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Old Jul 3 2012, 11:55 AM   #1
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Default The Case of the Dragon's Den

1. The Discovery

“So; what do we do with this lot then?” Filona asked her twin Maree.
It was just after Turn’s End. The weather was atrocious, so the Master Harper had decreed that the duty sections were to spend the afternoons in the Hall turning out the various stores, workshops and archives.
The recesses of the instrument workshops were being emptied, cleaned and painted out by two work sections of apprentices; while a group of journeymen assessed the stored instruments, putting many aside for restoring and repairing, and throwing out a few deteriorated beyond measure.
Under the eagle eyes of the Master-Harper’s wife, four groups were assisting the kitchen drudges to empty the various pantries and larders, stacking the contents on tables and benches in the kitchen, ready for a wash down. Tomorrow, similar groups would start repainting the rooms. Later in the week it would be the turn of the stores of clothing and furniture.
The remaining apprentice work groups were engaged in cleaning out the archives located in a series of cellars under the Main Hall and Dining Room.

-o-0-o-

Around the fire in the Master Harper’s study sat the senior Craft Masters. Beakers of wine, mulled with aromatic herbs, sent wisps of steam curling towards the ceiling only to be blown off course by the inevitable draughts. From across the courtyard came a series of asthmatic toots as some poor journeyman attempted to resuscitate an ancient horn.
“That sounds even worse than the Turn-over concert,” remarked the singing Master as everyone winced at the broken notes.
“That’s one of the things I want us to discuss,” put in Master Harper Kandar, “But before we get down to specifics, I want to start with the overall picture. Back at Fall Eveners we had a cracking good standard. We took in a bunch of keen apprentices and posted out a good number of excellent journeymen; more of them than I would have liked but, with the population expanding ... what’s gone wrong?”
There was a silence for a bit while the Masters sipped their wine and glanced at each other.
The Master Legist cleared his throat. He was the oldest master by far: students were heard to claim that he’d personally written the original Charter. “As you all know, apart from instructing the journeymen in their duties as legal advisors to the Holders, and arbitrators, I also teach the senior apprentices the basic applications of the rights and duties as laid out in The Charter. They may know it off by heart, but they have no idea how to apply what they know.” The younger Masters all grinned; they too had sat those classes of his. “As usual most of them started out all keen. If I set them a task, they’d come back with really good work. They were researching in the archives and most of them were handing in useful answers that often went well beyond what I asked of them.
“After a few weeks almost everyone was handing in the absolute minimum. I know that the initial keenness wears off and that most apprentices go through a period of rebellion and being lazy, but I have never known an entire class go that way all at the same time.”
The singing master spoke up again. “That’s what went wrong at Turns-end. What they sang WAS accurate, mostly, but there was no spark. It was DULL!”
Rubor, Master Healer, joined in. “I don’t know whether it’s relevant at this point, but there’s been far more evidence of bullying than usual.” He nodded. “We’ve usually had a degree of it but, I’m sad to say, it wasn’t till over Turn’s-end when we collated our records for the last turn that we spotted the trend. We failed to get any victim to say who’d done it. But, whoever it is, they like slamming doors on trapped arms, and that takes at least two perpetrators. They also like kicking kidneys.”

-o-0-o-

Plyne, third son of the Lord Holder of Southern Boll, one of the oldest apprentices, had sent the twins off on their own to the farthest section of the archives, with orders to start working back towards the rest. Tall and fair; with his uniform tailored to show off his figure, he expected any female apprentice to be flattered for any attentions he bestowed on them. The twins had not been impressed. He was also very jealous that they lived in Fort Hold when he had to slum it in the dormitories. He grinned at his two cronies: Tinee, granddaughter of the Berba, Lord Holder of Telgar, and Almore son of the Master Weaver running the craft hall here at Fort.
Lugging a bucket and mop, brooms, dusters and a couple of glow baskets, the twins had disappeared into the gloom.
“Let them work themselves stupid,” Plyne declared. “The rest of you start this end and don’t work too hard: we’ll be watching you.”
Reaching the far end, the twins set to work. The glows in the central basket were exhausted so they only had their hand lamps to work by. To left and right there were racks of records. Against the blank end wall stood a table with a couple of stools tucked in under it. They started with the left hand rack. Carefully each shelf was emptied onto the table. Shelves were damp dusted, spinners and their webs were dislodged, and, since this end held the oldest and most fragile records, the scrolls and books were very carefully cleaned down before being replaced back in order.
It was when they were emptying the second racking that they made their discovery.
“I can see the top of a doorway,” announced Maree.
Filona put down her arm full of scrolls on the table and came to see.
“Oh... yes. Let’s empty the whole rack. There’s room on the other one for some of it. It’s not exactly jammed full.”
With the rack empty the twins struggled to move one end sufficiently out and away from the wall that they could wriggle in behind it. To their surprise the low door was not locked. It opened out towards them. They peered in.
Ahead of them stretched a short passage ending in an arch. Above them, the ceiling sloped down to shoulder height. Maree wriggled back out from behind the racking and grabbed a glow basket. Hand in hand they cautiously crept along.
“By the first shell, where are we? Asked Filona.
Maree thought for a bit. “This end of the Dining Hall and off to this side: I think we must be under the kitchen stairs. That would be why the ceiling slopes”
Through the arch the passage turned right and ended in a square room a few paces across. A couple of bars of daylight, from a pair of gratings high up in the left hand wall, dimly illuminated the space.
“Where are we now?”
“I don’t know. If you give me a hoist I’ll look out through that grating and find out.” Filona seized her sister around the thighs and lifted. “We must be under the main entrance steps. I can see across the courtyard.”
“Swap?”
“Okay.”
That done, Filona wandered over to the sole rack of records and peered at the books and scrolls. “Wow.”
Maree crossed to her. “What?”
“Look at these. Their reference numbers all start with one. These are really early: first pass or interval.”
“Definitely ‘Wow’!”
“There’s one slipped down the back.” Filona reached carefully through and carefully extracted a book. “Where does this one belong?”
Maree held their glow near the volume. “I can’t see any reference number at all.”
Filona looked closer at it. Its hide cover was scuffed and had cracked down either side of the spine, which was bare of any title of archive reference mark. She very carefully lifted one corner of the cover.
“It’s music. So; what do we do with this lot then? Do we tell the others?” Filona asked her twin Maree.
“What? And let Plyne and his gang try to take all the credit? There’s not much point in telling Master Sinteen,” she said, naming the current Master Archivist, “he’s too lazy. Let’s only tell Master Kandar.”
“Good thinking. Let’s hide this place again. Lucky we’re fast workers.”
Quickly they heaved the displaced racking back into place and piled its contents back onto the shelves.
“You’ve still got that book from in there,” said Filona pointing.
“Shells, where can we hide it?”
“Here.” Filona took it, carefully slid it down the front of her trous and flipped her tunic back down to cover it. “We can look at it later. Come on, let’s go.”
They walked briskly back past the other apprentices still wiping down shelves, supervised by Almore. They were just about to exit the archives when Plyne and Tinee, lounging near the doorway, spotted them.
“Where do you two think you’re going?”
“The necessary,” replied Maree.
“Both at once?”
“We’re twins: it happens that way.”
“Come back here.”
The twins ran up the stairs towards the entrance hall, but Plyne and Tinee were older, larger and faster. Hands descended on their shoulders.
“You two work too hard for your own good, and have no respect for your elders.”
They were pushed back down the stairs, none too gently. Filona turned her head and bit down hard on Plyne’s wrist. He yelled and let fly a kick right into her stomach. She doubled up and puked all over his feet. “Yuck!” His fist mashed into her eye.
Maree was twisting and hitting out at Tinee who was trying to hold her off and slap her at the same time. The appearance of Almore, who promptly wrapped a bear-hug round her, tipped the balance.
Unseen by the five fighters, another apprentice fled for help.

-o-0-o-

The arrival of the Master Harper and the Master Healer soon put an end to the one sided conflict.
You three: outside my study now!”
Rubor dropped to his knees to examine the twins. After a few seconds he looked up. “You and you,” he said pointing to a pair of apprentices, “get a couple of those carry-cots from the Healer Hall and bring back some of my journeymen with you.”
Before long the twins were tucked up in bed in the Healer Hall, dosed with numbweed and fellis, and with Sareel sitting keeping watch over them. Filona’s eye socket had been very carefully stitched and their various bruises and grazes had been daubed with lotions and potions. Master Rubor had found and extracted the book down Filona’s trous.
“I don’t know what that is,” he said placing it carefully on the table between the twins’ beds, “But it probably saved you from some serious internal damage.”
Drugged and drowsy she mumbled something.

-o-0-o-

Seated behind his desk, flanked by his wife as the Senior Hold-woman and the Master Healer, and with the other senior masters ranged beyond them, the Master Harper regarded the truculent trio standing before him.
“What do you think you were doing?”
Plyne glanced at the other two apprentices. “It’s not fair.”
“What’s not fair?”
“The twins: everyone treats them as something special. They’re show offs! They come here and in their first term they’re working with us seniors rather than with the juniors where we all started. They’re even doing some journeymen studies. They work too hard and show the rest of us up. They won’t do what we tell them. And, THEY get to live at the Hold.”
“To take your last point first: they live at the Hold because they are fostered to Lord Stirdee. You are not. All three of you are an indentured apprentices because your fathers, when they signed your papers, were most insistent that you each should live the life of a normal apprentice in the hope (probably vain) that you should experience ‘normal’ life as opposed to the privileged status you had experienced up till then. That is one lesson I don’t think any of you’ve learnt in the five or six turns you’ve each been here.
“The twins wear apprentice uniform in order to fit in; but they are not apprentices. They are not indentured. They have to learn as much as they can fit into a turn. If they’re lucky they may have two turns. In the subjects that they are well advanced in; yes, they work with you seniors or even the journeymen. In others, such as instrument making and composition they are working with the juniors. That is their correct level in those subjects.
“You seem to think that they have it easy living at the Hold? I can assure you that they don’t. They are still expected to carry out duties as fosterlings: to do learning time in the kitchens, dairy, stillroom and dispensary. And when we’ve a Fall on they’re not hiding in here with you lot until Fall’s over and then going out to mop up. They’re out on their runners risking their lives just like the Weyrs.”
There was a knock on the study door and Lord Stirdee entered.
“What you did to the twins this afternoon amounts to attempted murder.” Kandar continued. “I am not prepared to keep you in my Hall. I’m cancelling your apprenticeships and returning you to your fathers. What they do with you is up to them. Lord Stirdee has provided an escort to take you to the Hall where you’ll spend tonight within in their cells. Your kit will be packed for you. You will NOT return nor speak to the other apprentices. I now have to spend the time till dinner writing to your families instead of getting on with finishing my composition as I’d hoped. Go!”

-o-0-o-

It was not till after the evening meal that Kandar had time to visit the twins in the healing wing. He found Sareel sitting with them and chatting quietly with Maree. Filona was lying fast asleep. A supper tray was perched on the table bearing evidence that the twins were not starving.
“Maree, I’m sorry that I haven’t been to see you before. How are you?”
“That’s all right Sir. Rather sore still, but it’s only cuts and bruises. Tinee’s rings did most of the damage; to me at least. Filona’s got it worst, at least this time.”
Kandar went and looked at Filona.
“She’s lucky not to have lost that eye,” said Sareel, “and that kick to her abdomen could well have ruptured her spleen or pancreas, if it didn’t leave her sterile.”
Kandar turned back to Maree. “Well, those three won’t bother any of you again. They’re spending the night in the Hold’s cells before being escorted home tomorrow. By the way, your parents are on their way to see you. Now, you’re to get better, hey? The Ride of the Twins must go on, right?.”
“I’m not sure Filona will be up to it. The next Fall’s only four days off.”
“If I can get the time off,” put in Sareel, “I’ll ride with you. I rather fancy trying my hand at it. I’ve still got a runner, even if it’s my youngest brother who’s keeping him exercised.”
Maree gave Sareel a thankful, if weak, smile and then turned to Kandar.
“Sir, we were coming to find you when we got stopped.”
“You were; why?”
“Well ... we’d found this hidden extra room.”
“An extra room?”
“Yes Sir; with some really early records in it.”
“Where?”
“The door is hidden behind the right-hand racking in the farthest archive store.”

