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Chapter sixty-one: Sh’zon

The upheaval that characterised the middle of the Seventh Interval was centred primarily upon Madellon and, to a slightly lesser degree, Southern. But the significance of events at the Peninsula Weyr should not be overlooked. Weyrleader H’pold’s death and Senior Queen Ipith’s illegal mating flight had consequences that would, themselves, establish precedent for much of the political revolution that would follow in the century and more to come.

– Masterharper Hennidge, Chronicle of the Seventh Interval

100.04.18-23 (100TH TURN, SEVENTH INTERVAL)
MADELLON AND PENINSULA WEYRS

Sh'zon (Micah Johnson)He regretted nothing. Not stealing the antidote, not intruding on a closed flight, not incurring Rallai’s rage. It wasn’t the first time he’d done that and he knew it wouldn’t be the last. Kawanth had flown Ipith, fair and square. No one could dispute that he’d caught the senior queen. No one could dispute Kawanth’s superiority over every other bronze who had pitted his strength and skill against the Peninsula’s senior queen that day. No one could dispute Sh’zon’s right, hard-fought and hard-won, to assume the title on which he had set his heart all those Turns ago: Peninsula Weyrleader.

And yet dispute it they did.

The welcome that awaited him outside Rallai’s weyr was not a warm one. The heartsick despair that normally characterised beaten bronze riders was nowhere to be seen in the faces of the crowd of Wingleaders and Wingseconds who started up from their positions guarding Ipith’s ledge when Sh’zon and Rallai emerged from within.

Sh’zon met one angry pair of eyes after another, noting as he did who was there. K’sorren, B’reye, C’eena; they’d all had live chances, but P’less and M’roka sharding well hadn’t. “Gentlemen,” he said. “If you’d just –”

“What the shaff did you think you were doing, Sh’zon?” The hiss came from G’lorn, Badderth’s rider. “You had no right –”

“No shaffing right at all!” C’eena broke in.

“C’eena. G’lorn,” The mollifying voice was K’ken’s. The Peninsula’s Deputy Weyrleader looked the least drained of all of them, but that wasn’t surprising; Essienth would have been among the first to abandon Ipith’s pursuit. “All of you,” K’ken said, looking around at the stony-faced gathering.

Sh’zon nodded his thanks, grateful – until K’ken took Rallai’s arm. “Weyrwoman, if we could have a word…”

Enough of Kawanth’s instinctive possessiveness still imbued Sh’zon that he growled, “Don’t take liberties with my Weyrwoman, K’ken!”

“Beg your pardon, Sh’zon,” K’ken said. “But if you could give us just a moment.”

Sh’zon had to consciously unclench his fists as K’ken drew Rallai aside. They conversed for several moments in low voices that came to him only in snatches.

“…concern with the nature…”

“…never my intention to allow…”

“…doubts around the legitimacy…”

“…would never have…”

“…H’pold…riders looking for stability…”

“…understand…”

“…need to move swiftly to reassure…”

Sh’zon didn’t like the gist of what he overheard; he didn’t like it at all. He’d just decided to insist on being included in the conference when K’ken and Rallai turned back towards him. Rallai’s face was grave; K’ken wore a furrow-browed expression of concern. The other bronze riders shifted moodily on the other side of the ledge.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Sh’zon,” said K’ken. “Perhaps we could step back inside the Weyrwoman’s weyr a moment.”

“No,” Sh’zon said. “Whatever you’ve got to say, say it out here for everyone to hear.” He raised his chin defiantly as he spoke. “You’re questioning my right to be Weyrleader; is that it?”

If he’d hoped K’ken would hurry to deny the accusation, he was disappointed. “There’s some concern over the validity of your claim,” he said. “It was a closed flight; by tradition you weren’t entitled to take part.”

Sh’zon reined in his irritation. “No one told me it was closed.”

“The feeling is that you should have presumed it was unless specifically told otherwise.” K’ken spoke with careful choice of words. “The question of if you were…misinformed…puts the Weyrwoman in a difficult position.”

Sh’zon stiffened as the significance sank in. “You’re turning this around on Rallai?” he demanded, and raked the watching bronze riders with a furious glare. “You’re making this her fault?”

“It’s not a matter of fault,” said K’ken. “Only of responsibility. It’s enshrined in Peninsula law that the Weyr has the right to be governed by one of its own –”

“I am one of its own, blight it!” Sh’zon shouted. “Faranth’s shaffing teeth, K’ken, do twenty Turns flying under Peninsula knots mean nothing to you?”

“I’m speaking on the Weyr’s behalf, Sh’zon, not my own,” said K’ken. “Please believe me when I say I have no agenda of my own except to serve the Peninsula’s interests.”

Sh’zon wouldn’t have believed that assertion of any other bronze rider, but he grudgingly allowed K’ken that much credit. “I’m a Peninsula rider. Kawanth’s a Peninsula bronze. The Peninsula runs in my veins, blight you. If that’s not good enough –”

“Your Peninsula blood isn’t in question,” said K’ken. “Your right to contest the Peninsula leadership, as a rider wearing the Madellon badge, is.”

Sh’zon searched K’ken’s lined and crumpled face incredulously. “Then what? You’re going to disqualify me?”

“I’m sorry, Sh’zon,” K’ken said. The regret in his voice sounded genuine. “But until the Weyr at large has had the opportunity to consider the ramifications, you can’t be confirmed as Weyrleader.”

“Confirmed?” Sh’zon cried. “Confirmed? My dragon flew the Thread-struck senior queen! How much more confirmation do you want?”

“Sh’zon,” said Rallai, quiet, but harsh. “Don’t make a scene.”

He turned on her. “You, too?”

She shook her head. “If I’d known, Sh’zon…  I didn’t think I had to tell you not to come. I didn’t think you’d be so…”

“So what?” Sh’zon asked, when she didn’t complete the sentence. “So determined? You didn’t think I’d find a sharding way around the felah?”

“I should have known. I was wrong.” Rallai said it without flinching. “But it doesn’t change anything. K’ken’s right, Sh’zon. You can’t be confirmed as Weyrleader. Not like this. The Peninsula has a right to self-determination.”

“I’ll turn in my Madellon badge,” Sh’zon said suddenly. “My Wing, all my rank…”

“You can’t without your own Weyrwoman’s permission.”

“I’ll get it! Valonna will let me go. And you can accept me back as a Peninsula rider –”

“It’s too late for that. You were a Madellon rider when Kawanth flew Ipith –”

“I’ve always been a Peninsula rider in my heart!”

“Your heart doesn’t get to decide, Shai!” Rallai flared. “And neither does mine!”

