Chap. 280 The Botanist

Chap. 280 The Botanist

Here. This looks like a good spot. Land, please?

Raventh set his wings and spiraled downward to land gently onto the steppe.

He dismounted.

The grass was dry, even this early in the day. That meant rain was coming, he remembered. Manylegs webs, festooned on the grass as far as the eye could see, shimmered in the morning light.

He looked all around and saw nothing but horizon. Ah, how I love this, he thought, throwing my eyes to the end of the world. I should do this more often.

His ears had finally stopped ringing from the raucous party the night before. He’d been up late, late last night, talking with friends, reminiscing about Impressions and memories of Weyrling days and Thread fights.

There was something subtly different about the Weyr, something he couldn’t quite coax out of his subconscious to examine. Things change, he thought, like kids. Trees grow, stone fences fall over, kids get taller. People don’t age in one’s memory, and seeing how tall Glyena has grown was a shock. She’s turning into a girl.

Despite numerous invitations to stay in private weyrs or cottages, he’d opted to bunk in the Weyr’s visitors dorm. I don’t feel right, anymore, intruding on someone’s home life, he thought as he’d settled in for sleep. The people in the dorm are strangers, noisy ones-that bloke at the end snoring sounds like he’s a wher calling for battle. But I’m used to that, I’m no one to them and that suits me fine. Living at Landing has spoiled me. I like my solitude. But I have missed my friends, Lindea, Oscoral. And Glyena seems happy and content.

I liked seeing my friends. We went fishing. I caught a big sharptail.

How about Siskin?

Oh, the fire lizards didn’t have to hunt. After Impression, Siskin and the others followed the humans with the bowls. When the hatchlings were done, the humans let the fire lizards clean up the scraps. There was a lot over after the weyrlings fed their hatchlings. They are messy!

Oh, yes, so were you. That first feeding you ate so fast some of it ended up on me.

Raventh laughed, then sobered.

Why wasn’t Careth at Impression?

I don’t know. Maybe D’mitran couldn’t make it? Don’t worry, he’ll be with us on our next survey.

Siskin swirled overhead, still sated from yesterday’s feast. But he still hunted, if only for fun.

I love it out here. The silence is wonderful. No one here but me.

Only Siskin and Raventh know where I am. I feel so small and insignificant compared to the immense expanse of the steppe. I love it so.

He heard the skreeeeeah of a raptor soaring overhead.

Siskin fled to his safe perch just behind Raventh’s head and watched the raptor warily.

“Siena says you are changing,” he said to the steppe. “She says the hunting is poor and the grazing even poorer. Tell me what that means.” He inhaled deeply, relaxed his eyes, and then calmed his mind to invite the steppe in.

The wind sighed through the grasses. He heard an insect stridulating. The raptor continued to soar, screaming her joy at living.

But the steppe was mute.

He remembered riding out onto the steppe that came right to the stone walls that fenced his cothold. You could walk out onto the steppe with your eyes closed and never…

I see a dragon.

“What?”

He’s on the ground. I see his human. The human stood up then knelt down. Now I can’t see him for the grass.

Why didn’t I bring my binoculars! he grumbled.

I don’t see it!

The blue just dropped his head again. If he’d not raised it I wouldn’t have known it was there. Now he sees us.

Ask him if they’re okay? Is something wrong?

He mounted Raventh and buckled in.

He says they are fine.

Fine, but still..let’s go meet him.

They landed a respectful distance from the blue dragon. The blue looked at Raventh and nodded in respectful recognition.

He’s full fed. Half asleep!

“Hello, blue rider! Hello, K’ndar, rider of brown Raventh here!”

The young man was on his knees, peering intently through a binocular at the ground. An open notebook was next to his knee.

There was no response.

He walked over to just behind the man.

“Hello? Are you alright?”

The man turned and looked up at him, his irritation obvious.

“Yes.”

That was strange, but so were his actions. Decorum would have the blue rider introduce himself.

“Uh, well, um…we just saw you out here, doing what?”

“”Kneeling.”

Right. I’ve met people like you. Laconic to the point of being mute, but still enough of a smart ass to make that last remark. You could at least respond to my polite introduction with a name, if nothing else.

“I’m K’ndar, rider of brown Raventh. I’m here for the Impression at my former Weyr, and saw you out here. I see you have a binocular, just like mine, and a notebook. If you don’t mind, please tell me what you’re looking at so closely?”

The man shrugged and keeping his gaze on the ground, said, “Plants.”

“Plants.”

You deserve a kick in the arse for your insolence, he thought. Getting people like you to interact is like drawing well water with a sieve.

“What did you think of the Impression?”

“I didn’t go.”

He moved closer to the man to look at his notebook. The morning sun cast his shadow on the page, but he could see data. It looked like Latin names and numbers. In front of the man were four thin plinths of lightwood, straight as a die, laid out in a meter square. Inside were thinner straps, separating it into four identical squares.

It was a transect.

“You’re blocking my light.”

“Sorry,” he said automatically as he backed up.

The man set down the nocs. He began to count individual plants in the southeast square. The notebook page had data already written down under headings “Northwest, northeast, southwest”. ‘Southeast’ had just a few lines, obviously just annotated.

Ah. I know what he’s doing. He’s counting plants by species.

I bet I know what you are. You’re a biologist, maybe? And you’re doing a transect of the plants. You have the air of a focused, anti-social specialist. Like Miklos, who, if his hair caught fire, would allow his ears to burn off rather than tear himself away from his microscope.

Let’s see if I can fetch you out.

“So tell me, what is going on with the steppe?”

The man finally looked up at him. His expression was just this side of scornful.

