Chap. 205 Unusual partner

Chap. 205 Unusual partner

“Hello, the weyr, K’ndar, are you home?” Glyena, his sister’s voice echoed in the interior tunnel.

“Come on in, sis!”

Entering his weyr, she passed him at his desk and made her way to Raventh’s couch. Siskin, perched atop the brown dragon, chirped a welcome.

“Good day, Raventh, and you, Siskin,” she said.

Raventh rumbled, gently.

“My,” K’ndar said, “someone’s been learning protocol,” he said. He hugged the girl.

She smirked. “Shirae says the customs are changing but it’s always good manners to be polite.”

“She’s right. Civility costs nothing,” he said, pulling out the chair to his desk. She stood, instead, looking over his shelf of books. He felt a very odd feeling of possessiveness. A hangover from the days of the evil Jenmay, who’d have burnt the books in a moment? It’s my sister, he thought, knock it off.

She took several down.

“Wow, K’ndar, so many books! Geology. Biology. Animals!!” she said, ruffling the pages of the top one.

“You’re welcome to come and read them,” he said. It was an effort. His books were the most valuable thing he owned. Where did this selfishness come from? he wondered. She’d never hurt them.

“It’s okay, K’ndar, I can go to the library, it has the very same books. You brought ’em, remember?”

“I know. Want to sit down?”

“No, I wanted to show you something,” she said. She carefully replaced the books. “You need to dust that shelf”, she said, absently, as she rummaged around in her pouch.

“Don’t start on my housekeeping,” he said, but she ignored him. She pulled out a data link.

“Is that the library’s datalink?” he asked.

“No! I bought it. It’s mine.”

“You BOUGHT it?”

Wow, he thought, it’s actually happening. The artifacts he’d found and insisted be copied and distributed to anyone who wanted one was actually happening.

Glyena smiled, hugging it tightly to her chest for a moment, then handing it to K’ndar.

“I did. I’ve been saving my money, from when I rode the racehorses at Ruatha? And I made bridles for Swiftsure? They paid me. Remember Lizard selling my leather work? Well, I’ve been saving it, I didn’t know what for, because I have everything I need, but then Harper Rendel mentioned that he had this datalink, it had been re-fur-bished at Landing, it’s one of the original copies, and that he now had several here in the library and did I know anyone who wanted to buy a used one? And I thought about it for like two seconds and said me me! and he said he didn’t think I could afford it and I said, how much does it cost and he told me and I said I think I have that and so I ran back home and….”

“Glyena, stop!!” he said, knowing that once his sister got rolling she would talk the hind legs off a horse.

She stopped, giggling. “You’re just like Shirae, she says I talk too much.”

He tickled her ear. “Aye, you do, but it’s okay. You’re my little sis and I know how you are. So what is it you have to show me?”

“Turn on the datalink,” she said. He was embarrassed to realize that, as often he’d seen others use one, he still wasn’t sure how to work one. All those depressions to push!

“You’ll have to show me how,” he said.

She took it back. “See, you push here and hold it, and then, see, it wakes up and, oh, no signal? Oh, here it is. Now it’s hooking up with the database at Landing, but that’s not what I want to show you.”

The screen lit up, showing a picture of Shirae, her foster mother, two girls, and a man in the background. “No, not yet, ” she muttered. He wasn’t surprised to see Jordan, their grey gelding.

“That’s from other day, it’s not what I want to show you. Here,” and she flicked her fingers rapidly, the pictures passing under them too quickly to appreciate. “No, no, no, here, this is from Mum’s wedding. There’s Raventh, and then us and Natana, and Uncle Fland, and the horses,” she was saying, “and Raventh, and…”

There was Raventh with five fire lizards swirling over his head; then his mother and uncle standing, looking deeply pleased Singing Waters Hold Harper read the rites of marriage. Then the pictures showed him in conversation with his brother Sandriss and Lizard. What were they discussing so deeply? He couldn’t remember.

“Sheesh, look at my ears, they stick out sideways,” he said, unable to bear seeing a picture of himself, “I look goofy.”

“Oh, shut up. They’re fine,” she said.

“When did you take these? I don’t remember seeing you taking pictures,” he said.

“I borrowed the library’s camera, I still can’t afford one of my own, yet! And I took bunches of pictures and uploaded them to Landing and the Yokohama, that night,” she said, still searching. “I’m still learning how to use this once I put pictures on it, right now I have to go through all of them,” she said, more to herself than to him. “Got it.” She handed the data link to him. On the screen was a picture of the burnt wagon.

“I heard you men talking about the wheels and the axle after you got back. So I rode out to where the wagon had burned,after Lord Dorn had left and you had come back. I took pictures of the wagon and the wheels, but not the people in the wagon and not the animals. I feel so sorry for those poor beasts, the oxen, they hadn’t a chance. And the horses…”. Her face was troubled. She shook her head to dispel the images.

“Anyway, I took pictures of the wheels, because I heard Lizard say they were ‘specially made but he didn’t know where. And this is what I learned,” she said. “I sent these pictures to the computers at Landing. “See what it says?”

The datalink’s screen filled with a shot of the remnants of the burnt wheel. Below it was text that said,

Wheel, wagon

Year of manufacture, unknown.

85% chance of wood being that of sky-broom.

Place of manufacture: 90% likelihood Keroon Hold

He was dumbstruck at her cleverness. None of the grownups had thought to document the wheels.

“Wow. Lizard said the wheel was sky-broom and made up north. Glyena, you are one smart girl, you know that?”

She smiled. “I know.”

“So, why…are you bringing this to me?”

“Because you’re going to take the axle and the wheels and the branding iron to Lord Dorn’s hold, right? And you’ll tell him what Landing said,” she said. “You can take this datalink if you want,” she said.

Now he felt ashamed that he’d even considered his books too valuable for her to handle.

“No, that’s okay, I don’t know too much about making it work. Lord Dorn will believe me,” he said. “And oh by the way, HOW do you learn these things? I didn’t go around telling people about the burnt wagon and my going to Singing Waters. Are you reading the duty roster in Pattis’s office?” he said.

The Flight Ops woman was notoriously cantankerous, especially when it came to non- dragonriders entering her flight ops domain, never mind reading “her” flight status boards.

“No way, she’s mean, when she’s in Flight Ops she runs us kids off, but that only makes some of them more eager to sneak in. They make it a game and it drives her crazy. If she’d just let them in and tell them what she does, they’d get bored and forget about it.

No, this time, it’s…well, adults don’t think us kids listen, but we do. Well, I do. So they talk about things that maybe sometimes kids shouldn’t hear but like Shirae says, eventually, ‘all secrets will out’, especially in a Weyr as small as ours. But this wasn’t a secret, not really, just..um, people wondering out loud. Lord Dorn said that he thought the wagon was from one of his cotholders ‘cuz one’s been reported as missing, ‘long with a team,” she said, then continued.

“Harlan is Nyala’s weyrmate and she’s Herdmaster and I am in the barn all the time with Jordan, and helping out with the horses. Harlan looked at the axles and said he agrees with them going to Lord Dorn, he knows you’re already tasked to take the branding iron, but he ‘seriously doubts’ they were made here in Southern. Something about the concentration of iron makes him think they were made up north. Too. And Lizard said the same thing about the wheels so it makes me think that the wagon wasn’t stolen from Lord Dorn, it was from somewhere up north, and so maybe there are more thieves out there than just the two in the wagon,” she said.

He shook his head in amazement. He WAS scheduled to take the metal items to Lord Dorn later on in the day. What Glyena said was almost word for word what he’d heard Harlan say.

He looked at her with new respect.

“You’re too clever, sis. I think you are right. Can you do this same thing with dragons?”

“What ‘thing’?” she asked, puzzled.

“Reading people’s thoughts,” he said, laughing.

_________________________________________________________________________

“Change of plans, boyo,” Pattis, the Flight Ops chief, said. She had a strange smile on her face, one that said she was enjoying messing with his schedule.

K’ndar had gone in to sign out prior to flying to Singing Waters hold.

“Oh?” He bridled at her calling him ‘boyo’ but he knew her too well. She was always derisive and antagonistic. Pattis was not known for courtesy or respect. Few people liked her, but she was an excellent flight ops tech, and knew it.

“Yes, you’ll be stopping at Singing Waters to meet with Lord Dorn, but then you’ll be doing a sweep over his holdings,” she said.

He really didn’t mind, and even if he did, he wasn’t about to let her know she was annoying.

He looked at her chalkboard, with the day’s duty roster. His name and Raventh’s said “Singing Waters Hold” and nothing else.

He shrugged. “No matter. Did you make the changes to the board? I don’t see it.”

Pattis snapped, “I was in the process of doing so when you barged in, interrupting me.”

“I thought signing out was standard operating procedure. You’ve changed policy without authorization?” he snapped right back.

“It IS. No I haven’t. Don’t be snippy with me, boyo,” she hissed.

“Snippy, eh? I see. I’ll remember that, next time,” he said.

“He wasn’t being snippy, Pattis, and kindly remember that dragonriders have a right to check the duty roster at ANY TIME,” a voice behind him said.

He turned to see Siena, his Weyrwoman.

Grinning, he said, “Good morning, ma’am,” nodding his head in respect.

“I was just in the process, ma’am, this boy was disputing the duty change,” Pattis said.

The bold lie astonished him.

“That’s not true, Pattis,” he said, angered, “I’ve never disputed ANY duty assignment.”

Siena looked hard at Pattis.

“Pattis, I heard your entire conversation, such as it was. Your tone is unbecoming of a member of my Weyr. I would appreciate it if you were to treat K’ndar, who is not a boy but a full fledged dragonrider, with the same respect you treat me or M’rvin, yours and my Weyrleader. Do you understand?”

Pattis bristled but backed down. She couldn’t bring herself to submit.

Siena looked coldly at the woman. “I asked you, do you understand? Or should I say, will you comply?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Pattis said, sullenly.

There were several uncomfortable moments, most on Pattis’s part. K’ndar relished her discomfort. He could not understand why she was so ill tempered. She had a comfortable job, seldom being tasked for anything other than Ops.

“Now then, Pattis, I’m to sweep after meeting with Lord Dorn. Who am I sweeping with?” he said.

“I’m writing it in, now,” Pattis said. This was evasion of a subtle sort, unable to treat him with respect even under the Weyrwoman’s gaze. She erased his name with one hand and began to write with the other. Her chalk made a screeching noise on the board.

Should I press it? Push her a little harder, because his Weyrwoman was his ally? K’ndar thought. Why are you allowed to stay here, he wondered. It wouldn’t be too hard to have a datalink to Landing create the duty roster. Then you’d be without a job.

Siena was uncharacteristically silent. If he’d looked at her face, he’d see she was anticipating something with what could be called amusement.

“Who, Pattis?” he repeated.

She continued to ignore him, pretending to concentrate on her writing.

When she finished, she put down her chalk, and turning, dusted off her hands.

The board said, “Siena, Weyrwoman, gold Mirth: K’ndar, brown Raventh, Singing Waters and sweep duty.”

“Uh…uh…”K’ndar stammered, shocked.

This time it was Pattis’s face that showed amusement, but of a mean sort.

He turned to face Siena.

“Um…”

“What? Don’t want to ride with me at your side?” Siena teased.

“Uh, of course not, ma’am, uh, I”m mean, I’d be honored, ma’am, it’s just ..”

Siena laughed in her cultured voice. “I know. Weyrwomen riding sweeps? Doing a mundane task? Unbecoming of my rank, what?”

“No, ma’am, I just um just…” he stammered. He’d never heard of a weyrwoman riding sweeps. It just wasn’t done, a gold…especially the weyr’s queen, was more important than doing tasks even a weyrling could do.

Pattis emitted an ugly cackle, enjoying his distress. Later on, when he had time to reflect, he’d realized it was her way of laughing, something no one had ever heard the haughty woman do.

Siena took the signout chalk board and dashed off her name. Handing it to K’ndar, she said,

“M’rvin is busy with weyr business and one of us needs to get with Lord Dorn. It’s in regard to your cargo, but I’m going stir crazy. It’s a beautiful day. Golds can’t be treated like they’re fragile, remember, we flew against thread just like any other dragonrider. Mirth loves to work and needs the flight. Sign, K’ndar, and let’s go,” she said.

Chap. 204 Ruminating

Chap. 204 Ruminating

You are keeping me awake with your thoughts. They are like rain in the wind, all over, everywhere falling, Raventh said, petulantly.

Sorry. I can’t sleep, K’ndar said, sheepishly.

I want to. You are making noises in my head. Even Siskin is unhappy. Go talk to the big human who works at night. He always helps you.

Oscoral?

Yes.

Oscoral, the night baker, had grown accustomed to people coming in the middle of his night shift to seek his advice.

I didn’t sign up for this, he would often think, when someone needed his help sorting out the issues they were faced with. I’m just a miner who now bakes bread instead of breaking rocks.

But when a young Weyrling would come to him, despite knowing he’d be punished for breaking curfew, his heart would soften. He’d tell one of the drudges to keep an eye on his ovens, remove his flour dusted apron, and sit down across the supplicant.

“Hello, K’ndar, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you,” he said.

K’ndar had come in, poured a mug of klah for himself, and sat at one of the lengthy tables to wait for Oscoral.

“Aye, sir, it has been,” he said, “I’ve been very busy. But it’s been fun.”

“No need, now, to fear breaking curfew, what? You’ve developed quite a name for yourself, dragonrider,” the man said.

K’ndar rolled his eyes. Oscoral knew immediately K’ndar wasn’t here with a broken heart.

“I’d forgotten about that, sir! It was a shock to me, no doubt, but I have to tell you, your help that night, so long ago! was worth every bit of the two weeks of latrine cleaning,” he said.

Oscoral nodded, smiling, and sat down with his mug. K’ndar couldn’t get over how big the man was. The mug was tiny in the man’s giant paw. Even sitting down, he looked the size of a mountain.

“I bet I’m not the only kid who comes looking for your advice,” he said.

“Not even, K’ndar. And not just kids. I have grown men come to talk to me. Like yourself.You’re a man, now, K’ndar, and a good one.”

K’ndar flushed.

“Women? Girls? Do they seek your advice?”

“Sometimes. Not often. The Weyrling girls go to the Weyrwoman, except when it was Jenmay. No one wanted a thing to do with her. She’d come prowling around here at all hours of the night, looking for people to abuse. Somehow, though, she never tried that on me,” he said, laughing.

“No doubt! I can’t imagine anyone trying to abuse you,” K’ndar said.

“The women go to Hariko. But when the girls, be it weyrkids or weyrlings come to me, it’s always a problem with a boy. Good grief! The days after that young fisherboy, Harve? left, I had half the girls in the weyr wanting to talk. Heartbroken, they were, I don’t know what it was about that lad, but he had every teenage girl in the weyr panting after him,” Oscoral said.

“My sister was one of them,” K’ndar said, ruefully, “It sort of scared me.” He sipped the klah. It was perfectly brewed. “If you have the time, then, I don’t have a problem with females, I do have a problem with a decision I made. Today.”

Oscoral tilted his head, intrigued.

“Proceed.”

