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    Mawgrim
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Recognized characters/events/plots from Dragonriders of Pern belong to Ann McCaffrey

A Hatching in Southern - 1. Chapter 1

The sea sighed against the rocks at the far end of the sandy beach, as if even it was too exhausted to make any more fuss than that. Hinarrek sat on one of the smoother rocks drying out from his swim and trying to clean the sand from between his toes before putting his socks and boots back on. Although the sun was sinking now, the heat was as oppressive as ever. It wasn’t so bad for him; he’d grown up in a farmhold in Southern Boll and the summers there were almost as scorching, although the humidity here was higher, making the heat seem, well, hotter. Sweatier, anyway.

Shouts drew his attention back to the water. Mershol and Rufrigan were still messing around with a lot of splashing and laughter.

‘Help! He’s drowning me!’ Rufrigan shouted as he surfaced yet again.

‘Wish he’d hurry up with it.’ Hinarrek turned to see Lacal trying to dry himself with the only towel. It was soaked and had been dropped in the sand, which was why he’d chosen to dry off naturally. ‘We might get more for dinner, then. How can such a runty kid eat so much?’

Quite easily, he thought. Lacal was the fourth son of a Holder. He’d never gone hungry in his life. Rufrigan, on the other hand, had that pinched look of someone who frequently had to skip a meal. Ever since he’d been Searched, like the rest of them, he’d been making up for lost time.

‘It’s not like there’s not enough to go around, is there,’ he said, pulling on his left sock. ‘Let him eat. He might grow a bit.’

‘Yeah,’ Lacal laughed. ‘Size he is, a hatchling could gobble him up by mistake.’

That brought his mind back to why they were there again. It had been a confusing couple of sevendays. First of all there’d been the excitement of being taken from his home on Search to Benden Weyr. He’d stood on the Hatching Sands there for Ramoth’s clutch, but had been unsuccessful. Then - and this was the part he couldn’t quite get his head around – thirty-two of them had been packed off to this place to stand again for Prideth’s clutch. Prideth, whom he’d seen hatch with his own eyes, just a few sevendays ago, yet who was now, mysteriously, mature enough to have laid her own clutch of eggs. It bothered him in a way that didn’t seem to worry the others.

‘Dragons are different, aren’t they?’ Jontir had said, when he tentatively brought the subject up.

‘Not that different. Babes have to grow to adulthood, runner beasts can’t birth their own young for a couple of Turns,’ he’d protested.

‘Ask one of the dragonriders, then.’

So he had. Not T’bor or F’nor, of course. They were far too busy to answer some kid’s stupid questions. And Kylara thought they were all just silly boys. ‘Why can’t we have some real men here instead of all these silly boys?’ was what he’d overheard her saying to that stuck up serving woman of hers.

Kylara apart, most of the others who’d Impressed at the same time were decent enough and everyone mucked in with the chores, so you got to know them all pretty fast. But they’d changed too, more than could be explained by just having become dragonriders. They were older, for one thing. Shanran - Sh’ran now - had been the same age as he was and about the same height. Now he was a good hand taller, broad in the chest and was growing a beard! But they’d made friends back at Benden, in the brief time they’d known each other, so it was Sh’ran he’d asked. He was sitting in the shade of the trees cleaning Izaeth’s riding straps. It was too hot in the afternoon for hard work, so most people found something less strenuous to do, or went to sleep until it cooled down a bit.

‘Hey,’ he said, strolling up. ‘Izaeth looks well.’ The dragon had made a comfy sand wallow and was snoozing there.

‘He does, doesn’t he. Weather like this suits dragons better than the rest of us.’ He looked out toward the sea where a bright green dragon was frolicking in the surf. ‘A bit more sun and she’ll be off,’ he commented, almost to himself.

‘Eh?’ Hinnarek wasn’t sure what he meant.

Sh’ran smiled. ‘You’ll find out sooner or later. Sooner, I reckon. Maybe even before the Hatching.’ His eyes went all unfocussed as everyone’s did when they were talking to their dragon. Izaeth opened an eye lazily, looked out at the green and shut it again.

‘Too hot, he says. We’ll see about that later on.’

‘I still don’t really understand.’

‘She’s going to rise. Mating flight. There were a couple last sevenday, just before you lot arrived.’

‘Oh.’ Well, it stood to reason. For dragons to lay eggs, they’d have to mate first. ‘I didn’t think green dragons laid eggs.’

‘They don’t, but they still get the urge to mate. And all the male dragons get a chance to chase ‘em. If they’re not too lazy, that is.’

Izaeth huffed in a way that sounded like a sigh and stretched out in the sand.

‘So, what colour dragon do you want?’

