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Chapter twelve: T’kamen

Sometimes you know as soon as you wake up that the day ahead is going to change your life forever. Sometimes the significance dawns on you slowly. And sometimes you have no idea until, much farther down the road, you look back and realise, ‘that was the moment, the exact moment, when everything changed’.

T'kamen (Micah Johnson)He swam clumsily up out of oblivion as if from the bottom of a deep and silty lake, tasting the sourness of old mud in his mouth, his lungs labouring against the thick soupy water, his eyes full of grit.

It wasn’t the first time he’d fumbled weakly out of the darkness. He’d broken surface before, more than once, gasping and streaming, half blind, and the voices that echoed hollow and distorted through the cloud of his perceptions had drawn closer, louder, almost resolving into words he could understand, before a dull flash of pain and a steady pressure from above pushed him gently but firmly back down into the abyss.

Not this time.

The thought sprang forth fully formed, almost excruciatingly sharp around the edges.

T’kamen opened his eyes.

Or tried to. One set of eyelids peeled reluctantly apart; the other, gummed shut, did not. Something rough and blunt loomed up out of the fog – his fist? – scrubbing inexpertly at his eye socket, chafing away the crust of mucus, and grudgingly his other eye cracked open.

He stared blearily at the field of grey that was the world outside his own skull for what seemed like hours, waiting for everything to start making sense.

When it did, awareness returned to him in pieces, like leaves drifting in the wind: some of them evading his sluggish attempts to catch them, others blowing hard and jagged into his flinching grasp.

His tongue was huge and thick in his parched mouth.

His right hip felt hot and swollen, and throbbed with a deep, continuous pulse of pain.

His torso ached, front and back, with every breath he took.

His dragon was asleep, his consciousness muffled as if by an enormously heavy blanket.

His nose itched madly, and he didn’t have fine enough control over the lumpen appendages at the ends of his arms to rub the sensation into quiescence without socking himself in the face.

His beard had grown, coarse and itchy.

His bladder was extremely full.

It was that urgent realisation that prodded him into motion. He screwed his eyes shut, then opened them, blinking rapidly to clear the blurriness. Turning his head on a neck that felt as rigid as an iron bar was harder, but he did it, and gradually his surroundings floated into focus.

He lay beneath piled furs on a hard and narrow cot in a space no more than seven feet by seven, defined by walls made of a faded greyish canvas. The left side of the cot butted up against the fabric. The right was bordered by a small table on which rested a partly-open glow-basket and a clay mug.

Thirst instantly overrode his other pressing needs. He reached out for the mug with eager desperation. His first grab missed. His second clipped the mug handle, knocking it to the edge of the table, where it seemed to teeter for an agonising age before tipping off and shattering into pieces on the floor.

He was still staring despondently at the wet starburst of pottery shards, dumbfounded by his own stupidity, when a woman came through the curtain at the foot of his bed.

“Hello, are you – oh!”

She wore a plain white smock. A healer? T’kamen shifted his gaze to her face. Grey hair, lined features, brown eyes. That was all the detail he could manage. “Need a drink,” he said. “Need to pee.” Except that his swollen dry tongue wouldn’t or couldn’t cooperate, and so the words came out as guttural sounds, unintelligible even to his own ears. He raised his eyes pleadingly to the healer and lifted his hand in a drinking motion, then pointed to his crotch in a gesture he hoped was explanatory rather than obscene.

She promptly hooked a pot out from under the folding table with one foot, then held up a cautionary hand. “Now, dear, let me help you. Your leg’s not anywhere near healed, and we don’t want you to dislocate that hip again.”

“Dislocate?” asked T’kamen, though it didn’t sound even close to right.

He got his answer when he tried to swivel his legs off the cot. White-hot agony blossomed from his right hip downwards, and for an instant he thought he was going to pass out.

“I said let me help you,” the healer said crisply. “Slowly now, and keep your weight on your left leg.”

Even then, lesser knives of pain stabbed down T’kamen’s thigh with the slightest movement, and his unhurt leg was pathetically weak. He had to lean on the elderly woman just to stand and, more humiliatingly, accept her brisk and efficient assistance to relieve himself. By the time she helped him lie back on his cot, T’kamen was shivering uncontrollably, though at least the pressure on his bladder was gone.

