A Puppy Is Not For A Gather ((JP Bl'by, Tolfast))


If Tolfast was to be found anywhere, the chances were fairly high that the stables were a good place to look. And Bl’by did need to look, because he’d never intended to own a dog, wasn’t at all sure that owning a dog was a great idea and now had a dog. A small licky dog that appeared to think his purpose in life was keeping Bl’by’s face clean which was fine right now but animals grew. 
Besides, who knew how many illnesses and parasites animals picked up from a Gather stall actually held?
“Tch tch, sit still now, no, don’t wiggle, leave it alone.” He’d picked up Tiddler to stop the pup bothering the runners while he looked for Tolfast, but this mostly meant that he was looking while trying to stop it wriggling loose and to the ground.
Tolfast was precisely where Bl'by sought him, standing next to an empty stall engaged in conversation. The people around him, journeymen by their knots, were speaking in an agitated manner. "I wasn't the one on watch duty!" Insisted one angrily, raising a hand to point at one of the others, accusatory. "Keema should have--"
"That's enough, Ferrik. Laying blame doesn't solve the problem." Tolfast laid his own coarse paw on the boy's hand, lowering it for him. "I'm sure Keema knows where he needs to be more careful in future, don't you?" When he looked at the second lad, the boy nodded slowly. "Good. Let's get back to work. We'll find the missing equipment here somewhere."
As the small group began to disperse, the master turned away from them, rubbing the bridge of his nose between two fingers. Upon seeing Bl'by, his exhausted expression lifted instantly to be replaced with a wide grin. "Now there's a face I haven't seen in an age."
Bl’by had been a little shy at first; it was always awkward when you hadn’t seen someone in a good while and weren’t sure of your reception. Besides, while never being entirely sure how the Crafter system worked it felt as though interrupting a Master dealing with his journeymen might find an equivelent in a Wingleader dealing with his wingriders. He wouldn’t interrupt the latter except in an emergency so he likely shouldn’t interrupt the former.
Tolfast’s grin got an answering one though, shyness quick to disperse once he was sure of his welcome. He nodded to the man’s shoulderknots, still trying to keep a grip on the wriggling Tiddler. “See you got promoted while I wasn’t looking!”
The laugh that left Tolfast was big and booming, a glance down at his own knots given as if surprised by it himself. "Just a bit," he raised fingers in a pinching motion before striding forward in the hopes of shaking Bl'by's hand. "Welcome back, it's been far too long. I see you've got something new of your own." He indicated the pup with a nod of his head and another smile, at ease around the rider in a way he wasn't around people he did not consider family.
“..Yes. Was hoping rather for advice.” Bl’by admitted, accepting the hand at the cost of losing the pup. Tiddler scrambled down as soon as he was no longer firmly secured, desperate to explore a whole stable full of fascinating smells. “Ack! Sorry. Will he scare the runners?”
Watching the pup's escape, Tolfast's eyebrows rose, though there wasn't an ounce of annoyance on his face. "Little bundles of energy, ain't they?" He observed with a mild chuckle, "I remember Shep at that age. He was a handful; he's around here somewhere." Tolfast turned to keep an eye on the scampering canine, shaking his head at Bl'by's concern. "They should be fine, some of 'em may spook because he's small and fast, but they're in no danger. We'll just make sure he keeps away from their hooves."
True to his word, the runners inside had poked their heads out of the stalls to watch the pup with wild eyes, but had yet to begin panicking. Snorts and nickering followed the pup, and at least one started to paw at the gate as he neared. "Hey," Tolfast hissed firmly at the black runner, who pinned his ears at the command. "Quit that. You're alright, you big lug." The runner tossed his head, but did indeed stop kicking, turning back to his fodder. 
Tolfast bent to scoop the pup into his arms before he could run outside. "What sort of advice do you need?"
Tolfast smelled just amazing and the puppy wriggled ecstatically, not at all unwilling to be picked up. He put his paws on the man’s chest, squirming to lick as high as he could reach, small tail beating with delight.
“He’s a friendly chap,” Bl’by observed. “Trader said he was going to be big.” His tone betrayed his skepticism on that. Tiddler had been by far the smallest runtiest looking pup in the box. 
Of course, sometimes that just meant the other dogs were older.
