PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I wrote this story YEARS ago. Therefore, it is kind of dumb and it will not be updated further. I just felt like sharing because Three Years at Sea probably won't be updated for a few more weeks and I wanted to let my faithful readers know that I am not dead! Nor am I going on haitus! I'm just taking a short break to work on things with deadlines.

Also, because this story is super dumb, sporkings, mocking, and general disdain are very welcome. I personally feel like slapping my 16-year-old self and telling her to put the pencil down.

Also, le gasp! It is not A:TLA-related! I do apparently have other interests!

Namira did not remember anything of that day but running. Running as fast as her skinny legs could take her, with The Egg wrapped in a blanket firmly in her arms. She ran until she could run no more, but she kept running. She ran until the Weyr was nothing but a rocky hill in the distance, taller than all the others around it. She ran until her feet were torn and bloody through her leather sandals, but still she did not stop.

Finally, she truly could run no more. In a small stand of trees, she sank to her knees, trembling, still clutching The Egg to her chest. It was still hot from the Sands, wrapped in the dense wool blanket with Namira's arms holding it tightly to her body.

It was a body that shook from exhaustion, a chest that heaved for want of air. Her muscles burned like they were on fire, her whole form felt like it would collapse and leave The Egg alone on these unforgiving stone cliffs. Her feet bled sluggishly, leaving dark splotches on the rough dirt and stone beneath her. Her throat and lungs burned from the volumes of cold air they pumped in and out of the gaunt drudge's frame.

Namira didn't know how long she huddled there on the rocks beneath the quiet trees and the melody of bird and insect song before she could stand again. Her legs shook violently, threatening to collapse, but she refused to let them. She must not drop The Egg. It must not break, even if it meant throwing herself in front of a careering cart pulled by panicked drays. The Egg must not break.

Before long, darkness started to fall. The twin eyes of Belior and Timor started to glow in the deep blue sky, shedding their light on the runaway drudge and her contraband. The faintest lights shone from the Weyr in the distance, the fires of the dragonriders in their weyrs and the infernos that cooked the food in the lower caverns. Giant conflagrations that she, Namira, used to tend, but no more. Namira was meant to be a dragonrider, not some spit-turning kitchen drudge.

When she felt like she was strong enough to continue, she did. Jogging across the sharp rocks that cut into the soles of her feet, she continued at a pace that would remove her from the Weyr but nothing to the breakneck sprint she had achieved earlier.

The trees ended. A short path led off into a forbidding mountain pass on the right, and more tumbled stones led to a pebbled beach on the left. Either way, she would have to walk well into the night to reach any destination. After looking left and right and back again several times, holding The Egg to her breast as if it were a baby, Namira chose the mountains. There were more alcoves to hide in, more escape routes: on the beach, it would only be a matter of time before sweep riders picked her and The Egg up to be hauled back to the Weyr for judgment.

She walked down the path for miles in the gathering darkness. Still the mountain pass seemed no closer. She did not want to rest, but she knew she would have to.

Leaning against the rock, she touched the hardening surface of The Egg. It was still warm, still emanating that feeling of life that told her without a doubt the dragonet was still dormant inside. That day when the shell cracked would not be long now.

She had only been resting and admiring her stolen booty a few seconds when she heard it.

The scream.

The scream of the enraged Queen, having finally discovered the inconsistency in her brood. Namira froze, her breath coming in short gasps again as if she had been running.

The screams continued. The girl could see it: the magnificent golden monster thrashing about, terrorizing the entire Weyr from the Weyrleader down to the very lowliest simpleton. Her great yellow wings would whip the skies, her tail lashing like a scourge, rending anyone who got too close. She could see that awful Weyrwoman Franda trying to soothe her dragon, but Kiyath would not be soothed. Some little tunnel snake has taken an egg, one of my beautiful eggs…

Namira broke herself away from the vision of the Weyr, but always remained wary of the dead volcano in the distance. She must not get caught, just like nothing must happen to The Egg.

She started to panic as dark shapes emerged from the top of the Weyr. Dragons. Sent out to search for the lost egg. They swept across the dark sky, luminous eyes scanning the ground. Namira whimpered softly. She would be caught. She would be taken back to the Weyr and tormented by Franda.

Swiftly, she picked her way across the rocks as the dragons neared. She could make out three browns, six blues, and eleven greens. They split off as they neared her, widening the sweep for the lost egg and the worthless scum responsible. As quickly as she could, she moved into a small crevice in the rock. An overhang sheltered her from the top, boulders from the sides. In that small haven she waited for the dragons to pass overhead. Her heart thumped loudly, making her feel like the dragons would just follow the sound of it to her. She heard a small crying noise, and was disgusted to discover that it was her.

Stop your crying, she told herself angrily. Great Faranth, you're not a sharding baby.

She held her breath, every muscle tense, as she heard the sweep of great wings above the tiny cave. One of the dragons passed close enough to brush its claws on the overhang inches from her head.

The beast was gone as soon as it had come.

Thank you, Faranth, the terrified girl said in her mind.

The Egg seemed to respond, wordlessly.

