Chapter ten: T’kamen
The southern continent of Pern, long believed to be Thread-blighted, was found to be remarkably hospitable to life when it was settled by a party of Fortian dragonriders resentful of the cramped living conditions of their overpopulated Weyr during the last quarter of the Sixth Interval. When the Seventh Pass began, Southern Weyr had established most of its current protectorate, and further land extending west into modern-day Peninsula territory.
The realities of the Pass forced Southern to limit the scope of its ambitions to be the largest and most powerful Weyr on Pern, but only slightly. While the Peninsula Weyr would later overtake Southern in both territory and population, Southern’s obsession with size and scale would come to define it. To this day, Southern Weyr is home to the biggest dragons on Pern – and some of the biggest egos, too.
– Weyrwoman Larvenia, A History of the Southern Weyrs
T’kamen could count the number of times he’d been to the Weyrs of the northern continent on the fingers of one hand. He knew the visuals, of course – every dragonrider learned the reference for each Weyr of Pern – but it had been a long time since he’d been north. He made a point of looking up the names of the current northern Weyrleaders in Madellon’s records. But none of the watchdragons who challenged him and Epherineth when they arrived recognised them, and even after they announced themselves as Madellon’s senior pair, T’kamen’s unfamiliar southern shoulder-knots won them only a mixed reception.
Benden’s Weyrlingmaster was, as L’stev had said, new to his job, and more concerned with finding candidates for the clutch hardening on the Benden sands than with digging in records, though he made some vague promises to consult with his predecessor. Telgar had a class of weyrlings a few sevendays younger than Madellon’s, and T’kamen excused himself rather than waiting for the Weyrlingmaster to return from a training flight. Igen’s Weyrlingmaster A’stay sent T’kamen away with an armful of accounts of historical weyrling mishaps and the promise of more to come once he’d done some research. Tiny Ista, its Interval population barely topping three figures, hadn’t had a clutch in four Turns and had no standing Weyrlingmaster, but its Weyrwoman offered to check their Archives and send word with anything pertinent. Fort was a waste of time: its Weyrlingmaster, K’lay, was elderly and ponderous, and his mind wandered off the track of T’kamen’s enquiry too easily for him to be at all helpful.
By the time Epherineth brought them out into a howling blizzard above High Reaches Weyr, T’kamen was doubting he’d find help anywhere on Pern.
B’reko, the Weyrlingmaster of High Reaches, was the most grossly fat dragonrider T’kamen had ever met. If L’stev hadn’t warned him that the green rider was unconventional, T’kamen would have thought that the northern riders were playing some sort of prank on him. Even so, he had to readjust his thinking to compensate, making himself stop wondering how such a corpulent man could possibly serve as Weyrlingmaster. But B’reko welcomed him as a friend of L’stev’s, accepted the gift of fresh orangefruit with profuse thanks, and listened carefully as T’kamen described, for the sixth time that day, the weyrlings’ ill-fated jump between. “Odd,” he concluded. “Not like a dragonet to refuse. Riders, yes. Riders get scared, over-think things. Riders realise how hard it is. Dragonets find between easy. They’re how old?”
“Ten months,” said T’kamen.
B’reko nodded meditatively. The rolls of fat under his chin rippled in sequence with the motion. T’kamen found it oddly fascinating. “Bit young. Prefer to wait till eleven, even twelve months. Riders more serious then.” He shrugged his bulky shoulders. “L’stev’s Weyr. L’stev’s rule. Works for him. Never happened at Madellon before?”
“Not in living memory, nor so far as our records state,” said T’kamen. “But they don’t even go back as far as the last Pass.” He took a sip of the hot spiced wine B’reko had poured for him. His extremities still hadn’t thawed from flying down through the snowstorm. “Hence coming north.”
“Sensible,” B’reko said. “Some Weyrleaders wouldn’t do it. Some wouldn’t think of it.”
“You have more history than us,” T’kamen pointed out.
“Hm. What’s it they say? North, you go a hundred miles, it’s a long way. South, you go a hundred Turns, it’s a long time.”
T’kamen hadn’t heard that one before. “I guess there’s truth in that.”
