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Mawgrim

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About Mawgrim

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    59
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  1. It was almost lunch time when they finally got to the dining hall. They’d dozed off for a while, exhausted by the flight and its aftermath combined with not having had much sleep the previous night. Then they’d been distracted by the dragons returning. Herebeth caught a wherry that he shared rather messily with Rioth. All in all, it had been a relaxing way to spend a morning and D’gar felt very mellow. As they walked in, he spotted several of the other Fort riders sitting around a table. ‘Here goes,’ he said softly to H’rek. He’d already warned him that they would be in for some good-natured teasing and ribald comments once their flight became common knowledge. There were cheers and whistles as they were spotted. ‘You might have told us what you were up to,’ M’rell said, shifting up the bench to make room. ‘Don’t think anyone much was about when Rioth rose,’ he commented. ‘And you, lad.’ M’rell addressed H’rek. ‘Next time, ask your dragon not to make such a racket blooding her kill first thing. It woke me up.’ ‘Sorry,’ H’rek muttered although he didn’t look particularly contrite. ‘Take no notice of them,’ D’gar said. ‘As if you’ve any say when your dragon decides it’s time.’ ‘Ooh, aren’t we being protective?’ That was from V’chal, who had arrived to join the rest of the Wing. ‘When did you get here?’ ‘Just this morning. Lilith rose yesterday afternoon.’ He had a good look at H’rek, then turned back to D’gar. ‘I had an amazing flight. How about you and the weyrling?’ ‘I’m not a weyrling,’ H’rek corrected. ‘As for the flight, Rioth’s totally besotted with Herebeth.’ He glanced at D’gar and gave him a wink. ‘He wasn’t bad either.' D’gar just shrugged and smiled. The other riders banged the table and shouted their approval. H’rek scanned the dining hall. ‘Er, does anyone know where my clutchmates have got to?’ ‘Bagging up firestone for tomorrow, I heard,’ T’garrin said. ‘Don’t be in too much of a hurry to join them. A morning flight always means a day off.’ He looked unsure. ‘Maybe it does in your Weyr, but I’m not sure if that applies here.’ ‘What used to happen in Southern?’ D’gar asked him. ‘Well, once the dragons got back, we just carried on with the usual lessons or drills. It was the best way to avoid Kylara.’ ‘Who?’ H’rek sighed. ‘Prideth’s rider. She was always there trying to… er, console the losing riders. Whether they wanted it or not.’ ‘Sounds like the kind of woman I wouldn’t mind meeting,’ M’rell joked. ‘Don’t be daft. If she’s a gold rider, she wouldn’t want anything to do with the likes of you.’ M’rell’s optimism regarding women who might fall for his charms never failed to amuse D’gar. ‘She was always after F’nor and he rides a brown,’ H’rek put in. ‘Well, there you go, boys. I might be in with a chance.’ ‘Not once she finds out you’re four hundred Turns old,’ J’rud added, then ducked as M’rell threw a bread roll at him. ‘What’s that about?’ D’gar was puzzled. ‘Oh, that was the big joke this morning at breakfast,’ T’garrin said. ‘Someone started it off by saying how our dragons must have shrunk during four hundred Turns between. Then a few other wags thought up similar comments. Like, “you’re not looking bad for four hundred Turns.” It was funny at first, but when you’ve heard the same thing a few times it really gets on your nerves.’ ‘Still, the joke’s on them now, if a four hundred Turn old dragon can catch one of their greens.’ V’chal smirked. ‘Mind you, who’d have thought the first one of us to get in there would be D’gar. I thought Herebeth wasn’t interested anymore.’ D’gar knew he was trying to stir things up, so just shrugged in a casual manner. ‘Dragons do what they want, when they want.’ ‘Look lively, everyone,’ M’rell hissed. ‘R’feem’s on the way over and he doesn’t look too pleased.’ ‘Does he ever?’ V’chal commented, although he took his feet off the bench and sat up straight. ‘I see you lot are keeping yourselves busy,’ the Wingleader said, sitting down and glancing around the table. ‘Who’s this?’ he asked, spotting H’rek. V’chal smirked. ‘Best ask D’gar about that, sir.’ R’feem glared at him. ‘Well?’ ‘My dragon flew his this morning,’ D’gar muttered. ‘Oh, so it was you. You’ve gone and put the dragon among the wherries, my lad. I’ve just spent most of the morning in a meeting with the Benden Wingleaders, discussing wing placements and the like. Except one particular bronze rider had a bone to pick about mating flight etiquette. There wouldn’t have been a bronze in that flight, would there?’ ‘Er, yes sir. There was.’ ‘Congratulations, then. You punched the former Weyrleader of Benden.’ Before D’gar had a chance to think of a reply, H’rek sprang to his defence. ‘It wasn’t D’gar’s fault. Everyone knows that sort of thing can happen in a flight.’ R’feem nodded. ‘That’s just what I said to them. And as for stopping our dragons rising, that’s easier said than done especially when there are so many greens in a Weyr.’ He sighed. ‘No, the real problem is that they don’t know where to fit us in and this morning’s antics just complicated matters.’ ‘How?’ M’rell asked. ‘I mean, all it’s done is show that our so-called four hundred Turn old dragons are capable of catching theirs.’ ‘Exactly. They’d been presuming that due to the differences in size there would be issues mixing up Benden dragons with ours in a Wing. Concerns were raised about the speed and stamina of our dragons and whether it might be over taxing them to expect them to keep up. Then you,’ and he pointed at D’gar, ‘proved everyone wrong on both counts. So much for theories, eh?’ ‘We didn’t do too badly in the past fighting Thread either,’ J’rud said. ‘I mean, they asked for our help, didn’t they?’ ‘That’s not the issue. They can’t deny we have practical experience they don’t. But when a Weyr’s been isolated as long as they have… I think that now we’re here some of them are finding it hard to cope with the fact it’s not just Benden standing alone any more. They need us to fill in the gaps until they can breed more dragons, but I gather they’d rather keep us at arm’s length, so to speak.’ V’chal looked pointedly at D’gar, ‘Except some of us have got quite a lot closer than that already.’ There were a few sniggers around the table. D’gar hoped that he wasn’t blushing like a weyrling. R’feem continued. ’Anyway, we got it settled in the end. None of us will be flying in the Benden Wings.’ ‘So why are we here, then?’ T’garrin asked, frowning. ‘Us odds and sods from the five Weyrs will be making up two new Wings. I’ll be leading one…’ There were a few cheers at that. ‘And W’lir from Telgar the other. So, all of us from Fort will be sticking together with the addition of the High Reaches riders and seven from Igen. That’ll make, let’s see… three bronzes including Piroth, six browns, seven blues and ten greens. Eight blues once Jekkoth’s fit to go between again.’ D’gar did some quick calculations. That would give an average wing strength of around eighteen, taking into account that the smaller dragons could only manage half a Fall before they tired. Well, it was better than they’d had towards the end of the last Pass, at any rate. ‘Well, now that’s settled, I’ve made a decision about appointing Wingseconds. Now I know that M’rell and D’gar were unofficially filling in the role for the last couple of Falls, but there’s a couple of riders from the other Weyrs I’ve had to take into consideration. One of them’s even been a Wingleader. So, the new Wingseconds will be F’drun and bronze Ryth from High Reaches and B’lin with brown Ondiath from Igen.’ ‘It must have been the fish,’ M’rell mouthed across the table. D’gar shrugged. He was a little disappointed, but to be honest, he hadn’t expected to become Wingsecond any time soon. If he was Wingleader, he’d not want to appoint someone as - unstable - as he’d been since S’brin died. Besides, for R’feem to choose Fort riders over others with more experience could be seen as favouritism and might cause problems. ‘Right. So, after we’ve had something to eat, we’ll be going out to overfly the area we’ll be covering tomorrow. It’ll be a chance for you all to familiarise yourself with your new wingmates and I can work out the best positions for you to fly in. D’gar…’ He looked up. ‘Yes, sir?’ ‘Is Herebeth fit to fly this afternoon?’ Feel like leaving your sweet green dragon this afternoon for drills? he sent. If I must. Not tired you out, then? It was not a long flight. I am not as tired as after a Fall. ‘He says he’s fine.’ ‘Good. Anyone got any questions?’ As he started to fend off a few queries from some of the other riders, V’chal leaned across to speak to H’rek. ‘So, tell me some more about your flight. I want to know everything.’ H’rek looked a bit unsure about what he should do, so D’gar helped him out. ‘V’chal is always like this. You don’t have to say anything unless you want to. Although I’m sure he’ll let us all in on the details of what happened when Lilith rose whether we want to hear it or not.’ V’chal changed his focus to D’gar. ‘Just interested to know how you measured up,’ he said smoothly. ’S’brin used to say you were always good for another couple of goes after a flight.’ D’gar was fairly sure S’brin had never said anything of the sort. He’d not been over fond of V’chal and had known that anything you said to him would be round the Weyr in no time. H’rek definitely looked embarrassed now. ‘Leave it out. He’s Holdbred.’ ‘Yes, but he’s a green rider now.’ ‘It’s all right. I can handle this,’ H’rek said confidently. D’gar left them leaning together and talking softly as he went up to fetch some food. M’rell joined him, picking up two bowls from the stacked pile and throwing one to him. He caught it deftly. ‘Just testing your reflexes. Thought you might be a bit tired after this morning.’ ‘Not you as well.’ M’rell ladled some stew into his bowl. ‘You like him, don’t you? You two seemed to be getting along pretty well yesterday evening.’ ‘It was just a mating flight.’ D’gar helped himself to a portion. ‘Really? Come on. I’ve known you too long. Your dragon doesn’t fly unless your heart’s in it too.’ There was a certain amount of truth in that. ‘He’s a bit young for me, don’t you think?’ ‘We’re hardly ancient ourselves, are we? You’re what, twenty-three now? And he’s got to be in his late teens. ‘Just seems a lot younger, I suppose.’ Maybe it was not having fought Thread yet that gave that impression. Or, who knows, perhaps having been born into this modern age made a difference. ‘Joking aside, sometimes I feel four hundred Turns old.’ M’rell picked up a few slices of freshly baked bread. ‘So, do you think he could introduce me to this Kylara?’ ‘If what he said was anything to go by, I doubt you’ll need an introduction. I mean, you’re not a bad looking chap. Just hang around outside her weyr and hope for the best.’ ‘Hmm. Might try that later. And if she’s not interested, there’s this little kitchen lass I’ve had my eye on…’ After they’d eaten, R’feem left to round up the rest of the Wing. Riders dispersed to fetch straps and wherhide riding gear. Dragons swooped down from the heights upon which they had been taking the sun. ‘I’ll, er, see you later,’ D’gar said to H’rek on his way out. He still wasn’t entirely sure whether H’rek would want to see him again after the glow from the mating flight wore off, so it was best not to make any definite plans. ‘Well, I suppose I’d better go and help bag up firestone.’ There was a slightly awkward pause. D’gar wasn’t sure if he should give him a goodbye kiss or not but by the time he’d considered the pros and cons, Rioth had landed and H’rek was mounting up, so it was too late anyway. A short while later, the full Wing had mustered. R’feem and his two new Wingseconds looked over dragons and riders, assessing their condition and fitness. D’gar did his own assessments, fully aware the other riders must be doing the same, knowing that their own and their dragon’s hide would only be safe if this disparate group could meld together into an efficient Threadfighting unit. With Thread falling the next day, it would be necessary for each dragon and his or her rider to get to know how well - or not - their wingmates might perform as quickly as possible. At the moment, everyone was staying in their own groups; Fort, Igen, High Reaches. It was noticeable that the Igen riders had all clustered together, with their dragons, in the sunniest part of the landing area. Even then, they were well wrapped up and still looked cold. By contrast, the High Reaches riders hadn’t put on their wherhide jackets yet and were all wearing lightweight, short sleeved shirts as if to demonstrate how impervious they were to the elements. D’gar felt a bit too warm here in the Bowl, as he’d put on one of the thick jerseys his mother had knitted under his jacket, knowing that it would be much colder once they were in the air. Dragonriders became used to shedding or donning various layers of clothing as they travelled from one place to another. Even back home, there was often a considerable difference between the air temperature at Fort Weyr and the balmier conditions lower down the valley at the Hold. ‘This is D’gar, “ R’feem said, introducing him to the Wingseconds. ‘He’s been in my Wing for nearly five Turns now.’ B’lin, the brown rider from Igen, smiled as he shook hands. ‘Good looking dragon you have there. Isn’t he the one who flew that Benden green this morning?’ So, it had got around. ‘Er, yes. That was Herebeth.’ His dragon turned his head to look at them all, eyes gently whirling. ‘Five Turns and not promoted yet?’ The bronze rider, F’drun, looked down his nose at D’gar. He’d look down at most riders though, as the man had to be well over six feet tall and almost as broad. Still, D’gar felt as if he was being judged and found wanting in some way. R’feem stepped in. ‘At Fort, we didn’t generally promote younger riders. Found it caused problems with the older ones.’ ‘I’ve never found that to be a problem as long as they’re competent.’ F’drun said. Was than an implication that he wasn’t? D’gar found himself taking a dislike to the man, even though they’d only just met. He hoped that he was wrong, but he didn’t think they were going to have anything close to a good working relationship. The three moved on. Probably a good thing, otherwise he might have made some retort that wouldn’t do him any favours. He busied himself adjusting the straps. The man has made you angry. Yes. I didn’t like what he said. He did not say much. He didn’t have to. By the time they took off, he’d managed to - more or less - put the encounter to the back of his mind. Once the Wing was aloft, R’feem spent some time seeing how well the different colour dragons matched up to each other in both speed and manoeuvrability, then started to arrange them into various fighting formations. After that, they worked on manoeuvres as a Wing, so that the dragons could get a feel for each other’s pace and were able to keep a consistent distance apart. Once he was happy that there were no real problems - and this entailed some more shuffling of various pairs - they went between to Benden Hold to see the territory they’d be protecting the following day. This was the area that produced the renowned Benden wines, so D’gar had expected to see vineyards below them, but had never before appreciated the vast acreage under cultivation. The rows of grapevines, just starting to burst into leaf, seemed to go on forever. If one Thread burrowed down there, it would be catastrophic for the growers and a wine lover’s worst nightmare. They returned to the Weyr late in the afternoon, passing over the firestone bunkers on the descent to the Bowl. Bags of graded stone had been neatly stacked in readiness. D’gar found himself wondering if that, too might cause problems. Would Herebeth be able to manage a lump as large as could be comfortably chewed by a Benden brown? Someone else had probably already considered the issue, but just in case, he thought he should mention it to R’feem. After they’d landed, he made his way over and passed on his concerns. ‘That’s a good point, lad. I’ll check later. It wouldn’t do to get a replacement sack mid Fall and find you can’t use the stuff.’ He was making his way past the other dragons to Herebeth when someone grabbed his shoulder and spun him round. It was F’drun. ‘What did you have to say to the Wingleader just now?’ ‘I was worried about the firestone, that’s all. Whether they’ve thought to take into consideration the relative size of our dragons compared to theirs.’ ‘Listen.’ He poked D’gar in the chest. Even through the wherhide, it hurt. ‘From now on, anything you have to report goes through me first. I don’t want riders bothering the Wingleader with every little whinge.’ ‘That’s not how we used to do it,’ he protested. ‘Well, it’s how I want it done from now on. Got that, rider?’ Did he want to pick a fight? Maybe he did. Or maybe he was just throwing his weight around to see if anyone would stand up to him. ‘Until I get that instruction directly from my Wingleader, nothing changes. Got that, Wingsecond?’ He was conscious of dragons becoming unsettled. Are you all right? Do you need help? Everything’s fine. F’drun stared at him for a few seconds. His huge fists clenched. D’gar wondered if he was about to get punched but he stood his ground. Then, he became aware that other riders were forming up on either side of him. M’rell, J’rud and even V’chal. F’drun looked at them all with narrowed eyes, then focussed back on D’gar. ‘You,’ he said, stopping just short of another poke, ‘Are a troublemaker. I’m going to keep my eye on you.’ Then he spun on his heel and was gone. ‘What was all that about?’ M’rell asked. ‘Not sure. Think he’s just trying us out.’ ‘Nasty piece of work,’ J’rud said. ‘Do you think that’s why they wanted rid of him from High Reaches?’ ‘Who knows.’ V’chal sighed. ‘Pity. He’s such a hunk, too.’ Piroth tells us we are all to rest so that we are fresh for tomorrow. I think I shall go and find Rioth. Lucky you. He still felt unsettled and had a bad feeling that this was just the beginning. Later, his fears were confirmed. It was after they’d eaten. T’garrin had brought his cards down and was starting a game of Dragon Poker with J’rud. A few of the Benden riders had come over and looked like joining in. The rest of the Fort riders hung back. They knew T’garrin’s ways too well. He’d end up considerably richer by the end of the evening if he was on his usual form. As they pulled up some chairs, two of the High Reaches riders joined them. ‘Saw you had a run in with our delightful bronze rider this afternoon,’ the older one said. At his age, you’d have expected him to have lost some of his hair, but you couldn’t tell, as his whole head was shaved and his scalp shone as if polished. He still wore his short-sleeved shirt, revealing muscular arms covered in dragon tattoos. ’T’burrad, Melth’s rider,’ he offered. That was the heavily scarred blue dragon, D’gar recalled. ‘D’gar. Herebeth,’ he said in return. ‘Oh, we know who you are,’ the other rider said. ‘You’re F’drun’s next victim.’ ‘What?’ ‘It’s what he does. Always picks on someone. Makes their life a misery. Makes everyone else have second thoughts about crossing him.’ T’burrad shrugged. ‘Thought we’d better warn you, though.’ ‘Thought we’d got rid of him when we were sent here.’ ‘You were in his Wing?’ M’rell asked. ‘V’vil here was. I was lucky enough to avoid the bastard,’ T’burrad said. ‘Might have landed one on him, otherwise.’ ‘What did you lot do to get sent here?’ V’vil sipped from his mug of klah. ‘Eh?’ ‘Well, you must have done something. They wouldn’t have got rid of you otherwise.’ M’rell and D’gar looked at each other. Were they missing something, D’gar wondered? ‘We survived,’ he said. ‘Most of the rest of the Wing didn’t.’ ‘And our Weyrleader had promised to send a few riders over here,’ M’rell added. ‘As they all did,’ D’gar pointed out. ‘Easier to send the odds and sods than break up an intact Wing. Isn’t that why you’re here?’ The two exchanged glances. ‘It doesn’t work that way in High Reaches,’ V’vil said at last. ‘F’drun’s here because T’kul hates his guts. I’m here because my Bitath got a bit too close to Merika’s Elyth on the last mating flight.’ ‘So T’kul hates your guts too,’ T’burrad put in. ‘Basically, if T’kul doesn’t like you and there’s an opportunity to be rid of you, then he’ll take it.’ D’gar was less concerned about why they’d been sent to Benden than what they’d said earlier. ‘So, why me? Why’d F’drun pick me?’ ‘No idea. Maybe he heard your name first. Maybe he just doesn’t like the look of you. There’s no reason to it. At least, none I’ve ever been able to work out. If you were in his Wing, you just kept your head down and hoped he didn’t notice you.’ ‘Anything I can do now?’ V’vil smiled slowly. ‘Hope that Thread gets him. He’s a big enough target.’ He was still mulling over this when he went up to the hearth to get a refill. Someone touched him lightly on the shoulder. He jumped, almost spilling his klah. ‘Sorry,’ H’rek said. ‘Didn’t mean to startle you. Had a good afternoon?’ ‘I’ve had better. How about you?’ ‘Bagging firestone has never been my favourite job. What happened?’ ‘New Wingsecond hates me already.’ ‘Why?’ ‘No one seems to know, apart from him being a bastard.’ ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘Get on with my job and try to avoid him.’ ‘Oh.’ H’rek glanced back toward his clutchmates. ‘That lot seem to think I let down the side, letting Rioth get caught by a four hundred Turn old dragon.’ ‘Surely that was up to Rioth?’ ‘That’s what I tried to tell them. Then there’s all the snide comments about you, as well.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘Same kind of thing, really. “Could he still remember what to do after four hundred Turns.” Dimglows!’ D’gar found himself getting annoyed again. ‘Want me to have a word with anyone?’ ‘No. Don’t bother. I think they’re just jealous. Let’s give them good reason to be.’ H’rek put one hand behind his head and pulled him over for a kiss. It took him slightly by surprise, but he thought he’d better play along with the game, so he put his arms around H’rek and enjoyed it while it lasted. ‘Are they looking?’ H’rek whispered, his breath warm on D’gar’s neck. ‘A few of them.’ It felt good to be this close to him again. And it was long enough since the mating flight for that to be due to genuine human emotions rather than dragonlust. But he needed to talk things through, somewhere with a touch more privacy than the dining hall. ‘Shall we just go for a walk?’ ‘If you like.’ They held hands as they walked out to the Bowl. The sky was dappled with pink and grey clouds as the sun set. ‘That’ll give them something to gossip about,’ H’rek said. ‘Bet they think we’re going back to your weyr.’ It was a tempting thought. He very much wanted to leave his brain and scruples behind and just do what felt natural. But as they were humans rather than dragons, that would only cause complications. D’gar formulated several sentences in his head, rejecting them one by one. ‘Shall we?’ H’rek asked. ‘What?’ The question had disturbed his train of thought. ‘Go back to your weyr? Or mine.’ ‘Are you sure that’s what you want? I mean, we barely know each other…’ ‘How can you say that after what happened this morning.’ He stopped walking. ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Um, well. I’m a lot older than you are.’ ‘Not enough to make that much difference,’ H’rek protested. ‘Anyway, what’s age got to do with it? The first time I met you, I felt as if we’d known each other for Turns. We’ve got so much in common.’ That was all true. He’d felt the same. ‘I know.’ ‘Then what’s the problem?’ ‘I’m not sure it would be a good idea for us to carry on with this.’ Because I don’t think I could cope if I fell in love then had to scrape up what was left of you after Threadfall and take it between, he wanted to say. ‘Because I might get killed, you mean? Or you might?’ It was too fast for him to have got that via the dragons, so it just went to prove how much they thought alike. ‘Well, yes.’ ‘So, what you’re saying is you’re never going to risk falling in love again in case someone dies. That’s crazy. Even if there wasn’t Thread, people have accidents. People die of illnesses. My grandfather choked on a piece of meat and he wasn’t doing anything more dangerous than having dinner.’ D’gar couldn’t help himself smiling at that image. Then realised that smiling might not be appropriate. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘Don’t be. He was a miserable old git and I don’t miss him. Neither does his widow.’ H’rek paused briefly. ‘You think too much, you know?’ ‘Someone else used to say that.’ If H’rek decided to leave him here now, he knew what would happen. He’d spend the whole night regretting what he’d done and end up feeling miserable. Herebeth would be miserable too and would make sure he knew about it. ‘What you need right now is to stop thinking. And I’ve got a few ideas about how to take care of that.’ Maybe he was right. Maybe this was the time to take a chance. Before he could change his mind again, he called Herebeth. I’ll need a lift back to the weyr. Just you? No, two of us. About time. I don’t know why you humans make life so difficult for yourselves.
  2. D’gar got out of bed just after dawn. Sleep had eluded him for most of the night and it wasn’t just down to the time difference between Fort and Benden. In his mind, he’d been going over the many ways yesterday might have ended better. If he’d not asked all those questions, then H’rek would never have assumed there was an easy fix to his problems. Face it, the whole mess was his own fault. And snapping J’rud’s head off like that was unforgivable. He’d only been joking around, the way he always did and he deserved an apology. Good job Herebeth’s not a green, he thought, otherwise people would be accusing me of being proddy. As he dressed, he wondered if H’rek had also been lying awake in nervous anticipation of Rioth’s rising, cursing the interfering rider who’d first promised to help and then seemingly abandoned him. You should have brought him here, Herebeth commented. Then you could have been awake together. Are you matchmaking, you big beast? Only as much as you are for me. Still, as was often the case, his dragon was right. If they’d spent the night together, then at least he could have made sure H’rek had some experience of gentle, thoughtful sex before he had to face a mating flight. Because there was no way anyone could be certain of the outcome. Although H’rek clearly wanted it to be him, the man he’d actually end up with depended on the dragons’ preference and a certain degree of luck. Once they were in the air, anything could happen and the riders had no choice but to go along with it. He went out past Herebeth, comfortably curled on his couch, to check the weather. The day had dawned with low, grey cloud giving a diffuse quality to the light. As the sun rose, it would probably burn off; at least that was how such days tended to progress at Fort. Here, so much further north, his weather sense might be totally wrong. The Bowl was deserted at this early hour. Herdbeasts in the feeding pens slumbered undisturbed. The lake’s surface was as smooth as a mirror. Up by the Star Stones, a blue dragon kept watch. His rider must be looking forward to the change of shift and a warming mug of klah. Thinking about it, that sounded like a good idea. When you’re ready, if you could drop me off by the dining hall. Very well. Herebeth stood and gave himself a shake. Then I will go and sit on the heights for a while. And keep my eyes open for green dragons. Just the one, mind. As he’d expected, the dining hall was deserted so early in the day. There were some slightly dried up meat rolls on a tray by the night hearth, but a couple of those went down well enough with a mug of klah. Now he’d got down here he started to feel tired. It would be all too easy to stretch out on the bench in front of the hearth and fall asleep. If he was back home, at Fort, he might just do that, but he was here, in Benden and he didn’t want to give his own Weyr a bad name by letting anyone see him like that. Other early risers might assume he’d drunk so much the previous night he couldn’t make it back to his own weyr. No, that wouldn’t do at all. ‘Do you always get up this early?’ A familiar voice, one that he’d rather not have to face just yet. ‘No. Do you?’ ‘I couldn’t sleep.’ ‘Makes two of us, then.’ It was a short answer, but he didn’t feel like saying any more right now. ‘I spent most of the night wondering why you just left like that. I thought we were getting on. Was it something that other rider said? Was it me?’ He sighed. ‘It’s complicated. But it’s not your fault.’ There was a long pause during which H’rek scraped his boot against the floor. D’gar felt the need to say something to fill the silence. ‘Look, I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have said some of those things.’ He was older and supposedly wiser, after all. Rioth is flying down to the feeding ground. She is very bright. Experienced green riders became so attuned to their dragon’s cycle and moods that they usually had sufficient warning to get themselves prepared. ‘How’s Rioth?’ he asked, wondering if that had been the case for H’rek. H’rek’s eyes went vacant for a moment, then a look of panic came over him. ‘She’s going to rise. Right now!’ Evidently not, then. ’Stay calm. She’s only just got to the feeding ground.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘Herebeth’s watching.’ ‘So does that mean…?’ ‘Yes.’ H’rek gave him a look that wrenched at his insides. He hoped fervently that he wasn’t condemning Herebeth to certain failure and H’rek to disappointment. They ran out into the Bowl. Rioth had already killed a herdbeast and up on the rim, several more dragons had joined Herebeth; three blues, two more browns and even a bronze. The others were Benden hatched, large and powerful. All of them were waiting expectantly. ‘Don’t let her gorge. Blood only,’ he said to H’rek. ‘That way she’ll fly high and strong.’ ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ He looked frightened. ‘Last time I nearly lost her.’ D’gar grabbed his arms. ‘Look at me.’ H’rek did. ‘Take a deep breath. Focus. You’ll be all right.’ He wished he was as confident as he was trying to sound. ‘Make her blood her kill. I’ll take care of you.’ H’rek gave a little nod, then pulled away from him to watch Rioth. D’gar realised that in this unfamiliar Weyr, he didn’t even know where to go. ‘Where's the flight cave?’ he asked a couple of riders who seemed to be purposefully heading somewhere. ‘Over there.’ One rider pointed toward a ground level weyr. The other shaded his eyes and looked up as if assessing the competition. ‘Is that a blue up there who’s rolled in mud or something? Looks awfully small for a brown.’ D’gar didn’t think he was trying to be deliberately offensive but maybe that was just giving him the benefit of the doubt. Herebeth was built very differently to the modern dragons; stockier and more compact, with a shorter wingspan. ‘That’s my dragon, Herebeth. And yes, he is a brown.’ The other rider frowned. ‘Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I shouldn’t think he’s got much chance against the competition today.’ D’gar glanced toward H’rek, hoping he’d not heard that, but H’rek was staring across to the feeding grounds. His gaze was blank as if he was already linked with his dragon and seeing through her eyes rather than his own. D’gar put a hand on his arm, carefully, so as not to startle him. ‘She’ll be fine, don’t worry. You’re doing well.’ H’rek nodded. ‘I know.’ Talking seemed to have become difficult for him. Rioth lifted her head from the throat of the herdbeast, her muzzle dripping red. She rose onto her hind legs, bugling a challenge to her prospective suitors. Then, with a mighty leap, she was airborne, ascending rapidly before veering eastwards. The male dragons took off in pursuit. D’gar felt the first spike of dragonlust as Herebeth’s consciousness impinged upon his own. For now, he held it off. While every rider expected to be consumed by their dragon’s emotional state at such times, he’d found that some - like himself - could remain aware and in control for longer than others. ‘Come on.’ He steered H’rek toward the cave. Other riders were already converging on its maw. As his own eyes conveyed that information to his mind, he was also seeing through Herebeth’s eyes. Rioth was climbing higher over the snowy peaks. Her potential mates were - so far - keeping pace, but so close together that there was danger of collision. The bronze had surged ahead and just behind him a blue and a brown vied for second place. Herebeth broke from the pack, sacrificing nearness for clean air above them all. It was a tactic that had won him a few mating flights in the past. It had also lost a few. ‘She’s leading them a merry dance so far,’ he commented, hoping H’rek could hear him through it all. ‘Now just concentrate and stay with her.’ The flight cave was dimly lit and almost empty; things could get violent sometimes and there was no point in having furniture that might get smashed. A curtain was pulled across the entrance, as a concession to privacy. Just beyond that was the inevitable bed, looking as if it had had some recent rough use. Not that anyone would care, when it came to needing it. The jar of oil beside the bed had been spilled at some point, making a slippery puddle on the floor. He guided H’rek around that and sat him down on the edge of the saggy mattress, then took his place in the semi-circle of riders. A couple of them he recognised as H’rek’s clutchmates; it might be one of their dragons that had flown Rioth before. The solitary bronze rider was much older than everyone else; a tall, powerfully built man. He stood slightly off to one side as if wishing to distance himself from the common crowd. But whatever their colour, dragons had needs and if they decided to fly you had to go along with it. Now that there was nothing else to be done, D’gar stopped trying to hold back from linking fully with his dragon. The rising sun cast jagged shadows on the rocky ground far below. Rioth shone like a beacon, illumined by that same golden light. She was still well ahead of the pack, who were now several dragons' lengths below Herebeth. The thin, cold air swept past his wings as he strove to close the distance between himself and the green dragon. The bronze was flying well, although even his superior strength didn’t guarantee that he’d be the one to catch her. Greens could out manoeuvre a bronze any day, if they wanted to. Still, at the moment, she was playing with her suitors, trying out their mettle to see who tired first. Although she wouldn’t be laying eggs like a gold, instinct led her to favour the most persistent and clever dragon. H’rek raised his head and looked over the riders surrounding him. For a moment, his gaze locked with D’gar, as if looking for support or encouragement. ‘Stay with her,’ D’gar reminded him. ‘I’m right here.’ H’rek nodded briefly as if he’d heard, then shut his eyes. Rioth glanced back, as if assessing them all, then abruptly changed her tactics. Rather than continuing to fly straight ahead, she went first left, then right, dipping and diving. Another manoeuvre had her changing direction so quickly that the bronze, too large and unwieldy for such a tight turn, lost his place to a brown. Rioth continued with her aerobatic games until the wings of two blues in the pack below fouled briefly. One of them turned aside, losing speed and altitude. Even if he tried his best, he’d never be able to make up that amount of lost ground. In the cave far below, his rider shook his head sadly. D’gar barely registered him leaving, caught up as he was in the excitement of the flight. Now the bronze was trying to get back past the brown, using his bulk and weight to shove the other dragon aside. All that happened was that both of them lost their place directly behind Rioth to another blue, who was more able to keep up with her wild sky dance. Herebeth was still above them all, waiting for his moment. The blue made a sudden surge, trying to get a grip of Rioth’s tail. The blue’s rider was leaning over H’rek, attempting to get his shirt off. Rioth lashed her tail across the other dragon’s muzzle, just as H’rek pushed his rider forcefully away. The man staggered, slipped on the greasy patch of floor and fell. Everyone jumped back to avoid him. Suddenly the bronze powered past his rivals, using all of his speed in a last-ditch attempt to catch up with the nimble green. His rider stepped forward, blocking everyone’s access to H’rek and almost daring anybody else to make a move against him. His hand reached out to caress H’rek’s face. D’gar saw H’rek cringe back against the overbearing presence of the older man. Then in the next breath, Rioth spun right, too tightly for the bronze to follow, using a green’s natural agility to its best effect. It also placed her directly below Herebeth, with nothing between them. This was it! He took his chance, diving down rapidly. The bronze almost stalled at the unexpected appearance of a dragon he’d not even noticed up until that point. Two others had to swerve to avoid piling into him and they all fell away. D’gar shoved the bronze rider aside, uncaring of seniority or protocol in that moment. He pushed H’rek down onto the bed. Herebeth caught Rioth’s wing joints, their tails entwining as she succumbed to her overwhelming desire. Dragonlust wiped away conscious thought as they joined, falling through the air in glorious consummation. Mating flights were always difficult. No matter how much you wanted to stay in control, the urgency of the dragons’ union kept taking over. Their overwhelming need was to finish before they fell too close to the ground for safety. Your mind denied the reality of a bed placed on solid ground and of a human body under your own. D’gar tried to keep the rational part of his brain working as he fought against the urge to simply do what Herebeth was doing to Rioth as fast as possible. H’rek seemed far less aware of what was happening to him, his mind fully locked with Rioth’s. His eyes were wide open but it was clear that he wasn’t seeing his actual surroundings. D’gar grabbed his shoulders and shook him a little. ‘H’rek. Come on. Look at me.’ The eyes focused. An all too human panic showed there. ‘Can’t lose her,’ he managed to say. ‘You won’t. Trust me.’ Talking, he’d found, was one way to remain detached. Well, as detached as you could be under the circumstances. He drew on all his experience and memories of other flights, other times, to try and be as slow and careful as H’rek needed him to be. ‘Just breathe. Try to relax.’ H’rek held him tightly as bodies entwined, dragon and human united in a single-minded and overwhelming urge. The sensation of air rushing past his wings as Herebeth slowed their descent felt more real than the dimly lit weyr, the bed, naked skin and heat. ‘We’ve got you.’ Their glorious fall went on; a glide through the air, buoyed by strong wings. The emotional overspill rose to a fierce intensity as the dragons’ ecstasy reached a crescendo. You couldn’t escape that link, not at such a moment. D’gar gave up trying to hold back any longer. H’rek arched his back and moaned, echoing Rioth’s passion, sending both of them over the edge. The other riders had long since left. D’gar became aware that he was lying in a sweaty tangle with H’rek. His memory of the flight was already becoming blurred, like a dream that eludes recollection after you wake. Human thoughts and fears surged back. He wished that he’d not been so stupid the night before and had taken H’rek back to his weyr. Had time to do things properly before all this. But you didn’t, said the critical voice in his head. You’ve only got yourself to blame if it’s all gone wrong. The dragons had landed safely on a rocky outcrop and were happily nuzzling each other, so all was well with them, at least. They’d rest a while before the long flight back to the weyr. He turned slightly, propping himself up on one arm. ‘Are you all right?’ H’rek nodded. He still seemed slightly dazed. D’gar was uncertain what he should do next. Just getting dressed and leaving would be thoughtless, although that was exactly what some riders did, especially those whose usual preference outside a mating flight was for women. On the other hand, he had no wish to force his company on someone who might want to be left alone at this point. ‘Do you… want me to go?’ he asked hesitantly. H’rek shook his head. ‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘Hold me.’ They lay like that for what seemed like a very long time, arms wrapped around each other. D’gar could feel the heat of H’rek’s body, hear his breathing. All he wanted to do was to hug, stroke, kiss. It was only dragonlust, he knew and when it had passed, he didn’t want to be disgusted with himself for having taken advantage of the lad in this state. If the two of them were weyrmates, now would be the time for having good sex; while the dragon roused emotions were still strong, but you had regained enough awareness to know what you were doing. Plus, no one expected any pair to be fit for ordinary duties for several hours after a flight, so you might as well enjoy the time together. ‘Aren’t we supposed to… you know?’ H’rek asked. ‘Have another round.’ ‘It happens,’ D’gar said, trying to sound non-committal. ‘If that’s what folk want to do.’ ‘I want to. So do you.’ True enough. That was a side effect of mating flights he could do without right now; they always reduced the amount of time you needed to recover. ‘It’s just dragonlust.’ ‘Does that matter?’ ‘it does to me. It will to you too in a couple of hours.’ Talking was good. It diverted the attention from thinking about other things you’d rather be doing. He sighed. ‘Maybe you’re right.’ Then after a short pause, ‘So what happened on your first mating flight?’ ‘Well, for a good Turn, nothing much. Herebeth didn’t win one straight away. But the first time he did, he caught Zemianth. S’brin - her rider – was already my weyrmate by then. We’d been attracted to each other before we even Impressed. Then, once we had young dragons, we weren’t allowed to do anything sexual until they were grown enough for it not to affect them.’ When the Weyrlingmaster had finally granted them permission they’d made up for lost time every way they could think of. ‘Anyway, by the time of that flight, we’d both had plenty of experience.’ H’rek said nothing for a few moments, obviously taking in this new information. ’So that explains why you were so reluctant to get involved with me. Why didn’t S’brin transfer to Benden as well?’ ‘Because he’s dead.’ ‘Oh.’ A few Turns, or even months into the Pass, he’d become used to that kind of answer. You’d sympathise, then move on without even feeling awkward about it. ‘What happened to him?’ H’rek asked after a while. ‘Threadfall.’ ‘Sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.’ ‘You weren’t to know. Anyway, in our line of work, it’s a fact of life. No matter how good you think you are, or how quick your dragon is, all it takes is one bad Fall and you’re history.’ H’rek seemed to be mulling over that for a while. ‘So, what you’re saying is that either of us might not be here after tomorrow’s Fall.’ ‘Exactly.’ He had to keep reminding himself that it was just the beginning of the Pass in this new time. It wasn’t like when he’d been growing up; seeing the casualties come in after every Fall, hearing the keen of dragons when one of their own went between. They had no idea, yet, how bad it could be. ‘In that case, shouldn’t we take any opportunities we can?’ H’rek smiled slowly and gazed into his eyes. ‘I mean, it would be a shame if I died without having had sex I can actually remember, don’t you think?’ Putting it like that, he had a point. ‘You’re too sharding persistent, you know that?’ Then H’rek pulled him closer for a kiss and he stopped thinking for quite some time.
  3. Mawgrim

    Chapter 3

    Definitely. Next chapter is the mating flight!
