Calashi Bounty

 

"Gramma?" A windblown, curly, dark head appeared around the corner of the door of Aily's room where she was wrestling with a piece of intricate embroidery in the fading light. The old woman looked up and smiled in warm welcome, cheerfully abandoning the difficult stitchery for the pleasure of her granddaughter's company. The young woman came completely into the room as Aily beckoned and moved quickly forward to give her an impulsive hug and kiss. Aily thought of her own mother as she always did when she saw her young granddaughter who held the same name. She saw in Elli many of the same characteristics and features as her namesake, despite the distance of time that separated them.

"Well, well, and to what do I owe this honour? I thought you had duties tonight."

"No," Elli grinned, her eyes glinting with a cheeky mischief that forced an answering smile from her grandmother. "Meris owed me a couple of duties, so I traded them both in for her to take my night watch." Aily laughed, "And I'll bet that she truly appreciated that." Elli cocked her head on one side, her face grave with consideration, but her eyes were dancing with laughter at the memory.

"Well, it was the better part of the deal. Two for the price of one after all." Aily laughed again and shook her head, wagging an admonishing finger, "Little baggage." Elli grinned again and settled herself at Aily's feet on the low stool that rested there.

"You promised to tell me the story of Shyan." Aily eyed her granddaughter, detecting something hidden behind the dark eyes, but unable to make out what it was.

"Again? Haven't you heard it enough times to be able to tell it yourself?"

"Not yet." Elli leaned forward to rest her arms on her grandmother's knees and then dropped her chin onto her folded hands in expectation. Aily couldn't deny her beloved granddaughter anything and so began obligingly, using the traditional opening words that began every story she told.

"Once, long ago, it was decided by wiser and better people than you or I, that Shey could support more than four eyries. At that time, there was Shakiri, Shepef, Shinuk and Shohaci. A fifth was began, southeast of here and was called Shyan. It was an immediately prosperous and desirable place to live, happily situated in the best of locations with the best of those chosen from the other domums, eyries and crafthalls. The young and the strong, the older and wiser, Shyan was beautiful and happy. Of course, everything starts small and grows from there, even you little listener." Aily reached out and stroked Elli's cheek at this, a gesture that was almost as much part of the story as the words themselves.

"The domum and eyrie were one at that time, the herbalist crafthall placed on the lower levels at one end of the canyon. For a time, life continued, as one would expect. Babies were born, children played and grew, men and women fell in love, people died old and content. But then came the plague. No one was worried at first, disease is after all, a part of life, and soon everyone who was sick would get better and it would go away." Elli couldn't resist a comment.

"But it didn't," she breathed softly, her eyes shadowed with grief for those long ago people. Aily's gaze softened and she gently stroked the tumbled curls into order.

"No, it didn't. Almost before the healers had realised it, most of the population was sick. People started dying, leaving children orphaned and alone, and then the children themselves succumbed. Night and day the chief healer, Sylvias, worked to find a cure, using all the extensive knowledge at her fingers, all the experience of those herbalists still alive. But in vain. Sylvias died just as those who were still able fled into the surrounding country leaving the disease behind, frightened and desperate. When none of the Shyan leaders came to the meeting that all attend at the end of the year, some flyers went to investigate, and found a horrifying sight. Dead, decaying bodies, not a single person left alive in the whole of the eyrie. Those brave flyers, and some more, who came after, took the dead and burned them outside the eyrie. Then they too became sick, and in an attempt to quarantine the disease, Shyan was locked out of the world around it. All mentions of its location were erased, most information was destroyed and it was forbidden to enter the canyon. But it was too late. The plague had already spread, and people began dying once more. The information that Sylvias had worked so hard to compile, meant that the other healers had a starting point, could miss out the initial research and consequently, first a vaccine and then a cure was soon found. It wasn't totally effective, and it took eleven years before the plague was finally declared at an end.

