Chapter eighteen: Carleah
You taught me everything I know
I’ll never be as wise as you
You gave me everything I have
I’ll never be as kind as you
Daddy, all I ever want to be
Is the daughter of the father you will always be to me.
– Daddy, music and lyrics by green rider Carleah and Weyr Singer Jenavally
The weyrlings assigned to breakfast duty always had to rise early, but Carleah had been awake for ages already when Soleigh came quietly across the barracks to give her a nudge. “Psst. Carleah. Are you awake?”
Carleah sat up. “Yes,” she whispered back.
They stole towards the bathing room together, treading quietly so as not to disturb any of the other weyrlings, but Carleah couldn’t help but look at the three new humps of sleeping dragons as they passed: two greens the size of the larger Wildfire blues, and the queen, bigger than any of them.
“Faranth!” she exclaimed, once she and Soleigh had reached the privacy of the bathing room.
“Shshh,” Soleigh warned her, but she dimpled a quick conspiratorial grin. “Did you sleep at all?”
“Not a wink,” said Carleah. “You?”
Soleigh shook her head. “Bristath went down eventually, but did you hear Berzunth? She was restless the whole night.”
“Are you surprised?” Carleah asked. “With another queen in the barracks?”
“A bigger queen, too,” said Soleigh. “They must be older than ours.”
“They’re Southerners,” said Carleah. “My da always said that Southern dragons are the biggest on Pern.”
“If those bronzes who turned up are anything to go by, he wasn’t wrong,” said Soleigh. “Shards, could you believe it? And ours chasing them off with firestone?”
It was hard to imagine a more dramatic evening of events, or a more frustrating night than the one that had followed. L’stev had sent all the Wildfires to bed with the strictest instructions not to gossip about what had happened – and forbidding them to question the new Southern weyrlings. “You’ll have time enough for that tomorrow,” he’d told them, “and they’ve had enough disruption for one night. Leave them alone.”
So they had – or, at least, none of the Wildfire girls had flouted L’stev’s order. “Who’s on breakfast for the boys?”
“M’rany and S’terlion,” said Soleigh.
Carleah sighed. If it had been R’von or K’ralthe, or even K’dam, they might have had some information. M’rany and S’terlion were both far too dutiful to have disobeyed the Weyrlingmaster. “No chance of any gossip out of them.”
The one advantage to breakfast duty was not having to share the bathing room with eight other girls. Carleah and Soleigh hurried through their morning ablutions, and then slipped out through the harness room and into the barracks dining hall.
S’terlion and M’rany were already there, and deep in discussion by the dresser where the plates were kept. “There you are,” said M’rany. “We were just trying to work out how many extra places we need to set.”
“Trust you to be talking about that!” said Carleah. “Has anyone from your side got anything out of one of the Southern boys?”
“K’ralthe tried it,” said S’terlion. “H’nar and R’von made him stop. They’re all a bit upset.”
Carleah rolled her eyes. “Bronze riders.”
“How’s Berzunth taking it?” asked M’rany. “With that queen?”
“She kept us all awake, tossing and turning,” said Soleigh. “Do they have any bronzes?”
“One,” said M’rany. “And a couple of browns, and three blues. Six altogether.”
“We have two greens and the queen,” said Carleah.
“So nine extra places?” S’terlion asked seriously.
The long table could seat forty, though Carleah didn’t think it ever had. “I wonder if the kitchens know they need to send enough to feed nine more weyrlings,” said Soleigh. “Carleah, S’terli; why don’t you lay the table, and Rany and I’ll go to the lower caverns.”
“Why d’you think they’re here?” S’terlion asked Carleah, as they began to set plates and cups along the table. “Those Southern bronzes looked really mad.”
S’terlion had been Searched from Kellad, the same as her, but he hadn’t been born there, so he lacked either Carleah’s Harperhall upbringing or her dragonrider father. He could be terribly naïve when it came to Pernese politics. “Well, the queen, Grizbath, must have asked Madellon to take them,” Carleah explained patiently. “She wasn’t with the bronzes; didn’t you notice?”
“But why? I mean, why did the queen want Madellon to take them?”
