Xanadu Weyr - Meadow
A large, slightly rolling meadow is set high enough above the riverbank on both sides to avoid suffering from flooding, healthy ground cover and grass spreading out from either side of the dividing river. Scattered amongst the meadow are a variety of weyrs, each with a narrow path leading up to it from a main, winding road. Some are set under a few trees, while others sit by themselves.

Runner stables with the paddock beyond are to the south beyond the meadow weyrs, a smithy and a woodcraft shop are settled closer in towards the path to the clearing, while trees border the western edge of the meadow, and a faint outline of a stone wall and low rolling hills can be seen to the north. Wagons laden with felled trees from the forests to the southwest or ore from the mountains to the southeast are hauled by burden beast up the road through the meadow, over the bridge spanning the river to be processed in the appropriate workshops.

The morning of the race has dawned bright, clear and cold. The temperatures add fuel to the already high-strung, trained jumpers and though they're been exercised regularly, they're barely containable. Perhaps they're picking up on the excitement in the air the crowds, an influx from all over Pern, transmit. It is race day. They know it! This is what they were bred for, this is what they live for.%r %r The overland runner race has been delayed, time and time again for rainy conditions. Frustrated, the investors of the race, rather than relocate or reschedule the event, postponed the event throughout the fall until now. Winter is close at hand. The days have finally seen a series of dry weather; the nights have been cold, nothing has frozen solid, but the ground is hard. The runners cost the organizers each and every day they're stabled in Xanadu - they want to have done with the thing and ship them home.

It's dangerous. It's stupid. And yet the organizers have refused to consider waiting until next spring, determined to hold the race.

And Darsce is determined to ride in it.

This particular situation presents a microcosm of the difficulty with constructing a coherent cost-benefit analysis. The challenge is one of scope and the weighting of risks. When it comes to any individual runner, the cost of keeping it stabled through the winter is clear. The potential benefit of conducting the race is known. The probability of deriving that benefit is not, though there are certainly those who make the attempt to do so in order to maintain books of bets.

The risk to an individual runner of conducting that race is another unknown, one whose probability is unknown and unresearched. It is a natural bias to presume that - while there certainly do exist risks, it would be foolish to deny their presence - they are not likely to affect any particular runner. Each organizer and investor may deem that their own stake is unlikely to be affected, and as such, be willing to conduct the race in suboptimal conditions.

Indeed, the degree to which those conditions are in fact suboptimal - and the change that makes to the probablities - is yet another unknown.

What Jethaniel knows is that the race is scheduled.

And Darsce is determined to ride in it.

With all the guests (thankfully they’ll be paying guests this time) being hosted by Xanadu, there’s been the usual hectic schedule for the headwoman and her assistants, checking of the guest rooms in both cottages and cavern, readying the caverns with décor suitable to the season; dried arrangements and vines twined with copper ribbon grace the door arches and mantel, trail down the table centers where oil lanterns grace cast a cheerful flicker. There’s been consultations with the head cook, the equesting of riders to transport frozen side of herdbeast, ovine, poultry and out of season fruit from the ice caves they share with Eastern Weyr in the Eastern Barrier Ranges. The consultation with the bakers over creating both simple and complex pastries and pies could’ve gone smoother, but in all it’s a well-practiced routine, even though the preparations have put her into high-gear. She’s been buzzing about the caverns the past seven – and right up to an hour before that race - but in a good mood (some might question if Darsce is capable of that or whether it’s a smokescreen) and there might be a wee bit of adrenalin high in the headwoman. She just might secretly…enjoy challenge?

The things occupying Jethaniel have, for the most part, not involved that race. There have certainly been elements which involve his oversight; the stabling arrangements those investors find so arduous to consider over the long term are subject to financial decisions derived from the logistics necessary to hold the excess four-footed population. The race itself, however? He's aware of the projected course, because they checked that it wasn't passing through any active work zones. He's adjusted things here and there, but the organizers themselves see to the arrangements and Jethaniel merely approves of how those arrangements interface with the affairs of the Weyr or requires that they be reworked in order to gain that approval… on a logistical and practical level. His personal approval… is not required. Furthermore, at this stage, the race does not - should not - require his professional assistance. The plan, insofar as the Steward is concerned, is made. As such, he's been in his office, working on unrelated tasks, but now… he emerges. Perhaps the noise of the construction project has reached a peak; it would explain why he hesitates, seeming without a destination, before slowly gravitating toward where onlookers gather to see the racers off, his mien a troubled one that ill-fits the festiveness of the occasion.

