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  1. Mawgrim


    Heinrich senior is ostensibly retired but just doesn’t want to let go - either of the business or of Rick’s life. I can get why Rick doesn’t want to stir things up with his dad, but sooner or later he will have to make a stand or never get out and live his own life.
  2. Mawgrim

    Cold Bargains

    Suderoth’s clutch of twenty-three eggs raised everyone’s spirits, coming almost two sevendays after Valli and Kadoth had gone between. One of the eggs had the unmistakeable golden sheen that meant there was a young queen dragon inside. ‘And thank goodness for that.’ Agarra carried on chopping root vegetables, the knife flashing as she worked. Sitting in the kitchen took D’gar back to his younger days. Life had been so much simpler then. ‘That should shut them all up.’ After Valli had gone, it hadn’t taken long for word to get around that he and S’brin had helped her. They weren’t exactly in trouble for it - Valli had, after all, been a weyrwoman and could have ordered them to assist - but D’gar felt cold disapproval radiating from T’ron and several of the other bronze riders when they were summoned to give an account of what had taken place that morning. ‘Are they still bothering you and S’brin?’ she continued, when he stayed silent. ‘A bit.’ ‘I know you were both fond of Valli. i’m glad you did the right thing by her.’ ‘No-one else seems to feel that way.’ ‘They do, only they won’t admit it. The Weyrleader knew she was going to die. Your help just meant it happened a few sevendays earlier and more importantly, she went the way she wanted to.’ ‘None of them will want us in their Wing, when it comes to the time.’ ‘Nonsense. They’ll have forgotten about it by then. Remember one thing. Weyr gossip lasts less time than a Hatching. Anyway, would you go back and change what you did?’ He looked down at the scarred surface of the ancient table. ‘No.’ ‘Well, there you are, then.’ The weather became colder. Each morning, frost made the Weyr white. The edges of the lake turned to ice. In the feeding grounds, herdbeasts huddled together for warmth. The sun took longer each day to rise above the rim and even at midday, cast long shadows and provided only a memory of summer’s heat. For the wing riders, it came as a relief. Many of the expected Falls never materialised; Thread froze to death long before it reached the ground. Weyrling training continued as usual, with regular patrols and flying drills. The dragons kept warm enough, but D’gar soon found that his feet became numb after a fairly short time in the air, no matter how many pairs of socks he wore. Jumping off Herebeth at the end of each session shocked them back into life and the process of thawing out his toes was slow and painful. He wasn’t alone, though. Many dragonriders suffered from the same problem. Remedies for chilblains were always doing the rounds in winter at the Weyr. The bright and bitter days gave way to low, grey cloud. An icy wind seemed to promise snow later as they assembled on the landing area after breakfast. No-one else was flying today. Not many dragons were to be seen at all; they were back inside on their heated couches rather than sitting out on the ledges as they did on even the coldest sunny morning. It was similar, D’gar thought, to the day Kadoth’s last clutch had decided to hatch. N’teren was well wrapped up, with his flying cap pulled down and a scarf around his neck. ‘Today, you’ll be glad to hear, we’re going to learn how to fly between. It should be warmer there than it is at the Weyr…’ The rest of his words were lost. D’gar glanced across to S’brin. He shivered, not just from the cold. If it went wrong, then they might not come back. He began to feel sick with nerves. Zemianth assures us we will be fine. I know what I need to do. You have studied the theory in classes. Now is our chance to prove how clever we are. D’gar wished he could share Herebeth’s confidence. ‘Some of you will also be glad to hear that now your dragons are grown enough to embark on this last important stage of their training, they should also be sufficiently mature not to be worried by any sexual behaviour you wish to inflict on each other - or anyone else who’s foolish enough to want to jump into bed with you.’ He looked pointedly at S’brin and D’gar as he spoke. Little did he know they’d already experimented a few times, waiting until their dragons were asleep and trying not to let any excitement bleed through the mental link. ‘Well, that’s a good enough reason to come back in one piece,’ S’brin hissed out of the side of his mouth. ‘Can’t wait to get our clothes off and get my hands all over you later.’ ‘Stop it. If I’m thinking about that, how am I going to be able to concentrate on visualising where I want Herebeth to go?’ ‘Pay attention, please.’ N’teren fixed them with a steely glare. ‘You’ve all done the theory plenty of times. You’re also aware of the dangers of not getting it right. However, you’re a bright class and I’m confident we'll have a hundred percent success rate just as we did with Loranth’s clutch.’ Everyone was unusually quiet and solemn as they prepared to set off. D’gar checked everything twice, hoping his stomach would settle down. If he’d known what they would be doing this morning, he’d not have eaten so much for breakfast. ‘You all right?’ S’brin asked. ‘No. I think I’m going to throw up.’ ‘Well, best do it here rather than in the air. Imagine some poor Holder getting a face full of your scrambled eggs.’ That was it. The mention of what he’d eaten made his stomach heave and he stepped away from the dragons to avoid making a mess where someone might tread in it. Afterwards, he felt no less nervous, shaking slightly as he climbed up Herebeth’s side and settled himself between the last two neck ridges. I’m sorry, he reassured Herebeth. It’s not that I don’t think we can do it or anything. I always get like this when I’m nervous. I nearly threw up the day I Impressed you. Do not worry. I always vomit after chewing firestone. It is nothing to be ashamed of. By the time they were ready to take off, a few riders and dragons were peering out from their weyrs and several of the Lower Cavern workers had gathered outside the kitchen door. Word spread fast. D’gar saw Agarra among them and tried to put on a brave face for her. He remembered the summer day he and Herebeth had first flown together, when Valli and Kadoth had cheered them on. He wished they could be here today, instead of somewhere in the middle of black between. He couldn’t help but recall how he’d wondered whether frozen corpses remained there forever. No, he had to stop that. It was probably more likely to cause mistakes than thinking about what he’d like to be doing with S’brin when they got back. The first jump was always from the end of the valley to just above the Star Stones. They’d all seen that landmark from the air often enough that it was imprinted on their minds. In turn, each had to visualise the scene and send it to their dragon. He or she then passed it to N’teren’s Chareth. If the Weyrlingmaster was happy, he would send back a confirmation, then signal for them to make the jump. Just as with the first flights, they went in colour order. That was a relief; it meant there wasn’t too much waiting around. Herebeth circled with the others as Kailarth went first, blinking out as if he’d never existed at all. It seemed a very long time before they saw him reappear over the distant Star Stones; a mere speck against the grey sky. Everyone cheered. We are next, Herebeth said. D’gar concentrated on that picture of the Star Stones. Detailed, but not too specific. Forget the watch dragon; he might not be exactly where you remembered. Concentrate on things that don’t change; the shape of the rocks against the sky, Tooth Crag in the background. Pass that to Chareth, please. In just a few moments, Herebeth replied, Chareth says that is fine. On his signal, we jump. D’gar looked across, waiting, keeping that image in his mind. He saw N’teren give the signal, shut his eyes and said, go. Even the chill of a bleak winter day didn’t compare with the utter cold of between. It was a cold that seeped into your very bones; it made you feel as if you’d never be warm again. He forgot to count, so intent on keeping that perfect image in his head; their lifeline back to the world. When he felt the wind against his face again and opened his eyes to see Kailarth circling and the Weyr Bowl below, he whooped with joy. Yes! We did it. In the next few minutes he discovered waiting for someone else to do something potentially life-threatening was much worse than doing it yourself. As the blue dragons followed - and all reappeared successfully - he began to worry. Then the first of the greens arrived; J’rud’s Zurinth. One by one, each came through. N’teren must be deliberately making S’brin go last; another of those petty slights they’d both experienced since helping Valli. Finally, after an eternity, he saw Zemianth blink out in the far distance. He counted slowly, willing them to re-appear, feeling his heart sink with every passing second. If anything happened to them, how would he manage to go on? Life without S’brin seemed inconceivable; like not breathing. Like black between, cold and empty. Then, as suddenly as they’d gone, the pale green dragon and her rider emerged. S’brin was grinning as he punched the air. D’gar felt a profound sense of relief and realised he’d been holding his breath until they came back safely. A few moments later, N’teren and Chareth joined them all. He looked as relieved as anyone and called them back into formation for the next part of the lesson. During the next couple of hours they went between several more times to and from the Star Stones, then finally to Keroon’s Red Butte, a famous landmark traditionally used for weyrling training. By then, everyone was freezing, both from all the between jumps and the weather. They made the final jump back to the Weyr in formation, then descended to the Bowl. ‘Well done, everyone,’ N’teren told them. ‘Get your dragons settled then you can all have the rest of the day to do as you please.’ They made their way back into the barracks to hang up flying straps and to get rid of the bulky wherhide riding gear. ‘Bet I know what you two will be up to,’ T’mudra commented. ‘Just don’t make too much noise and disturb Jassainth.’ ‘Disturb you, you mean,’ S’brin said. ‘Don’t worry. I know the ideal place where we can go and not annoy anyone.’ ‘As long as it’s warm.’ D’gar was trying to massage some feeling back into his toes, having hobbled all the way from the landing area. ‘It’s lovely. And private.’ S’brin pulled some of the covers off his bed. ‘Come on. I’ll soon make you forget about your feet.’ It turned out to be a plant room, deep under the Weyr, where heat was channelled through ducts to the individual weyrs and the Hatching Ground. As promised, it was very warm. ‘Are you sure no-one comes in here?’ ‘Only when there’s a problem with the heating. And even then, no-one gets into this place. I only found it by accident.’ He led the way past a complex network of pipes into a smaller cavern, picking up a glow basket on the way. The walls here were smooth, which meant it dated from the most ancient times, when their ancestors still had the machinery to tunnel through rock. S’brin turned sideways to squeeze through a gap between two huge metal ducts, into a small, rectangular space. ‘Until we have our own weyr this is as private as it gets.’ He unfolded the covers on the floor and spread them out. D’gar caught him around the waist and pulled him close, then leaned in for a kiss. ‘I’ve missed this.’ They’d had to be furtive and quick while it was forbidden and he’d always been concerned about disturbing the dragons. Now, they could take their time and enjoy learning their way around each other’s bodies all over again. Even then, D’gar couldn’t help checking on Herebeth. Are you all right about this? You are happy. Zemianth’s rider is happy. Why should I mind you doing anything that makes you feel good? S’brin stopped what he’d been doing. ‘I can’t believe you were talking to your dragon just then.’ ‘I just wanted to make sure he was fine with it. Aren’t you concerned about Zemianth?’ S’brin’s eyes unfocussed as he talked briefly with her. ‘She says dragons are much more sensible about mating.’ He grinned. ‘She says why don’t we just get on with it.’ So they did. The cold weather stayed for a sevenday, then turned to mist and drizzle; the worst possible conditions in which to fight Thread. There were a few bad Falls, when several pairs died, darkening the mood of everyone in the Weyr. Meanwhile, Suderoth guarded her clutch on the Sands and the weyrlings flew between, learning all the major reference points on Pern. The Weyrs first; High Reaches, shrouded in snow and with its spiky crown of seven spires above the Bowl. Next, Benden, a forbidding presence in black and grey rock and almost as cold as High Reaches. Telgar, in the midst of mining country, with the plains below, rich in grain during the summer, but bleak and flat at this time of the Turn. Lastly, the southerly Weyrs; Igen, surrounded by desert and ocean Ista, where the warm, turquoise seas lapped invitingly. They visited the Holds protected by Fort Weyr first, then the other major Holds around Pern. Finally, they began to learn the lie of the land around Fort, Boll and Ruatha Hold, where one day they would fly and fight Thread. ‘Not for a while though,’ N’teren warned them. ‘Your dragons still have some growing to do and we need to slowly build up their endurance. You’ll be on firestone duty and deliveries until the next clutch behind you is ready to take over your duties.’ As there would be a gap of almost a Turn, that meant they’d not be joining a Wing for some time yet. Just before Turn’s End, a couple of bright, frosty days made several greens ready to rise, R’chol’s Carainth among them. Despite having requested a restricted flight, the chaos of a multiple mating flight meant that she was eventually caught by an older blue dragon. ‘It was crazy,’ R’chol said afterwards. ‘So many riders, all jostling each other aside in the flight cave. There weren’t even enough beds for everyone. I don’t know how anyone knew who belonged with which dragon, but then I don’t remember that much about it at all. Only good thing was, he treated me decently, as much as anyone could in that scrum. And Carainth got what she wanted, so that’s what counts.’ Bets went on as to when Mardra’s Loranth would rise again. It was well over a Turn since her last mating flight and she was still relatively young. ‘Shows that we’re getting closer to the end of the Pass,’ N’teren said. ‘A few Turns ago she was rising every nine or ten months. It’ll be a smaller clutch, too, I’ll put a bet on that.’ As senior queen, Loranth’s flight would be restricted to Wingleaders’ bronzes. Most people expected T’ron’s Fidranth to fly her again; he was a good Weyrleader and the feelings within the Weyr were often sufficient to influence the results. ‘Would that work with green flights, too?’ D’gar asked the Weyrlingmaster. ‘I mean, if you want a certain dragon to win, or lose?’ ‘Not enough people care one way or another who catches a green. And when it’s a mass flight like the one we’ve just had, it’s a free-for-all.’ The next green to rise was J’rud’s Zurinth. One of the brown dragons from Suderoth’s clutch caught her after a flight in which there were only five suitors. J’rud seemed relieved. ‘Not as bad as I thought it would be,’ he said later. ‘I knew what was happening - more or less - and so did he. Enough that we didn’t maul each other. Then afterwards, we had a second round. That was pretty good.’ It reminded D’gar of what Valli had said; just after a mating flight, when the dragonlust was still firing you up but had faded sufficiently so that you knew what you were doing was the best time for sex. Some day, he’d share that with S’brin. Just not this time. Herebeth wasn’t yet old enough to be interested in mating; that was a simple fact of life. Turn’s End passed by. As always, the Weyrleader recited the names of all the riders and dragons lost during the previous Turn. When he got to Valli and Kadoth, D’gar knew that quite a few people in the room were staring at S’brin and himself. It was an uncomfortable feeling. ‘Ignore them,’ S’brin whispered. ‘They can’t do anything to us. It’s what she wanted.’ ‘I know. Still don’t like it, though.’ Thankfully, the moment passed quickly as the roll call went on. After the feast and dancing, it was back to normal work the next day. Thread didn’t care about festivities and it was due to fall over Ruatha later in the afternoon. Are we flying today? Herebeth asked. He seemed to enjoy all the drills. I doubt it. I have to go and bag up firestone for this afternoon. You can stay in your nice, warm quarters. I want to fly. No one’s stopping you if you need to stretch your wings. Just don’t shake the rain off all over me again. Zemianth wants to fly, too. Well, go on, then. You can get some exercise together. Herebeth huffed. She is in a strange mood. Really? Moodiness was one of the signs that a green was going to rise. Colour change was another, although he didn’t recall Zemianth had looked any brighter this morning. Mind you, in this weather, it probably wouldn’t show that much. She is not about to rise. Not yet, anyway. That was a relief. D’gar had seen the way H’sal and F’nerl eyed up the young riders, as if deciding which ones they were going to put their dragons after. Zemianth might be the next green to rise, even if it wasn’t for a few sevendays yet. He decided to talk to S’brin about opting for a restricted flight, as Valli had suggested. The firestone sacks were even heavier when soaked. It was a miserable job getting ready for Fall in the rain. ‘Worse when you’re up in it,’ N’teren told them. ‘Especially when it’s like this. Not heavy enough to drown Thread, bad visibility and you end up wet through.’ He would be taking up a couple of the weyrlings from Suderoth’s clutch who hadn’t yet graduated to the Wings, trying to give them an easier introduction to fighting Thread. ‘Why doesn’t he wait until the weather’s better? T’mudra dropped a shovel full of firestone into the sack D’gar was holding open as the Weyrlingmaster walked away. ‘Don’t be daft. They’ll have to ride Fall whatever the weather’s doing, so they might as well learn in the same conditions.’ Sometimes, D’gar wondered if T’mudra ever actually thought much before he opened his mouth. ‘That’s enough in that sack.’ He passed it along to S’brin, who was tying and stacking them. From out of the grey murk over the Weyr, two brighter shapes emerged. Zemianth and Herebeth were performing a barrel roll together, their wings almost touching. D’gar watched them, full of admiration for the power and grace of his dragon. ‘They fly like they were made for each other.’ S’brin craned his neck upwards as they disappeared into low cloud. ‘Pity Herebeth won’t be chasing her, then.’ T’mudra scraped up another shovel full. ‘Not this time, maybe.’ T’mudra could be so annoying. ‘Doesn’t lover boy mind someone else is going to be having you?’ he said to S’brin, giving a sideways glance to D’gar. ‘Shut up.’ D’gar felt like putting the sack over his head if he carried on. ‘What’s got into you today?’ ‘Maybe he’s proddy,’ S’brin suggested. ‘Perhaps Jassainth is actually going to fly for once.’ She was a lazy dragon, who very rarely took to the air for the sheer pleasure of it. ‘She’ll not get very far, fat and unfit like she is.’ ‘Don’t call my dragon fat.’ ‘Definitely proddy.’ S’brin smiled. ‘So, got anyone in mind?’ ‘I’m not bothered.’ He tried to sound casual about it. ‘I’ve asked for a restricted flight, naturally.’ ‘Well, you would.’ T’mudra made a face. ‘I don’t fancy having any of those old men after me. Or their dragons chasing Jassainth.’ ‘Yeah, because they might catch her, the speed she flies.’ S’brin dumped another sack down. ‘Zemianth won’t let just anyone mate with her. They’ll have to be fast, clever and agile. So I’m throwing it open to give her the best choice. After all, a mating flight’s about your dragon, not you.’ D’gar’s heart sank. This was what he’d feared. ‘It’s fine to ask for a restricted flight, the first time,’ he said. He’d wanted to bring the subject up when they were alone, not like this. ‘And have half the Weyr laugh at you for being timid?’ S’brin shook his head. ‘That’s not for Zemianth or me. She’ll show ‘em.’ ‘Are you sure that’s what you want?’ he asked later, after Fall had finished and they were clearing up, alone. ‘To throw the flight open?’ ‘You worry too much. I have complete faith in Zemianth’s ability.’ ‘You’re bothered about what people will say, aren’t you?’ S’brin shrugged and shook his head in a way which made D’gar realise he was. ‘Don’t let them make your choices for you.’ You don’t understand,’ he said. ‘You’re not a green rider.’ ‘Is this to do with all that secret stuff that goes on in your meetings?’ ‘No! Just leave it. I’m all right.’ Over the next few days, he thought about the situation and tried to work out who might go after Zemianth. When they were at dinner, or relaxing afterwards he watched to see who was eyeing up S’brin. The usual suspects, obviously; all of those older riders who liked to go after someone new, and young. F’nerl, he decided, wasn’t much of a threat. Zemianth was fast enough and nimble enough to elude a bronze. Besides, he’d caught one of the greens from Loranth’s clutch just two months previously, so no matter how much F’nerl wanted it, his dragon would be less interested. H’sal was a different matter. He’d caught Sh’bul’s Berith back in the summer and D’gar wouldn’t easily forget the state Sh’bul had been in afterwards. There was no way he was going to risk anything like that happening to S’brin. If S’brin was so heedless of the danger, then D’gar would have to make sure he was safe. Firstly, he tried the official channels. It was the proper thing to do, as befitted a responsible brown rider. He went to see N’teren in his weyr one afternoon, when they’d returned from their drills. ‘In here voluntarily?’ The Weyrlingmaster said with a wry smile. ‘That has to be a first.’ ‘Well, yes. There’s something I need to ask.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘It’s about S’brin. Zemianth’s first flight. We all know it’s going to happen soon and I’m worried.’ ’S’brin doesn’t seem to be.’ ‘No, but that’s how he always is. What I’m concerned about is that some of the older riders -‘ he didn’t want to name names, but they both knew who he meant - ‘might take advantage of him.’ ‘He’s not exactly a blushing Holdbred lass, is he. He knows what it’s about.’ ‘Yes. But no-one can tell how he’s going to be when Zemianth rises. If he’ll even know what he’s doing. Or letting anyone else do to him. I know he’s said he doesn’t want any restrictions, but can’t you talk to him? Persuade him it’s for the best, at least until he knows how he’s going to react. I’ve tried, but he keeps saying he’ll be fine.’ ‘Well, I’ve already had “the talk” with him. And he’s attended enough green meetings to know what he’s letting himself in for.’ N’teren sighed. ‘He’s a stubborn one when he has his mind set.’ ‘Could you try again, though. Please.’ ‘I’ll give it a try. Don’t expect he’ll change his mind, though.’ He didn’t. ‘That N’teren must think I’m an idiot,’ he said, after breakfast the following morning. ‘He wanted to know, yet again, if I was really sure about having an open flight. I’m not a sharding baby. I don’t need looking after.’ ‘You don’t want people to think you’re scared, that’s what it is. Well, I’m scared. I’ve seen the way some of those lecherous old men look at you.’ ‘Yes, but that’s not to say their feeble old dragons can catch my Zemianth.’ ‘They haven’t done too badly catching other greens. Zemianth’s young and fast, but it’s her first flight too, remember. She doesn’t know all the tricks yet. They do.’ S’brin did what he usually did when something was worrying D’gar; practically crushed him in a bear hug. ‘I can take care of things. So can she. I know you’re bothered that Herebeth won’t be in this one, but we’ll have lots of other chances. We’ve got Turns and Turns.’ He needed to get on with plan ‘B’ before Zemianth beat him to it. It wasn’t very responsible at all; yet he’d lived in the Weyr long enough to know that you sometimes had to take matters into your own hands. Like Valli had done, in the end. There was still no guarantee it would work, but if he didn’t try, he’d never know. It was a rest day; no Fall until late tomorrow afternoon. Most of the wing riders were spending the day lazing around, playing cards, drinking and socialising. The more conscientious were busying themselves cleaning and checking fighting straps. H’sal’s Nalth was on his weyr ledge, watching the Bowl. S’brin was busy with Zemianth, cutting a new set of straps as the old ones had been stretched by some crazy aerobatic manoeuvres he’d been practising with the other greens. Can you drop me off at Nalth’s weyr? he asked Herebeth. Why do you want to see Nalth’s rider? Herebeth sounded curious. He is not your friend. No, but I need to ask him something. It’s important. But you mustn’t say anything to Zemianth about it. He felt bad just asking that. Dragons, however, didn’t understand a lot about human interactions, so it was pointless trying to explain any further. What if she asks me? She won’t. Why did he have to have such a difficult dragon? Don’t think about it anymore. Just drop me off then go and catch yourself a wherry or something. That would distract him. Herebeth always seemed to be able to eat more often than his clutchmates, even Jassainth. Mind you, unlike Jassainth, he burned it off flying. I could manage a wherry. Or maybe two. Good. Nalth seemed surprised when Herebeth landed beside him. He drew back slightly and snorted. D’gar slid down quickly and sent him away before anyone noticed, watching his dragon turn easily before making his way towards the feeding grounds. Herebeth’s flight was precise and graceful, not at all lumbering like some of the larger dragons. ‘What do you want?’ He turned to see H’sal pulling aside the curtain to the inner weyr. Evidently Nalth had informed him he had a visitor. ‘I’d like to have a chat with you about something. If you aren’t too busy.’ He didn’t look busy. In fact, as D’gar got closer, he smelled alcohol on H’sal’s breath. He was still wearing the same crumpled shirt from the day before and he’d not bothered to shave. ‘Best come in, then.’ He followed H’sal through into the weyr. It was fairly dark; just one glow basket uncovered. A skin of wine and a stained cup was on the table. The bed was unmade. The air smelled slightly musty as if somewhere, food had gone off. ‘Want a drink?’ ‘Er, no. It’s a bit early…’ he thought that might sound as if he disapproved, so he quickly added. ‘For me, that is. I don’t really drink much.’ ‘That’ll change, once you’re in a Wing.’ He poured himself some more. ‘Sit down, then. you’re making the place look untidy.’ The other chair was covered in dirty clothes. The only place to sit was on the bed. The furs felt slightly greasy as he perched uneasily on the edge of the mattress. ‘So what brings you here?’ H’sal eyed him up in a way that reminded him of how Herebeth looked at food. He didn’t like it much. ‘Well, my friend’s dragon is going to rise shortly. Zemianth.’ He slurped some wine. ‘Pretty, pale green. I know the one. He’s a strapping lad too. Nice body.’ Although he agreed with the description, hearing it from H’sal just felt plain wrong. ’That’s him. Well, I just wanted to find out if you were planning on… if Nalth was… going to chase her.’ ‘You and him are weyrmates, aren’t you?’ ‘Well, we would be, if we had a weyr. We’ve been together for a couple of Turns now.’ ‘Guess you care about him then?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Hmm. Well, the answer to your question is yes. Nalth’s not caught anything since summer. He’s feeling a bit randy, poor old sod.’ Like his rider, no doubt, D’gar thought. Although the Teaching Ballads said that male dragons needed to chase females occasionally as part of their natural instinct, there was no doubt that some did far more often than others. And although it also said that the decision was down to the dragon, he wondered if that was the whole story. ‘I’d rather you didn’t,’ he said quickly, before he had a chance to back out. ‘Really. Well, that’s up to Nalth. And your… friend hasn’t asked for a restricted flight, so he obviously doesn’t mind.’ ‘He’s not thought about it enough.’ ‘It’s up to him, though. If he reckons he’s up for it and his dragon is, then it’s no-one else’s business.’ All true. But not what he wanted to hear. Best get to the point. ‘I saw the state Sh’bul was in afterwards. I don’t want that to happen to S’brin.’ H’sal leered. ‘Well, it was the lad’s own fault. He fought a bit.’ ‘He was out of his mind.’ ‘Some of ‘em are. That’s how it goes.’ ‘So don’t you have a duty to be… careful? Kind?’ ‘Listen lad,’ he leaned forward, pointing a finger. ‘What goes on in a flight cave can be a bit rough. You’ll find that out for yourself soon enough. And your friend. Still, if you two have been at it regularly, he’ll be good and ready. Probably won’t even hurt him much.’ D’gar wanted to wipe that look off his face. But that wouldn’t help S’brin at all. It might even make things worse. H’sal must have noticed his look. ‘Oh, I see. You’re the jealous type. Want him all to yourself. Well, that’s not how it works.’ ‘I’m not jealous! I know Herebeth won’t be interested this time around and I don’t mind one of the other weyrlings, or a younger rider being with him. I just don’t want…’ I don’t want you touching him, he wanted to say. ‘Don’t want to see him hurt, that’s all.’ Was there any point appealing to H’sal’s better nature? Did the man even have one? Maybe this had all been a waste of time, after all. H’sal drank some more, then refilled his cup. Smiled slowly. ‘Well, I might be persuaded not to let Nalth fly this time around. See, your S’brin’s a good looking young man, but not really my type. Bit too burly. I prefer ‘em more like… well, like you.’ All of a sudden, the weyr seemed darker. D’gar’s mind raced frantically. He knew he should walk out, right now. Yes, but that wouldn’t help S’brin, would it? And at least he was in full control of his senses. He could agree, or not, to whatever it was H’sal wanted. Yes, but the man was disgusting. Only, if it stopped him going after S’brin… ’How do I know I can trust your word,’ he said. ‘I’ll swear on my dragon’s egg. And if I lie, may Thread get me next Fall.’ ‘It was about as serious a promise as anyone could make. ‘Well then, we have a deal. But just this once, mind, as if it was a flight.’ ‘Done.’ He spat in his hand and held it out to shake. D’gar only hesitated a moment. Then he closed his mind off to Herebeth, the way he had when he and S’brin had still not been sure if what they were doing would affect their dragons. ‘So, what do you want to do, then?’ ‘You can start by getting your clothes off.’ Afterwards, he called Herebeth. Come and get me, please. Now. You are upset. Why are you upset? He must have let something of how he felt through to Herebeth. Unpleasant images flashed across his mind. Why did you let that man mate with you? You do not like him. The dragon sounded distressed in a way he’d never been when he and S’brin had sex. It’s complicated. He finished dressing, trying not to look at H’sal, who was leaning back on his grubby bed, looking content as a feline who’d just raided the larder. ‘Pity you didn’t Impress a green,’ he said. ‘Your weyrmate’s a lucky man.’ D’gar turned on him. ‘Remember our deal.’ ‘Don’t you trust me? I had a good time. I’ll honour what I said before. Although, if you fancy doing it again, you know where to find me.’ It would be a warm day between before he ever did that, but he didn’t say so. He turned away and went out to the ledge, waiting for Herebeth. It hadn’t been that bad, really, he told himself. It was only sex, nothing that he hadn’t done before. He just felt dirty. Thankfully, Herebeth soon arrived. His talons clattered on the ledge, startling Nalth. Herebeth mantled his wings and hissed at the other dragon, who cowered back. It’s not his fault. Leave him be. His rider hurt you. That makes me angry. D’gar tried to calm his mind, not to let the strong emotions break through. It’s over now. Let’s get out of here. I want to go to the baths. Herebeth ferried him down to the Bowl, still obviously confused and upset. He couldn’t just leave it like this. I’ll try to explain. Would you like it if that dragon caught Zemianth? Mated with her? No. He is not a nice dragon. Well, I’ve just made sure he won’t even try. Do you understand that? I think so. So, everything’s fine. Zemianth can mate with whoever she wants to. That is good. I like Zemianth. He sounded slightly calmer now. How was your wherry? Tasty. The second one was better. Leaving Herebeth thinking about his meal, he went into the baths. At this time of day, most of the pools were empty. He quickly stripped off and got in to the nearest one. The hot water was soothing. He lay back and floated for a while, staring at the ceiling. Apart from the fact that he’d been fully aware of what was happening, was it that different than what a green rider had to go through every three months or so? They didn’t have much choice, either, as to who they ended up with. Except, in their case, dragonlust meant that they didn’t really have a clear recollection of what they’d been doing. That didn’t apply in his case. All the hot water in the Weyr couldn’t wash away memories. ‘Are you all right?’ S’brin asked for the second time, in the dining hall, later on. He didn’t feel hungry. He stirred the stew round the bowl. ‘I don’t feel too good, actually.’ That was true. ‘Maybe you’ve caught that thing that’s going round.’ Half of the Weyr were coughing and spewing with some kind of winter sickness. ‘Maybe.’ He kept his head down, looking at the table. He didn’t want to accidentally make eye contact with H’sal, who was sitting with the rest of his Wing, too close for comfort. ‘Think I’m going to go back to the barracks. A good night’s sleep might help.’ ‘I’ll be over shortly.’ ‘Don’t hurry. Finish your food. I’ll be fine.’ He walked slowly across the Bowl. A light drizzle had begun to fall, matching his gloomy mood. Had it been worth it? Could he really trust a man like H’sal? Maybe he should have thought things through for a while longer before he’d agreed. He knew this was all pointless speculation, but he couldn’t help it, just as he couldn’t help recalling scenes he’d rather forget. The young dragons were all resting on their couches. Most were sleeping. On his way past, Zemianth opened her inner eyelid and looked at him, her eye whirling a placid blue. He wondered if Herebeth had told her anything; if she’d pass it on to S’brin? If he found out, he’d probably go and do something really stupid, like throw H’sal off his ledge. And if he did, that would be D’gar’s fault too. He lay down on his narrow bed, wishing he could stop thinking. trying to still his mind and concentrate instead on the soft breathing of the dragons, the patterns in the rocky walls. After a while, he fell asleep. Some greens turned colour a few days before they rose to mate. Some started to show an interest in other dragons. Some riders became irritable, or amorous as their dragon’s heightened emotions affected their own mental state. The weyrlings had often been told that the first couple of times a green dragon rose, it might happen without much warning. However, it still came as a surprise when three mornings later, as they were about to go for breakfast, Zemianth did. S’brin was never at his best first thing, so D’gar couldn’t really tell if he was anymore snappy than usual. Herebeth was stretching and thinking about food. Zemianth was sleeping deeply, only her tail twitching when abruptly she shook awake and made for the door, in such a hurry she almost pulled the hide curtain off its runners. ‘What’s up with her?’ D’gar asked. S’brin had an odd expression on his face. ‘She’s… oh. Shards! She’s going to do it.’ He rushed out after her, D’gar following closely. Zemianth had already taken to the air and was flying toward the feeding grounds. She swept over the pens, picked out a medium sized ovine and broke its neck swiftly. She crouched over the carcass, shrieking and laid its belly open with a talon. ‘Don’t let her eat.’ It was all D’gar could think to say. S’brin’s eyes were unfocussed. ‘Eh, what?’ ‘If she eats, she won’t fly far. Blood only, remember?’ ‘Oh, er, yes.’ Zemianth’s head rose, entrails already in her mouth. For a moment it looked as if she’d defy S’brin, then, reluctantly she spat them out, pierced the dead beast’s throat with her sharp teeth and sucked the blood from it. It was only then that she began to glow softly. Attracted by her growing lust, blue and brown dragons started to launch from their weyr ledges, their riders dropping to the Bowl floor. A few dragons from Suderoth’s clutch and even two of the blues from Loranth’s burst out of the barracks, flying up to station themselves where they could watch her every move. S’brin laughed. ‘See, told you we’d get a good crowd.’ A couple of bronzes had joined the waiting males. One was a slender youngster, the other was a big, deep bronze dragon; Tiriorth, whose rider was the Wingsecond in ‘C’ Wing. D’gar couldn’t remember the man’s name, although he’d seen him in the dining hall many a time. Zemianth took her time, looking around at all her prospective suitors as if sizing them up. Some of them shook their wings in impatience. Their riders started to close in on S’brin, but he seemed totally unaware of them. D’gar realised his mind must be linked with Zemianth to the extent he wasn’t seeing his own surroundings at all. ‘Stay with her,’ he whispered. Maybe it was best not to know what was happening. It seemed like forever before Zemianth finally made up her mind and launched herself skywards. Her pale green hide appeared almost silvery; she really did look like a miniature Kadoth now, D’gar thought. Almost at once, the male dragons took off after her while several of their riders grabbed S’brin and started to hurry him away toward the flight cave. D’gar knew there was nothing more he could do. At least H’sal had kept his word and was nowhere to be seen. It was a long flight for a green, particularly a green who had never risen before. Several of the male dragons returned to the Weyr, looking worn out long before she was caught. D’gar watched their riders slinking out of the flight cave, looking equally as defeated. One of them had a bloody nose. ‘Are you all right?’ J’rud came over to stand next to him. ‘Yes.’ ‘He’ll be fine, you know. And by next time, you might be in there with him.’ ‘Maybe.’ A couple more riders left the cave. One was the rider of the young bronze. ‘Who’s left? Did you notice?’ He’d not been paying enough attention to see exactly who’d been there when they’d swept S’brin away. He’d been more concerned to make sure who wasn’t. ‘Er, M’ta, T’garrin, I’grast. I think that’s it. Wonder if T’garrin put marks on his own dragon to win?’ ‘Does it seem like this long when you’re in the thick of it?’ J’rud smiled. ‘Not sure, really. Your head’s up there, with your dragon. After Zurinth took off, next thing I remember is lying in that bed, all sticky. Don’t even recall when my clothes came off.’ ‘Lovely image you’ve just put in my head.’ ‘Made you smile, though. Oh, look. I think it’s over.’ Two more riders were emerging; T’garrin and M’ta. ‘She’s gone for the bronze,’ J’rud said. ‘Well, who’d have thought. Must have been his lucky day. She could have run rings round him if she’d wanted. Come on, let’s go and get some klah. It’ll be ages before they come out.’ It was half way through the morning before S’brin and I’grast came into the dining hall together. Most of ‘C’ Wing were at their usual table and made a lot of noise, as was always the way. The rest of Kadoth’s clutch - even T’mudra - joined in. D’gar did too, just because that was what you were expected to do. S’brin gave him a quick wave before heading over to the other table. ‘Maybe he’s forgotten about you,’ T’mudra said. ‘Bowled over by a bronze.’ ‘Oh, shut up.’ It was customary for a green rider to have a drink or two with the wingmates of whoever had caught his dragon. Still, it wasn’t until S’brin joined them all and put his arm around D’gar that he felt as if life had returned - more or less - to normal. ‘That was all right,’ S’brin said. ‘Don’t know what you were getting yourself all worried about. I told you it would be fine.’
  3. I was wondering this all through the chapter and waiting for the moment when Kevin realised Steve had uploaded the wrong video. Pleased that it turned out the way it did, thought.
  4. D’gar woke, alone again, save for Herebeth’s sleeping presence at the back of his mind. Not quite the same as having H’rek sharing his bed, but reassuring in that at least there was someone in his life who would never leave him. He could do this, he told himself. He’d coped before, after S’brin died. At least H’rek was still alive and well. At least there was the possibility, however remote it might seem right now, that he would come back. Threadfall today. A late one, which he always hated. The only good thing was that it also meant no exercises for the Wing this morning. He could stay in bed a while longer before having to face breakfast. Dawn sent slivers of grey light under the curtain, illuminating the interior of the weyr, which he’d tidied up since the party. If H’rek did walk in, he’d not be able to say it was untidy. Not that it was likely he’d walk in any time soon. Southern was a couple of hours ahead of Benden, time-wise, so they had probably already started work. And even if he decided that he wanted to listen to D’gar’s side of the story, now that the Weyr was habitable again there would be no reason to return here until his first month’s duty was over. No, if he wanted to sort things out, D’gar would have to go south again and hope that he could talk to H’rek on his own. Perhaps Bavi might be able to help him out there? H’rek seemed to value her advice. D’gar listened to the sounds of the Weyr waking up to another day. The faint clatter from the kitchens below, amplified through the service shaft. A gurgle of plumbing. The sound of warm air flowing through the ducts and the swoosh of water circulating in his bathing pool. From outside, the unmistakeable sound of dragon wings. Someone must be going to the feeding ground early this morning. It is Ramoth, Herebeth supplied, sounding very alert for a dragon who had, until recently, been deeply asleep. She is very bright. Is she going to rise? Very soon. She goes to blood her kill! D’gar jumped out of bed and pulled on his trousers. Herebeth had already shifted from his couch to the front of the ledge. Many of the other dragons were doing the same and quite a few half-dressed riders began appearing. Everyone craned their necks to see what was happening down at the feeding grounds. Must have been all that sunshine yesterday. Unlike with Prideth, there had been no expectation that Ramoth would rise so soon, although when you thought about it and added on the months she’d spent recovering after her huge jump between it was probably about time. This was the beginning of a Pass, after all. Gold dragons rose far more frequently when the Red Star was close to Pern. He remembered how often it had been commented on at Fort that the increasingly long intervals between the mating flights of the three queen dragons there must be due to the Eighth Pass nearing its end. Absently, he wondered how the jump through time would affect them. By all rights they should increase their breeding frequency again. This would be an interesting flight. Most of the Benden bronzes had risen to chase Prideth. Even the ones who had lost and who hadn’t managed to catch a green the same day would be unlikely to be interested in mating again so soon. Which dragons will chase Ramoth? he asked Herebeth. Mnementh, obviously. Possibly Binth and Piyanth as they did not chase Prideth. Ramoth will not let either of those mate with her. D’gar suddenly thought of his own Wing. R’feem’s Piroth had caught a green just after Prideth’s flight and V’vil’s Bitath had chased one a few days afterwards. F’drun was safely away from the Weyr, although surely even he wouldn’t dare to let Ryth chase Ramoth. It was a good job Threadfall wasn’t due until late afternoon. However long the flight, it should be well over by then. But some of the Benden Wings might need to let their Wingseconds take over, if the Wingleaders bronzes were too tired, or injured during the flight. He doubted very much if Ramoth would be leading the Queens’ Wing today. Even as he watched, Mnementh flew past to take up a position from where he could launch himself when Ramoth decided to take wing. Only three other bronzes seemed to be waiting. It was often the way, when it was a senior queen’s flight and the Weyrleader was good at his job and popular within a Weyr. Not too many would want to contest the leadership. It had been the same the last time Loranth rose, almost two Turns ago. T’ron’s Fidranth had won easily, without much competition. Ramoth had run down a herdbeast and she killed it swiftly, slicing open the belly so that the entrails steamed in the early morning chill. Beside him, Herebeth licked his lips at the sight. It brought a slight smile to D’gar’s face. All those bronzes were intent on mating while his dragon seemed more concerned with his stomach. For a moment it seemed Ramoth would indulge herself as well, but evidently Lessa had taken control and she reluctantly turned away to merely blood the beast. As she did so, her hide began to shine with the unmistakeable glow of a healthy female dragon about to rise. The first stirrings of dragonlust rippled through the Weyr. If anyone hadn’t already wakened, that would get them going, in more ways than one. Breakfast would be late, and mostly cold fare, he knew. Good job he wasn’t going to be able to eat much, really. Ramoth imperiously gazed at the bronzes, then took to the air. Two of them opened their wings, thinking she was about to rise, but she had other plans. A second herdbeast died and this time, she went straight for the throat. Her colour brightened still further. It was quite a spectacle. Most of the weyr ledges were crowded with dragons and weyrfolk, watching as events unfolded. Just across the Bowl, a couple kissed and fondled each other, quite oblivious to anyone who might see them. D’gar recalled Prideth’s flight; H’rek’s first experience of a gold flight. Although he wouldn’t have been here today anyway, D’gar suddenly felt his absence more profoundly. Two beasts seemed to be sufficient for Ramoth. She bugled a challenge to her suitors, then sprang into the air, bright as the rising sun. The bronzes followed swiftly. Within minutes, they were mere specks in the morning sky, leaving the Weyr unsettled and edgy. A few greens flew down from their weyrs, clearly agitated and wanting to rise themselves, frustrated at having to wait until the queen was caught. She will fly far, Herebeth commented. She is young and strong and even though she wants Mnementh, she will not let him catch her easily. D’gar had a sudden thought. Are any of our greens going to rise? If so, they’d need to juggle the shifts to make up for their absence. Russanth and Hinarth, he replied a few moments later. Great. Just what we need. At least thinking about the Wing placements would take his mind off other things. If you didn’t have a partner around, it was best to stay occupied. Some of the blues and browns may chase later as well. Shells! He’d not even considered that. Perhaps it would be best to have a word with R’feem and come up with contingency plans, just in case. The Fall today was predicted to be a relatively short one: mostly out at sea, then coming in over the coast just south of Valley Hold. Thinking about logistics was as good a way as any to distract from the still niggling dragonlust. Ask Piroth if I can speak to his rider, please. Herebeth took a short while to reply. He is busy at the moment, but will see you in the dining hall in a little while. D’gar was pretty sure exactly what was occupying the Wingleader right now. Ah well, you couldn’t blame him for that, what with only visiting his weyrmate occasionally. In fact, that didn’t seem like a bad idea. At least once he’d taken care of himself, then it would be easier to focus his mind on what needed to be done to prepare for Threadfall. By the time he’d finished and had Herebeth drop him off, R’feem was already at their usual table. There were a few other folk dotted around the place although it was clear that Ramoth’s decision to rise early had meant most had decided to stay in bed a while longer. He fetched some klah. It was slightly stewed from having been on the hearth all night, but no-one had made a fresh brew yet. ‘It’s going to be a funny sort of day,’ R’feem said. ‘No Wingleaders meeting arranged. No Weyrleader available at present. No absolute certainty who’ll end up as Weyrleader, either.’ That was true. Although everyone was convinced Mnementh would catch Ramoth, things didn’t always go smoothly during mating flights. Plus, even if everything did turn out as expected, no-one would be fit for duty for a few hours at least. ‘Anyway, I’ve started drawing up a few contingency plans as far as our Wing goes. Let’s hope the Benden folk are doing the same. Well, those who aren’t otherwise occupied at the moment.’ He gave a smirk. ‘Two mating flights in as many sevendays. Good job they don’t have three queen dragons here or we’d never get anything done.’ ‘What’s the terrain like today?’ ‘We’ve been over Greystones way before.’ ‘I haven’t. That was the one when I was out of action.’ He took a sip of the unpalatable klah. Oh well, better than no hot drink at all, he thought. ‘Ah, yes.’ R’feem didn’t mention the lake incident, thankfully. ‘We’re a little further north this time. A mix of mountains and valleys, with grazing on the slopes and some agriculture along the valley floors. Hilly area, difficult for ground crews to move around fast, so we’ll have to be thorough. But as Fall starts out at sea, we’ll only have around two and a half hours to worry about, so no need to sort out shifts. Just make sure there are a few replacements lined up for injuries or in case some of the greens or blues get tired.’ ‘Depending on how many of ours are fit to fly at all. Herebeth told me we’ve two greens about to rise and it’s anyone’s guess as to who else chases them. There’s bound to be a few Benden greens triggered by this too.’ R’feem sighed. ‘I suppose it could be worse. At least she went off first thing, rather than later in the day. Wonder how long she’ll keep them flying?’ ‘If she’s anything like her daughter, a while yet.’ ‘Best hope so. The sooner they breed enough dragons, the sooner we can get back to our own Weyr. Think it ever gets to be summer here?’ ‘I’m not holding my breath for it.’ The length of the days had increased noticeably, yet it was still colder and wetter than they’d been accustomed to at Fort this time of a Turn. ‘Do you suppose the seasons are different after four hundred Turns?’ ‘Nothing would surprise me about this day and age. Although I’ve been back to Fort a few times and it seemed much the same as it always was, weather-wise.’ ‘It was when I stopped off there, too.’ ‘In that case, it’s simply that Benden has lousy weather.’ R’feem reached into his shoulder bag and pulled out some wax tablets. ‘Nothing we can do about that, so let’s start making a plan for this afternoon.’ They’d been only just started working out the positions when he suddenly received a message from Herebeth. Thread falls! What? Where? D’gar’s surprise must have shown on his face, for R’feem asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Herebeth’s saying that Thread’s falling already.’ In the south. Rioth tells me. ‘It’s down south. They knew it was going to, just not where and when.’ Is she all right? Do they need help? Maybe even now Orth was trying to contact Mnementh, unaware that he was otherwise occupied. Rioth says they would be glad of help. Not enough dragons to cover the area. Evidently some of the other riders must have received word too, for just then D’nol and S’lel rushed in to the dining hall. D’gar had never seen S’lel move so fast. Both looked slightly panicked. “Thread!’ D’nol shouted. ‘At Southern. We have to do something! Now!’ R’feem got to his feet. ‘Calm down. We already know.’ They also need firestone. Herebeth relayed the message. They do not have enough for a full Fall and they do not know how long this Fall will last. ‘They need firestone,’ D’gar passed on. ‘We should have plenty bagged up for this afternoon.’ ‘Steady on,’ R’feem said to the two bronze riders, who seemed about to dash straight out again. ‘No point in everyone getting tied up in this. We still have our own Fall to fly later.’ ‘We need to tell the Weyrleader.’ D’nol’s eyes were flicking from side to side as he evidently tried to listen to his dragon as well as focus on what was happening. ‘i doubt he’ll appreciate the interruption right now. In any case, we can cope. Now, how many riders are available from your two Wings? D’gar, find out how many we have right now as well.’ D’gar passed that on to Herebeth, doing some quick calculations as the answers started to come back. ‘At least fifteen.’ ‘Good. Take ten of them with a couple of sacks each. You two, get around the same number from your Wings to do the same.’ They nodded, seemingly relieved that someone was taking control of the situation. ‘When you get there,’ R’feem carried on, talking softly to D’gar. ‘Let me know if you need any more reinforcements. Best if I stay here and co-ordinate, the way things are. Don’t need everyone rushing around like headless wherries.’ Herebeth. Tell Rioth we’re on the way. Can they manage with just another thirty riders or will they need more? He suddenly remembered who else was there. Actually, ask Toth that. And Ryth. Their riders were more experienced and should have a better idea. H’rek and Rioth had never been in the thick of a Fall before - let alone one that had come as a surprise - and might be too overwhelmed by the sheer chaos of it all to think clearly. They are managing right now, but will need reinforcements, Toth says. Ryth confirms. The next few minutes were a whirl of activity. D’gar had never got into his wherhide gear so fast. Other riders rushed out of whichever weyrs they had been in, some still only half-dressed and pulling clothes on. F’nor arrived looking somewhat disheveled, making D’gar wonder who he’d been with. Get co-ordinates from Toth. Close as we can get obviously, but not in the middle of Fall. Piroth already has them. He passes them to me now. Herebeth chewed firestone as fast as he could. All around him, other dragons were doing the same. They’d need a lot more mid-air than was normal, not having had the time to take on as much as they would usually, pre-Fall. The dragons at Southern must have the same problem, D’gar realised, especially if they’d not had much warning. He fastened as many sacks to the straps as would fit, then climbed up, checking the rest of the Wing were ready. ‘Can I join you?’ F’nor called over. ‘Sure. You take the other flank, next to B’lin.’ D’gar glanced across to D’nol and S’lel, who were waiting for their last few riders to get on and fasten their straps. They both waved when they were all ready. Herebeth. Let’s go. He gave the signal to take off and the three half-Wings ascended rapidly. He waited only until they’d cleared the rim, then gave the signal to go between. The first thing that struck him as they emerged was the southern heat. They had emerged well outside the Fall zone, although the dragons in the air were clearly visible as they flamed. Thread was advancing at its usual pace and was currently approaching the area occupied by the Weyr buildings. Good job someone had spotted it early when it must still have been falling over the sea. We will drop off our spare firestone on the beach first, then take the upper level. Tell Tuenth to take the mid level. Valenth’s Wing can co-ordinate firestone supplies for the fighting dragons. I pass your orders along. My orders, D’gar thought suddenly, realising how easily he’d fallen in to a Wingleader’s mode of thought after so many Turns observing how R’feem did it. Well, no-one else seemed inclined to take control, so he might as well. As they released their spare sacks, he glanced over towards the fighting Wings to try and get a grip on what patterns they were flying. T’bor’s own Wing were struggling to clear the upper level; not their fault, just that there weren’t enough dragons available to do a proper job. At least they were flying in some semblance of a formation. Below them, a random mish-mash of dragons went for whatever they’d missed, flying this way and that. Sheer luck must have prevented any collisions so far. Mind you, you couldn’t expect much better from such a motley assortment of riders and dragons, some of whom were recovering from injuries and most who had never flown together as a Wing before. Let’s go. We’ll start from the eastern edge. That way they’d criss cross with T’bor’s dragons, hopefully picking up what he couldn’t. It chilled D’gar to see that there were unprotected people down below, making for the shelter of the Hatching Ground as Thread drew ever closer. They couldn’t afford to let anything through. As they covered the short distance, he noticed even Kylara was in the air, using her flamethrower very efficiently, flanked by four green dragons, flaming well. A Queens’ Wing in miniature. The next level above them was being covered by two separate ‘Wings’. One lot seemed very organised and he realised that F’drun was leading it. Much as he disliked the man, it was good to see there was someone else who knew what they were doing in charge. Pass on to the Wingleaders’ dragons that Valenth is supplying firestone. I shall do. How’s your flame? For reply, Herebeth released a short burst. Enough for us to start with, but I will need more firestone soon. They rose to meet Thread and D’gar found himself getting in to the all-too-familiar mindset of Fall, concentrating on checking his area of sky while still scanning ‘his’ Wing to see how they were performing and if they needed to re-organise or re-form. At least the air is still and we have good visibility. Herebeth seared a large tangle in satisfying fashion, banking to take another few strands that had drifted apart from the main clump. Tell whoever is in charge of that untidy bunch to try and get them into a vee. Tuenth’s Wing are assisting them on that level and we don’t want anyone getting flamed by accident. I do not know who is in charge. Herebeth paused. They do not know either. Tell one of the bronzes then. Shards, but this was a mess. You’d have thought T’bor would have at least thought out some kind of contingency plan. They knew that Thread would fall sooner or later, after all. Maybe Tuenth could take them all under his wing, so to speak? That might work. Herebeth broke off to attack another squirming bundle of Thread. I will suggest it. Please do. It was a good thing he had a thoughtful - and tactful - dragon. Some of the Benden bronze riders mightn’t take too well to being told directly what they should do by a mere brown, especially one from another Weyr. He put that from his mind and used a clear space to throw a couple more pieces of firestone into Herebeth’s mouth. Thread was directly over the Weyr buildings now. All that greenery, that had seemed a pleasant provider of shade just yesterday, now looked like a lethal mistake. It was clear from the abandoned belongings scattered around that the support staff hadn’t had much time to get away. D’gar hoped Bavi would be all right. She didn’t deserve this. No-one should have to be out in the midst of Fall, unless they were experienced ground crew, armed with flamethrowers, or mounted on a dragon. D’gar wiped his face. As well as the usual char, the unaccustomed heat was making him sweat more than usual. When Herebeth had to blink between to avoid a rapidly descending clump the intense cold brought instant relief. Then they were back out into the bright sunshine, wheeling left to flame again and watch Thread sizzle and blacken. D’nol’s Wing were ferrying extra firestone up to the Southern Wings. It wasn’t so much that they hadn’t had enough firestone, D’gar realised; more that they had been forced into the air so fast they’d not had time to prepare properly. The extra dragons joining them had probably helped to boost their morale, too. S’lel seemed to be bringing some kind of order to the mid-level formations. Kylara's Queens' Wing were concentrating their efforts above the people who were still out in the open, protecting them from falling Thread. It looked as if everything was gradually coming together. Canth tells me we will only need to fight Thread as far as the big river. Really? What happens then? The idea of letting Thread fall, unopposed went against everything he'd ever learned. Yet how could so few of them protect the whole of the southern continent? Once it is falling on the other side, it cannot reach the Weyr. Herebeth sounded reluctant too. I do not like to think of Thread falling if we do not fight it. Me neither. But if that's what they want... Thread would be unable to cross the wide expanse of water, keeping the Weyr and its surroundings safe. More firestone, please. Herebeth returned to strictly practical matters. I will flame Thread for as long as I am permitted. The Wing were flying well, cleaning up their level effectively. He watched as M’ta and Zath corkscrewed down to sear a long tangle of Thread, then moved back into position with the minimum of fuss and effort. That was how it should be done. Canth was doing his bit, too, and now that there was a direct comparison to be made, it was clear he was definitely able to flame for longer than brown Ondiath, alongside him in the formation. They followed the Fall as far as the river, when Orth turned and started to lead his Wing back. This it it, for us. D’gar watched the deadly rain hissing into the water, then had to look away as it began to fall, unchecked onto the lands beyond. He knew that Herebeth was as unsettled as he was by the sight. All of the dragons must be, as fighting Thread was such an ingrained instinct for them. He gave the orders for the Wing to fly back. There was plenty of room on the main beach for everyone to land. Some of the support staff were already returning from the Hatching Ground. D’gar hoped fervently none of them had been injured. ‘Well flown.’ F’nor called across. ‘You too.’ Tell the rest of the Wing they did a good job. I shall. Toth informs me they were very relieved when we all arrived. D’gar climbed down from his dragon and began his usual post-Fall checks. The heat forced him to take off his jacket. He rubbed his aching shoulder. Once they got back, he’d put some more numbweed on it before this afternoon. Shells! How long had they been away? We still have plenty of time, Herebeth informed him. I have spoken to Piroth. He tells me also that Mnementh flew Ramoth. Well, that was a relief. At least they didn’t have to cope with a change of leadership on top of everything else. ‘Can we have a swim while we’re here?’ M’ta asked. ‘I don’t see why not. We’ve plenty of time to get back to Benden and we might as well relax here in the sun as back there.’ ‘Thanks.’ He began stripping the sacks and straps from Zath. Do you want to swim? he asked Herebeth. it was only fair, as he’d had his bath cut short the previous day. I should enjoy that. Most of the dragons were doing the same, washing the char and firestone dust from their hides. D’gar sat on one of the unused sacks, watching. Rioth had found her way across to Herebeth already. It was so easy for dragons, he reflected. ‘Hey.’ He turned to see H’rek, looking slightly awkward. ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Fine.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Can I… can we talk?’ ‘Sure.’ He patted the sack next to him and H’rek sat down. There was still a distance between them, but this was already turning out better than yesterday. ‘Did you really sleep with N’bras?’ So, he had heard then. ‘Yes. But literally so. We slept. That’s all. There was a party and everyone got drunk. Several people stayed in the weyr that night. Ask M’rell.’ ‘He already told me. He said nothing happened.’ ‘There you go, then.’ ‘I’m sorry about yesterday.’ ‘Me too.’ D’gar watched the dragons splashing each other with flapping wings. ‘Herebeth often tells me we make life too complicated.’ ‘Rioth says the same.’ ‘Then let’s do as our dragons suggest.’ Impulsively, he reached out for H’rek and pulled him into a hug. H’rek didn’t resist. ‘I thought we were going to die this morning,’ he said softly, next to D’gar’s ear. ‘I didn’t want to die without saying how much I love you.’ ‘I love you, too.’ D’gar pulled back, but only so that he could look H’rek in the eyes as he said it. ‘We might argue again. We might not. But how I feel will never change.’ The hug turned into a kiss that said more than words could ever hope to.
  5. This is really taking some unexpected turns. Can’t wait to find out what happens next? Will gran relent? Will Kevin manage to lure Jason into his room?
  6. Gran is definitely being mean. Just because she's annoyed with Daniel she's chucking Jason and Colleen out. Hopefully this was a knee-jerk reaction and she'll reconsider once she's had a chance to think about it.
  7. Mawgrim

