18 November 2019

Chap. 123 The Burrow

Chap. 123  The Burrow

The team had flown over the strait from the point where they'd found the caisson.

Surprisingly, there wasn't a similar one on the western side.

The dragons hovered in mid-air, searching for a level place to land. 

There was none. The rocks and outcroppings made a safe landing inadvisable.  The wind was just as relentless as it had been on the other side.

"D'mitran, take your readings from here, I'll do the same. Then we'll head back to the spot we left and continue the baseline," D'nis called. He was mystified that there was no corresponding caisson on this side. What in the world was the point of only one?

K'ndar looked at the vegetation below him as they waited.

Hovering is hard work, in this wind  Raventh said.

No doubt, but I don't see any place to land

"Okay, team, let's go!" D'nis called, and his Corvuth led the way south.

Much easier, now with the wind behind me. 

Watching his readings, D'nis called the halt when they'd reached the point where they would return to marking the baseline. 

At this spot, there was ample areas to land, but the ground beneath them was covered with hundreds…no, thousands, of roosting birds and sea wherries. They rose up in great, shrieking clouds when the dragons arrived, then returned to their nests.

K'ndar very much wanted to stop and collect data. 

"D'nis, can I stop and collect some samples, specimens?"

D'nis shook his head. "I'm just going to take the data here, and then I want to continue on. We can always come back later," he said.

"Yes, sir," K'ndar said, disappointed.

They flew inland for another fifty kilometers, then landed to collect data.

This area had short grasses and forbs, interspersed with rocks of all sizes. Armored willows were here, but not as thick as on the other side.

The team set about making notes, taking samples and entering data. K'ndar found plenty of rocks to make a cairn. He had run out of designs to make each individual cairn memorable, and was now up to three cairns in various configurations.

He was grateful that they'd left the cliff edge behind. The wind had dropped to tolerable levels. He was glad of that, as no wind meant insects. There was signs of wherries and birds everywhere, in the form of feathers, nests, broken egg shells, and, of course, guano. 

He found enough samples to fill all his collection bags. 

The avians themselves had fled when they landed, and were now swirling overhead, complaining of their interruptions. 

Siskin took off from his shoulder, intent on catching one. But the avians weren't  afraid of him, and several lunged at him. He turned and fled, landing on Raventh's back. 

You're safe with me, little one Raventh laughed. 

K'ndar could see that the birds were not only nesting in the open, but one species dug burrows in amongst the rocks. He knelt down and looked inside one. The wherry inside was the same size as Siskin. She cocked her head and looked at him, as curious about him as he was of her.

He turned and called, "D'nis, would you please take pictures of this burrowing wherry?"

D'nis came over with his molecular camera and, kneeling, took several pictures. He rocked back  on his heels to see how they came out…and said, "There's something in there, with the wherry," 

K'ndar looked over his shoulder to see the picture. Deep in the burrow, a pair of eyes showed, mere pinpoints of reflected light, like those of a cat.  

He looked into the burrow again, wondering if he should try and evict the rightful occupant. 

She didn't look too interested in leaving it, so he left her alone. 

After a few moments, he saw something glint in the gloom behind the avian.

Eyes. The reflection lasting but a moment, as the creature blinked.

What in the world? It wasn't a bird, or a wherry. Their eyes were set differently in their heads. 

D'nis moved as close as he could to the entrance of the burrow.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but could you move just a little, to the right, please?" he said to the wherry,  unconcerned that someone might think him strange for talking to it.

But as if she understood, the wherry stood up, shook herself, and instead of moving aside, passed out of the burrow right between the two men.

"Thank you," D'nis said, as she took wing.

"I'll have to remember that," K'ndar said, laughing. 

"Phew, this burrow stinks," D'nis said, laying on his belly and shoving the camera into the opening, "I don't want to inhale this stuff for too long. Let me set it to flash," he said, adjusting the camera.

The flash lit up the burrow. It went back a LONG way, far longer than it appeared at first.
There was an animal at the back, curled up.

Suddenly, the animal charged, spitting and hissing through long, sharp fangs. K'ndar fell over backwards in reaction as the animal ran right over D'nis's back and vanished into the vegetation.

"What the shards was that?" D'nis said, rolling onto his side. He'd almost dropped the camera. 

Hope I got that shot! he thought.

