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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 - 11. First Fall

D'gar and S'brin fly their first Fall in the Wing without supervision

Taronenth is looking very pretty.

D’gar sighed. Herebeth was noticing green dragons again. Trouble was, Zemianth had only recently risen - and been caught by Tiriorth, which he wasn’t pleased about - so he was setting his sights on other dragons in the Wing. Over the past few days, that had happened to be P’goll’s Taronenth. Are you going to chase her?

Herebeth gave him the mental draconic equivalent of a shrug, from which he assumed he wasn’t going to be given any more notice that he had the first time. It was Fall again tomorrow; his fourth since joining ‘C’ Wing and the first which he was going to be riding ‘properly’ without supervision.

N’rir had told him just after the last one that he’d be taking his place in the Wing from now on. ‘It’s only going to be around three hours, so not a bad one for your first time solo.’

Now, as if he didn’t have enough to worry about, Herebeth was starting to get the male dragon’s equivalent of proddy. Thankfully, unlike a green, it didn’t affect his own moods.

‘What’s up?’ S’brin asked. ‘You’re thinking too much again.’

‘Herebeth’s eyeing up Taronenth.’

S’brin chuckled. ‘Fat chance he has there.’

‘Why?’

‘She’s one of the hardest dragons in the Weyr to catch. Rumour has it P’goll doesn’t much like it either.’

Maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. P’goll had to be at least fifty, bald and missing a few teeth.

‘Still, at least he’ll get some practice in. She’s got all the tricky moves. Nearly always gets flown by a blue. Nothing else can get close, the way she spins on a wingtip. Pity he didn’t get interested in Zemianth, though.’

Herebeth and Zemianth seemed to have settled to a grudging acceptance that they would be sharing a weyr, so that was something at least. But as far as mates went, she definitely preferred the Wingsecond’s bronze. S’brin seemed to get on a bit too well with his rider, too. ‘I didn’t see you complaining when Tiriorth caught her again.’

‘I’grast’s all right. Bit old, but he’s still got what it takes.’ S’brin shrugged. ‘She has a good time, so do I. It’s the best we can hope for in a mating flight.’

Which didn’t really do anything to stop D’gar feeling inadequate. Not that they had any problems in bed normally, just that it would be a bonus if their dragons gave them the opportunity to be together in a flight.

S’brin obviously picked up on his despondency. ‘Don’t worry about it. I look on mating flights as a bit of an inconvenience every few months. They don’t mean anything. Herebeth might just be one of those dragons who don’t feel the need to chase very often, like Belloth.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘Anyway, we’ve more important things to concern us. First two to get to join the Wing properly, eh?’

T’kes and J’rud had been held back a bit longer. T’kes and Neyrenth kept forgetting to scan the rest of the sky while they were concentrating on attacking Thread. They’d only been saved from injury by Tiriorth stepping in to flame a piece of Thread that neither had noticed during the last Fall. Zurinth was still having problems digesting sufficient quantities of firestone. It had depressed J’rud, despite being assured that this often happened to young dragons and that as she chewed firestone more frequently, it would sort itself out. Until then, she wouldn’t be allowed to take her place in the Wing.

‘It’s not fair,’ J’rud said, when they got together before dinner. ‘J’ral got a full place in their Wing after just one Fall and Beylalth doesn’t flame any better than Zurinth, even though he’s a blue.’

That was ‘B’ Wing for you. D’gar remembered B’rol’s untimely death. ‘You should be glad they’re taking our safety more seriously in this Wing. We might even get to live a bit longer than some.’

J’rud evidently got the reference too. ‘It’s just… frustrating. For me and Zurinth. She wants to be able to do her job and she’s not allowed to.’

‘She will, though,’ S’brin added. ‘It’ll just take a bit more time. We’ve got Turns and Turns, after all.’

The following morning they assembled in the Bowl as usual. D’gar’s nervousness had escalated. His hands even shook a little as he fed Herebeth chunks of firestone in preparation. ‘Wish I didn’t feel so nervous,’ he admitted to G’reden, whose Jekkoth was next to them.

‘Try not to worry.’ G’reden ducked under his dragon’s neck. ‘Everyone has to go through this. I was scared silly the first time I was out on my own. But Jekkoth took care of us both.’

‘Trust your dragon, eh?’

‘Exactly. They have a good idea what they need to do. Just let Herebeth get on with it. Jekkoth will keep him informed as we go.’

