Authors: Anne McCaffrey
Master Zist opened his hand and waved the two boys closer to him. “When you are ready, I shall hear a scale from middle C in harmony.”
Kindan and Zenor glanced at each other; Harper Jofri had had them doing scales in harmony since they could first walk. Their eyes gleamed and they turned back to the Master, opened their mouths, and—
“No, no, no!” Master Zist roared. The boys caught their breath and rocked back on their heels in fright. “Stand up straight. Shoulders back. Take a deep breath and—”
Following his orders, the two boys started to sing the scales.
“Who told you to sing?” Master Zist yelled at them. After they shut their mouths in horror, he continued, “I do not recall asking you to sing.” He sighed. “It is obvious that you two must first learn how to breathe.”
Zenor and Kindan exchanged looks. Didn’t they already know how to breathe?
By lunchtime, Kindan was exhausted. He hadn’t realized how much work it could be just to sing. Rather than letting them go, Master Zist sent Zenor to get their lunch and tell Jenella that the two boys would sing at the wedding. Zenor’s eyes lit when Master Zist told them, but Kindan was too tired and still wary of the new Harper.
Master Zist intoned after Zenor had left, “will practice the wedding chorale Harper Jofri had selected for your brother.”
Kindan gulped. Kaylek would kill him for sure when he found out, and that song was a really hard one to learn.
By the time Zenor returned with lunch—it seemed to take forever—Kindan was sweating with effort and Master Zist was nearly shaking with rage.
“Leave the food here,” Master Zist told him, “and take yourself away.”
Instead of breaking for lunch, Master Zist insisted that Kindan continue his singing. No matter how hard he tried, Kindan could not master the song.
In the end, red-faced and bellowing, Master Zist threw up his hands. “You are not listening to me! You do not pay the slightest attention. You
master this song, you just choose not to. Oh, you are such a waste! To think your mother died giving birth to you! You’re not worth it at all.”
Kindan’s fists clenched and his eyes flared with rage. He turned on his heel and ran out of the cottage. He got only a few feet before he was stopped by his sister.
“Kindan, how is it going?” she asked, too excited to notice his expression. “Isn’t it great that Master Zist is here? Did you know that mother said he taught her our favorite song?”
Kindan took one look at her cheerful face as her words registered in his brain—and inspiration struck.
“Excuse me, Sis, I’ve got to get back to practicing,” he said before he turned back to the cottage. Over his shoulder he added, “Everything’s going great.”
He barged back into the cottage where Master Zist still sat, waiting. Kindan pulled himself up to a proper singing posture, drew in a breath, and began to sing:
“In early morning light I see,
A distant dragon come to me.
Its skin is bronze, its eyes are green;
It’s the loveliest dragon I’ve ever seen.”
Encouraged by the Harper’s silence, Kindan continued through the whole song. In the end, he looked truculently at the Master and said, “I can, too, sing. My sister says that I can sing as well as my mother. My sister says that I
worth it. And my father, too. And they should know—they were there when I was born.” Tears streaked down his face, but he didn’t care. “My sister said that my mother’s last words were that I wouldn’t need much caring but I’d be worth it.”
Master Zist was in shock. “That voice,” he muttered to himself. “You have her voice.” He looked up at Kindan and there were tears in his eyes, too. “Lad, I’m sorry. I should never have said . . . I had no right . . . Could you sing it again, please? You have the same lyric quality she had.”
Kindan wiped his tears and drew breath, but his throat was still choked up with grief and anger. Master Zist raised a hand to stop him and went into the cottage’s kitchen. He returned with a cup of warm tea.
“Drink this, it’ll ease your throat,” he said in a much kindlier and more subdued voice. While Kindan was drinking, Master Zist said, “I drove you too hard, lad. I have never driven a student so hard. I shouldn’t have done it to you, either. It’s just that—that I want this to be the best day for your sister and your father. I want to give them that.”
“So do I,” Kindan said.
Master Zist lowered his head toward him and nodded. “I see that you do, lad. I see that you do.” He held out his hand. “So, let’s start over and we’ll do the best we can, together, eh?”
Kindan placed the cup beside him and shyly put his hand in the larger hand of the MasterHarper. “I’ll do my best,” he said.
