Authors: Anne McCaffrey
“You’re lucky Cristov didn’t catch you,” Kindan remarked.
Nuella shook her head. “I’d smell him at least a dragonlength away—he wears that awful scent his mother likes.” She frowned in thought. “I wonder how good Kisk’s sense of smell is.”
The others considered her comment silently.
“I imagine we’ll find out,” Master Zist answered finally. He rose and stretched. “But not tonight. Nuella, it’s time for your lessons.”
“We could do them here,” she suggested hopefully.
“No, Zenor’s got to get some sleep,” the Harper replied. “I can’t ask him to stay here the extra hours it would take to finish your lessons before he walks you home.”
Zenor grimaced. “Master Zist is right. Mother needs me even now that Renna’s gotten big enough to look after the others some more.”
“She’s doing most of the work Kindan used to do, isn’t she?” Nuella remarked. Master Zist cleared his throat warningly. Nuella frowned at the noise and turned back to Kindan. “It’s not as though you could do all your old work
look after a new hatchling, too, you know.”
“I suppose,” Kindan agreed morosely. “But it seems that
I do is look after the hatchling.”
Zenor gave him a commiserating look. “She’ll grow up before you know it, Kindan. And then you can help us in the mines.”
With that bit of encouragement, they left. Kindan curled up in a warm spot, and Kisk draped herself over and around him with a series of chirps and squeals. But she didn’t sleep. First she twitched one way and then she twitched another way. Kindan moved away from her, but Kisk moved back toward him and curled up again.
Kindan was finally drifting toward sleep when a warm tongue licked along the side of his jaw. Kindan blearily opened one eye and saw that Kisk was lying next to him, her head raised to look him in the face. He made a soothing sound and closed his eye.
He was licked on the other cheek. He opened both eyes. Kisk cocked her head at him and, with a chirp, darted her tongue out to lick him on the chin.
“Hey! Stop it!” Kindan shouted grumpily. Kisk recoiled at his tone and made a sad click. “I’m tired, it’s time to sleep—oh, no! Don’t tell me that you’re not tired!” Please don’t tell me you’re not tired, he thought to himself.
Within five minutes Kisk had made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t tired at all. In fact, she wanted to play. She found one of his shoes and grabbed it in her mouth, tossing it in the air and catching it with a claw, and then tossing it back to catch it with her jaw again.
“Hey, that’s my shoe,” Kindan complained, grabbing for it. In a moment, as the little watch-wher tossed it out of his grasp, he realized that he’d made a big mistake. He had taught Kisk the fun game of finder’s-keepers. It took him ten minutes and a handful of scraps to get his shoe back.
And still Kisk showed no signs of sleepiness. Instead, she started rooting around the shed. She grabbed the curtain with a claw and played at flipping it back and forth, pausing at first when the outdoor light startled her. She hissed and turned her head away hastily, but after a moment, she turned back to the dim night light and stuck her head under the curtain.
Kindan found himself leaping to his feet to grab Kisk’s tail before she could dart out. As it was, it took all of his effort to get her to hold still long enough for him to hastily rig a halter out of some old rope before she tugged him outdoors—no mean feat for a creature that was barely up to his kneecaps.
“Okay, okay!” Kindan said as the watch-wher pulled him down toward the lake. “We’re going to the lake, Kisk, is that what you want?” He remembered how Zenor had talked to his littlest sister, always telling her what she was seeing and what was happening. So he began a narration of their journey down to the lakeside where Kisk sniffed at the water and, after a few daring darts of her tongue, lapped up a good several mouthfuls of fresh water.
“Were you thirsty, then?” Kindan asked. “Did you want to get a drink?” Kisk looked up at him, blinked her big eyes, and gave a little cheep that Kindan couldn’t interpret.
“Apparently not,” he muttered to himself when the watch-wher yanked her head around and nearly pulled Kindan off his feet.
“Those are the cots, Kisk, you don’t want to go there,” Kindan told her. “People are sleeping and they aren’t much fun.”
But Kisk wasn’t interested in that; what had caught her attention was the forest just beyond the line of cabins. She sniffed about at the smaller plants, tried and spat out any number of bushes—fortunately Kindan knew of none in the vicinity that were poisonous, or he would have been more worried—and worked her way up alongside the pathway that led back toward Kindan’s old, now Tarik’s, house.
