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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

Dragon's Kin (21 page)

BOOK: Dragon's Kin
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“We could just ask her,” Kindan said to himself.

M’tal smiled at him. “But then it’d take away all their fun.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Nuella said with her usual lack of deference. She put a hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry—I meant, my Lord.”

“She’s like that with everyone,” Kindan murmured.

“She’s got good hearing, too,” M’tal agreed, with a twinkle in his eyes. He turned to Nuella. “Nuella, I think that we all will be working together quite a great deal, so I think it best if we dispense with formalities and just get on with things—what do you say?”

Nuella’s eyes got very big. She nodded, speechless.

Kindan was no less amazed. “Do you mean you want me to call you by your name, my Lord?”

“It only seems fair,” J’lantir told them. “Besides, I’m not used to all this ‘my Lord’-ing.”

“J’lantir is usually either flying upside down or is off somewhere reading,” M’tal said, clapping the other dragonrider on his shoulder. He leaned down to Nuella and whispered, “I heard once that he lost his whole wing for a week without noticing.”

“Only three days,” J’lantir corrected unflappably. He winked at Kindan. “It was quite peaceful.”

Kindan’s eyes widened at the thought of the dragonrider losing his wing of dragons, but then he grinned back, realizing that he was being let in on a joke.

“That couldn’t happen,” Nuella said, mostly to herself. “Dragons are telepathic!”

J’lantir smiled and wagged a finger at her; then, realizing that she couldn’t see it, he gently tapped her nose. “Very astutely observed, my Lady.”

The curtains of the shed rustled and Master Zist entered. Zenor followed, carrying a pot and some mugs.

“Ah, Master Zist, I have heard a lot about you,” J’lantir said, whirling to face the Harper. “J’lantir, rider of Lolanth, Wingleader of Ista Weyr.”

Master Zist bent his head and said, “My Lord.”

J’lantir waved away the honorific. “I was just telling your Nuella that I prefer simply to be called J’lantir by my friends,” the dragonrider said. He looked earnestly at the Harper and added, “And I hope we’ll be friends.”

“I’m sure we will,” Zist replied with a grin. He looked over at Nuella. “Your father will be coming down shortly to greet the dragonriders.”

“He doesn’t want anyone to know about me,” Nuella told the dragonriders. “Please, let me hide until he’s gone.”

Both M’tal and J’lantir reacted with grave, concerned looks.

“It’s a secret he wants to keep,” Kindan added. “Master Zist tells me that some people need to keep secrets.”

M’tal looked grave. “A secret is never a good thing,” he said.

“Please?” Nuella begged. “It would hurt him a great deal, and he would be very angry with me.”

J’lantir gave M’tal a look. Unhappily, M’tal nodded. “We will keep your secret for now, Nuella,” he said. He cocked an eye at the Harper. “I will want to talk to you about this later, Master Zist.”

The Harper nodded. “I am not happy with this secret,” he said, “but I think it is not too harmful for the moment.”

J’lantir made a shoving motion toward Nuella, then stopped, a rueful expression on his face. “Go! Hide!” he said to her. “We’ll let you know when he leaves.”

“You won’t need to,” Nuella said as she turned to burrow into a thick pile of straw in one of the corners of the shed. “I’ll hear him leave.”

Natalon arrived not long after and stayed long enough to ensure courtesy all around. Then, sensing that the dragonriders wanted to work with Kindan and Kisk alone, he withdrew as soon as etiquette allowed.

“I could send something down from the kitchen, if you’d like, my Lords,” he offered as he was leaving.

M’tal shrugged a question to Kindan, who replied with a fervent nod.

“That would be excellent, Miner Natalon,” M’tal said. “Whatever you have—we don’t want to put you out.”

“Could you have some hot bricks sent down?” J’lantir asked.

Natalon frowned. “If you’re cold, my Lord, I think there’s a grate here someplace. We could start a fire.”

“No, I don’t think that’s necessary,” the dragonrider said. “Just some bricks, if you don’t mind.”

“I could carry them,” Zenor offered.

“You’re supposed to be asleep,” Natalon said, shaking a finger at him. “You’ve got work tomorrow, and I don’t need you all worn out.”

Zenor looked so crestfallen that Natalon grinned at him, shaking his head. “Besides, I think you might be imposing on Kindan’s hospitality.”

Zenor shot Kindan a pleading look.

“I’d be happy if Zenor could stay, my Lord,” Kindan said instantly.

Natalon glanced at the men. “If it wouldn’t be an inconvenience, it might be a good idea to have someone else be familiar with the watch-wher,” he suggested.

