Part 6

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Missa struggled to reach the tuber basket. The girls thought it was funny to put it just out of her reach so that she'd have to ask someone for it. They knew that if Missa was caught not peeling or chopping she'd be in trouble. Tears swam in her eyes but she refused to let them fall. She refused to cry in front of these brats. She managed to hook the basket with a finger and drug it all the way in front of her. As she adjusted her seat, she felt a low tremor on the table.

The tremor went up her spine and put her teeth on edge. Then it was as if the tremor became sound, as a low hum seemed to come from everywhere at once. The hum's pitch increased until it was almost a keening. All the girls at the table stood up and started talking all at once.

"The eggs are hatching!"

"I wish I could go to the hatching grounds."

"I should have been Searched a long time ago. Both my brothers were."

Warrela bustled into the room. "Missa, come, dear, G'dran is waiting for you outside."

Missa threw herself off her chair and pushed her wheeled board as fast as she could. She came out into the light of the summer morning. "Tranth!"

"What no 'hello' for me?" the brownrider said.

"Hello, G'dran," Missa said. "I'm ready to go."

"Then get up there," he said, pointing to the riding straps. Missa grabbed the straps and before she knew it, Tranth took a great leap into the air. G'dran yelled from behind her. "When we get there, I'm going to hand you down to the floor and then jump off afterward. Try to move out of my way before then. Tranth has to move out quickly so there's room for other dragons dropping off riders and guests. Find an available seat and then when it's over, then I'll come to you."

Missa nodded that she understood. And just like G'dran had said, Tranth zoomed onto the ledge. Missa took hold of G'dran's forearm as soon as she had her straps off. He swung her down and she was ready to start moving out of his way but he  jumped anyway, landing right next to her. He scooped her up in his arms.

"Sorry, but I felt this would make both our lives easier."

"That's ok."

G'dran managed to make some people move over so that Missa could sit on the bottom row of the tiered viewing stand. She looked across the room where the eggs lay guarded by gold Beljeth. She was twice the size of Tranth. The mound of eggs probably would have filled up her and Da's cothold and then some. Some of them twitched and rocked.  She watched it mesmerized. From another doorway, boys and girls dressed in white tunics walked onto the sands. Even though they had thick sandals on, more than one pranced with the heat the sands produced. The thrumming of the dragons' song had not stopped and it only added to the anticipation no doubt everyone else was feeling. Then the first crack shot through the cavern.

Everyone held their breath as the first baby dragon spilled wet and crying onto the hatching sands. He looked to be a bronze and he crawled his way towards the Candidates. A tall, skinny boy knelt in front of the baby, and suddenly he called out "His name is Spanth!"

One by one, dragons paired off with Candidates. There were only a few eggs left.  A part of Missa wished that of the ones left, she could be paired with a dragon, however remote a chance she had. The look on the other kids' faces when they Impressed was magical. Their eyes would unfocus and it was like only the Candidates and their dragon existed. She sighed. She knew she should be thankful for the chance to watch a Hatching. Not many people outside the weyr had the opportunity. A crack rang out and a little green came squealing out of her egg. Her little cry was so sweet that it made Missa's heartache to hear her call for her rider. The little green approached the remaining Candidates swinging her head back and forth, approaching one and then swinging her head in rejection. Her cries became more and more intense and Missa found that tears fell down her face. She couldn't stand to hear it anymore. The little green started to approach the stands and Missa got down off the row she sat on and crawled over to the little dragon. She grabbed the little head to stop it from thrashing around and the second their eyes met she heard a little voice in her head say, [[ What took you so long? I am hungry. Apeth is hungry! ]]

"Don't worry, little miss impatient. I'll get you something to eat."

Shadows surrounded her. She looked up and saw K'van, G'dran, Adrea, and J'gol all standing over Apeth and her. J'gol looked like he was about to have a heart attack. Everyone else looked shocked and concerned.

"She says she's hungry. Her name is Apeth."

For a moment, no one said anything.  Apeth let out an ear-piercing shriek and it seemed to break the spell of inaction that had come over everyone.  "Let's get her back to the barracks," J'gol said, looking not much better than he had a moment ago.

In the air above Missa, Dawn popped into the air.  She chittered and squawked at Apeth as if scolding her.  She landed on Missa's shoulder and lowered her snout to inspect the green.  They must have come to some understanding because while Apeth continued to squeal, it was at a less loud level than she had right after she hatched.

[[ Are you getting me some food? I'm starving ]] Apeth said.

The group escorted Missa and Apeth into the weyrling barracks. The other new weyrlings were already feeding their dragonets. Huge slabs of wherry and herdbeast meat were within arms reach of a table that weyrlings were slicing up into dragonet bite-sized pieces.

"Is there a chair in here?" Missa said.

"No. Just the butcher table, knives, and meat," J'gol said.

"Well, she's starving," Missa said. "Do you have something else I can cut the meat on? Like a rock slab or another piece of wood, like a broken tabletop?"

"I'm sure we can find something," J'gol said. "For now, we'll try and get you a chair."

The chair was found, and Missa climbed up in and grabbed a knife.

"Now, you want to cut up fist-sized pieces and make sure you cut up quite a lot. Then you're going to take that squealing stomach and jam her full until she's stuffed. She'll sleep for a while, but for the next few sevendays or so, she'll wake up at regular intervals to eat. If she starts to complain about itches, we've got the oil you use on her hide. You must make sure that you oil every time. Un-oiled skin develops marred hide which can be dangerous when going /between/. So get cutting, and remember you'll be expected to do everything for her. Oiling, feeding, even cleaning up her leavings. It'll be tough, so sleep when you can."

While J'gol was giving this little speech, she had been cutting up the meat like he had told her to. She'd gotten a large pile and grabbed a basket. She started stuffing Apeth and she greedily gulped down the meat. Even Dawn decided to help out, grabbing chunks of meat and flying it over to Apeth and dropping it in her open maw.  Dawn even managed to sneak a few smaller pieces for herself.  When Apeth's little belly was poking out, J'bol escorted Missa and Apeth to their bunk, where Apeth promptly fell asleep. Before she passed into unconsciousness, she said to Missa, [[ I'm not hungry anymore. I love you ]]

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