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Chapter twenty-one: L’stev

How do you get a dragon to change a glow-basket?

“I have dragons to change glow-baskets for me,” says the queen.
“I’ll change that glow-basket for you, my queen,” says the bronze.
“My Wingleader has delegated the changing of the glow-basket to me,” says the brown.
“No one ever asks me to change the glow-basket,” says the blue.
“What’s a glow-basket?” asks the green.

– Weyrling joke

100.03.05 (100TH TURN, SEVENTH INTERVAL)
MADELLON WEYR

L'stev (Micah Johnson)“I beg your pardon, Weyrlingmaster,” said Valonna, after a pause. “T’gala’s a what?”

“A girl,” L’stev repeated. “And it’s obvious, to look at her, once you know the truth, but who’d even think to question it? Heppeth is blue; blues always choose boys; therefore, T’gala must be a boy.” He snorted. “Shows what we know.”

Valonna sat very still in her straight-backed chair, blinking rapidly, as she worked through the implications. Her expression was very similar to the one C’mine had worn when L’stev had told him about T’gala. C’mine had needed a minute to process the revelation, and L’stev intended to give the Weyrwoman the same few moments to think. It was very early for such startling news, after all. He’d decided not to wake Valonna in the middle of the night, but the day was young enough yet that none of the weyrlings were up, and even Vanzanth hadn’t shifted from his couch, although that was probably because he hadn’t wanted to disturb T’gala from her exhausted sleep on the cot beside him.

“Does this have anything to do with what’s happening with between?” Valonna asked, at length.

L’stev liked that she’d jumped to such a dire conclusion. He admired that sort of pessimism, even unfounded. A pessimist was only ever pleasantly surprised. “I don’t think so,” he said. “T’gala and the problem with between are both unusual – possibly unprecedented – situations that seem to have originated at Southern, but while I still can’t explain between, I can take a stab at the circumstances that led to T’gala Impressing Heppeth.”

“Has it ever happened before?” asked Valonna. “A girl Impressing a blue?”

“Not that I know of,” said L’stev. He shifted in his chair at Valonna’s table. “You know, we keep in touch, we Weyrlingmasters. It doesn’t matter what Weyr we’re from. We’ve all got the same job. We all face the same problems. So we talk. Not all of us, I’ll grant you, but most. Me. F’dalger at the Peninsula, B’reko at High Reaches, A’stay at Igen, G’dorar at Telgar. Not S’gert at Southern, at least not in recent Turns, but I’ll get to him in a moment. The rest of us, though, we get together. We talk about our candidates and weyrlings. We talk about what makes a dragonet choose the rider he does. And from time to time we’ve talked about why boys Impress female dragons, but a girl’s never Impressed a male one.”

“Until now,” said Valonna.

“Until now,” L’stev agreed. “Well, the way a rider like F’dalger sees it, a green dragon’s too dim to even know the difference.” He snorted. “And that’s why a bronze rider should never be a Weyrlingmaster. Greens might have their limitations, but they’re not stupid. They’re not choosing male riders because they think they’re girls. They’re just practical. How often do we have enough female candidates – and I don’t just mean warm bodies, I mean the ones who actually have what it takes to Impress – for all the greens we get in a clutch? If every green dragonet insisted on having a girl, we’d have unmatched greens every Hatching – and yet there’s not been a single dragonet unImpressed on Pern in living memory. And much as I’d like to say that’s because we’ve always presented a broad field of excellent candidates, that just hasn’t been the case. There’ve been clutches throughout Madellon’s history when we barely had a candidate for every egg, and one way or another, those dragonets found riders. They don’t give up easily. Take Hinnarioth. Jenavally Impressed her from the stands; did you know that?”

“I didn’t,” said Valonna.

“Jena was the Masterharper’s newest journeyman,” said L’stev. “She was only at the Hatching because he was. She’d been spotted on Search a few Turns earlier, it seems, but the Hall wouldn’t release her. Too much potential as a Harper. So you can imagine how pleased Gaffry was about losing his latest protégé to a green dragon, but Hinnarioth wasn’t interested in anyone else that day.

