Chap. 343 The Reluctant Apprentice

Chap. 343 The Reluctant Apprentice

“What happened?” Lizard asked, sitting up. His head spun. Four people swam into his view, two with fire lizards perched on their shoulders. “K’ndar,” he said, relieved to see the brown dragonrider at his feet. Two of the others he recognized, but couldn’t quite drag up the memory of where.

“Oh, shards, my head. My shoulder, my ribs, everything hurts. Is all this blood mine?”

B’rost was kneeling next to him. “Aye, sir. But we’re here to stop it,” he said, turning his head to look up at Seven. “I’m sorry we had to cut away your shirt, I wanted to see how deep the wound is.”

Lizard tried to laugh. “It’s just a shirt. Yeesh, I didn’t realize I had that much blood in me. It’s even pooling in my navel.”

“Here, Seven, would you please hold this compress against the open wound?”

Seven recoiled. “Um,” he hesitated, then gingerly put one finger on the pad.

“Come on, Seven, pressure. Whole hand pressure!”

He obeyed, dismayed to see the bandage begin to turn scarlet. It’s getting on me, he thought.

Francie stifled a moan of shock. The scars on Lizard’s chest and stomach were horrible. The blows from the bolo stones were already purpling into great bruises.

“Forgive me, but I’m going to have to press on your ribs, to see if any are broken,” B’rost said.

“Have at it, sir.” Lizard took a deep breath, and held it. He winced-but said nothing during the exam. Finally, B’rost said, “Exhale before you pass out! I don’t think any are broken or even fractured. But you’re going to be all colors of the rainbow on your rib cage, for a while. Try not to sneeze or cough for, oh a year?”


“No,” B’rost said, “I’m teasing. It’s going to hurt, even just deep breaths. But that will pass. How’s the bleeding of the wound, Seven? Slowing down?”

“I think so.” He pulled away the compress. “Yes. It’s stopped.” He dropped the bandage, his fingers bloody. He imagined them itching and absently wiped them on his pants.

“Good. Now you need to treat this wound.”

Seven shook his head, repulsed. “Um, no, please. I’ve not had wound treatment yet, uh, up til now it’s all been classroom and theory. Anatomy and physiology,” he stammered, “I don’t think I could do as good a job as you.”

B’rost raised one sardonic eyebrow.

K’ndar couldn’t resist, remembering the scorn that had dripped from Seven’s lips just a very short while ago. “It’s just Basic Aid, Seven. Haven’t you ever had an open wound? Even I could do that, and I flunked Basic Aid, twice.” Here you are, jerk, a serving of your own medicine, he thought, gleefully.

Seven scowled. “We had a healer for that sort of situation.”

B’rost met K’ndar’s eyes-and rolled his. It helped to fend off his embarrassment. I brought this lout because of the relationship we’ve had, he thought. He’s making me look like a fool. I didn’t choose him. He chose me, and now I know why. But to do anything about it, I need a real reason, not just an opinion, and now he’s providing one.

“Right. No matter, I’ll do it,” he said.

Yes, this does make things easier, he thought. I was wondering how I was going to explain to the Master Healer that you’re not cut out for this trade. Not only that, you’re a rude and egotistical jerk. Now I have witnesses to bolster my case. I’ll check with the Master on the datalink, but I’m betting she’ll tell me to drop you off at your home cothold. I’ll clean out your belongings from our quarters and have them shipped. I might even drop them off myself.

But part of his heart twisted at the thought of breaking up. I thought we were weyrmates, I thought it would be you and me for a lifetime. When you’re not being such a jerk in front of other people, you’re different. I don’t understand that.

I don’t like him. He is not honest. I don’t understand this human. He is not the right mate for you Rath said.

Oh, Rath. Of all the beings on Pern, Rath has always been my bulwark. I don’t have this feeling for Seven. I thought I loved him. Now I can’t remember why I thought I did. It was all just so exciting to finally have someone pay attention to me, someone who I believed loved me for who I am, not what.

But once again, I was wrong. Maybe I’ll never have someone love me.

Must love only be from another human? Have you forgotten me? You are hurting. Please stop. I am here. You have me, from the moment I hatched, we filled each others minds. Remember? Why do you need him? No dragon wanted him. You are useful to him, but only because you have me.

Rath’s soothing and earnest words surrounded his heart. As always, the blue dragon was right. He WAS being used.

The realization stunned him. I have to file this away at the moment, I have work to do. Yes. That suddenly makes sense. All the wooing, the gifts, the special attention-but only in private. In front of my friends, even my superiors, he treats me as if I were still a stupid kid, not a weyrmate. He forgets he’s the apprentice, not me.

You are mine and I am yours. There will be other mates. But not him Rath said.

Rath’s heart surrounded his own, subdueing the anxiety like ice melting in the warmth of a loving sun. He turned his attention to treating the trader’s wound.

“I don’t know if I should stitch this or not,” he said, more to himself.

“Will it heal right if you don’t?” Lizard asked, looking at the wound. Funny, it looks like it should be hurting, he thought, but now it’s not. It’s as if I were looking at someone else’s wound. It must be that gel he mentioned.

“Oh, it will heal, but probably not neatly. I am hesitant to stitch it up here, this isn’t the cleanest of environments. For now I’ll slather smanda gel on it, that serves better than stitches, especially as it’s right atop the bone. If it opens up, you MUST have it stitched, by a Healer or at Cove Hold, please. If you don’t, you’ll have an ugly scar, I think.”

Lizard grunted, half in pain and half in jest. “Ah, well, it may as well match the scars on my belly and chest. It will add to my excuses as to why I am still single.”

Francie and K’ndar laughed. Seven’s stomach turned.

“Don’t you worry about that, Lizard. You just haven’t met the right woman yet. We females dig scars, you know? It means you’ve lived, you’ve accomplished something,” Francie said, chuckling. “I’ve heard it said, ‘scars are just tattoos with better stories.”

Lizard laughed. Gently.

“There,” B’rost said, finally happy with the cleanliness of the wound. “You’ve stopped bleeding, at least, so your platelets are just fine. What do you think, Seven?”

“Um, oh, I agree,” Seven muttered, his stomach churning. Look at the blood, it’s everywhere. And that scar on his torso, oh shards, even though it’s healed, it’s hideous. It’s all squiggly and ropey, it even cut up his navel. Were his guts poking out? Oh, I can’t think that, I’m going to puke. He turned his eyes skyward to steady his stomach.

Francie read the dismay on Seven’s face. B’rost is calling him out, she thought, and high time. This man, whatever his problem is, has no business being a healer.

“Look at this cut! A centimeter lower and it would have severed the tendon. A centimeter higher and it would have cut an artery. As it is, it cut the skin on the collar bone, and I’m thinking it bounced off! Amazing! That’s going to take some time to heal and it’s going to hurt. But otherwise? Sir, you are lucky. What caused this? An arrow?”

“No,” Lizard shook his head, “it was a dagger. The man ambushed me. I’m so fuzzy minded right now, it all happened so fast. I wasn’t paying attention! It’s like a tunnel snake warren here, hideyholes in every outcrop, he came out of nowhere and jumped me, going for my throat with a dagger.”

K’ndar whistled. “That was foolish. I know how dangerous you are with a knife. Did, is he alive?”

Lizard grinned at K’ndar. “No. At least I don’t think so. He wasn’t moving when I left him but things got very busy after that. Suddenly there were arrows everywhere. My lizards went for him, my..where are they?” he cried, in a panic.

