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Old May 6 2008, 12:52 AM   #4
D. M. Domini
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Chicagoland
Gender: F
Fan of: Afra Lyon, and Robinton!
Now Reading: Sabriel by Garth Nix
Re: The Skyboom (An Alternate Universe Pern Fic)

Chapter Four

"Did we ever go through all of this?" Menolly asked Sebell, as she sat on the floor of one of the archive rooms, in particular the room dedicated to Robinton, scrolls arranged into loose heaps in a way that would make Arnor, the Master Scrivener, cry.

"We stopped, if I recall, shortly before Lessa was found on Search. Little that happened before then is relevant in an everyday sense these days. I've been poking further back when occasion warrants it, but that applies to Gennell and the Masters before him as well. I wonder if I'm going to generate half as much archive material by the time I'm done on this planet," Sebell mused.

"Some of these have blots," Menolly remarked. "We can probably consider any material I haven't cried upon as unread."

Sebell started to laugh. "Oh, Menolly..."

"I can't believe I didn't recognize him," Menolly said, and her voice broke so unexpectedly in the middle of the words, that her hand flew to her throat.

"I'd say you recognized him well enough to bring him upstairs and come flying in to tell me just who you'd just found wandering the Hall."

"No. I mean...I stood there talking to him, like I might with any stranger who'd just had a startle from one of my fair," Menolly said. "I mean, the similarities are there--the voice should have been a dead giveaway, especially when he started making those eloquent little jokes."

"Eloquent little jokes?" Sebell teased.

Menolly blushed. "You know," she accused. "But it didn't really hit me until I realized he hadn't a clue what firelizards were, or why they were in the Hall, and that he thought the Master Harper was still Gennell. When he mentioned Gennell, that's when I saw, that's when I realized. I had a thought, half a thought before that perhaps he was...a son, a son we hadn't known about--"

"--that wouldn't happen," Sebell said confidently.

"I know that, but when you come across a young man who has physical similarities to someone you know very well, what is the usual cause of that? Time-traveler, or the man's offspring?"

Sebell's mouth twitched. "I would vote for time-traveler," he said.

"Ha. Well, you're Master Harper," she said. "From down here in the rank-and-file I would say offspring. I'd be wrong in this case, but how many other cases would I be right on?"

"You never knew him when he was younger, and still had dark hair, Menolly," Sebell said. "I did."

"White hair doesn't make that big of a difference," she pointed out.

"No, but twenty Turns do. Ugly fellow, these days, isn't he?" the man asked mischievously.

"He is not ugly!" Menolly protested, to Sebell's laughter. "He is not!"

"Silvina always said he looked better when he got older..."

"Be that as it may, he's not any uglier than you are!"

Sebell winced. "Ouch!"

Menolly relented. "Neither of you are ugly...but it's strange seeing him with such a young face. I kind of want to reach over and tug on it."

"Shards, Menolly!"

"Well, you know. So it's in the right shape. His cheeks don't look right. You don't want to give them a little tug, to sort of re-arrange them?"

"Not particularly," Sebell said.

"Oh, you."

"Don't 'oh, you' me. You're the one that wants to pull on his face like it's taffy."

They both paused, after that, looking at each other, and almost immediately broke into laughter.

"Are you imaging his face if he heard us discussing this?"

"I am." Sebell said, and laughed to himself, the sound almost silent.

They dug through the old files for a while after that without saying much--mostly due to the specter raised in both of their minds...the thought of their Master Robinton, their Master, walking in on them during such a ridiculous conversation.

"He never said anything to you, during that thing you did with Jaxom, about this?" Sebell asked after a while.

Menolly shook her head. "Nothing at all. Not during, not after, not even the few times we discussed going between time. He had...numerable...openings. It's unlike him not to take them."

"And, as far as you're aware, since he's here now, he had to have experienced whatever he's here to experience in his youth?"

Menolly nodded. "That's how I've always understood how it works." She quickly unrolled some scrolls, glanced through them, and rolled them back up again. "Perhaps he had memory loss, and forgot to tell us."

"Perhaps it's not really him, but his son, coming between through time. Then, we'd both be right!"

"Ha. But we've already confirmed that F'lon is F'lon. And he confirms that Robinton is Robinton. And anyway--young or not, even if I was uncertain at first or not--it is him!" Menolly said.