“Are you ready to go to sleep?” he asked, keeping his voice low and soft in hopes of inspiring his charge. Kisk looked up at him and gave him a wide-awake
which was anything
reassuring. She started sniffing toward Tarik’s cothold, and Kindan grew alarmed at the notion of attracting Tarik’s attention and, doubtless, wrath.
Somehow Kisk must have guessed his feelings, for she made another little inquisitive noise, sniffed at him, snorted at the house, and turned her attention elsewhere. She bounded toward a bush and hissed angrily at it.
It was then that Kindan realized they were not alone.
“She won’t bite, will she?” whoever was hiding behind the bush asked nervously. It was Cristov.
“She bit me,” Kindan said irritably, lying to impress him. Kisk looked back at him and snorted. “But that’s because I was blooded to her, you see.”
Cristov stepped out from behind the bush. “She’s pretty small,” he noted. “Were her teeth sharp?”
Kindan held out his bandaged hand. “See for yourself.”
“You’d better leave it wrapped until it’s healed,” Cristov said, pushing Kindan’s hand away.
“Suit yourself,” Kindan said brusquely. He and Cristov had barely said two words to each other in the past Turn, and before that they’d either fought until dragged apart or ignored each other contemptuously. “What are you doing out—skulking?”
Cristov’s hands balled into fists and he looked angrily at Kindan.
Kindan frowned. “I’m sorry. That was mean. But honestly, what are you doing out tonight?”
“I—well—” Cristov found himself tongue-tied, searching for an answer. At last he blurted out, “Mother says that watch-whers are nice. I wanted to see for myself.”
Kindan’s eyes widened in surprise. Kisk gave a surprised noise herself and craned her neck up to peer at Cristov, pointing her tail nearly straight back for counterbalance. Kindan was surprised to see how high she could lift her head on her long, sinuous neck—it almost reached his neck.
“I know my father doesn’t like them,” Cristov continued breathlessly, holding out a hand palm up to the watch-wher, “but my mother says we should respect them. She says, ‘A grown-up makes their own decisions.’ ”
Kisk darted her tongue out and licked Cristov’s outstretched hand before he could pull it back. She made a sad, don’t-you-like-me noise at Cristov.
“She gets scared by sudden moves,” Kindan warned him. Honesty compelled him to add, “I think she likes you. I haven’t seen her try to lick many people.”
Kindan forebore mentioning Nuella’s tart remark about the scent Cristov wore.
Encouraged, Cristov put his hand out again. At his sudden move, Kisk ducked her head behind Kindan’s back, but slowly she peered around again. In short order she licked his palm, muffled a sneeze, and darted her tongue quickly around the boy’s face.
Kindan smiled at Cristov. “She likes you.”
“Cristov!” a voice shouted from inside the house. It was Tarik.
“I’m here,” Cristov shouted back. Before Kindan could back away, Tarik appeared.
“What are you doing?” Tarik demanded, his lips pursed tightly.
“I just wanted to see the watch-wher,” Cristov replied, but Kindan could hear the fear in his voice.
Tarik stepped out of the house and joined the boys. He looked down at Kisk, eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“So this is the watch-wher that will save us all?” Tarik said derisively. “It’s smaller than a wherry. Ima’s been saving her best scraps for
“She’s nice,” Cristov responded quietly.
“She’s a waste of time,” Tarik said with a snort. “They all are.” He gave Kindan a dismissive look. “And so are those who care for them.”
Kindan stood up to his full height and glared at Tarik. “Miner Natalon thought her worth enough to pay a whole winter’s coal for her.”
Tarik barked a laugh. “My nephew’s a fool. A winter’s coal! What a waste!”
“Tarik!” Dara called from inside the house. She peered out the door. “You’ve found Cristov. Good. Now the two of you come in for dinner.” She saw Kindan and smiled at him. “Ah, Kindan! Good to see you. Is that the new watch-wher?” Kindan caught the narrowed look she gave her husband. “A green? Has she given you her name yet?”
“Kisk, ma’am,” Kindan replied politely.
