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    Mawgrim
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction that combine worlds created by the original content owner with names, places, characters, events, and incidents that are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, organizations, companies, events or locales are entirely coincidental. Authors are responsible for properly crediting Original Content creator for their creative works.
Recognized characters/events/plots from Dragonriders of Pern belong to Ann McCaffrey

To the Weyr - 6. The High Pastures

Jevikel managed to talk with Kemi again during the next sevenday, refining the plan. It was obvious she wasn’t going to be able to walk out of the Hold carrying the supplies she’d need to cross the mountains, so they agreed it was best if he left a pack hidden at the caves. Then she could leave unburdened, rest overnight and set off first thing, as she’d planned.

‘I can’t stand this much longer,’ she said. ‘Mother keeps talking about the wedding. Everyone does. And I have to grit my teeth, smile and pretend I’m looking forward to it when all I want to do is scream.’

Jevikel understood all too well. As he continued to court Gatri, he often felt much the same. ‘When do you want to leave?’

‘As soon as I can.’

‘You’d be best to do it before the herds go up to the hills again, just in case you meet up with anyone who’s out there with them.’

She nodded. ‘I’m still not sure how easy it’s going to be to slip away from the Hold. I’ve made a point to go for walks on my own, just so it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, but on these fine evenings there are so many folk about.’

Jevikel had talked about that with Kadin. ‘We’ve had an idea…’

‘We’ve? Have you told someone else?’ She seemed uneasy.

‘Only Kadin,’ he said quickly. ‘And I had to…’

‘I thought you didn’t like him.’

‘Not when he first arrived. But since we were sent herding together it’s been different. He’s all right. And I trust him. He came up with this idea.’

‘So, what is it?’

‘You need a distraction. Something that grabs people’s attention. We can start a fight. Then everyone will be looking at us, not you.’

‘If you’re such good friends, why would you fight?’

Kadin had thought of that, too. ‘We often play dice in the evenings with some of the other lads. I’m going to accuse him of cheating. He denies it, it gets heated and there we go.’

Kemi was quiet for a while. ‘And what if someone connects your fight with my disappearance?’

Jevikel shrugged. ‘We’ll deal with that if it happens.’ It was a risk, but it could just as well be argued Kemi had seen what was happening and used it as her opportunity to run away. ‘Anyway, it’s probably your best chance. Just let us know when you want to do it and we’ll have everything ready.’

‘I’ve just got a few more things to find. Clothes, for one. I’m not going to be able to scale mountain tracks dressed like this.’ She indicated the long skirt she wore. ‘But I’ve been helping with the washing lately, so I can easily steal a pair of breeches.’

‘You’ll need a coat as well. It may be summer, but the higher you climb, the colder it gets. Boots too. Maybe my old pair will fit you. They’re too small for me now.’

‘You’ve certainly sprung up this last Turn.’ She looked him up and down. ‘Reckon you’re about a hand taller than I am these days.’

That was true. It was probably why he always felt hungry. He’d eaten better when they were up in the hills than here at the Hold. ‘Maybe you’d fit into my coat from last winter, too?’

‘Don’t short yourself. I’ll take someone else’s, otherwise it’ll look suspicious. You know how mother is when it comes to handing out new clothes.’

‘“You can’t get something new unless you hand in the old,”’ Jevikel quoted, mimicking Jemina.

It raised a smile from Kemi. Then she turned serious again. ‘You’re sure you’ll be all right?’

‘Course I will.’

‘Because… I’ve been thinking. Maybe we could both go?’

‘Not if I’m to cause a distraction. Anyway, there’s no need for me to get away. I’m not being forced to marry anyone.’

‘Not yet.’

While he worked, he thought about what she’d said. Kadin wanted to get away, too. They’d both have to, at some point. And it would be better for Kemi not to have to cross those mountain passes alone. Yet three of them leaving at once would be so much more difficult. There didn’t seem to be any way around that.

Next time he was able to speak to Kadin in private, he mentioned it. ‘Kemi asked me if I wanted to go with her. I wish we both could.’ Maybe at the Weyr, he and Kadin wouldn’t have to hide their feelings for each other?