K'ndar got to his feet and looked in the direction the animal had fled, but it was long gone.
"I think…I think it's the same animal I saw on the other island," he said. He'd just caught a glimpse, but that was of what appeared to be extremely sharp teeth.

"Did you get a picture of it?" he asked, hoping.

D'nis stood up, reflecting that the rocks he'd rolled onto were a lot harder than he'd like.

But he looked at the camera, and saw that, no..all it had caught was the same thing K'ndar had seen…teeth. He said as much. 

"But teeth..they can tell a lot, "K'ndar said. "I can already tell it's a carnivore, with those fangs? But …why it hasn't eaten the seabird, I don't know."

Siskin is following it Raventh said.

GOOD LAD! K'ndar called, despite the fact that the fire lizard was out of hearing range.

He's lost it. He's coming back.

The blue fire lizard chittered and landed on K'ndar's shoulder.

"Good lad, Siskin. What did you see?" he asked the blue.

Siskin projected an image of a silver colored animal. Four legs, no wings, just as K'ndar had seen before it. It was long, like a tunnel snake, and moved like lightning between the roots of the armored willows and grasses. 

Greta and D'mitran, having seen K'ndar fall backward, hurried up. No, they hadn't seen the animal. They looked at the pictures. 

"Think Landing will have some more information about this beast?"  she asked.

"I hope so," K'ndar said.

D'nis stood up, and as he did, his camera pinged. Time to go home.

"Okay, folks, let's tie things up and go back to the Observatory. It's been a day, it has."

17 November 2019

Chap. 122 The Surprise on the Strait

Western Continent. The team is very near the northern end of the Strait.

Chap. 122  The Surprise on the Strait

"This was not at all what I was expecting," Greta said. 

The team, standing atop a windy bluff, was looking across the strait that separated the two islands of Western Continent. 

The wind was strong enough to make it an effort to stand. One had to shout if you were more than a few meters from the other.

"What were you expecting?" K'ndar said. He was sketching the sea birds and wherries that were literally standing in the wind, not needing to flap their wings to stay aloft. D'nis was photographing and D'mitran filming.

"Something a little…little less windy! And closer to sea level. I'd actually thought it might be dry, something we could have landed on. Not now! We must be, what, several hundred meters above the water line."

There was no way down without being dragon back. The side of the island was a sheer cliff, falling to the surface of the sea.  K'ndar could see hundreds of birds and wherries, roosting on the cliff face. More circled over their heads, some swooping on the dragons behind them. When a bird turned to windward, it was carried away in a split second. 

Siskin and Roany, the two blue fire lizards, kept a tight hold on their owner's shoulders. 

Neither of them was comfortable with the speed of the wind. 

"I wouldn't want to get down there," she said, "the current looks ferociously fast. I'd be afraid to take a boat down that strait, and I bet it's almost impossible to make one's way against the current."

K'ndar had thought to bring his binoculars, this time. He scanned upstream of both sides of the islands for a spot that looked at least solid and large enough for a dragon to land. He could see nothing, and said so. 

D'mitran could, though. "This new datalink, it should be able to link to the Yokohama with enough detail," he said, scrolling through it. He was quiet for several moments. Surprise crossed his face, and he enlarged a portion of the satellite photo as large as it could.

"Whoa," he said, drawing their attention with the tone. "That can't be what I'm seeing. How old is this data?" he said, more to himself than to the others. He shook his head. "It's current. I can even see us and the dragons." 

"Maybe I'm addled, but…D'nis, look at this, here, and tell me if you see what I think I see," he said, pointing to a spot on the datalink's screen.

D'nis looked at it…and looked harder. 

"It looks like, well…something man made."

"Can I see?" K'ndar and Greta both said at once.

The datalink was handed over. K'ndar looked at it with his younger eyes. It DID look like something man made. He handed it to Greta and then looked through his nocs at where he thought the thing might be. He couldn't see it, even at maximum range.

"It looks like…well, a rectangular  bulwark," Greta said.

D'nis looked at them as she handed it back to D'mitran.

"Let's go find out," he said.

This is like flying without being in the air  Raventh said, as K'ndar mounted.

That's because you're big. Siskin isn't too happy 

I know. He is afraid of the wind speed

Could he be hurt?

I don't think so, but he's more easily tossed around by the wind. I've never felt it so strong. It's a lot more work than I expected. But we can do it. 

They flew north for about fifteen minutes before they found the spot.

