Astrid assumed all dragons should be killed – until she met one that changed her mind.
In the medieval Northlands, a dangerous family seeks power.
They slaughter all who get in their way.
Children’s rhymes hint at what’s to come, but no one recognizes the danger at hand.
Astrid doesn’t know she holds the key to this power.
She’s just a blacksmith who makes swords for dragonslayers.
But Astrid has a dark secret …
A dragon once chewed her up and spit her out.
She hides the old scars covering her body through shapeshifting.
But the time for hiding is over.
Book 1 in the Dragonslayer series.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This YA Epic Sword & Sorcery Fantasy series is written for adults but appropriate for ages 14 and up.
Targeted Age Group:: 14+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
When I was harassed by an executive in the workplace many years ago, it inspired me to write a short story about a female blacksmith harassed by a new dragonslayer. When the story was published in a magazine, the reader response was so overwhelming that I realized I needed to turn that story into a novel, which evolved into a 16-book series (made up of 4 four-book series). However, The Dragonslayer's Sword can be read as a standalone.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The female blacksmith is based on my experience in the workplace. The new dragonslayer is based on the executive who propositioned me. Her sweetheart — a dragonslayer who has gone missing — is based on good men I have known throughout my life.
At the age of eight Astrid was given to a child seller. That moment made her anxious but terrified at the same time, leaving her with no idea what the future would bring.
Astrid knew she was a monster, and she didn't know what the world outside her isolated home would do to monsters. But she knew for certain that her home was a bad place, and she would risk anything to find someplace better.
After the child seller took her away from the bad place, they traveled alone for several days, the child seller riding his fine, white horse, and Astrid huddled in the cart drawn by the dark horse on its leading rein.
The dirt roads they traveled were wide but rough from the ruts left by heavy carts and rain storms. When the roads ended, they continued for days through open fields until they discovered a road into the forest where the tall trees wove into a canopy overhead. The air smelled cool and sweet. All of it, from the open fields to the canopy forest, was unlike anything Astrid had ever seen before.
She'd never imagined the world could be so vast.
She knew plenty about the world. Most people worked on farms. There were native people who inherited their farms. There were landed men, clever foreigners who worked hard to buy up their own farm land. Some farms needed many workers who built their own houses, clustered into a town of people who tended crops or animals. Some earned their keep as thatchers or butchers or blacksmiths.
And there were merchants, like the child seller. He claimed he traveled to many lands, where he'd seen men bloodied from battle, fighting to take land by force instead of working to earn enough riches to buy it. Merchants and landed men exchanged news of foreign places across the sea, and it was no coincidence that most farms and towns ringed themselves inside a barricade of trenches these days.
One night the child seller gave her an old, tattered blanket to keep warm. Astrid kept it wrapped around her, day and night.
Not for warmth. For protection.
Although she knew a lot about the world, she'd never been out in it, not like this. Not among strangers.
People would stare if they saw what she looked like. They'd cast her out to the wolves. Or display her in public to scare the other children into good behavior. Astrid didn't like being a monster, and she didn't want to scare anyone.
But if she kept the blanket wrapped around her tightly, she could hide from all the people. If they couldn't see her, they couldn't hate her or use her or be afraid of her.
By keeping herself inside the blanket, Astrid found she could also keep everyone out.
Everyone, that is, until the child seller bought Mauri.
Now, while the three of them traveled through the forest toward the town of Guell, Astrid peeked through the tiny space she left open in the blanket to see and breathe. She saw Mauri smiling at her across the cart.
A few years older than Astrid, Mauri had long and blonde hair. Astrid imagined Mauri could be quite pretty if she ever owned a comb. Mauri had fair skin and freckles splattered across her nose and cheeks as if she'd been in a mud fight. When she smiled, her face scrunched up and looked like a ball of dough being punched before it was baked into bread. "I see you," Mauri said teasingly.
Astrid froze in terror.
Mauri's smile softened. When her face relaxed, she looked kind. "You have pretty eyes," Mauri said.
Astrid squinted with suspicion.
"I'm scared," Mauri said, still smiling.
Mauri didn't look scared. She didn't sound scared.
"When I get scared," Mauri said, "I feel better when somebody holds my hand.” She held out her hand to Astrid. "Would you hold my hand?"
Astrid stared. It was a beautiful hand. Graceful and tapered. Long fingers. Strong and sure.
But if Astrid held Mauri's hand, then Mauri would see what Astrid looked like. Mauri would see the secret Astrid was desperate to keep hidden under her blanket. If Mauri saw, she would be repulsed. She wouldn't want to be in the same cart with Astrid.
Astrid couldn't let Mauri see the truth. The child seller already knew, and no one else ever could.
The gods only knew what the child seller would do with Astrid, but anything would be better than the bad place.
It had to be.
Astrid was terrified of everyone and everything, but at the same time she felt strangely fearless. It was as if her head knew it was impossible to survive in the world, but her heart begged to differ.
Astrid recognized she'd somehow stumbled onto a chance to make a new life for herself, and she was determined to learn a trade. If you knew how to work and be useful, your life would belong to no one but you. And once Astrid could lay claim to her own life, she would regain what she'd lost and learned to prize most—her freedom.
"Please," Mauri said. "If we stick together, we'll be fine. Everything will be fine."
Keeping the blanket between them, Astrid wrapped her hand around Mauri's. The blanket was scratchy against Astrid's fingers, but she felt the strength of Mauri's grip beneath it.
"Thank you," Mauri said. She grinned, and her face looked like a punched ball of dough again. "I feel better now."
"Whoa!” The child seller pulled his horse's reins back.
Astrid and Mauri turned to look at him, still holding hands through the blanket.
