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Chapter seventy-six: L’stev

Any rider facing a Justice is entitled to appoint an Advocate – an expert in Weyr law – usually a senior bronze rider, junior queen rider, or the Weyr Singer. The advice provided by this individual is completely confidential, and an Advocate may not be called upon or pressured to give evidence against the rider to whom he provides counsel.

– Excerpt from Madellon Weyr’s Legal Code

100.05.19 (100TH TURN, SEVENTH INTERVAL)
MADELLON WEYR

L'stev (Micah Johnson)“Faranth’s tits,” said L’stev, at last.

It was the first thing any of them had said for several minutes, ever since M’ric had finished speaking and gone silent. L’stev had looked incredulously from him to C’mine and back again several times, expecting one of them to admit that it was all some elaborate prank they were playing on him.

He’d heard plenty of tall tales in his time. The simple ones were always the most credible. Those that meandered through increasingly fanciful twists and turns were much easier to spot, as weyrlings not as clever as they thought they were tripped over the tangles of their own fabrication. The story M’ric had woven was as intricate and convoluted as any L’stev had ever heard, and yet M’ric had never faltered in an account that had been, at times, so mercilessly self-loathing that L’stev had almost flinched from the brutality of it.

Now, he sat looking at the two riders, their expressions unhappily sober, and fought to resume the sceptical grimace that the morning’s revelations had eroded gradually from his face.

He’d agreed to be M’ric’s Advocate straightaway. There were four or five riders at Madellon with a firm enough grasp of Weyr law to be called upon for expert counsel when someone was facing a Justice, but all bar L’stev himself were senior bronze riders. He could understand why M’ric had asked for him instead. He’d have done the same in his place. And a Justice was a very serious matter, with potentially very serious consequences. Over the Turns, L’stev had been asked to Advocate for riders half a dozen times, and he’d never refused a request, no matter how grave the alleged crime. Regardless of what M’ric might have done, he was entitled to the confidential advice of someone who understood Madellon’s laws.

The rumour mill had it that M’ric was in serious trouble, but speculation on the nature of his crimes was focused on the part he might have played in Sh’zon’s illegal participation in the Peninsula’s leadership flight. There were whispers that timing was involved. L’stev had sensed there was more to it than that. But even he, a member of Madellon’s Council, hadn’t heard the full extent of the charges M’ric was facing until C’mine had brought him to his weyr – under the guard of two Wingseconds – to ask for his help. Even then, he couldn’t have imagined the colossal, cosmic scale of M’ric’s claims.

Claims, said Vanzanth, dismissively. It was the first time he’d given an opinion since M’ric had begun his tale.

L’stev knew what he was getting at. Still, he resisted it. So you’d have me just accept all this at face value? Not question a man who may or may not be telling the truth now, but who’s certainly made a career of lying in either case?

You’ll do what you want, said Vanzanth. But he’s not lying about time.

That time protects itself, said L’stev. The words, even spoken silently, gave him a reflexive chill.

We both know that’s true.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t lying about anything else.

You don’t want to believe him, said Vanzanth. But you do.

Vanzanth was always right, but L’stev balked at the idea of giving in so easily. He wouldn’t be so credulous. “You’re asking me to swallow a lot,” he said. “Not least that it’s possible for a rider to go between more than a hundred Turns to a future that hasn’t happened yet.”

“It has happened,” said M’ric. “For me.”

“So you say,” said L’stev, but he understood the concept. If M’ric was telling the truth, the Eighth Pass timeframe to which T’kamen had travelled wasn’t a future, with all the uncertainty that the word implied; it was the future, an inevitable consequence of M’ric’s own timing.

“T’kamen often talked about you,” said M’ric. “He wasn’t impressed with my Weyrlingmaster by comparison.”

L’stev eyed him with refreshed cynicism, recognising the strategy. Flattery never had moved him. “He wasn’t, was he?”

“He told me about a time when he slipped a few hours as a weyrling, coming back from Birndes Hold, and you made him stay in the barracks when all the rest of the class had moved out.”

“That did happen,” said C’mine.

“Yes, and it’s in the records of your class. Anyone could have looked that up.”

M’ric frowned slightly. His eyes went distant. Then they focused again. “B’ward,” he said. “You asked T’kamen to take him on after he graduated. He was sickly, and no one else wanted him. He had some sort of reaction to grains.”

