Chapter four: Carleah
By one Turn of age, a dragonet is capable of doing everything he can do as an adult: flying, flaming, going between, mating, fighting, and getting himself killed in a stupid accident.
– Weyrlingmaster D’hor, Weyrling Training Manual, volume VII
L’stev paused there, glaring out at them. He always glared. Glaring was his normal expression. But the growling menace that accompanied most of his pronouncements was conspicuously absent from this one. This time, L’stev was serious.
“Not Impression,” he went on. “That was the easy part. Not first flight day, either. Never had a dragonet who couldn’t get airborne. And not your graduation from weyrlinghood to the Wings. There’s always some use for a dragonpair, even if sitting on watch all Turn might not suit you. No. This is the most critical sevenday any of you will ever face. This sevenday you’ll be going between.”
None of Carleah’s fellow weyrlings, seated on benches before the Weyrlingmaster, reacted to the news. Not outwardly, anyway. They knew better than to talk during a lecture. But Carleah doubted she was alone in sending a quick, fierce thought to Jagunth, sitting with the other dragonets on the training ground behind Wildfire Class. I knew it!
They had, it was true, been practising visualisation almost from the beginning. It had started with simple games, like sending your dragonet a mental image of the colour red without actually saying the word red and asking her to point out the board painted that colour from a selection, or imagining one of several decorated vases and having her describe it back. Then they’d progressed to passing images from rider to dragon, to another dragon and finally to that dragon’s rider, and comparing the end result to the first rider’s original image. They’d even practised relaying a visual from dragon to dragon starting at one end of the class and finished at the other, twenty-five dragonets in all, and while the Wildfires’ first effort had resulted in a hilariously distorted picture by the time the original visual had gone through all twenty-five of them, later attempts had wrung a grudging admission from L’stev that they weren’t completely hopeless.
L’stev had another favourite exercise to train their observational skills: he’d show the class a large and detailed drawing for a few seconds, then whip it away. The aim was to recall as many different, accurate details from the picture as possible: three-legged pink wherry, lady in pointy hat, rock shaped like an anvil, stuffed toy runnerbeast. Carleah was good at that game. Her tutors had always said she had an eye for things. And since they’d started flying, she’d quickly grasped the difference between how a place looked from the ground and how it appeared from above. The major Holds and Crafthalls were easy – you just imagined the pattern of the fire-pits on their roofs – and every Weyr had a differently-shaped Bowl. Smaller holds were harder, and they’d been visiting many of them in their flying exercises to learn their features by experience using exactly the same technique as the picture game: uneven turret, skinny arched windows, funny boulder, tunnel-snake weathervane.
But in the last few days L’stev had been pushing them harder on the importance of clear visualisations, springing tests on them, demanding snap images of given locations to be passed to their dragonets and then to his Vanzanth for assessment. Carleah might have been brought up at the Kellad Harperhall, but she was the daughter of a Madellon green rider, and that made her as well-informed as any Weyrbred weyrling. Obviously, between training wasn’t far off. And the dozen Wingseconds who’d arrived with L’stev for this class had made it just as clear that today’s lesson would be no ordinary lecture.
Granted, Carleah had been predicting today’s the day every morning for most of a fortnight, but that didn’t make her any less right.
The dragonets still weren’t quite as good at concealing their emotions as their riders. Most of them shifted restlessly, or sat up taller, reacting to the excitement or fear or stress their riders felt. They subsided quickly enough when Vanzanth swung his head in their direction.
“Going between is the most critical talent dragons possess,” L’stev continued. “Interval or Pass, you can be anywhere on Pern in less time than it takes you to put your boots on. Without between you’re limited to the speed of your dragons’ wings – and at the mercy of their stomachs. You all know how hungry they get after a long flight, and the Weyr couldn’t afford to feed them without between.”
Jenavally, L’stev’s assistant, snorted with amusement from her seat behind his lectern, and a round of chuckles rippled from the direction of the bench from which the attending Wingseconds were observing the class.
“It’s also the most dangerous talent dragons have, and that means that this is the most unsafe sevenday you’ll likely ever face. It wouldn’t be if this were the Pass. If Thread were falling, the most risky part would be the first time you and your dragons went out in Fall. But cosy in the Interval as we are, that day’s never coming for you.”