The course is spread out over meadow and forest, over both level terrain and steep, over rocks, trees, through brush and stream. It's a rough race; it's meant to be. Jumps are set in awkward spots, at challenging heights. It's possible to watch most the race, albeit from a distance, from the meadow ridge, although there are other vantage spots closer to the course itself. That is where most of the crowd is, although there are also clusters of spectators near each jump. For those far away, binoculars help and those are offered - for a price to rent - by the organizers. The time draws near, the riders are mounted, Darsce amongst them, on runners bunched in an unorderly line, teeth champing, hooves dancing as they snort and roll their eyes at their fellows. She's having difficulty containing her runner; he's eager to go. Most of her attention is on keeping him from bolting early, but she's also scanning the crowds while waiting for that start bell, looking for Jethaniel. Hoping he's going to watch? Yes. But mostly to give him a bright smile of reassurance, much like the one she'd given him earlier when she'd stopped by his office, kissed him and asked him to wish her luck. That smile isn't for just anyone and so it won't blossom unless she spots his face. It'll disappear the moment that signal is given, which it does, without warning. She's cold determination then, all business in less than a second as, in a rumble, they are off in a thundering pack of wild, unruly pandemonium.

The energy of the runners seems to have infected the crowds; there's a sense of anticipation in the air. That emotion is… perhaps not the most accurate one to describe Jethaniel's mood, though his is also prospective in nature. His arms are close to his sides, his motions slow ones. Earlier, those arms slid around Darsce, holding her as he returned that kiss. Not that he held her for long; not when she was so… eager to go. Nevertheless, he held her, kissed her and wished her the best of that luck - even if, in his head, he may have been more focused on that luck's application to the avoidance of risks rather than the gain of rewards. He nevertheless joins the crowd by the starting post, and while he does not attempt to draw attention to himself, his lack of jocularity, in combination with his rank, create sufficient space that he may be seen through the crowd. His smile is a bittersweet one; he is pleased to see Darsce, pleased by her… enthusiasm, the anticipation he has felt from her these past days even if he has his concerns about the outcome of its indulgence. She is here; he takes in the sight of her for the moments before the starting signal, before the wild pack, urged on by their riders, begin the chase. The crowd breaks as well, less coherently than the horses. Some linger here - some make for the end post to begin the wait - some for the meadow ridge for the view of the middle. Some even head for caverns or tavern to get a start on their celebrations for whoever it is that will win or drowning the sorrows of whoever's going to lose. Jethaniel lingers to watch for a moment, then turns to follow those heading for the vantage-point on the ridge, though he's likely to remain toward the edges of the crowd there, disinclined to jostle for a 'good' position and not entirely suited to appreciate it if he did.

Ah there he is! And the smile for Jethaniel shines. The 1500 pounds of runnerflesh fighting her control keeps Darsce from noticing the uneasiness of her husband, for she rides the stallion Cereld. The choice of mount not the wisest one, but his fire, drive and stamina are things that overrode caution in the headwoman's choice. Amidst the pack they take that first jump - a pole fence - with ease and they thunder on, moving up amongst the frontrunners. Curving towards the river bridge there's a stone wall and she rises in the stirrups, leans forward as Cereld leaps, stretching his lean form to sail over with room to spare. He's not conserving his energy in the slightest. There's no arguing that the stallion has power and he pours it on, perhaps too soon in the race, but he's over-excited and though Darsce is trying to check him, hold him back to better pace him, it's futile. The runner, as Nornon had warned, gets nasty when you rein him in and indeed, the ill-temper of the beast is evident in the way his ears are pinned flat against his head rather than picked forward towards those jumps as they should be. He's taking the jumps with reckless speed, not working with his rider in the slightest. Still among the leaders, they splash through the shallows of the river, under that bridge, clatter across the stones and scramble up the bank towards the forest's edge. There they take another brush jump. The rest of the pack does so a few seconds later andt then they're all swallowed by the forest. Silence descends upon the meadow ridge, broken only by the murmur of the crowd and the chirp of firelizards, broken only by the occasional report transmitted by radio from an official stationed at one of those forest jumps to others scattered amongst the vantage points.

