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    Mawgrim
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction that combine worlds created by the original content owner with names, places, characters, events, and incidents that are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, organizations, companies, events or locales are entirely coincidental. Authors are responsible for properly crediting Original Content creator for their creative works.
Recognized characters/events/plots from Dragonriders of Pern belong to Ann McCaffrey

To the Weyr - 25. Ramoth's Second Clutch

Germessont clutched the stylus so hard his knuckles were white as he concentrated on copying the letters Kadin had written, while speaking their sounds at the same time. Jevikel sat to one side, sipping klah and musing over the latest news. Prideth had just finished laying her eggs in the south. Twenty-nine of them, with no gold egg. Everyone at Benden seemed to be hoping Ramoth would produce more, as if it was some kind of competition. It was clear Kylara wasn’t greatly liked, partly through her involvement with the villainous F’drun, but also because of her personality. Bavi had mentioned how she used to order people about - riders included - as if they were all her own personal servants.

‘That’ll do.’ Kadin said. ‘I reckon you’ve done enough for today. Just keep repeating those sounds in your head and visualising the shape of the letters.’

‘It’s so difficult. Maybe I’m too stupid to learn?’ Germessont set down the stylus and rubbed his fingers.

‘No one gets it right away. Even little ones take a while and they’re fast learners. You’ve got a good memory, so you’ll be fine.’ Kadin stashed away the slate. ‘We’d better get off to work.’

After the big clean up of the barracks, they were now back to normal duties, although D’gar had arranged a couple of teaching sessions every sevenday. He’d gone back to leading the Wing the previous Fall, so how he had enough time to fit everything in, Jevikel didn’t like to imagine.

‘You’re good at teaching,’ he said to Kadin as they walked to the laundry.

‘It’s just a matter of patience and making sure folk understand. Germessont’s doing well for someone his age.’

They stepped inside the door. Jevikel felt the steamy heat envelop him. It wasn’t fun working in here during summer, although it must be pleasant in cold weather. Most of the women had stripped off as much clothing as they could. Jevikel didn’t really notice any more. It was just the way of the Weyr. Aside from the usual gossip of who was seeing who, the main topic of conversation was when Ramoth would lay her eggs.

‘She only mated a sevenday or so after Prideth, so it has to be soon.’ Bavi sorted through the baskets. ‘Look at this. Don’t think It’s even been worn, just thrown on the floor and got crumpled.’

‘Unlike this one.’ Kadin held up a shirt with food stains all down the front. ‘Is he a messy eater or did he get into a food fight?’

‘Is there a name in it?’

Kadin frowned over the label. ‘Too faded to read.’

‘Probably an older man, then. Maybe he’s lost his teeth.’ Bavi sniffed. ‘Put it in my pile for a pre wash.’

Jevikel carried on sorting through his own basket. There were always a couple of shirts with lost buttons, or trousers which had worn through at the knees. He put them in the relevant place, to be mended by the seamstresses.

Bavi went on. ‘Just think, my own fosterlings will be on the Sands this time. I was nervous enough when it was H’rek.’

‘Reckon we’ll be even more nervous,’ Jevikel said.

‘You won’t have time to be. H’rek says it all went so fast for him, even though it was really a couple of hours. The eggs don’t hatch all at once, you see. A few might break at the same time, then it’s a while before another one cracks. Oh, but it’s wonderful.’

Jevikel had seen Ramoth flying to the feeding grounds the other day. She’d glided low to the ground and after eating two large herdbeasts, had needed to rest for a while before making her way back to her weyr. ‘Bet Ramoth will be glad, too. It can’t be comfortable carrying all those eggs.’

‘Worse than being pregnant, I should think,’ Bavi said. ‘Not that I’ve experienced that myself, but seeing how it’s affected some of my friends, not sure I’d want to. Even the Weyrwoman’s not having an easy time of it. Mind you, she still keeps on going. Nothing like Kylara. When she was expecting she just lay around all the time.’

‘How will we know when Ramoth’s about to lay her eggs?’ Kadin asked, changing the subject.

‘First of all, she’ll fly to the Hatching Ground. The news’ll soon get around. They won’t let too many in at a time, but it takes a couple of days to lay all of the eggs, so everyone who wants will get a chance to see. Then she’ll stay in there, tending them until they’re ready to hatch.’

‘I can’t wait,’ Kadin said.

‘It’s only five sevendays or so. Hardly a lifetime. Once the eggs are laid D’gar will be spending a lot more time training you. It’ll fly past.’ Bavi picked out another shirt. ‘Phew. This smells ripe.’

Another two days passed. There were two fatalities from the next Fall; one during the fight, another later in the evening, when a badly injured rider succumbed. The bereft dragon launching himself between and the subsequent keening of every dragon at the Weyr disrupted the meal, leaving everyone feeling depressed.

