Dragon Rider Part Four: Ferrytown

Dragon4

A sudden cross wind ripped Emeri’s gloved hand from the saddle horn and shoved her back against the high rim of her saddle. She gasped and set her feet so that she wouldn’t tumble off her dragon and fall like a huge rain drop to the far away ground. Then the young princess ducked her head, gripped the blankets with her knees, and placed more weight in her stirrups. The constant roar of the wind buffeting her leather helmet had lulled her into a sleep-like trance. Even though the Dragon Owners Group had been riding for hours, any gust of wind could cause disaster.

Ahead of her the group spread out toward the horizon in staggered two by two formation. The sun was far behind them now, as they rode eastward toward the Crystal Mountains. As the sweep, she was responsible for making sure that none of the others were left behind. During the long day, the cloud of dragons flew as one with no incident. Soon they would reach Ferrytown and set down for the night.

The growing dusk revealed glimmering lights below them, reflected into the dark still lake that bordered the town. The tiny lit boxes that would be houses and buildings once they landed were arranged in a horseshoe, the open end meeting a large dock at the waterfront.

Suddenly the dragons in front of her dove straight down. Emeri and Petal followed into the twilight chill, joining the large group of dragons that had landed in a meadow outside of town. The princess quickly unbuckled her straps, and threw down the rope ladder she kept for group rides. Her sore muscles protesting, she climbed down the ladder to the welcome ground.

“Hey, Sweep,” Twinkle greeted her, already with her tack and bag in hand. “Great ride today. We all stayed together.”

“Not much for me to do,” Emeri replied. “Great dragons and great riding. My throat’s parched from that wind though.” She hopped back up the ladder a little to release her saddle and blanket. The heavy pile of leather and wool landed with a whoosh on the cool grass.

“Time for supper,” Twinkle said, “See you there.” Their leader hoisted up her load and headed to the inn.

A while later Emeri stumbled downstairs after a long bath, clean and stomach rumbling. The common room had a low ceiling with a roaring fireplace at one end, and was stuffed with long wood tables. Travelers laughed over tales as they converged upon Ferrytown before they set out for faraway destinations in the surrounding mountains.

“Emeri! Over here!” Worley shouted over the din, and she could barely glimpse his familiar face in the smoky room. Large women in tight-fitting dresses wove their way in between the tables with large tankards of ale that sloshed over the side on unsuspecting patrons. The princess carefully made her way to her friends, thinking that she might have waiting on the bath until after supper.

Anzel, Worley, Twinkle, and four other riders were crammed into table, jealously guarding their bowls of savory stew. She squeezed in next to Worley, and as if on cue one of the bar maids slapped a tankard and bowl in front of her.

Gratefully, Emeri raised the bowl to her mouth and delicately sipped the hot soup. Chunks of tender meat, savory but of unknown origin, tasting better than any royal feast after a long day riding. She took a swig of her icy, bitter ale, and sighed with contentment.

Several bowls and tankards later, when their ferocious appetites had been appeased, the riders sat back, loosened their trousers and talked about their day. The surrounding chatter provided the illusion of privacy.

“What a great ride today,” Twinkle said, lifting her mug. “All our riders did a great job staying in formation.”

“That wind was fierce,” Worley said. “I felt like my head got whipped all the way around!”

“It could be worse,” his brother encouraged. “The further we get into the mountains, the more the wind shoots through the passes. Need to keep your head down.” Although his tone was light, concern glowed in his eyes. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Emeri almost get swept out of her saddle.”

“It wasn’t as bad as that,” the princess corrected. “I was being lulled to sleep by Petal’s smooth ride. It’s hard to stay awake when you’re riding the strongest dragon in the group.”

“Hold your tongue!” Twinkle said with a grin. “The ride’s more set by the rider than the dragon. Don’t you remember what I taught you?” She tipped back the dregs of her mug and motioned with it to a passing bar maid.

“I remember everything you told me,” Emeri said. She looked at the circle of friends around her and wondered if these would be the memories she would take out, like old love letters, when her life had been diminished into her royal duties.

“It was so clear today, I could see all the way to edge of Tessar,” Anzel said. “But not as clear as the day we flew over Razor Ridge.” He gave a conspiring nod toward Twinkle.

