Its Eyes Were Jewels
As way of disclaimer, I own none of Anne McCaffrey's characters nor do I own her world (though I sometimes wish I did), I'm simply borrowing them for the time being.
"Both of you. Calm down. Now," the brown rider ordered sternly, staring at the women before him. He had to respect their determination in the matter, but neither of them was thinking. They were worried and tired. Out of their minds with it. "You expect me to fly you to the Harper Hall for a meeting with Robinton in the middle of the night?"
The moment he worded it that way, Elrenia saw the flaw in their plan and sighed. Nothing was ever easy, and she held the parchment close to her chest. They needed to see if it was related to the situation, absolutely had to. No one knew what happened, and Arlith wasn't being very helpful with what little information he was able to give out. They needed someone they could trust with the letter, and that person happened to be Robinton. Except rushing off to see him wouldn't heal Z'den. It would just be inconvenient to all involved. A terrible inconvenience. Alienating the one man she trusted to help was the last thing she wanted to do, so she quietly admitted, "You're right."
"Wait until morning," F'nor advised the women, wrapping one arm around Brekke's shoulders as he did so. "Get some sleep, and in the morning we'll go and figure everything out. Okay?"
That was their word, Elrenia and F'nor. "Okay" summarized everything they had in common. Their worries, their friends, their goals. The fact that every last one of those things happened crashing together and ripping them apart at once made the word mean that much more. It was compliance, and agreement, and camaraderie when they had nothing left. Nothing left but a trickle of hope that everything would be okay in the end.
Taking a deep breath, Elrenia tried to ignore the thoughts in her mind and go sleep like she was told to. Except laying in bed until the snow stopped and the moon was high didn't make it easier to sleep. Her mind kept drifting back to the wounded brown rider. Before long she found herself in his weyr, sitting quietly beside his bed, willing him to open his eyes. Just for a second. Just one sliver of green, and she would be able to calm the pounding of her heart, but he didn't so much as twitch when she brushed hair out of his face. He didn't awaken, and she leapt from her seat hours later when a hand landed softly on her shoulder.
A worried smile on H'val's face greeted her with the words, "Slept in here?"
"I… didn't want him to be alone if he woke up."
Nodding in understanding, the boy used one hand to nudge her toward the door. "Go eat," he told her, smiling weakly. "It's my turn to sleep here."
"Go. I hear you're going out with F'nor today."
"Then go. I have everything here handled."
The girl, to her credit, wanted to rush off immediately to the Harper hall. It was by the force of Manora's will alone that she sat down and ate a proper breakfast. "I will not," the woman muttered, sounding almost angry, "have you fainting because you haven't eaten. Nothing is more important than your health, flitterby."
"Is not more important than your health. If you get sick, who's going to take care of him?" It was an excellent point, the woman had to admit. Elrenia had taken Arlith on as her responsibility, and though Brekke checked his wounds frequently, along with the Healer and Lessa, they allowed her to be the sort of primary caretaker of the big brown. They recognized the fact that this was something she needed to do, and allowed her the privilege so long as she didn't put anyone in danger. Who knew what would happen if suddenly she couldn't do her job?
No. She knew what would happen. Someone else would take over, but she didn't want Arlith to feel like she'd abandoned him! She would never dream of it. What—
"Finish up, so we can get going?"
Practically inhaling her food, the girl was dressed for travel in a matter of moment, cinching her ill fitted jacket tightly as she made her way out to the bowl, asking almost as an afterthought, "Does he know we're coming?"
Judging by the surprised but not entirely displeased expression on the Masterharper's face when he saw her, Elrenia figured the answer was no. He did not, in fact, know that they were coming. A good thing? A bad thing? She wasn't sure as the older man stared at her for a very long moment. Not moving. Not saying a word. Had she made the wrong decision here? Should she have gone to someone else? Asked permission first? Gone through Lessa?
