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Old Jul 29 2006, 11:59 AM   #11

Kath's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Oop North

Fan of: Moreta
Default Re: DragonDays

Chapter 11: No Regrets

The sun's going down, Porth mumbled sleepily into Tarrie's mind as the change in temperature and lighting woke her from her doze.

Tarrie closed her eyes and smiled at Porth, enjoying the last warmth of the autumn sunlight on her face as the reddening orb dipped gradually out of sight. They'd been lucky with the weather today. Although clouds now filled nearly half the sky, they'd generally stayed clear of the sun itself throughout. Despite the lingering odour of numbweed and her earlier irritation, she was hard pressed to remember a more pleasant afternoon. Back at the Hold, the entertainment would be in full swing. Musicians would be playing, people would be dancing, and the overindulgence would likely last all night long. Jake had sent a message up with Sira, encouraging Tarrie to return early enough that she wouldn't miss Florizel's guitar solos. But as much as she enjoyed her brother's company and the vintner's skillful playing, today, Tarrie wasn't in the mood. The hold was a claustrophobic place at the best of times, and although the populace would have spilled out into the surrounding valley, the sheer exuberance of the gathered crowds as they enjoyed the open spaces would make them seem all the larger. She'd sent Sira back with a scrawled note of apology, suggesting to the little dragonet that Jake would find her some tasty treats from one of the fire-pits.

No, today, Tarrie had wanted solitude, and not the kind she could have found quite easily in a large gathering, continually moving out of step between one group and the next. All she'd needed was time to think, time to be with Porth, time to reconcile all the recent worries and events. Behind the necessary veneer of unpleasant solitary tasks, and some general coordination of the work teams in the main cavern, that was exactly what she'd done. Porth had been... well, amazing, just as she had been the day before, listening as Tarrie explained all the various human concerns and adding her own draconic viewpoint. She was far less concerned about whether Chereth had successfully conceived, for one thing. Porth, supremely confident in her own nature and that of her sister golds, matter-of-factly pointed out that if Chereth and Polenth were happy with the outcome, what could possibly be wrong? Still, time would tell on that score. She'd had a little more difficulty fully comprehending Tarrie's human qualms, though she quickly confirmed that several other dragons had noticed similar worries in their own riders. As far as Porth was concerned, Chereth and Alianne had shared their experience, and so long as dragon and rider were together, everything was as it should be. But even if some uncertainties remained in Tarrie's mind, she knew she'd never felt closer to Porth than she did right now.

So, will you be heading back up onto the ridge into the sunshine again?

Maybe. I don't know.

The gold dragon had looked quite beautiful in the sunlight, gleaming as the rays brought out ever scrap of irridescence in her hide. Now, she still seemed half asleep, reluctant to wake up fully, and pressing on the edges of Tarrie's mind for guidance. Tarrie sensed a disturbance on the ridge, more through Porth's mind than out of the corner of her vision. Turning, she recognised Polenth gliding down to the bowl, presumably to take Dave back to the Hold. The others had finished their work already then? Or...

A sudden pain lanced through Tarrie's arm, and she realised she'd let it drop against the hot klah kettle in her distraction. Grimacing, she turned down the temperature on the stove, and decided that the numbweed had probably simmered long enough as well. Lowering the bulky grey vats down to the ground was an awkward task, but by the time she was reaching for the second, a quicker and stronger pair of hands had got there first.

"Thought you could do with a hand.''

Tarrie's eyes darted back to the ridge, checking on the other dragons, noting which were looking a little more restless. If they were leaving soon... But if not?

"Thanks, Dave.'' She forced out a smile she really didn't feel.

"How's the Klah going?''

Tarrie reached for a ladle, lifted the lid off the kettle, and gave the contents a quick stir.

"I'm sure it's drinkable, but it could really do with another ten minutes or so.''

"Somehow, I don't think I'll be able to stick around that long.''

"Oh? Shirking off already?'' She hadn't meant to be so short, but her irritation was still a little too close to the surface, and really, there were hours of daylight left. If everyone was going to slope off to the gather now, they'd be stuck with working through the winter snows. But she wasn't at all surprised when Dave slowly reached out to hold her shoulder, a cautious look on his face. Unthinkingly, she tightened her grip on the spoon, and before she knew it she thought she could feel herself trembling slightly. Embarassed and more than a little flustered, Tarrie pulled away.