That gave L’stev more of a pause. “Everyone knows B’ward doesn’t eat bread or cereal,” he said, but less certainly. He did remember encouraging T’kamen to take a chance on B’ward, but it hadn’t been a formal recommendation. It wouldn’t have been written down anywhere. It could still have been a lucky guess.

Vanzanth snorted on the ledge outside, loudly enough that both M’ric and C’mine glanced towards the archway.

“All right, all right,” L’stev said, though he wasn’t sure if he was more annoyed with his dragon or with himself. “I’ve agreed to Advocate for you, M’ric, so for the sake of argument I suppose I’ll have to believe you.” He scowled, then added, grudgingly, “Faranth knows, if you were going to invent a story, you’d have come up with something that made you look a little less guilty.”

“I am guilty,” said M’ric. “Of almost everything H’ned has accused me of, and some other things he hasn’t. But I didn’t kill T’kamen.”

“Well,” said L’stev, reaching for a document that the two riders had brought up with them, “I don’t expect murder will be the charge anyway. There’s no body and the dragons never keened for Epherineth, so there’s no actual evidence that T’kamen’s dead at all.” He looked down the list of charges. “Huh. Provision of a false visual.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” said C’mine.

“It’s bad enough,” said L’stev. “They’re going for with deadly intent. That’s as serious as murder. It still carries Separation as a potential sentence.” He scanned down the rest of the list. “And these others. Treason. False representation. Treason again – oh, against another Weyr. Timing for personal financial gain. Timing for personal political gain. Theft. Assault – assault?”

M’ric had the grace to look embarrassed. “I knocked H’ned down.”

“Any particular reason?”

“He insulted T’kamen.”

L’stev sighed. “I always took you for a level-headed fellow, M’ric.” Then he frowned at the charge list. “But that one’s really the least of your concerns. Even putting aside the false visual, these other accusations are serious enough to get you sent to Westisle for the rest of your life. And the treason charges – given everything P’raima did, and the farce that Sh’zon made of the Peninsula leadership flight – an argument could be made for Separation for those, too.”

“But they can’t prove that M’ric was working with P’raima,” said C’mine. “P’raima’s dead.”

“True,” said L’stev. “And the evidence of the signet ring and the hidden ledger is circumstantial, although if they ever crack the cipher –”

“They won’t,” M’ric and C’mine said together.

“Listen at the pair of you,” L’stev said disgustedly. “Well, P’raima being dead won’t help, since you confessed your involvement with him to C’mine, and C’mine will certainly be called as a witness.” He glared at M’ric. “If you’d just come to me first.”

“I didn’t know you were safe,” M’ric said. “T’kamen suspected you’d done some timing, but that’s alone isn’t enough.”

L’stev narrowed his eyes at C’mine. “And I suppose I have you to thank for dragging my name into this?”

“When you told me about your children,” C’mine said. “The ones who –”

L’stev cut him off. “I know which children you mean. And yes, we timed it then, and yes, we tried to stop it happening.”

We?” M’ric asked.

L’stev furrowed his brow. “Three of us,” he said. “Me. P’keo. And Sh’ror.”

“P’keo was Weyrleader,” C’mine said. “Who’s Sh’ror?”

“Another bronze rider,” said L’stev. “Another…father.” He could feel his nostrils flaring. “We’d all lost children to that blighted illness.”

M’ric cocked his head. “He died, didn’t he? Trying to change what had happened.”

L’stev met his suddenly knowing look. A part of him wanted to refuse to confirm the guess out of sheer stubbornness. Another part of him dispassionately connected Sh’ror’s fate with what M’ric had said about riders who tried to change the past. And the part of him mostly closely in tune with Vanzanth simply accepted what they had known all along. “They’d traced the illness to a remote holding in southern Jessaf,” he said. “A candidate was Searched from there. They thought it was one of her younger siblings who’d brought the sickness to Madellon, when they came to watch the Hatching. Sh’ror’s mission was to go to that holding and prevent that candidate from being Searched in the first place.”

“But it didn’t work,” said M’ric.

“We’d agreed we wouldn’t risk trying to jump back to the time we’d come from, after we’d tried to change things. We’d planned to wait it out at Little Madellon until we’d caught back up with our own present. P’keo and I met there as we’d agreed. Sh’ror never turned up.”

“Did you ever find out what happened to him?” asked C’mine.

