Chapter seventeen: T’kamen
They’re still in deadlock over what to do with T’kamen. It seems less and less likely with each passing day that he’s the northerner we assumed. Epherineth certainly doesn’t resemble any northern dragon we’ve ever seen. He doesn’t look like a scion of any of the southern bloodlines we know, either. And tall as he is, he’s not built for a bronze’s work. If he’s a northerner, what’s he been doing all his life?
We know a dragon can be compelled to claim a different name than the one he gave himself when he Hatched. There was, it seems, a Weyrleader of Madellon called T’kamen with a bronze called Epherineth during the Seventh Interval. I got that out of the Masterharper without arousing his suspicions – I think. It’s hard to know with Marlaw. But I don’t want him poking his nose in until I have a better idea of what we’re dealing with here. It’s not the Harperhall’s business. I just wish more of our Interval records had survived so I could verify T’kamen’s story.
It seems ridiculous that I’m even writing that. Verify his story. A bronze dragon and his rider turn up at Madellon West claiming to have come more than a hundred Turns between times from the last Interval. It’s like a joke waiting for a punchline. Are we the punchline?
R’lony still thinks Ista’s behind it, though. S’leondes concurs – may the wonders never cease – but as usual those two couldn’t actually fly a formation together if their lives depended on it. They can’t come to an agreement on what to do with our guests. We’ve never actually captured a northern rider before, so there’s no precedent for applying the statute amendment from 19. S’leondes wants to put T’kamen in front of a Justice. R’lony doesn’t, because a Justice has to be public, and he doesn’t want to give him a chance to grandstand.
And I’m undecided. Even if Epherineth is a pawn of Chrelith’s, I have no doubt that Donauth could break her hold on him and get to the bottom of his story. But no dragon is ever the same after he’s had a queen step on his neck, and Donauth’s too appreciative of Epherineth’s good looks to want to break him. He is extremely handsome, even if he is oversized. I suspect that’s why neither R’lony nor S’leondes want me going anywhere near T’kamen. If he’s half as good-looking as his dragon… Lirelle said he was a rather stern young man. Of course, everyone’s young to her. Maybe I’ll ask M’ric to report on that score. That’ll keep them on their toes.
There is one way to prove if he’s telling the truth or not. We can’t try it until T’kamen’s leg’s well enough for him to ride, and I’ll still have to make S’leondes and R’lony think they thought of it first, but…well. That’s what I do best, isn’t it?
– Excerpt from the personal diaries of Weyrwoman Dalka
It was mid-morning of a cold, Thread-free day when M’ric came up to T’kamen’s weyr with Epherineth’s broken rig over one shoulder and a roll of heavy-grade hide under the opposite arm.
T’kamen sat up. “What’s going on?”
M’ric dumped hide and harness on the floor beside T’kamen’s couch. “You get to make Epherineth a new harness. I get to help. Let me just go and get my tools.”
T’kamen stared after the weyrling, and then at the leather and harness he’d left on the ledge, trying once again to figure him out.
M’ric had been coming daily to talk to him since the Threadfall over Madellon – the day when Epherineth had almost disgraced them both with his behaviour. I cannot stay here, he’d insisted. Thread is falling! I have to kill it!
Salionth and Recranth had had to restrain him from breaking into the firestone bunkers: brave of them, given that Epherineth was half as heavy again as either one of them, and angrier than both put together. N’hager and P’lav, close-mouthed as ever, had said nothing to T’kamen once their dragons had wrestled Epherineth back to his ledge, but M’ric had. “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you control your own dragon?”
T’kamen had sworn him clean out of his weyr, but later, grudgingly, he’d conceded that M’ric was right. He’d never locked wills with his dragon before. He’d never needed to. But being under a live Fall had awoken a side of Epherineth that T’kamen hadn’t experienced before. Curbing the fighting instincts of a bronze dragon with actual Thread overhead was something his training hadn’t covered. That wasn’t M’ric’s fault. Besides, for all that T’kamen didn’t care for the brown rider as a youth any more than he had as an adult, he’d been penned up in the weyr alone for so long that any kind of company was preferable to none.
He’d still been surprised when M’ric actually came back. “They say I know too much about you,” he said, when T’kamen queried his presence. “I’m already in the shit. And Donauth’s grounded Trebruth, so it’s not like I can go flying off to Fort in the middle of the night. As if I would anyway. I’m just not allowed to tell anyone else what you say.”
“Anyone else but them?” T’kamen asked.