"You… you're the only one I trust with this," Elrenia spoke gently, looking up at the man from under the fringe of her bangs. Right that moment she looked impossibly small, paper clutched desperately to her chest. It was as though the weight of it was pulling her over, curling her into a pitiful little ball despite the growing strength of her spine.
Staring at the Masterharper, the young woman hoped rather weakly that his expression would soften into something a bit more understanding. Less confusing. She hoped that she hadn't actually managed to anger the man. What had she done anyway? Why was he looking at her like that? Right as her heart started to crawl up into her throat, F'nor cleared his throat and murmured, "Masterharper?"
"What?" The man blinked almost lazily, and the expression that halted Elrenia's breathing faded. "I'm sorry. I… had a long night. A very, very long night. How can I help you, dear?"
Smiling in relief, Elrenia held the letter out, feeling as though all was right with the world again the moment the man took it from her. Suddenly it wasn't her responsibility. Suddenly she didn't need to be the one to fix the situation. The Masterharper could advise her. What more could she ask for than the guidance of such a wise old man?
"You want me to read this?" the man asked, walking over to his desk with the parchment, already carefully unfolding it. "Read it and do what?"
"Just… tell me if it's important," she requested, looking anywhere but at the man. Anywhere but the man and the paper. She had the oddest fear that so much as looking at it would tell her what words it contained. One glance at the back of the sheet in the Harper's possession, and she'd know exactly what it said. It was a silly fear, a ridiculous thought, but she averted her gaze nonetheless. "Z'den was reading it right before he ran off. I just… I need to know if that's why it happened, somehow."
"All right, I'll see what I can do," Robinton spoke quietly, sinking into his chair before lowering his eyes to the crinkled paper in his hands.
Elrenia waited quietly while he read, seeming to hold her breath the entire time, hands trembling at her sides. This was it. What "it" was remained unknown for the moment, but she knew it was important. Knew it would force decisions. If the letter was important, and Robinton chose to reveal the details, then they had work to do. People to find. Situations to resolve. If it wasn't important to the situation then they still needed to try to figure out what happened. Maybe when Arlith was more coherent she could get information out of him. But until then…
She hoped the letter was important.
It was a short eternity later that Elrenia managed to force her eyes up to Robinton's face, and was shocked to find his eyes static. Frozen. Glued to the page. Unmoving. It didn't look like he was reading at all. Eyes moved when people read, didn't they? Yes. They chased the words like a child after a bubbly pie. Back and forth, and back and forth until every last word was absorbed. But the man was just staring.
"Robinton?" The man didn't even glance up, so Elrenia looked back at F'nor who simply shrugged his confusion. Was this a bad sign, the way that the man seemed stuck in place, chest barely moving as he breathed? "Robinton?" Surely it wasn't a good thing. It could have been. "Master Robinton, what's wrong?"
At last tired eyes shifted up to her face, lingering for a long moment before the man sighed and held the paper out, offering it back to her. Taking this as permission to read it, the brunette snatched it up in a moment, running her eyes over the page once. Twice. Three times. Unsure of what she was reading each and every time. Unable to believe that… that was all. That couldn't have been all. That couldn't have been the entire letter. That couldn't have been the reason he left.
Except it made perfect sense.
"Elrenia?" Brekke's voice broke her out of her reverie then.
But at first she didn't know what to say. Wasn't sure how to explain. For a long moment she was completely, and totally lost, and then she was reading the words, "'It's time.'"
"That's what it says," she explained, suddenly feeling dizzy. Incredibly dizzy. As though the world was being pulled out from other her, and she'd wound up head under heels, freefalling through time. "'It's time.' That's it. Nothing else. Not even a signature."
"You're kidding me," F'nor spoke with a certain edge to his tone, reaching out with one hand to grab the letter, seeing the two words with his own eyes. "That's it?"
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I," Elrenia admitted, running her hands through her increasingly messy braid. "But… but this has to be it."
