Its Eyes Were Jewels
As way of disclaimer, I own none of Anne McCaffrey's characters nor do I own her world (though I sometimes wish I did), I'm simply borrowing them for the time being.
It was a long, tense process, setting the wing sail. The pieces of flesh needed to be placed exactly right, or it would heal mangled… if it healed at all, a worry that Elrenia only dared think in the deepest part of her mind. Arlith couldn't know that she wasn't completely positive he'd recover. The brown needed her support, and if there was the slightest chance that he was still listening to her, she wasn't going to risk upsetting him.
More than once during the process he tried to buck them away, keening weakly. Pained. Fearful, not for himself. Never for himself. Dragons were the most selfless creatures Elrenia ever had the pleasure of coming across, and the way that the brown kept crying for his rider broke her heart as deeply as it touched her. Arlith didn't care about himself, he just wanted Z'den to be better. That was okay, though, because the big beast had a group looking out for him and only him.
The wing wasn't the only injury he sustained, though it was the worst by far. A long, jagged set of scores wrapped halfway around his neck, breaking off and continuing only once. The break in the mark happened to be in the shape of Z'den's neck, a realization that almost made the brunette burst into tears all over again when she first saw it. The brown rider must have been clinging to his dragon when that happened. Holding on tight. Frightened, probably more for the beast than for himself. They were so alike, the two of them. Even their voices… and she cherished the way the brown's gruff tones tickled the edges of her mind. She urged him to continue speaking, asking questions that didn't actually mean anything once she had his attention. She refused to let him go as they set his wing, and cared for his throat, and searched him for further wounds. A large bit of flesh had been burned from Arlith's right side, but that was the shallowest of wounds. It would heal quickly, and nicely the physician assured her.
It was well past sundown that day, the hatching came and went, the cold swooped in from the skies and snow started to fall before Elrenia was finally pulled away from Arlith. She fought it. Punched F'nor in the center of his chest with all of her strength, and some of Arlith's, and told him to get his twice damned hands off of her if he wanted to keep them. But he dragged her inside out of the cold anyway.
"You need to stop," he murmured, brushing cold hair out of her face. "They're building an awning over him to keep the snow away until we can figure out how move him."
"I need to stay—"
"You'll get sick out there," he said. "We're taking shifts watching him. You were just on. H'val's turn is next, then mine, then N'ken's. and N'mon, and everyone. We're all taking shifts. You need to warm up, and eat."
"I'm not hungry."
"The grumbling from your stomach says otherwise."
"Hush," his voice was so gentle, and he was looking at her with eyes he usually reserved for Brekke and his brother alone. Kind. Understanding. Downright loving.
His expression wrapped her in a tender embrace, held her safe and sound until she was able to calm her breathing on her own. Hands smoothed over her hair and shoulders, held her even more tightly than his eyes, but in the end she had to shake her head. She couldn't just walk away from this. Her comfort wouldn't help either of her wounded boys, and… by the Egg.
Why? Why had this happened? The fact that she'd missed the hatching still hadn't sunk in, because it didn't matter. For all she knew, her trembling, nervous hands were what kept Arlith alive. Kept Z'den alive indirectly, because without his dragon he wouldn't…
"Stop it," the words were firm, the tone pleading as big hands cupped Elrenia's face, forcing her to look up into the wingsecond's eyes. "Whatever you're thinking, stop it."
Before she could stop herself, Elrenia practically sobbed, "He's going to die."
"No! Listen to me, okay?" It was phrased like a request, but the man's eyes belied that. "Arlith is going to pull through. Do you understand me?"
"No!" Shaking the girl just slightly, F'nor leaned forward just enough to rest her forehead against hers. "You listen to me, Elrenia! Listen!"
"Arlith will not die!" A whispered shout, fierce as fire. "He will not, because we won't let him. Do you understand me?"
"Do you understand me?"
"Yes," a barely audible murmur, and lips quivered with the force of the tears in her eyes.
