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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

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BOOK: Dragon Harper
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M’tal nodded approvingly as he headed over to join them; the lad obviously had a good head on his shoulders. It was a pity he hadn’t Impressed at this Hatching, M’tal thought, but it was obvious that Kindan was more than suitable—surely it would only be a matter of time before he met the right hatchling.

Kindan smiled when he saw M’tal and brandished a glass in his direction.

“No,” M’tal said, waving aside the proffered glass. “It will be a long night, I’m afraid.” To B’ralar he said, “I grieve for your loss. May I offer my arm and my aid to you and your Weyr?”

B’ralar forced his eyes to focus long enough to recognize M’tal and then he nodded silently, reaching out a feeble hand to the Benden Weyrleader. “She was everything to me.”

A rush of cold air disturbed them and then Salina, newly arrived from Benden, rushed forward and grabbed B’ralar’s other hand.

“She was a gracious lady,” Salina told him. “Let me escort you to your quarters.”

“But—”

M’tal raised a hand to deflect anything that B’ralar might say. “Rest easy tonight.” He grinned toward Kindan. “Between harper and weyr, we’ll see to High Reaches’ comfort.”

A fleeting smile crossed B’ralar’s lips and then he bowed his head, letting Salina lead him away.

M’tal was busy for the rest of the evening. And every time he had a chance to pause in his consolation of the distraught High Reaches riders, he heard the voice of Kindan singing a soothing song or playing a spritely melody on the pipes. Wine flowed freely and M’tal was not surprised to see the Benden mark on many of the casks that littered the tables, nor was he surprised to learn from a chance remark that Kindan had requested it.

It was very late when the last of the wearied and wined dragonriders faded off to sleep, the weyrlings all in their quarters, and the community of High Reaches Weyr ready to recover from the loss of its only adult queen dragon.

It was so late that M’tal was quite surprised, as he stifled a yawn, to recognize the sound of Kindan’s voice singing a slightly off-color lullaby. M’tal remembered the look on Kindan’s face earlier that evening and sought him out.

“There will be other Hatchings,” M’tal told him, grabbing the lad’s shoulder and shaking it affectionately.

Kindan was too tired not to answer honestly. “I’m an apprentice at the Harper Hall; I doubt I’ll see many.”

“Weyrs have harpers, too,” M’tal reminded him.

“Journeymen, not apprentices, my lord,” Kindan said resignedly.

“If you’re willing, then,” M’tal declared, “when you become a journeyman harper, I’ll ask for you at Benden Weyr.”

CHAPTER 2

They waited for their hatchlings
Lined up on the sand
They waited for the younglings
To leave hand in hand.

H
IGH
R
EACHES
W
EYR

W
ith his small roll of clothes packed tightly into his carisak, Kindan waited anxiously in the High Reaches Weyr Bowl the next morning while Weyrleader M’tal and D’vin, the bronze rider who had flown for High Reaches in the All-Weyr Games, conversed animatedly nearby.

Kindan knew that they were arguing over which one should bring him back to the Harper Hall. He was hoping that it would be M’tal, because then Kindan could believe that the Benden Weyrleader had remembered and not regretted his promise from the night before. Surely, if M’tal accompanied him, the Weyrleader would mention his intentions to Master Murenny. What would it be like, Kindan wondered, to be a harper for a Weyr? In all his wildest imaginings, he had never hoped for more than to return to a small hold like Camp Natalon or a smaller holding. But a Weyr!

A creeling sound distracted him; it was immediately amplified by the noise of other disturbed hatchlings, and he turned his gaze to the weyrling barracks. He caught flashes of movement and found himself stifling a sigh along with another thought: What would it have been like to wake up in the weyrling quarters?

Kindan frowned and turned his eyes back to the dragonriders. The thought of waking up in the weyrling quarters had scared him and he wanted to distract himself from that. Why would Impressing a dragon scare him?

It seemed that his gaze was felt by M’tal and D’vin, for they turned to look at him.

“I’ll take my farewells, Kindan,” M’tal said. “I’ve work to attend to. D’vin will return you to the Harper Hall.”

Kindan drew himself up and bowed. “Weyrleader.”

M’tal growled and rushed toward Kindan, grabbing him in a great hug. “Don’t think you’ll get away with that!” he said and held Kindan tightly. For a moment Kindan tensed, then relaxed, realizing in a burst of clarity that M’tal truly appreciated him. Kindan also realized how much he missed the rare hugs that his father, Danil, had given him. M’tal was taller and more lithe than his father but, still…

“If you’re ready,” D’vin said drolly. But there was a twinkle in his eyes.