“Briefly-or maybe not, it’s been worrying me for months. I’ve been enjoying being a fully fledged dragon rider. If I’m not on the duty roster or on an expedition, I’ve been ‘nomading’, going out on my dragon, looking at the world, without a plan, just a desire to see what’s over the horizon. Sometimes I just close my eyes, poke a finger at a map and where ever it lands, that’s where I go.

I love it, sir, I do. I’ve never had such freedom and the ability to go anywhere on the planet, long as I have the dragonstones or cairns in my head. But I’ve also wondered just what to do with myself when I’m not being a dragonrider.

I see my classmates settling down with jobs, or partners, developing interests. Doing things that benefit others, like B’rost, up in Healer Hall learning to be a healer. Or F’mart, apprenticing with D’nis as an engineer. Or Rondair and the other gold riders from my Weyrling class, one’s at Honshu, another is..um, I don’t remember where, practising and taking on the jobs of Weyrwoman before they actually become one. Me, I’ve looked at several crafts and none of them attract me. I don’t want to be a healer, or a woodworker, or, forgive me, a baker,” he said.

Oscoral shrugged. “Don’t knock it. It beats nibbling away at the innards of a mountain, and the pay is better,” he said,

K’ndar grinned. “And the food is right there,” he said.

Oscoral laughed. He patted his rather ample stomach. “Aye, there’s the problem, telling one’s stomach that it’s had enough. I have a dragon tum, I do,” he said.

K’ndar struggled with how to open the problem. Oscoral beat him to the punch.

“And now, you are seeing that you love nomading and yet are bothered by the concept of having a responsibility to the Weyr, indeed, to everyone, to get a job. Especially now, when there’s no thread for you to fight, you wonder, am I a lazy lout, interested only in satisfying myself at the expense of the world?”

K’ndar was awestruck.

“This…sir, this is why I talk to you. Because you cut through all the fog in my mind, sometimes I can’t even describe what it is, and you’ve nailed it. Yes. I don’t want to be a parasite. A um, what did the Ancients call it, a ‘deadbeat’? Whatever that means,” he said.

“You’re not a deadbeat, nor lazy, K’ndar. I know the feeling, you’re old enough to be allowed to do what you want, and young enough and unencumbered to enjoy it. Despite it not being quite, um, orthodox, still, you’ve contributed a LOT to the weyr. Look at the datalinks, the camera? My granddaughter goes to the library all the time, using the datalink, reading every book she can find. She’s reading at a level far above what was normal when I was her age. The other day she said to me, “Grampa, look, the moons are at perigee.” Perigee? I had to have this little girl explain it me! This tot, knowing astronomy? I can lay that at your feet, K’ndar. Those first books were yours, K’ndar. The library exists because of your actions,” he said. “Now, there’s a steady stream of books coming from Landing, because of you.”

K’ndar flushed, unused to accolades, especially from someone he regarded as his better.

“Thank you, but it’s only because I want to learn,” he said.

“The kids are the same. They’re deriving goodness from your generosity,” he said. He pulled at his mug.

“But, that’s the past, eh? So, let me guess, the Weyrleader asked you what you might want to do as a job, correct? And you didn’t know. But you felt pressured, so you agreed to a job that you realize now, you’re not going to like?”

K’ndar nodded. “Not pressured. Not at all. In fact, I like the job, as a herdsman. It’s something I grew up doing, it’s in my DNA. It’s easy for me, and I said yes, right away. Because all this time I’ve looked at people like you, or the metalsmiths, or the cooks, and thought, they’re working gainfully, they like their job, and me, I can’t contemplate doing that sort of work. It never occurred to me that someone might want me for work I already know how to do,” he said.

“And you have a problem with that?”

“No! I mean, yes!”

??

“Is it fair that I take on a job that I don’t have to learn how to do?”

“What an odd thing to ask,” Oscoral said. “Do you think you should start at the very beginning, as if it would make work more like…Work?”

“Ummmmmmmmmmmmm,” K’ndar said, stumped.

“Does it make you think you’ve taken a shortcut, and everyone else has to run the long way around the track?”

“Well, yes. Sort of. It’s…well, look at you. You grew up mining. You could probably excavate an entire mountain while I’m still trying to figure out which end of the hammer goes ‘bonk’.”

Oscoral grinned.

“And then you came here and decided to become a baker. Did you have to learn from the word go? Did it take you a long time? No matter, you’re the best baker on Pern and it’s because you worked hard at learning how to do it,” K’ndar said, floundering, trying to say it all and the words coming out rough. “Did you just…settle?”

The big man thought for a few moments. He sighed.

“I hadn’t planned on being a baker, I’ll admit, and it took me some time. But I had a good teacher and honestly, anything was better than digging in a mine,” Oscoral said.

“Did you WANT to be a baker?”

“That’s not the point. Do you WANT to be a herdsman?”

He hated being answered with a question,but his mind had been tormenting him for weeks with the exact same tactic. When it keeps Raventh awake, it’s time to settle the issue for good, he thought.

“Yes. It’s…well, the other part of it is a ‘no’. I don’t want to give up nomading. I don’t want to leave this Weyr, but I want to continue exploring, on my own. It’s nice to have a place to come home to, get a good meal and a hot shower, have a safe place for my notebooks, a place to read my books, that sort of thing,” he said. “I’m of two minds. One, I know that I should have a job, but two, I don’t want to give up the free time to do what I want,” he said.

“And you think that having to do herdsman work when you’re not actually dragon riding, means you won’t have time to do nomading. You resent that. You don’t want to forego your freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it. But you don’t want to be thought of as a parasite, a lazy lout.”

K’ndar gawped. Then shut his mouth with a clap.

“By the egg, yes. How do you do that? Reach into my brain and pull the problem out?”

Oscoral smiled.

“K’ndar, I don’t have to. All the answers are inside you. It’s just, sometimes it’s hard to make them come out. You don’t want to face them, or you don’t understand why they are the way they are, or you are so confused nothing makes sense. It’s like being lost in a mine, all I do is try and light the pathway out for you.”

K’ndar sighed.

“So, let me help. You’re grown,now. Treated as an adult, with all the benefits that comes with it. But you remember how much fun it was to be a child, to be able to, as you horsemen say, “run without heel ropes.”

Children DO have a job, that of growing up, of learning to negotiate society. They have the freedom to be children. Things are provided them: food, clothing, cover from the elements, education. They aren’t expected to pay for it. The adults in their world provide all those things. Adults provide, children consume.

Adults consume, too. You’re consuming the things the Weyr gives you: food, a place to live, an education, in your case, riding a dragon, which the Weyr allowed you to impress.

Adults are expected to pay for these things. In virtually everyone’s case, the way we pay is through our labor. Flour doesn’t form itself into loaves and lump it’s way into the oven. Someone has to grow, harvest, thresh and grind the grain, then bake it. It’s what adults do.

You aren’t a kid anymore, K’ndar, and so it is your duty, if we can call it that, to provide a service. Being a herdsman is a service, and just because it’s easy for you doesn’t make it any less a valued one. We need herdsman just as much as we need a fisherman, or a metalsmith, or a bootmaker. I know a baker like me would be useless in the barn, and I bet if I were to ask you to make a dozen loaves of bread in time for breakfast, you’d be stuck,” Oscoral said.

K’ndar chuckled. “Well, my mum taught me to bake bread a very long time ago, but I doubt I’d ever be able to make twelve in time for breakfast. So, you’re right, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Oscoral shifted. “You asked me if I wanted to be a baker? At first, no. I didn’t want to be anything but out of the mines, forever. After the mountain tried to kill me, I wasn’t about to give it a second chance. So I sat around home, doing nothing. I was shiftless, lazing around the cavern, until a wise woman-my mum-kicked me in the arse and said ”If you aren’t going to dig, get out. Go make yourself useful, otherwise, you’re not going to be fed.”

“I don’t think I’d tackle a woman who could kick you in the arse,” K’ndar said.

Oscoral laughed. “Little she may have been, but only in size. No one crossed her without suffering the consequences,” he said, unabashed awe in his voice.

He reminisced about his mother for a few moments, then dragged his attention back to K’ndar.

“So I did a little nomading myself. Made my way west from the mines, up north. I drifted around, like a Wanderer, but not as smart. I tried different things, forestry, barrelmaking for the wine lords, met lots of folks, but mostly spent many a night outside, sometimes not having a thing to eat. I fought life, just as I fought the mountain, and just like the mountain, life said, play by my rules or die. The one thing I refused to do was go back to mining.

So, about that time, Southern opened up, and I took a slot aboard a ship to pay my way, learning, by the way, that I wasn’t a seaman. Put into Southern Hold, where I was paid off. The Captain paid me despite my not being much more than useless, and said, don’t bother coming back. The pay lasted about as long as it took for a thief to pick my dumbarse pocket. So I walked for days, not sure where I was going. I’d gone more than I like to remember without much to eat when I fetched up here. I literally came begging for something to eat, said I’d do anything. I was pointed to this dining cavern, where I met the master baker.

Whoa, that woman had a way with dough! She was like my mum, no nonsense but truly dragonhearted. She offered me a job, but first, asked me, “Miner, before I give you a thing, you have to tell me, what has all this nomading taught you?”

I had to think, it was hard because I was hungry. I realized that, rain or shine, people need to eat. No matter where you are in the world, there’s always work for someone who can cook or bake. If I wanted a job, she said, I was going to start at the very bottom, like any drudge.”

He patted his belly. “This tum here, it insisted I take the job. Did I like it? No. Not at first. I resented having to go out and work for a living. But then, I realized I could have a life in the sunlight, that baking didn’t piss off a mountain, and that people appreciated what I did. “

K’ndar nodded without a word, as always, entranced by the stories of the big man’s life.

“K’ndar. Do you think I do nothing but bake, day or night?”

“No, of course not.”

“Correct. Once I’m off shift, which is usually ’bout midnight, I go home, sleep til about 7 or so, get up, help my wife around our quarters, and then I weave.”

“You…weave? Like, tapestry?”

“Nay, not the pretty wall hangings, that’s art,” the man said, “I make useful stuff, things every weyr dweller needs. Rugs. Curtains. Blankets. Especially the latter, I don’t like sleeping under a fur. Too many little crawlers come creeping in the night, wanting to sleep in them, too, and I think a fur should be left on the animal that grew it. No, my weaving is for fun as well as a service to the community. It’s a hobby. Just like baking, I learned from the ground up. I learned to shear a sheep and card the wool, I learned to harvest cotton, turn it into thread. From the ground up, K’ndar, unlike you, who was born on the back of a horse. Trust me. Being a herdsman won’t take up all your time. You’ll have plenty of time to nomad, until, of course, you start a family. Then you won’t have a minute to yourself,” he said.

K’ndar couldn’t imagine this big man doing the teeny, tedious job of weaving. Nor did he think it useful to tell Oscoral he had no intention of having children. But he did see the man’s point.

“Besides, as far as I know, we’re so short of dragonriders that you will be doing that work for a very long time. You may never, actually, have to work as a herdsman, when your talents as a dragonrider are far more valuable.”

He drained his mug. “Now, K’ndar, if you don’t mind, I need to get back to MY work, otherwise, someone will be short his morning toast.” He stood up.

K’ndar stood too, and shook Oscoral’s hand.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you for clearing my mind. You’ve always been able to do that, I can’t thank you enough for your advice. Do you know, my Raventh insisted I come talk to you,” he said. “I was keeping him awake with my ruminating.”

“I can’t imagine trying to ignore a cranky dragon,” Oscoral said.

“You can’t. They have a very pointed way of making sure you know WHY they’re cranky,” K’ndar said, chuckling, “He’s asleep, now.”

Oscoral grinned as he picked up the two mugs.

“Thank you, sir, for your time and counsel,” K’ndar said.

“Oscoral. It’s Oscoral.”

K’ndar couldn’t bring himself to call the man he respected so much by his first name, but he obeyed.

“By the way, si..Oscoral. When YOU need counsel, who do YOU go to?”

Oscoral’s laugh rumbled through the dining hall cavern.

“The wisest person I know. My wife.”

Chap. 203 The Offer

Chap.203 The Offer

“That rain cooled everything down nicely,” Fland said.

He, Sandriss and K’ndar had ridden back to the burnt out wagon to retrieve the metal parts and the branding iron.

“This axle-it’s well made. I don’t know if it can be used for a wagon again, but the metal, surely, can be melted down and re-cast,” Fland said.

“Did you ever do that?” K’ndar asked. He wished he’d brought something to wipe his hands on, the wet ashes stuck to anything it came in contact with. He was loathe to wear his riding gloves while handling this stuff.

“Before I was Searched, yes. My grandfather was a metalsmith and was intent on my taking up the trade. I wasn’t interested, then or now, but I did learn a lot about metalsmithing,” he said.

“Hanliss, too?”

Fland laughed, a bit bitterly.

“Ah, Hanliss. Even as a kid my brother was trouble. He’d mess with things in my grandfather’s crafthall-poke holes in the bellows, tip over the quenching buckets-for no reason I could ever discover. Dad had to take a strop to him on more than one occasion, not that it did any good,” he said.

“But not you?”

Fland laughed, cheerfully this time.

“Didn’t take me but one ‘dance with the Leather Mistress” to learn to stay out of trouble,” he said. “Not that Hanliss didn’t deserve it, he earned every stroke. But sometimes, when I tired of his bullying, I would, let’s say, maneuver it to where he’d get the punishment. He wasn’t too bright. Or maybe he just didn’t care. Hanliss seemed to enjoy purposely doing things he knew would piss off the old man. Dad kept an eye on us boys, mostly due to Hanliss. “Got eyes in the back of me head, boyo,” he’d say, and for the longest time, I’d be looking for them under his hair!”

Sandriss and K’ndar both laughed. Their grandfather had died before K’ndar was born.

“This stuff is a mess,” Sandriss said. He flicked wet ash from his hands. By using what was left of the spokes, he was able to gingerly work the hubs out of the mass of wet ash. “Glad it burnt right through the yoke, otherwise I don’t think we’d ever get it out. By the egg, this was good wood and excellent workmanship. Look at these spokes!! Some wheelwright knew his stuff.”

The sound of harnessed horses drew their attention.

Lizard halted his team a ways from the burnt wagon. He dismounted and put a heavy stone in front of the horses. Each horse had a lead rope attached to the headstall and he tied them both to the stone.

The three were puzzled by his actions.

“Aye, I know, these horses are well trained, but until I know I can trust them to not run off, better safe than sorry,” the trader explained.

His dog, Crunch, jumped out of the wagon and, tail awag, began running around the site, extremely interested in the bones.

Sandriss dragged the hub out of the wet wood ash. Lizard ran his hand along one of the remaining spoke’s length, thinking.

“I heard what you said. This IS good workmanship, if I were a betting man, I’d say it was done up north. Not sure who might have done it. This was a good wagon, stout all round. If we can get those hubs and the axle cleaned up enough, put ’em in my wagon, I’ve made room, and I’ll take ’em back to Singing Waters Hold. The branding iron, though,…I think, K’ndar, you might want to take it back to Lord Dorn today. I’m sure he’s itching to find out who made it,” the trader said.

“Wait a minute. You think the wagon’s from up north?” Fland said.

