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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

Dragon Harper (4 page)

BOOK: Dragon Harper
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“You two!” she said, still giggling. “You look like you’ve been out making mud pies.”

Nonala said nothing, but she couldn’t keep a smile from her lips.

Verilan scowled at them. Kindan, meanwhile, had turned around to spot the source of the noise. It was difficult in the fog and rain. Finally he made out a huge dark shape in the distance.

“A dragon!”

“What will we do?” Nonala moaned. “We’re not fit to greet him.”

“Well, we can’t just turn away,” Verilan said, his last word breaking into a cough.

Kindan nodded and started walking toward the dragon, searching for its rider. The others followed reluctantly, Nonala occasionally making small distressed noises to herself.

As they approached, the figure of a tall man carrying a heavy object resolved itself out of the rain.

“Kindan!” the rider exclaimed. It was M’tal, Benden’s Weyrleader. “Just who I was looking for—” He stopped as he took in the sight of their mud-covered bodies. His mouth quirked into a grin. “Slipped?”

Kindan grunted and smiled back. “Yes, my lord.”

“It’s M’tal to you,” the Weyrleader replied firmly. He nodded to the three figures huddling behind him. “Who are your friends?”

Kindan turned to introduce them. “This is Nonala, that’s Kelsa, and this—” He was interrupted briefly when Verilan erupted into another coughing fit. “—is Verilan.”

“You should see the healer, immediately,” M’tal said, his voice suddenly full of concern. He moved toward Verilan, then suddenly remembered his burden and thrust it toward Kindan. “Carry this, while I carry him,” he instructed.

“No, no, I’m all right,” Verilan protested, horrified at the thought of the dragonrider getting covered in mud.

“No, you’re not,” Nonala told him. M’tal nodded in agreement, grabbing Verilan by the waist and hoisting him off the ground. He carried the boy like a small child.

“You’re lighter than a sack of firestone,” he assured the horror-stricken young harper. With a smile, M’tal said to Kindan, “And, thanks to your friend, firestone can get as wet as you are now.”

Verilan glanced in surprise at Kindan.

Somewhat guiltily, Kindan realized that he hadn’t had time since his return to the Harper Hall to fill his friends in on the discovery that there were two types of firestone: the traditional firestone, which exploded on contact with water, and the newly rediscovered firestone, which didn’t explode when in contact with water—the firestone that had given the fire-lizards their name.

“Firestone explodes when wet,” Verilan declared stubbornly.

“Not anymore,” M’tal assured him as they trudged under the arches of the Harper Hall.

“Wow, Kindan!” Verilan called over the dragonrider’s shoulder.

“Yes, wow, Kindan, why didn’t you tell your friends?” Kelsa repeated sourly, glaring at him. Kindan made a helpless, apologetic gesture, which only earned him a further glare.

“Kindan, you’ll need to get your bundle to a hearth,” M’tal said, “and I’ll need one of you others to guide me to the infirmary.”

“A hearth?” Nonala asked, glancing closely at the bundle Kindan was carrying. For the first time, Kindan noticed the bundle in his arms; he’d been more concerned with Verilan. It was heavy, and wrapped well in thick wher-hide. There was some sort of bucket inside the wrapping—he could feel the shape pressing through the fabric.

“They need to be kept warm,” M’tal said. “I’m afraid I could only get two for the Harper Hall; the rest are for Lord Holder Bemin.”

“Fire-lizard eggs?” Kindan asked, his voice rising, his eyes going wide.

“Not the same as dragon, I know,” M’tal called over his shoulder as he followed after Kelsa, “nor even a watch-wher. Master Murenny agreed that one would be for you.”

“Thank you!” Kindan shouted as M’tal headed up the stairs. Holding his bundle tighter, he increased his pace as he veered toward the kitchen. Nonala tagged along after him.

“Fire-lizard eggs!” she repeated, her step changing almost to the sort of bounce that Kelsa most often preferred. “I wonder who will get the other one?”

Kindan shook his head. As exciting as the fire-lizard eggs were, his thoughts had already turned back to Verilan. The younger boy was always getting sick, especially in winter. Kindan was particularly alarmed that M’tal had decided to bring him to the infirmary immediately, even before seeing the Masterharper.