The force of the wind was only slightly less than from their original spot. It was much lower, too. There were large outcroppings that one could take cover from it. Greta hammered on one for samples.  The dragons shuffled behind them, out of the wind. The humans pushed their way against the wind to the spot.  

The thing was a giant block of concrete, rhomboidal in shape, the windward edges blunted by the unrelenting wind. It was obviously used as a roost for the many birds and wherries, their guano striping the green moss that grew on the lee side. That side was still relatively un-eroded.   There was no question it was man made. It was a huge bulwark, a caisson that, at first, made no sense to them. 

"This was made to support something," D'nis called, after photographing it. K'ndar sketched it. It was made of the mixture of plastic and concrete the Ancients had used.  "Something BIG," he said. His mind began to throw out ideas and he had to shut it up, to allow himself to think.

D'mitran was thinking, too. He looked across the strait, and called up the datalink's current location. He noticed that this spot was the narrowest spot between the two islands. Ah.

"A bridge," he said.


"A bridge. They wanted to put a bridge here. But they didn't," he said.

"Yes," D'nis instantly agreed, a bridge. Put here by whom? When? Why didn't it get built?
He let his engineer's mind do the work while he took down readings and data. 

K'ndar could not believe how strong the wind was, despite their being quite a bit lower in altitude at this point. He looked down at the frothing water below. 

Something was coming down stream. He pointed it out, then looked through his binoculars. 

"A tree," he called out, "coming FAST."

D'mitran said, "Got it!" with his datalink.

He video'ed it as it passed beneath him. 

The tree wasn't just being carried by the current, it was also being tossed half out of the water, rolled over and over lengthwise, with a violence that was silent testimony to the power of the sea. It had a battered appearance, telling of it being rammed into the cliff walls till it was blunted on both ends.

Then he looked at the data and shook his head. "I can't believe this," he said.


"If this thing is right, and I've got no reason to doubt it, that tree is going just under 100 kilometers per hour." 

Someone whistled. Even a green dragon couldn't fly that fast. 

"And, I think, that's just the current, not the wind. Although the wind is just a little below that."

"I'd be scared to death to take a boat down that strait," Greta said, watching the tree riding the waves as it was carried downstream. There was no place, on either side of the strait, that wasn't cliff face. It was a chute…a giant, geological half pipe of stone, funneling a bore of water down without a thing to stop or even slow the current.  Shards, she thought. I was hoping I could have done a little more than just stand here gaping. But I'll not risk trying to get down there. It's not worth it. 

D'nis voiced it, too.

"I don't plan on going down there, but I bet the reason no bridge was built was because of this wind. The thing would have to be enormous, and, let's see, how far are we from the other side?"
K'ndar looked at the data in his binocular. "This says…just over three kilometers," he said. 

His eyes were watering from the wind. He dug around in his jacket and pulled out his riding goggles. There. That was better. Can't see so well through the binos, but at least I can see now.

"Three kilometers, then, and the wind loading? It's howling.  I can't do the math here, but this wind, which I have to believe is constant, and the length of the bridge would have made it almost foolish to even try. Better to just go around by ship." 

"And hope to the sky that you didn't get sucked in at the top of this strait," D'mitran said, thinking of the northern opening. "All it would take is one smashup on the sides of these walls, if you survived the impact, you'd probably drown anyway." 

K'ndar shivered at the thought. Just the idea of being on a ship made him queasy, he couldn't imagine trying to make it through the strait. That tree had been bouncing up and down in huge, almost airborne arcs. 

"Or they finally had dragons big enough to make it useless to try," D'mitran said.

"Not everyone had dragons, and this must mean, too, that at some time in the past, a determined effort was made to one, live here and on the other side, and two, keep from having to cross the gap by water. "

"You know who can tell us more about this strait?" K'ndar asked. Before the others could say a thing, he said, "The dolphins. I bet they know all about this strait. Maybe can even tell us about the people who tried to build it."

"That's a good idea, K'ndar." D'nis said. "Let's do the data collection on this, then cross over and see if there's anything more or similar on the other side. Then we can turn south and return to the original survey line and continue. We have more science to do," D'nis said. "The Sea Dragon should be meeting us on the far side of that island in a few days, and I'm sure the dolphins will be able to tell us more."

13 November 2019

Chap. 121 Confrontation

Chap. 121  The Confrontation

D'nis joined the team as they were unpacking their dragons at the Observatory.

"I'm sorry I didn't make it out to the field today," he said.

