Author's Note:- Written for an Arolos Weyr Valenine group. To clear up any confusion Red Stars are an Arolos invention - a renegade group.

Once upon a time - don't all good stories start that way? - there was a young man called Deyar. A young, bright-eyed, intelligent young man only nineteen turns old and with his whole life before him.

Young, intelligent, and perhaps a little too arrogant. He was working on contract for the RedStars and over time they would manage to knock a little of that confidence out of him, get him used to the fact that they were just as intelligent as he was, and if he misbehaved he would be in trouble. A little would remain - it would be a trace of that same arrogance in later life leading him when he walked into a Weyr RedStars were hated and openly declared himself, certain he could talk himself out of being hurt - but a large amount would be shaken out of him.

But that would come later. For now he was nineteen turns old, with thick brown hair, bright brown eyes, newly flush with the money the RedStars were paying him and confident that he could get away with anything he liked. What girl wouldn't want that?

The girl he fell for certainly did. Ilna was seventeen when he first saw her - a pretty young girl with long black hair and a certain look in her eyes that made his stomach turn over. He was passing through her Hold is his usual guise of messenger and fell quickly and hard for her. The RedStars weren't ungenerous in pay for their workers, and Deyar had plenty of marks to spend on gifts for her - pretty dresses, jewellery, anything her heart desired. Under such a barrage of adoration, attention and gifts, what girl wouldn't have her head turned a little?

It was a shame though that her parents were not so enamoured with him. Parents can be suspicious types at times, and this was their only daughter. It was only natural that they should be wary and ask questions, wondering for instance why a boy who was only a messenger should have so much money. They wanted their girl to marry a cotholder - someone good, and steady, with land of his own. This young man - all talk and show and flashy over-confidence - did not fit their idea of husband-material at all.

Perhaps that was their mistake there, for neither youngster liked being told "No.". Perhaps if left to themselves, their obsession with each other would have worn away - Deyar would have found another girl to flatter and charm, and Ilna would have consented to settle down with someone they approved of. But their love was forbidden, and that made it all the more exciting. As they were not allowed to see each other of course they had to do just that - Ilna slipped out to meet him secretly on any occasion he could in the fields around her home, there were secret kisses, secret unions... It was only more exciting when he whispered to her that she mustn't tell her parents but he wasn't really a messenger at all.

Until what became an adventure was very suddenly a more adult and frightening when Ilna came to meet him in tears one day with the news she thought she might be pregnant. Deyar was more than a little taken aback, but he too was a Holder's child, and his parents had taken time when he was a child to teach him the good and proper way of doing things. Perhaps he would aid the RedStars in murder and theft, but he would not run out on a woman bearing his child. That would be wrong.

Besides he loved her. Of course he did.

He was probably lucky that Ilna's father didn't put a crossbow to his head when they went in to explain, and he asked for her hand. Certainly the man looked like he wanted to, and it was perhaps only the fact that his daughter looked like she was about to cry and his wife's stern looks that kept him in check. Still, Deyar was taken aside and told in very plain terms just how badly off he would find himself if he failed to look after and protect their beloved daughter. Hurt her, he was warned, and the consequences would not be pleasant.

But wasn't it just the way of a man to be protective of his daughter? Deyar didn't think too much of it, didn't let it bother him. His own parents were ecstatic - after spending his teenage turns getting in and out of trouble this seemed to them a sign that their son was finally growing up and settling down. Perhaps this messenger business he'd taken up was good for him after all.

So, they were married. Deyar's wages paid for a small cothold for Ilna to settle in, and she quickly took control of the money. It was a necessity really - if she left it in Deyar's hands she learnt that life was going to be all pretty dresses but nothing to eat for dinner. Deyar didn't tend to think ahead so much where money was concerned. But they were happy - Deyar went out to work for a few days, came back for a few days, brought in enough money to live comfortably... life was good. And then Delyrn was born and life was blissful.

At least, Deyar's life was blissful. There was every reason for it to be. He lived with a beautiful wife and a young son he adored, and when they got to be too much could escape to a job he enjoyed for a few days, knowing they'd be there to welcome him in when he came home. Who wouldn't enjoy that? For Ilna, left alone in the cothold with a crying baby there was no such escape, and to her life very quickly began to seem less blissful and romantic.

She didn't mean to cheat, not the first time, perhaps no-one ever does. But Deyar, mindful that a young woman alone with a baby could be an easy target for thieves and worse, asked one of his friends to look in on her while they were away. Eliran was a little older than Deyar, and saw the misery and frustration that Deyar never seemed to even notice. His calls to look in on her and make sure she was all right very quickly became comforting little chats over a mug of klah. It was good to have someone to talk to, someone to complain at, and they became friends, good friends. Wasn't that harmless enough?

