"In my day," Wingleader Eb'nezar muttered, "We had a Hatching, and the beasts Impressed candidates, and that was that. None of this sneaking onto the Hatching ground and inappropriate people Impressing and needing special Weyr meetings and having to miss the Hatching Feast and suchlike."
Martha, Queen rider of Liberteth, snorted from where she was leaning against the wall beside him. "Because no-one complained when a simple kitchen drudge from the Lower Caverns Impressed a Queen."
Eb grinned, slowly. "Well, I complained, but that's because I was thirteen and thought you wouldn't be able to slip me sweetmeats at midnight any more."
All of Council Weyr's Queenriders and Wingleaders were crowded into the Council room, along with a few Weyrladies and Weyrleaders from other Weyrs who had come to observe the Hatching, and the Lord Holder of Chicago Hold, the Weyr's nearest neighbor. In the center of all that crowd Council's newest queen rider sat on the meeting table, in a white Gather dress still smeared with slowly-drying herdbeast blood, young Archith sleeping smugly beside her, and her too-old eyes carefully watching everything around her. Her shoes dangled three feet above the ground.
Mai, the Weyrlady, had stood to be eye-to-eye with the girl. "Little girl--," she started, in a soothing voice.
"I'm not a little girl," the little girl interrupted her. "My name is Ivy, and I'm a weyrwoman like my mother was."
Lord Holder Marcone, meanwhile, was conversing with the Weyrleader. He was scrupulously calm, as always, but the red swirling in the eyes of the fire lizard queen on his shoulder gave away his anger. "So I am expected simply to accept," he told Weyrleader L'try, "that a seven-year-old girl is to become a weyrwoman. With an adult's responsibilities. Flying against Thread. And perhaps most relevantly, participating in mating flights."
"No-one wanted her on that Hatching Ground," L'try replied.
"Except Akath, apparently," Martha muttered to Eb in an aside, "Liberteth has been asking around. She tells me it wasn't an accident."
Akath had been left with eggs still on the Hatching Ground when her rider died in that stupid accident a few months ago. Ivy had been spending nearly all her time with her mother's queen since then, until she had Impressed and the beast had gone between, only a few hours ago.
"The dragon deliberately hid her on the hatching ground overnight?" Eb said. When the tiny girl had appeared from under Akath's vast gold wing, yawning and rubbing her eyes, the Hatching already in progress, everyone had wanted to assume it was simply an oversight. "I'm not surprised somehow. We shouldn't have indulged the beast so much; we've failed the daughter."
"No-one in the Weyr handles it well when a queen rider dies," Martha replied softly.
"The dragons choose, and we do not interfere with that choice. We cannot interfere with that choice. Trying to do so would destroy the Weyr," L'try was continuing to pontificate.
Marcone folder his arms. "That is unacceptable."
Mai came before them, attempting to be conciliatory. "Of course she won't be flying Thread until she's older, and can pass the same training as any other queen rider," she said. "And dragons who Impress young often delay their first mating flight."
"How long?" Marcone asked.
"I'm sorry?" Mai asked.
"How long do they delay mating flights?"
"Ah. We have. Ah. Found records of as long as two and a half years."
Marcone stared at her flatly, unimpressed. "So she'll be nine."
"Ten," the young girl corrected, and smiled sweetly at him when he turned to her. "I'll be ten by then, Lord Holder. I'm already seven and three-quarters."
The Holder swung back around, his gaze sweeping the assembled dragonriders, his fire lizard rising from his shoulder to circle under the room's ceiling. "Surely there is someone here who understands why this is unacceptable."
The only one who met his eyes was Wingleader M'gan, who snarled, "Weyr folk know their duties to Pern, Lord Marcone. Do you?"
Marcone raised a lip to snarl back, but was interrupted by a sudden thunk noise as a large belt-knife embedded itself in the table in front of L'try.
"Oh, shards and shells," Eb muttered, as a tall, leather-clad dragonrider stalked forward to retrieve his knife, only to balance it on the tip of his finger and toss it again. Thunk. It was K'caid, only a blue rider, but he'd been allowed into this meeting, under protest, as Ivy's designated guardian by her mother's request.
"Don't get your tights in a twist, Marcone," K'caid said. "Just because the dragon's rising in flight doesn't mean the rider has to get ridden. As all we weyrfolk know, right?" He glanced around the room, sneering slightly. Thunk went the knife. "There are plenty of green riders who would rather enjoy the hospitality of the Lowers Caverns than indulge whichever blue happens to catch their beast. The riders can take care of themselves if they have to." Thunk. "Oh, no, wait, you wouldn't know that, would you? Because if a bronze chooses to honor a green with his attention, why then of course her rider must be equally honored by his. There's no need to ask." Thunk.
"K'caid," L'try snarled. "Watch yourself. You were allowed into this meeting on sufferance, and against my recommendation." Left unspoken was the continuation: just as you are allowed in this Weyr on sufferance, for the sake of your dragon. K'caid had been brought to the Weyr's custody after killing a dragonrider in a duel, but before his punishment could be carried out, he had succeeded in Impressing Yeth, and the two had gone on to fight Thread with a ferocity that outdid most bronze pairs. L'try was not the only rider who was not happy with that outcome - it was one of the few things on which he and Eb agreed - but the Weyr had decided that it was better to bring him into the Weyr than risk a blue going renegade.
"And you are well aware that the compulsion when a queen rises is much stronger than for a mere green," L'try continued.
"Am I," K'caid said, eyes narrowed. "Well, in that case, if you're so sure that all of your strong and manly and honorable bronze riders can't restrain themselves - although maybe we'd be more sure of that if they'd ever tried - I'll just have to make sure no-one touches her, myself." Thunk. "Yeth won't be rising for a queen, and I can handle a couple dozen distracted bronze riders, no problem." He smiled. "Most of you don't have a clue how to fight without your beasts to protect you, anyway."
"Blue rider," L'try growled. "You are out of line."
"If you can't control your riders, L'try," a new voice drawled, "Denari Weyr would be more than happy to take her off your hands."
Eb manfully resisted the temptation to facepalm. N'codemus, Weyrleader of Denari. That Weyr involving itself was the last thing they needed. Instead, he stepped away from the wall and raised his voice. "Lord Holder," he said. "You have my personal promise that the Weyr will allow no harm to come to Ivy as a result of her early Impression, during mating flights or otherwise."
"And this is a thing you can promise? I thought that 'there is nothing you could do once the dragon chose.'"
"Rider K'caid is right. There are ways to protect a queen's rider during a mating flight. It's been done before when the rider was wounded or would otherwise be in danger. Ivy will be protected."
