Chap. 260 Arse Chewing

Chap. 260 Arse Chewing

Our timing was perfect K’ndar said.

He was rolling up his still dry harness in Raventh’s bay. The skies had opened up just moments before.

“I’ll never get used to how it rains here,” he said, out loud.

What do you mean?

Look at it! It’s coming sideways! And hard! At home on the steppe, it starts out gently, then gathers strength and pours for a while, straight down. Not like this.

It’s still just rain, to me. I think I’ll go out in it Raventh said, and he waddled out into the downpour.

Siskin stayed in the bay. He swirled around over K’ndar’s head, then perched atop his regular ledge.

The blue fire lizard chirruped at him, then curled up. Within moments he was asleep.

I wish I could go to sleep so easily, he thought. I could use a nap right now. If I do, though, I might not get to sleep tonight. No. I KNOW I won’t go to sleep tonight, I’ll be thinking all night about what’s happened. But I need to sign in at Flight Ops, get something to eat, then go talk to Raylan. Or maybe I should talk to him after signing in?

His datalink called. He answered.

“Raylan here. I saw you come in on Raventh. Why don’t you get something to eat, then meet me here at my office?”

Relieved at having the decision made for him, he said, “Yes sir, but I want to sign into Flight Ops, first.”

“Aye. See you soon.”

Why don’t I feel so confident as I have in the past, with Raylan?

___________________________________________________________

He was a bundle of nerves, waiting to talk to Raylan.

The division chief waved him into his office. The door slid shut behind him with a whoosh. It felt like a trap.

“Tell me…what’s wrong, K’ndar? You look nervous,” Raylan was standing next to his desk, a large map of Landing behind him.

As he looked at Raylan, he heard Uncle Fland’s words in his mind.

“K’ndar, only a child makes excuses when they screw up. If you have an arse chewing coming up, own up and take it right away. That way, it won’t be gnawing on your headbone all night.”

He took a deep breath. “I’m waiting to have my head removed.”

Raylan paused, then sighed.

“Am I that imposing?”

“You are to me, sir. I was surprised, and shocked, and I’m still rattled. I thought I was obeying. Instead I find I had made a big mistake, and now I’m about to be punished for it.”

“Hmm.” Raylan sat down, and indicated that K’ndar take the other bench.

“It’s difficult, sometimes, K’ndar, to be a friend, as I have always been with you. Francie…she considers you her kid brother, as well as a dragonrider from the same weyr. I haven’t told her of what happened, she would have been your first defender. But she doesn’t meddle with my business, nor do I in hers.”

He picked up a pencil and fiddled with it.

“There comes a time when I have to put on my spurs and treat you as a subordinate in a work environment. Like this morning. “

He pointed it at K’ndar.

“It’s not easy, K’ndar. But it wouldn’t do for me to treat you differently than other people, because of friendship. I can’t be seen going easy on you, or giving you privileges and withholding them from people I don’t happen to like. We both know of people who manipulate their bosses. It’s bad business, all round. “

K’ndar gulped, shaking with suppressed adrenaline.

“I don’t want favoritism, sir. I want to be believed when I, um, relate what I did after being told what to do by someone else. I believed Jomoke when he said you had full knowledge and approved. my leaving. I have to admit I am resentful, yes, that’s the word, that you didn’t trust me. I’ve always been honest, with everyone. It seems to me that here in Landing honesty is unbelievable.”

Raylan ran a hand over his face.

“K’ndar, at first I was surprised at your failure to repair. The friend Raylan knew better, but the division chief Raylan had to be hard…and fair. It’s not that I didn’t believe you, I didn’t think you were someone who’d just take off on a whim. But I have been known to be wrong about people in the past, for instance, Lefsa’s husband. He showed his true colors at last. If I’d been able to see him for what he really was, I could possibly have prevented him hurting her, or trying to kill you!

Once you told me what Jomoke did, even before I listened to the recording, I was able to then make decisions. You’re not in trouble, K’ndar. I’m not going to relieve you of your head. I wanted you here to input your data from your foray in the jungle in regards to the beast. It needs to be in the database in time for the meeting.”

“Yes, sir.” He felt dismay…there was a lot to put in, his data input was painfully slow. I’ll be up all night, he thought. Oh, shut up, K’ndar. It’s a reprieve. Lesson learned, the hard way, but learned.

“No problem, sir, I’ll have it all input by tomorrow morning.”

I hope, he thought. It’s going to be a long night. His angst increased…he had no idea what time it would be. Okay, K’ndar, you claim to be honest? Own up.

“I confess, sir, I have no idea what time it starts. I think it was 0800?”

Raylan’s eyes hardened.

“Uh huh. This is another reason I wanted to talk to you. K’ndar, you have a bad habit of neglecting to read the dailies on your datalink. You’re staff, now, mate, not some good natured kid with a knack for biology. Had you checked your datalink this morning, you would have known that tomorrow’s meeting has been moved to two weeks from now. Some of the researchers have yet to fully input their initial findings. One being you.”

