Despite their caution however, Elli quickly noticed that she was being carefully watched and Isha had confirmed it when she ingenuously mentioned that Jerush was asking where they were going.
Why do they watch us? Elli paused in her pacing. She and Isha were on watch duty and the boredom seemed to be affecting her more this time than at others.
Because you will rise soon and they want to make sure that you are close by.
I am not afraid of the rise. They do not watch the others.
Not the mature females, but because this is your first mating they are watching to make sure everything is all right.
I do not need watching. Isha sounded vaguely irritated and Elli realised that she was picking up on her flyer's emotions. She sighed and moved to soothe her calashi with gentle strokes under the beak.
I know that. But it is only to keep you safe. Isha tossed her head, refusing to be calmed.
I do not need watching! Elli took several deep breaths in order to calm her own emotions, trying to sort out what were her own feelings and what emanated from Isha.
"If it keeps you safe from harm, then I don't mind them watching. I want everything to be perfect for you, Isha. I don't want you to get hurt." The verbal communication seemed to soothe her.
I will not get hurt!
"I know, dearheart. Everything will be fine." With an effort, Elli turned her thoughts resolutely to another subject so that Isha wouldn't pick up on her worries, but later that night when Isha was sleeping, her mind drifted back to the discussion. She knew that she was picking up on the emotional changes in Isha, but somehow, rather than controlling it as she had been told to do, the feelings just went back and forth between them, becoming amplified in the process. Her fears triggered a response in Isha, and the calashi's feelings made Elli irritable and magnified the fear of what was to come. Being told what happened at a first mating was a lot different to actually experiencing it, and the gruesome tales that went around the novices only served to make Elli feel worse. She shivered under the bed clothes and drew them closer around her. Maybe Andrew was right and she did listen to too many stories.
Elli tossed restlessly, suddenly too hot, and flung the covers back. Making a decision, she jumped out of bed, pulled a long tunic on over her nightclothes and padded quietly out of the room, careful not to wake her calashi. Reaching her destination, she knocked softly on the wooden panel bolted to the wall.
"Gramma?" There was rustle of movement in the room and then the curtain swung to one side, "Elli? I thought it was only old people who were awake at this time of night. Come in." Aily led her into the bedroom and patted her hand on the bed, indicating she should sit beside her.
"Now, what's keeping you awake, pet?" Elli took a deep breath and let everything out in a rush, "Isha's first mating." Aily nodded slowly, her expression thoughtful, "Wouldn't it be better to speak to your mother, pet? She has a lot more actual experience."
"She would just repeat what she said before, what everyone says, Gramma."
"I don't think I can tell you much more, Elli."
"But you've lived so much longer," Elli's normally sensitive nature was buried under her distress and she missed the amusement that flashed over Aily's face. "And Grampa was a flyer." Aily put her arm around her granddaughter's shoulders and hugged her tight.
"So he was," she murmured, trying to get her sleepy mind to formulate an answer Elli would accept.
"Gramma, do you think that I'm irresponsible?" Aily blinked at this sudden change of subject, thinking that her old brain was beyond coping with the lightening-quick thought processes of her granddaughter.
"Irresponsible, pet? Why would you ask that?" She stalled, her heart suddenly pounding at the thought that somehow Elli had overhead the conversation between her and Lani.
"Andrew mentioned it. Twice. I'm not am I, Gramma?" The appeal was heart wrenchingly childish, and a flash of understanding lit Aily's eyes and her response was unhesitating, love and relief evident in her words.
"Of course not! And I doubt that Andrew thinks so either." Elli frowned, "How can you say that? Why did he say that if he didn't mean it?" Aily smiled and gently stroked back a lock of Elli's hair in a soothing gesture.
"You know how important it is to make sure the first rising of a female calashi is safe. You also know how difficult it is to predict when such an event occurs. Normally the flyer can give some indications, but for the first time, you're both inexperienced and fearful and the emotions are uncontrolled. So the other flyers are always on the watch and since it's pointless asking the calashi for information, they have to find other ways to narrow the time scale a little." Elli frowned a moment, "You mean through the flyer? But I don't know when it's going to happen either."
