Heart, give voice to sing
Of life on dragonwings!
Fort Weyr, AL 507.11.17, Second Interval
“...and you wouldnt believe how many holders theyve saved over the last ten Turns,” Benden Weyrleader Mtal said, continuing to press his case for the watch- whers.
The three remaining Weyrleaders had adjourned to Fort Weyrs Council Room to await the Hatching and confer.
Crion of Ista Weyr snorted and shook his head. “Im sorry, Mtal, but the times all wrong,” he said. “Threads will be falling all too soon and here you are with this radical notion of training dragons and watch- whers to ﬂy Threads together at night.”
Mtal took a slow, calming breath to stiﬂe the hot retort he wanted to make. He looked expectantly to Klior.
The youngest Weyrleader of Pern shifted uneasily under the gray- haired mans gaze. Well aware that Mtal had been a Weyrleader since before Klior was born, he found it hard to refute such a length of experience. Of course, Crion was even older still and had made his feelings well- known.
“Look,” Mtal began again, his hands outstretched in a placating gesture, “just think-”
He broke off as his ears detected the unmistakable hum of dragons at Hatching. He smiled and gestured at Klior. “Weyrleader?”
Klior was already on his feet and heading for the doorway that led to the Hatching Grounds.
Kindan and Kentai, Fort Weyrs harper, were waiting on the stairs to the viewing stands in the Hatching Grounds, ready to escort the more feeble or overly- excited holders up to a good perch. Kindan nodded to Mtal as the Weyrleader passed by, still engrossed in fervent conversation with the Istan and Fort Weyrleaders.
“I see Dgan has departed,” Kentai murmured to Kindan as the Weyrleaders climbed out of earshot.
Kindan shrugged. He knew that Mtal had not been counting on Dgans support anyway. He was less pleased at the looks hed seen on Crions and Kliors faces-neither looked very thrilled with what Mtal was saying to them. Kindan, who was familiar with Mtals plan, shook his head. Couldnt the other Weyrleaders see that watch- whers, with their night- seeing eyes, were supposed to ﬂy the night Threadfalls?
“Lord Itaral, Lady Nelyssa,” Kentai called as he spotted the Lord and Lady Holders of Ruatha Hold. He smiled as he spotted the third person in their party. “I see that youve convinced Lady Ilyssa to join you this time.” He nodded to their young daughter and raised an elbow invitingly. “May I escort you to your seats?”
Ilyssa blushed, but, overcoming her embarrassed smile, curtsied most elegantly and took his arm.
“This is Kindan,” Kentai said with a nod toward the other harper. “Hes come with Lord Mtal from Benden Weyr.”
Lady Nelyssa started at his name and peered at him more closely. “Arent you the one-” She caught herself and rapidly switched her comment. “-I mean, arent you the young man who gave up his watch- wher to Nuella, the WherMaster?”
“Among other things, I am known for that,” Kindan agreed, inclining his head politely and giving her a slight smile. He knew what shed started to say, and wondered if he would ever live down the stigma of the ﬁre in the Harper Halls Archive rooms. He hadnt been solely responsible, after all, and hed fought the hardest to put the blaze out, preserving countless other Records . . .
Before he could even react to the sound of his name, the speaker pummeled into him, clutching him tightly about the waist and trying her best to squeeze the breath out of him. Brilliant sea- blue eyes looked out from behind a lock of rebellious honey- blond hair as the youngster turned her head and called back accusingly to the well- dressed Lord Holder behind her, “You didnt tell me hed be here!”
Bemin of Fort Hold smiled indulgently at his daughter. “There are such things as surprises, Fiona,” he said with a wink.
“Oh, Kindan, its so good to see you!” Fiona exclaimed, burying her face once more in Kindans chest.
“Its good to see you, too,” Kindan replied. He held out a hand to Fort Holds Lord Holder. The older man, face lined with age and sad memories, took it in his own and gripped it tightly.
“Good to see you again, lad,” Bemin said. He looked up the stairs. “I think wed better get up there or the dragons will all have hatched.”
Fiona turned toward the steps, ﬁrmly locking her arms around Kindans elbow. “Harper Kindan,” she said, sounding every inch a Lord Holders daughter, “would you do me the honor of escorting me?”