“Aye. I’m not certain, but this spoke, see the grain? It’s made from sky-broom. That’s tough wood, hard as iron and just as hard to work. We don’t have much sky-broom here on Southern, certainly not enough to use for wheels,” Lizard said.

“But Lord Dorn…didn’t he say he was missing a wagon? And a team?” K’ndar said.

“He did say that,” Sandriss said.

“And he mentioned that the thieves had to have had horses. He’s right, you don’t ride oxen and these fools, I’m betting, didn’t walk beside the wagon. I bet they drove those oxen hard. SOMEONE had to have been with them,” Fland said.

“Was there more than one wagon stolen? Were these thieves just part of a bigger group?”

Mardriss rode up on horseback.

“Whew,” he said, scanning the skeletons of the livestock, “the scavengers didn’t leave much, did they?”

The oxen and horses had been reduced to bones. Crunch, the dog, now filthy with wet ash, had found one to gnaw on.

K’ndar nodded his head. “I’ve seen it before. Even if it’s just wherries, after a dragon kills and eats, the scavengers are right in on what’s left,” he said.

“By the way,” Mardriss said, “the oxen I was missing? They were waiting outside the far gate this morning, wanting breakfast. Not a hair touched on them,” he said, obviously relieved.

Lizard rummaged around in the tool box on the side of his wagon and withdrew a small hand broom. “Here, Sand, bring those hubs and the axle here and I’ll clean the ash off of them. Enough, I guess, to get them back to the cothold and wash them off. K’ndar, if it’s cooled off, bring me the branding iron. I’m not eager to put these things in my nice clean wagon with all this muck on them,” he said.

Crunch came running up, his legs and belly coated with ash. He made to leap in the wagon. Lizard pushed him aside in mid-leap, sending the dog into a heap. Crunch jumped to his feet, laughing, taking it all as a very funny game

“That includes YOU, doggy!!

______________________________________________________________________

After extended handshakes and teary goodbye’s, with hugs from his mother and in-laws, and saddle bags bursting with food (Daryat apparently thinking they would starve in the few seconds of ‘between’); after seeing Lizard’s wagon head west, K’ndar was glad to finally buckle his sister securely aboard Raventh. Siskin chirped his readiness.

“Take care, my loves,” Daryat said, her hand on Raventh’s foreleg. “Tell Hariko thank you so much for the chicks.”

“I will, Mum. I love you,” K’ndar said, Glyena echoing.

At the last moment, he decided to go to their Weyr, rather than right to Singing Waters Hold.

_________________________________________________________________________

M’rvin turned the branding iron over and over.

“Harlan would love to look at this. Let’s take this down to his shop, before you go to the Hold.”

Harlan, Nyala’s weyrmate, was someone K’ndar had learned to be exceptionately respectful of. The man had muscles hard as the metal he worked.

“Yes, sir.” He made to leave, but M’rvin stopped in mid-stride.

“I’m glad you came to me first, K’ndar. Not that I’d have had any problem with you going to Lord Dorn immediately, but..protocol, you know,” his Weyrleader said.

K’ndar nodded, silently thanking B’rant, the Weyrlingmaster, for drilling protocol into his head. You didn’t want to jump the chain of command, even in situations such as this. He hadn’t thought of it, it just came instinctively.

“I would have anyway, sir. You’re my Weyrleader.” he said. M’rvin nodded in thanks.

“I was thinking, sir, that if there are thieves hitting tiny cotholds, like my family’s, they would probably go for our herds, small as they are.”

M’rvin looked through him, thinking. “That’s something to consider, K’ndar. It’s taken some time to start building them up. Now that Weyrs are expected to support themselves, I’m glad to have people like Nyala, for instance, someone who knows more about beasts than I do about dragons,” he said. “Not to mention you, K’ndar, and your sister-both of you are good herdsmen.”

K’ndar’s eyebrows arched, surprised that his weyrleader had even noticed.

“Don’t think I’ve not seen your sister ride! She thinks like a horse, and I have no doubt whatsoever that you do, too. If you’ve not decided on a profession yet, I’d be glad to have you here as both a dragonrider as well as a herdsman. Nyala can always use good hands. One day, too, she’ll be wanting to retire, and by then, perhaps your sister will be old enough to take her place. Of course, I can’t speak for her, but I can put it to you. Do you want a job as a herdsman?” M’rvin said.

K’ndar gawped for a moment, afraid he was imagining this.

“What? Not interested?” M’rvin said.

K’ndar’s mind was a whirl. He finally found his voice. It was heavy with relief…and astonishment.

He laughed. “No sir. No! Not at all! I’ve been wondering, pounding my brain, wondering what to do with myself as a second career. I’ve worried! I’m a biologist, yes, but that doesn’t…doesn’t bring in money, does it! Managing herd beasts, no problem! Horses, sir, especially, sir, I’ve loved them, ridden them since before I could walk, but I didn’t think it would actually translate into ‘meaningful employment’!’

M’rvin feigned slapping K’ndar’s forehead. “Duh, K’ndar? Really? C’val still can’t stop talking about how he saw you rope a herd bull at a flat out gallop. That’s experience you can’t buy. I’m serious, K’ndar. Having you as a herdsman as well as a dragonrider gives me two experts for the price of one,” he said, amused at the brown rider’s reaction. He could see K’ndar processing it with growing happiness.

You’re a good egg, K’ndar, no way am I going to let you leave. I’ve lost too many already, he thought.

Raventh is, too. He’s a solid dragon. He’s welcome on my wing,anytime Arcturuth, his bronze dragon chimed in.

After several moments, M’rvin said, “Well, K’ndar, do you want to sleep on it before you decide?”

K’ndar awoke from his reverie. Decide? What’s to decide?

“No sir! Done! I’ll take it!”

Chap. 202 Smoke screen

Chap. 202 Smoke screen

“Is Raventh up to going out towards the burn? I’d like to see where it started. I’d like to know HOW it started, we had no lightning whatsoever,” Mardriss said.

How do you feel? Want to take me and my brother out to the burn?

I’m fine, Raventh said, the bath did me good.

K’ndar turned to Mardriss. “He’s good. It’s not like when we’d fly for several hours, fighting thread. I don’t think there were any burns where you’ll be sitting,” he said.

Mardriss stopped. “Um..I’ve never been aboard a dragon before. Is it different than riding a horse?”

K’ndar grinned. “A little. I use the same cues with my legs on Raventh as I do on a horse, but a passenger? Just buckle in and hang on. He won’t do anything crazy.”

I might Raventh said.

K’ndar laughed.

“You’re sure? And you, with little burns on your face, you’re okay?”

He nodded.

The track of the fire was as easily followed as tracking a muddy dog across a clean floor. The burned swathe was a blackened scar against the tan of the dried grass. It was still smoking, with wisps and tendrils looking like fog. Smouldering manure piles sent up tiny columns.

“Funny, I never thought dung would burn,” K’ndar said as they flew out from the cothold.

“It will,” Mardriss said from behind him, “especially after a long dry spell. Horse dung is very good for that. If I were too concerned, I’d have a ground crew out there breaking the piles up and watering them. But I don’t think I need to worry, out here on the steppe, it’s fairly well dispersed. As for grass, you can see, there’s nothing left, it was a hot, hot burn. I’m betting we have rain tonight. A few days of rain and this burn will green up like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

The burn was attracting scavengers. The many species of wherries and birds were converging on the banquet of roasted insects and the little creatures that hadn’t been able to escape the flames.

“Look at that!” K’ndar cried, pointing out towards the horizon. Far out, he could just barely see a pair of whers.

“See the whers?” he asked. Raventh obliged by turning and hovering so that Mardriss could see them. Over the wher’s heads, a large flock of birds was swirling over the steppe, diving and rising.

“They’ll be in after dark, I imagine, to feed on anything dead out there,” Mardriss said.

Closer in, birds and wherries were scrambling over a smoking mound. When Raventh arrived, they rose up high, squawking in protest. Many of the wherries landed a safe distance away, to wait out the humans.

Raventh circled over the mound, now clear of scavengers. He chose a spot to land in the unburned grasses just past the mound.

They were dumbstruck.

_________________________________________________________________________

Two oxen lay side by side, still yoked. They had been hobbled, as had the dead draft horse next to them.

Just behind the dead oxen was the smoking remains of a wagon. In the bed were the remains of two humans.

Behind the wagon was a horse, badly burnt, but still alive.

Flat out on the ground, it groaned, weakly.

K’ndar’s stomach turned. The stench of burnt flesh was dreadful. He could see her pain in the horse’s eyes.

Without a word, Mardriss knelt by the horse.

Then he cursed.

“What?” K’ndar said.

“This is one of our horses,” he said.

The implications of that began to sink in.

“Do you think she can be saved?” K’ndar wondered.

His voice tight with grief, Mardriss shook his head.

“No, I’m not enough of a healer to even try. Oh, the poor thing. Her neck-oh…”

He stroked the horse’s face, gently.

Recognizing him, she made a sound, half whinny, half nicker.

“You poor thing, poor little lass. I’m so sorry,” he said, tears stinging his eyes.

The horse tried to raise her head.

“Please, little lass, just be still. I’ll stop the pain, my sweet, please don’t make this any harder on my heart,” he said, his voice rough with emotion.

Her eye met his. In it was trust.


He forced his mind to not see how badly burnt she was. She was calm. She was waiting.

His dagger sighed as he pulled it from its sheath.

With a swift stroke, he stilled her heart.

Tears rolled down K’ndar’s cheeks.

After several emotional moments, both men wiped their eyes and recovered their composure.

K’ndar looked at the dead filly and noticed something odd.

“Mard. Look at her left flank. That’s a fresh wound, it’s a burn, but..”

Mardriss stood up, and, looking closely, swore again.

“That’s a fresh brand. They branded her. She was my horse, but not my brand.”

They heard hoofbeats. Lizard, Fland, Sandriss and several of the hands approached on horseback.

They were aghast at the sight.

Some of them began to curse.

“Nooooo,” one of them said, “not her. Oh, shards.”

“Sir,” one of the hands said, after they’d all dismounted, “these aren’t your oxen. I don’t recognize the horns, what’s left of ’em, anyway.”

Another said, “But the horse? The one over there? He was ours. He was that big roan gelding, the bald faced one. These are our horses.”

“They stole our horses,” Sandriss said.

“The bastards didn’t even unyoke the oxen!”

Lizard examined a ring of stones circling the still smouldering remnants of a fire.

“The fools, a cooking fire in these conditions? No. No. Wait.”

“No. Not a cooking fire. They fired up horse dung to..to ..there’s a branding iron! They heated up a branding iron!”

K’ndar reached for it.

“No, K’ndar, it’s probably still hot,” Lizard said. He was right, K’ndar could feel the heat from the iron. He snatched his hand back.

“Not hot enough, Lizard, it takes real wood to heat an iron hot enough to make a clean brand,” Mardriss said, “this was a rough and ready fire, all they did was hurt the horse with it.”

One of the hands shook his head.

“Bastards probably didn’t even numb up the spot. That’s plain cruelty.”

No one had anything to safely pull it out of the smouldering pile.

“Once things cool, we’ll get the branding iron out,” Mardriss said, now consumed with a cold fury.

“Any bet the wagon’s been stolen, too?” one of the men said.

“I won’t take that one, not on your life.”

“Think they were settlers?” another asked.

Lizard was examining the remains of the wagon. No one wanted to handle the corpses just yet.

“No. Look in the wagon bed. What do settlers bring? Cast iron cook pots. Horseshoes. Rope. Barrels of flour. Shovels, hoes, tools. And they don’t sleep in the wagon, there’s no room. There’s nothing of that in here. Just two bodies and what looks to be crossbows, aye, a lump of clothing, maybe? There’s a sword. These weren’t settlers. They weren’t even holdless. These were thieves, pure and simple,” he said.

“Looks to me like they came in by wagon, snatched the horses, moved out far enough so we’d not see them working, and branded them.Then the idiots fell asleep in the wagon, bold as brass. We know the rest, don’t we?” Sandriss said.

“They must have thought the fire was out. Idiots. Dung burns for days.” Mardriss said, “But it started up again, this time while they were asleep. If anything good comes of this burn, it’s the removal of two thieves. Hoisted on their own petard, what?”

“What do we do now?” K’ndar asked.

“That’s a good question, K’ndar,” Mardriss said. “I think we need to let Lord Dorn know about this. That’s someone’s wagon, it was a good one. I’m still missing a pair of oxen. I’m the only one in these parts other than Lord Dorn who’s raising cattle as draft beasts.”


“Think we can find out who these rustlers were? I am not eager to mess with the bodies,” Sandriss said.

“Let me send Lord Dorn a message by fire lizard. He’s got a dragon rider on call, I think, he’ll want to see this,” Sandriss said.

__________________________________________________________________________

Lord Dorn stood considering the ashes of the wagon.

His dragon rider, K’ndar realized, was a girl from his Weyr, one who’d graduated from the most recent Weyrling class.

She saluted him, knowing him from her Weyr.

“You’re on transport duty?” he asked her, quietly.

“Yes, sir. This week, then I go back home. Is this your home?”

“Yes, I grew up on the cothold back there. My mum got married so I’m here with my sister Glyena,” he said, sotto voce.

“I know her. Nice girl. What …what happened here?” she said, suddenly seeing the carnage before her.

“I’ll tell you later. For now, you do as Lord Dorn requests, okay? By the way, your green looks just dandy, she’s in great condition.”

The girl blushed. “Thank you. She’s a love, she is. She’s small, can just barely carry me and Lord Dorn.”

Lord Dorn shook his head.

“Bastards. They stole the wagon, oh, a month ago? I had people out looking for it but never found it. The oxen…one of my cotholders reported his team had ‘vanished’, now I know where they went.”

He walked around the site, looking down at the ground, muttering. “They have to have had horses, too. You don’t ride oxen. Wonder if these are the same ones who–hello, what’s that?”

He looked closer at the ashes of the wagon. A wheel spoke that had survived the flames came loose easily when he tugged at it. With it, he stirred the ashes. They heard a clunk. He cleared the ashes away from a small metal box.

Pulling on his riding gloves, he carefully picked up the box. It was still warm, he noted. Backing up to keep from stirring up the ashes, he placed it on the burnt ground and managed to open it.

It was full of marks.

Taking several out, he looked them over.

“These are from all over Pern,” he said.

“Career criminals,” Lizard said. “Robbers. Burglars.”

Lord Dorn looked at him. “Aye, that’s what I think. You..you’re Fire Lizard Man, I remember you,” he said.

“Aye, my lord,” Lizard said, bowing his head slightly. Dorn’s gaze shifted to K’ndar.

“And you’re K’ndar, of Kahrain Steppe Weyr, the son of Hanliss, and brother to Mardriss, my cotholder.”

K’ndar felt nervous. “Aye, my lord, K’ndar, rider of brown Raventh.”

“You…took two criminals, Arm and Ear, if I remember their aliases, and dropped them in the steppe after I tried them.”

K’ndar felt a cold finger on his spine.

“Yes, sir. I took one of them, Menlet, out onto the steppe, per your orders and left him there.”

Lord Dorn regarded him with what could only be called suspicion.

“You DID actually do that, correct? You didn’t just kindasorta drop him off close to the Hold?”

K’ndar gulped. Then he got angry at the implication. He locked that down tight.

