Chapter thirty-two: T’kamen
The Pass was always going to be a challenge for our Craft. We’ve been planning for it since Kellad was founded. We’ve gathered nuts and seeds and cones to form the basis of the Eighth Interval’s woodlands for nearly two hundred Turns. We’ve always known this was coming.
And yes, it hurts that we underestimated the scale of destruction that would be necessary. It hurts to see some of the stands we selected as the most precious razed to the ground. It hurts to look out over a field where once fine trees grew straight and tall, and now only stumps disfigure the ground, like pox scars.
But we endure, because we must. Because our Craft has always taken the long view. Because sacrifices must be made in a Pass.
And because we remember what happened to Peranvo.
– Excerpt from the personal diaries of Masterwoodcrafter Yarwell
“They cut it down,” T’kamen said. He felt numb. “They cut it all down.”
It was only when Epherineth rumbled sympathetically that T’kamen realised how deeply Kellad’s ravaged state had affected him. It doesn’t look as I remember it, either, he offered.
They’d visited Kellad regularly enough in the Interval that Epherineth probably did recall the visual. T’kamen put his hand on his dragon’s fore-ridge. “This was home before I was a dragonrider,” he said. “Or as close to a home as I ever had. Shards, Epherineth. Kellad was its forests. How in the Void has it survived without the lumber trade?”
It wasn’t the sort of question any dragon would have been able to answer. Stratomath says to let him speak with the watchdragon, Epherineth said instead.
There was an elderly green dragon on the Kellad fire-heights. She rose unsteadily to her feet as they approached, bugling a quavering challenge. Stratomath called back politely. The green appeared to think about his greeting, then snorted, shook her wings, and lay ponderously back down again.
We are expected, Epherineth reported. There are wherries for us. And the tithe is ready to be loaded.
He sounded much more interested in the wherries than the tithe. T’kamen couldn’t blame him. Don’t eat too many. You’ll be laden enough on the way home. Has the harness settled?
It had been bothering Epherineth under his arm – T’kamen knew that. Perhaps you could adjust it.
As soon as we land.
Epherineth followed Stratomath down towards Kellad’s paved courtyard. T’kamen unbuckled and slid stiffly down. His leg didn’t feel too bad – tired more than painful – but he was grateful to be able to walk around and stretch. The long, damp, uneventful flight had wearied him. Faranth, but he missed being able to go between. He kept the thought to himself, and ducked beneath Epherineth’s neck to inspect his armpit.
The cargo harness had rubbed quite badly under Epherineth’s right arm. One of the turnbuckles wasn’t lying flush, and it had twisted the strap whose edge had caused the abrasion. There were several other places where the harness had chafed him less badly, too. Ch’fil came over as T’kamen was examining the damage. “Well, it could’ve been worse.”
“Worse?” T’kamen asked. “He hasn’t had a lesion like this since he was a dragonet!”
“It’s his first time flying long distance in this type of rig,” said Ch’fil. “It was bound to catch him somewhere.”
“I wouldn’t let him go between like this,” said T’kamen.
“Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have.” Ch’fil peered up at Epherineth’s armpit, then pointed. “Have M’ric take that piece out. If he pads the strap and wraps the turnbuckle, it shouldn’t do any more harm on the way home. You can rework the fit once we’re back at the Weyr.”
“I’d sooner see to it –”
“You don’t keep a runner and trot yourself, T’kamen,” said Ch’fil. “It does a tail good to run about after you. Keeps ’em humble.”
“Have you met M’ric?”
Ch’fil grinned. “I’d best go chat up the watchrider.”
M’ric approached as Ch’fil walked away. “Did you have a nice sleep?”
T’kamen ignored that. “Epherineth’s new rig isn’t fitting under his arm. Can you fix it?”
“Take it out, pad it, put it back,” said M’ric. He craned his neck to look up at Epherineth. “And I’ll put some salve on that wound.”
“What sort of salve?”
“Wool grease, aloe, a bit of numbweed. I use it on Trebruth all the time. I do know what I’m doing, you know.”
“All right, all right,” T’kamen said. “Could you take a look at the cargo net, too? He made a hole in it back at Madellon. And don’t let him eat too many wherries.”
“Leave it all to me,” said M’ric. He threw a glance in the direction of the main Harperhall building. “You’ll be in there?”
“In the Archives, hopefully, if the Masterharper allows it.”
“I’ll come and find you once I’m done here and I’ve checked in with Kheleina.”
“I want to show her my new knot.”
“Is that what they’re calling it these days?”
M’ric gave him a look.
“Don’t get her in trouble.”
“I won’t,” M’ric promised airily. “Her Master knows about me. It’s fine.”
Ch’fil’s shout from across the courtyard prevented T’kamen from replying. “T’kamen!” He beckoned him over with a sweep of his arm. “Over here!”
He was standing with one of the most ancient riders T’kamen had ever seen. She was bent and shrunken inside a fur-lined cloak, and leaning hard on a sturdy walking stick. She must have been in her eighties, but her pure white hair was still bound back in an immaculate knot at the nape of her neck. “This is Lannira, Kellad’s watchrider,” Ch’fil told T’kamen.