M’ric had shrugged, unfazed by the accusation. “I don’t tell them everything.” He’d grinned, almost ferally. “I might get a better offer.”
He was a cocky young idiot, this unfinished M’ric. I won’t be used. I’m no one’s puppet. But he could also be frighteningly perceptive. T’kamen found himself having to choose his words with care when M’ric asked about the circumstances of his trip between times. He wasn’t ready to put a dragon among the wherries by telling M’ric the truth, but the boy seemed to sense when he was withholding information, and had an uncanny knack for filling in the gaps himself. In that, he reminded T’kamen irresistibly of C’los at his most irritating.
He didn’t trust him, though – not one bit, not in this Madellon. T’kamen had only the vaguest picture of the political climate, but his arrival had plainly stirred a pot already bubbling with tensions. He was obviously being monitored. Gusinien and Ondiar probably reported to Dalka, the Weyrwoman, but they only ever spoke to him about his health or Epherineth’s. N’hager and P’lav scarcely spoke at all. Their two bronzes were the largest and bulkiest of Madellon’s complement, and it was clear that their role was to contain Epherineth physically. If they were reporting to anyone, T’kamen doubted they had much to say. Only M’ric had really questioned him, or answered his questions, and T’kamen had no doubt that the weyrling was repeating every word he said back to his superiors.
But this new instruction still threw him. Epherineth’s wing was almost whole again, it was true. His broken bones had healed, and while he hadn’t yet regained fine control over the trailing edge, the membrane had regenerated nicely, with hardly any scarring. Madellon’s Dragon Healers, Gusinien had told T’kamen, were some of the best on Pern at fixing wings. Epherineth had started flying again – cautiously, and only over the Weyr – but with a confidence that increased each day.
T’kamen, though, was still at least a sevenday away from being able to risk riding. The muscles and ligaments of his leg were still weak enough that a sudden movement could cause his hip to dislocate again. He chafed at the delay, but he didn’t want to extend his convalescence by re-injuring himself. Ondiar had told him that the more he rested, the sooner he’d be fit. Not that T’kamen thought they’d let him go anywhere once he was – but perhaps something had changed.
“What do I need a harness for?” he asked, when M’ric returned with his leather-working kit.
“You put it on your dragon,” said M’ric. “So you don’t fall off him.”
“Don’t be a smart-arse. Am I free to go?”
“You’re not a prisoner,” said M’ric, but he rolled his eyes as he said it.
“Right,” T’kamen said, with equal scepticism. M’ric must have been given stock answers to T’kamen’s most common questions, but he’d repeated them so often now that even he clearly didn’t believe them. “So where are they wanting me to go that means Epherineth needs harness?”
“They want you to prove if you are who you say you are.”
T’kamen had a feeling he knew where this was leading, but he’d learned not to pre-empt M’ric. “And how do they propose I do that?”
“By going between,” said M’ric.
He really wasn’t hiding his eagerness very well, T’kamen thought. Whatever was happening, M’ric was excited about it. “Between where?”
“Anywhere!” M’ric waved an arm. “I mean, it doesn’t matter, does it, so long as you show you can go between and come out again.”
“That just proves that Epherineth is capable of going between,” said T’kamen. “It doesn’t follow that I’m who I say I am.”
“No one really cares if you’re actually some Interval Weyrleader or just a crazy bronze rider,” said M’ric. “But we know that no one from this time can go between, so if you can, at the least you’re not lying about being a time-traveller.”
There were still holes in the logic, and the very fact that M’ric wasn’t pointing them out exposed just how keen he was to test the shaky theory. T’kamen decided not to make that particular observation. The chance of vindication was too tempting – and the prospect of going home much too sweet. Still, he was suspicious. “What’s brought this on?” he asked, shifting up on the couch so M’ric could lay out several lengths of measuring cord.
“I’m guessing you’re just close enough to being better that they have to decide what to do with you,” said M’ric. He never admitted to not knowing something. If he didn’t deliberately evade a question, he’d speculate instead. “You can’t sit in this weyr forever.”
“I’m glad someone else thinks so.”
“And maybe someone’s decided to believe you.”
“You mean you don’t?” T’kamen asked, heavy on the irony.
“I still haven’t decided. You could still be a terrible spy. Or a very clever one.” M’ric thought about it, then amended, “More likely a terrible one.”