Jekkoth was to his right in the formation today and green Halerth to his left. It was the classic fighting partnership of a brown flanked by a blue and a green. Both of them had enough experience to make up for any deficiencies on his part.

We will be fine, Herebeth assured him. I like Halerth, he added.

Not another one.

Why should I not look at green dragons? You look at their riders often enough, especially in the baths.

He couldn’t argue with that. Don’t go admiring her when you’re meant to be looking out for Thread.

As if I would. Jalolth has taught me a lot. The rest, I just know.

Dragons were born with the instinct to fight Thread, just as human babies had the urge to start walking, but in both cases they needed practise to perfect the skill. N’rir had faith in his abilities; he should maybe start to believe in himself a bit more.

As usual, the waiting around was the worst part. Once they’d mounted up, ready for the signal to leave, he felt slightly better. He knew from previous Falls that when they actually started fighting, he’d be fine. He wondered why it was that time seemed to go so fast during a Fall, when the much shorter period beforehand felt as if it lasted forever.

Today they were over Ruatha, starting at the mountains bordering southern Nabol and finishing across the western range. There was plenty of cultivated land to cover; the rich and fertile fields of Ruatha, its crops and orchards, plus the Hold itself. ‘C’ Wing had been on sweep duty today; two pairs had gone out earlier to check the weather conditions and that everyone not on ground crew duties were safely inside. That was a big responsibility. D’gar was glad he’d not be doing that for a while. Imagine if you missed someone and they were eaten by Thread! How bad would you feel?

A few Wings took off before them, then at last, they were away. D’gar had overflown Ruatha quite often and its countryside was familiar, especially close to the Hold. He’d also been to several Gathers there over the Turns, when the banners flew and brightly coloured tents arrayed the flat land around the main Hold. Today, despite warm sunshine, the fields were empty, the Hold’s Threadfall shutters tightly closed. As they flew over the orchards, he spotted the tiny figures of the ground crew, waiting to protect their Lord’s crops.

Just as everyone in the Wing did, prior to a Fall, he kept checking the north eastern sky for the first signs of leading edge. Although there was a repeating pattern to Threadfall and each Weyr knew when it was expected over their area, the actual arrival might be earlier or later than predicted. Some folk said that was due to weather, others that the positions of the two moons affected it. Whatever the reason, it was always the case that the Weyrleader sent his Wings up in good time, so that they weren’t caught out by an early arrival of Thread. Likewise, the Lord Holder took care to ensure all of his people and beasts were under cover well in advance.

The Wing was fully spread out in a half-chevron formation today, with R’feem’s Piroth taking the central position and the two Wingseconds at either end. As they waited, they wheeled in a large circle. Herebeth took care of any changes in speed to keep a proper distance between Jekkoth on his right and Halerth to his left.

Leading edge is in sight, Herebeth informed him. Crossing the mountains at present.

The mountain passes from Nabol to Ruatha were inhospitable terrain, where falling Thread could do no damage. It withered and died on the rock and scree. It was only where rock gave way to pasture that they needed to begin destroying it. D’gar looked upward to the higher level Wings, eager to spot the first flames as the grey veil of falling Thread swept towards them. It wasn’t long before they were engaged in battle with the voracious parasite themselves. As always, he felt Herebeth’s fierce pride as he breathed fire to shrivel the writhing silver strands to ash. Herebeth kept him informed as to when he - or the other two - would be taking care of a clump. Working together with Jekkoth and Halerth was an education in itself. They were both young dragons, with Jekkoth being particularly quick and nimble and Halerth able to turn on a wingtip. The two had often flown together with D’gar’s predecessor, J’bral, who had been invited to join ‘A’ Wing. He knew he and Herebeth weren’t in the same league, experience-wise.

This was the longest he’d been in the air, fighting Thread. At first, it wasn’t so different to being with N’rir, although he was making his own decisions now. Although his awareness of time passing was marked out only by the changing scenery below and the falling levels in the bags of firestone fastened to each side of Herebeth’s neck, the toll on his body began to make itself felt. By the time an extra bag of firestone was delivered, after around two hours, he almost missed one of the catches due to the ache in his shoulders.

Do you ache as well? he asked Herebeth during a brief lull. Thread was falling patchily today; it came in flurries, like snow. There were periods of frantic activity, followed by nothing to do. It gave him an opportunity to catch his breath and take gulps of water to swill out the taste of ash from his mouth.

