Chapter 1 Chapter 1
The little queen all golden
Flew hissing at the sea.
To stop each wave
Her clutch to save
She ventured bravely.
As she attacked the sea in rage
A holderman came nigh
Along the sand
Fishnet in hand
And saw the queen midsky.
He stared at her in wonder
For often he’d been told
That such as she
Could never be
Who hovered there, bright gold.
He saw her plight and quickly
He looked up the cliff he faced
And saw a cave
Above the wave
In which her eggs he placed.
The little queen all golden
Upon his shoulder stood
Her eyes all blue
Glowed of her true
When Menolly, daughter of Yanus Sea Holder, arrived at the Harper Craft Hall, she came in style, aboard a bronze dragon. She was seated on Monarth’s neck between his rider, T’gellan, and the Masterharper of Pern, Robinton. For one who had been told that girls could not become harpers, who had run away and actually lived holdless because she could not continue life without music, this was something of a triumphal success.
Yet it was also frightening. To be sure, music would not be denied her at the Harper Hall. True, she had written some songs that the Masterharper had heard and liked. But they were just tunings, not anything important. And what could a girl, even one who had taught her Hold’s youngsters their Teaching Songs and Ballads, do at a Harper Hall from which all teaching songs originated? Especially a girl who had inadvertently Impressed nine fire lizards when everyone else on Pern would give a left arm to own just one? What had Master Robinton in mind for her to do here in the Harper Hall?
She couldn’t think, she was so tired. She’d had a busy, exciting day at Benden Weyr on the opposite side of the continent, where night now was well advanced. Here in Fort Hold, the sky was just darkening.
“Just a few minutes more,” said Robinton in her ear. She heard him laugh because just then bronze Monarth trumpeted a greeting to the Fort Hold watch dragon. “Hang on, Menolly. I know you must be exhausted. I’ll put you in Silvina’s care the moment we land. See, there,” and she followed the line of his pointing finger and saw the lighted quadrangle of buildings at the foot of the Fort Hold cliff. “That’s the Harper Hall.”
She shivered then, with fatigue, the cold of their passage between and apprehension. Monarth was circling now, and figures were pouring out of the Harper Hall into the courtyard, waving wildly to cheer the Masterharper’s return. Somehow, Menolly hadn’t expected that there’d be so many people in the Harper Craft Hall.
They kept well back, though their shouts of welcome didn’t abate, while the big bronze dragon settled in the courtyard, giving him plenty of wingroom.
“I’ve got two fire lizard eggs!” shouted Master Robinton. Hugging the earthen pots tightly against his body, he slid from bronze Monarth’s shoulder with the ease of considerable practice in dismounting dragons. “Two fire lizard eggs!” he repeated joyfully, holding the precious egg pots above his head and striding quickly to show off his prizes.
“My fire lizards!” Anxiously Menolly glanced up and about her. “Did they follow us, T’gellan? They’re not lost between.”
“No chance of that, Menolly,” T’gellan replied, pointing to the slated roof behind them. “I asked Monarth to tell them to perch there for the time being.”
With infinite relief, Menolly saw the unmistakable outlines of her fire lizards on the rooftop against the darkening sky.
“If only they don’t misbehave as they did at Benden…”
“They won’t,” T’gellan assured her easily. “You’ll see to that. You’ve done more with your fair of fire lizards than F’nor has with his one little queen. And F’nor’s a trained dragonrider.” He swung his right leg over Monarth’s neckridge and dropped to the ground, raising his arms to her. “Bring your leg over. I’ll steady you so you won’t jar those sore feet of yours,” and his hands braced her as she slid down Monarth’s shoulder. “That’s the girl, and here you are, safe and sound in the Harper Hall.” He gestured broadly as if only he could have accomplished this mission.
Menolly looked across the courtyard, where the Masterharper’s tall figure and presence dominated those surrounding him. Was Silvina one of them? Wearily Menolly hoped that the Harper would find her quickly. The girl could put no reliance on T’gellan’s glib assumption that her fire lizards would behave. They’d only just got used to being at Benden Weyr, among people who had some experience with winged antics.
