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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

Dragon Harper (9 page)

BOOK: Dragon Harper
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Kindan was surprised to see Vaxoram interrupt his last class of the day, Archiving with Master Resler. He thought perhaps that Vaxoram had misunderstood, but instead of approaching him, Vaxoram went directly to the Master and spoke quickly, pointing at Kindan.

“Kindan, you’re excused,” Resler called. “You’re to go up to the Hold—the eggs are hatching.” Kindan started to put away his work, as Master Resler was known for his fastidiousness.

“I’ll get that,” Vaxoram said, rushing to Kindan’s side.

“Meet me up there,” Kindan replied, scuttling out of the Archive Room.

Outside, in the Harper Hall courtyard, Kindan broke into a slow, steady trot. He and the other apprentices made the kilometer run every morning, so he was used to it, but he paced himself now, so that he’d arrive ready for anything. As he ran, he tried to recall everything that he knew about the clutch of fire-lizard eggs. M’tal had said that the eggs were actually the combination of two finds, that some might hatch before the others but that he was pretty certain that there would not be more than two days between the first and last hatching.

Of the seven eggs, only two were marked for the Harper Hall, his and one other. Kindan had heard that the second was to go to Issak, one of the younger journeyman harpers. Tenelin, the senior journeyman at the Harper Hall, had already had a chance and had failed to Impress his fire-lizard. Kindan had been surprised to hear that, as Tenelin had always struck him as a kind, considerate individual. But sometimes, Kindan reflected with growing unease, that wasn’t enough for a fire-lizard. Certainly it wasn’t enough on its own to Impress a dragon.

The rising slope slowed him down only a little and soon he was under the great arches of Fort Hold and sprinting into the courtyard proper, heading for the huge doors that opened into Fort’s Great Hall.

“The fire-lizard eggs, where are they?” Kindan called to one of the guards as he sped past.

“You’d better hurry,” the guard replied, gesturing to the far end of the hall, “they’re in the kitchen.”

Kindan increased his pace to a full run, his breath now coming in gasps and his sides aching with effort.

Kindan had no sooner entered Fort’s huge kitchen, a room nearly three times the size of the Harper Hall’s, when Issak’s voice called out, “Come on, Kindan, they’re hatching! One’s already gone
between.

Unless immediately fed—stuffed senseless, in fact—a fire-lizard would go
between
in search of food on its own, which meant that it would go wild and never be Impressed.

Kindan raced over to the hearth and took in the scene: there were several young men, Issak, and a girl somewhat older than Kindan. At that very instant, the egg nearest her burst open and a beautiful golden queen fire-lizard emerged, creeling with fear and hunger.

“Feed it,” Issak shouted, thrusting a bowl of scraps toward the girl.

But the girl did nothing, her eyes only on the gold fire-lizard, wide with both fear and amazement. In that instant, Kindan fell in love.

“Koriana!” An older woman’s voice called. Kindan turned to follow the voice and saw an older version of the girl, dressed all in finery—Lady Sannora, Fort’s Lady Holder.

Kindan dropped to the girl’s side, grabbed the bowl of scraps, and pulled one out of it. He thrust the wet bit of meat into one of the girl’s limp hands.

“You must feed her,” he said. “Feed her and make her come to you.”

Koriana jerked at his words and looked down to the piece of meat in her hand. Kindan put his hand over her forearm and guided it forward to the mouth of the fire-lizard. The little queen saw the meat and pounced, gobbling it down. Kindan grabbed another piece with his free hand and put it in Koriana’s hand, drawing it back slightly toward her lap.

“Kindan!” Issak called. “The other eggs, you need to pick one!”

“You said one had gone already,” Kindan protested.

“That was mine,” one of the Lord Holder’s sons declared. He gestured to Kindan. “You should have a chance. After all, you seem to have brought us luck, for Koriana at the very least.”

Kindan continued to pass scraps to Koriana, leaning so close that he could smell the fresh scent of her hair, the warmth of her trembling body. Her hair was honey blond and her eyes a brilliant blue. A smattering of freckles showed on her arms and Kindan guessed that she also had some on her face. She was breathing raggedly.

