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Old Apr 24 2007, 01:00 AM   #1
HarperBrandy
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Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: California
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Default The Writing on the Wall (Pern Fic)

Authors Note: I hate for my very first post to be this fanfiction, but I just found this lovely site and I just can't help myself! This is an ongoing story, so I will be making a thread for any feedback. Beta'ed by Laurie who's helped me out tremendously.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of the characters or the world of Pern, and am just playing around with the ideas as source of amusement to myself.



Prologue:

The interval between the tenth and eleventh passes of the Red Star was a prosperous time for Pern. The full harvests helped support a surge in human population unseen before. With habitable areas in the north becoming scarce, the more adventurous and desperate men traveled to the south to establish Holds and Halls fit for human habitation.

In a few turns, the dragonfolk followed and established several Weyrs to cover the growing southern population when thread next fell. Within two generations the people of the north and south had firmly diverged, each with its own laws and set of traditions.

The people of the north were seen as more strictly traditional, with the ones with rank holding most of the power and prestige. The people of the south, more relaxed. With these two opposing views, tensions grew tight between the two halves of Pern, as personality clashes grew more and more common between the leaders.

And when the great plague came, all contact was lost between the different hemispheres. Even between the dragonriders.

It was a respiratory disease that struck rapidly, yet had symptoms that lingered. It killed its victims by slowly wearing them down. Worse yet, the healers that survived the first wave soon discovered the virus hibernated even in those who showed no symptoms, reemerging even turns later mutated enough to provoke another outbreak of the plague.

In the north, the quarantine that the healers enacted to keep the virus from spreading became more or less permanent as the outbreaks continued. Travel between the holds was discouraged, and those without a hold of their own were treated with growing suspicion and were no longer given safe haven.

The ravages of the continuing outbreaks took its toll on the northern population, decimating it. Eventually the tatters of remaining numbers were relocated to the east coast so that the little trade that was allowed between the Holds and Crafts could at least not have the barrier of long distances. Those who still remembered there were people to the south assumed that they could not have survived with their much smaller population.

The dragonriders too, did not escape the sickness and concentrated their dwindled numbers on Ista Island Weyr to regroup. The ocean between the island and the mainland provided what was thought to be a safe barrier between the protectors of Pern and the rest of the general population. The dragonriders carefully controlled who came in and who went out. Even the candidates grabbed up on search went though mandatory two week quarantine to make sure of their health before standing.

But because of the plagues nature of hiding silent in the cells of unsuspecting people, no one could be completely sure who was infected and who not. Luckily, the one northern Weyr left was enough to cover the remaining people of Pern when the first Threads began to fall of the new pass.

Our story begins seven turns into the current pass. It has been a full seven turns since the Sickness was last seen, and the people of Ista Weyr were cautiously optimistic….
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Old Apr 24 2007, 01:13 AM   #2
HarperBrandy
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Join Date: Apr 2007
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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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Old Apr 24 2007, 01:25 AM   #3
HarperBrandy
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Default Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Tap Your Heels Home




Caelin had his tasks set for him during Threadfall just like everyone else in the Weyr. Only, his chores were not about providing numbweed to scored hide or packing the right size and grade of firestone into bags. His main job was to keep the population of Weyr fire lizards from doing any real mischief during this very serious time.

It was no easy task. Weyrfolk in general were more empathic than the average Pernese, and able to bond easily with the little lizards. If Caelin could count above twenty, he would have known there was a population of give or take five hundred fire lizards populating the Weyr in any given time. The real amount never mattered to him. It was just “a lot”… much more than one man could handle. So during times like this he usually only directed the golds and bronzes. They would then pass on his orders to the other fairs.

Ista Weyr was at least rich in metallic fire lizards if not metallic dragons.

Caelin’s living quarters was pleasantly filled with squeaking, chattering and scolding fairs that knocked over everything there was to knock over, rearranged light objects, and generally tore the place apart. He didn’t care. It was much better to have them tear up his private room in pre-Threadfall anxiety rather than create havoc among the Weyr. It also gave him time to check up on them, and make sure no one had a cracked hide or was being underfed.

“Settle down, Suzza.” He murmured, reaching out with his mind to impose calm on the jittery green in his arms. She was a twitchy green, uncomfortable in her own skin, and obviously unused to being handled.

T’bayek had asked him one time what the mental voices of fire lizards sounded like, since he had none of his own. Caelin found at that time that couldn’t really answer him. It wasn’t as if he heard their squeaky little voices inside of his head like a rider did with a dragon. His brand of communication was instead filled with images and feelings and a sort of… understanding. Yes, that was probably the best word. It was as if he had an understanding with the fire lizards around him. He understood them, and they him.

Well, whatever it was, his abilities had him living at the Weyr now, and that was many times better than cleaning the cold rooms of Bitra Hold… even if had never been his decision to leave in the first place. It wasn’t a drudge’s right to decide where he was needed. His family had been good, solid workers and had benefited the Hold. He had been the spare and had been sent onto the Weyr along with one of the tithe trains a few turns back along with a few others to supplement a poor harvest.

With one hand, he dabbed at Suzza’s cracked hide with the jar of oil he kept in the room for just such an occasion. After the worst of the imperfections were taken care of, the little lizard sighed in relief and became putty in his hands, rubbing the side of her head against his arm in thanks. Caelin smiled and continued his ministrations, making a mental note to have a word with her owner. Suzza’s clutch brother, a bronze who had impressed to the same person, was sporting a flawless hide. It still irked Caelin that the Weyrfolk were more prone to neglecting their pets even more than the Hold folk had been. Here, as in Bitra, owning a fire lizard was a minor sign of rank. But in the Hold, fire lizards were scarcer and more treasured. The Weyrfolk seemed to take them almost for granted. After all, the main prized beast was the dragon, not the lowly lizard.

Finally, the fire lizard’s hide was as good as one long oiling would make it. “There we go. All better now?”

Suzza chirped again and took off from his arm to go hand next to her bronze brother on the frame of a portrait. She was replaced within moments by a pale shaded gold, young enough to be Impressed quite recently.

Caelin blinked in surprise. “Hello, I don’t think I’ve seen you before.” Which was odd, seeing as the harpers who had arrived at the Weyr only owned a pair of blue fire lizards. He hadn’t been aware of any recent fire lizard Impressions either, much less a gold hatchling.

Petrey, ever faithful on his shoulder, peeped a greeting that was ignored by the other lizard. Instead the stranger regarded Caelin for a moment before flopping on her side, laying herself across the table and lifting one wing to show Caelin where the oil was needed. Her soft skin was still cold from going /between/, but Caelin couldn’t find any imperfection in her hide. Whomever she belonged too at least knew how to oil a hatchling correctly. No images or fragmented feelings came from the strange gold to tell Caelin of her origin. With a shrug, he bent down an applied the oil anyway. He could never turn away a beast in need.

Once finished, the young gold gave his fingers a gentle nip of thanks and rubbed her back in a feline fashion against his hand. Only because she seemed to be unusually friendly for her color did he gently scoop her up, turning her small head to make her look into his eyes. He wanted to know who she was Impressed too, and who had socialized her so well.

Primal flashes of thought exploded into his mind. Emotions of fear! Regret! A sense of dread!

Then an image, clearer than Caelin had ever seen from a fire lizard before… Almost as if he was looking though his own two eyes. Rising up before him was a half crumbled stone wall, red lines cut across its face if someone had painted it wildly with blood. Words. But even though the image was burned into his mind, he not know the message on that wall. Caelin could not read.

“Stop!” He gasped, loosing his grip on the young queen in his surprise. The little fire lizard shrieked as she fell, disappearing into /between/ before she hit the floor.

As closely linked as he was to the fire lizards around him Caelin’s own thoughts sometimes bled accidentally into the fairs of the Weyr. There was a ripple of wings by questioning chirps as each lizard started to question each other for more information.

Caelin’s hands bit at the table in front of him. Even though the queen was gone, the images kept flooding, unbidden into his mind. Images of people arguing, people coughing, a piece of paper with writing scrawled on it… more people coughing… each image was echoed back and forth to the fire lizards in the room, and then attached with its own questioning feeling – or with the case of the golds – a command for some sort of answer. The fire lizards were relaying what they were picking up from either their owners or second hand from other fairs and were asking him for understanding.

Opening his eyes, Caelin was started to see that the population in his room had more than doubled. Fire lizards of every shade and size clung onto every surface. Hundreds of jeweled eyes were upon him.

“I… I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on.” He told the mass outloud, not understanding the why or how of the images anymore than his friends around him. Why were people coughing? Was it the plague? Reaching up to touch Petrey’s back, he fought down his own panic lest it translated to the fairs. “I don’t know what’s going on.” He said repeated, “But it’s going to be okay-“

Then, the fighting wings started their attack on the Thread, felt though the link between the Impressed lizards and their dragonrider owners.

“No!” Caelin felt the intentions of the massed lizards just as well as if they were his own. Hyped up and nervous over the images they had already received; they wanted to go and help their owners and protect them from danger. But that would be a disaster… before he had come to the Weyr many firelizards were lost when the Threadfighting became sour. Faranth help them they tried to help, but they were flighty and untrained and many died -- either by scoring or by the flame of a dragon who didn’t see them in time. “No, you can’t! Stop!”

Reaching out to the queens he knew were in the room, he forced them to obey him, and though them, the rest of the population.

None of the lizards blinked /between/, but it didn’t stop the images from coming, unceasing, into his mind. Revamped images of the sickened people he had witnessed before – fire lizards loved to repeat things over and over again – images of dragons fighting, of Thread being flamed.

And over and over again, came the image of the wall, words written in blood…

Caelin shook his head, squeezing his eyes firmly shut to try to get a handle back on his own mind. He had no formal training… everything he had learned was from trial and error, and so there were holes in the walls he tried to throw up inside of his own mind. Slowly, he regained control and the frightening images finally slowed.

Opening his eyes, he forced himself to breathe deeply and calmly. Although alarming, he logically knew that there was nothing he could do about what he had just seen at this moment with the Weyr engaged in its battle with Thread. As soon as this fall was over, he would report what he had seen to the Headwoman and let her make the report to the people who could do things. As he had been told many times by the people who called themselves his betters, anything outside of the scope of fire lizard care and control were not his to bother with. Surely the Weyrleaders would know what to do if the plague had returned. They rode the dragons, after all

That thought should have calmed him, but he had spent too much time listening to T’bayek. Try as he might, he didn’t have the confidence that he should have in the Weyr leadership.

Angeli’s golden Regan, who was sitting nearby, chirped a question at him, probably picking up on his thoughts.

“Don’t tell on me.” He answered weakly, wiping the sweat from his brow with his sleeve. He wasn’t really worried, though. The impression he had received from Regan was that the fire lizard never got as much attention as she wanted ever since Angeli had Impressed Palomath some fifteen turns prior. The chances of her paying attention long enough for Regan to communicate Caelin’s dissatisfaction were very slim. He was more concerned about Headwoman Phasha’s bronze Bellow. That woman not only listened carefully to her fire lizard, she didn’t like Caelin. Something about her having to give up her room to support the large amount of fire lizards that flocked to him during Threadfall …

Caelin snorted in amusement, and the action helped to clear his mind of the rest of the repeating images. As he relaxed, so did the fire lizards around him. He had gained their trust a long time ago, and to see that he wasn’t upset anymore helped them all settle down immensely. After a bit they grew bored with trading the images back and forth.

Acting more out of habit than anything else, Caelin picked up the jar of oil and went to administer it to the next cracked hide that he saw. Hands shaking, he didn’t allow himself to think any longer about the young gold or what she had shown him, knowing that the fire lizards around him would focus in immediately on those thoughts again.

And so the hours passed with the supply of the oil growing slowly lower and lower.

He was just starting to think about preparing the fire lizard’s mid-day meal when yet another sudden disturbing image hit him, jerking him out of his thoughts. Only this image wasn’t from some mysterious hatchling. It was from the collection around him, passed to him by way of the dragons.

… A darkly colored bronze pushing Palomath out of the way of a Thread ovoid, and then crying out in pain, left wing scored by a Thread ovoid that had burst open…

“Zhemyth!”

The seconds ticked slowly by as he waited for the reaction of the fire lizards around him. Some of them twittered and shuffled their wings, but were otherwise unconcerned. T’bayek himself wasn’t linked to any fire lizards, and they had become far too used to seeing dragons scored in falls like this.

It couldn’t have been a bad hit then.

Then Petrey gave a shriek of alarm, forewarning Caelin against an onslaught of other images. Golden Palomath was screaming in agony on the bowl, her neck gushing green ichor…

Then came the images of a bronze body bowled over by Thread, and blinking /between/.

Caelin’s knees became like water and he sat down, hard. “No… no… oh shards, no… please…”Around him the fire lizards keened softly, a higher pitched echo of their greater cousins. Dully, he shook his head, refusing to believe the images he was still seeing… no… not Zhemyth… not T’bayek…. He never got to tell him…

Another mass of images including one he recognized from the mind of D’en’s green Illia. One of a man with dark hair and haunted eyes screaming, fighting against another who was trying to keep him adragonback.

Without pause for thought about the fire lizards around him, Caelin pelted out of his room, dashing though the lower caverns and emerging outside just as D’en and Lelioth emerged out of /between/. The brown turned in a tight circle and landed beside the entrance to the infirmary.

Running up, Caelin could see the figure of a slumped over man still astride the brown’s neck. He arrived just as D’en was passing T’bayek down to the waiting healers. Still unconscious, there was the slight puff of a dark bruise forming around his temple and right eye.

“—had to do it. He would have pulled me along with him.” D’en was saying.

“Any scores?” The healer asked as he manhandled the limp form to a nearby stretcher.

“No. Neither me or him.”

Caelin shouldered his way in, “What happened?” He asked, eyes darting from his prone friend to the Weyrlingmaster.

“Bad fall… Zhemyth got hit by a clump. It….” D’en cut off what he was about to say what a snap of his teeth and a convulsive swallow. “I need to get back up there. My Weyrlings need me. Take care of your friend… He’ll need someone now.” Lelioth shivered his hide as he spoke, warning the people around him that he was about to take off. A great leap upward and only one downsweep of wings and they were back /between/ to the fall.


*******

Later in the evening, after the Weyr had completed its fall and the all clear had sounded, Weyrwoman Angeli still stood by her injured lifemate in the infirmary dedicated solely for dragons. “How are you feeling?” Angeli murmured, reaching up and placing one hand on her queen’s golden jaw. “Any more pain?”

