“Small but Fierce Slayer”
The palace shook with trepidation. Anticipation of the terror to come. Terror that set the capital city of Canard ablaze.
Jane watched from her balcony as the city her family protected burned. A pyre for all the common folk who’d already lost their lives fleeing for one of the many gates leading out of the city, only to bottleneck into kindling for the inferno the swooped down upon the clustered escaping masses.
In the raging blood red of the setting sun, the city seemed a glow like any sundown.
The heat radiating from all around, the cracking of wood devoured, bones breaking, flesh melting, the stink of the dead burned to char, all made Jane want to recoil.
But she stood tall. Back straight as a rod of steel.
Their enemies had loosed this terror and she would face the challenge with courage. If they couldn’t have Canard than no one would. But they would not have its soul. It’s heart.
Jane closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. The choking stink of smoke burned her nostrils. Made her angry. If she opened her eyes she’d see her knuckles turned white. Her hands gripping the railing so hard she felt her nails ready to snap.
When she exhaled and opened her eyes she saw the dark spot barreling toward her. Like a bird against the setting sun, wings outstretched, catching the current of warm–now blazing–air. Except no bird her tutors had spoken off had wings each as long as a quarter mile. Nor did mountains tremble when a bird shrieked. Or did flames lick its beak.
The dragon–Canard’s bane–winged its way toward the palace. Toward Jane’s rooms. Like a bolt fired from a crossbow.
Within half a breath, before she could scream, guards were rushing out on to the balcony. Each bore a halberd a head taller than a single man. They lowered their pole weapons toward the winged beast. Scale and plate clanking, creaking.
“Get back princess,” one guard demanded.
“Flee your rooms,” the other suggested further. “Find shelter. Perhaps in the passages under the castle. Go!“
The dragon’s jaws stretched, baring teeth as long as the halberds Jane’s guards held at the ready.
Just as Jane rushed from the balcony for the safety of her rooms, the dragon crashed into her balcony.
The force of the concussion threw Jane forward amidst a shower of stone that tore at her exposed arms, face, and neck, shredding her dress. She tumbled across the floor, screaming, shouting in pain. Behind her the dragon roared. She heard her guards yell cries meant to bolster their courage. Those shouts the dragon met with a roar of indignation, fury and finally a crunch of bone and metal. Jane heard the splatter of blood, like grease from a slap of beef, but didn’t dare look back.
Jane rose unsteadily to her feet, falling to her skinned knees more than once before picking her self up and running through the doors leading to the hallway beyond her royal apartment.
Outside her rooms she encountered her maid. A slip of a girl several years younger than her own sixteen. She wore a servant’s tunic with the royal emblem on the breast. At her feet was a platter of spilled food and an overturned pitcher now cracked. Jane didn’t want to think if the dampness across the maid’s skirts was water, wine, or piss.
Jane grabbed the other girl’s hand and pulled her away from her, Jane’s, rooms. “We have to go. The dragon has–“
As if called up by summoning magic, the dragon burst from Jane’s rooms. Tearing through the wall like it were a paper screen from the east islands with a wail of anger, claws gouging stone, jaws snapping at the air.
Both Jane and her maid cried out in terror and ran down the hallway, away from the pursuing dragon.
Larger than a war horse, more powerful than ten oxen, the dragon tucked its wings and scrabbled down the hallway. It dragged itself quickly across the stone floor, finding purchase by sinking its claws into the stone.
When the girls rounded a corner, the dragon leapt forward, pouncing on the wall, just missing them and then shifting its body to turn follow. It ripped and tore at tapestries Jane’s family had woven five generations past. Knocked over and crushed suits of ceremonial armor gifted from other countries. Vases smashed. Window pains shattered.
As the girls thought they’d gained a lead, the dragon belched a gout of fire, forcing them to hit and hug the ground below the stream of boiling heat.
Crackling singed air cooling, Jane jumped up and grabbed the maid. What was the maid’s name? She felt awful in that moment, possibly both girl’s their last. How could she not know the maid’s name? The other girl had attended her for how many–
The dragon extended its serpentine neck and snapped at Jane, snagging the hem of her dress, tearing. She tripped. Smacked her chin against the stone floor. She felt blood paint her flesh and a sting of pain. Fear and anger at her clumsiness made her ball her fists. She could feel the dragon’s breath blow up her skirt. Smelled the rancid stink of death, sulfur.
Someone grabbed her hand.
“Get up, your majesty!” the maid wrenched Jane up just as the dragon missed taking a bite from her, nearly catching a foot and part of a leg. Jane stumbled forward into a run.
Angry and miserable with failure, the dragon caterwauled and lunged after the fleeing girls.
Another stream of fire nearly caught the girls unaware. They skidded around a bend and headed to the left side of a dual staircase that circled down into a three-story ballroom.
As the girls took the stairs, nearly out of breath, chests pumping like a smith’s bellows, Jane asked her maid, “I must know your name.” Apology made the words less a command and more a final plea.
The maid tittered. Was that annoyance? “My name, your majesty, is Carolina.”
