Actions

Work Header

And they tell of gold at the tide's turning

Chapter Text

First Pass, 12.10.38
Marta Fremlich's Hold

 

The sky above Marta's Hold was bitterly cold, the wind sweeping down from the North Ranges as fierce as ever, but neither the chill of the autumn air nor the absolute numbness of between could dampen Torene of Benden's spirits. The Weyr was three days from its next threadfall, and the minds of well over five hundred dragons offered a warmth that was simply beyond compare. Torene's duties as Weyrwoman might have called her and M'hall away from their company for the day, but distance was little bar to her talent. Besides, the official founding of a new Hold, under the leadership of a woman she'd long counted as a friend, wasn't something she'd have wanted to miss even if her presence hadn't been specifically requested

Half a dozen dragonlengths to the north-east, M'hall's Brianth banked into a wide circle at his rider's prompting. M'hall says the border-markers on the ridge-line still seem to be where they're supposed to be, the bronze relayed on completing the manoeuvre, and he sees no reason why we need to dawdle over checking the rest when they haven't moved at all since this morning's sweep rider checked them, nor between the five sweeps before that.

Of course they've not moved! Torene said, peering down at the ground to check for herself. Fardling ridiculous of Kiersey, insisting that we make sure, but I suppose it'll save us time and arguments in the long run. The new Hold's present boundary was precisely marked by piled brick cairns newly topped with rust-red pennants – hardly the sort of marker that even the most determined of holders could shift overnight – claiming the exact acreage that the existing adult population was entitled to under the Charter. Smaller cairns had also been placed along the adjacent ridges and river valleys, in preparation for the expected expansion to come. A turn ago, the whole landscape had been brown and bare, but now a patchwork of green and blue-green meadows extended in roughly east-west strips across the landscape, predominantly on the valley's south-westerly facing slopes. The most recently Thread-struck areas would still require several turns to recover fully, but a kind, bountiful summer and the chemical and microbial enrichment provided by several tonnes of premium manure, dredged seaweed and regular aerial deliveries of dragonshit had worked wonders on the older falls. Sheep grazed the native and imported grasses, with larger livestock promised to follow in the turns ahead.

Marta may have claimed her Hold's chartered acres down to the last dragonlength of land, Torene added, but she's not taken an inch more!

“She might have put her acres all in the same valley!” M'hall yelled across the intervening air several seconds later. He leaned forwards and slapped his bronze on the neck, encouraging Brianth onwards.

So he wants to race, does he? Torene asked Alaranth privately as Brianth pulled away.

Torene's queen replied with a burst of infectious delight, increasing the pace of her own wingbeats. Is it not the best of days for it, Rene? The sun is shining and no thread will fall. Our newest weyrlings are all safely Impressed. And while you say that we must make this flight today, I know for certain that it is the inside of your friend's Hold that you most wish to see, and that M'hall is equally keen to see the bottom of a cup of mulled wine. And to empty his bladder!

M'hall agrees that all of that is true, Brianth said, even the last...but he also says that Alaranth is in dire need of the exercise!

He does, does he? Torene tucked herself tighter against Alaranth's neck as the queen passed her mate in the air. She grinned back at M'hall, her cheeks aching as she gritted her teeth against the cold. Well, if he can't say that to her face, he can say it to her tail instead. Catch us if you can, Brianth! she goaded the bronze.

Out of condition Alaranth might have been, but she was still considerably larger than her mate. Torene and her queen had almost completed the circuit of the Hold's borders before Brianth pulled alongside them once again. “You took your time!” Torene called across to M'hall.

The Weyrleader shook his head, but – perhaps wisely – said nothing. Shall we land, Rene? Brianth asked.

Yes, I think we've made enough of a show of ourselves now. Down there beside the pavilion, Allie dearest, and try not to spook the horses!

