The Fight for Dirt by CC Hogan - Read Online
The Fight for Dirt
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The war is spreading.

As Tekkinmod and Henry tear each other apart in the Northern States, Pree realises that it is vital to cut off Tekkinmod's money and steel supply by taking the war to Wessen in the North of Bind.

But as the outcome of the war looks less and less certain, something terrible is happening to the dragons and Weasel and Mistry must dig into ancient histories to find a solution.

The dramatic conclusion to the first series of Dirt tests the friends as they have to suffer the true heart-breaking cost of war and fight to the bitter end to create a new future for the tired world of Dirt.

"You have seen more decline recently?"
"We have lost two to illness that we do not understand. It was three years ago and quite sudden. They lost much of their colouring and grew weak and then the breath left them. We have not seen such a thing before nor since, for which I am thankful."
"How old were they, if I may ask?"
"One was but forty and the other in their third century. They had no other illness nor were they bitten or affected by accident."
"You say they lost their colour?"
"Why is unknown to us, but they became grey in patches and their skin was dry and lifeless. Eafa, they looked much like ghosts."

Find out more at the A World called Dirt website
The Dirt Website brings you even more information about this incredible world:

Full Details of all the books
Character Descriptions
Articles on the geography, history and culture
Pronunciation Guide
Maps of the world
The articles are written in-character and any information that might spoil your enjoyment of books you have yet to read are protected with spoiler alerts

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The Abbey will be continuously updated so check back often!

The Dirt Saga
Series One

Bloody Dirt
The Fight for Dirt

Hope, the sequel to series one
(Includes the story Mistry, a prequel to Series Two)
Yona - Standalone Short Story

Series Two - Coming winter 2015/16

Girls of Dirt
Dragons of Dirt
People of Dirt

Series Three


Look out for updates to the Dirt Saga

Published: CC Hogan on
ISBN: 9781310399664
List price: $2.99
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The Fight for Dirt - CC Hogan

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They were the ones that nearly got away. Weasel wiped his knife clean of blood and stretched out an aching muscle in his back. Twenty assassination squads in pairs. That is what Sir Revan had sent out by his own admission when he had thought there was some chance that his miserable life would be spared, and that he might have a night of lust out of it as a bonus. Mistry had disabused him of both notions in short order with a flick of her knife, and then Pree had been rushed to safety. Weasel sat back on the bed looking at the two dead men on the floor and sighed with relief.

Farthing and Pree had removed the first squad themselves; two guards that had volunteered to help escort a wagon load of councillors from the south western states to Binnon in The Prelates. It was a good catch, and though the assassins had tried withholding any useful information, they had revealed just enough to give a hint sufficient for a talented finder to use. Of course, the finder had a certain advantage as he knew exactly where the other nineteen squads would be heading; wherever they thought Pree would be. Weasel had simply worked out a false itinerary for the absent young woman and they had sat in wait.

It had taken them nearly sixty days. Mistry and Mab-Onin had disposed of four pairs and Martin and Doritha had the rather spectacular score of twelve. Which had left three. Weasel found the first of those in Wead-Wodder, and, for a little fun, had sent them on a wild frummage chase that had ended in the Old Woman Inn. They had been greeted warmly by Jimmy and Bek. Another pair had turned up in Taken, mysteriously, and Weasel had let Bren-Diath talk to them for four days before they somehow managed to fall off the mountain. It had left him with a problem. The last pair, possibly the cleverest pair, were on their way to Bind.

Twenty days is a long time to track two people when you know you should be somewhere else working on other issues, but this was too important. Weasel walked to the window and opened the shutters to look out over the harbour at Port Lesende where he had finally caught up with the last of the assassins; an intelligent couple of thugs. Noticing the complete lack of news about Pree’s death and the complete lack of Pree, the two had decided she was no longer in the Prelates and had travelled to Bind to see if she was hiding in any of the dragon communities. She was a well-known a dragon-lover, after all. Bloody smart thinking; you had to admire it. A good thing Weasel had also thought of it.

It was a really nice sea town was Port Lesende. Warm, lots of seagulls, pretty little fishing boats bobbing around, and the locals liked painting their buildings bright colours, which was a pleasant touch. Yes, the old magician could definitely spend time here, possibly settle in for a bit. The tavern was two hundred leagues south of Tool in Pays as the dragon flies. Fine, if you have a helpful dragon, but the chances were that Fren-Eirol was warming her lovely white tummy on the sunny cliffs in Het Seborg about now, which was of no use to the magician whatsoever. Weasel groaned, climbed through the back window, dropped down into an alley and headed off to his own tavern which had fewer dead bodies in it. So, take a day off, enjoy the sun, a nice pot of beer on the harbour, and then what? Well, since he was so far south, he might as well keep going and see if Pree had actually landed on the island yet. With any luck, he might be able to find the odd dragon that would give him a lift. Beer first!

Chapter 1 – Hope

Pree gazed at her toes wriggling in the small, warm rock pool. She was feeling very bitty today; a bit lazy, a bit hopeless, and a bit hungry. She had been woken up in her tiny cottage by a seagull that had decided to tap on the old tile roof for no reason. The day was sunny, blue, and sandy, and to be perfectly honest, she could have stayed lying on the woven sea dragon silks with the sun flickering through the shutters for the entire day. If it hadn’t had been for that damn bird, of course. She leant her head back to soak up the sun, closing her eyes. It felt so good. Dirt was not always the warmest of worlds, but the Isle of Hope was about as warm as you would ever want. It enjoyed a warm sea current running down from the eastern coast of Bind, and a warm flow of air drifting in from the Missing Sea, the vast, treacherous, and unexplored ocean to the east of Bind. It was certainly much hotter than Redust and even warmer than Cartenor in the far south of The Prelates.