“How could I forget?” Twinkle added. “The air was so clear it hurt to look too long. We could see caterpillars crawling on the leaves of Razor Forest.” She gratefully accepted a full tankard from the bar maid.

“Razor Ridge?” Worley gasped. “Isn’t that where the Bearded Ones live? Did you see any of them?”

Emeri hid her smirk behind her tankard. This was the same story that she had been told on her first dragon riding trip.

“Oh, there were hundreds of them running around,” Anzel continued in a deadly serious voice. “They had carts pulled by oxen. Carts full of gold, rubies, and diamonds from their mines deep in the heart of the mountains.”

“And even with clear skies, they weren’t able to see us,” Twinkle added. “Their eyes couldn’t see in the bright sunshine after all the time they spend inside the mountain.”

“That’s when Tonlon came up with a great idea,” Anzel said with a nod to an older rider with a long grey braid that sat with them at their table. “Tonlon, do you want to tell my brother what your idea was?”
The man took a long drink, and answered. “We wanted a remembrance, a token of that day. So that when we sat around and talked about seeing the Bearded Ones, people would believe us.” He narrowed his eyes at Worley, who hung on his every word. “You do believe us, right?”

“Of course,” Worley said. “We’re all dragon riders here.”

Emeri choked back a laugh.

“Were you there, Emeri?” Worley asked.

“No,no,” Emeri managed to answer. “That was before my time as a rider.”

“Well, you see, as that day was so clear, we could fly next to each other and make up a plan,” the man continued.

“So Tonlon and Anzel followed the Bearded Ones’ caravan that wound its way through the mountains,” Twinkle added to the tale. “Anzel took the lead, and told Blade to set some trees on fire in the canyon, right after the other wagons passed, separating the last wagon from the group.”

“Tonlon came from behind and his Beauty stole one of the chests right off the wagon, in a flash, before anyone could do anything,” Anzel said.

“What did the Bearded Ones do?” Worley asked.

“Not a lot they could do, I guess,” Tonlon said. “The dragon riders were gone in an instant, and they had to rescue their wagon from the fire. What an adventure!”

“But what was in the chest?” Worley wondered.

“That’s the funny thing,” Twinkle said. “When we finally got to our stop for the night, we decided to open it up. It was so heavy; we were sure it was filled with gold.”

“What was in it?” Worley said, his ale forgotten.

“Biscuits,” Tonlon said with a sigh.

“Heaviest biscuits I’ve ever seen,” Anzel said, shaking his head.

“Hard as rocks,” Twinkle said.

Then the entire table erupted in laughter. Worley looked around in puzzlement, until Emeri couldn’t bear it any longer.

“They’re yanking on your saddle strap, Worley!” the princess confessed. “They told the same story to me on my first trip. It never happened.”

The young man’s face turned from confusion to anger to realization. “This is part of my initiation, isn’t it? I’m really a dragon rider now!”

“If your sore bottom doesn’t do it, Anzel’s stories will guarantee it,” she said, giving him a quick hug.

The fire finally burned low, and it was time for sleep before the long ride tomorrow. Twinkle settled their account with the bar maid. Emeri eased her sore legs up the stairs behind the rest of the riders, again swept with grief for the life she would leave behind.

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Under the Thunder: our first time riding West Coast Thunder

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The moon cast ghostly shadows on the asphalt as my husband backed our Harley into the curb on a deserted side street.  I yawned in spite of my racing heart. Four thirty in the morning is not the usual kickstands-up time for a HOG ride. Clutching my thermos of coffee close to my leather jacket like a favorite teddy bear, Frank and I walked down the row of k-rails to a table. This was our first West Coast Thunder, and we had chosen to see it from a volunteer’s perspective.

Slowly others joined us, zipped up in jackets against the breaking day chill. “Gather round,” our leader called and we pressed closer for last minute instructions. Everything was organized to make sure that riders that registered this morning would move quickly through the lines and get set up for the ride. Since midnight, teams had been tirelessly working, setting up the rails and blocking off the streets in order to stage thousands of motorcycle riders for the parade.

Our marching orders given, we scattered to our tables with our box of registration forms, credit card machines, and cash box. Monica and Jeff were the other couple assigned to our table, for which I was grateful as she had already been doing registration before the event.

