This is a short story based on a fantasy created by Anne McCaffrey. It is fiction and no reference to any person living or dead is intended nor to any of the characters in McCaffrey’s novels about Pern. I have used only the concepts created by McCaffrey and I apologise if it crosses her copyright too closely. It is by way of tribute rather than imitation and is a measure of the enjoyment I have received from her novels over many years. It has overtones of gay sexuality (b/b and M/b) but there is no explicit sex.
HERE BE DRAGONS
ilb3000 May 2003
Daniel leaned over and watched as the ground receded below him. His excitement at his first flight bubbled through his insides. He had never experienced anything like this before - the feeling of being thrust backwards as he was accelerated forwards. The lurch as contact with the ground was lost - the shivering and shaking through the air as he ascended. He felt as though he was slipping from reality, so strong was the feeling in him that at last he was flying. He really was flying - at last! His concentration slipped as the enormity of what was happening to him merged into the immensity of the sky…………
He had always yearned to fly. Even at the ripe old age of 12 turns he could remember clearly when he first decided that he was going to fly. Somehow, somewhere he would find himself a dragon—and he would fly. Anywhere ….anywhen! As he was required, and as he wanted. He would be able to fly anywhere on the planet. He would find new places, walk where no other had walked, see long lost places where his ancestors had once settled. And he would fight the menace. The menace that had endangered his people for longer than anyone could remember. And he would find friendship. Friendship with the dragon people - the riders and their friends and families, and maybe, just maybe, he would find the love and affection that had been denied him through his short life. At the very least he would have the affection of his dragon, and wouldn’t that be enough?
But a young boy of unknown parentage, unschooled and without sponsorship could not expect to ascend to the heady ranks of dragon rider, could he? How could he ever get involved in a hatching? Who would find him in a search? He was rarely able to get outside the lower caverns where he lived. He barely had sufficient clothing to keep him warm in winter and it was hard for someone like him to get close enough to the fires to compensate. At least he was able to eat, but there was never anything to spend at a gather. Unless he was lucky enough to find someone to pay him for what little work he was able to accomplish. His game leg didn’t help, either, did it? He wasn’t able to run fast enough to take messages for any of the Masters or Holders. And he wasn’t nimble enough to assist with hunting or strong enough to assist with planting and gathering crops.
Life really hadn’t been very kind to him, and yet somehow he managed to survive, and to enjoy the limited pleasures that came his way. Like Oran, the son of the Harper who taught in the school. Daniel managed to get into the school occasionally, but it was always crowded and most times he was shunted out the door almost before he even got inside. But Oran watched out for him and often came looking for him when his time in school was over for the day. They played around in the lower caverns finding mysteries to discover and exploring areas where no one ever went. Occasionally they found a room that had some old artefacts from the times when all the rooms in the lower caverns had been populated. Once they even found an old scroll which really excited Oran’s father. As they grew Oran and Daniel found comfort in each other and Oran explained to Daniel the changes that were happening to them. Daniel felt tingling warmth as he thought about that.
Many hours the two boys lay side by side and speculated on their futures and how, above all other possibilities, they wanted to be dragon riders - to impress a baby dragon as it hatched from its egg. To comfort it, feed it, love it and live with it for the rest of their lives. And be loved in turn. They giggled about their futures with dragon people. How they would be able to make love with whoever they chose. They wondered, often, whether they would want to have families with girls, or would rather take up with a green rider because everyone always said that green riders were randy and often preferred men to women. He giggled softly to himself.
But how could it happen? Daniel thought Oran might have a chance, because he was often in the company of dragon riders (Oran thought otherwise – his father wanted him to become a Harper). Oran had even ridden a dragon when his father had to journey to Harper Hall and he was allowed to go with him. But Daniel had never had such an opportunity, and was not likely to. It seemed impossible for him to even attract the attention of a dragon rider, let alone one who just happened to be searching for likely candidates for a hatching.
And then the impossible happened. He was searched! He was standing out in the open before the entrance to one of the lower caverns, trying to find someone who might be prepared to offer him some work. Limping out towards the crop fields a shadow flicked across him and he heard the rush of air over beating wings. He involuntarily ducked - it sounded so close - almost as though the wing tips would hit his head. And he had to close his eyes as the beating of the great wings stirred dust and sand off the ground. He couldn’t even see the colour of the dragon.
The movement ceased and the blasts of air around him subsided. As he tried to open his eyes the grit on his eyelids caused his eyes to water and he blinked furiously. He heard a voice and peering through his tears saw a large brown dragon not far in front of him, and a figure dismount and walk towards him. Still having difficulty with the dust in his eyes, he squinted, trying to see who it was – not that he would really be able to identify the dragon, or rider!