It had been well over a month since Torene had last overflown Marta's Hold – Alaranth's clutch of twenty-nine eggs had included Benden's first new gold in over six turns, and the queen had been reluctant to let Torene out sight of her eggs, let alone to leave them herself – and much had changed in the intervening weeks. By all accounts, the main Hold itself was still a rather spartan affair. It was set in a small complex of natural caves at the northern end of a long valley, watered by a minor river that eventually fed into Benden Weyr's own. The river didn't offer the trading and transport potential of Ruatha's, but nor was its valley quite so prone to flooding. The main caverns were scarcely any better equipped than the sheep-fold half a klick to the south, and less popular besides on the colder nights...but with stonecutter access so hard to secure and even costlier to power, that was only to be expected. Instead, the settlers had requisitioned a year's usage of one of Benden Hold's wheeled Sleds, seeing more advantage in good haulage than in smooth and even interior walls.

Beneath the surface, the Hold's geology was also a bit of a green clutch: heavy clay soil, no coal seams worth the effort of mining, and the only firestone to speak of was far too unstable to be of any use to the Weyr...but even green clutches hatched the occasional bronze, as Marta and her resourceful recruits had proved. It was between the carefully fenced fields that the results of the Holders' most profitable labours could be seen: the denuded topsoil had been meticulously removed, and the exposed clay shaped and carted off to a series of firestone-fuelled trench-kilns to be baked into bricks. The kilns' fuel supply did have a habit of exploding in wet weather, it was true, but as a summer-time industry the benefits easily outweighed the risks. There was now a solidly durable red-brown road leading southwards from the Hold, lengthening dragonlength by dragonlength in its slow creep towards the Weyr. It would reach it well before the Pass was out, Marta had promised. That day was still a good decade away, but the morning's events were surely a sign in favour of better things to come.

Today will be a good day, Allie, I know it, Torene said as her queen settled gracefully onto the ground.

  

* * *

  

A new Hold, founded and settled by two hundred motivated adults and their dependants, ready and willing to commit themselves to a life spent restoring the thread-denuded land back into fertile good health. It really should have been a sign of better things to come...but one word, just one single word, had turned the whole day sour.

The day's events had started well enough, in spite of the lingering tensions between Marta Fremlich's burgeoning community and the residents of Benden Hold. After a very welcome mug of klah in the pavilion, Torene and M'hall had spent a good hour touring the new Hold's facilities in the company of the other visiting dignitaries. Sigurd and P'lo of Telgar Weyr had been kept away by Threadfall, and Sorka's Faranth was too egg heavy to fly, but Sean was there, as were Anya and T'rev of Ista Weyr. Telgar's Holders were likewise absent. Torene hadn't expected Telgar himself to come, not with his health as poor as it now was, but she had hoped that he might send someone in his stead. The delegates from the other Holds – Brian and Alari Hanrahan of Ruatha, Jennagee Liliencamp and Rebecca Benden of Fort, Boll's Suki Gar and Roberto Duff-Hamil from the College – were all good company, but they weren't half as quick to share gossip with her as either Cara Telgar or Torene's cousin Anatoly would have been.

The Benden delegation was even more of a disappointment. Benden's elected leader, Steffen Langsam, who Torene knew had argued long and hard against founding a new Hold before the Pass was over, was a silent, resentful presence throughout the tour. By contrast, Dee Kiersey, the self-appointed chairman of Benden's Resource Allocation Committee, was as garrulous as a buck wherry with his complaints. If Kiersey hadn't spent the entire time disparaging the achievements of Marta's workforce, it was only because he was too busy making an overly meticulous inspection of every aspect of the place, frequently sending one or another of the three committee members who'd accompanied him up scaffolding, under tarpaulins, or into holes and cubbies to check on the details not immediately visible to the eye. “Checking we've not purloined anything we shouldn't,” Marta had commented snidely. Torene's pointed look back towards the well secured and waterproofed firestone bunker, that Kiersey had baulked at sending even his least favoured minion too close to, was rewarded with a conspiratorial wink and an assurance that if Benden hadn't missed anything yet, they likely never would.