"You have no authority to make promises for this Weyr, Wingleader!" L'try protested, but both Eb'nezar and Lord Marcone ignored him, holding each other's gaze.
"I swear it by Blackstath's fire," Eb said, and Marcone nodded.
He whistled his fire lizard back down to his shoulder and stalked toward the door. "Weyrleader," he called back as he was leaving. "Bear in mind that I will be keeping a very close eye on Weyrwoman Ivy's career. See to it that I am never again motivated to interfere."
Two years later:
Eb'nezar stood on his balcony, looking out over the wide expanse of the Weyr. It was emptier than usual. On the balcony of Ivy's weyr, Ivy stood, slim and tall, with Charity of the lower caverns and her oldest daughter on either side. Beside them crouched Archith, glowing fiery gold with her desire, tense and ready. Blue Yeth lay stretched insolently across the inner door of her Weyr - he wouldn't be able to hurt any of the riders directly, but he would be an effective physical barrier. And K'caid, learing lazily against his shoulder and testing the edge of a knife, would be more than willing to do what was necessary.
The rest of Council weyr's queens were on the other side of the continent, practicing formation drills under Captain Luccio. Most of the bronzes and a lot of the browns were with them, but about a dozen bronzes still perched around the feeding ground, waiting for Archith to blood her kill before rising in her first mating flight.
Eb and his allies had managed to get the worst of the bronzes and browns out of range, anyway; the least controlled, the wildest, and the ones K'caid had told him had a bad reputation among the green riders, along with the riders who had chosen not to take part in such a young rider's mating. But a queen could not rise with no bronzes to follow; half a dozen of the most responsible of the young bronze riders, in their mid-teens, most of them Impressed at the same hatching as Ivy and on their first mating flight, had stayed. Even if the worst should happen, most of them would be too disoriented to hurt either Ivy or Archith.
But Weyrleader L'try, in one of his blind displays of authority, had insisted that it would be improper and a poor reflection on the Weyr if a young queen flew with no experienced bronzes behind her, so L'try's Merlinth, M'gan's Damocleth, and a few of the rest of his crowd were also among the flock of waiting bronzes. And that meant Eb and Blackstath needed to be there too, so that there would be someone in the flight trying to ensure that everything went according to plan. There wasn't anything more Eb could do, short of challenging for the leadership next time Mai's queen rose, and there were some things even he wasn't willing to do.
You sure you're up to this? he thought to Blackstath where he waited with the other bronzes.
The day I can't fly loops around any other bronze in this weyr is the day we both retire Blackstath replied. You sure you're up to it, old man?
Eb snorted. Hoss, it takes more than a yearling queen's flight to make my blood rise these days. And then he blinked. A small blue fire lizard had suddenly appeared in the air in front of him. He recognized it, after a moment, as one of the half-feral gang who sometimes ran errands for H'ry. "What are you doing in a Weyr on the day of a mating flight?" he asked it gently. Most of the wild fire lizards in the area of the weyr made themselves scarce at such times - either staying out of the way of the sometimes-erratic dragons, or flying after their own queens who had been roused to mating by the dragons' passions.
The fire lizard chittered at him and he realized it was bearing a roughly-tied scroll on one of its legs. He reached toward it, but it backwinged just out of range and gave him an offended look with a tilt of its head. He sighed, strode back to his table, and presented it with a handful of bread and cheese with one hand while it let him untie the message with the other. As soon as he had, it grabbed the rest of the cheese and fled between again.
The message was in H'ry's hand, sure enough, a rapid, barely legible scrawl that had smeared a bit as it was rolled:
Eb-- N'codemus and Sheila have dropped by the Hold for a "friendly visit". Lascieth's a week or less from rising. Boboth and I will try to divert but some help would be nice. --H'ry
Eb stared at the note for a moment, then cursed sulphorously. With a normal mating flight this would be bad but recoverable - all of the Council dragons had been trained in what to do if two queens rose to close together, and there would be enough bronzes and browns to keep both queens separated and occupied. But with nearly all the Weyr's larger dragons gone, and Archith's mating flight teetering on the edge of danger as it was, if Ivy couldn't manage to keep control of an adult queen, it was going to take a miracle to get out of this without any serious casualties, or worse. Which was no doubt the Denari Weyrleader's plan.
He closed his eyes and reached out to his dragon. Nothing to be done but what could be done. Blackstath, can you read Amoracchieth? Tell M'chael and S'nya that Lascieth's going to rise over the Hold; they need to get between it and the Weyr and hold that line. Amoracchieth and Esperacchieth were the Weyr's largest and steadiest browns; Eb had meant to keep them on call and ready for any trouble with Archith's flight, but now they would be needed to step in if the two queens tried to approach each other.
The two browns would help, but they wouldn't be able to stop even a single bronze in mating frenzy all on their own. And Boboth and H'ry were good, but two bronzes by themselves wouldn't be able to distract an angry queen enough, especially if one of them was egging her on. Dammit. Nearly everyone he could usually call on was with Captain Luccio. Well, when needs must. And tell Damocleth too, Eb added. We need at least one more bronze with Lascieth, and none of the young ones have the control yet. M'gan was L'try's - mostly - but he, at least, always put the good of the Weyr above politics and personalities.
Eb could feel Damocleth's gaze on him, as flat and piercing as his rider's, but then the stocky bronze startled the rest of the waiting dragons by lifting his wings and taking rapid flight toward the hold. Eb gave himself a moment to catch his breath, and to ask himself What, by the Pass, is H'ry doing at the Hold in the first place?
H'ry and Boboth were dawdling. They were standing together near the top of one of the peaks across the valley from the Hold, while H'ry finished off a bottle of lukewarm klah in preparation for going between. They were meant to be with one of Luccio's drill squadrons, but H'ry was feeling slightly guilty about abandoning Ivy on today of all days: she was a great kid who didn't deserve half the fewmets she'd had to deal with, this least of all. On the other hand, with too many of the bronze riders still remembering what had happened to Wingleader D'morne the first (and last) time H'ry and Boboth had fought thread in his wing, it wasn't worth it to argue that they were one of the steady and trustworthy pairs. Even if Boboth was several times more likely to set Merlinth's bastard tail on fire than do anything that might hurt Ivy or Archith. Well-- there was a fairly chance that Boboth would finally give in to temptation and set Merlinth's tail on fire.
They were just about to set off again when Lord Marcone's gold fire lizard, Gard, appeared, and then landed on H'ry's gloved wrist.