"Eleven years of fear had done much to prejudice the world against Shyan, and the leaders of the time encouraged the rumours, terrified themselves of enduring more losses if the plague should reappear and totally destroy their already decimated families. Shyan descended into neglect, then myth and legend. Time passed and slowly the population of Shey began to recover. For some though, the memory of Shyan wasn't enough and so they ensured that there would still be those marked with the location tattoo. But for others, the memory of Shyan had become associated with terror and death; the actions of the leaders had been more thorough then they could possibly know. Those marked for Shyan became outcasts, living on the edge of a fear-blinded society. Almost a century later, a young woman was to provide the final clue that would enable a group from this eyrie to find Shyan."

"Great grandmother," Elli sighed and Aily chuckled at the expression on her face.

"Yes, your great grandmother and great grandfather went to Shyan." Elli straightened slightly in sudden indignation, "You missed something out!" she accused, and Aily laughed.

"Patience, little baggage, patience. All right, life hadn't been easy for those who had escaped the eyrie, but it was their determination that meant that the location of Shyan hadn't been lost for all time. When they left the eyrie, carrying what bounty they could with them, they took also the determination not to let the memory of their home fade, and maybe one day to go back."

"And now it's happened!" Elli jumped to her feet, "did you hear, Gramma? The leaders have decided to restart Shyan eyrie!"

Aily nodded, she had heard, but didn't take away the pleasure of the news from her granddaughter, "So that is why you insisted on the story again."

"And because you tell it so beautifully." She started when her name was called from behind and she spun to see her mother, "Elli! So that's where you are. I thought that you were on duty tonight?"

"I was, I traded with Meris." Her mother shook her head, a wry expression on her face, "You know you're not supposed to do that. The wingleaders like to know exactly who has what duty." Elli took a guilty interest in the woven rug at her feet, "Everyone else does it," she mumbled in poor defence.

"And if everyone went to jump off a cliff, would you follow?" Elli sighed heavily, "No, Mother. But I wanted Gramma to tell the story of Shyan, so I could tell her the news in a proper setting." Lani's mouth twitched for a moment and then broke into a smile, as her amusement proved too great for her control.

"Silly pup," she murmured and pressed an affectionate kiss onto her daughter's unruly curls. "So, was it worth all the effort?"

"Well, Gramma had already heard the news," Aily looked up in unconcealed surprise, to the amusement of the other two women, "did you think that I wasn't aware that you knew, Gramma?"

"You continually surprise me, Elli. There I was, working so hard to give you the pleasure of thinking you were the first." Elli dropped onto her knees beside Aily's chair; "I live in this eyrie too. I know how news goes around, but I just wanted to make it different."

"That you did," Aily caressed the short curls with love in her eyes, "it was a lovely way to make sure I knew."

"See?" Elli looked up at her mother and Lani smiled, "it was worth it."

"All right, I believe you. But you had better go and explain to Andrew why it is that you're here and Meris is out there." Elli made a face; "Do I have to? You know how he is about this sort of thing." Lani propped her hands on her hips.

"Yes, go on. Anyone would think you were ten years old and not a grown woman!" Elli sighed, "Andrew makes me feel ten years old," she muttered and left the room. Aily shook her head.

"That wasn't really necessary, Lani." Her daughter dropped wearily into a nearby chair, "If Elli is to learn responsibility, then yes it is. Isha is about to rise, that means that she and Elli will become a mature pair, with all the other duties and obligations of that state." Aily leaned forward.

"Lani, she already is one of the most responsible persons I know. Every young flyer trades duties, as I recall, so did you, even after Toshine rose for the first time."

"Mumma," Lani looked reproachful and Aily wagged a finger at her in feigned sterness, "And if you think to throw Andrew and Elli together this way, you should have your head examined."

"Mother!"

"Oh, I know what you're doing, and I admit," Aily looked a little guilty, "I have to agree with you. Andrew and Elli would make a nice couple, but only if they choose to come together themselves. Throwing them at each other is only going to make them dislike one another." Lani sighed.