"You know what's coming,'' he said quietly, letting his arm drop back down to his side.

Definitely more of a statement than a question. So. That was the last of her doubts dispelled.

"Better than Alianne did, I suppose.'' Tarrie sighed. "Oh, I've had my suspicions all day, so you coming over like this just confirms them. Klah? We've some time, I think.'' She smiled wryly, and without waiting, ladled out the dark liquid into two mugs and passed one over to the sombre bronzerider. "Here.''

"Tarrie... You are okay with this, aren't you?''

"Who nominated you to be my counsellor?'' she muttered. "Ignore that,'' she went on, waving a hand in the air in apology. "Ah, I'd fardling well better be okay with it; I've certainly not been thinking of much else since... It's just the unknown, you know?''

"Yeah. Look, Just trust her. Don't worry about them,'' Dave said, gesturing in the direction of the other riders, "they don't have any more of a clue than last time, believe me. Porth'll take care of you, and you'll take care of her. Just get some altitude, okay?'' He downed the klah in a few quick mouthfuls.

Tarrie followed his example with a small sip. Wow, that was still way too bitter!

"Will do. Thanks. I mean it, you know. Almost wish you could stick around.'' Truly, he'd been kind and thoughtful to come over like this, much as Porth said Pete had felt earlier today. It'd make things easier, almost, to know that at least one person knew what was going to happen, though Tarrie had never expected to find herself saying something like this to Dave's face. Still, it wasn't to be. She watched him take it in, and nod slowly. His lips twisted into a grin, and he gave her a quick, cheeky wink.

"Ah, well there's always next time!''

Tarrie grabbed the klah ladle from the side of the stove and gave him a mock prod on the chest. "Get out of here!'' she said with a laugh, genuine this time.

Dave placed his used cup in the bowl of used crocks. "That's the spirit. I'll start getting everyone else out of your hair then, while Polenth -'' he paused, glared at his dragon, and sighed. "While Polenth lets Faranth know what's happening. ''

"Sure.'' So, Tarrie mused, it seemed like the bronze was a bit reluctant to invite in the competition.

I don't know why he has to leave, Porth said petulantly. Chereth doesn't need him all the time.

Tarrie raised an eyebrow, and walked across to Porth as Dave turned towards the main cavern, to see if any of the few remaining workers needed a lift back to the hold. Nyassa couldn't take them all back in one trip, and it made sense to keep these goings-on between the riders alone. "And don't you dare worry!'' the tall rider shouted over his shoulder as he reached the entrance.

Tarrie placed her hands on her hips, and gave him the Look, well practised from her teenage years with two annoying brothers. He shook his head, smiling kindly, and went inside.

Do you want Polenth to stay? Tarrie asked Porth curiously.

I want... but Faranth orders him back to the hold. He doesn't want to leave, though. I like that.

The gold was going through a series of elegant, cat-like stretches as she shook off the lingering remains of her recent placidity. The pale tracery left by a healed threadscore was the only sign remaining of last week's injury; aside from that, her hide showed the full lustre of good health and an afternoon of rest. Tarrie had wondered, earlier, if it had been a sign of something more, if this was what the others had meant by heightened colour. It had been hard to tell either way at the time, but now, with the sunlight gone and shadows stretching across the weyr basin, Porth's gentle radiance seemed none the weaker.

Porth's mind, however, shared none of her physical serenity.

She'd been watchful all day, using her advantageous location to keep a careful eye on the workers going about their tasks, inside the bowl and out. Each time Milath had appeared overhead, and later when Firth had blinked in with the wing of younger riders in tow, Porth had called out a strident, almost territorial greeting. Amalath had half-heartedly echoed her a few times, until Porth had locked gazes with the other queen and said something that Tarrie couldn't quite catch. Queens were highly strung at the best of times, but Porth had taken things to a new level today. It had certainly kept Tarrie on edge, like sensing an encroaching thunderstorm, or a dog barking at things beyond human senses. Tarrie mentally reached out to her dragon. If anything, Porth's mind seemed even more turbulent than earlier, her emotions building up into a constant pressure, a sense of imminence. The dragon seemed to be unconscious of her own emotions and changing mental state. Tarrie challenged her, and asked Porth how she felt.

I feel the way I should feel.

