|“||I am not a harper, so do not expect the polished tale. This is a personal history, though, and as accurate as memory can make it: my memory, so the perceptions will be one-sided. No one can challenge the fact that I have lived through a momentous time in Pern’s history, a tragic time. I survived the Great Plague, though my heart still grieves for those lost to its virulence, and ever will.||”|
Critics have called Nerilka a story with «terse power.» The novel reached #7 on TIME Magazine's Best Sellers list for fiction on April 7 and 21, 1986. On the New York Times Best Seller list for paperbacks, it first appeared on February 22, 1987, at #12, and reached #11 the week after. Nerilka was one of nominees Locus Award for Best Novel
Moreta (1983) and its sequel Nerilka (1985) are companion stories, in that the latter narrates a second perspective on major events of the former. It was the first work in the series following publication of The Atlas of Pern, and so is not covered in the Atlas.
Everyone, holder and dragonrider alike, pitched in to help — except Nerilka's father, who refused to share Fort Hold's bounty with the other holds. So, ashamed of her family and determined to do her part, Nerilka packed up medicines and supplies and sneaked off to aid her people. Her quest to help wherever she was most needed led her finally to Ruatha Hold, where Lord Alessan was frantically inoculations against the dread plague.
Nerilika had long ago abandoned the hope of mariage and a home of her own. Now she found happiness in being useful and appreciated — first the Healers and then Alessan made very clear that they were grateful for her help.
She had no idea that her new path would change the course of her life forever.
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The story opens at Fort Hold, where Nerilka is prevented from attending the Gather at Ruatha Hold with her parents, Lord Tolocamp and Lady Pendra, and four of her younger sisters. While they are gone, their eldest son Campen — who wishes to prove himself in his parents' eyes — will act in Tolocamp's stead. Nerilka unsuccessfully protests to her mother — noting that she was fostered with Suriana, the late wife of Lord Alessan of Ruatha, who had planned to invite her to Ruatha — eventually angering her mother when she guesses that they are attempting to marry one of her sisters to Alessan, and remarks that she and most of her sisters are ugly. Pendra thus punishes her by sending her to supervise the bathing of the drudges.
After her parents and sisters leave for Ruatha, Nerilka avoids Campen and spends the afternoon gathering herbs with her younger siblings. Five days pass with little events occurring — although Masterhealer Capiam is summoned to Igen Hold, which Nerilka retrospectively notes she didn't connect with the earlier messages about the «unusual Feline» at Keroon — until a drum message arrives announcing a quarantine. Nerilka rushes to the Harper Hall where a crowd has gathered; Master Healer Fortine — representing Masterhealer Capiam, who Nerilka realizes is ill — and Master Harper Brace — acting in place of Masterharper Tirone, not yet returned from a miner's strike — attempting to calm them.
In an attempt to help, Nerilka heads to Fort Hold's storerooms and briefly checks their medicinal records — finding nothing — before sending Sim — her personal drudge — to deliver a note to Desdra — a Healer — allowing her to use Fort's supplies, and heading to Fort's kitchens to help the cook, Felim, organise for guests — Campen's orders, as he believes that holders will arrive asking for help, which some do, despite the quarantine. Following this, Nerilka musters her elderly relatives into clearing rooms to be used as infirmaries — also talking with her favorite uncle, Munchaun, who offers to help her check the records for anything that may help.
The next day, Nerilka is woken by a large number of drum messages. Nerilka heads to the Harper Hall, where she unsuccessfully attempts to offer her services to Desdra. As she returns to Fort Hold, Lord Tolocamp abruptly arrives on a blue dragon, and begins actively enforcing the quarantine — despite Campen noting he has broken it himself, although he plans to isolate himself in his quarters until he is confirmed to be well. The day after that, Tolocamp issues a number of orders, including for his mistress Anella and her family to be brought to safety.
The next day, a drum message in the morning announces the death of Lady Pendra and Nerilka's four sisters at Ruatha, and Nerilka and her siblings — save Campen — grieve together. A messenger soon arrives from Desdra, asking for supplies, and Nerilka — aided by Sim — goes to help him deliver them to the Harper Hall — avoiding Anella, who, to Nerilka's disgust, has already started playing the role of Lady Holder. At the Harper Hall — where Masterharper Tirone has arrived, having gotten past Tolocamp's quarantine-enforcing guards — Desdra again turns down Nerilka's request to help. They then return to Fort Hold, although Nerilka gets Sim to take her past the «internment camp» mentioned by Tirone.