Sh’zon had no answer for that. He stared at her, seeing the despair in her eyes, and then couldn’t face it any more. He turned away, trying to deny the tightness in his chest.

“Sh’zon,” said K’ken, with quiet gravity. “The Peninsula needs time to digest what’s happened today and to decide what happens next. Until then, you should go back to Madellon.”

“Rallai,” he appealed, futilely, but she shook her head.

“You need to go, Shai,” she told him, and lifted her chin against any weakening of her resolve.

So he went back to Madellon, and to a reception comprising equal parts avid interest and chilly opprobrium. He stopped only at his weyr for a change of clothes and a wash, so he could face Valonna decently, but even the short walk from Kawanth’s ledge to Shimpath’s brought him into contact with too many riders who either looked at him with open censure or else talked behind their hands to each other, darting glances at him.

He hated it. He should have been returning to Madellon as the new Weyrleader of the Peninsula. He should have been going to Valonna to be greeted as her equal. He should have been hailed as the triumphant winner of Ipith’s flight, not stared at like some thieving deserter.

Yet that was exactly how he felt when he presented himself to Valonna.

She looked so tired. The hard lessons that the smooth-faced young Weyrwoman had been forced to learn in the last several months had taken their toll on her, not only in the darkness beneath her eyes, but in the weary worldliness of her once-guileless gaze. The hopeful naiveté she had possessed had been scoured from her by responsibility and circumstance. It would make her a better Weyrwoman, Sh’zon thought, but he found something poignant in the loss of Valonna’s girlish ingenuousness. It was with sadness, not anger, that she said, “I only wish you’d told me you meant to vie for Ipith.”

“I never meant it as a betrayal, Valonna,” he said humbly. “I’ve given Madellon my loyalty. I’ve worked for you as honestly as I would any Weyrwoman. But my heart…my heart always belonged to the Peninsula.”

“And to Rallai,” Valonna said.

Sh’zon bobbed his head. “I’ve been in love with her since I was a boy of seventeen. But always, she’s…” He made a gesture with both his hands, of seizing something that slipped hopelessly through his fingers.

Valonna’s eyes flickered. “Sometimes, love’s not enough.”

The stark pragmatism in her voice made Sh’zon flinch. “The flight was closed,” he said. “I didn’t know.” He took a breath, and said, “I still hope the riders of the Peninsula will accept me as Weyrleader, when they’ve had time to get used to the idea.”

Valonna didn’t reply for a long moment. When she did, she said, “The riders of Madellon can’t accept you as theirs, Sh’zon. And nor can I.”

It was the injury in her voice that hurt the most. Sh’zon couldn’t look at her. “I’m sorry, Valonna.” He took from his pocket the second vial of antidote and set it on the desk before her. “I only used one.” Then he lifted his head, speaking quickly. “It does work. I can hear Kawanth –”

“Thank you, Sh’zon,” said Valonna. “But it’s…” Too late, was the conclusion she didn’t speak. “I’ll pass this to Master Shauncey. He wants to see you.”

“I’ll take it to him,” Sh’zon offered, reaching to reclaim the antidote.

But Valonna moved the glass vial back out of his grasp. “No,” she said. “I don’t think that would be right.”

She didn’t trust him. Sh’zon wasn’t sure he’d have been able to restrain his indignation in the face of any other rider on Pern but the slight young girl who was the Weyrwoman of Madellon chastened him with her mistrust. “Beg your leave to go, Weyrwoman.”

“I’ll need your insignia, Sh’zon.” She didn’t sound like she was enjoying what she had to do. “All of it.”

He’d known it was likely, and yet still it made shame burn his cheeks. He unfastened the thick braid from his shoulder, the tailed knots of a Wingleader and the single silver tassel that had pronounced him Deputy Weyrleader. He unbuttoned the left shoulder strap, then the right, and pulled the starred four-bar epaulettes free. He laid them on the Weyrwoman’s desk. The marks of rank he’d worn so complacently looked sad and forlorn, curled there beside the antidote vial.

“H’ned will give you your new assignment,” said Valonna. “Until then you might be better to stay in your weyr.” Her voice was hardly more than a whisper. “You can go.”

“I’m sorry, Valonna,” Sh’zon said. He’d never felt so worthless in his life. “Please believe that.”

“I do,” Valonna said. “I do believe it.”

But there was no trace of forgiveness in her voice.


As the days went on, Sh’zon heeded Valonna’s advice and stayed in his weyr. It was the bleakest and loneliness sevenday of his life. The antidote’s efficacy wore off as the time passed. Kawanth’s voice and presence became weaker and weaker in his mind, until on the morning of the second day after Ipith’s flight Sh’zon woke as dragon-deaf as he had been since Long Bay.

H’ned visited him in his self-imposed isolation to inform him that he was suspended from active duty, pending the Peninsula’s decision. “I’ve made J’tron Acting Wingleader,” H’ned told him. “I know M’ric was your senior Wingsecond, but…well, he’s tainted by association, I’m afraid.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Sh’zon said dully. “Madellon leadership for a Madellon Wing.”

H’ned looked pained. “I don’t blame you for doing what you did,” he said. “I mean, in a personal sense. Faranth knows, you had a chance to be Weyrleader of your native Weyr, and you took it. But you understand I can’t be seen to be showing you any leniency. You’re not a popular man right now.”

Tell me something I don’t know, Sh’zon nearly snapped, but he just lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “I understand.”

He had other visitors. Tarshe brought him a new set of goggles and a dressing down. The goggles had dark tinted lenses to protect his eyes from the sunlight, and Sh’zon was grateful for them, but he could have done without his cousin’s angry tirade. “You’re a Thread-blighted idiot, cuz!” she shouted at him. “What in Faranth’s name did you think you were doing? You selfish, thoughtless numbwit! Did you even stop for one minute to think about the rest of us who can’t hear our ash-blasted dragons? Did you think no one would care that you stole the antidote for your own stupid selfish reasons? Faranth save us from the arrogance of shaffing bronze riders!”

It was at least cathartic to yell back at her, venting some of the anger and frustration that he’d been bottling since Ipith’s flight, and then, at last, when he’d finished ranting, to engulf her in a hug. “I’m sorry, girlie,” he said into her hair, hearing the misery and despair in his own voice. “I know. I’ve been a prize idiot. But it’s done now. It’s done.”

He didn’t say to her what he did say, later, to M’ric. “If the Peninsula doesn’t give me a chance, I’m finished. My name’s been dragged through the dirt here.”

M’ric shook his head when Sh’zon looked at him with the naked hope that he could offer some encouraging insight. “I don’t have anything to tell you. I don’t suppose it’s much comfort me pointing out that I was right about Kawanth flying his senior queen.”