"Yes, I know that and so do they. But if you know where and how to look, there are clues." Aily now had reason to be glad of Elli's quick mind as she put the information together, "Is that what Andrew was doing? Testing my behaviour to see how close Isha is to rising?"
"But that's horrible! And cruel." Aily chuckled, "I'm sure Andrew agrees with you. I remember that Teo, your grandfather, always had that rather unsavoury job." Seeing that Elli was frowning in disbelief, Aily continued.
"They have to find things to say that under different circumstances you would react differently to. For instance, Andrew used the accusation that you weren't doing your job properly, whereas normally your own confidence in your abilities would mean that you could defend yourself easily. They have to be careful not to get too personal and of course, they have to have a certain knowledge of the flyer. The job is normally allocated to the wing second. Don't be too angry, pet, it's all done for yours and Isha's safety." Elli had been struggling with a mixture of anger and indignation but upon hearing the words that she spoken to Isha earlier she relaxed a little. Seeing this, and knowing that Elli wouldn't be able to sort out everything that was worrying her all at once, Aily changed the subject, unconsciously choosing a subject that was concerning her a little.
"How is your search for the bounty of Shyan going?" Elli recognised the distraction for what it was and gave her grandmother a lopsided smile, but answered evenly.
"It isn't. I haven't really been able to get back to the archives, and there are just so many records that it could take forever." Aily looked thoughtful, "Are you going to give up?"
"No," Elli said slowly, "but I might just let it slide a little. When Isha has laid her eggs I might look into it more. I'd have more time."
"It would be a shame to disregard it entirely. Sometimes the best discoveries are made by examining the meaning behind a few words."
"You just say that because you're as curious as I am!" Elli smiled, the gesture becoming more pronounced as Aily laughed softly in response.
"Of course. I'm an archivist by choice as well as by trade."
"That's all very well, but I haven't even found if the words that you spoke are the ones used in the records."
"The thrill of the search. Do you know what you're looking for?" Elli shook her head, "Only theories."
"What theories?" Elli glanced at her, a little puzzled by what she heard behind the question.
"Is something wrong, Gramma?"
"No, pet," Aily made sure not to answer too hastily, alarmed that her fears were so apparent, "I'm just being curious."
"Oh," Elli eyed her thoughtfully but continued, "I was only thinking that it wouldn't be anything like cloth or tokens, because that isn't really bounty, is it? So I thought, maybe some sort of record book? I'm going to check to see if there are any obvious gaps and go from there, what do you think?" Aily smiled, "Sounds like a good idea, pet."
"You don't think I'm chasing feathers, do you, Gramma?"
"Why should you think that, pet? Besides, most research is taken up with chasing possible leads and coming up with dead ends, it's just a learning process." Elli smiled again and leaned around to hug her, pressing a kiss to the age-soft cheek.
"Thank you for listening, Gramma."
"Anytime, pet, you know that. Now you go and try to get some sleep before tomorrow." Elli nodded, kissed her again and murmured a farewell. Aily watched the slim figure disappear through the curtain and the smile dropped from her face. She had lived all her life in one eyrie or another, had heard all the variations on the stories that had frightened every novice and were now scaring her beloved granddaughter. She had watched Lani go through the very same process, but somehow it seemed more poignant in Elli and Aily knew that her granddaughter's very nature meant that she was more affected by the idea than her mother had been. She considered telling Andrew, in his role as wing second, about the meeting she had just had, knowing from experience that it was sign of the impending rising, but dismissed it as quickly, aware that he would already be watching Elli as closely as he could.
Aily sighed softly, wishing for the words and wisdom of her husband to soothe away her own fears, but Teo was long gone and hopefully Elli would deal with the experience and afterwards wonder why she had worried about it so much. As for this bounty... Aily firmly pushed her worries into a dark corner of her mind, calling herself ridiculous for even entertaining the notion of plague and tried to resume her sleep.
The illness that seemed to be going round the eyrie meant that there was a shortage of qualified flyers, so Andrew had been forced to forego his desire to keep Isha and Elli close to the eyrie and assign them to deliver important messages between the major and minor Shakiri domum healers. This, combined with the talk she'd had with her grandmother had comforted and calmed Elli a little, relaxing Isha in the process and she was determined not to let her emotions affect her calashi and so repressed her fears firmly.