  4. It felt too soon to be embarking on another move. Three days since they’d arrived and now they were off again. At least this time, the dragons weren’t laden with goods and passengers, although everyone was taking their personal possessions. D’gar watched as rolled up tapestries and small pieces of furniture were secured to some of the dragons, thankful that he’d never been one for accumulating lots of stuff. Like any Weyr, Benden was bound to have stores, so any additional bits and pieces he needed, he’d pick up from there. Of course, that hadn’t stopped Agarra from pressing a box full of food on him. He’d protested, of course, but it had fallen on deaf ears. ‘I don’t trust that lot,’ she’d said. ‘Apparently they sent some riders over here to tidy up, but the state of our kitchens…’ she sniffed. ‘If that’s what they call clean, then you’d best be careful of anything you eat there.’ ‘I’m sure their Headwoman is as competent as ours. Don’t be a worry-wherry.’ It was always slightly embarrassing when she fussed over him. Most children in the Weyrs were fostered, but as Agarra had already been fostering four when she found herself pregnant, she’d seen no problem with adding another child to her brood. It was small consolation that she acted in exactly the same way with his foster siblings. So now he was fiddling about with the riding straps, trying to find the best way to secure the box. Imagine the embarrassment if it fell off during their descent and hit some poor unsuspecting person going about their business. Even worse, if it hit someone’s dragon. Eventually, he settled for bundling it up inside his sleeping furs, then strapping those across Herebeth’s back. Is that comfortable? he asked. Herebeth flexed his wings a few times. It will do. Good. Let me know if anything feels like it’s slipping, won’t you. It seemed an age before everything was stashed and they were finally ready to leave. It had been supposed to be an early start, but the sun was already above the rim of the Bowl by the time they all mounted up. He took a long look around the Weyr that had been his home for all of his life, apart from a few months when he’d been seconded to Telgar. Workers were starting to fence off the beast pens. The lake was being dredged and mounds of silt had been piled to one side. When he came back maybe it would look more like the well-ordered place he’d been used to. ‘If you come back…’ said that little doubting voice in his head. Of course we’ll come back. Fort is our Weyr, Herebeth assured him. V’chal waved them off; everyone was fairly sure Lilith would rise sometime today, or by tomorrow at the latest and it wasn’t the proper thing to send any dragon in that condition out of the Weyr. He’d be joining them later and would happily tell everyone the lurid details - well, as much of them as he could remember - and what he couldn’t he’d doubtless make up. At last, they took off, the Bowl growing smaller beneath dragon wings. The watch dragon bugled a farewell, then R’feem gave the signal and they jumped between. D’gar had seen Benden Weyr before, although it was several Turns ago. As weyrlings, they’d visited all the Weyrs and major Holds when they were learning to fly between. Back then, there hadn’t been much difference between Benden and Fort in terms of the number of dragons housed there. The first thing he noticed this time around was that the air was noticeably cooler, even though it was afternoon and the sun was bright. Well, that figured, as Benden was a lot further north than Fort. Dragons were taking advantage of the fine weather to sun themselves on their weyr ledges. Benden had been designed to house up to five hundred dragons, but it was obvious that many of the weyrs were currently unoccupied. They landed on a well cleared area - that was the other noticeable difference. Benden had remained a working weyr and had none of the signs of neglect and abandonment they’d all grown accustomed to since the Big Move. Everything looked well ordered and well cared for. A few young dragons were bathing in the lake, their riders diligently scrubbing their hide. Herebeth looked pointedly toward the feeding grounds as if sizing up his next meal already. A tall woman holding a slate came over and started talking to R’feem. He introduced her as Manora, the Headwoman. She pointed across toward the eastern wall. ‘I’ve allocated you the third and fourth level weyrs on the eastern side. Once you’ve picked which one you want, please let me know, for my records.’ ‘I’d prefer something lower down. And with stairs.’ M’rell said quietly, at D’gar’s side. He smiled. M’rell was well known to the women of the Lower Cavern back at Fort. While it might be easy for him to get up to a higher weyr, for anyone without a dragon, stairs were useful if they wanted to nip in and out discreetly. ‘You’d best ask, then. Only don’t let the Headwoman know why or she’ll probably send you right up to the top.’ ‘How about you?’ ‘I’ll be happy if it’s clean and free of tunnel snakes.’ Tunnel snakes are fine. They make a tasty snack. He chuckled. ‘What did Herebeth say?’ M’rell asked. ‘Nothing about you. He doesn’t mind having a weyr infested with tunnel snakes. Says they’re tasty.’ ‘You better watch he doesn’t get fat.’ I am not fat. Herebeth said indignantly. M’rell continued. ‘Maybe that’s why he doesn’t bother to chase any greens these days. He’s more interested in eating than mating.’ ‘Maybe,’ D’gar said, not wanting to get drawn onto that subject. Fortunately the conversation was ended by R’feem beckoning them all closer. 'Manora has very generously offered us something to eat before dinner’s served as we’ve missed lunch due to the time difference. So I suggest you all get yourselves settled and unloaded as quickly as you can, then meet back down here.’ The weyr D’gar had been given was slightly smaller than what he’d been used to at Fort, although, in all fairness that had been a ‘double’ size with room for two dragons. He’d known that at some point, he’d be asked to move out when it was needed by another weyrmated pair, but so far, that hadn’t happened. Even though it was empty, it had been recently swept and prepared for the new arrivals. The ledge was bathed in sunlight, much to Herebeth’s approval and the dragon’s couch had been well worn to a pleasingly rounded shape. As soon as D’gar unfastened his belongings and removed the riding straps, Herebeth checked it out, turning around several times to assess the comfort. It fits me very well, he pronounced, settling down with his head resting on his front legs. D’gar left him to it and pushed aside the heavy curtain that led into the sleeping chamber. It was sparsely furnished - just a bed and a chest for storing clothes - but that was all he needed. A couple of alcoves, cut into the rocky walls, provided some extra storage and a fresh basket of glows had been left there. A faded but clean rug had been placed beside the bed, so at least he wouldn’t have to step out onto cold stone with bare feet. He put his box of food on one of the shelves and unrolled the sleeping furs, then sat on the edge of the bed and looked around his new home. He wondered how long it had been since someone last lived here. Could have been way back in the Interval, before the population at Benden had dwindled away. Whoever it had been though, they’d left no trace behind. Still, at least here there were no memories to haunt him so maybe this move, jarring as it seemed, was for the best. He went back out, past a snoozing Herebeth, to the ledge from where there was a fine view of the Bowl. To his right, a sandy floor stretched as far as the feeding grounds and the lake. To the left was the wide entrance to the Hatching Grounds. Directly across the Bowl were countless other weyr openings, in shadow at this time of day. He realised his weyr must be almost directly over the kitchens. The smell of cooking reminded him how hungry he was so it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to get back down. A couple of dragons and their riders were already gliding towards the ground, their wings gleaming in the sunlight. ‘Come on you. I need a lift,’ he said out loud, stroking the dragon’s shoulder. Herebeth’s eyes whirled lazily. So soon? He asked. I was just getting comfortable. Back at ground level, several of the Fort contingent had already gathered. ‘How’s your weyr?’ T’garrin asked. ‘A lot cleaner than my old one at Fort. Herebeth approves.’ He watched as his dragon flew back up, disappearing from view as he landed on the ledge. ‘How’s yours?’ ‘Not bad. In fact, I think I’m just two along from you.’ As they chatted, a group of ten dragons; a bronze, two browns, three blues and four greens landed neatly in formation. As one of the riders dismounted and took off his jacket, D’gar recognised from his shoulder knots that he was from Telgar. ‘More reinforcements, it seems,’ he commented, noticing that the bronze was favouring a wing as if recently recovered from injury and two of the greens bore scars from old scorings. ‘Great opportunity to get rid of the odds and sods,’ T’garrin said. ‘Like us, you mean.’ ‘Well, yes. Easier to send us off here than to try and slot us in to the other Wings back home.’ ‘Good point. But I wonder how we’ll fit in here. I mean, all their dragons are huge.’ The modern dragons, being larger, would presumably have greater stamina, but at the expense of manoeuvrability. ‘I see what you mean,’ T’garrin said. ‘I’ve always considered Belloth quite a good size for a blue, but some of these Benden greens aren’t much smaller. And just look at that brown coming in now.’ They watched as a brown dragon - easily the size of bronze Piroth - landed on a nearby ledge. ‘Wonder why they’re that big? Back in our time, all the dragons were similar sized, no matter what Weyr they hatched at.’ D’gar pondered the question. ‘Maybe it’s due to inbreeding, with them being isolated for so long?’ ‘Better not let them hear you say that. Someone might get offended.’ ‘Yes, don’t wan’t to get up someone’s nose when we’ve only just arrived.’ Just then, Piroth landed neatly and R’feem slid down. ‘Is everyone here?’ ‘All except J’rud. He’s probably still unloading his furniture.’ ‘Oh well, he can find us when he gets down here. Don’t know about the rest of you, but I could really use a mug of klah right now.’ He led the way into the dining hall. After a quick snack, they were given a tour of the Weyr. It was easy to see that it dated from the same era as Fort, when the ancients still had the tools to cut through solid rock and leave smooth walls. The bathing chambers were decently sized and the water seemed nice and hot. As they walked past the Senior Queen’s Weyr, Ramoth raised her head briefly, before resuming her afternoon nap. After being shown around, they were left to their own devices. Some of the riders went back to their weyrs. D’gar considered doing the same, but there were comfortable places to sit in the dining hall and plenty of klah. Besides, Herebeth was sleeping and it didn’t seem fair to disturb him again. The sun had slipped below the rim, leaving the floor of the Bowl in chilly shadow. Despite this, it still felt early in the day to D’gar, accustomed as he was to Fort time. It would take a day or so to get used to it, he knew and he’d probably find it difficult to get to sleep later. Still, at least there wasn’t another Fall for two days. Apparently, the Weyrleader had charts plotting out when and where Thread would fall. They’d never needed that before, but then each Weyr had become used to the regular patterns of Fall over their own areas. Until three days ago, Benden had been expecting to cover the whole continent alone. Impossible, of course, even without all the expansion of Holds and cultivated land during the Interval. Although, he supposed, this trick of being able to go between time would have helped. But still, a dragon and rider could only fly for a certain number of hours in a day without getting exhausted. It set his head spinning just to think of the complexities of planning and organisation that would have been needed. This was the first time since the Big Move - and during the hectic days before - that he’d really had a chance to think about between timing. He knew that Lessa had worked out the reason why the five other Weyrs had been abandoned must be because they had come forward to her time, but of course no one in the past would have known that unless she'd gone back to tell them. So she’d figured out that she must have already done it, else the other Weyrs wouldn’t have been empty in the first place. It was all very complicated. He poured a mug of klah and sat by the night hearth. How come no one had ever known dragons could go between times before? Going between places was one of those things that it didn’t do to analyse too much. Everyone knew it could be dangerous if you got it wrong; that had been drummed into them all as weyrlings. Flying on your dragon for the first time was exhilarating. Going between for the first time was downright terrifying. Apart from the horror stories - everyone was told the old tale of a weyrling pair found embedded in solid rock - there was the undeniable fact that some just didn’t come back at all from their first attempt. And because they didn’t come back, no one knew exactly what they’d done wrong. The importance of an accurate visual was drilled into them over and over again. But at the same time, it was stressed that you needed to pick something that wouldn’t change over time; trees can fall, mountains rarely do. Maybe the whole knack of travelling through time was to forget all you’d been taught and go for the specific. Hadn’t Lessa used a tapestry to guide her back to the Ruatha of four hundred Turns ago, when the Hold had been subtly different to the way it looked today? Still, she’d almost died doing it, not realising how long she’d be trapped in the blackness and utter cold of between, unable to breathe. That was why they’d come forward in smaller jumps. He sipped his klah and stared into the flames. Someone must have figured it out before. Maybe it was another of those things that the ancients had known about, but which had been lost in the mists of time, waiting for some brave soul to rediscover. Another rider came over and poured himself a mug. He was young, probably just out of weyrlinghood. He had a shock of blond hair - almost bleached white - and was unusually tanned for so early in the spring. ‘Mind if I sit here?’ he asked. ‘No.’ He supposed it was no bad thing to get to know folk. Besides, this one was exceptionally good looking. Maybe a little on the youthful side, but then he wasn’t exactly ancient himself, even if he sometimes felt that way. The lad cupped his hands around the mug. ‘Can’t seem to get warm since we came back,’ he said. ‘Is it always this cold here?’ ‘Don’t really know. I’m from Fort myself.’ It wasn’t that cold outside, surely. ‘Oh, you must be one of the transfers they were telling us about. I’m from Southern.’ ‘What, Ista?’ This was confusing. His shoulder knot was in the Benden colours, as well as showing that his dragon was green. The lad laughed. ‘No, Southern Weyr. Well, not now, of course. We came back here three days ago. It’s been a strange couple of days.’ ‘Tell me about it. So, where is Southern Weyr anyway? I’ve never heard of it.’ ‘Well, you wouldn’t have, back then. It’s on the Southern continent. And I was Searched from Southern Boll for Prideth’s clutch, so I’ve never been this far north before.’ Well, that explained why he felt so cold. ‘Southern Boll, eh? You should have been standing on our hatching sands.’ ‘Except when I was Searched, Fort was deserted.’ ‘Oh, yes. I forgot.’ ‘So, you must have been fighting Thread for Turns and Turns.’ ‘I’m not that old,’ he protested, hoping fervently that the youngster wasn’t seeing him as being too old to be attractive. ‘Five Turns, that’s all. Our Wingleader’s been at it for nearly twenty.’ ‘Were you at Telgar the other day?’ He nodded. ‘I think everyone was.’ ‘They wouldn’t let us do much except supply extra firestone.’ ‘That’s a vital job. And a good way to introduce you to the fighting wings. We did it, while we were still weyrlings.’ ‘I’m not a weyrling,’ he said firmly. ‘We finished our training months ago. We came back here expecting to fight, then you lot turned up, so we didn’t have to.’ ‘Sorry about that. I’ll just nip back four hundred Turns if you like.’ And that just made you seem even older, he thought, even as he said it. The lad must have realised how ungracious he had sounded. ‘I didn’t mean it like that. Just that we were all ready to do our bit and then they didn’t need us after all. I can’t wait to get into a Wing.’ The enthusiasm of youth. Once a few of his clutch mates had died, he’d sober up a bit. If he survived that long. ‘Don’t be too eager,’ D’gar warned, knowing it was useless even as he spoke. He would have to find out for himself, as they all had. ‘Oh, there you are,’ M’rell came over with T’garrin and J’rud. ‘And who’s this?’ D’gar realised he’d not even asked the lad’s name. ‘Er…’ ‘H’rek, Rioth's rider,’ he supplied. ‘Chatting up the greens already, D’gar,’ J’rud commented. ‘Quick work.’ ‘Can’t I just have a mug of klah with someone without you lot thinking there’s an ulterior motive?’ H’rek interrupted. ‘To be honest, I started the conversation. I thought he looked lonely.’ He was never going to live this down. ‘I was just sitting here thinking, that’s all.’ ‘He does a lot of that,’ M’rell said to H’rek. ‘It gives him that darkly brooding look some folk find attractive.’ ‘Oh. Shut up. This disreputable bunch are my wingmates,’ he said to H’rek. Then, so they’d get off the subject. ’Guess what, you lot. He’s from a Weyr in the Southern continent.’ Everyone looked surprised. ‘I always heard that place was barren,’ T’garrin said. ‘No, it’s really lush. Everything grows twice the size it does here. The fruit’s the tastiest I’ve ever eaten.’ ‘Well, I suppose stuff would regrow after four hundred-odd Turns without Thread.’ Even places that were cleared as regularly as the fire heights tried to sprout greenery, so it stood to reason. ‘That’s how they explained it to us, too. It was strange at first though, living in wooden huts in the jungle, but we got used to it.’ ‘Wooden huts!’ M’rell exclaimed. ‘What about Thread?’ ‘That’s just it. We were all worried about that, what with everyone saying it was coming back and that was why so many dragons were going to be needed soon. But all the time we were there, no Thread fell. T’bor - that’s our Weyrleader - said we didn’t need to bother about it. And it set me thinking…’ ‘Oh no, not another one who thinks all the time,’ T’garrin groaned. H’rek looked uncertain. ‘It’s probably nothing.’ ‘Ignore them,’ D’gar said. ‘Say what you were going to.’ ‘It might sound stupid, but I’m fairly sure they must have sent us back in time…’ he paused. ‘Well, go on.’ ‘I mean, all of you came forward from the past, didn’t you? So that’s proof dragons can travel through time as well as from place to place. So I reckon they sent us back a few Turns, out of harm’s way. Give our dragons a chance to mature so we’d be ready to come back and fight Thread.’ ‘What do your clutchmates think of your theory?’ He grimaced. ‘That’s the trouble. Most of them don’t think at all.’ D’gar smiled, looking around at the others. ‘I know the feeling,’ he said, then ducked as M’rell aimed a friendly blow at his head. ‘Does it really matter anyway?’ J’rud commented. ‘We’re all here now. Just got to make the best of it. Anyway, where are your clutchmates?’ ‘They’re out on patrol, learning the local landmarks.’ ‘So what did you do, to be left behind?’ T’garrin asked. D’gar noticed the lad looked slightly embarrassed. ‘Isn’t that his business?’ he protested. ‘No. It’s fine,’ he said quietly. ‘It’s Rioth. We’re not allowed out of the Weyr at the moment. She’s due to rise soon.’ He didn’t sound as if he was looking forward to it, D’gar thought. J’rud smiled. ‘She’ll have plenty of choice, then. There’s dragons here from all over Pern.’ ‘While we were looking around another ten arrived from Ista. And four from High Reaches,’ M’rell said. ‘You’d have thought they could spare more than that.’ T’garrin looked over his shoulder to check none of them were around. ‘They didn’t lose as many as we did, from what I’ve heard.’ ‘They’ve never been ones to mix much, though.’ ‘Yes and no one wants to transfer there. Too sharding cold.’ J’rud shivered dramatically. ‘Colder than here?’ H’rek asked. ‘Much. They have snow nine months out of every Turn. You ever heard the old joke?’ ‘Of course he hasn’t,’ D’gar put in. ‘But I’m sure you’ll tell him.’ J’rud sat on the bench. ‘Right. Why do riders from High Reaches go between?’ H’rek shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘To get warm.’ He laughed. ‘Get it? To get warm.’ T’garrin rolled his eyes. ‘That one’s as old as the hills.’ A few drudges had emerged from the kitchens to wipe down tables. More people were starting to come in to the dining hall, among them a large group of young and suntanned riders. H’rek waved to them. ‘They’re my clutchmates. We usually sit over there.’ He pointed to the far corner. ‘Why don’t you join us? There’s always a few spaces at that end.’ ‘Might as well.’ At least that way, he’d be able to spend some more time in H’rek’s company. Just talking with him had made D’gar feel as if a piece of his heart had begun to thaw after a long cold spell. Natural caution mixed with painful experience was warning him that he should be careful. He had, after all, come here to fight Thread and it was entirely possible that neither he nor H’rek would be around for long enough to get to know each other better, but if they did, would that be so wrong? The food was tasty and plentiful. There were some subtle differences in flavour from what he had been used to. Maybe it was down to the different herbs that grew in these parts, or the way recipes had changed through the Turns. As he ate, D’gar noticed the way people had grouped themselves; the Southern and Fort riders here, with the ones who had arrived too late spilling over to the next table. Those had been joined by others from Telgar and Ista. Next came another table filled with more Southern riders; from the clutch before his, H’rek explained. It was obvious how, despite the differences in age and origins, all those who weren’t regular Benden riders had sat together. Presumably that would change over the next few days as they were allocated places in the Benden Wings. He looked around the room, wondering where he’d end up and whether he’d get on as well with his new wingmates as with the ones he had now. ‘I still can’t get used to this many people in one place,’ H’rek said. ‘In Southern you knew everyone. Here, it’s like everyone’s looking at you…’ ‘Well, that’s hardly surprising. You’re not bad to look at.’ He was trying to keep the conversation light, but that was bordering on flirtatious. And if H’rek’s green was that close to rising, he’d be sensitive to nuances. ‘Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.’ ‘Everyone tries it on when you’re wearing these.’ He pointed to his shoulder knots with the unmistakeable green braid. ‘But as it’s you, I don’t mind.’ Some green riders, like V’chal, flirted any chance they had. H’rek obviously wasn’t that type; they’d had a perfectly normal conversation when he’d first shown up. However, with that comment, it seemed as if he might be feeling the same sense of attraction. Pity really that his dragon was so close to rising. D’gar would rather take it slowly and get to know him properly before being caught up in a mating flight. If, indeed, Herebeth deigned to get himself involved at all. Is there something I should know about going on? Trust his dragon to tune in now. How do you feel about a mating flight? Soon, I think. What’s the dragon like? A Benden green. Her name’s Rioth. I’ll find out more. ‘Has Rioth risen many times before?’ D’gar asked, trying to sound casual. ‘Just the once.’ He looked down at his food as if he’d suddenly lost his appetite. He definitely seemed nervous about it. ‘Well, she might favour the same dragon again.’ ‘I hope not. It was really embarrassing last time. Afterwards, I mean. Not for Rioth, obviously.’ ‘Oh.’ Not a good experience, then. D’gar desperately thought of something that might reassure the lad. ‘If there’s anyone you particularly like, that can sometimes make a difference too.’ ‘Really?’ There was a faint hope in his voice. ‘It was all a bit… overwhelming before.’ ‘Mating flights usually are.’ ‘No one really said anything about what happened.’ He paused. ‘I’m not Weyrbred, so I didn’t know… I mean, I saw a few of the greens from Ramoth’s clutch rise but I never realised how out of control it would all be.’ ‘Didn’t your Weyrlingmaster give you “the chat”?’ From the blank look on his face, obviously not. ‘We had training from a few different people but it was mostly about flying and looking after our dragons properly.’ That didn’t sound good. Back when he’d been a weyrling, by the time the first of their clutch was mature enough to rise they’d all been aware of what it would entail. No one expected a young green rider to go into a mating flight without some kind of previous sexual experience. A sudden thought struck him. ‘I’ve got no right to ask this, I know,’ he said, dropping his voice slightly. ‘But when Rioth rose before, had you… was it your first time too?’ The absence of an answer told him everything. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.’ ‘I’m glad you did. Makes me feel like someone’s thinking about me.’ ‘I think too much, according to my wing mates.’ ‘Me too.’ They had so much in common, despite having been born in different times. D’gar reached out across the table and touched H’rek’s hand. Just to let him know he cared, really, except that when H’rek met his eyes it was one of those moments when you just know where this is going to end up. Physical attraction was only one aspect of what he knew he was starting to feel. And the idea of letting himself fall for anyone again was almost as frightening as the first time he’d ridden Herebeth between. ‘You two seem to be getting on very well.’ J’rud leaned across the table ‘Think we should put marks on Herebeth catching Rioth?’ ’That’s up to Herebeth, isn’t it?’ ‘Do you think he might?’ H’rek sounded all too hopeful. ‘Wherries might sing. Herebeth’s not risen for any green for a long time.’ J’rud said lightly. ‘Mind you, if his rider’s decided to start living again, who knows what could happen. Might even be in with a chance myself.’ ‘It’ll be a warm night between before that happens.’ Suddenly, the food had lost its flavour. This was getting too much. He needed to get away, to give himself some time to think about the consequences, ‘I’ve had enough,’ he said, getting up from the table. Before anyone had a chance to call him back, he walked out of the dining hall into the gathering dusk. On the weyr ledges, dragons eyes glowed like jewels. I’m finished down here. Can you give me a lift back up to the weyr? Of course. ‘Wait!’ H’rek had followed him. ‘Is Herebeth going to chase Rioth?’ He sounded desperate and it was that which made D’gar stop. ‘Sorry. This is all happening too fast. I don’t want to make any promises.’ ‘But I thought you cared. No one else seems to.’ ‘Listen, lad. The future of Pern’s been at stake over the past few days. Do you really think anyone up there…’ and he made a vague gesture towards the Queen’s Weyr, ‘Would have had the time to be bothered about the fate of one weyrling green rider.’ H’rek grabbed his shoulder and pulled him around so they were face to face. He was surprisingly strong considering his youth and slender build. ‘I’m not a weyrling. And I thought you felt the same way as I do. What’s changed?’ D’gar sighed. ‘Nothing. But even if Herebeth does chase Rioth there’s no guarantee he’ll catch her. You do know that, don’t you?’ The brown dragon landed neatly to one side, furling his wings. His eyes whirled quizzically. Am I carrying the two of you? No. Just me. ‘I’m going up to my weyr now. You should probably go back inside and join your friends.’ He turned away. Herebeth extended a foreleg and he vaulted up. The young one seems distressed. He’s fine. Let’s go. They landed back on the ledge. D’gar couldn’t help himself looking back down to the dining hall entrance, where H’rek was still standing all alone. Although he couldn’t be sure, at that distance, he felt H’rek’s eyes on him. Now you are troubled. What is wrong? I care about what might happen to him. He leaned against the comforting bulk of Herebeth’s flank. His dragon’s going to rise and he’s scared. I don’t want to care about him. I’m scared too. A young green dragon launched herself from a ledge across the Bowl, gliding down gracefully. Even in the gathering darkness her hide was a vivid hue; the colour of new leaves in springtime. It had to be Rioth. Herebeth’s eyes followed her all the way down. I miss Zemianth. You miss your mate. But they are gone. We are not. He was right. Will you chase Rioth when she rises? If you care about her rider, then of course I will. Sometimes, he reflected, dragons had more sense than people.
  5. Mawgrim

    Chapter 2

    They have, but only on the southern continent. When Lessa and F'nor fly to the south to try and find a place where the young dragons from Ramoth's first clutch to mature, they expect to find the land barren from Thread and are very surprised that it's lush and fertile. It's only later, during 'Dragonquest' that they realise the grubs protect against Thread and start spreading them around the north as well.
  6. Mawgrim

    Chapter 2

    The problem with that is Thread burrows into the ground and can spread way beyond where it landed. Can see where you are coming from, though.
  7. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    It’s well worth reading the 'Dragonriders of Pern' trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, which consists of 'Dragonflight', 'Dragonquest' and 'The White Dragon'. They were published way back in the 1970's and 80's and you can buy decent paperback copies from many online used book stores.