“My Lord, I did exactly as you ordered. I flew him to a spot one thousand kilometers out onto the steppe, out THERE,” he pointed. “We landed, I took him off my dragon, remounted, and tossed the man the keys to the locks. Then I left him,” he said, growing even madder. How dare the man!!

Dorn’s eyes bored into his. There was danger in them, explosive, waiting for the match.

K’ndar felt ice cold..not with fear, but with resolve.

“My Lord, I have no reason to lie. Should you doubt me, have your transport rider’s dragon question mine. Dragons are incapable of lying. My Raventh will vouch for me. I swear it on my honor, sir.”

He saw something change in Dorn’s eye. It was…respect.

Dorn sighed and nodded. “I believe you, K’ndar, and I am certain the other dragon rider, D’mitran? fulfilled his duty as well. I was just wondering if the two criminals I tried and convicted could possibly have survived banishment in order to take up their marauding ways again.”

Mardriss interrupted.

“My Lord, I will vouch for my brother’s testimony. K’ndar did as you ordered, to the letter. I also can say that if anyone can survive a thousand kilometer walk in the empty steppe, without food, without water, without a weapon, without even a compass…well, my Lord, he’s not a human,” he said.

I can fight my own battles, Mardriss, K’ndar thought…then felt ashamed. I should feel grateful. Hanliss would have disowned me in a moment to save his own skin.

“Okay,” Lord Dorn said, relenting.

“Mardriss, once this mess cools off, if you would, please collect anything..the axle, the hubs, especially the branding iron, that will help me learn who these louts were. Someone forged that branding iron, and a legitimate metalsmith will have left his mark. In the meantime, you lost these oxen and horses?” he said.

“My Lord, the horses were mine. Not the oxen. But I am missing two oxen. I’m hoping they ran off and will make their way back home.”

“If they do, please let me know. In the meantime, I’m subtracting two horses from your annual tithe…that big one, there, was a draft horse, aye? And that little one, she looked like a grand one. What a shame. I hope no one at the cothold was hurt?”

“Thank you, my Lord, and no, no one was hurt. Scared, unharmed, and the women are upset that they have to do laundry all over again,” Mardriss said.

Lord Dorn laughed. “No doubt. You’re lucky, Mardriss, but..maybe not. I’m sure you practised for just this sort of situation.”

K’ndar, Mardriss, and Sandriss all nodded in unison.

“Since childhood, my lord,” Mardriss said.

“I’ll be getting back to my Hold, then, thank you, gentlemen, for reporting this. I’ll let you know what, if anything, I learn about the thieves.”

With that, Lord Dorn, turned to his transport dragon rider. “I’d like to return to my Hold, dragonrider,” he said to the girl.

Everyone waited, silent, until the Lord Holder had left on the transport dragon.

Then they were pounding on K’ndar’s back.

“K’ndar!! What balls you have!” Sandriss shouted, his eyes alight with pride.

“Um..um..”

“You were great! Standing up to Lord Dorn!” Mardriss said.

“I..I couldn’t let him think I’d cheated!” K’ndar protested.

“K’ndar, that man could scare the wings off a wher when he’s crossed,” Mardriss said.

He shrugged. “He didn’t scare me, and I’m not boasting. I was mad that he even doubted me,” he said.

They were mounting their horses when one of his brother’s fire lizards-they’d been roosting on Raventh-chittered in what sounded like fear.

“What the?” Sandriss said. His and Lizard’s fire lizards swirled in the air, then vanished.

“What in the world is going on?” Sandriss cried.

They heard a familiar sound, one oddly out of place.

“Mardriss, look!! Out there! It’s…it’s a cock!!”

They saw a large rooster walking in the burn, pecking at the many dead insects.

“A cock! What is a cock doing out here?”

“Think the crisps in the wagon had him?”

“Makes sense to me!”

“Mebbe he was supposed to be dinner?”

“Your Mum needs a cock, Mardriss,” Lizard said, “The chicks, it’ll take them six months to grow up.”

Mardriss laughed. “Aye, and now she’s got one. Let’s go and collect sir cock, and we’ll take him home.”

Chap. 201 Firefight

Chap. 201 Firefight

Something is burning Raventh said.

What?

At that moment their fire lizards appeared, swirling over their heads and screeching in dismay.

K’ndar, Lizard and Sandriss all saw their images of an oncoming wall of flame.

“Fire?”

“My word, look at the smoke! The steppe is burning!”

They all froze, instinctively checking the wind.

Far out on the steppe, they could see a plume of smoke rapidly building into a column. Below it, a roiling wall of smoke preceded the flames.

“It’s coming right at us,” Fland said, in a voice of ice.

“FIRE!” Mardriss yelled, and within moments, a bell began to ring.

K’ndar had grown up with the dangers of a grass fire. Before, their cothold had been small enough that they could take cover in the caverns. Back then, as a child, he’d had an assigned task, that of hand pumping buckets of water from their well. Always before, the fire had run before the prevailing winds, away from the cothold. But today, the winds were smack on in their faces.

Mardriss started to snap orders. The womenfolk began hustling to find their children. The fire lizards were still weeping in dismay.

He felt useless. What to do, I have to do something! But he’d been gone too long to know what his prescribed task would be.

Fland grabbed his arm.

“What!!” he shouted, and then embarrassed, apologized. “I don’t know what to do, what do you want me to do?”

Fland nodded in understanding. “K’ndar. Do you remember where we used to store firestone?”

“Um…um…” He’d forgotten they’d even had firestone. Then he remembered a hollow in the cavern where it’d been stored for probably as long as he’d lived there. It’d never been used, and as a kid, he wondered why they even had it.

“Yes!”

“I can’t run to show you where it is, K’ndar, not with my leg, but it’s still there. K’ndar, you have Raventh. Get the firestone, feed it to Raventh , and have him burn a backfire. A firebreak.”

“A…a firebreak. I’ve never…”

“We have about 30 minutes, if I’m any judge. A backfire is where you purposefully burn a section of the grass so that the wildfire stops as there is nothing to burn. Start firing the grass here, no, wait…the livestock needs the space…” Four of the hands raced past them on horseback, shepherd dogs at their heels, intending to drive the grazing livestock into the paddocks.

“The herds-they’re out on the steppe, grazing, see, on the other side of the farthest fenceline? By the egg, it was smart of Mardriss to rebuild the fences with stone! By the time Raventh’s got a big stomach of flame, we’ll have most of the herds here in this and the paddock further out. We’ll need to stop it on the other side of the far paddock, otherwise, we won’t have any grazing left. K’ndar. Listen. You go upwind, lay down a nice wide path of flames on the other side of the rock walls. Try to get it out as far as it can go, it’s been grazed down pretty well. It will eat up grass and when the fire hits it, it will die. Circle the cothold if you can, we can fight the little stuff if it jumps the wall. Understand?”

K’ndar was befuddled for a moment.

I know what he wants. Get the firestone. Hurry

“Raventh knows! Got it!” he shouted at Fland, and began to run.

“Douse a bandana in water and put it over your nose!” Fland shouted as he began to limp towards the barn.

__________________________________________________________________________

It seemed like it’d been hours, but K’ndar realized it had taken less than an hour for the wildfire to pass them, unharmed.

The fire had come fast, despite there being little wind. The herds of horses and cattle had bolted for the safety of the hold, not needing the snapping whips of the ranger riders to convince them. They piled up at the walls until the children opened the gates. The animals poured through them into the main cothold, where the ground was paved with stone and bare of vegetation. There they milled about, calves bawling for their mother, the herd bull in consternation at the crowding, the stallion trying to keep everybody clustered together.

The roaring of the flames, the panicked flight of birds and insects, and the smoke turned the peaceful morning into a chaotic cacophony of noise.

Within moments, he understood the concept. Raventh flew a line paralleling the rock walls, laying down a neat line of flames that eagerly devoured the close cropped grass. It made its way slowly upwind, having to work at it.

The smoke was thick and filled with airborn, burning sparks. It was too thick to see through. The heat dried out his bandana within moments, but it still kept out most of the smoke. He and Raventh were flying blind, but the fire lizards, flying high above the flames and smoke, kept the brown dragon on course.

As always, he thrilled at riding his fire breathing dragon. It was only much later, when it was all over, that he would realize how sore his throat was, but he couldn’t remember if it was from the smoke, or the heat, or his whooping in exhilaration.

He’d had just enough firestone to encircle the cothold with flames.

I’m empty of firestone Raventh said,Where should I land?

K’ndar was stumped. The cothold’s main area was crowded with livestock. Most of them were used to dragons, but he didn’t want to cause a stampede. People were rushing about, putting out spot fires that had jumped the walls, dogs were in an uproar, children shouting as they raced with buckets and damp mops. The smoke was everywhere.

He saw Mardriss as they circled the cothold.

“Mard! We need a spot to land!” he shouted, hurting his throat.

“K’ndar!” Mardriss’s shouted, his voice harsh from smoke, “Land atop the cavern! The new barn cavern! We’ll run the livestock back out into the paddocks.”

Yes, he thought, that was the best place. The large outcropping had served them in many ways, now it was a dragon’s landing place.

He could hear people coughing. Men began to shout and snap whips, getting the animals to move into the paddocks. He heard Mardriss yell “We did it! The fire’s stopped!” From his vantage point, he saw the flames swooping around the cothold and heading for the foothills. There they would probably die, as the river that ran at the edge of the foothills had stone banks.

Raventh backwinged and landing expertly atop the outcrop. K’ndar dismounted.

They were above the smoke. He tore the bandana off his face and took in deep lungsfull of clean air. It set him coughing. His eyes were itching and weeping from the smoke. Wish I’d thought to wear my goggles, but..I had no time.

Siskin arrived from somewhere and perched atop Raventh’s head, chittering and whickering, talking a mile a minute.

A cool wind arrived, blowing the smoke from the cothold.

It’s nice up here! I can breathe fresh air.

We used to climb up here and pretend we were on a ship at sea K’ndar said.

Did you get seasick?

K’ndar roared in laughter. Oh, so funny, lizard. Ha ha.

It was busy, for a while I had five fire lizards all shouting to me at once.

I only heard Siskin. You’re right, he was pretty excited.

I’d forgotten how bad firestone tastes Raventh said.

Sorry, but..you did so well out there. I had no idea what to do, but you did!

Lanarth told me. Back off, I have to empty the ash out of me.

Raventh’s neck curled tightly and he hacked up the depleted firestone ash, like a cat hacking up a hairball. It stank.

Lanarth? Fland’s dead dragon?

Then he noticed small black marks on Raventh’s sides.

You’ve been burned!

Not badly. It hurts a little but not like thread score.

“Mard!! We need to come down, Raventh’s been burned!”

He heard several shrieks of dismay.

Glyena shouted, “I’ll get some numbweed and ointment!!” He saw his sister run into their mother’s cottage.

“Give us a few minutes to clear the cothold, these beasts are still panicky. Are you okay? Are you burnt?” his brother shouted.

He wondered, but his nerves were too wired at the moment.

“I don’t think so, but I’m not sure!”

I would like to go to the river. I’d like to clean up and your brother’s stock pond is too shallow. You have marks on your face.

He suddenly realized that he, too, had encountered small bits of airborne, burning vegetation as they’d flown through the smoke. He coughed, his lungs feeling stuffy from the smoke.

That’s a good idea. Let’s go down to the ground, I’ll let them know we’re going to do that. My mother will give me something for my face. I wish I’d worn my riding jacket, my shirt’s been burned.

————————————————————————————————————————–

“Mum, I’m fine, I need to see to Raventh’s…”

“NOT UNTIL I FINISH TREATING YOUR BURNS,” his mother growled, her tone brooking no disobedience.

She held his chin firmly, turning his head this way and that as she applied the ointment.

“Best not argue with your mum, K’ndar,” said one of the women.

“Sir, Glyena is treating your dragon. She says she’s helped heal dragons before,” one of the watching children said,”I think she’s a beddernarian.”

K’ndar started to laugh, but his mother’s grip, and the child’s mother expression warned him to refrain from correcting the child. It WAS cute, he had to admit.

“Hold STILL, K’ndar. I’m almost done,” Daryat said.

She held his eye and he dropped the idea of arguing.

He was barechested, having pulled the remnants of his shirt from his back. It had protected him from the sparks, but was nothing but a rag now.

He’s a grown man, Daryat thought, with chest hair and a deepened voice. I shouldn’t be treating him like a child, but men! they’ll pretend they aren’t hurting, why, I don’t know. They act as if their testicles will fall off if they admit to feeling pain. Like Fland, that idiot, never a complaint out of him even though I know his leg pains him often. Like today, when he tried running on it! Men can be so stupid! I’ll not let this young buck of mine off so easily.

“It won’t be but a minute. You take Raventh to the river and let him wash off, then you’re going to have something to eat after you come back. If there’s time, Mardriss wants to go out and see if they can find some of the stock, we’re missing a few cows and at least one horse,” she said, holding his face as she daubed ointment. “I just hope they’re not burned up and hurting. I can’t bear to think of anything suffering from burns,” she said.

“Mum, I’m not a little boy…” he said, feeling odd at her holding his face.

“Shut up. Stop fidgeting. You are my little boy until I say different.”

The women behind her laughed. It wasn’t meant meanly.

“Aye, K’ndar, you should know, when Daryat goes full alpha mare, you may just as well submit,” one said.

“I’ll take your shirt, K’ndar, it’s been burnt to shreds. My man, he has a shirt that will fit you, I think,” another said, gathering up the remnants.

“Thank you,” he said, through his mother’s grip.

“Anyone else burned? Hurt?” he asked.

“No, just you, and Raventh. You and Raventh saved everything.”

She turned his face so that their eyes met.

“Thank you, K’ndar,” she said, her eyes shining with love and pride, “you were so clever.”

“Mum..it was Fland, reminding me of the firestone. And Raventh, he knew how to make a firebreak. I wouldn’t have thought of it,” he said.

“Maybe so, but it was you and Raventh who did it, so just accept my gratefulness,” she said.

__________________________________________________________________________

Raventh came out of the river, looking much happier. Siskin rode on his withers, cheeping. He always loved it when it was Just Them.

Feeling better?

Much. It was mostly the itch of the ash. But the numbweed helped, too.

Spread your wings. I want to check them.

Glyena checked them

I believe you, but I won’t be happy until I check.

Raventh obeyed. K’ndar stood underneath them, looking for any holes that might show up with the sun filtering through them. These wings, he thought, so seemingly fragile and yet tough. And he never failed to thrill at the sight of his dragon’s fully outstretched wings. Such a thing of beauty! He dragged his admiration aside and checked both wings for holes.

Drop the right one, there’s a few holes just near the alula.

He daubed numbweed on the holes, more out of sense of care rather than expecting it to heal. When he got back to the Weyr he’d have Salish, the weyr’s dragon healer and veterinarian, do his magic. Even so, Glyena had done a good job at first aid.

By the egg, your wings are beautiful. Just like you! he said

I am handsome, am I not? Ravenths eyes whirled a happy blue.

Most definitely.

You knew just what to do out there! Do all dragons know how to fight a fire?

Maybe. It is one of the things we did during an Interval, when there was no threadfall. And Siskin told me his kind remembered seeing us fighting fires.