"Indeed." Sebell rubbed his chin, then rose from his own spot on the floor and started pigeonholing all of the scrolls and hides he'd found no clues in. "There is the thought that perhaps he meant not to tell us. Or that he planned to be alive when it happened, but hidden behind us so he wouldn't have to get close enough to himself to fall ill."

"That still leaves enough questions open--enough to make my head hurt," Menolly said. "Maybe they will be able to successfully go between tomorrow; F'lon was struck by lightening. If so, if Robinton has spent less than a full day here, there wouldn't have been a reason for him to say anything to us about it, would there be?"

"I hate leaving him in the dark on purpose, though."

"Yes," Menolly said. "F'lar and Lessa were vehement that he knew nothing about traveling between times before Lessa made her trip back for the Oldtimers. He was just as frantic as F'lar was, and just as upset with Lessa, too, when she returned. Do you think Robinton could have been acting the entire time?"

"He might have the gall to try. But I'm not sure he could pull it off. I'm not sure anyone would be able to pull that off; lying to F'lar's face while everyone was simultaneously having a nervous breakdown, wondering if the only Queen left was dead or not? That would be very...dedicated...acting. I say he didn't know."

"So we keep him in the dark," Menolly said, sighing.

"Blast it. Yes. And two marks says he's not going to like it."

"Do you always bet only when it's a sure thing?"

"I try to," Sebell said with a wry grin.

* * * *

There was something...unusual...and maybe ironic as well...in the fact that she was essentially plotting with Sebell how best to keep this younger version of Robinton where they wanted him to stay, and only as informed as they wanted him to be informed. Familiar actions, but a decidedly ironic target. In Menolly's heart, she wanted to reach out to him, to just give him the information he was obviously craving, to assist him in his time of need like he had once assisted her. It must be impossibly confusing and frightening for him to be in this situation, but only his quickly joking or sarcastic tongue betrayed it as far as she could see, and for all she knew, that had not been unusual for Robinton at this age.

And...he was Robinton. Here, again, living amongst them. It was impossible to not to want to help him. But Master Robinton was such an...influential...person on the history of Pern, and certain bits of knowledge that were more or less commonplace now had not been a mere handful of turns back. They couldn't risk...

And that was the funny part. That they turned themselves inside out when everything was already ordained. The Weyrs had gone missing...because Lessa had brought them forward, which she had done...because they were missing. There was a certain strange paradoxical circle of logic there that Menolly wasn't sure their most ancient of ancestors would have been able to explain or unravel. Jaxom had had his hand in several matters that she suspected had been equally pre-destined. And this?

It was difficult to tell.

They'd left him at Benden Weyr last night, because there were fewer people there who knew him intimately enough that they would spot him, even hidden behind the youth the reversal of many, many Turns bestowed, and because dragonriders were more likely to keep mum on the subject of going between times, if only to avoid Lessa and F'lar's wrath. And also because Robinton might think twice about trying to sneak out of a Weyr, as it was a more dangerous feat, due to the elevations and location of a Weyr, than sneaking out of the Harper Hall.

Nonetheless, Sebell and Menolly had warned the two Weyrleaders that the longer Robinton and F'lon lingered in this when, the more likely they would be forced to make a critical decision: would they give Robinton enough information to win his trust, or would they, quite literally, imprison him somewhere? A gilded cage of some sort?

Lessa had looked shocked.

"Do you think it would come to that?" F'lar asked.

"He has no reason to trust us," Sebell said. "None of us were even a come-hither look in anyone's eye at this point in his life. And we've already agreed it would be best not to tell him anything about his later life, or about how he and F'lon managed to get here--I wouldn't be particularly trusting in that situation. Not at all." He shook his head slowly.

"And you think he will take action because of that?" Lessa asked.

"He didn't make Master Harper by sitting around, twiddling his thumbs," the current Master Harper pointed out.

"I don't know," Menolly said teasingly to Sebell. "He sat around, twiddling his thumbs, smiling like a manic, fairly regularly, as I recall."

"Well, he'd already taken action then, you see. He was just waiting for the result." And he shared a fond smile with Menolly, as they remembered their Master's quirks.

F'lar and Lessa shared their own look, which held a bit of worry.

"What about F'lon?" Sebell said. "I would say he had his own considerable impact on things..." and he gestured in F'lar's direction, indicating the Weyrleader's parentage.

