Chapter sixty-eight: Sarenya
A stupid liar will always be caught out eventually. A clever liar will only be caught if, on some level, he wants to be.
– Harper saying
Atath and Goldevath were on duty when Sarenya arrived at the elevator station with her carry-sack over her shoulder. Though they were visibly still juveniles, yet to reach their full height or fill out their frames – what, in race-runner parlance, Sarenya would have described as unfurnished – they were just as clearly no longer just dragonets. At a Turn of age, some of them would be mature enough to mate soon. It was hard to reconcile the waist-high hatchlings Sarenya had first tended a few hours after their Hatching with the imposing young dragons she saw now.
M’touf and W’lenze were playing cards on the bench under the station’s overhang. “Chance of a lift?” Sarenya called to them.
The two weyrlings looked up from their game. W’lenze stared at Sarenya for a moment, then looked at M’touf, saying something too low and urgent for Sarenya to hear. M’touf frowned at the younger boy, and shoved him in the shoulder, not hard, but in disgust. “Where to, journeyman?”
“Trebruth’s weyr,” said Sarenya.
M’touf wrote the assignment on the elevator board with the bit of chalk that hung from it on a string, then brushed off his hands. “Right this way.”
Sarenya followed the tall boy towards his dragon. She hadn’t intended to draw attention to W’lenze’s behaviour, but as they reached Atath, M’touf turned to her and said, “Ignore him. He’s an idiot.”
“It’s all right,” Sarenya said lightly.
M’touf snorted. “It’s bloody rude and bloody ignorant is what it is.”
Sarenya nearly smiled. After two sevendays of being openly snubbed by more than half the dragonriders she met, she was used to the chilly reception. “I’m sure it’s not meant that way.”
“I saw how you were with Sejanth, when Atath was in the infirmary,” said M’touf. “You couldn’t have looked after that dragon better if he’d been your own. It’s not your fault he loved you.”
That was so unexpected, Sarenya almost couldn’t answer for the sudden lump in her throat. She swallowed it back, and said quietly, “It was my privilege to tend him. I never imagined he’d be able to hear me from so far away.”
“Well, that’s dragons for you,” said M’touf. “They like who they like. Anyway, Sejanth was on his last legs, the poor old sod. At least he got to go outside again one last time before he died.” He vaulted up to Atath’s neck, and then asked his dragon to dip her shoulder so Sarenya could mount behind him.
It only took half a minute for the green dragon to convey them up to Trebruth’s weyr. “No one’s home,” said M’touf.
“That’s all right,” said Sarenya. “This won’t take long. Will you wait a few minutes?”
M’touf reached back to unhook the safety he’d looped around Sarenya’s waist. “We’ll be here.”
The weyr was empty, as Sarenya had known it would be. She’d watched the dragons of Ops Wing form up behind Trebruth and then disappear in unison less than half an hour ago. Sarenya wasn’t given to sneaking, as a rule, but she’d left things in M’ric’s weyr that she wanted back, and she didn’t want to have to ask him for them, She didn’t want to talk to him at all. Even the sight of him, or of Trebruth, from afar made her stomach clench in a way she didn’t think was good for her health. So, while she wasn’t making a secret of her visit to his weyr, she’d timed it so she wouldn’t have to encounter him there. Still, she didn’t like the necessity of it. She resolved to go in, do what had to be done, and then get out with as little fuss as possible.
She dumped out the contents of her carry-sack on the small table by M’ric’s cold hearth first. Then she went directly to his bathing room, where she’d left a few personal items. One of them was a small packet of goldwort. She didn’t let herself dwell on it, stuffing it in the bottom of her bag with the other toilet items.
Next, she emptied the drawer in M’ric’s chest that had become hers. There were only a few items – a spare shirt, underthings, half a shoulder-cord she hadn’t finished braiding. The basket on the hearth which Sleek shared with Agusta had the chewed remains of one of the message bands Sarenya had been trying to train her fire-lizard to accept. She left that where it was.
There was a record on race-runner feed that she’d been reading in the evenings, a mug from the cothold that she’d forgotten she’d left in M’ric’s weyr, and a broken headstall from a bridle he’d offered to repair for her. He had repaired it, Sarenya noticed, when she found the piece of tack with his leather-working kit, but she didn’t let herself dwell on that, either.
