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A maiden dying for adventure. A hero on a perilous quest. Monsters that must be slain. Once upon a time... After losing a battle with a dragon, George is desperate to salvage his reputation. Only he can't do it alone - he needs an assistant. Royal tailor Melitta longs for adventure, so when she hears of a job opening for an apprentice hero, she jumps at the chance. Slaying monsters must be more exciting than sewing. Can the unlikely pair still succeed at their quest - or will they fall for each other instead?
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About the Author
Brave Little Tailor Retold
A tale in the Romance a Medieval Fairy Tale series
A maiden dying for adventure. A hero on a perilous quest. Monsters that must be slain.
Once upon a time...
After losing a battle with a dragon, George is desperate to salvage his reputation. Only he can't do it alone – he needs an assistant.
Royal tailor Melitta longs for adventure, so when she hears of a job opening for an apprentice hero, she jumps at the chance. Slaying monsters must be more exciting than sewing.
Can the unlikely pair still succeed at their quest – or will they fall for each other instead?
This book is for Emmo, who truly appreciates the value of a well-told tale.
Especially one with dragons.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 Demelza Carlton
Lost Plot Press
All rights reserved.
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The one thing George loved most in all the world was dragons. At least, he had until a few minutes ago, when the biggest, grumpiest dragon to ever crawl out of a cave had disarmed him and knocked him down with a single swipe of its mighty tail. Now he didn't feel particularly fond of dragons at all.
George raised his head slightly, wondering why he wasn't dead like the charred, armoured corpse beside him. Perhaps the dragon's eyesight was so bad that he thought George was already dead. As soon as George moved, though, the dragon would realise its mistake. And rectify it.
George suppressed a sigh. He didn't lack for courage – he'd challenged the dragon, after all, and he intended to defeat it. But standing before a dragon while the damn dragon held his sword under one claw would only turn him into a piece of toast before the fire, for in one gout of flame, he would be dead, George had no doubt.
Cowardice wasn't his problem. It was common sense, and the ability to see consequences no one else could. The other boys in town would boast of how long other knights had stood while the dragon roasted them with its fiery breath, but George had little admiration for such men. There was honour in defeat if you learned enough from it to ensure victory in the future. What honour was there in taking ten seconds to burn to death before your armour collapsed with your charred bones inside? Even George didn't remember the name of the knight whose body lay beside him. A century from now, no one else would remember him, either. But they would remember the man who slayed the dragon. Even if George wasn't the man to do it today.
The dragon headed down the hill toward the river, distracted by something more interesting than the boy whose sword he'd stolen. George recognised opportunity when he saw it. He leaped to his feet, and sprinted toward the city gates.
His heart hammered in his chest, but he didn't dare stop to look back. All he could focus on was his booted feet pounding the road ever upwards to the safety of the city walls. Fifty yards more. No, forty. Thirty. Twenty-five. Twenty. Fifteen. Ten.
Eight, seven, six...
His fleet feet ate up the distance faster than he stuffed down dumplings at the dinner table.
Three, two, one...
Laughter and applause greeted George as he slowed to enter the city gates.
"Dragon too big for you, boy?"
"No one ever wrote a ballad about a hero running away from a dragon!"
"Leave dragonslaying to men who know how to fight, boy. Go home to your father."
"The girl put on a better show than he did!"
George did his best to ignore the ribbing, but the last comment hit home. In his battle lust, he'd forgotten about his fairy godmother, Lady Zoraida, who'd graciously agreed to be the maiden bait who tempted the dragon out of its cave. If she'd been injured by the dragon, he'd never forgive himself.
"Where's the girl? What happened to her?" George blurted out, finally allowing himself to peer back down the hill to where the dragon's cave lay.
"Held up her end of the fight better'n you, boy. Threw some of the dragon's own fire back at him, she did. He didn't like that, neither. He tried to eat her, but she drew a big purple circle in the air and disappeared. Don't know why. She was holding her own against the dread beast, and no mistake. Maybe she didn't want to be a hero. I mean, who ever heard of a maiden who defeated a dragon?"
George opened his mouth to say that his saintly namesake had needed the help of a maiden to defeat his dragon, but he closed it again. The city guardsmen didn't want to hear stories about how other dragons had died – they wanted to witness the death of this one, which had terrorised their town for too long.
Instead, George said, "If you do, I want to meet her."
He'd apologise to Lady Zoraida when he saw her next, George promised himself, though it would probably be a while before he did. She hadn't been happy about helping him with the dragon, and he'd lost the enchanted sword she'd given him, too.