“No sharding comfort at all, you miserable bastard.” But Sh’zon lacked the heart for real venom. “Have you heard anything at all?”

News from the Peninsula had been conspicuously sparse, even considering that Sh’zon wasn’t in a position to seek it out himself. The last he’d heard was that K’ken had asked each Wingleader to poll his riders’ opinion on the situation. Given how opinionated most Peninsula bronze riders were, it was no wonder nothing had been decided. But M’ric did have information. “Sirtis has got herself involved,” he said. “She’s arguing that Rallai showed poor judgement at best, wilful self-interest at worst, in letting Kawanth fly Ipith.”

“Oh, and that silly spit-bitch has never shown poor judgement or self-interest in who she lets fly Ranquiath,” Sh’zon scoffed. “The insidious little she-wher. She’s still sore that Ral was made senior over her. Can you imagine what a disaster Sirtis would be as Weyrwoman? Pah! Southern’s better off with a twelve-Turn-old on the queen that it ever would be with Sirtis in charge!”

But it was a different brown rider who, four days after Ipith’s flight, came to Sh’zon’s weyr with a missive, sealed with the black-and-ochre wax of the Peninsula. Sh’zon started to his feet when G’kalte appeared in the archway from Kawanth’s sleeping chamber. “You.” He said it with accusation, though not rancour.

“Bronze rider,” G’kalte said. He extended the message to him. “The Weyrwoman asked me to bring you this.”

“Rallai?” Sh’zon asked, snatching the letter and nearly tearing it in half in his haste to get it open.

“Valonna.”

Despite his anxiousness, Sh’zon spared G’kalte a long, baleful look. “She might not mind the way you’ve been sniffing around her,” he said flatly, “but you’ll not presume to call the Senior Weyrwoman by her name in front of me.”

“Weyrwoman Valonna,” G’kalte said, and had the grace to look chagrined. “Apologies, bronze rider. I didn’t mean any insult.”

“Not me you have to apologise to,” Sh’zon growled. “Now what in the Void is this?”

“It’s from the –”

“Peninsula Council.” Sh’zon spoke over him. He read the brief paragraph several times. It was a summons, requiring him to appear before a special session of the Council the following day. Not asking, requiring him. The officiousness of it made his teeth grind. He wanted to tear the page up and throw it on the floor, but G’kalte’s presence stopped him. Who knew what he might report back to the Peninsula? “Tell the Council it can expect us tomorrow.”

G’kalte nodded, but he didn’t leave. Sh’zon scowled at him. “Why are you still here? Go on, run along home. Don’t keep the precious Council waiting.” He narrowed his eyes. “Or are you going to stand there and tell me that you know what it is to love a Weyrwoman?”

G’kalte didn’t flinch. “I think I might have some understanding –”

“Ha! You come back in twenty Turns, boy, and maybe I’ll listen to you!”

“– but that’s not why I’m still here.” G’kalte met his eyes levelly. Sh’zon conceded, grudgingly, that the Wingsecond had more about him than most. “You’re not without allies at the Peninsula.”

That made Sh’zon pay attention. “Is that so.”

“You haven’t been gone so long that everyone’s forgotten you. And not everyone’s in favour of the alternative.”

“The alternative?” Sh’zon echoed. “Which is what?”

G’kalte’s brow wrinkled. “I don’t think I should say,” he said. “It might harm your chances tomorrow if it seems like you’ve got more out of me than I was sent to give.”

“My chances.” Sh’zon seized on that. “Then a decision hasn’t been made? I’m to have an opportunity to argue my case?”

G’kalte looked torn. “I…there isn’t a consensus. That’s all I can say, bronze rider.” He shrugged apologetically. “I’m just a Wingsecond. This is all well above my knots.”

“Aye, and you don’t get wind of anything above your knots while you’re flying courier between two Weyrwoman, I’ll bet,” Sh’zon said. He snorted, but more at himself than at G’kalte. “Well. I reckon I’ll see you tomorrow. One way or another.”

He didn’t sleep well that night. He turned and twisted in his furs, unable to find a comfortable place to settle, and when he did sleep, he dreamed.

He dreamed of a boy named Shaizon, a boy not quite fourteen, a boy who’d left his cothold in defiance of his father to answer Search, a boy who’d known from the moment he first set eyes upon the magnificent caldera of the Peninsula Weyr that he would, one day, be its Weyrleader.

“You’re not going,” his father had told him, when he’d come sprinting down the valley, shouting that the Search dragon up at the Hold had found him acceptable. “You’re the only boy of Sherdain’s line, and he’d turn in his sharding grave if I gave you away to the Weyr. No. Put the thought out of your head. Your place is here.”

But Shaizon’s heart had been set on it, so he’d forged Shondan’s chop on the chit that released him from his duties at home. He’d hiked up to the Hold Proper with no more than the clothes on his back to muster with the other Taive boys and girls who’d been chosen on Search.

He dreamed of a candidate who claimed no hold as his own, who declared when asked that where he came from didn’t matter, but that he would become a dragonrider or die trying, because he had nowhere but the Weyr to call home any more.

“You’re not going to Impress,” Fennidar, one of the Weyrbred boys, had said, when Shaizon was assigned to bunk in with him. “Too many candidates, not enough eggs, and Weyrbred always do better than Hold. It’s in our blood.”

But Shaizon’s heart had been set on it, so he’d pushed his way into the front rank of candidates circling Haeith’s clutch, so that when the dragonets began to Hatch they could not fail to see and consider him. The splendid bronze dragonet who had Hatched first had not only seen and considered him; he’d chosen him, and named himself to him: Kawanth.

He dreamed of a weyrling, Sh’zon now, who had told everyone he would graduate at the top of the class, and prove that it didn’t matter where he’d come from or how he’d got there.

“It’s no good,” K’tersan, the Weyrlingmaster, had told him. “I can’t fault your practical training, but you’ve always lagged behind F’dar in your written work, and that’s going to make all the difference when it comes to your final rankings. I’m sorry, Sh’zon. I wish the footing between Weyrbred and non-Weyrbred weyrlings were more even.”

But Sh’zon’s heart had been set on it, so he had enlisted the help of the strange brown rider, M’ric, to borrow the questions for the final written assessment from the Weyrlingmaster’s office, so that he could research every answer in advance of their examinations. When he scored ten points higher than any other weyrling, F’dar included, K’tersan had complimented him warmly on the application he had shown to his studies, and told him that every Wingleader would be seeking to tap him to their Wing on graduation.

He dreamed of a young bronze rider with two Turns as a wingrider behind him, keen to show himself capable of more when an opportunity for advancement presented itself.

