The Weyrleaders and their respective Weyrwomen trooped back into the conference room. Whether it had been of any benefit or not to take a break was yet to be seen as they filed in and took their seats. But what was obvious was the anticipatory note that seemed to be in the air and an unspoken sensation that they were clearly waiting for Arolos to start speaking first.
During the break, the Headwoman had placed drinks in front of each of the Conclave attendees, and her ever-efficient spies had allowed her to put most of their non-alcoholic drinks of choice for each one, including a carafe of klah whose battered appearance suggested guardroom origins for R'tal.
"Thank you for that chance at a break," Kassia said, back at her seat. "I believe we left off with concerns about who was responsible and why."
F’loran had dropped into his seat with all the finesse of a bull and had immediately reached for the mug that had been set out. He already felt as though that he was drying out from the inside out in this infernal heat. “I know ideas have been thrown about and I’m sure we all appreciate that Arolos is still clearly in the midst of their own enquiries. But we need to cast some serious thought on who could be willing the target the Weyrs from outside of the Weyr itself. I think we’re going to blindside ourselves if we try to stay too insular and be unwilling to consider all of our options.”
From his seat L’nyr sat forward, his hands folded on top of the table. “Perhaps before we go there, we should consider a different pressing issue. Related and perhaps more important. Given that a little flit has passed on the information as to why we can’t see the Caverns, we have reason to wonder whether R’tal and N’shen are in a position to be in charge to start with.”
Satisfied that he had dropped enough information for others to want more, he sat back.
“I would have thought the reason was obvious,” Tedileen said already weary of the insinuations. “There was an explosion. We don’t go into unsafe areas, that would be foolish.” Really, it couldn’t be that hard to understand. “Is all the dark hinting really necessary? If there is a conspiracy here, it is from those that perpetrated this attack.”
“We would prefer not to have to tell your Weyrs that you have unfortunately had your brains bashed out by large falling rocks,” R’tal said dryly. Though in the case of L’nyr’s brain it was possible he might make an exception.
Whilst F’loran looked positively murderous, Wygelle’s eyes slid not to Benden, but to Ista. A “little flit” hmm? How terribly convenient. And extremely unsubtle. The disdain beneath the suspicion was clear for all to see but the High Reaches Weyrwoman turned her attention back to L’nyr. “Would kindly leave the theatrics to Harpers. At least they’ve had lessons in how to act. And at least try to pretend that you’re not enjoying yourself, Weyrleader and get to the point.”
L’nyr shrugged, ignoring R’tal entirely. “As you wish, Weyrwoman. The reason that we’re not allowed to see the Caverns is that currently both of the Weyrleaders’ dragons are hiding inside with their eyes covered as if they’ve been blinded by the explosion.” At that he at least sounded somewhat sympathetic. His next words were less so, “Which begs the question whether those two men qualify as Weyrleaders to start with. Combine that with a Weyrwoman caught up by pregnancy and a broken arm and things aren’t looking good for the Arolos contingent.”
So they did know. Good thing Kassia had informed her so she wasn't taken by surprise. Cathern leaned forward. "That's it? That's your big news? That their dragons may be injured?" The Telgar Weyrwoman laughed. "And here I am thinking you had something important to say!" She looked around at the others. "Who here hasn't been in a Weyr with a Weyrleader grounded by injury, or a pregnant Weyrwoman? Do we really want to start questioning the competence of Weyrleaders with injured dragons?"
Next to her, R'orsh, not let in on the secret, looked stunned, and he flashed a look at his Weyrwoman before hastily taking a gulp of his klah and settling back down
It would have been better if R’tal could have held his temper. He could have sat back, let others react, been the calm cool-headed one who looked oh-so-reasonable compared with Ista and Benden’s plotting. But he’d been fizzing gently since the break like a shaken bottle that needed somewhere to explode and now he was on his feet, leaning across the table to snarl into L’nyr’s face.
“You fecking bastard.” Clearly the time for diplomatic language had long since past. “Get the feck out of my sharding Weyr.”
Whilst F’loran lunged forward across the table to prevent any blows - however much L’nyr would look better with a black eye whilst he attempted to wrestle R’tal back into his seat, Wygelle spoke up first and it was to the Istan Weyrleadership. “Spying?” She spat, the word loaded with venom. “You have the absolute audacity to insult our hosts by spying? And with such blatant clumsiness with that firelizard of yours “A little flit” my foot. Does Ista actually want to improve its reputation around the table or is it quite happy to continue to garner the mistrust of every Weyr it comes into contact with?” There was a cold and furious anger on the Weyrwoman’s face. “We are here to problem solve about the cause of this and you’re still stirring the pot and causing trouble instead. Get with the sharding program and stop your trouble-making!”
