Henrietta the Dragon Slayer
Henrietta the Dragon Slayer Book 1
by Beth Barany
Genre: YA Fantasy Adventure
She's a legend at 17, but only Henrietta knows the price she paid for her fame … and it was much too high.
From the Winner of the California Fiction Writer's Book Contest comes this thrilling adventure of a young warrior on one final quest … against an opponent she swore never to face again.
Henrietta, the legendary Dragon Slayer of Bleuve, can't face the thought of another kill. She's lost family, friends and home on her rocky road to fame. But when the young warrior is summoned by a King to retrieve the Dragon Stone from the last dragon in existence, she can't re fuse--her mentor lies dying, and the healing stone is all that can save him. This quest will be her most harrowing of all, for it means facing mysterious assassins, the dreaded choppy sea, and all with a misfit band--a young witch, a jester and a surly knight. And at journey's end, someone must die … the dragon, or Henrietta.
Perfect for fans of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Collins' The Hunger Games, McKinley's Hero & the Crown, and Paolini's Eragon. Get your copy of Henrietta the Dragon Slayer today!
A matter of life or death. She gritted her teeth until her jaw ached. “And whose life?” Those last words slipped out, without her meaning them to. The knight frowned and glared at her, but said nothing. Fatigue suddenly pressed on her like a double quilt. “Look,” Henrietta said, “If it’s so important to you, we’ll have to discuss it in the morning. I must sleep. Jaxter?” Jaxter peered at Henrietta and then at the knight. He pulled off one of his jeweled rings and handed it to her. “Go around the corner to the first door, down three steps to the inn’s sleeping quarters. It’s this same building. Tell the night guard that Jaxter of Duke Bettin’s court said you could have a room.” “Thanks,” she said. Jaxter was a trusting fellow. “He’ll want that back in the morning,” Sir Franc growled. Henrietta was too tired and too drunk. The man wasn’t worth a response. “That’s my gift to you, Henri,” Jaxter said. Henrietta bowed her head in thanks. And, despite her fatigue and her need for the facilities, swaggered toward the sleeping quarters. She could hear them as she walked away. “You shouldn’t have helped her. She’s a thief, you know.” “What are you talking about, Franc? Didn’t you hear her tale? It’s one of my favorites. I tell it as often as I can. But I don’t do the acrobatics like she did tonight. She was fabulous, wasn’t she? Such a great storyteller! I tell her other adventures too.” Jaxter clapped. “I actually met one of my ballad heroes! She is better than I imagined. How she cut down Britham’s dragon with such ferocity, such bravery—” “That’s what I mean.” “Uh?” “Can’t you see?” Franc said. Henrietta was glad when she turned the corner of the building and couldn’t hear the knight’s insults anymore. She was not a thief. And all her dragon treasure, the little she’d received for her acts of bravery, was gone. Troubadoring her own adventures was how she earned her coin now.
* * *
Henrietta took the three steps down to the inn’s sleeping quarters and entered. A sputtering, smoky torch barely illuminated a small entry hall. At an opposite doorway, an old woman in black hunched over her hands, muttering. “Missy, where have you been?” the old woman said. “What? I was told I could get a room here.” Henrietta rubbed her temples. She distantly recalled seeing the old woman at one of the tables in the tavern. There had been so many faces, so many smells. “I don’t know anything about that.” The old woman’s voice scratched at Henrietta’s ears like uncut iron being rubbed against itself. “You’re not the night guardian.” Henrietta squinted in the torch smoke. “No.” Henrietta was alone to find a solution, as usual. That suited her fine. The small entry hall held only them, a bench and two closed doors. The old woman moved closer to Henrietta and craned her neck back to peer up at her with her clouded white eyes. She smelled of damp wool and moss. “You must return home,” the old woman said in a low voice. “What?” Why was everyone telling her where to go and what to do? This is why she preferred the road. No damn orders to follow. Ignoring the old woman, Henrietta tried the handle of the first door. The flickering torch light of the entryway danced across a wooden bucket and a mop. She closed the storeroom door and stepped back. The old woman stood too close behind her and Henrietta almost trod on her feet. “The other way is obstructed,” the old woman said. Henrietta skirted her. “Okay, if you know so much, grandma, tell me where the innkeeper is.” “She went to the outhouse.” The old lady smiled a toothless grin. “Why? There should be indoor privies in a building this size.” And she needed to find one. Henrietta tried the handle on the other door. Locked. She knocked. No one answered. Obstructed. The old woman was right about that. Yet the rooms for hire must be through there. She knocked again and swore when there was no answer. “Your Master Chen is dying and needs the Dracontias,” the old woman said. “What?” She squeaked. “You must retrieve it for him in the Ritual of Completion. In the Right Way with the elements aligned, before the Mitte Winter Moon rises.” Henrietta could barely hear the old woman’s words. Master Chen ill. Her heart rushed to her ears. The walls squeezed her. Darkness approached at the edges of her vision. She clenched her hands into fists to keep steady. The old woman stepped closer, wiped her hands on her black robe, and held them out as if there was something to be seen on