"What are you doing here?" he asked her, amused. She was a bright enough gold that Archith's flight would almost certainly set her off, too, which made it odd that she was anywhere other her home. "Shouldn't you be cuddling up to Nietzsche or discombobulating Marcone's enemies?"
The fire lizard stared at him, and rustled her wings restlessly.
She wants you to come back to the Hold with her, Bob translated for him, amused. I guess Marcone finally got tired of making do with that Helen woman when she flies.
"Bob," H'ry said, "Even if there was any chance of that happening - and you know very well that there isn't - there is no way we could take the risk while a queen dragon is flying."
I know, Harry, shards, lighten up. She really does want you to go back to the Hold, though. I think there's some kind of trouble there.
H'ry looked down at Gard, and then glanced over the valley where Marcone's prosperous Hold nestled. "Will you be far enough away to keep out of it if we're still there when Archith flies?"
Bob whirled his eyes expressively. What, you think I'm still a youngling? As long as you can control your lust for the Holder while you're there I think I'll be fine.
"All right," H'ry said, and took a breath. "Tell your Lord Holder that we'll be there, but it had better be important."
Gard blinked at him, and then went between without even bothering to lift off from H'ry's arm.
"I guess it was important," H'ry said, startled, and swung himself back onto Boboth.
It took them less than five minutes to cover the air to Marcone's main hold, and Bob was circling to land in the main forecourt when they both realized that there were already dragons landed: a bronze so large he couldn't have possibly been anyone but N'codemus's Andurieth, and a golden queen, nearly the same size, who H'ry recognized as Lascieth, one of Denari Weyr's junior queens. Lascieth's Sheila was far from H'ry's least favorite of Denari's weyrwomen, but she also wasn't well-known for having the best control over her queen. And from the color of Lascieth's gold, there was approximately zero chance that she wouldn't rise in response to Archith.
"Shells and shards," Harry said feelingly, and Boboth echoed him, and added Someone needs to do something about Denari Weyr.
"I know that and you know that," H'ry muttered. "But it doesn't help us much now. Listen, land in the forecourt and do what you can with those two. I'll send a message to Eb, get him to do what he can on the Weyr end, and then I'll go in and find out what the threadfall N'codemus thinks he's doing."
As soon as he'd dismounted again Harry pulled a scrap of parchment, a stick of charcoal, and a hunk of cheese out of his belt pouch, and called out Toot-toot! in his loudest telepathic voice. The blue fire lizard didn't appear until Harry had turned the corner out of sight of the dragons in the courtyard, but that was fine, since he'd only just finished scribbling the note to Eb.
Toot-toot took the cheese eagerly, and slightly less eagerly let H'ry tie the message onto his leg. "Take that message to Eb at Council Weyr," H'ry told him firmly. "You know Eb, right? Blackstath's Eb? You like him, he fed you a whole fish once. Take it directly to Eb. Take it directly there, and don't stop anywhere else on the way."
A lot of people found fire lizards - especially feral fire lizards who had never Impressed - to be too flightly for message-carrying, but H'ry had found that as long as you were firm, and repeated everything at least three times, and were consistent with your bribery, they were reliable enough. Toot acknowledged his instructions, lifted off, and was between before he was twenty feet above the hold.
That taken care of, H'ry marched into the hold, sweeping past various of Marcone's people until he got to the door of the small audience room where Marcone would almost certainly be entertaining a visiting Weyrleader. The presence outside its door of Hendricks - the Lord Holder's steward-slash-bodyguard - and his bronze fire lizard, Nietzsche - was confirmation enough. Hendricks acknowledged him with a curt nod and a "Good, you're here," before opening the door, which was far enough off his usual response to H'ry that it almost rattled him more than the fire lizard had.
He walked in to find Marcone, N'codemus, and Sheila sipping red wine about a small table, and rather than let the Denarians get the upper hand, H'ry started with, "So explain to me, Weyrleader, why you thought is was a good idea to bring Lascieth here when one of the Council queens is rising."
N'codemus raised his eyebrows delicately. "Is one of your queens rising, Bronze Rider H'ry? But I have heard nothing about that. Surely L'try would have informed our Weyr if that was the case - it would be a dreadful insult for your Weyr to fly a junior queen and not offer to let some of our bronzes have a taste."
And the worst part of it was, N'codemus was techincally right. Usually, with a junior queen's mating, lower-ranked bronzes from all over Pern would be invited to join the flight, to help spread the bloodlines around and build connections between the Weyrs. L'try and Mai had agreed, however, that with Ivy too young to fully take part, it would be far better to keep it in the Weyr, and most of the other Weyrleaders would probably have agreed. The decision not to inform them at all had been largely based on the knowledge that Denari Weyr, and possibly several others, would have insisted on sending bronzes anyway, just as a power play against L'try and Council.
"And, of course," N'codemus added smoothly, "there would be a safety issue, as well. After all, if we weren't aware a queen was rising, why, we might accidentally bring a rival queen in range! And no-one wants to risk that."
H'ry ground his teeth. It was obvious that N'codemus had found out, somehow, that Archith was rising, and that he knew exactly what he was doing by bringing Lascieth here. Some part of him was appalled that he would risk one of his own queens over something like this, but most of him was too busy trying desperately to come up with some way to salvage this.
"Lord H'ry," Marcone drawled, giving away nothing in his face or expression. Gard perched in the open window, glowing gold, her eyes bright agitated orange. "A pleasure to see you. And polite as always. Lord N'codemus and Lady Sheila were in the area, and they just dropped by to talk about the possibility of expanding Denari Weyr's wine orders from my Hold. Do come join us. What do you think of the new red from the south slopes, my Lord?" he asked N'codemus solicitously.
"Not bad," the Weyrleader replied. "A bit fruity for my taste, however."
"Hmm. Yes, I'd thought that myself. Perhaps you'd like to try some of last year's vintage - the late rains produced a much dryer grape. Hendricks!" he called.
"Oh, no, I couldn't--" N'codemus began, just as Hendricks came in and said, "Yes, m'lord?"
"Lord N'codemus here would like to try some of our early vintages from the south slope," Marcone said. "Why don't you take him down to the wine cellars?"
"It really isn't necessary for you to go to the trouble," N'codemus said.
"Oh, it's no trouble at all, Lord," Hendricks assured him, the bronze fire lizard around his neck staring alongside with disconcerting intelligence. "If you'll just come with me, I think you'll be very pleased to see what we have to offer."