“I wish you’d tell me what the northern Weyrs did,” T’kamen complained, but resignedly. That was one of the subjects M’ric wouldn’t touch, though there were times when he visibly burned to show off his knowledge. T’kamen had pieced together only the scantest of pictures. The northern and southern continents were obviously locked in a bitter dispute. Northern riders were regarded with suspicion, if not outright hostility, in the south. And relations were so bad that Madellon couldn’t or wouldn’t reach out to substantiate T’kamen’s repeated assertion that he wasn’t a spy or a trespasser.
Yet Madellon’s queens had refrained from leaning on Epherineth to force him to speak the truth – a fact for which T’kamen was very grateful – and the Weyrleader still hadn’t interrogated him personally. That bothered him even more than the mysterious north-south rift. If a strange rider had appeared in T’kamen’s Madellon, claiming to be a time-traveller, T’kamen would have wanted to question him himself. He couldn’t understand why neither Weyrwoman nor Weyrleader had come to see him. He hadn’t even been able to identify which of the handful of bronzes belonged to Pass Madellon’s Weyrleader. No dragon ever shared Donauth’s ledge. The weyr adjacent to the senior queen’s, where T’kamen and Epherineth had quartered over a hundred Turns ago, seemed to belong to a brown, and blue and green dragons took up most of the prime low-level caverns. T’kamen was perplexed by it all.
But he was also bored, and at least making Epherineth a new harness would give him something to do. “You’re going to have to help me measure him up,” he told M’ric. “This hip isn’t going to let me clamber around.”
“I thought we could use his old one as a guide,” M’ric said.
“He’s lost so much weight it wouldn’t be much use,” said T’kamen. He lifted the broken fore-strap, turning it over in his hands. Some of the rivets had popped under the strain of Epherineth’s crash-landing in the Pass. “The turnbuckles are still good, though. We can cut them out and reuse them.”
“Why?” asked M’ric. He poked one of the metal fittings. “They’ve gone rusty.”
“It’s nothing that won’t scour off.”
“But why bother? I’ll get the Weyr Smith to make new ones.”
“New ones are expensive,” T’kamen objected.
“It’s not like you have to pay for them out of your own marks, T’kamen,” said M’ric. “The harness failed. You should replace all of it.”
T’kamen had to accept the wisdom of that. “It’s just that I don’t know how many times I’ve reused these fittings when making Epherineth new harness,” he said. “They’re too costly to throw away.”
“They won’t be thrown away. They’ll be melted down, forged into something else.”
“Which costs in coal,” T’kamen said. “And the Smiths’ time.”
M’ric looked curiously at him. “There’s no shortage of coal. Or Smiths.”
“There is where I come from,” said T’kamen. “There’s a shortage of sharding everything.”
M’ric’s eyes narrowed. “In the Interval. When there’s no Thread.”
“That’s the point,” said T’kamen. “When there’s no Thread, the Holds don’t see why they should break their backs to support the Weyr.”
“But holders have it easy in an Interval. They don’t have to keep their herds in during Fall. Or limit their acreage to what the Weyr can protect. They can do what they like.”
“Including being stingy with their tithes,” said T’kamen. “The way Madellon’s holders see it, dragonriders don’t earn their keep during an Interval. We have to fight for every sack of grain and head of herdbeast.”
M’ric looked baffled, and annoyed. “Why would you stand for that?”
“What else can we do, when the Pass is a hundred Turns away?” T’kamen asked. “We don’t have any leverage. We have to take what we can get, and manage.”
“So your Madellon’s…poor?”
“No one’s starving,” said T’kamen. “Yet.” He shook his head. “I’ve had to lay off Crafters. I’m probably going to have to cut the stipend again. And…” He saw M’ric’s expression and stopped. “When I get back, anyway.”
“When you get back,” M’ric said. He was silent for a moment, just watching. Then he said, “Do you want to go back?”
T’kamen laughed. “Of course I do.”
“It doesn’t sound like much fun.”
“I left my Weyrwoman on her own, M’ric,” T’kamen said. “I left my Weyr without a Weyrleader. And my weyrlings….” He let the sentence trail off, but not the thought behind it. Dragons couldn’t go between any more. The three pairs they’d lost were only the beginning. “I have responsibilities. Fun doesn’t come into it.”
“Well,” M’ric said, after another long pause. “I suppose we’d better get on and make this harness, then.”
