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About Mawgrim

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  1. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    I remember Richmond Odeon well. It was a lovely cinema. Didn’t realize any cinemas in the UK had the sliding roof feature, although I know quite a few in warmer and sunnier climates did. I was lucky enough to visit Tooting Granada and Finsbury Park Astoria with the Cinema Theatre Association. Beautiful examples of 1930s architecture.
  2. ‘Twenty-four hour cinema; that’s what we’ll give ‘em.’ You can imagine them at head office; those bastards who get fat on their expense account lunches and never set foot in a real cinema, and certainly never work weekends, or Bank Holidays or Christmas Day for God’s sake. ‘Great idea.’ Some little yes man or woman pipes up to endorse the idea. ‘Well, all the supermarkets are doing it these days. I’m thinking your average person; shift workers, students, insomniacs, all nipping in to catch a movie any time they want.’ I’m thinking of the non-average nutcase; the Travis Bickle wannabes, the psychos, drunks and wastrels who’ll come in, puke up and sleep while we have to carry on running eight different films for an audience who isn’t interested. But that’s how it is these days. Phil is writing a book while we’re on shift. He won’t let me see me any of it, but while he’s off putting on the next set of shows, I take a look anyway. Zombies lurch up from the dank earth, spitting out chunks of soil. Worms writhe in their putrid flesh. Their eyeballs are bulging and reddened. They will have their revenge! Sounds like your average projectionist these days. We’re all earning great money of course, but what’s the point when you stagger home and fall into bed exhausted. On my days off I sleep. In a satin-lined coffin. Not really, of course. That was from Phil’s last epic. It was about a projectionist who became a vampire. Set in a cinema of course, but not one of these soulless multiplexes. Hey - that’s good. A soulless building as habitation for the undead. Maybe I should mention it to him but then he’ll guess I’ve been reading his stuff, and he’ll go into a sulk and slope off to the water tank room, where he sits in semi-darkness scribbling away. Anyway, this story took place in one of the good old cinemas; a nineteen-thirties dream house that years of neglect and decay had turned into a nightmare. I remember them well. Like most of us, I joined the business in the seventies, during the decline, when everyone said it was dying and predicted its extinction within ten years. I started in an old Gaumont, a vast cavern of a place whose stalls seated over a thousand, and whose circle, abandoned to the rats, took about another eight hundred. It smelled damp. The once plush fabric on the seats had worn smooth. The carpet was black and sticky from years of spilled drinks. The projection equipment looked like something out of Frankenstein’s laboratory; mercury arc rectifiers whose trapped denizen danced in a violet pool. Big switches that sparked whenever the house lights dimmed. Ancient projectors with the streamlined styling of the nineteen-fifties. Valve amplifiers that heated the box up nicely, and which would respond to a poke with a broom handle when the sound faded away completely. I loved it. I was lost from the moment I first set foot in the place. My family thought I was mad. Maybe I was, but it was a glorious madness. The chief projectionist was an old man who took a pride in his job, despite everything. When he'd gone into the box as a rewind boy, aged fourteen, things had been very different. Uniformed commissionaires put out the house full signs every night. Crowds of people queued round the block, in grainy black and white, all wearing hats. And in the box there were seven men, each with his own responsibility. The chief was God. The manager was higher than God. If you mis-timed a changeover you lost threepence from your wages; if you got a rack on screen, sixpence. And if you lost a show, the ultimate dishonour, you committed ritual suicide. Even in the bad days of the seventies, Bill had not forgotten the old standards. No matter what happened, the show must go on. ‘Remember,’ he said. ‘If the punters ever notice we’re here, we’re doing something wrong.’ He taught me well. I never got a rack on screen; never lost a show. But all our best efforts couldn’t compete against the harsh realities of maintaining a building long past its sell-by date. The Gaumont closed in the autumn of nineteen-eighty. Bill retired. I stayed on, moving to a triple ten miles away, and rose through the ranks faster than anyone would have done in his day. Five years later I was a chief. Coincidentally, nineteen eighty-five was the turnaround year; the year the Americans opened the first ever multiplex in Milton Keynes. Initially, the other companies fought back, but they couldn’t compete. The old buildings were sub divided again and again, transformed into monstrosities with six screens, victims of experimental surgery that never quite worked. They were hellish to run, up and down all those stairs too. But they still retained a certain character. They still had the magic, even though the ornate plasterwork and antique light fittings might be concealed behind plasterboard panelling. In the box (especially the top box - the old, original projection box) you had a feeling of continuity with your predecessors. And because the soundproofing wasn’t all it should be, when you started a feature (full Fox opening, eight on the fader) you’d hear the audience cheer, clap and drum their feet on the boards. It was still cinema. In nineteen-ninety, they built the new multiplex, and we moved over. At first it was great. Everything worked and it was clean, new and spacious. The box - or booth as the Americans call it - was a great long corridor with projectors and gleaming platters on either side. Film lay like giant Liquorice Allsorts on horizontal platters. Others were stacked against the walls in the manner of discarded tyres. The audiences came back in droves. Then they started piling more and more work on to us. In one week we showed twenty four different films in our eight screens. It became like a production line; fast food cinema. Shovel the customers in with an overpriced tub of popcorn and a bucket of soft drink. Slap it on screen; they don’t know any different these days. And no time for the poor projectionist to give any flourishes to the presentation anyway. In our air-conditioned, soundproof room, there was no audience feedback anyway. They could all be dead and you’d not know it. Where’s Phil got to, I wonder? Should have been back by now. Still, no alarms have gone off, so I assume he’s all right out there. We’ve always opened at weekends, but now we have Saturday morning shows and late nighters. And whereas in the old days we never opened on Boxing Day, that crept in too. Firstly just for a couple of hours, then all day. And last year, they finally got a licence to open on Christmas Day itself. You ought to have seen the sad bastards who came out. Feuding families, Christmas haters, nutcases. And none of the head office prats took any less than their customary week off. I’m sick of it. This isn’t the business I loved. It isn’t what cinema’s about. The world has changed, and I am stuck somewhere in the past. A vast auditorium; the shadowed ceiling lost above us, watching a horror movie in the closed circle with a gaggle of usherettes who peered from behind their fingers, and huddled closer as the rats scampered to and fro. The phone rings. I can tell from the space invaders tone that it’s an internal call. ‘Stop the film in screen three.’ The manager sounds scared. Is it another bomb hoax, or some nutter saying he’s poisoned the popcorn? ‘What’s happened?’ ‘Just stop it, now.’ I hurry to the projector. The air conditioning blows a cold draught down my back. I shut it down, muting the sound. Someone has thrown something on the screen. So that’s the reason. And where the hell is Phil? This is his screen, and he should be taking care of it. The lights raise slowly. I see movement. I see people huddled together. I see the glistening wet stain on the white sheet, like an abstract painting. Damn it. That’ll take some cleaning. Then as the lights reach their full intensity, I see him. He’s all covered with the same stuff. It’s on his face, his hands. He’s smiling, licking his lips as the remaining audience cower away. I realise three things at once. It’s Phil. It’s blood. It’s not his blood. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.
  3. When a cinema company piles extra work onto their long-suffering projectionists, is it any wonder some of them go totally crazy?
  4. Mawgrim

    The Truth Be Told

    What a cliffhanger!
  5. The secret lives of married couples...
  6. Funerals or ill health of someone close often make us think about our own mortality. This is Mike's wake up call, so he doesn’t end up like his brother. An interesting beginning, with lots of backstory and the feeling that Mike's new life starts here.
  7. Really enjoying this story and finding out more about this quirky family.
  8. Mawgrim

    Idee Fixe

    Rita is a real menace. Loved the plot development in this chapter and the new characters. Feel a lot of sympathy for Rick and how he is trapped in small-town life. Marta sounds like an interesting character too, trapped in her own way by parents who want her to be interested in music rather than practical things.
  9. I know. I feel a bit like that myself while I am writing it. However, as I've been getting further along with 'Gone Away, Gone Ahead' I kept wanting to fill in more of D'gar (and S'brin's) backstory from the character notes I'd made, so here it is.
