CHAPTER 10

Tobari joined J'nara as she fed little Rillith; he had come over with L'rilly who secured R'gar's permission. J'nara grinned at him, the exhilaration of her Impression written all over her face.

"Oh, Tobari, how lovely to see you!" she said. He embraced her self-consciously, thumping her on the back to express his feelings.

"My kid sister's a dragonrider!" he said, his voice thick with emotion. "I guess you were right after all to come. Unless they've been forcing attentions on you. Your face is bruised." he added accusingly. J'nara hugged him back.

"The only person who tried to force attentions on me was a Holder snot" she told him, not noticing his raised eyebrow at her disrespectful description. J'nara had come on a long way in the last few weeks! She added, "R'gar – the Weyrlingmaster – rescued me before anything could happen. They have a nice attitude here towards having autonomy over your own body. Not like in the holds where you're often pressured into marrying someone suitable. Of course, if you're dragon's involved it's a little different, but you can usually make sure you have some say, by influencing your dragon. And I'm told it's pleasurable at the time anyway because you're mindlocked with her choice."

Tobari looked surprised at her explanation of Weyr attitudes, and slightly sceptical.

"And you've been happy?"

"Oh yes, I'd have been happy being a drudge here for the rest of my life. But now – oh, Tobari, I didn't realise it was possible to be so deliriously ecstatic!"

Her face told him everything he needed to know, and he held her close.

"Forgive me for shouting sis" he said. "I was so scared that you'd get hurt. You were too young, I suppose, to know what happened to Jeneela."

"Who?" She asked, blankly.

"Don't you know our own sister?"

She shook her head, bewildered. He shut his eyes in remembered grief.

"I suppose I don't remember her that well, but she used to play with me… you look rather like her. I didn't know what had happened at first, but when you were set on going off to the Weyr, our parents told me. They told me to say nothing to you as you're a girl" - gentle J'nara actually snorted! – "But I guess I'll disobey. She was raped by a dragonman, and killed herself."

J'nara stared at him.

"But that was surely under T'kul – no-one with any sense could believe such a thing of T'bor's people!" She cried, indignantly.

He scowled.

"All right, I over-reacted. I admit it – but none of us knew anything about dragonmen. What had they to do with commons?"

J'nara reflected that trying to explain that trusting one's instincts would be of little use, and contented herself with patting his arm; then she took him to meet her friend B'lova. Tobari was inclined to be a little awed by B'lova's evident social rank – he had seen the clothes her family wore – but the girl soon put him at his ease, telling him the amusing story of how she and J'nara had been caught dirty when the summons to hatching came.

"So panicking we fell into the bathing pool and I swear we must have grown temporary wings to get out so quick!" She laughed. "I'll bet these tunics never got used as a drying cloth before!"

Tobari managed a chuckle.

"How did you know I was a candidate?" J'nara finally put the question that had been troubling her. Tobari smiled dryly.

"We had the most tremendous honour accorded us." He told her. "Weyrwoman L'rilly came and asked if any of us wanted to come. Our parents….declined. I, however, accepted. I felt that if a Queenrider felt you worth while enough to seek out your family it would be churlish not to. Besides, I missed you."

J'nara had tears in her eyes.

"She has been so good to me" she murmured. "I'm sorry mother and father can't forgive me. Will it cause problems for you?"

Tobari shrugged.

"Maybe. But I bring in good wages."

"If there are any problems, you can always come here. High Reaches welcomes everybody, and we've not got a skilled glassworker."

"I'll think about it" he said, genuinely interested. "I'll go back anyway, to tell them how you are – and how things are here. I'm sure they'll be more…flexible when they know the truth."