“That Wingsecond slot is going to B’roggen,” V’lorm, the Weyrleader, had told him, when Sh’zon had begged him to be considered for the promotion. “He’s been waiting for that kick up to Wingsecond for a decade. He’s a career brown rider, and it’s his turn. You’re bronze. You’ll get your chance soon enough.”

But Sh’zon’s heart had been set on it, so he and M’ric had found out why B’roggen had been passed over for rank so many times, and quietly, quietly encouraged enough rumours to surface about an indiscretion with certain green weyrling some Turns previously that, when it came time for the Wingsecond’s role to be filled, V’lorm selected for youth and energy over dissolute experience.

He dreamed of a Wingsecond so in love with a queen rider that he could scarcely eat or sleep, dizzy with the thought of her, though she was older than him and seemed barely to know his name.

“Kawanth’s never going to catch Ipith,” his Wingleader, T’bret, had told him. “You were there the first time she rose. It was chaos. You can’t strategise for a mating flight with fifty bronzes giving chase. The luckiest dragon will win, not the best.”

But Sh’zon’s heart had been set on it, and so he had courted Rallai – persistently, determinedly. He had discovered her favourite flowers and filled her weyr with them; he had begged dances from her at Gathers and Hatchings; he had paid a Harper to write a poem for her and recited it to her on a moonlit evening. He had flattered and charmed and laughed her into giving him the chance he needed, and when Ipith had risen for the second time, Rallai’s regard for Sh’zon had given him all the luck he needed.

He dreamed of a Wingleader who had been an ambitious boy and a single-minded young rider and a volatile weyrwoman’s lover, whose lifelong goal of winning the Weyrleadership had three times come so tantalisingly close to fruition.

“I can’t trust you,” Rallai had said, the first time. “You’re still such a boy. You’ve never grown up!”

“Why did you let H’pold provoke you?” she’d demanded the second time. “I can’t let Kawanth win Ipith’s flight, with your family history hanging over you!”

“You idiot!” she had raged, the third time. “It was a closed flight! You can’t be Weyrleader now!”

But Sh’zon’s heart had been set on it. His heart had been set on it for twenty Turns of his life. In that time he’d done whatever he needed to do in pursuit of his dreams. He’d never flinched from an unpleasant necessity or a hard decision. He’d never hesitated to sacrifice lesser goals to the greater cause. He’d never balked at the thought of making enemies or losing friends.

He’d always done what he had to do.


In the morning, he rose unrested but resolute. Kawanth sensed his mood, not from shared thoughts, but from the firm touch of his hand. He stood to be harnessed, mirroring Sh’zon’s determination in the set of his shoulders and the lift of his head.

When they emerged from between above the Peninsula, the sight of the great coastal crater below gripped at Sh’zon’s heart, as it always had. It was his home. Madellon had done right by him, but it was not his Weyr. The Peninsula, with its fierce winter storms and its rippling ocean vistas, was where he belonged.

Every dragon, from the humblest green dragonet on the training grounds to Ipith herself, watched them descend. Kawanth inspected his queen boldly as he spiralled to land. Sh’zon didn’t need to be able to hear him to know what he was thinking. Tynerith might be the youngest, Ranquiath perhaps the most comely, but Ipith was splendidly dominant. She would not show in egg for months yet, but it gave Sh’zon a grim satisfaction to know that the unborn dragonets she carried within her were Kawanth’s get.

The watchdragon directed them where to land. Whomever had arranged the roster had been sure to put a bronze on duty – savvy enough to know that Kawanth would have ignored any lesser colour and landed as close to Ipith as she would permit. But he consented to touch down near the archway that led up to the Peninsula’s Council chamber, between another pair of bronzes: Zlanth, the Weyrlingmaster’s dragon, and Gunth, old B’rodd’s. Neither of them were formidable dragons, at least not any longer, and Sh’zon wondered why they had been chosen.

He got his answer soon enough. Gunth’s rider – a retired Wingleader in his eighth decade – hailed him before he’d even climbed down from Kawanth. “What’s this?” Sh’zon asked. He’d always been on fair terms with B’rodd. “I’d expected a gang of angry young riders still sore that Kawanth outflew them.”

B’rodd didn’t smile. “You can’t go in yet,” he said. “The Council’s already hearing the Weyrwoman Second’s case.”

“Case?” Sh’zon asked. “What case? What’s Sirtis got to do with the Weyrleadership”

B’rodd pressed his lips together in a disapproving line. “She’s challenging Rallai’s seniority.”

What?”

“You’re to give evidence. F’dalger’s presiding. You’ll be called in when they’re ready for you.”

B’rodd’s curt words didn’t really sink in. Sh’zon was completely nonplussed. “But I’m here to argue my right to be Weyrleader!”

“No,” B’rodd said. “You’re not.” There might have been sympathy in his voice. “Why don’t you sit down? They’re likely to be a while.”

Sh’zon sank onto the bench B’rodd indicated outside the archway. “I don’t understand,” he said at last. “Kawanth flew Ipith. He flew her!”

“Sh’zon,” B’rodd said, “it was a closed flight.”

“I’m not some stranger to the Peninsula!” Sh’zon protested. “I only went to Madellon because H’pold made me!”

“For what it’s worth,” said B’rodd, “I think your claim had merit. You are a Peninsula rider, and Kawanth is a Peninsula bronze. But for the circumstances, the Council might have been more inclined to confirm you regardless of the questionable legality of your participation in Ipith’s flight.”

Questionable legality?” Sh’zon repeated incredulously.

“Sirtis is claiming that Rallai acted against the sovereignty of the Peninsula by plotting for you to win Ipith’s flight. She’s making the case that Rallai’s judgement is impaired beyond her ability to serve as Senior Weyrwoman. ”

“Faranth’s teeth.”

B’rodd went on in a neutral tone. “She’s also alleging that Rallai’s original confirmation as senior Turns ago was illegal, and that she should rightfully have been named Senior Weyrwoman.”

“That’s complete whershit!” Sh’zon said. “Ipith was first to rise when Larvenia stepped down!”

“She was,” B’rodd agreed. “And if Larvenia held on long enough to make sure Ranquiath had already risen before she abdicated…well, she wouldn’t be the first Weyrwoman in history to manipulate the succession, would she?”

Sh’zon shook his head, unable to credit Sirtis’ mendaciousness. “How much support does she have?”

B’rodd shrugged. “Hard to say until the Council votes. She might have three or four Wingleaders willing to declare for her openly, but no more than that. No one wants to stick their neck out with the leadership in dispute. For my mark, Rallai’s not done anything to merit sanction.” He glanced sideways at Sh’zon. “Has she?”

