The next few days flew by rapidly for Fern. Literally! She had been taught about the basic controls by Jasper, the trainer, before ever riding a dragon. Now after the fifth straight day of flying, Jasper said she was ready try some combat moves.
“Revaltree is always in a dangerous position. Although we have a strong city and castle, you know well all the enemies that lay in the mountains behind us.” Jasper turned and pointed to the tall and grand mountains lying behind the large city. They were snow-capped and covered in pine trees.
He continued. “We always need to be ready to fight if it is necessary, against man or beast. And while you are young and small it may be difficult for you to wield a large blade. But your dragon is the greatest weapon you could have.” He patted Jumper’s side and nodded up at his seat, motioning for Fern to mount.
She did so quickly, now a little more familiar with the seat and powerful beast beneath. Jasper continued, mounting his own dragon, a ruby-red and brown animal with black horns. Unlike Jumper, it looked more like a snake, with a long, slender neck and narrow head.
“Today I am going to teach you a few of the basic attacks your dragon to unleash upon an enemy. That is why we are going to the Plain of Clover. It is open and spacious with plenty of land and sky to maneuver your dragon.”
He pulled on the reins and his dragon took a running start. Fern took her reins and prodded Jumper with her legs. Jumper took a few heavy steps forward. Fern then pulled up on the reins and Jumper took a leap, wings already spread out. They were up and flying seconds later.
She banked to the right, following Jasper. She had learned in the past few days that the best way to ride a dragon was to sit as low in the saddle as you could, and make sure the dragon’s head was tilted slightly up. That blocked a majority of the wind flow and made it much easier to stay on the saddle.
There was virtually no wind, but as Fern turned her head back to the Forbidden Mountain Range, she could see dark clouds forming at the peaks. She had yet to experience bad weather while flying, but it looked like that may change today.
~ ~ ~ ~
Twenty minutes later they arrived at the Plain of Clover, which was just that. For almost two miles in either direction stretched unending clumps of clover, a rich dark green. But Fern also noticed what looked to be people scattered throughout the field, unmoving. To the left past a thin line of trees bordering the plain, ran a river named the Fraser River.
Jasper pulled his beast, named Crimson Flame for his devastating fire attack, down to the ground. Fern pushed down on Jumper’s neck, and the swooped down. When they were about thirty feet from the ground Jumper stuck her wings out as far as possible, and they acted like a parachute. They dropped to the ground gently besides Crimson.
Jasper hopped off his dragon and tapped on what looked to be a straw-filled dummy. Fern realized that those were the unmoving people she had seen. “Targets?”
Jasper nodded. “Yup. And Jumper is gonna set ‘em aflame!”
Fern was about to ask how, but Jasper beat her to the answer. “See, we aren’t entirely sure how it works, but there is some sort of explosive gas that is in a compartment in fire-breathing dragons. Anyhow, the way you get them to breathe fire when they are babies and younglings, is by riling them. If you get a dragon angry enough it will start spitting fire all over this earth!” Jasper chuckled, scratching his cheek. “Boy was Iris’s dragon a feisty one.
“So,” he said, returning to the subject, “Once you get them to breathe fire, it is only a matter of yelling ‘Fire!’ at them, until finally they understand that you only say it when they breathe fire. From there it is a cinch. You pick the target, give them the command, and they’ll torch anything you command them too.”
Fern nodded, her hands trembling in excitement. She’d seen her sister’s and father’s dragons shoot fire, but now she was going to be on one and telling it to herself! She looked out at the multiple targets as a light breeze rustled her hair. She glanced back and saw that the dark clouds had thickened and were moving down the mountain towards Revaltree.
Jasper seemed to ignore it and swept his hand across the clover field. “You see there are targets spread out across the field. See if you can hit a few and then we’ll move on.”
Fern didn’t wait to reply. She was already pulling on the reins. As they took to the air they twisted sideways. Fern hugged Jumper tightly. Once they had gone a hundred and eighty degrees she pulled up straight. Once they were sailing over treetops she Jumper back towards the clover field.
