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What He Left Behind

Writers: Estelle, Miriah
Date Posted: 15th June 2020

Characters: Varlin, Lusilk, Derilt
Description: Varlin remembers rescuing Lusilk and how things changed between them.
Location: Elsewhere on Pern
Date: month 3, day 1 of Turn 10
Notes: Flashback to five turns ago and follows "A Matter of Reputation"
Mentioned: Bryvin (Not by name)


Lusilk
Lusilk

Lusilk lay limply in the wagon, her naked body carefully covered by a
thick tarp. She was thin, far too thin for her condition, her ribs
showing despite the evident roundness of her belly. Skin mottled by
bruises and fresh scars along her back, she'd been barely conscious
when the door to her cell had been thrust open in the middle of the
night. She'd instinctively fought with teeth and nails at what she'd
assumed to be another visit by Rorrigraf or his son, but it had been a
weak display of what she'd once been able to do. Being bundled up so
quickly and hurried out had been a shock and only now did she realize
that there had been a bloody, mangled body at her feet when she was
lifted into strong arms.

The jostle of the wagon _hurt_, but she didn't dare ask for it to slow
down. There was fresh air and the light of the stars was just visible
from where she was able to peek out. Exhausted, she finally slept, head
pillowed on something or someone that offered warmth and a familiar,
comforting scent.

The sky was beginning to turn grey with the first hints of dawn when the
wagon finally drew to a halt. In the silence, Varlin heard the soft
breathing of the draft beast and the rippling sound of water.
Cautiously, he shifted so that he could peer out, and saw an empty
landing stage and the dark shape of a deserted shack beyond. There was
no sign, yet, of the riverboat. It was still early.

He hadn't slept all night, watching Lusilk as she slept, on edge and
listening for the sounds of pursuit. They'd been careful to lay a false
trail for the guards and their canines before he'd entered the Hold, but
nothing was ever certain. Even so, he was wide awake. They were so close
to doing what no-one had done before - escaping the Lord Holder's cells
- but looking down at the huddled shape of the girl beside him, he
didn't feel the familiar rush of triumph, or even anger. He felt numb.

"Lusilk?" he whispered, lightly touching her shoulder.

The moment he touched her, Lusilk jerked awake and instinctively
scampered as far back as she could, snarling much like a cornered wild
feline. "No!" She crouched, huddling into a trembling ball. It wasn't
until she looked around, realized she wasn't trapped in the dark
and wasn't being immediately attacked that she uncurled, blinking
owlishly. She looked around in the dim light, and her eyes found
Varlin. She stilled. "It's really you." Her voice was cracked,
uncertain. "It's not a dream?" Lusilk swallowed hard, then buried her
face in shaking hands.

"No, it's real. It's me. I'm here." Cautiously, he moved closer. He
knew, now, all that had been done to her. Her condition made that clear,
as did her reaction to his touch. Kneeling in the bed of the wagon, he
reached out again, tentatively, to draw her close to him. "I'm here.
You're safe."

Shaking, she allowed him to draw her close, then turned to him,
wrapping trembling arms around his shoulders to bury her face in to
his shoulder. "I thought...I thought you'd left me to die. That you
wouldn't come. They said no one was coming for me. I didn't tell them
anything. I swear I didn't." Though her throat and eyes burned, she
didn't cry. All of her tears had long been spent and there was nothing
but numb fear, anger, and utter exhaustion left behind. "They...I'm
sorry, Varlin. I tried to stop him. I tried. I fought. I swear I
fought. Did my sister get away? Did my mother? Are they safe?"

"Yes. Yes, they're both safe, in the North." He held her tightly,
careful not to touch her raw wounds, not knowing what else to do.
Nothing in his life had prepared him to offer comfort of any kind, let
alone what he dimly sensed she needed. He should have come sooner, not
wasted time bribing drudges and watching guards... "No-one was caught,
no-one they didn't have already. Your silence kept us safe."

She nodded, feeling both warm from his body heat and cold from the
memory of what had been done to her. "You came for me." She squeezed
her arms around him a bit tighter, feeling some comfort from his
embrace. He hadn't rejected her, hadn't abandoned her, even in her
present, hated condition. "You didn't leave me."

"No, of course not. I couldn't leave you there." As she moved
closer, he felt the curve of her belly against him, and with that
reminder, a cold, insidious notion wormed its way into his thoughts. His
Lusilk was carrying another man's child, and the Lord who had ordered it
still lived. That should have shamed him, made him burn with rage. Was
he weak? Would others think he was? Instead of bringing her out, should
he have used his time in the Hold to take a bloodier revenge?