Kadin looked sad. ‘I wish we could, as well. But not right now. The other women aren’t being very kind to my mother and when Kemi disappears, I’m sure they’ll assume she’s been putting ideas into your sister’s head. I can’t leave her alone.’

Jevikel touched his arm. They were far enough from the Hold no one would notice and he’d been craving any sort of contact. ‘I understand.’

‘You go with her if you want. I can get away later. And I could still provide a distraction, if you want to do it that way.’

‘No. I’m not leaving you behind.’ If Kemi’s plan succeeded, then once it was certain she’d gone, there would be repercussions. Vikkel would have to forfeit the marriage settlement, plus there would be the embarrassment of explaining to Feldin’s family why the wedding was off. He’d be in a foul mood after that and looking to find fault with everyone. ‘There’s plenty of time for us to do the same before winter comes.’

‘I wish I could be sure my mother and sisters will be all right.’ Kadin sighed. ‘I wish we could take them, too, but the girls are too little and mother wouldn’t be able to walk all that way.’

‘Maybe we could persuade one of the dragonriders to come back for them?’

‘I don’t think it works like that. They only take people when they’re on Search and mother’s too old. Idarna and Dameri would be too young.’

‘Last time they came by, we all had to hide. Father said it was to keep us safe.’

Kadin looked shocked. ‘It’s a Holder’s obligation to allow dragonriders to Search.’

‘Why? Do they go through drudges so fast at the Weyr?’

Kadin laughed. ‘Is that what you’ve been told? Search only happens when the queen dragon lays her eggs. The people who are taken are the ones they think have a good chance of being chosen by a newly hatched dragon. There’s a whole ballad about it, but I’d better not sing it here.’

‘Oh.’ That made more sense, really. It also made him angry. If Kemi hadn’t had to hide in the cheese store, maybe she’d have been taken to the Weyr already? Maybe he would, too. But then he’d have never met Kadin, so it was probably a good thing all in all.

‘We’ll get to the Weyr, in our own time. Your sister’s more important right now. We can wait a while longer.’

Summer’s heat made the fields dusty. In the evenings, a golden haze hung in the air. Construction work began on the barn extension. The walls rose steadily, with everyone lending a hand, until one evening, his father took him aside. ‘You’ve worked hard these past days, son.’

Jevikel could hardly believe Vikkel was awarding him such praise. There had to be a catch somewhere.

‘But I’m going to have to take you off the rest of the job. The walls are getting high now and we’ll need men to carry on and finish the work. Now the young ones are weaned, they’ll need good grazing to fatten before market, so I’ve decided to send you and Kadin up to the hills with them.’

It was hard not to give away how he felt. To be alone again, with Kadin, rather than keeping up the pretence with Gatri… but then he realised they wouldn’t be around to help Kemi. ‘I’m strong enough,’ he protested. ‘And I’m a lot taller now.’

His father smiled briefly. ‘I know you’d rather not leave that girl of yours behind, but there’ll be time enough for courting once the harvest’s in and the animals sold. You and Kadin are good with the beasts. I know I can rely on you.’

Jevikel knew nothing he could say would change his father’s mind. They’d just have to alter the plans.

Later on, once everyone had eaten, he managed to avoid Gatri and speak to his sister. ‘Kadin and I are being sent to the high pastures tomorrow.’

Her face fell.

‘But listen. It might be a good thing. We’ll have to carry supplies anyway, so we can drop off your pack at the caves, like we agreed. Then, if you follow our tracks, we can give you some fresh food later. Maybe even be able to go along with you part of the way.’

‘How am I going to get out of here, though?’

That was the snag. ‘You’ll have to wait for the right opportunity, that’s all. Something’s bound to happen. Maybe Sarrando will get in another fight with someone…’

‘If Merri lets him. You know she’s expecting?’

He hadn’t. ‘So there’ll be a wedding soon?’ As Holder, Vikkel had the authority to marry anyone who worked for him.

Kemi winced, obviously reminded of her own impending nuptials.

‘Sorry,’ Jevikel said quickly. ‘I meant those two.’

