Chapter fourteen: T’kamen
No dragon can disobey a queen – for long. But asking a queen to compel the truth from a dragon should be done only as a last resort in the most grave of circumstances. Forcing a dragon to betray his rider will cause irreparable damage to guilty and innocent alike.
– Excerpt from A Weyrwoman’s Duty by Weyrwoman Nelaya
They told T’kamen he wasn’t a prisoner, which he took to mean that he was, but lodged as he was in a second-level weyr, and still incapable of tackling the steep and narrow stairs, he had no way of testing the theory.
For the first few days, exhausted from the nightmarish straight flight to Madellon, he did little more than drink fellis-laced soup and sleep. A Healer checked on him regularly, two women brought his food and changed his linens, and a Dragon Healer came to look at Epherineth’s wing twice daily. If they had any other visitors, T’kamen wasn’t awake to receive them.
Towards the end of the sevenday his Healer, journeyman Ondiar, told him that they were going to start reducing his medication, and over the next several days the dense fog in which he’d been mired began to lift. As T’kamen’s mind cleared, and alertness returned to him, he began to wonder why no one had come to see him now he was awake more than he was asleep, or why, as it was becoming increasingly obvious, those assigned to his care had been told not to engage in conversation with him.
“I can’t help you with that,” was the response T’kamen came to expect from Ondiar when he asked about anything other than his health. “We’re not to disturb your rest,” was the equally infuriating mantra that Tarlie and Agarenne repeated when they brought him his dinner or tidied his weyr. T’kamen’s protests that he’d rested enough went unheeded. And while the Dragon Healer, Gusinien, was happy to discuss the finer points of Epherineth’s recovery, he wouldn’t be drawn on any other subject. T’kamen’s appeals to talk to someone in charge were met with passive assurances that his request would be passed along. Still no one came.
On the eighth day, Ondiar brought him a set of crutches and the instruction that he should start using them as much as possible. After a sevenday laid out in bed, T’kamen was grateful for the small freedom of being able to get himself around, first only as far as the facilities, then to the dragon couch, and – by the end of the day – the whole two dragonlengths from the back of the weyr to the front of the ledge where Epherineth spent his days.
The first time he made it outside was almost his last. Weary from the effort, half blinded by the daylight after his enforced convalescence in the dimly glow-lit weyr, and over-intent on seeing his Weyr again, T’kamen nearly overshot the edge. Only Epherineth’s teeth in the back of his bedrobe steadied him. Be careful!
I’m sorry. T’kamen dropped one of his crutches in favour of holding onto his dragon’s head for balance. Epherineth bore the indignity of having an arm wrapped around his lower jaw with complete equanimity. Shards, Epherineth. What have they done to our Weyr?
The landscape of Madellon had changed so dramatically that T’kamen could hardly believe it was the same place. If not for the familiar shape of the caldera itself, he’d have sworn they were in another Weyr entirely. The lake, confined to the eastern third of the Bowl in his day, now fed a network of waterways that stretched silver fingers from one end of the Weyr to the other, spanned in dozens of places by bridges and stepping stones. Half the beast paddocks were gone, the pastures replaced by rows and rows of gleaming structures that seemed to be constructed entirely out of large panes of glass. Other new buildings punctuated the Bowl, one of them an impressive structure not unlike a small hold. T’kamen could only guess at their purpose.
There were new weyrs everywhere, crowded the length and breadth of the interior face of the crater. T’kamen counted at least a hundred and twenty caverns in the south-east quadrant that had been so long neglected in his own time. He hadn’t even found the marks for the blasting powder Master Gerlaven needed to develop that part of the Bowl, but at some point in the intervening Turns someone obviously had. The weyr in which he and Epherineth were staying was one of a dozen that hadn’t existed in the Interval, clustered above the dragon infirmary. Most of them were occupied by listless beasts in varying states of health: some swathed in bandages, others grey with sickness, and one, appallingly, with her left wing missing beyond the elbow.
About a third of the ledges T’kamen could see were empty, but even so there were as many dragons in the Bowl as he’d ever seen together in one place. The largest Interval Weyrs rostered perhaps four hundred beasts to Madellon’s two hundred and fifty, and there were at least that many here even with many ledges unoccupied. A queen – not Levierth – slept on the ledge that had belonged to Shimpath in T’kamen’s time. With so many dragons in evidence, T’kamen thought there must be at least four queens, but Levierth, up on the Rim, was the only other one he could see. Perhaps there were more in the Hatching cavern that still yawned at the western end of the Weyr. But there didn’t seem to be many bronzes, either, nor nearly the number of browns there ought to be. Instead, the Weyr teemed with greens, hundreds of them, and a lesser but still substantial population of blues.