It wasn't until the next morning that Namira realized she had fallen asleep in the cave. Bright light shone in, casting beams of it over her face. She squirmed into a sitting position and checked The Egg. It was still warm, with no signs of cracking or damage. It was pretty much a miracle she had managed to escape with it in the first place, let alone keep it from harm. The Egg was large and heavy, about the size of Namira when she was huddled up on the kitchen floor at the Weyr, sleeping. It was mottled and gray like all of the other eggs, but she knew that there was something special inside. Not just an ordinary green, no… Namira was not meant for a green. Even though the other Weyr girls rode greens, Namira would not. Whether it be heresy or not, she would ride with the men of the Weyr.

She was careful to make sure that there were no sweep riders out when she emerged from the cave. Sure enough, all of the dragons were either in their little caves or searching for the lost, unhatched dragon elsewhere on Pern.

She could have laughed. If only they knew that it was right under their noses.

She continued walking down the path that led to the mountain pass. If she could just get beyond that pass, she would have freedom. The Egg would need warmth, that was for sure, and meat for when the dragonet hatched. There would be no rest then.

The going was easier during the day, though she knew that she would have to be extra careful. Traipsing around in broad daylight would only alert more sweep riders to her. She was not about to let herself be captured; she would never again let herself submit to Franda's torment. Never again. That pretty little sadist would never spill her blood again. In fact, it would be the other way around.

Heartened by these thoughts, Namira hefted The Egg and trekked up to the pass bravely. Though every rock cut a new hole in her ragged sandals, she continued gamely, never even letting the thought of surrender make its way into her brain.

Whenever she felt the presence of wings in the sky, the girl ducked into a rocky crevice, even if it only turned out to be a fire lizard. No use taking chances, not with these stakes. Every time she would emerge unscathed by foot-long talons.

The pass was long and much-traversed by tithe trains and merchants, that much was plain by the hoof prints and wheel ruts in a dirt road that cut through the straw-like gray-green-brown grass underfoot. It was the wrong time of year for merchants, thankfully. That was another thing Namira couldn't afford to come across: tithe trains headed for the very Weyr she was running from. They would only need half a glimpse of the gray oval in her arms to apprehend her and take her back. Doubtless the news had been spread across the continent by dragon, runner, and drum: an egg was missing. The reward for its return would be hefty. As would the punishment for the thief.

She had walked miles before she realized something: she was hungry.

Well, of course she was. She had just run several miles carrying a large rock-like thing, and walked several more. Normally she was used to being hungry. Sometimes the drudges weren't fed for three days or more. She was no stranger to hunger, so she ignored it and continued on.

Rukbat was shining overhead several hours later when her arms became morbidly tired.

"I don't have time for this," the girl said aloud. Even so, she set The Egg down and rested for a bit next to a spring. She drank a bit, and then lifted that blessed, heavy thing for more long hours' trek over rocks, dirt, sand, plants, and Faranth knows what else. The sun was shining hot, that was good. The more heat on The Egg, the better. She knew that eggs could sometimes even be carried between in fur sacks, but that journey only lasted a few heartbeats. Her journey would be much longer, giving more time for the egg to cool off, endangering the infant dragon within. She could not risk that.

She didn't give up even after several hours' march over the rough terrain. Finally, when The Egg was too much of a burden and the Weyr was comfortably out of her sight for good, Namira sat down on a rock, holding The Egg on her lap. She knew she had to make a fire and stack the hot ashes around it, but she didn't dare make a fire. The smoke would be seen. At night she might be forced to for The Egg's well-being, but then she would still have to be careful about being spotted. She might also hold it close to her body, incubating it like a mother wherry.

Her rest lasted no more that a quarter of an hour before she lifted The Egg and started again. Where she was going, she didn't really know. All she knew was that she had to get away from the Weyr forever. She and the dragon would have their own lives.

Namira kept walking all day, only stopping once to drink from a clear stream and eat some sour, unripe redfruit she found on a small tree some distance from the road. She didn't stop, even when the sun went down and the path became too dark to see. She felt her way onward with her feet, dread growing as a chill wind sent goose bumps rippling across her skin. Too cold for The Egg.

Against her better judgment, she was forced to build a small fire. She took every precaution she could, clearing all the grass away from her site and building the fire under a rocky overhang where it would be harder for a dragon to spot it.

As the fire grew in strength and heat, Namira sat next to it and The Egg, just thinking about what she had to do.

The Egg was not far from hatching. Soon, she would need to kill an animal and butcher it for the hatchling—she had seen enough of them to know that they were ravenous all the time. She would also need some means to clean the creature and keep it well oiled. This too she had learned from cleaning up after so many Weyrling lessons. Somehow she would have to teach the dragon to fly and hunt for itself. Unless dragons were born with this innate knowledge, she didn't know how she would go about it.

Unbidden, a thought came into her head that she had refused to entertain: what if she wasn't meant for it after all? What if she was just a lowly kitchen drudge with delusions of grandeur, not meant for anything better at all? She knew what would happen then: the dragonet would go between, never to emerge. And she would be left alone, with nowhere to go and nothing to look forward to.

She roughly pushed the thought from her mind. She always knew she had dragonrider blood in her, that some evil turn of events had placed her in the rags of a drudge, not the wherhide riding gear of a dragonrider. This unhatched dragonet was hers, and no one was going to tell her that she couldn't be a blue, brown or even bronze rider because of her gender, her station in life, or anything else.

Namira was a daughter of dragonriders, no matter how far removed they may be.

