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The first chapter

“I don’t want to get married!””You don’t have a choice!”

Kira watched her father’s blazing eyes as they bored into her. There was just no reasoning with him when he was like this. Turning desperately to her mother seated at the end of the table, she pleaded, “Mother please. I can’t get married, not now. I’m too young.”

Instead of an answer, her mother shut her eyes and lowered her head as tears trickled silently down her cheeks.

Kira turned back to her father. “But father, please, I don’t know anyone called Jurrie. How can you expect me to marry someone I’ve never even met?”

“You haven’t met him, but I have,” her father answered. “He’s a good lad and will treat you well. We couldn’t have found a better match for you.”

Kira sat back in her chair and crossed her arms across her chest. She couldn’t believe her parents would do this to her. “Why now?” she demanded. “Why do you have to do this to me now when we’ve got the harvest to bring in?”

“Why?” her father repeated. “You ask me why?” Rising from his chair, he ignored his crutch as he hopped one legged over to an old parchment that had been mounted on the cottage wall above the cooking hearth. Tearing it down, he hopped back to the table and slammed it down in front of Kira.

“First Law, that’s why!”
Kira gazed down on the faded parchment. She had never been taught to read, but she knew exactly what it said. The six points of First Law had been drummed into her head for as long as she could remember. Saying nothing, she looked back up to her father.

“First Law,” he repeated. “After all these years, do I still have to teach it to you?” Before Kira had the chance to say no, her father picked up the parchment and started to read aloud.

“Point one,” he read. “Girls are not allowed to leave their homes unless escorted by their father, brothers or husbands and may never travel any further than their neighbouring village. Point two: Girls are never to be educated. Point three: Girls are not allowed to hunt, fight or engage in any activities that are considered boyish. They may not dress as boys and must never carry weapons of any sort. Point four: Unmarried girls are never allowed to visit the palace or approach the king.”

Kira reached up and grasped her father’s arm. “Father, I know the First Law-” “Obviously you don’t!” he cut in. “Otherwise you would know that the next point is all about you,” shaking her hand off his arm, he continued to read aloud. “Point five: Girls must be matched to the boy or man they are to marry by the age of twelve. They must be married before the age of thirteen. The day after the marriage ceremony, their husbands must send confirmation to the king.”

Putting down the parchment, he awkwardly returned to his seat at the head of the table. “Kira, you are twelve. Your mother and I have waited as long as we possibly could, but there is no getting around it. First Law was written specifically for girls. You are a girl. Like it or not, you are. And one way or another, you will marry Jurrie before next summer!”

“Please, Kira,” her mother timidly put in, “Listen to your father, he knows what’s best for you. He knows what’s best for all of us.”

Kira shook her head and leaned closer to her mother. “Marrying a stranger isn’t what’s best for me. I don’t want to get married. I want to go to the palace to work in the dragon stables and learn to be a dragon knight just like father was before his accident with Ariel.”

“Kira, no!” her mother cried softly as her nervous eyes darted back to Kira’s father.

“What did you just say?” he demanded as his dark eyebrows knitted together in a deep frown. “Did I just hear you mention dragons again? How many times do I have to tell you? You are never to mention those monsters in this home again!”

Kira watched her father’s temper getting ready to blow. But for as angry as he was, she felt her own temper starting to flare. “Father, it’s just not fair! Next season Dane gets to go to the palace and learn to ride them. What do I get? A husband. But I don’t want it. If I can’t go to the palace, then I’ll go to the Rogue’s mountain and tame Ferarchie!”

“Ferarchie?” her father cried, “Ferarchie?” Turing furious eyes to her mother, he threw his arms in the air in exasperation. “Where does she get these insane ideas?”

He looked back to Kira. “You listen to me, little girl. Ferarchie is the meanest dragon to ever curse this earth. He kills. That’s all he does. He kills and he eats anything or anyone who comes near him. As long as he flies wild in those mountains, they’re cursed. Swear to me you will never go anywhere near them.” Slamming his fist violently down on the table, he caused a vase of wild flowers to tip over and roll off the side. “Swear it!”

Kira watched her father’s face turning red with rage. In all her life, she’d never seen him this angry before. Not even when her brother Dane broke his favourite axe. Terrified, she weakly nodded. “I’m sorry father. I swear I’ll never go to the Rogue’s mountains to see Ferarchie.”