J'nara wondered; but she kept her thoughts to herself. Her parents were die-hard people of conservative mind-set and were slow to take on board new ideas once they had made up their minds.

oOoOo

T'lana and L'rilly were puzzled that Geriana had still not Impressed. The girl had become a feature of the Weyr, its semi-official Weyrartist and the girls had always conspired to make sure that she had her easel set up on the hatching grounds. Since the girl was regularly spoken to by dragons, even having been given the nickname 'Geri' by them it seemed certain that she ought to Impress. Geri herself was unaware of this, and kept meaning to return to her hideaway in the mountains. There were plenty of volunteers to help her maintain the vegetable garden there. It was also used, with her permission, as a base for proddy Greens and their riders and mates, to make sure of the selection of a partner where the rider was unsure that his chosen lover would ride the winning dragon. T'bor tutted a little, but it did reduce friction within the Weyr and that had to be good. Geri was a romantic at heart, and was always happy to help out lovers! She had not, herself, formed any particular relationship, though she did not discourage romantic attentions from the Weyr's young men. She had a happy nature, and was unshaken in her belief that the right man would come along some time! T'lana hoped that the same would be true of the right dragon, but Pilgra had her doubts.

"Don't you see, T'lan" she said "That her art comes first with her – she'd never be prepared to put her mind to being a dragonrider. She wouldn't fight Thread – she'd DRAW it!"

T'lana laughed, and had to admit the truth in the little Weyrwoman's words. Geriana had plenty of courage; but at least part of her apparent courage was an interest in everything that made her ignore fear! Pilgra pointed this out and added,

"It's the same with Masterharper Robinton, and to a lesser extent Menolly. The dragons adore Robinton – but music is so much a part of him that he couldn't give part of himself to a dragon."

"How strange that anyone should feel that way!" marvelled T'lana. "What about T'rin?"

"T'rin does music – it is a part of him, but he doesn't breathe it and live by it. If he had, how could he have looked after Sh'rilla as well as he did before you found them?"

T'lana pondered.

"I see what you mean" she said. "Genius requires a certain amount of selfishness. To be a dragonrider you have to suborn yourself to your dragon – and the needs of Pern. I'm glad our T'rin's not a genius!"

Pilgra laughed.

"You never did learn tact, did you, dear?" she chuckled.

"I learned my tact from you, dear one" retorted T'lana.

"Point conceded" Pilgra admitted ruefully.

oOoOo

Meanwhile, Holder Marlov of River Bend had mostly succeeded in calming down his wife, Bellanda. He explained carefully to her that it was impossible to un-Impress, that riders separated from their dragons by death frequently went insane; and that that was the only way to take their daughter's dragon from her. He patiently pointed out that it would be unthinkable to even think about killing a hatchling – and that if she seriously suggested this, there would be dragonriders who would consider more readily the idea of killing her! At last, Bellanda admitted that she had been overwrought and conceded that she had not really meant what she had said.

"I know" her husband stroked her hair. "You were so worried about Belle. Just think, dear, if half the stories are true, she'll never have to worry again, for her dragon will take care of her. That's a heavyweight partisan to have, isn't it?"

Bellanda managed half a smile, and admitted that she supposed so; and Marlov took her to find B'lova so they could clear the air.

oOoOo

B'lova was not sure that she was overjoyed to see her parents. Little Linith stood in front of her, wings spread threateningly with Trel on her head.

"If she tries to hurt you I will be very cross!" the dragon baby declared. B'lova put an arm around her shoulder.

"They won't hurt me – or you." She said, hoping that it was the truth. Shards, had she once been as volatile as her mother? How embarrassing!

Marlov said,

"You see, my dear, how the little dragon protects her already?"

"Yes, I'm sorry, Belle-baby. I'm glad the sweet little thing is going to protect you" Bellanda was genuinely contrite at her outburst and truly glad for her daughter when she saw the joy on her face chasing away what little pain was not dulled by numbweed. "But why did that other dragon hurt you so? It's not right!"

B'lova gritted her teeth and took the pet name without a murmur, and patiently explained to her mother how brave Rillith had been being to – as she thought – protect J'nara.

