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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 - 40. The Last Turn of the Pass?

Turn 50 of the Eighth Pass brings some changes

Herebeth caught Zurinth the next time she rose. It was the tail end of a hot summer afternoon when three greens went off almost simultaneously, with a good few males chasing. There was a lot of jostling for position, with some of the dragons uncertain as to whom they wanted to pursue. Herebeth gained some ground from the confusion and as Zurinth hadn’t blooded beforehand, it turned out to be a short flight and a quick catch. The dragons soared over the Fort mountains, supported by an early evening thermal, while J’rud and D’gar lay far below in the stuffy flight cave. At least they’d got the bed, being the first pair to mate, while others had to make do with mattresses on the floor.

‘You know, it must be a lot easier being a gold rider,’ J’rud said, after they were both able to talk again. ‘Nice comfortable bed in your own weyr. Then plenty of time to recover before the next one.’

‘Trouble is, I wouldn’t fancy you if you were a gold rider.’

‘You wouldn’t care about that when our dragons mated. Just like some of those bronze riders when they end up in here with me or S’brin.’

That set D’gar to thinking about S’brin. Zurinth had beaten Zemianth to it this time around. She’d be following soon, maybe in a day or so. S’brin was having one of his proddy times, so he’d taken himself off to the smaller weyr. He’d figured out if he was alone, he wouldn’t end up inadvertently upsetting either of them. ‘I hope he has a good flight.’

‘I hear Tiriorth might chase her again this time.’

‘That won’t be so bad, then.’ Zemianth liked the big bronze and S’brin didn’t seem to mind I’grast either. At least the Wingsecond preferred men outside of the flight cave, so he knew what he was about even when half out of his mind with dragonlust.

‘This isn’t so bad, either.’ J’rud’s expression reminded D’gar they were both still partly under the influence of their dragon’s emotions and that always gave enhanced pleasure for a second round.

‘No,’ he agreed, planting a light kiss on J’rud’s neck, then working his way up to his eager mouth. There wasn’t much talking for a while.

Summer went on, hot and dry. Quite a few weyrfolk developed coughs from the eternal dust. Word came from Benden that four of the lads they’d sent had Impressed there. Most of the others chose to return to Fort, having sampled a taste of the fickle Benden weather by then.

Thread continued to fall as regularly as it had always done until the idea this might be the last season of fighting began to slowly die. As the summer faded, so did the hopes of those who had proclaimed earlier this was definitely the last Turn. D’gar noticed a tired resignation, particularly among the older riders. There were more careless accidents, more injuries, more deaths. As tenth month went by - traditionally the one in which Thread tapered off and stopped, if the Pass really was close to ending - ‘G’ Wing’s numbers dwindled to the point T’ron had to make a decision to disband and reallocate the pairs. N’brex and blue Diozirth joined them in ‘C’ Wing, while T’ron snapped up Wingsecond F’bront and his bronze Tasolth. The Weyrleader graciously let H’xesh, the former Wingleader, join ‘H’ Wing, who were currently short of larger dragons.

‘Not surprising,’ N’rir commented. ‘Those two have never really got along. At least we’re still around, boss,’ he said to R’feem.

R’feem seemed slightly subdued that evening. ‘Let’s just hope it stays that way. I want my Wing to see the end of this Pass intact.’

Winter began wet and cold; not cold enough to freeze Thread or to bring much snow save over the highlands of Ruatha, but enough to set off D’gar’s chilblains. He noticed many others suffering likewise. When they caught each other limping, or rubbing at inflamed fingers, they shared a look of sympathy along with this season’s popular cures. The only real cure, D’gar knew, was not having to be up in the air for hours at a time. Often, when they returned from Fall, he couldn’t feel his feet, but the impact of dismounting from Herebeth, no matter how carefully he tried, was enough to set off the ache again.

It was always cold enough for snow at the ice lake. Somehow, the crisp and sunny weather up there seemed less chilly than the damp cold of the Weyr. Certainly less depressing. They made their usual pilgrimage close to Turn’s End. As the dragons played their sliding games, S’brin shivered.

‘Not chilled are you?’ D’gar wondered if, as S’brin became older, he’d begun to lose his resilience.

‘No, just had a funny feeling. Wondering if we’ll all be here this time next Turn.’

‘Of course we will,’ J’rud said. ‘It’s a tradition.’