N'codemus looked from Marcone, bland and polite and ever, to Hendricks, also bland and polite, but somehow completely failing to hide the fact that he was about two-fifty pounds of solid muscle and knew how to use it, and quickly came to the conclusion that he would either be going on the tour, or ending the polite visit. "Oh, very well," he said. "But we'll be quick, Lord Holder - there is still quite a bit I wish to discuss with you."
"Of course, Weyrleader," Marcone murmured, and didn't twitch a muscle until the pair were gone and the door shut behind them. He put his wine glass down and turned to H'ry, suddenly intense, but H'ry raised a finger to silence him as Bob reported back.
Blackstath says Damocleth is on his way to join us, and we've got Amoraccieth and Esperaccieth and their riders as backup, but that's all he can spare. They're going to try to steer Archith north if they can, so point Lascieth somewhere else. And also--shards, he said, his voice going wobbly for a second. Archith's rising right now. And Laschieth heard; she'll be off any second.
In the Weyr, Archith leapt from her Weyrwoman's balcony and dove through the circle of bronzes onto a hapless herdbeast. Ivy collapsed back into Charity's arms while Molly reminded her "Tell her to blood it only! Blood it only! She musn't carry the extra weight!" as Archith killed and drained first one beast, then another, then a third, before bellowing her defiance at the males and leaping shining into the sky.
The young bronzes took off immediately after her, sprinting into her wake. In a normal mating flight, that would be bad strategy; more experienced dragons saved their energy for later in the flight, when the queen would be starting to tire. But in this case it meant that Merlinth and his group were hanging back, well behind the pack of young males, which made them easy targets for Blackstath to disrupt. Merlinth first? he asked his rider with bloodthirsty glee, and Eb grinned along. Mating flights were always a good excuse to get out some of the bronze-on-bronze aggression that couldn't be allowed to erupt any other time - as long as at least one of the riders kept back enough to keep things under control.
In the Hold, Sheila turned to H'ry and said "Is there really a gold rising at Council?"
"What, you didn't know?" H'ry asked.
"No, I didn't," Sheila said. "But I'm glad you think so little of me that I'd knowingly risk my dragon on one of Nic's inane power plays -- Lash! Blood it only! Blood it only!"
H'ry caught eyes with Marcone for a second and then back to Sheila. If Sheila was with them, and if she could keep control of her beast, they had at least a slim chance of turning this from unmitigated disaster to slightly mitigated disaster. "Council flight is going to do their best to head Archith away from the Hold," he told her urgently. "If you can steer Lascieth down toward Raith territory, we might be able to keep them separated. Damocleth is on his way from the Weyr; keep her focused on him, Boboth, and Andurieth and we at least have a chance."
"Right," Sheila said, taking a deep breath and stepping back from the table. "Lash! South! Toward Raith! You heard me! You aren't interested in whatever's going on up at the weyr, it's beneath your notice. Look at those fine strong bronzes behind you - yes, I know you always thought Boboth was interesting--"
"And, ah--" H'ry said. Bob was already winging his way after Lascieth, pulled by the irresistable call of a queen in heat, and he could feel his own blood, and certain other parts, rising in response. It would make it more likely for Lascieth to focus on Bob if her rider was occupied with his, but-- "If you don't mind, um--"
"H'ry," Sheila said through gritted teeth, "This is not the time to be a gentleman." And she grabbed him by the back of the neck, pulled him down, and kissed him, quite thoroughly. H'ry glanced apologetically at Marcone, still across the table, and he rolled his eyes and stepped behind them, one arm wrapping around Sheila's waist and the other all the way to H'ry's.
Outside the hold, Lascieth felt the echo of the Council queen's defiant scream and answered it with her own, then launched into the air just long enough to find the pen where a small herd of terrified beasts were coralled awaiting slaughter. She found a stocky, scarred bronze already there, and hissed at him as she killed and lapped the blood of three beasts of her own. Two more bronzes, the big one from her own weyr who always flew Imarieth, and the quicksilver slender one who had never taken her seriously, landed behind her while she ate. Imarieth's bronze she'd never liked, and she was going to enjoy leaving him in her dust, but those other two - they were possibilities. Once she had taken care of that other queen who was flying, the one who wanted to steal her bronzes - but who wasn't going to, because Lascieth was going to find her, and rip her guts out with her claws. No. Something was trying to tell her that she didn't need to worry about the other queen, but of course she did. She launched herself into the air with another scream, heading north as quickly as she could, only to find the stocky bronze before her and blocking her way. She hissed at him.
In the Hold, Hendricks dashed up the stairs from the lowest wine-cellar at his fastest trot, opening the door to the small audience room nearly out of breath, just in time to see the queen rider press his Lord Holder against a wall, with Lord H'r'y draped over her back like a blanket. "Ah," he said.
Lord Marcone glanced over at him, and met his eyes without stopping what he was doing. "Is the Weyrleader taken care of?"
"I locked him in the low cellar as soon as he started getting distracted," Hendricks said.
"Good," Marcone said, voice cracking on the end of the world. His gold fire lizard glared imperiously at Hendricks' bronze, then shrieked and took off out the window. Nietschze lauched himself from Hendricks' neck and took off after her at speed.
"And that taken care of," Hendricks said, "I am going to find someone to keep me busy and help me forget this ever happened."
"Lock the door when you leave," Marcone replied, voice a bit strangled.
In the Weyr, Ivy was leaning between her two supports as the torrent of Archith's rage and hunger burst through her. She was barely aware of her own body any more, barely aware of her own thoughts, as Archith rose in joy and glory, her wings pumping, the winds obeying her as they never had before. She risked a glance behind her and saw the proud young bronzes behind her, and could have laughed. They were never going to catch her, but there was no shame to her if they did. The old men hanging even farther back now - that was shameful. Why did they even want to try? It would only show up how decrepit and obsolete they were. She heard a voice in her head, then - she recognized it as Blackstath's. He was never going to catch her, but he was nice enough, she supposed, for a grandfather. Ivy! he said. You have to keep her away from the hold at all costs! North! Turn her north over the mountains!
North! As if she would listen to someone like that! As if she needed to listen! But, she thought, there was no reason not to go north. That was where the mountains were, said the little part of her that remembered something other than flight and glory. It would be fun to bring her bronzes in among the mountains, where she could lose them among the peaks and trip them on the tricky air currents. Yes. Why not? And she steered herself north, using the turn to glance back at her pursuit again. One of the young bronzes was already well behind the rest, and the pack of older dragons behind them seemed to have come into some sort of a tangle. Oh, this was easy! They would never catch her! She could fly alone forever!
But what was distracting the old bronzes, anyway? She cast back toward them. They were angry. Some of them weren't even paying attention to her! How dare they! What could be more important than her? She was the most beatiful, most powerful, smartest, fastest creature -- there was something else.