Hinnarek shrugged. ‘Any, just as long as it has wings.’ A lot of the talk among the candidates was about the dragons they wanted to Impress and the ones that they thought others might get. He was getting a bit tired of all the speculation. ‘We’ll all know soon enough. I just don’t want to end up left on the sands again.’

‘Don’t worry. Your dragon just hadn’t hatched last time. You’ll be fine.’

Easy for him to say. He already had his own. ‘I like Izaeth. Maybe I’ll get a blue like him.’

‘Not a bronze? Most of our lot wanted bronzes.’

‘Yes, but there are more blues and greens than any other colour, so there’s more chance of Impressing one of those. I know only bronze riders can be Weyrleader, but I’m not that ambitious. So, like I said, any dragon’s enough for me.’ He was feeling tired again, even though he’d had a good night’s sleep. This place had that effect and not just on him. Everyone seemed drained a lot of the time. What was it he’d been going to ask about? Oh yes. ‘I’ve been thinking and there’s something that puzzles me. How long have you all been down here?’

Sh’ran thought for a moment. ‘Around two and a half Turns.’

‘Right. And your dragons had only been hatched a couple of sevendays when you left Benden.’

‘Yes. They were too young to fly by themselves, so it was a job to get them here, I can tell you.’

‘I know. I saw you all leave.’ Here was the strange part. ‘Only by the time we got here, they were all grown. You too.’

‘But that was two and a half Turns ago.’

‘Not for us, it wasn’t. Haven’t you noticed? We were the same age, same height back at Benden. Now we’re not. Maybe time goes slower here.’

‘Don’t be daft. It’s the same world, just another part of it. The south.’

And that was that, really. Sh’ran had no more idea than he did and was just as uninterested as anyone else in working things out. For a couple of days, Hinarrek had toyed with the idea that they were, in fact, on another planet. Hadn’t their distant ancestors come from elsewhere according to some of the old tales? Some things pointed that way; the constellations in the night sky here were different to those he was familiar with at home, but Belior and Timor, the two moons, looked just the same as they had ever done. So this must still be Pern. But that still didn’t explain other anomalies, such as why, back at Benden, everything had been about gearing up for the imminent fall of Thread and yet here, no one worried about that at all.

‘Off daydreaming about your dragon again?’ Lacal said, bringing him back to the present. ‘They reckon it’ll be tomorrow.’

Er, yes.’ He’d been told off a few times for ‘daydreaming’. Well, it didn’t help that the lessons they had to attend, preparing them for what would happen when - if - they Impressed, were not always interesting enough to hold his attention. He had a distinct feeling they were just another way to keep the candidates occupied until the Hatching itself. In between lessons they helped gather and prepare food, or ran errands for the dragonriders. Plus there was always some time left in the afternoon for just lazing around or swimming. It was a lot easier than being at home, that was for sure.

‘You reckon everyone’s going to Impress?’

Let's hope so.’ There weren’t any more candidates than eggs. If the hatchlings couldn’t find the right person among them, what would happen? Would they have to bring in more people from the Hold at the last minute, or grab drudges from the kitchen? ‘Still, if we weren’t suitable, we’d not have been Searched.’

What a day that had been! He’d been out in the fields with his brother and sisters, helping with the spring planting of tubers and sweet roots when the dragons had come. Seeing dragons in the sky at all was a rare enough sight, but when they descended over the farm itself, landing in the small courtyard between the barns and living quarters, that had already marked it as a day that would be talked about for Turns to come. At first, they’d just carried on with their tasks; father didn’t hold with shirking from anyone in his family, but then one of the dragons had flown out to the field, with father sat behind the dragonrider, not looking too happy at all.

‘These men have come on Search,’ he’d said, once they were all gathered around. They all knew what that meant; they’d been well schooled in the Teaching Ballads, but none of them had ever expected it to really happen. Hamarra, his little sister, had held on tightly to his hand. ‘Will they choose me, do you think?’

He didn’t think so; at ten Turns she must surely be too young, but he didn’t want to dash her dreams. ‘Who knows? Bet they’ll not pick any of us.’

How wrong he had been. The blue dragon had snuffled around them all for a while, seemingly making up its mind. It was slightly uncomfortable to be regarded by that softly whirling blue-green eye. Apart from the Teaching Ballads, other rumours sprang to mind. People who were carried off to the Weyr never came back. If they didn’t Impress a dragon, they were forced to serve the dragonriders in any way they thought fit (and the adults always gave each other knowing looks when this was mentioned). Dragons were always hungry and ate people.

I will not eat you.

That was odd. It was as if someone had spoken inside his head. Then the dragonrider put a heavy hand on his shoulder and said, ‘This one, Jeth says.’