It took them several days. T’kamen could only stand for short periods, so he directed M’ric in most of the cutting that had to be done on the scarred and battered workbench that P’lav and N’hager hauled up to the weyr ledge. He made all the straps longer than Epherineth needed so that when he regained the condition he’d lost in convalescence his harness could be adjusted and still fit. M’ric took away all the metal parts from Epherineth’s old rig, and came back the next day with new ones. Then the long process of padding and sewing each strap began. T’kamen had thought to do all of that himself. He’d never let anyone else work on Epherineth’s harness before. But M’ric just picked up one of the pieces of the aft-strap and began punching holes in it with such accurate deftness that T’kamen let him get on with it. Whatever his other issues with M’ric, he couldn’t fault his steady eye, or his good hands.
One chill afternoon, when Epherineth’s harness was taking shape, M’ric looked up from the tether he was stitching. “How did you do it, then?”
“Do what?” T’kamen asked.
“Come between through time.”
T’kamen set down the buckle he’d been sewing onto the end of the second fore-strap girth. “Our visual must have been wrong.”
“That’s how dragons go between,” T’kamen said. “You give them a visual of where you want to go – a reference of what it looks like – and they take you there.”
“That’s it?” M’ric asked. He sounded disappointed.
T’kamen laughed. “Fundamentally. In practice it’s a little more complicated, if you don’t want to get yourself killed.”
M’ric went quiet for a very long time. “We’re not meant to think about between.”
T’kamen suspected that M’ric wasn’t meant to talk about it, either. “So you don’t even know the theory?”
“Too dangerous. We’re supposed to tell the Weyrlingmaster if our dragons start getting curious.”
He said Weyrlingmaster in a tone of barely-veiled distaste. “You don’t like him much, do you?” T’kamen asked.
“He doesn’t like me,” said M’ric. Then he seemed to remember himself. He straightened. “Anyway, I don’t need anyone strong-arming Trebruth into not thinking about between. I can keep my thoughts to myself.”
T’kamen made a connection then that he hadn’t before. “This is why Epherineth’s not been allowed to talk to any other dragons, isn’t it? And why the Weyr’s been told that we’re northerners. If it were common knowledge that we’d come between – true or not – everyone would be thinking about between…”
“And that’s dangerous,” M’ric finished for him. He raised one shoulder in a shrug. “Because it’s an instinct in dragons we have to suppress, isn’t it? And if they all start talking about between, thinking about between, because you’ve reminded them it exists….”
“They could instinctively use it to try and dodge,” said T’kamen.
“It’s like telling someone not to think about the pink watch-wher,” said M’ric. “It becomes all they can think about.” He leaned forwards slightly, his dark eyes alight. “But Epherineth can’t just go between. He can go between times.”
“It’s not something you ever do on purpose,” said T’kamen. “It’s against Weyr law, for one thing… The pink watch-wher?”
“See what I mean?”
T’kamen tried, unsuccessfully, to banish the mental image. “And it’s dangerous,” he went on. “Very. You can get lost between on a normal jump if your visual’s inaccurate and your dragon can’t find the where. If he has to find the when as well as the where, it’s much harder.”
“But it can be done?” M’ric asked. “Deliberately, I mean. Not just by accident?”
“I never have,” said T’kamen. “My Weyrlingmaster drilled that into me pretty hard when I was your age.”
“But if you wanted to do it…on purpose…how would you do it?”
T’kamen looked at M’ric. His face was intent. “Are you talking about how I would do it, or how you would?”
M’ric recoiled with a start. “Me?” He shook his head emphatically. “I’m not stupid, T’kamen. Trebruth’s unique, but he can’t go between any more than any other dragon can.”
T’kamen thought about the last moments he’d spent in the Interval, watching M’ric and Trebruth vanish between less than a winglength from Epherineth’s ledge. He covered his pause with a short laugh. “Everyone’s dragon is unique, M’ric.”
“Yeah, but Trebruth –” M’ric bit the sentence off. “I wasn’t talking about me. I was talking about you. If you wanted to go home, back to your own time, what would you need?”
“A time-specific reference. Something that would let Epherineth pinpoint a when as well as a where.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out,” T’kamen said. “It has to be exact, and it has to be unique. And you have to put back in all the temporal conditions that you usually take out to go from one place to another in the present.” He saw M’ric’s brow furrow. “This means nothing to you, does it?”
“Where the sun is in the sky. The direction of shadows. The weather. If you’re jumping normally, and you know you’re going to be going from day to night, or night to day, you have to account for that, but if not, you have to take out the details, or your dragon can get caught up in trying to find your destination under those exact conditions, and if they don’t exist, or they aren’t unique…”
“You get lost between,” said M’ric.
“If you could just find something,” T’kamen said. “Some account of me arriving back in the Interval…”
“I already told you, Madellon’s records don’t go back that far,” said M’ric.
