Here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for…the unveiling of our next novel, City of Hope and Ruin by Kit Campbell and Siri Paulson! It’s a very serious novel and we’ve worked hard on it, so we hope you like this teaser. Enjoy.
Hello, traveler. My name is Edvarda, and I once saved this village using only a broom. You might not believe it, but it’s true.
Evidence? Hah. It was just a common household broom, well used over the years and long gone now. My hands were burned in the doing, but they have mostly healed long ago. I live a quiet life, tucked away in this little village by the fjord, grandmother to all. But what I do have are stories. Talking is thirsty work, though….
Why, thank you, kind master. A cup of mead is most appreciated by an old lady such as myself, and loosens the tongue most wonderfully. Settle in, settle in. I hope you have nowhere to be, for a tale will not be rushed.
I had a husband then, but he was off at war, like our half-grown son and all the other men of the village. So I spent my days fishing in the fjord, tending the garden, and trying not to think about the fighting. It almost worked, too – until the day I have in mind.
I was indoors for a change, sweeping the floor, so the first I knew of it was when Ole the shepherd boy came running into the village, screaming something about barbecued sheep. He was surrounded by people by the time I stepped out and saw the smoke rising from the high meadow beyond the pine forest. No-one could get anything sensible out of him until his mother held his shoulders and shook him gently. Then he seemed to come back to himself and began to cry. Among the sobs, I heard the word dragon before his mother led him off.
Unchecked, a dragon could destroy a whole village, wood and thatch as it was. I looked around at the crowd – women and children and old men.
“We will send to the princess for soldiers,” said the mayor, Kjetil, a portly man who had been injured in the last war. “There is no need for panic. Pernille, you’re the fastest rider left, you go.”
Pernille, who had ridden in from her farm for the day, stroked her mountain pony’s mane and looked in the direction that Ole had come. “It’s blocking the road. If I go by way of the fjord, I won’t reach the castle before nightfall.”
“Best get started, then,” said the mayor.
Lise, my next-door neighbor, said slowly, “Does anyone know how many sheep Ole was watching?”
The mayor shook his head. “I don’t see why–”
“Because once the dragon eats them all, it will come looking for more. I have seen it.”
There was a silence. I remembered that Lise had grown up in another village – one that was now just a ruin that still smoked from time to time.
“A dozen,” I blurted out.
Everyone looked at me. I felt my body go hot – I’d never spoken up in public before. But I knew the answer, and it seemed no-one else did, so I pushed on. “I’m often outside when Ole goes by with them in the morning. It was just under a dozen, unless the two pregnant ewes have dropped their lambs.”
Lise put her arm around her young son. “That will hold the dragon for a few days, no more.”
“That’s enough time for Pernille to go and come back, even by the long way,” said the mayor.
“But not long enough for the princess to organize her soldiers,” said Inga, stepping forward. Her husband, too, had fought before.
“Well, I don’t know what you suggest we do, then,” said the mayor, rather huffily.
Pernille glanced at her pony. “I could go back to the farm and get my pitchfork…”
Just then the dragon trumpeted. Everyone flinched, and Lise whispered, “It’s coming.”
“There’s no time,” I said, and grabbed the broom I’d left by my door. “We’ve got to do something, right now. Who’s with me?”
Lise’s eyes hardened. “I am,” she said over the mayor’s protests. She pushed her young son gently into her cottage and came out holding a mop and a carpet-beater. “Pernille?”
Pernille shrugged. “I’ll take the mop.”
“Wait for me!” Inga ducked inside her own door and came out with a pail full of soapy water. Lise glanced at it with a raised eyebrow, and Inga shook her head. “I don’t know what I’ll do with it either,” she said, “but I’ll think of something.”
“Let’s go,” I said.
The four of us marched on foot up the trail leading to the meadow, on the mountainside above the village. On the way Pernille stopped and pointed out a few sheep, shivering in the hollow of a tree. At least that many had survived. I didn’t want to think about the slaughter we would find in the meadow.
And slaughter it was. The dragon was pacing among the bones of half a dozen sheep and the roasted bodies of several more, smoke still trickling from its nostrils.
When it caught sight of us, it roared. We scattered, Lise and I to the left, Pernille and Inga to the right. It turned this way and that, trying to keep us all in sight, while bones crunched beneath its feet. I dodged behind the nearest trees, circling.
Then I saw Lise. She had run right out in front of the dragon. There was no cover behind her, nothing to shelter her if it should –
She yelled, “Hey, down here, you bastard!” and hit the thing on the forelimb with her carpet-beater, then turned and ran, right towards me.
The dragon reared up and spat fire. Lise dropped flat. I ducked, holding the broom up in front of me, as if that would help. There was a sizzling sound behind me, and several pines went up in flames. I leaped out of the way and realized that my broom, too, was on fire, the bristles crackling as brightly as a torch.
Looming above me, the dragon turned ponderously. Someone was yelling on the other side of the meadow. Then I heard a wet slap, repeated at uneven intervals, and realized Pernille was hitting the dragon with the mop, dodging here and there to avoid its flames. That wasn’t going to distract it for long, nor would Lise’s carpet-beater, and while my makeshift torch might have worked to frighten or even injure a wolf or bear, it was worse than useless against a creature that made its own fire.
I circled the meadow with my blazing broom, careful of the dragon’s lashing tail, and met Inga coming from the other direction. She had gone as white as snow, but still clutched her pail, and it was mostly still full. Looking at it, I got an idea.
“Inga,” I said, “I need you to be strong. Here’s what we’re going to do…”
Mindful of the dragon still moving around, I talked fast. Inga was shaking her head and saying “I can’t, I can’t,” when someone screamed.
We both spun around to see the dragon shaking Lise in its jaws, and Pernille sprawled on the ground, clutching her leg and crying out in pain.
I charged forward, hoping against hope that she would be behind me when it counted. “Dragon, over here!” I yelled, and whacked it on the hind leg with my flaming broom. The broom didn’t damage the scales, of course, but it did get the dragon’s attention, for the creature turned again, peering down at us past Lise’s limp body in its teeth. It dropped her to the ground, where she moaned weakly, and reared up to spit fire again.
Then Inga was beside me. I plunged my broom into her bucket. A cloud of steam rose up, hissing, just as the dragon thrust its head down and flamed. Inga dove to one side and I dove to the other, but the fire dissipated harmlessly in the steam. I leaped up, grabbed my broom, reversed it though the bristles were still hot enough to burn my hands, and plunged the handle into the eye of the dragon.
The dragon hissed and thrashed and finally got free, though blood streamed from its eye. It leapt into the air and for a moment I feared for the village, but instead it winged away into the high mountains and was gone.
Our village was never plagued again, not by that dragon nor by any other. Most of our men came home from the war. Lise was sorely injured, but her young son tended her faithfully and she healed in time. Pernille’s injuries were less grave, though we women had to band together to harvest the wheat on her farm…but then, banding together is what we women do, and I found I was good at it. They even elected me mayor a few times, though I’m too old for that nonsense now. I just boss everyone around from here in the tavern instead.
And timid little Inga? She went off adventuring and hasn’t been seen since. But if you step out of this tavern and follow the trail up to the meadow where the sheep graze, you will see a statue of the two of us, her with her pail and me with my broom, gazing out across the valley – keeping watch over our village.
Okay…we admit it. April Fool’s! This is a silly short story penned by Siri for a writing challenge last year.
Come back tomorrow for the true sneak preview of City of Hope and Ruin. We promise not to prank you again. EDIT: The true sneak preview of City of Hope and Ruin is here.