“Once we were back in the right time, I asked the candidate if she knew anything,” said L’stev. “A weyrling, by then. She said that a bronze dragon had come to the hold and landed on the fire-heights, but only a few minutes later he’d screamed and gone between. They found his rider in the hold’s courtyard. He must have fallen from the heights – three, four dragonlengths. Just about every bone in his body was shattered.

“They ran up their dragon banner. They expected someone to come looking for a missing dragonpair. But it was more than a sevenday before a sweepdragon responded to the banner, and it was the height of summer. The body… They’d had to bury it. And the sweeprider didn’t know of any missing bronze.” He paused. It had been such a long time since he’d thought about Sh’ror. Then, heavily, he went on. “The sweeprider was T’reno.” He looked at C’mine as he said it.

“Oh, Faranth,” C’mine said, sounding sick.

M’ric looked sharply at him. “What?”

“Givranth,” C’mine said. “T’reno’s green. She’s Search sensitive.”

“Of course she is,” M’ric said. He didn’t sound surprised; only sad. “It’s not just that Sh’ror couldn’t stop that candidate being Searched. The fact that he timed it back there – that he died there – was the only reason a Search dragon went there at all.”

“Time protects itself,” said C’mine.

“Who was the green rider?” M’ric asked. “The girl, I mean. The candidate.”

L’stev had to search his memory. Then it came to him. “Schanna,” he said. “Etymonth’s rider.”

For a fraction of an instant, M’ric’s face went slack. Then he composed himself so swiftly that L’stev wondered if he’d even seen the expression at all. “You understand, then,” he said. “The past won’t be changed.”

L’stev let his breath out through his nostrils. “I’ve always known that.”

“And anyone who gets too close to changing it –”

“Will come to a sticky end,” L’stev said.

“Unless their dragon is aware of time,” said M’ric. “Trebruth won’t let me do anything that would change the past. Darshanth took C’mine to the wrong Hatching so he couldn’t prevent C’los’ murder. And Vanzanth…”

“Vanzanth stopped me,” said L’stev.

It had been Turns since he’d thought back to that dark time in his life in any detail. Now, as he let the old memories resurface, he recalled his own mission. He’d gone to warn the Weyr Healer of the time, Master Firland, about the illness that would carry off three out of every five children under ten Turns old. He’d been armed with the knowledge of the herbs that Firland’s future self had eventually found most efficacious in the treatment of the sickness. If Sh’ror’s attempts to prevent the infection reaching Madellon failed, then L’stev’s efforts would at least arm the Weyr against it.

He remembered how the precious knowledge of those medications had slipped from his mind when he’d confronted Firland. He remembered stumbling over his words – slurring them, almost – as he struggled to explain himself. The Weyr Healer was always a busy man, and Master Firland had been impatient with time-wasters. He’d suggested crisply that L’stev go and sleep off whatever intoxication had brought him babbling to the infirmary, and that he should come back in the morning if he needed a hangover remedy.

Tongue-tied and thick-headed, but knowing he’d failed, L’stev had left the infirmary and headed for the crèche. If he couldn’t stop the sickness getting to his children, then he’d get them away from the sickness, and between with everyone else. At the entrance to the crèche he’d paused, letting the cacophony of childish chatter wash over him. He’d sought, amongst the throng, Lirenzy, five Turns old; Eravan, just three. He’d seen them. That last sight of them both: alive, laughing, playing, had imprinted on his mind as if carved there in stone. I can save you.

And then vertigo had broken over him in a dizzying wave. Something had snatched at his stomach – panic, fear, dread – like the mixed terror and relief of realising he had been standing at the brink of a bottomless chasm, a hair’s breadth from stepping blindly off it. He’d turned and staggered away, his intent diffused in the fog of his time-addled perceptions, the chance to avert tragedy gone forever.

It was you, wasn’t it? he asked Vanzanth. I wasn’t just slow and stupid because I’d timed it too close to myself. It was you. Stopping me from changing the past.

The past will not be changed, said Vanzanth. Time protects itself. And I protected you.

L’stev closed his eyes for a long, painful moment.

When he opened them, he said, “Your fire-lizard is the key, isn’t it?”

“T’kamen made the connection,” said M’ric.

“But nobody did before,” said L’stev. “I suppose few enough dragonriders have fire-lizards…” Then something new struck him, and he screwed up his face. “Oh, blight it all. G’dra. G’dra had fire-lizards. That’s how he and Kinnescath made it through between eventually when the other weyrlings didn’t. His shaffing fire-lizards found a way.” He held his head. “But too late. Too late.”