“What are you doing here?” Selora demanded as she spied them. “You’re all wet and mucked up! Don’t you know—” She spied the bundle Kindan had in his arms. “What’s that?”

“Fire-lizard eggs,” Kindan told her quickly. “I’m sorry, Selora, but Weyrleader M’tal said that they needed to get to the hearth immediately.”

“Of course they do,” Selora snapped, grabbing the wher-hide bundle out of Kindan’s arms and placing it on the stone-covered floor near the hearth. Deftly, she unwrapped it while Kindan bent down beside her and Nonala hovered anxiously nearby.

“You’re shivering!” Selora declared as she glanced first at Kindan and then at Nonala. “You need a warm bath, both of you.” Her eyes narrowed. “And where are the other two, your accomplices?”

“M’tal took Verilan up to the infirmary,” Kindan began.

“The infirmary?” Selora exclaimed. “He’s not hurt, is he?”

“He’s coughing again,” Nonala said in her mother-hen voice. Kindan could never understand how a girl with three older brothers could be so motherly, but that was how Nonala was.

“You, then,” Selora snapped to Nonala peremptorily, “up to the baths. Throw the boys out—they’ve been in too long if they’re still there.”

Nonala froze, her eyes going to Kindan, and Kindan started to rise, torn between the fire-lizards and protecting his friend from the older apprentices.

The interplay was not lost on Selora. “So, it’s that way, is it?” she asked, nodding sagely. Neither Kindan nor Nonala was able to get a half-formed protest spoken out loud as Selora barreled over them. “I’d thought so, but I wasn’t certain.” She glanced at Kindan. “You follow her up, then, and make sure she’s not harassed.” As Kindan made to protest, Selora shushed him with a hand, her expression softening. “I’ve looked after fire-lizard eggs before, you know,” she told them. With a wave of her hand, she said, “Now, go! Both of you, and both of you in the baths.” Her waved hand turned to a pointed finger as she continued, “And mind you, not the same one, either!”

Nonala and Kindan, both too red with embarrassment to respond, hustled mutely out of the room.

“I’ll send someone up with more coals,” Selora called after them, searching the kitchen for a likely candidate. Not surprisingly, she had no lack of volunteers, all hoping that the fire-lizard eggs would hatch in their presence.

There were still several apprentices up in the dormitory, including Vaxoram.

“Where were you?” he demanded as they entered. “And where are the other two?”

“Infirmary,” Kindan replied tersely. “Selora sent us up for baths.”

“Are you going to wash her back?” Vaxoram asked, smirking vulgarly. He was rewarded with a scattering of chuckles. “Mind you, she’s still a bit young, but so are—”

“Shut up!” Kindan shouted, his eyes narrowed, fists clenched at his side.

“Kindan…” Nonala said soothingly at his side, as though encouraging him to drop it.

“No,” Kindan told her firmly. He turned back to Vaxoram, raising his head to stare at the taller boy. “You apologize.”

“To her?” Vaxoram demanded, a sneer on his face.

“To both of us,” Kindan replied, stepping toward the older apprentice. Kindan was shivering, and he realized that not all of it was with rage; some of it was from the cold, wet clothing he wore.

Vaxoram peered down at him consideringly. He shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Kindan’s temper snapped. In a move that surprised him, he swung his arm swiftly, palm open, and slapped Vaxoram hard on the cheek.

“I challenge you,” he declared.

“Kindan, no!” Nonala cried.

But a hot, burning anger had overcome Kindan and her words didn’t even register.

“Challenge me? Do you think the Masters will permit it?” Vaxoram snorted. He bore down on Kindan. “No, I’ll beat you to a pulp here and now, and you’ll not tell anyone, or I’ll do it to you
and
your friends.”

Some of the other apprentices looked at one another apprehensively.

“Kindan,” Nonala pleaded. Kindan heard her worry for him, but he also felt her concern for the long-term repercussions. She knew as well as he did that if he gave in now, Vaxoram would not only torment him more but would also see it as permission to harass both Nonala and Kelsa. He couldn’t allow that, no matter what.

“No, you won’t,” he said. “And if you beat me, I’ll still be here and I won’t give in.”