“Because they’re not safe at Southern,” said Carleah. “We know they lost half their class going between. And no one warned us about it. And…oh, S’terli, really? We’re still setting their places?”
Even with nine extra weyrlings, they would have needed only thirty plates; S’terlion had put out thirty-four. The Wildfire weyrlings had been continuing to set places in the barracks dining hall for the classmates they’d lost. Carleah had thought it poignant the first day, puzzling the second, and stupid by the third. They weren’t coming back. N’jen and Ivaryo and poor shy Jenafa were gone, and G’dra might as well be. Saving seats for them wasn’t going to bring them back.
She’d kept that opinion almost completely to herself, only making one complaint to C’mine. “It’s stupid,” she’d told him, taking care not to be overheard by any of her classmates. “How long are they going to keep it up?”
“As long as they need to,” C’mine had replied. “Everyone deals with loss in their own ways, Leah. You know that.”
“Carleah,” she’d corrected him automatically, and then scowled. “That’s different.”
But S’terlion frowned, apparently missing her point. “Do you think we should do places for the Southerners who died, too?”
“Faranth, no, that would just be ridiculous,” said Carleah. She sighed. “All right, leave the places for ours. Everyone’s touchy enough already without making it worse.”
She was honest enough with herself to admit that part of her annoyance was down to the fact that her own way of addressing the deaths of her classmates wasn’t going very well. She might not ever have apprenticed to the Harpercraft, but she had a good enough voice to sing in the Hall’s choir, good enough hands to play gitar, and a good enough ear to turn a tune. That was what she’d set out to do in those horrible first days after the other weyrlings had gone between and not come back. She’d tried to write a song to express her sorrow and anger and confusion. But the tune wouldn’t come, and the words she scribbled down were clumsy and halting, and then she’d broken her slate by flinging it angrily away, and she hadn’t yet got up the courage to tell L’stev and ask for a new one.
It had been easier after her da had died. Then, she’d had Jenavally to help, and the words and notes had flowed out of her as naturally as her tears. Jenavally had sat with her, sung with her, even lent Carleah her gitar. She’d been able to play the chords she could hear in her head – every one minor, every one in harmony with the anguished throb of her broken heart – and the words, simple as they were, had articulated all she felt and all she’d lost.
But Jenavally was gone, too, now. She’d gone to Teller Hold, her home Hold, to grieve for N’jen. The thought of the sunny-natured brown rider still made Carleah’s insides wrench. He’d been such a clown, always teasing, always laughing. Maris had said that losing Naij was like losing a little brother, and even though he’d been only half a Turn younger than Carleah, she felt the same way.
Jenafa had been like a younger sister. Her loss had hurt Carleah personally the worst of all. Nedrith had slept on the next couch along from Jagunth’s, and the bare, empty platform was a constant reminder that they were gone. Carleah had helped C’mine pack up Jenafa’s few personal things, to give back to her father. Finding her hairbrush, with the long strands of Jenafa’s lovely red hair still caught in it, had almost set Carleah off.
Carleah had never really cared for Ivaryo – not because of her constant illicit trysts, but because she’d always bragged about them, as if anyone could actually be jealous – but now she felt guilty for having disliked her. And she felt even more guilty when she thought about G’dra – or rather, when she tried not to think about him. Was he even G’dra any longer with Kinnescath gone? The reality of it was so horrible that Carleah had never followed the thought through far enough to decide one way or the other.
Soleigh and M’rany returned from the lower caverns with several of the kitchen women as the other Wildfire weyrlings began to filter into the dining room. Carleah helped set out and uncover the dishes: big tureens of cereal, platters of scrambled eggs, baskets of rolls and fruit. No butter again, and the pitcher of milk to go with the klah looked like it had been watered down, but several big jars of stickleberry preserve. Carleah made sure to get a good dollop of that on her plate before she sat down at her usual place between Kessirke and Adzai.
Everyone was talking about the Southerners – weyrlings and adults. “What’s the problem with Southern anyway?” K’ralthe asked loudly. “Why do we have to have them?”
“That’s not very welcoming, K’ralthe,” said Maris, from the other side of the table.
“They lost classmates the same as we did,” said P’lian, glancing meaningfully at the vacant spaces where G’dra and N’jen had once sat.
