Chapter eighty-four: T’kamen
The stories of powerful men end in only two ways: death or disgrace.
– Harper truism
T’kamen moved his Weyrleader to put the white Weyrwoman into mate, and at last, El’yan tipped her over to acknowledge defeat. “Well played, T’kamen.”
T’kamen let out a long breath that he seemed to have been holding for hours. “Faranth, El’yan. That was brutal.”
“It was brave,” said El’yan. “Sacrificing that first Weyrleader of yours was the move that won you the game. I don’t think you’d have made a play like that a few months ago.”
T’kamen looked at the few pieces of his black set that remained beside his Weyrwoman on the board – one Wingleader, one Star Stone, and the Wingrider that had, against all odds, traversed the full width of the board to become a Weyrleader. They were hugely outnumbered by the clutter of vanquished chessmen that El’yan had taken during the game. “I still lost more than I won.”
“Even with the finest strategy in the world, no one ever won a chess match without losing pieces,” said El’yan. “There is no perfect game, T’kamen. No bloodless way to win. All that matters is who’s still standing at the end.”
T’kamen smiled wryly. “Are we still talking about chess?”
“There’s no victory without cost. But you don’t need me to tell you that.”
“No,” T’kamen said. “I don’t.”
A sevenday had passed since the Justice that had determined S’leondes’ fate. He had confessed to every charge laid against him: killing Alanne to wipe out Madellon’s only population of fire-lizards; arranging M’ric’s death in Threadfall to remove his queen Agusta as a source of new eggs; coercing Fraza into a fatal trip between to force an Arbitration to terminate T’kamen’s training programme. He also admitted to drugging T’kamen’s klah on the night of Fraza’s death to ensure that he and Epherineth wouldn’t be able to save her and, almost as an afterthought, to attempting to poison T’kamen before his first trip to Ista. If any rider had questioned the magnitude of S’leondes’ guilt before the Justice, there could be no doubt of it afterwards.
But T’kamen could take no satisfaction from S’leondes’ total surrender, because the Commander who had schemed and connived and murdered in his quest to maintain his grip on Madellon was gone. The man who confessed his sins before Madellon’s Wingleaders and Flightseconds was a shadow of that rider. The strain of lying to his dragon, the shock of having his twisted fabric of lies torn apart, and Karzith’s despair at the betrayal of their bond, had snapped something in S’leondes’ mind. His eyes were blank and vacant, his voice a distant monotone. And he reacted with only mild confusion when Lirelle, serving as Presider, handed down his sentence.
That was the only point during the Justice when T’kamen spoke up. If S’leondes had denied the accusations made against him, T’kamen would have been called to give evidence. S’leondes’ confession rendered such testimony redundant. But as the principal surviving victim of S’leondes’ crimes, T’kamen had the right to speak at his Justice, and he did so.
Under Weyr law, a dragonrider who committed murder was punishable by Separation. He would be exiled to one island in the Western Ocean and his dragon to another, and they would be forbidden to see each other again. In T’kamen’s era, blue and green riders had been exempt from Separation, but that was no longer the case. S’leondes had done more than enough to warrant it.
But Karzith hadn’t. Karzith, T’kamen argued, had been oblivious to his rider’s crimes. Karzith was innocent of them. Karzith had suffered enough.
He didn’t know if his plea actually swayed the Justicers, or if they had never truly intended to follow through on their threat of Separation. He supposed it didn’t matter. S’leondes and Karzith were sentenced to life Exile on Westisle. They left Madellon quietly with a heavy escort. The process of removing their names from Madellon’s records had already begun.
Yet however little pleasure T’kamen had taken in exposing S’leondes, however he’d refrained from vindictiveness in seeing him punished, however sincerely he’d lobbied for the commutation of the former Commander’s ultimate sentence – nothing could stop half the Weyr hating him anyway.
He’d been almost grateful for the first Threadfall after the Justice. The return to routine made most of Madellon’s riders snap out of the shock of losing S’leondes. G’reyan took over as Acting Commander, and for all that he had been S’leondes’ loyal second for many Turns, he didn’t allow whatever personal enmity he felt for T’kamen cloud their professional interactions. But the Fall itself was a bad one, and not only because of high winds and poor visibility. Some fighting riders seemed almost to want to get themselves killed. Some of the dragonpairs Epherineth dragged between to safety actively resisted being saved, and one green rider shrieked abuse at T’kamen when he went to the Infirmary to visit her afterwards: wishing every vile fate upon him and his dragon; screaming that they should have let her die in peace. To the best of T’kamen’s knowledge, she had no special connection to S’leondes, neither wingmate nor tailman nor lover; she was just one of the many fighting riders who couldn’t forgive T’kamen for destroying the Commander they had idolised.