“You know about the steppe?”

“Ah, you CAN speak. Yes. I grew up on it. My home cothold is three days by horse from here, in the foothills of the Southern Range.”

“You’re the first person I’ve ever met who admits to being steppe bred.”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I love the steppe. I’m assuming you’re steppe bred, too?”

“No. I grew up at Greystones Hold, up north, and impressed at Benden Weyr. If you like spending your life pounding on stones, you’ll love Greystones. And Benden Weyr is..well, it’s Benden, but I wasn’t interested in anything on offer there. As soon as Thread stopped falling, I left there and signed into the least rocky Weyr I could find that wasn’t Northern.”

K’ndar laughed, despite the feeling that the man was not only odd, but rude.

“Must be a small Hold, I’ve never heard of it.”

“It is.”

It was obvious the man wanted to go back to looking at plants. Not so soon, K’ndar thought. “So, tell me what you’re sampling.”

“Just plants. I’m a botanist.”

“Obviously. But…well, may I look at your notebook?”

Before the man could say no, K’ndar picked it up. The man scowled.

There was page after page after page of data. He didn’t recognize the scientific names of the grasses, but then, he hadn’t done a study of steppe plants or their nomenclature. They had local, informal names: bluetop, tall stickweed, fireweed, horselove.

“This is a lot of data.” He handed the notebook back. The man grabbed it as if he’d damaged it. He appeared to resist wiping K’ndar cooties off.

“You’re studying…what?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

One more, jerk, and I will kick you in the arse.

“Try me. I’m a biologist. And a horseman and steppe bred, and there’s something going on with the steppe that I’d like to know.”

The man sighed and stood up. “I’ve been studying the steppe for about a year. I come out here almost every rest day or when I have time. I’ve been cataloging and studying the plant life. I didn’t get to see the steppe before Thread stopped falling, but in the last six months I’ve seen changes. See the little trees growing? They’re every where. Where did the seeds come from?”

Something in his head went BONK. Yes.

“By the egg, you’re right. My brain has been seeing it. but not my eyes. You’re right. Tiny starts, probably germinated in the spring rains. The seeds are brought in by birds and wherries. The seedlings should be grazed down, but they’re not.”

“Yes. But it’s not just because nothing’s eating them. The trees are growing because the SOIL is changing. The soil! I don’t have the equipment to do a soil test, but I know plants and they tell me what they want to eat. Some species aren’t as plentiful as they were last year, and it’s not because they’ve been eaten.”

“The soil?”

“Yes. The chemistry is changing. Ordinarily, when it rains, nutrients-that means dung-leach out, all in the same amounts. There’s plants that need certain chemicals in the soil and if they don’t get it, they don’t set seed and they die. The trees couldn’t compete with the grasses, but now that some of the grasses aren’t growing, they’re taking advantage of it. And there’s two things missing. Thread and the grubs.”

“The grubs? The steppe exists because of the grubs.”

“Yes. The grubs ate Thread. When they defecated, the nutrients and chemicals they got from Thread replaced that what was leached out. The plants evolved to use those specific nutrients. But now, with no thread, the grubs die.”

Oh my stars, he thought. His mind began to whirl.

“That’s..that’s bad news, although I doubt the grubs will starve. They did survive many Intervals without Threadfall. They can adapt.”

“Wrong.”

K’ndar had enough.

“Look, I don’t know what your problem is, but it must hurt. Maybe they don’t teach civility at Benden Weyr or maybe you slept through it, but you need to learn to be polite. I’ve told you my name and what I do. I’ve given you two chances to reciprocate and you’ve ignored them. For all I know, you’re a rogue dragon rider, here for some nefarious reason, and if you don’t straighten up, I’ll have Weyrleader F’mart teach you manners.”

“I’m no rogue!”

“Then who are you?”

The man frowned. “Fine. I’m L’ichen, rider of blue Sorath. Formerly of Benden Weyr, then Honshu, then Southern, now lower right wing of Kahrain Steppe Weyr. I’m a botanist.”

“And I’m K’ndar, rider of brown Raventh, staff biologist at Landing.”

Something dawned in L’ichens eyes.

“Wait. Wait. You’re THAT K’ndar? A member of the steppe expedition?”

“Unless Benden has a K’ndar, then, yes.”

L’ichen’s face twisted. “By the stars, I am so sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t. Yes, I guess I’m rude but I don’t like people. They’re stupid, they ask stupid questions like what are you doing and why plants. I don’t like being bothered. I like plants, all my life I’ve studied them. I’ve found a lot of species that the Ancients never discovered. I’ve named them, scoped them, and drawn them. Most people don’t understand. I thought you were just another yob bothering me.”

“Even if I were, you should at least be courteous. Civility costs nothing. Your attitude invites antagonism. I was about to kick your arse and I don’t do that. Dragon riders are in a precarious position right now, and all it takes is one jerk to set an entire Hold or cothold against us. So from now on, try and be at least responsive with something more substantial than a monosyllabic grunt, okay?”

“Yes sir.”

Something started yelling in his mind. A botanist. Doing research on a steppe that is changing.

“May I see your data again?”

L’ichen handed the notebook to him. He flipped through it, admiring the precise numbers, the careful and clear writing, the attention to dates, times, weather, animal life, forbs and grasses, even coordinates when he could get them and a sketch of a cairn or a landmark if he didn’t. This man, for all his rudeness, was a good data collector.

On the cover it said “4”.

“You have other notebooks? With data like this?”

“Yes sir. I fill them up pretty fast.”