There was another queen flying. There was another queen flying, and she was trying to steal Archith's bronzes! No wonder Blackstath had told her to turn north. He was teaming up with the other queen! She gave a scream of defiance and rage and banked her wings, twisting suddenly full circle so that she turned and shot back, south across the mountains, blazing through the group of young bronzes without cutting her speed. She shrieked again as she passed them, contemptuous of their pitiful confusion as they tried to turn in her wake, and then she was right below the older bronzes.
She screamed at them, folding her wings as she shot straight up through the chaos of their battle. She slashed at them as she went, drawing blood with the sharp claws of her forelegs, before she reached clear air again above them. Then, so suddenly she almost panicked, one of the bronzes pulled out of the fight, rolled in the air, and winged for her. She backbeat just out of his reach, losing speed air she dodged, and before she could to re-acquire her speed, he got one claw in her tail and they were both tumbling, until another bronze grabbed him and pulled him down, almost climbing him to try to get to Archith.
Good. They were paying attention to her now, as was her right. She cried out again and winged upward, but realized a moment to late that they weren't following; some of the others had used her distraction to get the drop on the two who had tried to follow, and they were too busy ripping at each other to reach her. It wasn't fair! She was the queen! They were supposed to obey her! She turned back to berate them again, and was about to dive when something caught her neck.
She twisted up. It was one of the young bronzes: he had been waiting above the older bronzes' fight, and grabbed her in her moment of distraction. She hissed at him but he only dug in deeper to the thick muscles of her shoulders and twisted his tail around hers, their two sets of wings automatically settling into a rhythm to carry them higher and away, and she decided she didn't care about the other bronzes. This one, after all, had been the only one clever enough to outthink her, the only one fast enough to reach her, the only one strong enough to catch her. She lifted her tail for him and forgot about everything else.
Lascieth leapt up and away from the stocky bronze, her head whipping around. The big one wasn't even in the air yet - slow, too slow to bother with - but where was the interesting one?
She caught a flash of bronze to the south. He was flying away from her! That wasn't possible. All bronzes were alike, she knew that, how could he possibly be flying away when she knew he wanted her? She winged in that direction and quictkly passed him with insulting ease; he flipped a wingtip at her insolently as she passed, but then doubled his airspeed with no apparent effort.
Oh, yes, this was going to be interesting. Now all three bronzes were following her, as they were meant to be, and she was outpacing them brilliantly, and all was right with the world. She called out her joy and the interesting one echoed it. He was too cocky, that one, just assuming he'd be the one to catch her, when she could have any bronze she wanted. She deliberately slipped wind to slide away from him and closer to the stocky bronze, now only a few lengths behind them. She let him nearly brush one of her wings before letting a surge of speed and a bit of tricky flying bring her closer to the other.
The large bronze had reached them while they were playing, and glared at her. She hissed back at him. She'd never liked him, always thinking he could boss her around just because he was bigger. Well, she'd flown enough times that nobody was going to fly her unless she wanted him to, and him, she didn't want. She openly dismissed him and turned back to the other two dragons. Especially the interesting one. Oh yes, he needed taking down to size.
The large bronze glared at her for a moment, and then peeled away, aiming due north like a lightning-shot. That was impossible. Nothing could -- and then, suddenly, she remembered the other queen rising, and rage descended on her like red fire. She was going to kill him, and then she was going to kill the other queen - she could almost feel the hot blood spilling over her claws as she eviscerated her. Lascieth flew straight toward her quarry, leaving her other two bronzes in her wake; nothing could outfly a queen with her blood hot; and then sudden pain slashed across her rage, so startling she nearly lost track of her flight.
"Sheila!" shouted a voice she almost recognized - the little Lord Holder who thought he was a queen rider, maybe? - and another hot slap of pain lashed across her cheek. "You mustn't let her go north! I don't care what Andurieth's doing - you don't care what Andurieth's doing - why would you bother when you have the best bronze in the Weyr anyway?" She felt an echo of pleasure move across her, the promise of what the interesting bronze could do if she let him - but no, she wasn't going to be distracted. She was going to get her bronzes back from the other queen if she had to drown them all in blood and fire to do it. It was her right.
She had been distracted, though, and the distraction was enough that the other two bronzes caught up to her. The stocky one dropped out of the air above her again - she was getting really tired of his sudden appearances - and she startled away from him, without realizing that in doing so, she'd moved right into the range of the other bronze, who had grappled her tightly before she had time to response.
The stocky bronze gave them both a darkly ironic look before winging away after the large one, but what did she care? She had the only bronze worth the winning.
S'nya acknowledged the Wingleader's orders by way of Esperaccieth, then looked over at M'chael, mounted on his own beast. M'chael nodded at him, and the two of them blinked between in perfect unison, emerging back into the sunlight on a small ridge, halfway down the mountain slope between Weyr and Hold. It offered both a small amount of cover, should they need it, and an excellent vantage over the entire valley. The two browns arranged themselves along the rock until they almost looked like small pieces of scree themselves, and then S'nya gave a quick wave as M'gan's Damocleth flashed by.
Two queens rising together, S'nya said, not really needing to complete the thought.
Have hope, Esperaccieth replied, steady as ever.
If it was anyone other than Denari... S'nya answered. They had been weyrlings at Denari Weyr, and it had been, ah, not good. Denari fought Thread like demons, but when a Weyr's leadership was poisonous, as Denari's clearly was, it filtered down and affected everyone. When Sh'ro and M'chael had offered to take him on as part of their Brown formation at Council Weyr, he'd barely hesitated.
Together we can handle anything Andurieth can think of, Esperaccieth told him.
Da, S'nya said, but he couldn't help thinking about Sh'ro, who had been the third part of their trio, who S'nya had though indestructible until that day they had flown a double Fall alongside Denari. The Weyrs were supposed to unite together against the common threat of Thread, but in reality, the politics between the Weyrleaders and their allied Holds made that unity more an ideal than a practice.
No-one could swear, when N'codemus's Andurieth had unexpectedly turned out of formation, forcing one of Council's bronzes right into the path of a sheet of Thread, that it had been intentional. When Sh'ro had noticed the danger and taken his own brown dragon between to shield the bronze, searing a clear path at the cost of his own life, that, however, had all-too-clearly been purposeful. S'nya, sweeping in too late to char out the rest of the patch of Thread, had seen only a glimpse of what what was left of him, under the mass of writhing Thread, in the seconds before the dragon had taken them both between for the last time, but it was not a sight he would soon forget.
