Josh lowered his head and obediently started to drag the sack once more. A strong wind knocked him backwards and he scrambled away narrowly avoiding the claws of a powerful bronze dragon. As soon as the rider had dismounted the bronze dragon leaped back into the air and flew up to the dragon heights to wait until he was needed again. In rapid succession a brown and then another bronze and a large blue landed and took off again after their leather clad riders had disembarked.
Josh sat and watched in wide-eyed awe as the magnificent creatures touched down as light as a feather then took off again.
“You boy, move that sack.”
Josh jumped to his feet and heaved his burden to the pile that was waiting for the dragon riders. A strapping young man with blond curls strutted up to where Josh was cowering and seemed to get a glazed look over his eyes. In an instance the large brown dragon descended from the resting heights and landed next to him. The dragon craned his neck, looking at the drudge with curious whirling eyes until his rider spoke to him and regained his attention. The rider scrubbed at his dragons eye ridges affectionately and then tipped out a sack load of fire stone. Josh watched in morbid fascination as the giant lizard chewed the stone. As soon as the dragon had eaten his fill the young rider pulled on his riding cap and gloves and swung himself up on to the dragons back, tightening his safety straps. The brown crouched back and leaped into the air. He circled twice then blinked between, teleporting to where ever the rest of his wing was waiting.
Another blond rider came strutting up to the pile. He looked at Josh and frowned. “Don’t you have work to do drudge?”
Josh nodded unable to find his voice in front of the attractive green eyed rider.
“Then I suggest you get to it,” the blond snapped. He gazed off into space and within seconds the mighty blue had landed and was tucking into the firestone with relish. The dragon rider glared at the unmoving drudge and took a step towards him only to be stopped by a shorter dark haired man with a goatee beard.
“Leave him be Lance. The boy is probably scared.”
The rider, Lance grunted. “He had better be scared Hogarth hasn’t fed for three days.”
The drudge squeaked in fear and scrambled away. The dark haired rider laughed. “That was cruel Lance. You know Hogarth wouldn’t eat a human no more than Fanath would.”
“It depends on how hungry I was,” was the reply in his head and the rider laughed out loud.
Lance looked at him slightly puzzled then understood what had happened. “I bet Fanath just said it depended how hungry he was, didn’t he Chris.”
“Are you two going to stand a gossip like weyrlings all day?” the rider of the other bronze said joining them at the pile of firestone.
“No Joe we are not,” Lance said with a slight edge to his voice as he used his dragon’s foreleg to swing up into his saddle.
Chris sniggered. “Don’t mind him Joey you know how he gets just before threadfall.”
Fanath landed lightly beside his rider and started to tuck into the pile of firestone.
“I do know what my brother is like Chris.”
Chris looked hurt. “He’s my brother too.” Fanath belched and sent a flame across the courtyard making the people still milling around running for cover.
“Sorry,” the bronze said meekly and put out his leg so his rider could mount.
“I’ll see you in the sky Joe,” Chris shouted as he took off.
Joey waited until Chris and Fanath disappeared between before he called his own dragon to land.
Josh watched as one by one the dragons disappeared to fight the terrible thread and envy filled his soul. He could never be like them. He was a drudge. His parents were drudges as were their parents and their parents before them. It was his lot, little more than a slave to the great hold.
“You drudge, get your lazy ass inside now or we will lock you out.”
Josh hurried towards the great hall. One didn’t want to be outside when thread was falling. As he ran through the open doorway he was clipped across the back of the head.
“That’s for dallying. Next time I’ll stake you out for the thread to feast on.”
Josh lowered his eyes so that he didn’t have to look at the head steward and the man that held power over him. “I’m sorry sir,” he said timidly. The words choked him, he hated having to bow, scrape and beg just to stay alive but he had no choice being holdless was not an option and there were worse places he could be and worse masters that could hold a whip over him.
The head steward snorted and shoved him in the direction of the kitchens. “Make yourself useful boy, there is numbweed that needs to be prepared and readied for any injuries that might be received.”
Inwardly the drudge groaned, just his luck to get caught for that chore. He hated the smell of numbweed but it was essential for treating thread-scored dragons and riders. The evil smelling ointment gave numbing comfort to those badly injured.
Nodding his head obediently Josh made his way to the kitchen
“What took you so long?” Justin asked as his two bronze riding brothers blinked into the airspace to his right and left.
“We were watching Lance terrify a drudge,” Chris chirped.
Lance gave a heavy sigh. “I was not terrifying a drudge, I was warning him.”
“You told him Hogarth would eat him!” Chris exclaimed.
“I said he might eat him if he was hungry, Might Chris.”
“I didn’t see a drudge,” Justin said confused.
“He was hiding behind the firestone. He likes dragons. He wasn’t really afraid until Hogarth’s rider said he would eat him. Hogarth said he wouldn’t have eaten him even if he was hungry because he was all bone.”
Justin chuckled at his dragon’s version of events but then froze. The leading edge of the thread appeared and even though he got an adrenaline rush when he was fighting it still scared the shit out of him at first sight.
Suddenly his brown dragon, Turith was flaming and he shook himself out of his stupor taking control. All around him dragons were letting loose their flames and popping in and out of between, teleporting into open spaces so that they could avoid the falling menace.
Somewhere above him he heard a cry of pain. “Gorarth has been thread scored on his left leg,” Turith informed him telepathically. “He says it hurts but it is not too bad.”
“What of K’van?” Justin asked his dragon worriedly. If a rider died his dragon would suicide and the loss of a dragon was a time of immense sadness for all.
“Gorarth says he is crying and is sorry that he let him get hurt. One of the weyrwomen has given him some wine and told him to stop acting like an infant.”
Justin felt the cold as he and Turith went between narrowly missing a clump of falling thread. They reappeared flaming at another clump that threatened Chris and Fanath. Justin's older brother waved his thanks and darted to intercept more falling thread.
Thread fell for five hours during that time Justin and his three brothers managed to escape injury. Unfortunately not all riders were as fortunate. A young bronze rider took a full hit down the side of his face and his dragon was scored badly on his right wing. The two managed to jump between freezing the thread and reappearing above South Weyr. The unfortunate pair went into a fall but was saved by two bronze dragons that appeared beneath them, catching them and stopping their descent.
The young bronze writhed about in agony, screaming his pain while his rider sobbed and tried to sooth his friend while his wing was smeared with numbweed and the sails stitched back together. Only when the young rider was certain that his precious dragon was resting did he feel the pain of his own thread score and allowed himself to be treated.
Chris stormed into his chambers his eyes blazing in fury. He threw his riding cap and gloves onto a round stone table and grabbed up the bottle of fine red wine that was there waiting.
Joey, Lance and Justin were no more that a heartbeat behind their brother and behind them was Chris’ Weyrwoman, Meredith.
“Five injured dragons, five!” he yelled.
Meredith pulled off her own riding cap letting her red shoulder length hair fall free, “Chris you cannot help but get injuries during threadfall.”
“The Weyrwoman is right Weyrleader,” Joey said as he rested a comforting hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“Five is too many! One is too many,” Chris shouted. “Tomorrow when the weyr is rested I want all the riders and dragons that are fit enough out training. We will divide into four wings next threadfall I want no injuries through folly like we had today.”
Chris’ younger brothers backed away knowing better than to argue with the Weyrleader. Meredith inclined her head towards the doorway, silently gesturing for the younger brothers to leave. She could handle her lover without their help. Injured dragons always made Chris react badly.
The three riders left their brother and his mate and walked slowly to the main dinning room. Tired dragon riders sat around eating and drinking while exchanging stories. Justin sat down at one of the long tables and reached out to his dragon, checking that he was sleeping before he accepted a plate of stew and a cup of wine.
Lance sat down next to him and Joe sat on the other side of the table facing him. “I spoke to Catlin,” he said. “Gorarth will be fine so will K’van. G’don is badly scored down his face but he will recover. They are keeping him sedated. Roth isn’t good. He lost a lot of his wing sail. The master healer is convinced that he will recover but it will take time and G’don fretting about him is making him worse.”
“I’ll go see Roth after I’ve eaten,” Justin said solemnly. Are you coming with me Lance?”
Lance shook his head. “I can’t. I have to take Hogarth to hunt. He hasn’t eaten for three days.
Josh dug his heels in and struggled with every ounce of strength he had, but he knew he was fighting a loosing battle there were three of them and only one of him.
The holder boy pointed to a burrow. “Just there look,” he said excitedly. “I bet there is a thread in there. Let’s put his hand down there and find out.”
