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Chapter eighty: Sarenya

Many women leave their homes for the Weyr. Very few ever return. Is that because, once accustomed to the freedoms and liberties of the Dragonweyr, most women would not want to give them up – or because, once tainted by the morals of dragonriders, most Holds would not have them?

– Excerpt from the personal diaries of Masterharper Gaffry


Sarenya (Micah Johnson)“Go on, Sleek,” said Sarenya, “go to C’mine. Go to Darshanth’s rider. You know who he is.”

Sleek had tilted his head quizzically when Sarenya had pushed the message slip into the holder on his leg. Now, though, he offered her an image of Darshanth, with the shading of emotion that indicated his approval of a fellow blue, albeit one a thousand times his size.

“That’s him,” said Sarenya. “Go to C’mine and Darshanth and let them have my message.”

Sleek chirped with what might have been comprehension. He launched himself from the table-top where Sarenya had set him, circled her head twice, and then disappeared between.

Sarenya looked at the space where he’d been for a moment, wondering if he’d complete his task this time.

Then she leaned down to pick up the last basket of her belongings. She carried it out to the storage room and set it down on top of two others like it, checked again to make sure she’d written her name clearly on top of all three baskets, and then closed and locked the door.

“You’re all set?”

She turned. Jarrisam was standing in the doorway to the common room. “I have a few errands to run around the Weyr,” she said. “But my room’s clear now. Hannser can start moving his stuff in if he likes.” Then she remembered the set of keys still in her hand. She held them out. “You’d better have these back.”

Jarrisam took them. “You’re travelling very light,” he said, looking at the set of saddlebags Sarenya had left leaning against the wall.

“It’s not as if I’ll be roughing it. It’s main routes all the way from Kellad to Peninsula South. I’ll find a trader caravan to join once I’m in Peninsula territory, and there are plenty of holds and runner stations I can stop at.”

“You know how bad it can get through Gartner if it snows badly –”

“I’ll be through there long before it snows,” Sarenya said, “and back at the Hall by midwinter. And if it gets really bad, I have Sleek to carry a message.”

Jarrisam looked as sceptical at that idea as anyone who knew the blue fire-lizard’s ash-brained nature might. “I wish you’d reconsider. There have to be half a dozen riders who’d give you a lift, and you could have Bovey sent on with a runner drive in the spring –”

“We’ve had this conversation, Sam.”

“– what if he goes lame on the road –”

Sarenya waited for him to stop.

“– or if you run into Holdless bandits, or…” He trailed off. “Will you be all right?”

“I’ll be fine, Sam,” Sarenya promised him. “Really.” Then, to distract him onto a different preoccupation, she asked, “When’s the new Master supposed to be arriving?”

“No later than the end of the sevenday. And we still don’t have word on who it’s to be. Another Hall pariah, I imagine.”

“Who else would they send to a Weyr?” Sarenya asked wryly.

Jarrisam looked at her. “You’ll make your Mastery, Saren.” He said it without any trace of condescension. “They’ll have you sweat blood for it, but you’ll make it anyway.”

“Thank you, Sam,” she replied, sincerely, though she didn’t agree with him. “And don’t let the new guy push you around. Madellon’s Beastcraft couldn’t run without you.” Something else occurred to her. “Oh. I left a recommendation for Ingany on M… on the Master’s desk.”

“You talked to her?” Jarrisam asked.

“Last night,” said Sarenya. “She took some convincing that she could make it in the Craft, but if the new Master isn’t too much of a sexist wher, I think she’ll do well. You might need to keep reminding her that girls can be Beastcrafters, though.”

“I’ll do that.” Jarrisam looked fiercely torn for a moment. Then one side evidently won out. “Saren…why didn’t you take the post at Kirken?”

He’s always been sceptical of female Beastcrafters. Arrense’s remark about Master Benallen rang again in Sarenya’s mind. “It just didn’t seem right. I think Master Benallen only offered me the job as a favour to Arrense.” And he’d send me back to the Hall in disgrace the minute he realised I’m pregnant.

“I’m sure that’s not true,” said Jarrisam. “What if the Hall doesn’t have anything you like?”

