Dear readers, tonight with me is a slave responsible for a feathered racing dragon. She is here to tell us about how her life changed when she was forced to ride one.

Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I don’t know where I was born or who my parents were. I don’t really think about it. I was born a slave, as far as I know. It’s easier not to think about it. The only thing I’m sure of is that I am pure Kadralin. My skin is not as dark as some but, as far as I know, there’s nothing in me that looks like a Taymalin, and I’m grateful for that.

My first master was Kevrey of Tander. He kept a shop in Dakastown, on the south coast of the Isle of Esternes. He traded in knowledge, that didn’t make him popular with the Brothers of Taymar, of course, but he had lot of interesting visitors anyone from lords to ship captains to ordinary people.

I learned a lot there, even though slaves aren’t supposed to be educated. They think that if you’re educated you might rise up against them. And they’re right, of course.

Dakastown is very big, it’s home to the Otulain family and even among the lords they are very rich, because of all the trade from the mainland. Apart from the sea trade, it’s got a big ley-circle too.

I remember the sea and the gulls, but most of time I was cleaning or fetching and carrying.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child?

Being a slave means you don’t own anything, I didn’t have toys … but there were so many interesting things in Kevrey’s shop. I would play with them sometimes, in secret when I could find a moment. There were shells and different stones, the stuffed animals and insects. But it was the zirichak feather that I loved the most, golden and blue, as long as I was tall.

What’s a zirichak?

You don’t know?

I’m not from around here.

It’s what I ride now, a ziri, some people call them dragons. The racing ziri have beautiful feathers, not like the wild ones which are just grey and brown.

What about after Kevrey? You said he was your first master, how did it change?

Someone visited, an old man with a big floppy hat, a Master Patterner by his robes but I didn’t recognise him. He and Kevrey talked for a long time in private, I heard them arguing, then suddenly it was all a rush. I was sent to Jakalain in the north of the island, and put to work looking after Sheesha, the racing ziri. I don’t know why Kevrey sold me, I don’t think I did anything wrong. Nothing that he knew about, anyway.

Did you like Jakalain?

It’s cold and wet most of the time, not like Dakastown. No sea, just mountains. It’s a dreary place but it has one of the most powerful ley-circles on Esternes, and the feedings, when the Mother’s Milk descends from the moons, are dazzling.

I lived in the Ziri Tower, in Sheesha’s eyrie. It wasn’t the most uncomfortable place in the world, but it was a lot worse than the house attic I was used to have. I had one blanket, the wind just blew through, and the winters were freezing.

It wasn’t all bad, of course, I had Sheesha to look after and he was a good ziri. I was with him all the time. I went to the races at Highdeep, Kurvin Port, other places, even back to Dakastown sometimes, though I never saw Kevrey again.

What can you tell us about how it all changed?

There’s some things you have to understand first.

It’s forbidden for anyone to ride a dragon, except the lords and ladies—well, not that any lady ever really rides, they don’t race. No commoners, and certainly no slaves. So I never rode but I knew how it was done.

And you might think I shouldn’t have cared what happened to Jakalain castle, after all, I’m a slave, I’m just property. Because there are bad slave owners, we all know the stories, but it wasn’t like that at Jakalain, well, mostly not anyway. I had an easy life and spent much of it alone with Sheesha. The other slaves worked a lot harder than me—that did cause some trouble.

Daybian, that’s the Lord’s oldest son, he was always hanging round. He was Sheesha’s rider so obviously he would be around a lot. But it wasn’t just because of Sheesha: he was always staring at me, and making crude comments. He even told me he wanted me, but I always said no. He was arrogant, a bit stupid, but he never tried to force himself on me. Not that I could have complained if he did. A slave has no rights.

The night it all changed was when the castle was attacked secretly. I wouldn’t have known about it but Sheesha woke me up.

The Ziri Tower is very tall, and separate from the main castle. It would have taken too long for me to have gone down to alert the guard.

Sheesha wanted me to ride him. He made me do it.

I know, it sounds ridiculous. He’s just an animal really. But so beautiful, so powerful, and they aren’t stupid—cleverer than Daybian anyway.

What choice did I have? Someone had to alert the castle.

So I did the only thing I could. I rode Sheesha, got to the warning tower, there was a man there and he tried to stop me, but I managed to ring the alarm bell. I got back to the eyrie and I didn’t think anyone had seen me.

It wasn’t until later I heard Lord Jakalain’s younger son had been kidnapped. If I’d known when I raised the alarm …

If nobody saw you, why did you run away?

Because of Gally. And because I was wrong. Gally had seen me, and other people had seen the ziri.

Gally isn’t … well … he has a good heart but he’s … some people call him stupid but he’s not. He just doesn’t think like most people.

He was worried they would find out it was me so when he was questioned he said it was him, and that condemned him to death.

I couldn’t let him die for me, could I? So I stole Sheesha and two other ziri, and escaped with Gally and Yenteel.

So you did the right thing. Who’s Yenteel?

This was not how I wanted my life to go. I would have been content just looking after Sheesha, or whatever zirichak came after him. I don’t mean I didn’t hate the Taymalin, of course I did, they had enslaved my people.

But I was forced into freedom, if you can call it that when you’re running all the time, and terrified you’ll get caught and executed.

Yenteel? It’s hard to imagine someone more annoying than Daybian, but Yenteel manages. But he knows things, he’s experienced in the world, and he knew how to break out of jail, he can use patternings. So I had to bring him too. Though he was badly wounded when we escaped.

I heard Daybian went with you.

No! He just turned up and insisted on coming along to rescue his brother. I admit I was scared he was going to take me back at first. He didn’t like it when I wouldn’t do as he told me, but he went along with what I said.

So, you like Daybian?

I do not like Daybian, not like what you mean. I tolerate him because he won’t go away. And I understand he wants to find his brother. (Who is also a little brat, by the way.)

Seems as if you don’t like many people, do you like anyone?

I like Gally, and he’s Kadralin too. If I hadn’t rescued him they would have hung him. All I want now is to find my own people. I heard they’re hiding deep in the mountains, so I’ll find them and put all this behind me.

If Yenteel wants to stay as well, he can (he’s Kadralin too) but I don’t suppose he will. Once we’ve found Daybian’s brother they can go home, and I’ll never have to see him again.

Yenteel doesn’t think our people live in the mountains, he thinks it’s just a legend so we feel better, but he’s wrong. He has to be wrong, because if he’s right … I suppose I could go to the mainland with him, and Gally.

Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?

It’s not a big secret, I suppose, but I know the ziri are magic. I love Sheesha anyway but something special happened when we made a healing pattern for Yenteel’s arrow wound. Yenteel’s power was gone but Sheesha gave us more, it was as if he had a limitless supply inside himself. If it hadn’t been for that, Yenteel would have died.

And one more secret: the best place to sleep is under the wing of your dragon.

When he’s not sitting at his computer building websites for national institutions and international companies, USA Today bestselling author (and technically cockney) Steve Turnbull can be found sitting at his computer building new worlds of steampunk, science fiction and fantasy.

You can find Kantees on the pages of The Dragons of Esternes.

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