Rails across the dragonl.., p.1
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       Rails Across The Dragonlands, p.1
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Rails Across The Dragonlands

  by Helen E. Davis

  Copywrite Helen E Davis 2011

  Chapter 1

  Clutching his wife's carpetbag to his chest, Svan Svenson, professional hero, ran for his train. With a whistle and a belch of ash, the engine heaved forward, pulling away from the small, dusty town – and Svan. There wouldn’t be another train for two days.

  His long sword banging against his leg, Svan put his head down and ran faster, but the caboose stayed out of reach. The engine whistled again as it tbegan to speed up. Svan jumped.

  His hand caught the back ladder and he swung one leg over the railing. His long sword and double-headed ax, as familiar to him as his limbs, cleared all obstacles – but the carpetbag caught on a hook and yanked him back. For a moment he dangled, one leg over and one leg flailing, the ground rushing beneath him, before he wrenched the bag free and flung himself over the rail.

  Quickly pushing himself to his feet, a habit that had saved him more than once, he leaned against the door to shiver. He was still gathering himself when the train sped away from the small town. Wood frame buildings gave way to flat farms and dusty roads. This land was so different from the Far North, a country of craggy cliffs and windswept moors. Fearsome beasts made their homes in that wild land, and when they came upon the scattered settlements and found the livestock to be easy prey, Svan had a job.

  In the Farmlands, heroes were as rare as the beasts they hunted. Svan had never traveled this far south before. The job he had been called to was not here, but on the East Coast, on the far side of the high plateau known as the Dragonlands. And the only quick way to the East Coast was through the Dragonlands, by train. As much as Svan preferred his solitary hero's life, he had decided to stable his horse and buy a ticket.

  Already he was regretting his choice.

  Svan staggered through the caboose and into the baggage car, as the floor rocked beneath his feet. The baggage handler, a weedy man with a disapproving tilt to his mouth, looked up. He adjusted his green clerical visor. “May I see your ticket, sir?”

  Svan pulled a leather scrap from his belt.

  The man examined it. “And you must check your bag.”

  “It stays with me.”

  “No, sir, we’ve a crowded train today. You are allowed no excess carry-on baggage. You will have to check the bag.”

  “I only have the one bag. It is not a large.”

  “You have one bag, one long sword, and one large ax. That’s excess carry-on baggage, sir. There is a special provision allowing passengers to carry their weapons on board, but the bag will have to be checked.”

  Svan thought about this. He did not see why he would need his weapons on a civilized train, and he had promised his wife that he would keep her bag with him. “If I check the sword and the ax, may I take the bag with me?”

  “Of course, sir,” the clerk said. “But once we enter the Dragonlands, this car will be locked, and you will not be allowed to retrieve your weapons. Do you understand?”

  “Yes.” Svan shrugged off his ax and unbuckled his sword.

  “Are you sure?”

  “This is my wife's bag.”

  “It will be safe here. I can’t say the same for the passenger carriage.”

  “It stays with me.”

  The clerk handed over two chits. Swan carefully stowed them at the bottom of his bag, beneath a collection of wax-covered balls.

  “What are those?” the clerk asked.

  “Protection against dragons, according to my wife.”

  The clerk snorted. “Good luck amulets.”

  Svan agreed, but he had learned not to argue with his wife. Picking up the bag, he moved to the passenger car. The train jerked, throwing against the shoulder of a middle-aged woman in a long dress and a wide hat.

  “Oh, dear.” She drew her skirt tight. “You don’t want to sit here, do you?”

  “I will find a seat of my own.”

  “Good. You might want to try the next car. Drinking isn’t allowed in this car.”

  Svan drew himself as erect as the swaying car would allow. “I am a Hero, not a drunk.”

  “Oh?” Disapproval dripped from her voice. “I thought Heroes carried weapons, like swords and shields.”

  He thought to explain, but just waved his hand.

  She sniffed loudly and turned her head away.

  “Come sit with us!” called a well-dressed man at the front of the car. Gold-rimmed glasses framed his wide eyes. Beside him sat a man whose his long face was split by a bushy mustache. Both men wore identical three-piece suits with gold watches tucked into their vest pockets. The kind of people who hired heroes to do dangerous things.

  Svan slid into the empty seat. “Thank you.”

  “You're welcome. I’m Geoffrey Hart, and this is my associate, Wilmer Shedd. So, you’re a Hero, are you?”

  Nodding, Svan wondered if he had time for an additional job. “And you are businessmen?”

  “Writers, actually. In need of new material. What stories can you tell us?”

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