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

Canon-typical violence, character deaths

Threadfall - 2. Close Calls

D’gar was on his third delivery run over Hold Gar. Two more sacks to deliver to brown Norarth in ‘B’ Wing. They were fighting on the lowest level today, although the cloud was low as well, making visibility very poor. He’d flown in murky conditions often enough on patrols and drills but this was different. Thread was almost the same colour as the cloud; difficult to spot. How did the wingriders cope, he wondered, when there were times you could barely see a dragon length ahead of you?

Experience, Herebeth told him. And my eyes work better than yours in conditions like these. He’d proved that already a couple of times, turning abruptly and almost stopping in mid-air to avoid Thread. The fighting straps had dug into D’gar’s legs so many times with the abrupt direction changes he knew he’d have bruises.

Where is Norarth? How did Herebeth know where any of the other dragons were?

He talks to me now. Evidently that was enough to guide him. The cloud swirled, giving a brief glimpse of a deep blue dragon’s flank before it closed in again. That was Huranth. Norarth is flying to his right in the formation. I tell him we are approaching.

D’gar didn’t see the Thread; didn’t even know he’d been scored until he felt a sudden burning across his left shoulder and looked over to see the writhing mass. Herebeth! I’m hit.

Almost before he’d finished the thought Herebeth had taken them both between. In the blackness, he pulled the frozen Thread away with his right glove, the chill of between numbing the pain. They burst out into clear air above the Weyr. The delivery. We still need to make the delivery.

One of the others will take it. You need treatment. Herebeth’s calm tone reassured him, even though his shoulder felt as if it was on fire. A quick glance didn’t help; his wherhide jacket had been eaten away and the flesh beneath looked like raw meat. He felt his stomach rebelling and had to swallow hard so as not to vomit.

Herebeth descended in slow spirals and landed softly outside the infirmary. There were plenty of people there and he was soon assisted down. Herebeth turned his head and snorted gently at him. You will be all right now. There are people to help you.

What about you?

Do not worry. I will stay here and wait.

‘Come on, lad,’ one of the healers said, guiding him gently toward the door. ‘Your dragon’s fine but we need to clean this up for you.’

‘Yes, right.’ All of a sudden, he felt cold. Even though there was nothing wrong with his legs, they were shaky and he had to lean on the healer to take the few necessary steps until he could sit down on a bench just inside.

The last time he remembered being in the infirmary was when he was about seven Turns old and had broken his arm. That hadn’t been a Threadfall day, of course and the place had been quiet and calm. Today it was very different. There were two other men on the bench beside him; one already being treated, the other leaning back with his eyes shut as he pressed a bloody cloth to the side of his face. Two more casualties were lying on the nearby pallets, one writhing and moaning as healers worked frantically. From the glimpses D’gar caught, it looked as if they were taking off the lower part of his left leg. The other casualty was still; drugged with fellis, he assumed, until one of the support staff covered his face over with a sheet and he realised the man was dead. His stomach lurched again and this time he couldn’t stop it. He leaned to one side just in time and brought up his breakfast all over the floor.

The man next to him opened his eyes. ‘Sharding great,’ he said. ‘A puking weyrling is the last thing I need right now.’

‘Sorry.’ His misery escalated by a few levels, made even worse when someone came over, having noticed the mess he’d just made.

She put a bucket next to him. ‘If you’re going to do that again, try and get it in here, all right?’

‘Yes, sorry.’ There wan’t anything left to vomit, but that didn’t stop him heaving another couple of times. The effort of it left him feeling drained, while the pain from his shoulder seemed to become steadily worse. Maybe a bit of Thread had burrowed under his skin and was even now eating away at his muscle and bone? He’d heard stories about that happening. Maybe by the time they got round to treating him it would be too late.

‘Right, what have we got here?’ The healer’s tone was matter-of-fact as she prodded at his shoulder before helping him to get his jacket off. The shirt underneath was ruined anyway, so she cut if off. ‘Get me some redwort, Jenna,’ she called to the other woman, the one who’d brought the bucket.