-o-0-o-

The Master Harper and the Master Archivist hurried through the sections of the archives heading for the far end.
“What were they doing back here?” Asked Sinteen. “We haven’t bothered with this end for ages. We’ve enough to do coping with the recent stuff and cataloguing all the new records.”
“I suspect that they were banished down to this end as an act of ostracism. Ah, here we are. Now: the right-hand racking.”
For the second time that day the racking was emptied. For the second time it was heaved out from the wall. For the second time the door was opened.
“Thank the Egg; the twins left us a glow basket.”
The two masters had to duck somewhat more than the twins.
“Well; they were right about the age of this lot,” said Sinteen, stroking a careful finger down the spine of a large volume. “Definitely they’re first cycle. This lot were crossed though in the catalogue turns before I took over. I assumed that they’d been thrown out as rubbish or beyond copying, restoration or repair. I dare not let the apprentices loose on this lot. It’ll have to be me and a couple of trusty journeymen. Do we hide them away again?”
“Let’s take another look in that end section before we decide that.”
They retreated and Kandar looked round carefully.
“If we move the table into the centre, we could position the racking against the end wall instead of the side. You’ll need to replenish the glows so you can work safely.”
“Are you trying to teach a tunnel snake to suck an egg? We’ll have to bring each item out here to work on it: there’s no table in there, nor any way to get one in through that passage. We’re going to have to reinstate a lot of our catalogue. More work!”

-o-0-o-

The day of the next Fall, Filona was sitting up in her bed in Fort Hold. The swelling around her eye was beginning to subside although her face was left with a rainbow of bruises across which the stitches of her laceration wandered like a drunken trundle-bug.
Maree was well wrapped up in her riding gear about to take Sareel out for her first turn as equine ground crew. Since this Fall was across northern reaches of Fort, they were going to be heading up the valley to the old Beacon Post.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right here on your own?” she asked her sister.
“Of course I will. I won’t exactly be on my own, will I? There are only a few hundred other bodies who will be shut in with me.”
“You know what I mean. What are you going to do with yourself?”
“I’m going to work on our mystery book. I’ll start oiling to covers so that we can open it up. I want to see what the music is.”
“Well: don’t get bored. I’d better be off or I won’t have time to check Merrylegs’ tack.”

-o-0-o-

Filona took up a jar containing a mixture of oilberry juice and wax, shook a small quantity onto a rag and started rubbing it into the cover concentrating on the folds either side of the spine.
The book’s cover had been cut from a single sheet of hide. The cords, holding the sections together, had been brought out through a series of holes and tied off in a series of fancy knots across the spine. The front and back had each been reinforced with an inner layer of hide each stitched tidily to its outer. The dry, neglected cover soaked up the lubricant and started to reveal its original colour of reddish-brown. Except for the fancy knots, it was plain with no lettering, decorations or tooling.
In slowly working her way around the volume Filona realised that tha back cover appeared to be slightly padded: it was thicker than the front one.

-o-0-o-

Six glasses later her sister, reeking of agenothree, came bustling in to their cubicle to find her towel and go for a bath to wash of the stink.
“Wow! That cover’s come up a treat. What’s the music like? What are you reading?”
“H – m? Don’t know. I found this tucked in the back cover. It’s amazing.”
Maree sat down on Filona’s bed. “What is it then? What’s it about?”
“It’s a journal of sorts about a journey, a dragon and a treasure. You’ll have to read it yourself. Go and have your bath, you need it, and change. Go and have your meal downstairs. I’ll have mine quietly up here. By the time you’re done, I’ll have finished and you can start.”
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Old Jul 3 2012, 11:58 AM   #2
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Default Re: The Case of the Dragon's Den

2. The Journal

6 : 5 : 10
We hear that everyone is fleeing to the north following the sharding volcano blowing its sharding top. The message from the Governors says that they will take as many beasts as they can but people come first. Then, meat beasts will take priority and the rest will have to take their chances left here. I am not leaving our horses behind, especially not Shaun’s Cricket, he’s our only stallion. If the horses stay; we stay.
There’s a set of caves a day-and-a-half away to the south-west of our current hidey hole. If we pack tonight and leave at dawn, we’ll have a day in hand before the next Fall’s due. I have no wish to go and crowd in some set of caves in the north. I want to travel. I had enough of being cramped on that darned spaceship. We’re going to disappear. Up the O’Connells!

9 : 5 : 10
‘Tis the luck of the Irish that we had that day in hand. The carts were aisy to get under cover but we had to take the tops off the two vardos to get them into the caves. Fall’s right on time. Lucky it’s bare rock round here. These caves are in an isolated rocky outcrop that sticks up out the flat grass land. The caves aren’t carved out. They have been formed by the cliffs of the outcrop collapsing. They are water and thread proof, but very draughty.
Tomorrow I will send Timeen and Pat off on horseback to start looking for the next caves. They will have five days: two out, two back and a day spare. We must ALWAYS have a spare day in hand. We cannot afford to lose any one, body or beast.

13 : 5 : 10
The luck’s out: darn it. Tim and Pat had no joy to the west. After the next fall we’ll try again a bit more south. I want to get us to the holding Shawn and Sorka had claimed and recorded off to our west, near the source of the Paradise River. I know that they have gone north but it feels right for us to go to Killarney.
At least there is good hunting around here, and the girls have been out gathering edible greens and berries.

18 : 5 : 10
No luck with the reconnaissance. But when we were out foraging we found a cow with a half grown bull calf. Once he’s grown we can start breeding. Not sure where they’re from but they probably wandered away from Bordeaux; that’s the nearest.

22 : 5 : 10
No luck again.

7 : 6 : 10
We only just made it to these caves. At least the long days have meant we could travel for longer each day, but we only made it here after dark, the boys forgot to tell us that wherries were using this as a roost so we found the caves were ankle deep in wherry shit. At least there SHOULD be plenty of fresh bird meat. How nice not to have to worry about the gardai or game-keepers.
We are three long days due west of our last place. If we can clear the caves out we’ll stop here for a bit. We need to mend some traces and the most of the boys need to mend their boots. We can dry some meat ready for journeying on.

15 : 6 : 10
We’ve been joined by the Moorhouses: well, seven of them, including young Lally and two of her brothers. It’s good as this will probably give me some healthy grand-children. We can now send out three pairs of scouts and cover far more territory.
They also have a pair of cows.

27 : 6 : 10
Our luck’s run out so it has. If I thought this planet had the wee folk I’d leaving out a dish of milk (if we had any: none of the cows are producing).
On our last stage here we lost a wagon: it broke a wheel. We unloaded it and by using the beast as a pack-horse, and by cramming the rest into the other wagons, we saved the load.
None of the caves round here are very big so we’re spread out. We’ve got these three and the Moorhouses have a pair about half a glass’s walk to the north.
We’re on the edge of the plain stretching across to Killarney. From here on, the ground’s not the right type for caves. Wooded hills and fertile valleys: yes. Caves: no.
We could stay here for a turn or two and plant some crops next spring. The bull will be mature enough to breed. But I think we’ll do better on the headwaters of the Jordan where there’re cliffs. Old man Moorhouse agrees, so, in a few days when our beasts are well rested and we’ve had the next fall, we’ll retrace our route back to where we found the calf and head off on different tack.
Hey ho for the roving life.
Perhaps we can salvage some of that cart.

1 : 1 : 11
Happy New Turn! I hope it will be a better one.
I only wish we had redeveloped potcheen.
We’ve been here for some months. I sent the youngsters back in teams to scrounge anything useful left at Landing (there wasn’t much). However, we now have a fair quantity of seed corn and tubers to plant. We also liberated a cart load of assorted clothing and shoes.
The boys have found Cathy Doyle.
She had been living in one of her caverns all on her own. She would hide any time she heard a sled coming but she never heard the boys. She was very undernourished until we’d fed her back up and she’s very timid and fey, but she does give us another breeding line.
Old Mick Moorhouse has died. I think it was a coronary but he was much older than me. We buried him yesterday and played a lot of the old tunes and songs. I’m now the oldest in the tribe.
Better news is that Pat and Lally want to jump the fire. With luck, by next Turn’s End I’ll be a grandfather.
I still want to move up the headwaters of the Jordan, but it’ll be a turn or two before we’re ready to move on.

1 : 1 : 12
Another turn gone.
We think Bridey has had a stroke. She fell over about three sevendays ago and her mouth’s all twisted. Cathy’s been looking after her.
Lally and Pat have had a son: a cheerful wee gurrier. They‘ve called him Porrig after me!
The boys brought back a couple of flame throwers from Cambridge-on-Jordan and some agenothree, not much. We have to take great care, but we can at least defend our crops to some extent. They also found a basic plough.

15 : 6 : 12
Jaird Moorhouse has been killed by threadfall. He and Timeen were out with the flamethrowers. The tank protected his back somewhat but his face and chest just went. We gave him mercy.
We buried him down near the river and played him to rest with the old music. Young Porrig plays a mean fiddle and gave us Danny Boy real nice.
With the amount of crop we lose each fall, it’s just as well we can get in two crops a turn, thanks to this climate.

9 : 12
I’ve lost track of the days.
We’ve scouted our route up the river. Now the harvest is in we start on our way. It will take more than one run so the young Moorhouses are moving first.
It will take around eight days travelling but there is a shelter at around five days. It’s only a deep overhang where the river has undercut a cliff on the outside of a bend. At this time of year the river level’s down so we can get to it. It’s not much but at least Fall can be sat out there.
A couple of the lads will bring the wagons back for the rest of us.

1 : 1 : 13
Well; we’re calling it Turn’s End. We’ve lost track rather. We had to guess the shortest day and we’re starting anew from today. We’re probably out of step with the rest of Pern but, isolated as we are what does it matter?
We’ve been here for a few months now. The main cave is really big with a stream running through one side of it so, so long as we take care not to foul it, we have water available even if Fall’s on. There are a number of side caves so each family unit can have its own place.
We’re using outlying caves for our stock.
There’s a lake in front of us with mountains surrounding much of it. About a quarter of the way round it sunwards the hills fall back leaving a largish flat area. we are using it for grazing as much as we can and we will be able to use part of it for our crops.
The place may not be registered with the Governors but I’ve called it “Gaillimh” as it’s very like my memories of that part of the old home.
Bridey’s getting worse. She’s had another stroke and can no longer walk.
The boys have been busy: every fertile female is pregnant.
Cricket has also done his share. We’ve had five new foals, four fillies and a colt.
The boys named our bull “Mick” in memory of old man Moorhouse. He too has been active and we got six calves, five of them female.

15 : 6 : 18 (by our reckoning)
Yesterday I lost Bridey. It was quiet and dignified. I hope I go as well when it’s my time. I held her hand and she gave me a smile (the first she’s managed for years) and went to sleep. We buried her today and played all her favourite songs.
I’m feeling my years. I must be in my sixties, probably my eighties if you count in the years I spent asleep on the space ship. The boys are running the ‘estate’ and exploring further and further afield. They’ve found an outcropping of coal. Cathy has turned her hand to pottery.
I spend most of my time pretending to be a school master for my grandchildren: thirteen of them alive so far. We lost two others through birth defects. The trouble is we’re all related to some degree. I’m insisting that the boys take care which lass they impregnate and that we keep track of each child’s parents to try to cut down on that problem in the future. So I’ve started on a family tree as I’m about the only one who remembers back to my grandparents which is where us O’Connells and the Moorhouses meet up.