Just friends, until he arrived one day when Deyar had been gone for three days already, and Delyrn had seemed to cry constantly through all of those days. Ilna had been in tears herself with exhaustion, and Eliran had comforted her, hugged her close, calmed her down, and then she had looked up and they had kissed...

She had felt guilty, horrified at herself after their first time, She was married - how could she even think to do that? Her conscience hurt, and so to soothe it she fed it with all of Deyar's more annoying habits. The fact that though they were married now, he hadn't grown up at all, wasn't willing to take any more responsibility. All he did was the easy bit - putting money on the table and making her do all the hard work, budgeting, taking care of Delyrn, keeping the cothold tidy and clean. He just got the fun part of taking care of Delyrn - the playing when the baby was already fed, happy and clean. And despite the fact that he only did that, a jealous little part of her mind was sure the baby loved him more than he did her.

If he were here, doing his part, she wouldn't be able to do this would she? And perhaps if he knew, if he realised what she was doing, he would come home more often, pay more attention to her.

But he never noticed.

And that was ridiculous if only she'd taken the time to think about it. Deyar's job, and sometimes his life, depended on him noticing things. Of course he should have noticed how close his wife and his friend were getting.

But there was a choice wasn't there? A choice never spoke out loud, never admitted to anyone that it had even existed. If he saw, if he noticed this, what would happen? The perfect life would be spoilt. The wife he loved, the son he adored - would they stay with him or would they go to Eliran? Speak up, and he ran the risk of losing his family and his friend in one blow. And even if Ilna didn't choose to go to Eliran, if this was true, could he bear to keep her?

Sometimes it may be better to hide an unpleasant truth from yourself, and blame paranoia. This Deyar did, telling himself that there should be no suspicion in Ilna having friends, and he should be happy that they got along so well.

And then Ilna was pregnant again. Deyar was overjoyed... though Eliran, oddly enough, moved away a few sevendays later. When Yaranna was born, her hair the same bright red as his friend's... well. Of course Deyar knew, in some part of his mind that paranoia had not merely been paranoia, but...

But Eliran was far away now, so surely the danger was passed. What use was there in bringing up all the nastiness now, when he could just leave it and pretend it had never been? And certainly it wasn't the baby's fault - such a beautiful baby. Deyar had always had a weakness for children, and there was no way he could he walked away from his son - by now toddling about merrily - or from the tiny red-haired daughter they named Yaranna. He treated the little girl as his, and within a few months had been able to successfully convince himself she was his. The whole sorry incident was put behind closed doors in his mind, and forgotten.

That was a shame really, because forgetting meant he went on behaving in exactly the same way he had been. Ilna had two little children to take care of now, and resentment festered. It had to be obvious what she'd been doing - why didn't he notice? Didn't he care? Was he paying so little attention to her that he didn't even realise?

She wouldn't have been able to pinpoint the time when she stopped wanting him around more and started wanting him around less, but after enough time it happened. She set up a routine when he wasn't there - managing to keep the house clean, the children fed and happy, everything the way she liked it. He walked in, and immediately the order she had set up so carefully was disturbed. He forgot to take his boots off on coming in and tracked mud over her clean floor. He rearranged entire rooms; certain he could use the space better. He spent money recklessly - of course gifts were nice, but you had to be practical. He wasn't even safe sitting down - constantly busy fidgeting fingers could find the one loose thread in a cushion and destroy it. It was like having an extra child to take care of, and she already had two to worry about.

And the children preferred him to her. That too was an annoyance. She was there every day for them, cooking their meal, taking care of them - but there only had to be the noise of the runner in the yard and they'd be running for the door, squealing with excitement. They never greeted her with such enthusiasm.

She cheated because she was angry all the time now it seemed, and wanted to hurt him. Because she wanted him to notice and somehow fix things, make it all better. and the less he seemed to notice, the more blatant she became.

And the more blatant she became, the more Deyar developed techniques that meant he didn't have to notice. Arriving home, he started taking ten minutes out front to greet the children - more than enough time for Ilna to sneak someone out the back. Little signs, things accidentally left behind, were purposely ignored - again dismissed as paranoia. Nothing was ever said.