“Have you considered turning in your data to Landing? I must congratulate you on your neat figures and your attention to detail. You won’t have to re-write them to make them legible. I do, I’m a sloppy writer, but before I turn in a notebook, I completely re-write it, nice and neat. I turn that one in and get a new notebook, free. That way I keep my field notes.”

“A free notebook? Landing? I’ve never been there. They would like this data? It’s just my findings, it’s not anything official.”

“Yes, they would. Yes, you’d get a free notebook, one for one. This is excellent work, L’ichen, your data entry is perfect. There’s no such thing as “official’ data. Elene, the Chief Librarian, would be very happy to accept your data.”

“You said you’re Landing staff?”

“Yes. I’m Staff Biologist.”

Something in the man’s eyes glimmered. Ah, maybe there IS a social animal inside that head, he thought.

“Would you…um, I mean, I don’t know how to ask this..” L’ichen looked torn. He looked at his field notebook, and then, as if he were cutting off his hand, extended it to K’ndar.

He waved it off. “Take your notebook? No. That’s asking a lot, I know I wouldn’t dream of giving my notebooks to just anybody. Why don’t you go with me? I’ll be leaving for Landing here shortly. While it’s a rest day, I think Elene would be willing to at least brief you on what she wants, and she’ll possibly give you some new notebooks on credit. Then when you have time, you can copy your field notes and turn them in on your own schedule.”

“Do you really think my data is all that important?”

He nodded. “I do. No one has done this before. I don’t even know the nomenclature for the grasses, just what I learned from years on the steppe. If there’s trouble with the steppe, that means trouble for the herds and the herdmasters, trouble for the environment, and, ultimately, all of Pern.”

“I’d…I’d like that. Yes, I would like to go with you and meet this Elene.”

“Fine. We’ll go back to the Weyr, you can collect what you want, and then we’ll go to Landing.” He was about to head for Raventh when the thought struck him.

He pointed a finger at L’ichen. “Now listen”, he growled, “when you speak with Elene, be polite, understand? None of this one word grunting, none of your smart ass remarks. You introduce yourself, speak in complete sentences, you say yes ma’am and no ma’am, please and thank you very much. If you don’t, I promise you, you’ll regret it. She’s gentle as a lamb but make no mistake, if Landing has a Weyrwoman, Elene is it.”

Chap. 279 Dumping Traditions

Chap. 279 Senseless Traditions

Had it been just six months since he’d left the Weyr? Already there are faces in the crowd I have never seen before, he thought. Oh, there’s my sister with her foster family. She doesn’t see me, I’ll get with her afterwards. There’s F’mart, and Siena.

Look at Siena, she looks so happy, so different than when she was weyrmate of M’rvin. I wonder where he went. No, I guess I don’t care where he went.

And B’rant, the Weyrlingmaster, standing behind the Candidates. He’s not slapping his thigh, that means he’s either concerned or nervous about the Impression.

He could hear a low, almost subsonic humming. Every dragon in the weyr was lined up on the ridge above the Weyr’s bowl or perched on their weyr ledges. He knew they would start to raise the volume as soon as the eggs began to hatch.

Siskin had joined a large flock of fire lizards, perched in the caverns’ crannies and ledges above the hatching sands. Some queens, he knew, refused to allow fire lizards in her egg chamber, but Mirth seemed uncaring.

He sat amongst the audience in the above the hatching sands. Mirth, couchant like a giant cat, kept her eyes on her eggs. The Candidates, their traditional white gowns glowing in the shafts of sunlight, looked almost catatonic. Before them, twenty four eggs twitched, as if the inhabitants were shivering.

Behind the Candidates stood a cadre of their mentors, ready with bowls of raw meat. There was C’val, his former mentor, and his weyrmate, Sinala, both prepared to help their Candidate feed his or her impressed dragon.

Do you remember? he asked Raventh.

I remember how bright the light was, after being in the egg for so long. I was so hungry! I can hear the ones in the eggs, right now. They are feeling this urge to break the shell, but they are afraid, too. That is why we sing to them, to tell them it is safe. Mirth is telling them, come out and you will be fed.

I remember how hot the sand was on my bare feet. Then when you poked your head out, I forgot all about it!

He noticed that the Candidates were all wearing sandals. Now THAT was smart. No one ever explained why he’d had to go barefoot on the hatching sands, other than ‘that’s how it had always been done.”

I made here just in time, he thought. Look at those kids, I know exactly how they feel.

Wait. Something was odd.

Not all of them were teenagers. No. There were three adults in the group, two men and a woman. They appeared far less nervous than their teenaged counterparts. They looked determined. The kids looked terrified.

This was new. Never before had he heard of ‘older’ candidates at an Impression.

The dragons hum began to increase in strength. One egg rocked so hard it almost fell over. B’rant call out, “Steady, now, steady, wait until they begin to crack.”

The fire lizards began to hum as well. Siskin sent him images from his point of view, high above the sands. It felt so strange to see himself in the crowd!

One egg gave out a loud crraaaaaaaaaaaack. The Candidates flinched, waiting.

For several long moments, there was no other action from the eggs.

Mirth rumbled. The dragons began to sing even louder.

The eggs began to rock. Then, as if orchestrated, half of them all seemed to split at once. The first egg to crack gave a might heave, and split in two. A clawed forefoot appeared, shoving aside a shard of eggshell. A bronze head poked out.

The crowd cheered at the good omen. Several boys moved onto the sands, all heading for the bronze. But the bronze ignored them. They milled about, going from one egg to another. More eggs cracked, and the Candidates flooded onto the sands.

One of the adult men strode purposefully to the bronze’s egg. He froze as he met the dragonets eyes. The bronze dragonet squealed. The man fell to his knees by the egg, his face suffused with an incredible joy. The bronze’s egg fell apart in pieces and the hatchling flopped onto the sands, squalling. A man rushed out to join the two, a bowl of meat in his hands.

