Disclaimers: Ms. McCaffrey's wonderful planet of Pern belongs to her and her alone. No harm is meant by this little romp. Two of the characters are going to look suspiciously like a warrior and her bard, two characters that belong to Universal studios.
Tara scrambled to keep up with Khlara, to clean up the disorder she'd created and get things running smoothly once again. It became increasingly problematic to spend time alone with Merelan. The former harper was patient up to a point, but the days of Nerath's mating flights were the worst for her, of course. Tara bore her love's resentment stoically, repeating over and over that they had to be patient.
"We have to do what's best for the weyr, Merelan," she'd once said, "And that we includes you."
Meanwhile, the weyrling barracks filled up with 4 clutches in varying stages of maturity, and 4 more age groups were already in their own weyrs. It seemed as though Khlara was even calming down a little; that everything was going to work itself out. Unfortunately, the eldest of the new golds was growing up fast.
Her reproductive maturity grew as Willenth's time to mate drew near. Anyone who saw Willenth could tell from the gradually building glow of her precious golden hide that this was so. She was eclipsed, however, by the coloration of the third eldest queen, Seith. With Nerath's latest clutch already in the weyrling barracks for a month, the weyr would soon be at full strength if these fresh young weyrlings and the next two clutches were included in the census. The imminence of first fall had facillitated the rapid maturation and reproduction of the queens. They had less than a turn to go, and these youngsters would not be ready by then, but Khlara and F'deron were confident, perhaps overly so, that they could handle things until the 6 clutches of young matured.
Seith's first mating flight would happen any day now, and Miriam urged Khlara to vacate the weyr. With the two queens' cycles so closely synchronized, Willenth might be caught up in the charged atmosphere of Seith's flight and rise at the same time. Khlara put the ex-weyr woman off, protesting that she was busy and was needed at the weyr. Besides, couldn't she just leave the morning of the flight and come back when it was over? Miriam argued that her suggestion might work, but nevertheless the convenience was not worth the risk. She knew the old stories, and with so much riding on these next two mating flights, they couldn't afford to lose anyone.
Khlara was headstrong though, and would not listen to the older woman's protests. Three days later the inevitable occured. Seith was the first to wake -- her stirrings roused the Khlara's queen, Willenth. Both riders sat bolt upright in bed at the same minute, both absolutely furious for no reason that they immediately recognized.
Tara woke at Nerath's bugle, jumping from her warm bed. Nerath stood poised on her ledge, her eyes whirling red and white. Fear and anger. Tara knew instantly what was going on and ran down the stairs of her weyr to find Miriam. Nerath and Kellinath would have to try to keep the two incensed queens separated, Miriam said, running into Tara on the floor of the bowl. By then the entire Weyr was awake and in an uproar.
The bronze riders would gather in either queens' weyr, but they couldn't necessarily be counted on to intervene if either woman tried to harm the other. Miriam glanced around as though to find a solution . . . and her eyes met those of one of the women of the lower caverns.
"Jenna, Loran!" Miriam bellowed, summoning two of the cavern women, "Jenna, I want you and Fellan as well as any other non-riders you can find up in Fayn's chamber. Do whatever you have to do in order to keep her safe. Loran, I want you up with Khlara. Get anyone you can and watch them."
The two women nodded and took off at a run to their grim duties.
Miriam was outraged at Khlara. When this ended (if the woman survived) she would never hear the end of it. The two glowing golds circled the paddock of herdbeasts, watching each other warily. The usual atmosphere of anticipation that surrounded mating flights, notably, turned to one of horror. Not one person in the weyr thought Khlara not at fault for her negligence.
When Seith took off, Willenth was just a hair behind her. Fayn shouted, unheeded, something about Willenth stealing her bronzes. All eyes followed the dragons into the air. Nerath and Kellinath took off even as the bronzes did, all pounding the air with their huge wings in desperation. Tara and Miriam decided to target Willenth. If their dragons could hold her back long enough for a bronze to take Seith, everything else would work itself out.
I see them, Nerath said, when the flight had moved beyond the range of human eyes, Seith has been injured, but still flies. The tremendous queen pushed herself to her limits. It seemed that the mating trance extended the queens' flight abilities just as a surge of adrenaline increased human strength. She and Kellinath were making headway though, the other queens were hampering each other. At last, Nerath closed the remaining handspans between herself and Willenth. She beat her huge wings a few more times, riding the wake of Willenth's flight, and got close enough to wrap her neck around the other queen's. Willenth screamed in fury and sank her talons into Nerath's flank. Nerath, shocked, folded her wings back for a moment in reaction to the attack and let them fall. Willenth flapped desperately, slowing their descent as Kellinath closed in with them.
