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Mawgrim

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  1. Mawgrim

    Chapter 3

    Definitely. Next chapter is the mating flight!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.’
  7. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

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

    Chapter 1

    Maybe not quite that many chapters, but it will certainly end up at around 70 - 80,000 words.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. ‘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.’
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    Rioth folded her wings close in to her body and dived into the sea. The wave she created washed over H’rek’s head, forcing him to swim underwater for a fair way before he finally surfaced to see his dragon floating serenely on the surface, sparkling droplets of water tumbling from her outstretched wings. Thanks, Rioth. Nearly drowned me that time. Sorry H’rek. But you wouldn’t have drowned. I would save you. He swam over to her and scrambled aboard, sitting in his usual place between her neck ridges. Where was that itchy patch you were telling me about? He used the long-handled brush to scrub at her right flank. Just up a bit. Yes, that’s it. She sighed contentedly and began to paddle her way across towards Vazalth. H’rek tried not to notice. It had been well over two months since her mating flight, but she and Vazalth seemed to have formed an attachment. Not that there was anything wrong with that, except it brought him into closer contact than he’d prefer with R’gan, Vazalth’s rider. They’d found it difficult ever since that awful morning. Not for the first time, H’rek wished that it had been a dragon belonging to a Weyrbred lad who had flown Rioth. It would have made for far less embarrassment. Rioth’s continuing fondness for Vazalth was worrying for another reason; in a few months she’d be ready to rise again and if he was her choice of mate then H’rek and R’gan would be forced into another situation neither of them were comfortable with. Most of the time, he was able to put the memories at the back of his mind, somewhere safely out of reach. When he and R’gan had to speak to each other, they kept to neutral topics; the latest wing formations they’d been practicing, more efficient ways to get through the weyrling drill exercises, who could get the most skips from a stone skimmed across the surface of the lake. Mating flights and their inevitable consequences apart, it was getting a bit boring here. Living in a tropical paradise with a backdrop of sun, sand and sea might sound idyllic, but now that the dragons were full grown and their training had almost come to an end, all the riders from Prideth’s clutch were itching to get back up north and start fighting Thread. It was hard to recall in detail the frantic days before they had been brought south as candidates, except that there had been a purpose and urgency at Benden Weyr that was lacking here. H’rek had asked several times when they were going to return (he wasn’t the only one, either) and had always been told that it would be “when the time was right”. Well, how could the time be any righter than now? Thread must have been falling for almost two Turns back home and they would surely be in need of reinforcements. F’nor had gone between to Benden a few times and was looking increasingly worried and worn out, which couldn’t mean things were going well back there. Frustrated, H’rek turned to the best source of information he knew of in Southern; his friend Bavi. ‘How do you get to find out so much? he asked her ‘Important people never notice us folk in the laundry,’ she told him. ‘Many’s the time I’ve been hanging out washing or scrubbing smalls and they just carry on talking as if I wasn’t there.’ ‘So, what’s the latest news. Anything about when we’ll be going back north?' ‘There’s been some talk about that. Not sure when it’ll happen, though. I think they want to leave it as long as they can for your young dragons.’ ‘Our dragons are fine. And Ramoth’s clutch matured Turns ago. So why wait any longer?’ ‘A lot of folk are asking the same. Not all the workers or the riders are Weyrbred. They’ve families they want to visit, but no one’s been allowed away from here. It’s not right.’ H’rek often wondered what had become of his family farmhold in Southern Boll. His little sister Hamarra would be nearly twelve Turns now, leaving her childhood behind. Even though he knew his life would have become increasingly difficult had he not been Searched when he was, they were still his family and he missed them. It would be good to pay a visit and show off Rioth, maybe even take Hamarra flying across the fields. He imagined her whooping with joy as they crossed those familiar acres which had once seemed so vast to him, but that he could now overfly in a few minutes. The days passed unremarkably with the usual lessons and inspections. All of the teachers, even stolid J’cul, seemed increasingly irritated and distracted. F’nor had dark circles under his eyes, visible even through his tan, T’bor looked miserable and Kylara was as like as not to snap your head off. The drills intensified. They practiced fighting ‘Thread’ using the long fibrous strands from some of the trees as a substitute. They’d take it in turns to drop the stuff from above for their clutchmates to dodge and flame before changing around so that everyone had a go. Riding a flaming dragon was exhilarating, even if it made the heat even more exhausting. H’rek wasn’t the only one to feel tired all the time. Oddly, the dragons seemed unaffected. They just loved basking in the sunshine and swimming in the warm sea. A month went by. F’nor had just returned from one of his infrequent trips away. Rumours began to spread that they would definitely be returning to Benden soon. He sought out Bavi to see what she knew. ‘Aye, it’s true,’ she said. ‘We’ve started packing up already. I reckon we’ll be on our way in a sevenday. It’ll be a lot easier than when we came, with all these extra dragons to carry things. And I certainly won’t mind getting back to the Lower Caverns. Think of all the gossip I’ll have missed while I was out here.’ As more and more stuff began to be packed for their return, the place they’d called home began to have a deserted, empty feel to it. The buildings would remain of course and the herdbeasts left behind to multiply, but all the useful, portable equipment was to be taken back to Benden. During the last sevenday, H’rek began to feel like a farm boy again with the amount of time he spent digging up tubers, packing fruit and shovelling grain into sacks. At last it was time. The evening before departure, they had a feast in the communal dining hall and wine flowed freely. There was an air of celebration and relief. Even F’nor looked less exhausted, despite having been supervising the preparations and helping with the physical work as hard as any of the men in his Wing. Kylara reclined on a long couch, being fanned by her serving woman. As he passed by on his way to refill his plate, H’rek heard her saying, ‘I shall be so glad to get back to civilisation. I never want to see this dreary place again.’ Back in his weyr, he settled down to sleep, hearing all the familiar night sounds of the south; nocturnal animals calling, the sea lapping against the distant rocks and music drifting up from the beach from some of the folk who weren’t yet tired enough to go to bed. It was hard to imagine that all too soon they’d be back in a proper Weyr, surrounded by rock rather than softly waving branches and busy with people and dragons. Rioth was excited too. He tried to describe Benden Weyr to her, but she had never known anywhere other than here so it was hard for her to imagine the vastness of the Bowl surrounded by high, rocky walls with hollowed out caverns and individual weyrs. You’ll see soon enough, he told her. There’ll be lots of new dragons to make friends with. Lots of dragons, she mused. I wonder if there will be any as handsome as Vazalth? Oh yes, Rioth. Lots and lots to choose from. Even as he replied, he tried not to think too much about what that meant. He slept fitfully, that last night in Southern, waking from dreams in which hundreds of dragons chased after a brightly glowing Rioth as their riders closed in on him. The preparations for leaving took most of the morning. The larger dragons were rigged up with nets to transport heavier items, but everyone was expected to carry something. Rioth ended up festooned with an assortment of pots, pans and eating bowls, tied up in sacks, as well as H’rek’s few possessions and spare clothes. You be careful when you take off, H’rek warned her. We don’t want to break anything. She gave her wings a shake, making some of the objects shift and rattle. I hope nothing falls off. I don’t think it will. At last it was time to go. As well as goods, most dragons carried at least one passenger. Unsurprisingly, Bavi had chosen to ride behind him. ‘Are you sure Rioth can take both our weight?’ she asked. Tell her she’s not that heavy, Rioth said. Even though she is a bit plump. Tactfully, H’rek rephrased his dragon’s reply. ‘She says she’s fine with it.’ ‘Good. Warn me when we’re going to go between won’t you? No one did, last time and it was horrible.’ ‘I’ll give you a countdown.’ Bavi wriggled slightly. ‘Are you sure these straps are safe?’ ‘Quite sure.’ He’d never heard her sound so worried before. She does not enjoy riding dragons. ‘Hold on. We’re about to take off.’ By the time they came out of between over Benden Weyr, she was clinging on around his waist so tightly he thought she would never let go. As they descended, he realised he’d forgotten how cold it could be in the north. Even though the sun was shining, the air was crisp and as they descended into the shade, he wished he’d put on something warmer. When he helped Bavi down, she was still shaking. ‘You all right?’ ‘I will be in a moment. Oh my!’ She put a hand to her heart. ‘Thank you Rioth.’ While she composed herself, he started to unload. Looking around, he realised how huge Benden Weyr was. All the dragons and people from Southern took up only a small part of the vast Bowl. The next few hours were fairly hectic, but in an organised manner. Lower Caverns workers came to help take things to where they needed to be. The riders and dragons were allocated weyrs of their own. H’rek thought he probably wasn’t the only one to find the enclosed space confining after Southern’s open sided buildings. His weyr was heated through a duct that breathed out warm air, but even that didn’t bring the stone surroundings up to anywhere near the humid warmth he had become used to. He wondered if Rioth would feel chilly too. A little, but it is much warmer than between. I will get used to it. I suppose I will too. They had some food in the dining hall. Everyone had put on knitted sweaters and a quite a few kept their wherhide jackets on too. H’rek was glad of a warming bowl of stew and hot klah to drink. He was conscious of being surrounded by lots of unknown people in a relatively small space and of how everything here was strange and new to him. He noticed that all the riders from Southern had chosen to sit together. At least everyone around the nearest tables were familiar faces. 'Maybe it’s the cold, but I feel much more awake than usual,’ L’cal commented. There were murmurs of agreement from round the table. H’rek realised that he too felt much more alert and clear-headed than he would normally at this time of the day. They spent the tail end of the afternoon going out with one of the Wings on patrol around Benden Hold, then practiced going between to and from all the local landmarks to familiarise them with the area. It was very different from the typical afternoon down south, when it was always too hot to do anything but laze around or swim in the sea. If you want to swim here, you’ll have to use the lake, he told Rioth. In the early evening sunshine, there were quite a few dragons using the facility. He noticed their riders didn’t go in. Must be even more chilly in the water than on land, he thought. His weyr had a good view of the Bowl, but it was on the side that got morning sunshine rather than afternoon and he still couldn’t get properly warm. He had Rioth drop him off near the laundry, taking a few bits and pieces with him as an excuse. She immediately flew up to the fire heights to bask on the sun-warmed stone. Inside the laundry the steamy heat made him feel right at home. He found Bavi ironing shirts in front of a stove. ‘You’ve picked the right place,’ he said. ‘Can I get these things washed, please.’ ‘The basket’s just there.’ She pointed. ‘When you’ve dropped them off, come back over. I’ve found something out you’ll want to hear.’ When he did, she quickly put her iron back on the stove and guided him into a store room. ‘You’ll never guess what the date is,’ she said quickly. Was that all? ‘Um, your birthing day?’ He was always useless when it came to remembering things like that. ‘No silly, the actual date. Today.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Well, it must be the third year of the Ninth Pass. It’s spring…’ She shook her head. ‘It’s only the day after we left.’ ‘What?’ He didn’t quite understand. ‘How can it be? I’ve been away for a Turn and a half. You were there even longer. Are you sure?’ ‘Sure as eggs hatch dragons. Here was me thinking I was going to have missed Turns worth of juicy gossip and Mela’s baby being birthed and I’ve not missed any of it.’ ‘So, hang on. Let me get this right. Today is…’ he reached back into his memory for dates. ‘The ninth day of the fourth month?’ She nodded. ‘And the first year of this Pass.’ ‘Scorch it! How did that happen?’ ‘I thought you might know. No one down here can figure it out. If they hadn’t seen all those dragons come back fully grown, they’d have called me a liar.’ ‘I’m just a lowly green rider. No one tells me anything.’ ‘Well, ask someone. Drop it into conversation, casual-like. F’nor, maybe.’ ‘Not seen him all day. I expect he’ll be with the Weyrleader.’ She considered this for a moment. ‘Hmm, yes. Something’s going on up there. Ralisa saw Mnementh fly off somewhere with the Masterharper earlier on. Apparently, there was some big meeting while we were away. About you-know-what.’ She rolled her eyes skywards. ‘Still, won’t be so bad now they’ve got all you extra ones to help.’ ‘I know. Rioth’s as excited as I am about fighting Thread.’ Bavi smiled. ‘Rioth’s probably got her mind on other things too. ‘Bout that time again, isn’t it?’ He wished she’d not reminded him of that. Shards! What if Rioth rose in the middle of Threadfall? Did that ever happen, or did a dragon’s natural instincts prevent it? ‘Well, she’s got plenty to choose from here. And so have you. Bet you’ve had a few admiring glances already, eh?’ It would be lying to say he’d not noticed any. ‘A few.’ ‘There you go, then.’ He wished he could look at it in the matter-of-fact way Bavi did. ‘We’ll see.’ ‘Anyhow, I’d best get on. The laundry’ll be piling up and things won’t iron themselves. Let me know if you find out anything.’ ‘Sure.’ When they all met up for dinner, he mentioned the anomaly to his clutchmates, but - as ever - they weren’t really interested. ‘Don’t you see what this means?’ He tried to explain what must be - had to be - true. ‘We’ve been gone a day here but we were there for almost two Turns. We must have travelled through time or something.’ ‘So? Does it matter? Just means we’ve not missed all the excitement,’ M’shol said, through a mouthful of tubers. ‘Anyway, it’s not up to us to be doing stuff like thinking,’ R’gan said in a slightly stuffy manner. ‘We’re here to fight Thread.’ That got a few cheers from around the table. ‘Yes, and if us bronzes don’t need to think about it, then green riders definitely don’t,’ L’cal put in. B’dor sniggered. ’Greens only think about one thing anyway.’ ‘Oh, shut it!’ They were infuriating sometimes. ‘See what I mean,’ B’dor continued. ‘Definitely proddy. So, who’s going to be the lucky one this time?’ ‘None of you if I’ve any choice in the matter.’ Hopeless, the lot of them. If only there was someone he could have a serious talk with; someone who actually had half a brain and used it. ‘You’re all a bunch of dimglows.’ He left his food half-eaten and stormed off before anyone had a chance to say anything else. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep he’d ever had, especially as he knew he’d have to face them all again in the morning. He woke early only to find that Rioth was definitely starting to take an interest in other dragons, following their flights across the Bowl as she perched on her ledge to catch the morning sunshine. Tomorrow was Threadfall over Telgar. If she could just hang on until after that, it would be fine. Well, not fine, but he’d cope. Somehow. Anyway, she’d not changed colour yet and he’d not noticed any of the symptoms that had transferred through to him the last time, so that must mean she was still a few days off rising. Getting annoyed with your clutchmates for being thicker than a constipated dragon’s tail didn’t count. It was really annoying how whenever he snapped at anyone (even when they deserved it) they always came back with the ‘proddy’ tag. Oh well, another one of those annoyances that came with the territory of being a green rider. At breakfast, he didn’t say much to anyone, which brought further snide comments. He ignored them as best he could and after eating quickly, left them all and went to the laundry to pick up his clothes. It was on his way there that he noticed a couple of unfamiliar bronze dragons coming in to land just outside the Queen’s Weyr. Two more were already there. He’d thought he knew all the bronzes at Benden, but these looked different. Smaller, stockier and more compact in build. Canth was as large, and he was just a brown. Most of the riders were older men and by their shoulder knots, they were Weyrleaders. How could that be? F’lar was Weyrleader here, T’bor had been at Southern. All the other Weyrs were long since abandoned and empty. It was very strange. As he passed, the men began dismounting, so he thought he’d better clear off before someone told him off for staring. In the laundry, he went over to the niches where clean clothes were left, neatly folded and pressed and found his things. ‘H’rek! Hey! Guess what?’ It was Bavi, of course. ‘Have you seen the dragons? The bronzes?’ ‘Yes, I was just wondering where they’d come from.’ ‘Well…’ The smile on her face was the kind she only wore when she was in possession of some particularly juicy gossip. ‘You’ll never guess what happened last night?’ ‘You know how bad I am at these guessing games.’ He sighed. ‘Oh, all right. Kylara took a vow of celibacy?’ She shook her head. ‘Lessa caught her in bed with F’lar and half-killed her?’ ‘Nowhere close. Think about the dragons again.' ‘Right.’ What was the most unlikely thing to have happened? ‘A legendary Wing of dragons, long thought lost, reappeared out of between and ended up here.’ Actually, that was quite a good story. Maybe he should have been a Harper. ‘Almost,’ she said, breathlessly. ‘Those dragons out there are from the other five Weyrs. The abandoned Weyrs. Lessa found them and brought them here. They were talking about it all last night and this morning.’ H’rek shook his head. ‘How do you find out all these things?’ She put a finger to the side of her nose. ‘Secret.’ Then, after a short pause, ‘Oh, all right. You know they have those service shafts to deliver refreshments to some of the weyrs? Well, if you stick your head inside, at a certain angle, you can hear all sorts. And that’s what one of the night kitchen girls did. It’s all over the place this morning. Everyone’s going to be told later, so don’t give it away.’ ‘I should think there’ll be quite a few folk wondering what’s going on when they see those bronzes. And the other Weyrleaders. Where did the Weyrwoman find them?’ ‘I don’t know that part. But isn’t it just incredible? Like a ballad.’ By the time he left, having been sworn to secrecy by Bavi (although most of the Lower Cavern workers seemed to be in on the story by now), the bronze dragons had flown off to catch the sun on the rim. He shielded his eyes and looked up, trying to pick out Rioth. Where are you, girl? I need a lift back up to my weyr. Do you? Right now? I’m enjoying the sun and the company. And there she was, indeed, cosying up with two of the bronzes. I’m sure they’ll still be there when you get back. He groaned inwardly at the thought of his shameless dragon flirting with Weyrleaders’ bronzes. She grumbled a little, but flew down to him, pulling a few flashy aerial moves on the way. Tiroth and Branth are so handsome, she said. More than Vazalth? He is still young and can be silly. They are much more sensible and know lots of things. But I do not think either of them would chase me. You’d better hope not. The last thing he needed was for his dragon to cause some sort of diplomatic incident. It was a strange morning. He’d expected to be called to duty; for someone, at least to tell him what they were supposed to be doing in preparation for Threadfall, but nothing happened. He busied himself cleaning and oiling Rioth’s straps and arranging his few mementos around the weyr so that it felt more homely. When he went back out to the ledge, the Bowl seemed very quiet. The unknown bronzes had gone, but quite a few of the Weyr’s own dragons were perched around the rim and there was a small crowd of people gathering just outside the dining hall. Any idea what’s going on, Rioth? We are all wondering as well. I was sad to see Tiroth leave, but I will see him again tomorrow at Telgar, he said. Really? I need to go down and find out what’s happening, if you can tear yourself away for a moment. It had been so much more convenient being able to walk everywhere at Southern. Only a few of the individual weyrs at Benden could be accessed via steps, so for most occupants, the only way to and from their weyr was on dragon back. Rioth took him down, then flew back up to the heights. She must have got to know most of the dragons in Benden by now, he thought. ‘There you are.’ M’shol grabbed him by the arm. ‘You’ll never guess what’s happened.’ He pretended to think for a while. ‘Let me see… the five abandoned Weyrs are full of dragons again and their Weyrleaders all turned up here this morning for a meeting?’ His face fell. ‘How did you know that?’ ‘I have my sources. Us greens find out all the gossip.’ The others joined them. ‘Come on,’ said J’tir. ‘We’ve all to go inside. The Weyrleader’s going to make an announcement.’ They crowded in to the dining hall. Most of the tables were already occupied by seasoned riders, so as the newest and youngest, they found spaces where they could. H’rek was left standing along with quite a few other riders from Southern, being pushed and jostled as more people tried to squeeze in. As well as all the riders, most of the Lower Cavern workers had paused in whatever they’d been doing. Some had children on their shoulders, for a better view. After what seemed a long time, they were pushed aside again as the Weyrwoman, the Weyrleader, T’bor and F’nor came through. F’lar jumped up onto a table and helped Lessa up beside him. She looked different, H’rek thought. Almost as if she’d recovered from a long illness, although she’d looked fine when he last saw her two days ago, here at Benden. Everyone quieted down and F’lar spoke. ‘It’s been a difficult time for us all, with the return of Thread and the casualties we suffered after our first fight. Up until yesterday, it looked as if Benden Weyr was going to be fighting alone in the coming battles to keep Pern Thread free. But I - we - have some very good news.’ He turned to his Weyrwoman. ‘Lessa. I think you should tell them the rest.’ She stepped forward. ‘It’s hard to believe that only yesterday morning I set off from here on my way to take an ancient tapestry back to Ruatha. The words of the Question Song had been going round and round my head until suddenly I realised what they meant. The clue that they’d been giving us all along, right under our noses. “Gone away, gone ahead…” When the other five Weyrs were abandoned, four hundred Turns ago, it was because they came ahead to our time. To here and now, to aid us in our fight. Many of you may have seen the Weyrleaders’ bronzes here this morning…’ F’lar butted in. ‘Lessa is too modest. It was only through her act of incredible courage that we have this assistance. She and Ramoth jumped between through time itself to speak to the Weyrleaders of four hundred Turns ago and tell them of our plight. She is the one who brought them here. She is the one we all have to thank.’ A cheer rose up, growing in volume. Outside, the dragons bugled their approval too. Lessa smiled. ‘So tomorrow, at Telgar, we no longer stand alone. We will be joined by the other Weyrs with eighteen hundred dragons and all of their experience in fighting Thread.’ F’lar spoke again. ‘Plus, we have seventy-two of our own dragons back from the south to join us as well. This afternoon, your Wingleaders will be briefing you so that we’re all fully prepared for the morning. I’m sure you are all - as I am - looking forward to it.’ People began to clap. Another cheer rose up. It was the best news they could have had. H’rek felt as if he would remember the moment forever. Not just because it was history in the making. What he’d just heard proved he had been right in his theories. Dragons really could travel through time.
