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

Canon-typical violence, character deaths

Threadfall - 15. Consequences

M'rell needs advice and D'gar has a warning.

‘Did you really break his bed as well?’ H’fra leaned closer, eager for the details.

‘Don’t be stupid. It was a pretty solid piece of furniture. Although it wasn’t for want of trying.’ S’brin threw D’gar a wicked grin. ‘We made I’kut wait a few hours to get back into his weyr.’

‘He was fuming,’ J’rud added. ‘Although at least his dragon had the sense not to take him back up there right in the middle of it. You’d have thought he’d have been put off by seeing the state of I’grast, wouldn’t you?’

D’gar stared into his wine in embarrassment. Although no one would blame him for the incident, he wasn’t proud of having got into a fight with the Wingsecond, smashing I’kut’s bedside table in the process. What made it all worse was that three dragons were injured, too.

He didn’t remember much about what had happened before the dragons mated; at least, not from his point of view. S’brin, having experienced a lot more mating flights and therefore being a little more aware during them, had filled in the details. ‘I’grast was all over me, and you tried to get him off. He pushed you away first of all, then you just launched yourself at him so he fell on the table. After that, you clobbered him a few times. Then, when Herebeth caught Zemianth, you forgot about him and savaged me instead.’

‘We’ll want to hear all about that.’ H’fra insisted. ‘Was he worth the wait?’

D’gar always found this aspect of mating flights awkward. What went on in your own weyr -or someone else’s in this case - should remain private. The green riders didn’t see it that way, however. He tuned out to the comments and sipped the wine. M’rell was right. Tillek didn’t taste so bad after four cups.

‘You all right?’ J’rud asked.

‘Aching.’ Absently he rubbed his left shoulder, unsure if it was an actual injury or if he was feeling Herebeth’s wing strain in his own body. He was conscious of his dragon’s physical state almost as intensely as the days after they’d first Impressed, when Herebeth’s hunger often made him feel starving even when he knew he’d just eaten a big meal.

‘Yeah, it gets you like that. You’ll be fine after a night’s sleep.’

‘Did I’kut pay you, in the end?’

‘Only after R’feem had a word with him.’

‘I’m really sorry about all of it.’

‘It’s not your fault.’ He glanced at S’brin, lowering his voice. ‘If anything, it’s his. He should have realised what Zemianth was about earlier and got himself out of there.’

‘He wanted to help. It was your first big moving job.’

J’rud made a glum face. ‘And probably my last, once word gets around.’

‘Don’t be daft. Just make sure next time you use blue or brown riders to heft stuff about.’ Over J’rud’s shoulder, D’gar noticed I’grast making his way toward the table. The Wingsecond was limping and his face looked a mess. ‘Suppose I’d best go and apologise.’

‘You don’t need to.’

‘I know. But I’d rather not have any bad feeling between us.’ He wondered if it might be too late. There’d been a certain degree of tension between himself and I’grast ever since joining the Wing and he didn’t like it. It was important to try and get on with everyone; more so when they were your direct superior. He glanced over at S’brin, who was telling B’thun and H’fra the details of Zemianth’s flight, using both hands to demonstrate her moves over the mountains. Slowly, he got up and walked to the top end of the table.

I’grast had just sat down next to R’feem, when D’gar took his usual place, next to M’rell.

‘Well done for Herebeth’s first catch,’ M’rell said. ‘Drink?’

He’d already had several with the greens but it was traditional after a successful mating flight. He was beginning to understand why. ‘Go on, then.’

M’rell filled a cup with more wine. ‘Cheers, then.’

‘Cheers.’ As he knocked it back, he noticed I’grast looking his way. They made eye contact briefly before I’grast turned away. It was now or never. ‘Er, I’grast.’

‘What?’ He sounded curt.

‘Just wanted to say sorry about what happened.’

I’grast shrugged. ‘All’s fair in a mating flight.’ He didn’t sound happy, though.

‘How’s Tiriorth?’

