Date Posted: 12th February 2023
Lady Agriona's brother had arrived in the late afternoon, riding up to
the hold with a small escort to be greeted by the Holder, his wife and
all of the holders who could be spared. Tasni stood with the other
maids, sneaking glances at the new arrivals through respectfully lowered
lids. Their guest was a few Turns younger than his sister, his hair a
deeper chestnut shade, and was strong and active enough from the way he
sprang down from his saddle, but they shared the look of haughty
discontent that Tasni had come to know far too well.
Dinner was served in the main hall, with the harper Journeyman Gyrmich
strumming one of his dreary ballads on the gitar as entertainment.
Agriona poked at her meal while her brother, husband and the steward
made dull conversation about trade and the output of the stone quarry.
Further down the hall, at the guards' table, Tasni caught sight of Dallo
laughing with a group of other men, and felt a sickening lurch in her belly.
As soon as she dared, she slipped out of the hall and headed for the
safety of the kitchen. It was busier there than usual, the cooks
chopping fruit and keeping an eye on the baking oven ready for dessert,
and the other maids scrubbing the dishes and cleaning the glasses from
the previous course. Tasni picked up a spare towel and began drying,
keeping an ear out for gossip. They were talking about a lady, but it
took her a minute to work out that it wasn't Agriona but her brother's wife.
"The poor baby hardly lived a day," one of the cooks said, clucking her
tongue in sympathy. "It was too soon after the last, and she's still too
weak to travel."
"A difficult journey, even if she was in better health," another agreed.
"It's a shame. Lady Agriona doesn't have anyone near her rank to talk
to, and perhaps she could have comforted her sister by marriage."
Tasni doubted her lady would be of much comfort to anyone, but she held
"And their healer isn't much use. He says he's a journeyman, but the
rumour is he was asked to leave the Hall not long after he got his knots
- or even before! Even our Journeyman Torgrew is better than that,
though he is over seventy."
The healer was rather doddery, and as isolated as the hold was Tasni
wasn't sure how up-to-date his knowledge of the craft was. She hoped her
good health would hold out while she was here.
"Couldn't Holder Ingrizon ask for a healer from the Hall?" she asked.
"If his wife is so unwell?" While she wondered if the reason Journeyman
Gyrmich still had his place was that the holders didn't want to be sent
a female harper, that wouldn't be the case for a healer.
"Perhaps he has, but it's an awfully long way. By the time the healer
got here, it could all be over." The cook shook her head sadly.
Tasni frowned. "But couldn't they flag down a dragonrider? I'm sure in
Her voice trailed off as heads turned and several pairs of eyes stared
at her in shock and amazement.
"We don't want one of _them_ coming to our hold!"
"They carry off our young people..."
"It's scandalous, what they get up to..."
"But dragonriders came to Emerald Falls, when I was there," Tasni
protested. She was fairly sure that had been the case even in the old
Lord Holder's time - he'd have needed them to get to meetings of the
Conclave of Lords, if nothing else.
"They knew their place back then." The cook pursed her lips. "The new
Lord Holder lets them get away with all sorts."
"Holder Obriel doesn't allow anyone to put a signal out for
dragonriders," Davika explained. "He says they're not welcome here.
Except a green and a brown came last Turn, on Search, they said, but
luckily no-one was taken."
"The Holder had all the prettiest girls stay inside," someone else put
in. "And the boys!"
**But what about Thread?!** Tasni had to force herself to keep her mouth
shut. Perhaps in this barren, rocky country, none of the holders had
seen the damage a Thread burrow could do to a field of crops or a stand
of trees. But surely the holder ought to see the advantages of keeping
on good terms with the Weyr...
Unless there was something here he didn't want the dragonriders to see.
The maids and kitchen staff had abandoned their work and were now
sharing stories of the depravities of the Weyr, with some relish.
"...so the young man went to the Weyr to avenge his father's murder, and
challenged the rider to a duel. But that wicked man put poison on his
blade! One scratch, and poor Grevan fell down, stone dead."