In response, his bronze and gold launched from their position behind him. Side by side, they hovered in front of him, squeaking in their concern. B’rost waved the bronze off to keep him from landing on Lizard’s shoulder, so they landed in Lizard’s lap. The gold wheeked, upset by the blood. She pushed her head up into his right hand, wanting reassurance.

“Ah, my little Machli, you are such a sweet,” Lizard said, his heart swelling at the unabashed love of the little queen. “And Batu, my valiant Batu, you gave me time to pull my own dagger,” he said to the bronze. He stroked their finely chiseled heads. He looked up at the four in front of them.

“They attacked the one with the dagger. And my dog! Crunch, is he alive? He went after three horsemen, roaring like the lion he is. Oh, he’s covered in blood!”

Francie smiled. “Worry not, sir. He’s fine, just asleep. He had an arrow right along his spine, we thought he’d been hit.” She flourished the arrow, noticing a crafter’s mark on the shaft. Hmm.

“His fur saved him, the arrow got tangled in it. He’s got a fairly long cut on his skin, but otherwise he’s fine, if snoring. He should come out of it any minute, I didn’t give him much sleepyherb.”

She looked at Seven, daring him to correct her again. But the apprentice was studiously keeping his eyes anywhere other than on the bloody and bare chested Lizard.

“He’s smart. He knew I was going to help him. Now I think I could have pulled it out of him without the sedative. Once I made up to him, he was the gentlest of beasts. He’s a lovely dog.”

Lizard patted the dog, aghast at the blood matted fur. “Aye, he’s proven himself much more than a dog. He’s a worthy comrade, good lad.”

“He was right beside you, sir,” B’rost said, “I think he would have tackled the biggest wher on Pern in your defense. When he growled I thought my bollocks were about to be ripped out by the roots!” He laughed. “But he knows K’ndar and the minute he and Francie locked eyes, it was love at first sight with him.”

“And me,” Francie said. Oh, I’d take this dog in a heartbeat, she thought.

Lizard chuckled, wincing. “Aye, he’s daft for women, and kids, too.” He winked at Francie.

“I’m just glad he recognized me,” K’ndar said. “Even knowing him, I was, um…wary. No, not merely wary. Scared spitless.”

Lizard reached with his good right arm to stroke the dogs back, unconsciously breaking up the clots of drying blood. “You’ll need a good bath, mate,” he said. He looked at the group, pride swelling in his chest. “He went through a hailstorm of arrows, to protect me.”

He met K’ndar’s eyes, beginning to sort things out. “How is it you’re here? I’m so groggy, one minute I’m fighting for life and now this?”

“Your bronze, Lizard, you sent him! He appeared right in front of Raventh, yelling at the top of his mind for help. He kept sending images of you on the ground.”

“Send him? I didn’t send him,” Lizard said, astounded, “The raiders were stealing my horses, I was running behind them, then I got tripped up by a bolo and at the same time a horseman clonked me in the head.”

“Whoa,” Francie said, amazed. “You mean he came on his own?”

“That’s the only thing I can think to explain it! It was so crazy, three of them, well, four, counting the one I gutted, he wasn’t horseback, the rest were. I honestly didn’t have time to think of sending Batu for help.”

“I didn’t know they’d do that!” she said, “But I’m not surprised. My three are constantly coming up with new things.” Her three fire lizards chittered in agreement.

“The longer I have them, the more they amaze me,” Lizard said. “What aren’t they capable of?”

“Probably reading and writing,” K’ndar snickered.

“And, Lizard? Your queen? She stayed with you to protect you from the scavenger wherries. One little queen against five or six wherries three times her size. She held them all off until we got here, and then my three, and Siskin, and even Putzu came in, from clear across the continent, all on her own!” Francie said.

“Siskin called her for help,” K’ndar said. “They were all over the wherries like stink on a smashed tumblebug. Heheheheeeee! The wherries had no idea what hit them! Oh, it was glorious to witness, if too fast over.”

B’rost felt the old sentiment arise his mind-but Rath beat him to it.

I know what you’re going to think, Rath chided B’rost, I have been waiting for a fire lizard. It is time we had one. Raventh and Motanith both have them. When is it my turn?

Yes. You have been very patient. This man is called Fire Lizard Man for a reason. I will ask him for an egg.

“And how is it you all are here? I’m sorry, but I’m confused. You, ma’am, you’re, um, Francie? That’s your green dragon behind you, yes? And your husband, you’re both at Landing. I sold you a very fine horse, didn’t I.”

“You did,” Francie said, “And Donal is still the best horse I’ve ever been lucky enough to own. I beg your pardon, but how is your eye?”

“My eye?” His hand unconsciously went to his face. Oh shaff, is there something wrong with my eye? I can see out of them, even with this headache, he thought.

“Yes, when we met you at the Gather, you were wearing an eye patch. And a well made pair of riding boots.”

Lizard grinned. “Ah, yes, I remember that Gather, and the auction. Well, Francie, you see,” he started, trying to decide if he should reveal one of his strategies.

K’ndar interrupted. “He was in costume, Francie. Like you, when your fire lizards are doing shows at the Gathers.”

I guess that makes sense, she thought, nodding.

Lizard, grateful for the save, nodded. “Aye. I wanted to keep the scroungers from trying to get the horse for a bargain. Had I shown up wearing my regular duds they wouldn’t have thought he was worth that much money. I asked a high enough price to keep some yob from harnessing that noble beast to a muck cart.”

“I can promise you that will never happen as long as he’s with me,” Francie said.

“There you go, sir,” B’rost said, admiring the bandage job. “If you don’t have numbweed, I’ll leave a jar with you, along with a handful of bandages. I want you to keep the wound clean and bandaged until it closes. Keep this smanda gel on it for a few days, it will prevent an infection as well as keep the pain under control.”

“And you, now you’re a Healer? You’re, um, you were the dragonrider at the trial, the one where the three raiders-two of whom tried to cut me in half-were tried and convicted by Lord Dorn.”

“Yes, sir. B’rost, rider of blue Rath, formerly of Kahrain Weyr, now Healer out of Healer Hall when I’m not skyhooting all over Pern. Like right now.”

Lizard looked at Seven, expectantly. “And you?” he said.

Seven didn’t see it. Tried to cut you in half? he thought, his eyes firmly on the horizon, they almost succeeded! Oh shards, what have I gotten myself into? This isn’t what I expected when I applied.

I thought it would be like the Healer at the cothold, handing out medications for women with morning sickness, dabbing a little numbweed on a child’s scraped knee, and telling people they shouldn’t drink so much. No one told me I’d have to deal with people who’ve been cut up like this.

B’rost cleared his throat, then elbowed him in the knee. “The polite thing to do is introduce yourself, Apprentice.”

“Oh, sorry,” Seven said. Keep your eyes past his chest, he thought, “I’m Seven, originally of my father’s minor cothold near Telgar, now a healer’s apprentice at Healer Hall.”

Lizard caught the inattention. His fire lizards sent a distinct impression of disliking the apprentice. There’s something devious about you, boyo, something you’re not saying. My gut says you’re not to be trusted.

“I’m known as Fire Lizard Man, a trader who’s been all over Pern, and thank you for helping me.” Despite being of no help at all, he thought. Why are you here, if not as an apprentice learning to be a healer?

“Um, you’re welcome,” Seven said.

“Okay,” B’rost said, standing up. “Can you stand? Do you think you can ride a dragon? I want to transport you to Cove Hold, but Rath can’t take more than two riders. I’m sure either Francie or K’ndar can transport you.”

“Cove Hold? Why?”

“I want the dolphins to scan your head. I’m worried your skull may be fractured.”

Lizard shook it, willing the pain to lessen. “No. I have to find my horses. I don’t know if the raiders have found my caravan. I can’t leave Crunch here, either. He’s never been on a dragon.”

