"A GIRL riding a fighting dragon!" Lord Sangel looked ready to spit as the Lords Holder, Craftmasters, Weyrleaders and Weyrwomen who had attended a hatching at Benden Weyr just two hours prior crowded into the council room, either sputtering vehement protests of Mirrim's impression of green Path or cheering exclamations of how excited they were. "What IS Pern coming to!"

Robinton started laughing.

"Its not FUNNY!" Lord Corman hissed.

"Oh on the contrary, its hilarious!" Robinton had that look on his face he always got when something had captured his interest. "And useful, intreaguing!"

"Its unnatural." Nessel agreed.

"Of course its natural!" Groghe insisted, banging the table. "The dragons know best right F'lar?"

"Yes, they do. Path would only have Mirrim, she tried to escape every other candidate on the grounds." F'lar shook his head. "If I had known women could impress greens, I'd have had all those girls from LAST year's clutch that didn't impress the queen turn around and try for greens. Would have made good use of candidates." The bronzerider smiled, deep in thought.

"Its insane." Argued Sangel.

"Oh I agree about that. But not unnatural. If you recall, many of the secrets of ages past have been lost to us." Fandarel mused. "It has been so for the smithcraft, why not for the Weyrs?"

"Oh I agree, but isn't it possible this is a one time thing?" Larad asked, looking from one end of the table to the other.

"What does it matter?" Lessa asked, "I'll tell you what, Lords, Ladies. F'lar and I were saving it for turnover, but we have a nice keg of benden wine that we can wager." F'lar started sputtering in laughter. "I'll bet any of you, that it will happen again sometime in the next turn. If another female fighting rider does NOT impress sometime in the next turn, then I'll give each of you a share of that keg." Robinton started laughing too. "But if you lose, and another woman impresses a fighting dragon, then the Weyrs can Search women from any of your holds or halls, regardless of if there's a queen egg on the sands. Do we have a bet?"

"THAT!" Robinton was doubled over laughing. "That is..." He sputtered out. "That's just cruel Lessa! Now I have to bet against you if I want some of it!" Benden, or Lessa, the choice was so hard really.

"I'll TAKE that wager!" Groghe grinned, banging the table. "Any of my girls! Go ahead and take 'em and try!"

"And I..." Asganar's eyes glinted. "Goodness knows you have a lot of children Groghe."

"I like it." N'ton said with a smile on his face.

"Brilliant! That's what it is! Brilliant!" Groghe was turning red from laughter.

"I'll have Menolly write a song about this." Robinton promised. "Goodness me, this is going to be thirsty work composing this."

G'narish spoke up. "Our junior laid a clutch about a sevenday ago. There's a queen egg there, I have an idea. All of us can send one female candidate, selected by our Searchriders, to stand on the hatching grounds at Igen. We'll test Lessa's bet right then."

R'mart hmmmed... "Our youngest queen should be due to rise in about two sevendays to a month. If it suits the bet, you may do the same for our next clutch of eggs regardless of whether there is a queen egg on the sands or not."

By the end of the evening, Harper and Smithcraft halls, Fort, Lemos, Telgar, Bitra, Keroon, Crom, South Boll, Igen, and Benden, as well as all six northern Weyrs drew up an agreement by which the bet would proceed and signed it. Robinton convinced Master Oldive to sign the bet as well, and Groghe convinced Lord Oterel and Master Idarolan to support the unusual challenge put out by Benden Weyr.

Each of the holds, crafthalls and weyrs would send at least one female candidate to both Igen and Telgar hatchings.

"This has to be sent out at the next gather." Robinton told Domick and Menolly. "Whatever resources you can put together. It has to be singable and easy to memorize."

"You're excited about this aren't you Master?" Menolly asked.

"Very... you must move quickly." Robinton warned.

And so at the next gather, less than a month after the bet had been signed and witnessed, Piemur sang the Ballad of Lessa's Wager.

"And so Lords and Craftsmen Lift your eyes to the sky Your hearts to the sands Let the Wager of Lessa, Ramoth's Rider begin Weyr's scatter, dragon's dream, in the time Pern turns once

May an Ancient Secret return to fight the old foe A Legend that only the Great Queens know Holder Watch, Rider Learn A Story begins to unfold on Pern"

"And why do /I/ have to go out there?" Aoriya, apprentice Jeweler, looked up from her workbench. A trio of green dragons from Igen Weyr had landed outside the Smithcrafthall.