25 : 10 : 36
Porrig, my father-in-law, is going blind. There’s a white growth across the centre of both eyes. He says it was a called ‘cataract’. Since he can no longer write, he’ll be dictating to me and I might actually write down what he tells me to. On the other hand I may well just do my own thing. I’ll also have to keep the family tree up to date. It’s becoming more necessary. Porrig says we could really do with a breeding outcross.
So far we’re flourishing. There’s now around fifty of us but we’re still losing about one baby in ten. Timeen is getting very stiff and his joints ache. Pat is still fine and fit.
Our herds are doing well. We’ve twenty-five mares and three stallions, also thirty one cows and two bulls (we had more bulls but we ate them).
We’ve taken to planting part of our crops under the trees. We just grub out any undergrowth and plough it as best we can. This does give some shelter from thread.
We’re out of agenothree again. When the boys next go foraging that’ll have to be a priority (again).
We’ve lost the last of the wagons. There’s no way we can make new wheels. Well, we tried solid ones made by slicing across a large trunk but it soon fell to bits since we’ve no way of fitting metal tyres. Porrig, bless the man, got us making what he called a travoy (not sure of the spelling) and it works quite well.
Pat and William made a raft for the fishing (a proper boat is a bit beyond us) and it works really well. Young Porrig is our master fisherman.
I’m probably going to have to take over the teaching from Porrig. Although he can tell them things and set them figurings and writings, he can’t check if they’re right, or if they’ve even done them at all.

18 : 7 : 43
I’m a grandmother! Young Porrig and Mair had twin boys early this morning. Neither have any apparent defects and both are doing well. I had to stitch Mair, as she tore a bit. The twins make it five in their generation so far. Old Porrig has warned us that we can expect to lose at least one in five of this generation.

19 : 7 : 43
We saw a dragon today: a bronze I’m sure. He was quite high just flying along. We could only just make out the rider. Until today I don’t think the young ones really believed Father’s tales of what happened before we started our wanderings.

27 : 6 : 56
We’ve had no Falls for thirty days. We hope this is the end of them.

8 : 3 : 57
The dragon and his rider came back today. Their names are Xareth and Tranz. Xareth is one of Faranth and Carenath’s fifth hatching. Tranz admits it was him we saw fourteen turns ago. He says that they are bored with having no thread to fight and doing dull drills is stupid since there won’t be any more thread for another two hundred turns or so. He wants to stay and explore.

16 : 3 : 57
Tranz says that our calendar is way out; that in the north they’ve changed so that they celebrate Turn’s End on THEIR shortest, which is our longest. This makes today 24 : 9 : 57. At least we have the right turn. He insists that we use the northern calendar.
Actually, he insists a lot. He’s insisted that he has the large cavern as it’s the only one big enough for Xareth. We’ve had to move out to the animals’ caves which we’re cleaning out. At least with no more thread falling and the summer coming on our herds can live out. I’m not sure what we’ll do next winter.
Tranz and Xareth go off exploring most days. I suspect they are raiding all the abandoned holdings, and possibly the north too; they bring back all sorts of things including an smallish stone cutter. Yesterday he came back with a great big knife slung down his back. I think it’s called a sword. I’ve never seen one but it looks like the description I read in a book back on earth.
Old Porrig insists that I start hiding this journal (and the family tree).

7 : 6 : 57 (OUR reckoning: sod HIS!)
I don’t know how to write this.
We had a battle.
The dragon man is dead and his sharding dragon has disappeared.
They were evil. I just hope the rest of the dragon men aren’t as bad.
I’d better get this down in some sort of order.
They’d go off raiding and bringing stuff back. All sorts of things: old instruments from landing (I’m sure some of them were from the Met Tower), sacks of black diamonds, handfuls of gold nuggets, that sword he took to wearing all the time: all manner of things. He’d pile everything in the very back of the big cave, beyond where the waterfall comes down at the side.
He expected everyone to do exactly as he said, even Old Porrig. He had any female he fancied; two of the girls are pregnant. Old Porrig had a shouting match about it and he pulled out his sword and slashed Old Porrig across the stomach. We had to bury him at night and we daren’t sing the old songs for him.
He forbade us to even go into the large cave unless he ordered us in and, with Xareth guarding it we daren’t.
After that he had Xareth kill and eat our one remaining stallion. He made us watch. It wasn’t pleasant, and he threatened that if we disobeyed him Xareth would eat US. The way he looked and sounded, we believed him, to our sorrow.
He forced the boys to build a wall across the cave, to hide his ‘horde’, with a hidden door. Pat insisted that I should write down how to get in.
Above the water fall there’s a side cavern we’ve never got into because of the fall. When the boys built the wall, they also build a flight of steps up to this cavern with the waterfall hidden behind it. At the top they did something to the flow of water so that it now flows down over the door. They had to use the stonecutter to make a large basin for the new fall to land in and a new channel to take it back under the stairs.
When they had finished he started killing the boys “so that they couldn’t tell anyone”. First it was Timeen. Then he ordered Pat in, but seven of the other boys rushed in with Pat. It took all of them to get him down and deal with him. It was my brave Young Porrig who actually slit his throat.
Until then Zareth just lay there and watched, blocking the large entrance. When Tranz was lying there with his throat cut and bleeding out like a slaughtered calf, Zareth pounced; slashed my son with his claws and took off disappearing after a couple of wing beats. “Going between” the dragon man called it.
We had to bury three: Timeen, Brian (Lally’s second son) and my eldest, Porrig. We had to amputate Pat’s right leg, but al least I’ve still got HIM.
Pat says that I MUST write down how to get in the horde.
The stones of the door are laid dry with no mortar so they’ll come out easy once the water is changed back.
To change the water back, pull out the top tread of the steps. Pat says that it is made to move. Then lift out the top riser. This releases the water back to its original route now hidden behind the steps.

9 : 6 : 57
We going to leave: it’s our only chance.
The weather’s fine this time of year and there’re no more Falls so we can head off without needing to go from cave to cave.
Pat and two of the other fighters will have to ride on the travoys like our stores and the littles.
We’re hoping that some folks will have come back to their holdings now things are getting better again. If they haven’t, then we’ll just have to get to the coast and see if there’re any boats left that we can use or mend. The boys reckon that, if necessary, they’ll build us a couple of big rafts and sail us north.
__________________
"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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Old Jul 3 2012, 12:04 PM   #3
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Default Re: The Case of the Dragon's Den

3. The Problem

When Sareel entered the girls’ cubicle to check on Filona, anoint her bruises and giver her her evening meds, she found the twins discussing the journal.
“I wonder if the Au Connells made it north after all?” Maree was saying.
“I’ve no idea,” Filona replied.
“What about the Au Connells?” asked Sareel.
“You know about them?”
“Well ... They’re traders. I know one of them, slightly. I nursed her some months back when I was at Benden. Dzakalyn Au Connell: she’s just impressed.”
Maree looked across at Filona and nodded.
“Perhaps you’d better read this then,” said Filona starting to undress ready for Sareel to anoint her bruises. “But don’t tell anyone about it. It’s secret for now.”
Next day was a rest day. Be that as it may, the twins had duties to catch up with. They both had kitchen work to do. Filona’s bruises might be ugly but, now she could move, Lord Stirdee expected her to do at least part of her chores.
After lunch they had a couple of glasses free. Sareel was off elsewhere, presumably in the healer wing, reading the journal so they settled down to look at the music.
They lifted the cover.
“It’s different.”
“The actual notes look the same.”
“Yes, but what’s that clef sign? And, what are those letter ‘b’s doing?”
“It’s beautifully written out but perhaps they didn’t really know what they were doing?”
“Turn over and look at another piece. See if it’s weird too.”
A page was turned.
“Ah, a song. Melody line with it must be a floor harp accompaniment. That’s the instrument with a wide enough range to need both staves bracketed together.”
“They got the bass clef sign right at least: a sun-wise spiral curled round the ‘F’ line”
“But the treble signs wrong again. It should be an anti-sun spiral round the ‘G’ line, not this funny squiggle.”
“And, what are these funny marks ... little squares with bits sticking out of the corners, almost like insects?”
“Let’s look at another ... look: a piece for a group.”
“And another funny clef sign like a ‘K’. What’s that one when it’s home?”
They glazed in perplexed wonder.
“Go back to the first page,” said Filona getting up and crossing the room. “I’ve had an idea.” Coming back with their gitars, she looked very hard at the page. “Look at these odd things over the melody. Sets of six vertical lines. I think they’re gitar strings. The lines across them are the frets and the black dots show the fingering for the chords.”
She tried the first few.
“Odd modulations. You play the melody and we’ll see how they fit.”
“What do I do about the ‘insects’: are they sharps or flats?”
“Try without either.”
She did.
“That wasn’t right. It seems to be in E: well that’s the note it finishes on. Look the pattern of ‘insects’ would be correct if they were sharps; E, G sharp and B. That’s right for E major. I’ll try again in that ... ... ... ... that sounds better. How do the chords fit now?”
They tried.
“They don’t,” said Maree. “Those sort-of chords have nothing to do with the key of E major. Perhaps we’re wrong about the signs being gitar chords.”
“Or, they tuned their gitars differently.”
“Who would know?”
“Master Sinteen might have something in the archives on old tuning patterns. He might also have something on old notations.”
“Tomorrow being first day, we’ve got him for a lecture anyway. We could ask him after class.”

-o-0-o-

Just before nooning the next day, the twins approached Master Sinteen and asked him whether he had anything useful on the two topics intriguing them. He at back in his chair and closed his eyes. The twins waited ... and waited ...
Eventually, without opening his eyes, he spoke.
“The tuning I can’t help you with: you’d better go and talk to Master Piet. He’s always interested in old instruments. Or, ask the Craft Master, it you can nail him down. For the notations ... we do have something here, I think. Leave me to cogitate. If I think of anything, I’ll let you know.”
“Thank you Sir,” they chorused.
After nooning, which was attended by all the Masters except for Master Kandar, they chased Master Piet into his workshop.
“And what do you two pests want?” he asked with a grin. “Haven’t you had enough fun to last you a month?”
“Do you have anything ...”
“... about old tuning schemes for gitars?”
“Off-hand; no. As far as I know we’ve always tuned the strings in open minor chords, which seems to the easiest and most logical system. As you very well know, you just use your index finger on the appropriate fret. If you need the major chord you simply use a finger to sharpen the third. Or you use a few more fingers for augmentations. Why?”
“Oh, just something we’ve come across,” said Filona just as Maree said, “nothing really.”
“Something? Nothing? You two are up to mischief I guess. I don’t think I want to know. Go away: you’ve got voice studied now, don’t you?”

-o-0-o-

That evening, just after the meal, when they were standing waiting for the Master to leave, Master Sinteen strolled in their direction.
“I’ve thought long and hard, and I’ve remembered. Somewhere back about the end of the second cycle, or the start of the third, a journeyman wrote a study on changes to notation. You’ll have to look it up in the catalogue yourselves.”

-o-0-o-

That evening Sareel was not on duty so it was another twenty-four hours till she came to treat Filona. She brought the manuscript with her.
“Is there any chance of doing a copy for Dzakalyn? I think her family need to know about their history.”
“We were thinking of making ourselves a copy anyway so that this one can go back to Master Sinteen.”
“If we do them at the same time in wouldn’t take much longer.”
“We could even swap copies where the writing changes; my left hand writes differently to her right.”

