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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 - 39. Mating Flights

Zemianth takes everyone by surprise at the ice lake.

Zurinth is looking well, Herebeth commented just a few sevendays after they’d celebrated a new Turn.

D’gar did some rapid calculations. Yes, it was around three months since she’d last risen. It had been Herebeth’s first attempt at a mating flight since his injury and he’d kept his head sufficiently to try the technique of keeping away from the pack and flying high. Zurinth had wanted him to catch her and had kept trying to manoeuvre to the right position, but a nimble and crafty blue had spotted her tactics and caught her off guard.

Herebeth had naturally been disappointed. So had D’gar. It was lucky for J’rud that Diozirth’s rider, N’brex, was a considerate lover and neither of them had a bad time.

‘Don’t be too upset,’ S’brin had reassured him. ‘I reckon Herebeth’s caught Zurinth more times than Zemianth.’

‘Zemianth doesn’t like him because he’s not a bronze,’ D’gar pointed out.

‘Like I said, I’ve been working on her. She might favour bronze dragons but I’m not so keen on their riders.’

Zemianth looks fine, too. Herebeth’s eyes followed the pale green dragon as she flew across the Bowl. She is more fond of me these days.

That was undeniable. The three dragons often curled up together. Maybe the closeness of their riders helped?

Will you chase her? Do you want to? He didn’t like the idea of Herebeth feeling obliged to take part in a mating flight just because it suited him and S’brin.

You like her rider. I like it when you are happy.

Y’min had settled in as Weyrlingmaster, leaving N’teren free to rejoin ‘B’ Wing. He’d been Wingsecond there since they lost one of theirs and was apparently efficient and well-liked. M’nan had joined ‘G’ Wing to make up their numbers.

‘He’s not having an easy time of it,’ N’rir confided, having had a chat with F’bront, one of the Wingseconds. ‘Those lads were well-liked. People still blame him for their death.’

D’gar couldn’t really sympathise. M’nan had never been one of his favourite people. It was a pity lives had to be lost for him to be demoted, but it had to be better for the weyrlings in the long run. Trouble was, not everyone wanted to become Weyrlingmaster and those who did, didn’t always have the skills needed. Age was always the most important consideration. It was generally agreed a Weyrlingmaster should have many Turns of fighting experience behind him. Plus, the age difference was important when it came to keeping discipline. But knowing how to do something didn’t always make someone a good teacher. The Weyr Harper had told him that plenty of times. ‘There are many more talented musicians than I at the Harper Hall. But I’ve always had the knack for passing knowledge on. The patience, too. Not everyone can do that.’

‘Y’min will do the job much better,’ D’gar said. He’d been a quietly efficient member of ‘C’ Wing, the type who got on with the job without any fuss.

N’rir was in chatty mood. ‘Let’s hope so. He was going to have to retire soon anyway. He’d been suffering badly from the joint ache each winter, but you never heard him complain. At least he’s got a new purpose in life, now. So, do you reckon this’ll be the last Turn of the Pass?’

‘It could be.’ There’d been talk about it being a short Pass for a while and of course, everyone wanted that. D’gar didn’t like to hope it might be, as that would lead to disappointment if it wasn’t. ‘When do you know for sure?’

‘Generally, Thread begins to tail off a couple of months before it stops. Records from the last Pass show that it ended around tenth month, before the really cold weather hit us. You have to keep on sending out patrols to be sure, but if there’s no Thread for two months over the whole of the continent, that’s generally considered the end. Then, by the following Turn, folk will be complaining about being bored.’

‘Better bored than dead.’

‘My feelings too.’

Certainly as the Turn began, Threadfall was still regular as ever. As first month drew to an end, D’gar found other reasons to worry.

‘They say Suderoth’s going to mate soon,’ M’rell said. ‘Looking forward to that. It’ll be me and Felinda’s first one together.’

‘Who says?’ D’gar was less concerned about M’rell’s sex life than the prospect of Zurinth or Zemianth being caught up in another of those dreadful mass flights.

‘Everyone. T’garrin’s taking bets already.’

It was true weyrfolk often had a feeling for when one of the gold dragons was going to mate. He studied Suderoth carefully next time he passed her weyr. She didn’t look any different, but a change in colouring was usually one of the last signs. Perhaps Tirelle had noticed she had begun to take a greater interest in bronze dragons? Their riders certainly seemed more interested in her. Tirelle treated them all alike, politely, but with a studied indifference. Although she and V’dul had been together for Turns, she left it up to her dragon to choose for herself which bronze she fancied. Generally, it was Sarneth, but not always.

In the weyr that night, he confided his worries to S’brin and J’rud. ‘Your dragons had better rise soon, before Suderoth does. How long do you think they’ve got?’

