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Chapter eighty-five: L’stev

A Weyrlingmaster’s decisions, more than any other rider’s, resonate down the Turns long after he himself is dead and gone.

– Excerpt from Weyrlingmaster D’hor’s personal diaries

100.06.04 (100TH TURN, SEVENTH INTERVAL)
MADELLON WEYR

L'stev (Micah Johnson)Vanzanth usually woke early, disturbing L’stev whether he liked it or not, but the brown dragon was still enjoying his sleep when Crauva’s movements disturbed L’stev.

Sixty today, he thought, in the unusual moment of privacy.

Then he flung his arm over his face against the light of uncovered glows, and complained, “What sharding time do you call this, Crau?”

“Time to get up,” she replied serenely, from the direction of the bathing room.

L’stev uncovered his face long enough see how much light was coming through the archway. “Is it even morning watch yet?”

“For the last half an hour.”

“Middle of the sharding night,” L’stev grumbled.

“Go back to sleep, you grumpy old man,” said Crauva.

L’stev wondered if she knew how accurate that sobriquet was today. Probably not. He didn’t like to mark his Turndays. “No good,” he said. “I’m awake now.” He propped himself up on an elbow, looking blearily across the room. Crauva was buttoning her blouse. Another missed opportunity, L’stev said to Vanzanth.

As Vanzanth woke, much of L’stev’s drowsy lethargy left him. It was difficult to stay sleepy when his dragon was awake and alert. Too early, Vanzanth complained.

Tough titties. “Don’t see why you need to be down in the caverns at this hour anyway,” L’stev said. “Can’t Nelya open up for breakfast?”

“Her foster son’s sick,” said Crauva. “If she had any sleep at all last night it’ll be a wonder, and I won’t have the morning’s bake ruined for want of someone with their wits about them in the kitchens.”

“I could live with a burnt roll or two if it meant I got an extra half an hour of your time,” L’stev told her, with a hopeful grin.

“Half an hour?” Crauva came back over to the bed, laughing. She bent to kiss him, then deftly dodged his grab. “You know that’s not nearly enough, brown rider.”

L’stev gave her his dirtiest chuckle. He watched the Headwoman move around his weyr. “Can do this more often, now the kids are out of the barracks.”

“You’ll want your other quarters aired out, won’t you?” said Crauva. “I’ll send a girl.”

“Sooner you didn’t,” said L’stev. “None of your girls know how I like things.”

“Then you may do it yourself. I’m too busy to be your serving woman.”

“The door’s there,” L’stev said, gesturing towards the archway.

“Boil your head,” said Crauva. Then she paused in her bustle. “It only seems five minutes ago they Impressed. And not much longer than that when Rastevon was keeping me up all night with a fever.”

“He’s given me a sleepless night once or twice since he Impressed, if it’s any comfort,” said L’stev.

“You’re too hard on him. It’s not his fault he’s your son.”

“I’m hard on all my bronzes,” L’stev insisted. He scratched at his chest hair. “For all the good it’s done them, over the Turns.”

“You’re too hard on yourself, too, Stev.”

“At least I’m consistent. You want Vanzanth to give you a ride down the Bowl?”

“That would be nice of him.”

By the time Vanzanth had delivered Crauva to the lower caverns – and returned with a basket cupped carefully in his forepaws – L’stev had heaved himself grudgingly out of bed. “What’s this?” he asked, taking the basket.

She asked me to wait.

L’stev eyed the basket suspiciously, hoping it didn’t contain something that would alert Vanzanth to the occasion of the day. He opened it, and chuckled. Inside were two rolls, slightly singed around the edges, and a note that read, Half an hour!

He ate them leaning against his dragon’s shoulder, looking out at the Bowl as Madellon came slowly awake. The early morning chill made smoking plumes of his breath and Vanzanth’s. “How’s that tooth feeling today?”

Vanzanth rolled his tongue around his mouth. It still aches.

L’stev caught his lower jaw and pulled it down towards him to inspect it. “This one?” he asked, poking at the last molar on the left.

Yes. Vanzanth’s voice even sounded muffled.

The great blocky tooth, bigger than L’stev’s fist, was deeply fissured, but no more so than any of the others. He’d dug out every last grain of stone from between Vanzanth’s teeth the night before with a pick, but the gum still looked puffy around the painful tooth. “I’ll ask Vhion to take a look,” he said. “Chyilth can demonstrate chewing technique today.”

I can chew on the other side.

