The sun wavered and rose slowly over the hollowed-out mountain that was Telgar Weyr, tendrils of light probing delicately into the Weyr Bowl and making the lake gleam and glitter. Herdbeasts in the feeding paddocks stretched and grunted, greeting the dawn, and the bright globe of the rising sun settled briefly on the tip of the Finger Rock. It was the Winter Solstice, not that many people bothered to mark it these days, and an unusually bright and warm day for the middle of winter.
Several strands of daylight crept into the dark cave mouths of the dragons' weyrs, and one cheeky ray managed to find its way into the quarters of a blue dragon's rider. It lay across his face, and he frowned in his sleep and flung an arm over his face, half awake already but not relishing getting up.
The ray of light persisted, turning the world behind his eyelids red, and in the end he gave up and opened his eyes, squinting at the illumination.
"It's sure it's too early to get up," he grumbled, propping himself up on his elbow and pushing back the sleeping furs. His blue dragon, disturbed by his rider's awakening, stirred and stretched in his couch.
Good morning, A'dal.
Good morning, Kalth.
A'dal yawned and forced his sleepy body into his bathing room, scrubbing his face with cold water to try and wake himself up. He dressed and called down for his usual morning klah, and once it arrived took it out to see Kalth.
The dragon was still in his couch, all but his innermost lids open. His opalescent eyes regarded his rider with affection.
I think it will be a good day, he observed, as A'dal perched himself against his beast's great deep blue shoulder.
I hope you're right, A'dal replied, sipping his klah and shaking off the last of his sleepiness. But he felt vaguely contented, and suspected his dragon was correct.
Even though there was that worrying fact of Sami's disappearance.
Sami was one of his fire lizards, a bright, cheeky green. She was not the sort to ignore attention, or food, or indeed anything that promised to be interesting-but yesterday, when he called his pair to eat, only the blue Rakka appeared. And no matter where he looked, Sami was not there. He had searched for the little green's mental connection-and found nothing. He had almost panicked then, until Kalth had pointed out that there was no sick emptiness to suggest that the fire lizard was dead, only a bizarre inability to feel the green's mind. Rakka, usually much more sensible, had been anxious all day as well, refusing to settle down, one minute on A'dal's shoulder with his tail so tight around the man's neck that it almost choked him, the next taking to the air, scolding both A'dal and Kalth furiously, zipping around the weyr at high speed and disappearing abruptly between.
Then, after a few minutes of being gone, he would appear again, chittering anxiously as though he feared that A'dal would disappear as Sami had done. He did that now, appearing in mid-air right in front of his friend's face, squawking with undoubted relief when he saw that A'dal was still there and had not vanished. He landed on the rider's padded shoulder and curled his tail around his neck, as though to anchor his friend in the world.
Bethany, although she had no disappeared fire lizard to worry about, woke up feeling decidedly out of sorts. She grumbled to herself and pulled her furs over her face to hide from the light, fighting to get back to sleep; but her Meth was awake now, and feeling just as grumpy, and eventually Bethany gave up the struggle and flung her furs away, swinging herself out of the bed with unnecessary violence.
She knew perfectly well why she was feeling so irritable. Meth was proddy, close to rising, and it was communicating itself to her rider. Knowing that didn't make it any easier to deal with, though-she had chewed out an unwary greenrider the day before because of an uncalled-for comment on Bethany’s unruly and untameable hair that she would otherwise have laughed off, and now all the other riders were avoiding her carefully.
Not that they would be unwilling to join in the chase when Meth rose, though. She had never known a dragonrider who didn’t love to join in a Flight.
Bethany, the dragon called now, sounding petulant and restless. Bethany, I'm hungry.
"You're always hungry," Bethany replied bad-temperedly, as she pulled on a loose green tunic. It had a stain on it; she noted this with an annoyance that was quite unlike her. Meth whimpered from her couch, upset that her rider was angry with her, and the young woman immediately dashed out to comfort her.
"I didn't mean it, you big silly. As soon as I'm properly dressed you can go and get some food."
She stroked her dragon's eye-ridge soothingly, noting the deepening of colour. Meth was usually a soft leaf green shade, but now she was rather darker.
The wiry green had been an unexpected acquisition. Taken along to watch her two brothers, Ardal and Wilkan, stand on the Hatching Ground, she had burned with jealousy, wishing she had been selected. There had been no Queen egg, but Bethany knew full well that girls were allowed to stand in the hopes of Impressing greens now, and she had begged and begged her father to allow it. The dragonman who had come on Search had been willing enough to take her, but her father had refused; he had had his two sons taken already and his daughter was not going as well. But he had agreed to allow her to witness the Hatching, and that had been his downfall. His wilful daughter had escaped as soon as they reached the Weyr, and the next time he had seen her she had acquired a white robe from somewhere and was standing amongst the candidates with a cherubic expression. And by the time he’d stopped gaping and tried to do something about it, the hatchling Meth had claimed Bethany for her own and there was no going back. He’d lost all three of his children to the Weyr that day; Ardal had gained his blue Kalth, and Wilkan had managed to gain a brown, Mintrith.
Bethany, lost in her memories as she leaned against Meth's flank, was suddenly aware of the green's tension. She shook herself back to reality, and took a step back. The dragon's whole body was tense, and she was staring out at the semi-circle of sky by the weyr mouth. Her eyes were whirling a bright, fiery red.
From outside came the sounds of male dragons blooding their kills.
"Shards!" Bethany managed to blurt out, before Meth lurched up out of her couch and made for the ledge outside their weyr. Her rider ran after her anxiously, as was just in time to see the green dive for a heardbeast. The herd stampeded in panic, and Bethany thrust all doubt out of her mind. Meth mustn't gorge. It was just as important as if she had been a Queen rising.
She bent her whole mind, and forced the dragon, against her will, only to take the blood.
In A'dal's weyr, Kalth raised his head and scrambled up out of his couch.
Meth rises, he said, and A'dal nearly choked on his klah. Kalth never chased Meth, but the excitement buzzed through him nevertheless. The first time Meth had risen he had wanted to chase, but A'dal had put the kybosh on that with uncharacteristic firmness.
Bethany was, after all, his sister. It would be extremely wrong, even though the stocky blue probably wouldn't have a hope of actually catching the flighty green.
The pair of them ran for the ledge, and A'dal swung onto Kalth's neck just as the dragon launched into flight. Bethany was outside her weyr, face locked in concentration, and she barely noticed when her brother's blue landed beside her. She clambered mechanically onto his neck, and Kalth took her down to the grass, where the riders of the males were already gathering in anticipation.