As the black horse pulled their cart forward, the child seller leaned over to grab its leading rein. Both horses whinnied and snorted in protest. Astrid and Mauri braced themselves when the cart came to a stop.
Just ahead, a boy sat on a large branch hanging low in the canopy, only 15 feet above the road. His legs dangled comfortably, as if he hadn't a care in the world. He looked to be as old as Mauri, maybe older. He wore his dark curly hair cropped close to his head. His face was long and lean like his body, which seemed to be mostly arms and legs from the way he sat. His shirt and trousers were stitched-together patches of browns and greens, making him blend in with the woods. He wore brown calfskin boots and a sheathed sword at his waist.
Astrid gazed at him. He was the most beautiful boy she'd ever seen.
"Who are you?” The boy's legs swung freely in the breeze.
"Who asks?” The child seller held each set of reins steady.
The child seller had warned Astrid that the journey could be dangerous. He'd told her about the bandits and thieves, who'd be just as happy to kill for pleasure as for profit. Astrid knew about the small throwing knives the child seller kept in the pouch inside his shirt. Sometimes he practiced throwing them at trees.
In the quickest moment, the boy somersaulted forward off the branch and landed neatly on the balls of his feet. Mustering his strength, the boy withdrew his sword. But the sword was so heavy, it flipped over in his hands and plunged, point first, into the dirt road.
The child seller relaxed with an amused smile.
The boy rested his elbow on top of his sword's pommel, acting as if he'd intended to stand his sword upright in the dirt all along. "DiStephan the dragonslayer at your service."
Astrid gasped. She'd heard of dragonslayers but had never seen one.
As the child seller laughed, Mauri called out boldly, "You? A dragonslayer?"
DiStephan took a casual grip on the hilt and tried to pull his sword from the ground. It didn't budge.
The child seller wiped tears of laughter from his eyes. "Just how many dragons have you slain?"
DiStephan gripped the hilt with both hands and tugged with all his might. The sword stood steadfast. "I've assisted many times.” He bent his knees and put his back into it, straining to uproot his weapon. "There's much more to dragon slaying than, well, actually slaying the dragon. No one ever appreciates how much work's involved. There's the tracking and the hunting and the cornering and the posturing—and watching Father's back while he's killing the thing, that's important—and draining the blood and…"
The sword flew free from the dirt. Its momentum flung DiStephan onto the ground, and the sword's pommel thwacked him solidly in the head, hard enough to knock any grown man unconscious.
"Whoa," DiStephan said, sitting up woozily. He looked nauseated but shook it off. He bounced back to his feet, using his sword to steady himself.
"Are you quite all right?” Mauri called out.
DiStephan nodded. He crouched like a threatened animal readying itself for the fight. "It's the dragon's blood. Makes me strong."
The child seller dismounted, keeping the boy in his sights. "Dragon's blood?"
"I drink it," DiStephan said. "Every dragonslayer does."
The child seller dropped the reins to each horse and approached DiStephan. "I see," the child seller said, clearly discounting the boy's words. "Do you know the town of Guell?"
DiStephan stood straight and grinned. "Should hope so! That's my home."
Astrid's heart beat faster. Guell was where the child seller hoped to unload both girls.
"How much further, then?"
DiStephan leaned on his sword as if it were a walking stick. "Half a day away, but you'll never make it by nightfall. You don't want to be on your own at night. Too many dragons. But you're welcome to make camp with us."
The child seller frowned. "Us?"
"You'd be well advised to heed my son's offer," said a man's deep voice, resonant as a drum.
The child seller's right hand drifted toward his shirt, where he could access his throwing knives in a heartbeat.
Astrid clung to Mauri's hand. She followed Mauri's gaze in all directions but saw no one.
A man stepped away from the trunk of DiStephan's tree. He looked average, with salt-and-pepper hair and a thick waist. His clothes were made from stitched patches of brown cloth, and his face and hands were painted to match his clothes.
Astrid realized DiStephan's father had been standing in front of the tree trunk all this time, keeping perfectly still and blending into it.
None of them had suspected he was there.
"Be our guests," DiStephan's father said. "There's no safer place than a dragonslayer's camp."
DiStephan and his father led them to a camp on the nearby seacoast, a strip of beach sheltered by sheer cliffs. That night the girls slept huddled together in the cart. When a twig snapped, Astrid sat up; afraid they'd been found by a dragon.
But it was just DiStephan. He was on the beach, arms stretched out as if embracing the night sky, head thrown back, and spinning slowly in circles.
Astrid followed his gaze up to the sky, filled with millions of bright, sparkling stars and a crescent moon.
Mauri sat up next to her, half asleep. "What's he doing?"
Astrid shook her head, baffled by the sight.
They started at the sound of the dragonslayer's voice when he walked past. "This is part of who DiStephan is," he said. "This makes him feel at one with the stars, at one with everything that exists. This is how he knows who he is and how he belongs in the world."
Astrid felt wistful while she studied DiStephan spinning in the starlight.
She couldn't imagine feeling that way.
Watching DiStephan embrace the stars, Astrid overheard the child seller talking to DiStephan's father.
"I'm not in business to lose money," the child seller said. "I got her for nothing because of that hideous face—I nearly gag every time I see her. I'm lucky I had a blanket to give her and she has the good sense to keep herself covered with it."
DiStephan's father said something in return, but his voice was too soft to hear. Astrid sat still, too ashamed to let them know she could hear them.
"I had no luck selling her in the last three towns," the child seller said. "She costs me the food I give her every day. If no one in the next town takes her, I'll cut her throat and cut my losses."
As she watched DiStephan spin slowly under the stars, Astrid put her trembling hand to her neck.
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