He snorted, trying to clear his nostrils.

But I couldn’t have done it without the fire lizards. I was blind from the smoke. I couldn’t see where to flame. The fire lizards…they flew up and ahead of me, they could see it clearly. They told me where where I need to flame. I couldn’t have done it without them.

And Lanarth?? You said Lanarth helped you? Fland’s dragon Lanarth?

Yes. He might be gone in body, but he is still in Fland’s heart and head. We never leave you. Impression is forever.

Amazing. A long dead dragon, still teaching.

What did he say?

Raventh was silent for long moments, thinking of how to describe it.

It wasn’t a ‘say’. It wasn’t like the way you and I talk. It was more like the way Siskin talks, with pictures and feelings. He showed me how to flame in just the right spots so that the fire would starve. Not words. I don’t know if it’s that way with all dead dragons. I don’t hear dead dragons if the rider is dead, too. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard a dead dragon when the rider is still alive.

Did Fland say anything to you?

No. I don’t think he knows. He tries to not talk to me. He is still missing Lanarth. Maybe it was Fland, but it was Lanarth’s voice.

Most of the black marks on Raventh’s skin had been char, but there were some wounds that Glyena hadn’t been able to reach. He studiously daubed numbweed on them.

Did I get them all ?

Raventh was silent for a few moments, searching himself for pain.

It feels like it. Thank you.

Raventh furled his wings and tucked them neatly along his side.

We make a good team. I am glad we are brothers.

He threw his arms around Raventh’s neck and hugged him tight, for long moments.

No words were needed.

Chap. 200 Homestead Changes

Chap. 200 Homestead changes

“Now you be careful with that pie, Glyena, my dear,” Hariko, the weyr’s headwoman said, “and tell your mum I wish I could come and witness, but…”

K’ndar’s sister gingerly cradled the basket containing a pie. It would have to be carried-it was too large and unwieldy to fit in one of the cargo baskets and the crate lashed to Raventh’s sides. Strange little sounds were emanating from the crate. Siskin immediately took notice.

“Yes’m,” Glyena said, smiling down from her perch atop Raventh. The scent of the pie tickled her nostrils and she wondered if she should just try and give it a little taste?

The headwoman saw it.

“Don’t you dare, Glyena!”

Glyena giggled.

K’ndar checked her harness a second time. Siskin hopped onto the top of the crate, sticking his nose through the small separations between the crates slats. He sniffed deeply, his eyes turning an excited green.

“Siskin, leave it be,” he said, but the blue fire lizard ignored him. He began to scratch at the wooden slats.

Raventh, please tell Siskin to leave the crate alone.

He probably won’t listen, but I’ll try

Siskin eeped and flew to Raventh’s withers.

Good. That did it.

I told him I had an itch between my shoulders. We should go while he’s..oh, I AM itchy there.

He turned his attention to Hariko.

“Ma’am, I could come back for you, it would be easy,” he said.

Hariko shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe next time, K’ndar. I feel guilty about not coming. It’s not often that one’s childhood friend marries. But the weyrleaders are up North, and who’s to run the weyr?”

K’ndar gave the woman a quick hug.

“Ma’am, everyone knows you run it whether or not the Weyrleaders are here,” he said.

She smiled. “Get on with you, lad. Even so, she’s got a good man in Fland, she does. Be sure to give her my love. Now get on your handsome Raventh before your sister takes a taste of that pie!” ________________________________________________________________________

His landing was extremely gentle, without so much as a bump.

Well done!

Thank you. I know that your sister is holding something …soft?

Delicate. It’s food for humans. Easily broken, although that’s not the right word. No matter, I’m sure it’s unharmed.

What is in the crate that had Siskin so interested? It is moving and making noises.

Chicks. Hatchling birds. A gift for my mother from Hariko

To eat?

K’ndar laughed out loud.

No. At least not these. Once they grow up and lay eggs, maybe then they’ll eat the eggs.

Make sure they’re safely out of reach, then. Siskin is still insistent on getting into that crate.

“What’s so funny?” Glyena asked, then forgot her question as their family ran to greet them.

“I’ll tell you later. Here comes everybody!! K’ndar said.

__________________________________________________________________________

He reflected on how happy his mother looked. She’d lost ten years, he thought, and gained a few kilos. Fland was more relaxed than he’d ever seen. His brothers and their wives were laughing. Glyena had been joined by several of the hands children close to her in age, and was playing with her young cousins.

He thought of how wonderful this family get together was. Even better, Lizard, Sandriss’s trading partner, was there. Their four fire lizards had greeted Siskin, distracting him from his determined effort to get at the chicks.

Lord Dorn had sent Singing Water’s harper to wed his mother and now stepfather? Well, yes, but Fland had always been a better father figure to him than his blood sire. This was merely making it official. It wasn’t even technically necessary…people could wed or not, it made no difference in Pern’s culture.

The hands-there were several families living at their cothold now-were cleaning up after the celebratory meal. The menfolk had slaughtered a steer earlier in the week and roasted it to perfection. The women refused to allow Daryat into her own kitchen.

“It’s not right, ma’am, you cleaning up on your special day? Go on with you, your children are all here. By the egg, Glyena has grown so tall, not to mention your boy K’ndar!! He’s turned out right handsome, he has! My sister, you know, she’s got a nice young girl who’d do him just right as a weyrmate,” one said.

Daryat laughed. Things were so much better at the cothold, now. The evil reign of Hanliss was as dead as he was. His abuse, his miserly ways, his mistreatment of the hired hands, his readiness to mete out punishment with a fist or a strap, and most frightening of all, his risking everything by cheating Lord Dorn out of his rightful tithe-it was all a bad dream, now long gone. Their hands had returned and had built their own cottages. It’s like a miniature Hold, all on it’s own, she thought.

“I’ll let him know, but you’ll have to warn her what taking up with a dragonrider entails,” she said.

The woman laughed. “Aye, and it means living with his dragon, what? And look at the size of it! Now you go join the family, you leave the clean up to us,” she said.

Daryat smiled at the woman’s matchmaking. But she was worried. Why hadn’t K’ndar taken a weyrmate yet?

She’d taken K’ndar aside to ask him, then lost her courage to interfere with his private life. She steered it instead to asking about Glyena.

“I felt so guilty, K’ndar, when Glyena opted to stay at the weyr and be fostered. At the time, it was the best thing, to get her away from her father, but now? I would love to have her back here,” she’d said, wringing her hands.

He embraced her, so happy for her new life, and wanting to dispel her worry.

“Mum, she’s fine. She’s blossomed. Remember, back then, she had no one to play with here, no friends save me and Mardriss, and we weren’t good play companions for a little girl. You know how Hanliss was,(he could no longer bring himself to refer to Hanliss as his father) he was furious when you taught her to read and write, what kind of noise is that? A man doesn’t beat on a kid, a man doesn’t call his children names. For that matter, a man doesn’t beat ANYBODY. She had to do something to survive, Mum. You saw it yourself, how she was turning into him, out of self defense.

She made the decision, Mum, and we talk about it sometimes. Honestly, we’re both so busy, sometimes I’ll go a couple weeks before seeing her. Shirae keeps me up to date on her, and so far, it’s all been good. She says she’s often asked Gly about coming back here, and Gly has a dozen reasons why she wants to stay at the weyr. She’s grown, Mum, she’s doing well in school, she eats up her studies like a starving dragon. She has half a dozen hobbies. She wants to be a race rider, and a Runner, and work with dolphins, and wants to make horse tack, she’s got this sharp mind that seems to have no limit.

She’s even developing an interest in boys. It worried me, Mum…she was so…um, infatuated with a boy named Harve. She was starry eyed about him, but then, every girl in the weyr was, too. I felt so ..um, protective, my baby sister? Hot for a boy?” he laughed, and saw her eyes begin to soften with humor. “That’s when I realized, she’s..well, she’s not a baby anymore. Actually, it was Raventh, Mum, who said, she’s not a baby anymore.

Ask her, Mum, and if she wants to stay here, I’ll bring all her stuff back. But I have a feeling she’ll say she loves you but she’s happy at the weyr,” he said.

He could see the tension leave her. “I believe you, K’ndar, and I’m grateful you’re there to keep an eye on her. She-well, I feel almost as if I’d abandoned her. She’s my last chick, I knew back then that letting her be fostered was the best for her at the time. I’ve worried since then that, maybe, I was wrong.”

It felt strange,to be reassuring his mother. Me? This is turn about, she was always protecting me, explaining the why of things. Now I’m doing it to her? I expect it of Fland, and even Mardriss, but me? I’m just K’ndar. Her kid. Just one of her chicks.

And yet she was treating not as her youngest son, but as a grown man. It was a new feeling, one of responsibilty and protectiveness.

He hugged her. “No. You weren’t wrong, you saved her. You were like a woman whose last act was to throw her child out of a burning cottage to a rescuer. You were prepared to leave Hanliss, wondering how you would live, but you weren’t going to leave her there for him to vent on. That was the right thing to do.”

She heaved a sigh and nodded. Their were tears in her eyes.

Where was he getting this clarity, he wondered, this heady feeling of understanding the whole picture, everything clicking into place, like the last piece of a puzzle? He hadn’t had it moments ago.

“Mum, she turned around like THAT,” he said, snapping his fingers. “She’s like you, a lot. She’s strong. She’s smart. She knows who she is and what she wants, and I’m betting my best boots, if she changes her mind and wants to come home, she’ll do it. And I’ll bring her here as fast as Raventh can bring us.”

She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

———————————————————————————————————————

“Wow. You’ve been busy,” he said, amazed at the changes in the cothold.

K’ndar was with the menfolk. Lizard, his brothers Mardriss and Sandriss, along with Fland, were taking him on a tour of the cothold.

“It’s gotten so big,” he said, trying to understand the odd combination of strangeness and familiarity. He’d grown up here, but had he? It had never occurred to him that life went on, day by day, here, as well as at the Weyr. He’d subconciously expected the homestead to be exactly as it had been when he’d left. And of course, most of it was, yet there were changes, some so subtle he couldn’t define exactly what they were.

His memory had gaps, now. As he looked around, it said, ‘there used to be something here’ but he couldn’t remember what. I grew up here, he thought, why do I feel like a stranger? The hand’s cottages were obviously new, but what had been there before? Wasn’t that the spot where the big tree had been, the one they’d all climbed like quorls? Why hadn’t I noticed these changes when we staged out of here doing the steppe survey? Had they been made then? Or was it, we’d arrive at dusk, eat, clean up, sleep, and then head out at dawn? He felt lost.

“I bet you feel out of place, K’ndar. We did most of this building just this past summer,” Mardriss said, “put up cottages for my and Sand’s family, a guest cottage, where you’ll bunk tonight, along with Lizard, and the hands all have their little cottages now. We were going to build an entire new one for Mum, but she won’t have anything to do with that. So we built a new barn, instead.”

“What happened to the tree, the big one?”

There was a circle of bricks surrounding a small sapling where the tree had stood.

Sandriss said, “Lightning, K’ndar. One night, everyone had turned in when a thunderstorm blew in. My fire lizards had just enough time to wake me up to warn me, when BLAM! It was deafening. That was when, Mardriss, last summer? Right after you left with your survey team. It was strange, K’ndar, it’d been hot, like today, we didn’t expect a storm. Rain, yes, we needed the rain. One half of the tree was burning. We managed to put it out before it caught everything on fire. Poor thing, such a magnificent tree. We had no idea it was hollow hearted. I think, had it been younger, it would have withstood the strike but as it was, it was the end of it. The wood was still good. That’s what we used to build most of the cottages. It was a grand old tree, it was.”

K’ndar touched the sapling, gently. It was obviously well cared for.

“We took a cutting off the tree, from the part that hadn’t been burned, planted it right where she’d stood. You can see, it’s taken root. I doubt we’ll be alive to see it get as big as it’s mum had been, but with luck, our kids will,” he said.

After several reflective moments, Mardriss said, “Let’s show you the new barn.”

The new barn had been cunningly engineered to form an addition to the large cavern that before had housed their riding horses. Now it was filled with fresh mown hay, safe from the rains of winter and surreptitious nibbles from the various herbivores on the cothold. The addition had been built solely for the livestock. There were airy and bright box stalls for their own horses as well as those of visitors. A calving pen had been built for the cow that might have problems calving. A chicken coop had been carefully designed to keep cats, tunnel snakes and even fire lizards out. Hariko’s chicks were in it now, already happily adapted to it. K’ndar hoped Siskin wouldn’t teleport inside it.

“Sand, how..how do you keep your fire lizards from attacking the chickens? My Siskin wanted nothing more than to get at them.”

Sandriss laughed. “Lizard will tell you that!”

He turned to the trader.

Lizard grinned.

“The trick isn’t a trick at all. It’s a process called aversion training. Remember, Sandriss’s and my fire lizards are all from the same clutch. We were traders at the time, we were somewhere up North, at a Gather. I’d sold all but four eggs. They hatched and we eached impressed two. We’d been there, oh, a few days, when the hatchlings began exploring. They saw the Holder’s chickens and went for them. The cock, though, was having nothing to do with a handful of baby fire lizards, no sir!!” He and Sandriss both laughed.

“I’ll say! That cock was twice their size and mean as a wet wherry. He took one look at them and attacked them, sending all four into between. Probably the first time they’d ever done it and I’m amazed they found their way back. They reappeared in the basket they’d hatched in! They’ve not dared look at a chicken since!” Sandriss said.

“I think, given that Siskin is a fairly small blue, you might find an equally aggressive cock to teach him to leave his hens and chicks alone.”

“Not too difficult, I think all cocks are possessive,” Sandriss added.

“Mum’s cock is where? I haven’t seen it,” K’ndar said.

“Dead. That’s why she’s so grateful Hariko sent her a basket full of chicks. Bound to be a cock in the batch. New blood, too.”

At the moment, the box stalls were empty, as all the livestock were out grazing. They made their way to the paddocks. A small herd of horses came racing to the stone fenceline. Among the riding horses were several draft horses.

“You’re raising draft horses now?” he asked Mardriss.

“That I am. Oxen, too. There’s a need for ’em. A lot of folk are moving to the steppe and need draft beasts,” his elder brother said.

The thought of his beloved steppe filling up dismayed him.

The men gave the horses scritches.

He recognized two of them.

“These draft horses, he said to Mardriss, “they look familiar.”

“Good eye on you,” Lizard said, “They used to be mine.”

“USED to be?”

“Aye, they’re your brother’s, now. Mardriss gave me a good deal on a new pair, five year olds. I know some folks who would have fed the old ones to their dragon or watch wher, but not me. They’ve earned their retirement,” Lizard said.

“Huh. My dad would have butchered them without a qualm,” K’ndar said, bitterly. “”Can’t have nothing here that doesn’t earn its keep,”” he said in a angry tone, mimicking his dead father.

“Or spiffed them up and tried to sell ’em as young ones, ” Mardriss said, “but even retired horses can prove valuable. They’re training new teams, like the one I gave Lizard.”

A very large stallion thundered up, shaking his mane and whinnying. He went right to Lizard.

“Ah, you’re daft, you are,” Lizard said, and from somewhere on his person produced a carrot.

The stallion nickered and took it, gently.

K’ndar was awe struck.

