Albin thoughtfully closed his hand around the money and looked him up and down. “Do–you intend, sir, to pursue your trade while in the area?”
“Indeed. Unless the dragons are as scarce as you do claim. Then I will not be staying long.”
“Then–I must refuse you a room.” He handed back the money. “From now on, I will not accept dragon slayers as boarders.”
“I hope this has nothing to do with this man’s foolish talk of the dragons being gone.”
“So what if it does? The dragons only cause slight harm when they come. It should be our duty–neigh, our patriotic duty- to protect the dragons when they are this so close to permeant extinction.”
Justin stared at him passively. Even in the dim light, she could see him clench and unclench his jaw. “Very well.” He snatched the money away and stalked out of the room.
The men turned from him as soon as he left and looked back at Jorn and Albin. Never had anyone heard of doing such a thing. Natlie paused a moment before she shoved her small bag into Lita’s hands and ran after Justin.
He turned, already two houses away, and waited. Natlie ran to him. “Are you leaving here then?” She brushed back her hair from her face.
Justin shook his head slightly. “No. Not after that.”
“Then where do you plan to sleep?”
“The woods. I do it often enough.”
Natlie paused. “Come back to the farm with me. Me and my brother Colton–we have plenty of room. And it’s probably more comfortable than the woods.”
He paused and glanced towards the inn. “If your brother does not object, I would be honored, Miss Natlie.”