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Dragons claws might rip and saw, but heartache is never ending. (JP S'ryll/Ysolde)


Nutmeg
 

IC Date Reference: Fuzzy time piece. Set approximately 3 days post Hatching.


It hadn’t been the best start to the morning. 


First the Healers had told her that the Weyrlingmaster had postponed the release of K’el’s Weyrling class until further notice out of fears for their safety. Then one of the larger, more aggressive wounds on her arms had been showing early signs of infection and had had to be cleaned out and re-sutured and now, they wanted her to stay in the Infirmary just “a few more days”. On top of everything, since the moment she had awakened, there had been a dull and heavy ache in her heart and she felt a mere second away from collapsing into uncontrollable sobs. A Mindhealer had already been to speak with her, gently telling her that coming to talk about what she had seen might help her get back to normal but, as terrible as it was, Ysolde didn’t think that the pain in her heart was anything to do with seeing another Candidate be ripped apart right in front of her. Oh, she would have nightmares - they were already beginning. No, deep down she knew precisely what was happening.


She didn’t know yet who they had picked. And a part of her didn’t remotely care. All she knew was that it hadn’t been her. Not once, but twice. In one sitting. Ysolde already had her suspicions who would have been the illustrious choices and no doubt the Weyrwoman was sitting smugly with the newest feathers in her cap to boast and preen about as though she had had a personal hand in it. The thought was bitter and angry. That the Weyrwoman had been injured in the explosion was of little importance in her thoughts. Whilst there had been no formal announcement as to the cause, Ysolde wouldn’t have looked even vaguely surprised if it turned out that it had been deliberate. A conspiracy to cause harm. And if the Weyrwoman was the target - not that it would have surprised her, Ysolde could only imagine how much political damage her attitude had done over the turns - then all it had achieved was injured dragons and destroyed eggs. For one cruel second, her mind whispered that she wished it was the gold eggs that had been destroyed along with the others. For a second, she believed it and listened to the spiteful whisper of malice that it would serve the Weyrwoman right. Then the whisper of her own common sense took hold. No. She didn’t want them to die. And even though she had been torn up inside with the conflict of whether she wanted to be associated with the Weyrwoman by draconic proxy, she didn’t want that. Didn’t want even more death to surround them. 


The hurt in her heart was disappointment and regret and so many other tight and angry things that she didn’t know where to start first. The emotions felt heavy and unwieldy but the ache they left felt very real. It was so very different from every possibility she had imagined, even the unwanted thoughts she had courted of walking away with a blue or a green instead. She hadn’t imagined this. She had received a note from Nayari saying that she was making sure Lovely was being fed and having some time spent with her so she wasn’t alone. The generosity of the act had made the dull pain swell as though she couldn’t breathe. Had she done all of this to herself with silly pride and foolish anger? There were so many questions beginning with “what if” swirling in her mind that she couldn’t separate them all. And all of them were the same. Would she be waking up in a different bed in the Weyrling Barracks if she had acquiesced to the Weyrwoman and what she perceived to be ridiculous overtures of power having lost control? But the thought of giving in, of falling in line and fawning over the woman galled her. It felt as though it went against her very core moral compass. 


“Are you up for a visitor? He’s been quite worried about you.” The sound of Maithera’s friendly voice broke the reverie as the Healer looked into the room, spotting the Candidate plucking morosely at the furs beneath her hands. She had been concerned. It hadn’t been hard to miss the girl’s shift in mood, feeling her slip into quiet thinking. And Maithera didn’t think they were happy thoughts. Not by the dark and distant look that she had spotted slipping into the girl’s eyes. As she stepped to the bed, there was a small smile on her face as she glanced at the girl’s uncovered arms. “I can send him away if you’d like. Tell him you’re resting.” 


As Maithera spoke, her eyes snapped up and for a second, her stomach spiralled as though filled with flutter-by-nights. Until she remembered that it wouldn’t be K’el. No, he would be in lessons. “Who is it?” It wouldn’t be her father either. He was still out of the Weyr. Ysolde had told Nayari that he couldn’t know until he returned, didn’t want him rushing home and then… 


“A bronzerider. He’s been down a few times asking to see you but keeps turning up when you’re asleep or with the Healers. You’re gathering quite the collection of them.” It was a cheerful but friendly tease and it earned Maithera a small smile in return, albeit one that didn’t quite touch her eyes. Ysolde guessed immediately. S’ryll. It could only be him. For all that he was a dalliance, the man was firmly entrenched in the borough of “friend”. Whether he thought the same, she wouldn’t know. But that he had apparently checked on her a few times already warmed something in her and she nodded.


