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Mystery at Shadow Peak (7)

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 16th October 2022

Characters: Jorghan
Description: Jorghan breaks the news of a death, and secrets are revealed
Location: Elsewhere on Pern
Date: month 9, day 13 of Turn 10

The cothold was three candlemarks' ride from Shadow Peak, further up
into the mountains above the valley where the mine hold lay. A barren
place, it was more of a barn than a holding, the inhabitants scratching
out a living by herding the tough, sturdy ovines and caprines that could
live at this altitude. The air was clear and very dry, and Jorghan had
almost drained the waterskin he'd brought when he left the mine hold
early that morning. He hoped they'd let him fill it from their well.

A woman came out to meet him, narrowing her eyes in the bright sunlight.
She was small and wiry, early thirties at a guess if he allowed for the
hard life up here, her dress faded and worn but clean.

"Guardsman." She halted a few paces off as he dismounted, drying her
hands on her apron. She spoke politely enough, but with little welcome
in her voice. "Can I help you?"

"Are you Kyula?" Jorghan asked. "The Headwoman at Shadow Peak gave me
directions. She told me you had a brother, who went missing."

The woman stilled, her fingers gripping the cloth of her skirt. "Do you
have news?"

"Perhaps." He tied the runner to a hitching post. "My name's Jorghan.
I'm a guardsman from Garnet Valley. I was sent to Shadow Peak to search
for a man who'd disappeared, their Steward." He looked towards the
narrow, dark windows of the cothold. "Is there anyone else..."

"My mother's inside. She's not well. Da's out in the hills with the
beasts. That's all of us." Kyula paused, then appeared to relent. "You'd
better come in."

The cothold was indeed a barn, empty now that the herd was out to graze
but with a strong scent of straw and animals. Farm tools, sacks and gear
for bad weather hung on hooks on the walls, and a narrow stair led up to
the loft where the family lived. Beside the hearth, an older woman dozed
in a rocking-chair, a rug covering her knees.

Kyula crouched by the fire, wrapped a cloth around her hand and took a
covered jug from the heat. When she poured the contents into a mug, the
rich, bitter scent of strong klah filled the room.

"Here." She gestured to the table where he guessed the family took their
meals. Jorghan sat on the bench beside it and blew gently on the
steaming mug, welcome after the long ride but still too hot to drink.

"Thank you." He sat in silence while she filled her own mug, remembering
times when he'd done this duty before. The older woman stirred in her
chair, her eyes flickering open.


"We have a visitor, Mama. A guard." Kyula placed a mug on the edge of
the hearth, beside her mother, then took her place opposite Jorghan. Her
thin face looked tight, braced for whatever news he'd brought.

"Will your father be back soon, or..."

"Not until dusk." That would be hours away, and Jorghan would have to be
on his way by then if he wanted to be back at Shadow Peak by nightfall.
"You can tell us."

"All right." He'd never really found a good way to begin, in these
circumstances, so started with the facts. "We were searching one of the
old mine shafts around Shadow Peak, for this missing man, and we found
some items." He felt in the satchel he carried, closed his hand around a
circle of metal, then placed it on the worn surface of the table between
them, in the shaft of light from the narrow window. A belt buckle, plain
and without ornament. "I wondered if you might recognise any of them."

Kyula leaned forward, frowning, then shook her head. "It could be anyone's."

"Or this?" The pouch he'd found, containing a few small marks, got the
same reaction, and the belt knife. Then, last, the remains of the
clothing, stained and frayed by scavenging teeth. The holder woman's
pale face turned bloodless when she saw it, but there was no recognition
in her eyes.

Then there was a low cry from behind them. The older woman, reaching out
towards a sleeve of the plain tunic, once red perhaps but now faded to a
brownish-grey, that hung loose. Wordless, her daughter handed it to her,
and she ran her fingers over a neat, almost invisible line of stitches.
A tear that had been mended, long ago, for a young man who couldn't
afford a new one.

Jorghan turned to look at her. "Did you sew that?"

The woman only shook her head, the cry dragging hoarsely from her throat
again, and she buried her face in the tattered cloth. The chair creaked
as she rocked.

"These were in a mine shaft?" Kyula looked at him, over his untouched
klah and the remnants of her brother's clothes.

He tilted his head forward, once. "There was a body. I'm sorry."

"Oh - Yulen. You - you..." Behind her, the mother had begun to sob,
raggedly, her shoulders heaving. "I told you. I told you." She looked
up, her eyes red, but still dry. "What did they do to you?"


Outside, Jorghan looked back down the track he'd climbed earlier that
day. The sky was still blue and brilliantly clear. Here, far enough from
the cothold, a few patches of green with tiny white flowers sprouted
among the rocks.

Yulen's sister emerged from the now-silent cothold and crossed over to
where he stood, though she remained at arm's length.

"Mama's resting. I'll speak with Da when he returns," she said. "He'll
come to the Hold soon, in a day or two. To bring my brother home."

"I'm sorry," he said again.

She shook her head. "It's better to know. We can lay him to rest. Up
here, in the clean air."

Jorghan cleared his throat. "When I told you - you said something. You
asked, 'What did they do to you?'"

"I shouldn't have said that. Not where my mother could hear." She
sighed. "It's not easy to tell, and I don't have any proof. Not what
you'd need."

