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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

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BOOK: Dragon Harper
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“I’ve three older brothers,” Nonala told the older boy as she looked down on him. “They taught me how to fight.”

The older apprentice pulled himself up and looked menacingly down at Nonala, his hands clenched tightly to his sides. Things might have gotten ugly if first Kindan and then Verilan hadn’t taken a stand on either side of her.

“Don’t you need to be in class, Merol?” Verilan had asked.

“You owe her an apology,” Kindan had added, glaring up at the older boy. He and Merol had tangled once already and since then, Merol had shied away from him. The incident had occurred not long after Kindan had first been assigned to the Harper Hall and, oddly, it had involved Merol tripping him, as well. Unfortunately for Merol, it had been just after Kindan’s first lesson with the Detallor, the Master who taught both dance and defense. Kindan found himself merely pivoting over the offending foot, catching it with his own, and tugging—with the net result that Kindan remained standing and Merol was sent sprawling. Merol’s eyes had flashed angrily, but he had just murmured, “Sorry,” and rushed off to his class.

Faced again with an angry Kindan, Merol had muttered “Sorry” again, this time to Nonala, before slinking off.

Since then, no one bothered Nonala. But it was clear to Kindan that Vaxoram, always the ringleader, hadn’t changed his attitude one bit.

Now here was the entire apprentice class returning from the morning run up to Fort Hold with Vaxoram in the lead. They couldn’t have failed to notice the arrival of D’vin’s bronze dragon, so it was obvious that Vaxoram had guided the runners this way on purpose.

“Wow, Kindan, you get to ride dragons a lot!” Verilan called breathlessly as he and Nonala passed, last in the long line. Kindan smiled and, with a shrug, joined them as they trotted back toward the Harper Hall. Seeing him, Kelsa circled back from her position near the front of the group.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“I was a candidate,” Kindan replied.

“You were?” Verilan asked, eyes wide. “For a dragon?”

Kindan nodded. The realization that, had things gone differently, he wouldn’t be here now but at High Reaches Weyr with a baby dragon all of his own suddenly burst upon him. The other day he had been too busy helping with the tragedy of Weyrwoman Jessala’s loss to consider his own situation fully.

“I’m not sorry you didn’t Impress,” Nonala said slowly. “I would have missed you.”

“I would have missed you, too,” Kindan confessed. He looked at the backs of the other runners. “Come on, you’d better catch up or you’ll get extra chores.”

Kindan knew that Masterharper Murenny would expect a full report as soon as he returned. With a wave, he parted from his friends as they headed for the apprentice dormitories and made his way up to the Masterharper’s quarters. It was only when he was outside that he considered that the Masterharper might still be asleep. His desire to “leave sleeping Masters lie” warred with his conviction that Murenny would want to know as soon as possible.

He had just raised his hand to knock on the door when he heard Master Murenny’s voice call through it: “Go to the kitchen, Kindan, and bring up some breakfast.”

“Yes, Master,” Kindan replied in astonishment. How had the Masterharper known he was outside the door? Kindan could guess that Masterharper Murenny would be expecting his report but even so…Kindan had been quiet on his way up the stairs. Somehow, the Masterharper always seemed to know.

Shaking his head ruefully, Kindan rushed back down the stairs and into the kitchen.

“Back from the Weyr?” Selora, the head cook, asked as soon as she saw him. She quickly piled a pitcher of
klah,
several mugs, and a plate of morning rolls onto a tray and thrust it into his arms.

“Thanks, Selora!” Kindan said, grinning at her.

She smiled back. “Get going! You know well enough not to keep harpers waiting for their food.”

Moving more slowly to avoid spilling or dropping anything, Kindan hustled back up to the Masterharper’s quarters. Overburdened, he balanced on one foot and used the other to knock on the door.

“Put it over there,” the Masterharper said, gesturing to a table even as he closed the door behind Kindan. Masterharper Murenny’s face was outlined with white stubble and his hair was still sleep-mussed.

Kindan placed the tray down carefully, then immediately opened his mouth to start his report, but Murenny restrained him with an upraised hand.

“Eat,” Murenny ordered. He poured two mugs of
klah
and handed one to Kindan. “Drink.”

Kindan complied and was surprised to discover how hungry and thirsty he really was. The Masterharper observed him silently throughout their meal with a kindly expression. When at last Kindan had leaned back from the tray, Master Murenny said, “Now, are you ready to report?”

Kindan nodded.

“First let me say that while I’m glad you’re here, I would have hoped that perhaps you hadn’t returned,” Master Murenny said.

Kindan shrugged; Master Murenny wasn’t saying anything he hadn’t already heard.

“I’m happy to be a harper,” Kindan said.

Master Murenny smiled. “You could still be a harper and ride a dragon, you know.”

“Only if I finish my training.” Kindan had been at the Harper Hall over a Turn and a half. Apprentices normally didn’t “walk the tables” to become journeymen until they been at the hall for at least three Turns, and more often, four.

Murenny nodded and motioned for Kindan to continue.

“I was present at the Hatching,” Kindan began and leaned back into his chair, getting comfortable. As he got deeper and deeper into the report, he found himself wondering how to set it to song and altered his sentences to be more melodic. In moments, all of Kindan’s fears and worries had faded away to be replaced only by the spoken song he was relaying.

“Well done, well done,” the Masterharper said when Kindan had finished. He sat briefly, lost in thought. When he looked up again, he murmured, “Well, Jessala has her rest at last. I imagine it won’t be long before B’ralar seeks his.”

“Why, Master?” Kindan asked, surprised that any dragonrider would consider such an act.

