dragon challenge header

not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

If You Want To Fly

by Pen

with thanks to Rainbeaux Sue and Vaudevilles for the betas

Anybody who thinks they have a hard life should try shovelling dragon shit for a living.

It stinks. I mean, it really stinks, cinders and ashes mixed with nine-day-old meat and overtones of burnt oil, and it's sloppy and runs off the shovel even with the grass clippings. And it eats through leather. And there is a lot of it, a lot of it, with twenty dragons in the stable.

A lot. And I'm the low man here, so the shovel is mine, all mine. Also the metal-dipped boots and mittens and apron, and the well-pump in the yard at the end of the day when I sluice myself down before I go back to my lodgings.

But I'm not complaining. I chose this. I wouldn't be anywhere else. All my life, ever since my papa gave me a dragon kite for my fifth nameday and took me to the shore to fly it, I've wanted to be a dragon-flyer, and I walked so far to get here and beg them to take me on, any job at all, just to let me work in the stable and be near the dragons. It's a start.

It must be a start, even though I've hardly seen a dragon since I got here. The dragons are outside while I work. They go out at dawn, and then I come in with my shovel, after which I wash the stone floors, put down fresh clippings, and check the bedding for signs of discontent. The dragonkeeper said dragons nest tidily when they're happy, but if there's shredded stuff on the floor below their beds or the nesting is messed up, I've to tell him at once.

See, I'm learning. Dragon shit burns through leather, and unhappy dragons shred their nests. It's a start.

I was stripped and under the pump, finished in good time today. It was getting easier, now I was used to the weight of the boots on my feet, and I'd worked out a good technique with the shovel. I'd learned something new, too, from the burly fellow who collected it all in his ox-drawn cart twice a week. There's a market for dragonshit, actually more than one use for it. Leatherworkers use it to etch crests and knotwork onto expensive gear, and farmers use it to keep predators away from their flocks. A border of fresh dragonshit round a field will intimidate any number of wolves, and when it grows stale and harmless, they dig it into the fields—it's very good for growing rhododendrons and mallowroots.

Mmm, roast mallowroots with onions and dripping. I missed my mother's cooking, now I was in lodgings. Mistress Parven was not very good in the kitchen, but sometimes I'd stop at a street vendor for beef shreds in a hot wrap... perhaps today. Yes, beef shreds with pepper sauce, something to look forward to, once I was clean and dry.

"How long are you here now?"

I dashed the water out of my eyes and looked round. Surely the dragonkeeper was not addressing me? "S-sir?"

"Speak to me as Gig-Pok. How long are you here now? What is your name?"

"Sir, I mean, Gig-Pok, my name is Clena, I have been working here for, uh, nigh on two months. Next sennight," I added, careful to be accurate.


I gaped at him. Why what? "Sir? I mean, Gig-"

"Yes, yes," he said impatiently. "Why are you here? Cleaning the dragon house every day is not nice work."

"I want to work with dragons, s—Gig-Pok." Was 'Gig-Pok' his name, I wondered, or a dwarvish title?

"But you do not sneak over to the field."

"I—no... I thought..." I thought I wasn't allowed near the dragons, that's what the stablehand who gave me the shovel had said. Keep away from the dragons until you're told you can approach. "Uh, there's a rule, I was told?"

Gig-Pok tilted his very hairy head to one side. "Indeed. Boys do not usually keep to rules, I find. You want to see the dragons?"

"Yes, very much. Uh, please?"

"Come, then."

I was rinsed, fortunately, and I rubbed myself more or less dry and scrambled into my clean set of clothes and my walking boots while he stood there and breathed impatiently. At least, that was how it sounded. I'd never met any other dwarves, it might be that they just breathed like that normally. Or that they were always impatient, with humans. Hard to tell.

"New dragon is here in two days," Gig-Pok remarked as we walked out of the yard. "Need more bedding."

"Did you want me to—"

"Dragon makes its own nest," said the dwarf.

I bit my tongue on a response, because after all, this was the dragonkeeper. But I knew perfectly well that the dragon would make its own nest. I'd just wondered if, maybe, I was going to get the chance to do something a bit less, well, smelly. I didn't usually deal with the fresh bedding. There were several stablehands who were senior to me, and they kept the pile stocked, hay and fleeces and reeds, and a selection of pretty things, ribbons, bits of brocade and satin, even beads and such. The dragons helped themselves to what they wanted, and arranged their nests on whichever shelf they'd decided was home. Some of them nested in groups, apparently—though I couldn't see how more than two dragons would fit in any of the nests, unless one slept on top of the others.

"If the new dragon is not happy, you tell me."

"Yes, of course."

We were out on the field now, a wide, shallow slope down to a lake, and there they were, like jewels against the grass or in the water. Three or four—yes, four—were in the air, just playing. Oh, one more, there was a beautiful silver-blue high up, looping and spiralling with the sun flashing on its wings. I couldn't see a flyer anywhere, but perhaps the dragon was practising on its own.

"We stay here." Gig-Pok stood as still as a tree stump, so I halted beside him, a little disappointed not to be allowed closer, but a little relieved, too. Dragons are not exactly tame, and from everything I'd heard around the yard, some of them could be quite nasty. So I watched them, amber and scarlet, crimson, gold, most of them seemed to be in that part of the spectrum, though there was a purple, and a dark green, and of course that silver-blue in flight.

Several of the dragons were lifting their heads, stretching their long necks and swaying a little.

"They smell us," Gig-Pok said. "Not to worry. Your smell is familiar to them, from the stable. Ah. One comes."

Indeed, yes, a dragon, dark red with black tips, walking—well, skipping, or maybe jumping with a little sidling—towards us. At least I was going to get the chance to see one up close.

Up very close. Very, very close. I swallowed, and stayed still as it sniffed me, starting at the feet, paying unnervingly close attention to my groin, up to armpits—don't tickle me, I thought, for my armpits are exceptionally sensitive—and, ahaha, neck, and I could feel its delicate whiskers tracing across my skin, and its warm breath, ticklish there too, yes, and we ended up face to face.

Such a beautiful creature! Cranberry-red scales gleaming in the sunlight, not hard and overlapping like roof tiles, but sinuous as skin. It had shiny black ridge spines, and black around its muzzle and ears, and the flight-edge of its wide-presented wings (as though it was showing off for me!) and the lashing tip of its tail. The first dragon I'd ever really seen, and I just fell in love. And then, I looked into its eyes, oh, its eyes, brown and bright and full of mischief, and I thought, you're laughing at me, dragon, but you're so wonderful I don't care.