The gold leaned into her rider’s touch, welcoming it. My neck feels tight, but no. No pain.

“Are you hungry? Thirsty? I could fetch a drudge to get you some water.”

Palomath’s jeweled eyes gleamed bluely in the semi darkness of early evening. You worry about me too much. I am fine.

The Weyrwoman winced; wishing for just a moment that she could enjoy the benefits of a dragon’s shortened memory. It was only a few hours ago that Palomath was bleeding profusely on the floor of the Weyr bowl, the shrapnel of the Thread ovoid opening up a deep wound in her neck, dangerously close to the big artery there. She had to have emergency stitches, and was now confined by healer’s orders to the infirmary for the next few days, neck swathed with clean cotton bandages. Luckily, the scoring had been unusually neat and she was expected to recover fully.

I am fine. The queen repeated, firmly. I am luckier than some.

“Try not to think about that, love.” Angeli rested her head against her dragon’s soft hide, listening to the soothing double heart beats and the blood rushing though now unbroken veins. Hot tears pricked at the back of her eyes. She had been lucky, very lucky not to loose her Palomath today. If Zhemyth and T’bayek had not been there…

They were. Palomath mental voice was ever calm, ever present in her head. And you should take your own advice and not think about it.

She smiled up at the dragon. “I thought that I was supposed to be the one to comfort you.”

The healers stitched me up, and I am comfortable. The Weyr is what needs you, now.

The Weyrwoman sighed, knowing that Palomath was right. From the moment they had been scored, Angeli had been so involved in helping Palomath with her pain, and later on directing the healers in stitching up her hide, she had barely enough time to recognize and deal with the end of the Threadfall. Of course, once Thread had left the sky, it was up to the Holders to raise and maintain ground defense, but usually she had Palomath fly a low sweep for visible moral support. Especially since Benden was her home Hold and her father was Lord of Benden Hold.

She also had to help the Weyr cope with the loss of a young bronze.

It was a rare occasion when a rider wasn’t mortally injured along with his dragon. The last time it had happened was two turns ago with an extremely unlucky bluerider who had run his beast in the path of another’s flame. The man had, of course, become psychotic at the loss of his dragon and had killed himself a few days after. An event like that upset the entire Weyr, and Angeli wasn’t looking forward to having to rebuild moral after this incident.

Plus, she had the uneasy feeling that she may be blamed by some for what happened. Not only had Zhemyth given his life to save Palomath, but Angeli had been the one to put them in the Weyrling wing in the first place. It was a shame… the bronzerider had been a loud mouth, and needed to be knocked down a peg or two, but his dragon had not deserved to die.

What was even worse, the Weyr had surely been upset by their senior queen’s injury… that was the only reason in her mind that would explain why the focus on fighting had fell in the fighting wings just when the unpredictable winds became their worst. No more dragons were lost, thank Faranth, but five had taken scores that would keep them out for at least three falls.

No, she was not looking forward to fixing this mess. For a long moment, Angeli longed to be a Weyrling again with no other responsibilities other than to stay next to her dragon, make her as comfy as possible and bask in her calm presence. Oh, how she wished she could have her problems all just disappear! Sometimes she felt smothered by her duties, and the problems of the Weyr that seemed to multiply like tunnelsnakes in a cave. Maybe she would start small and work her way up, visit some of the wounded dragons and lend them support—

The one whom the fire lizards heed is upset.
Palomath cut in, helpfully. Maybe you could visit him?

Her ambiguous statement caused Angeli a moment of confusion until the queen sent her a picture of the man she was talking about. The drudge who she had seen the night before, dancing with T’bayek.

He is upset, and it upsets Regan.
Palomath’s eyes had a tinge of gray to them underneath the whirling blue. He blames himself for Zhemyth, I have tried to talk to him… but he does hear me.

Tears again pricked the corner of her eyes, overcome for a moment by her queen’s compassion even in the face of her own injury. “Oh Palomath, don’t worry yourself about him.” She wrapped her arms around the golden muzzle, “Save your strength and focus on getting well again. I promise as soon as your able we’ll spend a day just relaxing at the beach so we both just put this behind us. Just you and me.” She then attended to the dragon’s eye ridges, giving her a good scratch and telling her queen how wonderful, how beautiful and caring she was until the gold was comfortable enough to fall asleep.

Now, to deal with those who would upset her queen.


*******

Caelin sighed, shifted in the uncomfortable chair that he had been given to sit in and then sighed again for lack of anything else to do. Although he sat at his side when the healers had done their checkup, T’bayek had remained firmly unconscious throughout the rest of the day and into the evening. As it was explained a few hours ago, beyond waiting there was nothing that the healers could do for him. T’bayek didn’t have any real physical issues aside from the bruising D’en had given him.

All of his grievous injuries were the mental sort.

It didn’t seem possible that this could happen. Not to someone he knew. Not to T’bayek. Caelin didn’t know of anything that was more feared by any dragonrider than to have their lifemates die, leaving the riders to live alone, a mere shell of a person.

That was, if they chose to live at all.

None of the healers would answer any of his questions directly, and Caelin could guess why. If T’bayek was in too much pain, and if he was absolutely set on ending his own life they wouldn’t do a thing to stop him. It would be more of a mercy for him to die than have him suffering a lifetime half dead.

Lying in the infirmary cot, T’bayek he looked even smaller than he usually did, more fragile. His skin was pale, drained of the confident sort of energy that had nearly radiated off of him when… when Zhemyth was still alive. Caelin remembered it was that energy that had first warmed him to the other man in the first place, despite his lack of fire lizards. Even though he was a bronzerider, T’bayek had never treated him as someone of less importance. As Caelin got to know him more, the friendship he felt turned into a nagging crush that wouldn’t go away, and at times – well a lot of the time -- Caelin wished that Zhemyth was a blue or green instead of a bronze.

He remembered dancing…

( X ) ( X ) ( X )

It had been a turn ago, almost to the exact day. The night of Turnover had brought hours of feasting and celebration over the official start of the new calendar Turn, a time for the promise of new things. There had been wine… oh yes; there had been lots and lot of wine to go around. The Weyr had flown a successful fall that very day and the uninjured riders wanted to celebrate both their success and take advantage of the rare Harper visit. Everyone was dancing.

Caelin remembered that his calves had ached from it after awhile, but when T’bayek had jokingly asked him to join him on the dancing square for the first time, well, suddenly his legs found new life again.

The dragonrider was light in his arms, lithe and nimble to complement his own larger form. They were also both drunk enough not to care what people thought about a bronzerider dancing with another male, a drudge at that. All Caelin cared about in those whirlwind dances was pulling T’bayek closer, or the all too short moments when the other man was pressed up against him, touching him.

One of the more frantic, fast paced tunes had them unable to keep up. Stumbling off the dance floor, they somehow ended up in darkened corridor. Caelin didn’t remember who started kissing whom, but suddenly their lips met in the dark and he was tasting the night’s wine on T’bayek’s lips and smelling the spiced scent of dragon on him.

Drunken peels of laughter broke them apart every few moments for breath, and Caelin remembered wondering if any of it was truly real. But T’bayek was kissing him back with increasing need and real or no, he responded by pushing the bronzerider further in the dark for more privacy.

The coquettish kisses turned into something more, and soon the chuckles stopped as their mouth’s met in something that was deep and roiling with unleashed passion. He remembered feeling hands in his short hair and on the back of his neck, feeling those fingers leaving hot trails wherever they touched. Pressed together as they were, he could feel T’bayek’s heart beat under his thin shirt, felt as well as heard the shuddering moan when Caelin pressed harder against him.

The kiss broke suddenly, surprising Caelin into looking into his friends eyes. Despite the darkness, they had been just as dilated with a mix of intoxication and lust as his were, but there was something else… something was wrong. “What?”

“We need to stop.”

Caelin gave a quick shake of his head, and trying to brush off the request, he bent his head down to place small kisses on the side of his jaw, hands slipping under his shirt to stroke and feel the taunt skin he felt there. T’bayek shivered and pulled him in for another long, deep kiss.

But it only lasted for a few brief moments. Again, T’bayek was the one who broke it off broke it off, gasping for air. “Caelin… please…” Gently, but firmly the rider had put a hand on either shoulder and pushed him away.

Caelin didn’t remember being angry or confused, just frustrated. “Why?”

“Because I’m a bronzerider.” T’bayek only met his eyes for a moment before turning away, leaning a closed fist on the cool stone wall. “I’m sorry.”

And although Caelin didn’t know it then, looking back he knew that was when his secret resentment of Zhemyth had started. If only he were a brown or a blue or a green or… or anything but bronze! Even the brownriders sometimes took male mates. But the bronzers… never. Not outside of mating flight, and everyone knew those didn’t count for anything. It just wasn’t right. It went against the order of things

“It’s okay,” he had said, a turn ago, his voice gruff with emotion.

T’bayek gave a mirthless laugh, “I swear, I’m never going to drink this much again.”

“It’s okay.” He repeated, knowing that T’bayek was just making excuses, and that he was letting him do it.

( X ) ( X ) ( X )

It wasn’t okay.

He should have never let T’bayek excuse away what happened on that night. He should have never let it go, never let himself be such a coward. Or maybe he should have done the opposite… just ended everything right there, as much as his heart rebelled against it. One thing was for sure; he should have never let himself entertain the wish that Zhemyth was a bronze and not something else.

Caelin shut his eyes, squeezing out the resentful thoughts that wouldn’t stop bubbling up. On some level Zhemyth must have known what was in his heart. Couldn’t dragons see what was in a man’s mind and in his soul? What if he had somehow been the cause of the dragon’s death?

The logical part of him said that one thing had nothing to do with another. But all the logic in Pern didn’t help with the massive guilt that had bubbled up upon seeing T’bayek like this… or the shame.

“I’m so sorry, Tobay. I should have been a better friend to you. I should have never, never let myself think badly of you or Zhemyth.”

There was no answer from the unconscious man. Not even a twitch.

Caelin sat quiet for a moment, twisting his fingers together nervously. “I’m sure you don’t want to hear it, anyway. I’m sure that’s the last thing you’re probably thinking about.” He heaved a sigh, “I’m so sorry. I would give anything, anything to take away your pain.”

Footsteps echoed down the narrow hallway, cutting off his rambling and Caelin turned expecting to see another one of the healers come to check on their charge, but it came as a shock so acute that it was almost painful to see the Weyrwoman instead.

“Don’t bother.” She said, waiving at him to sit back down when he stood automatically to acknowledge her presence. “How is he doing?”

“Um, he—he’s still asleep.” He stammered, hoping that the woman wasn’t mistaking him for a healer, despite his lack of knots. Even though he helped care for her fire lizard, Angeli had never spoken directly to him, other than to order him to get her drinks. What was she doing there anyway? It was she who put T’bayek in the Weyrling wing, and therefore in the path of danger. Still, Thread wasn’t anyone’s fault… she had not chosen to intentionally hurt T’bayek or Zhemyth. In fact, her dragon had been seriously injured as well. “Weyrwoman… can, I ask… er, what I mean is—“ He couldn’t help it. In the face of someone with so much rank, none of the words he wanted to say would come out right.

Angeli wasn’t very much help. “Spit it out, Caelin.”

She knew his name? That surprising knowledge helped him find his words. “How is Palomath, ma’am?”

Some of his surprise must have translated to his voice for she glanced at him quickly before answering. “Recovering. She took a nasty score to her neck and it would have hit been worse if not for Zhemyth.” Angeli paused, then added, “I would have lost her.”

Good, came the irrational, blasphemous thought. Who cared if Palomath was one of only two queens? T’bayek would be okay. He would be whole again. “I’m glad that she will be okay.” His voice sounded hollow and insincere, even to his own ears.

For a moment, Angeli didn’t speak. Walking around to the other side of T’bayek’s cot, she reached out and felt his forehead for a moment before withdrawing her hand. “You’re upset with me.” It wasn’t a question.

Caelin shook his head quickly. Interacting with the Weyrwoman was akin to dealing with fire if she was in the wrong mood. She had proven that much with T’bayek last night. but he couldn’t lie to her, either. It was wrong to lie to a goldrider. “No, Ma’am...Well, not really. I didn’t know Zhemyth saved Palomath, is all.”

Her next words surprised him. “It wasn’t your fault either.”

“How did—“Caelin looked up at her, surprise written on his face. Then he glanced over to his shoulder where Petrey sat, looking properly ashamed. “Did Petrey tell you?”

“No.” She walked over to the foot of T’bayek’s cot as she spoke, picking up the chart and pausing to read whatever was inscribed there before placing it back. “Your fire lizard told my Regan who told Palomath. She then tried to talk some sense to you, but… are you dragon deaf?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“For all that you can manage the fire lizards… amazing.”

Caelin felt the heat of a blush spreading from his cheeks to his neck. In the three turns he had been at the Weyr, this was by far the most the Weyrwoman had ever spoken to him. In fact, the Weyrwoman seemed to be waiting for him to speak further. That surprised him, for as much as he was respected though the Weyr for his ability with the firelizards, his rank was nothing. Angeli and Gh’stin had made it clear enough that a person’s rank meant very much to them… why had that changed now? He tried to think of a response, perhaps something eloquent like he had heard the dragonriders say… but nothing else was springing to his mind other than, “They like me, I guess.”

Angeli still studied the chart, not affording him a glance. “My dragon should be resting and trying to recover, but she was bothered enough to ask me to talk to you. What do you think about that?”

Uh-oh. The tone of warning in her voice was loud and clear. “Weyrwoman, I would never want to… I mean, the last thing I would want to do is bother a dragon as important as yours, ma’am.” And that was the honest truth.

Now Angeli looked up from the chart and walked over to him, all power and confidence in her step. “Palomath also told me that you blame yourself for Zhemyth’s death, and that you somehow think you caused it.” One hand fell to her hip as she regarded him levelly. “So, tell me, drudge. Do you think that your silly thoughts are important enough to influence a dragon, much less a bronze?”

Again he shook his head, taking a step back despite himself. “No-no, Weyrwoman.”

“And do you think that a dragon would even care what someone like you would have in your head?”

“Of course not. No.”

The Weyrwoman finally seemed satisfied at his answers. “Good. Then I trust that I won’t hear of you keeping my queen up and agitated while she is trying to recover.”

