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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 - 6. Moving Up

‘I’ve been hearing rumours that some more of us are going to be asked to join the Wings soon.’ K’torl sounded cheerful as he strolled into the barracks.

‘Zalna giving you inside knowledge?’ J’rud asked.

K’torl grimaced. ‘She doesn’t know any more than the rest of us. She’s only a junior weyrwoman, after all. No, I heard it from G’dran in ‘D’ Wing. He said that what with all the recent losses and a few retirements they’re going to need new blood.’

That was an unfortunate way of putting it, D’gar thought, but typical of the Wingsecond, who was always very blunt.

’We’ll all need to be on our best behaviour, then.’ G’tash said, looking pointedly at D’gar.

‘I wouldn’t bother,’ S’brin put in. ‘They’ve the whole of Loranth’s clutch to choose from before they even start on our lot.’

G’tash shook his head. ‘You know as well as I that the first thing most of the Wingleaders are going to ask N’teren is how often any of us have got into trouble. They don’t want undisciplined riders in the Wings.’

S’brin shrugged. ‘Everyone gets in a Wing in the end. Anyway, greens don’t have much trouble finding places.’

That was true, D’gar thought. As greens made up the bulk of the Weyr’s population there were always more of them in any Wing than any other colour.

‘That’s all right for you, then,’ G’tash said. ‘But what about D’gar? Us browns are supposed to be responsible, competent and reliable.’

‘No-one’s ever complained about me on deliveries.’ D’gar said, in his defence. ‘In fact, quite a few riders have mentioned I always get to them promptly. And I don’t drop sacks.’ G’tash had been known to misjudge throws a few times.

‘That’s not what it’s about, as well you know.’ G’tash sounded slightly pompous now. ‘I’m just saying you need to consider whether you’re doing yourself any favours.’

S’brin stepped in. ‘What exactly do you mean by that?’ he asked, facing off against G’tash.

‘Just proved my point there, S’brin.’ He turned to D’gar. ‘People aren’t always judged solely by their own actions, but also by the company they keep. No offence intended, or anything, but I reckon T’garrin would give good odds on me getting into a Wing before either of you.’

‘We’ll see,’ D’gar said, although G’tash’s words had hit home. He knew he wasn’t popular with the Weyrlingmaster or his assistant. He and S’brin had been on punishment duties more times than anyone else in the clutch. He’d even overheard N’teren saying to M’nan, ‘D’gar will never amount to very much. He’ll end up as no more than a wingrider for all of his life, I’ll bet.’

They got on with the usual tasks. It was a day for filling up firestone sacks, ready for the next Fall. D’gar and S’brin were back on deliveries now, but all of the weyrlings were needed to make sure sufficient supplies were graded and bagged.

‘Is G’tash getting more irritating, or is it just me?’ S’brin asked.

D’gar held open a sack for him to fill. ‘No. He definitely is. He thinks it’ll make him seem mature and responsible.’

S’brin shovelled some more. ’As long as you don’t start acting like that.’

‘Don’t worry,’ D’gar assured him. ‘No chance of that.’ He tied the top with a blue tag and set it to one side. ‘Three more blues and it’s time for a break, I reckon.’

They sat on the firestone sacks, out of the increasingly hot sun.

‘So which Wing would you all like to be in?’ K’torl asked.

M’rell shrugged. ‘Not bothered really. You?’

‘Well, “A” Wing is the most prestigious.’

‘The Weyrleader doesn’t usually take raw weyrlings, though. He’ll wait until a rider’s proved himself then transfer them over.’ M’rell took a long drink from his flask.

That was true, D’gar realised. T’ron’s Wing was mostly made up of older, more experienced riders. It meant they had less losses than most of the other Wings. ‘“C” Wing’s a good one,’ he offered. ‘R’feem’s a decent Wingleader.’

‘Was, you mean,’ K’torl said. ‘I’ve heard he’s started drinking. His Wingseconds are holding it together, but he’s a mess.’

‘He lost his weyrmate recently,’ M’rell pointed out. ‘Give the man a break.’