"Not to worry. We didn't accomplish much anyway," D'mitran said. His dragon, Careth, shook himself once the harness had been removed. 


"The ecology changed from those scrubby willows to thick, thick forest," K'ndar said.

"Aye," D'mitran said, "It was a hard slog. Couldn't find a spot on the 50 kilometer mark where the dragons could land. There was a clearing, if you could call it that, about a kilometer away. Not much more than a fallen tree had brought down some of the canopy. So we landed there. I'm not sure if you want exactly fifty kilometer benchmarks or not, I made the decision that we should. So we had to cut our way-and I do mean cut-through the thickest undergrowth I've ever seen, and I've been in jungle. We didn't an axe, not even a machete, so we've all got blistered hands from using belt knives to carve a path. Took hours to get one kilometer, but we did get to it, and got the readings and data collection done."

D'nis shook his head. "I'm sorry, D'mitran, it would have been alright to take the data from the 49 kilometer spot."

D'mitran shrugged. "Ah, well, lessons learned, what? But, by the stars, if the next stop is as thick, I'm willing to 'forget' to take the data from the ground. Maybe I'll just put in ditto marks."

D'nis laughed. It felt good, after the day he'd had.

K'ndar spoke up. "It gave me time to collect a lot of samples, by the way. I've never seen a forest so thick. The armored willows vanished about fifteen kilometers from yesterday's readings and turned into forest. Those trees, sir, they're huge. I don't know if they're the same species as is found on Northern, but if not, they're close. The canopy cover was 100%, not an opening to be seen except where one of the trees had fallen. I find it hard to believe that that forest was ever Thread scored. It just is too thick. Those trees, they're not lightwood. It took a long time for them to get that big."

"There are spots on the planet that were, for whatever reason, never scored. Might be the grubs, might be the sustained winds, I don't know, but it's interesting. Did you manage to put up a dragonstone?" D'nis asked. 

Greta spoke up. "Sort of, sir. No rocks to speak of, at least none that were big enough to make a memorable or sizable one.  So we blazed a handful of the trees. Not that it will do any good, you can't get a dragon in where the benchmark is. Not even a green," she said.

K'ndar had spent much of the day cataloging the plants, insects and animals. 

"I'm just amazed at how much life there is there. If that spot was ever Thread scored, it was a long time ago, because the undergrowth was just thick, like sheep wool."

"There's a lot of habitat there," he said, looking through his scribbled notes. "Most of the fallen trees have bird and wherry nests in them. There's tunnel snake burrows everywhere. I saw a creature, an animal I've never seen before, I have no idea what it is, but it's not native to Pern. Only four legs and no wings."

D'nis shook his head. "Wish I'd left my atomic camera with you," he said.

"That's okay, sir. It acted as if it'd never seen a human before. It was completely unafraid, just…busy. I think D'mitran might have caught it on his datalink. Hope so, because as bad as my handwriting is, I'll probably have to go by his data rather than my own."

The others laughed.

"Did you talk to Rahman about T'ovar?" Greta asked.

He looked at her. They all saw the weariness of spirit in his eyes.

"Yes, I did."

"He never made an attempt to ping one of our dragons to learn where we were," D'mitran said. "We didn't see hide nor hair of him."

"I would have been surprised if he had, D," D'nis said. "I spent a lot of time talking it over with Rahman. He had no problems with my cutting T'ovar from the team. T'ovar showed up just as I was getting ready to leave Rahman to join you. I told him that, as he'd been late every morning to the briefings, he'd demonstrated a lack of interest in what we were doing, and that we no longer had any need of what little services he had provided."

"He didn't take it well. He began to make accusations and vague threats. Everything was someone else's fault and didn’t Rahman know that we had no idea what we were doing? 

Rahman asked T'ovar why he'd neglected to come to work today.

 He claimed he'd been sick the entire night and hadn't gotten a lick of sleep. Rahman said, if that was so, perhaps it was wise for T'ovar to return to Tillek Sea Hold, seeing as to how we had no healers at Observatory. 

T'ovar began to bully Rahman, but that old man has a lot more substance than he shows.
Then T'ovar threatened Rahman..it was a vague implication, but he took it as a threat. He ordered  T'ovar to leave and not come back. T'ovar refused.  He was ready to go toe to toe with T'ovar, I was afraid it was going to end up a brawl. Just about then I was wishing F'mart was with me," he said, grinning. 

