|“||The sand of memory dries quickly.||”|
Dragonquest was one of six nominees for the 1972 Hugo Award for Best Novel (voted by participants in the annual World Science Fiction Convention) and it placed fifth for the 1972 Locus Award for Best Novel (voted by Locus magazine readers).
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».
Another Turn, and the deadly silver Threads began falling again. So the bold dragonriders took to the skies and their magnificent dragons swirled and swooped in space, belching flames that destroyed the shimmering strands before they reached the ground.
But F'lar knew he had to find a better way to protect the peoples and lands of Pern, and he had to find it before the rebellious Oldtimers could breed any more dissent… before his brother F'nor would be foolhardy enough to launch another suicide mission… and before the mercurial fire lizards could cause even more trouble.
Spoiler Warning: Next is the text detailing the details of the plot. If you are sure you want to read this, click the button.
Taking place nearly seven Turns after the events of Dragonflight, the story opens with Masterharper Robinton preparing a ballad for the upcoming wedding of Lord Asgenar of Lemos Hold to Lady Famira, a half-sister of Lord Larad of Telgar Hold. While doing this — and overhearing drums announce Thread falling prematurely over Tillek — Robinton muses about the tensions that have been mounting against the inhabitants of the five Weyrs brought forwards in time from the Eighth Interval by Lessa. As is gradually revealed throughout the story, the main problem is that the «Oldtimers» of the five Weyrs have not adjusted to the differences between the Ninth Pass and their own time.
At Benden Weyr, F'nor returns from Southern Boll — where many treated him with hostility until he identified himself as being from Benden Weyr instead of Fort Weyr — having travelled there on Search for Candidates for Ramoth's upcoming clutch. In the Kitchen Caverns, F'nor talks with Lessa, Manora and Brekke — a junior weyrwoman at Southern Weyr, who F'nor found on Search several Turns back — who have discovered several pots being used to prepare numbweed have cracked linings that have resulted in discolouration of the salve. F'nor is asked to take them to Mastersmith Fandarel, and ends up travelling to the Mastersmithhall, where he witnesses two dragonriders from Fort Weyr — one of whom, T'reb, is being affected by his green dragon, nearly ready to mate — attempting to claim a knife from Master Smith Terry as a tithe, despite it being a wedding gift for Lord Larad. F'nor intervenes, only to be attacked by T'reb, who slashes his shoulder with he belt knife, causing him to pass out.
Following this, F'lar requests the Weyrleaders assemble to deal with this matter, and travels to Fort Weyr — the eldest of the Weyrs, and thus the senior — for a meeting which begins after T'kul of High Reaches Weyr — already known for missing meetings — and R'mart of Telgar Weyr fail to arrive. T'ron, the Fort Weyrleader, defends T'reb, pointing out that greens can occasionally go into heat without warning — ignoring Terry's testimony, instead trying to place the blame on him. D'ram, the Ista Weyrleader, later takes over the meeting and states that T'reb was justified in his attempt to take the knife, as the tithes to the Weyrs do not reflect the increased productivity of Pern that came about as the result of the Second Long Interval allowing for expansion — and thus Terry caused the problem by not gifting him the knife. T'ron calls the meeting to a close, but D'ram — after learning of the extent of F'nor's injury — tells T'ron to speak to T'reb to prevent a repeat of the incident. Afterwards, F'lar talks with T'bor, the Southern Weyrleader, stating he thought T'ron was attempting to goad him into attacking him. He adds that their Weyrs cannot become introverted like the Oldtimer Weyrs, who they must try to get to adjust to the Ninth Pass.
Some time later, at Benden Weyr, Ramoth receives word from a watchrider at Lemos Hold that Thread is falling in northeast Lemos, when it was expected to fall later in the day in the southwest. The Benden dragonriders arrive in time to dispatch the Thread, and in the aftermath, F'lar talks with Lord Asgenar, who briefly asks about this and other «variations» in recent Threadfalls. Upon return to Benden Weyr, F'lar finds that Lessa has sent word about the Threadfall variations to the other Weyrs — some of which F'lar is sure were already aware of, but refrained from telling them about. T'ron arrives not long afterwards, bringing a Record that makes mention of a Pass where all previous Records proved useless in figuring out when and where Thread would fall. Not long afterwards, D'ram and G'narish, the Igen Weyrleader arrive, followed by a weyrling from Telgar Weyr, who reveals R'mart has been badly injured along with many others in a Fall that has resulted in supposedly half the holds in High Crom becoming charred. Lessa plans to send aid, asserting to the others that this does not constitute interference with another Weyr's autonomy. F'lar proposes a guard be established across Pern, but since T'ron objects to them using dragonriders, G'narish suggests they get the Holders to provide watchers. The Weyrleaders agree to this, also deciding to get sweepriders to watch out for signals from fire beacons — originally built to warn against a possible invasion by the deceased Lord Fax. After the other Weyrleaders leave, Lessa and F'lar discuss the possibility that this crisis could be used to their advantage to help get the Oldtimers to accept change. Noting that the plan to use fire beacons and sweepriders won't work, F'lar wonders if Fandarel will be able to come up with an alternative, only for Lessa to reveal that she has already sent for him and Robinton.
At Southern Weyr, where the injured F'nor has been sent to recuperate, Senior Weyrwoman Kylara muses about her secret relationship with Lord Meron of Nabol Hold — with whom she shares strong ambitions — and her hidden desire to «rule» all Pern — Kylara feels that Lessa gave up the chance to do this by bringing the Oldtimers back — and leave Southern Weyr, possibly by replacing Lessa at Benden Weyr. T'bor arrives to ask about providing space for injured riders from Telgar Weyr, but since Kylara is unable to help and ends up fighting with him, he goes to Brekke who is tending F'nor — Kylara knows Brekke secretly is in love with F'nor, but suspects she is sleeping with T'bor. While talking with T'bor, Brekke reveals that the majority of the injured dragonriders at Southern Weyr have come from Fort Weyr; the worst injured sustained their injuries as a result of trying to protect Weyrwoman Mardra as she led a wing — a break from tradition.