“It would be my pleasure, Lady Fiona,” Kindan replied with equal aplomb. A bronze ﬁre- lizard darted down from the heights, alighted for a moment on Kindans shoulder, chirped happily to him, then rose again in the air.
Lord Bemin chuckled. “I see that Valla followed you.”
“I cant keep him away from a Hatching,” Kindan confessed. He craned his neck up and scanned the swarm of ﬁre- lizards overhead. “Where are Jokester and Fire?”
“We left them behind,” Bemin said. “I doubt either of them is as well- trained as yours.”
“Well, theyve barely two Turns out of the shell,” Kindan allowed. “Give them time.”
“Like all youngsters, they are impetuous and brash,” Bemin agreed with a twinkle in his eyes. “Why, you would not believe where I found my daughter-”
“Father!” Fiona protested, a warm blush highlighting her freckles. Bemin laughed.
“Chasing tunnel snakes again?” Kindan asked her in a voice pitched for her ears alone.
He was not successful, as Bemin snorted, saying, “I cannot teach her any decorum at all!” He continued, “She was hours in the bath and Im sure theres still dirt on her.”
Kindan felt Fiona grab him tighter and heard her groan, but when he glanced down he saw the smile in her eyes.
“Hes sounding much happier,” he said quietly.
“He deserves it,” Fiona replied.
Kindan nodded in agreement. Lord Holder Bemin had kept his Hold together twelve Turns before when the Plague had struck and killed nearly one in four of his Holders, including his wife and all his children, save for the youngest, Fiona.
Kindan, sent from the Harper Hall to Fort Hold in disgrace after the ﬁre, had helped Forts old Healer, Kilti, to do everything possible for the sick and dying. In the end, Kilti had succumbed to the Plague himself, leaving Kindan, at fourteen, in charge.
Fiona cocked her head at a change in the sound and then leapt up the steps, dragging Kindan along. “Come on, theyre hatching!”
Indeed they were. Kindan, Fiona, and Bemin found seats saved for them next to Lord Itaral and his family.
“Just some greens,” Ilyssa assured Fiona as she patted the empty seat shed saved for her friend. Fiona relinquished her grip on Kindan with an apologetic look and happily took her place beside Ilyssa. The two leaned toward each other and began to speak in low voices.
The hot sands rapidly ﬁlled with white- robed candidates, ﬂown in by Fort Weyrs bronze dragons. The rest of Forts dragons, perched high above, hummed in welcome, the sound growing louder as the eggs began to rock and crack.
Suddenly there was a hush as the ﬁrst egg cracked open. A brown dragonet ﬂopped out, awkward and creeling. A group of candidates darted anxiously around it-some moving toward it, some away. And then-one candidate reached out to the baby dragon and Impressed. The dragons hummed approvingly.
Another dragonet burst forth from its egg, and another, and another. From the stands, it seemed as though of tide of white- robed candidates ﬂowed and ebbed around the blue, green, brown, and bronze dragonets until, ﬁnally, one white- robed ﬁgure stood protectively beside each dragonet as the miracle of Impression was repeated.
“Look there!” Fiona called, pointing toward one of the larger eggs. “Is that a queen?”
“It could be,” Kindan said. A great rent appeared in the shell, followed moments later by a golden head. “It is!”
The little queen made quick work of extricating herself from her egg while all around the bronzes crooned excitedly. Freed at last, the little gold queen walked around, looking from one candidate to another.
“What would happen if there wasnt a suitable candidate?” Fiona muttered to Kindan, who shrugged in response. The girls were trying; one bold girl just barely dodged the dragonets awkward movements, pulled aside at the last moment by a shorter, younger, dark- haired girl.
Kentai had overheard the exchange. “There are Records,” he said, looking uncomfortable.
“Well, shes coming this way,” Ilyssa noted with excitement.
“Were near the exit to the Bowl,” Kentai remarked. “Maybe shes looking for someone out there.”
She wasnt. Still ignoring the girls clustered around her, even the bold dark- haired one that Fiona would have thought shed like, the dragonet lurched over to the visitor stands. She looked up into the stands and creeled desperately. Kindan and Bemin exchanged alarmed looks as the little gold gazed toward Fiona. Fionas eyes grew wide with shock and she glanced worriedly at Lord Bemin. Bemin seemed to wilt in despair-Fiona was his last surviving child-but he recovered and nodded weakly.
