dozen twelve-year-old boys stood in the Hall of Riders, staring in mild fear at
the large azure dragon before them. She peered at them with one deep blue eye,
studying the twelve who had been chosen for the opportunity to become a Rider.
Their appearances varied greatly, the majority of them displaying traits of
both human and elven blood. A few appeared to have pure blood of one race or
seem to get smaller every year,” the
dragon mused, projecting her thoughts to the adult male who stood behind the
line of boys.
man, Dusan, answered aloud, as courtesy dictated. “I believe, Ena, that you
simply grow larger.”
gave a deep, dragony chuckle, startling the boys. “Yes, I suppose that is a
possibility.” She turned her attention to the young candidates, then
projected her thoughts to their minds. A few recoiled from the touch of her
large and ancient consciousness, and she knew immediately that they would not
be Riders. “Little ones, my name is Ena. As all breeding females, you know
that I am a wild dragon. But I will not harm you. I have worked in peace with
your kind for many decades, consenting to give a few of my eggs to those who
are destined to become their Riders. You know that not all of you will be
chosen. Please, do not be frightened, but I must insert myself more deeply into
each of your minds. I must sense your very souls in order to know who is
destined for my eggs. Now, please, close your eyes and remain calm. I will not
the boys closed their eyes and Dusan, a judge and the trainer of young Riders,
watched them carefully. With a deep, rumbling breath, Ena closed her eyes as
well and expanded her mind, touching each of the boys at the same moment, tasting
their very essences. The mind brushed against the man’s as it expanded
outwards, but withdrew when it recognized his thoughts. Dusan saw several of
the boys tremble as the great, ancient being prodded at their minds. It was
then that he heard a quiet voice behind him.
Dusan,” it whispered.
spun around angrily to see a young girl of fifteen, dressed in the drab
clothing and wearing the leather collar of a slave around her neck, staring in
awe at the dragon before them.
he snapped, “you know better than to enter the Hall during a Choosing!”
sorry, my Lord,” she answered, giving a small bow as she turned her eyes to
him, “but it’s your daughter. Her fever is getting much worse. I think we
should send for the Healer.”
scoffed. “So send for her, you foolish girl! Now get out of here before I beat
you for sheer stupidity.”
one last look at the dragon, Andra turned and darted back out of the room.
Dusan looked back at Ena as she opened her eyes. She turned to him.
“Three,” she said to him alone, “I sense three who will
pair with my eggs.”
three?” he asked, clearly distraught. “There are fewer every year!”
quiet growl rumbled deep in Ena’s throat at the man’s raised voice. “Perhaps your judges have lost their
ability to select proper candidates,” she responded.
pulled away from the angry touch of her mind. “Very well,” he sighed. “You will
bring the three eggs then?”
nodded her great head. “They will be ready to hatch in a week. Prepare your
a word, she turned and trundled towards the massive double doors that served as
entrance for dragons into the Hall. A few slaves scrambled to open the doors.
Ena slipped out of the opening and, expanding her great blue wings, lifted
herself into the sky. She turned west, towards the cliffs, and was gone from
sight within a few moments.
a high window in Lord Dusan’s adjoining quarters, Andra watched the dragon
disappear into the sky. Though she had seen many dragons during her time
serving Lord Dusan, Andra had always admired Ena most. There was a certain
grace about her that the dragons of the Hall seemed to lack. And the fact that
she was a wild dragon, willingly entering the closed halls of man, made Andra’s
heart race with excitement. And when she flew… Andra rubbed the goosebumps from
her arms at the memory of Ena’s mind brushing hers and turned towards the girl
in the bed beside her.
daughter, Aera, shivered beneath her blankets. Her face was pale and beaded
with sweat. Andra sat on the side of her bed, and the girl opened her tired
eyes to look at her. The slave girl gave her a small, sad smile. She was so
small, so frail.
little girl coughed, then asked in a rough voice, “Andra, will you tell me a
course,” she answered softly. “What would you like to hear?”
me about Aelodi. I like that story.”
smiled. The blue dragon, who had been freed of the Dark sorcerer’s magic and
become Oriens’ mate, was one of the reasons that she adored Ena so. She
reminded her of the stories she had heard growing up, about the old days and
the very first Riders. And Aelodi had been freed from a dark and terrible
captivity. That had always been her favorite part. Andra glanced around the
room to be certain that nobody else was there before beginning her story.
