Date with a Dragon-Slayer

Sean Hardy is a dragon slayer.

It was a small dragon, only about the size of a barn, but still. He killed it. They mounted its head on a flatbed truck and drove it around the country. Annie and I paid five bucks each to slip into a dark tent smelling of mold and musty seashells – it had been a saltwater dragon – for three minutes. They flashed the lights on and off, and shot trails of fog at your ankles like they needed to make it scarier. The head just sat there, maw half open and greenish teeth filed down so nobody accidentally cut themselves and sued the carnival. Annie cowered back, hands clutching at her purse strap, but I reached out and touched its nose, just over the left nostril. The scales were rubbery there, and surprisingly soft. It reminded me of my dog’s belly.

***

Turned out, Sean Hardy came from a long line of dragon slayers, but he hadn’t known it. They weren’t Sigurd’s line, or from any of the well-known Giant Killer clans. It was only this branch of a long-forgotten family who back in Eastern Eurland in the fifteenth century made a name for themselves going up into the mountains and returning with a horse-load of dragon eggs and hearts. One of their youngest daughters married a skald who moved to Eirelann and went native. They immigrated to the United States about three generations back, and lost all the stories from back in Eurland. But Sean Hardy’s father did have a dragon tooth with one serrated edge a bunch of archaeologists said had to be from one of the Baltic saw-mouths that died out four hundred years ago. I guess that was proof.

He was hailed as the heir to Sigurd despite his somewhat questionable pedigree. Three war colleges gave him honorary degrees despite the fact that he was only eighteen, and he got a half-ten commercial deals. Everybody knew his face. I have to admit it was one you’d want to know, too. Eyes as gray as smoke, that ruddy look of the Eirish, but with shockingly bright yellow hair.

We never heard him talk, except to say carefully scripted things like “Frosted Puffs: better than dragon tears” and “Only you can prevent troll attacks.” At school the prevailing theory was that he hadn’t actually killed a dragon, and if he was interviewed live he’d be dumb enough to say so. Annie, of course, defended him as if her own life depended on it. She said he was brave and had the heart of Thor. I said Thor was brave, for sure, but not very smart, and who’d want a guy with a great heart but lacking in the brain department?

But whatever the case, when a reports of a dragon rumbling the rocks in the Adirondacks came in, not only did they send in Sean Hardy, the Vice-Jarl of State declared a country-wide competition for a moral-boosting public date. Because apparently Sean’s only request before risking his life for the country was a simple dinner with a pretty girl.

Confirmed my opinion of him right then and there. But didn’t stop me from putting my name in.

Come on. Don’t judge. There was a scholarship attached.

***

My family’s been dedicated Children of Loki since as long as we can remember. I’d say that gave me an edge in the luck department, except that there were probably thirty thousand other girls whose families were Lokiskin with their names in the pot, too.

My mom said it was destiny. The hand of Wyrd reaching out to pluck me from the teaming masses and set me on my true path, blah blah blah. I didn’t argue, because what was the point? I’d get a gorgeous new dress, a free trip to New York, a fine meal with a guy who was at least easy to look at, and then get to attend any college I wanted, no matter what the price. And I could get into pretty much any of them.

No sweat. I wasn’t nervous at all throughout the week of television interviews, through the very public shopping spree along 5th avenue with mom, Annie, and a half-ten fashionistas who’d plaster me and my dubious fashion sense across the blogosphere. I wasn’t even nervous after they convinced me to pick a teal dress with thin straps I wasn’t sure I could wear with a bra.

I didn’t get nervous until I knocked on the door of Sean Hardy’s penthouse suite, two cameras with their white-hot lights making sweat tingle on the back of my neck.

***

And there he was. They’d put a tie on him that complimented y dress. Little salmon-silver-and-teal swirls were the only color on him, though. Gray jacket and pants. Gray eyes. I did notice a small trefoil tattoo on his earlobe. I stared at it. Through all the interviews and photos I’d seen, I’d never noticed it. They must Photoshop it out. Or use some great cover-all makeup.

He cleared his throat, offered his arm, and we were off.

