The Heart of the Storm

Who: J'yce, Jaeger
NPCs: Nateol, Ellezana, Tyrien, Gisela, Naelah, Darcen
Author: AJ
When: 3295.01.18
Where: Krowten Valley Mining Hold - Crom Hold
What: A simple surprise trip to a winter wonderland with his son holds far more surprises than J'yce ever imagined. And presented him with a second and final chance to find closure on a chapter of his life.

"Jae?" J'yce whispered softly as he tried to rouse he son from the deep, peaceful sleep of youth. "Jaeger?"

"Huh? Hm?" Sleep-leaden eyes blinked open and shut as Jaeger resisted the request to wake.

"C'mon sleepy head, time to wake up. That is, _if_ ye want yar surprise..."

"Surprise?" That got the boy's full attention. He rolled over and gave J'yce a sleepy smile as his eyes scanned the room for this big surprise his father had hinted about the night before, but there didn't appear to be one anywhere in sight. "Where?"

"Well, part of it is in that bundle at the foot of yar bed." Jaeger had seen it, but it hadn't struck him as surprise-ish. "The rest will have to wait until ye are dressed and ready to leave. I'd've wrapped it, but tis too big to."

Jaeger's eyes went wide. "Too big?! Where is it, Pa?" he asked excitedly, sitting up in bed and looking out window to the dragon's ledge beyond. It was then that realized that it was still the middle of the night. His excitement had now woken Rascal, whose bright eyes were now awhirl with a blue light that reflected Jaeger's mood as well as his own.

"It's a short hop *between* away," he replied, "Zanath's ready to go just as soon as ye are," and he moved the bundle closer to his son. "Open it..."

"'Kay..." He started to tug at the bundle's bindings, but quickly found that he needed his father's help to remove them. "Where are we going? Is Ma coming too?"

"No, she isn't," J'yce replied as he sliced the bindings with his belt knife, "And we should leave Rascal here too 'cause we're going someplace...." He grinned as Jaeger peeled back the wrappings to reveal warm winter clothing. "...very cold! Ye said that ye've never seen a real snow like yar Ma and I talked 'bout, so I thought..." His words were cut short as Jaeger tackled him with a big hug.

The cold of *between* was replaced with a cold seemingly far more frigid as Zanath emerged over a vast frozen mountain lake. On three sides the lake was ringed by a snow-encrusted scrub forest that stretched out to, and partially up, the jagged towering peaks of the Barrier Range. To the north, the great Snowy Wastes were visible above the lake valley's peaks. The fourth -- southeast -- side opened out to a staircase falls, now frozen solid, that descended into the broad Krowten Valley beyond it.

Weak, winter morning sunlight was just now filtering into the lake's valley from that fourth side, making the whole scene spread out below them twinkle like a white version of a bejeweled night's sky.

Jaeger gasped in awe at the sight. He'd heard tales, from his Ma and other Northerners, of what a snowy landscape was really like, but the real thing was more awesome and brilliant than he'd ever been able to imagine it to be. Even the Turnover blizzard that had hit Rocky Crater seem boring in comparison.

Coming in low over the lake's snow-covered beach, Zanath landed where J'yce had directed her to: at the foot of a path, all but invisible in that season, through the forest. Even buried under several feet of snow, he knew exactly were it would be. An emotional lump formed in the greenrider's throat as he looked around at this frozen land of his birth. He knew that he shouldn't be there, his family had made that clear enough eight Turns earlier, but this was a special place to him that he simply had to share with his son -- at least once, he told himself.

"Pa! This is amazing!" Jaeger exclaimed as, for the first time in his life, calf-deep snow crunched under his boots.

"Aye, that it is..." The joy on his son's face told him that he'd done the right thing, even if others wouldn't agree. "This is very special place, Jae," he said, squatting down and taking a handful of snow into his hands. He studied it for a moment like a farmer would study a handful of soil from his fields. "Special for me.... and I hope it'll be special for ye too," he said, cocking his head to the side to look at his son as he spoke. There was a wistful note to his voice.

Jaeger caught the note and it made him regard his father intently. In the past few months he'd gotten to know J'yce well enough to recognize that tone, one which he only used when he was thinking about his dead weyrmate, B'ron. "Pa? Why's it special for you?"

"It's..." A tear came to J'yce's eye as he turned his head to looked out over the lake. "This is...."

{{Someone's coming,}} Zanath interrupted, her keen eyesight picking up movement at the far end of the beach.

J'yce stood and stiffened as he turned to face the ~someone~. A half-dozen riders on runnerbeasts were slowly plodding through the snow escorting a score of huge beasts of burden. "Zan, there's a clearing at the top of the ridge to our south, go there and wait until they've passed us by. Ye'll frighten the beasts otherwise," J'yce instructed, speaking aloud for Jaeger's benefit. He could already see the men reacting to the presence of a dragon, reining in their runners and slowing the advance of the burden-beasts even more than the snow had been.

Once Zanath was gone, J'yce tugged his scarf higher, screening most of his face from view. Given that it was easily 30 or 40 degrees below zero out there, the act wasn't suspicious in and of itself, though J'yce did feel a bit like a criminal just being in that valley. He draped an arm around his son's shoulders, drawing him close, as the men and beasts drew closer. "Ever see beasts like that?"

Jaeger nodded. "There's a few in the Central Valley, but never seen 'em up close before. What are they, Pa?"

"Burden-beasts. In warm weather, they're used to haul wagons an' carts, but in weather like this, the packs on their backs get filled with whatever they are transporting. Probably raw ore to be processed. Their packs are empty, so they must be on their way home," he explained. **Which explains why they are out and about so early.**

The lead riders waved greetings as they passed J'yce and Jaeger, which both returned. Even with a thick blanket of snow to absorb their footfalls, the ground quaked as the burden-beasts lumbered past. "Wow," Jaeger exclaimed in a hushed tone. For the most part, they ignored them, but a few of the younger beasts snorted with alarm as the hesitantly passed the spot that Zanath had been. Then, unexpectedly, two of the riders broke away and approached them.