She sat next to the fire for hours until it died down to mere glowing embers. Carefully, she scattered them with a stick, mixing them with dirt until she was left with a pile of hot dirt and ashes. Cautiously, she set The Egg in its makeshift nest, making sure that it was hot but not too hot. Then she lay down next to it and fell asleep, shielding it from anyone who would take it from her: human, fire lizard, wherry, or dragon.

The first thing Namira knew she had to do the next morning was get food. Hot, bloody meat for the unhatched dragonet. No scratching or calling from inside the egg had alerted her to the nearness of its hatching, just a feeling that she couldn't explain.

There was a problem, however: she had nothing with which to hunt.

With a strip of her tunic and some rocks she might have been able to make a passable sling. But then, one couldn't use a sling to butcher an animal carcass. She also had to have a knife. A sharpened rock could be of use, but really, how many sharp rocks were there that were sharp enough to cut through hide, gristle, fat, muscle, and Faranth knows what else? Very few. She would have to find a way to sharpen one.

I'll worry about that later, she decided, sitting up and checking on The Egg. She turned it over in the still-warm ash-and-dirt mixture as she had seen the Queen do to her clutch. Running her hands over the rocklike gray surface, she could detect no cracks or other imperfections in it. Before departing to hunt, she buried The Egg completely so it wouldn't be found.

Namira could use a sling; she had practiced at the Weyr when no one was looking. It was a weapon that a drudge could carry undetected, not like a sword or dagger. Carefully, she ripped a scrap from the hem of her stained gray tunic and looped it. As she walked, she picked up several small rocks and put them in her pocket, looking around for animals. If she could find some docile animals like deer or rabbits, that would be the best. She could also deftly kill tunnel snakes, since that had been one of her duties, crawling through holes and killing the little devils. However, she didn't know if there were any tunnel snakes around here.

It wasn't long before she found a nest of half-grown wherries. They already had most of their pinfeathers and would be ready to leave the nest soon, but even so, Namira felt uneasy about killing them. They were still only babies.

But that feeling evaporated as she lifted the first bird from the nest. It squawked, pecking and clawing at her hands, making her panic by making so much noise she that was sure the mother bird would come back. Swiftly she wrung its neck, more to shut the thing up than to retrieve food for the unhatched dragon.

Walking back with the three wherries dangling over her shoulder, a thought struck her. What if it already hatched?

She sprinted back to the nest, heart thumping almost painfully in her chest. The dead wherries flapped limply against her back.

When she reached it, she slowed down and heaved a sigh of relief. The dome of warm ashes and dirt was undisturbed.

That was enough to scare her into staying next to The Egg, never letting it out of her sight as she painstakingly hit one rock against another to make a sharp "dagger." This took several long, tense hours, each passing second making Namira more eager to continue walking farther and farther from the treacherous Weyr.

In the end, she decided to keep walking and save the butchering for later. She wrapped The Egg in the blanket and placed the wherries on top. They might help with insulation, at least. The sling and rock dagger went into her pocket with the other stones, and Namira set off again.

Her paranoia seemed to have increased. She walked only under copses of trees and the shadows of the rocks on either side of the grassy pass, every time thinking the rush of a passing breeze to be dragon wings riding the skies.

Like the day before, she abhorred stopping and only stopped when it was absolutely necessary. She had to get as far away from the Weyr as possible, even if it meant tromping across the whole continent and arriving at distant Benden in the east.

The silent Egg and the three dead wherries were her traveling companions. She had never had any real friends, even as a child, so she was used to finding companionship in inanimate objects. After a while, she was so tired and hungry that the wherries' staring eyes seemed to wink at her. As she stared at them, they became colorful, whirling dragon eyes. She blinked several times. The wherries' eyes returned to the dead, glassy beads that they should be, not the glittering jewels of dragon eyes.

It grew dark again before long. Namira was forced to stop when she couldn't see where she was putting her feet. Once again, she found a protective alcove and built a fire. She roasted half of one of the wherries for herself, her stomach growling appreciatively when the fragrant aroma filled her hideaway. The other two and a half, including the entrails, had to be for the dragon.

Once she had eaten, she built up another makeshift nest for The Egg out of ashes and dirt and curled up next to it. Tomorrow, she knew something great was going to happen.

Namira was awoken even before the sun came out. Her eyes flew open in the darkness as she listened to a sound she had waited to hear her entire life.

The Egg was hatching.

Excited, scared, and apprehensive, she pulled herself up and with shaking fingers brushed the ashes from The Egg's heaving surface. It was rocking violently. Namira dared not pick it up, lest the action injured one of them. Desperate, she took the wherries and cut their bellies open so the newly hatched dragon would have food readily available… if it didn't go immediately between. Namira refused to think about that and instead focused on what she would do when it hatched. Look into its eyes, yes, think encouraging thoughts, yes…

She tried to think about more things to do, but large sections were falling off of The Egg and she was transfixed like an animal in the sight of a hunter, whole body tense and heart beating like a cudgel on a hapless drudge.

Oh, Faranth…

Claws and wings poked out of the shell. Namira's breath came in short gasps as she stared at the hatchling trying to break free of its prison. Don't panic, don't panic, she told herself, but she could not shake the visions of young boys mauled by clumsy dragonets from her mind… bloody, mangled bodies, forever disfigured if they survived…

She almost whimpered as the last few sections of shell fell away, but stopped herself. I do not whimper, she thought valiantly, despite her fear. She looked at the awkward hatchling that emerged from the scattered shards of The Egg.

