Authors: Anne McCaffrey
A Del Rey
THE BALLANTINE PUBLISHING GROUP • NEW YORK
Because she is always gracious and supportive,
this book is most affectionately dedicated to
and to her husband, Tom Hitchins, and their
As usual, I am indebted to a variety of people for their help and input in writing this volume, not the least of whom is Master Robinton (aka Frederic H. Robinson), who was quite upset that I had ended his life so abruptly. I would suspect it of a tenor, but for a baritone to insist on another encore is almost unheard of. But I have recently been asked—via the impressive Del Rey Web site—to
certain facts that had not previously been brought to light anent Pern pre-
history. As Robinton had a fine Pernese hand in most of it, it behooves me to tell the story from his viewpoint.
I would like to thank Dr. Will Chlosta of St. Mary’s Hospital (New Haven) for reading over the medical, and sartorial, inclusions.
This time, my gratitude to Marilyn and Harry Alm as first readers is immense since they saved me from several time discrepancies and inconsistencies. Their knowledge of Pern is extensive and better remembered than mine at times. I am also grateful to my daughter, Georgeanne Kennedy, for reading two sets of proofs within four days: a true labor of love.
Most of all let me thank Tania Opland and Michael Freeman for their invaluable contribution on the musical side. When I asked them if they could possibly supply some of Robinton’s early compositions, I didn’t realize that Tania had always wanted to be Robinton, from the days when we first met in Fairbanks, Alaska. Mike has already made up a tune for me, the Dragonlady, so his inclusion was natural.
Finally, let me thank the numerous folk online in January and February whose ids helped me find character names.
NE THING SURE
,” Betrice said wryly as she wrapped the squalling, wriggling baby tightly into the fine cotton sheet his mother had woven for just this moment, “he’s got your lungs, Petiron. Here! I’ve got to make Merelan more comfortable now.”
The howling baby, his face brickred with his exertions, tiny fists clenched, was deposited into his alarmed father’s arms.
Jiggling the babe as he had seen other fathers do, Petiron carried him to the window to get a good look at his firstborn.
He didn’t see the looks passing between the midwife and her assistant, nor did he see the younger woman leave quietly to summon a healer. Merelan’s bleeding was not tapering off. The midwife suspected that something had been torn; the baby had been breech, and was large-headed, as well. She packed ice in towels around Merelan’s slim hips. It had been a long labor. Merelan lay limp in the bed, exhausted, her face white and lined. She seemed bloodless, and that worried Betrice more. There was such a risk in a transfusion: despite the similarity in color, blood differed from person to person. Once, long ago, healers had known how to tell the difference and match the blood. Or so she’d heard.
Betrice had suspected that Merelan would have trouble delivering, for she could feel the size of the child in the womb, and so she had asked the Healer Hall to stand by. There was a solution of special salts that in extreme cases could help a patient overcome the loss of blood.
Betrice glanced over to the window and managed a little grin at the father’s inexperienced handling. Harper Petiron might be a brilliant musician, and play for hours at a Gather, but he’d a lot to learn about fathering. For that matter, he was lucky enough to have a son at all, considering Merelan had lost three in the early stages of pregnancy. Some women were born to bear many, but Merelan was not one of them.
Merelan’s eyes flickered open and then widened with joy as she heard the lusty cries of her newborn.
“There now, he’s here and all the parts in the right place, so you may rest easy, Singer,” Betrice said, stroking Merelan’s cheek.
“My son . . .” Merelan whispered, her usually magical voice raspy with exhaustion. Her head turned in the direction of the noise her baby was making, and her fingers twitched on the stained sheet.
“Soon, Singer. Let me clean you up . . .”
“I must hold him.” Merelan’s voice was feeble, but her need was fierce.
“Now, you’ll have plenty of time to hold him, Merelan,” Betrice said, a hint of sternness in her soothing tone. “I promise you that.” And hope I’m not lying through my teeth, she added to herself.
Just then Sirrie and the healer arrived. Betrice breathed in relief when she saw Ginia and the bottle of clear liquid she carried that might mean the difference between life and death for the new mother.
“Petiron, go take that yowling child of yours and show him off,” Ginia said in a peremptory tone, scowling at the nervously jiggling father. “They’ve all been waiting in the Hall to see him in person, not that anyone doubts he’s here with that set of lungs. Off with you!”
Petiron was only too willing to go. He’d been as much help as he could be, rubbing Merelan’s back and sponging her sweaty forehead during the long labor, and he desperately needed a drink to soothe his nerves. He’d been so afraid for Merelan toward the end, especially right after the birth when she seemed to shrink into nothing in the bloodied bed. They wouldn’t have told him to leave if it weren’t all right, he was sure of that! He was also sure that he’d never put Merelan in such danger again. He hadn’t known just how difficult childbirth was.