As if on cue, Crunch’s eyes opened and he began to pant.

“Can you stand up, woofer? There’s someone who wants to see you,” Francie said. She helped the dog to its feet. His tail began to wag, hitting Lizard in the face.

“Hey, you goof, turn around and breathe at me,” he said. Whimpering, the dog turned and pushed his head against the man’s chest. Lizard ran his hand over the channel Francie had cut through the thick fur to treat the wound.

“You’re a mess, dog. Where did all this blood come from?”

The dog whined and shoved his head under Lizard’s right arm. He scritched behind the dog’s ears with his left hand despite the slight tug of the bandage over his left collar bone. You are such a companion, he thought. Thank the stars you’re unharmed.

“Can you stand up?” B’rost repeated.

“Not can. Will.” Lizard said. B’rost stood up and grasped Lizard’s right arm. The trader shook it off. He stood up, shakily, but steadily. Crunch pressed against his legs, not helping, but that was okay. I’d rather feel him against me than flat on the ground, dead.

“How’s that feel?”

“Better. And my head is feeling better, too, being on my feet.” He was lying, and B’rost knew it. But he let the man be a man.

B’rost sucked his teeth. “Excellent. But now, this is the hard part of being a healer, Lizard. I think someone more experienced than me should attend to you. I would like to hear what the dolphins say. I would like to hope your head is all in one piece, because we don’t have the knowledge, anymore, of how to treat a possible fracture. All I can offer is pain killers and ask you to give your injuries TOT: Tincture of Time. But I can’t force you to go anywhere.”

Lizard nodded. “I’ll be okay, B’rost. I want to stay. Thank you.”

“It was my pleasure. At least, promise me you’ll ask Francie or K’ndar for transport to Cove Hold if you change your mind? The Hall will pay for it. I’ll contact the Healers there to let them know you might need their help.”

“Of course I’ll take him,” Francie and K’ndar both said at the same time, “and no way on Pern will either of us take a coin for it.” They met each other’s eyes and laughed.

“You have my word, Healer B’rost.”

B’rost’s datalink, almost forgotten, buzzed.

Healer B’rost. RE: your preliminary data on the casualty Lizard Man. Have you determined what the casualty needs in terms of further aid?

“Pardon me, but I need to answer this message,” he said, drawing away from the group. Seven made to join him. He held up his hand to stay him. No.

I have. I have treated the superficial wounds with numbweed and smanda gel. I think it inadvisable to stitch the wound in field conditions. Smanda gel and pressure bandaging is, at this time, preventing further blood loss. Casualty has been offered transport to Cove Hold for a dolphin scan and stitching but refuses to go. Other than pain, casualty is stable, ambulatory and of sound mind. There are two other dragon riders here who are willing to transport him should he change his mind.

He sent it and chewed a knuckle, feeling Seven’s gaze. He knew what would be said when he and Seven faced Pern’s Master Healer. The duty staffer had been monitoring while we worked and kicked it upstairs to her attention. She might have issues with my work, but I’m betting my boots she will be hard on Seven for his obvious dereliction of duty, no matter how small the task was. Thank the stars I don’t have to make a case for him.

If you have concluded your aid to the casualty, please report to me at Healer Hall as soon as possible. Please bring Apprentice Seven with you.

It was unsigned, one being unnecessary. You didn’t need an advanced degree to know who gave that sort of ‘request.’ Despite being politely worded, ‘as soon as possible’ meant ‘right now’.

He looked at the trader. “I’m sorry, Lizard, but we’ve been recalled to Healer Hall. I have to leave you here. Remember, replace the bandages every twelve hours, sooner if it starts to bleed again. If the wound re-opens, I demand you get it stitched. And take it easy, please? I’m going to want a fire lizard egg from you, soon.”

Lizard smiled and reached out his right hand.

“Thank you sir. Now that they know you, when she lays, I’ll send Batu to let you know his queen has a new clutch.”


Chap. 342 Triage

Chap. 342 Triage

K’ndar felt left out. The fire lizards were all grouped just above Lizard’s head, watching as B’rost directed Seven to begin cutting away the bola from the fallen trader’s body. Francie had, without comment, begun to gently probe the dog’s injuries. I have nothing to do, he thought, feeling useless.

The bronze fire lizard hissed whenever Seven looked at him.

“I swear the fire lizards are monitoring your work,” B’rost said, “I think the bronze is saying, “Have a care with that knife, Seven.””

Maybe I do have something to do, K’ndar thought. Keeping an eye on Seven.

“I’m being careful!” Seven snapped, suppressing the urge to swat the fire lizard. He felt K’ndar’s eyes on his back. The fire lizards are nuisances and so are your friends, he thought. You need to be doing this, not me. I don’t like K’ndar watching my every move, never mind a flying tunnel snake.

Something about the way the ropes were wrapped around Lizards’ body drew B’rost’s attention. He held up his hand. “Wait.” Ah. “What do you see about these ropes?”

Seven frowned, then looked at the rope he’d just cut. Shoving his resentment to the side of his mind, he ran his fingers over the ropes. They were wrapped several times around Lizard’s body. One of the rocks, neatly encased in a woven net of rope, lay on his chest. “This one rope around his chest, I don’t think it is long enough to have reached his head.”

“And yet?”

“And yet, he’s got a big lump on the side of his head. It’s bleeding, slowly.”

“Correct. And I think you’re right, although I don’t know anything about bolas,” B’rost said. “Now look, the one around his chest-is that blood on the rope?”

Seven rocked back on his heels, only to feel the dog’s tail thumping his thigh. He moved away from it. Damned dog. Hemmed in by animals! What did B’rost ask? Oh, yes. The ropes.

“Yes. But I don’t think it’s from the head wound. I think he’s got a wound under it. I see two rocks, nine wraps around his chest, waist and upper legs. Three ropes that join in a single knot, just beneath his ribs. There has to be a third rock underneath him. I think I can wiggle my hand underneath him to find it.”

“Why don’t you just roll him over?” B’rost asked, slyly.

“NO! He might have a broken neck.”

“Right. And if he does? Can you move him safely?”

Seven thought for several moments, then shook his head. “I can’t, not without stabilizing the neck. Even then,” he sucked his teeth, “I don’t know if a Healer like you can, or even a Master. A broken neck usually means a broken spinal nerve and how to fix that has been lost for thousands of years.”

B’rost shook his head, sadly. “You’re right. I will admit I’ve never treated this injury before. It’s so seldom that the casualty is still alive by the time we get to him. The only time I saw it was when I was an apprentice, like you, and the man had died within minutes.”

“Which was probably for the best. Otherwise he might have been paralyzed from the neck down. And no one wants to live being paralyzed.”

“How would you be able to tell without moving him?” K’ndar asked, dismayed.

“Asking him what he can or can’t feel, but he’s unconscious. I wish he’d wake up!” He worked his hand gently underneath Lizard and sighed. “I have it,” he said, and pulled a smaller rock at the rope. He laid the ropes alongside the man’s legs.

K’ndar felt a cold stone in his stomach. If Lizard is paralyzed…

What is paralyzed? Raventh asked.

It’s when the spinal cord is broken and nothing below it or behind it can move. It’s the same thing as when you kill a giant wherry, what do you do?

I catch him with my forefeet and bite just behind his head. Then he stops flying or moving.

I can feel the bones crunch when I bite him in just the right spot. Sometimes if you bite too far back they can reach around and slash you. Their beaks are sharper than teeth!

Right. It’s not the bones, it’s the nerve that you’re cutting. But in humans, sometimes, they don’t die when it’s cut. They can’t move their arms or walk afterwards.