The healer went away, and then came back with a cup of water and a broom. “Sit up and drink this while I clear up, dear,” she told him.

T’kamen wrapped the fingers of both hands around the cup and brought it to his lips. Some of it spilled down his chin, but most went down his throat, and he collapsed back onto the single pillow, shaking.

The healer spoke over the tinkling sound of the broken pottery she was sweeping into a pile. “I’m glad you’ve woken up. We’ll be moving you by the end of today.”

He made himself open his eyes. “Where am I?” His voice was croaky, but at least the words were comprehensible.

“Our infirmary,” she replied, “under Master Taniel’s jurisdiction. I’m Lirelle.”

T’kamen tried to remember what had happened. “Why wasn’t I brought back to the Weyr?”

“Which Weyr do you mean?” Lirelle asked.

It made no sense. “Madellon. Where else would I want to go?”

Lirelle didn’t answer straight away. “That’s what your dragon said.”

“Epherineth,” T’kamen said, reaching for him. His dragon was still soundly, soddenly asleep. “Is he all right?”

“He has two broken wingspars and some very nasty tears,” said Lirelle, bending to collect the pieces of broken mug in a dustpan. “But he’s been a good patient, and Levierth has his pain under control.”

“Levierth?”

“My queen,” said Lirelle, tipping the dustpan into a bin.

T’kamen stared at her. His mind worked through his knowledge of Pern’s queens. He’d never heard of a Levierth. “I thought you were a Healer.”

“Oh, no, dear, only an interested amateur.” She dusted off her hands. “We couldn’t leave you unattended, you understand.”

T’kamen didn’t understand. His mind was – jerkily – racing. “Where are you from?”

“I was just about to ask you the same thing,” she said. “We’ve not had a report of a missing bronze rider down here, so you must be very far from home, hmm?”

“A missing –” T’kamen stopped. His brain still wasn’t operating at full capacity. He wondered if he was still unconscious and this was some sort of fever dream. “Weyrwoman, I’m T’kamen. The Weyrleader of Madellon.”

Lirelle’s eyebrows rose towards her hairline. “I do beg your pardon,” she said, smiling. “The Weyrleader of Madellon. Well, Weyrleader, that changes everything.”

“Didn’t Epherineth tell you?” T’kamen asked, relieved.

She placed a cool hand on his brow. “Of course he did, T’kamen, but he’s had a difficult few days too.”

“Days?” That made no sense, either. “How long have I been here?”

“Three days, just about,” Lirelle replied. “And under fellis for most of it. You dislocated your hip in that collision. Very painful. And it’s a wonder you didn’t crack a rib, but the bruises will be nasty enough, I’m sure.”

“Three days?” Why hadn’t they been taken back to the Weyr? “Does Valonna know where we are?”

“Valonna?” Lirelle asked.

“Shimpath’s rider.”

“Levierth doesn’t know a green called Shimpath, I’m afraid.”

“She’s not a green,” said T’kamen, baffled afresh. “She’s a queen. Madellon’s senior queen. She’s…”

“T’kamen,” said Lirelle, firmly this time. “You need to rest and gather your strength for the journey back to the Weyr this afternoon.”

He stared at her with a mixture of exasperation and disbelief. “You think I’m making this up?”

“I think you’ve had a nasty accident, and you’ve not quite gathered your wits –”

“So you think I’m raving?”

“– it’s not unusual to be disoriented after the sort of dosage you’ve been on, and the fellis dreams can be very vivid –”

“They aren’t dreams!” he shouted, and then swore as involuntary movement sent a new spike of agony down his leg.

“Bronze rider,” said Lirelle, and this time her voice crackled with command. “You’ll settle down, or I’ll stick you with enough fellis to put you back to sleep for a sevenday.”

The unmistakeable authority of a queen underpinned Lirelle’s voice. T’kamen discarded the possibility that she was lying about being a Weyrwoman. He closed his eyes, willing the bad dream to go away, but when he opened them again, Lirelle was still standing at his bedside. “All right,” he said, in what he hoped was a peaceable tone. “All right.” He tried to bring his memory to bear on what had happened. He remembered leaving the Weyr with M’ric, and… “M’ric,” he said suddenly. “Is he all right?”