D’gar remembered the evening he’d watched them toasting the dead rider. There’d been a few more deaths since then, of course, but that one had stuck in his mind, maybe because he’d delivered to A’til and Mayarth just minutes before it happened. He felt slightly sorry for R’feem; how could anyone just carry on as if nothing had happened after losing someone they loved?

‘I’d not mind “D” Wing,’ K’torl continued. ‘V’dul’s a hard taskmaster, but he promotes through ability rather than age.’

‘Yeah, but they have inspections more often than any other Wing. Riders are always getting extra duties for silly little things they’d get away with anywhere else.’ M’rell said.

‘Definitely don’t want to end up in that one.’ S’brin flopped down next to D’gar.

‘I wouldn’t worry about that,’ M’rell pointed out. ‘V’dul’s very choosy.’

‘Sharding cheek.’ S’brin flicked some water at him. M’rell flicked some back, at which S’brin responded by throwing most of the contents of his flask at him. Everyone else scrambled out of the way. It looked as if it might escalate into a full scale water fight until K’torl stepped in.

‘That’s enough. Don’t want N’teren to come along and see we’re slacking.’

S’brin laughed. ‘Look who’s getting all bronze on us. Yes, Wingleader, sir!’

‘Oh, shut up. You know what I’m trying to say. We should be setting an example to the younger ones now, not playing about as if we were still weyrbrats.’

‘He’s got a point,’ D’gar said cautiously. ‘I mean, there aren’t going to be a lot of places, so they can afford to be choosy. None of the queens are clutching so often these days.’ A lot of them were going to be held back until Suderoth’s latest clutch - still only five months old - learned to fly between so that they could move up to deliveries.

‘Loranth’s well overdue,’ M’rell said. ‘Nearly two Turns since we Impressed and she’s not risen since.’

‘That’s because we’re coming towards the end of a Pass. It’s natural.’ D’gar said. ‘I read about it in the records. It could even indicate we’re going to have a short Pass this time.’

‘What do you mean? They’re always fifty Turns.’ K’torl said.

‘Not exactly. Same as Intervals aren’t always exactly two hundred Turns. They can be as much as two or three Turns longer or shorter.’

‘You mean we might not even get to fight Thread before the Pass ends?’ K’torl sounded dismayed.

D’gar made a face. ‘No chance of that. We’re all going to get to fight. So will the clutch below ours. The ones after that, though… Maybe not.’

K’torl’s face fell as he had another thought. ‘That might mean Gemalth won’t rise for Turns and Turns.’

‘Tough on you, lover boy.’ S’brin laughed. ‘Ganath might have to chase greens instead.’

It was only a few days later that N’teren came into the barracks one morning and called all of Loranth’s clutch in to the teaching room.

‘Either they’re all in trouble for something, or he’s talking about Wing placements.’ D’gar carried on sweeping the area around Herebeth’s couch. The dragons were outside, enjoying the early sunshine, so it was a good opportunity to clean up. ‘How does Herebeth manage to bring in so much dirt? Zemianth’s couch is much cleaner.’

‘Easier to spot on her,’ S’brin said. ‘If she’s been rolling in the dust, I just tell her to shake herself, or have a quick dunk in the lake.’

‘So you’re saying my dragon’s the same colour as dirt?’

‘Well, it’s true. I mean, blues or greens, it’s going to be obvious. Even gold or bronze will look less shiny. Brown dragons are just grubby creatures. Hey!’ He ducked as D’gar swung the broom at his head. ‘Stop playing around like a weyrbrat.’

It had become their latest saying. ‘I’ll get you later,’ D’gar warned.

‘Promises, promises. Hey, look.’ He pointed over to where J’rud and B’rol were hovering beside the door to the teaching room, evidently trying to hear what was being discussed inside.

‘We’ll hear about it soon enough.’ D’gar carried on sweeping the dust into a pile.

J’rud turned around, putting a finger to his lips. ‘Shhh.’

S’brin went over to join them. All three of them leaned close to the door. D’gar doubted they’d be able to hear much other than the odd word. He swept the dirt into a pan and carried it to the midden pile. By the time he’d returned the meeting had finished and dragons were flying down from the heights.

‘What’s happening?’

