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Chapter twenty: T’kamen

He didn’t much like me. I didn’t much like him. But Trebruth and Epherineth got along right from the start. You won’t often catch me mouthing the fatuous banalities that dragonriders want holders to believe – a dragon always knows, and all that tosh – but they knew. They knew.

26.04.21 (26TH TURN, EIGHTH PASS)

T'kamen (Micah Johnson)The flight back to Madellon seemed to pass in moments. T’kamen was too numb with shock to do anything but stare at the horizon. They couldn’t go between. They couldn’t go between. How were they going to get home if they couldn’t shaffing well go between?

Salionth and Recranth maintained their positions close off Epherineth’s wingtips all the way down into the Bowl. When Epherineth touched down on his weyr ledge the two Pass bronzes alighted close by, never taking their eyes off him. Trebruth made a breakneck landing on Epherineth’s off side, apparently fearless of the baleful stares of his Weyrmates. He curved his head up towards T’kamen’s bronze with a sympathetic croon, and, to T’kamen’s surprise, Epherineth dipped his head dejectedly towards the young brown in response.

Don’t get cosy, he said rancorously, tugging down his goggles and rubbing his face with both hands.

It’s not his fault, T’kamen.

It shaffing is. T’kamen unsnapped his fighting straps, unbuckled the safety, and slid down Epherineth’s shoulder. The impact with the hard stone nearly took him to his knees, and his grabbed Epherineth’s arm for support. “Shaff!”

“Faranth, T’kamen, you’ll mess up your leg again!” M’ric vaulted down from Trebruth and ducked under Epherineth’s neck. “What the shell happened?”

“He wouldn’t do it,” T’kamen said. “He said it’s not safe. That’s what the weyrlings said. It’s not safe. I don’t understand. We got here, didn’t we?” He raised his eyes to Epherineth. “We got here. Why can’t you get us back?”

Epherineth gave a low moan, and Trebruth laid his head across his neck. Below, the other bronzes regarded them uncertainly. “Listen to me,” M’ric hissed. “Pull yourself together.” He jerked his chin towards the inner weyr. “And get inside out of sight.”

“What’s the rush?” T’kamen asked savagely. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Just get inside!” M’ric urged.

T’kamen had never lived lavishly, but the stark walls of the weyr felt more like a gaol cell than ever. His hip was throbbing from the brief ride. He was sweating under his flying jacket; he took it off, then sat down heavily with it across his lap. “So I guess that’s my last chance blown.”

M’ric was looking over his shoulder, as if to check that no one had followed them in. “Trebruth said he felt something,” he said. He looked straight at T’kamen. Some of the cockiness seemed to have gone out of his manner. “He said he could feel Epherineth reaching into something. He’s never felt anything like it before.”

“He was trying to plot his way through between,” said T’kamen. “And he couldn’t. Whatever’s stopping your dragons from going between is stopping him too.”

“But that’s just it,” said M’ric. “Trebruth’s never felt a dragon try. We’re trained to guard our dragons against even thinking about between, T’kamen. We have to convince our dragons to believe that between isn’t even there. But it is there. Because Epherineth can see it, and now I think Trebruth can too.”

He sounded far too excited. T’kamen didn’t have any patience for it. “It won’t do him any good,” he said. “If Epherineth can’t do it, what makes you think Trebruth…can?”

He faltered over the last part. Because he must, Epherineth filled in for him. Or how else will he go between to become the Trebruth we know?

M’ric had obviously noticed T’kamen’s hesitation. He regarded him with keen eyes. “How old is Epherineth?

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“Older dragons can’t go between,” said M’ric. He’d lost the air of condescension that had coloured his explanations of things he obviously thought were self-evident. “Not at all, I mean. Not in or out. It’s like the ability atrophies somewhere between eight and ten Turns.”

“He’s nearly fifteen,” T’kamen said, “but he’s been going between all his life. A month on the ground can’t have made that big a difference!”

“But you don’t have any idea what made it stop working in the first place?”

“None! And it was only the weyrlings having trouble, not the adults. It makes no sense!” Then he looked sharply at M’ric. “You’re talking as if you still believe me.”