"That wasn't the end, either." Annalyn, the kitchen drudge who'd helped
after Tasni's encounter with Dallo, eagerly took up the story. "They say
the girl he was going to marry followed him there, to plead for justice
before the guests at the Hatching. No one has heard of her since. And
then, the next day, the cothold where his mother and siblings lived was
found burned to the ground."
"Dragonfire," someone whispered. The others shuddered and murmured.
"So you see why the Holder doesn't want them here," Davika said quietly.
"He wants to protect us."
Tasni could hardly believe her ears. Although she'd been busy with the
bandit trial and her studies, she'd heard enough about the events at the
Weyr to know that this was a wild distortion of the truth. She knew
there were a few discontented holders in Emerald Falls and some
grumbling about the Weyr tithe - she had heard it herself - but nothing
as bad as this! What had Holder Obriel been telling his people? She had
to get word back to Hallsecond Jayala. This was a matter for the
Masters, not a journeyman on loan from another Hall.
But she still had to find out what the Holder was concealing, the reason
why he had so many guards, why no one went near the quarry. She needed
Troubled, she picked up a tray of clean mugs and glasses and carried
them over to a shelf to put away. There was the tournament tomorrow.
Perhaps she could slip away...
"There was a story about you-know-who, as well." Davika came over to
join her, glancing over her shoulder to make sure they weren't overheard.
It took a moment for her to realise the other maid meant Gil. Tasni took
a breath, recovering herself. She needed to find out what had become of
him, too. "You mean, to do with the Weyr?"
"Well, he didn't have a sweetheart, though there were plenty who would
have been eager." Davika turned a little pink. "They say he already had
a wife, a beautiful woman who he loved very much, and the dragonriders
For a moment, Tasni was confused, but then she realised that it did fit.
After the fire at the Harper Hall, Calenta would have gone to the Weyr
with the other harpers, before she'd transferred north. If "Gil" was her
husband, this could be a garbled version of that story.
"The poor man. Did he say so?"
She shook her heard. "He never talked about his life before he came here
that I heard, but the Holder would have known, I suppose."
"So, tell me. What happened to him?" Tasni couldn't hold back her
curiosity any longer. "He's not here any more, and nobody talks about him."
Davika's face fell. "One day, last Turn, the whole hold was summoned to
the old quarry. Guards, drudges, crafters, everyone except your lady,
she stayed in bed, but all the others were there. No one knew what was
going on, but then the Holder gave a sign, and two of the men came out
of the guard barracks, dragging Gil between them. He could hardly walk,
and his head was hanging down, but you could see his face was all
swollen with bruises. Then Holder Obriel said that he had been found
guilty of disloyalty to the Hold, and the captain came forward, and..."
Her brown eyes suddenly welled up with tears. "They whipped him. I
closed my eyes, but - it was awful, the sound, and the blood..."
Tasni let out her breath in a hiss. How had the harper allowed this
gruesome punishment to go ahead? If the man had done something that
serious, he should have had the chance to appeal to the Lord Holder. And
what did disloyalty to the hold mean, anyway?
"I don't know, nobody does, but some people say he was sent to the quarry."
That also sounded far from legitimate to Tasni. Obriel should have had
permission to use convicts in his quarry - but as she was discovering,
it seemed that he didn't pay much heed to his allegiance to Lord
Corowal, and the harper, Gyrmich, wasn't the man to stand in his way.
And what, in the name of the First Egg, had the man done? Had he tried
to report what was going on here? Or had he turned to violence again,
this time outside the fighting circle?
One thing was for certain. She had to get a look at that stone quarry.
She put the last clean mug back on the shelf and turned - and, with a
gasp, found herself face to face with the headwoman.
"Elayni." Marsena looked from her to Davika, who was brushing away a
tear and looking terribly guilty. "May I have a word?"
Last updated on the February 19th 2023