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

Canon-typical violence, character deaths

Threadfall - 10. Joining 'C' Wing

D'gar and S'brin meet their new wingmates

‘So, here we are.’ D’gar stood on the ledge of his - and S’brin’s - weyr in the east face of the Bowl. It had been a hectic morning, moving stuff from the barracks, then standing in line and waiting for Naraina, the Headwoman, to assign weyrs, but they were finally here.

‘Whoever had this weyr before didn’t clean it very often.’ S’brin’s voice echoed from beyond the curtain, which he’d pulled back to air the place. ‘The necessary is pretty disgusting. You’ll need to hold your breath if you have to use it.’

‘I’ll get some cleaning stuff later. Otherwise it’ll stink us out once we draw that curtain.’ S’brin came forward and joined him. ‘We were lucky to get a double, though.’

Herebeth kept turning around on the larger of the two dragons couches. What’s wrong?’ he asked his dragon.

It is gritty.

I’ll sweep it later, all right.

Herebeth flicked his tail. I think Zemianth has the better couch.

You wanted this one, remember?

‘What’s up?’ S’brin asked.

‘Herebeth’s complaining about his couch.’

S’brin rolled his eyes. ‘That dragon is too fussy. He’s got a nice new weyr with a great view and a very sexy green dragon to share it with.’ He evidently spoke to Zemianth. ‘She doesn’t want to swap. She likes it where she is.’

Although dragons’ expressions didn’t change very much - their eyes revealed their emotional state - D’gar thought that Zemianth looked slightly smug. He wondered if it would have been better to get separate weyrs for their sake, but S’brin had jumped in when he heard there was a double going spare before they’d had a chance to discuss it. While he was perfectly at ease with the living situation, it bothered him that Herebeth might not be so happy. ‘Let’s finish putting stuff away. We need to meet the others in the dining hall soon.’ The previous evening was a bit of a blur. Various riders had introduced themselves, but he’d never been the best at remembering names. Once he’d seen them with their dragons it would help.

‘Y’min seemed like a decent sort, didn’t he?’

‘Which one was he?’

‘Old blue rider. He was the one sitting next to M’rell last night.’

‘Ah.’ D’gar was none the wiser.

’T’chol as well. He helps run the greens’ meetings. I’ve spoken to him a few times before.’ S’brin leaned against Zemianth. ‘I reckon we’ve landed up in the right Wing.’

‘Let’s hope so.’

They arrived in the dining hall at the appointed time. D’gar got himself a mug of klah and brought one back for S’brin. By the time he returned, T’kes had joined them, too.

‘How’s your weyr?’

‘Not too bad.’ D’gar set the mugs down. ‘Sorry, I’d have got you one if I’d known.’

‘No problem. Probably best not to drink too much if we’re going to be flying this afternoon.’

‘Are we? No-one told me.’

‘It’s what they usually do with new riders, to see how their dragons perform. M’rell said, last night.’

Something else he’d missed out on. ‘Oh, well. Might as well drink it. My mum always says never pass up the chance for a mug of klah or a piss.’

‘I’m sure you’ll have time for the latter before we head off. Might be best to use the necessary down here, though,’ S’brin said. ‘Ours is a bit smelly,’ he added for T’kes’s benefit.

'My weyr’s great,’ he said smugly. ‘It’s even got a couple of chairs and a desk as well as the bed. Looks like someone just moved out.’

‘They probably died,’ S’brin said.

T’kes looked slightly less happy.

‘Still, their loss is your gain.’ S’brin sipped his klah as the two Wingseconds, I’grast and N’rir came over to the table. D’gar stood and nudged S’brin to do the same.

‘Don’t worry about that, lads,’ N’rir said. ‘We’re not big on formalities in this Wing.’

‘Just so long as you do exactly as we say,’ I’grast put in. He winked as he said it and N’rir gave a short laugh. ‘I thought there were four of you.’

‘There are,’ D’gar offered. ‘Not sure where J’rud’s got to.’

‘He was getting Zurinth to carry some furniture up to his new weyr when I came down,’ T’kes said.

I’grast obviously spoke to his dragon for a few seconds. ‘Tiriorth’s going to hurry him up a bit. Get us a klah, N’rir. I’ll start off while we’re waiting.’

N’rir strolled over to the night hearth while I’grast settled himself on the other side of S’brin. ‘Glad to have you with us.’