“No!” Sh’zon exclaimed, before he’d even stopped to consider B’rodd’s meaning. He scowled. “Anyone who thinks Sirtis would do a better job as Weyrwoman than Rallai needs their head examining.”

“You’ll get no argument from me on that score, Sh’zon,” B’rodd agreed peaceably. “But more may ride on this than simply which queen rider is Senior.”

He was prevented from elaborating any more by K’ken’s appearance in the archway. “Wingleader,” he said, nodding to B’rodd, and then addressed Sh’zon. “If you’d come this way, they’re ready for you now.”

“Ready for what?” Sh’zon asked.

“Your testimony. If you’d follow me.”

The Council room was an impressive chamber. No table was large enough to seat all the Wingleaders of the biggest Weyr on Pern at its full strength of seven Flights. Even the Peninsula’s current complement of seventeen Wingleaders could not have fit around a single table. The normal configuration of the room seated them at tables forming three sides of a square, five Wingleaders to a side. The table on the raised dais at the fourth side would traditionally be occupied by the Weyrleader, his own Flight’s Wingleaders, and any other Weyr dignitaries who were in attendance. Sh’zon had seldom seen the room laid out differently.

It was different today.

F’dalger, the Peninsula’s Weyrlingmaster, was seated where the Weyrleader would ordinarily have been, at the centre of the table on the raised dais at the head of the room. He was flanked on one side by Natarre, the Weyr Singer, and on the other by an empty seat that could only have been K’ken’s place. A smaller platform had been set up on the floor in front of the dais with only a lectern upon it and no seat. In front of that, two tables had been arranged side by side; Rallai sat at one and Sirtis the other. Behind them, the Wingleader tables had been broken up and placed facing the dais in rows.

Sh’zon had seen the Council chamber arranged this way only a handful of times in his Turns as a Peninsula rider. He stopped in the doorway, balking at what he was being led into. “This isn’t a Council meeting,” he objected. “This is a Justice!”

“If you’d go to the stand, Sh’zon,” K’ken told him, indicating the unwelcoming platform at the foot of the dais.

“You’re trying the Weyrwoman?” Sh’zon hissed at him, still refusing to move. “On what sharding grounds?”

“Sirtis invoked her right to a hearing,” K’ken said. “And Rallai waived her right to refuse.”

Sh’zon sought Rallai’s gaze across the room. Her face was pale and still, but her eyes implored him to comply. It struck Sh’zon with a horrible certainty  that she was there because of him. He wished, not for the first time, or the fiftieth, he could call on Kawanth’s steadying presence.

He straightened his shoulders and strode across the Council chamber to the stand. He was glad, he decided perversely, that there was no chair. He didn’t think he could bear to be seated. He planted his hands on the lectern instead, wrapping his fingers around the edges of the wood. As he did, K’ken quietly resumed his place on the dais.

“Bronze rider Sh’zon,” said F’dalger, from his place at the high seat. He had never been Sh’zon’s Weyrlingmaster, and they’d never served together, but Sh’zon thought they’d always respected one another. “Please state your full name and rank for the record.”

Sh’zon threw a glance at Natarre. The Peninsula’s Master Harper was writing in the rapid strokes of Harper shorthand. “Sh’zon, bronze rider of Kawanth,” he said. “Formerly of the Peninsula Weyr. Currently posted to Madellon Weyr.”

F’dalger raised his eyes from his notes. “Is that your full rank and title, bronze rider?”

Sh’zon had to fight not to look down where his rank knots should have been. “It is, Presider.”

The soft ripple that passed through the room dismayed him. News of his demotion at Madellon clearly hadn’t reached the Peninsula. He could hardly have lied about it, but perhaps he could have avoided mentioning it in some way. Rallai’s impassive mask didn’t falter, but Sh’zon chanced to look at Sirtis, and her demeanour unsettled him. Sirtis had dressed both soberly and magnificently for the occasion. There could be no mistaking the expense of the shimmering Peninsula-sand satin of her gown, yet its cut was imperious, eschewing the flirty, girlish touches that usually characterised her attire. Sh’zon tore his eyes away from her, knowing he’d scowl if she met his gaze.

“Bronze rider,” F’dalger said. “As Presider, it’s my duty to inform you that your testimony today may be construed as evidence of illegal action on your part. As such, you are not obliged to give any testimony that may cause you to implicate yourself. If you wish to exercise your right to hold your peace, you may do so now.”

It was a chilling warning, but Sh’zon didn’t let his apprehension show. “I’m no coward, sir,” he said. “I’ll speak the truth, and if it condemns me, then it condemns me an honourable man.”

“Very well,” said F’dalger. “Weyrwoman Second.”

Sirtis rose from her place. Her eyes were bright and fervent with the occasion. “Sh’zon,” she said, denying him even the courtesy of his humblest title, “when you contested senior queen Ipith’s mating flight this past sevenday, were you aware of the illegality of your participation?”

“The what?” Sh’zon asked.

“The illegality,” Sirtis repeated. “Punishable under Weyr law.”

Sh’zon straightened his shoulders. “No, Weyrwoman, I was not.”

“Then you believed that Ipith’s flight was open.”

“I didn’t know it was closed,” Sh’zon said. “Not to me.”

“Not to you.” Sirtis seized on that. “What gave you the impression that Weyr law didn’t apply to you, Sh’zon?”

“I don’t know which law you mean.”

Sirtis stabbed her hand down at a record hide that lay open on the table before her. “‘A rider not of the Peninsula may not take part in a queen flight –’”

“I am a rider of the Peninsula,” Sh’zon insisted.

“‘– except under the following circumstances.’” Sirtis glared at him for the interruption, then went on. “‘Where a bronze rider of another Weyr has inadvertently been drawn into a queen’s flight during a visit to the Peninsula.’ Was this the case, Sh’zon? Were you and Kawanth drawn into Ipith’s flight against your will?”

Sh’zon blinked at Sirtis. Was she trying to lure him into claiming something that wasn’t true to trip him up? Punishable under Weyr law. “No,” he said, “but –”

“‘Where the flight has been declared open to riders of other Weyrs, the specific conditions of participation in such flights being defined at the time of that declaration.’” Sirtis looked at him again, raising her eyebrows. “Were you, then, under the impression that Ipith’s flight had been thrown open to other Weyrs?”

That thought hadn’t occurred to Sh’zon at all. He could feel himself sweating. He shook his head. “No.”

“‘Or where a bronze or brown rider of another Weyr has been specifically invited to participate in the flight, such inclusions being possible only at the special request of the queen’s rider.’” Sirtis fixed him with a piercing look. “Then Weyrwoman Rallai specifically invited you to participate in Ipith’s flight.”

