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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

The Renegades of Pern

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THE
RENEGADES
OF PERN

 

Anne McCaffrey

 

 

 

 

A Del Rey
®
Book

BALLANTINE BOOKS * NEW YORK

Contents

  
Introduction

  
Prologue

I.  Eastern Telgar Hold, Present (Ninth) Pass, First Turn, Third Month, Fourth Day

II.  North Telgar Hold to Igen Hold, PP 02.04.12

III.  Southern Continent, PP 11.04.06

IV.  Lemos and Telgar Holds, Southern Continent, PP 12

V.  Igen and Lemos Holds, PP 12

VI.  Southern Continent, Telgar Hold, PP 12

VII.  Lemos Hold, Southern Continent, Telgar Hold, PP 12

VIII. Telgar Hold to Keroon Beastmasterhold,
Southern Continent, Benden Hold, PP 12

IX.  Benden Hold, Benden Weyr, PP 13

X.  Southern Continent, PP 15.05.22–15.08.03

XI.  Southern Continent, PP 15.08.28–15.10.15

XII.  Southern Continent, PP 15.10.19

XIII. Southern Continent, Nerat Hold, PP 15.10.23

XIV. Southern Continent, PP 15-17

XV.  Southern Continent, PP 17

XVI. Southern Continent, PP 17

  
About the Author

  
Books by Anne McCaffrey

  
To learn more about other great ebook titles from Ballantine . . .

  
Copyright

 

 

JOHN GREENE

Maréchal de logis

1958–1988

 

“O, Johnny, why did they do ye?”

INTRODUCTION

 

 

 

W
HEN
M
ANKIND FIRST
discovered Pern, third planet of the sun Rukbat in the Sagittarian Sector, they paid little attention to the eccentric orbit of the Red Star, another satellite in the system.

Settling the new planet, adjusting to its differences, the colonists spread out across the southern, more hospitable continent. Then disaster struck in the form of a rain of mycorrhizoid organisms, which voraciously devoured all but stone, metal, and water. The initial losses were staggering. But fortunately for the young colony, “Thread,” as the settlers called the devastating showers, was not entirely invincible: Both water and fire would destroy the menace on contact.

Using their old-world ingenuity and genetic engineering, the settlers altered an indigenous life form that resembled the dragons of legend. Bonded with a human at birth, these enormous creatures became Pern’s most effective weapon against Thread. Able to chew and digest a phosphine-bearing rock, the dragons could literally breathe fire and sear the airborne Thread before it could reach the ground. Able not only to fly but to teleport, as well, the dragons could maneuver quickly to avoid injury during their battles with Thread. And their telepathic communication enabled them to work with their riders and with each other to form extremely efficient fighting units.

Being a dragonrider required special talents and complete dedication. Thus the dragonriders became a separate group—set apart from those who held the land against the depredations of Thread, or those whose craft skills produced other necessities of life in their crafthalls.

Over the centuries, the settlers forgot their origins in their struggle to survive against Thread, which fell across the land whenever the Red Star’s eccentric orbit coincided with Pern’s.

There were long intervals, too, when no Thread ravaged the land, when the dragonriders in their Weyrs kept faith with their mighty friends until they would be needed once more to protect the people they were pledged to serve.

One such long interval is coming to a close at the opening of our story; though with a decade to go before another Pass of the Red Star, few are yet aware of its ominous approach. Indeed, few believe Thread will ever fall again. And in the false comfort of that belief, people have grown complacent. With that complacency, discord has arisen in Hold and Hall, setting in motion a chain of events that results in renegades on Pern!

PROLOGUE

 

 

 

I
N THE NORTHWESTERN
province of High Reaches, an ambitious man has just begun a campaign of territorial acquisition that will make him the single most powerful Lord Holder on all of Pern. His name is Fax—and he will become legend.

Meanwhile, in the hills of Lemos Hold, in the eastern mountains of Pern . . .

“He’s here again,” the woman said, peering out the dust-grimed window slit when she heard the clatter of hooves on the cobbles in front of the cothold. “I tol’ ya he’d come back. You’re for it now.” There was a certain note of sly anticipation in her voice.

