Secrets rarely kept long in a Weyr, especially when you had dragons and they gossiped. Or watched who came and went. Foreth was sitting in her favorite spot in the lake when she spotted a familiar dragon.
((Mine, *he’s* here,)) she grunted into her lifemate’s mind and sent an image of Floran.
“Feck it,” Kassia said out loud. She was currently laid out on her couch with a headache.
((Ask Truenoth what’s going on,)) Kassia said. She knew she’d get better information from that Weyrleader than Talith.
((Who is here?)) Truenoth asked as he lifted his head instinctively. He lowered it again as he remembered he would see nothing. ((Him? Ah, him. N'shen is working on the investigation. The Other One has told him nothing of this arrival.))
Kassia put her hand to her head in frustration. ((I need to know more. I need to know what’s going on. I can’t be there.)) She hated that she was supposed to be recuperating. She wanted to be out doing her work, but the healers and her body said ‘no’.
((Do not worry,)) Truenoth said soothingly to Foreth. ((N'shen will go to the Other One and find out what High Reaches wants.))
((Talith,)) Truenoth said to the brown. ((N'shen goes to meet with your rider. Will you please tell him N'shen comes?))
Talith made a grumbling noise for a moment, roused from the doze he seemed to be in almost constantly at the moment but raised his head to address his rider.
((Wait,)) he warned abruptly to both Truenoth and Foreth. ((Trouble. He’s trying to handle it.))
((It is N'shen's job to deal with trouble as much as it is your rider's, is it not?)) Truenoth asked. ((Let him help.))
((I still want to know what’s happening,)) Foreth demanded with a huff.
((He says right now, friendship is about the only tool he’s got. Let him handle it. Please.)) Talith sounded worried but also crisper, more himself. ((They want a Conclave. He’ll talk to you afterwards.))
((N'shen will trust the Other One,)) Truenoth reported to Talith and to Foreth. ((Shall he come to see the Weyrwoman?))
((Mine says he better,)) Foreth snapped. Her tail was lashing. She didn’t like being a messenger. She was in a bad mood and she was unhappy that Kassia was injured. A bad combination.
Talith huffed. ((Mine says to come to his office the moment F’loran is gone,)) he said, and curled back up on the sands. ((I’m going back to sleep.))
((Thank you, Talith,)) said Truenoth with a bit of a mental hug in his tone.
And as soon as he could get there, N'shen was knocking on Kassia's door.
"Kass?" he called in. "It's me." She was very clearly upset, so he meant to be as accommodating as possible for the time being.
Foreth’s response to Talith was less charitable. As was Kassia’s as she sat on her couch rather than demanding to be apart of the audience.
“Come in!” she yelled and not just to be heard.
N'shen entered calmly, and he wore a confident yet kindly expression. He had every right to be there, but he was also there to comfort and to help.
"I'm making some progress on the investigation," he said, thinking that some amount of ‘good news’, such as it was, might help disarm Kassia.
“Did you not warrant a visit from the High Reaches’ Weyrleader either?” she bit out, her good fist balled. “What the feck is R’tal doing leaving me out?” If she’d heard his ‘good news’ it’d gone over her head.
"R'tal has a pre-existing relationship with F'loran," said N'shen. "He says… well, I don't know whether you heard. But it sounds like he's here to warn us of what the other weyrs are planning. He said F'loran said they want a Conclave."
It did sting that he was being left out – it stung every time he heard that some meeting or decision had been held or made without him, but he was as wary of making himself sound like a whining child as he was of being disrespected.
"If he's here to warn us of something we shouldn't know, it should be best if it looks like he had some other reason to be here. And if we're all in on the meeting, that gets harder."
Shells, it felt heavy carrying all that weight for R'tal. He would not have to be making these excuses if R'tal had just said these things to them to begin with.
“It’s not like I’ve never met F’loran,” Kassia said. She rolled her eyes. “Obviously he’s here to talk about a Conclave which is Why. I. Should. Be. There. And the fact that he’s here at all means something. And he didn’t just make it so that I’d talk to him afterwards, he made it so that presumably just you were to talk to him rather than both of us.” It was very rare that Kassia went to R’tal’s office rather than the other way.
"Do you trust me?" N'shen asked. It was partly rhetorical, but he also really wanted to know. It seemed that she had more than a little difficulty trusting R'tal, but N'shen was going to contribute anything of value to the office, this seemed like it had to be it. He had already failed in so many other ways, this and the investigation.
