Chapter 2: Business as (un)Usual
N'thal's behavior bordered on undue solicitude as he prepared the small table in Miralise's inner weyr for breakfast and called down the service shaft for a hearty breakfast for two. He was acutely aware of the young woman's physical shyness towards him, and as such, never trespassed upon her as she bathed. When she emerged from the bath, N'thal courteously turned his back towards her and made setting the table with the fresh foodstuff from the service shaft his utmost important task.
"Fresh klah, fresh bread, fresh fruits from the autumn tithes, cheese and a few fresh meatrolls," N'thal commented as he placed the breakfast fare upon the table. His tone was more or less bland but faintly cheerful. "Every Weyr eats well now that we are in a Pass. I remember eating less palatable food as a youngster and weyrling due to doubting holders."
"You shouldn't be too hard upon the holders, Weyrleader. Dragonriding is not easy, but laboring in the fields is not an easy task," responded Miralise somewhat coolly as she stepped into N'thal's view. "I can understand the resentment of holders during the Interval when they see the products of their labor going where they see no immediate return upon their investment. Then, of course, the results of a Pass's beginning bring perspective to holders and laborers."
Had N'thal not been appalled at Miralise's appearances, he would have smiled at his young Weyrwoman's response. However, given the circumstances, N'thal merely looked somewhat appalled. Miralise, however, proved hypersensitive to facial expressions, and withdrew her hand from the chair back in an apprehensive gesture.
"Have I said something wrong, Weyrleader?"
N'thal cleared his throat and shook his head. "No, Miralise. I think you will make a very wise counselor in the following months and Turns. I'm just shocked that a weyrwoman, very junior though she may have been a day ago, was ever allowed to wear tattered and patched tithe sack for clothes."
"Oh, Headwoman Tadrine said there was nothing available in my size, and that no one could be spared from their other duties to make me anything that was more than merely presentable. Besides which, the fabric could never be spared in the lengths necessary to fit me in," Miralise responded softly, although her shoulders began to relax. She glanced down at her clothing and after a moment's inspection, wrinkled her nose. "I suppose you are right. This clothing really isn't appropriate for a weyrwoman, much less THE Weyrwoman of a Weyr. I've just been patching up my old shifts from home. My flight leathers are in a much better state, you should know, but I don't wear them unless I really must. You know, I don't even have anything fit for a Gather."
"That's a shame, with a figure like yours," was N'thal's contemplative response as he walked around the table to pull out Miralise's chair. "Take a seat. I'm not a total oaf, and I do know that a great Lady, no matter how she's dressed, ought to be seated first."
His solicitous behavior elicited a blush from the young Weyrwoman. She sat into the chair and allowed N'thal to push it in for her. "What did you mean, about my figure? My sisters matured into the sort of figures weavers love to dress."
"You mean they have figures that are the easiest to dress," N'thal told her gently as he took the seat across from her. "But, a weaver worth his or her salt would be thrilled to design a gather dress for a woman with your frame. Meanwhile, we'll have to find a seamstress in the Weyr willing and able to make something for you. We cannot have a Weyrwoman dressed in rags."
"What do you mean, though, about my figure? I'm tall and a bit thick."
N'thal motioned for her to serve herself. "Tall, yes. Thick? Overall, no. In the right places, yes."
"What do you mean, in the right places?" Miralise asked him as she carefully placed bread, cheese and fruits onto her plate. The tone of her voice was a mixture of appall and curiosity.
N'thal grimaced. "Perhaps breakfast isn't the appropriate time to discuss this. I hadn't thought to be discussing women's figures and fashions with you, to be honest. Let me put it this way, you're a very attractive woman, whether you believe that or not. The clothing you dress in is simply not very flattering, but that's easily remedied given your status. Clothing is an easier fix than bad manners, poor posture and ill temperament, none of which you seem to have. You know how some weyrwomen are."
Miralise, sensing N'thal's wish to change subjects, asked somewhat meekly,"Weyrleader, what would you like on your plate?"
"Miralise, dear, I can serve myself. You needn't busy yourself with my needs," N'thal said with something of a laugh, smiling pleasantly at her. As if to prove the point, he served himself. "Now, Miralise. I have a few requests of you. No! Don't get that look on your face. Hear me out first. My first request is that you would, please, in person, call me N'thal. For all intents and purposes, we are equals. Your role is to support me and mine is to support you. I will very often need your counsel on matters. If you need mine, I will help you as I can. Can you do that? Call me by my name rather than my title while we are in person?"
"Yes, N'thal," Miralise responded with a somewhat playful smile. Their eyes met briefly, and she dropped her gaze with a blush.
"That's settled then," said N'thal. He poured Miralise and then himself a mug of klah, and then dug into his breakfast. To N'thal, the silence they ate in was companionable, although Miralise rarely gazed up at him. He finished his meal before she finished hers, and quickly poured himself a second mug of klah.
"There are other matters I would like to discuss, but not personal matters," N'thal began slowly, seeing if he could catch Miralise's attention with those words. When she set her fork down, he motioned for her to continue eating. "Keep eating, please, but if you have something to say please jump in. We shouldn't have Threadfall over the region for a few more days, and I wish to do a review of the wings and wingleaders. Fort's wings appear to lack discipline, at least to my eyes."
"That's probably true," Miralise commented softly. After pausing to collect her thoughts and formulate her words, the words tumbled out, "I know we have the worst death record so far this Turn of all the Weyrs. I think ... I think that's because J'vrex only took himself and Belia seriously, and Belia's only care was to have pretty things. Her brother is the Lord of Ruatha, you know, and she felt that being a Ruathan Weyrwoman meant that ... that she was above everyone else. J'vrex dipped heavily into the Weyr's coffers and stores to commission jewelry and clothing for her. Belia, Tadrine and J'vrex's records don't match up with the tithe records. They weren't very good at covering their tracks. They would list tithe receipts in the records, but also file those receipts. The numbers really just don't match up."
N'thal quelled the horror he felt at such a revelation; he had always been taught that dragonriders ought to avoid excess. So J'vrex had been using the Weyr's possessions and marks to stay in Belia's favors? He found the lowness of it distasteful.
"Miralise, do you think you can work on a summary of the discrepancies in the records? I'm going to make sure Belia's weyr is kept as-is for the moment until we can have someone assess the value of her possessions. In the meantime, starting not today but tomorrow I would like us to begin interviewing the wingleaders. I'm considering demoting J'vrex."
"That would probably be ideal," murmured Miralise as she glanced down at her plate and finished her breakfast.