“These are the only teeth you’ve got, Vanzanth. Stupid taking any chances with them. Unless the idea of drinking pre-chewed wherry out of a bucket appeals to you.”

Will you be doing the pre-chewing for me?

L’stev let his dragon’s jaw go. “Vhion,” he said firmly.

He didn’t miss the morning ritual of touring through the barracks to make sure all the kids were up. Unlikely though it seemed, some weyrlings were able to sleep right through the thunderous noise of half-mature dragons crashing about. Still, rousting all his charges out of their furs now they were scattered throughout the Bowl in their own weyrs presented challenges of its own.

Challenges aplenty lay ahead. L’stev always worried about his weyrlings, but the Wildfires had more on their plates than most. He picked out a couple of the half-grown dragons, still asleep on their weyr ledges, and tried to reconcile everything he knew about their riders with the notion of a Wing comprised solely of them. Any of the bronzes had the makings of a leader. H’nar would be the obvious choice, and being H’ned’s son certainly wouldn’t harm his prospects so long as his father occupied the Weyrleader’s weyr. K’ralthe was cleverer, if not so well-liked. And even R’von had begun to show hints that he was ready to brush the chip from his shoulder and conduct himself as a man should.

How sentimental of you, Vanzanth observed.

I didn’t ask for your opinion.

Still, it was uncomfortable enough when he dispersed his charges out to the care of experienced Wingleaders; the thought of leaving them as a unit, even under a likely leader like H’nar, made L’stev deeply uneasy. Even the most precocious bronze riders usually did at least a Turn as a wingrider, and several more as a Wingsecond, before taking on their own commands. Wingleaders who accepted freshly-graduated bronze and brown riders into their Wings did so in the tacit knowledge that they would be expected to mould those young men into the leaders they might one day become. If H’nar became Wingleader of the Wildfires straight out of weyrlinghood – and L’stev was resigned to the likelihood that H’ned would push hard for his son to be put first – who would be responsible for his development? How would he learn without experienced Wingseconds to show him how a Wing really worked? L’stev had performed that duty himself many times over his Turns as a Wingsecond – scraping the sharp edges off prideful young bronze riders who thought they knew everything. He hadn’t always succeeded, but a couple of his protégés weren’t complete disappointments to him.

Sentimentality again, said Vanzanth. What’s the matter with you today?

Shut your snout.

The weyrlings still ate breakfast together in the barracks hall. A’len turned up as they were finishing their meal. “Everything under control?”

“Shouldn’t it be?” L’stev asked.

“A couple of the blues are watching Faseth rather intently.”

L’stev looked hard at the weyrling blue riders until he identified the offenders. “J’kovu!” he barked. “C’seon! Get your dragons’ minds off that green and your hands where I can see them!”

Kessirke, sitting next to J’kovu, looked appalled. “Oh, yuck!”

The two boys looked suitably horrified – albeit more for being caught with their hands in their pants than for the actual offence of them being there. L’stev sent them off to wash up, ordering them to use extra soapsand while they were about it. “I’d forgotten how much I hate them at this age,” he muttered to A’len. “If it’s not precocious dragonets humping each other’s legs, it’s their riders doing the same.

“It can’t be easy, being fourteen with a Turn-old dragon,” said A’len. “I’m glad I was older when Chyilth started humping legs.”

L’stev snorted. “Get them started on their first chew. I’m taking Vanzanth to Vhion. That tooth’s still bothering him.”

“Is Carleah assigned to the Weyrwoman with Tarshe today?”

“No,” said L’stev. “She’s bright enough that she won’t fall behind for missing a few mornings, but I don’t want Jagunth skipping too many more chewing sessions. Pay them some extra attention, would you?”

“Will do.”

A’len was a steady pair of hands, L’stev thought, as he rigged Vanzanth’s harness for the short glide over to the infirmary, but he didn’t know that he fancied him for his assistant long-term. L’stev liked him, personally, very much. He was competent and reliable, and the weyrlings respected him. There was still something missing. A’len lacked a certain intuition, the knack a good teacher had for understanding where a weyrling was struggling and finding a way to correct it. He’d been a Harper apprentice in his youth – a background he shared with many of the riders L’stev had tapped as his assistants over the Turns – but the fact that the Hall had let him go for Search without a struggle spoke to what potential he’d shown to his Masters. He was a good Wingsecond, even an excellent one, and L’stev thought that that was probably what he should remain.

You’re not being fair to him, you know, Vanzanth told him.

“What makes you say that?”

He’s a perfectly good Assistant Weyrlingmaster, but that isn’t the standard you’re holding him to.

