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

Canon-typical violence, character deaths

Threadfall - 16. Changes

Zalna faces up to life without K'torl and the prospect of Gemalth's first mating flight

‘She didn’t even cry, apart from those few tears when I told her. How can she be so cold?’ S’brin’s voice expressed disbelief.

‘She feels it, just like anyone would. But her upbringing means she’s good at hiding her emotions.’ D’gar lay back on the bed, arms behind his head. He was glad today was over. At dinner, he’d watched Z’los’s remaining Wingsecond hand out cups of strong spirits as the usual platitudes were spoken. Z’los himself had said how tragic it was that such a fine young bronze

rider had died today.

‘If it had been you, I’d be crying buckets.’

‘You’d be drunk.’

‘Well, that too. Shells, fancy losing K’torl like that.’ S’brin had got the full story from one of the other greens. K’torl had died bravely, putting himself into danger to save another rider and dragon from serious injury. He’d made some mistakes in his short life, but the manner of his passing had redeemed his reputation. ‘You almost Impressed Ganath, didn’t you?’

D’gar had been thinking through the implications of that himself. He remembered all too well his first, reluctant Hatching and how he’d closed off his mind to the cracking eggs, not wanting to Impress without S’brin. If he hadn’t done that, would he be dead now? Or might it be K’torl and Herebeth who had gone between forever instead? ‘So they say. I don’t really remember much about that Hatching. I was too worried about you, in the infirmary.’

‘I wonder how she’ll cope?’ S’brin settled down beside him.

‘I don’t know. But at least she’s got some company tonight.’ They’d walked her back to the Weyrwoman’s apartments, where Mardra and T’ron were waiting. T’ron had come down to the dining hall later, but neither Mardra nor Tirelle made an appearance. The other weyrwomen must be giving her the support she’d need right now.

S’brin turned onto his side, so he was facing D’gar. ‘I don’t know how I’d manage without you,’ he said, more serious than he was usually.

‘I’m not intending to die any time soon.’

‘Neither was K’torl.’

D’gar realised he must be going through one of those moments when you suddenly became aware of your own mortality. Much as M’rell had the other day, or how he’d felt after being scored. ‘We’ll be all right,’ he said, turning too, so that they were face to face. He tried to imagine what Zalna was going though right now, knowing she’d never see the man she loved again. Lying here, so close that he could feel S’brin’s breath on his face and the inviting warmth of his body, he realised how lucky he was. How lucky they both were.

‘You don’t know that for sure.’

‘No,’ he admitted. ‘But if we thought about the other possibilities, then life would be miserable. Sometime in the next five Turns, this will all be over. We’ll be safe, barring any stupid accidents. That’s what we have to believe will happen.’ Believe and hope, he told himself.

S’brin was quiet for a while. ’How do you think they died?’ he said finally.

‘They went between and didn’t come back. That’s what your friend said.’

‘Yes, but what kills you between? The cold?’

D’gar had often wondered that himself. It wasn’t one of those things he liked to dwell on for too long. ‘I reckon the lack of air would do you in before you froze. Why?’

‘Just wondered if it hurt much, that’s all.’

‘It’s less nasty than getting eaten by Thread. I expect you’d pass out long before you actually died.’

‘You’ve really thought about it, haven’t you`/‘

‘Unfortunately, yes.’ He’d thought about it far too much when Valli had died. She’d made the choice to go between with her dragon, rather than dying alone in her weyr.

‘It’s scary.’ S’brin moved closer. ‘I don’t much like between any time. To think of being lost there, unable to feel anything, in that coldness…’ He shivered.

‘Try not to dwell on it. We can’t be sure what happens and hopefully neither of us will find out.’ He reached out for S’brin, reassured by his presence.

Zalna kept to her weyr for a few days. Gemalth stayed curled at the entrance, her colour faded and her slumped posture indicating that she was sharing her rider’s grief. D’gar knew that Tirelle was often with her; Mardra too whenever she could be. Several times he thought of getting Herebeth to speak to Gemalth but somehow it didn’t feel right. If Zalna wanted to stay out of the public eye for a while, that was her choice.