Josh pulled back harder panicking. He had seen what thread could do and he cried out for them to let him go. The holder boys laughed callously and forced the frightened drudge to his knees forcing his hand into the hole.
“What is going on?” The holder boys jumped at the voice of authority and let Josh go. The drudge whimpered with relief and clambered away hugging his hand to his chest.
The holder boys were temporarily stunned but soon recovered. “What’s it to you?” the leader asked as he advanced menacingly on the intruder.
Lance lifted himself to his full six foot height and mentally called for Hogarth. “There could have been a thread in that burrow, do you know what damage a thread can do to human flesh. I will not stand by and let you bully and torment that simple creature.”
“Do you know who I am?” the leader of the boys demanded haughtily “I am Derek, son of Branagan, Lord Holder of South Hold and if I want to torture drudges that belong to me I will.”
Lance stood his ground, his hands hanging at his sides. “Well Derek son of Branagan do you know who I am?”
Derek frowned suddenly he didn’t feel so sure of himself.
“I’m Lance rider of Hogarth. Have you met Hogarth?” Lance asked merriment shining in his flashing green eyes as his beloved dragon came up behind the small group of upstarts.
On cue the big blue bellowed and sent the boys scattering. Lance laughed loudly as he watched the boys running for their lives. “Next time I’ll have Hogarth eat you,” he yelled after them.
“Don’t keep telling the holders that I will eat them,” Hogarth complained. “You are giving me a reputation.”
Lance chuckled as he heard his dragon’s complaint. “You enjoy seeing the look on their faces as much as I do Beloved.”
Lance turned his attention to the drudge huddled against a rock. “Let me see your hand boy,” he demanded firmly, holding out his own hand.
Josh eyed the blue dragon warily and tentatively held out his hand for the rider to examine.
Lance turned the appendage over and over looking for signs of thread burns or snake bites. Hogarth pushed his head under Lance’s arms and had a huge sniff. Lance batted the end of his nose and the big dragon snorted, sneezed and shook his head. He bumped Lance aside gently but still with enough force to knock the rider over. He pushed his triangular head back at the now frightened drudge and sniffed him again.
“Please don’t let him eat me,” Josh begged.
Lance stood up and brushed the dust from his pants. “He won’t eat you, you are too stringy.” Lance had to admit he was puzzled. Hogarth had never acted like this before. The drudge yelped as a big dragon’s tongue licked up the side of his face. His fear turned slowly into glee and he giggled uncontrollably as Hogarth licked him again and again.
“I like him,” the blue dragon announced. “And Lillith will like him too.”
Lance was confused what did the great golden queen have to do with anything.”
“Eggs harden on the hatching ground,” Hogarth said cryptically.
The coin dropped. “Beloved you think he would make a rider?” Lance asked his dragon telepathically.
The blue turned his head looking at his rider with huge whirling lavender eyes. “There are eggs hardening,” he said again. Lance was left with no doubt. Hogarth was never wrong about these things. That is why he had the reputation of being the best search dragon on Pern.
“Get on your feet boy,” Lance ordered and held out his hand to help the drudge up. “I will take you to the Weyr.”
“But … but I have to go back to the hold. If I am late I will be strapped,” Josh stammered.
“Hogarth likes you,” the rider informed the drudge. “He thinks you will make a rider.”
Josh’s face split into two as he beamed a dazzling smile. “Me?” he gasped. “But I’m nothing, I’m not worthy.”
Lance ran his fingers down the drudges face. “What do they call you?”
“Drudge mostly,” the drudge’s smile slipped away.
“Don’t you have a real name?” Lance asked kindly.
“My parents called me Joshua.”
“Joshua is a fine name for a dragon rider don’t you think Hogarth?”
The blue dragon bellowed in agreement
“My lord holder will be angry,” Josh protested as he was steered towards Hogarth’s offered foreleg.
Lance took the drudge by his waist and lifted him up onto his dragon’s back. “Don’t you worry about Branagan. The Weyrleader will deal with him. The weyrs have first choice when eggs are on the hatching ground.” Lance secured the young man before him with his spare riding straps. “Are you ready?” he asked.
Josh leaned back and Lance wrapped his arms around him making him feel secure. “I’m really going to fly on a real dragon,” Josh whispered.
“Hold on,” Lance warned.
Hogarth bunched up all his muscles as he crouched backwards. He leapt into the air his wings lifted for the all important first downward sweep. Josh screamed in excitement and the sound was snatched away by the wind. Hogarth’s powerful wing strokes lifted them higher over the land.
Lance leaned into Josh and spoke into his ear “I want you to be very brave and hold on tight. I’m going to take us between. It will be very cold and you will feel totally alone, you won’t even feel the dragon scales beneath you.” He felt Josh tense and the drudge held his breath as they were enveloped by the dark blackness of between. Black too black Josh thought as his panic started to build. In a sudden burst of light they were back in the sunlight and spiralling down to Hogarth’s ledge.
“Hogarth returns Justin and he has a boy with him.”
Justin yawned and stretched having been roused by his brown. “He’s brought someone with him, who?”
Turith asked Hogarth about his passenger. “He says it’s a drudge from South hold. He will be presented as a candidate to Lillith.”
The brown rider was already dashing up the stairs as his dragon informed him of Lance’s passenger’s identity.
“Why would he offer a drudge as a candidate?”
“Hogarth likes him” Turith said simply. To a dragon it was as easy as that.
By the time he reached the Weyrleader’s accommodation Lance had arrived with his bewildered guest. Meredith circled the boy watching him thoughtfully. Justin turned up his nose at the dirty youth.
“A drudge?” he questioned.
Meredith glanced over to him. “You forget Lessa was a drudge. She is the greatest dragon rider since Moretta. Without Lessa Pern would have been lost. She was the one that went back in time and brought forward the Oldtimers to help us fight the thread.”
“Lessa was Ruathan, dragons were in her blood,” Justin insisted.
“I never had you down as being a snob little brother,” Chris said as he entered the alcove. He kissed Meredith’s cheek and then studied the nervous grubby youth that was bristling uneasily under the scrutiny of the riders. “So this is the drudge that Hogarth was so taken with. I know you,” the Weyrleader mulled out loud.
“He was at South Hold on the morning of thread fall,” Lance said, filling his older brother in.
“That drudge! Hogarth didn’t eat you then?” Chris asked smirking.
Josh blushed bright red. “Dragons don’t eat people,” he said semi confidently.
“Of course they don’t,” Meredith snapped. She glared at her mate and his brothers. “Well my dear,” she carried on kindly. “I think first we need to get you a bath and sort out that tangled mop.” She took Josh’s hand and tugging him along behind her she lead him out of her quarters and down a staircase. She pushed back a leather curtain and still holding his hand led him inside. “These will be your chambers for the time being.” She took him into a smaller room just off the main room. “This is your bath chamber,” she told him kindly “The pool is heated and clears itself constantly. There is sandsoap in the jar and I will have some clean drying cloths brought to you.”
Josh eyed the deep pool nervously while he waited for Meredith to leave. He crouched down and tested the temperature with his fingers. A bath; he’d never had a bath before. He’d washed sometimes in the trough that was in the hold’s courtyard but that was always freezing cold and certainly not something to be repeated too often. Josh took off his clothes and walked slowly into the warm water till he was submerged up to his waist. He had to admit it was a very pleasant feeling. He crouched down till the water reached his neck and then taking a deep breath and holding it he ducked his head underneath.
He came back up and yelped in surprise.
“What’s wrong young one, never seen a woman before?” the head woman tossed the tub of sandsoap to him. “Come on, chop chop. No time for dithering about.”
“Who are you?” Josh asked sinking further under the water, his hand covering his modesty.
“I’m Catlin dear, Weyr’s headwoman. Meredith asked me to make sure that you were alright.”
Josh gave a slight pout. “I’m fine.”
“Of course you are dear.” The head woman looked at him over the top of her metal rimmed spectacles. “Use the sandsoap dear.”
“I think I can manage alone,” Josh sulked. “Besides I’m not clothed.”
Catlin smirked. “Well dear you would be wouldn’t you?” Catlin squinted at the naked youth and grinned. “Look dear, I have brought up four sons and every one of them has the same as you hanging between their legs.”
