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