Eria wriggled her fingers and let them drift across the wooden countertop. It was warm in the shop. She looked longingly at the door.
Obligingly, it opened, letting in a draft of ice-tinged air.
A man ducked under the lintel and stomped in, snow falling from his boots. His body was huge, almost too big for his tattooed head. He wore armour made of dark leather padded with sheepskin. A battle-axe hung from his belt.
‘Hello,’ said Eria, ‘how may I help you today?’
He looked at her. ‘Where’s the old man?’ he grunted.
‘I’m minding the shop for Master Winga.’
‘You’re a child.’
Eria ran her hands down the front of her dress as though brushing away dust and nodded thoughtfully. ‘I’m older than I look,’ she said.
There was a sound from the back room. The man narrowed his eyes.
‘Master Winga will be several hours, at least,’ said Eria. ‘You can wait, of course, but I am more than able to help you.’
‘Give me that spear up there,’ said the man eventually, tipping his chin upwards. She turned to follow his gaze. The spear had been hung horizontally and ran almost the full length of the back wall. Its head was diamond-shaped, forged from reddish metal, and behind it sat wicked barbs which would make it impossible to remove from a wound without catastrophic damage.
‘Big fight?’ she asked.
‘Have you got any identification?’
‘That spear is a dangerous weapon. I can’t sell it to just anyone.’
The man pulled out a leather pouch turned it over so that its contents spilled across the countertop. The gold glinted in the light. ‘Here’s my identification.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Eria. ‘I need to see some paperwork. Have you got a dragon-hunting licence?’
‘A dragon-hunting licence.’
‘No! What is this nonsense? I am the Warrior Philip Elfweard and–‘
Eria made a tiny snorting noise. He glared at her.
‘Give me the spear, impudent child, or I shall take it for myself!’ he thundered, drawing his axe.
‘Why waste time asking for things in the first place if you can just take what you want?’ she asked calmly, catching his eyes with hers.
‘It is– It is not–‘ His voice faded. She saw smoke and flames and tasted metal and salt. Underneath it all, though, was the scent of lavender, a song, and a child’s laughter.
Eria had a knack for seeing things in people’s eyes.
She reached into the pocket of her dress. ‘I think your daughter will like these,’ she said, holding up her hand.
Eyes still locked on hers, Philip reached out and took one of the objects she held. It was a perfect, green sphere with a graceful swirl of gold in its centre.
She blinked and his eyes snapped to the marble he was holding. It sparkled as he turned it. ‘How did you know I have a daughter?’ he asked, after a moment.
‘Lucky guess,’ said Eria, lightly. ‘I made these myself,’ she added. ‘I’m good with glass.’
‘I won’t sell you the spear,’ said Eria. ‘The dragon doesn’t deserve to have her eye pierced. And you,’ she continued quickly as she saw him start to speak, ‘don’t want to be so badly burned by her flame that your daughter screams every time she looks at you.’
‘The reward…’ he started, but tailed off as he stared at the marble he was still holding.
‘There are greater rewards than money.’
Eria waited for a several minutes after he had left before she turned and walked into the back room. She untied Master Winga from his chair and removed the gag. He spluttered and cursed, but she laid her hand on his arm and caught his eyes, and he calmed soon enough.
She left the old man’s shop and stood outside the door. She shivered and stretched, breathing in the chill air and bathing in the red-gold rays of the sunset.
After a moment, her skin began to shift from human softness to something harder and glossier. Wings burst from her back, the joints in her arms and legs clicked and snapped into new positions, her neck lengthened.
A gout of flame shot from her jaws and hit, with extreme precision, a nearby rock. It melted into a glassy puddle.
The dragon dropped from the mountain edge and caught a thermal, hovering in the clear air. She watched the tiny figure walk down the mountainside for a few moments. Then, finally, she headed home.
I really want a set of dragon marbles.