“And there was a brown rider, C’nune, who Impressed when he was twenty-eight Turns old. He’d never been Searched, but he was new to the Weyr: come to work at Madellon because he’d fallen out with his Holder. As soon as it came clear that this last brown wasn’t going to choose anyone on the sands, D’hor started marching every able-bodied fellow in the Weyr past him until someone took his fancy.” L’stev shrugged at the perversity of it. “Hatchlings aren’t stupid and they’re not suicidal. They want to find riders, and between with our preconceived ideas of who and how old and what gender those riders should be. Maybe once upon a time there were enough female candidates, and everyone assumed that greens always chose girls – it would seem logical, after all – but at some point there weren’t enough, and a green chose a male rider, and threw that rule in the midden.”

Valonna had been nodding along with his words. “Because dragons want to live,” she said.

“Exactly.” L’stev took a breath. “So we have a reason why green dragons choose male riders. There are lots of greens, and seldom enough girls to Impress them all, but always plenty of boys to make up the numbers.” He held up a finger. “Nearly always. Which brings us to Southern. And S’gert. He stopped coming to our conferences Turns ago, because he didn’t like hearing what we had to say. Southern had given up Searching for candidates, and consensus among the rest of us was that was an unhealthy business.”

“Why did it stop Searching?” asked Valonna.

“There’s a school of thought that claims Weyrbred riders are always better than Holdbred,” said L’stev. “Because they’re born to it. And there’s something to be said for the notion. Your Weyrbred green rider knows what to expect every six or eight sevendays when his dragon gets snappy. The kid who’s been around dragons his whole life already knows how to oil a hide and mend a bit of harness. But we’re isolated enough, up here in our mountains. We need the new blood, but we also need new ideas. We need to have our comfortable notions challenged by people who haven’t been brought up in a single undisputed tradition. And we’ve had as many Hold- and Craftbred Weyrleaders as Weyrbred. P’keo and L’dro and O’ret were Weyrbred, but T’kamen was Trader-bred. R’hren came from the Smithcraft. L’mis was Searched from a tiny cothold in southern Kellad.

“But Southern’s been looking exclusively to its own lower caverns for candidates these last ten Turns. Clutch after clutch, fishing from that same limited pool of candidates. It explains why the Southern weyrlings are so young. And it goes some way to explaining T’gala.

“The clutch that these weyrlings Impressed from had twenty-one eggs. You’d expect nine or ten greens, so a dozen girls and a dozen boys should be enough to Impress all the hatchlings. But it seems there were only five greens. Add those to the queen, and that leaves fifteen male dragons.” L’stev frowned. “This is where it gets murky. I could only get bits and pieces out of T’gala. As I understand it, there were only fifteen male candidates. Most of the girls would have been concentrating on the queen, and at least one boy Impressed a green. There were a couple of Impressions from the stands, including B’rode and P’lau, who were too young even by Southern’s standards. And Heppeth Hatched last, by which time there were only two boys left – and he didn’t want either of them.”

“So he chose T’gala,” said Valonna.

“It was the reverse of the normal situation,” said L’stev. “All those blues, and the queen distracting most of the female candidates. Heppeth just did what a green would do. He made the best of his situation. He chose to live.”

Valonna broke L’stev’s gaze for a moment. She looked quite moved. Then she gathered herself. “And T’gala has been passing herself off as a boy?”

“To us,” said L’stev. “Her Weyrmates know the truth, of course. But we didn’t know any better. So of course we bunked her in with the boys.” He clenched his jaw. “If I’d known…”

Valonna’s brow creased as she grasped the implications. “Why didn’t she say something?”

“Because she’s been made to believe that she’s some kind of freak for being the female rider of a male dragon,” said L’stev. “And the other Southerners clearly don’t want us to know about it. Not for her sake – but for theirs. Or Southern’s, anyway. She hasn’t been able to bathe for fear of letting ours boys see her undressed; she can barely go for a pee except when no one else is in the facilities.” He grimaced. “The worst of it is, Valonna, I still wouldn’t know except that she got out of the barracks after glows-out last night so she could go and do some…laundry.” When Valonna still looked blank, L’stev went on, painfully, “She’s thirteen Turns old. And a woman.”

“Oh,” Valonna said, her eyes widening. “Oh, poor T’gala.”

L’stev grumbled. “And I suspect those Southern boys have been unkind to her in other ways, too. You know what monsters teenage lads can be, especially when they have permission to be. I hope it hasn’t gone beyond them waggling their dicks at her to make her blush.”

