Author's note: I've had this proof read by two people. I hope most of the spelling and grammar errors have been taken care of.
Disclaimer: Pern belongs to the wonderful Anne McCaffrey. I just took the liberty of dabbling in that world a little. I am not making any money off of any of it.
All the characters in the first chapter are mine.
The Harper Drudge
Chapter 1: Going to Gather
Kaya woke instantly to the sound of footsteps coming towards the storage room. She sat up, hugging her knees to her chest, holding her arms along her legs. She waited. At least she was not cold, the spring air was cool, but the biting cold was gone until fall. A man entered the room looking for her.
"Good, you're awake, you lazy sack of bones. Come, we are going to the gather. You carry enough grain to the cart to last us three days."
Kaya jumped to her feet and sped past him to the door leading to the backyard where the grain was stored. The man gave her a slap across the shoulder blades, laughing as he saw her stager. She recovered her balance and did not give him the pleasure of land on the floor, thus giving him the opportunity to kick her. She still ached from the bruises he had inflicted on her the day before, and the days before that.
In the grain shed behind the barn, Kaya found the cloth bag use to transport the feed. She carefully scooped measures of dry corn and oats in to the bag. The lord holder did not like to see anything go to waste. Kaya looked furtively around her, and the courtyard was empty, so she snuck some dry oats into her mouth.
"What are you doing!" a voice boomed behind her as a hand caught the collar of her clothing and her hair. She was lifted off her feet. "Are you stealing grain?"
The next moment, she was on the ground. In long practiced reflex, Kaya coiled into a tight ball. She felt the stone bite into her knees and cheek. Then there was the toe of the boot at the small of her back. She whimpered, but tried all her might to hold back the cry that wanted to escape her lips. Making any noise would just make the beating worse. A second kick was delivered. Then she was lifted back up to her feet and shoved against the wall of the grain shed.
"Do not steal grain again! It is for the burden beast only. Now, get that bag filled and to the cart. We are leaving before the sun has broken to horizon."
Kaya turned to the grain and the sack, she filled the bag with haste, trying to control her tremors as not to loose too much of grain before it reached the bag. Finished, she tied it off, and carried the sack that was over a quarter of her weight to the waiting cart. As carefully as she could, she heaved the sack into its proper place in the cart.
"You are coming too," said the Man. He picked her up and hefted her into the cart. "If you do not behave, we'll leave you at gather."
"You can't take her like that!" a woman exclaimed from the door. "Look at her. She is filthy! She'll bring disrepute to our image!"
"I need someone to carry the water. With all the boys off the plough the fields, she is all that is left." The man turned to look at Kaya, as if appraising her. "Put something clean on her and wash her face. That will be sufficient. She is a drudge after all. She's got no need for lace and pretty colors." He looked up at the horizon, where the sun was just started to show. "Hurry up. I want to leave now!" He pushed Kaya to the waiting woman.
A minute later, a garment was pulled over Kaya's head. A cloth was passed over her face with no care for the fresh scrapes. Kaya bit her lip to keep any sound from escaping. A small bundle was discretely put into her hand. The woman had not stepped back, that Kaya was picked up like a bag of tubers and tossed into the cart. She sat up, but remained hunched and pressed against the side of the cart. She did not voluntarily move until the cart started to pull away. She then, looked at what was in her hand.
The small bundle contained a small piece of cheese and half eaten meatroll. Kaya looked over her shoulder to see if the man was looking her way, but he his eye were focussed on the road ahead. The spring rains had made many holes in the road, and he had to steer around the worse of them, to avoid breaking spokes or axels. Kaya made sure her back was to him and gobbled down her meagre meal. For a moment, she thought her stomach would heave, but she kept it all down with sheer will. It would probably be a few days before she was given more.
A ways down the road, another cart joined into the procession to the Fort Hold gather. It was the first one of the year. The winter had been long, and the snow too deep to travel far. All the inhabitants of the small holds were anxious to get to a gather to sell what they had fabricated over the winter and purchases what they could not make. There would also be music and food.
