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Old Jul 3 2012, 11:33 AM   #6
P'ter
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Default Re: The Case of the Dragon's Den

6. The Opening.

The Master Harper greeted the return of the explorers with ill-concealed glee. Byrt’s request for a delay before their return dimmed his enthusiasm somewhat, but he understood the force of the smith’s arguments.
“Oh well, it gives longer to plan the trip I suppose. I’d better tell Lord Stirdee that we definitely need that mason. You need to organise the timbers for the platform. Do you think we ought to take a carpenter too?”
Byrt grinned. “I think I can knock a few nails in.”
“If he can’t, I can.” Put in N’key.
“How many dragons will we need?” Kandar asked him.
“How many are we taking?”
“Seven, I think: you two, Master Sinteen and myself, the twins and the mason.”
“How about including Sareel?” asked Byrt. “She was one of the first to read the journal. Including her as a healer could be a good idea: we don’t know what we’re going to run into.”
“There’s that friend of hers at Benden, the Au Connell girl. I think she deserves to be there to represent her family. It’s their history after all.” N’key gave an emphatic nod.
“Good choices, both of you. That it?” They nodded. “So that’s nine of us. We’ve gor Siluth, so I’d better request another pair of dragons.”
“Make that three: we’ve got that treasure to bring back, hopefully. And we don’t know how much of it there is.”
“And, we’ll need some sacks or something to carry it in.”
Kandar sat down in his chair. “Can we actually take Dzakalyn? Hasn’t she just impressed a Gold? A hatchling can’t travel yet. Will the girl be able to leave her charge for any length of time?”
“If necessary,” said N’key, “we’ll time her back. The dragon will hardly notice her missing.”
“Right folks, let’s get busy. N’key; you organise the transport and liaise with Benden. Byrt; you organise your timbers. I’ll do the rest. Oh, and I’d better ask Ephi to let us have plenty of food.”

-o-0-o-

After supper Byrt was sought out by the twins.
“Hi you two, how’s the drum?”
“It’s not.”
“How come?”
We can’t get the skin tight enough to lash into place.” “Because it’s metal, we can’t tack the skin taut like we would with a wooden drum” “and we’ve tried using lots of laces going underneath.” “That sort of worked” “but we couldn’t get even tension.” “And, the laces kept slipping off because of” “the round bottom.”
“Where’s the drum now?”
“In a store behind the voice schoolroom.” “It’s not in use” “so we’re out of sight” “of any nosy apprentices.”
“You’d better take me and show me.”
Presented with their abortive efforts Byrt um’d and ah’d a bit. “So; if this was a wooden drum what would you do?”
“We’d soak the skin to soften it” “and then we’d smooth it over the drum rim” “and put in the first tack.” “Then we’d gradually work round it stretching it evenly” “and putting in the tacks.” “Lastly,” “we’d lash it in place and leave it to dry,” “and take out the tacks,” “or put in a circle of fancy headed tacks if it was a tambourine.”
Byrt rubbed his jaw and scratched his head. “How big can you make a tambourine? Could you build one big enough to fit right over the cauldron?”
Maree scratched her nose. “I suppose I could but the timber would have to be quite heavy. Filona would have to steam it into shape and the joint would be rather bulky.”
Filona suddenly squealed. “Suppose I steamed two thinish strips of wood and bent the first one round with its ends just touching, and then bent the second piece round the outside with its join in a different place. I’d have to use lots of glue and the second piece would have to be very slightly longer.”
“We might be better even better to use three strips.”
“Then,” put in Byrt, you could stretch and nail, or lash, the skin in place then fit the tambourine over the cauldron.”
“But it would be loose. I don’t think we’d get much resonance.”
“Could we clip them together somehow?”
“Well,” said Byrt, “let’s try without but, if necessary, you could screw some brackets to the wooden ring and I could rivet some brackets to the cauldron and we could put nuts and bolts between and tighten them up.”