“Wouldn’t say it if not.” B’reko tapped his thick fingers on his desk. “No. New to me. Dragonet goes between, dragonet doesn’t come out – happens. Two dragonets, same time…unlucky, not unheard of. Three, now, something wrong there. And none jumped correctly?”
“The one brown did come through eventually,” said T’kamen. “But he was between a long time, and his rider still hasn’t woken up.”
“Hm. Hm. Seen that before. Bad visual, dragon jumps in, can’t jump out. Can’t find the where. Can be retrieved. Have to keep a clear head, keep your dragon together, make a new visual. Better visual. Not good. Not fun. But survivable.”
T’kamen spread one hand. “L’stev was certain that all the visuals were sound.”
“Probably were, then. Hm. Any case, doesn’t explain the ones who didn’t jump. More to this. Need to think, need to read. Will look in the Archives.” B’reko shook his head. “Stacks are so narrow. Can’t turn around down there. But will send word if I find anything.”
T’kamen hoped his disappointment wasn’t too obvious. “I appreciate it, Weyrlingmaster,” he said. “And you’re welcome to visit with Madellon if you ever want a change from this weather you have up here.”
“Ha!” B’reko clapped his hands to his enormous belly. “Not a hot weather person. Not at all. Spent too many Turns building this up. Would sweat it off in a sevenday in the south. Milth might love you for it though.” He chuckled. “Strongest dragon on Pern, my girl. Has to be!”
It was night-time at Madellon when T’kamen returned from the north, feeling worse than when he’d begun. It was one thing to go to Weyrs that barely knew him with a problem, but another to expose himself to the criticism of Madellon’s neighbours. He’d hoped to find some historical precedent for the disaster that would credibly shift the blame away from Madellon before he went to Southern and the Peninsula. He doubted if the other southern Weyrs would have any extra insight, but he couldn’t ignore them. Madellon shared a border with the Peninsula, and news would certainly have reached there by now. And while it might take longer for word to spread as far as Southern – the most insular Weyr on Pern – P’raima would certainly take it as a personal affront if he were excluded.
T’kamen snatched a few hours’ sleep on the couch in his weyr – as much to give Epherineth a rest as for his own sake – and then made a swift pre-dawn pass through the dining hall for klah and meatrolls to wake himself up. Southern Weyr was a full eight hours ahead of Madellon, so it would be early afternoon there. “Let’s go,” he told Epherineth, pulling down the flying harness from the rack inside the bronze’s sleeping cavern.
Epherineth pushed himself up from where he’d been dozing on his couch, stretching one back leg, then the other. If you promise no snow this time.
T’kamen walked beside his dragon out onto the ledge. “It’s Southern, Epherineth. It’ll be even hotter than it is here.”
It had better be. Epherineth hadn’t liked High Reaches at all. Trebruth says that his rider would like to see you, he added.
That made T’kamen stop halfway through buckling the aft neck-strap. “At this time in the morning?”
He says that the Ops Wing is on night manoeuvres, if you wanted to see them in action.
T’kamen dug a fingernail irritably into a stitch on his left-hand tether that was beginning to fray. He’d been intending to inspect M’ric’s Ops Wing for sevendays now, but he really didn’t want to put off going to Southern any longer. “We won’t be long at Southern. Tell him we’ll be back shortly.”
I will. I have.
The stitching on the tether still seemed sturdy enough. T’kamen climbed onto Epherineth’s neck and buckled in, then pulled down his goggles as the bronze readied himself to leap.
They went between a lot these days, T’kamen thought, as Epherineth lifted them towards altitude above the dark, silent Weyr. It was important for a Weyrleader to be visible. L’dro had spent more time out of Madellon than in, making himself well-known – and, depressingly, well-liked – outside the Weyr. For all his many faults, L’dro had radiated a certain ready charm that made people respond to him. T’kamen knew he wasn’t as charismatic as his predecessor, but he made it his business to be there for big tithe collections, to visit regularly with Madellon’s major and minor holders, and to keep abreast of changes in the structure of the Crafthalls based in Madellon territory. He didn’t know that it made him any more popular, but he hoped, at least, it showed he knew his duty.
Epherineth had a good memory for between references – for a dragon – but T’kamen didn’t like to take chances. He visualised Southern Weyr and shared the image with his dragon. Got it?