    Dear World

    Really hope Kevin doesn't post that on YouTube.
  8. Mawgrim

    Decline and Fall

    Anne and Todd McCaffrey already did it in 'Sky Dragons'. I have also read a few fanfics where green dragons lay eggs as a result of not being given firestone early enough to stop this happening. I'm not sure if it's reversible - once they've had sufficient firestone bang goes the chance to breed.
  9. Mawgrim

    Chapter 12

    Well, I’ve caught up now and can’t wait to read more. You have a real talent for description, both of places and situations. Just hope the boys have a smoother ride from now on as they've both suffered a lot of trauma in their lives so far.
  10. Mawgrim

    Chapter 27

    Very perceptive.
  11. Mawgrim

    Tommy Banks

    A well written story with believable characters. I like the way you have transitioned smoothly between the present and flashbacks to what previously happened as the story develops.
  12. Mawgrim

    Summer Flights

    Thank you. That means a lot to me.
  13. Mawgrim

    Decline and Fall

    I was wiping away tears as I was writing it.
  14. Mawgrim


    Rita is the sort of person who has to try and change everything and everyone. She's definitely using Rick as a way to get her scheme underway, regardless of the consequences. Still, at least he's met the piano teacher again.
  15. Let's hope so. They're a good read.
  16. Mawgrim

