|“|| Watch-wher, watch-wher in the mine,|
Help save life, yours and mine,
Guide us in the darkest night,
With your keen unfailing sight.
Dragon's Kin is the book in the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey. Dragon's Kin was first published by Del Rey Books in 2003. It is the eighteenth book in the Dragonriders of Pern series and the first with Todd as co-author.
Young Kindan has no expectations other than joining his father in the mines of Camp Natalon on Pern. Mining is fraught with danger, but fortunately the camp has a watch-wher, a creature distantly related to dragons and uniquely suited to specialized work in the dark, cold mineshafts.
Then disaster strikes, leaving Kindan orphaned and the camp without a watch-wher. Grieving, Kindan is taken in by the camp's new Harper and finds a measure of solace in a burgeoning musical talent… and in a new friendship with the mysterious Nuella. It is Nuella who assists Kindan when he is selected to hatch and train a new watch-wher, a job that forces him to give up his dream of becoming a Harper; and it is Nuella who helps him give new meaning to his life.
Meanwhile, long-simmering tensions are dividing the camp. As warring factions threaten to explode, Nuella and Kindan begin to discover hidden talents in the watch-wher — talents that could very well save an entire Hold and which show them that even a seemingly impossible dream is never completely out of reach…
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Sixteen turns before the end of the Second Interval, Pern is running low on surface seams of coal. As a result, MasterMiner Britell — having studied ancient survey maps — has sent journeymen to establish mining camps at various locations and mine subterranean coal; those who succeed in «proving» their camp will be made Masters and their camp established as a proper mine.
At one of these camps, Camp Natalon, two boys, Kindan and Zenor, witness the arrival of trader caravans; Kindan's elder sister Silstra is getting married, and her future husband Terregar is being brought with the traders. Kindan convinces Zenor to run and inform Natalon — the head miner — in return for being allowed to help wash the watch-wher Dask — Kindan's father, Danil, is the last remaining wherhandler at Camp Natalon, watch-whers only recently being used in mines. Zenor goes to inform Natalon, and finds that a replacement for their Harper, Jofri, is likely travelling with the traders. As Zenor heads back, he encounters Nuella at the Harper's cottage, and finds she is planning to secretly meet the Harper and attend the evening meal in disguise; her father normally prevents her from leaving their hold.
After the evening meal, Kindan and Zenor go to wash Dask in secret. Kindan sees a shadow, but Zenor denies seeing anything — also claiming he was talking to Dalor when Kindan asks about his detour on the way back. From his shed, Dask goes between to the lake and back, allowing the two boys to wash him, only for Kindan's brother Kaylek to arrive and hear Zenor; however, he mistakenly goes off after a rattling noise nearby. Kindan and Zenor leave, Kindan assuming that the shadow in the bushes was Dalor.
The next morning, Kindan goes to find out what his chores for the day will be. Passing the mine shaft, he hears two voices — a man's voice and a girl's voice — coming from inside, and calls out to them. A man leaves the mine, and sends Kindan on to the Harper's quarters. After Kindan leaves, the man is led by a girl to the same place through a shortcut in the mine.
At the Harper's cottage — where Zenor informs him that he will have to sing at Silstra's wedding — Kindan discovers that the man is actually Jofri's replacement — and former tutor — Master Harper Zist. Zist begins teaching Kindan and Zenor proper breathing methods, but grows frustrated with Kindan and insults him. Kindan goes to leave, but returns when he passes Silstra, who mentions Zist taught their mother — who died giving birth to Kindan — their favourite song, The Morning Dragon Song. Kindan sings this to Zist, who realises he has talent and apologises. They resume practising and decide to work the song into the wedding; Kindan even suggests Dask could fly in during the song.
Ultimately, Dask ends up flying overhead during the wedding, carrying a basket of glows — and even joining in the singing. Afterwards, as Kindan goes to change into less fancy clothes, he runs into Nuella, who he hasn't met before — unknown to him, she is attending the wedding in secret. The two go and get food, before joining Zenor — who notes she shouldn't be out when Kindan isn't around them.