The sporadic growl of engines disrupted the early morning silence. The sun emerged and everything was bathed in a pale pink glow. Suddenly we were in business as a long line of bikers wearing the same colors pulled up and parked in front of us. Beyond them, on the other side of the rail, prepaid riders were riding up to their spot in line.

Monica and I pointed at the places on the forms that needed to be completed and signed. We passed out headlight stickers, drawing tickets, and concert tickets. As our line grew, Jeff and Frank greeted riders and collected money.

In the variety of faces we saw that morning, there was one common factor. Whether young or old, male or female, married or single, all reflected the same respect. Respect for our military, those who serve, those who had served, and those who gave their lives for their country. No matter what political view they might hold, today’s parade was for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Hour after hour passed, and the rows of rails were jammed with all types of motorcycles. A hum of thousands of conversations hung over the cluster of chrome and metal like a gigantic bee hive. I wondered if there would be enough room for everyone, but the bikes kept coming. In the midst of the excitement, HOG officers rode around on golf carts, picking up cash, delivering pastries, and checking on us.

Finally, we got the signal to shut down and join the party. Frank fired up our bike and we circled around the block to find the end of the prepaid riders’ line. At first I thought we would take off right away, but this was the next stage of waiting, as the color guard ceremony and other festivities up at the dealership were still playing out. Later I would look at the video that other HOGs made and entertain a twinge of regret. If we hadn’t been doing registration, we could have been up there with our other HOG friends watching the show.

Squinting in the bright morning sun, I finished my last sip of coffee and looked around at the small group of volunteers ready to ride. Even though we were some of the first people to arrive, we would ride around the middle of the pack. But West Coast Thunder wasn’t really about the ceremonies, or even the concert to follow later. It was about remembering those who had served our country, who probably never received honor during their lives. Perhaps the best way to honor them was through serving others.

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Dragon Rider- Part Three

dragon 3

The pale dawn’s light drew a sigh from Emeri as she watched Lacey jerk open the curtains in her bedchamber. Her bleach white room was bathed in pink, like the shimmering scales of her dragon. Lately, everything around her reminded her that her time with Petal was coming to an end.

“Good dawn, my Lady,” her maid greeted her mistress with red eyes. Both of them had sat up and talked away the night. They knew that after Silverpointe, nothing would be the same. Emeri’s carefree days spent riding the wind would be replaced by fittings, meetings, and party arrangements. Although her maid lacked the courage to ride with Emeri on Petal, nonetheless she enjoyed the contagious excitement of the dragon riders, and felt her mistress’ approaching loss.

“Everything is packed?” Emeri said as she struggled out of her bedcovers.

“The saddlebags are down at the stables, along with your riding costume,” Lacey confirmed, as she opened the heavy armoire and pulled out a black tunic and trousers, Emeri’s favorite outfit. Definitely not something First Mistress would choose for her. But delicate silk had no place on top of a rough dragon’s back.

After she was dressed and devoured her tea and toast, Emeri rushed down to the stables. Anzel and Worley, as well as the rest of the dragon riders would meet her there. The open field near the stables provided a good place to stage the dragons. Outside the main castle gate, the vendors for the Flower Festival were setting up their stalls. Farmers came from distant lands to compete in contests for the finest roses, creating an overwhelming perfume that blanketed the estate for days.

As she drew near, Emeri smelled her favorite fragrance—the sulfurous smoke of dragons. The soft meadow grass was beaten down by trampling dragon feet, and a grey cloud clung to the morning mist. Row after row of bobbing heads and flapping wings waiting with nervous excitement for the ride to begin. Stable hands ran back and forth between them with buckets of water and freshly killed rabbits.

“Well, now that you’ve finally gotten out of your big, puffy princess bed, I guess we can leave,” a voice said behind her. She whirled around and gave a huge hug to a large woman with two long silver braids.

“Good dawn, Twinkle,” Emeri said. “I’m glad you’re leading the ride.” Her eyes seemed a little blurry, so she dabbed them with her hankie, for what she knew would not be the last time.

“Well, of course I wouldn’t miss Silverpointe,” Twinkle replied, her wrinkled face arranged into a big smile. “No yellow fever can keep me down!” The ride captain had recently recovered from a long bout with the dread disease that had ravaged the queendom last winter.