    Decline and Fall

    The shadows were lengthening now; the sun slipping out of sight beyond the rim of the Bowl a little earlier each day. It was still warm, though. Summer was clinging on this Turn. All twelve of the weyrling pairs had taken their places around half way up the ancient rock fall at the far end of the Bowl. Today was the first time they’d fly on board their own dragons. Herebeth was as excited as D’gar. He’d watched his dragon perfect his flying skills alone, practising circuits and turns, take offs and landings. Now, at last, they would fly together. Some of the older dragons lined the rim, or perched on ledges to watch. Valli herself had joined them, Kadoth gleaming. She sat proud and straight on her dragon’s neck, even though D’gar knew how much effort it took for her to do that now. She was having to take more fellis just to be able to do the little things everyone took for granted but her public face never slipped. D’gar checked his riding straps were properly secured. It would be very embarrassing to fall off in front of all these spectators. Sure I’m not too heavy for you? he asked for the umpteenth time. I can barely feel your weight, Herebeth assured him. I am a strong dragon. Whether I have you on my neck or not makes no difference. D’gar glanced over to where S’brin sat on Zemianth. She was still slightly smaller than the rest of the greens from Kadoth’s clutch, but she had fine lines. Like the difference between a runner bred for racing and one more suited to pull a carriage, he thought, although S’brin probably wouldn’t appreciate the comparison. N’teren was mounted on his own dragon. This was a proud moment for him, as well. ‘Now, we’ll have the two browns go first. Herebeth and Kailarth.’ It was traditional to fly in colour order. If there had been any bronzes in the clutch, they’d have had the honour of going first. ‘Once your dragon’s taken off, you’ll fly to the opposite end, turn to your left, nice and smooth, then fly back here and land on the flat area down below us. You’ll all have more than one go as long as your dragons are up to it. Last thing we want is to overstrain them. Right! Are you ready?’ D’gar gave the hand signal indicating he was and saw G’tash do the same. Time to fly, Herebeth. ‘Then go when you’re ready.’ There was a surge of power as Herebeth pushed off the slope with his hind legs, then began to beat his wings. The ground fell away and even though it was a still afternoon, the air whipped against D’gar’s face. He barely had time to enjoy the view before they reached the point at which they had to start to turn. He leaned with it, feeling the riding straps holding him tightly in position. The floor of the Bowl was at an odd angle now as Herebeth banked to complete his turn, then with a few more beats of his wings, gained height. Kailarth was alongside, at a dragonslength distance. G’tash had a broad smile on his face and D’gar knew he must look the same. This was amazing. We have to land on the flat. Can you manage that? He wondered if landing would be bumpy, but Herebeth set down as gently as if he’d been on his own. You see. That was easy. D’gar felt incredibly happy and knew that part of it was Herebeth’s own feeling of joy at having successfully flown with his rider. But it had all been over so quickly! We will be able to go again, Herebeth said. I shall fly higher next time. They watched the blues take their turn, then finally, the green dragons lined up. Tell Zemianth good luck. From the nod S’brin gave him just a few moments later he knew he’d got the message. Then, they too were airborne and heading off for the end of the Bowl. Watching them, D’gar could see quite clearly how much closer they were able to get to the rocky wall before turning. If he and Herebeth tried that, they’d not make it. But Herebeth, like all dragons, instinctively knew how much space he needed to turn safely. Zemianth, he noted proudly, was the quickest of all of them. She landed neatly and precisely, folding her wings to her sides. S’brin was grinning wildly. Valli punched her fist in the air and Kadoth bugled to congratulate her sons and daughters on their achievement. Even N’teren had relaxed enough to crack a smile. They had two more goes each, practising ascents and descents. On their third run, Herebeth flew high enough for D’gar to see over the edge of the rim; a spectacular glimpse of the mountains surrounding the Weyr and the valley that sloped down towards Fort Hold. I do not know why we must stop, Herebeth protested. I am not at all tired. I like it when we fly together. We also have to do what we’re told. And we’ve been told to stop now. But I expect we’ll be doing a lot more flying practice from now on. The barracks were emptier these days, since most of Suderoth’s clutch had moved out to their own weyrs. Loranth’s clutch, having mastered the skill of flying between had now begun to take on the duty of supplying firestone to the fighting dragons during Fall. ‘Few more months and that’ll be us.’ D’gar paused for a break from passing filled bags up to the supply dragons. Although it wasn’t as tiring as flying Fall in a Wing, supply duties were almost as dangerous; they brought a rider and dragon pair into closer contact with Thread than they had ever been before and accidents sometimes happened. A brown dragon landed, his rider throwing down a handful of empty sacks. ‘Four greens, two blues, two bronze,’ he called out. D’gar recognised M’rell and Toth. ‘Coming up,’ S’brin called, as D’gar threw him the first couple of green marked sacks. ‘How is it up there today?’ ‘Thread’s falling erratically in this wind,’ M’rell answered. ‘They’re using more firestone than normal. Hope you’ll be able to keep up with demand.’ ‘We always do.’ D’gar grabbed the blue coded sacks. ‘Bring us a couple more bronze over, G’tash.’ M’rell took care to fasten the sacks securely to the clips on his straps. ‘See you later, lads.’ Toth pushed off powerfully, the downdraught from his wings stirring the dust. He went between at just a few dragon lengths height. ‘He’s cutting it a bit fine,’ G’tash said, but there was no time to reply as blue Mirlith landed and V’sil shouted out his order. Firestone duty was always like that. Nothing much to do at all for the first hour or so, then a mad panic for the initial re-supply, when dragons were landing and taking off almost non-stop. After that, orders came in in dribs and drabs, giving a bit more time to re-fill the old bags and to re-organise the graded ones for easy access when another rush came in. Mirlith flew slightly higher before disappearing, but not much. It was time and energy saving, D’gar knew. Of course, they’d been drilled on not going between until you were at a safe height but there was often a divide between the proper way things should be done and the more pragmatic way they actually got done. Another few dragons arrived in rapid succession, then there was a lull. D’gar took a drink of water, passing the flask across to S’brin. ‘Looks like it’s a difficult one today.’ ‘They thought it might be, beforehand.’ It was fairly breezy here at the Weyr, but over the plains of Southern Boll, the wind must be far stronger. Thread would blow unpredictably sideways, rather than falling straight down. Fighting against the wind tired dragons more quickly. Minth descended rapidly to the landing area. ‘Four bronze, two brown,’ E’sen shouted. He threw down some empty sacks. ‘Mind those. Some of ‘em are bloody.’ It was the red blood of a rider rather than the green ichor of a dragon. D’gar picked them up and took them over to the re-filling area. The blood was mostly dry, but he still didn’t like to think about the injuries that might have caused it. He grabbed two brown coded sacks and took them back, while G’tash and S’brin brought the bronze ones. ‘Here you go.’ ‘Thanks.’ As E’sen was fastening them, Minth suddenly stretched her neck out and keened, her voice rapidly being joined by all the other dragons still left at the Weyr. Someone had died. D’gar wondered if it had been the rider whose blood now stained his gloves. It was over almost before it had begun. In the midst of Fall, there wasn’t time to mourn. Minth recovered her composure, gave a little shake of her head as if to say, ‘back to work’ and sprang into the air. After they’d tidied up the firestone bunker, they made their way back. A few Wings had already returned. There were several scored dragons waiting for treatment beside the infirmary caves and healers together with their helpers were carrying injured men inside. The Queens’ Wing had already landed and D’gar spotted Kadoth at the mouth of her weyr, still wearing fighting straps and with flamethrower mounted on her back. ‘Shall we go and see to Kadoth first?’ he suggested. No-one else seemed to be helping and Valli wasn’t around. She was probably exhausted, he realised, and must have gone straight inside her weyr to lie down. ‘Good idea.’ They climbed the steps - it was a good job Valli was entitled to a more-or-less ground level weyr - with D’gar in the lead. At the top, he heard raised voices and stopped so quickly S’brin almost ran into him. ‘Hey! Watch it.’ ‘Shh.’ They both hung back, Kadoth peering at them quizzically. ‘I’m sorry, Valli, but this is it. No-one in this Weyr - least of all me - wants to see you and Kadoth hurt, or worse.’ D’gar had heard that voice often enough to know that it was the Weyrleader speaking. ‘I’m already hurt.’ Her voice cracked, as if she was in pain, or had been crying. ‘I’m dying, T’ron. I’d rather go fighting, up in the air. A good, clean death, on my dragon. You’d feel the same if it was you.’ ‘I know, I know. I’m not saying you can’t still fly, while you’re able. But no more riding Fall. That’s my final word.’ D’gar heard his boots on the stone and shrank back against S’brin. If he knew they’d been eavesdropping, they’d be in trouble. But before he got any closer, Kadoth shifted slightly and extended a wing. D’gar caught her eye and pulled S’brin with him, under the shelter of its golden canopy. A few moments later, the Weyrleader strode past. Kadoth kept them there a while longer before finally lifting her wing. ‘You can take her stuff off, she says,’ Valli called. ‘Then come in here.’ S’brin looked at him. ‘We shouldn’t have been listening to that.’ ‘We weren’t to know.’ D’gar unfastened the tank from Kadoth’s back and removed the pad that stopped it chafing her while S’brin took off the straps. Then they carried them through to the inner weyr. Valli sat in her usual chair, her riding leathers still covered in char from Fall. Her short, grey hair was stuck to her scalp with sweat and her face was lined in pain. ‘Do you want some fellis?’ D’gar asked. ‘Please.’ ‘I’m sorry you heard all that.’ ‘We are too,’ S’brin offered. ‘We didn’t mean to snoop. We’d just come up to help with Kadoth.’ ‘It’s all right. She told me. That was kind of you both.’ D’gar handed her the cup. She sniffed at the contents. ‘I hate tainting good Benden white with this foul stuff.’ She drank it quickly, then handed it back to him. ‘Give it a swill out, then put something decent in there.’ He busied himself. When he returned, S’brin was sitting beside the chair on a wooden stool. D’gar handed her the cup. She took another drink. ‘Ah, that’s better. So, what do you think? Am I a disgrace to this Weyr?’ ‘No!’ S’brin was the first to reply. ‘Of course not,’ D’gar said. ‘Well, our good Weyrleader thinks so. He doesn’t want my death on his hands, he said. Bad for morale, he said. He’d rather me die in here and Kadoth have to go off between alone.’ ‘Are you sure that’s what he meant? He said you could still fly.’ ‘Ah, so you heard that part. And that I can’t ride Fall anymore.’ D’gar nodded. He could see T’ron’s point of view, but he sympathised equally as much with Valli. She took another sip of the wine. ‘He’s right, to some extent. I’ll admit I’ve not been so… careful, recently. You lads don’t know what it’s like yet, but when you’re up there, in the thick of it, everyone knows one mistake can kill you. It makes you careful. And lately, I’ve not been taking heed of that. Oh, Kadoth won’t let me do anything downright dangerous, but I’ve not been so averse to taking risks. Why let someone else get Thread in the face when I might be able to reach it first?’ ‘That’s very brave of you,’ S’brin said. She shook her head. ‘Anything but. When there’s nothing to live for anymore, a quick death doesn’t seem so bad.’ D’gar wondered how anyone could feel like that. Yes, Valli knew she was going to die, but while you were still alive and breathing how could you want to throw it away? And what about your dragon? ‘I’ve been like this before,’ she said. ‘When Os’erl died. Didn’t much care then, either. What’s the point in living when the one you love has gone into cold between?’ She drained the cup. ‘Refill, please.’ D’gar didn’t think she should be drinking so much. But who was he to deny her? If he was Valli’s age and facing certain death, then who’s to say he wouldn’t do the same? Only, in his case, S’brin would stop him. It wouldn’t be so bad, would it, if you had someone there with you, to hold your hand and remind you of the good times? Impulsively he said, ‘We’ll always be here for you.’ S’brin nodded agreement. ‘Thanks lads, I appreciate that. Now, you’d better get on before anyone wonders where you’ve got to. I’ll be fine.’ They left, reluctantly and joined the others in the baths. ‘Where did you two get to?’ J’rud called over, as they undressed. ‘Probably feeling each other up in some store cupboard,’ T’mudra said, getting a few laughs. ‘Why don’t you join us in there next time,’ S’brin snapped back. ‘You might learn something.’ ‘We’ll all be learning it tomorrow.’ That was B’rol. ‘Well, all of us greens. N’teren’s giving the lecture on how to tell when your dragon’s going to rise and what to do when she does.’ There were several groans from the pool. ‘We’ve seen enough flights to know about all that, haven’t we?’ J’rud said. ‘Colour changes, moodiness, then bye bye to your mind for a couple of hours.’ ‘And hello sore bum for a few days afterwards,’ G’tash added. ‘Really glad I didn’t Impress a green.’ ’T’garrin’s already taking bets on which of our lot will be first to rise.’ R’chol splashed from the deeper end of the pool to grab a handful of sweetsand from the bowl on the side. ‘And whether it will happen before Turn’s End.’ ‘I bet I know which one it’ll be.’ T’mudra looked pointedly at S’brin, who ignored him and jumped in at the deep end, making a large splash. ‘That’s rubbish.’ D’gar thought it was time he said something. ‘It’s down to the dragon, not the rider. Zemianth’s still one of the smallest, lightest greens in our clutch. If I was making a bet I’d put it on one of the sturdy ones who eats a lot. Like Jassainth.’ T’mudra’s dragon’s habit of gorging had given her a few digestive problems over the past couple of months. ‘Yeah. If she eats like that before she rises, she won’t last very long.’ S’brin had surfaced, next to T’mudra. ‘Maybe he won’t either.’ He made a rude gesture. That got some laughs as well. D’gar got into the pool, ducking under to get his hair wet and rinse the firestone dust out of it. He remembered the last time S’brin and he had been in this particular pool; the day Kadoth rose, before they’d Impressed. Surely if the greens were getting close to the stage where they might be mature enough to rise, there wasn’t much point in their riders avoiding sexual contact anymore? He made a mental note to ask N’teren about that even though he could already see the Weyrlingmaster’s pained expression at yet another question. Actually, he’d probably be as well to ask some of the riders from Loranth’s clutch as they’d already passed that stage. He was pretty sure that M’rell was involved with one of the young women who worked in the laundry and it was unlikely they just sat holding hands whenever they met. Suddenly, someone pulled him under, arms wrapped tightly around his waist. He didn’t struggle. He knew exactly who it was. They broke the surface together. D’gar shook the water off. ’What was all that about?’ ‘You looked like you were thinking too much.’ S’brin was still very close to him. Close enough to kiss. For a few moments, D’gar thought it might happen. Then he realised everyone was watching and that T’mudra would probably tell the Weyrlingmaster. He broke eye contact, then dived under again, surfacing on the far side. J’rud laughed. ’Think I’m going to take bets on how long it is before those two are doing each other again, never mind what the dragons think.’ While the greens were having their special lecture, the rest of the clutch worked at their usual task; breaking and bagging firestone. ‘I reckon we’ll be having our first firestone lesson soon,’ D’gar said. During his time in the archives, he’d learned that green dragons were capable of laying eggs too and it was only chewing firestone that prevented this happening. N’teren would want to make sure they’d had a sufficient quantity before anyone rose to mate. ‘Great,’ G’tash said. ‘I can’t wait to ride a flaming dragon.’ Flying had progressed from circuits of the bowl to longer trips out of the Weyr, learning how to keep formation and to communicate with each other via the dragons. They’d been practising that on the ground, too, but once in the air, it began to make more sense. ‘Flying, flaming. Next one after that is learning to go between.’ T’kes stopped shovelling. ‘Think we’ll be lucky like Loranth’s clutch?’ They’d not lost anyone. ‘Let’s hope so.’ D’gar’s nightmares still resurfaced sometimes. Between wasn’t a place he liked to think about too much. Sometimes, he worried he’d not be able to keep a clear image in his head for the requisite eight seconds, due to the way his mind jumped around. Although if some of the riders in the Weyr, who were more stupid than a field full of ovines, could do it, then there was no reason he shouldn’t. While they worked a green dragon rose, as if to underline the lesson their clutchmates were learning. It was one of the younger greens; V’chal’s Lilith. It wasn’t an uncommon sight; due to the numbers of green dragons at Fort Weyr, one or two rose most sevendays. Today, though, they all watched as several blues, browns and two bronzes went after her, until they were mere specks against the cloudless autumn sky. Meanwhile, the riders hurried into the flight cave. ‘That’ll be us this time next Turn,’ G’tash commented. ‘Some of the blues from Loranth’s clutch are already getting interested in chasing.’ ‘Browns and bronzes always take longer to fully mature.’ K’dis often made comments like that. He seemed to think his blue Cegorth was far in advance of all the others in the clutch. He gave a sideways glance at D’gar. ‘Wonder who’ll get to fly Zemianth the first time?’ D’gar ignored him and carried on filling the bag. Although he kept telling himself it didn’t matter, he knew that really it did. It wasn't so much the thought of S’brin having sex with someone else, more that whoever it was might not be as considerate as they should. Sometimes mating flights got rough; sometimes people were hurt; all of that he’d known for Turns. Now that it might happen to S’brin, he felt very differently about it. ‘I bet there’ll be a few riders who’ll send their dragons up after her, just for a chance to get S’brin.’ ‘Shut it, K’dis,’ G’tash said. ‘Or are you deliberately trying to rile D’gar?’ ‘Me? No. Just making conversation.’ But he did shut up. D’gar flashed a grateful smile to G’tash. ‘All he needs to do is ask for a restricted flight,’ G’tash said. ‘That’ll keep away any of the old lechers.’ ‘Someone else said the same thing.’ ‘Well then, he’ll be fine.’ It all sounded so simple. Mind you, so did chewing firestone and the first time the dragons did that, some of them bit their tongues by accident, while others ended up with rocks in the wrong stomach, making them vomit up piles of steaming grey gloop rather than producing flame. Herebeth chewed thoughtfully. The noise was so loud that D’gar feared for his teeth. My teeth are strong and the stone is soft. It is very noisy, though. It must sound even louder inside your head than it does to my ears. After a few minutes, he belched and a tiny trickle of flame emerged from his mouth. Herebeth looked slightly surprised. Then he tried again and a much larger flame emerged. ‘Remember to keep a good distance apart,’ N’teren called, as some of the other dragons also successfully produced fire. ‘Tell your dragons to make sure they’re facing away from you and from each other. At this stage, they probably won’t have much control over it. The purpose of these lessons is to allow them to test their capabilities safely on the ground.’ On his third try, Kailarth emitted such a large gout of flame, he startled himself and ended up sitting back on his own tail. Zemianth seemed entranced by the sight and started moving her head around so that she could better view the effect. Herebeth looked very pleased when he managed to sustain a blast for several seconds. Look. I am a fire-breathing dragon. I will soon be able to sear Thread from the sky. Yes, you will. I’m very impressed. Following the first lesson, firestone practice became part of the regular training schedule. The aerial drills became more involved too; the formations tighter and the patterns more complex. It seemed to D’gar that the dragons were acquiring an instinctive feel for where they were in relation to their neighbours. When they’d successfully run through several complicated routines, both he and Herebeth felt a great sense of satisfaction. Autumn brought the first storms and rain, although there were still jewel-bright days in between, like memories of the fading summer. Threadfall continued as normal. This end of the Turn, everyone looked forward to the freezing winter days when intense cold turned Thread to harmless black dust. Some of the older riders talked about a fabled winter, twenty-four Turns ago, when they didn’t have to fly Fall for almost two months. Each Fall, Valli waved the Wings off. Kadoth remained at the Weyr on support duty. If a fighting dragon was badly injured and unable to land safely, she would help to steady their descent into the Bowl. A queen dragon’s place at the top of the hierarchy meant that she could mentally command the lesser colours, holding them still while healers worked to repair a damaged wing, or to get an injured rider down for treatment. Valli sat on a portable chair most of the time while Kadoth did her duty. She could still walk with the aid of a stick, but it was clear that the movement hurt her. Her left foot barely lifted off the ground, meaning that she had to be careful not to trip. It was painful to watch. ‘She’s got a lot worse in the last couple of sevendays.’ S’brin commented as Valli climbed slowly up the steps to her weyr, pausing several times to rest. ‘I know. Even the fellis doesn’t work much anymore.’ When they helped her, he often prepared the solution and he’d noticed how the healers had increased the dosage. She took as little as she could get away with. ‘I don’t enjoy the pain but I hate the way that stuff makes me feel. I can’t think straight and I want to sleep all the time. Kadoth doesn’t like it either. She says it makes me all fuzzy and she finds it harder to talk to me.’ Although she still flew with Kadoth to the feeding grounds, it was getting increasingly difficult for her to climb on board, even with assistance. S’brin could lift the weyrwoman up easily enough but he was aware of how much it hurt her and he didn’t like doing it. Before breakfast, whatever the weather, the two of them went for a run around the lake. D’gar always accompanied S’brin. He didn’t have the same sense of dedication to exercise, but it was still something they could share. It was the day after an easy Fall over Hold Gar; a bright and cold morning, making their breath steam as they ran. The sun climbed slowly above the rim, hardly making any difference to the chill in the air. As they finished their second circuit, D’gar saw a flash of gold on Kadoth’s ledge as the old dragon stretched her wings. The next moment, S’brin turned to him. ‘Kadoth wants us in her weyr, right away.’ She must have sent him the message via Zemianth. They ran across the landing area and up the steps, two at a time, stopping just short of the queen dragon. She seemed solemn this morning and stepped aside to let them through. Valli was sitting on the edge of her bed, still in her night clothes. Her arms and legs looked painfully thin, D’gar thought. ‘Glad you got here quickly. I can’t feel this leg anymore. Can you boys give me a hand?’ ‘Of course. What do you want us to do?’ ‘Firstly, fetch me some clothes.’ D’gar went over to the niche where her dresses hung. ‘Any preference?’ ‘Not a dress, today. Breeches and wherhide. I’ll be riding.’ ‘Are you sure that’s wise?’ S’brin asked cautiously. ‘It’s my last chance. If I don’t do it now, then I’ll die here.’ She looked down at the bed with a tortured expression. ‘Neither of us want that.’ D’gar felt a shiver go down his spine. He knew what she meant to do. As he fetched what she’d asked for, his eyes started to fill with tears and as he laid the clothes out next to her, one fell free and splashed onto her hand. ‘Don’t cry, lad. It comes to us all. I’ve had a good life and I want a good death, too.’ ‘Aren’t you scared?’ He wiped his face on his sleeve. ‘I’d be a fool if I wasn’t. But I’d rather go on my own terms. It’s the only choice I have left. Now, get me up,’ she said to S’brin. Dressing was clearly difficult for her, although she only asked for help once or twice, when she couldn’t stand unaided, or get her leg to do as she wanted. ‘Kadoth asks if you can put her neck strap on. We don’t need a full harness today.’ She smiled briefly. ‘That would be a waste of good hide.’ D’gar choked back his tears. When he glanced at S’brin, he saw he was doing much the same. ‘I want you both to promise me one thing. I’ll not see the end of this Pass, so you’ll have to do it for me. Just say a few words on the first dawn of the Interval, in our memory.’ ‘I promise,’ S’brin said. ‘You have my word, too.’ ‘You’re good lads, both of you. And you’ve got two of the best dragons in this Weyr. Kadoth’s last clutch was a fine one. Now, help me over to her.’ While S’brin supported most of her weight as she hobbled across the weyr, D’gar took the neck strap from its hook. Kadoth lowered her head for him to put it on. Thank you. We are grateful. She’d spoken to him! He knew what an honour that was and thought it deserved some kind of acknowledgement. He stood before the great golden dragon and made a formal bow. Kadoth crouched as low as she could while S’brin lifted Valli to her place between the last two neck ridges. Once she was there, she took a few moments to recover her breath, then as Kadoth raised herself, looked down on them both and smiled. It was only a few steps to the front of the ledge. Kadoth spread her wings wide as soon as she had room and with a few strong beats, she was airborne. Beams of light illuminated her golden hide, making her seem to shine like something precious and fragile. D’gar and S’brin watched her ascend rapidly to the height of the Bowl. It looked as if she was flying up to the sun itself. Then, as she flew higher still, abruptly she disappeared between. All around the Weyr, dragons raised their heads and keened for the loss of a queen and her rider.
  17. Mawgrim