"For" as B'lova said, "How could she know what dear friends we are?" she insisted on introducing her parents to J'nara and Rillith. Poor J'nara was quite tongue-tied, but B'lova was well able to fill any conversational gaps!

Eventually B'lova's parents returned to River Bend satisfied that their daughter was contented, and the girl heaved a sigh of relief.

"At least they care what happens to you." Reproached J'nara.

"I know. And I do love them both – but I don't feel anymore that I've a lot in common with them. Especially Mother" B'lova sighed regretfully.

"I suppose I never had a lot in common with my parents" admitted J'nara. "I was always in trouble for having too much imagination, and making up stories about people I'd see rather like I do – did – about the rooms I cleaned. They called them lies. I didn't mean to lie – and I'd not pass on what I fancied like gossip" she paused, remembering her hurt at this criticism. "And of course I've always loved dragons. I used to even make up stories about weyrfolk. I always thought it would be so wonderful just to live in a Weyr and be near wonderful, wonderful dragons. If one of T'kul's people made my sister kill herself I can understand better my parents' extremely virulent reaction to my desire to come here; but I'm sure they would have disapproved anyway. You sometimes laugh at me for being practical; but I spent most of my childhood in trouble for being too frivolous and not sufficiently down to earth!"

B'lova put her arm around her.

"But they'd not have tried to dissuade you if they didn't love you" she said. "They must have cared what happened to you. I wonder if they didn't come because they'd have to admit you were right? After all, parents don't like to be wrong when their children are right."

J'nara smiled a little.

"You sound like T'lana, the incurably cheerful. Or Geriana" she said.

"But I might be right."

"We'll see what my brother has to say" said J'nara. "Perhaps they'll unbend. We can never, I think, be close, but I'd like to feel that they don't think badly of me. I know they've been living under the impression that I've been nothing but a loving-wench, because when my father makes up his mind, he doesn't want to be confused with the facts. And he whipped me for my little fantasies." She added scornfully. Then she laughed. "Well I'm happy; and I don't think mother and father know how to be. Life is so full of worrying about not offending the wrong people for them. If our social position had been higher I could understand it – but we couldn't fall much lower! He's a farmworker. It's my brother who made it to Journeyman Glasscrafter – and he belongs to his crafthall for protection."

B'lova encouraged her friend to talk. She had little idea of the lives of ordinary people – though J'nara claimed that she was convinced that most ordinary people were less hidebound than her family. B'lova wondered about this. Few of the candidates came from farming background, unless their families were small holders in their own right, and those that did were usually outspoken against hidebound attitudes. A lack of imagination was certainly a bar to Impression, and candidates were not usually drawn from those who could not accept new ideas. In return she told J'nara stories of her own pampered upbringing, trying to make it as funny as possible, and telling her a highly embroidered tale of her infatuation for the head groom and his desperate attempts to escape from her!

oOoOo

Z'kan patted his daughter sympathetically on the shoulder as she left the hatching ground disappointed. He was not surprised; frankly he fully expected her to Impress a Queen when one was available. Her grandmother had been a Queenrider, and her attitude was, he felt, of the best; even allowing for a certain partiality on his part. Zaira herself was philosophical; she knew that she was rather on the young side for a female candidate. Of course, T'lan had been a little younger, but Zaira knew T'lana well enough now to realise that she was very much one of a kind. Besides, Zaira was actually hoping that there was a Golden egg waiting for her some time; she had plans for H'llon as part of her future and she suspected that it might take Melth's participation to induce him to abandon his customary reserve where romance was concerned.

