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in my dragon's eyes
Kathleon and his mother stood at the edge of the camp. The full moon showed several wagons in a loose circle with horses picketed inside the perimeter. A small, wiry woman with silvery-red hair finished giving several youths instruction before striding over to Ventina and Kathleon.
"I hope the evenin' was fair with ye and yours," she said, her voice rich with the Clans' accent.
"The evening was fair 'n the path was clear," Ventina answered.
Only after the formality of a clan greeting had been completed did the women embrace, and then, only stiffly. Once that was over, the clanswoman turned her attention to Kathleon. "I'm t' assume this is your son, then?"
"My youngest, Kathleon. Kathleon, this is your grandmother, Murdann," Ventina introduced them with careful neutrality, but kept her hand on his shoulder.
Murdann squatted before Kathleon, took his face in her work-warn hand and turned it this way and that, catching the moon's light.
"Will he do, Mother?" Ventina asked acidly.
"He'll do. Come, sit at my fire," Murdann said, standing and making her way through the campfires scattered throughout the circle.
Kathleon listened to the sounds of his mother and grandmother talking. He'd never met his mother's mother before, had never come with her when she slipped away from the fief to visit the clan. He didn't really like this Murdann woman. She was mean, although she pretended to be nice. She thought Ventina was bad for marrying his father and she thought that Kathleon and his older brother, Edwine, should have been raised by the clan. However, she did agree with his mother that he should go to the cúayr. He didn't understand why they wanted him to go to the cúayr. Cúayrs were for dragonriders and dragons, not for little boys who were half Clan and half noble.
"Mother," Ventina finally said harshly, "whether or no he's had a normal life, he's no' coming back here. He's going to the cúayr and he's going to impress a dragon. And don't tell me it's impossible because nothing's impossible. You said John wouldn't marry me and he did. You said his sister would disown him and she didn't. You said they wouldn't accept Edwine up at the Warriors' Hall because he was half Clan and half noble and they did." She stopped to draw breath and took Kathleon's hand. "If you want to see us, you'll come to the fief. I'm tired of sneaking out here every time you come round only to get yelled at." She rose to her feet and turned, taking Kathleon with her.
Murdann called after them. "Mayhap I was wrong about your John and his noble folk, and mayhap I'm wrong about your Kathleon, but you canna keep me from seein' my grandsons, and I'll see them, whether you like it or no."
And she did. For the next year, Murdann visited Fief Oakshield whenever the moon was full. She never went inside the house, but talked with Kathleon outside, on the sloping green that was the center of the village surrounding the manor. Always Ventina was with them, sitting slightly apart with some kind of work. During these visits Murdann told Kathleon of his Clan heritage. She told him of how the seven forebears of the seven clans had come from the Eastern continent in their boats and how they had carved out a place for themselves among the plundering vikings, the Cowálans, the plainsmen, who were the forebears of the Palmyrans, and all the other natives that had, over time, blended to form the kingdoms spread over the northern continent.
On nights when Murdann didn't come, Kathleon's mother and aunts talked about the dragonriders and what it meant to be one. Of how they were charged with the protection of the skies over Morion, Kystal, Palmyra, and now, Uravell. They talked of the different ranks among the dragonriders and of the different colors the dragons came in. They talked about Impressing, the pivotal moment in any would-be dragonrider's life, where, when they met a newborn dragon's eyes, an unbreakable bond was formed.
And so the year passed until Kathleon's ninth birthday. On that day, Kathleon stood on the steps of Oakshield manor with Elinia, one of his aunts, and his mother. Elinia bounced her youngest child, Louerli, in her arms as she watched the sky. "They should be here any moment," she said.
As if on cue, a dragon appeared in the sky, the sun striking silver sparks off its hide as it spiraled down. It landed in the central green, scattering villagers. Elinia, Kathleon and Ventina walked out to the silver dragon and her rider.
The rider dismounted. She pulled off her skull-tight cap and tucked it under her arm. "I'm M'ria, Zyra's rider. I take it this young boy here is Kathleon?"
"Aye, that he is," Elinia said, stepping forward to take the dragonrider's hand.
M'ria assessed Kathleon before she turned to Zyra. "What do you think, Zyra?"
The silver dragon lowered its head until its opalescent eyes were on a level with Kathleon's. After a long moment, the dragon straightened and bugled.
Kathleon jumped. Lou gave a startled wail before settling back down. M'ria chuckled. "Well, Zyra approves. We'll send word when the next clutch is hard."
She turned to Kathleon. "I'm going to put you on Zyra's neck. Is that all right with you?"
Kathleon gulped and nodded. He felt trepidation as M'ria lifted him up, up to the humongous dragon's neck. But all that vanished as he settled between two of her neck ridges and looked down. From here everything looked a lot smaller, and the neck ridges formed a perfect saddle, with the one in front serving as a grip. M'ria mounted behind him and fastened a wide belt around his waist before attaching it to the riding harness the dragon wore.
