If Garatt was being honest, it was maybe the best time he’d had in sevendays. The Barracks was quiet, everyone else had gone to the Hatching. There was only him -- oh, and Asheran’s firelizard which had come to join him at some point.
If he’d been feeling more alert he might have wondered at that, when Asheran wasn’t meant to be Standing. But it was the middle of the night, so instead he dug out a book and a bagful of cookies he’d sneaked out of the Dining Hall for the days when the ACMs between them left him too stressed to eat and curled up on his bed to share them with Felix.
In truth, M'ayen had only been looking for a target. It wasn't his Barracks any more, nor his responsibility, and still it rankled that Candidates had tried, Candidates had dared defy who was allowed on the Sands.
Sometimes you just wanted someone to take a bad mood out on, and there were always a few sad little mopers left alone in the Barracks after a Hatching. That today one of those who’d stayed behind was Garatt was M’ayen’s good luck. That he happened to be curled up with a good book and Asheran’s firelizard was Garatt’s very very bad luck.
The first the boy knew of it was the heavy hand on his shoulder, jerking him out of his book. Startled he looked up and blanched, seeing M’ayen. “Oh! Uh. I--”
“You should be--” M’ayen was about to search his mind for entirely imaginary crimes when his eyes focused finally on the green blob on the bed. It took a moment for it to swim into focus enough to be recognisable but when it did the ACM’s voice was almost a roar, “Is that that boy’s firelizard?”
“It… it’s Asheran’s?” Garatt’s voice was a squeak, even as he frantically gestured at the green to go away, get out of here, go. He wasn’t entirely sure why being curled up with Asheran’s firelizard would be bad but he could read enough tone to understand this was not good.
“I thought it was.” There was no-one else there. No-one to witness how painfully tight M’ayen gripped the boy’s shoulder as he pulled him to his feet. “You’re coming with me.”
He’d have been dragged if he’d tried to resist. He didn’t try to resist. Behind them, hopefully, Felix was doing nothing more harmful than devouring leftover cookies.
There was a time when M’ayen had been one of Fort Weyr’s chief interrogators, close enough to the Weyrwoman to be trusted to wring details out of the guilty. Boys who had been through Weyrlinghood or Candidacy with him were easy to intimidate into truth-telling, even when it incriminated those closest to them. But Arolos didn’t want those skills.
Except now, when surely it did. When there had been a disobedience, a breaking of the rules this big and it was important to find how and why.
He would have expected the boy to be one of those to break quickly, to spill out names and details after a little prompting and warning in exchange for being left alone. He was surprised. Garatt stammered. Garatt flinched when he raised his voice. Garatt sobbed when pushed and threatened and set his back against the wall as though he would back right through it if he could. But still, the boy stuck to the same plainly ridiculous story; that he was minding the firelizard because.. and there was some cock and bull tale about eggs from a green firelizard who had yet to fly, the type of story that even a weyrbrat would see through in a minute.
He was old and tired, and it had been a trying day. In the face of such blatant deceit from such a timid little whersport, M’ayen’s temper frayed almost to breaking point.
“If you’re not going to tell me the truth--” he said heavily, reaching meaningfully towards his drawer. “Hold out your hand.”
Garatt, eyes wide, face red and blotchy with tears, shook his head.
“Give me your hand!”
“..you’re not allowed..” Almost it was defiance, a terrified type of defiance that came of knowing that what happened next wasn’t pleasant in any world. Garatt hid his hands behind his back, as though that could provide any protection whatsoever.
“I’ll say what’s allowed!” It was the final straw, and M’ayen’s temper snapped entirely. “Give me your sharding hand!”
He was old, but he was still a dragonrider, still with the muscles that could heave bags of firestone around without a sweat. He’d have broken the boy’s arm if he had to in that moment. Garatt cried out as his left hand was prised out, wrist twisted painfully in his grip. For a moment M’ayen froze, still holding onto him tightly. No-one came.
It took a moment for that to register for both of them. The Barracks was empty. Everyone was at the Hatching Feast, what there was of it. No-one was coming.
M’ayen could see the moment when that hit Garatt, the barest moment after it hit him. He could do whatever he wanted right now. No-one was going to stop him, not today.
“Open your hand.” His voice was calm again, even if his grip around Garatt’s wrist was about steel. And, as Garatt started to shake his head, “You refuse me one more time boy, and it’ll be your right hand and you’ll write two hundred lines with it when I’m done.”
He wanted to do that. Shards, he wanted to. Hurt something and then hurt it again, until it was broken, until he’d worked out the rage of being old and helpless, of being unable to see well enough to keep discipline of a class of mere children beyond the front row, of being defied by a Candidate, of being unable to wring the truth out of a scared child.
But Garatt opened his hand, his palm still showing the faint red lines from last time. He’d been disciplined that time. Calm, counting the blows out slowly, keeping to a fixed amount. Work he could excuse -- barely, perhaps, but almost -- if he were asked.
