|“||No one will miss your boyish treble more than I, lad, except possibly Domick, but here in the Harper Hall, some of us listen to other tunes and drum a different beat. I don’t want you to stop listening, Piemur, not if you can take isolated facts and put them together as well as you just did. But I also want you to notice the way things are said, the tone and inflection, the emphasis.||”|
The American Library Association in 1999 cited the two early Pern trilogies (Dragonriders and Harper Hall), along with The Ship Who Sang, when McCaffrey received the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award for her «lifetime contribution in writing for teens».
Once again Pern was in danger. The air trembled with Threadfall, and the holds seethed with rebellion. The willy young Piemur, his singing ended by a change of voice, was given a new assignment by the Master Harper. On a bold mission to the Southern Hold he would learn the Oldtimer's secret and help Pern rediscover it’s lost heritage.
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Taking place three turns after the events of Dragonsinger, Dragondrums opens with Piemur's voice breaking as he prepares to sing the soprano role in a song recently written by Master Domick about Lessa's journey to retrieve the Oldtimers. Master Domick sends Piemur to Master Shonagar, who confirms he will no longer be able to sing soprano and thus is forced to remove him as his apprentice, but sends him to Robinton, suggesting there is still work for him.
Piemur heads to Robinton's apartments, where Robinton informs him that he plans for Piemur to become his own apprentice, and for him to gather information for Robinton — recently, rumours have spread about banished Oldtimers from Southern Weyr being seen in the Northern Continent, and Holdless people attempting to travel to the Southern Continent — and occasionally work with Menolly and Sebell, who do similar jobs every now and then. However, this is to be kept secret, and Piemur will «officially» be apprenticed to Master Olodkey, the drummaster.
Piemur fakes disappointment to his friends until his new position is announced, and he is taken to the Drumheights, where he begins learning the codes used to send messages via drums. Realising his position allows him to discover more about the events on Pern than the gossip in the Harper Hall could, he makes an effort of learning the drum codes, inadvertantly making enemies out of the other drum apprentices, who aren't learning as fast. Another of his duties is to act as a messenger, and some time afterwards, Piemur accompanies Menolly to Fort Sea Hold, where they help Sebell bring medical herbs — secretly gathered from Southern Hold — back to the Harper Hall.
Piemur's first job for Robinton is to travel to a Fort minehold, where he finds T'ron, the former Weyrleader of Fort Weyr, attempting to claim gems meant for the Harper Hall. However, Piemur hides the good gems in his boots, and the miners manage to trick T'ron into taking dud gems, claiming that the mine is exhausted, and no longer produces the gems that it did in his time.
The next day, Piemur returns to the Harper Hall to inform Robinton, before returning to the Drumheights, where he is given the task of delivering messages. Dirzan, one of the Drum Journeymen, knows of Piemur's reputation as a troublemaker, and suspects him of spreading rumours in the Harper Hall — despite this often being the result of inhabitants who understand some of the drum codes overhearing the messages.
One day, Menolly comes to get Piemur, telling him they will be attending a Gather at Igen Hold, where he will be disguised as a scruffy apprentice and listen out for any conversations involving the Oldtimers. At Igen Hold — having been taken there by N'ton — Piemur walks through the crowds while Menolly and Sebell play music with the Igen harpers, eventually overhearing a conversation about an Oldtimer raid, and holders trading with Toric in Southern Hold.
The next day, Piemur, Menolly and Sebell are taken by F'nor to watch the Hatching at Benden Weyr, where they talk with Menolly's old friends at the Weyr, including Mirrim, before the Hatching begins, and they see F'lar and Lessa's son Felessan Impress a bronze hatchling. One green hatchling hasn't Impressed as the Hatching draws to a close, and it begins climbing the stairs to the stands. In an attempt to guide it down the stairs to the candidates, Mirrim realises it is searching for her, and Impresses it — despite her brief protest that girls don't Impress green dragons. Afterwards, Menolly tells Piemur she hasn't forgotten her promise to get him a fire lizard of his own — having noticed his expression as he watched Mirrim Impress.
During the festivities at Benden Weyr, Piemur listens in on conversations about the holdless, before he falls asleep and is returned to the Harper Hall. When he wakes, and goes to the apprentice's rooms, he finds the other drum apprentices have soiled his clothing and sleeping furs. Dirzan discovers this and punishes them, resulting in their bullying of Piemur becoming worse.
Two sevendays later, Piemur is sent to deliver a message to Master Oldive — Lord Meron of Nabol Hold requires his assistance; he has been quite ill. Unknown to him, the steps to the drumheights have been greased by the apprentices, and Piemur falls and knocks himself out as he runs up them. Dirzan finds him, and doesn't believe his story — the steps have since been cleaned — but the other Drum Journeyman, Rokayas, does, and takes him to Silvina to have his injuries treated. Silvina notices grease on Piemur's shoe, proving his story, and Dirzan is punished for letting things get out of hand.
