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Chapter thirty-five: Sarenya

If knowledge is power, and ignorance is bliss, then a little of each is agony.

As always, I knew far too much, and not nearly enough.

100.03.25 (100TH TURN, SEVENTH INTERVAL)
MADELLON WEYR AND LONG BAY HOLD

Sarenya (Micah Johnson)Beastcrafters didn’t get lie-ins. Herdbeasts and wherries, after all, weren’t noted for keeping sociable hours. Ewes lambed to their own schedule. Runners would gather at the paddock gate, waiting expectantly to be brought in for their breakfast, no matter how far the sun still had to travel to crest the Rim. Sarenya was used to spending the first part of her day in the half light and eerie hush of pre-dawn, moving around the stables and pens to check on her charges with a mug of the strong black klah that stewed perpetually on the Beastcraft cothold’s hearth in one hand, acknowledging her fellow crafters with a mutually-agreed economy of words in recognition of the smallness of the hour.

Sarenya had fallen so easily into the routine as an apprentice that she rose early even on her days off, unable as well as unwilling to break the habit. So it was a rare thing for her to be woken, with the gentlest touch on her shoulder and the smell of a fresh brew of klah in her nostrils, and two fire-lizards nestled against her hip in the recently-vacated warmth beside her.

She sat up abruptly, displacing Sleek and Agusta. “What time is it? Did I oversleep?”

“You didn’t oversleep,” M’ric told her. He brought a mug of klah from his small hearth. “The morning watchdragon went on duty about half an hour ago.”

Sarenya relaxed, curling her fingers around the cup. “What woke you up so early?” Then, suddenly self-conscious, she asked, “I wasn’t talking in my sleep, was I?”

“No,” said M’ric. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so deeply asleep, actually.”

“That probably means I was drooling on the pillow.”

M’ric sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked her shoulder. “Only very appealingly.”

He’d evaded her first question, and Sarenya studied him, looking for the signs of sleeplessness that she so often found in her own reflection. M’ric clearly hadn’t yet touched a comb: his hair was in shaggy disarray, and badly needed a cut. He hadn’t shaved, either. But while his gaze was clear and alert, there were shadows under his eyes, and the only way he could have known that she’d had a settled night was if he hadn’t. “What was Sh’zon really after last night?”

Sh’zon had come to M’ric’s weyr late the previous evening, after they’d gone to bed. Trebruth, thankfully, had kept the deputy Weyrleader from simply barging in. “I’d better see what he wants,” M’ric had told her, putting on a shirt to make himself decent. “I won’t be a minute.”

He’d been more than a minute. Sarenya had resolved not to eavesdrop, deliberately or otherwise, and the conversation had been muffled by the drapes between M’ric’s quarters and Trebruth’s chamber in any case – though she’d heard Sh’zon’s voice rising in volume. “Is there news?” she’d asked when M’ric came back in.

“No,” he’d said, taking off his shirt and throwing it over the back of a chair. “Just Wing business.”

He hadn’t been any more specific than that, and Sarenya, both relieved and disappointed, hadn’t pushed him. Now, though, M’ric sipped his own klah, and said, “He’s just worried about the Gather. It probably couldn’t have come at a worse time for Madellon. It wouldn’t take a lot to touch things off between our riders and Southern’s, and once something like that starts it’s going to be very hard to contain.”

“Isn’t there a rule about dragonriders not getting into fights?” Sarenya asked.

“Some riders seem to feel it can be interpreted more as a suggestion than a rule, under the appropriate circumstances. Usually from the wrong side of one drink too many.”

Sarenya winced. “How are you going to prevent it?”

“Vigilance,” he said, “and sobriety. All Wingseconds have to stay off the booze and on the lookout.”

“I’ll bet that’s not been popular.”

“You wouldn’t lose your stake if you did. But Sh’zon’s of the opinion that a few unhappy Wingseconds are a small price to pay for having riders he can trust keeping an eye on things.”

“I suppose it’s too much to hope that clearer heads might be prevailing at Southern by now?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Sh’zon sounded upset last night,” said Sarenya. “I couldn’t hear what you were saying, but that much came through.”

“He’s never been very good at keeping his voice down,” said M’ric. “He’s asked me to be on hand to help him out both days.”

“Oh.” Sarenya tried and failed to conceal the disappointment in her voice. “Well, if he needs you…”

“Don’t worry, I told him where he could put that idea. He can have me there, and he can have me sober, but I’m not running around after him all day. We’ve had plans for this Gather for sevendays.”

“You mean I’ve had plans for this Gather for sevendays,” Sarenya teased him. “Involving such dragonriderly pursuits as looking at prize cows, and losing marks on the runner races, and maybe buying a new dress.”

“I might not have mentioned the part about the cows.”

“Good thing, too. If you had, he’d have thought you’d started on the sauce early.” Sarenya put her hand lightly on his leg for emphasis. “I just don’t want you to feel you have to shirk your responsibilities on my account.”

M’ric smiled. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“No. Not at all.” Sarenya idly traced the line of the old scar that curled around M’ric’s thigh with her fingertips. “But you’re a dragonrider. You have responsibilities that trump your obligation to me.”

“Fewer than you think, Saren,” M’ric said. “And I wish you didn’t feel you had to be so stoic about them.”

“Pragmatic, not stoic.” She managed a smile, to take the starkness out of it, but she didn’t meet M’ric’s gaze, so that he wouldn’t see the shadow of T’kamen she knew he’d notice in her eyes.

“Well, short of a Pern-wide emergency, you’re not going to cut me loose that easily,” he said. “I want to help you choose that new dress. And you never know, maybe I’ll win a few marks on the runners. Beginner’s fortune.”

“You’ll be looking at them with Trebruth in the back of your mind licking his chops.”

“Probably,” he admitted.

Once Sarenya had washed and dressed, Trebruth conveyed her down from his weyr ledge to the Beastcraft cothold. Early as it was, most of the Weyr was already up and about. Long Bay Hold was four hours ahead of Madellon, so the Gather would be getting started there by now, and everyone who could beg a ride wanted to get there as soon as possible.

The Beastcraft apprentices were no exception to that rule, and Sarenya had to get tough on them at morning stables. She found a dirty bridle that someone had tried to hide at the back of the tack room, and two stalls whose straw had been turned hastily over but not changed. She shouted at Dorvan, the culprit behind the uncleaned tack, and left Ingany skipping out the two boxes while she rode a quick circuit of the Bowl’s paddocks to check the herds.