“Anyway, it’ll be nice to have some new faces around the place,” Maris went on.
“But they’re just kids,” K’dam complained. “I mean, they’re not even old enough for their balls to have dropped –”
“K’dam!” Soleigh objected, and several of the other girls chorused their dismay. “Not at the breakfast table!”
“Maris is right,” said M’rany. “We should be hospitable.” He looked sideways at Tarshe. “Don’t you think so, Tarshe?”
Tarshe was never a vocal presence at the Wildfires’ mealtimes, but she looked up slowly from contemplating her plate as if she’d only just recognised there was a conversation going on.
“Did you know?” P’lian asked her. “Before they turned up? Did the Weyrlingmaster tell you they were coming?”
“No,” said Tarshe. “He didn’t say anything.”
“He should have,” said R’von. “You’re a queen rider. A sharding weyrwoman. He should have told you.”
R’von never missed an opportunity to criticise L’stev – more so than ever since the others had gone between – but Carleah thought there was more to it than that. All three of the bronze riders looked agitated, even the usually level-headed H’nar. It had to be because of Berzunth. She didn’t like sharing the barracks with another queen, her bronzes were reacting to her displeasure, and their riders were mirroring that irritation. Carleah examined her own feelings. She might be feeling a bit scratchy from a lack of sleep, but Jagunth was calm enough. The other green, blue, and brown riders around the table didn’t seem upset either. The bronzes had always been a bit deferential around Berzunth, but this was the first time Carleah had seen their riders reflecting their attitudes towards the queen quite so visibly.
It gave her a pang of – what? Jealousy? No, not jealousy. Tarshe was welcome to K’ralthe and R’von, and even H’nar, if she wanted them – though Carleah suspected she didn’t. Envy? Not that, either. Jagunth was the only dragon Carleah wanted. Annoyance, then. Annoyance, because it all seemed so arbitrary. Carleah liked Tarshe, but the bronze riders weren’t closing ranks around her because they liked her; they were doing it because of Berzunth. They’d have done the same if someone else had Impressed Berzunth – Chenda, say, or Jardesse. And given that Chenda was spiteful and Jardesse was thick, that would have been really annoying.
Kessirke’s elbow in her ribs prompted her out of her thoughts. “Carleah?”
“What?” she asked. Everyone was looking expectantly at her.
“K’ralthe was asking about Southern,” said Maris. “I said you’d know more about it than anyone.”
That made Carleah sit up, her pique forgotten in the pleasure of being recognised as erudite. “What do you want to know?” she asked, as she mentally reviewed her knowledge of Southern Weyr.
“Well, what’s their problem?” asked K’ralthe. “I heard Low-Brow saying to C’mine that they’re a bunch of hidebound, inbred tail-forks.”
“Oh, well, Southern doesn’t Search,” said Carleah. “And the Crafters don’t live up at the Weyr with the riders; they live in a sort of separate enclave.” She spoke casually, as though throwing out the facts off the top of her head, when in fact she was thinking very fast to recall what C’los had told her about Southern over the years. “It’s called the Weyrhall,” she added, as that detail rose to the surface.
“It doesn’t Search?”
“I suppose they think Weyrbred’s better for dragons,” said Carleah.
“R’von’s Weyrbred, so that’s clearly whershit,” said K’ralthe.
“Oh, stop it, you two,” Soleigh said, when R’von began to get up from the bench to turn on K’ralthe.
“There has to be something positive, Carleah,” said Maris.
Carleah searched her memory. She couldn’t think of much. “My da didn’t know many Southern riders,” she said. “He knew more about the Peninsula, so for example, most Peninsula riders have their dragon’s name tattooed on them somewhere –”
“Really?” asked J’kovu. “Is that true, Tarshe?”
Tarshe frowned, clearly still preoccupied, but she said, “My cousin has Kawanth tattooed across his back.”
“That’s really cool!” said B’joro.
“Yeah, but we’re not talking about the Peninsula, we’re talking about Southern,” said K’ralthe.
Carleah cast about for a fact, and then hit on one. “Oh, my da said that Southerners always wear dark goggles,” she said.
“Dark goggles?” K’ralthe asked sceptically.
“I suppose because the sun’s much stronger in Southern territory.”