We have one more message to deliver to Chief Podun at Kishira for his healer and then we are done.
We can go home? Elli smiled.
Lazy creature. All you want to do is sun yourself.
I have flown high and far, it is deserved. Elli laughed and tugged affectionately at a handful of feathers,
Yes, it is definitely deserved. If you fly faster, we can be done sooner, and you can go and warm yourself on the perch. Isha didn't reply, but Elli was aware of an increase in their speed and she crouched lower to offer less resistance, revelling in the sensation of flying so high and fast.
They returned from the domum after delivering their message at a slower pace, much to Isha's disgruntlement.
I do not understand what we are looking for. Feeling the rise in irritation in her calashi, Elli absently stroked at Isha's neck feathers that were within her reach and concentrated on keeping her answer quiet and even.
The chief mentioned that the rains of four nights ago have been heavy enough to cause damage to some of the hills near his domum. He is worried that it may have extended further and wants us to check.
Because it may be a danger to the farmers and woodlanders. From above we can see more than they might on the ground.
Isha said nothing, but her usual willingness to stay in the air was completely missing, and Elli struggled with her worry about her calashi and the sudden desire to be home, and the knowledge that it was the responsibility of a flyer to investigate a chief's concerns. She was distracted from these thoughts by a flash of darker green in the trees below them.
Down there. Isha fly lower and circle that position. Pulling the visual location from her flyer's mind, Isha obediently slowed and descended.
I see it, Isha confirmed the location, tightening her circle. Elli squinted in an effort to make the detail sharper,
Despite their efforts, neither could identify the darker green area and Elli hesitated only for a moment before ordering Isha to inform the calashi on watch at Shakiri of their position.
I have told Hesh. Elli frowned.
Rofik is only a novice, will he know to pass the message on?
I have told Hesh. Isha repeated implacably and Elli shrugged in reluctant acceptance.
<i>Very well. Let's land. It should be warm enough for you to sun yourself down there as easily as at the eyrie. She added the last to pacify the petulant feelings of her calashi.
The sultry, afternoon heat hit Elli as soon as she slid off Isha, and she quickly pulled her heavy flying jacket off. She wiped at her forehead, finding it already sticky with perspiration and began to regret the idea of coming to investigate when she could quite reasonably have gone back to the eyrie and let someone else trudge through the woods. Isha pushed her discomfort to the background by her smug remark.
I like it here. Elli grinned, and tugged off her tunic top as well, leaving her clad in a thin vest top and her trousers.
"Of course you do," she said affectionately, relieved that the calashi's irritability seemed to have faded, "it's hot and sticky, even the breeze is warm. What's not to like." Isha spread her wings slightly, before settling them to her satisfaction.
It is warm. I like it warm. Elli reached up to stroke the soft feathers and smiled, realising how relieved she was to have Isha back to her usual self.
"I know you do. Wait here for me, I'll try not to be too long."
I always wait, you are my flyer, came the patient reply. Elli grinned as a sense of well-being came over her and she moved away from Isha into the woods.
The ground beneath her feet was cool from the shade of the trees, and Elli sighed with relief to be out of the heat of the day. While Isha preferred the warmth, Elli found it oppressive and was glad to escape it.
She was so engrossed in looking for some physical sign of the darker green she had seen from the air, that she failed to notice how damp the ground had become until she slipped and fell. Elli muttered a curse as she caught at a protruding root, stood cautiously and tried to brush the stains from her trousers. She took another step and her feet slid away again, her hand wrenching off the root as she twisted and fell, continuing a downward slide that seemed to become alarmingly fast. With a yelp, Elli tried desperately to grab another handhold and failed as the ground disappeared beneath her altogether and she dropped into darkness.
Elli sat up dazedly and immediately regretted the action as her head started to pound. She groaned and pressed a hand to her temples, wincing as her fingers found a sore spot and came away sticky. She sat motionless for a few moments, becoming aware of a throbbing in both her left wrist from where she had twisted as she fell, and her right hip from the way she had landed in this damp, black hole.