“That’s green rider Lannira to you, boy,” the old woman said, rapping her walking stick smartly into Ch’fil’s ankle.
“Forgive me,” Ch’fil said. “Green rider, of course.”
Lannira ignored him and squinted up at T’kamen. “And who do you call yourself, with that monster of a dragon?”
“I’m T’kamen, Epherineth’s rider,” he replied, with careful respect.
Lannira sniffed dismissively. “Oh, you’re that one. Ought to be ashamed of yourself, with a dragon that big. Wager he does nothing but eat!”
“Green rider, T’kamen’s from the Interval,” Ch’fil told her. “He –”
“Don’t you tell me about the Interval, boy!” Lannira said sharply. “What do you know about the Interval! You’d not have been but a stripling with a dragonet until the Threads began to fall. I know about the Interval! I was born when the skies were clear! When this was all still forest, and the last real dragons were flying between!”
“I remember this all being forest, too,” said T’kamen.
“Well, it was,” said Lannira. “It was! And now it’s all gone for firewood and planks and paper and what-have-you! Criminal! Criminal!”
“It would only have fallen to Thread, Lannira,” Ch’fil said gently.
“Thread,” she repeated, and sighed. “I could tell you about the time we fought Thread, Bienath and me. Only the once, mind, before they retired us out of the Wings. Too old, too slow. It’s a young dragon’s game, Thread. And it’s been a long span of Turns since we were young.”
T’kamen exchanged a glance with Ch’fil. “Who was Weyrleader when you were a weyrling, green rider?”
“Weyrleader? Weyrleader? Ah! For the days when that meant something!” Lannira clutched Ch’fil’s arm, glaring up at him. “Is that R’lony still Weyrleader?”
“R’lony’s Weyrmarshal, green rider,” said Ch’fil. “He hasn’t been Weyrleader for a long time.”
“Well, good,” said Lannira. “What does a wretched watch-wher like that know about leading the Weyr! He’s not even a bronze rider. Not like my grand-daddy, oh, no!”
“Your grandfather was a bronze rider?” T’kamen asked. He tried to calculate it in his head. Lannira had probably been born about forty Turns after he’d left the Interval. “Was he a Weyrleader?”
“I just told you he was,” Lannira snapped. “Weren’t you listening, boy?”
“What was his name?” T’kamen asked.
“T’shan, T’shan,” said Lannira. “Weyrleader T’shan. You look in the records! You look, you’ll find him there! My grand-daddy! Weyrleader of Madellon!”
Ch’fil looked inquiringly at T’kamen. T’kamen gave the briefest shake of his head. He hadn’t known a rider by that name. “We’ll look him up,” Ch’fil told Lannira. “We’ll bring you the record to see if you’d like.”
“What use is a record to me? You think these eyes can still read a record?” Lannira raised her head defiantly. “They still see well enough to ride watch; isn’t that enough?”
“Of course it is, green rider,” Ch’fil said.
“Now, you’ll come and sit with me and tell me all the to-do of the Weyr,” Lannira said. “Who’s flown who, and how’s that young queen, and what’s this nonsense about a rider coming between.”
“It’ll be my pleasure, green rider,” said Ch’fil. He shrugged the satchel of post off his shoulder and handed it to T’kamen. “Do me a favour and take this to the duty journeyman in the Harperhall.”
T’kamen slung the heavy bag over his shoulder. “Understood.”
As he started across the courtyard, he wondered why such an elderly lady was still serving, even if only as a Hold watchrider. It didn’t seem right. Surely a green rider of such advanced Turns had earned a retirement.
Bienath is still quite sharp, Epherineth remarked. She likes being on watch. And her rider enjoys the music. They have no wish to retire.
But Lannira isn’t quite all there, said T’kamen. And Kellad’s a major Hold. Couldn’t someone younger serve?
Perhaps no one else could be spared.
I suppose so.
The courtyard at Kellad had always been fragrant with the scents of resinous trees and sweet new sawdust. Now, the only smells were those of animals and animal dung, drifting from the direction of the vast beast paddocks beyond the Hold. The stone-built workshops that hadn’t even been finished in T’kamen’s time had been turned into cotholds. The Hold itself hadn’t changed much, though its stones, once a pleasant golden-brown, had faded and weathered to a dull buff. The borders where shrubs and flowers had once grown had been emptied completely, of soil as well as greenery. Kellad’s holders clearly did an assiduous job of clearing all but the most necessary growth of vegetation from close to their buildings.
The wide, shallow flight of steps up to the entrance of the Harperhall was almost as T’kamen remembered, though the lip of each step had been worn concave by the fall of thousands of feet. T’kamen recalled running up these same stairs as a boy, lengthening his stride to reach each subsequent step without stutter-stepping in between. He couldn’t do that any more – at least, not yet. Ondiar had allowed him to stop using his walking cane, but there was no point in putting unwarranted strain on his newly-healed hip. Being an invalid hadn’t suited T’kamen at all, and the last thing he needed was a relapse.