    Chapter 22

    I figured it was going to start fairly soon after they came forward, especially when people didn't behave in the same deferential way as they used to.
  18. Mawgrim

    Chapter 21

    He's a lot more approachable than F'lar generally, plus people are more inclined to talk to him.
  19. Eighth Interval/Ninth Pass History At the beginning of the Ninth Pass of the Red Star, there is only one remaining Weyr of dragons - Benden Weyr, in the north east of the continent. All of the other five Weyrs have been empty and abandoned since just after the end of the Eighth Pass, when all of the inhabitants - dragons, riders and weyrfolk - disappeared overnight. No-one knows what happened to them. Normally, Thread falls every 200 Turns. However, 400 Turns have gone by since the end of the Eighth Pass (later books give it as 450, but in 'Dragonflight' it's 400, so I'm sticking to that), making most people believe that Thread is never going to return. This has caused some profound changes to the way of life on Pern. Holders and Crafters no longer regard dragonriders with awe and many are questioning whether they should continue to send tithes to the Weyr when it's clear to them that dragons are no longer necessary to protect them from a non-existent threat. Over the 400 Turns, many Holds have expanded far beyond their previous boundaries, there is much more cultivated land and huge areas have been planted with trees. Many people no longer keep to the old customs which required a wide area around dwellings to be kept free of greenery (to stop Thread getting close to human habitation if it reached the ground). A greedy warlord - Fax - has taken over several Holds; something else that would have been unheard of in the past, when the rule was 'one Lord, one Hold', due to the necessity of keeping a Hold and its people safe during Threadfall. The last Hold he invades is Ruatha, from which many renowned Weyrwoman have come throughout history. Fax slaughters the entire family and the Ruathan bloodline is believed to be extinct. Over the Turns during which Benden has been the only Weyr, many changes have occurred, chief among them being that they have become used to only one queen dragon being alive at any one time. (Presumably at some point several queens died at once due to injury or illness). Due to the excessively long Interval, Weyrwoman Jora's dragon, Nemorth, rarely rises to mate and produces only small clutches. The population of dragons has steadily declined. R'gul, who has been Weyrleader at Benden for 10 Turns, also believes that Thread will not return (despite evidence to the contrary) and his policy has been to keep dragons and riders out of the public eye as much as possible so as not to remind the Holders they still exist. Jora's Nemorth rises to mate for the last time and lays her final clutch before dying, leaving one last golden egg on the Sands. F'lar, a young bronze rider whose father was the previous Weyrleader (murdered by Fax's men) believes that Thread will return and is afraid the Weyr will be unprepared. On Search for candidates to stand for Nemorth's last clutch, he discovers Lessa at Ruatha. She is the last of the Ruathan bloodline and has been living as a drudge since her family were killed, vowing vengeance for their deaths. She is also a powerful telepath and the dragons sense her strength and ability. F'lar kills Fax in a duel and brings Lessa to the Weyr, where she Impresses Ramoth. There commences a waiting game until Ramoth grows old enough to breed. R'gul is still Weyrleader and still thinks that Thread has gone forever. The Weyr is falling further into disfavour. Everything looks bleak. Then Ramoth rises and is flown by F'lar's Mnementh, making him Weyrleader. Within a few months, the Ninth Pass of the Red Star begins. After the first battle against Thread, it becomes obvious to F'lar and Lessa that there is no way one single, underpopulated Weyr can hope to cover the area previously protected by six. Pern looks as if it is doomed. Thankfully, there is a solution - of sorts. Lessa has discovered (by accident) that dragons can go between times as well as places. It's decided that once Ramoth's first clutch of eggs hatch, they will send the young dragons back ten Turns, giving them plenty of time to mature and join the fighting force. Ramoth has also produced another golden egg, so the plan is to send the new queen back as well. In ten Turns, she will be able to lay many clutches of eggs. Yay! They're saved! Only it doesn't turn out quite as well as they think. Dragons aren't affected by living in two times simultaneously, but their riders are. The weyrfolk sent to the southern continent are permanently exhausted and the experiment has to be abandoned after just four Turns, bringing them all back to the current timeline - although Kylara's Prideth has provided them with thirty-two more young dragons by then (among them H'rek's Rioth). Lessa, meanwhile, has had another idea. She listens to the mysterious 'Question Song', written by the Masterharper at the time the other five Weyrs vanished and finds a clue in the line - 'Gone away, gone ahead'. She works out the reason why they all disappeared was that they came forward to the present time. The only flaw is that someone needs to go back to tell them they are needed in the future. But Lessa figures that since they all disappeared, someone must already have gone back to make it happen and that the someone must be herself and Ramoth. She uses an ancient tapestry to give Ramoth the necessary picture of how Ruatha Hold looked at the end of the Eighth Pass and goes back, almost dying in the process as she hadn't realised that such a huge between time jump would take far, far longer than going between places. However, she makes it, persuades the Weyrleaders of the past that she's not mad and they all embark on the trip back to the future, coming together to fight Thread over Telgar in a triumphant show of strength and unity. (This is the point at which 'Dragonflight', the first book in the 'Dragonrider of Pern' series, ends.) It looks as if everything is going to be fine, except that, for the weyrfolk from the past, the world has become a place that looks familiar, but in which so much has changed. The modern Holders don't give them the deference they were used to even though they are giving their lives to protect the ungrateful so-and-so's. Benden Weyr has been alone for so long, many of their customs have altered too. The Weyrleaders have a meeting in which it's agreed they will lend 'enough odd-wing riders' to Benden, until they are up to full strength again. The stage is set for D'gar and H'rek to meet...
  20. Usual story, well thought out and with interesting and believable characters.
  21. Really interesting and well told story. I have to admit I love these kind of 'timeslip' stories. Caleb and Ben adapted really well to living in the early 20th century. I wonder if other people had made their way through that portal in other ages? I did wonder if the town doctor was going to turn out to be someone from the future as well.
  22. Mawgrim

    Chapter 1

    It was intended as just a one chapter short story, but you've got me thinking now...
  23. Three kids. A spooky old house. Halloween. They should have paid more attention to those horror movies.
  24. The old house stood a little way back from the main road, surrounded by a high brick wall. Joe passed it on the way to school each morning and when he walked back from the bus stop with his friends Paul and Rob in the afternoons. The iron gates had long since been wired shut, and a lopsided, graffiti-covered notice announced that trespassers would be prosecuted. 'Now that would be a cool place to go on Halloween,' Rob said. Paul agreed, but then he always agreed with Rob. Joe wasn't so sure. Just looking at the blind windows, overgrown with ivy, gave him the shivers. He had a feeling that there was something inside; something that watched and waited. But he knew they'd laugh at that, so he just kicked a crumpled cola can down the gutter and said nothing. 'What do you think, Joe?' Rob asked. 'About what?' 'Halloween at the old house?' He shrugged. 'What if we were caught?' 'Don't be stupid,' Rob scoffed. 'No-one's been guarding that old heap for years.' Paul nodded. 'You aren't scared, are you?' he added. 'Course not.' The night before Halloween, Joe had a nightmare. He was standing in the grounds of the old house. It was dark. He felt - not exactly frightened - but definitely uneasy; the way you felt when you knew you should have finished your homework and the teacher asked for it to be handed in. In such a situation, excuses ran through your head, and they all sounded pathetic. Here, he thought about different ways to escape and realised none of them would work. 'We're waiting for you,' said a voice just behind him, in silken smooth tones that sounded menacing in some indefinable way. When he tried to turn he found he couldn't move. 'We've waited sooo long...' As you do in a dream - and it was at this point that he knew he was dreaming - he felt an urge to look up at the chimney stack. A thick, oily black smoke oozed from each of the spiky-topped pots, spreading until it blotted out the stars. Wake up, he said to himself. Wake up, now! He did, to find himself lying on his back looking up at the ceiling where a great black cloud had gathered. He still couldn't move, and when he tried to shout, his voice didn't work either. The evil smoke started to drop down towards him. It was going to smother him... Then he woke up properly. His eyes snapped open. The room was cold; too cold. Something had been there. Something was waiting, and he didn't dare sleep again for a long time in case it came back. 'You don't look very well,' his mum commented at breakfast the next morning. 'I hope you aren't coming down with something. Maybe you should stay at home tonight,' she suggested mischievously. 'Mum!' The day crawled by. Everyone was talking about Halloween and about what they would be doing later, but Joe kept remembering his nightmare. He had a horrible vision of the three of them running from a choking black cloud that wiped them all away, as if they had never existed. 'Be back by eight thirty,' his mum said that evening. 'And don't go scaring anyone. Or yourselves, for that matter. I know how vivid your imagination can be at the best of times.' On the way through the village they saw a few groups of younger children, shepherded by parents, carrying glowing pumpkins as they made their way from door to door. 'Trick or treat's for little kids,' Paul sneered.' We're going to have some real fun.' By the time they'd gone past the shops, and the pub, out on the edge of the village, there was hardly anyone around. Under the orange glow of the streetlights, the road was empty. Bare branches waved in the wind, casting long shadows across the pavement like skeletal fingers. 'Come on.' Rob caught his hand and helped him up on top of the wall. It seemed much darker on the other side, as if the light had been cut off by an invisible barrier. Long grass and weeds surrounded the house and overgrown bushes lurked as if waiting to pounce on anyone who dared to pass. Joe took a deep breath, and jumped down. He wasn't going to let his imagination get the better of him. He wasn't going to have Rob and Paul tell everyone he was scared. But as the other two joined him, the wall suddenly appeared much higher, and the safe, sleepy village on the other side of it seemed far, far away. 'Woohoooo.' As they began to walk towards the house, Paul made what he thought was a ghostly noise. 'You sound like a werewolf with toothache,' Rob joked. 'Hey, do you suppose we might see any of them tonight?' Joe checked the sky. 'It's not a full moon.' 'Yeah, but they can take stuff to make them turn any time they like. I saw it in a film once.' 'Me too,' Paul agreed. 'And just because it's in a film that makes it true?' Joe hoped he was right, because if all the horror films he'd seen were to be believed, then three thirteen year olds investigating the grounds of a haunted house on Halloween were almost certain to end up as monster fodder. 'Sshh,' Rob hissed, stopping abruptly so that Joe almost walked straight into him. 'What?' 'I thought I saw something at one of the windows.' Joe glanced quickly at the windows, but they were veiled beneath curtains of ivy. 'It was... It was...' And he wheeled around, baring long white fangs he must have put on earlier. 'Dracula.' 'Ha, ha. Very funny.' They carried on, and soon reached the house. Up close, it seemed gloomier and more derelict than when you saw it from a distance. Some of the window panes had long since been smashed, then boarded up. Even the boards were broken in places. Paul cautiously peered in through one of the gaps. 'Phew,' he said, turning around. 'It smells disgusting in there.' 'What, like someone's died, you mean?' Rob sounded interested, but Joe beat him to the window, looked in and sniffed cautiously. It was a mixture of damp and earth and fungus. Something... animal, too. ‘There’re probably rats and things in there,' he said. As he leaned inside a bit more, he felt a movement of air across his face; icy cold air. It was all he could do not to jump back, but he gratefully gave up his place to let Rob have a look. 'Hello,' Rob's voice boomed inside the echo chamber of the empty room. 'Anyone home?' Joe had an uneasy feeling that they should not be there; that Rob was putting himself into danger. He grabbed his friend's shoulder. 'Come on. Let's have a look round the front.' 'Hang on a minute. My eyes are getting used to the dark.' Rob wriggled his shoulders further in through the gap. 'I think I can see...aarghh!' As he shouted, his upper body disappeared through the gap. The boards broke apart even more with his struggles as he was steadily pulled inside. Joe grabbed hold of his right leg and hung on, but whatever it was that had hold of him was too strong. Even when Paul tried to help, it was no good. In just a few seconds, Rob had disappeared inside the house, leaving behind nothing but scraps of torn material from his jacket, and a muddy trainer which had come off in Paul's hands. Without thinking, Joe rushed to the gap and looked in. He couldn't see anything, but the animal scent he'd noticed earlier was much stronger. He thought he heard the sound of something being dragged along, but it faded quickly. Then, as he realised his own danger, he quickly ducked back. Paul was still standing staring at the shoe he held, as if he couldn't believe what had just happened. 'What are we going to do?' he said, his voice a shocked whisper. 'I dunno.' All kinds of thoughts ran through Joe's mind in less time than it had taken for Rob to disappear. Relief; it could have been him with his head in there when whatever it was had come along. Helplessness, because he hadn't been able to stop it happening. And fear, not only of the thing that had got Rob, but of the consequences. What were they going to do now? What would Rob's parents say? His thoughts were stopped abruptly by a deep, rumbling roar that clearly came from far inside the house, and shook the ground beneath their feet. 'Let's get out of here,' Paul gasped. And then they were running back across the overgrown lawn, flinching away from the grasping shadows of the bushes, stumbling on the uneven ground. Clambering up onto the wall, Joe fell once and grazed all down the side of his leg, but he hardly even felt the pain. They ran down the empty street, back into the village. He didn't dare look behind him in case something had followed. After that it was all confusion. Banging frantically on Paul's door - his was the house they reached first - and blurting it out to Paul's dad. Having to say it all again because he didn't seem to be able to grasp what had happened. Paul's mum noticing the blood on Joe's leg, which was seemingly what made them decide it really was serious. The pain hitting him at last. Lots of questions, and phone calls, then his own dad arriving and taking him to hospital. All he could think about was Rob, what had happened, and what might have happened, if only... Later, the police asked him lots of questions too. They hadn't found Rob when they'd gone to search the house. Not a trace of him at all, just as if he'd never even existed. As if a black cloud had come and blotted him away. Joe heard that the police dogs had whimpered and put their tails between their legs, and couldn't even be dragged over the threshold. Going back to school was even worse. People kept away from him and Paul, as if they were bad luck, or as if it had been somehow their fault. When they walked home, they took the long way round, to avoid going past the old house. They didn't say anything very much to each other about it either. Once, he'd thought he was safe at home; that danger was something you had to go and look for. But now, at night, when he was on the verge of sleep, Joe felt that brooding presence out in the darkness. He knew it was still there. And still waiting.
  25. I shall watch out for small people wearing 'alien costumes' this Halloween!
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