He tried his best to be a good husband, feeling something was wrong and yet never sure what it was. Now was the time he would have spent more time at home - but she didn't seem to want that now so he worked instead. He brought her gifts, not knowing how much that irritated her. He played with the children while he was home, and taught them, not knowing how their adoration of him grated against her nerves. And he was always completely faithful; as if by obeying that rule himself he could magically make it that she was doing the same.

He never wrote her love songs, not once. It was odd perhaps because he'd been a Harper once, and certainly he wrote songs enough for work. Songs to tell of events, songs to make people think a certain way but never once a love song.

There was a reason for that, though it wasn't the one she thought it was. She took it as yet another sign that he didn't care for her at all, but for Deyar words and songs were a tool. They were something you used to manipulate people with. They shouldn't be used on people you loved. It was a waste of the words which could be doing more useful things and it was… wrong somehow. And so those songs remained unwritten, and added to his list of crimes in Ilna's mind.

She set down rules. He followed them. She told him he was going to be a bad influence on his son, no child should have a criminal as a father. He looked hurt, but promised never to drag Delyrn into the RedStar business - a promise he kept. But they never talked, never brought up the issue of cheating - each waiting for the other to do so. And so, Turns passed by...

Deyar was promoted from contractor to RedStar somewhere during those Turns, and Ilna had to abandon her hopes of him ever settling down and becoming the nice boring cotholder her father had wanted her to marry. He didn't even ask her before accepting, sure that she would be just as excited as he was. Besides, she was pregnant again now, and with a third child on the way they needed the extra money.

There were days when he himself wasn't sure why he didn't just leave - days when they picked fights with each other over nothing at all, and ended up screaming at each other while the children played out in the yard. Days when she ended up in tears, and he ended up out on his runner, riding off his anger, trying to exhaust himself until the urge to shake her subsided.

But there were other days when life seemed perfect - when she welcomed him home, when the children were happy and they were a proper family. Days when there were picnics in the summer, or snowball fights in the winter, days that ended in nights curled up together in bed, comfortable and content. Days when they were a family. Surely they were worth staying together for?

And besides with every turn the stakes got greater. The children grew from babies and toddlers to real little people who could talk and think for themselves. Little people who he had no way of caring for on his own - he had to go out to work, he couldn't stay at home to look after them. But how could he ever leave if it meant leaving them behind?

If he ever caught Ilna, he would have to leave. So he was very careful to make sure he never caught her. Even the children learnt that you didn't ever talk about Mother's other friends.

Life went on. The opportunity came for Deyar to transfer South came and he took it, thinking it would be a fresh start for them. It meant several days on a ship with nowhere else to go, which meant that by the time they got off he and Ilna weren't exactly speaking to each other. Not exactly the best of starts to a new life, but maybe it would get better.

He loved the South once he had chance to settle. The work was challenging, and kept him both busy and amused. And the people... certainly most of them were the sheep he was used to but one or two intrigued him. They knew what he was, he knew what they were and he made a game out of seeing how far they could push each other. He knew and they knew that there was a line. If he ever crossed over that line he fully expected to find himself staked out for thread but until then... until then, it was only play.

And when he'd received a message by firelizard that Ilna needed a Healer immediately it had been one of those people he'd turned to, dragging K'ren out to see to her, terrified he might lose her. That was one truth at least he'd never even guessed at, and Ilna was grateful for that. She might want to hurt him, but if he found out that the "illness" had been caused by a home-abortion gone wrong that might just be pushing it too far.

He had guessed though that it had been more than coincidence that his friend had been staying with her when she got ill. But... she was alive, and he was too grateful for that to ask too many questions. Besides, it might have been innocent - he wasn't sure it wasn't...

It wasn't so much that Deyar was blind as that he chose not to see.

Then there was Torezu, and it wasn't just that the man was a challenge and fun to play against, but that he was good to talk to. It was good to have someone to get drunk with when life was being a little rough, and certainly there was no harm in it, was there?

When Deyar forgot the promise made Turns ago and made the slip - only a minor slip - of sending Delyrn on a RedStar message to warn people of a storm coming, Ilna was furious. All of the old warnings were dragged out - being a bad influence on the boy, leading him into the wrong things. And Deyar didn't want that, hadn't ever wanted that. Certainly he was a criminal in the strictest sense of the word but that made been something he had chosen, eyes wide open, knowing exactly what it was he was doing. Delyrn was only a child, hero-worshipping his father. It would be easy for him to turn the wrong way without ever knowing what he was doing.