M’tal stepped back, looked Kindan in the eyes, and raised a hand to point at him. “Don’t forget what I said.”

Kindan couldn’t help keep the surprise out of his voice as he asked, “You meant it?”

“Of course,” M’tal said. “A dragonrider lives by his word.” He stepped close again and clapped Kindan on the shoulder. “Rather like a harper.”

Kindan was so thrilled he could barely nod. M’tal gave him one final measuring look and turned, striding over to his bronze Gaminth.

“Don’t take too long!” M’tal called as the bronze dragon leapt into the skies above High Reaches Weyr. Then, in a blink, dragon and rider were gone,
between.

“Let’s go,” D’vin said brusquely to Kindan.

“Yes, my lord,” Kindan replied, tightening his hold on his sak and following the impatient Wingleader.

It seemed only a moment before they, too, were hovering high over the Weyr. Kindan dared himself to peer down over the dragon’s neck, and saw the small dots that were weyrfolk starting their daily chores and the larger dragons, looking smaller than fire-lizards, moving to the Weyr’s lake. And then, without warning, Kindan found himself engulfed in an oppressive darkness. His whole body was cold and he could hear nothing, feel nothing but the beating of his heart.

Between.
The black nothingness that dragons—and watch-whers—could traverse from one place to another in the time it took to cough three times.

Light burst upon him, assaulting his eyes at the same time that his ears were filled with reassuring sound. Before he could even adjust from the change, Kindan felt himself falling as the bronze dragon dropped down swiftly to the ground below.

A jolt informed him that they had landed.

“I cannot tarry,” D’vin said, craning his neck around to peer at Kindan. “Sonia will need help. I will trust you to enlighten the Masterharper.”

Kindan nodded hastily, still grappling with D’vin’s interesting choice of words.

“Fly well,” D’vin said, extending a hand.

Kindan took it and nearly fell as D’vin urged him over the dragon’s neck.

“Fly high, my lord,” Kindan called back formally. D’vin gaped at him for a moment in surprise at Kindan’s eloquence, then shook the expression off his face and gave Kindan a curt nod and a slight wave.

The bronze dragon leapt into the air and was
between
once more before it had climbed a full dragonlength.

It was only when D’vin and his bronze had departed that Kindan took in the morning around him. The sun was above the horizon, but there was still dew on the grass. The noises of Fort were muffled and sleepy, while those of the Harper Hall were—

“Get out of the way!” a voice called to him. Kindan looked up and jumped aside as a group of apprentices barreled past him. They were on their morning run. The voice belonged to Vaxoram, the senior apprentice.

Kindan hadn’t liked Vaxoram when they first met and the feeling was mutual. Vaxoram had made it a project to torment Verilan, the youngest apprentice.

Verilan was extraordinarily talented at scribing and researching in the Records. Kindan knew that it was only the boy’s young age that held him back from walking the tables and becoming a journeyman. Even the prickly Master Archivist, Resler, had a soft spot for Verilan, and Kindan suspected that Verilan felt the same affection, the two being kindred spirits.

That respect irked Vaxoram even more, as his own handwriting was a point of shame for the entire hall.

When Kindan first found out about the bullying that Vaxoram had condoned or even initiated against Verilan, he took action. He was careful not to be caught, but soon those who were tormenting Verilan found themselves tormented—with extra chores and duties. Kindan had even managed to get Vaxoram caught and given a week’s extra duties.

Of course, while the bullies were never certain who was getting them back, trapping them in their traps and arranging for their pranks to be discovered, they suspected Kindan and unleashed their full wrath on him.

For the next three months, Kindan had felt every day that he should just leave the Harper Hall. But he hadn’t, because he was certain that if he did, Verilan would be the next to suffer.

Things changed for the worse with the arrival of Nonala, the second girl apprentice in twenty Turns.

The first girl apprentice had been Kelsa, a talented songwriter who had arrived nearly a full Turn before and had quickly become Kindan’s second-best friend after Verilan. Kelsa was prickly, blunt, and gawky, but those traits were overshadowed by her honesty and her kindness.

She was also shy, at least initially. So when she first arrived at the Harper Hall, she had been only too willing to accept the suggestion that she sleep with the kitchen staff.

“After all,” she had said reasonably to Kindan when he’d questioned her, “it’s not like there are other girl harpers.”

“I don’t know,” Kindan said mulishly. “It seems to me if you’re an apprentice, you should be in the apprentice dormitory.”