Sarenya took Bovey on that short ride. The chestnut runnerbeast had come sound after a couple of days’ box rest, but Gadman hadn’t been up to the Weyr to retrieve him. If Sarenya thought that a little strange, then she wasn’t about to complain. She’d nearly forgotten what a pleasure it was to ride a really nice runner – and the chestnut gelding was really nice. For all Gadman’s warnings, Bovey had only ever bucked twice, and both of those out of sheer exuberance the first time Sarenya had ridden him. He’d been perfectly well-mannered since. Sarenya knew she should probably stop by Gadman’s cothold the next time she had to ride down the valley for count, but she was loath to give Bovey back any sooner than she had to.

She went into Arrense’s office in the cothold with the tally. Her Master was there, frowning over a document. He glanced up from it when Sarenya put her tally slate on his desk. “I take it you’re heading off to Long Bay?”

“As soon as I’ve done Sejanth,” Sarenya replied. “Are you going?”

“Not until tomorrow.” Arrense gave her a thoughtful look. “Were you planning to look at the stock?”

“Only the main show ring. I don’t think M’ric would thank me for dragging him around every last corral.”

“M’ric likely wouldn’t,” said Arrense. “But do me a favour and find out what the better Keroon steers are going for.”

Sarenya regarded him uncertainly. “Master?”

“I want to know what market rate is for a decent beef animal in Peninsula territory.”

“Wouldn’t you be better off checking with the Hall?” she asked doubtfully.

“You’d be forgiven for thinking so.” Arrense leaned forwards. “Bypass the Craft’s pens and ask around some of the small herders. They’ll be able to tell you what they’re getting for the beasts they sell into the Craft’s herds. You don’t have to spend hours at it. But I’d like to know what the going mark is, and I want your opinion of the stock.”

“All right.” Sarenya was mystified. She knew her Master had been looking into the quality of the herdbeasts they’d been getting from Kellad and Jessaf, but his implied insistence on covert information-gathering baffled her. “I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Don’t let it make you miss any of the racing,” he told her.

Despite herself, Sarenya couldn’t hide the little smile that crept to the corner of her mouth. “No chance of that.”

“I wish I’d thought to get you the last results bulletin for the Peninsula’s meetings,” Arrense said, shaking his head.

“I’m no good at reading the form anyway,” said Saren. “I’d rather just look at them in the parade ring. That’s always worked out best for me.”

“So I recall. Well.” Arrense flipped a mark at her. Sarenya caught it reflexively. “If you can double this with the wagermen, you can give it back to me later. If you can’t, I don’t want to hear about it.”

“You shouldn’t, Master,” Sarenya began.

“Faranth’s sake, Sarenya,” he said, with tolerant exasperation. “If I want to give my niece –” he looked at her pointedly as he said it, “– one measly mark to throw away on the runners, I sharding well will.” He pointed a commanding finger at her. “Put it away.”

Reluctantly, she obeyed. “Thank you, Master.” Then, in response to his glare, she corrected herself. “Thank you Arrense.”

By the time she left the cothold to see to Sejanth, the Weyr was half empty. The weyrling dragonets were sitting forlornly on their training grounds, excluded from the festive atmosphere, and some of the oldest and most senior dragons watched disdainfully from their weyr ledges, but most of Madellon seemed to have gone to Long Bay already.

D’feng was in the dragon infirmary. Sarenya checked her stride when she saw him. The bronze rider’s visits were usually kept brief to minimise the distress that he and his dragon caused each other when they were in physical proximity. But D’feng looked better than Sarenya had seen him. He was still bandaged, of course – the Healers had done wonders with his burns, but the healthy skin they had stretched and patched over his wounds was still desperately fragile – and the wasted muscle drooped from his sadly thin frame. But he was standing up out of his chair, leaning against his dragon’s head, with only one burly Weyr lad standing by to catch him should he falter, and Sejanth seemed more alert than usual.

“Bronze rider,” Sarenya greeted him respectfully as she approached Sejanth.

D’feng and Sejanth turned their heads as one, slowly. “Journeyman,” D’feng said raspily.

Sarenya steered her wheelbarrow to the edge of Sejanth’s wallow. She didn’t want to interrupt D’feng’s communion with his dragon, but she was conscious that time was passing and M’ric was waiting. “How are you both today?”

Sejanth responded by folding his decimated wing back slightly, giving her easier access to his chest. D’feng watched the movement with bloodshot eyes. “You’d know more about that than me.”

There was no rancour in his voice, only an immense weariness. Still, Sarenya felt guilty. “He’s good with our routine,” she said, “but he’s not been eating well for the last several sevendays. Do you mind if I…”

“Please,” D’feng said. He sat heavily back down in his chair, and his attendant fussed around him.

Sarenya went through her normal observations with a shade more decorum than usual, conscious of D’feng’s presence. Her usual familiarity with Sejanth might have offended his rider. The results were surprisingly cheering. Sejanth’s vitals were marginally more positive, his pulses and respiration and responses all just a touch more encouraging than she’d come to expect. “He’s doing well this morning,” she told D’feng. “I think having you here is good for him.”

“You’re very kind,” said D’feng. He stretched out a hand towards his dragon. His fingers just brushed Sejanth’s neck. “You’ve been more of a companion to him in these last months than I ever will be again.”

Sarenya wasn’t sure how to answer that. “It’s my privilege to treat him, bronze rider.”

D’feng didn’t reply. He just sat in his chair, staring at Sejanth with no expression at all on his face.

“Has something happened with D’feng’s recovery?” Sarenya asked Vhion quietly, a discreet distance from bronze and rider, once she’d tended to Sejanth.

“I don’t know,” Vhion said. But there was reservation in his voice. When he met Sarenya’s questioning look, his eyes were troubled, but he shook his head minutely. “Go and enjoy the Gather, journeyman. I’ll see you tonight.”

Vhion’s concern made Sarenya second-guess her own assessment as she returned to the cothold to get changed. Sejanth had looked better, hadn’t he? Or had she misjudged him? Had that been a sparkle of renewed health in his eyes, or merely a febrile glitter? Were his hearts beating more briskly out of excitement for seeing his rider, or in the laboured rhythm of strain?

It was still bothering her when she emerged from the cothold – bathed and dressed, and Sleek on her shoulder – to find Trebruth and M’ric waiting for her. Trebruth was spotless, his hide burnished nearly black, and the tooled straps of his best dress harness contrastingly pale where they’d been rigged with him. “Don’t you look fine,” Sarenya told him, touching the muzzle he lowered to her gingerly, lest she mar his finish.