"Very soon Isha is going to rise for her first mating and that's quite an event in the life of both the calashi and flyer." Aily shook her head, "If you think to get Andrew and Elli together in that way, you begin to make me doubt that you're a flyer at all. The rising is an instinctive, primitive urge, definitely not passionate!" Lani first leaned forward and then back into her chair again in exasperation.

"Mother, you haven't personally experienced a rising, and believe me, in the right circumstances, it can be very passionate."

"Only if the flyers let themselves get carried away with the mood at the time, the calashi have nothing to do with that sort of emotion." Lani smiled, "It is possible to direct the choice of the calashi if the feelings of the flyers are strong enough." Aily eyed her daughter.

"Only with a lot of experience, certainly not for a first rising. Don't pressure her, Lani. Elli is frightened enough of what is going to happen to Isha and herself without you putting such suggestions into her head." Her daughter looked surprised; "Elli is frightened of it? But why should she be? After all, she's lived in an eyrie all her life, and knows what happens as well as anyone. I'm sure she's aware of how some flyers direct the choice of the calashi."

"Yes, and deep down it's worrying her, not that she'll admit to it. It's precisely because she has lived in an eyrie all her life that concerns me. She's been exposed to all the horror stories and silly tales you can think of! The last thing Elli needs is to be worrying about choosing for Isha, when she can barely control the emotional ups and downs that go with the calashi's maturing." Lani looked thoughtful and then smiled softly.

"Wise old bird," she said softly, her lips curving into a smile.

"Less of the old," Aily said gravely, her eyes twinkling, "and what are you planning to do?"

"Do? Nothing. Elli and Isha will cope admirably when the time comes, and she certainly doesn't need me to tell her not to worry again. As you say, Elli is responsible enough." Aily tried to frown at her daughter for turning her words around, but ending up smiling slightly, "Little baggage," she scolded." Lani smiled wearily, shifted in her chair and closed her eyes.

"Tired, pet?" Lani blinked and smiled at Aily.

"A little. This illness seems to be making it's way around the flyers and it takes them forever to get over it. The wingleaders have increased everyone's workload correspondingly." Aily frowned, "Elli didn't mention it."

"Elli is young and strong and vital, I doubt that a bit more work would worry her for a moment. Besides, with Isha coming up to her rising I should imagine Kiether and Andrew are keeping a close eye on them both and setting their duties accordingly. Another reason for Elli not to trade with Meris." Lani smiled but saw that Aily was frowning.

"What is it, Mumma?" Aily shook her head, "Nothing to bear thinking of, Lani." Lani straightened a little, "But you are thinking of it. What's bothering you?"

"I was just wondering about this illness, that's all," Aily admitted, taking up her embroidery again. Lani wrinkled her brow, "Why? It's just one of those diseases that goes around every so often. You can't avoid it in an eyrie with everyone living so close."

"It just seems odd to have it happen in the middle of summer, and for it to affect so many flyers at once." Lani leaned forward and patted her mother's knee to gain her complete attention, "Mumma? What is it?"

"It's silly, Lani, nothing to worry about."

"Tell me, mother." Lani was concerned and left her hand on Aily's knee until the older woman looked up, "I was thinking about the plague, Lani."

"Plague? Mumma!" Lani was horrified and then calmed, "no, you're just thinking about it because Elli made you tell the Shyan story. It isn't possible anyway, the plague was fast acting." Aily went back to her embroidery.

"I'm sorry, you're right, pet." Lani nodded her certainty, though she didn't think Aily believed her words, "Absolutely. If it was the plague, the healers would know about it and they have a cure anyway, so there's no need to worry."