Cringing, he felt his stomach knot. Part of him-the little kid-flared in anger. He’d been through a lot today, and it still wasn’t over! Do I really, really want this job?

Then there was relief. Two weeks! That was plenty of time.

“Yes, sir. You are right. I am not making excuses. I really forget to check it. I am not used to it, even after the six months? I’ve been here.”

Raylan stood up. K’ndar unconsciously followed suit, thinking the meeting was over. “I know. If it makes you feel any better, I almost literally had to chain mine to my wrist to force me to use it. It’s a nuisance! Francie, oh, that woman! she took to it like a dolphin to water. But she’s always been the brains in the family.

Still, K’ndar, I would like for you to really work at getting the data input as soon as possible. No dillydallying! Tomorrow is a rest day, and I will belabor the point one more time, K’ndar, had you read the dailies, you would know that next week, we’ll all be at Singing Waters Hold, bringing in the harvest. Lord Dorn and his folk are our main supporters, as you know. I’ll be there, Francie, too, in fact, pretty much the only folks left here will be the Council members and the maintenance staff. Once there, I have no idea what any of us will be doing. Stoop labor. But even scientists have to eat, and if we want to eat, we have to harvest first.”

“Oh. You’re right. I didn’t know,” he said, relieved-and embarrassed. Harvest time so soon? But he had things he wanted to do!

Shut up, K’ndar. Shut the shaff up.

“Will we be staying out there?”

“Most of us, yes. We already have a team out there, setting up sleeping and cook tents. You dragon riders? As long as you report for duty on time, I have no problems with you going elsewhere for the night. I will probably ride behind Francie back here. It sounds strange, but I’m going to welcome dropping the reins of management for a week. I’ll just be a mindless pair of hands with a strong back.”

“No problem, sir. I’m up for whatever they hand me.”

As long as it’s not haying, he thought. But he didn’t say it.

Relief flooded his mind. Now I have time to make sense of my findings, rewrite my notes. I’ll come back here in the evenings and work on my data.

“Thank you. Now, unless you have anything, please, I’ve got a ton of things to get done.”

He was about to leave when Raventh whispered, Tovar and Firoth.

“Um…yes, sir. I’ve discovered who the rogue dragonrider is.”

Raylan gawped. He sat down with a thump.

“Really! Who?”

“His name is T’ovar. He was assigned to our survey team when we went to Western Continent, when they were still looking for a spot for the new telescope.”

“T’ovar. T’ovar. Supposedly a liaison with Tillek Sea Hold, right? Wasn’t he the one Rahman fired?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How…no. K’ndar, sit. I’m calling Council RIGHT NOW. If they have time for us…and I’m certain they will, given the importance of this, you can fill us all in.”

______________________________________________________________

If he thought he’d been nervous before, it was nothing like this time, he thought. His heart was pounding even before they were called in.

That took less than five minutes. The door to their chamber whooshed open and Raylen urged him in.

He was awestruck. This was the nerve center of Landing, the headquarters of Pern.

Seven people were loosely arranged around a large table.

I thought it was the council of six? he thought.

There were maps everywhere. A slate board had incomprehensible notes on it. A young woman sat along a back wall, her job to annotate everything said into a datalink. Behind her, a large screen showed her words as she input them. Another screen had a view of the entire planet from far, far overhead. Yet another showed a slice of the planet, again from far overhead, looking at what appeared to be the Northern continent. Clouds obscured much of it. Something from his meteorology classes told him it was snowing up north.

The high scenes had to be coming from the Yokohama.

I could look at the scene all day, he thought. This is some important stuff.

D’nis, his former Weyrleader, met his eye…and winked.

Corvuth said D’nis says to relax, you aren’t going to be eaten Raventh said, transmitting D’nis‘s words through his bronze dragon.

Ask him if it’s that obvious?

After a moment, D’nis grinned…and nodded.

I just love being able to talk without speaking, he thought.

Raylan cleared his throat. He sounded nervous. Too.

“My lords, I am Raylan, Science Division Chief.”

K’ndar was fascinated to see Raylan’s words appear on the screen behind the stenographer.

“This is K’ndar, rider of brown Raventh and my staff biologist. He has something to report.”

Wait. What? I thought you were going to do the talking? Me? K’ndar’s wits scattered like panicked chickens.

The seven fastened their eyes on him. They bored holes right through him. Yes. I have to speak.

“Sirs, he squeaked. “And Madam,” he added, in an even higher pitch. Oh, no, I’ve insulted her. He cleared his throat again. His face flushed red at his pitch..

They all bit back grins. He fought his throat. It fought back.

“It’s okay, K’ndar,” said the woman. She was openly grinning. “We don’t bite.”

“Speak for yourself, Harper. I do”, said one. They laughed. It broke the tension.

“My lords,” he said, wondering if the woman would be angered by being referred to as lord? He cleared his throat again, and this time it obeyed. He dragged his focus back to the task.