‘Right-o. Anything else?’

‘Going to have to cauterise this to stop it bleeding.’

Now that his shirt was off, he could see the blood dribbling down the inside of his arm. ‘Is there… is there any Thread still in there?’ he asked cautiously.

She smiled. ‘Don’t worry yourself about that. If there was, you wouldn’t have an arm left by now. So, can you tell me what happened?’ She rinsed her hands in the bowl a few times, then dabbed at the score.

‘I’m not sure. It was hard to see in the cloud. Thread hit me before I even saw it.’

She nodded. ‘Same thing’s happened to a few riders today. And a few dragons. Still, you’ll live to fight another day. Now, hold still.’ With a surprisingly strong grip she pushed his shoulder against the wall behind him. There was a sudden intense pain and the smell of burning. He almost cried out, but managed to stop himself.

‘Good lad,’ she said. ‘Think that’s done it.’ The trickle of blood slowed, then stopped. ‘Right. Numbweed please, Jenna.’

It felt cool and soothing. Within seconds, the pain diminished, then was gone. The healer spent a little while longer cleaning around his score. He ventured another look and was surprised to see how small the affected area actually was, now the blood was gone.

‘Your dragon got you between fast,’ she said as she started bandaging it. ‘So you were lucky. That’ll hurt for a few days. You’ll need to keep it clean and I’ll give you some numbweed. Just put some on if the pain gets too much.’ She stood up and stretched. ‘Sit there for a while, if you need to, then you can take yourself back to the barracks.’

He picked up the remains of his jacket, wondering if it could be mended or if he’d need a new one. N’teren was bound to grouse about that, if he did. He was always complaining that the weyrlings damaged or outgrew clothes far too often. He stood up, carefully, as his legs were still slightly unsteady. No one paid him any attention as he made his way outside, where Herebeth still waited patiently. He raised his head as he saw D’gar.

You are all right?

Yes, I think so. But I need to lie down.

Lean on me, then.

It took a while to get from the infirmary to the barracks and even longer to remove Herebeth’s straps one-handed, but at last he was done. Herebeth curled up on his couch while D’gar lay down on the narrow bed, not even taking off his boots. He shut his eyes and tried to doze, but each time he was on the verge of dropping off he had sudden flashbacks; the moment when Thread had hit, the panic of trying to get it off, the first sight of his scored flesh. The worst thing was that he knew he couldn’t have avoided it; he’d not even seen the stuff coming at him. So it wasn’t as if he could learn from the experience to prevent it happening again. Every time he and Herebeth went up in the air, they became a potential target and the only thing that protected them were a mixture of reflexes, instinct and a large chunk of sheer good luck.

‘He’s here.’ There were voices at the entrance to the barracks as the other weyrlings returned. D’gar sat up, feeling slightly light-headed. He forced a smile, just to prove he was all right.

‘Zemianth said you’d come back to the Weyr.’ S’brin’s voice betrayed his concern. ‘We looked for you and Herebeth but we couldn’t find you anywhere.’ He sat on the edge of the bed. ‘Is it bad?’

He shook his head. ‘Nothing much, really. It bled a bit, but they stopped that. I’m numbed up now, so it doesn’t even hurt.’

‘How did it happen?’ J’rud asked, eager for details.

‘It was all so fast I don’t really know. You were up there yourselves. How much could you see in that murk?’

‘Not a lot,’ S’brin admitted. ‘Zemianth got us out of trouble a few times.’

‘We had a few close calls too,’ J’rud said.

‘We flew straight into it,’ he said, reliving that moment. ‘First I knew I’d been hit was the pain.’

‘What’s it like?’ J’rud asked. ‘I mean, I know everyone says it hurts a lot…’

‘They’re right.’ He tried to describe how it had felt. ‘It’s like a burn but worse. It feels as if your flesh is dissolving.’ Which, of course, it was, as the foul stuff ate its way through. He shuddered involuntarily. ‘It’s horrible.’