And the Harperhall itself really hadn’t changed. As T’kamen stepped into the entrance hall, he could have been stepping back through time. The portraits of old Masters that stared down from the walls were new, but everything else – the polished tile floor, the faded blue drapes, even the big visitor ledger on the marble-topped desk – was exactly as he remembered it.
A thin, greying journeyman sat behind the desk, and behind him four apprentices were scribbling furiously on record hides. The journeyman looked up from the slate he was reading. “Can I help you, bronze rider?”
“I hope so,” T’kamen said. He hefted the post satchel onto the desk. “This is the correspondence from Madellon Weyr.”
“Ah, yes.” The journeyman took a slip of hide – no, paper, T’kamen corrected himself; the stuff made from wood pulp – from a stack and wrote something on it, then pushed it across the desk. “If you’d just sign it over to me…”
T’kamen noticed the journeyman checking that the seal on the satchel was still intact. He had to remind himself not to write Weyrleader beneath his signature, and instead scrawled Bronze rider of Epherineth.
The journeyman took the slip back, countersigned it, and then slid the satchel deftly over the desk. “Janner,” he said, turning to the row of apprentices, “run this down to the Postmaster immediately. Thank you, bronze rider.”
“There’s something else,” T’kamen said, as the apprentice whisked the post bag away. He took the note Dalka had given him from his jacket. “This is a letter of introduction from Weyrwoman Dalka.”
The Harper inspected the name written on the front of the missive. He looked again at the slip T’kamen had signed, and then lifted his eyes to study his face with a disquietingly avid gaze. “Bronze rider T’kamen,” he said, sounding fascinated. “Yes. Of course. The Masterharper has been expecting you.” He handed back Dalka’s letter, then turned again to the row of apprentices. Their activity had slowed noticeably as first one, then all of them abandoned their work to stare at T’kamen. “Kolasch, escort the bronze rider up to Master Marlaw’s study. And don’t bother him with questions, do you understand?”
I think they know who I am, T’kamen commented to Epherineth.
The long trek up staircases and along corridors to the Masterharper’s office was yet another thing that hadn’t changed. It struck T’kamen that the Harperhall, with the emphasis it put on preserving history and language and tradition, would be the most likely place to have maintained its ways in the century and more since he’d last set foot in the Hall. He would have found it reassuring, except that every window they passed reminded him of the dramatic changes to the landscape of the Kellad he knew.
T’kamen’s entire knowledge of Masterharpers was based on the only one he’d ever known: Gaffry, who’d been in the post for the best part of twenty Turns. He supposed that that limited experience coloured his expectation of the current post-holder. Gaffry was – or had been – a robust crafter in his late sixth or early seventh decade with a practised smile, a polished turn of phrase, and suspiciously dark and even-coloured hair. “He dyes it,” C’los had once said, long ago, with perfect scorn, and that had settled it. T’kamen had never quite been able to take Gaffry seriously since.
Masterharper Marlaw was a different type altogether. He was younger than T’kamen would have expected, with the dark complexion and almost black hair that distinguished many Kelladian Holders – though he was reassuringly silver at his temples. His eyes were a startling light green-brown, and afire with a candid interest. “Bronze rider T’kamen,” he said, setting down his pen and rising to his feet. “This is a pleasure. I’d hoped we might meet.”
T’kamen gripped Marlaw’s proffered wrist. “I hadn’t thought I’d be recognised.”
“I’d be a sadly deficient Master of my craft if I couldn’t spot a new face,” said Marlaw. He made a gesture with his head to Kolasch, who was still loitering near the door. “Back to your post, apprentice. Please, bronze rider, will you take a seat? I understand you’re still recuperating from an injury.”
“All but healed,” T’kamen said, though he did accept the offer. “You have me off-balance, Master Marlaw. I hadn’t expected my reputation to precede me.”
“Less preceded than raced ahead of you like Thread into a wheat-field,” said Marlaw. “It’s rather inconvenient, really. When first I heard reports that Madellon had captured a northern rider, I wrote a song about justice and duty and the fair rule of law. I was quite pleased with it. Rousing, educational. Hardly a trace of sanctimony. I think it could have become a lasting addition to the standards. And then it turns out that you aren’t a northern raider at all, but a Weyrleader of Pern, lost in time.” Marlaw’s eyes gleamed. “A bitter disappointment, as you can imagine.”
“I’m sure.” T’kamen placed Dalka’s letter on the Masterharper’s desk. “The Weyrwoman’s introduction seems redundant at this point, but here it is anyway.”
“No words set down by Weyrwoman Dalka’s fair hand could ever be redundant,” said Marlaw. He broke the seal on the folded paper with a practised flick of his thumb. His eyes scanned rapidly down the page, then stopped, moved back up, narrowed almost imperceptibly. “Unnecessary, perhaps, but never redundant,” he added.