He wouldn’t be able to walk?

No. It’s like that dragon at Honshu, he can’t fly anymore because his spinal cord was damaged.


Yes, I think that’s his name but I can’t remember the rider’s. They’re at Honshu Weyr.

I have never talked to him, but even with dragons lifting him into the air, I know he isn’t happy. Only because his rider is alive did he not suicide. I wouldn’t want to live like that.

Nor do humans. If Lizard is paralyzed, he will ask us to give him a one way ride.

Yes. Like T’ovar did after Firoth suicided. I felt bad for Firoth. But not T’ovar.

Raventh was silent for several moments.

I would be glad to take him between. Careth told me how he felt T’ovar try to jump off. So he turned over to one side and T’ovar pushed himself off.

Seven noticed the dog licking Francie’s fingers. He shivered involuntarily. I’ll never get used to dogs he thought. She must be doing that to impress me.

“You’re feeding him your fingers?” he grumbled. How is it dogs immediately hate me and yet strangers like her can do what she likes to them?

Francie laughed. “Nay, nay. I’m giving him a little sleepyherb, that’s all. I’m not sure because his fur is so thick, but I don’t think the arrow is all that deep in his body. If it had hit anything vital he’d be dead, or a least paralyzed. Even so, I don’t want to just yank it out, no matter what B’rost says.”

“Sissy,” the blue rider snickered.

“Sissy, is it? I’m a girl, it’s okay for me to be ‘sissy’. Males can be sissy, too, but they think their bollocks will fall off if they admit it. Besides, I’m a lot closer to this brute’s fangs than you are,” she teased back.

“And you think that wasn’t planned?” B’rost laughed outright.

She laughed. “You’re devious, bluey.”

“I’d be careful about calling her a sissy,” K’ndar said, grinning, “I remember how she saved your arse in our first fight against Thread.”

“Woof,” B’rost said, nodding his head, “I had no idea where you came from, Francie but yeah, you did, you saved us both. Rath may be blue but otherwise we were green! He was so excited he blew out every bit of flame in his tank in one great whoosh. So now we’re in a Thread fall with no flame! A whole cloud of it came out of nowhere, I knew it was coming down on my head. I could hear it hissing and thought, oh shit I am so dead. Motanith flamed that cloud so close I would have been burned bald if Rath hadn’t dropped like a stone. I still don’t know if he dropped or Motanith shoved him. I’ll never forget it, Francie, and I owe you.”

I pushed him. I didn’t know I could do that then Motanith said, I just did it.

“I’m not afraid to admit that I was scared,” K’ndar said, “I saw it happening and I didn’t know who I was scared more for, me or you.” He laughed.

“You were scared, for me?” B’rost said, pleased.

“Aye, mostly because I thought, damn it, now I have to break in a new roommate.”

The three dragonriders roared. Seven scowled, left out.

Francie grinned. “You have to admit, B’rost, greens LOVE a good thread fight. It gives them a chance to show your boys up. Fortunately, that isn’t difficult.”

K’ndar laughed, then saw the expression on Seven’s face. What IS it with this man?

“Ah,” Francie said,”the sleepyherb acts fast.”

“It’s called a “sedative,”not ‘sleepyherb’,” Seven said, his tone scathing.

Francie heard it. She gave him the stink eye. “It still works, though, RIGHT?” She bit off ‘asshole’.

“Seven, knock it off, B’rost snapped, “and get those ropes cut. See how he’s bleeding through the shirt and jacket? A stab wound, maybe? just above the heart. At least it’s not from the aortic artery. Had he been hit there, we’d be burying him.”

Seven removed the last of the ropes. “Yes,” he said, “there’s definitely a hole in the shirt, right in front of the armpit. I don’t think it’s a stab wound, I think it’s an arrow wound, meaning there should be an exit wound. That’s a nice shirt, by the way, I’m sure he’s going to be pissed when he learns it’s been cut.”

“If he’s paralyzed, the shirt is the least of his problems,” B’rost said, mournfully.

Francie could see that Seven was no longer acting like an apprentice, but like what? Like an over critical father, or a harridan of a mother.

She looked at his face as he carefully cut away Lizard’s bloodied shirt. Who are you, Seven? Why this animosity, the scornful comments, made to make us look stupid? Is it jealousy? Yes. You’re jealous. You’ve already said no dragon would have you. Now you’re jealous of our history, as dragonriders, our easy camaraderie. You’ve no sense of humor, Seven. You’re stiff, like wood.

You’re possessive of a teenaged boy? B’rost’s just nineteen, and you must be in your mid thirties. What is your grief with K’ndar? Oh, wait. I get it. You’re afraid of him! Yes. You’re resenting their bond, they’ve been friends since Weyrlingschool. You resent B’rost’s friendship with us. You’re trying to control him, that’s it. Yes. Oh, I know you now, Seven. This is creepy. You’ve seduced B’rost! You’re like a stallion, keeping the other horses from getting near your mare who’s about to go into heat. You’re trying to own B’rost, why?

What do I tell B’rost? HOW do I tell B’rost? Should I tell him what I think? I might be all wrong. But no, my gut says I’m right, and she’s never lied to me yet.

“Oh my stars,” Seven choked, seeing Lizard’s bared chest and stomach. “He’s been spitted. Cut almost in half, how did he survive this? Look, look at the scar! Neck to navel!”

“But it’s long healed, Seven. I know the history behind that wound. K’ndar can tell you more, but briefly, Lizard was attacked by horse thieves, two against one, and one slashed him with a sword. I think. This fresh wound, you’re right, it’s from an arrow,” B’rost said, “it tore along his left rib cage and kept going. I think.”

K’ndar picked up the ropes of the bola, hefting the stones. These are nice, he thought. “Not a sword, B’rost, it was a knife, but still, they ambushed him, cut him up, stole his horses and left him for dead. He probably would have died had not my brother found him.”

“Well, it looks as if they came back for a second go at him,” Seven said.

“Hardly,” K’ndar said, his face inscrutable, “especially now. Depending on their crime, Lord Dorn is more than happy to relieve criminals of their heads or banish them to the wilderness with nothing more than the clothes on their back. Those criminals will never be back. Lord Dorn likes to keep his Hold clean of vermin.”

B’rost and K’ndar exchanged glances. He didn’t see Betzil beheaded, B’rost thought. I did. But we both know it happened.

“Good. Too many Holders seem to be lax on that, these days. As it is, I’m suspecting he was ambushed, again,” Seven said, “I don’t see any injuries from an arrow other than superficial. I bet there’s a hole through the back of his shirt, it looks to me as if his arm was raised when he was shot, and the arrow went right under his armpit. He was lucky.”

“Not quite lucky, not just yet,” Francie said, “He’s still out. Can’t you wake him?”

“I’m surprised he’s not awake now, honestly,” B’rost said.

The longer he’s unconscious, he thought, means there’s brain damage. I won’t voice that. No need to worry K’ndar and Francie any more than they already are. “The blood is just starting to coagulate, so I’m guessing this all happened less than an hour ago. I hope he wakes up, I want to check for an exit wound.”

“We got here immediately,” Francie thought, a note of pride in her voice. “I couldn’t harness Motanith fast enough. K’ndar, I need your help. Crunch is drooping, he’ll be out in a moment. I don’t want him to fall over onto the arrow. Can you straddle him and hold him up? I need him upright so I can draw it.”

“My pleasure, ma’am, it’ll give me something to do.” He stepped over the dog and clasped the body between his calves and knees. The dog sighed and subsided into Francie’s arms.

“And down he goes. Sweet dreams, Crunch! K’ndar, hold him up!”