Yes, Epherineth agreed.
Take us there.
Coming out of between into a brilliantly sunny day was more of a shock than going into it from the darkness of night. Muggy though Madellon’s late summer could be, it didn’t compare to the close, clammy heat of Southern’s tropical latitudes. An instant film of sweat broke out all over T’kamen’s body beneath the winter-weight riding jacket he’d worn to visit the northern Weyrs and neglected to change for the summer one. He unbuttoned it, letting the wind cool him as Epherineth spiralled down towards Southern.
There was no Bowl, no Rim, no crater at all: just the jungle, with clearings and corridors cut out of it, connecting hundreds upon hundreds of low stone buildings that radiated from a central hub like the spokes of a wheel. Dragons of every colour soaked up the afternoon sun in their individual wallows, some partly hidden in the shade of massive trees. One enormous clearing served as the Hatching Ground, though there was no clutch on the sands. Southern Weyr sprawled out in all directions with no obvious boundaries or limitations. The ground there was grubbed, of course – Southern had more land where the Thread-eating organisms could thrive than anywhere else on Pern – but Southern’s complete disregard for the ingrained, Thread-fearing sensibilities of the rest of Pern had always made T’kamen uncomfortable.
A brown, perching on the roof of one of the large buildings that corresponded to any other Weyr’s lower caverns, cried out a challenge as they descended. Epherineth answered politely, but the Southern brown continued to protest from his watch station, barking imperiously. Is there a problem? asked T’kamen.
Epherineth slowed his landing spiral, and turned his head from side to side in a keen-eyed sweep of the compound. He wants us to land immediately, on this side of the building, and wait to be received.
You’re not obeying, T’kamen observed.
He’s only a brown.
It’s his Weyr.
I don’t take orders from browns.
Epherineth wasn’t a colour-snob, so the Southern dragon must have been especially offensive. Don’t start a fight, Epherineth.
I’m not. He landed unhurriedly beside the uppity brown, who shrank away nervously. Do you see the weyrlings? he asked, furling his wings, and ignoring the watchdragon.
T’kamen hadn’t. The row of heads, green-blue-green-brown-blue-bronze-gold-brown-blue, watching from the camouflage of the canopy withdrew abruptly when he turned to look. Why so skittish?
They’re supposed to stay out of sight. Here comes Tezonth.
They were plunged into shadow as a big dragon appeared between them and the sun. T’kamen glanced up as he unbuckled his safety, recognising P’raima’s massive bronze. In the time it took for him to dismount from Epherineth and pull his goggles down, five more bronzes had landed in clearings around them, each with their stares fixed balefully on them. All of them were bigger than Epherineth, and all of them were almost identical in size, build, and colour. Their riders stared implacably down at T’kamen through the distinctive dark-tinted goggles that Southern’s riders all preferred.
Some welcome, he remarked to Epherineth, as Weyrleader P’raima strode up the steps.
P’raima was twice T’kamen’s age, but he moved with the martial grace of a much younger man, and while the Turns had whitened the hair that still fringed his balding scalp, they hadn’t softened the hard, square line of his jaw, or the forceful personality that burned in his narrowed eyes. “What in the Void do you think gives you the right to turn up at my Weyr unannounced, T’kamen?”
Even by P’raima’s standards, that was a more abrupt greeting than T’kamen had expected. “It’s not a sociable hour at Madellon, P’raima,” he said. “I didn’t want to wake Shimpath to bespeak Grizbath, and I didn’t think you’d like your queen to be disturbed in any case.”
P’raima eyed him sceptically, as if mistrusting his agenda. “What do you want?”
T’kamen thought about answering, Your help, but it seemed like the wrong place to start. “A few minutes of your Weyrlingmaster’s time.”
P’raima sucked a breath through his teeth. “What do you want with S’gert?”
“Some advice –”
“You won’t get any,” P’raima interrupted. “S’gert’s indisposed.”
“His assistant, then,” T’kamen said. “Someone must be looking after those weyrlings I saw when I came in.”
P’raima’s eyes narrowed still further. “Southern’s weyrlings are none of your business,” he said. “You’ve wasted a trip. Go back to your own Weyr.”