A bronze, it's a bronze, she thought.

The baby bronze looked her in the eye. It did not shriek and jump between. Namira held her breath and extended one hand, always keeping eye contact. For one eternally long moment, the bronze sniffed her hand. Namira giggled slightly as it licked her fingers with a long, rough tongue, tasting the fresh wherry blood on them.

Then the bronze's faceted eyes whirled quickly with red, purple, and green, always fixed on the girl's face.

I am Quinorth, said a voice in her mind. N'mira. Mine.

"Quinorth," the new dragonrider said breathlessly. "N'mira… that's my name now…" she trailed off, overwhelmed by the moment. N'mira, rider of bronze Quinorth. A dragonrider, with even the honorific to show for it. Not even Weyrwomen had that. But N'mira was a bronze rider. She bore the mark of a bronze rider, even if she was a girl. It had never been done before, so who knew if female bronze riders had their names shortened? N'mira. A fitting honorific for a bronze rider.

I am hungry, Quinorth said plaintively. Feed me?

"Of course," N'mira said. She grabbed for one of the cut-open wherries and proffered it to him. The dragonet ate voraciously, decimating the wherry, bones and all. He licked up the last of the entrails and begged for more. N'mira gave him the other wherries and the remainders from the half she had eaten. Quinorth devoured them all, licking his chops.

I am still hungry, he said reproachfully.

"I have to find some more food," N'mira said, still dazed from the Impression and the speed at which it and the related events occurred. Quinorth waddled over to her and bowled her over on accident, almost slashing her with his claws, which were still soft from hatching, but dangerous nonetheless. A chill settled within her as she realized how close she had come to being grievously wounded, even if it was only an accident.

Do you hurt? Quinorth asked, concerned. His eyes whirled yellow with worry.

"No, I'm all right," N'mira replied. His eyes glowed green and blue. Content. "What do you say we find some food now?"


"I will have that egg back, M'rad!" Franda shouted, throwing a full cup of Benden's finest at the Weyrleader. He dodged it, ignoring the shatter and splash it made as it struck the wall in his attempts to placate the Weyrwoman.

"It'll have hatched by now," he said, trying to talk reason to her. "Which means it's either gone between or Impressed whoever took it…"

"I said, I will have it back," she repeated, glaring at M'rad with icy gray eyes. Sitting on the bed with her arms crossed over her chest, with her Hatching finery unkempt and a scowl on her face, she looked just like a spoiled Weyrbrat, but M'rad knew better than to tell her that. "I don't care where or what it is now. Get me the shelling egg!"

"Stop yelling, woman," M'rad snapped, massaging his temples. He had a near-constant headache and longed to get away from Franda once and for all. For the hundredth time, he wished that his Vindrath had not caught Kiyath the first time and also that he didn't insist on catching her every time after. The prestige of being Weyrleader was not worth listening to Franda's habitual whining and shouting.

"I'll stop yelling when I get that egg," she replied acidly.

"Don't wear out your voice," M'rad retorted, leaving the room. He needed to be somewhere quiet where he couldn't have any indication that his detestable weyrmate existed.

Once outside, he sighed and ran his fingers through his Red Star-hued hair. He was only in his mid-thirties, but already he had the entire responsibility of the Weyr resting on his shoulders. And with the responsibility of the Weyr came the responsibility for all Pern. His riders had to protect the people, but it was hard to concentrate on leading them when Franda was yapping in his ear.

Of course, he, like all the men who came in contact with her, had once thought her beautiful. She was. She had wavy brown hair that framed a face that looked like the most talented artisan shaped it, and kissable little red lips. But now, after several years of leading the Weyr by her side, she looked as ugly as a watch wher, at least to M'rad, who had no rest with her as his Weyrwoman.

Thankfully, their son had not inherited his mother's temperament, one thing that made M'rad grateful for the custom of raising Weyr children away from their parents. Famair—no, F'mair—was a fine lad, the life partner of a brown dragonet Impressed that very day, in fact.

I'll go congratulate him, M'rad decided, and then I'll go out on Vindrath and see what I can find.

Finally satiated after another nestful of wherries, Quinorth trundled along next to N'mira, getting distracted often and leaping after insects with claws outstretched. He was about hip-high on N'mira, slightly small for a bronze, but N'mira didn't see this as a fault. Sometimes the bigger dragons weren't as maneuverable, and she loved him the way he was, anyway.

I got one! The bronze said excitedly, coming back to N'mira with a struggling insect in his mouth. He swallowed it alive. N'mira laughed as he shuddered at the fluttering in his throat. They tickle, the dragonet said, coughing a little.

Now that Quinorth was there, traveling wasn't so hard for the runaway drudge turned Weyrling. They did have to stop and rest often, since Quinorth couldn't last as long as N'mira could. She also had to find food for him often. It seemed like he was always hungry. Now that she couldn't find any more nests of half-grown birds, she had to hunt other animals. She found a few rabbits, which she felled with stones from her sling. Quinorth ate enough to deplete the resources of a small Hold for several years.

