And so the Pass ended, and we all cheered and shouted. The riders had not only saved our world, but ensured that it would stay saved, and that Thread would never hit our homes again. I was no more than a child at the time, but still I remember the party in our Hold after that last Fall. It was like Turns End, but more so. There was dancing, music, presents for all the youngsters – we believed we had reached the point where we all lived Happily Ever After, and that was surely something to celebrate.
After that, the riders were our heroes for a time. For a while at least, no one grudged them the tithes they still took from us - they needed time to become self-sufficient afterall. But the years passed, and still they were asking for food, and slowly the resentment began to fester a little.
They told us they were still protecting dangers that we barely had knowledge of – more giant rocks like the one they had diverted before. Maybe we were naïve to believe them, but who was there to tell us otherwise? Still, a few more years went by, and the tithes increased rather than shrinking, enough so that we began asking questions again. Why were the giant rocks such a danger now when they had never been before? Were all riders needed to watch for them – and if so, why did they seem to be leading lives of leisure while we worked in the fields all day? When would the tithes stop?
The day a Holder first refused to tithe is as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday. I was a young man by then, with a youngster of my own to care for, and Igen Hold was only two days ride away. It had been a particularly hot summer that year – we'd had problems ourselves with drought, and I'd heard rumours that Igen's crop had been only half its usual size. It was small enough that they would be struggling to support themselves on it for a year without parting with any of it, and so they decided that, quite simply, they wouldn't. The hungry bellies of their children were more important to them than fattening lazy riders who still showed no evidence of working for us.
The story of what happened spread all over Pern. Lord Drefel met the Weyrleader when he came to demand payment. He stated his case, determined not to be intimidated by the way Weyrleader Varyon's bronze kept growling. Afterall, everyone knew by now that dragons couldn't hurt humans. We knew we were safe from them harming us.
At least, directly.
No human was harmed when the fire that had once protected us was turned on barns filled with crops. No Holder died when bronze Rherith called his companions, and the whole Weyr hunted down Igen's herdbeasts – for sport, not food – until not one was left alive in the field.
No one was harmed. But you will find no Hold today where Igen once stood. The Lord Holder and his family starved to death that winter – minor Holders sought work elsewhere as drudges, but no one dared take the Lord in. No one dared risk the riders displeasure. And no one refused to tithe again.
Once the dragonriders had taken that step, there seemed little point in them holding back. They had shown that they had power, they had shown that they were prepared to use it, and now they spread their wings over our land, and we Holders ran in fear from their shadow. The Crafters were split – some Halls sided with the Holders, and were soon poorer for it, while others supported the riders and saw the benefits. The Harpers - once known for their fairness in adjudicating over Pern – became spies, reporting back any murmur spoken against the Weyrs. Without war, without any blood being shed, the riders had succeeded in doing what Fax had failed in, and conquered all Pern.
We grew accustomed to it within a few years. It is surprising what humans will accept, as long as they, and their families are left alive. We tithe whatever we are told to tithe, and we obey, and if that Hold a few miles over will not have enough food to last the winter, we take it as a lesson rather than protesting. Obviously they were foolish, and did not respect the riders who protect us so well from things we need not know about.
I am old now. My sons have sons of their own, children who have never known a time when things were not this way. They will grow up never fearing Thread, and we need not worry that they will be Searched and die in the skies, eaten by that deadly organism. Sometimes, I almost wish that we did still have that to fear. It was deadly, it was merciless, and it killed – but at least it never pretended it was anything other than that.