“Yes, he can come in…”


“Marvellous. I’ll send him your way and I’ll bring you some tea. You need to drink more.” And just like that, Maithera had gone again, bustling from the room.


When the healer finally let him, S’ryll entered Ysolde’s room, pausing in the doorway to knock softly as he entered.  He had a small bouquet of flowers in one hand and a small box in the other.  He set the box down on a table, and came up to her bedside, sitting beside her.  “You know, Ysolde, there’s a small girl selling flowers just outside your room.  Apparently, there’s enough bronzeriders visiting to make a few marks,” he teased her, leaning forward to kiss her forehead.  


He didn’t ask her the ridiculous question of how she was feeling.  He would bet a Turn’s marks he already knew.  And she was likely to clam up and repress the moment he asked.  They were alike in that aspect.  He’d have done the same, had done the same.  He’d never gotten mauled during a Hatching.  But he’d sat through probably a dozen bronzes walking right past him before Vastolth found him.  And each one had been a stab through the heart.  Oh sure, he’d played it off confident and cool, and for the most part, he had been.  His own belief in himself nearly unshakeable.  Nearly.  But that didn’t mean it was easy.  Each one was a rejection.  Each one was a destabilizing event in and of itself, each one tearing at your heart… like that green had torn at Ysolde’s arms or the male candidate’s torso.


The moment he’d seen the events unfolding, the green killing the poor boy and maiming Ysolde, it had been all he could do not to jump down onto the Sands and rush her to safety.  It was only through his own force of will, and Vastolth’s as well, that he had not.  He’d heard young K’el cry out for her, and he’d turned to find the lad when he saw one of the AWLMs restraining him.  S’ryll had watched with bated breath for signs that Ysolde was still alive, and seeing them, breathed a sigh of relief.  The same could not be said for the boy, who even as he valiantly defended himself, was a dead man.  The most a healer could do for him was ease his transition, rather than actually save him.  It was macabre, the inability to take his eyes off the scene, and in some ways, it was worse than Threadfall.  Thread was an enemy universally hated; what killed this boy was a beautiful green Hatchling that would be bonded to someone that thought nothing of death and destruction caused previously.  It was the irony of it that made it more terrible, the death dealt out by a beautiful creature that would save them all a thousand times over.  It was a reminder that Vastolth was still a dangerous creature, for all that he would never harm S’ryll.  


And then it was over, the Healers rushing out to help Ysolde and check on the dying boy.  S’ryll had quietly excused himself from those he was with, and headed to the Infirmary.  He’d watched the remainder of the Hatching through Vastolth’s eyes, while he waited for word of Ysolde.  As he thought, they wouldn’t let him in to see her, the Healers still doing extensive work on her arms, but he waited nonetheless.  Some candlemarks later, S’ryll was pacing a hallway when the AWLM and young K’el showed up.  S’ryll had stayed out of sight, giving the boy his space.  Ysolde cared for K’el, and S’ryll liked the lad; he didn’t want to let the casualness of his relationship with Ysolde interfere with what was a much more appropriate relationship for her.  And poor K’el would be going through enough right now as it was without finding out that his mentor and his crush were friends with some very intimate benefits.  He wasn’t sure, but he thought the AWLM saw him.


He’d left then, telling a healer who had come to find him to let the boy go first and see her, and that he’d come back later.  He came back in the morning, and another time, before JM Healer Vivaeldi had told him just to go home and her green would tell him when he could come.  She practically snapped at him, but then, he couldn’t imagine it had been an easy Hatching for the Healers.  


He’d had time to consider what he could do for Ysolde.  There were limitations, of course, but he had some options.  Which brought him to now…


He smiled at her, brushing a strand of hair and tucking it behind her ears.  “You can’t ever just do things a normal way, can you, Ysolde?” he teased her, but his voice heavy with concern underneath it all.  “At least one good thing came of it all,” he said, a small smile playing at his lips.  He knew she’d take the bait...


Her expression softened into something of warmth as the familiar handsome shape came through the door. No, he didn’t incite the same stomach churning nervousness and anticipation as K’el. But it was fondness she had for S’ryll all the same. “What can I say, I’m working on my personal reputation of ruining things for the Weyrwoman.” The older bronzerider was perhaps one of few who had seen her angry tirades behind closed doors, seen the anger and frustration at what was perceived at childish displays of power and favoritism. As she had been on the cusp of sulkily declaring she wasn’t going to Stand at all, he had calmly pointed out that if she not only Stood but Impressed one of the very golds she had been refused access to, that would be far more of a sting in the tail. Perhaps it had been something of a childishly vengeful idea, but it had fuelled the fire beneath her skin.


