Vetch was an Altan serf. Day after day he heaved heavy leather water buckets under the pitiless glare of the sun - buckets far too heavy for his slight, nearly starved young frame. Vetch was tied to the land, not to his Tian master, but his treatment was even worse than that of a slave, for a slave could be valued as property and shielded from extreme abuse by that value. Vetch was only worth the work that his master beat out of him week after blistering week, month after grueling month. Vetch would have died of overwork, exposure, adn starvation long ago if not for his anger. Anger was his only real sustenance - anger that the land he worked had once been his family's farm, and anger at the kind of work he did - for the crop he helped raise was tala. Tala could only be grown during the dry season, after the Great Mother River had shrunk to a mere trickle and the sun-baked fields of corn and barley were riddled with cracks as wide as a man's hand. But tala-fruits were worth their weight in electrum, for the tranquilizing properties of the tala-fruits gave Tian Jousters their ability to control the great dragons that had enabled them to conquer more than a third of Altan lands. Without dragons, Tia could never have ravaged Alta, Vetch's family would still be alive, and they would be free. It seemed that Vetch's entire cruel fate revolved around dragons and the Jousters who rode them. But his fate changed forever the day he first saw a dragon.
From its narrow, golden, large-eyed head, to its pointed emerald ears as delicate and translucent as alabaster, to the magnificent wings of blue shading into purple which were spread to catch the sun, the dragon was a thing of multicolored, jeweled beauty, slim and supple and quite as large as the shed it perched on. Its long whiplike tail lay curled around the knife-sharp talons of its forefeet, as teh dragon lounged comfortably above Vetch on the flat roof of the building. It was the dragon's eyes, though - slit-pupiled and teh deep crimson of the finest rubies - that caught and held Vetch. Caught and held him so completely that Vetch almost failed to notice the tall, muscular Jouster who stood beside him drinking from his water bucket. And when Vetch's master had raised his whip to punish the serf who had dared to pause in his duties, teh Jouster had stilled his hand. "I need a boy," he had said, and with that and a call to his mount, Vetch found himself lifted above the earth by the thrusts of powerful wings and transported like magic to a different world.
At least it had seemed like magic, and like a different world. In fact Ari, the Jouster, and Kashet, his dragon, had taken him to the Jousters compound in Tia, where Vetch was to be trained as Kashet's dragon-boy.
Vetch hardly believed his luck. The compound seemed like paradise: he could eat - real fresh food! - until he was full, and all he had to do was care for Kashet: feed him, clean the hot sands of his enclosure, mend his harness and saddle, buff his hide with warm sand and scented oils, and oversee Ari's personal quarters. He even got to sleep near Kashet in his heated sand enclosure during the chill desert nights.
It didn't take long for Vetch to realize just how special his situation was. For, unlike the other dragons, Kashet did not need tala to make him tractable - he was tame by nature. As Vetch watched the other dragon-boys in the buffing pens struggling with their dangerous, vicious, half-wild charges, he became determed to learn Ari and Kashet's secret.
For, though his situation had improved, he had not forgotten his anger and the reasons for it. If Ari could tame Kashet, perhaps Vetch too could tame a dragon. And if he could escape, maybe he could even bring the secret of dragon-taming back to his homeland of Alta. And maybe, just maybe, that secret might prove to be the key to Alta's liberation...