He nodded again, promising himself that he wouldn’t be so outspoken with his own thoughts. Even though her words had been sharp, she did have a point and he did feel a little better. It was just a bit stupid to be worried that he might have somehow influenced a great beast like Zhemyth just because he liked his rider.

The silence lengthened, and Caelin looked down at the cot, feeling his throat tighten up all over again at the sight of his friend. He hadn’t much as twitched at the conversation going on above him. What was he going to do if T’bayek didn’t want to live anymore? Was he just going to let him die? On the other hand, how could he in good conscience ask him to live?

As he searched his own soul for the answers to that, another thought struck him. The mystery of the coughing people that the fire lizards had told him about earlier, and the wall written with blood. Looking up, he saw that the Weyrwoman had moved to the other side of the cot and was also watching T’bayek, an expression on her face he couldn’t quite read. Well, it would be inexcusable not to report what he had seen from the fire lizards… he should not have waited this long already. “Weyrwoman?”

“Yes?”

“Has the Sickness come back?”

Now she looked up sharply, “What in the world would make you ask something like that, Caelin?”

“Oh, um,” he shifted around nervously, now seriously regretting having spoken up. Belatedly, he realized that he should have just taken this to the Headwoman, despite the fact that they didn’t really get along. “Well, the fire lizards… you see, they tell me things, and they were showing me sick people. It looked like they were in Benden Hold, although I can’t be sure.” He intentionally left out the vision of the bloody wall, knowing that talking about it would make him seem… crazy.

But far from being alarmed, she closed her eyes in a look of exasperation. “And that is why you don’t get your gossip from fire lizards. Bendan is my home Hold, and my father is the Lord. No one is sick there.”

The images had seemed so real! Those couldn’t have been faked… could they? “But, ma’am…Fire lizards don’t just make things up. They don’t have the minds for it. They only pass on what they’ve seen, and they saw sick people. In Benden.”

“That’s enough! Your Weyrleader visited the Hold just today and reported all to be well, and I trust his word more than any fire lizard.”

At her sharp tone, he looked down again, eyes firmly fixed to T’bayek’s cot. He knew what he saw, and he trusted his fire lizard friends, even if she didn’t. “Weyrwoman, I am not--.”

She cut him off, with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I’ll have no more of that nonsense spread about by the fire lizards either.” Despite her words, she shivered, “People around here are stressed enough by this fall, and by my Palomath’s injury. I do not want to hear you spreading panic in this Weyr!”

Caelin flinched at her rising tone, and swallowed hard, nodding his head. Maybe she was right. She would know, wouldn’t she? She was a goldrider, and he had no right to question her. “Yes, ma’am.”

Angeli stared at him for a moment, as if testing the integrity of his words. Finally, she let out an annoyed sigh, rubbing her hands together as if trying to rid herself of all disturbing thoughts of the plague. “Very well. All of this talk has made me thirsty. Fetch me some juice – I’ll stay with T’bayek while you’re away.”

He hesitated for a moment, somehow not feeling comfortable with the idea of leaving her with his friend. He knew a dismissal when he heard it, and also feared what she might do if he just outright refused her. With a nod and one last glance at T’bayek, he walked out of the room and down the long hallway, averting his eyes from the mostly empty sickbeds. Thank the first egg the fire lizards had not shown those full of sick and dying people. That would only make sense during the time of a plague. He must have just been… mistaken, somehow.

“The Weyrwoman requests some juice,” he said, walking up to the station where the Journeyman on duty sat, thumbing through some hides.

The man didn’t even look up to acknowledge him. “Down the hall and to the right,” he answered in an obviously bored tone, pointing in the general direction.

Caelin hadn’t taken more than three steps before a shriek was heard, coming back from T’bayek’s room. Without a pause he turned, pelting back towards the room with the healer hot on his heels. He half expected… well, he didn’t know what to expect. Only that T’bayek would surely be upset – crazed - over the loss of his dragon, and the Weyrwoman would make an all too easy target…

But rounding the corner he saw no violent scene. Angeli was standing back against the wall, looking at T’bayek in surprise… and T’bayek… well he was still laying down. In fact, there was no change about him at all other than the fact that his eyes were half opened, staring up, face blank at the ceiling above.

“Weyrwoman?” The healer questioned, looking between them.

“I—“she shook her head, “he startled me, is all. One moment he was asleep and the next, his eyes were open.”

Caelin didn’t care. Forgetting his place for a moment, he went over to the side of the cot, gripping T’bayek’s hand and finding it cold to the touch. “T’bayek? Can you hear me?”

There was no reaction from the dragonless man. Not a blink or a twitch on his vacant face. It was as if he was only half awake, completely unaware of those around him.

The Journeyman stepped in, putting a hand on Caelin’s shoulder to gently but firmly push him away so he could step in to take the man’s pulse and lean over to look into his eyes. There was no reaction to his poking and prodding, and after a few moments he looked up at Angeli and shook his head. “He’s still in a state of shock. We may need to sedate him once he comes out of it, though. For his own protection.”

“But—but if you do that, how will he learn to get over the loss of his dragon?” Caelin protested, looking from the healer to Weyrwoman and back again.

“A loss of a dragon is not something you ‘get over’, drudge.” Angeli answered, unnecessarily reminding him of his place. In slightly more civil tones, she spoke to the Journeyman. “Do whatever you can do for him. I don’t need to remind you the sacrifice this man has just made to protect Pern. See to it that he doesn’t suffer.” With that order made, she turned and exited the small room.

To Caelin, it somehow looked like a retreat.

*******


It was the voices that woke him. The voices that brought him back into awareness and emptiness. He knew that something was wrong immediately. There was something gone from him, something that left such a hole in his heart and mind that it physically hurt.

He mentally reached out, instinctively seeking comfort from the other who had been in his mind, only to encounter nothing.

Half of him was dead, and all he wanted to do was to have the other half die along with it.

It was so quiet. The voices had stopped talking in the room, and the silence in his head pressed inward unbearably. Then… it wasn’t so silent any more. The female voice spoke again, although it seemed to be at first to herself.

“—it’s okay dear heart,” came a murmur, right beside him. “I’m not that upset.” A pause, “Go to sleep, Palomath. I’ll be there presently.”

Palomath… Zhemyth… where was Zhemyth?

The empty ache and brutal silence now had a name.

Instinctively, his mind shrank away from that pain and knowledge that the very name brought up. Fleeing from the pain, not thinking about it… not allowing himself to think at all felt much better than to actually have to face what was gone from him now.

He lost himself, then. There, but not there. Awake, but not apart of the conscious world. He shrank himself away from reality, because he couldn’t bear to deal with the pain of existing without his other half.

Eyes opening, he looked around the room, not caring that he didn’t recognize where he was at all. It didn’t matter… nothing mattered.

There was a woman standing by his bed. She called him T’bayek… but that wasn’t his name, was it? Not anymore.

A shout brought in two males. They talked, and the words meant nothing to him. Words couldn’t stop the pain, or dampen the feeling of loss that engulfed him in a fog. He couldn’t move… he could only feel the emptiness inside. The outside world wasn’t important anymore… Nothing was important anymore.

He woke many times since then, and more often than not a man with fair hair and eyes was there by his bed. The man would often smile brightly at his awakening and try to engage him in conversation, but he couldn’t answer back. The pain and the silence inside muted him.

Nevertheless, the sound of the voice did bring a small measure of comfort, if only slightly.

There were also people in healer’s knots. They didn’t talk very much, and their voices didn’t carry the same caring tone. They also tried to get him to eat, but as soon as he tasted their soups on his tongue he spat it out.

To eat and drink was to exist… he didn’t want to exist.

*******


The next morning, Weyrleader Gh’stin was in a rare sort of mood. “Eleven established burrows!” He punctuated this with a pounded hand on the conference table, making the assembled Wingleaders in front of him start in surprise. “One is unacceptable, but eleven!?”

In his mind he could hear Ozycath give the same treatment to the Wingleader’s dragons, only the bronze was using more descriptive language.

There was the sound of shuffling feet and cleared throats before Wingleader Ed’mon decided to speak. “Simply put, Weyrleader, we are down on dragons.”

Gh’stin rounded on him, happy to find an outlet for his rage at his Weyr’s poor performance. “That is a sad excuse, brownrider! We have flown well with twenty less dragons just a turn before! So tell me, why did your wing let so many Threads fall past their wings?”

To his credit, Ed’mon didn’t back down from the other man’s fury. Instead he straightened up, squaring his shoulders and replied crisply, “Last turn I had two more brownriders to add to my numbers, but now they’ve been shuffled around to leadership and I no longer have their flame to back us up.”

“You have some of the best blues and greens to your wings, and if you don’t take advantage of them, your brownrider friends will not be the last to be shuffled out.” Gh’stin glared around at the rest of the assembled group, “Well? What about the rest of you? F’ron? B’yau? H’randle?”

None of those men spoke up, but aged bronzerider R’jule took his opportunity to speak. “Sir, Ed’mon has a point. Faranth help the blues and greens. They turn on a mark and do more work than my Winth can in two Threadfalls, but they don’t have the wide flame to take out the most on the upper levels. The greens have to rest for half the fall, leaving us at only partial strength. It’s not enough, sir.” He spoke with a tone that suggested Gh’stin, being Weyrleader, should know this by now. Only another bronzerider could get away with that insolent voice. “We were always were low before, but last turn we hadn’t lost bronzer Br’ret to that heart attack. We also had Zhemyth, and Palomath wasn’t out of action.”

Angeli spoke from the back, “Palomath will fly with the queen’s wing in the next fall.”

R’jule nodded his head to her, “Yes, but Trenith will rise soon, and one gold a wing does not make.”

There was a general murmur around the room as the Wingleader’s agreed.

Gh’stin held up his hand for silence. “D’en, how is your senior class coming along?”

The Weyrlingmaster looked up from the table, a sour expression on his face. He had been at his post for far too long not to know where his Weyrleader was going with this. “It’s too soon for them. We’ve just got them started on flaming drills. They’re not ready.”

Gh’stin’s jaw tightened, “You’ve got a week to make them ready. We need reinforcements, even if it is just for part of a fall. We cannot have this fall happen again.”

“Sir-“

“One week.” He repeated, cutting the other man off short. “It’s about time they were properly blooded, anyway. Pern needs dragonmen, not boys.”

Bronzerider B’yau cleared his throat before he stood up. “Gh’stin, perhaps we should hold Weyr-wide drills on our off days, and rotate the dragons in and out. The riders are getting stagnant in their positions. If we switched things up-“

“No,” he dismissed that notion with a quick shake of his head. “The last thing this Weyr needs is a reshuffle. The greens and blues won’t know what to do with themselves, and I won’t be putting exhausted riders at risk with pointless wing drills. Exhaustion breeds lower immunity and the last thing we need is the Sickness in this Weyr. We need every thing on wings we can get up there, men. No…” He shook his head again, “I want your ideas – good ideas – on my desk at first light. Dismissed!”

One by one the Wingleaders filed out, too used to Weyr discipline to question their Weyrleader outright. Finally there was only Gh’stin and Angeli left. Alone with his Weyrmate at last, the Weyrleader let his shoulder’s slump, “They’re right, you know. The blues and greens are doing their best, but we need bigger dragons to balance it out!”

“Palomath and I will be up for next fall.” Angeli repeated, walking over to sit down in this chair next to his. “It will be fine. You will find a way to work it out tomorrow. You’ll see.”

Gh’stin dragged a hand down his face, turning away from his Weyrmate to stand up and pace. “Have you spoken to Clea yet?”

“Yes, and she is aware of how important it is that this be a good, long flight.”

Her words buoyed him for a moment and he smiled at her. “Good, because I don’t intend on letting any of the others have their chance at Palomath when she rises.” He knew that his Ozzy’s notoriously short catches was a source of several rude jokes in the Weyr, but it didn’t matter. He had loved Angeli since they were Hold children. She, a daughter of the Lord and he a simple weaver’s craft boy. They had been searched at the same time, and Impressed compatible colors… and now, Weyrmates for the past thirteen turns that Palomath had risen. His childhood dream had come true and he never intended to let any other man have so much as a shot at winning her. Yes, a short flight made for small clutches, but Clea’s Trenith was young and fertile and should be able to pick up the manageable slack.

Angeli raised her head, a half smile on her face. She had been thinking along the same lines. “You know that Ozycath’s already won her hearts, and mine.” She looked like she wanted to say more, but was interrupted by a wide yawn. “Excuse me! It’s been a tiring day!”

“Yes, and you were having nightmares all night.” Gh’stin’s smile softened when she looked at him in surprise, “You can’t fool me, woman. We’ve been Weyrmates for far too long. Still worried about Palomath?”

She tried to wave that away, “No, she’ll be fine. It’s just… I was so close to losing her…”

Striding over, the Gh’stin took Angeli’s hand and pulled her up into a hug. “But you didn’t. She’ll live and you’ll live and she’ll have a hundred more eggs next clutch to repopulate the Weyr.”

Angeli chuckled, “I’d be over the moons if next clutch was over thirty.”

“Hmm… first let’s have Clea prove herself,” Pulling back, Gh’stin cradled her jaw in his wide hand, “then next time, my love, it’ll be your turn.”


*******

5 days later

*******


“How are you?” Yenessa asked, sitting herself by Caelin’s side, giving him a sad sort of smile.

“Huh?” Caelin had been absently stirring his spoon into his mashed oats, lost in his own thoughts. He had been sitting there, trying to eat today’s breakfast for the better part of a hour, but all he managed was to make a soupy mess in his bowl. It was hard to find an appetite nowdays. “T’bayek still won’t eat or talk. It’s been nearly five days. He just lays there and just stares at nothing for hours at a time. Yenessa, I don’t know if he’s going to survive.”

The Wingthird sighed and scooted closer, giving his knee a friendly pat. “Silly, I didn’t ask about that stubborn idiot. I asked how you were holding up.”

Caelin shot her a dark look, but despite her flippant words there were lines of worry on her face that matched his own. “Fine, I guess.” He murmured, around a spoonful of oats.

Her green eyes regarded him for a moment. “You are a horrible liar.” A pause, “Caelin, I know that you don’t want to hear this, but—“

“Yeah, I don’t want to hear it.”

Of course she continued anyway. “—but the man we knew died days ago. What is lying in that infirmary is,” she broke off and sighed, “just a shell.”

