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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 - 9. Lost Chances

Some of the weyrlings get a second chance. Some don't.

‘So, you’re trying to stay out of trouble, are you?’ Agarra stood with her hands on her hips as D’gar tipped out the food waste from the bin. The recent warm weather had made it smell pretty bad.

‘Trying,’ he replied. At least it was only him this time, although if he’d not stopped S’brin getting involved, he’d have been doing his turn at the job again. ‘Some people just have it in for me.’ He remembered what S’brin had said. ‘Anyway, everyone gets in a Wing eventually.’

‘Be best not to get left behind next time,’ his mother said. ‘You’re worth more than that.’

‘Thanks, but I wish some of the Wingleaders thought the same way.’

He wheeled the barrow over to the newest pile and shovelled out the rubbish. If only M’nan would stop getting at him, then he’d stand a better chance of keeping off the punishment roster. Not for the first time, he wondered if some weyrfolk still harboured a grudge over his and S’brin’s involvement with Valli. He had a distinct feeling that someone - most likely Mardra - had warned Zalna that she would be better off without his friendship. Yes, she was spending more time with K’torl these days, as their relationship developed, but she also seemed to go out of her way to avoid him. It was a pity.

Midden duty done, he joined all the other weyrlings at the firestone dump. Tomorrow they would be delivering over southern Ruatha and part of Fort Hold; one of the longest Falls the Weyr needed to ride. Their territory was bounded by sea on either side, so they never had the really long Falls such as those ridden by Telgar or High Reaches, who had far more inland areas to cover. Still, there would be a lot of re-stocking to be done, plus extra firestone to ferry into the Weyr itself for the blues and greens waiting on standby.

S’brin was busy stacking sacks, so D’gar joined him. They had a good system going. A couple of the younger weyrlings from Suderoth’s clutch helped, although they looked to be struggling with the heavier bronze sacks.

‘Come on. You lot need to build up your muscles,’ S’brin threw a sack at Gr’dan.

He staggered slightly, not just from the weight, but from the force with which it had been thrown. ‘Careful!’ he protested. ‘That’s not fair.’

‘Listen, lad. You’ll be chucking these to wingriders tomorrow. They won’t appreciate it if they fall short because you’re too feeble.’ S’brin towered over the slightly weedy brown rider.

‘Not everyone’s built like a Gather wrestler,’ he muttered, placing the sack with the others.

‘True. But take D’gar there. He was handling these with no problem just after we’d Impressed and he had a lot less muscle than you back then.’

‘Thanks,’ D’gar said, throwing one to V’lon, slightly more gently.

‘I said then, not now,’ S’brin said ‘You just need to practise’ he told Gr’dan. ‘It’ll make your job easier in the long run.’

‘He’s right,’ D’gar said. ‘It’s safer not to have to get too close to another dragon when you’re delivering.’

‘M’nan said we should get as close as possible.’

D’gar caught S’brin’s eye. Tell Zemianth’s rider not to get himself involved in this one, he sent quickly to Herebeth.

S’brin’s head jerked slightly as he got the message. ‘Well, M’nan knows everything about deliveries, so he may be right,’ he said, although to D’gar’s ears, his words were heavy with sarcasm. ‘We just prefer not to do it that way.’

‘Why?’ asked V’lon. He was a quiet lad, but he seemed to think a bit more than the average weyrling.

D’gar could empathise with that. ‘Like I said, safety’s the main reason. If the other dragon has to dodge fast - say a stray strand of Thread comes down - he could accidentally barge into you. It means you need to throw the sack further, but I reckon it’s worth the effort.’

V’lon nodded. ‘I get that.’

‘Of course, there are other advantages to building yourself up,’ S’brin went on. ‘You can do stuff like this when you need to.’ He dropped the sack and picked up D’gar, who wrapped his legs around S’brin’s back. ‘It’s more fun when your partner doesn’t smell like a midden, of course.’

He dropped D’gar again. ‘What have you been doing?’

‘Midden duty, funnily enough. Another two days, remember?’

‘Ah, yes.’

‘Why are you always on midden duty?’ V’lon asked.

D’gar shrugged. ‘I just get into bother all the time.’

‘M’nan doesn’t like him,’ S’brin said, getting to the point. ‘Or me, much.’