“The lungs on him!” Ginia said with a mirthless smile. She bent to examine Merelan. “She’s torn all right. You can give her some fellis, now, Betrice. Sirrie, strap her arm to that splint board. She needs fluid. How I wish we understood more about whole blood transferences. That’s what she really needs, with all she seems to have lost. You know how to find a vein with the needle thorn, Sirrie, but if you’ve trouble, let me know.”
Sirrie nodded and began her ministration, while Ginia did what she could to mend the torn flesh. The baby’s protests were still audible despite the distance between this room and the main Hall.
“She’s fighting the fellis, Ginia,” Betrice said anxiously.
“What’s she saying?”
“She wants her baby.” Then Betrice mouthed words that Ginia could easily read: “She thinks she’s dying.”
“Not while I’m here, she isn’t,” Ginia said vehemently. “Get the babe back. It won’t hurt her to have it suckling, and that would help contract the womb. Either way, it’ll calm her, and I want her as calm as possible right now.”
Betrice went herself and brought the now outraged infant back, grinning broadly at his ferocity and grip on life.
“He’ll put fight back into her with his own, so he will,” she said, smiling as she laid the baby beside Merelan, whose right arm instinctively curled about her child. He found her breast with no help from anyone. And Merelan sighed with relief.
“I swear he’s doing the trick,” Betrice said, amazed at the sudden flush of color in the singer’s cheeks.
“I’ve seen stranger things happen,” Ginia replied, glancing up. “There. That’s all I can do . . . except caution Petiron that she’s not to get pregnant again. I doubt she can, but he’ll have to restrain himself.”
The three women grinned at each other, for the entire Hold knew how devoted the couple were to each other: enough so that thinly disguised love ballads about their adoration circulated Pern.
“With all the talent available on this continent, it isn’t as if Petiron had to breed a choir,” Ginia said, rising.
Briskly the women changed the bedding for fresh, Merelan barely stirring as they did so, the baby clinging tightly to her. When Ginia and Betrice felt they could leave her safely in Sirrie’s care, she was asleep, but looking far less pallid.
“Tell you one thing,” Betrice confided in the healer, “she won’t be all that pleased having just one baby.”
“Then we’ll see that she fosters others. It’s far better for a child to have siblings than not, especially the way Merelan’s going to dote on that boy. Keep that in mind next year. That is, if she continues to pick up strength.”
Betrice gave a snort. “She’d better. I’ve a reputation to keep.”
“Don’t we all!”
It was Petiron who objected to his spouse fostering the children of others. He found it hard enough to share her with their son, and he didn’t believe other fathers and mothers when they informed him that young Robinton, for that was what they named him, in memory of Merelan’s father Roblyn, was a good child and very undemanding.
“I always thought Petiron a generous man,” Betrice told her spouse, MasterHarper Gennell.
“Why have you changed your mind?” Gennell asked with mild surprise.
She paused, pursing her lips—she was not much of a tattler. “I’d say he was jealous of the time Merelan spends with Robie.”
“Not that it’s much, for I think she’s aware of his resentment and does her best to ease it all. But young Mardy’s had another child for all I warned her not to, with her third not yet a full Turn old—” Betrice sighed with exasperation. “—and Merelan could help . . . if Petiron weren’t so set against it.”
“Young Robinton’s what?”
“A full Turn next Third Day and already walking, stout as you please. Tending one in a cradle during the day to give Mardy a hand wouldn’t be troublesome. Robie’s no trouble and as sweet as his mother.” Betrice beamed with an almost maternal pride.
“Leave it for now, Betrice,” Gennell said. “There’s all this excitement over Petiron’s new Moreta Cantata at Turnover with Merelan as the major soloist.”
“I can’t say I like her working so hard at it, though, Gen, and that’s the truth, for she isn’t fully recovered from such a difficult birth . . .”
Gennell patted his spouse’s capable hand. “Petiron wrote the music for her, and there isn’t another soprano with her range in all Pern. I can quite understand how he’d be jealous of anyone taking up too much of her time.”
“Unless it’s himself doing it, you mean.”
“There’s more than one way to accomplish the same purpose, you know.” He caught and held her eyes and smiled.
“At it again, are you?” Betrice said with no heat and some affection. Gennell was not MasterHarper of Pern just for his expertise on every instrument in the Hall.
“No,” he replied cheerfully, “but I’ll get
it on this matter now that you’ve been good enough to point it out to me. Petiron’s a good sort, you know. And he really does love the boy.”
Betrice firmed her lips together. “Loves him, does he?”
“You doubt it?”