An agonised moment of silence passed between father and daughter. Finally he sighed. Softening his tone, his imploring eyes pleaded with her. “Kira, please, of all the rules in the king’s First Law, the last one is the most strictly enforced.” He reached for the parchment again and read aloud. “Point six: Under no circumstances are girls ever to be allowed anywhere near dragons.” When he finished, he put down the parchment. “The penalty for breaking any one of these points is a trip to Lasser Commons for execution. But the penalty for breaking the last one is slow torture and death.”

“But father,” Kira pleaded.
“No buts,” he said softly as he raised a calloused finger to her lips. “Listen to me, please. Dorcon has been waiting years to get back at me for what he thinks I did to him. He’s been searching for any opportunity to discredit me with the king. If he can’t get me directly then he’ll get at me through you. You must do as First Laws states or Dorcon will be here in a flash to take his revenge on all of us.”

“What does Lord Dorcon have to do with me?” Kira asked. “That fight was between the two of you. Not me.”

“Dorcon hates me,” her father explained. “That means by extension, he hates you too. I’m sure if he had his way, he’s see all of us sent to Lasser.”

“Your father’s right, Kira,” her mother put in. “Lord Dorcon is an evil man. It wouldn’t do well for your father’s reputation if he had to come here because of you.” Kira turned on her mother in complete disbelief. “You’re worried about father’s reputation? What about me and what I want?”

“What about you?” her father challenged as his temper flared again.

“I don’t want to get married!” Kira argued. “And it’s not fair for you to make me!”

“What do you know about fair!” he harshly demanded. “It wasn’t fair when my own dragon turned on me and ate my leg. It wasn’t fair when Dorcon got promoted over me because I could no longer fight. Kira, life isn’t fair.”

“But I don’t want to go-”
“You don’t have a choice!” he shouted. Then he paused and his voice went suddenly cold. “Now you will do exactly as your mother and I say. Next spring, whether you like it or not, you will marry this boy. It’s the First Law. To break it is to die.”

Kira’s eyes suddenly flashed with anger equalling her father’s. “Just because the king hates girls and makes up these stupid laws, doesn’t mean we should follow them blindly. I don’t want to get married! Do you hear me? I don’t want it and you can’t make me!”

Kira quickly stood, casting her chair backwards. “I won’t do it!” Turning from her parent’s shocked faces, she ran from the table and fled the small cottage.

Outside, she raced past her youngest sister who was playing with the chickens in the yard and straight into the grain field. It was late in the season and the tall stalks of grain rose well above her head. As she ran, the sound of her full skirts brushing against the drying grain made a strange hushing sigh. Almost as though the field itself was crying especially for her.

Kira ran blindly. She couldn’t believe her parents would do this to her. She didn’t want to get married. She wanted to work with the dragons at the palace stables. Suddenly that dream seemed even more remote.

When she could run no more, Kira walked. Wandering alone, she tried to figure a way out of the arrangement. There had to be something she could do. Some place she could go where being a girl wasn’t such a curse.

Furious at the injustice of it all, she wandered to the edge of her family’s property. In the distance she could see the Rogue’s Mountain rising majestically above her. Taking a seat at the outer edge of the field, she stared at the tall mountain and waited.

This was her secret place. The one place she could go to be alone with her thoughts. A place where on very rare occasions, she could watch Ferarchie flying wild in the skies over the mountain and envy him his freedom.

Startled, Kira turned and looked into the flushed face of her youngest sister. “Shadow, what are you doing here?”

Elspeth sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “I heard you shouting. So I followed you. Please don’t be mad at me.”

Kira looked at her sister and sighed. Elspeth had been like a shadow to her since she first learned to walk. There was nowhere she could go that Elspeth couldn’t find her. And in truth, there was nothing that Kira wouldn’t do for her.
“I’m not mad at you,” she said, softening her tone. “Come here and sit down.” Patting the ground at her side, Kira put her arm protectively around her sister’s narrow shoulders. “I was shouting because mother and father said something that made me very cross.”

Kira sighed again. “Well, they said they’ve made a match for me. That they have found a boy in the next village that I must marry. So, next spring, they’re going to send me away to live with him.”