“Let’s see,” Vaxoram said, slamming a fist down into Kindan’s nose and lips, pulping them.

Kindan felt his teeth rip into his lips and swallowed the hot blood that spewed from the tattered inside of his mouth. It only made him angrier. He swung, but Vaxoram had stepped back, smirking, admiring his handiwork. Then Vaxoram bore in again for another blow to Kindan’s jaw, but before he connected, a voice rang out. “Hold!”

Everyone in the room froze as Weyrleader M’tal stormed into the room.

“What is going on here?” the dragonrider demanded, turning from Kindan to Vaxoram, his eyes narrowing as he took in Nonala’s distraught, teary-eyed face.

“I challenge Vaxoram,” Kindan said, his words slurred with blood and pain. “I call him a coward and a bully and a man who would use his strength to have a woman.”

There were gasps from the entire room, including M’tal and Nonala. Eyes locked onto Kindan. In front of him, Vaxoram’s anger was a palpable thing; the older lad’s breathing was ragged and outraged.

Kindan had issued the harshest condemnation possible of a man on Pern—that he would use his strength to overpower a woman.

“I demand the right of cold steel,” Vaxoram responded through clenched teeth, his eyes tight, beady, and glaring angrily down at Kindan’s bloody face.

“You shall have it,” Kindan replied, matching the taller lad’s glare. He caught the look of surprise in Vaxoram’s eyes and, deeper under it, a flash of fear.

“Kindan!” Nonala shouted. “No! He’ll kill you.”

“Are you certain of this, Kindan?” M’tal asked intently.

“Yes,” Kindan said.

“And if you prove your claim?” M’tal asked. In a duel such as this, if Kindan prevailed, he had the right to exact whatever penalty he desired, given the severity of the claim.

Kindan stared up coldly into Vaxoram’s eyes and saw the fear grow there. Kindan could have Vaxoram banished from the Harper Hall. Kindan knew that before coming to the Harper Hall, Vaxoram had been the son of a minor holder. If banished, Vaxoram would certainly not be accepted back by his family, particularly under such shame. Banishing Vaxoram would be worse than Shunning him, and Kindan had seen enough of Shunning. His thoughts turned to C’tov and his Shunned father.

“He’ll serve me,” he said.

“Never!” Vaxoram roared.

“Heard and witnessed,” M’tal declared, overriding Vaxoram. He looked at the older apprentice. “And what is your penalty?”

Kindan met Vaxoram’s eyes. He could see clearly that the older apprentice intended to kill him. He was pretty sure that if Vaxoram succeeded, he’d be asked to leave the Harper Hall anyway—no one would tolerate a killer in their midst. Something else flickered in Vaxoram’s eyes, then he said, “He’s to be banished.” He gave Kindan a gloating look. “For lying.”

“Very well,” M’tal said. “I’ve heard and witnessed both claims.” He turned to Vaxoram. “You are to report this to the Masterharper.” He glanced at Kindan and Nonala. “Selora told me that she sent you to the baths. Get going now.”

Kindan nodded and, numbly, trotted over to the bath rooms. He was inside and peeling off his clothes before he heard the rustle of the curtain and felt Nonala enter beside him.

The bath room was laid out with four large baths in the middle and a row of showers along each wall. When Kindan and the others bathed, by unspoken agreement they turned away from each other as they undressed and got into their baths, respecting each other’s privacy. They never spoke until they were safely in their baths, usually covered by bubbles. When they showered, they followed the same rules, keeping their eyes on the wall in front of them and being respectful.

Now, however, Nonala spoke while she was disrobing. “I could have taken care of myself,” she told him, her anger barely masking her concern.

He pointed to his mangled lips. “But could you have sung afterward?”

She sloughed off the last of her clothes and hopped into her bath, churning up bubbles with both hands.

“No,” she admitted after a moment.

Kindan stepped into his own bath and sank down quickly into the water. The water was only warm, not hot enough to reach the cold that had settled deep into his bones. He heard a happy groan from Nonala and looked over at her.

“It feels so good to stop shivering,” she told him.

A moment later, two apprentices called from the outside of the room, “Can we come in? We’ve got coals.”

“Come in,” Nonala told them.

BOOK: Dragon Harper
2.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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