Josh blushed beetroot and turned his back to the woman before opening the sandsoap jar and tipping a good handful into his palm. He heard a swish of curtain and glanced back over his shoulder. Catlin had gone. He grunted and started to scrub at his hair, working the sand into lather. He pulled at his tresses, trying to work his fingers through the thick knots that had built up over his 21 years. Sighing he gave up and concentrated on scrubbing his body. He watched fascinated as the dirty soap filled water flowed away from him and disappeared through a natural filter. He submerged himself and resurfaced; he shook the water from his eyes and waded back to dry land.
Lance pulled back the curtain and watched the unaware drudge as he rubbed himself dry.
“Are you spying?”
Lance jumped. “Shards Justin; scare me why don’t you.”
“Are you sure you didn’t bring him here for your benefit?” Justin asked teasingly.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Lance snapped back. “Are you suggesting that I lied about Hogarth searching him?”
“Well it’s must be a coincidence then that he also happens to be very attractive.”
Josh chose that moment to look up. He gasped and wrapped his drying cloth around his waist. “What is it with you people? First some woman tells me she has seen a cock before and then you take a look too. Even at the hold I got to have some privacy.”
“Get dressed and come with us,” Lance grunted.
Josh looked around for his clothes. “My clothes have gone.”
“There will be some in your storage,” Justin said nodding towards a solid wooden chest.
Josh opened the lid and covered his mouth with his hands to suppress his cry of delight. He reached out and fingered the beautiful green tunic and matching pants. “These are for me?” he asked in amazement.
“Well that particular tunic is a bit grand for the dining hall but I think if you dig a bit deeper you will find a suitable shirt and a pair of werryhide pants.”
Catlin returned and frowned to see that her sons were intruding on the slim candidate’s privacy. “Come on boys; out. Josh has to get dressed.” She shoved the two dragon riders out of the alcove then turned her attention back to Josh.
The drudge clenched his drying cloth tightly around his waist, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
Catlin opened a small box that was sitting on a natural stone ledge and took out a pair of scissors and a comb. She patted the seat of a stool and Josh automatically sat down for her. “How do you like the weyr dear?” she asked in a friendly tone.
“It’s warm,” Josh answered back in a slightly choked whisper.
“Don’t you like it warm?”
“I’m just not used to feeling warm. My mat was in one of the many cellars that are under South Hold and they are cold.”
“Well dear,” Catlin said as she tried to drag the comb through Josh’s tangled mop, “you won’t ever feel cold again.” She gave up with the comb. “Sweetie I’m going to have to cut this off.”
Josh chewed on the inside of his mouth and his eyes filled up.
“What’s wrong dear?” Catlin asked concern for the young man filling her.
“I don’t want my head shaved. The lord holder did it to me once as punishment for spilling ash on one of the carpets when I was cleaning the fireplace.”
Catlin‘s heart went out to the boy. He had obviously not had a happy life up until now and she was determined that that was going to change.
“I’m not punishing you dear,” she said kindly. “I’m cutting your hair because you are going to be a rider. You will never get all this hair in your riding cap.”
Josh looked up at the woman. Her sparkling blue eyes were surrounded in wrinkles that depicted her age and the hardness of her life but she was pretty with her blond curly hair and warm smile.
“If you think it’s for the best then mistress,” Josh agreed quietly and sat upright so that the headwoman could reach him more easily.
“I’m not your mistress dear, no one is. You are not a drudge any longer. You can call me Catlin or Lyn if you like.”
Josh gave her a tiny unsure smile but nodded his compliance then he sat very still, biting at his lip as if he expected his hair cut to hurt. Catlin began sawing away at the matted tresses and after a while there was a pile of hair on the floor, what was left on Josh’s head had sprung up into curls framing his face.
“Well who would have thought that such a pretty boy lived under that lot?” she said teasingly as she lifted Josh’s chin to admire her handy work. “You might want to get back into the bath and rinse yourself off. I’ll put some clothes out for you and when you are ready just come out of this weyr, turn right, come down the stairs, turn right again then first left and you will be in the dining room. If you get lost just ask someone and they will bring you along with them.”
The headwoman kissed Josh’s forehead. “Such a pretty boy,” she muttered again to herself as she left the former drudge to get himself ready.
Josh found the dinning room with no trouble at all. All he had to do was follow the delicious aroma of roasted meat and happy laughter, but once he reached the huge cavern he hovered just outside the doorway not wanting to go in and draw attention to himself. A Harper played a tune on his guitar and he was accompanied by a smooth clear tenor. Josh vaguely recognised the tune having heard it sang before at the hold, only here it was being sang much better. A hand rested on his hip making him jump.
“What are you doing out here alone?” Joey asked. He took hold of the shy boy’s hand and pulled him along behind him into the dinning room. He dragged a chair out from under the long wooden table and sat Josh into it before dashing off to talk to his Weyrleader. Immediately a plate of steaming meat and vegetables were put before him and his wine glass was filled with blood red wine.
Josh blinked and shifted in his seat not knowing what to do. The food smelt wonderful but years of needing permission to eat stopped him from touching it.
Lance sat down next to him and grinned. “Wow,” he said. “Who would have thought that such an attractive man was hiding under all that muck?”
Josh blushed at the complement and ducked his head as he fiddled with the hem of his white shirt.
“Flirting with him already Lancers?” Justin asked as he flopped down in the seat to Josh’s right. “I have to say you do scrub up pretty good.” Justin noticed Josh’s untouched food. “Are you not hungry?”
“I … I didn’t know if it was for me,” Josh stammered.
“Okay rules,” Joey butted in having returned from talking with Chris. He dropped into an empty chair and rocked back on the rear legs. “All in the weyr are equal in standing. No man or woman is more important than another. You are a candidate and that is a great honour so hold your head up high.”
Lance slid the wine glass across the table to Josh’s hand then lifted his own. “A toast,” he announced standing up. “To the candidates may they have success.”
The entire room stood up their glasses raised. “To the candidates.”
Josh tried to stand up as well and was pushed back down by Joey and Lance each with a hand on his shoulders.
Later on that night the Harper played again this time the weyr folk all joined in as they sang the ballad of Moretta’s Ride and songs that Josh hadn’t heard before. One sang the praises of Lessa and others about different dragons. Justin sang a haunting ballad that dated back hundreds of turns, his clear voice ringing throughout the cavern and sending shivers down Josh’s spine. The four brothers harmonised on another ballad and Josh was mesmerised by them and left wishing that he could join in but he never knew the words and was too shy to even try. The night went on and on and Josh drank glass after glass of wine getting drunker and drunker.
It was very late when Lance and Justin carried him back to his bedchamber. The riders laid him down and took off his pants before covering him over.
“You like him?” Justin observed.
Lance caressed the side of the sleeping mans face. “And you don’t?”
“It doesn’t matter if I do or not. The only chance we will ever have with him is if he impresses a green.”
“That’s not necessarily true Justin; but I think he will get a green. He has a certain air about him, the way he carries himself. I think that he probably is attracted to men more than women, Hogarth thinks so too.”
~*~ Over the next few days Josh found out that he was the only candidate living in the weyr as usually the soon to be dragon riders lived with their families right up till the hatching and only became weyr folk when they impressed. He also discovered that nine times out of ten the unsuccessful candidates chose to stay in the weyr anyway. He had already made up his mind that if he failed to impress he was going to ask to be allowed to stay. He was sure that all the things he had learned as a simple drudge would stand him in good stead and even if he had to return to drudgery it was better to be a drudge in the weyr than to return to South hold and be punished for having the audacity of daring to try for a dragon. For the most part Josh made himself as useful as he could hoping that Catlin would accept him if he failed to impress. He spent time in the kitchens and even volunteered to help make the dreaded numbweed that was so important to the dragons and riders.. When that tiresome task was done he volunteered to help harvest the needlethorn that they used to stitch back together the delicate dragon wing sails.
Even though he was working hard to fit in, life was still much easier than it was at south hold.
He hid in the shadows as Lord Branagan confronted the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman, demanding the return of his drudge. Josh was resigned to returning to his dreary life and was about to present himself and beg for forgiveness when he was taken aside by Joey who had spotted him and was reassured that no one could force him to return if he didn’t want to. He was weyr folk now and weyr folk looked after their own, but he still cowered under the harsh stare of his former lord as the irate man stormed away.
One of the things he loved to do was to go out onto the heights and watch the dragons as they would come and go, sometimes carrying the Masters from the craft halls and other times just on exercise.
