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Old Apr 24 2007, 02:13 AM   #2
HarperBrandy
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Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: California
Gender: F
Default Chapter 1: Violently It Changes

Chapter 1:
Violently It Changes




Early evening, the time between the late afternoon and the cool setting of night had always been T’bayek’s favorite time of day. Even though it was winter and indeed only a sevenday until Turnover, Ista Weyr was warm during the day with much of the relief coming from the inland sea breezes at night.

You just like the nightlife and hearing all the drunken harpers sing.
Zhemyth put in, nudging his rider fondly with one outstretched wing tip. I think you wish you were one of them, still.

Smiling, the dragonrider stood up from his seated position on his weyr ledge and walked over to the bronze, laying a hand along the large darkly burnished jaw. “Yes, but you put a stop to that, didn’t you my big friend, hmm?”

Zhemyth rumbled happily in response and cocked his head downward, letting his rider give his eyeridge a good scratch.

You said one time that after we get too old to fly, you would take up music again. I would like to hear it. When will that be?

“Turns and turns, my friend.” Even though the dragon had lowered his head, T’bayek had to stand on his toes and reach up as high as he could to get to the eyeridges. “Why couldn’t you be one of those runty dragons?” he complained with mock exasperation, “instead of the biggest in clutch? I swear I am not going to replace your straps until next turn if you get it in your head to outgrow another set.”

Really? But his eyes whirled in amusement. He was far too used to his rider to really take his complaints seriously.

“It’s embarrassing having to jump for the riding straps. What am I going to do when I get old?”

Maybe you can hire your drudge friend to lift you?
The dragon suggested, flashing an amusing image of just that into his rider’s mind. It was true that T’bayek wasn’t the stereotypical dragonrider; tall and fit with muscles. He barely cleared five foot four, and even all the hard work in Weyrlinghood and two following turns in the Wings had done nearly nothing to add muscle to his lithe frame.

T’bayek snorted at that and with a final hard skritch to the eye ridge, stood back again. “You should get some sleep. We have Thread tomorrow.”

Do we? Oh good. Zhemyth’s whirling eyes gleamed with a happy sort of blue. Like most dragons he loved the challenge of threadfall, and was still young enough to be cocky and unafraid. Do you think that if I do well tomorrow, Palomath will notice us? The bronze had a crush on the senior queen since he was eight months old and realized that greens and golds were fun for more things than just tormenting.

He shrugged, doubting it. Palomath’s rider was in love with her mate, Weyrleader Gh’stin, and as far as he knew her dragon followed her wishes. “I doubt it, buddy. You’re too young for her even if didn’t prefer Ozycath.”

The bronze shifted his weight back and forth, Maybe if you were nice to the Weyrwoman, Palomath would be nice to me. Then I would catch her in the next flight. He bobbed his head as he spoke, clearly pleased with himself for such a brilliant idea.

T’bayek grinned at his dragon. “I’ll tell you what… I’ll promise to keep my mouth shut around her.”

You really promise this time?

Zhemyth’s wistful plea caught him completely by surprise. T’bayek prided himself on his outspoken nature. He hadn’t been able to shut his mouth since he was a child in his family’s hold. He had some of the stripes on his back still to prove it. He thought… no, he expected that Zhemyth had never minded before.

I love you, T’bayek. Zhemyth had been following his rider’s thoughts just as surely as they were his own. And I think Palomath’s rider could, too. She just has to see past Gh’stin and Ozycath.

“I don’t think that’ll ever happen. Gh’stin is about twice the size of me.” He grumbled, not really having the heart to say that he didn’t find the Weyrwoman all that attractive anyway. That was always a part of himself he tried to keep shut away from his lifemate. T’bayek never wanted to give Zhemyth the impression that anything the dragon did made him unhappy.

Zhemyth saw straight into his mind anyway. Go to your friend. I know you want to see him. I’ll sleep tonight. There wasn’t any disappointment in his voice, just mild amusement for the complications that humans put upon themselves. The bronze circled around on his ledge twice much like a canine before settling down and tucking his head under his wing.

T’bayek stayed on the ledge long enough to satisfy himself that his dragon had dozed off. With a well practiced mind, he shut away the lingering worry that his own personal feelings would someday get in the way of his own dragon.

Walking back inside of his weyr, he picked up his mending kit and the leathers that made up the bulk of Zhemyth’s harness and the safety straps. Despite his threat before, he knew he would have some adjusting on the straps to do tonight before the rigors of tomorrow. Zhemyth was filling out in the chest, adding muscle all the time even though he should be fully grown by now.

It was hard to be annoyed at that.


*******


The sun had finally set when he heard the first notes instruments being tuned drifting in the evening air. It was a welcome, if surprising sound… a sound heard far too rarely in these days. The weyr he shared with his bronze was close to the ground and provided a stairway to the bowl below. With the leather straps and mending needles in his hands, he headed down, following the sounds.

Someone had gone to the trouble of lighting up the normally dim lower caverns with some extra glows to honor the harper guests of the weyr, although it just served to cast odd looking shadows around the entire hall. T’bayek paused at the entrance, momentarily taking in the situation before walking in.