When she was finished, she crossed back to the table to look at the items of M’ric’s she’d brought with her. He hadn’t left as many things with her as she had with him. An shirt of his that Sarenya had sometimes slept in, down in the cot. A razor and comb. His old two-stripe epaulettes.
And the beautiful blue velvet dress he’d bought her at the Long Bay Gather. Saren brushed the soft pile of the fabric with her fingers, remembering that night, even through the fog of alcohol. Drinking the vintage Benden wine that had gone to her head; listening to the Harpers play as she hadn’t heard music played her entire life; dancing with her handsome brown rider, who’d made her promise not to dance with anyone else. And she hadn’t. She hadn’t.
She twisted her fingers in the fabric, though her thoughts turned inwards, to the child she had, reluctantly, begun to believe might be growing there. The child M’ric had sired. The child M’ric didn’t want. The child M’ric had tried to stop before it could even get started.
Sarenya realised she was clenching her teeth so hard her jaw ached. She made herself stop, and disentangled her fingers from the velvet dress. She loved it. It was fine and rich and beautiful. It had wrapped her in softness and luxury. But it would be no good for her, where she hoped to go.
Sarenya still recoiled from the word. If she’d been struggling with the question of her future before, then her pregnancy, and M’ric’s reaction to it, had made it even more complicated. On the one hand, the case Arrense had made for her to leave Madellon had become more compelling in the wake of her separation from M’ric. On the other, her condition could only harm her prospects. She faced bias already merely for being a female Beastcrafter; as a pregnant, unmarried female Beastcrafter, that bias would increase tenfold. The fact that her unborn child was dragonspawn would only throw the fact that she had embraced the morals of the Weyr into sharper relief. But she could hardly conceal her condition – at least, not for long, and that would only delay a confrontation. If she meant to leave Madellon for a new assignment, she would have to be upfront about her pregnancy – and that could put an end to either of the plum posts Arrense had set up for her. She’d worked through her options mentally a dozen times, and each time dispirited her more than the last.
Stay at Madellon. Have the child. Raise it there.
The Weyr didn’t throw out the women who bore its riders’ children, as long as they were willing to pull their weight. The childcare available in the lower caverns freed Madellon’s women, riders and non-riders alike, to pursue tasks other than full-time child-rearing. But it would mean staying at Madellon indefinitely, staying within M’ric’s orbit, staying somewhere Arrense had insisted was a bad place for her. And it would put an end to any hope Sarenya had of progressing in her Craft.
Have the child. Foster it at the Weyr. Then leave.
There were plenty of children in the crèche who barely knew their birth parents, or cared to. Fostering was common even among the non-rider women, and Madellon’s most sought-after foster-mothers were regarded just as highly as the best cooks and gardeners and seamstresses. There was no stigma to handing over the care of one’s children to a woman with a proven talent for child-rearing. But something in Sarenya balked at the thought of simply giving away a child – washing her hands of it. Her baby had already been rejected by its father. It seemed cruel to allow a child to grow up knowing that neither of its parents had wanted it.
Accept a new posting. Have the child. Find a way.
It was both the option Sarenya most wanted to take, and the one she thought least achievable. She’d received offers not only from Master Benallen at Kirken Hold, but from Masters Jauro at Southern Hold and Greflink at Rosken, too. Southern paid the most, Rosken by some margin the least – Sarenya suspected Greflink had only made the offer grudgingly – but Kirken was much the most attractive assignment. It just seemed a forlorn hope that Sarenya could aspire to such a desirable posting with a child in tow.
She’d spent two days composing a letter to Benallen: thanking him for his offer, explaining her situation, asking him to consider taking her on anyway. It had been sitting in a drawer for another four. She’d gone so far as to take it to the message station to have it sent, and then, having handed it and the quarter mark payment for its delivery to the Wingsecond on duty, lost her nerve. She’d snatched the letter back out of the brown rider’s grasp, and left so quickly she’d forgotten to reclaim her mark. Once that letter was sent, her cards were all on the table. If Benallen withdrew his offer on the basis of Sarenya’s pregnancy, the Hall would want to know why, and it would spread through the Craft on the wings of its ingrained gender discrimination. Whatever happened subsequently, the incident would affect Sarenya’s professional standing for the rest of her life.
And there was one more option that would change everything.
Take a long stay between. Pretend it never happened.
