Playing the Devil's Advocate (JP Nayari/M'ayen)


IC Date Reference: Set a couple of days after M’ayen was arrested.

She had been told that there was no way she was going in without a Guard. So with a Guard she went. Albeit stopping the man outside the door and advising him that on no account was the Weyrwoman to be advised of the content of the discussion until after it was all said and done. Because, as she advised him, Nayari was going to try a different tact. One that was designed to get into someone’s head. And she wasn’t going to go barging into the room clearly antagonistic. No, no. She had already heard how unsuccessful the previous encounters had been with the man. And he was Fortian. You had to play a different game.

Which was why, as the door was opened to the small cell, the small table and chairs she had requested were already in place. And as the Guard in front of her stepped out of the way, it was apparent that Nayari didn’t come empty handed. The scent of fresh klah permeated the room as did the scent of the new baked bread and hot sausages sitting on plates beside the steaming jug.

“Help him up off the floor, Ramnor. And get those shackles off him. He’s not an animal. He’s still a Bronzerider and shall be accorded the appropriate dignities.”

With anyone else, being locked up overnight might have at least subdued them a bit. There was something in M’ayen’s head though, a deep and utter certainty that actually the problem here was not (never had been) that he was wrong, but that the Arolosians repeatedly failed at understanding why he was right. So, he accepted the hand off the floor calmly, and with his head still held high rather than dipped in shame.

“CandidateMaster.” And it was like a Forter too to greet her by title. “Is the Weyrwoman too embarrassed to admit her error herself then?” Because clearly Nayari was here to admit the mistake and release him.

“No M’ayen, I’m not here on any errand of the Weyrwoman. Her enquiries are entirely her own. As are mine. And rather than point fingers and throw around accusations, I’d like to actually talk to you.” It was a gamble, she wasn’t really sure what had happened in the discussions with the Weyrwoman. But if the Weyrwoman was still acting anywhere near as erratic as she had been… Well then, it was a card to use.

“Please, take a seat.” Setting the tray down and demurely taking a seat herself, Nayari poured two mugs of klah, not really looking at the man as she stirred in the sweetener in her own. “I also presume you’ve not had a decent meal the past few days. I imagine the Weyrwoman has had you on bread and water. If that.” She tsked to herself. “The last I heard, one was innocent until proven guilty.”

“The Weyrwoman can’t take responsibility for her own sharding whims.” And usually M’ayen was more careful to watch his tongue but it had been an uncomfortable few days and perhaps he wasn’t as guarded as he usually might be as he sat down and reached for the bread. Someone sensible had already cut it; M’ayen might be a civilised behaving prisoner right now but they still weren’t giving him a knife.

“I definitely hear what you’re saying. In and out of my office like a tropical hurricane before the Hatching,” Nayari sighed as though somewhat exasperated by the memory. “Tells me the Candidates need to learn their place in one breath and then claims accusations of abuse the next. How on Pern are you supposed to keep up, let alone set an example - especially to some of the more wet behind the ears Assistants.”

She paused, nodding politely to Ramnor who was following his instructions and moving to a location that was less obvious, assuming a post near the door. “I’ve asked Marith to keep an eye on Ardeth, I know she’s just a green but she will try to be helpful to him if he needs anything of her.” It was a careful downplay, a subtle put-down of her own rank. A mere Greenrider compared to a Bronzerider. Because that was how it should be. Well, in Fort.

She tried to get Foreth to bully him.” M’ayen was fuming at that still as he poured the klah. “Threatened to have her rip memories out of him, if you please, because apparently my word wasn’t good enough.” He had been dwelling on that the last day or two, particularly as Ardeth was uncharacteristically subdued. “It wasn’t even as though he were being unhelpful.”

“You can’t rip what isn’t there.” Nayari said sagely. “Although I’m hardly surprised that a heavy handed approach was used. Tact doesn’t appear to be a well-versed word in her vocabulary. And allegations aside, you are still a Ranker. Not some lowly drudge caught pocketing a Rider’s mark pouch in the Rider’s Hall.” Nayari sipped at her klah, inspecting it as though somewhat disappointed by the blend before sighing. “It’s just not like what they make at home. No matter how much I try to steep it.”

“And doing as she asked,” M’ayen said indignantly, scowling as he wrapped his hands around the warm mug, holding it close to enjoy the scent. “She wanted to know who helped the stupid boy Impress!”

“I don’t know if it was just me… but she has just been so… unpredictable. Wants something one day and then completely the opposite the next. Her erratic behaviour was clearly having a negative impact on some of my most sensible Candidates, ones I’d have happily seen Standing in High Reaches.” Nayari added a little more sweetener to her klah. “I can’t imagine what effect it was having on some of the other Assistants. Probably didn’t know which way was up without having an irate Weyrwoman landing on their office doorstep.”