“Sorry about that lad,” a youngish, tenor, voice said. “I really didn’t mean to blind you like that but Moranth suddenly spied you and dived down to land before I could warn him to be careful.”
“Wh-what?” The shaken boy blinked again and tried to focus on the rider as he approached.
“Oh! Sorry, yes… Um! I’m A’van, and this rather idiotic brown is Moranth. I should have tried to control him better, but sometimes he gets very enthusiastic about his tasks.” Daniel could now see that the rider was a young man, perhaps 20 turns, and he was still approaching.
“But? But… why would he want to come down to me?” the startled boy asked.
“Ah! Yes! Well, you see! Um, we were looking for you.”
“Looking for me? Me? Why?” Daniel sounded even more startled.
“Ah, yes, well, have you ever thought you might like to ride a dragon? Your own dragon?” The young brown rider sounded a little amused.
Daniel made a disgusted grunt. “Yes, of course - who hasn’t?”
“Well, it just might be that you could become a dragon rider.”
“Me?” Daniel’s heart missed a beat.
“Yes, you! Well, at least Moranth seems to think you could.”
“Me?” Daniel seemed to be in a daze.
“Well, it is possible, you know!’
“No! I don’t know,” Daniel jerked out. “This isn’t some sort of cruel joke, is it? I’ve had enough of those in my life - I really don’t need another one, not from a dragon rider!”
“No lad,” the dragon rider said softly, standing close in front of Daniel now. “No, I wouldn’t play a joke like that - I know only too well what it is like yearning to have a dragon of your own. I’ve been there.”
“But, how could it be me? How do you - how does Moranth know?” Daniel asked in a quavering voice.
“Well we don’t exactly. We only know that Moranth is very good at picking out likely candidates for a hatching, and we think you might be one. There are no guarantees, though,” the rider said sadly.
Daniel said nothing, but suddenly, deep in his mind, he heard a warm, soft, slightly amused voice say But I’ve never been wrong yet!
Daniel started, his wide eyes flicking up to look at the dragon rider in alarm.
“Did you hear that lad?” the rider asked him.
“Y-yes,” Daniel squeaked, losing control of his voice. “What was it?”
“Ah, lad, you are privileged. That was Moranth – and he doesn’t often talk to others than me – and never to anyone who is not a dragon rider. Now, that is really unusual.”
“What do you mean – unusual?”
“Not quite sure, but I think it means that Moranth thinks you will become a dragon rider.”
I do, that warm fruity voice said, deep in Daniel’s mind.
Daniel felt his legs go weak, and he started to sink to the ground. The rider took a swift pace forward and grabbed the boy under the arms.
“Whoa, young man, don’t keel over on us!”
Daniel giggled. “You’re not so old yourself,” he smiled.
“No, I’m not, am I. What’s your name?”
“How old are you Daniel?”
“Hey, that’s the age I was when I impressed Moranth. We’ve been together for 8 years now.”
Daniel looked up at him. The rider had removed his flying helmet and Daniel could see where he had been sweating in the blond locks that curled around his ears. Able to see more clearly now, Daniel could see that he was a young looking man, with piercing blue eyes. A scar crossed his left cheek diagonally and his nose looked was a bit bent, as if it had been hit directly on the front. He looked across at the monstrous brown dragon and saw that the great faceted eyes were staring at him, spinning slowly, the restful kaleidoscope of colours suggesting a warm contentment, if not self-satisfaction.
Again, Daniel felt that warm voice. I am not self-satisfied! I am always right!
“I do believe he likes you,” A’van said, an amused tone creeping into his light tenor voice. “How would you like to go for a ride on him?”
“C-could I? Me? Oh yes!” Daniel gasped.
“Well then, we need to talk to your parents,” the rider said, looking around. “Where can we find them.”
Daniel gulped. “We can’t!”
“I don’t have any!”
“What do you mean, you don’t have any?” the rider demanded.
“I – I – I mean, just that,” Daniel half sobbed. “Well, I don’t know who they are, or even if they are alive. Does this make any difference? Can I still be a rider?” he sobbed aloud now, and tears formed in his eyes.
“Of course you can be - it makes no difference! But, how long has it been since you saw your parents? Who looks after you?” The rider looked concerned and sounded a little worried. He put his hand onto Daniel’s shoulder in a comforting gesture.
“I don’t know,” Daniel replied. “I can’t remember ever having seen them. I think I remember someone looking after me when I was very small, but for as long as I remember I’ve sort of had to look after myself.”
“Well,” the rider said. “That actually makes it a little easier.”