The tour had finished with fresh-baked pastries and mulled west-coast wine back at the pavilion. According to Euan Evans, one of Marta's deputies, the choice of wine reflected yet another snub from Benden Hold: they might have been forced to provide logistical support for her endeavour, but apparently they'd drawn the line well short of providing luxury goods. Still, at least as far as Torene was concerned, the Tillek vintage was a pleasant change from the Weyr's usual tithe. The rich flavours were warming through and through, and certainly made the formal speeches that followed less of a chore to listen through. Roberto Duff-Hamil did what he could to liven up his obligatory legalese – the founding of a new Hold had become considerably more formalised over the years – but Langsam's speech couldn't have been more grudging if he'd spent an entire year working on it.

Torene listened with only half her mind on the proceedings, applauding as and when prompted by the rest of the audience, allowing the rest of her thoughts to wander off in consideration of such weighty problems as whether it was redfruit, citrus or bramble juice that had been added to the wine, and if she had correctly identified the various spices. Beside her, M'hall and Sean wore matching expressions of glazed endurance, but from what Torene could hear from their dragons' side of the conversation, they were deep in discussion of threadfighting tactics for inclement weather. Her own dragon was sound asleep: Alaranth had found a sheltered sun-trap in the lee of one of the Hold's new boundary walls. The queen's cat-like comfort was dangerously infectious, and so rather than risk nodding off herself, Torene stretched her consciousness eastwards, back towards her home Weyr and the entertaining antics of twenty-nine two-day-old dragons, cavorting on the shore of the Weyr's lake. Tonja would be watching them from somewhere, she was sure – her youngest was as dragon-mad as M'hall had been at that age, everyone said – but she suspected that Liam would still be sulking. He'd been left standing for three clutches running now, but, son of the Weyrleaders or not, Alaranth's hatchlings wouldn't be the last to ignore him if he didn't mend his attitude. Perhaps she should foster him out to one of Marta's people for a year or two?

“Has she let slip what she's calling the place yet, Torene?”

Torene started at the sound of Sean's voice, as soft as it was. She blinked, forcing her eyesight back into proper focus. Marta and her two deputies were still standing at the cloth-draped table that held the Hold's Founding Charter. Kiersey was shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot at the edge of the podium, concealing his impatience with ill grace. Langsam had finally abandoned the lectern to rejoin his colleague, leaving Duff-Hamil to conclude the initial formalities with the long list of subsidiary Holders...but if he was only just past the Mayhews, there was still some way to go.

“Not yet,” Torene said, turning to her weyrmate's father with a smile. “Marta refused point-blank to tell me. She was very clear that she wanted it to be a surprise.”

“But you've got your suspicions, Rene,” M'hall murmured. “And enough confidence to put marks on it, too, unless you were betting on something else, yesterday?”

Shells, she'd thought she'd been more surreptitious than that. “Well now you've spoiled your surprise, M'hall! Assuming I'm right, of course.”

“She won't bet on clutch colours or who'll Impress what,” M'hall said with a chuckle as they clapped for the last of the extended Patrick clan, “but if there's the slightest hint of scuttlebutt stirring in the Holds...”

Torene rolled her eyes. “Just because your family never leaves anything to chance! I've barely left the Hatching Sands at all over the last month, so how you think I've found the time to-”

“Says the woman who hears the chatter of every last dragon on Pern when she chooses to listen,” Sean reminded her, though not unkindly.

“Oh, all right!” Torene lowered her voice, conscious that Roberto would soon be drawing to a close – he was into the Sampsons now. “One clue, and then you'll know just as much as I do: this Hold will bear a woman's name, you can count on that.”

“Hold Fremlich?” Sean asked.

She shook her head. “Marta's had it up to here with one or two families lording it over all the rest, and that fardling Resource Allocation Committee's ideas about a properly productive workforce. Naming this place after herself is the last thing she'll do...though she's more than earned the right for it.”

