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Old Mar 24 2006, 04:42 PM   #4
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Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: St. Louis

Default Re: Ghost in the Tunnels (Pern Fanfic)

Sarla awoke slowly, realizing that she had been allowed to sleep in for the second time in less than a sevenday. She was stiff all over. Stretching out in bed, she bumped something hard. Startled, she sat up, searching under the furs to see what it was. Her hand found the wooden dragon, and she gasped, suddenly awake, as she remembered the events of the day before. Tabby was gone – no one else had ever even seen him – but he had found Nirella, he wasn’t lonely or scared anymore. And he had given her, Sarla, his greatest treasure – his mother’s carved dragon. Sarla felt like crying. No one would ever believe what had happened.

She got up and slowly got dressed. She was going to have to face everyone again. Maybe the other children would already be at their lessons and wouldn’t bother her until after she got something to eat. She walked down the hall, still carrying the wooden dragon; she was half afraid it, too, would disappear. No one was in the Dining Hall, so she got herself some klah and bread from the hearth. She wondered how late it was; she could hear the women in the kitchens.

“Sarla! You’re up!”

She jumped, nearly spilling her klah, and turned around. Sudina had looked out of the kitchen and seen her. She stood up as the Headwoman bustled over.

“You’ve had a good sleep! I’m so glad you weren’t hurt in that shake yesterday! Where in the world did you get that?” She had spotted the wooden dragon on the table. “You were holding it so tight we couldn’t get you to let go last night, even after you fell asleep! Did you find it back in those old tunnels?”

Put on the spot, Sarla wasn’t sure whether to tell the truth or make something up, but Sudina’s words helped her. “Yes, I – I found it,” she said hastily. She hoped Sudina wouldn’t be able to tell she was fibbing. After all, she had found it – in the chest that Tabby told her to open. She shivered and drank some more klah. “Where is everyone?”

Sudina laughed. “Don’t you remember, this is a restday! And there’s no Threadfall, so everyone’s outside enjoying the sun. Why don’t you go tell Dralina that you’re up so she knows you’re all right? You really had everyone worried yesterday, with those rockfalls in the tunnels you’re always running off to. How in the world did you end up outside the Hold?”

Sarla quickly explained. “There was a place where the rocks had already fallen and the wall was gone. I was able to climb out that way when the roof fell in.” She shivered again, remembering how scared she had been.

“Well, thank goodness you got out safely! Go on now, I think Dralina took her mending outside.” She gave Sarla a little push toward the main doors and bustled back to the kitchen to tend to the roasts.

Sarla walked slowly through the doors and out into the bright sunshine. It was late in the morning; the shadows were getting short. Dralina was sitting just outside, smiling at the antics of some of the boys playing further out. Some of the other women had brought their handwork outside as well. She walked over to Dralina, quickening her step as her foster mother looked up and saw her coming. Dralina smiled. “Good morning, sleepyhead!” she teased. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m all right. I feel fine,” Sarla said. “Just stiff from climbing down those rocks, I guess...”

Dralina stood and took her hand. “You’ve got some scratches here, too... What’s that?” She grabbed Sarla’s other hand, which held the dragon. “Oh, that! Where in the world did you get that, anyway?”

“I - I found it,” Sarla said uncomfortably, avoiding her foster mother’s eyes. Dralina gave her a sharp look.

“Why don’t we go walk for a bit, Sarla?” Sarla nodded yes. Dralina set her workbasket on her chair, out of the dust, and they walked off together. Once they were out of earshot of anyone, Dralina began to speak, not looking at her. “Are you telling the truth, Sarla?” she asked sternly.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t pretend. Did you really just find a valuable carving like that in the back tunnels? Tell me the truth, now.”

“I, I did find it. Sort of.”

“Sarla!” Dralina’s voice held a warning.

“You’re not going to believe me.”

Dralina stopped walking and turned to her foster daughter. “Tell me, Sarla.”

Sarla took a deep breath and obeyed. “I was in the back tunnels and Tabby was there - ” Dralina inhaled sharply but said nothing. “He showed me where his room was, before – before the other rockfall. He let me open the chest, and the dragon was inside. He said I could have it!” she said defensively. “Then the ground started shaking, and the rocks were falling, and Tabby was crying, and then suddenly Nirella was there – his foster mother from, from before. And she said I could have the dragon too. And then I went out through the hole in the wall, and when I looked back they were gone.” She started to cry. She had only known Tabby a little, but she missed him already. She was glad that he had found someone, but now he was gone. She had been a part of something special, and it was gone.

Dralina started walking again, stunned at what she had just heard. How to deal with this? It was hard enough dealing with the usual childish troubles, but a ghost? “Well,” she said slowly, “I suppose you can keep the dragon, then.”

Sarla gave a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Dralina... look, doesn’t it look just like Graith?”

Dralina glanced down and forced a smile. “Why, yes, it does.” She sobered up again. “Sarla, after what happened the other day, with the search, and now this – ”

“Oh, please don’t tell anyone!” Sarla pleaded in sudden fright. “It’s bad enough already, I don’t want them to know any more!”

“I won’t tell anyone, I promise,” Dralina assured her. “But I do think you should tell Tristio. He’ll keep quiet about it. I think he deserves to know.”