“Oh, isn’t it?”

It is hard to see how anyone else could ever compare to you.

“I’m not comparing him to me.”

Your patience, your wisdom…

“Vanzanth.”

Your dashing good looks…

“Are you done?”

The way your knees crackle when you dismount…

L’stev waited.

I’m done now.

He buckled in and checked the safety. “Sarcasm is a base sort of wit, Vanzanth.”

I’m a base sort of dragon.

“I’ve noticed.”

Vanzanth launched himself from the ledge above the barracks. You could have done better.

And whose fault is that?

He turned his head slightly, dropping his jaw. Mine!

Vanzanth had always enjoyed taking credit for ruining L’stev’s prospects. There’d been three bronzes in his clutch, and none of the riders they’d chosen had been – or were – particularly special. The question of whether one of those bronzes might have chosen L’stev had been rendered moot by the fact that Vanzanth had got to him first.

Dragonriders liked to talk up how a hatchling always chose exactly the right person, as if there were only one possible rider for any dragon, one possible dragon for any rider. L’stev found that idea positively absurd. Dragonets could only choose from the candidates they were offered, and sometimes there wasn’t even much choice. The idea that a dragon could only be Impressed by its one true rider was laughable. L’stev didn’t even believe that any given candidate was meant for a specific colour, let alone a specific dragon. More so with girls, perhaps. Most girls were either green-types or queen-types, without much nuance in between. Most male candidates, though, straddled two or more colours on the spectrum in terms of their suitability. The vast majority of the boys L’stev stood as candidates were in the blue-to-brown range. He was seldom unduly worried about colour fit with his browns and blues. But while plenty of candidates said they’d be delighted to Impress whatever dragon chose them, L’stev couldn’t think of many dragonriders who’d have been happy with any colour. The difference between a blue and a green was much more fundamental than a single degree of hierarchy. And while the prestige range, brown-to-bronze, was a common aspiration, and a reasonably forceful candidate was as likely to Impress one as the other subject to what Hatched on the day and in what order, the step up in expectation and responsibility from brown to bronze was just as dramatic.

But hatchlings didn’t discuss amongst themselves who was best suited to whom. There was some evidence that a strong personality could influence a unborn dragonet through focused attention on its egg, which was why L’stev monitored the contact his candidates had with a hardening clutch closely, but once hatchlings began to break shell, anything could happen. The old saw that a bronze Hatching first was a good omen was only common sense: the first hatchling had the whole complement of candidates to choose from, theoretically guaranteeing a strong match. Conversely, the dragonet who Hatched last must make the best of what remained. L’stev didn’t think it was a coincidence that bronzes like Epherineth, Izath, and Santinoth had Hatched early in their clutches; Pierdeth, Peteorth, and Alonth had all been late dragonets.

Vanzanth had been the second hatchling out of his clutch. He often claimed that he’d only chosen L’stev because he’d been in his way, but L’stev remembered that day well, and he remembered how purposefully the plain-coloured, snub-snouted, unremarkable-looking hatchling had made for him. He’d seen it many times since: a determined brown poaching a lad who’d been tipped for bronze before any such dragonet had a chance at him. Once Impression was made, that was that.

L’stev had never felt any resentment about his own Impression, nor taken any pride in the retrospective hunch that he would have been a bronze rider under only slightly different circumstances. It was all far too long ago for either bitterness or conceit to have any meaning. From time to time, he and Vanzanth discussed how things might have been different had that plain brown hide been flecked gold-green, but they always came to the same conclusion: wondering about what might have been was an exercise in futility.

Still, L’stev thought that most riders probably had an optimum colour – not necessarily the one they thought, or even the one they rode – even if they could have Impressed up or down the scale from where they had. Most everyone who could hope to Impress a dragon would have one colour that best matched their personality, without either limiting their aspirations or obliging them to strain beyond their abilities. The thought brought him back to A’len. He was as natural a brown rider as L’stev had known: authoritative, reliable, not too ambitious. Natural brown riders almost always made much better Wingseconds than bronze riders did, in the main because they were free of the expectation that the subordinate rank was merely a stepping-stone to a Wingleadership of their own.

A brown rider who should probably have Impressed a bronze was a different matter. In L’stev’s experience, such riders went one of two ways. They either chafed at the constraints of their dragon’s colour, second-guessing their Wingleaders and causing discord in the Wing, or they found a way to channel their abilities in a more productive direction.

If you can call what we do productive, said Vanzanth.