“My lords. This morning I was in the jungle south of Southern Hold. I was with Rand, one of Lord Toric’s cotholders. Several weeks ago, he was cheated by a dragonrider who charged him three marks for transport, rather than the two that Pern’s Weyrs and Holders who’ve hired freelance dragonriders have all agreed on. This dragonrider has been marauding in Lord Toric’s Holdlands. The cotholder told me that several people in his area have had livestock and food stolen, the rider has been harassing people and the Wanderers have said that he’s extorted and defrauded them. I saw where the dragonrider had arsoned Rand’s hut. Rand had only been able to pay one half of the rate, but had promised to pay the rest later. I believe his hut was arsoned as retribution.

Rand reported that the dragon the marauder rides is a large brown with a long scar on his right back leg.

I transported Rand to Southern Weyr, where the Weyrleader allowed us to meet every one of his male dragonriders, to include two weyrlings. None of those men or boys were the man Rand was cheated by.

Today, while I was with Rand, the dragonrider flew right overhead. Rand saw the scar on the dragon’s leg. In addition, my lords, my fire lizard followed the dragon rider and sent me images of the man and the dragon. My dragon immediately recognized the dragon as brown Firoth, originally from High Reaches Weyr, and I recognized the man as T’ovar, originally High Reaches Weyr, and last I knew, transferred to Tillek Sea Hold, where he has a wife.”

He ran out of breath, then held it.

“Do you know why he is HERE?” one of them said.

“No, my lord.”

“And how do you know him?” the woman asked.

“Ma’am, I met T’ovar when I was a member of the survey team that transported Rahman, the astronomer, to Western Continent. We surveyed a portion of that continent, concentrating on finding a coastal spot for the new telescope. While we were at the first telescope base, T’ovar did not provide anything much in the way of assistance or support to the survey team, and after not showing up for work, Rahman fired him. T’ovar threatened him with bodily harm. The staff had to restrain T’ovar from hurting Rahman and banished him from the entire continent. That was the last time I ever saw him, until this morning.”

D’nis looked somber. He turned to the others and said, “My lords, I can fill you in on the details, as I as the head of that survey team.”

Okay. It was okay to refer to the lady as “lord”.

They nodded. “Is this all the information you have?” the seventh man asked. He was sitting slightly behind the others. He had the air of majesty.

K’ndar steadied. “Yes, my lords.” He suddenly realized the man was Lytol, a man of incredible age, who’d been through everything in Pern’s history from even before F’lar and Lessa, Ruatha, fighting Fax, Thread returning, steward of Ruatha and mentor to Lord Jaxom, he met Aivas… How old WAS the man? What kept him going? He must be 100 years old.

He was also, K’ndar remembered, a man who’d lost his dragon and survived. Just like Uncle Fland.

“Thank you, K’ndar, rider of brown Raventh, and Raylan,” Lytol said.

He felt as if he’d been bestowed the highest honor Pern possessed. He bowed as deeply as he could. Raylan took his arm and steered them both out of the room.

The whoosh of the door behind him brought him out of his daze. His shirt was wringing wet.

His heart rate slowed. He suddenly felt cold.

“I…I…wow. That was scary.” He patted his shirt. “I’m soaked.”

Raylan laughed. “Me, too.”

Chap. 259 Identified

Chap. 259 Identified

Chap. 259 Identified

K’ndar shut off the datalink. He found himself shaking from stress-or fury?

“’E’s your boss, what?” Rand said of Raylan.

“And friend. I’ve never heard him so angry. That man, Jomoke-what in the world was he trying to do? Why would he work to get me in trouble, me, a total stranger? I had no idea that today was the day the official name would be discussed. Why would a stranger send me off an a wild wherry chase?”

Rand said, “Tell me what he said?”

K’ndar paraphrased the short conversation.

“Dunno, K’ndar. Sounds to me as if he wanted you out of the vicinity, so he could name the beast.”

K’ndar gritted his teeth. His aggravation broke its shackles.

“I am so sick of the games these people at Landing have been playing with me!! First it was Shawn, then Lefsa’s husband, now this lout. If I didn’t love my work, I’d…I’d…why do people DO these things?” he shouted.

Then, after a moment, “Sorry. It’s not your fault.”

Rand shook his head. “K’ndar, we humans might be ‘civilized’ but there’s still plenty of folks willing to cut your throat when it suits their ends.”

K’ndar grumbled. “You’re right. And I resent always being the one having to watch out for them. I’m sick of having to always watch my back. At least at the weyr, I could depend on people, not beware of them.”

He kicked at a loose rock. “I’m this close to just telling them all to shaff off.”

“Now, K’ndar, not everyone is like that. You know that as well as I do. Your boss, he’s in a leadership position, right? Being a leader isn’t easy, K’ndar. He had to be hard on you, at first. Had to. All he knew is you weren’t where you were supposed to be, at work. He’s thinking, where is this bloke? Done something foolish, like gone off on a drunk? Got hurt and can’t communicate? He didn’t know. He can’t be doing HIS job, or judging what to do, until he has both sides of the story. Now he’s got them. Look, he did say it could wait ‘til tomorrow, yes? He compromised, on your behalf. That’s the sign of a good leader, K’ndar. I’m betting he’s having a chat with this Jomoke, right now. Wouldn’t you like to have Siskin listening in on THAT one, what?” He laughed, then sobered. “This Raylan, K’ndar, he sounds like a good ‘un. Really.”