Journeyman Hanabey, Aoriya's older brother who worked in the smelting house near the river tugged her up from her workbench and pushed her down the hall. "Didn't you hear? Igen is riding SEARCH."

"And why on Pern would /I/ want a dragon?" Aoriya demanded. "I'm happy being a jeweler. The masters JUST BARELY let me practice with gold! Do you know how many man hours of work I had to show them to let an /apprentice/ work with a precious metal??"

"Kaian is going as well!" Hanabey grinned. "I'm too old. But why settle for WORKING with Gold! They have a gold egg on the hatching grounds!"

"Has your GLOW gone out?" Aoriya demanded as she followed her brother down the hall and out the door to where all the apprentices and journeymen under the age of 20, as well as all the hall's children over the age of 12, were gathering in front of the main hall.

"GO!" Hanabey gave Aoriya a push. "Come on..." Aoriya pushed Hanabey back and strode boldly to the front of the line.

Kaian grinned, throwing his arms around his sister. "Come on Aori! Stand with me!" Kaian was four years younger than she, at thirteen turns, just barely old enough to stand on the hatching grounds.

Aoriya sighed, taking a deep breath. "GET. OFF. Or i'll put a tunnelsnake in your clothes press! A LIVING one!"

An elderly greenrider spoke with the other three. "Remember, female or male, this time it doesn't matter. Don't worry about the number of women. We'll prove Lessa right, we owe it to Pern eh...?" X'shi, green Torabeth's rider had a huge grin on his face.

The two younger riders looked at each other. "But sir, what..."

"What Lessa has done will benefit the Weyrs of Pern passes and passes from now boys. S'lok, Bkon, have Nadriath and Tirath remember to look at both men and women." X'shi ordered.

Both younger riders nodded. The three green dragons consulted among themselves before moving down the line of young men and women. Aoriya tapped her foot boredly in the middle of the line, slowly edging behind her fellow apprentices to try and get away. "They ARENT dragging me away from MY hall, the apprenticeship I worked my toosh off to get..." Aoriya said sourly as she slipped to the back of the pack.

Nadriath and Tirath picked carefully among both men and women, six... seven... nine candidates... then... "Your name boy?" S'lok asked Kaian sharply.

"Kaian! Sir! I'm Kaian!" Aoriya watched her brother swagger.

"Well Kaian, it looks like Nadriath likes you. Wanna come with us to Igen?"


X'shi, there is one I want, she is hiding. Torabeth said quietly.

You haven't picked any candidates so far Torabeth, is she your only one?

I believe Ramoth's will win her bet... Torabeth mused. In the back, dark hair, heavy bust, lots of muscle on her. All the Search dragons are in a titter, everyone wants to be the one to win Ramoth's bet! I will make my wager on her and her alone! Torabeth turned, pointing her nose right at Aoriya.

"Oh shards." Aoriya edged backwards into the crowd. She knew that look. No way she was going to be prodded and poked! Green Torabeth carefully wormed her way between the onlookers, crooning to urge the gathered smiths out of the way.

"OH come on Aori!" Hanabey shoved Aoriya out into the front of the crowd once more.

"Aiiiiiiiiiiiii!" Aoriya squealed as she tripped, sprawling across Green Torabeth's muzzle. There was a hushed mutter from the smiths.

The green snorted, her eyes crossing, before trilling smugly. I found her X'shi! Oooooh, but she's heavy! The green squealed. I found her I found her. The elderly green wrapped a tail behind Aoriya, thrusting both wings out over the girl to prevent her escape.

"My my, Torabeth seems to have taken a shine to you." X'shi laughed. "She said you were trying to hide from her!" Aoriya got to her feet and glared at the greenrider. "your name young lady? Torabeth is very finicky about her candidates."

"Aoriya, apprentice jeweler." Aoriya cleared her throat, squared her shoulders, and glared the green dragon right in the eyes. The infuriating thing was that the elderly green was only happy about her find, seemingly unfazed by Aoriya's glare. She cocked her head, then arched her neck now that Aoriya was off of her head. "You already took my little brother Kaian."