“Don’t worry so, Menolly. Just remember,” said T’gellan, gripping her shoulder in awkward reassurance, “every harper on Pern has been trying to find Petiron’s lost apprentice…”
“Because they thought that apprentice was a boy…”
“That made no difference to Master Robinton when he asked you to come here. Times are changing, Menolly, and it’ll make no difference to the others. You’ll see. In a sevenday you’ll have forgotten you’ve ever lived anywhere else.” The bronze dragonrider chuckled. “Great shells, girl, you’ve lived holdless, outrun Thread, and Impressed nine fire lizards. What’s to fear from harpers?”
“Where is Silvina?” The Masterharper’s voice rose above the others. There was a momentary lull and someone was sent to the Hall to find the woman. “And no more answers now. You’ve the bones of the news, I’ll flesh it out for you later. Now, don’t drop these egg pots, Sebell. Right now, I’ve more good news! I’ve found Petiron’s lost apprentice!”
Amid exclamations of surprise, Robinton broke free of the crowd and beckoned T’gellan to bring Menolly forward. For a brief second, Menolly fought the urge to turn and run, impossible as it was with her feet barely healed from trying to outrun Thread and with T’gellan’s arm about her. His fingers squeezed on her shoulder as if he sensed her nervousness.
“There’s nothing for you to fear from harpers,” he repeated in her ear as he escorted her across the court.
Robinton met them halfway, beaming with pleasure as he took her right hand. He flung up his other arm to command silence.
“This is Menolly, daughter of Yanus Sea Holder, late of Half-Circle Sea Hold, and Petiron’s lost apprentice!”
Whatever response the harpers made was covered by an explosion of fire lizard cries from the rooftop. Fearful that the fair might wing down on the harpers, Menolly turned, saw that their wings were indeed spread and sternly commanded them to stay where they were. Then she had no excuse for not confronting the sea of faces: some smiling, some with mouths ajar in surprise at her fire lizards, but too many, many people.
“Yes, and those fire lizards are Menolly’s,” Robinton went on, his voice easily projecting above the murmurs. “Just as that lovely song about the fire lizard queen is Menolly’s. Only it wasn’t a man who saved the clutch from the sea, it was Menolly. And when no one would let her play or sing in Half-Circle Sea Hold after Petiron died, she ran away to the fire lizard queen’s cave and Impressed nine of the eggs before she realized what she was doing. Furthermore,” and he raised his volume above the ragged cheers of approval, “furthermore, she found another clutch, which provided me with two eggs!”
The second cheer was more wholehearted, reverberating in the courtyard and answered by shrill whistles from the fire lizards. Under cover of good-natured laughter at that response, T’gellan muttered, “I told you so,” in her ear.
“And where is Silvina?” asked the Harper again, a note of impatience audible.
“Here I am and you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Robinton,” said a woman, pushing through the ring of harpers. Menolly had an impression of very white skin and large expressive eyes set in a broad-cheeked face framed by dark hair. Then strong but gentle hands took her from Robinton’s grasp. “Subjecting the child to such an ordeal. No, no, you lot calm down. All this noise. And those poor creatures up there too scared out of their wits to come down. Haven’t you any sense, Robinton? Away! The lot of you. Into the Hall. Carry on all night if you’ve the energy but I’m putting this child to bed. T’gellan, if you’d help me…”
As she upbraided everyone impartially, the woman was also making her way, with Menolly and T’gellan, through the crowd which parted respectfully but humorously before her.
“It’s too late to put her with the other girls at Dunca’s,” said Silvina to T’gellan. “We’ll just bed her in one of the guest rooms for the night.”
Unable to see clearly in the shadows of the Hall, Menolly barked her toes on the stone steps, cried out involuntarily at the pain and grabbed at the supporting hands.
“What happened, child?” asked Silvina, her voice kind and anxious.
“My toes… my feet!” Menolly choked back tears that the unexpected pain had brought to her eyes. Silvina mustn’t think her a coward.
“Here! I’ll carry her,” said T’gellan and swung Menolly up into his arms before she could protest. “Just lead the way, Silvina.”
“That dratted Robinton,” Silvina said, “he can go on all day and night without sleep but forgets that others—”
“No, it’s not his fault. He’s done so much for me…” Menolly began.
“Ha! He’s deeply in your debt, Menolly,” said the dragonrider with a cryptic laugh. “You’ll have to have your healer see to her feet, Silvina,” T’gellan continued as he carried Menolly up the broad flight of stairs that led from the main entrance of the Hall. “That’s how we found her. She was trying to outrun the leading edge of Threadfall.”