K’ndar sighed. He let the grudge slip from his mental fingers.

“You’re right. He is, Rand. But this just gives me another reason why I’ve always avoided leadership jobs. I’m just not cut out for them.”

There was an unfathomable look in Rand’s eye. The man shook his head.

“Don’t cut yourself too short, K’ndar. You’d make a good one.”

Before K’ndar could retort, Rand looked up at the sky.

“Look, we could chitchat all day, mate, but I did hear Raylan say he wanted you back. And it’s going to rain in about twenty minutes. You might want to fly out of here.”

“Shards!” he gasped, dreading having to plunge back into the green steam bath. “It’ll take half an hour to get back to the clearing.”

“Aye, and you don’t want to hurry down that path, it’s worse going down.”

K’ndar wanted to tear his hair out. Jomoke, if I ever meet you, I’m going to pound the living daylights out of you, whether or not I get in trouble.

I can pick you up Raventh said.

It took him several heart beats to think that through.

??? Where would you land?

Isn’t there a clearing, where that big tree fell down? I can land there

Yes, but..I’m sorry, Raventh, I’m still pissed, I’m not thinking straight.

K’ndar dragged his focus from his anger to looking at the fallen trees. Maybe….

“Rand, how big do you think that break in the canopy is, back at that big tree came down? Think there’s enough room for Raventh?

Rand swatted at a bug that wanted to nest in his ear.

“You want him to pick you up here?”

“Yes. He thinks he can get in.”

Rand was doubtful. “K’ndar, I can’t say. I’m no dragon rider. It’s a big gap, sure as sunrise, but it’s elongated, not round, like my clearing. But he HAS managed the clearing, despite it being smaller. Even the rogue’s dragon managed, and he was much bigger than Raventh.”

“If he’s willing to try, I am, too. All he needs is clearance for his wings, and to be able to launch.”

“I can’t make that decision for you, K’ndar,” Rand said. “If he gets hurt?”

Doubt struck K’ndar’s heart and stomach.

Don’t worry. I’m not stupid. If I can’t, I can’t. I’ll take a good look at it, and if I can’t, you’ll just have to come down here.

Okay. But we’ll be caught in the rain, and I don’t want to risk flying in it. Lightning, you know.

Rain is rain, to me. It’s you humans who don’t like getting wet.

K’ndar grinned wryly. It wasn’t the rain in and of itself that bothered him, although going between while wet was bone chilling. It was drying out the leather harness that was the problem. Sometimes it was never the same after a solid wetting.

Send Siskin to me, so he can show me which clearing it is. I saw at least six similar gaps when we flew in.

Call him. I’ll get my backpack, and I’ll meet you.

Siskin suddenly launched, rose up in the air, and vanished.

“Where’s he goin’?”

“He’s going to lead Raventh here. I have to get my backpack, and then head for the fallen tree. I’m sorry I am leaving in such a rush, but I will try to come back, if you want.”

Rand nodded. “No problems, K’ndar. You’re always welcome.”

Raventh was hovering overhead by the time K’ndar reached the fallen tree clearing. He was measuring.

Is the downed tree strong enough for me?

I don’t know. It looks solid.

“Tell him I think the tree is strong enough for him to land. It only came down a few weeks ago, not enough time for it to rot.”

Shocked, K’ndar said, “Did you hear him?”

“Hear him? No, I was just considering his weight.”

K’ndar nodded. “They’re not as heavy as they look. Most of their bones are hollow, like birds. It’s the launching that concerns me.”

“Well, that’s easy enough to find out.” He unsheathed his machete and strode to the tree. He tapped the reddish brown trunk with the blade’s blunt edge, working his way up to the middle of the tree.

“Should be solid here, but, stand back. I’m going to hit it. If it’s solid, the blade might bounce, and you don’t want the business edge in your face.”

It did.

“She’s solid as a rock. Her roots just gave out, the tree itself is pretty solid right now. It takes a long time for them to rot.”

I heard him. Give me room, please?

“He’s coming down. Let’s get out of his way, he’ll need all the clearance he can get.”

They both moved underneath the spreading branches of a standing tree.

Siskin dropped from the sky and perched on the upright snags of the root wad. The snags seemed to suddenly grow fifty meters in height, the ends of the bare roots reaching out to impale a dragon.

Beware of the root wad, the vertical part.

Yes. Siskin is my eyes on the ground. I have to concentrate

On the few times Raventh had attempted to land in a tiny opening, K’ndar had been on his back. This time, observing from the ground, he saw just how fine the dragon would have to cut it. His heart was in his throat.

He remembered dropping into an even smaller clearing on an island, when they’d rescued Harve, a shipwrecked boy. This clearing was much larger, but narrow. Oh, so narrow.

I remember. Now stop thinking. Please. I can do this. Just be quiet.

