Read an Excerpt
Red Star at night:
Dragons take flight.
Fort Weyr, at the end of the Second Interval, After Landing (AL) 507
Four men stood in a knot around the Star Stones of Fort Weyr. The sun was just above the horizon, casting the harsh shadows of early dawn at winter’s end. Each man wore the prestigious shoulder knots of Weyrleader. Their warm wher-hide jackets proclaimed them the leaders of Benden, Fort, Telgar, and Ista Weyrs.
K’lior, Fort’s Weyrleader, was host and the youngest present. He was also the newest Weyrleader, having gained his position less than a Turn before.
He glanced back to the Star Stones—to the Eye Rock, which bracketed the Finger Rock, which itself was lit by the baleful Red Star. Thread was coming. Soon.
The air was made more chilly by the steady breeze blowing across the plateau where Fort’s Star Stones were placed. K’lior suppressed a shiver. “Fort is still wing light. We’ve only had the one clutch—”
“There’s time yet, K’lior,” C’rion, Ista’s Weyrleader, judged. He pointed at the Red Star and the Eye Rock. “Thread won’t fall until after the last frost.”
“There’s no doubt, then, that Thread is coming,” K’lior said, wishing the other Weyrleaders would disagree with him.
For over two hundred Turns, the planet of Pern had been free of the threat of Thread falling from the sky.
Now that peace would end.
The Red Star’s return would bring the Thread that would try, once more, to devour all life on Pern.
For the next fifty Turns, the dragons would rise to the skies, flame Thread into lifeless char, or, failing, watch in horror as it burrowed into the rich soil of Pern to destroy all organic material with mindless voracity.
“Telgar’s ready, K’lior,” D’gan declared. He turned back from the Star Stones and the dawning light to gaze at the others, who were obscured by the sharp shadows of the early morning light. His words were firmly emphasized by the distant rumbling of his bronze, Kaloth. “My wings are at full strength and I’ve two clutches on the Hatching Grounds—”
One of the other Weyrleaders cleared his throat loudly, but D’gan’s fierce glare could not pierce the shadows to identify the culprit.
“Yes, we were lucky,” he continued in answer to the unknown heckler, “but the fact remains that Telgar will be wing heavy when Thread falls. And our holders have tithed fully so we’ve no lack of equipment or firestone.”
K’lior shifted uneasily, for he had been frank in relaying his difficulties in getting Fort’s full tithe. “But you don’t agree to pooling resources?” he asked again.
He had called this meeting of the Weyrleaders to propose just that. As none of them had ever fought Thread, K’lior felt that his notion of “fly together, learn together” had merit, and would promote communication among the Weyrs. He was shocked when D’vin of High Reaches had refused the invitation and was even further shocked by D’gan’s attitude. Telgar’s Weyrleader was Igen-bred, after all. K’lior had hoped that D’gan’s experience would have made him more amenable to working together, not less.
D’gan favored the wiry Fort Weyrleader with a superior look. “If you’re still wing light when Thread falls, K’lior, I’m sure I could spare some of my own.”
“I’ll bet they’re all bronzes,” a voice muttered dryly. It came from the direction of the Benden and Istan Weyrleaders.
The implication that D’gan might want to reduce the competition for Telgar’s next mating flight was obvious. Not that D’gan’s Kaloth had to fly all Telgar’s queen dragons to remain Weyrleader—just the senior queen.
D’gan stiffened angrily at the remark, turned to K’lior, and said, “I’ve a Weyr to attend, Fort. I must return.”
“Let me call someone to guide your way, D’gan,” K’lior offered pleasantly, worried about slippery walkways under unfamiliar feet.
The offer annoyed D’gan, who snapped, “I can find my own dragon well enough, Fort.”
K’lior jogged after D’gan, still hoping to soothe the other’s foul mood.
“C’rion, you know he’s got a thin skin. Why do you insist on pricking it?” M’tal asked the Istan Weyrleader in exasperation.
