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Old Jul 3 2012, 11:15 AM   #4
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Default Re: The Case of the Dragon's Den

4. The Planning Starts

Days passed. The winter weather resumed its more usual pattern rather than the extreme polar conditions that had prevailed since Turn’s End. The Harper Hall reverted to its usual routines. The volume of music, now with the reference ‘0 – 1’, had been signed out to the twins, as had the scroll on old notations, for so long lost among the papers of the Master Harper.
In the Master Archivist’s office off to the side of the Hall, where a score of apprentices and journeymen laboured to make sense of worn hides and faded lettering, Kandar and Sinteen were discussing the Journal lying on the work table in front of them.
“It’s genuine,” Sinteen was saying, “definitely. The style of lettering, in both versions, is consistent with the age, and so is the spelling. One or two words have changed over time. Gitar, for instance, used to be spelt with a ‘u’ between the ‘g’ and the ‘i’. Not many know that. I’m convinced.”
“Good, so was I. And I only had gut feeling to go by.”
“What are we going to do with it now? It’s a remarkable story in its way. As rare a tale as Moreta’s Ride but 500 turns older.”
“Well we can’t keep it totally secret, or not for long. I wish we could trace their journey but without maps of the south ...”
There was a longish pause while Sinteen did his usual thinking trick of closing his eyes and appearing to go to sleep.
“I think there’s something in the catalogue, now that we’re restoring that early section. I’ve got three senior journeymen working in shifts, carefully checking items out and gradually rewriting that part. But, it’s slow work. Some items are beyond repair or restoration: a few are beyond even being copied. But there’s something. Come on!”
He set off at a jog trot, an event sufficiently rare that Kandar recorded it in his journal that night. Sinteen halted at the desk near the bottom of the steps and just inside the archive cellars.
“Now then ... no ... hm-m ... hm-m ... here we are.” He raised his voice. “Has anyone found 1 – 8 – 17?”
“Don’t think so, unless it’s that long roll.” A voice called back from the far distance.
“Let’s go and see.” He walked off at his normal pace, followed by Kandar.
In the end section they found a journeyman carefully softening the cover of an ancient hide bound book brought out from what had been the hidden section.
“The long roll’s still on the top shelf: it could be the map.”
“How do you know that 1 – 8 – 17 is a map?” Kandar asked the journeyman.
“I think that, in the last sevenday, I’ve learned by heart the whole catalogue of the hidden section.”
“Good man.”
Sinteen went and got the roll. “It’s big enough to be the map.” He said on his return from the passage.
“Doesn’t it have a reference number on it anywhere?” asked Kandar looking the roll over.
“It had a hide label threaded on the binding cord, but it was so fragile it disintegrated before we could read it.” The Master Archivist gently flexed one exposed corner. “We’ll have to warm it up.”
“Warm it up?”
“Yes. This stuff goes fragile with extreme age. And I wish we knew what it is. It’s not animal or vegetable, we know that much. That just leaves us with mineral, but which one or ones, and how they made it we’ve no idea. The other day we broke one roll, luckily only a small one and we’ve got the bits to work with. One of the journeymen, Franc I think it was, suggested warming them to soften them. We have to use dry heat though. If we steamed them, or used hot water, we’d damage the writing, or even wash the ink off. And it has to be gentle. We overheated one, by accident of course, and it started melting and stretching. At least it’s still legible, if distorted, so we’re copying it out. Now we just hold them in front of the fire for a while, unroll the bit that’s softened and then do the next bit. It’s slow but safe.”
“How about this map then? Can you heat something this size?”
“I don’t know. The ones we’ve done have only been about a foot wide. This is at least four times that. It would be very hard to do it evenly all across.”
“How about putting into an oven: a big one? The big bread oven?”
“Good idea, but I don’t know. It would probably be far too hot. We’d have to leave the door open. Do you want to ask Ephi? Or shall I to save you from domestic wrath?”
Ephi, when she heard their proposal, gave them a look.
“Are you two grown up? You’re as bad as the twins.” She thought for a bit. “I’m not lighting it specially. For one thing, we’re about to start preparing the evening meal. Suppose you do it tomorrow morning after we’ve taken the bread out and the oven’s cooling down? Right? Now get out of my kitchen and let me do some adult work.”
They retreated and heard her mutter ‘boys!’ behind them. They grinned at each other: their lost youth temporarily regained.

-o-0-o-

Early the next morning Kandar slid carefully out of bed leaving Ephi asleep. He entered the necessary. Like a number of the older Masters, he was finding increasingly that hydraulic pressure was demanding urgent relief. Perhaps he should consult with Rubor? And, since he was up, there were things he could well be getting on with.
He was so deep in his work, making good progress with writing out the instrumental parts for his latest composition, that he missed the sounds issuing from the bedroom. So that, when Ephi appeared on her way to supervise the getting of breakfast he was rather surprised.
She paused by the door. “Are you coming?”
“Eh?”
Aren’t you and Sinteen supposed to be borrowing the bread oven?”
“Shells is it that time already? I’d better see if he’s up.”
A half-glass later, when Ephi returned to the kitchen from checking the Hall’s supply of root crops, she found the two men helping themselves to bowls of newly cooked cereal.”
“Are you proposing to eat that here? I’m not having my busy kitchen cluttered up with extra bodies. Now, stick those on a tray, fill a couple of beakers with klah and disappear. The oven won’t be cool enough for at least a glass.”
Kandar exchanged a glance with Sinteen. “Yes Dear.”

