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

Canon-typical violence, character deaths

Threadfall - 20. Cleanup Duties

D'gar learns more lessons about fighting Thread

‘So, which one do you prefer?’ Naraina had pointed out the two vacant weyrs earlier. Having visited them, D’gar thought both were adequate, but he and Herebeth preferred the western facing one. It would catch the afternoon and evening sunshine on the ledge.

‘I’ll go for the western one, thanks.’

She nodded. ‘Good choice. When will your former weyrmate be moving?’

‘I’m, er, not sure…’

‘Only there’s a demand for double weyrs and it’s unfair to have one small green dragon taking that one up.’

‘Could you leave it for a sevenday or two, maybe?’

‘Oh, why’s that?’

‘There’s a chance we might get together again.’

She raised her eyebrows. ‘I’ll hold it as long as I can. There isn’t actually anyone waiting right now, but if I get a request, I’ll have to ask him to move.’

‘Thanks.’ S’brin had tried to persuade him to move back in straight away, but D’gar had decided to stick to his plan. Things were - difficult - at the moment. S’brin couldn’t seem to understand why saying sorry had been sufficient in the past but wasn’t enough this time. D’gar wanted their relationship to get back to normal, but realised S’brin had to acknowledge the problems, otherwise the same thing would happen again the next time Zemianth rose, or those bitchy greens in the Wing managed to twist things around.

After deciding on the weyr, he visited Zalna in the Hatching Grounds. Gemalth was moving her eggs around again. It was much hotter than it had been previously, giving no respite from the summer’s heat outdoors.

’How can you stand this for very long?’ he asked.

‘She likes me to stay with her.’ Zalna sat back on a chair that had been brought in for the purpose and fanned herself. ‘Pity she couldn’t have picked the winter months to clutch, but there it is.’

‘When you go to Benden, you can remember this heat fondly.’ D’gar pretended to shiver. ‘Winter’s eight months of the Turn up there, so I’m told.’

‘I’ve made up my mind, D’gar. Margatta’s all ready to transfer once Gemalth’s eggs have hatched. Apparently, there are going to be some riders swapping around, too. Maybe you’d consider it? It’s only for a couple of months.’

‘Well…’ He wasn’t sure about the idea. ‘They wouldn’t want me. I’ve not got enough experience yet to make it worthwhile to anyone.’

Zalna shook her head. ‘You’d be surprised. Most of the swaps are going to be younger riders. The idea is to get them used to different conditions and ways of doing things while they’re still new enough to be flexible. All of the Wingleaders are going to be asked to recommend one or two of their pairs.’

A couple of Turns back, something similar had happened between Fort and Ista Weyrs. A few riders had applied for permanent transfers after the secondment period was finished, having found new friends or started relationships. Maybe Zalna had decided it would be good for him, given what had just happened? ‘I don’t expect they’d recommend me anyway,’ he said.

Zalna poured out another cup of her iced water. ‘You’d be surprised what people think of you. I’ll admit to having a slightly selfish motive, too. It’d be good to have you around.’

He was touched by that but still thought she was being over optimistic. There were plenty of pairs who’d be asked before he ever was.

Later on, he went to fetch the remainder of his belongings; not that he had much to take apart from clothes, mending gear and Herebeth’s straps.

‘I still don’t see why you need to do this,’ S’brin said, watching him as he packed. ‘Everything’s all right now, isn’t it?’

‘I just think we should be apart for a while. Sharing a weyr’s different to being in the barracks. Maybe if we’re not on top of each other all the time…’

‘I’ve no objection to being on top of you. Or the other way round.’

S’brin always brought it back to sex. Maybe he thought that would change D’gar’s mind. It didn’t, although he was tempted. ‘It’s not just about sex. It’s everything.’

‘I don’t understand.’ S’brin shook his head slowly.

‘Well, when you do, I might think about moving back permanently.’ He left it at that. It was too easy to fall back into their old ways when he was with S’brin.