K'ndar and D'mitran laughed. "I'll tell you later about F'mart," K'ndar said to a puzzled Greta. 

"I thought he was going to punch the old man out. That's when a couple of the workmen came in and told T'ovar if he didn’t leave willingly, they'd see to it that he wished he had." 

D'nis shook his head, thinking of the confrontation. 

"Was he sick, like he claimed?" Greta asked.

"Sick? No. If anything, he was hung over." 

"He'd been drinking?"

"To judge by the smell, aye,"

"First thing in the morning and he's drinking?" Greta asked.

"Wellllllllllllll, it depends on WHERE 'first thing in the morning' means," he said. His team needed to know the entire story. 

Greta made the connection first. 

"He wasn't at Tillek, was he."

He looked at the girl. You should have been a gold rider, he thought, you have steel in that spine and fire in your soul that is the mark of a Weyrwoman…or a fighter. I'd hate to have you mad at me. 


K'ndar was lost.

"Where was he, then?"

"Southern Hold."

That shut them up for several moments, thinking it through.

D'mitran came to it first. 

"He's Toric's man. Isn't he." It wasn't a question.

"Aye. At least, that's what we both believe. He's a spy. For Toric," D'nis said.

D'mitran nodded, his suspicions confirmed.

"I KNEW there'd be a few unprincipled riders ignoring the boycott on Toric's Hold. I remember listening to some of them after the Gather. I don't remember T'ovar being there, but, it was a big lot of riders in the beer tent, and some of them were High Reaches men."

Greta was confused. "I'd heard there was a boycott against him, but I don't really know the whole story."

"I'll tell you all about it later," K'ndar said, feeling sick to his stomach. 

"But, with T'ovar-I smell money being involved," she said. 

"No doubt about that," D'mitran said. "There's men who'll do anything for money."

K'ndar had been thinking it through.

"This is still about me, isn't it," he asked, feeling a cold finger on his spine. He pushed it aside. He wasn't going to let a greedy man ruin his life.

"I don't think it's so much about you per se, K'ndar. I think it's Toric's betting that you can find more artifacts, and since he couldn't get a Southern Hold man in on the survey, he hired T'ovar, who'd we'd never suspect. I'm thinking T'ovar's being paid to snatch up anything we might find,  before they can be turned in to Landing," D'nis said. He was worried. "It may be that Toric was looking for you at the Gather not to punish you, but to offer you a 'job'."

That shocked K'ndar.

"Pffft. Like I'd work for that sod? Not on your life," K'ndar said. "I trust him about as far as I can throw a dragon."

He remembered how many men had been hunting him at the Gather. His anonymity and a healthy distrust of his fellow man had protected him then, but now that T'ovar knew who he was, Toric no longer needed to hunt. He had K'ndar right where he wanted. 

"Toric knows who I am now," he said, voicing his conviction. "Now, he knows exactly who and where I am, thanks to T'ovar."

He sighed.

"I wonder if I should, well, quit the team? I wouldn't put it past Toric's men to attack me. I don't want anyone to get hurt," he said, regretting it instantly. It was the last thing he wanted to do.

"NO" all three of them shouted back at him.

"NO. K'ndar, you are a member of MY team," D'nis said, "If he tries anything, I will be there to stop it."

"And me," D'mitran said, harshly.

"And me," Greta added. 

I'll be there to roar. It was fun, doing that at the Gather. Siskin is getting upset Raventh said.

Send him to me. I would like to see you roar. It was impressive.

Raventh laughed.

Siskin appeared, chittering, his eyes rolling orange, almost red. He offered his shoulder to his pet, where he stroked the blue's head til he calmed down. 

He felt encouraged by his dragon's support. Dragons had never been known to attack a human-but fire lizards definitely would and had. 

D'nis ran a hand through his thinning hair. They still had to write up their notes, index and log their data, ship it to Landing-but it was getting dark, he was tired, and hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast.  

"Lads, lassie, it's been a long week and an even longer day. Tomorrow is a rest day. Let's write up our notes and go home. Miss Greta, you are more than welcome to return to your weyr at Ista, or you might find the hospitality at Kahrain Steppe Weyr to be on par with that of your own. With the time change, we'll get what amounts to an extra day off. Being team leader has its benefits as well as its responsibilities, and right now, this team leader needs to get something in his stomach. What say you?"

Greta grinned.

