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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 - 5. A Day at the Lake

D'gar teaches Zalna to swim during a summer day at the Weyr

‘Why are you always in trouble? You don’t seem like the sort who would be.’ Zalna sat beside the lake, her long skirts wrapped around her legs.

‘It’s complicated.’ D’gar had just finished his midden duty for the day. Zalna had seen him wheeling a barrow full of dragon dung and had asked why. ‘Do you mind if I have a swim while we’re here?’ The dung had been smelly and he knew he was, too.

An odd look came over her face. ’I’ll shut my eyes until you’re in the water.’

Of course, she was Holdbred and they had such odd attitudes. Still maybe he could encourage her to behave more like weyrfolk did. ‘Why not join me? Gemalth’s having fun out there and I bet she’d love you to swim with her.’

Zalna looked down at the pebbles. ‘I can’t,’ she said.

‘No one at the Weyr bothers about nudity.’ He gestured out to the lake. Quite a few people were already in the water.

‘It’s not just that. I can’t swim.’

‘Oh.’ Most of the weyrbrats learned at an early age. D’gar had never considered that someone might not be able to swim. ‘I can teach you, if you like.’ He suddenly remembered she might not think that was appropriate. ‘Or I could ask Rina if she will, if you’d rather.’

‘No,’ she said, in a determined fashion. ‘I’ve been told plenty of times I need to get over my Holdbred attitudes. You go in and I’ll follow after.’

D’gar stripped off quickly and waded into the lake. The water was cool and refreshing. Once he was waist deep, half way out to where Gemalth wallowed, he stopped. ‘Can I turn round yet?’

‘Just a moment.’

While he waited, he studied Gemalth. She’d grown quite a lot in the past few sevendays. Like many dragons, she used her wings to steer herself through the water, strengthening them in the process.

‘I’m ready,’ Zalna said.

D’gar turned round and tried not to laugh. She’d left her shift on and it floated all around her. Now that it was soaked through, it didn’t leave much to the imagination either, but he thought he’d best not point that out. ‘Um, are you going to try and swim in that?’

She nodded.

‘It’s not going to help you much. All that material will get caught round your legs.’

Gemalth was happy to see her and started to paddle over, making considerable waves. Zalna felt the disturbance in the water and gave a small shriek.

‘Just tell her to stop, if it’s bothering you.’

‘Oh, yes.’ Zalna’s eyes unfocussed as she spoke to Gemalth. The dragon stopped, although she looked slightly surprised and even a little hurt.

‘Come on. I’ll help you to go out a bit further. Let’s see if we can get you out there to her.’ The first thing he’d learned was how to lie on his back in the water, moving his arms and legs just enough to keep afloat. ‘Let yourself lie down. You should start to float. I’ll make sure your head doesn’t go under.’

She looked dubious. ‘Honestly?’

‘It’s a lot easier to float on your back than on your front. Trust me.’

‘Well, all right, then.’ She started to lean back, then as she felt her balance shift, jumped up again, splashing quite a lot. ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’

‘Of course you can. No-one taught Gemalth to swim, did they? She just got in and figured it out. And she’s a lot younger than you are.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘Now try again. Maybe bend your knees a bit first, so the rest of you is under water. Then let your legs float up.’ D’gar thought that sounded reasonable for a start. He didn’t remember learning how to swim, just like he didn’t remember not being able to walk.

Zalna did. D’gar put a hand under her head, surprised at how soft her long hair felt. ‘There you go.’

‘I’m floating!’ she said, ruining it by lifting her head up. As she was in shallow water, all that happened was her feet touched the lake bottom again. ‘Oh. That wasn’t so bad.’

‘Let’s try again, shall we?’

It took a while before she had enough confidence to float for a minute or so. Gemalth lost interest in the mean while and paddled further away. D’gar gently guided Zalna out to deeper water, encouraging her to use her legs to move herself along. Soon, he was swimming alongside, out of his depth.

‘Just a tiny bit further,’ he said. ‘You’re almost within touching distance of Gemalth.’

