Chapter seventy-eight: C’mine
Dragonriders have a bad reputation when it comes to their relationships with other human beings, and so they should. A dutiful husband will consider his wife’s wishes in all things, a loving father will care for the well-being of his children before anything else, and an honest lover will strive for fidelity and trust in all his courtships; but a dragonrider cannot – must not – commit to any such priorities.
A woman can find another husband. A child can be cherished by other parents. A lover can seek other companionship. But no one on Pern – no other person who lives or has lived or will ever live – can replace a dragon’s rider. A dragon cannot divorce his rider as a spouse could; he will never grow up, leave home, become self-sufficient as a child should; he will never lose interest or patience as a girlfriend might. A rider who places the needs of friends or family above, or even on a par with, those of his dragon is unfit to be a dragonrider.
– Excerpt from the personal diaries of Weyrleader O’ret
M’ric looked up hopefully from where he was stuffing clothes into a pack. “Is she coming?”
C’mine took a breath. “No,” he said at last. “She said she doesn’t want to see you.”
It wasn’t quite true. If I ever have to look at his face again I think I’ll be sick, were the exact words Sarenya had spoken, when C’mine had asked her if she would see M’ric one last time before he went to Westisle. He didn’t think M’ric deserved the whole of the truth.
M’ric sat down on the edge of the bed, looking at his hands. He’d been so resolute, so matter-of-fact about his fate, since L’stev had come back with the news that H’ned had accepted the deal. Now, for the first time since the threat of Separation had passed, C’mine saw the strain breaking through that stoic façade. “She must despise me.”
C’mine wanted to disagree, wanted to reassure M’ric that no, Sarenya didn’t despise him, but that was a lie too far. “She wouldn’t if she knew the truth. Or even if she knew that you were protecting her by not telling her.”
“Protecting her,” said M’ric. “That’s what Kamen asked me to do. To protect her.”
“You are,” said C’mine. “You have.”
“Not well enough. She’s…” M’ric let the word hang for a long while. Then he met C’mine’s gaze. “Has she told you?”
“About her pregnancy?” C’mine asked.
Even the word seemed to cause M’ric pain. “Then it’s confirmed.”
“I don’t know,” said C’mine. “She said it’s too early to tell for sure.”
“But she’s…going ahead with it?”
“It’s her decision, M’ric.”
“I know. I know. I just wish…”
M’ric didn’t finish the sentence, and C’mine didn’t finish it for him.
“He asked me to look out for you, too.”
“He said not to let you do anything stupid.”
“He laid an impossible charge on you, then,” C’mine said, with a lightness he didn’t feel. “Not even Kamen could stop me being stupid.”
“It’s not your fault, you know. The timing. You didn’t have a choice.”
“It’s not the timing I regret,” said C’mine. “It’s what I’ve done to Darshanth.”
I forgive you, said Darshanth.
M’ric turned his head slightly in the direction of Trebruth’s ledge. “Dragons are very forgiving.”
“Even a dragon’s forgiveness has to be earned,” said C’mine, to both of them.
“I’ll have plenty of time with Trebruth to do that,” said M’ric. “But Saren…” He rose abruptly and crossed the weyr to a cabinet. He opened the top drawer. “Will you give her this?”
C’mine looked at the slip of hide M’ric proffered. “What is it?”
“A letter of credit with the Smithcrafthall at Taive Hold.” Irony shaded his voice. “My ill-gotten gains.”
“How much is it worth?”
“Not enough,” said M’ric. “But I want her to have it. And…and this. For my…for her child.”
The second document was a tightly-rolled scroll, sealed with wax. “She might not accept either of these,” said C’mine.
“Would you hold onto them for me anyway?”
C’mine tucked note and scroll into the inner pocket of his jacket. “I will.”
The sound of another dragon landing on the ledge outside made them both look up. Vanzanth, said Darshanth, and a moment later L’stev came into the weyr.
“You ready?” he asked. “They’re waiting for you in the Council chamber.”
M’ric looked around the weyr. “I guess I am.”
