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Time of the Month

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All those men running around with swords, I knew someone was going to get hurt. What I didn’t know was that it was going to be me.

Krystall paused as she approached the doors to Duke Jucaysa’s hall. All she had done was ask what was causing the near panic when she entered the town gates and the next thing she knew, a group of guardsmen were telling her the Duke wanted to see her. Apparently someone had pointed her out as being the warrior who had slain the dragon Gramudyus; and since everyone was concerned about the appearance of another dragon, the Duke believed she was the one to handle it.

As far as Krystall was concerned, they needed to find someone else. It had been fifteen years since she fought Gramudyus. She was feeling her age as well as all the leagues she had traveled. What she wanted right now was a hot bath, a hot meal and a relaxing drink. Then to hole up for about a week.

“Ah, Krystall, Sword Maiden of Malytta. I welcome you to my hall.” The Duke stood and extended his arms.

Krystall frowned. She hated that title. Some other Duke had given it to her. Then he’d promptly commissioned a bard to write the tale of his daughter’s rescue from a dark mage. Still the tale usually earned her a free meal and several drinks in taverns when someone realized she was the one being sung about. Having a reputation did have a few perks. Of course, the downside was everyone wanted you to solve their problems for them, regardless of whether you wanted to or not.

Besides, she definitely wasn’t a maiden.

She smiled and bowed her head slightly as she studied the Duke. He was an older man, maybe a year or two younger than she was. However, while her hair was still full and black, his was thin and gray. His brown eyes were dull and his face was weathered and lined. Based on the threadbare cloak he was wearing, and the lack of adornments on him or in the hall, this was one of the poorer areas of the realm.

“My Lord.” She paused, choosing her next words with care. “May I know the reason I was brought here?”

“My apologies for the abruptness in summoning you here.” He gestured to a nearby bench. “As you saw when you arrived, things are a bit confused. The dragon Freynia has been holding our town hostage for many years and has demanded we pay her a steep tribute each year. Recently, a traveling seer told us Freynia would be vulnerable during the two days before the moon is at its fullest.” He paused and took a breath. “Many of the men in this town think to be the ones to dispatch the dragon. However, none of them have the training or skills to do so.”

“And…,” She waited.

“And, with your reputation….” He swallowed hard then looked down at the floor. “I was hoping to hire you to slay Freynia for us.”

“Sorry, but this is not a good time.” Was it ever not a good time, but men never understood these things. “I doubt I’m up to handling dragons anymore. I would be willing to give some training and advice to the person who goes after her. She turned toward the door. “I’m sorry, but it won’t be me.”

“Please.”

Krystall hesitated. She heard the Duke’s desperation. Why do I always have to be a sucker for hopeless causes? She turned back to face the Duke.

“I know it doesn’t look like we can offer much, but I will grant you half of the dragon’s hoard, which should be considerable, considering the number of years it has been blackmailing us,” he said. “As well as anything else you want that is within my power to give you.” His right hand was wrapped around his left.

Krystall looked at the Duke. She almost expected him to drop to his knees and beg the way his hands were now rubbing each other.

“If the hoard is as big as you say it is, I only lay claim to one quarter of it. From the looks of this place, your people need it more than I do.”

“Thank…”

She held up her hand. “I’m not finished.”

“If it is within my power.”

“I want a place to retire. Where I can be left alone.”

“I will grant you a landholding within my domain. And, a title befit…,”

“No!” Her hand went to her sword. “No more titles. Just a small place—not too far from here, but as isolated as possible.”

“I will review the maps and will find you several locations to choose from.”

She let a heartbeat pass before she spoke. “Where do I find this Freynia?”

“She makes her lair to the east, near one of the older emerald mines. It is about two days ride.”

“Two days.” Might be enough time. “And this traveling seer told you Freynia would be most vulnerable during the two days before the moon is full.”

“He did.”

“That gives me a day to get ready before leaving,” she said. “Do you have an herb-witch in this town?”

“Herb-witch? I am not familiar with the term.”

“I will introduce you to the one I consult with,” a soft voice said from behind the Duke.

“My Lady.” Krystall inclined her head slightly as an older woman stepped from the shadows and stood next to the Duke. Like her husband, the Lady wore a threadbare cloak and her face, though it still reflected the beauty of her youth, was lined. Her green eyes sparkled as she smiled.

The Duchess stepped forward and held out her hand. “Come with me. I will show you your chamber so you can rest.”

Krystall nodded and followed her hostess out of the room.