"Do you understand me?" F'nor asked again, less fiercely. The words lingered like a plea, one that Elrenia couldn't ignore, and when she nodded her head in response this time, he barely whispered, "Do you?"
"Good," the word almost sounded like a promise when the pulled back to take a deep breath before looking back into her eyes. "You can't kill yourself over this," he spoke as firmly as ever, but his eyes… his eyes betrayed him. His eyes told her that he was just as scared as she was, and the only difference between them was faith. "You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of him."
"Okay," she agreed with a nod. "And… and Z'den?" the words trembled as badly as her hands did, reaching up to grab the fingers pressing against her face. The man's warmth was almost overwhelming, telling her exactly how cold she really was. "What about Z'den?" No answer. A brief averting of the man's eyes, and she felt fear curl deep within her stomach, making her feel distinctly ill. "F'nor?" The man couldn't even look at her. "F'nor? What about Z'den?"
"He's… in bad shape."
"Oldive is still working on him."
"By the egg."
"The thread…" the words stuck in his throat like a living thing, reaching out with both hands to hold onto his vocal chords, constricting. It took a moment for the man to clear his throat and continue saying, "It got pretty deep. It… there was so much blood." F'nor, big and strong though he was, shuddered at the ghastly memory of Z'den, his friend, laying there, bleeding to death while he could do nothing but watch. It was going to be burned into his mind's eye forever.
They'd all been completely helpless until Oldive arrived, and H'val had gotten him there suspiciously fast. Even Elrenia suspected that he timed it, and she was almost grateful that he did. At any other time she would have scolded him to the red star and back, but… but she… a choked noise escaped her throat, and F'nor pulled her tightly to his chest, kissing the top of her head in a distinctly Z'den manner. A hand ran delicately down her spine, and she shuddered.
"He'll be fine," the man assured her, but his voice was weak, as though he didn't believe his own words. "Elrenia, I promise—"
"I want to see him."
"Elrenia, please." The man moved back, leaning down slightly to make direct eye contact with the woman. "If I could bring you in there I would. I would. If anyone's presence would be good for him right now, it's yours. But… but Oldive needs peace and quiet right now. He needs to be alone with his assistant. He needs time to work." A slow, deep breath warned Elrenia that the man was struggling with whatever he was going to say next, and she understood when he finally muttered, "I don't want you to get in the way."
For a moment the brunette was truly insulted. Because how dare he say that she'd only get in the way? Firstly, she knew more about wounds than most of the other female candidates—I'm no longer a candidate—but most importantly she followed directions! She followed them well! She hardly ever froze up, and when she did a quick word snapped her out of it. A moment, and a deep breath had the girl reluctantly admitting that the brown rider was probably right regardless of her better qualities.
The truth was that she would only get in the way, because she was a mess. The tears came periodically and without warning. She shook and shuddered from the cold, from exertion, from bone deep exhaustion. From an agony so deep in her gut that she couldn't tell what exactly it meant. It was the pain that came with the fire soaring high above Levic. Pain that transformed into agony when she realized that the bodies of the only family she'd ever known were being consumed by those flames. This was not a pain that should have been repeated, ever. Not when, for all she knew, what was left of her family was safe in Fort.
No. That was incorrect. Part of her family was dying under Oldive's caring hands, and there was nothing she could do about it. She had every reason to feel that pain again, and the realization had her composure snapping like a twig. Her eyes brightened with fresh tears seconds before a sob bubbled up her throat, breaking her composure even further as the force of her heaving chest sent several tears cascading from beneath her eyelids.
There was no way she could help Oldive, no way she could keep her cool, so it was probably best that she keep away until everything was okay again. But what if it's never okay again? a pitiful voice in the back of her mind keened, shrieking at her most desperately. What if, by failing to get into that room, she'd never see Z'den alive again? The thought had her hands clenching into fists at her side as the brown rider's hand fell from her face to pull her close to his chest again.
Letting out a surprisingly soothing noise, F'nor rested his chin against Elrenia's shoulder, stooping slightly to do so. It would never be said that the man released a few tears of his own as they stood there, trying to come to terms with the gravity of the situation.