Afterwards, Brekke — who F'nor learns has the ability to hear all dragons — sends F'nor to go and rest in the sun, leading to F'nor and Canth flying to a beach, where Canth swims before the two rest on the sands. Later, Canth tells F'nor to open his eyes without moving; F'nor complies, and sees a gold fire lizard — a creature thought mythical — perched on his arm. It goes between, but returns not long afterwards, and F'nor inadvertently Impresses it by feeding it. Canth notes that the fire lizard is newly-hatched, and that there are eggs nearby. F'nor gets Canth to rouse the Weyr so that the others can be Impressed. Suddenly, wherries arrive and begin attacking the hatchlings, until Brekke, her fosterling Mirrim and green rider G'sel, arrive to help, along with their dragons. In the end, only seven hatchlings out of fifty are saved. Upon return to Southern Weyr, Kylara angrily confronts the others for not informing her of what happened. After talking with them about the fire lizards — and warning that she will not tolerate any shirking of duties because of them — Kylara leaves, and Brekke notes that fire lizards could be given to non-weyrfolk to Impress, giving them «a small taste of dragon».
In the north, Lord Warder Lytol and the young Lord Jaxom of Ruatha Hold are summoned to Benden Weyr to join Robinton and Fandarel in meeting with F'lar and Lessa. Upon arrival at the Weyr, Jaxom goes to play with Felessan — F'lar and Lessa's only child — who leads him into a dark passageway in an old and disused part of the Weyr that secretly opens onto the Hatching Grounds. While Ramoth bathes in the Weyr lake, Jaxom and Felessan sneak onto the hatching sands, where Jaxom touches one of the eggs before he and Felessan are forced to flee from the returning Ramoth. However, they become lost in the passageway and find themselves in an older part of the Weyr — characterised by smooth walls. While trying to find a way out, Jaxom discovers a door that he inadvertently opens by pressing a square plate on the wall, revealing a brightly-lit room. However, the stale air from the room knocks both him and Felessan unconscious.
Meanwhile, Robinton and Fandarel have arrived for the meeting, and talk with F'lar, Lessa and Lytol about the Threadfall variations. Lytol and Robinton reveal that a number of incidents have been occurring with the Oldtimer Weyrs; several holds in Esvay Valley in Nabol had to be destroyed when T'kul refused to send help to clear Thread burrows that had formed nearby, three plantations in Southern Boll had to be destroyed after T'ron failed to meet with their ground crew. In addition to this, women are being snatched from Holds on the pretext of Search and ending up as little more than drudges, and Oldtimers are claiming higher tithes from the Crafthalls. As resentment is building, Robinton tells F'lar that he will have to take charge of the situation, and force the Oldtimers to accept change.
After discussing the result of the meeting with the other Weyrleaders, Fandarel reveals he has developed a «distance-writer» that will connect the Major Holds and Weyrs more efficiently, but that it will take time to construct them — not only is laying wire between the writers time-consuming, but Fandarel's halls presently busy constructing flame throwers. Noting that all the Weyrleaders, Lord Holders and Craftmasters will be present at Telgar Hold for the upcoming wedding of Lord Asgenar and Lady Famira, Robinton states that this would be the perfect chance to encourage the Oldtimers to embrace change and form better relations with the Holds and Crafts, and also requests F'nor attend. F'lar requests Fandarel set up a distance-viewer to Telgar Hold, as a demonstration to the Lord Holders of how they will soon have a reliable way of keeping in touch with the Weyrs — which will help weaken their policies of isolation.
As the meeting ends, and the others prepare to leave, Jaxom's absence is noted. A search leads them to the dark passageway to the Hatching Grounds, which Lessa is shocked to discover exists — Manora and F'lar were both aware of it, F'lar stating that all have used it at some point to sneak a peek at the eggs, including himself. They head down the passageway, and eventually find the unconscious Jaxom and Felessan after seeing the light from the room opened by Jaxom. The unconscious boys are taken away — waking later and being told of what they discovered — and the others begin investigating the rooms and their contents — later concluding that they were forgotten about after access to them from the Weyr Bowl was sealed off following a rockfall. As Fandarel examines a strange object that allows for objects to be magnified — a microscope — F'lar wonders if a similar apparatus would allow them to see the Red Star, and allow them to travel there.
At Southern Weyr, Kylara manages to find a clutch of thirty-four fire lizard eggs. After insulating them for the cold of between in firestone bags, she travels to Nabol Hold — seeing this as a way of avenging any slights against her — to deliver them to Lord Meron, who becomes interested once she informs him they have all the abilities that a dragon has — although Kylara herself is more interested in the possibility of a mating flight between two fire lizards intensifying a relationship between her and Meron, Meron notes this could allow him better communications with High Reaches Weyr. The eggs soon hatch, but most die as they struggle to Impress. Kylara Impress a gold — having subconsciously desired having a creature she could easily control and dominate, unlike Prideth — while Meron manages to Impress a bronze from one of the three eggs he attempted to Impress, and several of his holders manage to Impress some of the remaining eggs. After giving instructions on how to care for the fire lizards, Kylara returns to Southern Weyr, Prideth complaining about how they brought the eggs to die in a strange place.
The next day, at Benden Weyr, F'lar receives a message from F'nor. Deciding to read it later, he and Lessa travel to the Smithcrafthall to see Fandarel's «distance-writer», while N'ton — sent earlier to Benden, Bitra and Lemos to report the new measures being taken against Thread — and several other dragonriders work to clearing the sealed entrance to allow better access to the ancient rooms discovered by Jaxom. At the Smithcrafthall, F'lar and Lessa find Fandarel attempting to devise how to construct a «distance-viewer» for F'lar alongside Master Wansor — who has fallen asleep.
Noting that Fandarel hasn't slept or eaten, Lessa requests food, which Terry summons via a loudspeaker, before Fandarel takes them to his «distance-writer» to show them how it works: a person taps out a code — based off drum tower codes — on a special needle placed above a sheet of litmus paper on a roller, causing a chemical reaction which creates code lines on the paper of any machine attached to it. Fandarel informs them that there are only «distance-writers» at Igen and Crom Holds.
