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