Mud Isn't the Problem

Fort Weyr - Mountain Pass - Cliffside Trail
Steep terrain makes the path more treacherous as the foothills transition into mountainous rock. The elevation is evident as the climate is cooler and often has a bite to it. The path continues around large boulders and over loose shale, zigzagging back and forth to avoid the sheer cliff faces that require a little more effort than just walking to get up them. In some places the path turns into mud, especially slick after snow melts or rainy days. In other places, durable little tuffs of wild grass and other mountainous vegetation find room to grow, but its definitely sparse. Yet, theres the odd cliff face that has allowed a coniferous tree to root in the ground and hang onto the rock, so its not completely barren.
Up ahead, the climb gets worse. The trail becomes narrow and skims the boarders of sheer drops at the same time as almost going vertical. Its a challenge to hike, but if one can get through it, the rim promises a hidden treasure. Meanwhile, the east trail seems easier and theres a thrumming sound coming from its direction, almost like the rush of a waterfall.


Spring has arrived! The snows are gradually melting, the sun is out and bringing warmth to the air and tiny buds are sprouting on most of the dormant trees and bushes out in Fort's vast wilderness. Spring also means the trails and roadways are clearing of snow and ice but becoming hazardous from deep puddles of water and everyones foe: mud. LOTS of it this Turn, thanks to the amount of snowfall. Even the Weyr is struggling to keep the bowls from becoming ankle deep mires of the stuff. It's not the Weyr, however, that Th'ero finds himself in. At this very moment, late in the morning, he's riding Velokraeth back from a trip to one of the nearby Holds. Out of boredom and curiosity, the pale bronze reaches out for Varmiroth: « Little brother! We're done with our task. Where are you? Come and fly with us, if you are able! »

Varmiroth's mind is distant, and not at the weyr either. « We were called to help a wagon in the mud, » the small blue says, his thoughts clinging to the bronze's stronger broadcasting so he can speak. « One moment. » There is silence, and then the blue appears on Velokraeth's wingtip, neat as threadfall wing positioning. He warbles a greeting, almost his entire body covered in mud. Hi!

Velokraeth rumbles, amused, by the muddied state of Varmiroth when the blue joins him in near perfect formation. « You're lucky you didn't freeze solid Between with all that mud on you! » he teases before sobering. « Mine wants to know of the wagon. Is all well? » Since if it isn't, well… of course they're going to go back!

Varmiroth snorts, amused, his thoughts curling around the bronze's. « Between doesn't bother me. » Other cold might, but between…nah. « All is well, of course, mine wouldn't have left if it weren't. » Kimmila can only lift a hand to wave, her wry smirk hidden behind her mask.

Th'ero returns that wave and then makes a gesture with his hand. How're you? Ahh, good 'ol hand signals! Velokraeth rumbles again, « Figured as much. Mine says he looks forwards to some wine and quiet. The meeting in the Hold was tiresome and dull. » he reports with an implied yawn. « He's thinking warm thoughts of yours too. » Never fails that he'd share those details with the blue! « Quite vividly, I may add and — ah, well. What's this? » The pale bronze whuffles as he cranes his neck around. « That wasn't the wagon you left behind, was it? Because there seems to be some sort of commotion in the distance… »

Kimmila returns a thumbs up as Varmiroth settles in beside Velokraeth. « Of course it was. Mine wasn't there. » About to respond to the warm thoughts remark, the blue then shifts his focus outwards. « No, it wasn't. Ours was higher in the mountains. »

Oh, all the jokes Velokraeth could have brought up with Varmiroth concerning their riders and shenanigans that vary from amusing to downright inappropriate! Unfortunately his mind has focused on something else and tipping his wings he makes a graceful turn. « Mine thinks we should go and see. If it's another wagon stuck in the mud, we very well cannot leave them there. »

Varmiroth rumbles and turns to follow, though the blue's wingbeats are slow. He's tired, but he doesn't verbalize that. He just turns to follow, while Kimmila squints into the distance.

They won't have to fly far or that long before the wagon in question is in sight. It's a large wagon and it's tilted dangerously with one side sunk deep into not only mud but what looks to be water. The roadway here is soggy and the traders must have thought it was only a harmless puddle. Boy, were they wrong! Velokraeth swoops overhead, causing a few of the men to look up and call out in relief and welcome as the bronze circles back around to land. « Little brother, » he rumbles privately to Varmiroth. « Look. One of the beasts. It's dead and its teammate is not far behind it. » Sure enough, the two large animals have been moved aside, still in their harnesses. One is dead, the other is extremely weak, exhausted and coughing feebly.

