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  • 4,207 Words
Recognized characters/events/plots from Dragonriders of Pern belong to Ann McCaffrey

Canon-typical violence, character deaths

Threadfall - 8. Wing Assessments

S'brin and D'gar get their first chance to impress a Wingleader when assessments take place.

Turn’s End passed by. Loranth’s newest clutch took their places in the barracks. D’gar heard a couple of the lads from Suderoth’s clutch making the same sort of comments he’d done, wondering if their dragons had ever been that small, clumsy and noisy.

By early spring, most of them were flying well. Even Gemalth was doing circuits of the Bowl, Zalna’s hair tucked under a flying cap.

‘Doesn’t she look great in wherhide?’ K’torl’s voice was full of admiration. ‘And just see them fly!’

‘He’s really got it bad,’ S’brin commented, after K’torl had run over to help Zalna dismount when the session ended.

‘Good to see them enjoying themselves.’ At this rate, the pairs would soon be taking the next step; learning how to fly between. Once there were more young dragons available for delivery duties, then the rest of them could start moving up to the Wings. A couple more from Loranth’s clutch had graduated just after Turn’s End, leaving only eight still in the barracks. In some cases that had been down to bad luck: having the wrong colour dragon to fill a vacant slot. However, a few of those who remained wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice.

‘Thinking again?’ S’brin nudged him.

‘How do you know I’m not talking to Herebeth?’

‘It’s a different expression. Like this.’ S’brin tried to demonstrate.

‘You look like you’re constipated.’

‘So do you, when you think. So I obviously got it right. Anyway, what’s going on in that brain of yours today?’

‘Wondering when we’ll get in a Wing.’

‘Soon, with any luck.’

They were both finding it increasingly difficult in the barracks. It wasn’t just all the youngsters and the lack of privacy, but having to tolerate M’nan’s pettiness. He was getting involved in many of the everyday duties as rumour had it that N’teren was considering stepping down. He’d been Weyrlingmaster for almost fifteen turns, so he was probably sick of the job. ‘It had better be before M’nan takes over,’ D’gar said. ‘If we’re still here then, our lives won’t be worth living.’

‘Imagine what it’ll be like, having our own weyr. No more midden duty. No more stupid inspections…’

‘Parties whenever we like,’ D’gar went on. M’rell and K’torl had thrown a few memorable parties since getting their own weyrs. ‘If we manage to get a double weyr, we’ll have twice the space.’

‘If,’ S’brin warned. ‘There are never enough double weyrs to go around. Still, even if we get separate ones, we can take it in turns as to where we sleep. The dragons won’t mind.’

D’gar wasn’t sure the two dragons would even want to be together anyway. Herebeth hadn’t bothered to chase any other dragons since Carainth. He seemed to regard Zemianth as a flying partner rather than a prospective mate. They still occasionally launched themselves into aerobatic flights over the Weyr, despite the difference in size now both had reached their full growth.

S’brin continued, warming to the theme. ‘We’ll be able to leave the Weyr whenever we want, as well.’

As weyrlings, they weren’t allowed out except when supervised on drills or patrols. Because of this restriction, they had missed a few trips to the beaches of Southern Boll organised by friends who had already joined the Wings. ‘But first, Suderoth’s clutch have to be able to fly between, so they can take over our duties.’

It didn’t happen for a couple more sevendays. N’teren was always cautious when embarking on that aspect of the training. Everyone knew it could be dangerous and although the previous two classes hadn’t lost anyone, that wasn’t always the case.

Just as had happened for their own class, the weyrlings assembled for flying practise as normal before being told that this was the day. And, as always, word spread quickly.

B’rol ran into the barracks. ‘They’re going to be flying between today. I just heard.’

The remainder of the weyrlings hurried outside. Many of the other riders and weyrfolk were already in the Bowl; foster mothers looked worried, children stared without really understanding, the riders caught each other’s eye, remembering how it had felt the first time they’d tried out this vital skill.