oOoOo

H'llon was entirely unaware of being part of Zaira's deliberations; he was more interested at the moment in helping R'gar to get the new weyrlings sorted out with well-fed dragonets. He had just started flying between and knew that soon he would be part of a Fighting Wing with his friends V'gion and L'gal, and would not be helping R'gar out any more. Faioth and Solpeth were well grown like Melth, smaller than Benden bronzes like all of Mirrith's offspring, but hardy and fast. They worked well in formation together, and had attained something of a reputation of efficiency in their duties of carrying blackrock to the riders on sweep. In fact, R'gar had said that he believed they had even out-performed T'lana's group when the duty had been theirs; and H'llon had glowed with pride. He was proud of his strength, although he knew that tossing the heavy sacks from one rider to another needed as much knack as strength of arm; but he was able to throw the sacks further and thus return more rapidly for a second load. V'gion of course was used to tossing cargo from ship to shore; and L'gal had worked hard to learn the knack and maintain the reputation of the group. Like H'llon they were looking forward to being invited to join a grown rider as his wingman to train for real against Thread.

oOoOo

It was H'llon, asking A'ira for aid with sorting out the two female weyrlings, who got an unaccustomed burst of grumpiness from the Green rider. H'llon blinked in surprise, and A'ira looked contrite.

"I'm sorry, H'llon, I don't know what came over me" she apologised. H'llon blushed.

"I do." He almost blurted out. "Say, why don't you and R'cal ask Geri if you can use her Weyrlet?"

A'ira stared at him, uncomprehending for a moment; then blushed as fierily as he. She muttered something that included a word of thanks, and rushed off to find her weyrmate. H'llon reflected that it would not be long before Melth started to take an interest in Queen flights, and fervently hoped he'd not catch any. A'ira was a clutch mate of his, and although Greens tended to mature early it was a sign that all their dragons were growing up. H'llon had a lively alarm at the thought of the loss of control that draconic appetites implied. Of course, if there was a Queen rider he liked well enough… it was just that he was in awe of Pilgra, and looked upon the other three Queenriders rather in terms of favourite sisters. Besides, it would be Unthinkable; all of them had established mates whom he had no desire to oust during a flight (even were Melth capable) and of course to fly Pilgra would be quite ridiculous as he had no desire to be in T'bor's place! H'llon was reassured by reflecting that rider – and dragon –choice had as much to do with such things as the size and strength of the dragons, which was just as well. Melth might not be as large as most Benden bronzes, but he had not attained his full growth yet, and was bidding fair to come close. Of course with Laranth as a sire, it would not be surprising for Melth to be big and strong, but that could have its drawbacks!

oOoOo

Z'linda was also concerned; she had Impressed Zith at the same time that A'ira had Impressed Joroth but unlike the young widow had not made any intimate bonds. She talked about it to her cousin T'lana.

"Well," said T'lana, "It boils down to whether you're a virgin or not, doesn't it?"

Z'linda flushed.

"What sort of question is that to ask?" She said, indignantly. Her hair was not as red as T'lana's; but her dragon's nubile state was having an effect upon her temperament.

"A very personal, but relevant one." Retorted T'lana. "Shards, girl, we are cousins – and fellow weyrwomen. If you've never experienced any man at all, it could be scary, and I'll need to get very earthy with you to explain what to do so you don't accidentally hurt yourself." She grinned. "Poor R'gar has to have this sort of talk with the boys, Blue and Green riders, to enable them to find ways to either cope or, er, avoid too much physical contact if they're really inhibited. Fortunately most Greens Impress to boys who have homosexual tendencies, but the first few times, really they're often too young for a full scale encounter and have to take themselves away to prevent themselves from being badly hurt. There are ways around going the whole way, of course, like having clothing too tough to tear and too complex in fastening to remove until the worst of the dragonlust is dissipated. It truly is dangerous for really little boys – as they can be – to get too physically involved. You could take the same options; but you'll have a limited time of fertility and I suggest that sooner or later you're going to want to think about breeding the next generation. Our kin seem good material and it seems a shame not to have babies off other riders to enhance that."

Z'linda stared open mouthed. She had never considered the implications to her male clutch mates; and some of them were scarcely thirteen turns yet.

