Thread: DragonDays
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Old Oct 12 2007, 03:39 AM   #25
Kath
Starsmith


Weyrwoman
 
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Oop North

Fan of: Moreta
Default Re: DragonDays

Chapter 25: The moment of truth

With the gentlest of nudges, Porth carefully rolled the mottled brown egg back into its warm, sandy hollow. As Tarrie watched, the gold queen craned her neck to either side of the egg, checking its position. Sira, Tarrie's queen dragonet, was also watching Porth at work, from a vantage point on top of a nearby egg. The little gold had been chirruping at Porth since before dawn, no doubt making her own suggestions about which egg should be turned next.

Tarrie reached out to the nearest egg, and stroked its hard shell. They'd started off feeling like soft suede, but after several weeks on the hot sands, they'd hardened up nicely. It was tricky to say how soon they'd hatch just based on their texture, but surely it wouldn't be long now?

It won't, Porth confirmed.

Tarrie looked around the cavern, admiring the sight of all Porth's eggs. Will they all hatch, do you think?

I don't know. The dragon lowered her head to rest it on the sand beside the brown egg and lidded her eyes, listening intently. She'd been doing it for a few days now, and claimed she could hear the unborn dragons in their shells if she listened right. Not thoughts as such, just vague tendrils of hungry emotions.

After a few minutes, Porth lifted her head and gave a mental sigh. This little one has grown too quiet.

Tarrie fearfully touched the egg beside her again. Nearly half of Chereth's eggs had failed to hatch, and although the scientists had assured her that Porth's clutch was likely to do much, much better, the uncertainty made the waiting interminable.

And then she felt the egg move beneath her fingers. Startled, she looked down in time to see it move again, rocking ever so slightly. Tarrie laughed in delight. ``But this one's woken up!''

It grows impatient, and hungry. It will hatch today. Porth carefully sidestepped around her eggs, and crooned soothingly at the rocking egg. It was a strange sound, and Tarrie could almost catch the edge of the full-throated hum that would announce the hatching. The queen dipped her head, and listened again. Today, but not yet, she eventually decided.

Even so, perhaps I should tell Sean?


He knows. Carenath asked me earlier. Shoth, too. I told them both it would be today.

Aided by Porth's keen senses, Tarrie realised that someone was heading in their direction. She turned to see Otto, carrying a tray of breakfast.

"Good morning, Otto."

He returned her greeting, and nodded at Porth. "Didn't think you'd want to leave her today."

Tarrie shook her head. "Not really. And thanks, it was very thoughtful of you."

"Well, I aim to please."

Something caught Otto's eye beyond Tarrie's shoulder, and she realised he was staring at one of the eggs. Tarrie twisted her head to take a look.

"Was it just my imagination, or have some of them started moving?" he asked.

"No, that one's definitely rocking now. This one, too," she added, pointing at the egg between them. At that point, her stomach rumbled, and she eyed the tray Otto was carrying. "Did you bring enough for two?"

"Depends on how hungry you are." Otto quickly glanced round the cavern. "Ah, is David still here then? I thought he'd left already."

Tarrie arched an eyebrow. "I don't offer twice, you know. Dave's out with Chereth's hatchlings down by the lake." As usual. Tarrie stilled her face, stopping the growing frown in its tracks. Feeling jealous of the young dragons was really rather foolish, wasn't it.

Otto grunted a laugh and smiled charmingly. "Breakfast then. Guess I should've tried this tack a long time ago."

He was lucky she was in a good mood, Tarrie thought, shaking her head. She walked over to the rough seating ledge, trusting him to follow. Otto sat down beside her, and passed her a plate of toast and a jar of redfruit preserve.

"It won't be long now, will it?" he asked.

Tarrie shook her head again, and twisted open the jar. "Not now they've started moving," she said, spreading the dark jam thinly on her toast. "That's three of them now," she added, waving a piece of toast in the direction of one of the eggs in the centre.

"So I see. Oh, and there goes another."