-o-0-o-

As they prepared to place the scroll in the bread oven, Kandar spoke.
“How will you tell when it’s done?”
!I don’t really know. We need the centre warm enough without letting the outside melt. What we won’t be able to do is to warm a bit and unwind it and then warm the next bit because that would leave us with an increasing amount of unwound map melting away.”
Could you wind up the unrolled bit the other way so that it becomes the centre of a new roll? Presumably it retains its heat for a while?”
“It does. And we could do that; and we’ll try it if we need to. But first we need something to put the roll on: those iron bars are still rather too hot.”
“How about the wooden paddle they put the bread on to lift it in and out?”
“Good thinking that man.”
With the roll within the stone built oven, balanced on the timber implement, they stood and watched it. There was no obvious change. It didn’t do anything dramatic. It didn’t melt into a puddle, or shrivel up. After a short period, Sinteen reached in carefully and flipped the inner corner of the near end.
“Nearly done I think.” They waited a bit more. “Let’s give it a go: any more anad we might damage it.”
Kandar seized the handle and withdrew the paddle swinging it round to place it on the worktable placed handy for the bakers. He nearly hit a drudge carrying a jug of milk as she hurried past on her way to the kitchen staffs’ breakfast.
“Sorry,” he called after her.
Sinteen slid the roll off the paddle onto the table and started to unroll it.
“It’s coming! Hey, it’s not as long as I thought, it’s just that there’s something else rolled up inside it.”
“What?”
“I don’t know yet. We need to unroll it completely. Lend a hand.”
Kandar put the paddle aside and joined in.
“We need to keep it flat,” Sinteen said as he lifted the hidden sheets clear and the map tried to roll back up.
Kandar promptly placed the paddle on the map and helped the Master Archivist to deal with the other sheets.
“Shells! Don’t you two take up some room,” commented Ephi trying to get past them to her office.
“Sorry Dear. Once they’re cool we’ll get out of your way. Where does this paddle go?”

-o-0-o-

The Master Harpers gathered around a blazing fire in the great Hall. It was just after nooning and the group of resident Masters had been augmented by a number of Masters flown in from distant Holds and Weyrs.
The Master Harper entered the Hall, closed the doors behind him and walked over to stand by a low table on which he carefully placed three documents: the journal, the map and one of its erstwhile hidden contents.
“Thank you for gathering here, especially those who have braved the rain to travel. I want to hold this meeting while most of our inmates are busy at their chores. There have been some developments over the last few seven-days of which many of you know only a part and some of you know nothing. So I will summarise them.
“Just after Turn’s End, a long lost section of our archives was discovered. It’s entrance had been hidden for decades behind a set of shelves. The contents of that section had been missing for so long that they had been crossed out in the catalogue and everyone assumed that they had been lost to time and decay. A team are now working through those volumes and scrolls carefully repairing and conserving as many of them as possible.
“Among the finds was a book of music so old it probably predates the oldest copy of the Charter still in existence, the copy at Telgar which dates from turn twenty-one of the first pass. It may well have been brought here with the first settlers.” There were a few gasps. “that volume is being carefully copied, into our current notation since various of the signs and symbols have changed over the ages. Hidden within that volume was this journal,” he pointed to it, “dating from turn fifty-seven, counting from the start of the first pass. It is an account of a journey undertaken by a group who stayed south when most fled north in the Great Crossing. It tells of their movement from cave to cave and how they eventually settled down far to the south. At the end of the pass they were joined by a dragon and its rider. Apparently the rider was not very nice. In fact he was a tyrant and ruled them by fear and cruelty until eventually they turned on him and killed him. The journal claims all this and, further, claims that the rider amassed a large amount of jewels and precious objects which he hid. AND the writer gives some indication how that treasure may be revealed.
“I propose to send a small expedition south to try to find those caves. I believe the journal is a true record, but I’d like the matter proved one way or the other. Their journey, on foot and by cart, took months as they were having both to explore their route, and travel it between falls. We have dragons who can fly in an hour the distance they could travel in a day. I said I propose to do it but, on a matter of this importance, I would like to have the approval of the Masters in Council.”
There was silence for a bit then Master Indyne, the Benden Weyr harper, spoke up.
“One problem I can see is that the South Continent is a very long way to fly straight and, as far as I know, none of the weyrs have any placement pictures for it.”
“What are those other documents you so tantalisingly placed face down?” asked another of the masters.
Kandar looked round the gathering. Nobody else appeared about to speak.
“They relate to what Indyne stated. This one,” he held up the larger one for them all to see, “claims to be a ‘Map of Landing’. It’s not strictly that, though Landing is marked on it. It shows the Holdings, they called them ‘Stakes’, of the original settlers.” He replaced the map on the table and pointed. “We know that the writers of the journal set out from here in Vienna-on-Jordan, and we know that they travelled southerly and westerly probably to around here.”
“What odd names,” commented one of the visiting Masters.
“They are,” replied Sinteen, “and at this age away from its drawing we cannot tell whether they were named for the Holders or for places they had left behind to come here.”
“What’s on the other sheet?” asked Indyne.
“You especially will love this one,” replied Kandar, with his hand on it. “It claims to be a picture of Mount Garben, which is marked on the map just by Landing.” He held it up. “Is it detailed enough for a dragon and rider to between?”
It’s certainly detailed enough, but it would take a brave, or very foolish, rider to make the jump. It’s how old? Seven hundred turns? A lot can change in that time. The forest will certainly have changed: those rows of mounds may well be gone or covered in trees. If it’s changed too much you might come out somewhere different: or not come out at all.”
“But the shape of the mountain wouldn’t have altered surely? If you concentrated on that?”
“Look: I’m just a harper in a weyr. You would need to talk to a dragon-rider or two. You’d come out at SOME mountain, but not necessarily the right one.”
“If it was the wrong one, they could jump straight back to their weyr surely?”
Indyne shrugged.
The harper from Island Ista joined in. “Some of the sea-traders and fishers have, from time to time, been south: blown off course by a storm, or they were following a shoal of fish. They know some of the coast. If you sailed south-east from Nerat you wouldn’t be far from Landing. Perhaps you could find some other landmark distinct enough to be a placement?”
“Good idea. Thanks for that: it could be just what we need. Can we now move to a vote on this? Those in favour? Thank you. Those against? None? Good. Any abstentions?”
“Yes,” came a voice from the back. “Roj of Tillek. If you want to do it, go ahead. I don’t see that it affects me one way or the other. And, I’ve for one have enough to do without this diversion.”
“That’s very honest of you. Now, for the moment very few outside this room know of this and, if you please, I’d like to keep it that way a bit longer; ideally till we know one way or the other.”
“Agreed,” came back a chorus.
“Who are the few who also know,” asked the Master Legist, “and are they trustworthy?”
“Journeyman Leeon’s one and he helped with part of it, but he only knows that bit.”
“Well, I’ve found him a trustworthy young man. Anyone else?”
“Lord Stirdee’s daughter Sareel who’s here as an apprentice healer has read the journal.”
“That’s not too bad. Healers have to know how keep confidences. I can tell from your expression that’s not all is it?”
“The twins: they made the original discovery of the hidden room and they found the journal and brought it to our notice.”
“I don’t like that. They’re not actually members of our guild. They’ve given no oath of loyalty. I’d be a lot happier if they were tied to us in some legal way rather than being, in essence, guests. That’s me speaking as Guild Legist. Personally, I’ve found them to be a delightful pair who actually listen in class. But I have reservations over their ultimate loyalty.”
“I agree to some extent, and I’m working on the problem. I aim to enrol them once their year of fostering is up. I must say that, despite their exuberance, I’ve found them utterly discrete.” He looked round. “Anything else? No? Then, thank you for your time my fellow Masters. Master Indyne, will you join me in my study?”