***

Sweet Sigyn’s teeth, was dinner awful. They put us in the middle of a huge dining room where all the rest of the tables had been cleared away. Instead, there were cameras and reporters and a couple of priests, even. I guess they couldn’t stop laying magic to protect Sean in the morning when he went out to face the dragon.

I barely tasted the whatever-it-was some celebrity chef had spent hours or days fixing up. Sean ate basically nothing, too, and kept trying to talk to me about TV shows he liked, books he’d read. Polite stuff, when all I wanted to ask him about was how he’d killed the dragon, and if he’d touched that soft spot on its nose.

***

We walked back up to his suite, which was only a floor above mine, holding hands. His fingers weren’t smooth, and I changed my mind about him being a fighter. It was possible he knew his way around a spear. His family was healthy middle-class these days, so it was unlikely he’d roughed up his hands with manual labor.

I was so busy thinking maybe he wasn’t so full of shit that I didn’t notice at first when he leaned in and kissed my cheek. “Can I come inside?” I asked.

Sean Hardy blinked and made a real expression for the first time all evening. He frowned.

I just waited, slowly raising my eyebrows and putting on a tiny, polite smile.

He pushed open his door, pulled me quickly in by the wrist, and slammed it shut in the faces of all those reporters.

While Sean stripped off his coat, snaked free his tie, and went for the minibar, I leaned back against the door and thought about what in Hel I was doing.

“Soda?” he asked.

“Yes, god yes.” I didn’t move though. The suite was shockingly sterile, given that I was pretty sure he’d been living in it for a few weeks. Vacuum tracks pressed into the carpet, the TV remote lay next to hotel brochures, the bed I could see through an arch was perfectly made. No suitcases, no half-full cups. Nothing but his discarded tie, curled on the carpet, suggested life. And that hadn’t been there half a minute before.

Through the door I could hear frantic conversation, and I turned the bolt. Sure they could find a manager, but would they? If this was Sean Hardy’s final request?

Sean poured a can of Coke into two glasses. Then he just stood there with one in each hand. The carbonation popped and fizzed. I walked to him, took one, and then sunk down onto the floor. The carpet was dark blue and thick, so I kicked off my heels and sat cross legged. The skirt of my teal dress was full enough to fall into my lap and protect my modesty.

I tilted my head up at Sean. He stared at me for a moment, then joined me on the floor. Whereas I sat with my back against the back of the plush sofa, Sean stretched out completely. He set his Coke next to my knee, then lifted his legs so he could untie the shiny dress shoes. His socks were striped green and red.

I laughed.

Then Sean Hardy slid me a grin so unlike anything I’d seen from him before I felt like not only had we known each other for years, but we’d planned this whole thing start to finish. Every step of the dance had gone exactly as we’d wished, every moment was a triumph.

It was a nice fantasy, so I said, “Couldn’t have gone better if we’d planned it.”

“Right,” he drawled, half his face scrunched, the other half skeptical. “I’ve wanted an awkward date with a girl clearly using me for my money at a closed restaurant the night before I’m basically guaranteed to die for so long.”

That killed my smile.

Sean winced. “Sorry. I’ll try to be less melancholy.”

“Naw, no worries.” I shrugged, and had to adjust the extremely thin shoulder strap so it iddn’t fall off. “Melancholy is in. Totally sexy.”

“Good. Be sure to tell… somebody. My mother. The newspapers.” Sean spread his hands out over him, as if displaying a front page headline. “SEAN HARDY: WENT OUT SEXY.”

“You really don’t think you can do it again?” I leaned down so my elbows were on my knees, then took a drink so I didn’t have to look at his face. It suddenly mattered.

I heard him shift against the carpet. After a pause he said, “Well. Maybe. I don’t know. Last time…” He trailed off and I glanced up. He was watching me. When I caught him his eyes flickered to the ceiling. “Last time, Vera, I didn’t have weeks to think about it. I just saw the dragon, ran at it, killed it. There wasn’t all this brooding and stuff. When you don’t have time to be afraid, I guess it’s easy to be brave.”

Pushing aside his untouched glass of soda, I stretched out next to him. From my side I studied his profile. He had nice lips, but probably by the time he was forty his nose would be too big. If he lived that long. My stomach tightened. I was hugely glad I’d barely eaten anything. “You didn’t actually make this your final request, did you?”

