Fern pranced back and forth excitedly, eyes wide with curiosity and happiness, hands and knees jittery. In front of her stood the most majestic beast she could ever imagine. A dragon! Green-scaled, emerald wings, razor sharp talons and claws, foot-long horns adorning its head. It had large jaws which would only grow bigger as the rest of it did.
Next to Fern stood her father, straight-shouldered. He was dressed in a plain brown jerkin and leather pants, with a large sword by his hip, encased in an exquisite scabbard laced with gold and silver. His shoulder-length brown hair was tied up to avoid cascading over his eyes.
Fern watched as the dragon trainer petted the beast’s large snout. It huffed loudly in contentment. The wiry trainer –dressed similarly to Fern’s father- motioned with his hand for Fern to come closer. She stepped forward, wiping a wisp of her golden-honey hair, excited and yet awed by the powerful animal before her.
Dragons were fierce and dangerous animals in the wild, but if captured and bred, they proved faster than horses and incredible fighters as well. This dragon had the ability to breathe fire. The trainer smiled, nodding his head towards the beast. It sat still on its haunches. It had the shape of a monstrous dog, but the head was more like that of a tiger. Except for the ivory horns.
Fern slowly approached it, looking at the saddle tied around the beast’s belly. It was made of leather with silver lining. Fern’s father the king, as a rule, didn’t like to waste precious metals on everyday items, but with the saddle and dragon being a birthday gift, as was the custom for centuries past, he had dropped the rule. He knew how much it meant to every princess or prince. Especially Fern.
She placed her foot in the leather stirrup and pulled herself up on the beast. It smelled of hay. She felt its powerful muscles beneath the saddle stir as she mounted it. It felt so strong that Fern was unsure that she would be able to control it. But she knew that it was tamed and that it would obey her commands as it had been trained.
She inhaled deeply looking at her father. He had a wide grin on his face. The trainer smiled and handed Fern the leather reins up to her. She grasped them. Then realized that she was now the only one who had control over the beast. Or it had complete control over her!
She grasped the reins more firmly. Then she pulled up on them. The dragon lifted itself to its full height. Fern pulled tightly on the reins, trying not to fall off. The dragon, assuming that the jerk was a command, pushed itself forward, slowly getting into a trot. Fern screamed, clutching to the reins tightly.
Her father’s eyes grew wide and he yelled: “Hang on Fern!” The trainer was about to say something as well, but just as he opened his mouth, the dragon leapt from the ground, extending its broad wings. Fern screamed louder than ever. They were going to crash back down to the ground!
But before the dragon’s bird-like feet hit the ground, it gave a broad stroke with its wings, and with a powerful surge they were flying! Fern watched as the beast pushed higher and higher and she pulled the reins harder. All the commands she had been caught were becoming muddled. She watched as they sailed over the city limits, going higher and higher. She was leaning back almost parallel to the ground as she began to slide back out of the saddle.
The wind whipped past her face like a whirlwind.She couldn’t breathe! The dragon pushed higher and higher. Fern finally relaxed on the reins as she began to remember what she had been trained. She tried to talk to herself as they soared higher and higher.
“Pulling up means fly. Loosening on the reins means fly straight.”
She was sure she was going to fall off the dragon if she let go, but she knew she was going to fall off if they kept the straight-up course as well. With what little effort she could muster, she eased on the reins and tried to push her knees downward. To her surprise and joy the dragon slowly began to level out.
She took a gulp of breath and sighed inwardly. She pushed down on her knees harder. The dragon obeyed and slowly began to calm as they leveled out. Just to make sure they were going to be fine, Fern gave a very hard nudge. Before she knew what was happening, the dragon was spiraling down towards the ground. Everything from so high up looked so strange. The town was a mixture of browns and grays, and the surrounding fields, forests, and plains were just big patches of color with no detail.