M’ric stepped out from under his shadow, fumbling with an epaulette. “Scrubs up well, doesn’t he?”

Sarenya gave him an appraising look, and her concerns about Sejanth temporarily fled her mind. M’ric was as immaculate as his dragon in his dress blacks, the tall and handsome epitome of how a dragonrider should look. “He really does,” she said, holding her hand out for the epaulette that he was still struggling to attach. “Will I do?”

M’ric put it in her hand. “You’ll more than do. You look beautiful in that dress.”

He probably hadn’t noticed, because Sarenya so rarely had the opportunity to wear it, but it was her only dress. The one she’d bought not long after coming to Madellon hadn’t survived Hatching night. She put the thought out of her mind instinctively. “It’ll be no good for the evening, though,” she said, smoothing down the heathery grey linen. “That’s why I need to find something new.” She flattened out the epaulette and untwisted the strap on M’ric’s right shoulder where it was meant to sit. Then she frowned at the three gold bars on it. “I thought you were going to talk to Sh’zon about wearing Wingleader stripes.”

M’ric shrugged. “He’s had other things on his mind.”

It was a minor marvel that M’ric was wearing his stripes at all, Sarenya thought, as she threaded the strap through the epaulette, but the word had come down from the interim Weyrleaders that everyone attending the Long Bay Gather – rider, crafter and Weyrfolk – should wear identifying insignia at all times. Sarenya’s own shoulder knots clashed somewhat with her outfit – but then, the garish braid of indigo and yellow would have clashed with anything. She tugged M’ric’s more tasteful indigo-and-brown Wingsecond rank cords where they looped his shoulder. “There.”

“All in order?” he asked gravely.

“Apart from this,” she said, ruffling his unruly hair where it had grown long enough to touch his collar. “I don’t understand why you didn’t just go and see Z’fell. He cuts everyone’s hair.”

“Jyelth’s a bit sweet on Trebruth,” M’ric said, with the smallest shrug. “I’d sooner not give them the wrong impression, if I can help it.”

It took Sarenya a moment to make the connection. “Oh,” she said, and glanced away before he could notice the wince she could feel around her eyes. “Well, then, we really need to find you a barber at Long Bay.”

“We’ll do that first,” he promised, as Trebruth bent his elbow for them.

The watchdragon called out an enquiry as Trebruth carried them aloft. Sarenya felt and heard the brown respond, and then M’ric briefly squeezed her hand where it rested on his waist. It gave her an instant to brace herself before Trebruth took them between.

They emerged sooner than Sarenya had expected in a sky filled with dragons. She tightened her grip instinctively on M’ric’s belt, flinching at the density of wings in the airspace around them. They’d arrived amidst a blizzard of dragons, all of them waiting their turn to land and disembark their passengers. M’ric reached back to touch her leg reassuringly.

Long Bay unfolded beneath them. It was the richest Hold in Peninsula territory, and one of the largest on Pern. Sarenya had been there only once before, on a cattle drive in her apprentice days, and that had been early in the morning and from a far less advantageous viewpoint. From above, the proportions of the Hold proper were even more impressive. It was a great fortress built of the reddish, iron-rich local stone, with towers of different heights at each of its four corners and the enormous fireheight rising from the centre of the Hold was already crammed with dragons.

The fields were darkly golden, wheat and oats and barley all ripened by the fine weather, and the hay meadows too. From above Sarenya could see that the nearest had been cut recently to make way for the Gather. Everything would be coated in the fine powder of hay-dust. And out beyond the Gather square, and the rows upon rows of tents and stalls and marquees, and the great fire-pits already glowing with coals beneath their spitted wherries and herdbeasts, and the pens crowded with bawling stock, stretched the fine green turf of the racecourse.

They didn’t have to wait long for a landing slot. Trebruth half-folded his wings and dropped neatly out of the congestion, landing without a jolt in the precise centre of one of the crosses that had been painted on the paving stones. M’ric helped Sarenya down, mindful of the skirts that made dismounting a more delicate business than usual. Agusta and Sleek had already vanished into the cloud of fire-lizards over the Hold.

M’ric sent Trebruth off to find a space among the hundreds of dragons lining the cliffs, and then he and Sarenya joined the crowds making their way out to the Gather meadow. Most of the new arrivals wore Madellon colours, it being the most westerly Weyr. Most of the riders from Southern and the Peninsula would have arrived earlier in the day, although there were a few latecomers wearing forest green or grey-and-ochre, and even a fair sprinkling who sported the colours of the northern Weyrs: enticed south, no doubt, in search of some summer warmth. There was much shouting of halloos between riders of different Weyrs – M’ric himself acknowledged half a dozen greetings from Peninsula riders – but the tide of people towards the Gather meadow was relentless and left little opportunity to stop and talk.

There was an older Madellon Wingsecond standing at one of the gates into the Gather meadow. He nodded to M’ric as they approached. “Afternoon, J’zen,” M’ric greeted him. “All quiet so far?”

“So far,” the other brown rider replied. “Hoping it’ll stay that way. Most of Southern’s been and gone.”

“That sounds encouraging.”

“I wouldn’t let your guard down too much,” J’zen cautioned. “There are still a few of them around. Enjoy the Gather.”

“Did you want to go straight to the racecourse, Saren?” M’ric asked, as they filed through the gate.

Sarenya looked up at the sun, not far past its midday zenith. “They won’t be racing yet. Let’s do some exploring.”

It was an enormous, elaborate fair. The main square alone was bigger than most of the Gathers Sarenya had ever visited, but even it couldn’t accommodate everything. Several smaller squares branched off from it, each with its own booths and tents, its own roasting pits and Harper platforms. Strings of bunting swooped from poles overhead, crisscrossing the walkways, and the stout canvas stalls had been dyed in festive colours. Signboards at every juncture pointed the way towards the major features – the Hold, the racecourse, the dancing square, the wagermen’s tents – and enterprising stallholders had pinned up their own hand-crafted notices underneath the signs, coaxing visitors to patronise this booth or that. Jugglers and stilt-walkers made their way through the crowds, and men with painted faces prompted cries of delight as they pulled mark bits from behind children’s ears and then made them disappear again. The smells of cooking food were everywhere, from the savoury promise of whole hoglets turning on spits to the pungent scent of spiced cheese pastries and the ubiquitous sickly-sweetness of berry pies pulled hot from the oven.