her palms. Her round, milky eyes blinked up at Henrietta, expectant. Henrietta didn’t want to look, but she couldn’t prevent herself from staring, horrified. The old woman’s palms seemed to be dripping with a dark substance. It couldn’t be. She tried to breathe. Darkness filled her vision and the light suddenly dimmed. Blood on her hands. Not the old lady’s. Those were her hands she was seeing. It was her fault her scouting party was dead. All dead. Their blood on her hands. “Sit, child.” The old woman pushed her down onto a bench. Henrietta couldn’t protest, couldn’t ask for more details, nothing. No air. No light. “Head between the knees,” the old woman ordered. Henrietta did as the witch bade and gasped for air. For only a witch could conjure such images from bad memories mixed with bad dreams. She managed to gasp, and finally, air whooshed into her burning lungs. Light exploded behind her closed eyelids. Her chest expanded and contracted like great bellows. “Are you all right, m’dear?” The voice was smooth, female, and entirely different from the old woman’s sing-song. Henrietta squinted up to see a woman in a high-necked smock holding a lantern and peering at her in concern. Where had the old woman gone? Henrietta sat up, breath coming in bursts, her head spinning at the sudden movement. “Uh … hello, ma’am. “ She had to think of something to hide her weakness. Now was not the time to worry about an old soothsayer. “I lost something … on the floor. One of my knives.” “Greetings. I see you are a Traveler.” The woman gave her the standard Traveler’s welcome. “Now look for it in the morning when the light’s better. I have no candle or lantern to spare.” Her breath coming evenly once more, Henrietta requested her room, her voice shaking only a little with nerves. As promised, Jaxter’s name was golden. The door now opened easily without a key, and she followed the woman up to the third floor. After a stop at the floor’s privies, just where she guessed they’d be, she was led to a room with a fire already blazing and a large bed heaped with furs and wools. Left in peace. Finally. And with a key she could use from the inside. She did. Releasing a deep breath, she dropped her sack on the clean hardwood floor and shed her boots, without giving them the daily quick polish. She barely had the energy to place them beside the bed for easy access. Her head spun with the effort. The witch’s mess of words echoed in her mind. What was the Ritual of Completion? What did the witch mean by “the Right Way with the elements aligned”? And the Dracontias, again. The Mitte Winter Moon was only twenty-six days away. Whatever the witch was ranting about had to happen soon. One thing the witch had said was clear. Master Chen, an indomitable village blacksmith, her mentor, was ill and dying. The man who cared for her when no one else would, not even her own family. The man who taught her blacksmithing, blade-smithing and fighting skills. The man who had saved her from … She didn’t want to think about that. Her dreams haunted her enough. How could Master Chen be dying when he never was sick? He’d always seemed so invincible to her. When she left three suns ago to join the king’s army, he was hale and hearty. And very angry at her. She’d been happy to leave that tiny mountain village, and happy to never see it or him again. In the three suns since her abrupt departure, she’d only ever thought of Master Chen through a haze of righteous anger. He hadn’t wanted her to join the king’s army. He yelled at her at the well in front of the whole village, had called her immature, and foolhardy. And then he told her that once she left, she could never come back. She’d left him then and there. Henrietta ignored her shaking hands and carefully unbuckled her sword and dagger belts, loosening her rust-colored tunic and breeches. She was older now. Seventeen suns. She lobbed across the room the overly engorged goose down pillows and blankets, and wished they made more noise when they hit the floor. She was more experienced now. Too many battles. She jammed her belts under her coat forming her preferred pillow and clenched her fists to try to stop the shaking that rippled through her body. She’d killed dragons for a living. She stared at the stripped bed. She’d killed the last known dragon in the Kingdom of Bleuve six moons ago. She sat at the edge of the bed. The low fire flickered and hissed. She tried to force her breathing to calm, but it wouldn’t. Why should she quit her comfortable troubadour life to pick up the sword again? Though coin and adventure had always been good enough reasons before, they weren’t good enough anymore. A deeper-pressing reason made her hand tingle for the weight of her sword. Her heart surged with a sharp ache, and her stomach clenched with fear. Despite everything he’d said to her the day she left, she owed him everything.
Her master was dying. She had to do something.
Henrietta and the Dragon Stone
Henrietta the Dragon Slayer Book 2
What if all those you loved were threatened by a force you couldn't see or fight?
Henrietta the legendary ass kicking dragon slayer wants to return to her village for a heroes’ welcome. But an unknown sorcerer rides after her and her Dragon Stone, and aims to destroy everyone she cares about. Can she claim her newfound powers sparked by the Dragon Stone and keep her loved ones safe, especially her more-than-friend, and her stalwart bodyguard, before the sorcerer destroys her and everything in his path?
A medieval-set world with magic and magical creatures.
A 86,000-word novel.
Beth Barany empowers young women to be the heroes of their own lives.