He’d not had much time to say his farewells and even though the riders had assured his family that he’d be returned should the dragons not find him suitable, no one really believed that. He wasn’t sure whether to be excited or scared witless, right then. Yet these men weren’t what he’d expected dragonriders to be like from the stories. They were polite and seemingly kind. Why would they behave like that if he was just going to end up as dragon fodder or as some kind of drudge? And if it wasn’t important in some incomprehensible way, why bother with the whole process of selection at all rather than just seizing the prettiest girl or the boy who looked strongest?

Hard to believe that had only been - what - four sevendays ago? It was easy to lose track of time when so much had happened. Life at Benden Weyr had been exciting at first, but apart from having dragons around, the chores were much the same as you’d get in a Hold. This place - wherever on Pern it was - was certainly different. They lived in wooden huts shaded by trees and ate in a communal area constructed in a similar way. The Hatching Grounds were away from the main Weyr area, inside a rocky cave. They’d been taken to see the eggs twice; once when they arrived and then again just two days ago. Prideth, the golden queen dragon, had curled protectively around her clutch, unwilling at first to let them close to her precious eggs until Kylara had intervened. All the time they’d been there, Kylara just stood around looking bored, although she’d kept trying to distract F’nor from what he was trying to tell them.

‘She fancies F’nor,’ Mershol had said later.

‘Isn’t she married to T’bor though?’ Rufrigan asked.

‘Don’t be stupid. Dragonriders don’t marry,’ he’d replied. ‘Don’t you lot know anything?’

It was all right for him; he was Weyrbred and knew all sorts of things about how weyr life differed from Hold or Craft. But like the other Weyrbred boys (who formed a clique of their own) he only deigned to tell the rest of them snippets of information. Hinnarek reckoned they just did it to make themselves feel superior. Well who cared anyway. If something was important, they’d find it out in good time. He’d already figured out that the worst rumours about weyrfolk - dragonriders or otherwise - just weren’t true at all. Most of the ordinary workers were happy and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Everyone had plenty to eat and the work wasn’t too hard. He’d already decided that whether he Impressed or not, he’d rather stay at the Weyr. They needed more lads who were practical and could learn how to maintain all the complex systems within the caves at Benden and that would be as interesting work as any. Plus, he’d not have the pressure there had been at home, ever since he turned sixteen, about who he was going to marry.

Next morning, at breakfast, all the talk was about the imminent Hatching.

‘It’s today, for sure,’ Mershol said. ‘I overheard T’bor talking about it. Some of the eggs are already rocking. Reckon I’m going to stand near that big one with the swirly pattern. Everyone’s pretty certain it’ll be a bronze.’

This set off the inevitable speculation on dragon colours. Hinnarek, as ever, just listened, until Lacal noticed he’d not said much.

‘Still not made your mind up?’ he asked.

Hinnarek shrugged. ‘Not up to me, is it? Up to the dragons.’

‘Well, yes. But you can try to put yourself where you’ll be in with the best chance, can’t you?’

‘If you aren’t careful, you might end up with a green,’ Mershol sniggered.

What was so funny about green dragons anyway? So, they were female and not as big or strong as the other colours, but they still fought Thread. And he’d overheard a couple of riders at Benden saying how quick they were and that they could out manoeuvre any other colour. ‘Better than no dragon at all,’ he said.

‘He won’t get a green,’ Bandor put in. ‘He likes girls.’

Which wasn’t entirely true, but he wasn’t going to let any of them know that. He joined in whenever talk turned in that direction, so they just assumed what they wanted to. He also made no secret of his friendship with Bavi, who was one of the laundry workers. She was easy to get on with and knew all the gossip, but he didn’t fancy her or anything.

Some of the boys had already decided how they were going to contract their names when they Impressed, but Mershol said it was unlucky to tell anyone. Hinnarek had made up his mind not to even think about it, in case even that was sufficient to condemn him. After all, dragons read minds, didn’t they? When you stood on the sands you had to think happy, welcoming thoughts, they’d been told. Also, that the hatchling would just know when it had found the right person.

After breakfast, they were set to work hoeing and weeding the vegetable gardens before it became too hot. The sun was well up by the time the humming began.

Having heard it before, he knew exactly what that meant. Everyone looked in the direction of the Hatching Grounds. Dragons were already starting to fly towards the opening in anticipation. Hoes and buckets were thrown down as the candidates rushed to clean up. ‘Is a baby dragon really going to mind if we’re a bit grubby?’ Rufrigan said.

Hinnarek kept his thoughts to himself although he could feel his heart starting to race already. This was it. His chance - probably the last one - to Impress a dragon of his own. He queued with the others to get the dirt off his hands and then to change into the traditional white robes. After so long waiting around, suddenly everything was moving very fast. They were more or less thrown on board dragons and flown across to the Hatching Grounds, jumping off onto the hot sands.