“I don’t think death would keep you from a ride,” the princess agreed. It was fitting that her first dragon riding instructor would lead her last ride. Many hours of flying lessons had convinced her that the older woman was the tougher than an old goat, as well as the finest dragon rider in the land.

“Gather round, everyone!” Anzel shouted from the main stable door. Riders popped out from the rows of dragons and spilled out from the stable, crowding close. Twinkle stood up on a box on the front steps, and addressed the group.

“On our first day, we’re going as far as Ferrytown,” Twinkle said, and a rumbling started through the crowd. “I know some of you think that’s too far to push our dragons, but the court druids predict a storm by the end of our second day, and I’d like to get as far into the mountains as we can, in case we have to wait it out at the lodge.”

Emeri nodded her approval and caught a wink from her instructor. Some of the riders were more interested in the food and drink than the actual riding. She had complete confidence in Petal’s endurance. Also she knew Twinkle would allow the dragons rest stops.

“After we make the lodge,” the ride captain continued, “we’ll cross over the mountains at Crystal Bowl, and drop down into Silverpointe. The innkeeper is expecting us, so he has hired out the rest of the village to provide enough beds. You’ll be ready for the hot springs and mountain brandy by that time.”
“Are we heading back on weeksend?” Worley asked with a flushed face. This was his first overnight ride, and he had been insufferable for weeks.

“Of course, weather permitting,” Twinkle replied. “But we’re not gathered here to talk. Dragon riders, let’s ride!” At her cry, the group dispersed to their mounts, donning helmets and jackets as they went.

“Emeri, we’re with you,” Anzel said as he passed her by, loaded down with bulging saddlebags. She closed her leather jacket with its silver fasteners and grabbed her helmet and gloves. Her saddlebags were already loaded onto Petal, thanks to Lacey. As she walked through the downy grass, her eyes savored the commotion surrounding her. These were people who loved adventure, not politics. Her kind of people.

Petal waited expectantly for her, standing still in the sea of multicolored dragons. She was the only pink one there, as her breed was rare to be tamed. Emeri remembered the first time she had seen her dragon, when the royal family had taken a holiday at the lodge in the Crystal Mountains. She was only a child of eight seasons, full of curiosity and devoid of fear. While her nurse was settling the other royal children down after the evening meal, Emeri had snuck out to see the famous sunset over the shimmering mountains. When she heard honking, she had to investigate, expecting a wayward goose. But instead, a cat-sized pink lizard belched tiny puffs of smoke and scurried over to jump in her arms.

So her dragon had found her, and they were inseparable ever since. Since it was rare that a dragon chose to be gentled, First Mistress could not forbid Emeri to keep Petal. When the First Mistress showed only a cold disapproval to any of Emeri’s accomplishments, her dragon always showered her with affection. If being wrapped with prickly scales and hot breath could be called affection.

“It’s going to be alright,” Emeri said, as she climbed up the ladder to her saddle. “You’ll love the Crystal Mountains. We’ll find more of your kind so you won’t be alone.” She tried to keep her voice strong and confident.

She waited silently as the rows of dragons formed into pairs. Since she rode sweep, she had to wait for everyone else to take off. It was her job to make sure no rider was left behind on their journey. Worley turned back and waved, and then followed his brother up into the sky. Emeri clicked her tongue and powerful wings lifted them both up to join the other riders. The roaring wind, the woolly blanket of clouds and the morning sun’s sudden brilliance were captured in her heart where she would treasure them, even when her future kept her caged on the cold ground.

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Finding Gold in My Story

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A weekend in the mountains sounds restful, but for the twenty five writers that attended the Southern California Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Retreat in Idyllwild, it turned out to be three days of hard work. The focus was on middle grade and young adult works in progress, which placed me in the company of my genre peers, rather than in the mixed company of most critique groups I had attended.

For me it was the last effort I was willing to extend toward a project I had been writing for three years. A book that I had thought I had finished, but had been quietly rejected by agents for the past two years. The College of the Crones had sat unloved in my document files, while my creative nonfiction articles were getting snapped up by travel journals. The first time I’d thought the book was finished, I spent worthwhile money on professional editing. I had even pitched my book to an agent at a writing conference, and took her advice to heart, getting rid of one of my main characters. But I was tired of working without result. The title of the retreat was “Finding Gold,” but I wasn’t sure that my book had anything valuable left.

