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Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 29th October 2022

Characters: Jorghan, Olefan
Description: Jorghan makes a discovery about the killer of his adopted daughter...
Location: Elsewhere on Pern
Date: month 11, day 8 of Turn 10


As they approached Garnet Valley, the road had grown familiar, and they
passed holds that Jorghan knew, had even visited as part of his duties.
The place where he'd tracked down a runner thief, caught a holder
tainting his neighbour's well, where a drunken fight had gone too far. A
net of violence, dishonesty, greed, petty jealousy and malice, spread
over the Hold's lands. Sometimes he wondered if it had changed him,
seeing danger lurking in even the most peaceful holding. Warped his
character.

Lisna had certainly thought so.

Why can't I go out with my friends after dark, she had asked. Why can't
I be alone with a boy? Why can't I visit the tavern? It's not fair! You
don't let me do anything!

**I just wanted to keep you safe.** He'd tried to tell her about all the
things he'd seen, all the accidents, the bad decisions, the predators
lying in wait for an unsuspecting child, but she'd just laughed it off.
Those things happened to other people. Never to her.

By the time he'd finally got to Beryl Peak, pushing his runner hard
through rain-soaked forest, the funeral had been long since over. The
Hold was still reeling from the death of its Lord, with no heir named
and an assortment of distant cousins wrangling over the title. Lisna's
own cousin, the woman she'd been staying with when she'd gone to work
there, had hardly been able to meet his eyes when she explained what had
happened. She had been taking a late-night jug of klah to the Lord
Holder's rooms when the assassin had struck. They thought she must have
been killed so that she wouldn't scream.

Wrong place, wrong time.

Five minutes earlier, and she'd have been gone before the killer got
there. Five later and she'd have found the body, but she'd be alive.
These possibilities tormented Jorghan. Had she stopped to chat to
someone on the way? Could she have, but decided not to, so as not to
keep the Lord Holder waiting? Had it been her duty to bring the klah at
all, or was she doing a favour for someone else?

He had visited the grave, already half-forgotten, knelt by her for a
long time, knowing that once he left he might never have the chance to
return. He remembered how thrilled she'd been to see a new Hold, to
serve a new Lord, away from dry, dull, Garnet Valley and her dry, dull
adoptive father. He couldn't believe that vibrant, laughing, headstrong
girl was in the ground beneath his hands.

The woman who'd killed her was also dead. Not buried, dumped out in the
wild for the beasts. According to the guards, she'd died in an accident,
a fire. For the first time in his life, Jorghan had been too sick with
grief to question such an obviously suspicious turn of events. They said
she had been a known thief, had spent time in the Hold's cells several
Turns back. There had even been a sketch of her, from that time,
circulated in an attempt to track her down after she'd escaped.

Jorghan hadn't wanted to look at it. She was dead, after all. What was
the point? In the end, though, he hadn't been able to help himself. He'd
stared at the woman's sullen face, her tangled hair, the dark eyes that
smouldered with resentment and anger. That night, when he dreamed of
her, he wished he hadn't.

The next day, he had started on the long road home.

***

Days passed and turned into sevendays, then months. Jorghan accepted the
condolences of his fellow guards, thanking them even though each
reminder of his loss was salt in a wound. Throughout that time, his duty
remained as the one constant in his life, and he threw himself into his
work.

There was the loose end at Shadow Peak still to be tied up, the final
murderer who'd got away. Jorghan spoke quietly to contacts, put out
hints of a reward, sought news of the holdless men who might have hired
themselves out to the Holder and his steward. As usual, no-one wanted to
talk, and particularly not about Varlin.

Until the first rumours reached his ears that the man was dead.

At first, it had been a disappointment. From the little he could find
out, a man matching Varlin's description had been killed in a failed
robbery, out near the new Weyrhold. But that had been more than a month
before the deaths at Shadow Peak. For a while Jorghan didn't want to
believe it. Those killings had all the hallmarks of Varlin's involvement
- two apparent accidents, no stranger ever seen - but he'd had to admit,
reluctantly, that he'd been on the wrong track.

Then he'd heard another whisper, about who had been responsible for the
man's death.

"A woman?"

Rather than go straight to the captain, Jorghan had taken his suspicions
to a retired guardsman, a man he respected. Olefan was now too elderly
for his duties, but his wits remained sharp and he still took an
interest in the activities of his former comrades. If the story Jorghan
had begun to piece together was too thin on facts, he would know.

"Yes. I thought it was hard to believe too," he explained. They were
sitting together in Olefan's small living quarters, sharing a jug of
klah that Jorghan had brought. The sky was beginning to darken outside
the window, but the room was cosy and filled with glowlight. Souvenirs
of the old man's life in the guards decorated the room - a sword, still
polished and sharp hanging on the wall, the badges and prizes he'd won
in the training grounds or for his service, a small painting of the Hold
seen from the hills that surrounded it. "We don't know exactly how old
he was, but he was still fit and strong enough. I didn't see how an
ordinary woman could have taken him down."