“M’ric?” Lirelle asked sharply.

“Yes,” said T’kamen, hopeful again. “Brown rider. He was with us before…whatever happened, happened.”

Lirelle paused. “That’s a…curious…. And, ah, how do you know M’ric?”

“He’s a Madellon rider,” T’kamen said. “Of course I know him. I’m –”

“Weyrleader of Madellon, yes, dear,” said Lirelle, in a placatory voice.

“I’m not making this up,” T’kamen said. He knew it sounded petulant. He was too lost to care. “I don’t understand why you think I am.” He struggled for a way to convince the strange queen rider of his identity. “Ask M’ric. He’ll tell you!”

“Well, I’ll ask Levierth to bespeak his dragon, and then we’ll see what this is all about. I’m sure you must be hungry. Let me bring you some broth, and then you should try to get some more sleep before we move you to the Weyr.”

“Wait –”

But Lirelle swept out of the cubicle, leaving T’kamen no wiser than he had been on waking, and with more questions. As he lay on the pallet with his leg aching sullenly and his chest hurting and his head still fuzzy, he tried to put it all together. He and Epherineth had encountered some sort of mishap between. They’d crashed on emerging. They’d been found and brought to this strangely understaffed infirmary somewhere much colder than it had been at the Weyr. He was being tended by a Weyrwoman he’d never heard of, and who’d never heard of him. Is this part of M’ric’s Ops Wing exercise?

He reached out towards his dragon. Epherineth. No reaction. He pushed harder. Epherineth. Wake up.

Lethargically at first, and then with more resolve, Epherineth stirred. T’kamen. You’re awake.

He spoke the three words matter-of-factly, almost indifferently, and T’kamen sensed the calming pressure still being applied to his dragon; by Levierth, presumably. I’m awake. Are you all right?

Epherineth took a long time to consider the question. My wing is damaged.

Does it hurt?

Not very much.

Is it bad?

I must not fly.

That had the definite ring of a queenly command. Levierth’s rider said we’ll be returning to the Weyr this afternoon. Have you spoken to Shimpath?

Another pause, and then Epherineth said, She is not here.

She’ll be at the Weyr, T’kamen said, wondering how far Levierth’s restraint went. Perhaps Epherineth was under orders not to exert himself. Can’t you reach her?

She isn’t at the Weyr.

A cold tendril of fear made its presence suddenly apparent, deep in T’kamen’s gut. What about Izath? Kawanth?

Epherineth didn’t sound worried as he replied, No, T’kamen. None of them.

T’kamen made a decision then. Where are you, Epherineth? I’m coming out.

His intention was strong, but his body wasn’t. Moving at all made his leg shriek with pain. Just sitting up on the edge of the cot took a dozen attempts, each one sending fresh agonies shooting down his thigh. He was panting by the time he managed it, and cloaked in a second skin of sweat under his nightrobe.

Standing wasn’t too bad, after he’d taken a moment to get his breath. Walking was another matter. The first time he put weight on his injured leg the pain was so intense he thought he might be sick. He clung to the flimsy cubicle wall, fighting with the pain, the robe flapping absurdly around his knees as he tried to balance on one leg.

That was how Lirelle found him when she returned. She didn’t look surprised; only resigned. She set down the tray she was carrying and came to his side. “You’ll not help yourself, dear.”

Defeated, T’kamen didn’t resist as the Weyrwoman helped him to hop awkwardly back to the cot. He didn’t even object when he saw her add several drops of fellis to the steaming mug of broth on her tray. It wasn’t hot enough to burn him, so he drank it in convulsive gulps and laid his head back down on the hard pillow, willing sleep to take him back again.

“You need to keep off that leg,” Lirelle told him as he lay there. “The muscles you tore aren’t strong enough yet. You could pop the femur right out of the socket again, and then you’d be sorry.” She squeezed his hand reassuringly. “You’re not the first rider to do it, and you won’t be the last. Though I don’t know that I recall a bronze rider dislocating a hip. Did your fellow fancy he could fly like a blue?”