The placing of the tables were the same as always, with the high rankers official table up front closest to the harper’s stage and the rest staggered back according to rank and importance. As one of the only double handful of bronzeriders in the Weyr, T’bayek was expected to sit up at one of the closer in tables, but the last thing he wanted to do was sit down, shut up and be proper on a nice evening like this.

A waved hand from one of the back tables caught his eye, and he grinned recognizing the face of his best friend. Looking around to make sure he wasn’t being watched, he strode over and sat down in the free chair, unloading the riding tack on the table. “Thanks for saving me a seat. How did you know I would be coming?”

The other man, Caelin, flashed a grin at him and the brown fire lizard on his shoulder peeped a greeting. Although Caelin wore the simple shoulder knots of a drudge, he had a gift with fire lizards that was nearly unnatural. He was originally sent to the Weyr from his native Bitra Hold to supplement a poor tithe a few turns back, and once his talent was discovered his job soon became helping to train and manage the large Weyr fire lizard population. “I heard from one of the cooks that the harpers were going to be released from quarantine and had been asked to play something tonight, and I know you can’t pass that up.” His blue eyes focused for a moment on the riding straps. “Need any help with that?”

“I’m okay, thanks Cay.” Although he knew his friend to be very capable – all the drudges of the Weyr were well trained -- T’bayek preferred to mend his own straps. It was the only way to be absolutely sure of how sound the leather was.

“You should check out the roast they have cooked up tonight.” The remains of Caelin’s own meal was currently being fed piece by piece to brown Petrey on his shoulder.

T’bayek nodded absently and craned his neck around to catch a glimpse of the main upraised stage. The Harpers were still tuning up their instruments, apparently waiting for the cavern to fill with more people before officially beginning. The first few notes had been a tease, then. With a sigh he turned to his waiting straps, working to add another length to the main line. Hopefully he could be done before the dancing started.

With his head down and concentrating on his mending, he didn’t see one of the journeymen knock a guitar off its stand, but he did hear the resulting sour twang of wood and strings hitting the stone floor. He winced in sympathy and glanced up to see Caelin watching him with an amused smile, “What?”

“It’s a shame you were never a harper with your love of music, is all.”

The bronzerider made a face, “You know, you’re the second person who’s brought that up today.”

“And the first?”

“Zhemyth.”

Caelin leaned back in his chair, “Well, he would know, wouldn’t he?”

“He likes to pretend he does.” T’bayek glanced up towards the stage again, a slight hunger he couldn’t hide in his brown eyes. “Well, I haven’t picked up an instrument since I lived in my family’s cothold. My parents couldn’t afford to pay a harper to come down often, so they put it up to me to teach my sibs all of their learning songs.”

“It’s a wonder you never apprenticed officially, Tobay”

“Oh, I wanted too, but they needed my hands to do the work.” He shrugged as if it had never bothered him, although it had very much as a child. He remembered back not so long ago the knowledge that he would always be stuck on his family’s land, away from learning and true music had eaten into him like a wasting disease. It was a lucky thing that his parents had even allowed him to stand at the hatching when he had been searched. The searchrider had been the crafty sort and had convinced his parents that the chances of someone impressing on their first try was low, but that the honor of even standing as a candidate would be worth the cost of loosing his work for a month.

His parents were… not as pleased as others had been when a creeling Zhemyth had found him on the sands, and T’bayek had not seen them but twice since he graduated Weyrlinghood.

It didn’t matter. The Weyr and Zhemyth were his family now.

His thoughts were broken into by a female voice behind him. “Oh, so this is where you’ve been hiding?”

The bronzerider turned to see a slender young woman a few turns older than himself standing with annoyed hands on her hips. Upon her shoulder she wore the knots of a wingthird although her badge proclaimed her as a greenrider. “I am not hiding,” he said, turning back to his straps. “I’m sitting right here in plain view.”

Yenessa made an annoyed sound at his insolence, but rather than reprimand him she sat down in the table’s last empty seat. “Caelin, you’re supposed to be his friend. How can you let him treat his ranking wing members with such disrespect?” Despite her words there was no annoyance in her tone and turning, she winked at the drudge.

Caelin shrugged and popped another piece of meat into Petrey’s mouth, “He’s his own man, but when I worked at Bitra, you could easily get flogged for insolence.”

“Hmm… now there’s an idea.” Yenessa made a show of eyeing T’bayek who made an equal show of ignoring her as he hurried to put the final stitches in the straps. “You know you’re the only bronzerider who hasn’t any rank. What does that say about you?”

“It says that Zhemyth is too young,” he answered promptly, pushing the finished hidework to the side. “And that I’m no good at sucking up to rankers, unlike some greenriders I know.”

“Listen to him.” Exasperated, Yenessa turned to Caelin. “Here we are with Wingleaders that are desperate to fill positions, desperate enough to even promote greenriders like myself – very capable greenriders by the way – and here we have the one bronzer in the Weyr who doesn’t even care.”