The Dracontias, dra-con-ti-as, emphasis on the second syllable, is the most powerful gem in all the Five Kingdoms, and more powerful than all the other so-called Kingdom Stones. This one and only Dragon Stone unifies the kingdoms and empowers its user. But beware its one fatal flaw.
—from the Fire Wizards Compendium
Early Winter New Moon (Mitte Moon), Oro Islands, One of the Five Kingdoms
King Singfan sucked in a breath, stretched the crossbow, and held it steady, tracking the beast. Time was of the essence. If he didn’t kill this dragon and obtain the Dragon Stone on the great dragon’s forehead, he’d have to start all over again. Unthinkable. Impossible. He had to renew this king’s body during this night, while the stars were aligned just so, and the moon hung below the horizon. The girl Dragon Slayer, that Henrietta, was performing exactly as he’d expected. She’d taken the proffered reward and given him the secret dragon lore, confirming what he needed to know. She crouched nearby, ready to do his bidding. King Singfan breathed out, steadying his aim, and smiled. Inside of him, Bjirn Eyvindir smiled, too, at Singfan’s glee. Hidden to everyone, Eyvindir had occupied the body of King Singfan for seventy-five years, a long king’s rule—longer than anyone on the Oro Islands could remember. If they did remember the length of King Singfan’s reign, Eyvindir by King Singfan’s hand had made sure they didn’t remember for long, and didn’t remember anything ever again. King Singfan had given him free reign to run his magic through the man and control his every move. The man was his best and most perfect servant. Eyvindir wasn’t going to end the arrangement anytime soon. He’d planned this renewal too long for the moment to go awry. The dragon hovered above the enormous cave floor about to settle, its scales flickering and iridescent in the torchlight. King Singfan held his breath, steadying his strong stance and perfect aim. He readied the powerful crossbow. Before he could loose the arrow, Henrietta yelled “You can’t!” and shoved him to the hard-packed ground. The dragon slayer pinned his arms against his torso with her legs, heavy on his chest. He struggled beneath her weight. “How dare you!” he snarled. “We had an agreement.” How had she slipped past his guard? With every second that ticked by, he felt his power draining from him like water down the drain, no doubt shifting his appearance. But his voice held strong and loud. He gathered courage in that. There was still time to kill the dragon and obtain the Dragon Stone. “I can’t let you!” she shouted, glaring down at him. Suddenly, her friends appeared at her side. “Who’s this?” the injured bard, Jaxter, asked. “The king,” Henrietta growled. Little did she know who she was truly up against. “How dare you!” Eyvindir protested again. But his voice sounded strange. Gurgles, high-pitched clicks and garbled words were all that he could manage. How did the dragon slayer’s friends arrive at the cave? He’d left them under guard at the castle. “Magics! I don’t trust my eyes. Franc?” the dragon slayer shouted, as if she were yelling right into his ear. “I have not ever seen this old man before, but I have heard whispered tales,” Franc, the knight, said. “What is he saying?” The knight he’d sent to retrieve the dragon slayer, crossed his arms, and frowned down at him. The betrayer. “I don’t know, but we have no time for tales.” Henrietta bound the king’s wrists and ankles together with a rough rope. He wriggled, but to no avail. Something sharp stabbed his back. “Don’t move!” Henrietta barked. Eyvindir glared at her, through King Singfan’s eyes, furious and unable to move his body, his faculty for speech gone. How dare she! He’d miscalculated the girl slayer. He’d waited too long to act. Frantic, he reached in his mind for his power, but it was too late. The moment when the moon was just so, right below the horizon, was gone. The shine of the rising moon grew brighter. The dragon spun to settle, flapping its wings. He’d missed his moment. Torches lay on the ground where his cowardly men had fled. The dragon slayer’s friends had had a hand in that, no doubt, yet he’d dismissed them as weak. Another mistake. How could he have so miscalculated? He brushed the thought aside. He didn’t make mistakes. He drew strength from that knowledge. “You won’t get away with this!” the king hissed and spat, his voice fully recovered. “The dragon must die, or the Five Kingdoms die. The Oro Islands Kingdom is the first kingdom and must be renewed!” The dragon slayer frowned, confusion and panic written on her face. Good. He drew more strength from her fear and uncertainty. He may be still tied up, but that state couldn’t last long. She turned to her friends. “Franc, Jaxter, is this true?” “Whispers only,” the knight said. “I don’t know,” the bard said. He leaned on his staff for support. “What do you mean, you don’t know?” the dragon slayer said and clenched her fists. Her heart revved up a notch. Eyvindir chuckled. Her panic rippled off her in delicious waves. Excellent. “I didn’t ask for this responsibility! I don’t want this responsibility!” the dragon slayer cried. The bard coughed and struggled for breath, leaning heavily on his staff. Most excellent. Eyvindir pulled power from the skinny young bard’s weakness and from the dragon slayer’s doubts. The weakened bard managed to speak. “It’s been so long, the story’s been told many different ways, but one of the legends says that the dragon must pass every peak of the wave, at the emptiness of the moon, in the year of the waning ruler, by the hand of a dual heart awakened, bounded