"Perhaps she caught him off guard?" Olefan suggested. "Mothers can do
surprising things, defending their children."

"Or perhaps she wasn't an ordinary woman." Jorghan leaned forward in his
chair. "Varlin was supposed to have had a woman who he trained to fight.
Perhaps he taught her his other skills, too. If he wasn't responsible
for the deaths at Shadow Peak, maybe she was."

Olefan frowned. "If she killed him, why bother carrying out his last job?"

"Honour among thieves?" Jorghan shrugged. "Or perhaps she wanted
whatever he was getting paid. If it was her, though, it's too late for
justice. The Beryl Peak guards thought she was the one who killed Lord
Rorigraff. He'd had her imprisoned a few Turns back, but she got away,
the only one ever to escape their cells. They remembered her face."

"Well, the timing fits, but I don't think you have enough to be
certain." The old man fell silent for a long moment, as if trying to
decide how - or if - to raise a difficult subject. "Sometimes we want it
to be a particular person..."

"I know what that woman took from me." Jorghan's jaw tightened, his
fingers clenched into fists. It was only slowly that he let the tension
drain from him, his shoulders slumping in despair. "That's why I wanted
to talk it over. I wanted to know if my judgement was - impaired."

The older man rested a hand on his shoulder, and they sat, saying
nothing, for a while. Eventually, Jorghan let out his breath in a long
sigh. "Well, I can note it as a possibility, but I suppose there's
nothing more we can do unless other evidence comes to light."

"Aye, that sounds like the best approach." Olefan met his gaze. "I'm
sorry, lad."

"Even if she never got justice, she paid for it." Jorghan rolled his
shoulders, as if physically shaking off the weight of the memories, and
changed the subject. They talked about the new recruits, and from that
to Olefan's memories of his own Turns in the guard, back before the Pass
began in the aftermath of the great plagues, and how different it had
been, back then.

At some point, Olefan pointed at a framed sketch on a shelf near the
window, just out of the reach of the glowlight, a group of old friends
he'd been reminiscing about. Jorghan got up from his chair and walked
over to look at it more closely. That was when he saw it.

Next to the faded picture of the group of young guards was a line
drawing of a woman, the ink still black and fresh. A long, glossy braid
coiled down from the crown of her head, following the line of her neck
and shoulders and lying over the curve of her chest, and her lips tilted
upwards in a knowing smile. It was the eyes that drew him, though. Dark
eyes, staring out at him with a bold defiance that was all too familiar.

Jorghan felt his breath stop.

He reached out to lift the picture from the shelf. Behind him, Olefan
continued with his story, but he heard nothing but the rushing in his
ears. He realised his hand was shaking.

Slowly, he turned and carried it back to the old guardsman, holding it
out. For a moment he wasn't sure he'd be able to speak, but his voice
came out, sounding too ordinary, as if it belonged to someone else.

"Who's this?"

"That?" Olefan beamed in pleasure. "My nephew's wife, Lusilk. You
remember Lorican, don't you? The one who became a smith. Made that sword
on the wall over there. Striking-looking woman, isn't she? They were
only wed, oh, five months ago. I was beginning to think Lorican would
never get married, that he'd end up an old bachelor like me." He
chuckled. "But he found someone in the end, and he sent me her picture.
He always had an artist's eye."

He vaguely remembered Olefan having a nephew who was a craftsman, though
nothing remarkable about the man came to mind. "When - did you last
hear..."

"Last sevenday, as a matter of fact. There's a baby on the way already.
Quick worker, my nephew. They met at that new Weyrhold, when he was
posted there."

"The Weyrhold?" Where the man, Varlin, had died, and a woman had killed him.

"Aye, but they're at Sunstone Sea Hold now, and he's got his Master's
knots," Olefan said proudly. "He's running the smithy there. A good lad,
never any trouble, not like his younger brother. Now that one was a
trial to the family. Spoilt, and bone-idle. The trouble we had to get
him a job..."

Both at Sunstone Sea Hold, Jorghan thought as the older man chatted on
about his delinquent younger nephew. And only a few sevendays ago, if
the message had come by runner.

Slowly, something inside him was beginning to wake, the flame which he'd
thought cold and dead ever since he'd heard about Lisna.

He had _known_ there was something too convenient about that fire in the
prison, but he'd been wrong about why. He'd thought the guards had set
it, to torment and kill the one who'd murdered their Lord Holder.

What if it had actually been covering an escape?

He made some excuse, hurried from the room, leaving Olefan staring after
him in surprise. It didn't matter. He had to get to Sunstone Sea Hold.
He'd leave tonight, with or without his captain's permission.

She was alive. And he was coming for her.

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.