"Brother and sister ay?" X'shi grinned. "Awwww, don't give me that look." He chuckled. "Are you coming? A big sister should at least come look after her brother."

"Fine!" Aoriya scowled, "I'll come! I won't impress anyway." The apprentice scowled.

"Count five months and more, and five heated weeks. A day of glory and in a month who seeks?" Rosniell, Aoriya and several other candidates were gathered at the beach at Igen Weyr's lake. "Three weeks... any day now they said." Rosniell was a blonde who's mother ran a lesser known brocade shop from Fort. She was currently stretched out on the sand in the bowl and sunbathing.

"You are GOING to burn your skin." Dannya scolded, setting up an awning common in tropical beaches around Pern, notably Ista. "At least get out of the sun."

"Shove it." Shiramar, a lad from Bitra with a reputation for laziness in all things but Chess, was sitting at a tiny foldout table playing chess with a friend he'd made, also from Fort. "I'm trying to think. Check Reiton."

Reiton grumbled, "I take your tower with my runner."

"I take your runner with my queen, check." Shiramar drawled. "And mate in two moves."

Reiton looked ready to strangle the Bitran. "I give." He sighed, shoving the board away. "Hey Dannya, I'll take some of that shade."

"Oh its not for you... prudey boy, I want to see those legs of yours. You'd look excellent with a tan." Dannya teased, the Fortian lad growled, running his hand through his hair. Reiton was the epitome of hold modesty. Dannya had no shame. And so she repeatedly flirted with him and he pretended to ignore her.

"Heeeey! Reiton!" Hiyoda and Jerim, a pair of boys from Lemos woodcraft, ran over. "Come swim with uuuusssss!" Jerim was a laid back lad. And Hiyoda was a well known clutz. Both boys had grown up together and had become fast friends with Aoriya's little brother Kaian.

"Rosniell..." Aoriya said crossly. "Lessa's bet, do you think she'll win?" She ignored the other candidates sourly.

"Why shouldn't she? She's Lessa. She's the best of the best." Rosniell dug in her bag for sunning oil. "I could care less, I go back to Fort with Reiton if we don't impress."

"Looking for this?" Jainak grinned, as the Tillek lad dangled the bottle of tanning oil in front of Rosniell nose. "Mind if I borrow it?"

"GIVE!" Rosniell snatched it. "Its EMPTY!" She growled, glaring up at Jainak and throwing the bottle at him. "You're paying for it! Some of us can't AFFORD a bottle of tanning oil any time we want it!" Jainak was rich, a charmer, but so easy going and energetic and involved that he didn't care about getting dirty or dusty from chores.

He caught the empty little green bottle. "Sorry, it wasn't me that snatched it. Enard and his brother Aralos took it for their firelizards." Jainak teased. "But hey, I'll make sure they replace it."

Rosniell and Jainak argued like old women half the time and were best of friends the other half. "Oh fine... but if I catch you gawking at me in my bathing suit, I'm going to deck you." Rosniell glared, standing and making for the lake.

"Oh I'm more interested in what Reiton's got in his shorts than you." Jainak ducked as the black Lord of Shiramar's chess set was flung in his direction. "Oooooh, but Rei darling you look so CUUUUTE, you need to flaunt what you've got a little more." Jainak teased, crooking a finger.

The two started arguing, Aoriya simply tuned them out. She was half asleep when the humming rattled the ground beneath their feet. Aoriya jumped up, Rosniell and Dannya behind her. Jainak draped an arm each over Dannya and Aoriya. "ladies, shall we?"

Aoriya shoved Jainak away, "Whatever..."

"Candidates! Robes!" Sonrah, the queenrider who's dragon had laid the clutch clapped her hands together and pointed in the direction of the lower caverns. "BOLT! Kanaith, please inform G'narish that the candidates down by the lake are on their way." Gold Kanaith bugled happily in the caverns before humming once more.

Aoriya darted for the candidate barracks, half hauled by Jainak, half pushed by Rosniell and Dannya. Then Kaian grabbed her hand and hauled her the rest of the way. "Kaian stop! Let go! Quit it!" Aoriya snapped, stripping out of her bathing suit and pulling on her robe.

"I can't help it sis! I'm excited!" Kaian grinned hugely, he offered Aoriya a thumbs up.