Not long afterwards, food arrives, but Lessa finds it to be of poor quality. Terry reveals this is due to their headwoman usually being too busy helping them with bringing up faded ink on old Records, so Lessa decides to send them aid from Benden Weyr, and F'lar later suggests they approach Robinton to get aid from spare Harper apprentices. F'lar then asks about the progress on setting up a «distance-writer» at Telgar Hold, and accepts Fandarel's request to have the men they need to construct it brought to the location by dragons. In response to this, Terry muses about the differences between the Oldtimer and those born in the present-day; the Second Long Interval allowed those living in the Ninth Pass to consider the possibility of destroying Thread forever, while the Oldtimers only know fighting Thread, and are tired from Turns of doing exactly that, leading to them resting on custom due to it being easier on them, and feeling entitled to anything they want from the Holds and Crafthalls. As he and Lessa go to leave, F'lar remembers the message from F'nor, and decides to read it, resulting in him and the others becoming aware of the existence of fire lizards in the Southern Continent. As Lessa recalls reading a Record at Fort Weyr that mentioned fire lizards, Terry wonders if they could be trained as messengers.
At Southern Weyr, where nearly every rider and their dragon are attempting to find fire lizard clutches, Brekke is approached by Rannelly — Kylara's nurse — who is looking for Kylara. She leaves, remarking that Brekke probably hasn't «taken a look at her poor old queen», before Brekke goes to check on Mirrim and her fire lizards, and then F'nor, who asks whether there's been a response from Benden Weyr about his message. While talking with F'nor, Brekke realises what Rannelly meant: Wirenth may be nearly ready to rise to mate, and she goes to check on her. F'nor muses about this, and, disliking the idea of Wirenth being flown by any of the dragons at Southern Weyr whose riders contended for Kylara, toys with the idea of somehow arranging for N'ton of Benden Weyr or B'dor of Ista Weyr — which would allow Brekke to shift to Ista Weyr and escape Kylara, who orders her around — to be at Southern Weyr when the flight happens. F'nor follows Brekke and suggests this to her, but she doesn't wish to leave Southern Weyr. Despite this, F'nor decides to send messages to N'ton and B'dor anyway.
As Brekke considers the possibility of Mirrim Impressing a fighting dragon, F'lar arrives at Southern Weyr, and F'nor goes to meet with him. The two are joined by T'bor, who was looking for fire lizard eggs. F'lar warns against having all the riders out searching, telling him about the erratic Threadfalls in the north, before asking to see a fire lizard, and getting introduced to Mirrim and her three fire lizards. Afterwards, F'lar talks with F'nor about the problems in the north — adding that the present dissatisfaction the Lord Holders have with the Oldtimers is going to make it hard for them to propose any expeditious measures against Thread — and wonders if they could find a clutch of fire lizard eggs to give to the Lord Holders at the upcoming wedding.
They are interrupted by the brassy scream of a dragon reporting Thread, and dragons quickly rise to fight Thread, while F'lar — noticing Kylara's absence — joins the ground crews to help them find Thread burrows. While flying through the air, Mnementh abruptly stops over an area of vegetation, and F'lar inspects it, finding that some Thread fell on it, but seemingly vanished afterwards. He continues to search for burrows, finding only Thread drowned in a swamp pool, and talks with T'bor after the Fall — during which no injuries were sustained — about this oddity, and T'bor conducts a sweep, before returning to the Weyr, where they find Kylara and Prideth, who they briefly talk with — Kylara inadvertently scaring her queen fire lizard away as she attempts to show it to them — before going over maps to guess where else Thread might have fallen. Noting Prideth is due to rise soon, F'lar suggests T'bor throw the flight open to rid himself of her, but he and Orth refuse. T'bor then reveals that an unhappy Prideth told Orth that Kylara took a fire lizard clutch to a Hold, but didn't say which as she didn't like the place.
F'lar leaves not long after this, but gets Mnementh to take him back to the swamp they found the Thread in, where he finds the soil of the area is full of grubs, and also witnesses the charred foliage of a bush appearing to be mending itself. Wondering if the grubs are a southern equivalent of the sandworms in Igen that eat Thread, F'lar gets Mnementh to take him back in time to the beginning of the Fall to watch, before grabbing a handful and travelling to Masterherdsman Sograny in Keroon, where he asks about fire lizards, but can get no information from the man, who rejects many of the theories F'lar tells him about their relation to dragons. F'lar next shows him the grubs, only for Sograny to stamp on them and call them an abomination, refusing to believe that they can stop Thread.
At the same time on the Southern Continent, F'nor returns to Southern Weyr after flying a sweep and is told by Canth that Brekke wants to see him. F'nor does so, and Brekke tells him she feels some kind of upheaval will take place soon. F'nor reminds her of Wirenth's upcoming mating flight, and that she can request bronzes from other Weyrs, but she refuses. F'nor attempts to lift her spirits by praising her, and goes to kiss her, only for the two to embrace. F'nor suddenly concludes from her reaction that she is a virgin, and hasn't slept with T'bor. When he asks why she let others assume that, Brekke reveals that she has loved F'nor ever since she first saw him, but became heartbroken once she discovered that bronzes, not browns, fly queens.
F'nor reminds her that a Weyrwoman can't restrict herself to one person, but Brekke reveals that this is inhibiting her, and she fears she will inhibit Wirenth. F'nor reassures her otherwise, and, fearing that her first time with a man will be brutal due to the bronze riders being those who vied for Kylara's affections, takes her outside and makes love to her, despite her initial protests that they will rouse Wirenth. Afterwards, as Brekke wonders what she will do when Wirenth rises, Canth notes he is as large as most bronzes, and he and F'nor realise he could fly Wirenth. Brekke isn't sure, but F'nor points out the only reason browns don't fly queens is because they're normally smaller than bronzes, and thus run out of stamina before them.
Meanwhile, Kylara angrily muses about revenge against T'bor and F'lar — who she blames for scaring her fire lizard away — before taking Prideth to the Feeding Ground where she envisions the animals she devours as being T'bor, F'lar and Lessa, before leading Prideth to her weyr and brushing her hide, telling her that one day they'll be powerful. Prideth falls asleep — Kylara realises she probably shouldn't have let her gorge — and Kylara goes to find Brekke to get numbweed for her arm, scratched when the fire lizard fled, only to find her involved with F'nor. In anger — especially since F'nor rejected her advances earlier — Kylara leaves; Canth witnesses her, but does not mention this to F'nor.
