Nov, 2005. This is another piece of fan fiction set in Anne McCaffreys universe. It is an earlier work. Even though I am tempted to fix problems and polish up the piece, I have left it intact as it was written. This was written before Todd McCaffrey published his book on Pernese weyrs.
“Hey! Listen. Do you hear that?” Jasin asked.
The two boys cautiously edged closer to the entrance of the old mineshaft. A steady drip, drip, drip could be heard echoing from deep within. They had spotted the irregular opening while scouting for hardwood groves and, like all boys, were instantly drawn to it. Forgetting duty and purpose for the moment, they had climbed the steep slope in search of adventure.
“I don’t hear anything.” Stebin said, straining to hear. “No wait.” A distant sound, a deep rhythmic rumbling, issued forth.
“Yeah I hear it.” Curiosity and a tinge of fear colored his now hushed voice. “What do you think it is?”
Both boys peered into the cave squinting in the bright late afternoon light trying to make form out of the inky blackness.
“I’m not sure.” He wasn’t, but he sure wanted to find out.
“Maybe it’s a tunnel snake. I hear that some can grow big enough to eat a man.”
“Doesn’t sound like a tunnel snake. More like an old man snoring.”
Jasin cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled into the mineshaft. “Heyoo!”
“What are you doing shellbrain? Let’s get out of here!” Stebin, always the more cautious one, began backing away from the entrance.
Both boys froze as they realized the deep rumbling had ceased. Drip. Drip. Drip. Nothing else.
“Well, what ever it was you scared it away.”
“I don’t think so. I think I woke it up.”
“What do you mean? Woke it up? You think that really was snoring?” Stebin asked skeptically.
He thought about it. Strangely, yes, he did think it was snoring and now he thought the owner of those snores was awake. He didn’t know how he knew, but he was certain he was right.
“Yeah.” He answered.
“Well then come on. You want to wait around here until what ever that is comes out? Maybe it’s a feline, a really big and hungry feline.” He grabbed Jasins tunic and began tugging him back toward camp. “Besides, we’re supposed to be scouting. If we don’t find more than just those three groves we’ll have more to worry about than stupid cave creatures.”
“Wait.” Jasin said, shrugging loose from Stebins grip. “I think I see something.”
Shading his eyes he could just make out a set of large, dimly luminous eyes peering out from the deep shadows. They seemed to shift color from milky pale blue to pale green and then back. Nothing more of the creature could be seen.
“What is it?” Stebin asked in a quavering voice. “Tunnel snake or a feline?”
He felt strangely indignant that this creature would be thought either of the two.
“Then what is it?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s mean or anything. I think it’s just curious about us.”
“Oh, so now it’s a friendly cave creature? When did you suddenly become the expert? Let’s go. This gives me the jeebies. If you’re so sure it’s friendly then you can come back tomorrow and bring a glow……..”
His sentence was cut short as the creature gave a tremendous bellow and, with a flash of pink-orange eyes, disappeared. The scramble and scraping of small stones marked its rapid passage further back into the shaft. By the sound of the echoes, the mine complex must extend for lengths into the low mountainside.
“Now see what you did? You scared it.” Jasin accused.
“Me? I didn’t do anything.”
“Well it’s gone now.”
“Good. Let’s go check out those two other valleys before it gets dark. We should be able find a few more groves. Thank goodness we found those apple trees. They might just save our hides from Berella.”
The mention of Berellas name was enough to set him into motion. No one liked to provoke the stout headwoman. She was quick tempered enough on a good day. Jasin grabbed up his caryall and then, on impulse, removed two meatrolls and left them outside the cave entrance.
Early the next morning Jasin found himself winding his way back up the wooded hillside toward the old mine. When he made the last turn and had his first good view of the entrance he stopped dead, heart pounding. Lying across the entrance sunning itself was one of the biggest tunnelsnakes he had ever seen. At least twice his height in its length, it was the kind prized for their beautiful skin. This particular one was distinctly marked with large gold and blue triangles set against a dark green background.
He was slightly disappointed that the intriguing creature of the day before had turned out to be a tunnelsnake after all. He was so certain that it was something special. He almost turned away but could not take his eyes off the beautiful hide. A hide like that would bring good marks at a gather. He could trade it to the Master Tanner for a new pair of boots and another thicker pair of wherhide pants. He was quickly wearing holes in his current pair and the logging season was only half over. Well, there was no way he could tackle that monster by himself and he didn’t have time to get help before the sun became too intense and it retired into the depths for the day. So, he did what any boy would do in his situation. He picked up a rock and threw it.