"Break a leg out there! Oh, wait, breaking a leg is bad." Jerim giggled, pushing the other boy out towards the hatching grounds. "Come on Kaian, stand with me!"

Rosniell stopped by Aoriya. "Reluctant aint you?" She asked as Aoriya hurried alongside her.

"I got pushed into Torabeth. I had a budding career as a jeweler. You make GOOD marks as a Jewelery smith." Aoriya huffed. "Why would I want to leave that?" She demanded.

"Dunno, but I'm sure everyone sometime wants a change of pace. I wanted to leave Fort forEVER... the only daughter of a family who never left their Hold of origin, never looked beyond its boarders." Rosniell avowed.

"Yeah, and what kind of existance is that of a rider? The only constants are your lifemate and thread. Honestly I'd rather have a little bit of stability." Aoriya huffed.

They were rushing across the bowl towards the hatching grounds now. "This way, yes hurry!" Sonrah urged them anxiously. "Bow to the sire and dam, then line up around the eggs."

Kaian rushed to be the first boy onto the grounds, but Reiton beat him to it. "Move it kiddo." Reiton shoved. "Bronze for certain me!"

"With that attitude he'd be lucky to get a green." Shiramar drawled, "Kaian, over here!" He tugged on Aoriya's brother's arm.

"Okay I'm coming!"

"The queen..." Jainak looked from Aoriya, to Rosniell, to Dannya, and the littlest female candidates Sofia and Anaria. There were at least ten girls, though Aoriya didn't know all of them beyond the other four. "Good luck girls..." He flashed a thumbs up.

"Jai! Come on!" urged Hiyoda. "They're starting to hatch! Look!"

The world dissolved into a flurry of shards as a molten copper bronze trumpeted his way out of the egg. Latecomers hurried for their seats. "Here it comes." Jerim muttered. "Who'll it pick? can you tell?"

The bronze turned, glaring at the crowd of candidates. And suddenly more and more eggs began to pop. There were 45 in that clutch, the record for Igen's youngest queen. Odds were good that most of the candidates there would impress. Aoriya took a deep breath, watching as a blue and a brown darted through the crowd. The blue skidded in an attempt to avoid a cluster of candidates. "LOOK OUT!" Jainak yelled, pushing Hiyoda fully out of the blue's way. The hatchling collided with Jainak, reeling backwards in an attempt to avoid a mauling. "Easy Helgiath, easy easy!" Jainak steadied the blue. "Huh? J'ak? I like it. Its got a ring to it!"

Hiyoda staggered, trying to avoid the other candidates and the dragons now darting in and out of the candidates and remaining eggs. He tripped, finding himself nose to nose with the molten copper bronze that had hatched earlier. Then he squeaked in surprise. "Sure I'm H'dao, aaaah... oh, Linnath's your name?"

Kaian moved around the eggs, looking left and right. "Oooh, a brown!" Kaian moved to try and attract a henna brown standing nearby, wading through the crowd and out of sight. Aoriya didn't get the chance to see what happened, because the queen egg exploded in a flurry of shimmering shards. She stepped back, giving the queen room. She glared upwards, as if to defy the queen who's hide was as volitile and radient as if she'd been born from a volcano spread wings that were overwide for a gold and bugled loudly.

Rosniell tensed. "Here she comes... ready girls!" Rosniell called out, the Fortian blonde taking the initiative.

"whatever..." Aoriya huffed. Suddenly the queen was sniffing at her... Aoriya squeaked, backing away. Sofia paled, and suddenly the queen was glaring down at her, reaching out a paw to try and fling her out of the way.

Dannya glared, planting herself between the golden queen and the tiny girl, just as that talon was about to come down. "Vezuvith don't you dare! Bad queen!" Dannya blinked, then blushed, slapping her hands over her mouth. Aoriya pulled Sofia away. "You don't hit people! That's rude!" The queen crooned, ducking in to nuzzle the gawky Harpercraft teen. "ah yes, I'm here... come on, you're going to need food."

"Girls, turn around." A candidate from Ista, daughter of the Ista Weyr's healer. "We're to head into the crowd down there. There are still eggs left."

