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Unnatural Women

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The hatching of Benden Weyr’s first queen in over three decades is almost eclipsed by the furor when the sole bronze of the clutch Impresses to a woman.

“It’s not right. It’s not natural. There is no precedent in all Tradition!” expounds a burly man of middle years who has been introduced to Lessa as Weyrleader R’gul. They’ve been acquainted for mere minutes and she’s already forming a very low opinion of him.

Precedent or no, it’s clearly happened now, she thinks, and she doesn’t see what good railing against it can do. Clearly their vaunted Tradition has some distinct holes in it.

She suspects something of those reflections must be showing in her expression, for the new bronze rider catches Lessa’s eye over the heads of their hatchlings and rolls hers.

After what seems a wholly wasteful amount of time in debate, the weyrmen are forced to accept the situation, no matter how little they like it. The bond of Impression, once made, cannot be broken. So Kylara of Telgar is rider to bronze Pridith, unsuitable though they consider her. And with as few bronzes as there are, they can’t afford not to train her, either.

They can’t put her in the barracks with the male weyrlings, so they give Kylara and Pridith one of the unused junior weyrwoman’s quarters - built to accommodate a much larger population than the scant two hundred dragons it currently boasts, Benden certainly has the space.

As the only female dragonriders among the Weyr’s population, and neither of them quite fitting in, Lessa and Kylara find themselves thrown together quite a bit. They don’t particularly like each other, for they get under each other’s skin something fierce, but they come to feel a certain kinship.

***

“You know they don’t own you, right?” Kylara says pointedly. They’re standing together on the shore of the lake while their young dragons bathe.

Lessa doesn’t have to ask who ‘they’ is. Frustration with Benden’s Weyrleader and the other ranking riders is one attitude the two women wholeheartedly share.

“Of course they don’t!” she returns heatedly.

“Then why do you keep letting them control you, tell you what you can and can’t do?” Kylara goads.

Because Lessa isn’t accustomed to open rebellion. For ten Turns she’s lived by keeping her head down, openly acquiescing to whatever’s asked of her, and then quietly working to undermine affairs. She’s used to biding her time and working in the shadows, and old habits die hard.

But Kylara has never known anything but status and privilege, and Lessa doesn’t know how to explain in a way that will make sense to her - nor one that won’t sound like an excuse to her own ears, considering she’s starting to think the other woman has a point. Outright defiance may not have been safe in Fax’s Ruatha, but what danger is she in here? The weyrmen may disapprove of her attitude and her conduct, but they need her and Ramoth.

She avoids her companion’s gaze, turning her attention to Ramoth instead. The gold dragon wallows deeper into the lake, the movement setting off ripples that soak the hem of Lessa’s skirt. Kylara looks considerably more comfortable in her riding gear, she can’t help noting. She’s more than a little envious, being tired of her endless wardrobe of gowns that seem to mark her out as an ornamental figure while every other rider gets to be useful.

(It doesn’t help that Kylara wears riding leathers entirely too well, the supple wherhide outlining the curves of her hips and chest. Hardly anyone looks bad in such garments, but they certainly don’t look like that on any of the dragonmen.)

Kylara seems to recognize she’s hit a nerve, for she continues in a sweet insinuating tone, “If you don’t believe that queens can’t fly, why don’t you try it? It’s the easiest thing in the world.” A fond smile curves her full lips as she glances at Pridith, before her eyes meet Lessa’s again and her expression twists into a smirk. “Besides, what can they do if they catch you? Yell at you?”

Lessa squares her shoulders and returns Kylara’s gaze directly. “Maybe I will then.”

***

Kylara lounges against the wall just inside the entrance to the queen’s weyr, flying jacket negligently draped over her shoulder.

Lessa is aware that the older bronze riders have some sort of unspoken stand-off going on, where all of them want to get close to the Weyrwoman but don’t want to make it acceptable for their peers, so they try to draw her attention without letting on that they’re interested. No doubt they think they’re being subtle, but some are considerably better than others at appearing casual, and the signs are obvious enough once she knows what to look for; Lessa notices their jockeying for position and is less than impressed. Kylara has never played that game, though. Either she’s uninterested in the politics of it or she’s enjoying the disruption caused by refusing to participate. In any case, she’s in the habit of walking into Lessa’s weyr as if she owned the place.

Ignoring as she often does the presumption of the intrusion, Lessa turns to her erstwhile ally. “So,” she asks coolly, “what do you have for us today?”

Kylara grimaces. “Nothing new; it’s been the same formation drills again. And now the Weyrlingmaster has B’rant helping to lead the drills, though he’s only a brown! Meanwhile we never get a scrap more responsibility or knowledge than the rest.”