Varlin knew, suddenly, that he could never have done anything else, that
nothing mattered more than having her here, safe, in his arms. It shook
him. He'd broken a rule, an important one. Hadn't he always told her
that getting too close to anyone, friend or lover, was deadly?

"No, I couldn't let that happen." He drew away a little, looked into her
eyes, trying to hide his confusion and, awkwardly, to reassure her that
he was still the same man, in control, able to protect her and get them
safely out. "If I'd let them take you like that, and done nothing, I'd
never have worked again."

As he drew away, Lusilk almost tried to pull him back, desperately
needing his comfort. But the joy of seeing his beloved face, the
relief she felt at her rescue, and the stubborn hope that she'd held
so tightly on to during her imprisonment began to shrivel at his next
words. There was a flash of hurt on her face before a dark numbness
washed over her as she slowly drew away and wrapped the canvas around
her nakedness, covering the hated rounded belly. "You're right, of
course. You had to for your reputation." Of course that had been his
reasoning; hadn't she heard him often enough say that getting close to
anyone was a mistake? She had thought...**No...you're not
special...not an exception. It was only sharing a bed with him,
nothing more. Foolish, stupid fecking girl. And why would he want you
now even if you could bear being touched like that again? Soiled.
Tainted. Ruined.**

Deep within her, Lusilk felt the coal of inner rage flare beneath the
numb surface she presented. She still didn't weep, couldn't process
the sudden change in her situation for more than a few moments. But
hatred and mistrust began to kindle in her belly. She would never
expose herself like that again. Not for her family, not for Varlin,
not for anyone. She would kill first. And one day, Rorrigraf would die
for what he had done...what he had ruined.

Varlin sensed that he'd gone wrong somehow, the sudden tension in the
air, but could only guess at why, or what he could do to mend it. He
almost wished himself back in the Hold, facing the guard at the door.
Then, his course had been clear.

"Cimplan is dead," he offered, tentatively, hoping that might be what
she needed. "I took care of him myself. He begged for mercy. I didn't
give him any."

The eyes that turned back to him were emotionless and dull, but behind
them could be see a faint spark of the rage and fury behind the
numbness. "Good." Her voice was just as flat and lifeless as her gaze.
"I'm going to kill the rest of them. Every single one. Everyone in the
Hold that helped them. All of them." Lusilk turned her gaze away
towards the opening of the wagon. "Where are we? What's the plan?"

"We're going to take the riverboat." He was relieved to turn to
practical matters, though he couldn't shake the feeling that he'd spoken
wrongly, somehow. "When we hear it coming, we open and close a
glowbasket, three times, and they'll stop, send a rowboat for us.
There's a place in the hold where we can hide until we're out of
Rorrigraf's territory. Then we go on to Sunstone Sea Hold. Derilt knows
someone there." He hesitated. "There'll be healers at the Sea Hold.
Perhaps they'll be able to - to help you, with..."

"The baby?" She snapped, harshly. "It's too far gone for any Healers
to help. I'll get rid of it as soon as I push the fecking thing out."
Her eyes narrowed as she tugged the canvas a little tighter around
herself. She wanted to get dressed; she felt vulnerable and she'd
spent enough time feeling that way. But she could hardly fit in her
own clothes. "And once it's out, I'm going to kill them. I'm going to
go back and kill them."

"We'll need to lie low for a while." Now she was safe, his natural
caution had returned in force, overriding the need for revenge. "I've
stirred up a nest of tunnelsnakes, back at the Hold. I can find work for
us, when you're recovered." There were always jobs for people with his
skills, and hers. Seeing her movement, he hesitated, then untucked his
shirt and pulled it over his head, feeling the night air chilly against
his skin. "Here. You're cold?"

"Thanks." Before she would have taken his shirt with perhaps a playful
joke or tease, perhaps an offer of more disrobing. Now, Lusilk just
took the shirt, slipping it over her head quickly to hide her ravaged,
bruised body. Hugging herself tightly, her lips thinned, it took
everything for her to immediately reject his caution, despite inwardly
knowing he was correct. "Fine."

Varlin looked at her sharply, fighting down a sudden surge of panic at
the thought of her going back there. But it would take time, though,
time for her to recover, and they'd need marks. The bribes he'd paid to
get into the Hold had used up the last of his earnings from his last
job. Though he hated to leave her in her condition, he'd need to go out
again almost at once when they got to Sunstone, unless he could find
something in the Sea Hold itself.