C’rion chuckled at the Benden Weyrleader’s remark. “Oh, you know, M’tal, he’s not all that bad—when he stops taking himself so seriously. I feel it’s my duty as an older, more experienced Weyrleader, to spill the wind from his sails when he takes on airs like that.”
“D’gan is the sort to swear his Egg cracked the wrong way,” M’tal agreed.
C’rion snorted a laugh. “I suspect that D’gan will be a lot more acceptable after his first dose of numbweed. And K’lior will steady up after his first Threadfall.”
M’tal pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I’m not so sure about D’gan.”
C’rion shrugged. “I’ve been worried ever since it was decided to abandon Igen Weyr and incorporate those dragonriders into Telgar.”
“It made sense at the time,” M’tal said, “what with the drought in Igen, the death of their last queen, and the good harvests at Telgar.”
C’rion raised a hand to ward off further discussion. “All true. But D’gan himself worries me. He drills his riders hard. Telgar Weyr has never lost the Games since he became Weyrleader—but will all that be worth anything when Thread comes?”
M’tal nodded emphatically. “If there’s one thing I could never imagine, it would be D’gan shirking his duty. We dragonriders know what to expect when Thread comes.” He waved a hand at the Star Stones. “And we know it will come soon.”
“I hear your queen laid a large clutch last week,” C’rion said, changing the topic. “Congratulations.”
M’tal laughed. “Are you going to make me an offer like our esteemed Telgar?”
“No, actually, I was going to offer a trade,” C’rion said.
M’tal motioned for him to continue.
“Two queen eggs, by all accounts,” C’rion said. “That would make four queens all told.”
“No, one of the eggs is a bronze,” M’tal said. “We’d hopes at first, but Breth nudged it back with the others.” The queen dragons always pushed their queen eggs into a special spot on the Hatching Grounds, which they carefully guarded.
“All the same . . .”
“Are you looking for new blood, C’rion?”
“It’s the job of every Weyrleader to see to the strength of the Weyr,” C’rion agreed. “Actually, I was thinking that to honor a new queen requires a good selection of candidates. I’m sure you’ll want to Search for a proper Weyrwoman.”
M’tal burst out laughing. “It’s J’trel, isn’t it? You want to pawn that old scoundrel off on us!”
“Actually, yes,” C’rion agreed with a laugh of his own. “But he’s not a scoundrel. And it’s no lie that his blue has an eye for good riders, especially the women.”
“Which is odd, considering his own preferences,” M’tal remarked.
“Well, you know blues,” C’rion agreed diffidently. As blue dragons mated with green dragons, and both were ridden by male riders, the riders themselves tended to be the sort who could accommodate the dragons’ amorous arrangements.
“And you want to get him away from Ista so he can forget about K’nad,” M’tal surmised. K’nad and J’trel had been partners for over twenty Turns.
“K’nad went quickly,” C’rion agreed, “it was a blessing. He was very old, you know.”
Less than a dozen Turns older than you, M’tal thought to himself dryly. Somberly he also realized: And only fifteen Turns older than me.
Aloud, he said, “So you want J’trel distracted by new duties?”
C’rion nodded. “It would be easier for us at Ista, too. Thread is coming. It’s going to be hard on the old-timers.”
There was an uneasy silence. M’tal shook himself. “I’ll have to talk it over with Salina and the Wingleaders.”
“Of course,” C’rion replied. “There’s no hurry.”
Curious, M’tal asked, “Where is J’trel now?”
C’rion shrugged. “I don’t know. He and his blue took off after the ceremony for K’nad.” He frowned. “He had that look in his eyes, the one he usually gets just before Ista finds itself with a whole bunch of the biggest fresh fruit you’ve ever seen.”
“He hasn’t been going to the Southern Continent, has he?” M’tal asked with a frown of his own. Dragonriders were discouraged from venturing to the Southern Continent with all its unknown dangers.