Tarrie craned her neck. "The one with the brown hashing on yellow? That was moving earlier."

"Oh?"

It'll be one of the first to hatch, I'm sure, Porth said.

Tarrie shared Porth's comment with Otto, and together they watched it twitch again, more violently this time.

Otto whistled through his teeth as the egg almost toppled over. "How much time do we have?" he asked.

Tarrie gave up on finishing the rest of her toast, and absently passed the crusts to Sira. She glanced up at the dais, only recently vacated by Chereth. The plan was that the spectators would be seated up there, but only half of the chairs had been put into position so far. "I guess we could get started removing Porth's screens, and finish setting up the chairs for the guests," she suggested.

"You think there'll be many?"

"I don't know. I hope so." Tarrie knew that Admiral Benden and the scientists were intent on attending, but the last she'd heard, Sean and Sorka had been undecided over how many of the friends and relatives of the candidates should be invited. A good hatching would be good for the Weyr, and good for the Holdfolk to witness. But if the eggs didn't hatch well... no, they would. Sorka had seemed so confident, about Porth's clutch.

And so am I, Porth said. They will see my eggs hatch well. They need to. They should be proud of what we achieved, not ashamed of us. The dragon's mental tone was cheerful and confident, but beneath it Tarrie could detect some lingering resentment over all the awkwardness that the Holders had put Tarrie through.

Of course they should! Tarrie agreed, unconsciously bolstering her dragon. "Let's put all the chairs out," she decided.

The riders set to work laying out the chairs, and were soon joined by Nora. "How's Tenneth?" Tarrie asked as the two women completed the fourth row.

"Getting some sleep while she can," Nora said softly. "Hatchings are noisy business!"

Together, they laid out another half row of chairs, and returned to the stack by the wall for more, where Otto was waiting.

"Leave those, Tarrie," he said, eyes half-glazed. "Shoth says the guests are arriving. We should probably go out and greet them."

"Already?" She blinked, and reached out for Porth.

I told them to hurry, the dragon said. It won't be very long now, and I didn't want them to be late.

"You two go ahead; I'll finish here," Nora said, shooing Tarrie and Otto aside.

Outside, the Weyr Bowl was busier than Tarrie had ever seen it before. The sky seemed to be filled with dragons, either returning from the Hold with passengers, or heading back to collect more guests. Those that had already arrived were gathered in small groups, waiting to be invited into the hatching cavern. Off to one side, the candidates had already assembled for their final briefing. She spotted Admiral Benden amongst them, probably wishing them luck, and walked over to join him.

"Admiral Benden, it's good to see you here."

"Ah, Tarrie." Benden grinned, and slapped her enthusiastically on the back. "Stop looking so worried. Your Weyrleader's convinced those eggs of your will hatch well, and so are all the scientists. I can hardly do anything other than agree with them now, can I?"

Tarrie laughed, buoyed up by the admiral's confidence.

"I suppose so sir."

It had been a strange few days, to say the least. On the one hand, she trusted Porth's instincts about the eggs, and everything Sorka had told her of the scientists' last meeting had only strengthened her conviction. But she'd also seen what David had been going through since Chereth's clutch had hatched... or rather, not seen, as he'd barely spent a moment's time with her, preferring to be alone with Polenth. And when he wasn't with Polenth, he was checking on the hatchlings for the fourth or fifth time that day. Aside from meals and Threadfalls, they'd not had much chance to talk, but even so she couldn't help but share some of his doubts.

Gradually, the other guests joined them, and Tarrie went from person to person welcoming them to the Weyr and explaining where they'd be seated, and what to expect from the hatching if they hadn't been at Chereth's. She kept half her mind close to Porth as she and Otto led the guests inside, hoping that it didn't make her seem too distracted... but she'd rather look silly than be the last to know when it was time for the hatching to start.