  10. Dragons grew fast. In their first month, they ate, slept and expanded rapidly. It seemed to D’gar that all his waking hours were spent butchering meat, making sure Herebeth didn’t gorge and choke on it, then bathing and oiling his dragon’s hide. Everyone else was in the same boat, of course, although the two brown dragons in the clutch grew steadily larger than their blue and green siblings. ‘Bronzes are even harder work,’ the Weyrlingmaster told D’gar and G’tash cheerfully. ‘You should be glad there wasn’t one in this clutch.’ Kadoth’s failure to produce any bronze hatchlings indicated she might be close to the end of her reproductive life. Still, all of the eggs had hatched and the young dragons seemed healthy enough. Everyone seemed to find it funny that S’brin - the tallest and heaviest of all the candidates - had Impressed Zemianth, who was dainty even for a green. ‘Think she’s going to be able to carry your weight?’ J’rud joked. His Zurinth was a far more sturdy dragon; a deep green colour, like the seaweed that washed up in the harbour mouth. ‘Yeah, you’ll have to stop eating so much,’ added B’rol, another green rider. ‘I’m not fat,’ S’brin protested. ‘Nope. He’s all muscle.’ D’gar gave a smile. ‘That’s how I like him.’ ‘Oh, you two!’ T’mudra grimaced. ‘I know you aren’t allowed to touch now, but some of the things you say to each other when the lights are out is disgusting.’ ‘Then don’t listen in.’ ‘Can’t really help it when I’m right next to you.’ There must be a good reason for the prohibition on human sexual activity before dragons were mature - it was stated repeatedly in all the Teaching Ballads relating to dragon care - but it wasn’t easy. The really annoying thing was that they weren’t even permitted to cuddle or kiss, presumably in case it led on to other things. Talking dirty at night, thinking about what they’d like to do to each other while taking care of their own needs was as far as they dared to go, especially considering the lack of privacy in the weyrling barracks. There were a lot of other adjustments to be made to their lives now they’d Impressed. D’gar missed his peaceful times in the archives. Sure, you could still daydream while engaged in all of the physical tasks necessary to look after a young dragon, but there were always people around, chattering and disturbing your train of thought. It made him irritable, especially as the others weren’t particularly thoughtful themselves. D’gar’s nature made him query things too; whenever they were taught something new, he’d consider it for a while, then come up with several questions to ask the Weyrlingmaster, N’teren. He didn’t intend to be annoying, but it became clear after a sevenday or so that it was taken that way. ‘Listen, lad, this training program has been refined over generations. It’s been in use for well over a thousand Turns. I don’t need you to be questioning every little detail, all right?’ This had the effect of making him switch off during a lot of the lessons. He learned the Ballads by heart; he was good at that, but he made up his own mind as to whether or not the information they contained was relevant or useful. S’brin wasn’t settling in well either. He’d been working with the maintenance crew for several Turns and had been considered by the team leader to be competent at maintaining and diagnosing faults on a wide variety of the Weyr’s plant and equipment. In a single day, he’d gone from being a valued crew member to just another weyrling. Plus, he now had a green dragon. ‘Sharding Weyr stereotypes!’ They were down by the lake again, having been running before the dragons woke. ‘Everyone thinks that because I’ve Impressed a green I’m some brainless idiot.’ ‘We both know that’s not the case.’ Admittedly there were some green riders whose only interests in life were gossip and flirting. Every stereotype had some basis in truth, after all. ‘Don’t let it get to you.’ ‘I know.’ D’gar had never seen S’brin so downcast. Impulsively, he hugged him. ‘It’s going to be all right. Once we’ve got through this, once we’ve got our own weyr, things will be fine.’ S’brin relaxed into the embrace, then abruptly pulled away. ‘We’d better not be seen doing this. Some of those snitches would love to tell the Weyrlingmaster we’ve been up to things we shouldn’t.’ ‘It’s a bit stupid really. I can tell if something’s upsetting Herebeth and I expect it’s the same with you and Zemianth. I’ve a suspicion this whole “can’t touch anyone” business is more to do with keeping the barracks quiet at night and preventing any lover’s squabbles. Arguing and shouting definitely bothers Herebeth.’ ‘Zemianth too. She hates loud noises. But we still need to be careful. We don’t want to get a bad reputation.’ The weyrling barracks were fairly full at present. As well as Kadoth’s small clutch, it currently housed Loranth’s earlier Hatching of twenty-seven dragons, now almost five months old and Suderoth’s twenty, who had reached almost eighty percent of their full size. It was nigh on impossible to believe that the tiny hatchlings would be reaching maturity by this time next Turn. Although they wouldn’t be ready to fly for another few months and would need to wait a while longer before they could bear the extra weight of carrying a rider, they were already strengthening their flight muscles. Dragons could walk for short distances, although the disparity in length between their hind and forelegs meant they moved with an ungainly hopping gait. Herebeth - and some of the others - often spread their wings for balance and sometimes even left the ground for short jumps. It was exciting to see the gradual progress that would lead to proper flight. He told Agarra about all this while they were sitting outside the kitchens during one of her breaks. ‘You know, you sound just like a new mother.’ ‘What?’ ‘Well, that’s how they go on, especially when it’s their first. Noting down every gurgle and kick, or when the babe begins to crawl.’ ‘I hardly think you can compare a baby with a young dragon.’ She chuckled. ‘Don’t sound so sniffy about it. You should hear yourself talk. But I didn’t mean any offence. I’m proud of you both.’ ‘Once we’re flying, I’ll take you for a spin around the Bowl.’ ‘That would be lovely.’ In addition to their lessons and looking after their dragons, one of the weyrlings’ regular duties was the supply of firestone for Threadfall. They spent a couple of hours each morning grading and bagging the flammable rock. Bronzes and browns could cope with chewing larger chunks than the smaller dragons; the graded bags were then colour coded to make sure no dragon ended up with the wrong sized stone mid-Fall. ‘Here, catch!’ S’brin threw a full bag at D’gar. He caught it easily, pleased at how much stronger he was becoming due to regular training. It was typical of S’brin to use the somewhat tedious bagging up sessions as another way to work out. Exercise was part of the normal weyrling schedule, but S’brin didn’t think they did enough. D’gar passed the bag on to J’rud, who almost dropped it. ‘Hey, you aren’t meant to hurl the bag at someone, just toss it gently,’ he protested. ‘Yeah, like that’s going to happen in the middle of Threadfall.’ S’brin glanced at D’gar, then threw him another one, slightly heavier. ‘We need to be able to catch whatever’s thrown at us. Remember if you drop the bag in the air it could hit someone on a lower level.’ D’gar passed the next bag along, albeit with a tad less force. J’rud staggered a bit, but kept hold of it. ‘Plus, you need to be able to chuck any size bag to the wing riders. Once we can fly between, we’ll be doing that.’ Going between seemed a long way off when their dragons couldn’t even fly yet. Loranth’s clutch were just starting their first, wobbly circuits around the Bowl, not yet with riders. Most mornings, they’d be out practising. Suderoth’s clutch were even further along. The weyrlings had finished making their flying straps and been issued with wherhide riding gear. The Weyrlingmaster and his assistants had taken them on several flights outside the Weyr. The next, crucial step would be when they learned to fly between. ‘Wonder how many of this lot won’t come back.’ V’sil, blue Mirlith’s rider was always one to say what others were thinking. ‘Anyone fancy making any bets?’ ‘That’s not funny,’ M’rell chided him. ‘It’ll be our turn next.’ ‘And when we do, that lot…’ V’sil gestured toward D’gar’s clutchmates, ‘Will be thinking exactly the same.’ The last two classes had got away without any losses but that was probably down to good fortune. D’gar’s time in the archives meant that he’d read a lot more records than most of his clutchmates and he knew that learning how to guide your dragon through between was probably the most dangerous skill they’d have to master as weyrlings. N’teren didn’t tell his class they were going to go between for the first time until the day the lesson was planned. It helped prevent sleepless nights and too much worry beforehand. Suderoth’s hatchlings had already assembled for regular flight practice when the word got around. The dragons passed the news to each other and very soon the whole Weyr knew that this was it. The twenty dragons took off neatly together; that was something they’d practiced often enough for it to be second nature. Everyone left behind at the Weyr hoped they’d all make it, while at the same time preparing themselves for the worst. It didn’t feel too different from a Threadfall day, D’gar thought. You’d watch the Wings take off and not know how many would come back unscathed. The theory of going between had already been explained to them. You visualised the place where you wanted to go and sent the image to your dragon, who then did whatever it was dragons did to initiate the process. While engulfed in the scary blackness and cold of between you had to hang on to that image. All being well, you emerged at the place you’d wanted to be after a count of eight. It all sounded very straightforward, but nevertheless, some just didn’t come back from their first attempt. And because they didn’t come back, there was no way of knowing exactly what they had done wrong. One of the Weyrlingmaster’s assistants attempted to keep them occupied during the morning, although thankfully, he didn’t try to teach anything new, just went over some of the Teaching Ballads relating to dragon care. It was half way through reciting one of these that everyone felt the sense of loss. A split second afterwards, all the dragons in the Weyr - theirs included - let loose with that eerie keen which reverberated through your bones and indicated one of their number had gone forever. Knowing that nothing useful would get done, the entire class were sent off to the dining hall for klah. They huddled together around their usual table, feeling oddly united by their grief. Loranth’s clutch soon joined them and they waited there until the news got around as to who had been lost. ‘E’tal and Biandalth,’ someone said. D’gar wasn’t familiar with many of Suderoth’s clutch; they were that much older so they didn’t spend much time with the ‘babies’. ‘Brown pair,’ said M’rell. ‘Quiet lad, very sensible.’ ‘Wonder what happened?’ ‘Who knows. Bit sobering, though. I’ll be shitting myself when it’s our turn.’ That raised a smile from D’gar. Not many of the weyrlings admitted to being scared. ‘Me too.’ Or throwing up, he thought. When he was nervous, it always affected his stomach. That night, when the glow baskets were shuttered in the barracks, he thought about being lost forever in the darkness of between. He’d travelled on dragon back several times when they’d been sent out on expeditions to harvest wild fruits and herbs, so he knew what the experience was like from a passenger’s point of view. That utter sense of nothingness chilled you to the core. How would it feel to be trapped there, unable to see, or hear, or even scream? Would you die from lack of air to breathe, or from the intense cold? How big was the place anyway? Were there frozen corpses of dragons and people floating around inside? What if you hit one on your way through…? ‘Are you still awake?’ S’brin hissed across to him. ‘How did you know?’ ‘You don’t sound asleep. What’s wrong?’ ‘I was thinking about what happened today.’ ‘Try not to.’ ‘That’s easy for you to say.’ Not for the first time he wished he could climb in next to S’brin and take comfort in his arms. ‘We’ll be fine. Don’t worry.’ S’brin was always so certain. D’gar had thought at one time that he only said these things to cheer him up, but once he’d got to know S’brin better, he found that he actually believed them. He wished he could have the same easy confidence. ‘How long do you think it takes to die between?’ ‘I don’t know. And anyone who does can’t tell you.’ He sighed gently. ‘Can’t you just switch off your brain?’ ‘It doesn’t work that way.’ ‘You’d stop thinking about all that if I was over there with you now.’ ‘Yes, but it’s not allowed.’ He heard the bed creak as S’brin sat up. ‘Bugger that. Is Herebeth asleep?’ D’gar checked, although he already knew the answer. ‘Yes.’ ‘So’s Zemianth. Move over.’ ‘We’ll get into trouble.’ ‘Only if someone hears.’ The beds were narrow - deliberately so in all probability - but that just meant they had to snuggle together. Having S’brin so close to him was a delightful torment. Yes, it was lovely to hold him again but it reminded him of all the things they used to do and how much he’d like to be doing those things right now. ‘I bet you aren’t thinking about between any more.’ S’brin’s breath was warm on his neck as he whispered into D’gar’s ear. ‘No. But we shouldn’t be doing this.’ ‘We aren’t doing anything. Well, not yet. Besides, what harm is it?’ ‘All the Teaching Ballads say it’s wrong.’ D’gar was too near to the edge of the bed. He wriggled closer and because there was so little room, hooked his right leg over S’brin’s thigh to keep himself there. S’brin obviously took that as encouragement. ‘I’ve missed this.’ ‘So have I.’ ‘Maybe those Ballads are rubbish. You’re always picking holes in them.’ ‘Maybe,’ D’gar agreed. ‘But should we take that risk?’ ‘So what’s going to happen? Will our dragons explode or something?’ ‘Don’t know about them, but I think I might.’ ‘Mmm. I can feel that.’ S’brin’s hands had started wandering. How could something that felt this good hurt their dragons? D’gar knew for a fact that Herebeth only got upset if he was distressed or upset. He definitely wasn’t distressed right now. Emboldened, he started kissing S’brin and letting his own hands trail down his body. S’brin let out a moan, which he attempted to stifle unsuccessfully. ‘If you two don’t pack that in I’m going to tell the Weyrlingmaster.’ T’mudra piped up from the next bed. ‘If you don’t shut up I’ll knock your block off,’ S’brin snapped back. ‘Dragonriders don’t fight.’ ‘Sanctimonious little shit!’ He started to get up, but D’gar stopped him. ‘Don’t. It’s not worth it. Sorry, T'mudra. I was feeling upset about what happened today and S'brin was just trying to comfort me.’ ‘Yeah, sounds like it. I bet I know which green in this clutch is going to rise first.’ ‘You won’t be so sharding stuffy about sex when your Jassainth decides it’s time. I hope a bronze catches her.’ S’brin sounded annoyed. ‘At least I can wait until then.’ ‘Only because no one fancies you.’ D’gar could hear other weyrlings stirring, awakened by the raised voices. Next thing, the dragons would rouse too. ‘Sshh,’ he said. ‘People can hear us. If we aren’t careful, we’re all going be in trouble.’ ‘And whose fault is that?’ T’mudra just couldn’t let it drop. D’gar almost wished S’brin would hit him, if only to shut him up. But then S’brin would get told off again. ‘Look, I said I was sorry. Let’s all quieten down before the dragons get disturbed.’ Maybe he could still salvage the situation. ‘What’s happening?’ A sleepy voice asked. It sounded like G’tash. ‘Folk are trying to sleep in here.’ ‘Yeah. Don’t wake my dragon up. She’ll think it’s breakfast time already,’ someone else added. ‘Sorry, everyone,’ D’gar said, thinking frantically. ‘I had a nightmare.’ T’mudra snorted. ‘More like a wet dream.’ ‘I told you to shut it.’ S’brin had got out of D’gar’s bed and stood menacingly over T’mudra. ‘Or…’ Whatever it was he had been about to say was cut off by a door opening and a wash of light. The Weyrlingmaster had woken. ‘It’s all your fault,’ T’mudra said, very loudly. ‘Now then.’ His boots scraped on the stone as he came closer, holding a glow basket. ‘What’s whose fault?’ The light illuminated S’brin. ‘And why are you out of bed? ‘Needed a piss,’ he muttered. ‘Hmm.’ He sounded suspicious, swinging the light around to see who else was awake and might be involved in whatever had been going on. He turned on T’mudra. ‘Didn’t I hear you say something when I came in?’ T’mudra at least had the grace not to make things worse. ’S'brin, er, tripped over Jassainth’s tail. Woke me up.’ It wasn’t a bad excuse to come up with on the spur of the moment, but was obviously not true as Jassainth was still sleeping deeply. ‘Well, whatever it was, I’ll deal with it in the morning. Before breakfast, in my weyr, you two.’ He pointed at S’brin and T’mudra. ‘Now, everyone stop gawping and get back to sleep. I don’t want any more disturbances tonight.’ He gave a stern look to everyone within the pool of light cast by the glows before leaving. ‘Now look what you’ve done.’ T’mudra’s disgruntled voice piped up again as soon as the door had closed. ‘Just be quiet. He’ll be listening for any more noise in here.’ S’brin sighed heavily and made his way back to his own bed. ‘Sorry,’ he said quietly to D’gar. In the darkness, D’gar felt the warmth left behind by S’brin’s body leach away from the side of the bed where he’d been. All of a sudden, he had a greater understanding of what it must be like to be stranded between. Interrupted sleep and residual grief found most of the weyrlings grumpy the following morning. By contrast, the dragons seemed unaffected; they’d keened for the loss of their fellow at the time but had already moved on. Kadoth’s hatchlings were mostly concerned with filling their bellies yet again. It was after the dragons had been fed - but before their human partners had their own breakfast - that S’brin and T’mudra were summoned by the Weyrlingmaster. D’gar had been feeling guilty ever since he woke up. Why do you worry? Herebeth asked. He was proving a thoughtful dragon, where many of the others were concerned only with eating, sleeping and playing. My friend is in trouble. I should be in trouble too. What had happened was just as much his fault as S’brin’s and it wasn’t right that he should escape the consequences. Then go and make it right. I will. If I can. He left Herebeth curled on his couch and headed after them. ‘Hey, where are you off to?’ J’rud called. ‘It’s breakfast time.’ ‘I know. I won’t be long.’ At the mouth of the weyr, he paused. Chareth, N’teren’s brown dragon, regarded him solemnly. He could hear voices from behind the heavy curtain separating the dragon’s couch from the inner weyr. Taking a deep breath, he used the knocker to alert them of his presence. ‘Come in.’ The Weyrlingmaster sounded irritable. Well, his sleep had been interrupted too. Plus, D’gar suddenly realised, he must be affected by the loss of one of his charges the previous day. He brushed past the curtain. S’brin and T’mudra were standing in front of the desk. S’brin looked slightly surprised to see him. ‘Yes, D’gar. What is it?’ ‘I should be here as well,’ he said quickly. ‘I’m just as much to blame as S’brin.’ He didn’t know what had already been said, but they hadn’t been here long, so probably not too much. ‘Oh, really. Maybe you’d like to enlighten us on that?’ He sat back, fixing D’gar with a steely gaze. ‘I was upset about what happened yesterday. I couldn’t sleep. S’brin came over to comfort me.’ The Weyrlingmaster raised his eyebrows. ‘Nothing happened…’ D’gar thought he should make that clear. T’mudra gave a snort. ‘I see. But possibly something might have done if you’d not been disturbed.’ ‘Well, yes. And that would have been as much my fault as his, too.’ ‘Right. And where do you come into this?’ he asked T’mudra. T’mudra looked at the floor. ‘I told them to shut up, that’s all. They woke me up, slobbering all over each other.’ ‘That’s enough,’ the Weyrlingmaster said. ‘I don’t need the details. Is that what happened?’ he asked S’brin. ‘More or less.’ He glared at T’mudra. ‘Right. I’m not at all happy about this. All three of you will be on midden duty for the next sevenday.’ T’mudra started to protest. ‘I didn’t do anything wrong…’ ‘Enough!’ he barked. ‘Unless you want to carry on for another sevenday after that. Right. You can get out now.’ All three of them turned to leave, when he spoke again. ‘Not you, D’gar.’ S’brin gave him a quick look of sympathy, then followed T’mudra out. ‘I’d expect better from you,’ N’teren said when they were out of earshot. ‘Green riders might get up to that sort of thing all the time, but we shouldn’t. Impressing a brown dragon carries a certain degree of responsibility. I’m pleased that you saw fit to own up to what you’d done, but I don’t want a repeat of it. Do I make myself clear?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ They’d just have to be more careful in future, he thought. ‘Good. In the absence of any bronzes in this clutch, you and G’tash should be setting an example to the others. I hope you aren’t going to disappoint me.’ ‘No, sir.’ He carried on staring at D’gar for several seconds, then dismissed him. ‘Right. Go and get your breakfast.’ Midden duty was never popular. In addition to gathering all the kitchen scraps and wheeling them to the compost heap in barrows, they also had to move the dragon dung pile from outside the barracks. Each rider had the responsibility of clearing up after their own dragons while they were still young enough not to do their business elsewhere. The resulting mound had to be carried away to the dung shed, a covered area where it was dried out and later sold for fertiliser, to the benefit of the Weyr. ‘At least it’s not summer,’ S’brin said as they raked over the smelly pile. ‘So what did N’teren say to you?’ ‘That because I’m a brown rider, I should be more responsible.’ ‘So, burying him,’ he gestured toward T’mudra, ‘In the middle of this lot wouldn’t go down too well.’ ‘Definitely not.’ ‘You wouldn’t dare,’ T’mudra said, although he kept a wary distance. ‘He probably wouldn't,’ S’brin indicated D’gar. ‘But I’m just a crazy green rider, so who knows what I might do.’ He flicked a piece of dung off one of the tines on his rake. It just missed T’mudra’s head. ‘Hey! Watch it.’ ‘Sorry,’ S’brin said, sounding very much as if he wasn’t. ‘Accident.’ T’mudra caught D’gar’s eye. ‘If you’re in charge, then tell him off.’ ‘Why? I didn’t see what happened. And he said sorry.’ ‘Give it up,’ S’brin said. ‘You can’t win.’ T’mudra muttered something but carried on raking. S’brin flashed D’gar a quick smile. It wasn’t so bad, he thought. They’d still look out for each other.