“I’m sure there’ll be something,” Sarenya said lightly. She picked up the fourth basket, the one full of record hides. “I should get these errands run, if I hope to be on my way by lunchtime.”

“You’re sure you don’t want to have one of the apprentices take that back over to the infirmary for you?” Jarrisam asked.

“I have to see Master Vhion anyway. I can manage.”

Still, her arms were hurting by the time she’d carried the heavy basket of records across the Bowl to the dragon infirmary. She hadn’t realised just how many hides she’d borrowed from the Dragon Healer until she’d had to pack them all up. Now that she was leaving, the hours she’d spent reading studies and reports on dragon pathologies seemed like wasted time.

There were no dragons in the infirmary. Each bay had been swept clean, sanded, and its trough neatly overturned. Sarenya put the records down on Vhion’s desk and turned back to look over the echoingly empty cavern, stretching her aching arms. She walked over to the bay where Sejanth had spent most of the last Turn of his life. No trace of him remained there, and in his absence, the medicinal tangs of redwort and numbweed had finally triumphed over the sick-dragon stink that had pervaded the cavern for so long.

She heard footfalls and turned. Master Vhion was coming out of the stock room, carrying a bucket in each hand. “I was just about to walk over to the cothold to find you,” he said, setting down his burdens. “I was worried you’d slip away without saying goodbye.”

Sarenya wished she could have done exactly that. She’d refused Jarrisam’s suggestion of a leaving party to avoid too many uncomfortable farewells. But there were those she couldn’t bring herself to dodge, and Vhion was one of them. “I filed all your apprentice notes back in order,” she said, patting the basket of records she’d carried from her quarters.

“You needn’t have gone to that trouble,” said Vhion. “Though my next apprentice will thank you.”

“You have someone lined up, then?” Sarenya asked.

“I’d rather hoped you might recommend a likely sort from amongst your apprentices, if there’s one going spare.”

Sarenya thought about it. Jarrisam had managed to delay the cull of Madellon’s Beastcraft apprentices in the light of Arrense’s loss and Tebis’ disgrace, but the reprieve wouldn’t last forever. “Dorvan might be interested,” she said. “He knows as much as he’s going to learn about the beasts at the Weyr, but he doesn’t have Hannser’s ambition to travel.”

“Dorvan,” Vhion repeated. Then he said, “You have my letter of reference?”

“I do, and thank you for writing it, Master.”

“Would that I hadn’t needed to,” he said, with a sigh. “Would that Arrense could have written it himself. But I fancy I know what he’d have said about you. I hope I’ve done you both justice. And you must write, once you’re settled.”

“I will,” she promised, knowing that she wouldn’t, and knowing that Vhion knew it, too.

But although that would have been as good a parting as any from the Master who had shown her such kindness, she still hesitated to leave the infirmary, feeling that her business there was yet unfinished. It took her a moment to realise why. “Do you believe in ghosts, Master?”

“Ghosts?” Vhion asked. “Do you mean the vengeful spirits the young ones like to tell tales about, passing through walls and groaning balefully?”

“No,” said Sarenya. “The sort that usually stay quiet, just out of view. The sort you catch out of the corner of your eye sometimes. The sort you think aren’t really there until you look up and see them looking back at you.”

Vhion followed the line of her gaze. “Ah. I’m afraid that kind of ghost is quite real.” He regarded her thoughtfully. “Is that why you’re leaving?”

“It’s part of it.”

He folded his hands across his stomach. “Ghosts don’t haunt places, Saren. They haunt people.”

“I’m not so sure.” She looked at the place where Sejanth was not, and at the place beside him where D’feng wasn’t, either. She looked towards the entrance of the infirmary where the bloodstain that had been scrubbed into nonexistence was still fresh and red with the memory of C’los’ murder, and his shade, and Katel’s, stood silently just out of sight. She thought about the ghost of Arrense, standing in every shadowy corner of the cothold. “This place is full of them.”

“You will take very great care of yourself, won’t you?” Vhion asked.

“I will, Master.”

Shimpath was not on her ledge when Sarenya went to find the Weyrwoman. She was up on the Rim, capturing the rays of late autumn sunlight that could be found there. But Valonna was in her office, and when Sarenya ventured inside, she rose immediately from her work. “Sarenya. I’m so glad you came.”