At any rate, it is good to have a chance to act against him cleanly, S'nya said, letting a bit of savagery into his tone, and Esperaccieth below him growled low in his throat.
M'chael gave them an eloquent look, reminding them not to start the fight until an enemy was there, but S'nya could see his own Amoraccieth tensed and ready under him.
From where they were perched they were just close enough to the Hold to see the great shapes of the four dragons, and even as they watched, the gold leapt from the courtyard to the pen where Damocleth already waited. They watched as Boboth and Damocleth managed, somehow, to herd her away from the other mating flight, which Esperaccieth could feel ongoing already in the part of his mind that was bonded to his Weyr's queens. S'nya could feel the muscles trembling through him and the turmoil in his own emotions, the reaction to the queens' mating call, but he firmly pushed it away for both of them. Browns rarely rose for queens and almost never flew them, but no dragon could be completely unaffected by a mating flight near him. S'nya knew the faith which Eb'nezar had in them wasn't misplaced, though, and they managed to watch the dragons below almost dispassionately.
For a moment, he almost thought they would be unneeded. Boboth and Damocleth were working together to keep her focused on them, too distracted by foreplay to think about Archith's flight or notice Andurieth's increasing frustration. "I didn't know bronzes could work together like that in a mating flight," S'nya said.
M'chael let out a huff of breath, amused. "If a rider isn't really interested in winning her, he can keep his dragon detached enough to do all sorts of stuff. I never thought I'd see those two bronzes working together though. What we really need to keep an eye on is Andur-- Shards! Up!" he said, but S'nya was lifting off before he'd finished the word.
Below them, Andurieth had turned away from the mating flight and was heading straight for the mountains and Archith. S'nya caught a glimpse of Lascieth starting to follow, but he didn't have time to worry about that. Neither of their beasts, though strong, were particularly large for browns, and it would take both of them to have any hope of slowing down a bronze in a mating frenzy; if he made it over the mountains to join the other mating flight, it wouldn't matter; the Council bronzes would turn on the intruder in their midst and tear him to pieces. Take care of the bronze, and then worry about the queen, if she came.
Amoraccieth put himself right in Andurieth's way, screaming at him, and S'nya wished for one unworthy moment that they had brought firestone, watching as Andurieth reared up in the air almost casually and raked his claws down Amoraccieth's neck. The smaller brown let himself fall down out of Andurieth's reach, but S'nya was right there to take his place, Esperaccieth's claws reaching for the bronze's eyes as Andurieth lashed out to claw them in turn; but S'nya and his dragon danced out of the way at the last minute as Amoraccieth appeared behind him and dug his claws into the wing-muscles, in a vicious parody of a mating clasp.
Andurieth howled and twisted, shaking Amoraccieth loose with a sudden snap, and then stretching up, so lost in his rage that he bit at the shoulder joint of Amoraccieth's wing, his back claws shredding the brown skin and harness alike as he scrabbled for a disemboweling hold. S'nya and Esperaccieth flew at him, the dragon clawing down his neck in an attempt to make him let go, but he barely responded until Esperaccieth managed to shred down one panel of his wing, sending all of them tilting off-center. Andurieth howled again and dropped Amoraccieth, but S'nya shouted for his dragon to skip between just far enough. He blocked from his thoughts the split-second sight he'd had of M'chael and Amoraccieth falling toward the valley floor, one wing drooping useless; if Andurieth were allowed to disrupt the other mating flight, much worse would happen.
But just as they were about to try another sortie against the great bronze, Esperaccieth peeled away. What-- S'nya said, but he saw even as his dragon told him, Damocleth is here. He says he'll handle the bronze, we should save Amoraccieth, and they were flashing between to directly below the other brown, Esperaccieth spreading his own wings to support Ammoraccieth's and guiding them both slowly to a wobbly but safe landing over some poor farmer's field, as S'nya lay flat in his harness and tried to keep them all calm and directed.
As they landed the older bronze slid gently off of Esperaccieth's back, and S'nya was relieved to see that he was able to manage that much of the landing more or less on his own. He dismounted as soon as he could and ran for M'chael, who was hanging by one hand from a broken strap of harness. S'nya caught him and eased him to the ground, taking inventory as he did. The shoulder he'd been hanging from was dislocated, but that was the least of it: his other side, to match his dragon's, was slashed to the bone in places, a wide gash that started at his shoulder and carried down to his thigh muscle, baring a couple of ribs along the way. S'nya cursed between his teeth, but it looked like he had lucked out, for certain values of the term, and no arteries were hit.
He had M'chael brace against the dragon's shoulder as he popped the shoulder joint back in. "Stop worrying about me, I'll live," M'chael told him as soon as he had his breath back afterward. "Look to Amoraccieth."
"Amoraccieth's wounds won't matter a damn if I let you die," S'nya informed him, but as soon as M'chael had one more-or-less usable arm, he handed him a wad of bandages and his emergency numbweed salve and turned to the dragon instead.
Amoraccieth was looking at him calmly, as usual, but the wing was certainly broken high up in the first joint, the bone uncleanly snapped. The wing membrane might or might not be salvageable, and the skin over his side, but he, too, looked likely to live, if they could get a dragonhealer here within the hour, as S'nya informed his rider as soon as he could.
"Good," M'chael said, with that sort of dreamy surety that came with shock. "Hey, S'nya. Look up."
S'nya followed his gaze automatically. He saw, to one side, a gold and bronze falling through the sky in a mating clasp, insensate to everything around them: Boboth and Lascieth, but they had height enough and more to pull themselves out of it with no danger. A quarter of the sky away, two bronzes flew together in a terrible parody, but even as he watched, Damocleth's jaws grasped Andurieth's neck right behind the skull, effectively immobilizing his head, while he spread the rest of his body across him and started to slowly force him down. Andurieth thrashed and struggled, and for a moment it looked as if he would escape, but another bronze suddenly appeared from between below him, joining forces with Damocleth, and Andurieth, finally realizing he was outmatched, went limp and allowed himself to be led to earth.
"Is that Darvazeth?" S'nya asked, squinting. "What's R'shid doing back already?"
"It's generally better not to ask," M'chael said. "But it looks like all's well that ends well."
S'nya scowled at him. "You two with half of your blood and ichor soaking into this nice farmer's crop is not all's well or ends well," he told M'chael severely. "And as it looks like the mating flights are done, I'm going to head back to the Weyr and get you some healers. Oh shards," he realized suddenly. "I'm going to have to explain to Charity."