“I got hold of the current roster for Westisle,” L’stev said. “Two Benden green riders, a brown from Telgar, a Peninsula blue, and the Southern bronze.”
“The bronze is R’maro,” said M’ric. “The blue would be…D’rend? D’rand? He was Exiled…it must have been ten Turns ago.”
C’mine didn’t ask what he’d done. The very fact that D’rend or D’rand had ended up on Westisle spoke eloquently enough of the gravity of his offences.
“You’ll be transported immediately the hearing’s over,” said L’stev. “So if there’s anyone else you want to say goodbye to, it’s now or never.”
“I’ve said all the goodbyes I’m going to,” said M’ric. “But I want to thank you.” He came across, holding out his hand. L’stev, slowly, grasped it. “Both of you,” M’ric went on, extending his hand to C’mine. “For everything you’ve done for me.”
“The Wingleaders are outside,” L’stev said. “They’ll take you up to the Council chamber.”
M’ric nodded. He squared his shoulders. He looked very dignified in his dress wherhides. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Not you,” L’stev said, when C’mine made to follow him from the weyr.
“It’s a closed Justice. You won’t be allowed in.”
“Can they stop me waiting outside?”
L’stev looked at him. “You’re doing yourself no favours, being seen with M’ric.”
“I’m not the only one who doesn’t think he’s guilty,” said C’mine. “The Ops Wing –”
“The Ops Wing are showing solidarity with their Wingleader,” said L’stev. “You’ll just antagonise H’ned even more by siding against him.”
“That doesn’t matter to me.”
L’stev sighed. “I suppose it doesn’t. All right. Wait outside, if you must. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The hearing that sealed M’ric’s fate took less than fifteen minutes, though to C’mine, it seemed like hours.
The door of the Council chamber opened abruptly, and he jumped up from the bench outside where he’d been waiting. R’yeno and E’dor, who’d escorted M’ric inside, escorted him back out again. They didn’t have to manhandle him. Even the cords that bound M’ric’s hands behind his back seemed unnecessary. M’ric walked compliantly between them with his head down and his eyes on the ground. He had entered the chamber wearing the full insignia of a Madellon Weyr Wingsecond. Now, his shoulders were bare of epaulettes and rank cords, and only a straggle of severed threads remained where the diamond badge of Madellon had been torn from his sleeve. He didn’t raise his head as he was marched past C’mine. He didn’t react at all.
L’stev followed him out. His face was no more grim than usual, but he caught C’mine’s eye as he passed.
“…glad the unfortunate business didn’t take long,” V’stan was saying to P’keo as they left the Council chamber.
“…think we can all agree that justice was served…”
“…don’t want to dwell on it…”
Valonna and H’ned were the last to emerge: she looking drawn, he insistent. “But you got your way, Weyrwoman,” said H’ned. He halted when he saw C’mine. “Was there something you wanted, blue rider?”
“No, sir,” C’mine said.
H’ned studied him for a moment with those pale eyes, as though believing that, if he only looked hard enough, he’d discern for himself whatever truths M’ric had told C’mine. “Be about your business, then.”
C’mine resisted the urge to look at Valonna. “Yes, sir.”
Shimpath says that her rider thanks you for being here, said Darshanth.
Tell her I’m only sorry I couldn’t do more.
L’stev was waiting at the bottom of the steps that led up to the Council chamber. “At least it was quick.”
“Then no one…”
“What?” L’stev snapped. “Jumped up to offer him a reprieve with some convenient last-minute evidence?” Then he cast C’mine an uncharacteristically contrite look, and muttered, “Sorry. Those sanctimonious tail-forks just put my teeth on edge. The way they went on, you’d think no bronze rider ever ran afoul of a Justice. M’ric did well, though. Didn’t rise to it even when H’ned tried to provoke him. Didn’t say a word but that he had to.” L’stev shook his head. “Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. You’d think they’d get the idea after the first half dozen times.”
“They took his insignia,” said C’mine.
“That was the only time I thought he might crack,” said L’stev. “Just for a minute, but it hurt him when H’ned ripped the badge off his sleeve. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me. If everything he told us is true, Madellon’s his home as much as it’s yours and mine.”