“Calm down, it’ll be all right,” Kindan told her soothingly. “You’re doing fine. Just feed her and have her come to you. You want her in your lap. Then feed her until she falls asleep.”

Kindan started to move but Koriana made a terrified sound and grabbed at him.

A figure came from around behind him. It was Vaxoram. He looked over at the rocking eggs and back to Kindan.

“Which one?” he asked Kindan. For a moment all eyes were on Kindan. He pointed to a brownish egg and Vaxoram retrieved it, bringing it and some warm sand close to Kindan, then he retreated silently.

Lady Sannora frowned as she noticed the raw, red scar under Vaxoram’s right eye and turned to scrutinize Kindan with a tight expression that Kindan didn’t see.

“Keep feeding her,” Kindan instructed Koriana, leaning back now a little from the intoxicating closeness of her.

In front of him, the brownish shell rocked hard and cracked. Kindan tensed, grabbed a handful of scraps with his other hand, and held it above the shell. In a moment a head emerged and creeled. Kindan fed it a scrap. The fire-lizard hatchling shook its egg and burst it still further, reaching for the next scrap. Kindan fed it, then pulled his hand back.

“Come on,” he called soothingly. “There’s plenty here. You can have it all, come on.”

The hatchling burst out of its egg and took an awkward step toward Kindan and another scrap of food.

Beside him, Kindan heard Koriana speak in imitation, “Come on, you beauty, have another.”

“Come on,” Kindan said. He was surprised to see that his fire-lizard was bronze. He’d thought he’d picked a brown. “Oh, you’re such a pretty one, aren’t you?” he murmured encouragingly. “You’re so clever, too! Come on, come a little closer.”

“Come on, my beauty, come closer,” Koriana cooed. Kindan glanced at her long enough to grin and was rewarded with the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen. It was with an effort that he turned back to his fire-lizard.

It took only a few more minutes to get his fire-lizard perched in his lap, stuffed with scraps. Beside him, Koriana’s gold had found her way into
her
lap also and had curled up, fast asleep.

“What do I do now?” Koriana murmured fearfully to Kindan.

“Stroke her,” he told her. “Stay with her while she sleeps. Feed her when she wakes up.”

He looked down to his own fire-lizard and stroked the bronze beauty softly. Soon the miniature dragon had also curled up comfortably and, with a final shiver of abandon, fallen asleep. He turned back to Koriana, still oblivious to the others. “What are you going to name her?”

Koriana’s lips tightened into a frown as she thought. “Koriss,” she said finally. “She shall be Koriss.” She looked at Kindan and his heart leapt as she smiled and asked, “And yours?”

“Valla.” The name seemed right the moment he said it.

Two eggs remained unhatched and unmoving.

“M’tal said that there were two different clutches,” Kindan announced when he noted Lord Bemin and his Lady Sannora exchange concerned looks.

“But when will we know that they’re hatching?” Lord Bemin asked.

“M’tal said that they should hatch within two days of each other,” Kindan replied.

Lord Bemin looked relieved. He glanced at Kindan with his bronze fire-lizard in his lap and then at Koriana with her gold fire-lizard. A frown crossed his face as he noticed how closely the harper was seated to his eldest daughter.

“Could you stay here tonight?” Lady Sannora asked Kindan. “I’ll send word to the Hall—”

“I could go,” Vaxoram offered.

“Could you?” Lady Sannora asked, her face brightening with relief. Vaxoram glanced at Kindan, asking, “Is that all right?”

“Certainly,” Kindan replied. “I’ll be back in the morning.”

“You’d trust me on my own?” Vaxoram asked with just a hint of surprise in his tone.

Kindan turned his head and probingly locked eyes with Vaxoram for a long moment before nodding.

“Go carefully, the roads can get slick at this time of night,” Issak advised. Vaxoram nodded, bowed to Lord Bemin and Lady Sannora, then left swiftly.

“That boy!” Lady Sannora exclaimed to her husband. “Did you see the scar under his eye?”

“He was fighting,” Lord Bemin replied, turning his head to eye Kindan thoughtfully. “There was a duel. He lost.”

“I don’t approve of duels,” Lady Sannora pronounced, her face set in a grimace. “What overmuscled cretin picked a fight with him?”