K’ndar forced his mind to shut up. It wasn’t easy, keeping his tongue and his mind quiet as the dragon descended.

But it was for Raventh. He eased down, wings flapping just enough to control his descent and then he was straddling the fallen tree.

See? Easy. Lots of room here. This tree is solid for a launch, too.

K’ndar whooped in delight. It HAD looked easy.

You are incredible! Raventh! You are the best!

I know.

“You are one flying dragon, Raventh!!” Rand called.

Raventh spread his wings ostentatiously, checked the wingtips and then ceremoniously tucked them along his sides.

Show off K’ndar teased.

Siskin warbled happily.

“Well DONE, lad!! Siskin, you are the best landing guide in the all of Pern!”

K’ndar called. Siskin flew to him, hovering as K’ndar shouldered his backpack.

Siskin suddenly spit, backwinged, then rocketed straight up. The lizard perched atop a spindly tree limb above the top of the canopy.

“What? What?” K’ndar said.

He’s sending an image. It’s…don’t move!

“Rand. Freeze,” he hissed.

A giant shadow blocked the sun, scudding across the ground at his feet.

He couldn’t help but look up just in time to see the tail of a dragon, flying high above the canopy.

Siskin launched in pursuit.

What is he doing, K’ndar thought. I don’t dare shout at him. Is this the rogue dragonrider?

It’s okay, now, Siskin says the dragon is flying at high speed due south. He is right behind the rider. The rider is scanning, looking for something below him. Remember I said I felt someone was searching? It was his dragon. I think he came out of between just after I landed, otherwise he would have seen me.

Did you send Siskin?

No. Siskin just..knew. By the time he sent an image of the dragon, he’d launched to follow. Siskin is angry at the rider. He is saying he has met the man and doesn’t like him.

Any other dragons? Are they alone?

No, and yes.

Who in the world could it be? A Southern Weyr rider?

“He’s gone,” K’ndar said, and moved to the tree. He’d have to climb, he realized, it was bigger than he’d expected.

“K’ndar,” Rand hissed, “That was him! The rogue dragon rider! I recognized the dragon, he’s got a long white scar on his right hind leg. I saw it, clear as day. It was him! The rogue!” Rand growled.

“Good on you, Rand, for remembering that. Most dragons have scars if they fought thread. Raventh’s got a few, if you notice,” K’ndar said. “I think we’re in luck, I don’t think they saw us.”

“No surprise there, K’ndar. We were under a tree and Raventh, look, he’s a little darker than the tree, but at that height, speed, they didn’t see him! That’s the luck! But where’s Siskin?”

“Siskin is following him, trying to get a good look at the rider. If he does, I might be able to identify him. We know he’s not a Southern Weyr rider, we’ve already checked them.”

“Did you train him to do that?”

“I did, but it’s been a long time since then, I’m surprised he did it all on his own.”

“I DEFINITELY need a fire lizard. Any animal that is that smart…”

“Ssh, please? He’s sending me images of the team.”

K’ndar and Raventh recognized man and dragon at the same instant.

Firoth Raventh said.

“T’ovar,” K’ndar gasped. T’ovar!

Why am I not surprised, he thought, I just didn’t think of it. He’d proven himself to be a rogue from day one at Tillek Sea Hold.

“T’ovar? You know him?”

“Yes. He was a member of our survey team, that is, until we fired him. He’s originally from High Reaches Weyr, then transferred to Tillek Sea Hold, and then from there? I don’t know. He’s definitely a rogue, and I think he’s been working for Toric. He’s no good, Rand, are you…well, this is a dumb question, but..do you want to come back to Landing with me? To be safe?”

Rand snorted. “Safe? Shaff that! ‘E’s the one who needs to worry about safety! I want to cut the yob’s head off!” He beheaded an invisible foe with a vicious swipe of the machete. “I’m not afraid of him, and he’s not about to find me. My home, the boma, they’re just like a hundred other spots in the forest. I’ll let the first clearing fill in so that T’ovar? never finds it again. Don’t you worry about me, K’ndar. I can handle any rogue in a fight, clean or dirty, long as it’s one on one,” he roared.

K’ndar grinned. “I’d love to see that. I’d bet money on you.”

Rand laughed. Sheathing the machete, he cupped his hands. “’E’re, mate, you’ll need a leg up. She’s a big tree, even laying down.”

K’ndar put a shin in the man’s hands and Rand boosted him up. K’ndar grasped Raventh’s extended foreleg, got to his feet, unsteadily, on the broad tree trunk, then climbed into the saddle. He scanned the boma, the tree, the stump to memorize them.

“Thank you, Rand. Now I know who the rogue is, I’ll report him to Council. And I’ll let you know what’s decided about your beast,” he said, looking down at Rand’s upturned face.

He was startled at how small Rand suddenly appeared.

This is how it must feel to ride a gold, he thought. Gold dragons could be half again as big as a brown.

Taller doesn’t always mean better Raventh said, smugly.

Rand grinned. “And your trader friend with the fire lizard eggs?”