We’ve had our moments, L’stev told him.

Vanzanth huffed air from his nostrils as he backwinged to land outside the infirmary. Now do you understand why you’re not being fair to Chyilth’s rider?

I’m certain you’ll enlighten me.

You think he lacks ambition.

L’stev dismounted, ignoring how his knees protested loudly when he hit the ground. “I think that’s a good attribute in a brown rider.”

In a brown rider who isn’t you.

“The Weyrlingmaster can’t afford to be passive.”

Then you think the Weyrlingmaster should always be a bronze rider?

“You know I don’t. B’reko’s probably the best Weyrlingmaster on Pern, and he’s a green rider.”

But he’s not a typical green rider.

“That goes without saying.”

He exceeds what is expected of his dragon’s colour.

“B’reko has always been excessive.”

But Chyilth’s rider does not.

“Do you think he would have made a good bronze rider?”

Hinnarioth’s rider wouldn’t have, either. Nor Brenth’s. Yet you had no argument with them as your assistants.

“I’m biased against other brown riders,” L’stev said. He glared at his dragon. “So stake me out for Thread.”

Vanzanth ducked his head under the archway into the infirmary. You are, but that’s not why you don’t want Chyilth’s rider as your assistant.

“Why don’t I, then?”

You know why.

L’stev was forestalled from answering by Vhion’s hail. “Hello, Vanzanth!” The Dragon Healer heaved himself out of his seat. “And good morning, L’stev. Something I can help you with?”

“Yes,” said L’stev. “Can you give me something for a dragon with a terminal case of being a smart-arse?”

“Terminal?” asked Vhion.

“Because if he doesn’t stop sassing me soon, I’m going to kill him.”

Vanzanth snorted, and Vhion grinned. “I’m afraid there’s no known cure for that, L’stev.” He folded his hands. “What can I really do for you?”

“He has a painful tooth,” L’stev said. “The last molar on the left.”

“Let’s have a look,” said Vhion. “Would you ask him to lie down in the second bay, there, and rest his chin on the block?”

Vanzanth obliged without needing to have the instruction relayed as Vhion took out the leather case that contained his dragon-sized dental tools. L’stev didn’t like to look at them too closely. They made him shudder. Instead, he glanced around the infirmary. “Quiet today?”

“Quiet every day, since Sejanth passed,” said Vhion. “I haven’t seen much of your weyrlings this last sevenday or so.”

“That could change,” said L’stev. “One of them’s bound to bite their tongue or singe their own forepaws sooner or later.”

“I’ll make sure we have fresh aloe salve ready,” said Vhion. He pulled a stool up alongside the block where Vanzanth had laid his head. “If you could ask him to open up?”

Vanzanth did, and Vhion eased a wedge of padded leather between the brown’s teeth to keep them open. He began to examine the offending tooth from all angles using a long-handled mirror. “Did you ever get to the bottom of your Southern blue weyrling?” he asked conversationally. “The young lady?”

“Consequence of Southern refusing to Search for Faranth-knows how many Turns,” said L’stev. “No different to greens choosing boys, I suppose.”

Vhion selected a hook-ended pick from his toolkit. “Can we expect to see girls Impressing Madellon blues, then?”

“Doubt it,” said L’stev. “We always have far more boys than girls. No need for a blue to start getting creative with his choice.” He sighed. “Though I suppose, once it gets out that the thing is possible, we might get the odd girl who sets her heart on a blue. Because my life isn’t shaffing complicated enough already.”

Vhion chuckled, and then, when his probing made Vanzanth flinch suddenly, said quickly, “My apologies, Vanzanth, is that sore?”

Very.

L’stev relayed his dragon’s response. “He was chewing stone most of yesterday,” he said. “I gave his teeth a good dig out last night, but I must have missed something.”

“Hm,” said Vhion. “I don’t think you necessarily did.” He moved his stool around to the far side of the block to examine the teeth on the other side. Vanzanth twitched again, less violently, when Vhion scraped at the last molar that side.

I thought you told me it only hurt on the left!

It hurts less on the right.

L’stev drove his fist irritably against his dragon’s shoulder. “What’s the matter with him, Vhion?”

“Nothing,” the Vhion replied, “or, at least, nothing pathological. His teeth are wearing down, that’s all. Once the surface layer of the tooth is abraded away, the soft tissue inside starts to become exposed, and that can be quite painful.”

As much as L’stev knew about dragonets, having been Weyrlingmaster for sixteen Turns, his knowledge of the afflictions that troubled older dragons was no better than that of any other rider. “What can we do about it?”

