by Deborah L. Alten
“There are no more dragons, sir.” Gha’enna caressed the innkeeper’s face with the back of her sun-bronzed fingers. “Perhaps you’d be so kind as to pour me a pint of ale, slice me a piece of bread, and spare me a bowl of warm stew.” Her lips were close to his, her nimble fingers unfastened the buttons of his disheveled shirt. “Here’s me last few pence.”
He trembled at the mere touch of her skin on his. “Keep it.” His voice a quiver.
She threw a bloody tether onto a table and brushed off the crumbs. Her green eyes fixed on the inn keeper. Never trust a man who … Well … never trust a man.
The stale bread, dipped in warm stew, satisfied her hunger … for the moment. She washed it down with badly-brewed ale. Suddenly she slapped one hand onto the coiled-up tether as she pinched her throat with the other. She grinned nervously at the inn keeper who raised an eyebrow.
“I smell a dragon.” The innkeeper grabbed a knife.
“I told you, sir. There are no more dragons. You would call a lady a liar?”
He stood frozen, mesmerized, as moonlight danced through her long red hair. And that smile rendered him powerless. There was nothing he could do but stare. She knew he believed every word that fell from her lips. “Forgive me. Ne’er would I call a lady by such a name.”
“Indeed.” From the corner of the dimly-lit tavern, a figure rose from the darkness.
His voice was like a rushing wind and deeply disturbed Gha’enna. She jumped at the first sound of it. The voice seemed familiar, but she placed no memory to it. A heavy black and bloodstained cloak covered him. His face not visible. The innkeeper cowered behind the bar.
The man crept closer. “You would not call a lady a liar?” He turned to Gha’enna. “She is no lady, Innkeeper.”
Gha’enna held tight the tether. She backed away from both of them.
The man adjusted his cloak as he made his way around broken chairs and spilt ale, toward her. “Where have the dragons gone, my Lady?”
“I have slain them all.”
“Have your eyes seen them then? Where and when have you seen one?” The tether in her hand stiffened. Again she touched her throat; an attempt to dislodge something she could not quite swallow. Her eyes searched for his, to no avail. She coughed as she gasped for that extra breath of air.
“Innkeeper, has she blinded you with her beauty? Her words, or perhaps the sweetness of her lips has held you captive.” His gloved hand appeared from under his cloak. Chainmail rattled beneath it. “She makes fools of men, and her paths lead to spirits of the dead. At night she stands at forbidden doors. Do you not see the dragon?”
“I only see her,” said the innkeeper.
Gha’enna giggled. Then unexpectedly she flung the tether across the room. It coiled around the innkeeper’s neck and tossed him high above the tables. An horrific, wicked growl tore the roof off the tavern. One blood-curdling scream and the innkeeper’s feet dropped with a splat into a puddle of his own blood. The other parts of his shredded body, burned, then swallowed or trickled like bloody crumbs onto the dirt floor.
The knight unsheathed his sword against the fury of dragon fire, but Gha’enna’s red wings carried her away before he could plunge it into her cold heart.
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