From each according to their ability, to each according to their need, that was how it was supposed to work, but the way it was being put into practice in Benden Hold these days came close to turning Torene's stomach. The discrimination wasn't exactly overt, but it was blatant enough to those with the wits to see it. Girls brought in on Search whose technical education lagged far, far behind their male counterparts; lean and scrawny boys with the wrong set of last names, dull-eyed and sun-dark from too many hours spent labouring in the fields. Langsam had made it pretty obvious over the last few years that Benden Hold was gearing up for a massive expansion when the Pass was over...but it had been equally clear that the greatest beneficiaries would be his own relatives and cronies.

M'hall and Torene had still been discussing what might be done to alleviate the problem when Marta had solved it for everyone. She'd inveigled her way onto Kiersey's committee, and then, 'in the interests of efficient forward-planning', persuaded him to push for a full-Hold vote on what minimum proportion of Benden's personnel and resources would automatically be ceded to its first independent daughter-Hold. Torene and M'hall had both been quietly delighted when, barely a day after the votes had been counted, Marta had announced her intention to found her own Hold before the year was out, and that she already had the necessary support required by the Pass-time Charter to do so. And, by stripping Benden Hold of as many adults as she had, Marta had set Benden's own expansion plans back by years, if not a full generation: the Chartered acreage it was entitled to claim by virtue of its population now fell far short of its existing boundaries, and the resulting skills shortage would force Benden's leaders to do better by the less valued members of the Hold. And about time, too, Torene reckoned!

“No, it wouldn't be Hold Fremlich,” M'hall said. “Nor anything too literal, not from Marta. A woman's name, though? Boll's already taken, and Telgar...”

“Sallah's not,” Torene pointed out.

“...but if anyone deserves some extra recognition, it's Kitti and Wind Blossom. Marta might have been left standing at every clutch she stood for, but she respects dragonkind deeply.”

“Ping Hold, then?” Sean frowned, mouthing the name silently to himself. “Well deserved indeed, but it's no Ruatha.”

“Why not both?” Torene whispered, smiling. “'Pingsallah' has a nice ring to it.”

Sean didn't look convinced, but there was neither time nor reason for Torene to persuade him otherwise: with the Vickery twins named, Duff-Hamil stepped away from the lectern at last. Marta thanked him and moved up to take his place. She waited, relaxed and smiling, until the applause died down before starting to speak.

“Don't worry, I don't intend to talk for very long,” Marta began, to quiet chuckles from the crowd. “We've come a long way from Benden Hold, and I want to make it clear from the outset that we're going to do things differently here. All of us, together. This Hold will be home to a community with properly communal values, a community that will work as one, greater than the sum of its parts – great because of its parts. No adult, no child, is more or less valued than any other – nor any skill-set, or ambition, or dream. Who we are, who we become, will be what we make of ourselves and each other, unconstrained by expectations, unlimited by unearned privilege.”

A good start, Torene thought, as the partisan members of the audience applauded through Marta's pause. She nudged Brianth's mind and M'hall in the ribs, probing for her weyrmate's verdict.

M'hall also approves, Brianth supplied.

What does Sean think, Carenath? she asked.

A little trite, but she's playing to the crowd, he says. And he thinks Benden deserves the criticism, the way they've been going these last few years.

A shame that Langsam won't hear a word of it, Torene sent back.

On the podium, Marta raised a hand and silenced the crowd. “Effort and ingenuity will be recognised and rewarded, and those marginalised by poverty or parentage given space and support in which to thrive. Disagreements will be welcomed as valuable discourse, not quashed as dissent! This Hold will welcome all opinions, and the voices of the living will speak far louder in our councils than the misguided notions of men long dead.”

Now what did Marta mean by that? Torene wondered. Benden's founders were all alive and well. She glanced across at M'hall and Sean, frowning.