On the day of the wedding, Robinton discovers three dragonriders have been sent to escort him to the wedding: a green from Fort Weyr, a blue from Telgar Weyr, and N'ton from Benden Weyr. Robinton chooses to ride with N'ton, as he refrains from arguing with the others about who has the right to take him. N'ton and the dragonriders take Robinton and four others to Telgar Hold, before N'ton leaves to ride a sweep. Robinton gives orders to his apprentices and then mingles amongst those present before greeting Lord Larad of Telgar Hold, and Lord Asgenar and Lady Famira. While musing about the course of the day, Robinton realises Fandarel and Terry are missing, and Lytol approaches, asking if he knows where F'lar or Fandarel are. Lytol then tells him about the clutch of fire lizards taken to Nabol by Kylara, wondering how the Lords will react to seeing Lord Meron with a fire lizard. Seeing Lord Raid of Benden Hold approaching — and expecting he'll want Robinton to play his favourite ballad, which Robinton despises — Robinton slips into the crowds, noting how Meron will cause trouble as every Lord Holder will want a fire lizard, and with not enough fire lizard eggs to go around, this will become another irritation against dragonriders.
After briefly talking with one of his apprentices, Robinton meets with D'ram and G'narish, who ask about the absence of T'ron and T'kul, noting that R'mart is still too injured to attend, and that they've both sent aid to Telgar Weyr. F'lar and Lessa arrive — the others noting the dragons on the fire-heights moving aside to make room for Mnementh and Ramoth — followed by Kylara, who arrives with Meron. The Lord Holders are in awe of their fire lizards, and F'lar reveals that they have eggs as gifts for Asgenar and Famira — recently found by Toric at Southern Weyr. Kylara suddenly states that her fire lizard ate Thread at High Reaches. As people begin to approach to ask questions, the Telgar Hold guard captain calls the Holders inside for a Conclave — although not all are present, only two-thirds of Pern's Lord Holders are required for a Conclave to begin.
Mnementh and a dragonrider request that Robinton go to F'lar, and he does so, giving a musical signal to his apprentices. He finds him and the other Weyrleaders talking with Kylara in the Telgar Hold watchtower. Kylara states that she had travelled to Nabol as her queen fire lizard was there — having fled there as it was where she hatched — and Prideth saw Thread sign, so she travelled to High Reaches Weyr to alert T'kul, who refused to believe her. However, she had Prideth rouse the Weyr, forcing him to act as no male dragon will disobey a queen dragon. Kylara asks what the others will do about T'kul, leading D'ram to propose they call a conclave themselves — noting that they cannot hide behind their excuse of autonomy — and inform T'ron when he arrives.
F'lar next asks about Kylara's fire lizard being able to eat Thread; she states she did it when Thread began to fall, and also adds she was seen burrowing after Thread. After talking about details of the Fall, F'lar brings up the Threadfall variations, and notes that they must change from the traditional vigil lengths. Before they can discuss this, Fandarel arrives and announces they are nearly ready to unveil the distance-writer. As they go to leave, Robinton suggests Kylara remain in the watchtower to prevent her fire lizard from becoming alarmed by the crowds, and offers to have an apprentice bring her food.
F'lar and the others go over to where the distance-writer has been set up, and notice T'ron and Mardra arriving, along with Lord Groghe of Fort Hold and Lord Sangel of Southern Boll, who go to join the Conclave. Mardra begins asking questions of the others as Fandarel finishes setting up the distance-writer and sends a message, which Robinton translates for the group. Mnementh suddenly tells F'lar to be careful; Lord Groghe has informed the other Lords that T'ron found a distance-viewer at Fort Weyr, and is upset after having looked at the Red Star. As the Lord Holders appear on the steps of Telgar Hold, a message arrives on the distance-writer, reporting Thread falling in Igen — before losing contact as when hot Thread severs the wires at Igen Hold.
A green dragon arrives not long after to confirm this, and F'lar goes to aid G'narish and D'ram in dealing with it. However, T'ron confronts him over this, and in anger draws his knife against him. The two fight — F'lar realising that T'ron had become aware of T'kul's actions, and knowing that he would have to take action against T'kul, planned to kill F'lar so that he could control the other Weyrleaders, and force the Holders and Crafters to submit to the domination of the Weyrs. Despite sustaining a cut to the chest, F'lar defends his actions to T'ron, and taunts him about his age, eventually managing to stab through his riding leathers, causing the Fort Weyrleader to fall to the ground, unconscious. F'lar goes to take his riding leathers to fight Thread in and calls for someone to aid T'ron. Seeing the others watching him in awe, F'lar asks if they support Benden Weyr; the Craftmasters and Lord Holders shout their assertions, along with D'ram, G'narish and T'bor. After stating that Benden Weyr and Southern Weyr will join the Fall, F'lar informs everyone that anybody who does not wish to follow Benden Weyr must go to the Southern Continent, where there is little Thread to bother them. Lessa — remaining behind to control Mardra — prevents F'lar from leaving before she can treat him with numbweed, and then lets him join the others, who time it back to fight the Fall.
Afterwards, F'lar muses about the events of the day, before returning to Telgar Hold, where Lessa treats him and reports on what happened during the Fall: T'ron was taken to Southern Weyr, Mardra attempted to remain at Fort Weyr, but found her behaviour over the years meant she had only twenty supporters, and thus joined T'ron with them. Kylara attempted to proclaim herself Fort Weyrwoman, but was instead sent to High Reaches Weyr, where all but fourteen dragonriders decided to go to Southern Weyr. At Fort Weyr, bronze rider P'zar has been set to take over as Weyrleader. Fandarel is planning ways to prevent the distance-writer wires from being at risk from Thread. F'lar notes that the four queens who went to Southern Weyr were all old, and were unlikely to produce many clutches, which would prevent them from perpetuating their grievances. Lessa reveals that Lord Groghe, upon learning of the existence of the distance-viewer at Fort Weyr, was going to demand that dragonriders travel to the Red Star to fight Thread. She adds that they will have a joint meeting at Benden Weyr tomorrow — something they later decide to make a standard priority.
