Tora pulled her lambs wool hide vest over her shirts, buttoning it securely in front. On top of this came a well worn dear hide jacket. The scarf she wrapped around her head and throat had been a selection gift from her family. Handwoven, her family colours in the warp, strong and supporting. The weft threads were mostly brown with a few silver threads that shimmered in the light, like dragon scale. Cloak of good warm wool, also a selection gift welcoming her into the foster-family who’s home she shared for the four years of her training.
“Training that ended today.” Pride swelled in her chest at the thought.
Carefully she picked her way along the stairs leading to the top of the cliffs, her fellow riders and dragons were already gathering for the graduation flight. The air pulsed with excitement, even the dragons had shed their usual calm nature, trumpeting loudly to each other and their riders in excitement.
Quickly she slipped on her goggles and helmet before shoving her hands into the fur lined gloves. As the ground evened out beneath her feat, turning from gravel to soft grass she picked up her pace, all but running to great Chiani, wrapping her small arms around the beasts great neck. Chiani nuzzled her back and chirped a soft greeting of pleasure.
“Todays the day girl. We fly off that ledge and become fully fledge members. No more guided flights, no one controlling when and where we can fly. We can take to the skies and never come back if we choose.”
“Which you wont, I hope.” Tora spun around to see her parents smiling behind her.
“Pa! Your wearing your old uniform.” Tora said.
“Ey. Thought this day warranted a bit of ceremony,” He lowered his voice and whispered conspiratorially, “don’t tell anyone, but your mother had to let it out a few inches. Seems your old man has put on a few pounds in the past couple of cycles.” His belly laugh turned a several smiling heads in their direction. Tora’s father was known for his sense of humour and taste for good food, at least he was now he was no longer head of the kings guard. Yorgen and chosen to retire his post with the death of the old king. Claiming he wasn’t so young anymore and military service was a young man’s profession.
“Tora, love, we really are proud of you today. Hasn’t been a rider in the family for nigh on three generations. I’m honoured to have you as my daughter.”
“Oh Pa.” Tora threw herself into his open arms, hiding the tears that had sprung to her eyes.
“Oh all right you two. Don’t get over emotional yet, Tora still has to pass the final exam.” Yorgen turned hard disapproving eyes on his wife. “Your evil glares don’t work on me old man. Besides, I’ve no doubt Tora will pass, I’m just wondering if she will be first or last.” Geana winked at Tora and walked off to great the other parents as Yorgen blustered on behind her about his daughters prowess as a rider.
Tora smiled affectionately after them and turned back to Chiani. “So what do you think girl, can we beat Loti and Predo for head of the class?” Chiani let out an echoing roar, clearly indicating her superiority.
“Riders, mount up.” Teachers and their dragons lined up behind their students, their faces emotionless as they watched their students snap to attention, or not, and mount their dragons. Each rider must complete the full circuit, executing all manoeuvres with perfect precision, breaking formation resulted in an instant failure and the rider would have to wait for the next round of testing, in another four years time.
Tora checked her harness three times, ensuring she was completely attached, they said, a fall from dragon back was fatal even before you hit the ground. She wouldn’t allow even the slightest slip up now, this would be their day. She and Chiani would prove they were the best and deserved their place among dragon riders.
In a single motion the band of dragons took to the sky, seamless in the execution of the first manoeuvres. It wasn’t until halfway through the circuit that something went wrong, terribly wrong. Tora could see Loti ahead of her, something was wrong in the way the girl sat her saddle but before she could figure out what it was Loti come away from Nori’s back. Without thinking Tora broke formation, directing Chiani to dive towards the falling girl. Nori, far from the smartest of beasts, circled above them confused. Tora’s eyes were locked on her friends body as it tumbled towards the ground. Freezing wind cut channels through the small areas of exposed skin on Tora’s cheeks as Chiani put herself in full dive, a dive that would put them several meters into bare earth if she failed to pull up.
As one, dragon and rider moved, pulling out of the dive, coming up beneath the body of the falling girl. Tora took her hands from Chiani’s reins and caught the larger girls body, her arms feeling is if they had shattered with the impact. Catching the wind with her broad wings, Chiani lifted them gently back into the sky and onto the testing cliff. It was all Tora could do to hold onto the body of her unconscious friend, for the moment forgetting that she had broken formation and ultimately failed the test.