It is, at this juncture, likely preferable that Darsce's attention be on the beast she rides instead of her husband. If he wished to rein her in, he should have done so at a moment long before this one… but he did not. He does not actually wish to do so. He merely… worries for her, as he watches the horses run and leap. Jethaniel lacks expertise when it comes to horses, his knowledge fragmentary. He knows how to direct a good-natured mare or gelding. He knows the approximate requirements for feed and shelter for beasts of various classes during various seasons. He knows enough to know that he would be well-advised to avoid any runner exhibiting those pinned-back ears, but… he stands near the lower edge of the crowd on the ridge, hands tucked in his pockets against the chill of the day as he watches Darsce and her mount until they disappear into the forest, followed by the rest of the pounding hooves bearing heavy beasts.

Is it even possible to rein Darsce in? If anyone could accomplish this, I'd be Jethaniel. In the forest are ravines for the riders to navigate, and a series of three fallen tree jumps plus one treacherous boulder jump requiring three jumps in quick succession, concentration and skill a must for this one, before they'll loop back into the meadow to take several more jumps to the finish. The race is wild, it's chaotic and there are already missed, and aborted jumps, a few riders unseated and at least one runner down even before the pack has left the meadow. The risk is no different in the forest, but there the going is forced to a slower pace by the terrain, so at first there are no reports of spills. That changes, however not halfway through the five minutes that section is scheduled to take. Runner down, rider unseated is the crackled report via radio. It may seem like longer than two and a half minutes before the forerunners of the pack re-emerge and when they do Cereld is among them. In fact, he's in front of them, heaving chestnut flanks dark with sweat, neck lathered, mouth foaming as the stallion aims himself at the next jump. He's in wild-eyed pursuit of something… what, he likely doesn't even know any more. His speed is partially explained by the fact that he's unencumbered by the weight of his rider. Darsce? Does not emerge from the forest on foot, fist-shaking and swearing at Cereld. The radio crackles for a healer team.

Jethaniel notes those tumbles in the meadow, each one of them making it clear that, given the race ahead, Darsce's full concentration and skill will… be… insufficient? Ah, but that's the thought he's trying to keep down, to avoid thinking on because he cannot do anything about it. He could have made attempts, in the time leading up to this race, but… he did not. Darsce desired it, and so Jethaniel… watches and waits, silent as the crowd babbles hope and disappointment. The radio crackles reports, and his hands, hidden in pockets, curl on themselves in extension of a tension carried through from his shoulders. Soon the runners will emerge. Soon he will see… not Darsce. She is the one he wishes to see emerge; the only one he cares about, regardless of her position in the pack. She does not appear. Her runner does, racing as if to complete the course on his own - or perhaps simply trying to outrun the pounding hooves of those chasing behind. Darsce… does not. Surely she will emerge at any moment; Jethaniel's held breath invites her to do so, to appear so that he may exhale in a sigh of relief. The radio crackles. Jethaniel's eyes press shut, and his breath comes out with a sharp sound, a harsh fricative insufficiently developed to be construed as any particular word. The healers now summoned have been standing ready throughout. Their presence was considered a sensible precaution, given the nature of the race; there are a great many hazards, both intrinsic and intentionally constructed. Jethaniel glanced over the duty rosters assigning healers to reactive status for the race to assure adequate coverage. He cannot remember a single one of their names; this fact is irrelevant. When they head for the forest, Jethaniel is behind them. They're nearer to the course, but he's hurried enough to gain on them.

The healers are running, because that's how they've drilled. It could be nothing serious, just a wrenched arm upon impact with the ground, but they're also trained in emergency response, so that's how they roll. They're armed with the typical equipment for emergencies, one carrying a first aid kit, two holding the handles of a side-tipped backboard and the forth speaking into a radio, which crackles location but little else discernible over footfalls. The distance isn't so great; the course had been more convoluted than distance-eating and so the path they take doesn't follow the course, but cuts along one of the level forest paths until they drop into a ravine. It's not a terribly deep one, but steep nonetheless and at the bottom is that tri-cluster of boulders the runners have swept over and left mud churned in their wake. A cluster of spectators remains, while others, drifting back to the Weyr in the wake of the race have been passed already. On the ground, between a tree and that last set of boulders lies Darsce, black jacket thrown open, shirt rumpled. The smudges marring the white material of her clothing, upon closer inspection is mud not blood. She's not moving, but that's because one of the officials has hands pressed to her shoulders, ignoring the stream of cussing coming from Darsce. The only thing moving is her gloved hands gripping the ground claw-like, although her booted feet would be kicking if someone else weren't carefully applying a restraint there as well.