‘They’ve all got to get ready for drills,’ B’rol said. ‘Some of the Wingleaders are going to be watching and asking questions afterwards.’

It had been about Wing placements, then. ‘Could you hear much?’ he asked S’brin.

‘Think there are around ten positions going right now.’

M’rell took Toth’s fighting straps down from their hook. ‘This is it.’

‘Good luck,’ D’gar offered.

‘Yeah, fly well.’ S’brin added.

M’rell gave a nervous smile. ‘Let’s hope so.'

Once all the dragons and their riders were ready, the rest of the weyrlings excitedly followed them out. N’teren was already mounted on Chareth, ordering them into formation.

‘That’ll be us, soon,’ S’brin linked his arm through D’gar’s as they watched.

‘Not for a while. They’ve got the rest of Loranth’s clutch to get through before any of us are picked.’

‘Maybe. But would you want L’rion or R’tal, if you were a Wingleader?’

‘True.’ Both of the riders he’d mentioned wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice. L’rion’s green dragon was one of the scattiest in the Weyr, even when she wasn’t proddy and R’tal’s brown had never outgrown his clumsy phase. R’tal wasn’t the brightest glow, either.

Three Wingleaders bronzes glided down from their weyrs. D’gar noticed that R’feem’s Piroth lacked his usual sheen, almost as if he’d been rolling in the Bowl’s dust. R’feem himself, always lean, seemed to have lost weight, his wherhide riding gear hanging from his tall frame. The Wingleaders lined up to cast an eye over their prospective new pairs. Z’los and T’resh shared a joke. V’dul’s dragon came in to land beside them with his usual precision, barely stirring the dust.

N’teren gave the signal and the weyrlings ascended, almost as one. R’tal’s Zunth almost flew into G’reden’s Jekkoth, forcing the blue into an avoidance manoeuvre. If they’d not been under observation, G’reden would probably have had a few choice words for R’tal, but as it was, he left it at a glare.

The four bronzes followed. Within minutes, they were high above the Weyr. D’gar and S’brin watched the first few manoeuvres until the dragons became lost among the clouds.

They were out for quite a while. When the dragons returned, riders and Wingleaders went back inside the teaching room. They emerged a good hour later. As soon as N’teren and the Wingleaders had left, everyone crowded around to find out how it had gone.

‘That was tough,’ M’rell told them. ‘The drills weren’t too bad. We had to keep formation, break out then come back into line, blink between as if we were dodging Thread…’

‘Then we had to repeat the same moves time and time again,’ G’reden put in. ‘Sometimes, they’d deliberately fly into our space to see how we coped.’

‘My turns weren’t the best,’ K’torl confessed. ‘I almost clipped wings with Mirlith once or twice.’

‘It was the questions, though. They were hard.’ E’sen wiped his brow. ‘We had to queue up and see each Wingleader individually. They all asked different sorts of things.’

‘Like what?’ D’gar was interested to find out.

‘Some of them were easy. Like how many sacks of firestone would the average green dragon use in a half Fall,’ E’sen told him. ‘Or naming the different types of Threadfighting formation and when they’d be used.’

‘Lots of facts and figures,’ K’torl added. ‘But then V’dul asked me, “where do you see yourself in five Turns time?” I thought I should seem ambitious, so I said possibly as a Wingsecond.’

‘He asked me that one, too,’ M’rell said. ‘I told him, “hopefully still alive.” I was trying to make light of it, but I’m not sure if he appreciated that.’

G’reden shrugged. ‘Those questions were tricky. I mean, what are you expected to say when you’re asked, “what is your greatest weakness?”’

‘No idea,’ D’gar admitted. ‘I mean, you don’t want to make yourself look bad, do you? Is there even a right or a wrong answer to something like that?’

‘It was V’dul and Z’los who asked all those sort,’ M’rell said. ‘Don’t know how they’ll mark them, though.’

D’gar considered this. ‘It’s probably to see how quickly you can come up with an answer when you’re put on the spot. Or to find out who thinks differently.’

‘That’ll be you, then, when it comes to our turn.’ S’brin leaned across. ‘Any idea how you all did?’