He was enamoured with the creatures that were so lumbering on the ground but once in the air were so graceful. Once he had been a part of the weyr for a few weeks he was able to recognise the different dragons and had got his favourites. Hogarth was one of them; the blue dragon had taken a real liking to the slim young man and would butt him head against him every chance he got. Josh would always oblige him in scratching his eye ridges and helping Lance to oil him. He also found himself watching Turith. The brown was easily as big as Fanath Chris’ bronze and as agile as a firelizard.
The bronzes were his favourites though and secretly he dreamed of impressing one of his own but he also had a soft spot for Lance’s blue, Hogarth. Josh liked most of the weyr folk and they seemed to like him, that was all except Justin. The brown rider seemed to go out of his way to avoid the former drudge and when he did speak to him it was usually to tell him to go and do a chore of some kind.
A dragon trumpeted above the weyr and Justin burst into the airspace. No sooner had Turith landed than Justin vaulted off of his back and sprinted up the steps that led to the Weyrleader’s alcove. Over come by curiosity Josh chased after him and lingered outside the curtained Weyrwoman’s weyr listening to what was going on.
“Are you sure?” Chris asked excitedly.
“Of course I’m sure,” Justin snapped. “I heard it clear as day. They are opening Gwyneth’s first mating flight to all the weyrs. It’s Joey's chance Chris. He could make Telgar Weyrleader.”
“The drudge is listening,” Fanath informed his rider.
Justin frowned and grabbed hold of the curtain pulling it back violently and grabbed the shocked young man. “What are you doing?” he demanded as he pulled Josh into the room and thrust him into a chair.
“I … I meant no harm.” Josh whimpered.
“Why were you eavesdropping Joshua?” Chris asked in a soft voice. He could see that the young candidate was terrified and didn’t want to make the youth totally incoherent.
“I never meant to. I was just curious. I saw Justin come back and he seemed agitated. I just wanted to see if I could help.”
“Well it has nothing to do with you,” Justin said unpleasantly.
“That’s not strictly true Justin. Josh is weyr folk now and anything that affects the weyr affects him too.”
Chris crouched down in front of Josh and took hold of his hand. “Telgar weyr is calling open flight when Gwyneth, queen dragon of Telgar rises to mate. That means that every bronze on Pern is eligible to fly her. If Joey's Sorth was to fly her he would be Weyrleader of Telgar.”
“And,” Justin continued, “in a position to influence the future of Pern. With South Weyr and Telgar Weyr united Benden will have to take us seriously.”
“They always take us seriously Justin, but with Joey as Telgar Weyrleader they will start to listen.” Chris stood up and walked over to Meredith who was sitting demurely in the corner listening to the conversation taking place. “Isn’t that right my precious?” he took her into his arms and kissed her tenderly.
Meredith smiled. “That’s right Weyrleader.” ~*~ A loud thumping humming woke Josh from his sleep and he sat up confused as to what the strange noise could be. It had been weeks since Chris had found out about the open mating and he had been in a tremendously good mood ever since. The curtain to Josh’s alcove was slung back and Lance burst through. The blue rider threw a white gown at him.
“Get that on and hurry,” he commanded.
Josh blinked in confusion.
“Now Josh. The eggs are hatching. As we speak the other candidates are being brought in by dragon back. Hogarth says you will do well but only if you are on the hatching sands.”
Spurred into action Josh stripped off his sleep clothes and pulled the white cotton shift over his head.
“The sands are extremely hot so put these on.” Lance handed him a pair of sandals. “They are more insulated than normal sandals.” He winked cheekily.
Josh had hardly finished fastening his shoes and already Lance was dragging him towards the ledge outside his alcove.
Hogarth sat waiting patiently. “The eggs begin to crack Lance. The candidate must hurry.”
Lance swung up onto his dragon’s back and reached down and heaved Josh up behind him. Hogarth launched himself off of the ledge and glided down to the ground landing in the mist of the visiting lords and ladies, causing them to scatter in panic.
Lance leaped off Hogarth’s back and held out his arms for Josh.
“Hurry,” he urged.
Josh swung his leg over and jumped down. He was caught by Lance’s strong arms and he shoved Josh onto the sand. “Go now Josh, remember what ever happens stand your ground and good luck.”
Josh ran onto the sand and joined the semi circle of candidates already waiting. He could feel the heat from the hatching sands seeping through the soles of his sandals and didn’t miss the fact that the other would be riders were feeling different degrees of discomfort.
The egg nearest to him started to rock and his heart began to race. He swallowed as the shell split in two and the newly hatched dragonet staggered free.
In the stands there was an approving muttering. The dragonet was a bronze, a good omen for the weyr. The dragonet cooed sadly and staggered forward his triangular head whipping from side to side. He made straight for a tall brown haired boy who fell to his knees, tears pouring down his cheeks.
“He says his name is Borath.” He cried. Impression had been made.
Another cry went out as another bronze was hatched. This one charged towards Josh and he held his breath in anticipation. The dragonet reached out with his claws and tossed Josh aside, throwing the former drudge to the ground with deep bloody wounds to his side and stomach. Josh lay still trying not to panic as the dragonet then clambered over him to reach his chosen partner inflicting even more pain and damage to him. “You are hurt, He hurt you.” Josh opened his eyes and was flooded with love as his eyes met faceted blue eyes whirling with concern.
“I’m alright its just a little scratch,” Josh answered the little dragon reassuringly.
The green dragonet butted her head against him and wined softly. “I’m hungry.”
Josh lifted himself painfully off of the hot sand and caressed his dragons head, scratching her eye ridges. “Come with me Dear heart, I will take care of you.” Josh turned and faced the crowd. “She says her name is Edith,” he announced elatedly.
The rest of the hatching was a complete blur to Josh as he staggered towards the exit, Edith trotting along side of him contentedly. He was met by Chris and his brothers who congratulated him enthusiastically. It was Meredith that pushed them aside and insisted on helping him to the weyrlings quarters. Not only did Edith need to be fed but Josh’s dragon wounds needed to be treated before they became infected. As the Weyrwoman and Weyrleader helped the former drudge Justin grasped Lance’s arm.
“So he impressed a green.”
Lance’s eyes sparkled with glee. “Hogarth said he would. There was never any doubt in his mind.”
“Just because he is a green rider doesn’t mean that you will fly him. Turith is much bigger than Hogarth.”
Joey who was close by and listening hung his arms around his brother’s necks. “His dragon is barely dry and already you are vying for his attention. It will be at least a year before Edith is ready for her first mating flight and every dragon in the weyr will be wanting to fly her including my own Sorth. The rider may be able to influence his dragon’s choice but ultimately it is the dragon herself that decides.”
Joey sauntered off towards a big breasted holder’s daughter and flirted heavily with her; ready to take full advantage of the perks of being a dragon rider.
Justin moved closer to Lance and whispered in his ear. “I wager a new riding jacket that when Edith is ready Turith will be the one that flies her.”
Lance spat on his palm and took his brother’s offered hand. “I’ll accept your wager,” he said confidently.
~*~ Josh woke to a crooning inside his head. He opened one eye and squinted against the bright daylight.
“Joshua, Joshua I’m hungry and I itch.”
Slowly memories of the previous evening filtered into his mind. He was a dragon rider. He sat up too quickly and the world tipped upside down then rotated violently. He clamped his hand over his mouth and scrambled to the toilet area and threw up all the food and wine he had consumed the night before.
“Joshua feed me please.” Edith’s plaintive plea echoed in his head once more.
“I’m coming my precious,” Josh replied out loud. He wasn’t sure if his dragon could hear him and certainly didn’t know how to talk in his mind.
.“I can always hear you Joshua no matter where you are.” The dragon went quiet for a minute. “Turith’s rider approaches.”
The striking dragon rider strode into the room scowling. “Your dragon needs attention,” he snapped. “Turith said she was crying from hunger.”
“She is not crying,” Josh snapped back. “She is whinging and I have already told her that I am on my way.”
Josh bent down to pick up his shirt and swooned. Justin rushed to support him, grasping his elbow to stop him from falling. “What is wrong?” he asked. “Are you ill?
Josh shook his head. “Your brother gave me a little too much wine I think. I’m not used to drinking alcohol and eating such rich food.”
“I’m still hungry and the itch is getting worse.” Edith whimpered. “I’m sorry precious. I was being unwell. I’m coming to you now dear heart.” Josh slipped his shirt over his head and started towards the dragonet stabling.
Justin followed him. “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I never realised that Lance had plied you with drink all night. It’s just that I thought you were neglecting Edith.”
“I would never do that!” Josh exclaimed. “And it wasn’t Lance; it was Joey.”