Once when the two of them were resting for Quinorth's benefit, N'mira looked into a small pond nearby at her reflection. She was dirty, but that was to be expected. She hadn't seen a proper bath, warm, with soap and towels and everything, in several years. But she had the dirt about her of a person that trekked long and fast in the wilderness, with no domestic comforts whatsoever. Her hair was long and ropy, matted with dirt and grime of all kinds, but this she did on purpose. Her hair was a light strawberry blond, a color that men would find attractive if it was clean. N'mira had no intention of a man getting too close to her, so she made herself ugly and unattractive.

But now that she was on her own, she might as well look a bit respectable. While Quinorth was chasing lizards, N'mira plunged her hair into the pond and tried to get the overt dirt out. A layer of sediment drifted to the bottom. She then ran her fingers through the tangled stuff, trying to loosen the big snarls and get out the stickier gunk. When her hair would not cooperate, she simply seized her stone knife and hacked it off. It was a rough, uneven cut approximately as long as her earlobes, but the worse knots came out and it was easier to clean.

When she was done wrestling her hair, she worked on her face and arms, feeling clean for the first time in a long time when she was done. Her skin tingled from the cold pond water. She felt now more like a human and less like an animal.

"Ready, Quinorth?" she asked the young bronze.

Yes! He galloped over and almost knocked his new rider over again. Where are we going?

"I don't know." N'mira shrugged. "Somewhere where we can be safe, I guess." They hadn't walked another thirty minutes when a huge shadow passed over them.

Dragon! Screamed N'mira's mind. She grabbed Quinorth and sought the shelter of the trees nearby. But it was too late. The dragon had spotted them.

The beast drifted down lazily. From her hiding place, N'mira saw it to be a bronze, not a more ordinary blue or green, and a huge specimen, knotted with muscle and crisscrossed with the scars of Threadfall. Franda was really sparing no hassle to bring her egg back—but now it was hatched, hatched into a perfect little bronze Quinorth.

The adult dragon alit on the grass. His rider loosened the straps and slid off his shoulder, landing easily on solid leather boots. He removed his headgear and looked around. N'mira caught a glimpse of flaming red hair. There were so few people with this coloration that it could only be one person—M'rad, the Weyrleader, and his dragon, Vindrath!

N'mira panicked again when Vindrath turned his huge head to look at her. His eyes whirled excitedly. M'rad started walking over, and N'mira tried to flee.

"You can't outrun a dragon," the Weyrleader said dryly. N'mira froze, holding Quinorth close to her. The little dragon was trembling, trying to shield N'mira and himself with awkward wings. "Come on out, lad, let me talk to you."

Lad? N'mira thought. Well, since a bronze dragonet accompanied her, and she had short hair and a rawboned, lanky frame, she might look like a boy. M'rad didn't sound angry. Carefully, N'mira inched out of her sanctuary, still grasping Quinorth around the shoulders.

"What's your name, kid?" the Weyrleader asked, not unkindly.

"N'mir," N'mira said, immediately thinking of a boy's name. No use being a girl when she wasn't supposed to. "And Quinorth."

"Quinorth," M'rad repeated. "The missing egg?" When N'mira wouldn't respond, he continued. "It's all right. I won't hurt either of you."

"Just don't take me back to the Weyr," N'mira said. Her only plea.

"Why not? It's a great place. Well, other than the fact that Franda lives there…" He chuckled. N'mira found herself liking him a little, despite her earlier terror of anything that originated from the Weyr. "Why'd you steal it?"

N'mira didn't say anything. He wouldn't believe her if she did; her belief that she was always meant to be a dragonrider would just make him laugh. Instead, she shrugged. If that wasn't pathetic, she didn't know what was. M'rad cocked an eyebrow at her. Yeah, he didn't believe her.

"C'mon out, let's talk," he coaxed. "You must be hungry. I have food…" He held out a grease-spotted package. Though she was about a dragonlength away, she could smell the mouthwatering aroma of still-warm meatrolls.

Food! Quinorth said excitedly. Come on, N'mira, he has food!

No! N'mira protested as the dragonet bounded forward to M'rad's feet, reaching up and trying to get at the meatrolls. The Weyrleader chortled and dropped one roll into the bronze's mouth. Quinorth gnawed it half to death until it was little more than crumbles, then he licked up the crumbles and sat up on his haunches, begging for more. The tall man grinned and threw another meatroll a few feet away for the dragon to find while he wheedled N'mira out of her hiding place.

"Let's talk," he said. N'mira inched a small distance closer, blood-encrusted rock dagger clutched in her fist in case it would actually do any damage if she had to use it. M'rad rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, I swear on the shell of Vindrath's egg that I will not harm you. Please come out so I can talk to you."

That made N'mira feel a little better. That was one oath that a true dragonrider would never break. She hesitantly got to her feet and emerged from her hiding place. She stayed a good distance away from the Weyrleader, still holding her dagger.

"Don't take me back to the Weyr," N'mira said again.

"I won't… if you come over here and talk to me," he bargained. "You won't get such an offer from any of the other riders Franda sent out." N'mira took a few more steps forward. Quinorth, having found the meatroll, trotted back with the prize in his mouth. Huge, intimidating Vindrath curled his head around to look at the little bronze, enormous eyes whirling with rainbows. Quinorth trumpeted a high-pitched greeting, which Vindrath replied to with a deep rumble.

N'mira felt a rush of trust toward M'rad and his dragon… an emotion obviously conveyed to her by Quinorth, but a comforting one nonetheless. She could count on one hand how many times she had felt trust toward another person and still have plenty of fingers left. Defying her better judgment, she walked slowly closer to M'rad.