L’stev paced from one side of the class to the other as he spoke. “You have other dangers ahead. We have close formation flying, firestone drill and, Faranth help us, close formation flaming drill to come. Even experienced adult dragons can get hurt when live flame is around.” He didn’t need to mention Sejanth’s name to drive that point home: they all saw the crippled bronze every time they went to the infirmary. “But that’s why you’ll each learn to go between before so much as a pebble of firestone ever touches your dragonet’s lips. If another dragon goes left when you thought he’d go right, or overshoots a mark, or lets his flame go too long, being able to escape between is what will keep you alive. And you can bet your dragon’s going to dodge between just on instinct whether you know how to or not. So we teach you how to go between now, before you really need to, so that when you do need to, it’s already second nature.”
“So.” His voice cracked like a wingbeat. “Each of these Wingseconds has kindly agreed to mentor you. You’ll heed them at least as well as you’d heed me. This isn’t the time for tricks or games or foolhardiness.” His eyes had been roving over the class throughout his lecture, as if seeking out potential problems, but Carleah was certain they rested for longer than an instant on R’von. “You’ll take between seriously, or you’ll die. Your choice.
“We’ve assigned each of you to a Wingsecond. Jenavally has the list. You’ll go off now with your mentors and learn from them and their dragons. When they think you’re ready to attempt between, they’ll let me know. Each morning this sevenday, anyone who’s ready will fly out of the Weyr with Vanzanth and me after breakfast and attempt to jump back between. There’s no rush. No one gets any extra credit for being first. No one loses anything for being last. This is not a contest.” L’stev stopped again, staring out at the weyrlings. Then he turned to his assistant. “Weyrlingmaster.”
Jenavally rose from her seat, pushing a lock of her tumbling orangey hair out of her eyes, and read from a slate. “G’dra, Chenda: report to Wingsecond L’pay. S’terlion and W’lenze, to Wingsecond A’len. H’nar and Carleah, you’re with Wingsecond M’ric. Maris and N’jen…”
H’nar was sitting in the row behind Carleah. She turned around to him. “You and me, bronzie.”
“You and me,” H’nar agreed. He stood up, tugging his tunic down as he did; he’d put on a growth spurt to rival his dragon’s in the last month, and all his clothes were just a fraction too small for him. “Shall we?”
Carleah liked H’nar. She liked him quite a lot. He was tall and athletic and handsome in an unconventional way, with his pale eyes and prematurely greying hair, and he never spoke down to any of the younger weyrlings. On the other hand, he was a bronze rider, and in Carleah’s experience bronze riders were bad news. If her father had taught her anything, it was that bronze riders weren’t ever to be completely trusted. They always had one eye fixed on a promotion or a queen or a Weyr. H’nar hid his ambition well behind the courtesy, but Carleah felt certain it lurked there nonetheless.
“Do you know M’ric?” she asked him, knowing perfectly well that he didn’t.
“Not really,” said H’nar. “Except that he’s been holding try-outs for riders to join that special Wing.”
“It’s called the Ops Wing,” Carleah told him. “M’ric was a search and rescue rider at the Peninsula. Rescuing herders lost in the mountains and boats in trouble at sea; that sort of thing.”
“You always know this stuff, Carleah,” said H’nar.
“I have good sources,” Carleah replied, trying not to preen. Not that she had any secret sources. She just used her eyes and her ears. Chores took her all over the Weyr, and no one paid much attention to a weyrling – especially a green weyrling – so there was plenty to be seen and heard, and she wasn’t afraid to ask what she couldn’t glean from eavesdropping. She could have reeled off facts about any one of Madellon’s Wingseconds just as easily. “Oh, and he’s senior Wingsecond to Deputy Weyrleader Sh’zon.”
“I’ll consider myself fully briefed,” said H’nar solemnly.
M’ric, waiting with the other Wingseconds, nodded to them both as they approached him. “Carleah and H’nar? If you’d ask your dragons to join Trebruth on the beach over there, we’ll get started.”
Trebruth was almost half again Jagunth’s size, but H’nar’s Ellendunth was already taller and bulkier than M’ric’s oddly undersized brown. Carleah thought he looked rather pleased to be bigger than his elder, and rolled her eyes as the young bronze sidled closer to Jagunth. She knew H’nar found it dismaying that his dragon was so smarmy, especially around Berzunth, who pointedly ignored him most of the time. Not that it was unusual for a dragon and rider to have markedly different personalities: Indioth, Carleah’s father’s green, had been sweet-tempered by contrast to her rider’s sharp tongue and sharper intellect.
M’ric seated himself between his dragon’s forepaws. “Take a seat,” he invited them. “Your dragons, too. There’s a lot to take in, so make yourselves comfortable.”
