by Hannah Steenbock
Dorelle scrambled up the steep path in the dawn light, panting and clawing frantically to get to the top of the cliff on time, not caring about dignity or being technically an adult. She just knew there was a dragon winging in any moment now, to pick up the week’s catch and deliver it to the Dragon Tower.
And she intended to see it.
From the cliff heights, for the best view.
When she reached the top, she flopped to the ground and turned her head southeast. That’s where the dragon would come from.
Soon enough, she spotted a little dot against the gray clouds. Her heart soared with the beast in the sky.
She couldn’t explain it, but the simple sight of one of them, or the mere thought of seeing one woke an excitement that was pure thrill, pure longing.
When it got closer, Dorelle could see it was wearing green, the color of couriers and messengers. She focused her mind, as she had practiced countless times, and sent a thought towards the dragon.
“Welcome to Hery Bay.”
She had never received an answer, and didn’t expect one now, either. When it came, she sat in stunned amazement.
Thank you, my dear.
Dorelle’s heart leapt. A dragon had spoken to her!
She heard the words over and over in her mind, marveled at the gentleness of them, at the soft voice, and the recognition she had felt.
The dragon backwinged and landed on the beach in front of the houses of Hery Bay, a small fishing village at the northwestern corner of the Western Kingdom.
Dorelle ran down the path at a headlong speed, needing to get closer to the dragon and see her more clearly. She knew beyond doubt that it was a female dragon that had spoken to her.
When she stumbled and fell, a gentle presence in her mind gasped. Dorelle caught herself after a quick tumble, and raced on.
“I’m fine,” she told the dragon. “Don’t worry.”
Relief flooded her, and Dorelle grinned, despite the scrapes on her knees and hands. The dragon cared!
She kept running, even as she reached the sandy beach. The rider had dismounted and was staring at her.
Dorelle faltered and slowed to a walk. Had she made a mistake by speaking to the dragon?
Come, the voice said in her mind.
Dorelle bit her lip, but she moved closer. The dragonrider smiled, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Kranis and I have been watching you for the last few months,” the dragonrider said. “And we decided that we need to talk to your parents and you.”
Dorelle still worried despite the smile. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Not at all, my dear. You have been doing something very right.” The smile on the dragonrider’s face was augmented by a wave of support from the dragon herself. “Do take me to your parents.”
“Well, they no longer decide anything about me,” Dorelle said quietly. “I turned twenty last week.”
The dragonrider lifted an eyebrow. “You do look younger. But even so, this is something I don’t want to do behind their backs.”
Dorelle quickly led the rider to her parents’ house. It stood a little back, close to the cliff. She just hoped their parents were home. Her father had a lot of work as village elder, but it was close to noon, and her mother would be preparing a meal.
She opened the door and called out to her. “Mom, I’m home, and I brought a visitor.”
She breathed a sigh of relief when her father walked out of the kitchen with her mother. Soon, they were all seated in the living room.
“First, let me introduce myself,” the dragonrider said. “I’m Hinesi, and my dragon is Kranis. I’ve only been here a few times, and I apologize for never stopping long enough to get to know you.”
“That’s all right,” Kirey said graciously. “You’re busy, and fish doesn’t stay fresh very long. Having said that, I’m please you are here now. Welcome to Hery Bay. I’m Kirey, my husband is called Tamir, and my daughter is Dorelle.”
“Thank you. You see, I’m here because of Dorelle.”
Tamir frowned. “What has she done?”
Hinesi smiled. “She has been talking to my dragon.”
Both parents stared at Dorelle.
“And today, Kranis talked back to me.” She couldn’t hide her delight any longer. “She has such a gentle voice.”
Hinesi laughed outright. “Thank you. It is obvious that you love dragons.”
“Yes, I do.” Dorelle ducked her head a little, because her parents had endured her dragon love for many years.
Kirey was shaking her head, while Tamir looked amused.
“But I’m not just here to indulge your daughter. The fact is, we need dragonriders like her.”
Tamir’s chin dropped. “You are recruiting? But we’re not a traditional dragonrider family.”
“No, you’re not. That is both a problem and hopefully part of the solution. I can’t explain this in detail right now, but both Kranis and I would be delighted to count Dorelle among our number.”
“So let’s talk about the problem first.” Tamir leaned back in his chair.