“Do you really still doubt him?”
L’stev made his most graphic grimace. “I wish I did. That way I’d feel some sort of comfort in knowing that he’s got thirty miserable Turns ahead of him.”
That made C’mine feel wretched. “At least he’s still got Trebruth.”
“There’s that,” said L’stev, but he sounded wearily unconvinced. “Faranth, I could use a drink.”
“So could I,” said C’mine.
L’stev gave him a long, measuring look. “Do you think that’s wise?”
“I don’t…” C’mine began. “I’m not…” He stopped.
“You’ve been different, these last few days,” said L’stev. “Since this business with M’ric. More together. More yourself.”
“He said the timing wasn’t my fault,” said C’mine. “M’ric. He said I didn’t have a choice.”
“And you believe that?”
“I don’t know.”
L’stev’s eyes drifted to C’mine’s shoulder, as bare of rank insignia as M’ric’s. “What are you going to do now?”
C’mine took a breath. “Jenavally came to see me. The watch post at Teller Hold is vacant.”
“It did her good,” L’stev said. His tone was neutral. “But she had friends at Teller. Her son’s father.”
“I left my family behind when I was Searched,” said C’mine. “I couldn’t go back to that.”
“Teller’s not a bad post,” said L’stev. “But I don’t know it would suit Darshanth, being apart from other dragons. You’re both better when you have someone else to worry about.” He paused. “There is an alternative.”
Something leapt in C’mine’s chest. “You’ll take me back?”
L’stev frowned. “Not to my barracks.”
C’mine’s surge of hope died as quickly as it had erupted. L’stev frowned more severely. “Don’t look like that,” he said. “You know you’re too compromised to work with these weyrlings again. That’s not your alternative.”
L’stev regarded him contemplatively. “How do you feel about the cold?”
It wasn’t that cold at the High Reaches. Darshanth came out of between into a sunny summer sky several degrees warmer than the one they’d just left. The brown on watch at the eastern end of the seven spindles challenged him courteously enough and, when Darshanth explained their business, directed him to land near the weyrling barracks.
Two greens were sunning themselves on the south-facing terrace outside: B’reko’s Milth and a slightly smaller dragon. As Darshanth backwinged to land nearby, he said, Milth’s rider asks that we bear with him for a few minutes.
C’mine hadn’t been waiting long at all when B’reko and a young green rider emerged from the barracks door. “Always know where I am, R’keed,” B’reko said, and clapped the lad on the shoulder. Then he stared at Darshanth with a puzzled expression. “Been starving your dragon, C’mine?”
“I –” C’mine looked at Darshanth, really looked at him. He knew he’d been in better shape, but he hadn’t let himself see the truth: the greyness of his colour, the dullness of his hide, the laxness of his muscles. He thought about saying, he hasn’t had much appetite, but that would have done Darshanth a disservice. Darshanth’s appetite wasn’t the problem. C’mine’s neglect of him was. “I need to do better.”
“Have a herdbeast!” B’reko shouted at Darshanth. He gestured down the Bowl. “Go!”
“That’s very generous of you, Weyrlingmaster,” C’mine said. “But he’ll eat back at Madellon.”
“Not generous. Don’t like to see a dragon that bony. Losing weight just looking at him.” B’reko turned and bellowed at the green beside Milth. “Helinth! Show Darshanth the paddocks!”
Helinth blinked, and looked for an instant like she’d refuse B’reko’s command. Then Milth swivelled her head towards her, and the younger green started guiltily.
You’d better follow her, C’mine told Darshanth.
B’reko was shaking his head. “Unruly madam,” he said. “Not two hours first mated. Thinks she owns the place. Greens.”
Milth snorted a lazy objection to that.
“She’s still a weyrling, then?” C’mine asked.
“Helinth? Not for much longer. Thank Faranth. Last of the clutch to rise. Glad that’s all over with. Whole bunch a pain in my ass.”
“L’stev said you have a new clutch on the sands.”