D’gar wasn’t sure if he was talking to them all, or just to S’brin. Maybe that was just his perception and he should reserve judgement for the time being.

‘Thanks,’ S’brin said. ‘We’re all glad we made it into “C” Wing.’

‘Tiriorth’s going to be pleased he’s flying with his favourite green dragon.’ I’grast leaned closer to S’brin.

D’gar glared at him. All right, maybe he wasn’t going to give the Wingsecond the benefit of the doubt where S’brin was concerned. ‘We’re weyrmates,’ he said quickly.

I’grast regarded him for a couple of seconds. ‘Fair enough. Although his dragon seems to prefer bronzes.’

‘Mating flights don’t count,’ D’gar said, keeping his voice steady. He was aware of T’kes and S’brin both watching him. He should be careful; it would be stupid to get off on the wrong foot with I’grast straight away. He didn’t want to end up being labelled the awkward sod of ‘C’ Wing.

‘Of course not.’ I’grast smiled. ‘Now, where was I? Ah, yes. What we’ll be doing this afternoon is just seeing how your dragons perform and where’s best to slot them in. Although you’ve all been on deliveries, riding Fall is something else entirely. In “C” Wing we never expect any weyrlings to fly a full Fall straight away, whatever colour dragon you might ride. One of you will be flying alongside myself or N’rir for half of the Fall, getting you used to conditions up there. We’ll let you flame some Thread and once we’re sure you can cope, we’ll assign you Wing positions. How’s that sound?’

It sounded very sensible, D’gar thought. Not all of the Wings inducted new riders so carefully. It was probably the reason why ‘C’ Wing lost fewer newcomers to injury or death. ‘Fine,’ he said.

N’rir came back with the klah. ‘Scared them off yet?’ he asked, setting down the mugs.

‘No, I was just giving them an idea of what we’ll be doing.’

J’rud arrived at that point. ‘Sorry if I’m late,’ he said. ‘Zurinth and I were having a bit of bother with a couch.’

‘A couch, eh?’ I’grast said. ‘Sounds like your weyr’s going to be a fun place. Any chance of an invite some time?’

D’gar wondered if he flirted like that with all the greens.

‘I’ve a few ideas to make it more comfortable,’ J’rud said, including everyone. ‘You know, there’s lots of furniture going spare in the stores.’

‘Good,’ S’brin said. ‘We might pick some up later on. Our weyr’s got nothing in it except the bed and a clothes chest.’

I’grast nudged N’rir. ‘These two are weyrmates. Expect you’ll be getting some use from that bed now you’re out of the barracks.’

S’brin evidently decided to play along. ‘You can bet on that.’ He cuddled up next to D’gar.

‘Right,’ N’rir said, bringing the conversation back to the business in hand. ‘If you want to get ready, we’ll meet back down here for some flying. Full kit, as if it was a proper Fall.’

As D’gar adjusted Herebeth’s fighting straps he spoke to S’brin. ‘Not sure I like that I’grast.’

‘He’s harmless, don’t worry. All talk and no action. You’d best watch out for A’kindry, though.’

‘Who’s he?’

‘Another green. Him and V'chal are competing to see how many of the Wing they can sleep with.’

‘Great. You’d best point him out.’ D’gar pulled on his wherhide trousers. ‘Let’s hope we don’t hang around down there too long, or we’ll be sweltering in all this stuff.’

‘I’m looking forward to this. Let’s show ‘em what we can do, eh girl?’ S’brin patted Zemianth’s neck.

They weren’t the last to arrive, which was good. A couple of other riders were also ready to fly; one each of a brown, blue and a green.

Who are they? He asked Herebeth.

Brandith, Wasuth and Famenth.

He was none the wiser as to the rider’s names, but at least he’d seen their dragons for reference. Brandith was a ruddy brown; like a fired clay pot. Wasuth’s blue hide matched the summer sky, while Famenth was as dark as the greens Agarra always insisted were good for him to eat. The riders seemed at ease with each other as they waited for T’kes to arrive. J’rud had made up for his earlier delay by not being late this time around.

I’grast walked over. ‘We’re going to match you four with these dragons for comparison. As you’re probably aware, there are differences in the way dragons fly that isn’t just down to size and colour.’ He looked at Herebeth. ‘With those stubby wings, he’s probably quicker on the turns than some of the other browns. And Zemianth’s small for a green so she’ll be perfect for chasing down Thread others would find hard to follow. Your fellow,’ he gestured towards Neyrenth, ‘looks like he’ll be a speedy one.’