-o-0-o-

Kandar, trailed by Indyne, entered his study and found C’lef waiting for him as arranged.
“Good to see you Journeyman. I hope you didn’t get too bored waiting?”
“No, no. I got interested in your latest composition. I’m impressed how you heighten the crux of the piece using the cross rhythms caused by the hemiolas in the tenor line.”
“They are fun, aren’t they? I’m not totally happy with it all as yet, which is why it still only exists on the sand-table. Now sit down both of you. There’s something I want to discuss, but I’ll go and get some klah. I want Ephi to join us too.”
Carrying a jug of klah and a clutch of beakers, Kandar was back in a very few minutes, followed by his wife bearing the jug of milk and bowl or sweetening. The beakers were filled and distributed.
“Now: as you know we sometimes post an apprentice to a Hold or Weyr, usually for personal reasons. Master Piet was one. As an apprentice, he went home to South Boll, for a half Turn or so, when his father died. My present problem apprentices ... no I can’t call them that, our Master Legist was right. Legally their status is as visitors ... my present problem is the twins. They are working almost entirely at journeyman level. And in the two exceptions they are at senior apprentice level. By Fall Evener they ought to walk the tables, but they’re only thirteen: at present. If they were two turns older, I could bend the rule claiming that ‘they were within their sixteenth turn’. What do I do with them for two turns?
“They are frighteningly intelligent; they soak up knowledge as fast as you can throw it at them. For thirteen turn olds, their performance work has the insight and maturity of performers double their age. They are good craftsmen in the workshop. Sinteen trusts them with the most precious records: they’re the ‘team’ working on the ancient music.
“We’ve found that they can instruct, although we had to tick them off for it. As happens, among last Falls entrants were a couple of lads with good voices and nothing else. Neither could read the words to a song. One had no concept of number. In fairness to them, they both came from homes miles from anywhere and had had next to no instruction. But they were not doing very well in class. Suddenly they seemed to improve noticeably. It turned out that, in the evenings, the twins were coaching them and teaching them the basic skills they’d missed.
Despite that panegyric, I’m glad to report that they are not perfect. They are a cheeky pair and are quite capable of getting themselves into mischief. Oh; and they ride as though they were born on a runner’s back. Lord Stirdee uses them as a ‘fast response ground crew’ is how I think he phrases it. A couple of rest-days ago Lord Stirdee’s sister, Tirlee, found them, plus the youngest son, endeavouring to ride the length of the runner track standing on their runners’ backs. His wife had a fit and marched them into him to a ticking off but he only laughed and said that in his day it had been riding facing the runner’s tail. He also advised them to take the saddle off before trying it.
“We feel, that is Ephi and I feel, that we should seriously look at posting them out with a few provisos. Ephi has convinced me that they need to spend some time apart.”
“I do,” Ephi put in. “I think it is essential for their emotional development.”
“One of the things I admire in them is that they are intelligent enough to know that they are, but they are mature enough to ignore it. They never show off, or try to use it to dominate the others.
I need to consider very carefully where I place them. I wouldn’t dare send them, or even one of them, to, say, Ruatha: it’s too close to home and Leeon, for all his talents and virtues is only twenty-two.”
Ephi took over. “He’s young enough for them to dream of partnering. I know Maree is beginning to dream of boyfriends and partners, and I’d bet that Filona is too. They’re that age, and Leeon, being effectively of their generation, the temptation to try and make it real will be there. I’m not saying that he would respond, but that rejection will ,of it’s self, cause another problem.”
She looked at Kandar who picked up the talk again.
“So: I’m looking for a couple of mature mentors who’ll be regarded as ‘uncle’ or even ‘grandfather’, rather than ‘boyfriend’.”
“Why are you looking at the Weyrs rather than the Holds?” asked Indyne.
“Because in a Weyr there’s always the chance of transport to get home if needed, or just to visit each other.”
“And you want us to take your problems off your hands do you?” Indyne grinned. “I thought you were bringing me up here to tick me off in private for querying the validity of your expedition.”
“I’m not likely to punish you for being honest. And, once or twice in the past your different, down to earth, view point has reined in my wilder flights of fancy. C’lef, you’re very quiet.”
“I’m staggered. I know them both; slightly. I can’t think how I’ll keep even one of them occupied. In fact I think it’ll be worse with just one. As a pair they amuse each other. In my apprentice days I remember hearing a Master say of one of my class ‘he marches to the sound of a different drum’. I think that describes them.”
Kandar guffawed. “If you land up with Maree you’ll find that’s true literally as well as metaphorically. But that’s why I’ve broached it now. As of today, there’s six months left till Fall Eveners in which we can plan this. And you’ll have full back up from us here to call on. I HAVE had a discussion with their parents, who also need time to get used to such a change.”
“Talking of change,” Ephi added, “they’re both at puberty. Filona has started her periods: well, had her first. Maree hasn’t as yet but any day now ... The other thing with prodigies is that, sometimes, as they go through puberty, the talent withers. This MAY be their peak.”
“Even if that happens,” said Kandar, “as a craft, we are greatly in their debt.”
Indyne looked across at Kandar. “I would like to see what I’m taking on. The rest of you know them: I don’t.”
“That’s fair comment.” Kandar thought for a moment. “They should be having a voice class in about a half glass, just the two of them. Why don’t you go and call on your old friend the Voice Master? I’m sure he won’t object to you sitting in on at least part of the lesson.”
With the class finished, Master Indyne searched out his craft master, again.
“Why did nobody tell me about poor Maree? How does she cope with that terrible scaring? What happened?”
“Somebody sabotaged her flame-thrower when she was ground crewing. How did you find out? She normally keeps it covered in company.”
“She came in wearing a woolly hat. When she pulled it off her headscarf came away too. She just calmly put the scarf back and started in on a set of arpeggios.”
“That’s how she copes: she ignores it.”
“Not in private she doesn’t,” put in Ephi. “She regards me as an extra granny. I’ve had her weeping on my shoulder more than once. She’s a very frightened young woman. She worries what man will want a partner looking like her? Or, even worse, will he only offer for her out of pity. Or because he thinks that’ll she’ll accept HIM because she’s got no other choice.”
lndyne swallowed hard. With a choked voice he said, “well, if you assign her to me, I’ll be proud to be her mentor and spare grandfather, or whatever. And I know my wife will welcome her also.”