‘They’re in talking with N’teren now. We’ll know later on.’ M’rell sighed. ‘Anyone’s guess really. I know Toth performed well in the air. I can’t help it if I messed up on the questions.'

‘Do you suppose they use the same questions each time?’ J’rud wondered. ‘We could write them down while everyone remembers, then learn the right answers.’

‘Doubt it. Otherwise every class would do that.’ K’torl hung up his wherhide jacket. ‘Nothing we can do now but wait.’

It was a rest day, so most spent the afternoon relaxing. K’torl and Zalna went for a stroll to the far side of the lake, as far away from his clutchmates as he could get. Gemalth, tired of trying to walk so far, got into the water and swam across to join them, while bronze Ganath preened.

‘Think he’s got it bad for her?’ S’brin commented.

‘Looks like it. I’m glad to see she’s found a friend her own age. Someone who can help her adjust to Weyr life.’ D’gar hadn’t seen Zalna so often since she became friends with K’torl. He missed their chats; he’d enjoyed talking to her. It had given him a different view of the Weyr, seeing it through the eyes of someone who was new to it all. But he’d never be more than just a friend, whereas with K’torl, she might have found someone who could be more than that. It would be just perfect if Ganath flew Gemalth, like something out of a ballad.

‘He’ll enjoy her company even more when Loranth finally rises.’ S’brin had a wicked grin on his face.

‘She won’t be allowed to do anything with Gemalth being young. Like we had to.’

‘Except we got round it quite a few times. Think they’ll figure out the same?’

D’gar wasn’t sure about that. Being Holdbred, Zalna’s inhibitions against sex outside of marriage would have been drummed into her from an early age. It probably wouldn’t even occur to her to find out ways to enjoy herself that didn’t upset the dragons. ‘I don’t reckon so,’ he said.

’T’garrin’s taking bets on when Loranth will rise to mate. I’m putting marks on that it’ll before before the end of the summer. Look, she’s soaking up the sun again today.’ He nodded toward the heights, where Fort’s senior queen was sprawled, a great golden mound.

‘Think there’ll be much competition for the Weyrleader’s job.’

‘The usual ones. V’dul, Z’los. They’re the only Wingleaders with any ambition. Some of the other bronzes might chase, but they’re not really in with a chance. I’m putting my marks on Fidranth flying her again.’

‘You’re probably right.’ D’gar’s thoughts wandered. Would some of their friends soon be wing riders? And if so, which weyrs would they be allocated? Probably the higher level ones, to start with. Lower weyrs were always more popular, particularly the ones which had access via the back stairs so you didn’t have to rely on your dragon ferrying you to and fro. But it took a few Turns and a degree of seniority to get one of those.

S’brin nudged him. ‘Thinking again? I can see that expression on your face.’

‘Just wondering who’s going to get into the Wings this time around.’

‘Well, we can probably guess who’s not.’ S’brin lay back on the ground and gazed up at the sky. ‘Pity it can’t be us this time. Be nice to have our own weyr, wouldn’t it?’

It was traditional to announce the new positions after dinner. All of the weyrlings from Loranth’s clutch were edgy that night, waiting for the moment when they’d find out who had been chosen. Being the first members of any clutch to graduate to the Wings was a cause for pride; it meant that you were considered to be the best; the pick of the crop, so to speak. N’teren sat at the head of the table. He already knew, of course, but he wasn’t giving anything away.

When everyone had finished eating, even the old retired riders without many teeth left, T’ron stood. He rapped the table a couple of times. ‘Your attention, please.’

It didn’t take much for the assembled weyrfolk to settle down; they’d all been waiting for this moment. As well as the tables being full, many of the Lower Caverns workers stood by the various entrances. Foster mothers waited nervously to find out which of the boys they’d raised would be becoming fully-fledged dragonriders tonight.

‘As you know, vacancies have recently arisen in several Wings. This morning, the Wingleaders concerned spent some time in assessing the abilities of Loranth’s most recent clutch.’ He paused there to smile down at Mardra. ‘I know the lads have been eagerly awaiting the results. So I’m not going to prolong their agony any further. Wingleaders, please proceed.’