Instinctively she reached out with her mind to Isha to call for help, and reeled at the horrible emptiness, worse than any physical pain.
"Isha?" She mouthed the name, her voice deserting her in her shock.
Relief flooded back as she realised that their empathic link was still active, but her calashi felt impossibly distant and a horrible fear that Isha was injured churned inside of her. Trying to ignore the various throbbing aches of her body, Elli staggered to her feet as if to bring Isha closer, and concentrated on calling the calashi, frowning at the odd sensations that returned. She almost fell again as realisation flooded her befuddled mind.
Isha had risen to mate without her support and love to back her.
A sob caught in her throat and she dropped to one knee. She had failed Isha when she had most needed her. Her remaining strength deserted her and Elli let herself fall onto her side, regardless of the pain and let the tears flow. She felt that she had lost control over her life and instead of being there to share with Isha in her prime indication of maturity, she had been lying unconscious and useless when the calashi had been forced to rise by the insistant call of nature.
How long she lay before she heard them, Elli didn't know, but it took a while for the familiar voices to penetrate her misery and self-loathing.
"She may be unconscious. If she fell all that distance."
"What is it anyway?" Elli identified Meris' voice and then Andrew's answering her, "A stream comes out a little way from here. The rains must have swollen it underground and it has undercut the soil." There was pause and then he called her name again, "Elli!"
"One of us is going to have to go down." Elli frowned as she tried to put a name to the voice, less familiar than Meris' and Andrew's.
"Jerush says that she's conscious. ELLI!" Elli sat up and called out shakily, "Andrew?"
"Thank the heights," came the fervent murmur. "Elli, I'm going to lower a rope down to you. There's stone to weight it, so be careful."
"I... I don't think I can climb up." She heard the other voice again, but couldn't make out what was said.
"That's all right," Andrew's voice was calm and Elli found that she was oddly comforted by knowing he was there. Andrew had continued giving instructions as if he was talking to a young child, "Just find the rope, remove the stone and put your foot in the loop. We'll pull you up, you only need to hold on."
Elli heard a soft thud of the stone landing nearby and groped for it in the darkness, finding it more by luck than judgement. As she fumbled to remove the stone, she realised that there was no feeling in her fingers and they were shaking with cold. Putting her foot in the loop, she wrapped the rope around her uninjured wrist and tugged for them to start to pulling.
The brightness of the light outside made her blink and it was a relief to reach the top of the slope where willing hands pulled her onto firm ground.
"Well I hope you're proud of yourself." Elli shivered as Vedion chastised her. She wasn't proud of herself at all, she felt numb and exhausted and quite unable to form a reply.
"Oh, Vedion be quiet," Meris snapped at the other flyer, "can't you see she's in no state for this now." Elli was barely aware of Andrew kneeling beside her, his hands gentle as he lifted her hair, matted with blood, away from the cut on her head.
"Are you hurt anywhere else?" he asked, his voice soft. Elli shivered again, the day that had been so hot, suddenly seeming cold. Vedion stood before her, his hands on his hips, eye flashing in ill-concealed anger.
"Only an idiot would decide to go for a walk in the woods when her calashi is so close to rising. Do you realise that Isha rose without you? Are you even vaguely aware of what might have happened to her if this accident had forced her to rise early?"
"Vedion!" Meris was on her feet, her posture aggressive, an unconscious mirror of the other flyer's. Andrew glanced up, "Be quiet, both of you." His low voice was a complete contrast to their raised tones.
"You can't defend her, Andrew! Why didn't she tell someone what she was doing? I've never known anyone to be so irresponsible!" The wingsecond rose to his feet, his anger held closely in check, but easily seen in the flash of his eyes, "Be quiet! You have no right to chastise her. No right at all." One of the accusations Vedion made penetrated the fog in Elli's mind and she struggled to put her defence into words.
"I told Rofik. Isha," Elli faltered but then continued, "told Hesh." Vedion made a disgusted noise and then strode a few steps away as Andrew held up a warning hand. Meris muttered a general deprecation to all novices and joined the wingsecond as he returned to kneel beside Elli.