The slovenly man at the table glanced contemptuously in her direction. His belly was full, though he had grumbled with every mouthful that porridge was no dish to serve a grown man, and he had just decided to do a little fishing.

The metal door of the hold was vigorously pushed in, and before the cotholder could get to his feet, the room was full of determined men, shortswords prominently at their belts. Uttering little shrieks of dismay, the woman flattened herself in the corner of the inner wall, oblivious to the clatter of pans and cups that spilled from the hanging cabinet.

“Felleck, you’re out!” Lord Gedenase said in a cold, harsh voice. He stood, fists on his belt, his dark leather riding cloak fanned by his arms, making him appear much larger than life.

“Out? Out, Lord Gedenase?” Felleck stammered, staggering to his feet. “I was just going out, Lord, to fish for our evening meal—” His voice changed to a plaintive whine. “For we’ve naught to eat but boiled grains.”

“Your hunger no longer concerns me,” Lord Gedenase replied, swiveling to examine the filthy room with its rickety furnishings. His nostrils flared briefly in disgust at the musty smell of accumulated damp and dirt. “Four times you have failed to tithe, despite generous help from my steward to replace your moldy seed grain, your broken, misused tools, and even a draft animal when yours developed foot rot. Now, out! Gather your belongings and get out!”

Felleck was stunned. “Out?”

“Out?” the woman’s voice quavered.

“Out!” Lord Gedenase stepped aside and gestured sternly toward the door. “You have exactly one half hour in which to gather your possessions”—the Lord Holder’s eyebrows twitched with scorn as he glanced about the sordid dwelling—“and leave!”

“But—but—where will we go?” the woman cried despairingly, but she was already gathering up pots and pans.

“Wherever you wish,” the Lord Holder said. Turning on one heel, he strode out of the place, kicking aside a pot lid. He motioned to the steward to oversee the eviction, mounted his runnerbeast, and rode off.

“But we have always been beholden to Lemos,” Felleck said, sniveling and twisting his face into a piteous expression.

“Every hold supports itself and tithes to the Lord Holder,” the steward said impassively, folding his arms. “Yours doesn’t! Twenty-five minutes left!”

Sobbing loudly, the woman dropped her apron-load of pots and covered her ears to block out the implacable verdict. Felleck cuffed her, snarling in bitter rage. “Get the packsack, you stupid pig. Go roll up the bedding. Get moving!”

The eviction was accomplished on time, and Felleck and his woman were driven, staggering under their burdens, down the narrow track, away from their cothold. Felleck turned back once, before the bend hid his former home from sight. He saw the wagon then, drawn up near his empty beasthold; saw a woman holding a babe, an older child beside her on the seat; saw the neatly packed belongings, the sturdy burden beasts yoked to the trace, the milk animal tied to the wagon gate, and he cursed fluidly and fiercely as he pushed the stumbling woman before him.

Under his breath he vowed vengeance on Lord Gedenase—and on all at Lemos Hold—for his humiliation. They would be sorry, they would! He would make every man jack of them sorry!

 

Fax’s lightning campaign has been successful: He has made himself Lord Holder of High Reaches, Crom, Nabol, Keogh, Balen, Riverbend, and Ruatha, having gained possession by dint of marriage or murder or the ferocity of his marauders. Tillek, Fort, and Boll have called in every ablebodied man, aimed them, and drilled them in defensive skills. Beacon fires have been placed on hilltops, and fleet-mounted messengers recruited to bring word of any incursion into their borders. But news of those calamitous events has seeped slowly to the more isolated holdings . . .

Dowell always knew when visitors were on their way up the wagon track to his mountainhold: shod hooves echoed as noisy clatters from the next valley down.

“A messenger comes, Barla,” he called to his wife as he laid down the plane with which he had been smoothing a fine piece of fellis wood, destined to be part of a ladder-back chair he was making for Lord Kale at Ruatha Hold. He frowned as his ears told him that more than one rider was on the way—and at speed. Then he shrugged, for guests were infrequent, and Barla loved visitors. Though she never complained, he often thought he had been unfair to take her so far up the mountains during spring and summer.