A little. But I am not too tired to fight.

Halerth and B’thun went back to the Weyr shortly after the delivery, although Jekkoth stayed. Greens, being lighter and smaller, rarely flew a full Fall. D’gar wondered if that was as much to do with the aerobatic stunts they pulled while chasing Thread as anything else. He’d have to ask S’brin about that later. She was replaced by Zerlath, who flew in a more flamboyant style to Halerth. A couple of times when she blinked between to dodge Thread, she came back in a slightly different place than D’gar had expected, forcing Herebeth to change speed and position.

As his fatigue grew, he realised he was paying less attention to what was happening around them. It wasn’t until they had a near miss - not seeing a strand of Thread until it was almost close enough to touch - that he was shaken back into a greater sense of alertness. Then, near to the end, as the Western mountain range grew ever closer, Zerlath did one of her flashy moves after some Thread. Herebeth was tired and slower to move out of her way, almost touching wings. Both dragons instinctively dodged, meaning that the Thread continued downward, falling to the lower level. D’gar felt his heart speed up at the near miss and couldn’t mistake the glare H’fra threw at him, even though there had been fault on both sides.

Are you all right? he asked Herebeth.

Zerlath is unhappy with me. She calls me a clumsy great dragon. She says that Rallorth was a much better flyer.

It was as much her fault as yours, D’gar assured him. He suspected that some more might be said when they landed. He was right. No sooner had they returned to the Weyr than H’fra made his way over.

‘What the hell were you playing at?’

‘I’m sorry if I made a mistake,’ D’gar said, trying to be polite. His feet hurt after sliding down from Herebeth’s neck ridges. Actually his whole body hurt. He certainly didn’t feel in any sort of mood for a confrontation.

‘Shaffing weyrlings,’ H’fra continued in a contemptuous tone. ‘If you carry on like that at least we won’t have to put up with you for very long.’ He stared down at D’gar, trying to be intimidating. He was slightly taller than S’brin, although without the bulk of muscle.

‘I said sorry.’ H’fra was annoying him and he could still feel Herebeth was still slightly ruffled by the sharp words from the green dragon. ‘I didn’t know what you were up to, so what did you expect me to do?’

‘Give him a break, H’fra.’ G’reden had ducked under Jekkoth’s neck, having just dismounted. ‘We all had to learn.’

H’fra glared at him. ‘He’s not a patch on J’bral.’

‘Probably why J’bral’s with the Weyrleader now.’ G’reden kept his tone light. ‘None of us were perfect when we started out.’

H’fra made a snorting noise and walked off.

‘Don’t mind him,’ G’reden said. ‘He’s not got over J’bral being tapped for “A” Wing when he wasn’t. If he stopped doing rude impersonations of Mardra it might help his case.’

‘We were tired,’ D’gar said. ‘Herebeth couldn’t dodge fast enough.’

‘All the more reason he should make allowances. I bet you’re exhausted.’

‘Reckon I could just about make it as far as the baths right now.’ He started unfastening Herebeth’s straps, knowing that his dragon would want to swim in the lake to soothe his tired wings.

‘I can remember how that was myself. You’ll sleep like a log tonight. You did fine for a first time.’ G’reden patted his back. ‘Don’t worry yourself about folk like him.’

D’gar met up with S’brin in the baths. He was with some of the other green riders. Thankfully H’fra wasn’t among them, although B’thun, Halerth’s rider was.

‘Good to ride with you today. Not bad for a first time. You’ll be having a drink with us later.’ He said it like an order rather than a suggestion.

‘I don’t usually drink that much.’

‘We’ll soon get you out of that. All wingriders drink. It’s part of the job description.’

‘Yeah, come and sit with the greens tonight,’ S’brin said. ‘It’s more fun down our end of the table.’

‘I, er, upset H’fra.’

B’thun laughed. ‘You and everyone else. He’s touchy these days. But by tonight, he’ll have forgotten about whatever it was.’

After bathing, they went back up to the weyr. S’brin had only done a two hour shift and was still full of energy. ‘We’ve a whole afternoon to ourselves,’ he said, smiling. ‘Good to have our own weyr, isn’t it?’

D’gar just wanted to sleep. He stifled a yawn. ‘I feel as if every dragon in the Weyr has walked all over me.’

‘It wasn’t that bad, surely?’

‘Says the man who’ll never have to ride a full Fall. It was the last hour that did me in.’

