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Chapter fifty-eight: T’kamen

A dragonrider must have caution and courage in equal measure. A reckless rider will spur himself and his dragon alike to an early death. A fearful one will undermine his dragon’s self-belief. Only riders who can balance measure and mettle should be allowed to attempt going between. And only dragonpairs who trust each other completely in all ways can hope to succeed.

– Fragment from a Peninsula Weyr weyrling training manual

26.09.06 (26TH TURN, EIGHTH PASS)

T'kamen (Micah Johnson)M’ric flung the scroll he’d been studying down on top of the heap of unread ones in front of him, and shoved the entire stack away from him. “This is pointless!”

T’kamen reached over and pushed the pile resolutely back towards him. “Stop complaining. I can’t read all of these blighted things by myself.”

“Ch’fil did offer, you know,” said M’ric. “I don’t see why he can’t take on some of this stuff.”

“Ch’fil has other responsibilities,” said T’kamen. “And I’d sooner he didn’t happen across any references to a certain familiar-sounding brown rider in these old records.”

We haven’t,” M’ric pointed out. “Just riders I’ve never heard of.”

“All the same,” T’kamen said. “The less anyone else knows about your involvement, the better.”

“What about Leda?”

T’kamen returned M’ric’s reproachful stare evenly. “What about her?”

“The amount she’s been in here this sevenday, she could be reading anything in these records.”

“Leda doesn’t come here to read records,” T’kamen told him, with the thinnest of smiles.

“I bet she doesn’t.” M’ric looked surly. “I bet she doesn’t have to.”

“Is that what’s got you in such a bad mood?” T’kamen asked. “Leda?”

“I just don’t think some green rider with a crush on you has earned the right to our secrets.”

“What makes you think I’ve been telling her them?”

“Well, haven’t you?”

“As a matter of fact, no.” T’kamen didn’t mention that he and Leda didn’t talk much at all when she came to visit. M’ric could work that out for himself. “And she doesn’t know my cipher. You’re the only one who can read it.”

M’ric looked slightly mollified by that. Paying a compliment to his intelligence was always a sure-fire way to improve his mood – and he had picked up the trick of C’los’ old code quickly. They’d been making all their notes in it, just in case anyone happened to wonder why they were researching between.

He got up from the table. “I need another cup of klah. Do you want one?”

M’ric had found so many excuses to stop reading in favour of making klah that they’d both spent nearly as much time using the facilities as they had poring over the records. T’kamen didn’t think he could be much wider awake, despite the hour. “I’ll pass.”

“Suit yourself.”

T’kamen did use M’ric’s clattering around with kettles and cups and water as an opportunity to knuckle his aching eyes. “Wake up the fire, while you’re there,” he told him, even as he pulled the nearest glow-basket across the table to try to coax a bit more light out of it.

M’ric did, shovelling a bit more coal into the grate and pushing it around with the poker. The renewed blaze made the night’s darkness recede once more into the corners of T’kamen’s weyr. But a lack of light wasn’t really the problem. Even under brilliant illumination, the faded ink and illegible handwriting on the half-century-old hides was stubbornly resisting T’kamen’s best efforts.

It should have been easier for M’ric. His young eyes and sharp mind had made sense of more documents in the first two hours than T’kamen had in a sevenday. It was motivation that he lacked. T’kamen found himself dryly amused that such a thing could be said of the young man whose defining characteristic had always been his desire to be thought bright and capable.

“Either sit down and keep reading,” he told M’ric, “or piss off back to your own weyr, if you’re not going to be helpful.”

Grumbling, M’ric sat down. T’kamen supposed that was a compliment. “I don’t even know what we’re looking for in this lot,” M’ric said. “Tithes and accountings, and the most sharding boring journal I’ve ever read in my life.” He prodded with disgust one of the bound volumes that had caused them the most trouble. “Thank Faranth for hide-mites.”

T’kamen gave him a hard look. The mites were their biggest problem. They’d left the vellum pages of Weyrwoman Heche’s personal diaries in rags and tatters. “Keep looking,” he said. “Alanne’s fire-lizards must have come from somewhere, and that journal is our best bet for finding out where.”

It had been a frustrating couple of sevendays. The one good thing that could be said for it was that at least T’kamen hadn’t been accused of Alanne’s murder. An investigation of the scene at Little Madellon had found no evidence of violence or a struggle. It seemed that the dragonless Weyrwoman had simply gone to sleep, curled up alongside the bones of her queen, and not woken again. If her end had been hastened by her encounter with T’kamen, then no one at Madellon seemed particularly keen to point it out. The impression he got from conversation in the dining caverns was that it was probably a kind end to a miserable life, and that few people wanted to linger over the thought of a queen rider who’d lost her dragon half a lifetime ago. He’d even heard a few riders remarking breezily that at least they wouldn’t be drawing supply run duties any more.