Back at Fort Hold, Nerilka finds Felim complaining about the orders set by Anella — for different confectionaries every day. Nerilka ensures that he sent food to those at the internment camp, before meeting up with her brothers, who inform her that Anella has been moved into their mother's rooms. At the evening meal — during which time Munchaun seeks out Nerilka and tells her he hasn't found anything in the records — Anella reveals that she has been appointed Lady Holder of Fort Hold by Lord Tolocamp, before asking which of his children approached the «Internment Camp» — Tolocamp having witnessed Nerilka from his windows. Before Nerilka can identify herself, four of her siblings protect her by also claiming to have approached the camp. As they sit down to eat, Nerilka vows not to help Anella, and notes from the mood of those in the hall that nobody else will, either.
The next day, Nerilka is woken by drum messages announcing Thread was fought successfully by twelve Wings at Igen; Nerilka notes there shouldn't have been enough well dragonriders at Igen Weyr for this to be possible. She heads down to the kitchens, where she finds Felim again complaining about Anella's orders. Nerilka realises the full extent of Anella's powers as Lady Holder, and hastily goes to retrieve her mother's possessions and private journals from her «office» — a small room on Fort Hold's sub-level — lest Anella claim them. Sim finds her and tells her Anella is looking for «Nalka»; Nerilka tells him to inform Anella he cannot find her — since there is nobody named Nalka in the hold — before heading to the Harper Hall, where she learns that Capiam is well, and aids the Healers by mixing treatments for them.
Nerilka approaches Anella the next day — after Campen informs her that Anella has been making life difficult for her sisters after failing to find her — who orders her to sew new gowns for her, to reflect her position. Nerilka does this, but begins thinking about fleeing from Fort Hold. Later in the day, Nerilka goes to the Harper Hall and finds that a cure has been discovered. Nerilka delivers word of this to Anella, and both her and Nerilka's families are innoculated with the cure, along with a number of others at Fort Hold. The next day, Nerilka finds that Tolocamp has refused to share out Fort Hold's stores — so it will remain a firm example to the rest of Pern. When Nerilka learns that Tirone and Capiam are meeting with Tolocamp the next day to discuss this, she decides to leave, leaving her mother's possessions in the hands of Munchaun, and packing a select amount of Fort Hold's supplies.
Nerilka watches as Tirone and Capiam arrive the following day, and goes to disguise herself as a drudge, before waiting outside Tolocamp's quarters and listening to their arguments, culminating in Tolocamp refusing aid, and Tirone and Capiam withdrawing their men from Fort Hold. As they leave, both discussing going to the Internment Camp, Nerilka approaches and lets them into the storerooms, on the condition that they allow her to leave with them and go to work in the Internment Camp. After helping take the supplies to the Internment Camp — aided by several drudges — Nerilka takes advantage of Capiam arguing with Theng, the chief guard, and sneaks into the camp, gradually making her way to the infirmary, where she gives her name as «Rill», and offers her services.
Three days later — during which time Rill treats many sick people — a Healer arrives and announces that the Internment Camp is being shut down, and all inside will be shifted to the Harper Hall's apprentice barracks for treatment. The Healer also requests for those leaving Fort to take supplies to the outlying holds they pass, and Rill decides to join the group — despite Journeyman Macabir's attempts to get her to stay and train at the Healer Hall.
Travelling via runnerbeast, Rill delivers vaccine to two minor holds, before arriving at High Hill Hold — near the border of Ruatha — where she is also asked to help treat the wounded leg of one of the holder's sons — the hold Healer having left for Fort Hold and likely dying. Rill plans to continue on to Ruatha, and the holders request she looks for two members of their family and a servant who attended the Ruatha Gather. Before she can leave, M'barak, a dragonrider, arrives, asking if they have glass bottles or people who can help at Ruatha Hold. Rill goes with him, along with Pol and Sal, two beasthandlers. At Ruatha Hold, Rill, Pol and Sal introduce themselves to Lord Alessan, who gives them orders regarding treating those sick, and preparing serum, noting Desdra will arrive the next day to supervise. After a long day's work, Rill is sent to rest, falling asleep before she can decide what to say to Desdra to prevent her revealing her true identity.
