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The White Dragon

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The White Dragon

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Author: Anne McCaffrey
Publisher: Del Rey / Ballantine, 1978
Series: The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy: Book 3

1. Dragonflight
2. Dragonquest
3. The White Dragon

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Heroic Fantasy
High Fantasy
Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)
Avg Member Rating:
(306 reads / 109 ratings)


Never had there been as close a bonding as the one that existed betweenthe daring and adventurous young Lord Jaxom and his extraordinary whitedragon, Ruth. Pure white and incredibly agile, Ruth was a dragon of manytalents, though almost everyone on Pern thought he was a runt that wouldnever amount to anything.

But Jaxom knew better, knew he could teach his dragon to fly and todestroy the deadly silver Threads that fell from the sky. Disobeying allrules, Jaxom and Ruth trained in secret. Their illicit flights seemedbut a minor disobedience -- until they found themselves in the path ofdanger and in a position to prevent the biggest disaster of all!


Chapter I

At Ruatha Hold, Present Pass, 12th Turn

"If he isn't clean enough now," Jaxom told N'ton as he gave Ruth's neck ridge a final swipe with the oiled cloth, "I don't know what clean is!" He wiped his sweaty forehead on his tunic sleeve. "What do you think, N'ton?" he asked politely, suddenly aware that he had spoken without due regard for his companion's rank as Weyrleader of Fort.

N'ton grinned and gestured toward the grassy bank of the lake. They squelched through the mud created by rinsing soapsand from the little dragon and, as one, turned for a full view of Ruth gleaming wetly in the morning sun.

"I've never seen him cleaner," N'ton remarked after due consideration, adding hastily, "not to imply that you haven't always kept him immaculate, Jaxom. However, if you don't ask him to move out of that mud, he won't stay clean long."

Jaxom passed on the request hastily. "And keep your tail up, Ruth, till you are on the grass."

From the corner of his eye, Jaxom noticed that Dorse and his cronies were creeping away, just in case N'ton had any further hard work for them. Jaxom had somehow managed to keep the smugness he felt under control all during Ruth's bath. Dorse and the others hadn't dared disobey the dragonrider when N'ton had blithely pressed them into service. To see them sweating over the "runt," the "oversized fire-lizard," unable to tease and taunt Jaxom as they'd planned to do this morning, had raised Jaxom's spirits considerably. He entertained no hopes that the situation would last long. But, if today the Benden Weyrleaders decided Ruth was strong enough to bear his weight in flight, then Jaxom would be free to fly away from the taunts he'd had to endure from his milkbrother and his cronies.

"You know," N'ton began, frowning slightly as he folded his arms across his damp-spattered tunic, "Ruth isn't really white."

Jaxom stared incredulously at his dragon. "He's not?"

"No. See how his hide has shadows of brown and gold, and ripples of blue or green on the near flank."

"You're right!" Jaxom blinked, surprised at discovering something totally new about his friend. "I guess those colors are much more noticeable because he's so clean and the sun's so bright today!" It was such a pleasure to be able to discuss his favorite topic with an understanding audience.

"He's... more... all dragon shades than the lack of any," N'ton continued. He slanted one hand against the angle of Ruth's heavily muscled shoulder, then cocked his head as he stared at the powerful hindquarters. "Beautifully proportioned, too. He may be small, Jaxom, but he's a fine-looking fellow!"

Jaxom sighed again, unconsciously straightening his shoulders and pushing out his chest with pride.

"Not too much flesh, not too little, eh, Jaxom?" N'ton shot an elbow to catch Jaxom on the top of his shoulder, a sly grin on his face for all the times Jaxom had had to call on the Weyrleader to help him cope with Ruth's indigestion. Jaxom had erroneously concluded that if he could stuff the proper amount of food down Ruth's gullet, the little dragon would grow to match the size of his clutch-mates. The results had not been good.

"Do you think he's strong enough to fly me?"

N'ton awarded Jaxom a thoughtful gaze. "Let's see, you Impressed him a Turn last spring, and we're into cool weather now. Most dragons achieve their full growth in their first Turn. I don't think Ruth's grown a half-hand in the last six months so we have to conclude that he has reached his full growth. Hey, now," N'ton reacted to Jaxom's sad sigh, "he's bigger than any runner beast by half a head, isn't he? They can be ridden for hours without tiring, right? And you're not exactly a heavyweight like Dorse there."

