Title: Henrietta the Dragon Slayer (Henrietta The Dragon Slayer #1)
Author: Beth Barany
Publication Date: June 7th 2011
Genre(s): 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!
Purchase Links: Amazon|iBooks|Barnes & Noble|Kobo|Smashwords
Battle-hardened and brave
Ready for the fight
Henrietta the Dragon Slayer
Swings with all her might
—From the chorus of the Song of the Dragon Slayer
Henrietta strode away from the tavern, fists clenched so hard they hurt. At two paces from the forest edge, the ground crunched in the black night behind her. Even with her ale-fogged brain, she sensed the presence of a man, smelled on him soot, leather and metal, and knew he was armed, but wore no armor.
She didn’t have time for this.
“What do you want?” Henrietta whirled to face the thrill seeker, her long sword drawn, her red hair whipping across her chilled cheeks. Above her head, the bitter wind keened through the forest trees.
The man hovered five feet-lengths away from her, out of sword reach, his face shadowed by the light of the tavern behind him. “I heard your story back there.” His voice, thick with a foreign accent she couldn’t place, held no compliment. “I hear you’re looking for a new quest.”
“Who gave you that idea?”
“The Song of the Dragon Slayer.” The man’s tone was flat.
So he wasn’t a fan. She didn’t care. She cared that he didn’t move any closer. Empty hands at his sides, a sheathed long sword at his belt, he was broad shouldered and taller than her by half a head.
She re-sheathed her sword reluctantly. “So? What does that have to do with anything? It’s only a song.”
“A song about you. That is why you must come with me now.” He stepped toward her, his face still hidden by darkness.
“No, I must not go with you. Leave me be,” she said annoyed and angry. There was a thrill seeker in every town. She stepped back to have room to swing her sword if necessary, her hand waiting on her sword pommel. “There’s plenty of others in that tavern to harass.”
She didn’t want to play “who’s the best warrior” just now. The drink had touched her head more than usual, without its usual lovely numbing affect. “Who are you anyway? No, I don’t want to know. Just leave me be.”
“I am a knight, doing his duty. Assessing.” He didn’t move any closer.
Like she needed to know that. Then she opened her big mouth.
“If you’re a knight, where’s your armor?” As soon as she heard herself, she knew that was a dumb question.
“I do not need armor for this.” He said the words as if she wasn’t worth a gnat on sheep’s berries. “You will come with me now,” he repeated.
He dared to order her?
“I will do no such thing. Weren’t you listening in there?” She gestured toward the tavern where she’d just told and re-enacted her tale. A thrill seeker who ordered her? What was this nonsense? “I did my quest. Now leave me to my peace.”
He didn’t budge his bulky frame. What was he waiting for? A royal invitation to depart?
Heaviness pressed against her chest like an anvil, preventing breath from fully entering her lungs.
She’d done her dragon slaying and military campaigns. Done. Finished. Fini.
“There is much coin and glory for the one who takes the Emerald Dragon’s Dracontias,” the stranger knight said, disdainfully.
How much coin? But that didn’t come out. “The what-ias?”
“Thought you knew everything there was to know about dragons.”
Politeness wasn’t this man’s strength.
“Yah, that’s me. A walking, talking dragon-spouting slayer, at your service.”
The man snorted. Very elegant.
Her stomach churned the ale. She knew what the Dracontias was, but didn’t want to be drawn in, though her coin purse was flat.
What was wrong with her?
“Listen, uh, Can we talk in the morning? I need to—” Henrietta gestured to the woods. Her need wasn’t that urgent, yet. She just needed an excuse to make him go away.
Great. She had to make good on her words, so she did her best to stomp through the spindly underbrush, ready to move fast if she had to. She had taken no more than two steps when the man spoke again, his deep voice booming at her back.
“You can’t do it anymore, can you? Dragon Slayer.” He drew out the word “slayer” as if it were an insult.
Fear coursed through her at his words, and that made her angry. “I don’t have to listen to this!” A cold sweat broke out under her tunic and across her forehead. She shivered but kept walking, her greatcoat and hat back in the tavern.
“You can’t do it,” he repeated louder. “You have grown soft, weak. That’s what I told my king. You are but a shadow of your former self, if you ever were that Dragon Slayer. I don’t think you killed the Fire Dragon of Britham’s Keep after all. Your story back there was all show. It was your so-called partner who did the deed, and you stole his glory.”
Henrietta froze. She brushed away what little truth he said and focused on his lies. Anger fired through her body and gave her strength. She turned and stomped back toward the knight. “My partner was a she. But what do you know! I don’t have to listen to your insults.”
“You don’t have it in you,” he said again, holding his ground. “A fool’s errand I was sent on. But duty is duty.” He spat.
Enough. It was time to show this disrespectful knight who it was he insulted.
She didn’t have the advantage of the light, but she was fast. As she feinted toward the trees as if to walk away again, she grabbed the daggers from her belt and slammed them into the frozen ground at the man’s feet, neatly slicing boot leather, hopefully hitting a toe.
He didn’t say a word, but clapped slowly, mocking her, probably smirking. She couldn’t tell. The night shadows still covered his face.
“Fine. Show’s over,” Henrietta said, leaning down for her blades. As soon as she did so, she knew she’d made a stupid mistake. For once she really had had too much ale.
He dug his huge hands into her shoulders, trying to knock her down. The fire of rage washed over her. She ignored the pain and stepped backwards, slipping out of his grasp to head-butt him in the stomach. He fell to the ground with an “oomph.” She had a dagger at his throat before he could open his eyes. She pressed hard, but not enough to draw blood. He got the point. No pun intended.
He glared from his position flat on his posterior.
She glared back. “Did I pass your test?” She let up the pressure on his neck, but didn’t remove the dagger.