Vhion tugged the wedge out from between Vanzanth’s teeth. Vanzanth closed his jaws with a snap. “There’s a paste that will encourage the production of a replacement layer of tooth enamel. You’ll need to have him refrain from chewing firestone for several sevendays while that takes effect. And when he kills, it would be better if he swallowed what he eats whole instead of crunching the bones.”

Crunching the bones is the best part, Vanzanth complained.

You’ll do as you’re told.

You’d better start pre-chewing that wherry for me.

“It’s nothing to be unduly worried about, L’stev,” said Vhion. “Tooth wear isn’t an uncommon complaint among dragons of Vanzanth’s age. Let me go and see if we have any of that paste in the storeroom.”

If there was a phrase a dragonrider wanted less to hear, L’stev couldn’t think of it. Dragons of Vanzanth’s age. Vanzanth was only forty-two. Staamath, the oldest bronze in the Weyr, had been forty-seven when he’d flown Cherganth in her final flight to produce Shimpath. Forty-two was no age at all, L’stev thought irritably. He was old. Vanzanth wasn’t.

Then L’stev looked at his dragon, really looked at him, and saw him as Vhion must: an older brown dragon, his neck thickening, his hide shading to green at the joints and ridges where it was thinnest, the flesh of his jaw and the underside of his throat drooping with the inexorable gravity of the passing Turns. Vanzanth turned his head slightly to meet L’stev’s scrutiny. The outermost facets of his eyes were almost imperceptibly misted with the first cloudy signs of creeping blindness.

Oh, don’t look at me like that.

I hadn’t noticed, Vanzanth.

Noticed what? That I’m not as young as I used to be? Like rider, like dragon, L’stev.

You’re eighteen Turns younger than me. You shouldn’t be ageing just because I am.

Vanzanth snorted emphatically enough to make the tails of L’stev’s bandanna flap. Why should you have all the fun?

Vhion came back then with a bucket of off-white paste. “Here we are, L’stev,” he said. “If Vanzanth would just open his mouth again…”

L’stev watched closely as Vhion demonstrated how to apply the substance to the top surfaces of Vanzanth’s back teeth. “And I do this every day?”

“Twice a day,” said Vhion, wiping his hands on a rag. “And, if Vanzanth could try to refrain from licking it off…”

Vanzanth had been exploring his newly coated teeth with his tongue. He stopped obediently as Vhion spoke. Tastes like dirt.

Don’t eat it, then. “Thanks, Master,” he said to Vhion. “I’ll go and break it to A’len that he’ll be the one washing firestone stink out of his clothes for the next month.”

“And I’ll make sure we have plenty of aloe on hand,” said Vhion, “though I hope we won’t need it.”

Chyilth was demonstrating proper chewing technique using training cake when Vanzanth overflew the training grounds on the way back to his ledge over the barracks. The weyrling dragons and their riders were watching intently from either side. Berzunth’s silver-gilt hide was conspicuous by its absence. She and Tarshe had taken part in the Wing formation drills that had comprised much of the weyrlings’ training so far, but they were spending less and less time with the class. Even so, L’stev wouldn’t give up responsibility for either of them until he had to. He’d let Valonna be thrust into the Weyrwoman’s chair far too young; he wouldn’t see Tarshe made to take up the mantle of Weyrwoman Second until he thought she was ready. Although, he mused, as Vanzanth settled onto his ledge, Valonna had come farther in the last Turn than he would ever have predicted. The thought nearly made him smile.

He was taking off Vanzanth’s harness when he paused. “It’s my Turnday today. My sixtieth Turnday.”

He expected his dragon to say something sarcastic, but Vanzanth just looked at him. I know.

“I could drop dead tomorrow.”

Vanzanth continued to gaze at him, his expression inscrutable.

L’stev looked down at where A’len was holding a piece of training cake in one hand and gesticulating to the weyrlings with the other. “And A’len would become Weyrlingmaster, whether he liked it or not.”

He wouldn’t like it.

“But he’d do it anyway, because he’s my current assistant, and the obvious candidate to step into my shoes.”

And because the fitness of a brown rider to step from Assistant Weyrlingmaster to Weyrlingmaster wouldn’t be questioned.

“Which a green or blue rider’s would,” said L’stev. “Legitimately or otherwise.”

Darshanth’s rider could have been a great Weyrlingmaster, said Vanzanth. If things had been different.