“Enough!” Tedileen said with a voice that used to having everything she said obeyed, and had the experience to back it up. “Never have I heard such base and appallingly craven insinuations made with the sole intent to cause discord in a time when we should be pulling together.” She glared at all of them. “If you are an honourable rider you will be seated now and be an example of rationality in the face of such provocation. Now, all of you, I remind you we are here as Wygelle had said to solve a problem not create more.” She took a deep breath . “Ista, one more attempt to destabilise our unity and I personally will be challenging you, even if it has to be an unbladed duel… do you understand?”
Kassia had held herself back, but the anger stirred just below the surface. So much had happened over the last few days and it was a wonder she held it together at all. She managed not to jump across the table, which was good given her swelling belly, but it was a near thing. Under the table her hand gripped the Silk Dagger.
“How cowardly,” she said quietly, her voice barely controlled. “Spying and trying to trip us up while you’re in our Weyr uninvited and unannounced. You come in expecting to catch us off guard and then are surprised when we’re not able to show you our perfect best. We were attacked not days ago. You’re here because we’re attacked. And instead of focusing on how to fix this problem and keep it from happening again, you attack us all over again. And if you think that I’m incapable of ruling just because I’m pregnant and have a broken arm, you’d be sorry and wrong. Get over the idea that we’re somehow incapable and focus on the matter at hand before you become the ones with injured or even dead dragons.”
Maybe she should have shut up somewhere in the middle of her speech, but she’d never been good about keeping what was on her mind to herself.
“If Arolos had been up-front with the truth to start with perhaps we wouldn’t have needed to sneak around,” Andrette retorted. “If Arolos have nothing to hide then why tuck their dragons away under a lie about falling rocks? Why not be upfront and honest about it?”
"Possibly because they knew you'd react precisely how you are now," Cathern retorted, then looked around at the others. "How would you act in Arolos' place? Attacked, injured, and then invaded… how 'upfront and honest' would you be about your injuries? Be honest… how many of you would not have done the exact same thing? I know I wouldn't have wanted certain vultures getting their claws on that knowledge."
“To anyone with half a brain, it is perfectly obvious why they did not advertise anything,” Tedileen said. “If you have been attacked by an unknown force, you do not then shout potential vulnerabilities from the Weyr rim.” She shook her head.
"I offered to answer your questions during the break," said N'shen, laying his folded arms back onto the table in front of him. "The matter of injured dragons is internal business. But if it would set your troubled heart at ease, L'nyr – our Master Dragonhealer has given both dragons a prognosis of full recovery."
"We have appointed seconds to lead Fall while they convalesce. I hope you'll forgive me if things are so vastly different where you lead, but at Arolos, it is customary for seconds to take such a role when the leader is injured. Given that it seems the custom of minding one's own business seems to be different, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised if these things differ, too."
"As I am certain your firelizard has not reported that Foreth has flown again since Talith and Truenoth caught her, that leaves us in charge and in our rightful positions. Have you any other questions you deemed beyond my answering?"
R’tal subsided reluctantly into his seat, though his glare across the table said that if he were not actually punching L’nyr right now that said nothing about how much he wanted to. His fists were balled still under the table and right at that moment he was grateful to N’shen for being the calmer cooler head. Any words he tried to speak at that point in time were unlikely to be half as neutral.
“We have nothing but your word that your dragons might regain sight.” If L’nyr was concerned with the outrage it was hard to tell and whether that was ignorance or sheer arrogance was also hard to tell. Likely a bit of both. “I personally am just happy you’re on a different continent so we don’t have to worry about any gaps in fighting Thread this might leave. Of course, with your dragons not flying, maybe that just means more time you’ll have at trying to figure out the mess that I’m hoping is your problem and not going to spread.”
Even Telsa gave him the side eye, but not enough to make him shut up. More as if she was willing to let him keep running off at the mouth to see what he might accidentally unearth.
As R’tal moved back, so too had F’loran. Even if he had only been a second from a flying fist himself. “Oh, please,” he sighed with dramatic elaboration. “What are you demanding now, that their Master Dragonhealer get up here and give his expert witness opinion? We have been given a perfectly acceptable explanation that the Wingleading has been covered and now you’re just desperately trying to pick a fight like a bully-boy in the Craft Hall yard.”
Wygelle leaned forward, her face puckered in a frown as beneath the table, a hand squeezed her Weyrleader’s knee in a silent gesture of hush. “Right, we’re not getting anywhere with all this nitpicking and needling at each other. Of course you’re hoping it’s one Weyr’s problem. Deep down half of us probably all are. But we’re also not idiots or naive. The reality is there is at this time no proof that this is a singular issue and not something that may cause concern to us all. And we need to keep that in mind and stop pointing fingers like children! We all need to try and be practical otherwise we’ll not get out of here until next Pass comes.”
