So we are coming to the end of this tale...and I hope you have enjoyed it. BUT I also have a sort of announcement that will maybe make up for the horrendous amount of time that's passed since I started this story. I have an original novel hitting the press this spring, so if you enjoy my writing, please feel free to "Like" my Author page on Facebook (search for Jocelyn A. Fox) or follow me on Twitter (jafox2010). The novel, tentatively titled The Iron Sword, is a modern fantasy influenced heavily by Celtic myth, with a kick-ass female main character who would be great friends with Arryn, in fact.

As always, reviews are greatly appreciated and thanks so much for sticking with me! I'll also consider suggestions for an epilogue if you guys feel like there are any loose ends. Enjoy!

Pain. And an insistent voice, riding the throbbing waves rippling throughout her body. A familiar voice, a beloved voice, a voice that spoke to her stubborn soul.

You should wake up now, the voice said firmly.

She kept her eyes closed, awareness of her body slowly filtering back in small snatches. She felt her arms, laid neatly by her sides, her legs stretched out, covered beneath a cool sheet. Her throat was incredibly dry, and she knew without touching it that her hair looked terribly in need of a washing. Her eyelids were heavy. So heavy. Even half-conscious it was a struggle against the pain, which she realized radiated from her shoulder and back.

When she remembered the wound, the hot tracery of a blade through her skin, all the memories rushed back. Vell and Finneseth, Maventh slamming into the rogue bronze, the hatred in Sienna's eyes that had hit her like a blow, the tear in her beloved dragon's wing. The grim determined purpose in both their minds as they realized they might give their lives in defense of Benden's future, and they were prepared to do it.

Except you are not dead, the voice in her head said firmly, cutting through the layers of pain and confusion.

Maventh? Arryn managed. Even her mental voice was weak. She wanted to grimace.

Of course. I would not let any of the others wake you up, Maventh replied in a slightly reproving tone.

How long have I been…asleep?

Well, you have not been asleep. You were unconscious for two days. The healer woman kept giving you something that pushed you so far away from me that I could barely feel you, Maventh replied. An echo of the distress the green dragon had felt during those days reverberated through Arryn's mind. She winced. It is the evening of the third day. Baerth's rider has told me that the healer woman thinks it is safe for you to wake up now.

I'm so sorry, Mav. I can't imagine what it was like for you, Arryn said, eyes still closed.

There is nothing for which you must apologize, the green dragon told her firmly. Ereth has been hunting for me, and Baerth and Plenneth have been keeping me company. Maventh paused. And they found Zakanth's rider, in the hill-caves.

And…? Arryn frowned slightly, feeling the skin of her brow wrinkle.

And they were able to give them back to each other, Maventh said, a flush of pride coloring her voice. Finneseth's rider and Baerth's rider and Plenneth's rider all helped.

And…Sh'let and Parnileth?

They both insisted that we wait until you woke up. A hint of smugness and possessiveness threaded through the wave of affection that rolled over Arryn. She smiled faintly. And then she realized that there were people sitting by her bed, and they were talking about her.

"Look," the first voice said in a whisper, "she's smiling."

"Maybe she's just dreaming," another whispered voice—male—mused.

"Let me check with Baerth," the first voice whispered. "Paela told me that she might wake up today, and I told Baerth, and I think Baerth told Maventh."

"Or you could just ask me whether I'm awake," Arryn said, still smiling. Her voice came out as a terrible croak, and she rasped through the last few words, but still. It definitely got their attention.

"You're awake!" Lira exclaimed joyfully.

"A little…less volume, please," Arryn said, opening her eyes just a crack and wincing at the brightness of the light. "And maybe some water?"

Her vision resolved slowly from bright blurs to Lira, sitting by her bedside, one arm in a sling. H'rath returned a moment later, holding a cup of water to her lips. She drank gratefully, without even trying to protest that she could hold the cup herself. But she didn't miss the glance that H'rath and Lira exchanged.

She finished the water and blinked a few times, licking her lips. "How bad?"

"Paela said that it will probably be a while until you have full use of the arm back," H'rath said carefully.

A shudder of nameless fear shot through her body. "But I will have…I will be able to use it again?" H'rath looked at her silently. "Lira," Arryn said as sharply as she could, hating the edge of desperation in her voice. "Please."