-o-0-o-

Kandar and Sinteen had made no secret of their search for the map and speculation about its possible use grew among the journeymen working on the lost archive. The upcoming meeting of the Council of Masters was noted, by the small group, with interest and one of the journeymen, not being involved with the chore sections, made sure that he had occasion to wander slowly past the Hall windows. Such of Kandar’s explanation as he heard whetted his appetite and caused him not only to linger as long as he dared, but to wander a little distance away and to return to hear more. Even so, he only had snippets to go by but his imagination filled in the gaps. He couldn’t wait to tell his fellows.
The rumours spread through the journeymen and filtered on down to the apprentices where fertile imaginations embroidered the story. The self imposed injunction ‘don’t let the Masters know that we know’ was received with glee.
It was bad luck that a senior apprentice, doing chores around Fort’s craft halls, met up with Almore.
“How’s it going?” the apprentice asked the ex-apprentice.
“All right, I guess,” came the morose rely. “I just wish my mother would stop fussing over me as though I was two!”
The tale of the twins’ discovery of the lost archive was soon passed on, and the speculation as to the Master Harper’s intentions was added to Almore’s knowledge. His reaction was all that his informant could have wished for: he exploded!
“Turds! If we’d known that we wouldn’t just have beaten them up. We’d have killed them. I still would. Gladly. I’d love to get back at them. It’s all their fault we were thrown out. You keep me informed of any developments, you hear? Or else. If I hear something that you haven’t bothered to tell me ... well, I know where you sleep.”

-o-0-o-

It was just after the same nooning. In the instrument workshop Filona, at a well lit bench, was busy with compasses and scribers marking out the positions for the holes to take the tuning pegs and to locate the sharping levers.
On the other side of the room, Maree, watched by Master Piet, was stretching into place the head of her second drum. She was taking extra care since not only did it have to be evenly stretched across the drum’s rim, but the flying dragon dyed into the hide had to be central. When she had achieved this, and received a nod from Master Piet, she started to lash it in place.
“You know,” she remarked, “I wish I could have a drum big enough and loud enough that when I banged it Mum could hear it and know it was me.”
“An interesting proposition,” Piet replied. “It would need to be enormous and very deep sounding: deep sounds travel further. And, you’d have to be very high up.”
“How about the old beacon watchers’ post up the valley?” asked Filona from across the room.
“Bit far to carry the drum each time,” commented Maree.
“You could leave it there in the old shelter,” said her twin.
“Don’t get your hopes up too high girls, it still wouldn’t go as far as Ruatha. And, Maree, you still have to finish off those three drums BEFORE you start building a giant one.”
There was quiet for a few minutes.
“I think I’ve got all the pegs and levers marked correctly. Do you want to check, Sir?”
He went and did so. “Those are fine. Since there’s no class this afternoon you might as well start drilling.”
He wandered off and took up his own work: choosing the veneers for some delicate inlay work.
After a bit he remarked, “you know you might be onto something with your big drum. If we could bang out a message it could be quicker than either handing it in to the runner service, or waiting for a dragon-rider to answer the signal flag. Your mention of the beacon watchers did it. Mind you, the beacons could only say one thing ‘danger!’, and they had chains of them to pass the message from mountain to mountain. If we had chains of drum stations the message could get across Pern quite quickly. We’d need some sort of code though.”
“ Sir, while you are solving that conundrum (sorry I didn’t intend to pun) up till now, with only one drum at a time, we didn’t need to write down drum music but I need to find a way of writing down the music for my drums to tell me which one to bang next.”
“Well,” said Filona, peering under her harp’s neck to see whether her latest hole was visible yet, or needed another turn or two of the brace, “you could use a sort of stave with a line for each drum.”
“Oo yes; and then I could still use our usual note values to tell me how long each note was.”
“What would you do for a roll?”
“Use the trill sign, you know: ‘tr’?”
How would you know how long to hold the roll for?”
“Don’t know. I’ll have to think about that.”
Master Piet put down his veneers, “that’s it!” he shouted walking back across the room.
“What is?” asked Filona, carefully positioning her drill bit for her next hole.
“What you ... that looks fine Maree, tie it off now ... you two said. If one had signal drums in three different pitches you could set up a code of patterns.”
“How many codes would we need?” asked Filona putting down her drill and wandering across to the other two.
“How many do we have?” asked Piet.
“Well, if I remember our figuring lectures last term,” said Maree, neatly cutting off the spare cord from her lashing, “there would be three singles; and three times three doubles. Triple combinations would be three times three times three.”
“So that’s three singles, nine doubles and ... twenty-seven triples.” Said Piet reaching out to grab an off-cut of hide and writing on it. Both girls closed in on Master Piet. “Now Filona, let’s use your idea of a drum stave,” he quickly drew three lines across the hide, “and let’s note down all the triple combinations. There’s only the three that use just one drum: high-high-high; medium-medium-medium; and low-low-low.” He noted them down. “Now for the ones using two drums. We start with high-high-medium: high-high-low: high-medium-high ...”
They became totally engrossed.