“What…who …”

Mardriss laughed. Lizard crooned gently to the stallion.

“By the egg, he’s beautiful…and BIG. Where in the world did you get him?”

Sandriss spoke up. “Lizard brought him. He’s got an eye for a horse, he does,”

K’ndar nodded, still astounded. “Don’t I know it! Lizard, where did you find this beast?”

Lizard, his hand idly scritching the stallion’s neck, said, “You know my background with Wanderers, K’ndar. They’re the best breeders on Pern for draft horses. I’m in good stead with them. I was on Northern, and when Sandriss sent me a message saying they were looking for a good stallion, I was able to procure this lovely one without too much dickering. The woman who bred him made me swear he’d go to a good home. He was a pet, you know, but she needed to introduce fresh blood into her band, just like your mother needing fresh blood in her chicken flock.

The hardest part was getting him aboard a ship. Not that he was afraid of being aboard, he wanted nothing to do with being below decks. He wasn’t afraid, no sir, he wanted to be on deck, probably wanting to actually pilot the ship!” he laughed.

Chap. 199 The Explorer’s Journal

Chap. 199 The Explorer’s Journal

Siskin chirped in joyous recognition.

Three fire lizards, two greens and a bronze, all bearing collars with Landing’s insignia on it, popped out of between over his head. Raventh was bathing in the dragon lake, along with several other dragons.

Francie’s fire lizards! “Hello, Coora! Sisi, Keeso! Where’s your mum?” he said.

They swirled over his head as Siskin joined them.

Green Motanith is here, she’s going to land, please make way for her Raventh said.

Looking up, he saw Francie riding her green. She signaled where she intended to land and he moved far enough away for her to do so safely.

Francie dismounted and immediately began to unharness her dragon.

“Hold on, hold on, you’ll get a bath just as soon as I get my harness off you,” she said, laughing at her dragon’s impatience.

Motanith fidgeted until she felt the harness slide over her withers, then, with a snort, she made a short flight-almost a winged hop-to splash into the lake. Raventh bugled a welcome.

Francie approached K’ndar, stripping off her riding gear off.

“Dragons! I swear, you’d think she’d not had a bath in a month!”

Before he could respond, she said, “Whoa, it’s hot here! I don’t blame my girl for wanting the lake!”

Her fire lizards landed on her arms, all three pleading to have their badges removed. She took them off and the three fire lizards sped to the lake to join the dragons.

Siskin warbled, begging.

“Of course, Siskin…go have fun,” K’ndar said.

The blue fire lizard whirred away, chittering.

“He’s that obedient?” Francie asked, “Mine hardly pay attention to me,” she said, grinning.

“Right, and there’s eight moons in the sky,” K’ndar said, “You have those lizards trained to do tricks? My boot, Francie. Siskin, I think, was just scoping out which of your greens to flirt with, Sisi or Keeso. Anyway, how have you been! Haven’t seen you in a while!”

She gave him a hug. “You’ve been a stranger, yourself, K’ndar, you haven’t been to Landing to ride Donal.”

“Oh, but I have been to Landing, I was there, um, right during the reorganization. What a mess!”

“No doubt, but it’s done, now, and things really are working far smoother. Raylan got a promotion, I’m betting you heard?”

“I did, and congratulations! Did you…” he was about to ask whether Shawn was still there. He wasn’t sure how to broach the trouble he’d had with Shawn, Landing’s ‘former’ Acquisition officer.

But Francie cut him off. said. “Got something for my dry throat? Flying gives one a thirst in this heat,” she said.

K’ndar laughed. “Aye, it does, come on, we’ll get something cold for you at the dining hall.”

The dining cavern was cool and dim after the bright afternoon sunshine. Few people were there at this time of day.

“What brings you to Kahrain?” he asked, after she’d taken a long sip of D’mitran’s ale.

Her eyes widened in appreciation. She examined her mug closely.

“This is excellent ale,” she said, “who made it?”

“My wingleader, D’mitran. He’s gaining a reputation for his ales,” K’ndar said.

“D’mitran! I remember him, such a good man. Is he selling it? A small cask, maybe? I need to take some home. Raylan will enjoy it, too.”

“I’m not sure…I don’t drink it,” he said.

“What? What’s that you’re drinking, just plain water?” she asked.

He flushed. He hesitated to reveal his decidedly unorthodox ‘failing’, then decided she wouldn’t tease him as others had. Or if she did, it wouldn’t be the type that hurt.

“I don’t let everyone know this, but I can’t drink anything alcoholic. It makes me sick, enough that I want to die,” he said.

She shook her head. “That’s a pity, then, as this ale is perfection. Can’t drink alcohol! I’ve never heard of such a thing. It’s okay, although it must have made things difficult for you after Thread fall,” she said, ” at least when I was flying it, the best way to relax after a fight was over a cold draft, or even wine, and shoot the breeze with the other riders,” she said.

“It was,” he agreed, ”but I learned a long time ago to maintain a low profile. If you keep a cold mug in your hand, no one checks to see what’s in it. That, and I always avoided drinking contests,” he said, remembering the times he was sneered at for not wanting to drink.

“So did I, but sidestepping it was easy, being female. No testosterone, you know, or at least not enough to make us women do stupid things like see how many mugs one could drink before passing out. And the aftermath! No thanks!” she said.

She put down her mug.

“You’re probably wondering what brings me here?”

“I did ask,” he said.

“Right. Sorry, I was distracted by this ale. My compliments to D’mitran, by the way!”

She pulled a book out of her backpack and handed it to him.

It felt cool and relatively heavy in his hands. He loved the smell of a newly published book. He looked at her, questions in his eyes.

She merely met his gaze.

He flipped through it, again, appreciating the quality of paper. Page after page of words, along with maps, drawings, sketches. He shut it, intending to go through it more thoroughly after she left.

“Thank you, Francie, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it,” he said.

“You haven’t even read the title page, K’ndar!” she said. He could see she was waiting, anticipating some reaction from him.

“Go on, read the title page,” she insisted.

He opened it to read the title.

Transcription of the personal journal of Jason Harmonof Fort Hold. Harmon’s detailed account of his exploration of the then uninhabited Southern Continent , encompassing the dates 1-12-507 to 17-5-508, 3rd Pass.

Harmon’s notebook recovered from the Southern Continent steppe by the 1st Expeditionary Team from Kahrain Steppe Weyr.

Team members: D’nis, bronze Corvuth; D’mitran, brown Careth; K’ndar, brown Raventh; B’rost, blue Rath

He looked at her, realization dawning in his eyes.

“You…they finally got the notebook printed?”

“They did. It was tedious work, let me tell you. Raylan said the restoration team spent hours and HOURS dissecting it. That’s the only word that can adequately describe the process. The pages were of a substance not quite paper, nor was it hide, and it wasn’t the indestructible stuff the Ancients had. The closest thing we could make of it was leaves from a fellis tree! Which may, honestly, have prevented further deterioration. They think it was a last gasp attempt to make something akin to paper before the supply ran out, and before the discovery of papergrass, which, as you know, only grows here on Southern. After that, our forebears were stuck with keeping records on hides. Which we all know were horrible for long term archiving,” she said. “If there’s only one thing I can thank Aivas for, it’s paper. I will never in my life forget the stench of rotting hides,” she said, rolling her eyes.

She pulled at her ale, then continued.

“When you brought that vacuum tube in, with all the artifacts inside, remember, Raylan pulled the notebook out and he told me later, could feel it beginning to crumble in his hands. So, he had Jansen-by the egg, that girl is clever! return it to vacuum immediately. Raylan said that was the only thing that kept it from disintegrating completely. They had to put the book into the waldo chamber…you know, the box Aivas had us make so as to dissect Thread? Have you seen it?”

K’ndar shook his head, not quite sure what a ‘waldo chamber’ was, but he’d look it up later on the datalink in the library.

“Anyway, they had to separate each page, and usually it shattered into a hundred little pieces. Sometimes just touching it turned the fragment into dust. The writing on pages was almost gone, although the further into the book, the better the ink was preserved. Then, because it couldn’t be scanned into the computer as one page, the restoration team had to take a picture of each fragment, enter it into the database, and get the computer to put all the little pieces together into a page that made sense. Fortunately, even if the ink was missing or the ‘paper’ so deteriorated that WE couldn’t read it, the scanning computter can see down to the molecular level and identify the letter. So relatively few words are missing, and context can usually supply a fairly good guess,” she said.

“Whew, that sounds like a lot of boring work,” he said, shaking his head.

“It’s why it’s taken so long to get it printed,” she said, ‘but once they had the process down, and mind you, this was in the middle of the re-org!! it went fairly quickly once the team settled into the flow. Printing it from the reproductions was no problem, of course, and everyone on the team insisted that you, K’ndar, get the very first copy,” she said, smiling gently.

He flushed, embarrassed. Deep in his soul, he was thrilled to see his name on the title page. As if he were a real scientist! The book felt good in his hands. But it felt, also, as if it bore a large responsibility.

“That was-that was nice of them, ” he said, ”but hardly necessary,” he said. He tried to hand it back to her. “I can read the library copy, or buy one from Elene,” he said.

She bridled, refusing the book.

“Don’t be silly, K’ndar! This is an honor you’ve earned. Had it not been for your discovery of the tube, we wouldn’t have datalinks, or the field solar panel, or that marvelous camera. And the memory discs! K’ndar, they have so much information on them! Much of it was in the database already, but there’s some data that we don’t even have questions for.

Landing is making serious money from the vacuum tubes, and kids-and adults! all over the planet are accessing the computer database from the datalinks. The kids, especially, are using the camera, and the binoculars. K’ndar, your donating the artifacts has cleared up so many questions about our past…and posed hundreds more for our future. Not many people would have donated those things to Pern. It was noble of you, K’ndar,” she said.

He mumbled a thank you, not sure how to respond.

She grinned, then said, “Did you see the second page, the one after the title?”

“Um…no.”

“Go on, you wherry, LOOK at it,” she said, fondly.

The second page bore many signatures; those of the current Council, and the restoration teams, to include those of Raylan and Jansen.

Elene, Landing’s Chief Librarian, had written, “Thank you so much, K’ndar! There’s a clean notebook waiting for you!”

Lytol, quite possibly the most revered man on Pern, had written in a shaky hand, “Thank you, K’ndar, rider of Brown Raventh, for your magnanimous and generous gift to the people of Pern.”

He met Francie’s eyes, his mouth open, unable to find the words. He felt humbled, yet there was a satisfaction of being recognized.

She laughed. Then sobered.

“Harmon’s account of his ‘exploration’-it makes for some interesting and sometimes painful reading, K’ndar. I confess I read the book on the computer before it was printed. This Jason Harmon-his name is in two parts, that’s how they did it back then, this lad, not much older than you, I think..he was a tough kid. You know how he ended up, of course, dying on the steppe of a broken pelvis. One hopes the wherries finished him off rather than him dying of thirst and pain. I suspect not, wherries are pretty skittish, especially when they’re not sure what a human is or how we can defend ourselves. He went through a lot, all on his own volition, all by himself and his horses. He was an explorer, no doubt. I wouldn’t have done it, even with a dragon and plenty of support. I would have turned back after the first setback, and he suffered several. I don’t know if that’s courage or stupidity,” she said.

K’ndar thought of the steppe, and how he wanted it to never end. Oh, how he loved it, no matter how beautiful other places on Pern were.

“I think it’s neither, Francie. It’s not a question of bravery. It’s, um, a drive, almost, a never ending wonder of what’s over the horizon. It’s curiosity. It’s very easy to feel it on the steppe, you want to keep going, no matter how hot or cold or tired you might be. Just when you’re about to give up, and decide to turn around to go home, you find something interesting. You think, oh, just another kilometer and I’ll find something extraordinary. Sometimes it’s just the joy of being out in the wilderness. The lure, the fascination of it. You begin to understand what it might have looked like before we got here. The animals, they know nothing of humans so they react as if you were just another animal, if, as Raventh once said, a rather ugly one.”

I didn’t mean it to be a bad thing Raventh said.

He laughed.

Chap. 198 Worried

Chap. 198 Worried

“They probably won’t even remember me,” Harve said, dejectedly.

The small pile of possessions the boy had accumulated was ready to be loaded onto Raventh.

From nothing, not even a cloth to hide his nakedness, the residents of Landing and Kahrain Steppe Weyrfolk had all pitched in to provide Harve everything he’d needed. The tanner had built custom boots for his feet, the woodworkers had helped him build a sea chest with his name etched in it, the tailors had taught him to harvest the tree wool (cotton), turn it into cloth and sewed the result into clothing.

The teen stood between K’ndar and F’mart, stroking Kenth, F’mart’s bronze absentmindedly.

“Harve, you KNOW I contacted Nerat’s Lord Holder. He was more than happy to accept you back. In fact, he insisted on it, saying “you dragonriders don’t know how to properly care for a seaman, no matter how old he is.””

“That’s not true, F’mart! They wouldn’t mean it!!” Harve protested. “And you all have helped me so much!”

F’mart laughed. “He was teasing, Harve,” he said.

K’ndar nodded. “It will be okay, Harve. I’m sure of it. Don’t forget what our Weyrwoman said, about you always being welcome. I hope you do come back, the dragons insist you’re a rider. They don’t make mistakes.”

Harve nodded. “I know. But, I can’t help but be worried. That’s what I feel.”

“Then you’re a lot stronger than I would be if I were you. I’d be scared, not just worried. Afraid,” K’ndar said.

Harve met his eyes. “Please don’t tell the weyrkids, but yes. Scared. I was just a kid when we left,” he said, “and before that, we lived on the We’re Here. Sometimes we’d be out to sea for months,” he said.

“It’s okay to be scared of the unknown, Harve,” F’mart said. “I remember the first time we flew to fight Thread, I was so sure I knew what I was doing that I did something stupid. I got cocky. I took a big risk. Only because Kenth was…is…smarter than me did we not get scored,” he said.

“Really!” K’ndar said, feigning astonishment. “You’ll have to tell me about it, someday,” he said.

F’mart grinned at him over Harve’s head. “I missed school for two days.”

K’ndar grinned right back. “And cleaned latrines for a month?”

F’mart nodded.

You won’t do that again Kenth said.

Zeta, Lindea’s gold fire lizard, appeared and chirped to Siskin.

The blue fire lizard transmitted a view of the dining hall, now full of weyrfolk.

“We’ll load Raventh and Kenth after the do that Hariko’s planned for you,” K’ndar said.

“What? What ‘do’?” the boy asked.

K’ndar looked at him. “You don’t think Hariko was going to let you leave without a proper send off, now do you?”

“Um….I didn’t know,” Harve said, confused.

“Come on, lad, it’s all set and ready. Let’s get some tucker in your tum before we fly,” F’mart said.

It was, indeed, a do.

The dining hall had been decorated with banners that said, “Farewell, Harve, we’ll miss you”. Many of the weyrfolk were waiting for them. Most especially, the girls of the weyr were there, some with flowers, all of them fighting tears.

To include Glyena, K’ndar’s sister.

She came running to give him a hug. She was followed by her foster sisters. Once she’d hugged K’ndar, Glyena joined the throng of girls who clustered around Harve. She looked enthralled. Her older sister, Petra, said to Harve, “I wish you were staying here, Harve, why do you have to leave?” Other’s chimed in, with “Don’t go, we’ll miss you, you should stay here, everyone likes you!”

