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Washed Ashore (PG-17)

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 10th August 2019

Characters: Collan, Yorvi, Imaki
Description: A body washes up near a sea hold...
Location: Elsewhere on Pern
Date: month 12, day 3 of Turn 9
Notes: SWE (Fairhaven Seahold)
Notes: PG-17 for description of murder victim
Rating: PG-17


A spinner slowly inched its way up its long, silken thread towards the
roof of the guardroom, swaying slightly in the air with the gentle
snoring of Collan's 'second where he leaned back in his chair, boots up
on the desk, his mouth gaping open like a beached packtail.

Collan couldn't blame old Yorvi for taking a nap. Outside, the sea
breeze provided some respite from the day's heat, but indoors it was
stifling and his own eyelids felt lead-heavy. It would be hours yet
until the sun set and it would be time for the evening patrol, out to
the tavern to discourage fights from breaking out, then back past the
warehouses as the night drew in to check for signs of thieves or smugglers.

Not that he could do much if he found any, other than shout for help
from the occupants of the tavern. Between Yorvi, who ought to have
retired Turns ago and would have if not for his gambling habit, the boy,
and him with his old leg wound, the guards of Fairhaven Seahold were
hardly an intimidating lot.

He sighed and watched as the struggling spinner slid a few inches down
its thread. As long as the warehouses were secure, he thought, the Sea
Holder wasn't bothered over much if the contents of the barrels and
crates inside didn't exactly match the harbourmaster's records. If the
proceeds of the smuggling got spent in his tavern, he turned a blind eye
and the guards were expected to as well. It wasn't exactly what Collan
had dreamed of when he'd joined the guards as a young man, back in the
old days before the Pass, but if he reported it to the Lord Holder, what
then? He'd be out of a job, and hard pressed to find another. Might even
have to join the very smugglers he'd once pursued. If they'd have him.
With this leg...

"Sergeant Collan? Sir?"

The boy appeared in the doorway, all gawky height, ill-fitting uniform
and eagerness to please. Collan pushed himself wearily upright in his chair.

"Lad, you're supposed to be standing watch. I've told you before."

"But Riodret says there's something you need to see. Washed ashore down
on the beach, near where he'd drawn up his boat."

"Riodret?" Collan's mouth twisted. "That man spends his days
half-pickled in spirits. He's probably seen a funny-shaped pile of
seaweed." They did get cargo washed up, sometimes, but the weather had
been calm and clear for days.

The boy, Imaki, frowned. "But he seemed...well, he was kind of green
round the gills, sir."

Collan muttered a curse under his breath and got to his feet. He had an
idea, now, what it might be. "All right then." He reached across to
nudge Yorvi into wakefulness. The old man sat up with a startled snort,
nearly toppling from his chair, and the spinner swung wildly on its
thread before cutting loose and scuttling away into a dusty corner.
"Come on. We'll go and take a look."

***

The body lay where it had washed up, the retreating tide still tickling
at the ragged stumps at the end of the bare feet where the toes had
been. One bloated, pale arm stretched out towards Riodret's beached
boat, as though desperately reaching for safety. The other appeared to
be missing. A foul, rotten odour hung in the air.

Though Collan had taken care to approach from upwind, this close the
stench was unavoidable. He held an arm over his nose and stepped
carefully around the boat.

"Oh. That's unusual."

Behind him, he heard Imaki gulp and hastily retreat to the rocks at the
base of the cliff, followed by sound of retching. Yarvi came to stand
beside him, apparently untroubled by the smell or the sight that met
their eyes.

"Missing a head," the old man commented.

The corpse's neck ended with a stump, now encrusted with sand and
crawling with tiny black insects. Collan knelt down beside it to examine
it, and frowned. The flesh was torn up now, by fish or perhaps birds,
but there were marks on the bone, as if it had been hacked at.

"Looks like it was cut off." He pushed the body so that it rolled over
with an unpleasant squelch. The stink intensified and the guardsman felt
his stomach churning, though he'd not eaten since morning. The dead
man's shirt was damp and rotting, the fabric near falling apart after
its time in the water, but he could make out the heavy rusty-brown
stains all down the front.

"Smugglers?" Yarvi wondered.

"Could be. Or a fight down at the tavern. Someone cheated at cards, or
insulted someone else's woman, and knives came out." Collan lifted the
remaining arm and examined the wrist. Two fingers were missing, and
though there was considerable bloating, he thought he detected bruises
and rope burns. "Or...I don't know. Looks to me like it wasn't done quick."

"More likely smugglers, then. Or pirates." He spat. "Vicious bastards."

"Probably." If so, there wasn't much they could do. If anything, one
less pirate in the world made the guards' lives easier. Still... Once,
he wouldn't have just let this go. The body of a murdered man, thrown up
from the sea on his watch.

Collan pushed himself to his feet, letting the breath hiss through his
teeth as his weak leg protested. "Tell the boy to go back and get a
stretcher. We'll see if the healer can tell us anything. I'll head back
and report to the Holder. Meet me at the tavern. We'll ask around, see
if anyone's turned up missing. If not - " He shrugged. "Give him back to
the sea, I guess."

"Aye, sir." Yarvi sounded unenthusiastic, but he did turn and headed
back across the sand to give Imaki his orders.

The guardsman backed away from the body and breathed deeply, letting the
clean sea air drive out the stench of decomposing flesh from his lungs
with relief. Probably Yarvi was right, he thought. This was the remains
of some worthless criminal who'd made one mistake too many. They'd never
even find out his name, let alone what had happened to him.

And yet, there was something about the way that arm reached out,
hopelessly, towards the ramshackle fishing boat. The body, swollen as it
was by its time in the water, had not been large. Slight. Maybe young.
**Who were you?** he wondered. **What did they do to you?**

If it was possible, he thought, he would find out.

Last updated on the August 13th 2019


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All references to worlds and characters based on Anne McCaffrey's fiction are © Anne McCaffrey 1967, 2013, all rights reserved, and used by permission of the author. The Dragonriders of Pern© is registered U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, by Anne McCaffrey, used here with permission. Use or reproduction without a license is strictly prohibited.