F'lar didn't answer right away, so Lessa spoke. "He now knows what any dragonrider knows--what any modern dragonrider knows. It was necessary when explaining to him how to get back. It would be foolishly dangerous to try to dead-weight Simanith between Ramoth and Mnemoth to a when we've never been to--"

"He knew thread was coming," F'lar interjected. "With a certainty I never saw displayed again by any other dragonrider until we flew against it for the first time. I would be surprised if he didn't know it then because he knows it now. He knows we're in the middle of the 9th pass. It would be stupid to take needless risks and create elaborate plans just to hide from him something he likely knew when I was a lad."

"Ah," Sebell said. "That's good to know. Because neither Menolly nor I were told anything about this by our Master. We plan to go through the archives tonight to see if there's a scrap, a note, a hide or tablet anywhere that says anything, but it seems peculiar."

Lessa snorted. "Robinton keeping secrets seems peculiar?" she asked, a note of laughter in her voice.

"Well," Sebell said. "We were usually the first to know. When the secrets stopped being secrets." Neither Harper mentioned that there was still a lot that they knew that Lessa and F'lar had never been told.

It was better to let sleeping wherries lie, after all, Menolly thought, scratching Beauty on the top of her head.

* * * *

Menolly was picked up at the Harper Hall the next morning to be brought back to Benden by F'nor, who had witnessed most of what had gone on last night, but without much comment. Of course, he had spent several Turns on the Southern continent, doubling up on himself in order to grow up a group of dragons and dragonriders so that they could be added to the Weyr's laughably small fighting force before thread first fell. So she doubted much of anything involving between times would get a rise out of him. Sebell reluctantly stayed behind at the Hall; their night-time departure with an unknown third party had already stirred enough curiosity among their Harpers, and there were still a few records to scour that neither of them had touched yet. But he extracted from Menolly a promise to alert him or Kimi the moment anything interesting happened.

Menolly promised, and pondered where exactly he drew the line at "interesting" when she arrived at Benden Weyr just in time for the mid-day meal. Because she found it fascinating to observe the interaction between the younger version of her master and F'lon--there was a familiarity there, a friendship that eclipsed even the very close relationship between Robinton and the current Benden Weyrleaders had had. They're best friends, from boyhood, Menolly thought. She'd never known about that.

Robinton was as curious about her as she was about him, although for greatly different reasons. He asked her about how she had ended up in the Hall, and she immediately cursed the question in her head and said, "How does anyone end up in the Hall?" in an offhand manner. Robinton caught that she hadn't really told him anything with that phrase, and frustration flashed in his eyes before he gave her an affable smile to hide it.

The frustration and anger towards her hurt in a surprising way; she knew that this younger Robinton was not quite the man she'd known, and was not the man he would one day be, but his anger, directed at her, hurt all the same, much like the few times he'd shown disapproval towards her as Master to Apprentice. Beauty made a soft noise and shifted on her shoulder, and Menolly stroked the tail curled around her throat in order to soothe her.

"And how did you end up with firelizards so attached to you?" he asked. "Because I most acutely recall the creatures flitting away down the beach from me the one time I walked too near their resting spot when I was Journeying through Southern Boll. I tried to lure one to me for about a day, and it never worked, no matter what type of meat I offered."

Of course, this was another topic she was unsure if she should elaborate on. But...she glanced towards the open door into the hallway, tilting back in her chair to do so. Beauty had a few sounds to make about that, but she quickly returned her chair to all four legs on the ground, and then got up to close the door. "I'm not actually supposed to be telling you this," she said, asking Beauty with a silent query to look around and see if anyone but themselves were in this area of the weyr. The small queen chirruped, unwound her tail, and leapt off her shoulder to dart around Simanith and out the bowl entrance to the Weyr. Simanith lifted his great head and watched her go. "And once we get you two home, I'd appreciate it if you did not spread it about," she said with a small smile.

Robinton scooped up some porridge and ate it, while waiting for her to go on. It was a faint echo, or precursor, to the way he could hungrily consume a gigantic breakfast, looking incredibly preoccupied the entire time, while not missing a single thing she had to report to him. It also didn't escape Menolly that he didn't actually promise her a single thing right now, as he swigged down a cup of klah with an audible noise, his adam's apple bobbing.

Typical Robinton.