Valonna went more pale. “But you think it could have?”

“Even if it hasn’t,” said L’stev, “she can’t be left where she is. Not for a moment longer.”

“Of course not,” said Valonna. “But we can’t just move her to the girls’ barracks, can we? We’d have to explain to our weyrlings, and the truth would soon be common knowledge. If she truly believes that she’s a – an aberration – then the last thing she’ll want is for the whole Weyr to know.”

“Agreed,” L’stev said. “But we can’t single her out, either. It would draw just as much attention if we were to assign her a weyr of her own.”

“Where is she now?”

“On a cot next to Vanzanth’s couch.” L’stev checked in with his dragon as he spoke. “Still asleep.”

Valonna frowned. “What if we moved all the Southerners into weyrs?”

“All of them?” asked L’stev.

“T’gala would have some privacy, but we wouldn’t be making a special exception for her.”

“I don’t like letting my weyrlings have their own weyrs until their dragonets are a Turn old,” said L’stev. “I can’t keep an eye on them once they’re out of the barracks, and if the older ones start sharing furs before their dragonets are old enough to deal with it…” Even as he said it, he was reminded of Ivaryo, but Saperth had been an unusually phlegmatic green. He sighed. “Though it would at least soothe Berzunth’s hackles, not having to share the barracks with Megrith. That’s a calamity waiting to happen.”

Valonna’s brows drew at the mention of the friction between the two weyrling queens. “What if you had them share weyrs?”

“I could match them up in pairs less likely to interfere with each other,” L’stev said. Then he shook his head. “But the high-level weyrs really aren’t big enough for anything more than a couple of half-grown browns. And that still leaves me needing to match T’gala with someone, and the numbers don’t work. Five boys, three girls, plus her.”

“We give Karika and Megrith their own weyr,” said Valonna. “And the bronze his own…”

“And then B’rode and P’lau together,” said L’stev, “and N’grier and V’ranu. And we find the mingiest cupboard of a weyr for T’gala and Heppeth, so no one begrudges them having their own space. Yes. That could work.”

“I’ll speak to Crauva,” said Valonna. “And…what should I say to H’ned and Sh’zon?”

“I don’t see that you have to say anything,” said L’stev. “Southern’s weyrlings are your business, not theirs. Margone made that very clear.”

Valonna straightened. “I wonder why she didn’t tell me about T’gala,” she said. “I wish I dared have Shimpath bespeak Grizbath…”

Margone was almost as complicit in the abnormalities at Southern as P’raima, L’stev thought. A Weyrwoman should be stronger than that. But he wouldn’t criticise her to Valonna. Instead, he said, “Best to let her alone, Valonna. Tezonth will be breathing down Grizbath’s neck. You’ll only bring Margone more grief if P’raima thinks she’s communicating with you.”

Valonna looked troubled. “It’s not right. He’s only a bronze rider.”

“Maybe the most formidable bronze rider on Pern,” said L’stev. “He’s had the whole of Southern in a death grip for decades. Keeping Margone under his thumb is nothing compared to that.”

“But why does Southern allow it?” Valonna asked.

“I don’t know,” said L’stev. “Maybe there’s something in the personality of a Southern rider that makes them crave domination. And Southern’s not poor. P’raima drives a hard bargain with his Holds and Halls. Maybe in that respect it’s not such a bad thing, flying under him. There’s no shortage of anything at Southern.” Valonna flinched, just slightly, at that, and L’stev wondered if he’d hit a nerve. “Well, what would you rather Madellon was?” he asked. “Rich and oppressed, or poor but free?”

“I know which I’d rather,” said Valonna. “But I’m not sure everyone would agree with me.”

“You’ll never please everyone, Valonna,” L’stev told her. “The trick is knowing who’s worth pleasing.”

She’s waking up, Vanzanth reported, from their weyr.

Tell her to stay put, L’stev said, and then added, Tell her she can use the bathing room. “T’gala’s stirring,” he told Valonna. “I’d like to get back over there. I’d sooner the others didn’t know she spent the whole night out of the barracks.”

“Of course, Weyrlingmaster,” said Valonna. “And if there’s anything else I can do…if you need Shimpath to speak to the queens…”

“I’ll come to you directly,” L’stev promised. He rose from his seat. His knees cracked as he did. Then, before he turned to leave, he said, “There’s still nothing on Epherineth…?”