“If where I’m from comes out at the Justice,” said M’ric. “When I’m from. Someone could make the connection between G’dra’s fire-lizards and mine. But if that connection had been made now, in the Interval…”

“Then T’kamen wouldn’t have needed to figure it out a century from now in the Pass,” said L’stev. “So no one could have intuited fire-lizards as a solution to the between problem before then, and if anyone did –”

“Then they couldn’t have survived long enough to make the knowledge public,” said M’ric.

C’mine completed the logic. “Anyone who makes that connection – anyone who isn’t one of us – is in terrible danger.”

“Valonna,” said M’ric. “H’ned. Whoever’s appointed as Presider. All the Justicers.”

“But you must have some idea of what happens to Valonna, at least,” said L’stev.

“Madellon’s records were destroyed. What T’kamen and I found in the Peninsula’s records was fragmentary at best. And I never did get my hands on the Chronicle of the Seventh Interval. The Masterharper kept that very secure. There are things I do know about…” M’ric hesitated. “About what will happen to certain people, certain riders. But not Valonna, or most of the bronze riders likely to be selected as Justicers. I can’t take the risk of anyone else falling foul of time because of me.”

“Shimpath already tried to force the truth from Trebruth, didn’t she?” L’stev asked.

From M’ric’s wince, it hadn’t been a pleasant experience. “Yes.”

“I’d like to know how it’s even possible that a brown could resist a queen,” L’stev said, “but that can wait. I’m your Advocate, so I can’t be made to testify against you.” He looked at C’mine. “You’re the problem. As always.”

“That isn’t his fault, L’stev,” M’ric said.

L’stev fixed him with a piercing stare. “Faranth,” he said. “You sound exactly like –”

“T’kamen,” said C’mine.

“Don’t get all misty-eyed on me,” L’stev told him, in a growl.

“I can’t help it,” C’mine said. “He was like a brother to me.”

“He was like a father to me,” said M’ric.

L’stev glared at them both. “Fault isn’t the issue. What C’mine knows now is just as dangerous as if it came directly from M’ric.”

“But can’t we just explain to Valonna why I can’t testify?” C’mine asked.

“I don’t think it’s Valonna you need to convince,” said M’ric.

“You’re right,” said L’stev. “H’ned’s the one driving at this. Not helped by the fact you attacked him, but I’m not sure it would change anything if you hadn’t. He’s only just been confirmed as Regent, which is a tenuous way for any bronze rider to find himself in the Weyrleader’s seat. So he means to use you to draw a line under the whole sorry business of the last few months, and show what a decisive leader he’s going to be.” He grunted with disgust. “Shaffing bronze riders. Always having to piss in the corners.”

“Then I’ll lie,” said C’mine. “If it’s a choice between risking lives and lying, then I’ll lie.”

“You can’t lie for shit, C’mine,” said L’stev, “and Shimpath would get the truth out of Darshanth whether you liked it or not. No. If you’re questioned under a Justice, the facts will come out.”

“Then I have to plead guilty to everything,” said M’ric. “It’s the only way to protect everyone.”

“Everyone but you, M’ric,” L’stev said. “Faranth; T’kamen was a bad influence on you, wasn’t he? He was always much too quick to martyr himself.” He frowned. “But you’re right. You will have to plead guilty to everything.”

“But L’stev –” C’mine protested.

L’stev held his hand up to silence him. “You’ll have to plead guilty to everything,” he repeated. “The trick is to change what you’re being asked to plead to.”


L’stev had settled himself comfortably into the chair opposite the Weyrleader’s desk, and was gazing interestedly around the office, when H’ned strode in through the archway from the ledge. “Sorry to keep you waiting, L’stev,” he said, with the air of a man who wasn’t particularly sorry at all. “You know how it is. Always someone after a piece of the Weyrleader’s time.”

“I’m sure,” said L’stev, narrowing his eyes to read the Winglist on the black wall behind H’ned’s desk.

H’ned noticed the subject of L’stev’s attention. “I’ve been thinking of making some changes,” he said. “There are a few Wingseconds who ought to be Wingleaders. Twelve Wings aren’t really enough.”

With some effort, L’stev didn’t raise a sceptical eyebrow. “You’ll have some grumbles if you skim riders from every Wing to make up a new one.”

“Oh, not every Wing, L’stev,” said H’ned. “But there are some Wingleaders who could stand to lose a rider or two in a good cause.”