The first night in his own weyr felt slightly odd. All of his life, he’d been used to sharing quarters with others, firstly in the Lower Caverns family rooms, then the candidates’ quarters and finally, the weyrling barracks. Moving to a weyr with S’brin had been strange enough - just the two of them, with all that private space - but now it was just him and Herebeth. He guessed everyone must feel the same. In most cases, once you graduated to the Wings, you’d have a weyr of your own straight away. He’d just postponed that for a while. It also made him appreciate M’rell’s generosity in offering to share his weyr. Having been used to living in your own space, taking in someone else, even a friend, must require a certain amount of adjustment.

Having my own couch is nice. Herebeth was stretched out, taking up all of the available space. It is also nice sharing with another dragon, but not when it is cramped.

He must be referring to the contortions he’d had to get into with Toth. I’m glad you approve. Now, I need to go to the dining hall.

I will take you down. Then I may have a wherry or two myself. A brief ripple of draconic hunger touched D’gar’s mind, making him all the more eager for his own breakfast.

There was no Threadfall today to spoil his appetite, so he went for the full cooked breakfast; eggs, fried tubers, smoked meat strips and toast, washed down with fresh klah.

R’feem looked up from his own loaded plate as he sat down. ‘Glad you’re here. I need a word with you later.’

‘Oh?’ What had he done wrong, he wondered?

His face must have showed his thoughts, as M’rell chipped in from across the table. ‘No need to worry. It’s just Wing appraisals. I had mine yesterday.’

‘M’rell’s correct,’ R’feem confirmed. ‘I’m not sure why you always jump to the conclusion that if someone in charge wants to speak to you you must have done something wrong.’

‘Past experience,’ D’gar said. ‘Turns of it.’

M’rell smiled. ‘Shells, yes. You and S’brin were always on midden duty back in the barracks. Which reminds me, how’s the new weyr?’

‘Fine. Similar to yours. Herebeth likes the evening sun on the ledge.’

‘If the dragon’s happy, the rider’s happy,’ M’rell rolled out the old saying. ‘And S’brin? How’s he feeling about it?’

‘Not happy. I can’t seem to make him understand why I don’t want things to just go back to how they were. Still, at least we’re talking.’ He ate a few mouthfuls, noticing S’brin had just arrived. He gave a brief nod of acknowledgment, then went to sit in his usual spot, at the other end of the table.

R’feem took it all in without comment.

After breakfast, D’gar took a refill of klah outside. The sun was just touching the floor of the Bowl and it wasn’t yet too hot. R’feem beckoned him over to one of the benches, where they had some privacy. ‘You’ve been with us a Turn now,’ he said. ‘How do you think it’s going?’

‘Not bad, I suppose.’ Neither he nor Herebeth had been injured. He’d not dropped any bags of firestone on anyone, or had any mid-air clashes. Fall was no longer such an overwhelming experience.

’N’rir and I’grast have both given me good reports. What I’ve seen myself tallies with that. You’ve not got into any bother. I don’t count spats with weyrmates.’ He gave a reassuring smile. ‘You and Herebeth are proving to be a useful pair. You listen, learn and do your job well.’

That sounded pretty good. He’d thought they were doing a decent job, but having it confirmed by the Wingleader made him proud. As a weyrling, he’d been used to getting told off rather than encouraged.

‘So now that you’ve grasped most of the techniques we use in the air, I reckon it’s time you started getting some training on the ground, too. We’re on cleanup duty next Fall. I’d like you to shadow N’dru to learn about finding and destroying Thread burrows. He’s trained a good few riders and he knows what he’s about.’

That was a step forward. Up until now, if the Wing had been on cleanup, D’gar had only overflown areas to look for burrows from the air. ‘Thanks. That’ll be good.’

‘There’s something else, too. There are going to be some secondments coming up soon. I’d like you to consider taking one of the positions.’

‘What, go to Benden?’

R’feem smiled. ‘Already heard about it from Zalna?’

‘Well, yes. But surely I don’t have enough experience?’

