The Dragon Slayer by Karolína Štěpánová

Audrey, a history student doing a foreign exchange in Brno, sees a young man dressed in medieval armour on her way to class one day.  The incident can’t leave her mind, plaguing even her subconscious – will she figure out who the mystery man is?

“I’m telling you, it really happened!” 

Jelena crossed her arms and gave me her typical sceptical look. 

“I did see him. A guy in authentic medieval armour.” 

Jelena raised an eyebrow. “Boarding a tram at Ceska? Are you sure you weren’t hallucinating? You’ve gotten pretty freaky these past few days. Seriously, lay off the books a little bit.”

“You’re telling a student to stop studying?” I reprimanded her, pointing at the array of notes and books on my desk. “Besides, you’re in the same exchange program as I am! Did you forget that this isn’t a freebie vacation and we actually have exams to pass? Like Modern History, next Tuesday.” 

My flatmate’s sassy expression fell as soon as I mentioned her own obligations and hurriedly shifted the topic. 

“…So, was he hot? The medieval knight you saw yesterday.” 

She succeeded in distracting me because all I could think of was that morning once again. I had been on my way to school when I saw him on the opposite side of the street. He stood out from the crowd, clad in sturdy-looking armour and chainmail, sword in a scabbard at his hip. Time had stopped for me, mesmerized by the sight of him. His dark hair was swaying in the morning breeze, obscuring most of his features, but from what I could see… 

“He looked handsome. And kind of familiar, too…” 

A nicely defined jawline, a content smile on his lips, confident posture. Jelena had called him a knight and I found it quite fitting. Both the moment and he were magical and just remembering it made me blush. 

“Ugh, I feel like I’m fourteen again.” I groaned, leaning back into my chair.

“Were you ever?”   

“What?” I frowned.

“I mean, you’re kind of an old soul, Audrey.”

That made me stop. 

“You know, you’re not the first person to tell me that. Maybe… maybe I should take a little break for tonight. There was this article I wanted to read…”

Jelena came over to look at my computer screen and cursed in Estonian. In the months of going to school and sharing a flat with her, I could honestly say I was fluent in her native language’s swear words. It was a regular reaction to when she was really done with me, one of the sweetest parts of our oil and water friendship. I was certain I’d miss these little moments once I got back home from this foreign exchange program.

“The Brno dragon? Can you stop doing history-related stuff for five seconds?” 

“I’m researching it for fun!” I objected. That was apparently the last straw for Jelena, who walked out of my room mumbling something about me not knowing what fun is. I let her be, as I always did, and focused on the article. I spent the deep evening reading up on the subject before I ended up slipping into sleep at some point.

– 

“Audrey! Wake up! There’s a dragon outside!” 

The voice belonged to Jelena, who had barged into my room. My neck cracked a little as I got up from the firm surface of my desk, but oddly, it didn’t hurt. 

“…Do you mean the taxidermized crocodile hanging from the Old Town Hall ceiling?” 

Right, I was reading up on the legend. Was she making fun of me? 

“No! It’s-” Jelena’s shout was interrupted when the window burst open. A wave of hot air assaulted our senses while a wall of brown scales blocked the outside view for a moment.

“See?” Jelena threw her hands out. 

Oh god. An actual dragon.

Filled with the desire to see the dragon up close, I immediately got up from my chair and left the flat. The run down the stairs was more of a flight and before I even realized it, I was outside and running up Masarykova street barefoot. There was no discomfort as I dashed on the pavement, reaching Freedom square in a split second. I kept chasing after panicked voices and sounds of destruction, reminiscent of American disaster movies.

I reached Ceska only to witness a dragon attempting to eat tram no.3. 

I guess I’ll have to walk to school from now on, a nonsensical thought crossed my mind.

The creature was as tall as a three-story building, covered in brown scales and with large folded wings on its back. It was right in the middle of where the stop for the tram it was eating had been, sitting between two buildings.

People were jumping out of the captured vehicle with some of the pedestrians trying to catch them. Others were screaming and panicking, running around and crossing the tram and car-frequented street in every place and direction possible.

Well, that part was probably the most normal thing about this whole charade. 

Fortunately, the tram was empty as soon as the dragon crunched it down. After the vehicle gave under its giant maw, becoming nothing but scrap with glass shards falling off of it, the dragon growled menacingly and flung the thing away. It went through the wall of the court building right in front of it like butter and stayed jammed in it, making me wince. What a sad end to a lovely piece of modern architecture.

The situation looked truly desperate. But then… I saw him. Standing on the other side of the street was the knight. He began running towards the creature and unsheathed his sword, sharp and glistening in the morning sun. He aimed straight for the dragon’s leg that was closer to him, the appendage thicker than the knight himself. The sword cut deep into the leg.

Angered, the dragon growled with all its might. It was a powerful howl, enough for the ground to shake. Blood was flowing out of the leg as the creature lifted it up in pain, before it stomped down, forcing the knight to dodge, and unfolded its wings. The knight tried to land a slice on its other leg, but the dragon had already taken off towards the sky and was flying west. 

The knight went after it and I followed without a second thought. He was fast, but just like before, moving around felt effortless, each of my steps light as if I were floating. At some point, the knight noticed me keeping up with him on the other side of the road and grinned. I smiled back, butterflies welling up in my stomach. 

We turned left at the Red Church as the dragon headed up the hill to Spilberk castle. Getting to the foot of the hill took no time and soon we were running up the paved paths of the park. 

When we got to the top, the monster stood right before the main bridge leading into the castle. Steam flared up from its nostrils as it growled at us. The knight tried to get closer, but it swiped at him with its front legs. Just the motion made me shiver; he’d be sliced into pieces if those giant claws managed to hit him. 