Dara nodded. “A good name,” she judged. Then she said, “You’ll have to forgive my men, their dinner’s ready.”
“It’s quite all right,” Kindan replied using his best Harper-trained manners. With a frown he added, “I think Kisk has gotten bored again, anyway.”
He was right: The watch-wher had started tugging on her lead. However, to Kindan’s dismay, Kisk was not ready to return to her lair. In the end, he was certain that he had heard the first of the dawn chorus before Kisk emitted a huge yawn and nearly curled up where she was. It took all Kindan’s charming to get her back to the shed, where they both fell into a deep sleep before the first cock crowed.
Walk, baby, walk, come you to me.
Soon, baby, soon, you’ll walk away from me.
“Well, I’ve given up.” Master Zist sat back on his haunches with a disgusted look. “I’ve read everything I could, got Tarri to bring me references up from Crom itself, and we still don’t know anything more about our voracious friend here than what we’ve learned ourselves in the past three months.”
Kindan, Zenor, and Nuella all nodded in agreement.
“They’re smarter than fire-lizards,” Zenor said stalwartly. One of Tarri’s traders had a fire-lizard, and Zenor had observed it closely the last time the caravan had come.
“And Kisk, at least, can sense when I’m sad or happy,” Kindan said, his voice breaking as he spoke. Zenor grinned at his discomfort, earning a scowl from Kindan. He was glad that the Harper had not commented on Kindan’s voice—which seemed all squeak and growl, either too high or too low. He remembered with deep regret how horribly he’d teased Kaylek when the older boy’s voice had broken.
“I’ll bet you’d be happier if she could understand when you’re sleepy,” Nuella murmured.
“Oh, not to worry, Nuella,” Master Zist said with a wave of his hand. “Kindan’s just turned twelve, and as soon as he hits his growth, he’ll find himself a night owl just like Kisk, here.”
Zenor, who had shot up in the past several months, nodded glumly. “Growth spurts hurt, Kindan,” he said. “But at least you won’t worry about your sleep schedule.”
Zenor had teased Nuella when he’d passed her height, but she had ignored him. However, when Kisk grew tall enough to butt her head, Nuella had been quite startled.
“Well, it’s only fair,” Zenor had joked in his new, deep voice. “You started growing earlier and have been taller all this time. It’s about time you got a dose of your own medicine.”
Kindan, whose height was still less than Nuella’s, wisely kept quiet. In fact, if he didn’t grow soon, Kisk’s shoulders would be level with his.
She was twelve hands high at the shoulder, and nearly forty hands from nose to tail. She had all the size of a near-grown workbeast like those pulling the drays.
“She’s filled out a fair bit, too,” Master Zist commented, patting Kisk firmly on the side of her neck. Her muscles, always visible under her skin, were now tight and well formed, firm with strength. “I think she’ll reach her full height in another two months or so.”
“Is that earlier than dragons?” Kindan asked.
“Hmm, there’s one way to find out,” Master Zist said. He stood up. “Kindan, why don’t you leave Kisk in our care while you go to the watch-heights? I’m sure M’tal would like to see how well your watch-wher’s grown.”
“You’re going to send for a dragonrider?” Nuella asked in amazement.
“He’s an old friend of mine,” Master Zist confided.
“But I thought that Telgar wouldn’t answer the call.”
“Weyrleader M’tal,” Kindan said, pausing to savor his friends’ astonishment, “leads Benden, not Telgar.”
“Benden!” Zenor and Nuella gasped in unison. Both of them had been born and raised in Camp Natalon. Crom Hold was an unimaginable distance to them, Telgar Weyr a place only in the rarest of dreams. They couldn’t begin to imagine a place as distant as Benden Weyr.
“All right, Kindan, now that you’ve seen their jaws drop, you can run off and drum out the call,” Master Zist said drolly. “You do remember it?”
“Zist requests M’tal,” Kindan recited easily.
Kindan knew that it would take some time before M’tal would even get the drum message and probably longer still before the Weyrleader could find time to respond.