“That’s all I will ask of you,” Master Zist promised. “And, with your voice, I think we’ll both be proud of the result.” He looked out the window. “We haven’t much time, however, so we’d best concentrate on what you know, hadn’t we?”
Kindan nodded in agreement, but his expression was bemused. Master Zist grinned at him. “Why don’t we work ‘The Morning Dragon Song’ into the ceremony instead of that solo?”
Kindan’s eyes widened. “Could we do it just as Dask flies over?” he asked enthusiastically. “It’d be perfect!”
“The watch-wher can fly?” Zist was surprised.
“Can all watch-whers fly?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Kindan answered honestly. “But weren’t they supposed to be made from fire-lizards, the same as dragons?”
“Not much is known about watch-whers,” Master Zist said. “For example, we know that they don’t like light. But some people say that it’s because of their big eyes while others say that they are nocturnal. Their wings look too small to support them.”
“I’ve only seen Dask fly when it’s late,” Kindan said. “My father said something about how the atmosphere condenses at night, and air gets thicker.”
Master Zist nodded. “That’s so. I’ve heard the dragonriders say that it’s dangerous to fly too high at night—the air has gotten thinner there. Perhaps the watch-whers are adapted to fly at night, and have smaller wings because the air is thicker then.”
Kindan shrugged. The Harper made a note to himself to pursue the matter with the Harper Hall.
“Well,” the Harper continued, “I think it would be marvelous for you to sing ‘The Morning Dragon Song’ when Dask flies over.
“Are you ready to begin now?”
“I’m ready, Master Zist.”
At the end of two hours, Kindan’s back was drenched with sweat. Master Zist’s instructions were more cordially delivered and Kindan obeyed them more readily than before, but they were still doing hard work—both of them, Kindan noted, as Master Zist wiped beads of sweat from his brow.
They were interrupted by a knock on the cottage door.
“Get the door, lad,” Master Zist said in a kindly tone. “I’ll make some tea. Unless I miss my guess, that’s your father come to be sure that you’re still alive and with your good clothes as his excuse.”
Master Zist was not wrong.
“I’ve brought your clothes,” Danil said. His face broke into a huge grin. “Ah, lad! This will be a grand day, won’t it?”
Coming from his father, the words were practically a speech.
“Master Zist’s gone to get some tea,” Kindan said. “He says that it’s good for the throat.” He didn’t add that Master Zist had said that it was good for the nerves, as well.
“I’ve been with Jofri all day,” Danil told his son. “We’ve got the wedding platform properly raised and the whole square ready for the party.”
“Where will the bride and groom spend the night?” Master Zist asked, entering the room with a tray. There were not just three cups of tea, but also some dainty pastries.
Danil blushed. “Oh, there’s a trader custom that a bride and groom must spend the night in a caravan. Apparently Crom’s MasterTrader instructed the journeyman in charge of this caravan to be sure that Terregar and Silstra followed
“Of course,” Zist added with a wry look and a shake of his head, “anyone marrying cross Hold would be relying on a trader to move them, so no one would dream of upsetting them on that matter.”
Danil picked up one of the dainties off the tray and bit into it. “This is good! And still warm! Did Jenella send them?”
Master Zist nodded. “Aye, they were just delivered.” Kindan remembered that he’d heard the sound of a door opening shortly after his father had entered the front room.
Danil nodded. His face had gone serious. “Kindan, step outside for a moment,” he said.
“Take your tea and a dainty with you,” Zist said. Kindan scooped up one of his favorites, grabbed his tea, and headed outside.
Milla, who did all the baking and cooking up at Natalon’s hold, loved making the tiny little snacks she called dainties. Milla’s dainties were always different; sometimes they were confections, other times they were small, meat-filled pies, and yet other times they were deliciously spiced vegetables. The warm dainty Kindan had scarfed was made of spiced meat wrapped in a flaky pie crust.
Outside, the sun was well past noon, but its warmth did little against the fall chill that had settled into the valley. He shivered. It would be a cold evening, even with warm
and hot mulled wine to keep him warm. He swallowed the rest of the dainty in one bite to give him both hands to wrap around the warm cup.