Justin shook his head and gave a half-laugh. “Bastard,” he muttered under his breath. “Every hatching he picks on a weyrling and gets them drunk knowing that the next morning they have to prepare their dragon’s breakfast. Then he and his friends take bets on how long it will take for the weyrling to vomit.”
The two dragon riders entered the food preparation area and Josh gulped. “I think now,” Josh whimpered. He put his hand back over his mouth and ran back outside. Somewhere on the upper levels Justin heard laughing and the groans of the losers. Silently he cursed his older brother and chased after the new green rider.
“Josh go back to your bed. I will look after Edith for you this morning.”
Josh coughed up the last of his stomach contents. “I can see to her. She is my responsibility and I should have know better than to have eaten and drank so much.”
“Then let me help,” Justin said helpfully. “It’s been a few years but I think I can still remember how to cut up dragon feed.” Josh looked back into the room where the weyrlings were chopping up fresh meat and his belly churned. “I’d be really grateful,” he said shyly and making Justin beam.
Justin not only help prepare Edith’s breakfast but also showed Josh how to oil his dragon’s hide and so stopping the dreadful itching that was driving the little green to distraction.
“And you have to do this to Turith too?” Joshua asked impressed. Turith was one of the biggest dragon’s he had ever seen. He was nearly as big as Fanath and Bigger than Sorth.
“Yep; even full grown dragons get flaky sometimes.”
Josh finished oiling the last little patch of Edith’s soft hide and sank down with his back pressed against the stone wall of the weyr.
“Tired?” Justin asked as he sat down beside him.
“Exhausted,” Josh replied. He leaned back with his eyes closed and Justin couldn’t help but notice how beautiful he was. His skin was smooth and clear just like fine porcelain and his now short hair curled and shone in the afternoon sunshine. Josh opened his eyes and blushed under Justin's stare. He ducked his head and chewing his lip looked over to his dragonet who had fallen asleep. “She is so beautiful,” he said dreamily. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I could be a dragon rider. Drudges don’t do things like that.”
“Have you always been a drudge Josh?”
“The green rider nodded. “My family has been tied to south hold for generations. I don’t know the details of what happened, why we became property but I vaguely remember my great grandfather telling me that we were lost in a gambling debt. He didn’t tell me who just that was the reason we belonged to the lord holder. What about you, have you always lived in the weyr?”
“I was born in the weyr. Catlin is my mother but Chris, Joey and Lance have different fathers to me. Joe and Chris share full blood, Lance and I are half blood to them and to each other.”
Josh nodded understandingly. “My siblings are all half blood to me as well although not by my mother’s choice, drudges do not really get consulted in such things.” Josh looked away sadly. “How long have you been a dragon rider? Turith is full grown and you are so young.”
Justin's eyes shone excitedly as the memory of his impression flooded back. “I impressed by accident. I was attending Lance’s impression and the stands were very crowded so I was clinging to the pole at the very edge of the first tier. Joe and Chris were with me as was Catlin; Lance had just impressed Hogarth and Joey and Chris were really excited and started jumping around. The next thing I knew I was face down on the hatching sands and when I looked up Turith was looking down at me. I had landed right at his feet.”
“Wow, how old were you?” Justin grinned “12. Catlin bless her heart cried for days. She had thought to have me as her baby for at least two more years, she had already lost Chris, Joey and Lance to the dragons and now she had lost me too.” The brown rider looked into Josh’s eyes and without thinking reached out and touched is face gently, tracing his thumb over the green riders full pink lips. Slowly he leaned in.
“Hogarth returns,” Turith announced spoiling the opportunity and Justin pulled back. Josh’s face was flushed and his eyes were closed in anticipation. When the kiss he was expecting didn’t appear the green rider opened his eyes, sad with disappointment.
Justin caressed his face again. “Lance is coming,” he said in terms of explanation. The two separated Justin making his way quickly from the weyrlings quarters and Josh over to Edith, fussing around her stall so that the blond haired, blue dragon rider wouldn’t get suspicious.
Josh jumped as he felt arms go around his waist and a kiss placed on the side of his neck. “What are you doing?” Lance purred in his ear.
“Not much really Edith is sleeping. I just like to be near her.”
Lance turned Josh around to face him but kept his arms around his waist so the pale thin young man couldn’t escape. “Ruatha Hold has a Gather today. I thought you might like to go with me.” Josh spluttered with surprise. “A gather …me? I’ve never been to a gather before!” Josh looked to the ground ashamed of the fact that he was so uneducated and had never attended one of the great fairs that took place at the holds. A gather was a holiday for everyone, every one except drudges that was. While everyone was enjoying themselves he and others like him were locked in the cellars away from the merriment and only let out once the gather had ended and the cleaning up had to be done.
Lance lifted his chin so he could look into his eyes. “But South Hold has gathers, I’ve attended them on many occasion.” The sadness in Josh’s eyes told him all he needed to know. “The Lord Holder never let you attend did he? Such cruelty; I will speak to Chris about the Lord Holder’s ill use of his drudges. Maybe he can warn him to improve their situation or the weyr will take action.”
“Do you think he would?” Josh asked hope shining in his eyes, he might be released from his former life but his mother wasn’t and he was sure that she was paying for what he had done.
Lance played with a curl that hung down on Josh’s forehead. “We can but try. Now would you like to attend the gather with me?”
Josh checked on his dragon worried about leaving her. “I can’t leave Edith. She might wake and need me.”
Lance brought the green rider closer to him. “What if I give you my word that she will never know that you left?”
Josh frowned in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
Lance smiled reassuringly and leaned in whispering into Josh’s ear. “Hogarth knows a few little tricks. No one will ever know that we have left.”
Josh bit down on his lip and looked again at his sleeping dragonet and a pang of guilt stabbed at his heart he so wanted to go with the blue rider.
“I’ve never been to a gather,” he whispered looking back up. “Am I bad for wanting to go with you when I should stay here with Edith?”
“I swear on my dragon that I will have you back at the weyr before she wakes up,” Lance said persuasively.
“I’ll have to get changed.” Lance whooped and swung Josh around and around. “There is a gather suit in your storage trunk made in browns and golds. It will be perfect for an autumn gather and a complement to the green that I shall wear.” Lance turned Josh in the direction of his alcove and tapped his bottom encouragingly “hurry, we have to leave while the others are busy.”
Josh ran back to his sleeping quarters and dug through his clothes chest. He gasped and beamed in delight at the fine brown and gold jacket he found there. A little more digging turned up a pair of brown leather pants that matched perfectly. Josh quickly slipped into he new clothes and admired himself in the mirror. He hardly recognised himself. Gone was the drudge and in his place stood Joshua soon to be rider of Edith. He checked there was no one on the landing then went outside. A gust of wind nearly knocked him off his feet and Lance astride Hogarth hovered before him then landed as light as a feather. The blue rider tossed his and jacket and gloves along with a riding cap.
“Quickly put them on, they will protect you from the cold of between.”
Josh did as he was told and then let Lance heave him up onto Hogarth’s back. The blue jumped off the ledge and glided downwards before beating his fine wings and gaining altitude.
“We go between,” Lance shouted into his ear and Josh braced himself. The fierce cold and darkness filled him with dread and chilled him to the bone but as suddenly as they were enveloped they were back in the bright autumn sunshine over Ruatha hold Below them the ground was covered in the gay colours of the gather. The stalls were draped in bright silk and vendors shouted their wares to the gatherers that passed by. Lance could feel the young green rider’s excitement coursing through his body and cautioned him.
“Josh you must try and keep your emotions in check. If you don’t you will wake Edith and then we will have to return to the weyr.”
Josh leaned back into the blue rider so that he could shout into his ear. “I’m sorry.”
The closeness made Lance tremble. This wasn’t the scared little drudge that he had picked up off the floor months before. This was a dragon rider, his equal and he was having trouble keeping his own emotions in check. Josh was still out of bounds. Weyrlings were not allowed to be sexually active until their dragon was ready so he would have to wait but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t gain the advantage by courting the young man first, gaining his trust so that when Edith did rise Hogarth would already have favour with her.
Lance instructed Hogarth to land and he lifted Josh down. The green rider’s eyes sparkled with pure joy as they walked into the gather. Josh wanted to stop at every stall and examine the craftsmen’s wares. He cooed with delight when Lance bought him a bubbly pie and the blue rider gained a certain satisfaction in watching as Josh ate it slowly, savouring every bite.
Josh’s head lifted up as he strained to hear the music that had started to play. He looked excitedly at his escort and captured his bottom lip between his teeth in the way that Lance found so endearing.