“Yes, sir,” said H’nar, “but don’t they understand it already? I mean, if they’ll do it instinctively to avoid a collision?”
“Yes,” said M’ric, settling himself against Trebruth’s forearm. “And that sort of jump is one you can’t really help them to do anyway. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. L’stev’s lectured you about the two kinds of jump, hasn’t he?”
“Absolute and blink,” Carleah said quickly, before H’nar could beat her to it. “But at the Peninsula you’d have learned them as absolute and relative. Peninsula riders call them rellies.”
“We’ll stick with the Madellon terminology for now,” M’ric told her, smiling slightly. “H’nar, give me an example of an absolute jump.”
“From here to Jessaf Hold,” H’nar offered.
“And Leah, an example of a blink jump?”
“Carleah,” she insisted, sharply. “My name’s Carleah.”
“My apologies,” said M’ric. “Carleah.”
She took a moment to compose herself. No one had called her Leah for months. It was the convention at Kellad to abbreviate names to their final syllable, but she wasn’t at Kellad any more. “You do a blink jump when you need to dodge something. You go between and come out again in the same place.”
“You’re almost right.” M’ric smoothed a patch of sand with one hand. “Imagine you’re flying Thread in fixed formation, at cruising speed, say fifteen wingbeats a minute for your green, twelve per minute for your bronze, H’nar.” He drew a forward-vee formation in the sand. Carleah and H’nar both leaned forward to observe. “There’s a piece of Thread coming down on your station. What kind of jump between do you do to get out of the way?”
“A blink,” said H’nar.
“Right.” M’ric drew a circle around one of the crosses that represented dragons in his diagram. “A jump between takes about a count of ten from the moment you disappear to the moment you reappear. This is true both for you and your dragon and for an outside observer, who would see you vanish, then count to ten and see you reappear. You described a blink jump as when you go between and then come out again in the same place. Can you see now why that isn’t necessarily correct?”
H’nar looked perplexed, but the illustration had made it obvious to Carleah. “Because your Wing’s moved on,” she answered. She reached over and drew an arrow alongside the formation sketch to indicate the direction of movement. “You’ve been between for ten seconds, so if you come back to where you were, you’ll have fallen two and a half wingbeats behind your formation.”
“Good. When performing a blink jump in formation, your destination is always relative to your departure point. Which is, of course,” M’ric added, as an aside, “the reason they’re also known as relative jumps at the Peninsula. Well done, Carleah.”
Carleah beamed at the praise. H’nar was still frowning. “But,” he said uncertainly, “how do you know where your Wing’s going to be in ten seconds? I mean, what if they change speed, or direction? What if there’s more Thread falling in the space you blink back into?”
“Those are good questions, H’nar,” M’ric told him. “And there’s another one neither of you have asked: how do you, as riders, form the visual to jump to where your place in the formation will be in ten seconds’ time? What references do you use?”
Carleah and H’nar looked at each other.
“Your wingmates around you?” H’nar asked doubtfully.
“Not a good idea,” said M’ric. “They might not still be where you left them – they could have changed position or altitude, or even gone between themselves, so straightaway your visual is out. Any other suggestions for references? Carleah?”
She looked down at the diagram, frowning.
Don’t be angry, Jagunth said. Trebruth is very nice.
I don’t like not having an answer!
“It’s really a trick question,” M’ric said. “The answer is that there are no certain references you can take in that situation. It would be almost impossible for us as riders to visualise a destination that’s both so specific and so abstract. When you blink you have to trust in your dragon to do the calculations. And where other dragons are involved, they use each other as reference points in ways that we can’t.” He pointed up to the Star Stones, where a blue and his rider were on watch. “When the Weyr gets a lot of visitors, say for a Hatching, we could have dozens of dragons all arriving between within moments of each other. But there’s never been an incident of a dragon coming out of between into the same space as another one. They instinctively avoid emerging on top of each other, even if the visualisations from their riders are identical. They’ll always compensate for the presence of other dragons.”
He pointed again to the formation diagram he’d scratched in the sand. “It’s the same when a whole Wing goes between in formation. The Wingleader’s dragon will provide the visual for their destination, but if all twenty dragons in the Wing used that precise image as their arrival point, you’d have twenty dragons all appearing on top of each other in the same airspace. They have the ability to orient themselves relative to other dragons, no matter what kind of jump between they do. We rely on that instinct of theirs every time we go between.”
“So you don’t have to give them a visualisation at all to do a blink jump?” Carleah asked.