Sofia gulped, darting into the crowd before she had further time to think about what she was about to do. Suddenly a shrill cry went up from the male candidates. A night dark bronze was far more violent than his copper colored brother. Reiton had been backhanded and Kaian was in the way. Shiramar growled, pulling on Kaian's robes, but he wasn't fast enough. Kaian squealed as he went flying. A tiny jade green squealed as well, bolting for Kaian and getting there before Aoriya could rescue her brother. "m'kay Lujaith..." K'ian sounded dazed and confused. Sonrah was calling for the healers, G'narish was ordering the male candidates to close in around the bronze.

Jerim was right in the bronze's path, then something in him right then caused the boy to look up. "Demerith that's enough!" He said sternly. The bronze rumbled possesively and enfolded his wings around Jerim's shoulders.

"Way to go..." Rosniell smiled. "Wasn't that your brother?" She asked Aoriya as the two made their way to the center of the clutch.

"K'ian yeah..." Aoriya told her. "Now, aren't you going to try and impress?" Aoriya asked. "There's a green over there..."

"She went to that boy though... s..." A green wing suddenly enshrouded her from behind. "Rasilth, oh goodness..." A bugle went up from the ledges, that was probably the dragonrider who Searched her. "I believe you Rasilth, we need to get out of the way and feed you." Rosniell got a goofy grin on her face. "I'll follow you if you'll follow me!" She promised the green.

Sofia backed up behind Shiramar. "Shira, they can't all maul can..." Shiramar smiled, a smirk crossing his lips as he looked past Sofia. "There's one behind me isn't there?"

"A blue, he probably won't..." Too late, a tiny blue with overlong wings wrapped his tail around Sofia's ankles, his wings around her body and crooned melodically. "Calficeth? Yes... yes I'm here! Thank you for coming to get me!" Sofia hung onto the tiny blue. "Lets get out of here!"

One by one eggs hatched, and one by one they found their riders. A burly blue found R'ton, a skrawny brown tapped Sh'mar from behind to surprise him. Two of the other queen candidates made green, none of the others made blue. Suddenly...

Suddenly there were no more dragons left... the candidates were leaving in disgust, dragonriders and parents were cheering. Lessa's bet had been won! And the honor went to Igen! Igen!

Only one egg, regular sized but kind of rocky in appearance, was left, twitching hypnotically in an attempt to get free.

Aoriya kicked the sand in disgust, and stood there watching. Up in the tiers F'lar, G'narish, Lessa and Robinton had gathered around. "I'd say the honor is Igen's G'narish. Rosniell, Sofia and two others. I'm surprised Sofia impressed a blue! I didn't even think that would be possible." F'lar shook his head.

"Why not? Men impress green dragons. Why not women impress to blue?" Lessa asked. "Makes perfect sense to me, brown and bronze are likely only going to impress to men, no matter what we do. But I think we can keep accurate records after this. We can figure out how frequent female to male dragon impressions are. Perhaps that would reassure the Lord Holders. If Nessel and Sangel's reactions are any indication, we might have trouble."

"It very likely would. Lord Groghe is going to be amused, Sofia is his youngest niece." Robinton chuckled.

Robinton, F'lar and G'narish's conversation was heard down on the sands. "Women impress brown dragons my eye. I'll bet that last egg is a green." Aoriya grumbled.

The egg still rocked back and forth, steadily trying to get free. "You just don't give up do you?" Aoriya asked, walking over to the egg. "Probably a green in there for certain the way you're fighting." She frowned. "Ah well, worst comes to worst G'narish has to call back a few of those boys to try for a brown or bronze."

The egg started to get more frantic in its movements. "Yeah, yeah, I hear you in there..." There were annoyed scratching noises inside it. Aoriya pressed her ear to the rocking egg, hearing frantic creels inside. "Well if you wanna get out so badly..." Aoriya raised a fist, a fist that could throw a hammer the length of a green dragon, a fist that a majority of the boys growing up dreaded flying in their face. "I'll give you my best right hook!" Carefully aiming the punch Aoriya let out a yell as her fist impacted the shell of the egg.

CRRRRRRK! The egg itself shattered with a sound like nails on a chalkboard. Something ran into Aoriya, Aoriya went flying. BANG, Aoriya landed flat on her back on the hatching sands.

F'nor and Brekke had since joined the trio in the tiers, and F'nor was about to comment about Lessa winning their bet. But when the crack tore the air, Lessa's head whipped around, catching the collision between the female candidate and the massive firepatterned brown inside the egg.