By the time Jethaniel gets across the forest and down that incline, he is also smudged with mud. He has not been particularly careful - given how he's running after the healers and the rise of adrenaline in his system, he's lucky he hasn't slipped on the mud and fallen himself, but the worst he's done is bumped his hip into one of those boulders as he slid into the bottom of the ravine. This event is beneath his current notice, because his full and complete attention is for Darsce. She is… not striding out from the forest, but she is cursing. This fact is the cause for a minute easing of Jethaniel's tension. She's conscious and capable of speech. The fact that she chooses to provide this speech in the form of profanities is an indication that the situation is far from ideal, but she… is nevertheless capable. Things could be worse. How bad they are is a thing yet to be determined, and it's the healers that will conduct that determination. Jethaniel should stay out of the way. He is aware of this fact. He even pays it some small amount of heed, in that he does not actually attempt to pass the healers, merely follow them closely to lurk with anxious gaze and catch his breath.

Darsce continues that cursing and though her body appears just fine, her tone is taking on an edge that Jethaniel will recognize. He's heard it before. She doesn't deal well with physical restraints. In fact, amongst the sprinkled swearing is the demand that they let her the hell UP. They don't. Instead, the officials ignore her, keeping her head and neck immobile while they give a report in clipped tones to the healers. "…hit her head on a boulder on the way down. Lucky she was wearing a helmet… was out cold when we reached her." The healers begin their assessments, checking her limbs, asking her questions, trying to calm her enough to give them answers. Her helmet is still on and one of the healers reaches to undo the strap, yanking back his hand when her teeth snap at his fingers. She's combative, but this is Darsce, so that may go hand in hand. Then again, it may not. The healers checking her exchange glances. Meanwhile, Darsce spots Jethaniel. "Jeth…!" It's a breathless plea whether from fear, shock or anger unclear, but at least her hands are not restrained and so she reaches one of them for him. One of the healers notes him, "Sir." That's all he says, but he moves over to give him room, a tacit permission to approach. They continue their assessment asking questions like, "Where do you hurt? How many fingers am I holding up?"

Jethaniel is in motion even before the healer acknowledges him. If the other didn't move aside… but he does, which makes Jethaniel's logistics for placement simpler as he sinks to his knees besides Darsce. Her hand? He takes the entire arm. One of his hands goes along her forearm, the other attempts to draw off her glove so he may curl his fingers around hers - though that, he'll stop if any indication to do so is given. Her agitation is clear. The possibility it might be directed at him is given no consideration whatsoever. The healers are given slightly more so, though Jethaniel does not look at them. The sense of them in his peripheral vision is sufficient; his eyes are occupied by Darsce, his expression anxious. In between the queries of healers, he inserts one of his own. "Breathe." That's not a question, is it? It's an instruction, one… he would also be well-advised to follow. If he finds himself somewhat challenged in doing so, it is because of his worry. The overheard words do little to reassure him; Jethaniel is not a healer, but he does read their reports. He has just enough comprehension to worry further, to understand in general terms the reason for the precaution of pinning her while also knowing that her panic is likely to be… counterproductive. He comprehends this, in rational fashion. He understands that he should let the healers work without interruption. He also, in another of the pauses between healer-questions and with his voice edged in a concern that he would, ideally, mask in order to help soothe her, murmurs, "I love you."

"Everywhere Dammit! I just fell off a runner, what do you think?!" snaps Darsce to those annoying healers. She's sore all over, likely bounced off a few boulders after her head hit them. "My head…" Her other hand is on it's way to cradle her forehead, but it's intercepted by another healer. The other hand though, is taken by Jethaniel and the glove is easily slipped off. Darsce's fingers curl readily around his. "Take me home?" she pleads to him while locking iceblue eyes with grey. His directive sinks in and she tries to breathe, but the hands holding her down are still there, so she isn't as successful as he'd like. The helmet - the one she'd fussed about having to wear - is removed while she is distracted, revealing nothing but a faint pinkish mark on her forehead. The healers do not look relieved and their lack of comment regarding no broken skin might be troubling. Their continued asessment is spoken into the radio, presumably to the infirmary. "There's no cerebral-spinal fluid in nose or ears, peripheral nerves are intact. Abdomen is soft and without sensitivity." What's that mean? Probably no skull fracture, neck or spinal involvement or internal injuries. But the next words, "Let's get her on the backboard, people." Are hardly reassuring. "Nooo…" is all Darsce manages. Her eyes roll back and her lids sink shut, but she pushes to say faintly, "…love…" That's important and it's a victory to her that she gets that much out before the darkness descends and fully takes her over. The fingers curled around Jethaniel's go limp.