“What happened to all the big dragons, Epherineth?” he wondered aloud.
They got smaller, Epherineth replied. He sounded unsettled. They say I am the biggest dragon they have ever seen.
Every dragon T’kamen could see was undersized by a full step: browns the size of blues, blues the size of greens, greens no larger than the ten-month-old dragonets they’d left behind in the Interval. “I thought they weren’t talking to you.”
Greens in heat don’t guard their thoughts very carefully.
“Not the most reliable source.”
It’s all I have.
As frustrating as T’kamen found his seclusion, it was much worse for Epherineth. For a dragon, being separated from his own community – his queen, his offspring, his wingmates – was bad enough, but the dragons of this time were actively excluding him from their society. A bronze could usually listen in even if he wasn’t party to a conversation, but either unfamiliarity with these dragons or some outside influence was preventing Epherineth from accessing the background chatter of the Weyr. Given that individual dragons were declining to converse with his bronze, T’kamen suspected the latter. That meant a queen, and in turn, that their ostracism was not an accident, but a command being enforced from high up in this Madellon’s hierarchy.
T’kamen understood that. He might have taken similar measures to keep an unknown quantity sequestered from his people under the same circumstances. But too many things hinted at captivity, not just quarantine – that they were neither welcome guests nor free to go. Epherineth’s wing was too fragile for unsupported flight, and the stairs were too narrow for him to scramble down safely, so when he needed to use the midden he was obliged to ask for an escort. Recranth and Salionth, the two bronzes who had borne most of Epherineth’s weight on the journey from Rift Valley, had become his constant companions. T’kamen looked down at the pair of bronzes. They had their backs to the ledge, but they sat alertly on their haunches, their heads turning constantly from side to side. “Are they your attendants or your gaolers?”
They will not allow me to go anywhere alone, said Epherineth.
“What would they do if I tried to leave?”
Stop you. Or try to.
Epherineth’s tone was scornful, but subdued. He was much bigger than either Pass bronze, but he was very aware of how his injured wing made him vulnerable. T’kamen touched his shoulder comfortingly. He knew the feeling. “I don’t think I could get down those steps on crutches, either.” He looked up at Epherineth’s splinted and stitched wing. “Could you get airborne without hurting yourself, if you had to?”
Airborne. I couldn’t go very far.
“You wouldn’t have to go far. Only high enough to get clear air around you for a jump between.”
Epherineth swivelled his head down to look directly at him. His eyes were still more dull than they should be. Between where?
“Home,” T’kamen said. “Back to our Madellon. Back to the Interval.”
It was a flat refusal. “Is that coming from one of the queens?”
Your leg is injured. My wing is injured. I have no harness. No.
“I’m not saying it wouldn’t be risky,” T’kamen said. “But we have to get out of here. Back to Shimpath and your dragonets.”
Even that didn’t move Epherineth. I won’t risk you, T’kamen.
The bronze dragon gave him a little mental shove. No.
T’kamen gave up. He leaned against Epherineth’s shoulder, staring out at Madellon. “Then I guess we’d better get used to this view,” he said. “I think we’re going to be here for a while.”
For the next several slow days, T’kamen spent most of his time on the ledge with Epherineth. The two ladies from the lower caverns brought him a couch to sit on, a footstool to elevate his leg, and pile of furs to keep him warm. T’kamen took the provision of the comforts to mean that no one objected to him watching the Weyr as long as he didn’t interact with it. So, for want of anything else to do, he sat and watched.
He watched dragons coming and going at all hours of the night and day, some with passengers, some heavily laden, some singly and some in formations. He watched weyrlings at their ground drills, practising manoeuvres on the dusty training grounds, sorting and sacking firestone from the vast bunkers in the Bowl. He watched dragons flying in and out of the Hatching cavern and recognised over time that there were just two queens and only eleven bronzes. He watched injured dragons being brought in as Epherineth had been, supported or outright carried in rigging by the same few bronzes. He watched a dozen greens rise to mate every day, their flights fast, acrobatic, and brief.
And in all the hours he sat there, just watching, he never saw a dragon appear from between, or disappear into it.