The throw was good and the rock connected solidly with the creatures’ side. Thunk. It didn’t move, didn’t even twitch. Puzzled he launched another good-sized stone and, it also hit with a satisfying smack. Still nothing. The third, even larger, stone provided the necessary momentum to elicit action. The creature slipped sideways down and away from the slightly sloping entrance and rolled almost bonelessly onto its side. It looked dead. He watched it suspiciously for several moments looking for signs of life. Once he was satisfied he grabbed a nearby stick and approached cautiously. Very cautiously. The tunnelsnake looked even bigger up close. He poked it several times before deciding that it was indeed dead. Strange. The rocks he threw couldn’t have killed it. So what did? Maybe some sort of sickness drove the brute from its cold depths to die out here in the sunlight. Maybe it was just old age. Either way it was dead.
He examined the still limp body and could find no marks to indicate how it had died. It couldn’t have happened more than a couple of hours ago by the limpness of the carcass. Well, no sense in letting the hide go to waste. He took out his belt knife and began the arduous task of skinning the monster. It took longer than he expected but the care he used not to nick or tear the hide would reflect in its value. The better the condition the higher the price.
As he began making the final cuts he noticed dark bloody marks in the meat around the creature’s neck. He pulled on the limp head. Too limp. The neck was definitely broken. Then he noticed how small the eyes were. This couldn’t be the creature he saw the day before. It had large eyes. He quickly finished the skinning and carefully rolled up the precious hide. He would have to do something with it soon or it would spoil. He would probably just stake it out and let it dry. It would become very stiff but it was the best way to preserve it for tanning without salt. If he had some salt he could preserve the hide much better but salt was not readily available this far inland. A sun-dried hide would have to do.
It took longer than he expected but the care he used not to nick or tear the hide would reflect in its value. The better the condition the higher the price.
As he began making the final cuts he noticed dark bloody marks in the meat around the creatures neck. He pulled on the limp head. Too limp. The neck was definitely broken. Then he noticed how small the eyes were. This couldn’t be the creature he saw the day before. It had large eyes. He quickly finished the skinning and carefully rolled up the precious hide. He would have to do something with it soon or it would spoil. He would probably just stake it out and let it dry. It would become very stiff but it was the best way to preserve it for tanning without salt. If he had some salt he could preserve the hide much better but salt was not readily available this far inland. A sun-dried hide would do fine.
He sat contemplating how he was going to dry the hide when he heard the unmistakable sound of small stones shifting from inside the mineshaft. Stupid! What had made him stay so close to the entrance! He looked up quickly, half-expecting the tunnel-snakes enraged mate to come charging at him from the blackness. Instead he found himself peering into a pair of incredibly milky-blue eyes and his fear melted instantly. He felt safe and knew he was in no danger.
He shook his head. No danger? He had no idea what he was looking at and he thought there was no danger? This thing might be what killed the tunnelsnake.
He jumped. Did it just answer him? “You. You killed it?” He stuttered. He hated his tendency to stutter when he was under pressure.
Yes. Killed. Show not filthy slither.
He had heard that. Well kinda. It was more in his head but he understood. The creature could talk. This was getting more and more interesting.
“What are you?” He asked. He still couldn’t make out more than luminous eyes.
Am Ca’deff. It answered matter-of-factly.
“My name is Jasin.” He said while leaning forward, trying vainly to make out more of this ‘Ca’deff’. Frustrated, he edged closer just inside the entrance, but not too far, where the light was less intense. He waited for his eyes to adjust.
“I can’t see you.” He complained.
I see you.
His eyes slowly began to make out shapes, large boulders, support timbers and something else. He walked in even further. Closer. The bulk of the Ca’deff began to separate itself from the blackness.
“You’re a dragon!” He proclaimed.
He had seen dragons. Well, mostly from a distance, although he had clearly seen the blue dragon that had come for his foster father once. That image was crisp in his memory. He had seen pictures too. The hold Harper saw to it that all the children knew their ballads and their duty to the weyr and included pictures in his lessons.
“Sure you’re a dragon.” He said with certainty.
“You have wings.” He could make them out, sort of.
Not fly. Not dragon.
He didn’t hear. A dragon. His head was spinning with the implications. Where was its rider? Why was it in a cave? Every boyhood fantasy of riding his own fighting dragon came flooding into his head. He could not believe his luck! It was male, that much was certain but what color was it? There was no way to tell in this blackness.