At least he wasn’t sneering anymore. For the briefest of moments, the knight scrunched his face in pain. The tavern’s meager light showed her a warrior’s beat up face, full of picturesque scars, browned from sun, and the angled, dark eyes of an islander, glaring at her. Even with his scars, the knight looked younger than he sounded, perhaps only five or six suns older than her seventeen. He was from the Rocks, or the Oro islands, as the islanders called it, far across the Western sea, the second one she’d meet that evening. The first one being the jester who’d paid for her ale and dinner in the tavern.
Satisfied for the moment that he wouldn’t test her again, she stood and sheathed the dagger.
“Not bad. For a woman,” he said. Then he stood and stepped back, barely hiding a limp from the knife wound to his foot.
He didn’t bother to brush off his fur cloak. “Your partner just got lucky. I still don’t think you’re capable. No woman is.” But the fight didn’t sound so strong in his voice now.
“Well, you’re obviously wrong,” she said and turned to leave.
Just then the back door of the tavern opened. The light blinded her momentarily, and a familiar voice called out her name. It was Jaxter, the jester. He walked toward her like a colt unsure on its legs, but he didn’t fall over and moved quite fast. In the frigid wind his satiny purple and yellow cape flapped against his skinny body.
“Henri, I was just coming to see if you were all right. When you didn’t come back right away, I was worried. You forgot your coins, and your coat and hat.” He paused for breath and handed her her beaver fur-lined coat and elegant forest hat.
“Thanks.” She slipped them on casual-like. Her long thick gloves were right where she’d left them in the coat pockets.
“We liked your tale! Very much!” Jaxter said. “Will you come back in and tell us another? How about the one about the Blue Cave dragon?”
She didn’t respond. She hated to disappoint Jaxter—he’d been nothing but kind to her—but she had no intention of telling more tales this night. She needed solitude and the oblivion of sleep.
He didn’t seem to notice and galloped on with his words. “You left so suddenly. I didn’t get a chance to thank you.”
Henrietta took the silver he handed over and tucked it inside her cloak without counting it.
Jaxter glanced from Henrietta to the big man. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything. I can just go back inside, where it’s warm.” He smiled at Henrietta and turned back to the knight. “Do I know you? You look familiar. But then again many people do in my line of work.” He chuckled.
“You do know who I am, Jaxter Renaldo,” the knight said, softly.
Henrietta strained her ears to hear. His accent had thickened and his tone was different, more gentle. Was he the same man who had insulted her and attacked her moments ago?
“I do?” Jaxter stepped closer to the bulky fighter with no fear. “How do you know my family name?” His voice trailed off as he focused on the big man’s face. “By the Phoenix’s Brightest Feathers! Frankie! I haven’t seen you in so many seasons! You were in the tavern all night and didn’t come over to say ‘Hallo’?”
“I am Sir Franc de Plumare de’Oro now, old friend,” the knight said gruffly, but gently.
“Oh.” After a moment of uncertainty, Jaxter grinned and held out his hand. “Congratulations, Sir Franc de Plumare de’Oro!”
“Wonderful. A reunion.” Henrietta snorted in disgust and turned to leave. She had no more friends. They were either dead or lost.
“Dragon Slayer,” the knight boomed. “I’m not finished with you. We have two days less than one moon.”
“So?” She didn’t turn around.
“So? In less than one moon, you must face the Emerald Dragon for my king. You are to come back with me. King’s orders. We leave at false dawn. I have wasted enough time tracking you down.”
She turned back to him. “And just who is your king? I don’t recognize your colors.” She’d never seen the royal colors of the Oro Islands, but she doubted brown and black goat fur was it. Too earthy. The king and lords she’d known had dressed even their soldiers in bright colors and fine fabrics, like blue velvet and brushed suede.
“My king is the Royal and Mighty King Singfan de Plumare de’Oro, the First,” Sir Franc said reverently.
“Wonderful,” Henrietta said again.
Jaxter turned to Franc. “Yes! Wonderful! How fares the king? You know, there’s not many of us from Plumaria here. I wonder why that is.”
“It’s too cold,” the knight scowled.
Jaxter laughed. “You just need to dress for it.” With a big grin, he waved about his velvet cape, the plush purple and yellow panels looking less gaudy in the dim light.
Henrietta didn’t think all this chatting in the frigid night air was refreshing, even with her coat on. She had to find a bed—now. And the facilities, for real. “Uh, Jaxter, about the room—”
“I’ll take you there.”
“No need. It appears you have much to discuss with Frankie.” Henrietta turned to go.
“That’s Sir Franc to you,” the knight corrected. “My king demands your services immediately. A matter of life or death.”
She heaved a sigh. Though his persistence was admirable, it was also tiresome. The knight wouldn’t give up, even in the middle of a reunion.
She turned back to him. “Are you my commanding officer? Because that would be impossible. I don’t have one anymore, by choice.” She’d messed up. They demoted her. She left soon after. Just walked away from a two-sun long military career. She didn’t miss the army. She was happy with her troubadour life.
A matter of life or death.
Title: Henrietta and The Dragon Stone (Henrietta The Dragon Slayer #2)
Author: Beth Barany
Publication Date: January 31st 2014
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure
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.
Purchase Links: Amazon|iBooks|Barnes & Noble|Kobo|Smashwords
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?
Title: Henrietta and the Battle of the Horse Mesa (Henrietta The Dragon Slayer #3)
Author: Beth Barany
Publication Date: June 17th 2016
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure
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?
Purchase Links: Amazon|iBooks|Barnes & Noble|Kobo|Smashwords
Magics in and magics out, what is all the fuss about?
kingdom of bleuve, river camp, three weeks before mitte moon
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.
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.
Follow more of the tour here for other exclusive content! As always “May the odds be ever in your favor” ~Hunger Games