“The problem is that I can only get Dorelle into the selection pool if I pretend she’s my niece. My youngest sister does have a daughter her age, even though she’s deaf and dumb to dragons.”
Kirey chewed on her lower lip. “That would be a lie, then.”
“Yes. But a necessary, temporary lie.”
“I’ll do it!” Dorelle jumped to her feet. “I’ll do anything to ride a dragon!”
Her parents exchanged a look, and her mother sighed and nodded. And then her father did, as well.
Dorelle settled herself on Kranis’s back and couldn’t believe the wave of joy that rushed through her. She was sitting on a dragon!
Kranis laughed in her mind. You’ll do much more soon.
Dorelle bit her lip. How could having a dream come true feel so scary and good at the same time?
“Be safe, [endearment],” Tamir called out to her. He pulled her mother close to him, and for a moment, she could see their pain. It was worth it, she told herself fiercely. And she would be back with her own dragon!
Kranis ducked and jumped into the air, wings beating hard. Dorelle could feel how much she strained to lift herself and her rider and passenger from the beach. Soon however, the dragon had cleared the cliffs, and spread her wings, catching an updraft.
Dorelle breathed easier and finally allowed herself to look around. The small houses of Hery Bay disappeared behind her, while the sun gleamed on the sea. She could barely make out a boat or two before Kranis turned inland.
She couldn’t get enough of the view from above. Little creeks, running through the hills, patches of forest, an odd farm, they all formed new and fascinating patterns to her.
“It’s so beautiful!” she called out.
Yes. Our kingdom is very beautiful. I’m glad you enjoy it. I never tire of flying over it myself.
“Is that why you’re a courier?”
That, and getting too old for any serious fighting.
“Dragons are fighting?”
Kranis sighed. Well, officially, we’re still at war with the Carmine Empire. And there are small skirmishes from time to time.
“Oh.” Dorelle bit her lip once again. “That means my dragon and I might have to fight?”
Yes. Do you still want to come?
Dorelle nodded without hesitation. “Yes. And maybe we could work towards peace.”
A wave of approval rolled over her.
King Elsen will like you.
“I’ll see the King?” Dorelle felt overwhelmed.
Not anytime soon, Kranis said gently. He doesn’t visit the Dragon Tower often.
They flew on in silence after that. Dorelle decided to forget about the possibility of meeting the King and focused on the land below Kranis’ wings instead. She needed to learn how the Western Kingdom looked from above.
When they spiraled down after a long flight, Dorelle could barely keep her eyes open. It was dark already, and all she could see was the flickering light of many torches and the walls they illuminated. She was too tired to make sense of the images she saw.
We’re almost home, Kranis said.
With a start, Dorelle realized she had no idea where she would sleep.
With us. The dragon laughed. It’s too late to get you quarters.
“Where are we going?”
Our quarters in the dragon tower.
Dorelle blinked and rubbed her eyes.
Never mind. We’ll show you in the morning. Kranis sounded amused and a little contrite. I’m sorry we kidnapped you like this. But you’re important for us dragons.
“I just want to be with a dragon.”
You’ll get there.
Dorelle felt the dragon slow down. She couldn’t see a thing in the dark, but suddenly Kranis flapped her wings hard. Her claws scrabbled on rock, then the dragon lunged and folded her wings.
“Well done,” Hinesi said.
The rider slipped from her dragon’s back. Dorelle could hear her stride across a hard floor, then a light flickered. Moments later, the rays from a lantern illuminated a large cavern. It looked like rock, but it was too regular to be a cave.
We’re in the Dragon Tower, Kranis explained.
“Come. I hope you don’t mind sharing a bed for the night.”
Dorelle was too tired to care. “Not at all.” She stumbled after the dragonrider carrying the lantern and blinked when the woman pulled aside a drape.
“Here we are.”
The bed looked wide and inviting. Dorelle simply sat on the edge and pulled her boots off.
“That’s the girl”.
Dorelle realized the dragonrider had done the same. Soon, she was curled up under a blanket, while Hinesi grabbed a second one.
“Sleep well,” she said, and Dorelle mumbled an answer, just as her eyes fell shut.
Wake up, a voice said in Dorelle’s mind, and joy filled her the moment she remembered that it was Kranis talking to her. A dragon!