“I want to,” M’ric said. “More than ever as of just now. You’re too ignorant of everything to be faking it. You don’t know scorch-all about anything. Your shoulder-knots are all wrong. Epherineth’s the size of a mountain, and there’s no way you and he could have sneaked across the continent without anyone noticed even if you did manage to do the ocean crossing without getting Threaded to death. And if Epherineth had been trying to contact someone back north then our queens would have heard.”

M’ric’s reasoning had the ring of a speech he’d made before. T’kamen studied him. “You’ve put this argument to whoever you’re reporting to.”

“Well of course I have! Why do you think they even let you out today? I’ve got them half convinced, T’kamen. Or at least, I had. Now…I don’t know what else we can do to convince them.”

“I don’t care about convincing them,” T’kamen said. “I just want to go home. Faranth, M’ric, don’t you get it? If Epherineth can’t go between we can never get back to our Madellon! He has a queen, and I have riders relying on me, and…” A new realisation struck him a sudden, crushing blow. “And if I can’t get home, everyone I’ve ever known is…dead.”

He stared into nothing for a moment. The weyrlings he’d tried to save were long gone. Valonna would have grown old and died more than fifty Turns ago. C’mine, his oldest friend, was even longer dead, if he’d even survived his headlong descent into self-destruction. Every rider T’kamen had ever known was ancient dust between. And somewhere, in some lonely corner of a burial cave, lay the grave of a Seventh Interval Beastcrafter, perhaps with the hard-earned knots of a Master still discernible where she’d been laid to rest: lost to him forever.

It was that last horrible image – the idea of Sarenya, mouldered away to bones – that jolted him from his numb daze. “You knew where you were sending me,” he said quietly. He lifted his eyes to M’ric, feeling anger rising from the pit of his despair. “You knew. You must have known when you transferred in. You must have known for twenty Turns. You were just waiting for the right moment to do it.”

M’ric eyed him warily. “I…what?”

“I thought it was a good trade.” T’kamen said it to himself, ignoring the boy. Caution seemed pointless. “Lose L’dro, get you and Sh’zon in return. You’d think the bronze rider would be the problem. How could I have known that it was the brown who’d be the knife in my back? And you couldn’t just content yourself with taking my girl, could you? You had to take my life. You sent me here, to this! You arranged for this to happen! For all I know you’re taking over my Weyr right now! Right then! You conniving bastard of a tunnelsnake!”

M’ric backed away, holding his hands up defensively. “Whoa, whoa, calm down, T’kamen. You’re not making any sense!”

T’kamen laughed, a vicious hack. “Oh, I am. For the first time, I am.”

“I haven’t done any of those things! I haven’t done anything to you!”

Yet.” T’kamen ground the word out. “You haven’t done them yet.”

“I thought you said you were from the past!”

My past. Your future.” T’kamen bared his teeth at him in a snarl. “You’re going to slip through time, M’ric, and wherever – whenever – you end up, I hope you have an even shittier time of it than I am!”

M’ric’s face went very still, his eyes intent. “Me,” he said slowly. “I’m going to slip through time.”

“You’re going back to my time,” T’kamen said. “And I hope they call you a liar. I hope they call you a spy. I hope they lock you up and throw away the key. It’s what I should have done to you!”

They stared at each other. It was out, and T’kamen half expected the boy to laugh in his face. But M’ric’s expression betrayed his racing thoughts. He’s putting it together, T’kamen realised, with a jolt that cooled his anger. He hasn’t forgotten that I asked for him.

“And you know me?” M’ric asked, as if handling the notion with care. “Not this other M’rik?”

“I know you as you will be,” T’kamen said. “I wish I didn’t. The M’ric I know is twenty Turns older than you.”

“Twenty Turns…?” M’ric looked appalled at the idea of being almost forty. “But how is that even possible? If even you can’t go between, how can we?”

T’kamen wished he had some blistering retort, some vicious barb to put the weyrling in his place. He didn’t. “I don’t know. But if you don’t go back, you can’t send me here, and there’s no way we’d have jumped between to this time and place by accident.”

“That makes no sense! Why would I go back just to send you forward just to send me back?”

“You tell me! You started this!”