“I’ve fresh bread and a bowl of berries,” she said, coming to the entrance of their hold. At least he had given her a right smart and commodious dwelling, he often assured himself, with three large rooms cut into the rockface on ground level, and five above. There was a good beasthold for their runners and the two burden animals he used to haul timber from the woods, and a drying loft for the timber he had seasoning.

The visitors, ten or more men, brought their animals roughly to a halt in the clearing. One look at the unfamiliar sweaty faces and Barla stepped instinctively behind Dowell, wishing that her face was smudged with flour or soot.

The leader’s eyes narrowed, and his smile turned ugly. “You’re Dowell?” The leader did not wait for a reply as he dismounted. “Search the place,” he snapped over his shoulder.

Dowell’s fingers curled, wishing he had the plane still in his right hand, but he straightened his shoulders and sought his wife’s hand with his left. “I am Dowell. And you?”

“I’m from Ruatha Hold. Fax is now your Lord Holder.”

Dowell heard Barla’s swift intake of breath, and he squeezed her hand hard. “I had not heard that Lord Kale had died. Surely—”

“Nothing’s sure in this world, carpenter.” The man strolled casually up to the pair, his eyes all the time on Barla. She wanted to bury her face in Dowell’s shoulder to escape the look in those lewd eyes.

Suddenly the troop leader hauled her away from Dowell’s side, cackling as he forced her to turn and turn and turn until she was dizzy and had to grasp the nearest thing—him—to stay upright. To her horror, he pulled her against him. She could feel the gritty dust of his sleeve and shoulder, and saw the dried blood on his collar. Then his stubbled, coarse-skinned face was far too close and a blast of his foul breath hit her before she could seal her eyelids shut and avert her head.

“I wouldn’t, were I you, Tragger,” someone said in a low voice. “You know Fax’s orders, and she’s already plowed for this year.”

“No one’s hiding, Tragger,” another man said, pulling a weary runner behind him. “They’re here alone.”

Barla was spun free, and with a stifled cry, she lost her balance and fell heavily to the ground.

“I wouldn’t, were I you, woodman,” said the same low voice that had cautioned Tragger.

Fearfully, Barla looked up to see Dowell straining to reach Tragger. “No, oh no!” she cried, staggering to her feet. Those men would think nothing of killing Dowell, and then what protection would she have, with her kinsman, Lord Kale, dead?

She clung to Dowell as Tragger ordered his men to mount. He wheeled his beast, glaring at her through narrowed eyes, an evil smile drawing his lips across his teeth. Then he gestured with his arm, and the troop sped down the track from the mountainhold, leaving Dowell and Barla shattered by the brief encounter.

“Are you all right, Barla?” Dowell asked, embracing her tenderly, a gentle hand on her waist.

“I’ve come to no harm, Dowell,” Barla replied, patting his hand over her gravid womb. Echoing in the silence was the next word: “yet.”

“Fax is Lord Holder of Ruatha?” Dowell muttered. “Lord Kale was in excellent health when . . .” He trailed off shaking his head.

“They murdered him. I know it. That Fax! I heard about that jumped-up High Reacher. He married Lady Gemma, and it was an unpopular hurried wedding. That much the harpers said . . . quietly. They called him ambitious, ruthless.” Barla shuddered at the thought. “Could he have murdered all in Ruatha Hold? His lady? Lessa and her brothers?” She turned scared eyes on him, her expression bleak.

“If he has massacred those at Ruatha . . .” Dowell hesitated, and his fingers flexed over his wife’s stomach. “And you’re second cousin but once removed in that line.”

“Oh, Dowell, what shall we do?” Barla was truly terrified—for herself, for her babe, for Dowell, and for those who had died in blood.

“What we can, wife, what we can. I’ve skill enough to see us well settled anywhere. We’ll go to Tillek. We’re not that far from its borders even now. Come, Barla. We’ll go have some fresh bread and berries, and make plans. I will not be beholden to a lord who kills to take another’s rightful place.”

 

Five Turns after Fax’s astounding coup, Tillek still maintains a full compliment of men-at-arms, though the novelty has long since worn thin and boredom is a fierce problem in the barracks. Wrestling contests are frequent, keeping the participants fit and offering entertainment at Gathers, when the champions of the different barracks are pitted against one another . . .

The moment the man’s head cracked ominously on the cobbles, Dushik sobered. Then, with his next breath, he was on his knees beside the body, feeling the neck vein for a pulse.