“Of course!” M’tal said, waving the issue aside. “Besides, another body would add to the warmth in here.”

J’lantir nodded vigorously.

“Very well,” Natalon said. “But no more than an hour, Zenor—unless my Lords say otherwise.”

“All right,” Zenor said, looking both very pleased and somewhat unhappy at the same time.

“Well, come along,” Natalon said to him. “You’ve volunteered to carry those bricks back down.”

Zenor nodded and turned to follow the head miner back to his hold.

“You know, you could just ask her,” Kindan repeated after Zenor and Natalon had left.

“Ask her what?” Master Zist inquired. Kindan started to relay Nuella’s observation, but was interrupted with a correction from Nuella, which then opened up a general conversation.

“You know,” the Harper said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “the human body generates a lot of heat.”

“Are you thinking to perform a simple experiment with human bodies and glows?” J’lantir wondered.

Kindan pulled a glow out of its holder and held it up.

“Kisk, which is brighter to you, me or this glow?”

The watch-wher hesitated, then butted her head at Kindan’s midriff.

“There, I think we have our answer,” M’tal said.

“Hmm,” J’lantir murmured, lips pursed thoughtfully. “Well, we know one thing—a watch-wher is much smarter than a fire-lizard.”

“More patient, too,” Master Zist added drolly. “I hope Zenor brings back some food for her.”

“She just ate,” Kindan told him. He looked at the Istan dragonrider. “J’lantir, do you know how much they should eat?”

“Well, actually, I’ve only just started my investigations a fortnight ago,” the dragonrider confessed. “I met Master Aleesa”—his tone conveyed how the encounter with the prickly WherMaster had gone—“and decided that perhaps I should pursue other avenues.”

Master Zist bit back a laugh. J’lantir rewarded him with a pleasant nod.

“I have, of course, spoken with the wherhandler at Ista Hold,” he continued. “And I was surprised”—he cocked an eye at the Harper—“to discover that the Harper Hall had very little information on watch-whers.”

“None at all, from what I’ve found,” Master Zist agreed.

“C’rion decided that seeing as we’re getting nearer the next Pass, it would be a good idea to gather every scrap of information that might help us tending dragons during times of Thread,” J’lantir said. “I was assigned to learn about watch-whers.”

“When I told J’lantir about Gaminth being able to communicate with Kisk,” M’tal said with a wave at the attentive watch-wher, “he asked if he might be able to work with us.”

“I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to work with a watch-wher hatchling,” J’lantir said.

“Oh, she’s hardly a hatchling at this point,” Master Zist said.

“She’s over four months old now,” Kindan put in.

“She’ll be five months in a fortnight and three days,” Nuella corrected with precision.

“The youngest watch-wher I’ve seen is over three Turns,” J’lantir said. He asked M’tal, “You think they mature faster than dragons?”

M’tal nodded. “That was my guess.”

“I’d say you’re right,” J’lantir agreed. He walked up to the watch-wher and put a hand out, palm up and open, for her to sniff.

“It’s okay, Kisk,” Kindan told her. Kisk cocked her head toward him, then sniffed J’lantir’s hand again and licked it shyly.

“May I touch you?” J’lantir asked the watch-wher with a polite half-bow. Kisk whuffed back at him. J’lantir looked at Kindan. “Was that a yes?”

Kindan nodded. “Although maybe your dragon could talk to her,” Kindan suggested as an experiment.

“She’d like that,” Nuella agreed.

J’lantir brightened. “That’s a good idea,” he said. His face took on the abstracted look of a dragonrider talking to his dragon. Kisk watched him appreciatively, then gave a slight start and a chirp, and then a second gleeful chirp. She walked right up to J’lantir, positioning her shoulder under his hand, her neck craned back toward him to see if her position was satisfactory.

The group chuckled.

J’lantir dutifully ran his hands over her body, checking every muscle and gently exploring the shape of her back, belly, head, and tail. “Alike, yet unalike,” he commented to himself. He looked over at M’tal. “All the watch-whers seem much more muscled than dragons.”

“I’ve noticed that, too,” M’tal replied.

J’lantir touched Kisk’s wing, gave her an inquiring look, and then said, “Lolanth, please ask Kisk to spread her wings.”

Kindan realized that the dragonrider had spoken out loud in order to warn everyone that Kisk would be moving.

The watch-wher chirped happily and ruffled her wings.

“The wings are awfully small,” J’lantir noted. He looked at Kindan. “Your father actually flew his?”