“No, and it would be dangerous if you tried. In practice, if you need to blink in the first place, it’s probably because you need to dodge something – another dragon, most likely – and you wouldn’t have the time to construct and communicate an accurate visual. Half the time your dragon will make the decision to blink without consulting you anyway – they have a pretty good collision sense – and even if you’ve spotted a threat before him, all you’ll need to do is give him the command to blink. By the time this becomes a necessity for you in drill, your dragons will have been trained to understand that when you ask them to blink or dodge, they need to blink back to their position in the formation, wherever that may be by the time you emerge, and taking the relative position of their wingmates into account.”
H’nar groaned. “Faranth, that makes my head hurt!”
“I told you you’d want to be sitting comfortably,” M’ric replied, smiling.
“How do they do it?” Carleah asked. “It’s so complicated!”
“Ellendunth can’t help me with the sums when we’re doing figuring practice,” H’nar agreed. “It’s hard for me even when I have a slate to write the numbers on. So how can dragons make all those calculations in their heads?”
“Well,” M’ric said. He reached for a small rock partially embedded in the sand. He prised it free and weighed it in his hand a moment. “Catch.” He tossed the stone towards H’nar, who caught it automatically. “There. No slate required.”
H’nar looked baffled. “I don’t think I understand.”
“You had to do all kinds of complex calculations to catch that rock,” M’ric explained. “You had to assess how fast it was moving, in what direction, and you had to move your hand to a specific place at a specific moment to intercept it. And you did it all without even thinking about it. You might find long division tricky, and your bronze probably couldn’t do it at all, but our brains, and theirs, do incredibly sophisticated things unconsciously all the time.”
H’nar grinned, and Carleah found herself smiling too. I’d never thought of it like that, she admitted to Jagunth. It was a clever explanation that she thought her father would have liked. She stored it away for future use.
M’ric nodded. “So, getting back to between, what would you do if you were one end of the Weyr Bowl and you needed to get to the other end?”
“An absolute jump,” Carleah said promptly.
“All right. What would your visual be?”
She opened her mouth to reply, then stopped, and started again. “Well, how the Weyr looked from that angle, rather than how it looked from where I was.” H’nar was already shaking his head. Carleah shot him a quick, annoyed look. “What?”
“H’nar?” M’ric prompted him.
“You won’t have a good enough visual,” he said. “You’d have to have a really precise reference for that angle compared to your normal reference for the Bowl. You’d have to have a visual for every single possible angle…wouldn’t you?”
“You would,” M’ric replied. “So, how would you get from one end of the Bowl to the other?”
“Is this another trick question?” Carleah demanded.
“It might be.”
H’nar thought about it. “We wouldn’t go between at all. We’d fly.”
“Right. You never go between when flying straight will do.” M’ric tapped his fist against his leg to emphasise his point. “There are very few situations outside of Threadfall – which for you means outside fighting drill – when you’d need to blink. Yes – if you absolutely had to be the other end of the Bowl in a hurry, you could let your dragon calculate it. But when it’s a matter of half a mile, and you can cover that on the wing in a minute or two, it’s not worth the risk.”
Carleah was annoyed with herself. She hated being wrong. At least H’nar wouldn’t hold it over her, like some of their classmates might. Then she looked up at M’ric, shielding her eyes against the glare of the sun, just over the eastern rim of the Bowl. “What about timing?”
M’ric regarded her levelly for a long moment. Carleah wondered if he’d deny its existence, but at length, he replied, “What about it?”
“Will we be taught how to do it? I mean, because someone’s bound to try anyway, so it would be safer to teach us…”
“Stop there, Carleah,” M’ric suggested. “Trebruth?”
Trebruth drew himself up, rearing over the two dragonets, his eyes suddenly orange. Ellendunth looked like he might protest before the brown offered him a glimpse of his teeth, and he quickly laid his head on his forepaws in submission. Jagunth, meanwhile, quailed at her elder’s displeasure.
“Timing isn’t a subject for today,” said M’ric. He didn’t sound angry, but his tone was very firm. “There’s enough for you to worry about with a straightforward absolute jump, which is the first trip you’ll make between, and which is more than dangerous enough.”
They spent the remainder of the morning discussing reference points, trading visualisations, drawing the shapes of Hold fire-pits in the sand. M’ric let them go for the noon meal, held as always in the barracks dining hall with the other weyrlings, but made them promise to return afterwards. Carleah drew fire-pit layouts on the table with a bit of spilled klah all through the meal, alternating slurps of fish chowder with bites of bread, while some of her friends whinged and moaned that they didn’t get it, and it was so hard, and their mentors were going too fast for them.