‘We need Ramoth to lay soon,’ Lukodan said. ‘Otherwise folk will be gong around with long faces for days.’

‘Yeah,’ Egevan agreed. ‘Clutching lifts the mood almost as much as a Hatching.’

The next day they were due for a morning teaching session with D’gar. He too seemed uncharacteristically sombre. ‘In case you’re wondering, the pair who died during Fall were from S’lan’s Wing. The rider who died later was a youngster from Ramoth’s first clutch, who’d been delivering firestone. Never let anyone kid you that’s not as dangerous as actually fighting Thread. I got my first ever score on delivery duties.’

‘Why’s that?’ Jurrendon asked.

‘Well, inexperience for one thing. Sometimes you forget to look all around. When you’re trying to deliver to a rider, they’ll often ask you to wait while they flame Thread. I’ve known pairs get hit because they’re too absorbed watching the wingrider and his dragon fighting to notice the one that gets them.’

Jevikel wondered if that’s what had happened to D’gar. He didn’t need to, for the Weyrlingmaster launched into the story without prompting.

‘It was bad weather, the day I got scored. Fine rain, not enough to drown Thread, but reducing visibility. I could barely see Herebeth’s head through the murk. He saw Thread couple of times I didn’t, then suddenly there was this burning pain in my left shoulder.’ He put a hand up to the area. ‘In a couple of breaths it ate right through my jacket and shirt. The Healer told me I wasn’t the first to get caught like that.’

He left a pause for them all to think about that, before continuing. ‘Anyway, let’s not dwell on that. We might as well learn some of the Teaching Ballads relevant to clutching and hatching today. Pity we don’t have any musical accompaniment.’

Kadin held up his hand. ‘I can play.’

‘Do you have a gitar?’

‘No, just pipes. I couldn’t bring anything else.’

It must have been left at Pinnacle, not that he’d ever have dared play it there. Jevikel imagined it lying, dusty and unused in the storeroom. Maybe one day, he could go back for it? Vikkel wouldn’t dare to refuse a dragonrider.

‘There’s one hanging on a hook in the Weyrlingmaster’s office. Go and grab that.’ He perched on the edge of the table at the front of the room. ‘Now, Teaching Ballads are useful and deliberately composed to stick in the mind, but I don’t want you to just learn them by rote. Think about the meaning of the words; the information they’re giving you. Please ask as many questions as you want. Don’t be afraid of what other people might think. They probably want to ask the same questions but don’t like to admit there’s stuff they don’t know.’

Kadin returned, carrying the gitar reverently. ‘I can’t play this. It’s too good for me.’

‘Better someone plays it than to have it gather dust on the wall. Perhaps when the new Harper arrives, he might want to use it, but until then, play away.’

Kadin nodded as he adjusted the tuning. Even though he knew very little about music, Jevikel could tell the instrument had a sweet, clear tone.

‘Do you know the tune to the Clutching Song?’ D’gar asked.

‘I think so.’ He played a couple of chords.

‘That’s the one. Can you sing it, too? I’d give it a try, but I reckon you’d all cover your ears. Anyone who already knows it, sing along. Anyone who doesn’t, listen to the words.’

Kadin played the same chords once more, then began to sing.

 

The Hatching Sands are empty, barely warm

When the queen arrives and starts to lay

One day, two days, count the eggs, be sure,

Weyrfolk wait and watch in silent awe.

Eggs laid, she guards them well and keeps them safe

Turns them, tends them as the heat increase

Five weeks upon the burning Sands they’ll stay

Until the glory of the Hatching Day.

The hum begins and all across the Bowl

Dragons of every colour fly inside,

White robed candidates so bravely wait

Longing to find their dragon and their fate.

An egg cracks and the hum intensifies,

A head pops out from shattered shell,

Minds merge; rider and hatchling’s bond is made,

Stand fast you others, do not be afraid.

The queen’s content; all of her clutch have chosen

Their life partners, she’s free to fly again.

Broken shells lie on the Sands, all matched,

Her task is done when all the eggs have Hatched.’

He played the final chords, then looked to D’gar. ‘Was that all right?’

‘Excellent. Now, let’s take a verse at a time…’

Whatever he had been about to say was interrupted by H’rek rushing in. ‘Ramoth’s just flown to the Hatching Grounds,’ he said breathlessly. ‘She’s about to clutch.’

All the candidates jumped to their feet. D’gar motioned for them to sit again. ‘No hurry, lads. The Weyrleader will want to be there first, with the Weyrwoman. Queen dragons take a while to settle down before the first egg’s laid and she won’t want everyone gawping at her. Thanks for letting us know, H’rek.’

‘Don’t suppose they’ll let me in, then.’ He sounded disappointed.

‘Probably not, right now. You can come with us, later, if you want.’

H’rek smiled. ‘I’ve never seen eggs being laid. Prideth had done all that before we got there.’