The notion that one of those young riders might seek personal vengeance for S’leondes’ disgrace didn’t seem far-fetched. T’kamen stopped having meals delivered, ate nothing that he hadn’t taken personally from the communal dishes in the dining hall, and persuaded Fetch – with difficulty – to refuse any food but that which he offered him himself. And while he would never have asked for it, he found that he could never go more than a dozen steps from weyr or office without H’juke or F’sta or Z’renniz trailing him watchfully. He could have asked them to stop, but he knew they would disobey him. Having bodyguards was bad enough without the added insult of demonstrating that he was powerless to dismiss them.
“Buck up, T’kamen,” El’yan said, nudging him out of his thoughts. “If you dislike winning so much, you can comfort yourself with the thought that I’ll probably beat you next time.”
They’d begun a new match when the Weyr Singer took his place on the platform in the corner of the dining hall. “Any requests?” Tawgert asked, running through chords as he tuned his gitar.
There was a murmur of interest, and then people began shouting out suggestions.
“No, do, Kick Over The Manger.”
“More Of Us.”
“March Of The Wings.”
“All right, all right,” Tawgert laughed. “I’ll get through as many of these as I can.”
T’kamen was only half listening, but the introductory bars the Weyr Singer struck tickled his memory, making him pause in his contemplation of the chessboard. “What’s this tune?” he asked El’yan. “It sounds familiar, but I can’t place it.”
El’yan cocked his head slightly to listen. “It’s an old one. It was popular at the beginning of the Pass, before S’leondes became Commander. I’d be surprised if you’d ever heard it.”
T’kamen frowned. “The chord progression…”
Then Tawgert began to sing.
Feels like we’re undervalued, feels like we’re overlooked
There’ll come a time when we won’t take it
We’re green and blue united, we want our history book
Our share of glory and we’ll make it
Time to rise up, time to shut the lies up, time to light the skies up
You can never keep us down
’Cause there’s more of us than you
And you know it’s true
We are proud, we’re unbowed, we are closer to the ground
Got the wind beneath our sails and there’s more of us than you
We are green, we are blue, we’re the best that ever flew
Disrespect us at your peril, ’cause there’s more of us than you
It took until the chorus for T’kamen to recognise the melody. He rose from his place, seizing his cane. At the next table, H’juke leapt up, ready to shadow him. T’kamen waved him away. He reached the harpers’ platform just as Tawgert finished the song. “What in the Void was that?”
Tawgert looked at him over his gitar, surprised. “It’s just an old protest song, T’kamen,” he said. “I didn’t think it would upset you –”
“I’m not upset,” said T’kamen. “But what you just played – that’s a song called What We Have To Do. The lyrics are different, but the tune…the chord changes…”
Tawgert leaned on his gitar, looking intrigued. “Then the melody was re-used from an earlier song?”
“The earlier song was never…he would never…” T’kamen reordered his thoughts, and started again. “Who wrote this version?”
“More Of Us?” Tawgert asked. “I don’t recall…let’s see, do I have the notation…” He rummaged in the racks that stood at the rear of the platform, and came up with a score. “This is it,” he said, perusing the hide. “Music and lyrics are credited to…C’los and Carleah.”
T’kamen felt his throat tighten. He took the score from Tawgert, handling it gently, although it must have been a copy, several times removed from the original. “Carleah,” he said. “She must have found it in his weyr. C’los never did like the original lyrics he wrote.”
“C’los was the rider who taught you gitar,” said Tawgert. “Of course. I knew I knew that name from somewhere. And Carleah…?”
“His daughter,” T’kamen said. “She was a weyrling when I left my time.”
“I’d always assumed Carleah was a Harper,” said Tawgert. “She was the Weyr Singer, you know.”
T’kamen felt himself smiling. “The Weyr Singer. Los would have been so proud of her.”
“This isn’t the only song of theirs that’s stood the test of time,” said Tawgert. “I’m sure there’s another one here somewhere…” He rifled again through the collection of music, and then pulled out a second score. “A-ha! And how appropriate. Midsummer Night.”
