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