  11. After D'gar and S'brin have Impressed their dragons, they move into the weyrling barracks to begin the process of becoming fully-fledged dragonriders.
  12. ‘So, the upshot is that around half of T’bor’s Wing will be going down south with him and the rest will be distributed among the remaining Wings, filling in the gaps where we have men or dragons out with injuries.’ R’feem paused to let the news sink in. He’d only just emerged from a Wingleader’s meeting and had summoned B’lin and D’gar to his weyr for a briefing. D’gar never remembered there being so many meetings at Fort. Maybe it was another modern thing, or just the way Benden operated. When the official announcement had been made the previous evening, they hadn’t gone into too much detail, simply stating what D’gar had already found out earlier from H’rek and mentioning that some of T’bor’s Wing would also be assisting with the clearance at Southern. ‘That means that as we currently have two spaces due to M’rell and F’drun’s dragons being injured, we’ll be having two Benden pairs joining us.’ ‘How’s that going to work?’ B’lin asked. ‘Their dragons are so much larger. We’ll have to alter all the spacing. They won’t be able to turn as tightly, either.’ ‘Actually, there’s less of a difference than you’d expect.’ D’gar hadn’t mentioned flying with F’nor but they’d probably assume he was making comparisons between Herebeth and Rioth. ‘The main issue we’ll have with anyone from Benden is the same as if we were bringing in weyrlings; lack of fighting experience. That can be overcome by drilling and training.’ R’feem gave him a nod. ‘My thoughts too. I’ve been asking for more integration and now we’ve got it, so the last thing we should do is to start complaining. Anyway, we wrangled it out this morning and I’ve managed to get us a blue and a brown. Would have preferred another blue or a green, really, but there weren’t enough to go around. Anyway, they’ll be joining us this afternoon when we fly over tomorrow’s Threadfall area.’ ‘North of Bitra, isn’t it?’ ‘Yes, then over the mountains and into Lemos. More forests, I’m afraid. Plus, we’re on clean up duty afterwards with the ground crews.’ D’gar’s heart sank. Ground duty anywhere was bad, but among trees it could be a nightmare. ‘Anything else we should know?’ ‘They’ll be embarking on this southern project the day after tomorrow. We may be asked to help ferry materials and people down there. In addition to Prideth’s clutch and T’bor’s Wing, they’re also sending some of the injured men and dragons. Dragons who can fly, obviously and men who are recuperating but able to handle light work.’ R’feem’s curt tone showed what he thought of that notion. D’gar stared at the floor, not daring to say anything. Hopefully they would think it was another Benden idea. B’lin spoke up. ‘They’re really scraping the barrel, aren’t they?’ ‘Seems like it. But it’s the Weyrleader’s pet project so who are we to argue. Of course, it means we’ll be losing F’drun and M’rell for a time as both are deemed fit enough for the job.’ ‘Is Ryth up to it?’ B’lin asked. ‘I saw him flying round the Bowl yesterday, so presumably, yes.’ D’gar’s mind was whirling. It was good to be rid of F’drun, at least for a while. But H’rek would be there too. F’drun knew he and H’rek were weyrmates. What might he do?’ H’rek had been distressed enough at the thought of separation; they’d spent most of the evening talking through it. More problems, just when it seemed life had settled into a smooth glide. ‘You seem concerned,’ R’feem said. Trust him to notice. ‘I’d have thought you’d have been glad to see F’drun safely away from here.’ ‘Well, yes. Except that H’rek’s being sent too.’ ‘Ah.’ R’feem gave a kindly smile. ‘They’ll be kept well occupied. I doubt F’drun will have any time for tricks. Anyway, your weyrmate is a sensible lad.’ D’gar didn’t quite understand his meaning. H’rek was certainly sensible enough to avoid F’drun, but if F’drun decided to target him in some way, then what could he do? No one had eyes in the back of their head. You couldn’t be on the alert all the time. ‘So we’ll meet up again at lunch. D’gar, would you take care of our new wingmates? You seem to have a way with Benden folk.’ ‘Sure.’ What exactly did he mean by that? D’gar found himself getting edgy. Calm down, he told himself. He’s probably just referring to your relationship with H’rek. ‘Right. See you later,’ B’lin said. ‘Ondiath wants to eat.’ D’gar made to follow him out when R’feem stopped him with a hand on his arm. ‘Try not to worry too much, eh?’ ‘Well…’ It was easy to say, not so easy to do. ‘Being apart from someone is never pleasant.’ R’feem spoke from personal experience, as he only got the chance to visit his weyrmate at Fort around once every sevenday. ‘No. But I’ll be fine.’ ‘Good. Wouldn’t want to see it affecting your work. You’re doing a good job as Wingsecond.’ He returned to his weyr, noticing that some of the Lower Caverns staff had already begun to pile up various pieces of kitchen equipment under one of the covered storage areas. They must be really fed up, he thought. It had only come back a short while ago. He settled down to do some admin. R’feem had asked him to make a list of the number of injured men and dragons during each Threadfall over the last three Turns of the previous Pass. Apparently Benden were trying to make some estimates as to how many casualties they could expect over a Turn and thus work out how long it would be before they were self-sufficient again. At least they had two queen dragons of breeding age now. Even if Prideth’s next clutch contained a gold egg, it would be a good two to three Turns before the young dragon would be mature enough to rise. Still, if Prideth and Ramoth continued to lay large clutches the numbers would soon go up. Strident shrieking from outside brought him out of his musing. It wasn’t Kylara again; even she couldn’t be that loud. What’s going on? he asked Herebeth. Two greens are about to rise. One of them thinks the other is trying to steal her suitors. Greens weren’t usually jealous. That was more like gold behaviour. He got up, stretched and went to have a look. The pair of dragons were scolding each other like fishwives. Several browns and blues were perched on the rim, waiting for them to decide to fly. Three of them were smaller and stockier than the rest. He recognised Lanralth from Igen. The other two were from W’lir’s Wing. Solarth and Zeylenth do not like each other. Their riders feel the same. Herebeth sounded amused. Aren’t they clutchmates of Rioth? That’s right. They were left behind this morning as they were too close to rising. The noise echoed around the Bowl. Quite a few other dragons and their riders were peering from weyr openings to see what all the fuss was about. Even Ramoth’s great golden head emerged from her weyr, with the diminutive figure of Lessa alongside. Evidently, their racket disturbed the Weyrwoman and her dragon, for Ramoth clearly ordered the argument to cease. Both greens fell silent, shaking their heads from the intensity of the command issued by the queen. Then, after a few moments, one took off, followed by a flurry of male dragons. The other waited, clearly not of her own volition, until Ramoth released her and she also took to the sky with more suitors in hot pursuit. The normal sounds of the Weyr resumed, while the waiting riders dashed into the flight cave. D’gar went back inside, wondering if Lanralth would catch one of the Benden greens. If he did, they’d be a pair down this afternoon, which would mean more shuffling about to balance the Wing dragons. He returned to the desk. After all the hubbub, the weyr seemed very quiet. It was no different than on any other day when he’d been working alone, yet this morning the silence seemed to foreshadow all the future days when he’d not be interrupted by the scrape of talons as Rioth landed on the ledge, or H’rek returned from a drill or patrol. How quickly he’d become used to sharing a weyr again and having H’rek in his life. Why had he even come up with that stupid idea about sending the injured men down south to help out? Given a bit of thought, he might have guessed they would also send Prideth’s first clutch back to the place they were so familiar with. Now, all he had managed to achieve was to put a source of potential danger in H’rek’s way. If anything happened, he would be to blame. Why do you worry so much? Rioth will look after him. If only I could share your confidence. Rioth couldn’t be there all the time. What if F’drun lured H’rek into that jungle? Who knows what creatures might be lurking, ready to pounce on the unwary? Yes, but H’rek had managed to stay alive there for nearly two Turns. He’d be more attuned to its dangers. It was much more likely that F’drun would get attacked if he tried something like that. Poison, then. His imagination provided images of F’drun slipping some noxious substance into H’rek’s klah when he wasn’t looking. The sensible part of his mind knew that this was extremely unlikely but that didn’t stop him worrying. He’d worry every day until H’rek returned safe and sound. The only way to cope would be to deal with it the same way he always did; to immerse himself in work. He met the rest of the Wing in the dining hall, snatching a couple of meat rolls and a mug of klah. He could have got the same delivered to the weyr, but R’feem liked the Wing to eat together whenever possible. Today, everyone was there; F’drun included, although he made a point to avoid any eye contact with D’gar. M’rell, however, didn’t. He sat down in the next space and immediately began telling D’gar how crazy it was that he was about to be sent to the southern wilderness. ‘You were only saying yesterday you fancied some sunshine and sea. There’s plenty of that down south.’ ‘Yes, but from what I’ve heard it’s more likely they’ll have us hacking down trees and clearing greenery.’ ‘Toth will be able to enjoy lounging around in the ocean.’ ‘Well, I suppose there is that,’ he conceded grudgingly. ‘Wish I knew who’d come up with such a stupid idea though. I’d give him a piece of my mind.’ ‘Blame the Benden lot for that.’ Hypocrite, he thought, even as he spoke. ‘Still, might not be so bad. They can’t work you non-stop so you’re bound to get some time to yourself. And it really is a beautiful beach.’ Just then, R’feem beckoned him over, enabling him to avoid any further questions. Beside him were two riders wearing Benden shoulder knots. ‘Thought I’d introduce you to our new wing riders. M’ten of brown Gimelth and N’bras of blue Genlorth.’ N’bras looked familiar. He wasn’t much older than H’rek. ‘Have we met before?’ D’gar asked, trying to place him. ‘In the infirmary,’ he supplied. ‘You got my weyrmate down from his dragon when he was injured.’ Ah, that was it. ‘How is he?’ ‘Still weak, but on the mend.’ ‘Good to hear that. And glad you’re joining our Wing.’ M’ten was a lot older, probably nearer to R’feem’s age. They shook hands briefly. ‘Well, if you’d like to take N’bras under your wing, so to speak, I’ll let B’lin look after M’ten,’ R’feem said. ‘Fine.’ D’gar led N’bras back to his end of the table, where M’rell was loudly complaining to V’chal and J’rud about his new posting. N’bras seemed shy, or maybe he was just overwhelmed to have landed among a whole load of unfamiliar riders. D’gar did his best to make him feel at ease, introducing him to those closest. V’chal latched on to him at once; he always did when someone new joined the Wing. ‘He’s got a weyrmate, you know.’ D’gar thought he should point that out to forestall any unwanted attention. ‘Really?’ V’chal said. ‘It doesn’t do to settle down too young, you know,’ he told N’bras. ‘Good looking young man like you should keep your options open. You never know what might come along.’ ‘Like you, you mean.’ J’rud commented. ‘Lilith’s not even proddy so you’ve no excuse. Talking of which, did you hear those two greens this morning?’ ‘Oh, that was Solarth and Zeylenth,’ N’bras said. ‘They hate each other.’ ‘My dragon said that too.’ D’gar thought it might encourage him to talk. ‘Any idea why?’ ‘Well, when we were down south, they both took a shine to Izaeth. But he didn’t chase either of them. And he flew an old timer green when Prideth rose this time, so he definitely wouldn’t have been interested today.’ D’gar noticed how everyone reacted to the unwanted name. ‘Er, you might want to change your terminology now you’ll be flying with us. We’re not fond of being called “old timers”.’ ‘Yeah.’ J’rud said. ‘Makes it sound like we’re all ancient. I’m only twenty-three and so is D’gar here. V’chal might be pushing it a bit, but he’s not decrepit yet.’ V’chal made a face at that. ‘So, what do you call yourselves, then?’ ‘We tend to refer to ourselves by the name of the Weyr we’re from. So us lot are Fort riders.’ M’rell pointed across the table. ‘They’re from Igen and those at the end are from High Reaches. You can easily tell who’s from where from our shoulder knots.’ ‘Collectively we say we’re from the five Weyrs,’ D’gar added helpfully. ‘Five Weyrs,’ N’bras said. ‘That’s short enough. Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. It’s just what everyone here says.’ ‘Not a problem.’ J’rud said. ‘If you didn’t know.’ ‘So, er, how long have you all been fighting Thread?’ ‘Five Turns for J’rud and myself. We graduated to the Wings at the same time.’ It seemed far longer, D’gar thought. ‘Eight Turns,’ said V’chal at almost the same time as M’rell said, ‘Nearly six.’ ‘Five Falls,’ N’bras said with a wry shrug. ‘So I’m still new to it all. It doesn’t really compare to the exercises we practised when we were weyrlings.’ ‘No.’ J’rud grinned wickedly. ‘Bits of wool or whatever won’t eat you alive.’ N’bras seemed uncomfortable, D’gar thought. ‘Steady, lads. His weyrmate was injured quite badly recently.’ ‘Sorry about that,’ J’rud offered. ‘You couldn’t have known. It was a shock, though. We’re in different Wings so I didn’t even know anything was wrong until afterwards.’ ‘That’s for the best,’ M’rell said, very matter of factly. ‘You don’t want to find out someone you care about has copped it in the middle of Fall. Very distracting.’ ‘Even when you are in the same Wing, you don’t always find out until later.’ D’gar spoke from experience. ‘Especially if visibility is poor.’ He could tell by his wingmates expressions they knew exactly which incident he was referring to. ‘And we lost so many that day, you’d no way of telling it was him.’ M’rell shook his head sadly. ‘Bad one, that.’ ‘Right. I’m going to get a refill of klah.’ D’gar got up from the table. That way they could fill in the rest of the gruesome tale to a puzzled looking N’bras while he was out of the way. It reminded him of the stories he and F’drun had swapped on the day they were on support duty, when they had been winding up T’sum. Doubtless M’ten would be getting a similar initiation with the Igen riders. In a few Turns, weyrlings joining the Benden Wings would go through the same treatment, as he and S’brin had done when they graduated to R’feem’s Wing. Part of the process, really. By the time he returned, they’d moved on to some other Threadfall tales. ‘…so the only thing they could do was to take his whole leg off.’ J’rud finished. ‘That old one.’ D’gar sat back down. ‘Is it true?’ N’bras asked. D’gar sipped his klah. ‘They’re trying to shock you.’ And judging by his expression, succeeding. ‘But it's all happened at one time or another.’ At the far end of the table, R’feem had finished. On his way out he tapped D’gar’s shoulder. ‘Give everyone time to digest their food, then get them to form up.’ ‘Sure.’ ‘Do we have an inspection?’ N’bras asked. ’T’bor was never that bothered but I know R’gul’s Wing do.’ ‘Inspection of what?’ V’chal asked. ‘Well, to see if everything’s in order.’ ‘That’s up to you. Check your own straps before every flight and make sure you have everything you’ll need, whether it’s for Fall or a routine patrol. If anything extra’s wanted, one of us will pass the information on.’ D’gar thought he should fill in a bit more while he drank his klah. ‘Now I don’t know how T’bor co-ordinated Fall, but I can tell you how we do it.’ N’bras nodded eagerly. The others got up to leave; they’d heard all this before. ‘See you later,’ M’rell said. ‘We usually fly in a standard V formation for take-off and when we go between. Once R’feem’s been to the Wingleader’s meeting and heard the weather report, he’ll decide what patterns we’ll fly during Fall although once we’re up there, it’ll sometimes change. Depends on conditions, the way Thread’s falling and the like. Usually, Piroth gives the instruction to Herebeth and Ondiath, then we’ll pass it along to the dragons in our section. Same with firestone replacement. Once you’re down to your last bag, you’ll get - Genlorth, is it?’ He nodded. ‘…to inform Herebeth. I’ll co-ordinate supplies and let you know when they’re on the way. Any problems, let me know. In the air we’ll use standard hand signals, unless the visibility is really low, when it’ll all be down to dragons passing along messages. You’ll be alongside me today so I can see how you’re flying. We do tend to keep a tighter formation than most of the Benden Wings, I’ve noticed.’ ‘Why’s that?’ ‘Less Thread gets through. Plus, if everyone knows exactly what they’re going for, there’s less chance of flaming each other by accident. You’ll have a fair idea by now of how big a clump Genlorth can destroy on his own.’ ‘Sure.’ ‘So if it’s larger than that, leave it to me, or one of the other browns or bronzes. Your job is to get rid of anything we’d find hard to reach. That’s why we usually fly a brown or bronze flanked by a blue and green. Sometimes two greens or two blues, depending on what’s available. They can turn on a pin and get to stuff that we’d struggle to manage.’ His eyes were starting to glaze over from too much information. ‘It sounds more complicated than it is. Don’t fret too much. It’ll become obvious once we’re flying.’ ‘I just don’t want to mess up.’ ‘After five Falls? Everyone messes up. That’s how you learn.’ So long as it doesn’t kill you and your dragon, he added silently. ‘Anyway, it’s just a routine patrol today, to familiarise ourselves with the area. You’ll get an idea how we fly and if there are any problems, I’ll let you know.’ He finished his klah. ‘Right, I’m off now. See you soon. We’ll be forming up on the landing area.’ Back in the weyr, he checked over the fighting straps, remembering the nervousness of being new to the Wings. Worrying about making some stupid mistake and having everyone laugh at you was almost worse than the natural fear of being eaten by Thread. He’d thrown up before almost every patrol for the first sevenday. Threadfall had been so much more chaotic than he’d imagined, too; a very long way from the disciplined exercises they’d practiced with the Weyrlingmaster. They’d been delivering replacement firestone for a good half a Turn before graduating, so they’d seen Thread up close, but even that didn’t prepare you entirely for being in the thick of it. We have a new wingmate today, he told Herebeth. Watch out for Genlorth and if you notice anything off that I don’t, let him know. Will do. Herebeth crouched to let him slip on the neck strap. I think the strap on my right side needs loosening. It feels a little too tight. You’re getting fat. I am not fat. That’s muscle. I had lost some when we were not fighting Thread. Me too. Now I’ll be getting back into shape again. The exercise helped. H’rek would probably put on some muscle too, if he ended up doing a lot of physical work down in Southern. Will Rioth be away for long? Herebeth queried. Why must she leave? She’s being sent to her old Weyr. Only for a short while, though. I will miss her. And I’ll miss H’rek. But they’ll be back again. Putting on a brave face for his dragon helped to bring it into perspective. It was a temporary disruption, that’s all. With Herebeth ready, he went to get his wherhide gear. He needed some new gloves, he remembered, one of his having been damaged by a close encounter with partially drowned thread two Falls ago. He kept forgetting about that until he needed them again. Well, there was no time to deal with that now, but later on he’d go to the stores and get another pair. By the time he got down to the landing area, a few of the Wing had assembled, the Benden pairs among them. Keen to impress, he thought. Genlorth was a lightweight blue. He looked as if he would be speedy, D’gar thought, although maybe lacking in stamina. By contrast, Gimelth was a fairly stocky brown by modern standards; smaller than Canth but still towering above Herebeth. ‘Do you know the area we’re flying today?’ he asked M’ten. Although he’d been in Southern with T’bor, his age meant that he must have Impressed and trained at Benden. M’ten nodded. ‘It’s hilly, the Bitra side. Rough pastures mostly, lots of ovines and caprines. A few isolated farm holds. Then once we cross the mountain range into Lemos, it’s coniferous forest for kilometres with a couple of logging camps. The men there are pretty good ground crew.’ ‘Excellent. Can you get a dragon down to land easily?’ ‘Some of it, where the trees aren’t too close.’ ‘Better not let any Thread through, then.’ More dragons were arriving. Today, the full complement would be flying; all of the blues and greens who would take shifts during Threadfall proper; twenty-six dragons in all. Normally, no one bothered to watch them assemble, but today there were a few onlookers, possibly due to the presence of the Benden dragons. R’feem noticed too. ‘We’ve got an audience,’ he said as he passed. ‘Let’s keep a tight formation taking off and show them what we can do.’ ‘Sure.’ How long would it take before they were regarded as just another Wing, not some sort of novelty act, like the jugglers or acrobats you saw at a Gather? They did take off fairly smoothly and the transfer between was faultless, but as soon as they started to try out a few manoeuvres; direction changes and formation re-shuffles, the Benden dragons began to show their inexperience. The whole Wing had been a little ragged when they first got together, but after all the practice, they now flew fairly seamlessly. For the two Benden riders, the style of flying was different enough that they ended up either ahead or behind the moves. D’gar had always thought of formation flying as being something like dancing in the air and if that was the case, the Benden pair would be treading on their partner’s toes. At this stage, he wasn’t going to be too hard on N’bras, but they’d need to do some more flying together so that he could better explain exactly what they were aiming for in the various moves. When they started to simulate actual Threadfall moves; breaking from the pattern to chase down clumps then getting back into position, it fell apart even more. Ask Piroth if we can break away and practice some moves alone. Herebeth came back almost right away. Once we’ve gone over the area, you can do whatever you need. Piroth’s rider suggests both the Benden dragons join you. Tell him we’ll do that. After that, they flew mostly straight, picking out reference points in the landscape and noting the transition between land that needed protecting and the rocky parts where it would do no harm for Thread to fall unchecked. The forests were vast, D’gar noticed, with a sinking heart. Was the entire Hold covered in trees these days? There were cleared areas too, where mature trees had been felled by loggers, a couple of camps and a sawmill beside a fast-flowing river, where a water wheel provided the driving power for the machinery. Even so high up, the smell of cut wood and fresh sap reached his nose. Finally, R’feem gave the order to return to the Weyr and the rest of the Wing flew on, disappearing between, leaving just the four of them to practice the drills. Tell Ondiath we will practise the Threadfighting moves. In his case, he had N’bras and Genlorth break away then return to position. For the other pair, Ondiath played the blue’s role, relying on M’ten to be aware where in the sky he would be coming back. It was obvious that both Benden dragons, while keen, were used to the more informal style of fighting Thread used by their Wing; well, they’d soon get out of that. They’d probably find the more disciplined method left both themselves and their dragons less tired by the end of a Fall once they became used to it. By the time he was back at the Weyr, he felt drained. Not so much from the physical effort as from having to watch and correct N’bras. During Threadfall, you had to be conscious not just of yourself, but of all the other pairs in the section. D’gar had never before realised how much you relied on others knowing their own roles and positions. He remembered when he’d been new to the Wing and his own mentor, I’grast, had taught him all the moves and kept an eye on him through those first few Falls. How patient he’d been. How effortless he’d made it seem. Now he appreciated the work that had gone in to training someone just out of the weyrling Wing to ensure he and his dragon became effective fighters. ‘I was rubbish,’ N’bras sounded disconsolate as they dismounted from their dragons. When he removed his flying hat, his hair was plastered down with sweat. ‘You weren’t any worse than I was when I joined the Wing. Don’t worry. You’ll soon get the hang of it. What we’ll do tomorrow is put you in for an hour or so, then do a swap out.’ After that amount of time, they’d be too tired to learn any more. ‘Then over the next few Falls we’ll keep you up there for longer until you’re both accustomed to flying our way.’ ‘So, is how I’ve been taught wrong, then?’ ‘Not wrong, exactly. Just not so effective. Remember, we’ve been doing this for fifty Turns. I expect when the Eighth Pass first started, we were just the same.’ Full of enthusiasm, but short on technique. ‘Remember, the object is to sear Thread with the least amount of effort, the maximum efficiency and without getting yourself or your dragon scored. No-one learns all that overnight.’
  13. Mawgrim

    Chapter 23

    Unfortunately for D'gar and H'rek, the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman have a different sense of priorities than they do. Lessa's main priority is to get Kylara out of her Weyr and they are both determined to re-open Southern before anyone else has the same idea now that it's known that the southern continent is habitable. The fate of a couple of ordinary riders does not loom large in their plans. Yes, they are stretching the Weyr very thin, but they know more clutches of dragons are on the way and due to the five other Weyrs coming forward they don't now have to worry about protecting the whole of Pern from Thread, just their own area.