T’kamen took the hide, running his eyes over the familiar notation. “Faranth. I used to play this with them. It was C’mine’s favourite.”
He stood lost in the memory for long moments. Then Tawgert held out his gitar to him. “Play it now?”
“No. There’s something else I need to do.”
It was late at the Harperhall, but that was good. Under cover of darkness, fewer people would notice them. Even old Bienath only opened one rheumy eye and barely snorted acknowledgement when Epherineth appeared above the fire-heights.
The journeyman behind the desk in the entrance hall was the same grey and lean Harper who had been on duty the first time T’kamen had visited Kellad with M’ric and Ch’fil. “Marshal T’kamen,” he said, rising hurriedly from his stool.
“Don’t get up, journeyman,” T’kamen told him. “Is the Masterharper here? I know it’s late.”
“He’ll still be up,” the journeyman replied. “Would you like me to…” He looked askance at T’kamen’s cane. “…Send a runner?”
“No need,” T’kamen said. “I’ll make my way up there myself.”
It was a long, lonely climb through the silent Harperhall to Master Marlaw’s study. T’kamen paused on a galleried landing halfway up a staircase to rest his leg. A dusty set of pipes hung in an alcove there, their varnish crazed and darkened with age, above an equally dusty plaque that read: Multiple pipes belonging to Master Torve, 1st Masterharper of the South. T’kamen looked at pipes and plaque for a long time before he resumed his climb.
Despite the late hour, and T’kamen’s refusal of a runner to precede him, the Masterharper was waiting for him. “Marshal,” Marlaw greeted him. “An unexpected honour.”
“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” said T’kamen.
“I always knew you’d be back,” said Marlaw. Then he shrugged. “And I saw Epherineth land. It’s hard to mistake a dragon of his size. Can I offer you a glass of wine, Marshal?”
“Just T’kamen,” he said, “and thank you. Not too strong.”
Marlaw went to the decanters on his sideboard. “You’ve been busy since we last met.”
T’kamen lowered himself gingerly into one of the Masterharper’s comfortable armchairs. “Passingly.”
“You’ve come for the Chronicle, haven’t you?”
“I want to know what happened to the people I knew.”
“I understand.” Marlaw set a cup of wine at T’kamen’s elbow, then turned to a cabinet behind his desk. The history book was as substantial as T’kamen remembered. Marlaw put it down with a thump, but left his hand on the cover. “Make me one promise. When you’ve finished here, tell me your story, so that a hundred Turns from now, some other Masterharper can sit at this desk with the mystery of Weyrleader T’kamen unravelled.”
“My story isn’t finished,” said T’kamen.
“When it is, it’ll be too late for you to tell it.”
T’kamen nearly smiled. “All right.”
Marlaw took his hand off the book. “I hope you find what you need.”
T’kamen pulled the heavy Chronicle of the Seventh Interval towards him. The engraved leather tab still marked the page he had read before, and he turned straight to it. Once again he scanned down the short paragraphs that narrated his brief tenure as Weyrleader of Madellon and, at the bottom of the page, the paragraph that he’d never finished.
Breeding influence of dragon
Epherineth’s lasting contribution to the bloodlines of Madellon’s dragons was limited by the fact that his queen daughter Berzunth –
T’kamen steeled himself, and turned the page.
– transferred to Southern Weyr in I7/104, where her rider Tarshe became Weyrwoman following the death of Southern’s then-Weyrwoman Karika (see page 145, Weyrwoman Karika, Southern Weyr). However, as Berzunth’s first queen daughter, Seihath, became in turn the founding queen of Starfall Weyr in I7/122 (see page 518, Weyrwoman Halling, Starfall Weyr), and given the notable fecundity of both queens, Epherineth nonetheless became one of the most significant and dominant southern continent sires of the Seventh Interval.
Something eased inside T’kamen’s chest, a stricture he hadn’t even known was there until it no longer was. He sat back in his chair. His face ached, and he realised he was grinning. Epherineth. Your line did live on.
Epherineth had never been a verbose dragon, but it was rare for him to be entirely lost for words. T’kamen could feel him struggling to articulate the emotions that were flooding through him. Southern and Starfall, he said, at last. My daughter and my daughter’s daughter.
I’ve never been sure if dragons put much importance on legacy.
Most dragons don’t, Epherineth said. But I’m not most dragons.