Varmiroth circles and then swoops to land behind the bronze, folding his wings neatly. « Should we eat them? » he asks, puzzled a bit as to why Velokraeth would bring the beasts to his attention. On his back, Kimmila pulls off her goggles and helmet, unsnapping her riding belt before sliding down to land in the mud for the second time today.

« Mine says we shouldn't. He thinks something isn't right with them or this situation, » Velokraeth informs Varmiroth as his oversized head cranes forwards a bit to peer suspiciously at the beasts. Th'ero dismounts after stowing his helmet and goggles away, landing heavily in the slick, wet mud. He tries not to grimace as his boots squelch with each step as he joins Kimmila but before he can even get a word in with her, they're being surrounded by the men who presumedly own the stuck wagon "Thank the stars you're here!" "Don't mean to impose, Weyrleader, sir…" "… we've been stuck like this for candlemarks now! Sir, ma'am…" "Can you help us?"

Varmiroth rumbles softly, peering at the beasts. Kimmila does as well, frowning, turning back to the men and lifting a hand. "Of course we can, but what happened to your beasts?" They look awful.

"Ah, well… Strange thing, Wingrider." One of the men, an older looking handler, begins to explain to Kimmila as he scratches at the back of his head. "Team was fine when we left the Hold, maybe a bit off their feed but that ain't so unusual for 'em. Then they started actin' funny further up and it was when we were tryin' to skirt this here hole that the one there just pitched over dead. We figured it was all this damp makin' 'em cough like that…" The other men all mutter to themselves, while Th'ero just remains quiet, hands hooked into his riding belt as he looks from the downed beasts to the wagon.

Kimmila frowns as she peers at the beasts. "Huh," she murmurs. "Maybe we should bring a beastcrafter back," she murmurs to Th'ero. "To put the other out of its misery if nothing else." She looks to the traders, studying the wagon. "So how can we help?"

« I will bespeak Haast's Craft Wingleader, » Velokraeth informs Varmiroth and then he swivels his head towards the Weyr. Moments later, he rumbles in satisfaction and looking quite pleased. « They are sending two Journeymen now to examine the beasts. » It'll be another handful of minutes before a green dragon appears from Between and swiftly lands, lifting her foreleg to help her passengers dismount with swiftness and ease. Kimmila meanwhile has her offer jumped upon by most of the men. "We'll need the wagon righted and word sent to anyone who has a spare team to pull it…" "Dragon's can do it, can't they? Lift the wagon, I mean!" Th'ero is quiet, still looking at those beasts that the Beastcrafters are now hurrying too.

Kimmila is also distracted by the beasts, and she doesn't really relax until the beastcrafters are there to look at them. Only then does she turn back to the traders. "Dragons can help pull it free. Wouldn't recommend them carrying the wagon though. They /can/, it's just difficult and lots more could go wrong."

The men look a little disappointed but the one who speaks up looks to be middle aged and likely the 'leader' of this trader caravan. "Wouldn't want to ask too much anyways, Wingrider. We'd be glad enough just to have the wagon wrenched free of where it is now. Would your blue mind? The clearing looks to be wide enough for his comfort…" He doesn't dare ask that Velokraeth volunteer. A Weyrleader's dragon doing such work? Never! "We'd be in your debt…" The man goes on to add with a knowing look to Kimmila. She going to name her price? Th'ero, meanwhile, signals to her that he is going to go join the Beastcrafters.

Kimmila waves a hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it," she says with a smile. "It's our duty." She looks to Varmiroth and the small blue moves forward, careful of his body and where everything else is. Bending, he reaches to gently take the tongue in his mouth and leans back, ever so carefully exerting pressure on it. Slowly it begins to budge.

The caravan leader smiles broadly but shakes his head. "It ain't right not to give you something for your time and your dragon's hard work," he points out. Stubborn pride won't let her off so easy! Watching Varmiroth move into place, the middle aged man orders his men about, keeping them well out of the way though it's obvious they hover as close as they can. The wagon is their livelihood after all!

Kimmila waves a hand again. "Whatever you feel comfortable giving, then." Varmiroth is extremely gentle, pulling back as the wagon shifts and then slowly slides free of the mud. He continues to pull until all four wagons are on solid, sturdy ground, and then rumbles in satisfaction and sets the tongue down, moving back until he's well clear of it.

"Perfect!" The middle-aged man says with a broad grin before he focuses back on the task at hand. All the men shout and cheer, showering Varmiroth (and Kimmila!) with praise and gratitude as the wagon is pulled free and set on sturdier ground. The moment the way is clear, they rush forwards to begin to inspect the wagon for damage, leaving Kimmila to stand there awkwardly if it weren't for Th'ero signalling her to join him. He's standing with the two Beastcrafters, both of which who are wearing equally as grim and worried expressions.