"I'd rather have babies with someone I'd formed an attachment for" she snapped. She had not meant to snap; but it came out that way. T'lana was patient. She'd helped some of the lads through this before, the ones who'd not recovered from being nervous of R'gar.

"Of course, dear one." She said. "But you might find that in the flight you cared for someone more than you realised. Now, answer me my question – are you sexually experienced; and is there any rider you quite get on with who might help out?"

"I did have an affair right when I first came here" Z'linda admitted, "But I didn't really enjoy it much. It was because I could, you see – and he was handsome. But he was a real 'I am', and he really seemed to feel that he was doing me a favour. So I told him to go between. It wasn't very nice." She shrugged. "Then there was that ill-fated picnic, and I guess that all in all I went off men rather. I get on fine with most of my clutchmates but I'm not sure I'd like to wake up next to any of them."

"Well apart from Bedemath's rider - I am correct in recognising the man, aren't I?" - Z'linda nodded, chagrined as her cousin continued, "Is there any rider you DISlike?"

Z'linda shrugged.

"I scarcely know most of the older riders" she said. You and R'gar keep our noses too well to the grindstone for us to have much social contact."

T'lana chuckled.

"We like to keep the weyrlings busy" she admitted blandly. "Besides, it'll save your life when you join the Female wing in a month or two. If you know what you're doing and have no dislikes, it might be as well to just take pot luck and leave it to Zith. Her feelings will make sure that it's good for you during; and after, she'll only remember what you encourage her to remember. Pilgra always used to say, just enjoy the feeling. The dragons are right, and the man's only an adjunct for your pleasure, like bubbly pies."

Z'linda roared with laughter.

"Trust Pilgra to bring food into it somewhere!" she chuckled. She felt somewhat reassured by T'lana's advice; and if she envied her cousin for having formed an attachment to R'gar before Mirrith flew, she could at least hope to have the luck to find a weyrmate herself at some point. After all, it had taken L'rilly years, but now she seemed euphoric with D're. Between shouting at him, that was! She did take on board T'lana's implied suggestion that it was her duty to provide new blood for the Weyr; after all, the Weyr had given her so much, not least Zith! However, she hoped to wait a while at least, especially if she did find someone special – although she had every intention of going along with the custom of having her children fostered. She did not feel as maternal as T'lana and A'ira who accepted help but by no means surrendered the responsibilities for their children.

oOoOo

Meanwhile A'ira had taken H'llon's advice to remove with R'cal and Camnath to a secluded spot. Although Camnath had had a long warm summer to keep his aches at a minimum, and R'cal had in any case been rubbing him with fish oil as a prophylactic against joint-ail, there seemed no point in risking some younger Blue or a Brown stealing a march on him. They did not go to Geriana's Weyrlet, however; R'cal took his beloved to the Island site he had discovered with its oval cone and lush plain running to the sea below. R'cal had visions of establishing a new Weyr here one day, after the Pass, where riders could be self sufficient in farming the rich volcanic soil, independent of doubtless ungrateful Holderfolk. On due consideration, he picked several young Blue riders of A'ira's clutch to accompany them, to give their dragons the practice, and Joroth the fun of several suitors. He was confident that Camnath could out-fly any smokeless weyrlings!

oOoOo

When Joroth rose, after blooding several wild wherries, she took off with a rush to confuse her suitors, as Mirrith was wont to do. She screamed her defiance to them all, and with a provocative flip of her tail across Camnath's face, was airborne.

Camnath had always been noted for his calmness and good sense, not always attributes of the smaller dragons, and he refused to let Joroth flap him into an ill-considered move. He watched, waited, and with impeccable timing swooped to wrap his neck and tail round hers and bring her away to their temporary weyr. R'cal laughed deep in his throat as he bore A'ira in to their makeshift couch.

"So who says he's a silly old fool!" he whooped.

A'ira had never thought either of them to be silly old fools; and she showed her love just how much she appreciated him as the four were joined in shared joy.