“Mm. Mm. Kerpath’s, though. Not Oradenth’s. Oradenth’s dragonets, always the biggest pain in the ass. Kerpath’s less so.” B’reko considered it. “Marginally. Come. Come and see the clutch.”
C’mine matched B’reko’s rolling stride as the Reaches Weyrlingmaster started towards the entrance to the Hatching ground. He looked around the Weyr as they walked, comparing it to Madellon. It was smaller, more round to Madellon’s oval, and its distinctive spires spoke to a more explosive formation. There were more buildings in the Bowl – several the size of small holds – and the entrance to the Hatching cavern, in the northern face of the Bowl beneath the spires, was much larger. The dragons were larger, too. Darshanth was about the average size for a Madellon blue, but the Reaches blues C’mine could see on Rim and ledges and by the lake were almost all bigger than him.
The queen and bronze within the Hatching cavern were both deeper shades of their respective colours than C’mine was used to seeing: she almost brassy, he not much lighter than a brown. “Kerpath,” said B’reko. “And Lenneth.”
C’mine’s knowledge of the north’s current political status extended just far enough that he knew the dragons were High Reaches’ senior pair. “Weyrwoman Veranne and Weyrleader N’veag…”
“Been at this long enough to know to leave their dragons to it,” said B’reko. He nodded in response to the look Kerpath aimed in his direction. Neither she nor Lenneth looked at all concerned by their presence. Indeed, she shifted deliberately to the left to reveal, with a certain theatrical flourish, her clutch.
C’mine stopped in his tracks. The gleaming hemisphere of a queen egg rose above the others.
“Problem?” B’reko asked, noticing his hesitation.
Shimpath’s egg and Berzunth’s were the only two gold eggs C’mine had seen Hatch. The memories of both those days made him flinch. “There’s a queen.”
“Mm,” said B’reko. “Fort-bound, probably, once she’s grown. Don’t need another here.”
C’mine made himself put aside his instinctive unease. “She’ll need a rider who can handle being uprooted, then. Someone worldly. Probably not Weyrbred.”
“Probably not,” said B’reko. He tucked his hands behind his back, rocking slightly on his heels. “Where would you look?”
“My northern geography isn’t very strong.”
“In broad terms.”
C’mine considered it. “Maybe the younger daughter of a Holder. One who’s been fostered out somewhere else.” He searched his memory. “Is Nabol near the Reaches-Fort border?”
“I might start there. There must be fosterlings with knowledge of both territories.”
“Interesting,” said B’reko. He gave no indication of whether or not he thought C’mine’s suggestion was a good one. “You favour high-born queen riders?”
“Not necessarily,” said C’mine. “Darshanth Searched…”
He stopped. Darshanth had Searched two candidates for queens, neither of them of noble birth. Again, the shadow of those two Hatchings passed over him. “Madellon’s Weyrwoman is the daughter of a Holder. No one ever seriously expected her to Impress. But our weyrling queen rider was brought up in her family’s exile.”
“High Reaches hasn’t flown Search in Turns,” said B’reko. “Don’t mean we haven’t had candidates in from outside. Course we have. Siblings of our riders. Unwanted waifs. Pretty girls. Pretty boys. But. Chosen because they’re desirable. Not because they’re likely. Sensitivity, not a strength of the High Reaches bloodline. Last Hatching, some of the pairings…” He made a rocking gesture with his hand. “Plenty of candidates. Not many for the dragonets to choose from. Not enough with the capability. Makes me nervous.” He pointed at the clutch. “Eighteen dragons there. Not convinced I have half that many prospects.”
“L’stev said you might find Darshanth’s Search sensitivity useful,” said C’mine.
B’reko looked at him. Then he touched both of his own shoulders, where Madellon riders – most Madellon riders – wore epaulettes. “What happened there?”
“Didn’t L’stev say?”
“I’m asking you.”
C’mine wondered what L’stev had told the other Weyrlingmaster. “My –” he began, and then stopped, thinking.