There was a simple logic to it that couldn’t be dismissed. If she shook the babe loose, all the barriers hemming her in would suddenly fall away again. There’d be no reason for Benallen to withdraw the assignment, no call for her to stay at Madellon, no need for her to abandon her goal of earning Mastery of her craft. She’d be free again. It wasn’t as if she’d wanted to get pregnant; she’d been taking precautions to avoid such an occurrence for Turns, however ineffective. Nor would it mean she couldn’t conceive again in the future, at a better time, when she was in a more stable place, with a man who wouldn’t disown their offspring. And she wasn’t even eight sevendays along yet; with her Beastcrafter sensibilities, she shouldn’t feel much connection to something no bigger than a bean and so tenuous that she might have miscarried it naturally without even knowing it had been there.
So why did it feel like such a wretched, cowardly, selfish indulgence even to be considering it?
M’touf’s shout made her startle out of her preoccupation. How long had she been standing there in M’ric’s weyr? “I’m just coming, green rider,” she called back.
The worst of it was that she had no one to talk to. M’ric and Isnan – and possibly the dispensary apprentice – were the only ones who knew about her pregnancy. She didn’t want anyone else to know before she’d made her decision, one way or the other: not Jarrisam, not Vhion, not Valonna. Whatever she decided – continue the pregnancy or terminate it, leave Madellon or stay – she wanted there to be no hint that she’d agonised over it. When all the choices were bad ones, the appearance of resoluteness at least permitted face to be saved.
She was reminded unavoidably of other occasions when her pride had dictated a decisive course of action: both times, when she’d left T’kamen. The last time, a Turn ago, when he’d allowed the pressures of the Weyrleadership to make him insensitive, and she’d allowed vanity to trump her love for him. And the first time, when they’d turned their anger and disappointment on each other as only proud, stupid young people could. She’d left the Weyr then, and never let slip any suggestion that she’d regretted it.
Except to C’mine, the one constant tying her first stay at Madellon Weyr to the second; the one rider she’d seen, albeit infrequently, in the seven intervening Turns; the one person on all of Pern she’d trusted with her heartbreak. T’kamen had brought Sarenya to the Weyr, but C’mine had helped her leave. And it struck her, with an irresistible symmetry, that since T’kamen had brought her back to Madellon the second time, C’mine was the right rider to help her escape it again.
She walked back out onto Trebruth’s ledge. M’touf was slouching against Atath’s side. He straightened as she approached. “Want us to drop you down to the Beastcraft cot?”
“Actually, I wonder if you could tell me where C’mine and Darshanth are,” said Sarenya.
M’touf frowned in concentration for a moment, and then said, “They’re down by the lake.” He pointed.
“Could you drop me close to them?”
“If you want,” M’touf replied. “C’mine’s gone a bit funny, though, you know. Since the Gather at Long Bay. A bit…” He made a circular motion with one finger at the side of his head.
“I’d heard,” Sarenya replied. She didn’t ask for details. She’d heard enough gossip and speculation about C’mine’s frame of mind; she didn’t need to know what a weyrling thought of it.
“Shame really,” M’touf said. “I liked having him as L’stev’s assistant. You could get away with anything. A’len’s more of a hard case.” He shrugged. “Not going to matter to me much longer, though. I’m off to Igen.”
“Igen?” Sarenya asked.
“Since it looks like Atath’s the only Wildfire dragon who can go between,” said M’touf. “Igen’s weyrlings are six sevendays older than her, but there’s not much point me staying here, is there?”
He said it as if the notion of transferring out of Madellon had been his own. Sarenya doubted that was the case. Still, getting away from certain members of Wildfire class would probably do M’touf good. “Well, good luck at Igen,” she said. “I hope you’ll both be happy there.”
Atath set her down a couple of dragonlengths from where Darshanth was resting on the sand, visibly damp from a bath. C’mine was sitting on a bench nearby. Sarenya dismounted, thanked M’touf and his dragon, and walked up to join the blue rider. C’mine had his back to her, but Darshanth saw her approach. He whined, raising his head, and for a moment Sarenya feared that dragon and rider would bolt.
But C’mine just turned his head slightly. “Sarenya.”
His voice sounded resigned, but not hostile. Sarenya couldn’t imagine him ever sounding hostile. She sat down on the bench beside him, unslinging her carry-sack from her shoulder. “Hello, C’mine.”