"I shall have a word with Rofik when we return." He spoke more for the benefit of the other two, his eyes anxiously scanning her white face. "We only realised something was wrong when Kiether mentioned that he had no contact with you in the link between Guyamesh and Isha." Meris nodded speaking urgently to try and make her friend understand,
"Guyamesh flew Isha, Elli. She's fine, really, it was her time, that was all. It's not your fault." Elli was lost in a world that was darkening about her and she shivered convulsively, not hearing Andrew's question her again about her injuries.
Meris stared at the wingsecond in distress.
"We should get her back, Andrew, she's acting very strangely." He pulled off his flying jacket and carefully wrapped it around the slender figure,
"That must be the head injury." He gently lifted Elli into his arms and rose, trying not to jar her, aware of the possibility of internal injuries. Trying not to imagine what damage might have been done by her being excluded from the mating flight.
"I'll take her with me on Jerush. Vedion," the flyer looked up, his jaw still clenched and Andrew sighed, "I want you to fence this area off, it isn't safe. When we get back to the eyrie I want you to make sure this is properly dealt with, use whoever you need to help you." He strode off and Meris hurried after him.
"He doesn't deserve to be your deputy," she muttered. Andrew glanced at her, "Keep those thoughts to yourself, Meris." She flushed and concentrated on picking her way over the ground.
Andrew ignored her, his thoughts more focused on the still form in his arms. He didn't think that Elli was unconscious, but her eyes had a glazed look that worried him, and her pallor was alarming. More than that was her seeming total lack of connection with the world around her. Even when she had said that she had informed Rofik and Hesh of her location she'd looked abstracted and distant.
The three calashi were waiting patiently and as Jerush lowered himself to the ground as much as he could for Andrew to mount, he spoke to his flyer,
Guyamesh says that Isha is becoming afraid for her flyer.
Yes. Fly fast, Jerush, I'm afraid for Elli as well.
Andrew gently placed Elli on the nearest bed as he walked into the infirmary, moving out of the way as Gerrick came over to them from where he had been checking on another flyer.
"She fell down a hole. She's been very vague since we pulled her out and I think that there may be other injuries apart from the head wound." Gerrick was already checking the cut, his fingers on the pulse at her neck as he did so.
"Gerrick, Isha rose while she was underground and I don't think Elli was a part of it at all." The healer looked up, startled, but his voice was calm, "I see. Take her boots off would you." Andrew moved to obey even as Gerrick called for the nurse.
"Talya, I'll need your help. If only she had been wearing her flying jacket," he muttered softly as his skilful fingers worked.
"Guyamesh and Jerush are concerned about Isha," Andrew continued, his fingers working to unlace the boots, "is there any way we can revive Elli enough to talk to her calashi? It might help her, the shock of Isha's rising..." he trailed off as Gerrick didn't even glance at him as he shook his head, and Andrew caught a glimpse of the reason for this concentration when he noticed the vivid bruise that already covered Elli's hip and side.
"I'm not going to try anything with her like this, especially not with a head injury. Get the other calashi to keep Isha calm, have Netia and Dashava talk to her. I'm sure Elli will be fine, she and Isha have a deep, solid link and if the calashi is all right, generally so is the flyer in these instances." Andrew nodded at the reference to the firstwoman of the eyrie, hiding his worry behind brisk words.
"All right. Will you keep us informed, Gerrick."
"Yes." With one last look behind him, Andrew strode out of the room.
Jerush, will you tell Calwin and Kiether I need to speak with them?
They are waiting in the office of the eyrie leader. Fanush's flyer is there also.
Vedion? Andrew frowned, I told him to make sure the area around the hole was made safe.</i> Jerush didn't answer, but added another piece of information,
Dashava's flyer waits also.
Andrew walked into the eyrie leaders office at that moment and saw the firstwoman just as Jerush finished speaking.
"Andrew," Calwin stood from where he had been talking to his wife, "how is Elli?" Kiether and Vedion broke off an intense conversation and turned to face him also.