"oh my..." The brown squealed, nudging at Aoriya worriedly.

Aoriya! My Aoriya! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to hit you! Wake up my Aoriya! The brown could be heard plainly.

"Get a dragonhealer! NOW!" Lessa snapped. She, F'nor and Brekke bolted across the sands. "Easy there... she's got a nasty bump, she's alive and she'll wake up..."

But she does not hear me! The brown leaned over his chosen and whimpered, resting his head on her chest and flinging his wings over her to keep Lessa away. Aoriya! Aoriya!

Aoriya's head was pounding. Somebody was calling her name. Aoriya! Aoriya! I didn't mean to hurt you! Wake up my Aoriya! And something warm and leathery was flattened on top of her, Are you alright?

Aoriya opened her eyes, a firey red brown head resting on her chest and with glowing blue eyes. "mmm... huh wah?"

Aoriya! You're awake! I was so worried about you! I'm Omasuth! I didn't mean to hit you! The brown rested his head on Aoriya's chest and smugly regarded her. You opened my egg so smartly, I was surprised! I'm so glad you were there for me to land on!

Aoriya's head hurt so did her shoulders and back, but her mind, heart and soul dissolved into bliss. "Omasuth..." She muttered lovingly.

"Omasuth dear, kindly remove your wings so I can check your rider's head?" Lessa asked, clearly annoyed.

YEP! WILL DO! Omasuth pulled back his wings, but kept his head on Aoriya's chest and wouldn't budge.

Aoriya blinked in surprise. "Weyrwoman Lessa... I heard you talking about women and brown dragons." She giggled dazedly. "I guess I proved you wrong there didn't I?"

Robinton sat on the edge of Igen's tiers and started laughing. "Welcome Aoriya, rider of brown Omasuth." G'narish and F'lar joined the newest brownrider. "The healers will be coming in a moment."

Aoriya sat up, carefully moving Omasuth's head so that it was in her lap, not on her chest. "Its alright, I'm just a little scraped up. Omasuth didn't know his own strength."

Omasuth crooned an apology, getting to his feet and pressing his head on Aoriya's shoulder. I am TRUELY sorry!

"You don't need to apologize." Aoriya told the brown. "I've been told time and again by the Hall Masters to hold my punches." She giggled. "I'm glad I didn't listen to their advice then."

But your head! Omasuth crooned.

"Nothing some ice won't cure." Aoriya told him. "And some numbweed."

"Congratulations young Aoriya." Lessa said with a hint of a smile on her face. "F'nor, wouldn't you say Omasuth is a bit large for a brown?"

My stomach makes noise! Omasuth blinked in surprise. And I ITCH! The brown squeaked.

"I'd say he's large for a brown." F'nor shook his head.

"Of course he is! He's Omasuth!" Aoriya giggled.

"My goodness gracious." Master Oldive, Lord Groghe and Fandarel were waiting at the hatching entrance. "Come here young lady. Let me take care of your head." Master Oldive fussed. "What did you do, run into the wall?"

"She ran into a brown dragon Master Oldive." Lessa said, lip curling in amusement.

Fandarel started to laugh. "GROGHE! The honor for first woman on blue goes to Fort. First woman on BROWN goes to us."

"INDEED! Come on Fandarel! Lets drink to our success!" Groghe clapped the smith on the back.

Aoriya had never expected to be fussed over the way they did her, and she was just happy to get Omasuth his first meal. Rosniell waved from the crowd of Weyrlings, Sofia with her. "Well well..." Rosniell had the smallest smile on her face.

"You knew." Aoriya accused the other girl.

"I guessed." Rosniell chuckled.

"Lucky guess." Aoriya huffed.

"Lucky as a bookmaker in Bitra." Rosniell teased. "Now feed your lifemate's face." She handed Aoriya a bucket. "I saved the last one for you. Rasilth said you were coming."

"I guess I'm a curiousity now." Aoriya said sheepishly. "I wonder why though. Women on green makes sense, but brown and blue?"

There is no need, ever, to question. There is every need to be. Omasuth said as he began to eat. Now hurry and fill my stomach. I want to take a nap and tomorrow I want to see the world, from the bowl to the moons.

"The moons are a bit hard to do, but when we get bigger the sky is ours to sail..."