Winter had come again to the Camp. Toldur and his evening shift had finished cutting the new shaft into the mine. There had been a special Gather at Natalon’s hold to celebrate. Because there were no traders, Nuella couldn’t attend. It had looked like Master Zist would have to handle the evening’s entertainment by himself, but Nuella, with Zenor’s connivance, had volunteered to watch Kisk.
“She’ll need exercise,” Kindan had warned.
Nuella had dismissed that with a toss of her head. “You can exercise her when you get back. I’ll keep her here, thank you.”
“How will you get back to the hold?” Kindan had asked.
“How else? You and Kisk will escort me,” Nuella had replied. “Honestly, don’t you think everyone will be too tired to notice or, more likely, asleep?”
Kindan had cheered up. “Thanks, Nuella. I appreciate this.”
Nuella smiled at him. Then she added, “Don’t think I won’t remember it, you know.”
“And I’ll keep Zenor out of trouble,” Kindan had added.
goes without saying,” Nuella had responded, shoving him out the door.
“You’re lucky she was willing to take the risk,” Master Zist had commented later. “I’m afraid this is the last time we’ll be able to perform together.”
“What?” Kindan had been aghast.
“Think about it,” Master Zist had said. “Your watch-wher is getting bigger. She’s almost old enough to start training. And then she’ll start work. Watch-whers work—and train—at night. There will be very few Gathers during the day until the thaw. And then you’ll be working full-time.”
Kindan had been thunderstruck. He had known that becoming the wherhandler had meant that he couldn’t remain Master Zist’s apprentice, but he had hoped to always be able to find time to perform with the Harper. Master Zist had seen the look on his face and had worked carefully to cheer Kindan up before the Gather, finding dainties for him and talking encouragingly about the watch-wher and Kindan’s sacrifice for the good of the miners.
Kindan was sad when he returned to the shed after the Gather. He found Kisk and Nuella curled up together in the straw. He woke Nuella, and Kisk stretched luxuriously in what appeared to be the beginnings of a long, active night.
“What’s wrong?” Nuella asked on the silent walk back up to the hold. Kindan told her. “It has to happen, Kindan,” she said. “The night shift only sees a Gather on a restday. You can’t be at Gathers and in the mines at the same time.”
“I know,” he replied sadly. He looked at Kisk, whose great eyes whirled green and blue in her love for him, and sighed. “But I liked singing and playing.”
“You’re not much good for singing, with your voice going up and down like that,” Nuella remarked. Kindan grunted sourly.
“You know,” Nuella said after an uncomfortable silence, “that new mine shaft’s awfully close to Father’s secret passage.”
“Secret passage?” Kindan repeated.
“Yes, the one that I used to get Master Zist back to his cottage before you the first day he came,” she answered. She smiled in memory. “You should have heard the way you reacted! All panting and then gasping in shock. I nearly burst when I heard you.”
Kindan stopped, struck by a sudden inspiration. “Nuella, can you show me that passage?”
It had taken very persuasive talk on Kindan’s part to finally get Nuella to agree to let him see the secret passageway.
“You’ll wait until after dark, of course,” Nuella told him. “Then meet me on the second-floor landing.”
“I want to bring Kisk,” Kindan objected.
“Well, of course you do,” Nuella said. “You told me that it’d be good training for her. Although I think it’d be more for you—
can see in the dark.”
Kindan shrugged. “We have to work together.”
“I understand,” Nuella said condescendingly. “So meet me tonight, after I’ve finished my lesson with Master Zist.”
“Well, you can’t expect me to go along and miss my lessons, can you?” she asked with a touch of exasperation.
“How are you going to find your way about without me?” she asked, tapping her foot impatiently. “It’s not as though you’ll be able to
in the dark, you know.”
Kindan gave in with a reluctant sigh. “Fine. I’ll see you tonight.” Then he frowned. “But why do you want to meet on the second floor? Why not by the kitchen?”
“Because the entrance to the secret passageway is on the second floor,” she told him simply.
From the very start, things did not go the way Kindan had planned. He found himself at the end of a line with Nuella leading Kisk.
“Why am I back here?” he complained as they reached the first turn in the passageway. He stumbled and caught himself.
“That’s why,” Nuella replied calmly. “You want Kisk to learn how to lead people safely in the dark, don’t you? Well, how can she do that if all you can teach her is how to stumble around?”