"This has to be the reason he ran out," the woman spoke confidently, though she was finding it harder to breathe with every passing second. In her mind, and maybe it was just in her mind, this made perfect sense. Z'den received a letter—a cryptic letter—telling him that it was time for something, and she rushed off to do whatever that something was. That fit the blonde's personality almost exactly. Running off without warning to do something noble. At least she was assuming it was noble. She couldn't imagine the man doing anything inherently wrong. "He got this letter, and rushed off to go do whatever he had to do. He just happened to get caught in threadfall in the meantime. Did… did we ever find out where thread was falling, F'nor?"
"He had to have gone to Southern."
"…Southern?" That was hard to believe, somehow. Did Z'den know anyone from Southern? Anyone who meant enough to him that he'd rush off right before a hatching? Elrenia liked to think that the man would have told her about someone that important, especially after introducing her to his family, but she wasn't so sure.
"That was the only inhabited place that was experiencing threadfall when he left."
"Unless he timed it."
"Unless he timed it," F'nor agreed a bit reluctantly, rubbing his face. "This keeps getting worse and worse, doesn't it?"
"Z'den and Arlith are still alive," Elrenia spoke with a shake of her head. "That's what matters most."
However that didn't mean the situation was fair, and it certainly didn't mean that they needed to like it. Because they didn't. Not a single one of them liked that the letter they'd traveled to have read didn't actually provide any information that could possibly help to explain the situation. They were going to be forced to wait for Z'den to wake up. If he ever—Don't even think it.
Easier said than done.
"If you're feeling up to it, today would be a good day to go speak to Lord Raid," Robinton spoke in his gentlest voice, shifting the concentration of the group onto another matter. He smiled soothingly when Elrenia tensed up, stepping back into F'nor without realizing it. Raising placating hands, the man explained, "I was headed over there to speak with him on an unrelated matter." At the wide eyes, he continued on, "It seems like an excellent time for you to explain your situation to him—when he can't try to postpone by claiming he hasn't the time for it."
"I…" The girl wanted nothing more than to say no. To say that she wasn't ready. She needed more time. Lessa wasn't there, so she could claim she needed to wait for the woman. Except the Weyrwoman would be there in seconds flat if she got word that Elrenia was going, and either way, F'nor was there to support her. In fact his hand was already wrapped around hers, squeezing gently. "Okay," she said more for his benefit than Robinton's. "Okay, let's… let's go, then."
"Would you do the honors, F'nor?"
It didn't take long at all for the three of them to be situated, Brekke left at the Harper Hall for the moment. In the air. Between. Hovering in the cold air above Benden. It was to her utter shock that in the distance a blue dragon flickered into existence right beside a gold. Koth and Ramoth. She didn't need F'nor to call back to her, or the big blue to murmur in her mind to know that.
"Did Canth call them?"
"Did you tell him to?"
"Will you be mad if I did?"
Arms wrapping more tightly around F'nor's waist told him that no, the girl wasn't angry. In fact, the way she fell into H'val's tired arms the moment they all had their feet firmly planted on the floor told him that he'd made the right decision. Elrenia needed the blue rider here for this. She needed his support, his love. Love that she only seemed to be accepting from him, the one that saved her from thread months ago in a wherry field. The one that painstakingly forged a friendship with her, and opened her up to the rest of the weyrfolk. H'val, perhaps above all others, was her family now, and she needed her family for this conversation.
She needed him when, after a brief introduction and no more than ten minutes of talking, Lord Raid was staring at her incredulously. Almost as though he didn't believe her. She needed his hand to squeeze hers when she almost shot from her seat and yelled at the man when he turned to Robinton and asked, "And where is this 'Levic' again?"
"Right at the border of your lands," she snapped—honestly snapped—at the Lord Holder, drawing his eyes to her face once more. "A farm. We were almost destroyed by thread at the beginning of the pass, and you stopped coming to us."
"And you say this man destroyed your Cothold… for what? What could he gain from lands ruined by thread?"