He couldn’t advance at the creature whilst dodging its attacks. At this rate, he would tire out and lose… I had to help him. I was the only one here.

It was a crazy thought, but I felt confident. Despite all the running around, I was full of energy. Bringing a dragon down? Why not? 

My whole body buzzed as I dashed towards the monster, springing up on my feet. I rose a few meters into the air, but it was exhilarating rather than shocking. Spinning around mid-air, I landed a kick right into the dragon’s side.

It connected with a crack and the dragon slammed into the bridge, which collapsed under its weight. It fell into the moat and looked stunned, letting out a pained growl. 

I met the knight’s eyes with a proud smile. He smiled back and nodded. Raising his sword up high, he leapt into the moat and pierced the dragon’s head with fearful precision. 

Light disappeared from the giant lizard’s swamp green eyes almost immediately. He… no, we had done it. Brno was saved. 

The knight returned to my side with a simple jump, put his sword away and gave me one last polite smile. 

“Dakujem. Dovidenia!” he waved theatrically and ran into the distance. 

And then, I opened my eyes. 

As I lifted myself from my desk, my neck cracked again, but this time it actually stung. In fact, my whole back was aching, as if angry at me for trying to straighten it.

I already missed the ease of my dream self.

Speaking of which, what even was that dream? Since when did my brain become this creative? 

I could still hear the knight’s voice in my head, crystal clear and just as oddly familiar as his face had been. But he hadn’t spoken Czech like I’d have expected. I had some Czech and Slovak friends in my major and was taught a lot of basic phrases from them. That had been Slovak, I was sure of it since I heard it quite often. 

Why was he speaking Slovak? Was Brno getting to me with its Czech and Slovak melting pot vibe? 

I spent my morning preparations second-guessing my brain about every aspect of that strangely vivid dream. It’d felt so real. 

In the end, I got too distracted and didn’t have time for breakfast. No matter, I could just buy something to go with my morning coffee. 

The store I frequented was a small one at Masarykova street, not too far from my flat. It also sold a Czech speciality sweet that was delicious, but I couldn’t properly pronounce its name. Giving in to my lazy tongue today, I just listed off the flavour I wanted and then finished the order with a latte.

Everything was going smoothly, until it didn’t, because I couldn’t seem to find my wallet. My bag was a mirror to my soul this morning with things chaotically piled into it. By the time I had found it on the bottom of the bag, my order was already done. I put the money onto the counter and grabbed my liquid saviour and the steaming paper bag, feeling some semblance of normalcy return to my life.

“Dakujem, dovidenia,” rang out the familiar voice of the cashier and I raised my head in alarm.

Black hair, striking cheekbones, charming green-brown eyes. 

“Y-You’re the dragon slayer!” I exclaimed, pointing at him with the treat in hand. 

The young man looked at me with utter confusion. He wasn’t the only one – his co-worker and people that were ordering or waiting to be served also turned to me with questioning gazes. 

I froze in place. What am I saying? 

In the awkward silence, I managed to lower my hand. 

“Oh, uh, nevermind. Bye.” I mumbled awkwardly and speed-walked away from the scene of the disaster. I could hear some animated conversation going on, but I ignored it to the best of my ability.

I was confident I would never go back there, and probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Jelena. When she had dragged the story out of me and finished laughing, she patted me on the back.

“It looks like your brain figured the mystery out before you did. But still, girl, ‘dragon slayer’? That’s like the best pickup line ever.” 

Weird as it was, it kind of lifted my spirits and gave me a new outlook on the whole thing. I had nothing to lose, right? Besides, I still didn’t know what the armour deal was all about.

I snooped around until it was his shift at the store again and gathered all my courage when I saw him there. 

He gave me a surprised look when I came up.

“Uh, hello,” I said, unsure. 

“Hello,” he replied, looking quite amused. “What can I get you?”

“…A latte.” 

He nodded and went to make it while I tried to think of what I was going to say. Before I could figure it out, my order was done though. I paid him the money and kept staring at him, utterly lost. He just kept smiling.

“Just so you know, I’m not a dragon slayer.” 

“Yes… well, about that…”  I fumbled with my words and then shut down completely, mind blank. I tried to force out something that wouldn’t sound completely stupid, but it wasn’t working.

“And I’m curious why you think I am, but I’m busy right now.” He pointed behind me, and I turned around to see a line of people subtly glaring at me. Flinching, I moved out of the way with a muttered apology. Before I could leave, though, he spoke up one more time. 

“But my shift ends in an hour!” 

My face grew hot at the way he grinned when he said that, from giddiness rather than embarrassment. Maybe Jelena was right. I had accidentally created an amazing pickup line. 

I did indeed come back an hour later. He was just finishing up and getting teased by his co-workers. After all, it’s not every day a random foreigner girl calls you a dragon slayer. I must have caused quite an uproar.  

We introduced ourselves – his name was Milan, a Slovak student working part-time whenever he was free. Then came my time to shine. We walked around as I attempted to explain everything that led to my random declaration. He was a patient listener, thankfully. When the topic of his knight garb came up, he told me that he was just a big history and fantasy nerd and that he’d gone to a roleplay event happening near Brno that day. The armour was actually handmade. He had spent months on it and seemed really happy by the fact that I found it so authentic looking. 

His positive and open-minded attitude made me less reluctant to talk about the whole dream ordeal. When I did, he found it cool. We ended up taking the route I’d taken in my dream, just walking as I tried to recollect the little details. Between that, we talked about history and other things we liked. We probably spent an hour or two just sitting on a bench in Spilberk’s park, chatting. 

When I finally got back to the flat in the evening, it was with warmth, cheer, and a phone number. All I could think of was how Jelena, my other friends and the beautiful streets of Brno wouldn’t be the only things I’d miss once I’m back home.

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