“Dark goggles sound pretty cool too,” said B’joro.
“Oh, shut up, B’joro,” K’ralthe told the blue rider.
R’von half rose again. “Why don’t you shaffing shut up, K’ralthe?”
“Enough,” Tarshe said sharply, and both boys fell silent – the whole room fell silent. The Wildfires turned, nearly as one, to face the door.
Several of the Southern weyrlings came into the dining room. Carleah hadn’t got much of a look at them the previous evening, between the darkness and the confusion and being ordered back into the barracks by L’stev. The eldest of the three boys was big and burly, but he couldn’t have been older than fifteen. The other two were closer in age to C’seon and W’lenze, the youngest of the Wildfires. All three wore slightly worn, mismatched garments that must have come from Madellon’s stores. They looked warily around the room.
Maris stood up. “Welcome,” she said. “Welcome to Madellon.”
“Who’re you?” the eldest Southerner asked abruptly.
“I’m Maris, green Indrahath’s rider, and –”
“V’ranu, brown Laselth’s,” the Southern boy said, before she could finish. “This is L’mern and B’rode.”
“Brown Jemonth’s,” said B’rode
“Bronze Desarth’s,” said L’mern, almost at the same moment.
An uncomfortable moment of silence elapsed. Maris cleared her throat. “Please, come and have some breakfast with us,” she said gamely.
V’ranu glanced at the platters laid out down the centre of the table. His top lip curled fractionally upwards in what might have been a sneer, but then he gave a tiny shrug of his shoulders, as if to say, sure, why not. He moved towards the table.
Carleah wasn’t the only Wildfire to divine where he was going. “Don’t –”
“You can’t –”
V’ranu sat down at the empty place at the end of the left-hand bench.
“– sit there!”
K’ralthe stood up. K’dam and P’lian rose to join him a moment later. “You can’t sit there,” said K’ralthe.
V’ranu looked up at K’ralthe. He made no indication that he intended to move. “Why not?”
“That’s G’dra’s place,” said K’ralthe.
The Southern weyrling made a show of looking around. “I don’t see him anywhere.”
R’von got up then, and W’lenze, and then half a dozen more of the Wildfires. More Southerners had been filtering gradually in, girls and boys. They clustered together near the door. “Get out of that seat, V’ranu,” said R’von. His scowl made him the absolute image of L’stev, forty-five Turns younger. “Now.”
“You stay exactly where you are, V’ranu.”
Every eye turned to the speaker. The girl was younger than Carleah, but she carried herself with an absolute self-assurance that belied her Turns. Her eyes sparkled black and fierce. “No one tells one of my riders what to do.”
And then Tarshe stood up. She was rigid with suppressed rage. “You’re not the only queen here, Southern. Remove your rider from that seat, or my riders will.”
Carleah found herself on her feet. All the Wildfires were on their feet. The only person still seated was the Southern brown rider who’d taken G’dra’s place. Even H’nar and M’rany – even Maris and Soleigh – had jumped up. Jagunth bristled huge and angry in Carleah’s mind, and she caught a glimpse of the scene outside: Madellon’s smaller but more numerous dragonets hissing and growling at the older and bigger Southern weyrlings.
And then L’stev flung open the door with a crash that made everyone jump. “You all have a choice,” he said. “You can stop this whershit right now and have some breakfast like civilised people, or you can keep posturing and go hungry for the rest of the day.” He stared around at them, looking disgusted. “Well?”
“He started it!” said K’ralthe, pointing at V’ranu.
“I didn’t do anything,” said V’ranu.
“Shut up, K’ralthe,” said L’stev. “Tarshe. Karika.” He snapped out the two names. “Have your queens control those dragonets.”
Tarshe straightened her shoulders, looking furious. Karika, the imperious Southerner, lifted her chin. It occurred to Carleah that it made a terrific target. “Southern’s weyrlings answer only to me.”
“Wrong,” said L’stev. “Every weyrling at Madellon answers to me. Control those dragonets, or Vanzanth will.”
Karika’s eyes flared, but then she tore them away from L’stev. “Very well.”