“She’s ashamed,” M’ayen opined firmly. “She knows what she wanted all right, and if I’d found out there would have been no problem then. But she’s ashamed she wanted it so clearly it has to be someone else to blame.” He snorted to himself. “And maybe I’ll transfer to High Reaches when she’s got over herself and passed down the order to let me out. I don’t see any value in staying around here.” 

Nayari was under no illusion that M’ayen would be going anywhere. But her tactic seemed to potentially be headed in the right direction. “If it were me, I’d be eyeing Benden. High Reaches has Wygelle now. Not that she doesn’t try. But she’s Southern too. And I’d bet my last mark that Benden is one of the last places where you’d find respect for proper, traditional values. I’ve come to see just how Arolos got its reputation as “liberal”. Just look at what turns up as Candidates. Females flaunting their flesh like Pillowcrafters, boys proud of Impressing a green because it “lets them be who they are” - flaunting it as bold as you like.”

“And they don’t have any respect!” Given an opening, M’ayen allowed himself to be led. “If we were at home you’d expect a room full of Candidates to be as silent as the dead, but here? They fidget. They talk back. They sneak on to the Sands and then we’re at fault for not stopping it when we’re not given any weapon to stop it with!”

“I couldn’t believe the gall.” And as much as she hated to admit it, there was an element of truth to Nayari’s words as well. She had been stunned and deeply disappointed at Asheran’s antics. Yes, he had gone off to Impress a bronze of all things, but even so. It had come at a cost. And ironically, it was Garratt who had been caught in the fallout. “Yes, be committed. Be determined. But explicit disobedience does not come under that criteria.” She sighed and shook her head. “I know that I’m sure the other Assistants saw me as a peon under the Weyrwoman’s boot. But you’ve got a lot of experience under your boot. And I intend to continue as I started and turn the Candidacy into a disciplined program that inspires respect, not an outlet for debauchery and disobedience. I need to know who has the potential to be shaped into that. Someone not afraid to put their foot down and take no wherry-shite from a smart mouthed youngling with barely a whisker on their chin.”

“Well, I hope you don’t expect to get any thanks for it from her,” M’ayen said, still bitter. “If I were you, I’d get out while the going’s good. She’ll only blame you for it. Whether or not it works, you’ll be blamed.”

Nayari smiled and there was a wolfish quality to it. “Oh, I fully intend to see precisely what the rabble is made of. And expect most of them to go home in tears because they don’t have the mettle. Half of them treat the entire thing as though they’ve been given ten marks to spend at the Gather. I think it’s about time they woke up to the realities of the future they dream so desperately about. But to do that, I need a good, stable and most importantly, loyal team behind me. Some of them are much too soft. Or in the Weyrwoman’s pocket. One of her mates and her uncle? Well, we know who whispers in the ear, don’t we?”

“And if they haven’t sired the Weyrborn Candidates they’re still related to them in some way.” M’ayen made a disgusted face at that. “You can’t keep order in a class like that. It’s impossible. They know too sharding well that if they go complain to Daddy he’s going to take their side.” He set his klah mug back onto the table with an angry thud. “And that T’rifoshe never keeps his sharding nose out!”

“No formal Mindhealer training… and yet somehow the “Candidate Counsellor” - whatever in the world that is. If Candidates need regular “counselling” without referral to Healers, then they’re clearly in the wrong place to begin with.” Nayari glanced up at M’ayen for perhaps the first time. “You know she tried to interrogate one of my Candidates? She was ready to spit blood when she realised I wasn’t going to let her play that game. The girl had foolishly decided she wasn’t going to put up with the nonsense of jumping hoops over who the Weyrwoman thought was acceptable to see the gold eggs - as though she has a say in how they decide and had her hoisted off to an office. With only T’rifoshe as witness if I hadn’t come around the corner when I did.”

“And yet if someone else interrogates them..” M’ayen waved a hand as though to indicate where they were. Apparently any shyness about the fact he had been doing just that was forgotten.

Nayari sensed an opening and slid a hand behind her back. Of course the Guard knew the notebooks were “discreetly” tucked down her waistband. She had shown them to him. And told the man he was to look incredibly surprised. And surprised he did look. It wasn’t hard to fake it when it was tinged with the genuine surprise at seeing the normally prim Candidatemaster effectively commit treason to obtain information. And that it seemed to be working.