“So tell them to slow down,” Tarshe said, after a while of Kessirke and Jardesse’s complaints. She had been quiet, as was her habit, but now she spoke up with a hint of irritation. “It’s not a race, for Faranth’s sake.”
“Good thing too, Tarshe,” said K’ralthe. “You’d win it.”
Tarshe’s brow wrinkled slightly in a pained expression at the remark, and K’dam, seated beside K’ralthe, said loudly, “You are such a suck up, bronze.”
“Shut up, brown.”
K’ralthe was probably right about the race thing – Tarshe excelled at all their physical training, from running to swimming to wrestling – but that didn’t make his remark any less sycophantic. “Bronze riders,” Carleah said sympathetically to Tarshe.
“You’re not wrong,” Tarshe agreed.
“How are you finding it, anyway?” Carleah asked.
“I just want to get on with it, honestly. The sooner we can go between, the sooner I can see my family again.” Tarshe shrugged. “Assuming we’re allowed out of the barracks by then.”
“We will be,” Carleah told her. “Once we pass the second stage of training – that’s going between – we get to start integrating with the rest of the Weyr again, and we can ask permission to visit family outside Madellon.”
“So L’stev tells me. Though I don’t think he likes the idea of letting me and Berzunth out of his sight.”
“He’s mentoring you, isn’t he?” Carleah asked.
Tarshe laughed. “Aren’t I just the special one?”
Well, she was, Carleah thought, though without rancour. Tarshe didn’t get any special privileges because of Berzunth, but she wasn’t just another weyrling, either. She’d be a weyrwoman once they graduated – maybe even Senior Weyrwoman one day – and Berzunth would be able to tell any dragon what to do. Carleah didn’t mind. That was just the way dragons were. The trick, as her father had told her, was to get friendly with a potentially powerful rider while you were both still weyrlings. Then colour didn’t matter so much.
Tarshe wasn’t the easiest person to get to know, though. She wasn’t exactly standoffish, but she did keep to herself. She didn’t have any close friends among the other Wildfires, girls or boys; she never took sides when disagreements blew up within the class; she’d never been given a demerit for behaviour, and she was seldom singled out for praise. But for her dragon’s hide, silver-gold in a sea of green, she’d have been completely invisible.
Some of the other girls still resented Tarshe for getting the queen – or, at least, for the attention she attracted because of it. It wasn’t as if any of them would have traded their greens for Berzunth, although Carleah thought that Chenda might not mind if her Lirpath turned gold spontaneously. For herself, Carleah wouldn’t have changed a thing about Jagunth – not her colour, not her size, and definitely not her sweet nature. Berzunth was very pretty, but she was already almost twice the size of any of the greens and took about four times longer to bathe. Tarshe had to put up with much closer scrutiny than any of the other weyrlings, too – the adult riders weren’t allowed to talk to her, but that didn’t stop their dragons staring, especially the bronzes. Carleah definitely didn’t envy Tarshe all those gnarly old bronze riders perving over her. And there were still mutterings about Tarshe’s background, even though the Weyrleader himself had investigated the Peninsula territory Justice that had resulted in Tarshe’s family’s exile, and made it quite clear that Tarshe herself had been an infant at the time of the incident and completely blameless of the crimes her father and uncle had supposedly committed.
Tarshe just seemed to let it all wash over her, without taking any of it personally, but then it was hard to say if that was an act. Carleah remembered her being a prickly candidate. She would have thought that Impressing a queen would make a person more prickly, not less, but then, she supposed, that depended on the dragon. Berzunth seemed a very relaxed and calm dragonet, not at all the demanding and bossy type Carleah would have expected, and while the boys who rode bronzes had become the natural leaders of their side of the barracks, Tarshe hadn’t done the same in the girls’ quarters. Maris and Soleigh had taken charge there instead. They were almost as alike as twins in personality – sensible, calm and approachable – although Maris was tall and fair and serious, and Soleigh small and dark and cheerful. They were who you went to if you had a problem that you didn’t want to bring to Jenavally or L’stev. They were the ones who’d set Kessirke right when she’d woken the entire barracks one morning thinking she was dying because there was blood on her bedfurs. But they were also so devoted to each other that, even while they obediently kept to their own beds, their dragonets slept curled together in a ball, which was startling for two greens. L’stev had declined to comment the first time he’d seen the two young dragons together, though his eyebrows had sunk even lower than usual, while Jenavally had remarked that things might change when the dragonets started taking an adult interest in the males.