“No,” she replied. Her eyes tightened. “Nothing.”

L’stev absorbed that grimly. “All right. I’ll keep you apprised, Weyrwoman.”

He didn’t walk too quickly back across the Bowl to the barracks, as much to spare his painful knees as to give T’gala time to complete her ablutions. Still, he was surprised, when he climbed the steps to Vanzanth’s ledge, to find the blankets on T’gala’s cot neatly folded, the set of clothes he’d found for her gone from the edge of Vanzanth’s couch, and the girl herself sitting dressed, washed, and agitated on one of the chairs in L’stev’s office.

L’stev ran an assessing eye over her. At first glance, anyone could have been forgiven for thinking she was just a rather slight pre-pubescent boy, but now he knew better, he could see through the short-cropped haircut and the defensively-hunched shoulders. Posture wouldn’t preserve her secret for long, he thought. She was developing a woman’s figure to go with her monthly cycle. “I trust Vanzanth’s snoring didn’t keep you awake,” he said, sitting in the other chair in front of his desk.

“He spoke to me,” she said. “It felt funny.”

“He doesn’t do that very often,” said L’stev. “I just didn’t want you running off before we’d had a chance to talk.”

“I need to get back to Heppeth before he wakes up,” T’gala said. “He gets upset if I’m not there.”

“Vanzanth’s keeping an ear on him,” said L’stev. He gestured to the side of his own head when T’gala looked disbelieving. “A mental ear. Listen, weyrling. I’ve spoken to the Weyrwoman about you. We –”

“You said you wouldn’t tell anyone!” T’gala cried.

“Weyrling.” L’stev let some of his usual authority underscore the word. Gentleness could only go so far. “Madellon is Weyrwoman Valonna’s domain, and you’re currently under her protection. She is not anyone.” He moderated his tone. “We’re going to move you all into weyrs. You won’t have to share quarters with the boys any more.”

T’gala’s shoulders sagged with relief . “Thank you, Weyrlingmaster. I’m sorry to have been an inconvenience.”

The word inflamed L’stev’s temper. He suppressed his retort. There was no point directing his anger at the victim. “You’re not an inconvenience, T’gala,” he said, in a low voice. “Not you, not Heppeth. Not for any reason.” He had to steady himself. “Whatever you think – whatever you may have been told – there’s nothing wrong with you or your dragon.”

T’gala tore her eyes away from his. In the light of day, her defences had gone back up. The moment of crisis that had brought them down last night had passed. She set her jaw, and said, “I’m grateful to you and to the Weyrwoman for making arrangements for me, Weyrlingmaster, but I don’t want any other special treatment.”

L’stev took in a long breath through his nostrils. “Like it or not, T’gala,” he said, “you’re different to the other weyrlings. Not worse, not wrong – but different. I’ll protect your privacy as long as I can, but sooner or later the truth will out. You’re my responsibility, and I want to make sure that when your secret does get out, you’re ready to deal with it.”

T’gala’s face had gone pale and pinched. “That won’t be necessary,” she said, under her breath.

“Why won’t it be necessary?”

“Because we’ll be going home,” she said. She lifted her head, glaring at him with angry tears in her eyes. “Back to Southern.”

“You’re not going anywhere any time soon,” L’stev told her.

“We are!” she insisted. “We agreed…we took a vote –” She cut off the sentence.

“Did you, now?” L’stev asked. “A vote? And what makes you think that you, as weyrlings, have the right to decide?”

“We never asked to come here,” said T’gala. “Everyone hates it. Everyone hates us! We only came because Megrith said so…” She broke off again, looking furious with herself. “You can’t make us stay!”

L’stev sat regarding the girl for a moment. “This vote,” he said. “It was unanimous?”

“Everyone agreed except for Karika.”

“And you also voted to go home?”

“Yes!”

“To the Weyr where they’ve told you that being the female rider of a blue dragon is something to be ashamed of?”

She didn’t answer, but L’stev didn’t need to hear the words to read them in her eyes. It is. He sat looking at her, trying to unravel what must be going on in her mind. He’d had weyrlings before who’d struggled with the colour of their dragons – male green riders, mostly – but T’gala was different. T’gala was, as far as L’stev knew, unique.