‘Maybe a sevenday?’ J’rud said. ‘How about Zemianth?’

‘She never gives me a lot of warning, but I’d say around the same. Reckon they’ll both be done before Suderoth takes off. Then we can all enjoy the benefits of that one as well.’

Neither of them seemed too concerned, so D’gar tried to put it to the back of his mind.

During the next few days snow fell over the Weyr, meaning the weather over most of Fort Hold and all of Ruatha proved cold enough to freeze Thread as it fell. As always, this brought a holiday atmosphere to the Weyr. They still had to fly over Southern Boll, but even those Falls didn’t seem so bad, providing more fuel for those who insisted this would be the last Turn of Thread.

The dragons loved snow, especially when the sun shone as well. Weyrlings played in the drifts over the ancient rockfall, whereas wingriders took advantage of their extra rest days for outings. The ice lake was completely frozen; ideal for dragon shunt and another game in which each tried to slide for the furthest distance without using wings for extra propulsion. Naturally, the heavier dragons did better at this one and Herebeth won a few rounds, until pitted against bronze Charinth, when he had to concede defeat.

About midway through the afternoon, S’brin lounged beside the fire, drinking klah, when he suddenly sat up and looked up at Zemianth. ‘No! Don’t do this to me.’

D’gar followed his eyes. Was it his imagination, or was she brighter?

‘She does pick her moments,’ J’rud said, seeming slightly amused. ‘Are you going to try and make it back to the Weyr and the dubious comforts of the flight cave?’

‘Don’t think she looks at it that way. She’s got a nice little batch of suitors right here.’

‘I’ll rustle up some blankets.’ J’rud was always practical.

Herebeth? D’gar asked. Are you going to chase Zemianth? Herebeth and Toth were the only browns present, Charinth the only bronze. Some of the blues were definitely showing an interest, though.

Zemianth wants me to.

Go for it, then. Zemianth began to preen and posture in front of the group of interested male dragons. Even if she’d wanted to blood her kill, there were no prey animals here, so D’gar figured it would be a short, fast flight. Fly however you want to. Zemianth will tire quickly.

I know.

P’ton came over. ‘I’m sorry about this,’ he said.

‘Not your fault if your dragon wants to chase.’ Herebeth’s mating lust was beginning to make itself felt.

‘But he’s your weyrmate.’

‘Flights don’t count and Zemianth likes bronzes. You may win.’

P’ton glanced warily at S’brin, who was already mimicking Zemianth’s moves. ‘I’ve heard he’s violent. He’s hit a few people during flights, hasn’t he?'

‘Only if they don’t treat him right. Charinth’s caught a green before?’

‘Once.’ he sounded dubious. ‘I don’t even remember much about it.’

Sometimes D’gar forget how little experience P’ton had. He had become a reliable wing rider, but his shyness meant he’d not had many bed partners, male or female. ‘You’ll be fine,’ he reassured, not quite sure if he believed it or not.

There wasn’t time for any more talk. Zemianth was working herself up to fly and Herebeth readied himself to launch after her. His wings felt as sound and strong as they’d ever been. Most of the other riders had already gathered around S’brin. They were familiar faces, all friends or wingmates. M’rell, P’ton, R’xel, H’ren and G’reden. The blues would be quickest away, of course, but as Zemianth wasn’t fond of blues, she’d do her best to evade them, giving the larger dragons time to catch up.

D’gar joined them in the semi-circle, feeling less human by the moment. He let his consciousness become one with Herebeth, so he now saw Zemianth through a dragon’s eyes; more vivid in colour, ultimately desirable as a mate.

She sprang into the air, taking them by surprise. Almost as soon as she was airborne, she twisted and turned, trying to shake off the three blues. Nimble as they were, they couldn’t catch a determined green. In any case, even when caught up in the excitement of a flight, dragons’ instinct made them hold off trying to catch a female until they’d reached a safe height.

Herebeth’s eyes were fixed on Zemianth as she ascended. He knew Charinth wasn’t far behind. The bronze would be able to pull ahead of him if this was a race over a straight course, but Herebeth’s advantage was that he knew Zemianth’s tricks to the point he could almost predict how she would evade her pursuers.

D’gar watched S’brin, too. Sometimes, his facial expressions gave a clue as to when Zemianth was about to pull a manoeuvre. When R’xel tried to get too close, S’brin shoved him. His boots slipped on the snow and he fell into a heap. Zemianth had made short work of Lath in similar fashion and Herebeth saw him wheel away. One down, then.