“Vaxoram wouldn’t like that, I’m sure,” Kelsa had replied, grimacing. “And I don’t need to upset him any more than I already have.”

Kindan had nodded in reluctant agreement. Kelsa’s ability to write songs had been met with praise by everyone—except Vaxoram, who had no ability in that area. If Kelsa were any less talented or more arrogant, Kindan might have agreed with the senior apprentice that a girl didn’t belong among harpers…but her songs were just
too
good.

“What will you do if another girl is apprenticed?” Kindan had asked.

“Well,” Kelsa had replied thoughtfully, “that will be different.”

Nonala came from Southern Boll, recommended by the harper there for her amazing voice and its range. Nonala was not much older than Verilan, having nearly twelve Turns to his ten.

“There’s a new apprentice,” Kindan had called to Kelsa as they entered the second class of the day. If there was one thing Kindan was good at, it was knowing what was going on in the Harper Hall.

“Great!” Kelsa replied. Then she took in Kindan’s expression and gave him a probing look. “What’s so funny?”

“She’s a girl,” Kindan said, grinning at her. “I imagine it’ll get rather cramped in with the cooks.”

Kelsa snorted. “She won’t be staying with the cooks.”

“Really?”

“Really,” Kelsa told him. She beckoned for him to come closer as the other apprentices rushed into the classroom.

“Here’s what you’ll do,” she said, then pulled his head close to her mouth. Kindan listened with growing astonishment.

“By the First Egg, no!” he exclaimed when she finished.

Kelsa gave him a knowing look. “Oh, you’ll do it.”

“And what makes you say so?” Kindan wondered. “Vaxoram will having me chasing down tunnel snakes—”

“You’ll do it,” Kelsa repeated firmly. “You’ll do it because you know it’s right.” She pushed him toward their classroom. “Don’t say anything now, we’re late.”

“I can’t do it all on my own,” Kindan complained.

“Of course not.” Kelsa’s response was in such an agreeable tone that Kindan’s further protests faltered in shock. “Get Verilan to help,” she added with a grin. When Kindan drew breath for another protest, Kelsa continued, “And I’ll help.” She glanced toward the kitchen quarters and shivered. “I’ll be glad to get out of there—all
they
talk about is cooking!”

By evening everything was ready. With Verilan’s help, Kindan and Kelsa had put up a sturdy canvas partition separating the back corner of the large apprentice dormitory from the rest. Inside they placed one of the bunk beds and a chest of drawers.

The older apprentices were at first wary, then irate that they had to change their lifestyle to accommodate girls.

“The cook’s quarters were enough for one, why not two?” the senior apprentices had grumbled.

“We’re harpers,” Kelsa said, throwing her arm around a confused and reluctant Nonala. “We should be with the other apprentices.”

“We can’t have girls here!” Vaxoram, the senior apprentice, declared when he learned the purpose of the canvas partition.

“I suppose we could get one of the spare journeyman’s rooms,” Kelsa said judiciously, knowing full well that Vaxoram was hoping to make journeyman soon and had been eyeing the vacant rooms proprietarily.

“Hrrmph!” Vaxoram replied, storming out of the dormitory.

“Where are you going?” Kelsa called after him.

“To talk to the Masters!”

Vaxoram, failing to convince the Masters to provide the girls with separate quarters, had tried to shame and scare them into demanding it on their own—or better, to ask to leave the Harper Hall.

It started with silly pranks, water left on the floor just outside the canvas partition. When Nonala tripped and banged her head in the middle of the night, Kindan moved his bunk close by and kept a wary eye out for further pranksters.

It soon escalated to outright harassment, with the older apprentices actively preventing both girls from attending classes. Kelsa bore up well under the strain—tough and wiry, she merely elbowed or pinched her way past the offenders. But Nonala was a milder sort, and the glares and jeers of the older boys were hard on her.

Kindan had only to hear her sobbing softly in her bed one night to decide that he would no longer tolerate the behavior of the other apprentices. Stealthily he left his bunk in the night, crossed over to hers, and grabbed her hand. Seeing that he’d startled her, he smiled and patted her hand in reassurance. Nonala smiled back, sat up, and hugged him. Kindan held her tightly until he felt her relax, then let her go. Nonala lay back down in her bed, still holding his hand. He remained there until she fell back asleep, then silently returned to his bed. As he did, he caught sight of Kelsa, smiling at him in approval.

The next day, Nonala had shown remarkable skill in defending herself when another prankster tried to trip her, and her would-be assailant found himself sprawled on the ground.

BOOK: Dragon Harper
6.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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