F'nor arrives at Benden Weyr the next day, and F'lar informs him of the recent events, including succeeding in getting the Weyrleaders to post riders to the Holds and Halls, and how he has assigned N'ton to Fort Weyr as a Wingsecond so that he will be able to become Weyrleader in the next mating flight, but by that point be seen as a Fort rider instead of a Benden replacement. F'nor reveals that T'kul ordered everyone to leave Southern Weyr after he arrived, and confiscated what they couldn't take with them in an hour. After noting that they have likely breeding grounds for fire lizards in Igen, Ista and Southern Boll, F'lar gets F'nor to sneak to Southern and retrieve a fire lizard clutch he found along with as many of the grubs as he can. F'nor leaves, and T'bor approaches, informing F'lar of his recent actions: he visited Tillek — where he had an arrow aimed at him before he proved he wasn't T'kul — and High Reaches Holds to inform them of the changes in authority, and gifted fire lizard eggs to the Lord Holders and Masterfisherman.
The other Weyrleaders arrive, and F'lar enquires about Telgar Weyr; R'mart supports Benden Weyr, but ten dragonriders went to Southern Weyr. M'rek, the dragonrider sent in R'mart's place, asks about an expedition to the Red Star which the Weyrwoman Bedella mentioned, and F'lar notes it did come up, but that there will be other things to discuss first. D'ram notes that times have changed, even if he doesn't like it, and that he and the other Oldtimers were scared at how big Pern had become. F'lar states he doesn't think the Weyrs can remain autonomous anymore, and proposes a constant exchange of dragons to improve the breed and allow for other riders to become familiar with each other's Weyrs and territories, but D'ram warns him to have a care about the traditions he oversets.
The Lord Holders and Craftmasters arrive, and the Weyrleaders begin answering their questions, and confirm that they will have riders assigned to every Hold and Hall until an efficient communications system exists; Fandarel notes setting up his distance-writers will take time, and make it take longer for him to finish the flame throwers they've already requested, although Sangel notes they won't need them if the dragonriders answer their calls for aid. Groghe demands the dragonriders travel to the Red Star to destroy Thread; F'lar says he will launch an expedition if they desire it, and goes on to explain how long it would take and what supplies they would need, noting that this would leave Pern completely unprotected. F'lar then states they will use the distance-viewer at Fort Weyr first to find some good jumping co-ordinates for the dragons, and then they will send a group to explore. After wondering why no-one tried something like this before and concluding a Record must have perished, F'lar proposes that all of them work together to learn more from one another and improve the skills they have — Robinton some time later noting that Masters jealously guarding their craft secrets has occasionally led to the loss of knowledge. All present support this, and F'nor suddenly arrives with the fire lizard eggs from Southern. After offering them some help in training the fire lizards, F'lar leaves the Lord Holders and Craftmasters to share them between one another.
F'nor soon leaves the meeting and goes to get F'lar from his quarters, reporting on the division of the fire lizard eggs, and giving him the grubs from the Southern Continent. F'lar covertly leads him through the newly opened corridor — and the passageway to the Hatching Grounds, now blocked off on Lessa's orders — to the rooms discovered by Jaxom, which he has filled with plant life. F'lar explains his plans to spread the grubs to the Northern Continent, and requests F'nor to capture some Thread during an upcoming Fall so that they can test their abilities. F'lar then muses about them being the culmination of Turns of research, but briefly fears about what dragonriders will be needed for if they manage to destroy Thread once and for all.
F'nor leaves to get a hearthpan to catch Thread in, and realises he hasn't managed to discuss with F'lar the possibility of Canth flying Wirenth in her upcoming mating flight, which he thinks should be fine given that the dragons are already large enough that one mating flight with a smaller dragon shouldn't affect the breed. He also muses about F'lar's words, noting that in giving up the Southern Continent to the Oldtimers, the dragonriders would have no place to establish themselves if the Holds stopped tithing.
At High Reaches Weyr, Brekke, unable to sleep, washes and goes to the Lower Caverns to check on their supplies, as T'kul made off with most of them when he left the Weyr. Confirming Rannelly's belief that the Weyr lake has been fouled, Brekke reports this to T'bor and Kylara when they wake. In response, Kylara offers to fly to Nabol Hold and retreive water kegs. As Brekke and several others go to dredge the lake, Wirenth begins rising to mate. Vanira and Pilgra — the other weyrwomen — take their queens away. Brekke begins to panic, and frantically calls for Canth, who responds, and brings F'nor to High Reaches Weyr. Unexpectedly, Prideth rises to mate near Nabol Hold, and Wirenth attacks her in anger as F'nor gets Canth to rouse Ramoth and the other queens to intervene.
In the air, Prideth slashes at Wirenth's eye before the other queens arrive to separate them, only for Wirenth to evade them and go after Prideth again, causing both of them to fall. As Canth and Ramoth attempt to prevent the two from falling to their deaths, Prideth fatally wounds Wirenth with a bite to her neck, and the wounded Wirenth inadvertently takes them both between. At High Reaches Weyr, Brekke reacts violently and falls unconscious. F'nor carefully places her in her bed, before grieving with Canth.
Prompted by Ramoth, Lessa and F'lar travel to High Reaches Weyr, where Lessa comforts the weeping Mirrim, who fears Brekke will die. Some time later, Kylara is returned to High Reaches Weyr by S'goral, the watch rider at Nabol Hold, who reveals that Prideth was roused by Kylara and Meron making love. With the Weyr demoralised, D'ram proposes to send bronzes to help them fly Fall.
Six days later, Robinton travels to Fort Weyr, where the distance-viewer has been set and carefully positioned up near the Star Stones. With F'lar remaining at Benden Weyr so as not to aggravate his injury sustained in the fight with T'ron, Robinton talks with Lessa about Brekke, who is unresponsive and being cared for at Benden Weyr. Citing the fire lizards as evidence that a person can Impress more than once, Lessa reveals she plans to have Brekke stand as a Candidate at the next Hatching, so they don't lose her skills, although F'nor and Manora oppose this idea.
