Lives Could Be At Stake
Jerlaron waited outside the Hallsecond's office. He had washed up and
changed into clean, but still simple, clothes. His black hair was
longer than he liked, hanging in his eyes, and his beard was full, but
it made for an easy disguise when he was out on assignment. That,
making his voice higher, and faking a slight limp, would make even his
mother doubt his identity if they crossed paths. As he waited, the
Journeyman thought back through the information he had to share,
remembering the exact phrases he had heard.
When Jayala was ready for him, Jerlaron stood and entered her office.
"Hallsecond," he said, with a nod of greeting.
"Journeyman." Jayala looked up from her work, her dark eyes alert at
once as she recognized her visitor. She set the papers she'd been
working on aside and replaced her pen beside the inkwell. "Welcome back.
Please, come in and close the door." One of the advantages of her
carefully cultivated reputation was that not even the most inquisitive
apprentice would dare eavesdrop on her office. "I trust you had
a...productive time on your travels away from the Hall?"
Jerlaron closed the door and settled his tall frame in a chair. "Yes,
productive is one way to put it," he said, voice serious. "You were
right to have someone do some poking around. Word of Grevan's trial,
and what happened after, has made it to the cotholds I visited. Some
of the holdfolk aren't happy, and they're blaming the Weyr. I was
expecting some of that, but I'm surprised hardly anyone challenged
what was being said." He shook his head, knowing many of the holders
speaking out were just using the trial as confirmation of their
negative views of the Weyr. The truth of Grevan's actions had been
twisted to suit their needs.
Jayala closed her eyes briefly. She'd suspected as much, reading between
the lines of some of the reports she'd had back from harpers on
assignment, but she'd hoped when she sent Jerlaron out that it wouldn't
be as bad as she'd feared. From the sound of it, if anyone did support
the Weyr they'd not dared speak up.
"You'd better tell me everything," she said. There'd be a report, dates
and names of cotholds, but she wanted to hear it directly from the one
who'd been there.
*** Flashback ***
The skies were darkening outside a roadside tavern deep in Emerald Falls
territory, and the men who'd come in for a drink the evening before a
restday were well settled in around the cosy fire. At first, the talk
had mostly been about crops, weather and Fall, and some grumbling about
the tithe, but then it turned to the subject of a missing herdbeast on
one of the local farms.
"The guards were no use. Didn't get here until days later, and the
thieves long gone." The cotholder, a sturdy man with a face deeply
tanned and lined by the sun, turned his head and spat. "Holdless filth."
A murmur of agreement went around the group. "Next time, some of us
ought to get together and hunt the stinking tunnelsnakes down," a
younger man suggested.
"Aye, before they get a dragon and can't be touched any more," a man on
the edge of the circle said bitterly. "Not unless you want to end up
dead in a prison mine."
"You mean, like that Grevan?" There was some muttering, but it was the
young man who spoke first. "I heard the dragonriders killed his da and
Lord Corowal wouldn't do a thing about it."
"Can't blame a man for wanting justice," another farmer agreed.
"He couldn't get it from the Hold, so he tried to get it himself," said
the man who'd first mentioned Grevan. "And the Weyr sent him to his
death for that. He was only a boy. Could have been one of our sons." He
scowled over his drink. "But one of theirs kills and gets away with it.
There's no justice. None."
This was Jerlaron's third day in the area, and he had carefully
cultivated the image of a hardworking, down on his luck holder who had
no close family. Working in the fields during the day hadn't turned up
much, beyond a few grumbles about the Weyr, and the tavern had been
mostly empty the previous night. That night, he had purchased a large
tankard of ale and a plate of overcooked meat and vegetables and taken
a seat near the back of the room. He had been considering whether
offering a round of drinks would loosen some tongues without arousing
suspicion when the conversation had turned to Grevan and the Weyr. He
noticed what seemed to be unanimous agreement with what was being
said; or at least no one seemed ready to push back against the claims
being made. He would need to tread carefully to avoid being seen as a
"The last place I passed through, there was talk of the trial, and
what led up to it," he said, pretending he was just sharing gossip.
"They say Grevan tricked a bronzerider into meeting him in a
storeroom; there was a note forged to look like it was from the
Weyrwoman." How far would these holders go to speak ill of the Weyr?
"Is that how it happened?" One of the farmers shook his head. "He should
have challenged the one who killed his father. Done it properly, out in
"Wouldn't have worked," said the sour-faced man on the edge of the
group, who seemed to bear the most resentment towards the Weyr. "That
bronzerider was a vicious fighter. Heard he was some kind of holdless
bandit before the Weyr took him in. He'd have cut the poor boy to
pieces, and even if Grevan survived, the other dragonriders would never
have let him escape alive. You can't take an honest path with those
people. Trickery is the only way."