D’gar glanced up to K’torl’s weyr ledge. He was standing next to Ganath. Even gold dragons and their riders had to learn to fly between and they weren’t immune to the same weyrling errors anyone could make. K’torl would probably be more concerned for Zalna than he’d been himself. D’gar remembered how nervous he’d felt, having successfully jumped between on Herebeth, waiting for S’brin and Zemianth to reappear that first time.

‘Bet he’s worried,’ S’brin commented, obviously thinking along the same lines.

N’teren took his time checking all the dragons and their riders were ready before giving them the signal to take off. Everyone watched as they flew to the further end of the Weyr, at the top of the valley, then commenced circling in a holding pattern.

‘At least she’ll get to go first.’ It was traditional to fly in colour order; so gold would take priority. The three bronzes in the clutch would have the honour of going second. D’gar remembered N’teren’s instructions about visualising your destination; be accurate, but not over precise. Use landmarks that don’t change. That was why the first jump was always to the Star Stones. The weyrlings would have seen them from the air many times by now and should have a good mental picture, as would their dragons. He strained his eyes to see the tiny specks in the far distance. Gemalth shone brightly; unmistakably a queen. Then, she disappeared.

It seemed as if everyone watching held their breath. To lose any rider was tragic; to lose a queen unthinkable. D’gar counted slowly, just as he did when riding Herebeth. S’brin reached for his hand. Then, as suddenly as she’d gone, Gemalth reappeared above the Star Stones. Spontaneous cheers rang out across the Bowl. Zalna punched the air and K’torl hugged Ganath’s neck. Zalna did as she should and made space for the next dragon, circling and watching as one by one, her clutchmates followed suit.

All the bronzes made the jump successfully, to light applause from the watching weyrfolk. As each pair appeared, the tension seemed to diminish just a tiny bit more. One by one, the four brown dragons arrived above the Star Stones, then took their places in the waiting circle.

‘That was one of those times I hated riding green,’ S’brin whispered. ‘All that waiting around. And even then, N’teren made me go last of all.’

‘I know. I remember.’ While they spoke, two of the blues made a successful transit, shortly followed by the third. Then as they waited for the fourth to appear, all the dragons began to keen.

‘Shit!’ S’brin swore. ‘Who was it?’

Herebeth provided the answer. Sisenth is gone.

D’gar wasn’t as familiar with them as his own or Loranth’s clutch. While he felt sad for the pair, it didn’t have the same impact as seeing P’rel and Rodriolth die. Still, it must be awful to be the next rider in turn. He felt for the unknown blue pair who had seen their clutchmate - maybe friend - vanish forever just before their own first attempt to fly between.

The rest of them made it through. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Weyrfolk went back to their work. The remainder of the clutch would practice for the rest of the morning, perfecting their skills. Grief would have to be put aside until later, just as when someone died in the middle of a Fall.

When the weyrlings arrived back, there was no air of celebration. Most seemed stunned by their clutchmate’s death. Some had tear-streaked faces. Their dragons’ colour had turned slightly grey. N’teren kept them busy cleaning and oiling their straps and checking their dragons. He looked weary and almost as sad, D’gar thought. Must be horrible to be so closely involved in training youngsters and to lose one like that. You’d always get the feeling it was somehow your fault; that if you’d gone over the procedure once more, or double checked the visual, it might not have happened.

‘Don’t think I’d want his job,’ he said to S’brin.

‘Don’t think you’ll ever get it,’ he replied. ‘But here comes the one who does want it.’

M’nan strode into the barracks. ‘Right. You lot. Kadoth’s clutch. Get yourselves to the firestone dump. There are sacks to be filled.’

‘Such sympathy,’ S’brin said quietly. ‘Such tact.’

‘Such an asshole,’ D’gar added, making S’brin snigger. M’nan looked around to see who had made the noise, but everyone in the vicinity feigned innocence. He glared at them all and stomped out again.

