I had come to dread going to the weir, so much that I’d started having to leave earlier because it seemed to take me longer to get there every day. It wasn’t just the exhausting work, and knowing that I was missing out on study time. Now I had the added dread that someone might have seen the advertisement I’d nailed to the wall of the supply shed and decided they wanted to buy Aspen.
On my way to the weir I passed another advertisement, this one huge and plastered to a smooth stone wall. Professor Crumpadon’s Guaranteed Entrance Exam Preparation Course for the Royal Academie of Magiks. The amount he was charging people to take the course made me raise an eyebrow. Down at the bottom in very small print I noticed something I hadn’t known. The words said, in very large and flowery language, that Professor Crumpadon was in no way officially offiliated with the Academie. He certainly hadn’t told me that.
Across my mind flitted the idea that I might go and ask him for help. But he would just ask me to endorse him again, and I still felt too betrayed by him to do that. Besides, he wouldn’t help me. He didn’t care about me. He just wanted people to enroll in his course.
When I got to the weir, the manager gave me an urgent wave. “You’re late!” he scolded. “There’s a fellow here want’s to look at your dragon. I told him you were due at five o’clock and he’s been waiting.”
I sized up the man who wanted to buy my dragon. He was about my parents’ age, just a bit of grey in his hair, and had a solid, kind look to him. He hadn’t seen me yet. He was standing in front of Aspen’s cage, and she was right there on the other side of the bars, watching him with equal interest. Well, that was a good sign.
“Hello, I’m Tomas. You wanted to see me about my dragon?” I said.
I took Aspen out and led her to the open field above the weir, all the while the potential buyer, a Mr. Cooper, chatted with me about dragons. I could tell he loved them as much as I did.
I showed him all of Aspen’s tricks, then called out, “fly!” and she launched into the air. I made a circle with my hand over my head, three times, which she obeyed by racing around the markers at the edge of the field as fast as she could go.
Mr. Cooper glanced at his pocket watch and gave a nod of satisfaction. “She’s beautifully trained, and decently fast. Were you thinking of racing her?”
“I hadn’t considered it,” I said.
“You’ve named a fair price,” the man said, “And I’m glad to pay it, but I’d also like to ask if you’d be interested in coming to work for me as her trainer. Dragons bond with their first trainer, no one else will be able to get the same performance, at least not for a long time. Besides salary, I’ll offer a cut of what she wins in the races.”
This wasn’t what I expected. A chance to sell Aspen, get her out of the weir, and also a chance to still be with her, to work with her. It seemed wonderful.
But something stopped me.
“I’d like to work for you, sir, but I can’t take your offer right now. I’m enrolled at the Academie, and I won’t be able to devote my full attention to Aspen’s training.” It was as if half my soul was being ripped out of me as I said, “I’m getting out of dragons for now, you see.”
“Yes, I see,” Mr. Cooper gave me a disappointed smile and shook my hand, then offered me his card. “Of course I’ll still buy your dragon. And promise me this. On the summer holiday, come and see me.”
“Yes sir, thank you,” I said, still aching inside.
I almost gave in when I heard Aspen's plaintive warble. She had craned her neck around to look back at me while Mr. Cooper led her away.
"Goodbye, Aspen," I called out, trying to reassure her with a calm and cheerful voice, "See you this summer!"
Aspen tugged on the lead, trying to get back to me.
"Go on, girl." I said. "It's all right. go on!"
Mr. Cooper shot me an understanding smile, then patted Aspen on the neck and said something that calmed her down so that she followed him quietly out of the yard.
I counted out the rest of the money I owed into the manager's hand, then left the weir forever. Sad as I was, as much as I missed Aspen already, I felt surprisingly light as I walked back to school, as if a heavy burden I'd been carrying for a long time had suddenly left me. I couldn't say if I'd done the right thing or the wrong thing, but it was what I had decided to do, and I wasn't going to waste time regretting it.
read the first part
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