Read the first three chapters of YA fantasy novella, The Witch and the Dragon.
“You’ve got an infestation.”
“I can see that,” Alannah replied, scowling at the man. The shop was covered in glittering gold dust; did he think it was there for the aesthetic? “How do I get rid of them?”
“Well, there’s traps. Not likely to get all of ‘em, though. Little buggers breed like rabbits.” Another swathe of pixie dust floated to the ground. The man scratched his nose and it turned blue. “I could try fumigation.”
“Sounds expensive.” She flicked a pixie off her ledger. It slammed into the wall opposite and thudded to the ground. “How much?”
“Three hundred,” he said, promptly. “Minimum.”
Her scowl deepened. He wasn’t an exterminator, he was a crook. “One fifty.”
“One seventy-five,” she says, “and I’ll throw in a batch of mermaid scales.”
“Done.” The man held his hand out and she shook it. “Course, it’ll take a few days to get my kit together.”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course it will. When you can get rid of them?”
“Two weeks? How am I supposed to stay in business for two weeks?”
A shrug. “I don’t stock pixie traps. I’ll have to ship ‘em from the city.”
She growled and the pixies danced circles over her head. “All right, fine. Just be here in two weeks.”
“Sure thing, miss.” He touched a finger to what she hoped was a non-existent hat, rather than an invisible one, and slipped out the front door.
Alannah flopped into her chair and dislodged a cloud of golden dust. Just perfect.
Grandmother’s ash and quartz stave hung in its place on the far wall, untouched by dust. She would never have let this happen. One twitch of that staff and the pixies would have fled, screeching. For a second, Alannah imagined what it would be like to give up the shop, let another witch take up her grandmother’s legacy.
Leaving her to do what, exactly? She’d never make it on her own. That was the one thing she and Grandmother agreed on.
A pixie landed on the wooden counter and twirled in a way that managed to come off both graceful and patronising. “Oh, shut up,” she muttered. “And don’t get comfortable. In two weeks, you’ll all be pinned to the wall by your wings.” Tiny cries of anger echoed through her shop. One of her vases toppled off the counter and crashed to the floor. “Oh, for goodness’ sake,” she muttered.
The door opened and the tiny golden bell beside her let out a high clear ring. “We’re closed,” Alannah called, without looking. She swept dust off her ledger and slammed it shut.
“Ah… I just wanted to know if you needed any help.”
“Hi, William.” The knight had combed his dark hair and held a bunch of bluebells tightly in one hand. “Thank you, but I don’t need any help.”
He cast a doubtful glance at her dust-layered shop. “There are a lot of… pixies, here.” The things danced around William excitedly, twinkling and shedding dust everywhere. He gave one a hesitant smile and it swooned.
“Honestly,” Alannah muttered.
“What happened?” he asked, ducking under the wreath of glowing pixies.
“The crate of yew bark I got last week was filled with pixie eggs.” She grabbed a broom from the corner and got to work on the broken vase. “Now I’m infested with the pests.”
“Oh.” He hesitated, his rich brown skin reddening under her gaze. “Are you sure you don’t want any help?”
“Quite sure.” He shifted his weight and she quirked an eyebrow. “Anything else?”
“Yes.” He thrust the wilting flowers at her. “Here. These are for you. I thought they’d go with your – your –” His gaze searched her face. “Your hair ribbon?”
She sighed. “That’s very sweet. But I’m allergic to those flowers.”
He deflated. “Oh.”
“Why don’t you give them to Clara?” she prompted. “I’m sure she’d love bluebells.” She and Clara were the only unmarried women below forty in the village. She should have realised William would have rested his heart on one of them – but why couldn’t it have been the mayor’s daughter?
“I suppose.” Alannah winced. Clara probably wouldn’t appreciate secondhand wildflowers. “Can I help you get rid of the pixies?” asked William, perking up. The creatures squeaked in response.
“Really, I’m –”
The peal of a bell interrupted her. William stiffened. “That’s the warning bell,” he said and darted out of her shop.
“Great,” muttered Alannah. “Now what?” But she followed William out into the street. At the end of the cobbled street sat the watchtower. From it came the angry peal of the bell. More villagers were pouring out of their shops and houses, peering up at the tower. “What’s going on?” she shouted.
“Is it an attack?” someone asked.
“The other kingdom! It must be attacking!”
Alannah cursed. Their ageing king had been on the verge of declaring war for the last year. But why now? Why her village? “Where are they?” She scanned the horizon for the shadow of cavalry.
William shaded his eyes with one hand. “I don’t see anything.”
A huge shadow passed over the street and Alannah swallowed. Fear froze her limbs.
The street erupted in chaos. Alannah was thrust to the edge of the road as people pushed and shoved her out of the way. Roaring through the air came a shriek, high and piercing with a growl that rumbled underneath. She slapped her hands over her ears, seeing others do the same.
Another high, ugly shriek.
“Get back!” shouted William. “Stay undercover!”
Despite herself, Alannah stepped out from the shelter of her shop and peered south. A dark, curling shape swooped across the clouds gracefully and then dropped down. It landed in a field just south of the village and spread its wings as though it had every right to be there.
Alannah elbowed her way to the mayor, who stood gazing at the fields as though all his nightmares had come to life. “What’s down there?” she asked him.
“Pete’s farm. All the sheep are out in those fields.”
Alannah eyed the dragon. “Not for much longer.”
“Now’s my chance.” William stood at her elbow, gazing at the dragon. But it wasn’t fear that lit his expression, it was eagerness.
“This is my test. Fellmere’s captain has to accept me if I bring them a dragon’s head.”
“Can you kill it?” asked the mayor hopefully.
“Wait, hold on,” Alannah interrupted. “That thing’s as big as four horses – probably bigger – and you have no idea what it’s capable of or what it wants. You’ll be eviscerated.”
He gave her a blank look.
“That dragon is threatening our village,” he said sternly.
She looked at it again. There were less little white dots than there had been a moment ago, but the dragon wasn’t getting any closer. “It’s not threatening us. It’s just eating our sheep.”
The mayor drew himself up. “That is a threat to our livelihood. The dragon must be destroyed.”
“Better lock up your daughter, then,” she said, with sympathy. “Dragons have a thing for princesses, and Clara’s the closest thing we’ve got.”
With a moan, the mayor turned on his heel and fled back to his house.
Alannah put her hands on her hips and stared across the village at the dark figure of the dragon. “Maybe it’s just passing through,” she suggested.
William was scowling, arms crossed over his chest. “I’ll chop off its head and mount it on my wall.”
“You couldn’t kill a deer if it was chasing you,” she said as an aside and he grumbled but didn’t argue. A dragon would mean fear, which would mean that her sales in protective charms would go through the roof. Alannah rolled up her sleeves. She turned on William, whose expression hadn’t eased. “Don’t do anything stupid,” she told him. “At least not until the Council tells you to.”