a/n: random fantasy snippet that came to mind.


Ariana released. The arrow whistled through the air and slammed into the center of her home-made target. She shot four more times - hitting almost dead-center each time - before retrieving her arrows. She was careful not to damage them; she could not afford any more on the black market. Besides, to leave evidence of her shooting would be to invite death. Archery was one of her worse habits, ranking alongside flirting with women and daydreaming when an important guest was at the inn. And yet, she could not bring herself to give it up.

It was a repetitive action, and it was soothing. Her brothers never seemed to understand that she needed something so solid in her life. And besides, Ariana was naught but a tavern wench. What use did she have for archery? Particularly when it was expressly forbidden by Her Greatest Majesty.

Lately, in fact, Ariana had been hiding her practicing even from Dawson and Ronan. It was simply too dangerous to involve them. If she were caught and they gave any hint of knowing, they would be put to death alongside her. And Ariana refused to allow that. At fourteen, she was the youngest, but that didn't mean she couldn't protect her elder brothers when it was necessary.

In certain ways, she was better qualified to protect anyone than they were. She was an excellent archer, she knew how to use a dagger with deadly precision, and if all else failed, she could manipulate others better than either brother. Her brothers were hardly handy with a bow or a knife, and they both stumbled through conversations with anyone of importance.

It was unlikely any of those skills would ever come into play, though. Ariana spent her days cleaning and cooking and her nights serving ale to village drunks and passing merchants. The only possibilities for her future were to become a wife and mother, to take over the inn, or to set off and attempt to make her fortune any way she could. None of those options appealed to her. Marriage would be far too smothering; running an inn difficult and boring; and making her fortune, improbable and would most likely result in death.

Dawson and Ronan were luckier than she - they were both to travel to Her Greatest Majesty's castle when they were of age - twenty-two. In Dawson's case, that was one year; in Ronan's, three. There, they would either become soldiers, servants, or be sent home, which was a horrid disgrace and would bring bad business to the inn.

No, Ariana would be the one left behind to take care of the inn, whether she wanted it or not. She supposed she'd end up married, even if she hated it. Sometimes, though, she let herself dream of a different future - the one she didn't dare allow herself to desire.

What Ariana wanted was to be a dragon slayer, recognized by Her Greatest Majesty and, following that, the entire kingdom. No one had been given such a prestigious title in decades. Not since Slayer Faina Semprin, when Her Greatest Majesty's mother ruled.

Only women were recognized as dragon slayers. Men just didn't have the ability to successfully slay one. Any who had tried had disappeared. Some said it was because men would only use brute force. Others said men were unable to track a dragon long enough to reach its lair.

Some said it was because dragons could take the form of beautiful women, leading men astray. Ariana hoped that wasn't true. If she ever were a dragon slayer, that would prove difficult.

As she came to this thought, Ariana stood and shook her head to clear it. It was stupid to even imagine things like that, because it would never happen. So she gathered up her contraband arrows and placed them lovingly in her handmade quiver. She slipped inside through the servants' entrance and up to the attic. Then, she opened the old wardrobe that had been there since her grandmother's day and hid them beneath the false bottom she'd discovered years before. She also kept an assortment of daggers and knives. It was dangerous to have weapons, but at least she had somewhere to hide them.

Ariana went downstairs to return to work, leaving her dreams behind her.