“I wouldn’t have left without coming to see you, Weyrwoman,” Sarenya replied.

Valonna stepped around her desk. “Call me Valonna.”

“I –” Sarenya began. “Valonna.”

Valonna smiled. “I still can’t persuade you to take a dragon-ride back to the Hall?”

“Thank you, but no. I’ve already made my travel plans, and the Hall doesn’t expect me for several sevendays. Hopefully they’ll have found a new assignment for me by then.”

“You’ll find a letter of credit waiting for you once you get there. Master Arrense’s outstanding stipend.” Valonna took a pouch from a drawer in her desk and extended it to her. “And some small marks, for your journey expenses.”

Sarenya swallowed. “You’ve been too generous to me, W- Valonna. My uncle’s marks…the runnerbeast…”

“I wish I could do more,” Valonna said, “for all that your service to the Weyr has cost you.” Then she gave a little start, as if remembering something. “Oh. I found this. I thought you would want to have it.” She lifted a tattered shoulder-knot from atop one of the piles of slates on her desk and held it out to Sarenya.

Sarenya took the braid carefully in both hands, tracing the familiar untidy two-strand twist with her eyes, touching the gaps where a third cord had been removed from the weave. “Most people would just have made themselves a new knot.”

“He wasn’t most people.”

Sarenya couldn’t think of a response to that.

“Is there anything else of his that you’d like?” Valonna asked. “I packed up all his things before H’ned moved into his weyr, but I haven’t taken them to the lower caverns yet. If you wanted to look through…”

“No,” Sarenya said. She gripped the shoulder knot tightly. “This is…this is enough.”

Valonna regarded her with an expression Sarenya couldn’t read for a long moment. Then she said, “He left behind something else. Will you walk down to the caverns with me?”

Sarenya hesitated. She really wanted to complete her farewells and get out of Madellon, but something in her still resisted the notion of being discourteous to the Weyrwoman. “Of course, Valonna.”

As they left Valonna’s weyr, the muffled bang of another small explosion echoed across the Bowl from the south-eastern quadrant. Dust puffed from the mouth of the cavern the Weyr Mason was excavating, and habit made Sarenya glance across to the beast paddocks. The animals in the killing pens, short-term residents of the Weyr at best, were fleeing in panic to the farthest reaches of their paddock; the milk cows, phlegmatic by nature and desensitised to trauma by daily exposure to dragonkind, hadn’t even raised their heads.

Valonna noticed Sarenya’s preoccupation. “I’d feared the explosions would disrupt the Weyr terribly, but no one seems to turn a hair any longer.”

“I suppose the extraordinary quickly becomes commonplace, with time and familiarity.”

“I suppose it does,” said Valonna. Then, with determined cheer, she said, “But Master Gerlaven is progressing much faster than he’d expected. The natural hollows under that part of the Weyr are more extensive than he thought. We’ll have a large new cavern to service all the weyrs on that side of the Bowl. Madellon will look quite different when next you’re here.”

Sarenya didn’t expect she’d ever return to Madellon, but she said, “I don’t doubt it.”

They continued down into the main complex of the lower caverns, the maze of glow-lit passages and rooms that Madellon’s original builders had carved out from the stone of the old volcano. Valonna nodded and smiled to the people they encountered: Weyrfolk, almost all of them, with hardly a dragonrider to be seen. They passed the back entrance to the kitchens – a hive of activity even mid-morning, as the cooks and their many helpers worked to produce the noon meal for over a thousand people. They went deeper, past the craft quarters, the workshops, the mending rooms, the laundries. Valonna led with the sureness of a woman who knew her domain well – who had come to know it, Sarenya realised, only in recent months, and still gloried quietly in her newfound knowledge. Valonna had changed. Insist though Shimpath’s rider might that Sarenya call her by her given name, Valonna had never been more emphatically the Weyrwoman.

And it struck Sarenya suddenly how ill-suited she would have been to this enclosed, windowless, stuffy warren; how she would have hated the never-ending work of managing Madellon’s accounts and resources, its supplies and logistics; how she would have chafed at the strictures of Weyrwomanhood as much as she would have relished its freedoms. Shimpath chose wisely, she thought, and even without saying the words aloud, acknowledging the truth of them was a strange catharsis.