After a while, a faint thrumming sound caught his ear and he stiffened
for a moment, listening. Not the sound of runners' hooves, though... He
relaxed, reached into the back of the wagon for the glowbasket. "The
riverboat. It's coming." He slid down from the wagon, then hesitated.
"Can you walk?"

She had caught the thrumming and had tensed immediately as she drew
back, eyes going wide in terror before she noticed him relax. It took
longer for her to do so and recover herself; she had to force her
white-knuckled grip to release the canvas. After several breaths to
calm her racing heart, she forced her body to move. They had to leave.
They had to get away before the Hold's contingent of guards found
them. That thought alone was enough to spur her into crawling out of
the wagon.

Thankfully his shirt hung to her knees and as her feet hit the ground,
her knees buckled. She caught herself with a grunt, and turning away
from a proffered hand, forced herself to stand. Her legs were weak, by
the First Egg, her whole body felt as weak as a day-old kit. Leaning
against the wagon, Lusilk took a breath and with the last bit of her
stubborn pride stood straight. "I can walk." But the blood rushed too
quickly to her head and her eyes rolled back in her head as she
crumpled.

He moved fast, catching her before she could fall and lifting her into
his arms. For a moment, he stood still, resting his cheek against her
hair, holding her tight as if he could heal her by closeness alone.
Then, a massive dark shape came into view around the bend in the river,
the sound of the engines and the churning rush water growing louder.
Varlin walked down the landing stage and knelt at the end by the water,
cradling Lusilk gently to his chest as he opened and closed the
glowbasket in the agreed signal.

For a moment he thought they wouldn't stop. But then, the rhythm of the
engines slowed to a low, rumbling pulse. Waves lapped at the wooden
posts of the dock, glittering with the first rays of sunlight, and as he
watched, a small boat pushed off from the larger one, a single figure at
the oars. He reached down, his fingers closing lightly around the hilt
of his belt knife. They could still be betrayed.

It was Derilt in the small boat. As it docked, he glanced at the
bundle in Varlin's arms, his face relieved, but under real strain.
"Get in. Hurry. The captain won't stop for long and we heard the alarm
bells from the Hold over the water shortly after the ship left. The
captain's on edge and even the money you spent may not keep him here
if we don't rush." He held out his arms to take Lusilk, offering his
help to get them both in the small boat.

Varlin gently laid her in the other man's arms. "Careful. She's hurt,
and..." He hesitated. "Well, she's in a bad way." He stepped down into
the boat and pushed them off from the dock, then reached for Lusilk
again, letting her head rest on his shoulder.

Derilt felt the difference and when Varlin took her back, his lips
were thin, anger apparent in the older man's set of his jaw. "I've
made arrangements at Sunstone with a contact of mine that I trust.
Sailed with him for about five turns. Shelter will cost you a favor or
two...or three, but you'll be safe. There's a small cothold set aside
outside the hold proper for short term use. The captain'll let you off
before we reach the hold. Deal is, no 'business' inside the Hold
without my contact's consent. He'll contact you within a sevenday of
your arrival."

"Right," Varlin said, warily. He didn't like the idea of being in debt,
particularly to someone he'd never met. But if Derilt knew the man, he
should be all right, and it wasn't as though he had much choice. They
needed time for her to heal, and a hiding place safe from Thread and the
guards. Even being out of Rorrigraf's Hold wouldn't be enough to save
them if they were caught.

The low thrum of the riverboat's engines grew louder as they moved into
its shadow and slid in alongside. A man leaned out over the rail and
tossed a rope down to them. "Hurry," he hissed. "Get on board. You'll
need to be below and out of sight before the passengers wake."

Varlin glanced up at the deck, feeling the urgency. The sun was now
above the horizon, casting a warm glow over the river. "You go first.
I'll hand her up."

Derilt climbed aboard and as Varlin handed him Lusilk, she moaned
softly, but did not rouse. He tucked her against him carefully,
letting Varlin see his care. "Follow me down. I know where the room
is. It'll be cramped, but it's what I could get you." He would also be
leaving the area, but unlike Varlin and Lusilk, he'd be staying aboard
the vessel; it was better, he figured, to be under the captain's
protection and he was still able to do some work on ship.

The holdless man nodded, restraining himself from reaching for Lusilk
again, and followed Derilt down to the lower decks, his eyes constantly
glancing warily from side to side as he pushed back the exhaustion of
his sleepless night. He'd done it, brought her out of the prison they'd
kept her in, killed some of the men who'd hurt her, but he felt no
pleasure in it. No amount of skill with his blade could ever bring back
the woman he'd left behind, what seemed like a lifetime ago.

Last updated on the October 13th 2020


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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.