“Thank you,” she whispered, still finding it hard to believe that she was waking up in the Dragon Tower, the one place in the whole Kingdom she had thought unreachable.
Today, you’ll see the Dragon Master. You must firmly think of being Hinesi’s niece. Your name is Helna.
“I understand.” Dorelle said that name several times in my mind, doing her best to make it her own.
Her dragon will look at you very closely. You can speak to him, although the Dragon Master doesn’t like that.
She. Her name is Pesuma.
Next to Dorelle, Hinesi stretched and sighed before flinging the blanket aside.
“Let’s get breakfast first. Kranis, would you drop us down?”
Was a dragon the only way down? Dorelle had no idea of the layout of the Dragon Tower.
No, but Hinesi’s knees don’t like the stairs.
Dorelle had the sense that the words had been directed at her privately, and wasn’t certain that it was proper.
She also doesn’t like to be reminded of that. Amusement accompanied those words, and Dorelle had to make an effort not to laugh.
Moments later, Dorelle sat behind Hinesi on Kranis’ back. The dragon merely walked out of the opening and into the air, spreading her wings to break their fall.
Dorelle hid a gasp when it felt as if her stomach had dropped to her knees. Yet the moment Kranis soared, joy filled her again, and she relished the short flight to the ground.
Together, Hinesi and Dorelle walked to a low building. It was warm enough that some people sat on benches outside, with plates and mugs set on tables in front of them. Clearly, this was some kind of kitchen.
“Hey, Hinesi, who’s that slip of a girl?” A dragonrider waved them over.
Hinesi sat down with a grin. “My niece. She finally decided to talk to dragons.”
The two riders at that table gave knowing nods. “Good of you to bring her in. Did Kranis sniff her out?”
“What’s your name?” One of them turned to Dorelle, to look at her directly. And while she felt honored to be included in the talk, she couldn’t remember the name she was supposed to use.
Helna, Kranis said quickly, and Dorelle repeated the name out loud.
“That’s a nice name.” Both riders smiled, and Dorelle blushed fiercely, feeling that she was betraying them.
“Welcome to Asbanmor. I’m Flinder, and that is Mishgan.”
“I’m honored to meet you,” Dorelle managed to say.
“Your timing is very good,” Mishgan said. “I heard of matings going on at the Breeding Grounds, so there will be eggs soon. And a class of trainees.”
“We know.” Hinesi grinned.
“Hah. Trust couriers to know the latest gossip.” Both men laughed, and Dorelle blushed again. She had no idea what trainees would do.
Flinder glanced at her and his smile became more gentle. “Now don’t worry, Helna. You’ll fit right in, especially if you can hear dragons already. And my Tryshk tells me you’re a good one. So you’ll have your dragon soon, mark my words.”
Joy rushed through Dorelle at those words. Her very own dragon! She couldn’t stifle a gasp, and all three dragonriders laughed, very gently this time.
“We know how that feels,” Mishgan said. “But don’t let it show too much. Not all people here love dragons the way we do.”
All three of them exchanged knowing looks, and Dorelle did her best not to stare. How could there be dragonriders who didn’t love their dragons?
“Especially as a trainee,” Flinder added. “Be careful.”
Dorelle’s joy diminished. “They don’t love dragons?”
Hinesi sighed. “It is true, as sad as it is. Our Dragon Master believes that dragons must be controlled at all times. And that’s what she teaches. Do not let her drive out your love of dragons, but also don’t show it openly.”
Dorelle managed not to stare. “I… that will be hard.”
“Yes. But if you really want your dragon, you can do it.” Mishgan looked very serious.
“And we need you.” Hinesi touched her hand. “We very badly need people who love dragons.”
New determination filled Dorelle. “I will do this. And I will have my dragon.”
“That’s the way to go, girl.” Flinder smiled at her. “And I’ll go and get you some breakfast, it seems that Badani is too busy inside again.”
“Thank you, Flinder.”
Dorelle assumed that those two dragonriders knew about Hinesi’s bad knees. She would have volunteered to help, but Flinder was faster that she could think of it. So she just sat there, all senses open, surprised at the number of dragons she could feel. Just now, a flight of a dozen was leaving from the Dragon Tower.
Close your mind just a little, Kranis said gently. More of use are noticing you, and not all in a good way.