“It wouldn’t have to be a Weyr record,” said T’kamen. “Surely the Harperhall at Kellad would have records from the Interval. He paused. “The Harperhall is still at Kellad, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” M’ric said, after a moment. “I have a girlfriend there.”
“Lord Meturvian was always making changes to the Hold proper,” T’kamen said, inspired. “After the wildfire in 98 he knocked down the temporary workshops in the courtyard and started rebuilding them in stone instead of wood. He –”
“Wood?” M’ric queried. “He had workshops made of wood?”
“It was the Interval, remember?” T’kamen said. “No Thread.”
“Maybe there’s a drawing or description of the new buildings,” T’kamen went on. “They weren’t finished when I was last there. He would have made an event of completing them. There has to be something. Can you ask your girlfriend?”
“I’m grounded,” M’ric said, but he looked thoughtful. “I’ll…see if I can get her a message.”
A couple of days later, M’ric came up to the weyr as normal, passing the attendant Recranth and Salionth below, but the brightness of his eyes betrayed that something was afoot. “Need to talk to you,” he told T’kamen, under his breath, and then said, loudly, “I’d kill for a cup of klah.”
T’kamen set aside the strap he’d been greasing. He picked up his single crutch – Ondiar had told him he didn’t need two any more. “I’ll put the kettle to heat.”
He’d hardly limped through Epherineth’s sleeping cavern and into the quarters beyond before M’ric hurried past him. “I’ve got it,” he said, pulling a record tube out of his jacket and slapping it triumphantly down on the table.
“Got what?” T’kamen asked.
“A record from Kellad!” M’ric opened the tube and shook it to empty out its contents. Dust and bits of desiccated vellum showered out, and he swore. “Shaffit!”
“Be careful with that!” T’kamen told him. “Shards, M’ric, you have to treat old hides gently!”
He took the tube off the weyrling and eased the roll of hide out of the tube. It was old and dry, its surface already webbed with a lattice of cracks where it had been handled too roughly. Gingerly, T’kamen unrolled it.
And caught his breath.
Time had darkened the surface of the vellum, but not enough to obscure the vibrant colours of the dragons depicted there, jewel-bright against an ashen sky, or the malevolent orange of the flames that boiled up from the trees in the background. In the foreground, a blue lay stricken in the courtyard of Kellad Hold, surrounded by dragons and people. It was vivid, visceral; it sent T’kamen so forcefully back to that day that he could smell the smoke, hear the crackling of the flames, feel the blistering heat. “Faranth,” he said, and coughed. “Faranth.”
“You said there was a wildfire in Interval 98,” M’ric said. He put his finger on the hide. “Look!”
T’kamen tugged his eyes away from the graphic portrayal. Madellon dragons fight the wildfire of I7/98. “I was there,” he said, more to himself than to M’ric. “We were there.” He shook his head. “This wasn’t much more than a Turn ago to me. But this picture’s…ancient.”
“But you can use it?” M’ric asked. He was almost beside himself with excitement. “You can jump back to this moment?”
T’kamen spread the hide out on the table, carefully, weighting down its corner with cups. He tried to set his disconcertion aside. “This is Darshanth,” he said, touching the blue. He moved his finger to a green dragon nearby in the courtyard. “This must be…Othanth. She brought the Dragon Healer from Madellon.” He moved his finger again to a bronze. “And this is…”
“Epherineth?” M’ric asked.
T’kamen looked at the dragons crowding around Darshanth, and the bubble of hope that had been expanding in his chest suddenly burst. “No,” he said. “It’s wrong.” He tapped the dragons whose hides had been painted with the green-gold hue of bronze. “There were three bronzes at Kellad that day. Epherineth, Peteorth, Santinoth. But not once Darshanth was on the ground. We sent Santinoth back to the Weyr to get help, before we landed. And the other dragons of the Wing didn’t come back to the Hold until the fire was out.” He shook his head, irrationally angry with the painting. “It’s wrong. It’s all wrong. It didn’t happen like this.”
M’ric looked even more crestfallen than T’kamen felt. “But can’t you correct it?” he ventured. “I mean, you know what’s wrong with it. Can’t you just…take out the dragons that shouldn’t be there?”
T’kamen looked at the painting. The shadows did look right. The weather, the time of day – both matched his recollection of that afternoon at Kellad. Epherineth?
Epherineth didn’t reply for a long moment. T’kamen could sense how he strained through his eyes to make sense of the inaccurate picture. Is that supposed to be me?
