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 ...