Aily could have thought up a dozen arguments for this line of reasoning but she just nodded, "Yes, pet, I'm sure you're right," she repeated soothingly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elli had obediently gone to see Andrew and was standing uncomfortably as the wingsecond lectured her in exasperated tones. Honestly, Elli. You know how much I dislike this business of trading duties. How often have I said for you to come to me if you need to change a duty and I will arrange something? That is what I'm here for after all." Elli bit the inside of her cheek and stared at a distant point just past Andrew's left ear. He pressed his fingers to eyes wearily as he continued.

"Sometimes I wonder if you rose out of the novice ranks too early. Between you and Meris..." Elli couldn't stop the words from flowing.

"That isn't fair!" she exclaimed hotly. "I graduated just as everyone else did, and I was second from the top in the group! Stop coming such a high flyer over this, Andrew. You've traded duties just like everyone else has. All I wanted was for Gramma to tell me the story of Shyan so I could tell her the news about its being reopened in a proper way. To make it special for her! You know how much she loves that eyrie, and how hard she's worked to compile all the information on it." Andrew was guiltily aware that her words were true and his reply was harsher than normal with tiredness.

"All you think about is fairy tales of long ago times! You're supposed to be grown up, not still clinging to your grandmother for stories..." he realised that he had gone too far as he saw the devastated hurt in her face and tried to backtrack.

"You know the tales well enough yourself, you should go back to the records if you want to learn more. Especially if you neglect your duties for them!" Even as he spoke he knew that his words hadn't come out as he had meant them to and shut his mouth firmly over any further comments. Elli's mouth worked as she fought to keep back the tears at this sudden change of stance on his part and Andrew was instantly apologetic.

"Oh, Elli, I didn't mean that." He came around the edge of the desk and reached out to take her hand, but she pulled away, "Yes you did. How could you be so cruel, Andrew. I thought you would understand!" Andrew tiredly ran his hand through his hair.

"I do," he said, his voice more even as he made a concerted effort to be reasonable, "you just caught me at a bad time, what with all this sickness going round I'm having to change the duty schedules every day. I'm sorry for what I said, but please, in future, you would make my job easier if you didn't trade duties." Elli wasn't yet ready to forgive him, but she didn't pull away this time when he reached out to gently squeeze her hand.

"If you're not on duty now, then I can use you tomorrow morning for transporting the minor chiefs back to their domums. Layda was supposed to be doing it, but she's come down with this illness as well. Report to the Table after breakfast."

"Yes, sir," she muttered, her voice level despite the sarcasm. Andrew sighed resignedly and waved for her to go knowing that neither of them was in the mood for discussion and uncertain how much of her anger was due to Isha's fluctuating emotions. He sat back down into his chair, relieved that male calashi didn't go through all the problems that females did at maturation.

Elli marched angrily through the tunnels, muttering fiercely uncomplimentary things about the wingsecond, gaining startled looks from those she passed. In the main cavern she gathered up a warm roll, wrapped to keep it hot, and a padded mug of hot tea to take out to Meris.

Her friend took the offered sustenance gratefully, "Ah, Elli, you're a gem. I always forget to bring something up." Elli smiled slightly.

"I know, somebody needs to look after you or you'd starve." She turned to greet her friend's calashi, "hello, Shaya."

Greetings flyer.

"So," Meris mumbled around a mouthful of hot roll, "who has pulled your feathers?" Elli dropped onto a nearby rock with a deep sigh,

"Andrew," she said, putting a world of meaning into the name. Meris grinned, "What's he done now?"

"Mumma found me talking to Gramma, and made me go and tell him that we had traded duties." Meris winced, "Elli, no! That means I'm in for a lecture again!"

"Yes, except that by the time he gets round to you, he'll have cooled off."

"So what did he say?" Meris sat next to her friend, her face sympathetic.

"Oh, you know, the usual."

"The usual? Elli, I heard you muttering and grumbling all the way up here."

"I just caught him at a bad time, I suppose." Meris shook her head in wonderment, "Elli you're incredible. You come up here to moan to me about him, and then you end up defending him!" Elli shrugged, her anger rarely lasted and the walk up to the watch point had enabled her to regain control over herself.