“Aye. I’ll send a message via Siskin if he’s coming this way. He’ll be wearing a pouch on a harness. Now that he knows you, he’ll allow you to take a message from the pouch, or put one in. I’m assuming this is the only home you have?”

Rand chuckled. “Now, mate, that’d be telling, what? Let’s just say it is, for now.”

Siskin is returning. We should leave now, before the rain.

Siskin swooped in, chittering joyfully. He did a boastful back flip before landing behind Raventh’s head.

What a team we make, he thought. He reached forward to stroke the fire lizard.

“Siskin, you never fail to impress me. That was very clever, you are such a good lad!” K’ndar said, impressed at the fire lizard’s initiative. “How did you know I wanted to you to do that?”

Siskin smirked.

Chap. 258 The Call

Chap. 258 The Call

Rand led the way through the undergrowth until they reached an obviously human made corral. A three meter high wall of dead vines with long thorns formed the circular structure. In one side was a small framework serving as a door.

Following Rand in, K’ndar could see a few tracks left from the rains in the bare soil. One spot had been covered with dead leaves.

“Here’s the boma. Beware, those thorns are vicious, K’ndar, they even make the jungle wherries stand off. But not the beast!! Now I’ve got bars across the top. See the tree standing off a few meters from the one side? He came down that tree, K’ndar, jumped over into it, grabbed me pig, and jumped back up and over. The wall must be at least two meters high and he cleared it with room to spare. Then ran up the tree like it were a flat racer.”

K’ndar gauged the jump and whistled in amazement.

“Here’s where my dog was killed. What surprised me was that there wasn’t hardly a footprint from the beast. It’s like he hovered over my chickens, my pigs, but the time I saw it, it wasn’t hovering, it was already in midair, leaping UP and over the thorns. But I did find one track, that weren’t anything like I’d seen before.” He carefully pushed aside the leaves.

K’ndar examined the track. It wasn’t a very good one, but still, he could see a resemblance to the foot pads of the strange beast.

“Siskin, track? Take a sniff of the track?” he asked, pointing at the track.

The fire lizard dropped from his shoulder and took a perfunctory sniff, then returned to his perch.

“Nothing?”

“Apparently not.”

Rand led him out of the boma and carefully replaced the gate.

It was not far to a massive stump of a pussy toes tree that had been killed after a falling bowl tree had crashed into it years before. The remainder of the trees lay pointing the way the wind had come that blew it over. The stump was covered with vines and iridescent fungi.

A light breeze wafted around them, bringing the scent of flowers and trees-and something else. They were downwind.

Siskin, chittered and launched. He flew back to the boma’s tree, moving up several meters. He clung to the trunk, his head weaving back and forth as he took in a scent. K’ndar could sense the lizard’s excitement, but it was nothing like the original reaction. The fire lizard half climbed, half flew up the trunk, clinging momentarily at scent spots. He reached the first of a maze of horizontal limbs. As they watched, he worked his way along the length of the branch, weaving through the thick clumps of leaves. The branch ended far out from the central trunk. Across a gap of several meters was the end of large branch of a bowl tree.

“He’s tracking it, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” K’ndar said, concentrating on the feelings the fire lizard was sending. “I think it’s old scent, he’s not so excited as he was”-was it only a few days ago? –

“when it got on me. Obviously, the animal leaped across that gap. What an amazing beast.”

Siskin flew across the gap onto a bowl tree. limb. He raced across it as the scent grew stronger. K’ndar closed his eyes to better see Siskin’s images. The scent led the fire lizard to the trunk, higher, higher until he reached a thickened section where a branch had broken off, years before.

Rand said, “What..”

“Shh, I’m concentrating. He’s showing me a hole, it’s…oh, it’s hollow, it’s deep! It..it’s a den!” K’ndar said, still keeping his eyes closed.

Siskin chittered. He warily put his head into the hollow.

“Careful, Siskin, careful!” he said, not knowing if the lizard would hear it or not.

Siskin perched on the lip of the opening and sniffed. The scent was old but still strong. Realizing the den was empty, Siskin entered it.

The den was bedded with soft leaves and feathers. Here and there, a bone stuck out of the leaf litter. Otherwise, it was empty.

“He’s found the den. It’s a good sized hole in that tree, over there,” K’ndar said, opening his eyes and pointing. “There’s nothing in it, though.’

He sent an image of Siskin retrieving a feather. Siskin obliged by tugging one from the nest.

“To me, lad,” K’ndar said. Siskin returned to his shoulder. “GOOD lad, Siskin! So clever!” K’ndar said, scritching the lizard, “There’s no smarter lizard than you!!”

Siskin beamed proudly.

He took the feather from Siskin’s forefoot and handed it to Rand.

“I have GOT to get one of those lizards,” he said. He inspected the feather.

“Aye, it’s a chicken feather, no doubt. That one had specks all over her,” he said, glumly.

He glanced at K’ndar’s hand.

“That hand, K’ndar, must be hurting you more than you’re letting on. We’ve been tarrying. Come on and we’ll get her fixed.”

