I am working on a new dragon series in the same world as DRAGON SCHOOL . This new series is called DRAGON LEGACY and today I'd like to offer you an early look at the first chapter of the first episode (unedited.) I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!
The best part of Dragon School used to be choosing your dragon. It was the part people told their children and grandchildren about — if they lived that long.
Now, the best part of Dragon School is when your dragon chooses you. It’s the part everyone talks about and the part that gets ragged beggars, stout young apprentices, and silken-clad youth to abandon everything and journey to the lonely cliffs of Dragon School. There, they risk their lives for a chance to fly with the dragons.
I clutched the cloak around me tightly with just one hand and glanced down the line of bedraggled hopefuls dotted along the cliff edge. Despite the bright morning, gusty winds tore at cloaks and dresses, and carefully dressed hair, leaving everyone just a little bedraggled.
We all wanted to be chosen by a dragon today.
Me most of all.
Being chosen by a dragon is the part we all dreamt about. It’s what makes people take the long journey to the cliffs of Dragon School and it’s the part that gets them through the most dreadful early days when it seems as though they’ll fail to ride their dragon at all. For while dragons are no longer enslaved to man, and while they might choose their own fates and come to us willingly, learning to ride together as a dragon and human bonded pair is still no easy matter and many humans and dragons fail in the attempt.
“You’ll do just fine,” the girl beside me leaned in to whisper. Her voice was crystal-clear and her eyes bright as if she held her own stars right inside their blue irises.
She was dressed in fine purple sky silk and she tossed her mass of red curls over her shoulder with the kind of confidence of those who had four healthy limbs and a bright mind. I didn’t envy her whole body, or her beauty, or her wealth. I only envied her this chance.
I bit my lip and felt the tension ratchet up tighter as I tried to draw deeper into the woolen cloak I pulled around me. It was charcoal grey and indistinct, the same color as the rocks. Please blend in, I begged it. Please don’t let anyone notice me.
But the kind girl beside me wasn’t helping at all.
She pointed down the stark rock to a dragon cote that I knew held Achrenshath — a pesky white dragon with a bad temper who always smelled of sulfur. Maybe he’d choose her and she’d learn to fly from place to place granting healing to the sick.
“Imagine if we get to ride dragons like him!” she whispered.
If I were her, I’d want to be picked by a Red and go to war, or a Green and go adventuring, but I was not her, and if someone offered me a White dragon — even if it was Achrenshath and even if he was cranky every day for the rest of his life — I’d take it. I’d be grateful. I’d never look back.
I tried to smile back without showing my face, but the wind whipped up again and I had to press my cloak closed with my bad hand while I gathered up the other fold with my good hand.
The boy on the other side of me shied away and I gritted my teeth. I didn’t care about his silly prejudice. I just didn’t want to be noticed and he was practically screaming, “Over here!” with his actions.
I tucked my left hand into my chest and hoped the boy would pull himself together. Usually, I kept my hand hidden. When people saw it, they had a tendency to get quiet and anxious, like they were afraid that whatever had crippled my left hand would cripple them, too. They didn’t really stop to think that it had been ten years ago so I couldn’t possibly spread the fever to them now. They just saw something wasn’t right and they flinched away.
It’s not that I’m ashamed of my hand. The sickness wasn’t my fault and I don’t let what it did to me stop me from doing anything. I could still use it for bracing something or pinning it in place while my other hand worked. It was just the fingers and thumb that were useless — I couldn’t hold or grip with them.
I glanced down the line of trembling hopefuls hoping no one else had noticed or was staring in a way that would get me caught.
I almost jumped when the pretty girl set her hand on top of my twisted one.
“Don’t let that worry you,” she said firmly. “They say that the Dominar before this one had a crippled leg and we all know she rode a dragon and saved the Dominion from the Dusk Covenant. They won’t turn you away just because of your hand.”
I offered her a sickly smile.
It was a kind thought. She was a kind girl. But in my experience, that’s not how things worked here at Dragon School.
And I would know.
Since I was a servant here.
I’d grown up here dreaming about what it would be like to be one of the Dragon Riders all decked out in leather and silky scarves, marching about the walkways with purpose and determination. I could imagine myself busy, sharp, eager to serve, and riding a dragon just as enthusiastic and bright-eyed as me.
I knew what a life here was like better than anyone else huddled along the cliff’s edge like a row of ducklings.