-o-0-o-

Over the next seven-day, the copies gradually grew as the twins found the odd quarter glass of free time. The occurrence of these was reduced by a chance meeting.
Two days after they started their copies they spotted a familiar figure eating his nooning at the journeymen’s table.
“What’s Leeon doing here?”
“Don’t know: let’s waylay him before we go to composition.”
“Leeon, what are you doing here?” was asked at the same time as,
“We have a problem, can you help us?”
Girls, girls, girls: have some respect for my exalted status, please? I’m here to consult with the venerable and ancient Master Djerain about a legal problem Lord Stirdee has. As to whether I can help you, it’ll depend on ‘with what’ and ‘how long will it take me’?” He grinned at them. “Tell you what: if I’m through by the end of your class, I’ll meet you then. If I’m not, I’ll catch you after dinner.”
After two glasses worth of class time, during which they each had been challenged to write a set of variations on a given tune with due attention paid to the accepted types of variety as to tempo, key and decoration, they left the studio, in the midst of the apprentices, to find Leeon sitting on a window cill outside the door.
“Master Djerain is considering his advice on my problem. Well: Lord Stirdee’s problem as presented by me, so I’m free for a bit. With what did you want my aid?”
“Do you know anything about different gitar tuning?”
“We’ve found this old music but the gitar part doesn’t make sense.”
“You’d better show me.”
They marched him over to the hold and installed him in what was normally the teaching hall, unoccupied by chanting children at this time of day. Filona went to get the music, and Maree went to raid the kitchen for klah and sweet-cakes. With Maree’s gleanings distributed they showed him the first page, demonstrating their problem using their gitars, also collected by Filona.
“I see what you mean. I love the dance melody, what’s it called?” He peered at the top of the page. “‘Dragonlady: Annie’s Jig’. I wonder who Annie was.” He took a deep breath. “Tell you what: let’s do this the other way round.”
“What other way?”
“Well, the last chord must be the tonic, yes? So if the piece IS in E major what are the possible notes?
“E, G sharp and B.”
“Good. Now, on this little finger chart, the bottom string shows an open string, so that string MUST be either E, or G sharp or B: we don’t know which as yet, though E would be the root. Let’s write this down; or we could get into a horrible muddle.” He seized a scrap of parchment and wrote the numbers from six to one across the top and the notes of the triad down the side. Under the number six he repeated the same three notes. “The fifth has a mark on the second fret, so that string must be tuned a tone lower than one of the notes in the tonic triad so it must be D, F sharp or A.” He noted those down under the five.” The fourth is the same as the fifth. The third string again has a mark but on the first fret so, that must be tuned to either D sharp, or G, or A sharp. The second and top strings are open like the bottom one so, once again, they must be tuned to the E major triad.” He finished filling in his chart.
“Now, we look at the previous chord. What note leads home?”
“The seventh,” the twins chorused.
“Correct! So this SHOULD be the chord of B with a diminished seventh. The notes in that are?”
“B, D sharp, F sharp and A,” said the twins in chorus.
“Good. Now, this time the both the bottom strings are to be fingered on the second fret. So they must be tuned to either A, C sharp, E or G.” He started another table. “The fourth is only a semitone below the notes in the chord making it either A sharp, D, F, or G sharp. Like fifth and bottom, third and top are tuned a tone below notes sounding within the chord and so are either A, C sharp, E or possibly G. The second string is open and thus must be B, D sharp, F sharp or A.
“Now: let’s compare the charts. Sixth string first. The only note common to both charts is E, so that has to be its tuning. Fifth ... that’s got to be an A. Fourth: D; third: G; second’s got to be a B.” He blinked. “No: not B.A.B. You know what I mean. Top’s got to be another E. There you are problem solved.”
“So, if I retune to those notes we’ll be able to play it right?”
“Probably, unless it’s for a left-handed gitar.”
“A what?” Both flummoxed twins said in chorus.
“A friend of mine, a few years older, is a lefty and he reversed the strings, turned his gitar round fingering the notes with his right hand.”
“I must try that some time.” Said Filona.
“That’s for later. For now, retune yours to this old tuning.” She did so, checking the pitch against Maree’s. “By the way” he continued, “you do realise that this line next across to the fret line probably means a barring?”
“Yeth Mathter,” lisped Maree, batting her eyelashes at him.
“Cheeky young weyrling.”
“What a weird set of intervals,” said Filona strumming across the open strings: “major third, major third, major third, minor third, major third.”
“Master Piet is right,” Maree added. “Our system, minor third, major third, fourth, minor third, major third, seems far more logical.”
“That’s because we’re used to it. Try the piece again.”
The twins did with Maree fingering the bouncy melody and Filona strumming the rhythmic accompaniment.
“Sounds good,” commented Leeon. “But let’s check the tuning pattern against the next piece?”
“You can’t,” said Maree, turning the page, “it’s a song with floor harp accompaniment.”
“So it is.” He peered closely at the words. “I wouldn’t have thought that pipes were loud enough to call across anything. And, what’s a ‘glen’?”
“No idea ...” “... Look at the clef marks Leeon ...” “... Aren’t they weird?”
“So they are. I didn’t really notice that with ‘Annie’s Jig’ but I was looking at the guitar chords. I can’t help you with these. And, we’re supposed to be looking for more gitar chord symbols.”
They had to look through quite a bit of the book to find some.
“How about this Leeon?”
Ah yes, a dance for an ensemble with the gitar playing rhythm rather than fingering a line. It appears to be in either A major or F sharp minor.”
“We think that, since the insects are sharps ...” “... those little ‘b’s are flat signs.”
“All right then; A flat or F minor.”
Filona was quietly trying one of the parts. She stopped. “What’s this mark for? The square with only two bits sticking out, instead of eight in the sharp sign?”
Leeon peered where she was pointing. “Well it’s in the F space. The F is already sharpened. Perhaps it’s their version of a cancelation mark? It turns the F sharp back to F. Now, I can’t help you anymore. It must be dinner time and I’ve got to get back across to Harper Hall.”

-o-0-o-

The next rest day was very quiet. The only Fall due was away over Igen and the weather was still too atrocious to allow a gather to happen. The twins got down to some serious work, finished the copies of the Journal and gave Sareel one to forward to Djakalyn at Benden Weyr.
That evening, after eating, the twins went to find Master Kandar. He was relaxing in his rooms with his wife, sitting either side of a roaring fire with glasses of mulled wine. At their knock he called them in.
“What can I do for you two?”
“Please Sir, we want to tell you about something else we found.” “When we found that room.”
“Something else?” he repeated.
“Yes, a book of music.” “A book of old music.” “Very old.”
“Very old you say. Does Master Sinteen know about this?” They shook their heads. “Did you at least sign it out of the archives?”
“No Sir.” “We were going to tell you but then the fight happened.” “And we sort of forgot.”
“The fight was fourteen days ago. That’s a lot of forgetting.” The twins started feeling apprehensive: this was not going the way they had hoped. “Perhaps you’d better explain. Where was this book when you were carried off?”
“We found it hidden behind the scrolls and books in the hidden room.” “It had fallen down the back.” “We could see it was old and fragile ...” “... and there wasn’t any reference written on the spine ...” “... so we couldn’t slot it back in place.” “So we thought we’d tell you.”
“Why me? Why not Master Sinteen? It’s his department.”
“Because he’s rather (mumble)”
“He’s rather what?” There was a pause. “Speak up. You both can makes yourselves heard when you want to.”
Eventually. “Lazy.” They whispered together.
“I see. Carry on.” Anybody glancing in Ephi’s direction would have seen her lips quiver slightly: Master Kandar maintained a straight face.
“So, when we left to find you ...” “... we hid it because we didn’t want Plyne and his gang to get it ...” “... and claim that they’d found it.”
“Where did you hide it?”
Filona blushed. “Down my trous,” she whispered.
“So that was what actually saved your insides?”
“Probably.”
Kandar looked at his wife. There was a quick exchange of expressions.
“What has happened to it since?”
“Well, we knew it was music ...” “... because we had a peek inside.” “But we didn’t dare open it fully.” “So we treated the cover with oil and wax to make it supply again.” “And then we had a proper look at the music ...” “... but it’s written in some old notation ...” “... but we’ve worked some of it out.” “Then Filona found another document hidden in it.” “It was padding the back cover.” “So we read it, and it’s a journal ...” “... from the time of the Crossing ...” “about a group of Au Connell traders who stayed south.”
“Is that the documents there?”
“Yes Sir.” They passed them across.
He looked at the music volume. “Hm-m, interesting method of binding. Well: at least you seem to have made a good job of conserving the cover.” He glanced inside. His eyebrows twitched up. “VERY early music to judge by the material of the pages. They ran out of this stuff late in the second pass.” He turned to the journal, also made of some sheets of the same stuff roughly stitched together. He looked at the first few lines. “Does anybody else know about these?”
“Journeyman Leeon knows about the music ...” “because we asked him about gitar tuning.” “And Sareel knows about the journal because she saw us reading it ...” “... and we’ve made her a copy of it because she knows a present day Au Connell.” “Dzakalyn at Benden Weyr.”
Kandar leant back in his chair, scratched his head and swigged down the rest of his wine. “I needed that.” He sighed deeply. “I don’t know what to do with you two. If you were normal apprentices I’d probably ban you from any gathers between now and Spring Eveners, make you do extra chores in your free time, and make you live on bread and water for the next sevenday!” He pushed himself to his feet and paced round the study. “Some things you did right. The way you treated the cover is very well done. BUT, if you are going to continue in MY Hall there must be no more secrets!” He sat back down. “I can understand your opinion of Master Sinteen, I’ve heard it from others also, but he has other attributes that far outweigh that. He doesn’t like to rush into things without thinking them through. And, he believes in delegation to the point where, having delegated a task he doesn’t stand over that person checking everything done. I will grant you that he has slowed down over the years as he’s grown older.
“The silly thing is: if you had brought this to us at the beginning we would have almost certainly asked you to do exactly what you have done.
“On the positive side, you’ve treated the documents correctly and you have been discrete but I cannot let you go altogether unpunished, that would be a bad example to set the rest of the Hall. Starting from tomorrow breakfast you will spend three days on bread and water. I’ll send a note to Lord Stirdee telling him, but I won’t tell him why. That’s Hall business not Hold business.” The girls both burst into silent tears. “I’ll keep the documents for now. The music, at least, will come back to you in a few days as I’m assigning you two to write out every piece in OUR notation.” He held up a finger as he saw Maree about to speak. “That means that you will have to work out the details. There is a scroll on this subject in the archives: I read it back when I was a journeyman, although I must confess I can’t remember the ins and outs of the topic.” Maree stuck her hand up. “All right, what?”
She gave a sniff. “We asked Master Sinteen about old notation ...” “... although we didn’t tell him why, and he told us the scroll existed.” “But we haven’t had time to search the catalogue for it ...” “... because we were spending every spare minute copying out the journal.” “We even stayed up late and got up extra early to work on it.”
Ephi got up and put her arms round their shoulders and gave them a hug. Maree started to sob noisily, and Filona was far behind.
When they had calmed down Master Kandar continued. “While Master Stirdee and I discuss and decide what to do, you’d better search for that scroll on notation. Did he narrow it down at all?”
“He said it was probably somewhere towards the end of the second interval ...” “... or the start of the third pass.”
“That feels right to me. I do not want this discovery widely known until we announce it properly. So, if anybody asks you what you are doing you tell them it’s a project for me. You don’t HAVE to tell them it’s a punishment.” He went to his desk and started writing for a bit. “Can I trust you to hand this to Lord Stirdee and not ‘lose’ it on the way?” They nodded. “Here you are. Go back to the Hold and go to bed. No staying up tonight.”
When they were gone he turned to his wife.
“Well: was I too harsh?”
“She shook her head. “there’re some students you would have thrown out on the spot.”
“I know. But they didn’t do it on purpose to be spiteful or naughty. They just didn’t think. Perhaps Plyne was right in that at least: we do treat them as special. It would be far simpler if they were apprentices, but they’re neither one thing nor another. Perhaps it would be better if we had a whole group of them not just the pair.” He thought on. “I wish they weren’t so young. That’s the heart of it. They are functioning at journeyman level, mostly, so we expect them to be as mature as the journeymen, most of whom are a decade older. If they were just a couple of years older they could walk the tables.” He sighed. “There’re times I feel like I’ve been a tyrant.”
“You’re not; you’re a very caring man. Everything you’ve just said bears that out. I wish we’d been able to have children; you’d have been a marvellous father. As it is, you treat every apprentice as a grandchild, and the journeymen as sons and daughters.” She gave him a kiss. “Are you ready to sleep?”
He nodded and, after banking down the fire for the night, followed her to the bedroom.
“You are a great comfort to me. Do you fancy a trip? I feel we should go and talk to their parents.”