The words were like a slap in the face and brought her back to the present. “What? Of course I do. Why would you think otherwise?”
"I'll make sure that your interests are heard when I see R'tal. And then I'll tell you what he tells me," said N'shen. "He can't avoid talking to you about this forever. But you also need to avoid whatever stress we can possibly take care of, because of the babies." He sighed.
"Look, I don't know if I'm getting across what I want to say here, but this is the gist of it – since you trust me, let me help you."
“I trust you, but it’s not the same thing as being there,” Kassia said. “The rest of the Weyrs need to know Arolos still has a Weyrwoman whether I’m supposed to be avoiding stress or not.”
Her head was starting to hurt again, but she ignored it. No need to prove him right. No need for him to know that half her problem was being stuck on the couch with nothing to do and no one to keep in line.
"We won't go to a Conclave without you, and we won't leave you unprepared," said N'shen. "I won't. This isn't the Conclave. It's just R'tal and me deciding what the Weyrleader of Arolos is going to do." He pushed the thought down in his own head that this was a generous description of what their meeting would be like. But R'tal knew better how to be a weyrleader than he did. Much better. And N'shen did not want any appearance of division between them, either.
“It’s R’tal trying to make deals with F’loran is what it is,” Kassia said. “Every time that fecking man comes into my Weyr I get left out. He’s here far too often for my tastes. You were left out. You should be mad about that, too.” Apparently Kassia was in a mood to not care as much if there was a division. Sitting alone in her weyr wasn’t doing her favors.
"Maybe," said N'shen. "But for know, R'tal asked me to trust him. So I will. And then after I talk to him, I can decide whether it was misplaced or not." He sighed. "We're leaving him out now, aren't we? There will always be times when one or the other of us isn't going to be there. But I will protect your interests as well as mine. Because that's my job. And because you're my friend."
It was harder for Kassia to fight against the comment about him being her friend because he was one of her few friends and he'd been friends with her before he’d become Weyrleader. She trusted him. And she trusted R’tal, for the most part. But she didn’t trust the situation. But the ‘friend’ part momentarily disarmed her.
“Yeah, fine,” she said, clearly not happy but not wanting to keep fighting. For the moment. She did want to hit things though.
"Would another massage help?" asked N'shen. Being Weyrwoman was stressful enough. Add everything Kassia was dealing with on top of it? A little help unwinding might not go amiss.
“I guess it’s better than punching things,” she admitted grudgingly. “I don’t care what anyone says, I’m getting out and doing my job after this. I’m useless sitting here.”
"You're not useless to the babies," said N'shen as he started in on the massage. He had a bit more practice at this by then with two pregnant women in his life. "And you're not as useless to the weyr as you feel. Truenoth most certainly commiserates with you being stuck, though."
“That’s true.” She sounded a bit more sympathetic there.
((*He* left,)) Foreth snorted.
“Time to go.” So much for the massage.
She pulled from his hands and struggled to her feet ready to join N’shen to R’tal’s office. Her mouth twisted at that.
"Are you coming along, anyway, then?" N'shen asked as he cracked his knuckles. He had thought they talked through it… but Kassia was going to do what Kassia was going to do. R'tal had not said to come alone.
Honestly, standing to go had been automatic, but now that she did she was committed. Better than laying around anyway. Maybe. “I’m up now,” she said, holding out her arm for him to take.
That R’tal had three glasses on his desk when they came in seemed to indicate that he’d expected them to both come in any case. That he was busy filling them with best High Reaches brandy - with a literal crate of it behind the desk - suggested he’d either forgotten Kassia was pregnant or stopped thinking it was going to matter.
“Here.” And he nudged the glasses at them, completely oblivious to Kassia’s dark thoughts. “You’ll need it.” Judging by the level in the bottle it wouldn’t be his first either.”
N'shen glared at R'tal – he had not forgotten that Kassia was pregnant. "Do you have any juice back there? Or have you found yourself a new Shalia yet?" he asked.
Kassia didn’t wait to take a seat. Her weyr wasn’t exactly close to the Weyr offices and she was starting to feel her pregnancy.
“Juice would be nice,” she agreed, though she eyed the full glass whether she liked the contents generally or not. “And I assume the meeting went about as well as I expect.”