T’kes nodded enthusiastically. ‘He is.’

‘And this other green…?’

‘Zurinth,’ J’rud supplied.

‘That’s going to confuse me. Two greens beginning with Z, especially as we already have Zerlath. R’feem should have checked before picking you. Might have to swap you out with one of the other Wings.’

J’rud’s face fell, then I’grast slapped his back. ‘Only joking.’

‘Right, are we about ready?’ N’rir called.

‘I reckon so. Mount up, lads. Once we’re airborne, one of our dragons will let yours know what we’ll be doing.’

It was exciting, heading off from the Weyr as part of a Wing for the first time, even if it was only a few of them. Herebeth flew alongside Brandith as they warmed up, then when he was instructed, followed the other dragon through a series of ever more complex manoeuvres.

This is much more fun than weyrling drills, Herebeth said. Brandith tells me I fly well. D’gar’s stomach lurched as they went into a corkscrew spiral; nowhere near as tight as a blue or a green could manage, but still dizzying.

After the aerobatics, they formed up in a V, then practised blinking between as if dodging Thread, making sure they returned at the same distance from the dragon to either side. It was something they’d practised often in the weyrling drills. Herebeth had never found any problem judging where other dragons would be, but Neyrenth, D’gar noticed, definitely did, having to adjust his speed constantly to avoid getting too close. Zemianth and Zurinth managed well too. Finally, they went through position changes within a formation, before returning to the Weyr.

After removing straps from the dragons, the riders all went back inside the dining hall. D’gar noticed a few similar groups dotted around at the tables. Evidently all the Wingseconds were trying out their new pairs.

‘That went well,’ N’rir said. ‘Now, as you probably know, it’s Fall tomorrow. Just a short one over Southern Boll and the Weavercrafthall, so none of you will be up for more than an hour. I’ll have D’gar with me for the first part, then J’rud. I’grast will have T’kes first, followed by S’brin. We’ll talk through how it went afterwards.’

I’grast nodded. ‘Any questions?’

No one had any.

‘Then we’ll let you carry on sorting out your weyrs and see you all at dinner, so you can get to know everyone. No drinking tonight. Everyone needs a clear head for the morning, all right?’

‘That wasn’t too bad,’ S’brin said when they were back in their weyr. ‘I reckon we’ll be joining the Wing properly after tomorrow, once we’ve shown ‘em what we can do.’

D’gar was more cautious. ‘I think it’s a good idea to keep us out of the thick of it for a couple of Falls.’

‘Yes, but we’ve been up there before, on deliveries. Plus N’teren took us up a few times so the dragons could flame real Thread. It’s not going to be that different.’

‘It is. Statistics prove that. More new pairs get killed in the first few months in a Wing than weyrlings ever do on deliveries. Probably because they get complacent and think they know what they’re doing.’ Like you, he didn’t add. S’brin could sometimes be reckless; he’d jump in without really thinking. Hopefully, the Wingseconds wouldn’t get taken in by his over-confidence.

‘Ah well, at least we’re out of the barracks. No more M’nan nagging us. And we’ve got this nice, comfortable bed in the privacy of our own weyr. Shall we give it a try before dinner?’ He gave D’gar that smile he could never resist.

‘Yeah. Why not.’

When they eventually returned to the dining hall, a few riders were already seated around ‘C’ Wing’s table. D’gar recognised M’rell, of course and Brandith’s rider from earlier on. S’brin and J’rud went over to join a small group of green riders. T’kes hovered uncertainly.

‘Come and sit with us,’ D’gar said.

‘Is this end of the table for browns only?’ he asked, uncertainly.

‘No,’ M’rell assured him. ‘We do often sit in colour groupings but it’s not compulsory. Anyway, none of the other blues are here at the moment. If you’d prefer gossip and scandal, go and sit with the greens.’

T’kes sat on the bench next to D’gar. ‘This is fine. I just want to get to know folk. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to names last night.’

‘Me neither,’ D’gar admitted.

‘Well, this is A’ren,’ M’rell gestured to the sandy-haired young man next to him. ‘Brandith’s rider.’

D’gar reckoned he was in his mid-twenties. ‘Hello. I enjoyed flying with you earlier today. Brandith’s a fine dragon.’ It never hurt to be polite.

A’ren gave a shy smile. ‘Thanks. You’re a friend of M’rell’s?’

‘Yes, although not from the same clutch.’