"What do you want to know?" she asked cautiously. The Weyrleader took off his riding jacket and sat cross-legged on the ground.

"We might be a while," he said amiably. N'mira mirrored him, settling down on the grass across from him. Quinorth galloped over, broadcasting feelings of excitement and trust. N'mira stroked his soft neck and mentally told him not to tell Vindrath anything, especially the part about her being a girl. She had decided to keep that part a secret until their future as rider and dragon was secure.

I won't tell, Quinorth said loyally.

"So, N'mir," M'rad said, offering her a meatroll. "How did you manage to get out of the Weyr carrying an egg the size of a boulder?" N'mira nibbled the roll, not used to not scrounging for food.

"Kiyath went off to feed," she began slowly, roughening her voice to sound more like a boy's. "There was no one looking at the clutch, so I snuck in and took one."

"Well, how did you know which would be the bronze?"

"I didn't. I just took the one that was closest. And then I ran for it out one of the tunnels."

M'rad chuckled. "You must be as strong as a dragon to run this far carrying an egg. Actually, it's a miracle that you got away… Kiyath must have been hungry. Or you must have planned well."

"I spent months thinking it out," N'mira admitted. "No one would notice me not being in the Weyr. I noticed how long it took Kiyath to feed and which tunnels the watchdragon ignored."

"How cunning," M'rad said sardonically. "You realize, Franda was considering bringing firestone into this. She was prepared to burn whoever the thief was into a crisp. You're lucky I got to you before any of the other riders did. Any of them would have hauled you back to the Weyr without a second thought. Franda without a doubt would kill you. With her own hands." N'mira felt a chill settle in her stomach. The Weyrleader ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end. "So, what about you? How old are you?"


"Ah, the age a boy's mind turns to being a dragonrider. Who are your parents?"

N'mira shrugged. "I don't know," she said truthfully. M'rad stared long and hard at her, making her squirm. But his light blue eyes were thoughtful. He nodded once, slowly. "I was—I am—just a drudge. My parents are dead or didn't want me, I guess." She couldn't keep the hurt from her voice.

M'rad leaned over and looked her in the eye. "No dragonrider of Pern is just anything. Especially not just a drudge." He stood up. "I'm going back to the Weyr and I will say that I have found you and that all the other riders can go home and stop looking for you."

"You're going to tell them?" N'mira said angrily, her temper rising. "Why not just get Vindrath to fry me up now?" M'rad laughed.

"Honestly, N'mir. You can trust me, right? I swore on my dragon's egg." N'mira felt another wave of trust coming from Quinorth. She nodded. "Stay here, and watch for me tomorrow at dawn." She nodded again.

M'rad shrugged his riding jacket on and ascended to Vindrath's thick bronze neck. As the dragon kicked off and took to the skies, the Weyrleader shouted down to N'mira, "Trust me! Remember to look for me at dawn!" He also shouted something else, but Vindrath was too far in the sky for N'mira to hear. The huge dragon bugled a goodbye, and disappeared between.

As soon as M'rad arrived again at the Weyr, Vindrath communicated the news to all of the other dragons of the Weyr.

The missing egg—now dragonet— has been found. The search for it is now discontinued. Return to your normal duties and tell your riders.

As soon as he relayed this, golden Kiyath roared in anger, almost shaking the foundations of the Weyr.

My egg is missing! Bring it back! She ordered Vindrath, eyes whirling red and orange with anger. Mirroring her dragon, Franda stormed out of the queen's weyr as M'rad dismounted and prepared to tell her what his decisions were, minus everything about N'mir.

"You found it, and you dared come back here without it? Why is it that you always defy what I tell you what to do… I am the Weyrwoman, and you will listen to me!" she shrieked, attacking the Weyrleader from halfway across the Bowl. M'rad, keeping his cool, stood with arms akimbo and waited for her to finish her tirade. When she finally stopped, eyes flashing, he told her his decision.

"A young boy took the egg when Kiyath had gone to feed. If you ask me that sounds like an error on her part." M'rad began. Franda was about to start berating him again, but he cut her off by raising one hand. "The egg hatched when all the others did, and the dragonet Impressed the boy. I found the two of them out in the pass."

"So get back out there and bring them to me," Franda ordered testily. As usual, M'rad ignored her. A large group of dragonriders had assembled around him and the irate Weyrwoman.

"I propose we give the kid a chance," M'rad said, speaking not only to Franda but to the others as well. "I say we bring him back to the Weyr and train him with the other weyrlings."

"Encouraging thievery," Franda hissed. "Just like you."

"I'm not encouraging thievery, Weyrwoman. Surely you remember how many riders we lost last Fall. The thing is," he continued, "the dragonet's a bronze."

There was a collective gasp from the group. Imagine the one egg that was stolen being a bronze! The dragonet that should have been the partner of a rightful candidate, not some lowlife who took it because he thought he was entitled to it.

"Right, it's a bronze," someone from the crowd muttered, loud enough to be heard, but quiet enough that no speaker could be identified. "If it had been a green, the kid would have been flamed immediately." M'rad raised one eyebrow.

"By the first golden egg of Faranth," he said mildly, "I love it when someone speaks their mind. Who said that?"

