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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

Dragon Harper

BOOK: Dragon Harper
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To Alec A. Johnson
Son, Brother, Father, Patriot

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

A
T THE
H
ARPER
H
ALL

Murenny, Masterharper of Pern

Biddle, Voicemaster

Caldazon, Instrument Master

Lenner, Masterhealer of Pern

Selora, head cook

Journeymen:

Issak, Tenelin, Gerrin

Apprentices:

Kindan, Nonala, Kelsa, Verilan, Vaxoram

A
T
F
ORT
H
OLD

Bemin, Lord Holder

Sannora, Lady Holder

Semin, Bannor, their sons

Koriana, Fiona, their daughters

A
T THE
W
HERHOLD

Aleesa, Whermaster, queen Aleesk

Mikal, ex-dragonrider

Arella, Aleesa’s daughter

Jaythen, wherman

A
T
B
ENDEN
W
EYR

M’tal, Weyrleader of Benden Weyr, bronze dragon Gaminth

Salina, Weyrwoman, queen dragon Breth

A
T
I
STA
W
EYR

C’rion, Weyrleader

J’lantir, Wingleader, bronze Lolanth

J’trel, blue rider, Talith

PROLOGUE

Dragon’s heart,

Dragon’s fire,

Rider true,

Fly higher.

I
STA
W
EYR
,
A
FTER
L
ANDING
(AL) 495.4

J
’lantir’s brows were thick, gathered like thunderclouds as he glowered at his wing riders. He had called them to his quarters and met them in Lolanth’s weyr. The presence of his bronze dragon, eyes whirling menacingly red, left his wing riders in no doubt as to his mood.

“A sevenday!” he bellowed. “You’ve been missing for a whole sevenday.”

He glared at each one in turn, ending with J’trel and his partner, K’nad. J’trel, J’lantir guessed, would say nothing, but K’nad looked both too nervous and too—amused?

Every rider had bags under his eyes as though he had been without sleep for the whole sevenday. Young J’lian was leaning against V’sog, who himself looked only barely able to stand. M’jial and B’zim surreptitiously supported the other two.

L’cal’s frown was severe and directed toward the rest of the wing, but beneath his bushy eyebrows, the eldest rider maintained a stoic silence.

Cavorting and carrying on, no doubt, J’lantir thought sourly. Their dragons looked even worse, pale and exhausted. J’lantir had never heard of dragons becoming exhausted because of their riders’ antics. He narrowed his eyes as he looked more carefully at K’nad. The man had a tan!

“Where were you all this time?” J’lantir growled. K’nad dropped his head, shaking it slowly. J’lantir pursed his lips sourly and peered along the rest of the line of men that comprised his missing wing. “Where were all of you?”

He scanned the line, looking for someone who might answer.

“We were on an important mission,” J’trel said finally. The others looked at him and nodded in relief.

“Very important,” K’nad added with a confirming nod.

“So important that I didn’t know about it?” J’lantir asked in scathing tones.

K’nad gave him a confused look and was about to answer when J’trel nudged him, shaking his head.

“He said he wouldn’t believe us, remember?” J’trel whispered to K’nad in a voice not so quiet that J’lantir didn’t hear him.

K’nad drew strength from his partner’s words and looked J’lantir in the eye. “You said not to tell until the time was right.”


I
said?” J’lantir bellowed back, causing K’nad to wilt once more.

“I don’t recall saying anything of the sort,” J’lantir continued when it was obvious that K’nad had gone back into his shell. “I’ll tell you what I think,” he said to his riders. “I think you’ve all gone off someplace and had far too much to drink and can’t tell yesterday from today.”

Half his riders gave him startled looks as though he’d been reading their minds.

“And so, to sort this out,” he continued, “we’ll be drilling today.”

“Could we do recognition points?” K’nad piped up suddenly. The rest of the wing glanced his way and then murmured in agreement.

J’lantir couldn’t believe it. He could never get his wing to drill on recognition points.