‘He’s had worse.’ I’grast held out his cup. ‘Pour us some wine,’ he said to M’rell.

‘How long do you think he's going to be out of action?’ R’feem asked.

I’grast drank deeply. ‘Healers said a sevenday, maybe less.’ He glared at D’gar. ‘That’s two Falls we’ll have to miss.’

‘And Herebeth?’ the Wingleader enquired.

‘He’s got a wing strain. Flying back to the Weyr made it worse.’

‘He’ll need to take it easy for a while, then. What about Zemianth?’

‘Talon rakes. Quite deep in places.’

‘Your dragon needs to be more careful how he grabs his mate,’ I’grast said.

D’gar felt anger flare up. ‘It wasn’t Herebeth, as well you know…’

R’feem stopped them. ’Well, whatever the reasons, I’m going to need a couple of fill-in’s. A’ren?’

‘Yes, sir?’ A’ren was always very formal, when he spoke at all.

‘You’ll be acting Wingsecond for the next two Falls.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

D’gar didn’t think he’d ever seen the quiet brown rider smile so broadly before. At least something good had come of today’s mishaps.

R’feem continued. ‘M’ta and Y’min. You two will have to fill in for D’gar, one on each shift. I’ll juggle the greens around to give you plenty of cover.’

M’ta nodded. ‘First one’s pretty short. Zath should be able to fly the whole Fall.’

R’feem nodded. ‘Tiaketh can stand by just in case. We don’t know what the conditions will be like yet.’

M’rell poured D’gar another cup. ‘Bet you can’t remember much of it now, can you?’

‘Not what I did, no. And even what I can recall from Herebeth’s point of view is fading fast.’ It was a bit like a dream after you’d woken, he supposed.

‘That’s dragon memory, for you,’ R’feem said. ‘Because they live in the present and forget things quickly, the same will apply to you. Congratulations, anyway. I expect your weyrmate was happy.’

‘I reckon so.’ Herebeth was too. He and Zemianth were curled up together on their couch, radiating bliss.

‘While we’re on the subject of mating flights,’ T’garrin said. ‘Anyone care to take a guess on whether Loranth is going to rise before or after our youngest gold dragon?’

N’rir leaned forward. ‘Why? Is she showing signs already?’

‘Not that I’ve heard. But she’s two Turns of age now. Suderoth herself rose at two and a half; her daughter might follow suit. And if Loranth follows her usual pattern, she’ll not go up until well into the summer. So, Gemalth could beat her to it.’

R’feem ran fingers through his short-cropped hair. ‘Hmm. We might have two clutches on the sands at the same time. Not had that for a while.’

T’garrin turned to D’gar. ‘Any inside information you can give us? You’re friends with Zalna, aren’t you?’

‘We chat, sometimes. That’s all. But I doubt she’ll get much warning. First flights take everyone by surprise.’

‘She’s friends with that young K’torl, isn’t she?’ N’rir asked. ‘Think his dragon’s up to flying her?’

‘He can’t even catch a green.’ I’grast seemed happy about that. Maybe Tiriorth had competed against Ganath and won. ‘His rider's not so clever either. He’s not doing a great job as Wingsecond, so I’ve heard.’

‘Too young for that amount of responsibility,’ N'rir agreed. ‘Not enough experience.’

D’gar felt a bit sorry for K'torl. It seemed as if there were plenty who’d like to see him fail, even if just to prove that Z’los was wrong.

‘Z’los may have gone too far this time,’ R’feem said. ‘It might be cynical of me, but I reckon he only promoted the lad to win support from the younger riders. He had two others in his Wing who’d filled in before and could easily have taken the position permanently. There’s no harm in training someone up, but it you can’t gain experience overnight.’

A’ren nodded in agreement to that. D’gar knew he’d been shadowing N’rir and I’grast for a long time before he finally got his chance.

‘Hey, D’gar!’ S’brin called him. ‘Come back down here and celebrate.’

He hesitated for a moment.