The crowd parted to reveal Viklannen, rider of green Salasiath, a tall young woman who was often disgruntled about discrimination against lower-rank riders. Of course she would be the one to say something like that, now that M'rad thought about it. And as much as he would have liked to deny it, bronzes were certainly favored where greens, the most numerous of the dragons, were ignored. It was also the greens that bore the brunt of Threadfall, but the bronzes took all the credit for it.

M'rad chuckled inwardly. He would have never admitted that a few years ago, but his greenrider sister's long rants seemed to have rubbed off on him.

"Viklannen. Of course. Please understand that any other Weyrleader would have done just what you said—ordered the execution of a green but adopted the bronze as his own. I understand your concern, but I would have brought the pair back no matter the color of the dragon." At this, Viklannen looked less put-out, but still retained her sullen expression.

"What a Weyr this is," Franda said, ruining the moment of understanding, "When thieves are welcomed back and greenriders are allowed to be insubordinate." Viklannen's cheeks flared red with suppressed anger. "M'rad, do what you will. Clearly you don't respect my opinion." She walked off in a huff. She had tried to make her words induce guilt in her weyrmate, but she had failed.

"Obviously," the Weyrleader said quietly, grinning. A soft chuckle rose from the group of riders, and Viklannen's lips curled in a vindictive smirk.

N'mira woke just before dawn, anticipating M'rad's return against her will. She sat up on the nest of soft grasses she had made for herself, being careful not to disturb Quinorth, who was slumbering next to her. Already the horizon was pink with the first faint rays of the sun.

She never wanted to return to the Weyr, but somehow she felt like there was nothing she wanted to do more than go back and be trained. Before the sun came up and Quinorth woke, she arose and went looking for something to feed her and Quinorth. The fruit on the trees was not nearly ripe enough, and she had already raided all the wherry nests in the area.

While she was searching for ripe nuts in a nearby tree, she saw the unmistakable bronze shape of Vindrath wheeling slowly down over the place where she had slept. She jogged back to Quinorth, wincing with every step. When she had been escaping, pure adrenaline had kept her feet from hurting, but now that she no longer needed to sprint as fast as she could, there was nothing holding back the pain.

M'rad's dragon landed smoothly just as N'mira made it back to Quinorth. When the Weyrleader dismounted and approached with something in one hand, the hatchling woke up and stretched out his supple body as a feline would.

"Good morning," M'rad said, always friendly-seeming, even to an egg thief. N'mira eyed the thing in his hand. "Oil for Quinorth," he said, seeing her expression. "I'm going to take us between and his hide can't have any imperfections in it. You didn't get the first weyrling lesson yesterday anyway, so I thought I'd give you a quick mini-version." He opened the jar of oil. "Just slather it on his skin all over, and don't miss any spots. You'll have to do this for the rest of your life," he added, offering N'mira the jar in his gauntleted hand. She took it and scooped out a handful of oil. Quinorth stretched out his neck as she approached him with the oil, thrumming in gratitude as she soothed patches of flaky skin.

She wiped her greasy hand on her tunic when she was done.

"Finished? Excellent," M'rad said. With a heave he picked up a squirming Quinorth and lifted him to Vindrath's shoulder as the dragon crouched down obligingly. Before he lifted N'mira, however, he addressed her uncertainly.

"Um, forgive me, but…" he paused, looking slightly embarrassed. "Are you a girl?"

N'mira unconsciously folded her arms across her chest and gave M'rad a good glare. She was smaller than a great many girls in that area, but…

"No! No, it's not that," he added hastily, flushing as red as his hair. "It's just that, you remind me of someone I used to know." His face took on a slightly reminiscent look, and then was back to normal.

"Yes, I am a girl," N'mira said, not softening her glare. She spoke in her normal voice, instead of deepening it. "What now?" M'rad raised his eyebrows.

"Nothing," he said. "Except… this will complicate things at the Weyr."

"Just leave it how it was," N'mira suggested coldly. "No one else needs to know that I'm a girl." She wasn't feeling very charitable toward the Weyrleader for revealing the secret she had been trying so hard to preserve. He nodded.

"Very well, N'mir. Or—what's your real name?"


"Well, that's easy. Shall we go?" He ascended Vindrath's neck and offered N'mira a hand. She grabbed it and pulled herself up to sit behind him and Quinorth, whose eyes were whirling excitedly though he was all but smashed between his Impressed and Vindrath's Impressed. "Tie this around your waist, and this gently around Quinorth's neck. Gently. Don't want to lose someone between." He chuckled as he passed the fighting straps back, even though there was nothing funny about being lost between. "Hang on!"

N'mira tried to hold tightly to Quinorth with one hand and M'rad with the other, but couldn't. She almost panicked as Vindrath jumped into the air, practically dangling from a single strip of leather, and managed to get a death grip on M'rad's collar.

"Easy there, lad. I mean lass. Get ready for the jump!"

Before N'mira could respond, she was plunged into complete darkness and a bone-numbing cold beyond all she had ever felt in her life. She couldn't breathe, and she tried grabbing for M'rad, but he wasn't there. Neither was Vindrath, and neither was Quinorth…

They reappeared over the Bowl just as she was about to scream. Quinorth, Vindrath, and M'rad were all reassuringly there. She hugged her dragonet to her, still shaken from the few long moments between.

I wasn't scared, he said reproachfully.