T’bayek grinned, enjoying the fact that he was getting to his Wingthird this much. In truth, it was a game that the two of them enjoyed playing. They had known each other for turns, having impressed in the same clutch. They had even been lovers for a short period of time right after Weyrling graduation, but only succeeded in driving each other crazy. After their breakup, the fighting continued and eventually morphed into this friendly ongoing sniping match. “Maybe Weyrleader Gh’stin thinks that I’m too much of a threat to his title?”

She gave a very unladylike snort. “Not likely, short stuff.”

He continued his stitching, replying with forced casualness, “If you ask me, some new blood for the queen would do us all some good. Maybe then we’d have more than one bronze every other clutch.”

Caelin glanced quickly at Yenessa, who cleared her throat uncomfortably. The three of them had often talked to one another about this very subject, usually over a few too many glasses of wine, but not in a public place like this. T’bayek was the only one who dared. Mostly, because the hide of his dragon afforded him some protection… something that Yenessa and certainly Caelin didn’t have.

Everyone knew in a Weyr during threadfall it was of absolute importance that the dragonriders had confidence in their leaders. Spreading discontent was dangerous business for it undermined the very system that kept them, and the rest of Pern, alive during a pass.

T’bayek noticed the sudden silence of the other two, and simply shrugged as if he didn’t care. He did, though. The constant worry over the state of the Weyr had been like an itch he couldn’t scratch for turns. He knew that it was making him bolder, more rash every day. Looking up from his hidework, he caught the gazes of them both. “Nothing can be done if everyone is too afraid of their own shadow not to talk about the obvious. Look around you. Doesn’t it seem just a little strange that the harpers are entertaining the night before threadfall?”

Caelin blinked, “You’re complaining about the harpers, now?”

“Yes—well, no, but yes!” He waved a dismissive hand, “It just doesn’t seem very responsible, does it?”

“We all know that Angeli and Gh’stin care for their pleasure first, the Weyr second.” Yenessa agreed softly, with a long suffering sigh. “But we’ve been over this again and again, T’bayek. Why do you want to talk about this, tonight? I was hoping to at least enjoy myself, and not get all depressed.”

“Is that how you feel as well, Caelin?”

The other man had gone back to feeding bits of meet to his fire lizard, obviously hoping to stay out of the topic all together. “Me?” He asked, watching Petrey snap up a sliver of heardbeast, “I’m just a simple drudge, thank ya sir, an’ I dun know nothing that ain’t put in my head from my betters.” His voice took on the sloppy accent of the stereotypical laborer. Then, he grinned, “Can’t we just save the rabble rousing for later? I thought you wanted to hear music.”

Two against one, then. T’bayek knew when to pick his battles, although he wasn’t happy about it. It wasn’t enough talking about the discontents of the Weyr in private. It didn’t do any good, and sooner or later things needed to come out into the open. “I can hear music and talk at the same time, you know.”

“How about dancing? That is, if you can at all.”

That caused T’bayek to look up sharply, meeting Caelin’s amused expression for one of his own. It was an inside joke between the two of them. One that Yenessa wasn’t privilege too.

“What?” The greenrider asked, glancing between the two of them, confused.

Caelin cleared his throat to smother a laugh, “That reminds me,” he said in a tone that betrayed the fact he hadn’t been reminded at all, but just wanted to change the subject, “I had an interesting conversation with bluerider G’hal in your wing today, Yenessa.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, knowing she was being thwarted. “And?”

“He wanted to know if I knew of anyone who was giving away a fire lizard egg. He wanted one for his six turn old niece.” Caelin paused for effect and chuckled softly, “I took care of it. I just explained that it’s the wrong season for eggs and secondly… the girl will be eight when the fire lizard is ready to rise or chase. That backed him off the idea real quick.”

“Hrmph. He should know better, being a dragonrider.”

The drudge shrugged, “People think these little pretties as only pets or shoulder ornaments.” As he spoke, he reached up to scratch under brown Petrey’s chin, “you dragonriders are the worst… but don’t get me started.”

“Thank you.” T’bayek didn’t bother to hide the sourness in his voice. He was still put off from earlier, and knew Caelin was passionate about the welfare of the little creatures (Although he didn’t know why. They were mostly annoying, and too flighty to be any real use, at least in his opinion). Caelin would go on and on about fire lizards if he got half the chance.

The harpers in the front of the room finally finished their fiddling and struck the chords for a light little dancing tune, something to get people back on their feet and out onto the dancing floor. T’bayek found himself nodding his head and humming under his breath in time with the tune before he caught himself short. It was a shame, having to sit down while there was music. “Do you want to dance, Yenessa?”

“With you?” She took a sip of wine and pretended to consider it before shaking her head, “I’d rather listen, thank you very much.”

“Suit yourself.” He glanced about the room, but many of the Weyrfolk had already found their partners and were moving towards the break between the stage and the tables. Surely if he had bothered to sit at the bronzerider’s table, he would have found a partner almost immediately. Then his eyes fell on the person sitting right across from him. T’bayek grinned. “Caelin, I know you want to dance with me.”