Heppeth’s awake, said Vanzanth.

T’gala reacted almost at the same instant. She went tense. “I need to go to him.”

“All right,” said L’stev. “Go.” He jabbed a warning finger. “Don’t tell your Weyrmates about the move. They’ll hear that from me soon enough.”

The girl fled.

L’stev followed her out of his weyr more slowly. Vanzanth had heaved himself out onto his ledge. He turned his head inscrutably towards L’stev. You have it all wrong.

“Do I?”

Her snoring kept me awake.

L’stev snorted. Then he put his hand up to his dragon’s jaw. “What are we going to do with them?”

She is wrong.

“What?”

Her thoughts are…twisted. Tangled. She loves Heppeth, and hates him for loving her. Vanzanth gave a little shudder. And hates herself.

“You went too deep,” L’stev said censoriously.

I didn’t have to. When she is awake and Heppeth sleeps, she drowns in her own self-loathing. When he woke, she buried it from him. And from me.

“All this because she Impressed a blue?” L’stev asked, baffled.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Darshanth came kiting across the Bowl from the direction of his weyr. He landed on the end of Vanzanth’s ledge and turned his head in greeting. Vanzanth grumbled back. “Morning,” L’stev said to C’mine, as the blue rider dismounted.

“Morning, L’stev,” C’mine replied. He looked tired. L’stev wondered if he’d had a sleepless night. “How is she?”

He,” L’stev reminded him. “Back in the barracks, now. I spoke to Valonna.”

He sketched in the main points of his conversation with the Weyrwoman, and then related most of what T’gala had said. “Have Darshanth keep an eye on Heppeth,” he said, at last. “But keep him close. Even Vanzanth was unsettled by what he picked up from T’gala. A rider with that much ambiguity about her dragon…if she were a boy, and Heppeth were green, I’d say they were on course to go between and not come back in their first mating flight.” He frowned. “How would that work, with Heppeth? I mean, if he caught a green with a male rider, everything would be the wrong way round, but at least there’d be the potential for….”

“Interlocking?” C’mine offered, when L’stev couldn’t think of the right word.

“Interlocking,” L’stev said. “But if we’re talking a female-ridden blue and a female-ridden green, Faranth knows how the riders would mirror what their dragons are doing in the air.” He made a vaguely suggestive gesture. “Too many buckles, not enough tabs.”

“Maybe we should ask Samianne and Tiffa how it works for them?” C’mine suggested.

L’stev snorted. “You can ask them if you like, C’mine. Either one of them would have my head off in a trice if I asked them about their sex lives.” He grinned. “Though if you do ask them, you will let me know all the details, won’t you? Strictly in the pursuit of knowledge, you understand.” Then he sobered. “No. How you care to make love on your own terms, and how it happens when the dragons are in control – they aren’t the same thing at all. And if something breaks a rider out of flight-immersion before the deed’s done…” He stopped. C’mine’s eyes had gone distant. “What?”

“Nothing,” C’mine said. Then, when L’stev narrowed his eyes at him, he said, “I was just… C’los. Indioth’s first few flights. They weren’t easy for him.”

“So I recall,” L’stev said cautiously. The last thing he needed was for C’mine to retreat back into his self-indulgent wallowing over C’los.

But the blue rider gave himself a little shake. “What are you going to do about this vote the Southerners have had?”

“Confront it,” said L’stev. “If Karika was the holdout, then I’d wager V’ranu will speak for the others. Unless that vicious little bronze rider’s behind this…?”

“L’mern?” asked C’mine. “I don’t think so. The dragonets do defer to Desarth, but the Southerners definitely look to V’ranu for leadership.”

“All right,” said L’stev. “Go and wake them all up, and tell V’ranu and Karika I want to see them up here as soon as they’re dressed.”

He went back into his office. The slate with the trio assignments he’d drafted was on the edge of his desk where he’d left it the previous evening. He frowned over it for a while. Perhaps it would be best to delay moving them into their weyrs until after they’d had a taste of flying under Vanzanth’s direction. There was nothing like taking close orders from a senior dragon to put dragonets in their place.

The boy comes, Vanzanth noted.

L’stev sat up from his slump. There was a rap at the door. “Come in!”