‘Yes, although you should probably try to keep on his right side as it looks like he’s going to become the new Weyrlingmaster.’ N’teren hadn’t actually confirmed yet that he was going to retire from the job, but it was all around the Weyr.

‘He shouts a lot,’ V’lon said. ‘And he’s always having those stupid inspections.’

It was good to know someone else felt the same way. ‘He does things differently than N’teren,’ D’gar said, trying his best to be diplomatic.

‘He’s an idiot,’ S’brin added.

Diplomacy had never been his strong point. ‘Best stop there, eh?’ D’gar suggested. ‘Let’s get on with this before it gets too hot.’

‘Yeah, and maybe you should jump in the baths afterwards.’

‘Only if you promise to join me.’

‘Done.’

Fall was due just after dawn the following day, which meant most of the Weyr were up in the very early hours. M’nan banged the gong just inside the barracks door to wake them all. The kitchen staff had provided porridge, eggs and meat rolls to keep everyone going, although as was usual for an early Fall, a substantial meal would be served mid-morning, once it was all over.

There was an air of quiet calm over the dragons and weyrfolk as night gave way to the grey predawn light. Dragons crunched firestone as D’gar and the others handed out sacks to each of the wingriders before putting fighting straps on their dragons and flying out to the dump to await orders.

The Wings took off in turn and disappeared between. The Red Star shone balefully before the rising sun swamped it and one by one, stars vanished in the ever-lightening sky.

‘Zemianth didn’t want to wake up this morning,’ S’brin said, sitting on one of the sacks and finishing off his third meat roll.

‘I didn’t much, either. Too early.’ D’gar yawned. ‘It’s not natural, having to get up when it’s still dark.’

‘No, I don’t think you understand. She’s been sleeping a lot the last few days. And I reckon she looks brighter this morning, as well.’

‘You mean, you think she’s going to rise?’

He nodded. ‘Not right now, obviously, but soon.’

‘Should you be doing deliveries, then?’ D’gar knew that dragons were inhibited from rising to mate during Threadfall, but if you knew your dragon was close to it, you weren’t supposed to leave the Weyr.

‘It’s not going to happen right away. Maybe not even today. Just thought I’d let you know, so you can ask Herebeth how he’s feeling about it this time.’

Have you noticed anything about Zemianth lately?

She is looking very fine.

And…? Are you going to chase her?

Herebeth sounded surprised. Why should I need to chase her?

D’gar shook his head sadly. ‘He’s oblivious.’

‘It’s probably too soon to tell,’ S’brin said. ‘You know how it is. A lot of them don’t make up their mind until the green’s screeching at them with the dragon equivalent of, “come and get me.”’

The sun rose slowly over the valley. A few injured dragons and riders returned, although none of them required assistance from Gemalth or any of the other support dragons who waited up on the rim.

N’teren’s Chareth landed alongside the other dragons, Bilminth following shortly after. Orders began to come in. D’gar took his first load up to ‘F’ Wing, fighting on the top level. It was windy over Ruatha, especially so high up. Doubtless that had contributed to some of the injuries. Herebeth found it difficult to keep steady while he was throwing sacks across. These were exactly the sort of conditions where you didn’t want to get too close to the other dragon, he reflected. A strong gust could blow you off course all too easily, or cause a midair collision.

Back at the dump, he called out his next orders. ‘Two bronze, two brown, two blue.’

Zurinth landed next to him. ‘Two brown, two blue, one green,’ J’rud shouted out.

D’gar noticed his face was bleeding. ‘What happened to you?’

‘Just caught a stray piece. It’s not too bad. Stings a bit.’ He wiped at the score reflexively.

‘Don’t do that. You’ll get muck in it.’

J’rud laughed. ‘Like I’ll not get char and firestone dust in it anyway. But thanks for the concern. I’ll get it looked at once the deliveries slow down.’

D’gar grabbed the next sacks as the weyrlings brought them. ‘Right. Here we go again.’

Deliveries were non-stop for a while as the windy conditions made the dragons use more flame. Thread blew erratically this way and that. Going up to the higher levels was dangerous, but Herebeth took care of them both, dodging and blinking between when he needed to. As always, time flew by, measured by the number of sacks delivered and remembered as fleeting moments when there was a near miss, either to you or someone close by. But there was something exhilarating, too, about coming back in one piece, knowing that your dragon’s instinct and your own skills had kept you both safe. That must be even more intense when you were in the thick of it as a wingrider.