On the morning of the eleventh day he woke to a Weyr already abuzz with activity.
Recranth says I must visit the midden early if I wish to at all, Epherineth reported when T’kamen limped to his couch on the ledge.
T’kamen had discarded one of his crutches, relying on only one to get around. His right hip was still tender, and if he put too much weight on the leg it still hurt enough to put tears in his eyes, but otherwise the pain was much reduced. All around the Bowl dragons were loading up and taking off. He even saw the youngest, flightless weyrlings hitching lifts on the backs of adult dragons. “Where’s everyone going?”
Epherineth had no answer for him. They had to wait until Ondiar came to do his morning rounds for that. “Thread falls today,” the Healer said, as T’kamen demonstrated the range of motion of his right leg in the sequence that had become part of his morning routine.
“Thread falls nearly every day, doesn’t it?” T’kamen asked. He knew that from the Threadfall predictions of his own time. Madellon’s protectorate was large enough that Thread would fall there at least twice per sevenday by the height of a Pass: sometimes more, occasionally less. “What’s special about today?”
“It’s falling directly over the Weyr,” said Ondiar.
“So that’s why everyone’s clearing out.” T’kamen made himself relax as Ondiar ran through his usual observations with more than usual speed. “Are we going to be moved?”
“No,” said Ondiar. He didn’t meet T’kamen’s gaze. “Someone will come and tell you what to do.”
“What to do?” T’kamen sat up, then regretted it as the sudden motion made his hip register a protest.
But Ondiar didn’t elaborate. Gusinien came up soon after he left, lugging a bucket of something which he poured into the water trough in Epherineth’s chamber. “Have him drink it all down,” he told T’kamen. “It’ll be easier on you that way.”
“What is it?”
“Something to help keep him calm.”
Epherineth made a show of wetting his muzzle with the pungent concoction as Gusinien watched, but as soon as the Dragon Healer had gone, the bronze declined to touch any more. T’kamen wondered at that. Epherineth had mostly been a good patient, sensible enough to know that Gusinien was trying to help him. His refusal to drink the medicine, whatever it was, was out of character. “You’re sure you won’t take that?”
I don’t know what it is. I don’t want it.
“You should make him drink it.”
Epherineth mantled at the intruder standing silhouetted against the light from outside, and T’kamen put a hand on his shoulder to calm him. Your wing, he reminded him. He squinted at the figure in the cave entrance. “M’ric.”
“See, he’s already feeling it,” M’ric said.
It was a measure of how badly T’kamen craved company that even the young brown rider made a welcome sight, and he almost feared to pose any of the thousand and one questions he’d been burning to ask lest M’ric leave. “Feeling what?”
“Threadfall.” M’ric walked in uninvited, one hand thrust in a pocket. “Even the invalids go crazy when it’s overhead if they’re not sedated.”
“I’m not sedating him,” T’kamen said immediately.
M’ric studied Epherineth, who was still bristling with uncharacteristic irritation. “Then you can control him? Even under a Fall?”
“I don’t know,” said T’kamen. “We’ve never been under one before.”
M’ric looked at him sceptically. “You’ve never been under a Fall?”
“There isn’t any Thread in the Interval.”
“In the Interval. Obviously.”
M’ric didn’t seem to be guarding his words as carefully as their other attendants had. T’kamen hardly dared hope that he might finally get some answers. “Everyone else seems to be leaving. Are we going to be the only ones left?”
“You. Salionth and Recranth. A couple of the other sick ones who can’t be moved.” M’ric kicked the toe of his boot into the floor. “And now us.”
“Then you won’t be flying this Fall?” T’kamen asked.
“I bet you think that’s funny, don’t you?” M’ric sounded disgusted.
T’kamen set his jaw against the retort he wanted to deliver. “You’ll have to forgive my ignorance,” he said doggedly. “Why would I think that’s funny?”
“Well, apart from that fact that I’m grounded, because of you,” M’ric said, “can’t you read a shoulder-knot?” He grabbed the braid that looped his shoulder, holding it out for T’kamen to see.
Like all the rank cords T’kamen had seen in this era, M’ric’s were subtly different to the ones he knew, but the plain twist of brown for his dragon and indigo for his Weyr lacked any knotting that might have indicated adult status. “You’re still a weyrling.”
“I won’t be for much longer,” M’ric said, letting go of the braid.
“But you can’t be under sixteen?”
