My Yuletide assignment, for Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern novels, was The Ballad of Mirrim and Menolly's Ride, for [livejournal.com profile] calenlily. Rated PG for non-graphic violence; gen.

Menolly, Mirrim, and Mirrim's dragon Path travel through times that were, will be, and might have been to warn Pern of a deadly new threat.

If you're not familiar with Anne McCaffrey's Pern books but want to read this anyway (I'm flattered if that's the case), click on the link below for background information. If you are familiar with the books but haven't re-read them in ages, I incorporated reminders of the necessary background into the story, so you should be good to go. (The story ignores all canon written after Dragondrums.)

This is the first time I've ever written my own request for Yuletide. I don't mean that I ignored my recipient's notes, but that I incorporated them into a story which also fulfills one of my requests. Duels, female friendship, female heroism, dragon companions, alternate universes, the bittersweet knowledge of paths not taken, and having the world recognize your awesomeness exactly as you are, flaws and all: this epic gen adventure is the creature from Rachel's id.



On the planet called Pern, corrosive Threads fall from the sky. People ride telepathic, teleporting, fire-breathing dragons, who burn the Threads before they land. The bond between human and dragon, called "Impression," is made at the dragon's birth and can be broken only by death. Teleporting is called "going between." Dragons can also teleport between times, but this was only discovered relatively recently and is considered extremely dangerous. If a dragon's rider dies, the dragon commits suicide by going between without a destination.

Fire lizards are miniature dragons, empathic but not telepathic.

Mirrim and Menolly are both about nineteen at the time of the story. Menolly is the only woman Harper (musician/teacher) and Mirrim is the only woman to ride a green (fighting) dragon. Women normally ride golden queen (breeding) dragons.

A Weyr is where all the dragons and their riders live; a weyr is a cave where a single rider and dragon live. Mirrim is a rider from Benden Weyr, which is led by the queen rider Lessa and the bronze rider F'lar.

Bonus info which will make one part of the story make more sense: Ten years before the story begins, there were very few dragons and only one queen. Lessa renounced her claim to be a Lady Holder (feudal lord, basically) to become the rider of Pern's last queen dragon, Ramoth. Lessa discovered time travel and used it to bring more dragons and riders forward from the past, thus saving Pern.

Some time later, two of Ramoth's queen daughters lived at another Weyr. Wirenth was ridden by Brekke, Mirrim's foster mother. Prideth was ridden by Kylara, who was very bad news. Due to Kylara's negligence, both dragons were killed. Kylara went permanently insane and Brekke became suicidally depressed, though she's better now. Mirrim really hates Kylara.



I only offered Mirrim and Menolly, but was matched on "any" with a recipient who had requested Pern twice, once for "any" and once for her OTP, Lessa and F'lar. Luckily, poking through my recipient's LJ revealed that she did like both Mirrim and Menolly, though sadly she requested no non-canonical relationships so there could be no femmeslash. On the other hand, I'm not sure when they would have had time to have sex in my story anyway.

Here's her Yuletide letter. Note how I did manage a variant on her suggestion of "Weyrleaders through the ages."

This story was enormously assisted by [livejournal.com profile] yhlee, by brainstorming, beta, and the invaluable loan of The Atlas of Pern. She also terrorized me by informing me, quite correctly, that my story (then clocking in at 13,000 words) was rushed and too short. After agonizing, I made it longer. At 18,000 words, this is the longest short piece I've ever written in my life.

By the way, Pern has the most inconsistent canon of anything I've ever written. Characters' names are spelled differently in different books. Object names are spelled differently. Dueling between dragonriders is a) absolutely forbidden, b) something dragonriders are specifically trained to do, c) met with general approval, d) causes a summit meeting. The apparent ages of characters are inconsistent with the timeline, which itself is confusing due to time travel.

Incidentally, I ended up writing a Treat story, "The Marvels We Have Seen," for a different recipient which could conceivably work as a prequel. Don't read the Treat unless you're OK with the idea that Mirrim and Menolly's friendship occasionally involves sex.



My recipient requested no character death. I proceeded to kill off a great many characters via apocalypse on the theory that it doesn't count if it's a time travel story and the point is to undo the deaths. Hopefully she was okay with that! She did say she liked AUs.

Apocalyptic future: I decided I didn't need to explain it at this level of detail, but the ginormous Threadfall was due to some other planetary body affecting the Red Star so that a bottleneck crevasse faced Pern, causing a "shake and shake the ketchup bottle" effect. In an early draft Mirrim and Menolly demonstrated this with a bottle and a bunch of grubs.

