Authors: Anne McCaffrey
“So either way, it’s the end of the mine, is it?” Master Zist asked.
“Yes,” Kindan agreed in a troubled tone. If the mine were to close, he thought, what would happen to him?
Master Zist must have guessed his thoughts, for he punched Kindan lightly on the shoulder. “Harpers can work anywhere, lad.” He looked at the window. “And speaking of work, we’ve both chores to get started.”
Classes with the MasterHarper were different, too. They had been different before from those with Harper Jofri, but now, as a fostering in the Harper’s cottage, Kindan was aware of his unique position. He found himself backing Master Zist’s gruff ways out of his strong sense of loyalty, when before he would have done his stubborn best to undermine the Harper’s discipline.
Dalor noticed it and said nothing; Cristov noticed it and taunted him about it. Tarik’s son had always lorded his position over the other children in the Camp, but now he took special pains to rub Kindan the wrong way, taking every opportunity to remind Kindan that he was now sleeping in
room and how nice Kindan’s old house was.
Kindan took the abuse as long as he could, until one day he caught Cristov leaving the hold on his way back to his house for lunch. One deft hook of his leg and Cristov was sprawled in the mud and snow that was the pathway between Miner Natalon’s hold and the rest of the camp.
“You need to watch your feet,” Kindan said to him roughly. “As well as your tongue.”
Cristov jumped to his feet, but before he could do any more, a huge hand grabbed Kindan by the ear and dragged him back into the hold.
“I’ll deal with this,” Master Zist’s deep voice said. Cristov’s opened mouth closed into a sly grin as he watched Kindan being hauled away.
“Wipe your feet,” the Harper told Kindan when they reached the entrance to the hold. Kindan complied, still smarting at the grip on his ear, and followed the Harper back into the classroom.
“Sit,” Master Zist ordered, indicating a seat at one of the long tables. Kindan sat and raised a hand to rub his injured ear.
“Leave it alone, you earned the pain,” Zist told him. “Now I want you to tell me what you did wrong and what you should have done.”
Kindan furrowed his brow and tried to ignore his sore ear. “He’s been saying—”
“Remember that you’re training to be a harper,” Master Zist reminded him. “Words are supposed to be
Master Zist held his hand up, and Kindan stopped. “Tell me three good things about Cristov,” the Harper ordered.
Kindan closed his mouth and thought. “Well, he’s strong.”
Master Zist raised one finger and gave Kindan an encouraging look.
“His mother likes him.”
“That’s a good thing about his mother,” Master Zist said wryly.
“Aren’t harpers supposed to be trained at the Harper Hall?” Kindan asked, hoping to change the topic.
“A Master may take an apprentice wherever he is,” Master Zist responded, “and send him on to the Harper Hall later.” He raised his hand with the one finger extended. “But you have not finished.”
“Um, well . . . he’s not good at figures . . . or writing—”
, not virtues,” Master Zist said with a sigh.
“I know,” Kindan protested, “I’m just trying to think—”
“I see,” the Harper said. “Well, this is taking too long and we’ve both work to attend. So, to help you think, in addition to your other chores, you will go down to Tarik’s every evening after you’ve done your usual chores and wash all their clothes for them. You will continue doing this until you can report to me three virtues of Cristov. And you will apologize to Cristov for your behavior.”
“But—but—” Kindan spluttered. “How will I get Cristov’s mother to let me do their laundry? I can’t imagine her being too eager to let me do it.”
“How you get her to do it will be up to you,” Master Zist told him. “But do it, you will.”
Kindan rolled his eyes.
Master Zist wagged his finger at him. “I don’t think that rolling your eyes will work with Dara,” he said. He rose from his seat. “Get going; there might be a bite to eat left in the kitchen if you run.”
“What about you, Master?”
“I,” Master Zist stretched to his full height and assumed a lordly pose, “have a date with a young lady.” Catching Kindan’s surprised look, he added with shushing motions, “Go on! Off with you!”
It took Kindan two grueling days to come up with three virtues Cristov possessed: honesty; loyalty; integrity. He managed to ingratiate himself with Dara by explaining that he had fond memories of doing laundry in his old house and could he please do a few loads for them to relive the memory? Cristov looked ready to die of laughter at the question and Tarik looked sour, as always, but Dara relented after giving Kindan a long, searching look.
