”She lives… with no more mind or wit than a babe… She exists in the prison of her guilt!” – Lessa, Dragonquest.
If Kylara thought, she would remember. If she remembered… She flinched away from that agony of guilt over deeds she couldn’t bear to recall and the loss of a love she would never know again. If she remembered, those feelings would destroy her. So she would not remember. She would not think. She would not!
The golden creature flying in circles, squealing, was a miniature version of… Kylara refused to remember. She picked up a shoe and flung it at the beast. With a shriek, it disappeared.
The people standing around, with their eyes wide and their hands flapping, were making noises with their mouths. If she understood those noises, they would tell her things she didn’t want to know. So she stopped understanding, stopped remembering, stopped thinking. The golden creature did not return. The words “golden” and “creature” vanished from her mind. So did her own name. She lived without thought, without memory, with barely enough habit and instinct to eat the food she was given, dress in the clothes provided, bathe herself when she was shown to the baths, and spend the rest of her time sitting still in a chair in her small, empty room, staring at nothing.
Time passed. She didn’t notice.
Time passed, and she began to stare out of her small barred window rather than at the wall. No one noticed.
But she began to perceive again. The sun shone, and the waves lapped against the golden sand of the beach. Sometimes it rained, and sometimes there was a gray haze in the air over the ocean that was not rain. When she saw the gray haze, she returned to not-perceiving until it was over.
There were three different women who came in to give her food and take away the tray when she was done, to take away her dirty clothes and return with clean ones, and to lead her to the bath. The thin one with black hair glared at her, and sometimes spat into her food. The plump one with black hair came quickly in and went quickly out. The youngest one, the one with brown hair in braids, sometimes spoke to her.
One day the woman with brown braids said, “Here you go. I saved a bubbly pie from the Gather.”
It was only after the door shut, leaving her alone with the tray, that she realized that she had understood what had been said. She picked up the pie and bit into it. She tasted sweet tanginess, felt the softness of the filling and the crunch of the crust. Heat burned her tongue and the roof of her mouth. The rest of the tray was the same as always, plain lentils and bread, but she tasted them for the first time and to her they were as new and extraordinary as the pie, though she knew that only the pie had been meant as a treat.
The woman had been kind to her. That too was unusual. There was a reason why people weren’t – why people shouldn’t be kind to her. She didn’t pursue the thought. But she knew that she shouldn’t reveal what she was feeling, or even that she could feel. She remained blank as ever when the woman returned to collect the tray and remind her to dress for bed.
She got into her night-dress and slid between the blankets, but lay awake, eyes open to darkness. The blankets were rough against her skin. She was hot beneath them. For the first time since she had come to this room, she was conscious of having a body. She ran her hands over it, over her full breasts, over the belly gone soft and round, over her thin arms. Once those arms had been taut with muscle, and her belly flat and hard. How long had she been here?
Rather than pondering that question, she returned to her exploration of her own body. Her nipples stiffened under her touch, and heat seemed to trail itself behind her fingers. These sensations felt familiar, natural, good. She kept one hand caressing her breasts, and let the other drift down between her legs, to the nest of wiry hair and soft wetness beneath. She rubbed there until heat built up in her belly and a feeling like an itch that had to be scratched built up in her entire body. She could hear herself making little sounds, whimpers and gasps. She moved her hand harder, driving it against the bone, and then suddenly pinched her nipple, driving her nails into the tender flesh. A sensation like a wave breaking came crashing through her entire body. Her hands dropped, her fingers tingling, and her body relaxed as if she was melting into the mattress.
Kylara, she thought. My name is Kylara.
It became more and more difficult to maintain a blank face in front of the women, to spend all day doing nothing in a tiny dull room. It became even harder not to wonder who she was and why she was there. But every time she thought of speaking, something inside her warned her not to. It was her own voice, but a different part of her. It was, Kylara somehow knew, the part of her that remembered. The part of her that knew better.
You didn’t listen to me before, that part of her said. Don’t make the same mistake twice.
Fuming with her constraints, half-mad with boredom, Kylara listened. She paced around the room, she lay in bed and touched herself, and she even got down on the floor and did tedious exercises that came back to her from who knows where, but whenever she heard footsteps outside the door, she quickly sat down in the chair and stared out the window.
The day that the boredom and frustration and longing for someone, anyone to talk to rose up in her so intensely that she thought her heart would explode within her chest, a small golden creature popped into existence in the air above her table.
Kylara gasped. She knew the creature – the fire lizard. And it knew her. Its bright flighty feelings flitted through her mind: curiosity, caution, and love. The fire lizard queen loved her – her, Kylara, the woman everyone hated. (How did she know everyone hated her? She squelched that thought.)
The queen leaped on to Kylara's shoulder and preened. Kylara stroked it, and scratched it behind its eye ridges, as she knew it loved. The small queen closed its eyes in ecstasy.
Go, little beauty! Kylara warned her. You mustn't be seen here with me!
The small queen vanished. The thin woman walked in to collect the dinner tray. She stared hard at Kylara, then slammed down the tray into the table, leaned over Kylara, and pushed up the sleeve of Kylara's blouse. Taking an enameled pin from her hair, the woman jabbed it into Kylara's arm. Kylara couldn't help flinching, but didn't jump away or strike the woman, much as she longed to. With an angry jerk, the woman pulled out the pin.
"Should've killed you," she muttered. "Masterfarmer wanted to have your throat slit. They should've done it. You still deserve it. Adulterer. Whore. You got everything - you got a queen dragon! And you killed her."
The woman kept talking, but Kylara heard nothing through the roaring in her head. You killed her, echoed over and over. You killed her. While the woman took the tray and left, she still sat frozen in place, remembering. Remembering being Weyrwoman, remembering her obsession with Lord Meron. Remembering Prideth, her beautiful Prideth, gone forever because of Kylara's carelessness.
She stumbled to bed and lay there fully clothed, too overwhelmed even for tears. They should have slit her throat. They’d kill her now if she revealed that she had recovered from her madness, that she remembered her guilt. She sat up, ready to pound on the door and demand her own death.
Then a small warm body materialized on the pillow beside her head. The fire lizard queen lay by her cheek and crooned. The little queen knew her guilt – the fire lizard too had missed and mourned Prideth – and even recalled how Kylara had ignored her and rejected her and hadn't even bothered to give her a name. But the queen loved her anyway.
Slowly, Kylara’s urge to die faded. Perhaps some part of her had been grieving and guilty all along, all this time. (Seven years, her inner voice whispered.) The feelings were still raw and intense, but she had other feelings too. Even with the guilt she bore, even with the loss of Prideth that would never stop being a wound in her heart, she wanted to live. She wanted to swim in the ocean, to wear elegant dresses, to have sex, to go to a Gather and eat bubbly pies.
She thought wildly of banging the thin woman’s head against the wall and rushing out the door, but there was nowhere on Pern where she and her fire lizard queen wouldn’t be recognized, even after seven years.
But maybe it could work to her advantage that she was still remembered. She had been a Weyrwoman once. She had ridden a dragon queen (oh, Prideth), commanded a Weyr, twisted men around her little finger.
Kylara smoothed her hair and got dressed. Then she marched to the door and pounded on it, shouting, until it was yanked open. Two astonished women and an even more astonished man stared at her.
“I know who I am now,” Kylara said, stroking the queen who perched on her shoulder. “I invoke my rights as a former Weyrwoman, and I demand to speak to the Weyrleader. And while I’m waiting, I request fresh fruit and chilled wine for myself, and a bowl of raw meat for my little queen, Faithful.”