Unlike me, these new trainees wouldn’t know what to dream about. They wouldn’t know anything about Dragon School. They wouldn’t know what the bells meant and what level to rush to when they heard them. They wouldn’t know the names of every dragon and every Grandis who trained riders. They wouldn’t know what dragon poop smelled like or how to get it off your clothes, or how you could heat a kettle on a dragon’s flame if they let you, or how dragons appear fearsome and snap at those who aren’t their bonded humans … unless that someone used to be a small girl who grew up among them and then they wink and do little tricks like blowing out smoke rings that look exactly like sailing ships.
I knew those things. I did.
I knew because I’d lived here since I was born, helping my family serve the school, just as my parents had, and their parents had.
Look, being a servant at Dragon School is a good life. The food is regular and of good quality, and though we aren’t paid much, we’re issued new uniforms regularly, have quarters in the cliffs of Dragon School, and even get feast days off. I’m not complaining.
But the best part of serving at Dragon School? Oh, let me tell you, the best part of being a serving family at Dragon School is that every young person born into the family has a chance at training to be a Dragon Rider if they want to. That’s the future parents are buying their children by working here.
Every person, that is, except me.
A whip-crack startled me back to reality. No time to daydream now. I hunched deeper into my cloak and kept my face in the shadow as Grandis Childra march out in front of the line of young people, her hands clasped behind her back. She was not old enough for grey hair, but she looked ancient in her dragon rider leathers carrying her short ceremonial rod as she lectured twelve young men and women my age — sixteen.
Her hair was loose but small braids were interspersed throughout and tied with small bones and glass and other tokens as many Dragon Riders were fond of doing. The yellow scarves tied at her elbows and knees marked her as a Dragon Rider of the Yellow and her piercing gaze marked her as a Grandis. She strode up and down before us, surveying us as she spoke. Behind her, two other full Dragon Riders stood at alert.
“Welcome to Dragon School.” She spoke with loud confidence. “You have come here in the hopes of being chosen by a dragon and initiated into Dragon School. Not everyone candidate is suitable and not everyone will be chosen. Brace yourselves. This is only the first hard truth you must face if you are to become Dragon Riders. A dragon rider is courageous and bold. A dragon rider is also wise and cunning. A Dragon Rider does not flinch when difficulty strikes.”
I was all those things and so much more. I would make the perfect Dragon Rider. I just had to hold on a few more moments. I held my breath.
“A dragon — Spara?” Grandis Childra stopped right in front of me and flicked the hood from my head meeting my blazing eyes with a sharp, cold look. “It is you.” She did not sound pleased.
Up and down the line of recruits, all eyes were on me. I felt my cheeks heating. Just like the warm skin of a dragon. I straightened my shoulder and met her gaze with mine. She wanted unflinching and bold? Well, I was right here. I was ready. Why shouldn’t I have a chance just like everyone else?
“Dragons must be respected, Spara,” she said quietly. I doubted anyone but me and the pretty girl beside me even heard her. “It’s unfair to ask one to bond to you and let you try to be his rider when you would likely die under the rigors of training. It would break the dragon’s heart. And your parents’ hearts, too. You know this.”
“Wasn’t the Dominar before this one unable to use her legs?” the girl beside me said boldly. I shot her a pleased look and she smiled.
“Are you referring to the things done in the Old Days?” Grandis Childra asked her sharply. “The time when we chained and whipped dragons and made them serve us?”
“Of course not,” the girl said, looking horrified.
“I didn’t think so,” the Grandis said dismissing her attention and tugging the cloak from my shoulders. She tossed it over the side of the cliff and stared down her nose at me. “Twice, I have caught you trying to sneak into our training program. I will not catch you at it again, or I will banish not only you but all your family from this school. Do not test me.”
I wanted to tell her it was unfair. I wanted to tell her she had no right. But what could I say? After all, everyone else here had two hands. I clenched my jaw and focused on not letting a single tear fall.
“Return to your duties, Spara,” the Grandis said quietly, lifting a brow.
And what else was there to do?
But I would not cower and I would not hide my hand. Instead, I held my head high and marched down the cliff face along the front of the dragon cotes in view of the trainees.
Dragon cotes are frightening to those who are new to them. I have always found them exhilarating. And I would not let myself look defeated even now.
I have always loved how Dragon School was carved into a cliff face. I’ve loved climbing the ladders from level to level at lightning speeds and racing along the narrow edges just a stumble away from a death fall. I’ve loved the wind in my hair and the sun in my face and the special swirling breeze that flattened you against the wall when the dragons came in to land.