Then they emerged into a wider passageway, with a carpet runner on the floor, and Valonna led the way through into the colourfully painted and brightly lit crèche.

Sarenya hesitated in the doorway for a breath. Did Valonna know about her pregnancy? Had Isnan or C’mine told her? Had she herself inadvertently let slip? Was this Valonna’s way of persuading her to reconsider leaving?

No. Isnan and C’mine weren’t that indiscreet, she wasn’t that careless, and Valonna certainly wouldn’t be that crass. Still, stepping into the heart of the Weyr’s complex, efficient child-care operation gave her an odd shiver of what might have been.

As they waited for the crèche mother to quiet a fractious baby, Valonna told Sarenya about Madellon’s child-rearing facilities. There were different areas, of course, each suiting the needs of children of different ages, from those still with milk-mothers all the way to the oldest children on the verge of assuming adult responsibilities. There were teaching rooms where Madellon’s young learned their letters and their ballads, sums and geography and history. There were play areas with toys and games and chalk-boards to draw on. All but the youngest were assigned chores – pulling weeds, changing glows, running messages – and as each child grew, his foster-mother would be charged with identifying and nurturing his interests and aptitudes. Some would become candidates and perhaps dragonriders, more would settle into roles as part of Madellon’s non-rider workforce, and a few would leave the Weyr entirely, and Valonna spoke with quiet conviction of how she was determined that no child of Madellon should ever want for choices in his life. Sarenya admired her aspiration, but she still wondered why the Weyrwoman had brought her here.

Then the crèche mother turned from the child she had been tending. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Weyrwoman.”

“Not at all, Nerra,” said Valonna. “I hope the little boy isn’t too distressed.”

“Oh, he’s teething,” said Nerra, “the poor hatchling. His little cheeks are bright red.” She shook her head. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“I wonder if we might see Yara’s fosterling,” said Valonna.

“Etyschan?” asked Nerra.

“No, the older lad. Tymodan.”

Nerra looked surprised by the request. “He’s down for a nap, but you could steal in to see him if you wanted. Was there a problem…?”

“No, no,” said Valonna. “No problem. It’s only for his father’s sake…”

Nerra nodded. “I understand. Well, come with me.”

The room to which she led them was dim but not dark, the glow-baskets turned down to cast a gentle radiance. Sleeping mats were spaced evenly on either side, each one host to a dozing child. Nerra made brief eye contact with the woman watching over the sleeping youngsters and then, soft-footed, led Valonna and Sarenya to one of the mats.

The boy curled asleep around the tangle of his blanket was maybe three Turns old. He wore the soft sand-coloured tunic and trousers that was the uniform of the Weyr’s children, and hugged a battered toy to his chest, a stuffed animal sewn from scraps of brightly-coloured fabric. Under different circumstances Sarenya wouldn’t have looked twice at him. But Valonna had brought her here, and as Sarenya looked at the little boy asleep on the mat, and noticed the darkness of his hair, and the stubbornly spiky way it grew, the Weyrwoman’s intent became suddenly and perfectly clear.

Sarenya was grateful both for the dim light and the need to speak quietly; even so, she heard her own voice roughened with emotion. “Who’s his mother?”

“A green rider,” said Valonna. “He was conceived during a flight. I don’t think T’kamen even knew about him.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Sarenya said. She felt moisture gathering at the corners of her eyes as she looked at the sleeping child. His features were soft and relaxed, but she would have wagered everything that he had his father’s dark, determined eyes. “All that matters is that he’s here.”

She didn’t trust herself to speak again until after they’d left the crèche behind, and were almost out of the lower caverns. “Will he be told who his father was, when he’s older?”

“If he asks,” said Valonna. “Every Weyrborn child is entitled to find out who his parents were, if he doesn’t already know.”

They stepped outside, into the Bowl. It had begun to rain, and Sarenya stopped beneath the overhang. “You’ll speak well of T’kamen to him, won’t you?”

“I will,” said Valonna. She reached out to clasp Sarenya’s wrist. “He’ll know he’s the son of a Madellon Weyrleader.”

Sarenya look down at the Weyrwoman’s hand – still fair to her own tan, but ink-stained and strong. On impulse, she gripped Valonna’s other wrist. “Thank you.”

