A/N: This story is set many Turns in the future, after the events described in All the Weyrs of Pern. Pernese society has expanded and diversified, hence my creation of "new" trades and crafts. Please note UK English, not Americanese.
Outside, the heat shimmered, melting the overbright view that Jarraden had of the path leading down to the bridge in scintillating waves. Not a single drop of wind broke the oppressive tropical heat and he wished that the two masters would finish their conversation so that he could concentrate on inputting the yellowed pages next to his keyboard.
Sweat trickled down the nape of his neck, dampening the loose tunic that he wore over his sawn-off trousers. No one bothered with shoes in this heat and Jarraden was grateful for the fact that he'd asked Dorrigan to plait his hair back in a tight queue this morning. His fingers left damp marks on the ancient paper, reminding him of the importance of his task but his concentration strayed to the two masters' banter.
Master Archivist Lenedal and Masterharper Targullan shared glasses of iced redfruit juice in the shade of the veranda, ostensibly discussing the retrieval of some old musical scores from the archives for an upcoming Gather but, in truth, the pair argued about their latest fishing exploits.
Jarraden tutted quietly, sipping his own juice, enjoying the icy perspiration that beaded his cup. A brown dragon from Shipwreck Weyr had flown in their weekly allotment of ice this morning and Headwoman Harleen had celebrated the occasion by arranging this midmorning treat for the entire population of Redfin Seahold.
Life was good. Jarraden couldn't complain, in spite of the ever-present heat and humidity of the central Eastern Ring Islands. It had been such a long time since he'd lived in a more temperate climate, he could hardly remember what a real winter felt like; where the air didn't feel like fragrant syrup every time he inhaled.
He forced his eyes back to the pages he had to input. To think that three-hundred Turns ago, a certain Master Archivist Tosden had filed these pages, written in a cramped hand belonging to one Master Merchant Yadres. He imagined Yadres as a man deep in his fifties when he wrote about his experiences sailing the outlying islands. Now it was up to Jarraden to decipher the letters so that they could be preserved for all of Pern, if he could make out some of the much-faded ink.
… the people of the Prollig Seahold have the quaint custom of painting a pair of eyes on the front of the hulls of their fishing skiffs. Having long lived in isolation, due to the remote situation of their island home, they …
The bugle of a dragon, coming out from between, shattered Jarraden's tenuous concentration. Both masters paused in their boasting to look up, although from where they sat beneath the vine-bedecked beams, there was nought they would see through the glossy green leaves.
"Eh, what's this?" Lenedal said. "Didn't know that there were any visits scheduled for today. I wonder what the occasion is."
"Did hear mention that they'd be Searching soon," replied Targullan. "Let me have a look."
The old man groaned as he stood up, wincing when he stepped into the sun. He shielded his eyes against the glare. "Yup, it's a green winging in. Thought they were only coming the day before the Gather. Must have misread the message."
Lenedal helped the old harper back to his seat. "They nabbed two apprentices off Kolman six Turns back. He was not pleased."
"I can well imagine," Targullan laughed with a dry chuckle. "Didn't the one lad…"
"Came back, yes. He's now a journeyman, last I heard he was out near…"
The old men fell back into their discussion. Jarraden had only arrived here five Turns previously. He had never experienced a Search before. Dragonmen had never bothered with the island he'd spent part of his childhood on during the storm season. It was so small it didn't have a name. Oh, he'd heard stories, all right, but that was all they were, stories. He'd filled his head with stories since one of the journeymen harpers had convinced his parents that he'd be better off learning a trade at a larger hold than aboard a fishing fleet.
One less mouth to feed and one less dreamer to deal with had suited his father well. Master Fisherman Oberden had packed Jarraden off with Journeyman Harper Timon that very same afternoon, aboard a merchant vessel en route to Redfin Seahold; here he'd been since.
Jarraden frowned in concentration. The page had smudged here. It looked like a klah stain although he couldn't be sure.
… have developed queer customs that border on the superstitious traditions that I have encountered while conducting research in the Archives, related to the history of the original settlers.
Jarraden sat back, wondering whether any of the remains of Prollig would ever be found, should a team of archivists be allowed to embark on a field excursion. Other papers he'd inputted referred to a volcanic eruption that had rained down layers of ash, spewing poisonous gases. Many of Prollig's inhabitants had been buried, no doubt overwhelmed by the noxious fumes. The few who escaped bearing these ill tidings had been absorbed into the assorted fleets and seaholds willing to take on the islanders. Their curious traditions were lost in time, save for these few remnants he had in his possession. Sometimes the responsibility of his position as an apprentice archivist threatened to overwhelm him. If he did not record events correctly, the truth may be lost to future generations.
Jarraden imagined what that night of fire, debris and smoke must have been like, how mothers would have clutched their children to their breasts and run through the streets, how canines would have barked and men shouted out warnings. Did they have runner-beasts on the island? He'd found no record of this. They'd lived in a time when there had been much unrest on the northern continent, with the failure of Fort Weyr and High Reaches due to a virulent plague…
A runner, one of the orphan lads, nattered at the door, the child's high-pitched voice intruding on Jarraden's musings.
"Good day, masters. Harleen sent me to ask if you could ask if Jarraden could come across to the Arbour. There's a dragonwoman here on Search from Shipwreck Weyr."
A silence descended. Jarraden's blood turned to ice and he looked up from his work to see Targullen give Lenedal a meaningful look, before coughing into his hand. The fosterling shifted from foot to foot, his eyes darting from the master archivist to the masterharper.
"I see," said Lenendal, trying not to display his discomfort. "Well, run along. Tell Harleen that Jarraden will be there shortly."
The boy scampered off, next door towards the Healer Hall.
"I suppose you should be grateful that they're going to have everyone display their apprentices like Gather day goods," gestured Targullen, stroking at his whiskers.
Lenendal shrugged, then peered back into the dark recesses of their hall. "Don't just sit there gaping, Jarraden. I may be sunblind but I know you've been listening in. You'd best get yourself down to the Arbour."
"Yes, master," Jarraden said, jumping to his feet.
"Come here boy."
Jarraden approached the two masters, his heart hammering with possibilities. This was something he'd never dreamt of, an event worthy of the Archives that only ever happened to other people. A dragon! What if the dragon chose him? The beasts had grown rare enough as it was, since Thread became but a distant legend.
"What do you think?" Lenedal asked his friend.
Targullan made a great show of rubbing is chin, glaring at Jarraden from beneath his bushy white brows. "He'd make a better harper than rider. You should let me teach him the gitar and set him to learning four-part harmony, I think once his voice is settled, he'll have a pleasant, reedy tenor."
"Tsk!" Lenedal said, waving away Targullan's comment. "You're still sore about that apprentice of yours who came over to my hall. Jarraden, please do us all the favour and wash your hands and face, at the very least. Then come back here as soon as they're done."
"What if I am chosen?"
"If you are…" Lenedal. "Let's hope not. There are more than fifty young people here who are of the correct age. If we're lucky, perhaps two will be found who are both suitable and willing. Don't get your hopes up. Good apprentices like you are worth more than their weight in marks."
"I won't, master."
"Well, then, run along then and while you're at it, ask Harleen if she can have one of the drudges send up some more of that redfruit juice for two masters in their dotage."