-o-0-o-

It was very late that night when Master Piet knocked on the door of the Master Harper’s rooms. Invited to enter, he did so ushering the twins in before him. Kandar and Ephi had been on the point of heading bed-wards after quietly discussing the gather due next seven-day.
Kandar lazily stretched long and then relaxed as he addressed Piet. “What bring you in this direction at this time of night?”
“Is it that late? I never realised. We got rather wrapped up in something.” He suddenly looked appalled. “Shells! I never sent you two to eat did I? Oh, snakes, you must be starving.”
“Then you must be also,” observed Ephi as she heaved herself to her feet. “You tell Kandar what ever it was you came to tell him. I’ll go and see what I can find in the kitchen.”
“Now what have the twins been up to this time?” asked Kandar with a twinkle in his eye.
“Well, we were working in the workshop this afternoon and Maree mentioned how she wished she had a drum big enough for her mother to hear over near Ruatha. And bit later we were discussing how to write actual music for drums because Maree would need it. And it all sort of came together.
“If we had three really big drums that would carry some miles we could set up chains of drum posts, like the old beacon watch stations, with staff to listen out for drum messages and pass them on.”
“Y – e – s, but you have only three notes. That’s rather limiting to what one can say, isn’t it?”
“Ah. That’s what we were working on so hard that we forgot the time. If you use a triplet of beats there are twenty-seven combinations. Three of them only use one drum. According to Master Sinteen, the commonest consonants we use are ‘s’ and ‘t’. We went and asked him. So, we use two of the easy patterns for those, I’ll come to the third one in a bit. There are six combinations that use two drums; so we use them for the vowels plus ‘y’ which is almost a vowel. That leaves us with eighteen patterns that use all three drums so they become the consonants.”
“What about numbers?”
“I’m coming to those. There are nine pattens possible with only two beats so those become the numerals, with that spare one note triple assigned to zero.”
“You three have worked like crazy. Considering how much you’ve achieved I’m surprised that you missed only one meal. With a bit of luck, Ephi will be back soon.”
“There’s a bit more.” Said Filona.
“There would be,” replied Kandar with a grin.
“There are, of course, three single beat signals. We thought that they could be for punctuation: query, comma and stop.”
“There are also three rolls. We thought that the high one could be used to warn the next post at they are about to get a message, and the low one to tell them you’ve finished. The middle one would stand for ‘this message is really urgent’.”
They were showing him their notation chart based on Maree’s three line stave when Ephi barged the door open with her hip and entered bearing a well laden tray.
“Sorry I took so long but I found we had some portions of dinner put away in the larder, so I heated it up. Though I doubt you deserve YOURS hot,” she glared at Piet.
“There’s only one coding problem that I can see still,” said Kandar as three healthy appetites were being assuaged. “How do we know who the message is actually meant for? For some messages it doesn’t matter how many people read them but, others, we really need to keep private. I’m sure Lord Rahon would not want it known all over Pern that the Master Healer thinks his Lady has gall stones. (I hasten to add that she hasn’t, as far as I am aware).” He banged his hands on his knees. “Well we don’t need to solve everything tonight.
“What you two youngsters don’t know is that, as a craft, we’ve been searching for a message system for decades. We’ve tried waving torches about at night. We tried tall masts with columns of flags on them. They didn’t work if there was no wind at all, or if the wind was in the wrong direction. You’ve given me hope again. Now Piet, when you’ve all three finished, I think it would be an idea if you escorted the twins over to the Hold and explain to the watch that they haven’t been naughty or anything, but were unexpectedly detained in the Hall. Goodnight.”
He pulled Ephi to her feet and marched her into their bedroom.

-o-0-o-

Next morning Fort had thread fall due at mid morning so the twins stayed at the Hold after breakfast. This time the Fall would cut a swath across the southern portion of the Holding so Lord Stirdee stationed his fast response team at a cothold down the valley. The twins were joined this morning by Sareel again. Her younger brother was very put out that his father wouldn’t let him go with them. He retired in a sulk, determined to win a place on the team.
In the early afternoon, after bathing and changing, the twins went hunting for Master Kandar. They found him just leaving the healer wing.
“Sir, we think we’ve solved the problem of addressing the messages.” Maree said as they accompanied him in the direction of the kitchen.
“There are eighty-one possible four beat codes.” Her sister joined in. “So you would get an attention roll, repeated back to show readiness;” “an address code;” “an urgent code if required;” “then the message codes followed by the finish roll;” “repeated back again to show you’ve got it all down.”
Kandar halted outside his wife’s office. “Well done the pair of you. Have you also worked out where we’re going to place all these sets of drums and how we’re going to man them? No? Good. That means that there are some bits for the rest of us to solve. Now I want a private word with my wife. Run along.”
As they departed he called after them. “You forgot one code. How do you tell the sender that you need something repeated?”