Once they’d helped clear up the dump, they returned to the Bowl. J’rud had already gone back to get his score treated. Two others on deliveries had minor injuries; a tail score for Koselith and a wingtip for Beyralth.

Zurinth’s rider asks for you, Herebeth said. At almost the same time, S’brin must have got the same message from Zemianth.

‘Is J’rud all right?’ S’brin asked.

‘Last time I saw him, he was. Just a little score on his face.’ They both hurried over to the infirmary, where the queue of riders needing minor treatment was moving along.

J’rud had obviously had his facial score cleaned and numbed, but he came forward to meet them, looking concerned. ‘It’s B’rol.’

‘Where is he?’ D’gar looked around and recognised B’rol’s Milliath among the dragons waiting outside. She had multiple scores over her back and flanks and her head drooped sadly.

‘Somewhere inside. I noticed Milliath when I got here.’

Dragon healers were making their way round with pots of numbweed but D’gar noticed they prioritised the dragons whose riders were with them. A dragon standing alone, like Milliath, was treated with caution. They’d want to find out the condition of her rider before approaching. If a rider died, the dragon would want to take off and go between right away, never mind if anyone was in the way, or trying to help them at the time.

J’rud led the way into the infirmary. It was never a pleasant place to be just after Fall and as they entered, the smell instantly reminded D’gar of when he’d been scored. Healers, riders and concerned weyrfolk moved around busily.

‘I’m looking for our clutchmate, B’rol. Green rider?’ J’rud asked a healer as they made their way through the jam of people just inside.

‘What’s up with him?’

‘I don’t know, but his dragon’s outside with scores all over her.’

‘Take a look further down. Don’t get in anyone’s way, though.’

D’gar followed him between the treatment pallets. He glanced this way and that, scanning for a glimpse of B’rol, while trying not to look too long at some of the injuries. Further from the door, it was less hectic. although healers and their assistants were still working on several riders. D’gar knew they prioritise here, as well. Stopping people from bleeding to death was the main aim, after which they’d have time to assess what else needed to be done.

S’brin slipped and almost fell. D’gar caught him. ‘Careful.’ There was blood on the floor which no-one had had time to clean up yet. They all trod more carefully.

‘I think that’s him.’ J’rud pointed over to the right. Two healers and an assistant were standing over the pallet, talking quietly. As they approached, D’gar recognised B’rol’s dark, curly hair. His face looked untouched, apart from a smear of blood on his forehead. It was only as they drew close enough to see the rest of him that the damage was evident.

B’rol must have caught a clump of Thread across his back; that would account for the scores on Milliath, too. From his own experience, he knew how fast the stuff ate through wherhide. The healers had cut off what was left of his clothing, revealing deep, broad scores. Through all the raw flesh, D’gar glimpsed bone. He felt his stomach begin to churn and had to swallow hard so as not to vomit.

‘Shards!’ S’brin said, voicing what D’gar was thinking.

One of the healers turned. ‘What do you want?’ she asked, sharply.

‘He’s our friend,’ J’rud said.

She motioned with her head for them to follow her and took them a little way off, out of B’rol’s hearing. ‘It’s good you’re here. You can assist us.’

‘How?’

‘He’s not in any pain right now but we’ve done all we can…’

D’gar understood almost at once what she was trying to say. B’rol was beyond help.

S’brin evidently did too. ‘But he’s not bleeding any more. He’ll live, won’t he?’

She pursed her lips. ‘Thread ate through his spine. He might live for a few days, but it wouldn’t be a pleasant end. It’s best for him to go easily.’

J’rud made a small, choked sound.

‘We’ve given him sufficient fellis to dull the pain. He’s still aware and awake. Maybe one of you could talk him through…’

D’gar caught S’brin’s eye. ‘Come on. We can do this for him.’

S’brin shook his head slightly. He turned to the healer again. ‘Are you certain you can’t do anything more?’

‘I’ve seen a few like this,’ she said, sadly. ‘A person can learn to cope without an arm or a leg; even without both legs, but in cases such as your friend… I’m sorry.’