Outwardly, Porth was as confident as she'd been all day, but the touch on Tarrie's mind held a layer of concern. Porth was sensing her rider's uncertainty, and needed to be reassured. Your dragon always comes first. Sean's words, but Tarrie felt them in her heart.

Of course you feel the way you should do. See? Tarrie opened her mind in wide-open empathy with her dragon; nothing concealed or rejected. And it was then that the first bronze let out a cry from the ridgeline.

Dave came racing out of the cavern, followed by the rest of the remaining workers, and a less urgent Nyassa. She called Milath over from her spot by the lake, and took more time getting her passengers properly settled. Of course, she didn't have a male dragon that needed to get out of the way in a hurry. By the time Dave had scrambled up onto Polenth's neck and hauled a few passengers up behind him, Firth had appeared above the far end of the bowl and begun to dive steeply towards the ground. Gilgath and Manooth were airborne too, circling above the agitated cows. Soon, the reluctant Polenth was also in flight, and within a few wingbeats he disappeared from sight into between.

Before mounting Milath herself, Nyassa jogged over, and gave Tarrie a very welcome, quick hug. "Good luck! And we'll want a full report, remember!'' she added, in her best imitation of Sean's tone.

That almost had Tarrie giggling. She said her thanks, and returned the hug. Milath soon followed Polenth bewteen, and Tarrie watched and waited quietly as a few more males blinked in, deposited their riders
and made for the herd. Islorth, Shoth, young Psillinth and finally Carenath. Everyone was here.

The men were clustered in a group, watching their dragons amongst the herd of culls, and glancing back to Tarrie periodically. The bronzes and browns called challenges to each other as they made their kills, while Porth watched from the heights, serene. Much like Tarrie herself was doing, as she found herself considering the small group of riders in a way that she didn't normally do. Having thrown herself headlong into this, there was no going back now.

Tarrie wandered over, amused at the uncertainty on the faces of the men, a far cry from the sassy confidence she herself felt. Well, they were all here now, but they'd still have to prove themselves worthy of Porth, and of herself.

"Well, some of you have been here before. Anything different?'' she asked, breaking the tension. She was surprised at how calm she sounded. She felt like she was being carried by a swift, safe current, buoyed up by Porth, shining golden up on the heights. This was almost... easy, just concentrating on the now, on each moment as it passed.

Pete laughed. "They don't need much encouragement to blood, not at all. They know what they want.''

Otto gave Tarrie an intense, studied look, as if he knew what he wanted too. "Yeah, Shoth just got carried away last time. He knows better, now.''

The other riders nodded in agreement, and Tarrie turned to face Sean, who had a faraway look on his face as he watched Carenath drain the blood from a bullock. He twitched, his fair complexion almost flushing, as he
sensed Tarrie's look, one eyebrow raised. Well, this was a first, Tarrie mused. Catching Sean out of kilter certainly didn't happen every day.

"C'mon, he needs some practise before Faranth's turn comes round. Don't begrudge us that.''

Tarrie didn't, of course, but that wasn't the point. Porth wasn't here for practise, and the gold dragon didn't appreciate Sean's implied disinterest. She roared, drowning out the muted conversation and immediately drawing everyone's attention.

"Yes, but it's our turn now,'' Tarrie said softly, not caring if anyone heard. Porth had the eye of every male, and she lazily launched herself off the ridge to glide neatly down towards the culls. The browns and bronzes scattered to make room, some staying close by, while others made their way up to wait on the ridgeline. In seconds, she'd made her first kill from amongst the herd, and Tarrie could almost taste that first blood hot in her throat. She found herself stunned by Porth's intense hunger, as the gold queen swiftly disembowelled the beast with one tearing bite. Doesn't need much encouragement? Easy? As if! Tarrie was suddenly fearful as Porth lowered her head to eat, wanting to feed, yearning to slake that terrible need. Tarrie reached out towards Porth, fighting her way through to her dragon's tumultuous mind as she shoved aside several male bodies, trying to divert Porth's attention... all the while scared stupid that Porth could end up just the way Chereth did, sluggish in the air.

"Can't eat, can't eat, can't eat,'' Tarrie muttered like a mantra under her breath, as she struggled to control Porth's behaviour. With the dragon's rising instincts threatening to sweep Tarrie's control aside, the queen was almost impossible to reach. Porth lifted her red muzzle into the air, and shrieked, enraged that Tarrie would try to divert her now, after a single mere mouthfull! But somehow the connection was made, and Porth lowered her head, this time to drink deeply of the pooling blood spilling out of the broken body of the beast. The tide of blood slowed, and Porth started worrying at the carcass, trying to gain more sustenance, more blood, more meat.