Lord Meron suddenly arrives, wishing to use the distance-viewer. He is allowed to do so, but monopolises its use, prompting Groghe — who is deciding who gets to use it — and Lessa to call him away. When Meron responds rudely to Lessa, Fandarel forcibly removes him, and lets Lessa take his place at the distance-viewer, followed by Sangel and Lord Oterel of Tillek Hold. They discuss what they've seen, and what parts of the Red Star — which strangely appears to have clouds and water — might be safe to land on. Oterel and Lord Nessel of Crom Hold bicker and mistakenly knock the distance-viewer, but Wansor is able to reposition it, and Robinton takes the next look.
In response to Robinton's remarks that they should keep the distance between them and the Red Star, Meron accuses Robinton of doing as Benden Weyr decrees, out of a love for Lessa. Robinton denies this, and asserts to him and the other Lord Holders that the dragonriders are doing all they can to destroy Thread, also revealing a fear that the surface of the Red Star may be more dangerous than any of them think. Meron ignores this and leaves, and after a brief discussion with the others about whether an expedition took place in the past, Lessa returns to Benden Weyr.
The next day, F'lar talks with Lessa about what she witnessed. Lessa soon reveals that she had N'ton capture Thread which they tested on the grubs, which destroyed it as it landed. Upon realising that N'ton understands what he's trying to do, F'lar plans to bring him to Benden Weyr as soon as possible, so he can tell him of all his plans in case something happens to him. Before he can call for F'nor, N'ton and a green from Telgar Weyr arrive with Wansor, who reports he has been examining the movements of the stars — which leads F'lar to wonder whether Thread actually comes from the Red Star or not — and has figured out the meaning of the diagram on the wall of the Council Room at Fort Weyr — which depicts globes on circular routes. F'lar asks about the Red Star, but finds they haven't been able to get close enough to see any details.
F'lar then tells them of the grubs, leading to a discussion about the Southern Continent, with N'ton musing that it might have been abandoned by the Ancients to allow the grubs to flourish — which also suggests they knew they couldn't go to the Red Star. N'ton decides to sneak to the Southern Continent to investigate whether the grubs are spread over it, before leaving F'lar and Lessa to rest.
Some time later, Lytol and Jaxom are conveyed to Benden Weyr for the Hatching of Ramoth's eggs. Jaxom joins Felessan, and briefly notes the egg he touched is motionless, although Felessan notes that sometimes eggs don't hatch. As the Candidates arrive, Felessan reveals to Jaxom that Brekke is amongst them; Lessa hoping she will re-Impress. The eggs begin to hatch, and Jaxom finds himself supporting Talina — the Ruathan Candidate for the queen egg — over Brekke. The queen hatchling approaches Brekke, but is chased away by Brekke's fire lizard, Berd, where she Impresses Talina. Brekke snaps out of her catatonic state as a result of trying to stop her fire lizard, and she leaves the Hatching Grounds with the others. Jaxom becomes concerned after noticing the little egg is rocking, but has failed to hatch, and is being ignored. Protesting to Lytol — and reminded of his own birth required the help of others — Jaxom leaps onto the Hatching Grounds and breaks open the egg himself, revealing a tiny white dragon, Ruth, who Impresses him.
In the aftermath, F'nor comforts the recovered Brekke, who angrily protests at being placed on the Hatching Grounds, and tells F'nor never to leave her as she can't bear the thought of being alone. Mirrim arrives to care for Brekke, who sends F'nor to feed Canth. Both leave, but Brekke finds herself comforted by the voices of the dragons of Benden Weyr.
In the Weyr Bowl, Lessa wonders about what to do with Jaxom, only for a drunken Lytol and Robinton to argue with Raid before falling asleep that Ruth isn't a proper dragon and will likely perish — although Lessa notes Ramoth disagrees — and as such, Jaxom must remain at Ruatha Hold where his obligations will give him a hold on life. Lessa attempts to «lean» on Larad — who notes they can't have Ruatha Hold become contested — and Sifer to get them to agree, but the Lord Holders eventually decide to talk with Jaxom, who reaffirms Lytol's words and defends his actions. Lytol abruptly wakes, and takes the blame for Jaxom's act as his guardian.
Noting the arrival of Masterfarmer Andemon, Lessa and F'nor go to see the reason for his arrival — joined by Robinton, whose drunkenness was an act — and find F'lar showing him the grubs, in the hope he will know how the trees damaged by Thread were able to heal themselves. Andemon doesn't know, and goes to look at the grubs, exclaiming that they're a parasite that they've been trying to eradicate from Nerat. F'lar eventually manages to convince him that they think the Ancients bred them — Robinton recalls that in various Records that there is a belief that Thread will one day not be a threat — and Andemon realises that what they thought was a warning against the grubs was actually a reminder to watch their progress.
Andemon and F'lar briefly discuss what this could mean for dragonriders, who wouldn't be needed if grubs covered the Northern Continent — provided people remained inside their holds — before Andemon gets as much information as he can about the grubs. They soon plan to import grubs from Southern, and place them at Lemos Hold to protect the forests and test how long it takes for the grubs to spread, while Andemon convinces people to stop killing the grubs. They drink a toast to this and leave, briefly discussing Brekke, as she came from the Farmercraft, who Andemon]doesn't want to return as he thinks it would be hard for her. When he asks about Kylara, Lessa reveals that she is alive, «…with no more mind or wit than a babe.» While the others return to the festivities, F'nor — noting the absence of Lytol, Jaxom and Ruth — goes to his weyr to join Brekke, briefly musing that F'lar appeared to have some plan as to what dragonriders would do in a world without Thread.
Over the next few days, F'nor cares for Brekke. Asgenar and Masterwoodsman Bendarek initially don't believe F'lar about the grubs, but change their minds after N'ton brings a Thread sample to be destroyed by them, thus forcing F'nor, N'ton and another rider — joined by Brekke — to go between times to Southern to get more grubs. Fandarel — who is having trouble finding ways to quickly insulate the wires for the distance-writers — and Terry are shown next, but Fandarel is more concerned with the inefficiency of the hearthpan used to collect Thread, and constructs a better version. Larad eventually finds out when Famira mentions it to him and thinks it a «cruel deception», forcing them to demonstrate the effects to him. F'lar reveals that they expect the Fall patterns to return to normal in several months time; Wansor has come to the conclusion that a rare conjunction of the other planets near Pern have been affecting the Red Star, and things will return to normal when they move away.