on all four points.” “But what does that mean?” the dragon slayer yelled over a loud hum, her panic at a near-fever pitch. “I don’t know!” the bard shouted. “Why didn’t you tell me all this before?” the dragon slayer said, her voice high-pitched, frantic. “You never asked,” the bard replied. “But you knew who I was facing.” “The legend doesn’t say the name of the dragon. I just realized who it meant.” The bard hung on to his staff. “But still you should have told me! You know all the tales.” The dragon slayer sounded at wits end. She was weakening. Perfect. He sucked in more of her fear as sustenance to rebuild his strength. “You should have asked!” the bard said again. “Besides I thought you knew them as well as I did! What is wrong with you? This is what you do, save people and kingdoms from dragons!” Jaxter coughed. Eyvindir reveled in the bard’s increasing weakness and in the argument brewing. “Stop! We don’t have the time to argue!” the fire girl, Paulette, yelled. The sneak somehow saw through his facade back at the castle. She would not last a day under his new reign. “What?” the dragon slayer said. “The dragon is changing,” the knight said. The beast’s crystal scales shifted through the primary color spectrum. A second dragon arose from the first, consisting only of a matrix of rainbow light. Eyvindir would regain the upper hand. He drew ever more strength from everyone’s confusion and fear. Clarity blossomed anew. The moon wouldn’t rise for another hour. He still had time. The dragon slayer’s surprise betrayal would delay him no more. “You have to kill it before it disappears for another millennia!” Eyvindir yelled, his strength growing from their pain. He could wriggle in the ropes. Soon his power would reawaken and then he would easily break his flimsy bonds. “You must! I command it!” But his last words were drowned out of his own hearing by a roar from the beast. “Shut up!” the dragon slayer managed to shout over the din. How was she able to do that when he couldn’t even hear himself? He yanked the ropes. “He’s right, or something like it has to happen every millennia so the dragon can come back,” the bard said. “I can’t,” the dragon slayer said, her voice hoarse. “What do you mean ‘you can’t’?” the bard asked. “You are the Dragon Slayer!” “I can’t.” The dragon slayer’s cheeks were wet. Splendid! Her life force was depleting. Any moment now he’d be renewed and free. He used all his years of experience to yank her life force from her. She had to obey him. All his plans rested on her demise, now that he’d taken what he needed from her. The dragon nudged the dragon slayer with its large head. The dragon slayer stumbled back. She was weakening. The beast nodded slowly, its Dragon Stone glowing green then red on its forehead. Was the beast communicating with the dragon slayer? Couldn’t be. The beast was for him only. Power flooded through him hot and molten, anger strengthening him. “Dragon slayer, you must kill it,” Eyvindir shouted. “The fate of the island is in your hands. The fate of the whole Five Kingdoms!” “Jaxter?” the dragon slayer turned to the bard as if to confirm his words. “He may be right. Do you trust me?” “What kind of question is that?” the dragon slayer asked. “A question that demands an answer,” the bard said in a voice so soft Eyvindir wasn’t sure he heard correctly. He glared at the stupid dragon slayer. How could he have miscalculated? He’d planned for every contingency. Nowhere had he predicted that the dragon slayer would be strengthened by the new web of connections around her, her pesky friends. She was a loner. That was to be her downfall. He’d made sure of it. “What do I need to do?” the dragon slayer asked. Her friends must have answered because after a pause she said, “I need your help.” Damn the old gods and all the lore of his people. The dragon slayer barked an order cutting through his curse. “Paulette, get to the dragon’s tail. You’re fire. On my mark!” “What?” The fire girl shouted too close. She hovered over him. “And leave him?” “He can’t do anything. Go! Time fades, and so does he,” the dragon slayer ordered. “You must not! The Dragon Stone is mine!” But his words croaked out in sputter. He felt more than saw the new moon rising and his life-force, his prana, ebbing out of this body. The King Singfan identity, his soul, had been quiet, letting him take command. Eyvindir rallied King Singfan’s soul to lend him strength. The dragon’s hum deepened and filled the cavern with a low vibrato. It flapped higher and brightened, both the dragon of light and the real dragon. Its scales shot sparks, which exploded against the cavern walls. Two dragons melded into light, too bright to peer at directly. Fire and wind swirled into a funnel and exploded into a white light and blinding bang. “No!” He shouted, but he couldn’t hear his own voice. “Don’t stop!” the dragon slayer yelled above the storm. From all directions, explosions like a fireworks hammered him. Bound as he was, he managed to bend double to guard against the pain, but his efforts were useless. His skin crawled as if ants wriggled under his skin. Pain pierced all layers of his being—both the body and the magics layers. “Stop!” Eyvindir tried to yell, but it came out like a series of croaks. No, it couldn’t be. He couldn’t move his body. Then in a breath, he lost all sense of feeling. Impossible. He was able to sense his life force being jettisoned out of his body and into the night sky, on its way back to where his actual body rested inert in his fortress far to the north and east. Through his cloud of shock, from his vantage point in the sky far