“Hey Jasin! Is this your cave monster? ” A jeering voice called from outside. “Why it’s naked!”
“Shells! Feddic must have followed me here.” He hissed. “I bet his lackey Davik is with him too! The last thing I need is that bully sniffing around. Shells! Shells! Shells and shards!”
Ca’deff grumbled, shifting restlessly. His eyes whirled a cloudy pinkish orange as he began moving slowly back, fading into the depths.
“Stay here. I’ll get rid of them.”
Jasin emerged from the cave into the blinding bright sunlight.
“What do you want Feddic?”
Before he could react a large sack was thrown over his head and pulled down to his chest. A punch landed solidly in his middle doubling him over painfully. He sank slowly to his knees gasping for breath as his head swam with nausea. A hard, crunching blow to his side sent him sprawling. The sack slipped back from his head as he writhed in agony. When his head cleared slightly from the shock and pain he finally got a good look at his attackers. Feddic was leaning against a boulder sneering at him.
Davik, who had obviously done the attacking, was stuffing the tunnelsnake hide into a carrysack. Feddic swaggered toward him. He knelt down an arm length away gloating.
“Well. Well. Feel like giving me orders now? I really like being told what to do by a half blooded drudge. Too bad that big tunnelsnake had to go and mess you up like that. I was going to blame it on a feline but since you kindly provided the carcass, a tunnelsnake will do just as good. When Stebin told everyone about your little side trip yesterday I knew you would come back. You never could leave a puzzle alone. Now it works to my advantage. I get rid of you and I get a bonus. I really didn’t expect the skin but it was nice of you to do all that work for me. Poor Patro. Our foster father will miss you. I’m sure he’ll find a replacement to train up in your place though. People are always coming up dead down here. The Southern Continent has a way of weeding out the weak or, in your case, the inconvenient.” Feddic stood up and kicked dirt in his face.
Jasin sputtered and spat, trying to dig the filth from his eyes. He cleared them just in time to see Feddic pick up a small trimming hatchet. He raised the weapon purposefully, poised to land a deadly blow when a blur of bronze fury came hurtling from the cave. Ca’deff stopped just short of Feddic showering him with dirt.
You not hurt mine!
He threw his head back and gave voice to a full-throated challenge no dragon would mistake. Ca’deff turned his head toward Jasin.
I protect mine.
Through blurry eyes Jasin saw that Ca’deffs eyes were tightly shut. Somehow though, he could feel the searing pain of the sun burning through the lids. How could he see with his eyes closed?
Feddic was terrified but quickly recovered. It was just a wher. A big one to be sure but it was still just a stupid wher. He had often harassed the watch-wher at Fort Hold before he was fostered off to this stinking place. He knew whers. They were sniveling cowards, especially in the daytime. He picked up the hatchet he hadn’t realized he had dropped and jumped at the wher intending to scare him and send him howling back to his cave. Stupid wher!
The second Feddic moved toward him Ca’deff struck. With lightning quickness he swept the boys feet out from under him and then grabbed him in his jaws. Feddics screams were cut gruesomely short as the powerful jaws met. Jasin watched detached as the hatchet, intended to end his own life, dropped from Feddics now lifeless hand. Ca’deff spit out the body which fell in a crumpled heap. It was too much for Jasin. Blessed blackness overcame him with Feddics strangled screams still ringing in his ears.
Mallin looked over the group occupying the small Southern cothold. So much depended on these people, he thought anxiously, as he waited for everyone to get settled. Most were Craftmasters, holders or Dragonriders from the Southern Continent. Only two Northerners were in attendance. They would bear watching.
“I appreciate all of you coming here.” He began. “I hope that this meeting will provide a solution to a rather sensitive problem.” One of the Northerners sniffed derisively. “Some of you already know many of the details but, for the rest of you, I have asked Journeyman Fandal of the Minercraft hall to provide us with some background information relevant to the situation. If you would please Journeyman Fandal.” He motioned to the Journeyman. He was young but had a likable personality.
“As most of you are aware” Fandal began without preamble “the first dragons were created from the genetic material of firelizards. All modern dragons are the direct descendants of those first few created by Kittie Ping and her Granddaughter Windblossom. However, the creation was not without mistakes. Windblossoms first clutch produced less than perfect dragons. In doing so it seems that ……….