The other man’s blue eyes widened, and shifted around uncomfortably, “Oh… um, well… I’m not all that good.”

“Oh, I’m sure you are.” He said smoothly, and, ignoring Yenessa’s look of annoyance, rose and extended a hand out to him, “C’mon, how often do we get to hear harpers nowadays?”

Caelin hesitated for a moment longer, before he nodded and rose himself, ignoring the extended hand. “Lead on then, O’ gallant bronzerider.”

They were hardly the only male/male couple on the dance floor, and once they were out among the swirling couples a sense of anomaly kicked in. Grinning, both did the customary bow to one another before taking their hands for the dance. Despite Caelin’s first reservations, he was a good dancer, steady on his feet though even the fast turns although a bit helpless at keeping rhythm.

“I thought,” Caelin said in an undertone, taking T’bayek by the waist as the Harper’s shifted into a slower tune, “we agreed we would never do this again.”

The bronzerider smiled up at him, allowing Caelin to take the lead since he was more than half a head taller than himself. He knew he shouldn’t, but he enjoyed the other man’s hands on him and the warm feeling that bloomed up in the places where their dancing bodies brushed. “If memory serves, I actually promised I would never drink that much again. I never said anything about dancing.”

Caelin laughed, his grip tightening on T’bayek ever so slightly, bringing him closer. “I remember the dancing is what started it.”

Only the fact that he had promised Zhemyth he would keep his mouth shut tonight did T’bayek not reply back. He and Caelin had been at this sort of flirting game for a long time now, always coming close to the line that separated friends from lovers, but never really crossing it. Never.

And now he felt that on this night with temptation just a few inches away, he just might be toe-to-toe with that line.

So instead he just smiled back in reply, readjusted his grip and took the lead once more.

The fourth dance had just ended when an amused voice sounded out behind them, “May I cut in?”

Both turned, surprised to see the Weyrwoman of Ista smiling pleasantly at them. Even if she had never impressed gold, Angeli would have made a commanding Lady Holder. Tall with short cropped blonde hair and snapping green eyes, she easily bent the will of those around her. “Certainly, Weyrwoman.” T’bayek said, nearly snapping to attention at the sight of her. Then he hesitated, “Er, which one do you want to dance with?”

“You of course.” She stepped in, giving a wink to Caelin, “Don’t worry. I’ll have him back to you in one piece. Oh, would you mind getting the head table some drinks while you’re up?” She had never forgotten for a moment that he was a drudge, and therefore subject to her requests.

“Of course, Weyrwoman.” Caelin nodded and stepped away, allowing T’bayek to take Angeli’s hands into his own and lead them both to the next dance.

“Loosen up, T’bayek. You’re not in trouble.” Angeli grinned down at him as they stepped in time with the music, “Palomath just wants me to get to know all of the bronzeriders, and I thought now was a good of time as any to start. So, tell me about yourself.”

“Well,” T’bayek paused to twirl the Weyrwoman before grasping her in his arms again, being sure to keep a polite distance between their two bodies. While his and her steps were correct, there was no passion in their moves. “I’m told that I am a decent dancer.”

“You are… not many bronzeriders will dance with men. Palomath tells me that your Zhemyth flirts endlessly with her.”

He winced at that, admiring how easily she changed subjects, yet wondering if she was telling him politely to have his dragon back off of hers. “Well, every bronze has a crush on Palomath. He’s no different, I suppose.”

She gave him a steady look, “True.”

“He’s young yet, but proves himself in threadfall, and so do I.” He couldn’t help but add, “After all, he has to be a role model for the Sak’ney and Nietth.”

“Yes, it must be nice not to be the youngest bronze pair any longer.”

T’bayek knew that she was just making small talk at this point, that her general interest in him had faded and she was waiting for the dance to be over. Maybe that was why he said what he did next. “It shouldn’t be like that, Angeli. There should be several bronzes in a clutch during a pass, not one every other clutch if we’re lucky.”

“I know that.” Her voice was unusually soft, and he knew that he had her attention back.

Many of the feelings that had been festering inside of him threatened to burst out all at once. Things were not as they should be at the Weyr. Any Weyrwoman worth her salt should know that as well, but Angeli never made any move to fix a thing, other than what was threatening her own personal comfort. Maybe it was the combination of that knowledge and the fact that he had her undivided attention that caused him to blurt out, “Then why do you let Ozycath catch her so quickly every time? He only throws weak clutches!”

She favored him with a sharp look. “You go too far, T’bayek. Gh’stin is your Weyrleader. He deserves your respect.”

He snapped his teeth shut over his next words, forcefully reminding himself of his promise to Zhemyth tonight. The bronze would be so hurt if he did anything else to lower the Weyrwoman’s opinion of them in her eyes.

But Angeli was watching his reaction very carefully. “You don’t agree with me, do you?” When he didn’t answer right away, she continued, “These are perilous times. We are in a pass. The plague can strike again at any moment. There must be order if Pern is to survive, and you as a bronzerider need to set an example to the lowers, and that does not mean dancing with them.”