They were far above the snow capped mountains now, in cold, clear air. Air which was also thin and served to tire dragons faster than when they flew lower. Herebeth’s Turns of fighting experience at high levels, particularly when they’d been seconded to Telgar, gave him a slight advantage there. He glanced around at his rivals. Toth was a lazy flyer. He was probably relying on having caught Zemianth before, but he didn’t pay a great deal of attention to her moves. Charinth was just too large; he’d only catch her if she was determined to choose a bronze again.

Herebeth had managed to keep close. He followed Zemianth as closely as he could, losing ground on her tighter turns, but making up again when she seemed to favour him. D’gar moved closer to S’brin, catching a quick smile he knew was meant for him alone. At the same moment, Zemianth positioned herself perfectly. Herebeth had to turn more sharply than he preferred, but his wing joint didn’t fail him, he reached out to grab her - just like dragon tag, D’gar had time to think - and then it was all over as far as the other dragons were concerned.

They were so high, it was a long, long glide. Even a bronze couldn’t have supported her any better. Zemianth was a lithe and lightweight green, making Herebeth’s task even easier.

Dragon’s hide was far less sensitive to the cold than human skin. As the dragons eventually reached their climax and broke free, D’gar became aware of being simultaneously sweaty and chilled. J’rud had tried to make a kind of nest for them with a couple of blankets, but pairing with S’brin during a flight was always fairly active and at some point they’d rolled off onto the snow. The other riders had retreated to the end of the beach in an attempt to give them a certain degree of privacy.

S’brin’s eyes focussed again, showing he was no longer fully linked with Zemianth. ‘That was amazing,’ he said. ‘Zemianth’s well pleased.’

‘Herebeth too.’ D’gar wished he had S’brin’s dragon-like tolerance of the cold. If only they were in a nice warm weyr, or even the flight cave…

‘You’re cold.’ S’brin must have noticed him shivering. ‘Come here.’ He pulled D’gar closer and grabbed one of the blankets to cover them both.

‘That’s better.’ There was nothing quite like sharing the aftermath of a mating flight with someone you loved. D’gar was aware of Herebeth and Zemianth, perched on a snowy ledge somewhere in the mountains, nuzzling and neck twining. ‘They aren’t going to want to fly us back for a while.’

No,’ S’brin gave a smirk. ‘I guess we’ll have to find another way of keeping warm until then.’

‘I reckon we will.’

They got back to the Weyr after dark. All of the others had returned earlier, except for J’rud, who huddled next to the fire and drank several mugs of klah to keep himself warm while he waited.

‘You’re not upset are you?’ D’gar asked him. Herebeth had caught Zurinth after they’d all got together, but S’brin had never seemed to mind. D’gar knew Zurinth would rise in just a few days and this meant Herebeth definitely wouldn’t chase her this time around.

‘No, I’m fine. It was just luck as to which one of them rose first. I’m glad Herebeth caught Zemianth.’ He dumped the blankets, wrinkling his nose. ‘These are definitely going to need washing.’

‘Reckon we all need to get clean,’ S’brin said. ‘There probably won’t be anyone in the baths right now and we’ve missed dinner anyway. Shall we all go and have a soak, then D’gar can persuade his mum to scrape together some snacks?’

‘Sounds good.’

The baths were steamily warm. D’gar found a pool at just the right temperature, then he and S’brin made it up to J’rud for the fun he’d missed earlier.

Zurinth picked her moment three days later. She had the time to blood her kill for extra energy and led the seven dragons on a wild chase. Eventually, she let brown Muroth catch her. D’gar cast his mind back a few Turns, when he and S’brin had fallen out and S’brin had brought the young rider back to their weyr after Muroth caught Zemianth. G’tellan and his dragon had been just weyrlings then.

‘Jrud’ll be all right,’ S’brin assured. 'After all, G’tellan had a good teacher.’

D’gar was just glad he didn’t have to worry about either of them when Suderoth rose to mate. Well, not unless all the Weyr speculation proved to be wrong and she took another three months to make up her mind.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Second month was unseasonably warm and with plenty of sunshine, which sent her skywards on a fine afternoon. T’garrin had Sarneth down as favourite, but after a close run fight, N’gol’s Lailiarth, a wily old dragon, won the day. Z’los’s Rolth went after the greens who rose just after Suderoth’s flight finished, but failed to catch anyone this time.

‘Good,’ S’brin said. ‘Just what he deserves.’

Before Suderoth had a chance to lay her eggs, Loranth rose too. No one had really expected that, as she had been mating less frequently than Suderoth for a couple of Turns. What the weyrfolk had expected, though, was for Fidranth to fly her again, which he obliged in doing.

’T’ron will be glad for that,’ R’feem said at dinner the same evening. ‘It’s very unlikely she’ll rise again before the end of the Pass and then maybe not for several Turns once we’re in the Interval. Gives him a good long run as Weyrleader. He and Mardra might even decide to retire once it’s all settled down to give someone new a chance.’