  8. D’gar woke, in his weyr, huddled under furs against the warm bulk of his still sleeping dragon. It had been easier and more comfortable to stay out here than to face the dusty decay of his once spotless sleeping chamber. Herebeth’s presence would keep away tunnel snakes too and there were probably a few of those slithering round in the darkness. Far below, lights showed where the unloading had already begun. And yes, the smell of freshly brewed klah rose up in the still, predawn air, proving that the kitchen staff really could work miracles. No matter how prepared you thought you were, it had been a shock to see what four hundred Turns of neglect had done to Fort Weyr. Not that it would be any different in the other abandoned Weyrs. Igen would probably be full of sand and High Reaches snowed under, even though spring was on the way. Still, a few sevendays would have things almost back to normal. And now that it was back to the old routine, fighting Thread, they’d have to sort out the Wings pretty fast. After the end of the Pass, there hadn’t been any real need to bring 'C’ Wing - or ‘F’ for that matter - back up to full strength. T’ron would have his work cut out shuffling riders around. It might make more sense to merge ‘C’ and ‘F’ Wings into one for the time being. Mind you, that was someone else’s problem. All he needed to do was to make sure he was fit and ready to fight Thread all over again. That last Fall, over Ruatha, had been a bit of a blur. He’d still been in shock. If it hadn’t been for Herebeth’s good sense he might not even be here now. Back then, he hadn’t really cared whether he lived or died. In fact, it had seemed grossly unfair that he’d survived when S’brin and all those others hadn’t. Worse still that they’d been so close to making it through in one piece. Two sharding Falls before the last, when it had felt like they were on the home straight! There had been low cloud that day and a fine drizzle reducing visibility to the point you could barely see your own dragon’s head. Too little of it to drown Thread, but enough to make it merge into the background; silver against grey. Add the occasional gusts of wind blowing clumps unpredictably sideways and it had been lethal. It had been the worst Fall in his five Turns of experience and even the older riders agreed they’d rarely seen conditions as bad. All you could do was try to keep position, flame as much as you could and hope you’d be quick enough to dodge between if the worst happened. Freeze the stuff off before it did too much damage. But if you hit a really big clump; if you got scored over more than fifty percent of your body, then no matter how fast you went between it wasn’t enough. The healers said it wasn’t necessarily the scoring that killed, but the shock. Your heart couldn’t take it. By the time they landed; by the time he’d run into the infirmary, it had already been too late. S’brin had died and Zemianth gone between. D’gar had done what he had to; taken what was left of his weyrmate’s body between so that rider and dragon could be reunited in death. That awful sight filled his mind’s eye again, as vivid as if it was just yesterday. He pushed it away, not wanting Herebeth to wake and share in it. Wondered how many Turns it would take until those memories blurred and faded, or if they ever would. There was no point in trying to sleep again. He sat watching the lightening sky until the rising sun blotted out the baleful glare of the Red Star. Herebeth yawned and stretched out his neck. How did everything get so dirty so quickly? It’s four hundred Turns worth of dirt, don’t you remember? Oh yes. I really fancy a nice, juicy wherry. Your stomach is a bottomless pit. Well, if you want one, we’ll have to hunt later. There’s nothing here. Daylight revealed the true extent of the desolation. Although inhabited again, with dragons in almost every weyr opening and people busy down in the Bowl, Fort still had the look of a place left to wind and weather for a very long time. Where once the beast pens had been was a wide expanse of scrubby bushes. That would all need to be cleared. The lake was partly silted up; the fire heights sprouting grass and other undesirable greenery. Think someone will be doing some flaming later on to clear all that. Might even be us. Not until I’ve had my wherry. Or maybe two. Going hunting wasn’t a bad idea. If he brought back a few spare wherries for the kitchens it might be enough to put some extra rations his way. Food was definitely going to be short until the Holders started to send in long overdue tithes. From what he’d heard, there were still doubters around; those who wouldn’t believe in Thread's return until it fell over their land. It would take a few Falls before they recalled the words of the teaching song to ‘honour those the dragons heed’. And this early in the spring was always a hard time in the holds as the supplies gathered in from the previous Turns harvest were used up and the new season’s early crops not yet ready. Yes, the kitchens would be hard pressed to feed everyone as well as they were accustomed. He took a quick look back into his weyr. The drifts of windblown dirt and debris were even more depressing by daylight. It would have to be cleaned and he had no doubt that he’d end up being the one to do it, but that could wait for later. First thing to do was to get some breakfast and find out if there had been any orders which would affect him. The dining hall was surprisingly full. D’gar grabbed a mug of klah and bowl of porridge then went to join his Wing. ‘Best get your porridge down quick,’ M’rell said. ‘G’reden had a crawler fall in his.’ D’gar looked up at the ceiling. There were quite a few webs still up there. “Thanks for the warning. So where’s our leader?’ ‘Summoned to a meeting. Guess we’ll find out what they’ve got in mind for us later.’ ‘I was going to suggest a few of us went wherry hunting.’ ‘That dragon of yours hungry again?’ He nodded between mouthfuls of porridge. ‘I’ll bet he’s not the only one. He carried a fair amount of weight yesterday.’ ‘Toth too. Did they really need to transport so much? Surely it wouldn’t have done much harm leaving storage jars stashed away for four hundred Turns.’ ‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you.’ The porridge wasn’t bad, considering. Mind you, the kitchen staff must have been up for most of the night to turn out any sort of breakfast at all. Wouldn’t stop some riders moaning, though. He looked up to see that R’feem was on his way back. Their Wingleader settled himself at the head of the table and poured himself a mug of klah. So, what’s the news?’ D’gar asked. ‘We’ll be riding Fall tomorrow morning, over Telgar.’ ‘Telgar’s not ours,’ G’reden protested. ‘Tomorrow it’s everyone’s. Mass show of strength to reassure the Lord Holders that we’re back to protect them. And guess what we’ll be doing today?’ R’feem smiled slowly. ‘Everyone’s favourite job, bagging up firestone.’ There were groans from around the table. ‘Your dragons will have to help too. There’s a lot of rubble to dig out before we get to it.’ D’gar looked around him. No one else seemed inclined to say anything, so he took the incentive. ‘There are a few hungry dragons around after yesterday’s work. If it’s all right with you, I thought we could take them hunting this morning.’ ‘I’ll not stop you. You’ll have to make up the time, though. No skiving off early if you start later than the rest.’ ‘Fair enough.’ ‘Just don’t go taking any prize beasts. The Weyrleader will be meeting with the Lord Holders over the next few days to talk about tithes and he’ll not be happy if they’re already complaining about stock losses.’ ‘We’ll stick to feral beasts and wild wherries then.’ Three of them went out after breakfast had finished. Once they’d cleared the Bowl, the changes to the countryside were obvious. Swathes of mature trees grew on hillsides that had once been clear. Many more dwellings had been built, surrounded by cultivated fields where newly planted crops were showing green. Pastures were full of herd beasts. In short, there was a great deal more to be protected than they’d been used to before. Herebeth glanced down as they flew. Lots of food on the hoof down there. None that we’re allowed to take, though. Anyway, I thought you fancied a wherry. For a snack, yes. But I’d not say no to a caprine either. When they reached the cliffs where wherries had always nested, D’gar - and Herebeth - were pleasantly surprised. The avians had few natural predators and the long absence of a nearby weyr had led to a population explosion. This new generation were also unused to dragons and thus were easy pickings. Within a fairly short time, all three dragons had sated their hunger pangs and their riders were able to sling several wherries each across their necks to take back with them. As D’gar secured them to his riding straps, M’rell came over. ‘You going to be all right?’ ‘Carrying these? Sure.’ He paused briefly before continuing. ’No, I meant tomorrow. Fall.’ ‘I was all right before, wasn’t I?’ ‘Not really. You were lucky Herebeth had more sense than to let you get yourself into trouble.’ ‘I wouldn’t risk his hide.’ Anger flared at the suggestion. ‘No, but you’d risk your own.’ ‘Same thing, isn’t it.’ ‘Just so long as you realise that.’ M’rell patted him on the shoulder. ‘We all lost friends. Don’t want to lose any more if we can help it.’ As he’d anticipated, the wherries were gratefully received by the kitchens. Having unloaded, they joined the rest of the Wing uncovering, sorting and bagging up the firestone supplies. ‘Let's be grateful it’s only a short Fall tomorrow. And there’ll be so many dragons, no one’s going to be overworked.’ R’feem doled out some of the newly bagged rock to the weyrlings who had been allocated to sear the greenery from around the Bowl. By evening, the stench of burned grass and firestone filled the air and dragons going aloft stirred up a gritty ash. They made their weary way to the dining hall where - surprise, surprise - a meal of wherry stew padded out with plenty of tubers was on offer. No one stayed up too late. It would be an early start the next morning as although the Fall was due to start three hours after dawn, Telgar’s dawn was well ahead of Fort’s. Plus, with so many wings of dragons involved, there was a fair amount of planning involved. The six Weyrs would be riding Fall in shifts and doubtless those who were waiting their turn would be watching and critiquing the tactics of others. ‘It’ll be more like the Games than real fighting,’ B’naj said. ‘Still, it’s a good opportunity to show Benden how it should be done.’ There wasn’t time for more than a quick mug of klah before assembling in the Bowl. It was too early for breakfast, even if he’d been able to stomach it. That was nothing new; the sense of nervous anticipation had always stopped him from eating much before Fall. As Herebeth crunched firestone, D’gar checked the riding straps yet again. It was strange to be making preparations he’d thought behind him forever. All around him, other riders were making the same checks and performing their own, time-worn rituals they believed would keep both themselves and their dragons safe. R’feem, for example, always put his left glove on first. T’garrin walked round his dragon three times, pretending to be checking his straps and Belloth’s hide. S’brin and he had always fastened each others riding jackets. Of course, the last two Falls, that hadn’t been the case, but he’d not expected to come back from those anyway. Strange thing that at this moment he felt more keenly alive than he had during the past four months. Was that a bad omen, he wondered, or a good one? We will be fine. Herebeth said. I will flame Thread from the sky. I know. It is what we were hatched to do, after all. Dragons had such a matter of fact view of the world. Plus, they didn’t fall into the human habit of over-thinking things. ‘Right. “C” Wing, mount your dragons.’ R’feem called out, finally pulling on his right glove before climbing into position. Everyone followed suit. Fighting straps were fastened, although they’d not be pulled to full tightness until leading edge was sighted. Weyrlings passed up spare bags of firestone. Ahead of them, ‘A’ Wing was already aloft, their wings outlined by the rising sun as they ascended above the rim of the Bowl before abruptly disappearing between. D’gar felt Herebeth shift beneath him, eager to follow. Once ‘B’ Wing had taken off, R’feem gave the signal and with a powerful leap, they were airborne. Piroth sent out the coordinates to each dragon in the Wing and they went between. The sun was still low over Telgar’s rocky peaks. The snow on the higher ground glistened. The air was chilly, although not cold enough to freeze Thread to black dust, more’s the pity. What a sight it must be for the ground crews. Near on eighteen hundred dragons assembling when they’d been used to seeing no more than a hundred-odd in the sky. They’d been issued with some of the spare flamethrowers that had been brought forward. D’gar still found it strange to think that in Lessa’s time, flamethrowers hadn’t been available. The Long Interval had rendered them obsolete and the only record they’d even existed had been in old tapestries. Piroth says we will be flying the first half of the Fall, Herebeth relayed.Together with all the dragons of Fort, Benden and Ista. Ista will be taking the top level, Benden the next and Fort below. So, just above the queens' wing. Best leave a few Threads for the queens to mop up or they’ll be grumbling. He never envied the queens their job. Flamethrowers were unwieldy enough on the ground, let alone on dragon back. How would the diminutive Lessa fare with a flamethrower, he wondered. Mind you, all queen riders built up a fair amount of muscle tending to their massive dragons. And if she was brave enough to jump back four hundred Turns with no real idea of whether she’d succeed or not, riding Fall wouldn’t worry her too much. Now there was an opportunity for comparison, it was clear to see that Ramoth was a good tail length longer than Mardra's Loranth and none of the other queens came anywhere near her in size. She was no anomaly either. All of the Benden dragons were larger than those from any of the other Weyrs. There were variations in size within each colour, of course. Herebeth was slightly larger than average for a brown, but some of the Benden blues looked to be not much smaller and their browns were close in size to many of the Fort bronzes. That would get up some folk's noses, for sure. Size doesn’t matter, Herebeth said. I have outflown bronzes before in mating flights. I know. But just look at them. Those greens will be easy to catch. They’re too big to be able to turn fast. I doubt you’ll ever get a chance to chase any Benden greens. He glanced toward the eastern horizon again. Everyone did, when you were waiting. If it was cloudy, you could imagine that distant haze to be nothing more than a harmless rain shower blowing in, until it came close enough to see the deadly silver-grey of descending Thread. Today, the sky was clear and the leading edge was given a dangerous glitter by the morning sunshine. Dragons became restless, sensing its presence. They were always eager to fight. Even dragons grounded by injury would try to respond when Thread fell and often needed to be forcibly restrained. Herebeth’s surging emotions steadied his own nerves. He tightened the straps another hole as they flew in formation toward the oncoming Fall. Up ahead, the first gouts of flame blazed bright. D’gar took his last few breaths of clean air. Soon, it would be thick with ash and the stench of firestone. The higher levels were already searing plenty of Thread. Flying the top level was dangerous; you were the first line of defence against the destruction raining from the sky. Anything you couldn’t clear continued inexorably downward. The turbulence caused by wind and the downdraught of wings sent the falling Thread into swirls and eddies. Fighting in the lower levels meant less of the stuff, but it often came from unpredictable directions that you needed to be quick to avoid. Herebeth flamed a clump to his left. How satisfying it was to see the foul stuff wither and char. Once you were in the thick of it, there was no time to over-think things. Everything came down to reflex action, experience and the practice put in during drills. Despite ‘C’ wing flying light, they cleared a wide swathe; dragons and riders working well as a team. Belloth blinked between to avoid a mess of strands that would have come down on top of him. I will take it, Herebeth said. D’gar admired his economy of flame; a quick blast that seared it to ash. The dragon quickly resumed his place in the Wing. He wiped his face with the back of his glove then took a quick look around. Herebeth’s multi-faceted eyes could scan a greater area of sky, but sometimes a rider spotted something his dragon hadn’t. Plus he had the freedom of greater movement, strapped as he was between the neck ridges. Herebeth needed to look ahead to keep track of where he was in the formation, changing his speed and direction to keep a safe distance. A glance below showed the great golden queens in a V formation, ready to catch any Thread that had escaped thus far and almost an equal distance below them, the bright green of growing crops in the fields. So much cultivated land, in this new age. Trees, too; whole plantations of them. That wouldn’t have been acceptable back in the old days. Dragons were there to protect the Holds; their people, beasts and crops, but there was only so much ground that could easily be covered. The Holders needed to be reminded of their responsibilities too. A blur of movement caught his eye; strands of Thread that had detached from a larger clump, blowing in from the right. Herebeth swerved, flicked between to avoid being scored. By the time they emerged, Toth had seared them. Well spotted. Herebeth hadn’t lost his fighting reflexes, that was sure. I always keep us safe. It was all too easy to pick up the rhythm of this Fall. Swerve, sear, duck, blink between. Whenever there was clear space ahead, throw another chunk of firestone to Herebeth, who turned his head to catch the rock between his teeth. Crunch, flame, dive, weave. Don’t get complacent. ‘Complacency kills,’ the Weyrlingmaster had said often enough and how true that was. You kept your eyes peeled and didn’t get distracted. Not even when you heard cries of pain, or saw another dragon blink between Threadscored. All that mattered was getting your dragon and yourself through it safely to live and fight another day. It came as a surprise when the replacement Wings arrived halfway through the Fall and it was over for the day. Herebeth was reluctant. Thread still falls. Yes, but others are taking our place. Our shift has finished. The Wing returned to Fort Weyr. As they descended into the Bowl, D’gar started to feel the after effects; the chill that had found its way into his joints, bruising from the straps and all the usual minor aches and niggles that were somehow reassuring, because they meant you’d got through another one. A few dragons and riders were being treated for scores outside the infirmary, but it didn’t look as if there were any serious injuries this time. Something else to give thanks for. I want to swim, Herebeth said. The lake’s a mess. Needs dredging before it’ll be usable. Still, they needed to go somewhere to wash off the grime and the stench of firestone. They landed on the area that had once (four hundred Turns ago) been smooth, but was now covered in rocky debris not yet fully cleared. He slid down carefully, knowing that the impact would hurt his cold feet. It wasn’t as bad as after a full Fall but he still leaned against Herebeth’s foreleg for a few moments until he was confident he’d not fall over when he attempted to walk. In the winter months, many riders suffered from chilblains and the weird and wonderful cures people had tried were always a popular topic for conversation. He checked Herebeth for any injuries. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment and with the frequent blinks between a dragon (and their rider) ignored any minor scorings. It was only when you were safely landed that you started to feel the pain. I am fine, Herebeth said. Me too. Apart from my freezing feet. I have some flame left. Shall I warm them for you? Herebeth exhaled a quick burst of flame to demonstrate. No thanks. I’d rather not barbecue my toes. A good soak in some warm water will do the job. The other riders were making similar checks. Blue Jekkoth had a damaged wingtip and G’reden was slathering it with numbweed. ‘My fault,’ he muttered. ‘Shouldn’t have cut it so fine.’ ‘Don’t blame yourself too much, lad,’ R’feem assured him. ‘We’ve all done it.’ He turned to the rest of the Wing. ‘I’m sure you all want to get your dragons cleaned up, so what about a swim in the sea? I know a cove in Southern Boll that would be ideal.’ Soaking in the warmth of the ocean sounded great. Everyone else seemed to think the same, so after grabbing a few supplies, they took off again, going between to emerge in warm sunshine over a black sand beach with plenty of large, smooth rocks off to the right for sitting or sunbathing. Once the fighting straps were removed, the dragons launched themselves into the clear water. They seemed almost as much in their element there as in the air, diving down with wings folded, then re-emerging to splash each other like children at play. D’gar sat on one of the nearer rocks and pulled off his boots. The warm sand felt good under his bare feet. Some of the other riders were already stripping off to join their dragons, armed with long handled brushes for scrubbing their hide. He wasn’t far behind, swimming out to where Herebeth was floating, his head still partially submerged so that his eyes glowed like jewels beneath the water. As he swam alongside, the dragon blew out a jet of water at him. He dived underneath it and came up on the far side. Trying to drown me, are you? Never. But I know you humans like to play in the sea as much as we do. He glanced over toward the shore, where several of the riders were having a water fight. See what you mean. It reminded him of the previous summer - a summer now four hundred Turns gone - when he and S’brin had spent a day off beside the sea. That had been a good day. The trouble with memories was they crept up on you when you least expected it, making you all too aware of all that was lost. Why are you feeling sad again? Just remembering something. But it’s a happy memory, not a sad one. Herebeth sounded puzzled. I know. I’m sad because there won’t be another day like that again. Because Zemianth and her rider have gone between? But you are still here and so am I. There can be many more good days in our lives. Today is one. He paused.I have an itchy patch on my neck ridge. Trust a dragon to bring it back to the here and now. He set to with the scrubbing brush. Once the dragons were clean, they basked on the beach, enjoying the sun. D’gar found a comfortable rock and sat there to dry out. Lilith’s moss green hide was looking very bright, he noticed. She’d be rising soon, for sure. Probably not today, though, as none of her potential suitors seemed to be taking much notice. Lilith is a fine young green, Herebeth commented. Are you going to chase her when she rises? Maybe. He didn’t seem that bothered. Perhaps he was one of those dragons who just didn’t need to chase greens that often. Although when Zemianth had been alive, he’d usually gone for her. Not for the first time, D’gar was thankful that he’d not Impressed a green. To be tied in to that regular mating cycle, with all its mood swings and emotional issues wouldn’t have suited him at all. S’brin had always been tricky to live with for a few days before Zemianth rose. Someone put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Lovely here, isn’t it?’ V’chal, Lilith’s rider sat down next to him. A bit too close, truth to tell, but you didn’t want to upset other riders in your Wing if you could avoid it. ‘Not bad.’ Best keep it non-committal. ‘You, ah…doing anything later?’ ‘Probably cleaning up my weyr. It’s a real mess.’ ‘Mine too. Want to come up and help me out? Then maybe I could do the same for you…’ The expression on his face made it clear that cleaning wasn’t all that he anticipated doing. ‘Maybe.’ That wasn’t too definite. ‘You need to get over it, you know. No point moping over him forever.’ D’gar knew V’chal’s tactlessness was only because of his dragon’s state so he bit back the retort he might have made. ‘If it had been you gone, he’d have got someone else by now.’ This time, D’gar rounded on him. ‘That’s enough.’ Bloody proddy greens. V’chal backed off. ‘All right. No need to make a fuss. But I’ll still be around later. If you’re interested…’ He slid down off the rock and walked away, making sure D’gar had a good view of what was on offer, then headed over towards T’garrin, presumably to try the same with him. The afternoon wore on. Funny how, when you were warmed through, it was hard to recall the chill of earlier in the day. Eventually, R’feem got them all to start packing up. He had a Wingleaders’ meeting to attend and didn’t want anyone suggesting his Wing weren’t pulling their weight in the big clean up. Before they mounted, he called D’gar and M’rell over. ‘There’s a small fishing hold just beyond that headland. Why don’t you two head back that way and get us some fresh fish.’ It was phrased as a request, but carried the weight of an order. They watched the rest of the Wing take off and go between. ‘Great,’ said M’rell. ‘We get to cart back a smelly load of fish. What did we do to get up his nose?’ ‘Nothing. You should take it as a complement.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Think about it. We both ride browns. We’ve been acting as unofficial Wingseconds for a few months now. Maybe he’s considering making it permanent now that we’re fighting again. I’ll bet his meeting’s going to be about sorting out the Wings.’ ‘You could be right. I’d not thought of it that way. Shall we go, then?’ D’gar mounted up and fixed the straps to his belt. ‘Mind you, he was last here four hundred Turns ago. There might only be ruins there now.’ ‘Let’s hope not.’ The dragons flew over the top of the cliffs. As the land sloped down on the far side, rock gave way to close cropped turf, dotted with grazing beasts. Stone walls divided the hillside into a patchwork of fields. The cove itself was crescent shaped, with a harbour that had been designed to be partly sheltered under a natural overhang of the cliff. Heedless of this protection, today a couple of small boats were moored out in the open, just inside the harbour wall. Several stone built cottages lay beyond the shallow beach. In defiance of tradition, the areas directly behind each dwelling had been planted with vegetables and climbing plants clung to the frontage of three of the dwellings. A group of children spotted the dragons as they descended to land. Shrieking, they ran inside one of the open doorways. A man who was mending nets at the quayside saw them, but gave no greeting. D’gar and M’rell strolled over. ‘Afternoon,’ M’rell said. ‘Who’s the Holder around here?’ ‘That’d be me.’ He looked them up and down. ‘Not seen dragons in these parts for a few Turns. Not since they took one of my boys on Search, anyway. Hope you’re not after any more young ‘uns.’ ‘We’re not on Search at present,’ D’gar said. The man’s attitude struck him as surly. Search was a right of dragonriders and these Holder folk had enough children not to miss a few of them. ‘But we’d like some fish for the Weyr.’ He made another knot in the net. ‘You would? Well, I can offer you some freshly caught yellow-stripe for a fair price.’ ‘Price?’ Had he just heard it right? ‘We’re dragonriders. We don’t pay for what’s rightfully ours.’ The fisherman laughed. ‘Away with ye, then. If you can’t pay, you don’t get. What good’s the Weyr ever done for me except stolen a pair of hands.’ M’rell stepped forward. ‘You’ll be glad of us in a few days' time when Thread falls over your land.’ ‘Thread! That’s nowt but a story for babes.’ ‘It fell this morning on Telgar and Crom,’ D’gar put in. ‘Have you not heard?’ ‘We don’t get much news down this way. But why should I believe you anyway? Thread’s gone.’ M’rell shook his head. ’Believe us or not, it’ll destroy you just the same. Although if you don’t want our protection, we can tell the Weyr not to fly over this area.’ D’gar put a hand on his arm. ‘No need to go that far. I’m sure the Holder will be glad to tithe some fish to us and we’ll say no more about this… misunderstanding.’ The fisherman snorted. ‘Listen. I don’t take to bullying from no one, whether they’ve got dragons or not. You want fish, you pay the going price.’ Got any flame left? D’gar sent to Herebeth. A little. Show him. Herebeth exhaled fairly gently and a small gout of flame erupted from his mouth, setting fire to the edges of the net. Angrily, the man rose and stamped it out. ‘Hey, watch it!’ ‘While we’re here, we should probably burn off all that greenery from round your dwellings too,’ M’rell said in an even tone. ‘Don’t you dare.’ The fisherman moved forward in a threatening manner towards M’rell. As he approached, Toth inclined his head very slightly, knocking him off balance. One of his feet caught in the net and he ended up sprawled on the ground. A woman came running out of the nearest house. ‘You leave my husband alone,’ she shrieked, lashing out at D’gar. She landed a blow on his shoulder before he managed to grab her and hold her at arm's length. She carried on shouting insults and trying unsuccessfully to hit him again. A couple more men emerged from the other cottage door, although they seemed more interested in watching than inclined to join in. This wasn’t going at all well, D’gar thought, dodging aside as the woman spat at him. There was no way they’d get any fish from these ungrateful Holders. ‘Let’s leave it,’ he suggested. ‘We can come back in a few days after Threadfall. I’m sure they’ll show us a bit more respect then.’ ‘Fine by me.’ D’gar pushed the woman away. Herebeth exhaled another small flame - good job the Fall had been a short one - which kept both fisherfolk at a distance while they mounted the dragons. As they ascended, the man sat up, shaking his fist at them and the woman threw something that landed far short. In a few moments the dragons were high enough to go between. They emerged over the Bowl of Fort Weyr in late afternoon sunshine. A working party had started clearing the lake and dirt was being swept out from several of the weyr openings. ‘What are we going to say?’ M’rell asked after they landed. ‘That was embarrassing.’ ‘Well, we can either lie through our teeth and pretend there was no one there any more - which is going to get found out sooner or later - or just tell the truth and give everyone some warning about the attitudes of modern Holders. That’s assuming they weren’t just an exceptionally surly bunch.’ ‘R’feem isn’t going to be happy. I think he fancied fish for tea.’ ‘R’feem can go back himself if he wants. Good job there still seems to be a healthy respect for dragons, if not for their riders.’ D’gar rubbed his shoulder where he’d been hit. ‘Sharding typical. I get through Fall unscathed and end up being clobbered by a fishwife.’ ‘I’m sure V’chal will rub it better if you ask him nicely,’ M’rell smirked. ‘V’chal won’t be rubbing anything of mine, thanks very much.’ ‘You’ll not be so picky if your Herebeth flies Lilith.’ ‘He’s not interested in Lilith.’ I never said I wasn’t interested. She is a pretty young green, after all. Chasing’s one thing, catching is quite another. Lilith’s rider likes you. There was a certain degree of amusement in Herebeth’s tone.That might make her easier for me to catch. ‘Ha!’ M’rell said. ‘Think I’m going put some marks on the winner of that mating flight.’ Herebeth flew them back up to their depressingly grubby weyr. The sunshine was illuminating the entrance, making it look all the worse. Much as he didn’t feel like cleaning, he also knew that he’d have to make a start at some point. Good job it was a fairly high up weyr; those nearer to ground level would have accumulated a sight more wind-blown dirt and debris. Mind you, he’d have to go back down to the Lower Caverns for a broom and it was pleasant sitting on the sun warmed ledge, so perhaps it could wait another day. It wasn’t like he’d be entertaining guests or anything and he could sleep out with his dragon again rather than braving the sleeping chamber. My weyr could do with a sweep as well. It is rather gritty. Herebeth settled on the ledge, moving some of the dust aside with his tail. It’ll be even more gritty with all the sand you’ve brought back from that beach. Still, if you want me to sweep it, you’ll have to take me back down to fetch a broom. Oh. Maybe not today, then. My thoughts exactly. It was always good when your dragon agreed with you. They spent a pleasant hour or so watching people working down in the Bowl, until the sun dipped below the rim and the ledge slipped into shadow. Piroth’s rider wants to see you. Shells! He’d almost forgotten about the whole sorry fish episode. Presumably R’feem hadn’t. Where is he? Outside the dining hall. Better stir yourself then. When he was dropped off it was clear from the number of riders there that it wasn’t just him R’feem wanted to see. The whole Wing was assembling. Great. That meant everyone would get to know what had happened. They went inside and sat around their usual table. One thing that four hundred Turns hadn’t changed. R’feem waited until everyone had settled before he started speaking. ‘I just got out of the Wingleaders meeting. There’s going to be some changes.’ Well, they’d known that was going to happen. The details were all they needed to hear. ‘As you know, our Wing’s been under strength for a few months now. After careful consideration, the Weyrleader has decided to deploy us where we’ll be most useful.’ They’ll be splitting us up to fill in gaps in the other Wings for the time being, he thought. Then perhaps when the next class of weyrlings are ready to fight, ‘C’ Wing will reform and ride again. He certainly didn’t expect to hear what came next. ‘So, we’re all being transferred to Benden Weyr.’ ‘What?’ ‘How long for?’ ‘When?’ The hubbub rose. R’feem called for order. ‘Now come on lads, we’ve all had transfers to other Weyrs before. This is just another one.’ Except it didn’t feel quite like that. Everyone had been unsettled to some degree by the Big Move. It had all sounded very heroic and stirring, but when you arrived in a long neglected Weyr and found most of the comforts you’d taken for granted weren’t going to be available for the foreseeable future, it changed things. Anyone with a lick of sense was going to have realised by now that it would take a while before Fort - and it must be the same at the other five abandoned Weyrs - was anywhere near back to normal operation again. Add in the shock of seeing how much the land you’d known so well had altered and it was enough to leave the most stolid rider feeling out of sorts. Now they were asking dragons and riders to uproot again. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were being sent to, say, Ista or High Reaches - at least the people there would be feeling that same sense of dislocation from the familiar. His unease must have reached Herebeth. What is wrong? The dragon asked quizzically. They want to send us to another Weyr. Oh. Is it clean there? I expect so. Are there herd beasts to eat? Well… The feeding grounds there must be well stocked. Probably. Then what is the problem? He sighed. Herebeth wouldn’t understand the complexities of human needs, so it was pointless trying to explain. Anyway, R’feem was talking again. ‘We’ll be leaving tomorrow. They’re seriously under strength at Benden, plus no one there has any practical experience at fighting Thread. As to how long we’ll be there…’ he shrugged. ‘I have no more idea than you. Once they’re confident they don’t need any outside help then we’ll be back. And by then, Fort will be fully operational again. So at least none of us will have to worry about clean-up duties.’ A few faces brightened as that sank in. M’rell leaned over. ‘Can’t be too bad, can it? And at least he hasn’t mentioned the fish.’
  9. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    It's called 'Dragon's Code' and is available on Amazon.
  10. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    Maybe not quite that many chapters, but it will certainly end up at around 70 - 80,000 words.
  11. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    Anne McCaffrey herself announced that not-for-profit fanfiction was acceptable prior to her death. There was a time it was definitely no-go, but thankfully that is in the past.
  12. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    If they went back to before someone had died, then yes, but only up to the point where they had died before. Anne McCaffrey's take on time travel was that time is basically unchangeable. If something has already happened, you can't change it and if you try to, then something else will occur so that the same event comes to pass.