-o-0-o-

Two evenings later the twins once again knocked on the Master Harper’s study door. There was no reply. They looked at each other, sighed and were about to walk away when he appeared turning into the corridor from the stairs.
“Are you waiting for me?”
“Yes Sir.”
He opened his door. “Come on in then.” He sat behind his desk. “What can I do for you this evening, hm-m?”
“Well: we’ve found the scroll in the catalogue ...” “... 2-243-157 ...” “but it’s not on the shelves.” “Somebody’s got it out.”
“243 so really near the end of the interval. Well who’s got it out?”
“That took a long time to find out.” “We had to go back through a quite number of the loan scrolls.”
“Well?”
Filona gulped. “It was you Sir.”
“Forty-three turns ago.” Put in Maree in an awed voice.
Kandar looked stunned. “Me?” They nodded.
There was a long pause.
“That would be when I read it just before I was made Master. Well I’m ...”
There was another long pause.
“It must be in that box of my journeyman projects.” He pointed across the room to the shelves. “No,” he said as he saw Maree start to move. “I think I’d better dig it out. I don’t want you going through my things. You’re far too nosey!”
He moved across the room and lifted the box out of its place setting it down on the floor. The twins politely stayed where they were, although they were itching to per over his shoulder. He rooted through it, pulling out various scrolls until ...
“Here we are. It’s rather dusty. Ephi knows better than to tidy my old things.”
He put the box away and came back to his desk, handing them the scroll.
“That was very remiss of me. What punishment do you think I deserve? Three days on bread and water?”
“No Sir.” “Something MUCH worse:..” “... a week without any wine.”
He burst out laughing. “Oo, dire punishment indeed! A week without wine will be really tough.” He quietened down. “Now: I’m going over to Ruatha tomorrow. I can quite easily drop in to Rundles. Do you want me to pass on any messages? Alternatively, if you give me any letters at breakfast, I’ll see they’re delivered.”

-o-0-o-

It was midmorning when Master Kandar and Ephi arrived at Rundles a-dragon back. Jeeno ushered them, and the dragon-rider, into the kitchen.
“Come in by the warm and sit down. Have some klah. We’ve a fresh baking just out of the oven. Try this cake it’s our new speciality.”
She poured them generous beakers of hot drink, sliced them ample portions of the cake, and shoved the bowl of sweetening in their direction. She walked out into the entrance hallway. They could hear her in the distance giving orders.
“SUNNY! Saddle up there’s a lad and get Randeel back here would you?”
A distant voice called back, “right Jeeno.”
She returned. “Randeel’s up looking at our latest dam. It’s filling up nicely but he’s checking that the water’s settling and clearing. The last thing we want is a polluted water supply.”
“This cake’s marvellous,” said Ephi, swallowing a mouthful, “a good filling cake. What IS the fruit in it?”
“Dried grapes: they’re a by-product of the storm last fall, when we had a number of vines in fruit washed out. We saved as much of the fruit as we could. Some of it went to make wine vinegar and the rest we dried to preserve it like one does with fish to last the winter.”
“If I could find a source of fruit, I’d introduce this it into the Hall.”
“I’ll bear that in mind next season.”
“It would go down very well in the Weyrs too,” put in T’lar the liaison rider, who was transporting the Harpers.
“So I start up the production of dried grapes do I? Well, we’ll have to work out a price for them. It’s a bit chancy. We were rather lucky with the weather once the storm was past: almost a seven-day of good sunshine and dry winds. I’ll have to talk it over with Randeel.” There was a clatter of hooves form outside. “That sounds like him now.”
Randeel entered and helped himself to klah. “This about the twins?” he asked spooning sweetener into his drink. “How’s Filona?”
“Filona’s fine,” answered Ephi. “The stitches should be coming out today. Yes, it’s about the twins.”
“Are they in trouble?”
Kandar laughed. “Well, they have been, but it’s not so serious that I have to talk to you about it. But, we do need to you both about them.”
Randeel drained his beaker and picked up a couple of stools. “You’ batter come along to the office then. T’lar, will you be all right here?”
“Of course. I can always have a chat to my big sister.”
“Your. Big. Sister?” Randeel and Jeeno looked at each other and then at Tani. She’s your sister? I never knew that. Big? You’re twice her size.”
“Yes, he’s my baby brother. Shells! He was a handful.”
Randeel blinked. “Right then. My office.” He led the way and settled them down in the two chairs while he and Jeeno perched on the stools..

“What DID they do wrong?”
“Nothing much really. It was more a case that they tried to do something without thinking it through and it went off in a direction they hadn’t anticipated. That reminds me, I’ve a scroll here for you from them.” He handed it over. “But before you start on that I want to ask you what your plans for them are when they finish this Turn of fostering?”
“Well, they come home of course, unless Lord Stirdee offers to keep them for a second Turn; or if Lord Rahon has some other scheme up his sleeve. I thought they’d just pick up where they’d left off; helping around the farm and hold. Now you raise it, I hadn’t realised that, of course, they’ll have grown up and changed.”
“And what are your long term aspirations? Where do you envisage them in, say, ten Turns time?”
“Well ... I suppose I’d ... well not really PLANNED it, but assumed that we’d see to it that they get to as many gathers and festivals as we can so that they’d meet a lot of other youngsters, have a few boyfriends and then find a partner, a holder’s or crafter’s son, and settle down.”
“I’d like them to be near us.” Put in Jeeno. “I look forward to keeping an eye on my grandchildren. Why?”
“If I may, let me start by going over a bit of our set up. Apprentices usually come to us at around ten Turns. If they have really good voices; possibly they join us as early as eight. Most will have moved up to become journeymen at around eighteen. Our rules state sixteen as the minimum. A few, for various reasons, never move on up.
“Now; your twins. We’re only just waking up to realise what we have in Filona and Maree. An old term for them was ‘prodigy’. And, we’ve not just one of this rare breed, we’ve a pair.” He paused.
“I knew they were musical, and we’ve always encouraged them.” Put in Jeeno. “One of my ancestors, three generations back, was a Master Harper.”
“So was one of mine, but back four generations;” added Randeel.
“I know.” Master Kandar picked up again. “I can just about remember your great-great uncle, Jeeno. He was Master Archivist when I was first indentured. And, while I can’t personally remember your great-grandfather, Randeel, he was a fine composer, and we still play his music.
“Now, your two would seem to have inherited the talent from both sides. They’ve been with us for four months and, in most subjects, they are already studying with the journeymen. They are able researchers. Their copying is fast, legible and accurate. Their playing and singing has come on immensely.” He grinned. “You can give them almost any instrument and they’ll get a tune out of it. The only things holding them back were Instrument Making and Composition. And, even there they are now working with the most senior apprentices, and they’ve started on their show pieces.
“Maree, bless her, is making a set of three drums of three totally different sizes to give three pitches. She has made the shells and is now experimenting with dyes to decorate the skins. She’s not content to dye each a different colour: she wants to do a design on each. I understand that she’s currently wavering between dragons and runners.
“Filona is making a lap harp. Now most students spend ages doing elaborate carvings of flying dragons or entwining vines up the post. Or they do intricate inlay work on the sound box. Filona has made the post by laminating alternate layers of light and dark woods, and then turning it on a lathe so that the changing shapes reveal the different layers in interesting shapes.”
“So that is what she was talking to Kai about when they visited last.”
“Kai?”
“He’s a forester and one of my cot-holders.”
“Ah. Now for the neck; instead of cutting a large baulk of timber into shape, she’s researched and found out how boat builders steam timbers to shape. So she’s making the neck out of light and dark laminations, again, steamed and set up in the harmonic curve. Admittedly Master Piet has helped her by building her a steam box and has helped her get the moulding formers correct. The harp is going to look stunning and, if it sounds as good as it looks, it will be a Masterly instrument.
“Can you see the picture I’m painting? What do I do with these two? I don’t doubt that they will be competent partners, and mothers, for a pair of holders or crafters. But they belong in my Harper Craft. After this Turn’s over I want them in our care. But, what do I do with them? In terms of studying they belong with the journeymen. In terms of their age they belong with the middle apprentices. I can’t, by the rules, promote them yet. If they were a couple of Turns older I might bend the rules.
“I don’t see that we can help you with that.”
“I don’t expect you to. But I did want you to know where I am coming from when I do decide. Do you have any objections to them becoming fully-fledged harpers?” Both parents shook their heads. “Good. There is a possible solution. Occasionally we post an apprentice out of the Hall to study at a hold for a while. Usually it’s because the child is devastatingly homesick. Once it was because the father, a Lord Holder, had died and the child needed family support for a few months. So; I could post the twins out to study with a carefully chosen Master. But I wouldn’t post them to Ruatha. I feel that Leeon, competent though he is, is too near them in age. Before long we would have girlish vapourings and that would interfere. It would need to be with somebody old enough to be regarded as an uncle or even grandfather. What are your feelings on that?”
Randeel scratched the back of his neck. “I don’t know. It’s a bit sudden.”
“When would you be posting them?” asked Jeeno.
“Not till Fall Evener, so there’s plenty of time to think about it before we decide, anad by ‘we’ I mean us four, not just Harper Craft.”
Randeel looked towards his partner. “Now you’ve explained it I can see where you’re coming from and, now you’ve shown me, I agree that Harpering is probably best for them.”
“Would they be far away?” asked Jeeno. She had far more questions than Randeel who tended to accept things the way they were. “I’d like to be able to see them and have them come home for birthing days and things.”
“I can totally understand that,” said Ephi, who had sat quiet up till now. “And I want to add in another strand. I haven’t even talked about this to Kandar, so it’s my personal view. I feel it would do them good to be separated for a bit.”
There was a gasp from Jeeno. “They’ve never been apart from birth; well except for when Maree got burnt. And that was only for a couple of days.”
“That’s exactly why I think they need to practice being apart soon. They won’t be together once they’ve partnered will they? Before long they’re going to be falling for boys. What if one has a boyfriend and the other hasn’t? One is going to be jealous. The other will feel guilty at having such good luck. She may even turn her back on love in order not to hurt her sister. They may even both fall for the same boy. For the sake of their emotional development I feel very strongly that they should spend some time apart.”
“Better now than in five years time.” Kandar joined back in. “If I posted them to weyrs they could easily arrange a ride to meet with each other ... or to come home.”
Randeel looked down at the floor and gave a slow, deep sigh. “Well thank you goodness we’ve a few months to get used to the idea. Do we tell them?”
“I don’t think so: not, at least, at this time. Thank you for listening and taking it so well.”
“Thank YOU for caring.”