‘No, he’s one of Kadoth’s,’ M’rell offered. ‘We were in the barracks together for a couple of Turns, though. Bet you’re glad to have your own weyr at last.’

There were whoops of laughter from the green group.

‘Wonder who they’re talking about now?’ M’rell continued. He nudged D’gar. ‘See that one on S’brin’s right. Watch him. He’ll try it on with you.’

‘Is that A’kindry?’

M’rell smiled. ‘You’ve already heard, then.’

’S’brin warned me about him.’ D’gar glanced over. ‘Mind you, he’s not bad looking.’ If Herebeth decided to chase A’kindry’s dragon, he’d not be averse to the idea. He knew that quite a few Wing riders had casual sex with each other, even when the dragons weren’t involved. It was accepted behaviour, particularly after Fall, when everyone was in high spirits. ‘Have you had him?’ he asked M’rell.

He laughed. ‘No. Rina wouldn’t like it. Anyway, you know I prefer girls, when the dragons aren’t involved.’

A couple more riders joined them. D’gar could see from their shoulder knots that they rode blues.

‘Hey, a new blue to join us,’ the younger one said, sitting next to T’kes. ‘I’m R’xel, Lath’s rider.’

T’kes smiled. ‘Pleased to meet you. T’kes of blue Neyrenth.’

D’gar introduced himself as the other rider, an older man with a world-weary expression, slid in at the other side of the table.

‘That’s M’ta,’ R’xel said. ‘He probably won’t talk to you until you’ve been with us for a few months.’

M’ta put his feet up along the bench. ‘No offence, lads,’ he said. ‘I’m not good on names and sometimes it’s barely worth learning them. I’ve been in the Wings for twenty-two Turns now and I’ve seen a fair few come and go.’

It was a common attitude among older riders. D’gar could see his point, but it wasn’t very encouraging to know he was regarded as expendable. M’ta had a long-healed score on his left cheek, but seemed otherwise unharmed by his Turns of fighting Thread. D’gar wondered how many of his clutchmates were still alive.

As the evening wore on, he met more of ‘C’ Wing. Some he already knew, like G’reden, who’d graduated at the same time as M’rell. Then there was T’garrin, always willing to take a wager on anything. He’d probably be giving odds on how long the new members of the Wing were expected to survive. V’chal, of course, he’d encountered before. He was sitting next to a tall, slim green rider, who had a ringing laugh. The green end of the table was definitely the noisiest, he noticed. S’brin seemed to have made some friends already. They’d have to compare notes later.

As was customary, R’feem sat at the head of the table, with his Wingseconds on either side. D’gar hadn’t spoken to him since the assessment day, apart from the token welcome to the Wing the previous evening. It felt strange, being on this table surrounded - mostly - by strangers. Moving up from being a candidate to a weyrling had been far less of a change. He’d grown up with all the others who’d Impressed. Everyone here seemed much older, even though he knew M’rell was just a Turn his senior and some of the Wing riders were probably only in their twenties. He ate his meal, watching rather than talking. It was interesting to see who were friends and who seemed to ignore each other. Down at the green end of the table - although there was a partial mix between the greens and blues - the loud chatter and occasional laughter continued.

N’rir must have noticed him watching. ‘Noisy lot, aren’t they?’

‘They seem to be having a good time.’

‘They always do. It wouldn’t be a decent party without a few greens stirring the pot. See H’fra there…’ he pointed out the tall rider next to V’chal. ‘He does a wicked impression of Mardra. Well, he does all the queen riders, when he’s had a few drinks. His latest one’s Mardra and Naraina having an argument.’

D’gar thought that sounded like fun.

‘You want to go and join your weyrmate, you’re free to move,’ N’rir said.

‘No, I’m fine here.’ It might seem rude to leave now. Besides, he’d feel awkward, butting in on them now they were in full swing. He might sit with S’brin from the start of the meal tomorrow and learn a bit more about who was who. For tonight, he’d be content to sit, watch and try to remember the names of those he’d already met.

‘That was a good evening,’ S’brin said later, as the dragons dropped them off.

Herebeth was grumbling again. It was better when you could walk to and from places.

What’s up with you? I thought you’d like having a weyr of your own. You can watch what’s going on from up here.

Zemianth keeps disturbing me. She moves around a lot.

‘Sorry, what was that? I was just talking to Herebeth.’

‘I said it was a good evening. Well, our end of the table, it was.’