They sat in silence for several long moments. Sarenya didn’t know where to start. She burned to unload her troubles onto the blue rider who’d been her confidant for so many Turns, but he looked so weary and grey, it seemed inappropriate.
Then C’mine said, “I knew you’d catch up with me eventually. I should have come and talked to you sooner. I’m sorry.”
“I’ve been trying to see you,” Sarenya said. It came out more accusatory than she intended.
“I know,” C’mine said. “I’ve been avoiding you.” He sighed. “I thought you’d be angrier.”
“Why would I be angry, Mine?”
He lifted his head. “You don’t –” he began, and then stopped, frowning. “M’ric didn’t say anything?”
Sarenya felt herself stiffen fractionally. “About what?”
“About the Hatching,” C’mine said. “About Shimpath.” He looked her searchingly in the face for a long moment. “He didn’t tell you.”
“I haven’t spoken to him for a sevenday. What didn’t he tell me?”
C’mine closed his eyes. He raised a hand briefly to his face, then lowered it again. He opened his eyes. “I’m sorry, Saren. It’s my fault that you didn’t Impress.”
That wasn’t what she’d expected to hear. “Don’t be silly. You can’t take the blame for that.”
“You should have Impressed,” C’mine insisted. “Even if not Shimpath, there should have been a queen for you. You should be a dragonrider.”
It wasn’t the first time Sarenya had heard those words in commiseration. It wasn’t even the first time C’mine had said them to her. He should have known her well enough to know that she’d never found them comforting. “Well, I’m not,” she said, too sharply. “I’m sensitive enough that dragons notice me, but not sensitive enough to be chosen. It’s a family trait. My uncle was left standing, too. We just weren’t good enough.”
“You don’t understand,” he said. “It’s not a matter of being good enough. You couldn’t have Impressed. You never had a chance.”
“Now you’re contradicting yourself,” Sarenya told him. “Faranth, C’mine. You’re a master of finding things to blame yourself for that were nothing to do with you! Maybe if you’d spent less time torturing yourself for the past and more thinking about the future, L’stev would have kicked you off his staff!”
C’mine didn’t recoil, or even shoot Sarenya the wounded look she would have expected. She was almost disappointed. Having C’mine drag up her failed candidacy, as if re-chewing that old ash would do any good, was the last thing she wanted. “I’m not explaining very well,” he said. He took a breath, then began again. “You weren’t left standing because you weren’t good enough. You didn’t Impress because I was there, and I knew you wouldn’t Impress, so you couldn’t.”
“C’mine, please just stop,” Sarenya begged. “Can you even hear how…confused…you sound?”
“Faranth scored!” C’mine swore. It was the first time Sarenya had ever heard him swear. “I don’t mean the me of eight Turns ago that was there then. I mean me. Me, now. We were there twice, Saren. Darshanth and I were there twice. We were doubled up. That’s why you didn’t Impress. Because the future me was there too, gone between times to Shimpath’s Hatching, eight Turns ago.”
Sarenya just looked at him. “Between times.”
C’mine looked steadily, miserably, back at her.
She folded her arms. “And did Darshanth miraculously heal a sick child just by breathing on it, too, and make a heartless holder mend his ways with one look from his rainbow eyes, while he was at it?”
“Don’t make fun, Sarenya –”
“Don’t make fun of me! If you want to contrive some reason why every wrong thing that’s happened in the last ten Turns has been your fault, then go ahead, but don’t patronise me with silly children’s fantasies!”
“Timing isn’t a fantasy, Saren,” C’mine said.
“Timing.” Saren’s scepticism curdled her voice. “Travelling through time? Just how credulous do you think I am?”
“I don’t. I’m not making fun of you. I’m not patronising you. I’m telling you the truth. It’s not a children’s fantasy. Dragons can go between times as well as places. Darshanth and I have done it.” He hesitated. “We’ve done it a lot.”
Sarenya stared at him. “But,” she said, and then couldn’t decide which of a dozen objections to raise. “But that would be ridiculous. Faranth; more than ridiculous. Completely absurd. If you could go into the past with knowledge of the future, you could change it all. You’d have hundreds of dragonriders running around changing history to suit themselves!”
