N’kio knew the ride would have ended sooner or later, but he didn’t realize how much he had enjoyed the whole affair until Elora had dismounted, and the comfortable warmth from her body against his chest had faded.
Still, it was better than nothing.
Returning her smile, N’kio slid off Metanath’s side and unbuckled the leather straps before turning his dragon loose. “Well, that all depends on what you like. I think it’s an understatement to say we have fish here, if you’re interested in that.”
Gathering up the straps and saddle bag into a fairly organized bundle, he slung it over his shoulder and turned around to face Elora. “But if you’re not into fish, don’t worry. One of the nice benefits of a trading Hold are the food shipments we get in – there’s a lot to choose from.”
While Elora's attention was fixed on Saphireth, his eyes roamed lower down her body. “Anything you’d like to taste?”
I can think of a few places on her I'd like to taste.
And that’s the cue for me to leave.
By now, nothing he heard from N’kio or the other sailors shocked him. He had learned over the turns that ignoring them was usually the best solution to get them to shut it, or to get some peace of mind – which ever came first. So without any further word, now freed from his harness, Metanath began to walk down the hill toward the beaches.
He had a feeling he would not pass on that last piece of information he heard from his Rider to Saphireth. Elora would be more than capable of finding that out for herself, he figured.
Elora hadn't heard a word N'kio said in response as Saphireth rolled onto her side, cracking open an eye to look at Metanath walking down the hill. An honest smile overtook the young Rider as she stepped forward, scratching the DarkBlue's eyeridge.
A minute or two passed in silence on Elora's part, the smile on her face and her nails against Saphireth's hide, before her dragon spoke.
He asked where you would like to eat. He keeps looking at your bum. Does he, now?
Elora resisted the urge to turn around and flash N'kio a smile, or to wiggle, or something. But she just straightened up and turned back towards the sailor.
"I'm indifferent, so I'll let you pick. I just like to eat. So lead the way."
Actually, you just like to- I thought you told me to keep a clean mind. Well, you shouldn't lie. It's not lying. I can like more than one thing.
Saphireth's eyes whirled with amusement before they slowly closed. She vaguely wondered where Metanath was going, but she was far too comfortable to ask.
Quickly reining his eyes back up to her face, N’kio smiled at Elora’s response. Indifferent she may be, but he didn’t even need a moment to consider where he would take her. “Come, follow me,” he said, turned halfway, and motioned for her to follow beside him.
“There’s a few places I could take you in the Hold itself, but if you want to do it properly, then you’ll want the Galley down below.” The cool air ruffling his hair, N’kio picked his way through the crowd as he made his way down to the docks, and his smile turned into a smirk.
“But first, you need to pick out what you want to eat at the market.”
With a glance over his shoulder to make sure she was still following, N’kio largely ignored the sailors and their appreciative whistles at Elora as they passed by, and led her over to the large, quayside sea market. Spread out before them was row after colorful row of a variety of shellfish, watersnakes, eels, fish – as well as multiple boxes of kelp, octopodes, and sea cucumbers – all kept cool and covered from the sun with long, dripping seaweed.
“Mind your step coming through here,” N’kio added, ducking under fishing lines hanging with skates and packtails. “It might not look like the most organized place, but it’s the best sea market on the Southern continent.” The air was rich with the sharp, metallic tang of blood and was filled with the sound of multiple, heated conversations from the men and women perusing the stock for the best deal.
Moving off to the side and out of the way, N’kio smiled over at Elora. “The only rule is that you have to pick at least one thing to eat from here – but if you’d prefer more conventional food, we have a small farm up top.”
Elora tilted her head to the side, eyes skimming the raw and brightly colored foods.
Behind her, the sea tilted and waved, sparkling in the new afternoon sun. The dock workers heaved and moved their merchandise. Sand skidded across the shoreline as a soft breeze took the edge off of the heat.
On the cliff, Saphireth had turned herself to watch what Metanath was doing. After all, it wasn't often she got to see dragons out of the Weyr, and it wasn't like Metanath was hard to watch. He seemed aware of what he was doing at all times. She supposed that came from working so close to regular people.
Perhaps she could be that aware one day.