When the time came for the next Fall, though, they both turned out. It was Zalna’s turn to ride in the Queens’ Wing while Tirelle took support duty. D’gar watched them fly past, still grounded himself; watched all the Wings go by. He noticed that Z’los had already replaced K’torl and wondered if Zalna had, too. She was bound to; her eyes would almost inevitably be drawn to that position in the Wing.

T’kes came up beside him. ‘That didn’t take him long,’ he commented.

‘Wingleaders are expected to have contingency plans.’

‘Could have shown he cared just a bit more. I mean, not even going to tell Zalna in person…’

D’gar had heard similar comments over the past few days. News like that travelled fast in the Weyr. ‘I know what you’re saying.’ The fact that T’ron and Mardra had been the ones who had been the first to console Zalna had been noticed too. ‘I’m just going to have a word with Tirelle before it gets busy. Be back soon.’

Tirelle had brought out a comfortable chair and a blanket. Suderoth had planted herself next to her, providing extra warmth. The weather was nowhere near as cold as it had been a few sevendays ago, but it was still chilly to be sitting outdoors.

D’gar had never spoken much to Tirelle, so he approached a little hesitantly. ‘Er, weyrwoman? Could I have a word, please?’

She beckoned him closer. ‘What is it?’ she asked, sounding a little nasal. She probably had the sniffles; it was doing the rounds at the moment.

‘I just wanted to find out how Zalna’s doing.’

Tirelle sneezed, then wiped her nose with an embroidered cloth. ‘Not too badly. She’s over the initial shock now. As you’ve probably noticed, she’s riding today. Insisted on it.’

He nodded. ‘I was thinking about visiting her later and I wondered if she was up to it.’

‘You could get your dragon to bespeak hers.’ She sneezed again.

‘I was going to do that, only I wasn’t sure if that would make her feel pressured into seeing me. That’s why I asked first.’

‘That’s thoughtful of you.’ Tirelle smiled. ‘To be honest, I think it would do her good to see some of her friends. She’s been very… quiet. Withdrawn, even.’

‘Thanks. I will, then.’ He didn’t care if Mardra would consider it appropriate for him to visit Zalna in her weyr. He sympathised with how she was feeling and it was the decent thing to do, weyrwoman or not.

Threadfall today was over Fort Hold, only narrowly missing the Weyr during the first part. The dragons left behind were restless, sensing the presence of their enemy.

‘Neyrenth hates it when Thread’s this close.’ T’kes said, trying to keep his dragon calm. Herebeth too was frustrated at not being able to fight and D’gar feared he might take off and hurt himself. His wing had been healing well; it would be awful if all of the good was undone in a moment. Zemianth shrieked at the sky and flapped her wings frantically, as did some of the others who were grounded for various reasons. Tirelle noticed their troubles and obviously spoke to Suderoth. The next moment a great calm descended as the queen dragon reached out her mind to reassure them all.

Apart from that, it was a relatively uneventful Fall. A few men and dragons returned with scores that were bad enough to stop them continuing without treatment, but there were no serious injuries. No fatalities, either, although that wasn’t always considered a good thing. The older riders often said that if there were one or two Falls without a death, then the next time Thread would demand its tithe.

D’gar waited until the Wing meeting had finished before he asked Herebeth to find out if Zalna would like a visitor.

Gemalth says her rider would appreciate that.

Tell her I’m on my way.

S’brin was chatting with some of the other green riders.The usual post-Fall relief, coupled with it having been an easy day, meant that the atmosphere in the dining hall was exuberant. Even across the Bowl, he could hear the noise as some of the musicians struck up a well-known tune and people began to sing along.

Gemalth was reclining on her couch. She’d probably reached her full size now, although like all young dragons, she’d fill out over the next Turn or so as she matured. Herebeth was a larger than average brown dragon, but Gemalth was easily twice his height, while Zemianth’s neck ridges would only just reach to her shoulder.

D’gar pushed the heavy curtain aside and went through. He knew this weyr well; it had been Valli’s once. Most of the furniture was still the same, although Zalna had obviously brought some rugs and decorative hangings from her family’s Hold.