It was the final condition under which Kawanth’s pursuit of Ipith could have been legal. Sh’zon wanted to look at Rallai, but consulting her would have damaged his credibility. He wished, yet again, that he could speak to Kawanth. Rallai’s remark to him, the night before the luncheon at Long Bay, flashed through his mind. Shai. Don’t make me have to choose H’pold a third time. She had invited him. She’d challenged him to prove himself worthy of her by being worthy of Valonna. She’d wanted to choose him. “She –”

“Forgive me, bronze rider,” K’ken said suddenly, from his place beside F’dalger. “I believe the Weyrwoman Second may inadvertently have omitted the last part of that final condition. Weyrwoman, if you’d perhaps unroll your scroll there a little more…”

The look Sirtis tossed at K’ken was venomous. Rancorously, she unrolled the record hide. Her voice was flat. “‘Or where a bronze or brown rider of another Weyr has been specifically invited to participate in the flight, such inclusions being possible only at the special request of the queen’s rider and ratified by the Council.’”

A murmur went through the room, and Sh’zon clenched his hands tight around the lectern, staring at Sirtis. The bitch had tried to entrap him! And then he realised that while Sirtis had set the snare for him to blunder into, it had been intended to destroy not his reputation, but Rallai’s. Angry heat raced through him, and it took all the self-control he had not to call out Sirtis’ treachery right there. He took a deep breath. “No, Sirtis,” he said, and didn’t care if she objected to his refusal to use her title. “Weyrwoman Rallai did not invite me to participate in Ipith’s flight. That decision was mine and my dragon’s, and ours alone. We came to chase Ipith and to win her.” He deliberately looked past Sirtis, meeting the gazes of one watching Wingleader after another. “And win her we did!”

He expected the room to erupt at his defiant statement. It didn’t. Some of the faces he saw looked as critical as he had thought they would, but not all, nor as many as he would have imagined, given how his assertion rubbed their noses in Kawanth’s superiority. It threw him almost more than blanket outrage would have. “If we broke Weyr law, then we broke it, and we’ll accept the consequences,” he went on. “But we transgressed alone.”

Sirtis’ face was thunderous, but she didn’t seem vanquished. “Those are fine words, Sh’zon,” she said, her pitch a fraction higher than it had been. “But it’s clear that you’re protecting Rallai.”

“Are you calling me a liar, Sirtis?”

“Your testimony doesn’t match the facts,” Sirtis said. “How did you know that Ipith was rising to mate that morning?”

Sh’zon scoffed at that, as much out of genuine incredulity as to buy himself an instant’s thinking time. “You think news of a queen’s rising doesn’t spread faster than a Threadscore?”

“She rose early in forenoon,” Sirtis pointed out. “It would have been the middle of the night at Madellon.”

Sh’zon returned her look flatly. “I happened to be awake. I don’t sleep so well these days.”

“Kawanth had already blooded his kill when he got to the Peninsula,” Sirtis said, and that did make the assembly mutter. “How did he have time for that, if you didn’t have prior warning of Ipith’s rising? Admit it, Sh’zon! Rallai told you Ipith would rise! She tipped you off so you could be ready!”

“She did no such blighted thing!” Sh’zon roared. If he hadn’t already been standing, he’d have leapt to his feet. “What is it you’re accusing us of, Sirtis? Why don’t you just spit it out, you perfidious bitch?”

He had a moment’s satisfaction as Sirtis recoiled from that slur. “Bronze rider!” F’dalger barked from the dais. “You’ll remember your manners!”

Between with manners, sir!” Sh’zon snapped. “I won’t suffer the Weyrwoman’s honour to be sullied with this whershit!”

“You may call it whershit, Sh’zon,” Sirtis said, evidently recovered from her shock. “I call it whitewash. You and Rallai thought you could flout Weyr law by scheming to have Kawanth win Ipith’s flight, and have no one here question you!”

“We never schemed! I already told you, the decision to come was mine and Kawanth’s!”

“And I challenge that assertion! You couldn’t have acted alone. By refusing to confess that you were Rallai’s accomplice, you –”

“Her accomplice?” Sh’zon burst out. “Her accomplice in what?”

“A coup,” Sirtis said triumphantly. “A coup against the sovereign laws of the Peninsula Weyr that began seven Turns ago when Rallai was confirmed as Senior Weyrwoman. You and she have been plotting to seize this Weyr for yourselves for Turns.”

“Oh, and now it comes out,” said Sh’zon. “You’re still sore that you weren’t made Senior.”

“I should have been!” Sirtis cried, and the shrillness of her voice betrayed how desperate she had become. “Haeith was barren and Ranquiath was next to rise! Ranquiath, not Ipith!”

She turned the force of her anger and bitterness away from Sh’zon and towards the Council at large with that anguished accusation. It was a mistake. Sh’zon discerned that instantly. His mind raced. “Then your case isn’t against Weyrwoman Rallai,” he said, into the shifting unease. “It’s against Weyrwoman Larvenia for delaying her abdication until after Ranquiath’s flight. Or is it the Peninsula Council you’re accusing of foul play? Most of whom are still sitting in this assembly today?”

Colour had flamed to Sirtis’ cheeks. “No,” she insisted. “It’s Rallai who convinced Larvenia to wait!”

“Every rider here knows that Weyrwoman Larvenia wasn’t likely to be convinced of anything she didn’t believe herself,” Sh’zon said.

“Then she was wrong!” Sirtis’ increasing desperation was bleeding through her defiance. “And the clutches have proved it. Ranquiath clutched a queen! How can Ipith be worthy of seniority when she’s never even laid a gold egg?”

“Weyrwoman Second Sirtis,” F’dalger said, in the Weyrlingmaster growl that could freeze a weyrling at a dragonlength. “This accusation falls outside the scope of this assembly.”

“You see?” Sirtis said, ignoring F’dalger and seeking out individual riders in the sea of Wingleaders. “It’s as I said. It was a whitewash!

“If you have any further testimony that pertains to the matter of Ipith’s recent flight, by all means let it be heard,” said F’dalger. “But if you had issue with the manner of Weyrwoman Rallai’s confirmation as Senior, the time to raise it was seven Turns ago. Not now.”