Back at the market, Elora was considering draping an eel around N'kio's neck and tying it like a tie, but resisted - after all, she'd have to pay for the eel, and she wasn't going to buy something she wasn't interested in. But she did want to eat something.
And she did like trying new things.
"What's the weirdest thing here?" She turned back to N'kio, a grin slowly spreading across her face as the idea of a challenge lit up her eyes. "I'll take that."
“That’s a moot question. I’m not sure I’m the person you should be asking – these foods aren’t very strange to me!” laughed N’kio, pleased that she was up for a culinary challenge. “But I’ll take a guess and assume you mean the weirdest looking? Or the weirdest tasting? Hmm.” His hand automatically rose to stroke his beard as he considered the many possibilities.
Finally, he shrugged his shoulders and headed out into the market. “Since you asked, I’ll have you trying a few different things.” Halfway between reaching for an octopus to examine, N’kio turned back to Elora.
“If you’re up for it, that is. But come here, beside me,” he added with a jaunty tilt of his head, and bent to retrieve an empty crate in the process. “Time to teach you some life skills. Your Weyrling lessons don’t stop at the Weyr! And if you and Saphireth are set on exploring the world when you’re able to, you should know some things about these sorts of food.”
He resumed his examination of the crate of octopodes. After careful perusal, he selected one the size of his fist and grabbed it by the head. “The first thing you should bear in mind is more of a personal preference than not,” N’kio started, attempting to peel off the snaking, tentacled arms from his hand as they flailed around.
“It’s something I was taught and it seems to work. Always buy an octopus with a double row of suction cups. I can’t explain it, but it’s just better. The ones with only one row are usually either too you – Oh, hold on a moment.”
As the octopus wrapped up his bare arm, N’kio reached into his back pocket with his free hand, pulled out a knife, and pierced through the head without further thought. Pulling his arm free, he placed the twitching octopus into the crate.
“Like I was saying, they’re either too young or two small. Also, if you cook one, I’d recommend not putting water in the pot you’re using. Much better if it’s left to its own devices, trust me.”
As a woman carrying a basket of dark, spiny circles passed them by, N’kio grinned with excitement at the possibilities.
“Oooh. Ever tried urchins, Elora?”
After spending a few minutes in the cold water, Metanath climbed up his ramp onto the docks and fluttered his wings dry. Much better, he sighed to no one in particular, and made his way through the throng of sailors and merchants.
Glancing ahead, he spied N’kio and Elora by the market. He snorted his annoyance, but had to admit, at least his Rider was along the docks. Sure, he should be working, like everyone else.
Though it wasn’t every day he got to see Elora.
Or Saphireth, for that matter.
Eyes whirling a thoughtful blue-gray, Metanath crouched, wriggled his body, and launched into the sky. It was back to the hill for him. Perhaps Saphireth would be more inclined to talk now.
Elora managed not to jump as N'kio casually stabbed the octopus in the head, blinking in surprise as he placed it back into the bin. He wasn't bothered by it, so she wasn't going to be, either.
Regardless of how cute it had been while crawling up his arm.
"I don't usually eat sea-food, so just go out on a limb and assume I haven't tried any of it." She flashed him a smile even as she noted that was revealing more about where she came from than she would have liked. Alas. "Hit me with your best shot."
Saphireth closed her eyes again as Metanath launched himself back towards the hill, a wiggle of shyness worming up her tail. Had he noticed her watching? Was he mad? Or flattered?
She wasn't sure which would be worse. Probably whichever one involved more talking.
So she kept her eyes shut and curled her tail back towards her body, tapping it lightly against her nose.
As he sorted through the small mountain of urchins, N'kio laughed to himself at her tenacious comment. "I had a feeling you weren't from around here. Don't worry, Elora." He looked over his shoulder and winked, "I'll take care of you."
Tossing a couple of the prickly sea urchins in the crate beside the octopus, he continued to stroll through the market, examining the fish with scrutiny. He stopped by the packtails and lifted one up by the gills, turning it around with a slight motion. It was perhaps one of the ugliest fish they sold here, and not many knew how to prepare it properly. Still, she wanted an experience.
He brought it to his nose and took a sniff before nodding and lowering it from his face. With a smirk, N'kio held it out for Elora.