It winked, took off vertically, and whizzed back to the pack.

I think I sighed.

Gig-Pok sniffed. "You do not speak," he said.

I smiled at him, and shrugged helplessly. I really couldn't think of anything to say.


After the excitement of getting to see a dragon close up, yesterday, I was hoping that this morning might bring... something? A chance to do something more than my usual work with the trusty shovel? But it seemed not. I put my after-work clothes on the peg as usual, got myself trussed into apron and boots and mitts, and got on with it.

I wondered, as I shovelled, which my beautiful red dragon's nest might be. Whether he had it decorated with red and black to match his colouring, or something more random. According to the other stablehands, you couldn't really tell a dragon by its nest. But it'd be interesting to know, I thought. So, after I'd piled all the shit into the slop tank, I stole a few minutes to look round the nests before I started sluicing the central pit. The lowest ledge of nest shelves was only four elbow-lengths from the ground, so I walked widdershins around the stable inspecting the carefully coiled piles of fleece and reeds, and wondering. All the nest shelves at this level were extra-broad, for groups. A pair (I thought), another pair, then here three—it seemed like a nest for three—slept together in their intricate spiral of bedding and decoratives.

I stared at the patterns of beads and fabric scraps, which almost but not quite seemed to make sense. It wasn't like anything a human artist would ever produce, but it was pretty, in an inexplicable way. One of the trio from this nest seemed to have a great liking for iridescent stuff—glass beads and pieces of seashell—and torn pink brocade. The other two weren't so particular. How did the dragons make their patterns? Were their claws so precise, or did they use their teeth?

Oh well, this wasn't getting the grass spread.

After I was done, and washed, I sneaked back into the stable and went up the ladders to take a look at the upper nest shelves. I could always say I was checking for disrupted bedding, though the floor had been clean of shreds. But I couldn't tell which nest belonged to my crimson dragon. Did it share? And why did some share, and not others?

I wondered about walking down the field again, to look at the dragons, but I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to have permission. It was tempting just to go anyway, and pretend I thought I was allowed to get closer, but the dragonkeeper was very strict, I'd heard, and it wasn't worth the risk. I was only a shoveller, and if he turned me off, I'd never have another chance to work with dragons. So I went back to my lodgings.

New dragon today, Gig-Pok had said. There seemed to be excitement in the air, everyone hurrying a little bit to get the place spruced up. Three people looked into the stables while I was working. Checking to see that I was doing it right, I supposed. They certainly weren't going to help.

"Hey, Clena!" That was Berrin, one of the nicer stablehands. She was quite senior here, and had charge of three dragons, though I didn't know which three. "When you're done with the shovelling, come and find me. We'll used flowered water to sluice out the stable today, I'll show you where we keep the petals." She grinned at my surprise. "New dragon's coming! We need to make it feel welcome. It's a delicate time. You never know what kind of temperament it'll have, or whether the others will take to it."

She was in the storehouse when I went for the buckets, and showed me how to measure out the dried flowers. Not so much as to make the mixture overpowering, but enough to be noticeable. Every stable had its own special mix, I discovered. Dragons, apparently, were picky about scents, and it was impossible to tell how the newcomer would react to this, but it was familiar to all the others and would soothe them.

The stable smelt faintly of wet roses and cinnamon when we'd finished, and Berrin smiled at me as we stacked the buckets away. "The new dragon's due any time now, do you want to come down to see?"

I beamed at her.

So we went. As did every other stablehand in the place, and clustered on the rise just south of the canal.

The barge was tethered firmly in place, but they hadn't yet got the crate fully open. I could see Dragonmaster Gig-Pok's stubby shape, and two of the dragon-flyers, and a woman with long red hair in a plait.

"Castleholder Jenniket," Berrin muttered. "Come down to see that it arrived safely."

So that was the stable owner, the one who ran all these dragons, and decided where and when they were to fly in competition, the one who paid for the stables and the considerable allowance of sheep and poultry, and my shitshoveller's wages, too.

Still, I was more interested in the dragon. They had the sides of the crate down now, and we could see brilliant azure blue scales, and gold spikes. There was a murmur of approval from the other stablehands.

It didn't seem to want to come out, though.

"Maybe it got seasick," someone suggested.

"On a canal?" said Berrin, with deepest scorn.

"Maybe it misses its family?"

"Or it could be ill."

"Or sleeping?"

Privately, I thought it just wanted to be sure it had everyone's complete attention, but since I didn't know anything about dragons, I kept quiet.

Gig-Pok gestured, and one of the dragon-flyers went aboard the barge to press a long stick along the dragon's neck. The blue dragon's head reared up and it hissed like a steam kettle, and the flyer jumped back. The dragon looked around disdainfully, slowly got to its feet, and stalked off the boat. It got to the end of its tether, and hissed again as it had to stop. Gig-Pok approached it carefully, with an offering of meat and water, but the dragon wasn't going to be appeased that easily, and ignored both offering and dragonkeeper.

There was a brief consultation between dragonkeeper and castleholder, which ended with Gig-Pok bowing to the creature and carefully removing its tether-harness. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath, we were all watching anxiously to see whether it would just head for the clouds and disappear.

Something caught my eye, and I gasped out a warning a second before everyone else saw it too—the silver-blue was flying like an arrow straight towards the newcomer. Everyone started talking at once, everyone seemed terrified that Moonbeam was going to fight the new dragon, the stable could lose both of them—then the silver-blue landed and the two of them twined their necks and breathed into each other's nostrils and, well, it was clear enough even to dragon-novice me that they were glad to see one another. They took off together and flapped lazily back down the field to join the others by the lake. There was a heartfelt cheer from the group of stablehands, and Castleholder Jenniket waved graciously and shook Gig-Pok's hand.

We commoners headed back towards the stables, chattering about what we'd just witnessed.

"Morgy's tavern tonight, friends!" That was Peronik, large and jovial. "We can celebrate the successful integration. You going to come, Clena?" A hand landed on my shoulder. "Clena?"


"Lance? Lance! Time to wake up, honey!" Lance struggled to get his eyes open. His mother was shaking him. "Did you sleep through the alarm? Hurry, now, you'll miss the school bus."