"Flying's a different sort of effort, isn't it?"

"True, but Ruth's wings are proportionately large enough to his body to support him in flight..."

"So he is a proper dragon, isn't he?"

N'ton stared at Jaxom. Then he put both hands on the boy's shoulders. "Yes, Jaxom, Ruth is a proper dragon, for all he's half the size of his fellows! And he'll prove it today when he flies you! So let's get you and him back to the Hold. You've got to get yourself fancied up to match his beauty!"

"C'mon, Ruth!"

I would rather sit here in the sun, Ruth replied, moving to Jaxom's left, his stride graceful as he kept pace with his friend and with the Fort Weyrleader.

"There's sun in our court, Ruth," Jaxom assured him, resting a light hand on Ruth's headknob, aware of the happy blue tone of Ruth's lightly whirling, jewel-faceted eyes.

As they walked on in silence, Jaxom raised his eyes to the imposing cliff face which was Ruatha Hold, the second oldest human habitation on Pern. It would be his to Hold when he came of age or when his guardian, Lord Lytol, former weaver-journeyman, former dragonrider, decided that he was wise enough--that is, if the other Lord Holders finally overcame their objections to his inadvertent Impression of the half-sized dragon, Ruth. Jaxom sighed, resigned to the fact that he would never be allowed to forget that moment.

Not that he wanted to, but Impressing Ruth had caused all kinds of problems for the Benden Weyrleaders, F'lar and Lessa, for the Lord Holders, and for himself since he was not allowed to be a real dragonrider and live in a Weyr. He had to remain Lord Holder of Ruatha or every younger Holdless son of every major Lord would fight to the death to fill that vacancy. The worst problem he had caused was to the man he desperately wanted most to please, his guardian, Lord Lytol. Had Jaxom only paused a moment to think before he jumped onto the hot sands of Benden's Hatching Ground to help break the tough shell for the little white dragon, he'd have realized what anguish he would bring to Lord Lytol by a constant reminder of what the man had lost at the death of his brown Larth. Never mind if Larth had died Turns before Jaxom's birth at Ruatha Hold, that tragedy was vividly, cruelly fresh in Lytol's mind, or so everyone told Jaxom repeatedly. If this was so, Jaxom often wondered, why then hadn't Lytol protested when the Weyrleaders and Lord Holders agreed that Jaxom must try to raise the little dragon at Ruatha?

Looking up to the fire-heights, Jaxom noticed that N'ton's bronze Lioth was nose to nose with Wilth, the elderly brown watchdragon. He wondered what the two dragons were talking about. His Ruth? The trial of the day? He noticed fire-lizards, tiny cousins to the big dragons, executing lazy spirals above the two dragons. Men were driving wherries and runner beasts from the main stables out to the pastures, north of the Hold. Smoke issued from the line of smaller cotholds that bordered the ramp into the Great Court and along the edge of the main road east. To the left of the ramp, new cots were being built since the inner recesses of Ruatha Hold were considered unsafe.

"How many fosterlings does Lytol have at Ruatha Hold, Jaxom?" N'ton suddenly asked.

"Fosterlings? None, sir." Jaxom frowned. Surely N'ton knew that.

"Why not? You've got to get to know the others of your rank."

"Oh, I accompany Lord Lytol quite often to the other Holds."

"I wasn't thinking of socializing so much as having companions here of your own age."

"There's my milkbrother, Dorse, and his friends from the cothold."

"Yes, that's true."

Something in the Weyrleader's tone made Jaxom glance at him but the man's expression told him nothing.

"See much of F'lessan these days? I remember that you two used to get into a lot of mischief at Benden Weyr."

Jaxom could not control the flush that rose to his hairline. Was it possible that N'ton had somehow found out that he and F'lessan had squeezed through a hole onto Benden's Hatching Ground for a close look at Ramoth's eggs? He didn't think F'lessan would have told that! Not to anyone! But Jaxom had often wondered if touching that little egg had somehow destined its occupant to be his!

"I don't see much of F'lessan these days. I don't have much time, taking care of Ruth and all."

"No, of course not," N'ton said. He seemed about to say more and then changed his mind.