“Oh.” Dorelle made an effort to focus on the table in front of her, and the dragon presences faded away.
That’s good. You can also focus on my mind, since I already know you.
“Thank you,” she whispered. What had she gotten herself into? All she wanted was to be close to dragons.
And that is very honorable of you, my dear.
Flinder soon returned with a tray, two bowls and two steaming mugs, which he placed in front of Hinesi and Dorelle. “There you go. Nobody should face the Dragon Master on an empty stomach.”
His wink took away most of the dread for Dorelle, and she looked at the food. The bowl contained something that looked like gray goo and she frowned.
“Porridge”, Hinesi said quickly, and Dorelle assumed it was the name of that food. Not that it helped, she had no idea what it was. But she had to pretend that she did, because surely Hinesi’s niece would know.
So she took a spoonful and shoved it into her mouth as if she knew what she was doing and was surprised that it was both sweet and tasty. The liquid in the mug, however, was bitter, and it took her a moment to be able to swallow it.
Flinder must have seen her grimace, because he laughed. “Yes, we make the [coffee replacement] strong here. A true dragonrider will always enjoy it.”
Dorelle caught his eyes while she took a large mouthful of the brew and swallowed it, despite the taste.
He laughed even more. “That’s the way to go, Helna. You’ll make a brave dragonrider.”
That strange porridge did a lot to mitigate the awful taste, and so she alternated between eating and drinking.
He got you very strong brew on purpose, Kranis said in her mind. He’s a trickster.
“I see,” Dorelle whispered, letting the dragon read her answer. And was relieved she wouldn’t have to drink that vile stuff every morning.
Even so, it was doing something to her. She felt wide awake, all her senses thrumming, her heart beating fast.
When she put the empty bowl back onto the tray, she thought she was close to trembling. What was that stuff?
She wouldn’t find out any time soon, though, because Hinesi suddenly stood.
“Master Pesuma is calling us now. It’s a good thing we got up early.”
Just a few heartbeats later, Kranis landed close to the eating area, raising dust and causing some voices of protest.
Flinder stood as well. “Good luck, Helna. But if you ask me, you’ll fit right in.” Mishgan nodded at that.
“Thank you.” The confidence of those two dragonriders helped a lot, despite the trick that Flinder had pulled on her. She should get used to the teasing, she thought, not that it was anything new. The boy in Hery Bay had teased her just as mercilessly.
Kranis waited only until they had settled on her back before lifting herself off the ground, once again sweeping dust across the valley floor. She circled the Dragon Tower several times, flying higher and higher, and Dorelle realized that she was taking them to the top level of the huge tower.
It had three openings, large enough for a dragon to enter, and that’s what Kranis did. She landed in darkness, and it took Dorelle’s eyes a few moments to adjust.
“Come.” A harsh voice, old and rough. And a woman’s voice, Dorelle realized. She had expected a man to be the Dragon Master, and quickly readjusted her expectations.
Hinesi got off her dragon, making a little grunt of pain when she stood. Probably her knees were hurting, Dorelle thought.
“Come, come. I don’t have all day.”
The Dragon Master was either impatient, or determined to display her power. Neither impressed Dorelle, but she tried to keep that thought to herself.
They walked towards an area set up with [number] wooden armchairs, grouped in an arc on two sides of a much bigger one. An old woman was sitting on the big one, and a dragon was curled behind it.
Dorelle did her best not to stare. She had never seen a white dragon before.
“So you’re Hinesi’s niece. About time you discover your dragonrider roots, girl.”
The old woman still sounded annoyed, and Dorelle wondered why.
“Yes,” she whispered.
Dorelle swallowed. “Yes, Dragon Master,” she said, making her voice as firm as she could.
“There we go. Now talk to my dragon.”
“Mind you, never do that without permission,” the old woman went on, before Dorelle had a chance to focus her mind. She wondered why, but quickly shoved that thought away.
“Yes, Dragon Master.”
“Fewer words, more action.”
Dorelle could hear Kranis sigh in her mind and forced herself to focus on the white dragon behind that chair.
“Hello,” she said, sending her thoughts at him. “I’m happy to meet you.”
That dragon laughed in her mind. Welcome, dragonrider.