Between the heat, P’raima’s attitude, and his own weariness, T’kamen felt his temper stretch to snapping point. “I’ll keep this brief, Weyrleader,” he said, mustering all his self-control. “We’ve lost some weyrlings between –”
“And what do you want me to do about that?” P’raima asked. “Madellon’s weyrlings are Madellon’s problem.”
“I’m looking for precedent, P’raima,” T’kamen said. “I’ve been Weyrleader long enough to know I don’t have all the answers.”
“Long enough?” P’raima asked, and laughed. “You haven’t even got your Weyrwoman’s furs warm yet.”
The casual crudeness made T’kamen’s hackles rise. “You can be as impolite as you like to me, P’raima, but make a remark like that about my Weyrwoman again, and we’re going to have a problem.”
P’raima laughed again. “Why don’t you take your dick and wave it at someone who gives a shard, Madellon?”
It was pointless being there – P’raima clearly wasn’t going to give him any help at all – but T’kamen was blighted if he’d be dismissed. “So Southern refuses to offer any assistance?”
“Southern has no obligation to anywhere beyond its chartered borders,” said P’raima. “Least of all Madellon. Get out of my Weyr, T’kamen, before I have Tezonth put you and your stringy wher of a dragon in your place.”
Tezonth roared in an echo of his rider’s threat, and Epherineth snarled in response, spreading his wings and rearing huge and protective over T’kamen. You call me a wher?
Detaching himself from Epherineth’s rage took T’kamen a titanic effort. “Madellon won’t forget this, P’raima,” he said. He knew his voice was shaking with anger. “If Southern ever needs help, don’t bother coming to me.”
“I’d sooner bite out my own tongue than ask you for anything,” said P’raima.
T’kamen wanted to say more, but he knew P’raima wouldn’t allow him the last word. So he didn’t hurry, as he turned to remount Epherineth. He took his time buttoning his jacket, tugging his goggles back up, re-fastening the safety strap. Aware though he was, as Epherineth was, of the orange-eyed Tezonth, and the other Southern bronzes, he’d leave in his own time. Let’s get out of this stinking jungle, Epherineth.
Epherineth stretched out his wings, rising onto his hind legs to cast the largest possible shadow on the hostile Southern bronzes, and looked around a final time with red-flecked eyes. T’kamen hadn’t felt him so angry in a long time. He deepened his seat for a big take-off, wrapping his legs more securely against his dragon’s neck. Then Epherineth snapped his wings tight to his sides and launched with a tremendous leap that carried them a full three dragonlengths straight up. He opened his wings for a single mighty downstroke, then jumped between.
The shock of cold should have cooled both their tempers, but when they emerged into the darkness that shrouded Madellon, T’kamen realised that he and Epherineth were both still trembling. He leaned over the fore-ridge, placing both hands flat against his neck. I know. I know.
They threatened me, Epherineth said. Incredulity rang in his voice. I had not come for their queens. I had not come for their weyrlings. I meant them no harm.
They threatened you?
Tezonth may be bigger than me, but he is old. Epherineth’s tone resounded with affronted pride. I’m not afraid of him.
Speechless, T’kamen stared down at the sleeping Bowl of his own Weyr. Tezonth would have attacked you?
If we hadn’t left when we did. He didn’t want us there.
What in Faranth’s name is going on at that Weyr? T’kamen leaned back as Epherineth began his descent towards their weyr. Southern had always been strange – proud, standoffish, insular. Its riders seldom visited Gathers outside its own territory. No one transferred into or out of the Weyr. And Southern never invited anyone, not even the other Weyrleaders of the south, to its Hatchings. P’raima and his Weyrwoman, Margone, had come to the Hatching of Shimpath and Epherineth’s clutch, but they’d been tight-lipped about Southern’s affairs. T’kamen hadn’t even known that Southern had weyrlings slightly older than Madellon’s, much less that there was a queen among them. Most Weyrleaders would have been only too happy to boast about a new queen, but not P’raima. He was notoriously antagonistic to outsiders in his Weyr, and T’kamen had been prepared for brusque disinterest – but not for the unvarnished belligerence with which his approach had been repelled. Is it their queen? She can’t be ready to rise again so soon.