T’gat’s Wing was one of the targets, L’stev noticed, as he regarded the board with new understanding. He suppressed a snort. He wasn’t there to pass judgement on the new Weyrleader’s appointments. “I’m here about M’ric.”

“I thought you might be,” said H’ned. He seated himself behind the desk in the new chair: deeply padded and richly carved on its arms and back. “I understand you’ve agreed to Advocate for him.”

“That’s correct,” said L’stev.

“Don’t worry, L’stev, I won’t take it personally,” said H’ned. “I’m glad Madellon has riders willing to advise on these occasions.”

“Beats having to call in a Harper,” said L’stev.

“Very much so,” said H’ned. “It’s Weyr business; best we keep it that way.”

“No argument from me on that score,” said L’stev. “The less the world at large knows about dragonrider crime, the better.”

“Better yet that the world at large doesn’t even know dragonriders are capable of being criminals,” said H’ned.

“Indeed,” said L’stev. “Though you and I both know that dragonriders are just as capable of wrongdoing as anyone else on Pern.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far, L’stev,” said H’ned. “But cases like M’ric’s damage all of our reputations; don’t you agree?”

“You’ll not lead me to condemn him that way, Weyrleader,” L’stev said, with the thinnest of smiles.

“I suppose not,” said H’ned, with a laugh. “Though I’m sure you’re honest enough to concede that he’s in very serious trouble.”

“That I’ll give you,” said L’stev. “Have you selected a Presider?”

“P’keo will sit,” said H’ned.

L’stev shook his head. “That won’t be acceptable, Weyrleader.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’ll be calling him as a witness.”

“P’keo?” H’ned looked baffled. “What could he possibly have to add?”

“I’m sure you appreciate, Weyrleader, that I can’t disclose any details of M’ric’s defence,” said L’stev.

“Well, that’s very disappointing,” said H’ned. “That would leave…”

“F’yan, as the next most senior Council member,” L’stev said, when H’ned hesitated.

“Uh, yes, F’yan,” said H’ned, with a wince of distaste. “And is he an acceptable Presider?”

L’stev let himself smile. “Very acceptable, Weyrleader.”

H’ned looked sharply at him, as if trying to discern why L’stev would want F’yan as Presider. “Are there any other Council members you’ll be calling?” he asked. “So I can exclude them from the ballot when the Justicers are selected.”

“Let me get back to you on that,” said L’stev. “I have a rather long list of witnesses.”

“How many witnesses are we talking about?” H’ned asked.

“Twenty-five to thirty. At present.”

“Twenty-five to –” H’ned blinked. “Faranth, L’stev, this could take days!”

“Sevendays, most likely,” L’stev agreed. “And that’s just for M’ric’s defence. I can’t speak to how long you expect your case to take.”

“But that’s ridiculous!”

“Ridiculous?” L’stev asked. He let his tone harden for the first time. “A capital case with a rider standing accused of crimes including treason against two Weyrs and the disposal of a Weyrleader? I don’t call that ridiculous, H’ned. I call it the very opposite of ridiculous.”

H’ned sat back in his chair. “Yes, you’re right, of course.” He took a breath. “I just hadn’t thought…the time it’s going to take…I have so much to do, now I’m Weyrleader…”

“So does the Weyrwoman,” said L’stev. “So do each of the bronze riders who’ll be serving. But you can’t imagine that you could possibly entertain anything but the most stringently-observed Justice when the lives of a man and his dragon hang in the balance. However disruptive it may be to Madellon’s day-to-day functioning for the next several months, this Justice must be heard fairly. You’ve brought twenty-two separate charges against M’ric, and each one must be considered on its own merits.”

He saw H’ned mouth the word months. “What if I dropped some of the lesser charges?”

L’stev folded his hands in his lap. “Which charges were you thinking of?”

H’ned frowned. “Well, the assault charge, for one. I mean, no one was really hurt, I suppose; only my pride. I don’t suppose it would really matter if I were to forgive that one.”

And you’d be spared the humiliation of admitting to four Council bronze riders that M’ric knocked the snot out of you, L’stev thought. “I don’t suppose it would. That would take – oh, a day or so off proceedings.”

“What about the timing charges?” H’ned asked. “The business with him making marks on the runner races –”

L’stev shook his head soberly. “Regardless of M’ric’s guilt or innocence, any suspicion that the Weyr was protecting riders engaged in a gambling scam would go down very poorly with the wagermen.”