“I need-- shells, I need to know everything to do this right, really. Is he healthy?”
The giant smile that spit Tolfast's face at the pup's affection left no room for doubt that he loved it, scrubbing his fingers through the canine's scruffy coat. "You're *such* a friendly boy, aren't you? Yes you are! Oh, he's charming, Bl'by. Have you got a name for him yet?" He was nearly gushing over the baby, a comical sight for a man so large. "And such big paws!" Bending the gangly legs to get a better look at his paws, Tolfast began what seemed to be a thorough examination. 
"He's got some pests, looks like. Nothing out of the ordinary; we have a cream you can wash him with that will take care of the problem." His manner of speaking turned calm and neutral while he worked, gentle in the way he held the dog. "Bit skinny, too. I'd say he was taken from his Ma' a little early, but as long as he's eating well, he should continue to put on weight." He peeked in his ears, turned the animal over, lifted lips to peer at tiny, sharp teeth, and finally gave the pup a scratch behind those ears. 
"Not a bad looking pup by any means; likely to be a big boy, though. You'll want to make sure you increase his food intake if he starts to lose weight - and bring him back here for regular checkups. Oh," he paused, offering the canine back to his owner. "Expect him to need a lot of exercise, and I mean *a lot*. He's going to have a great deal of energy up into his prime."
“We can do exercise. Lungs should have fixed up before too long.” Bl’by had always been the type to be happiest when he was allowed to be moving. Long walks with a dog were right up his alley. He reached to take him gently back from Tolfast. “Meat shouldn’t be an issue either; there’s plenty that Traynth still leaves usually.”
Releasing the happy pup with a playful sort of reluctance (for who wanted to part with such a cute creature?), Tolfast nodded his approval of the plan. "Good, good. It sounds like you have the basics all in order," he said, folding his arms over his barrel chest. "I'm sure you know not to overdo it, but I've got to say it all the same: play it by ear, as the Harpers say. Know you can always bring the little guy by and I'll find someone to walk him for you, if ever you can't do it."
“I’ll remember that, thanks. I do worry a bit about what happens if I manage to get myself scored,” Bl’by admitted, tone serious at that. “Not that it’s an issue just now but-- dogs live a long time.” He scratched Tiddler’s ears, letting the puppy wrestle with his hand. “How have you been, anyway?”
"They do," Tolfast agreed solemnly. "But that's what I'm here for. He won't go unloved in the kennels, I can promise you that." His smile was meant to be reassuring, but the concern for Bl'by was hard to hide. Something had happened since he last saw the man, of that he was sure. 
At the question, he shrugged broad shoulders as eyes left the rider in favor of the stalls around them. "Well enough. They were running me ragged at the Hall before I walked the tables, so when my new knots opened a door at the Weyr, I made the jump. Kept me closer to family." Another smile. "How were the Turns abroad? See anything noteworthy?" 
“High Reaches was good. Snow suited us,” Bl’by admitted, shifting the pup from one hand to another as Tiddler set to wriggling and trying to escape again. “More so than this heat anyway, though T’baran swears I’ll adjust in time.” He grinned ruefully, not going near the Ista sojourn that had happened before High Reaches even a little bit. “The High Reaches mountains though, they’re something worth seeing.”
"Never did make it that far north," Tolfast admitted wistfully. "Heard those peaks make for quite the view. Perhaps I'll pester one of you for a ride when the heat gets to be too much down here. That is, if your dragons don't mind none." He seemed particularly concerned about that part, but grinned nonetheless. "...And that I can arrange for a free day. I think I've forgotten what those are like."
“Once the Healers sign me off for visits, you’re on,” Bl’by promised easily and without hesitation. “I want to drag T’baran back there too anyway. He’d love painting it, once he stopped complaining about his fingers freezing off.” And once they’d all recovered a little from the unplanned and not exactly welcoming visit at the end of the Gather.
Tolfast laughed at the mention of T'baran's whining, "The painting alone would be worth the complaints, I think. If anyone could do those mountains justice, it'd be him. How is he lately? I feel like T'baran and I haven't sat down for a meal in a decade." Leaning toward the other man in a playfully conspiratorial fashion, he lowered his voice to a half-whisper. 