Dark sorcerer Peior sought to raise a Rider for Nocens’ army. But of course, no
one who would serve the evil emperor would be worthy of becoming a true Rider.
So, Peior stole an egg from the dragon Bolaer. The egg was a beautiful blue,
the color of sapphires in the moonlight…”
Andra told the story, Aera’s eyes closed again, her small chest rising and
falling with her shallow breaths. Andra watched her closely, never stopping her
tale. She had sent for the Healer, but she lived in Iterum, several miles away
and would not be at the Hall for a few hours. Somehow, Andra knew that Aera
would not need the Healer when she finally arrived.
began to tell of how Aelodi had shed her blackness, when the rise and fall of
the tiny chest slowed, then ceased altogether. The slave did not stop. She
continued to tell the little body about Aelodi’s freedom, and how she had
relished it, how Oriens taught her the ways of the wild, and how the two had
become mates, producing the first eggs for a new generation of Riders. At last,
Andra had nothing left to say, and the room lapsed into the silence that
surrounds the dead.
sighed, and kissed the cooling forehead. “Goodbye, Aera,” she whispered. “Sleep
well.” Quietly, Andra stood from the bed and left the room, closing it behind
her as she went to tell the housekeeper to release the Healer from her call,
and to send for a priest instead.
a woman’s voice called.
girl looked up from the book in surprise. The voice was close. She had thought
she was alone. She glanced back down at the book’s beautiful illustrations of
Iterum, then at the accompanying writing that meant nothing to her eyes, shut
it, and returned it to its shelf in the library. The voice called again and
Andra hurried out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. No one
could know that she had been in there.
echoed down the hall and a rotund woman in an apron appeared from around the
corner. Andra jumped away from the library doors, trying not to look guilty.
the woman snapped, marching forward. The girl bowed her head and gazed at her
feet. “What are you doing, you lazy girl? How many times have I told you that
the rafters in the dining hall need to be cleaned? I can see the dust from the
doorway! Now, you get up there and get those clean or it’ll be the whip for
ma’am,” Andra muttered, still not meeting the housekeeper’s gaze.
you had better get it done quickly. The Pairing will be starting soon and we
need to prepare the dining hall for the feast.”
listened as the footsteps faded away before looking up. With a feeling of
relief at having avoided an immediate beating, she raced towards the dining
hall. When she entered the room, she
found it filled with both slaves and servants, all bustling around, cleaning
one thing or another.
young man trotted up to her, smiling brightly. “There you are, Andra,” he
called cheerfully. “Looks like we’re on rafter duty again.”
smiled shyly at the servant boy, but said nothing.
sighed and shook his head, still smiling. “Silent as always,” he teased. “I’ve
known you for five years and I still can’t get you to talk to me.”
blushed. “I’m sorry, Talias,” she whispered to the cook’s son.
she speaks!” he cried, then laughed. “Don’t apologize. Your silence is
endearing. Anyways, we should get to work. I’ll race you up!”
darted towards where a ladder leaned against the lowest rafter of the ceiling.
Andra smiled to herself. It was the only ladder in the room, but that didn’t
matter to her. She ran towards one of the supporting beams of the wall. Leaping
upwards, she grabbed a wide peg in the wood and pulled herself up. Placing her
foot on the narrow hold, she leapt confidently out over the dining hall and
grabbed a low rafter. Swinging around it once, she released herself into the
air and landed astride the beam.
grinned at Talias as he scrambled up the last steps of the ladder. He laughed
and shook his head in amazement. “I will never understand how you do that,” he
muttered, grabbing a rag from a bucket resting on the beam beside him. He wrung
the water out of it, then tossed it to her. She snagged it easily out of the
air. “Now let’s make this shine,” he said.
set into wiping down the tops of the rafters, removing a year’s worth of dust
from their surfaces. The rafters were only cleaned on the day of the Pairing
each year. Andra moved easily across the narrow beams, while Talias wobbled and
wavered as he removed the dust. She smiled, amused by his difficulty. Andra had
finished her half of the rafters and was beginning to help Talias with his when
cheering reached her ears.