In all honestly, Caelin wasn’t surprised at her attitude. He had been expecting someone to come to him and say something like this for a few days now. In fact if he was a betting man he would put marks that she had probably been put up to it, possibly by one of the healers. “How would you know?” He asked her, putting down the spoon and regarding her solemnly, “You haven’t been to see him once.”

That struck home, and Yenessa looked down, knowing she had no real recourse to that. “I know. You’re right. It is hard to explain, but… seeing someone like that, who has lost so much… Caelin… it’s too hard to think about. ”

So this is what the dragonriders of Ista have become? thought Caelin, sadly, so self absorbed that they didn’t even care to see any of their friends because it upset them? For the first time, he really understood what T’bayek used say when their discussion of the Weyr politics ran late into the night and wine bottle… there was something wrong in this Weyr.

But he didn’t say that out loud. He knew he didn’t carry a high enough rank to have the privilege to speak his mind. The only one he could ever really do that with was lying in the infirmary right now, for despite all of her friendliness Yenessa was still a ranker of the Weyr. Her ideas were more valid than his, and any real argument he put forward would get him into trouble. So he just stayed silent.

She shifted around, uncomfortable with his obvious disapproval, but having nothing to say when he said nothing. “Well? What do you want me to say?” She asked, at last.

“I want you to help me find a reason for T’bayek to live again.”

“I can think of every reason for him not to want to live.” She answered, honesty making her voice crack. “I can’t even imagine what it must be like, and to be surrounded by other people’s dragons…. Has anyone thought of taking him back to his home hold? Maybe he should be with family, now.”

Caelin rejected that idea right away. “No.” He said, firmly. “You know how he said he said he hated it there. Shards, that’d be the worst place for him to go! They’d eat him alive. You were in Weyrling training with him. You have to think of something!”

She was silent, staring at him with slow burning realization in her eyes, and at first he worried that he had gone too far with her. Yes, they were friends, but they were not equals and now she looked as if she was going to call him out on that. Her next words surprised him. “Did you ever tell him how you felt? Don’t deny it, Caelin.”

Caelin glanced down at the table, an unexpected lump sticking in the middle of his throat. “No. It doesn’t matter, anyway. He won’t want to hear it, and that’s not going to be good enough to make him want to live.” And as he said it, he knew it was true.

Reaching out, she covered his hand with her own, shapely fingers curving over his own wider ones. In her gentle touch she expressed the sorrow that her pride would not allow her to say out loud. “Caelin, it’s not a reflection on you. There can’t be any other way after Impression. Think about what it would feel like to lose Petrey, and then multiply that by a hundred.”

“I… I was never so good at math.”

“You know what I mean, dear.”

The lump expanded in his throat bringing with it a wash of despair and resignation so intense that he closed eyes. He was going to have to watch the man he cared for so deeply waste away, and there was nothing he could do for him. He wasn’t enough. He wasn’t even enough for T’bayek when Zhemyth was alive. That had been proven when they had danced at the last-

Wait a minute.

A cornel of an idea struck Caelin and he opened his eyes to look on Yenessa’s sympathetic face. “Turnover is today?” He had been so worried that he had quite forgotten the date.

But to his relief she nodded wiping a stray tear from her eye. “Yes.”

The despair dissipated from his mind, burned away by the barest flicker of hope. “Save two seats this evening, would you?” He asked, getting up.

“What? Why?”

Caelin couldn’t resist the barest ghost of a smile. “You know how much T’bayek loves his music.”

*******


He woke again to sharp words, a man and a woman holding a short but intense conversation over his head. Reluctantly opening his eyes, he saw the blond man again. Now, the caring voice that he had come to associate with his presence was gone. He and one of the females in healer’s knots were exchanging words.

Not caring, he closed his eyes, but was shaken a few moments later by the man. He was saying something, asking him to do… something. The meaning escaped him, and it hurt too much to understand anyway.

Unsatisfied with his lack of response, the man grabbed his arms in a firm yet supportive grip and tipped him up. Suddenly he found himself standing up. Feet that had only felt the cot mattress the last few days were suddenly on the ground and supporting him as he was pushed along. It didn’t matter where he was going.

There was nothing useful for his eyes to see. He didn’t care where he was being led. His legs felt weak, but they still worked. His balance was unsteady, but the hand on his shoulder made sure he didn’t tip. He didn’t care. Didn’t care about the seat he was finally instilled in with a woman with sad green eyes staring at him across the table.

More noises. More sounds. He let his chin fall on his chest, eyes staring straight ahead… seeing but not seeing.

It didn’t matter.

A sound in the air… a vibration that was no simple clatter or talk. Without meaning too, he tipped his head to the noise and was rewarded by another sound, a twang of an instrument. It was followed by another… and then opening notes.

Notes. Music.

The Duty song.

A flicker of a memory sparked up in the vague recesses of his mind. The Duty song was the first song he played as a boy… he had played it on the little flute his uncle had given to him until it had made his parents sick to hear it. For awhile, it had actually been banned at the cot hold, forcing him to find little tunings around the melody it so they would never know it was that very song he played.

Memories of his childhood seeped back, giving him a starting point for the man that was himself. His childhood had been difficult. Hands that should have been tuning instruments were instead put to work trying to turn out a decent harvest out of poor soil, but he had not known any other existence. For the most part, he had been happy.

Happy…

His memories, his soul did not come back to him like a dam bursting. It was like a snowball starting its long decent down a mountain, gathering speed and mass as it went.

Blinking his eyes, he saw objects and the people around him. A table. A plate. And the familiar man sitting to the side of him with hope in those light blue eyes of him. He looked horrible, like he hadn’t slept for a week. Concerned, he reached out, touching a hand to the side of the other man’s face, “Caelin?”

Caelin lit up into an incredulous smile, “Welcome back, my friend.” Reaching up, Caelin took the other man’s hand and curled his fingers around something cold and hard. It was an object he now recognized as a spoon. Someone had also placed a bowl of soup in front of him, too.

The Duty song ended, but just as he started to wonder at the loss of sound another chord was struck. It chased away the immediate deafening silence in his head. Sighing in relief, he picked up the spoon and ladled the broth in his mouth.

The moment the mild liquid hit his tongue he didn’t need any more encouragement to keep going. Suddenly he was aware of his body, aware of the deep ache in his stomach and thirst that he had not felt before, lost in his grief as he had been. The woman – Yenessa - placed a cup of water before him just as he started to look for it, and he gulped it down.

“How are you feeling, T’bayek?” She asked refilling the cup with a pitcher.

For a moment he was confused. The name sounded… alien to him. Wrong. It belonged to another man in another time. Someone special had been the first to call him that… way back in another lifetime. That thought brought a fresh wave of pain that lingered with him, as if a door had been opened in his mind that he couldn’t close again.

Shutting his eyes for a moment he shook his head. “Don’t call me that. I’m Tobay. Just… Tobay.”

“Okay.” Caelin squeezed his shoulder, and Tobay felt unexpectedly warm at the human contact.

The change to yet another song caught his attention, drawing him even away from the food. Turning his head towards it, he gave it his rapt attention. The sound of music helped to fill in the emptiness in his thoughts, and he was content to just stay still and listen.

The two sitting next to him seemed to sense that he didn’t want to talk and let him be, encouraging him to eat and drink mostly between the brief breaks.

Eventually, though, the toll of Tobay’s self imposed starvation started to catch up with him, robbing his body of energy. Before long his head started to bob against his chest.

“Tobay,” Yenessa said the word awkwardly, as she was not used to the new name yet. “Are you ready to go back to the infirmary now?”

Sleepily, he shook his head. “No. I don’t. Don’t make me…” He didn’t want to go back there to the sterile walls and the silence inside and out … to not wanting to eat or sleep… not wanting to exist. But he didn’t have the energy to express himself, nor had the words in his newly awakened mind.

“No?” She repeated, and if he would have looked at her he would have seen her frowning. “Caelin, install him in your room, then.”

He felt the other man give a little start behind him. “I can’t do that—“

“Well do you expect me to put him in my weyr?”

Weyr? He remembered he had a weyr…

“No, of course not.” Caelin gave a sigh of resignation, and the hand slipped again to Tobay’s shoulder. “Can you walk? It’s not far.”

He gave a tired nod and before he knew it he was being helped up again and led to another area. Although Caelin had only promised a short walk, he was exhausted and ready to collapse by the time he found the bed. Lying down with a groan, the last thing he felt before he drifted off was the warm feeling of Petrey curling up by the small of his back.

To be continued...

*******


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Old May 22 2007, 11:37 PM   #4
HarperBrandy
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Join Date: Apr 2007
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Default Chapter 3: Saturated Loneliness

Author’s Note: Sorry for the wait! After this, the plot is going to move along a little more quickly. Originally, the last chapter and this one were all supposed to be the same, but that would have ended up way too long!

Thank you for your reviews. I really, really enjoyed them. And as always, if you have any criticism to offer then don’t feel shy. And a HUGE thank you to both Laurie and Eminempern who helped me out with the grammar and spelling and things that simply didn’t make sense. Thank you!!1!!!one!1!!!



Chapter 3:
Saturated Loneliness


*******








The Weyrlingmaster wishes to see you.


Palomath’s soft warning made Angeli frown and push back from her desk. “What, now? I’m drowning under this hidework, dear…” Actually, she had been staring at the same sheet of hide - another dire report from the Headwoman - for the last ten minutes. Phasha was convinced that unless the Weyr had a better supply of garlic on hand the entire population would sicken and die by month’s end.

Add that request to the dozens of others this Weyr needed, but couldn’t have. Traditionally, during a Pass the generosity of Pern’s Hold’s streamed into the Weyr, but it was apparent that Holder greed knew no bounds. Oh, they had a dozen convenient excuses. Harvests were not large enough to have much spare. Trade was choked off by the quarantine. It took longer to make items that had multiple parts, such as flame throwers.

So many sharding excuses. Fingers were pointed everywhere but where they really belonged. If any of them had any honor at all, like her father, they would be doing their part for Weyr. Benden never lacked in their tithes…

But nothing ever got done. Nothing. And the hides kept on piling up…

Maybe she could use a break, after all.

“Tell him he’s free to come in.”

Even though the Weyrlingmaster had asked permission though his dragon, he still knocked on the door to announce his presence before opening it. Angeli nodded to him and offered him a seat, not looking him straight in the face, as always. The sight of his one gray blind eye never failed to make her feel a little queasy.

“Trying to get some work done, before the Fall, eh?” If the Weyrlingmaster ever noticed her reluctance to look at him, he never mentioned it. “Good for the old nerves?”

His tone was cordial, but the words made Angeli scowl. “We won’t be flying Fall with the Weyr this time. The Healers,” and her scowl deepened, “feel that the stitches on her neck are still too new to risk pulling them out while dodging Thread.”

“She is one out of only two golds we have. I don’t blame them for being careful. Not one bit.” The Weyrlingmaster paused, “Actually, it was about Threadfall that I came here. I tried to go to Gh’stin, but Lelioth tells me he’s not in the Weyr?”

There was a question in his tone, but Angeli didn’t feel compelled to answer it. D’en knew very well that Gh’stin had privileges to leave the Weyr to conduct business with the holders, as did she. As Weyrleaders, they were the only ones who did although she usually only left to visit her family in Benden. After all, someone had to conduct the business of receiving tithes from the Holders and hear their petty grievances. She didn’t know or care what Gh’stin was doing on this trip, but it wasn’t any of D’en’s business to be asking either.

“Until he gets back, I’m in charge. What do you need?”

D’en straightened his shoulders, “Well then Weyrwoman I regret to inform you that my Weyrlings will not be able to attend this Fall either. I have drilled them as ordered, but they are not ready.”

Angeli stared at him for a long moment then flicked her fingers, dismissing the Weyrlingmaster’s words, “Nonsense. You’re just nervous before the fall. I know you lost T’bayek’s dragon under your command, but you can’t blame yourself for that. Rest assured D’en. Palomath and I have full faith in your abilities.”

“This has nothing to do with Zhemyth. What happened was… was just an accident.” D’en shook his head and his one eye went a little unfocused as he relived that moment. Then again, the man had been strapped to T’bayek when it happened. “It was no one’s fault. These Weyrlings are too green, Angeli. If you and Palomath trust me to train them, then trust me on this. It will be a bloodbath up there if I let them fly fall today.”

“We need their wings, D’en.”

“What we need are well-trained adults. Not kids on half-grown dragonets making a mess of things up there!” he snapped, in what was coming very close to an insolent tone.

Angeli narrowed her eyes, glaring at him until he started to squirm around in his seat. She didn’t like the position he was putting her in. Gh’stin should be the one to handle the gruff Weyrlingmaster. He would know the right things to say, because right now D’en’s argument seemed too rational and sane. He would know how the Weyrlings would handle Threadfall, wouldn’t he? Or was he just making excuses for his own shortcomings? “Fine,” she said shortly, reaching over to shuffle the hides in front of her, “You have one more sevenday to train them up. Do it well, D’en or by the first egg there will be another Weyrlingmaster for Clea’s clutch.” The fighting wings would have to make up the lack, somehow.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She waved her hand in an impatient dismissal, and turned away to look at some of the hides, not in the mood to have him in her sight anymore. Only when she heard the creak of her office door closing did she let out a long disgusted sigh.

Gh’stin, where are you? she thought. The tithes can wait. I need you here.

Ozycath does not answer me. Palomath replied, concern tingeing her mental tone. He is sad about something, but will not tell me what.

“Those sharding Holders, I expect.” Angeli wanted to throw something - preferably something breakable - but held back the urge. If those Holders were lobbying to cut back on tithes again… Well, if anyone could handle it, Gh’stin could.

It was a shame she would have such bad news waiting for her hard working Weyrmate when he got back.


*******





Tobay woke up, startled to find himself in a completely unfamiliar room. He called out mentally to Zhemyth… only to find nothing where his dragon should have been. Hearing no answer, receiving no thought from his dragon for the first time sent a shock that reverberated down his spine, making him gasp and sit up.

Immediately, he tried to deny what his mind and the aching emptiness was telling him… No, no, no… Zhemyth cant’t be gone. He can’t be gone! … Oh please, come back… Come back…

The silent plea went on and on without any answer. There wouldn’t be an answer, not now, not ever. The knowledge that Zhemyth was lost from him forever set him teetering dangerously on the thin line between grief and insane denial.