D’gar touched him gently on the arm. ‘It’s the same as helping Valli.’

‘She was old…’ S’brin turned away. He sniffed and wiped his eyes. ‘He’s not even eighteen Turns yet.’

‘I know.’ D’gar gave him a hug. J’rud joined them. The healer left them alone for a few moments, going back to her colleagues. They’d just broken apart when B’rol’s Wingleader arrived. The healer took him aside to explain the situation, leaving the three of them standing, unsure what happened next.

Sh’viel turned to them. ‘You’re all his friends?’

‘Friends and clutchmates,’ J’rud confirmed.

‘That’s good. You’ll know him better than I do.’

It had only been just over a month since B’rol joined ‘H’ Wing. ‘We grew up together, even before we Impressed,’ D’gar said.

Sh’viel nodded. ‘In that case, I’ll look after the dragon. Make sure she has space and everyone’s clear. And, as Wingleader, it’s my duty to make sure he joins her between…

‘No need.’ S’brin spoke up. ‘I can do that.’

‘You sure?’

S’brin looked firm. ‘If that’s all we can do for him, then I’ll gladly do it.’

The Wingleader laid a hand on his shoulder. ‘Good lad.’ He turned to the healer. ‘I’ll get things ready if you want to…’

‘Of course.’ She cleared the space around the pallet. ‘Probably best if just one of you talks to him.’

‘Can I hold his hand,’ J’rud asked. ‘I mean, will he be able to tell?’

‘He still has some sensation in his arms and hands. Go ahead.’

‘I’ll do the talking, then,’ D’gar said. He blinked back tears and kneeled down at B’rol’s side. ‘Hey.’

B’rol opened his eyes. He didn’t look as if he was in pain. ‘We got hit,’ he said, faintly. ‘Milliath’s hurt.’

‘Yes, but she got you home.’ He paused. ‘Can you talk to her?’

B’rol’s eyes unfocused as he talked to his dragon. ‘She says she’s waiting for me.’

‘That’s good.’ D’gar wasn’t sure what to say next. He cleared his throat. ‘Do you know how bad it is?’

‘It hurt a lot when Thread hit me. I couldn’t feel my legs when they got me down. But I’m not in any pain now. Sort of sleepy, though.’

‘They’ve given you some fellis.’ He glanced at the healer and at J’rud and S’brin, on either side of the pallet. ‘J’rud’s here too and S’brin. They’re holding your hands. Can you feel that?’

‘Mm, hmm. That’s kind of them.’ He shut his eyes briefly. ‘I’m done for, aren’t I?’

There was no easy way to say it. ‘You aren’t going to get better.’

B’rol looked away for a moment. A tear rolled down his cheek. ‘That’s what I thought.’

‘We’re going to stay here with you. We’ll see this through together.’ His voice broke. He wiped his eyes. ‘You should probably talk to Milliath again.’

‘Not sure if she’ll understand.’

It might be beyond a dragon’s comprehension. They lived in the here and now, after all. Milliath would know that her rider was comfortable and conscious. Could she conceive that soon he wouldn’t be? ‘Give it a try.’ One of the healers handed him a cup of wine. He recognised the bitter scent of fellis from the times he’d dosed Valli. This was a lot stronger, of course.

B’rol opened his eyes again. ‘She says we’ll fly together soon.’

‘And you will. S’brin’s going to take you to be with her.’ D’gar held up the cup. ‘Do you want some of this now, or to talk for a while more?’ He knew that such a large dose of fellis would send someone to sleep fairly quickly.

‘I don’t want to keep her waiting too long. Her scores hurt, too.’ B’rol raised his head. ‘We had some good times, didn’t we?’

D’gar nodded. He had to blink back tears again. Stay strong, he told himself. That’s not going to help him. ‘We did. Hey, do you remember the time S’brin gave that lecture on flamethrowers, by the lake?’

B’rol smiled. ‘That was funny. I’ll never forget the expression on T’mudra’s face. And there was the time in the barracks, when we all got drunk on that skin of wine.’

’N’teren was furious, wasn’t he?’

‘Yeah, he was. And blamed S’brin, as usual.’ He paused, his expression becoming serious. ‘Let’s have a drink of that now.’