He led the way to one of the toes on the stump. He grinned slyly.


“Can you see the door?”

“Um…”

Rand laughed. He reached into the claw slit and pushed aside a cleverly woven mat of vines.

“I would have walked right past it,” K’ndar said.

“That’s the idea, mate. Keeps strangers like the raider from finding me, although they’d be blind to miss the boma. Mind your head, you’re taller’n me.”

He pushed the mat aside and entered a gloomy ‘toe’. It opened up almost immediately and soon entered into a single room of great size. Filtered sunlight from several gaps in the ceiling provided warm illlumination.

“It’s hollow!”

“Aye, partially. Overhead is still pretty much solid wood. These trees are tough un’s, K’ndar, even this one, it will last for me lifetime before it starts to fall apart.”

He motioned to K’ndar to sit on a small bench. K’ndar noted it had been carved into the wooden interior wall of the stump. Even after carving, at least a half meter of solid wood remained.

“My word, but this stump is sturdy, the walls are so thick!”

“Aye, they are. I didn’t have to put up shelves, just carve ‘em out.” He turned to scan the niche.

“This is nice, Rand. Comfortable.”

It reminded him of his first private weyr, the one he’d moved into once he no longer was required to live in the weyrling barracks. He and Raventh lived in a hut on the beach at Kahrain Steppe weyr. I loved that hut, he thought, to this day I miss it, for some reason. It didn’t have any amenities, not like Landing, but still…

It was ours. We had it to ourselves. I could go and swim any time I wanted. I would watch for dolphins. Remember seeing the night sea glowing blue? I miss that Raventh said.

Nostalgia flooded him. I do too.

“Tain’t much, compared to Toric’s place, nor even Landing, but it’s home,” Rand said. “I’ve not made any klah, sorry to say.”

“That’s alright,” K’ndar said. Rand took down a small pot from one of the niches.

You’ve been unusually quiet this morning he said to Raventh.

I’ve just been watching through you. But there’s something else, I feel as if someone is searching. A dragon, it feels like.

Searching? For what?

More like a who. Maybe Rand.

Maybe it’s the raider?

I don’t know.

“Okay, let’s see that paw, K’ndar.”

By now, the hand was swollen and hot. It hurt far more now that he was paying attention to the pain. Only his concentration on the hike and then the amazing forest had kept his mind off it. He shrugged off his backpack with difficulty. His back thanked him.

Rand slathered salve on the hand. “Ah, I sees where you were stung. Yes, it were a vespid. This is numbweed, K’ndar, I’m sure you know what that stuff is, but there’s also a salve in there to break the venom. When you gets back to your own home, soak it in vinegar. It will sting when it hits the wound, but the vinegar will make what’s left of the venom break down.”

“Vinegar! Okay. Do I need a bandage?”

“I wouldn’t, but it depends, if the wound is too deep, one might help protect it ’til it heals. You’re lucky, most times, the vespid’s sting will break off and keep working it’s way in. You must have just barely hit it. I don’t have any bandages, but the plant that grows the best leaves for bandages is back in the scrub. No worries, though, the salve will be absorbed soon enough.”

The numbweed took effect almost immediately. He hadn’t realized how much the hand had been hurting.

He sighed with relief from the pain, then took a closer look at the salve pot. He recognized the potter’s work immediately.

“Where did you get that little pot?”

Rand held it out gently.

“It’s a good ‘un, K’ndar. It’s got a tight lid, very well made. I got it as a barter from a Wanderer. They’s savvy bargainers but I think I got the better part of the deal.”

“May I see it?”

Rand handed it over. It had been painted, then glazed with an unusual color of blue. A tiny chip of turquoise was embedded in one side. Feeling an unusual sense of professional superiority, he tilted it up til he could see the bottom.

He saw what he was expecting to see, two engraved symbols. Yes.

“Yes. I know the woman who made this. Her name is Terylin,” he said. He handed it back to Rand, who took it gently, almost reverently.

“I’m no expert, mind you, I’ll take your word for it. She’s a master of her trade. I don’t have much in the way of fancy things, but this thing is beautiful, and functional. I don’t ever have to worry about insects getting into it,” Rand said. He replaced the pot on the shelf. He turned it so that the turquoise chip was illuminated by the sun.

“Me mum used to try her hand at pottery, but she didn’t have the talent this Terylin had. Her stuff was useful. But not pretty like this. I’d like to meet her, I think. D’ya think she’d mind meeting a crusty old forester like me?”

K’ndar laughed. “She’s married, Rand. But even so, who knows. She might, just to have a nice glass of wine, and you can tell her tales of your beautiful rain forest. She’s a good friend, kind and generous. She took me under her wing when I was a greenhorn at a Gather, kept me from being cheated by a couple of shysters, for no other reason than she hated seeing the shysters win.”

“Figures, the good ‘uns is always taken,” Rand said.

Siskin wheeked, remembering a certain dalliance with a green fire lizard.

“Oh, yes, thank you, Siskin, for reminding me. She has a green fire lizard, named Putzu,” K’ndar said. “Siskin and Putzu…”

“Mated?”