‘Going to another Weyr helps you to gain experience faster. Different terrain, weather and fighting techniques all help to develop dragons and riders. Not everyone is asked, you know.’

‘Would S’brin be going?’

‘Probably not. And before you protest, that might be a good thing for you, too. You have potential. I can see you as a Wingsecond one day. If we weren’t at the tail end of a Pass, it might happen sooner rather than later, but promotions take longer during an Interval for obvious reasons.’

That was praise, indeed. Still, he didn’t want to be away from S’brin for several months, not now things were starting to mend between them. ‘Maybe not this time,’ he said cautiously.

‘I understand.’ R’feem made a mark on his slate. ‘There will be other chances, of course and maybe they’ll come along at a more favourable time for you. But don’t hold yourself back out of some kind of misguided loyalty.’

D’gar sipped his klah. ‘Misguided? That’s harsh.’

‘Maybe I didn’t phrase it so well. What I mean is that if you let your relationship interfere with your career too much, you’ll end up resenting it one day. I’m not just saying this to you because of your recent problems with S’brin. Many bronze and brown riders face similar dilemmas. It’s a question of balance.’

D’gar thought he understood. ‘Thanks for the offer, anyway,’ he reiterated.

‘Not at all. I’ll put you in for the next one, barring any mishaps.’ He slipped his slate back into the satchel he always carried and looked up at the blue sky. ‘Going to be another hot day. Wonder if it’ll prompt any dragons into rising?’

Both their eyes went towards Loranth’s weyr. The senior queen dragon lay with her head on her forelegs, overseeing her domain. Her colour seemed much the same as ever. ‘Do you think she will?’ D’gar asked.

R’feem shrugged. ‘If she keeps to her usual schedule, it’ll happen soon. Every two Turns for the last three times. But what I was thinking is that there are a few greens in our Wing who are also due. We’d all prefer it if they got it over with before Loranth makes a move.’

Every day, it seemed, one or two greens rose. D’gar had heard a few of their riders complaining that the incessant sunshine had made their dragon’s cycles shorter than usual. If Loranth rose too, it would almost certainly precipitate a mass flight of greens, as soon as the queen was caught. Such flights often resulted in injuries, when so many dragons took part.

‘You might want to nudge Herebeth to chase someone over the next few days. Wouldn’t want to see him get hurt.’

R’feem’s suggestion was sensible. It had been a few months since Herebeth last caught Zemianth and while the hot weather didn’t affect male dragons in quite the same way, there always seemed to be more of them chasing females during the summer season. D’gar definitely wouldn’t like him to get the urge to join in with a mass flight. Although his wing strain had long since healed and every time D’gar asked, Herebeth assured him it was as good as new, he wondered if having been damaged once, it might cause him problems again if he overdid things. ‘I’ll try to.’

‘Good. I’m hoping I won’t have to take Piroth away from the Weyr when Loranth goes up this time. It’s not been that long since he flew Gemalth, after all and he’s feeling fairly content right now. I don’t reckon he’ll be bothered and that gets me out of a difficult situation.’

‘You’ve never wanted to be Weyrleader, then?’

‘Once, maybe. It’s a phase a lot of young bronzes go through. Then, when you become a Wingleader and you appreciate all of the work that goes on behind the scenes - all of the politics - you get a different view of it. I reckon I’m as far up the ladder as I ever want to be.’

It was an honest answer. ‘I’m not very ambitious at all,’ D’gar said. ‘I try and do a good job and I liked what you said about me going for Wingsecond one day. But I’d rather take it slowly and learn as much as I can. I wouldn’t want to end up doing something I didn’t feel I could cope with.’

R’feem smiled. ‘One day, you might surprise yourself. Some riders have a tendency to think they’re better than they really are. You go too much the other way. Don’t underestimate what you or your dragon might be capable of.’ He looked into his empty mug and stretched. ‘Right. I’d best be off now. Don’t forget to speak to N’dru about next Fall.’

