His hands were still a funny reddish colour when the day of the Gather finally arrived. He had been a member of a large team consisting of almost every able-bodied youth from within the Two River Hold, as well as a multitude of young men and women from surrounding Minor Holds and even from the Weyr itself. They were all employed for the single purpose of picking berries. Red, black, green, yellow, purple - all sorts of berries were grown on the farm at which they had worked for the two sevenday period (and most of which were sampled thoroughly) and all would be used for this special Berried Alive Gather. The season's takings were tremendous, and none more than the boy from the trader's caravan could wait for the festivities - and feasts - to begin.
People had been slowly gravitating towards the small farmcraft Hold known as Two River. Named so for a nearby landmark, the community was a stunning and peaceful retreat that's size would only just cater for the sudden interest from the surrounding East Rock Territory. Taverns were filled to the doors every night, the broad main street spanning the Hold's length was bustling, everyone in the Hold had a function and every function was being carried out simultaneously. Voices and laughter and sounds and smells and even the air itself was coloured with anticipation.
Quleyne had travelled to the small Hold with his caravan less than a month before, after news of the upcoming Gather had reached them on the road. The troupe rarely passed by a Weyr, Hold or Hall that was hosting a Gather or event in which they could ply their trades, earn their stay and perhaps a bit extra. It was a way to live, but more than that.
Quleyne had not started life in the caravan. Born to a pair of kitchen drudges whose names were not important enough to take note of, none were willing to take him when he became homeless after the accident that caused their deaths. The caravan troupe had been passing through the Hold of his birth and readily offered to take him under their wing. Few objected.
Having grown up in such an environment, Quleyne knew nothing else, and liked what he knew, but something had always been amiss within him. As if the caravan a the tutelage of the man known only as the Boss were only an in-between. Something provided to lead him to his greater destiny.
The boy - nearing manhood, now - snorted quietly at the thought. It always sounded so silly when he thought of it all like that. Some fate, some amazing kismet. Silly indeed.
The streets were really starting to fill, now. By midmorning the Gather would be well under way, and with a sigh of resignation, Quleyne gave up his wandering and headed back towards base. There may have been sights to see, but more important than a young man's star-eyed gaze was the performance that would sustain the troupe until the next Gather arrived.
The group was twelve-strong at present, but the eldest and youngest of the troupe would not be performing today. The act they had chosen combined traditional performance skills such as singing and dancing, with some more exciting acrobatics and even some fire dancing. If all went well, they would be set for at least a few months.
Final rehearsal passed smoothly and by midday, those who wished to wander the Gather were free to do so. They were to meet back at the caravan one candlemark before sunset and their act would begin as the sky turned the colour of fire.
Quleyne, once granted his freedom, did not have to be told twice.
Stalls displaying their wares were erected, circling a large arena which would later become the dance-floor. The vast majority of these 'wares' were produced with vast quantities of berries, picked the days before the Gather, while others were selling the fresh fruits picked that very morning.
The usual stalls displaying fine cloths, carvings, simple furniture, dresses, jewellery and even a few selling hand-made instruments were present and Quleyne's eyes were just about as big as his stomach felt, though not quite as empty. He hadn't eaten since lunchtime the previous day - on purpose, mind you. He wanted to be able to fit in every last berry... and possibly just a few more.
And it was worth it.
Each bubbly pie, each tart, each cake or roll was more delicious, more succulent and more berry-filled than the last. And as the day waned, Quleyne began to feel just a little ill.
The sky turned a fiery orange - the signal for the troupe to meet for the their performance - but it found the fifteen-turn-old on the other end of the Hold... throwing up in the bushes. Maybe he should have fasted for longer. His stomach didn't seem to be coping quite as well as he'd hoped. He admitted wryly that they tasted better the first time.
"Over indulged, my young friend?"
Quleyne spun, regretting the motion immediately but managing to control his stomach in the presence of a dragonrider. "Perhaps a little, Sir," he replied, a little awe-struck.
The man was a bluerider by his knots, but smiled with the confidence of a Weyrleader. "A little," he repeated, chuckling. Then, sincerely, "Do you need a hand?"
"No, thank you, Sir. I'll be all right."
The man nodded, then paused as if listening to something the boy could not hear. "You live at the Hold?"
Quleyne shook his head. "No, Sir."
"At the Weyr, then?" He sounded more than surprised.
Again, "No, Sir. I'm a trader and performer with the caravan." At these words, storm-coloured eyes opened wide and bow lips formed the vilest oath he could remember at that moment. "The performance! Oh shards and shells, I'm going to miss it!" Without thinking, Quleyne started back towards the Hold proper, leaving the rider to call after him, "Your name, boy!"
The rider smiled. "Quleyne, you're a special boy," he said quietly to no one in particular.