Zalna had bathed and changed out of her riding leathers. She wore a comfortable looking russet wool dress with long sleeves and her hair was unbound while it dried. She gestured toward one of the chairs near to her desk. ‘Please. Have a seat.’ Her voice was quiet and controlled.

D’gar had sat in the same chair many a time in the past, listening to Valli’s stories and reminiscences. ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘How are you?’

She shrugged. ‘Better than K’torl.’

That couldn’t be denied. He wondered what to say next. Before he’d got here, he’d had some ideas but now, faced with her, all of his comments seemed too trivial.

‘No one knows what to say to me,’ she sighed. ‘I can see it in your expression. So they stay away.’

‘Would you rather be alone? If I’m intruding…?’

She shook her head briefly. ‘No. It’s good of you to visit. If I’d not wanted a visitor, I’d have asked Gemalth to pass that on to Herebeth. How’s his wing, by the way?’

D’gar was touched she’d remembered, amid all her troubles. ‘Slowly getting better. It’s difficult to stop him overdoing things now it doesn’t hurt so much. He’s been flying with Neyrenth around the Bowl.’

‘I’ve seen them. Neyrenth is that lovely dark blue, isn’t he?’

‘That’s the one. He’s gradually getting used to manoeuvring with half of his wingsail gone on one side.’ Even as he spoke he cursed himself for that unpleasant reminder of the depredations of Thread. ‘Sorry. Should try to keep off that subject.’

‘Thread affects us all, one way or another,’ she said. ‘It’s impossible not to talk about it.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘You’ve always been honest with me, ever since that first time we met. And I’m not some delicate flower to wither at the mention of it. We’re dragonriders. We fight Thread. Death is an everyday reality and I’m not the first - or the last - to lose someone dear to them.’

He sensed she wasn’t just putting on a brave face. She’d come a long way from the shy Holdbred girl who’d Impressed gold. Sitting in this place, D’gar suddenly remembered a conversation he’d had with Valli. ‘The weyrwoman who lived here before you lost her weyrmate as well.’

‘Valli? People talk fondly about her sometimes.’

‘She told me she’d been in love with a bronze rider called Os’erl. He died in Fall and at first she didn’t know how she’d carry on without him. But she got through it.’

Zalna nodded slowly. ‘Gemalth keeps reminding me I’m not alone.’

‘You’re not. Everyone in this Weyr cares about you.’

‘Even Mardra’s been kind,’ she continued. ‘I’d have never thought she was capable of sympathy, before all of this.’

‘It was brave of you to ride Fall today.’

‘Was it? Funny, I usually feel a little bit scared beforehand. Today I didn’t.’

Valli had said something like that too; she’d no longer cared about putting herself into danger with Os’erl gone.

Zalna carried on. ‘I sometimes feel as if a part of me is between. With them. It’s as if I’m watching myself going through the motions of life, but I’m not really… here. Do you understand?’

D’gar didn’t really, but he nodded, thinking it best to agree with her. ‘It will get better with time.’ Agarra had said something similar to one of the kitchen girls, after her lover had been killed.

‘I suppose it will.’ For a moment her mask slipped. She wiped her eyes. ‘Stupid. Crying again. Tears won’t bring him back.’

‘No, but you have to let yourself grieve.’

‘Tirelle said that, too. Mardra understands, though. She was brought up the same as I was, not to let emotions rule you.’

‘You’re allowed to have them, though. No one will think any the less of you.’ D’gar wasn’t sure if any of what he was saying made any sense, but at least he was talking and she seemed to be listening.

‘I keep going over stupid things. Like how we kissed that morning and shared breakfast. How it was just the same as any other one. He was worried, you know.’

‘Worried about what?’

‘That he’d not come up to his own high standards. Some of the wingriders didn’t like it that he was so young. He’d overheard comments.’

Such things were inevitable. ‘They’d have commented whoever got the job. It’s how some folk are.’

‘I know. I told him that as well. But he’d come back here and tear into himself for every little mistake.’ She sighed. ‘I could see his confidence fading…’

It was sad to hear that. K’torl had always seemed very capable. It had just been too early for him to take on so much responsibility.