No.. no! Come back… Please, Zhemyth…Come back…


Even as he silently called out, some small still undamaged part of Tobay struggled to not slip back into his own mind and back to the half-alive, half-dead state where he had existed for the past few days. It was the fighter in him, the part that kept him hopeful that things would change when he was a holder’s lad, the part that couldn’t let him shut up when there was an opinion aching to be spit out… it was the part that told him that while he was lost in his own mind in the infirmary, he hadn’t felt any better than he did now. In fact, with nothing to distract his mind with, it had been worse… so much worse…

Turning around, he hugged one of the pillows to his chest, gripping the thing with white-knuckle strength as if he was holding onto his own sanity. In many ways, he was.

He was alone… all alone.

A friendly chirp sounded in his ear, and a pinprick of claws gently digging into his back let him know that at least he wasn’t alone in this room, even if he was in his mind. It was a minor comfort, but he would take whatever he could. Tobay exhaled a breath he wasn’t aware he had been holding and forced himself to relax, muscle by muscle. He wasn’t alone in the room. The fire lizard was there, with him… he wasn’t alone…

Petrey crooned in encouragement, crawling around him to stick his muzzle right in front of Tobay’s face. Hesitantly, the dragonless man reached out to scratch the brown’s eye ridges. It seemed to be what the creature wanted.

The simple action of voluntary movement sparked the memories of the night before, and suddenly Tobay remembered that it was Caelin who had brought him into this room in the first place. Did this room belong to him? It did seem rather homely, but still to large to be able to belong to someone of his minor rank.

“Where’s Caelin?” he asked the fire lizard, his voice coming out as more of a croak than anything else. Despite last night’s meal, his throat was parched with lack of water.

But the brown was not bonded to him, and simply crooned again, much more interested in enjoying his scratch than answering.

He need not have worried. A moment later there was a single knock on the door and Caelin elbowed it open while holding a tray stacked with food and drink. He paused at the entrance, a smile lighting up his features when he saw that Tobay was awake. “Petrey told me you were waking up. Good morning… or rather, good afternoon.”

Tobay swallowed, and sat himself up in the bed, suddenly feeling uncertain and guilty at the same time. There was no one in his mind now to back him up, and without that sure knowledge and constant support he had come to rely on he felt lost. “I’m sorry.” he murmured, looking down at the blanket.

“T’bay—Tobay, its fine. You needed to rest.” Walking over, Caelin sat the tray on the bed beside him. He was quiet for a moment, studying his friend. “I know this probably not the right thing to ask, but how are you feeling?”

How was he feeling? Tobay stared at him for a moment, not knowing how to put the aching emptiness inside in mere words. It almost hurt too much to talk, so he shrugged one shoulder in response and picked up the cup that was on the tray, swallowing carefully. As much as he wanted water, he had the feeling that if he drank too much too fast he wouldn’t be able to hold it down.

Caelin seemed to accept his silence as an answer, “Fair enough.” He nodded and pushed the tray closer.

Taking the hint, Tobay grabbed up one of the meatrolls and chewed on its end. It had been stuffed with chunks of fish that were delicious against taste buds that had been without for so long. The savory taste reminded him of the night when the Harpers had came… when he had been whole again. Suddenly, the meatroll didn’t taste all that good any longer and he put it back on the tray.

Caelin was watching him. He could feel those blue eyes on him, silently questioning. “We got a surprise tithe in of fish early last sevenday from one of the sea holds, and that’s all the whole Weyr has been rationed out. I could see if we’ve some winter fruit in the storerooms, if you would prefer that.”

Tobay shook his head in answer. It had been not the taste that had put him off, but the memories that eating had brought up. Part of him wanted to ask Caelin why he had made him eat in the first place last night, why he wanted him to live so badly… but he was afraid he wasn’t ready for the answer right now. So he asked something else instead, “How long?”

The other man hesitated, brows furrowing as he tried to figure out what he meant. “How long have you been—“ he cut that sentence off short, realizing that where it was going wasn’t exactly tactful. “You’ve been… out,” yes, ‘out’ was a safe word, as if Tobay had been asleep all of this time, “for about a sevenday.”

“So what do I do now?” The question came unbidden and Tobay looked up at Caelin, lost and confused. Ever since he had Impressed had known where his place in the world was. Now, he didn’t know. What was there for him now?

“Well, first you’re going to finish the food, because I promised the Healers that if you stayed with me I would make you eat.” Caelin smiled gently, “You’ve lost a lot of weight, and you didn’t have that much to begin with.”

He couldn’t have cared less about the food, or for that matter how emaciated he had become. “No, I mean, what do I do after that? With my life?”

Caelin didn’t have an answer for that. “I don’t know.” He paused, feeling obliged to tell him of the offer he had been told to pass on even though if the very idea made his stomach clench. “The Weyrleaders have given you the option to break the quarantine and return to your family’s hold, if you want.”

Tobay glanced sharply at him, “Is that what most …dragonless do?”

“I don’t know. “ Caelin answered, after a moment. “Not many people choose, well what I mean to say is—“

“Not many people live after their dragons die, and I know why that is.” He swung his head back and forth against a new wave of loneliness that wanted to push into his mind, unleashed by breaching the subject. “Shards, Caelin! It’s so quiet!”

Again Caelin was silent for a moment. Looking at the bed, he gave a deep sigh. “I wouldn’t ever presume to know what you’re going though. I don’t think anybody really can, but I think going back would be a mistake. The people need you out here in the Weyr. You were a bronzerider.” He saw Tobay flinch at those words, but continued. The last thing his friend needed right now was to have someone mince words with him. “And that means something special.”

“I can’t do this… it’s too hard.” Still shaking his head, tears running down his face, he nevertheless picked up the meatroll again and bit into it. His stomach hurt too much to be ignored again like it had been in the last few days.

“Well, it’s just a thought.” Caelin watched him for a moment, hiding the relief that at least he was eating again. “But you aren’t going to be alone in this, you know.” Then, perhaps realizing what he had just said, he backtracked, “Petrey hasn’t left your side.”

Tobay snorted something that was almost a laugh. “Petrey?” he repeated doubtfully, wiping his eyes on his sleeve to look at the fire lizard. “Are you saying I have to live for Petrey?”

“He would be devastated if you go.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” he cleared his throat, and pointed again to the tray, feeling as if he was too close to a long-standing, forbidden topic between the two of them. “Eat. Please.”

Tobay regarded him for a long second, the same question playing on the back of his mind. He felt too emotionally exhausted to pursue it, though so he did what he was told, finishing the small meal in front of him with no great difficulty. “There,” he said, swallowing the last bite, “Is Petrey happy, now?”

“Extremely.” The brown was actually curled up asleep at the foot of the bed, not very interested in the talk between the two humans. Clearing the tray off of his bed, Caelin pushed a glass of wine at him. “And please drink this. It’ll help you sleep.”

He pushed it back, “I’ve slept enough.” What he didn’t say was that he was afraid of what dreams would come if he did lay down again. Last night, he had been too tired to dream, but he couldn’t be sure of that again.

“Healer’s orders. They want you to sleep out the rest of the day, if possible.”

Tobay caught a tone in Caelin’s voice. “Why?”

The drudge looked down for a moment as if slightly embarrassed to have to remind him. He didn’t want to lie, though. “Thread falls today, and they think it would be…you know…easier.”

Thread. Shards, how could have he forgotten? The Falls had been such a steady pattern even this early in the Pass that he had easily come to remember and anticipate when they were due. It was obvious why Caelin and the Healers wanted him to sleep. With Thread, there was the chance of dragon deaths and the thought of having to hear those keens again brought a shudder he couldn’t quite suppress. Tobay grabbed for the fellis laced wine, downing it quickly. “Thanks,” he said softly, placing the glass back down on the tray.

“You’re doing great, you know.” Caelin offered, tentatively.

“That’s… good to know.” There must have been a strong dose of fellis in the wine, for he was already starting to feel the effects of it. A comfortable, warm feeling was seeping into his mind, driving out the nagging anxiety over the silence around him. Exhaling in relief, he lay back down on the pillows. “You’ll stay here with me?”

“Me and a couple hundred fire lizards, yes.”

“Oh…” His mind most definitely felt fuzzy and out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a pile of blankets on the floor. At first he couldn’t figure out the significance of it, until it hit him suddenly. “You don’t have to sleep on the floor, anymore. It’s your own bed.”

Caelin smiled “You’re drunk.”

“I’m not-” But he didn’t finish that sentence. The fellis had taken over.


*****



Voenath! Get your tail after that clump!
Gh’stin heard Ozycath bark before the bronze fell into a dive, chasing after a clump that they had missed. When they were a half wing-span away the lanky bronze opened his mouth and breathed out a long gout of fire, sizzling the strands expertly. Then, with a lurch he powered his way back up to the forefront of Diamond Wing.

There was a squeal somewhere from below, the unique scream of a dragon being hit by surprise. Gh’stin tried not to pay it any more attention than he had too, lest it break his own concentration, but it was hard.

They had lost three already in this Fall.

Alieth was just clipped. Ozycath reported moments later, Just a normal, happy Fall, eh Gh’stin?

The bronze’s usual sarcasm did nothing to lift his spirits. The thread had fallen hard and thick like a sudden spring downpour in this fall. It was three quarters over, but the Weyr losses seemed too hard to bear. They were short winged, and had been struggling not to let too much through from the very start.

Lifting his hand to wipe some of the ash and char off his goggles, Gh’stin took a moment to look down at the ground the dragonriders of Pern were literally dying to protect. Rocks. Yellowed weeds. No trees nor signs of human habitations for as far as he could see.

With a sigh of defeat, he laid his hand on the bronze’s warm neck. “Call in the wings.”

There was a distinct pause. I’m sorry. I’m too busy fighting Thread to hear you.

“I’m serious. Call in the wings. We’re done here.” He would not risk the rest of the healthy riders, or his own dragon’s hide on uninhabited land.

Another pause and this time Ozycath obeyed. The roar he called out to the wings under him was returned moments later by confused warbles and mental queries. Filling his lungs, Ozycath roared again and this time it was an unmistakable command with the type of force behind it only the Weyrleader’s dragon could have. No dragon dared to disobey him. No dragon could disobey him, but perhaps for Palomath.

They are not happy, but they return with us.
Ozycath reported, and a moment later gave the signal to go /between/.

Gh’stin found himself surrounded the moment Ozycath touched ground.

“What is the meaning of this?” bronzerider B’yau demanded, having dismounted his own bronze and stripped his fighting helmet off. “Thread is still falling! Opal wing still had plenty of steam left. We could have kept going!” The other Wingleaders were approaching, and behind them in loose groups of twos and threes came the green and blueriders. The lesser colors hung back behind their bronzes and browns with expressions ranging from alarm to annoyed impatience. Gh’stin ignored them.

“I will not sacrifice valuable dragon lives over uninhabited land, Wingleader.” he barked, not bothering to dismount. He wanted his voice to carry over to the very back of the crowd and silence the doubters.

“Sir,” R’jule objected, “An established burrow could travel-“

“Where? How? Thread does not dine on rocks.” Scouring that ugly land of the yellowed weeds could improve its features, in his private opinion.

Brownrider F’ron limped forward. The man had a obvious hole in the thigh of his left pant leg. Either he had been lightly scored or had been burned by another dragon’s falling char. “Sir, our duty is to fight Thread wherever it falls.” A few riders behind him raised their voices in support of his words.

Gh’stin favored the man with a withering look. He would tolerate opinions strong enough to be backtalk from his bronzes, but the brownrider was going too far. He had been a fool to promote the man to Wingleader. “You think me a fool enough to jeopardize the lives of our holders? There is nothing to the west but uninhabited land, and the mountain range we passed will do well enough to stop any burrows if they get established.” Now he turned from the fool brownrider to the Weyr in general. The gathering now included the Weyrfolk, so Gh’stin raised his voice to be heard over their babble. “We have three to grieve today. Services will be held tomorrow at mid-day. Dragonriders, you are dismissed to your weyrs.”

There was a general subdued murmur as the large group dispersed. The Weyr had just lost two greens and a brown. No one was going to forget this Fall for a while.

Gh’stin stayed perched on Ozycath’s neck until the last had gone away to their duties. Then, sighing, he dismounted and pulled off his riding gloves, shoving them inside his belt. “Have D’en meet me in my office.” he told his dragon.

He wanted to hear the Weyrlingmaster’s excuses for not including his class in person.




************

As the days dragged by, and Tobay’s strength improved, he found himself more and more restless. Noticing this, Caelin often accompanied him on quiet walks around the lower caverns, and when he was stronger, around the Weyr itself.

He did enjoy those walks, as much as he could enjoy anything anymore, but the outings were always more emotionally draining than physically. He had not wanted to ask about the previous Threadfall, but he could feel the tension in the Weyr. No one approached him for friendly chats like they would have when he rode Zhemyth. Those he did speak to treated him differently, although Caelin insisted that they didn’t. Tobay knew the truth, though. People kept their conversations with him brief, as if fearing to say the wrong thing. Worse, they never looked at him in the eyes. Not even Yenessa. It was almost as if they were afraid of what they would see there.

He finally became fed up with it one evening a few nights later when Yenessa came to join them for supper.

“Why aren’t you wearing your rank knots?” Caelin asked, politely nodding to the Wingthird as she sat down.

To both Caelin and Tobay’s surprise, she looked down at the table top and blushed. “I’ve been out of action the last few days. I got – I’m pregnant.”

Tobay jerked in surprise, set down his fork, and tried to think back to when the last time her Redrath rose for a flight. Oh shards… it couldn’t be... “It’s not mine, is it?”

“No!” Her sharp tone was too sincere to be faked, although he noticed that once again she was carefully avoiding looking at his face. Instantly that washed away any sense of relief and instead raised his ire.

“Thank Faranth” he said, not bothering to hide the acid on his tongue.

She jerked back in surprise at his rudeness, finally (much to his relief) really looking at him for the first time since the accident, “For your information, Tobay, it’s F’rad’s. Not that he cares any about it.” Yenessa broke her gaze and looked down at the table, teeth nibbling at her bottom lip.

But Tobay wasn’t really in the mood for a pity-party. “So?” Having her just look at him for wasn’t good enough. He dug the dagger point in, irrationally wanting her to hurt as much as he did, if only for a moment. “He probably doesn’t want to deal with you while you’re pregnant, not that I can blame him.”