Sirtis drew herself up. “Very well.” She levelled an accusing finger at Rallai. “I assert that Weyrwoman Rallai sought to install her own chosen candidate for Weyrleader over a Peninsula rider. She deliberately informed Sh’zon of Ipith’s condition to give him time to prepare, and notice to attend close enough to Ipith’s rising that he couldn’t be turned away. In inviting a foreign bronze rider, favouring his dragon to win, and then expecting the Peninsula to accept an unlawful winner as Weyrleader, Rallai has, at best, shown an ignorance for Weyr law unbecoming of a Senior Weyrwoman, and at worst, demonstrated a flagrant disregard for it.” The speech was too carefully rehearsed not to have been pre-prepared, and Sirtis’ tone steadied as she went on. “As a result of Rallai’s failure to ensure the appointment of a legitimate Weyrleader, the Peninsula has no leadership at a time when the Weyrs of southern Pern are in a crisis such as they have never faced before. I implore the Peninsula Council, therefore, to annul Weyrwoman Rallai’s seniority, and appoint an alternative queen rider of the Peninsula in her place, as it sees fit.”

F’dalger waited to see if Sirtis had anything more to say. When she didn’t, the Weyrlingmaster looked at Rallai. “Weyrwoman, do you wish to question bronze rider Sh’zon?”

“No, Presider,” said Rallai. “I have no questions for him.”

“Very well.” F’dalger looked out over the Council chamber. “Bronze riders of the Council, you’ve heard the Weyrwoman Second’s claims, Weyrwoman Rallai’s defence, and bronze rider Sh’zon’s testimony. Judgement in this matter falls now to you. Any who concur with Weyrwoman Second’s claim that Weyrwoman Rallai acted wilfully against the interests of the Peninsula Weyr in Ipith’s recent flight, please rise.”

For a long, drawn-out moment, Sh’zon thought that no one would support Sirtis. Then a chair scraped back. Every eye in the room went to its occupant as he rose. K’sorren. Sh’zon might have known. The arrogant young bronze rider had been Sirtis’ weyrmate for Turns, and she’d only recently turned him out of her bed. Doubtless he hoped to win his way back into her favour with his support.

Two more Wingleaders stood from their places: C’eena and M’roka. Bad losers, both of them. C’eena’s Tserth had almost won Ipith once before; M’roka’s Kapriath had never come close. Perhaps they fancied they had a better chance with Ranquiath.

Then, as if encouraged by the others, a further two Wingleaders stood. One was Z’denk, an ageing rider whose bronze could never have hoped to catch either queen. Sh’zon didn’t understand what grievance he could have with Rallai. The other was T’neb, one of H’pold’s old Wingseconds, made up to Wingleader himself in the aftermath of H’pold’s death, if his presence here were to be credited.

F’dalger scanned the room for any further motion, and then nodded curtly. “Five for, twelve against. Weyrwoman Rallai is exonerated.”

Sh’zon happened to be watching Rallai as F’dalger formalised the verdict of the assembled bronze riders. Her expressionless mask had never slipped, but she closed her eyes for a moment, her relief plain.

“Scorch you all!” Sirtis cried, springing from her seat and turning on the room. “One of you could have been Weyrleader in less than a Turn when Ranquiath rises again!”

“Your grievance has been heard, Weyrwoman Second,” F’dalger reminded her. “You’ll respect the Council’s decision, or leave.”

“Respect it?” Sirtis spat. “I don’t know why I expected anything different to the travesty of justice that made Rallai Senior in the first place! Blight you all to the Void!”

She spun so quickly that she knocked over her chair, and strode out of the Council chamber. Every rider in the room watched her go, and then a cacophony of excited conversation broke out all at once as the assembled Wingleaders debated what had just happened.

F’dalger allowed it only for a few moments. “Council members,” he called, and then, in his full parade-ground boom, “Your attention!”

The buzz died nearly as quickly as it had begun as the Wingleaders attended him. “Our business here isn’t concluded,” F’dalger said. “As bronze rider Sh’zon waived his right not to implicate himself, we have heard testimony which makes the illegality of his participation in Ipith’s flight plain. Bronze rider. Do you have anything further to say?”

Sh’zon wrenched his shoulders back as the attention of the Council fell on him. “It’s as I’ve said,” he said. “If I broke Weyr law, then I’ll accept the consequences. I didn’t break it wilfully. I didn’t set out to cause the Peninsula strife. Blight it all, that’s the last thing I’d ever want. You know me, all of you, better than that. No matter what knots I’ve been wearing the last Turn, this is my Weyr. The Weyr that gave me my dragon. The Weyr I’ve served for twenty Turns. The Weyr I love. Maybe I’m not a Peninsula rider in the eyes of the law. Maybe I’m not in your eyes. But I am in my heart, in my blood and my bones. I’ve served Madellon as honestly as an outsider ever could, but I’ll never love another Weyr the way I love the Peninsula.” He let his eyes slide over to Rallai. “Or the way I’ve loved its Weyrwoman. I’m sorry for what I did, but not for why I did it. So if I’ve done wrong, then I’ve done wrong in the name of love. Love for my dragon. Love for my Weyrwoman. Love for my Weyr.”

Sirtis’ speech had been rehearsed. Sh’zon’s hadn’t. The words burst out of him like blood from a wound, bright and painful and scarlet. He couldn’t have given them more of the truth of himself had he torn the still-beating heart from his chest and placed it before them. He looked around at the Wingleaders who’d been his friends and rivals and comrades-in-arms for most of his life; not expecting them to forgive him, but hoping they would believe him.

“Do you deny that your participation in Ipith’s flight was illegal under Peninsula law, Sh’zon?” F’dalger asked.

“No.” Sh’zon spoke heavily. “I can’t.”

F’dalger leafed through the notes in front of him. “There are very few precedents for this situation. It’s not unknown for an ineligible dragon to fly a queen of his own Weyr.” He aimed a pointed look at K’sorren, who had still been a weyrling when his Solstorth had flown Ranquiath for the first time. “The penalty for a rider who broke Weyr law in allowing his dragon to fly a foreign queen is not clear. Much less when that queen was senior.” His tone was almost conversational. Sh’zon found the informality jarring to his strained nerves. “However, any Weyr wronged by a rider of another Weyr has the right to demand reparations from that rider. During an Interval, that includes requiring the transfer of such an offender so that he may make amends for his transgression.”

A slow hope began to build in Sh’zon’s chest. “You’re transferring me back here?”

F’dalger didn’t exactly smile, but his expression could have been more stern. “Subject to the consent of your superiors, you’ll be required to serve the term of your sentence here at the Peninsula. On completion of that term, Madellon may reclaim you, or you may seek permanent reassignment to the Peninsula, or to any other Weyr of Pern.”

“And my sentence?” Sh’zon asked.

For the first time, F’dalger turned to K’ken. The two riders spoke in soft voices for a moment, and then F’dalger said, “You’ll serve the Peninsula Weyr for a period of no less than two Turns, on half stipend.”

Sh’zon would gladly have given up all his stipend for a chance to return to the Peninsula. Two Turns on half pay was nothing. “In what capacity?”