Weyrlingmaster H’dan’s mind began to wander. Meetings were not his strong point and this was old news to him. Every Dragonrider now knew the circumstances of dragon creation and he certainly didn’t need a lecture from a Journeyman Miner on the subject. Anyway, he was much better at teaching than being taught. He gazed out the window watching the sleeping bulk of a young bronze in the outer yard. Its rider sat dozing against the curve of its inner side. Strangely the dragons head was tucked under a forearm with the riders jacket was thrown over it. They were both probably exhausted. He smiled knowingly. The constant drilling and heavy workloads imposed upon newly fledged weyrlings often caused them to snatch sleep whenever the opportunity allowed. Unconsciously he reached for the mind of his beloved brown Lamath and found that, he too, had given into to the warmth of the fading sun and was contentedly asleep. Most of the dragons who had conveyed passengers or who’s riders were attending the meeting, had flown the short distance to the nearby spring fed lake for cool a bath. Many of them would now be sprawled on the shoreline basking in the sun. Lamath, having recently had a bath in the warm waters of Monaco Bay, elected to stay close by and was just out of sight. Probably found a sunny grassy spot and baked himself to sleep, he thought affectionately. All this sleeping was not helping. He fought back a yawn and tried to focus his attention back on the meeting but soon found himself once again gazing out the window.
Professionally, he noted the young bronzes well oiled hide. It had an interesting bluish cast when it caught the waning afternoon light. It was a very striking effect. There was something about the dragon he couldn’t quite put his finger on. It looked too bulky. No, that wasn’t it. The proportions weren’t right. That was it! The body was stubby and the front legs were all wrong. As if aware of his scrutiny, the dragonet stirred repositioning itself. He gasped. Revealed, were two huge, badly healed gashes across the dragons back. The ragged wounds were old and puckered with thickened skin. How could any rider allow such horrid wounds to heal so crudely? He was mortified. Never had he seen such obvious neglect.
“By the shell I’ll skin that rider myself!” H’dan pushed away from the table, headless of the ongoing conversation and upsetting several cups of klah. When dragon care was involved he was single minded in his resolve. The dragon always came first. A heavy hand settled roughly on his shoulder before he could step away from the table. The Beastcraft Master had risen at his outburst.
“Sit down H’dan.” The Beastcraft Master said in a calm low voice. “All will be explained.”
“There is no explanation, no excuse” he spat “good enough to overlook such blatant neglect!” He stabbed his finger toward the window. Several of the rooms’ occupants followed his direction. A few Dragonriders gasped at the sight of the ragged wounds now clearly outlined against the healthy bronze hide.
“You may be more correct that you know. That is what we are here to help decide. Please” he said courteously “sit down.”
The tone was polite but there was no civility to the intense pressure the Beastcraft Master was exerting on his shoulder. Reluctantly he complied. The bronze was not in danger and could wait. For a while.
It is not the boys’ fault. Ca’deff only just found him. Lamath spoke.
Lamath must have awakened at his outburst. H’dan thought ruefully.
You were upset. Ca’deff is fine.
“What do you mean ‘only just found him’ and who is Ca’deff?” H’dan pressed but Lamath offered no more.
One of the Northern visitors stood to see what all the fuss was about. And swiftly turned to Mallin.
“I can’t believe you allowed that beast, that murdering monster to go unchained! He could turn on us all!” The Northerners anger was quickly building and the Dragonriders were rising to their feet.
This was not the way the meeting was supposed to go. Mallin thought regretfully. We are not ready for this yet. He sighed. Nothing to do about it now but proceed. Mallin waved Fandal off and once more took over the meeting.
“I think now would be a good time to meet the subjects of this meeting. If you will all please follow me outside I have a couple of youngsters you should meet. And Lardacal,” he was glad he remembered the Northerners name in time, “you are quite safe. Ca’deff is well under control.”
“I’m not going out there until I see chains on that creature.”
H’dan rose with the others. Surely this Northerner, Lardacal, could not be suggesting they chain the young bronze. Why would anyone even think of such a thing? He didn’t like the direction things were going. Ca’deff? Was that the bronzes name? He was perplexed. It was not a proper dragon name, but then, as he looked the dragon over more closely, he was beginning to suspect they were not dealing with a proper dragon at all.
The group left the cothold meeting room and filed out into the outer yard.
The boy resting with the bronze was up instantly. He hastily dusted himself off and straitened his clothes, which looked a tad too big for his slender frame. The bronze didn’t seem at all bothered by the crowd approaching and slowly stood, stretching casually, allowing a much clearer view of his actual conformation. Then he sat behind the boy with his foreleg touching the boys shoulder.
It was, as H’dan had suspected, a wher. Though it had to be the biggest one he had ever seen. It would probably match a green in height. It was the size that had initially fooled him into thinking it was a young dragon.