S’brin hugged him, much more gently than usual, as if afraid that he might break. ‘You’ll be all right.’

D’gar wished he could feel so certain. Physically, he’d heal fairly quickly; it wasn’t a deep score after all. But how could he make himself stop re-living that awful moment? ‘Dragons are lucky,’ he said. ‘They forget.’

Neither of them knew how to reply to that. S’brin settled down next to him. ‘You get off to the baths if you want,’ he said to J’rud. ‘I’ll stay here with D’gar.’

His head rested against S’brin’s broad chest. It felt safe; strong.

‘If I’d have known, I’d have come back earlier.’

‘No, you wouldn’t. You had a job to finish.’ Whatever happened, you needed to keep going. That had been drummed into them all the way through their training. ‘Anyway, Herebeth looked after me.’

S’brin stroked his hair. ‘When you didn’t turn up at the dump, I thought the worst. Zemianth kept saying you were at the Weyr, but that was all…’ he tailed off.

He could only imagine how that must have felt. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s not your fault. Sharding Thread! It was crap up there today. I could hardly see beyond Zemianth’s head half the time.’ He still sounded worried.

D’gar started to feel tired again. He shut his eyes, soothed by S’brin’s steady breathing and the knowledge that he was loved. Slowly, he drifted off to sleep.

‘Don’t those two look sweet…’

A mocking voice pulled him out of slumber. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep, but most of the weyrlings seemed to be back, so it must be a good hour or so after the end of Fall. Beside him, he felt S’brin stirring as well.

‘What happened? That clumsy dragon of yours didn’t duck fast enough?’ T’mudra dried off his wet hair next to the bed.

‘Shut up. Anyone could have been hit today.’ S’brin sprang to D’gar’s defence.

So did M’rell. ‘Three pairs died today,’ he told T’mudra. ‘And they were experienced. You, me and anyone else who didn’t get scored were just lucky. Maybe we won’t be, next time.’

T’mudra flicked his wet towel dismissively and D’gar felt drops of water across his face. S’brin was on his feet in a second and pulled it out of his hand so fast he went sprawling across the stone floor. He rolled, got to his feet and faced off against S’brin. Zemianth opened her wings, as much as she could in the space available and hissed loudly. Jassainth took up the same stance. Seeing what was happening, the other weyrlings started to cluster around, obviously hoping there would be a fight.

‘What’s going on here?’ The unmistakeable voice of N’teren broke it up before anything even began.

‘It’s that idiot, T’mudra. Again,’ S’brin spat. ‘D’gar’s injured and all he can do is be stupid about it.’

‘He knocked me over,’ T’mudra said almost at the same time, holding his arm as if he’d been hurt.

‘Calm your dragons, both of you,’ the Weyrlingmaster ordered. ‘Everyone else, get on with whatever you were about.’

Zemianth reluctantly settled, her eyes whirling red with anger.

M’rell stayed where he was. ’T’mudra fell,’ he said to N’teren. ‘No-one touched him.’

‘Thank you, M’rell.’ He looked down at D’gar. ‘Got your first score, eh?’

D’gar nodded.

‘You’ll be on support duty here at the Weyr for the next few Falls, then. Until the healers clear you to fly between again.’ He turned to S’brin and T’mudra. ‘You two should know better by now. You should be setting an example to the younger lads, not brawling like a couple of drunken Holders. Dragonriders don’t fight, remember?’

‘Yes, sir.’ T’mudra limped back to Jassainth and stroked her neck.

N’teren glared at S’brin. ‘Is your dragon proddy?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Then there’s no excusing your behaviour. Midden duty for a sevenday.’

D’gar saw T’mudra smiling until N’teren turned to him. ‘The same goes for you, as well.’ He stomped out, his boots echoing on the stone floor. Normal chatter resumed as soon as he’d left.