Several months later — after Silstra, Terregar and Jofri have left with the traders — an accident occurs at the mine causing a cave-in and killing Danil and several of Kindan's brothers. An injured Dask ends up digging through the cave-in before dying, allowing the surviving miners to be brought out — including Zenor, who was saved by his father Talmaric and Kaylek. Kindan's surviving brothers are fostered to various families, and Kindan himself ends up moving in with Zist, who takes him on as an apprentice — secretly tutoring Nuella at the same time.
Some time later, a few days after a fight with Cristov, the son of Natalon's uncle Tarik, after which he was tasked by Zist to discover Cristov's virtues, Kindan goes to meet Dalor for the morning watch, but finds him missing. Heading to Natalon's hold, he finds it full of «bad air» — a loose brick has blocked the chimney — and calls for help, eventually helping in the rescue of Natalon and his family, including Nuella, who Kindan helps reach Zist's cottage without being noticed. In the evening, Kindan overhears several people talking, stating that traders are due to arrive soon to pick up the mined coal and possibly bring apprentices. One of Tarik's men implies Natalon isn't a suitable leader for their camp.
The next day, Natalon's pregnant wife Jenella goes into labour early, and Zist goes to help, getting Kindan to involve Nuella in the birth by disguising her as her brother Dalor and occasionally trading places with him. Afterwards, while on watch, Kindan sees the traders arriving. He informs Natalon, and they begin figuring out how much coal they can mine and trade.
Zist ends up bargaining with Journeyman Trader Tarri when the caravans arrive; Nuella overhears Zist talking to her and fears her lessons have ended. Kindan finds her and reassures her otherwise, and discovers the reason Nuella is kept a secret: she is blind — something Kindan had already guessed — like her grandmother, and Natalon fears the potential repercussions this could have for his family — such as people thinking something's wrong with him or his children. In the end, Kindan takes Nuella to play music at the Gather in the evening by disguising her as a trader — Natalon and Jenella end up recognising her, but let her play. During the Gather — where Nuella dances with Zenor — Kindan discovers an apprentice with a watch-wher was meant to accompany the traders, but fled out of fear.
Several months later, Natalon — who has begun building a second shaft — succeeds in finding a rich vein of coal, but still hasn't managed to get a new watch-wher for his camp — although Tarik doesn't think a watch-wher is necessary. In time, WherMaster Aleesa sends word that she will trade the chance for a watch-wher egg for coal, and Natalon makes a request for a dragonrider to transport them to her hold; Natalon believes Kindan knows about watch-whers since his father was a handler, and Kindan agrees to try and bond with it, since the mine will likely fail without it — although this means he will not be able to become a Harper.
The day before the scheduled meeting, no dragonriders have arrived, but Zist reveals to Kindan that dragons can go between times if they need to, telling him how he once met his elder self during a Hatching at Benden Weyr, where his friend Matal — now M'tal, the Benden Weyrleader — Impressed, only for his dragon Gaminth to injure his wing and require treatment; Zist's elder self tended the wing. Not long afterwards, D'gan, the new Weyrleader of Telgar Weyr, comes to hear their request, but is unconcerned with their problems, and leaves them. Instead, Zist has a drum message sent requesting M'tal, who arrives and secretly takes them between times to meet Aleesa.
At Aleesa's hold, Aleesa shows Kindan to Aleesk, who allows him to take one of her eggs — Kindan knows how to be courteous to Aleesk from experience with Dask. They return to Camp Natalon and place the egg in the watch-wher shed — where Kindan now has to sleep to keep an eye on it. Three days later a green watch-wher hatches and Kindan begins feeding it a meal made from oats and blood, based on Aleesa's advice — although Nuella suggests they use meat scraps when she manages to visit two sevendays later. While sitting with the watch-wher, Kindan feels her name herself «Kisk». After a month, Kindan — unsure whether Kisk is old enough to be trained — ends up taking Kisk out for a walk at night around the camp, and encounters Cristov, who wanted to meet Kisk. Tarik arrives not long after and insults Kisk, but both are called away by Dara — Tarik's wife — and Kindan continues to walk Kisk around until dawn.