Nothing distinguished the bronze closest to Darshanth except for the general colour of his hide. I think so.
We were not there twice, T’kamen.
There was a lot going on, T’kamen pointed out. The fire, Darshanth, Shimpath rising. Maybe you were just distracted.
I think I would have noticed, Epherineth said doubtfully.
I’m not certain.
“Well?” M’ric asked.
“Epherineth isn’t sure,” said T’kamen. “He doesn’t think we were there twice.”
It’s not the sort of thing I would forget.
“I don’t think this is going to work.” T’kamen said it slowly, reluctant to give up the hope that the painting of Kellad could be their way home. “Even if we did get back to this moment, I wouldn’t be able to go back to the Weyr straightaway.”
“Because I’d already be there. I’d be doubled up for more than a Turn. And I wasn’t, as far as I know.”
“Doubled up,” said M’ric. He frowned. “But there’s no Thread. Couldn’t you just –”
“What?” T’kamen asked. “Camp out? For a Turn?”
“But you said you wanted to go home.”
“I do. Faranth, M’ric, I do.” T’kamen stared at the old picture, frustrated. “But I need a better visual than this.” He let out his breath. “Maybe once we’ve done this demonstration, proved we’re not lying, I can do some more research at the Harperhall. There has to be a reference to me arriving back in the Interval. Once I have that it should be easy.” He let the painting roll itself up, and carefully put it back into the record tube. “Can you get this back to your friend at the Harperhall?”
“I suppose so,” M’ric said.
He sounded subdued, and T’kamen almost felt sorry for him. He had taken a risk to get him the old record.
They finished Epherineth’s harness that afternoon. It looked good, T’kamen thought, as he stood back to admire their handiwork: nothing fancy, just top-quality hide, cut and sewn with even, solid stitches onto smoothly-polished metal fitments. The new riding belt he’d made for himself matched it. But he was still short a couple of items. “Do you know what happened to the rest of my gear?” he asked M’ric. “My jacket and helmet?”
“I’ll find out,” M’ric told him.
Left alone again, T’kamen resumed his place on the couch beside Epherineth. Half the Weyr’s dragons had left early in the day, and as evening fell they began to return, weary and soot-smeared and reeking so powerfully of firestone that the smell even reached T’kamen’s nostrils. The big dragons always arrived back later than the blues and greens, and as he watched, two of the larger bronzes came over the Rim with an injured green dangling below them in a complex rigging of ropes and chains. They set their stricken passenger down near the dragon infirmary, below T’kamen’s ledge, and crafters from the Dragon Healer’s staff came out to meet them.
The exchange between the new bronze riders and T’kamen’s minders, P’lav and N’hager, floated up to him in fragments.
“…be glad when you’re back flying…”
“…wouldn’t mind your detail for a bit…”
“…won’t be long now…”
T’kamen looked at Epherineth where he was dozing with his head on his forearms. “Any idea what that means?” he asked softly.
The other dragons still aren’t letting me in, said Epherineth.
T’kamen reached over to touch his bronze’s elbow with his fingertips. “We’ll be out of here soon, Epherineth. I’m nearly fit now, and we’ll find a reference to get us home.”
Epherineth shifted his head slightly to fix him with a thoughtfully gleaming eye. I know.
“I get the impression that everyone here would be much happier if we’d just go away.” T’kamen smiled. “I suspect that’s why M’ric was so keen to help with that reference, anyway. I don’t think he was doing it for our sake.”
Don’t be too hard on him. He’s just a weyrling.
“A weyrling who’s responsible for putting us here in the first place.” T’kamen shifted his bad leg experimentally. It hardly hurt at all. “Faranth, Epherineth. What are we going to do about him when we do get back? What are we going to do about between? It’s a hundred Turns later and they haven’t found a solution.”
Perhaps that’s why we’re here, said Epherineth. Perhaps that’s why Trebruth’s rider sent us to this time.
“To fix between?” T’kamen asked. “We don’t even know why it’s broken.” He thought about it. “But you’re right. If M’ric and Trebruth are going to go back to the Interval, they’re going to have to learn how to go between.”
If they can do it, so can the others.
T’kamen watched the weary, dirty dragons of Madellon Weyr gliding in, some of them not even bothering to bathe, but heading straight for their weyr ledges to curl up and sleep. “M’ric was right,” he said. “If we’re here to restore between to these dragons, everything will change.”