“Yes’m, he’s heavier than he looks,” he said, having to exert more strength than he expected, “he’s all muscle.” He carefully made sure there was clearance between the glittering arrowhead and the back of his knee, unprotected by his riding chaps. He could imagine the arrowhead slicing the artery. I’d bleed out in minutes, he thought.

Well, maybe not, there’s two healers here. No, one. B’rost. He’d save my life but I’m not sure if Seven would even bother.

While he controlled the dog, he measured the longest rope by putting one end in his armpit and the rock end in his fingertips. The rocks were smoother than hen’s eggs, almost begging he caress them with this thumb.

“This bola was expertly crafted,” he said. “It’s made for someone a bit taller than me. Where did he get these rocks! They’re beautifully matched, gram for gram, they’re perfect for bolas. They weren’t just picked up off the path.”

“They’re basalt,” B’rost said, without taking his eyes off Seven’s hands as the apprentice cleaned the arrow wound. “And if I’m half the geologist I believe I am, as smooth and uniform they are, they’re from a high energy beach, one with pounding surf on rocks rather than sand. Or the rapids of a river, but I’m thinking seacoast.”

“You and your rocks, B’rost!” Seven said, exasperated, “I need your help with this casualty, not a geology lesson.”

“He’s been talking rocks since we were Weyrlings, Seven,” K’ndar said, jumping to B’rost’s defense. “He’s taught me a lot of geology, something I knew nothing about. Give up trying to change him! These rocks are so perfectly shaped and matched in weight, you could easily ask a mark for them-and get it.”

“You know this how? Rocks are free! You’re joking, right?” Seven asked, incredulous. You’re playing me for a fool, K’ndar, there’s rocks all over Pern, there’s dozens of them cutting into my knees right now. Not once have I ever seen a rock at a Gather for barter, never mind for money.

“I am not joking. When it comes to making a bola, just any rock won’t do. The rocks make the bola work. Three legged bolas, like this one, have two large rocks and a smaller one on the longest rope. If they’re not matched well, if the smaller rock is too small or one of the larger rocks is angular or heavier than the other, the bola won’t open right, it won’t fly right. As to how I know this? I grew up on the steppe, where every herdsman uses a bola if he can’t rope a beast. I learned to throw at six and made my first one soon after. I got pretty good at it, my bolas did what I needed them to do, but this one makes my bolas look amateurish. I’ve never seen better craftsmanship, they’re so beautifully woven into the rope itself. A master made this, and if it were mine, I’d be back here, looking to recover the rocks. Do you mind if I keep them, B’rost?”

B’rost shook his head. “They’re Lizard’s. Someone gave them to him. The hard way,” he said, in a tone that allowed no argument.

“Yeesh, I’m sorry. You’re right,” K’ndar said, abashed. Then he saw the avarice in Seven’s glance.

Still controlling the dog, he dropped them right next to Seven’s knee. Purposefully. Let’s see how honest you are, jerk. I know that look.

Seven forced his eyes from the rocks. I hate you, K’ndar. You’ve pissed me off. You’re boasting to show off. B’rost admonished me in front of you and the woman and now he’s watching my every move. HE should be doing this. I’m just an apprentice.

He stole a glance at B’rost. I’ve lowered my standards, taking up with you, he thought. You’re a dingbat. I don’t want this trade, I never did. Rath is the only reason I even gave you a second look. I can find gullible boys anywhere, but you’re the only one I’ve ever known with a dragon. Rath is too convenient for me to just break us up.

“Do you have arrow cutters in your medipack?” Francie asked.

“I do.” Without turning his head to look, B’rost reached behind him, felt for the cutters and handed them and a pair of scissors to K’ndar, who handed them to Francie. “You’ll need scissors, to trim the fur away from the wound. Try to cut the arrow as close to the exit point as you can. Don’t contaminate the wound any more than you have to. Did you bring some smanda gel for the wound?”

“I did. K’ndar would be more than happy to smear it on the wound, right, K’ndar?”

“No way! Siskin will probably bolt when he smells it,” K’ndar said.

“You’re afraid of getting sticky? And why would a fire lizard be afraid of smanda gel?” Seven asked.

“Long story, Seven, and at the moment, we’re all busy doing something else,” K’ndar said, relishing the chance to finally stuff Seven’s animosity back where it belonged. Why is he being such a jerk? I’m done with being polite.

Crunch began to snore. “Sounds like he’s out, Francie,” B’rost said, laughing.

“About time, he was slobbering all over my sleeves. Let’s see how hard I have to work to get the arrow out.” She worked her fingers along the arrow, gently burrowing through the blood matted fur to find where the exit wound might be. Instead, she felt a wooden shaft.


“What, is it too deep?” K’ndar gasped.

“No!” She gave the arrowhead end an exploratory tug. It slid half way out, then hung up in the matted fur at the fletched end. “It wasn’t even underneath the skin! His fur kept it from hitting him!”

“Where’s all the blood coming from?”

She ran her finger along the shaft, feeling the opened skin between the thick hair.

“It’s from a long groove the head cut in his skin, but it’s all superficial,” she said, as she worked the arrow up through the fur. “He’s not hurt, really, just sliced. I’ll trim away the fur and cover the wound with smanda ointment. He’ll heal up quickly. Thank you, B’rost, but I won’t be needing the cutters,” she said, handing the tool back.

“Sounds like the archer wasn’t very good,” Seven snarked.

“On the contrary, Seven,” Francie said, “he actually did hit targets as they were running at him, especially Crunch. Dogs coming at you head on don’t provide much of a target. Especially one as ferocious as this one, coming fast and roaring every step. That shot took steady aim and steel nerves. And he was probably on horseback when he shot.”

“Can I let him down now? ” K’ndar asked.

“Oh, of course! Sorry!” she said.

He stepped over the dog, who slumped into a snoring lump. Francie stroked the dog’s head, then flourished the arrow. “This is a hunting arrow, for shooting down birds and small wherries. It’s not for anything much larger. Although I must admit I’ve never shot an arrow at a human in my life. My mother would have womped me silly,” she said, grinning.

“You mother taught you archery?” Seven said, unbelieving.

She held his eyes for three long counts. “Even at her age, Mum routinely hits the gold at forty five paces,” she said, her tone icy. “That’s about seventy meters if you can’t do the math. And she does it from the back of a galloping horse. She knaps her own arrowheads from obsidian, because, she says,”metal isn’t sharp enough. I don’t want to hurt the beast, just kill it.” When she hunts, Seven, she seldom comes home empty handed. She grows her own arrow wood and is her Lord Holder’s bowsmith. Yes, I can safely say she taught me archery. Want to try me, Apprentice Seven? I’ll even spot you twenty paces, just to be fair.”

He flushed. “Um, no thanks. I believe you.”

I’ve had enough, Francie thought. “It’s none of my business, Seven,” she said, coldly, “but I’m beginning to question your choice of trades, never mind your words. You’re rude, you’re doing your best to antagonize us, you have yet to extend common, every day courtesy that every civil person on Pern uses as a matter of course. While you seem capable enough as an apprentice, you don’t seem very happy to be one,” she hissed.

“Nor do you seem to have any respect for dragonriders,” K’ndar added, “to include the man whose dragon brought you here.”

Seven felt his face flush. How dare you, woman. “You’re right, it’s none of your business,” he snapped.

There was an uncomfortable silence.

It was broken by a groan from Lizard.

“Lizard! It’s me, K’ndar, and Francie, and B’rost! Can you hear me?”

The trader opened his eyes. It took him a moment to finally look at him.

“Damn it, is my head still on my neck?” He lifted his right hand to his head.

