B'ton stood outside the door to the Weyrwoman's weyr, biting his lip and considering his options. Wubath was asleep on the heights, otherwise he would have asked his bronze to gauge the Weyrwoman's mood. Although Wubath had flown the senior queen and won her affection, B'ton truly feared he could not say the same. Jurille, the Telgar Weyrwoman and twenty Turns his senior was still decidedly cool in her personal dealings with him. While they presented a united front to the rest of the Weyr, B'ton had found himself turned out of this very door more nights than he cared to remember. Once again B'ton considered asking L'stur, the previous Weyrleader if this was typical behavior, and just as quickly discarded that idea, as the former Weyrleader avoided him as much as possible since the mating flight that had turn everything on its head. That B'ton regretted even more than Jurille's coolness. The older bronzerider had always been willing to listen and advise when B'ton was merely a Wingsecond.
With a sigh he squared his shoulders and knocked on the door, waiting patiently for her response.
"Come in, Weyrleader." B'ton winced and opened the door, wondering if she knew how long he had been standing there. Graesth, the senior queen, stood on the ledge of her weyr, her golden muzzle being smeared with oil. She regarded the Weyrleader with brilliant blue eyes, before snorting and pulling free from Jurille, leaping off the ledge and gliding down to the Hatching Grounds.
"I apologize, if I have come at an inopportune time." B'ton said quietly, bracing himself for an utter dismissal.
"Don't." Jurille replaced the lid to the jar of hide oil. "Graesth is just being disagreeable." She shelved the jar and glanced at him over her shoulder. "She would have left no matter who had chosen to show up." Picking up a shawl she settled it over her shoulders, and led him into the adjoining room, where several tomes sat on the reading table. Seating herself on the overstuffed couch she looked at him as he stood just inside the doorway, feeling for all the world like an erring weyrling.
"Well?" There was no rancor in her tone, B'ton decided, and took a deep breath.
"I was hoping to get your opinion." He started.
"I'm listening." That was the most he could have hoped for.
"I'd like to broaden the Search for candidates to the Crafthalls." B'ton said in as bland a tone as possible.
"What's wrong with the Lower Caverns?" Jurille asked, picking up her mug and studying him over the rim of it.
"Nothing. But I've been reminded that we are rapidly nearing the end of the Pass, and it would be good if we strengthened those ties with the Crafthalls." He explained.
"Why not the Holds? After all, they tithe us as well." Jurille reminded him.
"Yes, but right now every rider is focused on fighting Thread. What do they do with all that free time once we enter the Interval?" B'ton queried. "I'm having a hard enough time keeping forty-two weyrlings out of trouble, imagine the mischief grown riders can get into."
Jurille studied him for a moment then pat the couch next to her, a faint smile curling her lips. Not for the first time B'ton wondered if she knew how beautiful she was.
"I have, actually." She admitted. "It's one of the reasons I've tasked Tress to arrange fosterlings in the Holds."
B'ton stared at her for moment, then closed his mouth. "Ah, all of our fosterlings?"
Jurille shook her head. "No, just the boys." She gave him a bemused look. "I know better than to send the girls out, not that the women of the Caverns would let me. Natural or fostered, a mother is a mother, and few of our women would think kindly of us for sending our girls into that sort of environment." An expression of sadness flit across her face. "But sending them to the Crafthalls, that might actually be to our advantage." She mused over the thought for a bit, and absently pat his hand. "I approve of your line of thought, youngster. Do it. But be certain that there are as many from the lower Caverns as from the Crafthalls. I will not have Gl'tek growling at me because all the new weyrlings are completely ignorant of our ways." Her tone was disagreeable in mentioning the Weyrlingmaster, but B'ton didn't miss the glimmer of mischief in her eyes.
"Thank you, Weyrwoman." B'ton replied respectfully, standing.
"Call me Jurille, B'ton." She smiled easily at him now, and B'ton was painfully aware of the flush creeping across his face. "And perhaps you will join me for dinner tonight?"
"M-my pleasure, We- Jurille." Bowing B'ton all but fled the Weyrwoman's quarters, all too aware that he was as scarlet as a greenrider before his dragon's first mating flight.
You are happy. Graesth noted from the Hatching Grounds, rearranging her eggs once again.
So I am. Jurille replied, sending a burst of affection to her queen.
The Weyrleader has made you happy? Graesth had not hesitated to forward Wubath's concerns on more than one occasion when Jurille had pre-emptively left B'ton on her doorstep.
Our Weyrleader has just proven that flying is more than simply looking at one's immediate airspace. Metaphor, not usually a draconic strength, was not lost on Graesth.
Before dawn Reelon gently shook his daughters awake. Tibitha sat in her bed, stretching and yawning as Charel hurried to get dressed.