"You're young and strong. You'll use it again," Lira said firmly. She grinned a little, motioning to her own sling. "Between us, we have two useful arms. I'm going to have a lot of work to do, too."

Arryn didn't miss the protective way H'rath put his arm around the blue-rider. "How did it happen?"

"When we brought T'naril—that's Zakanth's rider—he was…dying," Lira finished, voice wavering only slightly. "And we thought we were going to lose him, and Zakanth too."

"Vell helped us save them," H'rath added.

"It was really quite dramatic," Lira said, nodding. "She came tearing across the Weyrbowl right after we landed, and H'rath had the ampoules, and then Vell got it into her silly head that she was going to be the one to inject Zakanth."

"Who was going mad because T'naril was dying," H'rath explained.

"And so I took the vial from her—because really, one less blue rider wouldn't make an incredible impact on Benden. But if we lost Vell…" Lira shook her head. Her face hardened for an instant. "Everything you did would have been for nothing."

Arryn smiled wryly. "Glad it wasn't."

"Right after I got Zakanth with the ampoule, he hit me with his wing. It was quite a spectacular flight. Except I have to work on my landing a little more," Lira said with a wicked smile. She tilted her head. "Baerth says I wouldn't make a good dragon. He also wants to ask if the others can talk to you. They want to, but Maventh is being…" She compressed a smile. "Maventh is being difficult."

"I guess she might have a right to be a little overprotective," Arryn said, taking a break in the middle of the sentence. Bu she smiled and let her eyes drift shut. Maventh dear, the others want to talk to me.

They have wanted to talk to you for days, but you were not awake, Maventh said.

Would you mind if they talked to me now?

Do you feel well enough to talk to them now? Maventh asked anxiously.

I wouldn't be asking if I didn't feel up to it, silly. Arryn smiled in spite of herself. It felt good to lie back, and talk to Maventh, and know that everything was going to be all right.

Only for a few minutes, the green dragon said finally.

Mother wherry, Arryn muttered at her affectionately. And then she opened the part of her mind that she kept carefully separated from the rest, the part of her that sensed every dragon like a bright light in the sky, a feeling more than anything. She immediately felt Baerth and Plenneth. They bugled a greeting out loud, making Maventh grumble.

You are awake, Baerth said in an unintentional imitation of his rider.

We were worried about you, Plenneth told her.

I am glad you are all right, Finneseth said in her golden glowing voice.

Thank you all, Arryn replied gratefully. There were more of Benden's dragons, hovering near the edges of her mind, hesitant to talk to her directly so soon after her awakening, but they all sent her waves of love and affection, each slightly different. Beneath the layers of love her pain faded away. How are you, Finneseth? she asked the white-gold queen with the concern of a mother.

A few days yet from the Hatching Grounds, rider of my mother, Finneseth replied with strange formality.

Why the serious tone, Finneseth?

There was an uneasy pause.

You and Maventh were willing to sacrifice your lives for Vell and I, Finneseth said. That is a debt we can never repay.

Repay it by having many hatchlings for Benden, Arryn replied immediately and firmly.

I will do the best I can, Finneseth replied, sounding much younger all of a sudden than the queen of all Benden Weyr.

Also…tell Vell that I am not angry, the green-rider said. Maventh and I…we did it out of love. It was very stupid of you both to put yourselves in danger, but I understand why you did it.

I will tell her, Finneseth said, and then she tactfully faded away from Arryn's dragon-sense, ending the conversation.

And then Ereth was there in her mind, enveloping her with love that was tinged with T'ran's memories of her. I will tell him that you are awake, he said, sensing her need for her weyrmate before she even put words to the thought.

Thanks, Ereth, she said. He isn't…he wasn't too angry, was he?

We were not angry until we were sure you would live, Ereth replied, his voice somber. Before he was angry, he would not eat, and he would not sleep.

Arryn sighed, her eyes still closed, feeling the tightness build in her throat. She clenched her jaw, pushing the tears away. Not now, not so soon after she woke. But one slipped unbidden from beneath her closed lids, tracing a hot track down her cheek. Lira pressed her good hand into Arryn's good hand.

"Arryn," the blue-rider said softly and carefully, "what's wrong?"

Arryn opened her eyes, blinking fiercely, and cleared her throat. "I just…I just don' t like it when…people…are worried about me."