She lifted her exposed arms where the sheen of numbweed was still faintly drying on the lattice-work of sutures that ran down them for him to inspect. The smallest was clearly where the green’s claws had “nicked” the flesh whilst the longest ran almost the length of one arm from elbow to wrist and had clearly done damage. However, the saving grace was that they were contained almost entirely to her outer arms. By some mercy of Faranth, the veins and arteries had been missed. There was still a slight concern that there might be some muscle and tendon damage but that would have to wait until they were more healed to see if there were any additional concerns. “Guess I’m adding new scars to the collection.” Although the small attempts at humour were genuine, she looked wan. There were dark circles under her eyes from the after-haze of the fellis assisted sleep she still needed at night and her face was beginning to take the slightly pale look of someone who was perhaps a little sickly. 


The attentions he gave were sucked up like water on a dry sponge. She leant into the warm lips that touched her brow and the fingers that brushed the hair from her. It had been pulled into a clumsy runner-tail behind her head and it was infuriating her beyond all measure. “I’ve been collecting Bronzeriders whilst you weren’t looking. I want to make them march on parade for me in their very best dress gear.” But curiosity touched her eyes at his words and they narrowed at the realisation he was trying to playfully needle her. In truth, it was welcome. As much as K’el’s company warmed something inside her, the worry in his eyes also killed her. Nayari had visited as well with the same expression of concern but this, this was just like nothing ever happened.


“I could make a lot of suggestions…” There was just a glimmer of the same playfulness, the same teasing. But it seemed like it was also a little bit of an effort.


S’ryll chuckled.  “I was thinking more that now you know your feelings are reciprocated.  Young K’el is quite concerned and clearly smitten with you.  I shall accept your thanks at any time for setting the two of you up,” he teased her, noting the slowness in hers, the depths from which the laughter had to come, and that none of it seemed to reach her eyes.  He was of course, referring to the bit of shell he’d given her for K’el, a bit of pieces collected from young Alberith’s egg.  


“Now when it comes to ruining things for Weyrwoman Kassia, I’d say you needn’t have bothered.  None of her family Impressed the golds, Ysolde.  Her efforts were for naught.  And poor Shalia was hurt in the process, despite Foreth’s intervention.  That’s on the Weyrwoman’s head for trying to manipulate events.”  There was a slight admonishment in his voice, a reproachful reminder that her confrontations with the Weyrwoman hadn’t led to anything but her own misery.  Kassia’s world was hardly impacted by her presence, while Ysolde’s had been greatly. 


He looked at her again.  “You look like wher shet, dear girl.  How would you like me to steal you away to some sunshine for a bit?  Think you can stand that?  I can carry you outside, and Vastolth would like to say hello.  And I have a couple ideas of things that’ll cheer you up.”


As petty as it was, it satisfied something inside her that the Weyrwoman had no claim over the new golds. And at the same time, something else inside her was rubbed raw. Because it proved that all her paranoia and hotheadedness was all for nothing. And that if she had just held her tongue… who knew. But it had been the mention of K’el that stopped her thoughts delving too darkly and the small smile had come unbidden. “Shush, he’s not smitten. He’s just… you know. Being concerned. It’s nice to see him again. Shells, feels like it’s already been turns.” It was a marker of her own youthful naivety that she was still partly convinced that he was merely being friendly. 


S’ryll’s words distracted her thoughts and she managed a wan smile. “Hey, I’ll have you know it took me an age to look this good. I got dressed all pretty and everything.” The sarcasm was there, tinged under every note as she trailed off with a sigh. “The Healers tried to get me out already,” she admitted a bit guiltily. “Didn’t really see much of a point. They didn’t have a dragon to lure me out with though. Clearly they need better training.” Ysolde eyes flickered back up to S’ryll’s own. “It would be nice to see Vastolth though. I haven’t inflated his ego in a while.”


“Believe what you want, Ysolde.  That boy is smitten.  You didn’t see him when..” he paused to change his word selection “..you decided you wanted new scars to match your back.  Practically jumped onto the Sands and would have if the AWLM hadn’t held him back.  Nearly beat me to a reaction.  So either he’s secretly a performing Harper neither of us knew about, or the boy is smitten.  I was once a boy.  Trust me.  Smitten…” he scrunched his nose at her, brushing strands of her hair out of her face.  