“But it’s dark in here,” Kindan said, defensively.
Nuella snorted. “It’s no darker here than it is anywhere else for me,” she said. “Honestly, Kindan, have you never tried walking with your eyes closed?”
“No,” Kindan replied, stumbling on a rock and going down hard on his knees—again.
“Well, it’s time you learned,” Nuella said. She added conversationally, “It was the first game I learned to play with Dalor.”
“Well, he used to tease me so much and it really got to me,” she admitted. “But my mother asked me one day why didn’t I play a game that showed my strengths, not my weaknesses. So we started playing in the dark.” She added with a laugh, “It got so that I used to move the furniture around to make Dalor trip.”
Kindan, feeling the smart from his shins, still couldn’t understand why he was behind Kisk and Nuella was in front of her. Nuella’s explanation was that she could show Kisk where to go, and it made no sense for the two of them, who could “see” well enough in the dark, to have to halt their stride just because Kindan couldn’t. But it was a pity the passageway wasn’t quite wide enough for Kindan to travel side by side with Kisk.
“How much farther is it?” he asked when he felt that they’d gone on forever. He regretted letting Nuella convince him that they should leave the glows behind. What if something happened to her? But, Kindan reflected ruefully, everything so far had happened to
“I told you,” Nuella’s voice carried back in a whisper from somewhere up ahead, “there are two turns, this last one and another gentler one. The sharp turn comes about one third of the way along, and the gentle turn comes about three-quarters of the way along. Of course, it’s just the opposite on the way back.”
Kisk turned her head back and blew a soft reassurance at Kindan.
“Hey! I can almost see her eyes,” he said excitedly.
“Almost?” Nuella repeated. “How can you
“Well, it’s hard to explain. Like maybe I can, maybe I can’t,” he replied, trying to recall the image now that Kisk had turned her head back.
Nuella’s reply was thoughtful. “Sometimes I think I can see things that way, too. It’s like when I dream. My eyes worked fine until I was about three, you know. Mother thinks that’s why I see things when I dream. It’s rather confusing, to be honest.”
Kindan, whose light-starved eyes were reporting all sorts of strange lights, nodded in understanding.
At least the air was cool and clean, he noted. He brushed his fingers against a wall, as Nuella had advised him, and corrected his course slightly. Originally he had tried holding on to Kisk’s tail, but the watch-wher had flicked it away from him impatiently.
The sound of Nuella’s breathing and the lighter, faster breathing of the watch-wher were reassuring in the darkness. Kindan stopped feeling wrong-footed—blind—and started feeling more comfortable in the darkness. He strained his ears, hoping to hear with Nuella’s ease, but admitted after a while that it was hard.
“You’re thinking too much,” Nuella’s voice piped out of the darkness. “Just listen. Don’t try so hard.”
“How did you know what I was doing?” he demanded, eyes bulging in surprise.
“Your breathing changed,” she said simply. “You took a really deep breath, then a couple of short ones, and then you started breathing in spurts.”
“And just then you sighed because I guessed what you were thinking,” Nuella went on. She giggled. “I used to play this game with Dalor, too. It really infuriated him.”
“I can understand,” Kindan said feelingly.
“Okay,” Nuella said, “I’ll stop now. But just listen, okay?”
Kindan nodded, not worrying whether Nuella could “hear” him or not, and the three continued on in unlit silence.
After a while, Kindan noticed that his right hand was brushing against the wall. He moved to the left, but noticed a short while later that his hand was brushing the wall again.
“Is it curving now?”
“Very good,” Nuella said. “I was wondering if you’d notice.”
“So we’re almost there?”
“Yep. About fifty more paces,” Nuella told him. That had been another surprise to Kindan, being told he had to keep count of the number of paces he took. He’d forgotten to keep counting, too, and wondered if Nuella had or if she had just memorized the distances.
“Wait,” she called. “Listen.”
Kindan strained his ears. He felt Kisk turn her head this way and that.
“Can you hear it?” Nuella asked after a long moment.
“No,” Kindan confessed.
“It sounds like they’re putting up the entrance for the second shaft,” Nuella said. “It’s just through the rock on the right here.”