Menolly returned to sit at the table again, and a moment later, Beauty returned, making a self-satisfied chirp. The queen gave her a few scattered visions of chasing off some poor brown/green firelizard pair that had been innocently basking in the sun a hundred dragonlengths away, and Menolly rolled her eyes and laughed. "You didn't," she told her.

"She speaks to you?" F'lon asked, staring at them.

Menolly shook her head. "Not per se; I get scraps of visions, and emotions usually, not always very coherent. She just lambasted some poor green, and her brown beau, for sunning themselves too close to us. If you can call a hundred dragonlengths close." She snorted. "We stayed in Benden Weyr for a time when she was still mostly a baby, and she still seems to think she's the senior queen firelizard whenever we return." Menolly fondly stroked Beauty. "Anyhow--I Impressed my firelizards shortly after they hatched."

"They're Impressible?" F'lon asked, while Robinton continued to eat.

"Not like a dragon--they will Impress to anyone that stuffs their little gullets with food. They'll also go between and leave you forever if you treat them badly. And, obviously, you can Impress more than one. But I don't recommend it; with the ones I have, they have enough hide between them to cover a newly-hatched dragon, and they're often going ten different ways at once, which can make bathing and oiling an all-day event."

F'lon chuckled at that, obviously appreciating having to bathe and oil a lot of hide. "How many do you have?"

"I Impressed nine as a youngster, by accident, and then a tenth after that, again by accident. This on my shoulder is Beauty. I have the bronzes Rocky, Diver, and Poll, and browns Brownie, Mimic, and Lazybones, the greens Auntie One and Auntie Two, and a blue called Uncle." Menolly laughed as neither man purposely made comment about the names, so she answered the unspoken thoughts anyway. "I was all of fourteen turns, and names have never been my strong suit. They don't seem to mind, though."

"Beauty's name is apt," Robinton said.

"I've always thought so," Menolly said. "I attempted to rename Brownie once, in a fit of guilt because I was the only one with firelizards named...descriptively...but he just looked at me like I was crazy and went to sleep."

"Others don't follow your naming conventions?" Robinton asked.

"No. Sebell named his queen Kimi, and there's another queen Farli, and bronze Zair, and gold Merga," she said thoughtfully, remembering how she had gone through every firelizard she'd known of and hadn't found another one that wasn't hers that had a "descriptive" name. It had been rather distressing at the time.

"Zair sounds like a good name," Robinton said.

Menolly turned red, and decided to change the subject. "Has Lessa spoken to you about what you plan to do next?" she asked F'lon.

F'lon's shade started to match Menolly's. "We spoke a...short time...earlier, but we didn't make any definitive plans."

Both Robinton and Menolly waited for him to elaborate, but he stared back at them, yellow eyes innocent-seeming.

"What happened?" Robinton asked finally.

"Well...we only have what's on our backs, and we don't know when we will be going home, so I asked her about some clothing. Since she was there. And. You know. That's part of the Weyrwoman's duties. She wasn't too happy about it."

"You worded it poorly?" Robinton suggested.

"I...worded it poorly," he admitted. "But blazes, man, your rear is practically hanging out of there, or would be if you had a--"

Robinton forgot his food, and practically leaped over the table to clamp a hand over the dragonrider's mouth. "F'lon, we have a lady present, and we're eating breakfast," he said, as F'lon scrabbled at his hand, trying to pry it off of his face. "We don't need to hear this. However, if you promise to say no more, I'll let you go."

F'lon nodded immediately and vigorously.

Robinton let him go.

"You know, maybe if you wore underthings I wouldn't have mentioned it to the Weyrwoman--"

Menolly boggled at the mental image, and tried not to look like she was boggling. "Well, gentlemen," she said quickly, rising. "I'm going to run off now. I'll talk to both of you later." She scooted her chair in under the table, and turned heel before she could burst into laughter.

However, as she was opening the door, she did manage to get out, in all seriousness, in Robinton's direction. "I'm sure I can nick something from Sebell, if necessary..."

Robinton stared at her.

She lost her nerve and fled.

Behind her, before she got out of earshot, she heard Robinton lambaste F'lon. "Look at what you've done! She was actually talking about useful things and you come out of nowhere saying my naked arse is hanging out of my pants? Why?!"

"I...worded it poorly."

"You worded it--?!" his rich baritone held an ocean's worth of scorn and ridicule.

Menolly giggled to herself all the way down to the bowl of the Weyr.
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