The timing still seemed suspicious to T’kamen, though he couldn’t think what anyone would have to gain by killing Alanne. Her health probably had been affected by their meeting – as much for the shock of Epherineth killing her two watch-whers as anything T’kamen himself had done. He couldn’t feel much remorse for Alanne personally, but her death, and the consequent disappearance of her fire-lizard fair, was a blow nonetheless. Alanne’s queen lizard had been their only certain source of fire-lizard eggs, and without more fire-lizards, no one but T’kamen and M’ric would be going between.

And in a practical sense, that really meant no one but T’kamen. In the two sessions they’d managed to fit in around Fall and Wing drill, M’ric and Trebruth had still not succeeded in going between – or, more specifically, coming out again – unaided. T’kamen didn’t know if it was his deficient teaching ability, M’ric’s penchant for over-thinking things, or Trebruth’s forcibly stunted instinct that was the chief issue. He suspected some combination of the three. But as frustrating as T’kamen found it, M’ric – so quick a study of everything else that had ever been set before him – was positively eating himself alive over his inability to master what, he kept insisting, should have come as naturally as flying or flaming to Trebruth.

T’kamen had drilled M’ric in all the exercises he could dredge out of his memory. Epherineth, demonstrating an excess of patience even by draconic standards, had explained the process to Trebruth over and over again. Still the young pair struggled to go between in the first place, or floundered once there, reliant on Epherineth to get out again. T’kamen didn’t know what else to do. M’ric was right that between should have come naturally to his dragon. The dragonets in T’kamen’s own weyrling class had been more than ready to go between at a far younger age than Trebruth’s two Turns, and almost all of them had found it easy, once they’d overcome their nerves. But T’kamen wasn’t a Weyrlingmaster. He had no training in teaching young dragonpairs how to go between. He could hardly have asked C’rastro for help, even had he thought the current Weyrlingmaster could have offered any insight whatsoever. And Madellon’s Archives didn’t go back far enough for T’kamen to seek help from L’stev via the records he would certainly have written.

With both approaches to reclaiming between hindered, T’kamen had been at a loss as to how to proceed. Dalka broke the impasse. She had insisted on holding a quiet ceremony to mark Alanne’s passing and, in searching Madellon’s records of her era, uncovered that her original fire-lizard had been a gift from the Weyrleaders of the Peninsula. Donauth was too egg-heavy to make the long flight all the way to Peninsula Weyr, so Dalka sent T’kamen and Epherineth there as her envoys, armed with a letter for the Weyrwoman there, asking permission to search Peninsula’s records for information on Alanne. Weyrwoman Estrinel, it turned out, had little interest in her own Weyr’s history and less in taking time away from her broody queen to help T’kamen, but she had no qualms whatsoever about letting him borrow whatever documents he pleased. The chance for T’kamen to make free with the Peninsula’s extensive records – unsupervised, no less – was no small boon. But the drawback to Estrinel’s lackadaisical disinterest towards her Weyr’s records became apparent once T’kamen went down into the Archives. If there had ever been a logical filing system, by subject or by chronology, it hadn’t been enforced in decades. Any temptation T’kamen might have had to go straight to the section that dealt with his own Interval era was thwarted by the fact that such a section didn’t exist. In the darkest and dustiest recesses of the Archives, tunnel-snakes had chewed holes through many of the oldest records, and a veritable plague of hide-mites had made documents dated only to the beginning of the Pass barely legible in places.

In the end, he’d loaded Epherineth down with about half a dragonweight of documents that he hoped would pertain either to early-Interval weyrling training or the pre-Pass era during which Alanne’s queen Ryth had been alive. But in truth, he couldn’t blame M’ric for finding the process of sorting and reading the old Peninsula records unrewarding. It was tedious, and all the more so when the document you’d just spent an hour reconstructing from fragments turned out to be some queen rider’s careful accounting of expenditure on Turn’s End gifts for her seven children rather than anything actually useful.