"Of course we were worried about you, wherry-head!" Lira exclaimed.

Arryn raised her eyebrows. "Wherry-head?" she repeated. "Are we still weyrlings, Lira?"

Lira grumbled good-naturedly at her, and then there were fast hard footsteps in the hallway. A weathered brown hand shoved aside the curtain around Arryn's bed, and Arryn found herself gazing up at T'ran, who paused breathlessly. She smiled. Lira and H'rath tactfully excused themselves…or not so tactfully in Lira's case, who exited with a huge wink at Arryn.

T'ran covered the distance to Arryn's bed in two huge strides. He made as though to embrace her, and then he paused, checked himself, reaching out one hand tentatively to brush away a tendril of hair from her cheek. "You're awake," he said quietly.

Arryn gazed up at him and noted the signs of sleeplessness and worry on his handsome face, the dark bruise-like circles beneath his eyes and the paleness of his skin. "And you've been awake all this time," she said softly.

"I couldn't…I wanted to stay here, but…I had to go and give instructions to my Wingsecond…" he faltered.

She reached up with her good hand, pausing at the ripple of pain that even that small motion caused. But she clenched her teeth and laid her palm on his cheek. He leaned into her touch, an expression akin to pain on his face. To her surprise, she glimpsed tears wetting his long eyelashes.

"T'ran," she murmured. He looked at her, almost unwillingly. "What is it?"

He shook his head and one of his hands flew up to press her palm harder against his face. "Out of all the insane things you've done…all the stunts you've pulled…"He raised agonized eyes to her gaze. "I thought I'd really lost you this time. You almost died in my arms, Arryn."

She remembered watching, terrified, as a man had pulled T'ran, pale and lifeless, from a lake in Ruatha. "I know," she whispered. "But you didn't lose me. I didn't die."

He took a sudden hitching breath and looked away again. "It was a near thing, Arryn. Too near for my liking."

What could she say to that? So she gave him a lopsided grin and said, "Well, love, it was too close for my liking too."

T'ran looked down at her for a slow second, his face frozen in that agonized expression, and then he rolled his eyes and grinned. He leaned closer and kissed her forehead. She closed her eyes at the feel of his lips on her skin. In the back of her mind, she felt Maventh curl against Ereth on their ledge, basking in the sun contentedly.

T'ran pressed his forehead against hers. She had an inkling of what he was about to say before he said it.

"Please don't ask me to promise that I'll never do anything like this again," Arryn said quietly. "I can't promise you that. I love Benden, and I'll do anything I can to make sure that the weyr survives." Her voice hardened fiercely through the last sentence.

T'ran smiled slightly. "I love Benden, too, but I love you more. And I guess I'll just have to keep an eye on you, then." His smile grew wider. "Me and every other dragon Ereth can enlist."

Arryn narrowed her eyes. "You wouldn't."

"I will. I am." He grinned at her. She loosened her grip on her dragon-sense, and felt the presence of six or seven dragons, all familiar, all Benden dragons, a part of their consciousness focused watchfully on her.

She scowled at T'ran. "Bully."

"They're more than willing. They would've been watching anyway." T'ran smiled at her fondly. "They understand what you did for the weyr."

Arryn wanted to shrug but reconsidered. Tendrils of pain began weaving their way out from her shoulder, wrapping around her ribs and down her spine. "Is Paela around?"

"I'll go get her," T'ran said. He kissed her forehead again. When he returned, Paela was at his side.

"You'll be wanting something for the pain," Paela said, struggling to keep her voice business-like. She put her satchel on the bedside stand and rifled through it.

"Yes, but it has to be something that won't put me to sleep," Arryn replied.

"You need to rest. I had to keep you under for over two days so your body could heal."

"Sh'let and Parnileth need to be—put back together—and they won't do it without me. So I need to be awake." Arryn gave a tight, determined smile. "And I have to go to them."

"Arryn," T'ran said, his voice somewhere between exasperation and love.

"Lira said they won't do it without me. So I want to go to them right now. Give me something for the pain that won't put me to sleep, or I'll just go without it." The green-rider raised her chin challengingly, gritting her teeth at the wave of pain crashing over her body.