D’gar sat for a while, thinking things over. He let his consciousness drift and mingle with Herebeth’s, experiencing that slightly odd sensation when you were looking through two sets of eyes. Herebeth was lounging in his favourite spot, up on the fire heights and the focus of his attention was Zurinth. She was aware of his scrutiny and deliberately shifted, preening her wings to show the lighter colour on their undersides. Zurinth is a good-looking dragon, Herebeth said. She likes me, too.

He wondered how long it would be before Zurinth mated again. Hadn’t T’garrin said something about her being the next in the Wing after Zemianth due to rise? That would explain Herebeth’s interest, although in all honesty he’d been watching her for a while, ever since that trip to the lake. Could his dragon be trying to get him together with J’rud? He didn’t reckon they had that much forward thinking, generally, although it had to be said that Herebeth was a more thoughtful dragon than many. Another problem, then. Life was never simple.

‘Mind if I sit here?’

The voice brought him out of his reflections. It was J’rud. He’d brought a jug of klah and filled D’gar’s cup as well as the one he’d brought with him. Absently, D’gar wondered if he’d been watching and seized his opportunity. Or had he too been noticing how close their dragons were and how Herebeth was watching Zurinth? ‘Go ahead.’

‘Did you just have your appraisal?’

He nodded. J’rud had been watching, then. He must have seen R’feem leave. ‘It was all right.’

‘Mine, too. He said I was one of the more sensible green riders and that I was doing well. I’m to start training for cleanup.’

‘So am I. Who’s he put you with?’

‘Gr’thol, next Fall.’

‘I’m with N’dru. Should be interesting.’

‘Scary, though. Facing Thread in the air’s one thing. When it could be right under your feet…’

D’gar had to agree with him there. Like everyone, he’d heard the cautionary tales of those riders who had died when they fell into pits of squirming Thread. Not a pleasant end. ‘Make sure you secure a line from you to your dragon. Then they can pull you out if the ground gives way.’

J’rud nodded. ‘I’m definitely doing that. Even if H’fra says it’s stupid. He was going on about it at one of our meetings, bragging about how he never bothers because it’s too time consuming and means you can’t move around freely.’

‘I’d rather spend a bit of extra time and live to fight another day.’

‘Me too.’ J’rud sipped his klah, then glanced up towards the heights before continuing. ‘Have you noticed Herebeth and Zurinth lately?’

‘Funnily enough I was just thinking about that before you arrived.’

‘They’re making it fairly obvious, aren’t they?’

‘How long has she got?’

‘Less than a sevenday, I’d say. Look, I just wanted to say to you that this isn’t intentional or anything. I’m not like some of that lot in there.’ He tilted his head toward the dining hall.

D’gar understood what he meant. ‘You can’t help what your dragon does any more than I can. If Herebeth catches Zurinth, that’s just how it is.’

‘There’s some who won’t see it that way. Or won’t want to.’

‘Then that’s their problem.’ S’brin had taken his mating flight partner back to their weyr, after all. Even though he knew it was petty and immature, he almost hoped Herebeth did catch Zurinth, just to show him.

‘I really hope she rises before Loranth sends everyone crazy.’

He sounded worried about it and with good reason. ‘Funnily enough, R’feem was talking about that too. He’s concerned about some of the dragons in our Wing getting caught up in it. In fact, he even advised me to try and persuade Herebeth to chase someone soon. That’s practically an order, if you think about it.’

J’rud nodded. ‘True.’

‘Well then, whatever happens, happens. Just take care tomorrow, all right?’

‘I’ll definitely do that.’ He looked happier. ‘You as well. Don’t want you losing any vital parts.’

It was an early start the next day. Thread was due over Ruatha. D’gar had already liaised with N’dru and knew he would be on the cleanup team covering the fields and orchards close to the Hold itself. Many riders disliked early Falls, but he preferred to get it over and done. With the weather staying fine, it meant they’d be back at the Weyr before the day reached its hottest point; another bonus.