"I don't know," Andrew flashed Vedion a look as he spoke, and the flyer had the grace to look slightly ashamed. "Gerrick was still working when I left. There was no change from when I brought her in, and he said that he couldn't risk trying to wake her to talk to Isha. He did suggest that Dashava might be able to calm her though," he looked at Netia as he finished and she nodded, "Good idea," she said, "I'll get her to keep an eye on her."
"How much do we know of what happened?" Calwin settled himself in his chair, gesturing for the others to follow his example. With a glance at Kiether to confirm his taking the lead, Andrew began the explanations.
"I'd assigned Elli and Isha to courier duties. I couldn't justify keeping them actually in the eyrie when there were so many other things that needed doing. I haven't had a chance to speak to Rofik and Hesh yet, but I believe they were the ones on watch and Elli said that she passed a message to them as to why she had stopped to investigate that area."
"I spoke to Rofik," Kiether put in when his wingsecond paused. "When you went to look for Elli, I found out who had the watch duty and went to speak to them. The silly boy didn't think to pass the message on. Ordinarily it might not have mattered, but unfortunately things didn't quite work out and by the time he'd remembered it was too late to tell you. Apparently Chief Podun mentioned how bad the ground conditions were around his domum and asked Elli to check the surrounding area as she flew home." Andrew nodded and continued.
"Elli must have seen something from above and when she went to investigate, lost her footing and slid into the hole, knocking herself out when she landed. The fact that her calashi rose without her seems to have shocked Elli deeply, but Gerrick is saying that since Isha is fine, so will she be."
"He's probably right," Netia murmured quietly, "but we'll watch her to make sure."
"She should never have gone to look in the first place," Vedion spoke into the silence, "she should have had the sense to just mark the position and go back to the eyrie to let someone else investigate. Especially with her calashi so near to rising."
"Vedion," Kiether frowned at the flyer.
"I thought I had asked you to make sure the area was made safe," said Andrew tightly. Vedion was immediately on the defensive, "I did. I roped it off and sent some flyers to put up some notices and some fencing."
"I meant for you to co-ordinate," said Andrew, his eyes flashing with anger, "not to foist it off on to someone else." Vedion tossed his head, a mutinous expression on his face.
"I think that she should be punished for her neglect. Send her to another eyrie. All these novices think they can get away with murder, especially when they've known all the other flyers from their infancy." A shocked silence filled the room, and then Kiether jumped to his feet.
"You've said quite enough, Vedion. I want you to wait for me in my office."
"Fine! But you'll regret it if you let her get away with it. You'll see." The flyer strode defiantly out the room.
"Shards," said Netia into the quiet, "I think that you might have made a mistake in choosing him for your deputy, Andrew."
"I'm beginning to see that," the wingsecond said dryly. "Power seems to have gone to his head." Netia nodded, "And he wanted Fanush to be the one to mate with Isha."
"By the heights, why?" Calwin looked in astonishment at his wife who smiled at his apparent blindness, "Because he's jealous of Elli and her position in the eyrie. By having Fanush catch Isha, he thought to gain a better standing. I also think that he is attracted to Elli and thought to bring himself to her notice." Andrew wrinkled his nose,
"Good grief," he muttered. Calwin was shaking his head in disbelief, "And how do you know all this?" Netia smiled and shook her head, "It isn't important how, I'm just giving you a reason for his behaviour."
"It doesn't excuse it in any way," said Kiether, still irate.
"I'm not saying that it does."
"We've gone off the subject," Calwin redirected their thoughts. "However much I hate to admit it, Vedion might have had a valid point in his idea of sending Elli away."
"No," Andrew interrupted him, "she'll view it as a punishment if you do, and she didn't do anything really wrong. She isn't a novice and maybe she showed poor judgement for investigating when she should have returned home, but you can't send her away for doing her duty as a flyer."
"We wouldn't send her away for that, Andrew, and don't worry, we'd make sure she knew the reason."
"What reason?" Kiether came in unexpectedly in support of his wingsecond, "I'm not sure I want to lose Elli and Isha, they're excellent additions to my wing."