"Gud dhey tee ye," the older man greeted in a raspy, thickly accented voice.

J'yce froze, his stomach knotting at sound of the man's voice -- a voice that was not unknown to him, even if the visible part of the face was greatly aged from what he remembered of it. "Yun tee ye," he replied, his voice suddenly nearly as thick with the same accent.

Jaeger listened to the incomprehensible, to him, exchange and wondered if Piyer, a boy he'd met the day before, was from this place too.

"Da ye brung nuze fr'orm Nor'ryge, rye'dar?" the younger man asked, his accent easier to understand.

"Nay," J'yce replied, recognizing the younger man too, "Juz 'ere lu'kin az de vue."

"Aye. Ye wil'com tee cu'min tee dar hil'da fur bree'da, jist da sym," the older man offered.

"Driganmin 'r' alwez wil'com ah'rond ar tebil," the younger man added.

**Yeah, right!** J'yce thought bitterly, wondering if they'd be as welcoming if they knew just who they were inviting to the Hold to break bread with them. Before he could decline Jaeger tugged on his arm.

"What did they say?"

"They're inviting us to the Hold for bread -- for a meal, actually --and said that dragonmen are always welcome around their table," J'yce translated, his voice just loud enough for Jaeger to hear him.

"Can we? Please?"

"We can't stay here for long, your Ma's expecting us back for my birthing day breakfast."

"You said it was a couple of hours later here than there, so we've got plenty of time, Pa," the boy replied.

J'yce was caught in the middle. After a moment's thought, he turned back to the men. "All dragonmen? Or just certain ones, Tyrien?" he asked, lowering his hood, and pushing the scarf away from his face. The cold stung him, but not nearly as badly as the reaction of the older man -- J'yce's father, Nateol.

Master Miner Nateol, the 74-Turn-old Holder of Krowten Valley, glared down at his disowned son for a moment before hauling his runnerbeast around. "Be ye guon fr'orm 'ere!" he ordered before thundering away from them.

Frightened by the tone of the words from the man, his paternal grandfather, Jaeger pressed closer to J'yce. "Why's he mad at us, Pa?"

Tyrien, who had been staring after his father, returned his gaze to J'yce and Jaeger at the boy's question. "Pa?" he asked, giving his older, by a Turn, brother an odd look.

"Not us, just me," J'yce assured his son, hugging him closer. He looked up at Tyrien and nodded. "This is Jaeger, my son by Daellyn of White Cliffs Hold." There was a fatherly pride evident in the way that he said it.

The journeyman slipped a gloved hand under his hood and scratched the hair on his right temple as he regarded the pair, the words not exactly fitting the image he held of his brother whom he hadn't seen since a Gather when he, Tyrien, was seventeen -- six Turns previous. "Ye nar'ver s'op cer'pizin folk, dar ye?" he snorted as he dismounted.

Relaxing a bit from that reaction, "Sometimes... sometimes I even surprise myself," J'yce replied as Tyrien stepped closer.

The young man snorted again. Smile lines appeared above his scarf as he turned to Jaeger and offered his hand. "Pheezed tee me't ye, Jaeger," he said, "I's be ye Un'kel Tyrien."

Jaeger looked at the offered hand and swallowed nervously. It took a gentle prodding from his father to get him to accept it. "Erm... hello, Sir," he said formally. He blushed when his greeting was met with barks of laughter first from his uncle and then from his father. "Huh? What did I say?" he asked, looking up at J'yce.

"Nothing bad," the greenrider assured him, "Just that, in these parts, the only 'Sir' here is the man that just rode off. Formality for everyone else is usually superfluous..."


"Superfluous. It means that it's something that is more than what's required. Life's hard around here, so no need to make it harder with unneeded formalities," he explained.

"Ah! Erm... where is *here*, anyway?" He could easily guess, but his only real guess was someplace that his father had said that he, J'yce, wasn't welcomed anymore.

"This," and J'yce gestured broadly, "is the Krowten Valley."

"We're in Crom?"

"Aye, dat ye 'r'," Tyrien replied. Then, turning to J'yce, he added, "Yun ye's arth be wil'com ah'rond I's tebil. I's Gisela wul luv dar kum'pin'ne. Shay cudn't tre'vil be'in ivey woth babe," he informed J'yce, his chest swelling with the pride of a soon-to-be first-time father.

"Gisela? Grithanael's Gisela?"


J'yce snorted. "I'd've loved to have seen his reaction when ye asked him for her hand."

"'E of'erd 'is in'stid, siv'ril tyms oov'ar ba'phour cayin aye."

Jaeger was having trouble following his uncle's side of the conversation now as his accent was deepening. He cleared his throat slightly as he looked questioningly at his father.

"Hm? Oh," and he laughed, "Tyrien's now married to Grithanael's daughter, Gisela, and they're expecting their... first?" Tyrien nodded. "First child soon, so she can't travel anywhere, and thus would welcome the company," he translated, "Grithanael is a crotchety" -- Tyrien snorted at the understatement -- "miner who'd just as soon blind a man as let him look at his daughters. In his opinion, no man is good enough for them, not even a Holder's son. He had to ask several times before the man said yes."

"Ah! So? Are we going to go?"

Nodding, "Yeah, we'll visit. But, Tyrien, we can't stay long. Jaeger's Ma is expecting us in about..." He looked up at the sun's position. "...about five hours."

"Tis 'nough tee arv bree'da," Tyrien said, then turned to mount his runner.

"It's enough time to have bread," J'yce translated for a confused looking Jaeger.

"His accent's as bad as Piyer's."

J'yce shook his head, "I can under stand him, but most of the time yesterday I couldn't understand Piyer's." Once Tyrien had told them where his cothold was, and had started away, J'yce recalled Zanath to take him and Jaeger there.

((ooc: the auto-translator is now turned on))

Zanath circled high above the cothold as they waited for Tyrien to get his runner and burden-beasts safely into the stables before they landed down-wind from there.