“No I didn’t! There’s no beginning or end to it! It just goes round and round in circles!”

T’kamen glared at M’ric, but he couldn’t contradict his logic. He tried to cast his mind back to L’stev’s remarks on timing. “You can’t change what you know has already happened,” he said out loud. “Anything you do while timed back to the past has already affected your present. You can’t change the outcome of a runner race, or get to training on time when you know you turned up late, or prevent…or prevent…” He stumbled over the last part. “Or prevent a disaster from happening.”

“But you’ve jumped forward,” said M’ric. “Not backwards. You might not be able to change history, but you can affect now. You don’t know what’s going to happen from now on.”

“Except that you’re going back in time,” T’kamen said slowly. The logic of timing had always made his head hurt, and L’stev’s warnings against it always sufficiently dire that he’d never had any desire to experiment with it. “I don’t know if it’ll be tomorrow or a sevenday from now or in ten Turns’ time, but you’re going to end up somewhere in the last Interval. And that means your brown’s going to have to learn how to go between. And if he can…”

“Then so can Epherineth,” M’ric completed for him.

The crushing despair was lifting. “I can’t fix between in the past,” T’kamen said, putting it together as he spoke. “But I can fix it now. That has to be why you sent me here. You knew I’d come forward and put it right. You did start it.”

“Well,” said M’ric, thoughtfully. “That sort of makes me the hero, doesn’t it?”

T’kamen looked at him, appalled at his sheer audacity. And then something in M’ric’s studied half-smile, in the pre-emptive wince around his eyes, gave him a sudden clear insight into the boy’s mind. That’s not arrogance. That’s overcompensation. “You are the biggest shaffing smart-arse….”

M’ric shrugged, as if embarrassed to have been called on it. “You’ve still got to prove it, T’kamen,” he said. “Who you are, that is. To the…to them. And that you’re telling the truth to me.” He folded his arms. “If you know me in the past – future – whatever – you must know something about me.”

T’kamen glared, but he could hardly blame M’ric for being sceptical. He actually thought better of him that he wasn’t willing to eat up any suggestion that he was important. And what seventeen-Turn-old doesn’t want to believe that about himself? He cast about for something. “You were a search-and-rescue rider at the Peninsula.”

M’ric unfolded his arms. “The Peninsula? Why would I be there?”

“I don’t know. You transferred to Madellon with a Wingleader called Sh’zon.”

“Never heard of him.” M’ric looked disappointed. “Don’t you know anything personal about me?”

“I’m your Weyrleader, not your weyrmate,” T’kamen said. “And you hadn’t been at Madellon long.”

“Peninsula,” said M’ric, as though trying to puzzle it out. “That just doesn’t make any sense. Starfall, I could understand, but why would I be at the Peninsula?”

That was the second time M’ric had mentioned the unfamiliar name. T’kamen seized on it. “Starfall?”

“Starfall Weyr,” M’ric said. “East of Southern.”

“There isn’t a Weyr east of…” T’kamen stopped. “There wasn’t one in my time.”

“Well, there is now,” said M’ric. “My father was a rider there.”

“Then why are you at Madellon?”

“M’gral died when I was seven. I grew up with my mum at Fiver Hold, so I was Searched here.”

“Fiver?” T’kamen racked his memory for a Madellon hold by that name. “Do you mean Sixer? In Peninsula territory?”

“It can’t have been called Sixer for –” M’ric stopped, obviously realising the redundancy of his remark even as he spoke. “It was called Sixer, about twenty Turns before I was born. But one of the hoodoos collapsed, and it’s been Fiver ever since.”

“Sixer looks to the Peninsula in my time. They must have redrawn the borders…” Then he made a belated connection. “You’re dragonspawn?”

M’ric looked offended. “So? My dad was a blue rider of Starfall! There’s no shame in being a fighting rider’s son.”

“I didn’t say there was,” T’kamen said, but the revelation almost made him smile. Some things, at least, hadn’t changed between the Interval and the Pass. Dragonspawn, the children of riders but raised in the Holds, always seemed to get defensive about their paternity. “But you were a Wingsecond at the Peninsula before you transferred to Madellon. If they have records going back to the Interval, you’ll find yourself there.”

