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Dragon Riders of Ponack

Pairing with a dragon is the closest friendship humans and dragons ever know

The ancient history of our lands is a clouded and confused tale, full of mystery, myth and songs. In our very distant past, it is told that it was not uncommon for dragons to carry humans, either for fun or for some more important mutual need.

Ponack in the Sand Hills of north-east Bind, is an ancient community that has often been separated from much of the rest of the two continents. Some of its history is forgotten now, but it has always been the most independent of towns, resisting the encroaching Haften Empire and endless battles with the Keffra-See.

Unique in the world of Dirt has been the pairing of dragons and humans, the human rider building a long and close association with the dragon.

Pairing

Pairing in dragon society is a term more usually associated with the pairing of a male and female dragon; something akin to human marriage, but less formal and with no religious associations. So, for this term to be also used to describe the close relationship of a dragon and rider is revealing.

Riding a dragon is not especially difficult, though a head for heights is vital. A dragon will fly in such a way so the human is not thrown from their back and will keep to an altitude where a human can breathe.

However, the dragons and riders of Ponack take this to a very different level. Dragons are taught how to carry riders safely while not limiting how they fly, and riders are taught to compliment rather than restrict the dragon’s movements.

Those working under the Dragon Leader will also learn to fight together, each using their skills to compliment the other. For instance, desert dragon never use bows. Their heads are far too forward of their arms making it impossible to sight along the arrow. However, they will use spears, both for throwing and as a hand-weapon. Riders, on the other hand, are some of the best archers on either Bind or Preland.

The trust needed between a rider and dragon must be complete, and it is no surprise, therefore, that riders and dragons develop the closest of plutonic friendships.

This is shown often in the way a dragon and their rider will play together, develop pet names for each other, and commonly call each other brother or sister.

The pairing will last for many years, frequently until the death of the rider or dragon, and for the remaining half of the pairing, the loss of the other can be a terribly painful experience, sometimes more so than of a lover. It is often described as closer to the grief a parent feels at the loss of a child.

Young Life and Choosing

In Ponack it was common for all young humans and dragons to share one another’s lives. Most humans and dragons will not work for the Dragon Leader, but they share farming, hunting and live in the same villages.

The use of both bow and spear is common as hunting is important to all people in Ponack, and most dragons will take humans as passengers. Many humans never ride, however, either because of a fear of heights or simply a lack of need. Humans also outnumber dragons hugely, even in Ponack.

With some famous exceptions, dragons normally will not pair with a human rider till they are at least seventy or eighty years of age; often a great deal older. However, riders are often in their late teens or early twenties.

Open if you have read "Girls of Dirt"

The return of the dragons to Bind and Preland was a time of great change in this regard, as most of the desert dragons who took riders in the first wave were in their thirties.  This changed in later waves when older desert dragons returned.

There is no great ceremony or ritual to choosing. Dragons and humans who are trained to fight will all work together and like in any society, natural relationships will form. Trainers, often known as Mentors, will encourage any associations that seem to be working especially well.

Eventually, a dragon may ask a human to become their rider. If they do, then the pair will be given much more intensive training by experienced dragons and riders, and will, consequently, take part in the more dangerous missions.

Some dragons certainly seem to take their time in choosing and will often work with other dragon’s riders if that dragon is either working solo or perhaps recovering from an injury. (Stained wing muscles, foot injuries and broken wing tips are common occurrences with the fighting desert dragons.)

Open if you have read "Bloody Dirt"

Mab-Onin worked with several riders before he asked Be-Inua if he could pair with Mistry, and his reluctance to name a rider had been frustrating for the Dragon Leader Eofin.

When he did name Mistry, the two took only minimal lessons because of the pressure of the war before heading on a nearly year-long scouting mission. When they did return, they had developed many techniques that were not just unique but beyond the abilities of other dragons and riders.

Riders

The riders and dragons are a close-knit group, looking out for one another. Be-Elin described it as a close family in a culture where blood-family ties were often weak.

In Ponack, many riders are single and live in small stone houses cut into the hillside. These cosy dwellings have just two tiny rooms and a fire and the riders use communal bathing and eating halls. The small lanes have a reputation as being a fun place to live, a necessity, perhaps, to contrast with the long and difficult hours the riders work with their dragon pairings.

All riders wear similar clothing when riding. Dragons fly at high altitude, but even at lower altitudes, it can be cold on the back of a dragon, especially in the north of Bind. The leather trousers and jackets worn are strong and lined with wool and fur. Although very much nose-to-toe clothing, the leather used is chosen for both lightness and suppleness, allowing the rider good freedom of movement.

It is often joked that it is the most unglamorous clothing; often scuffed and marked and frequently patched up. Despite this, young humans of Ponack are eager to don the leathers and see it as a badge of honour.

Although many riders spend most of their lives wearing their leathers, they do wear normal peasant-style clothing too.  Although dragon riding is seen as, perhaps, an elitist occupation, in reality, this is a poor society like others, and riders have little coin to spend on luxuries.

The riders of Ponack are also famed for their exceptional fighting abilities. Unlike many armed forces, the Dragon Leaders see fitness and health as very important to their training.

Dragons are naturally fit and strong as a direct result of flying; obesity is unknown amongst dragons. So, riders are expected to be equally as able. Long runs are an essential part of training as are exercises designed to build strength. The Dragon Leader Eofin, in particular, was keen that riders understood which foods benefitted them most and ate regularly and properly. Dragons do not eat every day and their diet is very different to a human’s, so it is important that the riders do not try to emulate their pairings behaviour.

Of course, growing up together in Ponack, humans and dragons have a good understanding of each other’s needs.

How long a human continues as a rider varies enormously. The close relationship between dragon and human means that quite often neither have long-lasting affairs of the heart. In consequence, some riders continue riding into their fifties, and some even older. It can cause difficulties, however. An older rider will be given less arduous duties, but the dragon will normally still be young in their own terms, so might find this frustrating.

But even when a rider finally decides to “hang up the leathers,” their bond with their dragon pair will be undiminished and the two will remain close friends.

 

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Women Riders

Although both men and women become riders, there have always been slightly more women riders.

Although riding does require the rider to be strong and athletic, nimbleness is also a great advantage. For a desert dragon, the difference in weight between a large man and a smaller woman is not terribly significant, but the lightness of touch of a woman as they ride can give the dragon a lot of freedom.

Open if you have read "Bloody Dirt"

It is no coincidence that the acknowledge greatest riding pair of all time were a young woman and an especially large and powerful desert dragon; Mistry and Mab-Onin.

Mistry was just eighteen when at her riding best, was small and very athletic. Although she was an exceptional archer and knife-fighter, her true skill lay in her balance and sureness of foot. Her riding style was often compared to that of an acrobat and she once even hung by her feet upside down as Mab-Onin span over during flight.

Mab-Onin was one of a small group of Draig yr Anialr who were slightly different to their kin.  He was unusually large, more the size of a sea dragon, and had a slimmer wing shape. He was considerably faster than other dragons, especially following the loss of a leg; dragon legs are very muscular and heavy. Other dragons similar to him were Bren-On, his grandfather, Mab-Intuan, who was a cousin, and Mab-Kirn, who was unrelated.