That touched a raw nerve with him. “The plague hasn’t struck in seven turns, Weyrwoman. That stupid quarantine you support is strangling Pern and this Weyr, and if you can’t see that then maybe you should step aside and let someone with a more fertile dragon lead.”

“You dare… you little…” Shocked, she dropped her hands from his, balling her fingers into fists at her sides. It took a moment for her to get control of herself and she stepped back with lips pressed into a thin line. “Tomorrow you will fly with the Weyrlings, delivering firestone as one of them. Do you understand?”

Don’t! Zhemyth’s warning came into his head just as he was about to open his mouth and respond. With effort, T’bayek held himself back and nodded, looking down at the ground, breathing hard though his nose.

“Yes Weyrwoman.” The words came out wooden.

“Go back to your weyr. You’re done for the evening.” Angeli stood there for a moment almost as if she wanted to say more to make the punishment worse, but couldn’t quite find the words. Turning, she strode off of the dancing floor, leaving him there. The music was still playing, but her abrupt departure had created a scene. People were murmuring back and forth, wondering what had just happened… although the ones who knew of T’bayek’s tongue could hazard a guess.

Swallowing down a lump of embarrassment, he too walked off the dance floor.


*******



The next morning found Angeli up bright and early, cradling a cup of sweetened klah between her fingers. She liked to be the first one to the conference table when there was a pre-thread meeting scheduled. It allowed her to greet everyone individually, engage in some small talk and get a feel for the mood of her dragonriders before the actual serious talk began.

Her Weyrmate, Gh’stin was the exact opposite, and enjoyed making everyone wait for his illustrious appearance. He was always the last to arrive. It was his little way to make sure that everyone knew the meeting would start – and end – at his discretion.

One by one, the leadership of Ista Weyr trickled in. First to arrive was the Weyrwoman second, Clea. The only other goldrider in Pern greeted her with a small smile, and Angeli caught sight of unusual redness upon her well fleshed checks. She had probably stayed up drinking last night, and was nursing a sore head today for it.

Clea was one who embraced life to the fullest, and had excess’ in everything. Men, food, and relaxation were her favorite things… not necessarily in that order. Because of that, most of the Weyr population had been surprised when golden Trenith had picked her as her mate over nine turns ago, but there it was.

Brownrider F’ron was the next to arrive. He announced himself with a small nod and sat at the customary place for a Wingleader. Sturdy, dependable, but unimaginative, F’ron contained all the stereotypical qualities that a brownrider would have. If it where up to Angeli he would have remained a Wingsecond or a third… but as it had been pointed out so rudely last night, there were only a few bronzes in the Weyr and leadership was lacking. It wasn’t up to her whom to promote anyway. Those duties fell to Gh’stin, as Weyrleader.

The rest of the Wingleaders all came in a rude group, laughing and carrying on in a conversation that had obviously started somewhere down the hall. The talk stopped before Angeli could get a real grasp on what they had been talking about… obviously it wasn’t deemed suitable for a woman’s hearing.

And last, but most certainly not least to arrive was her Weyrmate, Gh’stin.

For this man alone, Angeli’s smile was neither small nor forced. Even though she had seen him just this morning, and indeed she had known him her entire life since childhood the sight of him always brought a smile to her face. By looks alone, he was not a remarkable man… midsized with a barrel chest and thinning hair even at the young age of thirty. His nose was beaky, and his eyes small and close set… but what mattered to her was the presence. All talk ceased in the room. He had their full attention the moment he took a step in.

“Riders,” he said, “Thread falls today along the northern Benden range. Our sweepriders tell me that there will be wind, but no real cold to aid us. We will have to be on our toes… something to wake up the Weyr after the harper’s performance last night, eh?”

This brought a scattered chuckle from the group. It looked like Clea was not the only one to enjoy last night.

F’ron’s brows knit as he looked among the group. “Where’s T’bayek? Shouldn’t he be taking the meeting notes?” The Weyr had been short of permanent harpers for turns, and so the job of taking down the official notes and minutes had fallen to the youngest full fledged bronzerider. Today, his seat was suspiciously empty.

Gh’stin glanced at his Weyrwoman, but Weyrlingmaster D’en answered before he did. “He’s been set to drilling with my Weyrlings today as a punishment.”

“For insolence to the Weyrwoman.” Angeli added, drolly.

F’ron’s face darkened. He was the man’s Wingleader and any bad behavior of his riders reflected on his own leadership. “I apologize, Weyrwoman.” He said, formally. “It won’t happen again.”

“See that it doesn’t.”

Gh’stin cleared his throat, recapturing the attention of the Wingleader’s on himself. “As I was about to say, Ruby wing is down your bronzerider so you will be taking the mid-level on this fall. Your blues and greens should help mop up the mess that the high flight Wings miss.” He nodded towards one of the aged bronzeriders occupying the table corner, “R’jule, your wing will take Ruby’s place on the upper flight. Make sure your two browns cut as much swath as they can though that thread.”

“Yes sir.”

