Nerissa: Yalanth fed her rider the image from her hill-side perch of the young man sitting forlornly by himself.
"This is the one Jenni wanted?" the copperrider asked.
Lathran sighed and considered the task. She had been informed briefly of the young man's past in the Weyrs, his many failures in impressing. It was sad, really, to have been let down so many times. The woman thought briefly what it would have been like to stand on the sands so many times and yet never meet Yalanth. She shuddered. It was not a pleasant thought and she did not envy the boy of his position. But perhaps he could gain new purpose as a wherhandler.
The copperrider approached him slowly and stopped about ten feet in front of him. She did not wish to intrude on his thoughts and invoke the enmity of a brooding teen. If she was to convince him, she needed his good grace.
Neshomeh: Den noted Lathran's approach and watched her without speaking a word. When she stopped, he stared a moment before speaking. There were a few possible reasons the copperrider was here, none of them particularly appealing at the moment. It wasn't fair of him to want to spread his personal gloom around, but he didn't feel bad about letting her wait.
"Yes?" he said finally. "Something I can do for you?"
Nerissa: Lathran took a deep breath and started in. "I assume Jenni has spoken to you about the wher handling opportunity which is now available to you."
Neshomeh: The young man nodded slightly, hampered by the fact that he was resting his chin on his fist, one knee bent to support himself. "Yes, she did. A generous offer, I'm sure." He meant it. He didn't suppose for an instant that his cousin was merely compensating him, per se. She didn't operate like that. It didn't keep him from feeling like a bottom-drawer item.
Nerissa: Her eyes and ears probed his face and tone for any sliver of sarcasm, but she found none. Sometimes she wished she could hear the minds of humans as clearly as she heard the minds of dragons. "The situation is faced by a sort of temporal dilemma." She paused momentarily to ponder her words. "You see, our resident Queen wher has arrived and she is not far from maturity. For the sake of this breeding project and the young Queen's health, we need a male old enough to breed her with." She took another deep breath and continued. "I understand that between times travel as well as natural between are both abilities possessed by watch whers, but the former is never the most desirable remedy..."
Neshomeh: "No." But it was interesting. He picked his head up and looked more directly at Lathran. "So you're saying I'd have to go back in time to bond? Or... what?"
Nerissa: "Rather the opposite, actually. You'd go to Southern Weyr, to the wherhold, and Impress. You'd raise the male there and once you were ready and confident, you time between back to mere hours before you left. As such, the new wher and the Queen will be of a more similar age and will have time to adjust to each other before she matures enough to breed."
Neshomeh: Den nodded as he turned the idea over in his mind. An odd thought struck him. "What do I tell my sister?" Anya would want to know all about it, of course. He did write fairly often, if not regularly. He could just imagine how confusing his letters would get. "And," he added, turning to more relevant matters, "what if it's a green? You can't tell, right?"
Nerissa: "As they are similar to dragon eggs in that respect... no, you really cannot tell aside from the queen eggs. But choosing the largest egg you can once you get the chance is likely to hand us the desired result."
Neshomeh: "All right." He nodded again, then got up so he was on a level with the copperrider. "I've actually been thinking about this since the Weyrwoman mentioned it to me. I think I'd like to try." He looked away over the trees. "One more adventure."
Nerissa: "Good." Lathran perked up considerably and turned back towards the Weyr. "You might want to go pack. There's a clutch due to start hatching in a few days. Might be wise to leave tonight," she said over her shoulder to him.
Neshomeh: "Oh." Caught off-guard by the suddenness of it, he hurried to catch up. "Well, how do I get there? Who's taking me?"
Nerissa: "Yalanth and I will oblige, of course," the woman said, quite obviously pleased with how things were going. "We will stop in to pay our respects to Tiria and the gold wher before we leave. I believe she'll most likely have some advice for you." She pointed to the dark newly dug entrance in the hillside. "We'll meet there at sundown," and she trotted off into the Weyr to inform Jenni of these developments.
Neshomeh: "Oh," Den said again, pausing to look at the new structure. Sundown. If this went as planned, he would become a night creature. Well, with his luck, who knew? He gave up thinking he knew where he was going in life. He would just pack his bag again and see what happened.
(Den arrived a little later than Lathran would have liked, having stopped to say his good-byes to Jenni and A'drin first. The copperrider introduced Tiria, who gave Den a thorough checking-out. Tirsk joined them out of curiosity.)
Neshomeh: Den shook Tiria's hand and returned her gaze, figuring if she could look him over, he could return the favor. She seemed a little weedy compared to the robust dragonriders, but not entirely unpleasant to look at. Anyway, what either of them thought would probably be worth less than Thread on a cold day when Tirsk went into heat.