“Whats her name?” he asked his daughter, gesturing to the gold below and forcing his lips into a smile.
The dragonet creeled again piteously and Fiona turned back to her, her face glowing in pure joy as she declared, “She says her name is Talenth!”
Kindan picked out Klior and Cisca climbing down the stairs toward them. It was obvious from the look on her face that Cisca had taken in the full import of the event. She would handle things from here. Kindan, who, after all, was beholden to Benden not Fort Weyr, turned away for a last look at the now empty Hatching Grounds.
For a moment, a very brief moment, before the egg had proved to be a gold, Kindan had imagined what might have happened if he had Impressed. A chirp from above distracted him as his ﬁre-lizard, Valla, swooped down from his perch above, pleased with himself for locating Kindan and thrilled to have seen the Hatching.
Kindan shook himself from his reverie. He had been a miner, had bonded with a watch- wher, the dragons kin, and now he was a harper who had Impressed a ﬁre- lizard. The Red Star was approaching, bringing the deadly Threads, and everything would change when the dragons began the ﬁfty- Turn battle to save Pern from extinction. Vaguely Kindan wondered if he would live to see the end of the Pass and the return of the less trying times he had been born into.
The beating of a drum, the call to dinner, and a personal plea from Kentai for help in entertaining the revelers spurred Kindan up and out of the Hatching Grounds. At the entrance, he turned back once more, unable to contain his longing.
Kindan couldnt remember who waved him toward the sleeping quarters or quite how he got himself into bed. The evening had been a raucous celebration at which he had sung much, danced much, and drank much-far more than his usual. He had no idea why hed drunk so much, nor why hed worked so hard that evening . . . until he woke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
The Weyr was silent, but the silence seemed more oppressive than comforting. The sound of his labored breathing came harshly to his ears and he sat up in his cot, glancing around nervously to check if his nightmare had disturbed anyone else to whom hed have to make a quick apology.
He heard no one.
In the distance a dragonet creeled uneasily. Then silence.
Kindan sighed and swung his legs over the side of the cot.
It wasnt as if he was the only one who had nightmares of the Plague, but he hadnt had many in the past several Turns, so he was surprised that hed had one now. Something about the day before must have reminded him subconsciously, so that he sang so hard and drank so much to keep away the pain. Not that it had worked, obviously.
The Plague that had swept across Pern and then-just as quickly-disappeared, had struck when he had only fourteen Turns, leaving him solely in charge of Fort Holds sick when the aged healer had himself succumbed to the disease. So many had died.
So many, including Koriana, Lord Bemins daughter and Fionas older sister.
“Koriana,” Kindan whispered. The sound of her name brought both joy and pain, like a rose: pretty smell, prickly thorns. He shook his head. “Im sorry.”
I tried, he thought. But he wondered, as he always wondered: Did I try hard enough?
Resolutely, Kindan lay back in the cot and closed his eyes. Presently, his breathing eased and he relaxed, but he did not sleep. And in that space between sleeping and waking, he heard the sound of a dragon departing between.
Talenths creel woke Fiona instantly.
What is it? she asked, jumping out of her bed and rushing to the young queens lair.
He hurts, Talenth whimpered. Fiona knelt and pulled the young queens head into her lap.
Im sorry, she thought to her dragon, gently caressing the leathery hide.
He hurts and you feel it, Talenth said. How is it that you feel it?
Fiona furrowed her brow in surprise. At ﬁrst she thought that Talenth was referring to her father, but then she forced herself to be honest. She had wheedled and whined her very best to convince her father to bring her to this Hatching, all because she knew that Kindan would be here.
I dont know, she confessed. I just do. Im sorry that it hurts you, too.
Can you help him?
Fiona bent to cradle Talenths head with her whole body. Im not sure, she said. But deep inside her, Fiona knew that was a lie. As she considered it, she heard a noise-a dragon going between.
Weve been here long enough, lets go, the rider thought to the dragon under her.
As you wish, the dragon responded. With a great heave of its hind legs, the dragon leapt into the air and went between.