T’kamen turned his attention to the final paragraph of his entry in the Chronicle.
In the immediate aftermath of T’kamen’s disappearance, Wingleaders H’ned and Sh’zon served as joint Deputy Weyrleaders for Madellon (see page 315, Seventh Interval Regency, Madellon Weyr). Following Sh’zon’s return to his native Peninsula Weyr, H’ned was confirmed as Weyrleader Regent in I7/100. However, in I7/101, Wingleader T’gat became the next Weyrleader of Madellon when his Muzzanth caught Shimpath in her third mating flight.
“T’gat?” T’kamen asked, so startled he said it aloud. “T’gat became Weyrleader?”
“That surprises you?” asked Marlaw.
“He was always just so…” T’kamen paused to find the right word. “Nondescript. Madellon was never short of ambitious bronze riders, and T’gat’s about the last one I’d ever have expected to become Weyrleader.”
“He must have risen to the challenge,” said Marlaw. “He was Weyrleader for twelve Turns.”
T’kamen leafed through the Chronicle, picking up as he did an overview of the major political events of the Interval. He would have liked to know more about the conflict between Madellon and Southern that resulted in Weyrleader P’raima’s death. He was fascinated by the revelation that Sh’zon’s illegal participation in a Peninsula leadership flight had resulted in that Weyr become the first on Pern to elect its Weyrleaders. And he was gladdened, more than he had realised he might be, when he read Valonna’s entry, and discovered how the shy and diffident young queen rider he had known was remembered as a confident, just, and far-sighted Weyrwoman who had led Madellon through a period of turbulence and upheaval.
But the Chronicle was limited in scope, dealing as it did only with the major political players of the Seventh Interval, and by the time T’kamen had read far enough that none of the names were familiar any more, he knew that he hadn’t really come back to the Harperhall to find out what had happened to H’ned or Sh’zon, or even to Valonna and Tarshe. He rubbed the back of his neck, aching from craning over the tome.
“You didn’t find them, did you?”
He looked up. Marlaw was regarding him with the same knowing expression he’d worn the first time T’kamen had visited him. “Who?” he asked, deliberately obtuse.
“The ones who mattered to you, but not to history.”
A journeyman Beastcrafter. A blue rider who’d lost his way. And a brown rider who shouldn’t have been there. Had he really expected to find any of them in the Chronicle of the Seventh Interval? “No,” he said. He closed the cover of the book, and pushed it back across the desk. “Maybe it’s better that way.”
“I can make enquiries,” said Marlaw. “The Hall’s resources are at your disposal.”
“You’ve already been more than generous,” said T’kamen. “I’m not here under the Weyr’s auspices.”
“It has nothing to do with the debt we owe the Weyr, T’kamen,” said Marlaw. “Some debts are even greater than that.”
T’kamen looked at him.
“You were a Weyrleader of Pern at a time when that was the greatest honour any dragonrider – any man – could aspire to,” said Marlaw. “You had power and influence and respect. You had friends. You had lovers.” The Masterharper’s eyes never stopped searching T’kamen’s face as he spoke. “And you left all that behind. You came more than a century through the Turns to a time not your own, to a Pern in ruins, and to a Madellon that no longer cared about bronze riders or Weyrleaders. You could have yielded to the expectation of your new society, sunk into the ignominy decreed for a dragonrider of your colour in the Eighth Pass, become the anachronistic relic of a time everyone believed to be past. But you didn’t. You dared to hope. You presumed to dream. You risked everything, defied everyone, to pursue something better, not just for yourself or your Weyr or for dragonriders, but for Pern. And you’ve paid for every inch of ground you’ve gained; by Faranth, have you paid, in coin of shame and heartbreak, in your dragon’s blood and your own. But you’ve never surrendered: not to the pressure of your peers, not to the hopelessness of a task never before attempted, not to the despair of what you had lost and what you continued to lose. You became the figurative implacable force, and proved that S’leondes was not quite as immovable an object as he or Madellon or Pern had once believed. You never stopped believing, never stopped trying, never stopped daring, regardless of the cost.” Marlaw paused in his oration, his eyes bright with intensity. “Faranth, T’kamen. The debt Pern owes you!”