turned her eyes towards the sound, though she knew she would see nothing. The
shouts were coming from the Hall of Riders, which adjoined the manor. The
Pairing was beginning. Though she had never seen one, she knew from what others
had said that the Riders would be marching in now, followed by the Riders in
training, then the candidates for this year. Last of all, Ena would enter with
the eggs she sensed would bond with the candidates, carried by servants. She
sighed longingly, then looked back down at the grey dust that awaited her.
looked up at her sigh. “You’ve never seen a Pairing have you.”
shook her head. “It’s not allowed,” she whispered sadly.
boy glanced around, then whispered quietly, “Only if you get caught. Sneak in
the back and climb to the large beam in the center of the ceiling. No one will
see you there.”
looked at him in surprise, trying to determine if her friend was serious
on,” he urged. “This is all my half of it anyways. Just be careful.”
smiled at him gratefully and swung down from the beam, dropping the twelve feet
to the floor without hesitation. She crouched on landing, absorbing the impact
of the drop, then stood and ran from the room. The other slaves and servants
watched her go in confusion, but returned to their work without a word.
quietly as possible, Andra slunk through the halls and down the stairs to the
corridor that connected Lord Dusan’s manor to the Hall. She met no one. The
cheers of the spectators grew louder, and she knew that Ena and her eggs must
be entering at the end of the procession. She picked up the pace, not wanting
to miss the Pairing. She climbed several flights of stairs and stepped out onto
the upper benches of the arena where the Pairing took place. The seats beneath
her were all filled with eager spectators gazing down at the floor far below.
twelve candidates were stepping towards Ena, who stood over her eggs in front
of the golden statue of the three Guardians. The crowd fell silent. One young
girl glanced over her shoulder at Andra. Seeing the leather collar around her
neck, she frowned in distaste. Andra darted back into the shadows and glanced
up. The rafter was not far above her head. She found a hole in the wall where a
loose stone had fallen and used it to lift herself up towards the rafter. She
wrapped her arms around it, then swung her legs up and twisted herself to the
top of the wood.
quietly on her belly along the wide beam, Andra shimmied out towards the center
of the arena. Finally, she was looking almost directly down at the dragon, her
three eggs, and the twelve hopeful young boys. A low humming echoed throughout
the silent Hall as Ena touched her nose to each egg in turn—an emerald green
egg, a rich brown egg. A quiet gasp rippled through the crowd as Ena touched
her nose to the last egg. It was a deep, shimmering purple, the rarest color
among all dragons, save the destined golden dragons. No one had been a Rider of
a violet dragon since the very first generation of Riders, which had been
taught by Eliana herself.
eggs began to tremble, humming in response to their mother’s voice. Even from
her height, Andra heard the faint cracking of the stone-hard dragon eggs. A
golden light streaked through the cracks of the shells. Andra held her breath
as she watched the light growing brighter until, at last, all three hatchlings
tumbled from their shells at once. Andra gasped. They were beautiful. The tiny
dragons shook their heads, licking their hides clean of the sticky membranes
before turning towards their patient mother. She touched their snouts and
hummed again, giving her permission for them to leave her.
hatchlings turned to the twelve waiting boys, making soft cooing sounds as they
approached them. Jealousy ached in Andra’s chest as the brown hatchling headed
straight for a young boy at the end of the line. The boy, who appeared to be
entirely human, knelt down and extended his hand hopefully towards the little
dragon. It turned its head from side to side, studying him curiously, then,
closing its eyes, touched its nose to the boy’s hand. There was a flash of
light. The newest Rider lifted his little dragon to his shoulder and turned
towards the crowd, beaming widely, displaying the fresh, flame-shaped mark on
his hand. Everyone cheered. The boy stepped away, joining the line of Riders in
training, who stood against the walls.
other two dragons were studying the line cautiously, staying close together, as
if afraid to venture forward alone. At last, the green hatchling stepped slowly
forward, approaching a boy in the center of the line, making a questioning
mewing sound. Andra saw his moonlight blonde hair and the faint points on his
ears. He was an elf, or at least partially; his eyes were a soft hazel. The
young elf crouched as the green dragon stopped before him. He held out his hand
as the other boy had. The hatchling blinked once at him, then closed its eyes
and marked his hand. He lifted the dragon to his shoulder, and the crowd
cheered once more as he joined the ranks of Riders.
fell again quickly as they turned their eyes towards the violet hatchling, which
still stood in the center of the arena. This was the one they had truly been
waiting for. Who would be chosen to Ride such a rare and beautiful creature? It
didn’t move. The little dragon looked around, squawking in fear and confusion.