"I'm a freelancer, sir. I go where I choose. I've never been to Kahrain, and I'd like to hear more about the boycott. So, lead on, MacDuff!"

K'ndar laughed.  

12 November 2019

Chap. 120 AWOL

Chap. 120  AWOL 

I don't need this aggravation first thing in the morning, D'nis thought. He hadn't slept well.

He, and D'mitran, K'ndar and Greta, was going over what they intended to do today. They were not the source of his irritation.

"If I'm right, we should be reaching the rift valley sometime today," he was saying. But in his mind, he was wondering, where was T'ovar. Not that the High Reaches brown rider had contributed much in the way of work, or help. But as team leader he felt a responsibility for everyone on the team.

"I'm looking forward to it, sir, so little is known about it."

"If we do reach it today, then, it will probably be a big day for you, Greta, in the way of sampling and collecting rocks," he said. 

She nodded. But she was annoyed. She wanted to get on with it and T'ovar was going to be late to the meeting. Again. 

"Where's T'ovar?" she asked, "I'd like to get rolling."

"Don't rightly know," D'nis said, "as you probably know, he's been commuting from his weyr at Tillek Sea Hold to here. Can't blame him, honestly, if it were feasible I'd be doing the same thing. But, that's no reason for his not being here. He knows what time our meetings are."

He didn't continue. T'ovar didn't contribute much of anything to the team meetings.  

None of them were quite sure what purpose he was serving. He'd not provided any leadership or guidance. In fact, K'ndar reflected, it was almost as if T'ovar had heard of the survey and decided to tag along out of boredom rather than any interest in science. 

But…hadn't Rahman decided who was to be on the team?

He voiced that, knowing that D'nis was bothered by the High Reaches rider's attitude.

"That was my impression, K'ndar. At least, when it was first proposed at Landing. Rahman insisted on us doing the survey. How T'ovar came to be involved, I'm sorry to say that I don't really know. "

"Um, what, precisely, is T'ovar's specialty?" D'mitran asked. 

Greta snickered. "Boasting? Because he does a LOT of that," she laughed.

K'ndar snickered, too. 

D'nis frowned, not wanting to create problems in the team. But, he realized, T'ovar already had, by his lateness, and now, absence.

"I have no answer for that. Nor do I want to create friction between the team."

Greta took the bit. "It's already happened, sir. If it were my decision, I'd just say, let's go, leave him behind. If he wants to come along…well, I'd rather he didn't, sir. I see him standing around doing a lot of nothing, but I haven't felt it was my place to say anything."

D'mitran stepped in. "On this team, everyone has an equal say. We've all got tasks to accomplish, and when one person doesn't pull his weight, the others have a right..no, the responsibility…to make his..or her opinions and observations known. When I was wingleader, when I saw someone shirking, which wasn't often, mind you, I didn't let it wait. The others in the wing depended on everyone doing their job, their share, and you didn't let shirking go on for more than a minute. It was bad for morale, not to mention putting everyone at risk for being scored."

You're still my wingleader, K'ndar thought. 

The Weyrleader in D'nis was dismayed at what appeared to be dissension, but, D'mitran was right. This wasn't fighting Thread, this was doing science. He felt odd, considering the concept of taking Greta's voicing what everyone had felt. Ordinarily, a junior rider would have been very careful in how she phrased such a topic.  But..he'd always, even as Weyrleader, listened to others, took what they said into account and treated them with respect.  Part of him was relieved in knowing that the rest of the team felt the same way he did. He also had a way of finding out where the tardy T'ovar was.

Corvuth? Where is T'ovar?

His bronze dragon was quiet for several seconds.

His dragon says, "drinking with several other men"

Drinking? At this early hour? D'nis couldn't imagine drinking anything other than klah until late in the afternoon.

Nevertheless, it made his job easier.

"T'ovar has made his decision," D'nis said, getting up. The rest of the team looked at him.
"And now I've made mine. T'ovar has, apparently, found something more interesting than doing science, so, let's go to work. Tonight, I'll go back to the observatory and let Rahman know we no longer require T'ovar's services."

The others all grinned. 

D'mitran said, "D'nis, why don't you go talk to Rahman NOW. The three of us can go out, I can take the readings you usually do, and you can check them later."