T’kamen looked aside, discomfited by it all. “Pern doesn’t owe me anything,” he said. “I haven’t succeeded yet. Epherineth’s still the only dragon in the Eighth Pass who can go between and come out again. The Unseen…” He stopped before admitting that he’d lacked the heart to ask his riders back to begin training again, with the wound of S’leondes’ disgrace still so fresh. Marlaw probably knew – he was, like any Masterharper, very well informed – but there was still a difference between tacit knowledge and explicit disclosure.
“Epherineth,” Marlaw said softly. “It would be a travesty to underestimate his significance in your story, wouldn’t it?”
“My story is his story, Masterharper,” T’kamen said. “Without Epherineth there is no T’kamen. Everything you credit to me is at least half his doing.”
“Your partner in all things,” said Marlaw.
T’kamen shook his head. “Some riders talk about their dragons as their partner or their brother or their best friend. Epherineth is all those things, but he’s more than that. There’s no place where I stop and he begins, no thought I could have that he can’t hear, no emotion I feel that he doesn’t feel. He’s not me, and I’m not him. I’m a man; he’s a dragon. But we’re together. Always, in every way. There’s no way to separate us. None at all.”
“Then he’s aware of what we’re talking about now?” asked Marlaw.
“Aware,” T’kamen said. “Just not very interested.”
Marlaw looked intrigued. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a rider whose dragon was listening in before.” Then his eyes shifted to Fetch, riding T’kamen’s shoulder. “And your fire-lizard? How does he fit into your union?”
T’kamen thought about how the slender thread of Fetch’s consciousness had crept almost shyly into the bond he shared with Epherineth. “He’s connected to Epherineth through…” And even as he said it, it slipped into place in his mind with such ease that for a moment he was astonished he hadn’t thought of it before. “Through…me.”
That’s why the other dragons have struggled, Epherineth said, as the realisation struck him at the same moment. They are not connected.
Marlaw was watching T’kamen with a fascinated expression. “You look like a man who’s just had an epiphany, T’kamen.”
“I have,” T’kamen said. He reached for his cane and got up. “Pern may yet owe me that debt.”
He went to Audette at first light. C’rastro, the Weyrlingmaster, still hadn’t forgiven him for Epherineth’s intimidation of Prerth, and probably never would; bypassing him entirely in favour of his assistant might not have been the most politick approach, but Audette had always been much the most fair and sympathetic member of the Weyrlingmaster’s staff.
She was overseeing the morning feeding of Levierth’s latest dragonets. “Marshal,” she greeted T’kamen as he approached. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“You train them to block, don’t you?” T’kamen asked, without preamble. “As soon as they’re born. You teach the weyrlings to block them out.”
Audette looked taken aback for a moment, but she quickly regained her poise. “We call it filtering, not blocking,” she said, “but yes. We train all our riders to maintain a degree of detachment from their dragons’ emotions. With our riders Impressing so young, it makes things much easier for them to cope with.”
“Then S’leondes’ deception of Karzith –”
She pressed her lips together. “What he did was a perversion of what we teach.” She spoke quietly, so her voice didn’t carry to the nearby weyrlings, but there was no equivocality to the disapproval in her tone. “He held himself completely apart from Karzith, and fed him outright lies. It’s no wonder the dissonance broke that poor dragon.”
“But he was just taking the technique to an extreme,” said T’kamen. “The fundaments are the same. You teach riders to dampen the connection with their dragons.”
“You know how young dragons and riders can feed off each other’s emotions. When we’re losing dragonpairs every Fall, the cycle of grief can be hard to break.”
“I think the blocking – filtering, whatever you want to call it – is the reason why Pass dragons have so much trouble going between even with the help of fire-lizards,” T’kamen said. “When Fetch pilots Epherineth between, they don’t communicate directly with each other. They go through me.”
“And you were never trained to filter him out at all,” said Audette.
“We were taught a few exercises,” said T’kamen. “I never had much interest in learning them.”
“You must have been a joy to your Weyrlingmaster.”
“But I think the filtering is hampering the ability of the fire-lizard to pilot the dragon. They have to fight to get through the rider’s blocks, and by the time they have…”
“It’s too late,” Audette finished for him. She looked pensive. “It does seem logical. Fraza was a most assiduous student of everything she was taught as a weyrling. M’ric too, for all his flaws.”
“I need the Unseen to overcome that training,” said T’kamen. “I need them connecting with their dragons completely. But I don’t have a good enough grasp of what it is they need to overcome.”
“You want my help,” said Audette.
“I do,” said T’kamen.