“You’re sure there’s nothing you want to see while we’re here?” Sarenya asked, as they paused in front of a signboard. “The footraces? The prize fights?” She looked down the board. “The wher pits?”

M’ric frowned. “Can’t think of many things I’d like less.”

That was a relief to Sarenya. Wher-fighting wasn’t to her taste, either. “Let’s go and find you that haircut, then.”

The number of riders thinned out the farther they went. Sarenya supposed that, even if every dragonrider on the southern continent was here, eight hundred or so individuals would still make up only a small fraction of the throng. M’ric always looked calm, but after they’d walked one whole side of the main square and only seen two riders with Southern rank-knots, Sarenya thought he’d relaxed entirely.

They found a barber down one of the quieter rows, his shingle painted with the shears-and-comb symbol of his trade. M’ric paid an eighth for the haircut he so badly needed, and emerged looking all the better for the trim. At a Smithcraft stall not much farther along, Sarenya bought a new hoof-knife, and paid to have her name etched onto it – good hoof-knives having the habit of going missing with alarming regularity in the cothold. While they waited, M’ric admired an exquisitely-decorated short sword in a silver-chased scabbard that the shy Smith behind the booth admitted was for display only and not for sale.

M’ric stopped at a Tannercraft stall to buy gloves, black and completely plain, but made of expensive kidhide that snugged to his fingers like a second skin. Sarenya asked him why he spent his own money on something he could have requisitioned from the lower caverns. M’ric had an answer, as he always did. “Madellon’s Tanner doesn’t make anything as fine as these,” he said. “He’s more of a harness-man. It’s nearly impossible to take notes in fur-lined gloves.”

The crafters manning a busy Woodcraft stall were baking scrolls of klahbark in a cast iron roaster, to arresting effect. The aroma of roasting klah had drawn an avid crowd of customers. Sarenya and M’ric joined the queue to have a Master customise them a blend, selecting from different varieties of bark from all over the continent, and different roasts, from the spiciest light toasts to the smoky-darks. Sarenya, accustomed to the formidable black brews of the Beastcraft hearth, chose a barely roasted variety, almost tea-like in its delicacy. M’ric opted for a more robust blend of Peninsula klahs. Once the Master Woodcrafter had measured their blends, the long shreds of bark were turned over to an industrious row of apprentices to be ground, graded, poured into small sacks, and sealed with wax and the Master’s own personal seal.

They stopped at a firepit for lunch – hot seasoned wherry and fried tuber wrapped in soft and floury flatbread – and ate standing close to a Harper platform featuring two moderately talented gitar players and an excellent tenor. Sarenya would have liked to stay longer, but she was too aware of the sun creeping towards the west and the many things she still had to do before the racing began.

“New dress first,” she told M’ric, “and then I need to go and look at the stock. You’re sure there’s nothing you’d rather be doing?”

“Nothing in the world,” he assured her.

Sarenya moved quickly down the nearest line of booths, scanning the rails for likely candidates. The sheer choice was overwhelming. M’ric had taken her to a couple of modest Gathers earlier in the Turn, but each of those had boasted perhaps three or four stalls selling clothes, precious few pieces sporting a Tailor-stamp, and all of those prohibitively expensive. Here, there were three Tailorcraft stalls on the one row alone, and the competition seemed to have driven the price down to a level Sarenya could very nearly afford.

She could have spent the whole afternoon browsing for just the right thing, but the prospect of missing the racing was unthinkable – and besides, after the first half-dozen stalls, M’ric had begun to look glazed and sleepy. After the third time he replied to her request for an opinion with, “Uh huh, that’s nice,” Sarenya decided that she’d probably imposed on his forbearance long enough.

“I’m just going to look in a few more booths,” she told him. “Then we’ll do something else.”

“Don’t rush on my account,” he said good-naturedly.

He’d hardly said it when a rider walking by stopped and hailed him. “M’ric!”

M’ric seemed to wake from his shopping-induced torpor. “S’rebren,” he exclaimed, clasping wrists with the other man.

“Shards, I almost didn’t recognise you!” The green rider – a Peninsula man, by his insignia – pumped M’ric’s arm genially. “You’re looking well. Madellon Weyr must be agreeing with you.”

“Nothing to complain about,” M’ric replied. “Krodith’s well, and F’rint?”

“She’s well as a wherry, and F’rint’s as he always is.” S’rebren looked at Sarenya. “And who’s this?”

“This is Sarenya, a journeyman of the Madellon Beastcraft,” M’ric introduced her. “Saren, this is S’rebren, Krodith’s rider.”

Sarenya gripped the green rider’s wrist. “It’s nice to meet you, S’rebren.”

“S’rebren and I go back a long way,” M’ric explained.

“Oh, a long way,” said S’rebren, giving Sarenya a wink. “Not all the way, but far enough.”

Sarenya wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but she laughed politely anyway. M’ric looked faintly pained. Perhaps it was something embarrassing? “Why don’t you keep looking for that dress while S’rebren and I catch up?”

“All right,” Sarenya said. “I’ll be either here or at that stall over there.”

She left the two riders talking and resumed hunting through the clothes racks in earnest, relieved that M’ric had something more interesting to do than trail after her.

Two stalls down, at a booth presided over by a smiling, round-figured lady Tailor, Sarenya found what she was looking for: rich blue velvet, long enough for the evening but short enough to be swingy, not cut too generously. “How much for this one?” she asked the stallholder, who’d drifted closer.

The Tailor looked at her speculatively. “Well, why don’t you see how it looks on you first before we talk about the marks?”

“Oh, dear,” said Sarenya. “That sounds expensive.”

The Tailor laughed and ushered Sarenya behind a canvas screen. “Try it on, try it on!”

She did, stepping out of her linen dress and slipping the lovely blue velvet on over her head, noticing as she did the two sigils stamped on the lining: Tailor and Weaver. “Shards,” she murmured, dismayed, “this is going to cost a fortune.”

But it was perfect. It could have been made with her in mind: snug on the bust, where she didn’t need extra room; fuller in the skirt than she’d thought, rippling in satisfyingly soft and weighty folds. The only detailing was a silver tracery on the ends of the sash that took it in at the waist: it was fine enough to need no extra embellishment. A good thing, too, Saren thought wryly: with two Hall endorsements, it would be expensive enough already. She knew she should take it back and find something less costly…but there was no harm in letting M’ric see her in it first, was there?