Strange rhetoric there, Sean says, Carenath sent.

“Any idea?” M'hall murmured.

Torene shook her head. No idea, she told both bronzes.

“As I said, we've come a long way from Benden Hold,” Marta continued, “and even further before that. We've crossed continents to get here – and oceans – and the cold darkness of the heavens. We've charted our own course, and will continue to do so. But we won't forget our roots. We thank the Holds that have sustained us, the people that have supported us, and remember with respect and gratitude the sacrifice of those who died for all of us.”

Sean says he thinks you might be right about the name, Carenath said. No mention of dragons yet, but Sallah was a pilot.

This Hold has not forgotten a woman whose gifts were unappreciated while she was alive,” Marta continued, “a woman sidelined by a hierarchy that should never have been permitted to survive! A woman who died a hero's death in the very element she'd mastered.”

Definitely Sallah,” Sean whispered.

But Torene had been watching Marta closely as she spoke, and knew her well enough to recognise the meaning behind the woman's controlled and resolute features. Whatever Marta was about to say wasn't going to be welcomed. Which meant...

“Oh, Marta, no!” Torene glanced desperately across at Sean, saw the slight smile on his face that was doomed to die in the space of mere moments. And what would follow....

There's trouble?

Not the kind a dragon need worry about, but oh, Allie, yes, I think there is!

This Hold has forgotten neither the founding principles of this colony, nor the talent which brought us safely across a sky full of stars to our beautiful, perilous Pern.

Carenath, please keep Sean calm! Brianth-

“She wouldn't!” M'hall hissed, placing a cautioning hand on his father's wrist. Sean frowned, and shushed him.

“I offer you welcome,” Marta declared, “now and for always... to Bitra Hold!”

A stunned almost-silence followed. Torene let out her breath – she'd been holding it, hoping to be wrong – in a despairing sigh. Behind her, at least one person gasped in shock, and she heard the dull tinkle of a dropped ceramic mug breaking on the brick paving. Up on the podium, one of Kiersey's deputies applauded, very briefly, before the realisation of what he was doing sank home and he dropped his arms to his sides in mortification.

After that, the silence lingered, growing palpably more unpleasant with every passing second.

Torene waited in numb horror, hoping with all her heart that Marta would take the name back, declare the whole thing a joke. The atmosphere was heavy with palpable outrage, fury, denial...and from Marta's people, equally silent, grim and determined satisfaction. And then, the significance of the eight pointed stars on the Hold's billowing red pennants finally fell into place for her: as the sigil of an astrogator, not just a pleasing design. No, there was no mistake here, just deliberate spite!

Sean was the first person to break the silence. “How dare you! Bitra Hold? How dare you!”

Marta smiled mildly. “How dare I? I dare, Weyrleader Connell, because I'm not some blind sheep like the rest of Langsam's herd. And nor are any of the rest of Bitra's holders!”

M'hall caught Torene's eye, and pointedly removed his hand from his father's wrist before crossing both arms over his chest. “She's on her own, Rene.”

“Avril Bitra was a self-serving boil on humanity's arse,” Sean said, lowering his voice in a manner that had always given Torene the shivers, “and you, you...! If Telgar were here today, to see the depths you've sunk to.... Fremlich, I swear on Carenath's life that I will never set foot within the bounds of your Hold again. Welcome to Bitra? Fah! You can consider your own welcome revoked, now and for fecking always.” With that, he turned and stormed out of the pavilion.

“Hear, hear!” Kiersey said.

“Thread take the lot of you!” That was Jenagee Liliencamp, but there was a catch in her voice that suggested she was close to tears. “And even that's better than this shit-hole deserves,” she added, before dashing away after Sean.

Marta simply looked away, blanking them all. “Legist Duff-Hamil? If you're ready?”

Roberto twitched, confusion clear on his features, but when Marta repeated his name a second time he fell back to the security of his script. “Ah. Um. I hereby declare that... that as of this moment, as prescribed by the formal terms of Pern's Charter, Bitra is now a fully legal and autonomous Hold. Congratulations, Ms. Fremlich.”