The dragons and the fire lizards chorus was so loud he had to cover his ears.

Eggs were collapsing, the Candidates moving amongst them. One of the girls wandered through the entire clutch, looking lost. The adult woman passed her and made her way to a shattered egg. A wing and a leg protruded. The woman paused and pulled gently on the wingtip. It retracted into the crumbling egg and was replaced by a green head. It looked at the adult woman…and ignored her. The woman stopped, aghast. The girl she’d passed shouted and ran to the egg. The green squawked. The girl fell to her knees, rushing to pull pieces of shell off the green. The girl was crying and laughing.

The adult woman watched for several moments, shocked at the rejection. Then she turned, her dismay evident.

The cries of the hatchlings, many still half in, half out of their eggs, rose in an shrieking crescendo. Mentors hurried to their Candidates with the meat. The man who’d Impressed the bronze was tearing away the remnants of the egg from the sprawling dragonet with one hand and shoving food into its mouth with the other. He was laughing.

The Candidates were calling and even weeping, saying the names of their dragonets. They were almost drowned out by the dragons outside, thundering their welcome to the hatchlings.

What? No queen? He darted a glance at Siena. She looked stricken.


There was one egg left. The middle aged woman passed it, her face disconsolate. The egg went creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek and the woman froze. Even with all the noise, K’ndar could hear a demanding voice coming from the egg.

It is shouting, I want out, help me Raventh said

The top of the egg split and a golden head rose from it, the scrap of eggshell atop it as if it were a hat. K’ndar laughed, his voice lost in the swell of human cheering.

He glanced at Siena. The Weyrwoman looked beatific. Yes. A gold!!

The middle aged woman swayed as if she’d been punched. Then she rushed to the egg and lifted the scrap of eggshell from the gold’s head. For a long, long moment, dragonet and woman held each others eyes. Then the woman cried, “Her name is Venuth!!”

____________________________________________________________

“Thank you for inviting me,”K’ndar said. The families of the Candidates had all repaired to the dining cavern where Hariko and a mob of helpers had deployed a vast feast.

Oh, there is Lindea, he thought. She looks harried, yet happy. And Oscoral is in the back there. I’ve missed these people.

“My pleasure, K’ndar,” Siena said. She sipped wine from a goblet. For once, the attention of the crowd was on their family members rather than her. She felt as if she’d had chains removed for a short time. I barely have time for myself, she thought. Sometimes I regret being Weyrwoman, so many people wanting my attention, wanting this, ranting about that, wanting me to fix marital issues.

You regret ME?

By the egg, Mirth, no!! Of course not! But I wish we could have more time with each other. Sometimes I feel guilty that I have to rush in grooming you. We don’t go flying often enough. Sometimes I wish we could just fly away, find some lovely beach where you could wade into the sea and fish, and I could lay out on the sand, with no one asking me to fix this or do that. But no, we both have duties.

I know. It is okay.

By the way, what a lovely clutch of dragons you produced. Oh, that queen is going to be beautiful, just like you.

Of course.

Drul, one of the drudges, moved towards him with a tray loaded with goblets and mugs.

“Hello, Drul, it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen you. How ARE you?”

The girl seemed to have grown heads taller since the day when he was just a Weyrling.

The girl smiled. “I’m very well, K’ndar, sir, it is good to see you, too. I am married now to a very nice man, he is a journeyman for Harlan, the metalsmith.”

“Good for you, you look very happy,” he said. She offered him a goblet.

“I have ale and wine, which would you prefer?”

“Thank you, Drul, but I can’t drink alcohol. I’m allergic to it.”

Surprised, she said, “Allergic? Well, then, can I bring you some klah?”

“No thank you, I’m fine, now. Maybe later?”

Drul nodded and continued into the crowd.

“That’s what I always liked about you, K’ndar. You never let the status of a person determine the way you treat them,” Siena said.

He looked at her, wondering how she could possibly know. It wasn’t as if they’d done much together.

“It’s the right thing to do, ma’am. There are people who consider drudges nothing but bipedal draft animals, but I never thought that of anyone. They do tasks no one else wants to do. They’re an important part of our culture. Even the lowest drudge has the right to respect.”

“True. We’re lucky, we’ve got a good bunch of them here. All hard working. By the way, what’s this ‘ma’am’ stuff?”

“Siena, for stars sakes, you’re Weyrwoman. It wouldn’t do for me to be all buddybuddy with you right in front of the new Weyrlings. I’m nobody.”

She laughed and punched him gently in the arm.

“My arse, K’ndar. We’ve been friends for a long time, remember how we worked together to pull a bloodfish off a dolphin? Yes, I’m Weyrwoman, but I’m still Siena. And right now, I’m glad to talk to someone who’s not complaining or asking for some favor.”

“Thank you.” He smiled. “I like how your candidates wore sandals. I always wondered why we had to go barefoot.”

“Me too. I literally burned my feet when I Impressed Mirth. I had to slather numbweed on them for a week. Maybe it was then, I don’t remember, but I vowed that if I could, I’d change THAT silly tradition. Now I can. There’s a lot of things I intend to change.”

“So I see, I learned this morning that you’d dropped “Steppe” from the Weyr’s name.”

“I did. We talked it over. We’re right on the ocean, K’ndar, and while the steppe is behind us, we seem to spend most of our energies on the sea side. And the steppe, it’s changing.”

“Changing? How?”