Lance felt strangely disconnected all day. He hated when he overslept, he seemed to be rushing all day and not quite catching up. And there was choir practice after school, which normally was okay, except today he kept stumbling, not certain of his place, not certain of his steps. Considering how hard he worked to get it perfect, it didn't seem fair that just being out of bed late and having to grab a biscuit and run would be enough to throw him off. Maybe it was that weird dream. Mr Peterson seemed pleased enough with his progress, but Lance wasn't altogether satisfied.

It wasn't really being late getting started, he admitted to himself as he sat over his homework that evening. He'd been feeling restless for ages. So many dreams, so many ambitions jostling for position inside his head, and so much work before any of them would come true. Graduate high school first, then college, and most likely a PhD too, then get himself involved with the space program somehow, assuming he really was smart enough, and even then there was no guarantee that he'd get to go into space. Sometimes he thought he'd been born at just the right moment, so that when he was old enough to be trained, there'd be a mission to Mars just waiting for him. Sometimes he thought he was kidding himself. Sometimes he looked ahead to the years of grind and just wanted to throw it all aside and go do something crazy instead. Be a country singer, play in bars—except, they wouldn't let him in. Hitchhike across America, see all fifty states. At least the forty-eight. He just felt so constricted here, being a perfect student and meeting everybody's expectations.

Speaking of which, there was English homework to finish before dinner.

Fried chicken for dinner, always a good thing. But. Dad had that extra bland, blank expression on. The one he wore when he and Mom disagreed about something. And Mom kept trying to catch Dad's eye and he wouldn't let her.

Lance helped bring the dishes through to the dining room, and pretended he hadn't noticed the unease in the atmosphere. Was it his fault? But he hadn't done anything, at least, he didn't think so. "Amen," he murmured, as his father finished giving thanks, and they sat and helped themselves to chicken and mashed potato.

His mother cleared her throat rather pointedly. Lance ventured a glance. Yes, Dad was concentrating on his plate.

"Lance, I got a call today," Mom began. It was his fault, then, whatever was happening here—but Lance was at a loss. Okay, so his Spanish assignment last week had been handed in late, but surely... and choir practice had been sucky, but they wouldn't throw him out of Attaché without at least a warning, not when he was easily the best bass in the choir, would they?

The lump of chicken in his mouth seemed to have swollen. He chewed frantically.

"It was someone called Lynn Harless."

He looked up, bewildered. Did he even know a Ms Harless? Was she from the principal's office?

"She, um. She was asking if, if you might be—she wanted to ask if you. If you want to audition for a singing group." Huh. Well, that was unusual, but why was Mom so uptight about it?

"I don't really have time to do any more—" And besides, he wasn't going to get anything better on his resumé than Attaché, so what would be the point?

"There are four of them, singing harmony, and they need a real bass, someone young who's willing to work hard. They want you to audition this weekend." Mom stopped for a drink of water.

"Your Mom and I think you're old enough to make your own decision, whether you want to try for this or not."

Lance stared at his father, baffled. "I don't understand. Four guys? So it's like, barbershop only with an extra singer?"

"Apparently they want to be a pop group," Mom told him, sounding dubious. "They have a backer to finance them getting started. Ms Harless said he already has a successful group working in Europe."

"In Europe?" That sinking feeling was dissipating fast. This sounded amazing. Though he still had no idea why they would have called him. "But. Wow."

"It would mean some big changes," Dad said. "The group is based in Orlando, Florida. So you'd be living there."

"In Florida? But—why would a pop group in Florida call me?"

"Ms Harless said her son's vocal coach knows Mr Peterson, and he recommended you."

Dad spoke up again. "We talked—your mother and I—talked to the vocal coach as well, and he says they're quite serious. He says two of them are performers at present, working in theme parks, and the other two used to be on a television show."

Lance stared. "And they want me?"

"They just want you to audition," Mom said, and started to eat her dinner again. "I expect there will be other boys auditioning too."

Hah, Lance thought. Not as good as me, there won't. Although... if two of them had really been on television—of course, it might be some piddly local network, might not mean much. And the theme park guys might be dressing up as Chip and Dale, or something.

But if he didn't go for this, he'd regret it the rest of his life.

"I'd like to try," he said, firmly.


"Berrin?" She turned round, eyebrows raised. "Uh. Is it all right if I go down the field to have a look at the dragons? I've finished the sluicing, everything's clean." Flower-water again today, and every day for a sennight, each time a little less mix than the day before.

"Gig-Pok took you to see the dragons, didn't he?"

"Yes, three days ago."

"Then it must be all right. Tell you what, come down with me, I'm done with the harnesses. Gig-Pok wanted me to check everything in case of wear. They'll be kiting the new dragon tomorrow."

I had so many questions to ask about dragons, about dragon-flying, about how a person got to be a dragon-flyer, or even one step up from a shitshoveller, but I didn't want her to realise just how ignorant I was. If she didn't know already. So far, I'd picked up quite a bit from casual conversations—there were lots of interesting hints in the tavern last night—so I decided just to let Berrin talk, and see if I could learn something.

"Sometimes, none of them is interested," she told me as we walked down the long slope towards the long lake where the dragons were at play. "You never know, with dragons. Did you get one, when Gig-Pok showed you?"

"Yes, a dark red one. He sniffed me all over!"

"Oh, we usually call the dragons 'it', not 'he'. You can't actually tell whether they're male or female, you know."

That seemed silly to me. I'd been thinking of my cranberry-red dragon as 'he' ever since our encounter. "Surely there must be something to indicate a difference?"

"Some people think it goes by colour, others think it goes by size. But nobody seems to agree on which colour is which, or whether males are bigger than females, or the other way round."

"Do you have a theory?"

Berrin grinned at me. "I think the dragons know, and for the rest of us, it doesn't much matter. I mean, there's one dragon I think," she looked down, "I think it likes me, and I mostly think of it as 'her', but I could easily be wrong."

"Which one is it?"

She beamed. "That lovely gold one with brown points. Bright, we call it. Oh, look there's one coming." A large, scarlet dragon, its vivid scales shading almost to orange across its flanks and wings, was skimming towards us, an elbow-length or so above the grass. "Ah! It's Fatty."

"Fatty?" I stared. That magnificent creature, called 'Fatty'? It was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard.

The dragon plumped to a halt in front of us, and promptly extended its neck towards Berrin and started sniffing at her hips. "Stop that!" she admonished it, giggling. "I didn't bring you any sweets today." The dragon tilted its head at her, reproachfully, I thought, and turned its attention to me, but I had nothing to offer it either. What a pity.

"This dragon is not fat," I pointed out. Fatty was bigger than the cranberry dragon, his shoulders were level with my eyes, not at chin-height, and he had solidly muscled limbs, very well shaped.