“Let’s see you,” said the Tailor, and then exclaimed, “Well, if that gown couldn’t have been made with you in mind! Come, come, take a look at yourself!”

“It is gorgeous,” Sarenya admitted, examining herself in the stall’s half-length looking-glass. She briefly considered trying to point out some flaw in the fabric, some blemish she could use as leverage to bargain the price down, but there just wasn’t one. “But I don’t think I can afford it.”

“Well, why don’t we talk about that? I won’t lie; it’s not a cheap piece, what with being Master-woven and Master-sewn; you did see the stamps, hmm?”

“I did, and now I’m sure I can’t afford it.” Sarenya paused, and asked resignedly, “How much?”

“Six marks. And a half. But…you’re a fellow Craftswoman, so I’ll take the half off…and another quarter off because I don’t believe I’d ever see it look so well on anyone else.”

“Five and three-quarters.” It was more than Sarenya’s quarterly pay. She sighed, fingering the soft pile of the velvet regretfully. “It’s not going to fit every woman,” she pointed out. “I’m smaller on the bust than most, and it’s snug on me; anyone with a halfway decent bosom won’t get into it.”

The Tailor smiled broadly, clearly not offended by the half-hearted attempt to bargain her down. “Well, you might be right, journeyman,” she said, “but it’s really a matter of what it’s worth to you isn’t it?”

“I could go to three and a half marks,” Sarenya said dubiously.

“Five and a quarter. I can’t say fairer than that.”

Sarenya agonised over it. If she had a good afternoon on the runners she could make the marks back comfortably. On the other hand, she could just as easily lose every last fraction she had. “You wouldn’t consider putting it by for me until the end of the day?”

The Tailor sucked her teeth. “I could,” she said, at length, “but I’d need you to put down a deposit on it. A mark. Non-returnable.”

Sarenya shook her head. “I can’t risk a mark. I’m sorry. It really is lovely.”

She started to turn away, to go back behind the canvas screen to change out of the beautiful velvet, and then the Tailor journeyman suddenly looked behind her and clapped her hands together delightedly. “Brown rider!”

M’ric had appeared from the throng. “Hello, Trinsy,” he greeted her warmly. “You’ve been looking after Saren?”

The Tailor looked from him to Sarenya then back again. “You’re with M’ric? Well, why didn’t you say so! Oh, give him a twirl!”

Sarenya sighed but complied. The velvet swirled as she moved. “It’s out of my price range,” she told M’ric wistfully.

M’ric was already smiling as she completed her turn for him. “You have no idea how much trouble that dress is going to get you into tonight.”

“I can’t afford it,” she told him softly. “I have four and a few bits in my purse, and the mark Arrense gave me to wager. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have bought that hoof-knife, but…”

“Come on, Trinsy,” M’ric said, turning his smile on the Tailor. “Four and a half.”

M’ric!” Sarenya hissed.

“Well…perhaps…” Then Trinsy let out a great exaggerated breath. “Since it’s you, M’ric…four and a half.”

Sarenya protested, “I don’t have four and a half!”

M’ric put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a fistful of coins. “Have you got the half?”

“Yes…but…”

He took her wrist, turned her hand over, and counted marks into her palm. “Now you have four and a half.”

“I can’t take these, M’ric,” she objected, trying to give them back.

Firmly, M’ric closed her fingers over the money. “Shush. I told you I wanted to buy you a dress. Just…on two conditions.”

“I can’t believe you,” she said. “What conditions?”

“You have to help me keep Sh’zon off the sherry. You remind him, tonight, that nothing good ever came of him drinking dessert wine.”

Sarenya gave him an incredulous look. “Sh’zon likes sherry?”

“It doesn’t agree with him,” said M’ric. “And he needs to keep his wits about him. So you tell him. He never pays any attention to me when I warn him about his drinking, but you, in that dress…he’ll pay attention to you!”

“And what’s the other condition?”

“That you don’t dance with anyone else tonight. You’ll get into far too much trouble!”

Sarenya looked at him, then looked at the maternally-beaming Trinsy. “Am I the only one who just doesn’t understand dragonriders?”

Trinsy laughed throatily. “No, my dear, you’re not the only one. But you’ll want to keep hold of this one nonetheless, I think.”

Saren shook her head, reaching into her purse for the last half mark to make up the price. “I know,” she said, counting out the marks. Hers was a treemark, a Woodcraft coin; M’ric’s were Beastcraft bullmarks. “But I can’t tell him that, or he’ll never let me forget it.” She put the last mark in Trinsy’s hand. “Thank you, journeyman.”

“Well, I’ll not say I’ve made much margin on it, but it’s my pleasure to see you smiling so, and this one too.” Trinsy gave M’ric’s arm a familiar squeeze. “Will you be wearing it now?”

“I’ll change back,” Saren said. “It’s too fine for an afternoon tramping around the racecourse.”

“That reminds me,” said M’ric. “There’s a runner called Wonder Dream in the first race. S’rebren reckoned it’s got a chance.”

“He follows the runners?” Sarenya asked.

“All over Pern,” M’ric agreed. “Anyway, I won’t remember the name, so you’d better. Wonder Dream.”

“All right,” she said. “But I reserve the right not to back it if it’s got three legs!”

Saren felt an odd mixture of elation and discomfiture as she retreated behind the screen once more to wriggle out of the fabulous velvet dress and back into her lightweight linen. Elation because the dress was exquisite; discomfiture because four marks was an enormous amount of money. She didn’t know exactly what a Madellon Wingsecond made in hard marks, but she was willing to bet that M’ric’s quarterly stipend wasn’t very much more than the sum he’d just spent on her. It wasn’t that she had any concerns about what M’ric might expect in return; she just felt uneasy having that sort of money lavished on her. Arrense’s mark had been bad enough. She’d always made enough on her own to spend on occasional indulgences without needing to rely on a Master or a boyfriend, however well-meaning. And yet rebuffing either gift could only have caused offence. She sighed. Perhaps she just needed to learn to accept gifts more gracefully.

When she stepped back out from behind the screen, the velvet dress folded carefully in her bag, M’ric had disappeared again. Sarenya scanned the crowd. The Gather was even busier now than it had been when they’d arrived. “Where are you, M’ric?” she muttered to herself, wishing Sleek hadn’t flown off. There was no way her blue would heed a recall with so many other fire-lizards diverting his attention.