“You’re the biologist, when you get a chance, fly out over the steppe. Part of it is in papergrass now, but K’ndar, the steppe is changing. I can’t put my finger on just how and certainly not why, but I can see it. The dragons have to go further and further out to hunt game. Even the cattle and horses are finding less graze available.”

A knot of worry started in his heart. I love the steppe. If I could, I’d go right now, he thought. But I’ll wait until later today.

“You’re right. Things have changed, a lot, since Thread stopped falling,” he said. “Sometimes I wonder how people like the Abominators are handling it. Not that I care, but can you imagine what Jenmay would have said had she seen, for instance, adults on the hatching sands? Wearing sandals?”

He could easily imagine the horrid Oldtimer’s reaction.

Siena paused. “Woof, but that woman was a piece of work, what? But we all hung together against her. It took a lot of courage for D’nis to go against her, and everyone of us stood behind him. When Mirth got the call to ‘come home’, I couldn’t harness her fast enough. I regret I may have insulted my host, because I said, “Thank you for the shelter, I’ll reimburse you somehow, bye,” and launched.”


“Siena, that was one woman who deserved beheading. My only regret is that poor Jiannath had to die because of Jenmay’s stupidity.”

“I know. I cannot fathom how she could have betrayed her own dragon.”

They both shook their heads in disbelief.

“So, how is it, that you have three adult Weyrlings?”

“It was forced on us, K’ndar. Candidates are getting harder to find. Some of the kids hide when they hear we’re Searching. They’re not interested in being dragonriders. Poor C’val, Sinala, the others on Search, they won’t admit it but they definitely went outside our sector, looking for Candidates. We poached some of Southern’s kids, but only because they don’t have a clutch right now. Don’t you say a word, I’ll deny it to my dying day! And I would be astonished if Honshu or some other weyr doesn’t do the same thing in our sectors. You can’t leave an egg on the hatching sands without someone to impress it. I wouldn’t be able to stand the heartbreak!

Mirth laid 24 eggs and what would we have done if we’d not accepted the adults solely due to their age? It’s scary. It was B’rant who said, let’s try older Candidates, people who would, traditionally not have been considered because they’d passed the age limit of 24.

I’ve researched just where does it say only kids and young adults can Impress, and I can’t find a thing.”

“That’s worrisome, I’ve heard the same thing about kids not wanting to fly, Siena. Maybe, when Thread was falling, kids were preferred because they had no one left behind if they were killed. I don’t know why it was set up that way, but for whatever reason it isn’t..isn’t attractive anymore.”

“So many traditions make no sense anymore. Why was it that for thousands of years, women weren’t allowed to fly greens? You had men riding greens, female dragons. Female dragons need female riders. Period. One of the Oldtimers here rides a green, and said he would hide when she was mating, because he didn’t want to bed another man.

B’rant’s sure this class, with the adults unwittingly serving as examples, will be easier to train. The adults, they’re done with stupid things like breaking curfew, although they do resent having one at their age. But fair’s fair. B’rant’s already sure that they’ll be far more willing to listen than some of the kids.” She sighed.

K’ndar nodded. “Oh, I believe it. I know a certain Weyrleader who tested B’rant to the limit and earned a whole lot of time cleaning latrines.”

Siena laughed. “I was already a full fledged rider when I signed in here, but I for certain remember the antics of that Weyrleader.” They both looked for F’mart, and saw him surrounded by what appeared to be petitioners. More likely they’re complaining, she thought. For Pern’s sakes, not at Impression, please. Let this be about the new Weyrlings.

F’mart turned and caught her eye. His looked resigned.

“You and F’mart have done an incredible job of steering Kahrain St..Weyr back from the brink that M’rvin almost pushed it over.” K’ndar said, drawing her attention back.

Siena grimaced. “Steering? Dragging it back kicking and screaming, more like. Things had gone sour very quickly. We lost a LOT of good folks, both riders and groundpounders.” She shook her head. “Ah, M’rvin. I couldn’t blame you for leaving. I still can’t. Had you punched him in the nose that day he publicly cut you to ribbons, I wouldn’t have seen a thing. He had it coming, K’ndar, I admired your self control. M’rvin was his own worst enemy, he was tormented with black shadows in his heart. I don’t know how else to explain it. He could turn, just like that, one minute bubbling happy and the next, growling like a wounded wher. But, those days are gone, K’ndar. If you’d told me early on that F’mart would be weyrleader, I’d have laughed til I cried. He was too full of gas and ash, too much the braggart. I was astonished when Kenth flew Mirth. And worried, after……” She paused, considering the effects mating dragons had on their human counterparts.

I don’t love F’mart, she thought. We make a great team, but…otherwise? I thought I loved M’rvin, but he squashed that, early. That’s the hardest part of being Weyrwoman, she thought. I still haven’t met my equal.

“He certainly seems to have changed. A lot.”

“F’mart is young, but he’s come around from the days when he was an unmitigated arsehole. I think Kenth had a lot to do with it. Kenth is a very serious, no nonsense bronze, very aware of his duties as a Weyrleader’s dragon. I think he had a discussion with F’mart.

F’mart’s done a lot of growing up, you know, he has a very good head on his shoulders. It didn’t take long for even the oldest of dragonriders to realize that while he’s younger than most of them, he’s still a leader. He’s tolerable now.” Her eyes laughed at him over the edge of her goblet. “Mostly because, these days, he does as he’s told.”

He roared.

Chap. 278 Leadership worries

Chap. 278 Leadership worries

His datalink beeped with the morning’s news. He had it next to his breakfast tray in the dining hall.

He’d finally forced himself into the habit of actually reading it.

Mostly because of Francie and Jansen and Raylan and Grafton all riding my arse, he thought.