In the end, Tarrie was never certain whether she heard it first, or felt it. The guests were still only half seated when Porth's gentle crooning altered into the long-expected hum, and the sound was almost instantly picked up by Shoth, who was perched at the upper entrance to the cavern, and also by Sira, nestled tightly around Tarrie's neck. The other dragons and fire-lizards followed suit, and soon the sound was reverberating across the Weyr. Porth carefully stepped back away from her eggs, barely disturbing the sands at all, and joined Tarrie and Otto beside the cavern wall. Together, they watched the candidates file in.

They are good people, Porth said.

"All eighty-three of them," Tarrie agreed aloud. And they were indeed. From young Michael Byrne, barely sixteen years old, to Paul's partner Farenna Galliani, the oldest at thirty-one, they truly were some of the better colonists in Tarrie's eyes. All of them would do well as dragonriders, but which would be chosen today? At least the inevitable disappointment for many wouldn't last long, not with Tenneth's and Milath's clutches hardening daily. The candidates formed a loose ring around the rocking eggs, to allow the dragons a clear choice once they'd hatched, and waited.

And waited.

Tarrie looked around the ring of candidates, and then smiled at David, Shih and Kathy, standing on the other side of Porth ready to treat any injuries. Pete, Lin and Jerry were standing on the far side of the candidates, close to the cavern's gaping entrance; they'd be supervising the new pairs after Impression, leading them out and getting the hungry dragons fed. Steadily, the humming of the dragons and fire lizards increased in intensity, until Tarrie could feel it in her bones. And then the first new sound echoed across the cavern, a loud cracking that could only mean one thing.

Tarrie peered between the candidates, trying to spot her favoured egg. No, it wasn't that one that had cracked, though it was rocking so hard it had almost set itself rolling over. Ah, there it was! The cracked egg was mottled with striking irregular shapes, almost like clouds, with the crack resembling a bolt of lightning. The second crack was enough for the tip of the dragonet's nose to break through, damp with fluids. It stretched forwards, trying to escape its shell through the hole it had already made, then retreated. With the third blow, the dragonet surged free, its egg splintering around it. Was it...

A bronze, Porth informed her.

The bronze unfurled his wings, and stumbled forwards towards the waiting candidates, creeling. He looked around, and changed direction slightly, heading directly for Michael Byrne. Impression was swift; Porth's elation told her the moment it had happened. The cheers of the audience almost drowned out Michael's voice as the lad announced his dragon's name, but Porth had heard well enough.

Kalinth. They will do well together.

Tarrie was barely conscious of Otto hugging her; her attention had been drawn back to the brown and yellow egg she'd been watching most of the morning. It had rolled over completely now, the shell crumpling. The dragonet inside hadn't yet got free of it, and appeared to be trying to kick a way out. One green leg appeared, followed by a wing, and then the movement ceased. The nearest candidates began to murmer, wondering whether the dragonet needed help.

Porth?

She's managing. She rests for a moment, but her hunger will make her try again soon. They must let her choose for herself.

Tarrie shook her head at the girls nearest to the dragonet. "Not yet. Give her a moment."

As if she'd merely been waiting for enough of the audience, the green dragon rolled herself over again and stood up, shaking herself free of her shell. Again, she seemed to have an instinctive knowledge of where her rider was, finding Farenna Galliani with ease. This time, Tarrie was close enough to hear the dragon's name: Allath. She was a little amused by the dragonets' choices; Michael and Farenna, the youngest and oldest candidates. What were the odds of that? Still, at least it proved that age wasn't the biggest factor when the dragons looked for their riders.

It was a few minutes before the next egg hatched, but Tarrie was no longer in any doubt that they would. Porth was brimming with confidence, and thrilled with the two dragons that had hatched already. The others would hatch in their own time, she insisted. As it happened, three of them chose almost the same moment: a green on the far side of the clustered eggs, and a brown and a blue right next to each other. The blue, Sineath, Impressed Jens Clissman almost straight away, but the brown and green were apparently a little more uncertain. Or maybe they were just more choosy.

Suddenly, the brown went sprawling into the sands, one lucky candidate just managing to throw himself out of the way in time. The brown hauled himself back onto his feet, his muzzle covered in sand, ignoring the two candidates who'd tried to help him up. He turned away from them and, limping, began to search again. Shih started to shadow him outside the ring of candidates, ready to check on the
dragon's injury once Impression had taken place.