“We don’t have to get permission for you to come with me to the Weyr.”
“Oh,” Daniel exclaimed. “I hadn’t thought about that. I guess the people that have sort of looked after me won’t mind – it’ll be one less thing they have to worry about.”
“Where are they?” A’van asked.
“I don’t know - they went off somewhere a while ago - before the last gather, and I haven’t seen them since. Doesn’t much matter anyway.” Daniel gave another half sob.
A’van felt a surge of pity and a desire to comfort the boy in some way. He leant down a little and put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “Let’s not worry about that for now. Is there anyone who would worry if you seemed to disappear?” he asked.
“Yes,” Daniel whispered, “Oran.”
Daniel hesitated. “He’s the Harper’s son.”
“And who is the Harper?” A’van looked at the boy.
“Gidran. He’s been here ever since I can remember. Oran is my best - well, really, he is my only friend. Most of the others here don’t want to be with a lame orphan that nobody wants to own.” Again Daniel gave a half sob. A’van tightened his grip around the boy’s shoulders.
“Alright, then let’s find Oran and tell him what is happening to you.”
Daniel slipped out of A’van’s embrace and started towards the caverns, but suddenly he stopped and turned around to face the rider. A’van noticed the decided limp the boy had as he swung around on his left leg and felt another twinge of sympathy for him. Daniel looked at the rider, and then suddenly he darted forward and flinging his small arms around the riders waist, hugged him tightly, his chest heaving and tears starting to run down his cheeks. The rider hugged the boy towards him.
“Hey, hey, young Daniel, what’s all this about?”
“Oh, A’van! You and Moranth have no idea how I feel at this moment,” the boy sobbed. “This is the first time that anyone other than Oran has ever given me anything to hope for.”
The amused voice sounded deep inside his mind again. We do know, you know!
A’van chuckled. “Yes, we do too. I know precisely how you feel – although I was a bit more fortunate than you when I was found. I had to leave some people that cared for me.”
Daniel stepped back and smiled up at the rider, who had a warm, friendly smile on his face, his eyes twinkling. The rider reached out and cupping the boys face with his hands gently wiped the tears from Daniel’s cheeks with his thumbs.
“C’mon – let’s find Oran and tell him your news. Because we have to get you to the Weyr – hatching is only a few days away and you have a lot to learn before then.”
Daniel turned and with the rider close behind, limped as fast as he could into the caverns, veering off in the direction of the school room, to find Oran. The school was crowded with several youngsters clustered just inside the door. Daniel could hear the Harper talking in the back somewhere. He tried to push through to find Oran, but the boy nearest the door pushed him back hard enough that Daniel’s game leg gave way under him and he toppled onto the stone floor.
“Get out limpy. You’re not wanted here.”
He levelled a kick at Daniel, but suddenly found his leg grasped in a vice-like grip. The young rider glared at him and jerking the boy’s leg upwards, threw him back onto the ground, the back of his head striking with a resounding thump.
As the boy squealed in pain, the rider growled “You should try picking on someone your own size young man!”
There was a shuffling around them as Gidran forced a way through the throng to find out what the disturbance was about. He looked at A’van, then looked at Daniel lying on the floor, and then at the bully.
“Up to your usual bullying tricks again, I see Tibor! Has he been keeping you out of class again Daniel?”
Daniel nodded without saying anything. The Harper looked at Tibor.
“Remove yourself from here and please be so kind as to not return. I have no desire to try to implant knowledge in someone of your character.”
The bully slowly stood up, glared at the Harper, the rider and Daniel and carefully sidled around them all and disappeared into the cavern.
“I’ll fix you,” he snarled at Daniel.
There was another shuffling as Oran pushed his way through the crowd.
“Daniel, what’s wrong? Have they been hitting you again?” he asked.
Daniel nodded, getting back to his feet, the rider putting one hand under his arm to assist him.
“I have some news, can you come outside with me?” Daniel smiled at Oran.
Oran nodded, and he and Daniel walked out the door. The Harper looked at A’van.
“It’s rough here, rider. There are so many to teach. I have difficulty keeping some reasonable control, especially to try to protect innocents like Daniel.” The rider nodded sympathetically.
“Things may just have changed for Daniel.” He said. “My dragon, Moranth spied him while we were searching. We are taking him back to the Weyr. He just wanted to let Oran know what was happening so that he wouldn’t worry.”
“That’s wonderful for the boy,” Gidran said. “It would be marvellous if he were to impress a dragon. Although I have no doubt that Oran would be jealous,” he mused. “What will happen if he doesn’t impress?”