  14. Thanks to the exercise sessions, D’gar didn’t have the luxury of sleeping in the following morning. They’d arrived back late from Fort Weyr and he was still yawning as he met the rest of the Wing by the lake. When he returned to their weyr, he found H’rek still lying in bed, enjoying an impromptu breakfast selection from the food parcel Agarra had sent. ‘Your mum’s great,’ he said, taking a bite from one of the spiced buns. ‘I could eat these all day.’ ‘I think she approved of you.’ It had been informative for H’rek to visit a different Weyr. He’d met several of D’gar’s old friends and clutchmates, while Rioth had attracted quite a lot of attention by virtue of being the biggest green dragon they’d seen and more importantly, had the chance to study up close rather than as a distant speck in the air. ‘Did you have a good gossip with the green riders?’ Doubtless they’d have grilled him while they were comparing dragons. H’rek nodded. ‘They told me lots about you.’ D’gar groaned inwardly, although he’d expected no less. ‘Nothing too bad, I hope.’ ‘Mostly about the wild parties you and S’brin used to hold in your weyr.’ ‘Ah, those.’ ‘Wonder why no-one does that here?’ ‘They probably do, just you haven’t been here for long enough to know about it. Remember, we’d all grown up together so we were friends before we even Impressed. We just carried on with it once we got our own weyrs.’ There’d been a lot of booze and fooling around, although the individual parties tended to merge together in his memory, most probably due to the effects of all the alcohol. ‘I expect they have a green riders group here, too. S’brin used to go off to those about once a month. I wasn’t allowed, of course.’ ‘Maybe I’ll ask around.’ ‘Yes, you should. J’rud will probably know all about it. I know we’ve not been here that long either, but he tends to find out about things like that.’ Not for the first time, he wished H’rek could have Impressed in a proper Weyr, rather than down south. They’d missed out on a lot of the support - beyond the formal training - that most weyrlings enjoyed. ‘I’m going to get klah. Want some?’ ‘Please.’ He called down the service shaft and within a couple of minutes a steaming brew arrived. He carried the mugs over. ‘What have you got planned today?’ ‘We’ve been asked to attend a meeting later this morning.’ ‘Another one? What’s that about?’ ‘Possibly the new Wing. That’s what everyone thinks, anyway.’ ‘I still don’t know how that’s even a possibility. Some of the existing Wings are well under strength. They’d be better off to merge a couple together than form a new one.’ ‘Yes, but that would mean demoting some of the bronzes and they wouldn’t like it.’ ‘Tough.’ D’gar picked one of the rolls from the basket and dunked it in his klah. ‘It’s how it goes. Once more dragons come along, they’ll get a Wing back again. If they deserve it, that is.’ At Fort, there were always more bronze riders than available Wingleader positions. It was better for a young rider to work their way up; have a couple of Turns as a Wingsecond before taking on a leadership role. Benden seemed to promote based purely on dragon colour rather than experience or suitability. They’d have to change, of course; Prideth’s first clutch had hatched far too many bronzes for them all to end up as Wingleaders. ‘Trouble is, Benden’s lacking in greens and blues. The percentages are all wrong.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, in most Weyrs, there are only about five percent bronzes. Any more than that and you start thinking about transfers to other Weyrs. Browns are generally around fifteen percent. We can fight a full six-hour Fall, like a bronze, but there’s more of us. Blues are generally about thirty percent and greens fifty. You need more of the smaller colours to swap out during a Fall. Plus, they’re nimbler and more manoeuvrable, so they can mop up anything that’s missed by the larger dragons.’ H’rek chewed his roll. ‘I’d never thought of it like that. Some of the comments about greens and blues I’ve heard are really disparaging.’ ‘You couldn’t run a Weyr without them. Every colour has its purpose.’ Some of the Benden Weyr attitudes were strange, although he supposed they had come about through the long Turns of being the only Weyr on Pern during a time when Threadfall was only a distant memory. ‘When we were waiting for Prideth’s eggs to hatch, there was a lot of speculation about which colours everyone was going to get. Most of them wanted bronzes. No one wanted to get a green. Made me feel kind of sorry for them. Green dragons, that is. Maybe that’s why Rioth picked me.’ ‘It’s possible. We were always told to keep an open mind as far as colours went. If you set your mind on only attracting one particular colour, you might end up with nothing at all.’ ‘That was sort of how I reasoned it. Plus, I’m not ambitious. I know I’ll never be a Wingleader or even a Wingsecond, but that doesn’t bother me.’ ‘That’s fine so long as you have someone competent in the role. But imagine being at High Reaches and ending up with F’drun as your Wingleader.’ Shaffit! He was thinking about F’drun again. He was still keeping himself apart from the rest of the Wing, probably through embarrassment as much as anything else. The whole Weyr knew about Kylara throwing him out by now. ‘I suppose there is that. You’re lucky to have R’feem.’ ‘He’s not perfect, but at least he gives us a certain amount of leeway to act on our own initiative. Some Wingleaders don’t want their Wingseconds to know as much as they do, or think for themselves. R’feem likes it that way so either of us could take over if anything happened to him.’ H’rek looked surprised. ‘But you and B’lin both ride browns. You’re not allowed to lead a Wing.’ ‘Maybe not according to Benden’s way of doing things, but if you’re in the middle of a Fall someone has to be able to carry on. Back in the past, if a Wingleader or his dragon was injured, one of the Wingseconds could end up in charge for a couple of sevendays, until they were fit again. Didn’t matter if they were a bronze or a brown, it was all down to ability.’ It made him wonder what might happen here, at Benden, if R’feem wasn’t able to lead them through Fall. Would the Weyrleader insist on someone else taking over the Wing; V’vil or even F’drun, just because they rode bronzes? He made another mental note to ask for clarification on that. ‘Anyway, didn’t you tell me that F’nor was more or less in charge when you were in the south.’ ‘Well, yes. T’bor was Weyrleader by name, but everyone knew it was F’nor making the decisions.’ ‘There you go, then. I’m pretty sure F’nor could lead a Wing if it came to it.’ Maybe that was how Benden played it; allowing hidebound rules to be bent when it suited them. ‘He probably could,’ H’rek agreed. ‘Although F’nor is kind of an exception, being F’lar’s half-brother.’ ‘Yes. I’ve noticed. Still, I’ve no problem with him. He got us this weyr.’ Hopefully, F’nor would also relay his ideas to the Weyrleader. He’d not told H’rek about that, although he’d mentioned that they’d gone flying together. It was best not to reveal too much when you were skirting the bounds of protocol. Properly, he should have let R’feem bring it up in a Wingleaders meeting, except he had a feeling that most of those didn’t actually achieve much. The Benden bronze riders had too much else on their agenda to agree on anything, especially if it was suggested by someone from another Weyr. ‘So, what are you up to today?’ ‘I still need to try and talk to M’rell. He’s been avoiding me every time I try to get him on his own. I’m not sure what’s up with him.’ ‘I thought you two had been friends for Turns.’ ‘We were. And like all friends, we occasionally fell out over stupid things, especially when we were younger. But he really seems to have taken this to heart and I don’t like it. Toth getting injured has made him even more depressed.’ ‘Will he be all right? Toth, I mean.’ ‘Yes, the dragon healers think so. The eye’s healing up well, but we can’t let him fly Fall until he has full vision again. So M’rell’s kicking around getting bored and drinking too much. It’s a vicious circle.’ When H’rek had left for his meeting, D’gar asked Herebeth to bespeak Toth. Ask him if I can visit. Dropping in without warning might irritate M’rell even more. Later on, he says. And his rider asks you to bring some of that Benden white. Well, that was easy enough to do. Maybe having a few drinks with M’rell, just like old times, would solve the problem. A few of Agarra’s edible treats from Fort wouldn’t go amiss either. D’gar set to work updating the Wing’s Threadfall records with a lighter heart. By the time he’d finished, his shoulders were stiff from hunching over the desk. He stood and stretched, then fished around under the bed for the skin of wine. He gave it a quick sniff - still fine - and headed off. We’re going to Toth’s weyr. Tell him we’re on the way. It was only a short hop; just a couple of dragons’ lengths along the side of the Bowl and two levels higher. Toth had moved forward from his couch and touched muzzles with Herebeth briefly. His left eye definitely looked inflamed and some matter had leaked down the side of his face from its corner. ‘Poor Toth,’ D’gar said as he passed by. M’rell pulled aside the curtain. ‘It’s a lot better than it was. At least he’s opening all the lids now. And he tells me it doesn’t hurt. Come on in.’ His weyr was messy, with crumpled clothes strewn about the place, a couple of empty wineskins abandoned by the one comfortable chair and an unmade bed. M’rell offered him the chair and sat on the edge of the bed, fishing around among the sleeping furs for some cups. D’gar felt like asking him if he should be drinking so early in the day but he knew that wouldn’t be well received. ‘You all right?’ he said instead. ‘I’ve been better.’ ‘It was bad luck, Toth getting clobbered like that.’ M’rell shrugged. ‘I’m bad luck right now. Nothing in my life is going right.’ He offered one cup to D’gar, who poured them both a generous helping of the white. M’rell drank deeply. ‘Ah. Much better than that Tillek piss I’ve been drinking.’ ‘Tillek wine’s always been a bit rough. Mind you, we used to knock it back in the old days, didn’t we? What was it you used to say? “After four cups you can’t tell the difference.”’ He took a sip of the Benden. Yes, it was still good. ‘Something like that.’ He took another drink. ‘It’s this place,’ he said, after a short while. ‘What is?’ ‘Ever since we got here, nothing’s gone right for me.’ ‘It’s not that bad.’ M’rell made a face as if he’d just swallowed some more of the unpalatable Tillek. ‘Maybe for you, it’s not. I’ve been stuck shovelling firestone into bags, Toth’s hurt and we’re not allowed out of the place. Shards, but I wish I could go back to Fort.’ ‘I brought you some buns. Mum made them.’ He held out the bag. ‘A taste of home, at least.’ ‘How is it at Fort, these days?’ ‘Getting there. They’ve cleared it up a lot since we left. Looks almost the same as it used to.’ ‘Did you see any of the old crowd?’ D’gar filled him in on the latest gossip and news, refreshing his cup a few times. M’rell drank three cups to his one. Still, he was talking and that was what mattered. ‘I appreciate this, you know,’ he said finally, when there were no more stories. ‘Don’t be daft. What are old friends for?’ ‘I’m sorry about the things I said, before. I wasn’t thinking straight.’ ‘It’s fine. You were drunk and upset.’ ‘And now I’m getting drunk again.’ He gave a grin. ‘No, I’ve had plenty of time to think, while Toth’s been out of action. It’s not your fault things are going well for you and that they’re not for me. After what happened to you, you deserve it.’ ‘Not how it works, is it? It’s not as if fate decides some poor sod should be given a chance to fall in love again. Or that someone else gets dealt a bad hand. It’s just how life works. Anything can fall apart at any time. I know that all too well.’ M’rell gazed into his cup. ‘Let’s hope it doesn’t fall apart again.’ ‘And that your luck changes. I’ll drink to that.’ He raised his cup. M’rell did likewise and they both drank. ’So, is Toth allowed to fly yet?’ ‘Yes, they said he could. Trouble is, I’m banned from leaving the Weyr.’ ‘You could still have a turn around the Bowl to stretch his wings. And if you want to take him further, I’ll find out if they can make an exception. I’m sure it would be fine if we flew together.’ The purpose of the punishment was to stop riders going out for fun; it wasn’t intended to prevent recuperating dragons from getting necessary exercise. ‘Thanks. That would be good.’ He sighed again. ‘Don’t you feel sometimes this is all so… futile.’ That was deep for M’rell. ‘Life’s never futile.’ ‘No, but we should have been enjoying life after Threadfall right now. Not stuck here in a time where we don’t fit, protecting people who don’t appreciate it. It might not be so bad if we were still at Fort, but they haven’t exactly gone out of their way to make us feel like we’re a part of this Weyr.’ ‘They haven’t had much time to get used to us, in all fairness. Remember, Benden was the only Weyr for four hundred Turns. Dealing with other weyrfolk is as new for them as coping with Thread. Give it a Turn or so and things will settle down.’ He thought of what B’lin had said. ‘We’ll gradually start mixing together. It’s human nature. The dragons don’t seem to have any problem.’ ‘No, I suppose not.’ He didn’t really sound convinced. ‘It’s not just me feels like this, you know. Coming forward seemed like a big adventure for a lot of riders. Now they’re starting to realise we’ll be fighting Thread for the rest of our lives. We’ll see more friends die or get hurt, more dragons going between. Do you really think either of us will see the end of this Pass?’ D’gar couldn’t lie to him. ‘Probably not, if I’m honest. So all you can do is make the most of life while you can.’ He wasn’t sure how to get M’rell out of this depression, apart from being there and letting him talk it through over a skin of wine. Much as M’rell had helped him through his grief when S’brin died. ‘Look, once Toth is healed, you’ll feel better. He might even win the next mating flight.’ If Toth was feeling content, M’rell would, too. ‘Pour us another, will you?’ D’gar did. ‘You should eat something, as well. Have a bun.’ It would help soak up some of the alcohol. M’rell took one and sniffed it. ‘Smells good.’ He took a bite and chewed slowly. ‘So what happened with you and that kitchen lass?’ ‘We had a row. She’s back with her old boyfriend.’ ‘Ah.’ That was often the way with Lower Cavern women. They had their pick of dragonriders. ‘And I wasn’t even in with a chance with Kylara. She’s only interested in bronze riders, like F’drun.’ ‘She chucked all his stuff out of her weyr yesterday.’ ‘I heard.’ ‘I wouldn’t wish Kylara on you anyway. She might be beautiful, but she’s a nasty piece of work.’ He had a sudden idea. ‘I know! We could throw another party in our weyr. H’rek’s got a friend in the laundry. I bet he could ask her to bring along a few friends.’ ‘Like those parties you and S’brin used to hold?’ ‘Something like that.’ He looked brighter. ‘That’s not a bad idea.’ ‘It’d be something to look forward to, at least.’ It wouldn’t take too much organisation. Maybe they could sort it out for the next rest day after Threadfall. ‘Right, well. I’d best get back. H’rek’s been to another meeting. And there’s supposed to be some more announcements about this southern project too.’ M’rell rolled his eyes. ‘How are they even going to find enough dragons for that?’ ‘We’ve all been wondering the same. Still, it’s not a bad place and the fruit’s really tasty.’ ‘I take it from that you’ve been there?’ ‘H’rek took me. It’s a tropical paradise. Long, golden beaches, warm seas. The dragons loved it.’ ‘We could do with a day on the beach. Maybe that’s what’s getting me down, the sharding weather here. Too grey and gloomy.’ D’gar had to agree. Fort’s weather was definitely preferable. ‘Once you’re allowed out again, I’ll show you the place. That is, if it’s not overrun by Benden dragons by then.’ ‘Sounds great.’ M’rell held up the wine skin. ‘Better take the rest of this with you.’ ‘No, you keep it. I’m not drinking much these days. See you at dinner, maybe?’ ‘Sure.’ Out in the Bowl, a few dragons were on the wing. One of them looked like - yes, it was - Ryth. He didn’t seem to be having any difficulty flying, but then it wasn’t his wings that had been damaged. As long as F’drun made sure he landed carefully, he’d not do himself any further injury. Soon enough he’d be back with the Wing and then there’d be more problems to deal with. Take us to the dining hall. I’ll grab some lunch down there and see what’s happening. It was still slightly early for lunch. Appetising smells were drifting in from the kitchen, but nothing had yet been brought through. D’gar poured himself some klah and sat on the bench by the night hearth, gazing into the flames. It was here that he’d first met H’rek, he mused. It seemed like a lifetime ago, although in truth it was just a couple of sevendays. So much had happened since then. He was drawn back from his thoughts by the sound of multiple pairs of boot heels on the stone flags. It looked as if H’rek’s clutchmates meeting had finished. They were talking loudly and animatedly as they made their way to their usual table. D’gar spotted H’rek among them. He didn’t look happy at all; in fact he looked downright upset about something. D’gar got up and went over. ‘Anything wrong?’ H’rek glanced at the others briefly. ‘Let’s go over to your table.’ They took a couple of seats at the empty table usually occupied by R’feem’s Wing. ‘So?’ D’gar asked tentatively. ‘I didn’t want to say anything in front of them,’ he said, a touch bitterly. ‘They think it’s great news.’ ‘What?’ ‘We’re going to be sent down south again to help re-open the Weyr.’ He stared at the scarred table top. D’gar reached out and clasped his nearest hand. ‘Not for too long, surely? What about Threadfall? Firestone deliveries and all that?’ ‘They’ve thought it through pretty well. We’re being divided into two groups. One lot stays here, the other goes down south, on rotation. A month here, a month away. I’m in the first group to go.’ D’gar wasn’t sure what he could say. There certainly wasn’t anything he could do. ‘Well, that’s not so bad,’ he said at last. ‘At least it’s not permanent.’ ‘I don’t want to leave you, though.’ ‘I don’t want you to leave, either. But we’re dragonriders. We have to go where the Weyr sends us.’ If he was transferred back to Fort tomorrow, there wouldn’t be much he could do about it, either. ‘It won’t be so bad. I can come down to visit on our free days. They’ll have to give you time off as well.’ ‘I suppose so.’ ‘Judging by what you’ve told me, you didn’t have a bad time down there before. Lots of lazing around on beaches, topping up your tan. All right for some.’ He tried to keep it light, even though something cold and heavy had settled near his heart. ‘You saw what it was like. There’ll be plenty of work, clearing all that foliage. And they want to encourage folk - Holders - to move there and settle too. It’s a long term project this time, not just for a few Turns.’ ‘Well, you won’t get bored, that’s for sure.’ He thought of how empty the weyr would be without H’rek. ‘The time will fly.’ H’rek still looked as if someone had pulled out a rug from under his feet. ‘This is about the worst thing that could happen.’ D’gar pushed his mug of klah across. ‘Drink this. I’ll get another one in a bit.’ He glanced across to the other table, where everyone seemed to be in high spirits. ‘So, who else are they sending?’ Fifteen or so youngsters wouldn’t be enough. ‘Well, T’bor and Kylara, obviously. And about half of T’bor’s Wing. The rest are going to be re-distributed to make up numbers.’ That made sense too. D’gar nodded, encouraging him to continue. ‘I think they’re going to send a few of Ramoth’s clutch too, as they’re familiar with the area. Plus some other spare riders. It comes to about fifty in total, they said.’ ‘Not really enough for a working Weyr, but it would have to do. ‘Did they say when?’ ‘Soon. In the next couple of days. Everything has to be ready by the time Prideth lays her eggs.’ Three months or so, then. ‘Well, once it’s all set up and they’ve another clutch on the sands, I expect they’ll bring you all back again.’ He tried to sound positive. ‘No one said anything about that. And ever since we heard I’ve been worrying about what will happen when Rioth’s ready to rise again? If Herebeth’s not there?’ ‘Oh.’ He was only just coming to terms with the news and hadn’t even considered that aspect yet. ‘Well, how long was it between her rising the first and second time?’ H’rek thought about it. ‘Around three and a half months.’ ‘So it’ll probably be about the same again.’ Although the heat and bright sunshine might trigger her early. ‘You must be more aware of the signs she’s getting close. You knew about it last time, didn’t you?’ ‘Well, yes. But not exactly when, remember. She took me a bit by surprise that morning.’ ‘It’s like that the first few times. Let’s work it out roughly.’ He counted on his fingers. ‘I reckon she’ll be ready towards the end of your second stint down south. I can make sure we’re there.’ It wasn’t quite so simple as that, of course. Who knew when Thread would fall on the southern continent? It probably wouldn’t synchronise with Benden’s Fall schedule. If he and Herebeth were fighting Thread when Rioth rose… Shard it! If the worst came to the worst, they’d have to time it. H’rek looked slightly more relieved. ‘It’s still going to be tough. Not seeing you.’ ‘I know. I’ll miss you, too.’ What had he just been saying earlier, to M’rell? About the way things could fall apart at any time. Well, now they had. ‘Maybe you should go over and join your clutchmates again.’ ‘Why? I want to spend as much time as I can with you.’ ‘Yes, but you don’t want to fall out with them. Not if you’ll be spending so much time together. Everyone needs friends.’ Or company, at least. There were probably only a few in his own Wing he’d want to socialise with, given the choice, but you had to try and keep on the right side of everyone you worked with. ‘Look, they’re bringing out the lunch stuff now. Grab yourself something to eat, then go and sit with them and pretend you’re looking forward to it as much as they seem to be. We can talk through all this later, back in our weyr.’
  15. Mawgrim

    Chapter 22

    It was in Chapter 11. Hinnarek (as he was) overheard his parents arguing and discovered that his mother had slept with her husband's brother while he was away from the farm. It explained to him why his 'father' had always treated him differently, as he had obviously realised from the timing of the pregnancy that Hinnarek couldn't be his own son.
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