"Grounded is grounded, doesn't really matter why or how long. 'Slong as Foreth hasn't risen again, he's still, ah I mean *they're* still the Weyrleaders, according to all the custom I ever learned." Redness tinged Rorsh's face at the slip, but his voice remained stubbornly adamant about the rightness of his words.
Cathern shot her Weyrleader a look of surprise but picked up where Wygelle had left off. "Right. We're not here to try to declare otherwise… are we?" This was said with a glare to L'nyr. "As much as I'd like to write the explosion off as only affecting one Weyr - Sorry, Kassia," she smiled slightly at the other Weyrwoman before turning serious again, "I don't think we can afford to. F'loran is right about what would have happened had it gone off when the Caverns were full. It would have affected far more than a single Weyr, or even the continent."
“If we’re done gaggling at my Weyrleaders’ recovering dragons, we can spend the time looking at how as a whole we can come up with a plan to make sure that no one else is put at risk. Every Weyr will have its idiosyncrasies, but there’s plenty that can be looked at here.”
“Wait.” Andrette held up her hand. “Wingleading is covered, but what about the rest? One Weyrwoman pregnant and apparently too ill to call a Conclave in timely fashion. Two Weyrleaders with hurt dragons which might compromise their judgement. I’m sorry, but this is relevant. If Arolos isn’t capable of investigating this it compromises all of us.”
“Hey now,” Kassia broke in. “I should think it’s fair to need an extra day or two before calling a Conclave after being blown up. That doesn’t mean I’m incompetent. And that’s beside the point. I’m capable of working now and my Weyrleaders are capable. N’shen’s already done his preliminary investigation.”
“Not to mention,” Wygelle interjected. “There is such a thing as Junior Goldriders. Who often and regularly are delegated duties by the Weyrwoman. It’s not as though Kassia and Foreth are Arolos’ only Gold in the Weyr for Faranth’s sake. You’re talking as though Arolos is entirely bereft of a healthy Gold population to provide assistance to Kassia.”
“And you did actually hear the part where Weyrleader N’shen discussed the investigation? You know, the part where some of the enquiries were explained?” Now F’loran piped up but now he looked more exasperated than annoyed. “This certainly isn’t the sort of thing to be solved in a day. Or even a sevenday. Whoever was behind this was clearly savvy enough to cover their tracks. They also clearly don’t want to make any claims to the incident so they’re not interested in bragging rights at the moment - no, this is to put the wind up us. All of us. Someone is pointing a big, fat finger and telling us we’re not as impenetrable as we all thought.”
"I agree. Perhaps if we had given them time to actually investigate rather than barging in, we'd have something to actually talk *about*," Cathern pointed out. "Personally, I'm rather bored with hearing about the many reasons they're apparently incompetent. 'Too pregnant,' for Faranth's sake! Everything I've seen has convinced me that they have things well in hand, despite setbacks."
“Fine, fine, they’re so competent,” Telsa said, just barely refraining from rolling her eyes. “What’s the plan now? We’re here now and I don’t want to leave without a plan only to have to come back to this...place in a sevenday or two.”
"I would have presumed that since you were so eager to drop in," said N'shen, "that you would have had a suggestion in mind. We will continue our investigation, and once we know more, we will share that information with you insofar as it is pertinent to Dragonmen as a whole."
"One thing, one good that has come of this – if we meet spontaneously, we will give no warning to those who might try to attack us when we are all together."
“Unless, of course,” R’tal spoke up quietly but he turned a hard look, first on Andrette, then on L’nyr, “they’re receiving some help from someone here.”
“Of course they would have no such thing from us,” Tesla said, affronted. And maybe less helpfully, “Besides, why would we alert such people to our arrival here and put ourselves in danger?”
“We haven’t mentioned them.” Wygelle spoke up carefully and now there was the beginning of worry pulling at her face. “And I don’t know if that’s because none of us wants to think about it. But we all know who’s good at deception. Who thrives on uproar and destabilising. And we haven’t heard anything about their activity in months…” She took a breath, as though the words tasted bitter. “... Would the RedStars be this bold?”
“...Maybe.” R’tal sounded uncertain. “It’s certainly one of the avenues we’re looking into.” He hesitated. “There’s one who hasn’t been around for turns who’s suddenly turned right back up like a bad mark.”
“And what have you been doing about that?” L’nyr asked. “You didn’t think this was a concern before?”