“At least you get that much,” Lessa reminds her sourly. If it weren’t for the other woman passing on bits of her weyrling lessons, the gold rider would know nothing practical at all.

The bronze rider’s only response to that is a contemptuous snort. “Want to get out of here?” she suggests.

Lessa smiles. “I thought you’d never ask.” She may be disappointed that there will be no new lesson today, but an afternoon out flying nearly makes up for it. And the knowledge that they are getting away with it under the dragonmen’s noses is a satisfying consolation to the both of them.

***

In their second Turn at Benden Weyr, bronze Pridith wins a green’s mating flight, and then several more in quick succession. Kylara flaunts her conquests all over the Weyr, largely because the dragonmen seem so discomfited by it.

Lessa is discomfited too, for somewhat different reasons.

“I don’t think F’rad knew what hit him,” Kylara laughs. She stretches out sideways on the wallseat, extending her long leather-clad legs. Her hair is tousled, and the open neck of her jacket bares a purpling bite mark on her collarbone. “I’m fairly certain he doesn’t even like women, normally ... though I might have caused him to reevaluate that.” A conspiratorial smile curves her full lips.

She’s seen Kylara in this mood before, generally when she’s about to start divulging details of her assignations that she only insists on sharing because she knows it makes Lessa uncomfortable. Normally at this point she would start leaning on the woman, mentally prodding her to get out of Lessa’s weyr or at least drop the topic of conversation.

But something is off right now. She can’t make sense of the context of these comments. “What does that have to do with anything?” she demands.

“How are you such an innocent?” Kylara somehow manages to sound at once disgusted and impressed.

Lessa bristles. She has lived through ten Turns of hell, has been intimately acquainted with the worst of humanity and done things to survive that she is by no means proud of. She may not be the variety of worldly that Kylara is - which is all to the better, to her way of thinking - but she is a scorched long way from any kind of innocent. “I am no such thing.”

But for once, the other woman is completely unaffected by Lessa’s ire. “What do you think a mating flight involves?”

The Weyrwoman calls to mind every scrap of information she’s been given on the topic. “One day, when Ramoth is full-grown, she’ll be seized with the mating frenzy, and will fly to challenge the bronzes. They’ll give chase, and she’ll mate with whichever one can catch her, and that rider will become the Weyrleader.”

Kylara responds to that careful recitation with a disbelieving laugh. “That’s the barest bones of it, I suppose. But have they really not told you anything of the effects?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s the most incredible sensation, there’s nothing like it.” The bronze rider smiles in reminiscence, her tone entirely sincere. “You’re completely one with your dragon, experiencing everything as they do. First it’s a bloodlust, and then as the flight gets underway you’re caught up in the thrill of the chase. And then the catch, and a passion like nothing you’ve ever known, so that there can be no thought but the need to mate as your dragons are doing.”

For a moment Lessa stares dumbly, taken aback by that unexpected revelation. She wishes she could verify the astonishing bit of knowledge she’s just been imparted.

When she considers her options, though, the list is not promising. Her circle of acquaintance at Benden is small enough. R’gul and his crony S’lel are of course worse than useless, being to blame for the gaps in her knowledge in the first place. Most of the other bronze riders are too cowed by the Weyrleader to be willing to help her. Poor, infatuated K’net is likely to tell her whatever he thinks she wants to hear. F’lar she at least trusts not to lie to her, but he is infuriatingly fond of being cryptic; she doesn’t think much of her chances of getting any kind of useful answer out of him. Perhaps Manora? The Headwoman is another who will not be dishonest, but she maintains herself as a carefully neutral party in regards to Weyr politics and tends to respond evasively when Lessa tries to question her about sensitive topics.

She’s going to have to take Kylara’s word for it on this one.

What’s more, she can imagine all too easily why the Weyrleader would want her kept in the dark on this subject. Ignorant, she is easier prey.

She thinks of the horror stories of her youth, popularized in the days of Fax’s holding: tales which accused dragonmen of all manner of unnatural lusts. The tales have it wrong, of course. They are guilty of no unnatural lusts, she reflects bitterly, merely the same ordinary lusts shared by men everywhere.

Kylara nearly chokes laughing at Lessa’s expression of horrified distaste. “Oh, shells, you are an innocent, aren’t you? You’ve never bedded anyone!”

Lessa feels the color rising to her cheeks, alarmed to have been so easily read. “I don’t see how that’s any of your concern,” she says, sharply and with as much dignity as she can muster.

“I could teach you,” Kylara purrs. Her smile is wide with obscene invitation.

Shocked and appalled, Lessa stares at her. “You are such a deviant.”

That insult entirely fails to faze Kylara. “I am frequently told that I’m an unnatural woman,” she says, sounding almost smug.

“Well, you and your unnatural ways can get out of my weyr now!”