Spring came to the Weyr. Agarra always said it was officially spring when the mud dried up and summer when it turned to dust. After a few more sevendays of between training, N’teren pronounced Suderoth’s clutch ready for delivery duty. The first few Falls they shadowed the more experienced weyrlings. D’gar found he quite enjoyed passing on tips and tricks he’d learned in the time he’d been doing the job. Then came the day that N’teren thought it was time to let the Wingleaders decide who would be the next to graduate. He announced that the following afternoon they would all be assessed for their suitability to join the Wings.

‘It’s stupid,’ R’tal complained, once N’teren was out of earshot. ‘We already did it before.’

‘Yes, but you didn’t get in a Wing,’ G’tash pointed out. ‘And it might be different Wingleaders assessing this time, who don’t know how you or your dragon performs.’

‘We’re older than you,’ L’rion said. ‘We should graduate before you lot.’

‘Not if no-one wants you,’ S’brin said to D’gar, leaning close so L’rion didn’t hear it.

‘Surely they’ll want to pick the best,’ G’tash said. ‘I know I would if I was a Wingleader.’

‘Are you saying your dragon can outfly mine?’ R’tal sounded somewhat aggressive.

‘Maybe he can.’ G’tash wasn’t backing down. ‘At least Kailarth isn’t clumsy.’

‘Neither is Zunth.’

They were faced off against each other now and the tension in the air was palpable. D’gar thought it was probably time to put a stop to it. ‘Leave it, lads. It’s down to the Wingleaders to decide. And it won’t do any of us any good if N’teren or M’nan come in and find we’ve been fighting.’

‘Says the one who’s on midden duty more often than not,’ G’tash grumbled, although he did back down.

D’gar and S’brin spent the evening in M’rell’s weyr, trying to find out tips from him.

‘Shells!’ he said. ‘It was that long ago I can barely remember.’

‘It was only last Turn.’

‘Well, it seems a long time ago.’ M’rell poured them both some wine. ‘Funny, but I don’t think about sevendays or months now. It’s how many Falls.’

‘What do you mean?’ D’gar asked.

‘Well, there’s a pattern to them. You must have noticed that. It’s a repeating cycle, with just an occasional variation. Once you’re in a Wing, that’s how everyone talks. Six Falls until we’re back over Ruatha, or three since that bad one over Peyton. Or two since we lost Farith and B’shon. He was the second to go from our clutch, you know.’ M’rell took a drink and stared off into the distance. ‘It doesn’t get any easier.’

D’gar felt bad for him. It would be the same when they joined the Wings, too. He wondered which of their clutch would be the first to die, then stopped himself from thinking along those lines.

‘So, how’s R’feem as a Wingleader?’ S’brin asked.

‘He’s good. Always makes sure everyone know what the plan is. Plus he’s got a couple of experienced Wingseconds. They can practically read each other’s minds; don’t even need dragons. I’m glad I’m in his Wing. They look out for us new pairs. But you won’t have a lot of choice where you end up.’

‘It all depends on where the gaps are, doesn’t it?’

‘Mostly. Or people transferring around. So, at the moment, there are a couple of riders going to join “A” Wing, which will make vacancies elsewhere. And “F” Wing are short on greens, while “H” needs browns. Luck of the draw, really. The only tip I can give you is to ride your best and don’t try to be too showy.’

There were three Wingleaders looking for riders this time; Z’los, Sh’viel and N’gol. They spent some time with N’teren in his quarters, while M’nan, at his most officious, got the dragons and riders assembled on the landing ground. Rather than leaving them in the usual clutch groupings, he formed them up in order of colour. That left D’gar next to G’tash, R’tal and O’ron.

Watch Zunth, he told Herebeth. He’s as likely to scrape wingtips as not.

I will keep a good distance. Do not worry.