D’gar held the cup close to his lips.

The healer leaned down next to him. ‘Make sure he has it all, before he falls asleep.’

B’rol drank some and made a face. ‘Bitter.’

‘I know. Tillek’s never the best. You’d have thought they could spare some decent Benden, wouldn’t you? Best get it down quickly.’

B’rol swallowed the last of it and D’gar set the empty cup aside.

‘We were just getting the hang of it, too,’ he said. ‘Fighting Thread. Didn’t even see it coming.’

‘It was the same when I got scored. I don’t think anyone does.’

‘Sharding stuff. You all take care, when you get in a Wing.’ B’rol shut his eyes again. ‘Feel quite sleepy now.’ His eyes shut briefly, then he snapped awake again. ‘Tell Linida…’

That was his foster mum. ‘I will.’ He wasn’t sure if B’rol could still hear him, but he kept talking anyway, recounting stories from when they were weyrbrats. B’rol’s breathing gradually became shallower.

The healer reached past D’gar to feel for a pulse in his neck. ‘Almost there,’ she said. A few moments later they heard the dragons keen. D’gar stopped talking and bowed his head. He felt worse than when Valli had died. She’d gone to her death bravely, but she’d lived a good, long life before that. A tear dripped onto the floor. He wasn’t sure if he was grieving for B’rol, or for all the lost lives; all the lost chances.

S’brin reached down to help him up. ‘Are you all right?’

D’gar nodded. ‘Fine.’ Better than B’rol, at any rate. He had a horrible vision of ending the same way, lying broken on a bloody pallet after Threadfall. Better to get wiped out in the air, to go between before you had the time to think about it too much.

J’rud came round to join them. ‘First of our clutch,’ he said, choking a little on the words. ‘It’s so unfair.’ They all hugged again. D’gar felt as if he never wanted to let S’brin go; that while they were together and touching, it somehow kept them both safe.

‘We’d best finish this,’ S’brin said. ‘I made a promise.’ D’gar and J’rud stepped back as he lifted B’rol’s body, carefully and reverently.

‘Thank you,’ said the healer. ‘You did well.’

D’gar and J’rud followed S’brin out of the infirmary. Milliath had gone, of course. Sh’viel was still there, talking with another couple of Wingleaders; R’feem and V’dul.

Zemianth landed in the empty space. For a moment, S’brin seemed unsure what to do next. R’feem stepped in. ‘Best to let your dragon carry him in her talons. Then when you’re between she can let him go, nice and easy.’

‘Right.’ S’brin was practical, as always. He gently placed B’rol’s body in front of Zemianth while he spoke to her. Weyrfolk and riders watched as he mounted up. Zemianth picked up her precious cargo with as much care as S’brin had done just a few minutes before. The Wingleaders asked people to move back to give her room and she rose cleanly as ever into the sky above the Weyr. D’gar followed her flight path until she abruptly disappeared between, counting the seconds as he always did. Zemianth reappeared in almost the same spot as she’d left, making a slow, circling descent before landing in almost the same spot. S’brin got down. D’gar noticed that there was blood on his clothes and hands.

Sh’viel stepped forward. ‘Not much I can say, I know, but you and your clutchmates are welcome to join us tonight when we have a few drinks for him.’

‘Thanks,’ S’brin said. ‘Shall we go and get cleaned up?’

It was always worse when someone so young had died. Everyone knew the statistics, but that didn’t really lessen the sadness. Even in the short time he’d been in ‘H’ Wing, B’rol had made himself useful and the older riders sang his praises. D’gar drank a lot more than he would usually, recalling B’rol’s last moments. He knew he’d not forget today’s work in a good while. Deaths were a regular part of growing up in the Weyr, but now it seemed he held a few close to his heart; Valli, of course, now P’rel, B’shon and B’rol. As the Turns went by, he knew there’d be more of them; ghosts who never quite went away.

Life went on. Three days later Zemianth rose to mate again. D’gar had been almost certain Herebeth would chase her this time, but he didn’t stir. He wondered if his state of mind was affecting his dragon; they had an emotional connection, after all. S’brin had no such choice in the matter. A green's cycle was only interrupted by injury to the dragon. Her rider’s emotional state might delay it slightly but wasn’t enough to stop her rising. He came back to the barracks much more subdued than he’d been after previous flights.