"Can I go look at the burden-beasts, Pa?" Jaeger asked as J'yce helped him to dismount.

"I guess, but just don't get too close to them. Ye smell from dragon..."

{{Hey! THE DRAGON does _not_ smell!}} Zanath protested.

::To them ye do!::

{{Then there's something wrong with their noses,}} she hrumphed, turning her head away from her rider. Later, once no one was looking at her, she did sniff herself to make sure she didn't smell.

"...and that could panic some of them," J'yce finished.

"Okay!" And with that Jaeger raced toward the stable door. A couple of times he skidded on the snow and ice, but he managed to keep his feet under him as he ran.

The building was smaller in the inside than it appeared to be, its insulated walls being several feet thick to keep it warm inside during the worst that the Krowten Valley winters had to offer. The stalls housed some three dozen beasts, nearly half of which were the huge burden-beasts. The remainder were runners, herdbeasts, milk goats, and pigs. The collection was typical of what a newly married couple in the Valley received as gifts to help start off their life together on the right foot.

"Are all these yours?" Jaeger asked as he slowly wandered down the wide aisle between the two rows of stalls.

"Yes, they all mine. Mine and Gisela's," Tyrien replied as he unsaddled his runner.

"Who've you got helping you?" J'yce asked, following a few paces behind his son.

"Three of Tyrmish's lads, and one of Ulandis'." He snickered. "And you know what? Ulandis' runt can run circles 'round those three whers of Tyrmish's, each of them's built big as their Pa."

"You ain't feeding them, are you?"

"Are you daft?! Each of them three can eat a burdener in a single setting!"

Getting the gist of the comment, Jaeger giggled as he cautiously approached one of the burden-beasts. Though it appeared to be young, it was already huge. Taller than his father at the shoulder, its wrinkly brown skin was dotted with tufts of bristle-like hairs. "Hi there... umm..." He glanced around and under the beast. "Hiya, fella," he said softly, reaching out a bare hand to stroke the inquisitive animal's muzzle.

J'yce moved to his brother's side and nudged him. "Just look at him," he whispered, smiling proudly. "He loves animals."

"Yeah, but what tyke doesn't?" he asked as he toweled the snow melt off of his runner. "So, Jays, how come I ain't never heard about him? He's what? Eight? Nine?"

"He'll be ten in three months. And you haven't heard about him because I didn't know about him until a few months ago..." J'yce went on to explain the circumstances behind all of that as he helped to dry the runner.

"That sounds like a Harper's Winter Tale," Tyrien commented as he lead the runner into his stall. "Also sounds typical of the Old Man."

"Feels like one sometimes. But then I look at him and..." He grinned broadly. "You'll know the feeling soon enough."

"Oh, yeah! That I will," he agreed, "Speaking of which... Gisela saw me ride in, so there should be food a-warming in the oven for us. What do you say we go eat?" he asked, turning to leave.

"I'd say yes. C'mon, Jaeger, let's go eat."

"'Kay, Pa!"

A cold wind raced though the small cothold when Tyrien opened the door. "I'm home," he called out, "And I brought two hungry mouths with me."

"The klah and stew are on the table, Tyrien, and my spice rolls are about to come out of the oven," Gisela replied from the kitchen.

"Sit, sit," Tyrien said to his brother and nephew as he crossed the room to stoke the fire in the living room's fireplace. Even with thick walls like the stables and fires going in several fireplaces it was hard to keep the cothold warm enough in winter.

Not having expected guests, Gisela checked the rolls, then hurriedly tried to fixed her hair and brush the flour from her woolen house dress to make herself look presentable. Not an easy task when you were thirty-four sevendays along and have to waddle like a burden-beast from place to place.

"You missed a spot of flour on your left arm."

"Oh, tha..." Gisela whirled around to find J'yce standing in the kitchen doorway. "I... Jaycen?" She blinked in disbelief. "As I live and breathe!"

"So, Grithanael's baby girl's all grown up, eh?"

"And out, too," she joked, resting her hands on her belly. Her eyes suddenly lit up, "What are you doing here? Is B'ron with you?"

J'yce shook his head sadly. "No. He died almost a Turn ago. Pneumonia, they said."

Her smile faded. "I... I'm sorry, Jaycen."

"Thank you," he said softly just as dark mop of hair appeared at his elbow.

"Here's your klah," Jaeger said, offering J'yce mug.

"And who is this little gentleman?" Gisela asked, her smile brightening again as she regard the boy expectantly.

"Jaeger, ma... erm..." He looked up at his father for a less ~superfluous~ title.

"This is your Aunt Gisela."

He nodded, then turned back to the gravid woman. "I'm Jaeger, Aunt Gisela."

"Pleased to meet you, Jaeger," she said, shooting a questioning glance J'yce's way as she did so.

"Jaeger's my son."

Her eyes going wide, Gisela giggled at first, but it quickly grew to a hearty laugh. "Your...... son?!" She clutched her belly. "Jays, don't make a pregnant woman laugh!" she mock scolded. "But seriously..."

"I am, Jaeger _is_ my son. His mother is Daellyn of White Cliffs Hold. He was born a few months after I Impressed."

"Really? I thought that she died. A sailing accident or something."

"Her parents are no different than ours when it comes to appearances."

She frowned fleetingly. "Oh, this should be an interesting story, Jaycen," she chuckled as she went to check on her rolls.

After eating and sharing the 'interesting story', Tyrien asked Jaeger to help Gisela clean up in the kitchen. Once they were gone, he gestured for J'yce to follow him into the room that would soon serve as a nursery.

"Some of your handiwork?" J'yce asked, idly running his hand over the rustic crib.

"Yes. Wanted our tyke to sleep in something special," he said, running his hand over the cribs headboard.

"He, or she, will love it, Tyrien."

He nodded, then sighed as he turned to face his brother. "Jaycen, about earlier..."

Holding his hand up, "Don't go making apologies for him, Tyrien."

"I ain't going to. I was going to explain it though."

"There's nothing to explain either," J'yce said, and turned away and moved to the center of the small room.

