Chap. 279 Senseless Traditions
Had it been just six months since he’d left the Weyr? Already there are faces in the crowd I have never seen before, he thought. Oh, there’s my sister with her foster family. She doesn’t see me, I’ll get with her afterwards. There’s F’mart, and Siena.
Look at Siena, she looks so happy, so different than when she was weyrmate of M’rvin. I wonder where he went. No, I guess I don’t care where he went.
And B’rant, the Weyrlingmaster, standing behind the Candidates. He’s not slapping his thigh, that means he’s either concerned or nervous about the Impression.
He could hear a low, almost subsonic humming. Every dragon in the weyr was lined up on the ridge above the Weyr’s bowl or perched on their weyr ledges. He knew they would start to raise the volume as soon as the eggs began to hatch.
Siskin had joined a large flock of fire lizards, perched in the caverns’ crannies and ledges above the hatching sands. Some queens, he knew, refused to allow fire lizards in her egg chamber, but Mirth seemed uncaring.
He sat amongst the audience in the above the hatching sands. Mirth, couchant like a giant cat, kept her eyes on her eggs. The Candidates, their traditional white gowns glowing in the shafts of sunlight, looked almost catatonic. Before them, twenty four eggs twitched, as if the inhabitants were shivering.
Behind the Candidates stood a cadre of their mentors, ready with bowls of raw meat. There was C’val, his former mentor, and his weyrmate, Sinala, both prepared to help their Candidate feed his or her impressed dragon.
Do you remember? he asked Raventh.
I remember how bright the light was, after being in the egg for so long. I was so hungry! I can hear the ones in the eggs, right now. They are feeling this urge to break the shell, but they are afraid, too. That is why we sing to them, to tell them it is safe. Mirth is telling them, come out and you will be fed.
I remember how hot the sand was on my bare feet. Then when you poked your head out, I forgot all about it!
He noticed that the Candidates were all wearing sandals. Now THAT was smart. No one ever explained why he’d had to go barefoot on the hatching sands, other than ‘that’s how it had always been done.”
I made here just in time, he thought. Look at those kids, I know exactly how they feel.
Wait. Something was odd.
Not all of them were teenagers. No. There were three adults in the group, two men and a woman. They appeared far less nervous than their teenaged counterparts. They looked determined. The kids looked terrified.
This was new. Never before had he heard of ‘older’ candidates at an Impression.
The dragons hum began to increase in strength. One egg rocked so hard it almost fell over. B’rant call out, “Steady, now, steady, wait until they begin to crack.”
The fire lizards began to hum as well. Siskin sent him images from his point of view, high above the sands. It felt so strange to see himself in the crowd!
One egg gave out a loud crraaaaaaaaaaaack. The Candidates flinched, waiting.
For several long moments, there was no other action from the eggs.
Mirth rumbled. The dragons began to sing even louder.
The eggs began to rock. Then, as if orchestrated, half of them all seemed to split at once. The first egg to crack gave a might heave, and split in two. A clawed forefoot appeared, shoving aside a shard of eggshell. A bronze head poked out.
The crowd cheered at the good omen. Several boys moved onto the sands, all heading for the bronze. But the bronze ignored them. They milled about, going from one egg to another. More eggs cracked, and the Candidates flooded onto the sands.
One of the adult men strode purposefully to the bronze’s egg. He froze as he met the dragonets eyes. The bronze dragonet squealed. The man fell to his knees by the egg, his face suffused with an incredible joy. The bronze’s egg fell apart in pieces and the hatchling flopped onto the sands, squalling. A man rushed out to join the two, a bowl of meat in his hands.
The dragons and the fire lizards chorus was so loud he had to cover his ears.
Eggs were collapsing, the Candidates moving amongst them. One of the girls wandered through the entire clutch, looking lost. The adult woman passed her and made her way to a shattered egg. A wing and a leg protruded. The woman paused and pulled gently on the wingtip. It retracted into the crumbling egg and was replaced by a green head. It looked at the adult woman…and ignored her. The woman stopped, aghast. The girl she’d passed shouted and ran to the egg. The green squawked. The girl fell to her knees, rushing to pull pieces of shell off the green. The girl was crying and laughing.
The adult woman watched for several moments, shocked at the rejection. Then she turned, her dismay evident.
The cries of the hatchlings, many still half in, half out of their eggs, rose in an shrieking crescendo. Mentors hurried to their Candidates with the meat. The man who’d Impressed the bronze was tearing away the remnants of the egg from the sprawling dragonet with one hand and shoving food into its mouth with the other. He was laughing.
The Candidates were calling and even weeping, saying the names of their dragonets. They were almost drowned out by the dragons outside, thundering their welcome to the hatchlings.
What? No queen? He darted a glance at Siena. She looked stricken.