Ruatha, being further north than Fort Weyr, was generally several degrees colder; cruel in winter but welcome at present. They were in position not long after sunrise, waiting for leading edge as the sun climbed higher. Clear skies brought their own problem; the low angled sun was blinding and made silvery strands of Thread harder to spot. It was fortunate that dragons could shield their eyes with the inner lids and that their greater field of vision allowed them to spot the menace from almost sideways on. The Wingleaders had changed their formations and tactics in view of conditions, meaning that each triplet within the Wing had a spell of squinting into the blinding brilliance, then respite as others took their place.

D’gar flew today with N’dru on blue Wasuth. Their green partner was Is’ish and Panruth for the first half, followed by B’thun and Halerth, who would also be with them for cleanup. Wasuth was a stocky blue who almost always flew a full Fall, unless conditions were particularly tiring. D’gar realised by now that Fort’s territory meant that they never had to fight for longer than four hours at a stretch. With sea on either side and mountain ranges down the land’s spine, Fall usually began or ended over sea or barren rock. He was also aware that some of the other Weyrs were less fortunate. High Reaches and Telgar’s areas covered much more of Pern’s landmass and their longest Falls could be up to six hours, meaning that only browns and bronzes had the stamina to fly from start to finish.

Wasuth was expert at conserving his flame. D’gar noted - when he was free to do so - that he only used just as much as was needed to shrivel any strand or patch of Thread. By contrast, Panruth was one of the more flamboyant flyers, who often wasted flame. It showed in the number of firestone refills each dragon needed. Herebeth hadn’t quite got it down to as fine an art as Wasuth yet, but he was having to chew a lot less firestone than he had when they first joined the Wing.

D’gar knew that he was improving his skills too. He was far less often surprised by Herebeth’s sudden changes in direction, being more in tune with the way he flew and also more aware of Thread patterns and movements. A Turn ago, he’d often not spotted Thread until it was almost on them, whereas now he was registering both the nearer clumps and the ones further out, able to assess where they needed to be to intercept it without having to fly too far out of line. The dragons kept up an almost constant commentary with each other, so that they knew who would go for each clump. Herebeth, as a brown, took the middle position, searing the larger tangles, while nimble Panruth twisted and turned to catch the tricky pieces and Wasuth’s speed allowed him to pick up those on the outer edges of their airspace.

Almost halfway through, they passed over the Hold, tightly shuttered against Thread and with fires blazing on the heights. D’gar didn’t envy the men tending those. It must be hotter than riding a flaming dragon and that was bad enough. Sweat had soaked his back and under the tight riding cap, his hair was slicked to his scalp. The air was thick with char, which stuck to everything it touched. Herebeth’s hide was dulled by it, the leading edges of his wings blackened. On the lighter colours, it showed even more. Panruth’s neck and flanks looked more brown than green and Wasuth’s normally pale blue was darkened and spotted with the stuff.

Halerth, by contrast, was a fresh, bright green and B’thun’s riding leathers were still pristine as he came alongside to join them. Panruth seared her last Thread of this Fall, then Is’ish gave a brief wave before banking clear and winking out between back to the Weyr.

Within a fairly short time, Halerth looked as grubby as either of them. They had a slight respite over the mountain range, where Thread could fall unchecked onto scree. D’gar caught a brief glimpse of the ice lake, sparkling blue in the sunshine. It would feel so good to dive in there now.

I agree, Herebeth said. It would be cool and refreshing. D’gar took advantage of the break to wash the foul-tasting char from his mouth and take a few long swigs from his water flask. Herebeth, like most dragons, drank sparingly before flying but made up for it afterwards. It was a standing joke that the level of the Weyr lake went down noticeably after a Fall, when all the bathing dragons had drunk their fill.

A Turn ago, he’d have been exhausted by this point. Now, he was tired, but still alert and able to carry on. Even the prospect of having to spend another hour or more searching for Thread burrows wasn’t too daunting. No wonder they didn’t make new starters in the Wing do this work. They’d be too tired to concentrate and mistakes would result.