No, Epherineth answered, with authority. But Tezonth was very angry with the weyrlings.
T’kamen remembered how quickly the dragonets had hidden themselves the instant he’d looked at them. He wondered if they’d ever seen a foreign dragon before. You said they were supposed to stay out of sight. Why?
They were all talking about how they’d catch it from Tezonth for popping their heads out. Epherineth sounded more like his usual self. The weyrling queen must have put them up to it. The others wouldn’t defy an order from the Weyrleader.
What did P’raima think we were going to do with his weyrlings? Steal them?
I don’t know. Epherineth’s quivering had slowed. In typical dragon fashion, he had felt the emotion intensely, but he was already putting it behind him. He would probably have forgotten the incident completely before the end of the day. Trebruth and his rider are waiting for us.
Oh, Faranth’s shaffing… Of course they sharding are.
Would you like me to tell them to come back later?
T’kamen almost told him yes. M’ric later had to be better than M’ric right now, especially in the mood he was in. Then his tiresome sense of duty reasserted itself. He’d been putting off dealing with M’ric’s Ops Wing for too long. He’d promised his Lords Holder that Madellon would field and train a Wing to deal with unusual situations like the Kellad wildfire, and he had to be seen to be taking that commitment seriously. Handing it off to Sh’zon or H’ned wouldn’t do – and he was blighted if he’d let M’ric operate without some kind of oversight. Later won’t be any less inconvenient. Tell him I’ll see him now.
M’ric was already waiting on one end of Epherineth’s ledge, leaning against his dragon’s foreleg. In the shadows, Trebruth was almost invisible, his dark brown hide blending into the gloom. As average-sized as Epherineth was, he still made M’ric’s dragon look tiny, but T’kamen overcame the petty urge to scorn the pair on that basis. The Peninsula’s dragons were bigger than Madellon’s, so Trebruth must have been the runt of his clutch, but the size of a dragon was no measure of the quality of his rider. T’kamen had known known plenty of bad riders of big dragons. But he still found he was irritated by the queen fire-lizard whose tail was twined lightly around M’ric’s neck. Why a dragonrider would have any use for a shoulder ornament, T’kamen couldn’t fathom.
M’ric stood up straighter as Epherineth landed and, perhaps conscious of T’kamen’s critical look, shooed the lizard off his shoulder and onto Trebruth’s. He inclined his head politely. “Weyrleader.”
T’kamen released his safety and dismounted. He pulled off his helmet and goggles. “Apologies for earlier. Too many places to be.”
“Of course, Weyrleader,” said M’ric. “I’d like you to see the Wing on manoeuvres. I’ve just sent them on ahead. They’re expecting us.”
“Fine, but I need a change of clothes,” said T’kamen. He was uncomfortably sweaty from the welcome he’d received at Southern. “Come in a minute.” He was stripping off his gloves and jacket and shirt as he spoke. “Tell me about the Ops Wing. Are you still recruiting?”
“Not anymore,” said M’ric. “We’re at strength.”
“Sixteen, Trebruth excluded, on the basis of a twelve-dragon outfit with some reserves to cover sickness and injuries.”
T’kamen went into his bathing room. “Composition?”
“Ten greens, four blues, two bronzes.”
That made T’kamen frown as he raced through a cursory wash. “No browns?”
“No. There wasn’t one I liked enough.”
“Your own excepted,” T’kamen pointed out.
“My own excepted.”
“Some riders might consider that a little hypocritical.”
“They might.” M’ric didn’t sound concerned. “Madellon browns are a little light of frame for heavy lifting, and too big for the finesse work. Blues are more versatile.”
T’kamen crossed from his bathing room to his sleeping space and rifled through a drawer to find a clean shirt. “You have T’rello and B’mon as your Wingseconds?” he asked, over his shoulder.
“No. H’imo and Garlan.”
“Garlan?” T’kamen stopped with one arm in and one out of his fresh shirt. “And H’imo? They’re green riders.”
“A bronze won’t take orders from a green. It throws over the whole hierarchy.”
“You’d be surprised what prejudices dragons can set aside when they need to.”