All the same Kindan was delighted when he reported his findings to Master Zist and got out of his extra chore.
“Describe the house to me,” Master Zist ordered then.
Kindan started to run down the layout of the house from memory, but the Harper stopped him with an upraised hand.
“No, not how you remember it, how it
Kindan struggled to find words, fumbled, and shook his head.
“A harper must learn to observe,” Master Zist said. “Wherever you go, you must be observant.” Under the Harper’s questioning, Kindan slowly recalled all the details of Tarik’s house and the items inside it. He was surprised to discover how much he knew of the state of the house, even though he had not consciously set out to learn it.
“Good,” Master Zist said at last. “It is late—you’d best get to sleep.”
Kindan looked rebellious.
“Tomorrow, we shall meet at the Hold for the evening,” Master Zist said. “We’ll celebrate winter’s end, and I’ll need you to have your wits about you and help on the drums.”
Kindan was surprised. Master Zist had started him working on the drums almost as soon as Kindan had moved into his cottage, but he had never suspected that the Master, always short of praise, would let him perform with him.
“Don’t be so surprised,” Master Zist said. “I can’t play all the instruments by myself, you know. Now, to bed with you. Tomorrow will be long enough without the evening’s festivities at the end of it.”
The next day Dalor had morning watch on the cliff heights. Kindan, woken up well before dawn by the Harper, had as his duty the setting of the watchers. After a hasty cup of
—breakfast would come later—he set off in the dark looking to meet Dalor at the bottom of the path up to the cliff heights.
The winter snow was still on the ground, but there had been no new snow for over a sevenday and much of it had turned to slush with the warming weather. Kindan walked carefully, enjoying the crunch as each of his steps broke through the thin layer of ice that had formed over the snow during the cold night.
There was no sign of Dalor. He waited a few moments and then, aware that he had other duties, he set off for the hold.
The instant he opened the door, he smelled trouble. There was something wrong with the air. He had learned enough about bad air in the mines to have some guess as to what had happened—the chimney had been blocked, or something had caused all the gases from the hearth to spread into the hold and not leave it.
All his training told him to duck to the ground where the air was cooler and might still be breathable, but Kindan knew that time was of the essence.
“Fire! Help, help! Fire!” Kindan shouted at the top of his lungs. He started fanning with the door to suck some of the air out, but he knew it wasn’t enough. He had to get a draft going. He ran from the kitchen door around to the front, all the while shouting as loud as his lungs would allow.
At the front he opened the great doors of the hold and fanned them a few times.
Master Zist came running over. “Lad, what is it?”
“Bad air!” Kindan said. “I could smell it when I went into the kitchen for Dalor. I’ve got the door to the kitchen open and I’m trying to get more air in but—”
“Fire! Help, help! Fire!” Master Zist bellowed. Shapes were approaching from different directions. Kindan looked around. Help might be too late. He ducked into the hallway.
“It’s okay,” Kindan shouted back. “I’m little, I don’t need as much air as others. If I can get upstairs, I can open the windows and maybe wake them up.”
The air on the stairways was definitely bad, Kindan realized as he started up them. He took a few good lungfuls and then held his breath, suddenly grateful for the dares he’d had with Kaylek on who could hold their breath the longest. His eyes were stinging as he reached the landing. His fingers fumbled with the window latch, but he got it open finally and took a few deep breaths before he turned to the bedrooms.
He opened the first door, ran into the room, and heaved open the first window he could find. He heard the shouts of others entering the house and running up the stairs. He shook the person in the bed—it was Dalor. Dazed and confused, Dalor looked up.
“Come on, Dalor!” Kindan shouted at him. “Bad air, come with me!” Suiting actions to his words, he grabbed Dalor’s arm. Shortly, he had the other boy leaning against him and started him out of the room, fighting his own light-headedness as he did so.
Some men met him at the door. One grabbed Dalor and threw him over his shoulders and the other grabbed Kindan and did the same, despite his protests.
Suddenly Kindan was outside, spread out on the snowy ground, taking deep, steady breaths. His head ached.
Something was wrong. Someone was calling her name, but it seemed as from a great distance.