‘I know you did. Listen, don’t worry. I’ll find a way. And you’re going to be up in the hills for the rest of the summer so there’s nothing you can do about it.’

‘I’m sorry,’ he said again.

‘You can’t help it.’ She quickly pulled him into an embrace. ‘It’s probably best this way. No one can blame you for anything. It’s just me, on my own.’

‘Good luck.’ They broke apart. Jevikel couldn’t help but wonder if he’d see her again, in the hills. Or if she’d still be here when he returned.

It was well into the morning before they were ready to leave. As always, the herdbeasts seemed to pick up that they were shortly going to be released from their field and bleated continually, jostling each other to be nearest to the gate. Jevikel and Kadin carried supplies in packs on their back as before. He’d secured Kemi’s bundle inside one of the sacks, where it wouldn’t be obvious. Once they were out of sight of the Hold, he left Kadin tending the beasts while he made his way to the caves. They’d agreed not to leave anything in the larger openings; the ones people were more likely to use for shelter if they were caught out in a rainstorm. He tucked the bundle inside the third cave to the left, a narrow cleft in the rock which he had to to crawl through. It should be safe there, easy for her to recover and unlikely to be found by anyone else. It was all he could do.

It took an hour or so to catch up with Kadin. He’d stopped by a stream; a place with good grazing and water for the animals. They’d settled down after their initial eagerness to be off.

‘All done?’ Kadin asked, making a space next to him where Jevikel could sit.

‘All done,’ he agreed. ‘Now it’s up to Kemi.’

‘You want to rest here for a while? Get your breath back.’

‘I’m not that unfit,’ he protested. ‘Thought I made pretty good time.’ He shrugged off the pack, then delved inside for bread and cheese, which he shared with Kadin. Above them, the sky was an endless blue.

Kadin chewed on the bread. ‘Just you and me again,’ he said, with a small smile.

‘I know.’ Jevikel was aware of sitting much closer than they would have dared at the Hold. Not having to think about little things like that made him feel so much more relaxed. If only it could be so easy all the time. He draped his free arm across Kadin’s shoulders. It was so much more natural than any of his contrived embraces with Gatri. Why should it be so wrong to feel this way? Why did folk condemn something he had no choice about?

‘In Bitra, they said it was always cold up in the hills. Not sure as I’d agree with that.’

‘This summer’s hotter than most. Last Turn we had a lot more rain. And the winters can be brutal.’

‘Are we really going to get away before then?’

‘I hope so.’ Being stuck inside the Hold during bad weather was never much fun. This Turn, it would be so much worse. ‘There’s not much chance of snow until around the end of tenth month, although the mountains might get some earlier than that. We’d be safe travelling up until then.’

Kadin finished his bread. He ate much faster than Jevikel, who had learned to make food last as long as possible. He pointed to the larger mountains, blue-grey with distance. ‘So the Weyr’s over that way?’

Jevikel guided his arm slightly more to the left. ‘About there, I reckon.’

‘It’s a long way.’

‘Probably less distance than between Pinnacle and Bitra. Just there aren’t any roads.’

‘Wonder if anyone’s ever crossed those mountains before?’

Jevikel didn’t want to think of that. Kemi’s plan was crazy. Only someone desperate would try it. Which she was. ‘There’s always a first time for everything.’ And that brought more pleasant memories to mind. Their first kiss had been in these hills. All those nights. There’d be a lot more of them, before they had to return.

‘We should get on,’ he said. Sooner we reach a shelter, sooner we can unpack and get settled. Then, the time’s our own.’

Kadin smiled. ‘I’m feeling a bit out of practice, after so long.’

‘So’m I.’

Just as before, they fell into a routine. Unlike before, they didn’t need to waste time figuring if each other might be interested. Kadin made up the beds together from the start. Once the sun set the temperature dropped rapidly. They’d lie by the fire on a blanket, talking, kissing and touching. Jevikel had never been so aware of his own body and its needs. At the Hold, pleasure was something solitary and slightly furtive. Here, there was no one to condemn and all the time in the world to explore. If it hadn’t been for worrying about Kemi, he would have said it was the most perfect summer of his life.