D’gar’s birthday passed by. He was eighteen now. Agarra made him a cake, which they shared in the barracks that night, along with some wine S’brin had liberated. ‘Think you’ll be in a Wing before your next one?’ he mused.

‘Hope so.’ Silently, he also hoped he’d still be around for the next one. He had confidence in Herebeth, of course, but he was enough of a realist to know that didn’t really make any difference. All of those who’d died or ended up maimed had probably been equally as certain they’d stay alive and well.

‘Here’s to us all, then.’ S’brin raised his cup. ‘Let’s see if we can get out of these sharding barracks by Turn’s End.’

It became more urgent when N’teren made the announcement that he was retiring as Weyrlingmaster at the beginning of the ninth month. He’d be joining ‘B’ Wing as Wingsecond, leaving M’nan to take over. ‘This way, he’ll have plenty of time to get accustomed to the job before the next clutch comes along,’ N’teren said, when he told them all.

‘He’s lasted a lot longer than most do,’ Agarra said to D’gar, later on that day. ‘It’s one of those jobs that sounds easy, but isn’t at all.’

D’gar hadn’t always got along with N’teren, but he knew he’d get on even less well with M’nan. ‘Just hope I graduate before then.’

‘I’ve heard some of the Wings will be looking for new riders before summer’s end.’

‘Let’s hope so.’

N’teren spoke to them all a few days later, giving the same news. ‘As you’re all aware, there have been some heavy losses in the Wings over the past few months. On a happier note, a few riders have retired as well, so there are going to be some vacancies. R’feem in “C” Wing has had the good fortune to have a couple of his riders transfer to “A” Wing, as has V’dul in “D” Wing. Sh’viel in “B” Wing is also after some replacements.’

D’gar glanced at S’brin there. Both P’rel and B’rol had been in ‘B’ Wing.

‘So we’ll be having assessments tomorrow. I’ll be asking a few from Suderoth’s clutch to join, as there aren’t enough of you left from Kadoth’s and Loranth’s to fill all the spaces and leave them with some choice. Good luck, everyone.’

Later that night they had a discussion. ‘Suderoth’s lot have only been on firestone deliveries a couple of months,’ T’kes said. ‘If they get in and we don’t it’ll look really bad on us.’

‘Well, you got stained purple last time, so you need to dodge faster.’ S’brin was brushing down his wherhide gear. The firestone dust became ingrained in the seams and made it look dirty.

‘I reckon we’re in with a chance.’ Neither D’gar nor S’brin had been in trouble for a while. ‘If we fly as well as we did last time…’

‘And don’t get too many stupid questions,’ J’rud added.

‘Then we’ll be fine.’ S’brin smiled.

The flying exercises were much the same as they’d been previously, except that D’gar got to work with S’brin and K’dis. All of them dodged the fake ‘Thread' successfully and flamed everything that came their way. Afterwards, while they waited in line for the questions, J’rud confirmed that he and T’kes were also happy with how they’d flown.

When he was called forward, D’gar took a deep breath. He answered all the straightforward questions posed by V’dul and Sh’viel. Evidently it was R’feem’s turn this time to ask the difficult ones.

‘So, where do you see yourself in five Turns?’ R’feem asked, almost wearily.

D’gar thought about repeating M’rell’s answer, because it was true. Then he thought of something better. ‘Looking forward to the end of the Pass, hopefully.’

R’feem gave a small smile. ‘I reckon we’re all doing that. You’re a friend of M’rell’s aren’t you?’

He nodded. ‘Me and S’brin both are.’

‘He’s been trying to persuade me you aren’t really troublemakers. If I take you on, can I trust you not to be disruptive and to obey orders? Because once you’re out of here, the stakes can be somewhat higher than a sevenday on midden duty.’

D’gar looked him in the eye. ‘I know, sir. Our friend B’rol died recently.’

‘Ah, yes, I remember.’

He must have seen so many come and go it wouldn’t always be easy to put names to faces. ‘You can trust me. Both of us, although S’brin would say the same.’

‘You two are weyrmates?’