Z'den, whom they both loved like family, was horribly injured. What was worse, there was nothing either of them could do to help him. His death would not be a result of their inaction, it couldn't be, but it would feel like it. It felt like that already, and he wasn't dead yet. If only Elrenia had not let him go. If only F'nor had sensed there was trouble and helped. If only both of them could go back in time—
"Stop it," the man whispered, squeezing the girl tightly once more before holding her at arms length. "Stop crying."
"Okay." Nodding her head to support the word, Elrenia raised a hand to wipe her eyes. "Okay, I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry."
"And don't feel bad."
"Okay." A moment later, "You too."
"This isn't your fault. This… shards… this isn't anyone's fault. I… I asked him not to go. F'nor? F'nor, where did he go?"
"I don't know."
"I need to know. Why… why did he go? Why did this happen?"
"I don't know," the man repeated a bit weakly, shaking his head. "But I'm going to find out."
A look was shared for a long moment before Elrenia nodded her head and leaned forward to hug F'nor again. "Thank you. Okay."
"You don't have to thank me, flitterby," the man smiled. "Go get something to eat. You look like you're going to pass out."
"I'm just cold."
"Do you need me to walk you down?"
"No," she shook her head carefully, flexing her hands. "I can handle myself. You… Brekke is still out there. Go take care of your woman."
"I'll be sending her down to you."
"I'll make sure she eats."
That was enough for the both of them, and after exchanging one more look, Elrenia went straight for the nearest staircase, following it down to the bowels of the Weyr. It didn't take very long for the smells of a well prepared meal still heating in the kitchen to make her mouth water, but she couldn't force her legs to carry her there any faster. They wiggled and wobbled as she walked with one hand carefully braced against the wall. She didn't want to plummet to her death today.
There was already too much heartbreak on what should have been an ultimately joyous occasion.
Walking into the lower cavern showed a single occupied table, Manora leaning in close to speak to a rather severe looking Mirah. Neither woman looked happy, but how could they? How could anyone be happy this day?
That wasn't fair, and Elrenia knew it. The new rider's shouldn't have to suffer for something that wasn't their fault, but still she hoped that the festivities had been at least a little subdued. Hoped there'd been a little respect. A little worry.
Soft brown eyes turned up that moment, seeming to sense her presence, and Mirah smiled softly. Something in her expression was strained, but she looked honestly pleased to see the girl when she said, "Hey, Elrenia."
"Hello," barely a word. It felt awkward on her tongue, but she didn't know how to fix it. Instead, she continued on, "Can I…" What? Could she sit? Could she eat? Could she finally stop feeling as though she'd single handedly murdered one of her friends?
"Oh, of course," and the young woman made the decision about the question for her, sliding over slightly, making even more room for her on the empty bench. "Sit. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine." It was a lie that both women saw through in a second, and she sighed, running her hands through her hair. "I'm worried about the boys."
"Don't let Arlith hear you calling him that when he gets better," Mirah joked rather weakly, leaning her head on Elrenia's shoulder. "He'll never let you ride him again."
"He knows I think of him like that," Elrenia laughed just as weakly. "He's one of my boys, so's… so's Z'den."
"Oh, dear, don't cry."
"What if they don't get better?"
"Don't think that way."
"Enough," Manora warned, pointing one finger at Elrenia. "We're going to stay confident that the both of them are going to recover just fine. You hear me?"
"Now, are you hungry? You haven't eaten since breakfast."
"I'll get you food," the older woman offered, rising from her seat. "But just this once. Don't you get used to me serving you or anything."
Laughing, genuinely now, she nodded her head. "Of course not."
Almost as soon as the older woman was gone, Elrenia was leaning heavily into Mirah's side, appreciative of the way the smaller girl wrapped an arm immediately around her shoulders. The feeling of someone close, someone loving, someone protective calmed her heart for the moment. Mirah had been there every step of the way for her, and it was this that soothed her when F'nor's efforts failed. The feeling of someone she loved like family pressed so close allowed her to think of something other than the man potentially bleeding to death up in his weyr. His weyr? Someone else's? Where had they taken the man anyway?