“And the Healers should tempt their patients with dragons more.  Dragons make good bribes, and I know a few of this lot has some.”  He gestured with one hand indicating the Infirmary at large.  “Plus, I have a bit of experience getting you to do what I want,” he said with a smirk.  “Now, as to your behavior with Vastolth, you better behave, or I won’t give you what’s in that box,” he said pointing to the box he’d set down when he’d walked in.  


He stood then, smoothing out his clothes as he did so.  “Give me a moment to go threaten some poor apprentice into letting me take you.”  He moved away, pausing at the door.  “It’ll give you time to think about how you treat Vastolth and I.”  He chuckled as left.


A few minutes later, he returned.  “Alright, girl.  Put your arms around my neck, and we’ll get out of here…”


The Healers hadn’t complained, but had given instruction that he was to be mindful of her arms and that Ysolde likely wouldn’t be able to manage staying out for too long. Other than that, he was given the all clear. And besides, it would do the girl good to see something other than the walls of the small room she had been given because they were still quietly observing her to make sure she didn’t do… well, anything stupid. And whilst S’ryll was talking to them, a wizened old Healer with Master knots on her shoulder had nipped back into the room, wrapping her arms again in light coverings and slipping from the room even as S’ryll came back through the door.


Ysolde had gasped in mock affontery at his words, even after her cheeks had pinkened as he spoke of K’el’s actions at the Hatching. Had he really done that? Part of her brain chortled in arrogant affirmation that of course he had! But the quieter part, the more studious self shushed it with conviction that he wouldn’t dare risk Alberith by almost throwing himself into danger. The reality was she didn’t know what she felt for K’el. But she knew that she liked it when he was there, had felt something swell inside her whenever he had been close enough to touch in the Infirmary, that waiting for every reply to every letter had been some bizarre and torturous agony as though she were craving the words he had written, only to wait for the next in painful anticipation. 


Before her thoughts could run away with her completely S’ryll had captured her attention again and sure enough, her eyes had slid towards the small box he had set down on the night stand. “Psh, tease.” But her curiosity was piqued, that was for sure. But as he returned to the room, she obediently lifted her arms, carefully placing them around his neck with a slight grunt of discomfort as the stitches stretched a little. Ysolde was already getting better at seeing the mess that had been left behind. For her mind, knowing exactly what she was dealing with was easier to arrange rather than being left with gaping holes to catastrophise as to just what was under the bandages. “I’m fairly sure this would be a good time to make a bad quip about being carried off by a bronzerider.” He was helping. And, well, it helped. It might only be a temporary distraction but it was better than plowing through her own miserable thoughts.


He picked her up so that her good arm could go around his neck, her injured arm not having to do much.  SHe weighed next to nothing, practically less than a sack of firestone.  Slightly more, but he’d not tell her that.  “Now, be a good girl and grab that box with your free hand,” he said, “but don’t open it.”  Then he turned and started out the room.  


JM Healer Vivaeldi met them just down the hall, carrying a small basket.  “Here you go, wingleader.”  S’ryll made a motion with his head.  “On her belly please, Healer.”  Viv gave S’ryll a long look and then set the basket on Ysolde’s belly and against S’ryll’s chest.  She gave the girl a small wink when her head blocked the bronzerider’s view.  


“It’s good to see you getting out, Ysolde.  Now, I expect you to take excellent care of my patient, wingleader.  If you don’t…” she threatened.  S’ryll just chuckled.  


After they walked outside, Vastolth was waiting.  Without missing a beat, S’ryll walked up to his giant bronze’s waiting paw.  The bronze closed his talons about them in a mock cage.  “Hold on, darling,” S’ryll said with a smile, and then the bronze pushed off from the ground, his great wings beating against the sky.  Beneath them, the ground fell away quickly, each wingbeat carrying them away from the Infirmary.  They didn’t go far, just to the ocean on the outskirts of the Weyr, a bit far for anyone to walk, but certainly within a close distance.  The Weyr was still locked down after all.  Vastolth landed gingerly on his hind legs, backwinging and sending ripples across the waves.  Then he set his two charges down, his head coming towards Ysolde until his eyes were level with her head.  


“He says he is glad to see you.  He’s…” S’ryll paused.  “He’s glad to see that the green didn’t choose you and just left you with reminders.”  