“I didn’t mean it. I swear I didn’t mean to hurt him!” Dushik cried, glancing at the ring of men around him and noting the sudden hostility of their expressions. Hadn’t they been encouraging him? Taking bets against his strength? Hadn’t he been taunted enough at this Gather? There had been plenty to hand him wineskins and flagons!

A burly Gather steward elbowed his way into the clear space of the circle. “Is he dead?”

Dushik stood up, bile rising in his throat. All he could do was nod his head. This was the third time, his wine-dulled brain reminded him. The third time.

“This is the third time, Dushik,” the steward said, tugging on his sleeve. “You’ve been warned often enough about your sort of brawling. . . .”

“I’d too much wine.” Desperately Dushik tried to assemble a defense. “The third time” meant that he would be denied the Hold, his cot, and the work he was trained to do. Three deaths from brawls, no matter how they occurred, also meant he would have no luck applying to any other Holder. He would be banned—holdless. “They—they put me up to it!” He tried to lay blame to those in the circle, the ones who had bet on his prowess as a wrestler. “They—they made me!”

Suddenly Lord Oterel himself pushed into the circle. “Now, what’s this?” He looked from Dushik to the motionless body on the cobbles. “You again, Dushik? The man’s dead? Then, off with you, Dushik. The Hold is closed against you. All Holds are closed against you. Pay him off, steward, and escort him to the High Reaches border. Fax uses men of his sort!” Oterel snorted with contempt. “Clear this up. I don’t want an unpleasantness to spoil the Gather!” He turned on his heel, and the circle respectfully parted to let him pass.

“He didn’t listen to me,” Dushik cried, turning vainly to the steward. “He didn’t understand.”

“Three men dead because you won’t hold your punches, Dushik, is one too many. You heard Lord Oterel.”

Suddenly three more strong stewards bracketed Dushik. He was marched to the barracks, allowed to collect his gear, then locked for the night in the small holding cell situated at the back of the beasthold. Even Lord Oterel would not force men to forego a Gather to escort an unwanted man to the border. But the next morning, those who escorted him were neither talkative nor forgiving for the journey.

“Don’t come back to Tillek, Dushik,” the leader said in farewell. But at the last moment he handed over Dushik’s sword and long knife and a sack of journey rations.

 

After seven Turns, Fax’s usurpation has become more or less accepted—except by the Harper Hall. The Masterharper, Robinton, has been hearing unsettling reports from his harpers that make him mistrust this uneasy peace. Fax is ambitious, and with all but Ruatha Hold prospering under his harsh management, it is entirely possible that he will look eastward, to the broad and fertile plains and the mines of Telgar. As if aware of Harper Hall scrutiny, Fax has begun to turn harpers out of his Holds and Halls for the most spurious reasons. Whatever teaching the harpers have provided, Fax says, the young will learn from his deputies. He has challenged authority—and succeeded. What will he challenge next?

As if there is an infection in the very winds that sweep the Northern Continent, others are challenging long-established ways. In Ista Hold, certainly one of the most conservative, a young man defies parental authority . . .

“I don’t care if everyone else in the family have been happy on High Palisades Island for every generation since the First Record—I want to see what the mainland is like!” Toric separated the last five words with emphatic thumps on the long kitchen table. His father, a Masterfisher, regarded him in shocked amazement that gradually turned to frozen anger as his second son openly—and in front of the younger children and the four apprentices—defied him. “There’s a lot more to Pern than this island and Ista!”

“Oh, Toric,” his mother began, appalled. She had argued with him, trying to soothe him, and had even tried to placate her angry husband.

“And how, might I ask,” his father began, holding up his hand to stem his wife’s interference, “do you think you’re going to support yourself away from this hall?”

“I don’t know, Father, and I don’t care, and never fear, it won’t cause you any embarrassment because I’m not staying around this place for the rest of my life!” Toric stepped over the bench on which he had been seated for yet another unendurable meal. “There’s a whole continent out there, and I’ll see what else I’m able for. I’ve asked you fair for my journeyman’s badge. You won’t give it, so I’ll leave on the trader.”

BOOK: The Renegades of Pern
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