I knew this day was coming, the day that I would leave the man that was like my father. He had kept my secret safe, and now –where I was going - my secret would be all my own once again.
My hair was in an array of golden curls, straw everywhere. I had slept in the stall with Zal last night. Master Kento walked in this morning, his green eyes were bloodshot and cheeks puffy. I knew that he had been crying, but I also knew that he would never admit to it. He pulled up a stool and sat eye level with me in Zal’s stall. No words were said. That’s how it had always been with Kento and I; we knew what the other was going to say through these deep expressions.
There was no time to cry out of my violet eyes, because I had my country to save. Heading to Orva was just another step on the journey to protecting my people.
I felt a kind of déjà vu as Kento put his small, wrinkled hand over mine. This was four years ago all over again. How could I leave the man who protected me? How could I leave when someone could find out my secret? They would kill him, not even caring that he had won the world cup.
Then Kento turned to me, with tears in his sharp eyes, “You are the greatest person I have ever known,” he whispered. “Believe you can do this. Life is like the gate before the race, it has to open before you can fight to win. The gate is open now Maia. Be brave my little one.”
I set my head on his knee as he pulled the straw out of my hair. “I feel like I am getting closer to it Master. The feeling you get when you know that something that will change everything is about to happen. The excitement, you almost feel feverish.” My cheeks were warm and flushed, and in my head I felt something pass through the web of my brain. It was so quick I missed it. I tilted my head up, rotating it left to right, hoping the feeling would come back.
“Is there anything the matter little one?” Kento asked his hand fiddling nervously through his beard.
“I thought I felt something. I must be nervous.” I flashed a quick, full-wat smile. Kento nodded and walked away. He knew better than to believe the face I put on. Though, today he would leave me alone for it.
It is strange saying goodbye to the people you love most in the world. There are not enough words to articulate the physicality or mentality of the process. To put it simply, there is only an emptiness in your heart and stomach, and the feeling that you will never feel full or grounded again.
I shook the thoughts away, going through my morning routine of getting Zal ready. I was fine adorning myself in Orva’s colors of purple and gold. It was quite the change from the Hunter Line’s green that I had become so accustomed to. I braided my hair with gold ribbons, and braided Zal’s mane with purple ribbons so that we would complete each other.
In a naïve sense I was fine with my secret being my own again. The death of my parents had eaten at my heart since I had escaped Ugary. This secret, my birth country, it was not even half as heavy as that.
I took my bags and led Zal out to the fields where the riders picked us up for transport. My heart was happy for but a moment wondering about the dragon I would be assigned to. Each 18 year old is assigned a rider to transport them to different spots on Eldoris throughout the duration of their internship. I would not only be racing in Hunter Line now, but under Orva’s colors in the North and the South. There were hundreds of thousands of men who were riders from both areas. For the reason that I was under an equestrian internship in Orva, the South, even though the horses are born and breed in Hunter Line, the North, I could receive a dragon rider from either area.
I was blowing air onto Zal’s face when I felt a chill across the base of my back. I looked up to see Kento stopped in his tracks looking through me – past me to the rider who had landed. In my innate curiosity I turned around quickly. My eyes met the pair of crystal clear blue that were several feet from me. The emptiness in my heart and stomach quickly turned to dread as both organs felt like they were doing flips inside me.
Because standing in front of me was the prince of the Northern Heights. My rider was Aiden, the son of the most powerful man on Eldoris, King Liam. The same man who wanted to destroy Ugary. Aiden would be my rider for the next four years.
Kento pushed me forward. I shook my head, realizing Zal and I were stopped in our tracks. “Brave,” Kento offered with a smile that showed is dimples. The word would have been hopeful if it had not been drowned out by the sound of my own beating heart.