T’kamen studied M’ric warily as he came back out into his weyr, wondering what other radical ideas he’d been trying out on Madellon’s riders. He was trying to be fair, but he didn’t like M’ric. He didn’t like him at all. He was just too sharding glib, too calm and confident and unruffled. No one should be that composed. And what was worse, no one else disliked him. He’d come from the Peninsula with Sh’zon in the exchange that had rid T’kamen of L’dro, but while Sh’zon had both critics and advocates, nobody seemed to have a bad word to say about the brown rider who’d quietly ridden his coat-tails to prominence at Madellon.
T’kamen was honest enough with himself to admit that Sarenya had more than a little to do with how he felt about M’ric. He saw them together sometimes. They made such a handsome couple that it made his teeth grind. But he went out of his way to resist punishing M’ric for that. He’d approved his promotion to senior-grade Wingsecond. He’d appointed him Wingleader of the Ops Wing, in recognition of his prior experience in search-and-rescue at the Peninsula. No one could accuse T’kamen of being spiteful towards M’ric. He’d been the beneficiary of enough of that himself. But he still didn’t like him. He still didn’t trust him. He still wished he were anywhere but at Madellon.
He raked his fingers irritably through his damp hair, making it stick up in obstinate spikes. “Fine.” He cast about for his jacket, which wasn’t where he thought he’d left it. “Where the shell is my –”
“This one?” M’ric asked.
It wasn’t the fur-lined jacket T’kamen had been wearing earlier, but he supposed it didn’t need to be. “Thanks,” he said, trying to sound gracious. He pulled on the summer-weight jacket. It lacked shoulder-knots or epaulettes, as he’d moved them onto his winter wherhides for his trip north but no one was likely to notice in the dark. “Where are we going?”
“Rift Valley in Jessaf,” said M’ric.
“Rift Valley? Why there? No one lives that far west.”
“Exactly,” said M’ric. “Your riders know Madellon’s passes too well. Rift has ravines and canyons that they haven’t overflown a thousand times. Great terrain for a mountain rescue exercise.”
“I guess that makes sense,” said T’kamen. “Lead on.”
M’ric turned to lead the way out, then stopped and turned back. “T’kamen,” he said. “About Sarenya.”
T’kamen felt his shoulders go rigid. He made them relax. “What about her?”
“I know what she means to you,” said M’ric. “And what you mean to her.”
It was the last thing T’kamen had expected him to say. Torn between annoyance at M’ric presumption and fierce curiosity about what had prompted it, he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
M’ric had gone very still. “She still loves you more than she’ll ever love me. And she always will.”
Nothing could have made T’kamen’s chest knot more painfully. “Why the shaff are you telling me this? Should I be worried about her?”
“No,” said M’ric. “You don’t need to worry. I won’t ever let any harm come to her. I want you to know that, too.”
T’kamen had never seen the brown rider look so uncomfortable. What was going on with him and Saren? Had they broken off their relationship? The prospect made his heart leap. “You’d better not,” he said roughly, to cover his sudden hopefulness. “Or you’ll be answering to me.”
“I know,” said M’ric. “And I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“For taking you from Madellon. I know it’s the last thing you need right now.”
That was back on more familiar ground. “Pern doesn’t stop turning just because there’s a problem with our weyrlings,” T’kamen said. “I promised our Lords Holder that we’d have the ability to respond to emergencies. Your Wing is the fulfilment of that promise.”
“I appreciate your confidence in me,” said M’ric.
His respectful tone rang false to T’kamen, though that might have been down to his tiredness and irritation. “Do you have a visual for Rift Valley?”
M’ric nodded. “Trebruth will provide it to Epherineth.”
As they headed to their own dragons, T’kamen glanced across to Shimpath’s empty ledge. He was going to need Valonna’s help with the records he’d brought back from Igen. She was good at deciphering difficult handwriting, and Igen’s archivists seemed to favour an odd slanting script that T’kamen found very hard to read. Sooner or later there’d be more documents to come from the other Weyrs, too, and he wouldn’t be able to field them all alone. He thought again about finding a secretary to help him manage the endless record-shuffling that took up half of his days. Someone who could read fast, comprehend faster, and filter T’kamen’s workload before it reached his desk. It should have been C’los. He’d have come up with some clever system. T’kamen wondered what his old friend would have made of M’ric’s green-riding Wingseconds. He’d have approved, probably. C’los always had been a revolutionary at heart. Faranth, he missed him. C’los would have figured out what was wrong with the weyrlings. He’d have had a theory on Southern’s exaggerated hostility. He’d have known what was going on with M’ric and Sarenya.
