J’shon stood in the bowl of Igen Weyr, wearing his best Gather clothes, and frowned at the riders around him. They were all just too damn young. Nearly half of them hadn’t begun this Pass, most of those hadn’t even been alive when Thread poured down on Pern in merciless wave after wave.
They are dragonriders, dear heart. Liliath’s voice was the same as ever, even if her muzzle was more white than green these days. Her hide still shined with health, a dark forest green spotted here and there with the tell-tale signs of age. There was a sadness in her eyes as they stood side-by-side with the rest of the Weyr and waited for their Weyrleader to begin.
D’kov and Aliarth stood beside them, both of them showing as much signs of age as J’shon and Liliath. J’shon’s hair had long since turned white, like Crivan’s had been when he first met his grandfather. His face was seamed from long years spent in the air, and scarred with traces of Thread score visible. Their bodies showed more signs of scars from Thread, although their clothes hid those.
Liliath was missing part of her right foot from a hit by Thread as well as having numerous scars along her side. Together, J’shon and Liliath had flown each and every Fall of Thread, the only riders in the Weyr to have achieved that feat. D’kov, with his bald head and Thread-scored cheeks had missed a single fall when Aliarth’s wing had been shredded by Thread. The two riders stood at the front of the assembled Weyr, with six others who had been there the day Igen Weyr first rose against Thread. All the others they had known from those early days were gone, long since gone into between and never returned.
Two dragons appeared in the sky, bronze Nikkoth and gold Pinath flew together and circled into a landing in front of the assembled Weyr. A cheer went up from the Igen riders for their Weyrleader and Weyrwoman of the past thirty years. Few of the assembled riders remembered those awful ten years of Threadfall, where Thread seemed to rain down with a vengeance and the Weyrs struggled to keep enough wings to meet its random and heavy falls. Luckily after ten years when dragon after dragon fell, the fall of Thread returned to a three-day pattern, and the Falls themselves lessened in intensity.
The Lord Holders who had ridden in with the two leaders of Igen Weyr slid down after the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman, and stood in solemn salute to the dragonriders who had defended their holds. Kapian wasn’t among them. He’d never been acclaimed a Lord Holder, just a minor holder of one of the most successful holds on Pern. His death two turns before had been honored by many Weyrleaders and Lord Holders, and Bevan had been acclaimed his successor at Whitestone Hold.
These Lord Holders were the sons or grandsons of Lords Bisal, Poldice, and others J’shon had known in the early days. Like so many others on Pern they were more than ready to forget the hardships of the Pass and expand out during the Interval, hoping the Weyrs would forget the taste of good food. With two hundred turns before the next fall of thread they were already keeping the best for their own tables instead of tithing as they had during the Pass.
While they waited for A’toly to speak, J’shon fingered the bracelet he wore every day for the past fifty turns. He’d given its mate to his beloved B’rrel long ago, shortly after that awful first Fall. Its silver inlay pattern still gleamed brightly in the sunlight, and its small, delicate jewels glittered as brightly as the day he’d picked them up from the Smithhall. Just touching it helped a bit, as did the gentle touch of D’kov on his arm. They both shared a common grief, and had supported each other over the turns, waiting for this day.
“Dragonriders of Igen, we are gathered here today, the day after Thread’s last Fall of this Pass, to remember those of us who have not returned from between.” A’toly said in a voice that was quiet, and yet carried far enough for all to hear him. He had never grown more than an inch since his weyrling days, but the short bronze rider had held an aura of command ever since that wonderful day when his Nikkoth had finally flown Pinath.
Zoeth had never recovered from her injuries, and never flew again. She stayed senior queen though for two turns before she and her rider went between. Willeth became senior queen that day, and on her next flight it had been Br’mar who had flown her, becoming Weyrleader. A grieving Goreth had not even raised his head when the queen began blooding her kill before her mating flight, and he had gone between with H’mal as soon as H’mal had been sure Br’mar had everything well in hand.
Br’Mar had led the Weyr capably for twenty turns before tragedy struck. Willeth had started to rise, and another queen from High Reaches had appeared in the sky. Why that had happened, no one knew, but the two queens had battled it out, and in the end, Pern had last both queens and Br’mar’s bronze dragon who had tried to save his weyrmate, Willeth. Two months later, Pinath, now the senior queen rose, and Nikkoth had caught her, ending a twenty year string of failures by A’toly’s dragon to fly a rising female of either gold or green.