Elspeth’s eyes flew open wide. “You can’t leave here!”

“I must. It’s the law.”
“Then I’m coming too.” Elspeth crossed her thin arms determinedly across her chest. “They can’t separate us.”

“Shadow, listen to me, please,” Kira begged, feeling it tear at her heart to tell her sister she couldn’t go. “Mother needs you here. She relies on you. Who else would feed the chickens or count the new kittens in the barn. What would happen to all the other animals? They need you here too. You’re the only one they’ll talk to.”

Elspeth’s eyes filled with tears as she sniffed, “But I don’t want you to go.”

Kira gazed back up to the mountain. Softly she said, “I don’t want to go either.” Sitting huddled with her sister she pointed up at the mountain. “Do you see up there?”

Elspeth followed Kira’s finger. “Uh-huh.”
“That is the Rogue’s mountain. He lives up there. The Rogue is free. But you and me? We’re not. The king hates us, so he makes us do things we don’t want to do.”

“Why? What did we do to him?”
“Us? Nothing.” Kira answered thoughtfully. “The king has always hated girls. Mother says that his father did too, and his father before him. No one knows why, but all the kings do.”

Elspeth sniffed again and looked up at the mountain. “Maybe we should go there then.”

Pulling her sister closer, Kira studied the mountain and wondered what it would be like to have Ferarchie’s kind of freedom. Or to live in a land where girls could travel on their own if they wanted. Where they weren’t forced to marry boys they didn’t know and where they could be whatever they wanted to be. Not just what the king told them to be.

Tears began to sting her eyes as she desperately tried to fight her destiny. Her parents said she had to marry a stranger from another village. But deep in her heart, she knew she couldn’t do it. There had to be another way.

As the balance of the day passed slowly away, Kira sat quietly with her sister watching the mountain. She felt drained and defeated. There just wasn’t anything she could think of to change her fate.

When the sun finally passed from overhead and started to descend in the western sky, reluctantly, Kira knew it was time to take her sister home. She stood and reached for Elspeth’s hand. “Come on, Shadow, we should be getting back.”

Climbing slowly to her feet, Elspeth pointed to the sky, “What’s that?”

Kira turned and followed her sister’s finger to a large dark shape in the distant sky. Suddenly all thoughts of her upcoming wedding disappeared.

“Ferarchie,” she sighed, enviously watching the dragon soaring in the setting sun.

“But I thought you said the Rogue lives up there?”

“He does. Ferarchie is the Rogue. That’s his real name. The name he had before he escaped and became wild.”

“Then that’s the bad dragon father doesn’t like to talk about?”

“That’s him!” Kira said proudly. “When I was your age, before father had his accident with Ariel, he told me a story about how when he was a boy, he’d worked for the man who’d raised and ridden Ferarchie.”

Kira paused and reached for a tall stalk of grain and broke it off at its base. Drawing it like a sabre, she stabbed the air and other shoots of grain. “His master would tell him amazing stories about fierce battles fought and won with that one dragon.” Turning on Elspeth, she stabbed at her with the fluffy end of the stalk until her little sister giggled uncontrollably. “But Ferarchie was mean and he was dangerous. Maybe the most vicious dragon the kingdom has ever possessed.” She stopped and held up her finger. “He was also the most intelligent.”

“How did he get free?” Elspeth asked, ducking behind Kira as she held her stalk of grain up high and pointed it at the soaring dragon.

“Father said when his master was killed in battle, Ferarchie went mad! He killed a lot of men and dragons on both sides of the battle and then escaped. When he settled on the mountain they stopped calling him Ferarchie and started to call him the Rogue. He’s lived there ever since. Sometimes, the king sends knights up to try to kill him.”

“Why?” Elspeth asked.

“Because the king hates rogue dragons almost as much as he hates girls. But this rogue dragon always wins. Now legends are built around him.”

As Kira watched the Rogue riding the thermals in the sky, once again she envied him his freedom. “I wish I could break free too, Ferarchie-” she heavily sighed.
“Me too,” Elspeth agreed mimicking her sister’s sigh.

When the dragon finally passed from sight behind the mountain, Kira reluctantly drew her eyes away. She playfully ruffled Elspeth’s hair, “Come on, let’s get home.”