“Would you care to dance?” Lance asked and Josh smiled brightly.
“Sometimes we could hear the music and my mother taught me but I have never danced in front of anyone but her.”
“Then today you shall,” Lance promised. He held out his hand for Josh to take and led him across to the dance floor. Already there were dancers swirling across the hardwood that had been laid especially for that purpose. Lance took Josh into his arms and soon they were moving to the music, swept along with the rest of the dancers as they twirled around the dance floor leaving Josh breathless and his cheeks flushed a rosy pink. They danced and danced until the sun set and Josh was elated, letting Lance swirl him around and hold him tightly.
“Joshua I’m hungry.”
Josh eyes glazed over as his dragon spoke to him. Lance recognised the look.
“Edith?” he asked.
“I left her too long,” Josh said worriedly. Her crying will wake the entire weyr and the weyrling master will be angry with me.”
Lance bespoke Hogarth and the blue dragon swept down from the dragon heights landing in the middle of the crowded courtyard and sending revellers scattering.
“I said discreet,” Lance chastised his dragon for making a spectacle of himself.
“You also said quickly,” Hogarth answered.
Lance vaulted up onto the blue’s back then held out his hand for Josh to take. As soon as the green rider was secured Hogarth sprang into the air. He took three long wing strokes and then Lance instructed him between. They appeared over South weyr and although they had stayed at Ruatha until the early hours of the morning Josh was surprised to see that the sun was still high in the sky.
“This afternoon never happened Josh,” Lance shouted in his ear. “As I promised you no one will ever know that you left the weyr. As far as they are concerned you have been missing for minutes not hours.”
“But how?” Josh shouted back in confusion.
“As I told you before Hogarth and I know a few tricks.” Lance nuzzled his mouth against the soft skin of Josh’s neck, smelling the attractive man that was pressed up against him. Hogarth landed and Lance steadied Josh as he climbed off Hogarth’s back.
“Thank you.” Josh whispered to him.
“Go cuddle up to your dragon and get some sleep. You look faded. If Chris sees you looking like that he will know for sure what we have been up to. Although timing it is allowed in certain circumstances it is frowned on because of the toll it takes on dragon and rider.” Lance reached down and took Josh’s hand in his. “I’ll see you later,” he said then urged Hogarth upwards once more leaving Josh in a cloud of dust.
As Edith was fast asleep Josh nipped back to his weyr to take off his gather clothes before he was discovered. He had just taken his jacket off and folded it into his chest when the tough hide curtain was brushed aside and Justin walked in. he glared at Josh, the emotion in his eyes unreadable.
“Where have you been?”
Josh turned his back on him, closing his clothes chest quickly so he couldn’t see what he was doing. “I’ve been with Edith.”
“Don’t lie. I saw you and Lance go off somewhere all dressed up then you arrive back less than five minutes later, tired and grey looking. Have you and Lance been timing it?”
Josh spun around and rushed up to the bronze rider. “Don’t tell anyone,” he pleaded. “I had never been to a gather before and when Lance told me he wanted to take me…. I never meant to neglect Edith really I didn’t.”
“I won’t tell on you this time but if you ever time it again I will have no choice. Lance should know better and I will be talking to him too.” Justin spun on his heel and dragged back the curtain to leave. He paused and looked over his shoulder at the distressed weyrling. “Get to bed and don’t let Chris or Meredith see you; or Joe for that matter they will know what you have been up to in an instance. That’s if they don’t already know. All three were at Ruatha today as well.”
Justin left and dread filled Josh. If the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman were at Ruatha they were bound to have seen them. He and Lance had danced for hours and had made quite a spectacle of themselves as it was not normal for them to see two men dancing in such a way together; but somehow it had felt right to Josh and it was a memory he would cherish for the rest of his life, his very first gather. Josh took off his pants and slipped under his sleeping furs. A small smile played on his lips and he hugged his pillow to him, his eyes shut as he hummed one of the songs he and Lance had danced to. It had been a wonderful day.
~*~ “Drudgery was never this hard,” Josh sighed to himself as he scrubbed at Edith’s green hide. She had almost trebled in size in the past seven months and she now left him exhausted as he tried to keep up with her constant itches and enormous appetite. Of course now she killed her own food but he still had to keep her under tight control and ensure that she didn’t gorge herself. She stretched out her right wing so that Josh could reach a spot of flaky hide that was giving her trouble and keened contentedly as he administered the spicy scented oil.
“Tomorrow we can fly together,” Edith said excitedly in his head. “I am big enough to carry you now and T’gon promised.”
“I can’t wait dear heart, once we are given permission we will be able to escape the weyr and explore.”
“The world is a big place Joshua and we will be able to go anywhere we want to. You could go back to Ruatha with Hogarth’s rider. You were happy there.”
Josh was shocked he had never told anyone about his adventure with Lance. “Precious how do you know about that?”
“There is nothing I do not know about you Joshua. You are mine and I am yours.”
“And I love you,” Josh assured her.
The green dragon lifted her head and cocked it to one side. “Something happens,” she announced. “The bronzes are blooding their kills Sorth and Turith are excited and their riders are with them.” The green dragon strained to hear the unheard voice. “Gwyneth rises, the bronzes are rushing to mate her. Turith chases so does Sorth. There are others too, Borath from Telgar. Orith and Morath from Benden. Nelanth from High Reaches joins the chase. A bronze has faltered; it is Orith.”
“Turith is a brown,” Josh exclaimed. “Why does he join in the mating?”
“The Weyrleader sends him. He wants Telgar for his brothers. Turith is a very large brown he his out flying all the bronzes.”
“What happens Edith?” Josh was excited now too. He looked into the skies hoping to see the wild dragon flight.
“Nelanth is too far behind to catch up. The race is between Sorth, Turith and Morath. Gwyneth teases Turith she drops beneath him and he flies past her. She cannot avoid Sorth, he has her. Turith and Morath have returned to the weyr. They are very disappointed but the Weyrleader is happy. Sorth’s rider will be Weyrleader at Telgar.”
Josh was already charging down towards the bowl before Edith had finished her commentary. Chris and Meredith were there as was Lance and Catlin.
“Is it true?” he blurted. “Did Sorth fly Gwyneth?”
Chris grinned and he looked happier than he had in all the time Josh had known him. “It’s true. The leadership has passed into Joey’s hands. Now we no longer need to let Benden dictate to us. We have Telgar in our pocket.”
“Edith told me that Turith joined the mating flight,” Josh avoided looking at Lance knowing that the blue rider was watching him curiously and wondering why Josh was interested in what his brother did.
“He did. I instructed Justin to allow Turith to join in. If I could have I would have sent Lance too but Hogarth wouldn’t have stood a chance and for a blue to try and fly a queen would be an insult.” Chris caught a look of anger in Lance’s eye. “Not that Hogarth isn’t worthy of flying a queen, he is a magnificent dragon and twice as large as any other blue. It will indeed be a lucky green that has him chase her.”
Lucky green! The words sunk into Josh’s consciousness and he whipped his head around to confront his Weyrleader. “What do you mean,” he demanded to know. From the corner of his eye he could see Lance beginning to smile and for some reason that scared him.
“Surely you know that your dragon is female?” Chris said mockingly.
”W…well yes,” the green rider stammered and his face burned red under the scrutiny of his Weyrleader.
“Then you must also know that she will rise to mate at some point,” Chris continued, he had a teasing edge to his tone.
Meredith placed a hand on Josh’s arm. “You truly didn’t know did you?”
Chris and Lance began to laugh and Josh stammered confused and not knowing what to say. It hadn’t occurred to him that one day Edith might rise to mate.
“Stop it you two,” Meredith snapped her anger seeping through and increasing her sympathy for the naive green rider.
Chris had tears of mirth rolling down his cheeks. “Oh Lance what a wild flight this will be and what a prize will be waiting for you.”
Josh paled. “I…I don’t understand,” he stammered.
“It’s quite simple,” Lance explained finally controlling his laugher. “When Edith rises every dragon in the weyr will chase her, bronzes, browns and blues. The dragon that catches her gets to mate with her and his rider ….. Well his rider gets you.”
Josh turned tail and ran, knocking into Justin as he returned from Telgar. The brown rider was momentarily stunned but then shrugged and reported to his older brother. “Joey's Sorth flew well Weyrleader. It was a long high chase and the resulting clutch should be good.”