‘I thought that too. Can I sit with you tomorrow?’

‘Sure. They’d love to get to know you better. Especially A’kindry.’

‘Aren’t you bothered by that?’

S’brin shrugged. ‘Might be fun watching him try. He’s been after M’rell for a couple of months now.’

‘M’rell told me.’ D’gar felt suddenly tired. He hadn’t done a lot more than in any normal day but the whole newness of being with ‘C” Wing was exhausting in itself. ‘I suppose we should get to bed.’ The Fall was predicted to start early in the morning. N’rir had told him to be ready at least an hour ahead, so that he’d have plenty of time for Herebeth to chew and digest sufficient firestone.

‘Sounds like a good idea.’ S’brin started taking his clothes off.

D’gar realised that this was the first time they’d actually be sharing a bed all night. In the barracks, they’d occasionally cuddled together as far as the narrow beds permitted, but it hadn’t been comfortable and sleeping together wasn’t encouraged. The plant room had always been where they’d gone for some privacy.

‘What are you thinking about now?’ S’brin had already got into the bed.

‘This is the first night we’ll actually be sleeping together, in the same bed.’

He grinned. ‘Who said anything about sleeping?’

As it happened, S’brin slept very well, once they’d settled down. D’gar knew that because he listened to his soft breathing - and occasional snores - for most of the night. Try as he might, despite feeling tired, he couldn’t drop off. For one thing, the sounds in the weyr were very different to what he’d been used to in the barracks; far too quiet. For another, his mind didn’t turn off. He kept thinking about the forthcoming Fall and whether he and Herebeth would do as well as the other riders who’d just joined the Wings. Logic told him that no one expected very much of new wingriders, but that didn’t stop him worrying about mistakes he might make or the possibility of doing something N’rir would find stupid. Then there were Herebeth’s complaints. What if he never got used to sharing a weyr with Zemianth? Might D’gar have to move out to keep his dragon happy? If he did move out, would S’brin think it was because he didn’t love him anymore? The questions kept on, one leading to another. It seemed a very long time until the first grey sliver of daylight became visible beneath the curtain dividing the sleeping chamber from the dragons’ couches. He supposed he must have dropped off a few times, although he still felt sleepy. His stomach wasn’t too good, either. It was the usual symptom when he was nervous about something and he had a lot to worry about this morning. Getting hit by Thread was the least of it, although that would be particularly embarrassing on your first ever Fall as part of a proper Wing.

‘Hey, S’brin,’ he nudged his still-sleeping weyrmate. ‘Wake up. We’ve got to start getting ready soon.’

‘What? Huh?’ S’brin slowly uncurled, yawning and rubbing his eyes. ‘What’s the hurry?’

‘It’s Fall this morning. N’rir said to be ready early on.’

‘Maybe for you. I’m not in the air until half way through.’

He’d forgotten that. ‘You’ll need to get Zemianth chewing her firestone early.’ Young dragons often took longer to load up with sufficient firestone for a Fall, as opposed to the small quantity they used for training drills.

‘All right, then. He sat up and stretched. ‘I wonder if there’ll be anything to eat yet?’

‘I expect so. Riders will want klah, at the very least.’ He’d been told it was good to eat something before Fall; you’d need the energy food provided. The way his stomach felt, he didn’t think he’d be able to manage much, although a mug of klah with plenty of sweetener would go down well.

‘Bed’s nice and comfortable. Room to move, too, not like in the barracks.’

‘Hmm.’ D’gar opened the clothes chest. Was it worth putting on a clean shirt before Fall? Probably not. He’d save it for after they’d been in the baths later.

‘Did you sleep well?’

‘Er, not bad. Your snoring kept me awake for half the night.’

‘I don’t snore.’

‘Much.’ Herebeth, he queried, having felt a stirring of his dragon’s waking mind. We need to be ready for Fall this morning.

We will flame Thread together today.

He sounded happier than he had the previous night. That was good.

‘Zemianth’s looking forward to fighting Thread properly.’ S’brin pulled his trousers on.

‘Herebeth too.’

‘She said he’s in a better temper this morning. What’s been up with him?’

‘I don’t think he enjoyed the disruption of moving.’ D’gar finished dressing. ‘Right, better go and put his straps on.’