"Stop thinking," the girl ordered softly, squeezing her tightly, repeating F'nor's earlier sentiment. "Just for ten seconds, stop thinking. Don't think anything at all."
At first glance it seemed like an easy enough command to follow, but the moment she tried to do as she was told, she had to ask, "How do I not think?"
"Just… clear your mind."
"Clear your mind like you do when you wait for one of the dragons to talk to you," Mirah offered almost gently, running her hand soothingly up and down Elrenia's arm. "Open your mind like you're waiting for Koth's voice. Like you're listening to him. Just… relax."
Though the instruction sounded rather odd, Elrenia closed her eyes and did exactly as Mirah said. She concentrated on the part of her mind where the blue's voice would appear should he speak to her. Focused and concentrated until her own voice reminding her what to do faded far into the background. For one blissful moment there was absolute silence. Peace so deep in her mind that she could feel it in her heart, and then Manora was placing a steaming plate of food before her.
It was the most delicious meal she'd ever eaten.
Half way through the sound of footsteps drew her attention to the doorway, where Brekke stood, looking as exhausted as she felt. Without question Manora left to fetch another plate of food, and Elrenia patted the bench at her side. It was easy to slip into silence and eat for two servings and three cups of klah. But in the end curious blue grey eyes lifted and a startlingly calm voice asked, "Who Impressed?"
Brekke looked up curiously at the question, the lack of anger, or disappointment in Elrenia's voice surprising her. She should have been furious. Everyone had been sure that this was her queen on the sands. It should have been. It should have been her queen! But she seemed okay.
Almost too okay.
"Red," Manora offered up solemnly, picking out one of the girl's friends in hopes of softening the blow of some other girl getting the dragon she'd been hoping for. "Red and Palmer both. Bronze and brown respectively. And Red is never going to let the poor boy live that down, by the way." Elrenia was certain Manora named every other new rider and their dragon, and made several up before she sputtered to a stop and looked away unsurely.
Manora. Unsure. Clearly the red star was about to crash into Pern with all the likelihood of that actually happening. But when after another few moments the woman hadn't told her what she wanted to know, she realized she was going to have to ask, "And the queen?"
It was with a great sigh that Manora murmured, "I'm sorry, flitterby."
"Arlith needed me more," she spoke calmly, feeling the truth in those words down to the core of her being. "That dragon's life is far more important than me Impressing. His life will always be more important. Always. I'm not mad." A promise. "But… who's the lucky girl?"
"I knew it," she grinned broadly, honestly. The girl deserved it with all of the progress she'd been making toward leadership. All she'd needed was someone to tell her that it was okay, and she took on a glow all her own. Now she had the Gold to back it up. "How'd Farraline take it?"
Laughter, then. Genuine, down from the pit of her stomach laughter, and Mirah found herself forced to join in. Brekke followed not long after, with Manora watching on with a smile and a shaking head. It was good to laugh at the end of a long, horrible day. Better to be interrupted by the clearing of a throat, and the Weyrleader's voice carrying over with the words, "Oldive's done."
Rising from her seat and taking off running so quickly that her cup of klah spilled across the table, Elrenia was out of the room in a flash. No apology left her lips for the mess, in fact she was unaware that she'd left one at all. All that mattered was getting to the weyr. Seeing Z'den. Making sure she hadn't lied to Arlith, because what would she do? What would she do if her promise that the man would be okay wasn't true? What would she say? Would the brown allow her to apologize before he jumped, or would she arrive at the ledge in time to do nothing more than watch him blink out of existence? Out of her life? Forever?
You can't leave me! the words were thought so loudly she heard the unmistakable sound of Koth's bugle from across the bowl, right as she barreled into Z'den's weyr, practically crashing into the old healer as she did so.