Lord Bemin raised an eyebrow in Kindan’s direction.

“I did,” Kindan said, meeting the Lord’s and Lady’s outraged looks steadily, though he felt the heat in his cheeks. “He had threatened to use his strength over a woman,” he explained. With a shrug, he added, “Several women, actually.”

“Why didn’t you kill him?” Bemin’s eldest son, Semin, demanded.

“Because, my lord,” Kindan replied, “I believe in second chances.”

Semin was surprised at Kindan’s response.

“And because it would have done more harm than good,” Issak chimed in from the other side. He inclined his head toward Kindan. “Master Murenny recounted your thinking to me.”

Was there a hint of respect in the journeyman’s eyes?

“Well!” Lady Sannora said in surprise.

“Well,” Lord Bemin agreed, “we have offered our hospitality for the night; please do not hesitate to ask for anything you need.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Kindan replied, fully aware of the emphasis the Lord Holder had placed on “the night”—and the implication that Kindan was expected to leave in the morning.

Koriana had listened to the exchange through half-lidded eyes as though drowsing, but Kindan had noticed that she had opened them once or twice with such haste that he wondered if she hadn’t been feigning her fatigue. Now she spoke up. “Father, could you have pillows and blankets brought to us?”

“Us?” Lady Sannora repeated in surprise.

“I don’t want to disturb Koriss,” Koriana said, bending her head toward the fire-lizard sleeping in her lap. “And I might need help if she wakes in the night. I’m sure Issak and”—here Kindan felt her eyes upon him—“Kindan will keep me company.”

“Of course,” Issak declared instantly, flicking a half-wink toward Kindan. Kindan, wisely, said nothing.

“Very well,” Bemin agreed, although he had a hard time veiling an uneasy glance in Kindan’s direction. He signaled the hearth drudge to comply with Koriana’s request. Once another drudge was dispatched for the requisite sleeping gear, the hearth drudge returned to her task of carefully banking the kitchen’s great fire. Issak, Kindan, and Koriana arranged themselves comfortably when the blankets and pillows arrived.

“Good night then,” Sannora called from the entranceway as the last of the glows were turned.

“Good night, Mother,” Koriana called sleepily over her shoulder and curled her body around her gold fire-lizard. Kindan emulated her in the same direction so that they looked like a large pair of Cs shielding small fire-lizard dots.

“Good night, my lady,” Issak said formally.

“Sleep peacefully, my lady,” Kindan said.

After a moment the last of the footsteps dwindled into silence and they were left with the crackle of the coal fire, the smell of smoke, warm scraps, and scented pillows. Just before he dozed off, Kindan thought he detected the faintest smell of Koriana’s hair.

He woke much later in the middle of the night and turned quickly to see Koriana staring at him.

“She’s up, what do I do?” the girl whispered frantically.

“Feed her, soothe her, get her back to sleep,” Kindan replied softly, groping for and pushing a bowl of scraps her way. He examined the belly of his bronze fire-lizard carefully but Valla made no motions toward wakefulness.

“Help me,” Koriana whispered in despair. Kindan rolled over, carefully rolling Valla into his lap, and turned around to face Koriana. He passed her scraps that she fed her fire-lizard until, finally, the hungry gold’s eyes slowly faded in the firelight as she fell back to sleep. Kindan watched Koriana for a moment more. He was surprised when the girl reached out and grabbed his hand, clasping it with hers.

“Thank you,” she said.

Kindan nodded. Very carefully, he stretched himself out, still facing her, and rolled over, depositing Valla in the center of a bundle of blankets. Reaching behind him, he pulled another blanket over himself.

Koriana followed suit, but being taller than Kindan, she had trouble getting her blanket to cover her. In moments she was shivering. Kindan raised a finger to his lips to caution her to silence, then reached further over his shoulder and pulled more blanket over himself and on top of her. Koriana smiled gratefully at him and then snuggled closer, so close that their two fire-lizards were almost touching. Koriana leaned forward, her head resting lightly against his. Her knees brushed his. In moments she was asleep.

Kindan did not fall asleep until much later.

BOOK: Dragon Harper
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