Two months later, Zist states he hasn't been able to find any information about watch-whers for them to use, and sends a request for M'tal. Natalon completes the new shaft, and Nuella takes Kindan and Kisk to explore it by leading them through a secret passage that connects Natalon's hold with the mine — although they decide to wait until another time before actually training Kisk. Three days later, M'tal arrives, and reveals he also hasn't been able to find any information about watch-whers, before leaving to discuss the possibilities of having watch-whers contact dragons. Kindan later gets Nuella to take him and Kisk into the mines again, where they inadvertently encounter «bad air» and teach Kisk to recognize it before leaving.
Two days later, M'tal arrives at Camp Natalon with J'lantir, and they discuss Nuella before heading to the watch-wher shed. Unknown to them, Renna is on watch, and learns about Nuella as a result. In the shed, Nuella — after arguing with Zenor about their trips to the mine — wonders if watch-whers see heat instead of light — noting how she can't see Zenor, but she can feel the heat on his face when he blushes. M'tal and J'lantir enter and agree, and they test this theory, before talking about how trained watch-whers could be used to report bad weather or emergencies at Minor Holds to dragonriders — such as the snowy weather Benden Weyr has been rescuing holders from.
After three days, M'tal and J'lantir leave — after working out training methods with Nuella — and Kindan returns to exploring the mines with Nuella, discovering that Tarik has begun mining new sections before the area has been fully explored. After they leave the mine, Kindan attempts to teach Kisk how to search for a trapped body — with the intention of also wearing her out. During the game, Kindan sees odd glowing shapes: Kisk's vision, and how she sees him. He tells this to Nuella, and manages to get Kisk to show what she sees to Nuella, allowing her to see him. The next day, they get Zenor — who has been complaining about not being able to work in the mines — to join Tarik's shift; they intend for him to discover Tarik's work and report to Natalon, since they can't without revealing they've been sneaking into the mine.
Some time later, Renna follows Nuella — thinking she was Dalor — when she goes to see Kindan, discovering her existence. J'lantir arrives not long afterwards, and reveals that their attempts to train the other watch-whers didn't work. However, he thinks this is because they were telling them what to do rather than showing them, and he requests Nuella come back with him to teach the watch-whers. Nuella eventually agrees, and J'lantir and Zist get Natalon's consent. After several days training with Kisk, Nuella is taken to Lemos Hold, where she manages to get a wherhandler there, Renilan, to see the images his watch-wher Resk gives him — also managing to get Resk to contact Breth at Benden Weyr.
After training wherhandlers and their watch-whers for a fortnight — during which time she learns much about watch-whers; including the fact that they name themselves after their handlers — Nuella is taken back to Camp Natalon by J'lantir, only to find that there's been a cave-in — Zenor told Natalon of Tarik's work, and the mine collapsed while Natalon and several others were attempting to fix it. Nuella goes to find Kindan — who Tarik prevented from entering due to the length of the cave-in — and is joined by Cristov, who wants to help.
Nuella ends up leading Kindan, Kisk, Cristov, Zenor and Renna to the secret passage at Natalon's hold, where they encounter Toldur — who knows of the passage as he built it Turns back with Natalon, Talmaric and Danil. They make their way through the mines, gradually realizing Tarik is pumping air in, which could cause an explosion. Nuella gets Kisk to contact J'lantir's dragon Lolanth, who summons MasterMiner Britell to the site. Britell soon sorts things out on the surface, and the others continue to the cave-in, which they realise will take too long to dig through.
Kindan manages to contact the miners by banging drum signals on the mine cart tracks, and comes up with a plan: Kisk will go between to the miners and bring them out, and Nuella will guide her, creating images of certain people based on what she knows they look like, and how they would appear in the images she saw through the watch-whers. Nuella and Kisk succeed in going Between and rescuing the trapped miners, and Natalon formally introduces her to the others. Nuella finds that Kisk is now calling herself «Nuelsk», and Kindan tells her he thinks «Nuelsk» was really meant for her all along. Zist then informs Kindan that he has a message from the MasterHarper, revealing he will be allowed to become a Harper — and that they'll probably ask him for information about watch-whers.