They had found some things that were fascinating, if not actually helpful. An account of a Hatching mentioned a Madellon Weyrleader, T’schan, whom T’kamen thought must have been the grandsire of the elderly green watchrider at Kellad. A partial Wing roster, missing the page that would have credited its author, was written in a hand T’kamen found infuriatingly familiar until he finally recognised it as Sh’zon’s work. He couldn’t tell if it dated to before or after Sh’zon’s transfer to Madellon. He found a letter, very faded, that had Valonna’s signature at the bottom; it seemed to be a personal note, congratulating someone on the birth of their first grandchild, though T’kamen could decipher neither the child’s name nor the grandparent’s.

But they’d found very little of use to help M’ric and Trebruth overcome their fear of between, and nothing about the ultimate provenance of Alanne’s fire-lizards. R’lony had been unimpressed with both failures. “Then we’re back to M’ric’s queen,” he said, when T’kamen reported on their progress, or the absence of it.

“She should rise for the first time when she’s about ten months old,” T’kamen said. That much he’d discovered, not from the Peninsula’s records, but from an otherwise unfruitful visit to Blue Shale Seahold.

R’lony scowled at that. “Then we’re looking at a Turn, minimum, before we have even a chance of any eggs.”

“At least we have the chance,” said Ch’fil. “If M’ric didn’t have the queen we’d be nowhere.”

“We may as well be nowhere, for the good it’s doing us,” said R’lony. “Faranth’s teeth! To be reliant on that boy…”

“He’s well aware of what rests on him,” T’kamen said.

R’lony shook his head. “Not good enough. I’m keeping Donauth on top of Trebruth. She has a better chance of instilling some healthy fear in that boy’s mind about what would happen if he were to lose us that blighted fire-lizard.”

“How much does Dalka know?” Ch’fil asked.

“Too much,” R’lony said disgustedly, but he’d refused entirely to be drawn further than that.

Still, T’kamen was loath to admit defeat. He was certain there were answers to be found in the Peninsula’s records. And if there was no other value to the long evenings he and M’ric were spending poring over them, then their industry did at least keep Leda at bay. She was a sweet girl, and her infatuation with him was flattering, but actually conversing with her made T’kamen feel old in a way that spending time with M’ric never had. He lacked the heart – or perhaps the courage – to turn her out of his bed entirely, but he was grateful that Leda’s aversion to watching them reading dusty old records meant that she only came to his weyr once M’ric had left, and long past the time for conversation.

“Oh, hello,” M’ric said suddenly.

T’kamen raised his gaze from the cracked vellum of a half-Turn weyrling report. “What have you found?”

“You,” M’ric replied, his eyes tracking down the page. “You never said you were going to transfer to the Peninsula.”

“What?” T’kamen leaned forwards. “Give me that.”

M’ric pulled it back out of his grasp, still reading. “This is a transfer request,” he said. “From a Weyrleader H’pold to a Weyrleader L’dro, I think. I can’t make out if that says ‘from’ or ‘for’…”

“L’dro tried to forcibly transfer us out?” T’kamen asked. “What’s the date on it?”

M’ric turned the scroll over, flattening it. “Early Interval 94.”

T’kamen laughed. “Straight after Shimpath’s first flight. The miserable snake.”

“L’dro was your big arch-rival?” M’ric asked. “The one you got rid of to the Peninsula once you became Weyrleader?”

“That was different,” T’kamen said. “I offered him the option of a transfer, and he took it. This…I had no idea he’d tried to dump me on H’pold. Does it say why the transfer didn’t happen?”

“Actually it does.” M’ric laughed. “It says here that the transfer was declined at the request of Weyrwoman Ralla –”

“Rallai,” T’kamen corrected him.

“– on account of her misliking the sound of you.”

“Give that here,” T’kamen said, and succeeded in grabbing the hide off M’ric. He rolled it back to the beginning and read aloud, hearing his voice rise with indignation as he did. “‘Bronze rider T’kamen would make the Peninsula a capable Wingsecond, in that he can reliably be asked to discipline his wingriders without scrupling to offend them; he has no illusions of his own popularity and therefore no fear of harming it by dispensing punishment. He is not a man with the charisma to inspire loyalty simply by his presence in a Wing, nor the geniality to win allies amongst his colour-mates, though he seems to have a rapport with riders of the junior colours.’” He glared at M’ric when the boy snorted. “Something funny?”

“Funny? Sharding hilarious, T’kamen.” M’ric returned his censorious look guilelessly. “This L’dro. Was he one of those people who thinks he’s much more clever than he actually is?”

“You must have met him.”

“How did anyone that thick get to be Weyrleader over you?”

T’kamen sighed. “The Weyrwoman fancied him.”

Mating flights as leadership contests. Still the most sharding stupid thing I’ve ever heard of.” M’ric shook his head. “Where he was sort of clever is that nothing he said about you is actually untrue.”