"Calm down, child," the man soothed, surprisingly gentle in his manner as he raised his hands. She would have expected a scolding for the way she came in. For her rudeness. But all he did was pat her arm and shuffle toward the doors. "Have someone get me if he doesn't wake up in a few days, or if his fever worsens."
"Get some rest, child. F'nor told me you were out in the cold all day."
It was all she could say as footsteps sounded behind her, Brekke, but her eyes were trained on the man across the room from her. Unmoving on his bed. All she wanted was to walk forward and hug him, but her feet refused to move. Refused to carry her forward. She was stuck, frozen in place. Useless, again.
Unable to approach the man's pale body, Elrenia stayed by the door as Brekke moved forward, looking over the man's wounds. It wasn't that she didn't trust Oldive's work, because she did, she just needed to do something. Anything. Beginning to speak to herself, murmuring mental notes about the man's condition that brunette couldn't begin to understand, Brekke tried to rid herself of the useless feeling. She needed to get rid of the feeling.
It was the same feeling that had Elrenia's hands sinking down to the pile of discarded clothing. Seared leather, and torn fabric that still smelled like fire stone. Somehow she just couldn't leave the clothing laying there so carelessly, Z'den never would have put up with that. So even though it was all ruined and probably needed to be thrown out, she started to fold up his tunic. Folded his pants next. Picked up his jacket to hang it up when she heard something crinkle.
Without a moment of hesitation she was digging through the coat, trying to find the little piece of parchment. The letter that had Z'den running off the day of the hatching, the one day she begged him to stay. The damned little thing that started everything.
He'd been so annoyed when she asked about it, so secretive when he crumpled it up and tucked it away. It had to be important. Had to be. And when finally she grabbed the left lapel of the jacket and heard the crinkle even louder, she pushed, and prodded, and pulled until she found a false panel on the coat, and the parchment hidden away inside.
"Elrenia?" Brekke murmured in confusion, looking over at her quiet crow of success. "What is that?"
"Something Z'den was reading, before he left."
Surprised, the woman asked, "What?"
Sighing slightly, Elrenia looked over at Brekke and tried to figure how exactly to explain this. Because honestly, she didn't know what she saw. Didn't know if this was the letter he'd been reading. But… she had a feeling. "I came up to his room to talk to him," she said after a moment. "He was reading a letter and packing his bag."
"Did he leave because of the letter?"
"I don't know."
"Then why did he leave?"
"I don't know."
"Is it in the letter?"
"I don't know."
"Well read it," the woman prompted, moving closer to her, trying to catch a glimpse of the parchment as well. It wasn't like her to snoop, Elrenia knew this, but she also knew that this wasn't an ordinary situation. "What does it say?"
It was right as she was unfolding the paper that she froze, realizing this was a rather extreme breach of Z'den's privacy. She didn't actually know if the letter had anything to do with his sudden departure, though she suspected as much, and she didn't want to risk upsetting him by reading it. Something about it felt so very wrong, and so she shook her head.
"Z'den wouldn't want me to."
Eyes widened slightly, but Brekke nodded her head. "You're… you're right. But…"
"What do we do?"
"Lessa?" Elrenia shook her head almost as soon as she said the woman's name. She may have been the Weyrwoman at Benden, but that wouldn't make this invasion of privacy okay. She wasn't sure anything would make it okay, except… "Robinton."
"If we give it to Master Robinton, he… Harpers are good at keeping secrets. And he'll be able to tell us if it's important, if it… if it had anything to do with him running off. We can decide what to do after that."
"That's a good idea," she said with a nod, already moving toward the door. "I'll get F'nor, see if he can fly you."
"I…" Fly her to Master Robinton? Somehow the very thought seemed… wrong. She wasn't going to go to the Harper Hall without permission! People just didn't do that. Did they? But, even more so, the thought of the way he was constantly forced to travel to her was terrible. So, after a moment, she nodded her head. "Okay. Let's go find him."
Once more, sorry for the delay. The end of the school year was crazy xD Maybe I'm back now?