Carleah could feel Jagunth’s anger lessening, but not because she was any less aroused. It was Berzunth’s influence, smothering the fury of all the Wildfire dragonets. It wasn’t a comfortable sensation, but around the table, the tension was slowly leaving the Wildfire weyrlings’ faces.
“That’s better,” L’stev said. His voice was a low growl. “Now sit down. All of you.”
“But he’s sitting in G’dra’s place,” K’ralthe complained.
“Grow up,” said L’stev. “You’re not the only ones who’ve lost classmates. Southern’s weyrlings are our guests. Show some grace.”
A few of the Southerners were unwise enough to smirk. L’stev, who could detect a snigger from two dragonlengths’ distance, raked the offenders with a glare. “And you should all know better than to shame your Weyr with bad manners. Sit down and eat your breakfast.”
Karika walked down the table and seated herself at the seat on the end. The other Southerners followed her, leaving a gap between themselves and the Wildfires. After a moment, V’ranu got up from G’dra’s place and walked casually down the room to sit with his Weyrmates.
L’stev watched the Southerners without comment, though by the way his jaw hardened, he wasn’t pleased with their self-imposed segregation. “Wildfires. When you’re done here, you can collect your harnesses and report to Weyrlingmaster C’mine on the training grounds. Southern weyrlings, stay here for a briefing. And if I hear so much as a squeak out of any dragonet…”
No dragonet squeaked, and hardly anyone spoke around the table, for the remainder of breakfast. The Southerners talked amongst themselves in whispers, though Carleah didn’t see Karika joining in the discussion. The Madellon weyrlings mostly just exchanged looks. No one wanted to linger over the breakfast table, as some of the boys sometimes did to put off the inevitability of morning drills, but more than a few Wildfires stuffed rolls in their pockets for later.
Carleah had never wished so hard not to be on breakfast duty. As the other Madellon weyrlings left, she and Soleigh and S’terlion and M’rany stayed behind to clear and wipe the table, scrape leftovers into slop pails for the wherries, and stack all the dirty dishes in the washing-up basket. They worked in silence, intensely conscious of the Southern weyrlings still clustered at the end of the table, and though Carleah strained to catch any breath of a whisper, she heard nothing.
“Faranth!” S’terlion exclaimed, under his breath, when they finally left the dining hall.
“You go on,” Carleah whispered back. “I’ll just be a minute…”
She stayed by the door she’d left carefully just ajar, listening intently.
“…not staying here…”
“…what they call food…”
“…want to go home…”
“…why we’re even…”
“Stop moaning, all of you.” The louder voice was definitely Karika’s. “We’re riders of Southern Weyr. We don’t complain.”
“When are you going to tell us what this is about, Karika?” That sounded like V’ranu.
“When you need to know. You don’t need to know yet.”
“You’d better have a good reason. The Weyrleader was so mad…”
“Hear anything good?” L’stev asked.
Carleah jerked guiltily away from the door. She looked up at the Weyrlingmaster, trying to look innocent. “No, sir.”
L’stev exhaled a long breath through his nostrils. “Well, if you do, let me know.” He gestured with his head towards the training grounds. “Go on. C’mine’s waiting.”
“How long are they going to be here? The Southerners?”
“They’ll be here as long as they’re here.”
“They’re really rude,” said Carleah. “You didn’t see, before you came in…”
“They’re kids,” said L’stev. “Younger than you lot, and a long way from home.”
“But if they don’t want to stay…”
“That’s not for them to decide.”
Carleah chewed her lip. “What if the Southern bronzes come back for them?”
L’stev’s eyes narrowed. Then he turned his head. Carleah followed his gaze, up and up, to the Rim. Near the Star Stones, four big Madellon bronzes were chewing firestone.
“If they come back,” said L’stev, “we’ll be ready for them.”
Continue to Chapter nineteen: L’stev
Comments and feedback
Dragonchoice 3 is also posted at FanFiction.net and An Archive Of Our Own - if you'd like to review, comment, or ask a question, feel free to do so there.
- Dragonchoice 3 at FanFiction.net
- Dragonchoice 3 at An Archive Of Our Own
- Dragonchoice is also on Twitter and Tumblr
Dragonchoice 3 news
- 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
- Dragonflight: early instalment weirdness a-gogo posted 7 February 2016