How did they do that? I don’t remember seeing that. Did they use a harness? Raventh asked, truly perplexed.

He laughed out loud. A few heads turned, but otherwise he was ignored.

No, they didn’t actually ride me like I ride you, or a horse. It’s just a figure of speech.

And that means what? I didn’t hear you speech anything.

Say”, not speech. And ‘figure of speech’ just means, its a set of words that we use to describe something that doesn’t really exist.

That is confusing.

I’m sorry, you’re right.

Ah. There was his name.

K’ndar: meet with Raylan this morning at your leisure.

Shards, here I’ve been dawdling. Leisure doesn’t mean when I feel like it, it just means there’s no set time-but it’s probably wise to get there. Now.

He turned in his breakfast tray and headed for Raylan’s office in the Main Administration building.

He stepped out into the rain. It spattered on his new ‘slicker’. It was a wonderful invention, he felt, the waterproofing having been developed by the folks in “Research and Development.”

Siskin appeared, disconsolately weeping. He didn’t like being kept out of the dining hall, but Someone had complained about fire lizards being ‘unsanitary’,which, he had to admit, was probably true. But so were all biological things, to include humans. Miklos, the microbiologist, for instance, wasn’t known for being overly fond of bathing. Some said he was a ‘walking Petri dish’, ‘growing his own study microbes’, yet he was allowed into the dining hall, in fact, the man was there now, as far from the main dining area as possible. Miklos radiated anti-social exclusion, as well as a very distinct aversion to things like bathing and human interaction.

Shaking the rain off his slicker, he headed for Raylan’s office.


The science division chief met him in the hallway.

“Good morning, K’ndar! What do you think of the slicker?”

“I think, sir, that I would have given my best boots for it when I was a kid on the steppe,” he said, “Wool keeps you warm but it gets heavy when wet, and takes forever to dry out.”

“You do know that the waterproof coating comes from a derivation of the smanda glue, don’t you?”

“No!”

Raylan smiled. “Oh, yes. The folks in R&D have had a grand time playing with that stuff. We have a colony of smandas, now, and despite their hideous appearance, they’re fairly likable.”

K’ndar shivered. Siskin hissed. “I’ll take your word for it, sir, I think I’ve seen enough of them to last a lifetime.”


Raylan laughed. “Says the biologist! But I understand, Francie gets the shrieks when a manylegs enters our quarters. Of course, with three fire lizards and a cat in the place, invaders don’t stand a chance.”

“Anyway, the AranDee folks have come up with half a dozen uses for the glue so far and are coming up with new applications almost weekly. The fishers, the seamen, all of them want it. After Serengeti proved the waterproofing’s worth, we can’t fulfill the orders fast enough.

“I saw on the datalink you wanted to meet with me?” K’ndar said, trying hard not to emphasize that he was, finally, and after much nagging, actually reading it every morning.

“I do. I want to brief you on what the basic requirements are of the proposed survey are, and hear your take on it.” He led the way into what K’ndar knew now was the ‘conference room. Um. I hadn’t given it much thought, he thought.

“No treats today, sir?” K’ndar said, noticing the condiments table was missing.

Raylan laughed. “Not today, dragonman! I can’t afford it, all this sitting I’m doing is adding kilos to my belly.” He touched the room’s datalink. As the lights dimmed, a map appeared on a bare wall at the far end.

He easily recognized Southern Continent. But it had been changed, he could see. There were many new points, glowing softly.

“This is a new map?” K’ndar said.

“It is. Every day, we’re getting more data, and we’re having to revise it almost weekly.”

Raylan picked up a small pencil shaped object and thumbed it. A tiny, bright red dot appeared on the map.

“Whoa, what is that?” K’ndar said.”

“It’s a laser pointer…” Raylan began.

Siskin launched. The blue fire lizard flew at the dot, stopping just short of running his head into the wall. He pounced on the red dot and began to scratch, frustrated that it had no substance. Raylan, laughing, shut off the pointer.

Siskin hovered, searching. He chittered, even attempting to get behind the wall. The projected map was superimposed on his shiny blue back.

“To me, lad, Siskin, to me,” he called. Siskin returned to his shoulder, huffing in indignation.

“Francie’s lizards do the same thing,” Raylan laughed. “First time they saw it they went berserk.”

“What is a laser pointer? A laser like the laser beacon? How does it work?”

“One question at a time, but I’m going to have to revert to using a stick. When we accessed the data base about the laser beacon, we got all sorts of uses for lasers, this little pencil being just one of them. It uses a small battery to shoot out a red pinpoint of light. The bright sparks in Engineering got with R&D, all of them were just crazy about lasers. They’ve already started turning out some amazing technology, they may even be able to recreate the laser rock carvers. If they can do that, the weeks spent hammering and chiseling away at cave walls are done. The miners will love it.”

He handed it to K’ndar. Siskin ignored it, not having made the connection.

“How..”

“If you want Siskin to stay quietly on your shoulder, don’t turn it on, but that button on the side? You push it forward and it comes on.”

He rolled the slim metal tube in his hand. “Does it..um, is it dangerous?”

“No, if you mean can it hurt someone? Well, we’re told to not aim it at eyes, so I don’t think it’s completely safe, it’s never going to be a toy for kids.”

He handed it back. Raylan said, “One of the folks in R&D found the plans for this thing in the database and made it from bits and pieces in their Bits and Pieces bins. It’s incredibly handy. The only problem is cats and lizards go insane over it.” He laughed.

“I guess so!”

Raylan picked up an old fashioned wood pointer and turned to the map.