-o-0-o-

It took around a day to get everything together, but they delayed their departure for an extra day to avoid threadfall at the caves. They climbed aboard the dragons at first light and were gone before too many eyes were open to see them go.
The first stop was to pick up Dzakalyn from Benden Weyr where it was getting on for noon. She took the twins to gaze at her young dragon who was sleeping off her mornings exertions of bathing and eating. The twins were oohing and aahing over the baby animal, internally very jealous of Dzakalyn’s luck at living out their fantasy. They loved their runners but ...
With all personal collected and aboard their assigned dragon, and their various supplies fastened on around them, they finally took off and went between.

-o-0-o-

To come back out at altitude above Landing.
When the shouts of surprise died away, Byrt yelled loudly, “we thought we’d take you to see each of the sites we found. Next stop Vienna-on-Jordan.”
“Can we land there?” Called Sinteen. “I’d like to collect that pottery.”
“All right.”

-o-0-o-

They duly appeared over the caves at Vienna, and once again scared the large tawny animals into hasty retreat. The dragons unloaded and took off again.
“We’re going hunting,” N’key told Byrt, with a grin. “We’ll see you in a bit.”
Byrt stood back to avoid the dust eddying up in the wing-draught.
“Where are they off to?” Kandar asked him.
“Hunting.”
“I think I could do with some hunting of my own. I must have drunk too much klah.”
“Try down stream,” said Byrt pointing northwards. “There’re some bushes about five minutes walk away. Or you could just duck round that corner down there; you’ll at least be out of sight.”
Everyone else had entered the cavern. When Byrt rejoined them the mason was peering at the inscription and the rest were watching Sinteen and Dzakalyn who were inspecting the heap of pottery.
“Mister Sinteen, do you think I could have one piece to show my family?”
“Of course you may. I tell you what: let’s see if we can arrange them roughly together. Here’s most of a plate with just one piece missing off this side. Can you spot it bit?” They rummaged through the bits. “Ah, how about this? Yes? Yes. That’s one plate done. Now; these really curved bits were probably a bowl ... and there’s another bit of it. What’s left?”
Gradually they fitted a bit here and a bit there and laid them close together when they belonged.
Sinteen sat back. “Right young lady, why don’t you take that first plate as it’s complete. I’ve got the bowl and most of another plate. How’s that?”
They shook on the deal.
Before long the hunters returned. One of the dragons went paddling to clean his claws.
“Success?” Kandar called.
“Sort of,” came back the replies. “We caught one.”
“An ancient male.”
“Not good eating though. The front end was too hairy.”
“And, apparently, the back end didn’t taste very nice.”
“Right,” called Byrt, “let’s move on. We’ll show you the butte and the rock fall next, but there’s nothing there to land for. So then we’ll go on to the lake site.

-o-0-o-

Arriving at the final destination, Kandar exercised his rank.
“Just a quick look, folks, just to satisfy curiosity; then we eat. I’m certainly ready for a second breakfast and, for Dzakalyn, it’ll be a late nooning.”
As they settled to eat they split into two groups. The dragon riders made up the bulk of one group, joined by Quint the mason, Byrt and Sareel. That left Kandar, Sinteen, Maree and Filona as the second group, where silence reigned until appetites were sated. The other group was more lively and the noise of chuckles and guffaws drifted across to the quieter ones.
After eating for a bit Sinteen spoke to Kandar quietly. “You know I’m enjoying this. I haven’t been away from Harper Hall for turns. And I think that somebody, not necessarily me I hasten to add, should continue to explore and record at least some of these old sites.”
“If you want to take a few days off now and then, that’s fine by me. Most of us go away to visit family. The apprentices go home to mum. Us older ones go to see grandchildren.”
“I’m an old bachelor. I haven’t any family left to go and visit. I think this is something I’d like to do.”
“Fine: when do you want to come?”
Sinteen pondered for a bit. “Turn’s End,” he said. “It’s usually too cold, it’s usually wet, it’s ALWAYS too noisy, I’m too old to want to dance or get drunk. A few days quiet down here would suit me fine.” There was silence for a bit. “Come to think on it: I’m over eighty you know. I think it’s time for me to step down and let you appoint a younger man as a new Master Archivist. I know the apprentices say I’m as old as the Charter. And I’m tired of chasing them around and shouting at them for wasting time, hide and ink. I could sit in my room and write a book about what I find down here. When I die it can be filed in the archives and, who knows, one day perhaps somebody might actually read it.”
“Sinteen, I doubt it’ll be quite that dull if you’re writing it: you’ve a fine turn of phrase. When do you want to do it? I could appoint your successor at the Spring Evener in three weeks or so, and you could finally step down at Longest or Fall Evener.”
“I’ll think about the timing when we get home.” He sat up looking more alert. “You know I’m looking forward to this. I think an ancient Harper studying ancient things is sort of appropriate.”
The twins had sat through this with eyes and ears wide open.
Kandar looked at them. “Normally only Masters would know anything about this. I don’t want any gossiping about it.”
Filona nodded slowly: Maree shook her head.
Kandar stood up. “Master Mason,” he called to the other group, “shall we get at that step?”