Zalna kicked a little harder, bumping into Gemalth’s flank. It took her by surprise and for a moment she panicked and floundered until D’gar caught hold of her, then placed her arm over her dragon’s neck. ‘That wasn’t too difficult, was it.’

‘How am I going to get back?’ She’d just realised how far they were from the shore.

‘Gemalth will take you in. If you fancy swimming when I’m not around, just get in the position you are now and she’ll look after you.’

‘It won’t hurt her, will it? I mean, I’m not too heavy?’

‘Ask her?’

A few moments later she smiled. ‘She says she can’t even feel my weight.’

‘You see.’

There was a lot of splashing over by the shore. D’gar looked over and saw several of the weyrlings plunging into the water. He groaned.

‘What is it?’ Zalna asked, worried.

‘Some of my clutchmates have arrived.’ They started to have a water fight, making waves.

Zalna watched them for a while. ‘Who’s that?’ she asked, pointing.

‘Which one?’

‘Dark hair. Brown. Taller than the rest.’

‘Oh, that’s just S’brin.’

‘He’s very good looking.’

‘I know. He’s my weyrmate.’

S’brin spotted him and swam over. ‘Herebeth told Zemianth you were in the lake, so we thought we’d join you.’ He gave Zalna a quick glance. ‘You’re making some of the other lads very jealous, hanging around with the weyrwoman,’ he said to D’gar.

‘He’s not “hanging around”. He’s been teaching me how to swim.’ Zalna could sound quite haughty when she wanted.

‘And you’ve obviously not drowned yet, so he must be doing something right.’

M’rell arrived, with Rina. They both stripped unselfconsciously, leaving their clothes in a pile on the sandy beach. Zalna watched with interest. ‘So it’s fine for women to take off their clothes as well?’

‘Of course. Even weyrwomen do it.’ S’brin looked at her shift. ‘You might as well take that stuff off. Everyone can see right through it anyway.’

She glanced down, realised he was right and blushed. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that?’ she asked D’gar.

‘I, er, didn’t want you to feel embarrassed.’

M’rell and Rina swam over toward them. Zalna looked even more flustered. ‘They’ll be able to see all my… everything.’

‘So?’ S’brin said. You’ve not got anything Rina hasn’t. Actually, I’d say you’ve got a bit more up top than she has.’

‘He’s trying to be nice,’ D’gar said. ‘Excuse his manners.’

Rina reached them first. ‘Hello,’ she said to Zalna. ‘You’re the one who has all the lovely clothes.’

‘Yes. Well, normally.’

She still seemed slightly flustered about talking to people while partially undressed, D’gar thought. Well, there wasn’t much that could be done about that now.

‘I work in the laundry,’ Rina said. ‘I love it when your things come in. They’re beautiful and they always smell so nice.’

‘Not when Gemalth drops her food all over them,’ Zalna replied.

She was obviously starting to feel more at ease. D’gar left them chatting about fabrics and swam further out with S’brin.

‘K’torl’s still dying to meet her, you know.’

He’d forgotten all about that. ‘Is he here?’

‘With the other lads.’

‘Well, why doesn’t he come over?’

‘I think he’s embarrassed.’

‘That’d make two of them, then. Tell you what, once she’s got out and put some clothes back on, I’ll introduce them. Maybe you could tell him.’

‘Will do. Aren’t you going to come over?’

‘I sort of feel responsible for her. I got her in here, after all.’

‘She won’t drown,’ S’brin said. ‘Gemalth would fish her out. Oh wait, maybe you like her better than me now.’ He feigned a tear.

‘Never. She’s not got your considerable assets.’

S’brin smiled. ‘Race you back to the others.’

‘Done.’

Once everyone had had a good swim, they got out. There were a few benches at the side of the lake and it was a good place to sit while you dried. The sun was warmer now; today looked like it would be a scorcher.

‘Maybe you could get some food off your mum and we could bring it down here for a picnic,’ S’brin suggested. ‘Well, once I’ve done the evening midden shift.’