He did not feel disciplined today.
When the boy sobbed, he ignored it. When the boy tried to withdraw his hand, shaking his hand desperately, pleading, M’ayen clamped his hand around the wrist again, threatening to bring the cane down on the clenched fingers, warning it might break them if he did.
Would it have? He wasn’t sure in the moment. But Garatt believed it.
He didn’t stop until Garatt was a mess, no longer even trying to pull his hand away, crying so hard he could barely stand. Some cool part of M’ayen, watching beyond that red line of fury, was surprised the boy hadn’t wet himself.
It was that cool collected part which finally set up a flare of warning, a belated ‘what are you doing?’. One thing to target the boy in class, even to physically punish him for minor crimes there. Losing your temper though in this way, it was too much, too.. Fort. The boy’s hand was red and painful. There would be bruises where M’ayen had gripped his wrist, maybe more where he had dragged him by the shoulder.
And Garatt had gone on the Candidate trip, a trip on which he’d been forbidden to go unless he had completed a frankly impossible amount of work. M’ayen had noted that it the time sourly and dismissed it, distracted by the strange itching that had inflicted him out of nowhere the day they left. Most likely, he’d thought, one of the ACMs had softened and relented -- perhaps Talena (an unfair charge prompted mostly by the fact that despite the Healer’s words he still wasn’t entirely convinced she wasn’t parasite-infested). Now though, suddenly, he wasn’t sure.
“You told someone, didn’t you?” he demanded. Tr’foshe perhaps, that sharding counsellor always took the Candidates’ side. The boy was crying too hard to answer; M’ayen shook him roughly by the shoulder again. “Who did you tell?”
Sniffs, gulps, and Garatt stammered the words out, grateful at least for one truth he could give, something that maybe meant he wouldn’t get hurt again. “Just--just a Healer. I-- my hand hurt.”
Feck. Well, that could be better, could be worse. Not as though Healers didn’t have enough to deal with right now.
He wasn’t the brightest boy in the world, but there wasn’t a Candidate in the South who would believe that this was mandated by the Weyrwoman. Fear it was then. It wouldn’t hold, not forever, but for long enough that M’ayen could think of some other way to cover his tracks.. It would do.
And perhaps a boy dim enough to believe a green could be due to clutch before she’d even flown could have other naivities. His hand tightened painfully on the boy’s shoulder again.
“You understand, don’t you, that dragons see into people’s minds?” he demanded. “If you tell anyone, anyone, what happens in this office, Ardeth knows that, do you understand?” Garatt stared at the ground, sniffling. M’ayen caught his chin, forcing it up. “Do you understand what I can do to you if I tell anyone?”
Oh, that part he believed. Right now he was scared silly and hurting more than he ever had in his life and too cowed to think rationally about things. M’ayen saw the terror and pressed the advantage.
“No-one can discipline a bronzerider below the Weyrleaders, and right now I think the Weyrleaders have enough to deal with without one Candidate, don’t you?” He shook the boy again, like a canine with a tunnelsnake in its mouth, wanting to shake him long past the point where it had become necessary. “No-one is going to disturb the Weyrwoman in the Infirmary, not for this. So they won’t know.” He dropped his voice, crouching a little to look the boy eye to eye, pinning him with his gaze. “But I will.”
Garatt was white. M’ayen made as though to grab at his wrist again, and the boy flinched away, back flat against the wall. He made a small quiet noise of distress and it was a moment before M’ayen’s nose caught the acrid smell of urine. He glanced down to see the wet patch on the front of the boy’s trousers, the puddle forming on the floor.
Well, that was probably only a matter of time. M’ayen made a disgusted noise, but was not entirely displeased by the result. A boy that wet himself out of pure fear was a boy who believed the threat truly enough that he wouldn’t be running off to shoot his mouth off.
“All of your friends Impressed,” he informed Garatt, his voice quiet now, poisonous. “Even the one who-- well, it was a sharding stupid idea to help him, wasn’t it? So you needn’t be expecting help from that quarter. The Barracks is going to be much emptier for a while now. And no-one hears anything in this office.” It didn’t mean the ACMs weren’t watching him, didn’t mean he wasn’t going to have to be much more careful but Garatt didn’t need to know that.
He let the boy shiver in his damp trousers a moment longer before he released him, shoving a cloth at him. “Clean up your mess,” he told him coldly. “Then get out.” A pause. “And I expect to see you in here after dinner tomorrow.” Not even a pretence it was a fair detention any more. That point was long past.
The Barracks was half-empty, and Garatt’s part in particular had been cleared out. And today perhaps everyone would assume that a distressed Candidate was due either to not Impressing or what had happened on the Sands. But that wasn’t going to hold.
M’ayen was going to have to come up with a better plan.
Blackadder: I mean, what about the people that do all the work?
Baldrick: The servants.
Blackadder: No, me; *I'm* the people who do all the work.