“It doesn’t work like that,” C’mine said, and his voice vibrated with sorrow. He paused, visibly composing himself, then went on. “Most dragonriders have never timed it. Not on purpose, at least.”
“You mean they could do it by accident?”
“When we first learn to go between, we have to learn not to put temporal details in our visuals,” C’mine said, and then went on, to Sarenya’s blank look, “The sun’s position. The length of the shadows. Anything that would tie the visual to a specific time. An inexperienced dragonet might use those details to navigate, and try to go between to the when as well as the where.”
“And…what would happen if they did?”
“If the visual was sound, they’d just slip a few hours,” C’mine said. “But if there was one thing wrong – one mismatch between time and place – they wouldn’t ever come out of between.”
“Are you saying that that’s what happened to the weyrlings who died?”
“No. That’s something else completely. But it’s one of the most dangerous things about learning to go between. Dragons learn to discard temporal details as they get more experienced, so they don’t slip, or try to between to a place-time that doesn’t exist.” He paused. “But that doesn’t mean they can’t still do it deliberately. If they’re stupid enough to risk it.”
“You could still try to go to a – a place-time – that isn’t there,” Sarenya said. Her scepticism was fraying in the face of C’mine’s sober explanation. “And be lost between.”
“And…you’ve been doing this?”
C’mine didn’t reply for a long moment, and then he said, again, “Yes.”
“Why?” Sarenya asked, and then answered her own question in the next breath. “C’los. Oh, Faranth, C’mine, you wanted to save C’los, didn’t you?”
“Not at first,” C’mine said. “I just wanted to see him again.”
“But you could have killed yourself! You could have killed Darshanth!”
That did make him look wretched. “I was careful,” he said. “I only went back to times I could find accurately. I used records. Star maps. Darshanth could always find the right when.”
“Faranth,” Sarenya said, and she wasn’t sure if she was more aghast or admiring. Then she said, “But if you saw C’los in the past, he must have seen you and known you’d come between times.”
“I didn’t let him see me, the first few times,” C’mine said. “I just…watched him. He didn’t even know I was there.”
“And after the first few times?”
“C’los kept a diary. I started finding…inconsistencies in it. Times when he mentioned seeing me somewhere I know I wasn’t.” C’mine looked across the lake again for a moment. “Being able to touch him again…”
Sarenya wrapped her fingers around his. Then she said, “Didn’t he realise you were a different you? You’ve…changed, in the last Turn.”
“It was always dark. Or he was drunk. I never stayed long.” C’mine raised his shoulders. “If he noticed anything, he never said so.”
“What would you have said, if he had?” Sarenya asked. When C’mine didn’t reply immediately, she asked, “Would you have told him? About Hatching day? About…Katel?”
She hadn’t spoken that name aloud in many months. It made C’mine flinch, too. He covered his face with his hands. “I tried to stop it.”
For a moment, Sarenya let herself wonder what it would have been like not to have been taken hostage on Hatching night, not to have lived through that ordeal. “Why didn’t you?” she asked, and tried not to make it an accusation.
C’mine lowered his hands. His eyes were hollow with despair. “Darshanth took me to the wrong Hatching.”
“The wrong Hatching?”
“Cherganth’s last clutch. Eight Turns ago. The Hatching when Valonna Impressed Shimpath. That’s where he took me, when I asked him to take us back to Hatching day.” He looked at her with desperate guilt. “That’s why you were left standing. And why it’s my fault that you were.”
Sarenya tried to fit the pieces together. “I don’t understand.”
“I knew you wouldn’t Impress,” C’mine said. “So you didn’t. You couldn’t. It’s like I said. You never even had a chance because I was there.”
“But you were already there,” Sarenya said. “You were in the stands with C’los and T’kamen. I remember looking up at you just before the eggs started cracking.”
“That was the me of that time,” said C’mine. “But I was there too. Now me.”
Sarenya just looked at him for a moment, trying to reconcile what he was saying with her understanding of the world. “Are you saying you were there…twice? That there were two of you?”
“Yes,” C’mine said. He sounded almost relieved that she’d understood the concept. “And two Darshanths. We were doubled up, two of each of us in the same place at the same time.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense! No one can be in… In two places at once.”