-o-0-o-

Informed in due course about the proposed expedition south, Almore sent a message across to Plyne in South Boll Hold. He was rather surprised when a few days later Plyne arrived riding behind a green-rider.
“Being a Lord Holder’s son has its advantages,” he said, grinning at Almore and leading him into the gap between two craft halls. “Now tell me everything you know.”
After the recital he looked round to see if anyone was in view.
“How about we join in? I could certainly do with a share of the dragon’s hoard. I could set up on my own then.”
“They’re not going to let us join them: they threw us out remember?”
“So we don’t tell them we’re joining. We follow. Let them do the hard stuff and then we grab the lot. They won’t be expecting anybody and guarding everything. After all, south’s empty. Who would be around to DO any stealing? I’d certainly like to get back at them for treating me that way. How dare they: I outrank them!”
“Except for the Master Harper. He ranks with your father.”
“True; but the rest of them are just sharding drudges.”
“How do we get south though? We can’t just go and ask a weyr to fly us in.”
“Let me think ... we could however get them to fly us down to a sea-hold in, say, Ista or Nerat. There we could buy a pair of runners and hire a ship to sail us there. We could be a pair of adventurous lads who want to do a bit of exploring.”
“If they drop us off, how do we get home.”
“Tell them to come back in a month’s time; same spot. We should be able to do it in that time.
“What about threadfall?”
“What about it? You said THEY sheltered in caves? So can we, and, riding light on runner back we can go a lot further and faster than they could with carts. Now, we need to set off in the next few days. We have to allow time for sailing there and ships are slow compared to dragons. You said that they’ve been making copies of the map and things?” Almore nodded. “I’m sure you can persuade one of our former companions to find us a set?”

-o-0-o-

Heading to nooning, Filona was passing the Master Harper who was just outside the dining hall waiting for Master Sinteen. She paused briefly.
“Master Kandar, the answer to your question is: hit both the high and low drums at once.”
She walked on into the hall leaving Kandar trying to remember the question.

-o-0-o-

Next morning Sinteen chose to sit next to Kandar at breakfast. Over their bowls of cereal he quietly approached the subject.
“When do you expect to actually mount the expedition?”
Not till we planned it in as much detail as we can and to do that we need the team in place.”
“Any ideas who?”
“Ideally I want Byrt to lead it. He’ll need at least one dragon and rider to assist him. But I’d like to keep it as small as possible.”
“I agree. Any ideas on which dragon-rider?”
“How about N’key from High Reaches? He’s steady and, as a liaison rider, discrete.”
“Good choice. Why not C’lef, he is a harper after all.”
“That’s why not. He’s not only got his duties as a wing rider but there’s all the teaching, arbitrating, entertaining as well. His absence would be far more noticeable.”
“Good point. You’ll need permission from Vill and M’tak then.”
I will, of course. I think the next step is to invite the Weyrleader and Master Smith to a meeting here. We’ve thread fall due tomorrow afternoon. If I recollect only the tail end hits us. If we met when the ground crews are out there would be less people around to see and wonder.”
“You devious old man!”
“From you, that’s a compliment.”

-o-0-o-

The signal banner was hoisted. The invitations were despatched. And the Weyrleader duly arrived having diverted to collect the Master Smith.
Once again Kandar gave his summary of the discoveries, and once again the three documents were examined.
“This is all very interesting but why are you telling us?” asked M’tak.
“Because I want to mount an expedition to follow their route and, if possible, locate the treasure.”
“But, why tell us smiths? It’s an intriguing tale but I don’t see anything in it to interest my craft,” observed Vill.
“I want to borrow one of your smiths to lead it.”
“Ah: who? Byrt, I guess?”
“Yes. I know that’s there’s no obvious crime for him to solve, but there’s more than one mystery and I liked the way he tackled that inscription at Fort Weyr. There wasn’t a crime in that one either.”
“True: but that was just him being nosey. He was there to do a legitimate job of smithing.”
“I like his type of nosiness. We can get by without him if you need him elsewhere but I feel he is the best man to lead this.”
“Currently we have a sudden demand for new flame throwers, a large number of older ones all seem to have failed more or less at once. Byrt is supervising an extra craft shop making them as fast as possible. His assistant, a senior journeyman, is quite capable of running things, at least for a while. In fact it would do him good: help him towards his mastery. How soon do you need him?”
“I’d like to have an initial meeting with him to put him in the picture. It’ll be at least a sevenday before they set out.”
“How about us dragon-men?” asked M’tak. “Which of us are you requesting? C’lef?”
“No, not this time. Oh, he’d do the job well no doubt, but I thought it had better be somebody whose absence would be less noticeable. N’key, or someone like him”.
“He’d be a good choice. He’s one of our steadiest riders. When we promote weyrlings into that wing, we always put them close to him He calms then down.”
“Just the man for this then. One other thing for you. Do you have any knowledge about threadfall in the south? Thread must fall there, but do the weyrs have any idea of the pattern and timing?”
“In a word: no. But, given a copy of that map we could, possibly, extend the patter we know and work out a rough patter. The timing’s harder. If we can approximate a time, and given a copy of that picture; I’d undertake to check. I could get there a few glasses before fall’s due, land and wait for the fall to approach and jump out.”
“What if you jump INTO thread?” asked Vill, appalled at the thought.
“We’d chew some firestone before we go: give one blast and duck out.”
“That’s brilliant, and brave of you.” Said Kandar. “We’ve got people copying the map and picture anyway. Our Master Archivist insists that the originals are handled and used as little as possible. So I’ll be able to give N’key and Byrt a copy if I meet them ... say the day after tomorrow?”
“What time do you want them?”
“After breakfast our time: so we can have a whole day planning.”
“I’ll have N’key pick up Byrt then.”

