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Every ten years, a maiden must be sacrificed to the dragon to ensure the safety of the village for the next ten. This year, Avalee has been selected.
But unlike those before her, she has no intention of submitting to her fate. No, she intends to fight, and not just fight, win. If everything goes as planned, the dragon will never trouble her village again.
Then again, things seldom go as planned. . .
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Avalee sat on the stone step of her house. Her legs were folded beneath her with her elbows on her knees, cradling her chin in her palms. This time of the year, early fall, the leaves turning but not yet falling, the sun haloed nearby Dragon’s Mount well into the day before finally breaking past its jagged form to cast light upon the village. Avalee considered the mountain and the beast who lived within it.
Today was year ten. Next year the count would begin again. Peace would resume. Her village would be safe and secure in the mountain’s shadow. In the dragon’s shadow. But not this year. Never the tenth year.
There was a good chance that Avalee would be chosen to ensure that peace this year. She was the right age, and there weren’t many girls who were this time around. Her younger sister, Anna, was too young, only twelve. Her brothers Abe and Alex were safe, being boys. No, the dragon preferred young women. Not children, but not yet of age. Avalee dreaded it, but, as she considered the mountain, her face darkened with a deeper emotion. Not fear, anger.
And from the anger sparked a decision. “I will not let it take me, not without a fight.” She spoke the words in a whisper, but they were spoken and she would not take them back. If she was chosen, she would fight. She would make the dragon pay for the price of blood it expected from her.
If she was chosen.
Avalee stood with a sigh, if she was chosen. What made her think she would succeed at such a thing? Ten years since the last girl had given herself over to the beast. Twenty since the first. Before that, her people had fought and lost, crops were burned, and livestock and unwary villagers were taken. Those who trekked to the mountain to challenge the dragon never returned, and the dragon was never long in making its displeasure known following such a quest.
All until twenty years ago when one man, an elder of the village, made the trek alone and weaponless. Seven days later he returned, his face haggard and deadened. The agreement had been struck. The first young woman was selected and sent crying to meet her fate. Ten years of peace in exchange for her life. The agreement stood the test of time, and it was as if the dragon had never been. The people prospered, but the elder watched and considered, knowing the time fast approached when the next maiden would need to be sent to appease the beast.
Avalee remembered her, the last girl. She had tried to be brave, almost succeeded, but as the men and the elder escorted her to the fields and the platform built for this purpose, she had broken. Shoulders slumping, a wail of despair escaping her lips, she had collapsed then, unable to face the terror. The men had carried her the rest of the way, leaving her on the platform and rushing back to the village to wait with their families, all but one family grateful for the coming peace—all but one grateful that their daughters would be safe.
That one family stood on the edge of the field and watched for the dragon. Watched with tears in their eyes for their daughter, their sister. Avalee never saw the dragon take the girl. Her parents had taken her home after the watch began, and they had all hidden beneath the floorboards of their kitchen, in the pantry. The wind had kicked up, heard as a roar even from where they were, and her mother had gripped her tightly, wide eyed in the darkness, the slivers of light just enough to see. Avalee remembered beginning to cry. But she’d stopped when the scream rang out. Shock, even for one as young as she, had silenced her. It had silenced everything and everyone. But her mother held her even tighter, and her father held them both. A single scream and nothing else.
Ten years and Avalee never forgot. Today, the men of the village were in council. Tomorrow, the sacrifice would be made. Avalee closed her eyes as the sun finally touched her face, its glare red through her lids. She would know her fate tonight, but she repeated her promise, her voice stronger, more confident, “I will not let it take me without a fight.”
She turned away from the mountain to go inside and prepare herself. If she was chosen, she must be ready. The night would be spent in festival, the people honoring the victim one last time, drinking and eating to forget the price she would pay in the morning.
“Avalee, you’re not ready yet,” her mother said as Avalee passed through the kitchen. She was baking for the feast—rolls and pies, a cake, too. More baking in this one day than she’d normally do in a year.
“Don’t worry. I’m going now.”
Avalee’s mother nodded, her eyes never leaving the lump of dough she was kneading. Avalee saw the moisture in them, but looked away before she could see a tear fall. Her mother was trying to be brave, trying to act as if this were any other day. Avalee felt the lump forming in her throat and brushed a tear of her own aside as she left her mother behind and made her way up the narrow wooden stairs that led to the room she shared with Anna.
She was happy to find the room empty for once. Her sister was in the village helping with the fire pits. Avalee suspected their mother had sent her away so she wouldn’t get in the way of Avalee’s preparations. The dress she would wear was already laid out. Plain, simple, but a lovely shade of blue just the same color as her eyes. She ran her fingers over the fabric—soft, brushed cotton—and plopped down on the bed next to it. The simple fact was that she was afraid to put the dress on. Until she did that, none of it was real. It could be just another day like her mother pretended it was. Until she put it on, she was just another girl.
She bit her lip, not hard, but enough to hurt; her eyes closed tightly as her hand fisted the cloth. “It’s just a dress. Just a dress. Just put it on.” Avalee’s hand relaxed, and her eyes opened, then she hurriedly followed through before she could lose her nerve. She slipped the dress over her head, and it flowed down and around her like water. A beautiful shroud.