A green rider wearing Madellon colours whom she vaguely recognised was browsing the neighbouring stall, and Sarenya had started to think about approaching her to get a message through to Trebruth when M’ric suddenly appeared out of the crowd. “How are you doing?”

“There you are,” Sarenya said, relieved. “I thought I’d lost you.”

“Sorry about that,” he apologised. “I keep bumping into people I know. Most of the Peninsula is here.”

“You don’t want to say good-bye to journeyman – what was it, Trinsy – before we go?” She nodded at the Tailor, who was working a familiar-sounding patter on a couple of Hold girls.

M’ric hesitated. “She looks like she has her hands full. You’re done, then? With clothes?”

“I’m done,” she said firmly. “I don’t think I’ll be buying another dress ever again.” She slipped her arm through his. “Thank you, M’ric. You really shouldn’t have spent that much on me, but at least I won’t embarrass you tonight.”

He looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“If I’d turned up wearing this to an evening dance at a Hold like this,” Sarenya said, indicating her linen dress, “I’d have been laughed all the way back to the Weyr.”

“Don’t be daft,” he said. “You look lovely.”

“Come on,” Sarenya said. “I need to have a quick look at the stock for my Master, and then we’ll head over to the racecourse.”

The beast pens covered a huge area beyond the Gather meadow proper. The closest, permanent paddocks were ringed with dry-stone walls; those slightly farther out were post-and-rail; and farther even than those the most modest corrals were enclosed with not much more than poles and baling twine. The grassy surface of the walkways that criss-crossed the maze of pens had already been worn away by the movement of hundreds of people and thousands of animals, and a cloud of fine, powdery dust hung almost motionless over the whole area.

Sarenya led M’ric briskly past the first few enclosures, looking at the animals standing within only in passing. “These are the show beasts,” she told him as they passed. “Top-class livestock. These are the ones who’ll be winning prizes in the show ring tomorrow.”

“Breeding stock?” M’ric asked.

“Yes. There are classes for castrates, too, but the real money’s in the prime sires. If you have a bull or a ram who’s won prizes at a few big Gathers, you can charge top mark for covers. They exhibit them out here in the front paddocks so all the local herders can get a close look. Journeyman.” She said the last in response to the passing Beastcrafter who’d spotted her shoulder-knot and nodded at her politely. “But Arrense wanted me to look at the herds that are here to be sold. We have to go a bit farther afield for those.”

Beyond the big public paddocks, the paths between the fences became narrower and dustier, and busy with herders and herders’ boys hauling water to their charges. M’ric got a few sideways looks – it wasn’t a natural place for a dragonrider to be – but Sarenya’s Beastcraft insignia let them pass without challenge.

“This is more the thing,” she said, when they reached the smaller pens of fifteen or twenty herdbeasts. She slowed her pace, scrutinising the animals they passed until she identified a likely-looking herd. She stopped by a pen containing a couple of dozen Keroon Red bullocks. “What do you think, M’ric? Would Trebruth fancy one of those for his dinner?”

He grinned. “He says yes, please. They’re much better than what we’re getting at Madellon, aren’t they?”

“Oh, yes,” Sarenya agreed. “Madellon territory has had a terrible spring for livestock. Kellad’s herds are in a really sorry state. These are better than you’d expect in a proper tithe drive, but not by that much.” The steers’ owner, a weathered and wrinkled little herder, was leaning on the fence; she caught his eye, and he limped over. “You have some nice beef here.”

“Aye, as I do,” said the herdsman. He squinted at Sarenya, taking in her shoulder-knot, and then looked at M’ric. “Ye buyin’ fur a dragin?”

“How much?” Sarenya asked.

“Fur one? Ain’t wort to have lessen id git a head fur all. Stampers, thessuns. Too gud fur dragins.”

“How much for all of them?”

The herder gave her a hard look. “Sevner-half a bist.”

“Do you mind if I take a look?”

“Git ye’s dress dusty.”

Sarenya shrugged. The herdsman took a rope halter from the fence and ambled over to the nearest bullock. He returned with the herdbeast following docilely behind him, and Saren ducked under the fence to inspect it.

It was a well-conformed steer: not too long in the neck, not too short in the body; well-fleshed, but not over-fat. Its hide bore a distinctive shiny streak down the spine, and the skin was wrinkled over its neck, both good indicators of particularly tender meat. Its hide was clean and relatively unscarred, and the inside of its left ear had been tattooed with the mark of the Long Bay satellite holding it had come from, green against the pink skin. “Six and a half,” she said as she completed her examination.

“Sevner-quarter,” the herdsman countered.

“Six and three-parts.”

“Sevner.”

“You want seven for this beast?” Sarenya asked, projecting scepticism.

The herder’s eyes narrowed, if possible, still further. “Ye know dim well t’will cost ye’s draginman eight-half on the morn wit a Beastcraft mark in the ear.”

Sarenya ducked back under the fence. “You’re right, you know,” she said. “It is too good for dragons. Thank you for showing me your steer.”

She walked on rapidly from the paddock. M’ric caught her up in a stride or two. “What was that about?” he asked. “For a moment there I thought you were going to commit me to buying Trebruth a seven-mark herdbeast!”

“If I’m worth four, then he has to be good for at least twice that,” Sarenya replied. Then, when they’d moved far enough on from the paddock, she stopped. “I don’t understand why he’d have let it go for seven marks. If the Beastcraft is marking up prime steers to eight and a half, they should be paying seven and a half or seven and three-quarters. Seven’s too low for an animal of that quality.” She thought about it, then reasoned aloud, “Unless there’s something wrong with that herd that I didn’t pick up. I didn’t look that closely.”

“Do you want to go back?” M’ric asked.

“No. I think I’d like to look at some other stock, though.”

They stopped twice more, both times at paddocks with smallish herds of Keroon beef cattle. The second herder wanted a little more for his steers, the third a little less, but the price they tried to negotiate was broadly the same as the first herdsman had asked.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Sarenya said, as they walked back towards the Gather meadow. “These herders should be holding out for more marks than they say they are.”

“If the Beastcraft’s buying at seven and selling at eight and a half, where are they adding value?” M’ric asked.

Sarenya shrugged. “A Beastcraft tattoo on the ear certifies that the animal’s disease-free. Any beast the Craft buys will be monitored for a sevenday to make sure of it. And the Hall only buys prime stock. Some Holds put a lot of importance on the quality of the beef they buy in.” They were passing a Beastcraft paddock as she spoke, signified by the white and yellow pennant, and she stopped to point at a Keroon bullock grazing near the fence as they passed. “This one, for example. It’s been bought by the Beastcraft. See the two marks on the left ear? The bull head, the Beastcraft mark, is fresh, and the other one…”

“What about the other one?” M’ric asked, when she broke off.