“Late at night,” Kindan affirmed.

“Amazing,” J’lantir exclaimed. “No one, even Master Aleesa, claimed that watch-whers could fly.”

“It appears that harpers aren’t the only ones who have forgotten about watch-whers,” M’tal said with a teasing glance at Master Zist, who just shrugged. The dragonrider turned back to J’lantir, saying, “What I was wondering was if we could teach watch-whers to talk to our dragons.”

“But didn’t Kisk here just talk to your Lolanth?”

“Indeed she did, but she was responding to being spoken to. Can she address one dragon by name? Say, in an emergency?” M’tal said.

J’lantir pursed his lips in thought. After a moment he looked at the Benden Weyrleader with widening eyes. “So watch-whers could alert us to Threadfall? What a marvelous idea! Perhaps that’s why they were bred—”

“It won’t work,” Nuella interrupted.

“Pardon?” J’lantir was taken aback.

“Watch-whers are nocturnal,” Nuella said. “They could hardly send a warning during the day.”

“Perhaps in an emergency . . .” J’lantir suggested.

M’tal shook his head. “No, I suppose not,” he said.

“But they could still call for aid in emergencies at night,” Kindan pointed out.

M’tal nodded. “That could be useful. They could tell us about the weather, too.”

“An excellent idea,” J’lantir agreed.

“Merely being able to tell a dragon that help was needed would be a great boon to some of the outlying minor holds,” Master Zist said.

“Some of the minor holds that were snowed in had watch-whers,” M’tal said. His eyes grew sad. “If the watch-whers had been taught how to reach our dragons, lives would have been saved.”

“Well, then,” J’lantir said briskly, “this sounds like a worthwhile endeavor. When do we start?”

“I’d like to start as soon as possible,” M’tal said, with a nod to Kindan. “If that’s okay with you, Kindan. I know you need your sleep—”

Kindan burst out laughing. “I don’t sleep at night, not anymore.”

M’tal nodded, looking somber. “Ah, but I do. And my night comes to my Weyr hours before yours.”

“So does mine,” J’lantir added ruefully. “But I can probably arrange a chunk of time to work with Kindan and Kisk without causing too much of a disruption at Ista Weyr.”

“And you cannot,” Master Zist said to M’tal.

“But spring will be upon us soon enough,” M’tal protested. “If we can teach the Benden watch-whers before then, many lives will be saved.”

“Very well, then,” J’lantir said. He glanced around at the others. “It seems that we must learn not only how to teach Kisk here to talk with dragons, but learn how to teach the same to other watch-whers and their handlers.”

“She seems to do well already,” Nuella said. “I mean, she told Kindan that you were coming and how many of you—”

“And how did Kindan know what she was saying?” J’lantir asked curiously.

“Well, it just seemed right,” Kindan said.

“Fire-lizards are like that,” Master Zist said. “At least with some of their owners.”

“Yes,” J’lantir agreed. “And watch-whers seem to be smarter, more able. What I’m thinking of is training the watch-wher—and Kindan—so that they know and agree exactly on what they’re saying to each other, and to the dragons.”

“That would be excellent,” M’tal agreed fervently.

“And then taking that training and bringing it to other watch-whers and their wherhandlers,” J’lantir added.

“I imagine a harper should be involved,” Master Zist commented wryly.

“I’ll help,” Nuella put in eagerly. Kindan shook his head, totally unsurprised.

         

Over the course of the next several days, Nuella and J’lantir engaged in countless discussions about the best ways to train the watch-wher, and the vocabulary that was needed to communicate meaningfully between wherhandler and watch-wher. They agreed that Kisk would need to tell a dragon who she was and where she was, that she’d have to know how to communicate with a particular dragon, that she would have to know how to say such things as “emergency,” “fire,” “help,” “healer,” and “flood.” They argued over whether it was more important for Kisk to be able to use numbers than to say “avalanche.”

Kindan felt almost unneeded as the two would argue and then agree, move on, and start to argue again. They would stop to ask Kindan to get Kisk to do something or, worse, to ask Kindan’s opinion on their disagreement—Kindan learned early on to be diplomatic—and then the arguing would start up anew.

Often the evening would end with Nuella curled up asleep beside Kisk, J’lantir quietly departing before the first cock crowed, and Kindan too weary to think straight.

At the end of the third evening, J’lantir announced that he had to stay at his Weyr for a time, to report to his Weyrleader, check on his wingriders, and get some rest. Nuella looked so crushed that J’lantir gave her a hug.

BOOK: Dragon's Kin
5.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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