“What did she say?” T’kamen asked, leaning forwards.
Marlaw re-folded the note, opened a drawer in his desk, deposited the paper there, and closed it again, briskly. “Nothing, I’m afraid, that I can share with you at this time. Now, bronze rider. What can I do for you?”
T’kamen looked at the drawer. He would have wagered anything that, the instant his back was turned, Marlaw would whisk Dalka’s letter to a safer hiding place. What in the Void had Dalka said? He’d had very little to do with her since that first day in the invalid weyr.
“Bronze rider?” Marlaw prompted him.
T’kamen schooled himself to patience. He’d talk to Dalka when he got back to Madellon. “I was hoping I could spend some time in your Archives,” he said.
Marlaw didn’t look surprised. “What do you hope to find there?”
“Records from my time,” said T’kamen. “Madellon has so few.”
“Records,” said Marlaw. “What sort of records?”
“I don’t know,” said T’kamen. “But you’re a Harper. If you were in my position, wouldn’t you want to know what had happened back in your own time?”
“If I were in your position,” Marlaw repeated. “You mean if I were an Interval Weyrleader of Madellon, thrown a century and more forward in time to a Weyr and a Pass not my own?” He smiled, but he didn’t answer the question. “Time travel a-dragonback, T’kamen. The stuff of stories and children’s tales.”
“We don’t talk about it,” T’kamen said. “Never outside the Weyr. Not often inside. It’s too dangerous.”
“Our dragonriders don’t talk much about between at all,” said Marlaw. “I’ve often wondered if, a Pass or two from now, the very idea that dragons could once go between safely and at will might become just as much of a myth.”
“It’s no myth,” said T’kamen.
“But Epherineth cannot go between now?”
“He couldn’t, when we tried,” T’kamen admitted.
“Then you’re only looking for history?”
T’kamen met Marlaw’s gaze evenly. “What else would I be looking for?”
“A way home,” said Marlaw.
They sat looking at each other for the span of several moments. T’kamen had half expected this to be an interrogation. Harpers never could let anything be without picking at it. “Is that what Dalka’s letter says?” he asked, at last. “Is she concerned that I’m looking for a way to leave?”
“I believe the Weyrwoman has your best interests at heart,” said Marlaw. He leaned slightly forward. “Say you were looking for a way back. What would you need?”
T’kamen hesitated. He didn’t like discussing dragon business with someone who wasn’t even a dragonrider, but Marlaw knew far more than he was letting on. He probably already had what T’kamen needed. Harpers. “Epherineth needs a time-specific visual if he’s going to jump back to the Interval. A good one. Accurate.”
“But if he can’t go between…”
Marlaw let the sentence trail off. T’kamen suddenly recognised the technique. C’los had relied upon it many times when he wanted to get information out of someone. Leave a space, and let him fill it. He realised how many times Marlaw had already used it on him. “If we’ve gone back, then we will go back,” he said, slowly, hating that he’d yielded to the trick, hating that he was spilling Weyr secrets to the Masterharper. “That’s how it works.”
Marlaw blinked. It was the first time he’d looked even slightly nonplussed. “Then you believe that dragons can regain the ability to go between?”
T’kamen thought about M’ric and Trebruth. “It must be possible,” he said. “There has to be a way.”
“And if you find one,” said Marlaw. “You’ll use it to go home?”
“It’s where we belong,” said T’kamen.
“Where you belong,” Marlaw echoed. He sat back. His eyes searched T’kamen’s face. “Who did you leave behind, T’kamen? Who is it that you’re so desperate to get back to? Your Weyrwoman, Valonna?”
It was a more personal question than the ones he’d asked before. T’kamen found it curiously offensive. “Why don’t you tell me?” he asked. “I don’t doubt that you know more about me than I do myself. You’ve had a couple of sevendays to unearth everything there is to know about me. Faranth, I’m surprised the whole sharding Hall doesn’t know my whole sharding life story.”
“We moved swiftly to make sure that wouldn’t happen,” Marlaw replied. “Wherever – whenever – you are from, you are a dragonrider, and owed respect accordingly.” He smiled slightly. “Though once the bare facts became common knowledge, every apprentice and journeyman with two chords to rub together started racing to be the first to write your Ballad.”
“My Ballad?” T’kamen asked sharply.
“We don’t get many time-travelling dragonriders stumbling into our Pass,” said Marlaw. “The Hall is lousy with half-written songs about you. And lousy is the right word. Every Harper fancies himself the composer of the next Golden Egg of Faranth or Shadow Wings or More Of Us.”
“I’d sooner they didn’t,” said T’kamen. “I haven’t done anything worth writing a song about.” He laughed. “Yet. If I figure out how to get dragons going between again, then you can write me a song.”
“What would that look like?” asked Marlaw. His tone was strange: wistful, almost rhetorical. “A Pern where dragons can go between?”
“There’d be a lot more trees outside your window, for a start,” said T’kamen. “When did they cut down the forest?”