Brownrider Ed’mon raised his hand and waited to be acknowledged before speaking. “I regret to inform you, Weyrleader, that Shale wing will be down our Wingsecond this fall. Nahan has been grounded by the healers.”

Angeli saw the wave of tensed muscles around the table. Even though it had been seven turns since the last outbreak, everyone feared the return of the Sickness.

“Grounded?” Gh’stin all but barked, “Why?”

The brownrider looked momentarily startled, then quickly hastened to explain when he realized he had made everyone nervous. “She’s taken to some kidney chill is all. It’s nothing serious, but she will be not be able to fly this fall.”

“I see. Meet with me after this and we’ll discuss her replacement.” The Weyrleader glanced around the room, seeing if there was any other business to be taken care of before fall. Seeing no other hand raised, he gave them all a nod, dismissing them.

Angeli rose and caught Clea’s elbow before the goldrider had time to scurry off. “Can I have a word with you in my office?”

Her sharp eyes didn’t miss the slight wince of the junior goldrider. Perhaps she knew what was coming. However she nodded and led the way down the expansive hall that connected the meeting room with the private offices of the Weyrleaders.

Angeli made sure the door was firmly shut to her little office before turning around and regarded Clea with an upraised eyebrow. “I was going over the records this morning… your Trenith has averaged seven full herdbeasts a week in the last four consecutive weeks.”

Clea straightened her shoulders under the scrutiny, “She has a healthy appetite. I would never deny my dragon.”

“And so you shouldn’t.” she agreed, “But it has been nearly a turn to the day since she rose. She may be near her time again, Clea.” Pausing for a moment, Angeli let that sink in, “and I do not want what happened last time to happen again.”

Now Clea looked down, clearly embarrassed. “I won’t.”

“Did you follow my advice and consult D’en about bonding exercises-“

“I said it won’t happen again!” Clea burst out, half horrified half angry.

The Weyrwoman’s jaw tightened. She didn’t like discussing this most private of issues with Clea anymore than her ‘second wanted to hear it. She especially didn’t like it because this was the very issue that had so upset her and ruined her evening the night before. “The Weyr needs a good, strong flight this time. We need to hatch lots of bronzes to lead the wings and you and I could both use another junior gold to help out. Please, Clea… as a friend. Do not let her eat this time.”

“I won’t.” She repeated, softer this time.

She gave a sharp nod, feeling that she had gotten though to the other goldrider. Trenith’s last clutch of fourteen eggs with no bronzes and only one brown had been… embarrassing. “Well then, you’re excused. I’ll meet you in the bowl in a hour.”

Clea got to her feet and swept past her without another word, obviously more than happy to get out of there. Angeli wouldn’t have tolerated any such rudeness from anyone but another goldrider.

With a sigh, the Weyrwoman of Ista sat down at her desk and started brushing up on the day’s record keeping.



*******

We used to do this?
Zhemyth asked as he beat his great wings, angling his body just perfectly for this rider to catch a firestone filled sack thrown by green weyrling Hansa on top of her Kasdath.

T’bayek caught the sack hard, making the air whoosh out of his lungs. But there wasn’t time to pause. The next weyrling in line was waiting for him. With a wince, he dug his fingers into the top of the sack and swung as hard as he could, luckily making it far enough for the next person to grab without making too much of a dive.

Every day. He replied, rotating his shoulder which was just starting to twinge. He had been too hard on F’ron on complaining about his Wingdrills. Funny what two turns let him forget. The man never put his wing though torturous drills like this, and he promised himself that he wouldn’t be put here again to share another drill with these Weyrlings. Not only was it embarrassing, he had forgotten that it was bloody hard work!

The deep bellow of Weyrlingmaster D’en’s Lelioth put a halt to the Weyrling drill, and T’bayek quickly wiped his sweaty brow upon his sleeve to hide the look of relief that was on his face. He had thought he had kept himself in good shape after graduation, but this drill had proven him otherwise.

The Weyrlingmaster waved them in and obediently the class of Weyrlings and one bronzerider landed upon the practice field and dismounted to circle around.

“We will be running firestone sacks to the wings today, Weyrlings.” D’en said, his one fierce gray eye sweeping over all of them as if looking for defects. The other eye stared sightlessly forward, milky white. He didn’t glance at T’bayek or even acknowledge his presence, obviously set on treating him as one of his students for the day. Well, that was to be his punishment.

“As you well know, running firestone is sharding dangerous work. You and your dragon must be aware of what is going around you at all times as you will be popping in and out in the middle of a fall. I don’t care if you have to triple check with the rider who calls you, you don’t skip /between/ until you can see the image in your mind crystal clear!” His face got even sourer, if possible, “Not only would it be stupid to die at this stage right before graduation, but worse your death would upset the entire Weyr in the middle of a fall!”

There were a couple of nervous chuckles as it dawned on the Weyrlings that this was their Master’s attempt at a joke.

“You will be issued some limited amount of low grade firestone.” D’en continued, and finally his gaze flickered to T’bayek. “For use for self defense only. None of you are to flame other than to get out of a bad situation. Leave that to the grownups.”

