Authors: Anne McCaffrey
DRAGONLADY OF PERN
A Del Rey
BALLANTINE BOOKS • NEW YORK
This book is dedicated
to my daughter
with great affection and respect
for her courage
Among my favorite books in the shelf—which the unwary touch at considerable bodily peril—are
by Rudyard Kipling, and
by Austin Tappan Wright: books which I periodically reread, to revive the memory of those halcyon days when I first journeyed down the Great Trunk Road to play the Great Game and “establish the pedigree of the white stallion” or sailed with John Lang to discover the Karain Continent and the philosophy of Islandia.
There is no sequel to
though I’ve spent many hours imagining that charmer inveigling his way through life and “gaming” for Colonel Creighton. I’m luckier with
since Sylvia Wright and Tappen King have judiciously issued fragments of the enormous History of that marvelously realized country. Perhaps enough should be sufficient and greed is egregious.
Mind you, it was never my intention to write one trilogy, much less two, concerning the planet, Pern, circling Rukbat in the Sagittarian Sector. I wrote a short story, hoping to present “dragons” in a favorable light, and to explore the possibilities of an equal relationship between man/woman and an intelligent alien species. That was my intention. Six hundred thousand words later, I now present to readers who have been ensorcelled by Pern, telepathic dragons and charmingly intransigent fire lizards a further adventure on that planet, in its past, not our future.
For readers who have extrapolated themselves and their wishes onto Pern, I have probably NOT written the adventure
hoped might be presented between these covers. With all the best intentions in the world, I doubt that I could write such a broadly pleasing, all-encompassing, wish-fulfilling novel. In a roundabout way, that is a compliment to you, the reader, not a fault in me, for you have put more of yourself on Pern than I could ever imagine for your sake. I appreciate your enthusiasms and I also appreciate the list of dragon names which have been sent to me.
Meanwhile, I’ll adjourn perhaps to the Great Trunk Road or perhaps to that long journey to the Lay River Farm.
UKBAT, IN THE
Sagittarian Sector, was a golden G-type star. It had five planets, two asteroid belts, and a stray planet that it had attracted and held in recent millennia. When men first settled on Rukbat’s third world and called it Pern, they had taken little notice of the strange planet swinging around its adopted primary in a wildly erratic orbit. For two generations, the colonists gave the bright Red Star little thought—until the path of the wanderer brought it close to its stepsister at perihelion. When such aspects were harmonious and not distorted by conjunctions with other planets in the system, the indigenous life form of the wandering planet sought to bridge the space gap between its home and the more temperate and hospitable planet. At these times, silver Threads dropped through Pern’s skies, destroying anything they touched. The initial losses the colonists suffered were staggering. As a result, during the subsequent struggle to survive and combat the menace, Pern’s tenuous contact with the mother planet was broken.
To control the incursions of the dreadful Threads—for the Pernese had cannibalized their transport ships early on and abandoned such technological sophistication as was irrelevant to the pastoral planet—the more resourceful men embarked on a long-term plan. The first phase involved breeding a highly specialized variety of fire-lizard, a life form indigenous to their new world. Men and women with high empathy ratings and some innate telepathic ability were trained to use and preserve the unusual animals. The dragons—named for the mythical Terran beast they resembled—had two valuable characteristics: They could instantaneously travel from one place to another and, after chewing a phosphine-bearing rock, they could emit a flaming gas. Because the dragons could fly, they could intercept and char the Thread in midair before it reached the surface.
It took generations to develop to the fullest the potential of the dragons. The second phase of the proposed defense against the deadly incursions would take even longer. For Thread, a space-traveling mycorrhizoid spore, devoured with mindless voracity all organic matter and, once grounded, burrowed and proliferated with terrifying speed. So a symbiote of the same strain was developed to counter this parasite, and the resulting grub was introduced into the soil of the Southern Continent. It was planned that the dragons would be a visible protection, charring Thread while it was still skyborne and protecting the dwellings and the livestock of the colonists. The grub-symbiote would protect vegetation by devouring what Thread managed to evade the dragons’ fire.
The originators of the two-stage defense did not allow for change or for hard geological fact. The Southern Continent, though seemingly more attractive than the harsher northern land, proved unstable, and the entire colony was eventually forced to seek refuge from the Threads on the continental shield rock of the north.
On the northern continent the original Fort, Fort Hold, constructed on the eastern face of the Great West Mountain Range, was soon outgrown by the colonists, and its capacious beasthold could not contain the growing numbers of dragons. Another settlement was started slightly to the north, where a great lake had formed near a cave-filled cliff. But Ruatha Hold, too, became overcrowded within a few generations.
Since the Red Star rose in the east, the people of Pern decided to establish a holding in the eastern mountains, provided a suitable cavesite could be found. Only solid rock and metal, both of which were in distressingly short supply on Pern, were impervious to the burning score of Thread.