As trailing edge finally passed over, the Wing came slowly back to its normal formation, preparing to overfly and check any areas where there had been reports of Thread reaching the ground.

Various smaller groups peeled away, then went between to their prearranged rendezvous points with the ground crews. D’gar noticed Zurinth joining Famenth and Zath as they flew to their area.

Wasuth sends me the coordinates, Herebeth said. We return to Ruatha.

They emerged from between close to the Hold, where shutters had already been thrown open, Thread having passed over some time ago on its south-westward track. The dragons descended in tight formation towards a group of men who waved shovels and beckoned. They landed at a safe distance, on the edge of a field in which tubers grew. It was clear to see where a clump of Thread had touched ground; a circle of destroyed crop.

‘What are some of the signs we should look for?’ N’dru asked him after they dismounted.

‘Well, like that.’ D’gar pointed to the distinctive bare patch. ‘Or if there are trees, branches that have fallen or been eaten away. Wilting foliage. Holes in the ground where Thread has burrowed.’

‘Good.’ N’dru removed a leather case from Wasuth’s straps and unbuckled the top. He shook out several thin metal rods with threaded ends. ‘I’ll be using these sounding rods to find out how deep Thread has gone. A lot depends on the crop. In this case, the tubers aren’t far down, so it should be fairly close to the surface. That means we need to take extra care. Do you know the safety precautions?’

‘We attach a tether from our belt to one of the rings on our dragon’s straps. If the ground gives way, they should be able to pull us out pretty quickly.’ He wondered just how much damage could be done to a foot or leg in the time it would take for your dragon to haul you to a safe enough height to go between. Still better to lose a leg than to die.

‘Has Herebeth got plenty of flame left?’ N’dru asked. ‘How about Halerth?’ he called to B’thun.

I have enough flame to sear several clumps of Thread. Herebeth said. Where is it?

Under that field. The men will have to dig first. ‘We’re good,’ he told N’dru, as B’thun also signalled in confirmation.

The ground crew foreman came over to them, keeping a cautious distance from the dragons. He had a flamethrower slung over his shoulder; the tank fixed to his back. ‘We’re ready to go. Looks like two separate burrows in this field.’

‘I’ll do the first one while you watch. You can have a go at the second, all right?’

D’gar nodded, feeling slightly nervous as they made their way across towards the bare area. The rest of the ground crew were also standing well clear of the edges. D’gar saw the hole where Thread had gone underground quite plainly. What N’dru would need to establish was how wide an area it had managed to spread across. Once Thread encountered organic matter, it expanded rapidly.

N’dru looked at at the area carefully and took up a position well beyond the bare patch’s limits. He gently pushed the rod into the earth. ‘You need to keep in contact with your dragon when you’re doing this. Dragons can sense the presence of Thread far better than we can. What you’ll be doing is feeling for anything odd. You’ll know when you’ve hit Thread. It’s… different.’

D’gar looked down. The thin metal probe had sunk a fair way into the earth. N’dru retrieved it. 'Just soil here,’ he commented. ‘Now, in some cases you might need to screw two or three of these together. Finding Thread among trees is the worst. It can track down along a big root and go really deep.’

‘Over here,’ B’thun called. He’d been making his way carefully around the perimeter, Halerth following with a dragons unwieldy steps. ‘Think I’ve got something.’

D’gar and N’dru went over. B’thun pointed at a couple of plants that were clearly wilting, keeping a good dragon length away.

‘Thread’s probably eaten the roots of those a while back. It’ll have moved on,’ N’dru explained. He pressed the rod into the ground again, then stopped abruptly, stepping back. ‘It’s under here.’

D’gar looked down at the trodden foliage under his own feet. The thought that Thread might be just a short distance below him was unsettling.

‘Just move back a bit, will you,’ N’dru instructed, pulling the rods out before trying to his left, then his right. Just behind him, Wasuth was on full alert, nostrils flaring and wings drawn back as if ready to leap into the air at any moment.