"Do you need help bribing the Healers for an escape? I hear that Cremsden isn't an unreasonable man, all those flits followin' him around. I'm sure I could find a kitten to melt his heart." He grinned as if wicked plans were in motion. 
Bl’by laughed out loud at that, and sounded more like himself in doing so, less like he was trying to dart away from certain subjects. “Didn’t notice a lot of flits when I was in there,” he admitted. “Of course I was busy getting told off at the time. He got a lot of them?”
"A fair few, I reckon. Not sure they're all his, but peekin' in his office means seeing a near faire of the little things." Tolfast felt a rush of pride to have provoked the other man's laughter, certain something was eating at him - though he couldn't be sure what. "I do try to avoid being in the Infirmary as often as possible, though. Gettin' good at dodging kicks by now!"
“You should be, the amount you’ve had!” Once coaxed out the grin settled on Bl’by’s face, replacing that slightly wary look. He shifted Tiddler from hand to hand again as the pup’s wriggles to get down increased. “You wait ‘til we see Shep, he’ll teach you manners,” he threatened, though there was no real threat in there, just mild exasperation as the pup tried to escape. 
Tolfast grinned broadly at the mention of his own canine, glancing backward over one shoulder as if expecting to see him there. "Oh, he's around here somewhere. Bet if we step out back and give him a whistle, he'd come runnin'." A slight tilt of his head accompanied the next question. "Done much socializing with him yet? I don't mind the bugs, Shep gets regular baths as it is. Playin' some might wear the little guy out."
Bl’by shook his head. “Didn’t get chance.” The smile faltered slightly, not quite disappearing but.. There was definitely something. “There was the Gather and then-- screwed up the breathing thing a bit. He’d probably like the company, though he seemed pretty scared of the others in the pen with him.” He petted Tiddler again gently, rubbing behind his ears. “Kept picking on you, didn’t they, lad?”
"There's always one," Tolfast replied solemnly. "Always a little one that ends up victimized by the others, but he'll thrive on his own now that he has room to grow." On this, he sounded absolutely sure and even nodded as if to emphasize his confidence. "Let's go find Shep, he'll be gentle with Tiddler. If he's too much, you can just scoop the pup back up into the safety of your arms." Gesturing for Bl'by to follow, he turned toward the far set of doors.
“You’ll be fine, Shep’s just a big softy really.” Bl’by found himself talking without thinking in the ‘baby’ voice used to reassure small cute things as he followed along. “You don’t want to go running about in here though, runners are dangerous, hm? Might look awfully pretty in pictures but those hooves are hard.”
Tolfast wore a giant smile to hear Bl'by slip into that other voice, hiding the expression with his back to him. "That they are!" He added with a lilting playfulness, pulling open the sliding barn doors. "And they're quick with 'em, too. Done lots of work making them all familiar with dogs, so they won't bolt or go out of their way to do harm. Some runners start with a nasty mean streak, but… we work that out."
Here the courtyard opened onto grazing pens and fenced fields stripped bare by either animal teeth or human hands. He ran an orderly operation, not a shred of wild greenery anywhere it wasn't absolutely necessary. Apprentices scrambled down the gravel paths ferrying fodder or beasts on tethers, hopping aside to make way for the master and his guest. He smiled at them as he passed. 
"Might want to cover your ears for this part," he suggested, coming to a halt near the first enclosure. Sticking his fingers between his lips, he let loose a shockingly loud whistle. There was no immediate response, but in the moments that followed, a mid-sized, chestnut-colored canine came loping toward them from the far side of the fields. "There he is!" Tolfast grinned, pointing as he galloped toward them at full speed. "Here, boy!"
Strange how much the world could change and yet some things felt like they stayed exactly the same. Animals didn’t change in the same way as humans and to Bl’by’s inexpert eye Shep looked almost identical to the last time he’d seen him some turns ago. 
Even without Tiddler  to introduce he’d have crouched to say hello. As it was he found himself down on one knee, one hand going to greet the dog whilst the other reassured the pup who suddenly was no longer sure if he would rather escape or hide in Bl’by’s shirt.
“There now, Shep won’t hurt you, he’s just a lovely boy,” he reassured. “Oh, you haven’t changed a bit, have you? Just the same as you always were.” He sounded delighted by this, as though reassured that some things at least had a certain amount of stability to them, offering his hand to Shep to sniff rather than letting himself go straight to fussing over the dog.