"Well, I'm Den," he said when it seemed Lathran wasn't going to introduce him, also matching Tiria's smile. "And this must be Tirsk," he added when the gold made her appearance. He inclined himself respectfully in her direction. She was a lot bigger than he had expected and not a little intimidating. Dragons would never harm a human, but the same could not be said of watch-whers. "She's... impressive."
Nerissa: Tiria felt slightly unsettled and could not account for the sudden, if brief, unease. She released the handshake, as well as the gaze, and turned a fond look down at the oddly shaped head of her bond. The gold, sensing that she had an appreciative audience, raised her head to it's full height and fluttered her small wings. Like this, she was just above eye level with Tiria.
"She is. And only seven and a half months old. She's still growing. If she gets anywhere as large as her mother, she'll certainly pass you in height." A smug grin spread across her face. "Though I do expect she'll surpass the old queen in size."
She turned back to Den. "Speaking of old queens... You've been through your fair share of dragon hatchings, so Lathran told me, so you likely know that acknowledging the dam is a wise thing. With whers, it is essential. It is she who decides if you will be gifted with one of her eggs. Calming noises, tongue clicking, thoughts of admiration definitely can't hurt your chances." The girl demonstrated a few noises, all of which brought awkward sounding, yet pleased croons from the young gold wher.
Neshomeh: The young man nodded, taking in everything Tiria said and watching Tirsk. He was glad to have a chance to look at her, get used to the idea of a queen watch-wher before he had to face one on his own. This way, he was less likely to be caught by surprise, which could only be a good thing.
"I used to be able to do a sort of rolled 'R' sound," he commented. "Drove my sister crazy, but the herdbeasts loved it." He wouldn't try it now for fear of miserable failure, but he would practice if he got a chance later.
Abruptly, he looked Tiria in the face and changed the subject. "Say, about getting back--provided this works out, of course. I was just thinking it would probably be helpful if you're both out here, to give me something I'll be sure to remember right. What do you think?"
Nerissa: Tiria smiled. "As long as it doesn't sound threatening or overconfident, you should be fine."
The girl considered the matter of him getting back. She knew it would be a time jump and she knew it would be very difficult. "Getting back normally was tricky enough for me as it was without a solid heat reference for Tirsk. Lathran's copper was able to give me a basic idea to explain to her. I think, perhaps, I can have Tirsk form a mental picture here of me, and when Lathran goes forward to bring you back, she can take that picture from Tirsk and give it to your wher." She pondered that for a moment. "Yes... I think that is safest...
"Either way, we will be waiting for you."
Neshomeh: Not threatening... not overconfident. Right. Den didn't think he had ever been either.
He nodded to Tiria's plan. "That sounds good. ... I can't think of anything else. I guess I'll see you in a few hours, give or take seven months." It was a weak attempt at humor. He'd never been particularly jocular, either.
Nerissa: It was enough to make Tiria chuckle. She turned back towards the entrance. "I'll clear out one of the other dens in case you come back successful." She and Tirsk disappeared into the darkness of the rough archway.
Lathran smirked after the girl and waved for Den to follow her to where Yalanth was waiting. "She's cute," she said, vaulting to the copper's back.
Neshomeh: Den followed Lathran's lead and, with her help, got up behind her on Yalanth's back.
"Cute?" he repeated, not sure what to make of the comment for a moment. "I guess," he went on. "I mean... shards, I don't know what I mean. Not that it matters much, does it?" He was annoyed that he couldn't put his thoughts into words. He wanted to do this and was happy to accept every consequence, good and bad, but how he felt otherwise was unclear. He didn't want to think about it too much, lest he change his mind.
Nerissa: Lathran quickly checked to make sure she and her passenger were secured properly before giving Yalanth the okay to take-off. A few strong wingstrokes brought them to the proper height and the copper dragon winked into between. A few breathless moments later, the three emerged in the thick, humid morning air above Southern Weyr. A quick glide farther south brought them to the small, sparse wherhold. Yalanth set herself down in the well worn spot she'd used as a landing pad for every time Lathran'd come to check up on Tiria. The copper-rider undid her safety straps and quickly shed the heavy riding jacket before hopping down from her dragon's shoulder. She watched to make sure Den could get down fine by himself.
Neshomeh: Den blinked in the light and glared at the sun as if Rukbat has personally betrayed him. "Bloody time difference," he muttered, sliding a bit haphazardly down the copper's shoulder. Louder: "I guess this'll help me get used to sleeping during the day. It's bedtime for me, but morning here." He also shed his riding gear.
Nerissa: Lathran nodded in agreement. The time lag was somewhat useful. She climbed up on Yalanth's forearm and fished down Den's bag. Sliding down, she handed the parcel to the young man. The copper rider hurried him along down the small incline to one of the small structures which seemed to be built into a hill. Several people stood outside in a messy line, regulated by a very tired looking woman.