Carleah doubted it. Their dragonets were ten months old now and already aware of each other as males and females. Jenavally had already warned them that some of the greens could start rising by the time they marked their first Turn, although a Turn and a half was a more normal age for first flights. That was still far enough off that Carleah wouldn’t worry about it yet. But she was looking forward to being able to go between, to having the freedom to visit her mother and her old friends at the Harperhall, to moving out of the barracks and into a weyr. She looked forward to being able to mix with the other riders of Madellon too, not just the weyrlings. The dragonets were a tight-knit bunch, as clutchmates always were, but Carleah longed to break free of their small community and the strict rules of the weyrlings barracks.
With that in mind, she resolved to be back on the beach and ready to continue her studies with M’ric in good time. Jagunth had gone to sleep in the sun with some of the other dragonets. Carleah poked her awake. Wake up, you.
Jagunth roused with a terrific yawn, stretching her wings. I’m itchy again.
You’re growing, Carleah told her. I’ll get some oil.
She’d collected an oil bucket from the barracks storeroom, and was swinging it from one hand, when L’stev stepped into the doorway ahead of her. “You.” He levelled a thick finger at her. “Come with me.”
“But I –”
Carleah put her bucket down and followed the Weyrlingmaster meekly up the stairs to his office. Vanzanth was sitting outside, the hunched and grizzled mirror of his rider in dragon form. He watched her pass from beneath his heavy eye ridges.
The Weyrlingmaster’s weyr was directly above the barracks, the ledge situated right over the double doors that led into the weyrlings’ quarters. Carleah had only been up there once before, on Hatching night, and she’d been in no state to take in her surroundings at the time. The sleeping alcove towards the back was hidden behind a heavy curtain, and the faint sound of water circulating suggested a bathing pool somewhere even farther back. The big desk that dominated what would have been the living area of a Wingleader’s weyr was empty of all but several pens and a box full of pieces of scraped hide. Carleah’s eyes went of their own accord to the tall cabinet that stood against the wall behind the desk, locked with a padlock the size of her fist. That was where L’stev kept his records on each weyrling in the class, detailing their strengths and weaknesses, their skills and their inadequacies, their commendations and their transgressions. K’ralthe and K’dam had sneaked up here to try to break into the cabinet one evening when L’stev had gone out for a night flight with his dragon. They’d failed, but left a rude message on the blackboard on the wall. The following day L’stev had put the pair on latrine-cleaning duties for the next fortnight. K’dam swore he’d written with his off hand, to make his writing unrecognisable, and both boys were certain they hadn’t left any other evidence of their foray. It had caused an atmosphere in the barracks for a few nights when they’d accused several of their classmates of snitching. Then L’stev informed the entire class that Vanzanth had smelled the perpetrators in his weyr. Some of the weyrlings scoffed at that, but there seemed to have been a lot more washing going on since the incident. Which, Carleah reflected, might have been L’stev’s desired outcome all along.
L’stev had to be sixty Turns old, but he was thick-shouldered, barrel-chested, short-necked, and ridiculously strong. He could dangle a firestone sack from one finger that even some of the bigger boys might strain to pick up. Carleah had never seen his hair – it was always hidden under a bandanna – but from his expressive thick eyebrows it was dark, mixed with grey. He wore an expression that seemed always on the verge of being a scowl and the only time she’d ever seen him smile was when handing out a choice bit of punishment detail. He shouted and growled and cursed at all of them with a total lack of discrimination, though the cuffs he occasionally dealt to an especially thick-headed individual were reserved for the boys. They all obeyed him to his face, mocked him to his back, and lived in fear of his withering put-downs.
Carleah had never got on the wrong side of L’stev; not really. Jagunth was always well fed, properly oiled, and spotlessly clean, although in that respect it helped that she was naturally fastidious; some of the boys’ dragons would cheerfully have bedded down crusted with muck and blood. They didn’t take risks flying or try vainly to keep up with the bigger dragons in endurance flights like some of the other greens did. She paid attention in lectures, kept her notes up to date and always – almost always – had an answer to a question. L’stev had snarled at her once or twice for pertness, but Carleah considered that a point in her own favour rather than a mark against.
So as L’stev sat down in the cushioned and padded chair behind his desk, and pointed at one of the hard wooden seats in front of it, Carleah’s mind was already racing with explanations and excuses for whatever it was she was supposed to have done. “Weyrlingmaster, I –”
“Be quiet, Carleah,” L’stev cut her off. “I’m not interested in your smart mouth.”
