They said that if you came down the mountain alive, you’d be a great warrior.
I wondered how long I was supposed to stay up here. Was something supposed to happen? Would courage and skill just seep into me from the rocks and the turf and the closeness of the sky?
Something twisted in the air, something silver, like an eel. It flashed bright in the sun. Like a child, I jumped up to catch at it.
‘Catch me if you can,’ it said. It was a dragon. A dragon no longer than my arm, with blood-red eyes and claws of steel.
I ran after it as it ducked and wove through the air, doubling over, tying me in knots. My foot caught and I fell hard on my hands and knees on the jagged rocks. I swore in pain. The dragon laughed.
I wanted it so badly, I was up and running again without even looking to see how much I was bleeding. I ran till I tasted blood in my mouth. The dragon led me waist-deep into a freezing bog and jeered as it looped around me, ducking low to taunt me.
I made a frantic grab for it. The dragon breathed fire. I flinched back, feeling the scorched air frizzling my hair.
‘Can’t stand the heat?’ sang the dragon. It swooped over my head, just out of reach, and opened its red mouth for another blast.
I tried to run and fell face-down in the icy bog. The cold knocked the breath out of my body. I struggled up, streaming water and trailing sphagnum moss. The dragon crowed with laughter. ‘Look around you, warrior!’
I looked. I saw the black, twisted branches of dead trees in the mire, and then I realised. They were charred bones.
‘Say your prayers!’ The dragon dived on me for a third time. This time, I was desperate. Life or death. As it dived, as my body screamed at me to cringe away, I reached up and grabbed it by the throat.
Half-choked, it coughed a sputter of flame that seared up to my shoulder and caught my cloak alight. I didn’t let go. I fell with the dragon into the icy water. I held on with both hands while it thrashed and clawed at me. And then, it went still.
Gasping in shock and pain, I stared at what I held in my hand. A dragon-hilted sword with ruby eyes. A blade that shone like silver in the sun.
‘Warrior,’ whispered the dragon’s voice in my mind.