"Until the next clutch is hard," M'ria called before Zyra lifted into the midday sky with a powerful shove of her hind legs and a downward sweep of her silver wings.
They rose higher and higher until the village and the manor and the people working in the fields and orchards were indistinguishable.
"We're going Between," M'ria said in his ear seconds before they popped into complete and total blackness. He couldn't feel the dragon beneath him or the dragonrider behind him or the belt around his waist.
Do not be fearful young one, a deep, feminine voice said in his mind, I am here. I will not let you fall. We are here.
And just as suddenly, they were. They were spiraling through a mist of condensed water toward a waterfall. Before Kathleon could shout they had flown through it and were landing on a pebbly beach.
He stared at their surroundings, slack jawed. Dragons of different colors and sizes were sprawled out in the sun or splashing in the river that rushed around the big protrusion where the cúayr was built. "Welcome to Midstream Cúayr, Kathleon," M'ria said, sliding off Zyra and helping him down. "Had the same reaction when I first came here. Come, we'll see where they're going to put you."
As they passed a group of boys and girls gathered around a silver-haired man M'ria called out to him. "S'lcat, this is Kathleon. He shows hope."
"Does he now? Well, we'll see what the eggs say," the man said tartly before turning back to his audience.
"He can be a sour puss," she said as they entered a pentagonal building built on piles of undressed stone. There were several hearths along the back two walls with pots of different sizes hanging over them and ovens on a third wall. People attended them under the sharp eye of a plump, dark-haired woman.
"That's Kylanna, the headwoman," M'ria told him. "Did you already have lunch?"
"No," Kathleon answered.
M'ria led him over to a smaller hearth. Here a table with stacks of bowls, plates, mugs, and several baskets of cutlery had been erected. M'ria ladled out stew from the pot over the hearth, broke off a chunk from a loaf of bread, and poured him a glass of lemon water. She then set him up at another table. "Wait here," she instructed, "I'll be right back."
A few minutes later M'ria returned with the dark-haired woman. "Kylanna, this is Kathleon, a hopeful candidate," M'ria said.
"Stand up lad," Kylanna said in a broad city accent. "Now, what'd you say yer name was?"
"Kathleon, m'lady," Kathleon replied.
Kylanna nodded. "Well, 'tis always up to the dragons, it always is, but in moy opinion, you'll do fine."
Six months later, as predawn light filtered through the waterfall of Midstream Cúayr, Anarand let out a joyful bugle announcing the eggs were about to hatch. At the ear-popping sound, every candidate, dragonrider and pegasusrider in the cúayr rolled out of bed, pulled on whatever clothing came to hand and ran toward the berthing chamber.
Sefra dispatched several riders to fetch the lords and ladies and masters of crafts who had applied to come witness the hatching. Grinning wryly, the Kystalian woman had told the riders, "If'n they give ye trouble 'bout wakin' 'em at the crack o' dawn, tell 'em they were the ones who were askin' t' come, 'n now they're commin' t' see the hatchin', or they're stayin' abed."
J'cob assembled the sleepy candidates near the eggs. "You know what to do. And remember, if you don't Impress today, there'll be more clutches." With that, J'cob stepped back to a stone slab and watched as sleepy lords and ladies streamed into the berthing chamber.
The eggs began to rock. Not all at once and not violently, but little shudders shook them. Kathleon fixed his eyes on his personal favorite, a largish egg with a white flame design. No one knew why the eggs were marked so distinctly or why. Like so many aspects of the dragon, it just was.
His egg began to quake in earnest, then to toss and turn, and finally it erupted in an explosion of fragmented egg shells, leaving behind a tiny, wobbling bronze dragon.
Several boys rushed forward, crowding the hungry dragonling. Kathleon didn't know how he knew he was hungry, he just did.
The dragonling butted its way through the shoving, shouting mass of eager boys and stopped in front of Kathleon. I'm hungry, a small, childlike voice said in his mind, feed me.
Kathleon looked down and met the whirling eyes.
My name is Genthiar and I'm hungry.
He laughed. "His name is Genthiar!"
Amidst the exclamations and cheers, S'lcat handed him a bowl. "Feed him from this till I can get you outa here and to a place where you can feed the youngster in peace."
Later that evening Sefra was approached by Cecile. "Will he be all right? I mean, are you sure he's not too young for this?"
Sefra smiled wryly. "No, I'm no'. But then, I wasna asked, 'n if the dragon chose 'im, then he done chose 'im fer a reason. Dinna worry, he'll be safe."
Cecile smiled back. "Oh, I know he'll be safe. I just hope he'll be old enough by the time Genthiar's old enough to fly..."
"Let's no' worry 'bout that particular bridge till we come upon it," Sefra advised. "Fer now, let's just say K'leon's the youngest dragonrider from Morion t' Palmyra."