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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

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BOOK: Dragon's Kin
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“Anything,” Master Zist agreed.

“Well, if I could have Mother’s old table, the one with the hinged lid and the old music inside—”

“Music?” Master Zist raised an eyebrow.

Kindan nodded. “It was special to her, and to my father after . . .”

Master Zist raised a hand to stop him. “Ima, Swanee, can you see to it?” The two nodded in quick agreement. “Anything else?”

“Take a good look around, lad,” Swanee advised. “If, after we’ve distributed everything, there was something you’d forgotten we could always get it back, but . . .”

Kindan took a good look through the cottage. He stopped in the kitchen and looked at Master Zist. “Do you need any cookware or dishware?”

Master Zist shook his head. “The Harper’s cottage is well supplied with both.”

Kindan pursed his lips in a frown, thinking. Then he nodded. “I think that’s everything, then.”

Swanee gave Kindan a searching look and then nodded firmly. “Very well, we’ll get your stuff up and distribute the rest. Thank you, lad, there’s many will be grateful for what you don’t need.”

Kindan nodded mutely, not really understanding what the supplier meant.

         

Nuella made Dalor tell her everything when he came upstairs.

“Kindan’s moving in with the Harper?” she exclaimed when he finished his tale.

“And Uncle Tarik is moving into Danil’s old house,” Dalor said by way of confirmation. He was glad—that way he wouldn’t have to listen to their uncle complaining all the time.

“Oh, but it’s awful!” Nuella complained. “How will I get to see the Harper if Kindan’s staying there?”

Dalor frowned, then said, “I don’t know.”

“And Master Zist was going to teach me the pipes,” Nuella added sadly to herself.

“You’re good already!” Dalor told his sister stoutly.

“Only you would know,” Nuella said, feeling miserable.

“And Mother,” Dalor corrected.

“This cave-in’s set Father’s plans back, hasn’t it?” Nuella asked.

Dalor shrugged.

Nuella sighed. “I wish . . .” She sighed again, shaking her head, her wish unvoiced. After a moment she picked up her pipes and began playing a soft, sad song.

         

Kindan was really surprised, hours later, to find himself sitting on his own bed, in his own room, with the sounds of the Camp’s harper pottering about in another room.

Master Zist had popped his head in several times to ask, “Everything all right, lad?”

The first time, Kindan had nearly jumped with shock at the question and could only bring himself to nod mutely in response.

“Well, then, I’ve got some things to attend to,” Master Zist had said. “If you need anything, you can get it from the kitchen. I’ll be in my study and I’m not to be disturbed.”

A quick glance at the Master’s face told Kindan that disturbing him would
not
be a wise thing to do at all. He had nodded quickly but said nothing.

“All right, then,” Master Zist had said, to fill in the silence. “Get yourself settled in and we’ll have dinner when I’m finished with my work.”

Now Kindan heard voices from Master Zist’s study. A younger voice and the Master himself. Curious, Kindan listened more carefully. The young voice sounded a lot like Dalor, but he couldn’t hear it clearly enough to be sure. Maybe Master Zist was trying to catch Dalor up on all his missed lessons. It occurred to Kindan to wonder if perhaps Dalor had received extra lessons from Journeyman Jofri, as well. Perhaps because he was Natalon’s son it had been decided to keep him out of all the rough and tumble of the everyday classes. Kindan knew that all the kids in the camp thought that Dalor was a bit sickly. Although, come to think of it, Kindan couldn’t recall ever seeing Dalor coming down with anything. Perhaps Jenella, who’d lost so many babies in childbirth, was being careful with Dalor and keeping him in whenever he got the slightest bit sick. It didn’t seem likely to Kindan . . . and the voice didn’t quite sound like Dalor’s. He wondered if he was allowed to open his door to hear the voices more clearly.

As he pondered the notion, another voice joined in. Kindan immediately recognized the voice as Miner Natalon’s. It seemed as though Natalon was not pleased about something. He heard the youngster’s voice, as well, and Master Zist’s. Judging by the rise and fall of the voices and their tones, Kindan was certain that whoever owned the younger voice was someone well known to Natalon. So it was probably Dalor, Kindan decided. Maybe Natalon was annoyed to find Dalor bothering the Master, Kindan guessed.

