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Powerless

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 27th December 2022

Characters: Tasni
Description: After an unpleasant encounter, Tasni finally gets a clue about the man she's searching for
Location: Emerald Falls Hold
Date: month 6, day 13 of Turn 11


Tasni had thought of herself as an early riser, knowing full well that
she was annoying her fellow journeymen with her cheeriness over the
breakfast table while they were still yawning over mugs of strong klah.
That had been before she'd begun work as a maid at White Hollow Hold.
Now, mornings when she could remain in bed past the first hints of grey
in the night sky were a distant memory.

She knew that as Lady Agriona's personal maid, she didn't have the worst
of it. Others had to be up even earlier. But she still had to light the
fire and bring warm water, to make sure the lady's day gown was cleaned
and pressed and laid out for her, with her brushes and cosmetics and
perfumes, open the heavy shutters to let in the morning light, and bring
up breakfast with a pot of freshly brewed klah, so that the scent would
gradually wake the lady from her slumber.

Even so, the morning was the most peaceful time of the day. Once the
lady was awake, the complaints began. Tasni was too slow, too untidy,
made a mess of putting up her hair, selected the wrong outfit for the
weather or the season or her mood. The first day, she'd been worried
that her short time practising with the maids at Emerald Falls hadn't
been nearly enough to pass herself off convincingly as one of them, but
Davika, who'd stood in as lady's maid until her arrival, whispered to
her that the mistress was never satisfied with _anyone_. Any lack of
skill on Tasni's part seemed to be obscured by that fact.

When she had a moment to think, as she did this morning, waiting for the
cook to prepare the breakfast tray, she felt a small measure of sympathy
for Lady Agriona. If Tasni had to live her life, she would have become
more than merely peevish; she would have lost her mind from the sheer
tedium of her existence. All day long, she sat in the same chair in her
parlour. Sometimes she would pick up a book from a pile of tattered
romances, or make a few desultory stitches at her embroidery, or sort
through her jewellery and pet her two ill-tempered lap felines, but
mostly she would play endless games of patience with an outdated pack of
dragonpoker cards, or give up the pretence of entertaining herself
entirely and stare off into empty space.

In the afternoons, she would often summon Journeyman Gyrmich, the
harper, to play for her. Tasni had been intrigued - and a little nervous
- to meet him, but within minutes she'd realised there wasn't much risk
of being found out by her fellow crafter. Gyrmich paid no attention to
her. He was a middle-aged man with a heavy, jowly face, red-rimmed eyes
and a soft belly over which stretched a tunic of faded harper-blue, and
his breath smelled strongly of spirits. His repertoire consisted of
romantic ballads of Hold life, accompanied by plodding sequences of
chords on the gitar. Tasni was hardly a virtuoso, but she had a job to
keep herself from wincing. She amused herself by imagining what Master
Jayala would say if forced to listen to this performance.

She wasn't sure when he held classes for the Hold's children; she'd
never seen any evidence of it. They were usually to be found playing
raucous games in the courtyard, when they weren't snagged for chores or
errands by the adults.

Her suggestions that her lady go for a walk had been unsuccessful.
Holder Obriel apparently didn't like it, and she wasn't even sure his
wife possessed a pair of shoes suitable for the outdoors. They could
hear the clink of tools on stone, faintly, from the quarry, but so far
she hadn't had a chance for a closer look.

And although there were plenty of guards, more than such a hold would
usually support, none resembled Calenta's husband Gilbek.

It was all very frustrating, she thought as she accepted the breakfast
tray from the cook. She'd begun to plan a quiet expedition out of the
hold at night to see if she could see more of the quarry. If that didn't
turn up anything, then she'd invent an excuse to leave. A prospective
new husband, perhaps. There was no point in wasting what was left of her
time in the South attending to the whims of a spoiled lady...

"So you got the job, eh?"

Tasni was halfway up the servants' staircase, and she looked up,
startled. With a sinking heart, she recognised the young guard who'd
stopped the cart on her arrival at White Hollow. What had been his name?
Dallo? From his position several steps up, he towered over her, and
reached across the narrow stairway with one arm, blocking her path.