He had no luck with women or dragons.
Sighing deeply, George trudged home. Seeing as he was still alive and there were a few hours of daylight left, he should help his father in the shop. More monster slaying could wait until the morrow.
Melitta would never forget the day she decided she would become a hero. It was the holy day of St John, and the entire court was present in the Great Hall for the feast.
"Your Majesties, may I present to you, the renowned knight from far off lands, the hero of countless battles, the mighty Sir Chase!" the herald bellowed.
From her place at the high table, two seats away from Queen Margareta, Melitta had an ideal view of the knight who strode into the Great Hall, haloed by the rosy rays of the sinking sun behind him. His armour caught the candlelight from all directions, bathing him in gold. Gasps rose from the long tables on either side of him. Only the king and his knights could afford so much metal, while most of them wore leather. To wear such glorious armour, for surely it could not be real gold, this travelling knight must be rich indeed. And if it was real gold...why, he must be the best knight in all the lands, and a true hero.
The kind she wished to be.
King Erik called for a place to be set for the knight, before announcing grandly that there should be a tourney on the morrow, so that his own men could test their skill against such a legendary hero.
Cheers erupted around the hall and men raised their cups to toast the king's health.
Melitta didn't need to read the men's minds to know they all shared the same thought: every man present wanted to beat the newcomer in a fair fight, for honour won in battle, even a mock battle, was more precious than life itself.
"Fools," Queen Margareta muttered to Mother, loud enough for Melitta to hear. Whether she included her husband in that, Melitta didn't know.
As if the knight had heard, Sir Chase bowed his head and removed his helmet.
Now it was Melitta's turn to gasp.
Sir Chase was the handsomest man she had ever seen. Dark hair warred with light coloured eyes, and yet the outcome of the battle was...mesmerising. No wrinkle or scar marked his face, beneath a thatch that bore not even a single white hair. He appeared younger than even their ever-youthful queen. Too young to be a hero, yet here he was.
Sir Chase bowed low before the dais. "Your Majesty King Erik, I am honoured by your hospitality. I wish only to serve."
This was when he would whip out his sword and lay it at the king's feet, Melitta knew, as he pledged his fealty and honour to the king's service. She'd seen enough knights sworn in to know the way of it.
Yet Sir Chase's sword remained firmly in its scabbard.
"I eagerly await tomorrow's tourney, for what better way to show a man's fighting prowess? Yet there is more to a knight than his sword."
Queen Margareta's musical laughter rang out across the hall, silencing all conversation. "Pray continue, Sir Knight."
"As you wish, most beautiful queen. A true hero must keep his wits as sharp as his blade. His honour must shine as bright as his armour, and never be allowed to tarnish. So that if his liege or his lady is plagued by the most enormous monster or the tiniest gnat, he can dispatch it forthwith."
Gnats? In summertime, they had more problems with flies, Melitta thought, shooing several of the buzzing nuisances away from her meat. How did they manage to seek her out so fast? She'd been so focussed on Sir Chase she hadn't seen them appear.
"Allow me, Your Majesty," Sir Chase said.
He reached behind him for his bow, notched an arrow to the string and let it fly. His arrow lodged in one of the tapestries high above Melitta's head.
What was he doing? In her momentary distraction, Melitta must have missed something Sir Chase had said.
Melitta bit her lip, and concentrated on his thoughts.
His gaze centred on a fly buzzing above the queen's head as he drew another arrow. The point followed the insect until he had a clear shot, when the knight released. His arrow arced up, skewering the insect before embedding itself in the wax encrusting a lit candelabra at the back of the dais. The candles wobbled for a moment, but did not fall, to the knight's relief.
Evidently deciding that Melitta's meal was a far safer target than the queen's, a fly zoomed past Melitta's face.
For a single, heart-stopping moment, Sir Chase's eyes met Melitta's. His eyelid drooped in what was definitely a wink.
She clearly heard him say, "Fear not, young maiden. A knight's duty is to save every lady, not just the queen."
His arrow point followed the fly as it finally left her alone and bumbled toward Mother.
Melitta felt a burst of satisfaction from the knight as he released the third arrow. It would meet its target, the queen would be impressed, he would have a place at court, he...
Queen Margareta leaped to her feet. "Guards!"
Melitta stared. A thin line of blood trickled down the queen's fingers to where the arrow had lodged in the table before her. A shimmery wing was all that remained of the fly, now squashed under the weight of the arrow point. The knight had shot the bug, all right, but he'd been so intent on his target that he'd unwittingly hurt the queen.