"There is. Jays! Didn't you hear the raspiness to his voice?"

"So? It's winter," he replied without looking at his brother, "Throats always go raspy in winter."

"Yeah, it is," he said, moving to stand behind J'yce. Placing his hand on the greenrider's shoulder, he added, "And this one is probably the Old Man's last one."

"What?" There was genuine concern on J'yce's face when he turned to look at Tyrien. "What do you mean?"

"Tis miner's cough, it tis. He's had it for two Turns now. And it's getting worse, Jaycen. He'll be dead by Turn's End next."

J'yce hated the Old Man, hated him for his reaction to him Impressing Zanath. Hated him for how he had treated B'ron on their first and only visit to meet J'yce's parents. Both events now over ten and eight Turns past. Yes, he hated Nateol with a passion, and yet he trembled with emotion at the news. The Old Man was his father and, no matter what passed between them, he still loved Nateol in his heart. "Ha..... how long?" His voice cracked as he asked. "How long's he got left, exactly?"

"The Healer says til early summer..."

"Six months..."

"About that, maybe less. He has his good days, and he has his bad ones too. But there have been more bad days than good of late, Jaycen, so who knows..."

Exhaling sharply, J'yce raked his hand through his hair. "I don't know what to say. He was so full of his usual vitriol, it's hard to believe..."

"I know, Jaycen, but he is dying. Maybe... maybe you should..."

"Should what, Tyrien? Go to see him?"


"To what end? You saw how he reacted to me."

"You know the Old Man, he's always been surly."

"He wasn't surly when he thought I was Northridge rider with news about Thread. He'll tolerate any greenrider except for his own son."

"I'm not making any apologies for him, Jaycen. But..." He tossed his hands up, searching for the right thing to say. "There was a reason our paths crossed today, maybe that reason was so that you two could make your peace..."

"He doesn't want to make peace with me, that much was clear, so why should I bother going up there and trying?"

They were interrupted by a knock at the door. Poking his head in, "Aunt Gisela says that the rolls are ready, and to get them while they are hot."

"Okay, Jae, we'll be there in a minute," J'yce told him.

When Jaeger had gone, Tyrien advanced on his brother again, gesturing to the door. "There's a reason to go. Ornery though he may be, he should meet his grandson."

"You mean the one he dismissed ten Turns ago?"

"Things change."

"He doesn't."

"You should try, Jaycen. If not for your sake, then for Jaeger's. And if it fails ---"

"It will fail."

"--- you can at least say that you took the higher road and reached out to him. It'll be his own fault if you don't make peace."

Tyrien, of course, was right.

Krowten Valley's main Hold was an ancient, massive, rambling structure half-built into the northern cliff face. Started in the third Interval, and expanded steadily ever since, and greatly in the seven hundred plus Turns since the end of the ninth Pass, it was an impressive sight to behold.

For J'yce, it was also a chilling sight. The last time that he'd been there, in that building, he was sixteen and accompanied by his 20-Turn-old blue-riding lover. A more objective person might have seen that as J'yce trying to ram his sexuality down his family's collective throat, but the greenrider had been too close to the heart of the storm to ever see it that way.

The Hold was still decorated with colorful banners from Turnover, the Gather having been held the previous sevenday as there had been a major storm during the holidays. With most of the passes blocked by snow now, it would months before outsiders would venture into the valley again, and maybe not at all with the threat of Threadfall in the air.

A young brown dragon J'yce recognized as a former wingmate stood watch on the heights, his rider hidden away in a nearby small stone hut. As Zanath bugled a greeting, she passed along a promise from her rider to say hello before they left.

The courtyard in front of the Hold had been swept clear of every trace of snow. As Zanath circled downwards towards it, the sight seemed appropriate to J'yce. The stone courtyard was like a clear eye at the heart of a storm, just as that place was at the heart of the storm that was his early life. He'd spent Turns trying to escape it, trying to avoid a life in the mines that, more times than not, takes you at a young age. And now that he had, all he wanted was to be welcomed into his ancestral home at least one last time.

They were shown into the main hall by a drudge and told to wait there while she went off to find Ellezana, J'yce's mother. A large staircase wrapped itself around the edges of the hall, giving access to all four floors of the Hold. At the top of the hall was a stained-glass pyramidal dome that pulled natural light into the space. The dome had been added to the building just after the end of the last Pass to mark the end of Threadfall forever -- or so they'd hoped at the time.

Lining the walls of the hall, all the way to the top floor, were paintings of various sizes of the important people that once lived within those walls. Most prominent among the lower level paintings was one of J'yce's great-granduncle, the previous Holder. An accident early in his life had ended the man's career in the mines and, as a result, he had been one of the few men in J'yce's family to live to be over one hundred.

Midway up were paintings of dragonriders. All but two were brown or bronze riders... and those other two were goldriders, both of whom were now long dead, a thousand Turns or more. It had always struck him odd that there weren't any blue or green riders up there. He now understood why: they were all viewed as a disgrace to the family.

The soft yapping of puppies held more interest for Jaeger than a hall filled with pictures. Without really thinking, he wandered off to follow the sound, and soon found himself at the gated door to a small workroom. A well-dressed teen, several Turns older than himself, was sitting cross-legged in the middle of a sea of hunting canine pups. He seemed to be trying to examine them, but they were getting the upper hand.

"Need some help?" Jaeger asked, hopeful.

The teen turned his bright aquamarine gaze on Jaeger, surprised that anyone else was around to offer assistance. "Yes! They've got me out numbered ten to one. Five to one would be most welcome odds. Just climb over the gate," he said in a thick Croman accent that took Jaeger a moment to decipher.

J'yce only noticed that Jaeger had disappeared just as Ellezana made her appearance on the stairs, so he couldn't go looking for his son at that moment. Shadows from the overhanging landing hid his face as he watched her descend the stairs.