Fern wasn’t sure exactly how to aim. She assumed Jumper would know which target to shoot, but just to make sure, as they approached the first dummy from high in the air, she pointed at it. They drew closer and closer, the adrenaline pumping through Fern’s veins. They were at least fifty feet above the ground when they came into what Fern considered “range.” With every bit of strength she could muster she yelled: “Fire!”
Something inside Jumper felt as if it was sliding back towards the tail. And then everything was rushing forwards. Fern’s eyes grew wide as Jumper let out a high-pitched sound that was a mix between an eagle scream and a lion roar. Then a wave of fire shot out like river. Fern stopped breathing at the sight of it.The flame rushed down and enveloped the dummy in flames. Without being told, Jumper stopped the fire attack.
Fern laughed hysterically. “You did it! I can’t believe this is happening!”
She couldn’t stop the laughter. As much as she always knew this would happen, to be flying through the air on the back of a fire-breathing dragon was more incredible than she ever imagined!
After almost a minute of gliding, half in a shocked daze, Fern turned Jumper back towards the clover field. She saw the dummy she had shot near the middle of the field, scorched and emitting thick black smoke. Fern focused on two dummies placed within about ten feet. She realized that to get the best attack, she should come across sideways, hitting them both fully.
But the she was going so fast she wasn’t sure if Jumper could make the turn. She turned the dragon to the right until she could turn her head and see the dummies directly to her left. Then she yanked the reins as hard as she could. Jumper turned her body, tuck in her wings for a split second, sending her twisting quickly. Then the wings were out again and they were fast approaching the dummies.
“Fire!” Fern yelled.
Again she felt what she assumed were gases or liquid slide inside Jumper’s body, and then shoot forward. Jumper let out that fearsome roar again and rained down fire on the two dummies. They zipped past them in a flash and were turning back. This time Fern didn’t take the time to get turned around before attacking. She swung the reins to the left and Jumper did the wing-tuck move once again. In a few seconds they passed over another dummy, leaving it behind them in flames.
She saw Jasper was waving to her. She turned Jumper around and they soon landed near Crimson, who was watching the flame, fidgeting slightly. He probably wants to go burn something, Fern thought, giggling to herself.
She landed and looked down to Jasper from her heightened position. Hhow’d I do?”
Jasper nodded. “Not bad, not bad. Jumper had perfect aim as expected. And that turn at the end was executed well! How did it feel to turn so fast?”
Fern giggled. “It scared me at first. I thought Jumper had lost her wings or something.” Fern smiled broadly. Now that she was on the ground she noticed that the wind had picked up considerably. The dark clouds were now over Revaltree, soaking it in rain no doubt.
Jasper saw her gaze. “Don’t worry about the weather. That is something you’ll have to deal with. And not just rain. Sleet, snow, bitter cold, you’ll have to endure it all.” He clambered onto his saddle. “But for now, let’s continue with training. You have learned how to pick and burn a certain target, but you need to know how much fire Jumper has left. A dragon can only shoot so much fire at a time.
“You just burnt a few dummies, so Jumper still has plenty of fuel left. But understand that more travel means less fire. A dragon has to use strength to breath fire, so the longer she is out flying, the less she can breathe.”
Fern looked at the storm clouds. “What about weather? Does that affect her ability to breathe fire?”
Jasper shook his head. “No. A dragon’s body is made so that that will never happen. It’s all a bit interesting and detailed. Just know that weather will not affect a dragon’s ability to breathe fire. But, it may affect the devastation of the fire. Rain will douse it in the air, snow will do the same.”
Fern piled all the information into her head.
“Now,” Jasper said, “The next thing you’ll learn is the tail and wing attack. Then after that the claw grab, and mouth chomping attacks. All of which you’ll need when Jumper runs out of fire.”
Jasper pulled Crimson into the air and Fern followed, just as the first raindrops hit them. But just as Jasper turned to say something, a loud, echoing sound broke through the clouds. It sounded a lot like Jumper’s roar, Fern realized. It seemed to come from all around, just above and beyond Fern’s line of sight. But the two dragons sensed something. Jumper’s head perked up, and she looked first right, then left.
Fern looked to Jasper for an explanation. He shouted something and, although she couldn’t hear it, Fern could read his lips. Wild dragons.