They got down to the Bowl in plenty of time. D’gar had opted to tuck his wherhide gear into the straps for now. It was a warm morning, even so early and he’d soon be too hot if he put it on right away. T’kes was already there. They found him helping himself to klah and sweet rolls in the dining hall. A few other riders had also beaten the rush and were busily eating breakfast. A couple of the weyrlings from Suderoth’s clutch waved at them as they went to their new Wing table to eat.

D’gar chewed on a sweet roll. It was delicious, as usual, but his mouth was dry. He washed down small bites with klah and hoped his stomach would settle once he had something to concentrate on.

‘Aren’t you hungry?’ T’kes asked.

‘Not much.’ He didn’t want to admit to feeling nervous. ‘I’ll have something later on. We’re on first shift, after all.’ They’d only be in the air for a little over an hour.

‘You lot are keen.’ I’grast strolled in together with N’rir.

‘It’s good to see we don’t have to keep waking up this lot like we did the last ones.’ N’rir sat down. ‘Get us some klah,’ he called to I’grast. ‘We’ll have something to eat, then you can start your dragons chewing firestone. You’ll need to take a spare sack up with you in case they need a top up, but they’ll be used to hefting firestone, won’t they?’

T’kes nodded over a mouthful of food. ‘We’ve been on deliveries forever,’ he said at last.

N’rir sat back. ‘You’ll have been used to avoiding Thread all this time. That’s how it should be on deliveries. But from now on, you’re actively looking for it and once you - or your dragon - spots it, you destroy the stuff. Main thing you need to concentrate on at first is accuracy. A good, clean flame that crisps the whole strand or clump. You don’t want any little stray pieces falling down on anyone or to the ground.’

N’teren had told them much the same in his lectures, but there was an immediacy to N’rir’s instructions. D’gar listened carefully.

As N’rir continued, J’rud arrived, looking a little flustered. ‘Sorry I’m late,’ he said.

‘You’re not,’ N’rir told him. ‘The rest are just early. Don’t make a habit of it, though.’

D’gar made a mental note to get Herebeth to bespeak Zurinth in future. J’rud was never the earliest riser in the barracks and now that he didn’t have all that noise and bustle around, might sleep in more often.

‘Now, you three with the smaller dragons are going to have to learn to judge what size clump they can comfortably deal with. Bigger clumps, you want to leave for a brown or a bronze.’

‘How do we know what size they can cope with?’ T’kes asked.

‘That’s one of the things we’ll find out today.’

I’grast arrived back with klah at that point. ‘You want me to fetch you breakfast, too?’

‘Not unless you want to take over talking to these lads.’ N’rir gave him a smile.

‘I’ll get breakfast, then. Two eggs?’

‘Please. Now where was I? Ah, yes. I’grast and me have a fair idea of what each colour can cope with, but there are always individual variations, so today we’ll be sending you after what we think you can flame comfortably. Your dragon will soon get the idea of what he or she can manage, too. Most of the time, they know by instinct. The most important piece of advice I can give you is to trust your dragon. That way, you won’t go far wrong.’

The instruction ceased as the two Wingseconds tucked in to their breakfasts. D’gar finished his sweet roll and the klah, then sat quietly. He wanted to be in the air, with Herebeth. Anything but this waiting around. It had never felt quite as tense on deliveries, even before the orders began to come in. Maybe once he’d got through a few Falls, he’d feel different. At least, he hoped he would. The idea he might go through this stomach-churning apprehension every couple of days for the next few Turns wasn’t a pleasant thought. No one else seemed that bothered at all.

At last, they made their way out to the Bowl. There were quite a few dragons milling around out there now. N’rir left him feeding Herebeth chunks of firestone while he went off to speak with R’feem. Listening to Herebeth grinding the rock was oddly soothing and his dragon’s excitement at the prospect of flying Thread bled over into his own mind, making him feel more confident they’d be able to do a good job. All around him, other riders were starting to do the same, making adjustments to straps as their dragons crunched or chatting with their wingmates. He occupied himself by trying to calculate how much firestone a Wing would use during a Fall like todays. That helped to calm his mind as well.

Eventually, N’rir came back. ‘He’s had all of that sack? Excellent. That’d be about the same as Jalolth can manage at a time and they look similar in size. You can get your wherhide on now. It won’t be too long until we’re off.’ He glanced across at the rest of the Wing. ‘It’s probably your last chance to use the necessary for a while, so if you need to, get off there first.’

D’gar hadn’t even thought about that. On deliveries, there were always quiet times waiting around at the firestone dump, when you were able to relieve yourself. In a Wing, that wouldn’t be the case. He took the opportunity to offload some of the klah he’d drunk. Quite a few of the riders were lined up at the communal trough, doing the same.