‘Do you think he’d still be here if he’d not been promoted?’

That was impossible to say. Maybe his worries had distracted him? ‘Who knows. But they say that if a patch of Thread has your name on it then there’s not much you can do to avoid it.’ Another one of his mother’s sayings. ‘I heard he put himself in danger to save someone else getting scored.’

‘It’s the sort of thing he would have done,’ she agreed. ‘Even if he’d still been a plain wingrider.’

‘You know what it’s like up there. Sometimes you don’t have time to think about the consequences. You have to act on instinct. I guess that’s what he did.’ Only his luck had run out and he paid for it with his life.

‘I’ll never forget him.’

‘No. Of course not. He was your first love.’

‘My only love,’ she said sadly. ‘I know I’ll never feel the same way about anyone else.’

They carried on chatting for a while. There were times that Zalna seemed almost as she had once been, then she would occasionally stop in mid-sentence, as if her thoughts were drifting elsewhere. D’gar had a sense she was holding herself together by sheer willpower. Maybe that would carry her through? That, and Gemalth’s steady support. He agreed to come back the next day for a while and resolved to bring her something tasty from the kitchen. Agarra would know her favourite treats and would happily rustle something up.

That evening, T’ron addressed everyone after dinner. ‘Today I’ve had a meeting with my Wingleaders and I’m pleased to say that we’ve managed to agree on some guidelines for the future.’ He glanced around the room at each table, stopping for a while at Z’los. ‘Although I don’t usually believe in interfering with a Wingleader’s decisions as to what’s best for his own riders, from now on there will be no promotions to Wingsecond until someone has at least five Turns of experience fighting Thread.’

All around the room D’gar saw heads nodding and murmurs of assent. It was clear most riders thought this was a good policy. He didn’t have any objection himself, even though it meant he’d never get to be Wingsecond in a proper, fighting Wing. If the Pass ended when it was forecast, his five Turns would only just be up.

‘That’s us out of the running, then,’ M’rell hissed in his ear, obviously having come to the same conclusion. ‘Still, I’m not too bothered about it. How about you?’

‘It’s fine.’ After the Pass was over, the conditions would have to be reviewed anyway, but that was a different world. Then, it would be a matter of waiting for riders to retire before any chance of promotion and everyone would have to wait their turn.

The following day he discovered Zalna liked to eat little pastries filled with dried fruit and an egg custard. Agarra promised to have some ready for his visit. ‘It’ll do her good to eat something, poor girl. She hardly touches the meals we send up, you know.’

D’gar tried to remember some of the other foods she’d seemed to enjoy, so ended up taking some spiced meat rolls and glazed buns as well as a skin of Benden white.

It was a sunny afternoon. Gemalth was out on the ledge. Her colour looked to have improved and her hide shone with good health. Zalna had pulled back the curtain to allow light and air into her weyr. She too, seemed more cheerful than she had the previous day. A vase of bright yellow spring flowers decorated the desk.

‘Aren’t they lovely?’ she said, noticing him looking at them. ‘Tirelle brought them up from the Hold for me.’

‘That was kind of her.’

Zalna nodded. ‘She’s a kind person, at heart.’

‘My mum made you some things, too.’ He lifted the cloth from the top of the basket he carried, revealing the contents.

‘They look lovely. Please, sit down.’

‘Would you like some wine. I got some Benden white. Don’t know anything about the vintage though.’ He suddenly recalled K’torl doing his impression of T’ron at the picnic and hoped the reference wouldn’t make her unhappy. Shells, but you had to be careful when someone had died. There were so many reminders.

‘You have a cup. I might join you later. Anything that’s left, you can take back to share with S’brin.’

‘Thanks.’ He poured some and picked out a meat roll from the selection.

‘So, what did you think of T’ron’s pronouncement?’

It wasn’t how he’d expected her to begin. ‘It seemed… popular,’ he said, cautiously. She’d not been present in the dining hall, so doubtless one of the other weyrwomen, or even T’ron himself must have told her.

‘Good. At least it might save the same thing happening to someone else. Z’los didn’t want to agree to it, did you know?’