They’d been taking it in turns for morning and evening. D’gar ended up shovelling more dung from the barracks, while S’brin got most of the spoiled food and vegetable waste. ‘Sounds like a good idea. Maybe my lazy dragon will come down and join us later. He’s sleeping off a meal right now.’

‘Zemianth too. Well, not a meal, ‘cos she’s not eaten for a couple of days. Just tired, I expect.’

K’torl came over to join them. He kept glancing over to where Rina and Zalna sat together, on a blanket. Rina was braiding Zalna’s hair as they chatted animatedly. ‘Think she might talk to me?’

‘It’s worth a try. You want to go over there now?’

‘Well…’

‘Come on. It’s only talk. You know, opening your mouth so words come out.’

‘What shall I say?’

‘Tell her how well her dragon’s looking. Say how much she’s grown.’

‘Say you like her tits,’ S’brin put in, ducking as D’gar aimed a slap at the side of his head.

K’torl looked pained. ‘He’s so charming. How did you ever fall for him?’

‘Don’t know really. Must be his body. Come on, let’s go and introduce you.’

The conversation began in a slightly stilted manner, but Zalna’s upbringing meant that she was good at encouraging someone to talk about themselves. K’torl’s confidence grew as they chatted and soon Rina excused herself, saying that M’rell would be missing her.

‘She’s all right,’ Rina said as they walked back. ‘I thought she’d be stuck-up, but she’s not, at all.’

‘Do you reckon she likes K’torl?’

Rina glanced back. ‘Maybe. Early days, though. Still, even if she does, they won’t be able to do any more than talk until Gemalth grows up a bit.’

‘There is that. How’s it going with you and M’rell?’

‘I like him. A lot. He’s sweet…’

‘Sweet!’ D’gar would never have described M’rell that way.

‘He is,’ she protested. ‘I’ve seen him putting on the act, to be one of the lads, but when we’re alone he’s lovely. Kind, considerate…’ she paused. ‘I’ve fallen for him in a big way, and I shouldn’t have.’

‘Why not?’

‘He’ll be joining a Wing soon.’

‘Ah.’ He realised the implications of what she said. The most dangerous couple of months in any pair’s fighting career was just after they graduated to the Wings. ‘He’ll be all right,’ he said, more through custom than certainty. ‘Toth’s sensible. M’rell’s not reckless.’

‘I hope so.’

By then they’d almost reached the others. The way M’rell’s face lit up when he saw Rina showed he was as taken with her as she with him. D’gar settled down next to S’brin, who had his eyes closed and seemed to be half-asleep.

‘You’re as lazy as your dragon, you know?’ He lay back with his head pillowed on S’brin’s chest and looked up at the bright blue sky. A bronze and a brown dragon flew in from the direction of the Hold, making a gliding descent towards the landing ground. One or two fluffy white clouds drifted slowly from west to east, too insignificant to blot out the glorious sunshine. It was good to be alive on a day like this, he reflected, thinking about what Rina had said. There were a few gaps in the Wings due to deaths, injuries and a couple of retirements. Loranth’s clutch would be filling those spare places soon. How many of his friends from the barracks might become just another statistic?

The afternoon passed slowly. Some of the lads had brought a ball made from scraps of leather and they kicked that around for a while. S’brin, usually keen to join in, said he felt tired and dozed off again. D’gar hoped he wasn’t sickening for something.

‘If it stays this fine, there’ll be a few greens going off later,’ J’rud commented. ‘I’m glad Zurinth went when she did. Mass flights can be crazy.’

Sometimes it happened that several dragons all rose at once, especially when the weather was hot and sunny. It almost seemed as if one triggered all the rest.

‘Zemianth’s about due, isn’t she?’ J’rud nudged S’brin.

‘What?’

‘I said Zemianth’s due to rise soon.’

S’brin barely registered him. ‘Don’t think so. She’s still sleeping, up there.’ He gestured toward the heights. Most of Kadoth’s clutch were sprawled together, soaking up the sun. Just like their riders, really.

D’gar registered Herebeth’s presence, getting a sense of contentment from his dragon.

It is warm here, he said, sleepily.

It’s warm down here, too. Sure you don’t fancy a swim?