It was easier to put the arm with the least lacerations around his neck carefully. One had definitely taken the brunt but both had their fair share of damage. Carefully, she had scooped the box into her lap and had maneuvered it around the small basket she found herself with. As much as her curiosity was piqued about its contents, part of her brain was primly trying to assert itself and demand what is on Pern these Healers must think with first a bronze weyrling hovering over her and now a Wingleader. Positively scandalous. Ysolde shushed her inner “Lady Holder” as she liked to think of that part of her brain and concentrated on keeping a hold of S’ryll’s collar.


Despite the unusual “cage” they were in, Ysolde lifted her face into the breeze as they took to the air. The rushing wind made her arms sting somewhat but the numbweed and the light bandages were doing their job. The rush of air felt invigorating about her and she had closed her eyes and felt it brush about her face. Although it was rather different to riding dragonback, something she had only experienced a handful of times, it still made something under her skin soar with something akin to bliss as they moved higher into the sky. It was another small reminder that this was something she wanted for herself. She knew that the bronze was being especially gentle and not only was it appreciated, but it never ceased to amaze her how capable the dragons were of being so astute. 


The flight was over too quickly but as Valstolth’s head came down beside her, her expression was one of quiet pleasure. “I’m glad to see you too, Valstolth. Your handsome face always lifts my heart.” And it was true, not just unabashed ego stroking. Ysolde paused at the next “relay” when she spoke her voice was small and tight but still audible for both man and dragon. “I’m glad she wasn’t Mine too. Someone tried to tell me she was. He got proven wrong too. And ended up all the worse for it.” It wouldn’t take a Master Crafter to realise that she was referring to now painfully deceased Sorho. But despite the questions and doubt and the wondering whether she should have accepted her “fate” and opened her heart to the murderous little green, a smaller voice knew that it wasn’t what she had been waiting for. Not that it made a difference anyway. 


S’ryll could feel her relax a bit as they flew, and he knew that feeling.  As his dragon showed concern, S’ryll couldn't help but wonder at that.  Vastolth was usually self-absorbed enough to not truly care about others, but he had with Tyne and now Ysolde.  Everyone else, even young K’el, was just a means to an end -- usually his ego or baths.  


“We’re just happy it was him and not you.”  A pause.  “And he says she would not have been good for you.”  He set Ysolde down gingerly.  “You’re not going to pass out on me or anything?” he asked chuckling.  There were some people farther down the beach, closer to the Weyr entrance, but none nearby.  To be fair, a few dragonlengths away, he’d written “Do Not Pass” and drawn a line in the Sand.  It should be sufficient to confuse anyone thinking it was one of the guards that written it.  


“Now, first things first.  You need a bath,” he said, with a mischievous glint in his eye.  


As she was carefully set down, Ysolde tested the weight in her legs carefully. They felt… a little weak. But immediately her common sense brain pointed out that this was likely due to the fact she had been in bed for the past few days. Gingerly, she flexed her legs and bent her knees, feeling her brain remember that yes, this was what it felt like when her legs had to hold things up. “I think we’re going to be okay. Besides, you would love to deal with a swooning girl to rescue.” For the first time, there was a hint of a mischievous twinkle touching her green eyes as she glanced back at him. “But were you organised enough to remember a blanket that we can set these down?” she asked, gesturing to the box and basket that she had managed to juggle carefully into her arms as she was placed back on the ground.


“Can you imagine the conversation explaining that yes baby dragon, you did this to your Rider.” The shudder was visible. The warnings of how easy a young dragon could be startled into Between had been hammered into their skulls in lessons. Pain and guilt were probably a good way to start that particular chain reaction. “An Impression based on pain, guilt and resentment. Hardly a stellar start to a relationship.” The clipped tone was unintentional, but the haughtiness slipped out. That particular scenario had already played itself in her head. How would she have felt if not only had she not lost a gold but the green that chose her had decided to rip her half to shreds? Angry. That was probably a good bet.


“And I hope you’re not implying I smell there, Wingleader S’ryll. I’ll have you know that even if I rolled in dragon dung I would emerge with the divine aroma of fresh crushed flowers. So there.” For all it had only been a few days, in the humid Southern heat, there was only so much that a bed-bound flannel wash could do for you. But the humour and good spirits still seemed a little forced, even if it was grossly apparent that it was clear that she was seeming more settled and less lost in her own thoughts. 