He hadn’t. ‘I’m not surprised, though.’ Not for the first time, he wondered what the effect all of this would have on Z’los’s attempts to get the young folk of the Weyr to support him.

‘He’s not been to see me once. Or even had Rolth speak to Gemalth.’

D’gar was surprised at that. ‘Maybe he can’t face you.’

‘I don’t know. But whatever his reasons, it doesn’t make me like him much. I feel as if he used K’torl for his own ends and now he’s gone, he’s showing how little he really cares.’

D’gar munched on the roll. It wasn’t very wise of Z’los, he thought. A shrewd operator would have turned the tragedy to his advantage; extolling K’torl’s bravery while getting the grieving - and beautiful - young weyrwoman on his side. T’ron was coming out of this much better, all in all. Zalna probably didn’t want, or need, to hear any of that. ‘You may be right,’ he offered. He’d had no great wish to see Z’los as Weyrleader before all of this; now he liked the idea even less.

Zalna picked out one of the sweet pastries she enjoyed and began to eat it delicately. ‘Mmm. Delicious. Did your mum make these?’

‘Yes. She remembered you like them.’

‘Thank her for me, will you?’

‘Of course.’

They ate for a while. D’gar had a few sips of the Benden white, trying to appreciate what made it so different from the Tillek red. They’d both get you drunk if you had enough of them, but the taste of the Benden was far more pleasant.

‘I’ve been thinking about what I want to do,’ Zalna said, wiping her fingers. ‘Spending some time alone has given me the chance to see things clearly.’

‘Oh yes?’

‘Everyone says Gemalth will rise soon; probably in the next few months. So after her eggs hatch, I’m going to ask for a transfer. There’s a weyrwoman at Benden who wanted to come here, if the opportunity arose, so we could do a swap over.’

D’gar found himself surprised at this. ‘Why? Everyone cares for you here. Fort’s your home.’

‘This place will always be full of reminders. I remember K’torl watching us, when we first flew. I remember swimming in the lake with him. I can see his empty weyr and there’ll be someone else sitting where he used to, in the dining hall.’

‘Those memories will fade, given time.’

‘I know. But here, I’ll always be seen as “that tragic young weyrwoman.” I’d rather start afresh, where no one knows me.’

She sounded very certain. ‘I’ll miss you, if you go. A lot of us will.’ Although, he could see her reasoning, even if he didn’t think it was what he’d do under the same circumstances.

She nodded. ‘And I’ll miss all of you, as well. Although there’s no reason we can’t visit sometimes.’

‘Isn’t it always freezing cold at Benden? Maybe that’s why the other weyrwoman wants to get out?’

Zalna laughed a little at that. ‘We’ll see.’

Maybe she’d change her mind, once Gemalth had laid her first clutch and a few months had passed. It was less than a sevenday since K’torl had died and the wounds were still fresh. She’d see things differently when Gemalth’s young dragons and their riders were growing in the barracks. D’gar was certain of that.

The next evening, Zalna came down to the dining hall to murmurs of approval. She sat next to Tirelle and Mardra at the top table. Her hair was neatly braided and she wore a long blue dress that complemented her colouring.

‘She’s looking well, considering,’ R’feem said. ‘It’s not easy to face everyone in here when you’re still grieving.’

D’gar realised he was talking from experience. R’feem had needed to carry on as usual after his own weyrmate died.

‘All the bronzes will be after her soon,’ N’rir commented. ‘Trying to win her favour before Gemalth rises.’

‘Poor girl,’ R’feem shook his head sadly. ‘Let’s hope for her sake she gets a couple of months grace before she has to deal with that.’

Zemianth was pronounced fit for the next Fall, as was Tiriorth. Herebeth had to wait a little longer for his wing to regain its full strength. D’gar kept on visiting Zalna, sometimes alone, sometimes with S’brin, who made her laugh. One time, she asked to see S’brin alone.

‘What was all that about?’ D’gar asked, when he came back.

‘Not jealous, are you?’

‘Why? Should I be?’

S’brin smiled. ‘She wanted to talk about mating flights. Apparently the other weyrwomen hadn’t told her everything she wanted to know, so she thought she’d ask me.’