What he had first thought to be the riders’ jacket turned out to be a thick wherhide blindfold that had been shaped to fit the whers head snuggly. It was a sensible idea considering the whers notorious fear of light. As a dragonrider, H’dan could not help but make comparisons. The whers muzzle was short and somewhat more flattened than a dragons. The chest seemed less muscled. The tail was shorter and the back legs looked even more powerful. It gave the wher a rangy, long legged appearance. The wings were obviously smaller but still well formed. All in all it looked like a grossly deformed dragon. To people used to the grace and beauty of dragons it looked down right ugly.
“Gentelmen, may I introduce Jasin and Ca’deff.” Mallin began.
The boy bowed deeply if somewhat tenderly but did not speak.
“Twelve days ago Jasin found Ca’deff inside an ancient mine complex. He was not immediately sure what he had found so he returned the next day. Unknown to him, two boys from his timber camp followed. These boys had come to forcefully take over Jasins position as ground team foreman. The intimidation went beyond simple battery as one of the boys saw an opportunity to dispose of Jasin for good. It was when the older boy was about to land a fatal blow that Ca’deff here intervened.”
“That is a lie! Feddic was only pushing the boy around when that murderous beast charged, without provocation, and tore him limb from limb! That monster must be destroyed! It cannot be controlled, it is unstable and a menace!” The northerner Lardacal accused. He had taken a position well to the rear of the group.
“He looks pretty well controlled to me.” H’dan stated. The wher was under control but he didn’t know for how long. He hoped that no one else noticed the tenseness to the whers muscles or heard the low warning growl. He was sure that under that blindfold whirled orange-red eyes.
Mallin countered Lardacals accusations.
“I have accounts from both Jasin and Davic, the other boy involved, which state that Feddic intended to kill Jasin. The hand axe was lying near Feddics body when he and Jasin were found. Jasin had suffered a severe beating and was unconscious with two broken ribs. Nonetheless, both Jasins and Davics stories match on several key points. No one except Feddics blood ties dispute what occurred and none of them were present at the cave. I have the written statement from the second boy” he withdrew a folded scroll which had been tucked into his belt and waved it at Lardacal, “which clearly agrees with Jasin that Feddic was about to strike him with the axe.”
“Another lie! You said the beast only attacked when my cousin tried to strike the boy but how can a beast blinded by daylight see to attack only one boy? Even now it wears a blindfold to keep it from cowering in the darkness. I say the beast went crazy and attacked blindly. I say it was the beast that broke the boys ribs and killed my cousin!”
Cousin huh? H’dan thought as he realized the reason for Lardacals malevolence toward Ca’deff. But he did bring up a valid point.
“Yes, how was Ca’deff able to see to attack?” This time one of the Holders stepped forward.
“I wondered that myself,” another said.
“Ca’deff sees what the boy sees.” Mallin stated.
“Come on. How is that possible?”
“It seems that they had impressed. Ca’deff can see what Jasin sees.”
“Impressed?” H’dan asked, now very interested. And he thought his was going to be a boring meeting.
“Yes. Whers are impressible you know. Not quite in the way that dragons are mind you but certainly a deep life bond is possible.”
Mallin continued. “I think Fandal can better answer your questions as he knows almost as much about whers as his Master”
“As Mallin said,” Fandal began “whers are impressible, like dragons, but unlike dragons they do not have to impress.”
“But the boy just found the wher twelve weeks ago. There is no way he is only three months old. How can he have impressed him when he wasn’t there at hatching?” Lardacal seethed. Everyone was ignoring him. Couldn’t they see that the wher was dangerous? It brutally killed a child!
“Unlike dragons, an unimpressed wher will not die at hatching. It will just be harder to control. We believe Ca’deff is out of a clutch commissioned by Lord Toric over a year ago. Seven eggs were shipped to Southern Hold along with two handlers to help care for them and instruct their future partners. Unfortunately, Lord Toric did not believe that the eggs needed constant attention and sent the handlers on ground duty during fall.’
“That sounds just like him. Everyone works or they don’t eat ” One of the Holders mumbled.
Fandal pretended not to hear and continued.
“Tragically they were delayed by one of the powerful storms that region is notorious for. When they were finally able to return several days later, they found the eggs had hatched. The hold children did their best to care for the hatchlings and four survived. Of course Lord Toric blamed the handlers for the loss and deducted it from their commission”
Something in Fandals’ tone alerted H’dan. He suddenly realized that the young journeyman was one of the handlers of whom he was speaking.