"No," said Berrin, "but it's greedy for sweets. Anyway, its full name is," she took a deep breath and began to recite, "Ja - no - we - fa - tom - tot - toe - si - an - mor - pa - weth - sil - con - toe - ni. Try saying all that every time you want your dragon to spiral left, or something!"

"Oh," I said. Put that way, it didn't sound quite so unreasonable. My mother's cousin bred silkhounds, and they all had deeply silly names, like 'Serendipity out of Pulchritudinous by Ratiocination', and she actually called them Sherry or Ringo anyway, but at least those long names were pronounceable. I was about to ask why the dragons' names were so complicated, when something poked me in the back and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

It was the cranberry dragon, nosing hopefully into my pockets and getting no more joy than the scarlet one. Tomorrow, I thought. Bring something tomorrow.

The dragons sniffed me very thoroughly, walking round me and nuzzling everywhere. They didn't seem too put out not to receive sweets, which was a relief. Berrin seemed quite impressed that two dragons had come to inspect us, although, she said, Fatty was a very friendly dragon and was usually interested in people. Scraps was not so predictable.

Scraps. Honestly.

"This is the one that came when Gig-Pok brought me," I said, feeling that perhaps I ought to say something.

"Oh, well, of course, Gig-Pok. All the dragons respond to him, or he wouldn't be a dragonkeeper."

"Is it all right if I—" I lifted a hand. You're so beautiful, I want to touch you.

Cranberry dragon, Scraps, shoved his head impatiently against my hand, so I stroked his supple neck, fingered the nail-hard ridge spines, and even tried scratching behind his long, curved ears. He made a soft humming noise, like a spinning wheel, and his eyelids drooped with contentment. When I looked sideways, Berrin was scratching Fatty's head, too, and Fatty looked very smug. Then all of a sudden, they'd both had enough, and were off, flitting back towards the lake.

"What kind of sweets?" I asked, as we turned back.

"Those hard boiled ones with crystallized coating are best," Berrin said.

Crunchy ones. Yes.

"And it is all right to feed them?"

"Surely. Just, don't bring sweets more than once a week. They won't be harmed, but they'll eat every copper you're willing to spend." Well, I didn't have much else to spend it on, I could afford a dragon treat once a week. And shovelling noxious dragonshit would go much easier if I had dragons to look forward to at the end of the shift.


He was fighting to concentrate all day, pushing his excitement down, wondering what exactly was going to happen next. Wednesday was always a good day, though, with Physics and Math, he almost managed to forget about last night's conversation for maybe twenty minutes at a time.

Lance burst into the house and went straight for the kitchen, not for his customary snack but to find Mom. She was there, looking like she'd just got home herself, and she was on the phone, nodding and writing stuff down.

"That sounds fine," she said. "Yes, we'll be there. I look forward to meeting you, too, Lynn. Thank you. Goodbye, now."

She hung up, paused for a moment, then squared her shoulders and turned round. "It's all arranged. There'll be plane tickets waiting in our names at the airport, we fly out Saturday morning, change at Charlotte, and there'll be somebody to meet us in Orlando. Audition in the evening, because some of the group are working during the day."

"I meant to ask, Mom, did Ms Harless say what I'd have to do? Do I take some of my own music, or..."

"They'll be faxing some sheet music to your father's office. I'd better call him right away to make sure he brings it home tonight." She reached for the phone. "And there'll be some sight-reading, too, to make sure you can pick things up." No problem. Lance was very good at sight-reading. Mr Peterson had once told him he had the mathematical kind of musical gift, the kind that could perceive patterns, perfect for understanding harmony. One of the advantages of having an engineer and a Math teacher for parents. "You help yourself from the fridge, sweetie, I'm going to call your dad."

Mom gave a slightly forced smile as Lance fetched himself a plate and a glass. She didn't really want him to do this, he knew. To move away from home, to take a wild leap into the unknown. But she wouldn't stop him, if he passed the audition. She'd been quite lost when Stacy went away to college, hadn't smiled properly for weeks, and Lance had once heard her sobbing in the kitchen when he came down for a late-night snack (he'd tiptoed quietly back to bed instead), but she'd never said a word to Stacy.

He went across and kissed her carefully on the cheek that wasn't covered by telephone. "Thanks, Mom," he whispered, then, blushing, hastily made himself a sandwich.


I hoped it wasn't a breach of dragon etiquette, or stable protocol, to do this, but I was sure—all right, I was almost sure, that it was exactly what the dragon wanted for its nest pattern. It wasn't really anything special, just a palm-sized pale stone, pink and white and worn smooth almost to a disc. I'd spotted it in Mistress Parven's garden, amidst the overgrowth of weeds and ivy that had once, probably, been some kind of ornamental stone design. Well, Mistress Parven wouldn't miss it.

I put the stone on the ledge next to the four-dragon nest.

There seemed to be nobody in the yard when I emerged. Then I heard cursing from the store-room, and poked my head round the door to see Sojan, the stablehand who'd had the shoveller job before me, wrestling with a large ointment jar. Unfortunately, he spotted me before I could withdraw, so I gave him my best innocent smile and asked what happened to the others.

"They're watching the kiting," he said brusquely.

Preen on a string. Very dull.

"Oh, right," I said, and retreated before he could ask me to do something. Sojan was like that, he'd palm his tasks off to anyone who didn't get clear fast enough, and I'd done my fair share of the day's work.

It would be nice, some day, soon, maybe, not to have to come in at the beginning of the day and spend the morning shovelling. The senior stablehands, now, they got to groom dragons, polish their scales with oil and check them for parasites and tears and what have you. Dragons liked to be groomed before bedtime, though no dragon was oiled every day, it took too long. They'd be shined as well, before a competition or a display. I was really looking forward to that part of the job. I bet Scraps would be fun to groom, he'd probably be wriggly and playful and like to be scratched.

Well, for the moment, it didn't matter that I wasn't going to have a dragon to groom this evening, because I had candied sweets for Scraps and Fatty, so I was going down the field to see if they were hungry. If. Hah.

I could see the handsome blue dragon, high up on his flying harness, looping obediently over the practice field, and there was silver-blue Moonbeam going through the same motions without the tether. Poor Moonbeam. Bored. There was quite a crowd of stablehands over that way, to the right, which was fine with me. I'd be more than happy to have time alone with my dragons, if I could. If they'd come.