The Thread battle involving the blue dragon wasn't in the first draft, which was way too expositiony. It's difficult to dramatize, in a short piece, the desperation of fighting a war undermanned. In real life you'd start drafting people who normally wouldn't be drafted. That doesn't work for Pern because the shortage is of dragons, not of potential riders. Then it occurred to me that one thing that would translate to Pern is when you're in such need of manpower that you start sending people back to the front when they ought to still be in the hospital. This also had the bonus of setting up how totally awesome and heroic it is for Path to fight Thread with an unconscious rider.

D'wer and Trebeth are not original characters, by the way. They're in Dragonquest for about thirty seconds, giving Jaxom a ride to the Hatching where he Impresses Ruth. Jaxom is whiny and D'wer is amused. The guy who lost his dragon is also a minor character in Dragonquest (and shows up again in my other Pern story as Mirrim's fire lizard mating flight buddy.) I avoided using original characters except when it was essential, as was the case for all the far-future characters and Riya, because there is only one named drudge in the entire series. (Which says a lot!)

Lady Holder Lessa: Menolly isn't quite right that the point of departure is Jaxom's death. It's actually that L'tol's dragon survived. Because of that, Lytol wasn't at Ruatha, the hold was even less efficient than it would have been with him there, and they did the emergency C-section on Lady Gemma a few minutes too late, causing Jaxom to be stillborn.

Though I have feminist issues with the canon portrayal of Kylara, I didn't try to make her sympathetic here because she's so much fun as a villain. The Hatching wasn't in the original draft, by the way. Can you believe that Lessa and Kylara never have a scene together in canon? They often think about each other, but that's it.

Rider Riya, Rider Menolly: This section was initially quite different and set several years later, with an adult alternate Path. I like the new version better, though I did lose the two Paths trying to meet each other to fly a race and Mirrim blurting out that drudges are stupid to Riya's face.

The point of departure here is the fire-head epidemic, which mostly got left out of the rewrite. If anyone cares, it hit Southern Weyr hard and killed its Headwoman, which is how Mirrim got the job. It also left Kylara too wobbly and exhausted to sex it up with Lord Meron, thus allowing the queens' mating flight to occur without incident.

Riya and Mirrim don't react strongly to the presence of other Paths because Mirrim's Path had never Impressed on Riya, and Riya's Path had never Impressed on Mirrim. Unlike Menolly, they also aren't in close proximity to their doubles, which is why Menolly passed out. But Menolly's Arwith had Impressed on a Menolly, hence both felt a (weird) version of the normal bond. Luckily for them, it wasn't a true Impression so there were no lasting bad effects from it breaking.

Dystopic future: This doesn't follow directly from the apocalyptic future, but is an alternate of that alternate, in which all the queens but Ramoth died and then Ramoth was lost in time. The reduced status of the Harpers was a backlash from all the spying and politicking they were doing in the present time.

The Teaching Song, which is the only song in this story that I wrote, can be sung to the tune of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me," from Cabaret.

Also, I thank [livejournal.com profile] movingfinger for accidentally reminding me that dueling is canonical on Pern. (Only for men. Boo.)

My speculation on what happens after the story follows. Don't read if you'd rather imagine that yourself.

It may or may not be obvious that this story is an AU from the get-go. In The White Dragon, which would come after this story, Mirrim is not well-regarded, even by Menolly, and no drudge ever seems to make it to the Hatching Grounds.

My AU takes off from the horrific Threadfall, which never happened in the world which led to The White Dragon.

Because the exiled Oldtimers had to temporarily evacuate from the South, where they were hanging around being embittered and lazy, they were stuck with D'ram and Fanna at Ista Weyr. The latter two realized how dangerous the situation was and retired to Southern Weyr to knock some sense into them. As a result, the Oldtimers never steal Ramoth's egg, Jaxom never spends all that time in the south, and AIVAS is never found.

Whether (and how) Riya does manage to Impress a dragon, what color it is, and the social changes that might result; whether Menolly does decide to try to Impress a dragon (I personally don't think so); what happens to Kiellen; and whether Mirrim and Menolly ever do tell anyone about the alternate pasts they visited, I leave to your imagination.

But whatever else happens, "The Ballad of Mirrim's Ride" is sung all over Pern, and whatever people think of Mirrim personally, she is unquestionably a Big Damn Hero. (Menolly left herself out of the title because it seemed a bit much, given that she wrote it. She also left out many of her own contributions, but Robinton put most of them back in when he gave it a polish.) And Mirrim and Menolly stay best friends for the rest of their lives.
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