Some boys had already decided where they were going to stand and which eggs held their interest. Hinnarek wasn’t sure where he should go. Would that be a mark against him? Did dragons sense indecision, or was he just keeping an open mind? He walked over to one side, where a rather small, bluish tinged egg sat alone. A blue would be fine, he’d already decided. Or a brown. Or even a green. Actually, he felt a bit sorry for the green hatchlings if no one wanted them. He resolved that if he did manage to Impress a dragon today he was never, ever going to wish it had been any other colour. That would just be unkind.

If it had been hot outside, on the sands it was melting. Trying to think welcoming thoughts when you were sweating and anxious was much easier said than done. Most of the eggs were rocking by now, some more energetically than others. The smell of freshly killed herd beasts filtered in from outside. The dragons’ steady hum was getting more intense by the minute. Prideth hovered over her eggs, glaring at the boys, but she was nowhere near as scary as Ramoth had been. Kylara was standing to the right of Prideth, wearing a flowing blue dress and matching sandals. She must be feeling excited to see her dragon’s first clutch hatch, but she didn’t look it.

Unlike at Benden, there were no families attending this Hatching; just the candidates and weyrfolk. Plus, of course, all the dragons, craning forward to get a good view as one of the eggs rolled out of the sandy depression where Prideth had placed it and cracked all down one side. A wet leg emerged. Difficult to see exactly what colour it was, with all the egg fluid and the sand that stuck to it. The nearest boys drew cautiously closer. Another crack appeared, then a whole chunk of shell broke off as the dragon’s snout appeared for the first time. A bronze! That was supposed to be good luck. The hatchling gave a kind of wriggle and the rest of the egg disintegrated around him. He looked to his right and left, then seemingly having made up his mind, began walking unsteadily toward Rufrigan. Who looked as if he couldn’t believe it and broke into a wide smile as his eyes met those of his dragon for the first time.

‘His name is Vazalth,’ he called, as they had been told to do. The people cheered and clapped while the dragons hummed even louder.

Several more eggs had begun to crack and it was hard to say which would break first. Hinnarek wondered if he should move closer, but his own egg was starting to move now. No, best to stay where he was. As he flicked his eyes between it and the others, several shells broke in one go and there was a melee of tiny dragons falling over each other in a rush to escape the confines of their eggs and find their people. Two blues, a brown and a green made their way over the sands, looking this way and that. It was odd how some seemed to unerringly go for one boy, while others took much longer about the process.

He glanced towards ‘his’ egg again. Was that a tiny crack appearing near the base? He imagined the dragon inside kicking against its restraining shell and once more tried to calm his thoughts as he’d been told to.

Boys were shouting out the names of their dragons. As more hatched and there was another scramble, he lost track of who’d Impressed what - there would be time later to find out - and concentrated on the frantically rocking egg in front of him.

‘Come on, come on,’ he said, willing it to break. And then, something nudged at his knees from behind, tipping him over. As he righted himself, a head appeared and he was lost in the whirling eyes of his dragon. His perfect, beautiful, leaf green dragon.

My name is Rioth, she said.

Her voice sounded like a lighter version of his own. He scrambled to his feet and put a careful arm around her, unsure whether she or he needed the support more. Even though he’d eaten a hearty breakfast, he suddenly felt as if he’d not filled his stomach for days.

I’m so hungry, she crooned. I think I might die if I don’t eat soon.

No, you won’t. There’s food just outside. Shall we go and get you some?

Please.

She walked awkwardly and very slowly toward the lower entrance of the cavern. Other small dragons were taking their own first steps in the same direction.

Rioth,’ he shouted out, suddenly remembering that was what he was supposed to do. ‘Her name’s Rioth.’

People were clapping and someone patted him on the back. Bavi from the laundry waved happily at him as he went past. It was like a birthing day, or a wedding or whatever was the best celebration of your life all rolled into one. Everyone congratulating you for something that had been, in the end, so natural. So easy.

Are we nearly there, Rioth asked. She seemed unfazed by all the noise around her. They are cheering me. And you. Why should we be bothered by that?

Indeed, he felt as if he was never going to be bothered by anyone - or anything - again. Rioth had found him. Life was perfect.

Copyright © 2020 Mawgrim; All Rights Reserved.
Recognized characters/events/plots from Dragonriders of Pern belong to Ann McCaffrey

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16 hours ago, Buz said:

I almost feel sorry for the Egg/Dragon he was watching/waiting for.

Hope we get to meet that one during the story.

Love being back in Pern with the Dragons and their Riders.

Actually that's what I thought as well. I do not know this universe, but I felt sorry for the slightly smaller egg that was hatching. I don't know the difference in power or strength of the different colors, but I am curious if the color or the eggs mean anything to the color of the dragon. Who was inside that egg?

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

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This is my first introduction to dragon riders, but I am looking forward to becoming familiar with the genre

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