Maybe, later. If I move now, I will lose my spot.

D’gar’s stomach rumbled, reminding him that lunch had been some time ago. ‘I’m going to the kitchens to get some food. Anyone else want some?’

Most did. It was a bit of a trek from the lake to the kitchens, but his legs could do with a stretch. They’d thrown open all of the doors and windows, but as he walked in the heat hit him like a wall. Agarra was putting the finishing touches to couple of pies, a cloth tied around her hair to stop the sweat running down her face.

‘Any chance of some food for a picnic?’

‘Take some from over there.’ She gestured to the trolleys already loaded with food to go into the dining hall later. ‘Is it nice outside.’

‘Hot. But a lot cooler than in here. Why don’t you come and join us when you finish? We’ll probably stay out most of the evening.’

‘I might do that.’

As he filled a basket with a selection of foodstuffs, he heard a dragon shriek outside, shortly followed by another, a rising crescendo of defiance and desire in their tone.

‘Sounds like a couple of greens are about to get chased,’ Agarra said, wiping her hands on her apron as she went over to the door to have a look.

‘We were saying that earlier.’ Should he take an extra few sweet rolls, he wondered?

‘There’s four of them parading on the heights,’ she commented. ‘One looks a bit like… D’gar, come over here.’

He joined her, curious as to what she’d seen. ‘What?’

‘Isn’t that one Zemianth?’ She pointed to a pale dragon, whose hide seemed to glow with a silvery-green iridescence.

‘Shells! You’re right.’ There’d been no signs of it when he’d left them. Herebeth. Is that Zemianth flirting up there? Would Herebeth be interested this time?

It is Zemianth.

He could tell from his dragon’s even tone that he had no interest in chasing her, or indeed, any of the females who were flapping their wings, bugling, shrieking and generally taunting the males who’d gathered close by to watch.

Agarra was looking at him. ‘Is your dragon going to go after her.’

‘Doesn’t look like it.’ He tried not to feel disappointed. Herebeth would chase when he felt like it and not before.

‘Never mind, love.’ She put an arm around him. ‘All in good time.’

He watched as several riders began to make their way back from the lake shore towards the flight cave. One of the greens glided down to the feeding grounds, where she killed and blooded a small herdbeast. Greens didn’t always blood their kills, although when they did, it usually gave them the energy for a longer flight. D’gar tried to count the number of male dragons waiting for the chase to begin. At least twenty, he thought, hoping S’brin - and Zemianth - would be all right.

‘I have to go.’ He took the basket and hurried out. Their clutchmates would help S’brin, if he needed it, but he was still concerned.

He met them around half way. M’rell and K’torl were leading S’brin in the right direction, although he kept stopping to look around, mirroring the moves of Zemianth, up on the heights. It was clear he’d lost track of where he was and even who he was as his mind became joined with hers.

‘Give us a hand,’ K’torl said. ‘I think M’rell’s about to get involved in this too.’ Now that D’gar was closer, he could see a similar vacant expression on M’rell’s face. ‘He was all right up until a minute ago, when Toth decided he was interested.’

‘Right. I’ll deal with S’brin if you help M’rell.’ He put the basket down and got S’brin’s arm around his shoulders. ‘Come on,’ he said, encouraging him to walk in the right direction.

The part of S’brin’s mind that he still had some control over registered who was helping. ‘I didn’t think… didn’t think she was goin’ to…’

He sounded almost as if he was drunk, D’gar thought. ‘Don’t worry about it. You can’t help it.’

K’torl was doing the same for M’rell, who kept trying to go the wrong way. ‘I’m just glad Ganath didn’t decide he wanted to join in too. That wouldn’t have been embarrassing in front of Zalna.’

‘Are you two getting along?’

He smiled. ‘Think so. She's really easy to talk to.’

‘I told you.’ They were getting closer to the flight cave now. Other riders were converging on it too, some walking fairly steadily, others being helped by friends. Generally, the more times your dragon had either risen or chased, the better you were able to stay in control, at least until they were in the air and fully committed. Most of those who were able to get there unaided were older riders. Almost instinctively, D’gar looked for H’sal. He didn’t spot the man anywhere, but he might already be inside. There were too many dragons milling around, waiting for it all to begin, to easily identify any of them.