‘Go on, lad,’ N’rir said. ‘Might as well enjoy it.’

‘Yes,’ I’grast said. ‘Your dragon may not win next time she rises. Reckon your weyrmate likes a bit of variety.’

D’gar ignored him, even though he wanted to snap a reply. I’grast would be feeling bad anyway after losing and the injuries both he and Tiriorth had suffered would make it worse.

It was another night of drinking too much, but at least the alcohol dulled some of his aches and pains. The following day was a rest day anyway. They’d planned to get away from the Weyr with some of the others from the Wing, but with injured dragons, that wasn’t an option.

‘Support duty again tomorrow,’ S’brin sighed, having slathered Zemianth’s wounds with more numbweed. ‘It seems like we only just got off it as well.’

‘Those scrapes will heal a lot quicker than Threadscores, though. Bet you’ll be back in the air again soon.’ Unlike Herebeth. Wing strains could be tricky. As soon as the initial pain eased, the dragon would want to fly and to fight Thread. It was down to the human side of the partnership to persuade them to take it easy. The healers had said that Herebeth should only attempt gentle wing exercises and easy circuits of the Bowl for a sevenday, then they’d reassess his progress. ‘We’re going to have to be careful for a while.’ That gave him an idea. ‘Maybe we could exercise with Neyrenth. It’d help to cheer up T’kes.’

‘Good idea.’

S’brin went off to a green riders’ meeting later on. D’gar didn’t really feel like going down to the dining hall, although he’d have to get some food at some point. He tidied the weyr, then spent a while studying the tapestry of Moreta’s ride. The well-known story was told in smaller panels around the edges; people dying of the plague, Moreta’s determination to distribute the cure to everyone, despite her own dragon, Orlith, being in clutch. The centrepiece of the composition showed Moreta herself, an expression of quiet determination on her face as she rode Leri’s Holth into the black of between. To one side, Orlith rose up from tending her eggs, as if she sensed something terrible was about to happen, while Leri raised a hand to her brow in despair. He admired the skill it had taken, but found the subject depressing. It led his mind down routes he’d rather not take; Valli and Kadoth, flying off into the dawn, going between forever. Just like Leri and Orlith had, once their job was done. Still there was no denying it had been a heroic feat. You couldn’t imagine anything so epic happening in this day and age.

Why are you sad? Herebeth asked.

I’m thinking about a sad story. He realised that he didn’t really like being left alone in this weyr. It had been different in the barracks. There was always something going on and people around to chat with.

Toth’s rider asks if he can come over for a while.

D’gar jumped at the chance for some company. Tell him yes, as long as he brings some snacks and klah.

Herebeth paused for a while. Not wine, he asks?

No. Definitely not wine. I’m not drinking any more wine for a while.

While he waited, he wondered what advice M’rell needed this time. That was his usual reason for needing to speak in private, although the last time had been a while ago, before he and S’brin joined ‘C’ Wing. It had been summer, he remembered and they’d met by the lake, where M’rell poured out his heart about his latest relationship problems. Rina had been pushing for them to become weyrmates; M’rell hadn’t wanted to commit that far. It would probably be something similar this time.

He arrived a little while later, with a box of meat rolls and spiced buns. He’d brought ale for himself and klah as requested for D’gar. ‘Nice weyr,’ he said. Pity I can’t get one this size.’

‘You don’t have a weyrmate. Unless you and Rina have decided to get together at last.’

He shook his head. ‘I asked about a lower level weyr with steps but Naraina told me I don’t have the seniority yet. If we got one like this, I’d be ferrying her around all the time, with her not having a dragon.’

So he’d thought about it, then. ‘Mind you, she could hitch a ride with one of the weyrlings.’

‘If they’re not too busy with drills, or Fall. No, she needs to be able to get to and from her work easily, without waiting around. She said herself she didn’t want to feel like a prisoner in her own weyr.’

D’gar could see the sense in that. ‘It’s not really fair.’

‘No,’ M’rell agreed. ‘You know that Z’los says he’s going to change the system of weyr allocation if he gets to be Weyrleader.’