They’d been in the hills for just over three sevendays, the weather remaining fine and warm. Jevikel woke in the early hours of the morning, hearing the beasts moving around outside in an agitated manner. It wasn’t usual for them, unless they felt threatened. He carefully untangled himself from Kadin, pulled on his trousers and grabbed a stout staff from beside the door. Wherries roosted at night, but there might be some other predator about. Although he’d never seen one himself, he’d heard rumours of wild creatures in the mountains. Cautiously, he stepped outside.

The fire had burned down to nothing but ashes. Timor’s pale light was sufficient to illuminate the hillside. None of the animals were sleeping, as would be normal. Groups of them paced this way and that, their bells tinkling, their calls those of alarm. Yet, nothing was amiss that he could see.

Feeling braver, he walked further from the shelter. Maybe his presence would calm them down, if attack was what they’d feared? A few huddled close to him, but the majority continued their pacing.

‘What’s wrong?’ Kadin had woken too and stood in the doorway.

‘I don’t know. Beasts are restless, but I can’t see a reason for it.’ He made his way back. ‘Something must have spooked one of them and that set off the others. Hopefully they’ll settle again soon.’ Indeed, as they watched, it seemed as if some of the beasts began to slow their pacing. A few began to graze, although they still had a certain wariness about them. ‘Let’s go back to sleep.’

Kadin dropped off quickly. Jevikel didn’t. He stared into the darkness, his senses alert. There were times out here in the hills when he’d had a feeling of being observed. No one had ever been attacked, but stories still went around about beasts going missing and nothing being found but a few gnawed bones. Maybe something did live out here? If that was the case, then wouldn’t it be even more dangerous for Kemi to venture up into the mountains; into places where people seldom went? That set him to wondering if she’d managed to get away yet and if she had, whether she’d be able to find them on her way to the Weyr. What if she’d tried and been caught? Eventually, he dropped off.

He woke again near dawn, grey light filtering around the curtain. Just as before, the beasts were restless. Even though it was probably nothing again, he had to be certain.

This time, Kadin woke, too. ‘Is it morning?’

‘Almost. We need to check the animals.’

They both pulled on some clothes. It was always coldest at this time of the night. Outside, thick dew silvered the grass and the distant hills were shrouded in mist. Through it, the Red Star glowed like a baleful eye, low on the horizon and larger than ever.

‘Could that be what’s worrying them?’ Kadin stood at his side. ‘I mean, what if Thread’s about to start falling?’ He scanned the sky.

‘I thought you said the Weyr would warn us?’

‘Maybe they haven’t had time?’ He’d barely finished speaking when it happened. Jevikel felt suddenly off balance and grabbed Kadin to steady himself. Beneath his feet, the ground made a noise he’d never heard before; like the low rumble of thunder. They clung to each other as panicked beasts ran around in all directions. Small stones bounced down the hillside as the solid earth beneath his feet abruptly became as unstable as a damaged bridge, its deep growl punctuated by distressed bleats and the frantic tinkle of bells. Behind him, Jevikel heard a loud clattering and turned to see the roof and one wall of the shelter collapse in on itself as if punched by a massive, invisible hand.

Then, suddenly as it had begun, the noise ceased. Jevikel’s legs still trembled. He didn’t dare let go of Kadin. A few loose rocks tumbled down the hillside and the debris of the shelter settled further before finally, all was quiet. The animals clustered in nervous groups, although some nibbled at the grass almost right away.

‘What was that?’ Kadin asked, his eyes all black pupil.

‘I don’t know. Good job we were out here, though.’

‘Do you think it’ll happen again?’

Jevikel had no idea. He hoped not. ‘I reckon the beasts will warn us if it’s going to. That’s what must have made them restless.’ Although he’d never experienced anything like this before, he’d seen animals acting strangely before storms. He looked at the remains of their shelter. ‘We’d best start digging out our supplies. Think I could use some klah right now.’

The collapse had been on the side furthest from the hearth. Their bed was buried beneath the wall. Kadin shook his head at the sight. ‘We’d have been dead for sure.’

‘Or badly hurt.’ Jevikel threw a rock to one side to join the growing pile. It had been a lucky escape.