Sir Chase was too stunned to resist as two of the king's trusted men seized his arms, and a third reached for his sword. "Your Majesty, I meant...I meant to rid you of a pest, not..." Sir Chase stammered.
"Silence!" Queen Margareta thundered.
At her side, King Erik rose. "Anyone who seeks to harm my queen commits treason. Such a heinous crime is punishable by death."
Sir Chase's thoughts were a jumbled mess of panic as he found he could not speak. Yet rising through it all was a scream of horror that he had not meant to harm the queen. Melitta believed him.
But the queen did not.
"He's telling the truth!" Melitta was surprised to hear her own high voice echo across the hall. Somehow, she'd risen from her seat, and now her knees wanted to wilt so that she could sink under the table and hide from what seemed like every eye turned toward her. Yet Sir Chase's talk of honour and heroes emboldened her, and she forced herself to stand tall. Maidens could be heroes, too. "He shot a fly. Look!" She pointed at the arrow with a hand that shook.
Mother shoved her back into her seat, telling her to hush, but it was too late. The queen had heard every word.
Glittering dark eyes seemed to survey Melitta's soul. Melitta stared back defiantly. Until, miracle of miracles, the queen inclined her head and yielded.
Queen Margareta turned to the knight. "Get out," she said softly. "This once, you may leave with your life. Set foot in this kingdom again and you will not be so lucky."
Melitta slid out of the knight's mind as easily as she'd ventured into it. He bowed one last time toward the dais before making a hasty exit. And while Sir Chase vanished from her world, he never really left her thoughts.
Only it wasn't his handsome face, or his shiny armour that stayed with her. No, it was his words. And the dead flies.
And the hope, one day, of being a hero once more.
George's father looked up from the boot he was piecing together. "Dragon watching again, hmm?"
Not wanting to talk about his horrible failure any more, George simply nodded. He considered helping his father with the boot's fellow, but he was too weary for the kind of precision it required. Instead, he spread a piece of leather out on the cutting table. Destruction was more his style today. George reached for a pair of shears and set to work cutting out soles for shoes.
"Who was today's challenger?" Father asked.
It was too much to ask that Father had been too busy working to hear the dragon roaring.
George snipped savagely. "No one of consequence."
Father nodded sagely as the boot took a distinct curve in his hands. George would always envy the nimbleness of his father's fingers, forming such beautifully shaped shoes from a flat piece of leather. "So your dragon is alive and well, then? How about the would-be slayer?"
"Alive," George bit out as he snipped the sole free. "He ran away." Because he was outmatched, George snarled inwardly. Better to run away and fight properly another day.
"A smart slayer. Will wonders never cease?" Father lifted a needle to his eye and threaded it in one smooth stroke. "That's who will rid us of that nuisance. Not some mighty hero with a stout sword and shiny armour, but a man with a powerful mind. Dragons are cunning creatures, and fighting one will always be a battle of wits."
"I wish more people listened to your good advice, Father," George said, wishing he had. When his father found out his own son had been today's idiot, George intended to make himself scarce. "I don't think I'll watch the next challenger fight the dragon. I'll stay here and help you instead. There's a lot of orders here. Will we get them done in time?"
Father held up a finished upper, ready to stitch to the sole George had cut. "Together, I'm sure we will. Your mother would be proud."
George winced. If his mother was still alive, his father wouldn't need him in the shop so much. And she would have forbidden him from going anywhere near the dragon, let alone attempting to fight it. Even his fairy godmother had tried to talk him out of it, but he'd been too stupid to listen.
George snipped around another sole. Zoraida had been better at battling the dragon than he had, and his mother had had more wits than any man alive, or so his father said. Perhaps that was how his namesake had defeated that long-ago dragon. The stories all said he'd saved the virgin princess from the beast, but maybe she'd defeated the dragon and all he'd done was offer her his cloak to cover her singed clothes. The townspeople had proclaimed him a hero and not believed a girl could beat the beast.
For who had ever heard of a maiden hero? Not George. He'd like to meet one, though. Such a paragon might be able to tell him what he was doing wrong.
He sighed and set down his shears. No, she probably wouldn't even notice some lowly shoemaker's son. She'd be inundated by marriage proposals from every prince, knight and nobleman for miles around. For a woman who could best a dragon would also bear brave sons.
Or so they said.
If only he'd inherited his mother's wits. Then he'd know how to best a dragon in battle...
After St John's Day, Melitta resolved to spend more time on archery. She dusted off her bow, took a few minutes to remember how to string it, then headed to the field reserved for the archery butts. It appeared that everyone else shared her passion for archery practice, for the normally deserted butts now had queues of men and boys waiting their turn.