Ellezana was nearly as J'yce had remembered her. Her heavy winter dress was finely tailored and meticulous, not a hair dared to be out of place on her head, and she carried herself with the regal air of a Holder's wife. And yet, she'd aged a lot more than eight Turns since he had last seen her. He couldn't help but wonder if it was his father's illness that was taking its toll on her.

"You wished to see me, rider?" she asked as she neared the bottom of the stairs. Ellezana's voice wasn't as strongly accented as the rest of the family's due to the fact that she'd been born and raised in Nerat Hold, but she had spent enough Turns in the Valley to have adopted the accent.

"Yes, I do wish to," J'yce replied, stepping out of the shadows and moving to the foot of the stairs. Ellezana faltered, nearly missing a step, but she soon recovered with her usual grace. "You look well, Mother," he lied.

"Why are you here?" Her tone was as frosty as the morning air had been by the lake.

"I was bored, I had a few hours, so I thought I'd spend them with my loving family," he answered without thinking, sarcasm in evidence.

"I do not have time for this..." She waved her hand in a flourish, the word she was looking for not coming to her lips.

"Neither do I," he interjected. "I'm not here to resume a fight we had eight Turns ago, Mother."

"Then why are you here?"

"I... I've just come from visiting Tyrien and Gisela."

Ellezana regarded her son for moment, her face growing paler. "You know then? About your father?"


"I see. Well, he does not need to be stressed over dealing with..."

"I don't intend to stress him, but I do want to see him, Mother. This is probably my last trip to the Valley for a very long time, if ever again. I've had enough regrets in my life, and I don't want to add a missed opportunity to.... I don't know what," he admitted, "Make peace? But this is our last chance."

She set her jaw, forcing her emotions down beneath a mask of icy indifference as she briefly scanned the shadows before returning her gaze to J'yce. "You're alone?"

"No, but he seems to have wandered off someplace."

"He won't want to see ~him~ again," she said curtly.

It was J'yce's turn to force down emotions, and bite back a sarcastic remark. "It depends on which ~he~ you are referring to. If you mean my weyrmate, B'ron, Father won't have to. B'ron died nearly a Turn ago from pneumonia." For a moment, J'yce could have sworn he saw what looked to be a sympathetic crack in his mother's mask. "However, if you are talking about Daellyn's child, the son I was never told about, then he will have to see him."

Whatever color had remained in Ellezana's face now drained fully away. "Daellyn's child? It... it lived?"

"You sound disappointed."

"It was a lie! A lie I tell you! Cedric was looking for ties with our family, they made up the lie about you being the father to conceal their daughter's nature. Obviously couldn't have been the father."

"Yes, Mother, I could have." He drew closer to her. "Daellyn is the only woman I've ever had those kinds of feelings for, and I'm the only man she's ever been with."

"So she says!"

"And I don't doubt her, not for an instant. You look into Jaeger's face and you'll see it echoed in dozens of these paintings."

"I don't believe it."

"You don't? Or you don't want to?"

"I..." Her reply was cut off by a shout.

"Pa! Can I keep him?" Jaeger excitedly asked as he charged down the side hall, puppy in his arms, and the older boy excitedly trailing after him. Both boys skidded to halt when the realized that they were interrupting something. There was a very long and pregnant silence in the hall as both Ellezana and the boy, J'yce's youngest brother, 17-Turn-old Darcen, absorbed what Jaeger had just called J'yce.

Breaking the silence, "Mother, may I introduce you to your grandson, Jaeger," J'yce said, presenting the boy, squirming puppy and all, to the woman.

"Who?" gasped Darcen.

Ellezana was somewhat speechless, her brows arching slightly as she stepped closer to the boy, studying him. Something in her still wanted to believe that it was a lie, but if the boy's eyes didn't dispell that thought, the fact that he looked so much like his young uncle, whom he stood next to, did. "Hello, Jaeger."

**Sounds like she's addressing the canine,** J'yce dryly observed.

Shifting an armful of rambunctious puppy to his left side, Jaeger tried to offer his hand to his grandmother, but the puppy -- huge despite being the runt of the litter -- was just too active for him to hold onto in one arm. "Pleased to meet you... erm..."

"Granny," Darcen helpfully, and impishly, suggested.

"Grandmother," Ellezana countered, glaring coolly at her youngest son.

Jaeger couldn't help but grin at the exchange, and he could see that his father was equally amused. "Pleased to meet you, Grandmother." The woman smiled in reply, and though warm, the smile was more polite than genuine.

"Mother," J'yce asked, moving to stand beside her, "can we see him now? Daellyn is expecting us in about two hours."

"At White Cliffs?"

"No, at Rocky Crater."

Her brows arched higher. "But that's a..."

"Yes, it is a Weyrhold. And my son will be all the better for growing up in one, Mother. Now, can we see him or not?"

Ellezana pressed her lips into a thin line as she considered the request. "Wait here. Let me talk to him first," she requested, and headed off down a side hall, different from the one that Jaeger and Darcen had come from, before J'yce could reply.

Once Ellezana had gone, "Pa?"

"Yes?" J'yce asked hesitantly, he knew what was coming, and he also knew that he lacked the resolve to say no to his son.

"Can I keep him?"

"Yeah, can he keep him, ~Pa~?"

"Don't you start, Darcen," J'yce mock-warned, wagging a finger at him.

"Darcen?" Jaeger turned to regard his new friend. "You're Darcen?"

"Yup, and don't you dare call me Uncle!" he warned. Being only seven Turns older than his nephew, the idea of having him call him uncle seemed absurd.

"Nice ta meet ya. Pa's told me all 'bout you."

"None of which will be repeated under this roof," J'yce warned in a low voice through clenched teeth.

"Good idea," Darcen agreed in an equally hushed tone.

"All's well with you?" J'yce asked him, cryptically.

"Yeah, everything has been just great at the Hall," and the boy's usually bright eyes got a notch brighter.

J'yce smirked. "Glad to hear it."


Sighing, J'yce looked at the puppy. **Reminds me of Max...** "Whose litter are they?"

"Mine," Darcen replied, "Kye's the dam and Seve's the sire."