D’gar caught his deeper meaning. ‘Nothing’s certain. But we’ve made it this far. And hopefully, Thread will have gone by then.’

‘Do you remember that promise we gave Valli, the day she died?’

D’gar did. ‘To come back here on the first dawn of the Interval, because she couldn’t.’

‘Whoever’s left has to do it in her honour.’ S’brin sounded serious.

‘We’ll all be left,’ D’gar insisted, trying to snap him out of the sombre mood. ‘We can bring a picnic and a skin of Benden white and drink to her memory. All three of us.’

‘I didn’t really know Valli,’ J’rud said.

‘Doesn’t matter. She’d understand. Zurinth is one of Kadoth’s last clutch anyway.’ D’gar remembered Valli riding off that morning; how bravely she’d gone to meet her death. Yet the only alternative she’d had was a few more months of pain, to end up dying apart from Kadoth. No choice at all, really. He’d probably have done the same.

‘Seems hard to believe…’ S’brin mused. ‘A Thread-free world.’

‘There are folk still alive today who remember the last Interval,’ D’gar pointed out. ‘In another two hundred-odd Turns Thread will return again. And I bet there’ll be young riders and their dragons longing for it after so many Turns of exercises and drills.’ It was a a strange thought; even the Weyrleaders and Wingleaders, no matter how much they’d read in dusty records, would go into their first battle with less practical knowledge than any weyrling today. They’d have to learn fast.

‘Glad I won’t be there,’ J’rud said. ‘Reckon I’ve seen enough Thread to last me a lifetime.’

S’brin nodded. ‘Once it’s over, what are we all going to do?’

‘We’ll still be flying regular patrols over our area. I read in the records they used to have annual Games, too, with Weyrs competing against each other. They sound like fun.’

‘Once folk can travel without fear of being caught out in Fall, I reckon there’ll be a lot more to-ing and fro-ing between Hold and Hall,’ J’rud added. ‘Those long Gathers the old ones are always talking about. Whole fields full of stalls, entertainers travelling from one to the next all summer. I’m looking forward to that.’

S’brin brightened up. ‘We’ll be able to see folk at other Weyrs without having to check if they’re fighting that day.’

‘It’ll be a good life.’ D’gar was looking forward to being free of worry for himself, Herebeth and their friends. You’d be able to visit and ask how someone was without fear of putting your foot in it. If this was truly the last Turn, they probably only had another ten months to get through. Less, possibly, if Falls tapered off before finally ending.

The mood seemed to have lightened. S’brin rubbed his hands in front of the fire. ‘Zemianth says why don’t we all play dragon shunt? She and Zurinth want to try to knock Herebeth off course.’

‘Let’s do it, then.’ J’rud sprang to his feet.

With Fall finishing in early afternoon the day before Turn’s End, many riders took the opportunity to get very drunk even before the day itself dawned, bright and frosty. No one, apart from the kitchen staff, got up very early that morning.

D’gar fetched klah for S’brin, who wasn’t feeling too well. J’rud had already been vomiting into the necessary and the mere sniff of klah sent him running back there again.

Why do people do this? Herebeth, like all dragons, could never see the point in drinking alcohol.

People do it because it makes them feel happy.

They do not seem to feel very happy the day after.

That’s true. It’s why I don’t do it very often.

S’brin sat in a huddle of bed furs, looking pale as he sipped the klah. ‘Remind me why I drank so much last night?’

‘You and some of the others decided to play drinking games. You won, by the way.’

‘I remember that. Even R’xel gave up in the end.’

‘Pity J’rud didn’t.’

‘He enjoyed himself.’

J’rud staggered back into view and sat heavily on the bed. ‘I feel terrible. Zurinth says I’m making her feel queasy.’

‘Don’t do it again, then.’ D’gar sat next to him and sipped his own klah. ‘I know you don’t feel like it, but you should at least try to eat some porridge with lots of sweetener. I am a bit of an expert when it comes to settling the stomach.’

‘Maybe later.’ J’rud lay back. ‘Think I might try to sleep some more.’

‘Think I might join you.’ S’brin put down his klah mug and pulled up the furs.

D’gar took his klah and sat on the ledge with the dragons The sun hadn’t yet risen sufficiently high to clear the Bowl, so everything within was rimed with frost. Steam rose from various vents, making the Weyr seem as if it was still an active volcano. Weyrlings were feeding their dragons outside the barracks. Some of the greens had made their first solo flights recently. They’d soon be able to hunt their own food, relieving their riders of a lot of work. G’ren had been disappointed at how far behind Paizarth was, even though it was well known the larger dragons took longer to mature in every way.