“I only wish to know because you saved my life,” Jane said.
They took the stairs nearly two at a time. Quick steps. Recklessly not holding on to the banister. Carolina shook her head with… What? Regret? “You are my liege, your majesty.”
At the same time that the girls hopped off the final step and into the vast domed, ballroom the dragon burst forth overhead. It leapt over the railing separating the two staircases, unfurled its wings, flapped, and began to hover above the room. A predator assessing its fleeing prey. Just a quick dive from snatching the rabbits in its clutches. It shrieked. Announcing boldly its presence.
A small contingent of palace guards arrived in the ballroom, flinging open doors with heavy booms that shook the air in announcement. As loud as the dragon’s call. They were dressed in armor. Tabards scorched and blackened. Faces bloody, scratched. Each had armed him or herself with a pike as tall as two men, a crossguard at the middle. Dragon slaying weapons. At the guards’ head, Jane’s elder brother Ethan led. Unsheathed and held in both hands he bore a greatsword wielded by countless royals before he and her. A crossguard made of bone, at its heart before the base of the cold blade was a ruby dragon’s heart, which pulsed like a beast’s heart.
The dragon’s yellow eyes caught the glint of the gem. The beast bellowed with rage. It beat its wings. Greats winds issued from the leathery flapping.
Three or four guards lost their footing. Gusts of wind picking them up. Slamming them into walls. Their pikes clattered uselessly to the floor.
The dragon dove from above, knocking free the ballroom’s chandelier.
Shards of crystal rained down in sharp teardrops. Jane and Caroline threw their arms over their heads. Jane felt the tiny slices across her flesh.
The dragon landed with a great crash as the last piece of broken chandelier fell. It crushed two guards, who screamed in agony. Its talon raked their armor, cracked metal open like walnut shells.
A scaly tail whipped through the ballroom. Guards fell to the floor, ducking under the sweep. A couple foolishly attempted to leap over the tail but got caught and thrown aside.
Pikes were rode forward, guards charging. But the blades at the ends couldn’t pierce the purple and black hide of the dragon, each attack sliding off the scales uselessly.
One guard thought to stab the dragon’s eye, take away the beast’s vision. The dragon slashed out with its head, knocking the guard down, scooping her up, biting down. A spray of blood and crunch of metal leaked from the dragon’s jaws.
Between its teeth like a pick, the fallen guard’s pike stuck out. The dragon swung its head around, neck twisting, striking at what remained of the advancing guard with one of their own weapons, which sliced through their armor easily, like a dull knife through hot butter.
Ethan grabbed Jane underneath an arm, determined to get her out of the room. He went to pick up Caroline beneath his other arm but the dragon got there first.
The dragon bit down on Ethan’s arm and ripped the limb free of his torso.
Jane saw her brother’s face go pale. His blood painted her face. They both fell, her brother crushing her under the combined weight of his armor and his unconscious form.
She struggled free only for her ankle to catch in the crux of Ethan’s remaining arm.
“Let me go brother,” she said, weeping.
Caroline was by her side. She attempted to left the prince’s body but she was too small, he a broad and tall twenty-something hardened from campaign.
A shadow loamed over the girls and the fallen prince. Winds swirled around them.
Jane drew in a deep breath. Her next words came out calmer than she expected. “Caroline. Please go. Save yourself.”
A humble if fruitless gesture. Directly above, standing on its back legs, poised to devour them was the scourge of Canard.
Flame licked the corners of the dragon’s extended maw. Deep in its gullet a glow hotter than a forge heated the dragon’s throat and chest, turning its scales along its belly a bright orange.
The dragon extended its jaws and dipped its head.
Jane watched as Caroline abandoned her prince.
But instead of attempting to flee as commanded, the maid threw herself to the side, toward Ethan’s severed arm.
Carolina took up the prince’s greatsword still held in the discarded hand. A heavy weapon. She could barely pick up the blade.
With a great effort she fell back toward Jane and Ethan. Then she heaved and grunted, pulling the greatsword straight up at the time the dragon’s jaws swallowed them.
From the piece of crystalized dragon’s heart in the bone hilt, the greatsword’s blade suddenly explode with fire down its length. Consumed by dragon fire, the blade extended and tore through the top half of the dragon’s mouth and up into its brain.
When the dragon’s screamed, it was in agony. The creature wailed and writhed around the sword. Pulling itself away only allowed the sword to slice the top half of its mouth cleanly in half, from behind the eyes and down to the tip of the snot. Teeth were cut in half. The tip of its forked tongue lobbed off.
The dragon reared up and fell backward, flopping mightily across the ballroom’s dance floor. Its waltz ended.
Still in hand, dragon unmoving, the blade Carolina held went cold. Fire gutting out.
Jane stared at the maid. Then to the sword as it rested against the girl’s slumped form. Then Jane looked back to Caroline. The maid was breathing heavily, nearly asleep.
Only someone from the royal family can awaken the sword’s flame. Astonishment overwhelmed Jane. At a common maid’s usage of a royal heirloom and at the defeat of a dragon by that maid’s common hands.