"Come, tell me, what does a good fish smell like?"
Metanath settled onto the lawn and looked over to Saphireth, his eyes whirling thoughtfully as he glanced to her hide. Are you not uncomfortable in the sun? I do not like it very much on these days.
Out of habit, he began to extend a wing to offer shade -- then stopped and pulled his wing back to his side. She was not N'kio. It would be rude to assume, no matter how dark her hide was.
If you are not so tired later, I could show you some nice places to rest at, he offered. It was worth a shot, seeing as how N'kio was currently preoccupied. He couldn't have all the fun from the visit, now could he?
A small smile flashed over her face, and she quickly hid it by glancing away, running a hand over her face. She had heard it, of course, but always as a line or a way into her bed. Never from somebody who actually meant it, even if it was just what he was feeding her.
By the time she turned back, N'kio had his face up next to a dead fish. Before she had a chance to comment, he turned and held it out to her.
"What a good fish smells like?" Determined not to seem weak in front of him, she plucked the slimy and smelly dead fish from his hands. "I'll assume whatever this smells like, considering your nod of approval."
Saphireth opened her eyes from behind her tail and looked up at Metanath. The sun does not bother my hide like it does yours. Or it does not yet. Maybe it is because Mine takes such good care of it. I do not know.
She flicked her tail back out behind her, weaving it back and forth and patting down the grass as she raised her head.
Show me places to rest? Why would she need someplace to rest? This was not the Weyr; she would not be spending most of her time her- -and the thread of delight and determination from her Mine changed her mind abruptly, and her eyes whirled with acceptance. I sense that will be helpful. Thank you.
N’kio moved closer until he was shoulder-to-shoulder with Elora, unable to keep from smiling as he did so. “You’ve got to figure it out for yourself. There are a few ways you can tell if any fish, no matter the kind, is good or bad, and it involves both your eyes and your nose.”
He began to point at various parts on the packtail. “The rule of thumb is: if it smells like fish, it’s already gone bad. A good catch smells like where it’s been – for example, a pond – so here’s your first question. If this was caught today at Cliffside, what should it smell like?”
N’kio ran a calloused hand along the fish’s side and continued. “Next, a fresh fish is not slimy. Most people have the misconception that fish are always slimy and smelly, but that’s not the case unless it’s gone bad. It should be wet, not slimy. Also, check to see that the eyes are bright and,” he said, tilting open the gill plate of the fish in her hands, “that the gills are either pink or red. If it’s brown, that means its’ blood supply has already run out.”
Lifting that same hand to his chin, N’kio cracked his knuckles and readjusted his hold on the crate to his side. “Second question for you, though you might need to see what I’m talking about before answering.”
His smile turned mischievous. “There’s one more strange thing you could try, but it’s not something that’s often picked by travelers. I imagine it’s the shape. Unnerves some people.”
He briefly bit his lip in an attempt to keep from being completely immature and laugh. “You see that stand over there? Straight ahead and to the right?” He pointed it out with his free hand and glanced over to Elora.
“Feel free to tell me if that’s something you’d be interested in trying. Otherwise, I think we have all we need for now.”
Metanath nodded appreciatively in her direction. Whatever the cause, be sure you enjoy it while you can. N’kio has his hands full sometimes and it can be a bother. But enough of that – she accepted the offer!
Rising to his feet, he stretched his wings and looked out to the sea. So far, there were no other ships requesting to dock, and any that were leaving port did not require his action.
It is a shame you cannot fly yet, he breathed out with a small sigh. Metanath folded his wings against his sides and looked over his curved nose to Saphireth.
There are some places you can only get to by flying. N’kio and I like to go there sometimes. Perhaps when you get your wings, I shall show you where it is. But for now we’ll stick to walking.
His eyes whirled complacent blues and greens and he turned right, in the direction of their destination, and took a few steps forward before looking back to Saphireth.
Saphireth stood up and pushed her front legs out in front of her, arching her back and fluttering out her wings in a stretch. I will fly soon, I hope. And then you can show me.
She folded her wings back along her back, tucking them in as closely as she could. A shy, draconian smile fluttered across her face as Metanath looked at her, teeth all white and sharp, before he began to waddle off.