“From all around Pern?” J’trel added. “We’d like that.”

“You would, would you?” J’lantir said sourly. That was exactly what he’d planned to do with his wing to teach them a lesson. Well, several lessons. Drilling in recognition points was tiring, dull work that dragonriders usually preferred to avoid. He was surprised that his riders were so eager for the work and a little suspicious. But, as he had no other plans sufficiently punitive in mind, he could only assent.

“All around Pern, eh?” he repeated. “Just remember that you asked for it.”

“Could we feed the dragons first?” K’nad asked. “They’re very hungry.”

“Hmmm,” J’lantir murmured. The dragons had been fed the day before. Dragons typically ate only once a week. He glanced again at his wing riders and noticed how tired they were. He glared at J’trel, but the blue rider merely shrugged. There was no sense in punishing the dragons for their riders’ lapses, J’lantir decided. “Very well, you can feed your dragons and rest for the remainder of today.”

His riders gave him astonished and grateful looks.

“Tomorrow,” he continued, “before first light, we’ll start drilling on recognition points.”

J’lantir turned and stalked off, already anticipating a grilling from Weyrleader C’rion—wingleaders were
not
supposed to lose their wings for a sevenday. As it was, he didn’t bother to turn back again when one of his riders murmured, “He said he’d be like this.”

And another answered, “But it was worth it.”

CHAPTER I

White robe, high hopes
Hatching Grounds, tight throats
Sands heat, eggs move
Shells crack, hearts prove.

H
IGH
R
EACHES
W
EYR
,
AL 495.8

P
ut this on,” D’vin said to Cristov as they rushed to the Hatching Grounds. The white robe was the traditional garb for candidates, as every child on Pern knew from the Teaching Ballads.

Cristov suddenly realized that his heart was racing, his throat dry. In not much longer than it took D’vin’s bronze dragon to go
between—
no more time than it took to cough three times—Cristov went from being a miner recovering from an injury to being a candidate for a Hatching.

This can’t be happening, he thought. It should have been Pellar.

Pellar was the mute Harper who had rescued Cristov when his mine had collapsed, had saved Cristov when Tenim had purposely exploded the old firestone mine, and who had had a fire-lizard before Tenim’s hunting bird had killed it—and had nearly killed Pellar, as well.

Pellar deserved to be a candidate…but Pellar had insisted upon remaining at the newly named Fire Hold to help the young holdless girl, Halla, manage the Shunned of Pern to redeem their honor by mining the firestone of Pern.

“Cristov!” The voice, close by his ear, startled him. “You’re here! Excellent!”

Cristov’s eyes widened as he recognized Kindan. Turns back, he and Kindan had been enemies. Back then, Cristov had despised watch-whers, just as he’d been taught by his father. Kindan’s father had been a wherhandler, a person bonded to the ugly night-loving creatures who were only distant cousins to the great dragons that protected Pern. Infected by his father’s attitudes, Cristov had despised Kindan, and they’d fought many times as youngsters. In the end, however, Cristov had realized that it was Kindan who had been right and his father who had been wrong—and Cristov had found himself, at an early age, making a grown man’s choice and doing what was right instead of what was expected. He’d even come to regard the ugly watch-whers with respect bordering on awe. And now he greeted Kindan with a huge grin.

Kindan saw the robe clasped in Cristov’s hand and his eyebrows rose. He held up his hand and showed Cristov that he, too, had the white robe of a candidate.

“Great, we can go together,” he said to Cristov, as he pulled his robe over his head and tied it with the white belt.

“I thought you wanted to be a harper,” Cristov said in surprise.

“Harpers can be dragonriders, too,” Kindan replied with a big grin.

“You’ll be certain to Impress, after your watch-wher,” Cristov said. “Probably a bronze, too!”

Kindan shook his head. “I’ll just be happy to Impress,” he replied. “I’ll leave the bronzes to you.”

“Cristov, Kindan, hurry!”