Pree adjusted the spare bedding roll she had brought with her from the cottage and laid back on the rocks. She was fair of skin with thick red hair, but she did brown eventually, and weeks on the ship had given her lots of opportunities, apart from the huge storm they had ridden out for ten days. She had even more opportunities now, of course. She was living next to a stream overlooking Ten Bay in the south of the Isle of Hope. She had her small pony for company and the nearest dragon village was two leagues away. She had been invited to stay at the sea dragon village in Dragon Bay on the north coast of the island with Fren-Ena and Bren-Attenin who she knew from Het Seborg. It was not easy though, and as the only human in the village, indeed on the island, Pree had felt in constant peril of being trodden on. However much she loved the dragon people, she now appreciated why the small Draig Bach-Iachawr Mab-Tok had lived in an out-of-the-way house on Taken, and she decided to do the same here. There had been humans on the large island once, and there were a few ruined buildings and even a couple in a usable condition that perhaps had been for fisherman wanting an island base, or someone. She had taken over a two-roomed stone hut, bleached white by the sun and wind, had swept it out, fixed the roof tiles, and filled it with dragon rugs and silks. She used the packing crates from the boat as furniture and made it a tiny home for one small redhead. Rusty would have loved it.

So, aside from the odd gull she was completely on her own and she could do as she liked. Just like now. When she next saw Farthing, she would be tanned from nose to toes. She giggled and felt a bit naughty, and then felt suddenly very low. She missed him terribly. She was trapped in some idealistic hermit lifestyle with the sun, the sand, and the little rock pools. And her only contact with others was two or three times a week when she trotted into the local dragon village on her small pony to buy food. It was not what she was meant to be doing at all.

I am the pretty little girl in the perfect paradise prison, she said out loud. And so she would remain until Farthing thought it was safe again. She rolled over, and, resting her chin on her palms, growled at herself for being so useless. Her plan was to get back to The Prelates and kick the shit out of whoever won the war, whenever that would be, but she had no idea what was happening over there. Forty-five days on the Jipperson’s schooner, three days at Dragon Point and now more than thirty days at Ten Bay, not that she was counting or anything. In war, a lot could have happened in all that time or nothing at all. She must get back and soon. But unless she could take some hope with her, something to give Farthing and those in the south-east of The Prelates still trying to survive, then what would be the point?

What hope could she bring? A handful of sand from this paradise, this Isle of Hope? Some of the dragons here might return with her, but they had lost many of their friends, hundreds of their friends. None seemed to be leaving to go anywhere in a hurry. If any dragons were to consider going back, it would be from the families on Bind, perhaps, the Draig Mynyth Coh who might want to reclaim their villages. But dragons were not territorial in the same way as humans and did not have that emotional connection with countries. Not all had left The Prelates. The handful of desert dragons were still there, Fren-Eirol, of course, and Bren-Hemon had decided to stay with four other older Reds. They had even seen some defectors before she had had to flee; half a company of archers with their goman had turned up, and five were about to produce young. Pree chuckled and sat up, facing the ocean.

How long do you have to sit on a dragon egg? she asked out loud to a passing seagull.

Depends on how long you want to sit on it, really. Dragons tend not to sit on them at all as it would flatten the dragonlette. Of course, they don’t actually lay eggs in the first place.

Pree didn’t even stop to think. She jumped up and threw herself into Weasel’s arms.

Eafa, Eafa, Eafa!

You are half naked, girl! said the thousand-year-old man laughing.

I don’t care. I don’t give a shit!

I can live with that, but if you can avoid telling that big bloke with the fists in Binnon, my gorgeous looks will be forever grateful.

Pree smiled with her eyes closed, enjoying this moment with a friend, with this very important friend. Am I safe now? Can I go home?

Yes and no. Well, yes, the assassins are all dead, but you probably can’t go home yet. Have you got anything to drink in your cottage? I’ve run out of beer.

Pree dressed and sat on the small veranda facing the sea where Weasel was enjoying a bottle of stout. Nathan Jipperson had left her with a whole pile of cargo since they had no idea what was available on the island. The main reasons for taking her to Hope was that it was difficult to get to without your own boat, there was no sea trade, since there was no port, no humans for that matter, and the dragons would welcome her. Part of the cargo had been, predictably, stout.

Weasel, I have missed you, I am missing everyone, and I am aching for Johnson.

I know, but we had to get them first, kid. The last two were searching for you on Bind and slowly making their way here.

What have you done with them?

No prisoners, Pree. Not this time.

The young woman screwed up her nose. So, how did you get here?

I got a lift from a couple of flapping strays who were coming down to check on a few things.

Anyone I know?

Not sure. They’ve said they will give us a lift, but not quite to where you are probably hoping for, said Weasel, grinning awkwardly.

Where to, then?

The Sand Hills.

Up by Wessen? Why the hell would I want to go there? The shadow of her enslavement passed across her face.