It is very peaceful, Herebeth said. Even the herd beasts are quiet. A faint feeling of hunger accompanied the last thought.

You want to eat?

Maybe later. I’d rather they were running than sleeping.

D’gar considered how lucky they were. They’d reached another Turn’s End. He was twenty-two Turns of age and Herebeth almost seven. Herebeth’s wing barely bothered him at all, although the dragon healer had warned it might pain him as he became older. Still, he wouldn’t be fighting Thread then and could spend more time soaking in the warm waters of Southern Boll during the winter months.

He finished his klah and went back inside. J’rud and S’brin were snuggled together, dozing. S’brin snored softly. By the time the feast was ready, they’d both be recovered and ready to do it all over again. Well, hopefully J’rud wouldn’t. He just didn’t have the capacity to outdrink S’brin.

As he always did, he went to visit Agarra in the kitchens. It was hot and full of frantic activity. D’gar remembered the days when he’d have been helping out with the feast too.

‘Happy Turn’s End,’ he said, clasping her around the waist as she rolled out pastry.

She reached around with floury hands. ‘Busy Turn’s End, more like. Come to give us a hand?’

‘Er, well…’

‘I was only joking. It’s your day off, after all.’

‘I need to entice J’rud to eat something. He’s a little the worse for wear.’

‘What about S’brin?’

‘He’ll be fine by midday. He could outdrink a herdbeast.’

‘I’ve some fresh custard tarts ready. They’re nice and sweet. Have you given him klah?’

‘The mere thought of it made him sick. But I’m hoping by the time he wakes again, he’ll be feeling a bit better.’

He spent the morning wishing various people a happy Turn’s End and even took some broken cakes over to the barracks for the ever-hungry weyrlings. By the time he got back to the weyr, S’brin was getting dressed and J’rud just waking.

‘Here you go.’ He unpacked the tarts from the basket he’d borrowed. ‘You might be able to manage one of these.’

S’brin made short work of one while J’rud nibbled at his.

‘What’s the plan, then?’

‘I’m heading for the baths for a good long soak,’ S’brin said. ‘Think J’rud might be up to it soon as well.’

J’rud nodded. ‘I feel a bit better now.’

‘Good. Might as well join you, then we can come back here and decide what to wear.’

Turn’s End was always a chance for weyrfolk to dress up. Out came garments purchased during summer Gathers, the more colourful the better. The dining hall had been decorated with tapestries, hangings and decorations that only came out at this time of the Turn. The delicious smells from the kitchens always made D’gar feel hungry, even if he’d had something to eat earlier. Later on, there’d be music and dancing; a chance for everyone to enjoy themselves and celebrate. Even the dragons sensed it was a special day. They’d take off spontaneously from their weyr ledges and indulge in wild aerobatics above the Weyr.

Before the feast began, T’ron always made his traditional speech, honouring the dead by reading out their names. This time, though, he continued.

‘I know all of you - and myself - are looking forward to eating the delicious feast prepared for us by the kitchen staff, but before we begin, I have a few extra words.’ He paused, looking around at the weyrfolk. ‘Many people hoped the Pass might end early and are now feeling disappointed. Tomorrow, Turn fifty of the Eighth Pass begins. All of our records show most Passes are exactly fifty Turns long, so there’s a high likelihood this really will be the end. Still, we’ve just come through a tough Turn. Due to losses and our queens clutching less often, we’ve had to disband two Wings. I do not intend to disband any more…’

There was a sigh of relief from most of the riders at that.

‘What I intend to do instead is to try and keep all our existing Wings fairly even in numbers. If one Wing has heavy losses, sufficient pairs will be transferred to return them to effective fighting strength. I know it’s not an ideal solution, but I will leave it up to individual Wingleaders to decide who they want to keep as the core of their own Wings.’

As he’d spoken, the muttering had risen in volume. No one was keen to be separated from their wingmates.

T’ron gestured for quiet, although it took a little while for all to settle. ‘I don’t want to have to do this any more than you do. But I have consulted with my Wingleaders and we’ve all agreed it’s for the best. Plus, it will only be temporary. Once the Pass is confirmed as having ended, everyone will return to their original Wings, then over the next few Turns, we’ll be able to increase numbers gradually as weyrlings mature.’