‘I didn’t.’ Although it was more proof that Z’los was looking for support among the younger riders, who were traditionally given less favourably situated weyrs.

M’rell fetched cups and poured ale for himself. ‘Sure you don’t want some?’

‘No. I drank too much last night.’ He sipped the klah and grabbed a meat roll from the box.

‘It’s not everyday you win your first mating flight. Where’s S’brin, anyway?’

‘He’s gone to a meeting. Greens only.’

‘Fancy playing a couple of rounds of dragon poker, then? If he gets back early, he could join us.’

‘Sure.’ D’gar wondered when he’d get to whatever was on his mind. It usually took a while and a game of cards would pass the time until he felt ready, or more likely, had drunk enough ale.

M’rell had brought his own pack. They were so old that most of the Crafters and Holders on the face cards had long since died. D’gar felt a touch of sadness when he saw that he’d been dealt the Weyrwoman card, which depicted Valli and Kadoth, in the prime of their lives. Funny that he’d been thinking about them earlier, too.

M’rell was frowning. That usually meant he hadn’t got anything decent to work with. ‘Wonder what they do at those meetings?’ he mused, arranging his cards, before putting down a sixteenth mark.

D’gar matched it, even though he wasn’t at all confident he was going to win this one with just a pair. ’Bitch about all the other colours, from what S’brin’s told me. And exchange juicy gossip.’

‘Bet you and S’brin are going to be top of the list, then, after smashing up I’kut’s weyr.’ M’rell smiled as he laid down his cards. ‘Three of a kind,’ he said, scooping up his winnings.

‘We didn’t “smash up” his weyr. A table got broken and the bed had some hard use, but that was all. It could have been a lot worse.’

‘I can never understand why that lot don’t know when their dragons are going to rise.’

D’gar found himself defending S’brin again. ‘Zemianth’s been scored recently. And he knew she was ready to rise, just not that it was going to happen right then.’

M’rell dealt a second time. As D’gar scanned his cards he knew he had a good hand. Three of a kind plus a pair. But the three identical numbers were all elevens. Tradition had it that anyone who had those cards would either die themselves, or would lose a loved one. He’d often heard folk saying that one of their friends who’d recently been killed in Fall had drawn that hand, the last time he ever played. He put down an eighth. Having got the cards, it would be a pity not to take advantage of them and he’d never been overly superstitious anyway.

M’rell seemed confident this time. He put down a quarter.

D’gar reckoned he was bluffing and upped his own bet by another eighth. ‘You know, when S’brin and I play this game on our own, loser has to take off an item of clothing,’ he remarked.

‘And I bet I know what that leads to.’

‘You should try it with Rina. Might be fun.’

M’rell laid out his cards. ‘Straight,’ he said.

D’gar put his own down. ‘Full Weyr. I win.’

M’rell’s face went pale. ‘You’ve got the death cards.’

‘So. I still won. Anyway, I’m not going to die tomorrow. I’m on support duty, remember? So’s S’brin, so it can’t be him either.’

‘It’s still bad luck. Oh shards! maybe it’s me!’

‘Don’t be daft. Wouldn’t you have got them in that case?’

‘But it can mean a friend, can’t it?’ M’rell pushed the marks at him as if they were red hot. ‘I’ve been worrying something bad is going to happen. This proves it.’

‘Maybe someone will drop a pot of numbweed on my head. Or a dragon will land on top of me,’ he joked.

‘You shouldn’t laugh about it. That makes it worse.’

‘How can anything be worse than death? Come on, let’s play again. I’m actually winning for a change.’

M’rell poured himself some more ale and gulped it down. He stared at the cards. ‘What if I get them next time?’

D’gar could see he was really bothered about it. ‘All right. We don’t have to play any more. We could just talk, if you like.’

‘Aren’t you worried?’