He paused when he saw the amusement plastered over his brothers’ faces and anger on Meredith’s and Catlin’s. “Did I miss something?” he asked curiously.
Chris chuckled. “Our lovely young, and I hasten to add, only green rider has just found out that he is the main course in Edith’s mating banquet. To say that he was surprised would be an understatement.”
“What you did was cruel,” Meredith showed her disgust through her words. “It must be terrifying for him. It was for me and I had been prepared gently. Still at least I am female and would be pursued by males. Poor Josh has just found out that he will be expected to indulge in a single sex relationship. Does anyone know or even care if he is attracted to men?”
Chris and Lance had the decency to look ashamed as the truth of Meredith’s words hit home. “I’ll talk to him.” Chris drawled softly.
“No let me,” Justin held up his hand stopping Chris from going after the distraught weyrling. His jaws snapped shut over his next words knowing that if he voiced them it would end up with a full blown argument. He nodded respectfully at the Weyrwoman and his mother then went to find Josh.
The green rider was stuffing clothes into a small bag when Justin caught up with him. Josh ignored him completely and shoved past him as he strode towards his dragon’s weyr. Justin followed him, not trying to stop him. He stood and watched as Josh secured his riding straps and then tied his bag to Edith’s back.
“You are leaving?” Justin asked.
Josh ignored him and carried on with his task.
“Where will you go? It’s not good to be holdless and weyrless during threadfall.”
“That is my problem,” Josh replied curtly. “Not yours.”
“Edith cannot fly far, her wings are still undeveloped, her muscles unused. One small mistake and you both will be dashed to the ground and killed. Or worse you will survive and she will die, and you left to live your life dragonless, all alone inside your head until you die of sad and lonely old age. Men have gone insane with the grief of loosing their dragon.”
Josh paused, his dragon; his precious Edith dead! “What should I do?” he whispered. “I can’t stay here. I won’t be a pawn in the games of your brother.”
“The minute you impressed Edith your future was assured. You have no choice Josh. Edith will rise and she will mate. It doesn’t matter where you take her on Pern her mates will find her and you.”
“Then I really have no choice?” Josh slumped to the ground and hung his head into his hands.
“You do have a choice Josh.” Justin crouched down next to him and touched him gently. “You have control Josh; you can influence Edith’s choice. Lance doesn’t have to win.”
Josh looked up meeting Justin's eyes, his bottom lip trembled as he looked for answers in the brown rider’s face.
“Come back to the weyr Josh. You have at least four more months before you have to worry about any of this. Take that time to make up your mind, select in your own head who you would like for a suitor. Be prepared.” Justin stood up and offered Josh his hand. “Come back with me,” he said again.
Josh’s fingers brushed against the brown dragon rider’s as he took his hand and stood up. Edith nudged him from behind and he stumbled forward into Justin's arms.
“You like it when he touches you,” she observed. “It would be nice to mate with Turith he is a strong fit dragon.”
Josh blushed and pulled away. “I’ll come back,” he said. “But only until Edith is strong enough to fly me away from here.”
“That’s all I can ask for Josh,” Justin said nodding in agreement. He inclined his head towards the stone stairs that led back to Josh’s weyr and waited for Josh to precede him. As the green rider started upwards Justin asked Turith to inform Fanath, who in turn would tell Chris that Josh was dealt with and would give them no more trouble.
It was a long restless night for Josh. Every time he closed his eyes he pictured Edith’s flight and the sex that would inevitably follow for him. There were lots of handsome dragon riders in South weyr, all strong and virile but Josh was afraid. He was afraid that he would be at the mercy of his dragon’s needs and that his personal choice would be lost in the choice of his dragon’s preference. She was already showing a great liking for Hogarth but then again she had spent a lot of time with the big blue. Josh sat up suddenly his mind becoming clear. Lance had been grooming him; swaying his preference and that of his dragon.
“You like Hogarth’s rider.” Edith said inside his head. “You like Turith’s too. Either one would make you very happy Joshua and when you are happy I am happy.”
“I am happy dear heart. I need only you for that.”
“I will never leave you Joshua. You will always have me but I think that maybe you need some one else. Turith knows your name so does Hogarth they both await the day when I take flight.”
Josh turned over in his bed and hugged his pillow. He nibbled at his bottom lip not wanting to know but needing to ask. “Edith my precious do you have a preference?”
The green dragon didn’t answer right away. “Hogarth tells me stories about things he and his rider do. He amuses me. Turith is Turith.”
Josh sat up. “What do you mean Turith is Turith?” he asked confused.
The little green went silent again for a moment and then replied. “Turith is like his rider. He watches and waits. He would make a good mate and his rider would be good for you too.” His dragon’s words weighted heavy on his mind. The green wasn’t in the least phased by her impending mating. He curled up in his sleeping furs and forced his fears to the back of his mind and slipped into an uneasy sleep.
When he awoke again it was midmorning and Edith was already awake and waiting patently for her rider. “Lillith says we must hurry and join the other weyrlings. Today we learn to fly.”
Josh jumped up out of bed. With everything that had gone on he had forgotten that he was to fly today. He stripped off his sleeping clothes and plunged into his bathing pool. He resurfaced and snatched up a vial of sandsoap he tipped a good handful into his palm and scrubbed at his body, exfoliating his skin as he cleansed himself. He ducked under the warm water rinsing off and then staggered out, snagging his drying cloths as he passed them. Josh opened his chest and removed four packages wrapped in thick cream parchment and secured with bright green ribbons. Taking a deep breath he untied the bow, rolling the ribbon into a ball he placed it on top of his closed chest before carefully unfolding the parchment wrapped gift.
With tears in his eyes he fingered the gift from Chris and Meredith it was a pair of fine tan leather pants. He pulled them up over his long legs and over his narrow hips. They fitted him perfectly. The slightly padded bottom made his rump look rounder than it actually was and the thickness of the inner thigh was going to take some getting used to but they were a fine gift and Josh couldn’t help but admire them as he buttoned them closed. He opened the second gift, the one that Joey had dropped off to him a few days previously; again he was careful to save the ribbon and parchment, one didn’t waste what could be used again. Joe’s present was a tan riding jacket with a fur collar and fur lining, just what a dragon rider needed for when he went between. Anxious to try it on Josh slipped a white shirt on and pulled the drawstring tight around his waist. Again the jacket was a good fit and complemented the pants. There were two gifts left one was from Lance and the other from Justin. He opted to open Lance’s first.
Josh’s eyes filled with tears once more as the parchment revealed its prize, a pair of dark brown riding boots. Josh stroked the leather tenderly then lifted his socked foot and heaved the first boot on. He repeated his actions with the second boot and then stood up stamping his feet so that they settled comfortably. He thrust his arms back into the jacked and stood and admired his new clothes. The pants were tight and the boots rode up his legs to just below his knee. The jacket sat just below his hips and created a seal that even the coldest wind would not be able to penetrate.
Finally he opened the last package and smiled. Justin had commissioned him a pair of dark brown fur lined leather gloves and a leather riding cap. He pulled the cap over his dark curls and tested out the gloves, flexing his fingers inside the soft leather. He glanced up again at the mirror and caught sight of a dragon rider. He almost turned around to see who it was before he realised it was himself. Josh straightened his body and bespoke Edith informing her that he was on his way and that they should get down to the Weyr bowl before they got into trouble. He pulled back the curtain that isolated his weyr form the main weyr and was confronted with a round of applause that caused him to blush furiously.
“Congratulations Josh,” Chris said grinning. “Today you become a rider.”
Meredith stepped up to him and kissed him. “You look every inch a dragonman Joshua. Keep safe and learn your reference points well.”
Lance stepped forward and embraced him, kissing him tenderly on his cheek. “I apologise for my bad behaviour of last night. I neglected your feelings, something that I will not be repeating. It was meant to be good natured teasing and I never considered how afraid you must be feeling.”
Josh lowered his eyes and played with his gloves not knowing what to say.
“Am I forgiven Josh?” Lance’s voice had a begging element to it. Behind him Justin grunted. “Of course he forgives you Lance, how could he ignore such a heartfelt plea.” Justin stomped off down the short corridor that lead to the stairwell that led to the dinning room.
Josh watched him go with a heavy heart. “Turith says his rider is sad.”
The green rider never got time to dwell on Justin's mood as he was pulled along by the Weyrwoman. “You must not keep the others waiting any longer Josh.” She let go of his hand when they got to the steps.
“Thank you,” he whispered as he took the first step towards his destiny.