“Now then. Here’s the borders to Lord Dorn’s Hold. As you can see, a small offshoot of the Lay River delineates his western border from that of Lord Toric. Here’s the southern edges. When you found that raider’s lair, here on the southern border, Lord Dorn honestly believed it was part of his Hold. But it had never been properly surveyed. Lord Dorn believes this,” he drew an invisible, east-west line on the map that was, to K’ndar’s eye, indistinguishable from the rest of the map, “is the southern border of his hold, and right here is that raider’s lair you found, well inside it. It includes a huge portion of the steppe. Follow along this ridge here, and that’s where the rainforest ends, down this slope to a bit of savanna and then steppe begins. Toric, of course, insists all of this belongs to him, despite Piemur’s original survey demonstrating that here”-he drew a line west-“is where Toric’s Holdings truly and officially end.”

K’ndar nodded, only partially grasping the concept. He was still amazed at the map projected on the wall. Siskin watched and watched, waiting for that damned red spot to reappear.

Raylan flourished the wooden pointer. “From that boundary south, all the way to the southern range and beyond that, right to the coastline, belongs to dragonriders. What we need is clarification. Meaning, as I mentioned earlier, you and your team need to do the research, find out exactly where Holds end and where Dragonland begins. You need to be as sure of your readings, your data, as possible. If your data shows the current boundaries are wrong, it will probably cut a large portion out of Lord Dorn’s Hold and an even larger chunk out of Toric’s. That won’t make either one of them happy, but Lord Dorn will be amenable. In fact, he’s the one who brought it up in the first place. I’m willing to bet he’ll discuss leasing that section-his new cothold there is proving up very nicely. It’s Toric who will squeal like a gutshot pig and I can’t tell you how happy I am that that dealing with Toric is echelons above my pay grade. That’s Council’s problem.”

“Um-he’s already got my name on his shit list. Raylan, I’m sure he’ll come after me, calling me a liar at best. Wouldn’t it be better to have Lord D’nis? But that’s probably not doable.”

“As for the former, Toric can bellow all he wants, you will be protected by Landing. As for Lord D’nis? I admit, K’ndar, I would prefer a bronze rider, but no, it’s not doable, and that is tearing him up. Sometimes I wonder if it’s fair to ask a working dragonrider to be a councilman. Both T’balt and D’nis have able bodied dragons, they’re fretting like good horses stuck in a stall. They both would jump at the chance to go. I can’t tell you how happy they were to get out and drill with the rest of you, for a while, they were ‘just’ dragonriders. I think, from now on, they’ll be doing something like that at least once a week.”

“I’m up for that, too, sir. But this gives me another reason I’m glad I ride a brown, sir, nothing expected of me other than just being a dragonrider.”

“Don’t sell yourself or Raventh short, K’ndar, you’re both valued members of Landing.”

K’ndar grimaced, the gravity of the situation became apparent.

“Are you sure I’m the right man for the job? Maybe..maybe have G’aryk as team leader?” He didn’t have a clue what G’aryk did, but bronze riders were far more accustomed to leadership roles. “I’ve never been given this..this much responsibility.”

Raylan patted his shoulder. “I know. Don’t worry too much, K’ndar. We thought of G’aryk, too, but unfortunately for him, he’s up to his ears in another project, up north in Bitra, poor man. Leana wanted the job but admitted she has no experience whatsoever. And Acquisition has become a two person job, she’s got her hands full. Same with the other dragonriders.”

“What if I get things wrong? I’m a biologist, not a leader.”

He shrugged. “K’ndar, someone made a mistake in setting the boundaries in the first place. If you do, too, well, maybe we’ll have to do it the old way, with a land crew on horseback, counting every tree, every canyon. That takes a lot more time and the logistics-which is G’aryk’s skill-can be daunting. Don’t worry. If you make a mistake, you won’t be fired, because in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a world ending event. We all realize that you’re a biologist, not a surveyor. But you have two, at least, or is it three? of these expeditions under your belt. That’s more than anyone here other than D’nis. Be as sure as you can. Remember, you’ll be team leader, not team biologist. Annotate the creatures you find, the plants, for future investigation, but this survey is for clarification.”

“Okay,” K’ndar said in glum resignation.

“I expect your team to commute-oh, such a wonder is a dragon! staying here in the evenings and we’ll be providing whatever items you might need. You may, also, have a guest or a visitor at times, not only Lord Dorn, but someone from here, as well. I am giving you free rein on whom you want to choose for your team. Have you given it any thought?”

K’ndar made himself think. “Thank you, sir. Um, I’d love to have D’mitran, but he’s contracted to Lord Dorn. Do you think he’d mind releasing D’mitran?”

Raylan grinned. “Lord Dorn is steps ahead of you in that, K’ndar, he’s already offered D’mitran’s services and D’mitran sent this message to you, “Don’t you dare not pick me.”

K’ndar laughed.

Yes. Careth is my friend and I miss him Raventh said.

“Raventh agrees. D’mitran is my engineer, then.”

“Done. Now who for your surveyor? A geologist.”

“That’s where I’m stuck, sir. B’rost was a good geologist but he’s, well, he can be scatterbrained and takes unnecessary risks. That and I know he’s training to be a Healer. I’ve not heard from him in months. So B’rost is a no go. I’ve been absent from Kahrain Steppe Weyr long enough that I don’t know who in their current roster of dragonriders is qualified. They’ve lost a lot of riders and gained ones I don’t know. And I don’t know enough of the people here, I don’t really know who is a geologist as well as a dragonrider.”

“I do. No one.”

“Hmm.”

“Are you willing to take someone behind you on Raventh?”

“Sure, that’s no problem.”

“How about Fleming?” Raylan said, his eyebrows jumping.