Dorelle smiled. The dragon’s voice was old, as well, but gentle, deep and calm. She hoped she would get to talk to it some more.
“Very good. You have demonstrated you can talk to dragons.” The Dragon Master nodded once. “Take her away, Hinesi. She can join the trainees.”
Was that all? Dorelle blinked.
“And don’t ever dare to talk to Kollamer again.”
“Of course not, Dragon Master,” Dorelle said, without even thinking about it. Had that even been her own thought?
She glanced at the dragon, and it gave her a wink, behind the Dragon Master’s back. It took an effort for Dorelle to keep her face still.
“Come.” Hinesi took Dorelle’s hand and dragged her back to Kranis. They quickly got up on the dragon, and for some reason, Dorelle thought that Hinesi only took a full breath after Kranis had taken them to the air.
“Take us to the trainee camp, please,” Hinesi said a moment later, and Kranis tilted dramatically. Dorelle instinctively clung to her side with her knees, and the dragon approved wholeheartedly.
Flying bareback will not be encouraged, Kranis said, but you need to know in emergencies. You’re doing well.
They flew away from the Dragon Tower, and Dorelle saw a large town below her, with a very large building nestled among the hills.
That’s the Palace, Kranis explained.
The Palace! Dorelle took a closer look. So that was where King Elsen lived, with his Queen and his family, she assumed. Somehow, she had expected it to be spectacular, but it only looked large. Then she laughed at herself.
Soon, they left the town behind, and Dorelle could see something glisten in the far distance.
“Is that the sea?”
Yes, but we won’t go that far today.
In fact, Kranis spiraled down sooner than Dorelle had expected, landing near a camp with tents. Two dragons roared a greeting, and two older men walked towards them.
Hinesi slid off her dragon’s back, and Dorelle hurried to do the same.
“Hello Ferren, hello Asnelmo,” she said. “I’m bringing a new recruit, my niece Helna. The Dragon Master is sending her.”
“She’s too old.” The one called Ferren frowned at her.
Hinesi shrugged. “She only recently discovered she can talk to dragons.”
“That can happen.” Asnelmo looked a lot friendlier and gave Dorelle a nod. “Welcome to the camp. We’re building a new Wing here, so these kids might be part of your future life.”
“I see.” Dorelle nodded, more interested in the two dragons sitting close to the tents than in any youngsters.
“Thank you for bringing her, Hinesi.” Ferren gave the old dragonrider a nod. “Let’s hope she’s any good.”
“Come, Helna,” Asnelmo said. “Let me introduce you to the others.”
Dorelle cast a last look at Hinesi and Kranis, suddenly feeling rather alone.
You’ll do great, Kranis said in her mind.
It helped, a little. And then Asnelmo guided her towards the tents, while Ferren stayed to chat a little longer with Hinesi.
The tents were arranged in a half-circle, similar to the chairs in the Dragon Tower’s top room. Dorelle wondered if that was a coincidence.
Asnelmo called out, and young people arrived from all directions. Dorelle tried to take a quick count and ended thinking that with her, there were almost twenty trainees. Would they all get a dragon?
Suddenly, excitement sparked, and she felt as if her heart lit up. She would get a dragon!
She heard Kranis laugh in her mind, and was even happier. She already had a dragon friend.
Asnelmo made them all say hello and tell her their names, but the only one that stuck in her mind right away was Bryal, a slim young woman almost her own age. She seemed to share Dorelle’s excitement about dragons. Most of the others quickly returned to whatever tasks they had been given. Soon, Dorelle stood alone with Bryal and wondered what was going to happen.
“Bryal, why don’t you take Helna with you and show her what we’ve been working on?”
“Of course, Asnelmo.”
Bryal took her to a spot behind one tent. “We’re to pretend that we got stranded and have to repair our gear.”
Dorelle looked at the heap of leather straps on the ground. “All of that goes on a dragon?”
Her new friend laughed. “Oh, yes. Mosgar is good about letting us practice.”
“Is that one of the dragons?”
Almost instinctively, Dorelle reached out to them with her mind.
“Yes, that’s Asnelmo’s dragon. Zomel is less friendly.”
“Oh.” Dorelle withdrew from both of them, remembering the Dragon Master’s words about not talking to her dragon. “Do you ever talk to them?”