It did make sense. D’gar didn’t like the idea he might be sent to another Wing if they had shortage of brown dragons, but as T’ron said, it wouldn’t be forever.

There was still some muttering and dirty looks thrown T’ron’s way as the feast commenced, but any hard feelings were soon forgotten as people began tucking in to the treats only served up at Turn’s End. Wine and ale flowed freely, further bolstering the spirits and by the end of the evening, most hardly cared about the implications of the new policy.

‘We’ll worry about it when and if it happens,’ R’xel said on his way out.

It was only a couple of days later when R’feem called a Wing meeting. D’gar felt slightly nervous on his way in. Even if others hadn’t figured it out, he was sure it must be regarding what the Weyrleader had said. R’feem seemed subdued again, so he knew it wasn’t going to be good news, anyway.

Once they’d all sat, R’feem began. ‘Some of you aren’t going to like this, I’m afraid. I don’t much like it myself, but unfortunately I don’t have much choice. As you’re all aware, “C” Wing has lost far fewer pairs than some other Wings.’

‘That’s ‘cos we’re better than them,’ someone piped up at the far end of the table.

Probably Is’ish, D’gar thought, from the voice.

R’feem gave a small smile. ‘I won’t deny that we’ve a lot of talent in this Wing. As of this moment, not counting anyone who’s out due to injuries, we have a total of twenty-four pairs. I realise that’s nowhere near the ideal number of thirty pairs per Wing, but it’s been a few Turns since anyone’s had that.’

‘Except the Weyrleader,’ someone said quietly.

R’feem ignored it. ‘Some of the other Wings are down to just twenty, so I’ve been told I have to lose two of you…’

Everyone fell silent at that, glancing at their colleagues.

‘“B” Wing are short on blues and “H” Wing need browns and bronzes. Now, I argued that we have just the right number of blues right now and I’d rather not lose any. Fortunately, the Weyrleader agreed.’

The blue riders voiced their approval at this.

R’feem smiled at them before continuing. ‘However, we can spare a couple of the larger dragons, so that’s what I’ve decided to do.’

It was obvious he couldn’t lose I’grast or N’rir; as long-time Wingseconds, they could definitely be considered to be core members of the Wing. D’gar felt his nervousness increase. He felt at home in ‘C’ Wing.

‘It’s been a hard decision, but Sh’than and P’ton, I’m afraid you’re going to have to move across to ‘H’ Wing as from tomorrow.’

D’gar caught M’rell’s eye. They’d survived. Maybe R’feem had gone along with the ‘last in first out’ idea, or had simply picked the most and least experienced pairs. Whatever the reason, it was a relief.

‘Well, at least it’s not “F” Wing,’ Sh’than said. ‘Sh’viel’s not a bad Wingleader.’

‘I’m sorry,’ R’feem said to them both.

‘It’s fine. You’re only doing your job.’ Sh’than was taking it well, considering, while P’ton stared down at the table. He’d joined ‘C’ Wing as a weyrling and had gained all of his Threadfighting knowledge from I’grast and N’rir, with a few tips from D’gar as well.

‘Don’t take it too hard,’ he said to P’ton. ‘“H” Wing is a good one.’

‘It’s all right for you to say. You’re safe.’ He stood abruptly, rocking the bench. ‘Sorry. Have to go,’ he said quickly to R’feem before hurrying out. D’gar suspected he might be close to tears.

‘He’ll get over it,’ Sh’than said. ‘I’d been in two different Wings before I transferred to this one.’ He stood, too, although far more casually. ‘Better go and introduce myself to my new wingmates. I’ll make sure the lad’s all right.’

‘That’s it for today.’ R’feem said to the rest. You can all go and enjoy the rest of your day. Except for you, D’gar and M’rell. I’d like you to stay.’

D’gar watched J’rud and S’brin leave, wondering what they’d be in for now.

‘Now it's just the five of us with larger dragons, we’ll have to re-jig the formations,’ R’feem said. ‘It’s normally a matter I’d discuss with my Wingseconds, but I invited you two to stay because it’s time you had greater involvement.’

