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The Tournament

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 2nd April 2023

Characters: Tasni
Description: Tasni watches the guards' tournament
Location: Emerald Falls Hold
Date: month 6, day 14 of Turn 11

The day of the tournament dawned clear and cold. Although it was a restday, the maids were up as early as ever, preparing for the festivities. Tasni helped to carry out cushions and rugs for the best seats from which the high-ranking visitors would watch, then small tables and pails for cooling bottles of wine, while the kitchen filled with the scents of baking bread and pastries for their breakfast.

By the time she had to rouse her lady and help her to bathe and dress, she already felt as though she'd done a good half day's work. Thankfully, Lady Agriona was in a less peevish mood than usual. Perhaps the tournaments were a change to the tedium of her daily life. Her husband and brother had been up earlier, discussing some matter in the holder's office, but her demands didn't give Tasni another chance to eavesdrop.

It began just after noon, Rukbat's light gleaming on the white stone of the old quarry where the people gathered to watch the fights, having got the day's chores out of the way early. The first pair were a skinny young man in his late teens, and a guard a few Turns older but already bulkier, with a confident swagger. Tasni wondered if the lad was trying to impress Holder Obriel and win himself a place in the barracks, with the respect and the better conditions and pay that brought.

If that had been his plan, it didn't work. Within a few moments of the fight beginning, she could see he was outmatched. She felt a twist of pity, remembering what Davika had told her about how the Holder liked blood. But the guard, perhaps kinder than his master, appeared to choose humiliation over injury, dealing blows with the flat of his sword that drew gales of laughter from the crowd.

The second pair were both guards, more evenly matched, circling each other cautiously and probing for weaknesses. By the time that was over, Tasni was growing frustrated. The bright light reflected from the stone was starting to give her a headache and her feet hurt, but there was no chance of getting away. She was expected to attend on Lady Agriona, who had constant requests - for tea, to bring a warm shawl, to take it away again, to rearrange her cushions. Her brother sneered at the fighters, as if he thought it a poor show. Only Holder Obriel seemed to be enjoying the spectacle, making notes in a little book every now and then.

After what seemed like an age, Tasni heard Dallo's name called. Her heart sank when he stepped forward into the ring, grinning in anticipation. She had to force herself not to flinch when he looked up to where the Holder's family were sitting, his gaze lingering on her, and raised his sword in a mocking gesture. Instead, she gave him her best deathly glare, and almost missed Lady Agriona sitting up a little straighter, her narrow shoulders tensing.

Tasni frowned. Surely the lady had no interest in Dallo? Her gaze moved to the other man, who was more lightly armoured, carrying a staff rather than a more valuable sword. Not a guard. He was older than Dallo, thin and fair-haired, his manner tense and wary. She'd heard things about Obriel not being too picky about his hires, taking on holdless men if they seemed useful...

Then she wondered about the other light-haired man who'd served here. Gil. For a moment there was a half-jolt of recognition, of how the man fit the description; a lean build, the hair, the age about right. She wouldn't have called him handsome, though after all that had happened... But if he'd been sent to the quarry, how could he be here? And this man wasn't tall, the top of his head barely reached a few inches above Dallo's shoulder.

It wasn't him.

In front of her, Lady Agriona let out her breath and leaned back against her embroidered cushions. Tasni had the strange sense that she'd just come to the same conclusion.

The fights up until now had been rough and brutal, but not very much worse than some that Tasni had seen at Emerald Falls; after the first, the guards had followed the motions of their drills, thrusting and blocking in patterns until one grew tired and made a mistake. This match, however, with its unmatched pair, seemed to draw the Holder's interest. The holdless man, if that was what he was, clearly wasn't trained, but he was quick on his feet, dodging out of the way of his opponent's attack once, twice - and the third time, by luck or by skill, he managed to bring his staff around and drive it into the young guard's belly. Dallo's breath came out in an audible gasp and he stumbled back a few steps, doubling over. Laughter rippled around the old quarry.

The holdless man appeared to relax, and glanced up towards Holder Obriel. It was a sweet moment, to see Dallo get what he deserved - but it was brief. Tasni's smile froze as the guard, with a wordless roar of rage and humiliation, straightened and charged, the sun glinting off his blade as he swung it down towards the other man's unprotected shoulder.

The man tried to recover from his lapse of focus, bringing up his staff to block the attack, but not fast enough to stop the blade shearing through the flesh of his upper arm. Bright red droplets spattered the white stone. Holder Obriel leaned forward, intent, his eyes gleaming as Dallo attacked again, slicing, battering at the smaller man's defence. A savage cut to his side drew more blood, the man staggered, and then another that caught his hand so that he dropped his staff and fell to a crouch, holding up one good hand, his tunic stained dark crimson.

For one awful instant she thought Dallo was going to deal another blow, the final one. But then, breathing hard, he stopped, lowered his sword and kicked the man viciously in the head, sending him slumping to the ground.

Tasni saw Holder Ingrizon roused from his boredom at last and eyeing the victor with a raised eyebrow as he applauded, while at his side Obriel scribbled in his book. Though she'd never been squeamish at the sight of blood, she was sickened all the same, and she felt Dallo's gaze like a creeping touch at the back of her neck. Shells, if she couldn't get away from this somehow, there'd be the feast, and would she be able to avoid him? She knew she couldn't expect help from Marsena. Her head throbbed and her eyes felt gritty. **You've faced worse than him,** she told herself angrily, but still the hollow feeling in her stomach persisted.

Then, of all people, Lady Agriona rescued her. She heard the woman's voice, faint and discontented, and noticed suddenly how white her fingers were under her expensive rings.

"My head aches." She pressed the back of her hand to her forehead. "It's too bright, and the noise...my nerves... I've had enough."

Holder Obriel just grunted, but her brother rose in instinctive politeness. "Sister, are you ill?" He gestured at Tasni. "Girl, fetch her some water."

"No, thank you." Irritably, Agriona reached out and gripped Tasni's arm before she could step away to refill the water jug. "I just need to lie down for a while. Help me inside."

"Of course," Ingrizon said, his voice smooth. "It's perhaps too much for your delicate sensibilities." Below them, two drudges were dragging the unconscious man away. Dallo was at the centre of a group of guards who were slapping his back and offering congratulations. "Rest, and we'll see you at the feast later."

He turned away, losing interest as a new pair took to the fighting circle, while Tasni helped Agriona up the track that led out of the old quarry and back across to the main hold. All the way, the lady complained about how she suffered with her nerves, which no-one understood, and about the barbarity of the guards, but there was something in her voice beyond the usual fretfulness.

It took a while to settle her in her room, the heavy drapes blocking out the sun and a cool glass of water at her bedside, with a little bottle of drops the healer had given her for the oft-mentioned nerves. By the end, Tasni wondered if she'd imagined it, or whether that slight resemblance between the man in the fight and the missing Gil had struck Agriona, too. But why would she care?

When she was released at last, that thought was immediately forgotten. This was her chance. Almost everyone would be at the fighting, including the guards. No one would care where she'd got to, and if they did they'd think she was with her lady. Even Dallo wouldn't want to bother her until he'd had his fill at the feast.

As she passed through the kitchens on her way out from the servants' stairs, she picked up a flask and filled it at the tap, then grabbed a half-loaf of bread before slipping out into the courtyard; if she found Gil, perhaps he'd need them. No-one was in sight. She heard a distant shout go up from the fights, but the sun was still above the hills and there were several rounds still to go - enough time if she didn't linger. She began to walk, at a fast pace, up the sloping path down which she'd come on her first day here, when the trader had brought her past the new quarry, and all the secrets it held.

Last updated on the June 25th 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.