above, he spied his body, actually the body of King Singfan who had ruled the Oro Islands for over seventy-five years, burst into flames. He felt nothing. He was frozen in shock. The male body that had been the Oro king’s was now cinders, a miniscule pile of ash. Panic almost scattered his prana into a million trillion irretrievable bits. Only his mighty skill as the oldest living sorcerer saved him. He’d heard rumors of such things. But no, he could not die. Unacceptable. He mustered his focus. His actual ancient body existed within reach. He focused on his prana, a faint thread of light, a line leading in a northeasterly direction, through the clouds, across the sea, to his obsidian mountain enclave. He didn’t follow the thread to nestle in his sleeping form in that cold room. Not just yet. To do that would admit defeat. He would not let an upstart dragon slayer ruin his plans. But she had. He had wits enough to admit that. For a moment he burned white hot with rage and felt an unbearable pain sear his energy body. His anger, intricate and quite useful, connected to his identity, his soul. But now his anger was burning his life force, his prana connection, to the only body he now had. He brought his attention back to the island city of Plumaria and hovered over it. He quickly allowed dirty white cloud particulates to drench his rage. He had to focus. He had to retrieve the remnants of power from that flimsy old pile of dust that had been the Oro king. He had to find another body to use and fast. Before she got away with the Dracontias, the precious one and only Dragon Stone. The search for and habitation of a suitable body only took him an entire day, but he finally accomplished his task. Withdrawing his powers from the dust pile, he spied the body he needed in the Plumaria castle’s sick room. His low simmering fury and tenacity built up over three centuries of scheming had made him strong. With his powerful focus, he propped up the dying soul, revived it, and pushed his will and identity into the young man’s heart. In a breath, he healed the youngling’s body to temporary vibrancy. The body wouldn’t last, so he had to hurry. There was not the time to pick a more robust body. That took preparation, study, and careful calculations. He didn’t have the time for that. He had to get back what was rightfully his. Once more in control of a vibrant body and pliable identity, he followed the rumors of the slayer’s departure all the way to the piers. That she-slayer was supposed to do his bidding. Failure hadn’t been an option. Perhaps seventy-five years in the Oro king’s body had made him sloppy and dulled his normally exceptionally high acuity and brilliance. His complacency must have been how she had tricked him, how she’d deceived and betrayed him. He hadn’t been blindsided by a female since his sister had stolen the royal crown from him over a century ago. Never mind the mistakes of the past. This dragon slayer, this Henrietta, had destroyed his ambition to rule over the Oro Islands for the next one hundred years and beyond. In that time he had planned to seize control of the other four kingdoms using the might of the Dragon Stone, combined with the other four kingdom’s crystals and stones he’d meticulously collected over the centuries. His life’s calling entailed ruling over all the Five Kingdoms. No one was going to come between him and his destiny again. She would pay for ruining his plans. He’d end this before she ever left the city of Plumaria. The child-woman, Henri Etta, was no match for him. He couldn’t be destroyed that easily. He directed his new body through the marketplace, causing havoc. Then he rushed up the pier and delighted in the feel of youth in his limbs. A crazy thought flitted through his mind—that of the faraway and long ago carefree youth he once was who’d loved the freedom of birds and spent hours watching them in flight. Then he saw her, waving and nodding to the peons who thought she’d liberated them. He swatted away memories of his flimsy faraway past. His pace quickened. She could not take his dream away. No one could, especially no woman. He was to have complete control of all the Five Kingdoms. Once he had the last object of power, his plans would click into place. She’d taken the most powerful gem in all the Five Kingdoms from him, and she would pay. With her life.
Henrietta and the Battle of the Horse Mesa
Henrietta the Dragon Slayer Book 3
Finally, the sweeping conclusion to the Henrietta The Dragon Slayer trilogy!
Parted by destiny, the four friends struggle to rejoin forces and face for a final time, the ruthless sorcerer intent on destroying them all.
In the biggest challenge of her life, Henrietta the legendary Dragon Slayer of Bleuve must lead her people into a battle that may end life as they know it. For they face no ordinary army, but the dark forces of a powerful sorcerer bent on overtaking all five kingdoms. And unless she can rescue her dauntless knight Franc, she must do it without his support.
Franc will follow Henrietta anywhere. But on a mission to find allies among the Horse People, he is kidnapped and taken by minions of the evil sorcerer Eyvindir. Will he find the strength and courage to survive, and fight again at Henrietta's side?
Paulette, the young fire witch, must stand trial for a murder committed out of desperation. In despair at her imprisonment by forces acting against her dearest friend, Jaxter, she escapes and flees to the frigid, forbidden land of Varangia to find a witch powerful enough to help her finally master fire. But what must she give up to gain the power to aid her friends?