“Aye. And I had to apologize, neither of us had any idea until one day Terylin realized Putzu was gravid. You don’t want to be around an entire clutch of fire lizard eggs, when they hatch, they’ll all impress on YOU and you don’t need a dozen, sometimes more, fire lizards. One is MORE than enough, for me, at least.”

Siskin whickered in what could only be laughter.


Rand laughed. “You’re a scamp, Siskin.” He resisted the urge to reach out and pet the lizard.

The fire lizard looked at him warily, then chipped.

“He says “So?”

“A Gather. Been a long time since I’ve been to one,” Rand said. “Maybe I should head to the Hold one of these days to partake of one. Didn’t you say you had a trader friend who sells fire lizard eggs?”

“I did. He does. I could find out if he’s going to be coming to Southern Hold for a Gather.”

A buzzing noise came from his backpack. He recognized it as the vibration from his datalink, but why wasn’t it calling?

With his unharmed hand, he dug around in the backpack and finally retrieved the datalink. It continued to vibrate.

“Eh, there, what is this?”

“It’s a datalink. I think I need to go outside to answer it.”

“It’s a what? It’s alive? You have to talk to it? What is it?”

K’ndar grinned. “I’ll explain it later, but it will probably work better if I get a bit of open sky.”

Fascinated, Rand followed him out. K’ndar moved until he was standing under a break in the canopy. It was enough.

“K’ndar of Landing. K’ndar of Landing.”

Rand flinched.

“It talks?”

“Well, no. Someone talks through it.”

He fumbled, his swollen right hand making it difficult.

“This is K’ndar, who calls?”

“This is Raylan.”

His voice was chilly. K’ndar had never heard Raylan use that icy tone. His stomach knotted. The only time he was addressed in that tone of voice was when he’d done something wrong.

“Yes, sir?”

“Are you planning on coming to work today?”

K’ndar’s thoughts scattered like frightened chickens. He felt an almost real gut punch. He immediately flashed back to Weyrling school when he’d been caught breaking curfew.

“Wh wh what? What?”

“You’re not at Landing, are you. Your dragon is missing.”

“Uh…uh…I’m in the jungle. You sent me here last night?” K’ndar began to sweat, from fear.

“I beg your pardon? I did no such thing, K’ndar, and I’m disappointed that you’d skyhoot off with letting me know.”

K’ndar gulped. “Sir, I…I…you knew? You said I was to come here to find…”

“K’ndar, I haven’t talked to you in several days. What are you doing? You should be here, we’re meeting at thirteen hundred. We’re to discuss officially naming that beast you brought in,” Raylan said, his voice dripping ice.

Rand, sensing K’ndar’s fear, put his hand on his shoulder. It steadied K’ndar. He took a deep breath.

“Sir, I..”

“E’s with me,” Rand shouted at the datalink, “I’m the one what turned in the beast.”

K’ndar shook his head, distracted.

“Raylan. Last night, long after I’d gone to bed, somebody named Jomoke called me. He said he’d talked to you, you wanted me to come back here today and try and find samples, find out the habitat…”

“Jomoke? Was he with you yesterday?”

“No, sir, I’ve never met him. He called me out of the clear night sky. He said you’d said my data logging can wait, it was more important I bring back photos, samples, data.”

“I never said that, K’ndar. Jomoke asked me who had done the first comprehensive exam of the animal, but I never said anything about sending you back there. In fact, I’d decided to have everyone get together this afternoon. You should know better than to just take off.”

“By the egg, sir, I’m being honest with you. If you give me a few moments to gather my wits, I will try and quote verbatim what he said. He was hedging. He called me up after I’d been asleep for an hour or so, and I’m a deep sleeper, sir, I was so confused. I just believed him. I thought I was doing as ordered. I swear it on my honor, sir.”

Rand grabbed the hand K’ndar was holding the datalink in. “K’ndar’s a good man, sir! There’s not a bit o’ mendacity in him!!” he shouted into it.

K’ndar waved him silent, but gratefully mouthed the words “Thank you.”

Raylan was silent for several heart beats.

“Aye, whoever you are, I know he is,” Raylan said, his tone thawing. There was a hint of amusement in his voice. “I don’t doubt you, K’ndar. You’ve always been straight with me. I can’t think of any reason why you’d lie. For that matter, I can always go back and listen to the recording of your conversation. Jomoke had no business telling you to go anywhere.”

There was dead silence from Raylan’s end for several moments. K’ndar felt his racing heart begin to slow. A recording? One would validate his words. He was innocent. My conversations are recorded? Now I know why I was told to only use it for official conversations. Not that I have anyone to just idly chat with, he thought.

“I see what was going on, now. I believe you, K’ndar. I still want to meet with you today, so if you would, please, return? The naming decision can be put off until tomorrow. I’ll deal with Jomoke.”

“Thank you, sir, thank you,” K’ndar said, relieved. Rand smiled.

Raylan said, “Oh, and K’ndar? Next time, don’t be so trusting of strangers calling in the night.”