Because Tekkinmod is winning, and we need to even out the odds a bit. The best way is to hit him where it hurts; his iron supply.

Pree leant against the post of the veranda and dipped her bare foot into the sand. She desperately needed to get out of this place and back to the fight, but she felt contented here and that annoyed her. Wessen is leagues and leagues away from the Prelates, Weasel.

Wessen itself maybe, but Coldor is closer and that is part of Wessen these days. The Prelates have always been short of both coal and iron. The red mountains are mostly copper and tin, and the mountains above the Northern Waste might have iron, but it is just too cold up there to mine sensibly. Bind, on the other hand, has plenty, all the way along the North Hoar Ridge and in the Iron Mountains down in Hendesse too. Tekkinmod and his Haftens are still a long way from conquering The Prelates, and as far as we can work out, he has more men than weapons. The bad winter caused him enormous problems and it has lingered in the North up until recently. He is only now managing to bring supplies across, by my reckoning.

So what do we do about it?

Go and talk to my nephew, Eofin. He might not be riding now, but he is still in charge up there in Ponack. I think he is getting worried that if Tekkinmod succeeds in the Prelates, then he will come back and subjugate Bind. Eofin has five hundred desert dragons and riders all fully trained and very experienced, and other friends too. We must be able to do something. If we can starve Tekkinmod of iron in particular, then he is going to lose support from some of his Northern states; who is going to supply men if they don’t have enough weapons? And with that corrupt, greedy bunch, they are going to get a lot less co-operative if the supply of bribes dry up. Tekkinmod is being funded by Wessen. If the mines fail he is going to go broke, with any luck.

Pree leant forward and put her face on her knees. I’m not going home, am I?

Not for a while, no, but, at least, you are getting back into the fight.

Bringing a little Hope? It’s my joke I keep telling myself to justify being stuck on this beautiful, bright island while the rest of the world seems so dark. She sipped her beer and looked up at the ancient man who, for the moment, was her only connection to those she loved. When do we leave?

The day after tomorrow.

Alright. Will you help me shut this place up tight with all my things in it?

Sure, but why?

I want to one day return with Farthing. I have missed everyone, Eafa, but for all these days it has been my own small home on Dirt, the first place I have ever really thought of as truly mine. I love it here so much, and I want to leave it all ready for me and Farthing to come back to when everything is done.

Fren-Otina and Mab-Abin were quieter than the desert dragons that Pree was used to, and they sometimes slipped into their own language which she didn’t understand. When they left the Isle of Hope, Pree looked back over her shoulder and was able to appreciate how large the island actually was. She hadn’t asked any of the dragons to fly her while she stayed there, feeling it would not have been right somehow, so she only knew Dragon Bay and Ten Bay. The island was nearly a hundred leagues from end to end and it seemed surprising there was no large community here aside from the recent dragons.

I think people lived here around a thousand years ago, said Weasel. And there was a small fishing community much more recently. I don’t where they went, but if you want more than fishing and farming, this is not the place for you; too far from the mainland. Better now I suppose with boats like the Jipperson’s schooner, but back years ago? Too easy to get cut off.

It was a trip of nearly eight hundred leagues from the island to the Sand Hills, and Weasel refused to knock Pree unconscious so they could fly high in the thinner air. It was dangerous to do at the best of times, but without Mab-Tok around with his safer tonic, and flying on separate dragons, Weasel just said no. The two dragons needed to make several stops along the route anyway, and since at least part of the reason for the journey was gathering information, they wished to stay at a lower altitude themselves. Weasel told Pree that Fren-Otina and Mab-Abin had found him on the west coast of Peys. He had then travelled with them before eventually arriving at Hope. Now they would journey back to the north, stopping first at a couple of places in South Homeland, west of the vast Eastern Plains, then at the Bain Hills in Meressa where there was an old red dragon community, and lastly across the Eastern Plains to the coast and head north from there. The journey would be longer, but Weasel and Pree had no choice in the matter, and it was certainly better than walking, as Pree pointed out.

Bind was a much bigger continent than The Prelates and was divided into thirteen, barely governed regions that could loosely be called countries. The southern and eastern areas of Bind were the driest, with the more fertile regions being Bekon, Epinod and Desson further north, and Meressa, which was in the middle. South Homeland, which was the closest of the regions to the Isle of Hope, was a warm, dry country with three small ranges of low, unspectacular hills in the very centre, that spawned several rivers, two of them at least partly navigable to the south. The tiny market town of Fallen Hills sat on the young River Sent near the foot of one of the larger mountains and had opened its doors to the dragons fleeing from Bind.

We have definitely heard of you Miss Pree, said Ber Sonnel, landlord of the recently renamed Red Dragon Inn as he poured her another beer. A lot of the dragons stop over here and they’ve all told us of you. You been right messing things up over there in The Prelates, sounds like to me, and about time too!

Thank you, Mr Sonnel, said Pree, trying to work out whether it was a compliment or not. It’s still hell over there, though.

That I can imagine. Takes a long time to stop people being stupid. We’ve been trying in Bind for several hundred years! He laughed and walked over to some other customers.

I thought we would be sneaking up the county, Weasel, said Pree, still recovering from having been introduced as Pree of the Southern States by the unpredictable magician.

No point. The person we need to hide from is Tekkinmod and he is stuck over in The Prelates, and we are about to attack him anyway. You still need to make friends, even if it is in out of the way places like this.