“Take care on your journey, Sarenya,” Valonna said. “And good luck in your new post.”

Sleek came sailing down out of the drizzling sky, vibrant against the drear, as Sarenya crossed the Bowl back towards the Beastcraft cothold. She held up her arm for him, and he landed with his customary accuracy. His leg, Sarenya noticed, still bore the message tube, with no evidence that he’d tried to scratch it off. “Did you go to Darshanth?” she asked, investigating the tube. The message she’d placed there was gone, although there was nothing in its place. Then Sarenya realised why. Darshanth was behind the cothold, his head and wings visible above the roof of the snug building. “You did go,” she said, delighted. “What a clever boy!”

C’mine was leaning against his dragon’s shoulder when Sarenya came around the corner of the cot. He stood straighter when he saw her. “Sleek brought your message. I knew you’d get there with him.”

“You can always rely on a blue to get there eventually,” Sarenya said. “You didn’t have to come down. I’d have come up to you.”

“Darshanth wanted to say goodbye,” said C’mine.

And for all that Sarenya was sure of her path, and firm in her belief that Arrense had been right about the effect dragons had on her, that simple statement nearly undid all her resolve. She turned to C’mine’s blue, putting her hand on his forearm, intensely conscious that it might be the last time she ever touched a dragon. “Darshanth. You’ll look after Mine, won’t you?”

Always and always, Darshanth replied. Then he moved his head very delicately, so the side of his nose pressed against her cheek. And you must take care of yourself, Sarenya.

Sarenya closed her eyes, just for a moment, taking in the feel of his soft, soft muzzle against her face. “That’s what everyone’s been saying to me this morning,” she heard herself say. “That I’m to take care of myself.” She opened her eyes to look at C’mine. “That’s what I’m doing. Taking care of myself.”

“I know, Saren.” C’mine’s gaze was full of compassion. “I still wish you’d let us take you to the Beastcrafthall. Especially since…”

“I’m pregnant, Mine, not sick,” Sarenya said, when he didn’t complete the sentence. “I’ve talked to Isnan and he says I’ll know if my body wants me to stop.”

“If it does,” said C’mine, “you send Sleek to me, and we’ll come and get you.”

“I will,” Sarenya said. “I promise.”

“Only,” said C’mine, “you’ll have to make sure he knows how to get to High Reaches.”

“High Reaches?” Sarenya asked. “High Reaches in the north?”

“You’re not the only one who needs to move on from Madellon.”

“Too many ghosts,” Sarenya said, and then caught herself. “Mine, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean –”

“It’s all right, Saren,” he told her. “And you’re right. Too many ghosts.” He made a face that was half smile, half grimace. “I owe it to Darshanth to make a fresh start for us somewhere else, and the Weyrlingmaster at High Reaches needs good Search dragons.”

“Valonna will miss you,” Sarenya said. “Nearly as much as I will.”

C’mine smiled, a more genuine expression this time. “I’m only ever a dragon-ride away.”

Sarenya caught herself stroking Darshanth’s forepaw. She made herself stop, though she left her hand on his massive wrist. “Did you know that Kamen had a son?”

“You mean Schanna’s little boy?”

“Then T’kamen did know?”

“Probably not. He and Schanna didn’t get on at all, for all that Epherineth made a habit of flying Etymonth at least once a Turn.”

“Even though they didn’t like each other?”

“Their dragons disagreed,” C’mine said. “And sometimes it’s a rider’s job to put his dragon’s wishes before his own.”

“I’m glad they did. I’m glad Kamen left something of himself behind. I just wish…”

C’mine didn’t jump in to fill the space her hanging sentence left.

She glanced downwards, once. “I wish I could tell my child his or her father was a Weyrleader of Pern, not an exiled criminal.”

C’mine looked suddenly torn. “Don’t…don’t be too hard on M’ric.”

Sarenya took a slow deep breath against the sudden stab of outrage. “He sent T’kamen between,” she said. “He tried to make me lose my pregnancy. He lied about everything he’d done, everything he was.” Darshanth rumbled gently, and Sarenya realised that she’d clenched the hand she’d laid on him into a fist. “I can’t forgive him, C’mine. I don’t know how you can.”