That stung, but Carleah resolved to obey. She folded her hands in her lap, a picture of innocence, and made a show of giving him her full and rapt attention.
L’stev stared at her for a long moment. That made Carleah uneasy. His reprimands were usually all volume and profanity. Finally he asked, “Do you know what my job is, Carleah?”
“To teach us to be good dragonriders, Weyrlingmaster,” she replied.
He shook his head. “If only I could set my sights so high. No, Carleah, it’s more simple than that. My job is to try to keep as many of you alive as possible for as long as possible. I get two Turns to teach you how not to get yourselves killed. How to feed your beasts without feeding them to death, how to fly without crashing into things, how to flame without roasting your wingmates. How to go between safely, and come back. How to be safe. How to be prudent. How to be cautious.” His voice rose and rose as he spoke, as his glower deepened. “And if I don’t do my job well enough, and the riders I train are careless, or stupid, or cocksure, then they die. Maybe not as weyrlings, granted. Maybe not even as young riders when my lessons are still fresh in their ears. But if those lessons didn’t sink in, if they fade with the passing Turns, then one day, one day, Carleah, those riders will do something stupid, something complacent, something arrogant, and it will get them killed.”
He broke off, breathing heavily. Carleah didn’t dare speak, paralysed by his glare. “Now, you’re a bright girl, Carleah,” he went on at last. “You’re a very bright girl.” He leaned forwards, planting his hands flat on the desk. “Do you know why your father died?”
The blunt question shocked Carleah into reaction. “He was killed!” she said, stung. “He was murdered!”
L’stev stared at her. “I didn’t ask you how he died, weyrling. I asked you why.” When Carleah couldn’t find an answer, he knotted his hands into fists. “Your father died because he went looking for trouble. Alone and unarmed, he walked into a confrontation with a man he knew had already killed a rider and two dragons. Your father, Faranth love him, was one of the brightest weyrlings I ever taught, one of the cleverest riders I ever knew, and what did all that brain and insight get him? A knife in the chest, stuck there by some nobody Healer who your father saw as a puzzle to be solved and not the threat he really was, and he and his dragon paid the price. C’los died because he let his need to be clever, his need to be right, override the common sharding sense and caution that every rider owes his dragon. And I’m blighted if I’ll see his daughter follow him down that same path!”
The Weyrlingmaster had become a blurry shape through the tears spilling from Carleah’s eyes. She was distantly aware of Jagunth’s anxious queries. “I d-don’t u-understand,” she sobbed. “I d-didn’t, I haven’t…”
“Timing!” L’stev roared, leaning so far over the desk that she could feel the fine spray of his spittle. “In the most critical, most dangerous, most serious sevenday of your training, you brush off going between like it’s a walk round the lake and ask if we’re going to teach you perhaps the only thing that’s even more dangerous. Faranth save us all, Carleah! Do you think that because you’ve been going between on dragons all your life you know how to do it? Do you know how many weyrlings die trying to go between and getting it wrong? Do you know how many more have died messing around with timing? Look at me!”
Carleah mopped at her eyes with her sleeve, trying to focus on him. “N-no. I j-just thought that s-someone would t-try it. So it w-would be b-better if we l-learned how s-safely…”
“There’s no way to make timing safe. None. Do you understand?” L’stev banged his fists on the table, and Carleah jumped. “Do you understand? I don’t care how smart you are or how exceptional your dragon is. You’re a child of fourteen. Yes, your father was a green rider, and yes, you grew up at the Harperhall, and yes, you’re bright and well-informed and capable. No one is impressed that you know about timing. You ride a dragon of Madellon and your first and only responsibility is to that dragon. Jagunth is young and a green and she’d do anything for you. Ask her to try jumping back in time, she’d try it, and you and she would die. Is that what you want? To kill yourself and your dragonet?”
“N-no,” Carleah sobbed. “I d-don’t even w-want to try –” And then it struck her, as it must have struck L’stev, to make him so angry. If they learned how to go between times, she could go back and see her father again. Warn him. Save him…
“If it were that easy, don’t you think someone older and wiser than you would have tried it already?” L’stev asked, gruffly, but less fiercely than before.
Carleah raised her eyes to the Weyrlingmaster, wondering if Vanzanth had picked the thought from her mind.
He scowled. “You can’t rewrite the past, Carleah. It doesn’t work that way.”