He blames himself for the deaths. Lamath filled in.
“What happened to the other hatchlings?” He asked gently.
“The eggs hatched at night. Night hunters, attracted by the hatching, took three.” Fandal said sadly. Then he brightened somewhat. “We believe Ca’deff may be one of those hatchlings taken by the predators. The scars on his back and across his main sail were likely received as he struggled against his attacker.”
“You see! Even as a weak hatchling that beast managed to take on a night hunter. Probably killed it too.” Lardacal once again broke in.
“I have had enough of this Lardacal!” The other Northerner, an older gentleman who had arrived with Lardacal and, until now remained silent, finally stepped in. “I have heard nothing here to make me believe that Ca’deff is the menacing danger you insist. I knew that Feddic when he ran with the children of the lower cavern at Fort Hold and he was a troublemaker then. I had hoped that fostering him in Southern would temper his ambition but I see now that it only made him worse. If I were you, Lardacal, I would keep quiet before this young man figures out that he is due blood compensation for his injuries.” He smiled and winked at Jasin.
“I would never sir.” Jasin spoke up. He turned to Lardacal. “ I’m sorry about your cousin. Ca’deff was just protecting me.”
H’dan smiled. So the boy could speak after all and was polite too. That Lardacal just sneered at the boy rankled him.
Finally someone changed the subject.
“He’s a big one isn’t he? I’ve never seen one so big.”
“That is because he isn’t a watch wher like most of you are familiar with.” Fandal said.
“All whers, as you know them, are the direct descendants of those first few dragons engineered by Windblossom. Today they fall under the care of the Minercraft Hall.”
“Minercraft? I assumed the Weyrs bred them.” Master Lorian of the Beastcraft Hall broke in.
“And I thought the Beastcraft did.” Someone else chimed in.
“No. The first whers were considered useless and a burden to the colonist. They would have been destroyed had it not been for the ancient miners. They had seen possibilities in them and asked that they be spared. Whers have been bred and cared for by the Minercraft as long as the Weyrs have bred and cared for dragons.”
“It is a strange combination for sure but the Minercraft has actually done well by the wher and has developed several useful strains. The watch wher is only one type. There is also a smaller sturdy type used exclusively in the mines and another larger, more intelligent kind quite useful for guarding herds.” “That is the type our Ca’deff here is.”
“A wher among the wherries?” Someone quipped. This provoked a ripple of gentle laughter throughout the group helping to break the last of the tension. Lardacal was still seething but he kept his tongue. Thankfully.
“Actually, yes.” Fandal continued “Herd whers are very good at guarding flocks. I won’t say that they don’t take an occasional animal. If they are well fed there is no reason their partner can’t control them.”
So whers are really just deformed dragons?
Several Dragonriders shuffled their feet uncomfortably.
“No, not at all. Whers are whers. They are no more deformed dragons than dragons are deformed firelizards.”
Several Dragonriders took great exception to their beloved being called deformed firelizards and voiced they dismay.
“Please. I did not mean to offend. I was only trying to explain that they all came from the same source. Dragons and whers were made from the same basic design but have many different characteristics. “Whers are less intelligent than dragons. Their eye structure and musculature is also much different. They cannot flame or fly and don’t communicate near as clearly as I am told dragons do. Through our breeding program we have made the wings even smaller and less likely to impede the whers movements in tunnels and caverns. The herd whers are the exception, they have large wings helpful in scaring predators away and giving protection from the elements.”
“I have seen several whers and have never seen a green or blue one.” H’dan didn’t see the speaker.
Lardacal didn’t intend to bring up that part of wher husbandry but he wasn’t about to side step the question. “Most eggs thought to contain green or blue whers are destroyed shortly after clutching and any that do hatch are immediately….” He faltered. Thinking how to bring up such a sensitive matter in front of dragonriders. He started over. “They are culled. Green and blue whers are just too unpredictable and are much harder to control. They tend to forget their jobs and wander off. They often turn wild and decimate flocks and herds at night. It is much better to prevent the problem.”
“How do you..? You know.” One of the dragon riders asked.
“We feed them meat very heavily laced with fellis”
H’dan listened as the discussion quickly turned toward question and answer. The more he learned about whers the more interesting they became.
“You said breeding program. So there are actually gold whers?”
“Yes of course. Though not as beautiful and graceful as queens, they are just as devoted to their clutches.”
“Can whers go between?”