More of the Wingsecond training, D’gar reckoned. He was certainly glad to be included in that. They got through three mugs of klah while going through different configurations for various types of Fall. N’rir made notes on a slate. They also talked about alternative arrangements in case a bronze or brown was injured during a Fall. In that case, one of the larger, stronger blues would have to move into the missing pair’s position. D’gar found it interesting. It was another demonstration of the amount of pre-planning that went on behind the scenes.

Finally, R’feem said, ‘I think we’ve covered everything. Let the riders know we’ll be having a drill tomorrow afternoon to practice changing from one formation to another if we need to during a Fall.’

‘Sure, boss,’ I’grast said.

D’gar and M’rell left the dining hall together. ‘Why do you think he brought us in on that?’ M’rell asked.

‘So that we know the plans. Now we’re the only browns left, if I’grast or N’rir get injured, he’ll put one of us in charge of that section.’

‘Shells! That’s a lot of responsibility.’

‘It goes with being a brown rider.’

‘Do you feel confident about it?’

‘Not really,’ D’gar admitted. ‘But it’s why we’ve been doing the training after all. It’s why R’feem is a lot better than some of the other Wingleaders. He plans ahead. Anyway, won’t Felinda be impressed if you get to be acting Wingsecond?’

M’rell shrugged. ‘We’re not seeing each other any more. I mean, it was fun for a while, but she’s moved on. She doesn’t want a long term commitment and I reckon that’s fine with me as well.’

‘Really?’

‘I’m never going to feel the same way about anyone as I did for Rina. Might as well stop looking for it.’

‘I suppose so.’

M’rell carried on. ‘No point in getting your heart broken. You can still have a good time without all that.’

He sounded as if he was trying to convince himself. D’gar wasn’t sure what to say. Never having been in the position M’rell had found himself, he couldn’t really offer any practical advice. ‘Maybe in a few Turns you’ll feel different,’ he said. After all, R’feem had taken a while before getting involved with anyone again after the death of his long-term weyrmate.

They parted as the dragons carried them to their weyrs. As soon as D’gar pushed the curtain aside, J’rud, ever inquisitive, was on him.

‘What was all that about? What did R’feem want?’

‘Nothing much. They were talking about changing Wing formations now we’ve lost some pairs. As M’rell and I have been doing Wingsecond training, he thought it would be good for us to sit in on it.’

‘One step closer to that weyr with the bathing pool.’ S’brin smiled.

‘Except if I get promoted, it’ll be down to something bad having befallen N’rir or I’grast. I don’t know if I’d cope with the responsibility.’

‘Don’t be daft,’ S’brin said. ‘From what you and J’rud told me, you did pretty well at Telgar.’

‘That was different. I was just talking to people.’

‘You were a being a leader,’ J’rud protested.

‘On the ground. Not during Threadfall.’

‘The way you think about everything, after a few Falls it’d be like you’d been doing it for Turns.’ S’brin paused. ‘Not that I want anything to happen to those two either. But if it came to it, you’d do as good a job as you always do.’

D’gar wished he had as much confidence in himself as others seemed to.

From that day, R’feem always included M’rell and himself on the pre-Fall meetings, once they had some idea of the conditions they’d be facing. After a few sevendays of this, D’gar started to - tentatively - makes suggestions. These were often the same as the ones the older riders came up with, which made him slightly more at ease.

Third month was often stormy, particularly around the coast. High winds brought their own problems to any Fall. Experienced dragons and riders were injured purely because of gusts suddenly blowing strands of Thread straight at them. During one Fall over the Sea Hold, T’resh, the Wingleader of ‘B’ Wing, was badly scored. He made it back to the Weyr, but died a few hours later, Folzilth going between and the distress of the other dragons resonating around the Bowl as they keened to the night sky. Three other pairs were injured in that one and not lightly. It was rumoured they’d probably be out of action until summer. Wing numbers fell still further.

‘C’ Wing didn’t go entirely unscathed. H’ren’s blue Marth received a wing injury that looked as bad as the one that had left Neyrenth crippled. N’kal lost part of his left arm.

Increasingly, D’gar heard riders saying this was how you knew Fall was going to end. More deaths and injuries as the organism tried to wreak maximum damage in its last few months of menacing Pern. He knew that theory was stupid. Thread was a mindless parasite, when all was said and done, incapable of any sort of decision making. The weather was certainly a contributory factor, though. He’d heard of storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions marking the start of a Pass, so why should they not also mark its end? Plus, all of the Wings - even T’ron’s - were down in numbers, meaning fewer pairs had to do more work. The Weyr was always sensitive to strong emotions and the general feeling was that everyone just wanted it to be over.