Bryal stared at her. “Nobody talks to someone else’s dragon. That’s terribly rude. You know that.”
“I…” Dorelle felt utterly guilty. No, she hadn’t known that, and now she was even more grateful to Kranis to have answered her little welcoming thought. And she quickly withdrew her mind from looking at Mosgar.
“You didn’t know, did you?” Bryal shook her head. “You’re from a dragonrider family and didn’t know?”
“I… I was not expected to… to become one.”
Bryal frowned at her. “Most of us are here because their parents are dragonriders. I happen to like dragons, but not everyone does. It’s our duty to do it anyway. How did your family ignore that?”
“I… we live far away.” Dorelle didn’t even know if that was true.
“That’s a stupid reason.” Bryal looked angry. “Dragons fly everywhere.”
“They do, don’t they?” Dorelle tried to change the subject, hoping to mollify the young woman. She needed friends here in this camp.
“Yes.” Bryal was grinning again. “And if you want to ride one, you need to learn about the harness.”
“Show me.” Dorelle managed a grin that was quickly echoed. And then she desperately tried to remember all the names for the different pieces of leather.
“And… and how do you mend it all?”
“Well, we’re supposed to carry a needle and thread at all times,” Bryal explained.
“That makes sense.” Dorelle fingered a place on a strap that seemed worn and stretched. “I would replace this, if I could.”
Bryal took it from her. “Yes, that is a weak spot. Harness breaking in mid-flight is a very bad thing.”
“A dragon doesn’t drop their rider, do they?”
“No, but Ferren said that during fighting, there will be many fast turns.”
Fighting. Dorelle’s heart twisted in her chest. Would her dragon have to fight other dragons? She made herself nod.
“Now, let me teach you how to replace a worn part of a strap. Leather is expensive.”
The rest of the day went quickly, and Bryal clearly enjoyed having company. Dorelle was used to not eating much during the day, but she was very hungry once Asnelmo called them all to the middle of the camp. A fire was burning there.
“And now, you get to roast your own food,” their teacher announced.
Dorelle grinned to herself. She had roasted fish over a fire many times in her life. And getting meat was a real treat. Soon, she had spitted pieces of it on a sharpened twig, alternating it with slices of vegetables, just as she would have done with fish.
“Oh, I never thought about that,” Bryal said, copying her. “That’s clever.
Asnelmo gave her a little nod, but Ferren frowned. Did that man like anyone at all, she wondered.
Just as they had all settled down to roast their spitted meat, Dorelle sensed a dragon coming closer. Instinctively, she reached out with her mind, to take a closer look, and read anger in his mind.
“Get away!” she called, jumped up still grabbing her food and dashed among the tents. Bryal followed her immediately, but most others just stared at her.
A moment later, a black dragon swooped in on them, roaring wildly. It didn’t flame, however, and in a heartbeat, she recognized Zomel, Ferren’s dragon.
Dorelle stopped her flight, turned around and watched the dragon circle the camp and chase the stragglers. They would be dead by now, if that had been a real attack.
“So,” a voice said, too close for her liking. “You knew he was coming.”
Dorelle turned and faced Ferren. He looked less than pleased. “Yes,” she said simply. “I could sense him. But why is he so angry?”
Ferren’s eyebrows drew together. “You’re too clever for your own good, girl. Keep your mind where it belongs, away from my dragon.”
There was only one thing to do. “Yes, Ferren,” she said, looking at the ground.
“Good.” Their trainer growled the word, and Dorelle told herself to be much more careful. Even though she couldn’t help sensing dragons and their moods.
“You knew.” Bryal was staring at her, whispering the words. “But how did you know?”
Dorelle shrugged. “I can sense him. And Mosgar. It’s easy.”
“I can, too, but only if I focus on them.”
“I… I practiced that a lot.”
“Really? But Asnelmo said you just learned to hear dragons.”
Dorelle blushed, shocked she had been caught in a lie already. “I… I didn’t tell them right away.”
Bryal frowned. “But why wouldn’t you?”
That was the problem with lies. Start telling them, and they got worse.
Dorelle thought hard but couldn’t come up with anything that made sense. And that woman was waiting for an answer.
“I… just wasn’t sure.”
Bryal cocked her head and lowered her voice. “I know when someone is hiding something. So we’ll just let it go.”
