The lair was one of the largest that Kerik had ever been in. It was even larger than many of the common scout lairs on the northern route. Dart could triple in size and still have room. It also meant that friends could fly in and their Wings could rest there while they stayed. He was a bit humbled by it and wondered if Cursk had given them the wrong one.
The basic lay out was as all Dens. They were in the shape of a rectangle with the lair at the outside end. The bedroom was off the lair with the bathroom always to the left of the lair door and living room to the right.
The living room, bedroom and bathroom lined up against the lair’s back wall. The dining, kitchen and supply room lined up as the second layer cut into the mountain. Most always the door into the inner hallway was off of the dining room.
Inside a den there were no windows but all were well lit with ceiling light panels. Air always circulated gently through gold lined ventilation shafts, or if the magic sealing the lair doors came down, air could blow in through the lair.
Given differences in details and the shape of the natural stone as well as the face of the cliff this was the standard layout of all Dens. Each layer up the cliff face only got larger and more spacious. Rank meant size and size meant rank.
There were Dens with extra rooms for those with children and the higher ranks were said to have lofts above the living room and even windows. But Kerik had never been high enough up the cliff to know if it was true. This was the nicest he had ever been in and by far the largest.
It was furnished rather simply with basic items as to be expected. Over time he would add his own personal style and make it his own. All his personal things were already delivered and set on the dining room table.
There wasn’t much, just a couple boxes of odds and ends, a blanket his grandmother had woven him, and a small wooden chest with his valuable trinkets inside. Kerik trailed his fingers over the smooth tabletop and couldn’t help but think of the scout who had just left his company, he missed him almost desperately. For that he had to had to admit he was indeed suffering Neglect. The idea was terrifying. Dart was very silent about it. Kerik wasn’t sure if that helped or not. Kerik didn’t even know the man’s name he realized and half laughed.
He saw on the table a small silver box. He opened it to find it full of trade chits. More than he had ever had in his life combined. To be able to honor those who aided him or gave him supply was a massive gesture outside the Nest. Few chits ever made it to the hands of the civilians. Most stayed inside the nest, going to the master craftsmen already there or into the chit drawers in the store rooms. From there the Lord Marshel would know what Master or what village would be rewarded for their efforts, but few would ever see the chits themselves. He was still staring at them wondering if they truly left them for him when the door chimed.
He turned and opened it, not sure who would be there, let alone so soon after his arrival. The woman in the door was stunning. She wore dark blue of a Sat and carried a bundle. She stepped in and smiled.
“Yes,” he said staring at her, a bit stunned.
“I am Rah Tarra,” she said.
He nodded, half stuttering that he knew who she was. She was the twin sister of the Keeper and one of the only Sats to fly scout runs. She was also only one of three women to make the rank of Sat.
“Not who you expected?” She asked amused.
“Uh no,” he said.
“Not who Jesop expected to be sent either, but after all the praise he has for you and Dart I thought I’d deliver this all to you.” She stepped past him into the room looking around the lair. “You know he picked this lair for you himself. He always does that when he promotes people.” She set the box she carried on the table and opened it.
“Promote?” He asked still a little stunned.
“He promoted you several months ago to Wing Commander. You have a few training lessons to take to master the needed skills but he thinks you will be able to fly in and pass it without effort. But Teven is the judge not Jesop.”
“Commander? But we barely have enough to fly alone let alone in full Flights.”
“He is sort of trying to shift things about without the council realizing it. He wants Wing Commanders to more-or-less own a territory and a Tower, with his Flight in the local erreis. The Commander will over see them, make sure they are rewarded or scolded as need be. They will be there to keep an eye on things and know their area so they can spot trouble a stranger might miss. I’m sure he will talk to you about it sooner or later.
“He has a few already working but has to be careful to choose commanders who can actually do it. He has been meaning to get you in for a long time but every time it looks about to happen someone gets hurt and he’s up there pulling his hair out in worry for his scouts who pay the price for our lack of numbers.”
“I wasn’t aware he even knew our names.”
“He knows everyone’s name and he knows the good ones in detail. Like he plans to make you commander of your home territory so you can visit family. You wont be going back to the North Reach. Villages with people you knew as a child might be more willing to offer you company as well as giving an insight to those who might be likely candidates for choosing.”
“Oh.” That was a shock and something he had never considered before. It sounded like too much to be true. He had been home only once since he had been picked up and brought to the nest at twelve.
“But for now, Dart has to heal. I’m no dragon healer. He will be here tomorrow in the morning. I am here to deliver all this; starting with a map to the upper hallways and a trade room pass.” She set them on the table. “And,” she pulled out three sets of folded dark brown leather with an almost golden dye to the threads at the edges in a sort of decorative detail that was new. The buckles were etched sliver to show his new rank and not the flat steel of the old buckles that were all smoked dark. She set those on the table. “You can break those in while Dart heals and by time you are both up for it you should make quite a pair.” She smiled and put him so at ease it felt as if they were old friends. “And there is this of course.” She held over his promotion papers and then another folded paper.