“Oh,” said A’van, “We’ll keep him around in the Weyr for a few years. If he doesn’t impress at the next hatching there will be many others he can participate in. He will be with us until he is able to look out for himself properly, and we’ll be training him to assist the Weyr in whatever way he wishes, even if he doesn’t impress a dragon. My dragon spoke to him, you know. That’s unusual.”
“Oran will miss him, but it is a good opportunity. The poor little wretch hasn’t had many in his life. I wish we were able to do more for him, and those like him,” Gidran sighed. “I must get back to this bedlam. Thank you for helping him, and giving me the opportunity to get rid of that despicable bully.”
“My pleasure,” the rider grinned. He turned to the door, looking for Daniel and Oran. When he found them, the two boys were tightly hugging each other. Both were sobbing, with tears streaming down their faces. Oran looked at A’van.
“Will I be able to see Daniel? Can he come back to see me?”
A’van smiled in sympathy and kneeling down beside the boys he put his arms around them. “I will make sure that one way or another you two get to see each other whenever it is possible. I promise you that.” Oran looked back at Daniel.
“I am so happy for you,” he said. And then he grinned evilly. “But I wish it was me and not you….”
Daniel smiled through his tears and punched his friend on his shoulder. “I wish it was possible for you to come with me.”
“But I can’t - you were the one that Moranth found. And anyway, its better that he found you and not me - at least I have someone to look after me when you’re gone.” Daniel nodded, smiling sadly, and A’van felt a strange twinge deep inside him as the strong emotion expressed by Oran hit him.
“I don’t know what I would have done without you around. No one else cares for me,” Daniel whispered.
A’van hugged the two of them more tightly.
“Sorry, but we have to break this up. We have to go. We’ll let you know what is happening, alright?”
Oran nodded and then hugged Daniel tightly again. Reluctantly the boys let go of each other. A’van stood up and gently guiding Daniel moved him towards the entrance to the caverns. Oran watched sadly as the two walked away. Daniel turned and gave a little dispirited wave before they turned the corner. A’van looked at the small boy beside him.
“Have you got any warmer clothing?”
“Hmm. Just as well I keep a blanket in my saddle bag – you’ll need it as we pass between.” He looked at Daniel more closely and felt a surge of affection and sympathy. He had never experienced such a feeling before. This boy brought out some emotions in him that were very foreign to him. He wasn’t sure what was happening, but he felt he needed to be very protective of the boy.
They walked towards Moranth who looked at them lazily. A’van reached into his bag and brought out a blanket which he wrapped around the boy. Stepping up onto Moranth’s foreleg, he lifted the boy onto the dragon’s neck ridges and wrapping the blanket more firmly about his body he fastened the fighting straps about him. He climbed up onto the dragon in front of the boy and telling Daniel to hold on tight to him, he told the dragon to take them home.
“Home!” thought Daniel. “I’ve never really had a home. Will this be it?”
Yes! he heard deep inside his mind. A’van will make sure of that!
All thoughts left his mind as he felt the surge of acceleration as the dragon thrust his mighty wings and leapt into the air.
“Hold on Daniel,” A’van shouted. “To the Weyr, Moranth!”
Suddenly everything went black and Daniel felt the incredible, frightening cold that he had heard about as the dragon went between. All he could think of was the scream that was trapped in his throat and a surge of gratitude to A’van for the blanket. Although it would have been nice if the blanket had reached around his bare feet!
Then, as quickly as it had happened, it was over and they were circling above the Weyr. Daniel’s heart climbed into his mouth as the dragon plummeted down, spiralling steeply to deposit them on the sand in front of the main entry into the Weyr. He realised he was gripping A’van around the waist very tightly, and that he was experiencing some sensations in his lower body. Sensations he had only felt when he was playing with Oran, when the two friends were learning about themselves. A’van didn’t seem to mind the tight grip and made no attempt to pry him loose until after the dragon had landed.
The next few days were a blur to Daniel. There seemed to be so much to learn. He felt overwhelmed by it. He was amazed that he was treated exactly the same as any of the other candidates, especially those who were Weyr born. But he was glad that A’van always seemed to be hovering around to help him. He started to think that maybe A’van was his guardian angel, whatever that was! Certainly A’van seemed to have taken on a protective role as special tutor to the lame orphan from the lower caverns. He learned about the eggs, and became acquainted with the queen who sat protectively near her eggs. He learned of the aspirations and desires of the other boys who were candidates, and watched with some trepidation the girls who would be vying to impress the golden queen egg when it hatched.