T’kamen looked at him witheringly.

“It’s true,” said M’ric. “You would make a good Wingsecond. A better Wingleader, in the Interval, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t be a good Wingsecond too. You don’t care if you’re popular or not, and you don’t make friends with other bronze riders just because they’re politically convenient to have as your buddies.”

“I don’t make friends with other bronze riders because I’ve never met another bronze rider I liked,” said T’kamen.

“But that’s the thing,” said M’ric. “He’s taken all your good traits and tried to turn them into ones that wouldn’t be threatening to a Weyrleader, but anyone with half a brain would see through it. You’re firm with your wingmen. You don’t play politics with other rank. You understand riders of all colours, not just your own. And the new Weyrleader of Madellon is desperate to be rid of you.” He shrugged. “If I were the Peninsula’s leadership, I’d be terrified of you, too.”

“You might be overstating that somewhat,” said T’kamen. “And besides, you haven’t addressed the point about my inability to inspire loyalty.”

He said it lightly, but M’ric chagrined expression pained him. “No. That bit was true, too.” He pulled the scroll towards him and read the sentence aloud again. “‘He is not a man with the charisma to inspire loyalty simply by his presence in a Wing.’” He put special emphasis on the last part.

“There are other ways to command loyalty than through charisma,” T’kamen said softly. “Almost all of them more deserving.”

M’ric wouldn’t meet his gaze, and T’kamen didn’t make him. The boy got up from the table and went to the hearth. T’kamen thought he was going to make more klah, and began to pre-empt the offer of another mug when M’ric said, “No one ever believed in me, before you.”

He sounded quite choked. “I think I’ve been more hindrance than help to you, M’ric.”

M’ric shook his head, though whether in direct contradiction to that assertion, T’kamen didn’t know. “I wish I could help you more, Kamen.”

“You are helping. Although you’d be helping more if you’d settle down to reading this stuff instead of making drinks every five minutes.”

“We can’t go between,” M’ric interrupted. “Not without your help. It terrifies Trebruth. It terrifies me.”

“It’ll come –”

“What if it doesn’t?”

“It will come,” T’kamen repeated. “It’ll have to. Because I don’t know any other way that you’re going to end up back in the Interval, twenty Turns older than you are now, sending Epherineth and me to now.

M’ric turned partly from the fire. The light from the flames licked up half his face. “That almost scares me most of all.”

“You thrive on challenges, M’ric. You’re not one to buckle under the weight of the world.”

“Says the man putting the weight of the world on my shoulders.” M’ric went still. “It’s not the expectation, exactly.” He hesitated, as if trying to put something abstract into words. “I’m just not sure which frightens me more. The notion that events are inevitable, that whatever else happens, whatever I might want to do, I will go back to the Interval, and I will be the M’ric you knew then. Or…the idea that you being here, me having sent you here, rests on me. That I could make a mistake, or a wrong decision, and suddenly you and Epherineth will just…disappear, as though you were never here, because I haven’t followed the path that will bring you here in the first place. And maybe it would be even worse than that. Maybe the whole world, the Eighth Pass Pern that has T’kamen and Epherineth of the Seventh Interval in it, would just vanish, if I don’t do things the right way to get you here to make it a reality. What if the weight of the world really does rest on me?”

“Then Faranth help us all,” T’kamen said.

M’ric gave him a black look. “That’s not helpful.”

T’kamen thought for a long moment before he answered. “If it rests on you, then it rests on me just as much,” he said at last. “I’ll have sent you back as explicitly as you sent me forwards.”

“But you haven’t,” said M’ric. “Or at least, you’ve told me to go, but I haven’t, yet. What if I don’t? What if I decide not to go? What if I get killed in Fall tomorrow? What if the world only exists as long as I’m still alive to make the possibility that the circle can still be completed still viable?”

“Then it won’t matter much to you, because you’ll be dead,” said T’kamen.

“That’s not helpful either, T’kamen.”

“I know.” T’kamen considered it more, though it made his head hurt. He was almost grateful that Epherineth was asleep. Having a dragon weigh in on matters of timing only made it worse. “Remember I told you that we once fouled up a reference and accidentally timed it by a few hours.”

“I remember. You got a bollocking from your Weyrlingmaster.”

“I did.” The recollection made something between a smile and a grimace curl T’kamen’s mouth. “L’stev didn’t exactly include timing in his lessons. Not how to do it, at least. He did cover why allowing temporal details to creep into a between visual could get you killed. But I don’t think I was the only one who did it by accident, because along with the bollocking and the punishment, I got a series of well-worn lectures from L’stev about the nature of timing.”

