Extract from Chapter Two

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of an older man. He was wearing a gold breastplate that was nearly lost in the thick fur jacket and the long crimson cloak that was attached by a large buckle around his chest. But what surprised Serilda was a tiny red dragon that rested on his shoulder and whose tail curled around the man’s neck. The dragon looked at her with wide eyes as it breathed smoke out of its nose.

When he got close, the man looked at her in surprise then at Ayldlinda who gazed benevolently on the two of them.

After a moment, he bellowed, “I don’t know you. Explain yourself.”

Serilda did her best to explain how she had come to meet the dragon and be where she was. Every so often, as she told her story, the man tut-tutted and shook his head. When she had finished, he did not look best pleased but then spoke kindly to her.

“This is a surprise. Since Ayldlinda thinks so highly of you, you’re of course welcome.” He then seemed to realise he should introduce himself. “I am Montfroy, castellan, of Dragon’s Nest.” He then seemed to notice the animal that clustered at her feet. “What do we have here?” He pointed at her pet.

“This is my companion, Stripe,” Serilda informed him, “she’s a tree bear.” Speaking of her pet, she became aware of Stripe’s complaint about the cold. In response, she shivered realising how icy it was.

Montfroy noticed her shudders and he shouted at the liveried man, “Mickar, see to Ayldlinda while I escort her new rider to somewhere warmer.”

He took Serilda’s arm and led her towards a door at one end of the chamber. Stripe loped along behind them. This led to a corridor and another door. Passing through this, they emerged to the open air on a wide battlement.

A group of young women was waiting expectantly, all the while talking. Seeing them emerge, a silence descended on the assembly as they caught sight of Serilda.

At the sight of the girls, Smile growled menacingly and moved towards the group, her fur bristling up to make her look larger than she was. Some of the girls stepped back at this.

Serilda called out, “Stripe, be good.”

“What is it?” one of the girls shouted in an anxious voice.

Montjoy stepped in, “It’s her pet. This is Serilda, she’s been chosen as Ayldlinda’ rider.”

One of the older ones, who could not have been more than a year or two older than she was, stepped forward and looking scornfully at Serilda, announced, “Why has this girl been chosen, she’s not one of us.”

“Hush, Bekka,” Montjoy scolded her, “Ayldlinda’s made her choice.”

Others began to complain in similar manner.

“Silence,” he demanded in a loud voice and the hubbub ceased. “You know as well as I do that it’s the dragon that chooses the rider and not the rider the dragon.”

But Bekka was having none of it and she moved forward to confront Serilda.

“You have no right to Ayldlinda; she’s mine,” she declared stridently and stepped closer.

And from Chapter Five

And it hurts, the dragon laughed silently in her mind.

It did indeed hurt. More her pride, she realised, than physically, though if she thought about it, she could feel the places where Mickar had struck her. Suddenly she felt angry at everyone and everything. It was not right.

Glaring at everyone, she stomped off towards the exit. She wanted to be alone. She could not trust herself not to do something she would later regret.

Her steps took her up the tower.

She found herself eventually in an upper room that contained a scriptorium and several book racks. Serilda looked at the volumes and tried to work out what they were about but they seemed to have been written in a strange language she did not comprehend.

Behind her, she heard a sound and turned to see Anya peeking around the door. She justified her presence. “I was sent to see how you are.”

“Oh Anya,” Serilda declared, “I’m fine.” She went over to her. “Is it so plain to see I’m unhappy?”

“Mickar said he’s given you a good number of bruises.”

Serilda laughed. “If it was just that…”

She took the servant and led her over to the books. “Look at these. They’re written in a language I don’t understand. It’s like most things here. It’s so different to where I grew up.”

“Weren’t they people then?”

“Oh yes,” Serilda responded, realising that she had been misunderstood. “It’s just that everyone behaves differently. Take your mistress, for instance: sometimes she seems to like me and then she doesn’t.”

At first, Anya did not say anything but then explained, “Rahmna has many troubles and I think she sees you as an unwanted responsibility.”

“But I thought Montjoy was in charge?”

“He is,” Anya agreed, “but you’ve brought back some old memories. You see…”