"Don't worry about it," M'chael said, his head rolling back against his dragon as he grinned slightly, still loopy with the shock. "She'll figure out some way to blame it all on H'ry. It's a talent of hers."
Above them, in the slanting sunlight, a queen and bronze fire lizard wandered by on business of their own.
Gard fled out of her Lord's window, already twenty feet above the wide ground of the hold. She carolled mockingly back at Nietschze, already lengths and lengths behind her, but stoically pumping along and refusing to be provoked by her. Oh, it was a beautiful day, and they would make it a good long glorious flight through the brightness of the afternoon before she let him catch her. Overhead the big ones were moving in their mating dances, too, their need flooding all the world with sharp-pitched savage joy, and she pinwheeled once in acknowledgment before she headed out over her Lord's forest. Other fire lizards were rising, too, in the overspill of the big ones; at the edges of her vision she saw other flights lifting like multicolored streamers behind their glowing queens, but what did she care? She had her bronze, letting playfulness take him a little as he started to catch up; and her employer had his bronze too, finally, she could feel them at the back of her mind, starting to twine into each other's warmth, her employer's mind-touch glowing the same gold as she was as their joy fed back and forth between them. They each had their bronze, and what more did a queen need?
Her bronze made up several lengths in a sudden burst of speed, and whirled a ripple of green humor at her; she only flicked her tail in response, but she started angling upward to make plenty of height before the end, and she was nearly in the clouds when she finally let him take her, the two of the twisting together into one shining creature as they fell ecstatically through the air.
It was a good mating flight, and Nietschze agreed with her good-humoredly afterward, as they untangled themselves and started slowly flying back, less then a wing-width separating them as they pushed through their exhaustion in the early afternoon twilight. Neither of them were thinking of much more than sleep as they slipped back through the open window and curled up together, making a little nest for themselves among the limbs where her Lord and his bronze rider were lying pillowed on each other, the queen rider just beside them, deeply asleep.
Her lord opened one eye as he felt the rustle of their wings against his bare chest. "You were gone awhile," he told her, eye a soft green of contentment. He lifted one arm to stroke her, but seemed to give it up as not worth the effort and just dropped it across her back, incidentally bringing it across his bronze rider as well. "Good flight?" he asked her.
As if he had to ask. She didn't have to ask how his mating flight had gone, either; she'd felt it as it was happening, as they felt the joy together, and she could feel it radiating off him still. She just trilled softly at him in reply, and sank into sleep.
Captain Luccio of the Council Weyr Queens' Wing and her dragon, Acciaroth, wheeled over the great central bowl of Council Weyr as the rest of her flight of queens, bronzes, and browns slipped away one by one to find weyrs or friends or work that needed doing. The Weyr looked about as she would have expected any Weyr to be less than an hour after two bad mating flights: exhausted and shell-shocked dragons and their riders, injured dragons being tended and women and Healers running back and forth from weyrs, greens and blues flicking in and out on errands, and general chaos as the bronze riders, usually the backbone of a weyr, were largely unable to function.
Luckily, the measures taken to limit Ivy and Archith's first flight meant that most of Council's queens and bronzes had been out of range, so they would likely not need to beg relief from another Weyr. Weyrwoman Mai and Laoth had already peeled off, presumably to find the Weyrleader, but Luccio had been around Weyrs long enough to know to look for the people who would actually know what was going on. She circled once, but didn't see Charity of the Lower Caverns; presumably she was still with Ivy, or busy elsewhere. She did see a great green dragon, as large as most browns, sprawled across the ground as if she'd simply collapsed there, and her rider leaning half-exhausted against her, still wearing fuzzy bed-slippers, as he spoke to one of the journeymen healers assigned to the Weyr. Acciaroth landed beside her without Luccio even having to speak.
B'ters, green Sueth's rider and masterhealer, sent the journeyman away with a few words as Luccio dismounted and smiled grimly at her. "Oh good, you're back. I take it you've heard the news."
Luccio shook her head. "I got the basics through Acciaroth, but you know how dragons are with remembering details."
B'ters blinked. "Didn't R'shid fill you in? He told me he was heading straight back to his wing."
Luccio blinked. "R'shid? But he's been with us all morning. How would he have the details?"
"You sure he was with you all day?"
"...Yes," Luccio said.
"Ah," B'ters replied.
"Ah," Luccio replied. "I take it he was also here?" Wingleader R'shid and bronze Darvozeth did have a habit of knowing things they couldn't possibly know and being places they couldn't possibly be. Most of the Weyr had learned early on that there was no point in asking for explanations or for any more information than he was willing to volunteer, because it wouldn't do any good.
"Yep," said B'ters. "I suppose I do need to fill you in then. Good news first?"
"Well, if you got the basics, you know that the Denarian Weyrleader decided it would be a good idea to bring Shiela and Lascieth here without warning while Lascieth was only a week or so out from her own flight. Lascieth apparently rose over the Hold only a few minutes after Archith rose. The good news is that we got a warning early enough to keep the queens separated and both flights were successful; both the queens are reported fine except for more or less the expected sorts of scratches and strain. Archith's already back at the Weyr."
"Physically fine. And K'caid and Yeth managed to keep all the riders away from her weyr; didn't even have to knife anyone." He shrugged. "Mentally? She's as well as could be expected. Charity's still with her. She's a resilient kid and older than her age, and I think with Archith fine, she'll do okay. All of the younger bronze riders are fine, too. One of the green riders took care of C'los, I think." He smirked. "Nobody's seen them since the flight, but nobody's heard either of them calling for help."
"Well, that's wonderful news," Luccio said. "In fact that's far better than anyone should have expected with two queens rising. And good for C'los; I've been thinking he'd go far. So why all the long faces?"
B'ters rolled his eyes. "Well, the older bronzes, starring our revered Weyrleader, and Eb and Blackstath, who ought to know better, got in a fight with each other halfway through the flight. I suspect they were more interested in that than actually catching the queen."
"Ah," Luccio replied. "That unfortunately doesn't surprise me as much as it should."
"I hear you, sister," the masterhealer told her. He shrugged. "On the upside, that might be the main reason both the queen flights worked out. If any of them had decided to go for Lascieth instead of ripping up each other..."
"Any of the bronzes badly hurt?"
"There were some pretty serious scratches and tears, especially after Archith decided to cut right through the mess and half of 'em got distracted. Blackstath tore up Merlinth's wing membranes pretty bad," he added, sounding rather more satisfied than he should have. "That's when R'shid showed up over the Weyr - told us the bronzes were fighting and we needed to get all the blues and greens out there for ambulance duty, but if we went now, we wouldn't have to call any other help in."
