Part One

The bronze dragon appeared over Mackenzie Weyr, his wings flaring elegantly in the mid afternoon sunlight. The young blue on watch duty bugled a query and the bronze replied with his name and Weyr affiliation. A welcome and an invitation to land followed and the bronze turned his head towards his back.

Wake up, he demanded of the rider slung negligently backwards between dorsal spines. The rider's arms and legs jerked and only the riding straps looped across his middle kept the man from falling.

Thanks a lot, the rider replied sarcastically, stretching and sitting up. Are you trying to knock me off again?

It's your own fault for sleeping while I'm doing all the work, the bronze commented. We're here.

Oh? the rider craned his head over the side of the bronze's neck to look down at the ground, while turning his body around to sit properly on the bronze. A manoeuvre obviously done many times before, judging by the ease and speed with which it was accomplished. So that's Mackenzie Weyr, is it?

No, it's Half Circle Sea Hold, the bronze answered sarcastically. Where did you think we were, N'varr?

N'varr didn't bother to answer as he looked over the hollowed out Red Butte below him. It looked good, he nodded to himself. And the Weyrleaders had a good tract record for safe Falls, too.

Suddenly, his head was jerked back on his neck as the bronze abruptly started a dive towards the Weyr below.

Hey! N'varr protested, leaning back to counter the downwards spiral. Kevlarth! Knock it off!

Pay attention, Kevlarth replied, not in the least bit chastened. The Weyrleader and Weyrwoman are waiting below to meet you.

Kevlarth's mind pictured the junior Weyrwoman, Gwyn, not Lynnia, and N'varr wondered where the other woman was. The birth of her twin daughters had gone well, the other Weyrs had been told, so by this second sevenday afterwards, she should be up and about. Still, N'varr thought to himself, maybe she had duties she couldn't give up just to meet a temporarily transferred bronze rider from Southern.

Kevlarth backwinged and gently landed on the ground fairly close to where two figures were standing waiting. Three fire lizards zoomed up to N'varr's head as he unhooked his belt and belongings.

"Hi there," he greeted the bronze, brown and blue that hovered, inspecting him. "My fair will be along any minute now, so they can tell you all about me."

The bronze conferred with the other two then the three zipped back to the waiting figures. N'varr slid down to Kevlarth's forearm, then leaped to the ground, landing with practiced ease. Slinging his travel bag over his shoulder, N'varr thumped Kevlarth's neck, then headed towards the Weyrleaders.

Once his rider was far enough away, Kevlarth launched himself into the air and glided to the lake where four women were supervising a group of drudges bathing. Without warning, he folded his wings and dropped like a stone into the cool water, dousing the women on the shore and causing shrieks of dismay. N'varr, keeping his back turned, held in a smile.

"Weyrleader, Weyrwoman," N'varr courteously bowed to the pair smiling at him. "I am N'varr from Southern Weyr."

"You are well come, N'varr," M'ark extended his hand which N'varr shook firmly. "Kevlarth looks in fine form."

Gwyn's eyes sparkled with laughter.

"And those women are even cleaner now," she grinned. N'varr let out his own grin as he took Gwyn's hand and brought it ceremoniously to his lips. "Welcome to Mackenzie Weyr, N'varr."

N'varr was shown to his quarters for the duration of his stay at Mackenzie. It was ground level weyr, as he had requested, quite close to the Weyrling Barracks, which explained why it was empty, but that wouldn't be a problem. Kevlarth was good at keeping young dragons controlled if necessary. He had just settled his belongings into the press given him, while exchanging small talk with Gwyn, when a full fair of fire lizards swarmed into the weyr. Gwyn, although used to the many fire lizards at Mackenzie, still ducked when they flew down close to her head. N'varr glared around at their antics.

"Settle down!" he barked at them. "Now!"

To Gwyn's astonishment, every fire lizard immediately landed on a piece of furniture, cheeped once then gave full attention to N'varr.

"My apologies, Weyrwoman," he smiled ruefully. "I should have waited outside until they found me."

Gwyn looked at the fire lizards, even more astonished.

"Are they all yours?" she asked, counting quickly. "You Impressed... fourteen fire lizards?"

N'varr shrugged.

"I like fire lizards," he admitted with a smile. "I've been hunting for eggs and Impressing what I can ever since I was old enough to walk the beaches at Southern."

Gwyn's amazed eyes picked out two golds, three bronzes, two browns, three blues and four greens, all waiting patiently for a word from N'varr.

"Have you... named them all?" Gwyn inquired, still bemused. She had never heard of anyone with that many fire lizards!

"Oh, yes," N'varr grinned, nodding. "Like to meet them?" At Gwyn's nod, he pointed to the golds. "Meena and Raye, my queens, the bronzes are Digger, Croon and Zip, the browns are Waffle and Mart, the blues are Grizzle, Klick and Budge and my little green ladies are Lita, Hibble, Ranny and Flirt."

"Well, my goodness," Gwyn murmured. She had certainly heard all the names, but remember them? Not likely. "I just have a blue. Doog. Oh, and a feline named Cat."

"Felines are nice," N'varr agreed. "But I'm always travelling, and they don't like flying much. My fire lizards keep up with me wherever I go. And speaking of fire lizards..." N'varr turned to the group assembled on the furniture. "Go find places to sun yourselves and don't get in the way." The golds chirped inquiringly. "Yes, you two can stay, but the rest of you take off."

To Gwyn's delight, the twelve fire lizards launched into the air and vanished between, no doubt to do exactly what N'varr had told them to. If only Doog was that obedient! Meena and Raye (Gwyn remembered their names!) settled onto N'varr's broad shoulders, their tails loosely wrapped around his neck giving the impression of a thick golden collar.

"So, N'varr," Gwyn started, as she walked with N'varr outside once his unpacking was done. "How long will you be at Mackenzie?"

"Well, that all depends," N'varr replied seriously. "I'm doing some work around here that might take me a long time, or I might be done by the end of the week."

"What are you doing, anyways?" Gwyn inquired curiously.

N'varr stopped and turned to face the Weyrwoman, his expression one that might have been carved out of very rock on which they stood.

"I'm investigating a murder, Weyrwoman," he stated quietly. "And the holders feel that the murderer is someone here at Mackenzie Weyr."