D'nis looked at D'mitran with appreciation for the man's support. "That's a good idea, D'mitran. I trust you to get the readings right, we've done it together often enough. I don't ever recall being told we HAD to have T'ovar, it was more a case of him being the contact at Tillek Sea Hold. Let's do this: it shouldn't take me too long to talk to Rahman. I'll have Corvuth contact your Careth when I'm done, and he can tell Corvuth where you are. I'll join you."

"I didn't assign T'ovar to your team," Rahman said. "I thought YOU had requested his presence."

D'nis was in a small office with the elderly astronomer. He shook his head. 

"No, sir. I'd never met him in my life. I have no idea what his purpose was. He hasn't contributed a thing in the week that we've been surveying. He's been late every morning before we head out, and now, my dragon tells me he's drinking. I assume that means alcohol. That's why I am asking you, sir, I was under the assumption that you had been charged to assemble the team by someone at Landing, and thus were 'in charge'. 

"Nay, D'nis. During the discussions on installing the second observatory, it was found that no one had any idea where to put it on the western island. It would have been the height of stupidity to just throw up the observatory 'somewhere' without knowing a thing about whether that somewhere was suitable!
 We all knew of your team's work surveying the steppe, and thus your team was the natural choice. I was asked to act as liaison by Raylan, as he was hip deep in the recovery of a skeleton. As for being 'in charge'? The only power I have in this situation is being the final authority to approve or disapprove whatever sites you find. That's why it was so important to get a good geologist on the team." 

"Do you know what T'ovar's specialty is? And do you remember who suggested he be part of the team?"

Rahman shook his head. "No. Again, I thought it was you who'd asked for him. And, to add to the problem, the planning meetings were many and long winded. I was required to be there but my input was seldom asked for other than the technical parts of the scope. Sometimes, I confess, I fell asleep when they got too mundane."

D'nis laughed. 

"For the most part, do you remember who was in on the meetings?"

"That, I can say yes. All of them were scientists, or members of the Council, or…well, wait. Let me backtrack. There were a few people there who, I always thought, were more interested in what the team could do for THEM rather than for scientific knowledge, or the new observatory. It usually involved money in one way or another. I don't like this new thing, this insistence on money changing hands. I still think the barter is the most civilized way of transacting."

D'nis nodded in agreement. The old man scratched his head, trying to get it to give him the data he wanted.

"There was one man, from Southern Hold. His name…oh, my mind is so full, these days, his name escapes me at the moment, but he was trying very hard to convince the council to include someone from Southern to go with. 
We tried to tell him that no place in the Southern continent was being considered for this new observatory. He was allowed to be there out of..well, respect, I suppose. He was insistent that Southern have someone on the team. But he couldn't name a one from that Hold that had any scientific credentials or interests, or provide a valid reason why."

Something went 'ping' in D'nis's mind. Then it began to ring as the pieces began to fit. 

He couldn't be certain as to who, as he hadn't had any dealings with them, but he'd knew that  several High Reaches riders had been at Lord Toric's Southern Hold Gather. That Gather had been one where Toric's goons had searched high and low for K'ndar, because Toric had wanted to punish K'ndar.

"Did you know that Lord Toric wanted to punish K'ndar for turning the artifacts in to Landing?"

Rahman looked very troubled. "I heard enough to know that Toric has some nerve, he does.  That's outrageous. First he has no jurisdiction over K'ndar or anyone else outside his Hold, for that matter. Secondly, K'ndar…and you..did the right thing. Those artifacts belong to all of us, not just that sod at Southern Hold."

"I feel exactly the same way." D'nis said. Should he trouble the old man with the thoughts that suddenly sprang into his mind. Maybe not, but he should at least give the old man some warnings.

"Sir, I am officially, then, cutting T'ovar from my team. I don't need him, nor do I want him."

Rahman nodded. "You have that right, you needn't ask my permission."

"It's a courtesy you're due, sir. I would appreciate it if you would notify Landing of my decision. Tell them it's final. If T'ovar comes here, wondering where we are, you may tell him we've cut him from the team.  
 If you will excuse me for just a few moments, I am going to ask my dragon a question. But before I do, I must warn you. This is just my opinion, but I believe that T'ovar is being paid by Lord Toric to spy on us. Should my team find something of value or artifacts, I bet my boots T'ovar would find some way to 'acquire' them."

Rahman shook his head and sighed.

Corvuth, I should have asked this earlier. WHERE is T'ovar's dragon?

Corvuth, again, was silent for a moment.

It looks like Southern Hold