The cool ground felt good through the many layers of clothing I had been forced to wear. I didn’t want to, I mean these constraining dresses were infuriatingly hard to walk in, and to keep clean. I think it was the villager’s way of making me act like a proper lady. They didn’t like that I had come to them dressed in men’s clothes and armed with men’s weapons, but they weren’t about to turn away help.
My horse, affectionately known as Silver by the village children, was munching on some grass near my toes, her liquid mane flowing down her neck and pooling on the grass that she was so contentedly grazing. She was perfectly suited to the landscape; her perfect form looked right against the densely forested horizon. She belonged here, we both knew it. Perhaps once this was over I would set her free, let her roam the forests and live her life how she wanted. She was a good mount, and had been with me through some tough ordeals, setting her free would be my way of repaying her loyalty.
Harsh snapping sounds filled the air and I was on my feet as fast as the damnable dress would allow me. I found my purpose, my reason for coming to this back-water place and I found it in the beast that was soaring ever closer. It was a myriad of glittering, malicious scales and spikes, twisting through the skies with improbable wings. The beast was commonly referred to as a dragon, but I wasn’t foolish enough to give a name to such a powerful beast. Names merely increase the strength, the power of the beast, and in order to slay it, I could not give it any more advantage over me.
My bow was in my hands and had an arrow resting on the string before I realised I had done it. That was the beauty of the training that I had gone through, survived through. Nothing I did now was without the measured grace that I had gained when an old man had taken pity on a young little orphan girl, cast out onto the streets and beaten by people for eating their scraps of food, the ones they threw out into the streets and left to rot in the gutters. He had taught me his ways and in return I now carry on his mission.
The arrow soared through the clear blue sky and looked as if it would reach into the heavens before it buried itself in the hide of the beast. I had its attention and now it was time to prove my worth.
The crimson beast circled away from the village and followed me into the forest. It would have to land if it wanted to keep up with my horse and not impale its wings on the ancient trees. I lead it to a large clearing that I had found on previous explorations of the land and that was where I made my stand. There were no witnesses, no-one to jeer or stare at me in disbelief for even daring to assume the role of a warrior. I didn’t need the witnesses or the glory. I wasn’t doing it for them.
And so now here I stand, staring up into the yellow eyes of the blood-dipped beast. Its wings were twitching in irritation, as was its tail. I was a nuisance to it, which was the only reason it gave me any kind of pause. Soon I would be far more than that.
Through my journey I had switched my limber bow for my glistening blade and now it snaked back and forth before me, an extension of my very being. While it sized me up I took precious seconds to cut slits in the fabric of my dress. Had I been wearing my usual costume, I would not have suffered the blow to my chest. Blood fell in thick droplets onto the ground and slicked the grass beneath my feet, causing my legs to slide out from under the rest of my body when I tried to move forward. The beast leaped on me to keep me from standing up, but it didn’t attack, didn’t go for the kill. The look in its eyes when I plunged my sword up and into its heart was one of pity, understanding and even – was it possible? Relief.
In all the years that followed me, hunting beasts both in human form and other, that look never left me. It took a place in my soul and my dreams and on the faces of those that fell beneath my sword. What had I done?
What had I done?