Read the first chapter of the romantic fantasy novella, The Witch and the Dragon:
“You’ve got an infestation.”
“I can see that,” Alannah replied, scowling. The shop was covered in glittering gold dust; did he think it was there for the aesthetic? “How do I get rid of them?”
The exterminator shrugged. “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. His nose turned blue. “I could try fumigation.”
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 replied, “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. “How long?”
“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. She would never have let this happen. One twitch of that staff and the pixies would have fled, screeching.
Only Grandmother wasn’t here, and the store was the only thing she’d deigned to pass down the line.
Alannah imagined what it would be like to give up the shop, let another witch take up her grandmother’s legacy. Head off into the wilderness with her own staff. Make a name for herself beyond this tiny village.
Please. She’d never been able to handle anything more than simple thread spells. The only way she’d make a name for herself would be if she became the King’s tailor.
That was one thing she and Grandmother agreed on.
A pixie landed on the wooden counter and twirled in a way that managed to come across 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 said.
The door opened and the tiny golden bell beside her let out a high clear ring. “We’re closed,” Alannah called, without looking up. She swept the dust off her ledger and slammed it shut.
“Ah… I just wanted to know if you needed any help.”
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 the dust coating her shop. “Um. There are a lot of… pixies, here.”
The things danced around William’s head, twinkling and shedding everywhere. He gave one a hesitant smile and it swooned.
“Honestly,” Alannah muttered.
“What happened?” he asked, ducking under the wreath of glowing pixies.
“That crate of yew bark I got last week was filled with eggs.” She grabbed a broom from the corner and got to work on the broken vase. “Now I’m infested.”
“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?”
“Uh.” 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 under 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?
Alannah winced. On second thought, Clara probably wouldn’t appreciate secondhand wildflowers.
“Can I help you get rid of the pixies?” he asked, perking up. The creatures squeaked in response.
The high peal of a bell interrupted her. William stiffened. “That’s the warning bell.” He darted out of her shop.
“Great,” muttered Alannah. “Now what?” But she followed William outside.
At the end of the cobbled street sat the watchtower, from which came the angry toll of the bell. Other villagers poured out of their shops and houses, peering up at the tower.
“What’s going on?” she shouted.
“Is it an attack?” someone asked.
“Dorithia! Dorithia’s attacking!”
Alannah cursed. Their king had been on the verge of declaring war on Dorithia for years. But why now? Why her village?
William shaded his eyes with one hand. “I don’t see anything.”
“Where would they come from?” She scanned the horizon for any sign of an army.
A huge shadow passed over the street, dwarfing the houses. Fear froze her limbs solid.
A heartbeat later: “Dragon!”
The street erupted in chaos and Alannah was thrust to the edge of the road. Roaring through the air came a piercing shriek that tailed off into a rumbling growl. She slapped her hands over her ears, seeing others do the same. Another high, ugly shriek.
“Get back!” shouted William. “Stay under cover!”
Despite herself, Alannah stepped out from the shelter of her shop and peered south. A dark, curling shape swooped across the clouds. 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 over to the mayor, who stood gazing at the field 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 our 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,” he said. “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.
“I have to do something,” he replied. “That dragon is threatening our village.”
She looked at the field 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. 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 and he grumbled but didn’t argue. Alannah rolled up her sleeves. A dragon would mean fear, which would mean that her sales in protective charms would go through the roof. 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.”
End Chapter One
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