It was difficult to fight the feeling that he shouldn’t have come.
Attlin was used to being in charge of his own little world. It was a quiet lonely little world but it was his and he kept it orderly. In comparison the Weyr felt like a chaotic nightmare. The Dining Hall held more people than he’d seen except at a Gather, or at the one Hatching he’d attended and it wasn’t an occasion it was just how many people there were
Everywhere he looked there were people. Even a little guard tailing him (Although what use she was meant to be should he actually get attacked he wasn’t sure. And did people often get attacked in the Weyr? Not that it didn’t feel big enough to be believable, and clearly Garatt had been but.. Faranth, what kind of place had he sent his son to?)
It wasn’t as though Garatt had wanted to see him. Or he’d actually managed to see the Weyrleaders. In fact, by the time he trailed back to the Infirmary Attlin was unsure in his own mind whether it was to ask where he should be sleeping the night (dear Faranth, give him a room however small with no people in it) or for a lift home because clearly he was doing no good here.
"Hey," said Cuylar once a young apprentice had informed him that Attlin was back. "Are you OK? You look a little… overwhelmed."
“It’s very busy here, isn’t it?” Attlin still had that crisp politeness to him, but he seemed a little more ruffled now, a formerly big fish drowned in the immense lake that was the Weyr.
"It's definitely always on here. Are you going to stay the night?" Cuylar wondered. Now was a good a time as any to invite Attlin to play cards. After all, the man seemed to want desperately for friends. And if he was anything like his son… maybe a shoulder to cry on.
“..Maybe I should go home.” Attlin sounded as though he was testing the idea for size. “The boy hardly needs me, and-- I tried to get to see the Weyrleaders but they’re all in meetings.”
"Well. I can take you home after my shift is over if you like. Or you're welcome to come join me and my friends for a round of cards. Guest picks the game, if you like," Cuylar smiled broadly. "Plus, I've got matching stoneware now. And I could put together a mean little snack. Smoked meats, pickles, cheese, the whole nine paces. Some ale, maybe?"
It was a kind offer. Attlin looked as though someone had invited him to a wher-fighting match, possibly with the intent that he personally fight the whers. “Thank you, but I haven’t played cards in turns,” he excused himself hastily. Or gone to that kind of gathering in turns either. The thought felt terrifying, overwhelming, as though that type of socialising was a skill long-lost and impossible to recover.
"Come for the company?" Cuylar offered. Then he smiled and shook his head. "I understand, I don't mean to press you. I'll get you home to your own bed tonight, no worries."
“It’s not like-- the boy has the books now, anyway.” Attlin sounded as though he were trying to excuse his own absence to himself. It wasn’t quite working though. “But-- shells, I can’t leave him without talking to someone, can I?” Not without understanding what had happened. Not without knowing he was safe.
"You wound me, sir," said Cuylar, though he smiled to soften it. "I can introduce you to the Weyrhealer or to the Candidatemaster or both, if it would be a suitable substitute for the Weyrleaders," he suggested.
“The CandidateMaster.” That sounded like a workable promise and he relaxed a little. “I just-- I need to know how it happened.” As though if he understood the how it might become more palatable, the truth might wash the horror away. It seemed unlikely but he needed it regardless. “I don’t understand how he missed this.”
"The Candidatemaster has a lot on her plate, and she relies on her assistants to help her," said Cuylar. "That one of those assistants could do something so vile isn't anything anyone would start off expecting. And that aside, as I told you before, the Weyr has been dealing with a field trip, an explosion, and a Hatching…"
"You said it yourself – it's very busy here."
None of which felt like reasons that would prevent it happening again. Attlin sighed. “I know what you said, and I know what he wants but-- he would be safer at home.” Unhappy maybe but safe.
Cuylar frowned and tilted his head as he pondered for a moment.
"Well. It's been easy enough for me to bring you and Sherill here. What if Garatt spent some of his time here and some of his time there? And you could, too."
It seemed to Cuylar that getting out of that Hold all by himself would do Attlin some good, too.
“There are explosions here,” Attlin said slowly, as though Cuylar hadn’t heard himself speak. “They’re too busy to notice if a child is attacked. They gave me a guard in case I got attacked!” Admittedly the guard had been fourteen, but still. “This is not a safe place.”
"There was an explosion here," Cuylar pointed out, though the tone of his voice made it clear he knew this was a weak defense. "And… I noticed. And I did my best to intervene. I'm sorry that I didn't… couldn't do enough to stop it before it got this bad. I've been here for… ten Turns or so, and it's never been… this bad."
Earthquakes and floods and plagues, after all, happened everywhere. Not just at the Weyr.
“You’re a Healer,” Attlin said shortly. “By the time you were intervening the boy was already hurt, by nature. He--” He looked honestly bewildered, a little hurt but mostly confused. “How can he prefer it here?” Because as far as Attlin could see it was a terrible terrible place.
"Did you ask him?" Cuylar wondered. He wished he could tell Attlin everything that Garatt told Elphith. Or anything that Garatt told Elphith. But he could not betray the boy's confidence.
Attlin’s expression shuttered, closing off. “I-- wanted to go find the Weyrleaders.” Garatt had been busy, Garatt had been happy and Attlin had just.. Not been able to stay in that room.
"I think the two of you would understand each other much better if you would talk to each other. And tell each other how you're really feeling," said Cuylar. The sort of thing a Mindhealer might tell them.
Attlin gave him the sort of look that suggested Cuylar might as well have proposed taking his pants off in public. “We talk.” About.. Hold things. Work. Easy stuff.
