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His parents were busy packing for their trip to Nerat, so Robinton had been told to go outside and play. He always missed his mother, but it would be nice to stay with Kubisa and Lina, where he could sing and play his pipe or his drum without worrying about annoying his father. Now it was his turn to hop-it without smudging the chalk lines on the flags, and his attention was utterly focused on the movement of his feet--until Libby made him miss the longest hop by suddenly pointing skyward in astonishment.
"Oh, look, Robie!" she cried.
"That's not fair..."
His complaint died as he realized that the dragons soaring above were coming closer to the Harper Hall, rather than the Hold, where they usually landed. Half a wing of dragons--six of them. As they swept closer, backwinging, their hind legs stretching downward to land in the Harper Hall quadrangle, Robie, Libby, and Lexey pressed themselves tightly against the wall to stay out of the way. As it was, two of the dragons had to land outside, since the first four made the big quadrangle suddenly appear very small.
The ridged tail of a bronze was so close to Robie he could reach out and touch it. Which he did, greatly daring, while Lexey regarded him with staring eyes, aghast at his impudence.
"You'll get left out for Thread for sure, Robie," Lexey whispered hoarsely, pressing his sturdy body as close to the stone wall as he could, well away from the dragon's tail.
"He's soft," Robie whispered back, surprised. Runner beasts were soft, as were the spit canines, but watchwhers had hard hides, sort of oily. At least the Harper Hall's ol' Nick did. Were watchwhers another kind of dragon, the way runner beasts were another kind of herd beast?
No, they are most certainly not, a voice said in his mind. The dragon turned his huge head to see who had touched him, causing Lexey to hiss in alarm and Libby to whimper a bit in terror. Very different from dragons entirely, the voice went on.
"I do apologize. I didn't mean to insult you, bronze dragon," Robie said, giving a jerky little bow. "I've never seen one of you up close before."
We do not come as often to the Harper Hall as we used to. It had to be the dragon speaking, Robie decided, because the deep voice couldn't have come from anybody else nearby. The rider had dismounted and was standing on the steps talking to his mother and father.
"Are my mother and father going to ride on you to Nerat?" Robie knew that was why the dragons had come, to take all the harpers to Nerat for the espousal. His mother had told him that. Nerat Hold tithed to Benden Weyr, and so in turn could ask the Weyrleader to provide dragon transport. Going a-dragonback meant they wouldn't have a long land journey to make, so they wouldn't be away long. And besides, it was a great honor to go a-dragonback.
They are Harpers? the dragon asked.
"Yes, my mother's MasterSinger Merelan and my father is now Master Petiron. He writes the music they're going to sing."
We look forward to hearing it.
"I didn't know dragons liked music," Robie said, greatly surprised. That had never been mentioned with all the other things he'd learned about dragonkind.
Well, we do. So does my rider, M'ridin. Robie's sensitive ears caught the affection with which the dragon named his rider. He asked especially to convey your mother and father. It will be an honor for us to take a MasterSinger to Nerat.
"Who are you talking to?" Libby asked, her eyes still wide with fright for Robie's presumptuous behavior toward the huge and powerful creature.
"The dragon, a' course," Robie said, having no real sense of doing something unusual. "You'll be careful with them, won't you, dragon?"
Robie was certain the dragon was laughing inside. "What's so funny?"
I have a name, you know.
"Oh, I know that all the dragons have names, but I've only just met you so I don't know your name." Robie turned his head ever so slightly to be sure his friends were observing how brave he was. And courteous.
Cortath is my name. What is yours, little one?
"Robie...that is, Robinton, and you will fly my parents very carefully, won't you?"
Of course I will, young Robinton.
Greatly reassured by that, Robie took advantage of this unparalleled opportunity and asked, "Will you be fighting Thread when it comes back?"
The tail gave such a convulsive twitch that it nearly swept both Lexey and Robinton, who were nearest, off their feet. The dragon swerved his body around so that his great head, with its many faceted eyes swirling with a variety of colors rapidly turning into orange and red, came closer to Robie.
Dragons alwaysfly when Thread is in the sky, was the unequivocal answer.
"You know the song, then?" Robie asked, delighted.
But, before Cortath could answer, his rider was at his head, turning it back so that he could introduce the bronze to Merelan and Petiron
"Robinton, what are you doing back there?" his father demanded, noticing him at last and gesturing for him to get out of the way.
"We were just playing hop-it, only
Cortath landed in the middle..." At the boy's words, the great dragon courteously moved his feet. "It's all right, Cortath, you smudged the lines a bit with your tail but we can fix it when you leave."
"Robinton!" his father roared, scowling his amazement. Robinton risked a nervous glance at his mother and saw her slight smile. Why was his father angry with him? He really hadn't been doing anything wrong, had he?
"Cortath says he's enjoyed conversing with your son, Master Petiron," M'ridin said with a reassuring chuckle. "There aren't that many children these days who will, you know."
Robinton's sensitive ears caught the plaintive note in the tall, bronze rider's voice. He opened his mouth to say that he'd be happy to talk to Cortath any time, when he saw his mother raise her finger in her signal for him to be silent and noticed the deepening scowl on his father's face. So he looked anywhere but at the adults.
"Out of the way now, boy," his father said, gesturing urgently.
Robinton scooted off toward the hall, Libby and Lexey well in front of him, all too relieved to be allowed to leave.
"Goodbye, Cortath," Robinton said. Seeing the dragon turn his head to follow him, he waved his fingers in farewell.
We will meet again, young Robinton, Cortath said clearly.
"Shards, Rob, you were lucky," Lexey said enviously.
"And brave," Libby put in, her blue eyes still as wide as saucers in her freckled face.
Robie shrugged. He was probably lucky he hadn't been close enough to his father for a smack at bothering a dragon, but he didn't think he'd been particularly brave. Though he should not, perhaps, have compared a dragon to a watchwher! He'd caught the insulted note in the dragon's voice, and he guessed he was lucky Cortath had deigned to speak with him, instead of just lashing out with his tail at the presumptuous boy.
"Did you hear what Cortath told me?" he asked his friends.
"They're leaving," Lexey said, pointing as the dragons suddenly leaped skyward. As the great wings swirled up dust and grit from the courtyard, the children hastily turned away to protect their faces. When they turned back, rubbing dirt from their eyes, the dragons had already risen above the high, pitched roof of the quadrangle. Robinton waved frantically, recognizing Cortath's bright bronze coat and his passengers, but he didn't think even his mother was looking down just then. The next moment, all had disappeared and the courtyard looked emptier than ever. He felt oddly sad that the dragon had gone--as if he had missed something very important but didn't know what it was. He realized that he didn't really want to know if his friends had heard the dragon, too. After all, he had been the one who had done the talking, so it was his special encounter. He was not covetous by nature, but some things you kept to yourself, because they were yours, your doing, and should be savor ed quietly.
From the Paperback edition.