**Shards.** She'd hoped he'd still be on duty at the guard post. Still,
she managed a polite smile and the best curtsey she could manage halfway
up a staircase with a loaded tray. "I did, thank you, Guardsman. Would
you excuse me? I have to bring this to..."

"Allow me." He descended a step, close enough that her face was only a
handspan from his chest, and took hold of the tray. Tasni didn't want to
let him have it, but neither did she want to spill Lady Agriona's
breakfast all the way down the stairs and if his hands were occupied, it
might not be such a bad thing. "For her ladyship?"

"Yes. Thank you." She let go of the tray with an insincere smile, and
followed Dallo up the stairs.

"Welcome." He glanced back, with the same smirk he'd had that first day.
"I've been thinking about you. Time goes slowly on watch out on the Hold
road. It's lonely."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that." She waited until he looked away to roll
her eyes. Dallo clearly fancied himself quite the catch. "I'm afraid
I've been far too busy with my duties to think of anyone at all but my
lady," she added, hoping he'd take the hint.

When they reached the landing where a door led into the quarters of the
Holder's family, she spotted the danger a moment too late. The door
needed to be pulled open with a free hand, so a table had been placed
beside it for serving drudges to rest their trays. The guardsman set her
tray down, but instead of opening the door, he turned to face her.

"Let me get that door for you." She hurried up the last steps, but not
quite fast enough to slip past him. His fingers closed around her arm,
gripping not hard enough to hurt, but firmly.

"You've heard there's going to be a tournament tomorrow?" Dallo asked.
"That's why I'm back from the guard post. I'm down to fight, and if I do
well, I might get assigned back to the Hold." He grinned. "We could see
more of each other."

She knew she ought to make some meek reply, but the way he'd grabbed her
arm was the last straw. Exasperated, she jerked her arm back. "If you
fight with as little skill as you flirt, I doubt it." Shells, she
wouldn't mind watching him getting the stuffing kicked out of him in the
tournament ring. "Please step aside and let me pass. My lady's waiting."

Dallo's eyes narrowed. Clearly that hadn't been the enthusiastic answer
he'd been hoping for, and his mood shifted, like an abrupt change to a
discordant key. "You haven't been to see the fighting before, have you?
There'll be a feast afterwards, with wine for the victors, and that old
harper will play. We could dance...all night." Suddenly, faster than
she'd expected, his grip tightened on her arm and he shoved her up
against the door, the rough wood at her back, his body hemming her in so
close she couldn't kick at him. "Don't be so cold. Give me a kiss, for
luck."

Tasni froze, caught in indecision.

This had happened before. There'd been a time when she'd been undercover
with the holdless in the North, the man had been bothering her for days,
and then one day he'd got her alone and pushed her against the wall of
the cave where they'd been hiding...and she'd pulled the knife from her
belt and punched the short blade into the flesh of his thigh. It had
happened by instinct, but she remembered the feel of it going in, the
hot coppery gush of blood on her fingers, the way the man had screamed
like a stuck porcine. Because it was the holdless, that had been the end
of it, and neither he nor anyone else had troubled her again.

She glimpsed the hilt of Dallo's belt knife, within the reach of her
free hand, the guard too concerned with nuzzling at her neck to notice,
not even thinking that she might...

But she wasn't with the holdless. And if she stabbed a guard, in this
isolated Southern hold with no help to come from her Hall, she might end
up getting a closer look at that stone quarry than she really wanted. Or
worse.

In an instant, she understood what it was to be a woman in a hold like
this. To be powerless.

"Stop, I can't..." Her voice sounded very small, frightened, not like
her at all. She pressed her lips shut, turned her head away, but the man
gripped her chin, tried to wrench it back towards his mouth...