Hair was next. Avalee drug the worn comb through it, the tangles from the previous night making the task difficult. She hadn’t been up for long. Despite the late hour, her mother had not come to wake her, and neither had her sister. It had been like this for the last week. The closer the day came, the worse it had gotten. If anything, it had made the whole thing harder to bear.
Avalee tied her hair back into a loose pony tail and slipped her feet into the newly made shoes to go with her dress. All finished, she looked around the small room, taking it all in. Memorizing every crack in the floorboards, every cherished possession. Her sister’s doll, made of rags and well loved, reclined on Avalee’s bed. Her sister had come back and left again while Avalee had been watching for the sun—the doll her way of comforting her older sister. Avalee wiped a tear from her cheek and picked up the doll, hugging it close to her.
They were already saying goodbye, no matter that the girl hadn’t been chosen, no matter that Avalee might not be the one. She gave the doll one more squeeze and placed it on Anna’s bed. Anna would need it more than Avalee would if the worst happened. It didn’t make Avalee feel any better. It made her feel alone.
She went downstairs, but avoided the kitchen, taking the front door outside rather than face her mother’s dodging eye and thinly veiled sorrow.
Outside, Avalee headed down the street, not towards the festivities. She had another destination in mind, one more suited to her goal. The creak of the wooden sign swinging in the breeze drew her eye to the charcoal-black image of an anvil and a hammer that had been burnt into it. The real anvil and hammer were silent, the blacksmith in town with the rest of the village, preparing for the announcement and the festival that would follow.
Perfect, Avalee thought to herself. She slipped inside through the open door and let her eyes adjust to the dim light inside. When they did, she found what she was looking for—a short sword the smith had made one year just to show his son how it was done. Arter didn’t take to the art like his father had, and so there was only the one, but, it was enough for Avalee. She only needed one.
She picked it up and ran her finger along the edge, drawing back and sucking her injured finger. A grim smile lit her face despite the pain. The blade would do just fine. She set it down and lifted her skirt to get to her under-dress and ripped a strip of it off to tie around the finger. That done, she grabbed the hilt and held the sword out and away from her body just slightly to protect her dress while she searched for a suitable sheath.
She wasn’t surprised that the smith hadn’t bothered to make one for the sword, but she searched anyway. Finally, her eye landed on something promising. The heavy leather of the smith’s apron felt hard and unyielding under her touch, perfect. On a workbench, she spotted a knife the blacksmith had left behind. It looked new. She hoped he’d taken the time to sharpen it, but wasn’t about to test another blade on her own fingers. Luckily she didn’t need to. She laid the leather flat on the bench with her free hand and then placed the sword on it.
A low rumble of voices erupted from the center of town, distracting her. She looked up and over towards it as though she would be able to see the source. The council. They must have decided. She was late. No time to do much else, she rolled the leather over and around the sword, then used the apron strings to tie it shut. Using the knife, she cut off the extra lengths of the ties. Pulling up her skirt and under-dress once more, she used them to tie the wrapped sword to her leg and then allowed the fabric to fall back to cover the weapon.
No trace remained. Unless she lifted her skirts again or held them to her leg, no one would know. Another mass eruption of voices from the center of town told her she had no more time to waste. But, with the heavy blade strapped to her leg, she made her way towards the sound at a sedate pace. They wouldn’t have made the announcement already, would they?
When she entered the square, the voices fell silent one after another as the villagers saw her. Many looked away; some covered their mouths or eyes as they did so. Some few watched her with serious eyes. Avalee tried to ignore what those things might mean for her. The crowd seemed to part before her, and she saw the other girls of her age standing alongside the bare ground in the very center of the square—a space usually reserved for dances and weddings. The girls, all dressed finely for the occasion, stared at Avalee with wide eyes and colorless faces.
Then they looked away, each one in a different direction.
Avalee swallowed hard over the lump in her throat, ignoring the sting of tears trying to escape her eyes. She looked at the elder, at the council, at her father, who refused to look her way. She was already dead to them. She was already dead to all of them.
The elder reached out to her and she allowed him to take her hand and lead her to the place of honor. Numb, disbelieving despite her preparations, Avalee watched as the festival began. All for her. A final goodbye.
Tomorrow she would face the dragon.
Patricia lives in the United States of America with her family. Her favorite pastime is reading, especially epic fantasy. She enjoys bringing elements of fantasy, humor, and modern life together in her stories, though she writes in a range of genres.
In addition to her love of literature, she also enjoys knitting and crocheting, practicing Isshinryu Karate, visiting scenic parks, and canoeing. Her insight into military life comes from a six-year enlistment in the United States Navy.
Other books by the author:
The Golden Ship
Shadows of Valor (Shadows of Valor #1)
Forgotten Valor (Shadows of Valor #2)
Fight for Valor (Shadows of Valor #3)
The Complete Shadows of Valor Trilogy
Today is the cover reveal for Avalee and the Dragon by Patricia Hamill. This cover reveal is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The cover art is designed by Jack Baker Design. Jack Baker is a fantasy illustrator based in the UK. He has a passion for creating artwork for fantasy books and book covers. Find out more or check out some of Jack’s other artwork at his website Jack Baker Design.