Sarenya leaned over the fence to get a view at the steer’s right ear. “That’s odd.”

“What is?”

“This steer’s marked as originating from Birndes Hold. But the transit tattoos show that it’s come here via Gartner Hold.”

“Gartner?” M’ric asked. “In the mountains? I wouldn’t have thought that’s herdbeast country.”

“It isn’t,” said Sarenya. “Not as a point of origin, anyway. The Gartner Pass is where animals are driven through the mountains from Madellon to Peninsula territory, or vice versa. There are corrals there, but no grazing.”

M’ric looked at her inquiringly. “So what’s the significance of this one having a Gartner tattoo?”

“It’s a transit tat. It means this animal passed through Gartner on its way here from Birndes. Except that doesn’t make any sense. You’d have to detour to make that journey.” Sarenya frowned, peering closely at the bullock’s flank, where a stippled pattern of scars showed on the reddish hide. “And that’s the first case of river itch I’ve seen in a Peninsula bullock today. Unless it’s…”

“Not a Peninsula bullock?” M’ric supplied.

Sarenya shook her head. “But that would mean those tattoos have been forged, and that’s not possible. The Beastcraft wouldn’t have bought in an animal with dubious provenance. It’s not worth the damage to the Hall’s reputation if a dodgy steer got a Craft tattoo.”

Then there came a great fanfare of trumpets from the direction of the racecourse. Torn, Sarenya threw one last hard look at the obliviously-grazing herdbeast, trying to puzzle it out. Then she shook her head. “My Master seemed to think something strange was going on. Maybe it’ll make some sense to him. Come on, M’ric; let’s go racing.”

Back in the Gather meadow, the crowds were heading towards the racecourse with purpose. The sun had dipped slightly, less fierce in its glare, and the elite racing runners would be being led out from their temporary stables for the Gather-goers to see. The thought made Sarenya quicken her pace with anticipation.

One final stall caught her eye as they joined the throng heading towards the racecourse. The Blue Shale Beastcraft had a booth on the corner near one of the breaks in the fence allowing access through to the racing flats. The familiar combination of colours made Sarenya pause, and when she did, M’ric glanced across and straightaway discerned the reason. “Did you want to go and look?”

“I think that’s my old apprentice,” Sarenya said. “I should go and say hello.”

The young man sitting behind the empty counter had shot up a couple more inches in the Turn since Sarenya had last seen him, though not much else had changed. The braid of a junior journeyman was a new adornment on his left shoulder; the unusually alert green fire-lizard an old one on the other. His hair still stuck up at the crown of his head, impervious to brush, comb, or licked hand, as it had when he’d been given to Sarenya to mentor. She waited for a gap in the stream of people, then crossed quickly to the edge of the walkway. “I said you’d make journeyman before your twenty-first, Fajon.”

The Beastcraft journeyman had barely raised his eyes to her face before he broke out in a grin. “Journeyman Saren!” He jumped up from his stool, almost dislodging his fire-lizard in his haste to grasp Sarenya’s proffered wrist. He had big, powerful hands, and knew it; he’d long since learned to be gentle. “I didn’t think to see you here!”

“When did you walk?” Saren asked, warmly returning the grip. Fajon had always been the most conscientious of the apprentices at Blue Shale, and she was pleased that he’d done so well. “I take it you’ve not been reassigned yet?”

“It’s been about six sevendays,” said Fajon. “I’m still reporting to Master Kaddyston until the new apprentice arrives, and then I’m off to Judzen Hold for two Turns. And you, you’re still at the Weyr? You’re well? Tarnish and Sleek too?”

Sarenya wished he hadn’t asked after her fire-lizards. She might in good conscience have glossed over the tragedy and trauma of her time at Madellon, but Fajon’s green had come from the same clutch as her boys, and she didn’t like to lie about them. “Tarnish had an accident,” she said, keeping her voice regretful but neutral, not wanting to allude to the circumstances of her bronze lizard’s demise. “So it’s just Sleek now.”

“Oh,” Fajon said. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” He darted a glance at Sarenya’s bare right shoulder, looking very much like he was trying to think of the most polite way to ask for more details.

Fortunately Sarenya wasn’t the only one who’d noticed. M’ric eased closer, making a point of examining Fajon’s stock. “These are all from Blue Shale, then?”

“My friend M’ric,” Sarenya introduced him.

“They are indeed, br- that is, Wingsecond,” Fajon said, hastily correcting himself when he identified M’ric’s insignia. “Every one good Blue Shale stock, even the green-laid, and our best greens do sometimes lay blues and even browns, you know.”

M’ric looked amused by the assertion. “I have no doubt of that whatsoever,” he said, smiling. “I take it the bigger ones come from queen clutches?”

“Yes, sir, and all our queen-laid eggs are graded and guaranteed.” Fajon kept glancing at Sarenya as he ran through his proposition, as if embarrassed to be pitching in front of her. “The difference back if your fire-lizard hatches out a lesser colour than you paid for.”

“You can tell with that much accuracy?” M’ric asked, turning to Sarenya.

“Most of the time,” she said. “Weight, texture, colour; you can usually made an educated guess.” She looked at the long troughs that lined the back of Fajon’s booth, warmed from below by oil lamps. The eggs were well buried, each visible only as a gentle rise in the sand. The tariff had been painted on a blackboard in jaunty dragon colours, ranging from eight and a half marks for a green-laid egg to fifteen for a guaranteed bronze. “The prices seem steep,” she observed.

Fajon spread his big hands. “It’s been a bad Turn for snake-damage,” he said. “We’re setting traps twice a day around the nests, but they can burrow under and hollow out a clutch without ever touching the snares.”

“Why not bring the whole clutch in for safekeeping?” M’ric asked.

Sarenya shook her head, but let Fajon explain. “We can take a few eggs without them noticing – one in ten, sometimes one in eight – but if we remove too many the fair abandons the nest site,” he said. “Then, come next season, who knows where the queen will clutch.”

“That’s what did for Peninsula’s fire-lizard population,” Sarenya said. “Over-zealous harvesting. Seventy Turns ago you could buy an egg for two or three marks, but the beaches were stripped, the wild queens couldn’t build up fairs big enough to defend themselves, they became prey to wherries, and they died out.” She looked sidelong at M’ric. “Which brings us back to the question of how you got your hands on a Northern queen egg before you were even Searched.”