-o-0-o-

At the end of nooning Filona’s name was called out among those required to report to the healer wing. As she walked past the row of rooms Sareel called out to her through an open door.
“Filona! I’ve been delegated,” she continued more quietly, “to remove your stitches. Sit there. This will only take a couple of minutes.” She peered closely at Filona’s face. “they’re fine, just one looks a bit sticky; I’ll do that one last.” She picked up a small blade and a pair of tweezers. “”It’ll feel odd as the thread slide through. Okay?”
Filona gritted her teeth. “Okay.”
Sareel lifted the first knot with the tweezers and sliced through the thread at skin level: pulled the stitch clear and dropped it into a bowl.
“All right?”
“Yes. Not as bad as I expected.”
“Right: let’s do the rest.”
When she came to the last one she paused.
“This is the sticky one. It may pull a bit. Then I’ll get Master Rubor to come and have a check. If he’s happy it’ll all be over. Take a breath.”
Filona did, and gripped the sides of the chair. As Sareel lifted clear the extracted stitch and turned to add to the bowl’s contents, Filona groaned loudly.
Sareel looked round at her. “I didn’t do it that badly did I?” Then she realised that Filona was clutching at her abdomen and biting lip. “Cramp?” Filona nodded. “Down by your bladder?” Nod. “I’ll get you a pad. First time?” Another nod. “Well let me get you onto the couch.”
As they moved carefully and gently across the small room, Sareel asked, “you do know what’s happening don’t you?”
Filona nodded, and through clenched teeth said, “Yes. Mum gave us ‘the talk’ last fall.”
“Good. Now remember you won’t be regular at first. Your next might just be in twenty days time, but most likely it won’t be for a few months. In fact Maree might have her first two before you get your next. Everyone’s different.” She spread a blanket over the girl and opened a cupboard. “Here’s a pad. Slip it into place and lie there while I get you a hot stone from the kitchen. You’ve a couple of glasses before your next class.”
Prompted by Sareel, Maree came to find her sister.
“How do you feel?”
“Bloody!”
Maree got a fit of giggles just as Master Rubor entered.
“That’s a sound I like to hear in my clinics. Let me just check your face and I can go away again.” He turned her head gently. “Yes, just that one spot. No need for dressings but keep on with the antiseptic lotion morning and evening. I’ll see you again in a sevenday.”
__________________
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Old Jul 3 2012, 12:15 PM   #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.”
__________________
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Old Jul 3 2012, 12:27 PM   #5
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Default Re: The Case of the Dragon's Den

5. The Search

A few days later the expedition set off. M’tak had jumped south to check and correct his threadfall predictions. A journeyman harper in Nabol had sent a report back to Harper Hall that two lads had hired a large fishing vessel to take them and their runners to the mouth of a river down south. Byrt stated his belief that it would prove to be the one that flowed down past Landing.
With permission from M’tak and Lyza, N’key was allowed to jump back in time so that they arrived a day before the boys were due to land. By nightfall they had flown cross-country to the Vienna-on-Jordan stake hold where they camped for the night. Siluth hunted for his supper: a couple of adult wild milchbeasts. The herd had never seen a dragon before and didn’t realise their danger until it was too late. After that the herd; males, females and youngsters, scattered, bellowing, in all directions.
The two humans built themselves a small fire to warm a number of meat rolls they had brought with them, and to boil some water to make klah. Then they rolled themselves in their cloaks, relaxed back against Siluth, and fell asleep.
They were woken next morning by the rising sun. The fire was kicked into life and the pot of klah put on it to heat up.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” said Byrt stretching, “it was a lot more comfortable leaning against Siluth here,” slapping him, “than my usual mattress when sleeping out. Runners don’t oblige by spending the night lying still. They wander around and graze.”
N’key laughed. “Pity you didn’t impress then. Think of it, with your own dragon we would have to keep flying you and your menagerie here and there. And, when you wanted to heat up some metal: he could blow a few flames in the right direction.” He laughed again. “Siluth says it sounds like fun. He’d like to melt metal: can he try?”
Byrt looked at Siluth. The dragon’s eyes were whirling gently in shades of blues and greens. “We’ll see old fellow. When we’ve finished this quest.”

-o-0-o-

Plyne and Almore duly arrived south. They climbed down into the skiff that had been towed behind the fishing craft, and their runners were swung hoisted out of the hold and dropped into the sea to swim ashore. Plyne was not best pleased that his runner was so anxious to get ashore that it pulled him out of the boat and towed him ashore. Almore arrived dry and laughing but, by the time his mount had arrived on the river bank he was almost as wet as Plyne.
With the animals tethered, the two ex-apprentices waited for the skiff to return from collecting the rest of their gear. They didn’t know it, but they were already a day and a half behind the official party.
With their gear eventually loaded on their runners, the two climbed on and set off up the valley towards the stake hold named ‘Sydney’ on the map. Quite sensibly they had decided to find the nearest settlement and to stay in any remaining shelter until after the next thread fall. They’d then have a few days to get to Landing and look for more shelter. If necessary they just had time to treat back to Sydney sit out another fall there.

-o-0-o-

To live in a set of caves, the Au Connells would have needed a good water supply so N’key and Byrt were flying along the river valley with Vienna-on-Jordan on their right. They were roughly two thirds of the way along the stake-hold’s border. In the past the river must have been more powerful and it had cut a ravine through the interlocking spurs. In places, where there was softer rock, it had carved out caves but mostly they would be flooded when the spring melt water rushed down to the ocean.
Though there were threads circles in places, they were surprised to find that in the grassy areas these were smaller than they would have expected. Within the few woodlands they overflew there appeared to be very little damage at all visible.
What they were looking for was a cave that would stay dry. Finally they came to a fault line that had caused a ledge to climb gently up across the face of a truncated spur from river level to the plateau above, widening as it rose. Part way up it they could see some openings. On the far side, to the east, the land sloped back from the river and was wooded. But here the bluff, to the west, was steep and bare.
“How about there?” N’key called over his shoulder.
“Best we’ve seen so far: let’s land and see.”
As Siluth banked in to land a large tawny animal, basking among the rocks along the edge of the plateau, leapt to its paws and roared at them.
Siluth flew straight at it and roared back whereupon the animal, joined by half a dozen others, fled across the rocks and disappeared amidst the long grass.
“Shards!” yelled Byrt. “What’s that? I’ve never heard of these. I’m glad we don’t have them in the north.”
“I’ve no idea, but they certainly look like meat-eating predators. Siluth, once we’ve landed I want you on watch up on those rocks.”
The two men approached the caves at the back of the ledge with due caution: after all there might be more of the creatures within.
Armed with glows, Byrt’s sword and N’key’s belt knife, they quickly checked out all four openings, heaving sighs of relief when they proved to be empty: at least for now. They returned to the uppermost cave, a small one, and, ducking under the low lintol, did a slow walk round looking for any evidence of previous human occupancy. Nothing.
“N’key sniffed. “Smells a bit rank.”
Byrt nodded. “At least it’s just a bit animal. It doesn’t actually stink. They don’t seem to foul their lairs.”
Both the first two small caves were bare of evidence but, in the third and largest cave they found some. In one of the many back corners were some pieces of broken pottery; about enough to make a pair of plates and a bowl.
“Well somebody lived here; probably the Au Connells.”
“We’d better record this. I’ll mark it on the map if you make notes in OUR journal.”
“Fine, let’s check out the last cave first though.”
This was the smallest of the set; they had to crouch as they moved around it. Perhaps his investigation of the inscription at Fort Weyr had made him more alert to such things but, in the dancing light of the handheld glows, Byrt caught a glimpse of some markings on the wall.
“Hey, look at this.”
Somebody had scratched at the rock, probably with a knife, it wasn’t cut deep enough to have been done with a chisel. ‘Pat = Tr ...’ they couldn’t read the rest, lichen had spread down the wall and was covering it up.
“There was a Pat O’Connell; one of the younger men.”
“Yes; but didn’t he partner Lally Moorhouse?”
“Yes; but he didn’t meet her till later and further on, when the two families met and joined up together.”
“So; this is just a bit of adolescent passion?”
“I should think so. It does, however, raise the level of probability that this was the Au Connells’ start point.”
“We might as well move on then.”
A bit later, when they had just taken off, N’key shouted back, “I’ll just get Siluth to hover while I fix the view in my memory.”
“Fine. If he can hover long enough I could make a quick sketch of it too.”
As they started to fly away from the river Byrt reminded N’key of the next objective.
“We’re looking for an isolated lump of rock in the middle of the grass.”
“We’d better go really high then to cover a wider area. It should be around two hours out.”
“I agree to us going high. The boys are still the other side of Landing. At least we haven’t got to cover the full circle: just the south-western arc.
Siluth flew forwards climbing higher and higher and a wider and wider area of landscape became visible. Mostly it was grassland with the occasional clump of scrub. Off to the north the land became more rolling with small streams meandering across it. Away to the south the peaks of a mighty range of mountains were illuminated by the morning sun now swinging round to their north. N’key was scanning the arc to the north of their flight line and Byrt, peering over his shoulder, was keeping watch to the south. After roughly a glass and a half, Byrt tapped N’key on the shoulder and pointed. In the distance was an isolated crag: a miniature Red Butte. Siluth banked briefly and started a shallow glide in that direction.

-o-0-o-

Plyne and Almore reached the old Amsterdam stake-hold in the evening twilight. They had not been able to travel as fast as Plyne had optimistically planned. The stretches of open grassland were easily traversed but the riverside woodlands had think undergrowth which drastically reduced their progress.
As they rode along the riverbank, and the afterglow faded away, Plyne’s runner stumbled over a heap of stones in its path. He was busy swearing at the unfortunate animal when Almore interrupted.
“Hey; this heap’s in a straight line. It must be an old wall or something.”
Plyne finally focussed his attention back to their surroundings. There were a whole series of wall; most of them had collapsed, some of them totally. One or two were still standing to a reasonable height. Well away from the river there was a corner of an open sided shed still intact. The stone covered roof still existed, at least in part. The right hand end rested on the collapsed remains of the wall at that flank.
Plyne gazed round. “It could never have been much better than a cothold.”
“Well, they’d only been here a few years. It takes time to found a Hold.”
“If it had been me, the first thing I’d have done was build a grand hall. How else can you establish who’s in charge? Who ever held here must have been a bunch of drudges.”
With their runners hobbled, they finished the cooked meat they had brought with them while a pot of water heated over their fire to provide them with klah. They had picked and eaten a selection of fruit while on route, easily done from runner back, but had saved a few to finish off their evening meal.
Next morning, when they crawled out from under the roof, gave all the signs of being the start of a fine late summer’s day. They had been woken by animal noises. Down by the river, where the bank had been trampled into a ramp, a small herd of wild milchbeasts were drinking. Catching sight of the humans, the bull peered suspiciously at them and then led his herd off at a trot along the bank.
“Shells!” exclaimed Plyne. “I really fancy some fresh meat, and we ate the last of the cooked stuff last night.”
“How were you going to catch and kill one of those? They’re pretty frisky. And, we don’t have a bow, or arrows.”
“Well; we could sort of trap one of youngsters between us and slit its throat.”
“And what do you think the bull would be doing?”
“What do you suggest then?”
“It would be easier to some wherries roost and feed. We could then weave a trap. Or, we could weave a fish trap, or even rig some sort of fish line and catch some river specklies.”
“You’d better do it then: Know-all!”
Almore was feeling more and more upbeat as the domineering Plyne revealed his ignorance of practical matters.
“Well, at least I didn’t spend my boyhood la-di-lahing around a Hold in fancy clothes with other Lord Holder kids. Whenever I could get away from family, I was out with the sons of hold-guards and cot-holders. The older ones used to teach us useful things. Now, we need to water the runners and we don’t know when threadfall’s due, so we need to find a way to get them into some sort of shelter.”
Since you’re so knowledgeable and bossy all of a sudden: you sharding well do it. I’m going to have my breakfast, even if it is only fruit and klah.”