“As he turned up right after someone tried to stab my Weyrwoman I thought I’d just sit on my hands for a bit, see what would happen.” R’tal turned on him sharply, though the claim of ownership was unconscious. This place is mine, this Weyr is mine, this Weyrwoman is mine, I might share nicely with N’shen but you can feck off. “We started monitoring visitors to the Weyr while we were trying to work out what they were up to, what do you think we did?”
“Yes L’nyr please do bring out your map of secret RedStar hideouts, we’d love to know how you managed to track the lot of them down.” F’loran’s dry comment was openly sardonic as he drained his mug, refilling it from the pitcher on the table.
“It just seems to me that this sort of thing happens a lot with Arolos,” L’nyr deflected, crossing his arms. “And wasn’t it the pond that was being built that was the way for the explosive to be snuck in in the first place?”
“That may have been how they disguised it, but surely you aren’t blaming Foreth wanting a pond for it,” Cathern remarked dryly. “From what I know about the RedStars, though, this doesn't really seem their style, though. Too… flashy, and prone to mishap. As evidenced by the timing," she pointed out. "Unless you think that maybe the timing wasn't a mistake, and just a way to get us at each other's throats, in which case… well done, apparently." The Telgar Weyrwoman forebore to mention exactly who was the reason for them being there getting at each other's throats.
“Oh no, Cathern,” Kassia said, looking across the table. “L’nyr was absolutely correct in suggesting that Foreth conspired with the Redstars by having a love of fish, gave me the idea of a pond, and set it up just so that her eggs and everyone else could be in danger. She did a great job concealing it from me, too. I mean, I know she’s a mastermind, of that there’s no doubt, but the rest...” She threw a scathing look at the Benden pair.
R’tal reached up behind Kass to, very gently, tweak her braid which in R’tal terms when it came to Kassia probably counted as a huge display of personal affection. “It seems likely they were looking for a way in and saw an opportunity.”
Kassia quelled slightly, but kept glaring at the pair. And the Istan pair for good measure. The only reason she wasn’t tugging on her own braid out of frustration was she was trying to not show the others just how frustrated and stressed she was to give them ammo. She wouldn’t regret trying to give her lifemate something to help her even if it was corrupted.
Telsa sniffed but looked a little embarrassed. L’nyr didn’t have that much sense.
“ENOUGH!” Maryl rose, slamming her hand on the table. Shards, that hurt! Good thing she was a pro at not showing her pain.
“Is this what a Conclave is? An excuse to turn you all against each other?” She fixed each Weyrpair with steely eyes. “Obviously it hasn’t occurred to some of you that you’re playing right into your enemy’s hands.” She thought for a moment. “Or maybe it has.” This time she looked directly at Ista, then Benden.
“I’m not sure that Weyrwoman Kassia isn’t right; that this is something pulled off by one of you.” She smiled, but it was a feral, evil smile. “Only time will tell. The last Weyr left standing will be the one masterminding this.”
J’lain put his hand on Maryl’s arm, and she sat down. “No. We don’t believe this is the work of another Weyr, no matter what Maryl says.” He gave her a hard look. “I believe this was the first incident, and F’loran was right. The explosion was premature. If you’d like, I can lend you some of our engineers who are experts in different explosives, to make sure. Maybe they could even tell where the materials came from, but that’s a long shot.” His face twisted in a semblance of disgust. “We no longer have the tools that would tell us without a shadow of a doubt.”
He was silent long enough that Maryl took the chance to speak again, before another Weyrleader could. “He’s right. We do have a lot of tools that can help you out. And it’s time for us to start sharing them. This incident--I have a feeling it will not be an isolated one. I hope it is.” She glanced at the others. “But I doubt it. So, can we just table the fighting for now, and come up with ways to counter what may be thrown at us?” She sat back, then leaned forward for another moment.
“Arolos Weyrleaders--my Healers may have something that can help your dragons. Someone come see me at the next break.” Once again, she relaxed in her seat, waiting to be shouted at by...someone.
Kassia looked at the pair who was as neutral as any could come by in the situation and tried not to look too grateful. “We would welcome a chance to speak with your people about the explosion and the healers about N’shen’s and R’tal’s dragons. Your unique perspective may prove to be of great value.”
Cathern smiled at Maryl as she made the offer of tools and knowledge. Perhaps these new Forters would be able to break the mold - and the curse - after all. "I agree, I can't believe any Weyr could be complicit in such a sickening event. No matter how we may feel about each other at times, none of us would harm eggs… and especially so when golds are involved." The plague that had decimated the dragon population so many Turns ago was still far too recent for anyone with a dragon to wish harm on a gold, even should they keep their own dragons from learning of the action.
= To Be Continued… =--
Nutmeg on the Wizzy.
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