Last chapter, we found out that Natalon promised a winter’s worth of coal for just the chance for Kindan to get a watch-wher egg, but the dragonrider who (eventually) answers the call turns out to be a terrible asshole and the local Weyrleader. With everything seeming lost, Zist calls in a favor from a different Weyrleader he helped out earlier on in life, and preparations are made to not only get Kindan to the right place, but also the right time, as it’s been a day or two since the deal was supposed to happen, thanks to Weyrleader Asshat.
Dragon’s Kin: Chapter VII and VIII: Content Notes:
Watch-wher, watch-wher in the mine,
Help save life, yours and mine,
Guide us in the darkest night,
With your keen unfailing sight.
This chapter is the shortest one of the book (and only now does it ping at me that this V-shape of novel has been in place in just about all of the chaptered books so far) and could be summed up in a single sentence: “Kindan gets the egg.”
What we learn about Kindan and watch-whers, however, is worth the price of going through the book. At the end of the last chapter, Kindan overheard that the fate of the camp rests on whether or not he can successfully raise a watch-wher to help in the mines. Which is a pretty big thing to put on his shoulders. But also makes me wonder how other mines are doing, since the introduction implied that Natalon’s choice to use watch-whers was experimental. Even with the constant sabotage, is Natalon doing better or worse than other mines in terms of injury and fatality? We don’t know.
In any case, the travel back in time for a day takes slightly longer than M’tal said it would (five coughs instead of three), and Kindan gets a slight reassurance from Gaminth that they’re nearly there because of the extra time.
Kindan’s instructions from Aleesa might do great in a technical challenge from the Great British Bake-Off:
“I’m to bow to the queen and make my way toward the clutch. If she lets me, I’m to choose an egg and take it, bowing again and walking backward.”
Seems simple enough, right? Except that’s clearly not all of it, because otherwise it wouldn’t be such a fraught affair. Kindan, running on instinct, proves that he learned a lot more from Danil than he knew.
He cleared his throat and murmured the soft chirps that his father always used when entering Dask’s lair.
Behind him he heard a surprised remark from Aleesa. “Well, at least the lad knows what to say to her.”
[…Kindan approaches, trying to sound friendly…]
When he was close to the queen, he held out his right hand. There was not much of a scar left from where his father had slit his thumb pad to blood him to old Dask. He altered his sound to a reassuring tongue tell and showed her his palm. She ran her tongue over it. It was a nice, dry tongue. Sometimes Dask’s had been skinny and not at all something you wanted licking you. He increased his trill to what he thought was a glad “Thank you.”
[…more of Kindan’s thoughts about whers, including that Dask was chosen to sire a couple clutches. Kindan yawns. …]
“Excuse me,” he said, deathly afraid he had insulted her. “I’m tired. We went back in time to get here and–well, I’m afraid.”
He bowed to her and formed the image in his mind of Gaminth and their journey back in time from tomorrow.
The queen gave a surprised chirp and Kindan got the impression that she’d picked up the image from his mind.
Which she most likely did. Kindan is successful in selecting an egg at random (“Eeeny meeny, tipsy teeny, ah vu bumberini. Isha gosh bumberosha, nineteen hundred and two. I pick you.” is the actual chant, which seems like nonsense words through a lot of it.) and trills his thanks before leaving. Kindan then successfully asks without asking what to feed a newly-hatched wher (oat porridge and fresh blood mixed together for the first three months, then meat when the wher can properly chew), and everyone goes back to the place and time where they came from.
Kindan using what he learned informally from his father rings true to me, mostly because as I get older, the things that Dad tried to teach me about tool usage and other bits of knowledge have come in handy when I remember them, despite not really being interested in the things at the time. In Kindan’s case, it’s probably more true that he didn’t have the opportunity to learn it, being the youngest, but he still apparently picked up enough to be helpful and successful in collecting an egg.