‘Think she’s got another clutch in her?’ I’grast picked his teeth. ‘Loranth was from Vaimiorth’s last clutch and Vaimiorth stopped laying relatively young.’

‘Who knows? Anyway, I for one am glad Fidranth won. T’ron’s a decent Weyrleader and he’s got the experience to lead us through the end of the Pass.’

He was probably relieved Rolth had failed again. It was too soon after Suderoth’s flight, a few of the other bronze riders had said. Not good for a man to push his dragon like that through his own ambition.

Suderoth laid a clutch of fourteen eggs on the Sands over two days. No golden egg, but that wasn’t a surprise. Agarra began to get almost as excited as her foster son. He was going through all of the candidate instruction in the lead up to the Hatching. She even asked D’gar to give him extra tips during the evenings.

‘So, how do you do it. Make sure to Impress a dragon, I mean?’ Grarren asked eagerly.

‘I’m sure Y’min has been through all that. Don’t be frightened. That’ll put off a hatchling. They don’t understand complex emotions and he or she will be starving.’

‘Not she. I don’t want a green.’

‘A green might decide you’re exactly what she wants. Keep your mind open or you might not get any dragon at all. Of course, if you don’t there’ll be another chance with Loranth’s eggs.’

‘And after that, nothing for Turns and Turns, from what they say.’ He sounded glum. ‘If I don’t Impress this Turn I might be too old before there’s another clutch.’

‘You’ll be fine. How many of you are standing?’

‘Twenty-five.’

‘Well, a few are bound to be disappointed. But remember, I didn’t Impress first time, either. Even if you don’t succeed here at Fort, you might be sent to another Weyr where they’re short on candidates.’

‘As long as it’s not High Reaches.’ He pretended to shiver. ‘Freezing cold all Turn round.’

‘More chance of not having to fly Fall during the winter as it’s so far north.’ D’gar suddenly remembered it was very unlikely Grarren would ever fight Thread. He tried to look back to a time when he’d been so full of enthusiasm and optimism. He was glad he’d Impressed Herebeth, of course, but not so much about the terrible things he’d seen and the lives lost.

‘Not that we’ll ever get the chance,’ Grarren said, echoing his thoughts.

‘There’ll be whole generations of dragons and riders who won’t see Thread. But you’ll live a long, happy life. Your dragon will love you just as much.’

‘If I even get a dragon…’

The Hatching started on a bright spring afternoon. The low humming of the dragons resonated through D’gar’s skull. The air above the Weyr was full of wings as pairs who had been out for the day returned for the event. He pulled on his Gather clothes - everyone dressed in their finery for a Hatching - and let Herebeth glide in through the dragons’ entrance, before sliding off onto the stands. S’brin followed soon after.

‘J’rud’s still trying to choose which shirt to wear,’ he said. ‘So indecisive.’

‘He’ll get here in time.’

Weyrfolk were making their way along the tiers from the pedestrian entrance. D’gar looked out for Agarra. He knew she would be wearing her favourite blue dress. The kitchen staff always prepared as much of the feast as they could in advance, so they had time to watch the proceedings. There was always a decent gap between the last egg hatching and the feast commencing. The newly Impressed dragons and their riders needed time to recover from all of the emotional and physical strain of the event.

Finally, the candidates were dropped off on the hot Sands. It was traditional for them to be barefoot. D’gar wondered if that was also a subtle test of their mettle. If you couldn’t ignore the pain of burning feet sufficiently to concentrate on welcoming a dragon, it was probably a sign you shouldn’t have one. It stopped them all standing in one place, too. Much of the pre-Hatching speculation among candidates was regarding the colour of the dragons within the eggs. Fully hardened eggs always developed colourful swirls and blotches. However, a predominantly blue egg didn’t necessarily contain a blue dragon and a larger egg didn’t always hold a bronze.

Remember the day I found you? Herebeth sounded wistful. Dragon’s long term recall was limited, but attending another Hatching always seemed to bring back memories of their own.

I will always remember that day. D’gar found his eyes getting moist and wiped them, concentrating on spotting Grarren amid all the other boys. He was taller than D’gar had been at the same age, so he stood out. He was currently hopping from one foot to the other at the side of a largish egg with pale yellow patches all over it. Two others had also chosen to watch the same one. ‘Give it space,’ he muttered, hoping Grarren had remembered you shouldn’t get too close. Eggs sometimes rolled and hatchlings were clumsy. Candidates could get hurt if they weren’t careful.

S’brin nudged him. ‘Here’s J’rud at last. Looks like he finally made a decision.’

