Chapter 35 - Byron's Decision

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Fort Squall

Tamara and Lady Emmy entered Fort Squall's dining hall together, happily chatting about her lessons. It was mid-morning, so the breakfast dishes had long since been cleared. The hall's tables, except for one, stood empty, with benches neatly pushed beneath. The room was quite airy when it wasn't full of bodies.

It was a common misconception that the hall's sole purpose was a place to serve meals or hold occasional gatherings. This misconception was far from the truth, for in fact, the hall was often in use during the entire day. When meals were not in session, it was used for meetings, group activities, training, and more. Today was such an occasion; today Tamara would be familiarized with a new task.

She and Lady Emmy approached a trestle table at the front of the room. There were a number of others assembled here—all Riders—gathered about a large, open book. Her eyes widened when she saw it, for it was the largest book she had ever seen, and it took up nearly the full width of the table.

The happy chatting stopped when they were spotted. Those at the table rose to greet them. She took note of the respect that was paid specifically to Lady Emmy. Her chest swelled with admiration as she witnessed it; Lady Emmy was the best sort of role model she could have asked for.

After their greetings, Lady Emmy introduced Tamara. All of the Riders gave their names by way of introduction, even though she had already met many of them. "Tamara will join us henceforth," Lady Emmy explained. "She may not yet be mated, but I see no reason to withhold these duties until then."

The Riders gave their approval in the form of curt nods and suspicious gazes. It felt like false approval. As they appraised her, she felt their judgement; she felt their wary curiosity. She was much too young to have their respect, nor did she expect it, but she did hope that some day she might earn it. The matter of introductions was over soon enough, and the activity at the table resumed.

"Stand beside me, dear, and I will explain what we are doing here." Lady Emmy said as she led Tamara around the table. At first it seemed silly; Emmy took several loops about the table, arm-in-arm with her, walking at a painfully slow pace. She remained quiet, even though she wanted to ask why they weren't sitting with everyone else. After a few minutes she realized that Emmy was observing the conversations between the group. The Riders at the table were discussing shifts—patrols for each of the Dragondoms in their territory of Vestur. They used the book to write out names, often scratching out one and replacing it with another.

When she had an opportunity, she took a good look at the large book. It was made up entirely of timetables. Someone had taken on the painstaking task of drawing grids on each sheet of parchment, both front and back. It was in these boxes that names, times, and locations were written.

At this point, Emmy began to explain the situation. "Every two weeks, we convene to create patrol schedules. Those who are Riders of Fort Squall's wing-leaders and wing-seconds are required to oversee this duty. Given that you are the rider (or soon to be) of a wing-second, this will be your responsibility too." Emmy paused as they rounded one end of the table and began their walk to the other end. "We try to plan four weeks in advance, but things often change, especially as of late."

"Is that what they are scratching out and re-writing names in the book?"

"Very good—yes. The book has each wing-leader and wing-second's name, the names of those assigned to their patrol group, and which patrol locations they oversee. Now, by way of a little quiz, let us see how much you remember about your lessons."

Her stomach fluttered. Emmy knew she did not like being put on the spot, and often gave these little tests to ensure she was paying attention. More importantly, Emmy gave them because Tamara needed to get over her fear of attention. If she was to become a fort leader someday, on-the-spot-attention would be a daily requirement.

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