"I suppose I can see his point," she allowed reluctantly. Meris looked at her, "You're not in love with him are you?"

"Meris!" Elli glared at her friend who giggled irrepressibly.

"You know that your mother is always throwing you at him."

"My mother would not do something so undignified. Besides, she can't force the matter even if I did love him. Which I don't."

"Sure you don't." Meris couldn't resist getting a rise out of Elli and was rewarded with a cold look that turned into a chuckle as her friend saw the ploy.

"Tease. Eat your roll before it gets cold."

"Mmm. So, have you decided which calashi you want to mate with Isha when she rises?" Elli raised her eyebrows at such a question from her friend, "You know that it isn't possible for me to direct her choice. I don't care who it is anyway, it's Isha's rising, not mine." Meris eyed her meaningfully and Elli rose to the bait, "If you're suggesting that I should choose Andrew..."

"Me?" Meris looked innocent and Elli scowled at her for a moment before she continued, "Isha can choose for herself. It's nerve-racking enough without having to think about directing her."

"Are you nervous?" Meris put her arm around Elli's shoulders.

"Wouldn't you be?"

"I don't know. Shaya hasn't matured yet, so I have no experience. You'll have to tell me all about it afterwards, so I know what to expect," Meris paused before asking curiously, "I know you're going to say that you can't tell when a calashi will rise, but do you have any... I don't know, clues or hints or anything."

"You mean apart from living in an emotional wind storm courtesy of Isha, who, incidentally, barely notices?" Meris grinned, "Doesn't seem fair does it. We get to go through all these ups and downs twice over and the calashi just sail right through it." Elli considered her own behaviour of the past few days and how it had affected Isha.

"Not quite sail," she said slowly. Meris shrugged, "Same difference." Elli made a face at her and they were quiet, lost in inward speculation until Meris remembered the reason for her being up at the watchpoint.

"How did the story go then? You didn't get Aily to tell you about Elli and Kailan did you, because you know I want to be there to listen to that one, it's so romantic." Elli let herself be distracted willingly, her face lighting up as she answered, "No, she only did the history of Shyan, don't worry. And Meris, I've had the most wonderful thought." Meris eyed her, suspicious of this sudden enthusiasm.

"Is this going to involve another night duty for me?" Elli laughed, "No, silly. But do you remember the end of that story? Where it says that some left Shyan, carrying what bounty they could?" Meris thought furiously and gave a reluctant affirmative.

"What do you think that bounty could have been?" Elli asked, eagerly snatching at this new subject to divert her thoughts from the rising. She jumped to her feet to pace around the small area that wasn't taken up with Shaya's feathered bulk.

"If they were running from plague, I should imagine it was food and clothing. Maybe a few jewels, or some tokens." Elli rolled her eyes at Meris, "But why wouldn't they just say that, instead of calling it bounty?"

"Well I don't know!" Meris bundled the cloth the roll had been wrapped in, into her pocket and sipped gingerly at the hot tea.

"Maybe your grandmother just called it that for the sake of the story." Elli looked scornful, "Meris, honestly. Gramma is a record keeper, you know how detailed they have to be."

"Well I still don't know the answer. Why don't you go and check the records for yourself."

"I will, but it will have to be tomorrow now. Andrew gave me transport duties in the morning since I traded with you and I'll need to be up early." Meris delayed her with a question, unwilling to let go of her company so easily.

"All right, what do you think this bounty is." Elli frowned, "I'm not really sure..."

"You must have some idea. There's no point chasing a word from a story that might lead to a treasure if all you're going to find is some mouldy old cloth, or a few tokens." Elli bit her lip thoughtfully.

"No, there wouldn't be much point in that, but then, that isn't exactly bounty, is it?" Meris raised her hands, "How should I know! Come on Elli, I know you have an idea or you wouldn't be chasing this."

"I think it might be some sort of record."

"A record book? What sort of treasure is that?"