D’gar didn’t need to be told a second time. He was twitchy with nerves, his imagination providing images of Thread grabbing at his boots. He recalled all too well how the heavy wherhide had dissolved that time he’d been scored. He sensed Herebeth’s distaste at being so close to the organism yet unable to sear it to death. Where is Thread? his dragon asked, puzzled. I cannot see it, yet it is close.

N’dru beckoned to the men. ‘You’ll need to dig in a moment. Take it easy.’ He left the rod sticking up and used another to carefully continue probing. ‘Between these markers.’ He looked at D’gar. ‘Ask your dragon to be ready. I’ll tell you when he can flame.’

These men will uncover Thread, he told Herebeth. Then you can destroy it.

He watched them dig. Their experience at this work showed in the care they took while turning the soil. The shovels they used were all metal, so as not to give Thread any further fuel.

‘I’ve found it,’ one cried, recoiling as he uncovered a heaving lump. D’gar looked on in horror. The fine silvery strands he was used to seeing in the air had engorged into a greyish-white, writhing mass, shot through with sickly colours as it fed. It looked disgusting and as he got the first whiff of it, realised it smelled equally as bad.

N’dru waited until all the men were clear then said to D’gar. ‘Flame away.’

Do it! he said, moving to one side to give Herebeth clear sight of what he was attacking. The Thread shrivelled and blackened under the fiery blast. Just as it did in the air, the flame wicked along its length, destroying what was underground as well as exposed.

It is dead, Herebeth said at last, stopping his flame with easy precision. The ground smoked. Charred remnants of both Thread and plants littered the turned soil. N’dru went forward again cautiously, using a third rod to probe again several times. ‘Well done,’ he said. ‘Looks like you got the whole lot in one go. Sometimes, it’s not so easy.’ He instructed two of the ground crew to dig a trench, just to be sure there was no living Thread remaining, then they walked across the field toward the other burrow.

‘Right. Your turn.’ N’dru handed him one of the rods. ‘Before you start, let’s have a look at the area. Tell me what you see.’

‘There’s less damage on the surface.’ It was a much smaller circle than the first burrow.

‘That means it went straight down. Probably the plants weren’t so close over here, so it didn’t have so much food.’

Remembering the wilted foliage B’thun had found, D’gar cast around for similar clues. He noticed several plants that looked to be dying and pointed them out.

N’dru nodded. ‘Good place to start. Remember, that’s where it’s been, not necessarily where it is now. Look at where the entry hole is and try to work out the direction it’s travelling.’

‘How fast does it move underground?’

‘Depends on the amount of food it finds. If there’s a lot concentrated in a single area, it’ll stay there. In this case, I’d guess it’ll probably track along the row, going from one bunch of tubers to the next.’

D’gar checked where the hole was and looked at the dying plants. ‘I reckon it’s going that way.’ He pointed to the right.’

‘Try it out. First of all, stick one of those rods in the soil here. We know there’s no Thread, so just get a feel for how easily it goes into the ground.’

D’gar did. There was a little resistance; the ground was very dry after all. He felt the point of the rod snag a few times as it encountered buried stones. ‘Right. Now what?’

‘Go for where you think Thread has been. Right by one of those wilted plants. You’ll feel how the consistency of the soil has changed. There’ll be empty spaces where there were roots and tubers, plus the cavity Thread moved along.’

D’gar followed his instructions cautiously, aware of the watching ground crew and even more so of what was lurking under this field.

‘Now, open your mind to your dragon. Let him sense along with you. I’d suggest going four plants along.’

D’gar pushed the rod in again. At first, there was just soil, as before. Then he felt… something else. Something that wasn’t soil. Wasn’t right. A shiver went down his spine and Herebeth shook his head at the same moment. D’gar picked up images from his mind and knew that he’d found it.

N’dru nodded. ‘Looks like you’ve got it. What you need to do now is go further left and then right to find the edges of the burrow. When you’re in clear soil, stick a rod in, like I did over yonder.’