Paela looked at T'ran, then at Arryn, then back at T'ran. After a long moment, T'ran nodded. Paela mixed a noxious brew and handed it to the wounded rider. When Arryn wrinkled her nose at the smell, the small healer said, "The herb I was going to put into it to make you sleep would've made it better."

"Noted," Arryn said drily. T'ran helped her hold the cup, and she gulped it as fast as she could. "Ugh…that tastes like…dirt and grass," she grimaced after the last swallow. Then she sighed as the pressure in her shoulder lessened.

"But it works," said Paela with a smile. Then the healer sobered. "You're truly serious about doing this?"

"Seriously serious," Arryn replied.

"Then at least let me make you some broth. It will be quick," Paela promised. "You haven't had anything for two days…and it's not like you have much fat on your body to lose."

"Lira's been influencing you," Arryn said suspiciously as Paela left to go get her soup. "I do too have some…fat…to lose…" She trailed off.

While they were waiting, T'ran seemed content to keep brushing back the same stubborn tendril of hair from Arryn's cheek. She felt annoyance bring color to her cheeks, but she forced herself not to swat him away…she could deal with a bit of fussing after what she'd put him through. So she reached out to Maventh. Love, tell Parnileth and Sh'let to find a ledge as close to the healing hall as possible.

You are going to overstrain yourself, Maventh warned, but she told the young blue anyway.

"Paela has the ampoules," T'ran said.

As if on cue, the healer swept back the curtain. "Here. Drink this."

Unlike the concoction from a few minutes earlier, this bowl was filled to the brim with a thick broth that smelled absolutely delicious. Arryn scowled at the spoon and ended up sipping the broth slowly straight from the bowl, T'ran watching and occasionally lending his steadying hand.

She sighed in satisfaction after swallowing the last bit of broth."I feel much better. Really!" she protested when T'ran gave her a slightly skeptical look. "Help me up."

She discovered in mortification when she pushed back the blankets that she was, in fact, not wearing any pants. T'ran tried to hide his smile but failed as he helped her slide into a fresh pair of loose trousers. Even with the medicine Paela had just given her, her should flared with pain as she sat up and took stock of the rest of her clothes. Someone had dressed her in a sleeveless white undershirt at some point, and the thick padded dressing and sling covered most of her torso anyway. Paela checked over the bandages and then said, "I'll get the ampoules."

With her good arm around T'ran's broad shoulder, Arryn took a tentative step forward and cursed as her legs shook. The bronze-rider bent and easily swept her up into his arms, careful not to jar her wound. "I'll carry you there," he murmured into her ear, "and you can walk out onto the ledge, if you want, but you're not walking all the way there after you just woke up."

"Fine," Arryn grumbled.

Admit it, Maventh told her, you like it when T'ran carries you around.

Well, Arryn replied with a small smile, he is a big, strong bronze-rider…

Maventh flicked her tail and snorted as Arryn nestled closer to T'ran's broad chest. He glanced down at her, a grin glimmering on his face.

"All right," he finally said, "here we are." He gently set her on her feet. She gripped his arm tightly with her good hand, feeling impossibly clumsy and weak as she tried to put one foot in front of the other. But she stepped out onto the ledge, and found blue Parnileth and pale Sh'let waiting, surrounded by as many dragons as would fit onto the ledge. She craned her neck. All the close ledges were overflowing with Benden dragons, bronze and brown and green and blue, and Finneseth's clear golden bugle cut through all the clamor. Arryn couldn't help but grin.

Sh'let stepped forward, his haggard young face lit with hope. Paela stepped forward with the wooden box, and took out two ampoules, the glass glimmering in the morning light. A younger healer stepped forward and took one of the ampoules. It was clear it had been rehearsed.

"Sh'let," Paela said, "you understand that this is dangerous."

"Yes," the young rider said, visibly trembling.

"You understand that we don't completely know how it works," the healer continued, her voice gentle but determined.

"I understand that I have a chance to have Parnileth back," the blue-rider said softly, "and I'm willing to take the risk." He hesitated. "If…if it's not too much to ask…" He looked at Arryn, his eyes wide and frightened. Arryn looked at T'ran and nodded, taking a deep breath and slowly stepping forward until she stood next to Sh'let. The young rider reached out for her good arm. "Thank you for fighting for me," he whispered. "I would've given up, but all I could think was…what would Weyrwoman Arryn do?" He gave her a lopsided smile, and she smiled back, fighting past the lump in her throat.