Sugar! Yes, I thought they'd come for that. Here they were, crimson and scarlet, hastening towards me, skimming low over the grass. I fisted my hands around the sugary blobs and held them out in front of me.

Say please, I thought.

Please!!! SugarPlease!

Grinning, I opened my hands flat, and gave them the sweets. Fatty sucked his cherry-flavoured candy balls off my right palm in one cheerful swoop, and crunched them with his mouth open. A whiff of cherried dragon breath, surprisingly inoffensive. Scraps selected his sherbert bombs delicately from my left with his teeth, one at a time, gulped them into his mouth and let them effervesce on his tongue. His eyelids drooped blissfully. I'm pretty sure he smiled.

Then they sniffed me all over, tickling deliberately with whiskers and breath against my neck, and inquisitive noses in my armpits and groin. Stop that, I thought helplessly, but it's fun, ticklish scoop boy, and I squirmed and really didn't want them to stop anyway. More fun than Preen on a string, Scraps insisted.

Well, yes, it was. I'd find out how the dragon-flyers managed to train their dragons, one of these days. Meanwhile it was a lot more entertaining getting to know these two. Beautiful creatures.

They stopped tickling me eventually, and I lay back on the grass trying to catch my breath as the two of them crouched on either side and snickered. Then I scratched their heads though you don't deserve it.

They sat up, quite suddenly. Done. And they were off, back down the field towards the others. Several dragons were in the lake now, splashing merrily, and Preen and Moonbeam were no longer flying drills. Must be time to go home. Still... I watched the dragons for a little while longer. There was Bright, the little gold, Berrin's favourite, at the edge of the lake with a rangy rose-red dragon on one side and the well-muscled dark green on the other. Two bronzes lolling on the grass, and a vivid orange stretching its wings against the background of water. I can't imagine ever getting used to how beautiful they are, I thought.

Oh well. They'd be here tomorrow.


By the time Lance went to bed on Thursday night, the music was firmly in his head. He could sing it with his eyes closed.

Getting to sleep was a lot more difficult.


I couldn't help myself, I skirted the shitpile in the centre of the stable, and went round to see whether Moonbeam had used the pale stone I'd left for him. And he had. He'd re-worked the whole design—I really, really would like to know how dragons do that—with the stone in the centre, and now as I looked at the pattern and the colours, it did make sense. No—not quite sense, just something that itched at the edge of my mind, something that almost seemed to have a message for me, that I couldn't quite read. Wishful thinking, most likely.

Anyhow. I grinned to myself, and the shit just didn't seem as stinky as usual. These days, now that I could visit the dragons every day after my tasks were done, the fact that shovelling was hard work just wasn't so important. It didn't make the morning go any faster, being happy, it just seemed to.

The fresh, clear smell of green grass and open air was a relief after the stink of the stables and the flowered water and the ever so slightly sickly grass clippings. I ran down the slope with my arms outstretched, wishing for wings and hoping my dragons would come to see me even though I didn't have candy today.

I thought they'd have Moonbeam partnering Preen again for the kiting, but this afternoon Scraps and Fatty were in formation with the bright blue dragon, their reds setting him off most effectively as they drilled. Moonbeam came to me, instead. Such a lovely creature, lissom, graceful, pale blue scales, almost lilac at the wind edge of his wings, and he sniffed me delicately and was careful not to tickle, for which I was grateful even though it seemed so odd, after Scraps and Fatty's rumbustuous ways.

Scoop boy, thank you for the pretty.

You're welcome, I thought, grinning at him. The pattern is perfect?

Perfect for now. Another moment needs another perfection.

Moonbeam blinked his sea-blue eyes at me, and turned to watch the three dragons which were double-looping left, then right.

Have they found the right dragon-flyer for Preen? I thought, wistfully. I would so love it to be me. To be the one who worked with that dragon—no, not just that dragon, any of the dragons—to teach it routines, to bond with it and be its friend, to feel the rush of flight as the dragon performed. If that's how it works. I still didn't know what being a dragon-flyer actually involved, how they got from kiting to flying without the tether to steer by. I should probably be down in the training field with the other hands, if I wanted to be noticed in future. I should be working towards it...

Dull boy. Earthbound. Flying is better.

But I can't fly, I reminded him.

No ambition, Moonbeam told me severely. Then his head whipped round behind me, I felt a sudden prod as he poked his nose between my legs, and I yelped with surprise. Moonbeam was laughing at me as he took off. Pesky dragon! I thought after him.

As I watched, Moonbeam joined Scraps, Fatty and Preen—who had now been let off his tether— and the four of them played a wild game of aerial chase, hurtling far out over the lake in a frenetic spiral. The group of stablehands on the training field was breaking up. Berrin was down there, and as I tried to decide whether to ask her if the kiting had gone well, I saw the pretty gold and brown dragon picking its way towards her. I couldn't interrupt that, so I headed back up towards the stables instead. I'd ask tomorrow.

Hurry up, scoop boy.

All right, I'm doing my best! Nearly done, just the grass to spread.

"You do not wish to learn about dragon-flying?" At the unexpected sound of a voice behind me, I jerked so mightily that the grass-bucket clanged painfully against my knee. How the dragonkeeper could move so quietly, I did not know, unless it was some dwarvish characteristic I'd never heard of. Then I realised what he'd said.

"Oh, no, I mean, yes, I am. Very interested," I blurted.

"Then why do you not watch the kiting?" He looked disapproving, through the thicket of dark hair.

"I haven't finished here—"

"Kiting the new dragon. All the other stablehands watch, not you."

"Uh." Of course. Gig-Pok didn't seem to differentiate past, present and future when he spoke, it must be another dwarf thing. He didn't mean I should be there at this moment, he meant yesterday, and the day before. I'd had no idea anyone would notice me not being there. "I went to see the other dragons," I explained. "I bought sweets. Um, Berrin told me that Fatty liked sugar, and that it was all right..." Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned Berrin, I didn't want her to get into trouble. Gig-Pok looked very stern, or possibly just thoughtful. Or possibly, constipated. You couldn't really tell, with dwarves.

"So, you give Fatty sweets." He didn't seem to object, he just seemed, maybe, disappointed? But I was probably misinterpreting. I didn't know much about dwarves. "Very well." He turned away, and stared slowly around the stable as if inspecting the place. "New dragon nests where?"