When he got back, most were getting on board their dragons. He followed suit once he’d put all of his flying gear on, fastening the straps as he had so many times prior to drills or deliveries.

Jalolth’s rider asks if we are ready.

Tell him yes.

He asks me to stay on his right and follow his moves. Herebeth’s thoughts were businesslike and calm. It helped D’gar to steady himself. This was what Herebeth had hatched to do, after all.

He watched carefully for the signals to take off, then, at last, ‘C’ Wing was airborne, the Weyr shrinking in size as they ascended.

Jalolth gives me the visual. Herebeth shared it with D’gar. The coast of Southern Boll, cloudless skies and a sparkling sea. He watched for the signal again and then went between with the rest of the Wing.

A light breeze made white tipped wavelets break just offshore. Down below there were cliffs, then grassland, which turned to a patchwork of colours and textures as fine as anything created at the Weavercrafthall. Lots of crops to protect down there.

He glanced up. There were three Wings above them, circling as they waited for the first glimpse of leading edge. Three below, too, with a glimpse of gold as the Queens’ Wing skimmed close to the ground. Mardra, on board Loranth, tested her flamethrower, a gout of brilliant orange erupting from the nozzle.

Once leading edge is in sight, Jaloth tells us to stay with him. We are not to attack Thread until he tells us, but we should dodge if any comes close.

Good. Make sure you dodge well.

I always do. Herebeth adjusted his speed to keep the same distance from Jalolth, whose natural pace seemed to be marginally slower than his own. D’gar had never seen the Wings like this, spread out in their holding patterns as they waited to begin battle. It was a fine sight, made all the better for being such a clear day. Visibility was superb, so that when they followed Jalolth in a turn, the ominous greyness on the horizon could only be one thing. Thread, falling far out at sea right now, but coming nearer by the second.

D’gar saw the Wing seamlessly move into its Threadfighting formation; an inverted V that would cut a wide swathe across the corridor. Other Wings peeled off to station themselves at their own starting positions. The grey curtain closed in. It was similar to a bank of dark cloud, yet no cloud ever moved so fast. As it neared, the sunlight caught individual strands of Thread, making it glitter with a deadly intensity. Beautiful, yet lethal.

We have leading edge, Herebeth announced. High above them, dragons flamed, searing the first Threads as they crossed the boundary between sea and land.

It is falling thickly today, Jalolth says.

D’gar watched Thread descending. The Wings on the upper levels cleared a decent amount as it fell, but some inevitably got through. As it dropped towards them, he felt a shiver go down his spine and had to fight against Herebeth’s innate desire to chase it and burn it. We must wait, he said. We have to do as we’re told.

Jalolth tells us to take this next clump.

It was coming down to their right. The weyrling drills came to mind. Never flame too close to another dragon. Check your airspace. Herebeth banked out of line, then belched a fierce gout of flame straight at the falling clump. The satisfaction of watching it dissolve into black, stinking char was immense. Herebeth’s joy matched D’gar’s own. He tamped it down and came back to his former position, watching Jalolth take another clump out with a carefully measured blast that used just enough flame, conserving his supply of firestone.

To our left. Herebeth moved aside, then turned almost on a wingtip to sear another tangle of Thread. Pieces of still-burning char hit D’gar in the face, stinging slightly from the heat. Now the tidy formation had gone as dragons moved in and out of line, blinking between when necessary to avoid Thread that blew towards them, stirred by the beat of so many wings.

D’gar lost track of time, living only in the moment as a dragon did. There was so much to take in at once. Thread, of course and where it fell in relation to your dragon. Jalolth and N’rir were doing most of the work; assessing what was close enough for either he or Herebeth to flame, or which was nearer to the next dragons in the line. They must be relaying information to each other all the time, he realised. He’d always thought of a Wing formation as being like a knife, cutting through falling Thread in a more or less straight line, but it wasn’t like that at all. Unlike rain, it didn’t come down in even sheets, but in constantly changing variables of size and intensity. The dragons had to be flexible to try and catch it before it fell too far below them. This meant sometimes rising to meet it, others diving to chase it, bearing in mind not to infringe on the airspace of the lower levels. It was a complex and ever-changing pattern, far from the ordered drills they’d practised, yet using many of the same moves. D’gar felt as if he was trying to look everywhere at once; yes, you had to pay attention to the Thread your dragon was chasing, but you also needed to be aware of all the other dragons in the sky and clumps, tangles or individual strands that might be blown your way. Several times Herebeth spotted Thread he’d not even seen.