“But how would they even know about it?” H’ned asked. “I haven’t contacted any of the affected wagermen yet.”

“I’m afraid I have,” L’stev replied. “You see, M’ric had a regular wagerman with whom he placed the majority of his bets; I’ll be calling that man as a witness in his defence.”

“Shard it, L’stev! What were we just saying about keeping this business quiet from the world at large?”

“Under ideal circumstances,” said L’stev. “These circumstances are less than ideal.”

He watched H’ned’s brow furrow more and more deeply. L’stev felt a little sorry for him. Very few riders would have been equipped to argue Justice procedure with any of Madellon’s legal experts. T’kamen would have been just as frustrated. “Well, what do you suggest?” H’ned asked finally.

“It’s not for me to make suggestions to you, Weyrleader,” L’stev said. “My role is to act as Advocate for M’ric.” He paused, then said, “No one would think you any less competent if you were to ask another rider to try this case in your stead.”

He’d pitched his tone just right. H’ned bristled at the veiled implication that he wasn’t capable of trying his own Justice. “No,” he said curtly. “That won’t be necessary.”

L’stev let him stew for several more minutes. Then he said, “I do have one suggestion.”

“What?”

“I might be able to persuade M’ric to make a deal.”

“A deal? What sort of deal?”

“He pleads guilty to the majority of your charges.” L’stev saw H’ned’s pale eyes light with vindication, and went on, sharply, “And you take Separation off the table.”

“Absolutely not.” H’ned snapped the words out. “He killed T’kamen. The Weyrleader. I can’t and won’t let that pass.”

Provision of a visual with deadly intent has to be proved, H’ned,” L’stev said.

“And I’ll prove it!”

“Will you?” L’stev asked. “To the point that three other bronze riders will accept the proof, when they know what the consequences are for M’ric?”

“If you’re so sure I can’t prove it, why are you trying to make a deal?”

“Because you’re going to be Madellon’s Weyrleader for the next two Turns at least,” said L’stev. “If you drag the Weyrwoman and four senior bronze riders through a month-long Justice and you can’t nail M’ric for the most serious charge, you look ineffectual at best, spiteful at worst.”

“You’re telling me you’re doing this for me?”

“You can believe it or not,” said L’stev. “But it’s the truth. Do you think for a moment that Valonna will find against M’ric when she knows the punishment is Separation? A Separation that she and her queen have to impose?”

“She can abstain if she wishes,” H’ned said. His nostrils were flaring white. “I only need a majority of four-to-one.”

“That doesn’t leave you much margin for error,” said L’stev. “And have you considered who might end up sitting on the Justicer bench? After you, P’keo and F’yan are removed from the pool, there are only nine other Council bronze riders who could be selected. Can you rely on every one of those nine ruling your way?”

“I thought you liked T’kamen. Why are you so intent on protecting his killer?”

“Because I don’t believe M’ric killed him,” said L’stev.

“M’ric did something to him,” H’ned said. “If he didn’t, why would Trebruth resist telling Shimpath? He’s hiding something terrible, and I’ll have the truth, L’stev, if I have to have Shimpath squeeze it out of Darshanth and C’mine!”

“If you believe that Darshanth and C’mine know the truth, why do you think they’re covering it up?” asked L’stev. “C’mine and T’kamen were closer than brothers.”

“C’mine’s judgement has been suspect ever since C’los died,” said H’ned. “M’ric’s been lying and cheating and manipulating people for Turns. Poor confused C’mine is just his latest victim.”

“Poor confused C’mine,” said L’stev. “C’mine whose judgement has been suspect for months.” He fixed H’ned with his blackest stare. “Your star witness.”

The instant when H’ned’s fervour broke under the weight of the realisation that he’d been outmanoeuvred gave L’stev far too much satisfaction. H’ned sat back down in his chair, seething with a rage made hotter by its impotence.

Provision of a visual with malign intent,” L’stev said, into the furious silence. “He’ll plead guilty to everything else as charged, and you Exile him to Westisle for the rest of his life. No drawn-out Justice, no witnesses, and you can keep the whole business quiet.”

H’ned didn’t reply for several minutes. He just stared into space with his jaw clenched. “Fine,” he said at last. He sounded like the word cost him dearly. “Exile.”

L’stev rose from his seat. His knees cracked as he moved, and he grimaced at the pain. He suddenly felt very old. “Thank you, Weyrleader. I’ll go and inform M’ric.”

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