Remember, nothing flashy. We fly precisely today, no showy, unnecessary moves. Remind Zemianth of that, too. D’gar felt quietly confident that they would do a good job. He knew that of the four browns, Herebeth was definitely the best flyer, even if he did have a shorter wingspan than Kailarth. He hoped the Wingleaders had taken note of their prowess in deliveries, priding himself in never having mistimed a throw or got in the way when he shouldn’t.

‘Here they come,’ G’tash hissed, as N’teren made his way over with the three other men. They cast an experienced eye over the riders and dragons, walking around a few times, although they didn’t ask any questions at this stage. D’gar began to feel nervous under their scrutiny, although thankfully his stomach didn’t play its usual tricks. Throwing up in front of a Wingleader wasn’t the best way to impress.

They were soon in the air, watching the Weyr diminish below them. They went through a few routine drills first to warm up, before N’teren started testing them with some of the familiar exercises they’d done a hundred times, during which each Wingleader observed how the riders and dragons performed. They had to break formation and return to it in the right order, then blink between as if dodging Thread and still stay in the correct place. The Wingleaders mixed them up a bit, seeing how the different colours flew together, as well as checking each colour for their own, specific attributes. In a Wing, one of the most common formations was to have a brown dragon flanked by a blue and a green. The brown’s larger frame meant that he could flame further and longer in one blast, whereas the nimbler blue and green dragons were more efficient at mopping up smaller clumps that fell erratically. D’gar found himself working with J’rud and T’kes and thought they did a good job of demonstrating a variety of moves. After a short break for the dragons to chew firestone, M’nan threw down fake ‘Thread’ from above so that they could demonstrate their flaming expertise. The strands were dipped in dye, so that if a dragon - or rider - was hit, it was very obvious. Neyrenth caught a wingtip in that one, but Herebeth and Zurinth managed to clear everything sent their way with no problems. D’gar couldn’t see how well Zemianth was doing, although he felt sorry for S’brin when he noticed they were having to fly with R’tal and Zunth.

They returned to the Weyr. A few dragons and their riders bore purple stains. D’gar knew from past experience that those were difficult to wash out. He took Herebeth’s straps off, then went back to the barracks for the part he really dreaded. Not so much the practical questions, as he knew he had a good memory for facts and figures, more how he would answer those tricky ones. He decided that he wouldn’t try to be too clever or to over think things. M’rell had, after all, got into a Wing just saying what came into his mind rather than trying to work out what he thought they wanted. Although K’torl had done just that and got in as well.

They queued up and went to each Wingleader in turn. It seemed that this time around, Z’los was the one asking those awkward questions that had no right or wrong answer.

‘So, D’gar, why would you like to join “F” Wing in particular?’

‘It’s a, er, a good Wing.’ Flattery was never a bad thing, even though he had no idea why any of the Wings - apart from the Weyrleader’s, which you had to be invited to join - were any different from each other.

Z’los smiled briefly, then stayed silent, encouraging him to continue.

He decided to be honest. ‘I’m not sure what else to say. I mean, my friend K’torl is in your Wing and he says it’s a good place to be and that he’s learned a lot since joining.’

Z’los made a note on his slate. ‘That’s fine. Now, when I was speaking with the Weyrlingmaster it came up that you are often on punishment duties. Care to tell me why that is?’

D’gar shrugged. He didn’t want to make it sound as if S’brin was the one who got them into trouble, or that M’nan picked on them both. ‘I sometimes speak up when I shouldn’t.’

‘Would you consider yourself impulsive? Short tempered?’

‘I’m not sure.’ Why couldn’t Z’los simply ask N’teren all of this? ‘I think I might have been when I was younger.’ That was a good answer. It implied that he may have grown out of it.

‘Hmm.’ Z’los consulted his notes. ‘It seems to me as if you’ve been getting into trouble more often over the past Turn, rather than less.’