It was a lucky thing that Zhemyth was off to the side so that D’en didn’t hear his annoyed rumble. T’bayek forced himself to nod, reluctantly remembering that he was here because he was being shamed and that any backtalk would only lengthen his embarrassment. He remembered rather painfully that D’en was very adept at finding embarrassing chores for any offenders.

Still, he was still seething after they were dismissed and were sent to stoke up the dragons in preparation for the fall. Across the Weyr bowl the dragonriders were doing the same thing, only with better quality firestone.

This isn’t right. T’bayek thought, spitefully plunging his hand into the half sack that he and Zhemyth were given. Why should we be taken out of the entire fall? We could be useful up there! It’s ridiculous to keep us out just to prove a point!

Zhemyth didn’t answer right away, too busy concentrating on chewing carefully. When we are Weyrleaders, we will never miss a fall. He said pragmatically, though half closed eyelids. Do you think we will get to help refuel Palomath?

Hope springs eternal. T’bayek tried not to be annoyed at the object of his dragon’s crush. Palomath’s touchy rider was the reason he was even here in the first place, but the limitless hope he had sensed in Zhemyth’s mental voice softened him. “Maybe, if you’re lucky.” He said, placing an ungloved hand on his dragon’s soft muzzle. “Chew.”

I am! The Weyrlingmaster comes.

Forewarned, he turned and greeted D’en with a proper salute. “Sir?”

“Put that hand down, bronzerider.” The Weyrlingmaster growled, glaring at him with his good eye. “Not that I don’t enjoy the formality, but you look ridiculous out here with my Weyrlings. What did you do to get Angeli’s panties in such a twist?”

T’bayek heaved a sigh and decided on the condensed version. “She asked me about the state of the Weyr and I… well, I gave her my theory on the way we could make more bronzeriders.”

D’en graffawed and to his surprise, slapped him soundly on the shoulder. “And now you know why no one brings it up to her.” His good eye looked distant for a moment. “She loves the damn fool.” Then in a lightening change of mood he regarded the shorter man. “So what do you think?”

Taken aback by the Weyrlingmaster’s surprise approval, T’bayek didn’t quite follow him. “About what?”

“About the Weyrlings.” He waved a hand to indicate the young dragonriders who were preparing their dragons on the practice field beyond. “My class.”

“Oh!” He paused a moment to consider it. “They seem to be a good bunch, but I haven’t seen much of Sak’ney and Nietth.” He glanced about for the only bronze pair in the class and saw them at the far end of the field. Sak’ney was his exact opposite. Tall, imposing and with red hair and fair skin he nevertheless had hung back this entire day, as if afraid of getting too close to the grown bronze pair. “He seems to be the quiet type, I guess.”

“Too quiet.” D’en growled, “It’s taken me awhile to figure it out, but the boy is embarrassed by his dragon. He doesn’t like being the only bronzer in the group, so he tries to hide… not like he can with that red hair of his.”

“Maybe I could have a talk with him, and Nietth to Zhemyth?” He suggested, “I remember, it’s wasn’t easy being the only bronze weyrling. The other colors were always trying to show us up, to prove we weren’t anything special.”

“You egged ‘em on, lad.” He tapped his temple. “I remember, too.” Then he sighed, “But a heart to heart with the kid wouldn’t hurt. If we weren’t so sharding low on the big dragons, I probably would have had you as my assistant.”

T’bayek was taken aback. “Really?”

“Really.” He confirmed, “Ah, well maybe the next clutch.” Then, abruptly he was all business. “We’re in the air in ten minutes. Make sure you have Zhemyth ready.”


*******



Cybith need’s more stone!
Zhemyth announced, excited. Then, a moment later his enthusiasm had evaporated. Lelioth sends S’podo and Yesth.

T’bayek reached down, patting the bronze’s neck in sympathy. They were hovering with the Weyrlings above the Weyrbowl, forced to wait for the call to duty. Although they had been here for only a quarter of the fall – two hours – it seemed to be twice that with nothing much to do other than wait.

I’m so sorry, Zhemyth.
He thought, for perhaps the fiftieth time that day. I really promise this time… I’ll keep my mouth shut from now on!

The bronze rumbled an unhappy note, but sent a wave of love towards his rider anyway. There is nothing to forgive.

Except for the fact that they were here, and not with their wing as they should be, in fall.

Jori and Gooyth need stone! Lelioth says we can go!
Zhemyth was so thrilled about the prospect of finally seeing some action that in the next second he had them both /between/, not even bothering to stop and check his coordinates with his rider.

T’bayek’s reprimand was cut short when they emerged out safely, but a lot lower than he would have thought. They had appeared, hovering, only twenty or so dragon lengths above the tops of the trees.

Then he remembered that Jori was pregnant and in the queens wing, which meant…

There’s Palomath. Zhemyth sighed in his mind, pumping his wings to catch up with the green who followed behind the gold of his dreams. Isn’t she lovely?

I have some choice phrases for her, yes. But T’bayek didn’t elaborate on what those were exactly as he swung the bag of firestone down the rope, dangling it within reach of Jori’s reaching arms.