Kimmila steps back, watching with a little smile, also concerned that their wagon be okay. Th'ero's gesturing though has her turning to walk over to his side, peering at the beasts. "So?" she asks with a small frown.

From the sounds the men make (they speak loud enough to be heard for miles!), the wagon has suffered some damage but nothing they can't repair on the road. Th'ero reaches out to gently slide his arm around her, which in the presence of so many strangers is likely a hint that something is wrong. "… as I was explaining to the Weyrleader," One of the Journeymen speaks up, clearing his throat to nod politely to Kimmila and joined by his companion. "These beasts here are ill… or were ill. One is dead as we were warned and the other is dying. Not entirely certain on what but it looks to be respiratory — only that doesn't kill 'em usually. We'll need these animals for testing." Autopsy they mean. "Either of you know which Hold they came from? If these animals were housed with their stock…"

Kimmila frowns when Th'ero slides his arm around her. Not for the contact, but for the indication that something is far amiss. "Not sure," she says, turning to shout back to the traders. "Where are you all from?"

She knows him so well and their silent little cues! The Journeymen are completely oblivious, too focused on the grim reality facing them. "And you're certain that it's not highly contagious?" Th'ero can be heard speaking up, trying hard not to laugh when both Beastcrafters jump when Kimmila shouts at the traders. "Peyton Hold and before that the outskirts of Fort Hold!" One of the men holler back and the news just makes the Beastcrafter mutter darkly. "… they could have caught it at either one…" "… no reports of ill animals in either location … not yet anyways… "

Kimmila looks back at the Beastcrafters when the traders answer, her brows lifting. "Do we need to take you to Peyton and Fort?" she asks quietly.

"If neither of you would mind? We should check in. I could go to Peyton, my comrade here to Fort Hold." The one Journeyman explains and then turns to the beasts. "Someone will have to bring these poor things to the Hall. We'll have to put the one down too… before we go." Which is likely not to be pleasant work. Th'ero sighs and nods his head, "I'll inform the Traders and see that Velokraeth's straps are ready. Kimmila, come with me?" he murmurs as he turns on his heel to begin walking back towards the wagon. He's going to leave the Beastcrafters to their grim work of putting the one beast out of its misery.

Kimmila shakes her head. "Of course we wouldn't mind," she answers quietly. She looks to the beasts with a frown, then up to Th'ero. A silent nod greets his question as she moves off with him. "What do you think, wingmate?" she asks softly as they walk.

Th'ero shakes his head and grimaces, "That we're in for a rough spring? I've been listening to the mutterings about the Weyr — not just the weyrfolk but the holders and Crafters too. They're all saying the same thing about the spring being too wet so far. If what the Traders say is true, their beasts sickened on the trail. Question is… are their team to blame or is the sickness in the Holds?" he murmurs quietly.

Kimmila sighs, looking around the trail as if the sickness is visible. "I don't know, wingmate. Best to let the beastcrafters have their rides and let them try to trace it…"

Th'ero pauses in his next step to turn and face her instead, reaching out to gently touch her arm with his hand. "We'll do that, Wingmate. Are you alright?" Maybe he senses something in this is troubling her which is why he's stalled their approach to the Traders, who continue to work on their precious wagon without so much as a thought to the beasts. The only one who seems at a loss is the handler, who is working on sorting out the now empty harnesses.

Kimmila's brows lift at his question. "Of course I am. Are you? I mean, besides sick beasts…I'm fine."

Th'ero shakes his head and sighs, "I'm alright but I want to hear your thoughts on this, Wingmate. Before we go and question those men and start bringing the Beastcrafters to the Holds."

Kimmila looks around, thoughtful, and then back to him. "Thoughts on what? I think the beastcrafters need to go to the holds as soon as possible. That beast dropped dead. If this is infectious, they need to go back over the traders' steps and isolate any other animals that might have come in contact with it. We don't want another beast plague."

Apparently that's exactly what he wanted to hear. Confirmation that his thoughts aren't off course and his shoulders drop a bit as some of the tension in his posture eases. "My thoughts exactly. Come on, then." Th'ero gently places his hand to her back as he turns them towards the wagon. Before he can get a word in though, the middle-aged Leader is approaching them and they're drowned in thanks and praise and loud, boisterous chatter that forces Th'ero into acknowledging and answering. On top of that? Kimmila receives her "payment": a glass bottle of what looks to be a very good gin and it has a metal key worked into the neck, a few glass beaded bracelets and some very soft, very well tanned leather.