His world had gone to pieces when he’d lost C’los. L’stev had known that when he’d taken C’mine on, and he’d known it when he’d dismissed him. T’kamen had known it, too, when he’d discharged C’mine from the Wings. They’d both made allowances for his grief. And C’mine had overstepped the limits of both their patience. He couldn’t keep claiming C’los’ murder as an excuse for the things he’d done. Sooner or later he had to take responsibility for his own actions.
“I’ve made some bad decisions,” he said. Still, he instinctively wanted to cite C’los’ murder, but he made himself resist. Perhaps B’reko knew and perhaps he didn’t, but if he was anything like L’stev, his patience for bereavement as an excuse wouldn’t be limitless, either. “A lot of bad decisions in a very short space of…time.”
B’reko didn’t react to the fractional hesitation before that last word. He rested his chin on his chest. “Problem with being a Weyrlingmaster. Mistakes you make, very public.”
C’mine sighed. “Yes.”
“Have known L’stev a long time. Trust his judgement. Doubt we’d disagree on many things.”
C’mine squared his shoulders. “I understand.”
B’reko chuckled. “Don’t think you do. He’s already sent me some candidates. Have stood more than once and not Impressed. Some people would call them failures.” He shook his head. “I call them people who’ve had to pick themselves off. Dust themselves off. Carry on even though they’ve failed in front of everyone. People like that deserve a second chance.” He pointed a thick finger at C’mine. “You deserve a second chance. Won’t get that at Madellon. Won’t get that any place where everyone knows everything you’ve ever done. Need to leave it behind. Start fresh. Be the rider you want to be. Not the one everyone assumes you still are.”
C’mine looked at the shining curve of Kerpath’s golden egg. “I need to talk to Darshanth.”
“You do.” B’reko made an expansive gesture. “Take your time.”
C’mine climbed up into the tiers and sat on one of the stone benches overlooking the sands.
It wasn’t the first time he’d thought about leaving Madellon. He’d made quiet enquiries to Igen a few months after C’los’ death, when waking up each morning in the weyr they’d shared had seemed unbearable. Igen had been short of blues – its sole queen didn’t lay many – and he and Darshanth would have been welcome there. Ultimately, he’d decided that leaving Madellon would be worse than staying. But things had been simpler then.
Be the rider you want to be. Not the one everyone assumes you still are. B’reko’s words had weight and resonance. C’mine of Madellon was C’los’ grieving weyrmate, T’kamen’s friend, Valonna’s confidant. L’stev’s failed assistant and Carleah’s unreliable parent. M’ric’s unlikely champion and an unexpected thorn in H’ned side.
You are C’mine, said Darshanth. You are a blue rider. You are my rider. Nothing else matters.
You’d leave Madellon? C’mine asked. To come here?
The herdbeasts are fatter.
I’ll go wherever you want to go. Here or Madellon or another Weyr. It doesn’t matter so long as I am with you.
No, Darshanth. You’ve been letting me put what I want first for too long. What do you want?
Darshanth was silent for a long time. Other dragons, he said at last. Greens to chase. A Wing to fly in. Candidates to Search. Dragonets to teach.
You want to teach weyrlings?
He was quiet again, but not for so long. Dragonets can no longer go between. They will not be able to go between again for a long time. Trebruth and Vanzanth and I are the only dragons who know this. No other dragon knows. No other dragon can know. Only us. We have a responsibility. He paused again, and then added, To Pern.
C’mine would have laughed at the portentousness of the remark had Darshanth not been so completely serious. Most dragons don’t concern themselves with the future.
Most dragons don’t have to.
He thought about what L’stev had said. You’re both better when you have someone else to worry about. It was true. Worrying about M’ric had given C’mine something to do, someone to help – even if M’ric wasn’t a rider he’d known very well. Perhaps because of it. Caring too much was the problem. He’d timed it to save – or try to save – the people closest to him. He’d risked himself for C’los and Carleah. He’d have done it for T’kamen, too. For Valonna. For Sarenya.
For Darshanth’s sake, he had to learn to stop caring about other people so much.
Continue to Chapter seventy-nine: T’kamen
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