No! Tarrie demanded, forcing Porth to turn her attention to the remains of the confused herd. Ungainly on the ground, but oh so swift in her hunger, Porth spun and sprang, killing again. This time, she pinned the beast to the ground with a foreleg and went straight for the throat. Now it was Tarrie held firm, entranced by Porth's mind, feeling light-headed and exhilarated all at once. She trusted Porth, she trusted the men, and there was no denying this, these instincts, these needs, not at all! Having come so far down this path, Tarrie was starting to feel her own response to it. The thought that Alianne could have tried to fight against this... how had the woman managed it?

But then, Porth had finished her second beast, and Tarrie was ready, ready to fly far and fast and high, ready to be chased and won, by whichever pair could prove themselves up to the challenge.

Porth twisted, shrieking flirtatiously from the ground, issuing her challenge to the world. And even as the males roared in reply, she was launching herself away into the air. Tarrie found herself running, breaking away from the grasping arms of the men, but within a few steps she realised there was no need, for she was in the air, with Porth, and they were flying. So, this was what Alianne had meant. There were no boundaries between dragon and rider, no distinction at all. They were one, with just one aim in mind.

To fly. To mate.

To fly, high and far, above the smaller males. In her first rush of speed, Porth outstripped them effortlessly. She revelled in the glory of her flight, of the wide air around her, and the boundless energy that carried her on.

The humid grey depths of the clouds were a feeble barrier, and soon she was through them, above them in the cold, thin air. Spiralling, Porth turned into a glide, skirting along the top of the cloudbank as she waited to see which of the males would break through first. Sunlight and her own alacrity soon peeled the last of the moisture from her wings, and as the first of her seven suitors appeared in the daylight, alarmingly close to her, Porth made her escape, powering upwards once more. Every wingbeat carried her south, into the light wind, gaining altitude with every stroke. It was cold so high up, but her lusty exuberance was more than enough for now. Following her, neither bronzes nor browns showed any signs of flagging, nor reluctance. Today they were hers, every one of them, to the last of their strength.

Turning once again, Porth flew back towards the pack, but far enough above them to be well out of reach. The males were thrown into chaos by her passage. The three leaders had the space to make a choice: Shoth rapidly attempting to ascend to her level, Carenath maintaining his forward momentum, and Manooth trying to change direction in whatever space he could find. Bellows of pain and lust echoed behind her as the other three dragons twisted to avoid the heavy brown, lashing out with fangs and claws to protect their own chances, but they were of no concern to Porth. The worthy ones would come through unscathed. Giving them no chance to regroup she continued on in her flight. Below her, she recognised the lay of the land, having overflown it countless times during the last year while fighting thread. She'd flown far, high and long enough. Now was the chance for the strongest, fastest bronze or brown to prove their worth. Truly she had no preference other than the need for the best mate; nor did Tarrie's desires offer any means of swaying her choice one way or another.

Banking to one side in a lazy spiral, Porth surveyed the leaders of the now-scattered band of pursuers. Carenath, Gilgath, Shoth; all three were fine dragons, all had a chance to catch her. And now that the first burst of energy had faded from her tiring muscles, they now had the opportunity to close the distance. She started turning sharply, first one way, then the other. Each manoeuvre was designed to test them, though it tired her further. Soon she was climbing again, flanked on either side by the two remaining males, one of whom would make her theirs. Porth dived, allowing each to try and reach her in turn before twisting and spiralling out of reach. Until finally, she made her choice: Tarrie reaching out her arms to draw in her lover, and Porth purposefully leaving that last evasion a little too late. Conscious thought vanished beneath the tide of primal instincts. Bodies interlocked in the air and on the ground, four minds subsumed by a single purpose, until the glorious rush of emotions had finally faded from tired hearts, bodies and minds.

Breathless, Tarrie found herself alone in her mind once more, Porth a distant, sated presence just a feather-touch away. Not totally alone of course, though that was to be expected. She sighed, and stretched her arms above her head, smiling at her partner of the moment. Whatever the repurcussions of today might be, right now Tarrie had absolutely no regrets.
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