She looked at him strangely. “You don’t have to petition me for help, you know,” she said. “You’re the Marshal of Madellon.”
“I’d rather have your help of your own free will than compel you to provide it out of obligation, Audette.”
She looked at the group of weyrlings, riders and dragonets alike bloody to the chops with raw meat. “Between has always had its own risks, hasn’t it? Even in your day. S’leondes wasn’t lying about that.”
“He wasn’t,” T’kamen said. “When I was a weyrling, we lost two out of eighteen pairs learning to go between. It is a dangerous tool. But I’m convinced it’s worth the risk.”
“You don’t need to persuade me, T’kamen,” Audette said. “I’ve never been in any doubt about the benefits of restoring between.”
“We’ve become too concerned with ourselves, we dragonriders,” she said. “Too self-serving. We’ve forgotten that we’re here to serve Pern. To protect Pern. I fear that our forebears would be disappointed in the job that the Weyrs of the Eighth Pass have done so far.”
“Losing the north,” T’kamen said.
“Losing the north,” said Audette. “But you don’t even have to go that far to see where we’ve failed. I was Searched from Peranvo Hold, you know, before the Pass began.” The pause she left was full of regret and guilt and frustration for the fate of that once-mighty Hold. “Dragons need between, T’kamen. Pern needs between.”
“Then you’ll help?”
Audette regarded him with the steady serenity that had always distinguished her. “I haven’t seen you training with the Unseen since before the Arbitration. Have Dannie and B’roce and the rest of the fighting riders agreed to continue?”
“Not yet,” said T’kamen. “I’m hoping to persuade them to put the greater good before their personal dislike for me.”
“They don’t dislike you, T’kamen,” Audette said. “They resent you for bringing down S’leondes. But mark my words: they resent him more, for failing to live up to their expectations of him. The difference is that you’re still here to be a target for their anger, and he’s not.”
T’kamen glanced over his shoulder. Tetketh and Bularth were sitting near Epherineth, and their riders were loitering not far away. Watching his back. “Being a target is starting to wear on me.”
“There are two things you could do worse than to learn from S’leondes,” Audette told him. “The first is to reward loyalty. He was always good at showing appreciation for the riders who put themselves out for him.” She paused. “At least until he started murdering them.”
T’kamen laughed mirthlessly. “And the second?”
“Don’t ever be unworthy of their devotion.”
“That’s a tall order.”
“I didn’t say it would be easy.”
He digested that in silence for a moment. “Will you help me, Audette?”
“Yes,” she replied, immediately this time. “I will.”
“Was S’leondes evil?”
Epherineth had warned T’kamen that Dannie was on her way into the weyr, but her opening demand was still blunt enough to be surprising. T’kamen put aside the chart he’d been studying to give her his full attention. “Do you think he was?”
“H’juke does,” she said. “B’roce thinks he wasn’t right. In the head.” She made a looping gesture around her ear with one finger. “Crazy.”
“Does anyone have any other alternatives, besides bad and mad?” T’kamen asked.
“He’d have to be one or the other, to have…done what he did.”
“Then you don’t think he could have been…” T’kamen paused, and then said, awkwardly, “…sincerely misguided?”
The look Dannie gave him was flatly incredulous. “Is that a joke?”
T’kamen relented. “I don’t think it’s as simple as calling him one or the other. I think he was desperate. I think he was genuinely afraid of what restoring between would mean for Pern – for the Pern he knew, the Pern he’d helped to build.”
Dannie set her jaw. “Bronze riders shouldn’t be the leaders just because they’re bronze riders.”
“No, they shouldn’t,” said T’kamen. “But if S’leondes had been born in my time, he would have Impressed a bronze.”
“You’re judging Karzith because he’s a blue –”
“There’s nothing wrong with Karzith,” said T’kamen. “Faranth knows, some of the finest and bravest dragons I’ve ever known have been blues. But S’leondes should never have Impressed a dragon as mild as Karzith. He wanted a blue, and by force of will, he got one. But Karzith was never his equal in that partnership in the way that Epherineth is my equal. And Lusooth yours.”
Dannie shifted uncertainly, as if unsure if that was a compliment or a slight. “So you agree with B’roce,” she said. “You think the Commander wasn’t right in the head.”
“I think there was a…discordance to him,” said T’kamen. “Like a gitar badly tuned. Remember what I said at the Arbitration about serving the Weyr?”
“That it doesn’t let you have a clear conscience,” said Dannie.