The dream team of masterminds behind the weekend included Heather Buchta, who organized a group of writers who mostly had never met each other into focused critique groups. A few weeks before I headed up the mountain, Heather emailed our group with a request to share our photo and synopsis of the work we were planning to share. This proved to be brilliant, as we knew who to look for when we arrived. Also we didn’t have to spend a lot of time getting our group up to speed on our stories.

Although I had attended previous writing conferences, this one proved to be the most productive. We had four sessions of critiques with our small group of six and our leader. In addition, an agent, editor, or published author would also sit in with us. Each writer had fifteen minutes during each session to use as they wished, timed by our leader. Some writers read different chapters each session, while others took the feedback and revised the same passage, printing out copies for the group on the printers that some of the leaders brought with them.

Between critique sessions, Kate Sullivan, senior editor at Delacorte Press, and Erin Young, agent at Dystel, Goderich and Bourret, gave brief, useful presentations on theme, query letters, and pitches. Estelle Laure and Steve Bramucci, published authors, told their tales about being in the trenches as writers. These session drew laughs as well as tears, and plenty of “ah-ha!” moments.

But I will always treasure Kate and Estelle contributing to my critique group. They set a high bar for courtesy and professionalism. And I will never forget the passion and meticulous attention they showed toward my manuscript. Priceless.

Hikes and writing time were built into our schedule, which provided additional time to share with other writers. Wine and appetizers in front of a roaring fire at a nearby restaurant made us feel like we were in a story. The weather became a main character over the weekend, as we changed from sunny spring weather on Friday to a Sunday morning blanket of snow.

All weekend long, I cherished each stolen moment to revise a few more chapters. With the help of one of the leaders, I reprinted two chapters that I reworked after the first two critique sessions. I worked with a feverish zeal that reminded me of my rough draft days. It was hard to put my computer away.

Suddenly, it was Sunday morning and time for awards. If we chose, we could have submitted our first ten pages for a contest a month before the retreat. A team of published writers and editors judged the manuscripts in a blind contest. The two categories of middle grade and young adult were judged separately, with first place and honorable mention in each. As the leaders announced the young adult winners, I hoped that someone from my critique group would win since the quality of the work shared had been excellent. What I wasn’t prepared for was when they called my name for honorable mention.

As I stood up to receive my certificate in a daze, I realized that my book, almost abandoned for the immediate gratification of shorter articles, deserved to live. The College of the Crones would be finished, but with new direction and inspiration.

After lunch, I headed down the mountain through a snowstorm, eager to get home and continue revisions on my book. Instead of rocks, I had found the gold hidden in my story. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a writing retreat for works in progress, don’t hesitate to sign up. It turned out to be a weekend I will always treasure.

 

 

 

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Lemon Bars at Dante’s Peak

bad water basin

As I savored the sweet tanginess of my lemon bar, I looked over the edge of Dante’s Peak into the vast expanse of Death Valley. I shivered in the icy wind, despite the sun beating down on us. The Inland Empire HOGs were taking a much-needed break before zigzagging down the narrow road back down to Furnace Springs.

As I finished my treat, I looked around at the diverse group of travelers that had led my husband and me out of suburban Riverside and into the remnants of the Wild West. We were surrounded by businessmen, teachers, and salespeople, as well as a man who was a talented baker.  There were wives who rode behind their husbands, as well as wives who rode their own Harleys. This journey drew us together as teammates and family, cowboys and cowgals gathered together at the campfire.

Bad Water Basin spread out before us, a still white lake surrounded by a multi-colored tapestry of minerals. Death Valley in winter seemed tame, but the blasted barren ground spoke of summer’s inferno only a few months away. We took pictures, chugged water, and huddled together to talk.

At a signal, helmets were buckled, engines roared, and the bikes lined up single file to gently roll down the hill to the open road. The bikes descended like sure-footed burros and soon we left the lookout point far behind.

How could I have noticed the rugged stripes of crumbling rock walls from inside the confines of a car? How could I have welcomed the sun’s warmth on my face inside a temperature controlled vehicle? Only a Harley trip can bring you face to face with the same West that challenged forty-niners to gamble their lives to reach their dreams of gold.

Who would expect homemade baked goods on a motorcycle trip?