‘Not especially. I’ve never been one to take much notice of “bad omens” or suchlike. After all, I didn’t get any mysterious warning before I got scored. Neither did S’brin. Chances are, loads of people get those cards and nothing happens at all. People only remember the times something does.’

M’rell looked at the wall behind D’gar. Unfortunately, what was directly in his line of sight was the Moreta tapestry; not the best subject to light upon if you were feeling gloomy. ‘Do you ever feel like you’re living on borrowed time?’ he said after a while.

‘What do you mean?’ This must be it; the thing that most concerned him.

‘People say that if you go your first Turn in the Wings without getting scored then it’ll bring bad luck later.’

M’rell wasn’t usually so superstitious. ‘Who’s been filling your head with all that stuff? I’ll bet if you checked in the records you’d find that’s nonsense. In fact, I’d say if you manage to not get scored, it just means you’re careful and luck’s on your side.’ He still didn’t look convinced, so D’gar ploughed on. ‘Statistically, if you get through the first Turn, your chance of survival increases. And carries on going up for every subsequent Turn. You’re doing fine.’ He wasn’t sure what else he could say to reassure M’rell. Mind you, everyone got like that occasionally. It was part of being a dragonrider, during a Pass.

Eventually, he spoke. ‘It’s Rina,’ he said. ‘She wants us to have a baby.’

‘So? She’s feeling broody. It happens to women sometimes.’

‘How would you know anything about women?’

‘Oddly enough, my mum’s one. “Look at her, all broody,” she’d say about someone in the kitchens. And sure enough, you could put marks on that one falling pregnant in the next couple of months.’

‘So it’s not because she thinks I might die?’

D’gar wondered how he’d come to that conclusion. ‘Why, what did she say? “Hey M’rell, let’s have a baby in case you don’t make it back one Fall.”

‘Well, no. She just said that if she got pregnant one of these days, she wouldn’t mind.’

‘Well, there you go, then. That’s all it is. Broodiness.’

M’rell took another drink. ‘You probably think I’m stupid now,’ he said, glumly.

‘I don’t. Look, we do a dangerous job. Most of the time, we don’t think about it. Except, every now and then we get a reminder. We realise it could happen to us, just like it happened to B’rol, or P’rel. That’s natural.’

‘I suppose so.’ He looked at D’gar with a serious expression. 'But you still got the death elevens. So you’d best take care.’

‘Course I will. Do you want to play a few more hands now you’ve got that off your chest?’

‘Better not, eh? Don’t want to tempt fate.’

He was still there when S’brin got back, although less morose due to having downed all of the ale he’d brought. By then, D’gar knew far more about M’rell’s relationship with Rina than he really wanted to know, but at least he wasn’t talking about dying any more.

‘Hey, M’rell,’ S’brin said. ‘Had a good evening?’

‘Not bad. There’s some snacks in that box, if you want any.’

S’brin went to have a look. ‘We didn’t get much to eat at the meeting. I’m starving.’

‘What was it like?’ D’gar asked.

’The usual mix. A few facts spiced up with speculation, scandal and gossip.’ He bit into a bun.

‘Really? What about?’ M’rell asked.

‘Well, I can’t tell you all of it. Privileged information only for green riders’ ears. But there was quite a lot of talk about Z’los. He’s definitely trying to get us greens on his side.’

‘That makes sense. There’s more of you than any other colour,’ D’gar said.

‘And we get overlooked most of the time.’

‘Just like us younger ones,’ M’rell put in.

‘That’s right. Anyway, later on I got talking to P’rin and Y’ler from Z’los’s Wing. They aren’t happy about K’torl’s promotion.’

‘Oh? Why’s that?’

‘He’s a liability, they were saying. Forgets to order up replacement firestone in time, doesn’t get the swap-overs sorted out. Nearly flamed P’rin’s Midoroth over Ruatha.’

It was his inexperience showing, D’gar thought. ‘Have they said anything to Z’los?’

S’brin shook his head. ‘He’d bite their heads off. You know what a temper he has and if he thinks he’s made a right decision, no one can tell him otherwise.’