‘You need to get fitter, that’s the problem. We’ve not been doing so much training recently.’

‘It’s not so much the physical exertion; it’s all the concentration. G’reden says everyone feels it at first.’

S’brin lay back on the bed next to D’gar, hands behind his head. ‘Did you see that lake today?’

‘Eh?’ He’d not really noticed much about the scenery, except where it changed from pasture to rock.

‘In the mountains, over Ruatha. Beautiful it was. Blue as the sky. Bet no one much goes there. Maybe we could have a day out there, just the two of us?’

‘Sounds like fun.’ D’gar felt himself drifting off into sleep. At various times while he dozed, he heard familiar voices and movement around him. Eventually he woke, feeling somewhat refreshed mentally, although his muscles still ached. S’brin and J’rud were sitting on a long couch he didn’t remember being there before, sharing a cup of wine.

‘Oh, you’ve finally woken up,’ S’brin said, pouring him a cup and bringing it over.

D’gar started to notice other changes to the weyr. A couple of tapestries brightened the stone walls and his feet sank into a soft rug as he sat up. ‘What happened?’

‘J’rud helped me furnish our weyr. Looks great, doesn’t it?’

D’gar accepted the cup and took a sip. It was Tillek red, a little rough around the edges. He looked around, more awake now. The main tapestry was in an old fashioned style and displayed the ballad of Moreta’s ride in a series of panels. The colours were still vivid, but he couldn’t help thinking that maybe it had been put away due to the subject matter. Moreta had undoubtedly been heroic, but she had also died tragically at the end.

S’brin must have seen the doubt on his face. ‘This was the biggest tapestry there was that hadn’t faded or got holes in it.’

‘The quality’s excellent,’ J’rud said, as if he was trying to sell it. ‘Journeyman work, if I’m not mistaken. If you compare it to this other one, you can see the difference.’

The second tapestry was smaller and showed a sea scene. Several boats hauled up nets full of fish while dragons in the sky flamed Thread to keep them safe. D’gar didn’t consider himself an expert, but now that J’rud had mentioned it, he could see what J’rud meant. The proportions were slightly off, the colours not quite as well blended as the Moreta tapestry. It gave it a slightly unreal effect, similar to a dream. ‘What brought this on?’

‘J’rud showed me what he’d done to his weyr,’ S’brin said. ‘And he pointed out that as we’ve got a double, we could have some great parties in here. But to do that, we need things for people to sit on. Look, we got a table too.’ He led D’gar around, showing him what they’d brought. There was a large wooden table, with four carved chairs to match, as well as the couch and two well-stuffed comfortable chairs. The fabric was worn, but they’d draped swathes of green material over it to hide the shiny patches.

‘I like it,’ he said at last. ‘I can’t believe I didn’t wake up while you were doing all this.’

‘We tried to be as quiet as we could. The couch was the worst. It’s pretty heavy.’

‘Zurinth helped,’ J’rud said. ‘She doesn’t mind carrying furniture. In fact, I was thinking of offering our services to make a few marks. Some dragons aren’t so careful and tear things up.’

‘Not a bad idea.’

‘We’d be the muscle,’ S’brin said. ‘J’rud’s got the good taste. You and me can lift the stuff in and move it around. We could put away some marks for next summer’s Gathers.’

‘All right, then.’

‘Now, let’s have a couple of drinks here before we go down for dinner.’

By the time they got to the dining hall, D’gar felt pleasantly mellow. The alcohol had numbed his aches somewhat and he certainly felt hungry. This time, he followed S’brin to the green end of the table, keeping a wary eye open for H’fra. He was already there, deep in conversation with a blue rider, but paid no attention to D’gar. Maybe he had forgotten about the near miss, as B’thun had implied.

B’thun was sitting with R’xel and beckoned them all over. ‘Come on. Sit down. Have a drink.’ He set down cups and poured them all full cups of wine.

D’gar tasted it. It was still Tillek, but of a better quality than what they’d had in the weyr. ‘Where did you get this?’

B’thun smiled. ‘Like it? I bought it at the last Gather. Bit better than what they serve up normally, isn’t it?’

‘Definitely smoother.’

‘Cheers.’ He and R’xel touched their cups together. ‘Here’s to surviving another Fall.’

Everyone drank to that. ‘So, how long have you been in the Wing?’ S’brin asked.