D’gar smiled back. ‘Do you know the Clutching Song?’

‘Er, well. They threw a lot of Teaching Ballads at us in quite a short time. I’m not sure.’

‘Then you might as well sit in. Kadin, let’s hear that first verse again.’

Kadin played it once more. He was clearly enjoying his part in the lessons, even if most of the class were restless and fidgety, wanting to see the event rather than memorising verses.

‘“The hatching Sands are empty, barely warm, when the queen arrives and starts to lay.”’ D’gar quoted. ‘What does that mean?’

Jurrendol raised a hand. ‘When there are no eggs, the Sands aren’t as hot?’

‘Correct. The heat rises to harden the eggs and keep them at the right temperature. Next line, anyone?’

Jevikel thought he remembered it. ‘Er, “One day, two days, count the eggs, be sure?”’

‘That’s right.’ D’gar nodded. ‘It’s telling us it’ll be one or two days before all the eggs are laid. Hence there being no hurry to get there. And why should we count them?’

Lukodan answered. ‘So you know how many candidates are needed.’

‘Good. You are a bright bunch. I remember when we were learning that song, quite a few didn’t get it right away.’ His eyes became slightly unfocussed, as folks did when they were speaking to their dragon, but Jevikel guessed he was casting his mind back to the past.

‘Now, second verse, if you please, Kadin…’

It was late afternoon before they finally made their way to the Hatching Ground. Dust rose from the parched floor of the Bowl, diffusing the beams of sunlight, illuminating the Weyr with a soft light.

D’gar led them in through the pedestrian entrance. Even though it was a warm day and the Sands hadn’t reached their full heat, it was already a lot hotter than outside. The cavern was huge. Even Ramoth, for all her size, was dwarfed by the space. Two eggs already lay half buried in sand, soft and glistening.

D’gar led them onto the stands. The first few rows were cut to human proportions, while the tiers above were intended for dragons. Jevikel imagined all of them filled. No wonder the cavern had to be so large.

Ramoth was resting right now. There were several figures close to her. Lessa, of course and F’lar. Several of the Benden Wingleaders were also in attendance.

‘What’s happening? Kadin asked.

D’gar picked up on the question. ‘It’s traditional for Wingleaders to be the first people to see the eggs. Someone will also be noting down how long it takes for the entire clutch to be laid, the number of eggs and suchlike, for the records.’

They all sat on the smoothly cut shelf and watched. It wasn’t very exciting, but it helped Jevikel to understand that line from the Teaching Ballad; ‘Weyrfolk sit and watch in silent awe.’ Benden’s queen was clutching. Those eggs would provide the next generation of dragons to the Weyr. H’rek  sat close to D’gar, an arm around his waist. That gave him the excuse to do the same to Kadin. Sharing an event such as this with someone you loved made it somehow more profound.

Ramoth rose to her feet, pacing around the assembled people. Lessa ushered them away, evidently knowing what her dragon needed right now. Ramoth flicked her tail to one side and R’gul had to jump back rapidly, almost knocking over two of the others. Jevikel wasn’t entirely sure, but he thought D’gar suppressed a chuckle.

She flicked her tail again, then dipped her hindquarters down next to the two eggs she’d already laid. A third one soon joined them. It all happened very fast. Once she’d laid the egg, she turned very carefully to sniff at it. Seemingly content, she moved away and settled down again.

Lessa made her way across the Sands. Her feet sunk easily, making each step a struggle. Jevikel wondered if she was about to tell them off, then as she drew close enough, he saw she was smiling.

‘Ah, D’gar. I’m glad you took the opportunity to bring in some of our candidates.’ She turned to them. ‘I’m a firm believer that familiarisation with the Sands and visiting the eggs a few times before Hatching Day is the way it should be done. D’gar agrees.’

D’gar nodded. ‘And letting the candidates families attend is a good idea, too.’

‘I know most of you are Weyrbred, but if not, let D’gar know where your family live and we’ll arrange for dragons to bring them here on Hatching Day.’

Jevikel looked quickly at Kadin. While he’d probably like Merida and his sisters to be there, that would mean letting Vikkel know. He didn’t want Vikkel to set foot inside the Weyr, to gloat when he failed to Impress a dragon.

‘It’s all right,’ Kadin whispered, ‘I won’t say anything.’

‘Anyway, watch as long as you like. Ramoth’s going to take her time about it, so don’t go missing your evening meal.’ She stepped back onto the sands.

They stayed to watch Ramoth deposit another egg with the others. So far, Jevikel couldn’t see any distinguishing features, except that one was slightly larger than the rest. He decided to ask a question. ‘Er, I heard eggs can be different colours and have patterns on them. These all look the same.’

