Rayna the Dragonslayer
She was a warrior forged from flame, a slayer of mighty dragons.
Rayna thought she'd slain the last of the dragons on Atharia. Now, a wealthy client has tasked her with royal commands to seek and destroy another dragon...the very same beast which burned Rayna's home years before. But as she gets closer to the kill, Rayna learns the truth about her target that will change her entire life's purpose.
Rayna the Dragonslayer is the first in an exciting dragon fantasy adventure series A Time of Dragons. It's a symphony of sword and sorcery, high fantasy, and a heroic quest that is like The Mandalorian merging with Game of Thrones. Fans of Mistborn or The First Law Trilogy will fall in love with Rayna the Dragonslayer.
A sudden, fierce wind raked coarse sand across Captain Falkon’s cheek as he made his way through the Red Waste. He traveled with an escort of ten warriors far into the sprawling desert where it had been said no man had ever returned. Here they saw the remnants of a once great city now sand ridden and half-buried.
Cracked spires and fallen towers lay in ruin as they sat exposed to the unyielding desert air. These remnants of history, now corroded by time, marked the men’s passage through the Red Waste.
They galloped at length with the wind-gathered sand seeming to chase them. Sometimes it met the bellies of their horses in a swarm of a sandstorm. Still, they pressed on even as the dry sand clung to their sweat covered faces.
The collection of swordsmen at Captain Falkon’s flank groaned as the storm increased. Each one shielded their eyes and pulled up their mouth guards so as not to taste the bitter red sand.
They were sea-faring men used to the gentle caress of an ocean breeze. Out on the open water, exploration abounded in every direction no matter which way the ship steered. Here the sand stretched on for miles with the ruined city laying like a marked grave along the way.
Captain Falkon longed to have the shifting planks of a ship’s deck beneath his feet as it routed through the pounding of high seas with full sails billowing above. Duty called him back to Atharia, and recent orders brought him to the red death they traveled through now.
Above him, the sky stood silent. No birds took flight overhead, not even the great bird-of-prey from which he gained his name. Nothing dared breech the sky now that dragons had returned to the land.
An aching spread over Falkon’s skin as the shimmering sun kept pace with their journey. He longed to strip from his armor and slick his thirst with a mug of cold, dark beer.
The desert stretched on for ages in each direction. Tales of lost men going mad in the great Red Waste haunted Falkon. If not for his dedication to the study of maps, they could’ve taken a wrong turn and wound up in the desolation of Corinth at the edge of the world.
The men’s morale grew low, but Falkon insisted they press on. Stopping under a strong desert sun threatened a deep slumber they would not soon wake from. How many bones of men were buried deep beneath the sand, lost to the sunken city? Falkon did not want to learn the answer to that question.
None of the men at his back would refute the manner of his orders except for one. Valerios, his right hand and special counsel, often held Falkon’s ear. Breaking formation at the back, he galloped up alongside his captain. Matching pace with Falkon’s steed, Valerios updated him with a health report.
“The men are waning under this accursed sun.”
“As am I,” Falkon replied, running a cloth across his dampened brow.
“Any further and I fear dehydration will set in.”
Valerios was a scholarly man. He spent as much time studying alchemy and herbs as he did honing his mastery of weapons. Falkon took his advisement under consideration but dismissed it.
“They’re men, not boys, and I’ve built them to survive worse than this.”
“I suppose if you can last in this Red Waste, then we have nothing to worry about,” Valerios replied with a smile.
The two of them had a good laugh at Falkon’s expense. He allowed a certain amount of levity with Valerios. They had been friends since they were boys getting muddy out by the ports and dreaming of adventures. Having a laugh with Valerios now and then kept Falkon from growing weary under the weight of duty.
“Still, I wonder if a brief rest might rally their spirits.”
Falkon examined Valerios’ face to deem his intent. Beads of sweat filled his dark beard and his usual tan features pinked up under the scorching sun.
It wasn’t the soldiers who waned under the heat; Valerios wasn’t faring well himself. Still, Falkon reminded him of the severity of their mission no longer as his friend, but as his Captain.
“King Favian himself tasked me with this undertaking. It holds such importance that time is of the essence. There shall be no rest until we reach the town of Theopilous. Now fall back in line. I shouldn’t hear about the damned heat again.” He waved Valerios back. “Tell the men to drink their own piss if they’re that thirsty.”
Valerios gave a slight nod of his head and then rejoined the rest of the pack. It didn’t matter that King Favian was his father; he was the ruler of Sandhal and soon all of Atharia. That meant Falkon would carry out his orders without question. It was an honor to be leading the charge on such an important issue.
If Falkon were to ask anything of his father, it would be why they needed to trek so far from Sandhal to find one lone woman. Give him the ten good men at his back and they would make quick work of any threat to the kingdom. What could a woman warrior do that he, as captain of the guards, could not?
Perhaps Falkon would see how this woman fared behind closed doors. After he sated his hunger and thirst, she could satisfy his other cravings. Although, sell swords of the female persuasion were usually too homely to bother with. Maybe he could throw a rucksack over her head and enjoy her that way.