Epherineth reported, I have the visual from Trebruth.
“Let’s see,” T’kamen said, and Epherineth shared the reference with him. A beacon fire atop a dark hold, a jagged ridge, an indigo eastern sky. Stars speckled against the darkness and the bright pinpricks of constellations. High and far, a Wing of dragons in black silhouette against the lightening sky. He fixed the unfamiliar reference points in his own mind. “Happy?”
Trebruth made a very shallow leap from Epherineth’s ledge and disappeared between almost before he’d taken a wingstroke. T’kamen shook his head at the flashy take-off. “I suppose that’s why I gave him the Ops Wing.”
He is very agile, said Epherineth, with grudging admiration. He launched from his ledge with his normal power, and rose on mighty wingbeats. He wishes us a safe jump and good luck.
“Let’s go, then.”
Epherineth took them between.
The lighter jacket wasn’t much use against the infinite cold, but T’kamen couldn’t feel himself shiver. He tolerated it, as he always did, and then, as Epherineth brought them out into –
Except he didn’t. The moment when T’kamen would have expected them to emerge from between came, and then it went, and still they remained there. Epherineth?
Where are we?
We are between.
We should be out by now!
And Epherineth’s reply, resolute and matter-of-fact, terrified him. I will find the way.
The fear would have choked T’kamen had there been air for his throat to miss; it would have turned his muscles to water had he been able to feel them, but there wasn’t, and he couldn’t. Epherineth! Forget that reference, take us home! He tried to release the visual he’d fixed in his mind, tried to shake it loose and replace it with the familiar shape of Madellon’s Bowl, but Epherineth was already committed, all his strength and concentration focused on the dark ridge and the beacon fire and the star-strewn sky with its line of dragons. Epherineth!
And still they lingered in darkness and cold and solitude. Did this happen to the weyrlings? T’kamen wondered desperately, but Epherineth’s relentless grip on his mind scattered the thought into a thousand fraying filaments.
We are nearly there!
Between was getting lighter. Between was turning white. And even without sensation, without orientation, T’kamen knew they were falling into an abyss. Oblivion gaped wide beneath them, its terrible jaws indifferent to their plight. The dreadful, implacable gravity dragged T’kamen and Epherineth down and down and down, unravelling them, undoing them –
A colossal fist smote T’kamen in the chest. Air! He dragged in an immense sucking breath, and the laboured rattle of his own inhalation was the sweetest sound he’d ever heard.
But still they fell.
Epherineth tumbled wildly, his flight profile all wrong, gone awry during their long sojourn between. He fought to open his wings, fought to defy gravity, but the ridge was too close. He flung himself into a cumbersome barrel roll and T’kamen saw the stars whirling crazily beneath them. The crimson light of the beacon flame made a bloody smear against the night. Epherineth’s wing caught the ridge, a shattering blow, and he cried out in pain. They lurched out of control, and then Epherineth’s hind paw snagged on something in the darkness, and the sky fell in on them.
The world spun. A bolt of indescribable agony shot from T’kamen’s hip to his ankle. They came to a juddering halt that flung him bruisingly hard against Epherineth’s fore-ridge and then snapped him back against the aft.
T’kamen hung limply from the safety strap, drifting. Swimming. A tether had broken. It dangled torn and loose. No. That was his leg…no, it was Epherineth’s wing…no, it was the tether… Beneath him, Epherineth’s every heaving breath made pain shudder through them both. His leg was wrong. T’kamen’s wing was wrong. Everything was wrong. Shimpath. T’kamen didn’t know if the thought was his or Epherineth’s. Shimpath. Shimpath! Where are you? Where are we?
Panic, rising. He tried to move. One arm worked. His other arm. A leg. The other –
Pain like a scarlet thunderclap, pain like a dragon’s scream, pain, pain, pain, and then nothing.
Continue to Chapter eleven: Valonna
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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