"Good bloodlines. So, it's your idea to let him have one, huh?"


"So, can I keep him, Pa?"

J'yce turned away and took a measured breath which he then let out very slowly. Daellyn was going to kill him, no doubt about it, if he brought that puppy back with them.

{{Say yes,}} Zanath requested, {{I like the puppy!}}

J'yce threw his hands up in surrender, and turned back to his son. "Zanath says yes."

"And you?"

"Let's ask your mother." Jaeger opened his mouth to protest, thinking that it meant leaving the puppy there, but his father's mischievous grin silenced his protest. "She'll want to meet him first, probably, anyways..."

"Nateol?" Ellezana said softly as she entered his office. The man was sitting at his desk entering the figures from their last shipment into the Records. He was older than her by some five and twenty years, their marriage having been his second. "Are ye busy?"

"Ney, womin, what tis it?" There was a faint rattle as he breathed, and his voice was raspy.

"We have guests who would like to speak with ye for a few..."

"Send him away!" The exclamation started a mild coughing fit. "I don't want to see Jaycen."

"J'yce," she replied, subtly correcting him, "is going away. This is his last visit here, ~ever~." She overly stressed the last word. "I... I believe that he's looking for closure before he goes."

"A closed door tis the only I'll give him!"

"Nateol!" she said sharply. "You could use some yourself, husband." Which, the closed door or the closure, she wasn't sure, but a little of both couldn't have hurt him. "There's also something that he needs to... give you, in person," she added, "And then he'll be gone. Give him a hour of your time. For me. Please."

The man snorted derisively, doubting that there was anything that J'yce had that he would want.

"Husband..." Her tone was still sharp.

"Womin, don't forget your place!" That exclamation brought on a more serious coughing fit, serious enough to bring Ellezana to his side. "I swear, you need to stay calm." The irony, she now realized, was that he and J'yce were more alike that different -- they were both as stubborn as burdeners and as dense as wherries. "See him, a quarter hour. Please."

"If it'll your nagging, womin..."

Footfalls echoed through the hallway as Ellezana lead J'yce and Jaeger to Nateol's office. Darcen had taken the puppy and gone off to find something secure to transport him in, J'yce fearing that he might panic once around Zanath.

The greenrider wasn't prepared for what he found in his father's office. Stripped of his heavy winter coat and other riding garments, Nateol was a thin, frail looking man. His hair gone pure grey, his face was deathly gaunt, and most of the fire had gone out of his piercing aquamarine eyes -- a trait shared by J'yce, Jaeger, and nearly every male in their family. His father's ghastly appearance drained some of the fight out of the greenrider.

The same could not be said for the Holder. Seated in a chair by the fireplace, he began to glower viciously the moment they entered the office.

Ellezana held Jaeger back as J'yce advance to stand in front of his father's chair. Pity showed in the greenrider's eyes as he regarded his father. **Dear Faranth...** Miner's Cough was a wasting and aging illness, and it had clearly taken a solid grip on his once-vigorous father.

"Thank you for agreeing to see me, Sir," J'yce said, formally. The man flicked his hand dismissively then looked expectantly at his son. He moved closer to Nateol, repositioning a footrest with a nudge of his boot, and then sat down on it. From there, at least, he could look up at his father again. "I'm sorry about my sarcastic reply by the lake this morning," he began, "I didn't come here to resume our fight. I didn't even expect to see anyone during my visit here."

"What is your business here, then?" he curtly demanded.

"I brought Jaeger to the lake because he'd never seen snow like that before," he answered truthfully.


"This boy," Ellezana said, presenting Jaeger to Nateol, a hand on each of the boy's shoulders.

Nateol regarded him just long enough to give him a once-over, then demanded of any of them, "Who is he?"

"Jaeger's my son, father," J'yce replied, "My son by Daellyn of White Cliffs."

"Your... your son?" he choked out, color draining from his face.

"Yes, Sir."

Nateol looked at Jaeger a second, longer, time. "Come 'ere, boy," he barked, his gesture leaving no doubt as to his summoning of Jaeger, accent or no. Reluctant to, it took a not-so-subtle push from Ellezana to get him to approach his grandfather. "How old are ye?" Jaeger glanced at his father for a translation, the question being too thickly accented for him to understand.

"He's 9-Turns-old, Father."

"Nine and three-quarters, Sir," Jaeger corrected, he being of an age when each of those quarters mattered greatly.

J'yce smiled, amused. "He'll be ten on four-twenty, Sir."

"Mother's Daellyn you say?"

J'yce nodded.

"What do you expect from me?" he demanded to know.

"Nothing, Sir. Shortly he and I will depart for our home, and you'll never set eyes upon us again." It was true, he thought, in more ways than one. "But I did want to see you before we did, so that Jaeger could meet you and Mother. I also hoped that we could..."

"Could what?" Nateol interjected, testily.

At this Ellezana, in silence, stepped forward to tap Jaeger on the shoulder, and signaled for him to follow her out of the room. The boy followed her reluctantly, glancing worriedly back at his father and grandfather.

When they'd gone, "Like I said, this is probably going to be my last visit here ---"

"Got that right."

"--- and I wanted to... to mend things between us, or at least try to do so. I have enough regrets in life, I don't want to add not trying to that list. Tyrien told me about..."

"Ah-ha! Marks! That's what you're here for! Last chance to get in my graces," he said snidely, and promptly fell to another fit of coughing.

"Shaffit!" J'yce cursed, getting to his feet. "Keep your marks, I don't want them. I don't need them! I'm a journeyman smith, or hadn't you noticed? I'm not swimming in marks, but it's a comfortable life, and an honest living."

"No, you just want then for your bastard and his wh---"

"You're the one bastard! And I'm an idiot for thinking that we could..." He tore at his hair in frustration. "I spent the first part of my life trying to escape this place. To young Jaycen, it felt like a prison. Then I did escape, first to White Cliffs and then the Weyrhold. And for the last ten Turns all I've been wishing for was that I could come home again. Be welcomed home again. I didn't understand this," he gestured broadly, "I didn't understand you, not at least until the first time I looked deeply into my son's eyes.