Kimmila is surprised by the bounty of their gifts, and her first instinct is to decline, to protest…but she doesn't. She smiles, thanks them, is gracious and dutifully impressed by the quality of their wares. But Th'ero can tell she's uncomfortable with it all.

Th'ero is surprised as well and almost protests FOR her but she's too quick and has already thanked the Traders, who look all the more overjoyed for her acceptance. He can see how uncomfortable she is and takes the chance to distract the men with the news. The handler takes it the worst, "How can that be? They were both healthy and young beasts too! Bred from our own lines, those two and I pride myself on their care! To lose one is troubling but both? We had 'em stabled all winter… Not a sign! Not one!" he exclaims before turning to stumble off to where the Beastcrafters are preparing the bodies for transport. The good mood of the Traders settles to apprehensiveness. "So… what's that mean for us now, Weyrleader? Where are we to go?"

Kimmila shifts her weight, frowning in sympathy for the handler, but she has no answers for him. "Where were you headed originally?" Kimmila asks gently.

"We're just starting our spring circuit, Wingrider. We come up from the southern holds in Fort's territory during the Winter months and gradually head northward. Only the storms this Turn lingered and so we were caught up outside of Fort Hold for a bit before moving on to Peyton. We'll be heading northwest after this… if we can even get some new beasts…" The Leader explains with a troubled look, glancing from Kimmila to Th'ero. The Weyrleader only sighs, "I cannot give you an answer there. As it is, we can only send word to Peyton and perhaps they'll spare a team to haul your wagon back…" "But sir! We've… we're on a schedule!"

Kimmila sighs, shaking her head. "Or maybe we can take a few of you to Fort or Peyton to buy a new team. You'd be behind schedule but there's not much we can do about that. Transporting beasts by dragon is a last resort…"

The Traders shift uneasily. None of them seem keen on flying by dragon back to either of the Holds. "No offence meant, Wingrider, but… we'd not wish to inconvenience you any further…" Which solves nothing. Th'ero's brows furrow and he's starting to look impatient. "So you'd prefer it if we just left you here then while you wait on relief from Peyton?" He glances to Kimmila. Did he hear right?

Kimmila looks at Th'ero with a confused frown. "Do you want us to tell them you're stranded out here? They're not going to just send a free team along the path…"

"Ah, no, Wingrider… they'd probably drive the team down themselves? We can't leave the wagon here either and even with one man to guard it it isn't enough. Just send word to Peyton Hold, they'll know what to do." The Leader explains and Th'ero just nods his head and grimaces. "If that's what you wish… You require nothing else then?" The men shake their heads and the Weyrleader nods again. "Wingmate, why don't you go see if the Beastcrafters are ready? We'll get them transported."

Kimmila shakes her head. "I meant without payment." Free. But the traders seem intent on this plan, so Kimmila shrugs and nods to Th'ero, turning towards the beastcrafters and their burdens. "I'll be the one going to Peyton."

The Traders have a good chuckle amongst themselves. "Aye, Wingrider! We'll be tending to that when they get here. Don't you worry! They know us well in Peyton… our name's a good one. You'll see!" They seem pretty confident and assured, so Th'ero doesn't argue it. He's eager to be done with this and so he reaches out to clasp Kimmila's arm. "You sure you want Peyton Hold?"

Kimmila nods, "Yeah, I can do it," she assures Th'ero. He gets Fort Hold. Joy? "You ready to go?" she asks the beastcrafters. "Is it alright if Varmiroth just picks the beast up?"

Oh joy is right. Th'ero isn't thrilled with the thought of going to Fort Hold but there's no way around it. "We'll meet back at the Weyr then, Wingmate." The Beastcrafters look up and nod, the one due to head to Peyton Hold stepping towards Kimmila. "The beasts? They'll need transport to the Hall. The greenrider who brought us here, she's offered her aid and that of another Haast Wingrider. Beastcrafter too." So that's covered!

Kimmila ahhs. "Even easier," she says with a grin. "This way, then, and we'll take you to Peyton right away." She smiles to Th'ero before mounting up and offering the beastcrafter a hand. « We will return to the weyr as soon as possible, brother. »

The Beastcrafter follows Kimmila and takes her offered hand up, perfectly comfortable with riding a dragon. He even thanks her and Varmiroth for their continued aide. Th'ero nods his head and will linger to speak with the Beastcrafter left with him, see that the Traders are settled and then mount up on Velokraeth with his passenger. « Clear skies and safe travels, little brother! » Spreading his wings, he takes flight and soars up high before vanishing Between to Fort Hold.

To Be Continued!


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