He’d never gone a month without riding before, not since Epherineth was a very young dragonet and still too small to take his weight. Now, as T’kamen looked up and up at his tall dragon, the memory of looking down at an Epherineth whose shoulder barely reached his knee seemed very distant. When Epherineth stood with his forepaws braced on the ground and his forearms at full extension, he was more than twice T’kamen’s height at the withers.
It was technically possible to climb aboard a big dragon who was standing square. You could shin up the forearm as far as the elbow, then swing over, make a grab for the aft strap, and scramble up the rest of the way using the toe-loops. L’stev had made them all do it a few times as weyrlings. T’kamen remembered how easily the green and blue riders had done it – and how much harder it had been for the bronze and brown weyrlings.
He wasn’t going to put himself to that sort of test today. Instead, he touched Epherineth’s arm as he had ten thousand times before. Epherineth immediately dropped his shoulder, flexed his elbow, and offered his forelimb for a leg-up.
Don’t overdo it, T’kamen told him, very aware that they had an audience. Stiffly, careful of his bad leg, he stepped onto Epherineth’s wrist, then reached up to take hold of the fore-strap. Vaulting astride was beyond him, but a discreet boost from Epherineth gave him enough momentum to catch his left foot in one of the fore-strap toe-loops. From there, a cautious swing of his right leg brought him into position and, keeping all his weight through his left ankle, he settled into the space between Epherineth’s last two neck-ridges.
He just sat there for a minute, ignoring the dull ache of his hip, enjoying the familiarity of it: his dragon, his place, where he was meant to be.
“Everything all right, T’kamen?” Ondiar enquired from below.
“Everything’s fine,” he said, looking down. The journeyman Healer was frowning slightly. Beside him, Gusinien was scrutinising Epherineth’s posture. P’lav and N’hager were as impassive as ever, though from his high place on Epherineth’s neck T’kamen noticed sweat shining on P’lav’s thinning pate. And apart from them all stood M’ric: hands shoved in pockets, watching intently, seeing everything, storing up questions to annoy him with later.
T’kamen snapped the tethers that dangled from his belt to Epherineth’s fore and aft neck-straps, then buckled the safety and gave it a good yank. M’ric had brought up his jacket and helmet, goggles and gloves the previous evening – along with his orders. He had clearance to ride. He and Epherineth would be escorted out of the Weyr to the north-west training fields. Then they would be required to prove the veracity of their story by going between.
Salionth and Recranth were his escorts, as always, but M’ric had evidently been given permission to come along too. Donauth wasn’t on her weyr ledge, and T’kamen wondered if she’d meet them at their destination. He couldn’t believe that the Weyrleaders would miss this trial.
All are ready, said Epherineth. P’lav, N’hager, and M’ric had mounted their dragons on the ground below Epherineth’s weyr ledge. Trebruth looked tiny beside the two Pass bronzes; even amongst the undersized dragons of this time, he was very small for a brown. We can go.
T’kamen took a breath, settled his flying goggles more comfortably on the bridge of his nose, then dropped his hand to behind his leg, just touching Epherineth’s soft neck with his fingertips. Let’s fly.
Epherineth pushed off from the ledge lightly, resisting the flashy vertical leap that he normally favoured. It probably made him look unwieldy to the Pass riders, but T’kamen didn’t care. Ondiar had warned him a sudden jerking movement could re-dislocate his hip, and Epherineth was taking every care to look after him.
And it felt great to fly, to feel the wind in his face, like a good stretch after long confinement. He felt himself smiling, the cool air flow making his teeth ache, and he felt Epherineth’s spirits lift from their slump. Faranth, Epherineth, this is better.
As they ascended to the level of the Rim, the watchdragon called out. Recranth, on Epherineth’s near side, called back to her. She confirms that the skies are clear to the north-west, Epherineth said. Moderate winds, scattered rain showers. We are to follow Recranth.
He didn’t sound thrilled about that last part. T’kamen scrubbed the fore neck-ridge with his knuckles. Carry on.
As they flew over the Rim, T’kamen glanced back at the great caldera of Madellon. Shards. The outer face of the crater wall was dotted with weyr caverns. T’kamen had only ever seen that configuration once before, at Ista, with its forest-facing outer weyrs.
They beat north-west across Madellon’s territory, Epherineth penned within the triangle of Recranth, Salionth, and Trebruth. The shadows of the four dragons skimmed over the ridges and folds of the mountain range that was home to the Weyr. That, T’kamen thought at first, hadn’t changed much since his time. But as they flew farther from the crater, he realised he was wrong. The land below was blighted with swathes of black, acres upon acres where scrubby vegetation had been razed to ashes. Thread took root here, Epherineth confirmed T’kamen’s guess. It had to be burned out.