That was definitely down to M’nan. Plus all the bother with H’sal. He didn’t know what to say. Well, he did, but he couldn’t tell any of it to a Wingleader. ‘It’s the barracks,’ he said after a short while. ‘We’ve been here a long while now and I’ve been getting annoyed with people.’ It was close enough to the truth, yet also sounded reasonable. Maybe Z’los would make the connection that if D’gar was no longer living in the barracks, his behaviour would improve.

Z’los nodded. ‘Thank you. That’s all.’ Even before D’gar had got out of the chair he was beckoning to the next weyrling.

Sh’viel was easier. D’gar remembered that it was his Wing that needed brown dragons, so did his best to impress. Fortunately his questions were all about formations, firestone and all of the other facts and figures he could recite in his sleep, so he came away feeling as if he was in with a good chance there. N’gol asked similar questions and also gave him a scenario in which he had to prioritise his actions and explain the reasons for doing so. He thought he reasoned that out well, too. Once the questions were over, the three Wingleaders consulted with N’teren again before finally leaving.

‘How do you think you did?’ J’rud asked D’gar.

‘Fine on the flying, not so sure about some of the questions.’

‘Me too.’

‘I messed up,’ T’kes sounded miserable. ‘I’m sure M’nan deliberately tried to dump that stuff on top of us.’

‘That was the whole point of it. He threw a few handfuls my way, as well,’ S’brin said. ‘We dodged, though.’

G’tash came over. ‘Pretty sure I gave some good answers to Z’los.’

‘Lucky you.’ D’gar wished he felt as confident. ‘What did he ask?’

‘Why I wanted to be in his Wing. I told him because it’s the best.’

S’brin made a gagging noise.

‘No, seriously, that’s what they want to hear. Then he asked me where I saw myself in five Turns.’

‘M’rell’s answer to that one was, “still alive”,’ D’gar said.

‘What was yours?’

‘He didn’t ask me that.’

G’tash looked smug. ‘Apparently they only ask that one if you’re on their short list.’

D’gar tried not to feel disheartened. G’tash didn’t really know that for sure.

‘Do you think we’ll get in?’ S’brin asked, once they were alone.

‘How did you feel you did?’

‘Flew well. Answered everything as well as I could. They asked me why I was always in trouble.’

‘Yeah, me as well. That’s why I don’t think they’ll want us.’

‘We might be wrong, of course. Might be choosing our new weyr tomorrow.’

‘Let’s hope so.’

Dinner that night was tense with expectation, worse than before, because this time there was something to lose. D’gar couldn’t help but notice Agarra waiting expectantly just outside the archway that led into the kitchens. He’d already steeled himself for disappointment - even though he still hoped he might be wrong - but he knew it would affect her just as badly if he wasn’t chosen.

T’ron gave his usual speech before the Wingleaders took their turn to go and pick their new riders. As Z’los made his way to the weyrlings table, he felt his heart hammering in anticipation, even though he willed it not to. He told himself that it didn’t matter as Z’los stopped behind G’tash’s chair.

‘Well done,’ he said as G’tash stood, beaming. Several cheers rose up, although some of the weyrlings from Loranth’s clutch looked sour at having been beaten to the Wings by a younger rider. Z’los chose two more, both greens from Loranth’s clutch, which restored some of their pride.

D’gar glanced at S’brin as Sh’viel took his turn. M’rell had said ‘H’ Wing were short on browns, so this was his best chance. He knew Herebeth and he could easily outperform the other two. Surely that would have been obvious to anyone with eyes in their head?

But Sh’viel walked right past him and went to stand behind O’ron. That was bad enough, but when he also picked R’tal, D’gar could hardly believe it. S’brin clasped his hand under the cover of the table. ‘Think he might regret that one,’ he hissed. ‘Zunth nearly barged me a couple of times this afternoon.’

Sh’viel continued, picking up a blue from Loranth’s clutch and finally B’rol, from their own. He gave D’gar a quick smile as as he followed the Wingleader back to his new table.