He sighed. “Don’t tell.”

“What did you really want?”

“Tickets to Australia?” He turned his head.

I smiled a little. It wasn’t really funny, hearing the edge of fear in his voice. I reached for his hand and took it again. This time I asked, “You know how to use the weapons you need?”

“I can use a sword. And spear. And pistol.” He used both of his hands to flatten mine, to splay it between his fingers. “But I think what I need is a bazooka. Or a tank. They won’t give me one of those.”

“Not so epic,” I whispered, “if you kill a dragon with a tank.”

“And that’s what’s important.”

Not me, was clear behind his words. Not my life.

The moment I’d hit send, entering this stupid contest, I’d been thinking of taking some pork out of the freezer to make for dinner. By the time I got home from school and Dad was back from work, it would be thawed. It was just a little, inconsequential thought to pair with pushing a button. I hadn’t cared about Sean Hardy, or the dragon, or the contest. I hadn’t expected anything from it, but I had expected to be alive to eat a pork loin dinner my Dad and I grilled on the front patio.

I rolled against him then, and kissed his earlobe where the trefoil tattoo darkened his skin. He didn’t move. I pulled it between my teeth and bit down, hard enough he grabbed my wrist. Hard enough that when I leaned back a small white line cut the tattoo in half. I watched it flood with color. Pink and then red. Like his tattoo was bleeding.

Sean raised his hand and touched it. His mouth pulled into a frown. “That hurt.”

“Good.” I said. I sat up. “Don’t die, Sean Hardy.”

He sat, too. I was close enough to him I could see the flecks of blue sprinkled into the gray.

“If you die,” I continued, “I won’t be able to used this damn scholarship. And I really want to go to Cornell.”

“I’m pretty sure they won’t retract the funds,” he said. His eyebrows pinched in just slightly, though he was trying to school his expression. I could tell because it was exactly like it had been at dinner.

I didn’t respond. Just crossed my arms under my breasts. One of my shoulder straps fell, but I ignored it.

Sean Hardy slipped it back into place, his finger skimming my skin ever-so-gently. “Alright, Vera Joansdottir. I won’t die.” He smiled. “Just for you.”

***

I don’t know what people said that night, as I sat on the balcony with Sean Hardy, waiting for the sun to rise. Waiting until they came for him.

At the knock, we both stood up. Sean gripped the railing and I touched his ear. I pinched it softly, and he whispered, “Ow.”

“Want me to tell them you’re passed out? That I was too much for you?” I stared out at the indigo lighting the eastern sky between the silhouettes of black skyscrapers.

He kissed my jaw, just beside my ear. “No.”

I stood there alone as the sun crept up. As traffic and grease and daylight reached ugly fingers toward the balcony. I thought of the soft left nostril of the dragon, and of my mark cutting in half the trefoil tattoo. At the last possible moment, I went into the suite, turned on the television, and watched Sean Hardy walk up the mountain.

photo by jenny downing

124 thoughts on “Date with a Dragon-Slayer

  1. So do I, surprisingly. After a day of angst, I’m shocked I don’t hate everything. πŸ˜€

  2. This is beautifully done. I really, REALLY want the rest of the story. I also am furious at the ending, and because I’m not sure if she cursed him or wants him to survive. πŸ˜€

    *writes frantic happy endings with many trefoil-tattooed children and CORNELL FOR ALL*

    And I loved all the norse included. WELL done.

  3. <<333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333<-I don't think enough hearts would ever explain how much I love this
    I really want to know what happens and this needs to become a book. Like magic instabook. Just add ink.

  4. If you threw “How to Train Your Dragon” and “The Hunger Games” into a blender, this story is what you would pour into your glass.

    I loved it more than a little.

  5. This quasi-Nordic version of America is quite possibly my favorite world to play in ever. Glad you’re enjoying.

    (Here is a secret: I want this one to end happily for everybody, too.)

  6. Haha – yay!

    Gawd, I want it to be a magic instabook, too. Just add ink is better than the usual process of making a book, which is “Just add blood, sweat, time, tears, angst, and patience.” πŸ˜‰

  7. My first reaction to this: AWESOME YAY!

    My second reaction to this: like HG? DAMNIT I should have made the slayer a GIRL! What was I THINKING?!