‘This reminds me of something.’ Kadin picked up another stone. ‘“Seas boil and mountains move.” It’s another one of the Teaching Ballads about the Red Star.’

‘This mountain certainly moved. You think it’s connected, then?’

‘Well, I’ve never felt anything like that before.’

‘Me neither. But how would that make the earth shake?’ He waved a hand in the direction of the Red Star, fading now as the sun rose.

‘The moons affect ocean tides. Who’s to say a star can’t affect other natural phenomena? I bet the dragonriders know a lot more about it than we do.’

Jevikel wondered how widespread the tremor had been. Would they have felt it as far away as Pinnacle Hold? Might it make his father more inclined to believe the ballads? If the solid earth could behave so strangely, why shouldn’t Thread also fall from the sky?

They worked throughout the morning, stopping for a break after digging out their food and klah bark. A couple of the pots had been crushed beyond repair, but others had survived with just a few dents.

Jevikel kept half an eye on the beasts, hoping they’d give warning again if there was to be a second shake, but they carried on grazing as if nothing had happened. It soon became obvious they weren’t going to be able to rebuild the shelter. He’d have to report the damage when they returned. Some of the men with experience at building would be sent to fix it. Or Vikkel might just decide to abandon it. There were a few shelters in similar derelict state dotted around the slopes. Jevikel had always assumed they’d fallen down through disuse, but maybe something like this had happened before. ‘We’ll have to move the beasts today. We can’t stay here.’

‘It’s not that cold at night,’ Kadin said. ‘We can keep the fire going. And there are a few other ways  we can stay warm, too.’

‘I know.’ Jevikel smiled at the thought. ‘I’ve stayed outside a few times on summer nights. But I’m not so sure I’d feel comfortable about it now.’ He was fairly certain there hadn’t been any predators around last night, but all this talk of the Red Star and Thread had made him reluctant to sleep in the open. ‘Do you think the beasts would sense if Thread was about to fall, as well?’

‘Possibly. I don’t know for certain, though.’

‘Then we should stay close to a shelter. And try to make sure there are caves or overhangs for the animals.’ Although how to make them remain under cover was another problem entirely. The little herdbeasts were far more intelligent than the large, lumbering ones in the valleys. Instinct would hopefully preserve them.

Kadin sipped his klah. ‘You’ve really taken all this to heart.’

‘Well, you’ve told me about it and I believe you. But it’s not just that. The first time I ever noticed that star it made me feel sort of… uneasy. And why would the Harpers teach those ballads if they weren’t true?’

‘It’s a pity everyone isn’t as sensible. There were folk in Bitra who thought the same way as your father; that because Thread hasn’t been seen for hundreds of Turns it’s never coming back.’

‘It’s what they’d like to believe. I mean, who wants to think about stuff falling from the sky that can eat you, your family and your animals.’

Kadin nodded. ‘It’s a scary thought.’

After the break, they packed everything that wasn’t too badly damaged and started to drive the animals towards the east. Jevikel hoped the shelter out that way hadn’t suffered the same fate, although he knew there were caves in the area. They could always camp down in those, if needs be. It also took them closer to Benden Weyr, making it more likely Kemi would find her way to them, if she managed to escape from Pinnacle Hold.

The sun beat down. Jevikel was tired, not just from carrying so much of their gear and supplies, but because of his disturbed sleep the previous night. Kadin must feel much the same. They didn’t talk much on the journey, saving their strength. At last, they were close enough to see that the shelter was slightly damaged, but nowhere near as badly as the one they’d left.

‘Think this will be all right?’ Kadin asked, sounding slightly out of breath.

‘It’ll have to be.’ They were close to the dark, forbidding peaks of the Benden range, near the height at which grass gave way to scree and rock, with just a few hardy plants dotted around.

While they unpacked, the herdbeasts explored their new environment. Some scaled the nearest rocks, so they could look down on the others, while most settled down and began feeding.

Kadin cleaned out the shelter and hung the curtain, while Jevikel concentrated on getting a fire burning outside and putting some tubers and roots in a pot to cook. On their way he’d picked a few of the tastier herbs and added these to the pot, together with a small amount of the salt he’d brought with them from the Hold. They ate sitting on one of the folded blankets, then Kadin brought out his pipes, examining them carefully. ‘Hardly a scratch,’ he pronounced, before settling against Jevikel and starting to play.