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The Dragon Rider- Part Two

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“You’re selling your dragon?” Worley interrupted, as he caught up to Emeri and Anzel who were deep in serious conversation. His dusty grey hair hung over his widened eyes, his usual happy face darkened.

“That’s no way to address a royal, even though she may be the youngest,” his brother snapped as he cuffed the back of Worley’s head. He wanted to do more, but his other hand was full of saddle and tack.

“Sorry, Lady Emeri,” the younger brother said as he rubbed his head with one hand. The other hand held a dark brown leather saddle with a strap wound around it.

“You’re excused,” Emeri said, crinkling her tiny nose. “I never liked all that formal stuff anyway. When we’re riding, I’m just Emeri, dragon rider. I don’t have to think about all the duties that I’ll be immersed in when I return.” She sighed and looked toward the dragon stables they were headed toward. “The First Mistress wants me to sell Petal after the Silverpoint ride.”

“But we’re going to come up with a plan so she won’t have to do that,” Anzel added.

“But you’re a princess, Emeri,” Worley protested. “You can do whatever you want to!”

“Actually, it means I have practically no control over my life,” Emeri said. “First Mistress is determined to marry me off like my sisters. It seems that there’s no shortage of trade agreements that need to be cemented with a “joyful union.” I would have thought that Evelon’s marriage to the Baron of Duns and Ellenia’s with the Prince of Overland would have been enough. The suffering needs to be complete with taking away my freedom as well.” She shifted the weight of her saddle to the other shoulder, as if the weight of her words was adding to her burden.

“That too heavy for you. Let me take it,” Anzel pleaded with her. “Why do you always insist on carrying your own saddle?”

“It makes me feel like a real dragon rider,” Emeri replied. “Just let me do it. No one will see.”

“Why can’t you be a dragon rider anymore?” Worley wondered.

Emeri sighed, and the crunch of their steps filled the silence. The path led them through a speckled glade of white trees that separated the castle from the animal enclosures. It was a perfect sunny day for the capricious days of planting season. Finally she said, “First Mistress says that I must be married. It is her royal opinion that a prince would not want to marry a dragon rider. I need to settle down and take on more responsibilities.”

Anzel grinned. “Like producing royal heirs?” He was the oldest of the trio, nearly sixteen, and thought he was very worldly.

Flipping back her hair, Emeri retorted, “That’s not the only responsibility I’ll have. I will entertain leaders from all over Tessar. I’ll have to study what foods they prefer and how to greet them properly.”

“Doesn’t sound as fun as dragon riding,” Worley concluded.

The three friends arrived at the tall stone building that had a large chimney coming out of the center of the tiled roof. Smoke was curling out of it, but it wasn’t from a fire in the hearth.

A rumble of excitement greeted them as they walked in. “Petal,” Emeri cried, “I’ve missed you. Are you ready for a short trip around the queendom?” Her shimmering pale grey dragon shook its head, sending puffs of smoke up toward the high ceiling. The dragon stalls were huge, as was needed for keeping dragons, and built of special wood that was naturally fire resistant. Petal’s head hung over the six foot gate, and eagerly sniffed her mistress. At the familiar sound, three dragon grooms emerged from the tack room to saddle up their mounts.

Anzel and Worley greeted their dragons with apples they had brought from the main house. The older brother’s dragon, Blade, was dark green, with curly feathers that made a ring around the base of its long neck. Mist was Worley’s dragon, a smaller dark grey dragon with a shorter neck and a tail that had a hard bone shaped like a hammer at its end. The smaller dragons gobbled up the treats, turning their juices into steam as they crunched.

The grooms led the dragons outside and carried over the ladders to help the riders climb up onto the large creatures. Emeri scooted up her ladder with practiced ease and strapped in around her waist and legs. Petal watched her with a large purple reptilian eye, smoking curling out of her nostrils, waiting for her command.

When they were all ready, Emeri shouted in an unprincess-like voice, “Let’s ride!” and a loud whoosh of wings signaled their departure.

As they rose through the clouds, she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. Rushing wind whispered promises of freedom, and crisp fresh air filled her lungs with renewed energy. Dragon riding was her escape from a world she had no control over. To her right flew Anzel and Blade, who was wearing a huge grin. A glance to the left showed Worley holding his reins in one hand, his other on Mist’s neck.