“Yes and no. There are many recorded cases of tunnel whers disappearing during a cave in or other disaster only to reappear in a safer section of the tunnel. Whers do not seem to consciously go between like dragons. Most documented cases of whers going between were in times of danger and, occasionally, on the death of their handlers.
“So they do it instinctually.”
“That is the belief. No handler has ever been able to get his or her wher to go between on command. They don’t seem able to understand what is being asked of them.”
“Can whers breath fire?”
“No. He chuckled, they are not able to process the firestone to produce flame. It is thought that the modification made to whers prevents this, as they do not have a second stomach. Besides it would be very inconvenient in gas filled caves.”
This provoked another round of gentle laughter.
Mallin took advantage of the break to turn the discussion back on track.
“So now we are all a little more educated about whers. Shall we discuss the problem at hand? What to do with our pair here?”
Jasin listened intently as H’dan explained some of the more intimate details of being impressed “Dragons! Dragons in the sky.”
One of the Holders daughters cried. She gathered her skirts and dashed past him toward the cothold. Jasin heard her mumbling something about meat rolls and drinks before she disappeared in a blur of auburn hair.
Jasin watched the six dragons spiral down. Their wing membranes glowed in the rays of the early morning sun. He would never tire of watching their graceful flight. Soon a gold, two bronzes, two greens and a blue lighted nimbly on the field. All of the riders dismounted and approached.
H’dan, grinning broadly, thumped Jasin on the back.
It seems we have guests this morning. Lets go see what this is all about shall we.
Jasin, with Ca’deff ambling along, approached the group. Lamath stayed where he was but watched with interest.
“Well you two have come along nicely.” “Hello Jasin, Bronze Ca’deff.” The bronze rider said bowing to Ca’deff. “I am F’lessen of Honshu Weyrhold and have heard much about you two. We,” he indicated the newly arrived riders, “have come to offer you both a posting at Honshu if your willing. We have a problem with large felines predating our herds and are in desperate need of protection. If you both are willing, you would be most welcome. We have ground quarters ready and can offer you private accommodations especially suited to Ca’deff and yourself.”
Jasin was at a loss for words. A position? They need us?
We will protect. We are needed. This is good.
“Good then it’s settled. When could you begin? H’dan tells me that you are well along in your training.”
“I don’t know. How far away is Honshu?”
“Oh, it’s very, very far away. Nearly on the other side of the continent from here I think.” He said looking to H’dan who just nodded his agreement.
“That is very far.” Jasin said, shoulders falling in resignation. “We would take at least several months to reach it. It took three weeks to walk here from our camp in the lower ranges.”
“Come on boy! You could be there tonight. I couldn’t help but notice that fine friend of yours has wings.”
“Don’t joke please. Ca’deff cannot fly.”
“And why not?” Now the dragonrider was grinning as if he knew something Jasin didn’t.
“Has he tried?”
“He can’t. Whers don’t fly. They are not,” he faltered looking for the right words but none came. He tried a different approach. “He isn’t made right.”
“Surely you jest. I have seen the breath and length of him. I think he is quite capable of flight, with a little help that is. You see my Golanth there? He can’t fly either.”
Jasin was sure these Dragon riders were poking fun at him.
“He flew in.” He pointed out.
“Yes, he did didn’t he. He flew in but he can’t fly. Show him Golanth.”
The largest bronze stepped forward and extended a wing. One of the joints was fused. It was a wonder that he flew in. Jasin also noticed one of his eyes was damaged and several facets were actually dark. Dead.
“With that joint disabled like that he can’t make the all important downsweep to attain flight, but with the help of his weyr mate he can.” The bronze turned it’s head lovingly regarding the green dragon which had landed with it.
His weyr mate? Jasin had assumed the gold was the bronzes mate.
“Dragons can fly if they think they can.” F’lessen continued. “Your guy doesn’t think he can so of course he can’t.”
“It is a simple matter really.” The smallish woman beside the bronze dragon rider piped up.
H’dan watched the boys face. Uncertainty and disbelief were plainly seen.
He grinned inwardly.
“Come on get your things and we’ll just see what this winged friend can do”
H’dan knew exactly what F’lessin and his friends were getting at. It wouldn’t matter if Ca’deff had no wings at all. If he believed he could fly, with help, he could. The important thing was that he believe.
H’dan steered Jasin toward the small cothold that contained his things.
As they walked Jasin asked. “H’dan, why are they making fun of us. Everyone knows whers can’t fly.”
“Yes that is what most people think.” H’dan said no more.