‘Good on him,’ S’brin said. ‘He thought he’d done well.’

One more to go. D’gar was still hopeful, but N’gol picked two blues before tapping R’chol and T’mudra as his newest green pairs. Beside him, S’brin swore under his breath. Zemianth and Jassainth weren’t even in the same league, D’gar knew. ‘Never mind,’ he said quietly, just before the dining hall erupted into the usual cheers and table pounding.

Back in the barracks, they both sat on the edge of S’brin’s bed. ‘I can’t believe T’mudra got into a Wing before me.’

D’gar felt much the same. Even Herebeth radiated disappointment. He felt as if he had let his dragon down. ‘Good for the others, though.’ He didn’t resent their success; they were all decent pairs. No better than himself and S’brin though, when it came down to it. ‘We need to do something before the next time.’

‘Like what?’

‘Not get into any more trouble. That’s what the problem was. They’d rather take anyone else but us, because we’re seen as troublemakers.’

‘It’s not fair.’

‘No, but we’ve got to play the game. Otherwise some of that lot,’ he gestured towards Suderoth’s clutch, ‘Will be getting tapped before we do.’

S’brin stared at the floor. ‘I don’t know if I can.’

‘Can what?’

‘Not react, if someone says something.’

D’gar rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘You’ve got me. I’ll stop you, if needs be. From now on, the only time you’re allowed to hit someone is in the middle of a mating flight.’

The following morning, all of the pairs who’d graduated prepared to move out of the barracks. T’mudra was packing up his few belongings as D’gar and S’brin returned from breakfast while Jassainth lolled on her couch. He spotted them and smiled, but not in a friendly way.

‘Bye, bye, losers,’ he said.

S’brin wheeled around. ‘What was that?’

D’gar hadn’t thought it would happen so soon, but he was ready. He grabbed S’brin’s arm. ‘Remember, no trouble,’ he hissed.

T’mudra was too full of himself to stop. ‘We’re the pick of the crop. First ones in the clutch to get out of here. You two are nothing. You never will be.’

D’gar had to work quite hard to restrain S’brin. ‘He’s not worth it,’ he said, loud enough for them both to hear this time.

‘No,’ T’mudra said, evidently delighted that he was safe. ‘Better not hit a wingrider, weyrling.’ He gathered up his pack. ‘I’m off to pick my new weyr.’

S’brin was trembling with pent up fury as he walked out. ‘That little shit…’

‘You did well,’ D’gar said. ‘Now, we just have to keep that up for another couple of months and everything will be fine.’

S’brin began to calm down. ‘You’re right. It’s not easy, though.’

‘Didn’t think it would be. But we’ll make it. Just wait and see, we’ll be the next ones out of here.’

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

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Chapter Comments

D'gar has the right of it I think, staying calm and remaining above the fray, karma's a bitch...just hope T'mudra understands that, sounds like the overconfident type...

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S'brin will have to learn to bite his tongue and shut the fuck up.  Almost every time that D'gar got into trouble was for backing him up.  Payback and karma is a bitch, and a few of them that got picked may have trouble coming they don't see.

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10 hours ago, drsawzall said:

D'gar has the right of it I think, staying calm and remaining above the fray, karma's a bitch...just hope T'mudra understands that, sounds like the overconfident type...

D'gar can see what they need to do, if only he can keep S'brin from losing it at the slightest thing. Quite a few of the weyrlings moving up suffer from overconfidence. That’s why the first couple of months in a Wing is so dangerous.

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5 hours ago, centexhairysub said:

S'brin will have to learn to bite his tongue and shut the fuck up.  Almost every time that D'gar got into trouble was for backing him up.  Payback and karma is a bitch, and a few of them that got picked may have trouble coming they don't see.

Yes, there's a lot of overconfidence about fighting Thread at this point in their lives. They know -and have seen - that people and dragons die fighting Thread, but like many at that age, don't believe it can happen to them.

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