"Knowledge, Meris. That would be bounty."

"Knowledge! I had enough of that in tutoring. You can leave me out of it, thank you very much." Meris scoffed and Elli grinned and shook her head, "What is written in record books can be really informative, look how much we learnt about Shyan and the herbalcraft from theirs."

"And you still want to look for some more?" Meris was losing interest and sensing this, Elli shrugged, "Yes, I do. I find it fascinating. I better go, Meris, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Right, good night."

"Don't go to sleep!" Elli shot over her shoulder. Meris made some remark that Elli couldn't hear and she grinned as she made her way back to her eyrie.

Isha lifted a sleepy head when she entered and sent a shaft of love to her flyer. Elli sighed in contentment and stroked the silky soft feathers on her head.

Was the story good?

Very good, and Gramma was pleased at the news. Elli paused in her caresses and was butted imperiously for her lapse.

That is good, Isha sighed contentedly. What makes your heart heavy? Elli hesitated before answering; I'm in trouble with Andrew for trading duties with Meris and Shaya.

I like him. Elli tapped a gentle finger on Isha's beak.

I'm in trouble with him and you tell me you like him? Contrary calashi. Besides, he said some very hurtful things.

I like him, Isha repeated complacently, the itch is further down. Elli willingly moved to scratch further down her calashi's head, laughing as she did so, Traitorous creature! You're supposed to protect me, not side with him.

You like him too.

Only when he's not telling me off.

Even then you do. Elli left off her scratching and crossed her arms in mock indignation.

"You are entirely too cheeky!"

I am your calashi. Elli spluttered for a little, but had to laugh as Isha insistently pushed against her.

Are you insinuating that your feelings merely echo mine?

Scratch lower. Isha didn't answer, and Elli correctly judged that she hadn't understood.

"No I'm not going to stand here and scratch you. I've got to get some sleep, we're up early in the morning for transport duty."

That is good. I like to fly, to lie on the wind.

And interfere. And don't tell me that you are my calashi and that I do it as well. You're a gossip, Isha!

What is gossip?

News, unimportant news.

News is good. News is important. With that, Isha tucked her head under her wing and was silent. Elli eyed the being she loved over all overs with amused exasperation.

"And they say that calashi take their character from their flyers," she muttered in disbelief.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was late afternoon before Elli finally finished her transportation duties and she escaped to the records room, leaving Isha to enjoy the warmth of the summer sun.

"Corcoran?" The archivist was not at his usual haunt by the copydesks at the top of the room and Elli frowned. She wandered among the aisles full of record books, most of them protectively wrapped in leather covers, "Corcoran?" she called again, and almost collided with the portly archivist as he rounded a corner.

"Goodness! Where did you spring from?" Elli smiled in amusement; "I did call you. Twice."

"Did you? I never heard. Well, well." These disjointed words seemed to make up the entire scope of his conversation and he scurried off down another aisle, muttering under his breath. Elli grinned, familiar with his foibles and trailed patiently after him.

"Corcoran?"

"What? Elli, still here?"

"Yes, I need to ask your advice."

"Mine? Goodness. Did you come to help me with some copying?" Elli suppressed a laugh and quietly relieved him of the books he was carrying, thus gaining his complete attention.

"I need you to tell me about Shyan."

"Me? Goodness. Well, well." He blinked at her absently and Elli hurried on in case he was distracted again.

"Corcoran, in the stories that Gramma tells me, it says that those who fled Shyan during the plague took what bounty with them that they could carry."

"They did? Well, well, very sensible I'm sure."

"I need to know what that bounty might have been." She had finally captured Corcoran's attention with this question and she could almost see him turning it over and over in his mind.

"Hmm," he muttered distractedly, "well, well. Goodness. No one has ever asked about that."

"No. Probably because it has taken so long to compile all the records. But somewhere you must have a list of what was contained in the eyrie, before the plague and after."