The training was hard and Josh struggled to start with. He found it difficult to hold an image of where he wanted to go in his head, finally after hours of staring at the high peak that rose over South weyr it clicked. When he stared long enough he could see that the shape resembled the ridges on a dragon’s tail.
Edith agreed with him and announced that she would always be able to find their way home with that as a reference. Once he got the knack he began to find it easy but the most thrilling part of the day was when the weyrling master instructed him to climb on to Edith’s back and settle on her neck between the ridges. The master checked that his riding straps were properly secured and then stood back.
“All right Josh,” he said. “I want you to take Edith up and fly once around the weyr. Only once. Then I want you to land again.” Excited Josh squirmed around until he felt comfortable and secure and gripped tightly to his dragon with his knees.
“Well precious,” Josh said encouragingly. “This is it. Take us into the sky my love.”
Edith lowered the rear of her body into a crouch and Josh could feel the powerful muscles bunching up beneath him. With a sudden spring she leaped into the air, her wings unfurled ready to make the first all important down stroke. The couple soared into the air and Josh screamed elatedly.
“We’re flying Edith! We are really flying.”
“You do not have to shout Joshua. I can hear you.” Edith replied sarcastically.
“But we are flying Edith!” Josh screamed into the wind and projected all his love and adoration to his dragon. “You are the best dragon on the whole of Pern. Better than any old bronze or queen. We are flying!”
“We are landing,” Edith said blankly. “The weyrling master says we must land now.”
As light as a feather Edith touched down and Josh jumped from her back. He rushed around to her huge triangular head and hugged her with tears rolling down his face. “We are together,” she assured him. “We will always fly and when my wings are strengthened you and I will fight thread and help to protect Pern together. You are a Dragon Rider Joshua.”
“I said once around the weyr.”
Josh stepped away from his dragon as he was chastised for disobeying. He hung his head ashamed. “I’m sorry. It all happened so fast that I didn’t realise that Edith had circled so many times.”
The weyrling master frowned and tried not to smile as his own dragon reminded him silently that he once was where Joshua stood, being chastised for flying longer than he had been told too.
The master turned his back on Josh and addressed the other weyrling that were gathered waiting for their turn. “The most dangerous thing that you can do is over fly your dragon. On those very heights a young blue dashed to death just two years ago because the inexperience of his young rider and his reluctance to listen. The rider survived and now lives his life dragonless, no more than a shadow of the man he was.” The weyrling master turned and faced Josh once more. “Do you want to be dragonless master Joshua?”
Josh gulped and reached out with his mind for the loving touch of his dragon. “I’m sorry,” he told her. “I’m so sorry.”
Edith butted her massive nose into him and flicked her forked tongue over his face. “We will fly Joshua. You will learn and listen and I will take you where you want to go.”
~*~ “Have you noticed how snappy Josh has become lately?” Chris asked his two brothers. Justin and Lance looked at each other questioningly. It had been three months since Edith’s maiden flight and the two riders had put it down to tiredness as he now spent a good deal of his time flitting from one side of the planet to the other, acting as messenger for the Weyrleader and his mate.
“Edith is glowing though,” Meredith observed as she poured herself a cup of fruit juice.
“You don’t think …” Justin started. He snapped his mouth shut and bespoke Turith. The only answer he got was a bad tempered growl and he felt rather than saw his special friend swoop into the hunting grounds and bring down a buck. The dragon never bothered to take it to his favourite feeding place but instead crouched over the body and sucked the blood hungrily from the carcass.
Lance jumped as the feeling of hot wet blood filled his mouth. “The dragons,” he gasped. The four ran to the Weyrs rim and looked down into the hunting bowl. Sure enough dragons of all colours were blooding their kills. The only colour that was missing from the scene was the gold and the green.
Meredith reached out and found that her dragon was resting easily and slightly bemused at the fuss that one amorous green was causing in her weyr.
“Where is Edith’s rider she demanded.
“Joshua is in the dining room he is very bad tempered today.” “Shards!” she exclaimed. “Quickly,” she cried to her Weyrmate and his brothers. “Josh doesn’t know what is happening. Edith’s temper is clouding his judgement.”
The four rushed down the steps and into the dinning room where Josh was attacking a huge slab of rarely cooked meat.
“Where is Edith?” Chris demanded as he strode up to the table.
Josh held firm under his harsh gaze and casually ripped off a piece of red meat with his teeth. “My precious sleeps, what is it to you? Do you accuse me of neglect?” Josh stood up fast knocking his chair over, his hand on his dagger ready to defend his honour.
“Fool,” Chris hissed. “You are being influenced by your dragon. Are you blind to her mood? She is going to rise.”
Josh dropped his dagger and swooned, catching the edge of the table to stop himself from falling altogether. “She can’t,” he said in a hushed whisper. “It’s too soon; she isn’t yet a full turn old.”
Chris seized the young green rider’s hand and dragged him towards his dragon’s weyr. Josh was stunned in the change that Edith had gone through. Her blue green hide glowed luminously almost fluorescently. With a loud hiss she awoke and roared before leaping into the air and flying down to the hunting grounds; sending all the male dragons scattering to their perches, where they watched with lustful eyes waiting for her to take flight once more.
She seized a buck in her mouth, snapping its neck.
“Control her,” Chris screamed at Josh and the shocked young man struggled to regain control over his beast.
“Even a green cannot gorge herself before a mating flight. Allow her to only blood her kills,” the Weyrleader ordered.
Josh firmly ordered Edith to drop her kill and she screamed at him angrily, but she obeyed only to swoop down on another buck. Again Josh fought her to impose his will and won. After she swooped for the third time Edith no longer attempted to eat she just crouched over her kill and hissed menacingly as she sucked the body dry.
With a horrendous cry she leaped into the air and smote her wings, propelling herself upwards with Hogarth no more than a heartbeat behind her. Eight dragons joined in the chase. Two bronze, three blues and three browns. Josh was lost in her as she soared upwards he saw only though her eyes. She looked over her shoulder mocking the big blue dragon. She dived and as he compensated and twisted to chase her she switched direction once more. Edith beat her powerful wings; puny males thought they could catch her. She was as fast as any queen and twice as agile. Two dragons dropped from the chase and one more lagged far behind. She roared her contempt for those that still thought they had a chance and darted left once again avoiding Hogarth’s clutches.
On the ground the riders gathered around Josh, their hearts beating wildly and their eyes fixed on him. Josh’s eyes looked only upwards as he flew with his dragon. He felt the wildness coursing through her veins as she again avoided being caught this time it was a brown that scraped her luminous hide. Edith dropped down between her two closest suitors and teased them mercilessly. Hogarth veered inwards making a grab for the cocky green. Shaken Edith veered right to avoid him and found herself entangled with a brown. The brown dragon took advantage and entwined his tail around her. They started falling and the green clung on helplessly as the brown opened his wings and slowed their decent.
On the ground Josh’s mouth was covered by the mouth of another. He groaned with passion as hands ripped at his clothes and he was steered towards a curtained area. Still attached to his dragon Josh attacked the other rider’s throat, biting and then licking the wound. He was thrust on his back and his pants were ripped off his legs. His legs were lifted and he was half rolled upwards as they were hooked over his lover’s shoulders.
He was taken violently, penetrated and pounded and he loved it still attached to Edith as he was. He cried out as his sweet spot was jabbed and his mouth sought that of the lover in his arms. With an elated cry he came and buried his face in the chest of his lover as he waited for his breathing to return to normal.
The green rider shifted in his sleep and two strong masculine arms that were wrapped around him tightened. Slowly he woke up and snuggled back. Two soft lips brushed against the back of his neck and he shivered with pleasure.
He shifted again this time a groan escaped from his lips as the pain from his violent lovemaking seeped into his brain.
“Joshua,” his lover breathed and Josh turned his head so that he could see the man that was sharing his bed.
Justin brushed Josh’s brunette curls out of his lover’s eyes and outside Edith and Turith cooed as they entwined their necks with affection.
“You,” Josh gasped. “I never even knew that you had joined in the chase. I didn’t think you would want me.”
“You have no idea how much, but you only had eyes for Lance. For a moment I thought Hogarth would succeed in catching Edith but I encouraged Turith on and on. I wanted you so much.” Justin tenderly ran his fingers down the side of Josh’s face then leaned in, kissing him gently. He rolled Josh onto his back and straddled him. “Last night I took you in the throes of dragon passion, but now I will take you with the respect that you deserve.” He leaned down and kissed his lover on his lips and on the weyr ledge Edith and Turith bugled their approval.