Gareth made for the stream as quickly as possible, and, as the Dragon Warriors climbed down, began to wash himself clean again. It was cool and refreshing, but he was still smarting badl and it irritated him that Sao kept looking at him so consolingly. Although Sao and Sarissa’s attention was soon taken up by what was happening now, near the smaller stockades, where several of those bear-chested trainers stood, with tattoos on their arms, that they now saw were Dragon Eggs. Here Mordellon had called the expectant Dragon Warriors into a circle, and was holding up his own lasso, as he pointed gravely at the extraordinary creatures beyond.
There were six dragons inside the first stockade, and as Gareth dried himself, and walked towards them all, he saw a stirring of leathery wings and jets of flame sweeping left and right, like search lights. These dragons were much smaller and finer than the noxious Gas Dragon, light aircraft compared to a Jumbo Jet, perhaps, and they were a beautiful mottled grey, with tails sharply ridged with spiked scales, and vicious looking clubs at the end. Their eyes were huge, and they were sniffing the air and surveying the humans warily. In the enclosure Gareth noticed several wooden pegs in the ground, and on a long pole, by the entrance, were perched six heavy leather saddles, which two of the trainers had just finished polishing.
“Now,” cried Mordellon, as Gareth drew up by Sao and Sarissa, wanting to ask her about what she had found in the dragon dung, and the hard faced young warrior who had be so sneering before lifted his nose in the air, “The older trainees could tell you what comes next, although they have their dragons already. Who can guess?”
“We are choosing dragon?” cried Count Uri Oblormov.
“Or it chooses you,” said Mordellon portentously. “You can’t ride a dragon that will not have you on its back. Impossible. So look carefully, use your thoughts and feelings, and if any seems to like you, step up with your lassos. It’s very, very important to match a dragon to the right warrior. It may truly save your life, one day. You must become as one.”
There was much muttering among the Dragon Warriors, as they peered nervously at the waiting creatures, but at last six of the boys stepped forwards. Their golden lassos wer quivering in their hands.
“First you must coral them,” said Mordellon, making a slip knot in his lasso, “then saddle them. Then we’ll see if you can actually break them in.”
Mordellon was climbing through the gate into the enclosure, and he indicated for the six intrepid boys to follow him.
“And what part of a dragon should you catch in the lasso?” he asked in a whisper.
“The tail,” said one.
“Around the neck,” suggested another.
“By ears,” said Sergei Oblormov, who was in the group too.
“Nonsense,” growled Mordellon, as the trainers crossed their arms and shook their heads, “And pay close attention now. You always lasso a dragon around the snout, so it can’t use its flame on you. And when you have, you apologise immediately, and stroke its head. Then it might just lie down, and let you saddle it too.”
“Oh,” said the Count, looking even more nervous.
“But as you approach them, keep the lassos behind your backs,” said Mordellon gravely, as six young arms shot behind their backs. “And don’t look them straight in the eye, either. They haven’t fed, and won’t use their flames on you fully, unless they get really angry, but it’s best not to take any chances.”
Sergei Oblormov had stepped forward first and both Gareth and Uri noticed the adoring look on Sarissa’s face and felt rather jealous. The Count was making for a dragon on the right, while the other boys began to fan out towards their targets. They all lowered their heads, or tried to look away, almost sidling towards the beasts. Sergei got the closest first and looked back towards Mordellon, who nodded encouragingly. “Go on, lad.”