Thoughts of gratification gave Falkon new vigor. He pressed his horse into a hard gallop, forcing the men behind him to do the same. The burst of speed brought a stream of hot air over him like a slap to the face. Falkon grimaced but continued on.
At his back, he heard a rumble. The horses jeered, and the men sounded out in surprise. Falkon slowed his horse and angled it around to see the disturbance.
One soldier had fallen from his horse; a victim of the blazing sun. The others surrounded him, trying to encourage his rise.
“Leave him,” Falkon called. “But take his horse.”
The soldiers seemed surprised, but did as they were told. Falkon returned to his gallop, content with his decision. If a man couldn’t ride, they didn’t need him. No sense wasting time trying to get him to remount and nursing him back to health. Soon, the soldier’s pleas for mercy were nothing but a distant memory.
Powering on made all the difference. Only a short time later, Falkon saw refuge in the distance. The harsh sands gave way to scrub grasslands and a direct path into Theopilous.
They never actually left the Red Waste, but rather the city seemed to spring up around them. Falkon trotted his horse onto the leveled stone streets with great relief. When he at last turned to look back, only a hazy view of structures told the story of a once great civilization now swallowed beneath the sinking sands.
The city of Theoplious had been built on the remnants of that old world. As Falkon and his men rode deeper inside the city, they found large columns of obsidian structuring the walls. It encircled the perimeter, casting down dark shadows which brought relief from the intense heat. Falkon would’ve thought the city itself a mirage if not for the unmistakable smells of spiced meats on the air.
Theopilous was well known for their trade markets. Merchants from all corners braved the journey to barter their wares. The town also housed all manner of thieves and murderers, some still with a bounty on their heads.
Regardless of its reputation, Theopilous remained a welcome sight after such an arduous journey. Falkon looked back over his shoulder and called out to his soldiers.
“Look men, we’ve reached our destination!”
They cheered his words and raised their swords high. A long journey to be sure, but the satisfaction from seeing it through made Falkon smile. Now all he had to do was to find this woman and bring her back with him. If she wouldn’t go willingly, they would take her. There would be no discussion about it.
King Favian demanded an audience with the so-called dragonslayer and the king’s orders would be carried out no matter what.
As the lot of them rode into town, the villagers let them pass. Those bustling around outdoors at their shops scattered from the streets as the king’s guard came through. Some watched in awe as the royal colors of green and gold plumed out from the banners. Others spat on the ground as they rode by.
His father was not well liked in many parts of the land. The more Falkon traveled among the people, the more he learned of the sense of betrayal they felt after his father took the throne. King Favian laughed off their complaints, but Falkon felt all of them like a tick under his skin. When he became ruler, he would be revered by all or he would have their heads.
Theopilous was a melting pot of clans and characters. As the only thriving town before the long ride through the desert sands, it was a popular resting place for weary travelers. A man could get good food, drink, and entertainment all in one night.
Some enjoyed the spoils of the town so much they never continued their journey and wound up settling there. Still, for as prosperous as Theopilous was, Falkon couldn’t wait to return to his own feather bed safe inside Saltwood Stronghold.
He instructed Valerios to take a few of the men to feed and water the horses. The remaining lot would be at Falkon’s back while he talked to this dragonslayer.
They headed to the tavern first. Any respectable tavern owner would have good information, along with excellent beer. Inside the place bustled with activity. Lively music came from a two-man band in the back. One sang while the other strummed a lute. Dancing girls moved in rhythm to the tune, letting their long hair and the skirt of their dresses toss about. The smell of fresh baked bread wafted on the air, making Falkon’s stomach call out.
As soon as they entered the tavern, his men’s spirits had been raised. He rewarded them for the long journey and sate his hunger as well. They set up at a table near the back so Falkon could keep his eyes on the entire room. A round of beer and sweet breads were brought over shortly after. He enjoyed a few sips of the beer before seeking information.
The owner tossed out orders to his tavern wenches as they hurried out with platters of food. Falkon wedged himself between a crowd of men drinking at the bar top and called out to the owner. The man had a gruff face with a shaven head, but when he spoke, his voice sounded melodic.
“How can I oblige a kingsguard today? More beer?”
“They call me Falkon, and I’m captain of the Saltwood Soldiers, my good man,” Falkon corrected him as he handed over his mug for a top off. After a quick sip, he got back to business.
“I’m seeking a woman.”
The tavern owner laughed. “Brothel is next door. They have a full menu of choices.”
“This one is a warrior,” Falkon replied. “Hair like golden wheat. Built like an ox. Carries a large broadsword...so I’m told.”
One man seated at the bar interjected himself into the conversation. The smell of cheap mead wafted off his breath, forcing Falkon to turn his face away.
“Aye, you seek the dragonslayer?”
“I don’t know you, friend,” Falkon told him.
“No, but I know of her.”
With a stomach that jiggled as he moved, the man hopped upon the bar. Booze on his breath, he spun a tale like a traveling bard seeking a coin for his cap.