"What's going on up there?" A door banged at the foot of the stairs, and
with a rush of relief, Tasni recognised the voice of Marsena, the
headwoman. "Lady Agriona is ringing her bell - haven't you taken her
that tray yet?" As her upturned face came into view, her habitual frown
had never seemed so welcome, and it deepened when she saw the man who
was there. "Guardsman, this staircase is for my staff. You shouldn't be
here. Please return to the dining hall."

Dallo glanced over his shoulder, then - slowly enough to be insulting -
he loosened his grip. "Yes...ma'am. We can continue, another time." Then
he stepped back, winked at Tasni, and sauntered back down the stairs,
deliberately pushing past the Headwoman so that she had to step aside.

But he was gone.

"Thank you." Tasni found to her horror that her hands were shaking. This
wasn't her! "I'm sorry..." She tried to lift the tray, but the cups and
plates rattled alarmingly and she couldn't control it.

Marsena eyed her, then turned back to call through the door into the
kitchens. "Annalyn, if you haven't got anything to do, come over here,
please." One of the kitchen drudges appeared. "Take Lady Agriona's tray
up to her, and open her shutters while you're there. Tell her her usual
maid isn't feeling well, but she'll be up in a few minutes."

The drudge stared at her - she'd clearly seen Dallo pass by on his way
out - but she came up the stairs and picked up the tray. Tasni passed
her on her way down, her hand brushing against the wall to steady herself.

"Come and sit down for a minute. Davika will get you some klah." The
Headwoman's lips were pursed and she said no more, but thankfully she
seemed to understand what had happened. "Only a few minutes, mind. When
Annalyn gets back, you'll need to go up and dress my lady."

"Yes, Headwoman." She made it into the kitchens and sat down at the long
table where the cooks were preparing breakfast for the rest of the hold,
slicing meat for the sizzling frying pans, slicing bread and chopping
fruit, the homely sounds and scents reassuringly ordinary. **Breathe,**
she told herself. **You've been in worse places.** But she'd always been
able to fight back, before. She glanced across the kitchen to the open
door, to check that the man was really gone.

"That was Dallo, wasn't it?" Davika brought over a steaming mug of klah,
sympathy in her eyes. "What a creeping son of a wherry. Don't worry,
Elayni, you stick with us tomorrow, and he'll be back to standing guard
out on the Hold approach the day after with a nice set of bruises after
someone kicks his backside in the fights, eh?"

She was unsettled enough that she almost forgot to answer to the name
she'd been using - after her participation in the bandit trial at
Emerald Falls, there was a risk her real name was too well known.
"I...hope so. I didn't think he would..."

"He never would have dared before, he'd have been too afraid of Gil.
They all were. It's a shame he's not still around." Davika sighed. "I'm
sorry, if I'd thought, I'd have warned you."

Despite everything, Tasni's ears pricked up at the name the other maid
had mentioned. "It wasn't your fault." She sipped the hot klah and
managed an idly curious half-smile. "Who's Gil?"

A faint colour rose to the girl's cheeks and she opened her mouth to
speak, but before she could get a word out, the Headwoman's clipped
tones intervened. "Someone who we don't discuss in this Hold, as you
well know, Davika. Back to your work, if you please. And Elayni, finish
up that klah and attend to Lady Agriona, but I'll be wanting a word when
she's done with you."

"Yes, Headwoman." While Davika returned to her work, Tasni sipped at the
klah, trying to make it last, and not to think about the man who'd lain
in wait for her in the drudges' staircase, and whether he'd be back. The
name helped, as a distraction. **Gil?** It wasn't uncommon, it could be
short for all manner of names - but she was looking for a Gilbek.

She'd have to catch Davika alone and ask her. The kitchen girls
respected Marsena's strict authority, but hopefully not so much as to
withstand the temptation to gossip.

For now, Lady Agriona would be waiting, and in no good temper if the
look on Annalyn's face as she returned was any indication. Tasni thanked
the other girl and stood, relieved that her legs weren't shaking any
longer. She took a deep breath, then took one step, then another,
leaving the safety of the kitchen behind her and ascending the empty
drudges' stair.

Last updated on the February 19th 2023


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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.