“Nuella! Nuella!” It was Zenor’s voice. A smile played across Nuella’s lips. Zenor. She really liked him. Her friend. The first friend she’d made at the camp. Her only friend. She tried to move, but her limbs felt heavy, like stone.
“Nuella!” Zenor’s voice drew nearer. Dimly Nuella heard a door open, and then she felt someone shake her, grab at her. She was picked up and dragged out of her room.
“The air’s bad, Nuella—I’ve got to get you out,” Zenor said.
Bad air? Nuella thought to herself. Outside? The first faint stirrings of alarm grew inside her, but she was too heavy and tired to move. Outside— She wasn’t supposed to be outside.
“Not outside,” she murmured. Zenor, panting and hauling her down the stairs, didn’t hear her.
“Are you all right, lad?” Master Zist asked, kneeling down beside Kindan. Kindan nodded feebly, wished he hadn’t for the way his head felt, and managed to gesture a question with an open hand. “The others? They seem all right, thanks to you.”
Another person dropped beside Kindan. It was Natalon. “Thanks, lad. We would have died in our sleep, if it hadn’t been for you.”
Kindan sat up more, managed a sickly smile for Natalon, and looked around. Jenella was being wrapped in a blanket, her eyes streaming with tears; Swanee was beside her, coughing deeply. Kindan’s eyes narrowed as he saw Zenor helping a young girl get her breath back. He looked up at Master Zist and raised an eyebrow inquiringly. The Harper cocked his head and shook it just slightly.
Kindan jumped up, ignoring the pain behind his eyes, and grabbed Dalor, with a conspiratorial look in his eyes. He jerked his head toward the girl and Dalor’s eyes grew wide. Kindan shook his head again and walked nonchalantly with Dalor over to Zenor and the girl.
Zenor had placed a blanket over the girl’s head. He looked up curiously as Kindan approached. Kindan raised a quick fingers to his lips as he moved to block the girl from the view of the others.
“Come on, Dalor, you can get warmed up at the Harper’s fire,” Kindan said loudly, motioning for the girl and Zenor to stand up.
After that, it took only a little bit of work to arrange it so that Dalor was covered by the same blanket as the girl, and the four of them marched carefully to the Harper’s cottage, Kindan talking loudly the whole way.
It was possible, he hoped, that things had happened too quickly for anyone but him to notice that two children had been brought out of Natalon’s house, instead of just one.
Safe in the kitchen, all four of them warmed themselves by the fire. Dalor and the girl, still in their nightclothes, were shivering more than Kindan and Zenor.
“How’d you find us?” Dalor asked, his lips still blue.
“You were late for watch,” Kindan explained.
“Thanks,” Dalor said.
The girl reached up a hand hesitatingly toward Kindan and brushed his cheek. “Thank you, Kindan,” she said.
“You’re welcome, Nuella,” Kindan replied. At Dalor’s hiss of surprise and Zenor’s widened eyes, he added, “Master Zist has taken me as his apprentice. He says that a harper has to keep secrets and has to respect the secrets of others.” He turned to the cupboard and pulled out some mugs.
“Zenor, will you help me bring some warm
,” and Kindan emphasized the one name, “warms up here?”
Zenor grinned broadly at his friend. “Sure.”
Kindan winked at Dalor’s surprised look and said, “I’ll see you later.”
By that evening, everyone in the camp knew that the chimney had been blocked, apparently by a freak crack of brick, and that Natalon’s hold had been thoroughly aired and there was no danger to anyone attending Winter’s End there.
All the same, the great double front doors and the windows of the long room were wide open to reassure any worriers. The two long tables that by day served students were pushed to either side of the room, and the teacher’s table was pushed all the way to the far end of the room from the hearth so that there was a good warm area for dancing.
Kindan and Master Zist were situated on top of the long table pushed against the wall. The Harper instructed Kindan to keep a simple beat on the drums, to accompany the songs.
The drumming was so basic that Kindan could spare his attention to observe the partygoers. The whole of Camp Natalon was fewer than two hundred people, including the smallest baby, but such a crowd should have filled the room nearly to bulging. As it was, Kindan calculated that less than a quarter of the Camp’s inhabitants were present.