The bleak thought occupied T’kamen’s mind for long minutes. The badlands north of Madellon were sparsely populated, but if stray Thread was causing such widespread damage here, what was it doing to the fertile fields and woodlands of Madellon’s holds? Grubs didn’t do well in many parts of Madellon territory – they needed specific conditions to thrive – so they would only offer limited protection. How much Thread was getting through the Wings? Was it this bad all over Pern? The questions troubled him.
As they approached the edge of the north-western training fields, strewn with rock formations that truly hadn’t been changed by the passage of Turns, T’kamen felt Epherineth check his speed. They followed Recranth into a holding stack. We are here, Epherineth said. And so are they.
Five dragons waited atop one of the largest stone mesas that reared dozens of dragonlengths out of the barren ground: a queen, Donauth; two browns, a blue, and a green. Where’s the Weyrleader?
I don’t know, said Epherineth. He turned his head from side to side. Recranth and Salionth were spreading out, giving him space. Trebruth was still close behind. T’kamen could see M’ric watching him intently. Donauth commands that we go between to somewhere within visual range.
T’kamen glanced around at the familiar landscape. Harper’s Rock?
Epherineth banked to face the formation T’kamen suggested. It was one of the larger red sandstone mesas, named for the fact that it looked vaguely like a half-harp from one angle. L’stev used it as an easy visual for weyrlings to master in the early sevendays of between training. That will do.
It was only a mile or so away, and Epherineth could have blinked to it unaided, but T’kamen decided to do it properly. He called up the familiar reference, holding the distinctive shape of the mesa in his mind. They would come out of between east-south-east of the formation, and in plain sight of Donauth and the other watching dragons. All right, let’s go there.
He felt Epherineth take the visualisation and braced himself for the bitter cold of between.
It never came.
Epherineth lurched. It was like nothing so much as the sensation of missing a step in the dark, and pulling back just in time to avoid toppling into the abyss. I can’t see the way, T’kamen. It isn’t there.
T’kamen gripped Epherineth’s fore-ridge with both hands. What do you mean, it isn’t there?
Epherineth turned his head back towards him, his eyes spinning too fast, and flecked yellow. There’s no way through. No way out.
T’kamen’s throat went dry. He discarded the mesa visual and constructed one of Madellon as they’d just left it: the structures within the Bowl, the tracery of streams, the new weyrs in the south-eastern quadrant. Can you jump to here?
No. There’s no way through.
Can you blink?
No! Epherineth’s eyes were completely yellow, and his distress almost overwhelmed T’kamen. It isn’t safe, I won’t take you!
It was those words, so horribly familiar, that rocked T’kamen back in his harness. Oh, Faranth. That’s what the weyrlings said. The ones who tried to go between and couldn’t. Epherineth, are you saying you can’t go between at all?
I could. I won’t. I can’t see the way through. It’s not safe!
Something crumpled inside them both at the same moment: T’kamen felt it resound through them as if they were of one body. The gentle turn of their holding pattern suddenly made him feel sick.
“T’kamen!” M’ric bellowed across the distance between their dragons, to get his attention. He made the arm signal, unchanged from the Interval, for report status.
You really can’t do it? T’kamen asked Epherineth desperately.
No. It’s not as it was. It isn’t safe.
Shaff! Curtly, hating the necessity of it, T’kamen signalled aborting jump.
M’ric hesitated, then motioned, unclear, repeat?
He doesn’t know the between signals, said Epherineth.
Of course he shaffing doesn’t. Tell Trebruth we’re aborting the jump. Tell him why.
It only took a moment for Epherineth to relay the message, and evidently Trebruth wasn’t the only one listening. Recranth and Salionth suddenly tucked in closer, and Donauth barked out a command. We’re to return to Madellon immediately, Epherineth reported unhappily. We must return to our weyr and wait for instructions.
Faranth, Epherineth, they’ll never let us out of there now!
Donauth commands it, Epherineth replied. I’m sorry, T’kamen. I can’t disobey her. We have to return to Madellon.
Continue to Chapter eighteen: Carleah
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Dragonchoice 3 news
- Dragonchoice re-read and commentary at AO3 posted 22 December 2017
- The end is nigh posted 8 February 2017
- Happy (nearly) birthday, Dragonchoice 3! posted 5 October 2016
- Venn diagram posted 25 February 2016
- Don’t let me Rosebud; or, why your feedback matters posted 17 February 2016