Everyone in the training grounds seemed to want to best Sir Chase at his fly-shooting, even if the knight himself had departed in accordance with the queen's command. While they were waiting, a bunch of boys Melitta's age had climbed the fence into the next field and were shooting at a pile of horse dung.
"I got that one!" one boy cried excitedly.
"No, you didn't," another boy snapped, looking like a smaller version of the boy he'd contradicted. Brothers, Melitta assumed. "It just flew away and you didn't see it."
"Watch where you're shooting!" cried a third boy, as horse dung splattered his shoes.
"You're aiming too low," Melitta said, jerking her chin at the boy who'd caused the splatter. "When they notice movement, they fly up and off. So you need to aim higher, for where they're going to be."
The boy she'd tried to help glared at her. "What would a girl know about archery?"
His friends joined in.
"Yeah, what would a girl know?"
"Girls can't be knights!"
"Girls don't belong in the practice yard."
"Shouldn't you be in some chamber somewhere, practising your sewing?"
Melitta regarded the boys coolly. "I'm already better at sewing than you are at archery. Maybe you all would be better off inside sewing."
"What's going on here?" The deeper voice of a man cut through the boys' enraged protests. The master-at-arms, Sir Faris. "Shouldn't you boys be practising, instead of flirting with girls?"
More shouting ensued, until Sir Faris waved the boys into silence.
"What are you doing here?" the knight asked Melitta.
She lifted her bow. "Waiting for my turn to practice."
Sir Faris' eyebrows rose. "Is King Erik's army so weak we need girls to man the walls? I see more fighting men here than any other kingdom in the world can boast. We would be in dire straits indeed if we had to rely on girls to protect the castle."
"Queen Margareta once protected the king from a dozen men," Melitta returned. She had heard the tale many times.
"Is that the tale your mother tells you? I heard the queen distracted the men with her womanly charms so that the king could slay them and lay their bodies at her feet for daring to attack her." Sir Faris' gaze held pity. "Girls on the practice field or the battlefield are little more than a distraction. Go home to your mother, child."
Melitta met his gaze. "My mother is with the queen, and she shall hear of this. After I have had my turn at the butts. I have as much right as any man here."
Any pity Sir Faris had shown vanished. "Then pick a queue, girl, and be prepared to wait a while. My men have been here since dawn, when a little lady like yourself was fast asleep in her bed." He stalked away, cupping his hands to his mouth to shout instructions to a man sighting on the furthest target.
Melitta surveyed the field. At this rate, it would be several hours before the men tired of archery and let her anywhere near the butts. In the meantime, she could stand around, watching, or she could join the boys in shooting shit. Neither appealed to her. Sure, she could carry out her threat and tell the queen what had transpired, but she knew her mother was working on a dress for the young princess's betrothal ceremony, and if Melitta joined them, she'd soon find her hands full of pins and silk. So much for her hopes of being a hero.
Melitta marched to the armoury, resolving to put her bow away until later in the evening, when the men were gone. She wasn't giving up, she told herself. Merely postponing practice.
The armour-master was nowhere to be seen, but Melitta heard a clatter from the darkness at the back of the cavernous cellar that housed King Erik's armoury. "Sir Bruno?" Melitta ventured.
"What is it, boy?" a gruff voice demanded. Sir Bruno, the armour-master, emerged from the darkness carrying a pile of shields almost as high as his head. "Who are you?"
"Lady Melitta, Lady Penelope's daughter," Melitta replied. From girl to child to boy, Melitta had had enough of diminutives for one day.
Sir Bruno scratched his bald pate. "What can I do for you, my lady?" Before she could respond, the stack of shields unbalanced and clattered to the floor. Sir Bruno growled out a string of colourful curses, only half of which Melitta understood.
One of the shields rolled, hit the wall and toppled over at her feet. Melitta reached down to pick it up and was struck with the design on the round shield. Concentric circles, much like the archery targets outside. A dark stain marred the design. "What are you doing with these?" she asked.
"Throwing them out, milady. Some of these are centuries old, captured from Viking raiders, and no use to anyone. Even if they weren't mouldy like the one you hold, lady." Sir Bruno reached for the offending item.
Melitta clutched it to her chest. "So if I wanted to use it for an archery target, no one would mind?"
Sir Bruno laughed. "If you were to throw it in the fire, not even the king himself would object, my lady."
"Good." Melitta surveyed the mess. "May I have another?"
"You may have them all. As many as you can carry." Sir Bruno laughed.
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