D’gar thought J’rud looked particularly handsome today in a pale green embroidered shirt with buff coloured trousers and shoes made from soft leather. S’brin was striking in a different way. He wore plain trousers almost as dark as Herebeth’s hide. A shirt dyed in shades of red and orange provided a vivid splash of colour.

The dragons’ humming grew in intensity as Suderoth sat back, gazing sternly at the boys who dared to get so close to her eggs. She flicked her tongue out a few times. Tirelle stood beside her. Even though she’d done this many a time, it must still move her to see another clutch ready to break their shells.

A gasp from the weyrfolk showed the first of the eggs had indeed cracked. It was a smaller one with blue and green colouring and as such, hadn’t been a popular choice. But as often happened, the sight of the first cracks attracted plenty of attention. Impressing first was considered lucky no matter what the colour of the dragon, although if it was bronze that was supposed to double the good fortune of the pair. Several boys abandoned their previous choices to flock around it.

The dragon took its time. After the first crack appeared, nothing much happened for a while. Herebeth had been like that, too, D’gar recalled. Even when his head had been free, he’d stayed inside the rest of the shell and taken his time to look around to find his match.

‘That’s got to be a blue,’ S’brin said. ‘Lazy creature.’

The crack widened a fraction more, although not enough yet for anyone to see the colour of the dragon inside. As they waited, another egg began rocking frantically from side to side. It seemed much more active than this one. A few boys were immediately drawn toward it, leaving less around the slower egg.

‘And here it goes.’ J’rud grabbed D’gar’s hand as the crack became a split and the upper half of a dragon was suddenly revealed. A shiny, bronze dragon, who took it upon himself to ignore all those clustered around his egg. With a large piece of shell stuck on one of his talons, he set off decisively, if awkwardly. One boy, his back turned, was knocked down and trampled, although not badly, it seemed, for he stood up almost at once, clutching a bleeding arm. The bronze continued unerringly across the Sands.

‘Who’s he looking for?’ S’brin leaned forward, clutching the rail.

Mutters of consternation rose from the crowd. It was a rare occurrence, but not unknown, for a dragon not to pick any of the candidates. Records showed that in most cases, they wanted someone in the stands; perhaps a boy who was too young to officially Stand, or someone who should be out there but had been ill or injured, thus held back. On even rarer occasions, the dragon couldn’t find anyone to their liking and went between. Such an event was a major tragedy.

‘Stay still and give him room,’ Y’min called out from the entrance. ‘Don’t try to stop him.’

Pieces of shell were starting to break off the rocking egg now, adding to the tension as boys frantically tried to decide where they should stay.

D’gar continued to watch the young bronze as he cast his head one way and another, then kicked off the piece of shell and carried on loping in the direction he’d chosen. There weren’t many boys in that area, but one of them was Grarren. He’d stopped looking at the yellow-tinged egg and was standing still as he’d been told. It took a fair bit of courage to do that, given that the bronze had already knocked someone down and now looked to be going straight for him.

‘Step aside,’ D’gar muttered. He didn’t want to see his foster brother injured or worse.

J’rud squeezed his hand even tighter. ‘I hope he doesn’t get hurt.’

But then the dragon stopped right in front of Grarren, who looked slightly surprised. Suddenly his face suffused with joy as Impression was made. Grarren threw his arms around the shiny neck, then evidently remembered his instructions. ‘He says his name is Paizarth.’

‘My heart was in my mouth,’ Agarra said later, when D’gar briefly met her before she had to hurry off to help get the feast on the tables. ‘I thought he was going to get trampled. But then…’ She beamed. ‘Imagine. One of my boys Impressing a bronze!’

‘Yes, Grarren did well.’ D’gar was pleased for her; for them both, but he couldn’t help feeling as if he had somehow been relegated to second best. It was stupid, he knew.

‘Can you go and tell him how proud I am?’

‘They’ll be busy right now. Probably sleeping after Paizarth’s first meal. Then they’ll have to clean up before the feast. You’ll be able to see him then and tell him yourself.’

‘If he’s not falling asleep like you were. S’brin had to hold you up most of the time and he wasn’t much better himself.’

‘It’s an overwhelming experience.’ You couldn’t hope to explain to a non-rider. ‘I bet you were tired after you had your babies.’

‘True,’ she said.

‘Those first few days, any time your dragon’s awake, you can barely think. You spend so much time feeding, bathing and oiling them, you’re exhausted. Then when they’re hungry you feel it too, even if you’ve just eaten. And when they fall asleep, you do as well.’

‘Do you think they’d appreciate some cakes in the barracks?’

‘When do teenage boys not want to eat sweet things? Give ‘em a sevenday or so, though. I couldn’t get the taste of raw meat out of my mouth for at least that long.’