The fellis was working fast; T’kamen could feel it pushing implacably downwards on him. “Came out wrong,” he said. “In the…dark. In the…too low.” His grasp on consciousness had turned slippery, but then, unbidden, a thought swam up. “Not the weyrlings. Between. Between’s wrong. Got them. Got us. Between’s wrong.”

Faintly, as though from very far away, he felt the pressure on his hand increase, but something had already eased within him, and he slid helplessly back into insensibility.


The voices had been there at the edge of his awareness for a while, but it took longer for the back-and-forth cadence to coalesce into a dialogue. He lay still and listened.

“…seemed lucid enough before I dosed him back down,” said the female voice that belonged to Lirelle.

“I thought you said he was raving.”

“He was, but he didn’t seem delirious. He said some very strange things just before he went back to sleep.”

“You can put that down to the fellis, Lirelle. It’s not unheard of for it to bring on peculiar episodes. Some people respond to it that way. You could have found him stark naked declaring himself Faranth reborn.”

“But we’re no clearer on who he is or where he’s from. And – you’ve seen his dragon, Taniel.”

“There are outliers in any population,” said the man called Taniel. The Master Healer, T’kamen suddenly recalled from earlier. “Besides, if he is northern, we have no idea how their breeding programme has worked out. He might be normal for them.”

“He’s certainly not a southerner. Levierth put the word out and no one’s missing a bronze. There aren’t so many that we wouldn’t notice. He must be from the north, but that’s a long flight for any dragon, even a bronze his size. And how did he end up here? He’d have made landfall in Southern’s territory, assuming he came the shortest way. That’s half a continent away, and this is the first time he’s been detected?”

“So you think – what?”

“Perhaps he wasn’t rambling.”

“I think you’re being hopeful, Weyrwoman. The correct explanation is generally the simplest one. And I doubt R’lony would have left you two bronzes to keep an eye on him if he weren’t convinced they might be necessary.”

“It’s only that I’d sooner keep an open mind,” said Lirelle. “It’s not fair to condemn a man who can’t defend himself.”

“You should watch that. Leave your mind too open and there’s no telling what might fall out.”

“Taniel!”

The Healer chuckled. “When did you say that brown rider was arriving?”

“Any time now. He’ll certainly have some explaining to do.”

“You’re not concerned he’ll do something inadvisable?”

“Levierth gave his dragon an order. That should suffice to keep them obedient. And I don’t want to set R’lony’s watch-whers on him unless I have to. Him or this one.”

“You’re too tender-hearted, Lirelle.”

“That’s what they tell me. Ah, Levierth says the Wings are inbound.”

“We’d best rouse our patient, then, and get him ready to travel.”

“Your patient is awake,” said T’kamen, pushing himself half upright on one elbow.

The tall man who appeared from beyond T’kamen’s cubicle had a thin face and thinning hair, but the forearms revealed by the rolled-up sleeves of his smock were beefy, the hands large and strong. He appraised T’kamen with a glance, then extended one of those big hands to him. “Welcome back, bronze rider. I’m Master Healer Taniel. How are you feeling?”

“Never better,” T’kamen said, “as you can see.”

“Quite,” Taniel agreed mildly. “Our facilities are a shade rustic here, so we’re flying you out. I’m afraid it won’t be a comfortable journey for you, but there’s no sign of fractures or necrosis, and you’ll be better looked after there.”

“Necrosis?”

“Displacement of the thighbone can sometimes disrupt the blood vessels around the area. A loss of blood supply would be…very bad. Fortunately that hasn’t happened in your case.”

T’kamen resisted the urge to poke at his throbbing leg. “How long before I can walk?”

“The Weyr Healer will decide, but you’ll probably be able to start moving around a bit with crutches after a sevenday or so. It’ll be a month to six sevendays before you’ve healed, though, and you will need to take extra care with that leg from now on.”

A month to six sevendays. T’kamen closed his eyes briefly. “What about my dragon?”

“We’ll get you out to see him shortly,” Taniel promised. “Lirelle will get you ready to be transported first.”

Baffled, T’kamen asked, “Why is Lirelle acting as your assistant? She’s a weyrwoman.”

Taniel looked at him with the same mix of perplexity and wariness that Lirelle had worn earlier. “Well, of course she is. You can’t think they’d have anything less than a queen to control a bronze like yours.”