V’ranu entered the room with something close to a swagger in his walk. His ego had definitely been given a boost by something, L’stev thought. The Southerner held himself in his second-hand Madellon wherhides as though faintly offended by the cast-off clothes, and he gazed around L’stev’s office with a mixture of curiosity and disdain. “Weyrling,” L’stev said crisply, to get his attention. He pointed at one of the chairs. “Sit.”

V’ranu obeyed, grudgingly. He didn’t slouch, but sat straight-shouldered and alert. L’stev would have admired the discipline – coveted it in his own weyrlings, even – if he hadn’t been so conscious of the regime at Southern that had engendered it.

“Did you have something you wanted to say?” L’stev asked.

V’ranu stared at him across the desk. His expression was easy to read. How did you know?

L’stev twisted his mouth into a nasty grin. “First thing you’ll learn at Madellon, boy,” he said. “I know everything.”

“Not everything,” said V’ranu. “I was going to bring this to you anyway. We want to go home.”

“Good for you,” said L’stev. He cocked his head. “Anything else?”

“We’re ready to go right now,” said V’ranu. The pitch of his voice had gone slightly higher. “Our Weyrleader will send dragons for us. You just have to get your queen to ask him.”

“Is that so?” L’stev asked. “Well, why don’t you get your queen to ask him? She can certainly reach as far as Southern.”

V’ranu lifted his head a fraction. “You also need to tell your bronzes to stand down.”

“No one’s standing down,” said L’stev. “No one’s sending to P’raima for anything. No one’s going home.”

The Southern brown rider stood up so abruptly that his chair tipped over with a crash. “Then we’re prisoners here?”

“You’re not prisoners, boy,” said L’stev. “You’re weyrlings.” He planted both hands on his desk and leaned over it towards V’ranu. “And you’re not going anywhere.”

“You abducted us from our home!”

“You were brought here at your Weyrwoman’s request,” said L’stev. “And until she says otherwise, this is where you’ll stay.”

“Margone!” V’ranu cried. “That stupid old woman –”

“You wouldn’t call her that to her face, V’ranu.” The speaker was Karika. She’d stepped quietly inside the door behind him. “So don’t you dare call her it behind her back.”

“Karika.” V’ranu spat the name in a fine spray of spittle.

Karika moved alongside him. “Weyrlingmaster,” she said, with all semblance of civility, and seated herself on the second chair.

L’stev had to admire her mettle. She was Turns younger than her classmate, and so tiny her feet probably only just touched the floor where she sat, but L’stev wouldn’t have taken any odds against her. “Weyrling,” he said. “V’ranu here was telling me that you want to go back to Southern.”

“V’ranu doesn’t speak for me,” said Karika. “V’ranu doesn’t speak for anyone but himself.”

“That’s not true and you know it,” V’ranu said, turning on her. “It was eight-to-one against you.”

“Half the others aren’t even old enough to shave yet,” Karika said. “They’d agree to anything you told them to.”

“You’d know all about that!” said V’ranu. “Megrith made us obey!”

“Megrith was following Grizbath’s orders!”

“And Grizbath disobeyed Tezonth!”

Grizbath is Southern’s queen –”

“But P’raima’s the Weyrleader!” V’ranu shouted.

“All right,” L’stev interceded, before the argument could get any shriller. “V’ranu. You’re weyrlings. I don’t care what notions of bronze superiority P’raima’s put in your head; weyrlings belong to their Senior Weyrwoman. That’s Weyr law the world over. Margone entrusted you to us. You can protest that you want to go home until you’re blue in the face for all the good it’ll do you, or you can accept that you’re here until riders older and wiser than you have decided it’s safe for you to go home, and make the most of an opportunity to broaden your narrow Southern horizons.” He bored into the boy with his eyes as he spoke, not blinking. “The choice is entirely yours.”

V’ranu had screwed his face into an expression between a pout and a sneer. It wasn’t a good look. Finally, he folded his arms. “We’re not going to broaden our horizons at this second-rate Weyr.”

“Then if you’d rather surround yourself with the familiar and comfortable, I’ll make sure you’re assigned to the middens for your first few chore rotas,” said L’stev. “Madellon and Southern might be very different, but you’ll find dragon shit’s the same colour wherever you are.”