  13. ‘Riders and weyrfolk.’ T’ron’s powerful voice carried throughout the Lower Cavern at Fort Weyr, where they had all been summoned to attend an important meeting. ‘I’m aware that there has been a lot of speculation over what has been happening here during the past month…’ That was putting it lightly, D’gar thought. No matter how hard the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman had tried to keep the rumours from spreading, you couldn’t hide something the size of a queen dragon, especially not the one who had arrived, exhausted and pallid just a few sevendays ago. Her seriously ill rider had been carried up to Mardra’s weyr. When no official information had been forthcoming, gossip had filled in the gaps. ‘I’m glad to say that we’re now in a position to tell you everything.’ ‘About time, too,’ hissed B’naj, standing next to him, in a group with the other brown riders. He wasn’t the only one. All through the cavern, a murmur of voices rose, with a multitude of different questions. T’ron silenced them all with a gesture. ‘There’ll be time for questions later. Right now, just listen.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Yesterday, as many of you may be aware, I met with the other Weyrleaders to debate a matter of utmost importance. And, having discussed the implications, we came to a unanimous decision. We will shortly be embarking on an epic journey, to help others in their hour of need.’ ‘Where?’ someone near the front shouted. ‘Not where, but when,’ T’ron replied. ‘What’s he on about?’ That was from M’rell, over to D’gar’s left. ‘Shush. He’s trying to tell us.’ T’ron silenced them again. ‘This isn’t an easy story to tell. Or, indeed, an easy one to believe, the first time you hear it. So, I’m going to hand you over to someone who can tell it to you in her own words. Ramoth’s rider, Lessa of Benden Weyr.’ He helped the slightly built woman to stand on the table, where she could more easily be seen by everyone. Calmly, she looked around the cavern before she began to speak. There was a certain presence about her that made you want to listen to her words, even though her voice was much softer than T’ron’s. ‘I am Lessa, Weyrwoman of Benden. Not in this time, but four hundred Turns in your future.’ Thus, she commenced her story; of the Long Interval that would follow the recently ended Pass. Of the Weyr’s fall into disfavour and the reluctance of Holders to believe, after so long, that Thread would return to menace Pern once more. She told them how, in her time, only Benden Weyr was in use and that it had been so since the end of the previous Pass, when all the other Weyrs inhabitants had mysteriously disappeared, leaving nothing behind to explain where they had gone, or why. ‘And now, in my time, we are all that’s left to protect Pern. Just one hundred and forty-four fighting dragons to keep the land Thread-free.’ It wasn’t possible, D’gar knew. They wouldn’t even have the benefit of experience to help. And in a bad Fall, there’d be injuries and deaths reducing that number still further. Deaths like… He stopped himself going down that road. Sometimes, he wished his memory was as short as Herebeth’s. It would save a lot of pain that way. Lessa was continuing with her story, telling how she and F’lar, the Weyrleader, had discovered that dragons could go between not just places, but times. And that they’d managed to put together a number of clues to realise that the missing Weyrs must have come forward to their time. ‘So, I knew I had to be the one to go back and show the way. But I’d not reckoned on the time it takes to jump between four hundred Turns. Which is the reason it took us both so long to recover. However, there is an easy solution to the problem. We have calculated the position of the Red Star in the night sky and can use it as a reference for several shorter jumps of just twenty-five Turns. That should ensure that when we arrive, everyone will be in a fit state to fight our ancient enemy. To do what dragonriders have always done - sear Thread from the sky.’ A cheer rose up, growing in strength as more and more voices joined in. Despite everything, D’gar found himself doing the same. What was the point of living a peaceful, boring, long life? Lessa was right. This was what they had been born to do. Not to take up the challenge would be an insult to those who had died. It was only later, in the darkness of his own weyr, that he began to think more deeply. You think too much, S’brin had always said. And, yes, it could be seen as a fault, although he couldn’t deny there were times when thinking had kept him alive. Herebeth was sleeping deeply out beyond the heavy curtain. His grieving distressed the dragon, so it was only at these times that he allowed himself to remember the past. Not that day; that terrible Fall so close to the end of the Pass. There was no point in torturing himself with the gruesome details. No, he preferred to think of the good times. How he and S’brin had met as weyrlings, both having Impressed from the same clutch. They’d been rushed through training as much as it was possible. At that point in the Pass, the main need was for replacements to keep the Wings at full strength. Many of the older riders had lost their motivation after Turns of fighting Thread. Young dragons and young men, who thought they were invincible, were what was needed. And even after you lost a few friends, you never thought you could be touched. You, and anyone you loved, would get through it all unscathed, except maybe for a few minor scars to prove you’d been there. They’d started off as friends. Love had come later. Nothing really to do with the dragons. Green Zemianth had risen for the first time at eighteen months old. Herebeth hadn’t even caught her that time. For that matter, he’d not caught her every time even after their riders became weyrmates. It hadn’t really mattered. You couldn’t be jealous about what happened in a mating flight. They’d often talked of what they’d do once the Pass was over. Joked about getting old and deaf and crotchety, of having to be lifted onto their dragons and telling the weyrlings the same old stories over and over again about their glory days of fighting Thread. They’d woven their own legend to the point at which it had seemed to set the future in stone; made their survival certain. ‘Telling a story doesn’t make it true,’ he whispered to the cold walls. Lessa’s story was a stirring one. He had no doubt she truly believed in it; that she would return with the five Weyrs to save the day. Yet how could she be so certain it would go as smoothly as she supposed? They might all be lost between. But was that any worse than living another fifty or sixty Turns, not knowing if you could have made a difference? The following morning at breakfast, he heard many of the same doubts from others. ‘All because we leave here doesn’t mean we’ll arrive there,’ M’rell pointed out. Others agreed; they were all aware of how badly visualised jumps could end in disaster. Two of D’gar’s own weyrling class had disappeared between during training. ‘Well, I’m all for taking the chance,’ said Z’tul. ‘The last four months have been boring enough. Imagine how it’ll be after four Turns, or forty.’ ‘Typical bronze rider,’ M’rell muttered. ‘All death and glory.’ Then, remembering who he was talking to. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean…’ ‘It’s fine.’ D’gar took a drink of his klah. While he appreciated their concern, he wished sometimes that his friends would stop being so over-sensitive on his behalf. ‘We’ll be hailed as heroes,’ Z’tul continued. ‘Think of all those grateful Holders. They’ll be falling over themselves to thank us. Anyone else noticed how there’s not the same respect from them now the skies are clear again.’ There were nods of agreement from around the table. ‘Doesn’t take long for people to forget how much they owe us,’ B’naj muttered. ‘Anyway, that Weyrwoman seems to know what she’s talking about. And she’s already made the jump one way, so of course it’s possible. We’re going to become legends. Like Moreta. There’ll be ballads written about this.’ Z’tul waved his spoon in the air as if he was conducting a ballad himself. ‘What do you think?’ M’rell asked. ‘He’s either right, or he’s not. Not a lot we can do about it either way. The powers-that-be have already decided we’re going.’ I am hungry, Herebeth said pointedly. You have had your breakfast. ‘Sorry. Have to go. Herebeth needs to eat.’ There wouldn’t be any herd beasts in a long abandoned Weyr, so they’d have to hunt outside. No-one objected to a dragon taking the odd beast, but it would definitely cause problems with the Holders if several hundred dragons started raiding their herds on a regular basis. ‘Might be a good idea to let Toth eat his fill while food’s still readily available,’ he suggested as he left. Herebeth glided down from their weyr and landed with a graceful backwing in front of him. He climbed aboard for the short hop to the feeding grounds, where he sat on one of the benches and admired Herebeth’s dexterity as he neatly dispatched one of the herd. Dragons were notoriously messy eaters. Many a visitor to the Weyr had been put off their own dinner after seeing them feeding. Even at this distance he could hear the crack of bones and had to laugh as Herebeth turned, two thirds of a hind leg sticking out from his muzzle. Mmm. Crunchy, the dragon sent. Why are you amused? You look funny when you’re eating. So do you. D’gar glanced up to the rim of the Bowl, where the great golden queen, Ramoth perched beside the Star Stones. He wondered if she was unusually large, or if all the dragons four hundred Turns hence were similarly proportioned. Well, if all went as planned, he’d soon be seeing for himself. Over the next two days, preparation for the ‘big move’ as it was soon informally called, began in earnest. Along with the remainder of ‘C’ Wing - a scant fifteen since that bloody day - D’gar worked at packing supplies into transport nets. The larger dragons, including Herebeth, would be carrying these along with passengers. ‘You don’t realise how much stuff there is until you need to move it.’ D’gar’s birth mother, Agarra shoved a motley collection of stacked bowls into his arms. From the dust on them, they’d not been used for many a Turn. ‘Are you sure these are necessary?’ ‘Well, we can’t just leave them. What a waste that would be. Anyway, how would you know about what’s needed in a kitchen?’ He sighed. Every department seemed to be finding lots of items that had been stashed in storerooms against the time when they ‘might come in useful’. Why couldn’t the non-perishable things just be left where they were and only essential items packed? At this rate, they wouldn’t have enough dragons to carry everything. It was an amusing thought that when they finally arrived in that distant future, they would look more akin to travelling pedlars than a lean, mean fighting force. In between all the packing and carrying, normal Weyr life carried on. Dragons fed and bathed in the lake. Children took items out of the stacked piles of goods to play with and got told off more than usual. A green dragon, her hide glowing vividly, rose to mate, pursued by a cluster of blues and browns. D’gar checked Herebeth to see if he was interested, but the brown dragon was sleeping in the afternoon sunshine and showed no inclination to follow. He’d not chased a green for several months. Not since Zemianth had gone between. He worried, not for the first time, that his own lack of interest might be inhibiting his dragon, then put aside that thought. There was enough work to be done without adding the complications of a mating flight and its aftermath, so not having to take part was probably a good thing. The riders were already scrambling to be first into the ground level weyr set aside for the purpose. ‘Look at that lot.’ Agarra appeared at his side with yet more pans. She shook her head sadly. ‘Getting out of work just to enjoy themselves. It shouldn’t be allowed.’ ‘You can’t stop dragons rising, mum.’ She was Holdbred, but you’d have thought living in the Weyr for so long would have changed her opinions. ‘That’s as may be,’ she sniffed. ‘Anyway, can you find some room for these?’ Eventually, everything was ready. There were various opinions on why they’d not taken longer over the preparations - after all, there was no need to hurry at this end of time - but most people seemed to agree that it was necessary to preserve the mystery as to why the five Weyrs had been so suddenly abandoned. The longer they stayed, the more likely tongues would wag and give away the game. It also ensured that no one had time for second thoughts, particularly some of the Lower Cavern drudges, who might otherwise have run away. The fact that extra watchers had been put over the entrance tunnel to the Weyr Bowl supported that theory. It had been decided they would travel at night; less chance of anyone outside the weyrs spotting the movement of so many dragons at once. They formed up into their usual Wings, then took off in turn. Herebeth leapt into the air, heavily laden with goods and passengers and took his position. They waited for the signal, then, obtaining visuals from each Wingleader, went between. Colder than the winter night sky, blacker than the darkest cavern. Although warned it would take longer than a normal place to place jump, it wasn’t until they emerged safely that D’gar breathed a sigh of relief. That wasn’t difficult, Herebeth said. They landed briefly for a rest and for the Weyrleader and Wingleaders to check the next set of co-ordinates. The pale light of Belior illuminated the Bowl of Fort Weyr. Even after a mere twenty-five Turns, it already appeared unkempt and uncared for. He picked out the black maw of his own weyr in the wall. If they’d not jumped through time, then he’d still be living there, twenty-five Turns older. It was a dizzying thought. I have the next visual from Piroth. They took off in formation and once all were airborne, went between again. Jump after jump followed, until he almost lost count of how many, or where - when - they were in time. The constellations changed as did the position of the moons, but it was the Red Star that led them on, diminishing for a hundred Turns, then growing larger again - although this being the Long Interval, not close enough to drop its deadly rain onto Pern. Two hundred Turns gone. For the Weyrbred, like himself, it wasn’t such a wrench. His mother and her current partner rode behind him. For those who might have families left behind in Craft and Holds, there must come the realisation that all those they cared for had long since died and gone to dust. I have outlived my own lifetime, he thought, but said nothing to Agarra. S’brin would have understood. They’d have been making observations like that to each other at every stop. Now the Red Star dwindled again in its orbit during another hundred Turns that passed - for them - in just a few minutes. But this time, as it grew closer again, they approached their final destination. Down below, in those sleeping lands, were people to whom Thread was not even a memory, only some long-ago menace sung about in unfashionable ballads. Down below was an empty Weyr, long since abandoned. But soon, they would be coming back; coming home. The final jump was to Ruatha Hold, but no sooner had they landed than they were off again. We have to go back two days, Herebeth said. Why should two days make a difference after so many Turns? I’ve no more idea than you. What Turn was it, even? D’gar felt as if his brains had been scrambled. Just do as they say. The sooner we arrive when we need to be, the sooner we can get home. One last jump. Ruatha again, in twilight. A feel of springtime in the air. And dragons of every colour settling to land. It was an awe-inspiring sight; one he knew he’d never forget. He imagined some drunken hold worker in the cots below looking up and wondering just how strong that home brew had been to make him hallucinate such a multitude. ‘What’s happening now? Where are we?’ Agarra asked. ‘Ruatha.’ The last Fall had been here, four months ago to his memory, but four hundred Turns in this new reality. The Hold looked subtly different and there were many new buildings outside its walls. Such changes must have happened everywhere after so long. You’d need to fly straight a few times to make sure of a place rather than risk going between on old visuals. Otherwise, who knows when you might end up. ‘We could at least have come back in daylight,’ Agarra said. ‘Just to see our way around the place. It’ll make things twice as difficult getting the kitchens sorted. Because, of course, everyone will be wanting their breakfast as usual tomorrow morning.’
  14. The Eighth Pass is over. At Fort Weyr, D’gar, Herebeth’s rider faces the future without his weyrmate, lost to Thread just two Falls before the last. When Lessa brings the five Weyrs forward to the beginning of the Ninth Pass, he must face his fears, try to adapt to an altered world and take the risk of falling in love all over again.
  15. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    I will shortly be posting a much longer story in this series, with some of the same characters and a few new ones as well.
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