Neshomeh: Den followed again, taking in everything he could. He was a bit surprised by the line. "What, it's happening now?" He hadn't expected the time was quite this crucial.
Nerissa: Lathran chuckled. "Impression is not quite the same here as at the Weyr. The eggs are mature, but they're not just about to hatch, so don't worry. You see, the "candidates" don't all stand in a circle and wait for the eggs to hatch and the hatchlings to come find their chosen. One by one, hopefuls enter the gold's den and sort of "appeal" to her for one of her eggs. Like Tiria said, the queen decides your fate. If you please her, she'll let you choose an egg." As she spoke, an older man exited the den carrying an oddly shaped, and smaller, version of the typical dragon egg. "And if you are lucky enough to obtain an egg, it will now be your job to see it through to hatching and beyond. This very well may take a few more days, but you will have to tend to it in the meanwhile."
Neshomeh: "All right." It seemed he'd heard all this before, now that he thought about it. Stupid! But then, maybe the time difference was getting to him. In any case, it looked like there wouldn't be time to practice his sound. He'd just have to shape up and make as good a showing as he could. With a determined air, he strode toward the end of the line.
Nerissa: There were only two more people ahead of Den: a man and a woman both of whom, Lathran knew, happened to represent Piedmont. After an unsuccessful suitor exited, both of their appeals went very quickly. Finally, the woman had left with a fairly small egg in her arms. The copper-rider touched Den's shoulder before he could enter the den. "Remember, we want a bronze or brown, so the bigger the egg, the better."
Neshomeh: Den nodded. He understood, though he wasn't sure what his chances were as he was last in line. With a fortifying breath, he went into the den and squinted, searching for the queen wher's eyes. They weren't difficult to spot. When he was sure of her attention, he executed a low bow, never dropping his own gaze.
Nerissa: Aurisk lifted her head once again to examine yet another candidate. She considered him for a few moments with unblinking eyes before uttering a questioning trill.
Neshomeh: The young man felt as though he was being quizzed by the mother of his prospective spouse--which, he supposed, was not so far from the truth. The thought did nothing to comfort him, but gave him a clue as to how to proceed. "Good evening," he said in his best low, smooth voice. "It's morning outside, but it's evening for me and you. ... I hope I find you well." He didn't know how much she understood and Tiria said it was sounds that mattered, but politeness couldn't be a bad thing.
Nerissa: Aurisk chirped pleasantly back. She was amused, as with all the hopefuls, by the changes in his heart rate in response to her own actions. Because her vision was defined by heat, she could make out the slight pulse of this creature's heartbeat. His voice sounded pleasant and his body seemed sound. The queen was satisfied and lifted her wing to reveal the five remaining eggs, two of which were slightly larger than the rest.
Neshomeh: Den's heart nearly stopped the moment it dawned on him that he'd been accepted. Skipped a beat, then did backflips. He managed to bow again, took a few breaths, and stepped forward to consider the two larger eggs. A bronze should be better somehow, he thought in his euphoria. Stronger, tougher, something. He laid a hand on each shell and paused, hoping for a clue. A bronze would better-please Tirsk and make a good impression on her bond.
Nerissa: Aurisk snorted in amusement as the human's heartbeat did all sorts of neat tricks. She tapped the outer wall of his mind, just to take a quick look inside. The young-ish gold, as always, was puzzled as to why humans needed so many things in their heads. She watched him patiently, intrigued by what he was searching for. Regarding her own eggs, she could gaze at the faint glow of their hearts through the leathery shell.
Neshomeh: With no such ability of his own, Den was forced to guess. He glanced up at the gold's snort, worried that he'd somehow offended her, but that didn't seem to be the case. That was good. Everything was good, he decided. On a whim, he turned to the left-hand egg and scooped it up in his arms, careful to get the heft of it and not jostle the inhabitant. He couldn't bow now, but he maintained eye contact with Aurisk as much as safely possible as he backed out. "Thank you."
The actual hatching, when it happened, went about as smoothly as could be expected. With Lathran and Aurisk's handler to coach him, Den was well prepared and came away from the blooding with mirror toothmarks on his forearm. They healed cleanly. His egg produced a robust and eager young bronze who came to call himself Desk. Den soon found that life with his new friend was easily as much about training himself as it was about training the wher. Desk learned quickly, but could become a problem when bored. Den had to learn techniques for diverting and controlling his rough nature. The young man earned a few scars in the process, but as the months went by, incidents lessened. Finally, it was time to go home.
"Den's Impression" by Neshomeh and Nerissa, May-June 7, 2006.