Caelin tried to diffuse the situation, peacemaker that he naturally was. “Tobay… Yenessa, calm down-”

“Stay out of this, Caelin” Seeing Yenessa looking at him again, he matched her glare for glare. Nor did he try to hide the disgust of what he was feeling, now that the full implication of what was going on had hit him. “What are you thinking? You worked yourself and Redrath to the bone to get your rank and now you’re throwing it away for what? F’rad? You don’t deserve to be Wingthird.”

“That’s not how it is!” Embarrassed and angry, the greenrider stood up, accidentally knocking her chair out behind her. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, so just—just shut up!”

His words had hit a nerve, that much was clear. But Tobay was on a roll now, more animated than he had been since Zhemyth’s death. “Oh I get it. You think that having F’rad’s child will make him suddenly love you, don’t you?”

“Maybe,” Yenessa’s eyes narrowed, “but after the baby is born at least I’ll still have Redrath. Who will you have, Tobay?” She said his name like in insult, and her point made, she threw down her napkin and stalked off.

Tobay watched her go, and suddenly realized that the exchange between them had not gone unnoticed. Now, quite a lot of people were now staring at him, looking away only when he matched their stares. Probably, they thought he was unstable.

Wasn’t he?

As much as he wished that people would look at him again, now that they were again he felt an uneasy chill go down his spine. Abandoning his meal, he too stalked out of the lower caverns.

The air was cool and damp enough to warrant a sweater, but Tobay didn’t care. He kept walking across the bowl, heading for the edge where the great lake dumped back into the sea by way of a large waterfall. It would be the furthest away from the lower caverns he could get without actually leaving the Weyr.

The waterfall was massive, and the Ancients had long ago built a pathway with a real steel railing so that people could walk along the edge without tipping over. Well, unless they actually climbed over the barrier.

Finally stopping, Tobay stood against the railing, looking down into the plunging water far below. He didn’t allow himself to entertain the thought of simply plunging in, even though the sharp rocks at the bottom would insure a quick death. Sometime, unconsciously when he had first started eating again he had made the decision to keep living… and he wasn’t about to throw that away over a stupid spat.

He wasn’t surprised when Caelin joined him a few minutes later, for he had seen Petrey following discreetly behind him the whole time. The only thing he hadn’t expected was the wry, tired tone in Caelin’s voice. “Well, are you happy now?”

“No.” he answered truthfully, still gazing at the waterfall.

“Why did you have to be so cruel to her? She’s going though a tough time, you know.”

“And I’m not?!” He turned on Caelin with such ferocity in his eyes that the other man took a step back. “She can’t risk her rank like this, and don’t tell me losing a baby isn’t an option. It’s nothing, nothing compared to what I’m going though! And she wants my sympathy? She won’t even look me in the eyes, Caelin!”

Caelin pursed his lips, “That doesn’t give you the right to hurt her feelings.”

“Oh, so you’re my moral compass as well as my nurse?”

“Someone has to be, obviously.”

Tobay found he didn’t have an immediate comeback for that. It was a lot easier to insult Yenessa than Caelin. So he settled for a simple murmured, “Shut up,” and turned back to looking at the waterfall.

He heard Caelin sigh and felt the other man’s shoulder brush against his own as he joined him in overlooking the waterfall. For a few minutes, there was nothing but thick silence between the two of them. Then Caelin gave a deep sigh and spoke up, letting him in on his inner thoughts. “The man I used to know wouldn’t ever act that way to Yenessa, or to me… even if he was hurting inside.”

Somehow those words hurt far more than what Yenessa had thrown at him. Tobay found that he had no reply and so said nothing, letting Caelin’s words ring inside of his head. The silence dragged on and on as the sunset deepened the sky into a ruddy orange color. With it, the anger faded ever so slightly, leaving behind exhaustion and embarrassment. He could feel the other man’s disappointment and worry for him like a dragon-weight, making him feel guilty. Caelin was trying to do all he could for him… it wasn’t his fault that nothing he could do would ever take away the loneliness and the pain.

With a sigh, he turned to look at Caelin for a long moment. He didn’t deserve him. “Don’t follow me,” Tobay said, roughly, turning around and walking away.



********




Tobay walked until his thighs and calves started to burn. Part of him relished in the exercise, embracing the burning pain in his legs so that he could forget the crushing silence in his mind, the loneliness… the guilt.

Zhemyth… I should have been able to protect you, He thought to the empty void in his mind. I should have died along with you, like any decent man would. It should have been me who was hit first… not you. Oh, my beautiful dragon…

The thought of living the rest of his life without Zhemyth’s warm enthusiasm and lust for life was… unbearable. Tobay felt like a dried up husk without him. As if all the good things in his life, all the happiness he had been sucked out of him, gone /between/ just as surely as his bronze had.

Legs now burning fiercely, Tobay slowed to a stop and leaned against the large flat rock that stretched upward for dragonlenths, helping to shape the Weyr. He had stayed within the parameters of the Weyr, knowing just like all Weyr folk did that if he were to leave he may never be allowed to come back with the quarantine. No, only dragonriders were allowed the privilege of leaving these hallowed walls. And he certainly wasn’t one anymore.

He knew that rationally he had gone way overboard with Yenessa, although he couldn’t really bring himself to feel very sorry for it. Shards, what kind of man was he turning into? Would it be only a matter of time before he turned his pain and guilt on Caelin as well?

Caelin….


The only time Tobay ever felt like things would ever be remotely okay again was when he was around the other man… and that was wrong, wasn’t it? Why should he feel anything akin to comfort ever again? Certainly Zhemyth would never get that chance. It was wrong to want someone so soon after a dragon’s death. Caelin would think he was crazy… or worse, think that Tobay was just grateful for waking him out of that haze. As horrible as he felt now, it was better than being so lost in his mind with grief he couldn’t move or think.

Even though he knew it would hurt, he couldn’t stop his eyes from shifting upward as he thought, focusing on the weyr that he and Zhemyth used to share. And sure enough looking at the empty ledge was like a stab right to his heart.

As was the detection of movement.

Tobay blinked, eyebrows furrowing as he tried to peer though the failing light of dusk. Yes! There it was again, a movement of a body on the ledge… large… large enough to only be a bronze.

No… it couldn’t be…

The figure moved again and fanned its wings…

All of a sudden there was new life in his legs, and Tobay ran across the bowl, not pausing to slow down for even the steps that led to his old weyr. Those he took, two at a time, mind drumming out only one thought in time with each foot fall … Zhemyth

“Zhemyth!” he cried, the word leaving his lips unbidden as he reached the top step.

Umm… no?


The bronze, large and lean with a hide that shown like copper turned around to regard him in wry amusement.

It was not Zhemyth. It was Ozycath.

Tobay skittered to a stop, clutching at the side of the Weyr wall with one hand, nearly losing his footing. For a moment he allowed himself to think that maybe somehow, someway his Zhemyth had returned back to him. He should have known better than to allow himself to hope, to believe that maybe all of this loneliness was just a nightmare.

The Weyrleader’s bronze was staring at him, whirling eyes mixing a strange color of blue and yellow in the advancing darkness. Under his spinning gaze, he felt compelled to explain his actions. “I… I just thought…” he paused and took a shuttering breath, unable to finish. Seeing the bronze up close was painful in a completely new and disturbing way that he hadn’t felt before.

He looked away, towards the maw of his old weyr. There wasn’t any light emanating from the room within. Ozycath was alone on the ledge. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

He actually didn’t expect an answer. No dragon other than Zhemyth had spoken to him before other than a simple yes or no. To his surprise, though, Ozycath answered him in a brash, sarcastic voice that echoed harshly in his mind. Well, it wasn’t like you were using it. With those words came the distinct impression that the dragon didn’t feel like being bothered, and that Tobay had better find somewhere else to go.

Again Tobay looked away, unable to stand the sight of another dragon – a bronze no less – occupying the spot where another had been, “I guess so. I… I better be going.” He turned around, heading for the mouth of the stairway, but was cut off by a sudden jerk from Ozycath’s tail blocking his path.

Wait.

Tobay didn’t turn around to address him. “Why?”

Ozycath huffed out loud in annoyance and extended his neck, gently tapping the man’s back with the point of his muzzle. You were with Zhemyth? At Tobay’s nod, he continued. My rider didn’t know you were out of the infirmary. Maybe you shouldn’t be.

Dragons hardly ever gave unsolicited opinions, even to their own riders. At least, Zhemyth hadn’t. This, combined with the bronze’s dire warning caused him to finally turn around. “I don’t belong there. I belong-- I don’t know where I belong anymore.” The admission caused his throat to tighten up, “Maybe nowhere.”

How melodramatic.
Positioning himself with his front legs crossed, Ozycath made a point of opening up his wide jaw to yawn.

This bronze was talking to him unlike any dragon he had experience with. For a crazy moment, Tobay even wondered if he had simply gone insane. Perhaps there wasn’t a bronze on this forgotten ledge, and he was talking to air. Maybe he had lost it completely--

I’m not air. Ozycath quite literally interrupted his thoughts. And you’re not crazy, but I’m bored up here. Why don’t you sit by me a bit, and tell me about Zhemyth. I don’t think I knew him very well. At least, I don’t remember. He pulled back one of his wings, allowing Tobay a warm sheltered spot to sit.

The ex-rider hesitated for a moment, still unsure if his shattered mind was making all of this up or not, but when he sat down the hide next to his back was warm. He could hear Ozycath’s deep, regular breathing and faint double heart beats from his deep chest. “I don’t know where to begin.”

What did he look like?


“Well,” Tobay said, “he didn’t have your length, but he made up for it in muscle. I… I used to worry about him when he was a hatchling, because the other colors seemed to be all sleek and long. He was just a big round ball with a tail and a head sticking out on either side. I remember he told me one time that he came from an egg, that’s why he got his shape.” A slight smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, and he looked down at the ground, vivid memories surging up from his mind of events and conversations that he hadn’t thought of, literally, in turns. “But Weyrlingmaster D’en wasn’t worried, and Zhemyth grew into himself within a few months, just like he said he would. Zhemyth was usually right about things like that…”

He continued talking, then, telling Ozycath everything there was to know about Zhemyth. Most of the memories he had of his dragon were happy ones, for Zhemyth had been an upbeat dragon. He loved life, he loved sunning himself in the morning and swimming in the evening, he loved scheming of ways to get Palomath’s attention, and he loved him. His T’bayek.

Ozycath was a good listener, interjecting with questions at the right moments, and little rumbles of approval when liked a particular memory.

And by the time the sun had long past set and his throat had gone raw from speaking, Tobay found himself crying again. But they weren’t the gut-wrenching sobs of when he had cried before. This was something healthier, a more natural type of grief.

Eventually those, too quieted and Tobay looked up from under the great wing to the cloudy Ista sky. Though the haze of mist, he could see the glow of the two moons high in the sky. It had to be somewhere around midnight. “You should go.”

I was needed here. Nevertheless, Ozycath rose from his position, shaking his hide free of dust much like a canine would rid himself of water. Once he was done he turned and snaked his head back to Tobay. You are strong. You will be fine. It sounded more like an order than a simple statement, and without waiting for a response he leapt from the ledge, beating his wings in the cool air before disappearing into the incoming mist.

Tobay watched the bronze until he could no longer distinguished his shape any longer. Then slowly, he turned back to the weyr that used to be his. The double moons cast oddly shaped shadows across the ledge, and if he used his imagination enough… they formed a shape that almost looked like a sleeping bronze dragon.

“Goodbye, Zhemyth.” he told it, before turning and walking down the short staircase.

*******



Caelin had been laying in bed for hours, but sleep hadn’t come. He wasn’t kept up by the regular deep throbbing ache of overused muscles from a hard day’s drudging. If it were only that, he could swipe some numbweed from one of the store cupboards and be done with it.

No, his mind was too active to sleep. Busy twisting and turning over the thought of what he should do about Tobay… and there wasn’t any numbweed that could cure that sort of pain.

He had respected his wishes, and not followed him. Maybe a stronger man would have, but Caelin had the feeling that Tobay had to figure things out for himself. Today he had been confronted with the fact that he could stand beside Tobay, give encouragement, and make him eat when he didn’t feel like it… but he could do nothing for his pain. In fact, he was probably the least qualified person in the Weyr to understand what he was going though. When it came down to it no one could really help Tobay cope with a loss that big. No one.

Part of Caelin – most of him - wanted to get up, throw back the covers, find Tobay and just shake sense back into him. There were people who needed him. The Weyr needed his ideas, his leadership and passion for justice… shards, he needed him. He knew was wrong to want someone to live just for himself. Wrong and horribly selfish…but true.

Caelin closed his eyes, finally admitting it to himself. He needed Tobay to live. For him.

He must have dozed off for the next thing he knew, Petrey was giving an annoyed squawk for being disturbed, and someone was climbing under the covers with him.

“Tobay?” He asked hazily, although in retrospect there should have been no one else creeping into his bed in the middle of the night.

“Yes.” The voice was soft and abruptly Caelin felt the other man’s hand’s cupping his jaw, thumb softly stroking the side of his cheek. “I’m sorry.”

Caelin shook his head, following the arm down to the body and pulling him closer. “It’s okay.” He was just glad that he was here, safe.

In the past few nights, Tobay had sought out comfort in the middle of the night, wanting to feel Caelin’s arms around him. Wanting to know that someone was there, and that he wasn’t alone. Although they were physically close, there hadn’t been anything sexual in those touches, and Caelin thought that Tobay was after the same thing tonight… until he felt soft breath on his face, and lips pressed against lightly against his own. It was a soft, questioning kiss. One that Caelin couldn’t help but answer with one of his own, deeper, more sensual.

The kiss was how he remembered it a little more than a Turn ago…no… it was better. This time there was no alcohol to blame it on, no people around to question and judge what exactly a bronzerider and a drudge were doing together. They had all the privacy and time in the world to learn each other’s taste and feel how the other moved… but this time around, Caelin was the one who pulled back. “Shardit,” he cursed, lips an inch away, “I can’t. You can’t.” Not when his friend was like this, half out of his mind with grief. He knew he would be taking advantage of the situation, although his traitor body yearned for more.

“Yes I can.” Tobay told him firmly, sliding his hands up the other man’s back and pulling him closer until Caelin was pressed against his small, liethe frame. Though the semi-darkness Caelin could see a slight smile tug at the corner of his lips. It was a far cry from the confident grin T’bayek used to sport, but he would take it. “You may not have noticed, but I’m not a bronzerider anymore.”

Caelin groaned and took Tobay’s mouth for another kiss. And another. And finally, for awhile there was no talking at all.