Agarra made a face. ‘Well, if you get a chance to pop into the barracks, will you? I know the new Weyrlingmaster used to be in your Wing, so you must know him well.’

‘I’ll try.’

He didn’t get there on that first day. He knew everyone would be too worn out and Y’min would have a hard enough job without having random relatives popping in. The following morning, he took a walk over. It was early enough that the boys wouldn’t be having any instruction and they should be fairly well rested.

Most of them were washing their dragons with the aid of large buckets filled at the pumps. He spotted Grarren right away. First thing he needed to find out was how he’d decided to contract his name.

‘Morning,’ he said, being careful not to startle him or Paizarth. ‘Agarra asked me to drop by to see how you were.’

‘Tired. I never knew I could even be this exhausted.’

‘It gets better when they don’t need feeding so frequently. Still, he’s got a good deal of growing to do, so he’ll eat a lot.’

‘Isn’t he wonderful?’ Grarren’s face took on the soppy look of every new rider. Paizarth gave a sigh. ‘He’s telling me not to stop scrubbing.’

‘You’ll get a lot of that. And wanting to be oiled again. Anyway, Agarra wanted to know which name you’d chosen.’

‘Well, I didn’t have a lot of options. Gr’ren sounded a bit too growly and Paizarth thought the same, so we settled on G’ren.’

‘Excellent. I’ll tell her. She wanted to send some cakes over, but I’m guessing you won’t be keen on those right now?’

G’ren grimaced. ‘All I can taste is raw wherry right now.’

‘It’ll wear off in a while. Once you start to be able to filter out the feelings you don’t really want to experience.’

‘Yeah. I thought I needed a shit this morning so I went and sat on the necessary for ages. Turned out it was him who had to go.’ G’ren patted his dragon fondly. ‘Don’t you think he’s a beautiful colour?’

‘Yes, a good dark bronze. Anyway, I’d best go before Y’min tells me off for getting in the way. I’ll let mum know you’re both fine. Well done, anyway. First to Impress and a bronze.’

D’gar made his way back to the kitchens to give Agarra the news. ‘That’s lovely,’ she said. ‘He was so worried he wouldn’t Impress…’

‘I know. He said that to me, as well. But he did and at least they’ve got a decent Weyrlingmaster now.’

Agarra hugged him. ‘You’re a good son. And thinking about what I said yesterday, I didn’t mean to make you feel as if you hadn’t done so well by Impressing a brown. I was just as pleased when Br’den got his blue.’

‘It’s fine. Everyone gets the right dragon in the end.’

As the weyrlings grew steadily, they began to walk down to the lake to wash and to stretch their legs and wings. Y’min’s Tiaketh seemed to enjoy frolicking with them in the water. One or two were determinedly climbing up his neck.

‘Hatched for the job,’ Y’min said one fine morning when D’gar brought a batch of freshly baked buns down. ‘Mind if I have one of those. Looking after this lot’s hungry work.’

‘Go ahead.’ Herebeth had followed him, after catching himself a couple of wherries on the feeding grounds. He dived exuberantly into the water, making a wave that submerged some of the smaller dragons. The flapped their tiny wings and made scolding noises at him.

Herebeth looked subdued. I forgot how tiny they are, he told D’gar. They want me to play with them.

Go on, then. Try not to drown any.

Herebeth submerged himself, just his eyes and nostrils above the surface. A couple of the weyrlings became curious and swam over to investigate. In a short while, they started to climb along his tail and hang on to his wings. They tickle, he said.

‘Looks like he’s good with them, too. Not all dragons have the patience.’ Y’min finished his bun and brushed the last crumbs off his fingers. ‘So how is it in the Wing these days?’

‘Oh, the usual. One Fall after another. No one’s been badly hurt recently.’

‘Good to hear. You know, I’m starting to walk less painfully, now we’re not up there in the cold all the time. Feel like I’m ten Turns younger. So does he.’ He gestured towards Tiaketh. ‘It was a job getting the older weyrlings into shape. M’nan had let them get into some bad habits. But it’s lovely having all these youngsters to start from scratch. And Loranth’s clutch will join them later in the summer.’

‘Might be a few Turns before you get any more.’

He shrugged. ‘At least I can take my time with these. They aren’t going to have to be rushed to fill gaps in the Wings.’

During seventh month, Loranth laid 12 eggs. When it came for them to hatch, some of the disappointed candidates had their second chance and a few managed to Impress. The others, D’gar heard, were to be sent to Benden. They had a clutch newly laid on the Sands and not enough boys of the right age as candidates.

D’gar volunteered to ferry a few of the boys over. It was long past time for a visit. Zalna hadn’t been to visit since Herebeth was recovering from his injuries. Sometimes, time just slipped past and with all of the duties required from a queen rider, she probably didn’t have much time for trips outside the Weyr.