"Oh, here. With these three." I showed him where Preen had joined Moonbeam and the other two. Gig-Pok stared at the nest for a while. I hoped he wasn't wondering where Moonbeam's round white stone came from. None of the other dragons had a white stone in its nest pattern. But he didn't say anything, and waved me to get on with my work. Dwarves were uncomfortable to be around, sometimes.

I went to Morgy's tavern again that evening, There was a lot of talk about the new dragon, how the kiting had gone, how well it had flown with Scraps and Fatty, and who was likely to be its permanent flyer. The constant references to my beautiful dragons as 'it' were beginning to irritate me. When Preen came and sniffed me after his kiting, I could tell perfectly easily that he was, well, a 'he'. And he specifically requested blueberry candy, cheeky thing, it tastes best, indeed.

"Does anybody know anything about Gig-Pok?" I blurted, when the conversation grew quiet. "I mean, I've never met any other dwarves, so..."

A babble of voices started up.

"He's never satisfied—"

"No, it's just that he never speaks unless he has something to say. He always answers questions."

"He's a bit creepy, is what I think."

"He's always fair, but—"

"You never exactly know what he's thinking."

"He can talk to all the dragons—"

"He doesn't seem to care much about people's feelings," said Marchus, who'd been allowed to kite one of the dragons for the first time today, and was buying everyone's drinks. "If you're good for the stable, he'll keep you, if you're not, then out you go, and he isn't bothered about how that feels."

"Like Sojan."

There was a moment of silence. Sojan had been sent home yesterday. Nobody knew exactly why. He'd just been told to go, and we'd only found out because he didn't turn up at the stables today. Sojan hadn't been exactly popular, all the stablehands knew he liked to palm off his tasks if he could, but nobody had heard that he'd ever been caught slacking, and nobody in the tavern had reported him, or at least, nobody admitted to it.

It was very scary, if a person could be dismissed like that. I was glad that I'd been careful not to break the rules about visiting the dragons. Now that I had met them, it would... it would kill me not to be able to see them any more.


By Friday, Lance felt as though he'd been singing those harmonies for ever. He was packed and ready to go, and the only problem with the weekend was that they wouldn't have time to go to Disneyworld. All the way to Orlando, and no Disneyworld.

Of course, if he moved to Florida...


I hoped it wouldn't be too long before someone new showed up at the stables looking for work. I was definitely ready to leave my shovel behind. And it might be callous of me, but Sojan's job would be a lot less shitty, even if it did seem to have been more about cleaning harnesses than working with dragons.

Until someone else showed up, it seemed I was stuck with it. And no chance of watching the real dragon-flying practise while I had to spend the mornings shovelling dragonshit.

The dragonkeeper showed up again, this time while I was sluicing. Well, nobody in their senses would arrive while I was still shovelling, would they. Hah. Gig-Pok just stared from the doorway. It was incredibly uncomfortable. I couldn't tell if he was pleased with what I was doing, or wondering whether to dismiss me. After Sojan's disappearance, everyone was a little bit on edge, me more than anyone. Shit shoveller was not exactly a qualification.

After ten minutes of being watched while I sluiced and swept and spread the clippings, I couldn't bear it any more.

"Um. Gig-Pok? May I ask a question?"


"Why don't the dragons, um, leave their shit outside?"

"It is useful. We train dragons to void inside, then we collect the dung and sell it. Helps pay for dragonfood."

"Yes, I mean, I know it gets sold. But I was wondering, I mean, how do they, the smell?" It must be unpleasant for them to sleep in here, with that stench. Scents were important to dragons, and no creature could possibly enjoy smelling dragonshit.

"Dragon eats at dusk. Then dragon sleeps. In the morning, dragon voids in centre space then goes out to lake for flying and work. Afternoon is for play and polishing."

I felt blood rush into my cheeks, I felt so stupid. The rest of it, I already knew, but I ought to have been able to work that out for myself. Of course they did it just before clearing out of the stables. But...

"But, um, why train the dragons to void in the stable? Why not train them to void straight into the slop tank? Isn't that a bit, um, pointless?"

I think, I'm pretty sure, that's what a dwarf looks like when he's completely poleaxed. Just like a human, really. He stared at me, then let out a stream of strange words in a language that had too many kak and ftch and drrrk sounds in it for my liking, turned on his heel and strode outside, leaving me to finish spreading the clippings without an audience. I really hoped I hadn't offended him. Either he'd been cursing up a storm, or dwarf-language always sounded as though the speaker had swallowed a wasp.

At the edge of my brain, four dragons were laughing.

All my friends were in the air when I went down the hill to see them. Preen was definitely showing off, elegant wing-tip turns and some very fancy ripples, but he looked so good that everyone at the dragon end was watching him. Of course. Everybody must watch. He really was a gorgeous dragon, perfect proportions, and that colouring! I was beginning to be able to discriminate, now, to look past the incredible beauty and see the specifics, like the azure dragon's ideal musculature, strong but not heavy, and the exact symmetry of his points.

But if I were judging for beauty, I still wouldn't be able to choose Preen over Scraps and Fatty and Moonbeam. Aww, that's love!

Yes, it is, I told him. Love.

The other three formed up above Preen into a diamond so precise that I stared, trying to understand who was flying them, and how, how it was done. Gig-Pok was nowhere to be seen, but Berrin waved cheerfully from the wooden fence along the training field, so I crossed the grass to see if she had an explanation for me.

"Don't they look great?" she called as I approached. "I wonder if Castleholder Jenniket knew Preen had been trained with Moonbeam when she bid for it. The dragon-flyers are really excited, they're all hoping the dragons will find a fifth. They say the best hands are the ones the dragons make for themselves."


Berrin looked startled, then grinned at me. "I keep forgetting how new you are to all this. A hand is five dragons working together. The most prestigious of the competitions are for hands, and they're in great demand for the high status displays, too, because they're so rare. It'd be fantastic if we could manage to work a hand from our little stable. A real triumph for the castleholder—and for Gig-Pok, too. Though of course a square is good, too, especially when they are as perfectly in flight as these four. Groups are always higher rated, you can do so much more display when you work the dragons together."

"Is there a name for a group of six? Or more?"

"I don't think there's ever been a group of more than five."

"But surely..." I'd seen a parade, when I was quite young, forty dragons all in flight together. I hadn't been able to get them out of my head for weeks. I said so.

"Oh, well, yes, when all the dragons parade together on state occasions. They do it at the big competitions too, quite often, but it's not like group flying, it's not the same thing. You just have all the dragon-flyers working to instructions and trying to keep time—that's why they usually have music, or a drummer—and the dragons do some basic moves together. It's impressive to see, if you don't know anything about dragon-working, but when you do... it's just not the same."