Jaxter, now a king, must come to terms with the heavy responsibilities of ruling the Oro Islands, newly emerged from over 75 years of evil rule. This means doing right, even when it means going against ancient customs and protocols. Worse, the marauding Varangians press at his borders. He must find a way to defend his home, or none of them will survive.
Will Henrietta and her friends be able to stop the ruthless sorcerer from obliterating her, claiming the Dragon Stone, and ruling over the Five Kingdoms?
Magics in and magics out, what is all the fuss about?
In the chilly night, Paulette huddled over the fire and rubbed her hands. They shook. She clamped tight her jaw. No more weakness. She had to have fighting magics. She had to be able to defend herself, like her friends could. Henrietta had her military skills, Franc too. Jaxter had his quarterstaff. What did she have? Her puny fire magic could barely create a diversion in the middle of a fight. She threw more fire bane herbs onto the near-dead coals. Mistress Jenny would not approve of what she was about to do. Mistress Jenny wasn’t here, on the trail beside a Kingdom of Bleuve forest, confronted with mad knights who wanted to kill them for no reason. She glanced over her shoulder. Henrietta slept, facing the river. Jaxter slept in his bedroll not far from the fire, snoring softly. Franc stood watch over his fallen—what? Companions? No, betrayers—those knights of Oro who had charged up the riverbank toward them with murder in their eyes. Paulette shivered and hunched over her work. The night pressed in cold all around like a wet blanket. She wished she could burn it all down and gulped back her tears. She wouldn’t become a powerful witch with tears but with action. “I call forth the ancient magic power of fire from the depths of the earth, from the five corners of the known kingdoms, from the stars above,” Paulette chanted. “Come to me. I am willing to pay the price.” Should she prick her finger and give up a drop of blood to symbolize the price? She felt about for a twig or sharp stone, but found nothing. Her cooking knives were wrapped in her pack, out of reach. The wind picked up. A whooshing assaulted her ears. She covered them and squeezed shut her eyes against the debris that kicked up. A glow colored her eyelids orange. She cracked open her eyes and sucked in a breath at the vision before her. A flame jumped and wavered beside the dead coals, not rooted in anything, but floating above the ground, free. Inside the flame the face of an ancient woman appeared, gnarled like the oldest trees in the forest. “Do you really want to pay that price, my child?” a sandpapery voice hissed. Paulette gulped and nodded at the ancient witch she’d summoned. The price was life force. At fourteen suns, she could afford it. She’d gladly shorten her life for a few suns for the ability to bravely fight with fire powers. “Speak,” the woman said, her voice at once grating and commanding. “Are you certain this is what you want?” The ancient witch’s fire threw off no heat as it flickered and danced, independent of the frigid winter wind. “I-I do.” Paulette cleared the lump in her throat, clenched her hands to stop their shaking, and said again, “I am willing to pay the price.” “You know the price,” the ancient witch insisted. “Yes, yes.” Paulette sobbed, her tears overtaking her in a flash. She hunched over the embers in the campfire, the flames suddenly hot and glowing. “Be certain, child. The price of the fire rage is very high. Few seek it.” A lightning bolt shot up from the ground. Paulette gasped at the brightness, and to keep from jumping in fright, clutched her arms around her bent knees. “I know. But I need it!” She couldn’t hide the desperation and agony in her voice. There was no shame in asking for what you wanted and for being willing to pay the price, whatever it was. She needed to be able to protect herself. The ancient witch shimmered and increased in size, taking up the entire camp. The weight of the witch’s presence surrounded Paulette and squeezed her chest and back. She could only take shallow breaths and shut her eyes against the brightness to no avail. The red of the fire burned behind her eyelids. “Fire rage for a girl, who must give up her pearl,” the great witch’s voice screeched. “What pearl?” Paulette blurted, eyes clamped shut. Was that different from the price? “It is never that simple,” the witch whispered. Paulette opened her eyes. She wanted to protest—magics could be that simple. The ancient fire witch grinned at her, her fiery hair whipping around, as if in a wild windstorm. Paulette gulped and threw the rosemary herb mixture on the fire to end the ritual. The great whooshing swelled to a scathing whine and then dropped to nothing. The witch and her overpowering glow vanished. The forest was silent, the air cold. Paulette was still a lowly witch’s apprentice. She didn’t feel any different, except she was very, very tired. Had she really paid the price for the most powerful fire magics there was?