-o-0-o-

One of the journeymen awoke in the middle of the night after a disturbing dream in which he had labelled the southern region ‘Kadar’ in stead of ‘Karhrain’ and the stake-hold ‘Seminole’ as ‘Sinteen’. So realistic was the dream that he got out bed and went to check.
Master Sinteen wasn’t best pleased to be woken up before dawn. But, once he had absorbed the news that copies of the all-important documents were missing, he leapt into action with unaccustomed alacrity. First he ascertained that the originals were still locked away. Then he despatched the journeyman to check that the gates to the outside world were locked, and went to inform the Master Harper.
“Right,” said Kandar. “The gates are guarded? Good. Now, nobody is to go out or come in until we’ve searched the entire Hall; every nook and cranny. All classes are suspended. I’ll talk to everybody at breakfast.”
Ephi came out of their bedroom. “What about my deliveries? I’ve a cartload of white-roots due to arrive late in the morning, and a supply of cheese coming this afternoon which I need for this evening.”
“It won’t hurt the white-roots to wait outside for a bit. With luck, we’ll have the gates open again by the time the cheese arrives.”
On his way to breakfast, a couple of glasses later, Kandar diverted his steps to the kitchen and searched for the largest kitchen drudge.
“Have you had your breakfast?”
“Yes Sir, about half a glass ago.”
Fine. Now, I want you to go out to the gates. You’ll find them closed and a journeyman there guarding them. Send him for his breakfast and you guard the gates.”
“Guard gates, yes Sir.”
Guard them well and let nobody in or out. You tell them to go away.W
“Send them away.”
“When the twins come tell them to go away and keep busy till they see the gates are open again. Have you got that?”
“Twins to go but watch, yes Sir.”
“Good man. I’ll send somebody out to take over from you in a couple of glasses.”
“Couple of glasses, yes Sir.”
A few minutes later Kandar strode down the aisle in the dining hall towards the Masters’ tables. Instead of sitting down he banged on the table for attention, and waited for the chattering to stop.
“Before we eat I have an important announcement bring before you all.
“Last night somebody, or some bodies, snuck into the archives and stole a copy of both the journal and the map that were part of the lost records. I say stole, since they omitted to sign them out.
“I am suspending all classes until further notice. This is not a licence to dawdle and delay their resumption.
“We are going to search this Hall as it has never been searched before. After breakfast you will report to your chore sections and you will be allocated your search areas. Everybody’s belongings, including mine, will be gone through, but not by their owners. Every room will be gone through, including mine, but not by those who usually occupy those rooms.
“There is no place in this craft, or any other, for a thief. When we catch up with whoever it is, and we will eventually, they will at best be sent home. They will probably face a court.
“If anybody feels inclined to confess to any part in this, they had better be waiting outside my room when I get there after breakfast. Eat up, there’s work to do.”

-o-0-o-

After breakfast next morning, following a day of fruitless searching, Kandar received his exporation party in his study. On the table were copies of all three required documents.
“I’m sure M’tak and Vill have given you the gist of the matter, but I’ll go over it to make sure that you’ve both heard everything.”
Once again he repeated the history of the finding of the lost archive. Once again the told the tale told by the journal.
“As you may have heard on your way in,” he concluded, “we’ve had a copy of the map and of the journal stolen. So we have to conclude that not only do some people outside this Hall have knowledge of our trip, but we now have rivals determined to get there first.”
“Do you want me to look for the thief for you?” asked Byrt.
“Not at this time. I think that getting you two there first is far more important. But you’ll have to keep your eyes open. If this was still secret you would have had a clear run. But now ... goodness knows how many of them there’ll be in the gang, or how they’ll be armed.”
“If we fly high,” said N’key, “we’ll be seen easily and they can chase us. If we fly low and keep within valleys as much as possible they’ll be far less likely to spot us and know which way we’re going.”
“Well no weyr is going to fly an armed gang south,” put in Byrt. “that means that their only possible way in is by sea. So, if your harpers keep their eyes and ears open, we might find out how many of there are, where and when they sail, and which bit of the coast they are heading for.”
“I’ll brief my harpers. Can we use dragon-riders to distribute the messages? I WISH we had a signal system in place.”
“It’ll be good practice for the weyrlings.” He laughed. “You lot have been talking signal systems for decades. I expect I’ll be dead before it happens.”
Kandar kept quiet about that one but said, “I want you two to spend the morning studying the journal and map. After nooning I’ll try to answer any queries you have regarding them. You’ll also need to work out what supplies you’ll need. After that I’ll let you do and work quietly somewhere for a couple of days seeing if, between the map and the clues in the journal, you can rough out a rough route. Would you intend to stay down there over night or return north? That sort of thing. Alright?”
After lunch the pair of would be searchers had a few queries for the Master Harper that he hadn’t anticipated.
When we find the place, he was asked, do you want us to come and tell you? Do you want to be there for the opening? Who else do you want to be there? It would be a good idea to have a mason on standby with his bag of tools: could he organise this?
Kandar scratched his head. Yes, he would like to see the place, and to be there to witness the opening. Even if there was nothing there he’s like to see the cave. Master Sinteen deserved to be there also, and the presence of the twins was only their just reward for starting the whole thing off. Yes, it was possible to arrange for a mason: he’d make the request to Lord Stirdee.
“If you let me have the letters for your harpers we’ll get them delivered by sundown.”
“Fine. They’re being done right now. I wrote a master, and it’s being copied by half a dozen apprentices as we speak. Now, the documents: I’ll let you have a copy of each to work from, but I do want the keep the others under lock and key. I know it’s easy to be wise after the event, but ... we’re a bit jumpy just now.”