“You have a queen?” Fajon asked, with candid envy, and a little deflation that M’ric evidently wasn’t going to be a customer.

“It’s a long story,” M’ric said. He looked up at the sun. “Saren, didn’t you want to get over to the racecourse?”

“Shards, yes.” Sarenya gripped Fajon’s wrist again. “Really good to see you, journeyman, and please pass on my best to Master Kaddyston.”

“I will, journeyman Saren,” Fajon said, returning the gesture. “Are you wagering? I’ve heard that Boll River has a good chance in the first.”

Sarenya promised to look at the runnerbeast even as she let M’ric take her arm and deftly manoeuvre them back into the fast-moving flow of traffic.

It was really crowded now, and as they neared the boundary of the track the booming voices of the strong-lunged race callers thundered across the mob. “This way holdfolk, this way craftfolk, this way Weyrfolk, for the fastest racing runners you’ll see this side of the southern ocean and the best view of the finest racetrack on all of Pern, and that’s a guarantee. Get your wagers on for the first race, don’t be shy, this way holdfolk, this way craftfolk, this way Weyrfolk…”

They went through the gate into the racecourse. The runners for the first race were already being led around the parade ring, their jockeys’ brightly-coloured caps bobbing up and down beyond the obscuring crush of bodies. The familiar pungent whiff of liniment that came floating through the warm air evoked an instant memory of the runner races Sarenya had attended as a child, the modest local meetings held on Lanen Hold’s racing flats. It had been a treat then, and it still was. Looking at steers was work: racing runners were pleasure.

Sarenya scanned the enclosure, then pointed to a spot on the top terrace, overlooking the railed parade ring and with a good view of the wagermen’s pitches. “Let’s go up there.”

“So is this the sort of racing when they have to jump over things?” M’ric asked as they made their way through the crush.

“They only do that in the winter,” Sarenya replied, “when the ground’s softer. Some people would have you believe that it’s the only proper racing.” She smiled, thinking of some of the passionately-argued positions she’d heard for jump versus flat racing, and vice versa, in the Beastcraft cothold. “But these races will all be on the flat, over distances of between five and twelve furlongs.”

“How many dragonlengths in a furlong?”

“About twenty-two.” Sarenya made the calculation in her head. “So between 110 and 270 dragonlengths.” She pointed down at the runners circling the parade ring. “These look like sprinters, so they probably won’t be running over more than six furlongs.”

She would have liked to get closer, to better appraise the runners’ physiques, but the sunshine glowed on their coats as they walked around the cinder path in the ring. “The one your apprentice mentioned is number two,” said M’ric, looking from the parade to the wagermen’s boards and back again. “Boll River.

Sarenya looked at the number-two runner: a lean bay with an off-centre blaze, jogging nervously beneath his rider. “I don’t like him over the distance,” she said critically. “Too rangy. And he’s sweating up between his back legs. I prefer the chestnut, number three. Or number eleven, the big grey there.”

M’ric looked back at the board while Sarenya continued to study the parading runnerbeasts. “Number three is called Southstar, and number eleven is Wonder Dream.”

Wonder Dream?” Sarenya looked at the board to confirm. “That’s the one your green rider friend tipped, wasn’t it?”

“Was it?” M’ric asked. Then he cocked his head slightly. “That’s right, it was.”

“The market doesn’t have much confidence in him,” Sarenya said, following the bunchy dapple-grey with her eyes. “He’s sixteen-to-one with most of the wagermen.”

“I like those odds,” M’ric said, grinning.

“I don’t,” Sarenya said. “These wagermen know more about the form than I do. They wouldn’t have him at that price if they thought he was going to win. Southstar’s nine-to-two. That’s a bit more feasible.”

“S’rebren’s pretty good at picking runners,” said M’ric.

“All right,” Sarenya said, shaking her head. “Let’s go and see what odds we can get.”

Most of the wagermen displayed the blue and brown crest of Long Bay Hold at the top of their odds-boards, but a few pitches flew Craft colours. Sarenya led M’ric towards the wagerman in Beastcraft yellow. “Best odds on number three, journeyman?”

The Beastcraft wagerman acknowledged Sarenya’s shoulder-knot with a nod. “It’s nine-to-two across the board, journeyman, but I can go to fives”

“Half to win,” Sarenya told him, extending a woodmark.

The wagerman took the coin, wrote the odds and stake on a slip of hide, then stamped it with the Beastcraft’s wagermark. “Good fortune, journeyman,” he said, handing Sarenya the slip and a Beastcraft half-bullmark. “Yes, Wingsecond?”

Wonder Dream,” said M’ric. “Two marks to win.”

“Shells, M’ric,” Sarenya said incredulously. “At least put it on each way!”

“Where’s the fun in that?” he asked, handing over two treemarks.

“You’ve heard a whisper, eh?” the wagerman asked, punching M’ric’s betting slip.

“I just liked its colours,” M’ric said, shrugging.

“Well, good fortune.” The wagerman turned to his next customer. “Yes, sir?”

As they walked away, Sarenya glanced back at the Beastcraft betting pitch. The wagerman had already wiped the odds for Wonder Dream off the board, and was replacing them with the notation 14/1. “See what you’ve done? Now everyone’s going to start backing that colt.”

“If it wins, they’ll have me to thank!”

They pushed their way through the crowds. The last few runners were cantering down to the start, three-quarters of a mile from the viewing terraces. Wonder Dream, the only grey runner in the race, was already there, standing out amongst his bay and chestnut rivals.

Sarenya felt the familiar excitement start roiling about in her stomach, the nervous flutters that only having money riding on an elite runner race could provoke. She gripped the white running-rail, leaning over to watch as the fourteen runnerbeasts came into line down at the start. “I can’t believe you put two marks on that runner,” she fretted.

“Don’t worry,” M’ric told her. “I have a good feeling about it.”

“I just don’t want you losing your shirt on the first race!”

M’ric grinned, showing all his teeth. “Shirts are overrated,” he told her, and with a great roar from the crowd, the tapes went up.

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One response to “Chapter thirty-five: Sarenya”

  1. Charis Hayward says:

    A very good chapter as a whole. I liked the little references to the prologue! I wonder if Saren will figure out that M’ric’s scar is a thread scar. Also, bits involving Sejanth are always the highlight of Sarenya’s chapters for me, I really hope he and D’feng improve!

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