Ilna shouted. Deyar conceded. Delyrn, although only ten turns old still, was sent to train as a Guard at the Weyr. It was a good life, Deyar reassured him, a good training for a young boy. The best thing he could do for him. He handed him over, knowing full well what he was doing. Would Delyrn grow up to be the man who arrested his father? Who knew? Perhaps the boy would choose the RedStars of his own accord. But he had to be given the choice. He said good bye, walked away.

And then he went to Torezu's and got drunk.

He had always been faithful to Ilna. Always. She hadn't always believed it - had soothed her own guilt about cheating with the thought that he must be doing the same the amount of time he'd been away from home. But he hadn't. He'd been a good Hold boy, had never slept around.

But there was Torezu. And with Torezu there were... well, "incidents". Not many - three, four occasions perhaps, he was sure there had been no more than that. And never quite in his right mind - when he was too drunk to know what he was doing, or in a goldflight - what could a Holder know about goldflights and their effects? Nevertheless, though he would deny them even the next morning while still in bed with Torezu (much to Torezu's disgust) they had still happened. He buried them, tried to pretend they had never happened, never spoke of them to Ilna. Perhaps he should have stopped going to see Torezu at all - Ilna would certainly have preferred it if he had - but he would have missed seeing the dragonless man too much to do that.

They muddled along, sometimes rowing, sometimes with those rare good days where Deyar wondered how he could even think there was anything wrong with their relationship.

Did he love her? It was hard to tell. He always said he did, as if the saying would make it so. Admit something out loud and you could never deny in your mind that you'd thought it. Sometimes he didn't doubt that he loved her, on those good days when they smiled at each other, when he looked down at her after they'd made love, when all was right with the world… then he was certain that he loved her. But the other days when things didn't go well… sometimes a little voice tried to whisper then that perhaps it was his way of life that he loved and not her at all.

He ignored it. What else was there to do?

And then the Tunnelsnakes came. A band of renegades much more violent than the RedStars had ever been. RedStars treated their victims like a good Herder treats his cattle, culling them and milking them. The Tunnelsnakes behaved like whers towards those same cattle, killing all in their path.

And Deyar was set to work against them. He loved his family dearly, and if you love your family then in a situation like that you stay away from them. He sent them to stay with a friend, and promised it wouldn't be long. It took every ounce of self-control he had not to visit them while they were gone. Instead he visited another woman whose husband had recently died, with children around the same age as his own. If the Tunnelsnakes came looking for his family, he made sure they would have someone to find.

Not a particularly nice thing to do perhaps. But RedStars don't always bother with "nice" and Deyar would do a lot to protect his family.

As it happened, it wasn't his family they targeted but him. A false message about his son being hurt, and a man with a crossbow set to catch him as he rode back towards the Weyr caught him neatly. Again, Weyr friends came in useful, and he was found close-to-dead and taken to K'ren's weyr to be taken care of. "I won't be gone long" stretched out into over a Turn as he healed.

There are certain things that you can't ignore, however blind you wish to be. Your wife being pregnant when you've been gone for over a Turn is among them.

For all his love, for all his need of his family, that nearly broke him. It was not the thing he wished to find after so recently recovering from such a bad injury. He shouted, and got upset. For all his suspicions, it hurt to have the truth so undeniably set in front of him. She shouted back that he couldn't complain, he hadn't been there. It was easier to be angry than to face the guilt and the idea that she just might have done something very wrong. The children watched, and clung, and cried.

It had ended with Deyar taking them home and leaving them there, riding off again, needing to think. He slept a night at Torezu's and then went back to work, throwing himself into it, needing something other than home to think about. Ilna waited for him to come home, certain that this was only one of his huffs, and then began to worry that perhaps this time she had gone too far, had done the unforgivable.

It was that which led to her packing the two girls up and taking them to the Weyr. Deyar might never have spoken about Torezu, but that hadn't stopped her having suspicions. The girls needed their father – she would confront him and bring him home. Besides, if he left, how was she to cope without his money?

He wasn't there, and she shouldn't have tried travelling when so heavily pregnant. Not after the complications caused by her abortion previously. She ended up kept in the Weyr infirmary until the baby was born. Deyar, though still angry, took care of the girls.

But the baby brought him back to her. She had known it would somehow. Such a beautiful little boy, such huge clear blue eyes. Deyar had never been good at walking away from children. And then when there was another goldflight when they were still at the Weyr… this time she made sure it was her bed he ended up in for the flight.

Once upon a time a beautiful young Holder girl married a handsome young RedStar. They had four lovely children, and lived happily ever after. Because they loved each other, and because that's how the story goes.

Isn't it?