-o-0-o-

Also after lunch the chore sections set off to their allocated duties. Once again Almore met up with his inside contact.
“All well?”
“No. It’s getting too nasty in there. They’re going to find me eventually. I’m not going back.”
Almore kept quiet about the trip he and Plyne were about to undertake. He didn’t want this weakling along on that.
“Where are you going then?”
“I’ll go home for a bit. Then, when the folks think I set off back here I’ll go to Lemos, or somewhere.”
“How will you get home? Where is it? Remind me.”
“A cot-hold up near the headwaters of head of the Fort River.”
“That’s a long way to walk. Tell you what; if I ride my runner, and borrow one for you, we could ride there in a night if we use the runners’ trace. Then I’ll bring both runners home.”
“That’s good of you.”
“Not at all. It’s my fault you’re in trouble. Right, you hide till dark, there’s a shed behind the Leatherman’s Hall, and I’ll come and get you as soon as it’s safe.”
After he had eaten his mother’s generous serving of stew, Almore headed for the stables. He saddled his own runner and also the rather sorry animal owned by his father’s journeyman. He had not asked permission.
The pair rode off in total darkness and a chilly drizzle. Almore was fine in an oiled wool cloak. His companion was soon soaked through.
After a glass or so, the river valley narrowed. The river below them was swirling over some rocks and around others in a noisy confusion. The trace here was wide enough to their two runners side by side as it climbed over the shoulder a spur with a steep slope up on their left, and a sheer drop of a couple of dragon lengths to the boiling river to their right.
Suddenly Almore’s runner barged into the near side of the other beast. Its rider only had time for a quick shout of, “What?” Then he and his mount were plunging into the river with ear-splitting screams. These were ended by their stunning impact among the rocks.
Almore watched, listened and waited for a bit before turning and riding off home. With luck he would be back to go to bed at a time that would please his fussy mother. In the morning he would, of course, be very surprised to hear that the journeyman’s runner had been stolen.

-o-0-o-

Over the next couple of days Byrt and N’key cogitated, argued, agreed and compromised on their possible route and the way-points on it. N’key wanted to follow every stage in correct order but Byrt was very insistent that they should not waste time going over that part that the Au Connells had had to retrace their steps.
“We need to get to the final cave before the other guys. We can always go back later and explore that bit.”
They had transferred to High Reaches Weyr where Byrt was occupying an empty weyr, which was also where they were gathering the supplies they would need. At N’key’s insistence Byrt was fitted out with a set of rider flying riding gear.
“The amount of time you’re going to spend a-dragon-back, you’re going to need it.”
“But it’s late summer down there.”
“So? It gets cold at altitude. I don’t want to have to bring you home because you’ve caught a chill.”
They were reporting progress to Master Kandar when the news was brought in. A Fort Weyr rider flying a sweep up the river valley had spotted two bodies; one human and one runner. Lord Stirdee had despatched a work detail of hold guards to recover at least the human body.
Kandar pushed back from his desk. “This could be our missing apprentice. His going missing so close to the theft seems to point to his being the perpetrator. Shall we adjourn to the Hold and find out?”
A while later sodden bundle wrapped in a clock, was unloaded form the back of a runner, laid down and the face exposed.
“Yes. He’s one of ours.” Kandar said with a sigh. “He was one of number who hung around on the edges of that gang I threw out back at Turn’s End. Any sign of any scrolls or books with him?”
“No,” came the reply from the sergeant, “But with the way the river’s running at present they’d’ve been swept away. They could well be bobbing past the Hold right now.”
Kandar had taken one pace towards the gateway when he spotted the sergeant’s grin.
“From where you found him it would appear that he was headed for home.” Byrt observed.
“I’ll have to notify his family. Better yet, I’ll go and see them,” said Kandar sadly.
“How about the runner?” Byrt asked the sergeant.
“We had no sharding hope of shifting that,” was the reply. “We did get its tack off though.”
“Got it here?”
“Of course.”
It was produced. Byrt looked at it. Both saddle and bridle were highly decorated pieces of work.
“I should think the journeyman would be able to identify those.” Byrt sniffed. “Whoever made them obviously likes showing off what he can do with a few bits of leather and some brass.”
Kandar turned to Lord Stirdee. “I think we need to talk to Almore, it that’s all right with you?”
“I agree. Sergeant? Detail a couple of men to go with you and get Almore from the Weaver Craft-hall. Don’t damage him too much.”
Half a glass later three despondent guards returned accompanied by the Master Weaver, with the disappointing report that Almore had disappeared.
“He had breakfast with us,” reported his father, “then he went out: to meet a friend he said. His runner’s still in the stable so I’m sure he’s not gone far.”
“Well I want to see him as soon as he returns home.” Lord Stirdee retorted. “I’m not too happy with these goings on.”
Byrt was having a quiet word with the sergeant. “Was the trace bad where you found them?”
“No, not really. None of the traces are. It was wide enough for a couple of beasts side by side. It’s a bit up and down hill but nothing to trip a runner. Well there can’t be or the runner service would be laid up with sprained ankles. It might have shied from a startled wherry or summat.”
“Could they have been pushed or barged off?
“Could be. But that would make it murder. We had a job getting the lad out. Lucky we took a lot of rope with us, but Lord Stirdee, he said ‘take all you need. I don’t want you wasting time riding back and forth getting extra bits of kit.”
Back in Kandar’s study the three resumed their planning but, just as they were getting into it, Kandar turned to Byrt.
“We know a hanger-on of that gang is dead.” He said. “One member of it is missing and, I suspect has the map and journal with him. Do think it would be wise to check on the other two?”
“Yes,” said Byrt shortly and got to his feet.
“Sit down man,” said N’key getting to his as well. “This will only take one of us. Who am I looking for?”
“Tinee, a granddaughter at Telgar Hold; and Plyne, third son at South Boll.”
The liaison rider grabbed his flying helmet and left.
He was back about a glass later.
“Did you save me any nooning?”
“Sorry no. But I’m sure Ephi can soon put something together for you. What news?”
“Well, Tinee is still where she’s meant to be. Says she hasn’t heard from either of the others. I’m inclined to believe her. Plyne is missing. It turns out he arranged with a young green rider from Fort Weyr to be picked up early this morning. They then returned here to pick up a friend. The rider then took them to a fisher hold down in south-east Nabol. Plyne told the rider they were just going to spend some time away from their fussy families. The rider had no reason to doubt or report them.”
“I think we’ve found our gang. All two of them.”
__________________
"Truth is stranger than fiction: fiction has to make sense." Leo Rosten.

"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
C. S. Lewis

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The Pedants are revolting! (against bad grammar)
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