“Where are you going?” V’cchio called out as he approached B’ton and Dieth.
“Harper Hall,” B’ton answered, adjusting the straps on Dieth’s harness.
V’cchio made a face. “You’re the one who volunteered to take over for G’rret? Why? That’s a fledgling’s run.”
“I thought it would be good practice. Dieth and I haven’t been there since our training flights. I wouldn’t want to forget the coordinates.”
“Like either of you would forget,” V’cchio scoffed. “You two have the best visual memories of any pair I know.”
“Thank you kindly, but I’d still feel better going.” He patted Dieth’s leg. “Besides, a flight will do us both good.”
“Feeling cooped up again?” V’cchio guessed. “I swear, I don’t know how anything as open as a Weyr could make you feel confined.”
“If you’d grown up where I did, you’d understand,” B’ton told him.
“Maybe.” He gestured toward the bag at B’ton’s feet. “They got you doing more message deliveries than just the Hall?”
“No, but I’m to wait for a reply, so I might be a while.”
V’cchio snorted and shook his head. “I still can’t believe you’re going. You’re a Bronze rider, B’ton.” He cocked his head, thinking. “What’s the real story?”
B’ton reached down to pick up the satchel, slinging it over his shoulder and working at the straps. If that meant he wasn’t meeting V’cchio’s curious gaze, it was just coincidence.
“B’ton,” V’cchio, drawled out. “You can tell me. What’s going on?”
“G’rret is sick. Dieth and I have the time and energy, so we’re going in his place.” B’ton locked gazes with his friend, waiting for a challenge.
V’cchio sighed heavily. “Okay, okay. You’re just being a good guy, whatever. But if you ever did want to tell me anything, you know you can, right? Because we’re friends.”
“We are friends,” B’ton agreed. “And what I’ve said is all that’s going on.”
“Okay, well safe flight, then.” He reached up to pat Dieth’s leg. “You too, big guy.”
“Thank you kindly, from both of us,” B’ton said with a smile as V’cchio walked away.
He is your friend.
“I know that, Deith. Didn’t I just say so?”
But you didn’t say everything.
B’ton felt his ears redden. “What I told him was perfectly true.”
Perfectly partially true, Dieth corrected.
B’ton ignored that, making sure he was secure on his bronze’s back, then signaling he was ready for them to take off. He’d expected more commentary, but Dieth took flight without a word, and soon both man and dragon were lost in the freeing sensation of being midair.
After a few minutes just enjoying the fine day, B’ton asked Dieth if he was ready for a trip between. Mentally picturing the Hall from above, correcting his memory of the last time they were there to allow for the time of day and season, B’ton sent the information to Dieth, and three cold beats later, they were there.
Ooh, it’s even warmer here. Dieth glided slowly over the grounds, obviously not ready to land.
“You can sun yourself after you land,” B’ton told him. “And when I’m done, we can do a bit more flying before we head back. It would give us more coordinates to work with for future flights.”
Planning a lot of trips to Harper Hall? Dieth asked all too innocently.
B’ton sighed. It was impossible for a rider to hide anything from their dragon. “I’m sure it’s just wishful thinking,” he admitted. “I don’t even know the harper’s name, or if he’s here. It’s just, I can’t put him from my mind.”
I know, Dieth teased.
“Oh, hush. And I know I missed a chance at the Gather, but there’s just something about him that makes me feel like I need to meet him.”
I’ll keep watch then. This time, Dieth sounded and felt completely sincere.
“Thank you,” B’ton replied as Dieth landed, smooth as silk. He couldn’t help hoping it was a sign of things to come.
Ray didn’t see the dragonrider arrive, but the chatter in the dining hall let him know they had a visitor. Based on what he was hearing, it wasn’t the usual messenger.
“A bronze!” he heard someone say in passing. “And his rider – fills out his leathers mighty fine.”
Ray chuckled as he grabbed a hunk of bread from the platter, slathering it with butter. As much as he loved traveling, there were definite perks to being back home at the Hall. He grinned; you’d think with as much time as he’d spent in the kitchens while he was training here he’d be a decent cook, but apparently it wasn’t meant to be.
Meal finished, Ray grabbed an apple and walked leisurely out of the dining hall, as if he had nowhere to be, no agenda as he walked. If his stroll just so happened to take him near the landing grounds, that was just coincidence. It wasn’t like Ray had any kind of fascination with dragons. No more than most folks, at least.
As he approached, Ray saw that the gossipers had been right – that was definitely not G’rret’s blue lazily watching the comings and goings at the Hall. As Ray got closer, he imagined he saw amusement twinkling in the slowly whirling blue-green eyes as people pointed and whispered.
Then that gaze was turned on him, and Ray felt like he was being judged. It was the strangest feeling, and lasted only a moment, but he was sure the bronze had focused on him. No longer certain he wanted to be so close to this new dragon after all, Ray turned to go back toward the buildings, and ran smack into someone.
“Hey, watch it -” he started, pushing the other person away. The move jostled the apple from his hand, and he yelped as it hit his foot.
“I’m terribly sorry,” the other person started, bending down to pick up the fruit.
“Yeah, well, just be more careful next time,” Ray complained, even though he knew it was his fault. Then the man looked up from cleaning off the poor bruised apple and Ray’s breath caught in his throat. He knew that face, those intense blue eyes. They’d haunted his dreams, both waking and sleeping, since the gather he’d played a few weeks before.
The other man – the dragonrider, he realized as he took in the riding leathers – looked about as pole-axed as Ray felt. “Hey, did I hit you too hard or something?” Ray asked. “You okay?”
The rider shook his head, then nodded, then a mix of both that had Ray smiling. Ray held out a hand to help the man up, but ended up with a handful of apple instead.
Ray chuckled, holding out his other hand. “Just trying to help out, here.”
The man actually blushed at that as he stood; Ray could see the tips of his ears turning pink. “Again, I’m very sorry. I should have been more careful.”
“Hey, we ran into each other – no harm. Well, except maybe my apple, but I’m not so big on fruit anyhow.”
“I could get you another one,” he offered.
“Or you could just owe me one,” Ray countered smoothly. “Of course, I’d have to know who you were, so I’d know how to collect.”
“Oh! Yes, I’m sorry, that is to say-” He stopped and took a deep breath, which seemed to calm him. “I’m B’ton, Dieth’s rider,” he said with a nod toward the dragon.
“Pleased to meet you, B’ton, Dieth’s rider. And you too,” he called toward the bronze. “I’m Ray, of Harper Hall.” He looked down at his blues. “Kind of obvious, huh?”
“They match your eyes,” B’ton blurted out, looking mortified immediately afterward.
“That’s why I became a harper,” Ray said with a light, teasing tone. “To match my clothes.”
The two men stood there, just looking at one another, until a loud snort sounded behind B’ton, startling them.
“I know, Dieth,” he yelled back, long-sufferingly. “I need to get back to the Weyr,” B’ton told Ray.
“And I have things to take care of here,” Ray said reluctantly. “Maybe I’ll see you around?”
“I’m sure we will,” B’ton responded, and maybe it was Ray’s imagination, but it sounded like a promise.
He definitely hoped it was.