“If things had been different,” L’stev agreed. He found a speck of rust on the second buckle of Vanzanth’s aft neck-strap and scratched it off with his thumbnail. “If I die tomorrow, Madellon gets a poor Weyrlingmaster by default, and everything we’ve worked to establish in the weyrling barracks these fifteen Turns goes to shit because I didn’t train a competent successor.”

You’d better not die tomorrow, then.

“I wasn’t planning on it.”

You never know.

L’stev let his eyes wander the Bowl walls, settling on one dragon after another. “You know what’s really galling? If things had gone differently, M’ric would have made a very interesting candidate for Madellon’s next Weyrlingmaster.”

Another brown rider? For shame.

L’stev ignored him. “Who better to prepare our weyrlings for a Pern without between?”

That’s up to us, isn’t it?

“I thought you’d decided I was practically dead.”

Practically. Vanzanth tilted his head. We know what’s to come.

“And we can’t do anything about it.”

Can’t we?

“Are you suggesting I could go to Blue Shale, bring back a clutch of fire-lizard eggs, and get the Wildfires going between with their help?”

No, said Vanzanth, with more than a hint of force.

“Because if I did, T’kamen wouldn’t need to figure out the fire-lizard connection a hundred Turns from now.”

Because if you did, you’d be stopped, said Vanzanth.

“By time.”

By me.

That was about as chilling a thing as Vanzanth had ever said. “What, then?” L’stev asked. “If we can’t change the future M’ric came from, what can we do?”

Vanzanth spent several moments considering that, running his tongue around the inside of his mouth. Smooth its way, he said at last.

“Smooth its way?”

As Trebruth and his rider did.

L’stev snorted. “With the best of intentions, Trebruth and his rider did some pretty appalling things.”

They did what they had to do, knowing what they knew. We know less. We can do more.

“That makes absolutely no logical sense.”

It does to a dragon.

“So we can’t fix between,” said L’stev. “Whatever’s gone wrong with it, it’s going to stay broken until the Pass.” Then, thinking about it, he added, “It’s still broken then, isn’t it? The fire-lizards are just a way around. Not even a patch.”

I think, Vanzanth said, that maybe between was never meant for dragons.

L’stev almost recoiled at the remark. “What do you mean?”

We’re too…big. Too…conscious. Too aware. We intend too much. To a fire-lizard between is…possibility. To us – to dragons and our riders – between is what we will it to be.

“Are you saying that dragons broke between?”

I don’t know.

“Vanzanth, are between and time the same thing?”

I don’t know.

“Time protects itself,” said L’stev. “Between protects itself.” The concept was slippery to his comprehension, however hard he tried to grasp it. “This is giving me a headache.”

And you thought you had a morning off from the weyrlings.

L’stev was grateful for Vanzanth’s recourse to sarcasm. “They’re never going to go between,” he said, taking refuge in something he could understand. “T’kamen’s not coming back.” He shook his head. “I wonder how he’s doing, in the Pass. In a Pass where bronzes have been overthrown by greens and blues!”

That gave extra credence to his beliefs about Impression, he thought. According to M’ric, the future Weyrleader was a blue rider, and all the fighting Wingleaders rode blues and greens. Traditional wisdom had it that only bronzes and browns chose leader-types as their riders. L’stev snorted. Traditional wisdom was a crock. Dragons chose who they chose. They weren’t infallible, or clairvoyant, or even particularly sensible.

Evidently not, said Vanzanth. Or I wouldn’t have chosen you.

“We put too much stock in colour, Vanzanth,” said L’stev. “Too much reverence on a bronze hide. Maybe M’ric’s colour revolution is what Pern needs. Maybe electing Weyrleaders makes more sense than letting mating instincts decide.”

I vote for me, said Vanzanth.

L’stev looked down at his weyrlings. He looked at Berzunth, sitting beside Shimpath on the Weyrwoman’s ledge. He saw for a moment, as though through the lens of a dragon’s time-sensitive perceptions, the generations that would follow them in an unbroken line, through queens and bronzes, through browns and greens, to a scarcely recognisable Pass a hundred Turns from now.

“There’s so much to be done, Vanzanth,” he said. “And we’re not getting any younger.”

But you’re not dead yet.

“Not quite.”

Then we still have time, said Vanzanth.

L’stev looked down at the training grounds. He looked around the walls of the Bowl. He looked up at the dragon-crowned Rim.

Finally he looked at his dragon, and Vanzanth looked back at him with clouded eyes.

“Yes,” he said, and pushed his knuckles lightly against Vanzanth’s cheek. “We still have time.”

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