-o-0-o-

The riders and their dragons were more interested in hunting than in the contents of the caves, so they departed to attempt to decimate the local wherries and wild milchbeasts.
After one good look at the skeleton, the twins were careful to keep their backs turned to it, and to concentrate on the activity at the stairs.
Byrt started to assemble the platform for the pool. He put together a pair of L-shapes, each consisting of a leg and a beam, and commenced to nail the planks in place. This assembly he manoeuvred into the pool with the legs nearest the wall and the beams resting on the cave floor.
Sinteen started to pick the metallic bits and pieces from within the skeleton. Sareel was giving it a close inspection. She pointed out the blade marks between the fifth and sixth ribs.
“Would that have killed him?” asked the old Master.
“No: wrong side, but it probably collapsed his right lung though, and the pain would have been pretty intense. There’s another mark up here. He got a knife in his left eye: the blade scored the top of the eye socket. Of course, we can’t tell what soft tissue damage was also inflicted. I’d say he either bled to death or drowned in his own blood from the lung wound.”
Sinteen was not having much luck with the fastenings. The belt buckle was fine: it was made of brass. But the smaller buckles had been made of iron and most fell to powder when touched. He managed to move a couple by sliding a small piece of hide under each but he was not sure that they would survive the journey home.
“I’ll have to find a better way of doing this,” he thought to himself.
He also managed to save a couple of aiguilles from the rider’s boot laces.
Meanwhile Quint, with Kandar helping and hindering, was tackling the top step. The landing consisted of a number of large flat slabs. The tread itself was an arm’s length wide, a hand span from front to back, and about a finger’s length thick. At each end it was mortised into slots cut in the rock. The mason started by washing the joints and scrubbing them with a stiff brush to clear out the dirt of centuries. He gripped the grooves top and bottom, and heaved. Nothing moved. Another couple of tries, and even a re-scrub, also produced a null result. Not even having Kandar try to help improved matters.
Quint crouched on the top step and thought for a bit. Kandar got bored with this and moved away to join the twins who had gone to explore the upper cavern.
Eventually the mason stirred. “It’s a tight fit but I’d swear the joints were cleaned out. I wonder ...”
He reached out and ran a finger along the joint with the riser. He could feel a thin gap between the riser and the tread; but not for the full length. He shifted to a better position and moved his glow to give a better light. Low down in the centre he could see a notch, the purpose of which was not immediately obvious. He looked to one side and there, next to the mortice, there was a metal wedge jamming the stone up against the top of the slot in which it was meant to move. He looked to the other side: sure enough there was one that end too.
He turned his head. “Byrt! Got a pair of pliers?”
Byrt seized his tool bag and walked up the stairs. “What size? I’ve got three pairs. What do you want to grip?” He was shown the wedges and rummaged in the bag. “Here we go. We’ll need the fine-nose pair for that.”
He seized the edge of the wedge with the pliers and pulled ... and pulled. He looked at the wedge again: felt in his bag and pulled out a flask. He dribbled some of its contents on his finger and smeared it around the wedge.
“What’s that?” he was asked.
“Oilberry juice,” Byrt replied, applying the pliers to the task once more. He heaved again, wiggled the pliers a bit, and tried again. “It’s coming.” He wrenched the wedge from side to side and suddenly it freed. “Blast! Ouch!” He shook his arm.
Quint took one look, and yelled for Sareel.
“What?” she called back.
“We need your medical expertise.”
She took Byrt outside. “So I can see what I’m doing. I need to clean it out. There could be almost any sort of crud on that lead after five hundred turns.” She peered at the gash. “It’ll need a couple of stitches and a heavy dressing. I ought to put it in a sling, but I don’t suppose you’ll keep it on.”
“To tell the truth girl, it’s hurting somewhat. I’ll be good. There’re enough other bodies around to do the work. I’ll stand around and boss them about. Can I have some fellis now?”
When they went back in, the others were waiting for them. Kandar and the twins had reappeared. The twins were on the landing. Kandar was standing on the steps next to Quint who had successfully extracted the second wedge.
“Are you alright?” Kandar asked.
Byrt just nodded but Sareel answered for him. “He’ll live, but he’s got a bad gash. He’s not to lift anything for a few days.”
“Right,” said Kandar pointing at Byrt. “You’re on the sick list.” He turned and seized the tread. “What now?”
“We wiggle it up and down while we pull.”
“SUCCESS!” Kandar’s yell echoed round the cavern and re-echoed back from the upper cave.
There was a call from the cave’s entrance, “You’ve done it?” They all looked in that direction: the hunters had returned. “Are we in time?”
The mason turned back to the task. “Mind your toes, girls,” he grunted as he lifted the tread onto the landing.