The cave seemed dark, by comparison with the afternoon sunlight out in the Bowl. It was also busy. The two green riders who had already arrived stood in a huddle together, surrounded by the riders of the male dragons. D’gar had to elbow his way through. A couple of the men grabbed at S’brin as they passed, something they’d normally not dare to do, but they were emboldened by their dragon’s mating urges and S’brin obviously not being his usual self.

‘Get off!’ D’gar said, batting away groping hands. ‘Give him a bit of space.’

Eventually he got through. ‘Here we are,’ he said to S’brin. He didn’t want to leave him there, but had no choice. Any moment now one of the green dragons would launch herself, the others quickly following suit.

The last green rider, a man in his mid-fifties, pushed through the crowd without needing any assistance. He looked quickly at D’gar. ‘Best get out of here, son, while you still can.’

Reluctantly, he let go of S’brin. ‘See you afterwards,’ he said, knowing there was nothing else he could do. It didn’t stop him feeling as if he was abandoning S’brin. A normal mating flight was bad enough, he thought. This felt even more out of control, due to the sheer numbers. Even if someone had a weyrmate, even if their dragons often mated, there was no telling what would happen in such a free-for-all. Most of the male dragons wouldn’t care which female they chased and with so many riders crammed in such a small space, dragonlust would make tempers flare too.

K’torl grabbed him by the shoulder. ‘Come on. You can’t do anything more for him.’

They stepped out into the dazzling light again. Dragons were still shrieking. The green who had blooded sat on her haunches out on the feeding ground, licking her lips. As yet more dragons circled the females, another few riders hurried to join the rest.

One of those up on the heights was the first to fly, triggering all the others into action. D’gar looked up to see Zemianth get away, two blue dragons the quickest to pursue her. The four greens took to the sky, heading in roughly the same direction as the pack of males went after them. Once they gained some height, they’d split off to take their own course, each hoping to attract more suitors than her sisters. The males would have to choose, at that point, which one to go after.

In a fairly short time, the dragons dwindled to coloured specks against the blue sky. The Weyr became quiet again. Down at the lake, people still lounged and dragons swam.

‘Your basket’s still there,’ K’torl said. ‘Shall we take it down to the others?’

‘Might as well.’

As they walked, he kept wondering what was happening inside the cave. At least if S’brin punched anyone during the flight, he wouldn’t get into trouble for it.

K’torl was evidently thinking along the same lines. ‘Hope they’ll both be all right. Your S’brin and M’rell. It was a bit crowded in there.’

‘I know. Still, at least it wasn’t their first one, eh?’ D’gar knew that K’torl’s dragon hadn’t chased any females yet but it was bound to happen soon.

‘Shards, yes! Imagine getting into a mass flight for your first time. Not much anyone can do about that, is there?’

That was true. Even when green riders asked for a restricted flight, it could still happen. ‘I’m not much looking forward to my first one,’ he admitted. ‘I mean, none of us know how aware we’re going to be until then.’

‘Same here. It’s a worry, isn’t it?’

‘Best that Ganath gets plenty of practice in, though. So he’ll know what he’s about before Gemalth is old enough.’

K’torl gave a small smile. ‘I can hope.’

They shared out the food among their party. K’torl and Zalna sat together again. D’gar noticed Rina looking miserable and went over to her.

‘You all right?’

She nodded. ‘I shouldn’t feel like this, I know. He can’t help Toth doing what dragons have to do. I was just hoping to spend a nice afternoon together.’

‘Don’t worry. I bet he’ll be back with you again soon.’ And definitely in the mood to please her, if Toth hadn’t managed to catch a female. Given the odds, that was the most likely scenario.

‘Must be tough on you,’ she said. ‘Knowing S’brin’s in there with all of those riders.’

‘Not much I can do about it.’ Although, thankfully, only one would end up having sex with him.

