Books & Broadswords: Chapter 2

Part of the serial story Books & Broadswords
Books & Broadswords, Chapter 2, on a purple background of dragon scales, with a crest of swords crossed behind an open book.

The dratted knight was once again waiting at the next bend in the road. For the past two hours, he’d ridden ahead, as directed, but only as far as he could see me, or very slightly farther. Then he waited for me to approach before riding forward once more. He hadn’t said a single word to me, hadn’t even lifted an arm in greeting, but he was escorting me nonetheless.

It was two parts infuriating and one part intriguing.

“Wait,” I called as he turned to continue. “If you’re going to keep this up, you might as well ride with me.”

His smile rivaled the sun, and my stomach did a weird little flip that I’d never felt before. Maybe the food at the last tavern hadn’t agreed with me.

“Are you heading to Slyphon?” he asked.

I hadn’t been, but I guess I was now, so I nodded.

He gave my cart a dubious glance. “It’s three days on foot. Do you have sufficient supplies?”

He couldn’t know the crates in my cart held only books, so I lifted my chin. “Of course. Do you?”

He patted the various saddlebags and bundles strapped to Percy. “I always carry extras, just in case.”

Then the exasperating man dismounted and tried to hand me the reins, even as Percy danced sideways. “I will pull your cart while you take a break,” he offered. “Do you know how to ride?”

“No, and I don’t need a break.” Belatedly, I remembered my manners and tacked on, “Thank you.”

We started forward again, a soft symphony of clinking armor, shod hooves, and creaking wheels.

But it wasn’t long before Ansel was regaling me with stories of his travels. His voice was smooth and soothing, like the best kind of tea. He was a natural storyteller, and his stories were funny and self-deprecating more often than not. The hours slid past, until the sun began to sink behind the trees.

“There’s a stream up ahead,” the knight said. “We can make camp nearby.”

I shivered as the wind cut through my clothes. I hadn’t planned to stay out past sunset, and certainly not with a knight. Once he fell asleep, I would slip away.

Ansel led me to a small clearing that had the look of a frequent travel stop. A ring of stones served as a fire pit, and a small pile of chopped wood waited nearby.

The knight dropped Percy’s reins and started building a fire. The warhorse waited patiently, nibbling on the grass at his feet.

I moved toward the stone ring as soon as the flames leapt toward the sky. Blessed warmth sank into my outstretched fingers.

Ansel turned to unsaddle his horse, and I crept closer to the fire. A moment later, warm, heavy material settled over my back and shoulders. I glanced up at the knight in surprise and started to shrug it away, but his big hands pulled the cloak together in front of me, cocooning me in warmth.

“As I said, I carry extras,” he murmured. “Keep it. Please.”

I swallowed and nodded, and he graced me with another radiant smile that made my stomach tremble.

He turned back to his things, rummaging around until he found a pot. He held it aloft like a prize. “I’ll go fetch water and let Percy drink his fill. Shout if you need me.”

I nodded again, and the knight and warhorse disappeared into the trees. The stream wasn’t far, but I would be difficult to track in the growing darkness. Now would be the perfect time to leave, but the fire was warm, and I was strangely reluctant.

Ansel had been gone for less than five minutes when the first bandit slithered from the cover on the opposite side of the clearing, a drawn bow in his hands. His lips twisted into a mockery of a smile. “Stay quiet and we won’t hurt you,” he lied. “We just want the cart.”

“You dare attack travelers on a dragon-blessed road?”

The bandit laughed and waved an arm toward the sky. “Do you see a dragon here?”

My smile turned sharp. “Come and take it, then, if you think you can.”

Rather than wondering why a waif of a woman was taunting him, the bandit moved closer, five more rough-looking men on his heels. I flexed my hands under the cover of my cloak as my instincts awoke.

They were trying to take my books.

My treasure.


The leader stopped in front of me, his face awash with covetous desire. The first swipe of my claws destroyed his bow, and the second destroyed his throat. He fell to the ground, dead before he knew he was under attack.

The others barely had time for surprise before they, too, met their ends.

I turned to take my cart and flee but paused at a distant shout and the sound of ringing swords.

The knight was fighting.

I told myself that it wasn’t my battle, but the memory of his smile as he’d given me the cloak proved the words a lie.

I grabbed my sword and headed for the creek with a hissed curse.

When I arrived, the knight was outnumbered four to one, and the bandits were not fighting fair. Ansel was still standing, thanks to his armor and his sword’s longer reach, but he’d taken damage. The two bodies on the ground proved he’d dealt some, too.

The first bandit didn’t even notice me until my sword ran him through.

Ansel’s eyes widened in alarm, and I wondered how I must look.

“Feora, run!” he shouted, and it was so surprising that I actually took a step back before remembering that they should run from me.

I roared a battle cry and launched myself at the next bandit. I batted his sword aside and swung for his neck. He did not survive.

Ansel used the distraction to kill one of the remaining bandits. The other took a wild swing at me. Ansel shouted a warning, but I blocked the blow with my arm.

Rather than biting in, the sword bounced away, ringing as if it had struck stone. The bandit paled, and my smile grew. He turned to run, but he died before he took the first step.

When it was just the two of us, Ansel didn’t lower his sword, and sadness filled me. I didn’t want this knight’s life to end tonight.

“We don’t have to fight,” I murmured. “I have no quarrel with you.”

He planted his sword in the ground a moment before he collapsed to one knee. Blood painted his lips, his wounds worse than I’d thought. “Lady Dragon,” he whispered.

Then he fell face first into the dirt.

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26 thoughts on “Books & Broadswords: Chapter 2”

    1. A bookwyrm. :-) Classic!

      Also, a charming tale. The link was shared on Ilona Andrews’ website, so of course I came straight over to see what the fuss was about.

  1. Wonderful, books and stories are treasures indeed.
    I have a little critique about poor Percy, his reins would be twisted and looped into the throat strap so he wouldn’t trip or get caught in them and his girth/cinch would be loosened to make him more comfortable if he wasn’t going to be untacked immediately. However, it’s much more likely that Ansel would see to Percy’s comfort before himself.
    I hope that helps. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of it.

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