S’brin still glared at T’mudra. ‘Stupid bastard,’ he muttered.

D’gar reached out to touch his arm. ‘Leave it. He’s not worth it. I’d rather you didn’t get into any more trouble.’

S’brin shook his head sadly. ‘Thanks,’ he said to M’rell.

‘Least I could do, really.’

‘Well, if there’s anything we can offer in return.’ S’brin smiled. ‘Maybe another practice session…’

D’gar saw M’rell’s face flush. ‘Er, no. Think I’ve got the hang of it by now. I’d, er, better go and check Toth.’

S’brin watched as he hurried off. ‘So long as Toth doesn’t catch Lilith he should be fine,’ he said to D’gar.

Threadscores took longer to heal than most other injuries. D’gar found it frustrating when the other weyrlings went out on patrols without him. Herebeth exercised himself by flying around the Bowl while he ended up helping his mother back in the kitchens again. Thankfully, she wasn’t one to fuss too much.

‘Next Fall you can give us a hand outside the infirmary. We always need plenty of folk to fetch and carry.’

It was what you did when you were out of action. If Herebeth was a Turn or so older, he might have been called on to assist dragons with wing injuries to land safely, but as he’d not yet reached his full growth or strength, he’d have nothing to do during Fall.

It felt strange, watching all the other weyrlings getting ready and knowing he’d not be up there with them. The younger lads were already at the dump; their dragons sleeping or lounging on their couches.

‘Look after yourself.’ D’gar helped S’brin get Zemianth ready.

‘Should be fine. The weather report’s good. None of that crappy low cloud today.’ He put on his wherhide jacket. ‘Short one, as well, so we probably won’t have to deliver many sacks.’

D’gar pulled him close and kissed him, then watched them leave.

Zemianth will keep him safe. She is a clever dragon. Herebeth lay with his head on his forelegs, eyes whirling lazily.

I have to go and help now. Will you be all right on your own?

I have all the little ones to keep me company. If they worry about Thread, I will reassure them.

D’gar was kept busy setting up tables, carrying boxes of bandages and basically doing whatever the healers told him was necessary. He watched the Wings take off in formation, disappearing between as soon as they’d reached a safe height.

‘We shouldn’t have much to do for a while,’ Agarra said, settling herself on one of the benches in the sunshine. ‘Come and sit down.’

‘I do remember what it’s like, mum.’ Before he’d Impressed, he’d helped during Fall, just like all the other weyrbrats. A couple of them were playing with marbles on the ground, while several more kicked a leather ball around. A few injured riders and their dragons sat in a group. One brought out some cards to pass the time.

D’gar rubbed his shoulder. It was starting to itch as the skin repaired itself. Last time he’d had it checked, the score still looked nasty, but they’d assured him it was quite normal. He watched Suderoth fly up to a position on the rim. Her rider, Tirelle, sat to one side on a comfortable chair, her feet up on a padded stool. Her belly was starting to swell quite noticeably as her pregnancy advanced, so it wasn’t deemed safe for her to continue flying in the Queens’ Wing. Still, it was always useful having a spare gold dragon on support duty. Her size and strength enabled her to assist the largest dragons, if they were in difficulty. Her natural authority meant that she could also quieten injured dragons still while the healers worked on them.

‘I saw S’brin this morning. On midden duty again.’ Agarra raised her eyebrows. ‘What’s he done this time?’

‘Nearly got into a fight.’

She tutted. ‘He’ll have to learn to control that temper.’

‘He’s a lot better than he used to be.’ Impressing a dragon had definitely had a calming influence on him.

‘Are you two still going to get a weyr together once you’re in a Wing?’

‘I hope so. Mind you, that’s a long way off.’ They’d have to wait until Suderoth’s latest clutch were mature enough to take over their delivery duties before they could hope to move on. ‘Besides, we’ll be everyone’s last choice.’

She frowned. ‘Not still worried about that, are you? Most people appreciate what you two did to help Valli.’