"I can appreciate that, Kiet, but we've become a little slack recently in exchanging our novices and junior flyers between the eyries to give them more experience. In Elli's case, she has come from a line of flyer's, mostly wingleaders, and if her self-assurance comes from knowing everyone here, it might make her a little more careless than if she were where no one knew her. She'll also be able to take on a greater scope of duties since they're now a mature pair and it might be easier for her to do that away from Shakiri where this entire incident isn't so well known. It will take her away from Vedion for a little as well, cool that young man off a little." Netia nodded in agreement, she was a firm advocate for flyer exchanges.
"In addition, earning the friendship and trust of another group of flyers might boost her self-confidence, and." Andrew was shaking his head, trying to suppress an inner alarm at his leader's words. He rather thought that they were sending Elli away because of what had happened, despite their reassurances.
"No, I think you're wrong. Elli would be the last person to take such an advantage of her connections in the eyrie. She's had to work as hard as anyone else to earn the trust and respect of the other flyers, maybe even harder, and she's valued for it. If you send her away now, just after everything seems to have gone wrong, she'll be miserable." Calwin sighed, obviously torn.
"What if we sent Meris with her as well. In fact, several of the younger flyers from each wing," Netia suggested, glancing round the three men to gauge their reactions.
"She won't be able to go until she's better anyway, and by then we can have worked to reconcile her to the idea," Kiether spoke slowly, turning the idea over in his mind. Andrew gazed at him, "I still don't think that it's a good idea," he muttered, aware that the others didn't share his view. "I think you using this as an excuse to let things cool down while she isn't here. You think that if you send her away then the other junior flyers won't feel so bad about their first risings." Calwin's eyes narrowed.
"No, Andrew, that isn't it at all. I am sending Elli away for hers and Isha's benefit. The experience would be very good for them. I admit, that once she's healed enough to take back her duties she might find things a little awkward so I'm hoping to smooth all this over. No one will take much notice if she is sent away, especially since she's never left Shakiri before."
"At least wait until Isha has laid her eggs and the fledglings have linked with their chosen flyers," said Andrew helplessly.
"That would be another three to four months, if Isha laid any eggs at all, since not all the young females do after their first mating. Besides, in two weeks most of the senior novices will graduate, hopefully this virus will have worked it's way around everybody and we'll be clear of it, and if we were to exchange some of the more junior members of each wing, then they too will have the opportunity to fly with different calashi. It would work out perfectly all round." Andrew was silent after Netia's enthusiastic speech, still dealing with his uncertainty. Kiether however, seemed to have taken the idea on with almost as much eagerness as the firstwoman now that his initial doubts had passed.
"If we're going to send Elli to another eyrie, then I think that Meris should stay behind. I've been wanting to split that pair up for a little while, especially for duties. It would do them both good to make other friends and Meris might start to take more responsibility for herself and Shaya instead of relying on Elli all the time. For a young woman whose about to become part of a mature pair herself, Meris shows extraordinary absentmindedness sometimes." Andrew cast a despairing glance at the ceiling and tried to keep his voice as level as he could.
"And where would you think of sending them?" Calwin stroked chin thoughtfully,
"I've been considering that. Bekat at Shohaci has mentioned the possibility of exchange a few times when we met at gather meets."
"Perfect!" exclaimed Netia, "we could keep an easy line of communication open between the eyries and see how everything goes. The actual exchange could take place at the autumn gather meet, the flyers would have the chance to get to know each other in an informal setting..." she smiled around the group and Andrew suppressed a groan, seeing from the expressions of the other three that all was decided. He rose to his feet.
"Fine. I still think that it's a mistake, and I would appreciate it if I wasn't the one to tell Elli," he looked meaningfully at Kiether who shrugged and grinned, "but I'll support you as always."
"I understand your misgivings, Andrew, but we're doing it for the best. Kiether and Netia will talk to Elli when she's a little better. In the meantime there are details to work out." Andrew nodded, "I'm going to see how Elli is doing," he stated and strode out the room without waiting for his leader's dismissal.
"He'll come round," said Kiether confidently, pushing some uneasiness firmly to the back of his mind.
"Of course he will," said Netia firmly, "he's just wrapped up in his worries about her at the moment. It'll be a wonderful experience for them all, and I'm sure Elli will enjoy herself once she's settled in."
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