This can't be happening, she thought, staring at the man with her mouth agape. He… is he really…
"A little compassion if you please, Lord Raid," Robinton spoke with an odd tightness in his voice. The Lord of the Hold was clearly displeased to have had this situation dropped so suddenly in his lap, but there were better ways to go about this.
"Or at the very least you could try to sound concerned," H'val mumbled under his breath, grimacing when F'nor stomped most discreetly on his foot.
"I've already sent men to investigate the site," Lord Raid explained, lifting a goblet of wine to his lips. "They've established that it was likely an accident, started by—"
"An accident." Stormy eyes turned to where Lessa was sitting ramrod straight in her chair, outwardly demonstrating the fury that Elrenia felt building in her gut. "An accidental fire that had the heads of several people cut from their bodies, Lord Raid?"
"I was told nothing of that," the man explained easily. "And my men are thorough."
"Sure they weren't paid off?"
"Ronomer murdered a family, and raped a woman. Do you really think he's above a little bribery?"
"My men are above bribery, blue rider," Lord Raid scoffed angrily at the boy. "How dare you suggest otherwise?"
"How dare you suggest tha—"
"We're leaving!" F'nor announced, grabbing the blue rider by the arm and hoisting him out of his chair. "I'm terribly sorry, Lord Raid. If you'll excuse us?" Not a moment later the boy was being dragged from the room on a lecture about the right way to handle delicate situations.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Lord Raid spoke carefully, fingering the stem of his goblet with one hand. "Losing your family and your land at once must be incredibly difficult, but until this man… what was his name?"
"Ronomer," Lessa seethed.
"Yes. Ronomer. Until Ronomer is located and questioned, there's little I can do to help you."
Almost hopeful, the girl sat up straighter in her chair and overlooked all of his previous insults as she asked, "So you're looking for him, my Lord?"
"As soon as possible," he assured, and Elrenia's heart dropped out of her chest.
"I…" Was that a yes? "But… but are you looking for him?"
"We will be."
"But are you?"
Silence. Silence for much too long, and Elrenia knew the answer to the question. No. Lord Raid had not sent anyone to find the source of all of her nightmares, the worst person she'd ever had the misfortune of coming across. And by the looks of it, he wouldn't have sent anyone if she hadn't specifically asked.
"I'm afraid that at the moment there's nothing I can do to help you," the man spoke, words stilted as though he were picking them seconds before the left his mouth. "Had you come to me with this issue earlier, I could have sent men out immediately. In the mean time more pressing matters have arisen, making it impossible for me to send anyone out presently. I promise, this matter will be dealt with in due time."
Mind blanking, Elrenia could only sit there as Lessa shot from her seat and shouted at the Lord Holder. "How can you allow this issue to stand?" she demanded, fire from the belly of a dragon burning in her eyes. "How can you sit by idly while a murderer…"
How could she have waited? How could she have squandered her only chance to have this horrid excuse for a man punished for his crimes, because she was too busy wallowing in self pity? How could she disgrace her family in such a way? On her feet before she realized she was moving, Elrenia was out of the building without even having excused herself. Manners, she found, didn't matter. Not when the world was pulled out from under her feet. Not when the man who was supposed to protect all of the Cotholders in Benden from these situations told her that there was "nothing he could do."
"Nothing he could do," she scoffed, storming through the courtyard and away from prying eyes. Prying ears. People who wanted to know everything for no reason other than to gossip about it. "Nothing that a Lord Holder can do."
Did he expect her to believe that? Did he honestly expect her to be naïve enough to believe there wasn't a single man who could be sent to investigate such a horrid crime? No one? No one at all? No. It wasn't true, not in the least, and when a hand reached out to grab her arm Elrenia was tearing herself away.
"Leave me alone!"
"Elrenia," H'val voice was soothing, but it felt like salt in a cut. She didn't want to be soothed. "Elrenia, we'll find someone else to help us," he assured her, taking two steps forward for every one she took back. "Someone out there will be willing to help us," he promised when she turned and started walking. "Someone has to."
