Enielda and her parents had decided that the amethyst cave was where they needed to focus their planning. Black dragons were smaller, which often meant they were a little slower. However, that smaller wing span meant greater maneuverability. This would be a huge asset at the cave.
The king and queen had chosen it as one of the pickup points to even things out between the flyers and the runners. The runners could get close enough to use poles or even possibly grab a scarf with their hands.
However, there was no way to do that from the back of a dragon with wide wings. Plus, the path near the entrance was narrow.
It was narrow on purpose. When the rumors of war began to be serious, the king and queen had commissioned the giants to use their strength to make the amethyst caverns a defensible stronghold so that if the palace were threatened, they could flee to the caverns to safety.
Not only had many of the caves been turned into storerooms for food, bandages, and other supplies, but the area in front of the cave entrance had been changed.
The giants had moved huge boulders to that area, creating a hill of rock which would prevent an army from being able to march straight to the cave. Plus, this wall of rocks provided plenty of cover for a defensive force to attack an approaching enemy.
For the purposes of the race, this rock wall prevented dragons from being able to fly straight to the entrance and land. The path curved around the wall of rocks but the area between the rocks and the mountain was too narrow for the dragons' large wingspans.
Thus, they had to land and either the dragon or their rider had to run to the cave entrance to retrieve the scarf. On the ground, dragons were no match for the speed of a horse, unicorn, or oliphant.
Besides, the path was narrow enough there would not be much room for passing another dragon which meant that if someone was in front of you going slow, there wasn't much you could do about it. For that reason, most of the flyers would dismount and retrieve the scarf themselves. This offset the disadvantages faced by those whose mounts did not have wings.
However, her Krandess's small size was a huge bonus. Kelu, Enielda, and Krandess had visited the amethyst cave many times over the last few months.
They had discovered that Krandess's wingspan was just small enough that they could fly between the rocks and mountains. There were only inches to spare, so they had to go very slowly.
Despite their slow speed, Krandess hit the wall with one of her wings the first time they tried it. That ended their flying for that day. However, Krandess insisted she could do it, so they flew that path again and again.
During the first month, Krandess injured herself almost every practice session, but she refused to give up. Sometimes the injury was small enough that she would insist on continuing the practice session.
Other times, they would have to stop until it healed. Enielda quickly learned that she had to be perfectly quiet and still as they flew the gap. The fit was so narrow that the tiniest distraction would cause Krandess to hit one wall or the other.
They went to the cave every day that Krandess's wings were well enough, and with practice they began to pick up speed.
By the time race day arrived, they could fly that path at almost the same speed as they flew the open air. They would only have to land for a moment in front of the gate so that Enielda could jump off and grab a scarf then jump back on. Although Krandess's wingspan was smaller, it wasn't small enough for Enielda to reach a scarf from dragon back.
After months of planning and practicing, the plan had been fairly straightforward. They knew the course. They knew their own strengths and weaknesses, and those of the others.
They would use that knowledge to try to win. Like Nehat, they realized most would start at either cave or lake, so they opted to start at the tree.
However, they decided going to the cave second was the best choice, for, as Onima said, "You are the only one with a black dragon. The others have to worry about riding into the setting sun.
I doubt any of them will remember that you will not have that worry, for most ignore the special gifts of any but their own dragons.
They will not think about the fact that your dragon can breathe out darkness, thus protecting you from the setting sun. Besides, storms often pop up in the late afternoon, and they almost always come from the northeast.
If one pops up on race day, you will be flying with the wind at your back as you head toward the lake while they will be flying into the wind.
This would be a huge help to you in winning the race. Of course, the wind would be against you heading back to the palace, but most of that distance you would be crossing the lake where you can fly low to the water and avoid the worst of the wind.
If you get a good strong steady wind to help you, and if you veer off the main course so no one sees you and how fast you are traveling, you should be able to win."
Now, as Enielda approached the rock wall at the amethyst caverns, she anxiously scanned the sky to see if that needed wind was coming...
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Princess Atamar has always grown up being the best. Of course, it wasn't of her choosing. Every teen in the kingdom, including her closest friends were forced to make sure Atamar always won their games, had higher grades, and was better at everythin...