Even as she said it, something about the phrase tickled her memory, but C’mine said, “It’s not so bad when there’s some distance between the two yous. Being too close is worse. And I thought meeting myself was the worst thing I’d ever done timing.” He shook his head. “I stopped you becoming a dragonrider, Sarenya. If I hadn’t timed it back – if I hadn’t been there, knowing what was going to happen – you’d have Impressed. I’m so sorry, Saren. I’m so sorry.”
Sarenya didn’t know what to think. The revelation that travelling between times wasn’t just the stuff of Harper tales was dumbfounding enough. The suggestion that C’mine’s time-travelling could actually have affected Sarenya’s own past in such a fashion was more than she could take in. It was so unreal, so paradoxical an idea, that she couldn’t grasp it firmly enough to accept C’mine’s apology – or even to be angry with him in the first place. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.
“Why have I never heard anything about this before?” she asked. “I’ve been at Madellon more than a Turn. I’ve never heard anyone mention going between times.”
“We don’t talk about it,” C’mine said. “We’re not supposed to even think about it, much less do it. And we’re not meant to tell non-riders about it.” He looked at her mournfully. “I shouldn’t have told you, but…I assumed M’ric must have…”
He trailed off. “Why would M’ric have told me?” Sarenya asked.
“Because he was there too.”
“He was – where?”
“At Shimpath’s Hatching, eight Turns ago.”
Sarenya tried to ignore the sense of disquiet that was creeping over her. She tried shrugging it off. “There must have been lots of Peninsula riders there that day,” she began, but C’mine was already shaking his head.
“I don’t mean he was just in the stands,” he said. “He wasn’t the M’ric of then. He was there because he’d timed it back.”
“How do you know?” Sarenya asked, too sharply. “Why would he go between to then? Why would he go between times at all?” Her head spun with the idea of it. “Oh, Faranth. Was he trying to change things so I Impressed?” She looked dazedly at C’mine. “Is that why he was there?”
He avoided her gaze. “I don’t think so.”
“Then why on Pern would M’ric do something as dangerous as going between times?”
“To save me,” said C’mine. “He came back to save me.” He caught his breath. “He said that someone we both loved had sent him.”
It was a moment before Sarenya caught his implication. “Me? You think I sent him?” She sought refuge in logic, poorly though it had served her so far. “How could I have told him to go between times when I didn’t even know it was possible until now?”
“You haven’t yet,” C’mine said. “I see that now. But you will.”
The paradox implicit in that statement made Sarenya’s head swim. “Oh, Faranth, C’mine. I’m… M’ric is… I’m not with him any more.”
“You’re not?” The genuine dismay in his voice made him sound nearly like the empathetic C’mine of old. “What…what happened?”
Sarenya almost laughed. The issues she’d been struggling with seemed banal and petty by comparison to everything C’mine had just revealed. “We had a falling out.” She shrugged helplessly. “Because…well, it seems that I’m pregnant.”
She hadn’t realised the relief she would feel at saying those words aloud to someone, or how much of a balm to her strained emotions C’mine’s reaction would be. An instant’s surprise turned into an expression of such genuine and whole-hearted delight that Sarenya could have wept to see it on his scarred and sorrowful face. “Saren! Oh, Saren!” He grasped both of her hands. “You’re going to be a mother. That’s the most wonderful thing –” He stopped. “Is it…?”
“It’s M’ric’s,” Sarenya said, pre-empting his question.
“There’s no chance at all it could be Kamen’s?”
“I’m not far enough along. If it were Kamen’s, I’d have delivered by now.” She exhaled a long breath, and said, “It’s definitely M’ric’s. That’s what we fell out about. Shards, I might understand if it was someone else’s child, but…”
“He won’t acknowledge it?” C’mine asked. He sounded as mystified as Saren felt.
“He doesn’t want to be a father.” She shrugged with a lightness she didn’t feel. “So that’s that.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
It wasn’t just the sincerity in C’mine’s voice that Sarenya found so heart-breaking. It was the hopefulness, as pure and bright as a single shaft of sunlight through grey clouds. He wanted so desperately to be able to help someone else, even though he himself was in more critical need of help than anyone Sarenya knew. “I don’t know, Mine,” she said at last. “Maybe. I’m…thinking about leaving Madellon. With everything that’s happened recently…”
“I heard about your Master.” C’mine said it slowly, as if he was only just realising the significance of it.