Although pregnant, the greenrider was still ready and able, and had no problem catching the sack even though the strong winds pelted it back and forth.

Okay, she’s got it! He thought, reeling the rope back up. Back to the Weyr, buddy.

But before Zhemyth could transmit /between/ another gust of wind came up, strong enough to buffet them both to the side. One of the greens below them screeched in surprise and skipped /between/, avoiding a clump of thread that had fallen too close.

Angeli signaled, and together she and Palomath dived down for the missed clump, flame thrower at the ready.

PALOMATH! WATCH OUT! Zhemyth’s sharp eyes had caught what Angeli had missed… a stray unbroken ovoid of thread falling like a hideous bomb right towards them on a collision course. Unbroken by the atmosphere, ovoids could release their load suddenly without warning, casting out a whole tangle of thread on unsuspecting dragons.

In a moment’s thought, Zhemyth skipped /between/, coming back out in prime position. Shouldering the gold to the side, he put himself right in harms way, opened his mouth and flamed.

But both he and T’bayek had forgotten about the low grade firestone they had been issued, and the flame that came out was weaker than they were used too. Instead of incinerating the shell, the fire only kissed the ovoid, causing it to burst open and the filaments to rain down on them.

T’bayek threw his arm over his face, thinking only of the safety of /between/. And in the next second, they were there, hanging for a few moments before erupting back out in the bitter Bendan air.

For one second there was no sensation, then the pain of multiple thread scores hit like a sledge hammer. Dimly, T’bayek realized that he had somehow avoided being hit, but he felt his dragon’s pain just as if it had been his own. For one confused moment, he thought that it was his wing had been scored.

He twisted around to look at the left wing. It was a mess, covered with a green inchor and small potmarks, he knew they had been hit worse than they ever had before. Still, the scores were shallow, and Zhemyth was having little trouble hovering.

For having a thread ovoid explode practically in their faces they had gotten off lucky.

It hurts!!
Zhemyth’s cry of pain and shock toned down to a whimper. Using his rider’s eyes, he knew that it wasn’t as bad as it felt. Palomath was hit, too, but she’s at the Weyr. It would have been worse, if not for us. Despite his pain, there was a satisfied note in his tone.

He sighed, reaching down to give a hearty slap to the wide neck under him. Dragon bravado knew no bounds. We need to go back to the Weyr, and get you checked out.

As it turned out, it had been the riding straps that had taken the real damage. Not Zhemyth.

There was a snapping noise and at first T’bayek didn’t know what had happened. Then suddenly he was sliding to the right, the weight of the unused firestone sack pulling him right off of the edge of the bronze’s neck. He cried out, reaching with gloved fingers towards the neck ridge with fingers that didn’t have enough purchase to keep him there…

Then he was falling…twisting…

T’bayek! Someone help--!


WHAM!

He had only fallen for a moment, but the force of hitting solid flesh knocked the wind out of him. T’bayek wheezed, and felt strong hands lift him back up in a sitting position again

“Son, you’ve got to be more careful with your straps!” D’en’s gruff voice said in his ear.

Gratefully, he nodded, hands finding secure grips on the ridge in front of him as he straddled himself in front of the Weyrlingmaster. With practiced ease, D’en roped his safety strap around the other man’s waist, keeping him in place. It wasn’t the most comfortable of positions, but T’bayek would take it rather than being dashed to death to the rocks below. “I’m okay!” He yelled both to the man behind him and Zhemyth who was hovering awkwardly nearby, his scored wing now giving him trouble.

Another sudden gust of wind hit the two dragons, making them veer sharply to the right. The wind did not carry just dragons, though. It carried thread as well.

T’bayek saw the clump fly towards his dragon as if it was in slow motion. He called out a warning that was more mental than it was physical. It was too late. He saw the clump bowl over his beautiful dragon, hitting on the second to the land ridge of the neck… right where he should have been seated.

There was an intense shared moment of pain, and then strange moment of clarity as dragon instinct switched over and Zhemyth took himself /between/ for the final time.

He was gone.

“ZHEMYTH!” The word ripped from T’bayek’s throat, and in that moment he was alone. “Zhemyth come back! Come back!” He reached out with his mind, but found nothing. No comforting voice, no shred of the creature that had been with him in every thought for five turns…

He screamed out loud against the aching emptiness in his head, and tried to tip himself over Lelioth’s neck. Strong arms wrapped around his waist, holding him back. T’bayek fought against the arms, wanting only to break free and follow his dragon into nothingness. The hands were like steel traps, though, not letting go. Not allowing him the death that he desired, the end to the pain inside that was too much…

“Stop it, T’bayek! You’re tied to me. You’ll drag us both off!” D’en’s voice hitched with sympathy, but the now dragonless man was from caring.

He fought harder, turning around to push away from the Weyrlingmaster, hysterical in his attempts to fall to his death.

D’en’s fist seemed to come out of nowhere hitting him hard enough in his temple to cause lights to flash in front of his eyes. T’bayek gave one more choked cry before he slumped over, welcoming the oblivion.
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