*************



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Old Aug 21 2007, 10:19 AM   #5
HarperBrandy
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Join Date: Apr 2007
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Default Chapter 4: Casting Shade

Chapter 4: Casting Shade

Author’s note: Sorry about the wait! Because of the long delay, I decided not to bug my betas and expect them to get back into a story that’s been on hold for a few months. So I tried to catch what I could, but there may be errors.

OOOOOOOOOO

The next morning, Tobay woke up with ears full of the sound of a firelizard snoring in his ear. Wincing, he turned away, and instead encountered the soft weight of another and larger form next to his own.

Caelin.

The other man sleeping soundly next to him, body slightly arched so that he leaned towards Tobay, as if wanting to touch him even as he slumbered.

For moment Tobay lay there, watching him. Last night had been a new experience for him exciting, wonderful and good. For a few moments in the peak of it all he had forgotten about the emptiness inside. Those brief seconds gave him hope that the constant emptiness inside would fade... someday.

He could never stop loving his beloved Zhemyth, but maybe one day he could allow himself to heal some scar tissue over the void that was left under his passing.

Beside him, Caelin stirred a bit upon waking and the hand over Tobay’s waist tightened for a moment in reflex. “Are you okay?” He asked, clearly uncertain about the other man’s feelings in waking up with him, like this.

Tobay turned over to face him and contentedly spent the next few minutes convincing him that he felt perfectly fine about the entire situation.

“Thank you,” he said, afterwards.

Caelin bent his head down, nuzzling the hollow of Tobay’s throat. “For?”

“For not treating me like an invalid, last night…. I acted badly.” He arched up slightly, body tingling.

“Hmm…” Caelin raised his head to look in the other man’s eyes, “You may want to tell Yenessa that as well.”

Oh yeah. He had almost forgotten about that. In hindsight, now that the fog of anger had cleared from his mind, he supposed he had been a tad to harsh on her. He did need to apologize… and maybe bring a shield along with him to duck under all the things she was going to throw. “Care to come along, see the show?”

He grinned, “I don’t want to have to break up a fight between you two.”

“I-“ Tobay stopped, tensing up underneath Caelin.

“What’s wrong?” But before he could get an answer out of the other man, Petrey awoke from his sleep and rose up on his hind legs, uttering out a tribute. Then Caelin heard the sound too, filtering though the walls. The sound of dragons keening. Gripping the former bronzerider’s shoulders, he felt a moment of panic. Tobay’s dark eyes were vacant, as if he was struggling to listen to something very far away…something which he would never hear again. His look was that which he had in the infirmary, physically present but not there. “Tobay, talk to me!”

The dragonless man blinked, coming back to himself. “I’m fine,” he murmured, distracted, but his hand gripped Caelin’s with white knuckled strength. “I’m fine… who was it?”

“You don’t know?”

Receiving a quick shake of his head, Caelin queried the keening firelizard. What he got in response was disturbing. “Three dragons—no,” he closed his eyes, hating to have to say it out loud, “Weyrlings. They were lost practicing /between/.” He had promised himself long ago that he wouldn’t mince words with Tobay, but he still couldn’t bring himself to mention that one of the dead was the bronze Weyrling. Luckily, the other man didn’t ask for any further details. “Will you be okay?”

He swallowed, and nodded. “Yes. Just… just give me a moment?”

Sensing this was not the time to continue what they had started, Caelin got up, leaving Tobay to find his equilibrium himself, as he requested.


OOOOOOOOOO



Later that day, Tobay ventured out into the lower caverns, hoping to keep his promise and apologize to Yenessa. The mood of the place was grim, he noticed, which fitted him perfectly right now, for despite his almost optimistic thoughts this morning it had shaken him to the core to hear the sounds of keening dragons again. It had taken him back to the moment when Zhemyth left, and the first time he had reached out with his mind to encounter nothing at all. Every keen had brought back that memory, forcing him to face it again and again.

It made him wonder how he was going to survive living in the Weyr.

Yenessa was nowhere to be found, which probably meant she was still sulking, so instead Tobay’s sharp eyes focused on the barrel chested form of D’en sitting at one of the back tables. He paused, watching him for a moment. The man had at least four empty mugs of ale before him and was currently nursing a fifth. He knew that it was hard for Weyrlingmasters when they lost their Weyrlings in practices, but he had never noticed D’en taking it this badly. Had F’ron, his Wingleader, been that desolate when Zhemyth had died? Had it mattered to anyone, other than Caelin?

Quickly shaking his head as if to push that thought away, he approached the table. “Do you mind if I have a seat?” He hadn’t spoken to D’en after the incident, and had never gotten the chance to thank him for catching him out of the air -- and as much as he still wasn’t sure it was a good thing -- saving his life.

“Eh?” D’en looked up from his ale and waved towards the empty seat. Then he took a double take. “Why… it’s you! Didn’t imagine I’d be seeing you around here, ‘round the riders.”

After a moment of hesitation, he slid into the seat. “Well, the drunk Weyrlingmaster’s aren’t so bad.”

D’en barked out a loud drunken laugh which unfortunately gave Tobay a whiff of his rank ale soaked breath. “I knew I always liked you!” He slapped Tobay heartily on his thin shoulder, hard enough to make him wince. “Although I ain’t the Weyrlingmaster anymore, lad.”

He stared in surprise. “What do you mean? They sacked you?” He couldn’t believe that. Not for a Weyrling accident…

“Sacked… involuntary resigned… whatever.” He gave a shrug, “Weyrleader didn’t like me losing three Weryrlings, and the Weyrwoman didn’t like the sounding out I gave him over putting them in the air too early. So,” he gave another shrug and drank deeply from his mug.

Tobay’s eyes rapidly darted back and forth as he tried to remember whom out of the brownriders were not currently holding rank. The bronzers, of course were out of the question. Sak’ney was the only one who had none, and that was only because he was a Weyrling. “But… who will take your place, then?”

“Don’t know.” He pulled the ale away from his lips, looking deep within it for a moment, “don’t care.”

Tobay was too deep in thought to respond right away. It had been awhile since he had let himself think or care about the state of the Weyr, and he struggled for a moment with thoughts and figures that seemed suddenly rusty. “Maybe C’onsan… his Macusth is large enough to handle a bronze or a gold if it got in trouble in the air during a first flight.”

The Exweyrlingmaster snorted into his ale. “You seriously think that Trenith will throw a gold when she rises next? That fat slug!?”

Tobay shot him an annoyed look, “I was thinking more about Sak’ney. You said it yourself that he needed some confidence—what?” He had just noticed D’en staring at him, a look of pity on his guff face.

“You mean… they didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“Sak’ney’s dead, son.” D’en cleared his throat against the tightening in his throat. “Him, S’podo and F’kry.”

Tobay leaned back against his chair, feeling like he had the air knocked out of him. Another bronze, and a brown and a blue? How much more could the Weyr loose in such a short time? Almost instinctively he reached out for the place in his mind where Zhemyth had been, for comfort, only to find himself grasping empty air.

“Son?” D’en’s thick hand shook his shoulder roughly, a touch much less comforting than Caelin’s, but it did the trick and snapped him out of his haze.

“I—I didn’t know.” He looked up at the man, meeting his red rimmed eyes. Not all of the puffyness there was from drinking, he was sure. “Shards and Shells… That leaves only five bronzes left in the Weyr, and how many browns? Eleven?”

“Twelve.” D’en corrected, a wry smile. “Yes, our Weyrleaders will have a tough time finding a replacement for me. Drink?”

He declined the offer with a wave of his hand, too concerned over D’en’s apathy .“And you don’t care, do you?”

“Not my job to care.” D’en leaned back, considering. “Not anymore. It ain’t yours, either.”

Because he wasn’t a dragonrider anymore. Came the thought, too bitter on his tongue to speak out loud. “Maybe not,” he answered, deciding that maybe a drink wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Tobay filled himself a glass and took a sip, mulling what he had just found out in his mind.

How stupid and selfish he had been these last few sevendays! The world hadn’t stopped turning just because Zhemyth was gone. The Weyr was in the same exact state it had been before. No, it was in an even worse position now that D’en was off duty. The Weyr had just lost one of the best teachers, one of the most able leaders of any dragon color that was alive. If the man hadn’t lost the use of his eye all those turns back, he would have been a successful Wingleader.

And now, just like D’en, he wasn’t in the position to make a difference.

“I’ve seen that look in your eye before, lad.” D’en said, pointing to his own good one. “But you’d better think twice before charging up to the Weyrleader’s and give them a piece of your mind.”

Tobay gave a hollow laugh. “Why? What could they do to me, now?”

“You’re right. People would be up in arms for them picking on a dragonless man,” D’en’s good eye glinted, “But they don’t need to you’re your friend Caelin around, if his services aren’t needed. Trouble making drudges can be stripped of Hold and Weyr protection.”

He immediately tried to reject that idea. “They couldn’t!” But Tobay knew that it was well within their rights. “They wouldn’t!” But the look on D’en’s grizzled face told him otherwise.

It then occurred to him how D’en knew about him and Caelin so quickly, or for that matter… how many other people had found out.

“If you wanna take my advice from a former teacher.” D’en said, “Let ‘em stew in their own juices for awhile. Take care of yourself, and Caelin.”

He didn’t like that line of thinking at all, but had nothing to say against it. “And what will you be doing?”

“Me?” D’en pretended a luxurious stretch. “I plan on taking a vacation.” But the look on his face said he would be doing anything but relaxing. The brownrider, too, had his own plans. “I heard that the Harper’s been looking for an assistant.”

That picked his interest. “Oh?”

“It’d keep you busy.”

But Tobay didn’t have time to mull that over. His dark eyes caught sight of Yenessa striding into the hall. “Excuse me,” he said, standing and nodding to the ex Weyrlingmaster, before heading over to her.

OOOOOOOOOO


Two months later…


OOOOOOOOOO


The leafs on the trees were starting to bud, Tobay realized late one morning as he made his way from the lower caverns to the teaching rooms across the bowl. It was strange how time seemed to drag along so slowly before he had finally approved the Weyr Harper, Bennar and become his assistant. He was far too old to reapprentice in any official capacity, and was woefully rusty, but D’en had been right… the old man had needed an extra body to teach the youngest brats their ballads. Now, between those lessons, private sessions with Bennar to catch up with what he should know, and nights with Caelin… well, time was now flying along.

And now the kids weren’t even scared of him… well, mostly. His first lessons had been met with the wide eyes of the youngest, as if they were afraid the ‘strange dragonless man’ they had heard about was going to snap and yell at them for speaking out of turn or mentioning anything about dragonkind. He was trying to win them over… although he knew he didn’t have Bennar’s patience with the slowest of the lot.

The lone warble of a dragon caught his attention, drawing his eyes upward towards the sky. A few greens and blues had taken to the air, doing the type of aerial acrobatics that only their narrow wings and light frames could allow. They seemed to be excited by something, but out of touch with dragonkind as he now was, he didn’t know what it could be.

Enchanted by their dipping and weaving, he stopped in his tracks to watch.

The playing dragons had also caught the attention of the Weyrwoman second’s dragon, Trenith. The pudgy gold barked something sharp at them from her position on her ledge, obviously just having been woken by a nap. Standing up, she shook herself off and spread her large golden wings air, the sunlight dancing off her hide and giving the appearance of a bright and healthy dragon under all that fat.

With one smooth movement, Trenith flexed her muscles, stretching luxuriously. Her gentle call to a knot of weyr bronzes below was coy, seductive.

Wait a minute…

Tobay blinked, realizing he was staring at the queen almost as if in a trace, just like many in the Weyr bowl. Around him, the daily comings and goings of people had taken a pause. All was silent in the Weyr. All eyes were on Trenith.

And she was glowing.

Shrieks of dying animals cut into the air. While the Weyrfolk watched the gold, the bronzes had descended on the heard beasts and were starting their blood, prepping their bodies for the rigors ahead.

Zhemyth would have been with them if…

Out of nowhere a strong hand grabbed onto his shoulder, forcing him around. “Come with me, harper. She’s about the rise.”

Surprised, he looked up to meet Angeli’s snapping green eyes, now full of pity… and something else. “What?” he asked, slightly dazed. Despite the fact that he was dragonless, he was still open to the emotions of the flight and felt… detached. Out of sync with his own body.

In answer, she grabbed his arm in a vice like grip, pulling him along with her to the staircase that led to her weyr. “I must take Palomath away, and you should leave as well. Stop dawdling!”

Before he could comprehend what was going on, Trenith rose on her thick hind legs, calling out a challenge to the Weyr that anyone with even a slightly sensitive mind would hear.

I RISE! Who among you will dare fly against me?!


The sound of a dragon in his head after so long without anything at all immediately sobered Tobay out of his flight-haze like a dunk in cold water. Finding his feet again, he hurried with Angeli, rushing up to the ledge where Palomath impatiently waited. It didn’t matter to him where they were going… he couldn’t handle the dragon induced emotions of the flight. Not this soon after he had lost Zhemyth.

He jumped, grabbing onto the handholds with the ease that only muscle memory could provide and pulled himself up. Angeli took her seat right behind him, and no sooner had her rear touched the harness did Palomath surge up into the sky.

Trenith turned to watch them, and if she had been a canine her hackles would have been raised. Get away from my bronzes! They are mine! MINE! She shrieked, her voice prodding against Tobay’s mind like a stick poking a half healed wound.

“/Between/, Palomath!” Angeli commanded, and a moment later they were enveloped in icy blackness.

Three heartbeats later, they erupted into salty warm air, high above the sea. Tobay craned his head, looking over the side of the queen’s neck to find his bearings. Hundreds of dragon lengths down, he spotted a large strip of land extending out to the horizon. Although he had not been allowed out of the Weyr other than Threadfall due to the quarantine, he didn’t remember this land’s features from his weyrling studies.

Angeli tells me to tell you we are near the western islands. Came a surprisingly warm, feminine voice in his head. Unlike Trenith’s voice, Palomath’s was very soft so as not to hurt him.

I thought all of Pern was under the quarantine. Even the islands. He thought back, frowning.

Palomath angled downward, slowly spiraling her decent. They are deserted. And I must have a place to go, when Trenith rises.

He nodded, mutely sending his understanding to the queen. Speaking words to her felt like… like a betrayal, somehow. Even moreso then when Ozycath had spoken to him. So he said nothing more, and she asked nothing more of him.