“...Crap.” R’tal had forgotten. He stared at the glasses a minute, clearly perplexed. “Margana’s still down at the Sands.” And he hadn’t been in his office in sevendays long enough to both stocking it. “I can ask the guards?” He really needed a new Shalia. One who was not a guard.
"By all means," said N'shen. If it were him R'tal had forgotten, he would have just waved his hand and said not to worry about it, but Kassia… N'shen was certain Kassia needed to be remembered just then. "I don't mind waiting to get started drinking – even if Kassia's right."
“This isn’t going to be fun.” Kassia shrugged as if it weren’t anything major, but she knew it was. Maybe she couldn’t have alcohol in her hand, but she could at least have something in her hand and truth be told she wasn’t taking as good care of herself as she was supposed to again, mostly because it was difficult and inconvenient.
“Do we need food too?” That question was addressed mostly to Kassia. “Sorry, I keep forgetting I have no people up here right now.” And Faranth knew how long ‘right now’ was going to be. As long as it took for Talith not to need eyepads maybe.
N'shen looked to Kassia as well – he could wait, but he was not pregnant. And if he had to go fetch the food himself, he would, but he preferred to avoid playing the part of the junior partner.
“Probably a good idea,” she said grudgingly.
“Right, hang on.” R’tal stuck his head out the door. Apparently his guard had taken to carting around one of the trainees with them for precisely this reason because the kid went haring off a moment later. “There. It should be five minutes or so.” Meanwhile he picked his own glass back up, as much to have something to hide behind as anything. “Right, so, good news or bad news first?”
"Get the bad out of the way," said N'shen. "Fate willing, it's nothing worse than what Talith already told us." He folded his arms and steeled himself, wishing for the five minutes to pass quickly so he could at least enjoy F'loran's brandy.
“Conclave in two to three days. Plan is to turn up without warning us to take us on the hop. And they want to inspect the Hatching Caverns so we need to make it look inaccessible. And F’loran already kindly told me that I look like I’m having a quiet breakdown so please, you two, look incredibly competent because while he’s mostly on our side I don’t need him to have doubts in his head that we’re coping.” There probably wasn’t much in the world that could have stopped him taking a drink of the brandy at that even if Kass did have to wait. “Good news is they don’t consider us to be going rogue. Yet.”
Kassia looked at N’shen. “Well, at least one of us can manage to look like we’re competent.” She looked back at R’tal. “I need people to stop telling me to take it easy before I can try to manage that one.” At least her headaches weren’t as bad as they’d been previously.
"What grounds do they possibly think they can have to worry that we might be ‘going rogue’?" N'shen scowled. He had not expected that they would be so brazen as to show up to ambush them. Especially not if they did not consider them ‘rogue’. He had half a mind to tell them all where they could stick their Conclave, but that was not what Arolos needed.
“Precedent. Fort. Ista. Shells, even High Reaches though I wouldn’t say that to F’loran’s face.” R’tal gestured with his glass. “Apparently anyone showing signs of trying to shut the other Weyrs out makes them all nervous now. And Ista wants someone else to look like they’re in trouble rather than them because Ista is still a fecking nest of sharding rabid tunnelsnakes.” It might have been at least a couple of glasses of brandy before Kassia and N’shen got there.
“We were the ones attacked,” Kassia said as if she didn’t already know that logic didn’t play into it. “Basically the other Weyrs like to look for a reason to jump on any Weyr that suffers from any issue like a wild, staring wher.” She really, really wanted that drink.
"I agree. They're hardly concerned for what's going on here. Hardly, except for F'loran, anyway. They're not welcome to come snooping around here; they have no cause, no right. If we have the two days, we should make sure it seems we were in the process of preparing to invite them so we could warn them to increase their security. I want them to feel like incomparable assholes for daring this." N'shen was fuming and had begun to pace and gesticulate.
“I like that,” R’tal said thoughtfully. “Kass, how pregnant can you look? Do you have dresses that make you look, I don’t know, more pregnant?” He mimed a swelling belly as though hers was not already swelled enough.
Kassia shot him a look but nodded. “I can come up with something. I mean, with twins in here I’m looking more pregnant than I already would. And depending on your angle, my arm might help the whole not being able to go anywhere look.”
"I'll have something to report, maybe I can draft part of a document," N'shen sighed. "I've made a search of the Hatching Cavern with your guard with the wher, Kassia – Kodah? They won't lack for certainty that I'm making progress toward finding out who they should be wary of… I've also made plans with Ko'ssen and Andronda to question A'shran, the boy who Impressed around his Sands ban."