As they walked on in silence, Jaxom wondered if he'd said something wrong. But he couldn't think about it for long. Just then N'ton's fire-lizard, brown Tris, whirled in for a landing on the padded shoulder of the Weyrleader, chirping excitedly.

"What's wrong?" asked Jaxom.

"He's too excited to make sense," N'ton replied with a laugh, and he stroked the little creature's neck, uttering a series of soothing noises until Tris, with a final chirp in Ruth's direction, folded his wings to his back.

He likes me, Ruth observed.

"All fire-lizards like you," Jaxom replied.

"Yes, I've noticed that too, and not just today when they were helping us wash him," N'ton said.

"Why do they?" Jaxom had always wanted to ask N'ton that, but he had never had the courage. He didn't like to take up the Weyrleader's valuable time with silly questions. But, today, it didn't seem like such a silly question.

N'ton turned his head to his fire-lizard and, in a moment, Tris gave a quick chirp and then busily cleaned his forepaw. N'ton chuckled. "He likes Ruth. That's all the answer I get from him. I'd hazard the notion that it's because Ruth is nearer their size. They can see him without having to back up several dragon-lengths to do so."

"I suppose so." Jaxom still had reservations. "Whatever it is, fire-lizards come from all over to visit him. They tell him the most outrageous stories but that makes him happy, especially when I can't be right there with him."

They had reached the roadway and were heading for the ramp into the Great Court.

"Don't be long dressing, will you, Jaxom? Lessa and F'lar ought to arrive soon," N'ton said as he kept going straight on through the great gates toward the massive metal Hold door. "Finder'll be in his quarters at this hour?"

"He should be."

Then, as Jaxom and Ruth turned toward the kitchen and the old stables, the youth began to worry about the trial set for today. N'ton surely would not have raised his hopes about getting permission to fly Ruth if he wasn't pretty sure the Benden Weyrleaders would be agreeable.

To fly Ruth would be so marvelous. Besides, it would prove once and for all that Ruth was a real dragon and not just an overgrown fire-lizard as Dorse so often teased him. And, too, he'd finally be able to get away from Dorse. Today was the first time in Turns he hadn't had to endure Dorse's teasing as he washed Ruth. Not that the boy was just jealous of Jaxom's having Ruth. Dorse had always taunted Jaxom, ever since he could remember. Before Ruth had come, Jaxom had managed to make himself scarce in the dark recesses of Ruatha's many levels. Dorse didn't like the dark, stuffy corridors and stayed away. But with Ruth's arrival, Jaxom no longer was able to disappear and avoid Dorse's attentions. He often wished that he didn't owe Dorse so much. But he was Lord of Ruatha and Dorse was his milkbrother so he owed him his life. For if Deelan hadn't given birth to Dorse two days before Jaxom's unexpected arrival, Jaxom would have died in his first hours. Therefore, Jaxom had been taught by Lytol and the Hold harper, he must share everything with his milkbrother. As far as Jaxom could see, Dorse benefited far more than he did. The boy, a full hand taller than Jaxom and heavier set, certainly hadn't suffered for sharing his mother's milk. And Dorse made sure he got the best part of anything else Jaxom had.

Jaxom waved cheerily to the cooks, busy preparing a fine midday meal to celebrate, he fervently hoped, the occasion of his first flight on Ruth. He and the white dragon continued past the gates to the old stables which had been refitted as their quarters. Small though Ruth had been when he first arrived at Ruatha a Turn and a half ago, it had been obvious that he would quickly grow too large to enter the traditional apartment of the Lord Holder within the Hold proper.

So Lytol had decided that the old stables, with the vaulted ceiling, could be refurbished suitably for sleeping quarters and a work room for Jaxom and a fine spacious Weyr for the little dragon. New doors had been specially designed by Mastersmith Fandarel and hung with such ingenuity that a slightly built lad and an awkward hatchling could manage them.

I will sit here in the sun, Ruth told Jaxom, poking his head past the entrance to their quarters. My bed hasn't been swept.

"Everyone's been so busy cleaning for Lessa's visit," Jaxom said, giggling as he remembered the terror in Deelan's face when Lytol had told her that the Weyrwoman was coming. In his milkmother's eyes, Lessa was still the only full-blooded Ruathan left alive after Fax's treacherous attack on the Hold over twenty Turns ago.

Copyright © 1978 by Anne McCaffrey


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