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I dug into the archives and found this story from 2014. It started with a Chuck Wendig challenge, apparently (according to my notes) a given first line. It suggests a world to me that might be fun to enter more deeply.
DragonmistressShe rode in on a dragon; or more accurately, clutched in its front claw. It wasn’t exactly the entrance she’d planned, but it had turned out to be impossible to ride astride the dragon as Korrina believed the riders of old had done. She achieved most of the desired effect anyway: the populace gaped in awe and wonder.
Of course, they could barely see beyond Skyborne, the dragon, and when they did spot the woman in the grip of the beast, many probably thought that Korrina was not Dragonmistress, but dragon dinner.
Dragons were big. Far bigger than any remembered or imagined. So much dragon lore had been lost in the centuries since the last Dragonmistress rode a dragon through the skies over their village. No one even knew what made a woman become a Dragonmistress—Korrina only knew that, from birth, she had been pulled to the land of the dragons, and at last she had gone.
Now she had returned, in the grip of an immense dragon. It wasn’t just the size that had prevented mounting it, however. The neck ridge was impossibly sharp, and spiked. Skyborne had not known, any more than Korrina, how the Riders of old had done it. They had tried no end of ideas, with no end of unhelpful suggestions from the younger dragons—there were none older—but ended up with Skyborne picking Korrina up in her huge claw and flying her back to the village.
It wasn’t ideal, but Korrina told herself that didn’t matter. She was, at least, alive, and had succeeded in partnering a dragon, just the way the old songs told it. Though the old songs made the creatures seem more war-like and less . . . prickly. The songs had definitely said nothing about prickles.
For all that, here she came with a dragon to save the village. It would have been easier had the villagers not screamed and fled as they approached. Skyborne circled the village lazily a time or two before landing in the square. People scattered in all directions as they came down, and did not approach even when Korrina hopped down from the claw and shook out her tunic, which had become a bit rumpled on the flight.
“You stay here,” she instructed the dragon unnecessarily. There was no place for her to go. “I’m going to gather the leaders and make a plan.”
She was also going to send old Tomin into the oldest archives in search of the answer to how a Dragonmistress properly rode a dragon, and what kind of saddle she used.
Skyborne lowered her huge head and licked Korrina’s face. “Stop that!” the girl sputtered, half drowned. A dragon had a big tongue. A very big, very wet, tongue.
But I love you, Skyborne protested. It is how a dragon shows love.
“We’ll have to work on that,” Korrina said. “I could have drowned.” But her mind had moved on, thinking about what they had seen from the air. What was drawing ever nearer over the hills to the south. The barbarian army.
If she and Skyborne did not find a way to defeat them, the village was doomed. And a dragon might not be enough. To Korrina’s surprise, she’d learned that dragons, beyond claws and teeth meant for hunting deer and sheep, were short on weaponry. Especially, she had found the whole fire-breathing thing to be a myth. The gods knew how that had begun, but it was a pity it wasn’t true. They could have used some fire-breathing.
But one thing Skyborne had given to Korrina: the respect of the Elders. They listened to her warning, and they listened to her plan. She gave them no chance to do anything else. Then she held her breath.
“We must do what?” protested the Headman, a supercilious man with too much nose. “Will you not lead a flock of dragons to burn our enemies out of existence?”
“No. I will not.” Korrina didn’t explain that there were no other dragons old enough to come, or that none would come without riders. Nor did she say that they didn’t breathe fire in any case. She just said, “We’ll do it this way or not at all. If you don’t want my help, and that of Skyborne, we can leave.” That got their attention, and within an hour every able-bodied man or woman was at work, digging pits across the neck of open land that led to the village.
Korrina had Skyborne take her up again to view the situation, though old Tomin hadn’t yet found out how the Dragonmistresses of old had ridden. The claw was not uncomfortable, though it put her too far from the dragon’s ear to make for easy conversation. That is, Skyborne could not hear her, unless she shouted. She heard the dragon inside her own head, no matter where they were.
By the end of the second day, the pits were dug, spiked, and covered. And Tomin had found an ancient drawing of a rider perched high on the neck of a dragon. It didn’t show exactly what the saddle was like, but Korrina knew it must be well-padded and thick, to conform to and smooth out the spikes. She set the women to work making one.
By the fourth evening, the barbarians spread their camp across the open land before them, and the light of a hundred fires made the hills glow. The villagers blessed the cliffs that surrounded them on three sides, but worried as fire after fire sprang to life.
Korrina refused to fly out with Skyborne that night to survey the camps. They would do what they must, she said, when the time came. Also, when she had a saddle, though she didn’t mention that. It was nearly ready.
The village would be saved.
The Dragonmistress would see to that. Of course she would.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
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