“Oh, wonderful!” B’rost thrilled,”one arm works and you’re lucid. Someone tried to knock it off, it seems,” he said. “I’m going to have to bother you with a lot of questions, sir, but I must. Can you wiggle your fingers, can you feel your fingertips? Can you lift your legs? Your left arm? Can you wiggle your toes?” he asked.

“One at a time! My toes? My head is killing me and my chest feels like I’ve been kicked by a horse.” He lifted each leg and rotated each foot. He groaned when he attempted to lift his left arm. “They shot me! I kept coming, oh, shaff, my armpit hurts. Everything hurts. Yes, I can wiggle my toes, and my fingers, everything hurts, from my toes to my nose.”

They cheered.

Chap. 341 The Fire Lizard Blizzard

Chap. 341 The Fire Lizard Blizzard

They emerged from between high over a tumbled, outcrop-strewn land. He did not recognize it. The sun indicated it was an hour, maybe two, behind Landing’s time zone.

I hope this isn’t Southern Hold, he thought.

Lord Toric had, years before, banned all dragonriders from his lands and was zealous in enforcing it.

He and Francie put their dragons into a soaring circle to get their bearings.

“Have you ever seen this place before?” he called to her.

“No! But give me a moment, I’ll ping the Yokohama,” she called back, reaching for her datalink.

Push our location to Rath he asked Raventh.

Motanith has already done so. Here comes the bronze fire lizard.

Siskin and Francie’s three fire lizards launched from their respective dragon perches and joined the bronze.

The land below him was a bewildering maze of an ancient deposition of shale. Parts of it formed long palisades, interlocked, like links in a chain. The links were broken in many places, pathways leading into meadows that in some cases formed marshes and ponds. Scattered everywhere were individual piles of slate.

The vast expanse of stone was braided by paths that led from what seemed to be the main trail. It was heavily tracked and rutted from wagon wheels. The paths wandered through and around the outcrops, some joining and leaving the main trail, others leading into large meadows, others ending in blind alleys.

Where there was no stone there was grass, dried and brown from the cold winter. In the summer, this could easily feed horses, he thought.

He suddenly realized that Lizard’s caravan was nowhere in sight.

Where is the caravan? Did the bronze mislead us?

No. I don’t see the trader, the grass is too tall. But he is down here, I trust the bronze. The gold fire lizard is next to the trader. There are wherries in the grass, looking at her.

Wherries? What kind of wherries?

Scavengers. The gold has kept them from attacking the trader. Sometimes they don’t wait for something to die before they begin eating it.

That’s gruesome.

Overhead, he heard Rath’s bugle as he came out of between.

“B’rost!” he called, grateful to see the blue rider.

Rath dropped til he was level with Raventh on his right. That was courtesy, ingrained from day one of Weyrlingschool: the senior dragonrider walked on the right of the subordinate. Somehow he felt honored that B’rost had, intentionally or subconsciously, rendered him that respect.

B’rost had a passenger, a man much older than the blue rider. Both wore medipacks almost as big as themselves.

“Hey, K’ndar! Good to see you!”

“And you,” he called back.

“Hey, guess where we are?” Francie said, tucking her datalink back into its pouch. Her green Motanith ranged up to to fly on Raventh’s left side. Oh, well, he thought, she does have tenure on me.

“I hate guessing games, ” he called back.

“No need to guess, even though I’ve never been here, this HAS to be the Stony Wastes!” B’rost called back.

Francie’s jaw dropped. “Right!”

“But they don’t look like waste, that grass must be chest high,” B’rost called back. “And there’s trees growing atop the palisades. Look how level it is!”

“How did you know?” she called.

He laughed. “I was a geologist before I knew how to spell the word. I might be a Healer by trade but I’m a rock hound by passion. The moment the Printer Hall publishes anything regarding geology I buy it. Even if I have to go hungry for a month.”

“Oh, you and your rocks, B’rost,” said his passenger. K’ndar was surprised at the man’s petulant familiarity.

“Where’s Lizard?” B’rost said, ignoring the passenger’s jibe.

“I’ve not seen him, yet. We only beat you by a minute, maybe two.”

The bronze fire lizard suddenly gave a rattling war cry. Siskin and Francie’s trio grouped around him and as one, they dropped like stones into the grass at the end of a flattened path.

“Land!” K’ndar called. Raventh chose the most open spot available, a well worn trail rutted by countless wagon wheels and hooves. Motanith and Rath landed behind him.

He heard a racket of squawks and the shrill war cries of the fire lizards. Siskin was too busy to send images. A cloud of dust and torn grass flew up-then a quartet of scavenger wherries erupted from the depths.

A blizzard of infuriated fire lizards enveloped them from all sides, savaging them without mercy.

Lizard’s gold fire lizard rode a bucking, twisting wherry as she vigorously excavated her way to its heart from between its wings. Siskin had anchored himself behind the head of another and was clawing at the wherry’s eyes, while a green was tearing out great gobs of feathers from its belly. The largest wherry was fighting the two bronzes. The fourth wherry was fruitlessly grabbing at Francie’s Sisi, who taunted it by winking in and out of between just out of reach, while her sister, Keeso, was tearing great hunks of flesh from the wherry’s bald neck.

The scrum was over in seconds. The four wherries fled, squawking, the fire lizards shrieking in delighted chase.

The dragons, laughing, bugled their encouragement.

“Whoa!” Francie whooped, “Get ’em! Get ’em!”

“Something’s strange, Francie,” K’ndar called, “They were all moving so fast I couldn’t count, but I swear I saw three greens, not two.”

“No, K’ndar, you must be mistaken, I’ve only two greens.”

B’rost dismounted and turned to unbuckle his passenger. K’ndar walked up to him and bumped fists.

“Thanks, brother, I can’t tell you how relieved I am that you’re here to help,” he said.

“You’re welcome. And thank you, I was getting tired of the classroom at Healer Hall. You know me, I’d much rather be outside, even in filthy weather, than under a roof.”

Francie walked up, smiling. “Hello, B’rost! It’s been a while.”

“Hello, Francie!” He bumped her fist.

The fire lizards returned, their flight an unmistakable victory swagger. The bronze and the gold swirled overhead, then dropped into the grass. Siskin, chortling in glee, landed on K’ndar’s shoulder while pushing images of him slashing the back of a bucking wherry’s head.

He had fun. He’s very proud of himself Raventh said, laughing.

K’ndar reached up and stroked the blue’s head. “Well done, little one!”

Francie’s three swirled around her, then flew to land on Motanith. They began to send their images to her. Her brain rebelled. It always makes me dizzy when they all talk at once, she thought.

Now that some of the fire lizards were immobile, K’ndar did a head count. My one. Francie’s three. And there-she’s swooping over the spot where the bronze dropped-I see a green fire lizard.

“I count seven fire lizards, Francie. Seven.”

“Seven?” she counted out loud, “My three. Your one. Lizards’ two. And one extra green. No matter how I count I still come up with seven. Too.”

The supernumerary green swooped over Siskin, chattered-then vanished.

Who’s fire lizard was that? A wild one?

I don’t know. She didn’t push to me. Wait. Siskin said it was Putzu, Terylyn’s green. Siskin called for her help. They’ve mated in the past. Unlike us.

Hey, that hurts!

“Fire lizards! Are they all yours?” the passenger said, astounded.

“The two greens and a bronze are mine,” Francie said, “And the blue is K’ndar’s. The bronze and the gold that dropped out of sight are Lizard’s. I have no idea where the other green came from.”

“They attacked scavenger wherries? But they’re half their size!”