“A Wingsecond,” M’ric said, half to himself, as though trying the thought out for the first time. He frowned. “The Peninsula isn’t going to let a Madellon weyrling go rifling through their Archives. And it’s not like I can tell anyone that I’m trying to get proof that I’m going to be a time-traveller too.”

“Maybe they’d let me,” said T’kamen. “If we could prove that I’m who I say I am. Then I could prove that you’re who I say you are, too.”

“Well, where were you born? Maybe if I can find a record of that it would help to build the case of who you really are.”

T’kamen shook his head. “I was born on the road. My father was second team boss of the Frankon trader train. I doubt there was a record of that even in my time, let alone now.”

“You said you became Weyrleader at Turn’s End of Interval 98?”


“So you weren’t Weyrleader for long?”

“I was a little over a Turn into my first term before I came here.” It sounded rather pitiful when he said it out loud. “But Shimpath rises on a three or four Turn cycle. It’s not likely she’d mate again and choose another Weyrleader until at least 101.”

“That’s a pretty narrow window,” M’ric said, and then, in the same thoughtful breath, “Is that what you meant about taking your girl?”

T’kamen had almost forgotten he’d said that. Faranth, but M’ric’s recall was a menace. “Don’t be ridiculous. Do you have any idea how big an Interval queen is?”

“Well; her rider, then?”

“Valonna was my Weyrwoman, not my weyrmate.”

“So who was your weyrmate?”

It grated on T’kamen that the honest answer to the question was so dismal, but Sarenya hadn’t ever been his weyrmate; not really. “It’s none of your business.”

“It sharding is if I’m going to steal her from you!”

“It doesn’t even matter any more!”

“Uh huh,” said M’ric. “Obviously. Doesn’t matter to you at all.” He cocked his head. “Is this why you don’t like me? Because your girlfriend left you for me? Or do you always have a trundlebug wedged up your ar –”

The compulsion to throw something at M’ric was too strong for T’kamen to resist. He didn’t even think about it: he just bunched his flying jacket in one hand and flung it at the smirking boy. M’ric fended it off with the quick reflexes of the young and a snort of laughter, and for an instant, as the jacket went flying off in the new direction impelled by M’ric’s deflection, T’kamen found a small part of himself that didn’t despise this half-formed, annoyingly sharp young man. “Shaffing smart-arse.”

The flying jacket crumpled to the floor with a dull thump, followed by the unmistakable chime and jingle of something metallic hitting the stone floor and then rolling away.

They looked at each other.

“What was that?” T’kamen asked, getting carefully to his feet.

“Did you have something in your pocket?” M’ric asked. “Sounded like metal.” His eyes were already sweeping the floor; they found the dim glint of gold a fraction of a second before T’kamen’s did. “There. I’ll get it.”

He scooped the item up off the floor. Then he stilled, looking at the small thing in his hand.

T’kamen couldn’t think what he’d have had in the pocket of his jacket. “What is it?”

M’ric’s eyes were riveted to the item in his hand. Slowly, he extended it out to T’kamen. “It’s a ring,” he said, in an odd tone.

T’kamen took it from him. It only took him a moment to identify the heavy gold ring. “This is my signet,” he said, puzzled. “The Madellon Weyrleader’s signet.” There was a trace of dark purple wax in the grooves and lines that made up the stylised M and the outspread wings of the dragon that clasped it. “This is it,” he said, with mounting excitement. “This is proof. This is evidence. There’s no way I could have this ring if I wasn’t who I said I was…”

“Where did you get it?” M’ric interrupted. He sounded rattled. He was pressing his fist to his chest.

“It’s the Weyrleader’s signet,” said T’kamen. “It passed to me when Epherineth flew Shimpath.”

“But where did you get it? Where did it come from?”