“Thank you.” Dorelle couldn’t believe that someone would just let her off the hook. But she knew that from now on, Bryal would be her friend, no matter what.
Bryal patted her shoulder. “We all hide things. So tell me, what do you like best about dragons?”
“Their strength!” Dorelle didn’t have to think about that. “And you?”
“The majestic way they look.” Bryal grinned.
“They do look majestic, true.” Dorelle watched Zomel land and return to a boring blue color. She quietly admitted to herself that she liked the black better.
“Why is he turning blue?” she asked Bryal, glad that nobody else was near.
“Ah, I think he and Ferren belong to the Third Blue Wing. That’s their color. See the rings on his neck?”
Dorelle took a closer look and counted three of them. “Yes. I had no idea.”
“All dragons have a color assigned to them, according to the jobs they do. The Wings have various colors, the couriers are green, and the Royal Guards are purple.”
“Of course.” Dorelle felt stupid again.
“And you really should know that if you come from a dragonrider family.” Bryal looked at her with renewed curiosity.
Dorelle decided to stop lying. “I don’t. But don’t tell anyone.”
“Oh.” Her new friend’s eyes went wide. “But you’re better than most of the trainees. I didn’t even sense Zomel coming.”
“I was keeping my mind open,” Dorelle admitted. “I just love sensing them. And I didn’t think they would mind.”
“They probably don’t.” Bryal sighed. “But Ferren does.”
“Do you know why?”
Bryal looked around. “Dragons are supposed to listen only to their riders. And never to speak to anyone else. Master Pesuma says that is necessary to control them.”
“Control them?” Dorelle didn’t like that thought. “But they are… they are wonderful and friendly and…”
“Not all of them.” Bryal sighed. “And you’d better keep those thoughts to yourself.”
“I… suppose.” Dorelle felt the joy in her heart shrivel. Why would people think dragons needed to be controlled?
“Everyone come back to the fire!” Asnelmo called at that moment, and Dorelle sighed. At least Bryal sat next to her, and neither of them had dropped their food in all the excitement.
Dorelle was the first to hold her skewer over the fire, and it took a moment for the others to copy here. She tried not to mind, but knew she was making their trainers notice her again. This was something she should avoid as much as possible.
But she couldn’t help herself. Why was everyone else so… strange?
“So. You all blithely ignored a dragon moving in on our camp. Except for Helna, and she hasn’t even been in training yet. What is wrong with you?” Ferren looked angry, and Dorelle couldn’t blame him.
Several of the other trainees glared at Dorelle, however, and she realized that she had made enemies of them, without intending to do so.
She felt bad and focused on turning her skewer for a while. And then she forced herself to listen to their trainer.
“You must be aware of your surroundings at all times,” Ferren was saying. “And once you have a dragon, you must, absolutely must be aware of it at every moment in your life. Dragons do unexpected things, and they can be ferocious beasts.”
Dorelle didn’t doubt that, but she also thought that no dragon would become a ferocious beast without a reason. Of course, it was possible that there were grumpy dragons, just as there were grumpy people.
Bryal was nodding, and Dorelle wondered what she was thinking. Maybe she could ask her later one.
“Helna. Tell us. How did you know about Zomel coming in?”
“Come on. Stand up and speak. You need to be able to follow orders, you know.” Scathing irony in those words, and they stung.
She stood, her skewer still in hand.
“I… I like dragons,” she said, unable to think much, trembling with a strange fear. She did not like Ferren and didn’t trust him.
“That is not good enough,” her trainer growled.
Dorelle took a deep breath, doing her best to calm herself and come up with an answer that would satisfy Ferren.
“I used to get teased by the boys,” she said, bending the truth a little. “So I tried to be aware of them all the time. And I just do the same with dragons.”
Asnelmo nodded, and Ferren grinned. “There you have it. And let me tell you, I will be just like those boys. I will tease you and hound you until you learn to be aware.”
Silence fell, and Dorelle sat down again, doing her best to become unnoticeable. The last thing she wanted was for Ferren to hound her.
Feeling rather inane, she held her skewer to the flames again, and when the meat was done, she ate her dinner directly from it, dripping hot.
Dorelle could feel all the eyes on her when she did that and soon, the others were copying her. And she didn’t like it one bit.
To be continued…
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