They both turned and saw Sonia, the healer’s daughter, also dressed in white robes. “Oh, I do hope that egg’s a queen!”

Cristov knew that Sonia had been eyeing the funnily marked egg on the Hatching Grounds for some time. Traditionally, though, the queen dragon would carefully push aside any queen eggs, and Jessala’s Garirth hadn’t done so.

In fact, the egg looked so odd that the Weyr’s Healer, Sonia’s father S’son, had been asked to examine it to be sure it was whole.

Garirth was so old that her gold hide was a mere pale yellow, and Jessala, her rider, was so pained with age that she rarely moved from her quarters. It was entirely possible that age had caused this egg to have come out wrong somehow. But S’son had declared it fine.

D’vin gestured for them to go forward, saying, “I’ll watch from the stands!”

Together the three moved to join the other candidates on the Hatching Grounds.

There were only twenty-three eggs on the Grounds. Cristov had learned that traditionally a queen would lay as few as thirty and as many as forty or more eggs. That Garirth had lain so few was a further indication of her extreme age.

Sonia, who had been examining the other candidates carefully, groaned. “There aren’t enough candidates! There are only twenty boys and twenty-two eggs. And there are no other girls, either.”

A rush of cold air from dragon wings startled them and they turned to see a smattering of boys and girls rush forward, dressed in white robes.

“Those are Benden colors,” Sonia said, pointing to a dragonrider waving in the distance. “B’ralar must have sent for them.”

“It’s M’tal!” Kindan exclaimed, waving excitedly to the Benden Weyrleader. M’tal waved back and gave him a thumbs-up for good luck.

“What if one of the Benden girls Impresses the queen?” Cristov asked.

“She’ll stay here,” Sonia said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if she found herself Weyrwoman at the moment of Hatching.” She cast a worried look at Garirth, whose head lolled listlessly on the ground beyond them. “I think Garirth and Jessala are only waiting for the hatchlings before they go
between
forever; they’re both so tired with age.”

The humming noise of the dragons rose louder. Cristov felt the sound in his very bones, reverberating. The noise was so loud it should have been deafening, yet Cristov felt no fear.

“Over here!” Sonia called to the other girls, waving toward the strange egg. They gave her a surprised look before joining her. To herself she muttered, “Whew! I was afraid the queen wouldn’t have a decent choice!”

“We’re supposed to be over there,” Kindan said to Cristov, gesturing to the other boys clustered in the distance.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Cristov said. “I’m a miner.”

Kindan shook his head and told him feelingly, “More than anyone you should be here, Cristov. You earned the right and you were Searched.”

Cristov started to explain that D’vin had come for Pellar, not him, but Kindan shushed him. “Look!”

Cristov saw that the eggs were now rocking from side to side. One of them had a crack in it, then another, then a third. Cristov thought like a miner, imagining the blows required to break the shell. But suddenly he squinted, perplexed—the shells were cracking far more than he thought natural. He’d rapped one of the shells himself on the Hatching Grounds, and he’d held an old bit of shell in his hands, so he knew its strength.

And yet now the shells were shattering rapidly, and, strangely, Cristov started to get the feel for which shell would crack next. Something about the dragons’ humming. It was as if their humming was helping the hatchlings. As if, Cristov realized suddenly, the dragons’ humming resonated with the shells themselves.

The dragons’ pitch increased just before one hatchling broke his shell in half and burst forth. Cristov started to take a nervous step backward but found Kindan’s hand on his arm.

“They’re scared,” Kindan said. “They’re just little and they’re frightened.”

Cristov could see that it was true. Even though the brown hatchling towered over Cristov, he could see that it was frightened. It creeled sharply as it searched among the candidates and then—it found its mate. Cristov saw the look of glowing astonishment on the youngster’s face, the look of fear breaking into a huge grin as boy and dragon were united in a bond that only death could break.

“You are the most beautiful dragon on all Pern, Finderth,” the youngster cried aloud as he grabbed the wobbly brown dragonet in a great hug.