Luccio nodded. In principle, any Weyr on Pern would have sent their queens and bronzes to help if a mating fight went wrong. In practice - with the state of cold war and icy politeness that was currently in play between most of the Weyrs' leaders - having to call in help would have given the other Weyr an excuse to move against Council and probably played right into N'codemus's hands. Even calling to the Council queens and bronzes, on their flight exercises over the eastern ocean, would have been been heard by queens in other Weyrs and given them an excuse to move in.
"And then R'shid popped right back out, you know how he does, so we got the flights together as fast as we could. Sueth brought in Merlinth," B'ters added, giving his dragon a proud thump on the shoulder, and she opened one eye and gazed lambently over him for a moment before drifting back to sleep. "He's probably the worst off of the bronzes; he'll be out of commission for a couple of months at most, but he'll be flying again pretty soon. Dragons heal fast, and I suspect L'try won't mind a few months to concentrate on things other than Thread."
Luccio snorted. "No, I imagine not." L'try had never been among the bronze riders who got his joy from the danger and adrenaline of flying for their lives against Threadfall.
"Most of the other bronzes should be back in trim in a week or two at most," B'ters told her. "Boboth and Damocleth jumped over to the Hold to help with Lascieth; reports are that Boboth flew her."
"He has this thing going with Lascieth, I wasn't too surprised," B'ters said. "You never noticed?"
"No, of course Boboth flew her, if he'd stop bothering the greens long enough to put the effort in I'm sure he could fly anyone he wanted to," Luccio said. "But what were he and H'ry doing at the Hold? We missed him at the training, but I assumed they went off to one of the places H'ry goes to sulk; I did not think he'd be irresponsible enough to stay around the Hold."
"You know H'ry," B'ters said. "He's almost as good at being where he isn't supposed to be needed as R'shid is."
"And about as likely to give a straight answer," Luccio sighed.
"H'ry was the one who got a warning through to the Weyr that Lascieth was going to rise," B'ters said. "If he hadn't been there--" he shrugged. "Anyway. The bad news is that when it was obvious Lascieth wasn't interested, Andurieth headed off in Archith's direction. Eb had M'chael and S'nya in place to run interference, so he didn't make it, but--" B'ters winced. "Amoraccieth and M'chael got torn up pretty bad. The Hold's masterhealer and a couple of the dragon healers are down there now, but they're going to need a couple of queens to airlift Amoraccieth back to the Weyr."
Luccio nodded and relayed the command through her dragon; Accarioth sent back word that Laoth and Liberteth were already taking care of it. "How bad is it?" Luccio asked.
"Bad." He shook his head. "From what S'nya said, I think they'll both live, and if we're lucky, and M'chael actually listens to medical instructions and takes it easy, Amoraccieth might even fly again. Dunno about fighting thread, though."
"Damn," Luccio cursed. "Of all the people we couldn't afford to lose. Tell me he at least took that bastard Andurieth down with him."
"Damocleth showed up once the mating flight was over and handled it," B'ters said. "S'nya and Esperaccieth are fine, and Damocleth just needs some basic patching up, he's on his way back to the Weyr since M'gan didn't want him to risk between until a healer had seen him. As for Andurieth-- I don't know what N'codemus was thinking!" he burst out. "From the reports I've got I don't think his rider was even trying to hold him back. Dammit, it's not meant to be an equal partnership! Damocleth had to rip his wings up pretty bad before he'd go down, and then Damocleth had to drop him. He'd've been hurt a lot worse if a bronze hadn't popped out of between just in time to catch him."
"R'shid?" Luccio asked.
"Probably," said B'ters. "Didn't say anything though, of course, but it's the sort of thing he'd do. Andurieth won't be flying or going between for awhile either." B'ters very pointedly did not suggest that Council queens airlift the Denari dragon up to the Weyr, and Luccio chose not to mention the possibility either. He could enjoy the hospitality of the Lord Holder, or he could get some of his own people to take him back to Denari. Which likely would require several shifts, and possibly begging for help from another Weyr. It was a wonderful prospect.
"How are their riders?"
"Preliminary report through one of the Hold fire lizards is that they're more or less okay, but you know how fire lizards are," B'ters said. "I sent back for the Hold's Harper to give me a more detailed report as soon as he could. And -- ah, here it is now."
Luccio blinked as she heard the deep, penetrating sound of a message drum start to boom through the stones of the Weyr. Even Sueth opened her eyes and perked her head at the sound of it. "You asked them to send it through the drums?"
"Shhh," B'ters said, "I don't want to miss this," as the standard cadences rolled out: From Chicago Hold to Council Weyr: do not pass on: healer to healer.
The Harpers' drum codes were used for messages where precision and speed were important and using dragons or fire-lizards as message-carriers was inconvenient or inappropriate. What it was not used for was anything private: only a few dozen Master Harpers knew every single drum code, but a lot of people knew the basics, and probably half the Weyr could translate what was currently coming through.
The bronze rider, the weyrwoman, and the Lord Holder are bruised and strained but healthy the Drums reported. Wait, Luccio thought, and the Lord Holder?
Acciaroth thought an amused About time! at her, but Luccio shelved her usual commentary on dragons and gossip as another phrase came through: Denari Weyleader healthy but-- Luccio had to wrack her brains a bit to translate the last phrase, which she had not heard very often, as passed out drunk.
B'ters was slouched against his dragon again, smiling broadly. "Yep, I asked them to send it through the drums."
"Half the Weyr can translate the drum codes," Luccio repeated to herself.
"And many of the Holders," B'ters said brightly. "It's a shame we couldn't send a dragon rider down to get the report, of course, but with all the aftermath of two mating flights, well, that's what the drum system's there for. I wonder what N'codemus was doing, getting drunk while his bronze was flying after a queen?"
Luccio found herself smiling, slowly. "You've gotten a lot better at the politics since you Impressed a dragon, B'ters," she told him sincerely.
"Well, I had to," he said, as Sueth angled her great head around and nudged at him. "This great lummox certainly wasn't going to. Yes, I know you're hungry," he added to the dragon, "You're always hungry, you're nothing but a stomach with wings. No, I don't think the bronzes are done at the feeding ground yet, you're going to have to try to be patient."
"Go take care of your beast, B'ters," Luccio said. "That's an order. She can chase off a few bronzes if she has to. Acciaroth and I can take care of things here for now." But, as she watched the two of them fly up and out of the ring of the Weyr, she couldn't help but repeat, softly, "For now."
For now, Acciaroth told her, casting a great golden shadow over her, and as long as we have to.