• She dreamed of dragons.

    They soared around her thoughts, magnificent beasts of air and fire. Some were small and quick, snapping and lashing at all who ventured near. Their eyes glittered with hard fire, and their scales shone like molten glass in the harsh sun. They crawled out from under rocks and splayed themselves under the heat, basking in the warmth, ever wary for intruders.

    Others were large as houses, standing tall and proud. They stretched their wings, and the sun illuminated the bones and vessels like some intricate work of art. They launched themselves in the air, gods of the wind and sky. She stood below and watched as their wings blocked out the sun, shading her eyes from the brightness of the desert.

    There was one in particular—a large grey. It outsized all the other dragons, and they in turn respected it as their leader. Two large horns sprouted from the back of a long, solemn face. A long neck, ridged in spines, snaked down to a muscular body. Claws the length of her arm tipped its toes.

    She would stand still as a rock as the dragon inspected her, nudging her with its nose. Hot breath washed over her, and she would shut her eyes…

    …and open them to the darkness of her bedroom.

    The dreams frightened her at first. She would lay blinking in the dark, gulping in the cold air, trying to convince her heart she was in her room and not some barren, rocky desert. When her pulse returned to normal she turned to her husband beside her, pressing her forehead to his shoulder, his solid warmth anchoring her down to the real world.

    He knew of her dreams. She never told him, but he could see it in the shadows flitting behind her eyes, could see it in the distant gaze upon her face, as if she were trying to listen to a faraway music.

    Days passed. The dreams continued. Changed. She would squeeze her eyes shut as the grey nosed her, and open them to its face a hairsbreadth from hers. At first she reacted with fear and shock, curling in a ball on the hard ground until she was returned to the safety of her bedroom. As time went by, she become bolder, responding to the grey’s gentle coaxing, laying a hand on its nose and stroking the soft scales.

    The dragon half-closed its eyes and purred, a deep rumbling that shook her chest. She explored its face with her hands, lightly running her fingers over its large, pebbled brow, pricking the tip of her finger on a horn just to see if they were as sharp as they looked. She marveled at the way the light shone on its rain-cloud scales, and at how something that looked so cool could be so hot to the touch.

    She found a strong leather saddle on the grey’s back, thick straps running around its stomach and chest. It nudged her forward with its nose, shoving her until she fell and caught herself on the pommel. The leather was smooth and well oiled. An intricate sun was carved into the seat. This was a quality saddle, and she knew it had been made just for her.

    Stepping on the dragon’s forearm for height, she swung her leg over its side and settled herself in, tightly cinching the belts that wrapped around her legs. Reigns were attached to the chest straps and she gripped them hard enough to turn her knuckles white.

    The dragon twisted its head around to face her. Large, crystalline eyes blinked slowly, asking a silent question. She tightened her grip on the reigns and nodded.

    The dragon shoved off hard against the ground, pumping its wings. Dust swirled around her and for a moment, she could see nothing. Then her and the dragon shot out of the dust cloud and she could see the ground falling away below her. She screamed, a shriek of fear that turned into a whoop of excitement…

    …and woke up in her bed, desperately closing her eyes against the darkness, trying to push herself back into her dreams. She no longer turned to her husband, for an anchor was no longer what she needed.

    She found herself being amazed by things she used to think were ordinary. She would get up in the morning and gaze at the grass, still wet with dew. It sparkled like thousands of tiny stars, and she stared as if she had never seen wetness before, had never laid eyes on the color green. She would climb onto the roof and stand on the uppermost peak, her bare toes gripping the shingles, straining to reach the clouds.

    She never told her husband the dreams were getting stronger, but he knew. He could see the red dirt on her toes when she woke up in the morning, could see the blisters on her fingers that she could not explain.

    She began sleeping longer, going to bed early, waking up hours later then usual. All the rest of the day she was listless, halfheartedly dragging herself around the house. Her eyes sparkled with a feverish glow under heavy lids. Her skin lost all color, and there were smudges like dark bruises under her eyes, as if all her energy were being drawn from her.

    At night, she rode with the dragon among the clouds, plunging to the earth with dizzying speed, pulling up mere moments before disaster. Flying high into the sky once more, she peered across the land. A city sprawled along the horizon. Other dragons whirled and twirled above its great towers. She thought she might talk to them, if only she could get closer. She whispered her wishes to the dragon beneath her, and its muscles bunched beneath her in reply, its wings turning them to the city. The ground sped below them, a rocky, red blur. The city loomed ever closer, so close she could see the peoples upturned faces…

    …and she landed among throngs of people. They crowded around her, lightly touching her silver-grey dragon with awe in their eyes, congratulating her on her journey. Not everyone made it, they said. Not everyone could.

    She returned their smiles and slid off her dragon, bare toes touching down on warm cobblestones. The wind whipped her hair and she sighed, allowing herself to be swept up by those around her. At last, she felt as if she had made it home.

    Her husband knew. He woke to find her side of the bed empty, her nightgown still under the sheets, as if she had melted away, never to return. The pillow was still warm from where she had laid her head. She had never told him, but he knew.

    She rode with dragons.