When Piemur recovers, he discovers he has been taken out of the drumheights for good, and Robinton is sending him and Sebell to attend Nabol Hold's Gather disguised as herders. Nabol Hold has been buying a large number of expensive goods from other Holds, but its inhabitants don't seem to have benefited from this. In addition to this, Nabol Hold is swarming with fire lizards, despite not having a coastline for them to clutch on, suggesting Lord Meron is illegally trading with the Oldtimers.
Sebell makes his way to Nabol on foot with several herdbeasts, while Piemur is transported there by N'ton. While Sebell sells the herdbeasts, Piemur listens to holders discussing fire lizards — realising Lord Meron is deceiving several holders with green fire lizard eggs, which rarely hatch — and sneaks into Nabol Hold itself, disguised as a drudge. In his guise, Piemur is given task after task to do, but manages to steal a queen fire lizard egg when he is sent to clean Lord Meron's apartments.
When the drudges stop work to eat, Piemur attempts to leave, only to be barred at the gates by the guards. Removing his drudge disguise, Piemur goes and hides until he can leave with those visiting Nabol Hold. Unfortunately, his theft of the fire lizard egg is discovered while he sleeps, and Piemur wakes to find people searching for him. In panic, Piemur climbs into a window near his hiding place leading into a locked storeroom, and hides himself inside a torn sack, where he falls asleep. Unknown to Piemur, the sacks are to be sent to Southern Weyr, and he is inadvertantly taken to the Southern Continent by Oldtimers.
At the Gather, Sebell, overhearing gossip about a drudge stealing a fire lizard egg, hides near the gates to Nabol Hold, where he witnesses Oldtimers covertly arrive and take sacks from inside — proving they are illegally trading. Later, drum beats call for Robinton and Oldive to come to Nabol Hold; Lord Meron is very ill — his state seemingly worsened by the shock of losing the fire lizard egg.
When Robinton and Oldive arrive, along with Menolly, Sebell tells them of what he has seen, before they go to talk with Lord Meron; he is likely to die soon, and he has not chosen a successor, and the holders fear this will result in duels between his relatives after he dies. Robinton sends Sebell to summon the Lord Holders of the lands neighbouring Nabol, and they soon confront Lord Meron, who refuses to name a successor. Robinton turns Lord Meron's words against him — «you can do nothing to a dying man» — and tells Oldive not to treat him until he chooses a successor, and Robinton and the Lord Holders trick Lord Meron into picking their favoured choice, Deckter. Not long afterwards, Sebell comes to the conclusion that Piemur must have been hiding in the room where the supplies for Southern Weyr were kept, and plans to send word to Toric to look out for Piemur.
On the Southern Continent, Piemur wakes to find himself in a strange place — Southern Weyr — and flees into the forests when he hears several Oldtimers arrive. He survives on his own for several days, wandering through the forests — sheltering from Thread several times — and he manages to Impress the gold fire lizard when the egg he took from Nabol Hold hatches. Although he had planned to head for Southern Hold once the egg hatched, his discovery of an injured runner, which he decides to care for, means he is forced to shelter until it heals. Not long afterwards, three ships arrive from Southern Hold to harvest numbweed from a nearby plain, and Piemur is discovered by Sharra, Toric's sister, who seeks his help in harvesting other medicinal herbs, and who ends up talking with him about the Southern Continent.
On the Northern Continent, Lord Meron passes away, and Robinton goes to assist Deckter with his new duties — resulting in an end to the trade between Nabol and the Oldtimers — and sends Menolly and Sebell to sail to Southern Hold to find Piemur — and retrieve more healing herbs for Oldive. As they emerge from the Great Current, Sebell becomes irritable for a reason he can't explain. Menolly soon discovers why: his fire lizard Kimi is about to rise to mate. Not long afterwards, Kimi is flown by Menolly's fire lizard Diver, and Sebell and Menolly make love — both revealing their feelings for one another, having kept them secret up to this point.
Not long after, they arrive at Southern Hold, where they talk with Toric about recent events and Piemur. Sebell suggests they attempt to signal Piemur using drum signals, but Southern Hold has no drumheights, so they are forced to construct one. A while later, three ships arrive at Southern Hold, and Sebell hears the sound of someone using their recently-constructed drum — Piemur, attempting to find if any harpers are around.
Piemur re-unites with Menolly and Sebell, and they begin talking about his future at the Harper Hall, although Sharra believes he should stay on the Southern Continent. Piemur states he doesn't really think there's a place for him at the Harper Hall — his singing voice was his only real skill — making Sebell wonder if he could act as «Drum Apprentice-Master» for Toric, who is considering establishing a drum tower network between his minor holds, and they send word to Robinton, who approves and promotes Piemur to Drum-Journeyman.