Disclaimer: Pern and its dragonriders are © to Anne McCaffrey.

Background: This story is a follow-on from my fanfic Evolution

followed the story of an unusual dragon hatched to Benden Weyr far into a post-Aivas (and post Thread) future for Pern. The queens no longer clutch as often or lay as many eggs and dragonriders fulfil other functions that include flying as couriers, medical or other purposes, as and when needed.

This tale begins while certain events relating to Shaya and Suteth are still unfolding, so there are some spoilers if you haven't read the first story.

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The events of the past few days had created a growing sense of dread in Nolena's belly. She sat in her weyr now, with golden Sulath sunning herself outside on her ledge, enjoying the late summer afternoon. A few ledges above her weyr, Nolena knew that Fessli, Benden's Weyrwoman, lay dying and that she, as they only other mature goldrider, would soon have large boots to fill.

Nolena, finding a small gap in her busy routine, sat before her looking-glass, brushing her hair until it fell in light-blonde featherings on her shoulders. She'd always enjoyed it when her mother had brushed her hair when she was much younger, especially when she felt troubled but now, almost three Turns after impressing Sulath, her life had slipped into a different rhythm from that of a cot-holder's youngest daughter. She could probably indulge herself in asking a drudge to oblige but it somehow didn't feel right.

Nolena sighed, trying to imagine herself as the new Benden Weyrwoman – a duty that would become hers sooner than she'd like it.

"I'm too young," she spoke out loud, her pale grey eyes staring back pensively from the looking-glass.

You will be a good Weyrwoman Sulath said to her, stirring her bulk on the ledge outside.

"I am only eighteen Turns old."

Fessli was only a little older than you are now. Kiranth has been queen here for longer than most can recall.

"I know, but it's such a massive change. Benden has had stable leadership for forty-five Turns and now, suddenly, it falls into my lap," Nolena said.

It was bound to happen at some point. Kiranth wasn't going to carry on rising and clutching forever. She may not show it but she grows old Sulath stated.

"As we all do," Nolena sighed. "It's just so tragic that it has to happen this way, especially with the rogue queen killing her green clutchmate."

Sulath grunted her assent and Nolena remembered the events of that day. She'd been listening to a new harper trio from Northern Reaches Weyr who'd been visiting. She remembered that she couldn't stop smiling at their outlandish hairstyles that were all the rage with the younger Pernese, when the keening had started and Sulath relayed the fateful news. Nolena had not disliked the rogue's rider but, in all honesty, she had not had much contact with the girl either.

"I don't know if I'm ready for this," Nolena said, sighing yet again.

Outside, Sulath stretched and Nolena winced as she heard some of the dragon's joints popping.

"I wish you wouldn't do that."

It feels good.

"It sounds awful."

Stop worrying. You will upset my appetite and I am feeling a bit hungry.

"You ate two days ago."

That herdbeast was too scrawny.

"You always say that!" Nolena laughed.

At least I have stopped you from frowning now. You will be a good Weyrwoman because you have me. I might never be as big as Kiranth but I fly much higher and only the strongest bronze will catch me when I rise. I will find you a good mate and there will be enough eggs on the sands to make sure that Benden will always have the best dragons.

"You're so conceited, you great golden lump!" Nolena exclaimed.

But remember that it was I who chose you. I know what I saw when I hatched. You are a queenrider and you are the one that I chose above all those other Candidates.

"But why me?" What am I that sets me apart from all those other girls – clear half-dozen of them?"

Sulath entered the Weyr, stretching her neck sinuously. Her eyes whirled rapidly from blue to green, with slight flecks of yellow as she picked up on her rider's obvious concern.

You have an open heart. You are caring. I like that in you. Some of the other girls thought only of how important I could make them. You almost Impressed green Balith. It would have sent me between. You were mine all along. Don't make yourself sick from the other possibilities. They are not now or here.

The great golden beast lowered her head so that her eyes whirled level with Nolena's face. She felt herself lost in Sulath's gaze, as if sinking into coruscating pools of deep sapphire.

And now I have an itchy spot above my one eye ridge, which only your fingers are delicate enough to scratch.

Sulath's lungs wheezed with delight as Nolena reached up to oblige her dragon.