‘And people are seriously considering someone like that would make a good Weyrleader? Think I’d prefer to stick with the one we know.’

‘I agree,’ M’rell said.

‘You were all for him earlier when you thought you’d get a better weyr,’ D’gar pointed out.

M’rell shrugged. ‘He’s got a few good ideas.’

‘Doesn’t mean he’ll actually put them into practice if he gets what he wants.’ S’brin fished out another bun. ‘One or two of the older greens reminded us that T’ron promised all sorts before he became Weyrleader and very few of those things ever happened.’

D’gar was thinking about K’torl. He’d not seen much of him recently; Zalna had said he’d been landed with the admin for “F” Wing, which took up a lot of time. Maybe, after tomorrow’s Fall, he’d have a chat with him. To be honest, there probably wasn’t much he could do by way of help, but sometimes just talking - as M’rell had tonight - made you realise that you weren’t alone with your problems.

M’rell flew back to his own weyr slightly happier. D’gar wondered if he should tell S’brin about the cards earlier, then decided not to. It might worry him unnecessarily. It wasn’t as if he believed it or anything. But he’d definitely watch out tomorrow, just in case.

T’kes was on permanent support duty these days. They met him down by the infirmary the following afternoon as the Wings assembled for a relatively short Fall over northern Ruatha and Plateau Hold. Herebeth felt able to glide down from his weyr and sat companionably with Neyrenth. Neither of them were fit enough to take an active part and Zemianth was too small anyway. Golden Gemalth was on standby today to help land badly injured dragons. Zalna came over to see them.

‘I heard the news about your mating flight. Congratulations on Herebeth winning and commiserations that your dragons were hurt. Are you both all right?’

D’gar’s bruises didn’t show with his clothes on. ‘I’m fine, really.’

S’brin smiled. ‘He was a bit rough while the dragons were at it, but I can’t complain.’

Zalna looked slightly embarrassed. She glanced over to where I’grast sat with a couple of older riders. He was sporting a fine black eye. ‘Looks like your rival ended up worse off.’

‘Don’t remind me.’ D’gar didn’t enjoy that kind of notoriety.

The two other queen dragons, Loranth and Suderoth, flew past with their entourage of recovering dragons and riders. A spell with the Queens’ Wing was the best way to re-introduce them to active duty.

‘That’ll be you in a sevenday or so,’ T’kes commented, a little sadly. He’d had to come to terms with the fact that he and Neyrenth were never going to fight Thread again. Like some of the other damaged, but flightworthy dragons, Neyrenth would be used for messenger duties.

Zemianth raised a wing, showing off her wounds to Neyrenth. Zalna evidently noticed. ‘Do you think Gemalth might get hurt like that when she rises?’

‘It’s a lot less common, with gold flights. Mostly, it’s the bronzes who get into scraps while they’re chasing her,’ D’gar assured her.

‘That’s right,’ S’brin agreed. ‘You know they’re already taking bets on when she’s going to rise and who’s going to fly her.’

D’gar sometimes wished S’brin was a bit more tactful. Zalna probably didn’t want to be reminded of all that. ‘They’re always betting on something,’ he said, hoping it might make her feel better.

She sighed. ‘I really hope it’s Ganath. But Mardra’s told me a junior queen’s first flight is always well attended, so I’ll probably have all the bronzes in the Weyr after her. Unless Loranth goes first and they’re all still recovering, of course.’

‘She’s overdue, that’s for sure.’ T’kes said. ‘Suderoth’s had two clutches to her one.’

‘Suderoth’s younger,’ S’brin pointed out. ‘More fertile.’

‘Yes, she’s been clutching around every Turn,’ Zalna agreed. ‘Although Mardra told me they’d all start rising less frequently as we’re nearing the end of the Pass. Do you know, in an Interval, queens only mate every three or four Turns. Some even less frequently than that.’ She sounded cheered by the thought.

‘Lucky you,’ S’brin said. ‘Doesn’t make any difference to us greens.’