“Sometimes the heart gets so heavy that living is impossible,” Murenny told him. “Unless there’s something to replace a loss, a person just gives up.”

He leaned forward, looking Kindan in the eye. “‘Without hope, there is no future.’”

Kindan had heard that before. “Can’t we give him hope?”

Murenny shook his head. “We can only give him choices. Hope is something you find for yourself.”

Kindan nodded bleakly. Master Murenny noted his expression and smiled wryly. He leaned back, his eyes drifting to the ceiling. When he spoke again, his words were distant but heartfelt. “I hope you never feel that way.”

There was a moment’s silence finally broken by the Masterharper, who jumped up out of his chair decisively. “But now there’s work to be done, a tray to go back to the kitchen, and you to get to your classes.”

“Yes, Master,” Kindan agreed, glad to see the end of gloomy musings.

But it turned out, as the days rolled into seven, and the sevendays into months, that Kindan found himself lost in gloomy musings. He was distracted, wondering about Kisk—called Nuelsk, now—the green watch-wher he’d bonded with and then had released into Nuella’s care. At the time, his bonding with Kisk had seemed like imprisonment, but from the distance of memory, Kindan found himself remembering how kind the awkward, ugly green watch-wher had been, and how brave she had been at the end, to take Nuella on a never-before-attempted ride
between
to rescue the trapped miners. And he found himself wondering again what it would have been like to Impress a dragon, to have a pair of great, faceted eyes whirling anxiously for his well-being, to ride a dragon, to feed it firestone and watch it breathe flame.

His days were filled with feeling overwhelmed by his classes and his various inadequacies; he had neither Nonala’s skill at crafting song, nor the fierce dedication to the dry, dusty Records that made Verilan’s eyes bright with excitement. Oh, he could thwart silly pranks from older apprentices and he gave as good as he got, but
that
was hardly a harperly calling, and beyond that, Kindan could think of no talent in which he had a gift.

Except perhaps the drums. Drums on Pern were more than a way to keep a beat; they were the vital lifeblood of news between Holds and Crafts. Only a dragonrider could travel more swiftly than a drum message and, as drum messages were available to all, only the drums carried the full news of Pern.

Kindan took to drumming like he’d taken to the coal caves where he’d grown up. He would listen to the “First Call” of morning and the “Last Call” of night; he loved being the first one to decipher the codes; he loved wagering how long it would take Vaxoram who, like Kindan, seemed particularly good at nothing, to decipher the latest messages; and he loved how the words from distant places gave him the feel of a world-traveler, of someone connected with all the people of Pern.

He was worse at making drums than drumming on them. In fact, he couldn’t imagine how he could be worse at making things.

“You’ll get the hang of it, just keep trying,” Nonala had told him staunchly the day Kindan had mentioned it.

“You will,” Verilan had agreed, although Kindan felt that his agreement had been more out of loyalty than conviction. “And you’re so good at the codes.” Verilan had frowned; the drum codes were simply beyond him. He was built slightly and didn’t have the strength to make the big drums rebound with the volume needed to traverse outside of Fort Hold’s main valley, and his slow methodical ways made it difficult for him to decipher the multi-beat codes. By the time he’d deciphered the first beat, the second beat had already come and gone, lost forever.

Vaxoram took great pains to taunt Kindan on his failures. Kindan sometimes wondered if Vaxoram didn’t gloat over the lackings of others to distract himself from his own weaknesses, but the older apprentice’s relentless ways never gave much time to consider the ramifications.

The one thing that Vaxoram was good at was fencing. Finesse, naturally, was not the older apprentice’s forte, but his reach, endurance, and sheer brutality usually ensured his victory.

“You’ve no subtlety,” Master Detallor said to him at one of their practice sessions. He motioned to Kindan. “You should learn from this youngster. He seems to understand what I’m saying.”

Almost immediately Kindan wished that the Master hadn’t singled him out so; Vaxoram chose Kindan as his opponent for the next bout. It started well enough. Kindan got first touch, but then Vaxoram charged forward and—to Kindan’s utter astonishment—changed hands mid-strike, feinting with an empty right hand and striking a telling blow with the foil now in his left hand.

“Better,” Detallor said as Kindan staggered and grunted in pain. “But fighting left-handed won’t win against another left-hander,” Detallor warned, grabbing up a foil himself. “Here, let me show you.”

And he proceeded to administer a left-handed drubbing to Vaxoram that was so ferocious that Kindan forgot the bruise Vaxoram had made on his own chest.

Still, if it weren’t that Kindan wouldn’t give up on his dream of being a harper, and a Weyr harper at that, he would have left the Harper Hall to free himself from Vaxoram’s incessant prodding.

The autumn weather at Fort Hold was not as bitter as the biting cold Kindan had experienced at Camp Natalon in Crom Hold, but the rains seemed to last longer, the fogs of the morning were thicker and colder—sometimes lasting all day—and the miserable weather matched his miserable mood.

Two months after his return from High Reaches Weyr, Kindan found himself at the tail end of a wet morning run accompanied, as usual, by Verilan and Nonala. Verilan was coughing more than usual, a sure sign that he would be in the infirmary with a nasty cough before the end of the sevenday.

The rain had turned the path beside the road to brown mush, but the packed surface of the road was too hard on their feet so they stuck with the slick and muddy path. A noise from behind them startled them all, with Verilan losing his footing and Kindan plowing into him. Both went down and came up covered in muck and mud. Kelsa took one look at their bedraggled appearance and burst into giggles.

BOOK: Dragon Harper
5.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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