The winged, tailed, fire-breathing dragons had by then been bred to a size that required more spacious accommodations than the cliffside holds could provide. The cave-pocked cones of extinct volcanoes, one high above the first Fort, the other in the Benden Mountains, proved to be adequate and required only a few improvements to be made habitable. However, such projects took the last of the fuel for the great stone-cutters, which had been programmed only for regular mining operations, not for wholesale cliff excavations. Subsequent holds and Weyrs had to be hand-hewn.
The dragons and their riders in their high places and the people in their cave holds went about their separate tasks, and each developed habits that became custom, which solidified into tradition as incontrovertible as law. And when a Fall of Thread was imminent—when the Red Star was visible at dawn through the Star Stones erected on the rim of each Weyr—the dragons and their riders mobilized to protect the people of Pern.
Then came an interval of two hundred Turns of the planet Pern around its primary—when the Red Star was at the far end of its erratic orbit, a frozen, lonely captive. No Thread fell on Pern. The inhabitants erased the signs of Thread depredation and grew crops, planted orchards and thought of reforestation for the slopes denuded by Thread. They even managed to forget that they had once been in great danger of extinction. Then, when the wandering planet returned, the Threads fell again, bringing another fifty years of attack from the skies. Once again the Pernese thanked their ancestors, now many generations removed, for providing the dragons whose fiery breath seared the falling Thread midair.
Dragonkind, too, had prospered during that Interval and had settled in four other locations, following the master plan of interim defense.
Recollections of Earth receded further from Pernese memories with each generation until knowledge of Mankind’s origins degenerated into a myth. The significance of the southern hemisphere—and the Instructions formulated by the colonial defenders of dragon and grub—became garbled and lost in the more immediate struggle to survive.
By the Sixth Pass of the Red Star, a complicated sociopolitical-economic structure had been developed to deal with the recurrent evil. The six Weyrs, as the old volcanic habitations of the dragonfolk were called, pledged themselves to protect Pern, each Weyr having a geographical section of the Northern Continent literally under its wing. The rest of the population agreed to tithe support to the Weyrs since the dragonmen did not have arable land in their volcanic homes, could not afford to take time away from nurturing their dragons to learn other trades during peacetime, and could not take time away from protecting the planet during Passes.
Settlements, called holds, developed wherever natural caves were found—some, of course, more extensive or strategically placed than others. It took a strong man to exercise control over terrified people during Thread attacks; it took wise administration to conserve victuals when nothing could be safely grown, and it took extraordinary measures to control population and keep it productive and healthy until such time as the menace passed.
Men with special skills in metalworking, weaving, animal husbandry, farming, fishing, and mining formed crafthalls in each large Hold and looked to one Mastercrafthall where the precepts of their craft were taught and craft skills were preserved and guarded from one generation to another. One Lord Holder could not deny the products of the crafthall situated in his Hold to others, since the Crafts were deemed independent of a Hold affiliation. Each Craftmaster of a hall owed allegiance to the Master of his particular craft—an elected office based on proficiency in the craft and on administrative ability. The Mastercraftsman was responsible for the output of his halls and the distribution, fair and unprejudiced, of all craft products on a planetary rather than parochial basis.
Certain rights and privileges accrued to different leaders of Holds and Masters of Crafts and, naturally, to the dragonriders whom all Pern looked to for protection during the Threadfalls.
It was within the Weyrs that the greatest social revolution took place, for the needs of the dragons took priority over all other considerations. Of the dragons, the gold and green were female, the bronze, brown, and blue male. Of the female dragons, only the golden were fertile; the greens were rendered sterile by the chewing of firestone, which was as well since the sexual proclivities of the small greens would soon have resulted in overpopulation. They were the most agile, however, and invaluable as fighters of Thread, fearless and aggressive. But the price of fertility was inconvenience, and riders of queen dragons carried flamethrowers to char Thread. The blue males were sturdier than their smaller sisters, while the browns and bronzes had the staying power for long, arduous battles against Thread. In theory, the great golden fertile queens were mated with whichever dragon could catch them in their strenuous mating fights. Generally speaking, the bronzes did the honor. Consequently the rider of the bronze dragon who flew the senior queen of a Weyr became its Leader and had charge of the fighting Wings during a Pass. The rider of the senior queen dragon, however, held the most responsibility for the Weyr during and after a Pass when it was the Weyrwoman’s job to nurture and preserve the dragons, to sustain and improve the Weyr and all its folk. A strong Weyrwoman was as essential to the survival of the Weyr as dragons were to the survival of Pern.
To her fell the task of supplying the Weyr, fostering its children, and Searching for likely candidates from hall and hold to pair with the newly hatched dragons. As life in the Weyrs was not only prestigious but easier for women and men alike, hold and hall were proud to have their children taken on Search and boasted of the illustrious members of the bloodline who had become dragon riders.
We begin our story toward the end of the Sixth Pass of the Red Star, some fourteen hundred Turns after men first came to Pern. . . .