If you'd like, you can fly. I would hate to be an imposition on the people around us. You are not, um, as small as I.
Though the idea of walking alone terrified her, but the politeness could win over the shyness, assuming nobody tried to touch her.
Their shoulders rubbed against each other as N'kio began to spitfire information at her.
"I'd assume it would smell like the sea-" but even as she finished answering, he was presenting her with a new way to check the fish, mentally taking notes in case he decided to quiz her later. She did like learning, and she liked to show she was paying attention and, well, if it ended up impressing him, it couldn't hurt.
She put the fish back down with the rest as she looked at where N'kio was pointing, raising an eyebrow at him before quietly walking over and peering into the tank. A grin flashed across her face and she looked up at N'kio.
"Really? The shape unnerves some people? They must not spend a lot time around things shaped like that." Keeping her eyes on him, she reached onto the stand, swinging one into her hand. Her thumb absently began stroking the fish, a slow up-and-down motion along the curve of its head. "Though I think I prefer mine live."
Last Edit: Sept 11, 2012 16:07:18 GMT -8 by Nicole
An amused rumble reverberated from his chest when he heard the last comment. No, you are right – I am not as small as you are. I was once, a long time ago, but no longer. He picked his way slowly down the watch-hill, looking over his shoulder every so often, making certain that Saphireth and her small legs were able to keep up with his longer strides.
As long as you don’t start up a stampede of runners, you won’t be an imposition, I promise. And no, I don’t think I will fly. It would be terribly rude of me.
Out of habit, Metanath moved closer to Saphireth as he descended, tail held high in the air for balance as the sandy soil began to slide beneath his feet. In the near distance were the empty, warm sand dunes, separated from the numerous docks by natural rock pillars, and beyond the dunes was the ocean.
Not to mention, it is rare that dragons come to visit Cliffside. It’s a port town, so we get a lot of people visiting and trading, but for all other matters, the default location is your Weyr. It’s nice to be able to spend time with someone who actually has wings and isn’t a bird…or N’kio, for that matter.
N’kio knew he was in trouble when a rush of heat settled low in his stomach as he watched Elora, captivated, not entirely sure if showing her those mollusks was a good idea or not. Letting out a steady breath, he tried his best to keep his eyes fixed on hers as he slowly walked back to her side, setting down their crate at his feet.
“You don’t seem too unnerved by it…”
When he stood only a few inches away from her, N’kio cautiously extended a hand toward hers, his fingertips brushing against the underside of her wrist and on the side of her occupied palm. He had in mind to stop her thumb, but ultimately found himself distracted by her straightforward gaze and that slow, continuous motion of her thumb.
“And just what would you know about those sorts of things, weyrling?” he asked softly.
If your Mine is anything like Mine, I sense that it is exhausting to speak with him all the time. Saphireth's tail flicked contentedly as Metanath shifted close to her. He felt safe, a giant wall protecting her from the rest of the world around her. People wouldn't come near her if he was near. She could be quiet and herself and it would be okay.
He was her friend.
The realization made her quite happy, even as she didn't make any indication of it besides a whirling of her eyes. Why do dragons not come here more often? Or anywhere? Mine thinks that they should spend more time with people.
The touch of his fingers against her wrist sent her heartbeat racing, and a flicker of thought in the back of her head hoped that he couldn't sense it. But he seemed as distracted as she did.
They were in a crowded booth and she wasn't even certain that the other people were there anymore.
At his question, her smile softened and she tilted her head to the side, never breaking her gaze from his. "More than you'd like to think a weyrling knows, I expect." The heat snaking up her back, her stomach, told her that she should probably look away and go back to shopping for fish or whatever it was they they had been doing.
But the idea of breaking his gaze, or at least to be the one to break it first, wasn't one she wanted to entertain. And she didn't want his hand to pull away from her wrist.
N’kio had no intention of looking away just yet, as caught in her gaze as it seemed she was in his. He was certain his elevated heartbeat, a fast tattoo of sound, was loud enough to hear outside his chest. Moving closer to her side, a faint smile twitched the corners of his lips.