“I found these.” And now her voice was low, almost conspiratorial as she pushed the books forward. “I got into your office before they did. I understand some of it. Not all. But I think you were right in keeping the documentation separate. And that you may have been onto a strategy.” It was a bold play. Incredibly so. But hopefully the careful use of distancing language, “they” not “the Weyrwoman” or “the Weyrleaders” might have begun to have an impact too.

M’ayen too looked surprised for a minute, flustered, reaching very hastily to grab the notebooks in the hope of-- what? Hiding them? In here? In front of a guard?

Better just to hang onto them.

“They don’t know what they want, you understand?” he excused himself hastily. “They want well-disciplined Candidates, but--”

“But what?” she urged gently, her voice still that same low, almost secretive tone. “Tell me what they mean. If we do it right…” Nayari let her voice trail away, nodding in what she hoped came across as quietly eager encouragement. That she wanted to know his “secrets” and not to tell on him, not to paint him the villain. But to carry on his great work that was so rudely interrupted. 

“They’re just.. Notes.” M’ayen still held them tightly, still unsure what to actually do with them. “On punishments. Nothing exciting.” Just.. the ones he’d failed to log as he was meant to. The extra ones. Because the Candidates, even Garatt, knew they should be logged now. Write them in a separate book and it looked official and they never knew what went forward for official logging.

“I wish you’d told me he was causing so many problems. I had no idea that we had Candidates who were so clearly unfit for the Program.” She reached for the pot, topping up the klah in both mugs. “Not that they’ll understand the need for secrecy, no doubt they’ll try and tell you it’s some perverse monologue for sick pleasure.” She paused, frowning as if she was trying to recall something. “I… think I vaguely recall someone coming to me about additional physical training. That a concerning pattern of… well, softness for lack of better wording, was observed in Candidates that had a background in particular Crafts. Talena, I think?” Nayari sighed, shaking her head as though thoroughly disappointed at her own inability to have seen something so terribly obvious. “She’s very new, I just assumed she had made some green assumption… so I sent her away telling her we already had fitness training in place...”

“Talena’s a sensible woman,” M’ayen allowed. He wouldn’t be sleeping with her again, certainly, but he’d allow that. “The boy -- pcha--” He made a disgusted noise. “Coddled by his father until he was no good for anything and then tossed into Candidacy to get rid of him. When else are you going to see an heir Standing to Impress?”

That was interesting praise. And gave rise to the suspicion that Talena had been an ear listening to M’ayen’s point of view. “She seems forthright and to the point. And no-nonsense.” Nayari nodded as though approvingly. “If I could get away with it. I’d probably clean ranks and leave none but more like her. We’re not here to handhold and mollycoddle. Although with all this to-do about “Impression Anxiety” - something that seems to run rife in Arolos.” Nayari’s tone had turned sardonic, complete with sarcastic use of her fingers. “What do you expect when we’re allowing all and any to grace our doors.”

“Is the boy being sent home?” That was an abrupt change of subject, as M’ayen’s thoughts strayed for a moment away from the conversation. “I presume they found wherever he’d run to.”

“Honestly, I’ve hardly paid attention.” There was an idle wave of her hand in accompaniment to her comment. “They located him and the last I heard his father had been instructed to come here, presumably to remove him back to his Hold. It’s quite clear that he should never have been here in the first place. Between you and me, I suspect a bribed Searchrider received a handsome tip for taking the boy off his father’s hands.” She felt her gut coil at just saying the vile things. But he had to believe her. Had to believe she was there for his side of things. Because he was never going to talk to someone who was openly an enemy. They just wouldn’t understand.

“No character to the boy at all. Cried like a girl.” But M’ayen fidgeted with his mug when the subject turned to him, tongue running almost nervously over his lips for a minute. “Might have made a half-decent greenrider with a bit more conditioning. Maybe.”

Nayari snorted, “Only if Arolos suddenly started teaching about how ranks fit in the world. They have a green Wingleader. I might be a Candidatemaster but even I still know how the world is meant to work. Unfortunately they’d never see it here. It’s too closed minded for them who apparently don’t see the need for structure.”

“Ach. Get it into them early and it doesn’t matter what the Weyr is. He’d have settled down nicely and never questioned.” Teach them to obey unquestioningly and they’d never want that Wingleadership, even if it was offered. M’ayen had an image suddenly of Garatt, the boy’s face screwed up and earnest, offering his hand for punishment without being asked. 

The room was suddenly very warm, and he shifted a little in his seat as though uncomfortable behind the small table. “But.. he’s gone home now, you say?”