He could hear the rise and fall of voices from inside the cottage but couldn’t make out the words. Bored, he walked over by the walled herb garden that separated the Harper’s cottage from Natalon’s hold. Natalon’s place was too big to be called a cottage. Besides, it was built properly of stone. When the time for Thread got nearer, it would be turned into the entrance for a proper Hold dug into the cliffside—perhaps one day even as large as Crom Hold.
Kindan and the other youngsters had lived at Crom Hold for the better part of a year while Natalon, Danil, and the other original miners had sought out, found, and begun working the new mine.
Crom Hold was a vast set of tunnels and rooms dug into the side of a high, majestic cliff. Kindan had spent a lot of time running through—or cleaning—the vacant rooms that would again house most of those who looked to Crom’s Lord Holder for protection when Thread started to fall from the sky.
Kindan shivered at the thought. Thread. Shimmering, long silvery strands that fell from the sky whenever the Red Star drew close to Pern. Thread. Burning, eating, destroying everything it touched—wood and limb alike. No green would be allowed to grow near the Holds when Thread returned. The mindless Thread could grow incredibly fast, or so Kindan had been taught, and wipe out whole valleys in a matter of hours.
Kindan squinted his eyes, trying to imagine how Natalon’s hold would be converted into a proper Hold dug into the cliffside. It certainly would have a great view of the lake below. But Kindan wasn’t sure that he’d like being cooped up inside for the next fifty Turns.
Deep down, Kindan wasn’t sure that he even wanted to be a miner. He squashed the thought firmly. His father was a miner and a wherhandler. Kindan should consider himself lucky to get a chance at either.
Miners were vital to Pern’s survival. Without the firestone provided by other miners, dragons could not breathe fire; without those flames, dragons could not destroy Thread as it fell from the sky. The coal that Camp Natalon produced burned the hottest and produced the best steel. Still other mines mined the iron ore that went into the steel which made ploughs, shovels, picks, nails, screws, buckles, and countless other things which were vital to life on Pern. Yet others found the copper, the nickel, and the tin, which were blended together to make brass for ornaments and tableware. Indeed, the miners in the great salt mines of Southern Boll and Igen supplied all Pern with salt.
Watch-whers in mines were a recent addition, and Kindan knew that his father had done more with watch-whers and mining than any other. Dask, his father’s watch-wher, not only could warn the miners of pockets of bad air, but was adept at digging and hauling ore. Kindan suspected, from snippets of conversations he’d overheard between his father and his older brothers, that Danil had even greater plans for the use of watch-whers in the mines.
While people were at their most alert during the day and slept at night, watch-whers were the opposite, sleeping during the day and awaking at night. That was why they were used to keep watch in the great Holds during the dark hours of the night. In the mines, the night shift could do more excavating of new shafts than any of the day shifts because of the watch-whers.
But really, not much was known about watch-whers. Even his own father was largely self-educated—through his experience with Dask.
Kindan had heard that originally there had been two other watch-whers at Camp Natalon. One had died, and the other had left along with his handler. Kindan had heard his brothers complaining about it, and about Tarik’s sour opinion of watch-whers.
Kindan knew that he would be extremely lucky if he were ever considered for a watch-wher egg.
Still, he really liked singing.
Kindan turned away from Natalon’s hold to look down toward the lake and the cottages.
The cottages were built with rough-hewn stone to window height and timber the rest of the way. They were covered with long, high-peaked, overhanging roofs. It was possible that the roofs could be covered with slate and built to withstand Thread, but most people would feel safest in a “proper Hold.”
“Kindan!” Danil’s voice interrupted Kindan’s reverie. He turned and followed Danil’s beckon back to the Harper’s cottage.
“I’ll see you at the ceremony,” Danil said to him. Then, to Kindan’s surprise, his father leaned down and hugged him tight. “I love you, son.”
Kindan fought back the tears in his eyes as he said, “I love you too, Dad.”
Danil strode off briskly with a little trailing wave of his hand. Kindan returned to the cottage, his chest swelling.
Inside the cottage, Master Zist gave Kindan a long, penetrating stare.
“Your father’s quite a man, lad,” he said at last. “Quite a man.”