‘We’ve both been here for five Turns,’ R’xel said. ‘Same clutch. Your dragons are Kadoth’s too, aren’t they?’

‘That’s right,’ J’rud said.

‘Kadoth’s greens are the best,’ B’thun said. ‘Quick in the air and can turn on a wingtip.’

‘I’ll drink to that,’ S’brin said. ‘Valli always compared my Zemianth to a miniature Kadoth.’

‘You knew her?’ B’thun asked, before R’xel gave him a nudge. ‘What’s that for?’

‘They might not want to be reminded.’

B’thun glanced back at S’brin and D’gar, then his face changed as he realised what R’xel was trying to tell him. ‘Oh, it was you two who… Sorry. Shouldn’t have opened my big mouth.’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ D’gar said. ‘We’re not ashamed of it. We just helped her do what she wanted to, after all.’

Another green rider arrived, walking with the aid of a crutch. D’gar couldn’t help but notice he’d lost the lower part of his left leg. ‘Did you save me some of that decent Tillek?’ he asked, swinging onto the bench with an ease borne of practise. ‘Oh, sorry, are you the new ones?’

‘Yes. Well, three of us anyway. Not sure where T’kes has got to.’ J’rud glanced toward the door. ‘I’ll get Zurinth to remind him it’s nearly dinner time.’

He turned to D’gar. ‘Is’ish, Panruth’s rider. You’re brave to be drinking with these two.’

‘Oh, why?’

‘They like to see how much new riders can take before they fall over.’

R’xel made a face. ‘Don’t spoil our fun. Anyway, they’re keen enough to have a drink, aren’t you, lads?’

S’brin drained his cup and held it out for a refill. ‘Course we are.’

R’xel poured him some more and handed another to Is’ish. ‘Cheers.’

He lifted it to his mouth, then grinned. ‘Better not get too legless, had I?’

J’rud spluttered into his wine.

Is’ish continued. ‘If I’m not careful I won’t have a leg to stand on.’ He looked at S’brin and D’gar, still smiling. ‘You’re allowed to laugh. It’s supposed to be funny.’

‘They haven’t been exposed to your sense of humour yet.’ R’xel gulped down most of his cupful.

D’gar followed suit. He wasn’t sure how to take Is’ish. Maybe that was just how he dealt with his disability.

Is’ish nudged J’rud. ‘You’re probably my replacement. Although I mean to be in the air again once this has healed well enough. You don’t need a whole leg to ride Fall.’

‘I… I suppose not.’

‘And I’d like to burn a few Threads to get my own back on the bastards.’

‘Let’s drink to that,’ B’thun said, downing his own.

By the time the food was brought out, D’gar was fairly drunk. Once J’rud got over his initial wariness, he began trading quips with Is’ish. It soon became clear they had a similar sense of humour. S’brin matched B’thun every drink and after a while, D’gar lost count of how many times his own cup had been refilled. He wasn’t alone though. Most of ‘C’ Wing drank nearly as much. Riding Zemianth back up to their weyr, he had to hang on to S’brin and they both leaned heavily on each other as they staggered inside.

It was a good job the next day was designated as a rest day. Several riders looked quite fragile over breakfast and D’gar sympathised with them. His own head was pounding and the thought of more wine - or ever drinking again - made him feel queasy. He managed an egg and some dry bread, washed down with several cups of sweet klah, then went back to the weyr to lie down.

Why is your head all fuzzy today? Herebeth asked.

I drank too much wine.

Did you know it would affect you so badly?

I suppose so.

Then why drink it at all? He sounded puzzled.

It was fun at the time.

I am glad dragons do not drink wine.

Me too. He imagined drunk dragons rolling about on their weyr ledges and laughed. It hurt his head. ‘Do you think R’xel will be satisfied now he’s tried to get us both drunk.’

‘Tried,’ S’brin groaned. ‘I’d say he succeeded.’

‘Do you think they’re as bad as that after every Fall?’

He shook his head carefully. ‘No, I reckon that one was for our benefit. Still, now we’re proper members of “C” Wing.’

‘With the hangovers to prove it.’ D’gar shut his eyes again. ‘Glad the next Fall’s not for two days. Gives us a chance to recover.’

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

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Wonderful chapter, just flowed beautifully.  I guess it would be hard to replace someone, have to learn the quirks of the other dragons and riders that are use to flying with someone else.  

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Another great chapter, thoroughly enjoyable, I am looking forward to more with bittersweet emotions

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