D’gar laughed at that.

‘Tirelle wouldn’t say any more than “it’s a beautiful connection between you and your dragon,” while Mardra stressed the duty aspect. I told her to wear something she won’t mind having ripped off.’

’S’brin! You probably frightened her.’

‘Better now than on the day. She’ll fall hard the first time and won’t know who she is, let alone what her body’s doing. Let’s hope it’s one of the older bronzes who flies her. Someone who’s had enough experience to hold back a bit and treat her gently. At least she hasn’t got any silly romantic notions about it.’

Zemianth rose again long before Gemalth. Herebeth caught her a second time, proving it hadn’t just been a fluke. Tiriorth didn’t even take part and I’grast made an excuse about him feeling tired after a hard Fall they’d just ridden.

As spring turned to summer, Gemalth began to show the signs that she was mature enough to mate. Bronze dragons started to take an interest in her and their riders became frequent visitors to Zalna’s weyr. On one of D’gar’s visits, he almost bumped into Z’los, who was leaving hurriedly. He ducked as something hit the wall beside him and smashed.

‘I wouldn’t go in there right now,’ he said to D’gar. ‘She’s feeling proddy.’ He made a quick escape.

D’gar picked up the remains of a heavily decorated vase and carried it through. ‘Hope you weren’t too fond of this.’

Zalna still looked furious. ‘It was his! He brought it as a gift. I told him where he could stuff it, then when he started laughing at me, that was the final straw. Did I hit him?’


‘Of all the bronze riders, I never expected him to turn up.’

‘Me neither. I’d have thought he was saving Rolth for the main prize.’ D’gar placed the pieces in the service hatch, then sent it down.

‘Loranth’s not showing any signs yet. He was probably hoping to use Gemalth as practice.’

That was true. A few of the younger riders had been sending their dragons up after almost every green flight for the same reason. But greens and golds flew differently and being able to catch a green didn’t necessarily mean a dragon would succeed with a queen.

As her fury abated, Zalna shivered. ‘Ugh. To think of him…’

D’gar sat next to her. ‘If Gemalth detests his dragon as much as you do the man, he won’t stand a chance.’ He hoped that was the case. It didn’t always work that way with greens.

Zalna moved closer. He instinctively put his arms around her. ‘Try not to worry.’

‘I can’t help it. The closer it gets, the more scared I am. What if Gemalth gets hurt?’

‘Dragons are tough. Particularly queens. The bronzes are more likely to injure themselves trying to catch her.’ It felt odd to be hugging someone smaller than himself. Compared with S’brin, she seemed so fragile and even he’d been hurt a few times in mating flights. ‘You’ll be all right,’ he said, hoping it would be the case.

‘I wish K’torl was here.’

‘Even if he was, there’d be no guarantee you’d end up together. Look at me and S’brin. Herebeth’s been lucky the last two times, but he won’t always be.’

‘How does he stand it? He loves you but he has to…’

‘It’s for Zemianth. He’s got no choice in the matter. And whoever gets him in a flight, it doesn’t make any difference to us.’

‘I should stop being so Holdbred about it.’ She disentangled herself. ‘That’s what Mardra keeps saying. She says if I’m not fully engaged with Gemalth, the flight will be short and she won’t lay well.’

D’gar cursed Mardra’s insensitivity. She was Holdbred herself and although it was many Turns since she Impressed, she must surely remember how it had been on her first flight. ‘Everyone gets nervous. That’s natural. But once you’re with her, up in the air, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.’

‘Tirelle said that, too. And they keep on and on at me to make sure she only bloods her kill.’

‘That’s right. She’ll fight you, but you have to stay strong. After that she’ll know what to do. It’s instinct.’

Zalna straightened her hair. ‘Thank you, D’gar. I don’t know what I’d do without you. It’s a pity brown dragons can’t chase queens.’

It took him a few seconds to realise what she meant. ‘Even if he was a bronze, he’d probably not catch her. Too young and inexperienced. Besides, think of the scandal.’

‘I was.’ She smiled briefly. ‘It’s all this waiting I can’t stand.’