"So, does one dragon-flyer work a whole hand, then? Or do they need more?" Wouldn't it be amazing to be the flyer for those four! Was that insanely ambitious, or was it, might it be possible? Earthbound echoed around my brain, and a flicker of amusement from Preen, but Scraps and Fatty were too busy complaining about Preen's choice of moves to pay me any attention.

Berrin paused. "I don't know. I've only ever seen a flyer work two dragons. We've no triples here, and this quartet has only just established itself." Been nesting together for ages, I thought, or possibly, one of the dragons thought. It was difficult to tell, sometimes. But Berrin was still talking. "I don't know if it'd be possible to manage more—though I think Gig-Pok could probably do it. But dwarves don't fly dragons for competition."

"They don't?"

"I think it's a cultural thing," she said, shrugging. "I don't really know. Oh, I'm up next. Sorry."

She ducked through the fence and hurried over to the three dragon-flyers waiting in the centre, with a mysterious array of coloured objects scattered over four trestle tables. What did I have to do to be on the training rota? Perhaps... perhaps I should just have asked. I'd been speaking to the dragonkeeper this very morning, why had I not asked about becoming a dragon-flyer, why had I wasted my precious opportunity by exposing my ignorance about the dragons' routine, and making him angry? Train dragons to shit in slop tank. I was such an idiot. Not an idiot, scoop boy. Better things to do.

Sugar? Sugar today?

Greedy, I told him. You watch what you're doing. Follow Moonbeam. The silver-blue had taken over the lead and was performing an intricate series of tumbles, and Scraps was going to have to concentrate. Preen, of course, liked the challenge, and Fatty was keeping up, with a commentary of affectionate abuse.

I leaned back against the fence, watching the four of them as they plaited and circled and spun, a dazzling vortex of flight and colour, reds and blues glinting like jewels against the sky, I could almost see Fatty's scarlet back as he glided, almost hear the wind rush under Preen's wide spread wings, see the elegant slope of Moonbeam's long neck as he tilted to the side, the ground and sky rotating around my body, the blues and crimson of the others, swoop and leap and soar, shine, shine, whiz past the two red dragons below, feel the rapture of free flight—

I sat down and stuck my head between my knees. Dizzy, so dizzy.

Fly! Moonbeam's rapture rang in my head.

Can't, I thought, but how I wished that I could.

That night I dreamed I was a dragon.


Lance had his English assignment with him, but he was far too excited to settle down and read. He didn't even want to watch the movie. He gazed out of the window instead, and sang through the music in his mind.

They'd only sent the bass line for the national anthem. It'd be interesting to hear the full arrangement. The other song was one he'd never heard before, so he'd really have to watch the conduc—they would have a conductor, wouldn't they? His stomach lurched at the unfamiliar thought. Maybe they wouldn't, not if they were a pop group.

So he'd have to listen, and watch the others. Lance could do that. He hoped the four guys in Orlando were in fact good singers, because the new song was real pretty. He was looking forward to singing that with the other voices—doing it in his head just wasn't the same.

They must be good. Surely they'd have to be good, or their backer wouldn't be paying for him and Mom to fly in all the way from Clinton, Mississippi, to audition. How many other basses would there be? What were they really, really looking for?

Although, Lance considered, it didn't much matter what they were looking for, since there was nothing he could do about that. Like, if they wanted someone taller, or someone who didn't have froggy eyes, he was clean out of luck. What he could do, what he would do, was to sing it perfectly. He might not be the one chosen, but if he wasn't, it absolutely would not be because he didn't do the very best he could.

He sang it in his head, and watched the dazzle of sunshine on the white, white clouds through the airplane window.


I woke to the prospect of another shit-filled morning.

Except, when I got to the stables, something was very, very strange. My nose told me, first, but I went into the stable to see, and it was true. The floor was still covered in clean grass clippings, not a smidgin of shit anywhere. I followed the stench to the slop tank.

It was full.

Gig-Pok must be an incredible dragon trainer.

The dragonkeeper was not here yet. Nobody but myself and presumably also the night hand, who must have let the dragons out before my arrival, but where he'd gone I had no idea. What was I supposed to do now?

In the end I went back into the stable, swept out yesterday's clippings, and scattered the bucketfuls over the slop tank. I added a scant handful of flower mix to the fresh clippings, and spread them—no, I didn't have authorisation or instructions, but the dragons would appreciate it. Petals in the grass smelled better than petals all soggy in the sluice water. Besides, if they were now using the slop tank—I had a sudden vision of dragons lined up patiently to void into the tank, Preen, and Moonbeam, and then Scraps, and then a disconcerting sensation of being perched over it myself, and Fatty's rich laughter in my head—then I was out of a job.

No more work, no more scoop for boy! Clever dragons.

I have to think about this, I told my cranberry dragon. Be patient!

Scraps protested, and I couldn't help but smile. After all, life had to be better when you didn't spend every morning shovelling dragonshit. Only, it wasn't that simple.

Perhaps I could do something else, to prove I was useful? Sojan had maintained the harnesses, that couldn't be so hard, could it? And they had nobody to replace him, so far as I knew.

I went up the steps above the store-room to the records room, to see whether the dragonkeeper had arrived yet. Some of the stablehands thought he actually lived in the stables, so I knocked, but the door opened under my hand and when I went through, nobody was there.

I hadn't been into the records room before. It wasn't much, mostly empty. Leather-bound books along one wooden shelf, twenty-one books, one for each dragon. And eight more on the shelf below, dragons which had died or been sold, probably. There were ribbons displayed on the wall by the door, and a little note of date and place next to each one. A record of the competition wins for this stable—no doubt the awards themselves would be on display in the castle, where visitors could be impressed.

But this wasn't getting me anywhere. I needed to find something useful—a list of tasks for the day, perhaps? Harnesses to clean or mend?

There was a list on the table, thick black ink with a leftward slant, but quite legible, and I'd always been good at reading even though these days, I didn't get much practise. So I read it, and my stomach clenched with dismay.

It was about me.

Good worker. Conscientious. Efficient.
No inclination to visit dragons.
First encounter: Dragon Scraps friendly. Boy does not speak.
Absent from dragon kiting. Takes sugar to Dragon Fatty.
Identifies nest of Preen.
No mention of communication. Berrin reports boy does not speak to dragons.
Not present at flyer training.
Conclusion: not compatible.

