Once again, Toria’s guardians send her away to find a better future…
Toria’s last full day at Katz Field hold was a whirlwind of activity.
In the morning, Kavi made her a special breakfast of sweet breads decorated with honey-flavored glaze. The hold children wanted to know why and soon word spread from the lowest cavern to the farthest beast pens. A child of Katz Field had been accepted to a Hall. She was bringing honor to their home.
Headwoman Ranella sent Toria for a hair cut and grooming, top to bottom. Toria didn’t realize that toe nails could be trimmed and filed so meticulously, nor did she understand why the rough callouses on her feet were a bad thing that required smoothing.
Herd Master Arlanda, a cheerful, middle-aged woman who loved animals, presented her with a new leather satchel in which to carry the few possessions she would be taking with her. Holders gossiped that Arlanda could speak to animals. She had tamed a grey feline and named it Misty, a feat none thought possible. She let Misty’s cubs hunt in the animal barns, so that the feed wouldn’t be eaten or tainted by vermin. Toria never understood everyone’s disapproval. She got along with the felines just fine. They were even affectionate in their own way, once you got to know them.
At lunchtime, she noticed the kitchen staff butchering a sheep and setting up the largest spit. Many people were busy cleaning and cooking.
[Attribute check: Will 9, rolled 9.]
Next, Steward Valdas assigned Toria a locking chest. She was told her possessions would be kept safely inside until she either returned to the hold or sent for them. It was an unpleasant task, setting all of her familiar and cherished things aside, under the watchful gaze of the hold’s most feared disciplinarian. Toria had to resist the urge to hold each item and remember why it was important; Valdas would not have tolerated the delay. She also fought back tears of nervousness and nostalgia.
Master Valora gifted her with a strange new jacket. It was heavy, brown like the heraldry of Fort Hold, and lined with wool. It was a ridiculous gift to give someone who lived in the warm southern climate. She was startled to realize that her new home might get snow. After all, Toria had never seen snow, only heard about it in a Harper’s song.
That night, Lord Chadrick and Lady Delenthia hosted a feast for the entire hold. The food and wine flowed freely. Harper Emelyn, a beautiful woman of Asian ancestry, started the night with lively music for dancing and ended it with bittersweet ballads. As the feast wound down, many people congratulated Toria before going home.
Once nearly everyone had left, Dylan sat down next to Toria. “I know you can’t take much with you, so I’m giving you this,” he said, handing her a Mark. She could buy something nice with it, once she arrived at the Hall. Suddenly, Dylan was hugging her tight, “Promise me you’ll come back?”
The next day, Master Valora and the Lord and Lady Holders escorted Toria to the fireheights, a large paved area at the highest point of the hold where beacon fires could be set. It felt like half the hold was watching. The adults with her began scanning the sky. It struck Toria suddenly that she wasn’t leaving by boat. She shielded her eyes with a hand and looked up. It was an empty sky, light blue with a patch of clouds. One of them looked like a doe lying down…
And then there were dragons. Two dragons flew over the hold and then banked in a slow turn back toward the fireheights. One was grayish blue and longer than a barn is wide. The other was deep brown and as long as the largest fishing boat, the kind that ventured far out to sea. They glided on the wind effortlessly. As they slowed to land, Toria could see a little sunlight shining through their wings. Their eyes were sparkling in shades of green.
Toria felt a thud through her feet when they touched the ground. Master Valora was smiling brighter than she had ever seen and Lady Delenthia was standing stock still, holding her breath.
There were three riders. The first, on the brown dragon, was a muscular young man in heavy leather riding gear. He saluted as the Lord Holder waved and shouted a greeting. The second took off his helmet to reveal short silvery hair, a deep tan, and at least fifty Turns of age. He was unhooking himself from the dragon’s saddle which bore the heraldry of another Weyr. Behind the older rider was a boy about Toria’s age with sandy brown hair and a warm leather jacket.
The older rider climbed down from his dragon and strode confidently over to Lord Chadrick, introducing himself as “K’len and Pentiath of Fort Weyr”. He spoke formally, thanking the Lord for allowing him to visit, and explaining that he was tasked with delivering Toria to Healer Hall. After a polite response, Lord Chadrick cleared his throat and elbowed his wife, who was still frozen in stunned silence.
“Oh! Would you and your companions take a meal with us, or some wine?” she blurted out.
K’len smiled, hiding his humor as best he could so as not to embarass her. “I’m grateful for your offer of hospitality but regretfully my duties don’t afford me enough time. I would be happy to accept under different circumstances,” he said diplomatically.
[Attribute check: Will 9, rolled 6.]
Toria missed the rest of the conversation. She was completely focused on the dragons. They were radiant and intimidating, graceful and massive, mysterious and immediate, all at the same time. It was positively overwhelming.
Before she knew it, Master Valora and Lady Delenthia were hugging her and offering a fond farewell. K’len put a hand on her shoulder and guided her toward the dragons. Toria had never been riding on a runnerbeast before, let alone a dragon.
K’len looked up at his dragon as Pentiath rumbled quietly. It was a massive sound, as deep as an ocean wave and as calm as a purring feline. He patted the blue dragon on the side of his muzzle and turned to Toria, “He says you shouldn’t be scared. He would never let you fall.”
The dragonrider waited while Toria put on her new jacket. He helped her climb up the stiff rungs along the massive leather strap that went around the dragon’s chest, holding the saddle in place. He had her sit between him and the sandy-haired boy, then loaned her a pair of fur gloves that tied at the wrist. While she fumbled with the gloves, K’len saw to his own preparations.