“Um…ummmm,” was all the dumbstruck boy could say. He looked at K’ndar and F’mart for rescue.

Both men grinned and shrugged. “Oh, to have your troubles!” F’mart said, shaking his head.

Hariko came up, saying, “Harve, we’ve this big celebration meal, come now, let’s get some food in you!”

F’mart caught K’ndar’s eye and flicked his head to indicate they back off.

Bemused, K’ndar followed. He noticed a scattering of the boys of the Weyr, looking peeved.

“Look at the young bucks there on the edges, K’ndar,” F’mart said, “all of ’em jealous of Harve.”

K’ndar laughed, agreeing, but he was disturbed at his little sister’s obvious infatuation with Harve. Well, she’s almost ten, I guess, he thought, but the idea of his baby sister feeling like that for a boy? A male with testicles and the testosterone to drive them? Somehow that went against his heart. My sister? Having the hots for a teenage boy?

Why not? She’s a female, he’s a male. What’s wrong with that? Raventh said.

Not my SISTER, she’s just a baby!

No, she’s not.

__________________________________________________________________________

They’d managed to load the dragons and actually take off without hurting any of the girls who’d crowded around their dragons.

Raventh bore Harve’s belongings, and Harve rode behind F’mart on Kenth. They circled on a thermal to gain height. He could hear the girls calling “Good bye!” below them, despite the wind in his ears.

He could hear Glyena’s voice among them. His baby sister. Hot for Harve. It worried him, but he couldn’t imagine how he could change it.

“Ready for between?” F’mart called, breaking through the unexpected fog in his mind. Come on, K’ndar, wake up. Nerat’s dragon stones. Push them to Raventh. Wouldn’t do to get lost!

“Aye!” K’ndar called back.

_________________________________________________________________________

Nerat was a total surprise to him.

The Hold was ostensibly a Sea Hold, but it was also a major provider of hard woods. Beyond the livestock pastures, the rain forest rolled on and on, seeming forever. Unlike most of the other Pernese Holders, the Nerats had never doubted that Thread would return someday, and so were prepared when it did. Thus, their forests had survived and now that Thread was gone forever, they were planting more. For every tree they cut, they planted two, insuring their future.

A string of signal flags soared to the top of the mast on the high point of the Hold.

Looks like they have messages, or something, to take back, K’ndar thought.

But that many? And he couldn’t read them. He’d never seen such flags.

As they circled, looking for the spot that most Holds of any size reserved for dragons, more banners unfurled, this time on the ground.

Below him was a large crowd of people. He could hear them cheering and shouting.

“Look!” Harve cried, “The signals! That’s We’re Here‘s signal! It’s…it’s a message for ME!!”

“What’s it say?” K’ndar called.

“They read “Welcome home, We’re Here! Dock immediately”!”

“Told you so,” F’mart said.

__________________________________________________________________________

After far too much to eat, and far too many women kissing him and F’mart for ‘saving our boy Harve’, and Harve’s grandmother wringing his hand, crying in gratitude, and grown men, hardened from years at sea or working in the forest, treating him as if he were a Weyrleader, and Harve’s uncle, thanking him for rescuing at least one of his family, and several dangerous looking men, begging him to PLEASE tell them where that island is so they could go kill Shipfish, K’ndar wondered if they’d ever escape. F’mart was sitting with a pretty girl on either arm, inviting him to stay a while, won’t you?

K’ndar wondered how he was going to disengage from the lovely girl who wanted to know everything about how he’d found Harve, could she pet Siskin, had he ever been on a ship, was he married? partnered?

Harve had to repeat virtually every step of the rescue at least twice. They insisted F’mart re-enact the fight with Shipfish. Raventh, a brown! landing in a clearing no wider than his wings! How clever Harve was, to use coconuts as fire bombs!

Nerat’s Lord Holder, after a speech that was interrupted by cheers and roars of approval, gave each of them a medallion. “This medallion, sirs, guarantees you free passage on any ship from Nerat, at any time, from any port, should you ever need it, ” he said. The crowd roared in agreement.

K’ndar blushed, not wanting to tell the man that he could never ride in a ship.

But finally, the celebration wound down and he managed to disengage from the young lady who insisted she, if he didn’t have duty tomorrow, would be more than happy to entertain him.

He cast a questioning eye at F’mart. “I’m heading home, F’mart. Coming?”

F’mart smirked. “Um, no,” he said. One of his female friends had left, but the other was firmly attached to his arm. “I don’t have duty tomorrow. You see my problem, don’t you?” he said, grinning.

K’ndar nodded, not surprised at all.

His ears welcomed the relief from the noisy hall as he made his way to the dragon meadow. Siskin sighed, happy to be away from all those people.

As he was harnessing Raventh, he heard Harve calling his name.

The boy ran up to him.

“You run like normal,” K’ndar said.

Harve stopped and nodded. “Because of you, K’ndar. I don’t know how to repay you for rescuing me. I will never, ever forget the clearing, when the sky suddenly went dark and I looked up and it was Raventh! It was like a dream come true! I don’t know how to thank you enough. I wish there was something I could do, some way I could,” he paused, dropping his eyes.

Then they met K’ndar’s. “I feel as if you did all the giving and I did all the taking,” he said, finally.

K’ndar put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Harve. Stop. I know. How could I NOT have rescued you? I’m certain, were it me needing rescuing, you would have done the same, yes?”

“Of course! But I feel as if, well I DO, owe you something. My life. You saved it, and I feel as if I need to repay you,” he said.

“Harve,” K’ndar said, realizing just how much was going to miss the boy, “You already have repaid me. You could have moaned in self pity, complained about how hard life was, how unfair. But you didn’t. You worked hard to get back to where you are now. Look at you, running like you’re supposed to! And Weyrleaders, like M’rvin and Siena…they don’t insist you return just on account of because. They mean it. You impressed them, all of us, on your willingness to turn your hand to whatever you were asked. I’ve met plenty of kids your age who won’t do a thing. Those types, we hope they leave. Those types usually end up holdless. I am certain you will never be without a Hold, or a Weyr, or a Hall.

If you really feel obligated, do what my mum always said, ‘pay it forward’. That means, doing something right or kind for someone in need, without expectation of payment or even thanks. Just pay it forward. And don’t forget, Harve. The dragons all say you’re a dragonrider. Mirth says you must come to it on your own wings. If and when you are Searched, we’d be honored if you chose Kahrain for your Impression,” he said.

Harve nodded, gulping. He reached for K’ndar’s hand and shook it.

“I will,” he said.


Harve turned to pat Raventh on the foreleg. The brown rumbled gently.

“I’m going to miss you, K’ndar, and all the folks at Kahrain,” the boy said.

“I’ll miss you too, Harve,” K’ndar said, feeling his throat tighten with emotion. Siskin, on his shoulder, chittered softly.

Harve’s eyes glistened. “And the dragons…I’m going to miss Raventh, and Kenth. Especially Kenth,” he said. He walked over to the bronze. Kenth tilted his head, his eyes rolling a glowing blue.

“Kenth?” Harve asked.

The giant bronze lowered his head til his eyes were level with Harve’s.

The boy put his arms around Kenth’s warm, strong neck and hugged him, tightly, tightly.

“I’m going to miss you, Kenth. I love you,” he said, his eyes closed.

Then they flew open in surprise.

I will miss you too, Harve. Don’t forget to come back Kenth said.

Chap. 197 The Decision

Chap. 197 Decision

I wonder if I looked like that K’ndar said to Raventh.

Like what?

Like I was about to pass out from fear.

Afraid of an egg? Raventh snickered.

You laugh…you were all nice and comfy in your egg. I was barefoot on those hot sands and was afraid I wouldn’t impress.

Sitting in the gallery in the Queen’s hatching chamber, K’ndar looked over the group of Candidates lining the hatching sands in a semi-circle. Behind them were their mentors and aides, the mentors holding platters of raw meat and the aides with tubs of oil for the soon to be emerging dragonets.

B’rant, the Weyrlingmaster, moved among them, encouraging some, patting others on the shoulder.

Behind them all were M’rvin and Siena, their Weyrleaders.

The Candidates, barefoot and clad in plain white robes, looked uncomfortable and anxious. They unconsciously shifted from foot to foot. The sands were hot. K’ndar still couldn’t understand why they weren’t allowed to wear shoes. It had ‘always been done that way,” he’d heard more than once. It made no sense other than the eggs needed that heat to mature.

For over a thousand years, no candidate had even been allowed to see the eggs until just before hatching. That led to appalling injuries and once in a while, even an accidental death, from a ravenous and virtually mindless dragonet mauling a terrified teen. But, when there was only one weyr of dragons left after a long Interval, Benden’s leaders decided to break with tradition by allowing Candidates to touch and become accustomed to the eggs long before they hatched.

He reflected on how just being among the eggs had gone a long way towards easing his fears when he was a Candidate. Still-why no shoes? Hmmm. Maybe having the barefoot Candidates on the just-below-injury temperature hot sands was to keep them from fainting in fear.

Despite their mentors and B’rant, the Weyrlingmasters’ calming presence, the Candidates all looked terrified.

Mirth, the weyr’s queen dragon, was curled up like a great cat, her head almost reaching the ceiling of the cavern. A single ray of sunlight pouring in from overhead turned the queen a molten gold and her eggs iridescent. Her eyes were a pensive orange as she regarded the candidates.

All of the weyr’s dragons, save those on watch duty, were perched on the plateau of the weyr, overlooking the hatching cavern. Many were on their weyr ledges. They were humming, audibly, and, far too low in register for human ears, crooning subsonicly. K’ndar could feel the subsonics in his bones.

You’re singing to the eggs, aren’t you?

Yes. It’s to tell the dragonets that it’s safe to hatch, time to come out and meet your weyrmate. And it’s fun. We are all happy that soon there will be more dragons Raventh said.

He was amazed all over again at how big queens got. Mirth was from the clutch just before Raventh’s. She had never reached the size of Elanath, Raven’s dam. He remembered how big Elenath had been. Even so, he thought, I’m glad I’m not a girl, it takes all day to oil a queen.

Or a bronze. Good thing I’m a brown!

It IS. The best of all Pern!

Mirth’s sole queen egg was just ahead of her forefeet. She looked at the girls among the Candidates with what seemed to be disdain.

Mirth says none of the girls are worthy.

Does she realize what happens if NO one impresses the queen egg?

Of course. Don’t worry. All queen dragons think that about their eggs.

“I wonder if I looked like that,” he repeated, this time aloud.

“Like what?” said C’val. The blue rider was sitting next to K’ndar. Sinala, his partner sat on his other side.

“Like a wherry who sees a flight of dragons?” she said.

“More like a wherry about to go down a dragon’s throat,” K’ndar said.

The two nodded in agreement.

“I know that’s how I felt when I first saw the eggs. I got used to it, I guess, when B’rant allowed us to move among them and touch them. But it was an entirely different thing when you saw them rocking,” said Sinala. “That’s when I knew there was something inside that might just ignore me. I knew I’d be passed over. I just knew it,” she sighed.

“But Sinith knew better, didn’t she?” C’val said, hugging his partner. “I remember when you both were in that self same spot as those on the sands. You both looked as if you felt you had no business being there,” he said.

“Exactly!” K’ndar said.

C’val smiled. “I knew better. My Rastabenth hasn’t been wrong yet, not about Candidates, not on Search. He knows,” C’val said.

“I was afraid. I was afraid of not Impressing, I was afraid of Impressing! Isn’t that odd?” K’ndar said, a bit too loudly. Someone turned around to face him, shushing him.

K’ndar resented it for a moment, as he could easily hear the entire audience was talking. But, he had to admit, in softer voices. He forcibly lowered his volume.

I didn’t know what the world was like, I’d been in the egg. I remember how bright the world was Raventh said. I’m glad we Impressed

K’ndar smiled. I am, too. I can’t imagine a life without you.

“You aren’t mentoring, this time?” he asked C’val.

“No, my friend. B’rant chooses mentors based on the personalities of the Candidate. It’s not always the Searcher who actually finds the candidate. You were unusual in that I was not only your Searcher, but assigned as your mentor as well. B’rant is a shrewd judge of character,” the blue rider said.

K’ndar nodded. “I’m glad he did. I trusted you, you were always willing to steer me right.”

C’val nodded in thanks. “You were easy, K’ndar. Easy. I never had a bit of trouble from you. Not like J’rath, who mentored F’mart. That boy! Whew, he was a handful.”

“Not just with J’rath, C’val, F’mart was a pain in the arse to everyone,” Sinala said. “I loathed him, the only one of my classmates that I literally despised. He was a bully,” she said.

“And yet, look, he’s down there in front of us, on the front row, with Harve. That boy you rescued, K’ndar? From everything I’ve seen, F’mart has changed. A lot. Who would have thought F’mart had the maturity to actually serve as a foster?” C’val said.

“Officially?” K’ndar asked. Now that Sinala had pointed them out, he could see the back of F’mart and Harve’s heads. He was certain F’mart had insisted on the boy witnessing a hatching. Of course, virtually every dragonrider of the weyr was here. It was fairly common knowledge that the dragons believed Harve would be a dragonrider when he came of Candidate age.

Sinala nodded. “Pretty much ‘officially’. The boy follows F’mart wherever he goes. It’s changed them both. For the better, in F’mart’s case.”

“No doubt,” K’ndar said.

I hadn’t recognized the boy, he thought, he’s put on weight, gotten taller and kept his hair short. I still remember how long his hair was when we rescued him. Harve had gone years without a haircut.

Or a bath. He stunk. Why didn’t he bathe in the sea?

Probably because his legs were chained. That, and it’s how a monster such as Shipfish controls another person. It’s how to keep someone obedient. You take away necessary things, pleasurable things, like bathing, as a way of controlling someone else’s mind. You only allow them such a thing as a ‘reward’ for tolerating the monster’s abuse. Harve’s mind was chained just a securely as his legs.

How do you know this?

Look into my mind and see my sire. He was cruel. He would beat me. He blamed me and my siblings for things that he did wrong. He kept things from me in order to keep me obedient. I hated him. I was unhappy.

You’re happy, now.

I am. In all ways.

“I don’t believe any dragonrider on Pern will ever forget the day they Impressed,” Sinala said, musing on her own experience. “Sinith was, oh what am I saying, Sinith IS the most beautiful dragon on Pern,” she sighed.

“Other than Raventh,” K’ndar responded, playing the old game that all dragonriders did at one time or another.

“Ssssssh,” said the woman in front of K’ndar, turning to shush them again. The three dragonriders looked bemused, but obeyed.

The eggs began to rock. The subsonic crooning from the expectant dragons increased in intensity, thrumming his bones. Their audible humming had a soporific effect, except on the nervous Candidates. He felt the familiar hazy feeling. It was a comforting sound, like that of a cats purr, making him feel as if he was safe in his bunk, about to fall asleep. How could you fear anything, when an entire weyr of dragons was watching over your birth?

A loud ‘crack’ announced the beginning of the Hatch.

