Flashes of his past went through T’ril’s mind. Bathing in his weyr at Fort. A dark shadow. Pain, unending pain. Garanth almost going between. And he’d been alone. So, so alone.
No one should live or die alone.
But the Weyrwoman--there was a reason Garanth hadn’t won any of Foreth’s flights. T’ril didn’t want him to, though Garanth was totally willing to fly the Sun, even if it would burn him.
Garanth had promised Ardeth that he would talk to the Weyrwoman. Oh, he could talk to one of the Weyrleaders--preferably N’shen. After all, N’shen was younger, and possibly more swayable. But he’d go to R’tal and Kassia anyway, so he, T’ril, may as well get the worst over with first.
Swallowing convulsively he made his way to Kassia’s location. Of course guards stopped him. Of course he had to be searched, and vetted.
“I’d like to speak with the Weyrwoman, please,” he said, more submissive than a bronzerider should be. “It’s a matter of...dragon health.”
One of the guards looked at him a moment and then disappeared into the office. After a moment he came out and left the door open.
“You may go in,” he said, though he didn’t sound happy about it.
Inside, Kassia sat behind her desk. The top was less overfull than usual with her reluctantly passing on some of her work. Next to her desk was Brogan, laying, but on watch. There was no doubt he’d be on T’ril in a breath if need be.
“Have a seat,” Kassia said, already guessing what the topic was going to be and not thrilled.
Tentatively, T’ril sat. He had a hard time meeting her eyes, but eventually he did. His hesitance probably wasn’t helping his case any, but he couldn’t help it.
“Ardeth’s hurting,” he finally blurted. “He’s afraid that M’ayen’s going to get sick, because he’s old. I know he’s healthy enough, but you can’t stick him in a dank cell somewhere and let him fade away.” No matter how much they wanted to.
“I just...yes, we were wrong. But can’t you have some compassion for his dragon?”
Kassia raised an eyebrow. “We?” she asked simply.
Oh, feck. Yet he’d be a fool to think no one knew that he had been one of M’ayen’s lackeys. So, may as well own it. “Yes, we. M’ayen and I talked. And, well, he and I go way back--Fort, you know.” He vaguely remembered Kassia being there too. “And, well, I’ve always looked up to him. And when those Candidates tried to touch Foreth’s eggs, and he came back on board as a Candidate Master, he...he’s very persuasive. He makes good points. So it didn’t seem to be so bad to bring some of Fort’s methods into Arolos. It worked there--tear a person down, and then build them up in the image you want.” He looked down at his feet. “It worked for me. Until it didn’t.”
Kassia’s mouth tightened. She didn’t remember T’ril specifically, but she’d known M’ayen and had been a fool to think he’d changed.
“You never thought what the results were at Fort? Not even knowing what happened to Fort? How people were hurt to “build them up”? That only bronze riders were built up and the rest were walked on at best?”
He was ashamed of the man he’d been. He was also ashamed of the man he’d become. He was ashamed.
“I...never thought about it when I was there. Then I almost died, because of the unrest at Fort.” He shivered, images of his experience flowing through him again. His back hurt, where the knife had gone through him--sometimes it felt like the once it had been, sometimes it felt like several times.
“Then I came here. I...changed. I understood that Fort was--diseased. I was happy here.
“But M’ayen is persuasive. And no matter how wrong or right I felt, the compulsion to agree with him is always there. And he got into my head. But,” He held up a finger. “He is a product of his training. He’s got thirty years on me. Thirty more years of Fortian conditioning. Thirty more years of becoming the man that he is. It’s a whole ‘nother person of life experience.”
T’ril bit his lip. “I may have been stabbed right at the turning point of whether I could be redeemed or not. I’m not sure that he has that same ability. And...Ardeth. A dragon is the product of his Weyr and his Rider. You may think that he could have made a better choice, but he had no choice in where he was born. M’ayen was the best choice for him, in this lifetime.”
He fell silent, afraid that he might actually--cry. Which was unheard of.
“A man can be a product of where they spent their time,” Kassia said, “but he can also learn. He’s not fresh from Fort. Does a person ever entirely leave behind what shaped them? Perhaps not. But that doesn’t mean they can’t grow and learn from what they went through. Maybe even use it to become a better person. I didn’t spend as much time at Fort, but I spent enough. And the personal target of Masena. Will I always carry a part of that with me? Yes. But am I a better person for coming to Arolos and learning there is another way? Yes. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible.”
Change had happened overnight with him. But not everyone got a wake-up call with a knife in their back.