-o-0-o-

As they got close to the butte N’key directed Siluth to fly a lap round it to see whether they could spot the caves used by the Au Connells. In the heat of the day they could see a heat haze shimmering over the butte, and somehow it seemed to cause more turbulence than its size and the gentleness of the prevailing breeze would warrant. They were over half way round and had seen nothing. Siluth was gliding on, using the thermals to stretch his glide, and they were approaching the north-western side when both riders shouted.
“Shells!”
“Oh, no!”
The rock face had fallen away and was piled against the base of the cliffs. The exposed surfaces of the cliff showed clean and fresh against the weathered cliffs elsewhere.
“I hope ...” began Byrt, and then fell silent.
With the rest of the lap completed fruitlessly, N’key told Siluth to land near the rock fall.
“They wrote that their shelters were among fallen rocks. We’ve seen no sign of falls anywhere else. They must be behind this lot.”
“I wonder,” pondered N’key, “why only this corner has had the rockfalls?”
“I expect it’s the weather corner. If the prevailing wind is from the north-west most of the rain will hit this corner. So you’ll have a lot of erosion and frost shattering. We’re not going to find anything here. Let’s go up top and have a look round. Then we might as well head back to Vienna: we’re due for threadfall mid-afternoon. Or do we spend a night back north?”
“Forget threadfall for now; let’s go north. It’s kinder to Siluth than expecting a fighting dragon to sit out threadfall in a cave. Come on let’s mount up and see what’s to be seen from the top.”
They looked around. Off to the west and north, the grass covered gently rolling hills as far as the straight horizon. Here and there small clumps of shrubs and trees occupied shallow valleys where there was sufficient water. It looked hot, dry and lazy.
“No wonder they gave up trying to get to Killarney. There’s no chance of shelter out there.”
To the south the view much the same but, far away, the grass lifted into the foothills of the mountains. To the east, the way they had come, the late morning shadows demarked a dry valley threading between the hills.
“Bet you that was their route in, and out. It’s about the best way for wagons. We couldn’t have seen it from up aloft.” N’key waved a hand at the sky. “Seen enough?”
“I think so.”
“Let’s go then. We’ll hover for a bit for you to exercise your artistic skills before going between.”

-o-0-o-

Fort being far to the west of the search area, it was only mid-morning when Siluth poppede out from between over the Harper Hall. Kandar, along with Sinteen whom he invited to join him, was very pleased with the interim report from the pair of explorers.
“So, you’ve located both Vienna-on-Jordan and their first stop? Good, good;” stated Kandar gazing avidly at Byrt’s sketches. “How amazing.”
“Did you find any bits and pieces left behind?” asked Sinteen
“Not much after this length of time. Just some rubbish really: broken plates and so on at Vienna. We couldn’t search at the butte because of the rockfall.”
“Well; I think we ought to have that pottery in the archives. We’ve got some of their written records; it would be nice to have some of their things too.”
Kandar looked up from studying the picture of the butte. “They can always go and collect up the pottery later after they’ve found Gaillimh, however you’re meant to pronounce the ‘mh’ at the end. We still need to get there before our young rivals.”
“Can I borrow your map?” asked Sinteen. “I’d like to update one of OUR copies.”
“Of course.”
Sinteen picked it up carefully and carried it away.
“Have you seen anything of ‘the gang’?” asked Kandar when the door had closed.
“No. But we haven’t bothered to look.”
“Do you want us to?”
“It might be wise. At least to know where they are: if you can achieve that without disclosing your presence.”
“Finding them would just take time,” said N’key. “If I was them I’d be moving form one to another of that row of stake-holds along the river. They’ve got to time it from shelter to shelter between threadfalls. I’d estimate it’ll take them from seven to ten days to just get to Landing. As for not letting them know we’re watching them ... our only way of finding them would be from the air. Unless it’s very cloudy; if we can see them, they can see us.”
Their discourse was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Come,” called Kandar.
The twins came in. They both started talking.
“Master Kandar, we think we’ve got an idea for the drum.”
“Uncle Byrt! Why are you here?”
Kandar gave them a mock glare. “How come I’m ‘Master’ and he’s ‘Uncle’? He’s a master too you know.”
“We’ll call you Uncle as well if you want.”
“Or Granddad.”
“Cheeky pair! What’s this about a drum?”
“Well, composition class was let out early,” “and we were crossing the courtyard.” “A pair of kitchen drudges were chucking this cauldron” “on the rubbish heap” “’cos they’d burnt a hole in its bottom.” “And we are pretty sure we can find a hide big enough to cover it.” “So, we’d like to try” “and then see” “how far the sound carries.”
They paused for breath. Filona rummaged in her shoulder bag and produced a square of hide.
“Here’s a neat copy of the drum cipher.” “We finally got it all worked out” “with the help of Master Piet.”
Kandar took the hide from Filona and bent to look at it. Then he glanced up at the two men. “By the way, despite the twins being a pair of chatterboxes, this scheme is being kept secret for now. All right?”
They both nodded.
“I take it you looking to use drums to send messages?” asked N’key. “The Hold Runner families aren’t going that.”
“There’s no way that we will be able to set up drums to cover everywhere. The idea is to set up a chain or two linking major centres but, unless the message is FOR a major centre, we’ll need the Runners to carry it on out to the minor holds from the drum stations. And, we still don’t know if the idea will work at all. None of of previous schemes have. We’ve just got a chance to try the next stage of this one.”
Byrt sighed. “If you’re going to put a skin over that cauldron, I’d better see about getting the handle off ...”
What ever he was going to say next was lost as a ringing bell interrupted him.
“After nooning,” said Kandar.



Second Rough Draught of Drum Cipher
(as devised by Filona, Maree and Master Piet.)

-o-0-o-
Byrt and N’key returned south appearing from between over Landing. In accordance with Kandar’s request they flew northwards down the river looking for their rivals. It was early morning, mist was curling off the water and, except for the occasional small herd of animals drinking, they saw no signs of occupation.
As they came in sight of the estuary Byrt tapped N’key on the shoulder.
“What now?” he yelled.
“We could go between to the Butte, or we could land and have breakfast.”
“Breakfast!” Byrt decided.
When they had landed he continued. “We were probably too early for them. You know what lads are. They’re probably still asleep. If we fly back straight later we’ve more chance of catching them.”
Sure enough, on their return flight, they were flying along the boundary where the Bavaria stake-hold met the river, when they spotted one of the ex-apprentices squatting on the river bank. To Byrt’s eyes it looked as though he was examining a crude fish trap.
They went between.

-o-0-o-

“What do you mean: a dragon?” yelled Plyne. “You stupid fool!” He drove his fist into Almore’s stomach. “Now they know where we are.”
Doubled over, Almore yelled back. “What was I to do? I was just about to empty the trap of the fish you insisted on having for breakfast, when there it was: a sharding blue dragon with two riders. Just as I saw it they went between. There wasn’t any time to do anything.” He stood back up. “And remember, you may like hitting people, but I KILLED that idiot, AND I enjoyed it. It felt good! You hit me again and I’ll kill again. I’m fed up with this. It was your oh so clever plan. Now we’re stuck here until that sharding boat comes to pick us up.”
“Well it may have been my idea, but you didn’t have to come.”
And two angry young men turned their backs on each other and stalked off in opposite directions; sulking.

-o-0-o-

Back at the Butte the two explorers, riding Siluth, slowly circled the outcrop and then landed and dismounted.
“They certainly used that valley,” said Byrt. “It’s the only viable route in and out for wagons, although we know that carried out their reconnaissance on runner back. I wonder if they went all the way back to Vienna, or if they found a cut off to the south-east back to the river.”
“There’s only one way to find out. Let’s fly Master Smith.”
“After you, Brown Rider.”
Sure enough, after around a glass and a half’s flight, another valley diverged of to the south. N’key looked over his shoulder at Byrt who nodded. Siluth banked onto the new course. After a few miles the new valley bent back towards the south-east, and the vegetation changed. Before long the riders were getting occasional flash of sunlight off water visible between almost continuous clumps of bushes and trees. At N’key’s silent command Siluth started to climb higher. Now, of course, they could see much further. Finally, with the sun just past the zenith, they caught their first glimpse of where their stream flowed into the Jordan. As they got quite close, Byrt tapped N’key on the shoulder and pointed down at the confluence. N’key nodded and put Siluth into a fast descending spiral. The two men descended.
“That was fun,” declared N’key.
“My ears don’t think so.”
“Just swallow every little while. I remember being told of a lad many years ago who impressed ... a green I think it was. Fine on the ground. Dragon grew well and developed well, but they were useless in the air: couldn’t take the pressure changes. Apparently he used to scream with pain even on a gentle climb.”
“What did they do with them? You can’t undo impression.”
“They tried putting them in the Queens’ Wing but, in the end ... One threadfall they just disappeared between. Nobody ever knew whether they’d been scored, but a number of people said it was in shame. Nooning?”
“Best idea I’ve heard since breakfast.”
That afternoon the duo were feeling excited that they were probably drawing near to their goal. Within minutes of taking flight again, they found the overhang. Like the travellers they were following, they were in the late summer and the water levels were way down after the long spell of dry weather. The Au Connells and Moorhouses would have been able to get themselves, their wagons and animals under the undercut some dragon lengths long. True, those standing in the water would have up to mid thigh, but many especially the children could have sat on the carts and kept dry.
They didn’t stop long. Byrt did another of his aerial sketches and then they flew on. After another glass or so they spotted a lake, hopefully the right one. One of their problems during planning was that the map makers had noted only the presence of mountains. The lake was up a side valley to their west and it was the sun’s reflection off the water that drew them that way. Part way up, the valley had been blocked by some deposition of material almost like a giant dam; far lager than anything that man had achieved on Pern. The lake spread out as a series of narrow ‘fingers’ penetrating up the intersecting valleys almost like the imprint of a gigantic dragon’s foot, so vast that it would take at least a half glass to fly from one end to the other.
N’key turned his head and shouted at Byrt. “It’s going to take a long time to search all this shore line.”
“I just hope,” Byrt replied leaning forward to speak into N’key’s ear, “that our caves are still above water.”
“Don’t with that on us. Hadn’t we better find somewhere to spend the night? If we’ve got a base, we can do one finger tonight and pick it back up tomorrow. Thread should be due the day after.”
“Sound man. Good plan. Where shall we land?”
They picked a promontory with water on three sides. As soon as the riders had dismounted and unloaded him, Siluth plunged off the low cliff into the lake.
“N’key grinned at Byrt. “He says it’s a shame we don’t have enough soapsand to give him a scrub. Still we could join him even-so, how about it?”
“I’m game,” said Byrt undoing his jacket, “So long as we can climb back out.”
“If we can’t, Siluth can fly up back up.”
The lake waters were pleasantly cool. After their dip, and despite how early it was in the evening, N’key and Byrt started to eat their evening meal. Watching the water boil up for klah, while they chewed their way through a large pile of fish-rolls, supplied by Ephi, they sat silent.
Byrt broke the silence slapping at his neck. “Sharding things.”
“What, the biters?”
“Yes.”
“There don’t seem to be many over here by Siluth.”
Byrt got up and moved. A few minutes later he said, “You’re right. I wonder why that is? They really like runners and milchbeasts.”
There was a pause.
“Perhaps they are a different type of biter? Or, perhaps they don’t like dragon smell?”
“Could be. Which ever it is, Siluth? you’re going to have company tonight.”
As they were washing the last of the fish-rolls down with klah, N’key asked, “are we going to do any exploring tonight? There’s a good bit of daylight left.”
“Yes, we said we would, didn’t we? Let’s do the one we arrived along. It runs more or less east-west so it’s well lit and we didn’t exactly do a close search of it on our way through.”
They flew at low level back towards the dam and although they saw one or two caves, they were singletons and at water level. Here and there streams tumbled over the cliffs on either hand. Some of them landed in a jumble of rocks while others fell clear into the lake.
Siluth backwinged to land more or less in the middle of the dam. To either side natural spillways let water rush down the outer face of the dam on its way down to the river.
You know,” said Byrt over the noises of turbulent liquid, “most of the water in the Jordan down there, must come from here. The other branch, although it’s in the main valley, is only a minor stream. I reckon the Jordan starts right here.”
“I wouldn’t disagree.”
Taking off again, they flew towards the setting sun, flying back much higher.
Rolled in their cloaks and more or less biter free as they rested against Siluth, N’key asked, “did you notice the differences between the two sides of that finger? The north side had patches of really broken craggy bits.”
“Yes, and the south, though still rock, was much smoother? Yes I did.”
“I reckon they could, with care, have got their carts along on the south. In the morning let’s search round that way.”
“Good thinking that man.”