Another green hatched, then another blue, but neither found their human partners quickly. With four dragons scattered around the ring, and candidates milling to and fro, it was hard to keep track of what was going on.

Brown Luruth has Impressed, Porth said, and visualised the face of one of the candidates.

The cheers from the dais reached a crescendo again, and Tarrie realised that they had a far better view than she did.

"Any idea?'' David called out to her, equally confused.

"Simon Keating is rider to brown Luruth," Tarrie said, as Dave walked over to join her and Otto. "Oh, and one of the greens has stopped in front of Lia."

"She'll make a good rider, I reckon," Dave said with a smile as they waited for Lia to announce her dragon's name. "Tegwenth, that's rather pretty."

"If you say so," Otto said. "But hey, five dragons Impressed. That's better than Chereth already."

David glared at him, sparing Tarrie the need to jab Otto in the ribs.

"There's still a lot to go," she said, watching with trepidation as the un-Impressed dragons roam the sands.

David wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "They'll do fine, I promise."

She smiled, and snaked an arm around his waist to hug him back. "We know."

Otto rolled his eyes, but whether it was at the show of affection or the unnecessary reassurances, Tarrie couldn't quite tell. "Of course they'll Impress well," he said insistently. "You know what Wind Blossom said about the flights. Why wouldn't they?"

Tarrie knew that look. Otto could be far too smug at times. "We knew what to expect. That's all," she said drily.

Otto grunted a laugh, and looked away. "Oh, you were full of surprises, Tarrie," he muttered under his breath. But except for the creeling of hungry dragons, the crowd had quietened, and Otto's voice was just loud enough for David to overhear.

"She was, was she?" David folded his arms across his chest, his face tight.

Otto looked him in the eyes. "Well that explains a lot, doesn't it."

"Stop it," Tarrie hissed. "You're not doing this here, not now." She reached out for Porth, hoping the men would quit their bickering quickly. How are they doing?

Green Nolath has Impressed. Another blue has hatched and Impressed - Wymeth. The other blue is still searching.


Tarrie quickly scanned the crowd, looking for Pete or one of his other helpers, but they were nowhere to be seen. Ah, there was Shih, heading back inside again. David seemed to have spotted the same problem.

"I'll help get those two out and fed, Tarrie," he said, still glaring at Otto. "Someone should." He trudged away across the sand, leaving Tarrie and Otto in an awkward silence.

After a few moments, Otto looked blankly up at Shoth, and sighed. "Why's he always right?" he asked no one in particular. He smiled sheepishly at Tarrie, and then set off after David.

Fardling useless men, Tarrie said to Porth, not really happy with either of them.

He's jealous.

Perhaps. But that still doesn't excuse his behaviour.

Through a gap in the ring of candidates, Tarrie got a good look at the remaining eggs. Another two greens had hatched, and as she watched, a third green broke shell. That blue's been looking for a while now, she mused.

Porth silently agreed, as two more Impressions took place. Michael's sister Sara Impressed green Harth, but Porth hadn't got a good look at the young girl who'd Impressed Enyith, the last green to hatch. Never mind. There'd be plenty of time to put names to faces later on. The remaining green on the sands stopped before Claire Lensdale, and moments later the usually unflinchingly sensible woman had tears spilling down her cheeks as she insisted that yes, she would feed her darling Liseth very, very soon.

Tarrie was starting to get worried about the blue as it completed another circuit of the waiting candidates. She was briefly distracted by a brown dragon bursting free of his shell and Impressing almost straight away, and when she looked back, it was clear that the blue had finally found his lifemate as well, in the form of Martin Moore.

Jormath, the blue is called.

How can some of them can find partners so quickly, while others just keep looking, and looking? Tarrie wondered. Would a blue be more particular than a brown? Were they looking for different things in the candidates?