“There were…” C’mine stopped, then started again. “He did what he did for a reason. If I was allowed to tell you…”

“I don’t want to know,” said Sarenya. “I don’t care why he did it. It doesn’t make it all right.”

“I understand,” C’mine said softly.

Sarenya stared at nothing for a moment. Then, hating herself for saying it, and in doing so betraying that she did care, she said, “I’m glad he wasn’t Separated. Trebruth didn’t deserve that. T’kamen wouldn’t have wanted a dragon hurt on his account.”

“He loved you so much,” said C’mine.

She looked at him sharply.

“Kamen,” C’mine said. “There was never anyone else he loved like you.”

“He had a funny way of showing it sometimes,” Sarenya said, and then wondered if C’mine would think her callous for saying it.

He didn’t. Of course he didn’t. So it had always been with C’mine, that most compassionate and empathetic of souls. They hugged for long minutes, a curiously three-cornered embrace, with Darshanth’s solid warmth pressing against both their shoulders, and if C’mine still felt thinner and less hale than Sarenya would have liked, then she had to hope – had to believe – that his resolution to put Madellon behind him would be the first good decision he’d made after a long succession of bad ones.

In that, she thought, they were very alike.

“Goodbye, Mine,” she said.

“Not goodbye,” he said. “Never goodbye. Only until the next time.”

The rain was coming down harder, bouncing off Darshanth’s hide, by the time he lifted deftly off. Sarenya went back inside the cothold for a final time.

It was empty. All the apprentices were out on their duties. She did notice, through the wide-open door of her former quarters, a heap of unsorted clothes and boots piled on top of her bed. She smiled to herself at the evidence of Hannser’s keenness. She took her foul-weather cape down from the rack in the boot-room.

She slid the pouch of marks Valonna had given her, and T’kamen’s old wingrider shoulder-knot, into the left-hand saddlebag, pushing them down under the packet of travel food she’d already stowed there along with her map and Vhion’s reference and her good hoof-knife and the other useful oddments she might need on the road. The right-hand bag contained a change of clothes, bandages for Bovey’s legs, numbweed. She hefted the saddle packs in one hand to check their balance, and reflected that Jarrisam was right: she was travelling light. It was strangely liberating.

She’d fed Bovey first thing, skipped him out and put him back in his stall rugged so he couldn’t get himself dirty again. He was chewing hay when she came into the stable-yard. She stopped and looked harder at him. Someone had braided his mane in neat show-plaits. It made her smile. “Ingany?” she guessed aloud, but no one responded. Winner’s bridle was missing from the hook in front of his box, so Ingany was probably out on her rounds.

Habit made her walk the stables one last time. She touched each nose that a runner presented to her, and patted Timor’s uncaring grey rump. Every stall was clean, every runnerbeast hayed and watered. Everything was as it should be in this small enclave of Madellon Weyr that was the domain of beasts and Beastcrafters rather than dragons and dragonriders.

Everything would be fine.

She tacked up Bovey, making sure the saddlebags lay comfortably against his sides. She rolled his rug as tightly as it would go and strapped it behind the saddle.

She realised she’d left her canteen hanging on the back door of the cothold. When she went to retrieve it, she stood looking at the duty blackboard – or, rather, at the gaps on it, where Arrense’s name and Tebis’ had been. She deliberated over wiping her own name from its space, and decided against it. Sam would do it later.

There was still no one in the yard when she returned. Sarenya tied the canteen to the pommel of Bovey’s saddle and then led him out into the drizzle. She swung up onto his back, adjusting her oilskin cape. “Come on, Sleek,” she called to her fire-lizard, who was sheltering in the hay-store. “Time to go.”

She could have made one final circuit of the paddocks, to wave goodbye to the apprentices. She could have looked up at the Bowl as she rode towards the exit tunnel, committing its dragons and riders to memory. She did neither.

The steward at the tunnel gate nodded her past without really looking at her. Bovey jogged and pulled, spooky as ever in the passageway. Sarenya couldn’t blame him for being bothered by the confined space, but she held him to a walk until they emerged out from the crushing, oppressive weight of the caldera of Madellon Weyr.

Then she let him go.

She never looked back.

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