Shep approached without trepidation, tail wagging happily to greet Bl'by as he bent down. Tolfast laughed to see that the dog had no interest in him, preferring the newcomer. The canine sniffed the rider's hand momentarily, and then seemed to burst with excitement. Quivering and prancing where he stood, the force with which he wagged his tail on recognizing the other man made his entire body shake. He lived for the attention, evidenced by the way he rubbed up against Bl'by's hand, encouraging pets from a familiar friend. 
"I'd say he remembers you," the master grinned. 
Realizing that Bl'by carried something in his arms, Shep's floppy ears snapped up, suddenly alert, on his head. Great big breaths escaped his wet nose as he pushed it forward and up toward the puppy in his arms, sniffing curiously. The glint in his eyes was interested and far from predatory. 
“Oh, you are such a good boy.” It took all of thirty seconds for Bl’by to give up even attempting to keeping his balance on one knee and sit down entirely on the ground, the better to greet the dog with the same enthusiasm Shep offered him. He kept one arm protecting the puppy still but the other scratched and petted with energetic delight. “Did you miss me then, Shep, hey? Do you want to see who I’ve got for you?”
Tiddler needed to be coaxed out of his shirt, still not entirely sure whether this new large dog was some terrifying threat. He whimpered, trying to scrabble his way back to safety as Bl’by placed him down on the ground, crouching submissively to empty his bladder.
“There now, pup, Shep won’t hurt you.” Bl’by’s voice was soothing. “Nothing to be scared of here, you’re safe enough.” 
“You be gentle, Shep,” Tolfast added for good measure, though he was sure the canine didn’t truly need the reminder. 
Watching as the pup was revealed, Shep tilted his head from one side to the other in comical fashion when soft whimpers reached those huge ears. He didn’t have the sense to keep his face away from the terrified baby, sniffing all the while as Bl’by lowered him. At the submissive gesture, he finally got the clue that he might be a bit intimidating. Shep dropped onto the ground before them and promptly rolled onto his back to expose his tawny belly, tail wagging furiously in the dirt while he gazed at the pup upside-down. As if he could be any less threatening, his giant tongue lolled out of his open mouth. 
“Think he wants to play, little one.” Tolfast smiled, addressing the pup as if he could understand. 
“Go on now.” Bl’by prompted Tiddler gently, shifting back a little to stop the pup using him so much as protection. “He’s not going to eat you. Just a big old softie, aren’t you, Shep?”
Tiddler whined, still not entirely sure of that, still crouching a little as he crept forward to investigate the bigger dog. A small pink tongue dabbed out hesitantly to lick at Shep’s nose in shy greeting.
Shep's own giant tongue lolled out of his open mouth, nearly smiling in a flash of his fangs not meant to be terrifying. At the puppy's hesitant signal of acceptance, the older dog flopped from his back onto his side with a great wooshing exhale. This enabled him to lick at the pup's face with enthusiasm while still maintaining a relatively low profile. That tail continued to beat a fast tempo behind him, thumping the ground. 
Tolfast dropped into a crouch, bracing his elbows on the top of his thighs. "Not even goin' to give me the time of day, are you, boy?" He asked Shep with a laugh. "That's alright, I'd want to play with Tiddler too. Bit shy, is he?" He glanced toward Bl'by at the question.
“Just with dogs, I reckon,” Bl’by confirmed, still seated on the ground, keeping a close eye on things as Tiddler’s tail gave a tentative half-wag. “Friendly as you like with people -- shells, I was an idiot and took him down to the Hunting Grounds with me and he was lucky a dragon didn’t make a snack of him down there. Think he decided to make friends with one still eating; no hesitation there clearly. But I guess the other pups the trainer had got him scared.”
Though he was getting a little braver now, uttering soft questioning little yips as he sniffed at Shep, perhaps a little overwhelmed with just how much of him there was to sniff at. He set a paw hesitantly on the bigger dog’s leg, clearly considering just scrambling up to get a better look.
Shep lifted his head so that the puppy couldn't lick more than the underside of his chin, soaking up the attention. His eyes grew wild and wide with excitement as Tiddler warmed to him, almost unable to contain himself and nearly vibrating with the effort. He wanted so badly to play, but he was a good boy! He waited as close to still as he could be in that moment while Tiddler debated the dangers of drawing nearer, opening his mouth to slime the puppy's face with his tongue. 