    My third reaction to this: I was thinking of pretty, brave boys. Ok. That’s an acceptable reason.

  8. Holy Hel, Tess, but this is glorious. I want to hold it and pet it and call it George.

    In fact, I believe I’ll have to print this one out, too. I’m going to end up making my own weird fan-girl chapbook of Tessa Gratton short stories, since this will be the third one I’ve printed (the others were the one about the woman weaving/the mirror over the fireplace and the one called “Puddles”.

  9. The hotel room scene was a bit reminiscent of the rooftop scene in HG, don’t you think? That and the contest aspect and facing ones certain death on the morrow.

    There are far, FAR worse things to be compared to, and thinking of pretty, brave boys excuses most anything in my books.

  10. I KNOW WHAT YOU’VE BEEN READING THIS WEEK. Haha.

    πŸ˜‰

    No, seriously, I read that book two years ago and still think about it all the time. ❀

  11. I have the final two books in the trilogy sitting here waiting for me to read them. Why am I online? I should be reading!! I think, after Zumba, there shall be reading!

  12. But sometimes, we don’t get what we want.

    This is why I am torn and angsting over the ending. *AAAAAAAAAAANGST*

    And so- this is your next novel, right? ^_^

  13. I am willing to admit that in my fantasies, several of my next novels take place in the United States of Asgard. πŸ™‚

  14. OH RIGHT how could I forget that? I know – because strive to. Haha. Must dissociate from the worst parts of I’d never start a new novel. Hee hee.

  15. I think if I wrote things that involved blood I’d associate with the brain matter and blood, just to put myself into the mindset.

  16. Basically, this is awesome. And I also love your Norse America.

    But all these things you knew already, and I don’t want your head to blow up or anything, because that would be messy, and no one likes clearing up brains.

  17. This is really engaging, Tess. I think you have really struck a chord with the Norse mythology admixed with modern culture. I love both the hero and heroine, not a small feat. I agree with commenter above–I want overwrought happy endings with trefoil-laden babies and such. πŸ™‚

  18. *Flails*
    As soon as I saw: “date” and “dragon-slayer” I knew I was in for some Norse Saga by Tessa G. I love that Vera is a child of Loki. Awesome usage of Norse mythology.
    I second what someone above me said: Hunger Games + How to Train your Dragon. I love this.
    Book? A sequel Merry Fates story? (I really want a book, but I would have to wait forever for it. *sigh*)
    Please?

  19. Gyah! *makes other various incomprehensible noises* Eh! But-

    Dragons!

    Life and Death!

    And risking your life for appearences!

    And character relationships!

    What- Bu- Gyah!

  20. Thank you! I hope I have, bc it’s so much fun I’ll probably never stop.

    I’d like an overwrought happy ending, too. But no babies for 10 years. Post degree.

  21. Hahaha excellent. I’m glad I titled it to tell you what was up. I tried. πŸ˜€

    Also glad you loved it. Think I can use these comments in a sales pitch? Ah ha ha.

  22. It’s from this trip to Bristol.

    Seriously, I am with everyone else this should be on the short list for novel expansion. I loved the girl character’s voice, it sounded somewhat familiar to me.

  23. Kind of makes me think of The Giver, only + more awesome. And dragons.

    Saltwater dragons? Yes, please.

  24. TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS TO SEAN HARDY!!!! *hyperventilate*

    and this line, “When you don’t have time to be afraid, I guess it’s easy to be brave” was pure magic. It worked perfectly. I loved it. I think I will need to tweet this and tumblr it and all sorts of mumbojumbo. Did I mention I loved it? πŸ˜€

    I don’t usually like short stories but this one’s amazing!! Epic awesomesauce.

  25. The list of books I want you to write keeps expanding and expanding. The good thing is that you’re just starting out. Years and years and years of glorious goodness in our future as readers.

    *fweeeeeeeee*

  26. This was so much fun to read, especially since I’ve been getting into Norse mythology on/off over the past few months.

    Oh, and this line?

    “Only you can prevent troll attacks.”

    HAHAHA.