“I don’t know,” T’kamen said. “The last couple of Weyrleaders before me all used it. I don’t know why it was in my pocket. I don’t wear it. It’s too big for me, and I’ve never got round to having it resized. I leave it on a tray on my desk…” And as he spoke, a handful of small details resolved themselves into a coherent picture: M’ric in his weyr; M’ric handing him a jacket. I’m sorry. For taking you away from Madellon. I know it’s the last thing you need right now. “You put it there,” he realised aloud. “You took it off my desk and put it in this jacket, because you knew we’d find it now. Because I’m telling you now that that’s what happened…”

“T’kamen –”

“…You knew I’d need some proof of who I am and you made sure I had it…”

“T’kamen –”

“…shaffing timing logic is enough to tie anyone’s brain in knots…”

T’kamen!” M’ric exclaimed, for the third and most explosive time, and when T’kamen finally stopped speaking, the boy pulled a necklace from under his shirt and thrust the pendant that hung from it towards him.

Except it wasn’t a pendant. It was a ring. It was made of silver, scratched and dinted with age and hard use, and tarnish darkened the etched design, but in every other way it was the mirror image of the gold ring T’kamen had used as Madellon’s Weyrleader.

He grabbed M’ric’s wrist, comparing the two rings side by side. “They’re the same,” he said, looking from one to the other. “How did you end up with a copy of the Madellon Weyrleader’s signet?”

“It was my dad’s,” M’ric said. “It was the family ring. My father was M’gral, his father was M’terlo, his father was…well, I can’t remember, but it all goes back to M’dan, the first Weyrleader of Starfall. My great-great-something grandfather. We all start with M. That’s why the ring has an M on it. When M’gral died this was sent to me, because he only had daughters at Starfall. It’s always been too big for me to wear on my hand.”

They stood looking at the two rings for a long moment.

“Well,” said T’kamen, “now what?”

M’ric took a long deep breath, still staring at the two signets: one silver, one gold. Then he visibly made a decision. He straightened up. For the first time, T’kamen realised that M’ric was taller than him. The sense that the boy was somehow incomplete, somehow unfinished, had been so strong that he’d overlooked the fact that physically, the seventeen-Turn-old brown rider already had the height he’d carry into adulthood, if not yet all of the breadth. It was as if M’ric were a carving still half buried in stone, his final shape emerging but not yet refined, the details still crude. But the transformation was happening even as T’kamen watched. For the first time, he saw the calm, competent, resolute M’ric he’d known and resented in the Interval. For the first time, he saw clarity and conviction in those too-clever dark eyes. “I’m not sorry I doubted you,” M’ric said. “There’s a difference between wanting to believe something and having good enough reason to be convinced.”

“And you have good enough reason now?”

“Yes.” He looked down at the silver signet ring on its leather thong. “Can I borrow yours?”

T’kamen hesitated. M’ric had apparently decided to trust him. Was that enough reason for him to trust him in return?

Yes, said Epherineth.

He had been a constant, silent presence throughout, though T’kamen had only just realised it. He weighed the gold ring in his hand for a moment, then held it out to M’ric. “I’ll want it back.”

M’ric accepted the signet gravely. “I know.” Then he grinned. “You didn’t ask what I want it for.”

“What do you want it for?”

“I’ll take it to Dalka. She’s the only one who can persuade R’lony to get those two bronze watch-whers out there off your back.”

“R’lony,” T’kamen repeated. It seemed to him that he’d heard the name before. “The Weyrleader?”

“Not –” M’ric stopped himself. “I promise I’ll explain everything, T’kamen. But let me go to Dalka with this. We need to get you out of here.”

“All right,” said T’kamen. “Go and do what you need to do.”

M’ric nodded and started to head for the ledge. Then he paused and looked back at T’kamen. “I’m really going to go back through time? Through between?”

“You really are.”

M’ric seemed to take that in for a moment. Then he grinned.

Great, T’kamen thought sourly, as the boy loped out. Now he knows he’s important.

But he is, said Epherineth. You and he. Trebruth and me. We are connected. We are all important.

Don’t let that slip to Trebruth.

Epherineth was unapologetic. We are connected, he insisted. Is Trebruth not a dragon of Madellon?

All right, T’kamen said. I’ll give you that much.

You know it’s more.

And he did. With nothing much to do, confined once again to the invalid weyr, with Recranth and Salionth standing guard outside, T’kamen stretched out on his bed to rest his aching hip and thought about the boy he would send back through time to become the man who would send him forward. A Turn ago – according to his own personal timeline – he’d never heard of M’ric of the Peninsula. Now it seemed increasingly clear that their fates were intertwined. Almost everything he thought he’d known about the brown rider had turned out to be a lie, or at best, an evasion. He had more reason than ever to dislike him.