I have never really understood Bind, said Pree, enjoying the light, hoppy beer. The region was better known for wine, but it was only lunchtime and she was not so certain of Mab-Abin or her own abilities yet to slump on his back having drunk too much.

Not much to understand, said Weasel. Huge, a third of the population of The Prelates, and the countries are so big that the rulers don’t know what to do with them.

Why are they so big?

A bit of a Haften legacy that, though except Wessen, none of them have their old Haften names. I can’t even remember all of them now. I think South Homeland might have been called Silatan, but I might have that wrong. Ask Bren-Diath if you see him, he knows stuff like that.

But they haven’t broken into smaller states?

Well, yes they have sort of, or some have, but nobody has noticed. Take Bekon up in the north. Tharkness, where Mistry is from, is part of Bekon, but you wouldn’t think it. It is like a different country compared with places like Sarn-Tailin.

I have never been there.

I nearly sent you there before Fren-Eirol decided to see if you and Farthing were really going through with your baby revolution in Wead-Wodder.

The one I didn’t even get to start?

Yeah, that’s true, said Weasel, chuckling. You might get to finish it, though.

That feels a long way off, said Pree, frowning.

Everything always is. I reckon the reason I am so old is that I have never finished sitting around waiting for things to happen. Want another beer?

Well, while we are waiting.

Weasel called over to a barmaid who brought over two fresh pots. You would have liked Sarn Tailin, he said to Pree.

Everyone talks about it like it’s their home.

That was Melini’s doing. She is only a few years older than you, but she has a lot of strength, and made Mistry and Farthing part of her family without even really asking. Not many like her around.

Pree gave the magician a long look. I don’t often hear you talk like that. You are normally so dismissive of people, of humans.

Am I? Well, maybe it’s because you all seem to get in the way more than anything else.

You’re being deliberately annoying again, aren’t you?


What about Elena? You see much of her?

Been busy chasing these assassins.

Hmm. Pree peered at her friend a bit closer. You’ve been avoiding her, haven’t you. You like her! She was grinning, looking really pleased with herself.

Just been busy.

Yeah, right. I go and hug you or hold your arm, even half-dressed, and you look at me like I’m a kitten or something. She only had to put her hand lightly on your arm and you positively glowed.

You are reading way too much into this. She is a long way from getting over Sir Tannon! The teasing had gone from Weasel’s voice.

I know. I’m sorry. How is her daughter Elgrieve doing?

On the way to being a Mistry clone, if she gets half a chance. Hasn’t got the brains of that one, though, or the skill, or the strength. Just the wish.

Mistry is unique.

No offence to you and Farthing, and even to Snowy, but Mistry just gets it, all the time. Weasel frowned. She’s a bit lost though.

What do you mean?

All of you, Rusty, Farthing, you, Ben, Elena even, you are all good at finding your place in life, despite some of you being terribly young. Mistry isn’t. She is more like me. Doesn’t know where home is or what it looks like. I think the smallholding in Tharkness was never the home it should have been, not even for her father. They were hoping for something better. She saw what a home should be like at Sarn-Tailin, but it wasn’t hers. She doesn’t have my advantages. She doesn’t have a thousand years to chase an impossible dream. That is why she keeps disappearing with Mab-Onin. While she doesn’t have to watch all of you lot busy trying to build a new world, build new homes, if you like, she doesn’t have to think about it.

What will she do?

She loves us all like mad, Pree, but I keep expecting that one day she will just leave. It will become too much for her. She will go and not come back.

I would hate that, said Pree. Then she looked up at Weasel. Farthing would find that very hard.

Yes, he would. Stupid conversation this, brat. You and I will probably get ourselves killed in all this mess, yet, and won’t be able to give a damn! He grinned. Come on, let’s see what those dragons are doing. They’re not as bouncy as usual. He grabbed her by the hand and dragged her from the inn. Know any good dragon jokes we can teach them?

Pree laughed, grateful for the change in conversation.

Long Valley in the north of South Homeland had grown itself a new community of Red Dragons from some of the hidden communities from the Norheitor Range in the Northern Prelates. They didn’t want to talk with Pree or the Desert Dragons, so Weasel spoke to them on his own, telling the others to make camp farther down in the hills, and to not expect him back for at least a day.

You ride well, Pree, said Mab-Abin. Pree was making a small fire. There was no sign of rain and they had camped out under the trees on the edge of a little wood.

I have been taught well by Farthing and by Be-Elin.

Are you Farthing’s mate?

Pree grinned. When Be-Elin and Be-Inua had first called her that, she had been shocked, but now she rather like it, though she still blushed a little. Yes, I’m his mate.

Be-Elin is my sister, said Mab-Abin. She is very well respected.

Oh, I didn’t know! said Pree, feeling almost idiotic.

Dragons aren’t into family relationships like you humans, but I thought it was something you would appreciate.

He is very young, Pree, Fren-Otina told the girl, smiling. He is trying very hard to please.

I’m enjoying riding with you very much, Mab-Abin, said Pree, thinking that she also should try hard. The dragon blinked his eyes slowly in pleasure and rumbled slightly. Pree laughed.

You find that funny? asked Fren-Otina.

I’m sorry, to both of you, said Pree quickly. When Farthing strokes Be-Elin’s neck she all but purrs! It reminded me of that.