I’ve loved being as familiar with the dragons as I am with my own name and I clung to that now as I strode down the line of dragon snouts poking out of their cotes. They regarded me with grave stares that only made my cheeks grow hotter. They knew.
They all knew.
Saigsun seemed to snicker at me as I passed him, his frill displayed fully expanded. I could not meet his eye.
A gout of flame Burt from irritable Anidzof’s cote but I knew to expect that from a Red and dodged it easily.
I passed dragon after dragon, aware that each of them had seen my humiliation — again — and that none of them had a mind to pick me now or ever and I couldn’t help how it bit into me.
Eventually, I found the stall I was supposed to be cleaning, tied on the apron, and tried not to think too hard about disappointment or what it meant that no one had chosen me or even let me try to be chosen. Again.
I worked mucking and scrubbing, stealing little glances down the cliff face whenever my work led me there. The hopefuls were beginning to pair with dragons now. The pretty girl who had been kind to me was the first to be paired. I watched wistfully as she was introduced to Saigsun. Good luck to her. Hopefully, he didn’t snicker at her the way he had at me.
I was still smarting from watching someone else achieve my dream when a sudden flapping sound ripped through the air and I gasped, flattening my back to the cote wall as a huge shape loomed. I swiped at my eyes with the back of my hand. There was no way I’d let them see how upset I was. Bad enough that people thought I couldn’t pull my weight because of the hand, I didn’t need their pity, too.
But I needn’t have troubled over it. I knew this dragon.
The purple dragon flapped his wings gloriously, let out a spurt of bright flame, winked at me, and then shot into the dragon cote I’d just cleaned, teeth snapping at the air.
I managed a chuckle for him.
“Would you stop showing off, Reshatharin?” his rider scolded and I started to grin the moment I heard that bell-like voice. “She knows you’re the most beautiful dragon in existence, you don’t have to prove it every time you land.”
I hurried to the back of the cote, barely avoiding a snap of the teeth from Reshatharin. I knew it was all show. He wouldn’t really hurt me and just seeing him made me feel better.
The rider leapt from his back and turned to grin at me and I felt that familiar twinge of jealousy mixed with happiness that I always felt when I saw my cousin Alissi come home with a message.
If I was a dragon rider and if I’d been claimed by a purple dragon I’d be just like Alissi, carrying messages from one place to another for the Dominion, striving to be the fastest rider in our area, breaking all kinds of records with how quickly I shot from place to place.
She had to be proud that all those things were true of her. I was proud and it wasn’t even me.
Alissi flipped a sealed message tube between her fingers like she was performing in a street fair as she leapt down from Reshatharin’s back.
“Spara!” Alissi called, her riding leathers squeaking as she caught me in a fierce hug.
Her embrace stole my breath away, just like it always did.
We weren’t supposed to be friendly like this anymore. Full Dragon Riders aren’t supposed to spend time with the staff at Dragon School, but Alissi had never cared about that. And it was that loyalty that made me tear up. It was that loyalty that made me stay close to her even though just a glimpse of her hurt me every time. Especially today when I’d been rejected again.
The thing was, we looked enough alike to be twins, from our dark brown skin to our long black hair, to our dancing cinnamon eyes full of mischief. Seeing her as a full Dragon Rider with a dragon of her own was like looking at a picture of what my future could have been, if only I hadn’t had a crippled hand.
“When I get this message delivered, we’re going to have a picnic up top, just you and me!” Alissi said cheerfully and then she looked around as if to see if anyone was eavesdropping before she leaned in close and whispered, “Spara! I have news. Really bad news.” She looked over her shoulder as if she was worried about being watched and then pitched her whisper so low that I barely heard it. “You have to absolutely find a way to meet me tonight up on the training grounds. I can’t tell you about it anywhere else.”
And then she trotted off, message clutched tightly in hand.
“Well,” I said, blowing out a long breath in a way that made a curl over my forehead bounce. “That’s not something you hear every day.”
Take it seriously, little cote mouse, a voice said in my mind. And don’t you breathe a word.
My broom clattered on the floor, my good hand flexed and flexed again as my mouth fell open.
What was that?
But there was no more of the voice, only a wink from Reshatharin and a sizzling belch of fire before he put his huge head down on his paws and went to sleep.