K’ndar grinned. “Sir, a fire lizard doesn’t care what size his opponent is. It’s like my uncle used to say, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” They are highly intelligent and get this-they come when others need their help. That third green? She’s Master Potter Terylyn’s fire lizard!”

The man looked at him with what could only be called disbelief.

“Terylyn, the most famous and gifted potter on Pern? You know her? Really?”

K’ndar bridled. Who IS this man? Why is he so obnoxious?

“I do. She’s a good friend of mine.”

The man rolled his eyes, scoffing.

The gold stayed behind, to protect Lizard, while the bronze came for us Raventh said, his voice one of admiration for the gold’s courage and tenacity.

K’ndar felt his heart surge. If you live, Lizard, I’ll tell you of the loyalty a gold fire lizard has for you.

“The gold stayed behind, she stayed with Lizard to protect him,” K’ndar said, assuming the man couldn’t hear dragons.

“And you know this how?” his passenger said.

“She told our dragons, then they told us,” K’ndar said, trying to not sound defensive. What is it with this yob?

“Where is he?” the passenger said, “I don’t see anyone.”

“I’m sure he’s at the end of this path, um..” Francie said. She hesitated to ask the man his name. Why was he being so rude? And why hasn’t B’rost introduced him? Although I’m beginning to wish B’rost hadn’t brought him. She looked looked at the blue rider expectantly, but B’rost was oblivious.

The passenger, however, caught it. “B’rost! Introduce me!” he said, roughly.

“Oh, you’re right. Sorry,” B’rost said, flinching. “Seven, this is K’ndar, rider of brown Raventh, my friend and former classmate. He works at Landing. Francie rides green Motanith, she works at Landing, too. I hope she forgives me for not remembering what she does there. K’ndar, Francie, this is Seven, apprentice Healer and my weyrmate.”

K’ndar felt shock at B’rost’s amazing revelation, then filed it away for further explanation later. He bumped the man’s fist.”Hello, Seven, and thank you for your help.” But I don’t mean it, he thought. We’ve only just met and already I think you’re an arsehole.

“You’re welcome, K’ndar,” he said, sounding as though he didn’t believe K’ndar was truly a dragon rider. Then, taking Francie’s hand, he kissed it and said, “Ma’am, it is my pleasure,” in a debonair tone.

Francie wasn’t sure if she should feel charmed or put off. No one kisses me save Raylan, especially a rude stranger.

B’rost heard the emphasis. He glared at Seven, but the man didn’t see it.

“Seven? Pardon me, but your name is Seven? Like the number? You have six other siblings?” Francie asked.

The man laughed. “No, just one. Mother insisted I was going to Impress a bronze dragon when I turned sixteen, so she gave me a name with both a Terran origin and one that is easily contracted to S’ven. She had plans on living the leisurely life as the mother of a Weyrleader, you see. However, she failed to convince the dragons. Despite my being shoved in front of every dragon that happened to land on our farm cothold, it was apparent that I was never going to Impress one.”

“I promise you, the life of a Weyrleader’s mother is NOT one of leisure,” Francie said.

“No doubt, considering what B’rost has told me of Weyr life. Even so, I’m happy to be a healer, it’s a far easier life than that of a farmer. And now I have the services of Rath should I ever need transport.”

The bronze fire lizard whickered from his unseen spot in the grass, demanding their help.

“Come on, let’s find Lizard,” K’ndar said, “his bronze is calling.”

“Don’t touch him,” Seven warned, “You flunked Basic Aid. You were wise to call us.”

I didn’t mistake that tone, K’ndar thought, that was pure scorn.

He turned very deliberately and bored holes through the man’s eyes. But he said nothing. I can never come up with a snappy retort until weeks later, he thought.

Seven dropped his eyes. K’ndar turned to lead the way, the others following in his wake through the grass. It’s easier walking in the paths the horses made, he thought.

K’ndar could see Lizard stretched out in the grass, his head at the far end. He was running away from the trail, he thought. The gold fire lizard was next to the man’s head.”Lizard!” he cried, striding towards the man.

And stopped.

A dog emerged from the deep grass. At it’s feet lay a mangled wherry, almost bitten in two. The dog growled, a deep bass note sounding as if it emanated from the bowels of a mountain. There was no friendliness in the golden eyes. Hackles bristling, everything in the dog’s body language shouted ‘beware, do not approach’.

“Shards,” K’ndar breathed, surprised. “I forgot about his dog.”

“Look at the size of him,” Francie, behind Seven, gasped, “he’s enormous.”

Seven froze. Dogs. Why does everyone have dogs? No one knows I’m afraid of them, except the dogs. “He’s a bloody pony,” he squeaked. If I run back to Rath will he chase me? I’ve always been told to never run from a dangerous dog. They never told me what to do if I DID meet a dangerous dog. Like this one.

He allowed B’rost to pass him, wishing there were more than just three people in front of him.

“He’s doubled in size since I saw him last,” K’ndar said.

“You’ve met him?” B’rost said, hopefully. A dog! What did they say what to do about guardian dogs in Healer school? Not a damn thing. Or if they did, I was so tired I never heard it.

“Aye,” K’ndar said, dredging up the name from deep in his memory, “twice. But it was always with Lizard assuring him that I was a friend. His name is Crunch.”

Dread filled him. How do we check on Lizard with this monstrous dog protecting him? What in the world is wrong with him? He acts stiff.

“Crunch?” Seven echoed, hoping his voice didn’t reveal his fear. “Crunch?” The dog turned malevolent eyes on his at the sound of his name.

He knows. He can smell my fear. I think I’ll get back on Rath. No, I can’t. I’m learning to be a healer and there’s a casualty on the ground ahead of me.

Even B’rost was stymied. “Look at those jaws! Will he bite?”

“I don’t know! He’s a guardian dog. I really don’t know what he’ll do with Lizard down,” K’ndar said.

“Shaff, he could take an arm off with one bite,” Seven said.

Francie was watching the dog’s body language. There was menace in the dog’s eyes, but no sign of attacking. My gut says he’s safe, she thought.

“He could have attacked us immediately,” she said, “but he’s done nothing but warn us.” The dog turned its attention to her.

“He’s gauging all of us,” she said, “He’s smart.”

“He is. Lizard trained him. He’ll attack a raider, but he likes kids. My sister was able to wrestle with him, and he loved it.”

“We have to get to the man, K’ndar, I can see his face and head, it’s all bloody.” B’rost said. “Look, his gold fire lizard is patting his face!”

The dog stopped growling at hearing K’ndar’s voice. There was something odd about the dog, he saw, something about the way he moved.

“Yeesh, look at the blood. He’s been in a fight? Oh, shards, no. He’s been shot. Look. He’s got an arrow right through him,” Francie said, her voice shaking.

The dog’s long hair was matted with blood. A shiny black arrowhead poked out of one side of the dog. He could see the fletched end on the other.

“It looks like it’s just above the spine, it went right through him,” she said, her heart wrenching at the idea, “How is it he can still move?”

“Someone shot him as he charged them. See how the arrow starts just behind his withers and ends up near his tail.”

“Aye. With all that fur, I can’t judge, but it looks like one centimeter lower, and he would have been dead,” Francie sighed. “Whoever shot him is a good archer.”

Her scalp prickled. “Shaff, is the archer still here? Up there, hiding in the rocks?” As one, they all spun, scanning the palisades.

“We’re easily in range,” B’rost said,”and me without a weapon other than a dagger.”

“I have my sling,” Seven said, touching his belt, “but it won’t throw a rock that far.”

I have nothing to fight with other than my dagger, K’ndar thought, feeling naked. But I have something better.