“That will be for the Weyrleader to decide, and the Council to verify,” said F’dalger. He looked at the assembled Wingleaders. “Weyrwoman Sirtis was correct in her assessment of the state of southern Pern. We are three Weyrs without Weyrleaders. It is not unheard of for a Weyr to lack a Weyrleader during periods of transition, but this is as critical a time for the Peninsula as any outside of a Pass. Pern’s dragonets are losing the ability to go between; our own Weyrwoman, and Madellon’s Weyrwoman Valonna, are still dragon-deaf; Southern and Madellon have both lost their Weyrleaders. This is a time of upheaval, gentlemen, and in such times our riders look to you, their Council.” He paused. “Over the last few days you’ve all spoken with your wingriders. The overwhelming consensus that you have reported back is the desire for stability and leadership. No rider wants to wait another three Turns for a new Weyrleader to be selected in Ipith’s next flight.”

Every rider in the room had gone still, listening intently. Sh’zon was among them. The fact that the Council hadn’t simply ordered him to leave was telling. He could not be confirmed as Weyrleader in spite of Kawanth’s victory because he was considered a Madellon rider, and yet there he still was, in the Peninsula’s Council chamber, listening to F’dalger slowly laying out the Weyr’s future.

“There are many precedents for the governance of a Weyr which has no Weyrleader,” F’dalger continued. “In the Sixth Pass, Telgar Weyr opted to be governed entirely by its Council for two Turns when its Weyrleader died in office eight months into his premiership. Igen and Benden both underwent periods of leadership by former Weyrleaders when the incumbent was incapacitated or killed in service. Madellon Weyr, as we have seen, has been governed since the disappearance of Weyrleader T’kamen by his chosen deputies; bronze rider Sh’zon among them.” That prompted a pleasing little murmur; once again, Sh’zon’s suspicions that there was more to this Council than met the eye sharpened.

“Yet the Peninsula has fewer options than those Weyrs enjoyed,” F’dalger went on. “Had H’pold still been among us today, he would have been entitled to seek re-confirmation as the incumbent Weyrleader; but he is not. There is little appetite among our riders for leadership by committee, especially at a time of such upheaval amongst the Weyrs of southern Pern.”

Then F’dalger turned to where K’ken had been sitting quietly for the duration of the meeting. “But as Deputy to two previous Weyrleaders, Wingleader K’ken has both right and responsibility to assume command.” He inclined his head to the other bronze rider. “Deputy Weyrleader. Will you accept this charge?”

K’ken stood slowly. He didn’t look delighted by the appointment. His lined face betrayed instead an enormous weariness. “I will, Presider.”

“Bronze riders of the Council,” F’dalger said, turning back to the room. “Will you please rise to indicate your ratification of Deputy Weyrleader K’ken as Peninsula Weyrleader.”

About half the Wingleaders stood up straight away. Half of those who didn’t rose a moment later at a more measured pace. Four remained in their seats: P’kesker, D’lane, I’scal and N’met. Their opposition surprised Sh’zon; they were all solid Wingleaders, none of them with any axe to grind with K’ken that he could imagine. Then D’lane stood, and N’met. I’scal joined them after a moment. Finally, and with a great show of reluctance, P’kesker dragged himself to his feet.

It was a curiously subdued ratification, but then Sh’zon supposed that any rider who became Weyrleader by appointment rather than by right couldn’t expect a rapturous reception. It was good enough for F’dalger. “Thank you, gentlemen,” he said. He looked at Rallai, who had been listening quietly. “Weyrwoman. Have you any objection to K’ken’s appointment?”

It was mere courtesy – the Weyrwoman had no power to override a Council decision – but Rallai replied softly, “No, Presider, I do not.”

F’dalger rose from his seat. He had the Weyrleader’s rank knot in his hands. He fastened it around K’ken’s shoulder with sober ceremony. “Weyrleader K’ken.”

“Weyrleader K’ken,” the assembled Wingleaders repeated, some with more enthusiasm than others.

If K’ken was stung by the lukewarm response, he didn’t show it. As F’dalger ceded the floor to him, he looked out at his Wingleaders with a troubled expression. “It was nearly forty Turns ago that Essienth received the wing injury that distinguishes him today,” he said. “I was a young rider of eighteen or nineteen. When the Dragon Healers told me that he’d never been the fast flier he’d once been, I was devastated. We’d never be able to win a queen, never sire a clutch, never contest a senior flight. Eighteen Turns old, and my life was quite clearly over.” He smiled. “Young bronze riders are such dramatic creatures, aren’t they?”

Sh’zon snorted softly, and some of the assembled Wingleaders chuckled.

“But what I came to realise as the Turns passed was that Essienth’s injury wasn’t a limitation,” K’ken went on. “It was a liberation. It made me free in a way that no bronze rider with a perfect dragon could claim to be; free of the expectation that every bronze rider labours under from the moment he Impresses his dragon: the pressure to vie for the Weyrleadership. I watched bronze riders who should never have become Weyrleader win that role on the brute strength of their dragons, and bronze riders who could have been legendary leaders miss out. I watched that failure eat bronze riders alive. But I, with my wing-damaged bronze; I was free of it. Or so I thought.

“I’ve served the Peninsula as deputy to two Weyrleaders, but I served at their pleasure, not by consent of the Weyr. You’ve done me the great honour of ratifying my appointment as Weyrleader today, and I will serve this Weyr in that capacity with all my strength, but still, I serve only by appointment. I have no mandate derived either from the might of my dragon or the collective will of the Peninsula. History tells us that the Weyrleaders who step in when circumstances force it seldom distinguish themselves. The Peninsula deserves better than a caretaker Weyrleader.

“Kawanth flew Ipith. Under only slightly different circumstances, Sh’zon would be standing here now with this knot on his shoulder.” A rumble rolled around the room, comprised to Sh’zon’s ears of equal parts approval and criticism, and K’ken held his hands up to forestall an outburst. “Some of you believe he should be, regardless of the legality of his victory. Some of you think he should be barred from ever holding rank at the Peninsula again. Some of you have misgivings with either extreme, for all kinds of reasons. The arguments back and forth have consumed this Weyr for most of the last sevenday. While half the Peninsula believes Sh’zon a hero and the other half a scoundrel, no Weyrleader – including me – can hope to govern effectively. For all of our sake, they have to stop.

“Sh’zon broke the law. He cannot be ratified as Weyrleader. But there is another capacity in which he can serve the Peninsula, for the duration of his sentence.”

K’ken paused then, for a long moment, and Sh’zon felt all the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as, one by one, each Wingleader turned to look at him.

Then, finally, K’ken said, “Bronze rider Sh’zon. I should like to appoint you Deputy Weyrleader of the Peninsula Weyr.”

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