Ena rumbled in her throat and the hatchling glanced back at its mother, making
a pleading sound, as if asking for help in making the decision.
thing,” Andra whispered to herself as she gazed down at the little dragon.
the hatchling looked up at her and squawked again. Andra froze in surprise.
Could it have possibly heard her? It mewed loudly and opened its still-wet
wings, flapping them clumsily as it gazed up at her, still raising a chorus of
noisy protestations. Andra tried to make herself invisible, but it was too
late. Ena turned her large head upwards, gazing at Andra with surprised blue
eyes. She made a noise in her throat, then several more pairs of eyes looked up
down from there!” Lord Dusan cried.
jumped to her feet and raced along the beam, back towards the benches on the
wall. There were several more shouts. Andra swung down from the beam and took
off running the moment her feet hit the ground. She didn’t get far. A man
wearing a slave collar grabbed her forcefully by the arm, stopping her in her
tracks. She didn’t fight him. She knew she was caught.
Andra,” the man whispered to her, then marched her down a corridor to where
Dusan was waiting, tapping his foot angrily. She could still hear the purple
hatchling mewing and squawking, and Ena’s answering hums as she tried to soothe
the startled infant. Andra grimaced inwardly with guilt; she had frightened it.
stepped forward. She had barely registered that he had lifted his hand before
it slammed into her cheek. She bit back a gasp of pain and looked down at her
feet to hide the tears.
you know what you’ve done?” he raged at her. “For the first time in over a
century a violet egg has been chosen and you have prevented it from bonding!
The creature has become so upset that Ena has refused to allow the Pairing to
continue! You have prevented the training of a Rider! What do you have to say
for yourself, Andra?”
sorry,” she whispered, the only response she could think of.
growled under his breath. “Your apologies repair nothing. Ten lashes for being
where slaves are forbidden. Twenty for upsetting a dragon. And, for preventing
a Pairing from being completed…”
braced herself. If she had already been assigned thirty lashes for the more
minor offenses, she could not imagine what she would be given for this.
are banished from my household. You will return to where you were born, in the
manor of Chief Judge Castigo.”
resisted the urge to cry out in protest, to beg him to reconsider. Dusan
dismissed them, and the slave restraining her turned her down the corridor back
towards the manor. Once they were out of Dusan’s sight, he released his hold on
her. Andra heard him open his mouth to speak, but she didn’t wait to hear what
he had to say. She ran as fast as she could down the corridor, then bolted up
the stairs to the slaves’ quarters. Thankfully, it was empty.
threw herself down on her narrow cot and sobbed. She couldn’t return to
Castigo’s. For a female slave her age, everyone knew what that meant. It was
the same reason she had been sent to Dusan’s when she was ten. Castigo’s son,
Ledo, was six years older than her and had a reputation for forcing himself
upon the young slave girls. His father knew of his son’s actions and always
dismissed them. After all, they were only slaves, all of them criminals or the descendants
of criminals. They were worth nothing but what they could be used for.
was a soft knock on the door to the quarters and Andra sat up, looking
frantically around for a place to hide. The door opened before she had a chance
and Talias stepped in, a look of deep sorrow on his face. Andra quickly wiped
the tears away from her eyes, trying to hide the fact that she had been crying.
stepped slowly towards her. “Andra, I am so sorry,” he whispered. “I never
should have told you to go in there.”
shook her head, trying to dismiss the subject.
sat on the cot next to hers and leaned forward, taking one of her hands between
his. “I never meant for this to happen. I didn’t want you to get hurt.” She was
silent, wanting to speak but afraid of breaking down into sobs. “I heard Dusan
talking to the coachman. He says you’re to be taken to Vereor at first light
nodded quietly in understanding.
please speak to me,” he pleaded. “I may not be able to see you again before you
go. Please let me hear your voice.”
took a shuddering breath, steadying herself so that she could speak evenly.
“It- It’s not your fault, Talias,” she whispered. “I should have been more
sighed and squeezed her hand. “You take care of yourself over there, okay?” he
said, though they both knew that his words were empty.
she nodded. They were both quiet for a moment, then Andra looked up at him.