The widespread nature of the pain is comprehensible, but unfortunate - both from Darsce's perspective in experiencing it, and because it means the healers, because they cannot localize the sensation with any notable precision, must be concerned that some of those various pains may be masking other, more serious ones. Jethaniel's hand presses to hers warmly, holding it. He has at least that much of her, as the healers conduct their assessments of the rest. Her hand, and her eyes. Those, Jethaniel holds. He knows enough of her to know her reaction to being held against her will. He knows enough of healers to know the medical necessities, but… "Soon," he answers her, because he cannot deny her. He does not say - does not know - how soon, but it will surely be as soon as he can. As soon as the healers permit it, though he does not look to them. Not now; Darsce has his eyes. His ears are less focused, but while he hears the healers, he only partially comprehends them. Nothing they say seems overtly concerning, but each statement is a small indication surrounding a serious issue. A partial assessment. While none of these particular signs make it seem likely, this entire assessment is due to the possibility of those serious issues. The risk… is present. Thus, the backboard. Risk mitigation is a concept well-understood by Jethaniel, but his fingers still tighten against Darsce's. His grasp is insufficient to maintain her grip on consciousness, but he nevertheless continues to hold her hand. Her eyes close, and he finally looks away from them, to the healers clustered around. Jethaniel is… somewhat at a loss for words. The technical language of choice here is not one in which he is proficient, and all the non-technical words he wishes to say are… for Darsce. And so, Jethaniel is silent, though he keeps hold of Darsce's hand.

Darsce makes a terrible patient. But at the moment she's compliant - with both the healers and Jethaniel. With loss of consciousness, her anxiety is not an issue and her breathing returns to normal. The healers no longer need to fear her teeth or a tongue-lashing and so they're able to get her immobilized on that backboard with swift efficiency. They each take a corner position at the board and rise together, moving up the embankment so they may gain the forest path where they move at a swift walk to the infirmary, careful not to jar the board. Jethaniel may not have been able to keep holding Darsce's eyes, but if wishes, he may still hold her hand. He's already got her heart. In the infirmary there will be the thorough assessment by the journeyman on-duty and then the consultation with Jethaniel. The language will be simpler - he will explain that the brain basically bounced against the inside of Darsce's skull. And that the danger will be if bleeding or swelling occurs. And make no promises. And tell him they will need to wait and see. Meanwhile they will observe her and make her as comfortable as they can until she rouses.

Unfortunately, in the present circumstances, Darsce cannot extend her lack of patience to entirely avoiding being a patient. Jethaniel does not resist on her behalf as she's loaded onto the board, though he does keep hold of that hand. She may not, at this moment, be conscious to be aware of it - and on some of the trickier parts of the path, it might, in fact, be simpler for him to release it in order to navigate. This is irrelevant; he continues to hold her hand, and if she may not, at present, benefit from it… he will do it for his own sake. Once in the infirmary… he stands by the bed until someone thinks to get him a chair. He does not interfere with the healer's inspection, though it may be simpler to check her pulse on the other wrist rather than nudge Jethaniel aside. He's quiet, watching and listening but not interfering. This is their field of expertise, not his, and the language and behavior is - if not actually known to him - conducted with a reassuring degree of confidence. The consultation itself is less reassuring - it is, in fact, downright nerve-rattling to consider the possibilities of damage to her brain. The tissue there is complex and responsible for a great many highly essential and desirable functions, and the healers' ability to conduct corrections is… starkly limited. For now, Darsce's breathing is steady, but the slow seep of blood or fluid could already have begun. She's unconscious, and while they'll make her comfortable until she rouses… there are no promises - or even predictions - as to when that will be. Jethaniel listens, expresses his understanding, and informs the healers that he will wait. If his words don't make it clear he's going to do so by Darsce's side, his lack of departure… will.

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