Where had his mind gone? Clearly somewhere and the way he fidgeted… It gave rise to more questions, but not ones to be asked in front of the man. No, they were for someone else. “Oh, I believe so. And if not yet, I’m sure soon. Can’t imagine they’ll want to keep him, even she will have to admit that he’s clearly not suited to end up on a dragon some day and we’ve all seen how precious she is about who Impresses her eggs.” It was still in a nonchalant, almost indifferent tone. “Why do you ask?” Nothing accusatory, just mild curiosity.

“Oh, just.. wondered.” If he were outside and free he could have done something with that sudden prickle of arousal, told Ardeth to find a green chase again, worked it off. There were all kinds of disadvantages to being stuck in a cell, and one of them was having no way to distract from the images, from the memory of Garatt’s hands on his trousers, terrified but fumbling with the ties because he had been told to.

Faranth, what that boy would have done if he had been told, if M’ayen had kept him just a little longer..

Again, that fidget, reaching to refill his mug as though to mask the way he was moving in his seat. M’ayen’s eyes flickered over Nayari, a quick up and down assessment lingering for a moment on her breasts. She was a greenrider, after all. Of course it would be too convenient if her green just happened to rise right now, but it was still safer to think of that, indulge in that fantasy than.. anything else. 

The sensation of eyes on you was one so unique that it was impossible to confuse it with anything else. But for a second and only a second before, Nayari had been all but convinced she had seen something else in the man’s eyes. A flicker of darkening, a slight dilation of the pupils. Was he getting turned on by some memory of what he had done? The bilious sensation of disgust tried to claw its way up her throat and it was sheer force of will that she swallowed it back down with a mouthful of klah. 

She pretended she hadn’t noticed, but it had the potential to be a tool. “It’s so hard to find the ones with the right potential,” she sighed, leaning back in her chair and folding her legs one over the other. “The ones that are just the right sort of clay to mold into shape. Those ones just pliable enough that you know that if you get it right…” She made a small, satisfied noise, “Well, they’ll do just about anything.”

Focus on the woman in front of you. The long legs, nicely displayed as she leaned back like that, the swell of breasts -- not large ones perhaps, but the woman knew how to dress herself to display them properly. Focus on that, try to feed the feeling of arousal into that and not, absolutely not, the memory of his hands on the boy’s hips, pushing his hands to his ankles.

Difficult when Nayari was feeding that memory. M’ayen shifted again and was grateful for the table, conveniently covering anything that might be happening in his lap. “He could have made a decent greenrider,” he granted, and if he sounded gruff and guarded it was more because he was doing his best to steer his mind away from what Garatt might have done given the right orders than attempting to hide anything from the CandidateMaster.

“Mmm, well yes… he did have that… subservient potential, didn’t he?” Nayari felt sure she had found a needle and she wanted to stick M’ayen with it. Because something was niggling in the back of her brain, something that was jumping around with a great big red flag of “something is going on here”. The change in his tone, a tone that suggested an attempt to what? Keep something in check? It was entirely speculation on her part. But something was niggling. And niggling.

((Ardeth, is anyone rising?))

The bronze stirred, roused from his afternoon doze, bewildered by the request. Someone would be rising no doubt, with so many greens in the Weyr there almost always was. ((But you can’t get to a flight room.)) Not that he objected to chasing - if prodded into it he would happily comply - but at his age he was just as happy to keep dozing in the sun.

((It doesn’t matter.)) M’ayen wriggled his toes, rubbed them together inside his boots, any kind of physical sensation to keep his mind on the here and now and fight the urge to drop a hand into his lap and deal with the..issue that was occurring there. ((Find out if anyone is rising.)) Find me an excuse, a reason to need to work this off, even if it’s with my hand. He swallowed, hand gripping his mug tightly, thumb rubbing slightly at the rim, again hunting for something physical to distract.

“I’m sorry,” he apologised, aware Nayari would have seen the unfocused look in his eyes. “Ardeth just needed me a moment.”

“I suspect he would have been broken the way he should had this been Fort. Broken, subservient, willing. None of this fire and determination in greenriders that you see here. No. A place for everyone. And everyone in their place.” Yes, she had seen that lack of focus and she didn’t believe him for a minute. A carefully constructed look of concern crossed her face. “Is there anything Marith can do for him? I appreciate he must be quite worried for you, is he being looked after?”

“He’s ah--” M’ayen didn’t quite hide the brief look of relief as somewhere near the Lake Ardeth got up, shook himself off, and went to find which green the males were clustering around that day. “--Wanting to chase. Someone’s about to go up apparently. Bad timing but--” He shrugged as though to say what can you do, when it’s your dragon?