The clouds below them thinned, and she could see the multicolored patchwork of fields surrounding Thorington Castle. For generations the Thorington line had controlled vast holdings of fertile farmland, which ensured their place as the bread basket of Tessar. Far to the south rose the wrinkled mountains of the Bearded Ones, the source of strange tales. To the west the deep blue ocean caressed the beaches of Ingest, while behind her stood the icy tips of the Crystal Mountains. All lovely lands of deep forests and tinkling streams. Only the eastern deserts were barren. From up here, all existed in harmony with no political turmoil or peasant squabbles.

The pulsing rhythm of Petal’s muscled wings reminded her of a pendulum clock, one that was counting her moments until she would have to give up dragon riding. What could she do? She knew that she could enlist the help of her dragon riding club, but to do what? Could she hide Petal somewhere with another rider’s help, and sneak away to ride as much as she could?

She knew in her heart it wouldn’t be fair to her spirited dragon to keep her secreted away. And she wasn’t sure how much sneaking away she’d be able to do once she was a royal wife. But she knew one thing — there was no way she was going to sell her dragon. If she couldn’t find a way to keep her, there was only one thing left to do.

Emeri would ride her back to the land of her dragon’s hatching in the Crystal Mountains and set her free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Dragon Rider

  dragon

            The cool night air swirled as her dragon swooped down to land in the clearing. With a whoosh the heavy beast settled into the soft meadow. Emeri released her breath, and gratefully unfastened her leather helmet, pried it off her head, and shook out her chin length black hair.

“Perfect landing, as usual, Lady Emeri,” a soft voice called below her as a ladder was gently set up against Petal’s side. One hand took her helmet and the other assisted her down to the ground, not needed but appreciated just the same. Her house servant handed her master a crystal goblet of apple wine. The rider downed it in one long draw, while the servant sighed her disapproval.

The dragon turned her serpentine neck around to sniff her passenger, who chuckled as the young woman pulled a slice of sausage out of her trouser pocket. Petal extended her long tongue to retrieve the treat.

“Good girl, Petal,” her rider crooned, patting her gloved hands against the dragon’s rough scales. “The credit for our landing should go to you.”

“Glad to have you back, my Lady,” the servant said. “By your leave, I will take Petal back to her stable.” She reached out to take back the goblet.

“Go on, now. Make sure she has plenty to eat,” Emeri reminded her servant. The young woman acknowledged with a quick bow and reached up to take Petal’s harness. She led the dragon away, fading as ghosts in the twilight, Lacey with her pale braid hair and white dress, and the huge metallic pink dragon. She stopped, and turned back.

“Forgive me, my lady. I almost forgot —The First Mistress wants to see you upon your return.”

Emeri’s twinkling green eyes suddenly turned stormy, and she stomped off to her rooms.

A few hours later, she emerged, hair brushed, face scrubbed, and cinched into her dress and girdle, Emeri descended the worn stone stairs to the library, where she knew The First Mistress would be sitting in front of a roaring fire, keeping the still cool nights at bay. At the door, she knocked lightly, and prepared her best obedient face. The door opened a crack, revealing a middle-aged blonde woman in a white dress.

Upon recognizing her face, the woman frowned as if her presence was disturbing the peace. “Good evening, Lady Emeri. The First Mistress will see you now.” She opened the door, and Emeri straightened up, lifted her chin, and walked in.

The walls were covered in bookcases that stretched up three levels, with a tall ladder on wheels in the corner. The two tall narrow windows on the opposite wall were swathed in heavy red silk, keeping out chill. Three chandeliers stretched down from the ceiling, covered in glowing lamps safely enclosed in glass. As massive and imposing as the scale of the library, an equally imposing small ancient white haired woman with white hair sat wrapped in grey down-stuffed coverings by the fire. Her shadow seemed to fill the room, and her wrinkles rearranged into a questioning stare as Emeri approached. A slight nod toward a chair was command enough for Emeri as she took her seat facing the older woman. The servant exited the room quietly and closed the door.

Emeri knew she should not speak first, but she couldn’t help herself. She was sixteen seasons old now, a full grown adult, not a mere timid child. “Blessed First Mistress, I pray that your days have been full of grace, and your evenings full of peace.” It sounded like an appropriate greeting toward an elder.