The next day, Paulette led her horse on the narrow trail, the snow a sprinkling on the ground, pretty as lace. It was Jaxter’s turn to ride her mare. The grey day was fresh and smelled of more snow. They were both behind Henrietta in single file, with Franc striding behind their small group. Henrietta led her horse. The bound and gagged prisoner, the remaining Oro knight, flopped a bit on the back of Henrietta’s horse. Jaxter sang, “On the road again.” “I know that song.” Paulette smiled. Jaxter chuckled. “Yes? I just made it up.” Paulette laughed, joy bubbling out. “Oh, I’m so happy! I’m almost home!” The reins jingled in her hands. Last night’s ritual bloomed as a vivid memory, lodged in her heart like a coming spring flower. She was going home. She had her powerful fire magics. And a pleasant storyteller to chat with. She smiled. What a homecoming feast they would have. A quarter day later of travelling the narrow forest trail, the garrison longhouse came into view at the top of a small rise. Paulette clapped her hands as her horse pranced. She was now riding, and Jaxter walking beside her. “Laonne—my village, my home—it’s just beyond the ridge!” She was returning home after seven suns, almost away as long as Jaxter had been away from his home—ten suns. She’d stay with her family for the winter and return to Mistress Jenny to resume her witch training in the spring. “Then I guess this is goodbye,” Henrietta said. “I suppose so. My parents will want to meet all of you. The rest of the family is too far away to come for the festivities. Well, not family exactly, but villagers who have known me all my life. Mama and Papa didn’t know exactly I’d be coming home, but I’m sure they can take one evening to still the mill.” She chuckled at her rhyme and eyed Henrietta, who was frowning. “You must come, Henri. My parents will want to meet you. They will fill your food sack for your journey ahead, and you must rest at our house in Laonne.” She grinned. That ought to make the warrior happy since she was always thinking with her stomach. “I’m sure they will prepare a feast in my return. Actually, they said they would when I saw them at the last feast day, when they came to visit.” She took a breath and turned to glance at Jaxter. “And they will need a storyteller at the feast,” Paulette said softly, her heart thumping. They halted ten paces from the garrison entrance. Paulette eyed Franc and spoke softly, “Franc, my parents will thank you, too.” A guard in a pristine blue uniform looked on, impassive, as if they weren’t having a conversation in front of him. Franc nodded, solemn. She nodded back in thanks. Paulette turned to the guard, broke into a huge smile, and squealed. “Is it? It is!” She dismounted her horse with a quick, graceful leap and sprinted to the young soldier. “Pierre, is that you?” The young man blushed, looking exactly like the shy boy she remembered from their hide-and-seek games in Laonne. Then he went white and stilled. He opened his mouth and shut it, like a river fish out of the water. “Pierre, what’s wrong? Are you feeling well?” She reached out and touched his shoulder. “Paulette, the miller’s daughter,” the young man said and blinked, as if seeing her for the first time. Then he stood straight, out of Paulette’s reach. He eyed Franc and the prisoner hanging over Henrietta’s horse’s back. “This is too much,” said Henrietta under her breath. “Homecomings.” Louder, she said, “Soldier, what’s your rank?” She strode forward, the horse and captive in Franc’s hands. The guard shifted his gaze back to Henrietta then Paulette. “Second lieutenant, Fourth Regiment of Bleuve.” “Under whose command?” Henrietta shouted. “Capitaine Geoffrey of the Laonne Village Garrison.” “I need to speak with him,” Henrietta said. “Our—the prisoner must be treated accordingly.” “He is not here.” “Then his second in command.” “I will summon him for you, but Paulette … ” Pierre faltered and looked again like the shy boy Paulette used to know. He took a deep breath and touched Paulette’s shoulder. “I am deeply sorry, Paulette. But there’s been a terrible accident at the mill.” “What? Where’s Papa? Mama?” Her voice rose to a hysterical pitch and she clutched at her throat. “I am deeply sorry,” Pierre said again, his voice gravely. Suddenly Henrietta was beside her. Jaxter stood at her other side, his shoulder against hers. “There was an accident,” Pierre said in a whisper. “A very strange accident. They don’t know what happened. Your parents—I am so very sorry. I didn’t want to be the one to tell you. I’m so sorry—” “Stop saying that and tell us what happened, soldier,” Henrietta snapped. “Her parents—” The guard eyed Henrietta. He dropped his shaking hand from Paulette’s shoulder and faced her, holding her gaze, no longer shy, but being the soldier he was now. Paulette couldn’t move. She was frozen as a lake in winter. “Your parents died in a strange fire last night at the mill.” Paulette gasped, heat flooding her chest, arms, and legs. “What? How?” The guard lowered his voice. “Some say it was dark magics.” Paulette shivered, chilled yet hot. “No, it couldn’t be. This can’t be the price,” she whispered. Seeing no one and nothing, she clutched her horse’s mane and mounted the mare, urging her over the ridge toward her village. She had to see for herself. Her parents couldn’t be dead. In the space of a few breaths, Paulette’s mare had brought her up and over the ridge. There was the mill at the edge of town, straddling the waterway. Or what was left of it. The mill was a mottled husk of itself, all blackened and broken walls. Smoke curled up into the grey, grey sky. “No!” she screamed as she nudged the mare into full speed. A big bear of a man rushed to her as she neared the bridge. He managed to grab the reins and stop the mare. Paulette couldn’t see who it was through her sobs and yells of denial. “I’m sorry, Paulette. They’re gone. It was so sudden. In the middle of the night. We’ve only