"You should thank Lira and H'rath…and Vell too," she told him. "Now, let's do this before I fall over." T'ran took a step closer, and she didn't wave him away.

The younger healer stepped forward and found the vein in Parnileth's foreleg. The blue stayed still as a statue as the healer slowly pushed the liquid into his vein. Then, slowly, his head lowered, drifting down until he was level with Sh'let's shoulder. The rider took a deep breath and bared his arm. Paela tapped his elbow and slid the ampoule's hollow needle into the vein. Sh'let shuddered, his eyes rolling back in his head, and T'ran quickly moved forward, lowering the blue-rider to the ledge and making sure that Arryn kept her balance at the same time.

Painfully, Arryn knelt. "How long does it take?"

"With T'naril—Zakanth's rider—it was almost instant," murmured Paela, pressing two fingers to the soft spot beneath Sh'let's jaw. "From what the scholars told me, it's different with every pair."

Lira appeared on the ledge and pushed through the loose knot of riders, towing a stranger that Arryn had never seen behind her. He was tall, with broad shoulders—almost as tall as T'ran—but he had the thin look of someone just recovering from near-starvation. He looked at Arryn with vivid hazel eyes, but only spared her a quick glance before kneeling down on the other side of Sh'let, murmuring into the younger rider's ear.

"Who is that?" Arryn asked Lira in curiosity.

"T'naril, rider of bronze Zakanth. He was High Reaches, but I think he's going to stay at Benden," Lira replied smugly.

"I'm so glad you found him," Arryn told her friend fervently. "It was terrible, talking to Zakanth…" She broke off as Sh'let gave a great shudder, his body arching off the ledge. T'naril cushioned the younger man's head, still talking in a low voice. Arryn clutched at T'ran's supporting arm, her heart in her throat.

And then Parnileth opened his brightly whirling eyes as Sh'let jerked again with a small, strangled cry. T'naril sat back and looked up at Arryn, T'ran and Lira. "It…hurts," he explained. "I was almost dead, and I still felt it. But it's a familiar pain, it feels like when it…when it first happened. But I think it's over."

Paela sat back on her heels. Sh'let blinked owlishly up at them, and then a huge grin split his young face as Parnileth rumbled, pushing his great triangular head onto Sh'let's chest.

"I'd say it worked," Lira said, her voice oddly gentle as she watched the reunited pair.

"By the First Egg," Arryn murmured, suddenly realizing her weariness, "I am glad this whole mess is over."

"Not…completely." T'naril cleared his throat. "If I may, Weyrwoman—"

"I'm not Weyrwoman anymore," Arryn interrupted.

"Once a Weyrwoman, always a Weyrwoman," said a new voice from behind them all. Vell slipped gracefully to Lira's side, and Arryn raised her eyebrows in surprise as the blue-rider gave a small nod and smile to the queen-rider.

"Now you're just making things up," Arryn muttered, feeling a hot blush spread across her cheeks.

"With your permission, Weyrwoman Arryn, Zakanth and I would like to stay at Benden," T'naril said. He smiled at Lira. "Lira told me that Benden would return my Zakanth to me, and the least I can do is fly Thread with Benden's dragons as repayment."

Arryn nodded. "As long as your old Weyrleader knows you are safe, and reunited with Zakanth."

"I've already made a visit," the bronze-rider replied.

"Well, then," Arryn said, looking at Vell. Vell nodded. "Welcome to Benden."

"Music to my ears," sighed Lira. She grinned mischievously. "It's not often we get to steal riders from other Weyrs."

"You stole a good one," murmured Paela with a wicked glint in her eye as she surveyed T'naril. "I think," the petite healer said, "you should come with me, so that I can see how your ribs are healing up."

As Paela lead T'naril away, Arryn leaned into T'ran, watching Sh'let and Parnileth, who were still giddy with their reunion. "It was all worth it," she said softly.

Vell reached over and touched her good shoulder.

"If you say thank you, I'm just going to ignore you," Arryn told her. The dark-haired young woman grinned. Lira chuckled, and they stood together for a moment: bronze-rider, blue-rider, green-rider and gold-rider, watching the dragons of Benden fly through the vivid blue sky.