“Siskin! Siskin. Search. Look for men in the rocks,” K’ndar snapped, scanning the rocks that formed a rough bowl around the meadow. The blue chipped and launched from his shoulder.

“Sisi, Coora. Keeso! Search. Search for men in the rocks,” Francie called to her trio, instantly understanding what to do.

The fire lizards bolted into the sky. They grouped together for a moment, then each took off in a cardinal direction.

“What would we do without fire lizards,” Francie said, proud of her trio.

“What can they do?” Seven asked.

“Siskin will attack humans on command,” K’ndar said, hoping the man was listening. “He hates being shot at.”

“It certainly ruins my day, that’s for sure,” Francie said, giggling despite her fear.

“They never said anything about carrying weapons at school,” Seven said.

B’rost looked at the dog, who was still standing, watching them. “There’s that arrow through the dog. The head is obsidian. You can butcher an entire wher in half an hour with an obsidian blade,” he said.

“And do what with it? Throw it at a raider? Slings don’t work that way,” Seven said.

B’rost smirked. “Have you tried?”

“Tried? You expect me to just go yank it out of that dog?” Seven retorted. His neck hairs prickled at the thought. The dog met his eyes. They said “I don’t like you.”

“Well, no. If it’s through him, yanking it out will hurt. I think you should cut the arrow head end as close as you can to where it protrudes from the skin,” B’rost said, flatly, “without contaminating the wound any further.”

That was classic smart ass B’rost, K’ndar thought, grinning.

“While it’s removing large chunks from my arse? I don’t do animals, just humans, and there’s one right there needing our help. We have to do SOMETHING,” Seven snapped.

K’ndar was about to say “you sound like an old married couple already.” But he kept it to himself.

The fire lizards returned.

They see nothing except scavenger wherries in the rocks Raventh said. Some seem to be missing feathers.

K’ndar laughed in his mind.

“All clear,” Francie said, “No one up there.”

This time we got lucky, K’ndar thought. I will never let my guard down like that again.

“Lizard! Lizard, can you hear me?” B’rost called.

“I think he’s unconscious,” Seven said,”He might be bleeding out and we’re allowing it, held up by a stupid dog.”

Crunch turned his golden eyes to K’ndar. Francie, taking advantage of the dog’s gaze at K’ndar, saw something change in them. The eyes no longer smoldered with suspicion.

She made to move past K’ndar to get to Lizard.

The dog growled. She froze. “Damn it, dog, we’re here to help,” she said.

“Okay,” K’ndar said, deciding. “As I’m the only one he’s ever met, I’m the one to handle him. I don’t think he’ll hurt me.” He approached the dog, then slowly knelt down, looking just below the dog’s jaws. I know he’s bitten raider’s legs to the bone. What’s a hand to a dog like this?

Raventh. If he attacks, knock him aside, please? Don’t hurt him, but I need to see to Lizard.

I will. Motanith will, too.

And me! Rath said.

The dragons moved close to where they stood. The dog looked at them, unafraid.

“Crunch. Good lad, remember me? There’s a good woofer. What’s happened to your master, doggo, what’s happened?”

The dog looked warily at him, remembering the scent, the voice. His tail tip began to twitch. The hackles went down.

That’s a good sign, he thought. “Good lad, you do remember me, don’t you! Here Crunch, take a sniff.” He extended his left hand, preferring to keep his dominant right safely out of reach.

Here it comes, Seven thought, if anyone is going to get bitten, it’s K’ndar and it’s now. I’ve never treated a dog bite. Bite? Shards, no. It will be an amputation.

The dog stretched forward, indecision was in his eyes.

“Come, lad. Come here, Crunch. I’m here to help your master.”

Siskin landed on K’ndar’s shoulder. He chittered at the dog. Somehow it sounded as if he were telling the dog to approach K’ndar.

The dog’s cold nose touched his outstretched hand. The tail began to wag. Now he met the dog’s eyes. The aggression was gone, replaced by what could only be called hope. He dared reached down to scratch the dog’s chest. He had to dig through the hair to reach skin.

Yes, yes, right there, the dog ‘s face said.

His hand came back covered with blood. How is it the dog could still be alive?

“Who shot you, Crunch? And still you protect Lizard, even with an arrow through you! What a brave lad you are! Crunch, these people are my friends. Will you let them help your master?”

Francie moved up behind him before he could protest. She knelt and looked into the dog’s eyes. She saw indecision, but no danger. She reached forward, her hand next to K’ndar’s.

“Hey, there, laddie. I bet that arrow is hurting you, woofer. You’re covered with blood. Did you take the leg off the man who shot you? Let me help you, there’s a good dog.”

The dog sniffed her hand. His eyes went soft. She dared to run her hand over his head, caressing the ears.

Seven cringed at the thought. I wish I wasn’t afraid of dogs. Look at them, they’re within a hand span of his jaws and they’re not afraid.

“B’rost, Seven,” K’ndar said, without taking his eyes off the dog, “You can go to Lizard now. Crunch knows you’re friends, don’t you?”

Crunch’s jaws opened in a toothy grin and the tail whipped both flanks. Yeesh, Seven thought, I thought his jaws were scary. Look at those fangs!

“Just the fact that he’s standing and his tail’s wagging tells me the arrow’s not in his spine,” Francie said. “My stars, but he’s a nice dog. His eyes just glow with intelligence. Where did Lizard get you, you handsome beast? You’re a love, you are!”

“If I remember correctly, from the same cotholders that bred your horse, Donal. From the West Coast,” K’ndar said.

B’rost moved past them, Seven following, putting as much distance between his legs and the dog as possible.

Lizard was lying on his back. His body was entwined with bolo ropes. One of the three legs was wrapped around his chest, another around his shoulders. The third was tangled in between his legs, serving to trip him as he’d run. The uppermost weight lay next to Lizard’s head. Blood covered the man’s face and head.

The two healers knelt down, one on either side of Lizard. B’rost immediately touched the man’s neck, although it was covered with blood. Seven took one limp hand to search for a pulse. The two fire lizards backed away, just out of reach but still close enough to protect Lizard.

“He’s alive,” B’rost said, “and not bleeding out. But he’s been bolo’ed.”

“Trussed up like a Turnover pig,” Seven said, deliberately sounding clinical, “I’m betting he’s sustained a broken rib, maybe a fractured skull.”

I hope I sound as if I know what I’m talking about, he thought, they don’t know I’ve never treated a real casualty. But I’m better than K’ndar, he flunked Basic Aid! That takes a certain depth of stupidity. This will be easy, B’rost will take care of everything.

“Okay,” B’rost said. “Time to get to work, Sev. Tell me what you intend to do to help Lizard. What do you do first?”

“Me?” Seven said, surprised at B’rost’s suddenly dropping the whole situation onto him. “I thought, um, that you, um, would, you know, do it and let me watch.”

B’rost held his eyes for long seconds.

“A long time ago, a woman named Maya said, “When people show you who they really are, believe them the first time,” he said, coldly.

Seven looked perplexed.

“I despise bullies, Seven. Your disrespect to a dragonrider has been noted and I will annotate it in my report,” B’rost said, icily.

K’ndar had never heard such contempt in the blue rider’s voice before. A warm glow began in his heart.

“For now, Apprentice Seven, despite our relationship, which, based on the last few moments is giving me cause to reconsider, I’m your field trainer.

You’ve had months of classroom training in workplace injuries, wounds from weapons and exposure to elements. Now you’re seeing your first real world casualty. I agree, it’s a bit earlier than what’s in the training synopsis, but situations such as this can’t be scheduled. Think of what you need to do, and then do it. I won’t let you kill him. Begin.”