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I’d sooner walk barefoot to the boundary than have anything…” K’ndar half shouted.

Raylan raised his hands in self defense. “I was teasing, he’s not a geologist, he’s a numbers cruncher. An “accountant”. I was just getting a rise out of you.”

K’ndar relaxed. “You succeeded.”

Raylan nodded. He punched a button on his datalink and the map disappeared, replaced by a list of names of people grouped by specialty.

Raylan ran the pointer down a list of names, saying under his breath, “No, he’s afraid of dragons, not this one, he’s a good scientist but, no, her?…no, she’s pregnant, ah. Here. Risal. What about her? She’s a geologist AND has the experience of surveying.”

Risal. That pretty girl in Flight Ops!!

Something went PANG in his heart.

“I don’t know her very well, but I think she’d do, but what about her job in Flight Ops?”

“She’s training an apprentice as we speak. Howel, the official Flight Ops man, has been minding his manners, lately. Grafton breathed down his neck regarding his duty performance, which, you probably know better than I, has been piss poor. So he will be told to pick up the slack. It’s a dirty trick to play on the apprentice, but Risal will arm him against Howel, and it wouldn’t be for much more than a couple weeks. Do you think?”

“Um, I don’t know, sir. I really don’t have any idea how long it will take. I doubt it would take the months we took to survey the steppe, or even the Western Continent. But, Raylan, I have no idea how to do the surveying itself.”

“K’ndar, you will be the Leader, not the grunt.” Raylan’s data link buzzed. He looked at it momentarily and sighed. He touched it and said, “I’ll be there in a moment.” Looking up at K’ndar, he said, “I’m sorry, K’ndar, but I’ve got to close this right now. I hope you don’t mind? If you would, please, make a rough draft of a plan for the survey and let’s go over it sometime late next week. No rush, I know your work is all caught up and tomorrow is a rest day. That and you do have some off time saved up.”

“Yes, sir,” he said, grateful for the interruption. Leader. Telling D’mitran what to do? I don’t have that in me. I just don’t. But I’ve been handed this ugly baby and I guess I better get to work on it right now.

“K’ndar of Landing, K’ndar of Landing,” his datalink said.

He touched it and said, “K’ndar here, who calls?”

“Siena, Weyrwoman of Kahrain Weyr. K’ndar, Mirth’s clutch is about to hatch. Perhaps this afternoon, no later than tomorrow. She’s laid two dozen eggs, one is undoubtedly a queen, and we have a full slate of Candidates, for once! Would you be willing to come and witness the Impression?”

He looked up at Raylan, hoping. Go, Raylan mouthed, flicking his chin upwards.

He didn’t have to think twice. “I’d be honored, ma’am.”

“Great! I don’t mean to be rude, but I must ring off, I have some others to invite.”

“I understand. I’ll be there by noon,” he said. She cut the link.

“Thank you, sir.” Something-he’d missed something in the short exchange with Siena. The thought vanished.

“No problem, K’ndar. Impressions are always a treat!” Raylan said.

I hope she invites D’nis, he thought. Donning his slicker, he went outside. The rain had turned to a very light drizzle. He went to Flight Ops to check the weather.

Risal was there, deep in conversation with her new apprentice. Howel was there too, trying to ignore him and still look supercilious. If this is his idea of ‘better performance’! He cleared his throat. Risal looked up. “K’ndar! Hello!’

Should he discuss the survey with her now? No. I have to think things through, first.

“Hi! I’m here for the weather for Kahrain Steppe Weyr. Please tell me it will stop raining?”

She grinned. Beckoning the apprentice, she said, “Here’s a chance to work with what I’ve been telling you. Please, would you brief K’ndar, our staff biologist who is also a dragonrider!”

The teen looked nervous, clearly intimidated by the importance of the task. He stuttered. Immediately, K’ndar felt empathy for the teen. He’d probably been teased unmercifully early in life. But the boy wouldn’t be training for journeyman meteorologist if he hadn’t demonstrated an aptitude for it. That’s a skill I will never grasp, he thought.

“So, will I have an open window for flying, with no rain?”

“Ye..yessir. I see this rain st ..stopping in abb..bbout an…” the lad stopped, seemed to grapple with his voice, and then said, “I’m sorr..sorry..”

“It’s okay, lad. Don’t worry. Take your time. I’ll never tease you. When can I expect to fly without rain? I’m not afraid of the rain, you understand, it’s lightning that scares me.”

“I…I didn’t know dragonriders could be.. be afraid of anything.”

K’ndar laughed. “You’re looking at the rider who was scared spitless every time he flew against Thread.”

The boy seemed to gain confidence. “Yess Sir. This rain sshould stop in about an hour and then wwon’t resume unttil tomorrow nnnight after eleven or so.”

Risal winked at him from behind the teen, with a thumbs up.

“Thank you. I’ll be signing out for Kahrain Steppe Weyr, then,” he said, hoping his acceptance of the boy’s data would give the lad courage. Being left alone with Howel wasn’t going to be easy.

He walked over to the sign out board and wrote down Kahrain Steppe Weyr after his name, and put down departure time in an hour. That will give me time to pack a bag.

“Going home for a visit?” Risal asked.

“Sort of…there’s an Impression and I’ve been invited to witness it.”

She looked wistful. “Oh, how nice it must be to just be able to board a dragon and fly to it.”

K’ndar nodded.

“Well, happy Impression, I guess. By the way, K’ndar, you’ve not heard? It’s no longer Kahrain Steppe Weyr.”

“What? What?”

“The Weyrleaders decided to change the name, dropping the “Steppe”. Now it’s just plain ol’ “Kahrain Weyr.”