‘They’ve lost heart,’ I’grast said. ‘We all have,’ he added, not excluding himself from it. ‘But all we can do is carry on fighting.'

Fourth month generally brought better weather; a few days which gave a foretaste of summer. Crops emerged from formerly bare soil and orchards turned white with blossom. In Ruatha, the smaller herd beasts were taken up to the higher pastures again.

‘Weather report’s in,’ R’feem said at their meeting prior to a Fall which would pass directly over Ruatha Hold itself and all the fertile farmland surrounding. ‘Not so good. Sunshine and showers, some hail. Possibility of thunder, too.’

D’gar felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The last time he’d fought Thread in a thunderstorm - a fully-fledged one rather than the distant rumbles and flashes you sometimes saw - he and Herebeth had almost died.

‘We’re top level today and cleanup afterwards. Wet weather gear for everyone, plus we’ll have to make sure the greens don’t tire themselves out. First shift will remain on standby at the Weyr and need to be ready to come back as replacements.

D’gar listened carefully to the plans. Not that he didn’t usually, but concentrating on technical aspects of Fall helped to damp down the fear he felt.

Do not worry. Herebeth had picked up on his emotions. I will look after you.

That’s what he’d done before. The image of the upraised wing, blocking Thread that might - probably would - have killed him, flashed through his mind again. However long he lived, he didn’t think he’d ever forget that moment.

Meeting over, they formed up in the Bowl and began the familiar routine of feeding firestone to the dragons.

‘Don’t worry too much, lad, ’N’rir said, as he made his customary walk around his section. ‘Remember the old saying about lightning not striking the same place twice. This isn’t going to be like that big one. Don’t see storms like that very often at all.’

D’gar forced a smile. ‘I’ll be fine once we’re in the air.’

‘That’s the spirit.’

They took off in the usual formation, then went between to Ruatha. The sunshine was as brilliant as it had been over the Weyr, but ominous grey clouds lurked in the western sky. Sheets of rain fell beneath them. D’gar spared a though for the ground crews who would be out in the worst of it, their boots clogged with mud. Mind you, he’d have his fair share of that on cleanup later.

Everyone watched for leading edge coming in, out of the clear sky to the north east. It was often said Threadfall resembled rain, but with a direct comparison to make, there were distinct differences. Rain came straight down, or at a slight angle if the wind was strong and was a leaden colour. Thread fell more slowly and looked silver-grey, glittering if illuminated by sunshine.

Leading edge is in sight. Herebeth gave his usual report. N’rir’s Jalolth sent orders to move into standard fighting formation until there was a chance to judge how Thread was falling this time. In manoeuvres, the riders had numbered the different formations, but Jalolth translated these to images dragons found easier to understand.

Herebeth’s two close fighting partners, Zurinth and Zath, moved in. Two more greens, stationed further out made up the new formation. Working together, they would be able to cope with most types of Fall.

Light drizzle began at almost the same time as Thread was upon them. Judging by the state of the clouds, they would get a real soaking at some point, which wasn’t a bad thing, as it would probably be heavy enough to drown Thread. The dragons and their riders worked as a team to clear their patch of sky. Everyone concentrated on the job in hand. There was no time to think of anything but going for the next clump; medium sized tangles today, with just a few stray loose Threads. Herebeth and the others kept up a conversation, so each was sure who would flame each clump. Among experienced wingriders, a pair getting accidentally flamed was extremely rare and generally caused by someone becoming injured and flying erratically. Thread was the main danger, as always.

They passed through the heaviest rain, Herebeth ducking and dodging as drowned Thread, sodden and inert, plummeted far faster than it ever did when viable. No dragon liked to let themselves be hit, even when they knew the stuff was harmless. It was an innate revulsion shared by riders.

As the rain eased off, they encountered a mixture of live and dead Thread. These were always the most dangerous moments. No one wanted to waste firestone flaming something that was harmless, but you had to keep alert for the clumps that might only be partly drowned.

Herebeth crisped the live portion of one clump. The saturated mass didn’t burn wholly, just fell towards the earth in a partially charred mess.

Nasty, Herebeth said, echoing his own thoughts. To their right, Zurinth cleared another, smaller tangle, while Is’ish and Panruth turned almost on their own axis to clear one in front and one falling just behind them, Panruth flicking her tail neatly out of the way.