‘First couple are coming back,’ T’kes said, shading his eyes with his hand as he looked up. Everyone else followed his gaze. Two blues and a brown were returning to the Weyr.

‘Looks like that one got in a scrap,’ J’rud commented, pointing at a pale blue whose flight seemed erratic as he descended into the Bowl.

Although dragons didn’t fight, when so many were chasing a green, there were often mid-air collisions as they jostled to get closer. D’gar hoped that Toth and Zemianth would both come out of this uninjured.

‘Do you want that last meat roll?’ R’chol asked disturbing his thoughts.

‘No. I’m not hungry.’ It was true. Ever since the flight started, he’d lost his appetite. ‘You have it.’

More dragons began to trail back as their riders left the flight cave. Rina kept checking for M’rell, while pretending to be unconcerned. A couple of the lads started kicking the ball around again. D’gar wondered if all weyrmates went through this every time one of their dragons rose or chased. He thought he’d been prepared for it; he’d seen enough mating flights and even before he’d Impressed, he knew what went on. But when someone you loved was in there, it was different.

‘How long’s this going to go on for?’ Rina asked.

D’gar felt quite sorry for her. She’d always be watching M'rell go off into the flight cave, never able to participate herself without a dragon. ‘Longer than a single flight. When one gets caught, if the dragons chasing her aren’t too tired, they’ll just follow another one. That’s why the Wingleaders hate it when this happens too close to a Fall. They end up with several dragons too exhausted to fight.’

She sighed. ‘I could really use a drink now, but I daren’t go back up there.

It was sensible of her. Lots of weyrfolk hung around the flight cave, waiting to see if the losing riders wanted a partner. Rina obviously didn’t want to get caught up in that.

‘I’ll go and get something.’

‘Could you?’

As he made his way toward the kitchens more riders emerged. Surely it must be over by now? He risked asking one of them, an older blue rider he knew was in ‘B’ Wing.

‘Has everyone been caught yet?’

‘Just now. Two of ‘em almost at the same time as well.’ He shook his head. ‘We were so close.’

D’gar assumed he meant his dragon had almost caught one of the greens.

The rider gave him a questioning look. ‘You don’t fancy a quick one?’

‘Er, no. Sorry.’

‘Over here, love,’ a woman called out. The blue rider’s face lit up and he left D’gar alone.

He waited a while for M’rell. He could do with a hand carrying back the drinks. But although a few more trailed out, M’rell wasn’t among them. Evidently, on his second attempt, Toth had been successful.

He fetched some ale. It was only on his way back to the lake that he realised he was going to end up having to do this evening’s midden duty instead of S’brin.

‘Thanks Zemianth,’ he muttered. ‘You really pick your moments, don’t you.’

It was later - much later - that evening when S’brin and M’rell rejoined them in the barracks.

D’gar was relieved to see S’brin looked none the worse for wear. In fact, he was smiling, so that had to be a good sign. M’rell came in at almost the same time, his expression a mixture of pride - not every dragon caught his mate on only the second flight - and slight embarrassment.

D’gar soon found out why. ‘So, who did Toth catch?’ he called out.

M’rell shuffled a bit. ‘Er, Zemianth,’ he muttered.

‘Yeah, he did well,’ S’brin said, oblivious to M’rell’s feelings. ‘Even stayed around for a while afterwards, not like some browns and bronzes.’

‘No sign of H’sal then?’

S’brin laughed. ‘Gr’thol told me he took Nalth down to the Hold once he heard Zemianth was flying. Too scared to risk it, apparently. Don’t think he’ll be bothering either of us again.’

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 sort of understands what is going on and how he should feel, have to feel a little sorry for Rina.  Wonder how she will take M'rell and S'brin being together.  Wonder if S'brin sensed M'rell's dragon was close and helped his dragon choose him...

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Rina's always going to feel left out when the dragons rise, but she's grown up in the Weyr so she knows that’s how it is. Although it’s always said that the outcome of a mating flight is up to the dragons, there must be some human influence. I reckon S'brin was glad that M'rell ended up with him - after all, he and D’gar gave M'rell some ‘practical experience' when he asked about it.

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