The Lord Holders continue to request an expedition to the Red Star, and Robinton and Masterweaver Zurg have draughtsmen sketching every surface of it — in addition to this, Meron is constantly at Fort Weyr, in an attempt to find co-ordinates for dragonriders to use. F'lar explains to Larad the difficulties in trying to go between to the Red Star when they've never been there, and notes the alternate forms of protection provided by the Ancients. Larad remains bitter, and Asgenar reveals that Telgar Hold has lost its summer crops and inadvertently attracted disatisfied holders from Nerat, Crom and Nabol, who he won't be able to feed in the winter if their present crops fail. F'lar decides to use the time they have to get F'nor and N'ton to lead some of T'bor's riders back in time to Southern to get grub larval sacks for Telgar Hold, and Robinton notes that Meron's searching at Fort Weyr may prove useful.
At Benden Weyr, Brekke talks with F'nor about Larad, noting that the grubs are the solution: a trip to the Red Star isn't. Mentioning Meron, Brekke suddenly fears that he might be training it to go between, and she gets F'nor to promise he'll tell F'lar. F'nor forgets to do so until the next day after delivering the grubs, and instead talks with N'ton about Meron and fire lizard behaviour. Upon return to Benden Weyr, F'nor finds Lessa in his weyr with , Brekke fearing that F'lar is planning to go to the Red Star himself. They discuss the demands of the Lord Holders: Raid and Sifer have demanded action after hearing rumours, and F'nor and Brekke reassure Lessa that there hasn't been an ultimatum from any Lord Holder yet. After Lessa leaves, Brekke abruptly makes love to F'nor.
Later, F'nor leaves a sleeping Brekke and travels to Fort Weyr, where he meets with N'ton, and the two go to the distance-viewer, which Meron is using. After he ignores their requests to use the distance viewer, and they witness him restraining his fire lizard from escaping, Canth bellows, allowing the fire lizard to flee, and N'ton orders him to leave Fort Weyr and not return. In anger, Meron leaves, claiming that they're cowards when «anyone can get to the Red Star». F'nor then looks through the distance-viewer and sees a familiar feature on the surface — a grey mass that resembles the shape of Nerat in reverse. F'nor tries to use this image to get his fire lizard, Grall, to go to the Red Star, but she «remembers» something that scares her — and impacts F'nor — and flees.
While discussing this, F'nor finds that Canth would be able to travel to the Red Star with the image F'nor tried to give to Grall. He then tells N'ton he will leave to find her, but secretly goes with Canth — slightly between times to the Red Star, first alerting Ramoth and the others. As he goes, F'nor realises now that Brekke knew he would go as a result of Lessa. F'nor and Canth arrive on the Red Star and are enveloped in strong heat and winds, which break Canth's wings as he attempts to fly, before the two are hurled by the force into the clouds, which burn them.
At Benden Weyr, a panicked Grall goes to Brekke. Mirrim and her fire lizards arrive, and Brekke asks her to bring her some klah while she tries to tell herself that F'nor and Canth had the sense not to go to the Red Star, only to hear Canth's message to Ramoth confirming her fears. Dressing and running outside, she finds the whole Weyr in a panic. When the fire lizards project the images of the Red Star to all, Brekke cries out «Don't leave me alone!», and Canth suddenly appears, falling from the sky. Ramoth, Mnementh and the other dragons rise to catch him, and manage to cushion his fall to the ground. Brekke rushes to F'nor, who isn't breathing, and gives him artificial respiration as others prevent Canth from leaving. F'nor soon begins breathing again, and Brekke faints from the stress.
Some time later, Groghe and Lord Corman of Keroon Hold assemble in the forests of Lemos during a Fall, to watch the grubs destroy Thread. Groghe isn't convinced by this, but says the dragonriders will use them anyway, and Corman remarks after he leaves that Groghe will get used to them. Corman then asks about F'nor and Canth, and finds that they are scarred, but are recovering; Canth will soon be able to fight Thread again. As they discuss a time when the Northern Continent will be covered in grubs, F'lar explains what dragonriders will do if they are no longer needed to fight Thread; they will explore the remainder of Pern, and the planets that surround it.
In the UK editions of Dragonquest, several segments of dialogue are omitted from chapters eight and ten:
Spoiler Warning: Next is the text detailing the details of the plot. If you are sure you want to read this, click the button.
- … «Why do I have a bronze, you a queen, and Mirrim three?»
- F'nor whistled. «Why, Brekke, such revolutionary thoughts from a craftbred girl? Where women know there's only one place for them . . . Oh, you've got Mirrim in mind as a rider?»
- «Yes. She'd be as good or better than some of the male weyrlings I know», and there was such asperity in Brekke's voice that F'nor wondered just which boys she found so lacking. «Her ability to Impress three fire lizards indicates …»
- «Hey — backwing a bit, girl. We've enough trouble with the Oldtimers as it is without trying to get them to accept a girl riding a fighting dragon! C'mon, Brekke. I know your fondness for the child and she seems a good intelligent girl, but you must be realistic.»
- "I am, «Brekke replied, so emphatically that F'nor looked at her in surprise. Some riders should have been crafters or farmers — or — nothing, but they were acceptable to dragons on Hatching. Others are real riders, heart and soul and mind. Dragons are the beginning and end of their ambition. Mirrim…»
- A dragon broke into the air above the Weyr, trumpeting…
- … «One of the basic troubles between Lord Holders and Weyrmen are dragons, F'lar, and those fire lizards might just ease matters.»
- «That's what I was thinking earlier, considering that young Mirrim had Impressed three. That's really astonishing, even if she is weyrbred.»
- «Brekke would like to see her Impress a fighting dragon», F'nor said in a casual way, watching his half-brother's face closely.
- F'lar gave him a startled stare and then threw back his head and laughed.
- «Can you … imagine … T'ron's reaction?» … he managed to say.
- «Well enough to spare myself your version, but the fire lizard may do the trick! And, have the added talent of keeping Hold in contact with Weyr if these creatures prove amenable to training.»
- «If — if! Just how similar to dragons are fire lizards?»
