Takes place a year or two before my #3 book, Dragon's Call. (which will most likely get bumped to #4, actually.) That would make this story about 3 years after Sword's Call.
All rights reserved; copyright © C. A. Szarek. The text within may not be reproduced in whole or in part or distributed in any form whatsoever OR SOLD without first obtaining permission from the author.Nyja was soaring, the wind whipping through her dark hair. She tilted her head back, eyes slipping closed. This was heaven. Freedom.She would have spread her arms wide, but needed to maintain her grip on the dragon’s neck.I shall not drop you. Nor would I ever let you fall. We are bondmates. You are mine and I am yours. There was great amusement in the tone and Nyja grinned.I suppose that will sink in one day soon, she answered silently with a thought-send.The dragon rumbled, her equivalent of a laugh, and Nyja laughed too, the moving air stealing it away as soon as it exited her mouth.They were high above the land. The greens and browns of far below rushed by and more giggles bubbled up. Nyja hadn’t felt this light in—“Nyja. Nyja, wake up.”She opened her eyes, meeting a very blue gaze. Where was she? What time was it? Nyja looked around. Right. Rider Barracks. Terraquist. Her home. The dragon was a dream.What an odd dream.“Nyja? Are you all right?” Jinala’s brows were drawn tight, her normally unruly white-blonde locks in two neat, thick plaits.She nodded at her friend, roommate, and fellow Senior Rider, sitting up in her bunk and stretching. “Morning.”Jin smiled, her dimples flashing. “Morning. You were talking in your sleep.”“I was? What did I say?”“I couldn’t make it out, but I was worried because I couldn’t tell if it was a good or bad dream.”Nyja sighed. “It…was…odd. Not bad at all but odd. There was a dragon…”“A dragon? Really?” Jin’s almond shaped eyes widened.She nodded. Jin stared at her, head cocked to the side. “That is odd.”The dream took Nyja’s thoughts. The dragon had said they were bondmates. She shook her head. She’d never even seen a dragon. And she definitely preferred her feet on firm ground. Nyja would never ride a dragon.Yet…it had been so real…so vivid…so right. It was almost…like a vision. But she didn’t have much magic, and most certainly not premonitions of the future. She could say a few spells, nothing more. Her heart thumped hard, leaving an ache in her chest.A bell sounded and she jumped. “Why’d you let me sleep so late?” Nyja asked her roommate, glaring as she scrambled out of bed.“Hey, I tried to get you moving almost an hour ago. I told you I was leaving to break my fast. You said okay.”“I did?” Nyja asked, yanking up the nearest pair of breeches and shoving her feet into her boots.“You don’t remember?”She shook her head, tossing her sleeping shirt into the dirty laundry basket and grabbing a tunic out of her trunk. Damn…only one more. She would have to wash her clothes soon. Or take soiled ones on her next long distance run.Nyja thanked Jin as her friend handed over her hunter green Senior Rider cloak and donned her own. Her stomach rumbled and she frowned. Sleeping through breakfast was unlike her, and she would pay for it. There was no time, and Senior Riders didn’t miss roll call.Their captain would be giving out morning assignments in about ten minutes, since the sound had been First Bell. There would only be one more reminder, and she liked to be in her seat by now.She and Jin would most likely be headed on a day run with the two new Riders they’d been assigned earlier in the sevenday. Nyja groaned.“What?” Jin asked, her bright blue eyes concerned.“Just thinking about Ren. She can be so annoying.”Jin laughed. “I don’t feel a bit sorry for you. Ren may be overly talkative, but at least she has potential. I have no idea how I am supposed to help Soren through his Tests. Blessed Spirit knows he’s going to have that red cloak twice as long as normal.”Nyja sighed. “Poor boy. He’s already been a Red for almost a turn and a half. No brown cloak in sight.”“I know it.”The newest Riders, whose rank was equivalent to a page, wore a bright red cloak. The next ranking, like that of a squire, wore brown. Each rank, including Senior Riders, had Tests they had to succeed in before they could move on. Both ranks affectionately—or not so affectionate at times—referred to as “Reds” and “Browns.”“I hope you at least get put with me and Ren,” Nyja remarked as they headed out of their room.“Me too. I could use your help with Soren.”As if they knew their mentors were discussing them, Soren and Ren appeared at the end of the hallway.“Soren. You’re not supposed to be in the female dorms,” Jin chided.The boy, thirteen, wrinkled his nose, causing his freckles to jump. His bright red hair was disheveled, as always. Nyja bit back a grin. He had that in common with her roommate, but she would never point that out.“I told Headmistress Marva I was waiting for you. She said if I stayed put, I could be in here, Jinala.”“Jin. For the thousandth time, please call me Jin.” Soren looked down, his cheeks pink.Nyja cleared her throat. “Let’s go, before we’re late.” As she spoke, Second Bell sounded.“Morning, Nyja!” Ren said brightly, threading her arm through one of Nyja’s and grinning.“Good morning, Ren,” she answered, looking down into the hazel eyes of her recruit. Be polite, Nyja, she means no harm. She forced a smile instead of the wince she was inclined toward when the girl squeezed her arm too tightly as she skipped beside her. Walking next to Ren was next to impossible even when they were in step.“I’m sorry, Jin,” Soren muttered.Nyja’s roommate answered her charge and ruffled his hair. The boy beamed and Jin threw her arm around his shoulders. His cheeks matched his hair again.Ah, if he had a crush on the other Senior Rider, it would explain a great deal regarding his skills—or lack thereof. Soren was nervous around Jin. Nyja would have to remember to mention that to her friend.They got seated just in time for Captain Moray to arrive at the podium and clear his throat to gain everyone’s attention. Ren stared at their captain, hanging on his every word. Nyja shook her head, smiling.“Senior Riders Nyja, and Jin,” the captain said. Nyja sat taller and met his eyes.“Yes, Captain?” Jin answered for them.“It looks like your Reds are ready for their next challenge.”Ren fidgeted in the chair beside her. Soren leaned forward and Nyja exchanged a glance with Jin. This might not be good.“An overnight run to the Netian Valley.”Nyja bit back a groan. The Netian Valley was southeast and a day’s ride each way. A day’s ride with Ren’s chatter in her ear.“Together, Captain?” Jin asked.“Aye. Prepare yourselves. You will meet with Lord Malcolm Helmond. He has a message for the king.” The minor lord of the Province of Tarvis had a large holding at the center of the vast valley.“We leave immediately, Captain?” Nyja asked. She put a hand on Ren’s forearm to still the younger girl. Big hazel eyes looked apologetic before turning back to Captain Moray.“Aye. Good luck.”Jin stood and bowed and Nyja inclined her head. Riders scattered as briefing ended, and Soren led their group out of the Run Room. Ren grabbed Nyja’s hand and practically dragged her.“Calm down, Ren,” she admonished.“I’m so excited!”“I know it. Go get your things ready. Soren, too. Meet us at the stables,” Nyja told them.“This is going to be fun,” Jin remarked sarcastically on a sigh as the boy and girl jogged off.“It won’t be so bad.”“I hope not.” Her roommate’s expression was doubtful, her arms crossed over her chest.They headed to their room to gather their belongings. As soon as Jin opened the door, Nyja gasped.“What’s wrong?”“All my clothes are dirty.”Jin stared at her for a moment, then laughed long and hard. Nyja glared and then shook her head. That’s what she got for being lazy. Suddenly a ride on a dragon’s back high in the sky didn’t seem like such a bad thing.