“It didn’t happen all at once,” said Marlaw. “Kellad was always pragmatic about it. Though the first few Turns of the Pass were worse than anyone had predicted.”
“So they exchanged trees for cows,” said T’kamen.
“We discovered that dragons don’t much care for trees,” said Marlaw.
Absolutely not, said Epherineth, from where he was demolishing several wherries.
“Is it like this everywhere?” T’kamen asked. “Just beast pens as far as the eye can see?”
“Supporting the Weyr is Pern’s first priority, T’kamen,” Marlaw said. He spoke neutrally, without any inflection to indicate his opinion on the matter.
“So I can see,” said T’kamen. Kellad’s ravaged landscape was the most graphic illustration he’d yet seen of the change that losing between had forced upon Pern. For all the issues his own Madellon had faced with wringing a living tithe from the Holds, he could take no pleasure from how the pendulum had swung back in the Weyr’s favour. It redoubled his resolve to find an answer. “Will you allow me into the Hall’s Archives, Masterharper?”
“I don’t know if you’ll find anything there that my Master Archivist hasn’t already unearthed,” said Marlaw. He shrugged slightly in response to T’kamen’s frown. “Of course we’ve been looking into your history, T’kamen.”
“And what have you found?” T’kamen asked.
“Not as much as Madellon’s own Records would have yielded, had they not been lost to that fire,” said Marlaw. “We have turned up several dozen documents that mention you. Minutes of meetings; tithe requests; a journal entry from a journeyman who attended a Madellon Hatching.”
“And the commendation I wrote for the riders who fought the Kellad wildfire in 98?”
“That came from Kellad Hold’s own Archives,” Marlaw said. “So we have pieced together a narrative of your Weyrleadership that’s perhaps more rounded than your entry in the Hall’s chronicle of the last Interval describes, but…”
When Marlaw broke off, T’kamen prompted him urgently, “But?”
The Masterharper rose from his desk. “But you should read it for yourself.”
T’kamen watched tensely as Marlaw unlocked a bureau and removed from it a large, ornately leather-bound book. The Masterharper placed the book on the desk and opened it to a page he’d obviously marked before. He began to push it across the desk towards T’kamen, and then paused. “I’d respectfully suggest, T’kamen, that you don’t turn to the next page.”
That made T’kamen hesitate for a long moment as he tried to discern Marlaw’s meaning, but at last he pulled the book towards him.
What struck him first was the brevity of the entry. Half a page, and no picture, though a square frame had been left blank as if one had been intended but never begun. His name had been lettered carefully below the concluding paragraph of L’dro’s entry, which covered the entire left-hand page and presumably some of the previous one as well. T’kamen wasn’t vain, but the offence he felt at the much more detailed account of L’dro’s era overrode, for a moment, his growing sense of alarm.
WEYRLEADER T’KAMEN (I7/98 – I7/100)
T’kamen, the rider of bronze Epherineth, was the twelfth chronological Weyrleader of Madellon, the ninth individual rider to assume that title, and the second Weyrleader of Senior Weyrwoman Valonna (see page 275, Weyrwoman Valonna, Madellon Weyr).
T’kamen became Weyrleader in I7/98, and despite the short duration of his term in office, many events that would be pivotal in the development of the southern Weyrs as we know them now had their roots in his tenure. There is even some evidence to suggest that T’kamen’s ascension to the Weyrleadership was based in part on a proto-democratic campaign conducted among the green and blue riders of Madellon – then very much the junior members of Weyr society – decades before direct democracy became the norm in the Dragonweyrs of southern Pern.
The clutch sired by Epherineth on Shimpath in I7/99 was part of the first generation of dragonets in whom the dragons’ legendary ability to travel between did not manifest correctly. While Madellon’s weyrlings were not the first to fail to go between (see page 124, Weyrleader P’raima, Southern Weyr), Madellon was the first Weyr to communicate news of the problem to the other Weyrs of Pern.
Disappearance and presumed death
In spite of T’kamen’s brief stint as Weyrleader of Madellon – indeed, owing to it – his fate remains one of the most intriguing riddles of Pern’s history. Little is known of T’kamen’s movements on the summer morning in I7/100 when he went missing from Madellon Weyr. He left no note to explain his absence, and there is no indication that those close to him had reason to believe he planned to abandon his post. The most likely explanation is that he succumbed to an error of judgement while in transit between, although as the dragons of the time never keened for Epherineth’s death, it cannot be stated with any conviction that this was the case. All that is certain regarding Weyrleader T’kamen’s disappearance from Madellon Weyr is that he was never seen again.
Breeding influence of dragon
Epherineth’s lasting contribution to the bloodlines of Madellon’s dragons was limited by the fact that his queen daughter Berzunth –
As T’kamen began to turn the page, Marlaw’s hand thudded down hard on the book to stop him. “I really recommend you don’t read any more, bronze rider.”
T’kamen looked incredulously up at the Masterharper. “But this says I was never seen again.”
“I’ve read it, T’kamen,” Marlaw said quietly. “Of course, this was written twenty-odd Turns ago, just after the end of the Interval. Its author couldn’t possibly have known that you would be seen again.”