"No matter how mad I ever might get at Jaeger, I know, in my heart, that I'll never stop loving my son. For most of those ten Turns, I thought that you hated me; that you'd stopped loving me. After I looked into Jaeger's eyes I thought I understood you, I humored myself into thinking you were only disappointed with me, but that you still must love me. Dear Faranth! Was I ever wrong."

There were tears in J'yce's eyes when he looked down to regard his father. "And the sad part, despite it all, I love you, Father. I want to rip your throat out right now, but shard-it-all! I still care about you," he said in an emotion choked voice, dropping to one knee and laying his hand atop his father's on the chair's armrest.

Nateol violently ripped his hand free as he got to his feet. "You are a pervert and a disgrace to me," he spat, then stalked away to his desk. "Be gone from here and never return! EVER!" he barked, sparking another coughing fit.

The words stung J'yce like a dragon's flame. Hanging his head, he squeezed his eyes tightly shut against a torrent of tears that were threatening to burst out of them. "My apologies, Sir," he replied in a forced formal tone, "I shall never trouble you with my unsavory presence again." Standing, he snapped to attention, saluted, turned on heel, and exited his father's office for the final time.

"It didn't go well, did it?" asked Ellezana, who was waiting, alone, for her son not far from the door.

"It went as I expected. Nothing more, nothing less."

"I see."

"Where's my son? I'm ready to leave."

"Visiting, with Lady Naelah. And you would be wise to do the same."

Through the happenstance of early marriages and early deaths of husbands, The Dowager Lady Naelah was the grandmother of J'yce 74-Turn-old father at the youthful age of 117. The family matriarch, she was the old person, male or female, J'yce had ever seen his father take orders unquestioningly from.

"Ah, there you are," said the Dowager cheerily when J'yce and Ellezana entered her sitting room. Jaeger, Darcen, and the puppy were also present. "I've just been having the most delightful conversation with this young man -- of course, at my age, all men are young men," she added on aside to Jaeger, making him giggle.

"Hello, Nunnie," the greenrider said, stooping to kiss his great-grandmother's cheek. "I hope he's not been a bother."

"Not at all, on the contrary, he's been a dear. Although, I was rather taken by surprise to learn he was your son. I don't recall anyone telling me that you had a child, Jay-dear. But, I suppose that too has to do with being an old woman. I'm always the last to be told things, I do hope that when it comes time for me to take that final rest that someone has the courtesy to tell me of my death before the funeral!"

"You'll outlive us all, Lady Naelah," Ellezana remarked. And J'yce, privately, suspected some truth in that.

"Oh, should hope not! Who would come to my funeral then? It's very bad taste to throw a funeral and have no one show up."

"And if there's no one to tell you, how would it look if the deceased didn't show up either," Darcen joked.

"Exactly! In that case, I shall simply refuse to die."

"If death obeys orders, it'll obey yours, Nunnie," J'yce said, smiling at her, "Everyone else does."

"Oh really? Well, in that case, I insist on seeing you and your son more often, Jay-dear. It feels like it's been Turns since I last saw you and... what was his name? B'ron! that was it."

Jaeger shot his father a look.

"It has been too long, hasn't it? I'll try, Nunnie," he promised.

"Good. I'm an old woman, I don't have many good Turns left, and I don't want to waste another eight of them waiting for your next visit all because of that wher of a grandson of mine."

J'yce blinked, briefly wondering if her remembering how long it had been was a passing moment of clarity, or if she only played the role of a doddering old woman for the fun and affect of it. He kissed her cheek again, and promised that she wouldn't have to wait that long til their next visit; it was a promise he wasn't sure if he'd be able to keep, however.

They visited for a while with the Dowager, and when they were finally ready to leave, she took J'yce aside.

"There is something that I wish for you to have, Jay-dear," she said, leading him into her bedchamber. "Your parents may have forgotten, but I have not."

"Haven't forgotten what, Nunnie?"

"That today is your birthing day. Your twenty-fifth as I recall."

"Yes, it is -- on both counts."

"I have two things for you, Jay-dear," she said, unlocking and opening a draw on her dressing table. "This is for you." She handed him a small purse which J'yce guessed to contain a dozen or so marks. He moved to put the purse, unopened, into his belt-pouch. "You are going to count them, aren't you? Or are you going to deny an old woman a small pleasure in life."

"Alright," he chuckled. Opening the purse, he turned out the coins into the palm of his hand. There were ten coins, all of the same denomination. "I... I can't accept this, it's..."

"More marks than you've earned in your life, I suspect."


"Had you stayed here, far more than that would have passed through your purse, Jay-dear."

"Perhaps, but I still can't accept this."

"Very well. Jaeger he'll be ten shortly. Take them as birthing day gifts for him, one for each Turn."

"I can't do that either. It's far too much for him."

"You are a most stubborn young man. But I admire you, most men wouldn't have batted an eye at taking that much from me. So, on what terms will you accept it?"

J'yce considered this for a moment. "I'll accept it for my son, as a trust for his future."

"Fair enough, but that does leave me needing to give you something, Jay-dear." She unlocked and pulled open another draw to reveal several jewelry cases. "I noticed that your son is wearing your pendent."

"I gifted it to his mother the last day of my fostering. For most of his life it was the only thing of me in his life," he said, putting away the marks.

"I'm sorry, Jay-dear, that he didn't have you through all those Turns. A father needs his son.... Ah, here's something for you." The pendent she held up was a cousin to the one that now hung around his son's neck. "This was my husband's, it's now yours -- that is if I can get you to take it."

"That I'll take without argument, Nunnie."

"Thank Faranth," she exclaimed, handing him the pendent. J'yce immediately put it on. "Oh yes, very nice." Returning her attention to that second draw, she withdrew another case, and seemed to debate what to do with it. "Jay-dear..."

"It's something I'm going to object to, isn't it?"