“My uncle,” Sarenya corrected him. “He was so desperate for me to leave. He said Madellon was the wrong place for me. Too many bad memories. Too many negative associations. And now there’s not much left to keep me here. M’ric and I are finished. Arrense is gone. Sejanth’s gone.” Her chest felt tight and constricted. “I need to be somewhere else, C’mine,” she said, when the sensation had receded. “Some place where I’m not seeing ghosts every time I look over my shoulder.” She looked up for the first time since she’d sat beside C’mine, around at the Bowl, at the walls of Madellon Weyr, and heard herself say, “The only time this place has ever felt like home was when I was with T’kamen.”
“I miss him, too,” C’mine replied.
They shared that perfect resonance of mutual loss for a long moment. Then Sarenya began, “Couldn’t you…?”
“No,” C’mine said. He cut her off, not sharply, but with quiet finality. “I’ve promised Darshanth I’ll never make him go between times again.” He looked across at his dragon. “I’ve broken so many promises to him. I mean to keep this one.”
“I understand,” Sarenya said regretfully. She put her hand on the back of C’mine’s neck, and leaned into his shoulder. “I understand.”
The business of the cothold was quiet for the rest of the day, for which Sarenya was more than usually grateful. She normally liked to be busy, especially when she had a lot on her mind. But her conversation with C’mine had overwhelmed her with so much to think about that she was glad she didn’t have to do more than supervise the apprentices in the milking sheds before evening stables, both of which she could have done in her sleep. Anything more complicated wouldn’t have been guaranteed her full attention. Even so, short-handed as the Madellon Beastcraft still was, it was late into first watch before all the apprentices were back in their dorm, enabling Sarenya to retreat to the peace of her own quarters for the night.
The herbs Isnan had prescribed her were surprisingly inoffensive, given her over-sensitive palate, but even the everyday routine of brewing them into a tea was something she had to do mindfully. She was still clumsy, fumble-fingered and liable to bump into things. It was a relief to simply sit down with her mug in quiet and solitude.
Still, she hardly knew where to start. The notion that dragons could actually travel between times was still so astonishing by itself that everything else C’mine had told her seemed secondary to it – everything, at least, except his guilt-stricken claim that his timing had been responsible for her being left standing at Shimpath’s Hatching. Sarenya still wasn’t sure she followed his logic. And even if she took at face value C’mine’s insistence that the presence of his time-travelling future self had somehow influenced Shimpath’s choice, it changed nothing. Whatever the reason, she hadn’t Impressed. Transferring blame for that failure to C’mine would only make her resent him, and he didn’t deserve her anger. He’d never intentionally done her any harm.
The thought brought her back to M’ric. If there was truth to C’mine’s reasoning that the presence of someone with knowledge from the future could affect an event in the past, then M’ric was just as responsible for what had happened at Shimpath’s Hatching as C’mine, and Sarenya was far less inclined to be forgiving of the brown rider than the blue. She could understand why C’mine had started going between times to see C’los. She couldn’t understand why M’ric, as cautious and level-headed as she knew him to be – would have taken the same risk. She didn’t really believe C’mine’s assertion that she was responsible for M’ric going back to that day. Even if she could exert any such influence on him now, she doubted that he would put himself and Trebruth in danger going between times for the sake of a rider he hardly knew.
Unless he’d done it before.
The enormity of the thought rocked her. If she’d been standing, she would have reeled. As it was, she sat upright in her chair so abruptly that she spilled her drink. She exclaimed aloud as tea slopped over her hand, and thrust the mug away from herself before she dropped it. But the spilled tea wasn’t hot enough to stop her mind, unbidden, from racing through possibilities, drawing lines between previously unconnected points, and forming conclusions she didn’t like at all.
C’mine wasn’t the only rider who’d lost someone close to him. What if M’ric’s motivations were the same? The loss of his daughter at the Peninsula had clearly devastated him, enough that he’d taken steps ever since to prevent himself fathering any more children. Had he gone between times to visit Artema before her death? Had he tried to prevent it? And – Sarenya felt a lurch in her stomach as the next thought occurred to her – did he have knowledge from the future that no children of his would ever survive? The idea that his seemingly irrational aversion to her bearing his child might be rooted in such foreknowledge made her break out in a chill sweat. It wasn’t a notion she liked to entertain, but it did have a certain grim logic. And why would a respected, successful Wingsecond with the seniority and the means to do virtually anything he wanted risk himself going between times if not for a very good reason?