“I think S’leondes believed he was serving the Weyr,” said T’kamen. “And while he could keep Karzith from knowing the truth, he had no conscience to stain.”
“A dragon isn’t a conscience, T’kamen.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he said. “One’s the voice in your head that tells you right from wrong, and the other…” He sighed. “S’leondes could justify his actions to himself. But he knew he wouldn’t be able to justify them to Karzith. If Karzith had known what he was doing, he’d have stopped him.”
She looked at him.
“I don’t believe that S’leondes was evil or crazy, Dannie,” T’kamen said. He wasn’t sure he believed what he said. He did believe it mattered that he said it. “But I do think he was wrong.”
“He was our Commander,” she said, and for the first time since T’kamen had known Dannie, she sounded every bit the very young woman she still was.
“I know,” T’kamen said
“And he killed Fraza.”
“What do you mean, I know?” Dannie shouted. “Why aren’t you angry? He killed M’ric and Fraza! He tried to kill you! And what if one of us had managed to go between? He’d have killed us! You should have let him be Separated! He deserved to die! You should have killed him!”
“Killing him wouldn’t have achieved anything, Dannie,” T’kamen said. “Nor would Separation. It wouldn’t bring Fraza or M’ric back.”
“It would make me feel better!”
“No,” T’kamen said. “It wouldn’t.” He looked at her until she couldn’t hold his gaze any more. “It wouldn’t.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I once let a murderer die when I could have saved him,” said T’kamen. “I let him die out of anger and spite. I let him die because I wanted him dead. And it haunts me still.”
“Was he a dragonrider?”
“Who did he murder?”
“My oldest friend.”
“Another bronze rider?”
T’kamen smiled, though it hurt him to do it. “A green rider.”
Dannie stared at him. Then she turned away to look towards the archway to Epherineth’s chamber. She stood there for a long moment, her body language betraying her turmoil. Finally, she turned back towards him. “You want to start training again.”
“To prove S’leondes was wrong?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
“But it will prove S’leondes was wrong, won’t it? He’d shaffing hate it, wouldn’t he?”
Dannie looked at him. She nodded. “I’ll talk to the others.”
They didn’t prove S’leondes wrong the next day, or the next. No habit could be broken overnight, least of all a habit ingrained from the earliest days of weyrlinghood.
“I should have known,” T’kamen said to Audette one morning, as they walked between the dragonpairs of the Unseen, observing as riders and dragons bent their wills to breaking down the barriers that impeded their communication. “That little green dragonet, when I was first working my Discipline in the Barracks. Her rider was too good at keeping her out.”
“We start them on it as soon as they Impress,” said Audette. “It’s seemed the kindest way for a long time. I appreciate why you’ve taken such a strong stance with C’rastro over it now, but we’ll have a lot more upset weyrlings and distressed dragonets to console in the next few Turns.”
“Not just weyrlings, based on what we’ve seen from this lot so far,” T’kamen said wryly.
“A few extra toilet breaks and some lapses in table manners are the least of our worries,” said Audette. She looked meaningfully in Dannie’s direction. “Her green’s going to rise by the end of the day, and the way some of the male riders have been jostling around her, it could get ugly.”
“Over a green flight?”
Audette shrugged. “They aren’t used to feeling their dragons’ low-level arousal all the time like they’re beginning to now. It’s making them all revert to randy teenagers. Well, those of them who aren’t still randy teenagers anyway. I don’t suppose it’ll help when those fire-lizards are old enough to start mating, too. Faranth help us; this lot will be doing nothing but weyr-hopping for sevendays.”
The distracted behaviour of the Unseen riders as they began to experience their dragons’ physical and emotional states more directly had one upside. It proved that Audette’s patient work with them was having the desired effect. The riders who were most often gripped by hunger pangs not their own, or who suddenly excused themselves to the necessary like half-trained infants, were those who were finding it easiest to throw off their conditioning.
T’kamen couldn’t have done it without Audette. It wasn’t just that he lacked an understanding of Pass training techniques, although that was part of it. Audette’s involvement blunted the wariness that some of the fighting riders still harboured towards T’kamen for his part in S’leondes’ downfall. And he hadn’t realised how mediocre a teacher he was until his clumsy attempts to instil comprehension in his students were contrasted with Audette’s finesse. L’stev, he reflected, had been right to refuse him a place on his staff all those Turns ago. He was no Weyrlingmaster.