They watched a few of the Wings taking off. Herebeth raised his head to look when ‘C’ Wing went past, A’ren flying as Wingsecond. He spotted Toth too and wondered if M’rell was still worrying. ‘Fly safely,’ he said, under his breath.

Why can we not fly with our friends? Herebeth sounded very subdued.

Because you’d strain your wing even more. It needs rest to heal properly. But you can practice circuits with Neyrenth tomorrow, if it’s not too windy.

And Zemianth?

If she wants to join in, I don’t see why not. D’gar hoped Zemianth would refrain from her usual flashy aerobatics, or Herebeth might be tempted to try and match her.

‘F’ Wing took off in their usual tight formation. Zalna waved as K’torl went by, although he didn’t wave back. Probably not allowed to, D’gar thought, thankful once again that he’d ended up in the Wing he had. ‘Oh, Zalna,’ he said, before he forgot. ‘Any chance of meeting up with K’torl later?’

‘He’ll be very busy. Z’los likes him to get all the admin done right after Fall.’

‘Ah. Well, maybe I could help. Might be able to learn something, too.’

‘I’ll mention it. I think he’s struggling a bit, to be honest.’

The first half hour of Fall was relatively quiet, with just a few minor injuries to treat. D’gar carried buckets of numbweed and helped to treat the scores on a brown dragon’s tail. It helped to pass the time. As always, when you weren’t flying, you wondered what was happening up there. The brown’s rider told him there were some tricky sidewinds, but visibility was good.

It was around about an hour later when a badly scored rider came back. He was slumped over the dragon’s neck and his blood had run down her side. She appeared unhurt, but distressed and Gemalth had to quiet her so that S’brin and T’kes could help the injured man down. It was while they were with him in the infirmary that all the dragons left behind at the Weyr suddenly raised their heads and keened. A fatality, then. D’gar quickly checked the injured man’s green, in case he’d died and she was about to go between but she was keening with the rest. Up until then, he’d mostly forgotten about the death cards, but suddenly he recalled M’rell’s fears and asked Herebeth if Toth was all right.

Toth says he is well. He is busy flaming Thread.

Not Toth, then. He felt relieved, although there were plenty of others fighting today whom he could call friends. He have to wait until later to find out. During Fall, you had to tune out any distractions. Grieving was for afterwards.

S’brin and T’kes returned. ‘He’ll be all right,’ S’brin said. ‘Apparently, he doesn’t like the sight of blood.’

‘Yeah, and seeing so much of his own made him feel faint,’ T’kes added.

Another few casualties returned over the next half hour. Gemalth only had to assist once, when a pale blue dragon appeared over the Bowl with his right wing badly tattered. D’gar kept well out of the way until he was safely down, just in case his own light-hearted prediction of having a dragon land on him came true.

‘Poor sod,’ T’kes said, with feeling. They were both kept busy after that, assisting the healer as he cleaned and numbed the wing. Zalna came over too, as Gemalth was needed to keep the blue still while the damage was assessed. She helped to hand up splints and fabric as the repair commenced, while Gemalth played her own role well, keeping the dragon calm while they worked.

They knew that Fall was over when the first of the Wings came back, bringing a down rush of air that carried the unmistakeable smell of charred Thread. D’gar recognised ‘F’ Wing, with bronze Rolth heading the formation. He checked for Ganath’s distinctive shade in the Wingsecond’s position, then realised, almost at the same moment as Zalna did, that he wasn’t there.

There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation, of course, as to why he’d not come back with the others. ‘Don’t worry,’ he reassured Zalna. ‘He might have had to help with cleanup or something.’

‘No,’ she said uncertainly. ‘“G” Wing’s on cleanup today.’

‘Well, it might be any number of other reasons.’ Except he knew, with awful certainty, it wasn’t.

S’brin came to his side. He’d evidently noticed too. His eyes unfocussed as he spoke with Zemianth, then his expression turned solemn. He shook his head sadly.

‘What is it?’ Zalna asked sharply.