“But not in my own time.” T’kamen looked down at the chronicle, with its detached, dismissive summary of his minor place in history. “If this is correct, if this is true…”
He couldn’t say the words aloud. He didn’t need to. Epherineth picked them effortlessly from his mind and said them for him. Are we never to go home?
T’kamen swallowed hard. “But this can’t be right,” he said, trying to steady his own voice. “Is there anything to corroborate it?”
“There are other documents,” Marlaw told him, still in that soft and even tone. “Surprisingly few, given your status as Weyrleader in the Interval, but they all seem to agree that you disappeared, and they all seem to agree that you didn’t come back. There’s no reference to you at all after the hundredth Turn. You never returned to Madellon. You never resumed your post.” He paused. “I’m sorry, bronze rider.”
T’kamen stared at the book. He felt…insulted. He seized on that reaction. It was the least terrible of the emotions seething inside him. It offended him to see the Weyrleadership he’d dedicated most of his adult life to winning distilled to half a page of terse narrative. “This is whershit,” he muttered. “It’s whershit. Whoever wrote this didn’t know a shaffing thing about me or my Weyr. It says our weyrlings weren’t the first –” Then he ran his finger along the offending line, reading it again. “This implies that it was Southern…Faranth, no wonder P’raima didn’t want us poking around that day. Can I –”
Marlaw pulled the chronicle fractionally away as T’kamen moved to leaf back through the pages. “I don’t think you should do that,” he said.
“Why not?” T’kamen asked hotly. “What are you trying to hide?”
“Nothing,” said Marlaw. For the first time, his voice had some steel in it. “But that book is full of history that should have been your future, written by Masterharpers committing only the broadest strokes, the barest facts, to posterity. You’re angry because it trivialises your contribution. I would be, too. But imagine how much angrier you’d be if you turned that page and found the same reductive treatment given to everyone you knew, everyone you served with, all your family and friends and lovers. Imagine how it will hurt you to read about the lifetimes you should have shared in brutal summation.”
“I need to know what happened to them,” T’kamen said. “I have to know!”
“But you don’t have to know now,” said Marlaw. He placed his hand lightly on top of the chronicle. “T’kamen. A few minutes ago, you were certain that you’d return to your own time. This suggests very strongly that you won’t. That’s enough of a shock for anyone to deal with. Don’t crush yourself with personal heartache too. History isn’t going anywhere, and nor is this chronicle. It’ll still be here when you’re ready for it.”
He is right, Epherineth said very gently, and T’kamen felt some of his disbelieving rage blunted by his presence. You already hurt. It does no good to add pain to pain.
Stiffly, T’kamen nodded. “All right. All right. But I want to see these other documents. I want to see everything you have on the Interval. If there’s anything – any reference to me getting back that your Archivist might have missed – anything at all…”
“Of course,” said Marlaw. “We’ll check again, and I’ll have everything prepared for you.”
There was too much sympathy in his eyes. Sympathy, or pity. He’s humouring me, T’kamen thought. Blight it. There’s nothing. There’s really nothing. “I will be back,” he said, but he knew the defiance had already gone out of his voice.
“You’ll always be welcome at the Harperhall, bronze rider,” Marlaw said. He raised his light eyes to T’kamen’s. “What will you do?”
T’kamen forced himself to smile. “I’m a dragonrider of Pern, Masterharper,” he said. The words sounded mocking to his own ears. “I’ll think of something.”
Marlaw offered him an escort, but T’kamen refused it. The fewer inquisitive harpers he had to face, the better. He felt light-headed as he descended the many stairs to the Harperhall’s ground level. He didn’t make eye contact with any of the people he encountered, and when he passed back through the entrance hall, he ignored the duty journeyman. Epherineth’s mental presence hovering protectively over him was numbing his perceptions. He barely noticed the chill dampness of the air as he stepped outside.
He was halfway across the courtyard before a hand caught his arm. “Hey, I asked if you were all right!”
It was M’ric, chasing after him. T’kamen stopped. He looked at the boy. He didn’t know what to say.
“What happened? Did you find a reference?”
T’kamen resumed walking. “There is no reference,” he said. “I don’t go back.”
M’ric stood still for a moment. Then he jogged after him again. “What do you mean, you don’t go back?”
“I don’t,” said T’kamen. “Haven’t. Won’t. There’s no record of me going back. I disappeared. I was never seen again.”
“But,” M’ric said, as if he were having trouble making sense of it. “But absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, is it? Maybe the record’s wrong?”
Almost, T’kamen made himself hope. Almost. “There’s no mention of me after the hundredth Turn,” he said. “My entire Weyrleadership rates half a page in the Chronicle of the Seventh Interval. The only thing – the only thing – I’m noted for is disappearing without a trace. There’s no footnote that says I turned up again, ever. Because I didn’t. I didn’t go back. I’m never going back.”
“Faranth, T’kamen,” said M’ric. “I’m…I’m sorry.”