-o-0-o-

Next morning was grey and dull. As they breakfasted Byrt was watching the sky.
“I don’t like the look of that lot.” He said pointing to the north-west. “I reckon we’re in for a real dowsing.”
N’key stood up and walked round Siluth to where he could see in that direction.
“I agree. It looks like the first of the Fall storms. There’s just a nip in the air this morning: summer’s about over.”
Byrt emptied the dregs from his beaker of klah over the fire. “There’s a heavy feel too; could be some thunder. Let’s get on. We’d better load everything back onto Siluth. I was going to leave it here, but there’s no point in getting it all wet.”
They flew up their first search area of the day at low level. The wind was fluky: dead calm one minute and whipping up cat’s-paws on the water the next. Their search of this arm of the lake was fruitless. The steep rocky edges dropping almost sheer into the lake, except in one place where extensive rock falls had piled a visible heap of rubble.
They returned, and Siluth banked round into the next finger. It was different. The side walls still dropped into the water but, after a few hundred yards, the valley floor came sloping up out of the water almost like a beach onto which the rising wind was driving small waves. The slope continued to rise gently until it met the cliff tops a mile or so away. On the plateau running way to the south and east pockets of soil had gradually accumulated allowing patches of grassoid to thrive. In the middle distance they could see that the patches gradually merged into continuous groundcover on which a herd of what looked like milchbeasts were grazing. Heavy drops of rain started to hit them. Byrt could see them bouncing off Siluth’s hide. Both men spotted the caves at the same moment and both pointed. Siluth swerved; backwinging to a stall and dropping the last couple of feet. The men hastily unbuckled their harnesses and, grabbing gear and kit, ducked into the cave just as the first flash of lightening crackled across the sky. They hadn’t needed to duck: the cavern was a large one. But they did need to squeeze to one side as Siluth backed himself in also.
A loud outburst of noise told them that they were sharing their shelter with a flock of wherries. It was very smelly.
Byrt looked down at his boots now covered in wherry dung. “Oh shit!”
“You say truly my friend. Oh well, it’ll wash off.”
They waited out the storm standing as close to fresh air as they could without getting soaked, and watching hail stones bouncing on the rocks outside.
When the storm eventually passed they ventured back out into the open. The runoff of rain and melting hail was forming runnels down the valley floor. N’key went and stood in one to wash his boots. Byrt joined him and, while one force of nature removed the evidence of another, looked around properly for the first time. There were some more caves on their side a bit further up the slope including one somewhat larger than their erstwhile shelter. He pointed to it for N’key’s benefit.
“Yes, I’ve just spotted it too. Do you think this is it?”
“Could be. There’s only one way to find out.”
Byrt stepped up out the water and, followed by N’key, squelched his way to the large cave.
After the bright post-storm light, they had to pause to let their eyes get used to the dimness within.
“This has got to be as big as our hatching cavern,” whispered N’key, his voice only just audible over the noise of falling water.
They looked around. There were the side caverns just as described in the journal. There at the back left was the stairs and, to their right, was a flat wall with water running down it and dropping into a pool.
“Let’s explore.”
“We’d better get the glows out then.”
They started along the left-hand side where a natural channel carried away the water. There was only one side cave here and they got into it stepping across the flow. The cave was empty, but there were streaks of soot patching the uneven ceiling.
“Someone’s been keeping themselves warm anyway.”
“They don’t mention that in the journal.”
“Not important enough?”
“Probably; but there may have been other groups who stayed south.”
“True, but it would be a bit of a coincidence if, given how big south is, they both chose to stay in the same caves?”
“Oh, I’m sure we’re in the right place, it’s exactly as described, but someone may have beaten us to the hoard. Let’s get on.”
The bottom of the stairs had a twist in them, leaving a gap on their left out of which the water flowed. Byrt walked past the stairs to look at the masonry wall beyond. The centre section, about an yard wide, had been built recessed about an hand’s depth back. The water was flowing down this central section issuing from a slot at the top of the wall and landing in a semi-circular basin cut into the rock floor. The pool looked very deep. Byrt found a flake of stone and dropped it in. It took quite a while to reach the bottom. Byrt stood there thinking.
Meanwhile N’key had climbed the steps and had disappeared into the upper cave. He reappeared and called down to Byrt, disturbing his train of thought. Byrt stirred and looked up. N’key beckoned urgently.
The Master Smith walked up the stairs and found the Rider had gone back to his discovery. The top of the steps spread into a square of landing, extending into the cave, from which one stepped down onto the cave floor. The left hand third of the cave was dry. The rest was an underground lake which flowed smoothly out under the right-hand side of the landing to become the waterfall. Here and there stalactites dangled from the roof and stalagmites grew up out of the lake. Sometimes a pair had fused together. The nearer ones were lit by their glows, but the light didn’t reach the furthest ones. All were reflected in the almost mirror like surface of the water, only disturbed by the occasional drop of water linking as it landed. The exposed layers of different rocks in the walls made patterns and swirls.
“It’s almost like tapestries,” N’key whispered.
“It’s ... special,” Byrt whispered back. “I could stand here all day, but we’d better get on.”
They retraced their steps a little way and examined the stairs. The risers were set back about a finger depth from the front edges of the treads, and the leading edge of the treads had a groove across the width of its top surface. The top tread on ly was also grooved on the underside as well. They tried griping it and pulling but it wouldn’t budge.
“What else can we expect? It hasn’t been moved for centuries.”
“That’s why I asked for a mason.”
“Shall we go and get him?”
“No; not yet. I want to finish exploring properly first before we bring the twins and others in.”
They descended the steps and N’key looked at the fall.
“We’ve got to get through there?”
“Yep. We’ll need to build a platform to work off. That’s pools too deep for paddling. We’ll have to fetch some planks and beams.” Byrt looked round “Where’s Siluth? I’d expect him to be poking at least his nose into this cavern.”
“He decided he as hungry and made use of some of the other occupants of our recent shelter. He’s eaten four and is now sleeping them off.”
Leaving the water they moved towards the unexplored side, heading for the next cave. This one, they found, had been used as a quarry for the wall. They could see where blocks had been cut out and one or two, surplus to the requirements of the amateur masons, were still standing around. There was nothing else of note in that cavern so they moved to the last. To do this they had to go round a large rocky buttress.
As they approached it N’key nearly tripped. “What the ... there’s something here.”
They turned their glows that way and by their light they disclosed a skeleton.
“Well: we’ve found the rider anyway.”
He was sprawled on his back where he must have fallen at the end of the fight, arms and legs awkwardly asprawl. The clothing had rotten away a long time ago but, lying among the ribs and vertebrae, were the rusty remains of buckles and fastenings.
“If Master Sinteen wants those for his archives he can pick them up himself.” Observed N’key. Byrt’s grinning reply went unseen.
In the last of the side caves, Byrt, turning his glow this way and that, caused a momentary gleam off something bright. He bent and picked it up. It was a shiny metal handle. To his surprise there was a blade folded into it. He took it outside to examine it in daylight.
He could see that the outer third of the blade had been snapped off: presumably the reason the knife had been abandoned. A groove in the blade invited the insertion of a finger nail. The joint was very stiff but, after a few tries he got the blade moving. As he fully extended the blade there was a click, felt as much as heard, and, when he went to close the blade back in, it seemed to be locked into place. There was a small knob on the side of the casing positioned just right for the index finger when held in the normal right-handed over-grasp. He tried moving the knob in various directions and gave a grunt of satisfaction when he eventually found that it moved inwards and released the blade for closing.
N’key came to find out what he was doing. Byrt showed him the knife.
“There’s no way this is going into Master Sinteen’s archives. This is Smith business. It goes back to OUR archives. Look at the workmanship in that handle: those diamond grooves chased into the sides of the handle to give good grip.”
“What’s that written on the blade?”
“Where? I hadn’t noticed that.”
They both peered closely. The lettering seemed rather old fashioned.
“What’s stainless steel?” asked N’key.
“I’ve no idea,” confessed Byrt. “I know steel: it’s hard to make. You have to add various minerals to molten iron and you have to blow air through the hot mixture. We don’t make very much of it. I’ve never heard of steel being stainless but here it is. I wonder how you make it. And stainless is right: not a trace of rust after what, at least five hundred turns on Pern? And, it’s probably even older. It may have been brought here by a settler.”
Byrt tucked the knife away among his kit and stood back up.
“Right: let’s check these last two caves then we can head back home.”
The nearer cave held nothing of interest except the evidence that the milchbeasts they had seen in the distance used it as a shelter.
“I wonder why they don’t use the large cavern?” mused Byrt.
“Perhaps it’s too big: they don’t feel secure? Or long ingrained herd instinct? They probably wouldn’t have wanted to spend time in there while that body was rotting down.”
“I don’t know enough about animals to guess which. Let’s move on.”
The last cave had been adapted. The entrance had been closed off with crude masonry, set an arm’s length back from the cliff face, leaving a narrow gap near the centre, just wide enough for humans, though some might had to turn sideways (Byrt had to).
“Oof! Tight, but it keeps the animals out.”
To one side of the entrance a pair of low masonry walls jutted out. They were around waist high and their exposed tops were grooved at regular intervals. In the mortar joint about halfway down each wall there was a row of rust spots at similar intervals.
Byrt squatted down to look closer. “A cooking hearth; sort of. Look; you can see where the fire-bars were down here. The ash would fall through and leave a clean fire. And cooking bars up the top. They could use different grooves to adjust them to suit the pots.”
“Or, they could use all the grooves. With the bars that close you could put slices of meat on them and grill them.”
They moved inside.
“Hey look; another hearth. It’s still got a couple of fire-bars in it.” He poked one and it fell to pieces in a small cloud of rust. “Oops.”
“They weren’t idiots were they,” observed Byrt. “An indoor hearth for bad weather and a good weather one outside.”
“Perhaps that’s where you get your brains from?” N’key grinned at his friend.
“I don’t think I’m descended from the Au Connells.”
“Could be: four hundred turns back. You never know.”
Apart for some more broken pottery in one corner, that was it.
“Are we finished then?” asked N’key, as they wriggled back outside.
“I guess so.” Byrt squinted up to where the sun was a glowing patch in the clouds. “It’s well past noon; let’s eat. Then I’ll write up my journal: we’ll do the placement picture and go report.”
__________________
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Old Jul 3 2012, 12:33 PM   #6
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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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Old Dec 12 2015, 02:48 AM   #7
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Default Re: The Case of the Dragon's Den

Sorry so long on feedback not unless you want some were else. Good re-read, and thanks for a few ideas, and a few stuck answers, on a different Byrt story.
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