- F'nor shrugged. «As I told you, they are Impressionable — if rather undiscriminating», he pointed to Mirrim at the Hearth and then grinned maliciously, «although they detested Kylara on sight. They're slaves to their stomachs, though after Hatching that's very definitely draconic. They respond to affection and flattery. The dragons themselves admit the relationship, seem totally free of jealousy of the creatures. I can detect basic emotions in the thoughts of mine and they generally inspire affection in those who handle them.»
- Robinton, Masterharper of Pern, adjusted his tunic, the rich green pile of the fabric pleasing to the touch as well as the eye. He turned sideways, to check the fit of the tunic across his shoulders. Masterweaver Zurg had compensated for his tendency to slouch, so the hem did not hike up. The gilded belt and the knife were just the proper dress accouterments.
- Robinton grimaced at his reflection. «Belt knives!» He smoothed his hair behind his ears, then stepped back to check the pants. Mastertanner Belesdan had surpassed himself. The fellis dye had turned the soft wher-hide into a deep green the same shade as the tunic. The boots were a shade darker. They fit snug to his calf and foot.
- Green! Robinton grinned to himself. Neither Zurg nor Belesdan had been in favor of that shade, though it was easily obtainable. About time we shed another ridiculous superstition, Robinton thought.
- He glanced out of his window, checking the sun's position. It was above the Fort range now. That meant mid-afternoon at Telgar Hold and the guests would be gathering. He'd been promised transport. T'ron of Fort Weyr had grudgingly acceded to that request, though it was a tradition of long standing that the Harper could request aid from any Weyr.
- A dragon appeared in the northwest sky.
- Robinton grabbed up his overcloak — the dress tunic would never keep out the full cold of between — his gloves and felted case that contained the best guitar. He'd hesitated about bringing it. Chad had a fine instrument at Telgar Hold, but fine wood and gut would not be chilled by those cold seconds of between as mere flesh would.
- When he passed the window, he noticed a second dragon winging down, and was mildly surprised.
- By the time he reached the small court of the Harpercrafthall, he gave a snort of amusement. A third dragon had appeared from due east.
- Never around when you want ‘em, though. Robinton sighed, for it seemed the problems of the day had already begun, instead of waiting dutifully for him (as what trouble does?) at Telgar Hold, where he'd expected it.
- Green, blue — and ah-ha — bronze dragon wings in the early morning sun.
- «Sebell, Talmor, Brudegan, Tagetarl, into your fine rags. Hurry or I'll skin you and use your lazy innards for strings», Robinton called in a voice that projected into every room facing the Court.
- Two heads popped out of an upper window of the apprentice barracks, two more at the journeyman's Hold.
- «Aye, sir.» «Coming, sir.» «In a moment!»
- Yes, with four harpers of his own, and the three at Telgar Hold — Sebell played the best bass line, not to mention Chad the Telgar Harper improvising in the treble — they'd have a grand loud group. Robinton tossed his overcloak to his shoulder, forgetting that the pile of the green tunic might crush, and grinned sardonically at the wheeling dragons. He half-expected them all to wink out again at the discovery of this multiplicity.
- He should pick the Telgar Weyr blue on the grounds that he appeared first. However, the green dragon came from Fort Weyr, to whom his Craft was weyrbound. Yet Benden Weyr did the honor of sending a bronze. Perhaps I should take the first to land, though they're all taking their time about it, he thought.
- He stepped out of the Court quadrangle to the fields beyond, since it was obvious that's where the beasts were landing.
- The bronze landed last, which canceled that method of impartial choice. The three riders met mid-field, some few dragonlengths from the disputed passenger. Each man began arguing his claim at once. When the bronze rider became the target of the other two, Robinton felt obliged to intervene.
- «He's weyrbound to Fort Weyr. We have the right», said the green rider indignantly.
- «He's guest of Telgar Hold. Lord Holder Larad himself requested . . .»
- The bronze rider (Robinton recognized him as N'ton, one of the first non-weyrbred to Impress a dragon at Benden Weyr Turns ago) appeared neither angry nor disconcerted.
- «The good Masterharper will know the right of it», and N'ton bowed graciously to Robinton.
- The others gave him scarcely a glance but renewed their quarrel.
- «Why, there's no problem at all», Robinton said in the firm, decisive tone he rarely employed and which was never contradicted.
- The two wranglers fell silent and faced him, the one sullen, the other indignant.
- «Still, it does the Craft honor that you vie to serve it», and Robinton accorded the two dissidents an ironic bow. «Fortunately, I have need of three beasts. I've four more harpers to transport to Telgar Hold to grace the happy occasion.» He emphasized the adjective, noticing the glares that passed between blue and green riders. Young N'ton, though not weyrbred, had excellent manners.
- «I was told to take you», the Fort Weyr man said in a sour voice.
- «And took such joy of the assignment, it has made my morning merry», Robinton replied crisply. He saw the smug look on the blue rider's face. «And while I appreciate Weyrleader R'mart's thoughtfulness in spite of his recent — ah — problems at Telgar Hold, I shall ride the Benden Weyr dragon. For they do not grudge the Masterharper the prerogative.»
- His craftsmen came racing out of the Hall, riding cloaks askew on their shoulders, fitting their instruments in felt wrappings as they came. Robinton gave each a cursory glance as they came to a ragged line in front of him, breathless, flushed and, thank the Shell, happy. He nodded toward Sebell's pants, indicated that Talmor should adjust his twisted belt, approved Brudegan's immaculate appearance, and murmured that Tagetarl was to smooth his wild hair.
- «We're ready, sirs», Robinton announced and, giving a curt bow of his head to the other riders, turned on his heel to follow N'ton.
- «I've half a mind» — the green rider began.
- «Obviously», Robinton cut in, his voice as cold as between and as menacing as Thread. «Brudegan, Tagetarl, ride with him. Sebell, Talmor, on the green.»
- Robinton watched as Brudegan, with no expression on his face, gestured politely to the shorter, green rider to precede them. Of all men on Pern, harpers feared few. Any one deliberately antagonizing them for no cause found himself the butt of a satirical tune which would be played around the land.
- There were no further protests. And Robinton was rather pleased to notice that N'ton gave no indication that there'd been any display of ill nature.
- Robinton on N'ton's bronze arrived in the air, facing the cliff-palisade that was Telgar Hold. The swift river…