Kindan waved at the boy, calling, “Well done, Jander!” Then he blushed and corrected himself: “I mean, J’der.”

But not everything went well. Some of the Benden lads were too frightened and didn’t move out of the way of a creeling green. One youth was brutally trampled and tossed aside by the green’s awkward stumbling to lie in a bloody heap nearly a dragonlength away.

“Look out!” Kindan called, prodding Cristov as a baby bronze came their way, searching among the candidates for its mate. It tore past them and then stopped, crying piteously.

Cristov remembered what D’vin had said would happen if there was no candidate for a hatchling:
It will go
between
forever.

“Come on,” he said, tugging at Kindan. They couldn’t let the bronze hatchling get away. But Kindan was gazing across the Hatching Grounds, saying, “Look, Sonia’s egg is hatching!”

Urgently, Cristov sidestepped around Kindan and raced up to the forlorn bronze. He grabbed its tail and yanked. “Back here,” he shouted desperately. “We’re back here!”

There you are!
a voice said suddenly. The dragon’s whirling eyes were looking right at him.
I’ve been looking for you.

“It’s a queen,” Kindan shouted over his shoulder, unaware of the drama that was unfolding behind him. “And it looks—yes, Sonia has Impressed the queen. Cristov—” And then Kindan finally turned to look over his shoulder.

The grin on his face slipped as his mind was flooded with memories of Kisk, the green watch-wher he had once shared a bond with. He swallowed hard and squared his shoulders. I gave her up, he reminded himself, wondering if perhaps that rendered him undesirable to the hatchlings.

Briefly Cristov recalled Nuella’s brilliant smile as Kindan encouraged her to ride the watch-wher
between
to the cave-in that had trapped her father, brother, and eight other miners. Only blind Nuella could have visualized the image needed to guide the heat-seeing watch-wher safely. So giving Kisk to her had been a good decision, everyone had agreed. And it meant that Kindan wasn’t trapped forever in the mines with a watch-wher. He was free to become a harper, maybe even a dragonrider…but not this time. He shook himself out of his reverie.

“C’tov?” he asked, using the honorific contraction for the first time. “What’s your dragon’s name?”

The other lad’s eyes shone with a brilliance that Kindan had never seen before.

“My dragon?” Cristov repeated in surprise. He turned to the bronze hatchling in silent communion. “His name is Sereth.”

“Congratulations, dragonrider,” Kindan said firmly, reaching forward to slap C’tov on the shoulder.

A hideous sound erupted behind them and they all turned. Garirth was upright, her multifaceted eyes whirling in a frantic red. She let out one more despairing wail and then was gone forever,
between.

Kindan bowed his head. Jessala was no more, or her dragon wouldn’t have departed so dramatically. The two had survived long enough to see the hatchlings Impressed. Whether it was the joy or the burden of extreme age that finally overwhelmed the queen’s rider did not matter—the Weyrwoman of High Reaches Weyr was dead. When he raised his head again, he turned to Sonia and her young queen dragon. Sonia was now the Weyrwoman.

All the eggs had hatched. There were none left for him.

“Forgive me, C’tov,” Kindan said, bowing to his friend, “but I think I’d best get my gear. There will be much harpering tonight, and Master Murenny will want to be informed of the news.”

C’tov nodded absently, his attention focused exclusively on the most amazing, marvelous, and brilliant creature beside him.

M’tal sent for Benden’s Weyrwoman, Salina, as soon as Garirth went
between.
The events of the evening would have been a trial to anyone, and the new High Reaches Weyrwoman was a young lass. He made his way down the stands into the Hatching Grounds, where he could see B’ralar slumped against a wall. Before he could reach him, however, he saw a lad in white robes running toward the bereft High Reaches Weyrleader, carrying a flask of wine and several glasses precariously in his hands. M’tal recognized Kindan. With a bow and flourish, the lad poured B’ralar a hefty glass of wine.

BOOK: Dragon Harper
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