Now the locals applauded, drowning out the outraged voices of opposition with stamped feet and a loud chant of their Hold's abominably inappropriate name. Torene felt M'hall's hand tighten on her shoulder as the words sounded again and again and again: Bitra Hold! Bitra Hold! Bitra Hold! “Shall we leave, love?” he muttered into her ear.

Brianth had already dropped from the Hold's fire-heights, Torene sensed, and she didn't think it would be long before the dragons who'd conveyed the other guests followed suit. And the sooner the Benden delegation departed, the better! “You go,” Torene said, shaking her head. Up on the podium, Marta, all smiles and grace, was thanking Roberto for his service. Kiersey was scowling furiously – a sentiment Torene could definitely empathise with – but Langsam looked to be on the verge of thumping the first person to get within arms' reach. “Get Langsam and Kiersey and the rest of them out of here.”

“You're staying, Rene?”

“Fardling yes!” Torene hissed. “I'm not leaving until Marta's told me what the hell she's been playing at!

  

* * *

  

Although the formal speeches were supposedly all over and done with, Marta had had plenty more to say to her own people: much of it focused on extolling the virtues of Avril the astrogator and pilot, and the value of challenging unmerited authority. The pavilion rapidly emptied of visitors, the mood lightening and becoming more celebratory with each successive departure. Torene fled to the back of the Pavilion, resisting the lingering urge to tear it down with her bare hands.

Eventually, Roberto Duff-Hamil made his own escape from the jubilant crowd of locals. “I swear I had no idea,” he said as he came over, seeming genuinely contrite. He had a mug of wine in each hand, one of which he held out to her.

Torene waved the mug away: she liked mulled wine well enough when it was piping hot, but cold was another matter. “It's okay. I'm not angry at you.”

Roberto shrugged, downed his own mug, then started on the one he'd meant for her. “I'm angry at me,” he said between sips. “It's my name on all the fardling documents!”

Torene took in Roberto's glum expression, the unsteady sway of his torso, the speed at which he was drinking, and the way his gaze kept darting towards the girls at the serving table...and decided that he probably didn't have flirting on his mind. “I'll call someone to collect you, Legist.”

“Told Miriam I'd be here until sundown,” he muttered. “Don't want to disturb busy dragonriders on top of everything else.”

“One of my people would be happy to convey you back to the College,” she said, reaching out to Findreth back at the Weyr. Tell A'tony that I've a small job for one of your senior weyrlings, Findreth. Roberto Duff-Hamil needs a lift from...from Marta's Hold. Here's a local visual, she added, picturing the lines of the Hold from the air with Alaranth and the pavilion placed in clear view. “Or you could stay with us at the Weyr overnight,” she suggested, keeping the final thought of until you sober up firmly to herself.

“That would be...yes, thank you, Weyrwoman, that would be very nice.”

Katya and Shannoath will be with you shortly, Findreth sent.

Torene thanked Findreth silently while acknowledging Roberto's words with a nod. “Good. You head on out, Roberto. My oldest is on her way; she'll take you wherever you'd prefer.”

“Thank you,” he said again before stumbling for the pavilion's opening.

I've told Shannoath that she should fly gently, Alaranth said, a mixture of amusement and distaste in her mind as she shared her rider's awareness, unless she wants a second swim today. And it wasn't easy, but I made your friend who you don't like any more hear me. The sun has gone in and this place grows tiresome.

You did?

I did!

Sure enough, the crowd of locals was shifting, allowing Marta through. She'd unbuttoned her jacket for comfort and was rubbing at the side of her head as she walked, as if it pained her. The action loosened several tendrils of blonde hair from the clasp at the nape of her neck, but she seemed too preoccupied to notice. In fact, Marta didn't look half as confident and sure of herself as she had done while up on the podium. Well, it was nothing less than she deserved, Torene decided.