Of course not, N'mira replied. But I was.

N'mira couldn't ignore the look that the lower caverns worker gave her even as she handed over sets of clothing from the storerooms. The girl practically slapped the garments into N'mira's arms, punctuated by looks of malice. N'mira wondered if the worker had been a rejected Candidate at some point.

Meanwhile, the dragonrider assigned to keep a close eye on N'mira at all times leaned casually against the wall, fiddling with an errant lock of hair. The dragonrider had said a total of two things to the new bronze weyrling, consisting of her name ("Viklannen, rider of green Salasiath") and her duty ("to obey my oh-so-wonderful Weyrleader and babysit little suck-ups"). N'mira had kept trying to start up conversations with Viklannen, but mostly she was ignored.

It didn't take a genius to learn that she was by no means the most popular person in the Weyr.

"If they don't fit, that's not my problem," the lower caverns woman said caustically, flinging a pair of boots on top of the pile of clothes in N'mira's arms, startling her with sheer antipathy. N'mira blushed all the way up to her new "shorn-sheep" haircut, the standard for all weyrlings.

"Thank you," she managed to stammer. All she got in return was another glare.

"C'mon," Viklannen said simply, exiting the lower caverns and walking out into the sunlight. N'mira and Quinorth followed the tall greenrider outside to the Weyrling Barracks, which were separated into a building for the girls and another one for the boys.

"This is home sweet home for you kids," Viklannen said, sounding bored, showing them to the boys' barracks. "If you need anything—a cool drink or a massage, perhaps—don't lift a finger; I'll be at your beck and call."

Viklannen's sarcasm was getting on N'mira's nerves. "I think I'll be fine," she replied with a bit more acerbity than she had intended. Viklannen raised her arched eyebrows at the girl-turned-boy; no weyrling should be allowed to talk to a full dragonrider that way, regardless of color. N'mira waited for no further permission and entered the barracks cautiously, with Quinorth at her side.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Viklannen smirking.

As soon as the two of them crossed the threshold of the building, they were besieged by what seemed like every weyrling in the Weyr, even the girls.

"So it's true," one blue weyrling said almost accusingly. "The runaway weyrling did get a bronze."

"Um, yes, it's true," N'mira said, unsure of how to respond to something like that.

"Did you really steal the egg while Kiyath was watching 'em?" a brown weyrling asked curiously.

"No, while she was eating."

"Wow," the other said. "I wouldn't even want to go into the Hatching Grounds without her knowing, even without trying to steal an egg." He sounded a bit envious. He looked about thirteen or fourteen, slightly younger than N'mira, with curly brown hair and a long nose. "What's your name? I'm F'mair, and this is Davanth." He indicated the brown dragonet at his side.

"N'mir, and Quinorth," N'mira said.

The other weyrlings hushed suddenly at the arrival of another. The newest weyrling was a girl, awkward-looking and plain, but the dragonet at her side was half again as large as any of the others and colored as distinctive as a dragon could get—a gold. Another future junior Weyrwoman who would have the other riders scrambling for her attentions. Already the other weyrlings were subordinate to her.

"I'm Kaya, and Menaveth," the queen weyrling said in a shy, quiet voice. "You're N'mir? The whole Weyr's been talking about you."

"I bet," N'mira muttered under her breath, softening the edge to her words with a grin. To her surprise, Kaya's face lit up with a smile as well.

"So you can smile!" she said, sounding relieved. "They—the other Weyrwomen, that is—told me that the egg was taken by some hardened criminal. I'm glad to see that, well, you're a normal person."

N'mira also wasn't sure what to say to that. Kaya seemed to realize that she had said something embarrassing, so she blushed and ducked her head.

"Welcome to the Weyr," said another weyrling, to take the spotlight off Kaya's mortification. "I'm J'von, and this is Kelarth." He introduced himself and the bronze dragonet next to him. J'von looked like little more than a hunk of muscle with a crop of black hair. Kelarth, too, was almost as big as Menaveth and stood head and shoulders above Quinorth. An intimidating pair, but they seemed friendly enough.

If the adults of the Weyr weren't going to accept her, then at least the other Weyrlings would.

Yes, believe it or not, that's where it ends. Here's what happened in the rest of the story, that never got written (praise Faranth):

M'rad is N'mira's father. ~shocker~ F'mair is her half-brother.

There was lots of weyrling training and general bitchiness from the other kids.

Of course, I went with the universal Sweet Polly Oliver tropes where N'mira has to go to increasingly desperate lengths to hide her gender.

J'von and Kelarth turned out to be totally evil.

Eventually there were opposing factions in the Weyr, or something... I don't remember what caused the big political conflict, but it was there, and eventually Franda and M'rad were on opposing sides... I think J'von ended up on Franda's side, and there was a duel in which he killed M'rad. I don't even remember. M'rad died somehow in a way that was suitably tragic and heroic.

N'mira eventually ended up in a position of power. I honestly couldn't tell you if I intended for her and Kaya to be lovers and eventual Weyrwoman/Weyrleader... at the very least, it was an idea that I tossed around.

Also, Viklannen was a character that I've roleplayed in about a million RP Weyrs. She was usually more of a shrinking violet/woobie type, though. And most of the dragon names (particularly Vindrath and Quinorth) are also from a lot of the same RPs. So if you recognize any of these folks, hello there! Long time, no see!