Kylara goes as ordered, but not without a parting shot. “Think on it. You know where to find me.”

***

Despite herself, Lessa can’t stop thinking about Kylara’s proposition.

Much of her initial revulsion, she realizes, is due to the sheer foreignness of the idea. But why should it seem so strange? She’s well aware that most of the blue and green riders prefer each others’ company (not to mention more of the bronze and brown than will readily admit it); this is not so different. That even in the Weyr two women laying together should be seen as anathema only demonstrates that weyrmen are hypocrites, and that is hardly a revelation.

But to Lessa, once she’s had a chance to wrap her head around the notion, it’s an oddly reassuring possibility.

Her life so far has taught her to regard male sexuality as a threatening, often predatory thing. Fax’s soldiers had considered it their prerogative to take anything they wanted, and drudges had vanishingly few defenses. Even with her powers of persuasion and the watch-wher’s protection, Lessa had had a few calls that were far too close for comfort in those days, and she knows she was one of the lucky ones. Others of the serving women had traded their bodies to warders and guards for some small measure of comfort and security, though they rarely saw more benefit than grief out of the arrangement. When the dragonmen look on her as something to covet, those memories come rushing back with awful immediacy.

(To be honest, those experiences have much to do with why Kylara confounds her so. Kylara uses her sexuality like a weapon, makes her beauty and desirability into her sword and shield; that much Lessa can understand, and even respect. She’s chosen very different tools for herself, but they each have their ways of getting along in what is very much a men’s world. What Lessa can’t fathom, on the other hand, and is distinctly unsettled by, are the seductions Kylara undertakes apparently for the sheer pleasure of it.)

Left to her own devices, she’d be well content not bedding anyone ever, but apparently that’s not an option available to her. Lessa is all too well acquainted with unpleasant necessities, and there isn’t much she can’t get used to, given time. She’s borne worse for Ruatha’s sake. She can bear intimacy for Ramoth’s.

But if she is to do so, she’d prefer it to happen on her own terms.

Her mind rebels at the notion of making herself vulnerable to any man. While she shudders to think how smug Kylara is going to be at her choice, the blonde seems a comparatively palatable option. And she just might be able to learn something from the other woman.

***

Lessa nonchalantly lets herself into Kylara’s weyr; turnabout is fair play, after all.

Kylara rises as she sees her approach and turns toward her, a slow smile spreading across her face. “Reconsidered my offer, have you?” she says.

“Do you truly believe you’re that irresistible?” Lessa shoots back, unsettled that the other woman had intuited her intentions so accurately. She’d been determined not to let Kylara get under her skin this time, and is irritated with herself for having failed already in that determination.

Kylara only arches an eyebrow. “You’re here, aren’t you? And that wasn’t a denial.” She sounds amused. Her air of arrogant confidence is more enticing than Lessa is quite comfortable with.

“Only because you seemed the least offensive option,” Lessa mutters darkly, though she’d never meant to say as much to Kylara’s face.

“I shall do my best to live up to that vote of confidence.” And she reaches out to cup the back of Lessa’s head and kisses her.

Lessa’s first impulse is to freeze. How long has it been since she let another human touch her willingly? She reminds herself firmly that she chose this, that there is nothing to fear, as she fights the reflex and forces herself to relax under the other woman’s touch. She lets her lips part, and Kylara’s tongue strokes at hers. The body pressed against her is all soft curves; that helps, somehow.

Kylara guides her into the sleeping room. The bronze rider shrugs off her jacket and draws Lessa down on top of her on the wide couch. The move sparks another flare of apprehension, but when she kisses her again Lessa finds it easier to stop thinking and enjoy the sensations.

Kylara brushes Lessa’s hair aside and kisses the back of her neck, an unexpectedly sensual action that sets her nerves alight, and Lessa cannot help but gasp and shudder. Her other hand comes up to cup Lessa’s breast, gently massaging it. Lessa arches into the touch with a slight moan.

“Oh, it’s going to be a pleasure to teach you to loosen up,” Kylara murmurs.

Piqued by the condescension in her tone, Lessa kisses her again, forcefully.

***

“Have I satisfied your expectations of my deviant ways?” Kylara asks her, afterwards. The woman is deliberately provocative as ever, but this time the taunt comes off as almost affectionate.

Their legs are tangled together still; Lessa is surprised to discover how much she enjoys the soft warmth of another’s skin against her own. Kylara’s deft, clever fingers trail up the crease of her inner thigh, and an undignified squeak escapes her lips. She hadn’t known she could be so sensitive. She’s made many surprising discoveries this day.

“I could stand to learn a little more of your depravity,” Lessa allows.

Kylara’s breath is hot against the shell of Lessa’s ear. “Oh, my dear, this is only lesson one.”