"Doubtless I do have such a list. But whether it will tell you what you want to know... Well, well, come on." He hurried off down the aisles, turning at seeming random intervals but Elli was confident enough of Corcoran's knowledge of his records to follow with alacrity. When they reached yet another of the unmarked row of shelving, Corcoran spread his arms.

"This entire row is made up of copies of the Shyan records. Ordered by date, but you'll have to search for the information yourself." Elli eyed the enormous quantity of books with a sigh, and handed the records she was holding back to the archivist.

"Thank you, Corcoran."

"Well, well. If you need any help..." He disappeared, leaving Elli smiling at the offer, knowing that he would never hear her call for him.

"I think I've chosen an impossible task," she murmured, wondering if she could manage to gain enough of Meris' interest for her to help.

Isha, would you ask Shaya to ask Meris if she would help me in the records room? There was a short pause as her calashi obligingly passed the message along.

She says that it is a chase for feathers. Why are you chasing feathers? I have plenty to give to you. Elli laughed.

That's very kind, Isha; but Meris means that I'm trying to find the impossible.

Why? Elli thought this through, trying to find an answer Isha would accept.

Because I want to, it's important to me to learn more. This seemed to satisfy her calashi for she didn't reply and Elli returned to the records before her with a sigh. Maybe Meris was right and she was chasing after feathers, but the thought that there might be something out there to be found that no one else knew about was exciting. That it was also linked to Shyan, stories of which she had been hearing since she could remember, made it even more enticing.

She suppressed a traitorous little voice that told her burying her thoughts in research wasn't going to make her worries about Isha's rising go away. It wasn't difficult to ignore her misgivings as she started methodically going through the record books. And she put out of her mind her fears to deal with her search for treasure, not recognising that the intensity of her interest was at odds with her normally sensible view of the world.

An amused voice roused her from her study, "Still looking for your bounty?" Elli started, almost dropping the heavy book. A strong hand reached out to steady the volume as she exclaimed, "Andrew! How did you know what I was doing?"

"I came by earlier looking for you. It took a while, but I finally managed to get Corcoran to tell me what you were about," he shared a laughing look with Elli, well familiar with the eccentricities of the archivist, "and Meris confirmed it. Do you realise that it is past evening meal?"

"Is it? No wonder I'm hungry." She caught an odd expression on Andrew's face and frantically ran her mind over the duty list she had only glanced at earlier.

"Was I supposed to be somewhere?" she asked anxiously. He paused for a moment, causing Elli's stomach to drop with the dread that she had forgotten one of her duties.

"No. Would it have mattered if you had?" Elli bit her lip at his words, eyeing him in confusion at his curt words, "Of course!"

"But you wouldn't have remembered. Elli you have responsibilities, you can't just drop everything to chase after dreams and stories." His face was grim, and the odd expression that she couldn't decipher was back in his eyes.

"I didn't! I didn't have any duties and Isha..." she trailed off guiltily and Andrew shook his head,

"You can't rely on Isha to remind you of your duties." Elli was torn between shame and rebellion and stared fixedly at the floor in an effort to control her emotions.

"You talk as if I do this on a regular basis," she said in a low voice. "I slip up once, and even then it was only to trade duties, and now you accuse me as if I've done something terrible. Why do you keep on at me so!" Andrew sighed and leaned back against the shelving. Elli was puzzled by the emotion that flashed over his face, wondering why he should look so uncomfortable and somehow, unhappy.

"I'm not. You're still a young flyer, Elli, experience comes with time and it's my job to make sure that until you can be fully trusted you don't do anything too foolish. You should remember that you and Isha are going to be a mature pair quite soon, that involves a lot more than what you do at the moment." He spoke gently, but a hint of iron behind his tone made Elli bridled indignantly and she forgot about her confusion in her anger.

"You don't need to remind me and I haven't done anything foolish yet! I've done nothing to make you think you can't trust me, on the contrary, I've worked hard to earn the trust of the other flyers." Andrew's mouth twisted, but Elli didn't notice.