Yeah, well that is my sister for you. Farthing is the only person we know from outside that has been accepted as a full rider without any training, but he and Be-Elin seem well suited, explained Mab-Abin.

My friend Mistry and Mab-Onin are like that, said Pree.

The two dragons looked at each other.

Mab-Onin was reluctant to take a rider and never acknowledged the person who rode him the most, said Fren-Otina. We were concerned for him because he would get annoyed about it. We have heard about his pairing with this young girl. They are talked about like no other pairing for hundreds of years.

They have risked their lives so many times, Fren-Otina, and nearly died. Pree was not sure how much she should say, but then, she was going to be asking these people for help soon. Mab-Onin has lost his left leg, and Mistry was terribly injured.

The dragons looked stricken. A young Draig yr Anialr who cannot fly is … oh, this is bloody awful news! said Mab-Abin.

Oh, erm. Well, I wouldn’t say he wasn’t flying, said Pree, biting her lip. He is flying faster than ever.

But how? asked Fren-Otina in amazement. With only one leg, he doesn’t have the power to take off!

Believe me, he and Mistry have learned how to do it, though not without causing a fair amount of damage in our camp. She smiled. Be-Inua didn’t think they would fly either, but they do, and are still fighting together. I love them both and so do many of my people.

Fren-Otina nodded and her eyes softened. I can see that in your eyes, child, the older dragon said. She looked at Mab-Abin. We were not sure how to treat you, Pree, because we do not know you. Mab-Abin was at Wessen, but you were unconscious when he flew you and Weasel back to the Abbey. You are a leader of people but in a society that is very different from ours. We have no real hierarchy. We have a dragon leader, Eofin, but not the complex society you have and are not always sure how to deal with human leaders. Listening to you talk about our kind and seeing the love in your eyes, we can see that you think like us. It will be our honour to feel your warmth upon our backs.

Pree frowned at the thought of her rescue from Tekkinmod’s hall. She had been so ill that she had not known all who had been there. Thank you, she said simply. Then stoked the fire a little to keep warm. Mab-Abin lay down near the fire and wrapped his tail around behind her protectively.

I will keep you warm tonight, Pree, said the young dragon. Then in the morning, perhaps we shall have some fun on the plains below us.

Pree was not sure she knew what that meant, but suspected it would involve a lot of holding on.

She was right.

Pree had seen some of the mad tricks that Mistry and Mab-Onin got up to, and knew how fast and agile these sandy-coloured dragons were, but she had never been astride one while they were doing it, and especially without a hide.

Sit farther up on my neck, shouted Mab-Abin over his shoulder. The hide is for protection, but you need to be able to feel my muscles properly if you are to understand what I am doing. He had insisted that she wear lighter clothes than her usual rider’s leathers, no boots, and told her to hang on tightly with her knees, like on a horse. Desert dragons have more prominent spines than sea dragons whose backs are flatter. Pree had never appreciated how warm and alive these great creatures were or how subtle the movements of their muscles. Mab-Abin was much bigger than his sister Be-Elin, and Pree fidgeted, trying to get comfortable and secure. You cannot hurt me, squeeze harder, called out Mab-Abin. She did so as he swayed to the left and right. She could feel his muscles pressing on the inside of her legs first one side and then the other. She closed her eyes and tried to guess what he would do next.

I can feel you about to turn! she said with amazement.

Good! You are learning, Pree, he said happily. We will do this every day and you will soon be able to feel every moment of flight through your body and we will become like one. Then I am able to fly easier without having to worry about you. Your friend Mistry must be able to feel everything that Mab-Onin does from what we hear they get up to.

She swings under his neck while they’re flying, said Pree. Though I think she has nearly throttled him a couple of times!

Love it! Then they really are close. Lie on your face and slide slowly down towards my tail, Pree. Be careful. I won’t drop you but do not try to stand until you are much more confident. Keep your legs and your arms slightly apart so you’re always balanced.

Desert dragons have smoother backs than many of the dragons, without the fins of species like the small Draig Bach-Iachawr. As Pree slid slowly backwards, she felt a little unstable and she tensed up.

Relax! shouted Mab-Abin.

She slid farther on her stomach until she was nearly past where the thin skin of Mab-Abin’s wings joined his back and was on the base of his tail.

Put your arms out ahead of you and stay lying flat, he commanded. Now let your legs slip off my tail and let them hang in the air; you will be safe.

Pree wasn’t so sure, but she was determined she would not show fear. She did as he said and relaxed so she was almost over his long tail. She felt him raise it a little to stop her from sliding back. It was fascinating. She hadn’t realised how important the dragon’s tail was to flying. As the wings flapped and the dragon turned, she could feel his great muscles tighten beneath her. She had ridden countless times on the dragons in The Prelates, but it had only been sitting upright on the thick oothen hides, hanging onto the straps, and nothing like this.

You’re amazing! she shouted.

That was it for the serious lesson. The mood changed and suddenly the big desert dragon was laughing, and she could feel it all the way down to his tail.

Crawl back up, stay laying down, and wrap your arms around my neck, Pree! She cautiously made her way up forward of his wings and sat across his neck. Hold on as tightly as you can.

Like this?

Move a bit farther up. I must have you holding on very tightly with your legs and your arms.


Just do it, said Mab-Abin, laughing.