M’ric looked outraged. “I’ll be eighteen next month!”
“So why aren’t you flying firestone to the fighting Wings? Isn’t that what weyrlings do during the Pass?”
M’ric shook his head in clear exasperation. “Just because Trebruth’s brown! Faranth, have you seen the size of him? And he’s not going to grow any more. I’ve told C’rastro, he’s barely put on a handspan in six months!”
He sounded oddly proud about that, but T’kamen was more interested in the name. “C’rastro? Is that the Weyrleader? Or your Weyrlingmaster?”
M’ric eyed him warily. “I’m not…meant…to say.”
“Why not?” T’kamen asked. “Why won’t anyone tell me anything? Why am I being kept here?”
“Because of his wing,” said M’ric, pointing at Epherineth. “They want to let it heal –”
“I don’t mean just during Threadfall,” T’kamen said. “I mean why are we being kept isolated like this? Why hasn’t the Weyrleader come to see us? Why won’t any dragons talk to Epherineth?”
The questions he’d been burning to ask poured out of him. M’ric looked suddenly uncomfortable. He stepped away, rubbing the back of his neck. T’kamen thought for a moment he’d scared him off. But at last, the boy said, “You told Lirelle you were from the past.”
T’kamen realised he’d been holding his breath. He let it go. “It’s not the past to me.”
“You know that’s a completely ridiculous story, don’t you?”
“I suppose I can understand why you might think that now,” T’kamen said slowly. “But it’s not a story. We came between from the Interval. We didn’t mean to. You…” He stopped. He’d given a lot of thought to the puzzle of M’ric’s presence here in the future, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to confide in this youthfully brash incarnation of the rider he knew. “You just have to trust me.”
“No I don’t,” said M’ric. “I don’t have to trust you at all.”
“Why this suspicion?” T’kamen asked. “If you don’t believe I’m from where I say I am, where do you think I’m from?”
“Either Fort or Benden,” M’ric said, with alacrity. “You’re sort of tanned, but not enough to be Istan, I don’t think. I’m going with Fort. Their dragons are supposed to be massive.”
M’ric looked crestfallen. “Benden, then,” he said, and then muttered, “I was so sure it was Fort.”
“You’re wrong in either case,” T’kamen said. “I’m from Madellon. The badge on my jacket –”
“Anyone could forge that,” M’ric said scornfully.
T’kamen exhaled hard. “Why would anyone want to? Why, if I were from the north, would I want to masquerade as a Madellon rider?”
“So you could get across the continent unchallenged,” said M’ric. “No holder would refuse a Madellon rider supplies.”
“Faranth’s teeth, M’ric, are you being deliberately obtuse?” T’kamen exclaimed. “Why would I be challenged? What could a northern rider possibly want to do in the south that would require that amount of subterfuge?”
“Well, recruit,” M’ric said, “obviously.”
T’kamen stared at him. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“They want to know who your contact is,” M’ric went on, ignoring him. “Because someone has to have passed you my name. And it sure as shards wasn’t me!”
“A contact?” T’kamen asked. “I don’t have a contact.”
“You asked for me by name!”
“I wasn’t asking for you,” T’kamen said. Irritation, more than caution, coloured the untruth.
“But you –”
“M’rik,” T’kamen said. “M-R-I-K. Brown Dolth’s rider.” He made the name up as he spoke. “A rider in my time.”
“Dolth?” M’ric blinked. Then he seemed to deflate a little. “My dragon’s called Trebruth.” He sounded perversely disappointed. Then he continued, angrily, “We’re in ten kinds of trouble because of you! Under investigation, Trebruth grounded, me yanked up in front of Dalka –”
“Dalka?” T’kamen asked. “Is that the Senior Weyrwoman?”
M’ric scowled. “I’m not supposed to tell you.”
“If I’m some kind of spy from Fort or Benden, shouldn’t I know your Weyrwoman’s name already?”
“Maybe you’re a really bad spy.”
“So your Senior Weyrwoman is Dalka,” T’kamen said. That must be the rider of the queen on Shimpath’s ledge. “Not Lirelle?”
M’ric scowled. “I’ve already told you too much.”
“You haven’t told me shaff-all,” T’kamen said. His temper was wearing very thin. “I’m not from the shaffing north. I’m not a shaffing spy. I’m a sharding Weyrleader of Madellon. I Impressed Epherineth in 85 and I became Weyrleader in 98. Even if no one’s taught you your history, five minutes in the Archives will confirm those dates. I – what?”