For the first time that day, Jevikel began to relax properly. They’d both survived unhurt. None of the beasts were injured either. Maybe the grazing here wasn’t quite so good, but they had a roof over their heads - well, mostly - and they’d be able to repair the few gaps in the shelter over the next couple of days. He let his mind drift with the music, while resting an arm loosely around Kadin.

‘Hello, you two.’

He jumped at the same time as Kadin did. Almost instinctively, they pulled apart. Kadin stopped playing in mid-verse.

Jevikel recognised the voice before he saw her. ‘Kemi!’ He scrambled to his feet, the nearer animals shying away.

She hugged him. ‘I didn’t think it would be easy to find you, but the music guided me.’ She turned to Kadin. ‘I didn’t even know you played.’

‘I don’t, at the Hold.’

Now the initial shock was over, Jevikel took in her appearance. She wore his old boots, the breeches she’d stolen from the laundry and a very worn shirt. Her face was grubby and she looked as tired as he felt. ’Sit down by the fire. I’ll get you some klah.’

Kadin still stood awkwardly. Like Jevikel, he must be wondering how much she’d seen and whether she’d put two and two together. The way they’d been sitting so close wasn’t something they’d have dared do back at the Hold. Mind you, Kadin wouldn’t have been playing, either.

Kemi set down her pack and sat, staring into the flames. ‘I didn’t think I was going to get away,’ she said, very quietly. ‘Each evening, I thought about trying, but it was impossible. The weather’s been so warm, everyone wanted to stay outside. If I’d even tried to walk any further than the first field, someone would have noticed. Then, this morning, I woke up just before dawn. I was on my way back from the necessary when something really odd happened…’

‘The earth began shaking?’ Kadin asked.

‘Yes. Did you feel it too?’

‘Our last shelter fell down. That’s why we’re so far up the slopes. The beasts were restless, so we’d gone to check them, else we’d have been under it.’

Kemi continued, as if she’d not heard what he’d said. ‘I didn’t know what was happening. Rocks were falling and people screaming. I should have helped, but all I could think was that it was the perfect opportunity, while everyone was distracted.  So I ran.’

Jevikel handed her a mug of klah. ‘You did the right thing.’

She cupped her hands around it. ‘I don’t even know if anyone was hurt. All I cared about was that I was free. I found the pack you’d hidden in the cave, put these clothes on and headed for the hills.’

‘And here you are,’ Jevikel said. ‘You made good time.’ She was probably in shock. It had been bad enough out here in the open. Inside the Hold, the noise must have been so much louder and more frightening.

Kadin looked worried. ‘I hope my mother and sisters are all right.’

‘I wish I could reassure you there,’ Kemi sipped the klah. ‘Still, the Hold’s solidly built. I should imagine the worst injuries are bumps and bruises.’

‘You said rocks fell.’

‘There’d bound to be a few bits and pieces dislodged if it was as fierce as we had up here,’ Jevikel pointed out. ‘And if people woke up in the middle of that, no wonder they screamed.’ He couldn’t be certain, of course.

Kadin must have realised, too. ‘We should go back.’

‘We can’t. As far as we’re concerned, that shake was purely local. The only way we’d know anything was amiss was if someone had told us.’ He wanted to hug Kadin; to reassure him, but daren’t. Not with Kemi sitting there.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I didn’t think.’

‘I’m glad you told us.’ Kadin sighed. ‘I’m glad you got away, as well.’ He glanced at Jevikel. ‘You’re right. We can’t go back until we’re expected. There’s nothing we could do anyway.’

Copyright © 2022 Mawgrim; All Rights Reserved.
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New chapters will be posted each Thursday.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction that combine worlds created by the original content owner with names, places, characters, events, and incidents that are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, organizations, companies, events or locales are entirely coincidental. Authors are responsible for properly crediting Original Content creator for their creative works.
Recognized characters/events/plots from Dragonriders of Pern belong to Ann McCaffrey
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