"But they do fight Thread, after all," a grey-haired man said, his voice
low and hesitant.
"And they should stick to that," grumbled the farmer who'd been
complaining about the holdless. "Instead of cavorting in their Weyr,
taking the best of our produce and our young people."
Jerlaron discreetly looked around the room as one farmer spoke up
against Grevan's methods and another demonstrated some lukewarm
support of the Weyr, to see if others demonstrated any signs of
agreement. There were a handful of cotholders who hadn't spoken up
yet, and one gave a half nod at the second comment, so at least not
everyone shared the extreme views being expressed. However, the
passion and anger behind some of the farmers' statements eclipsed what
the harper had seen in the other places he had passed through.
He had been sent out on assignment to search out plots against the
Weyr, and he didn't know yet if this resentment was actually building
up to something. It could just be a general dislike of the Weyrs, with
Grevan's trial another item to add to the list of complaints. He
hazarded another interjection, in the hopes of getting something
concrete. "But what can we do?" he asked in a plaintive voice.
"Not a lot we can do," one of the farmers said with a shrug. "They have
There was a general murmur of agreement, some sounding frustrated,
others nervous and hoping to drop the subject. The resentful man,
however, glanced from side to side and then lowered his voice to a
"There might be a way," he said. "They have dragons, but they're not
invulnerable. Like I said. Trickery is the best approach."
"What do you mean?" Even the grumpy farmer sounded shocked.
"I've heard rumors." He tapped a finger to his nose. "Heard the
dragonriders might get what's coming to them, sooner rather than later.
Keep your ears open, and wait and see." He drained the rest of his
drink, got to his feet and raised a hand in farewell. "'Night, then."
Once he'd gone, the mood lightened and the talk turned back to the
likelihood of rain next sevenday and whose turn it was to buy the next
round. But there was still an unspoken tension in the air, and more than
one holder glanced over their shoulder to look after the departing man.
*** End Flashback ***
"I included the little information I could find on the man in my
report, but it isn't much," Jerlaron told Jayala. It was frustrating
to have so little to go on. He didn't even have a clear sense of a
timeline. "He had returned recently from another cothold, but when I
went there, I wasn't able to dig anything up." And he hadn't wanted to
spend too much time searching, because it felt more important to
return to the Hall with what he had learned. He shook his head. "I
hope the Weyr is preparing for something bad."
"Yes. You did right to return and report to me." Jayala's lips tightened
in half-suppressed anger. What kind of fools would dare to attack the
dragonriders in a Pass? If only they knew more. She ought to inform the
Hallmaster first, of course, but it was hard to interest him in anything
outside of his studio. "I'll write to the Weyrharper and make sure
they're on their guard. Hopefully after the last incident, they've taken
measures to protect themselves." She thought for a moment. "It may be
that this man wasn't from the area at all, but is traveling around
stirring up trouble. I'd like to know how far it's spread."
"That's possible," Jerlaron said with a nod. This was a time he was
glad he just gathered information instead of having to decide what to
do with it. "Just let me know where you need me. I don't think anyone
was suspicious of my presence in the places I passed through." He
wanted to help see this through. And then, maybe he could take some
time off. He was looking forward to a haircut and a clean shave.
"We need to find out where this man is from. If he's able to travel
about, and he didn't look holdless, then there might be someone
supporting him, providing him with marks." She stood and went to the
shelves, taking down a map of Emerald Falls territory. Spreading it out
on her desk, she touched the location where Jerlaron had encountered the
man. "If you're able to find him, or anyone else spouting the same
poisonous nonsense, then it would be useful if you could convince him
that you share his opinions and want to help. I want to know who's
behind this, and what they're planning."
Jerlaron's initial assignment had been to just listen and learn.
Actually trying to infiltrate this group would be a challenge, but an
essential one. Lives could be at stake. His mind was already racing
ahead, imagining potential scenarios and thinking of how he could win
the sympathy of these men. "Of course," he said to the new assignment.
"I can leave first thing in the morning."
"Good. Thank you, Journeyman." Jayala wished she could give him a few
days to rest, but if something nefarious was being planned, time was of
the essence. She looked up from the map, a note of unaccustomed concern
in her voice. This would be more dangerous, also, than his previous
task. "Be careful."
Jerlaron gave a nod of assent and stood. "We'll get to the bottom of
this." At least, he hoped so. Otherwise, who knew what would happen.
Last updated on the July 21st 2021