"It's good you kept him safe, I'm glad you already know not to bring him down there again. At least not 'til he's trained to heel," Tolfast noted solemnly in a way that said Bl'by was not the first to make that mistake. "Seen some sad things happen when a dragon, or shards even a wher, get into that eatin' frenzy." He shook his head, moving on. "Anyways, that timidness 'round people isn't such a bad thing. Just means he's alert and sensitive, likely to key into the intentions of others when he grows up. Right now all that information he's absorbing about the world 'round him is overwhelming, but when he learns to sort it all, I'd put my marks on him being a great watchdog."
“I thought he’d be all right on the leash but-- slipped his collar,” Bl’by admitted, watching as the pup at first hesitantly and then more confidently climbed up on top of the bigger dog. “One minute he was there and Traynth was feeding, next I look down and he’s gone. Luckily another rider grabbed him for me. Didn’t even think twice about it until then.”
And then Tiddler was standing on Shep’s shoulder and suddenly so pleased with himself that the excitement broke through the timidity, breaking into a high-pitched volley of baby barks as his tail wagged wildly because look! Look what he had done!
Shep could resist no longer and let loose a loud, happy bark of his own while on his side. It made his chest rise and fall sharply, abruptly jostling the puppy balanced atop him unintentionally. Tolfast saw what was happening and reached to grab the pup, but could not scoot forward in time before the larger canine began the flail that preceded leaping to his four feet. After all, play was best done standing!
Tiddler squeaked in alarm as his perch began moving and scrambled again, trying to find somewhere secure. Another squeak as that failed and he fell off entirely and Bl’by moved forward instinctively to comfort him.
No need though, he scrambled back to his feet with no problems at all, suddenly much less shy.
Tolfast feared the worst when the scramble began, the fearful noises of the puppy all but breaking his heart. “It’s alright, little one!” He hurried to explain as if the pup could understand. “He won’t hurt you. Will you, Shep? Just a big oaf is what he is.”
Shep was far less concerned, bouncing and bounding in tight circles before the trio of onlookers in the hopes of enticing one of them to play more. The pup was the obvious target of his attention, as he occasionally skidded to a halt and dropped his front half to the ground in a play bow before Tiddler before taking off again. 
Sighing with relief, Tolfast sat back on his heels. “I’m thinkin’ if he slips free of a collar, a harness’ll fix that problem right up. Get him fitted for it so it won’t be too tight, won’t be too loose; he’ll have a much harder time gettin’ away from you then.” 
A minute or so hesitant tail-wagging, a glance or two back at Bl’by to make sure he wasn’t going anywhere and Tiddler was off, chasing after the bigger dog with excited yaps.
“I think he’ll be all right,” Bl’by observed, relaxing a little. The pup veered a little closer every pass, still checking Bl’by was there but apparently much braver. “He needs a harness anyway. Right now he’s a danger dragonback.”
Tolfast seemed surprised by the very idea of a canine riding adragonback, brows furrowing on his forehead in a confused fashion. “He’s meant to fly with you?” He asked, trying his best to hold back the very valid concern about lashing anything living to one of the huge creatures. 
Completely unaffected by their conversation, Shep happily lead Tiddler on a merry chase, careful not to stray too far as soon as he noticed the babe’s inclination to stay close to his master. When the pup would hesitate and run back, Shep stopped their game and followed patiently until Tiddler rejoined him. 
“...Is that bad?” Bl’by could read an expression well enough for his own face to start looking worried. “I mean.. We’re not going on massive trips or anything but.. I had to get him back from the Gather and -- well, we might have had one bit of a trip but it was an emergency and--” He rubbed again at his chest unconsciously. It didn’t feel tight now but it didn’t mean it wasn’t going to. “Stairs. Stairs are a bit of a problem right now.” Which was a problem right enough living in a Weyr where the living tended to be high up.
Tolfast watched his discomfort and frowned behind the hand he raised to scrub thoughtfully at his own beard. “No, no, lad. Not bad, I just.. Well, I’d be quite worried exposing them to the cold of *between*,” he explained carefully, walking on proverbial eggshells to avoid his words sounding like a reprimand. “You riders are secure up there on your dragons, but it would make me a lot more comfortable if you allowed me to get you and Tiddler harnessed up before you leave. Just so I know the little one’s as safe as you are.” There, that seemed harmless enough. “I’m certain we’ve got a harness his size in the storerooms. Call it a late ‘welcome back’ gift.”