"Charrie," Tibitha said solemnly, watching her sister cinch her travel sack shut, "don't forget your 'crina." She pointed to the wall where the little clay instrument hung.
"Ah, thank you Tiblet." Charel gave her sister a big hug then collected the round instrument, little larger than a poultry egg, and slipped it into her bag. "You and Berk keep things working round here, okay?"
"Yes'm." Tibitha replied with a grin. "And you keep Pa safe."
"Fair trade," Charel flashed her a grin, and slung her bag over her back, before hastening downstairs to join the adults outside.
Her mother held a glow in the predawn, serving klah and flat-wraps to the men. Charel hurried to retrieve Star from the stable, then hurried back out when she realized the runner wasn't present.
"He's at the end of the picket." Old Larst rumbled at her, as she passed.
"Oh, thank you!" Charel called over her shoulder, eager to be up and away. The older drovers chuckled, and finished their breakfasts, as Charel mounted up and roused their fifteen head to wakefulness. As the other men mounted, and the herd moved up the trail, Gwedli waved her daughter over, and handed her a small saddle pack.
"Your breakfast and lunch are both in here, Charrie. Don't be getting greedy." She squeezed the girl's hand and waved the glowbasket until they disappeared around the bend in the path.
Droving a large group was hard work, Charel decided by mid-morning, but in a fun, challenging sort of way. She'd initially kept Star close to her father's roan, but as the herd fell into pace and a more predictable pattern she ranged more and more out, until she was about equidistant from Reelon and Keslo, one of the drovers that had remained with the main tithe herd at Doubleback. Keslo fascinated her, because he was missing his left leg from the knee down. Not that it slowed him down. He was quick to spot wayward cattle, and at lunch, while they watered the herdbeasts, Old Larst told her that he had a near uncanny ability to read the herd. Her father, in a soft word to her, recommended she observe and learn what she could from the one legged drover, and take any advice he had to offer.
Charel did, and at camp that evening offered to trade a song for a story. Keslo agreed, and Charel brought out her ocarina, playing the Duty Song as the other drovers sang. Before she could ask for her story, though, she was asked to play another, and another, until her repertoire was so reduced that she tried to improvise tunes from the ones the drovers whistled to her. Old Larst finally put an end to it, telling them all to get some shut eye.
Curled up next to her father, who really did snore as badly as their shepherding canine, she smiled up at the stars and decided to ask Keslo for the story before she played the next evening.
Wubath was amused and pleased, B'ton realized, as the bronze shifted under him. Pleased made sense enough, only two scorings that day, and both minor ones at that, an excellent injury list for a short Fall. And although most of the Weyr was turned out on the floor of the Bowl, it had far more to do with the scrubbing the dragons were getting, than any treatment for injury.
What do you find so funny? He asked.
Graesth says the Weyrhealer is afraid he may have to transfer to High Reaches if he wishes to remain employed. Wubath reported, and circled to land. He was just as eager for the post-Fall bath as any other dragon, but knew B'ton needed to remain aloft until every dragonpair had reported in. B'ton let out a snort of laughter. As good a healer as Zandur was, he really wasn't happy unless he had patients to attend. B'ton asked Wubath to land near the injured dragons.
Jurille, moving between the groups of weyr folk and the dragons they were attending, smiled easily as she made her way with a pot of numbweed to the one brown with Threadscore on the very tip of his tail. The brown, although not quite whimpering, let out a great sigh as the numbing effect of the salve took hold.
"Perhaps now you'll not fly so close to flame?" Jurille gently chastised the dragon, who meekly nodded his head.
"Do they ever wonder how you know all their tricks, with Graesth on the Hatching Ground?" B'ton asked by way of greeting. Jurille merely smiled, and moved over to the green with a wingtip burn. B'ton, familiar enough with her habits, followed behind, waiting for her response.
"And you," she shook a finger at the green who had the decency to look abashed, "if I hear about to you cutting it that close to the Queens Wing again I will personally see to it that you only have fish to eat from now until the end of the Pass." She turned to the green's rider, her tone turning more strident. "That goes for you too X'rst. Nothing but salted fish! What were you thinking, following the patch down into the queen's level? You're lucky your Rekonth only got her wingtip flamed." X'rst having opened his mouth to come to the defense of his green quickly snapped it shut as the Weyrwoman turned on him.
"I – yes Weyrwoman." X'rst positively wilted under the queenrider's glare.
"Good. See to it that you liberally apply the numbweed until the hide heals, then oil twice day. Rekonth's going to be much more sensitive in that area for a long time to come." She placed the numbweed pot in his hands and turned to the Weyrleader, her stern expression softening. "Of course I know their tricks, haven't you been told? Weyrwomen have eyes in the backs of their heads and the soles of their boots."