There was one egg left. The middle aged woman passed it, her face disconsolate. The egg went creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek and the woman froze. Even with all the noise, K’ndar could hear a demanding voice coming from the egg.
It is shouting, I want out, help me Raventh said
The top of the egg split and a golden head rose from it, the scrap of eggshell atop it as if it were a hat. K’ndar laughed, his voice lost in the swell of human cheering.
He glanced at Siena. The Weyrwoman looked beatific. Yes. A gold!!
The middle aged woman swayed as if she’d been punched. Then she rushed to the egg and lifted the scrap of eggshell from the gold’s head. For a long, long moment, dragonet and woman held each others eyes. Then the woman cried, “Her name is Venuth!!”
“Thank you for inviting me,”K’ndar said. The families of the Candidates had all repaired to the dining cavern where Hariko and a mob of helpers had deployed a vast feast.
Oh, there is Lindea, he thought. She looks harried, yet happy. And Oscoral is in the back there. I’ve missed these people.
“My pleasure, K’ndar,” Siena said. She sipped wine from a goblet. For once, the attention of the crowd was on their family members rather than her. She felt as if she’d had chains removed for a short time. I barely have time for myself, she thought. Sometimes I regret being Weyrwoman, so many people wanting my attention, wanting this, ranting about that, wanting me to fix marital issues.
You regret ME?
By the egg, Mirth, no!! Of course not! But I wish we could have more time with each other. Sometimes I feel guilty that I have to rush in grooming you. We don’t go flying often enough. Sometimes I wish we could just fly away, find some lovely beach where you could wade into the sea and fish, and I could lay out on the sand, with no one asking me to fix this or do that. But no, we both have duties.
I know. It is okay.
By the way, what a lovely clutch of dragons you produced. Oh, that queen is going to be beautiful, just like you.
Drul, one of the drudges, moved towards him with a tray loaded with goblets and mugs.
“Hello, Drul, it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen you. How ARE you?”
The girl seemed to have grown heads taller since the day when he was just a Weyrling.
The girl smiled. “I’m very well, K’ndar, sir, it is good to see you, too. I am married now to a very nice man, he is a journeyman for Harlan, the metalsmith.”
“Good for you, you look very happy,” he said. She offered him a goblet.
“I have ale and wine, which would you prefer?”
“Thank you, Drul, but I can’t drink alcohol. I’m allergic to it.”
Surprised, she said, “Allergic? Well, then, can I bring you some klah?”
“No thank you, I’m fine, now. Maybe later?”
Drul nodded and continued into the crowd.
“That’s what I always liked about you, K’ndar. You never let the status of a person determine the way you treat them,” Siena said.
He looked at her, wondering how she could possibly know. It wasn’t as if they’d done much together.
“It’s the right thing to do, ma’am. There are people who consider drudges nothing but bipedal draft animals, but I never thought that of anyone. They do tasks no one else wants to do. They’re an important part of our culture. Even the lowest drudge has the right to respect.”
“True. We’re lucky, we’ve got a good bunch of them here. All hard working. By the way, what’s this ‘ma’am’ stuff?”
“Siena, for stars sakes, you’re Weyrwoman. It wouldn’t do for me to be all buddybuddy with you right in front of the new Weyrlings. I’m nobody.”
She laughed and punched him gently in the arm.
“My arse, K’ndar. We’ve been friends for a long time, remember how we worked together to pull a bloodfish off a dolphin? Yes, I’m Weyrwoman, but I’m still Siena. And right now, I’m glad to talk to someone who’s not complaining or asking for some favor.”
“Thank you.” He smiled. “I like how your candidates wore sandals. I always wondered why we had to go barefoot.”
“Me too. I literally burned my feet when I Impressed Mirth. I had to slather numbweed on them for a week. Maybe it was then, I don’t remember, but I vowed that if I could, I’d change THAT silly tradition. Now I can. There’s a lot of things I intend to change.”
“So I see, I learned this morning that you’d dropped “Steppe” from the Weyr’s name.”
“I did. We talked it over. We’re right on the ocean, K’ndar, and while the steppe is behind us, we seem to spend most of our energies on the sea side. And the steppe, it’s changing.”
“You’re the biologist, when you get a chance, fly out over the steppe. Part of it is in papergrass now, but K’ndar, the steppe is changing. I can’t put my finger on just how and certainly not why, but I can see it. The dragons have to go further and further out to hunt game. Even the cattle and horses are finding less graze available.”
A knot of worry started in his heart. I love the steppe. If I could, I’d go right now, he thought. But I’ll wait until later today.
“You’re right. Things have changed, a lot, since Thread stopped falling,” he said. “Sometimes I wonder how people like the Abominators are handling it. Not that I care, but can you imagine what Jenmay would have said had she seen, for instance, adults on the hatching sands? Wearing sandals?”