“She was?” Silvina stared over her shoulder at Menolly, her green eyes wide with respectful astonishment.
“She nearly did, too. Ran her feet raw. One of my wingmen saw her and brought her back to Benden Weyr.”
“In this room, T’gellan. The bed’s on the left-hand side. I’ll just open the glow baskets…”
“I see it,” and T’gellan deposited her gently in the bed. “I’ll get the shutters, Silvina, and let those fire lizards of hers in here before they do get into trouble.”
Menolly had let herself sink into the thick mattress of sweet rushes. Now she loosened the thong holding the small bundle of belongings to her back but she hadn’t the energy to reach for the sleeping fur folded at the foot of the bedstead. As soon as T’gellan had the second shutter open, she called her friends in.
“I’ve heard so much about the fire lizards,” Silvina was saying, “and had only the glimpse of Lord Groghe’s little queen that… Gracious goodness!”
At Silvina’s startled remark, Menolly struggled out of the thick mattress to see the fire lizards dipping and wheeling about the woman.
“How many did you say you have, Menolly?”
“There are only nine,” replied T’gellan, laughing at Silvina’s confusion. She was twisting about, trying to get a good look at one or another of the gyrating creatures.
Menolly told them to settle down quickly and behave. Rocky and Diver landed on the table near the wall while the more daring Beauty took up her accustomed perch on Menolly’s shoulder. The others came to rest on the window ledges, their jeweled eyes whirling with the orange of uncertainty and suspicion.
“Why, they’re the loveliest creatures I’ve ever seen,” said Silvina, peering intently at the two bronzes on the table. Rocky chirped back, recognizing that remarks were being made about him. He flipped his wings neatly to his back and cocked his head at Silvina. “And a good evening to you, young bronze fire lizard.”
“That bold fellow is Rocky,” said T’gellan, “if I remember correctly, and the other bronze is Diver. Right, Menolly?” She nodded, relieved in her weariness that T’gellan was ready to speak for her. “The greens are Aunties One and Two,” and the pair began to chatter so like old women that Silvina laughed. “The little blue is Uncle but I haven’t got the three browns sorted out…” And now he turned inquiringly to Menolly.
“They’re Lazybones, Mimic and Brownie,” Menolly said, pointing at each in turn, “and this… is Beauty, Silvina,” Menolly spoke the woman’s name shyly because she didn’t know her title or rank in the Harper Hall.
“And a Beauty she is, too. Just like a miniature queen dragon. And just as proud, I see.” Then Silvina gave Menolly a hopeful look. “By any chance, will one of Robinton’s eggs hatch a queen?”
“I hope so, I really do,” said Menolly fervently. “But it’s not easy with fire lizard eggs to tell which is the queen.”
“I’m sure he’ll be just as thrilled no matter what the color. And speaking of queens, T’gellan,” and Silvina turned to the dragonrider, “do please tell me, did Brekke re-Impress the new queen dragon at your Hatching today? We’ve been so worried about her here, since her queen was killed.”
“No, Brekke didn’t re-Impress,” and T’gellan smiled quickly to reassure Silvina. “Her fire lizard wouldn’t let her.”
“Yes. You should have seen it, Silvina. That little bronze midget flew at the queen dragon, scolding like a wherry hen. Wouldn’t let Brekke near the new queen. But she snapped out of that depression, and she’ll be all right now, F’nor says. And it was little Berd who pulled the trick.”
“Well, that really is interesting.” Silvina regarded the two bronzes with thoughtful respect. “So they’ve a full set of wits…”
“They seem to,” T’gellan went on. “F’nor uses his little queen, Grall, to send messages to the other Dragon Weyrs. Of course,” and T’gellan chuckled disparagingly, “she doesn’t always return as promptly as she goes.… Menolly’s trained hers better. You’ll see.” The dragonrider had been edging toward the door and now gave a huge yawn. “Sorry…”
“I’m the one who should apologize,” replied Silvina, “indulging my curiosity when you two are all but asleep. Get along with you now, T’gellan, and my thanks for your help with Menolly.”
“Good luck, now, Menolly. I know you’ll sleep well,” said T’gellan with a jaunty wink of farewell. He was out of the door, his boot heels clicking on the stone floor before she could thank him.
