Authors: Mark Robson
SIMON AND SCHUSTER
First published in Great Britain by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd, 2008
A CBS COMPANY
Copyright © Mark Robson
Cover illustration by David Wyatt © 2008
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
All rights reserved.
The right of Mark Robson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
London WC2B 6AH
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
eBook ISBN 978-1-47111-657-5
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, event or locales is entirely coincidental.
Typeset by Rowland Phototypesetting Ltd,
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading, Berkshire
This book is dedicated in particular to the memory of Captain Albert Ball VC DSO MC, whose exploits inspired the character of Jack Miller, and in general to the memory of
all the brave ‘knights of the air’ who fought with chivalry and honour for both sides in the Great War.
To April, whose Internet name inspired this story, and to Brian – a wise old dragon!
To my ‘Teen Talk Team’: Connor McLean, Esther Taylor and Janine Brierley, who helped me to hear the voices of the young dragonriders in this story.
To Mr Peter Murton at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, who gave of his time, his knowledge, and who provided a most enlightening reading list.
To the National Phobics’ Society, and all those kind individuals who provided me with insights into irrational fears and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
To the Bishop’s Tea Room in Daventry for all the tea and magnificent caramel shortbread that helped inspire me in the mornings.
To Lynne and her team at Middlemore Farm Public House, who allowed me to adopt Table 7 as my ‘office’ in the afternoons.
Also by Mark Robson
For information on future
books and other stories
by Mark Robson, visit:
Elian paused to look over his shoulder as he reached the edge of the trees. They were still after him. Sweat trickled in steady rivulets down his forehead, neck and back. He
was breathing hard, but his mind was clear: no choice remained – he would have to risk the Devil’s Finger. What if they dared to follow? Granted it was unlikely. Like everyone else,
Borkas and Farrel were wary of the taboo. But what if they put their fears aside as he had? The thought chilled him to the core. If they did, he would be in big trouble.
Why Borkas and Farrel had chosen to pick on him today was not clear, but he was not about to stop and ask them. None of the local boys were strong enough to stand up to the two thugs. When they
had appeared, he had run.
It was strange. Curiosity and a desire for adventure had drawn Elian to the Finger more than a year ago. Daring to go there had felt neither brave nor foolish. Instead he had felt strangely
compelled, as if it were a place he was supposed to go. Stories were told of the Devil’s Finger in the village; stories designed to keep the youngsters from venturing there. It was a place of
dire consequences, they said – a place of death.
On reaching it that first time, Elian had seen the Finger for what it was. Yes, it held danger for the unwary or the foolish, but no more so than many other places along the edge of the Great
Escarpment. Sheer drops of up to a thousand spans into the lush green of the Haleen Rift Valley were not uncommon along the edge. The Finger, however, appeared to flout the laws of nature. It was a
huge digit of rock projecting from the lip of the sheer cliff that pointed ever eastwards, towards the lands of the rising sun.
He hadn’t been through the tangled wood for a while, but an itching sensation at the back of his skull had been plaguing him all week. Memories of his last visit haunted his dreams and
thoughts. It felt almost as if the Finger were calling him back – as if he
to visit it. Or was it that
With the burly figures of Borkas and Farrel
closing fast, any worries about the curious instinct were forgotten. He had come too far to turn back. It was the Finger, or a beating.
He turned and entered the woods. The path was barely distinguishable from the rest of the wild, untamed land near the edge of the Great Escarpment. Tangled briars tore at his boots and the lower
branches of the trees clawed at his tunic and hair with gnarled fingers. Driven forwards by need and fear, he ignored them. When he finally broke free from the clutches of the trees he was
scratched, tired, and beginning to wonder if this had been such a good idea.
He took a few steps forwards onto the base of the Finger. The cloud seemed little more than a few spans above his head. He drew a deep breath and held it for a moment. The view from the rocky
outcrop was one that the Creator had otherwise reserved for the birds. The sense of awe he had felt on his previous visits enveloped him once more with the soft touch of a rich man’s
Elian had never been afraid of heights, but this was one place where he could begin to understand what it must be like to suffer vertigo. He walked forwards further to where the Finger narrowed
to a mere couple of paces wide. He was not so foolish as to walk all the way to the tip, for there was no telling how stable such a narrow point of rock might be.
For many, to look down from where he was standing would simply be too much. Some would freeze, unable to move. Others would drop to their hands and knees and crawl back to the safety of the main
escarpment. Others still would lie down, close their eyes and beg for someone to save them. It was a curious phenomenon, the fear of heights.
A sudden whoosh of air from behind made Elian drop to one knee for fear of being swept over the edge. As the unexpected gust died with a fading sigh, he slowly rose to his feet. To his horror,
he realised he was no longer alone. He could feel a presence behind him. The thought of facing Borkas and Farrel here made fresh beads of sweat break out on his forehead.
‘Hello. Were you looking for me?’
The voice did not belong to either of the boys. It was female, rich, melodious and strangely familiar, but he had no conscious memory of having heard it before. No woman in his village spoke
with such regal tones, yet he had met none from outside that circle.
‘It’s good to see you’re not afraid of heights. The Oracle is calling. Your time is here.’
Being careful to place his feet securely, Elian turned slowly to face the owner of the enigmatic voice. He raised his eyes and his mouth formed a large O as he struggled to take in what he
A dragon was standing on the base of the Finger with its wings partially furled: a huge, glorious dragon with glowing golden scales and bright horns. A crest, strengthened with ridges, ran down
the middle of her back to a long tail and her great talons gleamed as if polished. Elian looked into her mesmerising eyes and for a moment he was lost. They were great windows of amber, opening
into an abyss of immeasurable depth.
A waft of dry, musky scent invaded his nostrils as his air-starved lungs forced him to resume breathing. It reminded him of summer fields with just a hint of something tantalisingly exotic that
again was familiar, yet unidentifiable.
With a determined effort, he wrenched his gaze from the dragon’s eyes, but his focus did not shift far. There was one area of the dragon that inevitably drew his attention – the rows
of long, pointed teeth.
Panic surged within him. The dragon had no rider. It was dangerous. It had to be. He looked around wildly, as if expecting to find some miraculous escape route. There was none. He was
The dragon took a step forwards.
Elian instinctively took two steps backwards and lifted his hands, as if to push the dragon away. ‘Don’t come any closer!’ he said, his voice sounding ragged even in his own
Come to me. I’ve waited a long time for this moment. Your destiny is upon you.’
It suddenly occurred to Elian that the dragon was communicating directly with his mind, but what it – she – was saying made no sense. Destiny? What destiny? Was this a trick used by
dragons to gain easy meat? Was this what the village teacher had meant by the ‘special powers’ of dragons?
Without thinking, he took another step backwards. A fragment of rock crumbled and his right foot twisted. A startled shock wave of panic surged through him as he windmilled his arms in an effort
to regain his balance. He failed. His centre of gravity had shifted too far to the right. The moment of realisation as he toppled felt lazy and detached. As he passed the point of no return his
mind suddenly flashed through layers of panic to a new level of consciousness.