“But –” T’kamen began, and then he shook his head. “Never mind.”

He kept his growing list of questions to himself when Lirelle came to attend to him. “You’ll be much more comfortable at the Weyr, dear,” she said conversationally, helping him into a thick fur-lined coat. “They’ll give you a proper bath and a shave and you’ll feel more like yourself.” She paused, turning her head slightly. “Ah, that’s the first Wings now. Wait just a minute and we’ll get you outside to your dragon.”

She bustled off, leaving T’kamen in his seven-by-seven cubicle. He heard a door open and close, then open again, letting in a buzz of voices, some near and some distant, a few shouting orders.

“…see those greens go cross-eyed at the size of that bronze out there…”

“Riders,” Lirelle’s voice cracked from somewhere outside the cubicle. “This way, please.”

She appeared a moment later with two stocky men in riding leathers, bearing a padded litter on poles between them. “T’kamen, P’lav and N’hager will be getting you and Epherineth back to the Weyr.”

P’lav looked to be about fifty, N’hager a few Turns younger, and both wore what looked like the shoulder-cords of Madellon riders, bronze and indigo, though the knotwork was odd, and they weren’t wearing epaulettes at all. “That’s your bronze?” asked N’hager.

T’kamen didn’t like the way they were studying him, as if he were some exotic curiosity. “Why, what’s wrong with him?”

The two riders looked at each other, but if they had anything else to say on the subject, Lirelle cut them off. “Let’s just get T’kamen moved, shall we?”

T’kamen bore the discomfort – and indignity – of being lifted onto the litter with gritted teeth. He supposed that, with six sevendays of recovery ahead of him, he’d have to get used to being helpless.

“Take him out to his dragon, bronze riders,” Lirelle said crisply. “Through the side exit, please. No sense in having to fight our way through the crowd.”

As the two riders carried him out of the tiny cubicle, T’kamen got his first good look at the room. It was like a much smaller version of Madellon’s infirmary. Half a dozen cots like the one he’d just left each inhabited their own identical spaces, all empty. He spotted an open chest of Healer instruments in one of them. N’hager, bearing the front handles of the litter, turned left towards a set of double doors. Lirelle, walking ahead, pushed them open, and the procession continued outside.

The sky was brilliantly blue – so bright after the dimness of the infirmary that T’kamen had to shade his eyes – and punctuated by tufts of cloud scudding before a brisk, chilly wind. The long two-storey building from which they’d emerged nestled against a rocky outcrop. It might have been any of a dozen unmemorable minor holds in Madellon’s territory but for the sharp-toothed ridge that reared up into the sky beyond it. The memory of that ridge – black against a night sky, lit by a beacon fire, a line of dragons above – made him recoil in remembered terror, but now it was daytime, and no fire burned, and the dragons weren’t in the air; they were on the ground.

Greens and blues crowded the ridge, a mob of wings and necks and tails. Their shifting outlines made an accurate count almost impossible, though there must have been well over a hundred dragons up there. More joined them as he watched, apparently having dropped off their riders on the other side of the building from which he and his bearers had emerged, but they too represented only the junior colours. “Where are all the browns and bronzes?” he asked.

“They’ll be back,” Lirelle told him. “But look, here’s your fellow.”

Epherineth wasn’t up on the ridge with the others. He was lying on a flat area below the hold, or whatever it was, with two other bronzes and a queen. Weyrlings, by their size…but that thought came sluggishly from T’kamen’s drug-fogged brain. He made himself concentrate. They couldn’t be weyrlings, could they? The queen must be Levierth, the bronzes presumably N’hager’s and P’lav’s.

But Epherineth dwarfed them.

T’kamen’s dragon wasn’t particularly big. He was only eighth or ninth largest of Madellon’s bronzes by length. He’d actually been the smallest bronze Hatched from his clutch. Yet he was visibly taller than the queen. He was longer than her by a good armspan. And the contrast between him and his two fellow bronzes was even more marked. N’hager and P’lav’s dragons were no larger than small-to-middling browns. T’kamen looked back up at the ridge. At that distance, and without a point of reference it was hard to say, but if the blues and greens were proportionately smaller again, they must be tiny. And poorly though T’kamen’s reason was working through the residual haze of fellis, a dim understanding began to resolve itself in his brain.