“I’ve made it a point never to ask,” C’rion answered dryly. “You really have to try the fruit.”
Lorana sat on her knees, ignoring the hot sun beating down on her, all her attention concentrated on the tiny creature in front of her. Sketching swiftly, Lorana used her free hand alternately to keep the little thing from moving away and to keep her sketchbook from sliding off her lap. She ignored the beads of sweat rolling down her face until one threatened to drop in her eye, at which point she broke from her task long enough to wipe it away hastily.
The creature, which she dubbed a “scatid,” took that moment to burrow quickly into the dry sand. Lorana examined her sketch and frowned, trying to decide if she needed more details—the scatid was smaller than the tip of her thumb, and its six limbs had never stopped moving.
Grenn, the littler of Lorana’s two fire-lizards, cocked his head at the retreating insect and then looked back at Lorana with an inquiring chirp.
“Of course it ran away,” she said with a laugh in her voice. “You’re ten times its size.”
The fire-lizard pawed at the hole, looked up at Lorana, and chirped again.
“I’ll know it if I see it again,” Lorana replied, pushing herself up from her knees and stretching to relieve her cramped muscles. She stowed her sketchbook in her carisak and slid her sun hat back on her head—she’d slipped it onto her back when its shade had interfered with her view of the scatid. She added thoughtfully, “Unless you want it?”
With a squawk, Grenn jumped back awkwardly from the hole. Lorana laughed again. “I’d say that was a ‘no.’ ”
Behind her, golden Garth squeaked an agreement.
“You’ve both been fed, so I know you’re not hungry,” Lorana said, half to herself. She peered down at the burrow and then at the irrepressible brown fire-lizard. “Would you eat it?”
Grenn examined the burrow for a moment, then dropped down on it and pawed at the hole, widening it. When the scatid was again uncovered, Grenn peered at it until the scatid’s diggers snapped at him—whereupon the fire-lizard gave a startled squawk and sprang away.
“You would eat it, then,” Lorana decided. “You’re just not hungry enough.” She glanced thoughtfully at the sun overhead. “Or you’re too hot to eat anything.”
Grenn chirped in agreement. Lorana nodded, saying, “J’trel will be here soon enough.”
The little fire-lizards, distant cousins to the huge fire-breathing dragons of Pern, trilled happily at the thought of seeing their large friend again.
“In the meantime, we can walk toward the beach again—there should be a breeze,” Lorana told them.
The fire-lizards chorused happy assent and disappeared, leaving Lorana to traipse along after them on foot. She heard Garth formulating some plan as the little queen and her consort went between. Deciding that the two fire-lizards were not getting into too much trouble, Lorana stopped concentrating on them and focused her attention on the path she was following.
Her clothing was not meant to cope with the hot Igen sun, but Lorana had done the best she could with it, loosening her tunic and rolling up her sleeves and trouser legs. Her outfit would be perfect once onboard the ship, and was almost warm enough for the cold between.
Halfway to the beach, she sensed a sudden exultation from Garth and felt the two fire-lizards go between. In no time at all, they reappeared high above her, chirped a warning, and dropped what they had been holding between them. Lorana held out her hands and caught a good-sized roundfruit. She laughed and waved at them. “Thank you!”
The fruit was delicious and moist, easing her dry throat. Energized, she picked up her pace to the shore.
Grenn swooped low over her and let out a querying squawk, curving back around toward her, eyes whirling hopefully.
“No,” Lorana said, “you may not perch on my shoulder. You need to stretch that wing now that it’s healed. Besides, between the carisak and our gear, I’m carrying enough, thank you.”
Grenn gave her a half-sad, half-wheedling chirp and beat his wings strongly to regain his lost altitude. High above him, Garth gave him an I-told-you-so scolding.
As he climbed sunward, Lorana noted that in his antics there was no residual sign at all of the broken left wing that had nearly cost his life—and had completely changed hers. With a frown Lorana forced the memory away and continued on to the beach.