Marta came to a halt several strides away from where Torene was standing. “Weyrwoman Torene,” she said, firm and formal.

“Holder Fremlich,” Torene replied in kind.

“I gather you're angry at me.” She shrugged off her jacket and tossed it over the back of a nearby chair. Then, her face creased into a broad smile, and she laughed. “Don't you get it, Rene?”

Torene crossed her arms, unconsciously taking on the pose she usually reserved for idiot riders who'd endangered their dragons in some manner. “Get it? This insanity? No-one in their right mind would ever name a Hold after her! What under the Red Star are you playing at, Marta?”

Marta extended both hands towards her in a clear gesture of appeal, the mis-matched charms on her bracelets jangling – but regardless of whether it was done for understanding or forgiveness, Torene had no intention of granting either.

“Rene. Rene, it's just a name!”

“It's not just a name, and you sharding well know it! Scoring points over Langsam and Kiersey, that I can understand...but blighting this place with a name like Bitra? If Telgar had been here today...”

“You think it was a coincidence that Thread just happens to be falling over his Hold, right this very moment?”

That detail was enough to give Torene pause. “I never thought you that much of a coward, Marta.”

“And now you do. Well, then.” Marta rolled her eyes and gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Telgar's known right from the start, Rene, not that it matters. He doesn't like it, but he doesn't have to. It's better that he doesn't like it.”

“Better how? You've just alienated practically everyone who matters on the entire planet!”

Everyone who matters, Rene? That's exactly the kind of wherry-shit I'd expect from Langsam or Kiersey but I never expected to hear it from you!”

The woman's tone was kindly – and her words damningly accurate – but it did little to soften the fact that she'd just chided a Weyrwoman of Pern to her face. A stinging retort came quickly to Torene's lips, but she swallowed it back, unspoken. There was a twinkle in Marta's pale blue eyes that really oughtn't be there...and, seeing it, Torene realised that she'd been so swept up by the strong emotions of the crowd that she hadn't really stopped to think about how out of character it was for Marta to do what she'd just done. Either her friend had had a complete personality transplant – or gone mad – or there was something Torene had missed.

Torene took a breath, and decided to go with the latter. “Wait. You're telling me you wanted to alienate them all? That you chose to set yourself up in obvious opposition... not just to Langsam, but to all the Holds?”

Marta nodded, her smile broadening. “Keep going, Rene,” she murmured.

And oh, for the love of dragons, as soon as she bothered looking for the answer there it was! Starting a Hold was tough. You needed resources, human most of all: unskilled labourers, skilled technicians, and a supportive community made up of their husbands, wives and children – but why would anyone want to move to where the work was hardest, resources were limited, and the luxuries few and far between? Well, most wouldn't...but for some, what Marta had just done would be more than reason enough. All the malcontents of Pern would flock to her banner, and work all the harder because of what a hold named Bitra would inevitably stand for.

Torene choked out a brief laugh. “You did it to win a workforce?”

“Any way I can, Rene, any way I can!” Marta held out her hands again, and this time Torene stepped forward and took them. “I am sorry I couldn't warn you. You'll explain why to M'hall, won't you? And Sean?”

“I don't know that they'll listen, Marta.” But really, did it matter? Torene looked around the pavilion, at the celebrating Holdfolk of Bitra who'd hung on Marta's every word throughout the day's events. Hard-working, normal, decent people, who were arguably far better off than they would have been back at Benden, who deserved to be happy with all they'd achieved. “Oh, shaffitall, Marta! Get this place running better than Langsam's Hold, and maybe one day we'll even grow to like the name.”

“Like the name? Ugh!” Marta screwed up her face into an exaggerated expression of distaste. “Why would you do a thing like that?”

“You chose it, Marta!”

“Yes, I did,” she said with a chuckle. “But I'm bloody well going to change it to something better, just as soon as the Pass is over!”