But even Audette could only take them so far. She had no fire-lizard; her dragon was far beyond the age when her ability to go between had atrophied. When the time came, the burden of expectation would fall once more onto T’kamen’s shoulders.
It was a foul morning. It had been pouring all night as wave after wave of driving rain hit Madellon from the south west, and the bedraggled state of the riders who reported in from the morning sweeps was mute evidence that there was more to come.
“Bularth says he feels like he’s never going to be dry again,” H’juke said, as he heaved a sandbag into place across the mouth of T’kamen’s weyr. Epherineth’s ledge hadn’t flooded yet, but many others had, and H’juke, unasked, had arrived with everything he needed to build a barricade.
“Hatching ground?” T’kamen suggested.
“He tried,” H’juke said glumly. “It’s full of fighting dragons, all crammed in like fish in a keg.”
“It had to do this on a rest day, didn’t it?” T’kamen asked Epherineth aloud, as H’juke went back outside to get another couple of bags. “It couldn’t rain on a Fall day for a change.”
Epherineth was curled disgruntledly on his couch. I don’t want to stay in here all day.
H’juke came back in with two more sandbags slung over his shoulders. He dropped one at the end of the row he’d already started, then stopped in a pose of crucial expectation. “Achoo!”
He was nearly drowned out by Bularth’s simultaneous explosive sneeze from the ledge outside. “Faranth, Juke,” T’kamen said. “Are you coming down with something?”
“It’s not me. It’s Bularth. The rain gets up his nose, and every time he sneezes, I do too.” He dumped his second sandbag and then went out for more. “Achoo-hoo!”
T’kamen turned to look at Epherineth.
Epherineth angled his head down to look back at him.
“H’juke,” T’kamen said, when he came back in again. “Do you have plans for the rest of the day?”
“Not really. Did you need me to do something?”
“How would you like to go somewhere dry?”
“I don’t think there is anywhere dry within a two-hour flight,” said H’juke. “It’s pouring from Jessaf to Kellad.”
T’kamen nearly laughed at his guilelessness. “It won’t be raining at Ista.”
“At…Ista?” H’juke let the last sandbag slide gently from his shoulder. His eyes searched T’kamen’s face, first with incredulity, and then with gradually more excitement. “You mean…”
“You’re ready, Juke. You understand the theory. You have for sevendays. Fathom’s the best-trained fire-lizard in the fair. And there’s nothing interfering between you and Bularth any more.”
“But…” H’juke said, then stopped, as if trying to come up with an objection. T’kamen waited. “I thought for sure you’d ask Dannie,” he said softly, after a moment. “I thought you’d want…”
“A fighting rider to be first?” T’kamen asked, when H’juke trailed guiltily off. “It would probably be the wiser course, wouldn’t it?” He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Scorch the wiser course.”
H’juke looked caught between alarm and delight, but his training brought him down on the side of caution. “The others will go mad.”
“They’ll have their turn soon enough,” T’kamen said. “Someone has to be first.” He thought about what Audette had said, about the lessons he could learn from S’leondes. Reward loyalty. “And it should be you, H’juke. You’ve been a part of this from the beginning, ever since Ch’fil lent you to me. I’ve leaned on you so hard, and so often, and you’ve never complained. You do a dozen things every day to make my life easier, and if I haven’t recognised you for it, then that’s my fault, not yours. You’ve been steadfast through all the turbulence I’ve caused, when so many others haven’t. And I haven’t forgotten what you offered to do before the Arbitration.” He put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “You weren’t ready then, but you are now. The name that history remembers as the first Eighth Pass rider to go between and come out safely should be yours, H’juke. You’ve more than earned that honour.”
For an alarming moment, T’kamen thought that H’juke was going to burst into tears. His eyes were huge and shining with emotion. And not just emotion, T’kamen realised. Devotion.
“When I Impressed Bularth, I…” H’juke’s voice was choked. “They told me I’d never amount to anything. They told me I’d always be a burden on the Weyr. Because I was just a bronze rider.”
“From one bronze rider to another,” said T’kamen, “I’m telling you now: they were wrong.” He gripped H’juke’s shoulder, hard. “Come between with me to Ista. Ch’fil will be glad to see you.”
“Yes,” H’juke said, at last. His voice was choked. “Yes, sir! Yes, Weyrleader, sir!”
Continue to Chapter eighty-five: L’stev
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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