Palomath’s wide wings took them on a quick decent, and soon it was obvious that they were not the only two there. On the beach, bronze Ozycath lay out in the sun, his rider right along with him.

Tobay was honestly relived at the sight of them. Angeli was… easily offended, and he had worried for a spare moment that she had planned her own private flight celebration with him at the island. He was loyal to Caelin now, and would probably end being deserted along on the island for a month for rejecting her advances.

The gold landed gracefully, and waited for her passengers to dismount before walking over to rub her muzzle upon her mate’s. For dragons, the two of them showed a lot of affection outside of mating flights.

“You’re late. We were worried.” Gh’stin said, walking up to the two of them, wearing a heavy frown. To Tobay’s surprise, the man’s face was lined with signs of on going stress that he had not remembered seeing when he was a rider. The poor threadfalls must be weighing on him more than what he had let on in public, then. Gh’stin gave a single nod towards Tobay, “Why’s he here?”

“Palomath thought it would be a good idea to get him away from the Weyr while the flight was going on.” Angeli answered, laying a protective almost maternal hand on Tobay’s shoulder. “We had enough time. The males were still blooding.”

Oh how he hated being talked about as if he were not there, or as if he were a child. But the recent months had given him patience in the hard way to keep his mouth shut, at least some of the time. And she had done him a favor. “Thank you, Weyrwoman.” He forced himself to say, turning out from under her hand and bowing to her. This was his ride back to the Weyr, after all.

Angeli flicked her fingers towards him, obviously pleased by his formal style. “Think of it as nothing.”

When Tobay rose up, he caught sight of Ozycath watching him with whirling eyes. A chill he couldn’t quite explain ran up and down his spine… For a moment, one long moment, he felt like the bronze could see right though him. And somehow he got the sure feeling that it hadn’t been Palomath’s idea to bring him here at all, but rather Ozycath’s.

But Gh’stin drew away his attention a moment later. “That was kind of you, Angeli. T’b—ugh, I mean, Harper.” It was obvious he didn’t know Tobay’s new name. “You may want to check out the eastern side of the island. It is… quite lovely this time of the year.”

Even if the excuse wasn’t so bad, he would have gotten the hint anyway by the way Gh’stin moved so close to his Weyrwoman, catching her slim waist in one massive hand. They wanted some time alone.

“That sounds like an excellent idea, Weyrleader.” He said, keeping to the formal tones. With one last nod to them both, he turned around and set off in the opposite direction. The last thing he wanted to hear was the two of them exercising any lingering flight emotions they had managed to pick up.

He probably didn’t need to worry too much about that possibility. It was quite windy on this island, exposed to the raging ocean as it was. Soon Tobay could only hear the sounds of crashing waves and his own breath as he puffed his way across the desert shoreline. There wasn’t even a tree in sight to give him the benefit of shade. Just a few scraggily rocks.

Picking one at random, he sat down on it, wondering how Caelin was doing. If his friend could read, and Tobay owned a fire lizard he would have sent him a quick message letting him know what had happened and that he was okay. Not that Caelin was affected by dragon flights, as deaf as he was to the beasts, but he hated to have him worry for any reason.

An angry chittering broke the peace of the island, and he looked up, thinking that Petrey had somehow followed him to the island. But the little fire lizard squeaking high up in the air had a hide that flashed of blue and not brown.

As Tobay watched, the little creature chattered one more time to itself before diving into the shallow surf, pulling up a piece of seaweed. For a moment the wet green plant seemed to be too heavy and would drag him back down, but the blue beat his wings fiercely and managed to gain altitude again. He didn’t seem to notice or care about Tobay’s presence. Possibly on this deserted island chain it didn’t know about what a threat a human could be, and didn’t care about him at all.

Curious, Tobay followed the blue as it struck out west, dipping and bobbing under the weight of its seaweed load. He kept back a few dragon lengths, sticking to the craggily shore, trying not making it obvious that he was following it. Having lived up in a higher latitude in the north, he he had never had the chance to really see wild born fire lizards, and knew that Caelin would be disappointed in him if he didn’t at least see what this one was up too. But where was the rest of the fair?

Occasionally the little blue would alight for a moment on an up thrust rock, his little chest heaving with exertion before launching back into the air again. It was on one of these pauses that Tobay got a good look at him. The blue was an old one, hide pot marked here and there with white lines and scars looking much like scratches.

The life of a wild fire lizard was much different than those mostly pampered pets, he had remembered Caelin telling him one time. Especially for the lower colors. If they weren’t eaten by their bigger brothers and sisters at hatching they lived constantly on the fringe, always pushed around by the queen and her bronzes.

Suddenly the blue turned to the right and dived, pulling up in time to glide into a rocky alcove that faced the sea. At once, screams of a frightened fire lizard drifted upward.

Tobay increased his pace, jogging to the spot, but was stopped short by the sight that greeted him.

The blue was the one squealing. Flapping awkwardly with the seaweed still clutched in its claws, it was being pursued by an angry golden female that was beating it about with her wings. Finally the blue gave up his meal, dropping it in favor of gaining the speed he needed to get away. The little queen gave one shriek at him, but didn’t follow, settling instead on the seaweed.

Watching from a safe position by a bolder some distance away, Tobay watched silently, feeling sorry for the blue, but knowing it was not right to intervene. He was the visitor on this island, and it was possible that type of bullying had been playing itself out for a long time before he had come along, and would probably continue long afterwards. He did wonder what the point of it was, though… why the blue had headed in the queen’s direction with the food if it was only going to end up taken from him? Why did he not go /between/ where he could not be followed?

The gold had only half finished her meal of the seaweed before she looked up, screaming out another warning. On the horizon, a speck of brown was weaving and bobbing its way closer… another fire lizard with its claws full of food. This time, though, it was fish.

As soon as the laden brown came close enough, the little queen gave a commanding shriek and jumped for the fish. It seemed the brown had more good sense than the old blue, because he dropped the fish immediately and used that distraction in which to escape unscathed.

Then Tobay saw it… or rather, them.

It was a surprise he had seen the eggs at all, so nicely camouflaged with the color of sand as their shells were. It was the glint of the largest egg on top that had caught his attention, making him turn his head away from the feeding queen. Although it wasn’t as blazingly obvious as a gold egg from their dragon counterparts were, he had no doubt of the color contained within.

He only hesitated for a moment, double checking to see that the queen was still interested in her meal. Fire lizards weren’t rare in Ista, but the beaches had dark sand that captured too much heat and boiled the eggs in their shells. Finding a viable wild clutch like this was too good to be true.

Moving slowly, one eye always on the feeding gold, Tobay crept towards the clutch. He was half amazed that queen had not spotted him, but as he got closer he noticed that ribs sticking out of her painfully thin body. She was ravenous, still tearing at the fish flesh and quite possibly didn’t care enough to be on the lookout.

Well, he would lighten her responsibilities then.

He took off his tunic, scooping up warm sand into it to make a nest and loaded the eggs in, starting with the precious golden one first. It was a large clutch, by any standards and certainly it put the dragon clutches of Ista to shame. Tobay didn’t pause to count, but figured there had to be somewhere around thirty eggs. He worked quickly, with the skin on his back itching with a combination of nervous sweat and the fear. He didn’t dare pause long enough to look up, certain at any moment he would feel angry fire lizard claws sink into his back. As it was, he stole only about half of the clutch before his nerve gave out and he tied up the edges of his shirt around the bundle of eggs and sand.

When he left the queen, her head was dipped into the carcass of the fish, eating at its warm innards.

Setting across the beach again, bundled up tunic clutched against his chest, Tobay allowed himself a rare smile at his accomplishment. Maybe being small and slightly built wasn’t all that bad if he could get away with doing things like this. It felt good to have something go right.

The direction he was headed brought him roughly back to the same side of the island where he had landed and reluctantly, he slowed down. The last thing that he wanted to come across was Gh’stin or Angeli if they were dragon linked to the flight.

He need not have worried. As he came closer to the beach he saw them both walking in his direction, waving at him to hurry up.

Even from a distance he could see that something was very wrong.

Angeli’s face was puckered, and a button was dislodged from her shirt as if she had only managed to get it half open. “Where were you?” She asked, sharply and then eyed the bundle in his arms. “And what do you have in your tunic?”

“I found a clutch of fire lizard eggs, and managed to get some.” Tobay spoke quickly, knowing that the choice of where any fire lizard eggs went to was up to the Weyrwoman, who traditionally used any found eggs for political reasons. “I was hoping… well, may I have one?” It galled him to have to ask to keep something of his own discovery, but was careful to keep his face neutral.

Angeli opened her mouth looking as if she was going to say no, but Gh’stin spoke for her. “Yes, of course.” He waved a distracted hand towards the two dragons who were sitting on their hunches, eyes whirling red. “Mount up. We need to get back to the Weyr.”

“But… why? The flight—“

“The flight is over.” There was a tone in Angeli’s voice that chilled Tobay right to the marrow. The last time he had heard that chill was the night before he lost Zhemyth. Someone had angered Angeli badly, and he quickly guessed to what it was.

“Clea let Trenith eat, and not blood… didn’t she?” He looked up towards one Weyrleader to another, hoping that they would deny it.

Angeli clenched her hands and nodded once, turning to Gh’stin. “When I get my hands on that pitiful excuse for a goldrider, I’ll…. I’ll rip out her tail feathers!”

The Weyrleader arched his eyebrow at his mate, looking amused at her choice of words. He started to reply when a strange expression came over his face. Then, without warning, he sneezed.

Instinctively, both Tobay and Angeli jumped back from the man, fearful as every surviving Pernese was of any sign of sickness.

But Gh’stin waved his hand, “Sorry, the air in these parts makes my nose tickle. I’m fine. Mount up!” And this time there was no denying such a command.

OOOOOOOOOO

Angeli had Palomath drop Tobay off by the lower caverns with instructions to take one egg and leave the remaining with the Headwoman. He could tell her thoughts weren’t really on him any longer, which he was partially glad of. With a woman like Angeli, it was best not to be in her sights as much as possible.

He almost felt sorry for Clea. Almost.

The main hall was deserted of people, so he had no interruption transferring the fire lizard eggs into a basket which he then set by the hearth with a note of explanation to the Headwoman. The precious golden egg, he found a simple clay pot for.

Caelin had a hearth of his own, and although Tobay had never had anything stolen from him while in the Weyr, it didn’t mean that light fingered people didn’t exist. He just had nothing worth stealing before now.

He expected for Caelin to be in the room, but to his surprise he was not there. Positioning the egg pot by their own private hearth, he began to worry for the first time. Maybe he shouldn’t have let Angeli take him away like from the Weyr in that fashion… surely people would have seen it and passed on the news to Caelin. A gold dragon was hard to miss, especially loaded down with an extra passenger. What would people think?

Almost on cue, the door swung open and Caelin staggered in. Tobay opened his mouth to greet him, but Caelin cut him off. “Where were you?” He demanded, closing the door behind him, his voice rough.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-“ But he got no further than that. Caelin had crossed the room while he was talking, grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed him soundly.

Surprised, Tobay could only kiss back, feeling the other man’s hands glide their way up and down his body, touching him in all the right spots.

It was lucky for the both of them that the bed was only a few short steps away.

OOOOOOOOOO

“I thought that you were dragon deaf.” Tobay said sometime later, trailing a finger from Caelin’s navel slowly up his chest.

The other man chuckled, his light blue eyes shining in the afterglow. “Those dratted fire lizards!” He said, rolling his eyes in mock exasperation. “They pick everything up and then pass it onto me. Horney little beasts.” Then his expression grew more serious, “I looked everywhere for you, Tobay. What happened? Even Petrey couldn’t find you in the Weyr.”

“Because I wasn’t. Angeli thought it would be a good idea to take me out of the Weyr during the flight.” Briefly, he relayed what had happened on the island. Predictably, Caelin was most interested in the wild fire lizards.

“You say the queen was thin?” He frowned at Tobay’s nod, “Generally the queen’s mate supplies her with food while she’s guarding the nest, although I could see the rest of the fair step in if he sickened or even died. They might have even be preparing for a hatching soon, and she was eating the food they were stocking up.” He sighed, “I wish I could have seen it. It would be nice to see the wild ones.”

Again Tobay nodded, although he privately thought that Caelin would be distressed over the thinness of the queen, and all of the scars that the old blue had sported.

Then he remembered the egg pot.

“I like it when you smile like that.” Caelin remarked.

Tobay let himself stretch before answering, quite pleased with his work today. “It’s because I didn’t return empty handed.”

“Oh?”

“Look over there.”

Caelin followed the direction of his gaze and visibly jerked when his eyes alighted on the egg pot warming by the hearth. Then a slow smile spread across his face as he turned back to him. “That’s a great idea. A fire lizard will be really good for you.”

Tobay barked out a surprised laugh before he could stop himself, “It’s not for me. Caelin, I got her for you!”

“For me?” Clearly stunned, Caelin shook his head. “No… no… I couldn’t. I have Petrey and you don’t have-“ he stopped caught himself quickly, “you deserve one. It would help... with things.” Again, he shook his head, looking down at the blankets, as if he had spoken out of turn.

Tobay caught the other man’s hand in his own, giving it a gentle squeeze to get his attention again. “I don’t “deserve” a fire lizard. My mind is… I’m too shattered, still.” The smile was gone, replaced with a flash of pain he couldn’t quite hide. “Besides, she’ll need someone strong to take care of her. Someone who knows how to handle a fire lizard.”

For a moment, Caelin looked like he was about to argue the point, then he realized exactly what Tobay was implying. “She?” he repeated, “how do you know… unless it’s a… gold?”

“If I know my eggs, it is.” He quirked the side of his mouth up, some of the amusement returning at the stunned look on the Caelin’s face.

“But… I can’t have a gold! I’m just a drudge! How did you ever get Angeli to agree to that?”

Tobay shrugged, “Maybe I implied that I would be the one to get it. But who will be surprised if you accidentally impress her? It’s what I want, Caelin. Please.”

“Shards.” He leaned back for a moment, clearly stunned. He was silent for a few moments, mulling it over. “Imagine that. Me with a gold.” And with those words Tabay knew that he had finally accepted the gift.

“I think it fits.”

Caelin blinked out of his thoughts, and turned towards him again, a genuine grin on his face. “Thank you.”

“No,” Tobay corrected, pulling him in for a kiss. “Thank you.”

And they ‘thanked’ each other the rest of the day.
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