He could empathise with that. He felt the same before every Fall. ‘It’s hard to say when exactly she’ll go off, especially as she’s not done this before. You might not get a lot of warning, either, so be prepared.’

It was another three days before Gemalth chose her moment; early in the morning following a full day of bright sunshine. D’gar felt the unmistakeable ripple of a rising queen’s emotions across the Weyr, just as he and S’brin were about to head to the dining hall for breakfast.

‘Gemalth or Loranth?’ S’brin wondered. They both rushed to the ledge, having to push past Herebeth and Zemianth, who were eagerly craning their necks to see the spectacle. The answer was soon made clear. Mardra and Tirelle were hurriedly preparing to leave as Gemalth stirred at the entrance to her Weyr. Both women gave Zalna a quick hug before climbing aboard their dragons and rapidly ascending. They blinked out between, leaving nothing but the clear blue sky and a lone, white-clad figure standing on the landing ground.

‘Look at all the bronzes.’

D’gar tried to count them, but it was difficult, as there were so many jostling for position at the feeding ground. A couple were blooding their kills already; two were standing off against each other in postures intended to impress their potential mate. Gemalth sat back on her haunches, watching them. She was glowing such a bright gold, she rivalled the rising sun. As she surveyed her Weyr and her suitors the dragonlust grew steadily stronger.

‘This is going to be a good one,’ S’brin said. ‘Breakfast will have to wait.’

D’gar had to agree. It was all he could do to keep his hands off S’brin as Gemalth finally leapt from her ledge and glided across to the feeding grounds. Weyrfolk streamed out from the dining hall and from the Lower Caverns to watch.

Zalna did her job perfectly, restraining the golden dragon’s urge for meat and forcing her to only suck the blood from the throats of both herdbeasts she killed. She was quickly surrounded by a group of bronze riders, as eager as their dragons for the chase to commence. D’gar spotted Z’los among them. R’feem too. Piroth didn’t chase golds very often and R’feem always left the Weyr whenever Loranth rose, presumably not wanting to take the risk of inadvertently becoming Weyrleader.

Gemalth didn’t make them wait too long. No sooner had she finished blooding her second beast, than she sprang into the air, the bronzes in hot pursuit. D’gar just had time to see Zalna being carried along into her weyr before S’brin dragged him back into their own.

Time seemed suspended as the Weyr was held in thrall by Gemalth’s desires. It was a long flight, particularly for a young queen. Maybe having so many bronzes after her spurred her to greater efforts or the sheer numbers meant that they got in each other’s way more often. Certainly, when it was all done, there were quite a number of exhausted dragons and one or two with injuries that would stop them fighting for a few Falls. It wasn’t until they finally got down to the dining hall, closer to lunchtime than breakfast, that D’gar found out who had won.

The Wingleader’s chair was empty at their table and it was N’rir who proudly made the announcement. ‘Piroth flew Gemalth.’

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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Z'los isn’t doing himself any favours. Any support he may once have had is rapidly fading. Zalna is becoming a much stronger person through her connection with Gemalth. Because of her youth, people tend to under estimate her. 
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What a poignant chapter, well written and paced. Zalna is someone to be admired, thank goodness she had D'gar to talk with. 

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There are so many characters between the riders and their dragons, as well as the weyr workers and outside holders, you’re going to need to set up a directory like Anne and Todd did!  I’m getting confused at times with who is who and where and what the relationship is!  And now Zalna wants to transfer to Benden and another Weyrwoman be introduced.  Phew!  

Keep up the great story!  You are an excellent storyteller.  I always love to see you in the new chapter line-up.

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2 minutes ago, Clancy59 said:

you’re going to need to set up a directory like Anne and Todd did!  I’m getting confused at times with who is who and where and what the relationship is!  

That's not a bad idea. I have a massive list of dragons and riders, their ages, wing positions and character notes in Evernote. I try to only introduce a few new characters at a time, but I guess it is getting to be a rather large cast!

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I'm glad for both Zalna and R'feem that Piroth flew her queen. D'gar is kind and considerate, and a loyal friend.

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