“Legend has it she’s half-dragon. Breathes fire and everything!”
Hearing the start of a story, another man jumped in, stealing the attention away from his drunk comrade.
“I heard she was born of a dragon.”
And then another got in on the fun.
“Aye, her mother fucked a dragon is the way it goes.”
The laughs carried back and forth. Each man tried to one-up the other in vulgar statements. A voice at the back of the room spoke up over the rest. It was an appealing mix of smooth wine and crushed glass.
“’Twas my father, not my mother. And he wasn’t fucked by a dragon, he was cursed by one.”
Falkon turned around towards the speaker and saw a beauty unmatched by any woman he’d ever come across. Golden hair was tied back in fierce braids that caressed her shoulders. Her arms were like a blacksmith, lean and strong, with smooth, muscular legs to match. She stacked them together, worn-out boots resting on the edge of the table.
There was a roughness about her, but it did not detract from her appearance. Her simple leather garments enhanced the curves of her femininity. Sun-kissed skin proved she spent her time traveling, though her coloring suggested she wandered farther than just the deep recesses of Atharia itself.
A pipe sat between her full lips. On each puff, she let a ringlet of thick smoke encircle her head. Falkon approached with caution as the others went back to their drinks and jovial conversation.
“So, you breathe fire after all,” he said in jest.
The woman smiled, tamped out the pipe, and set it aside. Shifting her legs off the table, she kicked out a chair, offering him a seat.
Falkon eagerly accepted and then regretted his haste. Only now, as he came closer, did he see her face fully. The lone candle at the table illuminated her strong cheekbones and a small metal piercing weaved through her bottom lip.
She held youth and vigor but also an underlying hardness of battle, usually worn by soldiers alone. But it was her eyes that concerned him the most. The left was a calm shade of blue that a man could get lost in, while the right was obscured by a leather patch.
Falkon saw such coverings before when he trolled the seas. Pirates wore them to hide disfigurement. It made him wonder what else she could be hiding. He steadied himself, trying hard not to show his discomfort, though he already knew he failed.
“You’re the dragonslayer then?”
She nodded. “Call me Rayna.”
“I’m Falkon Fourspire, captain of the Saltwood Soldiers.”
Whether Rayna heard of him or not she didn’t react to his title. Her heavy stare made Falkon uncomfortable. He took a swig from his mug then pointed to his own eye so as not to move too familiarly towards her.
“Part of the curse?” he asked.
Rayna leaned back and put her feet back up. This time she rested them across Falkon’s lap. He didn’t know what to make of this woman. She was brazen, to be sure, but something about her was more intoxicating than the finest wine in the kingdom.
“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you my tale,” she said. “Otherwise, I have no use for you.”
With that, her feet moved from his lap and gave him a firm nudge to get up. As Falkon stood, he continued to stare down at Rayna. She took it as a threat and moved her hand to the hilt of a massive sword he hadn’t noticed before.
It rested against the wall at her side, unsheathed. The blade alone looked to be thirty inches long and the heft of it would give a grown man trouble, let alone a young woman. But Rayna forged her body for war. Something told Falkon she could handle the sword with ease. He didn’t want to test his theory, at least not tonight.
She noticed his eyes fall on the sword and pulled it into her lap. Sure enough, the weight of it gave her no trouble at all. She patted the blade as though it were a child and spoke its name with the same adoration.
“It’s called Bhrytbyrn.”
“You named your sword?”
“A gift from my father. He named it.”
Falkon studied her as she ran a cloth over the blade. Now she seemed as enamored with her Bhrytbyrn as she would be a lover. This Rayna grew more curious as the night drew on.
“I’ll see about that drink now,” he told her.
Falkon pushed through the crowd and made his way back to the bar. The innkeeper,Talos, awaited him there with a pitcher of mead and a platter of assorted cheeses.
“Trust me, friend. She’s going to want a generous amount of ale, and the cheese is her favorite. Made with goat’s milk, fresh churned this morning.”
Intrigued, Falkon reached over and plucked a sampling of cheese from the platter. It melted over his tongue in a robust mix of flavors that delighted his refined palate.
“A woman who enjoys fine delicacies. What else can you tell me about her?”
“She’s a warrior forged from flame,” Talos told him. “Legend is she lived through the burning of her family home. Walked out with nary a scratch on her.”
“What happened to her eye?”
“Curse of the dragon.”
Falkon gave a soft chuckle to himself and then paid his fare. Many legends surrounded Rayna. There were only two reasons a warrior had so many stories about them. Either they invented the tales themselves to up their prices as a mercenary, or some parts of the tales were in fact true. When weaved together, the tapestry of deeds done stood more impressively than a made-up song or story.
So far, Rayna appeared to be more than a mere myth. Falkon wouldn’t be surprised if she had survived a great fire as a child. She even smelled of smoke, her face smudged with ash. The woman had been kissed by a dragon.
Rayna the Dragonslayer
A Time of Dragons I
Copyright © 2022 Cynthia Vespia