His fingertips trailed blindly across her wrist, over her arm, the curve of her shoulder, the side and back of her neck. He toyed with a strand of her hair before lifting his fingers to caress her jaw line, her chin, his thumb brushing lightly across her bottom lip before retreating back to his side.
“You’re trouble, Elora,” he breathed, his gaze moving down from her eyes, down to her lips, and back up again.
“I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but…” N’kio kept his eyes on Elora for any further sign. He was curious to know what she meant by that statement, but right now, there was little else he could realistically pay attention to.
"Is it wrong to admit you make it hard to concentrate on anything else?"
Metanath felt himself walking slower, not exactly certain as to why, only knowing that he both wanted and didn’t want to arrive too soon at the beach in the distance.
There is little for them here. Few places to set up a weyr, and once they are set up, it’s a dangerous business to keep them in working order. These cliffs are not made for a great many dragons, unless they don’t mind the salt water and the storms.
His eyes whirled thoughtfully as he considered the third part of her question. To be honest, I do not know. When Yours says they should spend more time with people, in what way does she mean? Is it not very social at the Weyr?
She had never felt this way. Not like this. The rest of the world fading away, her heart caught in her throat and thumping along like Saphireth's tail. She stood perfectly still as N'kio's fingers grazed her arm, her shoulder, the side and back of her neck, a strand of her hair.
Her lips parted slightly as he brushed across them before he dropped his hand to the side; she resisted the urge to groan, to throw the fish she was holding to the side and take what he had begun to offer. She managed to close her mouth as he began speaking again. With him no longer touching her she had the sense to toss the fish back onto the pile, her own hands falling back to their sides.
"I make it hard to concentrate?" Elora's smile grew larger. "Try having a redheaded sailor lingering in your head."
Something was different with Elora, but as the feelings were nothing sharp and unpleasant, Saphireth did not worry about it. I wonder, then, why you would chose to work here?
But his question also deserved an answer.
It is social there. But she believes there is a barrier between the Weyr and the rest of the world. The Weyr is... Mine once described it as being the elite. It is where you want to be or, if you do not want to Ride, you want to be somebody qualified enough to go work or sell for them. And some people fear dragons. Saphireth tilted her head to the side thoughtfully. We are not understood. We are just dragons to them. Mine wants to educate them, to show them that we can think and feel and are not something to be feared.
Last Edit: Sept 11, 2012 20:17:47 GMT -8 by Nicole
He blinked in confusion, forehead wrinkling as he let her words roll around in his head. It was around that time that he realized how close he had gotten to Elora – and in one of the busiest sea markets in Cliffside, no less.
Tongues would certainly wag here. No secret was too secret that it couldn’t be heard on the docks.
“You think about me? Now Elora, you shouldn’t make fun,” he said, his smile turning into a hesitant, disbelieving smirk. “I was being serious.”
He bent down to pick up the crate he had left near his feet, the motion rolling the small, prickly urchins over the flattened octopus and small fish in the basket. N’kio glanced over to the pile next to Elora and back to her. “I’m guessing that’s a ‘no’ for those, unless I’m mistaken…”
The warm, soft sand beneath his feet signaled the end of the docks and the beginning of the beaches. It wasn’t entirely an unpleasant feeling, though it was a bit difficult to walk around in. He preferred the wet sand more.
I hardly ever visit the Weyr, but when I do, it is not for long. It is nice to visit there, but I have to admit, I have not considered it as a place for the elite. You are talking about the rankings there, yes? I suppose that is something I have come to live with. My work – my home – is here in Cliffside. We are social here, too, though it is a different sort of social than your Weyr’s. More people than dragons, for one thing.
Her comment about people fearing dragons was unfamiliar to him, but he could understand the general idea once he thought it over.
I have not encountered that sort of fear among these people. Though my work here, I have come to earn a place of respect – or as much respect as a dragon could earn. Being a part of the Watch is difficult work, but satisfying. At the end of the day, I am treated no differently than any other person here.
Maneuvering up a shifting sand dune, Metanath eyed the ocean in the background as he replied. I first remained here after weyrling training because it was N’kio’s home. It was clear to me how much he cared about it, and I did not want to disrupt that. But after living here for a few turns, I noticed I began to care about it as well. And after a while, it became my home as well. It has all the excitement and danger I could possibly ever desire.