‘Some don’t though.’ It wasn’t his imagination, the glances they got from some people, or the way they always seemed to be last in line for anything except punishment chores. If he hadn’t been scored, he had no doubt he’d have been put on midden duty as well.

A couple of the riders looked up from their game, alerted by their dragons, no doubt, just before a blue dragon emerged from between, flying erratically above the Weyr Bowl. His right wing had obviously taken the full impact of a clump of Thread and was reduced to mere shreds of hide. Within seconds, Suderoth took to the air. It was fascinating to watch as she carefully manoeuvred herself beneath the stricken dragon, allowing his weight to rest on her broad golden back as she brought them down to a carefully controlled landing. The rider, who seemed untouched, jumped off right away as dragon healers sprinted across to assess the damage.

‘Hey, you! Weyrling.’

D’gar looked up as one of the healers called to him.

‘Fetch those splints and bandages.’

He hurried to comply. A couple of the older riders brought pails of antiseptic redwort and soothing numbweed. The dragon remained calm despite his injury, or maybe that was just Suderoth exerting her mental control to keep him still.

Up close, D’gar winced at the extent of the damage. He’d seen injured dragons before, of course, but having been scored himself now, he realised how nasty it was. He marvelled that the blue had been able to fly at all, or think to get himself and his rider back safely while crippled and in pain.

The healers knew what they were doing and worked quickly to get the remaining hide cleaned and numbed before commencing the fiddly and painstaking work of reassembling the wing. D’gar handed up splints of varying sizes as they were requested. An older healer sat himself atop an ‘A’ frame ladder and carefully used pieces of fabric stretched between the wing spars and wooden splints to create a framework for the remaining skin. D’gar had seen it done before, but never in such close detail. New skin would grow to replace that which Thread had eaten away. There was a good chance this dragon would fly again, although maybe not with the same degree of precision as before.

The rider seemed more distressed than his dragon, alternately hovering at the blue’s head, then watching the healer’s progress with a kind of horrified fascination. A couple of the others took pity on him and encouraged him to drink from a flask which obviously contained strong spirits. After a while, he sat down, head in hands. D’gar put himself in the man’s place, imagining how awful he’d feel if Herebeth had suffered such injury. The only thing that made it bearable was that the blue appeared fairly oblivious to what was being done to patch him up.

While he was busy, a few more dragons came back, none so badly hurt as the blue. One or two riders limped or were carried through into the infirmary. Their dragons remained outside, their eyes showing the yellow of worry, normally bright hides dulled to a greyish hue.

He heard a few comments. ‘Bad up there today. Big clumps, falling erratically.’ Although his hands were occupied, his mind wasn’t. He hoped all of his clutchmates - even T’mudra - would be taking care and that none of them ended up hurt, or worse.

He’d been watching the healer work for some time when Suderoth suddenly bugled an alarm. She launched herself into the air, the powerful downdraught from her wings sending up a flurry of dust. D’gar followed her flight path to see a brown dragon - almost the same colour as Herebeth - plummeting from the sky. Although his wings seemed unharmed, it looked as if he was unable to use them. Suderoth flew to intercept, but for some reason, she didn’t take the weight of the stricken dragon on her back as she’d done previously. Instead, she grasped him with her claws, her huge wings spreading wide as she slowed their descent toward the floor of the Bowl.

It seemed as if everyone held their breath, watching, yet unable to help. Tirelle struggled to her feet, clasping her hands over her belly as she gazed up toward her dragon, her face showing the strain Suderoth must be feeling as the ground rushed closer.

Even with the queen’s help, the brown dragon landed heavily. His rider was slumped over his mount’s neck and looked to be badly scored down his left side; the side facing away from them all. As soon as they’d landed, Suderoth leapt away, shaking herself. Tirelle ran, as fast as she was able, toward her.