now managed to put out the fire.” Paulette slipped from her horse and attempted to cross the bridge. The man grabbed her arms. She recognized him now. The village elder. “You can’t—” He gulped at her glare, face as pale as the grey sky. “I have to see them.” Then he gripped her tighter and lowered his voice. “They’re gone, Paulette dear. There is nothing you can do for them now.” She clenched her fists. “Nothing I can do?” The elder took a step back, fear in his gaze. Hooves pounded behind her, up the hill. Jaxter had taken a horse to follow her, his elbows out as he gripped the reins. She’d have laughed if she weren’t so upset. “I have to see them, Elder Alderon.” His name finally came to her. Without waiting for his reply, she twisted out of his grip and mounted her mare. The horse’s hooves clattered across the wooden bridge. In two breaths, she was in the mill that had also been her home. At the hearth lay two forms covered in blankets. Villagers stared at her. “What?” she shouted, grief making her feel outrageous, at once large and small, defeated and mad with pain. A matron smiled sadly. “You can come stay with me, Paulette.” Paulette ignored her, the woman’s offer not making sense. She dismounted the mare and rushed to her parents. “No,” the matron said, reaching for Paulette’s arm. Paulette brushed her off and knelt beside one and then the other, holding her breath as she lifted the blankets. Her mother’s metal knitting needles lay atop the blackened body, melted but recognizable. Paulette gasped, breath hard to come by, her father’s misshapen pipe somehow still recognizable beside his unrecognizable body. Without seeing the villagers who had to be there, Paulette vaulted to the back of her mare and rushed out of the soot and grey and ragged structure that had been her parents’ home and livelihood, and her home, too. No longer. She panted. Her arms and hands tingled. She’d caused this. The life force she thought she’d exchanged had not been her own, but her parents’. How could she have known? Maybe that had been the pearl. No matter. What mattered was the fire rising within her. And she knew just who to direct it to. Jaxter was slipping awkwardly off his horse on the other side of the bridge. She galloped past him and back over the ridge, as fast as the mare could go. Quick as a hare, she leapt from the horse and sprinted over to the prisoner. Jaxter followed, riding hard behind her. Henrietta broke into a run toward her and the prisoner. Paulette panted hard, her face hot. She raised her hands, palms facing the man on the ground, her arms straightened and locked. A curse, ugly and primal, burst out of her and startled the horses. A flash jumped from her hands and arced to the prisoner, and out came the most delicious, all-consuming rage. Henrietta yelled. “No!” Flames crackled and shot purple and orange, green and red. Thunder boomed. Daylight disappeared. The prisoner screamed. A horrible acrid smell rose up. Jaxter cried, “Paulette! No!” At the same moment, a captain shouted. But his words were incomprehensible over the sound of the wind. Henrietta coughed. “Girl, what have you done?” Her arms still out and shooting flames, Paulette turned to Henrietta. Henrietta sidestepped the flames. Cold and hot, feverish, all-powerful—that was how it felt to shoot fire out of her hands at the one responsible. “That will teach them to never attack me ever again!” Paulette turned back to the body on the ground. But Henrietta yanked her by the elbows, gripping her arms behind her back and pulled her away. “Stop! He’s dead! You killed him!” The flames stopped. Paulette struggled against Henrietta’s hold. For a moment, everything was quiet, even the wind. Snow swirled gently down. No one spoke. Then a bitter wind gusted, twirling leaves and debris. More thunder boomed and lightning cracked simultaneously. The clouds spilled and icy rain doused the smoldering body. In seconds Paulette was soaked, but she didn’t feel it. “How could you?” Jaxter’s tears mingled with the rain. His voice was ragged. His shoulders shook. His bouncy blond curls had been flattened by the rain. Paulette strained to break free of Henrietta’s hold. “Don’t you see? I had to!”
Award winning author, Beth Barany writes in several genres including young adult adventure fantasy and paranormal romance.
Inspired by living abroad in France and Quebec, she loves creating magical tales of romance, mystery, and adventure that empower women and girls to be the heroes of their own lives.
For fun, Beth walks, gardens, and watched movies and travels with her husband, author Ezra Barany. They live in Oakland, California with a piano, their cats, and over 1,000 books.
When not writing or playing, Beth runs an online school, BARANY SCHOOL OF FICTION. helping novelists to write, market, and publish their books to the delight of their readers.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was 22 years old, I tried to get my first article published while I was living in Paris, France. I sent 4 or 5 letters to the small English-language monthly newspaper, proposing story ideas, but still no reply. Finally, I walked into the editor office and pitched some ideas face-to-face. The editor picked one he liked and then he made me rewrite the article 3 times. LOL It was a hard but wonderful experience to finally get my first article published. When I saw my name in print when my article was published, that’s when I really felt like a writer.
Do you have a favorite movie?
Yes! Well, there’s 2 of them. I loved The Fifth Element and La Femme Nikita (the original.)
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Oh, Henrietta The Dragon Slayer, and its sequels! For sure!
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
The dragon, sometimes the Western dragon – fierce, self-centered, protective, a hoarder. And sometimes an Eastern dragon – kind, compassionate, protective.
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