Porth gave a mental snort. He was undecided. If the boy he chose wasn't here, he'd have Impressed one of the other candidates. The brown, Shardenth, was not so fussy.

Really?

Yes.

Tarrie was relieved to hear it. For the first time in what seemed like hours, there were no hatchling dragons looking for riders. Tarrie took the opportunity to count up the remaining eggs. Only nine left... no, eight! Tarrie adjusted her count as another green sprang out of the remains of her shell. She quickly Impressed one of the younger girls; Tarrie rummaged in her memory for the girl's name, and came up with nothing. She wasn't someone Tarrie knew, except as a vaguely familiar face from the Hold. But even though she couldn't place the girl's name, the wonderstruck look on her face as she told the watching Weyr that the green's name was Plarrath was very familiar to Tarrie, reminding her of how she'd felt when she'd Impressed Porth. She felt a lot more forgiving by the time Otto came back over to join her.

"Sorry. I was being an idiot," he admitted.

"It's been hard for him. You rubbing it in doesn't help anything."

Otto winced. "I know." He looked at her wistfully for a moment, then shook his head and turned back to watch the rocking eggs.

I wonder what that was about, Tarrie mused to her dragon.

You humans are too complicated,
Porth said. He likes you more than he wants to. That's just foolish. You should either like someone, or not. But he is sorry too.

Ah. And there I was thinking he was just a sore loser. She switched her attention back to the eggs again. There were still eight left, of the twenty one that Porth had laid. Two hatched at once, spilling a blue and a second bronze onto the sands. They were followed by first one green, then another, transforming the earlier quiet into a raucous circus of stumbling, hungry dragons and eager candidates. Porth was a boon in the confusion, keeping Tarrie closely informed about how the dragons were doing. Green Silth Impressed first, then bronze Auvreth found Pablo Moreno. The candidates, well over sixty of them remaining, were moving around a lot more now that there were fewer eggs left to hatch - in spite of the fact that they'd all have another chance in a little under two weeks. Oh, they were still following instructions and not getting too close to the young dragons, but with only four eggs and two roaming hatchlings left, the tension was certainly getting higher. Blue Tanth Impressed, and was replaced on the sands by another blue hatchling at almost the same moment. That blue, too, soon found his rider.

Porth, what was the name? I didn't hear.


Invaloth.

In a flurry of activity, another green and blue broke shell. Liam Cooper was found acceptable by blue Undinth, leaving just two greens roaming the sands, and a single unhatched egg. Tarrie wasn't surprised to see that it was the one Porth had been concerned about earlier. The remaining male candidates began to slip away from the circle to cluster around the last egg, leaving just the girls ringing the two green dragonets. Tarrie watched Meriel Clarkson Impress Werriath, and then glanced back at the last egg. It hadn't moved an inch, she was sure of it.

Will it hatch?

Porth was silent for a moment. No, Tarrie. I do not think it will. That one is lost, she finished sadly.

Tarrie sighed. Even though it was just the one... well, dragonkind was so special, and the knowledge that this little egg was lost... well, it was still very hard to take. All she could do was hope that the last green found a good partner amongst the remaining girls.

As Tarrie and Porth watched, the green dragon came to a halt in the middle of the ring, and tilted her head thoughtfully. She sat back on her haunches, and then lurched sideways, making a beeline for Sita Radamanth and Betsy Patrick. Had she chosen one of them? Which would it be?

"Fenneth!"

It was Sita who called out the dragon's name, and then sank gracefully to the sands to embrace the delicate dragon. Slowly, the dragons' humming faded away to silence, leaving only the cheers of the spectators. The hatching had undoubtedly been a success.

Smiling, Tarrie spun round to hug her dragon round the neck, utterly thrilled with the way things had turned out. Porth, too, was pleased with her offspring. The dragon's eyes were whirling green-blue with pride as she watched Sita lead Fenneth out into the bowl.

They will all do very well, I think.

There was no doubt about that in Tarrie's mind at all. Yes, I do believe they will. Oh Porth, I'm so proud of you!
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