Pree wriggled forward and hung on like a baby bear on a tree. I think I’ve got it, she said nervously. Mab-Abin reached up with his hands and held her arms tightly.

Now we will dance!

So far, he had been flying fast and flat across the plain, but now he flipped right over and shot high into the sky, turning as he did so. Pree screamed in shock and clung on. He slowed and turned gracefully in the air, his wings spread wide, making sure the force of the turn held Pree on his neck, and then he was diving to the ground. Pree felt his muscles harden under her and saw the ground rush up, and she gasped in fear. Then he flipped over, and they were flapping back up into the sky in a huge loop, then plummeted towards the ground again. Pree’s eyes were watering with the wind in her face, and she closed them, pressing her cheek to the warm, smooth skin. And then they were heading up and up and up. Mab-Abin levelled out and all fell quiet.

Pree lay on his back, breathless with exhilaration and fear. Mab-Abin, she said quietly, lying on his neck. That was beautiful. And scary!

And that was just the beginning. Come, let us return to Fren-Otina and explain why there was quite so much screaming!

At the suggestion of the older dragon, they went out once more in the afternoon, and Pree avoided lunch just in case. This time, the dragon had her sit on her knees just below his neck and told her to raise herself up and down slowly as he gently ducked and dived, much like reacting to the movement of a horse.

You will get better and better, and then you will get worse again, he explained as she ate a greedy supper, leaning back against his tail. Fren-Otina had gone hunting and Weasel was not back yet.


Because when we try the same thing with the hide and with your riding leathers, you will feel like we have been separated.

I hadn’t thought about that. Pree frowned. You and Be-Elin are so different to the sea dragons and even Mab-Tok. Their skin is much rougher than yours.

That’s one of the reasons we wear hides. All dragons are more vulnerable than humans think, but we are perhaps more vulnerable than some of the others, except on our tails and legs.

Pree without thinking reached up and stroked the dragon’s smooth, silky skin. I will miss this once I pass this stage.

If you become my rider, then we will always find time to play. It’s important very important, you know. Our riders and dragons have told me that the closeness between a dragon and rider is different than between a dragon and a dragon or a human and a human.

They tell you? Have you not felt this? Pree was confused. A whole new world was opening up for her today, one that she desperately wanted to explore further.

I am young, Pree. Twenty years younger than Be-Elin. I have been trained and carry people regularly, but I have never had a rider. I am learning too. He chuckled and rested his chin on the ground, wrapping his tail around Pree. And having a lot of fun!

Weasel returned early the following morning and leant against Fren-Otina, giving her a gentle nudge.

You look ill, Eafa, said the dragon pointedly.

They have brewed some of the old beer. I have been drinking solidly for forty hours.

Are you drunk?

I can’t get drunk.

Were they drunk?

One of the young reds was found sleeping in a tree last night, or at least what was left of the tree.

Fren-Otina chuckled quietly. Look, she said, pointing over to where Mab-Abin lay curled up between two large trees, half rolled over on his back with Pree draped on top of him sound asleep.

Ah, they went flying today then.

A lot of screaming and laughter too. I think your plan is working out nicely though I still don’t fully understand it.

She loves her mate with every bone in her body, Otina, but it may be some time before we get back and I am worried about his safety. This will help keep her strong and not leave her feeling alone. She is going to be surrounded by riders and dragons who are all terribly close to each other. I think for outsiders that can be difficult. Also, I think it would be nice if she fitted in with your traditions as much as possible.

What about you, Eafa? Will you hope to be chosen as a rider?

The magician put his hand against the dragon’s smooth skin. I have no need, Otina. The dragon’s eyes opened in surprise momentarily, and she gasped in annoyance, then smiled.

So I see. The big dragon looked down at the man who was slowly closing his eyes for sleep. Rest, Eafa. I will wake these two young people and send them off to play for the day and we will journey on tomorrow.

The flight to the Bain Hills, overlooking Meressa Town, was frustrating as far as Pree was concerned. Mab-Abin was once again wearing oothen hides and she was in her riding leathers. He was quite right; it was like trying to pick up pine needles while wearing mittens.

Sit like Weasel, he suggested.

Cross-legged? He looks like he will fall off.

Fren-Otina won’t let that happen. This is what is different to riding a horse. We change the way we fly when carrying people to make sure they don’t fall off. Otherwise, when I turned, you would be thrown right off my back, however hard you held on.

I have fallen off Be-Elin, though that was on the ground.

That I can understand. My sister has a wicked streak.

I like her a lot, though she drives Be-Inua mad.

Everyone drives Be-Inua mad. I bet she gets furious at Mab-Onin and your friend Mistry.

I have been over here for weeks, but before I left the two were seeing how far they could push her. They flew in behind her in mid-air while she wasn’t looking and Mistry jumped from Mab-Onin’s back onto Be-Inua’s, ran up her neck and gave her a kiss on her crown.

Is that a story or true, Pree?

It is true, Mab-Abin. Do you know Mab-Ghoha and Coline?

They are one of the best pairings. Coline has trained lots of our riders.

Coline said she has never seen anything like the two of them, especially now that Mab-Onin has only one leg and Mistry has fingers and toes missing.

What happened to them? The dragon looked over his shoulder, a concerned look on his face."

It was terrible, Mab-Abin. They were attacked by Haftens using bolas.

What are those?

Long wires with balls either end, fired to bring down dragons. They are horrible, Abin.