The voices rose in parting and Kindan heard two sets of feet walk to the front door and leave. A while later Master Zist walked into the hallway and knocked on Kindan’s door.

Having never been afforded such a courtesy, Kindan didn’t know how to respond.

“May I come in?” Master Zist asked after a short wait.

Kindan opened the door. “Of course, Master Zist.”

Master Zist entered the room and looked around. “All settled, then?”

“Yes, thank you,” Kindan replied.

“Good,” Zist said, nodding emphatically. “Come along, we’ll eat in the kitchen.”

Kindan smelled the hearty beef stew before he saw it bubbling on the hearth in a pot he recognized from Jenella’s kitchen. He looked around for the dishes and cutlery and set the table.

Master Zist served them and they ate in an awkward silence. Kindan finished his stew quickly and waited politely to see if he could have seconds. Master Zist noticed this but continued to eat in slow, deliberate bites. By the time the Master was finished, Kindan was squirming in his chair.

“Dessert?” Master Zist inquired.

“Well,” Kindan began, then blurted, “I was wondering if I could have some more stew.”

Master Zist gestured to the pot. “There’s only you and me here, Kindan. You may have what you want.”

As Kindan refilled his plate, Master Zist regarded him thoughtfully. When Kindan returned to the table, the Harper said, “When we are alone, Kindan, you may always help yourself. You just have to ask.”

Kindan, mouth full of stew, smiled and nodded.

“You had a lot of older brothers and sisters, didn’t you?”

Kindan nodded again.

Master Zist sighed. “I was the eldest in my family. I can’t quite imagine how it must have been for you. But I can guess that you were probably the last to get seconds . . . or dessert.”

“It wasn’t all bad,” Kindan said. “Sis made sure that I always got to eat something.” He made a face. “But Kaylek always tried to steal my desserts, when we had them.” His face took on a sadder, more introspective look.

“You didn’t get along with Kaylek, did you?” Master Zist inquired gently.

Kindan shook his head. “No, not until just before—” He looked troubled. “Zenor, my friend, he told me that Kaylek saved his life.” Tears formed in Kindan’s eyes. “He was always mean to me, but he saved Zenor’s life.”

“It’s a bit hard to grasp, isn’t it?” Master Zist commented. “I have been surprised how often people who only seem to be bad have turned out to be selfless when it really matters.”

Kindan nodded in wordless agreement.

“Kindan, do you know what harpers are supposed to do?”

“They’re supposed to teach, and to sing songs at gathers, and play instruments,” Kindan said, not quite sure he had the right answer.

Master Zist nodded. “That’s part of their job. Harpers also gather information and pass it along. We preserve knowledge. We help with the healers.”

“My sister did some healing,” Kindan offered.

Zist nodded acknowledgment. “And we also try to smooth things over.”

Kindan looked puzzled. Master Zist sighed. “We listen to everyone and try to help when we think it’s appropriate.”

Kindan tried hard to look as though he understood, especially because he’d finished his stew and his mouth was watering for dessert and he knew that Master Zist would keep on talking until Kindan showed that he understood what he was saying.

Master Zist smiled in wry amusement. “We are trained to be good observers, too. Sometimes we don’t pay attention, but we’re trained.” He rose, taking Kindan’s dish with him, and served them the dainties that the baker had sent over.

“A harper’s trained to watch and listen, as well as to play and sing,” Master Zist said after he’d had a bite of the dainty.

Kindan nodded, his mouth full.

“And a harper’s trained to keep secrets,” Zist added.

“I can keep a secret,” Kindan said.

Master Zist wagged a finger at him. “Ah, but there are some times when you have to let others keep secrets, too. Can you do that?”

Kindan looked doubtful.

“Well, we’ll see,” Master Zist said. “For now, I expect that you won’t try to overhear any conversations I have in my study or kitchen. If you hear something and you want to talk about it, you come to me. I’ll tell you whether it’s a secret or not. Can you do that?”

Kindan nodded.

“Good lad.” Master Zist finished his dainty, saw that Kindan had finished as well, and stood up. “You do the dishes and get some sleep. Tomorrow we’ll start with your lessons.”

“Lessons?” Kindan repeated.

Master Zist nodded. “Lessons,” he repeated. He nodded toward his study. “Harpers also take notes. Jofri left me his. And he noted that a certain son of Danil’s was not only good at singing but showed an interest in becoming a Harper.”