He could easily imagine the horrid Oldtimer’s reaction.
Siena paused. “Woof, but that woman was a piece of work, what? But we all hung together against her. It took a lot of courage for D’nis to go against her, and everyone of us stood behind him. When Mirth got the call to ‘come home’, I couldn’t harness her fast enough. I regret I may have insulted my host, because I said, “Thank you for the shelter, I’ll reimburse you somehow, bye,” and launched.”
“Siena, that was one woman who deserved beheading. My only regret is that poor Jiannath had to die because of Jenmay’s stupidity.”
“I know. I cannot fathom how she could have betrayed her own dragon.”
They both shook their heads in disbelief.
“So, how is it, that you have three adult Weyrlings?”
“It was forced on us, K’ndar. Candidates are getting harder to find. Some of the kids hide when they hear we’re Searching. They’re not interested in being dragonriders. Poor C’val, Sinala, the others on Search, they won’t admit it but they definitely went outside our sector, looking for Candidates. We poached some of Southern’s kids, but only because they don’t have a clutch right now. Don’t you say a word, I’ll deny it to my dying day! And I would be astonished if Honshu or some other weyr doesn’t do the same thing in our sectors. You can’t leave an egg on the hatching sands without someone to impress it. I wouldn’t be able to stand the heartbreak!
Mirth laid 24 eggs and what would we have done if we’d not accepted the adults solely due to their age? It’s scary. It was B’rant who said, let’s try older Candidates, people who would, traditionally not have been considered because they’d passed the age limit of 24.
I’ve researched just where does it say only kids and young adults can Impress, and I can’t find a thing.”
“That’s worrisome, I’ve heard the same thing about kids not wanting to fly, Siena. Maybe, when Thread was falling, kids were preferred because they had no one left behind if they were killed. I don’t know why it was set up that way, but for whatever reason it isn’t..isn’t attractive anymore.”
“So many traditions make no sense anymore. Why was it that for thousands of years, women weren’t allowed to fly greens? You had men riding greens, female dragons. Female dragons need female riders. Period. One of the Oldtimers here rides a green, and said he would hide when she was mating, because he didn’t want to bed another man.
B’rant’s sure this class, with the adults unwittingly serving as examples, will be easier to train. The adults, they’re done with stupid things like breaking curfew, although they do resent having one at their age. But fair’s fair. B’rant’s already sure that they’ll be far more willing to listen than some of the kids.” She sighed.
K’ndar nodded. “Oh, I believe it. I know a certain Weyrleader who tested B’rant to the limit and earned a whole lot of time cleaning latrines.”
Siena laughed. “I was already a full fledged rider when I signed in here, but I for certain remember the antics of that Weyrleader.” They both looked for F’mart, and saw him surrounded by what appeared to be petitioners. More likely they’re complaining, she thought. For Pern’s sakes, not at Impression, please. Let this be about the new Weyrlings.
F’mart turned and caught her eye. His looked resigned.
“You and F’mart have done an incredible job of steering Kahrain St..Weyr back from the brink that M’rvin almost pushed it over.” K’ndar said, drawing her attention back.
Siena grimaced. “Steering? Dragging it back kicking and screaming, more like. Things had gone sour very quickly. We lost a LOT of good folks, both riders and groundpounders.” She shook her head. “Ah, M’rvin. I couldn’t blame you for leaving. I still can’t. Had you punched him in the nose that day he publicly cut you to ribbons, I wouldn’t have seen a thing. He had it coming, K’ndar, I admired your self control. M’rvin was his own worst enemy, he was tormented with black shadows in his heart. I don’t know how else to explain it. He could turn, just like that, one minute bubbling happy and the next, growling like a wounded wher. But, those days are gone, K’ndar. If you’d told me early on that F’mart would be weyrleader, I’d have laughed til I cried. He was too full of gas and ash, too much the braggart. I was astonished when Kenth flew Mirth. And worried, after……” She paused, considering the effects mating dragons had on their human counterparts.
I don’t love F’mart, she thought. We make a great team, but…otherwise? I thought I loved M’rvin, but he squashed that, early. That’s the hardest part of being Weyrwoman, she thought. I still haven’t met my equal.
“He certainly seems to have changed. A lot.”
“F’mart is young, but he’s come around from the days when he was an unmitigated arsehole. I think Kenth had a lot to do with it. Kenth is a very serious, no nonsense bronze, very aware of his duties as a Weyrleader’s dragon. I think he had a discussion with F’mart.
F’mart’s done a lot of growing up, you know, he has a very good head on his shoulders. It didn’t take long for even the oldest of dragonriders to realize that while he’s younger than most of them, he’s still a leader. He’s tolerable now.” Her eyes laughed at him over the edge of her goblet. “Mostly because, these days, he does as he’s told.”