Epherineth raised his head as they approached, and for a moment T’kamen forgot his preoccupation with size. “Right up to him, thank you, riders,” Lirelle directed, and the two bronze riders carried T’kamen directly to Epherineth’s side.

Ignoring the instability of the litter beneath him, he pushed himself up onto an elbow and put his hand out to his dragon’s muzzle. The contact of skin to hide sent an odd, giddy rush through him. It’s been three days. He’d never been apart from his dragon for so long. The realisation made his throat constrict with emotion.

Epherineth exhaled a long breath over him. I’ve been with you all the time, T’kamen You were very sick.

Only a dislocated hip. A weyrling injury.

You were very sick, Epherineth insisted. They thought you might not wake up. He bumped T’kamen very softly with the end of his nose. I knew you would.

T’kamen didn’t want to dwell on his own health. What about your wing?

Epherineth slowly unfolded the wing in question, the left one. The damage was plain to see. The sail between the outer edge, the wingspar, and next two wingfingers had been stitched along three ragged tears, and the spar and first wingfinger were splinted top and bottom. It wasn’t pretty, but T’kamen had seen a few broken wings in his time, and the spar repairs didn’t look too bad. Looks like we both got away with it. He looked around at Lirelle. “Will he be able to fly?”

“With Salionth and Recranth’s support on that side,” she said. “The wind will be in your favour, at least.”

That seemed a strange thing to say. T’kamen looked to see if Lirelle was making an obscure joke, but the Weyrwoman didn’t appear to be smiling. “I can’t ride astride, can I?”

“Not for a couple of sevendays yet, I’m afraid. N’hager and P’lav will get you rigged to travel. Salionth is quite accustomed to litter-bearing.”

“We’re going to put you down while we get the harness ready,” said N’hager. “Hold still.”

There wasn’t much of a bump as the two bronze riders set T’kamen’s litter down, though with Epherineth watching closely he supposed they wouldn’t dare. He put his hand back on his dragon’s muzzle. “Lirelle,” he said, when they’d moved away towards their own bronzes, “can we speak?”

“Of course, dear.”

He took a breath, shifting slightly and then regretting it as his leg answered with a new bolt of pain. “I think I know what’s happened to us. We’ve come to the wrong place.”

Lirelle looked pained. “Yes, dear. It’s quite clear that you have.”

“There’s something wrong with between,” T’kamen said. “That must be why we lost the weyrlings. Whatever sent them off course interfered with us too, but Epherineth’s an experienced dragon and he pulled us through to here. We can’t make contact with any of our Weyrmates. You don’t know who we are. I’ve never heard of you or your queen. Your dragons are small compared to Epherineth.” He paused, watching the expression on Lirelle’s face slowly transforming. “What Turn is it?”

“It’s –” she said, and for the first time she sounded like she almost wanted to believe what he was saying. “It’s 26.”

T’kamen closed his eyes. He could feel himself smiling so hard it hurt his face. “We’ve come back seventy-four Turns,” he said, opening his eyes. “No wonder everything’s so off.” He could have laughed out loud, almost light-headed with relief. “L’stev’s going to throw us to the watch-whers when he finds out we’ve slipped seventy-four Turns into the past.”

“T’kamen,” Lirelle said, and suddenly she knelt beside him, gripping his arm with disproportionate urgency. “T’kamen, that isn’t possible.”

“I’m not making this up,” he insisted. “Look, if this is 26, then Madellon Weyr’s only been established for, what, twenty-odd Turns? Does that mean M’dellon is still Weyrleader? Is it still called Western Weyr?”

“No,” said Lirelle. She stood up, brushing off her smock. She sounded disappointed. “I’m afraid your intelligence is rather out of date.”

“Then –” T’kamen groped for his Weyr history, trying to pluck the right names out of his memories of L’stev’s classes. M’dellon had been the very first Weyrleader of what had then been called simply Western Weyr, but for the life of him T’kamen couldn’t remember who had come next.

“Weyrwoman Lirelle?”

Lirelle whirled as if struck. “Oh! Brown rider, don’t make me jump like that! I’m not as young as I was!”