Fern screamed as they plunged downward. Now they were going to crash! She pulled up on the reins, trying to get her nerves calmed. The dragon instantly obeyed and spread out its wings, gliding until they came abreast.
She sat on edge, nerves going crazy, heart beating. She wasn’t even sure if it had been breathing for any of the exhilarating flight. She watched the ground fly past far below. The wind was so hard it threatened to push her off the saddle. Determined not to make any sudden moves, she slowly leaned closer to the dragon’s body. As they continued to glide they lost speed until gradually they were going at a fairly easy speed for Fern to control without fear.
She decided they needed to turn around and go home. With the greatest of care she turned the reins. The dragon began to tilt to one side. Fern hugged the dragon and began to bank the turn. The dragon was sideways and she clung onto it with a fierce grip.
They finally righted and she could see that they had successfully completed the turn. She was about give a whoop! Of joy, but was afraid it might jinx the flight. She maintained a slow speed. She remembered the training.
“When you want a dragon to fly faster merely nudged its side like you would a horse. If you want it to glide then pull back gently on the reins.”
She realized that in many ways it was just like riding a horse. A horse flying through the air. Breathing as calmly as she could –the wind seemed to suck all the air out of her lungs- she let the dragon glide. She ever so lightly tapped the dragon with her knees and it gave a light flap of its wings. Then nothing happened. At first Fern wasn’t sure if she had to repeatedly tap the dragon. But then as she was about to nudge it again it gave another light stroke. After several more seconds it did so again.She realized that the harder you nudge, the faster they go.
Fern could now see the palisade walls of the village approaching, and then the bigger stonewalls of the castle. She pushed down on the dragon’s neck. In response it began to descend at a degree that Fern could survive without being terrified. She watched as they soared over the walls of both the city and the castle.
Over the tall towers and keeps she went. When she spotted the takeoff and landing spot for her dragon –right next to the dragon stables- she pulled the reins upward and then pushed down.The dragon glided and then made a small circle, swooping down as it did so. Fern was not expecting the move and clung to the saddle. However, she was wise enough to not tug the reins.
They finally reached the ground. The dragon gave a few strokes of its wings to slow them to almost a mid-air standstill, and then softly landed. Fern, who had shut her eyes tight as they landed, afraid that the dragon wouldn’t be able to slow itself sufficiently, peeked one eye open. She realized that they had indeed landed. The saw her father and the trainer standing nearby, massive grins on their faces.
Fern was about to jump off but then realized that this was now her dragon and she had to take care of it. She let loose the reins and pressed on the top of the dragon’s head between its two big horns. Submissively it sunk down to its knees.
She hopped off and landed with a thud to the dusty ground. She grinned wide, showing a full row of white pearly teeth. She giggled at first, and then busted into a loud laugh. Her heart swelled with joy and pride.
“I did it dad, I did it!”
He laughed heartily, a deep low-toned laugh, and looked down at her. “Well done Fern. You had me worried when you took off like that.”
She laughed, wordless at what had just passed. “I – I- I can’t believe it!”
She turned to the dragon and gave it as big of a hug as she could. It rumbled deep in its throat and she took it as a “thank you.” She felt a strange feeling about the beast. One that everyone told her would come. A feeling that came with owning such a pet as a dragon.
The trainer, who enjoyed this part of his work more than any other of the work he did, stepped forward. Fern turned. “It needs a name doesn’t it?”
The trainer nodded. “Yup. She needs a good one. You get to choose.”
Fern had been told that, but just wanted to make sure. She turned to the beast and stared for the first time at her eyes. They were big and round, vibrant. They reminded Fern of herself. Young and excited.
“I know what to call her,” Fern said, turning back to the trainer and her father. They waited in anticipation.
“I’ll call her Jumper, because she jumped right into the flight!”
The trainer nodded. “A fitting name. now, let’s get her back in her stall. You should come back tomorrow. We have much more to do to make you an expert dragon rider!”
Fern couldn’t wait.