‘Once we get a weyr.’ Maybe he shouldn’t have said that. Some Wingleaders didn’t like to have weyrmates in the same Wing, because of the disruption if one died. Too late now, though.

‘You flew well together today. Your dragons are well-matched,’ R’feem said. ‘Right, that’s all. Thank you.’

D’gar left, with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Although he’d been asked the all-important question this time, he didn’t feel he’d answered as he should have done. And he shouldn’t have said about being with S’brin either.

‘What’s up?’ S’brin always knew when he was feeling down.

‘Don’t feel as if I did enough.’

‘Listen, if they don’t take us, it’s their loss. No-one could fault the way Herebeth or Zemianth flew.’

‘R’feem said that. He said they flew well together.’

‘There you go then. What are you worried about?’

‘I just am.’

He couldn’t each much at dinner, even though it was tasty. The kitchens always put on a special effort when weyrlings were due to graduate, something like a mini Hatching feast. Agarra had made some of her special roasted herdbeast pies, decorated on the top with little pastry cut outs of dragons. He could see her waiting over by the kitchen doorway as the meal finished and everyone waited expectantly.

‘This evening we’ll be welcoming another twelve new riders into the Wings,’ T’ron said. ‘I’m grateful to the Wingleaders who have given such a solid foundation to those riders I’ve recently invited to join my own Wing. Let’s hope their replacements do as well. Wingleaders, please make your choices.’

Sh’viel went first. D’gar felt his palms sweating. The thought of joining a Wing was frightening, yes, but being left behind again would be so much worse. He heard the Wingleader’s footsteps as he walked behind the weyrlings table, but didn’t dare turn. They passed him by and stopped behind one of Suderoth’s young bronzes. Sorath was the dragon, he recalled, a fine looking pale bronze. The lad was nothing special to look at, with untidy dark brown hair and teeth that stuck out a bit.

‘The Weyrleader has allowed me to ride with you.’

They were close enough for him to hear the words. The lad got up, beaming; the first of his clutch to be chosen. Mind you, there were no bronzes left in either of the older clutches. D’gar supposed he was looking for a replacement for P’rel. Hopefully this one would last longer. That was a little cynical, he supposed, but really, who could blame him.

He stopped three times more, firstly to pick K’dis. D’gar cheered heartily along with the rest of his clutchmates. He and Cegorth deserved it; they shouldn’t have been left behind the last time. Then he picked J’ral. He’d always kept himself to himself and didn’t mix much, but as a smaller blue, Beylalth could almost turn as fast as a green. Finally, he tapped V’lon, from Suderoth’s clutch. All four of them went up to ‘B’ Wing’s table, a spring in their step as the weyrfolk applauded.

‘Fingers crossed,’ S’brin hissed, next to him, as R’feem stood.

‘Everything crossed.’ D’gar hardly dared to breathe. When R’feem stopped behind his seat and he felt the tap on his right shoulder he couldn’t stop the smile that broke out on his face. He hardly even heard the words. Across the dining hall, Agarra let out a cheer, the rest of the kitchen crew joining in to bang wooden spoons against tin plates in appreciation. He stood and waited for R’feem to make his other choices. Please let him pick S’brin, he thought, as the Wingleader moved along to tap T’kes. Well, as they went in descending colour order, he’d obviously go for a blue next. D’gar glanced down at S’brin, his shoulders hunched slightly as he stared at the table, not moving. J’rud, two places further along was his third choice, then, finally he stood behind S’brin and said the traditional words. S’brin sprang to his feet, a look of triumph on his face. They followed R’feem back to ‘C’ Wing’s table, where M’rell was already making space next to him and patting the bench. ‘Well done, you two.’

He didn’t even notice who was picked by V’dul, as I’grast and N’rir passed around small cups of spirits for a toast to their new riders. I’grast patted S’brin on the back. ‘Good to have you with us.’

D’gar remembered that his dragon had flown Zemianth twice so far and felt a stab of dismay. But then S’brin turned to him and pulled him close. ‘Can’t wait to get you alone in our weyr so we can celebrate properly.’

‘We don’t have a weyr yet.’

‘We will, this time tomorrow. Only one more night in the barracks!’

We’ve done it, Herebeth. We’re in a Wing. We’ll have our own weyr.