She regarded her spouse critically. “I do.” She curled her hand around his arm. “But then I have you as an example. You were as eager to tend the first of our five as the last, and they have certainly turned out well. Oh, Petiron
in the cot now and then, or at the child when he’s toddling in the yard, but only if you remind him that he’s fathered a son.”
Gennell picked at his lower lip and began to nod. “Yes, I believe I see what you mean. But I don’t think loading Merelan with Mardy’s latest is going to remedy a fatherly absentmindedness—especially as Petiron’s so involved in the Turnover rehearsals.”
“Them! Well, let’s hope he doesn’t wear Merelan out beforehand.”
“That I can oversee,” Gennell said briskly, “and will. Now, off with you.” As she turned away, he managed an affectionate slap on her backside as he resumed his task of assigning newly promoted journeymen to the many holds and halls which required such services.
Merelan sang the difficult role of Moreta in the Turnover cantata that her spouse had written for her, dealing with the cadenzas as easily as if they had been mere vocalizes. The warmth of her voice and the effortlessness of her performance held the audience—and Petiron—enthralled. Even those resident in the Hall who had heard her practicing and were well aware of her vocal abilities were on their feet, awed by her skill. Merelan not only had the superb breath control to support her coloratura voice, she could also imbue such emotion in her tone that there were many with tears in their eyes when her voice trailed off as Moreta and her dragon jumped
on their last, fatal transfer. Fort’s Lord and Lady Holder were so enthusiastic that they started the rush up to the stage, to be sure she heard their compliments.
Petiron beamed as she modestly accepted praise, subtly reminding people that the music her spouse had written was a joy to perform. He didn’t seem to notice how pale she was. But Betrice did, and she gave the singer a potent restorative drink in the brief interval during which those in the chorus not required for the next part of the program filed out of the stands. Merelan would be singing—less demandingly—in the second part of the evening’s entertainment, but she was offstage during the male chorus that came next.
Betrice watched the singer all through that and saw her color gradually return. And when she rose to sing a descant to the final selection, she did not appear as faint as she had earlier.
When the evening’s program was over and the Hall cleared for the dancing, Fort’s Lady, Winalla, sought out Betrice.
“Is Mastersinger Merelan all right, Betrice? She was trembling so much when Grogellan and I were speaking to her that I feared to let go of her hand.”
“I had a restorative drink ready for her,” Betrice said at her most noncommittal. It was kind of Lady Winalla to be concerned, but this was a Harper Hall affair, not the business of the Hold. “She puts so much into her singing, doesn’t she?”
“Hmmm, yes, she certainly does,” Winalla said, tacitly accepting the rebuff and moving on to speak to other guests.
If it surprised Petiron when Merelan caught a chill and developed a feverish cough, he was the only one.
“Sometimes I think that man is only interested in her for her voice,” Betrice said waspishly to Gennell as she returned to their apartment after a shift of nursing the singer.
“That may well be a good deal of her importance to our resident composer,” Gennell said. “No one else could manage either the range or the difficulty of the vocal scores he creates, but that isn’t all he sees in her.” He cleared his throat. “He was besotted with her beauty from the moment she came to us from South Boll for training. In fact, well before we realized what a superb natural voice she had.” He looked off into the darkness beyond the glowbasket by the bed, remembering the first time he had heard her effortless scales. The entire Hall had stopped all work just to listen.
Betrice chuckled as she slid under the new furs, a gift from all the journeymen of the Hall this Turnover. The pelts had been sewn together in the most beautiful pattern. She let her hand linger on the soft fur of the edging. “Never seen a man more smitten in my life. He just stared. And she couldn’t take her eyes off him. Mind you, he’s attractive enough even if he isn’t often a merry person. Just as well Agust was her vocal teacher, or she’d never have progressed past vocalizes.”
“So remember how Petiron would hang about in the courtyard just listening to them as if he’d nothing better to do with his time,” Gennell said, reaching out to close over the glowbasket. Absently he patted Betrice’s shoulder and then punched the pillow for a spot to lay his head.
Just when Gennell thought he’d settled the question of which journeyman should take which assignment, more holders applied for trained personnel he did not have. With a hard winter, it was impossible to ask journeymen to tour from one hold to another, spreading their services by spending four sevendays in one place and then moving on. Every family had the right to learning, to be instructed in the Teaching Ballads so there was no misunderstanding about what was due whom and when.
He thought longingly of the times, now several hundred Turns back, when the six Weyrs of Pern had assisted the major Halls with dragon transport. Those on the east coast still had Benden Weyr, so Lord Maidir could boast of dragon rides to distant Holds and Gathers whenever he needed them. But Fort Weyr had been empty over four centuries, and no one really knew why.