Good flying, D’gar said to Herebeth. Let Panruth know.

Is’ish got the message a few seconds later and gave D’gar a thumbs up. The pair then turned tightly to go after another while Zath and M’ta carried on in their reliable, unshowy fashion, like reapers moving through a barley field.

A bright flash to his left made D’gar flinch. Lightning, although still a fair way off. The rumble of thunder came a few seconds later. He told himself not to worry; not to be distracted. After all, even during the big storm, it had been Thread, not lightning, that caused Herebeth’s injury.

Jalolth asks us for firestone orders.

D’gar checked his bags. He’d taken just a few chunks from the second one, while the first was empty. We’ll have two, he decided. They hadn’t been using an excessive amount, despite the wind. Two more should see them through, even with cleanup afterwards.

Another belt of rain passed over, blowing into his face and Herebeth’s as they rode straight into it. The first trickles began to find their ways through seams and gaps in his clothing. Herebeth’s neck and shoulders became darkened with water and char.

This one wasn’t heavy enough to drown Thread, so they kept fighting. D’gar glanced over at the greens to see if any of them were flagging. Being lighter, they suffered more of a buffeting from the wind and this, in addition to their aerobatics, tired them faster. They all seemed fine and in any case, N’rir would be watching too, ready for swap outs.

He saw the first few weyrlings flying up towards them, carrying several bags each. Replacements shouldn’t take too long at this rate. As a young green pair headed towards Jalolth, he began to check the sky around him so he could instruct them when it was safe to approach.

Clump approaching to our left. Herebeth banked off to tackle it. it was while they seared Thread, D’gar caught sight, from the corner of his eye, of a brown pair diving. No, falling. Thread engulfed one wing and the rider’s left side. He recognised them at almost the same time Herebeth said, Jalolth falls.

Why doesn’t he go between? More to the point, what had happened? He couldn’t let himself be distracted. It was obvious the Wingsecond would be out of action, which meant he was now in charge of this section until the end of Fall.

Training kicked in. Tell our dragons to stay steady and prepared for firestone deliveries. Ask Piroth if he wants us to re-position?

The answer came back promptly via Herebeth. Stay where you are, he says. He tells me to tell Zath to move to the end.

D’gar saw M’ta nod and give him a signal to show he understood. As a larger blue, he’d be able to cover almost the same area as a brown. Meanwhile, the weyrling who had been delivering seemed to be dithering in the air aimlessly. Tell that green weyrling pair to get back to the dump if they’re too shaken to carry on with the job. They were a liability and highly likely to get hit themselves.

A shudder of sadness went through him.

Jalolth has gone, Herebeth announced.

There was no time to mourn; not now. All he could do was to prove how well N’rir had prepared him for the task and let Herebeth get on with what he did best; searing Thread.

The rest of Fall seemed to go by very fast. D’gar managed the swap overs, got the firestone deliveries sorted, then spent a couple of hours traipsing over pasture on cleanup. As the ground crew uncovered a mass of squirming Thread, he felt real satisfaction as Herebeth charred it to death. It was some kind of vengeance for N’rir and Jalolth.

It was only during the return to the Weyr that reality began to sink in. N’rir had done so much for him over the Turns; not just providing tips on Threadfighting, but advice on relationships too. It seemed inconceivable that so many Turns of experience could have been wiped out in little more than the blink of an eye.

Jalolth and his rider have gone between, Herebeth reminded him.

I know. I know it too well.

The weyrling would have died if Jalolth had not shielded her from Thread she did not see in time. He pushed her out of its path, even though he knew he would be hit. A brave dragon.

It hadn’t been a careless mistake, then. D’gar was relieved, but angry, too. Those stupid youngsters had caused the loss of a fine man and his dragon. As Herebeth descended into the Bowl, he couldn’t remember a time when he’d felt more weary and sad.

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

Who is the Weylingmaster now?  He is obviously not doing a good job if he missed this kid.  I know, I know.  Accidents happen.  This kid could have been the most diligent of his hatching group, but he seems to not have been properly prepared for the reality of being ‘in the field’ with actual fighting Thread.  This should have been noted before this Fall.

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2 hours ago, Clancy59 said:

This kid could have been the most diligent of his hatching group, but he seems to not have been properly prepared for the reality of being ‘in the field’ with actual fighting Thread.