Meanwhile, the brown quivered and slumped as if his legs could no longer bear his weight, wings flapping feebly to either side. The other riders on support duty rushed over, evidently intending to assist the rider. As they reached the dragon most turned away in horror. D’gar saw one man vomiting, another struggling not to do the same. One of those least affected drew his belt knife and sliced through the fighting straps that still secured the rider to his dragon. He pulled the man off, carrying him across his shoulder back toward the infirmary. The brown dragon groaned; D’gar had never heard such a terrible noise from any creature before. He rolled over, revealing a great gaping wound in his left side, green ichor puddling all around as he writhed in agony. That was when D’gar noticed something moving inside the body. Thread, growing in size as it devoured the poor creature’s innards. He had no idea how such a thing could happen. Even the healer, up on his ladder, paused in his work to watch.

‘Flamethrower,’ someone called. ‘Quickly!'

The dragon tried frantically to make his wings function; to get into the air and go between D’gar assumed. Why had the cold of between not killed the Thread in the first place? He’d been told enough times that was all you needed to do, if you were hit. He didn’t want to look and yet at the same time he couldn’t turn away. In a last attempt to free himself, the brown lurched forward, wings outspread. At that moment, the Thread devouring him must have reached some vital organ, for he collapsed. D’gar saw the light of life leave his eyes at the same instant as Suderoth began to keen, joined a few seconds later by all of the other dragons remaining at the Weyr. The sound set his teeth on edge, made him want to howl with them. In his head, he could feel Herebeth’s reflected pain at the loss of one of his kin.

The dragon was clearly dead, yet the mass of Thread continued to grow. Two riders, armed now with flamethrowers, ran toward the body. The whoosh of the igniting gas and the bright flare of flame forced Suderoth and Tirelle further away. The weyrwoman clung to her dragon as the smell of burning Thread - and worse, burning dragon flesh - filled the air. D’gar felt his stomach rebel at the sight and the awful stench as smoke blew toward him.

Everything happened very fast. Suderoth must have become distressed or distracted and forgot about the blue dragon. He shied abruptly sideways, tipping the ladder. The healer jumped as it toppled. There was a blur of movement. D’gar felt the weight of the dragon push him over. He rolled into a ball, instinctively, feeling new pain in his partially healed shoulder. He shut his eyes, thinking how stupid it would be to die like this, at the Weyr itself, not even on his dragon.

Then, suddenly, it was over. He opened his eyes cautiously to see the blue dragon was now well away from where he lay. The healer had landed close by him and opened his own eyes at almost the same moment. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked the man.

He sat up cautiously, brushing dust off himself. ‘Think so. You?’

D’gar did the same. ‘Yes.’ Smoke was still blowing around. He gingerly felt his shoulder. It hurt a little worse than it had before, but nothing a bit of numbweed wouldn’t put right.

‘Come on, then. Let’s get this repair finished.’ He climbed to his feet and gave D’gar a hand up as well, turning him away when he started to glance toward the burning pile of what had once been a dragon. ‘Best not to look, eh.’

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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My only thought must be that the dragon didn't go between because the rider was still alive, but now will he follow his dragon into oblivion, or linger on alone?

I don't understand how some dragonfolk can keep petty grudges going in the face of such dire losses as we just witnessed...

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6 hours ago, ColumbusGuy said:

My only thought must be that the dragon didn't go between because the rider was still alive, but now will he follow his dragon into oblivion, or linger on alone?

In this instance the dragon couldn’t get off the ground sufficiently to go betweenThis was a particularly nasty incident, but Weyrfolk have learned to cope with the consequences of Threadfall. 

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Anne and Todd never described Thread deaths so horrifically.  Fans of the series have become so accustomed to reading about it and, I think we have become jaded about what Thread can actually do.  I sat here reading about this terrible accident and was completely unable to turn my eyes away from it. This was quite a chapter. Thank you.

Now I have to go fill my dog’s water bowl, which is evidently empty because she is hollering and whimpering at me.

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So hard to see something like that; but at the same time, you need to understand what can happen.  Not just the theory or the idea of it but the reality of it.

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