“You can’t –”

“Oh, but I can,” said L’stev. “And every time you disrespect a ranking rider, or Madellon, or me, you can expect to find your name on midden detail for another day.”

V’ranu bit his lip so hard he was like to draw blood, but he didn’t answer back. He just glared at L’stev with the most perfect look of entitled teenage loathing.

L’stev was unmoved. The hatred of weyrlings was like mother’s milk to him. “I’ll make the Weyrwoman aware of your opinion on the matter,” he said. “Was there anything else you had to say to me?”

It was probably too cruel. V’ranu clearly did have any number of things he’d have liked to say, few of them complimentary. But the threat of interminable midden duty obviously held as much dread to a Southern weyrling as it did to a Madellon one. V’ranu held his tongue. “No. Nothing else.” After a long pause, he added, “Sir.”

“Good. You can report to Weyrlingmaster C’mine in the barracks dining room.” Do warn Darshanth he’s coming, won’t you?

Gladly.

V’ranu stalked out of L’stev’s office with a final venomous glare at Karika. Karika ignored it.

L’stev waited until Vanzanth had reported that V’ranu was well clear. Then he looked at Karika. “Well,” he said. “You seem to be having a difference of opinions with your clutchmates.”

“My clutchmates are just children,” said Karika.

“And you’re not?” L’stev asked.

She lifted her chin. “I stopped being a child when I Impressed a queen.”

L’stev almost laughed, but there was too much steel in her voice for the statement to be wholly comical. “Why don’t you want to go back to Southern, Karika? What is it that you know that they don’t?”

“I do want to go back to Southern,” she said. “Southern’s my Weyr. My home. It’s still the best Weyr on Pern.”

“Then it’s P’raima you fear?” L’stev asked. He was watching her closely, but she didn’t flinch or recoil; she didn’t react at all.

“P’raima is the greatest Weyrleader Southern has ever had, or ever will have,” said Karika.

“And you’ve been fed that line since you were a babe in arms, or I know nothing of Southern,” said L’stev. “Why don’t you want to go home?”

Karika flashed him a look from dark eyes. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh, little girl, if you knew how many times weyrlings had protested that to me,” L’stev said.

She just looked at him, and remained obstinately silent.

L’stev gave up. Perhaps some good news would make her more amenable. “We’re moving you out of the barracks.”

“Out of the barracks?” she repeated. “To where?”

“Weyrs of your own.”

“Weyrs. You mean caves?”

“Caves,” said L’stev. “And you can bet they’ll be the dankest, pokiest, nosebleediest caves we can find to shove you in. You get one to yourself, your bronze classmate too. And one other of the boys. Everyone else can double up.” He watched her carefully again. “Any suggestions which of the blues and browns should get his own place?”

“T’gala,” Karika said immediately.

“Why him?”

She shrugged. “No one likes him.”

“I see,” said L’stev. “I’ll take that into consideration.” Is she protecting T’gala, or just concealing her secret?

I don’t know. I can’t read her. Megrith would notice.

Then Karika added, “The others pick on him.”

“Do they?” L’stev asked. “Why do they pick on him?”

“It’s just the way it is,” said Karika.

L’stev regarded her for a long moment. She met his gaze calmly, inscrutably. Faranth, but she was a remarkable child. “Go and get some breakfast,” he told her. “You can tell your classmates about the weyrs.”

“Thank you, Weyrlingmaster,” she replied.

She couldn’t rise quite gracefully from her chair. L’stev suspected he’d been right about her feet not touching the floor. As she turned towards the door, he said, “Karika.” He waited for her to turn back towards him. “Aren’t you worried that your classmates will pick on you for disagreeing with them?”

Karika smiled: gleeful as a twelve-Turn-old girl, assured as a Weyrwoman three times her age. “Well,” she said. “They can try.”

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2 responses to “Chapter twenty-one: L’stev”

  1. Multi-Facets says:

    P’raima, what the heeeeell are you doing.

  2. Charis Hayward says:

    Well, P’raima seems decidedly awful. I do enjoy Karika quite a bit though! Also love the plot twist of T’gala – SO happy to see a lady on a male dragon. Also, this isn’t a chapter related to it, but I have a theory that future Madellon either has a brownriding Weyrleader or doesn’t have a Weyrleader as Pern currently knows it. Can’t wait to keep reading and find out!

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