-o-0-o-

Quint and Kandar peered into the opening. The riser went down a lot further than they were expecting, holding back a deep pool that over-spilled into the channel feeding the door covering. The mason tried to lift the riser out: it wouldn’t budge.
“It’s hard to get a grip and there’re no grooves. Wait a moment though.” He felt down the inner side of the riser. Sure enough, just below water level there was a notch matching the one on the outer side. He turned and rummaged in his tool bag.
“My turn to have the right tool,” he said to Byrt.
He extracted a couple of metal hooks joined loosely together by a D-shaped ring. He rotated it so that the flat of the D was uppermost.
“Hold that,” he told Kandar.
Kandar did while the hooks free ends of the hooks were fitted into the notches.
“Take the strain.”
Kandar did and the mason joined him. Together they strained at the task.
“I think I can see what’s wrong,” said Byrt when their efforts produced no result. “You’re not able to pull straight up because you’re standing back on the landing. I’m not allowed to show you how,” he grinned at Sareel, “but if you both straddle the opening with one foot on the landing and the other on the next step you’ll get a straight vertical lift.”
They tried it and, sure enough, with a grating noise the riser rose.
Released to its original route, the water roared down behind the stairs and the waterfall slowed to a trickle as the overflow emptied. At last they could see the hidden doorway properly.

-o-0-o-

After the fun and games of getting at the wall, its dismantling was relatively straightforward and boring. Dipping his scrubbing brush into the pools at intervals, Quint cleaned the green slime off the stones. He peered closely at them, glancing at the stones on each side from time to time.
“The stones in the door have been laid dry without mortar, so we just need to lift them or push them out. Pushing will be easier. Will it hurt if I push them into the space behind?”
“I wouldn’t think so. He surely would have piled his treasures away from the doorway, he wouldn’t want to trip over it. But we don’t want to have to go climbing over a rock pile to get in.”
Quint looked back at the stones. “If I push the first one in, I can then get a hand in to pull the rest out.” He picked up a heavy mallet and gave the top centre stone a number of hard blows. “It’s moving.” He used the end of the mallet to push the stone further and further away. In the end it tumbled out of sight. Everyone held their breath, but the only noise was a loud thud not a clatter or crash.
“Next,” said Quint; and gave the adjoining stone a few thumps. Then he dropped the mallet and, reaching in with one hand, wrenched the stone out. “Can I have a hand here? You dragonriders: you take the stones from me and put them down out of the way.”
“They could be stacked in that side cave;” said N’key. “that’s where they came from.”
The dragonriders paired up, they didn’t have the heft or knack of the mason, and took the blocks away as Quint removed them. Kandar was bouncing on his toes and twisting from side to side trying to look past Quint to see what lay beyond.
Sinteen poked him. “Stand still, man. You’re behaving worse than the twins.”
Eventually the way was clear and Quint stepped off the platform. “There’s quite a lot in there. Who’s going first?”
That gave them pause. In terms of rank: Kandar should be first. On the other hand the twins had set the whole enterprise in motion. Yet again, it was Dzakalyn’s family history. In the end it was agreed that the twins and Dzakalyn should enter together.
And they did, more or less. The doorway wasn’t very wide and nobody commented on just whose foot first touched the floor. The rest crowded in behind them, shining glows on the hoard.
Although it had been piled in various heaps, each one was a jumble of precious stones and metals, household items and an occasional contrivance. After some minutes of silence, Sinteen spoke.
“I think we should discuss just what we are going to do with this lot.”
“How do you mean?” asked Kandar. “We’re going to take it back north.”
“And then?”
There was a pause.
“I see what you mean; I think. Who actually owns it? How do we distribute it?”
“Exactly! I propose that it’s kept together and stored somewhere VERY safe until its fate is decided.”
“This will have to be decided in the open or there’ll be accusations of bias and greed. At Spring Evener there will be the usual convocations of Lords Holder and Craftmasters. If we called for a combined session, and added in the Weyrleaders as well, would that be open enough and fair enough?”
He was answered by a few mutters of agreement and some head nods.
“Master Sinteen, do you want to make a list of everything here before we move it?”
“Not here and now, no. Even with the help of Dzakalyn who, I’m given to understand, is an expert in inventory it would take days. Let’s just sort it into types, bag it up and go. If we put it in that far archive we’ve just found and, perhaps, ask Lord Stirdee for some guards, it should be safe enough. And, I can take my time to work my way through it all in time for the convocation.”