T’kamen couldn’t see the rider who’d walked up behind Lirelle, but he recognised the voice. “Blight it all, M’ric, is that you?”

Lirelle stepped aside. “Would you care to explain this?”

The person standing behind her was indisputably M’ric, brown Trebruth’s rider: tall, lean, with curly dark hair and dark eyes…

He frowned down at T’kamen. “Do I know you?”

…and about sixteen Turns old.

T’kamen stared up at him, thrown. How could M’ric be a teenager in 26? He shouldn’t even be born yet!

The youth looked from him to Lirelle and back again with a baffled expression. “Look, Lirelle, I don’t know what he’s said, but I’ve never seen this man before in my life.”

“He said he came between,” said Lirelle. “From the future.”

The young M’ric almost rolled his eyes. “And you believe him?”

T’kamen had the sudden irrational urge to grab the young snot’s ankle and pull him over. “You gave me the sharding visual!”

“How could I have given you anything? I don’t even know who you are!” The brown rider raised his hands in appeal to Lirelle. “Faranth, this is a complete fit-up!”

“You little shit,” T’kamen said. “If I could get up I’d –”

“T’kamen,” Lirelle interrupted, kneeling ponderously down to him again and putting a business-like hand on his arm. “You’re really in no condition to be defending yourself, so I suggest you hold your tongue until you’re more stable.”

“Defending myself? What am I being accused of?”

“Bronze rider –”

“Well you’re from the north, aren’t you?” M’ric asked. “Shards, and they gave you the worst cover story I’ve ever heard. You came between from the future? Who’s going to believe that?”

“Perhaps you should be more concerned for yourself, weyrling,” Lirelle told the boy ominously. “How does the bronze rider know your name?”

“Faranth, Lirelle, I don’t know! I swear I have no idea who this man is! Ask Trebruth if I’m lying!” M’ric scowled down at T’kamen. “Do you know how much trouble you’ve got me in now? You’re going to ruin my chances –”

“That’s enough, weyrling,” Lirelle said sharply. “I suggest you hold your tongue, too, before you say something you regret!”

“What’s the matter with you people?” T’kamen asked. He wanted to laugh with the absurdity of it all “They didn’t invent timing yesterday! Didn’t your Weyrlingmaster lecture you about it? Shards, haven’t you ever slipped an hour by accident going between on a visual that was too specific?”

“What?” M’ric asked, as if he were speaking a foreign language.

But Lirelle was looking at him strangely. “T’kamen, this is silly,” she said. “Can you even hear yourself? You’re talking like you’re sprung from some whimsical old Harper ballad about the days when dragons could go between.”

“Oh, shards,” M’ric said to Lirelle suddenly. “You don’t think they’ve figured it out up north, do you? Is this guy just the scout? Is he –”

“Weyrling, be quiet,” said Lirelle. She was looking more closely at T’kamen’s face which, he realised weakly, must have betrayed his horror.

He swallowed hard. “Your dragons can’t go between?”

“No, T’kamen,” said Lirelle. “Of course they can’t. Would that they could –”

“Since when? Weyrwoman, please, this is important. When did they stop?”

“The last dragons who could go between died when I wasn’t much more than a weyrling,” said Lirelle. “A dragon hasn’t come out of between in half a century.”

And this time, understanding didn’t creep up on T’kamen. It leapt upon him, wrestled him down and held him there. He felt suddenly adrift. Epherineth made a small querying sound in the back of his throat. “What Turn is it?” he asked. “You said it was 26 – 26 of what?”

“Of the Pass,” said M’ric, “obv–”

Which Pass?”

“The Eighth Pass,” said Lirelle.

The hysterical laughter that had come so close to overwhelming T’kamen already finally broke through. It bubbled up helplessly in his throat, in his nose, in his mouth, so he couldn’t even answer when the Weyrwoman he’d never heard of and the brown rider who’d aged the wrong way asked him, with increasing urgency, what was so sharding funny.

If he could have answered, he would have explained that he was laughing at the sheer absurd irony of it. Lirelle and M’ric had been quite right to scoff at him. He and Epherineth had not, after all, timed it seventy-four Turns into the past.

They’d timed it one hundred and twenty-six Turns into the future.

END OF ACT ONE

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