‘Good question,’ D’gar said. ‘That’s how they all are when laid. As the shells harden, they develop patterns or coloured splodges. Despite what a lot of folk think, that doesn’t give any clue to what colour dragon is inside. Betting folk love it, of course. I’m sure there a few already giving odds on how many eggs there’ll be.’

‘How many do you think?’ Egevan asked.

‘No idea. But thinking logically, we’re at the beginning of a Pass, the Weyr is under strength, Ramoth’s young and the mating flight was long, so probably near to what she laid last time.’

‘Prideth only laid twenty-nine,’ Lukodan said.

‘Not too dissimilar from what she laid last time, either. It’s still a respectable total. At the end of a Pass a clutch of fifteen’s a good number. There were only twelve in Herebeth’s clutch.’ Again, his eyes briefly took on a faraway look. ‘Right. We might as well get going. Let the Weyrwoman have some privacy.’

A couple of support workers were carrying in a comfortable-looking couch, together with cushions and bedding. Evidently Lessa intended to stay with her dragon all night.

It was noisy in the dining hall. On the way out, Jevikel spotted Kemi. What with all the extra work, he’d not had a chance to talk for a few days.

‘I’ve just seen Ramoth laying her eggs.’ He couldn’t disguise the excitement in his voice. ‘Well, two of them, anyway.’

‘I’ve not managed to get there yet. Maybe tomorrow. But I saw Prideth lay hers, in the south. Hatching’s much more exciting.’

‘It was amazing,’ Kadin put in. ‘And D’gar picked me to sing the ballad about it.’

‘Good for you. So you’re starting to learn all about dragons?’

Jevikel nodded. ‘I suppose once the other candidates come in, we’ll be spending more time learning. And when D’gar doesn’t have to lead the Wing as well.’

‘It’ll all be happening soon. Search riders going out everyday. Lots of new folk arriving.’ She put on a stern expression. ‘I hope you two will be helpful to them. Remember what it was like to be new at the Weyr.’

‘It was only a couple of months ago,’ Jevikel said. It seemed far longer than that. He still remembered how overwhelming it had been; adjusting to different ways of doing things, all the new terminology and for him, getting used to being among so many people.

‘Some of them might come from loving families,’ she went on. ‘So as well as arriving at a strange place, they might be homesick. Not everyone grows up like we did.’

‘I had a good life when both my parents were alive,’ Kadin said sadly. ‘But I still wouldn’t pass up the chance to Impress a dragon.’

Outside, the Candidates were in their usual place. Like most of the other Weyrfolk, they were talking about how many eggs there would be. ‘More eggs, more chances,’ Nursheldor said. ‘I reckon she’ll lay about thirty-five.’

‘Thirty-two,’ countered Kernam. ‘With lots of greens. Last clutch was very bronze heavy.’

‘You going to wager on that?’

‘Probably. It’s worth gambling a few marks.’

‘I’m glad we’re going to get to see the eggs a couple of times.’ Jurrendon lay propped up on an elbow. ‘That’s how they did it last time and it was much better. No one injured on Hatching Day at all.’

Nursheldor made a dismissive noise. ‘Some of the older riders say it’s not a proper Hatching without a bit of blood. It’s trampling all over tradition.’

Lukodan broke in. ‘We should ask D’gar. He Impressed four hundred Turns ago, after all.’

‘Good idea,’ Jevikel said. ‘He should know all about tradition.’ Personally, he thought that familiarisation with the Hatching Ground and eggs was a good thing. It was all right for the Weyrbred; they’d seen it so many times before and been around dragons all their lives, but for folk like himself and Kadin - and even more so for the candidates who’d be arriving in the next few sevendays - it was essential.

‘You heard about those bronzes from Prideth’s clutch?’ Egevan leaned forward, always eager to be first with some gossip. ‘They’ve been put on firestone shovelling for a whole month.’

‘Why?’ Kadin asked.

Jevikel hoped L’cal was one of them.

‘They were in with F’drun’s plans all along. He was going to make sure T’bor was out of the running for Prideth’s next flight and they were supposed to block any other dragon who looked like getting close so he’d end up Weyrleader in Southern.’

‘Nasty,’ Lukodan said. ‘Good job he ended up in a volcano, eh?’

‘How did they find out?’ asked Taltien, speaking up for once.

‘There was a spy - another young bronze rider - and he pretended to go along with it all. It was his life D’gar saved.’

‘Good for him.’ Kernam sounded impressed. ‘Better be careful lads. Sounds as if D’gar has eyes in the back of his head.’

Copyright © 2022 Mawgrim; All Rights Reserved.
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New chapters will be posted each Thursday.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction that combine worlds created by the original content owner with names, places, characters, events, and incidents that are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, organizations, companies, events or locales are entirely coincidental. Authors are responsible for properly crediting Original Content creator for their creative works.
Recognized characters/events/plots from Dragonriders of Pern belong to Ann McCaffrey
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