“But if I – if someone – just went back and stopped Da going to the dragon infirmary after the Hatching…”
“Say you did,” said L’stev. “Say you and Jagunth did go back to save him, say you went between times to save your father. C’los would have survived that night, and he’d be here with us now. He’d know that he’d been saved by you, his daughter from the future, and so sooner or later you’d have to time it back to that night to save him. But he’s not here. He wasn’t saved. So you didn’t go back and you can’t save him. You can’t change the past by timing, Carleah. Anything you do while timed back to the past has already happened, already had its effect on your now. Anything you know to have happened will always have happened. Do you understand?” When Carleah shook her head, bewildered, L’stev paused, considering. “Think of it like this. Could you go back in time on Jagunth and prevent yourself Impressing her?”
“No,” Carleah replied, after a moment. “Or else I wouldn’t have Impressed her, and so I wouldn’t have her in the future…”
“…to ride back in time to prevent the Impression,” L’stev completed for her, when she hesitated. “It’s the same with your father. If he was never killed, you’d have no reason to go back and save him from being killed, because he never was. But he was, so you can’t go back and save him because you didn’t.”
Carleah’s head swam from the contradictions. “Then what’s the use of timing?” she burst out.
They sat for a moment, not speaking.
“We don’t ignore timing,” L’stev said, after a bit. “We just don’t do it. Not ever. You’re right. Every dragonrider finds out about it sooner or later. You won’t be the only one asking about it before time, either; I’ll be having this conversation with all of your classmates at some point or other. But not many of them have a reason to try it as strong as yours.”
“It wouldn’t work anyway,” Carleah said dully. “I understand that now.”
L’stev regarded her from beneath his heavy brows. “I need you to make me a promise that you won’t try it, Carleah.”
“I won’t, Weyrlingmaster.”
“I want your promise, on your dragon’s egg.”
“I promise,” Carleah said, “on Jagunth’s egg.”
“Good.” L’stev pushed himself upright from the desk. “You can go,” he added. “Report to Wingsecond M’ric.”
Carleah started to leave, then stopped. “Was he really angry? M’ric?”
L’stev actually looked offended. “You’re more worried about him being angry than me?”
“I like him,” she said forlornly. “He’s clever.”
“Ha!” L’stev sank back down into his chair. “He wanted to be certain you wouldn’t do anything ill-advised. Actually, he said you reminded him of himself as a weyrling.”
“Clever?” Carleah asked, feeling brighter.
“No,” L’stev growled. “Insufferable. Now get out.”
Jagunth was waiting outside below Vanzanth’s ledge. Carleah went straight to the dragonet and wrapped her arms around the soft green neck, burying her face against Jagunth’s warm hide.
Did he scold you? Jagunth asked piteously. Vanzanth scolded and scolded me.
“Yes. But he wants me to be safe. He wants us both to be safe.”
Oh. Jagunth curved her neck around and rested her nose on Carleah’s shoulder. I want us to be safe too.
It occurred to Carleah, with a pang of sadness, that her dragon wouldn’t be able to do that for much longer. Even now, she was really too big. “Do you remember my da?”
Jagunth radiated uncertainty. My da is Epherineth, she offered.
“I know. My da was called C’los. He was a green rider.”
He’s why you’re sad sometimes.
“Yes.” Carleah stroked her dragon’s cheek. Jagunth had no memory of C’los, but she always knew what was upsetting her rider. “He…went away. The Weyrlingmaster doesn’t want us to go away.”
To where your da is?
“Yes…no. We can’t go there, Jagunth. I thought we could now that we’re going to learn how to go between but now I understand that we can’t. We’re to be more careful.”
Jagunth absorbed that gravely. I’m still itchy.
“I’ll fix that for you,” Carleah promised. “I’m sorry Vanzanth told you off. It wasn’t your fault.”
He said I’m to remember that I don’t have to do whatever you tell me to. He tells us all that every day. He says that we should tell him if our riders want to do something new. Jagunth hesitated. Sometimes I don’t know if something is new or not. Kitlith says she tells Vanzanth when she leaves her dung in a different place in the midden. She tells him every time. She says he says he’s glad she tells him and that it’s always the highlight of his day to hear. He says it delights him to know.
Carleah winced. “I don’t think you need to start doing that, Jagunth. I think Kitlith telling him is probably enough.”
I always leave my dung in the same place anyway.
She closed her eyes, willing herself not to laugh. “That’s probably the best thing to do.”
I don’t want you to go away, either.
Carleah hugged her dragon more fiercely. “I know, Jagunth. And I won’t. I promise.”
Continue to Chapter five: Sh’zon
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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