“Arolos tends to reinforce that between model of behavior quite heavily.  Not every Weyr does so to the same degree,” S’ryll said with a shrug.  In his unasked opinion, they taught the worst case scenarios as if it were common, but being overly cautious could save a baby dragon.  So they went with it.  But it didn’t mean that it happened automatically.  Feeling guilt or lust didn’t immediately cause a baby dragon to between.  But he was not the WLM here, and he happily left that babysitting job to Ko’ssen.


He gestured to Vastolth.  “My dragon is your blanket, Ysolde.  Set the box down in the sand, nice and deep, and then bring the basket to me,” he instructed.  When she did as he asked, he pulled out a large jar of sweetsand, and set the rest of the basket aside.


“Now, I’ve been told we're not to get your stitches wet.  So you’re going to lay on Vastolth’s back, and I’ll assist you…” he said, having pulled a small pitcher out as well. Vastolth had moved to the water, so that he was in the shallows, with his left side near the beach and easy for her to move onto his shoulder.


With a look of suspicious confusion, Ysolde did as she was told, carefully scooping out a trench of the warm sand and setting the box down inside it before she covered it up again. Although it was unlikely she would forget, just in case she did, she spotted a pretty looking stone that she used as a marker. Before long, she was back up on her feet and moving carefully towards Valstolth. “I won’t lie, you’ve got me intrigued. And wondering if you’re just looking for an excuse to get me half naked for you.” Guiltily she recognised that part of her wanted to be gathered up into arms, held tight and never let go. But… she didn’t think it was S’ryll’s arms she wanted in that way. 


Tired amusement flickered about her face as she considered her bandaged arms and the dragon beside her. Thankfully she was at least dressed albeit in a sleeveless tunic and a simple pair of trousers that came just past her knee. The Healers had been encouraging her to get up and get dressed, not just sit around in bed all day and had found her some light clothing that wouldn’t be uncomfortable, nor drag over her arms. “Okay, tell me what you need me to do. Or just throw me over your shoulder and carry me up. Not like you haven’t done that before either.” 

  

A few minutes later, Ysolde was sitting on Vastolth’s back, S’ryll standing behind her.  “So now, lean back,” he instructed, leaning down to kiss her forehead.  “And don’t get used to this.  I only do nice things like this when my lovers get maimed during a Hatching.  So I think that this is a one-time deal for you…”  He gave a small eye roll, teasing her.  “Now, close your eyes…” he said, as he poured water over her hair.  He took a dollop of sweetsand, slowly lathering up her long hair, his fingers moving to massage her scalp as he did so.  


“Now then,” he said slowly as his fingers went to work, “tell me how you’re really doing…”


It was probably the most randomly extravagant way she was ever going to encounter having her hair washed. But the peculiarity of the situation did what it needed to pull her thoughts away from the dredging mire they were trying to linger in. Combined with the sensations of his fingers pressing her scalp and the sun-warmed water running through her hair, it made the Candidate sag with tired relief and enjoyment. She kept her bandaged arms well out of the way as the lathered soap-sand ran down the side of her face. “What about birthing-days? Or does that come with an extra fee for your time?” There was a small smile pulling about her face as she spoke, a whisper of the mischievous side she had.


“Next time I’m keeping out of the way of murderous greens… Besides, with the amount of golds we have now, I won’t even have to Stand again for Faranth knows how long.” There was an odd sensation of relief to that thought. That if she so wanted, she could choose not to Stand the next time a clutch was on the Sands. She didn’t yet recognise that it was the residue of fear but fear of what? It could be a variety of things at that moment in time. But his question caught her off guard and the vague tendrils of musing scattered. The “I’m fine” rose to her lips but didn’t make it out. But there was a pause. “I don’t know.” She said eventually, the small smile disappearing. “I’m not sure how I’m meant to feel. And at the same time… I feel… everything. And I don’t know what I should feel first.”


“It’s ok not to know yet,” he said slowly after a minute, running his fingers through her wet hair.  He poured the jug of water over her hair, letting it rinse the sweetsand out.  “I expect you’ll feel a lot of things, and it’ll change from day to day.”  He remembered how it was before Vastolth, that feeling of rejection walking off the Sands.  Oh, he’d played it off well enough and his ego didn’t let him wallow in it for long, but it had stung all the same.  And yet, by comparison, what she’d gone through was much worse…  “Just don’t lie and say you’re fine, because you’re not.  You’ll be fine, but it takes time.”  What would he have done if he hadn’t Impressed?  Would he have gone back to his old life?  It didn’t matter now, but he’d thought about that question endlessly for three Hatchings.  He could lie and tell her that the dragon didn’t make the Rider, but he didn’t want to lie to her.  Who would he have been without Vastolth?  A nobody in a hold somewhere?  Still trying to race or having died from a fall from a runner?  