A few dragons - all browns and bronzes as they could carry more passengers - set off early one morning. Although D’gar was aware of the time difference, it never failed to surprise him when they emerged from between and found half of the day had gone by. Afternoon sunshine made Benden’s dark peaks less austere. He was glad the boys were seeing it like this, rather than lashed by cold rain, or with the brooding grey clouds over the mountain range surrounding the Weyr.

The first job was to drop off their charges. Benden’s Weyrlingmaster was a plump and cheerful man. It was hard to guess his exact age, but D’gar reckoned he might be close to sixty Turns. He took the lads on a tour of the barracks and to meet the other candidates.

‘I’m off for a klah and a look round myself.’ K’san, a Wingsecond in ‘B’ Wing, took off Norarth’s straps. In a few moments, the brown took wing and went off to join a cluster of other dragons on a sunny part of the heights.

There weren’t many folk around. D’gar presumed that, like Fort riders, a lot went out on fine days such as this. Some of the weyrfolk had gathered by the lake and a couple of dragons swam in it.

I would like to swim as well.

Off you go then. D’gar released the straps. As they hadn’t been expecting to do any heavy work, he’d put on the lighter weight riding straps rather than those made for Fall, with all the hooks and reinforcement. Herebeth sprang into the air. There really was no sign now his wing had been so badly damaged. He didn’t favour it at all. Then he made his way across to Gemalth’s weyr, climbing the few steps.

‘Hello?’ he called out. The dragon’s couch was empty. That might just mean Gemalth was sunning herself somewhere. ‘Hello,’ he called again just outside the curtain. No reply again. He took a gamble Zalna wasn’t changing clothes, or maybe bathing in her private pool and peered around. The weyr was definitely empty. Maybe it was Gemalth’s clutch on the Sands? He asked Herebeth to bespeak her.

Gemalth is tired. But she tells me her rider is with her, in the Hatching Grounds.

Tell her I’ll come over to see her if she doesn’t mind. Queens who were guarding a clutch were often protective, although Gemalth had been fine with him visiting back at Fort.

It was only a short walk from the queen’s weyr to the foot entrance. The Hatching Grounds at Benden had been built on a similar pattern to those at Fort and were equally as well heated. A slight shimmer rose from the sand, on which Gemalth was curled around her still soft eggs.

Zalna sat on a comfortable looking chair placed on the lowest tier. She was knitting. Gemalth must already have warned her she was about to have a visitor, as she waved right away.

‘It’s good to see you,’ she said, rising to embrace him.

‘I’ve just brought in a few more candidates, so I thought I’d drop by.’ He remembered how worried Zalna had been about Gemalth’s long interval between mating flights. ‘So, she did it at last?’

‘Yes. It was something of a relief. And seventeen eggs is a large number so close to the Interval. Terirth’s clutch only hatched a couple of months ago, so we found ourselves slightly short of suitable lads.’

D’gar wondered which bronze had flown her, but didn’t like to ask so blatantly. That might still be a touchy subject. ‘Still enjoying being at Benden?’

‘Yes. I really feel useful here. Useful and valued. How’s Margatta?’

‘Margatta and Luduth will always be my heroes after saving Herebeth and me. She’s quiet, but she gets on with things. I don’t know how she gets on with Mardra.’

‘Mardra’s never particularly nasty in public. But those snide little comments of hers wear you down.’ Zalna sighed. ‘You know what I think it is? She sees all of us younger weyrwomen as potential rivals out to depose her. But that’s just the natural way of things. As one generation ages another comes up to fill the gaps. Morna, our Weyrwoman is far more realistic. She knows one day Nonath won’t lay any more eggs, so she prepares for that day by making sure the rest of us are well trained and ready for the role.’

‘Do you think you’ll be Weyrwoman after her?’

Zalna shrugged. ‘Terirth and Cassaru are senior to us, but she’s more of a scholarly type. Don’t think she’d particularly enjoy the practical, day to day running of the Weyr.’

D’gar began to sweat with the heat coming off the Sands. He took off his jacket and sat down.

‘Shall I get some cold drinks?’

‘Please.’

While she went off to order, he surveyed the eggs. Gemalth was carefully turning them, obviously making sure they were evenly exposed to the heat to harden the shells. He wondered if she talked to the dragonets inside; if they even understood words at this stage of development.

‘Someone will bring drinks and pastries soon. I’m a bit peckish myself.’

‘We only just finished breakfast before we left, but I’ll never say no to a cake. Did I tell you my foster brother just Impressed a bronze?’ They chatted for a while until a young girl came in carrying a tray very carefully. She looked at Gemalth with a kind of awe, then left quickly once her delivery was made.