-o-0-o-

With everything packed and ready to go, Kandar called a meal break.
“My wife sent us south with ample supplies. It seems a shame for the dragons to lug it all back north.”
Sareel coughed. “Strictly speaking they’ll still be lugging it. It’s just that it’ll be in our digestive tracts.”
“You know what I mean.”
This time the dragon-riders’ group was the smaller since Quint, Byrt and Sareel sat with the others. As they were finishing, N’key came across.
“Are we going to do anything about that pair of ex-apprentices of yours?” he asked Kandar.
“In what way?”
“Well: we could leave them to wait for the fisher folk to pick them up, or we could take them back with us.”
Byrt raised his hand. “If we take them back what will happen to them? Almore should stand trial for murder and for forcing his victim the commit theft. Plyne should also stand trial as an accessory to those crimes, and for what he did to Filona. The verdicts will be ‘guilty’. Their punishment will be exile. Right now, in effect they’ve exiled themselves. Why don’t we just tell the fisher folk to cancel the collection trip? The pair aren’t going to starve, but they won’t be able to attack and intimidate anyone else.”
“They could get very lonely,” said Maree.
“They’ll just have to green and blue it then,” said Byrt.
There was a snigger from Sareel and a loud guffaw from N’key. The twins looked at each other puzzled.

7. Three Seven-days Later.

It was the evening of the Spring Evener. The joint convocation had duly met that morning. The contents of Master Sinteen’s inventory had been read, accompanied by appreciative noises. It was easily agreed that the odd devices should be handed over to the Smithcraft, to make of them whatever they could. The matter of the various valuables had been deemed too important to be decided in such haste. A sub-committee, consisting of the Lord Holder of Ruatha, the Weyrleader of Benden and the Master Farmer, had been set up to consider the matter and to report back in due course.
Now, with the evening meal consumed, folk were settling down to listen to the second half of the concert and to join in with any ballad they knew. Onto the platform came the twins, Filona, with her new floor harp and Maree, and their apprentice friends. On this occasion Maree was carrying a tenor gitar borrowed from Master Piet as there was no percussion needed. The others arranged themselves to either side, armed with an assortment of stringed and wind instruments. Maree checked the tuning of her third string and Filona glanced up to check once more that her sharping levers were correctly set. The audience quietened down.
Into the silence Maree started playing a slow sequence of low notes. One by one the others joined in and, for the first time in over five hundred turns, around a Pernese performance space, there came the intricate interweaving melodies and cross rhythms of Pachelbel’s Canon in D.



(Copyright Mike Freemen 1998, used by permission)
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Last edited by P'ter; Jul 6 2012 at 10:39 AM.
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