The next day, Desdra arrives, and Rill helps manufacture the serum for a long time, before being sent to record the incoming drum messages on Desdra's advice — who recognized her, and subsequently revealed the extent of her abilities to Alessan, but not her identity. Rill begins thinking about her situation, and decides she wishes to stay on at Ruatha after things settle down. After three days, enough serum is completed, and Alessan and his «Loyal Crew» celebrate by drinking wine from his stores. Rill later goes to aid Dag in checking on a pregnant mare — one of many who he ensured escaped the sickness — and he also requests she stay. The mare eventually gives birth to a colt, and Rill goes to tell Alessan, only to find he has fallen asleep. She and Tuero — a Harper from Rill's past who is sure he recognizes her — carry him to his bed, and she later aids Tuero in getting to sleep before heading to her own room.
The next day, a number of dragonriders, including Leri and B'lerion, whom Alessan's sister Oklina is happy to see, arrive to deliver the serum — although Nerilka wonders how they will deliver it hastily with only a small amount of dragons. Nerilka learns from Desdra that Oklina is to be a candidate for the queen egg at Fort Weyr. At one point, the dragons roar in anger, but Leri does not elaborate and sends Rill to put the remainder of the serum in storage before she leaves. That night, after Desdra apologizes to Rill for misunderstanding her motives and not letting her assist the sick — also offering to send word to Munchaun when she returns — Oklina and Alessan cry out and collapse — Alessan calling out the name of Moreta, the Fort Weyr Weyrwoman. A grief-stricken B'lerion arrives and reveals that Moreta died while transporting the serum in Keroon. Desdra and Rill carry Alessan to his room and drug him with fellis. As they discuss Alessan's relationship with Moreta, Desdra notes that Alessan will need an heir to secure his bloodline, and suggests Rill reveal her true identity.
As days pass, they discover exactly what went wrong: the dragons were travelling through time to deliver all the serum in a short period of time, and Moreta — the only rider familiar with the Keroon holds once Telgar Weyr, which is to be disciplined, refused aid — died between on Leri's dragon Holth by failing to envision their destination due to exhaustion. They also learn that a ballad is being written about her, although the Weyrleaders have requested they hide the fact that Moreta wasn't riding her own dragon Orlith, so as not to cause additional grief amongst those who don't already know. When Alessan wakes; angry, Rill informs him of this information, and adds he must secure an heir, eventually suggesting in anger that he commit overdose on fellis if he doesn't think it important. In response, Alessan strikes a «bargain»: once Nerilka — him having recognized her from Suriana's drawings of her — is pregnant with his child, he will overdose on fellis. Tuero interrupts them, and Alessan goes to work on restoring Ruatha, its empty holds soon becoming filled by inhabitants from other Major Holds — and some of the holdless — as well as Craftsmen. Alessan is also reimbursed by the Healer Hall in thanks for all his help.
Ten days later, Alessan receives word from Tolocamp that allows him to marry Nerilka — Tolocamp has disowned her — and they are formally wed without ceremony — although Munchaun later sends her mother's possessions and a chest of marks as a dowry. Although they make many attempts during the following nights, Nerilka fails to become pregnant. Despite this, she realizes she has truly fallen in love with him.
Nearly a month after Moreta's death, drums announce the Hatching at Fort Weyr, and B'lerion — who formally requests Oklina in Search — and M'barak arrive to escort them to Fort Weyr, where many have come to attend. During the course of the Hatching, Oklina Impresses the hatchling queen, Hannath, and Alessan finally lets go of his grief, planning to continue repairing Ruatha — although he and Nerilka note they will never forget Moreta.
Nerilka closes her story ten turns after the Hatching — as she and Alessan prepare for their first Gather — revealing that Kamiana succeeded Moreta as Senior Weyrwoman at Fort Weyr, B'lerion and Oklina have two sons, and she and Alessan — who is not the same person he was before the sickness, but has recovered — have four sons and a daughter, who they have named Moreta.