Happy Valentine’s week, y’all, and welcome to the first chapter of a new serial, a romantic fantasy short story about a woman on a quest to buy books and the handsome, persistent knight who interrupts her day.
This one is for my brother, who gave me the idea. Usually, ideas flow off me like water, since I always have more ideas than time, but this one stuck in my head, and since he wasn’t going to write it—despite me telling him to!—I wrote it for him. Love you, baby bro, and I hope you like what I did with your story. :)
Because it’s a short story of just under 10k words, the chapters are correspondingly short, some exceedingly so, but I’m going to post a couple a week, so you won’t have to wait so long between them.
And finally, this story has no connection to any of my other worlds, including the fantasy romance I’m writing. It’s strictly just for fun. :) Happy reading!
I set the royal mark on the counter, and the merchant’s eyes glowed, first with greed, then regret. “I can’t make change for that,” he murmured, his gaze on the gold coin. “You’ll need to go to the bank.”
“I don’t want change,” I replied quietly, trying to keep the barely contained excitement out of my voice. “I want books.”
The merchant laughed and swept an arm toward the corner of the shop I’d already perused. “You could buy every book I own, and I’d still have to make more change than I have. Go to the bank.”
“I will take them all. Use what’s left to pay off the balance of whoever needs it most.”
His eyes widened. “You’re serious?”
“I am. I made a list of the copies I want. Do you have boxes I can use?”
The merchant nodded and hurried off to find some empty boxes before I changed my mind.
He took the gold coin with him.
I started making stacks of books. When he returned with two large crates, we loaded books into them with quick efficiency. He helped me carry the first crate outside, and he frowned at my handcart.
“You won’t be able to haul all of this by hand,” he said, then sighed. “With the change you’re owed, you could buy a pony and wagon. Wait here, and I’ll get someone to find one for you.”
I stopped him with a hand on his arm. “No need. The cart has a clockwork-assist. I will be fine, but I appreciate the offer.”
The merchant looked skeptical, but he helped me load the rest of the books without a fuss. Then he watched me pull the cart away, easy as you please. Finally, he smiled and waved. “Thank you! I’ll have more books next month, if you’re interested.”
I waved back at him. “I’ll check in the next time I’m in the area.”
I passed a few people on my way out of town, but none of them paid me any mind. The road was empty and the sun was warm, so I made good time. It was midafternoon when distant hoofbeats broke the silence.
The rider was pushing their horse hard, so I moved to the edge of the road to give them room to pass. I shook out my arms and used the excuse to take a break and enjoy the sun.
A massive black horse rounded the far bend at a full canter. And perched atop it was a knight in shining silver mail with a huge broadsword strapped to his back. My lip curled, and it was an effort to smooth a pleasant look onto my face. Knights were the worst. High-handed and single-minded, they would rather stay doggedly obedient to their rotten king than listen to reason.
This one was handsome enough, as they often were, with brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin tanned from days in the sun. And not two brain cells to rub together, no doubt.
He reined in his horse as he neared, and my thoughts of a warm fire and cosy books began to wane. I didn’t have any desire to deal with a knight today.
The horse’s lungs bellowed, and the poor creature was lathered in sweat. It shied as it neared, even though I stayed perfectly still.
The knight swung down from the saddle, but rather than ignoring his steed, he ran a gentle hand over the horse’s neck, then led it in wide circles to cool down. “A moment, my lady,” he said on his first pass. “After I care for Percy, I will speak with you, if you’ll allow it.”
My eyebrows rose, both at his polite greeting and his concern for his horse. Perhaps I’d judged him too soon, because Percy was a whimsical name for a warhorse. Most were named Killer or Vengeance or Thunder or something equally ridiculous.
The knight caught my look and gave me a slightly embarrassed grin. “My sister breeds warhorses, and my young nephew picked this one for me—along with the name.”
His smile grew, and he ducked his head. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, as young and fresh as green spring leaves.
I drank from my canteen while he continued to walk his horse. Both man and horse moved with the lithe grace of natural athletes. The horse didn’t surprise me, but the man did. Knights were often overfed and overconfident, relying on reputation and brute strength rather than skill. If it came to a fight, he would be more dangerous than most.
Once the horse was cool, the knight returned and bowed. “I am Sir Ansel, at your service.”
“Feora,” I replied.
“Just Feora,” I interrupted.
He grinned at me, undaunted. “Just Feora, the road is too dangerous to travel alone. There was a dragon attack here less than two weeks ago. Please allow me to accompany you to your next destination.”
“How many people did the dragon kill?”
Ansel blinked at me. “None that I am aware of, but a wagon full of the king’s gold was stolen.”
“Then I hardly have to worry, since I don’t have a wagon full of gold.”
“There are other concerns besides dragons, my lad—Feora. Bandits have been sighted in the nearby hills.”
“On a dragon-blessed road?” I asked in disbelief. Surely no bandit would be so bold.
“I don’t know about blessed,” he said. “After the dragon steals its treasure, it moves on. The bandits can operate for weeks or months before they have to worry about another dragon.”
I hummed an acknowledgment as my thoughts whirled.
“The king has tasked me with hunting the dragon, but until the next sighting, I’m hunting bandits.”
I waved at the road ahead. “Go on, then. Clear the way.”
“You are a more tempting target than a knight, I’m afraid. I can’t ensure your safety if I’m not with you.”
I pointed at the sword hilt sticking out of my cart. “I can take care of myself.”
“They’ll take away my knighthood if I let a beautiful woman venture into dangerous woods alone,” he said with a teasing smile. “Please reconsider.”
I snorted at the flattery. My looks were exactly average. I would disappear in a village of any size at all, overshadowed by the true beauties—and that was exactly how I liked it.
“No, thank you,” I said, then gestured down the road. “Off you go.”
He bowed. “As my lady commands.”