Will we be facing those when we attack Wessen?

Pree paused and blinked. You know about that?

Of course.


Explain, Eafa, now! Pree glared down at the magician across the campfire.

You don’t really think it takes me near to three weeks to travel down from Peys to Hope, do you?

So, where did you go first?

I went to the Abbey and spoke to Gellin. Look, I don’t know why this is such a surprise. How did you think I got all the information about where Tekkinpoop is getting his bloody iron from?

So, if all this is arranged, what has this trip been about? Pree was annoyed, and the dragons were keeping well out of it.

All right, sit down and listen. You have been having your brain cooked in your little paradise for too long.


Sit! Pree sat. Firstly, you need to learn to ride properly and you need to be a rider. If not, you ain’t going on any mission to Coldor. Secondly, this is not my war. You are not my people. I am helping because I want to, not because I have to. So, when it comes to my nephew, you get to ask, not me. And lastly, you don’t know these people, these dragons. Fren-Otina, come here!

Yes, Eafa.

Who leads the Desert Dragon Host?

Eofin and Be-Inua.

Who leads the Host when they attack?

The person who wished the attack.

Thank you, and sorry for shouting.

You get to apologise fully later, magician, said the dragon with a smirk.

So, brat, are you keeping up? I shouldn’t be the one to ask Eofin to send all his dragons and riders on a dangerous mission; that must come from you. Under their traditions, the person who wishes the attack should be the one to lead it if possible, which makes a whole lot more sense if you are paired with a dragon. And finally, I think you need someone you can feel close to and trust, because you always need that, and that cannot be me either. If one of the dragons wishes you to be their rider, then that solves all these problems in one go. Now do you get it?

Pree sat in silence. Why the tricks, Weasel? Why does it always have to be with tricks?

Because if I just order you to do this, it becomes my war, not yours! he snapped angrily. Fren-Otina, take me up so I can clear my head of awkward humans! Weasel jumped on the dragon’s back as easily as Mistry, and the two flew off, Weasel still standing. Mab-Abin crept over to Pree cautiously and lay down with his head in front of her.

Did you know about this? she asked the big desert dragon.

I didn’t know it was being kept from you. This is Eafa and Fren-Otina’s plan.

Were you told to train me?

No. I decided that for myself after you rode me, but I think they hoped I would. No dragon has ever been ordered to take a rider, though there was one once who chose ridiculously quickly, like within a few hours. He grinned.

Who was that?

Be-Elin with your mate.

Why was that?

Eofin decided the mission to rescue you would be Farthing’s because of saving his sister. When Farthing was injured, Be-Elin just announced that he was her rider and leapt to his rescue. There’s a bond between a dragon and their rider that is greater than any command. It cannot be imagined or invented. How it starts doesn’t matter really.

Pree looked into the face of the dragon lying in front of her with his chin on the ground by her feet.

Do you feel that with me, Mab-Abin?

I think I will, Pree. I’m sure I will.

Pree nodded. She could feel it too. It was an odd feeling that she did not understand, and it was almost embarrassing. But she now felt she needed it, desperately needed it. Perhaps Weasel was right. She was almost jealous of Mistry, Coline, Farthing, and the other riders for sharing in something that she had been so ignorant of. She sometimes hated that the magician seemed to know her better than she knew herself. I am still going to kill Weasel.

I think Fren-Otina will be ahead of you. She doesn’t like being ordered around by anyone. I know how she extracts apologies and I hope he has a tough hide!

On the way across the plains, not a word came from Fren-Otina and Weasel. Indeed, the magician was sitting on the dragon, arms folded, facing her tail.

It was generally agreed that however much fun pouting could be, the stop at the coastal desert-town of An-Hellern on the Missing Sea was more important. The other stops had been so Weasel and the dragons could talk to the new communities made up of dragons exiled from The Prelates. However, Fren-Otina needed to talk to the leader of the Keffra-See who was based in the town about the fragile truce between him and Ponack. Weasel wanted to take the opportunity to speak to the sea dragons at their village by the Great Eastern River, a community entirely unrelated to Fren-Eirol and her people.

Who are they? asked Pree as they headed out of the walled town and made their way across the dunes. Weasel had wanted this to be on his own terms, and had left the desert dragons to conduct their own business.

I have only had dealings with them once before and that was eight hundred years ago. You will find them familiar to look at, though where some of Fren-Eirol’s skin is tinged with blue, these are more tinged with green. They are also slightly taller, and Mab-Abin says they do not all speak Adelan very well. They are still known as Draig Morglas, however, just to be confusing.

Will they know of Tekkinmod and what is happening?

I don’t know. Fren-Otina says they have few dealings with these dragons. They live happily with their human neighbours, but don’t share their lives at all. I must admit, this is more about my curiosity, Pree. I don’t see them as any part of your plans. Perhaps that is a good thing, and we can enjoy this simply for what it is.

It was important that not everything revolved around her war, and Pree knew this was why she had fallen in love with the Isle of Hope so quickly when she had arrived. The remote island had nothing to do with the Haftens, The Prelates, the Heinela Cwendrin, or anyone else they had fallen foul of. It sat on its own, beautiful and apart. She knew she still had a terrible role to play, and was determined to play it, but a little bit of her wanted to return to her cottage in Ten Bay, in the same way that Rusty wanted to go back to her own white-painted cottage outside Taken Town.