Too soon he found himself hustled out onto the hot sands of the hatching ground as all the dragons started to hum, and the eggs started to shake and vibrate. And then suddenly the level of sound rose as the first egg cracked open and a little dragonet staggered to its feet and looked around for its life mate. Daniel watched everything happening around him in a daze, not even wondering if he would be lucky enough to impress. There was movement all around, and he could hear the crowd of onlookers buzzing with excitement and the occasional burst of applause. And then he became aware of something butting on his lame left leg. He looked down to see a little green dragonet pushing against him. His mind filled with a feeling of the most incredible joy. His game leg collapsed under him and he sank to the ground, the little dragon’s eyes whirling madly at him. He leaned forward to hug the little dragon and in that instant he felt the surge of emotion that could only be impression. He heard a tiny voice in his head.
I’m Farth, D’nel. I’m yours and you are mine!
D’nel felt a movement beside him and looking up he saw Oran standing beside him. The boy leaned over D’nel and the dragonet.
“Daniel, you did it! You did it!”
Tears were streaming down Oran’s face, dropping onto those of D’nels. D’nel looked at him, and with a sob in his voice said “I’m D’nel now, Oran. This is Farth.”
And I’m very hungry, said a wistful little voice in D’nel’s head.
D’nel told Oran that he had to take Farth to feed. Oran, grinning widely nodded his understanding and climbed back up onto the tier where A’van had left him with his father just before the hatching.
The rest of that first day passed in another blur. D’nel had never felt so tired. But he did have time to talk to Oran when the little green dragon was asleep. He learned that A’van had been back and forth several times to keep Oran and his father up to date with what was happening, and that he had promised to get them to the hatching. Oran looked at D’nel with a sort of awe.
“You really are a dragon rider now aren’t you. Will you always be my friend?” he asked in a little voice. D’nel leaned over to hug him.
In a tired voice he said “Of course I will Oran. I will always love you.” He grinned. “Perhaps we can become even better friends.”
Oran looked at him with a puzzled look on his face. D’nel laughed.
“Well, you know what they say about green riders!”
Oran giggled. And then more fully realising what D’nel meant, pushed his friend away, jabbing him lightly in the groin.
D’nel groaned and then yawned widely.
A’van suddenly appeared beside the boys. He had been watching the friends and laughed quietly to himself at D’nel’s sly reference to the sexuality of green riders. And, he thought to himself, not without a little jealousy of Oran. Oran noticed the look of affection A’van gave D’nel.
“Come, Oran, I need to get you and your father home, and D’nel really needs to get some sleep so that he can be ready for the demands Farth will make of him on the morrow.”
D’nel looked sleepily at the brown rider.
“A’van how can I ever thank you and Moranth?” There was a look of love in his expression, which was quickly perceived by the Harper’s son. A slight feeling of jealousy flashed through him, and then he caught himself. For the first time, he realised, D’nel was experiencing some love from an adult. Up to then the only person who had loved him was Oran. “How can I be selfish about that?” he thought.
By the time he looked back at D’nel, the new green dragon rider was asleep. A’van quietly walked Oran away and returned him and his father to their home astride Moranth.
Time evaporated quickly as D’nel learned to care for his dragon and he and Farth developed the deep bond between dragon and rider. The months passed in a haze and then, at last, it was time for the pair to make their first flight. A’van hovered like a clucky fowl, ensuring that his self-chosen charge was properly prepared for the momentous occasion. Both D’nel and Farth heard the words of encouragement in the warm, friendly tones that Moranth used when he spoke to them.
And then D’nel was astride Farth and……
D’nel leaned over and watched as the ground receded below him. His excitement at his first flight bubbled through his insides. He had never experienced anything like this before—the feeling of being thrust backwards as he was accelerated forwards. The lurch as contact with the ground was lost - the shivering and shaking through the air as he ascended. He felt as though he was slipping from reality, so strong was the feeling in him that at last he was flying. He really was flying - at last! His concentration slipped as the enormity of what was happening to him merged into the immensity of the sky………………
A hand shook his shoulder. Startled, Daniel turned to see the attendant looking at him, shaking him to arouse him.
“Uhh! What! Yes?”
“Daniel, we’re landing soon. You’ll have to straighten your seat and do up your seat belt now,” she said.
“Oh! Yes! Alright.”
Daniel sat up from where he was leaning against the window. He fastened his seat belt and pressed the button that brought his seat back to its upright position. Looking back out the window he sighed.
“I wonder what riding a dragon would really be like,” he pondered to himself. “Better than riding inside this plane, I bet.”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live on a world like Pern?” he thought. “Even though it was harsh. To be someone like the littlest dragon rider ….. I wonder if Anne McCaffery ever wrote more stories about K’van? D’nel, now there’s a name!”
Copyright © 2003 ilb3000