Tara mentally steadied her partner, unaware that her knees had given out and she was only upright by virtue of Merelan's physical support. With her rider's urging to strengthen her reslove, Nerath held on with Kellinath until they sensed that Seith had found her mate. With immense relief, they let go and circled back to land in the bowl. Tara snapped alert, and wondered how Fayn and Khlara could possibly have fared considering that they were much more closely involved. Merelan helped the dark woman to regain her balance.
Tara and Miriam exchanged a pregnant glance and ran to their respective dragons, calling out demands for numbweed, thread, needles, water and anything else they could think of. Dragonriders ran to retrieve the supplies. Merelan appeared at Tara's elbow, and together they tended to Nerath's gouges. Nerath's legs were actually shaking from emotion, and Tara did not fail to mirror the exhaustion, fear, anger and astonishment that her dragon felt.
When Tara felt that she had everything well under control she sent Merelan to help Miriam. Kellinath had a sizeable tear in her wing sail, and a few minor gashes. She looked none too pleased, but held still while her rider worked patiently on her wounds. With Merelan's assistance, they had the two queens patched up rather quickly, but their real work would probably lie in healing Seith and Willenth.
When they presented themselves, Nerath and Kellinath were already long asleep in their weyrs. Tara volunteered to tend to Willenth, trying to spare Miriam the frustration of having to care for Khlara's partner. Tara said nothing, but, starting with the ragged tear that just missed the gold's right eye, she worked her way down the dragon's body. It must have taken at least three hours, judging by the ache in her back and the stiffness of her fingers when she knotted the last stitch in a huge wound to the lower part of Willenth's tail. As she worked, the dragon fidgeted, flipping the end of her tail about and flicking her tongue in and out of her mouth. Tara didn't know what to make of it, honestly. Nevertheless, she did her best to patch the queen up. She'd even had to work on an artery, and now her shirt was soaked in ichor and numbweed. Merelan assisted where she could, but in the end they'd needed Miriam's advice on the wound. Somehow this dragon's wings had come through unscathed, and she flew up to her weyr with little difficulty in spite of a terribly clumsy take-off.
The exhausted threesome supported each other to the lower caverns for some cool wine and a bit of sustenance, to the dismay of Myra who just couldn't believe what a mess they were. The woman talked until Miriam wearily asked her to go fetch Loren and Jorell.
"I'll call an assembly of all the wingleaders and wingseconds after we all get ourselves cleaned up, and we speak to Loren and Jorell," Miriam said, slumping into her seat, "We all saw the way Willenth was behaving just now. Seith was skittish, but not like Willenth. I have never, ever seen anything like that before." The implications of this statement hung in the air. Neither Tara nor Merelan were willing to speak up about what the former weyrwoman had in mind, so they were almost relieved by Jorell's arrival.
"Yes, Miriam?" Jorell asked, courteously, though she knew why she was there.
"Have a seat, friend," Miriam gestured to a spot on the bench, "Tell me what happened during the flight . . . to Fayn."
"When we gots up there, she wass standin' nextta her bed, her eyes was glassy-like, and she wass . . . . well she wass yellin' about Willenth. She wass puttin' up such a fuss and startin' to tear at her clothes so we's thought she might hurt herself and I had my man take her by the arms and hold her. She was madder an I ever seen her, like it wasn't her really. Fayn's always such a sweet'art. In enny case, soon's we could tell the mating flight was over, we lets her go and gets out of there. Doan need ta be there for that part, eh?" Jorell laughed and elbowed Tara with a lecherous grin.
"Thank you, Jorell. I have one more thing to ask of you. I am calling a council in a little while. I would like you to tell everyone what you just told me. All right?"
"Anything you need, Miriam!"
Loren's report was far more alarming, as they had suspected it would be.
"Well, Sora and Flannan and I got up to her chambers just a minute or two after you sent me. We found her standing on her bed, and her eyes were half closed like she was half asleep. She didn't even notice that we were there. She started laughing, and then crying at the same time. We didn't know what to do at first. Then Khlara said, ‘They're mine. I'll kill her for them if I have to,' or something along those lines. She jumped down and started for the door. Flannan and I stopped her, but it took all three of us to get her back to her chamber and hold her down. She was so strong! Then she started really screaming and biting us and fighting like you wouldn't believe. She was cursing Nerath and Kellinath and the two of you. We were scared she was going to go after you if she got away from us, so I had Sora leave the room and wedge the door shut from the outside. It seemed like we spent a whole day in that room with her, but I s'pose it was only a few minutes. What was really creepy was the men all just watching like they didn't have anything to do with it . . ."