“Well?” M’ric prompted him, when T’kamen paused. “What did he say?”

“I’m reaching back nearly fifteen Turns, here,” T’kamen said. “And it scrambled my brains then, too. But the crux of what L’stev had to say was that any time you successfully timed it into your past, it would literally be impossible to do anything, while in the past, that would prevent the future from which you’d come from happening.”

“And you think that’s true?” M’ric asked.

“It concurs, more or less, with what Epherineth’s told me. I think dragons understand the ramifications of timing far better than we do.”

M’ric thought about it. “What about things that wouldn’t have an effect on the future you’d come from? Would you be able to do those differently? And then go back to a point just after you left the future, and act based on that change?”

T’kamen rubbed his beard. “He didn’t go into that. What he did say was that anything you did while timing in the past had always happened, even before you took the trip back. So perhaps the answer to your question is that whatever that action was that you took had always already happened, even before it occurred to you to do it, and therefore you wouldn’t be changing anything anyway.”

“But that would mean that everything we do is inevitable,” said M’ric. “That you never had any choice about timing it back in the first place, because the consequences of your timing were already set in stone before you did it.”

“It would seem that way,” T’kamen said. “But I don’t know if L’stev was right. I suspect he’d done some timing of his own at some point, and he was a sharp and savvy man, but perhaps he was speculating just as much as we are.”

M’ric was silent for a minute. “What colour was his dragon?” he asked suddenly.

T’kamen laughed. “Brown, of course.”

That did elicit a grin, but not for long. “Then I can’t fix it,” M’ric said. “I can’t go back to the Interval and tell everyone that they need fire-lizards to go between. Because if I did, then I would have, and everyone would know, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”

Slowly, T’kamen nodded. “I think you’re right.”

“Then what’s the point?” M’ric made a frustrated gesture. “Of timing, of this – of anything we do?”

“Maybe there isn’t one,” said T’kamen. “Maybe there’s no point to any of it, and everything we do, every decision we think we make, is pre-ordained.” He shrugged. “But if that’s true, does it really change anything? You’re still going to get out of bed tomorrow morning and harness Trebruth and go and fight Thread. You’re still going to plan how you’re going to catch that green of Fraza’s. You’re still going to come up here tomorrow night and read boring Peninsula records about Weyrwoman Heche’s Gather dress fabric and the quality of the pickled boars’ feet from Hoffen Hold. You’re still going to scare yourself shitless trying to go between. You’re still going to help me figure out where we’re going to get more fire-lizards for the rest of Madellon. Because the only alternative is that you sit in your weyr, alone, refusing to do anything out of pure pique. And if you do that, you risk your other alternative being right, and the world ceasing to exist because you wouldn’t play your part.”

M’ric gave him a mulish look. “Still not helpful.” Then the expression dissolved, and he laughed so honestly that T’kamen couldn’t help but smile. “It’s absurd, isn’t it, Kamen? This knot we’re tied up in?”

“It does seem to be,” T’kamen agreed gravely.

He dropped his head briefly onto his arms. Then he lifted it again. “Do you miss being Weyrleader?”

“Yes,” T’kamen said. He didn’t have to consider the question. Then, more reflectively, he said, “I shouldn’t miss it, knowing what I know now. There are a hundred reasons why I should be glad not to be Weyrleader any more. Madellon was in a mess when I left it. Our Holds were barely tithing what we needed to exist. I was having to spend our reserves just to keep everyone fed and paid. Three of my weyrlings had just died going between and no one knew why. My Weyrwoman was terrified of me. One of my two oldest friends had been murdered, and the other one, his weyrmate, had gone to pieces.”

“And I’d stolen your girlfriend,” M’ric said softly.

“Do something for me,” T’kamen said. “When you go back.”

“Of course,” M’ric said, with an earnestness than made his youth all the more apparent.

“Protect them for me. Look out for C’mine. Don’t let him do anything stupid. And…Saren. Treat her better than I ever did. Shield her from harm and heartbreak.” He felt himself smiling at his own mawkish sentiment. “Be good for her.”

M’ric nodded, holding his gaze. “I can’t tell her the truth, can I? That you didn’t die. That you’re here.” He paused. “That you’re still in love with her.”

The words, from another’s lips, caused T’kamen a stab of physical pain that made him close his eyes for a moment. “Just protect her.”

M’ric reached across the table and gripped his wrist with all his youthful sincerity. “I will, T’kamen. I promise.”

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