T’kamen didn’t trust himself to say any more. Against Epherineth’s attempts to keep him calm, something black and terrible was rising inside his chest. Where are you, Epherineth?
In the Gather meadow, by the tithe barns.
He turned that way. He didn’t have to think. Kellad had been his home. It wasn’t any more, but his feet still knew the way. He was aware of people passing, looking at him strangely; he was aware of M’ric trailing him. Tailing him. The thought should have amused him, but it didn’t.
Epherineth had risen to his hind legs to look for him. He was heavily loaded, his cargo harness laden with sacks and bales, the netting slung below him filled with casks and crates. He looked like a burdenbeast. T’kamen lengthened his stride, ignoring the twinge that began in his hip, and then fell into a laboured jog. It was the best he could do. It hurt and he didn’t care. Epherineth dropped back to all fours with a tremendous clatter. T’kamen stumbled to a stop beneath his head, framed by his braced forearms, and Epherineth lowered his head to him, humming almost too softly to be audible, a low vibration of sympathy and sorrow that resonated precisely with the anguish in T’kamen’s heart.
“We’re never going home, Epherineth,” he said. His tongue felt heavy with the weight of the words. “We’re never going back to our Madellon. We’re trapped here forever.”
Epherineth exhaled over him, a long warm breath. Then we are trapped here together.
“Together. Alone.” T’kamen pressed his brow to Epherineth’s soft muzzle. “No Shimpath. No Saren. They’re gone. We’re never getting them back.”
He raised his head. He could feel moisture seeping shamefully from the corners of his eyes. He didn’t turn to look at M’ric. “What?”
“It’s just that…I was wondering…well…am I still going to go back in time?”
The rage surged up much faster than the despair had descended. T’kamen felt his lips peel back from his teeth; he spun, he lashed out. In that instant, the explosive collision of bone with bone was all he desired.
Epherineth’s cry of dismay rocked him back to himself. M’ric was staggering, stumbling away, clutching his face. He tripped and went to his knees. Trebruth leapt towards T’kamen, screaming. For a moment a frenzy of angry brown dragon filled his entire world.
And then Epherineth turned his shoulder to Trebruth, effortlessly deflecting his spring. Trebruth scrambled to recover himself in a whirl of wings and limbs, but before he could, Epherineth lunged. His jaws seized Trebruth’s neck, just behind his head, and both dragons went perfectly still.
It had all happened in the space of ten heartbeats. Stratomath and Bularth had only just begun to react to the clash. On the ground, M’ric was moaning incoherently. T’kamen’s hands were still bunched into fists. There was blood on his knuckles.
“What in Faranth’s shaffing name is going on?” The shout jolted T’kamen out of his daze. Ch’fil was sprinting across the Gather meadow towards them. “Get the shaff off him!” he roared at Epherineth.
Epherineth, his eyes flecked red, relaxed the pressure of his fangs only slightly.
“Call him off, score you!” Ch’fil shouted at T’kamen.
T’kamen made himself uncurl his fists. “Let him go, Epherineth.”
Epherineth opened his jaws, and Trebruth pulled free. The indentations of Epherineth’s teeth were clearly visible on his dark hide. He flattened himself nearly to the ground, visibly cowed, but he crept close enough to extend his muzzle anxiously to M’ric.
“Out of the way,” Ch’fil said, shoving Trebruth’s questing nose aside. He looked down at M’ric. “You all right, boy?”
“I dink by dose is broke,” M’ric groaned.
Ch’fil grabbed his shoulder and hauled him to his feet. “Stand still and look at me.” He took M’ric’s head in both hands. Blood was running from his nose, and his left cheek and eye socket were swelling already. Ch’fil brusquely wiped away blood. “I don’t think your nose is broken,” he said. He poked at M’ric’s cheekbone, eliciting a yelp of pain. “Or anything else. Sit down and pinch your nose until the bleeding stops. H’juke!” His bellow brought his tailman running. “Go to the Hold and see if there’s a healer who’ll come take a look at M’ric’s face.”
“What do I say happened?” H’juke asked, looking wide-eyed from M’ric to T’kamen.
“He fell over,” said Ch’fil. “Go.”
As H’juke sprinted off, Ch’fil turned his glare on T’kamen. “What the shaff was that, man?”
T’kamen realised he was shaking. The moment of pleasure he’d taken in punching M’ric had already evaporated. The knuckles of his right hand throbbed. “I don’t know,” he said unsteadily.
“Not good enough!” In anger, Ch’fil’s Peninsula accent became more pronounced, and so did the scars that seamed his face. He looked genuinely frightening. “You don’t get to rearrange your tailman’s face, ya bastard! Not now, not ever!”
Then M’ric said, thickly, “Was by fault.”
“What?” Ch’fil snapped, turning on the boy.
“Was…” M’ric said a word that had the cadence of disrespectful, although it was hard to tell for sure.