Loren shook her head in bewilderment. She sported a good sized clawmark down her right arm and a black eye from her struggle with the enraged dragonrider.
"Thank you, Loren," the former weyrwoman said, turning to Miriam and Tara, "The riders who were in Fayn's chamber need to hear this, and the ones who were in Khlara's need to recognize that whatever they might remember really did happen."
Her story left Miriam, Tara, and Merelan in shocked silence. At Miriam's weary signal, the trio split up to bathe and prepare themselves for the meeting ahead. When Tara trudged into Nerath's weyr, Nerath was asleep on her ledge. No doubt she was recuperating from the day's hard labor and already forgetting what had happened. Her maximum long term memory retention was only three days. Tara smiled as she passed her partner on her way to her bathing room.
Her tunic was so saturated with ichor that it made a splatting noise when it hit the stone floor. Groaning, Tara kicked it into a corner, writing it off as a total loss. Patches of her body were still numb from splattered numbweed, but the rest of her flesh enjoyed the cool kiss of clean water. This must have been one of the two longest days of her life thus far, Tara decided as she watched the water turn greenish and then clear again. Tara silently thanked Miriam for having the foresight to involve non-riders this morning. They were serving a double purpose now; they'd prevented Khlara and Fayn from doing harm, and were also serving as clear-headed witnesses. Sighing, she scrubbed herself with sweet-sand hurriedly: no time for dalliance today.
Miriam was already in Khlara's boardroom when Tara rushed in. The former weyrwoman smiled welcomingly. Most of the wing-leaders and seconds were already there awaiting them. F'deron and Khlara were being pointedly left to themselves, though there was only silence coming from their chamber. When everyone had settled down, Miriam stood up at the head of the table.
"I think you all know why we're here," she said with an ironic little smile, "this is highly irregular, but the situation must be dealt with. In all conscience, we cannot allow Khlara to remain Weyrwoman after this incident. For the good of the weyr, she must be removed from a position bearing so much responsibility and so much importance to all of us. I would like you all to listen for a moment, to the women who saw what happened to both Fayn and Khlara during the flight."
Jorell and Loren spoke in their turns, eliciting a ripple of muttering with each sentence as the riders who'd been involved found the half-remembered events made concrete. Miriam stood when they had both finished and added her own testimony.
"I saw Willenth immediately following the mating. She acted strangely, twitching and flicking her tongue out like a tunnel snake. She put the future of the weyr at risk today, and I suspect that when we see her again she will not be the same woman that she was yesterday. With any luck, Fayn will be all right, but honor demands that Khlara be removed from her position. Do any here disagree?"
"What if you're wrong?" A bronzerider asked, "what if she's fine?"
"Then there still remains the fact that she went against all common sense and put two queen dragons at risk of death for her own convenience. She lacks the judgement necessary to be an effective Weyrwoman in any case. I would not have her in power here after that, would you?"
No one moved to speak for the Weyrwoman.
"Then it is unanimous. My suggestion for F'deron is that he remain Weyrleader until the next queen rises. Objections?"
Again, no one voiced opposition. The group, usually at least somewhat divisive, was startlingly unified by the day's near-tragedy.
"Then all is settled but one thing. Nerath will rise to mate in four sevendays time, which makes Tara the next eligible Queenrider. She shall replace Khlara effective immediately unless anyone has a good reason for why this should not be so?"
A muttering flowed through the room.
"Tara's had no experience either!" A wingleader named J'nan pointed out, acerbically, "How're we to know if she's even capable? Why don't YOU return to the position until she's had more training?"
"She's had training, J'nan, I feel she's as competent as I am," Miriam rejoined, "I have every confidence in Tara's skills."
"And you would too, if you'd been paying any attention!" Someone from the back shouted, Tara thougth it was M'lan, but she wasn't sure.
"Does anyone have an issue that they wish to raise before we adjourn?" Miriam asked.
"Yes," F'llin, a young wing-second spoke up, "What happens if Khlara is . . . unstable?"
"We'll deal with that if and when it happens," Miriam heaved a big sigh, barely suppressed a shrug, and glanced over the room, "We will all know for certain by this evening. Meeting adjourned."