Y'min is Weyrlingmaster now, but the cutches he's raised from scratch are still too immature to be on deliveries, so this is another of M'nan's. In all fairness to any Weyrlingmaster, though, accidents can happen and it’s a dangerous environment. D'gar himself got his first score as a weyrling by not seeing Thread in time. 

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Well, fighting thread in the true thunderstorm is not something that you could simulate; so not sure we should be so hard on the weyrling.  Practicing and training while very important cannot actually simulate what it is like in the field.  D'gar is more ready then he thinks.  I can not imagine how hard this is going to be on everyone as they lose more and more going forward.

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Another intense chapter driving home the realities of fighting thread. One has to wonder if the former Weylingmaster was responsible for the the bulk of the poor, unfortunate green riders training!

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3 hours ago, centexhairysub said:

I can not imagine how hard this is going to be on everyone as they lose more and more going forward.

Everyone just wants it to be over at this point. The Wings are depleted in numbers and morale is low.

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7 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

Everyone just wants it to be over at this point. The Wings are depleted in numbers and morale is low.

They’ve been fighting Thread for 50 turns and it has taken its toll on everyone, even the youngest.  But fighting it is so much a part of their everyday existence that they will find themselves at loose ends within weeks or months of the final fall.

I know you said you would be finishing this by the time Lessa comes back to bring them forward, but will you continue the story long enough into her arrival and her impact on the Weyrs? Anne didn’t get into the immediate reactions so much, as she wrote from Lessa’s perspective and she was unconscious at that point! It would be interesting to see the reactions within the Weyrs, both the riders and everyone else who makes up the community.

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10 hours ago, Clancy59 said:

They’ve been fighting Thread for 50 turns and it has taken its toll on everyone, even the youngest.  But fighting it is so much a part of their everyday existence that they will find themselves at loose ends within weeks or months of the final fall.

I know you said you would be finishing this by the time Lessa comes back to bring them forward, but will you continue the story long enough into her arrival and her impact on the Weyrs? Anne didn’t get into the immediate reactions so much, as she wrote from Lessa’s perspective and she was unconscious at that point! It would be interesting to see the reactions within the Weyrs, both the riders and everyone else who makes up the community.

I second, third and quadruple that motion!!!!

Meme Reaction GIF 

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10 hours ago, Clancy59 said:

But fighting it is so much a part of their everyday existence that they will find themselves at loose ends within weeks or months of the final fall.

I know you said you would be finishing this by the time Lessa comes back to bring them forward, but will you continue the story long enough into her arrival and her impact on the Weyrs?

Absolutely. It’s the fact they will end up at loose ends which is one of the factors that makes them decide to go forward. That and their sense of duty to protect Pern, reinforced by the dragons.

You are giving me ideas now. From the books, you can see how T'ron and Mardra tried to keep Lessa's arrival out of the pubic eye, but with a huge golden dragon hanging around the Weyr, gossip will inevitably follow. Plus, the dragons will talk to each other. I’m guessing Ramoth recovered far more quickly than Lessa from their jump through time. Then there'll be all the Fort bronzes wanting to get to know this new queen dragon. By the time T'ron calls that meeting to introduce Lessa, people will have figured out most of it and made up what they don't know.

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Damn it, why couldn't it be M'nan who got scored and put out of things rather than the far better N'rir?  Still, his self-sacrifice fits with everything we know about him....

Maybe these new ideas will add more chapters so we don't face the end quite so soon?

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On 9/24/2021 at 11:28 AM, Mawgrim said:

Absolutely. It’s the fact they will end up at loose ends which is one of the factors that makes them decide to go forward. That and their sense of duty to protect Pern, reinforced by the dragons.

You are giving me ideas now. From the books, you can see how T'ron and Mardra tried to keep Lessa's arrival out of the pubic eye, but with a huge golden dragon hanging around the Weyr, gossip will inevitably follow. Plus, the dragons will talk to each other. I’m guessing Ramoth recovered far more quickly than Lessa from their jump through time. Then there'll be all the Fort bronzes wanting to get to know this new queen dragon. By the time T'ron calls that meeting to introduce Lessa, people will have figured out most of it and made up what they don't know.

Ramoth was rather obvious, wasn’t she? 🤭 The dragons 400 turns in the future are SO much bigger than their predecessors. Some of them were more than twice the size of the Old Ones!

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