  27. Oooh. This one is in the book? Excellent. I am a little in love with both of them. I like that ear-biting – a moment of pain to bring clarity: hey. Don’t be scared. Don’t screw up. Don’t forget me…

  28. *squeeeeees*

    I love these two so much! The atmosphere and the plot and the ending… oh, the cruel cliffhanger! I want them to have a happily ever after so badly!

    *signs her name to the “I want a book about them” list*

  29. Thank you – we love it when you share our work! Also, that was the line that pinched everything together for me during the writing.

    He lives happy ever, of course. OR DOES HE?!?! Haha.

  30. We don’t know what stories will be in the book yet! Haven’t gotten that far. I’m glad you love them, though. Me, too.

  31. Yes, petitions! LOL.

    Thanks. I’m a fan of the character arc that ends with a cliff-hanger. Hee hee.

  32. WOOOOO I loved that so much. I’ve not been so good for the past few days what with having a cold and that story really cheered me up. πŸ˜€ I see from other people’s comments that there is more to this so I really can’t wait! I really want to know what is going to happen. πŸ˜€
    Thanks for cheering me up Tessa!

  33. More Please! If that was a sample I just read on my kindle I would have hit the “Buy Now!” 10 minutes ago.

  34. *laughs* Sure you would like cliffhangers, you’re an evil author πŸ˜› But your evil is awesome evil complete with cherry on top, so I forgive you πŸ˜‰

  35. Congratulations, you are the first person who ever made Njal’s Saga entirely worth the trouble I had slogging through it. Hooray for cultural context!

    I like your alternate history world and would love to read more, but is it okay that I don’t want the answer to what happens to Sean Hardy? I like the infinite potential of the many ways it could play out (because living or dying is only part of the story, after all).

  36. Haha, there’s always at least ONE good reason to slog through the sagas. I admit, I’m a bit of a saga geek. Which is probably pretty obvious bc of this story and others…

    And YES. I actually can’t imagine telling more of Sean’s story right now. Because HE has a full arc right here in this one. And I agree with you about liking the potential. I might write more stuff in this world, with these themes, but Sean himself? I kind of don’t think so. πŸ˜€

  37. Oh goodness gracious, I just read an excerpt from Njal’s Saga about three days ago for a world lit class. However, said excerpt was only about converting people and killing them if they didn’t concede. No dragons to be found. I believe I am now disappointed.

  38. It is….

    (Hey! Kai! Come here! How would you feel if I kill off your mom before the book starts and then…hey, it won’t be that bad….but-…..but it’s for the good of the plot!….Too bad! I’m the author! I get the last say! I’ll stab her myself if I have to.)

    πŸ™‚

  39. Yay for reworking myths!

    As mentioned in my reply above to someone else, I’ve been reading some Norse/Scandinavian texts in one of my world lit classes. After I read excerpts from The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, I immediately thought of you and how parts of that story beg, I tell you BEG, to be turned into a modern retelling. Pretty please with some Bodvar on top?

  40. Great story.

    I think he’s doomed. Have you read about Jack Johnson, or seen the documentary Unforgivable Blackness? I think Sean is caught up in a Great White Hope media culture searching for Dragon Slayers, with this dragon playing Jack Johnson’s part.

    This is even better, because the county fair scene placed the story in the early 20th century for me, despite the reality TV elements later.

    My question is, what is our protagonist going to do once her new boyfriend gets mauled and half eaten? How important is the Epic and why?

  41. I really need to learn to balance my urge to READ ALL THE NEW STUFF NOW (are you picturing that Hyperbole and a Half column? I am!) with the realization that I will have to wait for more, and that it will be A Very Long Time before I know how it ends.

    Loved this.

    Loved LOVED LOVED it.

  42. Lady, you had better write this book πŸ˜‰ This was totally awesome! My third favourite!! BRAVA!

  43. Great story.

    Is an ending which does not reveal anything a trend now?
    Or are authors’ unable to write them properly?

    Anyway this is one of my favorites, out of all the wonderful stuff you guys post.

  44. I love Hrolf Kraki! And actually have an old ms somewhere around here where he’s one of the MCs. Aww. *nostalgia*

    πŸ˜€ Thanks.