“All right,” Sarla said, reluctant to tell even the harper what had really happened.

“Let’s go now, Sarla,” Dralina said gently. “It won’t be any easier if you wait, and there’s no one in Tristio’s office right now.” Sarla wanted to protest but couldn’t speak. She allowed Dralina to lead her back to the Hold, and was surprised at how far they had walked.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An hour later, Tristio and Dralina were trying not to stare too hard as Sarla finished her strange tale. She had told of her first meeting with Tabby, as well as her adventures the day before. Tristio was the first to speak.

“Well,” he began slowly, “it sounds like Tabby, or whatever was left of Tabby, has found his way home.”

“Yes,” Sarla said sadly, “Relly – Nirella came and helped him. He was just doing what she had told him – she had always said not to go anywhere without her, so he just – stayed, I guess.” She shivered again at the thought of being alone in the tunnels for so long, lost and confused, and tried not to wonder what it was like being dead. “Please don’t tell anyone, Tristio – it’ll only make things worse.” She didn’t want people making fun of Tabby. It wasn’t funny.

“Oh, I won’t tell anyone, Sarla,” he said, “but would you mind if I wrote about it to the Masterharper? I would change the names, but it’s such an amazing story, I hate to let it go.”

She thought about that for a moment, then nodded. “All right. Just don’t tell anyone here.”

“About that... Dralina, have you thought about my suggestion yesterday?” he asked gently.

Sarla turned to her foster mother in surprise. What was going on? Dralina cleared her throat. “Sarla,” she said, “how would you feel about going to live in the Weyr?”

Sarla’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “But – you mean – are we moving to the Weyr? When? How?”

“No,” Dralina interrupted. “I would stay here, and you would have a new foster mother at the Weyr. You could see your father every day, and no one would know about – Tabby...” She looked intently at Sarla. “Would you like that?”

Sarla was stunned. Leave the Hold? All of her favorite places rushed through her head – and then she remembered how awful it had been waiting for Tristio to come in for lessons the day before. A few of the children had acted as though they were afraid of her, but most of them had taunted her, bringing her to tears. She had never been very friendly with any of them anyway, and now... She saw that Dralina was holding back tears, and she started to cry herself. “But I’d miss you,” she sobbed. “Why couldn’t you come too?”

Dralina was shaking her head. “My place is heere, Sarla,” she said understandingly. “But you could start over at the Weyr, make new friends. Maybe you could even stand for Impression someday... I really think it’s the best thing for you.” She took a deep breath and grasped Sarla’s hands. “I will let you choose whichever place you want, the Weyr or here. You can always come visit me.” She tried to smile encouragingly.

“Well, Sarla?” Tristio asked gently. “You don’t have to decide now, if you’re not ready. We just wanted you to know, you can leave here if things get too hard for you.” He patted her shoulder. “It’s always hard being different, and what you’ve seen means that the people here are always going to see you as different. That’s why you should consider a new start.”

Sarla’s head was spinning. She didn’t know what to say. “I...” she began, and faltered. “I don’t know.”

“Take your time,” Dralina said. She got up, walked to the door, and opened it; they could all hear people streaming into the Dining Hall. “It’s time for midday meal. You can think about it and let us know what you decide.” She smiled tenderly at Sarla. “I just want you to be happy.” They walked out together and walked toward the serving table.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sarla sat huddled in one of her favorite tunnels – far away from the rockfall – wondering what to do. She couldn’t imagine living anywhere else; she knew the old tunnels better than anyone. And to leave Dralina... Dralina was stern, but she was like a mother to Sarla, and had been for as long as she could remember. Sarla sighed, wishing she had known her mother, Saranda. She knew that she had gone to work in the Weyr and had fallen in love with M’rel, but after Sarla was born had gotten homesick, and finally moved back to Telgar Hold. M’rel had been equally in love with her, for he had continued to visit her and their daughter. Then Saranda had gotten sick; as she grew weaker, she begged Dralina, who was like a sister to her, to take care of her little girl... and then she had died. Sarla sighed again, almost a sob; Dralina always cried when she told the story to her, and Sarla always made her smile again by hugging her and saying, “And you did take care of me!”

She had not thought about her mother for a long time, she realized, stroking Tabby’s dragon. Oh, if only she could have it both ways – live at the Weyr, and be able to see Dralina every day as well! Her foster mother’s comment about standing for Impression came into her mind, and she began to daydream about Impressing a queen. She wondered how old you had to be to stand for a gold egg, and sighed again at the thought that it would probably be Turns and Turns.

M’rel had taken her to the Weyr several times – never to a Hatching, but once she had been there soon after a Hatching, when the new dragons were still growing. She had watched them playing on the lake shore, with children helping to bathe them. It was pleasant at the Weyr; everyone was nice, especially the Headwoman. What was her name? Nuri... Nurevi, that was it. Nurevi always made Sarla feel special. Nurevi would choose a good foster mother for her... and she would see her father every day... and know one would know about Tabby... she clutched the wooden dragon and began making her way back to the main caverns.

Last edited by Brenda; Mar 24 2006 at 10:47 PM.
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