"I know, I keep an eye on everyone, not just on you." Elli shoved the record book she had been holding back into its place and marched past him.

"Fine. I'm going for something to eat, do you want to watch me and approve my choice?" Andrew gave her a ghost of a smile and shook his head.

"No. Enjoy your meal." He waited until her footsteps had faded and then made his own way out of the maze of shelving, pausing just before the exit. Kiether, his wingleader came out of the shadows and smiled at him, "She looked to be upset, what did you say to her?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary," said Andrew with a rueful smile, "but everything wrong, as you wanted. She's on edge so Isha must be fairly close to rising."

"Is actually she picking up on Isha's changes, or is she just nervous?" persisted Kiether. Andrew was silent for a moment, his brow furrowed, "It's difficult to say. Earlier I would have said she was just worried, but after the discussion we've just had..." Andrew shrugged, "I would say Isha is definitely close to rising, Elli's reactions were all off." Kiether looked thoughtful and gestured for Andrew to fall in beside him as he walked.

"We'll have to keep her close to the eyrie then." Andrew hesitated, "Not noticeably, Kiether. She's afraid and anxious, we'll just add to her fears if she thinks that we're tying her to eyrie duties. At the moment the rising is something she's managed to put to the back of her mind. This apparent obsession with the bounty of Shyan is probably a symptom of that. You know as well I do how unpredictable the timing of a first rising is, and if Elli knows what we're doing there will be no point in it. It could be another few weeks and it just wouldn't be practical to keep her close for that long." Kiether sighed.

"All right. For the moment we'll just keep a close eye on her. I trust I can leave that to you?"

"Oh, thanks, Kiet, just what I wanted. Keep an eye on a volatile young flyer and her calashi." The wingleader laughed at his friend's lack of enthusiasm.

"What's the matter? I thought you two were friends." Andrew looked a little uncomfortable and mumbled something the other man couldn't make out before saying louder, "I think I prefer shepherding flyers who aren't quite so deeply empathic with their calashi." Kiether shook his head.

"I always found it easier to get a rise out of them, especially if normally they're fairly calm like Elli is. She's a total mirror of Isha's emotional state at the moment and you'll be able to get a fairly good idea of how close she might be." Andrew sighed heavily.

"I really hate this part of the job, Kiet. Besides all the other considerations, Elli is my friend and she's already suspicious of why I'm suddenly treating her so strangely. It's cruel."

"She'll soon forget it," said Kiether confidently, "and you know how necessary it is. I don't think either of them has ever been further apart from each other than the distance of the eyrie, the shock of Isha rising and then actually flying away without her flyer can be dangerous. Especially when they're deeply linked." Andrew acquiesced reluctantly, "I still wished you would have picked someone else for this."

Kiether clapped his hand onto Andrew's shoulder in a friendly gesture that spoke volumes for his amusement and relief that the task wasn't his.

"But you're so good at it!"

"And you hate it so much," Andrew countered. "All right, I don't suppose I have much choice. Maybe I can get Jerush to keep an eye on Isha and avoid contact as much as I can."

"You'll get a male calashi to keep an eye on a junior female," Kiether mused and then chuckled, "genius. Keep me informed."

He strode off down the corridor, leaving Andrew standing in the middle feeling vaguely put upon and dissatisfied.

You do not want the task? I thought that you liked Isha's flyer. Jerush intruded on his thoughts and Andrew moved slowly back to his own quarters.

I do like her. He admitted, but it is before Isha's rising and she's afraid.

Take away her fear.

It isn't as simple as that.

I do not understand. You like her, she is afraid, you will help her. Andrew smiled and accepted the words,

Yes, you're right, he sighed softly, I will help her, but I don't think she will appreciate how I have to do it.

You will make it right for her, I know. Andrew almost laughed out loud at the confidently smug overtones of this response and walked on with a slightly lighter step.

 

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