When a gold or green does rise,
taking, shining, to the skies,
bronze and brown and blue will chase
'til the best does win the race.
When a gold or green does rise,
she it is who will decide.
When a gold or green does rise,
riders by her will abide.
Late Morning, 16.3.35
High Reaches Weyr
Slowly, oh so slowly, the overload of sensation receded. Alaireth had separated from her mate, and the two dragons were now gliding sedately down towards a sun-lit patch of moorland. They'd sleep soon, Rahnis knew, for as long as the sunlight lasted, before heading back to the Weyr at dusk.
Eyes still tightly closed against her tears, she felt her body spasm again; this time a purely human reaction. She clutched at the Weyrleader's back as he shifted above her, heard him gasp at the pain her nails caused him, then felt his lips upon her own again. The last vestiges of her own desire deserted her. She doubted anything more would come of it – they were utterly spent, both of them – but if she let him continue, chances were he'd follow his dragon into slumber soon enough, and so would she. The simplest choice, that, to accept the oblivion of sleep that her aching body and mind desperately yearned for, but she knew it was a luxury that she – and the Weyr – could ill afford.
She twisted her face away from his. “No.” There was a catch in her voice that she couldn't conceal, and the weight of his body instantly left her as he rolled aside.
“Weyrwoman? Did I hurt you?”
Blinking, she rubbed at her eyes. Had he? A little, perhaps, but with a flight the pleasure was always so intense that it was often hard to tell. “No,” she said again, not caring if it was truth or not.
A hand brushed at her cheek, and she brought up one of her own, and held him there for a moment, relishing the small act of caring he'd shown towards her. It wasn't an action she'd ever have expected from Sh'vek, but today seemed to be a day for unlikely events.
After Trath had dropped away, Rahnis had lost herself in her queen's needs, leading the handful of bronzes remaining on as difficult a flight as they'd dared. Ormaith had matched Alaireth strength for strength in spite of everything they'd tried, predicting her moves with appalling accuracy. Alaireth had allowed him to draw dangerously close several times during the flight, hoping to provoke an error from him, before darting back through the pack of pursuers. It didn't work: Ormaith was always there, Sh'vek's breath close on her neck, his hands moving possessively across her skin. She'd hated how much the constant presence of man and dragon had excited her. The other bronzes she'd hoped might catch them had all failed, one after another, ruined by the dizzying pace set by their queen. Ormaith would not fail. Ormaith was power and endurance and cunning. And Ormaith would claim her, eventually, whether she chose him or not; just as Sh'vek had promised.
The broad gyre of her thermalling flight had shown her the truth all too clearly. There were still a handful of dragons left in the chase, mostly younger beasts whose speed and stamina made up for their lack of experience, but they were widely scattered now. Drunuth and Corhoth were distant specks half way back to the horizon. Danth, struggling for altitude outside the thermal, was closest after Ormaith, but he was showing clear signs of injury from his near collision with his clutchmate, who was nowhere in sight and had presumably dropped out while she wasn't watching. Telemath, Benth and Roflith were the last remaining bronzes, circling weakly a good ten lengths beneath Ormaith and fractionally more beneath herself. Folding her wings tight to her sides, she plunged back down again towards the stragglers, but even that tactic failed her. Ormaith, bellowing triumphantly, easily found sufficient reserves to power his spiralling path down and ahead of her, forcing her to choose between letting him catch her then and there, or to change course once again.
Knowing it was the last time she'd do so, she'd chosen not to be caught. Alaireth had pushed herself into one final ascent, but it had been a very near thing. Avoiding Ormaith had meant losing the advantage of the thermal, too, and she'd known it wouldn't be long before the distance between them closed. Behind her, she'd heard Ormaith bellow again, felt Sh'vek's fingers biting hard into her arm, more than ready to catch and claim her. She'd twisted, coyly, sensing the proximity of the pursuit, filled by an ever-rising surge of desire and admiration. How cunning they were, to hide in the sun like that. How strong, how fast!
The memory brought a smile to her lips and a sense of relief and release that lifted her spirits skywards. Rahnis let her tears flow. We did choose well, Alaireth.
“Weyrwoman? Are you sure you're all right?”
She opened her eyes to look at her Weyrleader. At O'reb, Mannifeth's rider, whose dragon hadn't come off worst in his encounter with S'ferro's Danth after all. Faranth, weren't they meant to be off somewhere in Benden helping R'fint with the Weyrlings? How had they managed it? Neither one had been present at the Weyr at the start of the flight, but she was very, very glad that they'd been there at its end, fresh and fit in the air beside them at the perfect time, giving Alaireth and herself the choice they'd almost lost hope of having.
Rahnis squeezed the young man's hand, turning her head to kiss his palm. “I'm fine, truly. Just a little emotional. You're not who I was expecting.”
“Good,” she answered quickly, trying to dispel the doubt in his eyes. “It's good, I think. But you should start getting dressed. After that...there's a lot we need to discuss.”
A brief flicker of disappointment crossed O'reb's face, then he nodded. Rahnis swung her legs over the edge of the bed, and slowly stood up. Abandoning the clothes she'd been wearing earlier, she went to her clothes chest and put on fresh underclothes, shirt and trousers, and her smartest felted over-vest. Deep inside another drawer, Rahnis located the small leather case containing the knots she'd made up ready for this eventuality several sevendays earlier. She pulled it out and slipped it unopened into her pocket. Tradition dictated that Alaireth's rising made her Senior Weyrwoman and O'reb the High Reaches' new Weyrleader, but tradition wouldn't uphold itself and she was under no illusions at all that the usual transfer of power could be taken for granted. Sh'vek would do everything he could to stop it, that she could depend on. She'd given him ample stone to flame her with, and he was bound to make his move the instant Ormaith returned to the Weyr; she needed to have everything in motion well before then if she was to have any chance of success. Whether her current position would afford her enough leverage to save herself and her queen was still an open question...but, slim as their chances were, this opportunity was likely the only one they'd have. She'd hoped to have F'ren beside her when it came to this, but that hadn't proved possible. All she could do now was work with what she had.
When she turned around, O'reb was sat down lacing up his boots, his wherhide jacket slung on the back of the chair beside him. O'reb would certainly make the youngest Weyrleader she'd ever read of, at least as far back as the records reliably went, but going by what little she knew of him, he wouldn't be the worst by a very wide margin. He wasn't Sh'vek; that was already one point in his favour. He might even make a good Weyrleader eventually, in spite of his inexperience...if he was given a fair chance to become one. If it was fair on anyone to even ask him to try.
A Weyr was a heavy responsibility even without the added burden of her own problems; that was true no matter how much experience you had. How much worse would it be for a young man whose authority could be so easily undermined? No, O'reb needed to know the full truth of what he was facing. If he didn't think himself up to the task, she certainly couldn't force him into the role. In that case, the only right choice would be to step aside in favour of Delene and Linnebith and whichever bronze won her flight. Under those circumstances, it wouldn't matter whether Ormaith caught Linnebith or not: all outcomes would be almost equally disastrous as far as Rahnis was concerned. Stripped of her current seniority, she'd have lost her only real means of fighting back...and Sh'vek had been very clear about what it would mean for her and her queen.
Rahnis hoped it wouldn't come to that, but she couldn't make O'reb's choices for him. She lifted her chin and took a deep breath. Whatever he decided, delaying would only worsen matters further. “Weyrleader?''
O'reb slowly raised his head. “Am I?”
It was a surprisingly pertinent question.