“Yes, it is possible,” he agreed. “But there are other circumstances that bring it about. For instance, my attitude had changed because I almost died. That’s a huge wake-up call. You, you were young, and, well, still malleable. Unless you had fought very hard against it, you were bound to change.
“M’ayen is struggling with, well, advanced age. His eyesight is failing. I didn’t want to notice, but I did--when I went to talk to him about--the boy,” he couldn’t bring himself to say the poor lad’s name, “he snapped at me, and took a few moments to recognize who I was.” He thought back. “I think I surprised him--he may not have realized I was in his office. Maybe his hearing is going, too. I don’t know. But that has an effect on a person.” He gestured at her arm. “How helpless do you feel with a broken arm? And you know that will heal.”
His stomach gurgled, he felt sick. He was defending the man--a man who had picked out a boy who came from a better background than he did. Could that have been a part of it? Was he regressing back to the drudge he used to be? No. He wouldn’t say that.
“Maybe...would you allow me to visit him? So he had someone to talk to?”
Kassia’s eye narrowed further. “There. Is. No. Excuse. For. Abuse. That is the poison that brought down Fort and I won’t have it here. I won’t have my people suffer that here. My Candidates suffer that. Those that I’m meant to be protecting. He knew what he was doing was wrong. I’m sorry that his dragon has been indoctrinated enough that he thinks that what Ma’yen was doing was appropriate. M’ayen earned every bit of his punishment and he will have to endure it. That means for the time being no visitors.”
She shifted to tap her fingers on her good arm on her desk. “As for you. I’m interested in exactly how you’re involved in this whole disgusting endeavor.”
He wasn’t stupid enough to think he could get away with telling her it was a misunderstanding. She didn’t get to be where she was by being stupid.
“Like I said before, M’ayen’s persuasive. And,” he closed his eyes and sighed, “I’m easily persuadable these days. He made good--well, they sounded good at the time--arguments that,” he swallowed and choked out the name, “Garatt was a troublemaker. Let me start at the beginning.
“In class one day, I caught Garatt doing homework from another class. I couldn’t find...didn’t look for Nayari, instead going to M’ayen about it to find out if he’d noticed anything about the boy.” He remembered how it seemed that M’ayen had jumped on that bit of information. In retrospect, he should have known better. But M’ayen was...M’ayen.
“He said Garatt was a rich Holder’s son, and had everything handed to him. He said that the boy thought he could coast through Candidacy. He said--a lot. Then, he urged me to be harder on everyone; that because of the egg fiasco the Candidates thought they could get away with anything. He made a good argument. So, I became harder on the Candidates. I--reverted to Fort ways. I gave out detention for tiny transgressions and increased the homework. I was never physically abusive, but verbally--” He cringed at what he’d been turning into. Some of the things he’d called the students were shameful.
“I know you won’t let me near the Candidates again, and am ready to accept whatever punishment I deserve.”
“Unfortunately I’ve learned my lesson well on letting Forters who are willing to fall back on their past,” she said. “You are correct that you are no longer to be an ACM. I won’t make that mistake again. Nor can I let you off entirely for what you’ve done, though I do appreciate your honesty. I need to know if you’ve done anything more. I know that excessive detentions and extra exercise were also an issue.”
“I can honestly say that extra exercise was not one of my punishments. I did the verbal abuse and extra detention. And, extra essays.” He liked reading essays. He liked being able to mark them up and show--no, no longer. That was no longer something he’d be able to do.
Kassia watched him closely for a moment. “I believe you are telling me the truth and will spare your dragon and interrogation. For your transgressions I believe a week in confinement on bread and water can give you more time to think about what you’ve done. And a formal apology.”
That was all? T’ril felt even more ashamed now than he did before. He didn’t deserve this treatment.
“Thank you, Weyrwoman. Do you want the formal apology written, or spoken? And, should I write one to every student and former student, or just one apology?”
“Both,” she said. “To me, Nayari, and every student you injured. If they Impressed, you’ll do it after their dragon is old enough to be okay with it.”
Fair enough. He nodded. It would give him something to do during his confinement. He stood. “I’ll go begin my confinement now then, by your leave.”
“Present yourself to the guards,” Kassia said writing a quick order and handing it to him. “I’ll be checking later, so don’t try to duck out.”
T’ril nodded and left, stopping to give the guards his order. One of the guards immediately took him to the cells, which he obediently entered. He did request paper and stylus; only time would tell if the Weyrleadership would allow him that minor distraction.
All in all, he felt that he got off easy. And he knew he’d done wrong. But M’ayen still had no idea. And, knowing the former Fortian, he probably never would.
T’ril sighed and leaned against the cell wall. And waited.