They arrived at Forth Hold as the sun set. The beasts of burden were unharnessed and Kaya was sent for with a pail to get water for the hoofed creatures at the nearby river. Kaya's eyes were big as she looked at all the people arriving in the clearing.
"Hurry up, you stupid creature!" The man told her. She expected a blow, but it did not come. When there were strangers about, he usually did not lift a hand to her. She hurried as much as she could. The holder contented himself with ripping the bucket from her hands and taking it over to his beasts. Her constant tremors make most creatures nervous.
When the bucket was empty, he tossed it back at her. She ran to get more water. Over night, she slept under the cart, as the man drank and sung obscene songs with his travel mates. In the morning, she woke as the sun rose. She ran to the river, filled the pail with water and brought it back to the cart. Kaya knew better than trying to water the dosing beasts.
Kaya sat by the cart, in the heat of the rising sun, watching every thing around her. People were beginning to stir. Some were carrying lumber and canvas to set up their stalls. Kaya watched them. As the air warmed, she moved to the shadows where she could still watch everything around her, but would not easily be seen. Her tremors often attracted stares, and Kaya did not like it. She could not explain why, but she did not like the way people looked at her.
The man woke up. Before he had gotten to his feet, Kaya jumped to hers. She went over to the full bucket of water and stood where he could see her. He came to her and took it roughly from her hands. With a grunt he took it to the two beasts that had been tethered near by. Kaya jumped into the cart and filled another pail with grain, being careful to stay in plain view all the time, so he could not accuse her of stealing the feed. She took him the pail, but stayed well out of the beasts' way.
The man threw the empty pail of water at Kaya, missing her by the breath of a hand. "Get more water!" He told her.
She grabbed the pail and set off to the river again at a run. If she took too long it would give him a reason to hurt her. She slowed just a little on the way back so she would not loose too much water. At least the heavy pail steadied her trembling hands.
After the beasts were sufficiently watered, Kaya was handed a heavy bundle of canvas.
The man took the precious lumber and they set off to stake a place among the other stalls. The wood had been cut with grooves, and within a few practice moves, the structure was set up. Kaya helped him set the canvas on the structure and tie it down. In the end, the little stall offered the items and people inside protection from the sun, wind and dust.
Next, they carried the earthen pots, bowls and other potteries that brought the small hold marks to buy what supplies it could not produce. The lady of the hold was talented in working the clay that lined the river beds that ran through the fields of the hold. Most of Kaya's summers were spent digging and carrying clay to the large kegs that held the silky soil until its later use. Later in the season, vegetables and grains would be added to the inventory.
The beasts were watered one last time, and Kaya was told to watch them, while the man sold the wears of the hold. She sat in the shade of the cart, out of sight. People came and went. There were many runners and beasts of burden grazing in the field. Overhead, the occasional dragon flew by. Kaya watched those great winged creatures with much interest until they move out of her sight. She hummed to herself, quiet enough for no one to hear her.
She never left the cart unless told to do other wise. Those of the hold often told her that they would someday take her to gather and leave her behind if she was too much trouble. Then holdless, threads would come down to devour her. Like most people on Pern, Kaya had grown up with the fear of the silvery menace. In the distance, Kaya could hear music. She longed to sneak closed to the gather to hear the Harpers. However, she knew that if caught, being in a public place would not save her from a beating. She strained her ear to listen to the songs. Later, she would play them in her head over an over again. She never forgot any song. She seldom forgot anything.
As the sun went down, Kaya caught sight of the man coming back to the cart. Kaya ran to the river and filled the pail with fresh water. She was back near the beasts just a minute after he arrived. With a rough hand he pulled the pail from her hands and gave fresh water to the hoofed creatures.
"Get the canvas off the stall!" he told her. "And don't get it dirty!"
Kaya ran off to the stall. She found that it had already been untied from the frame. She folded it carefully and then heaved it onto her back. The bundle was close to half her weight. She noted that there were no clay items left; therefore sales must have been good. If so, then the man would drink some of his marks away. In the morning, he would be grumpy and rough with her.
Once the supports and the canvas of the stall were stored away into the cart, the man turned to Kaya. "Stay here," he told her. "If you wander away, I'll leave without you."