“Don’t give up on yourself, Ysolde.  Your worth goes well beyond that of a dragon.”  It was perhaps her similarity to Tyne that made S’ryll a bit more open with her, a bit more vulnerable to going above and beyond for her.  As if somehow, by trying to be a good friend to Ysolde he could make up for the ways he’d failed Tyne.  His own anger at the former goldrider not forgotten but perhaps finally forgiven.  But there still remained the vestiges of guilt that manifested in strange ways, like his concern for Ysolde.


The sensation of fingers kneading her scalp was oddly soothing. Ysolde couldn’t remember the last time her hair had been washed by someone else. It was something her mother had done before she had had to learn to be proficient at caring for the wild mass of unruly curls on her own. Ysolde let the sensation bring the small piece of comfort, as temporary as it might be. It gave her time to think on S’ryll’s words and she realised that the sombre words almost seemed out of character. “I try to be angry at him. To blame him. But then I realise that even that solves nothing. It wasn’t as though anything was a guarantee whether he lived or died. I tried to be angry at the green. But all I felt instead was fear.” The short bark of laughter was devoid of any sense of humour. “Scared of a tiny green hatchling. But then, I suppose we ought to be more scared of them. Or at least, more fearful of what can happen when our wants get in the way of theirs.” 


Her eyes moved without target over the few wisps of cloud that dotted the blue sky. “I want to blame the Weyrwoman for her petty, foolish nonsense over who could see the golds or not. The other Candidates for their pandering and simpering when if I had done the same, I wouldn’t have been down there at all.” Ysolde’s face was a twisted scowl of disgruntlement. “There’s so many ifs and buts and maybes. And not a single one of them guarantees anything would have been any different. I could still have ended up here, regardless of what scenario of variables I conjured up in my head.” That was probably the sting of it all in some degree, that no matter what aspect had been different there had been no way of guaranteeing anything would have been any different, would have stacked the deck in her favour in any way. “So much… hurts. My pride, my vanity… my heart. And all that I keep coming back to was how foolish I was to think, no, to believe that come Between or high water, one of those golds was mine.” The spurt of words was small and tight, brimming with angry disappointment.


S’ryll continued to massage her scalp and play with her hair.  He listened to her, pouring the last bit of water through her hair to rinse it for the last time.  Her anger and her desire to place that anger anywhere was understandable, perhaps even predictable.  “The thing about dragons, about Impression, is that there is nothing you can do.  Oh, there’s plenty of things you can avoid doing, but at the end of the day, you can stand from the time you’re first old enough until you age out.  You can know everything there is to know about dragons and Impression.  You can dream every night about being a rider.  And none of it matters a bit.  It’s all up to the dragons, and they pick who they will.”


If it was up to S’ryll, he’d do things differently.  There would be no Candidates, no program like there was now.  There would just be a significantly reduced program, so that the youngsters focused less on something they couldn't control, like Impression, and more on useful skill sets that would help them overcome the disappointment when they didn’t.


“No, it doesn’t. And I tried to convince myself I knew that and I was fine with that. That I was mature enough to understand that. More the fool me.” Her voice was dark and behind her eyes she tried very hard to ignore the needling whispers that delighted in mocking and ridiculing her. The sigh that followed was huge. “The irony hasn’t escaped me that I was more sensible than I knew in maintaining my Jewelcrafting skills. And yet so many people asked why I had persevered when I would have to give it up.” The snort was angry and disdainful but it seemed half-hearted, as though a layer beneath it was simply a facade. “It just feels so… childish to be so… disappointed. To have indulged in so many wistful fantasies.” That was perhaps the cruelest part to her mind, that she had allowed her common sense to be overrun by flights of fancy.


S’ryll ran his fingers through her wet curls, working on the knots gently.  “And if you’d Impressed, Ysolde, you’d be congratulating yourself on your unwavering belief.  It’s the terrible truth that whatever the outcome, you convince yourself that somehow you had control over the outcome.”  He rubbed her hair with a towel, before coming around in front of her and offering her a hand up.  “You have to believe in yourself to push through the Candidate program and prove your worth, and then the fall from that is all the greater if you don’t Impress.”  He kissed her hand.


“So let’s go remedy something that you can control.  Or well, I can control.”  He gave her a smirk.  “Do you remember where you left your box?”