“That is basically what straps are for riders so.. I’m not going to argue.” He’d phrased it right. Bl’by’s shoulders, which had hunched a little at implied wrong-doing, relaxed again. “Trust me, they’ve saved my neck enough times to know how important they can be even when you’re not a wiggly puppy.” He glanced after Tiddler again as the pup raced past, expression very much that of an anxious parent. “He’s been between twice,” he admitted. “Is that -- could it make him sick?”
"There's no guarantee of it, but he's still quite young. I would avoid more jumps if you can, and bundle him up like you would yourself," Tolfast replied, smiling at the obvious love in Bl'by's heart for the pup as evidenced by that worry he displayed. "Keepin' an eye on him for any changes in behavior is the best thing you can do. If he stops eating or drinking, starts actin' listless, you bring him over here right away and we'll take a look." He took a step toward the rider to lay a coarse hand gently on his shoulder. "I know you wouldn't do anything to hurt him purposely."
Habit made Bl’by shift towards a friendly touch; not flirting, just unconsciously leaning that bit closer. “He’s-- well, I’d say he’s not scared of anything, but clearly other dogs are the exception,” he admitted. “Tried to run off the edge of the ledge though. Lucky Traynth was fast.”
Tolfast chuckled, slightly more reserved than before, but amused nonetheless. "Lucky, indeed! Pups are like that sometimes, precocious little things. Have to protect 'em from themselves as much as the world around them. Shep wasn't always so well-behaved, just takes time for 'em to learn." His smile for Bl'by was genuine as he retracted the hand. "Tiddler's a brave dog if he's not scared of a dragon, nor ledges. Maybe he was always meant to fly." 
“I didn’t really -- owning a dog wasn’t precisely in the plan,” Bl’by admitted, his eyes still following the dogs as they raced in happy and widening circles. “Which is why I’m on the hop a bit. Don’t quite like not having it planned out with transporting him and the ledge not safely blocked off from him. We’ll get there I guess.”
"That's how life comes at you, fast and when you least expect it." Tolfast smirked wryly, painfully aware of that fact even after all these Turns, but it didn't detract from his good humor. "You knew to come to see me, and now we're goin' to have you and the pup setup just right. Anything you need for the boy, you just let me know and we'll get it sorted. First thing is first: a harness for flight and lashing. Should make your life a little easier right away." Thinking a moment, he added quickly, "Might be the smithcrafters could whip you up a gate for that ledge door, but I've got some spare fencing we could.. reappropriate."  
“..Lashing?” There was a startled horrified note to that query and Bl’by’s head snapped around to look at him directly. That word to anyone who’d spent significant amounts of time at Fort Weyr came with other connotations.
Tolfast regarded the man's alert terror with innocent confusion, completely unaware of how the word might have affected him. "Sure, lad," he defaulted to a warm, paternal tone while in doubt, remaining calm and even with intent to avoid escalation. The change in Bl'by set off the alarm that he had clearly made some sort of error. Hoping that explanation would clear the air, he elaborated slowly. "You know, the straps. The tie-downs. The little bits o' tanned hide that keep you secure on that dragon of yours.. You alright?" He hazarded to ask. 
Bl’by’s shoulders relaxed and he even laughed at himself a little sheepishly. “Yeah. Sorry. Thought for a minute you wanted me to hit him.” Which he knew himself was plainly ridiculous; there was no part of Tolfast that could possibly strike anyone as violence. “Never heard them called that before.”
Tolfast's face grew shocked and horrified in equal measure, though the expression would pass quickly, his feelings on were violence unwavering. "I would never," he said in an urgent whisper. "I do hope you know that, Bl'by. Goodness. I'm terribly sorry for scarin' you like that." The bluerider wasn't the only one looking a bit sheepish. "Someone tells you to do that, you just send 'em to me and I'll straighten them out, yes I will."
He cleared his throat, aware he'd started getting carried away. "Gettin' ahead of myself, though. Let's head over to storage and get Tiddler his new harness, hm?"