And she was a gold dusted wherry. “Oh goodness no, I completely understand. Would it help if I left and gave you a little privacy?” Wide eyed, innocent understanding, even as she fanned herself with a hand as though a little flustered. “Faranth, it can’t help that it’s so hot in here.” Of course the gesture made her neatly button shirt shift and pull, of course it made her body jostle. That was entirely the plan. If she could get him flustered enough… he might let something slip.

Oh, he noticed. Noticed and swallowed again, his gaze drawn like a magnet to where the buttons pulled. “I’m afraid if you stay, this might end up a mothing situation.” Afraid was the wrong word, his mind was already providing him with suggestions of Nayari over the table, or legs wrapped around his waist, or up against the wall. His hand twitched for a moment towards his lap and then was sternly placed with its partner around the mug where it could do no harm.

“Perhaps not for the best. It would be hard for me to argue impartiality should that occur.” That and she would need to scrub herself for a sevenday. But there was still something she could do to her advantage. Well, hopefully. Leaning across the table, Nayari placed a hand on one of the hands wrapped about the mug. “I want to help M’ayen. There’s going to be more people who understand. Tell me who to talk to. Who else in the Candidatemaster staff would be willing to vouch for you? To prove this is all just some horrible misunderstanding of old school discipline being misunderstood and poorly reacted to?” Nayari fought to ignore the crawling sensation that ran up her arm as her skin touched his own. Fought to ignore the stomach churning nausea. In its place, was a face full of optimistic concern.

His hand was warm under her touch, his skin flushed and Faranth, she was close, wasn’t she? Easy to shift a little, let his hand capture hers, resisting the urge to just pull her across the table. Fair skin, grey eyes, tall, but not heavily built -- she’s a greenrider, a small voice whispered, if she protests it’s only for reasons of proprietary, if you just told her.. His tongue ran over his lips again, wetting them.

She’d asked him a question. What was the question? “Talena,” he said distractedly. “T’ril would. D’xon.” A moment. His hand tightened around hers. “You could stay.”

The second hand had joined the first, squeezing his hand in what could be read as encouragement, maybe even gratitude. “I can’t…  not if I want what I end up saying to have any strength behind it. They could use it. She would. And she needs to hear the real story. Not the one she made up in her head.” Her eyes turned to the notebooks, apparently forgotten. “I’ll keep them safe. You have my word.” Of course she would, wouldn’t risk them being lost or worse, falling into the wrong hands. They would be under lock and key.

“She wouldn’t need to know.” M’ayen had forgotten by now about the guard stood behind him, his presence a distant memory as he leaned forward. Somewhere Ardeth was rising with a pack of males, though he remained near the back of the crowd, still confused as to why he was doing this. It didn’t matter. It was hardly as though he needed much of an injection of dragonlust to add to his own existing lust. He stood in one quick movement, leaning forward, reaching to take her by the shoulders.

Ramnor had been carefully side stepping the room the moment he felt the tension begin to notch up. Even as M’ayen lunged forward, the Guard clapped a heavy hand down on the man’s shoulder, yanking him back. “In your seat.” The man growled, deftly reaching for the manacles to slap them back over M’ayen’s wrists.

Nayari knew the infiltration of dragonlust, knew that the sands in the timer-glass were on their last grains. Even as M’ayen stood, her boot heels pushed the chair sharply back and she was on her feet. “No, M’ayen.” Was all she said, even as she stepped to the side, letting the Guard get the man back under control. The notebooks had been swooped into her hands as she went, held in a vice-like grip.

And M’ayen might successfully overpower a skinny fourteen turn old boy but he stood very little chance against a trained guard. Back down into the chair he went, though not quite quickly enough to hide the issue of trousers which were by now definitely feeling overly tight. Of course it could be a flight issue, it was frequently a flight issue, but that quickly?

And it was a problem which most definitely wasn’t going to be remedied by the addition of manacles. The likelihood was that it was going to be a long frustrating flight for M’ayen.

(Which really made it all the odder that he had basically volunteered for it.)

“To the door ma’am. Wait there.” As the Guard manhandled M’ayen into place, shackles secure, Nayari did as she was told. For a moment her back was turned as she moved but as she turned back again, the compassion was gone, the kind concern an illusion. In its place was something much colder. “I’m sorry M’ayen.” And the soft, kind tones were gone - now it was the voice of Nayari that was much more familiar. Clipped. Cool. “I’m sorry that I let the Candidates down by letting you anywhere near them. By not seeing exactly what kind of man you are.” She lifted the notebooks, reminding him that she had them. “But thank you. Thank you for giving me exactly what I couldn’t prove for all the sevendays I was looking into you. For all the information I need to make sure your influence is wiped out of my Barracks for good.”

= End =

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