“Now, let’s just have a quick look at these feet you ran ragged…” Silvina gently tugged off Menolly’s slippers. “Hmmm. They’re all but healed, Manora’s clever with her nursing, but we’ll have Master Oldive look at you tomorrow. Now, what’s this?”
“My things, I don’t have much.…”
“Here, you two watch that and keep out of mischief,” Silvina said, putting the bundle on the table between Rocky and Diver. “Now, slip off your skirt, Menolly, and settle down. A good long sleep, that’s what you need. Your eyes are burned holes in your head.”
“I’m all right, really.”
“To be sure you are, now you’re here. Living in a cave, did T’gellan say? With every harper on Pern looking for you in holds and craft halls.” Silvina deftly tugged at skirt tapes. “Just like old Petiron to forget to mention you being a girl.”
“I don’t think he forgot,” Menolly said slowly, thinking of her father and mother and their opposition to her playing. “He told me girls can’t be harpers.”
Silvina gave her a long hard look. “Maybe under another Masterharper. Or in the old days, but surely old Petiron knew his own son well enough to—”
“Petiron was Master Robinton’s father?”
“Did he never tell you that?” Silvina paused as she was spreading the sleeping fur over Menolly. “The old stubborn fool! Determined not to advance himself because his son was elected Masterharper… and then picking a place halfway to nowhere.… I beg your pardon, Menolly…”
“Half-Circle Sea Hold is halfway to nowhere.”
“Not if Petiron found you there,” said Silvina, recovering her brisk tone, “and sponsored you to this Craft. Now that’s enough talking,” she added, closing the glow basket. “I’ll leave the shutters open… but you sleep yourself out, you hear me?”
Menolly mumbled a reply, her eyelids closing despite her effort to remain politely awake while Silvina was in the room. She let out a soft sigh as the door banged softly shut. Beauty immediately curled up by Menolly’s ear, and the girl felt other small hard bodies making themselves comfortable against her. She composed herself for sleep, aware now of the dull throbbing of her feet and the aching of her banged toes.
She was warm, she was comfortable; she was so tired. The bag that enclosed the thick rushes was stout enough to keep stray edges from digging into her flesh, but she couldn’t sleep. She also couldn’t move because, while her mind turned over all the day’s incredible events, her body wasn’t hers to command but in some nether region of unresponsiveness.
She was conscious of the spicy odor of Beauty, of the dry sweet scent of the rushes, the earthy smell of wet fields borne in by the night wind, accented occasionally by the touch of acrid blackstone smoke. Spring was not advanced enough to dispense with evening fires.
Strange not to have the smell of sea in her nostrils, Menolly thought, for sea and fish odors had dominated all but the last sevenday of her fifteen Turns. How pleasant to realize that she had done with the sea, and fish, forever. She’d never have to gut another packtail in her life, or risk another infected cut. She couldn’t use her injured hand as much as she wanted to yet, but she would. Nothing was impossible, not if she could get to the Harper Hall in spite of all the odds against it. And she’d play gitar again, and harp. Manora had assured her she’d use the fingers properly in time. And her feet were healing. It amused Menolly, now, to think that she’d had the temerity to try to outrun the leading edge of Threadfall. Running had done more than save her skin from Threadscoring: it had brought her to Benden Weyr, to the attention of the Masterharper of Pern and to the start of a completely new life.
And her dear old friend Petiron had been Master Robinton’s father? She’d known the old Harper had been a good musician, but it had never occurred to her before to wonder why he had been sent to Half-Circle Sea Hold where only she had profited from his ability as a teacher. If only her father, Yanus, had let her play gitar when the new Harper first arrived… but they’d been so afraid that she’d disgrace the Sea Hold. Well, she hadn’t, and she wouldn’t! One day her father, and yes, her mother, too, would realize that Menolly was no disgrace to the Hold of her birth.
Menolly drifted on thoughts of triumph until sound invaded her reflections. Male voices, laughing and rumbling in conversation, carried on the clear night air. The voices of harpers; tenor, bass and baritone, in amused, argumentative, cajoling tones, and one querulous, sort of quavery, older, whiny voice. She didn’t like that one. Another, a velvet-soft, light baritone, rose above the cranky tenor, soothing. Then the Masterharper’s deeper baritone dominated and silenced the others. Though she couldn’t understand what he was saying, his voice lulled her to sleep.