________________________________________________________________________

He woke as if from a dreamy half sleep, as the dragon’s ‘singing’ had stopped. Mirth roused herself and shuffled out the cavern entrance.

The sands were littered with broken egg shells. The new Weyrlings were slowly being herded off the sands, stuffing their damp, wobbling dragonets with meat and exalting in the incredible feeling of impression.

The clapping and cheering had subsided, and the audience of weyrfolk and visiting families began to make its way out of the gallery.

“Coming to the feast, K’ndar?” C’val asked.

“Shortly,” K’ndar said, unable to tear his eyes from the sands. The floor of the cavern was littered with broken shells…and some broken hearts. Half a dozen candidates were left, dragonless.

It’s like the end of a horse race, K’ndar thought, the winner taking a victory lap and the losers heading back to their stable for a bath and a good feed. It’s all over so fast, too soon, after months of preparation and expectation. And now, as if it never happened, everyone who’s not actively assisting the Weyrlings will head to the dining hall for Hariko’s not to be missed celebratory feasts.

Leaving behind the unchosen.

Their mentors standing quietly behind them, some of the candidates stood frozen in disbelief. Their arms hanging by their sides, they had even stopped shifting their feet, unable to comprehend the concept of rejection.

One boy began to check under each large segment of egg shell, as if hoping that somehow, a dragonet was hiding underneath. A girl began to weep softly, the awful feeling that she’d not Impressed beginning to clear the fog in her brain.

The visiting families of the unimpressed candidates were silent and morose. Save for one, a little girl, who plaintively asked,”why is he still there, where is his dragon?”

The candidates mentors gently and sympathetically shepherded them off the sands. Siena, their Weyrwoman, was waiting. She spoke gently to each unchosen candidate. It was always a painful thing to not Impress.

“I’m sorry you didn’t impress, but it happens. Many of our dragonriders didn’t impress the first time. I didn’t impress until my third hatching,” K’ndar heard her say. “You’re still considered a candidate, and you are welcome to stay here at the weyr till the next clutch.”

He knew that, had he not Impressed, her words would have not eased the emotional upheaval he undoubtedly would have felt, no matter how heartfelt they were.

F’mart and Harve had made no move to leave.

The boy had grown so tall as to meet him eye to eye. He smiled and said, “Hello, K’ndar!”

“Hello, Harve! F’mart, I hear your Harve’s foster?” K’ndar said.

The bronze rider grinned. “Who would have thought, what? But aye, he’s in with me. I wanted him to witness a hatching, seeing as to how, in, what, two years? he’ll be old enough to impress,” F’mart said.

The boy shook his head, as if chasing off an annoying insect.

“I wouldn’t worry if I were you, Harve,” F’mart said. “Kenth and other dragons are insisting you’ll make a great dragonrider.”

“Ummmmmmmmm,” Harve said, looking uncomfortable, “I’m not so sure.”

“Nonsense, lad, I’m certain of it,” F’mart said. “You’ll impress a bronze, sure as the sunrise.”

Siena approached them. They paid their respects to her.

“You’re 14, yes?” she asked the boy. “In two years, I’ll be seeing you on the sands, I hope!” she said, brightly.

Harve paused, and K’ndar could see he had made a momentous decision. Here it comes, he thought.

“Begging your pardon, ma’am, but…no.”

The three dragonriders looked at the boy, stunned.

“Meaning?” Siena said after several moments.

Harve cleared his throat, nervously.

“Ma’am, I was so very lucky to have been rescued by K’ndar, and F’mart. And B’rost and D’mitran. My life on the island was not living, it was surviving. It was worse than being dead. I swear I thought of committing suicide, thinking I’d never be free. Coming here, and with F’mart helping me every day, every day! was like being, well, hatched. Or being reborn? Before the shipwreck, all I knew was fishing and being a seaman. Here, I’ve been in school, I’ve learned so much! This was all so new, so different,” he said. “For a long time I was afraid that someone would say, he’s not weyrbred, chase him off.”

The three began to protest, but he cut them off.

“I know! I know now, that you’d never do that,” he said. He heaved a great sigh.

“I don’t know the words, but if it hadn’t been for F’mart, taking me in like I was a brother, I don’t know what I would have done. You all, here at Kahrain Steppe, have become like family to me. A second family,” he said, and his face twisted for just a moment.

F’mart looked serious. “Harve, you are my brother. Blood doesn’t matter here,” he said. He was beginning to see what Siena and K’ndar already had picked up.

“We are happy you’re here, Harve. You are one of us, you have a home here. I am certain that when you’re of age, you’ll impress a dragon, don’t you worry,” Siena said.

Harve shook his head again.

“That’s just it, ma’am. I don’t…I don’t know how to say this but I have a feeling I will never impress. Especially after seeing this hatching. It’s not because of anything or anybody here, at Kahrain. I have friends here, I got better, the healers! They gave me my legs back. I can run like anybody, now. I’m strong. I’m happy. But ma’am, I think that I want to go back to Nerat. F’mart told me he immediately informed Nerat’s Lord Holder that I was alive. But I don’t know whether I still have family there. Is my grandmum still alive? Maybe some are there who will remember my mum and dad? My ship, the We’re Here? Everyone knew her. They knew us, her crew, they knew ME,” he said, almost in protest.

The three riders were speechless.

“I’ve been thinking about this a long time. I think I want to go …’home’, this is home, yes, but my home port is Nerat. Is that..is that wrong? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I’m not! I don’t know how much longer Shipfish would have let me live. He was a murderer and I wish him nothing but pain and suffering, like he did to my family,” he said. “You all saved my life. F’mart returned my will to live. Everyone here has been so good to me, so kind. I think Hariko tried to stuff me to my ears. Every time she sees me it’s “eat laddie eat, I can still see your ribs!!”” he said, mimicking their headwoman.

They laughed. He’d nailed Hariko perfectly.

F’mart suddenly sobered. Harve? Leave? How is it I grew to love this kid? Me? Footloose F’mart?

“Harve…”

No his bronze, Kenth said, his mind is made up. Let him fly.

The boy looked at F’mart, the man who’d brought him back from the abyss. He rubbed away the tears that had, unbidden, filled his eyes.

“I’m…F’mart, I’m sorry. It’s not you. No! But I have this thing in my head, that keeps saying, come home, Harve, come home. I…want to.”

Their hearts were breaking.

He is right, I think. The Searchers all tagged him as a rider. But there is no forcing an Impression. My hatchlings just know who is right for them. If it’s meant for him to be a dragonrider, he’ll return. For now, I think he should go back to where he was hatched Mirth said to her rider.

I hate to lose him. He’s proven such an asset. The lad takes on anything given him, does it right and does it with a grin. That, and all the little girls are just crazy about him.

Mirth laughed. He’ll be back. He’s a dragonrider. He just has to come to it on his own wings.

Siena made a mental shrug, accepting the inevitable.

“Harve, you left your chains on the beach of that island. No one holds you here,” she said, “I can understand your feelings, I was ship bred, too. Let any of my dragonriders know when you want to go home, and you will be on your way,” she said. “But I want you to remember this: you will always be welcome here, no matter who is Weyrleader. I promise.”

“Me, too,” K’ndar and F’mart chimed.

Chap. 196 The Puzzle

Chap. 196 The Puzzle

He’d spent most of the evening updating his field notebooks and copying them, neatly, into blank ones that he’d eventually turn into Landing. He’d discovered an odd fact of re-drawing something from his original sketches. They never looked quite the same. It bothered him that he’d remember seeing something on the item he’d sketched, but not seeing it in his notebook. I’m still so scatterbrained, sometimes, why can’t I discipline myself?

Admonishing himself, he wrote “Focus and Accuracy!” in big letters on the first page. Maybe this would help him do better? But he never went to the first page of the notebook, once he’d written his and Raventh’s name on it.

He always vowed to go back and look at the item again…but he never did. Time and duty didn’t always allow it. And often the item was biological, meaning it moved or died.

Rendel, the weyr’s Master Harper and librarian, entered with a basket of fresh glows.

“Working late tonight, K’ndar?” he asked. He looked weary.

K’ndar looked at the clock on the wall and realized it was, indeed, quite late.

He got up hurriedly, feeling guilty at keeping the harper up.

“I’m sorry, Rendel, I got so involved with researching on the datalink, I completely lost track of time,” he said. He gathered his materials. “The light is so much better here than in my weyr,” he explained.

He reached to turn off the datalink.

Rendel put his hand over it to stop him.

“It’s okay, K’ndar. I know the feeling. You’re on the hunt for something, and you don’t want to give it up just when you think you’re about to find it,” he said, smiling.

“It shows? You’re right. But still, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t keep you up. And I have duty tomorrow, so I should head for bed. It’s just…” he struggled to find the words.

“I can see it on your face. What is it that has you so deeply puzzled?” he said.

Pulling up a chair, he bade K’ndar sit back down. K’ndar sighed. How to explain?

“I see the Honshu Murals on the datalink. Did you go see them?” the Harper said.

“I did! I wanted to spend most of the day with them but kept getting interrupted. The kid who was my ‘docent’ wanted nothing to do with me, just wanted to rush me through, then a field trip of kids, little ones, came in, and then Rondair, you remember Rondair? She’s at Honshu, now, she came in and we spent a good part of the day talking.”

Rendel smiled gently. “I do remember Rondair, nice girl,” he said.

“Aye. I saw the shuttle, too. There was something about it that is just driving me crazy, my brain is shouting something about it but refuses to come out and say why! I keep going over the same thought process over and over and it Just Won’t Come out,” he said, exasperated.

Rendel chuckled. “There’s not a Harper on the planet who’s not experienced the same thing. Creativity isn’t as easy as one would think! Or, worse,your memory tricks you. You find yourself composing a song, thinking it’s original, only to be caught up short by someone else, saying, no, that’s a children’s song from umptyhundred years ago. Even worse, you’ll hear a song being played or sung, and at first, it’s quite nice. Your brain latches onto it and instead of playing the entire song, it just plays the same few chords, over and over and OVER….. Sometimes they go on in my mind for DAYS. And often, it’s not something I like, it’s a banal chord but it’s infectious. You get so sick of it! But your brain doesn’t care, I’ve yet to find a way to get it out of my head. Sometimes I wonder if our brains aren’t out to drive us insane!”

K’ndar laughed.

“When I am stuck on something like that, I find that a good shower..or even rain..on my head makes it come out. I get my best ideas in the shower,” the harper said.

“I’ll try it..I need one anyway, then head for bed. Thank you and good night, sir,” he said.

It didn’t work.

He paced his weyr, glad that the stone floors didn’t make enough noise to keep his neighbors awake. Siskin watched, his half shut eyes glowing in the dim light of the weyr.

Will you please stop thinking, I have to get some sleep Raventh said, irked. He was curled up on his couch.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t sleep. He pushed his way past the curtain that separated the two sleeping chambers.

After the hurricane, he’d moved into this larger weyr to accomodate Raventh’s growth. It gave him a view of the ocean.

He could hear the surf, soft and gentle in the night. There was no bioluminescent bloom tonight. He had only seen it once and was still awed by it.

It being a nice warm night, Raventh’s couch had been left open to the night sky. He remembered the girl at Honshu, saying she knew all the names of the stars. The stars! They blazed in the sky, scattered like jewels carelessly thrown across a background of deep black velvet. He picked out the familiar constellations. Stepping out onto the ledge, he looked overhead to see the double star system overhead. He could never remember the stars names, but they were a beacon to a night traveler, always directly over head.

Raventh’s reassuring bulk in the darkness was something he was always comforted by. He put his arms around the brown’s warm neck and nestled his head under the great jaw. He heard more than saw the ocean. Far out to sea, he imagined he could see a faint light of a fishing ship. Or maybe it was one of the planets, rising. I must bend to my astronomy, he thought.

Why is your brain so busy?

It’s been doing this since I saw the murals at Honshu today. The one that keeps coming back if of the shuttle. They were the machines that brought humans and everything else from the starships to Pern. It’s been in my mind ever since, something we’ve seen that’s related to the shuttle, but I cannot remember when or where or what!!

Look in your notebooks?

He did a mental forehead slap.

You don’t have to say thank you.

Still, I will. You are smarter than me.

Of course. I’m Raventh!!

They laughed. Siskin chittered, sleepily. He, at least, was able to tone down K’ndar’s thoughts.

K’ndar uncovered several glows and took down half a dozen of his notebooks. I am going to have to find more room for them, he thought. Maybe, maybe I can ask to have a beach weyr built, and then I’ll have plenty of shelf space.

I’d like that. I liked being able to go out right into the sea. But I do like not having to leap to get airborne. I just step out into space and I’m flying.

Now sleep tugged at his mind, but he pushed it aside. No, shaff it, you’re going to keep me running in circles trying to get that thought out, you’re going to stay awake until I find it, he said to his brain.

He leafed through each notebook. Gads, my writing is getting worse. FOCUS AND ACCURACY, K’ndar, even for my keepers!

His mind tried to distract him, now definitely wanting to shut down for the night.

He shook his head and kept leafing.

I wonder if I’ll even recognize it when I find it. IF I find it…

I think I know. The fox? On Western? That’s what I see in your quiet mind, the one that doesn’t talk.

“YES!” he shouted, as the lurking thought was exposed. Oops, I hope I didn’t wake anybody up…

You did, but he isn’t sure why he’s awake. Be quiet!

He quickly opened the notebook containing his sketches and notes on the survey of Western Continent.

Yes. The caisson. The huge manmade structure that he’d sketched, and then the flying fox ran past him and took a flying leap from it.

The CAISSON. Yes, his mind said, the caisson.

He hadn’t sketched the shuttle at Honshu. But at the moment, it was still fresh in his mind.

The shuttle! It was big and heavy. Landing, it perhaps didn’t need a solid surface, although he remembered hearing that several had toppled at Landing during the earthquakes that heralded the volcanic eruption.

The caisson. The team had scratched their head in bewilderment at what could it be used for in that remote spot. High up on the northern side of Western, it was perched atop the sheer cliff at the closest spot to the southern half of the continent. They’d thought that perhaps it was meant to be the footing for a bridge across the chasm, but no. There was no caisson on the opposite side of the strait. And it couldn’t have been for a wind turbine. The winds through that gorge were far too fast and turbulent for a turbine OR a bridge.

It was a solid pad for the shuttle, he thought. But why on Western? His sketch…fortunately he’d measured it…indicated it was probably large and solid enough to support the weight of a fully loaded shuttle. But, there was NOTHING around it, nothing to indicate humans had ever been there. Why build a landing pad in the middle of the wilderness?

He heaved a sigh of relief. His brain had stopped nagging him.

Thank you, Raventh, you are right. The caisson is a landing site for a shuttle! That’s the only thing that makes sense.

Overlooking the straits? Where the wind was so strong the fire lizards couldn’t fly in it?

Yes. We thought it was for a bridge. But it’s for a shuttle! But why were they THERE?

That was before dragons, I think.

If I’m right, it was. They still had use of the shuttles. I’m such a dumbskull! I had forgotten all about it. I even wrote a note to myself, ‘what is this for’? Bridge? Wind turbine?’

This is good. Now stop thinking and go to sleep. Even if you don’t need it, I do, as does Siskin. Go TO BED

He did.

Citation: Chap. 122 The Surprise on the Strait