The second epiphany hit her with only slightly less force than the first.
M’ric had always had marks. It had taken a while for Sarenya to notice, because he wasn’t the type to show them off in gaudy jewellery or flashy clothes. But everything he owned, from his plain but perfectly cut shirts, to the tooled leather of Trebruth’s dress harness, to the long-bladed hunting knife that fit his hand as though crafted for it, was of quiet, understated quality. Most of his possessions should have been Master-stamped. Their superiority was concealed by the absence of such distinction. M’ric didn’t want anyone to notice just how well he was dressed and equipped. Sarenya had always put that down to his natural disinterest in ostentation – an inclination offset by Trebruth’s aerial flamboyance. Now, it struck her with absolute certainty that M’ric had been hiding his actual wealth all along.
A dragonrider who could go between times would never need to be poor.
The pieces fell into place with irresistible precision. The long-odds outsider M’ric had backed with such apparent arbitrariness at the Gather had been no happy accident, no beginners’ fortune. He’d known that unfancied colt would win, not because it was a ringer, but because he’d gone between times to find out the result, and then furnished himself with the information in time to bet on it. He’d manufactured an explanation by crediting his old Peninsula colleague with the tip, and further covered his tracks by deliberately backing losers for the rest of the afternoon – while taking care not to lose more than he’d gained.
The sheer dishonesty of it was breath-taking, and yet, with a growing grimness, Sarenya realised that she shouldn’t be surprised. She knew M’ric had lied about being from a Seahold. She knew he’d lied – or, at the least, been very selective with the truth – about Trebruth’s origins. He’d even been evasive about how he’d come to Impress Agusta, a northern fire-lizard queen. Sarenya had never pressed him on any of those things, assuming that he must have reasons for being vague. But the truth about dragons’ ability to go between times – and C’mine’s insistence that an out-of-time M’ric had been at Shimpath’s Hatching – threw everything Sarenya thought she’d known about the brown rider into doubt. She’d thought him a decent and moral man, and he was neither. He was a cheat. A thief. He was a liar. And if a dragonrider would lie about something so fundamentally important as the origin of his own dragon, what other lies had he been telling?
In spite of the circumstances of her split from M’ric, Sarenya had thought she would be able to remember the good times with only bitter-sweet regret: the companionship, the laughter, the love. Now, she felt compelled to re-examine everything in a new and ugly light. There was no sweetness in sifting through sharp-edged memories of things M’ric had said, seeking the deceit beneath them, the self-serving fabrications, the too-accurate predictions that might be based on unnatural foreknowledge rather than his own perception. She thought about the things he’d told her over the time they’d been together. Had he really lost his father at a young age? Had he really been a Weyrleader’s protégé as a weyrling? And what else had he done with information stolen from the future to further his agenda?
That was where Sarenya stumbled. What was M’ric’s agenda? What end could his deception possibly be serving? What could a dragonrider want, beyond a few luxuries, with the proceeds from a gambling scam? Nothing she knew about him gave her any insight into his motives. It hardened her heart still further against him. Clearly, she hadn’t known the real M’ric at all. The man she’d loved, the man who’d courted and won her, didn’t exist. Bitterly, she wondered how much of that courtship had been informed by his timing. He’d always been far too selflessly understanding and considerate, as if he’d known exactly what would appeal to her after she and T’kamen had blown themselves to pieces for the second time.
And then the phrase that had plucked at her memory earlier, when she’d been expressing her incredulity to C’mine, insinuated itself back into her consciousness. No one can be in two places at once.
Her third epiphany was explosive.
I was out with Ops, M’ric had said, all those sevendays ago. I couldn’t very well be in two places at once.
“You liar,” Sarenya said aloud. “You liar.” She felt her fingers squeeze into fists. “You shaffing piece of shit liar, what did you do to T’kamen?”
END OF ACT FOUR
Continue to Characters in Act Four
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Dragonchoice 3 news
- Dragonchoice re-read and commentary at AO3 posted 22 December 2017
- The end is nigh posted 8 February 2017
- Happy (nearly) birthday, Dragonchoice 3! posted 5 October 2016
- Venn diagram posted 25 February 2016
- Don’t let me Rosebud; or, why your feedback matters posted 17 February 2016