“Over the past fifty turns, two hundred and eighty-three of our fellow riders and their dragons have gone between.” Ramina said, standing proudly with her once-blond hair now a tight gray. “Of two hundred and twelve riders who stood in this Weyr with their dragons and flew the First Fall, only ten of us remain.”
“Thanks to their sacrifice and the dedication of all dragonriders, past and present, Pern has survived another pass of the Red Star and will thrive once again.” A’toly continued. “On this day where we will celebrate this victory with all the people of Pern, let us begin it with remembering those of us who are not here today.”
“P’lot, rider of brown Ketaranath.” A’toly said, reciting from his perfect memory the first rider and dragon who had fallen during that First Fall.
“Z’farl, rider of blue Forineth.” Ramina said softly, naming another rider who had been J’shon’s current age on that fateful day. Down the list of riders who had died on that First Fall, each of the surviving riders from that day spoke the names, and even after fifty turns, J’shon’s voice broke as he spoke.
“K’mer, rider of brown Sharth.” They weyrlings in the back might be bored by this recitation of names, but tears dripped down J’shon’s face as he remembered his brother and Liliath joined the other old dragons in lifting her head and voicing their grief with the dragon’s death keen. It’s odd sounds vibrated throughout the Weyr as even the younger dragons joined in. A’toly took over the recitation of names, pausing only for someone to call out the name of a rider they had been close to at one time. It was near the end of the list that J’shon spoke up again.
“B’rrel, rider of brown Ojeth.” He said in a loud, ringing voice before he broke down in tears. It had been four turns ago, and he heard D’kov’s recitation of S’flin, rider of green Tabath follow his. As they had many times before over the last four turns, the two riders leaned on one another as their grief consumed them again.
So many, far too many. Liliath said softly as the dragons ended their keening with the last name.
Master Harper Warnel had returned to the Weyr on this day, and strummed his gitar in a sad rendition of the Duty Song, in simple understated honoring of the fallen riders. When he finished, A’toly dismissed the assembled riders, who immediately started buzzing with plans. Nearly every major hold was having a Gather celebration, and the riders were intent on attending the last Gather that would be held specifically to honor dragonriders for several hundred turns.
A’toly and Ramina walked with care towards where D’kov and J’shon leaned against each other still. Neither Weyrleader nor Weyrwoman were smiling, and they clearly intended to talk the two riders out of their plan.
“J’shon, please, don’t do this.” A’toly begged, not bothering with any pleasantries. They had long been friends, and J’shon knew that many was the time A’toly would come to him for a shoulder to cry on when the burdens of being Weyrleader became too much.
“Pinath no longer rises to mate, and it won’t be long before we can join you.” Ramina added in a tired voice. She’d watched her father and mother wasting away in those first years and had been scarred by that image.
“You both have so much knowledge that has been lost over the turns.” A’toly added. “We need time to record it down so that it will be remembered by future generations.”
“We promised our dragons we’d stay until the end of the Pass.” D’kov said softly, his grief showing in his voice. “Do not make us stay longer.”
“Then go, go and rest at last.” A’toly said as he took a deep sigh and clasped each of their forearms in final farewell. “A turn or two and we’ll be right behind you.”
“Sometimes I wish we had the memories of our dragons.” Febrina said softly and not for the first time. “They forget so much of the pain, the grief, and the lost friends. It must be easier for them to go on and on despite all the losses we have.”
“She remembers Ojeth still, and wonders a lot when he will return.” J’shon said as he looked at his ageing green with sadness.
I miss him. Liliath said sadly. Can we go find him? I cannot hear him.
Soon, love, real soon. J’shon replied.
“Fly with pride, green rider.” Ramina said softly, lifting her hand in salute. “Ride proud, blue rider.”
“We will.” J’shon said in time with D’kov and they turned to mount their dragons. One last time they lifted off the ground, although Liliath’s leap was not quite as forceful as before, and her wings beat slowly instead of quickly. Soon they were above the Weyr bowl, and J’shon took one last look at his home below and saluted the distant speck of the watch rider before filling his mind with a complete blankness.
Let’s go love, and find Ojeth and his rider, B’rrel.
Yes. Liliath said with fervor and together, rider and dragon winked out, going between and never returning. D’kov and Aliarth had done the same thing at the same time. The stunned watch rider looked up at the sky even as his dragon was the first in the Weyr to lift its head and keen for the dead.
Dragonriders of Pern is Copyrighted by Ann McCaffrey and her fine folks. This story belongs to dkstories.