His admiration for his dragon had never been so strong. Herebeth was working hard at keeping them both safe and destroying the Thread he was directed to take out. The fighting straps dug into D’gar’s legs as he was thrown one way and then another by his dragon’s quick dodges and tight turns. The taste of char was bitter in his mouth and there seemed to be no time to take a swig of the water in his flask, hung on the neck strap.

More firestone, Herebeth demanded.

He grabbed a chunk from the bag. Here.

Herebeth turned his neck and opened his mouth as D’gar threw it. The throw wasn’t perfect, but his dragon managed to catch it. That move would take some practice to get right. He judged the next piece better. Herebeth crunched quickly and swallowed it down. Jalolth tells us to go for this clump. He visualised it at the same time as he spoke the words into D’gar’s mind, so that he could see where they were aiming for. The turn was less of a lurch and he had time to lean into it rather than getting pulled after. That was surely how it was meant to be done, dragon and rider working as one against a mindless, destructive foe.

He fed almost the whole sack to Herebeth as they continued to chase Thread across the fields and farm buildings far below. It began to feel almost automatic, the same way that flying together had when they first mastered that skill.

Jalolth asks if we are almost out of firestone.

Yes, yes, we are. He should have mentioned that to N’rir before. Soon, the weyrlings would be bringing replacement sacks and it was the Wingseconds who co-ordinated and sent back the orders.

Then he says it is time for us to return to the Weyr.

No. It can’t be. It felt as if they had only been in the air for a short while.

It is almost the half way point, he reminds us. Zurinth is waiting her turn.

He felt annoyed at having to leave now that they were just starting to get into the rhythm of it, but it was only fair that J’rud got the same chance to learn in relative safety. Tell him we will leave now.

A couple of seconds later N’rir glanced over and signalled that he’d understood. D’gar visualised the Star Stones over Fort Weyr and the blackness of between replaced the blue skies, the turmoil of the battle over Southern Boll. It was only as they descended into the Bowl that he realised how weary he felt; even worse than after some of the gruelling exercise schedules S’brin was always putting them through. Everything ached; he knew he’d have bruises from where the straps had dug into his legs. Are you tired, Herebeth? he asked, wondering if his dragon felt the same.

A little. I would like to soak my wings in cool water and swim for a while.

They landed close to the two greens. J’rud and S’brin were ready to leave.

‘How was it?’ S’brin shouted across to him.

‘Really good. We flamed tons of Thread.’

‘See you later, then. We’ve got the visual now. Need to go.’ He waved as Zemianth launched herself into the air, closely followed by Zurinth.

Neyrenth landed close by. ‘That was amazing,’ T’kes called. ‘How about you?’

‘Yeah. Good.’ He slid down carefully, unsure if his legs would hold him. Leaning against Herebeth’s shoulder helped. T’kes looked similarly unstable, which was reassuring. ‘I never realised fighting Thread was so tiring.’

‘Me neither. I’ll be glad to have a soak, won’t you?’

D’gar nodded as he began unfastening Herebeth’s straps, so that he could go and swim. N’teren’s words came back again. ‘Always look after your dragon first.’ So true and so right. Herebeth had done a brilliant job today. At least now he knew that they could fight Thread successfully as a pair.

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

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As D'gar was learning the names of his wing mates and their dragons, most of those names were also new to me. So they were no longer part of the wing in "Gone Away, Gone Ahead." We knew S'Brin and Semianth has died. So most of the riders and dragons D'gar just met had also died by the end of the Eighth Pass. It's sad when and individual rider or dragon dies in your stories. What this chapter, in which no one dies, subtly shows is the long-term impact of the danger of flying thread.

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They might not all be dead! A few may have transferred to other Wings or even other Weyrs, but yes, it’s also there to show that the survival rate is fairly low, long term. On some of the Pern forums, people have actually worked out the statistics, which I can’t remember off the top of my head but demonstrate that there is a good reason why gold dragons rise to mate more often and lay larger clutches during a Pass.

This is what I was looking for: A realistic look at dragon attrition

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This was a real meat and potatoes kind of chapter, we got to see some of the nitty gritty in fighting thread.  We also got a glimpse of what life in a wing and weyr will be like at least initially.  Flowed beautifully.

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