"Perhaps," she admitted. "This is for your son's mother. It's a family heirloom that goes back many generations in this family. Of all the women in this family who could inherit this, I believe I wish for Daellyn to have this. From what you have told me, and the way you have told it, and what I've seen of her in your son, she strikes me as a very special woman."

"She is, Nunnie, she is."

"Then I want her to have this. Tell her....... tell her that heart-strings bind more strongly than vows. I think she'll understand," she said, handing the case to J'yce. He didn't have to open it to know what it contained, and that knowledge brought more tears to his eyes than his father's words had.

Aged beyond his Turns, trapped in a body that was losing its battle with death, Nateol felt very feeble as he stood by his office window watching his son and grandson getting ready to leave the greenrider's beloved Krowten Valley for the final time.

He too would soon be leaving his beloved Valley, but he wouldn't have the option of returning. A cold and lonely stone crypt was the only thing he had to look forward to.

As he reflected on that, his wife's earlier words came rushing back to him. Closure. His son had wanted nothing but closure with them before he left. It was a small thing to ask for, and yet he'd been unable to give it at the time. He realized now, as he watched his son leaving, that he too needed closure with J'yce.

His son was right, Nateol did still love him despite everything that had happened all those Turns ago. Zanath looked like she was about to leave; he needed to act now... or never. Never, he decided at last, wasn't an option.

His hand went to the window latch. "Fra'zen!" He colorfully cursed the frozen latch as he looked for something -- anything -- to break the window with. Desperate, he grabbing ledger off his desk, and slammed it into the glass, beating it several times before finally shattering it just as Zanath launched skyward.

"Jaycen, come back!" he shouted into a bitter wind that mockingly threw the words back in his face. "Jay..." A coughing fit threatened, but he tried to shout through it. "JAYCEN! COME....." Nateol doubled over in a coughing fit, a dark, bloody phlegm coating his hand.

Through watery eyes he watched as Zanath went *between*. It was too late.

The man collapsed onto the floor in a fit of coughs and sobs. It was over, there would be no closure for either of them. **I love you too, son...**

~~~ Dawn Weyrhold Time ~~~

Zanath emerged from *between* over Rocky Crater Weyrhold just after dawn, exchanging greetings with the watchdragon as she sailed towards her ledge.

"You dismount first, then I'll hand the basket down to you," J'yce told his son as they landed on the ledge.

"Okay, Pa!"

J'yce couldn't help but grin in reaction to the excitement in Jaeger's voice. **Dael's going skin me six ways to restday when she finds out what I've done,** he thought, not only about the puppy, but for not having told her about the trip before hand. "Careful now, use Zan's leg as a step, and don't let go of the neck strap until both your feet are on the ledge..."

"I know, Pa," Jaeger assured him, having heard the *how to mount and dismount* instructions a half-dozen times that morning alone. "See!" Swinging from the strap, he did a two-foot jump from Zanath's limb, landing as smoothly as he'd seen his father do it.

"Yeah, I see..." **I see that I'll be grey by thirty!** "Okay, let me unhook the basket." It took J'yce a few moments to free the basket for he'd attached it to Zanath's riding straps far more securely than he might otherwise have in light of its precious cargo.

"Here you go, Jae... And don't open it yet," he instructed, handing down the basket, "A high ledge isn't the safest place for him, and I don't want a groggy puppy wandering about all the way up here." His brother, Darcen, had given the puppy a very mild sedative to keep him calm as his first reaction to Zanath had been a panicked one.

Nodding emphatically, "Okay, Pa, I won't," he said as he took the basket. "Do you think that Ma will let me keep him?"

"No who can say no to a frisky ball of fur?" J'yce chuckled as he dismounted, a tightly covered bucket in one hand.

{{If she does, can I have him?}}

J'yce laughed, "Zanath wants to know if she can have him if you can't."

Wrinkling his brow, Jaeger cocked his head to the side and regarded his father's green. "She does know that he isn't food, doesn't she?" he asked after a moment.

"Of cor... er..." J'yce turned back to Zanath. "Zan, you do realize that a puppy isn't a snack food, don't you?"

{{Umm...}} She suddenly looked away. {{Lovely day, isn't it?}} she asked, all but whistling innocently.

"I think that we'd better keep him away from her," J'yce said, draping his arm over Jaeger's shoulder and leading him into the weyr.


As soon as they walked in, they were greeted by an excited Rascal.

"Let's get changed out of our winter clothes, then we'll make a collar and leash for him before taking him to meet your mother. I have some scrap leather and old strap hardware for the buckles and such, but we can have your Ma make him a really fancy collar once she's agreed to keep all three of us," he chuckled.

Getting the joke, Jaeger giggled contagiously.

Once stripped out of their snow-dampened clothing, father and son set about making that leash and collar for the newest member of their family. After a few minutes of greetings, Rascal began to ignored them, now more interested in the snoring sounds coming from the wicker basket next to the bed. He'd seen its occupant only briefly when J'yce lifted the sleepy puppy out just long enough to measure him for the collar.

As they worked -- J'yce on the collar and Jaeger on the leash -- J'yce kept glancing over at his son. **By Zanath's egg, I'll never turn my back on him no matter what he does, or how mad I ever get at him,** he swore to himself. "Jae?"

"Yes, Pa?" he asked, looking up.

"I love you, son," he said softly, reaching over and caressing the boy's hair back away from his face, "No matter what may happen in the coming Turns, I always will love you. Don't ever forget that, son."

"I won't..." Not knowing what else to say, Jaeger tossed down the leash as he jumped up to throw his arm's around his father's neck, tears coming to his eyes. "I love you too, Pa." His father's arms came up to embrace him tightly, and Jaeger could feel his father's tears against his bare shoulder. "You miss them, don't you? You're family."


"Even Grandpa?"

J'yce nodded. **Especially him...** "But you and your Ma are my family now," he said, pulling back enough for aquamarine to meet aquamarine. It was a gaze not unlike his own. A gaze not unlike his father's. **I love you, Father...**

~*~ THE END ~*~