With a nod, Kaya took her place under the cart. She lay down and fell asleep to the sound of music in the distance. In her dreams, she was singing with the harpers, playing a great harp. Once, when she was a small child, a harper had visited the hold and he had spent part of the evening playing a great harp. The instrument had been as tall as her. She had not grown much since then. Kaya often played that evening over in her mind, remembering how each sweet note had been produced.
She woke in the night to the sound of the man returning. Kaya crawled out from under the cart, to make sure the man would see that she was still close. Even steps away, she could smell the alcohol on him. He did not appear to notice her. She watched the man climb into the cart and lay down under the heavy sleeping rug he used for traveling. She returned to her spot under the cart.
Dawn broke a few hours later. At the first sound of stirring above her, Kaya got the pail and had it back at the cart full of water as the man was getting out of the cart. She set the water down, and stepped out of the way. He did not look at her as he took the water to his beasts of burden, and tackled them to the cart. As soon as he was done, Kaya handed him the sacks of grain. Once the hoofed creatures were set up to eat, the man left for the hold.
"Stay here," he needlessly told Kaya.
She sat a little ways from the cart, out of sight of the beasts of burden. She did not want to be accused of scaring them off. On the breeze, she could smell fresh bread and klah. Her stomach rumbled but she ignored it with long practice. For a brief moment, she contemplated stealing a bit of grain, but the beating she would get if she was caught was not worth it.
The man came back a short time later with a bowl in one hand and mug of klah in the other. He was grumbling about the price of the food. He spotted Kaya, and then looked down at the bowl and spit in it. "Here!" he shoved it at her. "It's not worth eating anyway!"
Kaya took it immediately, and started gobbling down the burnt cereal. The fear of having it taken away from her took over and she emptied the bowl in three mouthfuls.
"Get a last pail of water for the road." The man ordered. "And don't spill it!"
Kaya grabbed the pail and took off at a run for the river. The cereal felt heavy in her belly and it was like some was stuck in her throat. She got to the river and drank a little water, to try to make the cereal go down and settle her stomach. However, the water only made her feel worse. Her stomach heaved and she vomited. She fell to her hands and knees, unable to stop the heaving. It sapped at her strength, she shook all over. Kaya knew that she should not have eaten so fast, but she had been so hungry and the man could have changed his mind about giving her the food. He often had in the past. He got great pleasure in teasing her, almost as much as taking his frustration out on her.
As soon as she could, Kaya stood, filled the pail of water and set off for the cart. The man would not wait for her. Still shaky and fighting the occasional dry heave, she stumbled on the path and fell, the content of the bucket emptied on her and the road. Taking a deep breath, Kaya stood and ran back to the river to refill it. She set of for the cart a second time, more carefully.
When she finally got to the clearing, she found it empty. She looked up and down the road, and then took off in the direction of their small hold. He had done it! He had left her behind. Panic began to rise inside of Kaya. She ran until she got to a crossroad. The area was not familiar to her. The handful of times she had come to gather, she had not paid attention to the geography, more busy with staying out of sight. She sat by the road, her mind starting to work through the fog of fear.
For years, Kaya had been lead to believe that being stuck upside alone would lead to Threads falling on her head. As she looked at the sky, it was clear blue as far as the eye could see, not even a cloud. The rational side of her mind told her that Threads would not fall right this moment, but she should find shelter before it did. She should return to Fort Hold, there would be place there to hide from Threads. It occurred to her that she might be able to find someone who needed a drudge in exchange for a stone roof.
It was evening before Kaya reached Fort Hold. There were some people coming and going in the streets, lined with stone cottages. Kaya found the place where she had help set up the stall. It had been swept clean, as if nothing had happened the day before. No one paid attention to her as she explored, wondering how she would go about offering her services. Not being told what to do was new and strange to Kaya. She found making decisions difficult. The sound of music drew her close to a set of buildings, and she finally found refuge in a doorway behind one of them.
Kaya slept fitfully. Dreams of silvery Threads dropping onto hear head and the sound of the man's laughter kept waking her up. She finally felt into an exhausted sleep sometime after dawn, once she could see that the sky was clear of any grey clouds for as far as the eye could see.