‘Back to tell the kitchen staff all about the eggs, I expect,’ D’gar commented. ‘So, I was wondering how everyone’s doing here. All the folk I’ve met, I mean.’ It could be a difficult subject. You never knew who might have died in the mean time. ‘Sh’frun, for one. He was good friends with J’rud while he was seconded.’

‘Oh, he’s fine. He’s got a weyrmate now. Another green rider. I reckon they’ve been together almost a Turn.’

That was good to know.

‘Are you and J’rud… ?

‘Still together? Yes, and S’brin, too. Herebeth flew Zemianth earlier this Turn. Trouble is, both she and Zurinth are ready to mate at almost the same time. He usually chases whoever rises first, then of course he’s not really interested in the second one.’

‘It’s not easy,’ she agreed. ‘I had a few bronze riders hanging around before Gemalth rose. That’s bad enough, but some of them…’ she wrinkled her nose. ‘Not my type at all. Thankfully, their dragons weren’t Gemalth’s type, either.’

‘G’dol?’ D’gar guessed.

‘If he was still around, yes. He and Dorniath were lost last winter.’

‘Ah.’ D’gar couldn’t really say he was sorry. G’dol hadn’t been one of his favourite people. ‘Pity to lose a bronze,’ he settled for in the end. He wondered if he should mention T’san. He was in a wholly different category. He wouldn’t want to hear of any mishap befalling either him or Huylonth. Probably best not to, then.

Zalna seemed to understand his dilemma. ‘It’s why I don’t ask too often about folk I knew at Fort. Shells, but I’ll be glad when all this is over and people just die of old age.’

‘What’s your thoughts on Thread finishing this Turn?’

Zalna shook her head slowly. ‘We’re all hoping it will, but it’s hard to say for definite. Some folk say that if it was going to, we’d already be seeing pattern changes to lighter Falls and we’re not.’

‘It’s the same at Fort.’ D’gar admitted. He’d had a feeling they weren’t going to get an early reprieve.

‘Well, whether it’s just a few months left or another Turn, we can’t change the course of the stars in the skies.’ She gestured toward the eggs. ‘I’m just grateful these little ones won’t mature fast enough to have to fight it.’

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

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Chapter Comments

I'm glad to see some happy events in this chapter, particularly that D'gar's brother got to Impress a bronze.

Seeing how well our trio are getting along gives me some comfort in knowing that the coming tragedy won't find them on the rocks emotionally when it happens.  The way Thread injuries happen, I think it will be swift and less traumatic for S'brin at least.... 

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6 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

Only a few more to go now, I'm afraid.

A few more???

Do you mean as a dozen, a few dozen???

Pray it's more than 3 ... I agree @CincyKris but a book on his experiences as weyrlingmaster would be much appreciated!

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Wonderful chapter, full of so much emotion and some great times, if only they could last.  Very will written and this chapter just flowed beautifully.  I would think that it was really hard to lose someone at the end of a turn; you just get to believing you and those you care about have survived; then it hits like a ton of rocks...  A sneak peak of the future, both D'gar and Herebeth being with the weyerlings...   

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12 hours ago, CincyKris said:

I know we got closure on D'gar's story, but a book on his experiences as weyrlingmaster would be much appreciated!

This is one I’m planning, including what happens to Jevikel and Kadin, the two boys who were rescued from Thread on their journey to Benden Weyr.

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10 hours ago, ColumbusGuy said:

Seeing how well our trio are getting along gives me some comfort in knowing that the coming tragedy won't find them on the rocks emotionally when it happens.  The way Thread injuries happen, I think it will be swift and less traumatic for S'brin at least.... 

Less traumatic for S'brin, certainly. D'gar mentioned the event a few times when he was at Benden Weyr and it was certainly traumatic for him.

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7 hours ago, drsawzall said:

A few more???

Do you mean as a dozen, a few dozen???

Pray it's more than 3 ... I agree @CincyKris but a book on his experiences as weyrlingmaster would be much appreciated!

I always find it difficult to say exactly how many chapters there will be as sometimes they get too long and I have to split them. At the moment, according to my outline it should be around 5.

I wrote Threadfall by popular request, so why not? I've also been asked by readers on another site to write about how D'gar and S'brin first got together so I have some ideas (and a few pages written) on that.

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3 hours ago, centexhairysub said:

I would think that it was really hard to lose someone at the end of a turn; you just get to believing you and those you care about have survived; then it hits like a ton of rocks...  A sneak peak of the future, both D'gar and Herebeth being with the weyerlings...

Exactly. It's so near to the end, you get lulled into a false sense of security.

I put in that part where Y'min mentions Herebeth would be good with weyrlings as a bit of foreshadowing. Well spotted.

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