The dragon village was similar to the one in Wead-Wodder where Fren-Eirol had once lived, but it was four or five times the size. They already knew it was home to thirty or more dragons including some that were only born recently. Pree had never thought about baby dragons. She had never seen an egg, though Weasel had explained that it was not as she thought. As dragons were quick to point out, they were not birds, and indeed, they were not reptiles either. Young dragons of all species were born fully developed in egg-like soft sacks which they tore their way out of, usually within the first hour. The sacks were strong and sometimes a mother would pick one up and hold it while waiting for the young dragon to emerge.

How big will the babies be? she asked Weasel.

When they are born, they are about the size of a goat, I suppose, which is very small when you think about it. They grow quickly, and by the time they are six or seven years old they are the size of Mab-Tok.

Can they fly then?

Not at all. Dragon’s wings are not fully formed and their muscles not strong enough until they are adults. For Draig Morglas, Draig yr Anialr, and Draig Mynyth Coh, that can be as late as thirty years old. Mab-Aneirin had only been flying a year when I first knew him. Sometimes humans are surprised that an adult dragon can run and very fast, but of course, until they learn to fly that is all they can do.

Is learning to fly difficult?

I would think for you it’s probably impossible.

Like the dragons in Wead-Wodder, the community elder was a female; a sleek, gently spoken dragon called Fren-Neena. Weasel bowed to her and spoke in the musical dragon tongue.

Cyfar, draig. Welcome.

We know of you, Eafa, replied the dragon in Adelan, the common tongue of Dirt. I am happy to speak to you in the language of your mate; I speak it quite enough.

This is not my mate, Fren-Neena, said Weasel, grinning.

It is a pity. She is obviously ready for mating and has a warm glow.

Pree suddenly wanted to be back in her cottage more than anything.

She is learning to become a rider, explained Weasel.

Ah, then her glow will grow. It will be beautiful. The tall, peaceful dragon smiled.

Fren-Neena, tell me of your people? asked Weasel, feeling a change of subject might help his blushing young friend.

You know something of us already, Eafa?

It is many turns of this world since I visited. I was young, and you were not yet born!

We have changed little, though our numbers have declined, and more so in the last few years.

The dragons have declined in many lands, Fren-Neena. It is a great sadness to me.

The dragon looked closely at the magician. I see you do feel our loss. That is rare in a human, if that is what you are. The dragon frowned slightly.

Pree was puzzled. The comment made little sense, which she was getting used to, she supposed.

You have seen more decline recently? asked Weasel.

We have lost two to an illness that we do not understand. It was last year and quite sudden. They lost much of their colouring and grew weak and then the breath left them. We have not seen such a thing before, nor since, for which I am thankful.

How old were they, if I may ask?

One was but forty and the other in their third century. They had no other illness nor were they bitten, or injured by an accident.

You say they lost their colour?

Why is unknown to us, but their skin was grey in patches and was dry and lifeless. Eafa, they looked much like ghosts.

I have not heard of such a disease, Fren-Neena, said Weasel, looking genuinely concerned. Have you heard of any other cases?

We have not. But we don’t much contact with other communities. Some with the Draig yr Anialr, and with the few other communities of our own people, but that is all.

I have a friend, a Draig Bach-Iachawr, who is most unusual because he has paired with a Draig Wen who has parted from her Black.

This is unheard of! The big dragon looked amazed.

But it is the most wonderful pairing, Fren-Neena, said Weasel, chuckling.

A good pairing should not be questioned, however bewildering the origins, I agree.

If you would allow, I would like for them to come and talk to you about your sad loss. The two are growing in knowledge of both dragons and humans. This may be something they should know about, though I feel they will have no answers.

I would be happy to talk to them and interested in meeting them. Does the white dragon ride the healer?

She does! Weasel and Pree both grinned.

Then it is a true pairing and I would not question it. The dragon had a glint in her eye. But I will be intrigued nonetheless!

They talked for a while longer, and then Weasel and Pree left the village, though before they headed back to An-Hellern, Fren-Neena showed them the young dragons who were only a few weeks old and playing in the safety of a small, walled nursery. Pree felt very honoured and said as much to the huge Fren, whose eyes shone; one of the young was hers.

So, dragons who live together like Bren and Fren are called pairings? Pree asked Weasel on their way back across the sands.

That’s right. It’s how dragons see it and some believe it is somehow spiritual though I have no belief in such things.

But you also call riders and dragons a pairing.

That’s right.

Is there something you are not telling me, Weasel?

Volumes. Let’s go and pick up the dragons.

Before they reached Gen-Dowannee, a market camp held by the desert peoples for one month each year on a barren area of coast, Fren-Otina decided they should have another two rest days for more training. She chose a rocky, hilly inland area, near the western border of the Eastern Plains, which was peppered with strange, chimney-like rock formations and a mixed vegetation of cactus, dried bushes and small, squat trees. Though the whole region which stretched the full length of the eastern coast was referred to as the Eastern Plains, it included many different environments with one common trait; they were all arid with little or no rain for most of the year. There were three main rivers and Mab-Abin said they would visit one during their training the following day. When the morning dawned, Pree woke up in a hurry, and throwing on her light shirt, leapt onto the laughing dragon and they were away. Weasel watched them fly up into the blue sky through bleary eyes.

"It is a good pairing already,