How could that be right? What did it mean, 'does not speak to dragons'? What else was there, beyond the conversation we had in our minds? What was I missing?

Not to be sad. Scoop boy is good. Come! Play!

I should wait for the dragonkeeper. Protest this judgment, ask him what I had to do to speak to dragons, convince him that I wanted it above anything...

Come! Play! They were all calling me now.

I really should wait for the dragonkeeper...


Also, sugar! You said sugar!

I did have sugar treats in my pockets. I could speak to Gig-Pok later. Besides, if this was my last day, I wasn't going to waste it hanging around the stables with nothing to do.

I ran down the hill.

I'd never seen the dragons at work before. At least half of them were in the air, working on routines, and there was a group of white-shirted dragon-flyers in the training field, all staring skyward. I veered the other way. I probably wasn't supposed to be down here at all, best not to make myself obvious.

None of my dragons was working yet. I remembered the talk at the tavern about who was going to be flying them. General opinion was that Gig-Pok would have to do it. None of them had chosen a flyer yet, and although Preen and Fatty were willing to work with anyone, Scraps was tricky to deal with, and Moonbeam very hard to please. Well, I was glad of it, since it meant they were all here now. Lazing about, as it happened, in a tangled heap of gem-bright limbs.

Snuggling, Moonbeam told me reprovingly. Waiting for scoop boy. As I got closer, I could see them starting to extricate themselves from the pile.

Clever dragons! No more shovel! Preen, very pleased with himself for going first. Time to fly.

No! Sugar first! Fly soon, sugar now. Gimme.

You, I told him severely, are a pest and a nuisance. And yes, I do love you anyway.

Scraps grinned at me as he helped himself to the sherberts. Cherry sweets for Fatty, blueberry candy for Preen, honeycomb crunch for Moonbeam. And a peppermint stick for me. We lay there on the grass, munching happily, until all of a sudden the four dragons sat upright and pointed up the hill. I squinted against the sunshine, and saw the dragonkeeper's unmistakable stubby figure, with an entourage of stablehands and, oh dear, a tall woman with a long red plait. The castleholder.

They were coming towards us, and I was filled with terror. They were going to send me away.

No. Not to happen. Our Scoop. Ours. Fly. Fly now!

They gathered around me, and urged me up. I clambered awkwardly onto Fatty's back, Don't want to hurt you! Won't hurt, Fatty is strong, clinging to his neck and settling myself very carefully between the ridge spines. I could feel the effort it cost him to get off the ground, and each mighty sweep of wings that took us further skywards. Scraps and Preen circled below us, Moonbeam flew above, and the crowd coming down the field could do nothing but stare. And my dragons carried me up, up into the sky, and I saw it through all their eyes as we climbed and the world grew small and irrelevant below, up, up in the cold clear air. I was filled with joy, and certainty, and I belonged up here, fly with us always, and I leaped free of my scarlet brother's back and I flew.


Lance looked around at the tiny office. It wasn't quite what he'd been expecting. "Where do you think the others are?" he whispered.

Mom looked a bit worried, too. Ms Harless had been very friendly, chatted to them all the way here from the airport, but she hadn't told them the audition would be happening in some kind of warehouse. Lance was fighting down his discomfort. He'd expected... a comfortable, chair-lined room, with all the candidates eyeing each other suspiciously as they waited to be called in. This tiny, basic office crammed with boxes and piles of paper was kinda weird.

"Maybe they only have one audition tonight," his mom whispered back. "Someone else could be flying in tomorrow."

"Uh." No sense worrying about it, Lance supposed. Just concentrate on being the best. Seize this chance. "Guess I'd better warm up." So he went through the vocal exercises Mr Peterson always used. Quarter volume, though, so as not to deafen Mom. It helped him keep calm.

He was mostly done when the door opened, and Ms Harless came back. "Everyone's ready for you, Lance, honey."

They followed her down the narrow staircase. There was a dirty white wall with a door in it, and Lance felt his stomach knotting in anticipation, and breathed carefully. There might be a whole new world on the other side of that door.

The new world didn't look that different from the old one. There was a long table at the near end of the huge open space, with three people sitting at it and a couple spare chairs. Lance caught a glimpse of a group of guys in a huddle over to the right, but Lynn led the way to the table, so he followed her.

Lance concentrated on his breathing. This was it, the big moment. Mr Pearlman, a large, genial man with sweaty hands, shook hands with them both, and thanked Diane for allowing Lance to attend the audition, then presented his associates, the vocal coach and the choreographer. Choreographer! What did they have one of those for? Lance had hoped his days of stepping this way and that and waving his arms around as he sang would be over now. Oh, well.

"And here are our boys," said Mr Pearlman, grandly. "Gentlemen, this is Lance Bass."

Four pairs of eyes, assessing him. Lance assessed back, for an instant—dorky kid with blond curls, bigger dork with hair almost as stupid as Lance's own, cheerful guy with long jaw, skinny suspicious one with bright brown eyes—then smiled his biggest, friendliest smile to encompass all of them, and saw with relief that it was working. They all relaxed, and three of them even smiled back.

After that it was question time. The singing questions he expected, but stuff like, how do you feel about finishing high school with a tutor, and how soon can you move to Florida seemed sorta premature. Eventually, though, the lady called Robin stood up, and everyone got tense again, and that was when Lance realized. They didn't have anyone else. There were no other candidates to be auditioned tomorrow. They needed him. They needed him to be good enough.

Fortunately, he was.

Robin put them through a few vocal exercises, and Lance started to get a really good feeling about this. These guys could sing. The curly dork was a bit nasal, but the suspicious guy had an incredible high tenor, great tone.

"So, Lance, are you ready to sing?"

He smiled at her and nodded.

"Would you like to start with the national anthem, or—"

"Could we do the other one first? I thought she knew? It's a beautiful song."

She looked pleased. "All right then. Everyone?" She gave them the note, they found their places, she raised her hands, and they were in. Four bars to settle into it, feel the timing, and understand how they all fit together. Four more bars, and Lance knew he was in. The sound! The hairs prickled at the back of his neck, and he could see out the corner of his eye the pride and worry on Mom's face, and Lynn Harless's hands clapped over her mouth to hide her smile.

The rest of the song was like flying.


A hand of dragons shimmered in the sky like a five-pointed star: two reds, cranberry and scarlet, two blues, bright as the summer sky, pale as moonlight. And one green, the colour of new leaves in springtime, and tipped with gold.


This story was Remixed by Withdiamonds here.


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