"I'm good at finding the truth," he said simply. "It's why I was sent."

She fell silent for a long time, considering. Jorghan thought she must
have had a long time to think, up here with only the old couple for
company. Now she would be arranging those thoughts, deciding how and
what to tell.

"Yulen was different than the other boys at Shadow Peak," she said
finally. "He wanted to go to the Weyr. We'd heard that there were those
there who were like him. He used to talk about it, that they wouldn't
mock him, or beat him. He wouldn't have to hide. I always hoped, until
now, that he'd made it somehow."

Jorghan remembered the letter, the longing and affection in it, the
suggestion that it had been returned. "But there was someone at the hold
who didn't mock or hurt him."

"The Holder. Beliron." Kyula looked up at him, defiant, as if she was
sure she wouldn't be believed, and then surprised that he didn't react.
"Yulen liked him, he was a kind man, though older. For a while he
thought he'd stay. He was doing well with the runners. Beliron was
building up his stable, though this isn't really the country for it.
Yulen told me that it was his dream to breed racers, and he had the
marks. His son sold most of them when he inherited."

"You were at the Hold too?"

"Yes, we both came there to work when we were old enough. There isn't
much here." She tilted her head back towards the cothold.

Jorghan could believe it. "What changed?"

"I don't know how, but there began to be whispers. People acted
differently around Yulen. Master Iovrey, the stablemaster, would hardly
speak to him, wouldn't trust him with the beasts any longer. Perhaps
Beliron had been indiscreet... So we started to save up marks for him to
go, though he was worried about leaving. He told me there'd been angry
words between the Holder and his son, Belkas. Belkas thought people were
laughing at him, because his father had fallen for a silly, pretty boy."

"And then, there was the accident? When Beliron fell?"

Kyula's mouth twisted. "All the way down that long, winding stair from
the tower. And only his son to hear him cry out."

A father who was becoming a cause for shame, and a rich hold to inherit.
No proof, Jorghan reminded himself, and the son was dead now, too. If
there was justice to be had, it was late in coming.

"Belkas took over after the funeral. Yulen was dismissed from the
stables, moved to work in the hold with me. I started to see bruises
again." Kyula's words were short and clipped, as if they tasted bitter.
"He was desperate to go, but we didn't have the marks for the journey,
and not much chance to earn them doing drudge work. He did have
something of value, though."


Her brow rose. "You know about them?"

"I found one." He remembered those scrawled words, under Beliron's fine
script. Even after all he'd seen in the Turns since he'd joined the
guards, they had the power to raise the hairs on the back of his neck.


"Yulen told me he had a plan to get the marks he needed. He was
preparing to leave. And then, one day...he was gone."

Jorghan closed his eyes, imagining it. The young man, lured out to the
old mine by a promise of the marks he'd clumsily demanded. The push, the
long fall into the dark, an echoing cry that went unheard.

"He didn't take his pack," Kyula said softly. "He didn't say goodbye. I
knew, though I hoped I was wrong." She shivered, despite the bright
sunlight. "Belkas had hired a new steward, a man not from the Hold. I
would catch him staring at me, and then one night, Yulen's pack, the one
he left, went missing. It frightened me. So I told the headwoman I
wasn't well, and stayed in my room until dark. Then I slipped out,
walked through the night until I got home."

Jorghan caught on the detail of the missing pack. Of course. The old
holder had been passionately in love... "Were there more letters?"

The woman hesitated for a moment, but after she'd told him so much, it
must have been easier to go on. "Yulen had a friend, a trader, headed
for Dolphin Cove. He gave the rest of the letters to him for
safekeeping. I suppose he was planning to catch up with the caravan,
travel with them to the Weyr once he had the marks for his passage."

"Do you know the trader's name? The family?"

Kyula shook her head. "I don't even know if he would have kept them
after so long, or thrown them away. It hardly matters now, does it?" Her
lips twisted. "Everyone who had anything to do with those letters is dead."

"The dead still deserve justice." Jorghan's gaze met hers steadily. He
thought of the explosion at the smithy, the second body in the mine
shaft. Belkas and his steward hadn't lived long to enjoy the rewards of
holding Shadow Peak, and here was a family with reason to hate them. A
woman could have started the fire at the smithy, pushed a man, off
balance, into the darkness of the mine shaft where her brother had met
his end. "Have you been back since? Or your father?"

"No." If she understood the significance of that question, she didn't
show it. "It used to be, we couldn't wait to leave this place. Yulen and
I, both. We had dreams. But now?" She gestured towards the cot. "It's
safe. Nothing happens. Easy to forget we're here."

She turned, looking out towards the hills across the valley, where the
sun was beginning to sink from its heights. "You'll need to be on your
way soon, if you want to be back before dark."

Jorghan considered. "All right. Don't go anywhere. You or your parents."

She almost laughed. "Where would we go?"


On the long ride back, Jorghan thought about those words, and her voice
as she'd spoken them. The faint note of hope amid all the weariness and
fear. **She thinks there might be justice for her brother, when she'd
all but given up.**

That didn't sound like someone who had already meted out their own,
swifter form of justice.

But if it hadn't been Kyula or her family who'd killed the steward -
then who?

Last updated on the October 30th 2022

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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.