  15. The Southern project is coming to an end. Riders and dragons prepare for the return to Benden Weyr to fight Thread.
  16. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    There's another story in this trilogy which I will post soon. I am also in the process of writing a longer story set at the beginning of the Ninth Pass on Pern, which involves some of the same characters (and a few new ones as well), which I will also be posting on this site. The Pernese word for year is indeed a Turn. It's capitalised in the books, I think to differentiate it's usage as a period of time from other uses of the same word. According to 'The Dragonlovers Guide to Pern', a Turn is 366 days, plus two days left over for the Turn's End celebrations.
  17. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    Stay still while I oil that patch, H’rek chided his dragon. Sorry, she sighed. It tickles under there. You are one twitchy dragon. He slathered some more oil on the underside of Rioth’s neck and began rubbing it in. Just try to stay still, otherwise we’ll get told off. You know the saying, “Patchy hide cracks between”. If you’re patchy we won’t be allowed to carry on with our training. I know. But it is hard to keep still. The day’s heat was fading now as the sun slowly sank in the west. The sea was dead calm, reflecting the cloudless blue sky. Further down the beach several of his clutchmates were still bathing their dragons - well, to be more accurate, the dragons were playing in the sea and their riders, armed with brushes and mops, were having a mock battle while pretending to clean the dragons. The occasional yell or laugh drifted up the beach. As Solarth surfaced, he noticed her colour seemed more intense than usual; like those flowers whose blossoms seem to turn a shade more vivid toward twilight. She glowed. Solarth looks like she’s going to rise soon. Rioth looked in the same direction and observed her clutch sister. Tomorrow, probably, she said. It is too late now. Who do you think will catch her? Well, she likes Kurmianth best of all. But he’ll need to be quick and agile to catch her and… He’s a bit clumsy, isn’t he? Like many of the bronzes, Kurmianth was still growing, albeit not so fast now. Like a teenage lad who’s had a recent growth spurt, he hadn’t quite become accustomed to his size. His gawkiness had meant a few rough landings for M’shol. Unlike you, my beautiful Rioth. She had reached her full size a few months ago and while she was still filling out as her muscles and wings grew stronger, she had perfect proportions. H’rek had been told that the green and blue dragons did tend to reach maturity earlier than their larger brothers. Hence Solarth being ready to mate within a Turn of her hatching. Not for the first time, H’rek wondered when Rioth would rise. The prospect filled him with a mixed sense of anticipation - for it would mean she was an adult dragon in every sense of the word - and dread. He’d been in Southern just over a Turn now; long enough to witness quite a few greens from Ramoth’s clutch rise. He’d gradually realised that the dragons’ passion was mirrored to their riders. It was something he’d already half understood through feeling Rioth’s hunger pangs when she was a hatchling and the ache in his own shoulder that time she was caught unawares by a gust of wind and strained a wing muscle. When she rose to mate, he would feel everything she did and when she was caught, that dragon’s rider would do with him exactly the same as his dragon was doing with Rioth. None of the Weyrbred lads found this at all worrying or unusual. It was just what dragons did. “The dragon decides, the rider complies,” was another one of those old sayings he’d heard a thousand times but hadn’t really appreciated the meaning of until now. He had to keep reminding himself that he was a dragonrider now, not back on the farm where the moral compass was very different. If he’d not been Searched and Impressed Rioth, he might - no, more likely would - have been married by now. His older brother had been married off at seventeen; no reason to suppose he would have been treated any differently. And that would have been… difficult, to say the least. He’d known from a fairly early age that while he enjoyed the company of girls and they liked him as someone they could gossip with and share confidences, he’d never felt attracted to them in that way. A pretty face or the curve of a hip or breast just didn’t catch his eye or imagination in the same way as a well-muscled chest, broad shoulders or the outline of a bulge in someone’s trousers (which he tried not to look at, but…) Back home, anyone thought you were looking at them like that, you’d probably end up getting a kicking. It was only when he was taken to the Weyr he’d started to notice riders holding hands or kissing in the more private corners of the dining hall and realised that he didn’t need to hide his feelings any more. Except then, he’d been packed off south with a group of lads he didn’t know well and who were mostly Craft or Farmbred themselves and he’d decided it was probably safest not to give anything away. It had been fine during the first couple of months after Rioth hatched. Young dragons were perpetually hungry and grew fast. Keeping her fed and oiled took all of his time and energy. All of his clutchmates were in the same situation; the bronze and brown riders even more so as their dragons began to bulk out, growing even faster than their blue and green brothers and sisters. Each night, they all collapsed into their beds and slept, exhausted. Mind you, everyone in Southern did a lot of sleeping. The tiredness affected everyone, although some worse than others. It must be a combination of the heat and the generally soporific air of the place, he reckoned. In any case, it made for a far more relaxed and casual atmosphere than he’d sensed at Benden, even during the short time he’d been there. However, once the young dragons began to mature; once they were able to catch their own food and their rapid initial growth slowed, there was more time to notice all the other things that went on. The green flights, for one thing. Ramoth’s clutch were now nearly three Turns old and fully mature fighting dragons. Not that they had anything to fight here. Back at Benden, he remembered the frantic preparations for the imminent Threadfall. Here, although the Red Star was clearly visible each dawn, no Thread came. Did it not fall in this part of the planet, he wondered? And if that was the case, why didn’t everyone move here? It wasn’t as if the soil was poor. Trees he recognised from home grew to twice the size and the fruit they produced was the best he’d ever tasted. The weather meant that crops could be grown all Turn round too. Another puzzle to add to his list of questions none of his clutchmates seemed interested in and no one who might know would deign to answer. He’d already learned the hard way that to persist in asking generally led to him being given some task that was either physically exhausting (such as breaking firestone) or downright unpleasant (removing dragon dung to the steadily growing pile). Ramoth’s clutch had hatched twelve green dragons. Given that they tended to rise three or four times a Turn, it meant that most sevendays brought at least one mating flight. They’d all become used to the sight of a green dragon blooding her kill and trumpeting a challenge to her suitors, who tended to cluster on top of the rocky cliffs at one end of the main beach. The flights themselves more often than not went out to sea; a jumble of bright dragon colours wheeling and climbing against the backdrop of an azure sky. Meanwhile, their riders would rush in to the small hut provided for the purpose (although it had a secondary use as an overflow storeroom). He’d had a look inside once, out of curiosity and found it a third full of barrels of salt fish and sacks of grain, all piled around the edge of the room, leaving a limited floorspace in the centre with a grubby mattress on the floor. It wasn’t even as spacious as his own weyr and not at all romantic. When he dared to think about such things, he imagined meeting the man of his dreams and finding an instant rapport similar to when he’d Impressed Rioth. There’d be physical attraction too, of course, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the reason why they fell for each other. Obviously, he thought about sex - what young man of seventeen Turns didn’t - but he’d always hoped that it would be an overpowering emotional connection that would inevitably lead to the physical expression of their love and desire. He talked about love quite a lot with Bavi, his friend who worked in the laundry. She fell in love almost as often as a green dragon rose. ‘Oh, H’rek, I’m smitten,’ she’d say. ‘Every time...’ and she would go on to name whoever was her latest crush, ‘...looks at me my legs go all weak and my heart starts pounding.’ ‘Does he like you?’ ‘I’ve not dared to speak to him yet. Do you think you could have a word with him for me?’ Stupidly, he often did, finding himself the go-between to Bavi’s latest romantic fixation. Worse still, he had a crush on some of them himself, but they were that couple of years older and he didn’t dare to say for himself the things he said by proxy for her. Sometimes, her fancies were just too far out of reach to even do that. ‘T’bor’s lovely, but you can see his heart belongs to Kylara. And she’s so horrible to him most of the time. I mean, I know their dragons mated, but he shouldn’t have to put up with the way she carries on.’ Kylara was a law unto herself. It was rumoured that she’d slept with at least half the lads from the clutch that had produced Prideth, her own queen dragon and several of the other men about the place. Lately, she’d started to flirt quite openly with F’nor. He was always polite in his refusals, which seemed to both infuriate her and spur her on to greater efforts. Most people found this a great source of amusement and gossip. When F’nor’s Canth flew green Miluth, Kylara went out of her way to be particularly nasty to Miluth’s rider for a good four sevendays. Maybe Canth would fly Rioth? At least F’nor would know what to do and although he must be at least thirty, he was still good looking. But no, that wouldn’t happen. It was customary to close a green’s first mating flight to all but her clutchmates. Apparently, it was better that way as both the dragons and their riders knew each other well. From what he saw of the aftermath of Solarth’s flight it also led to extreme embarrassment. While Solarth and Farimith spent the next few days curling up together and neck twining whenever they had the opportunity, their riders could barely look at each other and made point of sitting at opposite ends of the communal table at meal times. Bavi often came over during the meal times to chat with H’rek. She’d lean over the table in such a way as to best display her ample charms and whisper in his ear, as if they were lovers exchanging confidences. Sometimes, as she left, she’d give him a quick kiss, too. All of this led to envy and speculation among the other lads. ‘Have you and her slept together?’ J’tir asked with interest. ‘If we had, you think I’m going to tell you? No, we’re just good friends.’ ‘Friends with benefits,’ M’shol smirked. Why couldn’t he just put an end to it by telling them the truth? Maybe because he still had that instinct for self-preservation he’d acquired at home, or just because it was fun to have them all thinking there was something going on. Plus, Bavi liked to play along with the subterfuge too, for reasons of her own which he didn’t figure out until one day in the laundry’s steamy heat when she kissed him properly. It was nice, but… ‘You really aren’t interested in girls at all, are you?’ ‘I thought you already knew that?’ ‘Well, I just wanted to be sure. And if that’s the case, you need to find yourself someone before that dragon of yours decides the matter for you. You don’t want a mating flight for your first time.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because it’s totally out of control is why. Get some experience first and at least you won’t be taken by surprise.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Trouble is, I don’t really think of anyone in my clutch that way. And they all assume we’re a pair, thanks to you.’ ‘Well, how about one of the older lads, then. How about Sh’ran? He’s a friend of yours, isn’t he?’ H’rek nodded. ‘Friend, yes. Lover, no. Anyway, he really does like girls.’ ‘I know.’ She gave a little smile. ‘Oh no,’ he groaned. ‘You didn’t?’ ‘We did. That’s why I figure he’d be a good one for you. He was lovely, really gentle and considerate. And for your information, he doesn’t just like girls. He flies both ways.’ ‘I really didn’t need to hear that.’ Sh’ran was often (too often) a willing partner in his fantasies. ‘I think you did. So, maybe you won’t love him forever like in all those silly romantic ballads, but he’d treat you right. Think about it.’ And he did. Quite a lot. But before he had a chance (or the nerve) to put his plans into action, Rioth rose. He’d been unaccountably irritable for a day or so before; snapping at people for no good reason and finding himself getting annoyed over things that wouldn’t usually bother him. Plus, he’d found himself looking at other riders in a certain way and getting himself all worked up over absurd details such as whether S’rin’s beard would tickle when they kissed or how smooth M’shol’s klah-coloured skin might feel under his fingers. He should have realised, but everyone has blind spots; things which you see in others but ignore (or subconsciously suppress) in yourself. If any of his green clutchmates had been behaving like that, he’d have said, ‘proddy,’ as quickly as anyone else. By the time he noticed that glow in Rioth’s hide, it was far too late to do anything about it. “The dragon decides…” Maybe it was best this way, not letting any of his own fancies colour Rioth’s choices. She’d never done this before and neither had he; there seemed something right and proper about that. Very rational, he thought, until that morning when she woke with her usually placid thoughts a roiling mass of lust and desire and launched herself toward the feeding ground. As he raced after her, pulling on clothes he wasn’t going to keep on for very long, he recalled the few things they’d been told about this part of dragon care. Don’t let her gorge or she’ll be too heavy to fly high. Most importantly, stay with her and don’t let your mental link break or very bad things might happen. He was already feeling more like her than himself, eager to kill the panicked herdbeasts in the pens, wanting to rend the flesh so much that willing himself - her - not to was the biggest battle he’d ever had. He tasted the hot blood in his own mouth as she sucked the animal dry and felt how that heat and energy surged through his body. He/she looked up toward the cliff to see the inevitable crowd of male dragons, waiting in anticipation even as their riders clustered around him on the ground. When she launched herself into the sky, his heart (and his mind) went with her. He was only marginally aware of his human self rushing along with the others toward the hut. He was Rioth in every way that mattered, flying fast and high, taunting her potential mates with dizzying turns and dives, forcing them to try and follow until some gave up, exhausted, two collided and spun out of contention and only the strongest remained. Far below, the sea sparkled like gems and above, the clear blue of the sky was her domain. She glanced back at her followers, her instinct to couple overcoming her wish to taunt them further. Any of them would be a worthy mate but first they had to catch her. She dropped into a spiralling dive (his body contorting in mimicry of her aerobatics) and they followed. But only one matched her every move and stayed with her, forestalling her clever evasions. He was above her, grabbing her wing joints firmly and pinioning her until… Sudden shock and pain dropped him back into his own body, losing mental contact at the moment when it should have been strongest. He couldn’t find her again! If he couldn’t find her, what would happen? He struggled, panicking, unable to reach her through his own turmoil. Then a very soft, gentle voice in his head (almost like a dragon’s voice) said, ‘Relax. Don’t be afraid. Stay with her,’ and all of a sudden he was there again, with her, falling through the endless sky under the heat of the southern sun. He came back to himself more slowly next time, still aware (with the lightest of touches) that she and her mate had safely landed on a rocky island, far from the shore. He was lying on the stained and somewhat smelly mattress with R’gan who met his eyes cautiously, then smirked before saying, ‘Woh. Never thought a mating flight was going to be quite like that.’ Good food and physical exercise had filled him out a bit; he was no longer the scrawny boy who had been brought in on Search, but he certainly wasn’t anyone H’rek would have chosen to bed, if he’d had any choice in the matter. He couldn’t recall much about the actual sex. His mind had been with Rioth at that point, so her perceptions and his had merged together into a muddled blur. ‘Can you remember any of it?’ he asked, wondering if R’gan had the same problem. R’gan thought for a moment, screwing up his eyes. ‘Sort of, I suppose…’ he paused for a while. ‘I can’t be sure what’s my memory and what’s Vazalth’s.’ ‘Me neither.’ One thing was certain. Rioth was blissfully happy, satisfied and fulfilled and he was, well, none of those things. He hurt, and not just where he’d expected. It felt as if he’d strained all the muscles down the right side of his back. As he cautiously tried to move, he felt a twinge in his ribs, too. Beside him, R’gan sat up and started fumbling around for his clothes, which wasn’t so easy in the dim interior of the hut. H’rek thought it was probably for the best, as despite having seen each other naked lots of times when swimming with the dragons, he didn’t really want to look at R’gan right now and guessed the other lad felt much the same. ‘Well, I’d best get going,’ R’gan said, pulling his shirt over his head. ‘Er, see you at lunch?’ ‘Yeah.’ The door opened, letting in the bright morning light, which made the place look even more shabby. R’gan shut it behind him, leaving H’rek’s eyes dark-blind after the sudden glare. He suddenly felt terribly alone and almost as if he was going to start crying or something stupid like that. He longed for the comfort of Rioth’s presence in his mind, but it would be selfish to disturb her when she was so full of enjoyment at being together with Vazalth. He lay down again until his eyes cleared enough to make out the roof beams from the surrounding darkness, trying not to think too much about the experience he’d just had and failing miserably. After a while, he gave up trying to make sense of anything and began looking around for his own clothes. When he found them, he dressed slowly. Everything was starting to hurt a lot more. By the time he left the hut, he felt nearer to seventy than seventeen and realised he should probably go and get some numbweed before crawling back to his own weyr. That should have been easy enough except that Bavi found him and insisted on getting him a strong mug of klah, then sat with him as he drank it. ‘So, who was it, then?’ ‘Vazalth and R’gan.’ ‘Him? He’s just a kid. Did he even know what to do?’ ‘Can’t really remember.’ He cupped the klah between his hands. Although the morning was fast warming up, he felt shivery. ‘What, nothing?’ ‘Bits and pieces, but…’ How could he make her understand when she didn’t have a dragon of her own? ‘So, was it good?’ She kept pushing for details. He was afraid that if she persisted, he might end up being rude to her, but thankfully he had a good excuse to avoid that. ‘Look, Rioth’s going to come back soon. I should be at my weyr for her.’ ‘Of course. We can have a chat later.’ She took his empty mug. ‘Actually, you look awful. Maybe you should have a sleep?’ ‘Think I will.’ He made it back to his own weyr, applied as much numbweed as he dared, then lay in the shade. All of a sudden, it hit him that this was going to happen three, maybe four times a Turn for the rest of his life. Even if he met someone he liked in the meantime, there was no guarantee their dragon would catch Rioth every time she mated. Could any relationship survive that? There was only one good thing about today and that was that he still had Rioth. And that, said the nagging little voice of doubt in his mind, was very nearly not the case. What’s going to happen next time? What if you freeze up and lose her? It didn’t bear thinking about. He stared up at the branches swaying softly in the warm breeze, to the calm blue sky beyond. One thing was certain. Rioth must never, never know how he felt about this. He pushed all the negative thoughts to the back of his mind and buried them deep.
  18. H'rek's Rioth is mature enough for her first mating flight, but he's not at all certain how he feels about that.
  19. Mawgrim

    The Story

    Very atmospheric. I really cared about what happened to the main character and Isaac's death was sad and shocking. There was plenty of foreshadowing as to what might happen, which always works well in the horror genre.
  20. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    The queen dragon eggs are always gold, but the other colour dragons eggs aren’t distinctive. Generally, bronze dragons hatch from larger eggs as they are the next largest after the queens and people often speculate as to whether you can tell the colour of the hatchling from the size of the egg and patterns on the shell, but it’s a bit of a guessing game.
  21. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    Glad you enjoyed the story. I first read the Pern books as a teenager, then recently re-read them all over again and felt inspired to fill in some of the gaps. I have a few more Pern stories I’ll be adding.
  22. The sea sighed against the rocks at the far end of the sandy beach, as if even it was too exhausted to make any more fuss than that. Hinarrek sat on one of the smoother rocks drying out from his swim and trying to clean the sand from between his toes before putting his socks and boots back on. Although the sun was sinking now, the heat was as oppressive as ever. It wasn’t so bad for him; he’d grown up in a farmhold in Southern Boll and the summers there were almost as scorching, although the humidity here was higher, making the heat seem, well, hotter. Sweatier, anyway. Shouts drew his attention back to the water. Mershol and Rufrigan were still messing around with a lot of splashing and laughter. ‘Help! He’s drowning me!’ Rufrigan shouted as he surfaced yet again. ‘Wish he’d hurry up with it.’ Hinarrek turned to see Lacal trying to dry himself with the only towel. It was soaked and had been dropped in the sand, which was why he’d chosen to dry off naturally. ‘We might get more for dinner, then. How can such a runty kid eat so much?’ Quite easily, he thought. Lacal was the fourth son of a Holder. He’d never gone hungry in his life. Rufrigan, on the other hand, had that pinched look of someone who frequently had to skip a meal. Ever since he’d been Searched, like the rest of them, he’d been making up for lost time. ‘It’s not like there’s not enough to go around, is there,’ he said, pulling on his left sock. ‘Let him eat. He might grow a bit.’ ‘Yeah,’ Lacal laughed. ‘Size he is, a hatchling could gobble him up by mistake.’ That brought his mind back to why they were there again. It had been a confusing couple of sevendays. First of all there’d been the excitement of being taken from his home on Search to Benden Weyr. He’d stood on the Hatching Sands there for Ramoth’s clutch, but had been unsuccessful. Then - and this was the part he couldn’t quite get his head around – thirty-two of them had been packed off to this place to stand again for Prideth’s clutch. Prideth, whom he’d seen hatch with his own eyes, just a few sevendays ago, yet who was now, mysteriously, mature enough to have laid her own clutch of eggs. It bothered him in a way that didn’t seem to worry the others. ‘Dragons are different, aren’t they?’ Jontir had said, when he tentatively brought the subject up. ‘Not that different. Babes have to grow to adulthood, runner beasts can’t birth their own young for a couple of Turns,’ he’d protested. ‘Ask one of the dragonriders, then.’ So he had. Not T’bor or F’nor, of course. They were far too busy to answer some kid’s stupid questions. And Kylara thought they were all just silly boys. ‘Why can’t we have some real men here instead of all these silly boys?’ was what he’d overheard her saying to that stuck up serving woman of hers. Kylara apart, most of the others who’d Impressed at the same time were decent enough and everyone mucked in with the chores, so you got to know them all pretty fast. But they’d changed too, more than could be explained by just having become dragonriders. They were older, for one thing. Shanran - Sh’ran now - had been the same age as he was and about the same height. Now he was a good hand taller, broad in the chest and was growing a beard! But they’d made friends back at Benden, in the brief time they’d known each other, so it was Sh’ran he’d asked. He was sitting in the shade of the trees cleaning Izaeth’s riding straps. It was too hot in the afternoon for hard work, so most people found something less strenuous to do, or went to sleep until it cooled down a bit. ‘Hey,’ he said, strolling up. ‘Izaeth looks well.’ The dragon had made a comfy sand wallow and was snoozing there. ‘He does, doesn’t he. Weather like this suits dragons better than the rest of us.’ He looked out toward the sea where a bright green dragon was frolicking in the surf. ‘A bit more sun and she’ll be off,’ he commented, almost to himself. ‘Eh?’ Hinnarek wasn’t sure what he meant. Sh’ran smiled. ‘You’ll find out sooner or later. Sooner, I reckon. Maybe even before the Hatching.’ His eyes went all unfocussed as everyone’s did when they were talking to their dragon. Izaeth opened an eye lazily, looked out at the green and shut it again. ‘Too hot, he says. We’ll see about that later on.’ ‘I still don’t really understand.’ ‘She’s going to rise. Mating flight. There were a couple last sevenday, just before you lot arrived.’ ‘Oh.’ Well, it stood to reason. For dragons to lay eggs, they’d have to mate first. ‘I didn’t think green dragons laid eggs.’ ‘They don’t, but they still get the urge to mate. And all the male dragons get a chance to chase ‘em. If they’re not too lazy, that is.’ Izaeth huffed in a way that sounded like a sigh and stretched out in the sand. ‘So, what colour dragon do you want?’ Hinnarek shrugged. ‘Any, just as long as it has wings.’ A lot of the talk among the candidates was about the dragons they wanted to Impress and the ones that they thought others might get. He was getting a bit tired of all the speculation. ‘We’ll all know soon enough. I just don’t want to end up left on the sands again.’ ‘Don’t worry. Your dragon just hadn’t hatched last time. You’ll be fine.’ Easy for him to say. He already had his own. ‘I like Izaeth. Maybe I’ll get a blue like him.’ ‘Not a bronze? Most of our lot wanted bronzes.’ ‘Yes, but there are more blues and greens than any other colour, so there’s more chance of Impressing one of those. I know only bronze riders can be Weyrleader, but I’m not that ambitious. So, like I said, any dragon’s enough for me.’ He was feeling tired again, even though he’d had a good night’s sleep. This place had that effect and not just on him. Everyone seemed drained a lot of the time. What was it he’d been going to ask about? Oh yes. ‘I’ve been thinking and there’s something that puzzles me. How long have you all been down here?’ Sh’ran thought for a moment. ‘Around two and a half Turns.’ ‘Right. And your dragons had only been hatched a couple of sevendays when you left Benden.’ ‘Yes. They were too young to fly by themselves, so it was a job to get them here, I can tell you.’ ‘I know. I saw you all leave.’ Here was the strange part. ‘Only by the time we got here, they were all grown. You too.’ ‘But that was two and a half Turns ago.’ ‘Not for us, it wasn’t. Haven’t you noticed? We were the same age, same height back at Benden. Now we’re not. Maybe time goes slower here.’ ‘Don’t be daft. It’s the same world, just another part of it. The south.’ And that was that, really. Sh’ran had no more idea than he did and was just as uninterested as anyone else in working things out. For a couple of days, Hinarrek had toyed with the idea that they were, in fact, on another planet. Hadn’t their distant ancestors come from elsewhere according to some of the old tales? Some things pointed that way; the constellations in the night sky here were different to those he was familiar with at home, but Belior and Timor, the two moons, looked just the same as they had ever done. So this must still be Pern. But that still didn’t explain other anomalies, such as why, back at Benden, everything had been about gearing up for the imminent fall of Thread and yet here, no one worried about that at all. ‘Off daydreaming about your dragon again?’ Lacal said, bringing him back to the present. ‘They reckon it’ll be tomorrow.’ ‘Er, yes.’ He’d been told off a few times for ‘daydreaming’. Well, it didn’t help that the lessons they had to attend, preparing them for what would happen when - if - they Impressed, were not always interesting enough to hold his attention. He had a distinct feeling they were just another way to keep the candidates occupied until the Hatching itself. In between lessons they helped gather and prepare food, or ran errands for the dragonriders. Plus there was always some time left in the afternoon for just lazing around or swimming. It was a lot easier than being at home, that was for sure. ‘You reckon everyone’s going to Impress?’ ‘Let's hope so.’ There weren’t any more candidates than eggs. If the hatchlings couldn’t find the right person among them, what would happen? Would they have to bring in more people from the Hold at the last minute, or grab drudges from the kitchen? ‘Still, if we weren’t suitable, we’d not have been Searched.’ What a day that had been! He’d been out in the fields with his brother and sisters, helping with the spring planting of tubers and sweet roots when the dragons had come. Seeing dragons in the sky at all was a rare enough sight, but when they descended over the farm itself, landing in the small courtyard between the barns and living quarters, that had already marked it as a day that would be talked about for Turns to come. At first, they’d just carried on with their tasks; father didn’t hold with shirking from anyone in his family, but then one of the dragons had flown out to the field, with father sat behind the dragonrider, not looking too happy at all. ‘These men have come on Search,’ he’d said, once they were all gathered around. They all knew what that meant; they’d been well schooled in the Teaching Ballads, but none of them had ever expected it to really happen. Hamarra, his little sister, had held on tightly to his hand. ‘Will they choose me, do you think?’ He didn’t think so; at ten Turns she must surely be too young, but he didn’t want to dash her dreams. ‘Who knows? Bet they’ll not pick any of us.’ How wrong he had been. The blue dragon had snuffled around them all for a while, seemingly making up its mind. It was slightly uncomfortable to be regarded by that softly whirling blue-green eye. Apart from the Teaching Ballads, other rumours sprang to mind. People who were carried off to the Weyr never came back. If they didn’t Impress a dragon, they were forced to serve the dragonriders in any way they thought fit (and the adults always gave each other knowing looks when this was mentioned). Dragons were always hungry and ate people. I will not eat you. That was odd. It was as if someone had spoken inside his head. Then the dragonrider put a heavy hand on his shoulder and said, ‘This one, Jeth says.’ He’d not had much time to say his farewells and even though the riders had assured his family that he’d be returned should the dragons not find him suitable, no one really believed that. He wasn’t sure whether to be excited or scared witless, right then. Yet these men weren’t what he’d expected dragonriders to be like from the stories. They were polite and seemingly kind. Why would they behave like that if he was just going to end up as dragon fodder or as some kind of drudge? And if it wasn’t important in some incomprehensible way, why bother with the whole process of selection at all rather than just seizing the prettiest girl or the boy who looked strongest? Hard to believe that had only been - what - four sevendays ago? It was easy to lose track of time when so much had happened. Life at Benden Weyr had been exciting at first, but apart from having dragons around, the chores were much the same as you’d get in a Hold. This place - wherever on Pern it was - was certainly different. They lived in wooden huts shaded by trees and ate in a communal area constructed in a similar way. The Hatching Grounds were away from the main Weyr area, inside a rocky cave. They’d been taken to see the eggs twice; once when they arrived and then again just two days ago. Prideth, the golden queen dragon, had curled protectively around her clutch, unwilling at first to let them close to her precious eggs until Kylara had intervened. All the time they’d been there, Kylara just stood around looking bored, although she’d kept trying to distract F’nor from what he was trying to tell them. ‘She fancies F’nor,’ Mershol had said later. ‘Isn’t she married to T’bor though?’ Rufrigan asked. ‘Don’t be stupid. Dragonriders don’t marry,’ he’d replied. ‘Don’t you lot know anything?’ It was all right for him; he was Weyrbred and knew all sorts of things about how weyr life differed from Hold or Craft. But like the other Weyrbred boys (who formed a clique of their own) he only deigned to tell the rest of them snippets of information. Hinnarek reckoned they just did it to make themselves feel superior. Well who cared anyway. If something was important, they’d find it out in good time. He’d already figured out that the worst rumours about weyrfolk - dragonriders or otherwise - just weren’t true at all. Most of the ordinary workers were happy and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Everyone had plenty to eat and the work wasn’t too hard. He’d already decided that whether he Impressed or not, he’d rather stay at the Weyr. They needed more lads who were practical and could learn how to maintain all the complex systems within the caves at Benden and that would be as interesting work as any. Plus, he’d not have the pressure there had been at home, ever since he turned sixteen, about who he was going to marry. Next morning, at breakfast, all the talk was about the imminent Hatching. ‘It’s today, for sure,’ Mershol said. ‘I overheard T’bor talking about it. Some of the eggs are already rocking. Reckon I’m going to stand near that big one with the swirly pattern. Everyone’s pretty certain it’ll be a bronze.’ This set off the inevitable speculation on dragon colours. Hinnarek, as ever, just listened, until Lacal noticed he’d not said much. ‘Still not made your mind up?’ he asked. Hinnarek shrugged. ‘Not up to me, is it? Up to the dragons.’ ‘Well, yes. But you can try to put yourself where you’ll be in with the best chance, can’t you?’ ‘If you aren’t careful, you might end up with a green,’ Mershol sniggered. What was so funny about green dragons anyway? So, they were female and not as big or strong as the other colours, but they still fought Thread. And he’d overheard a couple of riders at Benden saying how quick they were and that they could out manoeuvre any other colour. ‘Better than no dragon at all,’ he said. ‘He won’t get a green,’ Bandor put in. ‘He likes girls.’ Which wasn’t entirely true, but he wasn’t going to let any of them know that. He joined in whenever talk turned in that direction, so they just assumed what they wanted to. He also made no secret of his friendship with Bavi, who was one of the laundry workers. She was easy to get on with and knew all the gossip, but he didn’t fancy her or anything. Some of the boys had already decided how they were going to contract their names when they Impressed, but Mershol said it was unlucky to tell anyone. Hinnarek had made up his mind not to even think about it, in case even that was sufficient to condemn him. After all, dragons read minds, didn’t they? When you stood on the sands you had to think happy, welcoming thoughts, they’d been told. Also, that the hatchling would just know when it had found the right person. After breakfast, they were set to work hoeing and weeding the vegetable gardens before it became too hot. The sun was well up by the time the humming began. Having heard it before, he knew exactly what that meant. Everyone looked in the direction of the Hatching Grounds. Dragons were already starting to fly towards the opening in anticipation. Hoes and buckets were thrown down as the candidates rushed to clean up. ‘Is a baby dragon really going to mind if we’re a bit grubby?’ Rufrigan said. Hinnarek kept his thoughts to himself although he could feel his heart starting to race already. This was it. His chance - probably the last one - to Impress a dragon of his own. He queued with the others to get the dirt off his hands and then to change into the traditional white robes. After so long waiting around, suddenly everything was moving very fast. They were more or less thrown on board dragons and flown across to the Hatching Grounds, jumping off onto the hot sands. Some boys had already decided where they were going to stand and which eggs held their interest. Hinnarek wasn’t sure where he should go. Would that be a mark against him? Did dragons sense indecision, or was he just keeping an open mind? He walked over to one side, where a rather small, bluish tinged egg sat alone. A blue would be fine, he’d already decided. Or a brown. Or even a green. Actually, he felt a bit sorry for the green hatchlings if no one wanted them. He resolved that if he did manage to Impress a dragon today he was never, ever going to wish it had been any other colour. That would just be unkind. If it had been hot outside, on the sands it was melting. Trying to think welcoming thoughts when you were sweating and anxious was much easier said than done. Most of the eggs were rocking by now, some more energetically than others. The smell of freshly killed herd beasts filtered in from outside. The dragons’ steady hum was getting more intense by the minute. Prideth hovered over her eggs, glaring at the boys, but she was nowhere near as scary as Ramoth had been. Kylara was standing to the right of Prideth, wearing a flowing blue dress and matching sandals. She must be feeling excited to see her dragon’s first clutch hatch, but she didn’t look it. Unlike at Benden, there were no families attending this Hatching; just the candidates and weyrfolk. Plus, of course, all the dragons, craning forward to get a good view as one of the eggs rolled out of the sandy depression where Prideth had placed it and cracked all down one side. A wet leg emerged. Difficult to see exactly what colour it was, with all the egg fluid and the sand that stuck to it. The nearest boys drew cautiously closer. Another crack appeared, then a whole chunk of shell broke off as the dragon’s snout appeared for the first time. A bronze! That was supposed to be good luck. The hatchling gave a kind of wriggle and the rest of the egg disintegrated around him. He looked to his right and left, then seemingly having made up his mind, began walking unsteadily toward Rufrigan. Who looked as if he couldn’t believe it and broke into a wide smile as his eyes met those of his dragon for the first time. ‘His name is Vazalth,’ he called, as they had been told to do. The people cheered and clapped while the dragons hummed even louder. Several more eggs had begun to crack and it was hard to say which would break first. Hinnarek wondered if he should move closer, but his own egg was starting to move now. No, best to stay where he was. As he flicked his eyes between it and the others, several shells broke in one go and there was a melee of tiny dragons falling over each other in a rush to escape the confines of their eggs and find their people. Two blues, a brown and a green made their way over the sands, looking this way and that. It was odd how some seemed to unerringly go for one boy, while others took much longer about the process. He glanced towards ‘his’ egg again. Was that a tiny crack appearing near the base? He imagined the dragon inside kicking against its restraining shell and once more tried to calm his thoughts as he’d been told to. Boys were shouting out the names of their dragons. As more hatched and there was another scramble, he lost track of who’d Impressed what - there would be time later to find out - and concentrated on the frantically rocking egg in front of him. ‘Come on, come on,’ he said, willing it to break. And then, something nudged at his knees from behind, tipping him over. As he righted himself, a head appeared and he was lost in the whirling eyes of his dragon. His perfect, beautiful, leaf green dragon. My name is Rioth, she said. Her voice sounded like a lighter version of his own. He scrambled to his feet and put a careful arm around her, unsure whether she or he needed the support more. Even though he’d eaten a hearty breakfast, he suddenly felt as if he’d not filled his stomach for days. I’m so hungry, she crooned. I think I might die if I don’t eat soon. No, you won’t. There’s food just outside. Shall we go and get you some? Please. She walked awkwardly and very slowly toward the lower entrance of the cavern. Other small dragons were taking their own first steps in the same direction. ‘Rioth,’ he shouted out, suddenly remembering that was what he was supposed to do. ‘Her name’s Rioth.’ People were clapping and someone patted him on the back. Bavi from the laundry waved happily at him as he went past. It was like a birthing day, or a wedding or whatever was the best celebration of your life all rolled into one. Everyone congratulating you for something that had been, in the end, so natural. So easy. Are we nearly there, Rioth asked. She seemed unfazed by all the noise around her. They are cheering me. And you. Why should we be bothered by that? Indeed, he felt as if he was never going to be bothered by anyone - or anything - again. Rioth had found him. Life was perfect.
  23. It's the first Hatching at the newly formed Southern Weyr. A group of candidates ponder over whether they will be lucky enough to Impress.
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