M’ric had started laughing. He shook his head. “That’s all fine, but you’re talking about stuff that happened a hundred and fifty Turns ago. Do you have any idea – well, no, I guess you wouldn’t, being from the Interval.”
“Enlighten me,” said T’kamen, flatly.
“190. Some idiot weyrling knocked over a candle in the Archives.” M’ric made a dramatic gesture with his hands. “Whoof!”
“There was a fire?”
“Everything went up. Weyr Books, old hides, paper, the lot. What was left of the weyrling was pretty crispy, too. Now you’re like to get sent to Westisle if you take anything hotter than a glow into the Records Room. And we don’t have any records going back farther than, what, thirty-five Turns?”
“Faranth,” T’kamen swore. That made things harder. “Well, what about the other Weyrs? They must have records of their dealings with Madellon in my time. H’pold was Weyrleader at the Peninsula, P’raima at Southern…”
“Look, it doesn’t matter anyway,” said M’ric. “Don’t you get it? The north has contacts at Southern and Peninsula and Starfall, so it would be easy for them to dig up the name of some old Madellon Weyrleader for you to use as a cover story.”
“It’s not a cover story!” T’kamen said. “And Epherineth’s Epherineth. How could he lie about his name?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” M’ric said. He frowned. “I’d like to believe you, T’kamen. I really would. It would make my life easier, for a start. And it would be amazing if it were true, wouldn’t it? A rider coming between – between times, even – in the Eighth Pass! I just wish someone had seen you come out of between. I wish I’d seen you come out of between!”
“When exactly did dragons stop going between?” T’kamen asked.
“Well, they didn’t, did they?”
T’kamen glared at him. “I don’t know. Did they?”
“No,” M’ric said, “I mean, it’s not going in that’s the problem. If they’re young enough they can still do that. They just don’t ever come out again.”
“All over Pern?” T’kamen pressed him. “Or just at Madellon?”
“Everywhere,” said M’ric. “Well. We presume they can’t do it in the north, either, else they’d be here by now, wouldn’t they?” He looked askance at him. “Which they might be if you’re lying.”
“I’m not lying,” T’kamen said, but the enormity of it was suddenly too much. He put his hand out to Epherineth for support. Is this our fault?
How could it be?
Our weyrlings must have been the first. This started happening on our watch. And now no one travels between. It must have spread. Blight it, Epherineth, it started with us.
“Seriously,” M’ric said, “wherever you’re from, can you really go between?”
“Yes,” T’kamen said shortly.
“What’s it like?”
“Cold.” He tried to order his thoughts. “Look, M’ric, I’m sorry you’ve got in trouble over this.” Although actually you brought it on yourself. “But I’m going to need your help to get home. Not until Epherineth can fly and I can ride, but there are things I’ll need – records, charts…”
M’ric’s face betrayed absolute astonishment. “Help you? You have got to be joking. Do you know what they’d do to me if I helped you?”
“I’m a prisoner here, M’ric,” T’kamen said. “No one’s talking to me, the other dragons are shunning Epherineth, and this is the first conversation I’ve had since I woke up in this Turn that didn’t involve my leg or his wing!”
“Well of course they’re not allowed to talk to you,” said M’ric. “Or him. You’re a northerner, remember? And even if you’re not, you’re either a crazy man or a time-traveller from more than a century ago. You say you were Madellon’s Weyrleader. Would you want someone like that mixing freely with your riders?”
“I still don’t understand what’s wrong with northerners,” T’kamen complained.
“You would say that, though, wouldn’t you?”
“Faranth, M’ric, you’re even more grating as a teenager than –” T’kamen caught himself. “I’m not a liar and I’m not crazy. Epherineth will tell you that much. And what possible harm can coming from the past do? I can’t predict the future. All I have is history.”
“You don’t get it, do you?” M’ric shook his head incredulously. “One way or another, you’re being kept here for your own protection. There are already people complaining about Madellon resources being wasted on a northerner. There are riders who’d have left you out for Thread where you were found. And if by some miracle you are telling the truth…”
He trailed off. T’kamen frowned. “What?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” M’ric looked at him with something between pity and admiration. “If you’re really a time-traveller, then you know how to go between safely, and if Madellon has a rider who can go between, then that changes everything.”
Continue to Chapter fifteen: C’mine
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