D’gar followed his instructions, then N’dru called the diggers over.

‘Let Halerth get this one. She’ll be wanting a go at it.’

D’gar moved back to let B’thun and his green get into position. The men dug as carefully as before, deeper than in the previous burrow. D’gar wondered if he’d made a mistake; if he’d felt something else and they were digging in the wrong place entirely.

We were not wrong, Herebeth said. It is there.

The next shovelful proved him right. Just as previously, the bloated Thread squirmed as it was uncovered, then after the ground crew got out of the way, Halerth flamed until it was destroyed.

They kept out of the way as the men dug along the trench, uncovering the stinking mess that was all that was left of the Thread.

‘It smells worse than it ever does in the air.’ He’d thought char was offensive, but this was several times nastier.

‘It’s because this has fed.’ N’dru said, perched on Wasuth’s foreleg as they waited for the ground crew to confirm that the dragons had got all of it. ‘More I see of it, more I hate it.’

‘Dragons have made a mess of their tubers,’ B’thun pointed out, looking at the swathe of squashed plants left behind where they’d walked.

‘Not as much of a mess as Thread would have done. They’ve lost a few plants, but they’ll still get a crop off this field.’ N’dru watched the men digging. ‘Going to be a hungry enough winter as it is. This drought hasn’t been good for Holders.’

D’gar realised he’d never thought much about that before. Food came to the Weyr regardless and if less was available to go round, they wouldn’t be the ones who starved.

‘You’ve done a good job today. I’ll just get Wasuth to check in with Tiriorth, then if there’s no more in this area, we can get back. I’m about ready for a bath and some grub.’

D’gar had to agree with that.

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

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Chapter Comments

D'gar has patience and is willing to learn; that is an admirable trait no matter what the situation is.  He and Herebeth have proven to be a steady and reliable team.  This makes them a valuable addition to any wing.

S'brin either isn't willing to figure out the issue or hasn't decided that his relationship with D'gar is worth the work of figuring it out yet.

Excellent chapter and flowed really well; the tension was great during the ground portion of the thread fight.  Really well done...

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I get the feeling that S'brin is impetuous and unaware of the consequences his actions create. More to the point, not sure if he has ever ben forced to learn from his mistakes either!

Another great chapter, chock full of new information and well done!!

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I hope S'brin grasps his weyrmate's point of view before too long...I think he does love D'gar a lot, but just has trouble expressing it the right way without letting others interfere.  If he waits too long to understand, then the risk of losing D'gar grows greater, but maturity comes at its own pace for everyone.

Ground Duty would be the most frightening I'd think, with the lessened agility of being afoot and the delay of getting between.  I'd prefer forest duty to open fields as the burrows would be deeper with a bit more reaction time available....

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14 hours ago, centexhairysub said:

D'gar has patience and is willing to learn; that is an admirable trait no matter what the situation is.  He and Herebeth have proven to be a steady and reliable team.  This makes them a valuable addition to any wing.

Yes, as R’feem said, D'gar tends to underestimate himself. Partly this is due to never getting any recognition as a weyrling. S'brin isn’t great at expressing his feelings in words. He has a way to go yet before he works out how to repair the relationship.

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11 hours ago, drsawzall said:

 

I get the feeling that S'brin is impetuous and unaware of the consequences his actions create. More to the point, not sure if he has ever ben forced to learn from his mistakes either!

 

He's starting to understand the consequences, just isn’t sure how to deal with them yet.

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6 hours ago, ColumbusGuy said:

I think he does love D'gar a lot, but just has trouble expressing it the right way without letting others interfere.  If he waits too long to understand, then the risk of losing D'gar grows greater, but maturity comes at its own pace for everyone.

Exactly. He's feeling insecure, which gives some of the others the opportunity to influence him.

Ground duty is scary. Forests have their own problems. Although Thread is deeper, unstable trees can fall. Also, if the trees are too close, there isn’t room for a dragon to land, so you lose the safety tether.

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