He found he no longer did.

M’ric had been a convenient target for his anger and frustration, but it wasn’t his fault that T’kamen was here. It wasn’t his fault that Epherineth couldn’t go between. It wasn’t his fault that between was broken.

Then whose fault was it?

“It started with us,” T’kamen said aloud.

With us does not mean because of us, said Epherineth.

T’kamen had just started to think that dragons were very good at offering empty words of comfort, but they weren’t so good at providing solutions, when Epherineth rebuked him sharply. And you’re very good at claiming guilt that does not belong to you.

“I’m sorry, Epherineth.”

You should be. Then Epherineth’s displeasure softened. But why are we here if not to make it right again?

T’kamen thought about it. “Is between wrong?”

Epherineth hesitated for a long moment before replying. It’s different, he said at last. It’s…unfamiliar. I cannot see the way through to our destination.

“And you know that before you jump?”

Epherineth paused again. T’kamen sensed that he was asking him to quantify difficult concepts. Yes. You show me where we are to go. I see it. I see how our way between can take us there. Then I jump. We travel the way I have seen. We arrive at the place you told me to go. I can no longer see my way, T’kamen. I cannot risk you. I cannot jump when I cannot see.

Then between is…” T’kamen groped for the right word. “Blocked? Damaged?”

Epherineth shifted audibly on his ledge. When you go from place to place, with your feet, you know the way. In your mind you see doors and passageways and rooms and you know which to use to reach the place where you are going.

T’kamen sat up a bit. He knew this was at the very farthest limits of what his dragon could explain. “All right.” He thought about going from his weyr to the Headwoman’s office, carefully outlining each step of the journey for Epherineth to see. “Like this?”

Yes, Epherineth said, as T’kamen painstakingly imagined the long winding corridor that led from the dining cavern to Crauva’s chambers. Now this happens.

In T’kamen’s visualised journey, a rock-fall suddenly filled the corridor. “The way is blocked.”

Yes! Epherineth seemed relieved to have expressed the notion. The way is blocked. If I took you between we would be stuck there. I will not take you between if I cannot see the way.

“If there was a rock-fall in that corridor, we’d have to clear it, or find a way around,” T’kamen said. “Can you do that between?”

I don’t know another way, Epherineth said. Also there is not a rock-fall between. There are no rocks between.

That retreat to draconic literalism was a clear signal that Epherineth had taken the abstraction as far as he could. “No. I know. Leave it there, Epherineth.”

It all made T’kamen’s head swim, too. He lay back on his bed, staring at the uneven ceiling of the weyr without seeing it. He thought about the silver ring, clearly a duplicate of his own. M’ric must have had it made at some point in the Interval. Certainly he’d slipped the Madellon signet into T’kamen’s jacket as a token his younger self would recognise. What else had the older M’ric done? Why hadn’t he done more? Or was he as limited as L’stev had always said by the way that timing worked? The thought chased its tail around and around in his head.

He must have slept, more wearied by the events of the day than he’d realised, because when Epherineth nudged him into alertness the pale semicircle of daylight that reached into the weyr had retreated almost to the doorway. Groggy, T’kamen sat up to the sound of a voice outside, and his dragon’s cautiously compliant rumble.

The woman who stepped into the shrinking puddle of daylight was perhaps in her late forties; tall, slender, striking. She wore the snuggest set of riding leathers T’kamen had ever seen, their every line tailored to match and accentuate the contours of her body. Her eyes were sharp and suspicious, her cheekbones merely sharp, her mouth a hard-set slash. She was a queen rider. T’kamen didn’t need to look at the rank cords on her shoulder to know it. She radiated her dragon, wore her as snugly as she wore those figure-hugging wherhides, walked with her hauteur oozing from every step. If not for Epherineth’s muted respect, T’kamen would have thought her a rider whose dragon was soon to rise. He’d seldom seen a woman so powerfully in command of her own authority, or her own sexuality. He was perturbed to find that his mouth had gone dry. It made his voice a rasp when he spoke. “Weyrwoman Dalka, I take it.”