He was right, of course. Perhaps that was the cruellest thing of all about the whole thing. That in order to have the motivation to want to succeed, you had to be prepared for the depths of hurt when you failed. And in the realms of probability, it was far more likely to fail than it was to succeed, at least in this particular endeavour. There was something of a cruel irony to it. And this time she had far more ifs and buts to add to the equation of “yes but what if I…” that swirled around her head like a buzzing swarm of angry insects.


Using his extended hand, Ysolde carefully got herself up, grateful for the reinforcement that his own strength offered. She still just didn’t quite trust her legs. Not just yet. The change of topic was noted and oddly, it was appreciated. There was a very real part of her thoughts that noticed that she didn’t want to keep talking about it, didn’t want to keep going over the same subjects but rather, wanted to shove it all in a box and put it away. “I do indeed, I even marked it with a pretty shell and everything, I’ll have you know.” It was the concept of having control that had piqued her curiosity and she eyed him carefully. “What mischief are you up to?”   


S’ryll chuckled.  “Why do you assume I’m up to mischief?  Such distrust,” he tsk’d at her in mockery.  He looped his arm around her waist, pulling her into him gently, as Vastolth shifted so they could get off.  He kept her steady as the dragon moved, then released her slightly as Vastolth settled.  He then slid down the dragon, holding out his hands to help her down.  He regarded her silence now on the Hatching, her desire to escape from those memories evident.  Not that he blamed her.  


“Go on and get it,” he told her, squeezing her slightly before letting her go.


This was why she liked being around S’ryll. He was able to conjure a whimsy about things, as though he lived the mantra that life was only as serious as you chose to make it. It was why she had enjoyed the nature of their romantic encounters. When he said “no strings” she knew he meant it. And not out of spite or because she was merely another notch on the bedpost. He encompassed a warmth about him, as though he cheerfully carried a small flame with which he chased away such serious things, only giving them the time they deserved and not letting them take anything more.


Wobbling slightly on her legs, Ysolde carefully found the shell she had used to mark her “treasure” and dug out the small box. “You’re enjoying this far too much,” she managed to tease with what felt like a glint of genuine amusement. She liked that he was teasing it out of her. “Is it a map to buried treasure? Or a contract to sign my never ending services to you in your furs?” There was the faintest twinkle in her green eyes of the mischief she had of her own. “Or shall I be sorely disappointed and find a rock and a ruse? Although if it’s a very pretty rock, I suppose I shall forgive you.”


“Come now...I know better than to get a pretty rock for a jewelcrafter.  I’ll think it was pretty and you’ll just tell me how much I got duped…” he said with a chuckle.  He was glad to see her laughing, even just a little.  It was hard for him to not want to protect her from the pain, to not see Tyne in her still, but he also knew that he couldn’t completely shelter her even if she’d let him.  And that was especially true now that she had a reciprocated crush with his mentee.  All he could do was try to make her life a little easier.  He’d see her CM as well, he decided.  If there was anything she needed that the Weyr couldn’t -- or wouldn’t provide -- he would do his best to see that she had it.  Even paying for his assistants, he still had plenty of marks, and this was a better way to spend it.


As she retrieved the box, he gave a little nod of his head.  “Go on and open it,” he said.


Carefully she had opened the box and as the lid fell back and she carefully moved the scraps of fur inside, Ysolde’s gasp had been genuine and unprompted. She hadn’t dared to move the delicate egg inside, her eyes as wide as saucers as she gently moved pieces of fur to reveal the top most part of the shell. As S’ryll told her what it was expected to contain and where it had come from, it had been all she could do not to throw her arms around him and weep in overwhelmed consternation. A part of her had tried to whisper that she didn’t deserve it but Ysolde had quickly been able to squash it down with the abject glee that fast overtook it.


They had stayed there like that for a while, only this time Ysolde was clinging to the small box as though it contained the most precious treasure in all the world. And in a way, it did. It wasn’t long however, before the fatigue of her limited stamina and ongoing recovery rose to overtake her and it was clear that it was time for her to return to the Infirmary. She hadn’t been able to stop thanking S’ryll, promising to pay him back only to be gently admonished that it was a gift and no such payment was required. But it was clearly the right sort of gift. No, it wasn’t about the value or even the prestige that came with the breeding of the firelizard inside, it was about the trust that had been placed in her. A trust of her capability to care, to do it right. And just to make S’ryll proud, she would be absolutely sure that she would.


= End =



--
Nutmeg on the Wizzy.
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I'm sometimes slow and have the memory of a sieve at times, so don't hesitate to poke me if you think you've been forgotten!