“I’ll miss you, Talias,” she said quietly. “You’ve been a good friend to me.”
a sad smile, he sat beside her and pulled her into his arms. “I’ll miss you
too, Andra. But you’ll be okay. Your mother’s still over there. She’ll take
care of you.”
didn’t answer, but wrapped her arms tightly around him. He held her quietly for
several minutes before there was another knock on the door. They sprang apart,
Talias landing on the opposite cot again, and the door opened. A large, burly
man stood in the doorway, a grim look on his scarred face. It was Bero, another
slave in the manor. He served two purposes—heavy labor and whippings.
gazed at them quietly for a moment, then, with a short nod, said, “It’s time,
sighed, trying to clear her mind, and stood. Talias stood with her and followed
her out the door. They followed Bero down to the main level, but he stopped her
at the base of the stairs. It was here that they would separate, Andra
following Bero to the whipping cell, and Talias returning to his chores in the
kitchen. The guests were already arriving for the Pairing feast.
embraced her one last time and whispered, “Goodbye, Andra.”
Talias,” she whispered back.
cleared his throat and they pulled apart. Talias gave a small, parting wave,
and Andra turned to follow Bero down to the whipping post. They descended
another flight of stairs to the stone cells where slaves were punished. The
overseer was already waiting to watch the whipping in order to ensure that she
received every last lash and that each one was forceful enough. Her heart was
racing as she stepped up to the post. It wasn’t the first time she had been
whipped, and she was certain that it wouldn’t be the last, but she had never
received more than fifteen at once.
overseer took her hands and bound them to the post, then pushed a
leather-covered rod of wood into her mouth for her to bite down on. Bero pulled
open the back of her rough brown dress and stepped back. There was the sound of
the whip whistling through the air and Andra inhaled sharply, bracing herself.
It cracked across her back, tearing a long line across her flesh. She flinched
and bit down on the rod in her mouth, tasting the cured leather. Another
whistle, another crack, and she flinched again.
the twelfth lash, her back was screaming for mercy, and she wasn’t even halfway
through. The tears she had been holding back began streaming down her cheeks,
but she still managed to keep from crying out. The overseer continued to count
off the lashes. “Fifteen… Sixteen… Seventeen…”
closed her eyes and thought of the only good thing in her future—her mother.
She would see her tomorrow. She tried to call up the few memories she had of
her, but each time she managed to remember her face, it was obliterated by
another crack from the whip as it ripped across her back. “Twenty-two… Twenty-three…”
she would manage to avoid Ledo. But for how long? A few weeks? A few months
maybe? But not indefinitely. Certainly not forever. Nobody avoided him forever.
Hot, sticky blood poured down her back, soaking her dress down to the hem and
dripping to the stone floor. “Twenty-nine… Thirty…”
overseer stepped forward and pulled the rod from her mouth. Her jaw ached from
clenching down on it and she could see the marks of her teeth in the leather.
He undid the cords that bound her to the post, and she slumped to the ground,
panting, her face pressed to the cold stone as tears continued to stream down
help her,” she heard the overseer snap. Apparently, Bero had stepped towards
her. “You know the rules.”
listened as their footsteps disappeared back up the stairs. She knew the rules
as well. After a whipping, a slave was not allowed to be aided in any way until
they had reached their own cot. Once they had proven themselves strong enough
to complete this simple task, the other slaves were able to attend to their
knew all this. Her back screamed for some kind of salve or poultice, but she
couldn’t move. She lay there, breathing in the dirt and dust on the floor as
her blood dripped down her back, forming tiny pools at her sides. When she
could stand the pain no longer, she forced herself to her feet and stumbled up
the stairs. There was no one in sight.
Likely, they were all busy with the feast. Andra dragged herself up the rest of
the stairs to the slave quarters and fell into her cot with a moan.
quarters were quiet and empty. Nobody would be there to help her for hours.
Closing her eyes, Andra lay in the silence, letting the blood dry on her back.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The remaining chapters of "Bright Star" have been removed, but don't worry! You'll get a chance to read a new and improved version of "Bright Star" next year, when the book will be published by Tor Teen! Many thanks to all of my readers, and especially to the Inkitt team for making this happen. Keep checking back on Inkitt's blog, and on the Tor Teen website for updates and new information regarding the upcoming publication of "Bright Star". You can also follow me on Facebook (facebook.com/authorerinswan) and Twitter (twitter.com/erinswanwrites) for updates. Thank you for your support!