“Bronze rider T’kamen.” She spoke in a low drawl, then arched an eyebrow. “Or do you prefer Weyrleader?”

“I do prefer it,” he replied, schooling himself not to react to the suggestion of mockery.

She regarded him with slow disdain. “I see.”

T’kamen was grateful for the dimness of the weyr. It hid the expression he knew had passed over his face. “If you’ve come to pass sentence on me, Weyrwoman, I’d appreciate the courtesy of sooner rather than later.”

“You are an impatient one,” Dalka said. “Not what I’d expected at all.”

“You have me at a disadvantage,” T’kamen said. “You have all M’ric’s reports to judge me by. He let precious little slip to me.”

“Did he?” Dalka asked. “R’lony will be delighted to know he was wrong on that count.” Then she went on in a less confrontational tone. “You have been a riddle, T’kamen. Everything a mystery. Who you are. Where you’re from. What you want. What to do with you.”

“You could just have had your dragon ask Epherineth,” T’kamen said. “He could no more lie to a queen than he could chew off his own arm.”

“You’d be surprised what a bronze could do under orders,” Dalka replied. “But M’ric brought me this.”

She held up her hand. The gold signet glinted in her fingers. “The seal of the Madellon Weyrleader,” said T’kamen.

“A claim we’ve been attempting to verify. I wonder if you’d do me a favour.” Dalka slid the ring into one of the pockets of her jacket, then extended a slate and chalk to him. “Take this down.”

T’kamen hesitated. Then he rose from his bed and limped cautiously forward to take the writing materials from her. He retreated back into the gloom and seated himself again. He propped the slate against his left thigh and positioned the chalk over it. “Go on.”

Dalka unrolled a flaking piece of hide, then began to read from it. “‘I commend to you the actions of these dragonpairs. A’len, brown Chyilth.’”

T’kamen had begun to write, but he stopped when he heard the name. “A’len,” he said. “He’s a Wingsecond. I’ve known him for Turns.”

Dalka’s eyes flickered, but she insisted, “Please humour me, T’kamen.” She cleared her throat, then continued to read. “‘B’frea, green Grissenth. C’desron, brown Ronth. C’mine, blue Darshanth. Fr’ton – ’”

“Stop. That’s wrong. C’desron’s not a brown rider.” He looked down at the slate. Unbidden, his hand had already written it correctly. “C’desron, blue Ronth.”

“‘Fr’ton, bronze Peteorth,’” Dalka went on, though a waver had crept into her voice. “‘G’pellas, blue Derthauth. H’lamin, green Turooth.’”

“No,” T’kamen interrupted her. “H’lamin’s green is Zemmath. These are my riders, Weyrwoman.” And then, in a rush, he connected the names. “L’stev,” he said. “Brown Vanzanth. T’rello, bronze Santinoth. V’gyat, blue Egrath. Jenavally, green Hinnarioth. Keva, green Freanth.” He wrote them as he said them, and when he couldn’t think of any others, he looked up at Dalka. She was watching him closely. “These are the riders who fought the wildfire at Kellad at Turn’s End of 98.”

Dalka stepped towards him, into shadow. She held her hand out for the slate. “Let me see.”

T’kamen gave it to her.

She turned back towards the light, comparing writing to record. “Faranth,” she said at last.

She handed him hide and slate. The vellum was old, crumbling beneath T’kamen’s fingers, the ink brown with age and illegible in places, but the hand was unmistakeable. It was the same script that now covered the surface of the slate in the white whispery ghost of the original. It was his own. And the medallion of faded wax, more grey than indigo, in the bottom corner of the century-old hide bore a perfect impression of the signet ring of the Madellon Weyrleader, stamped there by T’kamen himself over a hundred Turns ago.

As he looked back and forth between the two, Dalka reached down and twitched open the glow-basket beside T’kamen’s bed. He flinched instinctively away from the sudden wash of brightness.

“We seem to owe you –”

Dalka stopped halfway through the sentence. Her eyes fixed upon his face, fully-lit for the first time.

“An apology,” she went on, after a moment. “Weyrleader.”

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