He took the second and unfolded it. The letter was written in black ink in the same flowing and beautiful hand that wrote all his orders. He realized that Jesop personally wrote orders out and didn’t hand the job to others. That was something he had never once considered.
“Kerik Dart, I wanted to express my gratitude for the unfair length of time you have spent on the wind. I want you to know I am aware of what you have done for the Nest and that you have not been overlooked. Rank and reward are yours as earned by the sheer time spent on duty, but as there are fewer and fewer I can simply trust to get a job done and turn them lose to do so, I would add a personal reward as well.
Wind to your Wings…Jesop.”
He looked up to the woman a bit unsure what the personal reward might be. She took out the last thing in the box and held it out. It was draped in dark brown velvet. Lifting the fabric he saw a set of daggers that were so stunning in their sheaths and grips he could only stare at them in shock.
They were all in silver and opal with the sheaths etched in spells and the belt hooks dangling with crystals. He slowly took them in disbelief and drew one slowly to see the blade as etched as the sheath. He couldn’t breathe for a moment. He had never seen such craftsmanship and could not imagine them even real.
“These can’t be for me,” he said in awe.
“Oh yes. He picked them out for you. He wants you to understand that he values your work. Being a scout can make a man feel very alone and very unappreciated. Jesop has no greater respect than for his scouts. And you, he is most grateful to.”
“Then I go and crash and …”
She smiled, “I do not think he is the least bit upset at you about it. Upset at himself for not pulling you before this last flight, or pulling you months ago – maybe, but not you.” She set the velvet down and touched his hand that held the daggers. “Those of us who are not blind by rank all value our scouts like nothing else. And a scout who has a wing like Dart…” She paused looking at him. Her touch to his hand mad made every muscle in his body jump. He was frozen in war with himself. He wanted to grab her and force her down with all the passion, power, and strength of a dragon on fire, but she was a Rah. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, and his mouth had gone utterly dry. She took the daggers from his hands.
“I am not a Wisdom,” she said softly as she set the daggers on the table. “But I am an empath. Jesop was worried for you. Maybe another reason Slang allowed me to be the one to deliver your reward,” she smiled mischievously, “and as my mate is on route and has been out for six months I could use a little attention almost as much as you need it.”
He tried to say something, anything, this mouth moved but no sound came out.
“Don’t worry, the fact Dart isn’t panicked at all is proof you are in far more control than you think. Besides,” She unhooked the top of her collar, “I’m stronger than I looked. I doubt you could hurt me if you tried.”
That was all the permission he needed.
When Kerik had worn himself out and was too tired to even move Tarra gently traced her finger up and down his back. He could feel she was using magics, deep, and soothing. With all his energies open and raw, she was easing away the effects of the Neglect. For a moment he wanted to fight it, to hold onto such wild passions but he was too tired and was drifting toward sleep. All the damage was being melted out of him by no effort of his own.
When he did wake later she was still there, laying beside him. She was propped up on her elbow.
“You want to tell me about it?” She asked
He watched her face and felt utterly safe and secure in her care. This was almost dream like. He opened his mind and shrugged a little. He almost felt as if he had taken some sort of drug, or drank too much. His normal private nature was simply not there. He couldn’t help but talk to her.
“It was there, a thought, a reaction but nothing I couldn’t hide well enough. He had to make an effort to make sure. I am certain that was what he was doing. I think he did it to make sure he could protect me but it’s rather an unsettling thing and to have such weakness revealed in front of a dragon like Cursk…”
“Cursk is the best to do so in front of. Ramar suffered Neglect so badly he killed his mate. He was so upset and horrified at what he had done he tried to kill himself. Many of Cursk’s scars came from the reaction of the dragons about when Ramar tried to rape the late king. Only the defense of Boulder and Taralk saved him.
“It took years to get that bad,” she said sadly. “His pride held him back from healing and made him say it was nothing and he could deal with it,” she sighed sadly. “Dragons can’t feel it when it gets to us, they can only sense us reacting differently to things. It is never a thing that can be simply willed away. It does not just let go of us.
“Can you tell me a bit about what he seemed like to you…explain him to me as if you wanted to me to go find him and know him in a crowd. I assure you it is so I can help you heal through this.”
He looked at her a long time. Talking about it, admitting weakness was against everything that was natural to him, but then, so was getting flustered by another man. He was in awe at the skill the woman had, to make him so at ease and trusting with her. He was certain he had never been so at peace with another person in his life.
“He went out there knowing I might have this issue and took that chance alone, didn’t he. That’s why we rested in a tower with just the two of us and not in an eerie.”
“Likely. Who was he?” She asked.
“I don’t know his name, he never gave it and I suppose that was on purpose as well. He was taller than most. He walked like a true acrobat, I’d guess a Sat but for the fact he was so powerful but he referred to himself as a scout. He moves silently, startled the hell out of me once. Soft spoken, like a man with no rank yet he was with Cursk. He had no doubt he could get a Wisdom here for me if I wanted it. He seems to know rank well enough to pull a favor and avoid reports.” His mind strayed The memories filled all his thought. He had just reached the point when he realized the truth, on the slopes of Esyah when there was sudden wrenching feeling inside his head. He caught his breath painfully. He wasn’t sure what she had done but he had a headache to prove se had done something. She smoothed his forehead.