Ch’fil narrowed his eyes. “Any other tail in the Weyr and I’d say you knew better than that. But if anyone’s an exception to that rule, it’s you. Let this be a lesson about minding that smart mouth of yours around your superiors.” Then he turned his glower back on T’kamen. “And you can get a grip on your temper. You want to give him a clip round the ear, that’s your business, but you strike a rider with a closed fist again, and we’re going to have a problem. R’lony might not give a shaff how you choose to keep your tail in line, but I do. Faranth’s tits, I’ve never know a rider with so much of his dragon in him.” He glared up at Epherineth. “And you! Dragons scrapping in public! At a Hold! I ought to ground your fork for a month!”
“I’m sorry, Ch’fil,” T’kamen said roughly. Now that his rage had fled, he was appalled with himself. “I won’t…it won’t happen again.”
“You’re shaffing right it won’t!” Then Ch’fil gestured dismissively to a group of startled holders standing near the tithe barns. “Just dragons roughhousing. Nothing to be worried about!” He glared at T’kamen again, though with less rancour than before. “I’m going to see if Epherineth’s shaken anything loose with this shit. And you can shaffing apologise to the boy.”
As Ch’fil stalked off down Epherineth’s side to inspect his cargo, T’kamen turned to look at M’ric. He was sitting against Trebruth’s forepaw, dabbing experimentally at his nose with his sleeve. “It’s still bleeding,” T’kamen told him.
M’ric’s bruises were darkening quickly beneath the smeared blood. He shot T’kamen a wounded look. “You didden ab do puch be.”
T’kamen lowered himself to the ground to sit beside him. “No. I didn’t. I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
M’ric made an unlovely snuffling noise and wiped at his nose again. “You’re ubsed.”
“Yeah.” T’kamen stared at nothing. “I guess I am.”
“I didden bean do bake id worse.”
“Stop talking, M’ric, you sound ridiculous.” T’kamen scrubbed a hand through his hair. “You might just have picked a better moment to point out that you’re going back to my time, and I’m not.”
M’ric looked sideways at him. “Ab I, doh?”
“You know you are. We’ve already been through this.”
“Bud if I can do id, why nod you?”
“I don’t know,” T’kamen admitted, and then repeated himself more forcefully. “I don’t know.” He paused. “The only thing I can think of is the fire-lizard…”
“I already dold you,” M’ric insisted. “Dobody as fire-lizds. Nasdy dirdy digs.”
“Well, you do. Or you will.” T’kamen shook his head. “Why dirty? I never liked the irritating little buggers, but they’re popular enough in my time.”
“Dere garriub eders,” M’ric said. He screwed up his face as he spoke, and then moaned, “Ow.”
“I can’t understand you,” T’kamen said. He raised his head to see if Ch’fil’s tailman was coming back yet. “Looks like H’juke’s found you a Healer.”
M’ric felt gingerly at his puffy cheek. “Lease Ghleda idden aroud do see be dis way.”
“I don’t think I’ve done you any lasting damage,” said T’kamen. “Faranth knows how. I used to be a decent boxer.”
“You’ll still have a black eye to show for it, though.”
“Well danks a don.”
“Consider it payment in advance for sending me on a one-way trip to this miserable era,” T’kamen said. “Since I’ll never get to hit your future self in the face the way I’d like to.”
“Dat’s brobly why by fudure self dormeds you,” M’ric said. “Geddig by own back.”
“You’re still up on that trade,” said T’kamen.
The Healer, flanked by H’juke, was almost upon them. T’kamen got up, brushing dirt off his flying leathers. “Journeyman. Your patient’s here.”
“Oh, dear,” said the Healer, looking at M’ric’s bruised face. “And you say that this young man –”
“Fell ober,” said M’ric, climbing to his feet. “Yub. Clubsy, dad’s be.”
T’kamen put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, gripping hard for a moment, hoping M’ric knew he meant his apology. Then he released him to let the Healer do his work. Is Trebruth all right? he asked Epherineth.
I only scared him, Epherineth replied. I would not have hurt a dragon so much younger and weaker than me.
That made T’kamen more ashamed than ever of his outburst. He stood by, watching as the Kellad Healer cleaned up M’ric’s face, until Ch’fil returned from his inspection of Epherineth’s load.
“He didn’t shake anything loose,” Ch’fil said. “How’s the boy?”
“I think he’ll be all right,” T’kamen said.
Ch’fil watched the Healer attending M’ric for a moment. Then he said, “Didn’t find the answers you were hoping for, did you?”
T’kamen shook his head.
“I’m sorry to hear it.” Ch’fil paused. “So what’s next? What’ll you do now?”
“What can I do?” T’kamen asked. He spoke more lightly than he felt. “Stay, assuming R’lony will have us.”
“Aye, he’ll have you.” Ch’fil squinted at Epherineth. “Let’s see how he does getting home. If he’s not too sore, we have five days to get him ready.”
“What happens in five days?” asked T’kamen.
“Threadfall,” said Ch’fil. “It’s time you saw what being a dragonrider of the Pass is really all about.”
Continue to Chapter thirty-three: 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