They reached the cothold. Earlier he had the holders daughters, who had taken quite a liking to the boy, pack his small collection of clothes and possessions. Two bundles were tied and ready on his bed when they went in. Another sack of meat rolls and pastries sat atop the largest bundle.
“When did? How did?”
H’dan smiled at his confusion. “I told F’lessen about Ca’deff and yourself and he insisted that you join him at his Weyrhold. He is a good man. I knew he was coming today and had Brelka gather your things. Now don’t keep the dragonriders waiting” he said pushing Jasin toward the waiting bundles.
Jasin gathered them up and left the cothold.
The Dragonriders were still waiting for them. Many of them were smiling and plainly enjoying his discomfort.
“Well, young fellow. You can’t go flying in those clothes.” Here try these on. They offered a wherhide jacket, a pair of pants, a flying helmet and goggles.
He had had enough of this joke. He wasn’t about to get all dressed for flying and then have the dragonriders point and laugh at him for thinking he would fly his wher.
“This is enough. I don’t know why you want to poke fun at us but Ca’deff can not fly!”
The dragonriders just smiled. A few even tried to hold back laughter.
H’dan stepped forward and took the offered clothes. He handed them to Jasin who took them quietly. He put both his hands on the boys’ shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze.
“Jasin. Trust me. You will have to believe as much as Ca’deff does. He can fly”
Jasin hesitated only a moment before shrugging the heavy jacket on. He trusted H’dan. He would play along because he asked him to.
Now here are some riding straps. They are sized to fit a green but should fit your Ca’deff nicely.
H’Dan took them also and showed Jasin the proper way to put them on. With some minor adjustments they fit snuggly. Ca’deff took all of the tugging and pulling in stride and seemed quite interested in all the new gear.
“Now up you go.” H’dan gave Jasin a leg up and helped him settle between Ca’deff’s smaller neck ridges.
The other dragon riders mounted. The bronze riders took a package each and settled Jasins meager belongings behind them.
“OK Ca’deff. Spread your wings.”
Ca’deff did as he was told.
“Now Jasin. Ca’deff is going to launch himself skyward. Grab a tight hold on the straps and lean back so you aren’t whipped back when he lunges.”
Jasin could hear the dragons giving Ca’deff instructions and excitement built up in him. Could it be? Could Ca’deff really fly? He felt the power beneath him and looked at Ca’deff’s outstretched wings. Their proportions were so much smaller than the other dragons but he could almost believe, almost. He then looked at the largest bronze. Golanth, and his injured wing. He remembered the grace and ease with which he had flown and landed.
You will fly. We will help.
Jasin was astonished. Was that Golanth? He sounded just like his rider only a little deeper.
I can do this. Ca’deff said.
With that assurance all of Jasins doubts melted. He did believe. He believed!
We are with you. The multiple voice of the dragons chimed in.
We will go. We will fly. Ca’deffs eagerness was palpable as he reared back on his powerful hind legs and sprang into the crisp morning air. Wings outstretched, reaching for the sky so long denied his kind. He labored to work muscles so long forgotten.
Downstroke! Put your chest into it. The other dragons encouraged
Straining, Ca’deff applied the all-important downstroke and lifted himself skyward. He defied the ground. He flew!
Jasin clutched the straps as the wind rushed by propelled by Ca’deffs powerful strokes. Together they were joined in the intense effort. Jasin could feel the pressure of the air under his wings. He felt the ground fall from his claws. He longed for the sky and they flew! He was about to explode with joy. Ca’deff put voice to their shared triumph and bugled his defiance to the earth below. His deep baritone voice reverberated from the hillsides. Tears streamed from Jasins eyes as Ca’deff continued to gain distance. It felt right. It all felt so right.
The other dragons winged in around them. Gold, Bronze, Blue and Green. Each rider saluted them as they joined into the formation. Jasin was sure he was grinning like a fool but he didn’t care. He and Ca’deff were together.
We are to go.
We are going between?
I see, you see. I follow.
Slight concern entered Jasins thoughts. Didn’t Fandal say whers don’t know how to go between?
They show. I follow.
H’dan watched his unusual charges as they made their way skyward. A lump formed in his throat as he both felt and heard their jubilation. Later F’lessen will explain the mechanics of “flight” but for now no one would take away this joy.
Do you think Ca’deff will ever be able to sustain flight by himself? He asked Lamath.
He will always have friends.
They watched the ‘dragons’ sweep across the cloudless morning sky. The differences were not as apparent from this distance. Only the weyrbred might look twice.
The flight of seven winked out.