“I’m sorry,” she said with an apology. She sat up naked and beautiful with her hair spilling down her back. “I have good news and bad news,” she said.
“The good news is you are all better and just fine and this won’t bother you again, unless you spend six years on your own.” She began to gather her leathers. “You will be more tolerant for the healing of it if you are, but be aware of it. That’s the good news.
“The bad news is that I couldn’t remove what is there. I could go into detail on it but it’d be rather boring to you I am sure, and it might just fade out eventually. In the mean time you are going to be walking around with a crush on him, rather like most young women who meet him.
“It’ll pop up in your thoughts a few times, you might have a dream or two but nothing to worry about, it’s just there. And I doubt you’ll even notice it as anything unless you run into him. Not likely, he’s not one to be wandering about and it’s hard to find him even when you look.
“But its nothing to worry about at all. All I ask is that if a scout under your command gets a case of Neglect that you act with support and understanding.”
He smiled a little. “I will. And thank you. This was far more pleasant than dealing with a Wisdom.”
She laughed good naturedly. “And no reports,” she winked and slipped from his bed. “Get some sleep Commander you have earned it.”
Tarra knew Jesop was in her lair before she even found him in the kitchen. He was making tea for two and sat at the little side table. He looked up and smiled faintly. She knew just as fast that he knew she had been with someone. She felt a little guilty about that. She always did for some reason. She slipped into her chair across from him with all the ease her twin brother did not have with Jesop.
“I was with your new commander,” she said to explain that she had been healing and not just out for pleasure. It also gave them something to talk about.
“How is he?”
“He’s fine for now. He’s healed but he will likely always react to you.”
“It’s just a little crush more or less. The rest of it is fine but he has been so looped in with Dart to deal with his loneliness that somehow it got tangled up in Dart as well and Dart was rather impressed with you for his own reasons and that sort of locked it in. I tried to pull it and nearly made him black out.”
“Is it an issue?”
“No. He might never be real comfortable sitting having tea with you but then on the other hand he might enjoy nothing more than your company, a game of pegs and a cup of tea.” She smiled and touched his hand. “And how are you doing? How long have you been unattended to?”
He looked at her with his soft eyes and smiled at her so warmly and so kindly it made her heart hurt for him. He was such a kind man and so very lonely. She doubted anyone except her had any idea of that truth.
“Don’t tease me, Tarra,” he said.
“Tease you Jesop? If I was teasing you’d know it,” she laughed.
They had, as teenagers found themselves tangled up a few times and taught each other a great deal about such things, but Teven was too powerful a reality to them both to even consider letting it be more. Even these meeting they hid from him as best they could. Not to mention she had a double lair with a man who tolerated her healing touch but was not about to let it slide for her to have another in his bed. No matter if it was the Lord Marshall.
He smoothed his newly shaven face and sighed weary.
“I want to know about what going on with the females.”
“They won’t talk,” she admitted with frustration.
“Make them tell you. I can’t help them and I can’t act if they don’t. Slang is upset, Toke is about ready to kill and the nest is dying. If they are being Pinned Slang is going to take some wings off. I get one more nest full of hollow eggs and a fist full of wailing Grays and I am going to kill someone myself.”
“Farra is upset as well. All she says is if Slang can’t bring himself to at least flick his tail at her she is not settling for less and his nest can die for his pride.”
“Pride…Farra!” he objected well aware a dragon can hear all sounds in the den. “You go flick a tail at him and I am rather sure he’ll take to air. He’s been looking at you since you could fly you little vain hummingbird.”
The dragoness grunted from inside the lair.
“She threatens to right now.”
“Wait for Dall. The last thing I need is him attacking me for nest lines. Teven’s abuse is bad enough.” He rubbed his eyes. “Anyway, I am tired and sore and going to bed, but I want to know what is going on and Farra, you tell your mother I am serious! She or you, have got to get this to open up so we can deal with it before we’re all dead. The young girls are all so battered they fear males and can’t form eggs. Something is very wrong.” He drained his tea and got up. She stood up in his way and smoothed his face.
“Don’t let Teven bully you, Jesop. He loves you. I mean it.”
“Teven is Teven and always will be,” he said catching her hands. “And normally he is just part of life that I deal with but some times I get tired and he pushes and pushes and sooner or later I am going get pushed too far and fall off a cliff. That or I am going to haul off and knock him out.”
“He should act like it then.” She kissed him and for a moment thought he was going to stay but he kissed her forehead. “And when Dall gets home I dare your Farra to get Slang to wing. The old buzzard could use a good challenge.”
“Then you line up someone for yourself Jesop, it’s not fair to even suggest it and think you’ll do fine alone.”
“Maybe I’ll go find my new commander,” he teased.
She punched him in the chest. “That’s not funny, Jes.”
He laughed though and left on that note. It was nice to see him laugh, it wasn’t often and her twin brother did not help matters in that area at all.