Kindan’s eyes lit with astonishment. “He did?”

Master Zist nodded solemnly, but his eyes were twinkling. “He did,” he affirmed. He waggled a finger at the door. “Now finish up and off to bed with you.”

         

It seemed to Kindan that his new life was far more strenuous than his old life. And sadly, very different. He still had duty on the watch up the cliffside hundreds of meters above the mine entrance with its splendid view of what most folk simply called “the valley,” but which he and the Harper had started to call “Natalon’s Valley.” Now, however, he was not just one among the many but the lad placed in charge of all the younglings on watch duty. That job might have been Tofir’s or Jakris’s had they remained, but Kindan was shocked to realize that he was the oldest boy in the camp who wasn’t working in the mine itself.

The first day he’d looked down from his perch and had seen Zenor, dressed in overalls cut down from a pair of his father’s, Kindan had felt a mixture of shame, awe, and sorrow. Shame that he wasn’t going down into the mine, as well; awe that his best friend Zenor was doing such a grown-up job; and sorrow to see the bitter proof of the disaster that had claimed not only the lives of his own father and brothers but also Zenor’s father and his childhood.

But Kindan found that his new duties left him with little time to reminisce—whether on purpose or just because the camp was so short of able bodies he could not guess. When he was sure the watch was set up properly for the day and runners had been arranged to be ready at all the usual spots, he found himself in charge of a group of sturdy boys and girls nine and ten Turns old helping to trim the branches from trees felled the day before by the Camp’s adults.

Zenor’s mother, Norla, found that her years of dealing with younglings were put to good effect as she found herself in charge of a daily crèche of all the Camp’s infants while their mothers helped out planting the fields below or working the herb gardens or helping cut trees into timber for the mine. It was, Master Zist had suggested, a good way to immerse her in activity while keeping her close to her youngest children. Before, the task had been rotated amongst all the women with infants, but now Norla’s cottage was filled with diapers in various stages of use, and mothers stopped in whenever they could to check on their babies, giving the widowed Norla more contact with the rest of the Camp than she would have had otherwise.

The hill of coal on the other side of the valley from the mine grew steadily in size, but not without cost.

Kindan heard but kept to himself many late night conversations spoken in low voices in the Harper’s cottage. With the exception of Tarik, nearly all the miners had come to pay their respects at one time or another to the new Harper. Many returned. All were worried.

“Sure, we’re getting coal enough, but for how long?” was the common complaint. “Without new diggings, we’ll soon be reduced to either working the pillars or . . . just giving up.”

Kindan hadn’t been surprised the next morning when he had been asked to explain to the MasterHarper what was meant by “working the pillars.”

“A coal field’s a huge field underground,” Kindan had said. “There’s rock on top of it that’s pressing down. When we dig, we leave large pillars of coal untouched to help support the rock above—”

“But that’s not the only way to do it, is it?”

Kindan nodded. “You could build in supports and then pull out the pillars. In fact, if the field weren’t so huge, or when it’s finally mined out—probably not before the end of the coming Pass or even longer—”

“More than fifty Turns?” Master Zist was impressed.

Kindan nodded again. “The seam’s a good three meters wide, and there’s acres of it down there. The Camp would have to be proved and then they’d drill some more shafts, one for air and the other just for coal, and they’d probably make roads on the level wide enough for workbeasts to haul the coal out, instead of just men with carts or wheelbarrows.”

Master Zist sighed, shaking his head at his own ignorance. “Let’s get back to the pillars.”

Kindan nodded. “The pillars keep the rock above the coal from bearing down on the field and crushing the coal. They support the weight. If you work your pillars—”

“Then you run the risk of crushing the whole field?” Master Zist guessed.

Kindan smiled at the Harper. “Exactly!” he agreed.

“So when would it make sense to work your pillars?”

Kindan shrugged. “I don’t know everything about mining, Master Zist,” he admitted reluctantly.

“Just give me a guess, then,” the Harper allowed.

“Well . . . I can think of two times: when you need to get coal out in a hurry and you’re not going to keep mining; and when you’ve mined everything else and you’re willing to build up new pillars to bear the load while you work the coal pillars,” Kindan said.

BOOK: Dragon's Kin
6.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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