I look forward to it. We will flame Thread together. His dragon’s happiness merged with and enhanced his own and once he’d had a few refills of the fiery spirit, he knew this was the best moment of his life so far.

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

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Chapter Comments

Happy that the boys finally got into a wing! 

On a side note, anyone notice that Thread doesn't fall at night on Pern?

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Glad they both got picked and in the same wing; but this chapter was just full of sadness for me.  So well written and the emotions just flowed like my tears did for much of this chapter...

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2 hours ago, kjoel1961 said:

On a side note, anyone notice that Thread doesn't fall at night on Pern?

Yes. I’ve read quite a lot of discussion about why that is, but of course Todd addressed that by having watch whers fighting Thread at night.

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2 hours ago, centexhairysub said:

 

Glad they both got picked and in the same wing; but this chapter was just full of sadness for me.  So well written and the emotions just flowed like my tears did for much of this chapter...

 

I was crying when I wrote it. That’s how I know I’ve got it right!

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4 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

I was crying when I wrote it. That’s how I know I’ve got it right!

You definitely got it right. I went through a bunch of tissues.

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Other than F'drun falling into the volcano, this has to be your best chapter to date! I needed tissues and I feel the following is a great demonstration of a writer excelling at his craft!!

Sh’viel nodded. ‘In that case, I’ll look after the dragon. Make sure she has space and everyone’s clear. And, as Wingleader, it’s my duty to make sure he joins her between…

‘No need.’ S’brin spoke up. ‘I can do that.’

‘You sure?’

S’brin looked firm. ‘If that’s all we can do for him, then I’ll gladly do it.’

The Wingleader laid a hand on his shoulder. ‘Good lad.’ He turned to the healer. ‘I’ll get things ready if you want to…’

‘Of course.’ She cleared the space around the pallet. ‘Probably best if just one of you talks to him.’

‘Can I hold his hand,’ J’rud asked. ‘I mean, will he be able to tell?’

‘He still has some sensation in his arms and hands. Go ahead.’

‘I’ll do the talking, then,’ D’gar said. He blinked back tears and kneeled down at B’rol’s side. ‘Hey.’

B’rol opened his eyes. He didn’t look as if he was in pain. ‘We got hit,’ he said, faintly. ‘Milliath’s hurt.’

‘Yes, but she got you home.’ He paused. ‘Can you talk to her?’

B’rol’s eyes unfocused as he talked to his dragon. ‘She says she’s waiting for me.’

‘That’s good.’ D’gar wasn’t sure what to say next. He cleared his throat. ‘Do you know how bad it is?’

‘It hurt a lot when Thread hit me. I couldn’t feel my legs when they got me down. But I’m not in any pain now. Sort of sleepy, though.’

‘They’ve given you some fellis.’ He glanced at the healer and at J’rud and S’brin, on either side of the pallet. ‘J’rud’s here too and S’brin. They’re holding your hands. Can you feel that?’

‘Mm, hmm. That’s kind of them.’ He shut his eyes briefly. ‘I’m done for, aren’t I?’

There was no easy way to say it. ‘You aren’t going to get better.’

B’rol looked away for a moment. A tear rolled down his cheek. ‘That’s what I thought.’

‘We’re going to stay here with you. We’ll see this through together.’ His voice broke. He wiped his eyes. ‘You should probably talk to Milliath again.’

‘Not sure if she’ll understand.’

It might be beyond a dragon’s comprehension. They lived in the here and now, after all. Milliath would know that her rider was comfortable and conscious. Could she conceive that soon he wouldn’t be? ‘Give it a try.’ One of the healers handed him a cup of wine. He recognised the bitter scent of fellis from the times he’d dosed Valli. This was a lot stronger, of course.

B’rol opened his eyes again. ‘She says we’ll fly together soon.’

‘And you will. S’brin’s going to take you to be with her.’ D’gar held up the cup. ‘Do you want some of this now, or to talk for a while more?’ He knew that such a large dose of fellis would send someone to sleep fairly quickly.

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I said before that I think Anne and Todd would highly approve of your storytelling in their universe.  You continue to shine.  This was a masterful job describing the angst of losing their mate, but keeping him company during his final moments.  And S’brin taking care of him in the final act of love.  Tremendous.  Kudos, Mawgrim.  You continue to impress us all.

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