They would remember the names, but better to be thorough. Just in case.
“F’loran reckons they’re less after concrete information on what we’ve done at this point and more ensuring we’re doing something and checking how much their Weyrs are at risk.” R’tal subsided a little from his initial temper. “Except now we’ve waited this long they’re convinced we’re hiding something. Which we are.”
"A recovering Weyrwoman isn't reason enough?" Said Weyrwoman asked. "Sure, I'll be fine and pregnant when the time comes, but a few days to recover is reasonable before being besieged."
"It seems a fair reason to me, and beyond that, we had a death and two serious injuries among our Candidates at this Hatching. Things are more than a little hectic here – enough that they never would have otherwise questioned us not being ready to invite the world over for tea and klah and glazed biscuits the next day." N'shen huffed and finally just downed the brandy in one shot.
"Didn't you say you had some good news?" he asked. "Let me guess – it was the brandy."
“No, that was the part where we’re not yet going rogue. The brandy is blood money so I didn’t tell him to feck off the minute he mentioned the word Conclave,” R’tal admitted, and glanced at N’shen with a touch of apology. “Sorry to send you away. Things were already a bit fraught. I didn’t want him thinking I was hiding behind you because I couldn’t cope.”
"And here I thought it was because he told you he didn't like me after the last time," said N'shen with a hint of a smile to show he was joking.
"So where did you leave us?" Kassia asked just as there was a knock. She looked around expectantly for someone to bring her drink and food.
N'shen answered the door, and he took the food and drink to bring to Kassia, apparently not as worried about looking the junior partner as he thought. She was pregnant with his child, anyway. Perhaps even two of his children!
R’tal sighed, kicking at the leg of his desk like a frustrated Weyrling. “They’re arriving in two days, maybe three. I tried to plead for more but apparently it was all he could do to stop Ista pushing for before Hatching. We’re to look surprised. And incredibly competent obviously.”
"Do I look competent, because other than dressing up I'm at about where I'm going to be," Kassia said.
"You look exactly like they should expect a pregnant woman who was just bloody exploded to look," said N'shen. "Though it surely won't hurt if you play that up for them, too. Injured and pregnant is something they should all be able to relate to. I think I could mention my own pregnant weyrmate on top of it all. And despite all that, we'll be the picture of hospitality. We can make sure the conference room is ready. And we should have… well, we can make sure we have the food on hand. Enough to believe we were planning to invite them soon. Nothing fancy, since they just dropped in. The good stuff won't arrive until tomorrow, wish you'd have waited. Feh."
“We need to look confident. Apparently I look defensive.” R’tal grimaced, and scrubbed a hand through his hair as though to straighten it. To be fair to F’loran he did have a touch of that haven’t-actually-slept-in-a-sevenday look about him.
"I suppose looking pissed isn't looking confident," Kass said with a wave of her hand. Then she reached for a drink.
R’tal laughed at that. “Actually he said that if one glass was what it took to look relaxed and I could hide the smell, do it.” He made a face at himself. “I’m too bloody twitchy is the problem, but I can’t stand the idea of them sniffing over Talith like a bunch of starving wherries.”
The fact Kassia was reaching for the brandy went unmentioned. One drink surely couldn’t hurt.
N'shen nonchalantly grabbed the brandy and replaced it with the juice. One drink would most definitely hurt.
"The Sands can be made inaccessible. Ongoing investigation, no one permitted inside lest the evidence be contaminated," he said. It was actually mostly the truth. They would just omit the fact that the two blinded dragons were also hiding inside.
"Do you think they'll be okay with that?" Kassia asked R'tal. She was less than convinced as she took a sip of her juice.
R’tal shrugged. “It’s that or tell them that it could collapse on them or blow up again at any time,” he said. “Though I swear to Faranth there’s days I’d like to drop a rock or two on a few of them.”
"That can be part of the excuse," said N'shen. "But we'd need to be prepared to tell them that this was part of why we didn't allow families in and such. To minimize the risk if the caverns collapsed. We obviously couldn't have moved the eggs… not all of them."
"I'm okay with that," Kassia said. "I can play competent pregnant Weyrwoman as long as my headaches aren't too bad." At least whatever K'ren had ordered for her had been working.