T’resh, leader of ‘B’ Wing went first, walking slowly from his table towards the weyrlings. All eyes were upon him as he stopped just behind P’rel, rider of bronze Rodriolth. Tapping him gently on the right shoulder he said the traditional words. ‘The Weyrleader has allowed me to ride with you.’

P’rel couldn’t restrain the grin that broke out on his face as he stood, while his friends clapped, cheered and pounded the table to show their appreciation. Empty plates rattled and a few folk had to grab their cups to stop the contents spilling over.

Twice more, T’resh stopped to choose his new wing riders. B’shon and Sh’bul also stood, then followed their Wingleader back to ‘B’ Wing’s table The existing wingriders applauded them just as loudly and made room for them to sit. The Wingseconds passed around cups of fiery spirit to toast their new wing mates later, once the ceremonial part was over. D’gar was struck by the similarity to the send offs given to the dead. Welcomed with a drink, remembered with one, he thought, then stopped himself going any further along that line of flight. He should be happy at this moment, not dwelling on dark thoughts.

R’feem went next. He tapped M’rell first, followed by G’reden. D’gar cheered along with everyone else. M’rell would have his own weyr soon! He couldn’t help noticing the slightly disappointed look on K’torl’s face. P’rel had beaten him to be the first bronze rider chosen. It was clear that he feared he might not be picked at all.

The two new wing riders followed R’feem back to their table, leaving more gaps among the weyrlings. There were loud whistles from M’rell’s foster mother, Grania, while Rina looked as if she wanted to run and hug him and had to be gently held back by a couple of others.

‘Five gone, five more to go,’ S’brin whispered. ‘Think K’torl will get one?’

‘Let’s hope so.’ D’gar glanced up to the top table, where Zalna sat alongside Tirelle. She’d been trained not to show excessive emotion, so her face was a mask, giving nothing away.

It was V’dul’s turn, for ‘D’ Wing. He chose three weyrlings, one brown and two green. Sh’san, I’tol and E’sen followed him back. K’torl’s shoulders were slumped. He’d hoped to get into V’dul’s Wing, D’gar recalled.

Now there were only two more places and it was Z’los who came up to the weyrlings table. When he stopped behind K’torl, it was evident he couldn’t quite believe it was actually about to happen. He sat stiffly, not daring to look around as Z’los tapped his shoulder and said the traditional words. Blue Mirlith’s rider, V’sil, joined him and it was all done. The dining hall erupted into cheers as relatives and friends surged forward, all semblance of restraint gone. Zalna allowed herself a smile and a wave as K’torl settled himself on his new table.

The thirteen weyrlings of Loranth’s clutch who remained tried their best to conceal their disappointment. N’teren passed round a skin of wine for everyone to share in a toast to those who had succeeded. Even he had lost his usual dour expression and appeared fairly cheerful.

The rest of the evening was loud with celebration. Some of the riders cleared the tables to the sides to make a space, instruments were brought out and a few couples danced. Ballaran, the Weyr Harper, sang a traditional ballad welcoming the newly fledged dragonriders, then took requests for songs that grew ever more bawdy. Wine - and stronger drink - flowed freely.

D’gar wondered how long it would be before he - and S’brin - joined a Wing. It might not even happen at the same time, he realised. There was no guarantee they’d be in the same Wing, either, although that would be less of an issue. As a brown, Herebeth would be able to fly a full Fall, whatever the length. Zemianth, like the other greens and blues, would always fly shifts, or be kept on standby. It would be good to have their own weyr, though; a private space they could share and make their own.

S’brin poured another measure of wine into his cup. ‘Let’s hope M’rell throws a good party once he gets his new weyr.’

It was another rite of passage to mark a rider’s new status. ‘Should be fun,’ he agreed. ‘I’ll miss him in the barracks.’

‘Yeah. He was always on our side. Here’s to M’rell,’ he raised his cup.

‘Here’s to all of them,’ D’gar agreed. May they all stay safe, he added silently before drinking.

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

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Chapter Comments

Excellent update, nice to see that side of it all.  Never thought about how nervous they all would be waiting to get selected.  l guess like any position, you want certain places because of leadership or stability; but you make due with where you are selected and work to fit in.

 

 

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