"But not about why he wants to stay here?" Cuylar asked. "If you want to know, he would be the best one to explain it. And if you want him home because you're worried about him, he might be more inclined to come without fighting you… if he knew that was why."
And yet how to even begin that conversation? The thought made Attlin sweat, made him hot, clammy and abruptly so uncomfortable that even staying in this conversation felt unbearable. “The CandidateMaster.” A quick subject change. “Will I need to stay the night to speak with him?”
"You can try to drop in tonight to speak with her," said Cuylar, correcting the pronoun again. "But I would think you might have better luck tomorrow. It's up to you. And if you try tonight, and she's not in, then you can still try again tomorrow."
“It’s a girl?” He caught it this time and that clearly surprised him, Holder prejudices running unconsciously deep. “For all of them?”
"The Candidatemaster is a woman, yes," Cuylar confirmed. Well, he was bound to run into some Holderism from a Holder sooner or later. "For all of them."
“Ah.” A moment for that to sink in, considering it. “Well, I suppose if she’s the motherly type?” he suggested tentatively after a minute.
Cuylar quirked an eyebrow.
"She is an experienced teacher," he said finally. "And she was instrumental in organizing the search that found and saved Garatt. And arrested his tormentor."
“She-- the search?” Oh, he caught that all right. He looked at Cuylar sharply, eyes narrowing a minute. “Saved him from what?”
"From the rogue assistant who was tormenting him," said Cuylar. He realized he had opened the wrong door, but there was no going back there. He would have learned these things if he had spoken to his son.
"He didn't come to us when this happened. We found him."
Attlin gave him a long hard look and this time there was little of the vulnerability, more of the very capable Holder who was able to run his hold and order men who had been there since before he was born without turning a hair. “I think,” he said flatly, “you’d better tell me the whole story. Hadn’t you.”
"I meant to leave some of this for Garatt to tell you himself. I know he's not an adult yet, but I felt a boy his age deserves some measure of… private dignity. But if you insist. You are the boy's father. You deserve to know."
"As I said, I already had my suspicions about the rogue assistant. I treated Garatt for welts on his hand and documented this in a report, which I submitted through the proper channels. But because of the attack and the subsequent Hatching, these channels were slowed."
"I missed an appointment with Garatt, to whom I had prescribed a sleep study. You see, the Candidatemasters sent him to me for trouble sleeping in the first place, and this was when I had occasion to see he was favoring his hand. He was struggling to keep this a secret. He did not want anyone to know what happened."
"I suspected his troubles were due to his proximity to the rogue assistant and was correct that he had no trouble sleeping in the Infirmary. I missed the appointment because of the… the Hatching. More than one Candidate was severely injured by overeager hatchlings, and I was required to help late into the night."
"When I was not there, a substitute observed him in my stead. He slept very poorly without me. He… did not feel as safe without me. And the next night, he attempted to flee the Weyr rather than be sent back to the Barracks – his tormentor convinced him that would be his fate if he stayed. I presume he cajoled him into running to dispose of the evidence of what he had done."
"And that is the rest of the story."
The control required for Attlin to listen quietly without interrupting, protesting or asking questions must have been immense. He stood perfectly still, his face like stone, only the faint whistle of breath indrawn in something that wasn’t quite a gasp to show a reaction. At his sides his hands curled slightly as though into fists and then consciously relaxed.
“Thank you for telling me.” And that reply was very much on his dignity, retreating back into formal politeness as though..as though he needed it for a moment or two, as though the formal mask provided safe cover for locking emotions back into place. “I believe.. I believe I should wait to make an appointment with the Weyrleaders.”
"If you need to yell at someone… I have a place where you can do it, where no one else will hear," Cuylar offered softly.
The boy had been scared, scared enough to run, scared enough not to sleep, and no-one had noticed.. Or those who had noticed had been unable to help. “How long?” Attlin’s question was quiet. “How long was this man.. hurting him before he ran away?” He’d gone very still, but the shutters had come down now, emotions locked firmly back. He needed to be able to discuss this calmly, to find the correct information.
"Physically, it was twice," said Cuylar. At least, the beatings. As far as he knew. Shells. "But the man was bullying him in class for… sometime before the field trip up until he ran. Are you sure you wouldn't rather yell at me?" he asked just as quietly. He had never meant to withhold information. Just to let Garatt be the one to give it. Patient privacy… something…
“I don't see how it would help.” Attlin seemed genuinely confused by the offer, kindly meant though it clearly was. If he was going to be angry, surely it should be used to achieve something.
"I've spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out what I could have done to fix this sooner and blaming myself for not having thought of it, whatever it was," said Cuylar. He shrugged and then turned his gaze downward. "I guess I feel like I deserve to be yelled at. For failing him."
“If I thought shouting at you would keep him or anyone else the slightest bit safer, I’d be raising my voice,” Attlin said plainly. “But I don’t. Shouting for the sake of shouting is just..unpleasant.” He shrugged, a man who might frown because it was the shape his face fell into naturally but apparently viewed a yell as something to be held in reserve. “If anything, I shouldn’t have let him come to the Weyr. But shouting won’t fix that either.”
"This isn't your fault, either," said Cuylar. "I…" He sighed. "I want to help. But I just don't know how. I want to make everything better. And I'll do my best. For now, should I head to get your sister-in-law?"
“Please,” Attlin agreed. Much as he didn’t always get along with Sherill.. This needed her. This needed someone who could do the things he couldn’t.
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.