‘Midoroth saw them get hit, then go between.’ S’brin told her in a quiet voice. ‘They didn’t come back from between.

‘No!’ Zalna cried out. ‘That can’t be right.’ She looked around, frantically, as if she might see K’torl strolling towards her in his usual fashion. ‘I’ll go and ask Z’los.’

‘Ask Gemalth first,’ D’gar said. ‘See if she can speak to Ganath.’

After a few seconds she had her answer. She shut her eyes slowly. ‘No,’ she said again, as if denying it might bring him back. ‘She can’t hear him any more. He’s gone, hasn’t he?’

‘Do you want to go back to your weyr?’ S’brin suggested.

‘What’s the point?’ Her voice was steady, although tears had begun to roll down her cheeks. ‘He’s not there.’

D’gar admired her fortitude. He could see something of Moreta’s spirit in her as she wiped her face, before handing up another splint. Gemalth came closer and nuzzled her, offering some comfort.

It took a while for them to finish repairing the wing. D’gar kept expecting to see Z’los coming over to tell Zalna himself. He must have known how inseparable they were. But it was Mardra and T’ron who eventually arrived, still grimy from Fall.

‘I can’t tell you how sorry I am,’ T’ron said. ‘He was a fine young man.’

‘You must come back to our weyr,’ Mardra offered, putting an arm around her slender shoulders. ‘It’s not good to be alone at times such as these.’

Zalna nodded. ‘Thank you,’ she said firmly. ‘I shall certainly take up your kind offer later. But first I have to finish my work here and so does Gemalth.’

D’gar marvelled at how she kept her poise when she must feel like her whole world had fallen apart. Well, not her whole world. At least she still had Gemalth and although even a queen dragon would struggle to understand the intricacies of human emotions, they would always be there for each other.

Mardra smiled sadly as she hugged the young woman in a motherly fashion. ‘Spoken like a true weyrwoman,’ she said.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Moreta, it's told in Anne McCaffrey's book, 'Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern. There is a longer summary of the story here: Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern

Moreta is often referenced in the Pern stories for her heroism. Basically, she died to save Pern from a deadly plague. A vaccine had been found and her knowledge of some of the remoter Holds was needed in order to make sure everyone got it before a deadlier, second wave of the plague took hold. As her own dragon, Orlith, was guarding her eggs at the time, Moreta rode Holth, an older dragon, whose weyrwoman, Leri stayed behind with Orlith. Tired and confused after too many jumps between, they made a fatal mistake and were lost. Once the eggs were ready to hatch, Leri and Orlith went to join their rider/dragon between as well.

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

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Chapter Comments

I fear an ending we all know is coming is now much closer, K'trol's loss while sad and unfortunate wasn't the harbinger D'gar's cards foretold...

M’rell dealt a second time. As D’gar scanned his cards he knew he had a good hand. Three of a kind plus a pair. But the three identical numbers were all elevens. Tradition had it that anyone who had those cards would either die themselves, or would lose a loved one. He’d often heard folk saying that one of their friends who’d recently been killed in Fall had drawn that hand, the last time he ever played. He put down an eighth. Having got the cards, it would be a pity not to take advantage of them and he’d never been overly superstitious anyway.

I can only hope for many more chapters!!


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2 hours ago, drsawzall said:

I can only hope for many more chapters!!

There are a few to go as yet.

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So very sad, K'torl was someone that I truly enjoyed in this story.  I feel so bad for Zalna, she had such trouble finding someone that she was truly comfortable with, and now he is gone.  She handled it so well though, such strength will serve her well in the end.  

And yet, life will go on, more will rise to mate and dragons and riders will continue to fight thread.  

Such a truly great chapter.

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On 4/1/2021 at 11:11 PM, centexhairysub said:

feel so bad for Zalna, she had such trouble finding someone that she was truly comfortable with, and now he is gone.  She handled it so well though, such strength will serve her well in the end.  

Zalna's strength of character will help her to get through her grief. 

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