"No one cares!" she screamed the words so loudly that the blue rider flinched back and away from her. He'd expected her to turn to him with clenched fists even less than he'd expected her raised voice, and actually took a step away from the visibly angered girl. He'd never seen her so emotional. No, that wasn't true. He'd seen her so upset. Sobbing so hard she couldn't breathe, heartbroken, and hurt. But never so… angry. So angry it startled him. Somehow he hadn't realized she was capable of displaying anger toward anyone, least of all him. "No cares about a stupid, orphan, Cotholder!" she spoke with fierce determination, trying to convince him of a fact that she knew all too well. "No one wants to help me! Who could blame them? I'm useless!"
"No!" She glared heatedly at the man, clenching her jaw and grinding her teeth as she tried to turn her racing thoughts into a coherent argument. "He said no," she spoke with a deceptive calm, voice no longer shrill. "He… there was nothing he could do to help me. Clearly that means that he doesn't want to offer any assistance."
"The winter is here, Elrenia, and it will be a hard one. He… probably simply doesn't have the resources—"
"A Lord Holder doesn't have the resources to locate a murdering rapist within the boundaries of his Holding?" the girl asked with a bitter laugh. "Yes. Clearly that's why he doesn't want to help a filthy, useless, homeless girl begging for his help."
"Elrenia," his tone turned her name into a plea, but her expression didn't soften. "We don't even know if that's where Ronomer is. He could have left."
"He hasn't left."
"How can you be so—"
"I just know!"
H'val stared, long and hard for a moment, before nodding his head. "Okay. I… we'll… we'll speak to F'lar, and see if there's anything he can do to help. We… Lessa is still in there. Maybe she can—"
"What? Maybe she can convince him? Coerce him? Force him into spending a little time, and… he doesn't care. No one cares." This time, when the words exited her mouth she sounded defeated. So sad. "No one can help me."
"Please just stop," her voice was raw, like she'd ben crying for hours, though her face was dry. "H'val, just stop."
Nodding his head in agreement, the young man suggested, "Perhaps we should just go home."
"I have no home."
Freezing at this, the blue rider looked at the agony present on the young woman's face and cringed slightly. She had every reason to be upset. Every reason to feel… conflicted. But to revert back to this? To feel as though she didn't belong anywhere even after they'd spent months trying to convince her otherwise?
"The Weyr is your home."
"I wish that was true."
It is, Arlith's gruff voice insisted from somewhere far away. It startled her, honestly, that he was listening in. So invested in her suddenly that he felt it his job to intervene in her hurtful thoughts. It is your home.
I love you, Koth's voice pushed into her mind not a seconds later, big blue head swinging toward her to reveal a worried, swirling gem. Let's go home, I love you.
You are ours, small one. We love you. We want you.
Where H'val failed to so much as make her listen, Koth managed to smash her to pieces and put her right back together again. He broke her heart and soothed her soul in one motion, nudging her delicately in the stomach with one eyeridge.
Though the creature easily reassured her that she did, in fact, have a home to return to, he didn't make her feel better about the situation with Ronomer. The Lord Holder's refusal to help. Elrenia wasn't sure anything would make her feel better about that, and leaned quite heavily against the dragon. Petting the top of his head, and down his snout, she tried so hard to think of alternatives. However there was nothing the other Holders could do—it wasn't their land. The Weyr's weren't allowed to interfere. There was certainly nothing she could do. Nothing at all. It was a lost cause, and the thought that her family would never be avenged burned.
He will be found, Arlith promised her in no uncertain terms then. She didn't need to ask who "he" was. Didn't need to ask how the grounded dragon would find him. She just knew that, somehow, he would.
I realize I may have made Raid quite a bit harsher than he actually was in the books (though he was a lousy old coot there too), but it suits my purposes so I'm only a little sorry if he's really out of character.
xD Any use of the word "Doctor" is blamed entirely on Doctor Who. Thanks for the corrections Starsinger.