The old woman closed her eyes and sighed. “Just when I’m certain you’ve come into maturity, you have to jump right in and make a mess of things. You can’t even wait a moment for us to address you.”

“But First Mistress, by law I am your daughter. Aren’t there some privileges that I’m due?” Emeri just managed to keep the whining tone out of her voice.

“The law does not do away with courtesy. Remember your lessons, and they will serve you well.” The older woman paused to take a cautious sip of her steaming tea. “Thimble poured you some tea. Drink some to calm yourself.” She nodded toward a side table that featured a silver tea service.

Emeri pulled herself out of the overstuffed chair and retrieved her cup. Then she sat down, and obediently sipped her tea, hoping that the steam would cover the reddening of her face. Moments hung in the air between them until the First Mistress decided to talk.

“Now that you’ve reached your sixteenth season, it is time for us to plan your marriage. Even though you are an awkward tiny little thing, you manage to clean up well, and of course you have the finest clothes and hairdressers. My steward, Nathaniel, will create a list of potential suitors, and we will entertain them for the Flower Festival coming up. We should have just enough time to get everything together by then.” She fixed Emeri with a stern gaze that invited no criticism.

“But First Mistress,” Emeri said through clenched teeth, “The dragon ride to Silverpoint always takes place during the Flower Festival. The DOGs need me to ride sweep. There’s going to be at least fifty riders from our kingdom going. I can’t miss it.” Her stomach curdled, and she hastily set down her teacup and saucer before she threw it into the fire.

“That brings us to the next subject,” The First Mistress continued, a tiny smirk appearing in her wrinkles. “Your inappropriate obsession with dragon riding will stop. It was suitable as a hobby when you were a child, but now you are too valuable to risk yourself up in the skies, holding onto a beast!”

“A beast?” Emeri barely kept her voice to a ladylike volume. “Petal is not a beast! She’s my best friend!”

The older woman sighed again and shook her head. “That proves our point, Lady Emeri. Now that you are a woman, you will find friendship other places. Perhaps if you are blessed by the Moon Mother, you will find it with your husband. This dragon nonsense ceases at once.”

Emeri knew that arguing with her foster mother would do no good, but her heart was breaking, and tears threatened her composure. She had known that The First Mistress did not approve of her dragon riding, but she never thought she would forbid it. There was no recourse. At least openly.

“Blessed First Mother,” she said instead. “I know that my life is to serve the Woodland queendom. My fate is in your hands, to do with as Sun Father and Moon Mother would reveal to you. I also know that a marriage alliance will strengthen our land. With such a destiny before me, could you fault me for seeking what pleasures I can find before I must play my role? Such a small thing, like the Silverpoint ride, would make it easier for me to attend to my courtship.” She held her breath and waited, her face controlled in respect.

The First Mistress lifted her eyebrow as if she didn’t expect this answer from the most difficult of her children. She drained the rest of her cup, and set it delicately back in its saucer, and placed it on her side table before answering.

“We are encouraged that you are ready to accept the responsibilities of your position. Perhaps a small indulgence like a last dragon ride would not be too much to ask. You may join the Silverpoint ride, and during it find a buyer for your dragon. You will have no further need of it when you return.” She gestured slightly with her hand, which Emeri knew was her dismissal. She tried not to fall on her face as she hastened out the door in her satin slippers.

After climbing up the stairs, unlacing her corset as she went, Emeri collapsed in her velvet dressing chair near the window. The full moon bathed the room in shades of blue that turned to purple as they mixed with the pink hues of her fireplace. She finally lost all control, and collapsed into sobs. A door opened, and Lacey came quickly to see what was wrong.

“Oh, Lacey!” she sobbed. “First Mistress is going to send Petal away. I have to stop riding! What am I going to do?”

Her servant wiggled into the chair next to her and put her arms around her. “Don’t cry, my Lady. She’ll know you cried if your eyes are puffy.” She pulled out a scented linen handkerchief. “Take this. You’ll think of something. You always do.”

The dejected young woman wiped her eyes, and looked out the window, looking for an answer somewhere. Her eyes glowed in the moonlight, and her face settled to stone. Emeri had always tried to be a mostly obedient daughter, at least as far as anyone knew. But now she was an adult, and needed to think for herself. She couldn’t live without Petal and dragon riding. She would have to think like a dragon rider and come up with a solution.

 

 

 

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