  45. Hee! I adore that comic!

    Glad you loved it. ps. everything you need to know is in the story. πŸ˜‰

  46. Well, I can only speak for myself, but I put everything that needs to be revealed for the point of the story into the story. Sometimes, the ending and the future aren’t the point at all.

    But glad you liked it anyway! πŸ˜€

  47. I’m glad I had this open in a tab for when I had a spare moment πŸ˜€

    This bit is so refreshing after reading Twilight Aquiline noses and Adonis cupcake man muffins ;): He had nice lips, but probably by the time he was forty his nose would be too big.

  48. Strangely, I liked the law bits in the sagas. Granted, I read them over 20 years ago, and because I had to, so I might like them much better now. Lord knows the TΓ‘in BΓ³ CΓΊailnge is way more fun to read when you don’t have to plow through it quickly for lit class. I imagine the same is true for the sagas.

  49. I look forward very much to the day when I can read the sagas and cycles for fun, not just because they’re for class. Until then, at least I’m getting my toes wet in some things I might not otherwise discover. πŸ™‚

  50. I loved this. I want to know what happens next. This should have a good happy ending!!!

    WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

  51. Haha, that’s true, but also I need to maintain the hope and beauty to balance it all out. Tee hee.

  52. Hahaha, I like describing specifics about characters – and the description should give away more about the POV character than about the one being described. πŸ˜€

  53. Hahaha, glad you enjoyed. Whatever you want to happen next happens next. Probably Vera goes to Columbia and Sean drags on until the next dragon.

  54. Hope and beauty is easy it’s what most people want in life, blood and brain matter not so much.

  55. Oh, yes, the BEOWULF. I read it in its entirety for one of my summer classes, and I am sad to admit that it doesn’t do it for me. However, I did learn to love Shakespeare in my other class instead. That makes up for it, right? RIGHT? πŸ˜‰

  56. I… suppose Shakespeare makes up for it. Barely! Hehe. Though if you read any version other than Seamus Heaney’s translation, then you still haven’t really experienced the poem. πŸ˜‰

  57. *checking anthology*

    I am officially exonerated from responsibility re: BEOWULF b/c I read a translation by Alan Sullivan and Timothy Murphy (2002). That, plus the fact that I’m taking a SECOND semester of Shakespeare right now, should definitely make up for it. πŸ˜€

  58. Yeah, nobody who reads a different translation (esp if it’s PROSE) can be expected to love BEOWULF. Alas. If you’re ever feeling adventurous, try this one. πŸ˜€

    Good luck with this semester’s Shakespeare class!

  59. Thanks for the linky and the recommendation! I did read it in verse, thank goodness, but I will hope to read the “real” version one day. πŸ™‚

    And after this semester of Shakes is over, I’ll be sure to let you know what my fave is from this session. My summer class was on the early works and this one focuses on the later, darker works.

  60. I half-expected her to turn into a dragon, and eat him.

    Look what you ladies have done to me- I’ve come to expect the weirdest stuff possible and you *still* surprise me!

  61. Oh my God Tessa you get me every time. I agree with everyone else, more please πŸ™‚
    I reckon you actually managed to get all the Norse refs into the contempory setting seamlessly, and I know so many authors who do that mixing of times clumsily. It was very realistic. I paricularly loved the detail of the tattoo, the fact that the date wasn’t his idea, and the way that we saw him only through her eyes, so that although I knew that something would happen between the two of them, when it did it was somehow also as unexpected as it was to her. Nicely understated, even though its a life and death situation.

  62. Thank you! This is my favorite story… even months later. I’ve been working on this world, and the world-building for a long time, so I’m very glad it presents as seamless!

    πŸ˜€

  63. Tessa, this is really excellent. Thank you so much for sharing! You developed two great characters, created an enchanting world, and set up an intriguing plot all in a couple thousand words. I wish I could read this novel πŸ™‚

  64. This was one of my favorite stories out of my copy of the Curiosities, if not my favorite. It was the story that stayed in my head the longest and the one I gushed and raved about to anyone who would listen. I keep coming back to it and fall in love again and again with the idea, the world, the characters, and the suspense of ‘does he make it back?’

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