Now that’s he’s gotten it, we’re on to Chapter VIII, which means a new rhyme-chant:
Watch-wher, watch-wher in the egg,
Grant to me the boon I beg.
I’m almost always saying these as skip-rope or jump-rope chants, rather than as songs or poetic forms, because they scan to that so well for me.
Chapter VIII starts with Kindan admitting to Zist he knows squat about raising and training a watch-wher. Zist promises to help (and send a few messages with questions, if needed) in what way he can. Zenor is awed by the egg, but the actual hatching takes place in the middle of the night, three days after retrieving and returning with the egg. Kindan hatches a green, then remembers that watch-whers teethe and resolves to get something to help with that pain. When he’s done feeding her, and feeding her, and feeding her – it takes three giant pots of porridge before the watch-wher is sated. And then Kindan realizes he has to cut himself so that the watch-wher knows whose blood she answers to. Zist offers to sharpen the knife, and Kindan is a bit squeamish on the matter, so he is going to ask Zist to do the cut. After he shows Zenor the hatchling, since Zenor was in the mine when it all went down. Zist makes the cut, and the hatchling laps up plenty of blood from Kindan for the bond.
Kindan has to sleep with the watch-wher and free around it near constantly, not because it needs that kind of care, but because Zist makes a sensible remark that there are people in the camp that might wish the new wher harm.
Like Tarik, who seems to have a constant stream of complaints.
“It’ll eat more than it’s worth,” was Tarik’s first dour comment. Later, it was “And how long before it’s ready to go down the mines?”
“When does that ugly creature reach its growth?” was the next snide remark. “Not much use as it is now, is it?”
And yet again, “Natalon paid how much coal for that bag of bones?”
Kindan’s hatred of the head miner’s uncle grew steadily greater with each return visit and insulting comment.
He found himself afraid to leave the watch-wher unattended, not only for fear of what Tarik might do, but also for fear of what the watch-wher might do it of its own fright. The poor thing had already nearly bitten Zenor once when he arrived early one morning and threw back the heavy curtain draped down behind the door to protect the watch-wher’s delicate eyes.
Which is to say, Tarik’s an asshole, and Zenor nearly got bit because he wasn’t thinking and exposed a watch-wher to bright light. Neither of those seem like the sort of thing that would be conducive to a young child raising something essential.
Kindan, for his part, finds his nerves unraveling at having to constantly take care of the watch-wher, although this does give him an appreciation of what Zenor went through when his younger sisters were born and young. So when Nuella appears and gives him a break to collect food, Kindan takes it, and then realizes that it may not have been the best idea when Zist pointedly asks about what happens if Nuella has to raise an alarm. The watch-wher gets fed, Nuella suggests meat scraps as a dietary change, which makes everyone much happier, especially the wher, who eventually gets a name — Kisk. Because wher naming convention is apparently some letters of the handler and the -sk extension to indicate a wher.
There’s also a remark from Kindan that Nuella isn’t going to be able to pretend to b be her brother for much longer, which suggests that Nuella is starting to show some anatomical differences.
The chapter closes out with Kindan taking Kisk on a walk after she makes it apparent that she wants to go outside at night. Along the way, he meets Cristov, who wants to see the wher for himself, as it appears the house is divided about whers.
“I know my father doesn’t like them,” Cristov continued breathlessly, holding out a hand palm-up to the watch-wher, “but my feet says we should respect them. She says, ‘A grown-up makes their own decisions.'”
Which is very useful advice. And comes in handy, even if Cristov doesn’t yet have practice at it, when Tarik and Dara both end up intruding on the scene of Cristov being locked affectionately by Kisk. Tarik is his usual caustic and dismissive self, and Dara not only gives him the evil eye for it, she asks politely how Kindan and Kisk are doing.
So now we have a small watch-wher and the boy who gets to train her. Which is fabulous, except for the part where, well, nobody has a fucking clue what they’re doing. But they’ll believe in their ability to adapt, and it will likely turn out well.
Training starts next week.